Monday, 6 September 2021

EGG & ANCHOVY SANDWICHES AND BUTTERFLIES

 When I worked in the City (of London) in the nineteen seventies, I was sent all over the place auditing various companies. At some of the larger establishments there were canteens where marvellous lunches could be had at subsidised prices.


But more often than not we relied on finding somewhere that sold sandwiches – and at that time there was a great choice of such places. Many were Italian, staffed by people who could put together a fresh sandwich at top speed, as you told them what you wanted. Queues were never too long and always moved quickly. The choice of fillings, types of bread and additions such as mayonnaise, was enormous. 

Food was still very plain in those days, but beginning to be more interesting. I remember being introduced to an exotic-sounding ‘egg and anchovy on brown bread’ (before ‘granary’ was introduced) as a very junior articled clerk. I was given the task of fetching sandwiches for the entire team on an audit in Shepherd Market, a slightly dodgy area of the West End, renowned for its ‘ladies of the night’. I was advised to ‘be a bit careful’. The entire experience would be unheard of now, but in those days we all accepted whatever we were asked to do. As it happened I was fine, although the other girl on the team who foolishly decided to wear a fur coat to work, was almost propositioned on her way and didn’t wear it again.


One of my favourite sandwich shops was on Bishopsgate, and their ‘cream cheese and chutney on rye’ was to die for. Another, under a railway arch off Minories sold the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, to this day. Topped with dark cherries and with a creamy texture, I would carry a slice in a greaseproof-paper-wrapped parcel back to the office, where for five minutes I could forget everything and indulge.

I doubt any of those sandwich shops have survived – or would survive in the London of today, but sometimes I yearn for one of those sandwiches, or a slice of the cheesecake. They probably wouldn’t taste the same or anything like as delicious, but one can dream.


Back in the here and now, and I am inundated with tomatoes from the greenhouse. The two plants I planted outside have been a bit of a failure. I think they have suffered ‘tomato blight’, which I have been told by my neighbour is affecting not only his crop but many others around here. So I think I’ve been lucky with my ten plants in the greenhouse, all of which have been very healthy and abundant. The red ones in the photo are 'Crimson Crush' from three plants I bought online from D T Brown Seeds. This was a very successful purchase, as the plants arrived in very good condition and grew fast. The others are 'Sungold' which I grew from a very few seeds left over from last year!

I haven't grown any other vegetables this year. Instead I've concentrated on plants, and also for the first time since my mother died I've grown Sweet Peas. She loved them so much that I simply found it too sad to contemplate, but Mike came home from the supermarket with a small punnet of tiny plants and I couldn't resist growing them on. They have been spectacular!



We are in the process of extending the large circular flowerbed. Mike jokes that at this rate in a few years' time we won't have any lawn left! The main reason, though, is to move a couple of roses which have been swamped by the Hydrangea 'Annabelle' - which clearly loves its position so much it has gained huge proportions. In the photo I have placed some potted box and petunias to cover the newly exposed area and safeguard it from the local cat community.


I won't move the roses until the autumn, but getting the turf taken up and moved has been quite a task and I'm now ready to dig over the exposed soil. We are on clay here, but it's mixed with rubble and stone, which isn't ideal - but you can only work with what you've got. I will add in a lot of grit and some compost before planting up. Plenty of work ahead!

Finally, I must show you some of the butterflies which have made the garden so uplifting this year. Since the buddleias came into full bloom they, and many other plants, have been covered in butterflies, especially on sunny days. 





As we move on through September I hope you will enjoy everything the season has to offer, wherever you are. We will discuss reading next time. Look after yourselves!

Note that the photos of sandwiches and cheesecake have been sourced from the internet and are not my own.

Monday, 9 August 2021

CLOUDBURST

 There are days when it seems as though the skies will never finish emptying of rain, and today is one of them. I snapped a few photos through the window to show you our ‘cloudburst afternoon’ here in Devon. As you can see, I had been preparing for a dry interval: the washing line was out and all the windows of the greenhouse open. It was not to be, and dashing out to amend the situation was not an option.


















This has been a very testing year for the garden, and July was no exception. Very strong winds and more rain were forces under which my ‘show’ hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ could not maintain its shape, with the gorgeous ‘mop’ heads bending and even breaking under the strain. As a result one of my rose bushes is half hidden beneath the supported stems of the hydrangea, although it is still determined to make a second showing!

Before...
and after - supported as well as possible!





The last six weeks have seen changes in all our lives, and one or two 'normal' tasks resumed. The two of us managed to visit the dentist after over a year, and a major improvement to my own self-esteem was accomplished by a visit to the hairdresser. My last haircut was in December 2019, so my hair has seen quite a transformation over that time. If you cast a glance at my website prfordauthor you will see a 'before' picture from about two years ago. The photo here shows the length it was the day before I had it cut.

With some trepidation I left the shaggy mass in the hands of 22-year-old Emily who has done an excellent job in cutting, snipping, 'thinning' and generally making me feel more human again. It's surprising how much better one can feel after chatting to a youngster via a mirror and over the multiple noises of hair being tended to!


Last time I asked you what you were reading, and I was regaled with some wonderful suggestions. I always have a list of books on the go, so I have added your recommendations to the list, although they are still a little while away from reading. I have always found that I tend to read in phases, rather as one might develop tastes for certain foods. Thus I work my way through different genres until I am sated and move on to something different. Maybe you are the same? I recently discovered the author Daniel Silva whose 'spy thrillers' are based mostly in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and across Europe, including Britain. I am currently working my way through his 'Gabriel Allon' series, espionage that focuses on Israeli intelligence. He writes beautiful prose, the plots are exciting and fascinating, and I'm so lucky that there are no fewer than 20 books making up the series!


Meanwhile, when it's not raining, here are some little gems from the garden over the last six weeks which will, I hope, make you smile. Look after yourselves, and if it's raining: stay dry - until next time.













Saturday, 19 June 2021

BALANCE

Almost midsummer, and the roses which have been late this year are finally cheering up and performing. I found a couple of almost blown blooms whose stems had drooped to the ground under their weight, so into a vase on the kitchen windowsill they went, and here they are for your enjoyment.


I received my second vaccination on 23rd April, but only now am I beginning to feel that the balance in my body is restored. The first vaccination, you may remember, knocked me for six, and just as I was beginning to feel more myself – wham, the second one threw me out of kilter again. Of course this all may be a figment of my over-active imagination, but I don’t believe so. The situation now seems to be ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ – so like so many of my generation I’ve chosen to be damned anyway and on we go.


The third book progresses slowly. It’s complex, exciting and great fun to write. The plot is unravelling in my head and taking time to reach the point when I actually commit it to written words. This too needs balance, and careful planning, but I think I’m getting there. For those of my readers who love the character Tobias, I can assure you he is playing quite a major role once again, alongside some new people and other old friends. Watch this space!



What are you reading? I've worked my way through some exceptional thrillers, and must mention a couple. Rory Clements has written a series of historical novels set in the late Elizabethan era, all of which I enjoyed and recommend. However he has now turned his hand to a different era: the nineteen thirties and forties, with an American Cambridge spy, Tom Wilde as his lead character. These books are incredibly exciting and the latest: 'A Prince and a Spy' is enthralling. I recommend all of them, but this in particular. Secondly, I may have mentioned M W Craven before, and his latest - the fourth in his 'Washington Poe' series is another unputdownable crime thriller. Again, highly recommended. I'm finding it hard to adapt to my next read now, but not every book needs to be exciting... or does it?



Slightly more relaxed Covid rules have meant that one or two people have been able to come and see the garden. I am always delighted when this happens in normal times, but now it's even more of a pleasure. Last weekend our son brought his partner over - we hadn't seen her since Christmas - on a beautiful day, and created memories to treasure.


Patience Strong was a 20th Century poet famed for her short, happy little pieces, often sentimental. My mother had a piece of embroidery which featured this little poem, and whilst it may seem a little old-fashioned I think it touches the heart of everyone who loves gardens.

'In a garden green and gay
All my troubles fade away
Sweet contentment here I find
Joy of heart and peace of mind.'

I leave you with the thought that balance and harmony are essential to our wellbeing, and whilst it isn't always possible to maintain either physical or mental equilibrium, it is important to recognise their absence. Sometimes this in itself can help recovery. For now, keep well and look after yourselves. I must go and water the tomato plants!







Saturday, 8 May 2021

ICE IN SPRING

I promised photos of blossom. Well, in my garden the Cherry blossom has been and gone, but here are a couple of the many photos I took for you back in March.

  



Other blossom appeared in April: the Pear tree made a lovely showing, but one of the late frosts which have plagued us destroyed all hope of any fruit. 


The larger of our two Apple trees is blooming now for the first time, and seems to be holding its own despite the cold. 


One other major event has taken place in the garden: at last the new shed has arrived and been built. After a nine month wait, you can imagine our excitement (well, some of us more than others), and with it came the opportunity to improve the path which runs along the side of the greenhouse to said shed. The work was carried out with skill and cheerfulness by a local firm, and has made a massive improvement to the shed/greenhouse area. A bonus is another, albeit small area where we can sit out – when the sun shines!



I was well into writing the third book in the ‘Losing Time’ series, until my vaccinations caused my inspiration to dry up. This has been incredibly frustrating. Only now am I beginning to put together the next stage of the plot in my mind, and I hope soon to be able to make some sense of the ideas and get them recorded. I have introduced some interesting new characters, as well as revealing the not-so-enchanting side of someone who we all thought was 'on our side' in the previous book. It all makes for enjoyable and sometimes challenging writing!

The unseasonal weather has delayed many things in the garden: plants and trees are well behind, as is progress in the greenhouse. However there have been some little moments of joy, and I leave you with these and the hope that all is going well with you despite the challenges which have been heaped upon us recently. We are a tough species, and working our way through the lockdown loneliness and depressing Winter/Spring has not been easy. Look after yourselves!






 

Saturday, 13 February 2021

ENDURANCE

 An easterly wind blew like a train across this corner of Devon over the last few days. Leaves and small branches sailed high in the air around the lawn, and empty pots which I’d forgotten to put away rolled like uncontrolled wheels into far flowerbeds. It brought with it a bitterly cold blast, the kind which chills every forgotten corner and exposed finger.


In a bizarre echo of the weather, my first Covid-19 vaccination knocked me for six too. If you don’t want to hear what happened, stop reading now and look only at the pictures. Because it’s been a rocky forty-eight hours… The inoculation itself was easy, even though I don’t enjoy any kind of ‘jab’ and always turn away from the endless film shots on TV news of people being vaccinated. Mine went smoothly and I arrived home feeling fine. My other half received his two days earlier and whilst he had some side-effects they were quite mild, so I thought I’d got away with it. The ‘flu-like symptoms’ hit me after about six hours, when I turned very cold and went to bed. Despite hot water bottles and blankets over the duvet, I shivered violently for half an hour before falling into what felt like a drugged sleep. I woke a few times from the most vivid of dreams, heart pounding, only to lapse back into more of the same. Yesterday I endured the same drugged feeling and a bad headache, unable even to turn on the computer, or read. Only today has the real ‘me’ resurfaced, thankful to have returned from my zombie state to the land of the living. Oh, and this morning my arm aches, but it’s nothing compared to the rest!

What have I learned from this? I will tell my brother, and the other members of my family who may be similarly affected, (and you) to prepare as though for a short bout of flu. Get in all the food you need, because you won’t want to go out or even to receive deliveries. Make sure you have plenty of hot drinks, and paracetamol at the ready. And remember, it only lasts a couple of days or so.

I can’t tell you whether or not to be vaccinated – that decision is for you alone. What I can say is that I chose it, and if whatever has been injected into me is an experiment, well - life is pretty much an experiment too, isn’t it?

       *

My February photos are not current, because I haven’t felt in a mood for photography – and I’ve been too busy writing my third book, whose ideas kept me going when I was feeling so bad. All of them, though, were taken in February.


The ‘windy’ photo was taken in February 2017 passing Dartmoor. The snow was 2015 in our garden. The drifts of snowdrops were photographed when we lived in Mid-Devon, in 2014. The little Wren was snapped by my son, but the Robin is mine, and I hope they will bring you a little joy in this most difficult of times.



Next time I write, there will be cherry blossom…

 

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.

-        William Shakespeare


Monday, 1 February 2021

SLEEP


 “To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there's the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” (William Shakespeare: Hamlet) This is said by Hamlet to himself when he thinks he is alone.

Forgetting the words ‘die’ and ‘death’, I use this quote today, on the first day of a new month, to describe the troubled sleep many of us are experiencing at the moment. For me, the problem falls into two categories, the first of which is insomnia. Lying awake, trying to sleep yet unable to set aside not just the worries of today or yesterday, but odd and random perplexities from the past. Why did I do that? Why did I say such awful things? Why didn’t I choose another path? From the number of articles I’ve been reading in the newspapers recently, this appears to be a common problem – and a very instinctively human one. Dr Jenna Macciochi, immunologist, says: '... sleep is the foundation of the immune system, and worrying about insomnia only exacerbates it'.

According to a study commissioned for the Daily Telegraph, “the nation has been gripped by sleeplessness... Fear is the bane of a good night's sleep.” The main factors cited in a survey are: work worries; financial stress; anxiety; depression and loneliness. “Sleep is a biological process that cannot be controlled. The more you seek to do so, the further it slips from reach.” One idea I have gleaned from this interesting article is this: “When our brains race over old feuds, regrets, work crises and family fears at night, that is an evolutionary response described as 'our brain default mode network' which is like a filing system. For this simple reason, when the storm clouds of negative thoughts pass over at night, we need to say: 'Thank you, brain' and see the thoughts simply as words and images passing through our minds, rather than getting bogged down in emotion. A good night's sleep boils down to the 'paradox of acceptance'. When you can let go of the idea that you need to be asleep, you remove the obstacles preventing you from getting there.”


When my brother and I were children, my late mother used to tell us not to worry if we couldn’t sleep, because at least the body was resting. Part of this is true: however much we toss and turn, we are resting from being upright, and I have always found the idea both comforting and relaxing.

The second problem, which has been affecting members of my own family, is heavy, vivid dreaming and nightmares. Again, this is probably easily explained by science and the pandemic. My dreams have been extraordinarily vivid. The other night I dreamt I was shopping in D H Evans (which used to be a department store in London) with my mother – years ago, because she was young. We were looking at material: beautiful, brightly coloured fabrics spread out over huge counters. This dream felt so real that I woke up with a start, surprised to find everything fading away – as dreams do. In others I have been troubled, lost and pursued, unable to find my way home. I don’t have an answer for this, and I don’t know whether it’s preferable to insomnia!

 *


Here we are on the first day of February, and I have to say that in my particular neck of the woods it’s a sombre, grey day, dripping with damp – like so many others we seem to be experiencing at the moment. To cheer us all up, I’m adding a few colourful photos. The cherry blossom photo was taken at the end of February last year, so we have that joy to come and I promise to post the best of it here.



*

And why, you may ask, does this article begin with a picture of the sea? Well first of all, it is a cheerful photo of a lovely beach, but more importantly it is connected to what I was saying earlier. The other night I attempted to chase away all the noise in my pre-sleep mind with this picture, and I imagined walking along that beach, barefoot, and paddling in the cold water. I tried to hear the wonderful noise of the tide, as I marched along an endless stretch of sand. And I think it may have worked, because I don't remember any more! The photo below is me doing exactly what I've been describing, back in 2014.


I hope my article will be of help to any of you who are suffering from lack of sleep, or bad sleep. I am indebted to the Daily Telegraph for the passages quoted above, and for helping me in my search for answers on this most important of topics. Should anyone be interested, the link is here, but may not be readable without a subscription to that newspaper: 'Say Goodnight to Insomnia During Lockdown'

Take care, all of you, and - dare I say it - sweet dreams.