Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Group reading “Dai Country” by Alun Richards

At our last Book Group meeting our returning member gave us the choice of any book from the Library of Wales selection of books by English speaking Welsh writers.  We chose “Dai Country” by Alun Richards.  This book was first published in 1973 as a book of short stories.  The Library of Wales republished it in 1986 after Alun Richard’s death with the addition of the first part of his autobiography “Days of Absence” first published in 1986. He wrote many other books and the script for several episodes of the “Onedin Line and ” Z Cars”, he was a professional writer. I enjoyed the short stories, but loved the autobiography which struck several chords with me.  I do not know whether it will do the same with the rest of the group because they were all  born after this era.

Alun Richards was born in 1929 in Pontypridd, a fatherless child (his father left when he was 3 days old) and his mother had to leave home to find work, so he was brought up by his grandmother a strong Welsh lady whose family ran a small business  in Pontypridd which they thought was the centre of the world, if not the universe.  This family lived under the shadow of the deaths of their recent much decorated war heroes. The young Alun was never told who his father was, it was all a big secret, so consequently he was always trying to find out, looking into every male face to see if he could find any resemblance to himself.

The characters in this book are very well drawn,particularly the grand mother and the Headmaster of the secondary school known as “The Pig”,  Alun lived in daily fear of this monstrous man.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone in the world who has family roots in the mining valleys of South Wales. I loved it!!!!

Unfortunately, I am not going to be at the next Book group meeting because I have unexpectedly been asked to host a 14 year old rugby player from Australia who is coming to play at my grandson’s school, he is arriving the day of the  meeting,  I have the only spare bed!!. However, with the help of modern communication I can keep in touch with the discussion and will give my score.

Blog Update

There was nothing wrong with my Super Duper Cooker, it fooled us all by going into”fail safe” mode eventually figured out by the electrician several days later .Hooray!!!!

Footnote

Three days later.

I have just been talking to a friend who lives in West Wales telling him how much I enjoyed Alun Richards book “Days of Absence”   He told me that when they were young men they were the best of friends, going fishing and generally socialising together.  He, Alun made every one jealous  by riding around Swansea with Joan Bakewell,  who was visiting, riding pillion.

Footnote to

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Making the Christmas Cakes——–a near Disaster!!!!!!!!

Just before the weekend it was decided that I was going to host the Christmas lunch.  I really wanted to make a better effort this Christmas, and get into a more positive frame of mind.  My new flat has this Super Duper  cooker with six burners and a very large oven, great for the turkey and all the roast vegetables.  As I said in my last blog, I intended to make several Christmas cakes this weekend, so I swung into action on Saturday, once again soaking all the fruit in brandy and leaving it all night. on Sunday I creamed the already softened butter with the brown sugar, added the eggs, flour and spices and then the soaked fruit and mixed  everything together and filled the cake tins already lined with paper.  Then disaster struck——I turned on the Super Duper cooker and nothing happened, no red light to say that it was on, nothing happened, it was not heating up, I was stuck with uncooked expensive cake mixes and only a tiny table top- cooker.  It was Sunday so everything had to wait until Monday when  I called for expert help, no, it was not my fault, I had not pressed the wrong buttons (I am very good at blaming myself when things go wrong)  the Super Duper was sick, maybe terminally, the makers are being informed and if it is going to cost too much to repair, the landlord will remove Super  Duper and I will have a new smaller one which I don’t really want.

This did not solve the problem of how to cook the cake mixes waiting in their tins  Little tabletop cooker had to spring into action, it behaved valiantly and though it could only cook one at a time which took about three times as long as Super Duper, the cakes turned out very well and the flat smells wonderful.

Thank goodness this happened this weekend how would I have managed if it had been  Christmas Day,  a ” campfire “cook- up in the yard perhaps!!!!!!!!

Getting ready for Christmas,making the puddings!

Christmas is now only six weeks away so I must start preparing for it.  I find Christmas  Day to be one of the most difficult days of the year, I know that we are all meant to be happy and jolly, and I do try, but past memories always keep flooding back.   Memories of my parents long gone, my only brother, close friends and other people dear to me.  Although I am not  religious I do not like to see the original Christmas message disappearing, up to the age of twelve I was a boarder in a Roman Catholic school.  During advent we sang carols every day, performed a Nativity Play, and looked forward to a family celebration, it was all low key.  A t that time there was no real commercial side to Christmas and we all had simple presents.  Nowadays it seems that it is just a big money making festival starting in November and I am appalled that many families will get into terrible debt in order to buy things that they cannot afford.   I  must stop sounding like a” Grumpy Old Woman” and try to lighten up!!!!  I do appreciate the fact that most families including mine try and get together at some period over the holiday, I love seeing all my family together as they live in different parts of the country.  This year I will try and concentrate on this aspect and  be positive, so I am immersing myself in preparations.

I do not buy presents, even for the grandchildren, I absolutely hate shopping and  so I give the teenagers  money which they will spend on what ever I-gadget or game they are into at the moment, rather than receive something “suitable” from me!!!! The mother of the only little one will chose some thing from me suitable for him, avoiding all the tacky plastic toys whose adverts bombard him on children’s television.. However, I  get great pleasure cooking, I am just a home cook with roots in the country, most of my recipes have been passed on from my mother and grandmother.  I enjoy making Christmas cakes, puddings, mince pies, chutneys, jams and marmalades for my friends to enjoy.  The jams, chutney and marmalade were made months ago when the fruit was fresh and the chutney needed time to mature.

.This weekend  is the traditional time for making the Christmas pudding  and some cakes, so I got started  by buying all the ingredients, pounds of raisins, sultanas, currents, glace cherries, candied peel, butter, suet, brown sugar, flour, sweet spices, eggs,  black treacle, a small bottle of beer and a very large bottle of cooking brandy.

On Saturday I started to make the pudding by weighing out the dried fruit and brown sugar  then soaked  the mix with six tablespoonfuls of brandy, maybe a drop more!!  Next day I  put all the dry ingredients together, the flour, the suet, the breadcrumbs, the spices, added the eggs ,all  the soaked fruit,  a large glass of beer and mixed it well.  Then came the important bit when the family stirred it and made their special  secret Christmas wishes, this has always been a family tradition and every year  I have to remind them that as these are special wishes they have to be reasonable and attainable otherwise there is no hope of them coming true which they usually do!!!!.  This year I had to make a special pudding, dairy free, sugar free,wheat free, spice free and alcohol free, it was quite a challenge but using tea to soak the dried fruit, gluten free flour and vegetable fat I managed it. I made a little taster pudding which was  as good if not  even better than my  normal ones, I made eight altogether.  I have already made the mincemeat so will have to get on with the pastry which I will freeze and use when I make the mince pies for everybody,  last year I made about twelve dozen.  Other friends prefer a cake, so I will make  them next weekend with enough time for them  to mature before the holiday  All this cooking has made the flat smell  lovely, welcoming and homelike..

Blog updates.

. The Quiz team had a great victory last Monday night when we trounced  everyone, even my memory had a good night!  The “Golden apple has just fallen off the tree in the wind, so it will no longer remind me  of my summer folly, coverting my neighbour’s goods,  best of all I have put the little fuchsia cutting in a nice terracotta pot, it is doing well on my kitchen window sill and has sprouted new  leaves so I am hoping that it will survive and eventually bloom like it’s tough little parent plant.

A Moral Dilemma

I live in a ground floor flat in a large Victorian house on a long tree lined road bordering a park, the trees are copper beeches which at this time of the year have changed from their dark colour to a spectacular russet.  In their hey-day these town mansions were the residences of the wealthy.  Nowadays  most of these houses have now been divided up into flats, only about twelve out of about one hundred are still lived in by one family

As I walk down my road on my way to the library or shops I look into the front gardens of these once gracious residences.  Many of them have been paved over, some still have plants and shrubs, others are well cared for.  Unfortunately there are a few that are completely neglected, and are just .another place for people to throw their empty drink cans and rubbish.  About two years ago I passed one of these  neglected gardens, I think that there had been some building work done as the garden was full of rubble as well as all the drink cans, old carrier bags, cigarette packets and polystyrene fish a chip  containers, it was a real mess.  I was just about to walk away when I noticed something colourful behind a cardboard box.  It was quite near the pavement so I reached across and I found a small stunted fuchsia plant bearing one absolutely stunning flower, it was not one of those dainty fuchsias but it was large and brazenly beautiful, it had the largest fuchsia flower that I have ever seen, my mother had quite a large collection of fuchsias but I had never seen one like this.  I have always likened the flowers to the tutus of ballet dancers, the outer skirt of this flower was a deep purple while the frilly part was a shocking pink.  I was amazed at how this little plant had struggled to produce this flower among all the rubbish and neglect.  I was very tempted to dig it up there and then but quickly realized that I would be stealing it, so I regretfully walked away.

After this we had an unusually hard winter with a heavy fall of snow which quickly became ice on the pavements, it was so unsafe that I was confined to my flat for two weeks. I felt that there was not much hope that the little plant would survive so I was not surprised when there was no sign of it the following summer.

Imagine my surprise when I walked down the road a few weeks ago and looked into the derelict garden and saw the stunted little plant once again bearing just one gorgeous flower. In my time I have rescued plants from rubbish heaps, skips and dustbins but I have never ever stolen one, I was extremely tempted., but like the time that I resisted sending my grandson over the wall to scrump the apples that I lusted after, I walked away trying to think up a plan B.  I hadn’t walked ten yards when I knew what to do. I turned around, scrutinised the plant and found a second straggly branch from which I took a cutting, this I put into a glass of water with cuttings of other plants that I was trying to propagate, particularly cuttings of rosemary and streptocarpus.

This morning before completing this blog I walked down to see the plant again and to my dismay I found that an estate agent had driven  a stake with a “To Let ” sign right through the place where the plant used to be, I was horrified and sad.   Should I have dug it up when I had the chance?   However on returning home I looked at my glass of cuttings, surprise, surprise, there are a few little hairlike roots appearing, so maybe there is hope that one day I might see that luscious flower once again!  Perhaps it was fate that I should be at hand to maybe rescue a plant that had struggled so bravely to reproduce..

The Book Group discuss The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The book group met a few nights ago at my flat, it was my turn to host the evening having chosen the book,” The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga, winner of the Mann Booker Prize  in 2008

The other members arrived at 7.0, Three young Mums, two Dads, one youngish man who had just returned to the group and one old bat, me.

After a lot of chat and catching up, especially with the returned member,  we discussed the book.  One member had only managed to read 30 pages, enough said!   Everyone  else had finished it and had diverse opinions. We all wondered  how it came to win such a prestigious prize.

The story is about a young man from  The Darkness” ( the poor countryside of India)” who comes to the city to work as a chauffeur to a very rich  and corrupt family of entrepreneurs.  He listens to all their conversations while driving them around.   In  the end he murders  his boss when he is in possession of an extremely large amount of money, destined as a pay-off to a corrupt politician.  He then runs away and becomes an entrepreneur himself..

There was a lot to discuss, issues of morality, did we like anything about the character, was the author  from the background he describes or was he just imagining how life could be in the seamier side of Indian society?

After a  long discussion we took a vote on how we liked it, giving marks out of ten. The average mark was  6 out of 10.  I think that this was a fair judgement of how we all felt.

We  then went on to the important part of the evening, the eating of cakes.  I had made a polenta and clementine  cake for one of the members who is wheat intolerant, and a very large Almond and Pear Tart which was a  great success.  Not quite as successful as a trifle made for the previous meeting, but nearly so.

It was an enjoyable evening among friends, I hope that there will be a lot more books to read and many more discussions to come.