Converting the Americans

Converting them to what – or from what? You may well ask!

One of the things that the internet has brought us, is recipes from round the world.  Recipes from far flung countries with different climates and different languages do not seem to be a problem – usually someone, somewhere, has taken the trouble to convert the recipe from whatever units it is usually made in – into (nowadays) grams and millilitres. Apart from American recipes!

If you are ‘of a certain age’ you are probably still thinking in ounces and pints for cooking. In fact there are a few recipes I really do not think I could work in metric, so long ago were they learnt that I make them on automatic pilot and in imperial. They are, at least, proper measurements.

DSCF5371I have been looking for a particular type of biscuit to set as a competition for our WIs next group meeting. Now, for the uninitiated, a group meeting is where a designated group of WIs in an area get together for a cut-throat friendly set of competitions and a talk – frequently one that would be beyond the reach (financially) of one WI on its own, though not always.

DSCF5377At these events the friendly competition is usually set to reflect the theme of the talk. Hence – the last one we set up was a talk from a man who had owned a Zoo … the competitions were: Floral – a flower arrangement to represent a wild animal, Craft – a decorative border for the poem Tyger Tyger, by Blake and, Cookery – a Zebra Cake!
Just a few of the entries shown Right>

DSCF5369Now the only available versions of this zebra cake were in American Cups – and using a tin size that is just not commonly in the British cupboard. So a lot of conversion and changing of quantities took place until the recipe worked in metric … and then it had to be converted to imperial and checked again, as some ladies of a ‘very certain age’ only measure and cook in imperial.
Zebra Cake!  my metric / imperial recipe here

I struggle to understand why the Americans use their form of measurements in their cooking. I have heard that it was from when they had nothing to weigh with, that recipes using ‘cups’ were simple enough that any vessel could be the ‘cup’ and as long as the proportions (the cup) used was the same the recipe would then work. Understandable then, if true, but when we live in an age when even ‘sophisticated’ scales, that swap between imperial and metric, are available for small amounts of money – why use a method so random?

Just try getting a ‘cup’ of butter  to be right – or using a different type of sugar to the one specified when you run out of one but have the other in the cupboard (granulated, demerara and caster all give different cup measurements) – or even flour – which has to be ‘fluffed-up’ before making up the cups ‘best spooned into the cup and then levelled off!’ What?!

Looking it up I see that many American Chefs and Cookery writers are trying to convert the Americans to use scales and recipes that are more accurate – but there is a huge resistance – ‘Cups’ ‘Spoons’ and ‘Sticks’ are almost seen as patriotic! (by the way – ‘spoons’ as in ‘a spoon of butter’ – not just spoons of fluid ingredients)

At our next group meeting in May 2016 we have the lovely Anthea Lay who was a competitor on The Big Painting Challenge on the BBC, bringing us an interactive Big Painting Challenge Experience to our WI Group meeting – I’m looking forward to it … but before that I have to work out the cookery competition to fit the theme, and soon – so we can notify the other WIs.

I am after a particular type of biscuit that I saw on the internet, one that can be made to look like an artist’s palette. Can I find it in metric or imperial? Can I coco!

So once more I shall set about converting the American measures into Metric and Imperial. It does mean that I’ll have another recipe to add here eventually – which can’t be a bad thing.

Have you ever tried an American ‘cups’ type recipe without converting it?  How did it go?

Do you *sigh* when you find a really nice looking recipe and see it is all in ‘cups’ ‘spoons’ and ‘sticks’?

Do share your thoughts – and any good recipes too, you know I love to hear from you.

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Craft Fairs & Literary Festivals

It is THAT time of year – when people are thinking about  *whisper* Christmas shopping …  WP_20151105_15_26_11_Pro

… and my favourite place to shop is a proper local craft fair – where the goods are made in the area by the hugely talented lot of crafters we have in South East Cornwall (and around) There are two I always go to – and attend with my own books too – one is in my local church, which happened this weekend, the other is at the Parish Hall (for Linkinhorne) at Upton Cross which is also a treasure house of art as well as crafts … and happens on the first weekend of December – truly into the Christmas season!

Art and Craft … and books? It may seem strange to have books along at such events, but they fit in very well – what an art and what a craft, it is to create the worlds, characters, plots and lives held within the pages of a novel!  And they are local – in that the authors are local and are often present to sign or dedicate the books (though not ‘sitting behind the stall’ in either of these style of craft fair they can be found at certain times stewarding).

WP_20151107_11_12_51_ProToday, if you do not count on-line book sales, there are as many books sold through non-bookshop outlets as there are though bookshops. Every supermarket has books for sale, usually the most popular, the newest and the heavily discounted – but books that catch the casual shoppers eye – and get bought. To  have books at a craft fair therefore is no different in retailing terms – and a signed (and dedicated) novel can make a very special present.

However, it is the Literary Festival that holds up the book in the spotlight. Here the readers go to hear the stories behind the stories. How the authors come up with their plots. Where do they get inspiration from to create the characters? What are the trials and tribulations … and the highlights and triumphs. What was the hardest part to write, indeed, how do they write – most authors have their own way of working – finding out can be fun.

So it is with great pleasure that I can tell you, if you didn’t know, that I am invited along again to the Looe Literary Festival starting on the 12 of November – 15th.

SKOS

If you go to their website you can find the schedule – I am talking about Some Kind of Synchrony at 2.45 on Saturday 14th and would love to see you along there – and it is totally FREE. The venue is Upstairs @ Mama J’s  – which is down towards the sea in East Looe.  Scroll down the Full Schedule page to see a map.

 

Before me, at 1.30pm,  you will have the chance to hear my fellow Pendown Publishing author Sally Newton talk about what she learnt when researching her novel, the first of a trilogy, ‘Caradoc – The Defiant Prince’ set in iron-age Britain in AD25.Book launch poster y1

Not only that but, on Sunday at 11.30, you can catch me again with the rest of The Liskeard Poets with our set called ‘Festival’ – also at Mama J’s and also for free!

In fact this festival is so great because they have ensured that there is always something to be seen and heard, regardless of how deep your pockets are, and it is one of the most relaxed and inclusive literary festivals out there – turning the bucket-and-spade town into something completely different – a place where people wander from talk to talk with books tucked under their arms, eat and drink in the pubs, restaurants and cafes and enjoy the peace of being by a Cornish river and close to the sea, with authors, books and talks all around the town.

So – I hope to see some of you along at the weekend – if you read this blog do let me know when we meet!

Do you frequent Literary Festivals?

What do you like about them?

If not – here’s your chance! A laid-back friendly festival to try.

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Siamese apples and Freak shows

We wouldn’t go to a freak show nowadays, would we? WP_20150930_12_58_55_ProThe Elephant man – the bearded lady – the Siamese twins?

What started this train of thought? Well an apple. This apple.

Which I popped on to Twitter – it was cute, I thought, but wanting to check my spelling of Siamese (Siamese twin apples) I came across the story of the eponymous Siamese Twins.

I had known nothing of these particular gentlemen. For some reason I had assumed that the first documented occurrence had been in Siam as is often the case with medical descriptions – and indeed these two did come from Siam – but they were far from the first documented.

‘Comments’ are to be found in history as far back as 300 AD (a statue of conjoined twins) or St Augustine of Hippo 415 (a full description of a man with two heads, two chests and four arms but only one torso and pair of legs). The first full medical examination was of conjoined brothers from Armenia examined in Constantinople in 942 AD

Chang and Eng Bunker courtesy wikipedia
Chang and Eng Bunker courtesy wikipedia

The name ‘Siamese Twins’ came from the freak-show label attached to the two men, Change and Eng Bunker, when on tour with P T Barnum’s Circus. The Bunkers (a surname they later adopted) had been born in 1811 near Bangkok in the, then, the kingdom of Siam to a Malaysian Thai mother and a Chinese Thai father.

A Scottish merchant, Robert Hunter, saw them swimming one day and realised their ‘potential’, getting the parents to allow him to take them on a world tour. This was highly successful and, when their contracts ended, the brothers bought themselves a 110 acre farm in North Carolina. There they also met and married two sisters, and over time fathered a total of 21 children. By then the term Siamese Twins has become synonymous with conjoined twins.

Roll-Up Roll-Up come and see the Freak Show!        No, we wouldn’t go now – would we?

Yet every other day Facebook seems to throw up a ‘freak show’ item. Sometimes in the guise of ‘helping’ the ones pictured by giving them ‘Likes’. I even saw one that suggested for every Like the page got money would be donated to the fund to heal the boy shown, with a terribly cleft palate – or so it said…. Then there’s the ones that say ‘share and you care’ ‘ignore and you are heartless’ showing people, or animals, in a distressing state – freak-shows with menaces.

TV serves up lots of freak shows too – I don’t need to name them. From people seeking love lives, to medical enhancements or medical problems, from crazy weddings to weight gain and weight loss, almost every ‘reality’ show – where everyone is a caricature – at the very least.

People are curious, of course we are – but we have obviously not moved on from the Victorian freak show – the only difference now is that it comes to us – and the ‘showmen’ know it – just as P T Barnum did.  No, not everyone, if you just turn off – turn over, flick past, you probably wouldn’t have gone to the shows if you were born in Victorian times either.

But it made me think … and all this just from an apple.

Do you get led astray by thought threads …..

Is it a time-waster or a means to learning new things

What do you think? You know I love to hear from you  🙂

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Good-News : Bad-News and … gardening

Thinking about this blog (while handling scaffolding poles) I kept thinking about that skit – Good-News : Bad-News.

HOUSE for blogGood news – (well it will be for some lucky person who decides to buy our lovely historic house here in Cornwall) – we are selling our beautiful house.  Bad News – it will mean we will be leaving this lovely place which once rang to the playfulness of our four boys as they roamed the huge garden as they were growing up. Good News – we do not intend to move far – after all, as the village is in the lovely Tamar Valley within half an hour of Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor or the Sea!! – why would we? In fact we are converting the barn.  Bad News – we are doing most of the work ourselves. Good News – this will keep the OH happy (nothing he likes more than ‘a project’) and will be cost-efficient.  Bad News – this means I am now
‘The Gardener DSCF0149 crop
as well.

Or, as today, right-hand-woman in the conversion – today ‘scaffolder’s mate’ passing up the the poles, boards and stuff. Just as well I do weights to keep fit!

Now, to be the gardener is not my delight, and this job has been the OH’s since I returned to work after time-out to bring up the boys (in the days when we both went to work outside the home!) and mightily glad I was of it!

There are problems with me being the gardener at the best of times. One, as a general rule, if I lavish love and care upon a plant it is sure to curl up and die. You have heard of ‘green fingers’… well I think mine are red (that being opposite on a colour-wheel to green) or black – that being the colour the plants end up as. Two, I find it seems to take an inordinate amount of time and my time has many callings upon it already – not least finishing my latest novel! And, thirdly, this is not the best of times … when the house is on the market there is this extra pressure for the garden to look nice. Weeded. In bloom. Tidy. Dead-headed (I’m showing off now)

So yesterday was a full-on gardening day (not the first this year I hasten to add, but one I had been dreading) A small, nearly circular garden of about a metre and a half in diameter, which is semi-shaded (in that it is in the shade for part of the day) had become infested with a garlic-smelling bulb with leaves like a daffodil or a bluebell but curling over more and a white and green bell-like flower arranged somewhat like a bluebell. DSCF0159Allium triquetrum – a form of wild garlic with a triangular stem (not to be confused with Ransoms with their heads of lovely star-like flowers – also known as wild garlic) It seems it is edible and can be used to make a good pesto* but that is no excuse to mess up a perfectly good flower-bed. (*as can Ransoms – and I may try one day – I know there is another patch of Allium triquetrum further down our wood, as well as plenty of Ransoms!) This had started a few years ago as a single flower and had been mistaken for just that – a ‘flower’. It was in a bed that was mostly filled with perennials (showing off again) a huge fuchsia, a perennial poppy with gorgeous large flower heads, daffodils of various types, primulas and Alcheilla mollis (lady’s mantle) I wish I had taken a BEFORE photograph to show you how thoroughly and comprehensively this weed had taken over. There wasn’t a trowel-full of soil that did not contain ten to fifty of these plants, some as fine as thin grass, some as stout as a daffodil. They had both seeded and divided and were woven in and out of all the other perennials that had, hitherto, made this garden an almost self-maintaining spot.

SO, everything had to come out. I was loathe to part with the fuchsia, so instead broke it apart and wheedled out every sign DSCF0152of the little blighters before replanting about half of the pieces. Similarly I ‘cleaned’ all the other plants I had chosen to return to the fold. I then dug up the ‘blocks’ of weed, two wheelbarrow loads, and then sieved all the remaining earth to a depth of about five to six inches to remove every trace of the weed. I dug in a wheelbarrow-load of home-made compost and replanted what I had chosen to start the bed off with again. I have a few different perennials I am bringing along in the greenhouse which will fill the spaces and bring the plot to life again later in the year.

Meanwhile – in other parts of the garden, nature has made some bits look lovely , the orchard is full of daffs, the camellias are glowing, the primulas abundant – if only the flower beds would be so well behaved and simple! DSCF0151DSCF0153DSCF0156Are you a keen gardener – or a reluctant one?

Where do you live? What do you love about your area?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you 🙂

 

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This is not a real post – just a Litter-rant update

This is not a real post – just a Litter-rant update, honest – the post I was writing and didn’t post will arrive early next week.
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THIS is how much rubbish was collected on our Saturday Litter-pick. THIS MUCH! from just the roadsides round out parish.
So you can see our litter-pick happened but not before yet more hurdles were placed in our way…. as you will know I was railing against the fact that one of the volunteers had to travel a total of 50 miles to borrow the equipment to do this litter-pick with… well .. this is what happened……
We headed off the the Liskeard, Moorswater depot … having checked where it should be… it turned out to be a place so unsigned that we had to ask in two other places before we found it! Even when we drove into the yard it wasn’t clear where to go – the office door having only a sign that said ‘visitors must sign in at reception’ though no sign to say where reception was, whose office this was, or anything. I stuck my head inside and said ‘I’m supposed to be collecting some litter-picking equipment?’ Slight surprise but recollection too, then they went to retrieve it from where-ever.
Boxes were brought… I looked and checked numbers ….. instead of the 25 pickers, 25 hoops, 20 tabards and 50 sacks ALL they had to loan us was 19 litter-pickers, 11 hoops, NO TABARDS and 50 sacks.  It transpired that they DO NOT keep this equipment at Moorswater – it had been delivered to them … and that is all they were sent!
 
Now, what you need to know is that without high-visibility tabards a litter pick should not be able to go ahead, as wearing these is part of the Risk Assessment that has to be complied with to receive the Council’s insurance to cover the event.
I asked for a receipt for the numbers I had actually been given as I did not want a different person telling me I had items missing when I returned them and set off wondering what we could do.
 
Luckily I had half dozen adult tabards and 19 small (child size) tabards that we have had since we first began our litter-pick and we were sent them from the national Keep Britain Tidy group. These are like bright green plastic bags with writing on and holes  for heads and arms. I then spent and hour  ‘converting’ most of these to fit an adult – so at least the litter-pick could go ahead. Everyone was very understanding, (including one gentleman who squeezed into an unconverted child-sized tabard – I wish I had taken a photo!) and we had a record turn-out of thirty helpers. (some helping at a different time to others) AND many thanks to all those valiant people who turned out and a special mention for Daniel who picks up all the bags and brings them back to ‘HQ’ for collection by the council later.
Was it worth it? Well, you be the judge – above is the photo of this year’s haul, thirty full bags of rubbish plus a couple of dumped tyres, some hub-caps and a television stand. Just think what it would look like if this much rubbish were left to lie beside our roads and lanes, with the same again added year on year.
So my rant stands, I think Cornwall Council are not helping to encourage volunteers who are picking up the litter, that the council should be doing, by effectively charging volunteers to borrow the equipment (that’s paid for through council taxes) by making them travel so far to collect and return it. We all know times are tight for councils, but this is wrong-headed. They have had plenty of advertising for their ‘Clean-Cornwall’ but what use is that if they treat volunteers in this manner?
Promise – the next post is far more pleasant  🙂
Did you come on the litter-pick?
Have you been on one in your area?
Do share- you know I love to hear from you – even when it’s only been a rant 🙂
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Council Kicking the Gift-Horse in the Head

You will have read here before of our annual litter-pick – clearing our beautiful Cornish country lanes of the litter debris that accumulates over the year. You will  have seen the HUGE pile of bags filed with this rubbish, numbering twenty or more, plus sundry car tyres, plastic buckets and unidentified parts of something or other … Here’s last year’s collection DSCF7445

This all done through the goodwill of VOLUNTEERS. Volunteers who arrange the day, the allocation of routes,  the borrowing of tools to help in the job, the driving round the routes to collect bags that have become too heavy to carry, the collection of all the bags filled and sundry objects, and, ultimately the collection of all this by the Council.

All fine and dandy … we’ve been doing this for nigh on twenty years. However this year I am very UNHAPPY. The council have decided that the equipment can only be collected from one of four depots around our long county. … expecting us, in this case, to make a total of !!! 50 miles !!!  journey to borrow these items ….  TO HELP THE COUNCIL DO ITS WORK ???

# Their excuse is ‘the cuts’ … Umm excuse me ….. wind back a bit ……

Last year* (and for a number preceding this) we have been able to collect the equipment from the local One-Stop-Shop (once these became established – before then the equipment was delivered to us [yes that was extravagant] and, sensibly, collected when the refuse was collected.)

In this* model the equipment was delivered TO the One Stop Shop by the Council Van – which goes to round to each One-Stop-Shop  ANYWAY.  We could arrange to pick it up on a day during the week preceding out litter-pick – to suit us – and return it the next week. This meant it was picked up and returned when someone was already going into the local town RESULT = NO EXTRA TRANSPORT REQUIRED = less impact on the environment + less expense for the volunteers!

The Council blame ‘CUTS’ ….  HOW can volunteers travelling 50+ miles be better? As I understand it, one other volunteer group has already cancelled their litter-pick… and were it not for the fact that ours has been advertised I doubt this one would go ahead. Will we feel inclined to organise it next year? I doubt it.

The council appears to assume by asking the volunteers to collect and return at distance – that the volunteers have the TIME in their working week to do this, that they have the SPARE MONEY to afford the extra cost, that they care so little about the environment that driving unnecessary miles is fine with them.

“A VOLUNTEER IS WORTH TEN PRESSED MEN”

It isn’t enough that we give up a Saturday afternoon (when we could all find something more pleasurable to be doing) to clear the litter from the highways and byways of our parish – it seems we are now expected to ‘pay’ to do so. This is not to say that we are not grateful for the loan of the equipment, we are, it makes doing ‘the council’s job’ easier for us, encourages more people to get involved, which encourages more people to care for their environment. The enthusiasm with which people work at this task is wonderful – as the saying goes ‘a volunteer is truly worth ten pressed men’

INSULT TO INJURY
Cornwall Council choice of recycling-collection method even causes litter

Litter-picking also means we get to see the types and locations of litter. We can highlight the patterns of offenders, the ‘every-week stop for a snack and a smoke – drop it out the window’ the ‘regular buy a Costa Coffee – drop the empty cup out the window as they finish’ the ‘chuck the cigarette-packet as they drive into the parish’ types. Since the council have changed to a new recycling collection system, where the recycling is collected loose from kerb-side bags, we have also identified another type of litter. Domestic recycling that has ‘jumped’ out of the recycling wagon, or been ‘sucked out’ by the wind as they drive along. 

How do we know? Well, who would fold flat a Quaker-Oats box (to give a specific example) then drive a couple of hundred yards or so to throw it out? Or lids from cans of fruit of similar? Or washed, squashed milk-bottles? This litter is usually a long way from residences; where the lorry gets a bit of speed up. Indeed, litter being ‘sucked out and whirling into the air’ has been observed by one of our group when following a recycling lorry down a long stretch between houses.

Ironic, then, that they are causing more litter AND effectively dissuading people from helping clean it up!

Looking again at that HUGE pile of litter and rubbish and debris we collected last year from the highways and byways of our small Cornish parish … It seems Cornwall Council want that to stay blighting the countryside this year, and the same again added every year! No amount of advertising ‘Clean Cornwall week / fortnight’ will get this picked up without the Volunteers that they are turning against them.

Do you think the council are being blinkered by ‘the cuts!!’

Are they ‘cutting’ off their nose to spite their face?

Are they kicking the gift-horse in the head (to mix my metaphors?)

What do you think we should do next year if they do not change this policy?

Rant over …  normal service may return next week… though it depends what rubbish we find on the litter-pick 🙂

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Which one did they win cabbages on?

So began an interlude when I turned up at the village shop the other day. ‘Was it Crackerjack?’ Mary asked.

‘Surely not, didn’t they win pencils on that?’ I replied, well and truly intrigued already (doesn’t take much – this is country-life after all)

Now, I have no idea how this conversation had started before I arrived, but I do know that Alan was already on the computer looking it up. ‘It was!’ he said, ‘but they didn’t win them they had to hold them.’  (he was referring to cabbages!)

Seems my memory was duff – they did win pencils with Crackerjack printed on them (certainly into BIG prizes back then!!) – and everyone shouted ‘Crackerjack’ … but the cabbages came in a part of the programme called ‘Double or Drop’ whereby for each right answer they were given a prize to hold and for each wrong answer the contestant was given a cabbage to hold. They were ‘out’ if they dropped anything … or were awarded their third cabbage!  (here follows a youtube clip – you need to be reading the original post rather than your email to see it) 

This began a trawling through of other ‘game shows of our childhood’ which drew in another customer who, despite having a few years on us, declared he wasn’t old enough to remember any of them!

I do recall Crackerjack, though I have to say it wasn’t something that I was desperate to watch. I was amazed to find out that it was on our screens  from 1956 through to 1984 with many incarnations of presenters and added sections to boost interest. As it was essentially aimed at children I suppose that my interest, such as it was, waned as I ‘grew out of it’.

The game show that left the biggest impression on me from the 60s would have to be ‘Opportunity Knocks’ a sort of talent show with (I always thought the slightly creepy) Hugie Green. This was soon displaced by The Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth when it arrived early in the 70s.

All in all I didn’t really like the ‘slap-stick’ and ‘crazy-fun’ sort of game shows. Anything that depended on people being made t0 look inadequate or silly I didn’t find funny then (or now). (here follows a youtube clip – you need to be reading the original post rather than your email to see it)

A game show I do recall and loved from the 60s and 70s was Call My Bluff – not aimed at children, but watched avidly in our house. I loved Frank Muir’s vocal antics as he describe the ‘true’ meaning of the words!  As an easy-to-put-on entertainment (not easy to prepare mind!) we had a session of Call My Bluff last month at our WI…. with ‘characters’ reading out the definitions and the audience choosing what they thought was the right answer – good fun was had by all… and we now refer to heavy rain here as ‘lumming it down’ 🙂

Perhaps this was my early and enduring love-affair with words.  It is hard as writer not to use any word in your own vocabulary as you write and I have sometimes been chastised for using words that I am told ‘many people’ would not understand. Now, as an author you really do not want anything to hold-up the flow of thought-transition, between words on the page and the imagination of the reader to form it into their personal ‘film-of-the-book’, but, as an educator, I rail against the ‘dumbing-down’ of language. So as an author I have to tread a fine-line between the two.

My OH tells me he uses his ‘dictionary’ function on his kindle fairly often. Such a great little tool, whereby you highlight the word and within seconds you have the full dictionary definition there before you, and great way to expand your own vocabulary!

Which brings me onto another conversation … with another book-aholic writer. She confessed to having been saying a word she had only ever read, never heard, in the way she thought it ought to be said .. for years.. until she was horrified to hear it used by someone who did know only to find she’d been saying the word incorrectly all the time. My confession followed, my faux-pas was the word hyperbole … which I had been rendering as hyper – bole in my head …. when I heard it and saw it at the same time to be hy-per-bo-le  I too was mortified   😮

Oh! Where a random conversation can lead you…

Do you have fond/cringing memories of the game shows of your youth?

What were the game shows of YOUR youth?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.

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Natural Dyeing – a Novel way to research

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Dried natural dye plant material

Well, when you SAY it as opposed to READ it it does cause confusion (and a little consternation if not concern) however, this is all soon put right when I explain  (waving hands about) that I mean dyeing – with COLOURS from natural plants.

A good friend of mine runs workshops from her beautifully converted small barn at Nine Acres near Callington, Cornwall. Workshops on all sorts of crafts. This one was on DYEING USING NATURAL PLANTS .

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Preparing the Weld
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The colour begins to come out – looking a bit green at this stage

So on  a chilly morning we met and after a welcoming cuppa went out into the garden to see some of these plants in their natural state. Now, as this was early winter most were as as stalks of dried out flower stems, or low growing base leaves, but it gave us the idea about the ones that were native or could be grown easily in the UK

Back in the barn we were shown a range of plant material we could work with, some harvested from Jane’s garden, some bought in, some native, some not.

There were eight of us and four work-stations and it was suggested we pair up and each pair work on a different dye in the morning, and yet a different one in the afternoon. Some people had come together, easy pairing. I was there for a very specific reason.

Jane had been to our WI and demonstrated dyeing using Woad, a native plant, and I wanted to know about dyeing using other native plants.

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The resultant colour from using dried Weld plant

 

I said ‘I want to dye with WELD,’ and immediately another guest said, ‘yes, me too!’ This is how Sally and I started working together.

As we gathered the ingredients together I confessed I wasn’t so much interested in dyeing for the product – but that I was researching for a book I want to write one day. Her response was ‘Me too. I’m researching for a book.’

RESEARCH

We worked on the WELD, producing a yellow dye which we then coloured some prepared sheep-wool with. As we worked so I learned of her Trilogy about the real historical figure, Caradoc, set in AD 25 onwards and I told her of my idea to write the legend (that doesn’t exist) to explain the naming of our church after an obscure Irish nun from the late 600s.  Both of us wanting to absorb the sights and smells that may permeate the backgrounds of our stories.

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Dried Madder roots pieces put in together with the wool (before adding water)
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Picking out Madder roots bits from the dyed wool

Now when it comes to researching for novels it can often be done at a remove. You can find many things out now with a carefully worded internet search request and a few clicks of the button. I have also ‘flown’ myself to different parts of the world when researching as I mentioned  here  in another blog – where I wanted my main character Luke Adamson in  The Angel Bug to travel to a prison facility in the USA.

Then you can ‘pick the brains’ of people you know (policemen / doctors / engineers /whatever) for the bits that research cannot really tell you  – sounds, smells, pain-levels, consequences etc.

You can also ‘extrapolate’ from your own experiences. You take the feeling / physical experience from say, the scary experience when some idiot was overtaking and caused a near-miss situation … and develop that snap-shot gut-twist  into the feeling that your character has in a near-death situation.

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From top Weld, Madder and Weld mix) Madder (un-soaked – so pale) and Woad (winter leaves so pale)

And then you can do some first hand work and absorb these sights, textures and smells yourself.

In the afternoon we worked with the third native natural dye – Madder, though the dried root we used was un-soaked, so did not give the deep ‘Beef-Eater Uniform’ red it should. The scent of under-simmering madder (you mustn’t let it boil) seemed sweet in comparison to the ‘cabbage smell’ of the weld, especially noticeable as we compared them directly.  Then at a whim we mixed the remaining Weld Dye with the left-over Madder liquid to produce a pleasant peachy colour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek at Authors researching and the world of workshop experiences. I am happy to say that Sally’s trilogy will be published by my partnership publisher (Pendown Publishing) so we’ll get to see more of each other as our books go out together into the market.

Do you enjoy going on workshops?

What is the best thing you have ever done on one?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you.

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Big this- Big that – But Bringing people together

I’d love to tell you about the great atmosphere, the laughter, the absolutely yummy food that was to be had at our village Big Breakfast last Saturday first-hand … but as I spent from half past nine to half past twelve cooking eggs and mushrooms non-stop, without time to even look up, I can only report second-hand on most of it.

Please imagine here a large plate, filled up with two rashers of bacon, two sausages, an egg,  then add mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans, to the side have a plate of toast and marmalade and a cup of tea – got that? Good – because I didn’t have time to take a photograph – despite remembering to take my camera!

It is true I could hear the buzz roar of convivial chatter and the laughter, and hear the diners who stuck their heads in the hatch to congratulate us on the tastiness of the food, and, when everyone was gone and we had a chance to eat, I could testify to that too. It was wonderful! However I can only remember one time when we were busier, and that time taught us a lesson in table management!

‘What is this Big Breakfast?’  You might ask, especially if you are not even from the UK (as I know some of you aren’t) or indeed, live in an urban environment where this feast has not caught on … yet.

Each year there is a National Big Breakfast week. Consisting of the traditional English Breakfast. This is partly to raise awareness of good quality British produced foods – bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms and more – and to raise money for whichever group are running it – traditionally here it has been the WI and Parish Hall funds

DSCF5184
Hedgerows of daffodils without litter!

Then in March we have our Big Tidy – which is a parish-wide litter pick of the highways and byways before our beautiful parish bursts into bloom with hedgerows decorated by daffodils and wild flowers. Again organised by us in the WI but participated in by anyone who likes to get involved.

The result is a HUGE (wish I could make the fonts go bigger on this blog) pile of bags of collected litter – and a really warm feeling of achievement! (though perhaps I should DSCF6776 cropwarn of the side-effect: of being able to spot the tiniest piece of litter at a hundred paces that doesn’t wear off for weeks!)

In reality both these are little events in the world scheme of things … but these little things make a difference – they bring people together, help build community, share in everyday things, feel good about their environment.

Big This – Big That – but these little things DO make a difference. Community, shared environment, shared lives.

What events are run in your area that bring people together?

Who is it that organises them?

Did you come along to the Big Breakfast? Are you going to join in the Big Tidy?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.

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Bargain! BARGAIN!! – Or is it?

BOOK BARGAINThis special offer (absolutely genuine by the way – my photo taken on actual book cover) is not a bargain – obviously. However, not all fake  ‘bargains’ are as easy to spot. Many do not even scream ‘bargain’ at you. They just offer themselves in a way that we have been trained to assume is a ‘bargain’. Even this blatantly wrong bargain sticker would still draw the customer to look at the goods

Come on woman! I hear you say – what are you getting at?

Well, I am an inveterate checker of  ‘price per 100g / kilo’ at the supermarket, if I weren’t I would have frequently paid over the odds per weight by going automatically for the ‘multi-pack’ or the larger size – but it isn’t always the cheapest option! [And getting duped into paying more than I need, annoys me!]

‘Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’

Recently I have noticed ‘Family Value packs of Carrots’ at 6p/kg over loose carrots. Large packs of mushrooms marked ‘special’ at 15p /kg over loose mushrooms and broccoli (or calabrese) vacuum-sealed in plastic, also at a reduced price, that was still more than the loose per kg.

Away from the fresh produce and onto the packed goods: Multi-packs of fruit-juice, that you might reach for, suddenly 80p over the price of the individual ones – when they have a special on singles but not the multi-packs. Specials on small boxes of cereal / tea that make them cheaper per 100grams than the large boxes of the same, again, by having reductions on one size only. If the goods inside the package are being reduced – then be honest with it and reduce them across the range!

I have no problem with the supermarkets putting down the prices of the smaller packs – indeed I often feel that those who have to buy small-and-often due to finances or usage or space difficulties ought not be over-penalised for their need to buy smaller. (Whilst taking into account that packaging for small quantities probably costs almost as much as packaging for large – yet is frequently disproportionally charged for)

The question is – who is it that are being targeted by the supermarkets when they flag-up these ‘spurious’ special offers?

OK, so you might say it is those with an eye to a bargain, but you can look at  it another way, they may be someone who needs to watch their pennies.

However, if you combine that with someone who lacks the time, or the peace and quiet, to read the price per 100g / kg and compare – the ‘special price!!’Family value!!‘multi-pack!!‘ ‘larger box!!‘ – is mainly going to catch the harassed shopper for the family.

Someone squeezing in the shopping after work and before getting an evening meal together. Someone with children in tow. Someone who cannot spend too much time shopping as they have dependants to care for. Someone who has to get the shopping and be back to the bus-stop before the bus leaves*. (*Rural readers will understand this more than urban)

 ‘Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish’

There are other costs to consider when you head off  to shop at the supermarket too. Unless you are highly organised, or live within walking distance of the big supermarket, the trip to get something you need, but forgot, can cost you dear. Unless your one trip into town makes sure you really have everything –  when you nip back a couple of days later for the item you forgot you will  be paying well over the odds – fuel prices being what they are!

How useful, how nice if you could just pop along to the corner / village shop and pick it up there?  Well, you can if the little shop is still open, and to keep the little shop open we all need to make sure we do SOME of our weekly shop there, every week.  They can’t be expected to stock the esoteric and exotic (as everything has a use-by date now-a-days) but they usually have all the basics and staples that most of us buy on a regular basis anyway, and can supply other things if there are regular firm orders for them.

Do you know where my best bargains were to be found last week? In my local post-office stores! There, two of the items I buy every week were on special offer. Real special offers. Orange juice at two boxes for £2 (where they are usually £1.19  each) and sliced pineapple (to go with the delicious Cornish Bacon Company gammon I buy there too) at 2 cans for £1 instead of 62p each, plus I didn’t have to drive into town and back to get them (average fuel cost: 6miles = £1.00) and shopping locally helps to keep our local shop going and our village community alive – making it worthwhile even if I hadn’t saved extra. Win – Win! Much better than just doing the supermarkets!

Well, what do you think?

Where do you live? Do you have a local shop?

Do you love or loathe the supermarket ‘bargains’?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you 🙂

P.S.  It is one of our WI campaigns too – shop local!

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