Incy-wincy and the silver fish who cannot swim

It must be a sign of the unseasonable warm weather we’ve been having in the UK, it’s nearly December and only now are the spiders making their annual autumn invasion of the house. Now you have to understand that our house is a spider’s heaven, having been built in stages from the 1500s onward to the late 1600s it has lots of beams, to make webs between and the ceiling, hundreds of nooks and crannies, nice places to sneak away into to hide, and a housekeeper (me) who, 1, quite likes spiders and doesn’t want to harm them and 2, likes important things to be clean (kitchen, bathroom) but is not overly anxious about a few cobwebs here and there – especially there.

Now when I say I like spiders I have to qualify that with I like some spiders more than others. I am not fond of the very dark short-legged varieties and on the infrequent occasions when they do arrive I arrange their safe and harmless transition to the great outdoors (clear plastic cup and sheet of paper work best for me)

Spiders (arachnophobes look away now – pictures coming up)

tegenaria from the workshop
tegenaria from the workshop

My favourite house spider is the Tegenaria gigantea . (It maybe that the ones in my house are actually Tegenaria saeva which is very similar and found more often here in the SW of England) These are the large beasties with equally large legs and beautifully chevron marked abdomens. If it sat in a dessert-spoon its legs would reach or overlap the edges. It is often spotted as it makes a mad dash across the room, pauses, then runs on! The females are quite long lived and can live a number of years as adults and, as is usual in the spider-world are larger than the males. They make quite small webs (so not too much of a nuisance) We used to have one that lived behind a large larder cupboard, where the cupboard didn’t quite fit tight against the wall (not one of the walls in our house is straight). She would come out in the evenings, sitting boldly at the edge of her small web. The boys used to drop flies they’d swatted into this web during the day for her to find later. After about two years she just disappeared.

The one pictured is fairly small, as they go, and lives in the workshop, high up above the racks that hold the tools etc, for size reference the base of the jar she is sitting in is a good 3″ or 7cm across.

The next and the most prevalent spider in this house is a thin cylindrical bodied, long thin legged variety that I call the cobweb trembler. It makes annoying strandy cobwebs all over the place and hangs in this mess waiting, so while I tolerate these I am not keen on them. If you disturb the cobwebs it trembles violently shaking back and forth over as much as ten centimetres, so that it is hard to catch (if I were a bird or something) If you touch the spider itself it drops, suddenly, to the ground…. and scurries off inefficiently on its spindly legs. DSCF3998

These belong to the Pholcidae and are probably phalangioides but I am not sure. They manage to raise armies of young and so each year, twice a year, I brace myself and armed with the vacuum cleaner, try to remove as many as I can from the building. I often wonder if they survive the vacuum treatment, I hope they do and immediately go and empty the cleaner out on the compost heap (it doesn’t have a bag so the dust and stuff doesn’t get compacted at all) – in the hope that if they have survived the suction and having landed in the body of the cleaner they have curled up and waited until release.

Along with many others I find beauty in the cobweb made by the orb spider and many orb spiders are beautiful in themselves with interesting colours (saw a bright lime green one this past Summer) and patterns. When these decide to make a web across an open window it is with great regret that I destroy the web just to close the window (making sure the spider is safely outside before closing) I really don’t like the thought of hurting them.. maybe growing up with the ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive’ rhyme?

Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that I have a soft spot for. Many, many years ago when at teacher training college I did my biology thesis on Lepisma saccharina (the small primitive insect known as the silverfish) silverfish

A harmless creature (except if they get into old libraries in numbers – they eat the sizing and glues on books) I had always seen them around but could find very little out about them. After eighteen months keeping them, studying their life cycle, behaviour patterns, preferences for diet, humidity, light, temperature conditions and nearly four hundred pages later, which included sheet after sheet of hand-drawn and coloured graphs (pre-computers!), I think I knew more about them that most entomologists back then, but not now . I was particularly curious as to what the ones that live in the bathroom ate, (as the only information available at the time suggested they ate carbohydrates and sugars – not often found in bathrooms) and discovered that among other things, they eat up all the shed scales of skin we leave behind as we dress and undress – so they are actually doing a good job there 🙂 . In fact, if they did not get certain levels of protein from this or moulds then they lost their shine. I was awarded a high grade for my research and hence, in this house, these creatures are always rescued from the bath.

Enough of creepy crawlies for now….. I think these have to go under ‘Other passions’.

Anyone else like spiders and other creepy crawlies?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you

 

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Anyone For Cake? How to….

Well! What a weekend. The first Looe Literary Festival was a tremendous success! Plenty of people turned out and took themselves down to this pretty Cornish town on the sea. PLUS it was extra interesting being ‘out of season’. There was a different vibe – and this weekend it was definitely a Literary vibe!

I was delighted to have my very own one hour Author Event slot arranged for me in The Old Boathouse Cafe, on the quay-side facing the river just before it emerges into the sea. My audience had a few extras, a small free draw AND CAKE. DSCF7593

I propped the cake up on my book stand – and, to my surprise, it wasn’t until I went to cut it that some people realised it was a cake!

So I’m going to give you a ‘how I made it’ here 🙂  and I hope you like it as much as others enjoyed eating it!

DSCF7564
cooked cake

First I printed off a large picture of the book cover and used this as my template, it meant I needed to cook a cake 12″ by (about) 8″. I happen to have a nice cake tin that allows you to vary its size by inserting two interlocking dividers, with the largest at 12″ x 12″ reducing in size down to 1″ x 1″ (Though you’d probably not use it for that!) You can also make 4 cakes at once, each 6″ square. Anyway – I created the right size cake tin size and made a Victoria sandwich mix that I had calculated would fill it. (in this case cracked the 7 eggs into a jug and weighed the total, then used the exact same weight for the flour, sugar and butter) I dolloped about half of this mixture into the tin, then added 250g melted plain chocolate beating well as it was added to the other half of the mixture, then dolloped this in between the  plain mix, finishing it with a swirling motion to smooth it out then baked it at 180 degrees until cooked (about 35 mins) I wrapped it well and froze the cake.

Now to the decorations. First I mixed about half a teaspoon of gum-tragacanth into about 150g ready-made roll-out icing (Regal-Ice) This means the paste will harden. I rolled it out and carefully cut the rectangle out – placing it on a tray covered with a sheet of cling-film dusted with cornflour, covered lightly, to prevent dust, with greaseproof paper.

I re-rolled the remainder and by resting the paper sheet on top and using a cocktail stick to press on the line, marked out the shapes of all the dark rocks in the picture. DSCF7566DSCF7568

I removed the paper and using the cocktail stick drew lines on the rocks to give them texture. I also cut a long narrow rectangle to put the author name on later. All these I also placed on a tray as before and set them all to dry in a warm place.

When these were all dry I mixed food colouring to make the colours I expected to need. I marked out with a pale food-colour pen, the lines for the layers of cliffs in the distance, the sand and the sea. Then I painted these in with the food colours giving the larger areas a water wash before applying the colour as you do for water colours, but otherwise it was a bit like painting by numbers 😉 DSCF7583DSCF7586

 

The rocks were given a dark wash so that the textures still showed through; all this was left to dry. When the ‘paint’ was dry I assembled the pieces and hand-painted the title with a red food colour.

I cut the top of the defrosted cake and trimmed it to the perfect size then turned it upside down onto a cake-board with a little icing spread on it to prevent it slipping. I rolled out another 200g of Regal Ice and cut 4 pieces long enough to cover all the edges then rolled the rest very thinly and covered the top and sides with this thin layer, held in place by a brushing of heated-up jam. DSCF7585

Three out of the four strips were textured to look like pages, the fourth I hand painted to look like the spine of the book.

NOW! The assembly, The cover was stuck on with icing, as were all the edges… and lo! the book should have been finished. Unfortunately I forgot the extra thickness of the cover when I cut the spine…. and had to add a bit to fill in the gap!! So now you know what to look out for if you do the same .. and I will know for next time too 🙂 DSCF7594 Crop

All in all it may have made my author slot a little different … if you were there – do tell… if you were unable to come .. well I hope to get out and about more next year – maybe to a festival near you! DSCF7604 crop

As always I love to hear your thoughts – do leave a comment 🙂

 

 

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Radio, Newspaper, Lit Fest – it’s a Thriller!

I’ve had a busy week in the run-up to the new LOOE LITERARY FESTIVAL (13-16th Nov)  with both a piece in the newspaper and a live interview on BBC Radio Cornwall with Tiffany Truscott

When I read about the prospect of a NEW literary festival to be set up in Looe, back in April, I was delighted … as ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ is set in Looe, Cornwall AND it had just come out in Paperback. NEHH_Design_Light

This book is set in the early 1990s, and I have put it in the ‘thriller’ genre. Now you may be aware that I find writing to fit one genre very tricky. You see my muse doesn’t like to be formulaic in any way. My muse likes to take something that looks very much like real life and put a twist into it.

Before I realised that this novel was a light thriller (and I’ll come back to the ‘light’ bit) I never knew whether to call it a Romance .. or a Crime novel. Let me explain.

I always thought of it as a bit of a romance novel as we have three romantic threads going on throughout most of the book. Some of these are more intense than others, some of them are teenagers, some are in their thirties, some forties. So you can see that I would think this was a Romance. However, I am assured, that it is a book that men like to read as much as women, that it is not the sort of ‘romance’ that puts certain people off.. that the ‘romance’ seems to be just part of the life of these characters.

Then again, I thought, perhaps it was a Crime novel. It starts off with crimes, and follows a Detective Inspector as he transfers out of the Met down to Plymouth. It follows some of his cases, needless to say, involving Crime. Put this together with the criminal events that affect the other main characters and we have what I thought of as a Crime novel. Yet, if you were a die-hard Crime reader perhaps you would find too much real life getting in the way of first-and-foremost crime and detection.

Now I can tell you it is a Thriller (with Romance and Crime involved)…. And it is a ‘light’ thiller because it does not fit well with the ‘shoot-em-up, improbably car-chase, blood-n-gore, stop the end of the world’ … type of thriller that I think of as ‘American-style’ thrillers.

One of my reviewers put is this way. ‘Love a good ‘English’ thriller’. Now, I thought, that really sums it up. I love a good English Thriller too (Think Robert Goddard) … but if you live in Cornwall .. and write a book set in Cornwall … best not call it ‘English’ 😉   … So ‘light’ Thriller it is.

Here’s my chat with Tiffany Truscott on BBC Radio Cornwall a few days ago – in case you missed it…   (if you are looking at this on the email – click into the title at the top and this will take you to the blog and then you’ll be able to listen in – it’s on youtube and the link doesn’t show up on the email)

If you are local do come to the NEW LIT FEST in LOOE, there is plenty going on both paid for and for free – I’ll be part of the Liskeard Poets – reading in the Poetry Invaders event 11am on Saturday which is a free event.

Then I’d love to meet you at my Author Event on Saturday 15th, 1.30pm in The Old Boathouse Café. I’ll be reading a few excerpts, answering questions about the novels, writing or whatever you ask and doing a book-signing. This is a free event too and there will also be a free draw …. Oh! … and there will be cake ! See you there

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