Burlesque, Deportment and Wet-Day PE lesson

Georgina Gale

We had the fabulous Georgina Gale from Art of Dance, Plymouth, come to talk to our WI last week about Burlesque.  Not a usual topic for WI you may be thinking – but maybe you have the wrong idea about burlesque – or the wrong idea about WI ?  🙂

Burlesque is more about the suggestion of sensuality than about sex : WI is about women having fun while learning stuff together.

As Georgina talked it was noticeable that she wanted women to ‘own their space’ to be ‘certain and proud of being a woman – and show it’ and that this was aided by a few minor alterations to how we walked, how we held ourselves, and how we used whatever props came to hand.

At one point I found myself flooded with a memory. A memory that was of a lesson I learned when about thirteen or fourteen and have generally tried to follow – when I remember.

It was a wet day, a really wet day and it was not only PE but our PE teacher was away and so the HE (Home Economics) teacher was covering the lesson. Worse, with only one Gym, the boys and the girls had to take turns on these wet days and it was the boys turn – so we were relegated to the hall. The hall was used for some sports anyway – it had a badminton court marked out on it.

Back in those days teachers were not expected to have lesson plans ready for another member of staff to pick up and use if they were away – so the HE teacher was left to her own devices.

She chose to teach us a little deportment.

Now this may have been usual in some schools (maybe in the nearby Princess Margaret-Rose school for instance) but in our mixed secondary modern it was not on the general curriculum.

She started with walking – as did our Burlesque teacher last week – getting us to walk around the hall following the painted badminton lines, placing one bare foot in front of the other, on the line, as we went. Placing was a good word for it, toe – heel, toe – heel. Those who straddled the line were put right – one foot in front of the other! We were walking with grace – not clumping along.

Then she upped the stakes.

She’d brought along a pile of soft-backed old HE books and now we were to balance one on our head and continue our perambulation. Head up, eyes forward, looking at the line now in the distance. How it straightened backs and shoulders! It sounds stuffy but we had fun – it isn’t easy, that balancing the book on the head stuff – especially when you turn – so there was laughter too!

And so it was in our Burlesque evening (without the books – but with shoes) plenty of laughter but then suddenly we were looking far more confident, all looking taller. You could see how someone walking like that would draw attention, someone looking so confident somehow makes you believe that they know who they are, what they are doing and where they are going – and that confidence is attractive.

It made me think – how often do we as women duck our heads, look at our feet, slouch, unsure what to do without arms? Giving the impression that we are not confident in the world. How much of this is learnt behaviour, learnt ‘feminine’ behaviour? That maybe we have lost some indefinable female power by ignoring, or deliberately turning our backs, on elegance and grace of movement. If you ever watch dancers, off  stage, they still have it – maybe we all need a few lessons.

How often do you see young women ‘clumping’ along (as my teacher put it) like a boy – but with the rest of the body language that says, ‘don’t listen to me, don’t look at me, I don’t know what I’m doing here’ ?

Maybe a little deportment should be taught – maybe under another name? Positional empowerment?

Whereas back in the school hall the teacher finished off by teaching us how sit and how to get in and out of a car elegantly without showing your knickers no matter how short your skirt – very useful in those early mini-skirt days! Georgina added how to stand, so that you are comfortable, your back well supported, (she’s also trained in Pilates), your hands poised in a relaxed position that allowed you to stand tall and look confident – comfortably. (Plus a few cheeky poses and the removal of … gloves 😉 )

What do you think?

Positional empowerment lessons for girls?

A load of old-fashioned nonsense?

Love to hear from you

best  –  Ann

Ok, you can admit it now – you went and got a paperback or magazine and tried walking with it on your head, didn’t you?   😉

ps If you are reading this on email and would like to comment just click onto the title and it will take you to the actual blog – so you can comment there 🙂
If it is the first time you have written a comment don’t worry if it doesn’t appear immediately, your first comment has to be verified (to keep the spam-bots out) and I do this personally – so I am sure to see your comment – thanks for reading – Ann

pps – if you are reading on the email and can’t see a video when it says there is one – again , please go to the actual blog by clicking the title – then it should appear 🙂

Remember – reviews of books are a great way to say ‘thank you’ to an author if you like what they write  🙂 Thank You




Getting passionate about …

The first time I was in my forties, and I blame the WI. After all, if I hadn’t seen the day out in the County News I would never have decided to have-a-go.

IMG_1111 crop
Cheesewring, Cornwall – photo Ann Foweraker

So it was off to the wilds of Bodmin Moor – to the quarry at the foot of the famous Cheesewring. When I say, at the foot … if they had continued to quarry there would have been no famous Cheesewring left to see, as it hovers near the top edge of this defunct granite quarry.

We, a group of WI women from all over Cornwall, were gathered to have-a-go at Rock Climbing and Abseiling.

I have to say, it was an exhilarating experience, made all that more wonderful by the fact that you could almost palpably feel the goodwill driving you on to reach that next hand hold or edge of rock to rest your foot on, from the women below (and above) as you climbed the ‘sheer’ rock face. Okay, so it was a real ‘beginners rock face’ with plenty of hand holds once you knew what to look for, and the places to put your feet were substantial enough to suffice, even though we were all in conventional trainers.

Once we reached the top, yes all of us managed it, we had the opportunity to abseil down again. This was quite another thing.

Climbing, taken that you are roped and belayed, is relatively safe, you are also in control of your movements. The LOOK of abseiling sent my heart beating fast. It looked unsafe. It looked out of my control.

My turn came, the sound of my heart beating, in my head so loud I could barely hear the instructions. I stood on the cliff edge feeling sick and started to lean back over the abyss, the rope taking the strain, my grip on the rope, as it went through the rappel, tight.

It was magnificent! The bouncing off the cliff-face and landing further below; a new sort of freedom, and it finished all too soon.

That day was completed with a second, higher, climb and abseil and I exalted in it, enough to organise another event for other members of my own WI on Kit Hill the next year. However, that was it… until my boys, now very (read EXTREMELY) keen and good climbers started taking me with them on local sorties … and to the local climbing wall where they also have Bouldering. A giant ‘rock’ in the middle of the huge climbing barn, dotted with coloured holds, making routes of differing difficulties which you climb without ropes. And, though some routes can be a struggle (for me) the sense of achievement when you reach the top on your second / third / fourth go! ZIPPP!

And I am hooked. I am thinking of buying climbing shoes (rather than hiring them) and, in true WI style, making my own (very individual) chalk-bag  😉 My only grievances: – my fingers are not very strong, and though this will improve, I suspect over-sixty is not the best age to grow new finger-strength – watching  youngsters fly up the holds, their lithe, lightweight bodies scrambling like spiders, and wishing I’d done it back at that age  –  and finally, time – it is hard enough to fit everything I want to into a day as it is!!

Here’s a lovely video of a baby to show you just how easy it is really 🙂

Do you have a new passion this new year?

Have you tried climbing – is it your thing?

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


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.


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.


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

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.


Too Late to Decorate a Christmas Cake??

No, it’s not too late to decorate your Christmas cake AND make it look special … let’s be honest here… I haven’t decorated mine yet. But, here’s one I did earlier.  As in; I decorated the Christmas cake for our WI party.. and posted the result on Facebook.. and have had more than a few queries about how it was done.  Well, it was fairly simple and really didn’t take very long – though some drying time is needed between stages .. and luckily I had taken a few photos as I went (not really enough but I hope it will give you what you need) DSCF0063


Not wanting to teach my grandmother to suck eggs… but I am often amazed how many people do not start themselves off with a nice flat cake, trusting to luck that the top of the cake will be flat enough. You may skip this paragraph if you are a grandmother experienced in sucking eggs. 😉  If you are doing a quintessential snow-scene the rough or rounded top really doesn’t matter. For almost anything else cut the top off the cake to level it up. Turn it upside down and set on the cake board: the base is now the top and will be lovely and flat!  This can be stuck in place with a blob of royal icing or jam  (though the latter not so firm)  Hint: measure up the sides to the point where the rounding starts. At the same level on 4 sides (or corners if you are doing a square cake), slice into the cake. then, keeping the blade level with the table top work round to the next cut… thus joining the cuts up, all at the proper level, when all the side/s have been cut into then slice through the centre. You should now have a cut ‘top’ surface but a level cake – then you turn it over.


I like fondant icing and, though I did once make it, I usually just buy Regal Ice.  I prefer this one for flavour and texture – but you can use the others if you prefer. If you like marzipan, by all means give your cake a layer of that. Certainly at this late stage it is not necessary to prevent colour ‘bleed’ from the cake coming through, so if you do not like marzipan ( as I do not) you do not have to use it!  The following  instructions would apply to marzipan as well as fondant.

Heat a tablespoon of apricot jam in a small container (Microwave until just bubbling would be fine) Brush the warm jam all over the cake top and sides.

On a worktop dusted liberally with CORNFLOUR (not icing sugar) roll out a kilo of fondant icing. I usually thump it about a bit first to make it square rather than rectangular and it also seems to soften it a bit before rolling.

Roll to a minimum thickness of 5mm – 7mm is preferable – thicker than 7 and it’s just too much icing, thinner than 5 gets tricky to lift and smooth.  Keep turning or moving the icing to make sure it isn’t sticking to the worktop at all.

When it is at least 2 inches (5cm) larger than your cake surface-area, lift, using a rolling pin to support the icing , and drape over the cake centrally.

If it is a square cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down over the corners first. This will leave ‘baggy’ bits along the sides, but with gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away along the sides until they, and the corners, are all smooth.

If it is a round cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down evenly, so the baggy areas are evenly spread. With gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away leaving the icing even all around the sides. DSCF0049 edge crop

Make sure your hands are well cornflour dusted and ‘polish’ the top and sides with light circular movements. Press down around the base towards the cake-board.

The icing lapping onto the board can be dealt with in a number of ways. It can be trimmed tight to the cake, which leaves an edge that calls out for a piped trim. You can make sure it covers all the board, and smooth it down right out to the edge and trim level with the edge of the board, or you can cut it into shapes, a wavy line is easy, or use a cutter to give a trimmed pattern. On the cake I made for WI I used a small circular cutter* to make lots of small spikes. *flat-ended apple-corer – but I could also have used a icing nozzle – same size)

Take the excess icing and roll it up together again. If you have some gum tragacanth powder then blend in about quarter of a level teaspoon by kneading it well – this will make the icing harden much better.

Making the DECORATIONS {Note: if you are running VERY close to the date, cut off about a quarter of the kilo of icing and make the decorations first .. then cover the cake when they are dry and ready. Keep the rest of the roll-out well wrapped in cling-film and sealed in an airtight bag}

Roll out icing.. thinner than before. You can use a holly cutter (or two) as I did… but if you haven’t got holly cutters you can use a fluted (sweet) pastry cutter (most of us have those – right?)  See HERE for pictures how to make this type of holly leaves in a previous blog. I then like to mark these with a knife – to show centre line and veins – just a few marks – not necessary — but … DSCF0047DSCF0048

Prepare a A4+ piece if card by folding it into a zigzag and cover it with foil or cling-film. I always  have an odd cereal packet folded up in my cupboard 🙂 (hangover from having children – great source of scrap card) .

As you finish each holly leaf drape it over this zigzag – so each one will have a different curved shape when they dry.

Take remaining fondant and colour it red. Roll it out and cut out letters to spell Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…. if you have letter cutters (A really great item to have in your cake decorating armoury!) – if not then  roll into long thin sausages, shape the letters to spell Happy DSCF0052Christmas, leave to dry on a tray which has been covered with cling-film and dusted with cornflour. (my photo shows silver words — but let’s keep this simple eh?)

To make holly berries roll out a long  thin sausage and cut small even sized pieces and roll to make berries – leave to dry on something they won’t roll off of!!!



Make up 1 egg-white’s worth of royal icing (1 egg white beaten with about 200g/8oz sieved icing sugar until thick and glossy)  (or use ready to mix royal icing – about 100g / 4oz) DSCF0051

If you want a candle as I have in the centre wrap its base in a piece of foil.

Put a large blob of icing in the middle of the cake, carefully site the candle in the centre – do not worry if it wobbles at this stage. Add the dried holly leaves starting with smaller ones round the base and culminating with four large ones at the top. This will all help stabilise the candle. Drop some berries onto the wet icing amongst the holly leaves.  Carefully remove the actual candle and leave this arrangement to set.

DSCF0060Mix a little of the icing with a drop of hot water to make a slightly runnier ‘glue’, using a small brush paste the back of the letters and carefully position on the sides of the cake – hold each one a moment to make sure it is holding on. Using the same technique place a holly berry at each spike round the base, then distribute the rest at random but evenly over the remaining space on the top.DSCF0057

Allow all to set then keep covered until the day 🙂 DSCF0066Replace the candle and it is ready to show off.

By the way.. this is not turning into a cooking blog – promise – but if I left this one until next week it might be too late to decorate your cake!


Confession – I have been known to decorate my Christmas cake on Christmas eve 🙂

Have you decorated your cake yet? Come on – confess!

Do you have a tradition of a specific design year after year or do you vary them?

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


So, what does a typical WI member look like? #IamWI

#IamWI   Ann Foweraker (St. Dominick WI)

Let me say from the start – I’ve been a member of the WI since I was 15  – excepting my years at college, and five living in a city – no WI branches allowed in universities or cities back then, as they are  now. (It’s good to see how well they are developing  in these places now and how many young women are joining them!)  This came about because my mum was going off to her WI meeting ON my 15th birthday… and, as that happened to be the age that you were allowed to join our branch of the WI back then .. I went along. (NB for insurance purposes, apparently, the joining age is now 18)

Now the WI (Women’s Institute) has developed an unfortunate image over the years – emphasised by almost every press report and slanted so that we appear to be jam-making fuddy-duddys and of the pearl and cardie-wearing, tory-voting brigade to boot. Even my Aunt thought this (when she moved from a town in Essex to our Cornish village she expressed this view – despite the fact that I, my mum and another Aunt belonged – none of whom fitted that description in any way whatsoever – except the jam-making part).

‘Jam and Jerusalem’, the papers say, in a disparaging way. Well, yes our rousing ‘song’ is Jerusalem, by William Blake, and I find the ‘bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire,’ quite stirring 😉 though we do not sing it at our usual meetings nowadays. And as for Jam making – that was effortful war work. What other war work is disparaged?

In nearly a hundred years of being an organisation, the WI has made a huge difference. Though started to help rural women, for education and support, it has taken up the cause in many aspects of life. Some of these then grew into themselves as separate organisations, which still acknowledge their links to their inspiration and formation. Like the Keep Britain Tidy group… an idea and movement initiated by the WI in 1954 and, though now a national organisation, often the people on the ground in villages doing the organisation will still be from the local WI.

Each year we have a resolution and our National arm campaigns on these resolutions. Not just on that year’s one but on any that we have passed over time. They have our mandate; that is the mandate of 212,000 women, to campaign on these issues. Over the past five years these have included ‘No-more violence against women’ ‘SOS Honeybees’ ‘The need for more Midwives’ ‘Care not Custody – for people with mental health issues’ and ‘Time to Talk – about Organ Donation’. It educates, it campaigns and is listened to.

Yet still the WI is disparaged, though now we are also the ‘calendar girls’ (a doubtful accolade) where some potential members are as wary of being asked to strip off… as much as to run a cake stall (or should that be buns?)

So, when one of our members on the UnOfficial WI FB page, a page for WI members to chat and share (not the Official WI FB page which is more for National WI matters) suggested we each took a photo of ourselves holding a sign with the words I AM WI written on it – I thought this a great idea – for, though you know I like making Jam (in my microwave), I also think I am a typical (but NOT-STEREOTYPICAL) WI member! Active in my own life and in the community, busy and enjoying life to the full.

All of which explains the photo of me and my paddleboard at the top of this blog  🙂

Do you belong to the WI?

 If not, what is the image you have of the WI

 Look out for the hashtag #iamwi


Did you miss me? Sorry – I was decorating this cake…

yes… I missed my post date …!  What was I thinking doing?

Well I sat down ready to write and then I had one of those moments when you realise that you haven’t done something that MUST be done… and there is no other time to do it than right NOW!

Yes – it was Tuesday evening and the WI Christmas cake had to be ready for Wednesday evening… and I was out at the market all Wednesday morning and out again with my OH in the afternoon. Could I do both, blog and decorate the cake? I looked at the time, thought I might but that the cake must come first (sorry) and set about the decorations. DSCF7339 wi cake

It’s not as if I had totally forgotten about this, a few days previously I had made and dried a lot of icing holly leaves and the lettering for the decorations, but there was still the covering, the other decoration bits and the assembly to do.  It all had to be last minute as it was to be a sponge cake ( by request) , and I’d made this and frozen it a week before. I had even remembered in the morning to take it out of the freezer to thaw gently … just somewhere during the day I had forgotten it again (worrying, or what?).

Now I do have a range of holly cutters, but you do not have to have specialist cutters to create this effect – should you wish to – substituting Happy Christmas for the name of our WI, of course 🙂  Holly leaves of three different sizes can be made using just one ‘sweet’ pastry cutter ( the ones with the wavy edges)

Colour some ready-to-roll icing green (I find Regal Ice the best for taste and texture) This is easiest done using powder cake colours rather than the liquid ones – but you can use the liquid if you can’t get hold of the powder – you may just have to knead in a little corn flour to take away the stickiness.

If you have gum tragacanth then blend in a sprinkling to ensure a hard set to your icing leaves. They will firm up as they dry anyway – but gum tragacanth will make sure they are hard.

Roll out your coloured icing on a work surface dusted with corn-flour. This is MUCH better than icing sugar! Use a medium cutter and cut as many circles as you can fit out of the icing. Depending on the size of the holly leaves you want, cut 4, 3 or 2 holly leaves from each circle by cutting on an edge. See photos.


These can then be enhanced using the back of a knife to mark the rib and veins of the leaf. DSCF7347

Cover a baking sheet with a piece of cling film and dust with corn flour, place the leaves on this and leave somewhere warm to dry. If you want wavy leaves fold or screw up paper of aluminium foil and lay the cling film over this and the leaves on top – leaves will lie on the uneven surface and mould themselves to the shape – resulting in wavy leaves when dry. DSCF7348

If you’ve never used roll-out icing before may I say just four things. 1, Use the base of the cake as the top, and brush warm apricot jam all over the surface. 2, Roll out icing on corn flour – and make sure it isn’t too thin, then lift the sheet using a rolling pin as support and drape over the cake, overlapping the cake out to the edge of the board. 3, Gently press / smooth the corners first (if square cake) then ease the sides down without creases. (If round cake make sure the icing it evenly ‘draped’ around the cake and ease down from the top all round, to form smooth sides.) 4, ‘Polish’ with palm of hand dusted in corn flour, gently and smoothly, then trim off excess.

To attach the holly leaves and letters just moisten the back with water (I use a dedicated paintbrush) and press lightly down – if on side of the cake hold for a moment to make sure it doesn’t slide. To create the 3 dimension effect of holly leaves sticking up, make a small hole in the icing with a cocktail stick, moisten the end section of a piece of holly and press it in, smoothing the icing over the ‘stem’.DSCF7338 wi cake holly crop[

Many, many years a go I bought a set of letters for cutting out of icing – a most excellent and ever useful buy!DSCF7357  However, if you do not have these you can roll out the icing into a long thin sausage ( all that DSCF7358plasticine or play-dough rolling skills come in handy) and use this to ‘write’ a script Merry Christmas on to the top of the cake. Lie it on dry, then when in the right place lift, moisten top of cake and place down in the right place.

Lastly, some white holly leaves cut from the trimmings, mark them up and use to fill in between the green, and a few red berries, made by colouring some of those trimmings red, roll into a thin sausage, cut a small piece, roll on palm of hand and add with the dampened brush tip onto the right place.

So there it is – our WI Christmas cake… and, perhaps, an idea for you – simply done with little in the way of special decoration equipment. Alas, the blog didn’t get written that night … and so this is the new blog post – hope you liked it!

Have you made and decorated your Christmas cake yet?? (Mine is made… but not yet decorated)

Do you find yourself ‘double-booking’ your time?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you


Why Do They Do It?

We live in a beautiful part of the world, and I know we are lucky to live here. What I can’t understand is those people who also live in this area (or at least pass through it and so enjoy its beauty) and then spoil it by leaving litter.

As part of our WI, I have been helping to organise a parish-wide litter-pick each in early spring for over ten years. Each year I am once again struck by the thoughtlessness, laziness and dirtiness of people who deliberately discard rubbish as they pass along our roads. I guess that a lot if it is cast from their car windows, though evidence suggests that some of these litter-bugs have a routine, perhaps even parking up to eat / drink / smoke and chuck the rubbish.

This year, in a 500 metre stretch, there were multiple empty Monster energy drink cans and bottles and empty Lambert and Butler cigarette packets. This has to be the same person, over a length of time, deliberately littering and spoiling an area that, as spring comes on, will be decked with daffodils, star-like flowers of ramsons, bluebells, red campion, primrose, stitchwort and foxgloves.


Lazy? Secret smokers? Badly brought-up? No social conscience? Just plain dirty?…….

I just can’t get into the head of the person who throws their rubbish down wherever they are. Are their homes littered with rubbish? Are there cigarette butts (which ARE litter – taking up to 10 years to disappear) and packets on their kitchen floors, empty bottles and cans on every surface or wedged  amongst the house plants, crisp packets in drifts in the corners, newspapers, receipts, water bottles and plastic bags bestrewing their carpets?

And then there are the ‘dumpers’, those people who drive out to a lovely spot and dump a bag of household rubbish, or an old video player, or paint cans …  when they could have driven just as easily to the council dump and left it there – at no cost. Why do they do it? And, yes, these were real examples from yesterday’s litter-pick.

 So, each year a hardy bunch of wonderful people volunteer and, armed with litter-grabbers loaned by Clean Cornwall, help clear our beautiful parish of this detritus – this year sixteen turned up.  Here are  just two of our volunteers that I caught up with, Rob and Sara (or 3, if your count Freya – who went along for the walk) and just a couple of the bags they filled.

I wonder if I found the weirdest thing this year?  A pair of size 9 or 10 thigh-length, lace-up, high-heeled, pointy boots in black imitation leather with the  heels and soles just about broken off, and great cuts through the ‘leather’. These, about 4ft up a steep bank!   Now you know me, well you ought to by now if you’ve been reading this blog, I am a writer. So, how long do you think before the finding of these items started off an idea for a story?  A  murder mystery perhaps, starting with a village litter pick – the victim being ….. well I’ll let you think about that and save my thoughts for another day when I am looking for inspiration!

And here’s the total haul from the roadsides around our beautiful parish.

Twenty-eight bags of rubbish, a video recorder, two wheels, 2 broken cones and some lengths of melamine coated board and plastic fencing.

The sad thing is, by the time you are reading this ( less than 24 hours after our litter-pick), there will be new litter cast down somewhere in our patch.

So, why do you think they do it?

Any ideas on how to teach people not to litter?

Who do you think the ‘murder victim’ might be???

You know I love to hear from you – do share!


How to make a Shark (BTT sand-sculpture)

Ok,  so if you haven’t read my other blogs on sand sculpture I need to explain the BTT (Between The Tides) As in – you are working with sea sand ( not the best – sand grains roll off each other as they dry so not as strong in sculpture) plus you have all the randoms (shells and bits of shell, seaweed, stones, rubbish) that may get into your sculpture sand, plus there is not time to stack and pack as the ‘professionals’ do as you only have the time between tides to work in (or less).

So there you are at the seaside with good sand and a collection of items to help you. A shovel or two, a knife and a spoon are pretty useful, a couple of brushes (cheap decorators paint brushes – one large one small – (about four inches and an inch) and at least one bucket.

On this day I looked at the tide, it was coming in, but I thought I had time for a shark. [click on the pictures if you need to see details or the whole picture as the thumbnail size trims it down]

1, Mark out shark shape on the sand with the corner of the shovel – give it a bit of a wiggle to suggest movement, 2,  Go round this line again, digging the shovel in deeper, 3, Dig all round the shape up to the line and tossing the waste in to the shape.

4, Continue doing this, digging from the outside towards the line and throwing the waste into the shape centre – consciously building up higher where it is needed. 5, Using your fingers knead the lumps of sand and using your hands roughly shape the mound into the approximate outline. 6, Pat it firmly into shape – using the back of a shovel to firm up the larger areas and hands for smaller areas like the tail. (Do not worry about the fin yet – but leave the fin areas rough – do not pat smooth)






7,  Start to build up the dorsal fin, it will be about six inches wide where it leaves the back of the shark, use loose damp sand that has come from the shaping and squeeze it up between your hands always leaving the top edge rough to take the next layer. 8, Work on a large wide curve, bringing the sand up thinner nearer the top. Using both hands, one to steady the fin, pat the sides to gently firm it. 9,  Do the same for the tail (caudal) fin.(just about visible on this pic)  Then leave both to ‘settle in’.

10, While the dorsal fins ‘settle in’ turn to the side (pectoral) fins, sweep away loose sand. 11,  Use the knife and trim to shape – again removing loose sand. 12, Cut angles on the fins and slightly undercut both front and back to make them look thinner.

13, Gently pat and brush down the whole body of the shark until you are happy that it looks smooth enough. 14, Find a some suitable shells or pebbles to use for the shark’s eyes. Mussel shells, smooth clam shells or flat round grey pebbles are best. With a little rotational movement, site these either side of the head – taking care to have them even and 15, using the knife or tip of the spoon carve the nostrils.

16, Now return to the dorsal and caudal fins. For both of the fins start by marking out the curve that will make the characteristic shark fin look – draw it gently and evenly on  both sides. 17, Do the caudal fin on the tail first – it will give you practice. 18, 19, 20  start to shave the sand away, cutting at an angle from one side then the other. 21, Thin out the top of the fin a little by shaving gently with the knife – brush down to remove loose sand. (most pictures show working on large dorsal fin)

22, Below the nose of the shark draw a line for the mouth, then draw another line just below that one – carefully cut out the wedge in between. Add some broken shells to make white teeth. 23,  Draw the gills on either side of the head – again by making two cuts. 24, brush the cuts smooth to finish.

25,  Tidy the area, pulling loose sand out to make an edge to frame the sculpture . 26, There is always something red in the flotsam on the beach – here a broken piece of plastic makes a good raw-meat look-alike for the shark to get its teeth into, 27, Final picture of the shark,  28, silhouette against the incoming tide.

Hope you have enjoyed watching me make a sand shark 🙂

and thanks to my friend Krissi for the shots where I am in them! And – it’s true – I must be a little mad – taking time to make such things that last such a short time before the tide takes them away. However, as we packed up and returned to our car, ours weren’t the only photographs that were taken of the shark – so it gave some pleasure to others too.

Latest info for my FWT cheerleaders is – a half pound down and I’m giving a talk on weight loss by using the method my sons and I worked out, at my WI on Wednesday – so that should be fun.

And I am still gearing up for the poetry workshop I am running at the Landulph Festival on Tuesday of next week – more about poetry then!

What do you like to do on the beach? Lie in the sun or do something active? Do share – I love to hear from you.


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