Category Archives: stuff

chocolate friday


Today is Friday.  Today I am having a day off from being cerebral.  Today I share with you the essential rules of chocolate.  Have a wonderful weekend.

  1. If you have melted chocolate all over your fingers you are not eating fast enough.
  2. If you are struggling to carry four pounds of chocolate home from the shops then just eat it in the car.
  3. Tip for dieters – eat a large bar of chocolate before each meal and it will take the edge of your appetite.
  4. Chocolate covered raisins, cherries, blueberries, goji berries etc.  all count as fruit so you can eat as many as you like over and above your five a day.
  5. Chocolate covered ice creams are dairy and are also essential for fat soluble vitamins.
  6. Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, a bean is a vegetable.  See (4) above.
  7. A Terry’s chocolate orange contains approximately 900 calories enabling you to conveniently consume your daily calorific intake in one go and still have some calories left over for that health giving glass of red wine.
  8. If you eat plain, milk and white chocolate you have a balanced diet.
  9. Chocolate contains preservatives and thus will help you stay young.
  10. Chocolate is keeping the Spanx industry alive.  Would you want all those people to lose their jobs?
  11. If you cannot eat an entire box of chocolates in one go you need more practice.

Finally, calories are afraid of heights.  If you break your chocolate bars in half and put them on a top shelf for 24 hours all the calories will jump out.


Nostalgia, books, puffins and even a competition

According to second-hand booksellers our appetite to revisit the books we read as children is as strong as ever.  However, we want the same edition we read first time around.  If we read  Stig of the Dump in 1973 we want the puffin edition that was out then, we do not want to read the very same book in the 1980 cover.  How, ridiculous.  But is it really?

I have kept many of my childhood books, but by no means all of them.  I live in a huge house but even we would have had problems if we had to find homes for every book I had ever owned. During the seventies I lived in Notting Hill Gate, and on the corner of Hillgate Street and Uxbridge Street there was a cavernous second-hand book shop.  It was more of a second-hand book shed but I loved it.  Last time I looked it was a trendy delicatessen.  I preferred it as a book shed.

The chap who owned it bought and sold books by the yard.  I would pile up all my 2/6 (later 12 1/2 p) Puffin books, he’d give me a price and then I’d spend it buying  more books from him or from a stall in the back of one of the covered   markets halfway down the Portabello.  Over the years I must have bought and sold several miles of books.

I kept a lot of childhood books, but every now and then I have a yen for one that slipped through the net.  The Family from One End Street (plus the subsequent Further Adventures of … and The Holiday at Dew Drop Inn) by Eve Garnett and A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfield were recent examples.  I can buy all three books in their most recent incarnations, but I want the editions I read as a child.

This one

one end streetand this one

vicarage family  So I completely understand why people won’t just buy the current edition off the shelf.  It’s not just a book, it’s part of your history.

As part of my leaving gift to the school I am leaving I have bought some books for the newly refurbished library.  I asked for  suggestions and had a fun morning with Eileen at The Bookcase choosing modern fiction for teenagers.  Then I got home and thought over the books that were my go to books when I was young.  There was not much in the way of books for teenagers in those days, we tended to leap from Noel Streatfield to John Wyndham and Morris West in one leap.  As my father bought hundreds of books I just started on his library when I outgrew mine.

The more I flicked through Google, the more I realised how these books had shaped me, shaped my own preferred writing style.  Some of them I still read.  So, in addition to those above, here are a few of my childhood favorites.  What are yours?

Princess-and-the-Goblin and all the subsequent books

heidiand Heidi Grows up and Heidi’s children.  I wanted to marry Peter.


the entire series of


Not for reading – but this was a well-thumbed book as a child – and with my own children.


and finally

blackbeard  There are so many more, just a taste of my favorites.

I had two of these too:

BADGThe white one and a black one for being a member of the Puffin Club for four years.  I still have them both.

SNIFFUP! (I’ll send a prize, I’ve no idea what, to the first person to respond correctly to that!)


crying while I work

There have been a lot of tears on Radio 4 today.  I don’t mean that James Naughtie has pinched Winifred Robinson’s dinner money or somebody has dug up the snowdrops in Peter Gibbs’ garden.  No, the focus has been on what makes us cry.  First of all we had the obligatory clip from Barber’s Adagio for Strings (which apparently is under a moratorium in Hollywood for overuse) on the Today programme (just mistyped that as the Toady programme – Freudian?).  Then we had a whole half hour with Geoff Watts investigating why we cry.  I am getting out my hankies before Saturday Live tomorrow, goodness knows what they will come up with and Broadcasting House will no doubt be awash with tearful and emotional anecdotes.  I don’t think I’ll even bother with Desert Island Discs, the guest is a developmental psychologist.  Bound to be bucket loads there.

What I found really interesting (apart from the Barber ban) was that apparently when people were asked what made them cry they tended to say a loss of a loved one, something bad happening to their children etc.  All very noble and predictable.  But when asked what had made them cry most recently they answered, loneliness, rejection, fear.

So we like to think that we cry over the misfortunes of others, but in fact we cry over our own. Actually I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.  Our loved ones do not die on a regular basis, at least not for most of us.  Bad things do happen to our children, but again it is more likely to be that they didn’t get the part of Mary in the Nativity Play rather than they lose a limb in a landmine accident.  In other words, whilst we do cry over such things, they don’t happen very often.

On the other hand, we suffer personal setbacks on a daily basis.  Most do not reduce us to tears.  But we all understand the concept of the hair that broke the camel’s back.  And we all have a particular Achilles’ Heel, the situation that brings us down no matter what.

I cry easily at films and music (very common apparently, to be brought to tears by visual art, buildings etc is very unusual).  I can bring myself to tears very easily for dramatic effect in a play.  I cry at funerals, even those of people I am not very close to, certain hymns I find almost impossible to sing without sobbing and the opening solo of “I waited for the Lord” reduces me to tears in seconds, although that is perhaps because I am taken back to the moment I heard my daughters sing the duet at Evensong in Durham Cathedral.

However, wound me and I will do all I can to hold back my tears.  Vulnerability is all very well if it is not mine but on behalf of somebody else.  A case in point is anger and frustration.  I am easily brought to tears by anger brought on by frustration.  Many, many years ago (over 30)  when just beginning my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics we had to sit exams at the beginning of the Michaelmas term to confirm we were doing the right subjects.  I went from A student to failing every single one.  I had never failed an exam in my life.  I was shocked, so were my teachers.  I was called in to see Dr Carpenter who railed at me for not revising.  I had revised, I had revised endlessly and I got angry.  Unfortunately I cry when I’m angry and poor Dr Carpenter was faced with a 16 year old girl wailing her eyes out in his office and his anger quickly turned to sympathy, which obviously made me madder and the tears got worse.  Viscious circle.  (For the record I should never have taken science A-levels, but the shock of failing an exam meant I worked like a Trojan at subjects I loathed in order to get the grades that had originally been expected).

Apparently there is not difference between the amount that girls and boys cry as toddlers.  As they grow up boys cry less and girls take the crying lead.  Is this nature or nurture?  We will probably never know, but as we age we control our tears.  We consider some to be acceptable and others not.  Some to be allowed to be public and some only to be cried in private.  Where do we learn this?  Is it cultural or is there some personal, unique to only us, guideline that we put in place?

In which I dash

Just a quickie today as I have a whole free weekend – which means rather than sit here I have a list as long as an orangatang’s arm that I fully intend to prune to the length of a gnat’s eyelash.  But as it is cold and frosty outside this is the perfect day to head over to Lover of Creating Flavour’s Blog and check out her Winter Warmer Blog Carnival.  Oh and did I mention that one of my recipes is there too!

The non list

It’s just over a week until my birthday and I realised today that there is nothing that I want.  Well that’s not strictly true in that there are a large number of things which I would I would happily accept if they turned up on my doorstep but nothing that I want enough to ask for it.

I haven’t needed anything for a long while,  I have everything I need and a lot more, but that hasn’t stopped me yearning for things.  Cashmere socks are a particular favourite,  in fact cashmere anything has been on my wanted list for many years.  But I have two pairs of lovely cashmere socks, I have a cashmere wrap, cashmere fingerless gloves (the latter two make the perfect working in a cold house outfit) and any  number of cashmere jumpers and cardigans.  I don’t need anymore.

But it’s not the not needing that has surprised me,  I have known I didn’t need anything for a long time.   It’s the not wanting,  I really don’t want anything in particular.

During Lent I stopped buying anything but essentials.  Friends mocked and suggested I could make anything an essential if I put my mind to it.  Indeed I could, but I didn’t.  Partly because I didn’t want to prove them right, but partly because I needed to see if I could do it.  It was surprisingly easy.

Before the internet if I wanted to go shopping I had to get in  my car and drive  to Durham, which is not a shoppers’ paradise, or head further afield to York or Newcastle.  Now I can buy almost anything I want from my kitchen table.  There is less effort and less thought.  Not shopping for Lent forced me to think before I made every purchase and for the most part I didn’t buy.

After Lent I started to fall back into my old ways,  although I did notice that I had become far more discerning and put things back down far more often (other than perhaps stationery!).  Perhaps the Lenten experience affected me more than I realised for all I really want for my birthday is to have a lovely day with my family.  Priceless but free.
BTW One of the suggested tags by WordPress for this post was “Mongolian Language”  anybody care to suggest where that came from?

Lovely bloggers

For someone who gets only a handful of readers, which is unsurprising when you take into account how often I update my blog, I was stunned when I discovered I had been given another blog award.  I’ve never had a blog award in my entire life.  In fact my awards in general would leave a considerable amount of space if listed on the back of a postage stamp (Standard letter not Large letter).

This award has come from the lovely Scribbler68 at    She is funny, witty and has knowingly or unknowingly perked me up on numerous occasions and she has the art of the 140 character tweet down to a fine art.

Now as the recipient of said award I am supposed to nominate 15 other awards but I have only just done that on my previous post (awards currently behaving like buses).  So I would like to direct you to the Inspiring blogger post and encourage you to read the blogs I have listed there.  And blog owners – please consider yourself Lovely as well as Inspiring.

Inspiring blogs

The lovely Jackie over at has nominated me for my first ever award.  Then like buses another one came along (see next post).  I have been shamed into writing my blog again so thank you to Jackie and Scribbler68 (more of her in the next post).

Jackie was one of the first blogs I started to read when I decided it was time to take writing seriously and she has certainly inspired me and kept me on the straight and narrow even if she doesn’t know it!  Reading other writers’ blogs, published writers, new writers and all the inbetweens is for me a bit like revising for exams with friends, or going to the gym and telling yourself you won’t get off the treadmill until the woman next to you does!  Without realising it they egg you on, keep you going and remind you that it can be done.

Now I am supposed to reveal seven things about me you would probably not know ….

1. I am entirely deaf in 0ne ear.  This is remarkably useful when I want to go to sleep as I “put my good ear down” but can be a bit of a challenge if sitting at a big dinner table with the wrong ear facing up the table.  Hearing aids are useful but don’t replace a fully functioning ear but as I have no memory of hearing in that ear I am pretty used to it.

2. I have sat on the knees of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Apple Records was a client of my father’s and every year they held a Christmas party for the children of everyone involved with the company.  Each year one of their artists played Father Christmas.  That year JL played Father Christmas and YO Mother Christmas.

3.My cv is eclectic.  I have, in this order been  volunteer helath worker in Africa, secretary, theatre company gofer, actress, tv researcher, merchant banker, third world development worker, economic development worker  then I became a mother and didn’t go out to work at all and am now trying to earn a living from writing but supplement by working as a school registrar and helping with the family translation business.  I always wanted to be a spy when I grew up but if I was successful at that I wouldn’t be able to tell you 🙂

4. I used to spend many wonderful summers on a ranch in North Dakota.  My father and a friend were travelling in Europe just after they completed their National Service.  They bumped into five American girls in Rome who were on their way to London.  “Stay with my parents” said my father and gave them his address.  They duely arrived, slightly to the surprise of my grandmother as communication was obviously more limited in those days, and stayed for a few weeks.  When my mother went to Columbia she spent her holidays with one of the girls, now married and living on a ranch in ND.  In time her children came to visit Europe and stayed with us.  My parents were working in the States and I didn’t want to go to summer camp so I went to ND.  I am still in touch with the family, we have exchanged two generations of children over the Atlantic, but despite the fact that my father now lives in the US.  He and Claire, the girl he met in Rome have never met again.

5. I can burp the alphabet, including “W” although that one takes a bit of preparation.

6. I was taught English at Primary School bythe poet Ivor Cutler.

7. I am 48 and still scared of the dark.  When I was little I used to tell the ghosts to go away as they had completely succeeded in frightening me and they could move on to somebody else.

Now I have been asked to pass the baton on to 15 other bloggers who have inspired me  I am afraid I don’t read lots of blogs, just a few regularly so I could only manage 8, I hope I haven’t been disqualified!   Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to:

Celia at  such beautiful lino cuts

Froogs at the most inspiring make do and mender on the entire internet

Jane at wonderful handmade gifts and another Jack Black (not the actor) fan

Amanda at does what it says on the lid

Jane at who fits in more in her life than I can ever achieve.  all round gorgeousness and beautiful photographs

Debbie at  more beautiful edibles, makeables, doables, lovely stuff!

Catherine at  wonderful author and bravely blogging about not buying any clothes AT ALL all year.

In accepting your award, please:

1. Display the award logo somewhere on the blog.
2. Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you.
3. State seven things about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award and provide links to their blogs.
5. Notify those bloggers that they have been nominated and of the award’s requirements.

I look forward to your posts 🙂


Today is garden day.  Yesterday was revamp the bedroom day.  It was hard work, there is still stuff waiting to be rehomed and rehoused but our bedroom is more light, airy and feels a lot more tranquil.  It was good to wake up, roll over and see space.

So today I need to turn my attention to the garden.  I love an abundant garden full of flowers and fruit and vegetables.  But if I am honest I am not a great gardener.  I follow instructions sporadically, Gardeners’ Question Time is a source of endless fascination to me.  I never knew there were so many rules.  I am also irregular in my attention.  Consequently I have to spend hours and hours weeding because I leave it for so long that the bindweed naturalises and invites the rampaging buttercup over for tea.

I have completed the Extreme Weeding Challenge for this year and have sown some seeds, started to fill the greenhouse and put some hardier seedlings in the Vegetable Patch.  Today I intend to complete the task.  But today I shall do it differently.

Today I shall take my iPod out with me and garden to music.
Today I shall take a book or magazine out with me and take regular breaks to enjoy the view.
Today I shall wear a pretty skirt and not tatty jeans.
Today I shall stop when I feel like it and take the dogs for a walk.
Today it will be fun and not a job to be overcome.

Finally, today I shall take the flower bombs given to me in memory of Patrick Davies and set them free.

learning to ask

Asking for help doesn’t come easy, certainly not to me.  It’s not that I don’t want to admit to needing help, it’s more that I don’t want to be a bother.  But unless you ask, nobody knows what you need.  Unless you learn to articulate your needs they will remain unmet.

Writing is a lonely business.  Personally I like that.  I will come out and say I am not much of a team player; if there is a job to be done I prefer to get on and do it myself and if somebody else has done it I have to sit on  my hands to stop myself redoing it the way I would have done it.  I can be a right royal pain in the backside to work with.  The idea of writing a book with somebody else freaks me out, I just cannot imagine how they do it, but Nicci French (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) are proof that it can be done, and very successfully.  But probably not by me.

However,  sometimes I wonder if I am writing in a void.  I have thousands of words neatly stacked away in one and a half novels and various short stories but nobody to read them.  I have no idea if they are any good, readable, a load of rubbish or somewhere in between.  I have shyly told a few people I write, but aside from my internet friends, only a few of my IRL friends know.  Well that was until last night.

I came clean on Facebook and asked for readers and criticism.  With two exceptions everybody I know on FB I know IRL.  They know me as a colleague, friend, mother, whatever.  Almost none of them know me as a writer.

I was terrified, it’s fine for someone you don’t know and will never meet to give you a hard critique on Authonomy.  It is quite another for someone you will have to face every day to come back to you and say “whoa, love your cakes but not so keen on the books”.  Worse still, what if they don’t even want to read anything you’ve written.  “I’ve seen your cakes but don’t fancy any of them.”

I wrote the post, I looked at it.  I had a glass of wine.  I asked the opinion of the dogs (I really did).  I closed my eyes and hit submit.

They replied in droves, yes they would love to read it.  Please send it to me.  I have a friend who has a small publishing house would you like me to contact her?  I was staggered.

So, in the light of my earlier post on graciously receiving I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who responded to my post.  And I would like to say thank you for proving to me that you only have to ask.

lucky seven

I love questionnaires, I love quizzes, I love the “how many countries have you visited/weird foods have you eaten?”  I am a market researcher’s wet dream and we are not talking my body here.   So it is no surprise that I am a sucker for blog tags too.  That is until I realised this one was asking me to post a random excerpt of my writing.  Hah,  you think, stupid woman, you have a bloody great link to the same.  Ah, I reply, but this will be out of context, there will be no preamble so loved by Victorian authors; no family tree on the inside cover to which you can refer when you can’t remember whether Troy is Margarite’s nephew  or philandering brother.  No you are about to get a stray paragraph.  I hope you enjoy it, I will have sweated both blood and tears writing it!

The unstoppable Jackie Buxton has tagged me in Lucky Seven.  Check her out at .  Glass Houses is currently out on tour looking for an agent, it won’t be a long trip 🙂

The deal is as follows:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

So here, and with no preamble at all, are the seven sentences from line seven on page seven of The Dorothy Summer.  I promise the age was pure coincidence.

There was a brief hiatus when I was about seven when she settled down in Brighton with a chap who wrote Biology text books.  Settle down is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.  I was forbidden to visit and there were murmured conversations about the kind of “parties” she and Cyril held.  But like everything else, that too ended in tears.  Dorothy was incapable of sticking at anything, jobs or boyfriends, they all had a very limited lifespan and their death was always celebrated or commiserated at our house.  While my friends had grandparents or cousins come to visit for their allotted ten days over Christmas or the summer, we had Dorothy arrive for an indeterminate time.  She came with drama, frequently with tears and almost never when my father was home. 

And now I hand you over to:

Nicola Vincent Abnett

Jake Barton

Sandie Zand

Anna Sugden

Victoria Morley

Seymour Jacklin

Caroline Smailes

Enjoy .