Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Old Bat’s early life

I was born in July 1936 at the hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in West Wales. My parents were William and Kathleen , who had a dairy farm nearby. I wish I could say that I was exactly what they hoped for, in fact I was a great disappointment. They badly wanted a boy to carry on the farm and be a wonderful horseman like my father. Not only was I the wrong sex, I did not seem to have a proper nose either, just a little hole in the middle of my face. However, they took me home and grew to love me, a very small nose eventually appeared.

The next year my brother arrived with a very large nose. My mother was heard to exclaim to my father ’look what you have done’ this time.

Growing up on a farm was healthy, plenty of space to run around, puppies and kittens to play with and orphan lambs to feed. When I was about 4 years old my brother and I went to a nursery school in Haverfordwest, just for the mornings session. Father used to drop us at the train station at the same time that he was loading churns of milk on to another train, taking the milk to the schools in the Welsh valleys. We were put ‘in charge of the guard’ who would let us out at the next station, Haverfordwest. We would walk ‘hand in hand’ to the cinema where the little school was held. We returned the same way by train. If we were lucky, someone would meet us with a car, tractor or may be a horse and cart. Otherwise we would walk the two miles home, often sleeping in the hedgerow until some one arrived. In those days there was no traffic, Father had the only car in the parish, so it was quite safe. I do not recall much about that little school but much later in life I was reminded that I had promised a fellow pupil that when we grew up, we would live in a tree with an Aga Cooker.

This happy life soon changed. One sunny morning when I was six years old, my mother took me for a very long car journey. We travelled up to the Gower coast to little seaside village called Horton. I got out of the car and ran a little distance from my mother who was looking down at the beautiful sandy beach. When I turned around to ask her if I could go down the steps to play on the sand, she was not there. Instead there was a lady dressed in black heavy robes from head to toe. I had met one these ladies previously. She was a nun of the Ursuline Order, they had been evacuated from their convent in Dover to the mansion house in our village. I had met one of the sisters before, so I was not afraid. The sister explained to me that my mother had gone back home, and that I was going to live with them in this new house, which was a boarding school. She told me kindly that I would go home to the farm for the school holidays.

I spent 6 years at the convent, even moving with them to Dover when the war ended. I was not unhappy, but I was never a fully paid up member of my own family again, I was always ‘a visitor’. I had to learn to be self reliant, often truculent, according to one school report. I now think that this very early departure from home had a big effect on my whole life. I do not blame my parents who thought that this was the best education for me. I could not walk to the nearest village school, it was 4 miles away, I was quite a delicate child having had ‘Whooping cough’ when I was eight weeks old and had been lucky to survive. It was wartime, petrol was rationed, so they could not drive me to school every day. I never found out how my brother got there. I do not think that I ever asked, perhaps I did not want to know and be hurt.

The beach at Horton was used by the Allied Army to practice their landings for D Day, I still remember the large crafts coming in and all the soldiers rushing out on to the beach.

When I became a mother, I realized how difficult it must have been for my mother the day she left me behind at that school, I was so very young. We never ever talked about it.

I remained at that school until I was twelve years old, the last few years at their convent in Dover. I travelled by train, by myself, from Pembrokeshire on the West coast of Wales to the East coast of England, To do this, I had to cross London from Paddington station to Cannon St, station, quite an achievement at nine years of age. I heard the news that the war was over while playing with friends on a tennis court at Dover. I was just 9 years old and hundreds of miles from home.

I stayed at the convent in Dover for the next two years, going back home for the longer of the school holidays, always crossing London to do it. At 11 years of age I passed the entrance examination to a boarding school in Bristol.That will be the next story.

 

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‘’OLD BAT hosts the BOOK GROUP’’

The Book Group have already chosen ‘Days without End’ by Sebastian Barry as the book to read and discuss this month. As I had put this book forward, among others, I am going to have to defend it; then provide a ‘high tea’ type meal to the members of the group, after our discussion.

When I first joined the Group, the host only had to provide ‘cakes’. Time has passed, some members come from work, needing a meal.. It has become a little more difficult since some have become Vegetarians, others, Vegans .

I have nothing against their beliefs, but being an old fashioned ‘country style’ cook, I find it hard to change my old recipes into Vegan ones. No ‘dairy ’products and ’no ‘eggs’, no ‘meat,’ in one case ‘no ‘sugar’

 

 

MENU

‘Tomato and red pepper soup’ suitable for all, with gluten free flat bread.

Houmous, with carrot and celery sticks, and flat bread.

A salmon and spinach quiche, with a green salad.

A raspberry and rhubarb crumble, for the Vegans, made of ground almonds, coconut flower sugar, nuts, almond butter and coconut flour. The old fashioned one made of sugar, butter and flour for the rest of us.

A big fruit trifle with custard and cream for those who dare to eat it. We are all looking after our cholesterol these days. We do allow ourselves a treat, now and again.

Tea or coffee.

When I was young, I would be able to cook this meal on the day of the meeting. Now that I am over 80 and disabled, I have to make use of my ‘freezer’ and prepare some parts of the dishes early. I have already made the crumble toppings, ready to cook.   They are in the ‘freezer’ with the prepared rhubarb. The raspberries will join them before the dish goes into the oven on the day of the meal. I will make the soup the night before, also the pastry base of the quiche. I will start making the trifle by taking a sponge base out of the ’freezer’ splitting it into two parts and spreading them with raspberry jam. I then soak this with raspberry jelly. The next day, when the jelly has set, I cover it with fruit, thick creamy custard and whipped cream.

I make crumbles regularly, but make trifles only for the friends that like them specially. Today is Thursday, two clear days before the meal on Sunday. I feel that I have taken on more than I can cope with. The mind is willing but the body has got a bit too feeble to cope. I

Give myself a stern lecture, ‘’ get cleaning the flat, and prepare for the cooking, just do the best you can.’’ I will tell you how it pans out later.

TWO DAYS LATER

 

The book group meeting has been and gone, I think that it was successful. I tried to make a good case for recommending the book ‘Day without End’ by Sebastian Barry’. Not all members agreed with me. One actually said that my brief précis was better than the actual book.

Other members liked the story about two penniless young men in the American army, fighting the War against the Indians led by ‘’Caught his Horse First’’. They then went straight into the Civil war on the Union side suffering the viciousness of ‘’ hand to hand combat ‘’ on a losing side. Eventually being taken prisoners. At this stage of the war both sides had no rations, just two pieces of corn bread a day.

No food at all for the black prisoner, he depended upon his friends to keep him alive. Eventually, Mr Lincoln agreed to an exchange of prisoners, so Thomas and John went back to the home they shared with a young Indian girl Winona, who they had adopted. Once they had gained their strength, Mr Lincoln wanted them to fight another battle against ‘‘Caught his Horse First’’ again.

This book is basically about the love between the young men and their love for the young Indian girl they adopted.

.They strived to do everything possible to protect her.

I am not going to say any more. You must read it for yourselves. Some of the battle scenes are hard to read, but they were a big part of the story which was savage the on both sides. Some things have not changed to this day.

The book is beautifully composed, fantastic descriptions of wonderful untamed countryside and the soldiers who fought their wars there.

The group discussed the book thoroughly. The one member did not like it at all.

Most did not like the war scenes but liked the rest of the book. I absolutely love this book and will read it again and again. The tenderness in the description of the relationships struck a chord with me. I even shed a few tears. I could have done without all that bloodshed, and starvation, unfortunately, that was a big part of the history of the period. The relationship between the three main characters, Handsome John Cole, wren like Thomas McNulty and Winona, the young Indian maid, is so cleverly and sympathetically drawn that they became very real to me. John and Thomas would have gladly sacrificed their lives for this young Indian girl, Winona.

After the discussion, we all enjoyed the meal that I had prepared. A good evening, shared with friends.

Memories, a tribute to Rowina

This morning I received an envelope from an old friend containing photographs taken at least 55 years ago. She had found them when she cleared her Mother’s flat, after she passed away. I showed them to my Grandson, he thought that they were pictures of his Mother.

I did not recognize myself immediately. I did not remember the ‘evening’ dress I was wearing either. It looked very modern, not my usual style. The picture shows a group of people of mixed ages, sitting around a table at a ‘ Dance’, or some similar event. Everyone in the picture is wearing ‘evening’ dress. All look as if they are enjoying themselves, lots of bottles of beer, plus one large bottle of wine on the table. Soft drinks must have been provided, because I did not touch any alcohol until a lot later in life, even then, very little. I am sitting happily on my husband’s knee. We look so young and carefree, oblivious of all the ‘ups and downs’ to come in the future.

The second picture shows me dancing ‘The Gay Gordons, a Scottish reel. It is the best photograph that I have ever seen of myself. I am laughing, obviously having fun dancing with a friend’s father.

I think that looking at the rest of the company in the photograph, this must have been a fund raising event for the St Vincent de Paul charity in Haverfordwest, organized by the wonderful Father Paul Satori, whose work became the inspiration for the local cancer Foundation, set up in his memory..

The photograph appears to be taken either at the church hall, or a school dining room.. There are metal and canvas chairs set around the table.

My grandfather was a Church of Wales Vicar, while I spent 6 years at a Catholic school.. As a result, I supported both churches. My lifelong friend Rowina, and her husband John Dillon are also in this photograph. I know that they were lifelong Catholics. This is the only picture of them together that I have ever had, I am so pleased to have it.

Rowina was one of my greatest friends. We first met when I returned from my first term at boarding school aged 6. During my time away, Rowina had come to live with my family to help my Mother cope with providing meals for all the men working on our farm, normally eight workers, plus four family. Rowina was a lovely young girl with beautiful blonde hair and a strong cheerful personality.

At that time, there was no electricity or ‘Mains’ water. There were no ‘fridges, no electric light, no washing machines and no handy kitchen appliances, everything cooked on a solid fuel stove, by the light of paraffin lamps at night.

Rowina told me years later that her first sight of me was of a tiny little girl with very skinny legs getting out of the car, wearing an extremely large brown school hat. We soon became the best of friends.

Rowina was the most amazing cook. My Father thought that she was the best cook in the world. Her Victoria sponges had no equal.

She helped my Mother until she got married to a handsome Irish man called John Dillon. The couple found a pretty cottage nearby, and in the fullness of time had 3 lovely children, Pat, Jean and Michael.

When they were teenagers, both girls helped me in various little schemes to make a little extra money, farming was not doing too well at this time. First of all, I had a little Market stall in the local town. Every Saturday, Jean helped me cook thousands of Welsh cakes, yeast buns, cakes and pies, all to order. We did not make our fortune, but it was a good experience for both of us.

Our next Enterprise was to have a ‘Dog clipping’, business, no fortune there either. Just lots of hassle trying to beautify pet poodles whose coats had gotten into a solid mat of wool. After this, Jean trained to be a top class hairdresser who looked after my hair for many years. Jean later married Maurice and moved to Southhampton. Pat married Conrad and lived in Fishguard. Rowina and John settled down in Haverfordwest very near to where I lived at the time, we stayed close until I moved to France.

Rowina and I helped each other through two tragic events. I lost a baby boy, Robert at nine months old, a’Cot death’, while Rowina lost her grown up son Michael in freak accident. Terrible times which we helped each other through.

Other pictures in the envelope I could recall. Jean, the sender of the photos, sitting in a wheelbarrow cuddling my two year old daughter. They are quite recognisable 55 years later.Thank you very much for taking the trouble to send these photos to .me. They remind of all the good times we shared all those years ago. I am now going into my kitchen to try and make a Victoria Sponge in memory of Rowina. I know that it will not be as good. She had the Magic touch. .

 

 

Meeting The Neighbours

In 2014, I lived on my own, in a large ground floor flat overlooking a beautiful park. My flat had a south facing yard which I turned into a vegetable and fuchsia garden. It became too much work. I had to carry heavy pots up steps, also bags of compost and other paraphernalia to keep all the tomatoes, beans and courgettes healthy. I did have a long hose so ‘watering’ was easy.

I now live in a smaller ground floor flat in the house next door. I have the use of the small grass patch, north facing. The plants are all in pots standing around the edge.

The fuchsias have settled in their new home but now flower later in the season.. They have been joined by hydrangeas and a blanket of self seeding nasturtiums.

I have read through all my old blogs and found most of them exceedingly boring. All about my amateur gardening exploits. I am not going to do that anymore, well, perhaps just a little ‘mention’ now and again.

During that wonderful hot fortnight this summer, all the gardens in my road started to dry up. I was the only person with a hosepipe, so every evening I would sit outside my kitchen window with my hose attached to the tap inside, filling up the watering cans and buckets of my neighbours. It was a chance to get to know some of them. I even offered a ‘shower’ to any one brave enough to appear in a bathing costume. Unfortunately, there were no customers. However, it had been a pleasant way to  chat to the people who ‘ nod’ to me as I wait for the bus each morning. It was great fun!!!!! Thank goodness I do not have a water meter, if I had it would have cost an awful lot of money.

Starting once again!!

I have been trying to get ‘ Back on the Bus’ for some time. My computer died, 3 years ago. It had worked hard for 12 years and could not be repaired. At the same time I took out a funeral policy. As a reward the Company sent me a ‘Tablet’ and a very nice pen. The pen is great but the small ’Tablet’ is not suitable for the Blog, in truth, my poor old fingers are not suitable for the Tablet.

I had already thought of buying a new laptop because I wanted to write a booklet of my family recipes to g ive to my children before all the writing fades from the hand written one that I started in 1957. All went to University with a copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course and all four phoned home to ask how to make  gravy. What made my mind up was an e -mail from one of my readers telling me that she had read the old blogs and they had cheered her up. Thank you Ann, this encouraged me to buy a good reconditioned one, I am now trying to get used to it. I agree with your recommendation, ‘Stoner’ by John Williams it is one of my all time favourites. I have just read ‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastion Barry. I heard his interview from the Hay Festival and was impressed with his wonderful way with words. That book is so good that I took another of his to the Book group to be chosen among others for our next meeting at my flat in August. It is ‘Days Without End’. It won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year. The other choices were ‘Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Euginides. ‘Run’ By Ann Pratchatt, and’ Golden Hill’ by Frances Spufford. ‘’Days without End’ won the vote, I will tell you all about our discussion after the meeting

.                 Once again, I will try to provide something delicious to eat, after the discussion which is difficult when we have Vegan members. It will probably be a quiche, soup, trifle and a cake. Perhaps an exotic crumble with Joe’s ice cream. The Vegans will have to bring their own toppings

This piece has been a trial practice run, relearning how to use my more modern computer which is much more sensitive than my old one.