Postcards to my grandson George

This was inspired by a writing exercise suggested by Clare Best.

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Hi George. You remember Jacob saying I used to live in a house called Beaumont? Well this is my second house in London Road – it was called Beaumont House too. It was very old and had two staircases, a posh one at the front and a winding one at the back that led from the kitchen up to my bedroom. The floors were so crooked we had to prop up one leg of the bed with a brick. The central heating wasn’t good so, in winter, great grandma warmed our clothes in front of the Aga. My sister Pauline and me would make ‘a run for it’ from the warmth of our beds to crouch in front of the warm range pulling on our school uniforms, while great grandma cooked us fried eggs which we almost never ate. Our favourite treat was curly bacon rinds which great grandma would cut off and, when she had enough, she’d bake them in the oven. They were really yummy.

Love Granny xx

 

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Hi George. This is the tree I was telling you about. Do you like trees? I bet you’d like this one. It was right outside my house and I used to play in it. It was hollow even then, and I could crawl inside and sit in it. Sometimes I’d hide messages in there for someone to find.

Yes, I do sometimes wonder if there are any still there…

No, I don’t know why they’ve put it behind bars. It looks kind of sad, doesn’t it?

Love Granny xx

 


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Hi George. Yes, Granny did used to ride a bike. I got my first one when I was about your age, when great great Grandma died, then I got my second one when I was ten. It was a green Raleigh bike a bit like this one. Father Christmas brought it for me, but he couldn’t get it up the stairs so he pinned a note to the foot of my bed saying he’d left it in the kitchen. I was so excited.

Love Granny xx

 

FullSizeRender (6)Hi George. You’re right, it wasn’t much fun riding on my own – I’m glad you’ve got Jacob to ride about with. But, one day me and my best friend Gillian saw an old black bike for sale at a jumble sale at the WI hut in Ghyll Road. We ran home all puffed and asked great grandma for half a crown (12 ½ p in today’s money) to buy it. Gillian painted it – bright green and white, and we’d ride our bikes down Mardens Hill, free-wheeling all the way to the Half Moon pub as our brakes were pretty rubbish. It felt like we were flying.

No, luckily there weren’t as many cars about then. Love Granny xx

 

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Hi George. How are you getting on with your bike? Have you got the stabilisers off yet?

You asked me if I ever fell off? The first time I had a bad fall was here – outside Fieldbus the Newsagents. Gillian and me used to do a paper round. We had to do it together as we were girls. One icy morning I turned in a bit sharp and skidded right across the parking area. Next thing I remember was sitting drinking a cup of tea and eating a piece of chocolate in the back of the shop. Really shook me up. Take care on your bike.

Love Granny xx

 

 

Hi George. You remember I told you about the twitten? It’s like a long narrow passageway or tunnel through the woods. On our way home from school, Gillian and me would be nattering all the way. When we got to the top of Elim Court Gardens where she lived, she turned off and I carried on down London Road. When we got to the twitten, Gillian would stand her end and I would stand mine and we could still see each other. We’d always have something important we still had to share.

Yes, you and Jacob could stand each end and call to each other.

Wish you were here. Lots of love Granny xx

A Birthday Walk with Jacob

This morning my grandson Jacob and I went for a walk. He’s six today and always wants to hear stories about when I was little. Like my other grandchildren, Jacob has a morbid fascination in my many childhood mishaps, never tiring of their retelling.

‘Don’t start until we get there,’ he says, as we walk along Croft Road, but it’s hard not to, especially when we get to the top of School Lane.

‘This is where I went to school when I was your age,’ I say.

‘Six?’ he says.

I nod, showing him the sign:IMG_0275

“This lane is used daily by 250 small school children.”

‘Where’s the school?’ he asks.

‘It’s gone. They pulled it down to build houses. The children go to Herne School now – a bit further down the road. Your great grandad built it.’

We walk down School Lane and join Queens Road at the bottom, then turn right, and next left and we are in Huntingdon Road. It all seems changed. There are so many cul-de-sacs with new houses. It’s not until we get to Huntingdon Road, that I feel on familiar ground.IMG_0357

Beaumont, I Huntingdon Road. I’m surprised to find it is still called Beaumont House, as I’m sure mum and dad took the name with them to our next house in London Road. It doesn’t look so very changed, just a little smaller as all childhood places, when revisited, appear to be. I show Jacob the wall where I sat with Trudy Fisher eating what looked like pea pods, until my mum called out: ‘You’re not eating those laburnum pods are you? Because if you do, you’ll die.’ Trudy and I, way too scared to confess, spent a terrifying night in our respective beds, just waiting to die.

We walk along to Trudy’s house. I think it was number 5 – but it could equally have been 4 or 6. There was an alley down the side to her rear garden where she had an outside toilet. We had an inside toilet in our bathroom, and we didn’t use our outside one any more. Trudy’s seemed so much more exciting. We’d go in together, chatting while we did our business… Trudy didn’t have much of a garden, a tiny pocket handkerchief bit out front between the road and her front door, then a scrappy bit of back yard. I remember her dad seeding a small patch once; we weren’t allowed on it for ages. Sometimes Trudy came and played at mine. We had a huge garden as our house was a corner plot. In addition, adjoining the garden, we had a plot big enough for another house which dad used for his building stuff; a bungalow has been built there now. When we did play at Trudy’s, we played indoors. Her big brother used to pull the sofa and chairs forward to make us a tunnel running along by the front window. We’d crawl through, while he terrorised us with threats of spiders or cold wet flannels. Sometimes Trudy and I fell out, and then Trudy would be friends with someone else. I can’t remember the friends name, but she and Trudy would write notes on paper, like ‘YOU STINK’ and hold them up to the window for me to see when I walked passed. Much as kids do nowadays, reading unpleasant messages on social media, I’d emotionally self-harm by continually walking up and down outside to see what they were saying about me.

IMG_0325Jacob and I walk down Figg Lane. ‘We used to call it the bumpy lane,’ I tell him. Not much has changed, still bumpy but seems wider than it used to be. I think they must have cleared the sides and built the new houses  further back. It used to be quite muddy with lots of puddles, and stinging nettles growing up either side. Once I got pushed in (or fell) and was covered with a bumpy rash all over my legs and arms.

At the bottom of Figg Lane, Jacob and I turn left and cross the road. This area, now allotments, is where we’d come and play. There didn’t seem to be any problem letting your kids play out of your sight back then. It used to be a wilderness, rough and overgrown. We’d build camps and make bows and arrows out of tall bamboo-like plants with hollow stems. The ground’s quite boggy, perhaps they favoured boggy soil? Adjoining the allotments is Crowborough Crematorium. I find it hard to believe we played so close to the graves and yet I don’t remember any talk of ghosts. Jacob and I stroll around, checking out how old the gravestones are. Many date back to the 1920’s or earlier. We find a grave for two brothers – Eric who died in 1931 aged six months and Raymond who died in 1939 aged 2 years and 4 months. Jacob and I are intrigued by a grave with lots of ribbons tied to a tree – Joseph Harvey Knight, Master of Fordcombe, and further over, the grave of an old lady, her faithful dog guarding her. While we watch, a crow flies down, tormenting the poor dog, but the little dog, loyal to his mistress, doesn’t leave his post.

‘Do you think her dog is buried here?’ asks Jacob.

‘I don’t know,’ I say.

Over the road, I show Jacob where Margaret lived. Margaret was my friend. She was a big girl – late teens or early twenties, but somehow also around my age. I’m not sure if Margaret had any other friends, but my mum would bring me to play with her – she liked my dolls.

We walk back up the bumpy lane and I show Jacob the house that was once Mr Diamond’s shop. I tell him about the day I came home from school and my mum said: ‘You need to go over and see Mr Diamond.’ When I got there, Mr Diamond told me I had won the raffle prize displayed in the shop window; a huge box of chocolates, almost as big as me. The chocolates didn’t last that long (we had a big family) but I kept the pretty picture box for years.

Past Mr Diamonds and we continue back up to school. On the way I realise why everything felt odd on the way down, we’d gone the wrong way. We need to cross Queens Road and walk a few yards up Gladstone Road, before turning left on South Street and coming out further up School Lane. This route is much more familiar. I point out the remains of the old school wall, and the gap in the fence where we used to cross School Lane to take our lessons in the prefabs with lovely Mr Hendry.

On the way back to town, I show Jacob where I used to walk along the top of the grass verges and, despite the trail now being almost non-existent, he follows in my footsteps, but he’s lagging behind.

It’s not until we get to the charity shop, where I pop into get a jigsaw puzzle for my mother-in-law, that Jacob reappears. This morning I posted a happy birthday message to Jacob on Facebook with the words: ‘Every Summer I gather pebbles and seashells for your sandcastles.’ Here’s the jigsaw he left for me to find:

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Walking and waking memories

What a beautiful morning for a walk. Today at 07.30, I joined a group of seven locals for a guided walk in Crowborough – part of the events programme scheduled for Crowborough Festival month. We were guided by Martin our bird expert, and accompanied by Dan the Ranger, who also looks after the Ghyll and the Bluebell Woods. The Bluebell Woods at this time of year always reminds me of my mum who used to deliberately park further away from Waitrose than she needed, just so she could walk through the woods to admire the bluebells. They are magnificent this year.

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We took a stroll through Crowborough Country Park listening and, in my case, attempting to identify bird song. Martin assured us we heard 22 different birds this morning. The most noticeable of these was the Marsh Tit, quite rare nowadays as lots of woodland is not boggy enough, but the right conditions seem to be found at the Country Park.
The Country Park is a protected pocket of land. In bygone years it was a brick qtreecreeper_tcm9-18472 (2)uarry and, ironically, it is this very man-made destruction of the land that makes it unsuitable for building new housing.
My personal highlights were spotting a Blue Jay and watching a Tree Creeper as he crept up a tree swaying in the breeze. To my naked eye he looked rather like a mouse scampering up the trunk. But I also enjoyed watching a robin and his family, and listening to the blackbird, whose song reminds me so much of my dad whistling.
Whenever I hear a blackbird, I always think my dad is going to appear just around the corner on his way to one of his building projects. His whistling was such a happy sound – the sound of a man content with his life and his lot.

Broodling on those butterflies…

The concept of squashing the butterfly really got me thinking. This goes further than just writing, it effects every kind of creativity. I have many memories of my own creative projects not quite fulfilling the butterfly design I visualised.

When we were young, my sister and I spent many hours playing with our dolls. My sister had Sindy and I had Tressy. They both had versions of ‘Sindy’s boyfriend Paul’ (although my Paul was called John as I always rated John Lennon over Paul McCartney) Sindy had a lovely red sports car and, as Tressy was very jealous of this car, I decided to make my own. The design in my head was fabulous – a kind of American Cadillac. I requisitioned an old shirt box from my dad, covering it in paper, and creating doors, seats, windscreen and headlights. I used a pair of mum’s knitting needles for spokes, and made cardboard wheels. Sadly the combined weight of Tressy and John caused the wheels to buckle and Tressy’s car collapsed at even the gentlest of pushes.

When I was eleven I moved up to big school. During my first ever science lesson, our teacher set us homework – to build a model demonstrating perpetual motion. I spent all week creating a wonderful cardboard roundabout. When I proudly presented it next lesson, the teacher told me it failed. I believe this incident was responsible for switching me off science for my entire life.
Later, as an impoverished but fashion conscious teenager I used to design and make my own clothes. Despite many admiring compliments I judged them all to be less than perfect – I could always see the bumpy hem, uneven zip and untailored shoulder pads.
So here is my epiphany. Perfectionism is a curse I have carried my entire life. Perhaps it this that causes me to move on to another novel whenever I reach three quarters of the way through my work in progress. I need to accept the 80:20 rule – 80% is good enough.
As a recovering perfectionist, I need to squash those butterflies if I am ever to finish a novel.

Very Vegan Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Last week was a busy one for Granny with two grandchildren celebrating birthdays. Joshua was seven and wanted an Arsenal football cake – obviously. Eloise had her first birthday on Sunday, and her mummy and daddy requested the very hungry caterpillar – vegan version of course. As there are not many children’s vegan birthday cake recipes out there, I am outlining instructions for both.

The Very Vegan Hungry Caterpillar Cake

I decided to make a base as I wasn’t sure just the caterpillar would provide the quantity of cake needed for the party. As mentioned this cake needed to be vegan so I include my basic recipes:

Carrot cake base:

  • 265g of flour (I mixed plain and SR)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • I teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch low salt
  • 1 cup light brown caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce – 1 dessert apple peeled, cored, stewed with a little water and mashed with a fork
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup mazola (rapeseed) oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 240 g grated carrot

Method – Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl and all the wet ingredients in another. Combine the two and stir in the carrots. Bake in a rectangular lined tin at gas mark 5. Check after 45 mins and remove cake when springy to touch and a cocktail stick inserted comes out clean

Chocolate caterpillar:

  • 225 g plain flour
  • 20 g cocoa
  • Teaspoon baking powder
  • Teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 150 g light brown caster sugar
  • 60 ml sunflower oil
  • 150 ml water
  • 10 ml white vinegar

Method – As above, mix all wet in one bowl, all dry in another, then combine together.

I used a savarin tin, greased and floured, but I’m sure you could use a loaf tin and cut it up into sections. Bake at gas mark 5 and check after 30 mins. Beware – this was tricky to get out of tin. I actually cut it in quarters before removing.

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Arrange caterpillar quarters, rotating the two ends and shape and trim to make a head and tail. (There will be off cuts)

Icing the cake

I gave the carrot cake a cover ofIMG_2319 non-dairy ‘buttercream’ icing, then a layer of white roll out icing. Place caterpillar sections on top of carrot cake base, using the buttercream to stick in place and to join sections together. Cover with a layer of buttercream. I used red and green icing for stripes and head, then odd bits of other colours to make the half eaten fruit and the caterpillar features (eyes, nose, antenna, feet) You can either colour your own white icing using vegan friendly food colour, or use Renshaw icing which is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Arsenal Football Cake

I made a basic 6 egg chocolate sponge for the football cake using a half sphere cake tin (from Lakeland). I gave the dome one layer of buttercream icing and one layer of roll out white icing as a base. Then my geometry skills came into play as I cut templates for a hexagon and a pentagon. (Using a protractor you need angles of 60 degrees for the hexagon and 72 degrees for the pentagon. Sides measured 4 cms) This all needs to be pretty accurate. I cut 13 white hexagons and 6 red pentagons, then used a plastic serrated tool to mark each edge with ‘stitches’, but a fork pressed lightly would do the job.

Start by positioning the top central pentagon and then carefully position the shapes on one by one, sticking on to the base layer with a quick brush of water. You can ease to fit but try to avoid stretching.

I finished off with a pair of football boots and added a hand created Arsenal gunners logo and Happy Birthday words using some very clever icing pens by Crayola (I bought mine in Waitrose)

Happy baking!

Squashing the Butterfly

So, you know when you wake up and you’ve just had the most amazing dream, and it’s like you’ve just lived through the greatest movie ever (this is not just me, right?) and you think, ‘wow that would make such a great film or book,’ so you reach for the notepad by your bed (my writer friends will understand this) or the notes section on your mobile phone (my ‘go to’ place right now) and you jot down the gist – characters, setting, action, plot, etc. And it’s like you can see the whole script in your brain, but it’s written in chalk on a pavement and, just as you are copying it down, someone walks over and tips a bucket of water over the words and you are left with…
“Chasing through the woods (who? me?) looking for someone (who?) Someone following (who?) Doorway opens, in a garden, then stairs, then all these people (party?) and…. and…”
Well, that’s what it is like to be a writer. Whether it be a novel or a short story or a poem, you have this amazing and original idea, and you nurture it and run with it, and you can see it and hear it and almost touch it, and then when you try to capture it, contain it, put it down on the page, poof – it’s gone.
Ann Patchett in The Getaway Car (thanks for the recommendation Beth) describes this as the point at which you must forgive yourself and put it down anyway. To catch the beautiful butterfly that is your novel you will need, a net, a pin to kill it and you will have to squash it flat with your fist. So, you either leave it as a wild butterfly, a dream, a fantasy, a ‘might-have-been’, or you accept that it will be less than perfect, and you lay down your best interpretation, and everyday you forgive yourself for the imperfections of your writing, accepting that you’ve done the very best that you can.