Posted in Family, Personal life

Introducing My Edible Friend

I have a new friend living in my house. Herman is undemanding company and an inexpensive guest. His appetite is small: I have to feed him only once every few days, and in between times he sits quietly in a corner, minding his own business, underneath a tea-towel. Then in about a week he will reward my hospitality by letting me eat him.

No, I haven’t turned cannibal. It’s just that Herman is actually the starting point for a cake. Like the old-fashioned ginger beer plant, he is a yeast-based mixture that you top up occasionally with nutrients (sugar, milk, flour) to keep the ferment going. Meanwhile the mixture quietly bubbles and thickens, an innocuous quicksand. Little by little, it grows to the point where you have little no option, unless you are exceptionally greedy, but to subdivide it and pass a few portions on to friends, not forgetting to include a sheet of instructions as to how to care for him. The instructions I received included a request to talk to Herman. What’s the best subject for a discussion with a cake mix? For once, the price of eggs does not seem a clichéd topic of conversation.

My own personal Herman was given to me by a kind colleague a few days ago, and next week I will be passing his offspring on to my friends and family. Giving Herman his evening stir-up tonight, I wondered about his pedigree. How far has he travelled since the very first Herman mixture was produced? Are there grains of flour within his depths that come from the other end of the country or is he a true Gloucestershire lad? Has he metamorphosed like Doctor Who, leaving only a homeopathic trace of the first ingredients within his murky depths? Or is he a thoroughbred, original genes still largely intact? Looking to his future, where might my Herman’s descendants end up? With a bit of forethought and planning, we could engineer a Herman for every home in the country, infiltrating the homes of the rich and famous, even putting a Herman on the Queen’s breakfast table. If you’d like your own personal Herman, well, you know where to come.

Posted in Personal life

Harbingers of Spring

So Spring is late this year, as the weathermen keep telling us – though you hardly need a degree in meteorology to have worked that one out.

Snowdrops, usually well over by now, are still going strong, and we’ve yet to witness the cheery yellow splashes of daffodils that follow, at least in my hilltop Cotswold village.  But today is the first official day of Spring.  Will that really make a difference?  Does Nature take much notice of red tape?

Well, the first indicator in Spring’s favour is that it’s dry enough to make it worth pegging washing on the line. Then our next door neighbour’s children (and their dog) scramble over the garden wall for the first time this year. They venture with my daughter into her outdoor playhouse, untouched since the autumn, barring a quick spider-check by me.  The Famous Four then have a valiant stab at playing with the sand table, still thoroughly waterlogged with snow-melt.

But for me the strongest sign that Spring might at last be on the way materialises as I prepare Hot Cross Buns for tea – an act that will outrage traditionalists this side of Easter, even though the supermarkets have been touting them since they marked their Christmas mince pies down for quick sale. But I do like Hot Cross Buns.

I take the lid off the butter dish ready for the onslaught.  With my right hand I grab a knife from the draining board; my left hand hand grips the edge of the block of butter, ready for a struggle.  To my surprise, the knife slips gently down through the butter and I am able to spread it evenly and effortlessly across the ready-sliced buns.  Who needs thermometers and barometers when you have a butter dish?

Perfectly soft butter: now that’s what I call a  harbinger of Spring.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Losing It

It’s the moment that every supermarket shopper dreads – getting to the checkout, packing all the scanned groceries into the bags, reaching for the debit card to pay and – oh my god, where is that debit card?

And so I manage to bring the queue to a grinding halt in Morrison’s tonight.  I quickly realise that no matter how many times I trawl through my purse full of plastic, my Smile debit card is not going to materialise.

I change tack and try to negotiate.  How about if I phone my husband and he tells them his credit card number over the phone? The supervisor, who by now has been summoned by the cashier, purses her lips and shakes her head.  For a moment I ponder how many points I’ve earned yet on my Morrisons Fuel Card, then remember that last time I filled my car up the cashier said that they’ll tell me when I’ve reached a fiver’s worth.  And the grocery bill is £85.

Pathetically, I tip my purse upside down and scrabble together £59 in cash.  I consider the contents of my trolley and realise that I’m in with a chance here.  If I whittle the contents down, I may be able to pay the bill after all.

First to be sacrificed will have to be the highest value items – the alcohol that I have just carefully assembled to match my Spanish themed dinner party tomorrow night – 3 bottles of Cerveza, half a dozen of assorted Catalonian wine.   This is annoying on two counts – firstly, because I have just spent ages in the wine aisle reading all the labels and choosing the bottles that are most reminiscent of my recent jaunt to Barcelona,  and secondly, because this is the first time since before Christmas that I have done a serious amount of wine-buying – we are practically teetotal in our house these days, and I was really looking forward to a glass of wine this evening.
Amazingly, after the cashier has reverse-scanned these eight bottles, the bill comes to exactly £59.  Reluctantly I trundle off with my much reduced trolley, admitting defeat.
I think someone up there somewhere is trying to tell me something.

Posted in Writing

Red is the Colour

red colour scale
Image via Wikipedia

What is it about the winter that makes one want to turn out cupboards and tidy shelves?  In a frenzy of rationalization, I’ve spent the day reorganising my study, adding more and more items coloured the bright red of a certain fast-food outlet.

I know that red is an energising colour.  Surrounding yourself with it is meant to speed up all your activities, including the demolition of fast food in their case. I’m hoping it will have the same effect on my writing assignments.  (Or at least give me the energy to change out of my pyjamas on the right side of lunchtime.)

On my most recent trip to said fast-food outlet, made at the insistence of my small daughter, I discovered it now offers free Wi-Fi.  A smart executive type sat discreetly in one corner tapping away at her laptop, apparently undisturbed by the numerous small children noisily enjoying their tea and free toys – and the rather bigger children seeing how much they could swear before the manager would evict them.

This new development must surely increase the average dwell-time of the customer, against all the usual business principles of such places.  I suppose the one thing that can be guaranteed is that it must be a very high-speed broadband connection.   When our rural exchange hits one of its frequent slow patches, maybe I should head out for a burger.  Better slip some wet-wipes in my laptop bag – there’s only so much I want to oil the progress of my writing career.

This post was originally published in the February 2010 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Family, Personal life

A Good Excuse To Eat Maltesers

Every winter, the same discussion:

Me: “When I came home today, there were 6 lights left on around the house.  Why can’t you ever turn off a light? The electricity bill is quite high enough without wasting it.”

Him: “Don’t waste your time worrying about the lights.  Why do you keep leaving heaters on?”

Me: “To stop it getting cold.  To keep the house aired.  To prevent those black spots growing in cold corners.”

Him:  “If you want to keep the electricity bill down, turn off the heaters.  These low energy lights cost next to nothing to run.  It’s keeping the heaters on that costs the money.”

Me:”Yes, but if you leave enough lights on, that will cost a lot too.”

Him:  “Nowhere near as much as the heaters.”

And so on… These discussions in themselves must be energy saving, because we both feel quite heated by the end of them (though I have yet to find a way of making them generate light as well).

But it occurs to me later, (and far too late to count as a witty, argument-winning riposte), that if you follow his logic, you can create a convincing reason for not worrying about eating small chocolates.  Because it’s only the jumbo Toblerones that are going to make me fat.  The odd Malteser is as nothing – as are five, or six, or seven…

A delayed, but a worthwhile, victory.