WOMAN ~ A Chemical Analysis

A little something that has always made me smile. I hope that you will enjoy it too.

ELEMENT:                  Woman

OCCURRENCE:         Copious quantities in all urban areas with trace elements in most others.

PHYSICAL PROPERTIES

  1. Surface is often covered in powdery painted film
  2. Boils at nothing; freezes for no reason
  3. Melts if given special treatment
  4. Bitter if incorrectly used
  5. Found in varying grades from virginal state to common ‘ore
  6. Yields to pressure applied gently to selected points

CHEMICAL PROPERTIES

  1. Has great affinity with gold, silver, platinum and precious stones
  2. Absorbs great quantities of expensive substances
  3. May explode spontaneously without warning or reason
  4. Softens and takes on a rosy glow when immersed in hot water
  5. Most powerful money reducing agent known to man

COMMON USES

  1. Highly ornamental – especially in sports car
  2. Can be a great aid to relaxation

TESTS

  1. Pure specimen turns bright red when discovered in natural state
  2. Turns green when placed next to a better specimen

HAZARDS

  1. Highly dangerous in inexperienced hands
  2. Possession of more than one considered illegal

 

Micro-fiction: Rich Words

This is a piece I wrote as part of a university assignment for my life writing module. The idea was to conjour up atmosphere in under 300 words.  The inspiration for the piece was an Indian restaurant which I used to pass late on a Monday evening on my way home from a late class.  It was situated right next to the traffic lights which I inevitably caught on red. Although it didn’t open for business on Mondays there was always a light which glowed orange at the back of the restaurant and a lone elderly man could be seen on a low seat.

Mr Rajapoori, proprietor and proud host of the Raj Tandoori Restaurant shares stories. Not stories of the ‘Once upon a time, happy ever after’ variety, but stories told with such eloquence that they bear no resemblance to any tale you heard before.

“Welcome to the most splendid Raj Tandoori Restaurant. Come in, sit down,” says Mr Rajapoori.

Rest in the luxuriant magnificence of jewelled cushions: rich reds run through with shimmering gold and purples so deep they might almost be black – shot silk glinting with the bluest of greens.

The lights are low, the music a background sound; a melodious harmony of sitar and the tinntinabulation of the  ghungharu.  Dancers move gracefully amongst you, entrancing, ethereal in their gossamer fine saris of silk in amethyst and azure, carmine and crimson, drifting weightlessly as they glide past.

There is no menu; you cannot know before you enter which tasty morsels might be proffered. Arrive, be seated, and when Mr Rajapoori deems a sufficiency of diners, he will begin, mesmerising  with hypnotic voice –  tales of childhood, of luck and love, temples and treasures, intrigue and suspense , his words as rich and sweet as honey.  Prepare for enchantment; be amazed. Relish the heavenly offerings, rich with saffron, fragrant spices to ignite your tastebuds, coriander and cumin,  the aroma of clove, the  piquancy of hot and fiery ginger. Each dish an aromatic masterpiece.

And much later, leave rested; equilibrium magically restored.

So where might you find this cornucopia of epicurean delight?  I cannot tell you for it exists only for those prepared to chance labyrinthine alleys not taken before, those who are open to untried avenues might serendipitously happen upon it. Close your eyes, breathe slowly and dream.

 

We didn’t visit Oxford (part 2)

From yesterday’s post: ‘Train day out’  dawned and, as planned, we drove to Evesham this morning, parked the car and walked onto the platform. “It’s a bit strange,” I said after a few minutes, “but there’s nothing at all that refers to Cross Country Trains. Everything says GWR.” Husband looked less concerned that I felt. So I said it again.  This time he looked around and frowned. He took out his phone and rang GWR. The outcome of his conversation was that we got back in the car and drove out of the station.   

We had checked the Cross Country Trains website . It showed that the 10.30am weekday London, Paddington train stops in Evesham and Oxford.  Nowhere on this page does it suggest that the train is not run by Cross Country Trains. Needless to say, our complimentary ticket were only valid on their trains so, not being prepared to purchase new tickets , we got back in the car and drove out of the station.  We were both feeling rather glum by now.  As my daughter’s text said – ‘What is it with you two and trains?’

We drove to the end of the road. Left towards home or right towards the town centre – what was it to be asked Husband. It’s probably fifteen years since I went to Evesham and on that occasion it was to shop. I found it a very uninspiring place and haven’t been back since. Nevertheless, having planned a day out, I said that we should turn right and make the best of it. The shops still didn’t look very exciting so we decided to concentrate on the area just outside the main shopping area. And didn’t we have a lovely time …

Once home to one of the largest abbeys in Europe, the market town of Evesham sits on the banks of the River Avon in Worcestershire and was the site of a major battle in the 13th century. Though most of the abbey was lost during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries,  there are many very old buildings to delight lovers of architecture. Here is a diagram of the original abbey site. Only the two churches, St Lawrence which dates from 1195 (and was built on the sight of the original building c AD 700), and All Saints, built a hundred years later, and the tower (dating from 1500s), remain. These can be seen on the left of the picture. Despite their close proximity, the two churches originally served separate parishes. The building at the front of the picture is no longer there.

There is little more uplifting a sight than to see the sun stream through a beautiful stained glass window. All Saints has several.

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The highlight of the entire site for me was found in the south chapel of the less ornate St Lawrence Church. Measuring around six feet by five, this stunning appliqued picture depicts three ghostly figures of monks walking towards the abbey entrance. Unfortunately there is nothing to explain its provenance, no explanation as to whom it should be attributed.

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A walk through the church grounds leads to Abbey Park and what a treat that turned out to be. We had no idea of its existence. The park is formed from the original abbey gardens and is set over several levels leading down to the River Avon.

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With enclosed children’s playgrounds, picnic areas and a memorial garden to the Great War (which you can see on the top left of the picture below), it is a lovely place to while away and hour or two.   The small pool in the picture is part of the Abbey’s original fish ponds where the monks farmed the perch, pike, bream and eels which formed a substantial part of their diet.

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Eventually coffee beckoned and we made our way back through the Abbey grounds and into a narrow walkway lined with very old buildings which, according to a plaque on the wall, date back centuries. The cafe proprietor told us that the cafe was 17th century but is ‘just a baby’ when compared to some of the other buildings near by.

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Inside the cafe was a nice surprise. I have a fascination for old dolls’ houses and there, in a case, was a wonderful example. Unfortunately I had to photograph it through glass so the pictures are not very clear.

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It was an unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable morning out, made even better by the fact that on our way home we called in at a nice pub for a late lunch.

Thing is – we STILL have two first class ‘go anywhere’ train tickets to be used by 4th September. Look out for part 3 of this post.

 

 

 

We didn’t visit Oxford today!(Part 1)

The story begins  with a visit to Harrogate one Sunday in September 2015 for the final part of my husband’s 70th birthday celebrations. We caught the local train into Birmingham where we boarded the express for Leeds, changing later to the local one to Harrogate where we enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea at the famous Bettys Tea Rooms.

 

The trouble began when we got back to Leeds for the journey home. Not being great rugby fans we hadn’t realised that it was the day of an important England game. There were hordes, truly HORDES, of people boarding but we felt that our reserved first-class seats would ensure a comfortable journey home. Not so! To use our seats we first had to clear them of discarded chips and half-eaten burgers and wipe the smeared tomato ketchup from the upholstery. Good job I always carry wipes. Having eventually sat down we waited for the ‘complimentary’ refreshments to arrive. They didn’t. In fact, throughout the entire journey we didn’t see a single Cross Country Trains employee. The extremely drunk rugby fans piled into the first class compartment and were very intimidating, barring our way to the toilets and shouting loud obscenities for the next two hours. They also made it difficult for us to alight when we arrived in Birmingham.

A very strongly worded letter resulted in the train company providing two first class return tickets to anywhere we chose to go. We decided on York. You’re probably now thinking … but the post title mentions Oxford. Stay with me!

Because I was in my final year at uni and very busy we didn’t get around to booking our York trip until the following summer. We’d decided to stay overnight and planned visits to the Jorvik and Castle museums. The day before we were due to go I was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and was ill for several weeks. Part way through my recovery we found that the train tickets were valid for only another week. I wasn’t up to lots of walking around York so we decided on a day out in Oxford. We booked a nice restaurant for lunch and again caught the local train to Birmingham and duly took our seats in first class enjoying the complimentary coffee, shortbread and fruit cake. The train stopped to let passengers on in Coventry and we waited for the train to pull away. We waited, and we waited and we waited….for over TWO HOURS! The train in front of us had broken down.

This time no strongly worded letter was required. The guard brought us a claim form explaining that we would be entitled to a refund of our ticket price. However, since we hadn’t actually paid for the tickets as they were compensatory ones, the train company would only replace them with more complimentary first class tickets. We were fine with this and I pinned the replacements on the noticeboard in our office. Where I promptly forgot about them. Months passed and every now and then I’d catch sight of them and say, “we must use those train tickets”. A couple of weeks ago I checked the date on them and found that they have to be used by 4th September. Today (18th August) was designated ‘Train day out’ in the diary. After some consideration we decided to try Oxford again. We checked the Cross Country Trains company’s website, saw that a train ran from Evesham to Oxford and decided that instead of first catching the train to Birmingham that we would drive to Evesham (about 12 miles) and catch it directly to Oxford from there.

‘Train day out’  dawned and, as planned, we drove to Evesham this morning, parked the car and walked onto the platform. “It’s a bit strange,” I said after a few minutes, “but there’s nothing at all that refers to Cross Country Trains. Everything says GWR.” Husband looked less concerned that I felt. So I said it again. This time he looked around and frowned. He took out his phone and rang GWR. The outcome of his conversation was that we got back in the car and drove out of the station.  Part 2 to follow …

Let’s get cooking – new recipe update

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New recipes from the past week include lavender shortbread. I wasn’t sure whether garden lavender can be used though there seems no reason to assume that it can’t. However, I forgot to take into account that its flowering period is now over! I think I may once have made shortbread (though never lavender flavoured) but it was so far in the distant past that I decided it could count as a new recipe. Sourcing culinary lavender wasn’t easy but I eventually discovered that Bart spices do a small jar for £1.99 and that it’s available in Waitrose. We don’t have a local branch so I called the two nearest branches; neither stocked it. Ocado will deliver but since I was ordering nothing else this wasn’t an option. Eventually I found some at Webbs garden centre in Wychbold (a place definitely worthy of its own post sometime soon) – a decent sized bag for £1.79. I’d intended using a recipe found on the Cotswold lavender site but it was only when I began that I realised  it contains rice flour and I didn’t have any. No matter, I found a shortbread recipe from the baking booklet produced by Bygones Museum in Babbacombe, Devon (bought more than twenty years old, used constantly and very reliable). I made the shortbread as shown and added the lavender. It was ok but only partially successful; it was just not sweet enough. I think that perhaps lavender is a little bitter so more sugar is required to counteract this. I have added rice flour to my shopping list and will try again. I’m sure I can also improve on its appearance.

A Greek recipe for spanokopita (spinach and feta in filo pastry) was very successful though I shall make a smaller quantity next time. As I wasn’t sure how well it would freeze, I had to eat it for lunch and dinner on two consecutive days as husband is not keen on this kind of food. I’ve made something very similar in the past but finding recipes that are totally unlike anything previously cooked is a near impossibility when one has been cooking for forty years!

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The chicken dish was again similar to others that I’ve made but it was in my recipe scrapbook , handwritten on a slip of paper. It’s been there for years and I’ve no idea from where it originated. It was a tasty blend of tomato, peppers, onions, various spices and chicken, of course. I shall make this one again.

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These little frittatas are a Slimming World idea and very quick and simple to make. Simply pop a selection of chopped vegetables (I included potato, asparagus, spring onion and a little bit of ham) into bun tins, season, pour beaten egg over the top and bake. They tasted fine hot or cold and would be great for a picnic. I’ve made frittata lots of times but never so small. Is it stretching the boundaries to suggest that they count as a a new recipe?

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Saving the best for last: by far the most delicious new recipe made in the past week was the French onion soup from my blog-friend Margaret’s recipe. (You may recognise her name from the minted pea soup I made last week). It was very much enjoyed but I forgot to take a photograph! There is plenty of Gruyere cheese left over though so I shall be making it again very soon. I’d planned to use the cheese for Gruyere and tomato tarts as shown on the box which contained filo pastry but I’ve decided that the soup wins on this occasion.

Using tried and tested recipes I’ve also made this week …Vegi-burgers (a regular favourite from Jack Monroe’s fab cookery book A girl called Jack), a chocolate fudge cake and a coffee and walnut cake, a crustless quiche (similar to the tortilla recipe but with cheese)  a strawberry roulade (even more regular), an apple and nectarine crumble and black-bean chicken. And we’ve been eating runner beans…..a lot of runner beans.

 

 

The Korean War – a little bit of family history

I came from a mother who nursed in the army

Korean War, Singapore

Raffles Hotel, The Officers’ Mess

Tweed perfume and evening dress

 

Some who know me will be aware that I am in the process of writing a novel, the meticulously researched backdrop for which is the The Korean War, which was the first armed conflict of the Cold War. An astonishing fact: the British Army lost more men in Korea than the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan combined and yet many people today have barely any knowledge of it – little wonder that it has been referred to as The Forgotten War.

My interest is personal – my parents met during this time when both were in the army. My mother was an officer in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps – QARANCs. Initially stationed in Kure, Japan she was later posted to Singapore. Her photograph albums document the period from 1952 to 1954 and contain many souvenirs in addition to her treasured photographs. I’d like to share a few of these. About half way through her albums photographs of my father start to appear (before they began courting). It looks as though she may have taken the photo of him below without his knowledge, don’t you think? Smitten before he knew!

All sorts of mementos were collected: the labels from drinks bottles, tram and bus tickets and menus.

My favourite is the menu from the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore where my parents dined on 31st December 1953.

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QARANCs were granted commissioned  officer status and the rank of Lieutenant. My mother is the one in the darker uniform

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Hours of work were long but there was still time to enjoy the sights and play tennis (or in the picture below, to umpire)!

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During my research I have read numerous books on army life during the Korean War, and was pleased to see in one, reference to The Belles & Beaus hockey match which took place on Boxing Day 1952 at the BCGH (hospital)  in Kure. My mother was one of the Belles but unfortunately the photograph which gives evidence to this is now badly faded. In later years she gave talks to women’s groups such as the WI about her time in the army. I remember looking through her albums and being interested in the pictures of kimono-clad Japanese women but it is one of my greatest regrets that I did not show more interest in her experiences. In my book I have used some of the tales my parents recounted but I have so many questions which will sadly never be answered.

The main source of entertainment for officers on the hospital site would have been the social events and formal dinners which took place in The Officers’ Mess. I recall snippets of information as, when very young,  I sometimes accompanied my mother to her talks. This picture, with her seated on the far left of the picture, shows a Christmas meal in 1952.

Xmas Party Wo Sang - 1952

My short poem above refers to Tweed perfume and evening dress. When ever my parents went out my mother smelt of Tweed – such an old fashioned perfume now but back then it seemed the height of sophistication along with her deep pink lipstick.   My father liked to her wear Tweed because it reminded him of when they first met. When I was about seven years old she took me to a dressmaker along with one of her beautiful evening dresses which were kept in a metal trunk. Covered in travel labels, this had been the trunk which had accompanied her in her army days. A silky pale green brocade  formed the underneath part of the dress in question and over the top was a deeper greenish-bronze organza. I cannot imagine that by then she had any cause to wear such a dress so each of the luxurious fabrics were made into a party dress for her little girl. Unfortunately I can find no photographs of me wearing either, and I have no idea what happened to the rest of her dresses.

I’m unsure if this was taken in Kure or Singapore but here is my mother wearing one of her lovely evening dresses. I don’t believe my waist was ever that tiny!

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I have hundreds of photographs similar to those below and I have donated a number of images to Japan’s Kure City Hall Historical Collection. I’m delighted to report that, following an appeal I made for background minutiae some time ago on the ‘Memories of Kure’ website, just last week I was contacted by a gentleman from Queensland, Australia who has very kindly and generously  transcribed many of his handwritten notes from the time and emailed them to me. I am both touched and thrilled to have received this first hand account and will, undoubtedly, incorporate some of his memories into my story.

Postscript:  I have just discovered that my gentleman from Queensland is in fact rather more well known that he’d have had me believe! Mr Ron Callander -author, playwright, poet and journalist has written many articles and television scripts, and has received several awards for his writing.  Furthermore, he has served as State Secretary of the Australian Radio Television and Screen Writers’ Guild and Committee Member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. How lucky am I that he saw my appeal for information!

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Updates: August food challenge and the new job

 

Regular readers will remember that I decided to challenge myself to try at least two new recipes each week during August. In week!

Week 1 coincided with my starting a new job and although it’s only sixteen hours a week, I arrived home mentally exhausted. Not that I’m using that as an excuse for not meeting my target – I did, but you might have been expecting something a bit more complex than soup and bread.

The minted pea soup was made using a recipe from Margaret, one of my favourite blog writers. I already had the ingredients (petit pois – I always buy these rather than regular frozen peas,  potato,  onion, stock cube  and mint concentrate) so didn’t need to buy anything specially.  Although I’ve eaten pea soup, I’ve never before made any.  I like my soup thick and with texture but it could easily have been made thinner by adding more liquid and smoother by blending for longer.

The rustic-looking rosemary and seed loaf recipe came from a Sunday Newspaper supplement torn out months ago with the intention of making it that weekend. It didn’t happen at the time but I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment to the soup. The recipe called for a tablespoon of rosemary (I added two since it is one of my favourite herbs) and 80g of mixed seeds). Made with oats and yogurt, it is quite dense with a scone-like texture (though not crumbly). It was very filling. I experimented with freezing a couple of slices and defrosting today, a week later. It was fine.  I will also add that it tasted very good when spread with crunchy peanut butter (but please don’t tell my Slimming World consultant!)

Both the bread and soup were very tasty and I will definitely make them again even though Husband wasn’t keen on either! Unsurprisingly he was quite happy with the lemon cake I made!

I think that the new job will be fine; I’ve gone back into HR. It’s a branch of an international freight company and everyone is very friendly. The systems and processes are different to those I used to in the past but I’m getting there. There are a lot of advantages over my previous job.  Most of all it’s really nice to do my job sitting down! My ankles and knees were very uncomfortable after standing for several hours in the shop. Add to that – no more climbing of 42 stairs dozens of times a day, working only three mornings a week with no Saturdays,  and that there are no screaming children (some upset, others  undisciplined) to contend with – it was a good decision, a very good one!