Obedience versus Wisdom

I was girly. My sister was a tomboy. 

But when our family got locked out, guess who said agreed to being shoved up onto an extension roof and then breaking in through the upstairs bathroom? Yes, me.

If it had been safe to look, I guess I’d have seen seen my sister smirking as I hung from a window fifty feet from the ground. 

‘More fool her,’ she’d have been thinking.

Nowadays, she always says I’m brave for trying things even when I’m terrified. Secretly, I suspect she still thinks I’m fundamentally an idiot.

I fear she may be right.

window

(N.B. This is quite true and the upper window (before it was double-glazed etc and therefore 12 year old proof) is the one I climbed in through. My dad shoved me up onto the extension roof at the end closest in this photograph. No longer our house, therefore blurred!)

Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Check out what other people wrote about their siblings from the same prompt on Thin Spiral Notebook

Memories (my sister pops up again)

Travelling Companions (although this might explain her point of view)

 

Where Be Dragons?

dragons

 

Words copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission. Background from Photoshop Elements 2012.

Contraband

I smuggled her home in a basket. The girl said I was saving her from drowning.

In my bedroom she emerged: little more than a kitten, silky black but for one white star.

I called her Magic.

Outside, the family cat growled.

I confessed to my animal-loving parents. They wouldn’t mind.

“We can’t keep her,” said Dad.

Days later, I overheard him: “So sad. Full of kittens. They put her down. Couldn’t re-home them all.”

Oh Magic, all these years later I remember your trusting eyes and know that by rescuing you, in the end, I betrayed you.

magic-cat

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

This is a true story. Many years have passed but it still makes me sad. Prompted to write it down by this week’s Thin Spiral Notebook prompt.

My Father’s Eyes

They changed as you read; narrowed for villains, opened wide for victims and frowned for determined heroes.

You made us giggle by waggling your glasses and eyebrows.

You blinked as you marched us on sunny fossil-hunts, you peered into books and squinted at handicrafts you’d start but never finish.

Your eyes grew tired, old. One day, your eyes smiled love as we said goodbye but two days later, though they blinked, you were no longer there. Then they closed forever.

But I will only remember your eyes, sparkling as you told stories, bringing the characters alive, twinkling with love.

dad-in-pizza-express

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Prompted by Thin Spiral Notebook

Jane, Sarah-Jane and Susan – a tale of jealousy, blindness and knitted knickers

I never really understood dolls.

I was neither a tom-boy nor a girly girl. I liked hand-crafts, skirts and being fairly clean but I also liked climbing trees, making shelters, building things, doing experiments. I yearned for a train set and chemistry set. But I was a girl so I was given dolls.

The first one was called Tilly, with a soft body but plastic hands, feet and head. Tilly with her mocking eyes and snarky grin (as if she’d laugh at you and then bite you) was discarded quite early. But never mind, her real-life manifestation has popped into my life at regular intervals ever since.

By the time I was six or so, I had accumulated three archetypal little girls’ dolls of the era. Mine were called Jane, Sarah-Jane and Susan.

Jane had a no nonsense mouth, dark brown eyes and long curly dark brown shiny hair; definite, determined. No-one would push Jane around. Everything about me was indeterminate. My own grandmother thought my eyes were green until I was twelve and my hair colour slowly darkened from light mousy to dark mousy. Most people pushed me around.

I was jealous of Jane, she was exactly how I wanted to look and be.

I wasn’t jealous of Sarah-Jane. She had short blondish curly hair and blue eyes and looked very ordinary and a bit dull.

Susan’s skin was brown, her eyes dark and friendly, her short curled hair lusciously black. I don’t know why I called her Susan. It’s my middle name but then, at the time, every second girl was called Susan too. All the same, she was my favourite.

Being a little unnerved by Jane and feeling that somehow it would not bode well for me if I treated her with less than respect, I took good care of her and smoothed her lovely hair and sat her in the nicest places.

I used felt-tip pens to draw eye shadow on Sarah-Jane. But all attempts to make her a femme fatale failed exactly as they did when I tried on myself later. Perhaps because both of us were shy and a little bit prim, no amount of make-up can stop those two things from shining through any attempts at glamour.

Poor Susan. I loved her so much but one of her eyes fell inside. I heard about a dolls’ hospital and begged for her to be taken there but it was too expensive they said, not worth it they said. So she remained half blind but lovely.

My little sister felt quite differently about her dolls and was devoted to them. Here I have to admit that I was perhaps a tiny bit mean to her. If we played hospitals, my little sister’s dolls were the ones who got wounds drawn on them with felt tip, whose heads were bandaged, who accidentally fell down staircases.

My grandmother knitted clothes for all our dolls, including knickers. I swear she once knitted us some knickers too but my mother says I’m wrong. False memory or not, I can still feel the scratchy lumpy sensation of garter stitch on buttock. If Mum is right, then perhaps it is the only time I connected with the dolls themselves – felt their discomfort, personified them.

Because I really wasn’t a dolly person. I didn’t have tea parties for them or talk to them or make up stories involving them. The dolls were no more alive to me than a chair was. I didn’t really know what to do with them, although admittedly, I knew what to do with my sister’s.

As a child, I confided in trees and the river and wrote poems. As a teenager, I poured my heart out on the cat (who was unimpressed and ran off if there were too many tears) and into an angst ridden set of diaries. I wrote even worse poems.

So I grew up and forgot the dolls. When I had children of my own, times, if not marketing had changed. My son and my daughter both played equally with dolls and cars and train sets and made cakes. But I don’t think their toys were alive for them either.

I write and my son composes music and my daughter makes art. Perhaps we don’t need to personify objects because we have minds full of other worlds.

And then…

Many years ago, my parents downsized from the family home to a bungalow. When I say “downsized”, it was only in the sense of available capacity not actual stuff (to read more about this, read A Fine Mess). When later, my widowed mother moved to live near me, the “stuff” had to be drastically reduced. Aware of my father’s shade tutting as we sorted, I found a box. On its end was a picture of its contents: loathed school shoes. I opened up the box with trepidation. There was really no telling what my father could have stashed in it. This was a man who managed to get half a five pound note stuck in between two books and who had preserved in perspex surgical stitches taken out of my chin and had wanted to do the same with my tonsils.

The lid came off. Staring up at me was Jane. She lay, stark naked, on a pile of tissue. As beautiful as ever, with long dark curls and determined eyes, she glanced at my hair as if to say “Ha! You’ve got to colour yours now.” But despite her eternal youth, she didn’t look pleased.

“How could you leave me here alone all these years?” she telepathed.

I closed the lid and put it on the charity shop pile. She could make some other little girl feel inadequate.

No, I never understood the personification of dolls, but I swear, as I handed Jane over to the shop the next day, a little voice snapped through the cardboard: “you could at least have put some knitted knickers on me first.”

paula-julia-1969-70-001_edited-1

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Merry Go Round

Christmas lights brightened January until twelfth night, the day after my father’s birthday. My birthday a week later was then and almost always has since taken place in a damp, grey gloom. The cheer of Christmas was over and now we faced just the long, muddy, dismal slog to Spring.

But that year, for my seventh birthday, Dad took me and my cousin to see a new live action version of “Alice in Wonderland” in Leicester Square. It is a long time ago now. I think I was a little disappointed in the film. Alice was, after all, supposed to be my age, but the actress was clearly a teenager and some of the magic was lost. There is nothing magical about teenagers, especially when you’re seven. However, London, coming as I did from a small country village, did not disappoint. The buildings were immense and grey, the sky in mid afternoon was darkening; but while my little village would be battening down the hatches and preparing to shut its curtains and doors dead on five p.m., London was still bustling.

You could feel its heart still racing, wired for a night on the tiles, rather than starting to doze towards an early bedtime. Holding Dad’s hand, tripping along in my best dress, I wondered if anyone ever slept. When we came out of the cinema, Leicester Square was a mass of bright lights. The Christmas ones may have been turned off, but that didn’t stop Leicester Square from blaring out its enticements: “watch watch watch”. And he took us to see Piccadilly Circus too, with adverts flashing in technicolor neon: “buy buy buy”. And I remember men in the gloom roasting chestnuts over barrels, the glow of the coals lighting their chins and mouths but throwing their eyes and hair into darkness.

That year, I remember walking to school in February and picking up a perfect, perfect piece of ice crystal. I thought it was a huge snowflake and carried it carefully to show my teacher on my mitten. I held it out to show her but it had started to melt, the geometric pattern blurred. She thought I was crying because my hands were cold and I couldn’t explain that I didn’t care about the cold, I was just heartbroken because the perfection was gone.

We had moved to that village only the September before. It was my third moved and my second school and I’d struggled to make friends. It had been hard enough at my first school but this time had been a terrible, lonely, miserable battle to find my place and shake off the bullies.

Somehow, despite everything, I’d made a good friend who understood about unicorns and Pegasuses and imagination. And somehow or other I had fallen in love with a boy who had fallen in love with me, instead of with Charlotte with the beautiful curls and lovely blue eyes. Sometimes I played with my friend, making up stories about winged unicorns in my room which looked out over rolling fields of ripening barley. Sometimes I watched TV with my boyfriend and I wondered if he would ever hold my hand or kiss me.

That summer, my family went to Cornwall and I looked for dragons in the caves at St Austell and Dad read to us in the caravan while we sipped Nesquik and listened to the hiss of the gas mantles.

That autumn, I read the last book on the primary school reading plan and the last book in the school library and was told to bring my own from now on.

That Christmas we went to my great aunt’s house as usual and nineteen or so ate a wonderful dinner and my sister and I chased round with our five cousins and I saw that my girl cousin had lost a shoe and spotted it on top of an empty crystal vase on the dining table and got it for her. Then my uncle chased me because he’d been sketching it as part of a composition.

That winter, my father said that we might be moving again. He said he was applying for jobs somewhere else entirely. Maybe we would go right round the world to the Solomon Islands. Maybe we would move to Wales. He said he’d applied for a job in Mold and a job in Neath. I didn’t want to live anywhere called Mold. I sort of fancied living in a Pacific Island, always sunny. I wondered if there would be palm trees and castaways.

But under under Christmas lights, in the last days of December, my father spread out a map of a village in South Wales, nestling on the edge of a mountain, with the word “FFOREST” in Welsh drawn across it just behind the house where we were going to live.
I wondered if it was a magic forest. But even if it was, that meant nothing without my grandparents or my friends.

I didn’t want to move again.

merry-go-round

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Candy Haikus

Apologies to all real poets and Haiku writers. These are from a prompt to write horrible Haikus about candy. Brought on a wave of nostalgia. As you can tell from the first few, I had a misspent youth whenever I had the opportunity.

As you can tell from the last one, any coins left in pockets because people can’t be bothered to empty them before putting clothes in the laundry, become the washerwoman’s (e.g. my) reward…

Marathons, spangles,
A penny for four blackjacks:
A candied childhood.

Spittly Gobstopper:
Spat out wet and examined.
Slurping through rainbows.

Dry out licked toffees,
Wrap them with tongue-stuck-out care:
Gift for my sister.

Oh Flying Saucers:
Rice paper glues my palate,
But my tongue fizzes.

Opal fruits are wrong
When called Starburst. My childhood
Winces in anguish.

Laundress collects coins:
Lazy family pays for
Housewife Pick ’n’ Mix.

fair.jpg

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

The Truth, The Partial Truth and a Little Bit of Nostalgia (with explanatory notes at the end)

Yesterday, I wrote a story. I sent it to a friend for input and she said “why am I always convinced your stories are true?”

Well, the fact is that there really was some truth in that story.  In fact, there is a lot of truth in most of my stories. Some of the twists and turns may be imaginary; some of the characters and creatures may not exist; but somewhere in them is something that’s real.

Answering her question though, brought back a lot of memories. The story starts with two girls and their little sisters carol-singing round the neighbours’ houses, hoping for money. The girls have put a lot of effort in, but the local boys, without putting effort in at all, got to the neighbours first and received all the spare cash anyone was willing to give. The boys had done exactly the same thing with “penny for the guy”* a month earlier. This part of the story was pretty much true.

My friend and I were very creative. The good thing about my house, from her perspective, was that my mother absolutely didn’t care how much mess we made, whereas her mother absolutely did.  I made papier-mâché headed glove puppets and together we put on puppet shows for my sister’s birthday parties. The puppets acted out our versions of fairy tales scripted with some under-parental-radar naughtiness. Sadly I can’t remember any of them now.

She and I also organised a bunch of girls into putting on a play. The script was in rhyming couplets and had allegedly been written by another girl’s mother.  It was a classic drama with an evil villain, a swooning heroine, an elderly mother and a swash-buckling hero. We performed it for anyone we could round up, taking milk bottle tops as payment which we then sent to the Blue Peter** appeal which was raising money for guide dogs for the blind. Dad (who probably wished he could have joined in) even bought us stage paints to make our faces up with. The only lines I can now remember are the heroine’s, when faced with the choice of eviction or marriage to the villain:

“Sir Jasper, don’t be such a creep;
The snow outside is six feet deep!”

We always had our doubts that the other girl’s mother had actually written it, but on the other hand, she may have.  I wish I still had a copy.

I was lucky enough to grow up at a time when, in the absence of anything else to do, children were outdoors, unsupervised, whenever it wasn’t raining. There were few cars in our village and we could run and cycle and play tennis in the road or venture into the wilds. I grew up within five minutes’ walk of woods, old quarry workings which we called caves, mountains, two rivers, a canal and a waterfall. In the woods there might have been elves; in the mountains there might have been giants and dragons; in the caves there might have been witches; somewhere under the bracken was an old Roman road and we might meet a centurion’s ghost. It was always worth trying to find out.

If I count up the ways in which I could have died or seriously injured myself, ambling about, often alone, in all of these places, I run out of fingers. One of the local boys nearly did die, almost hanged while messing about with rope in the trees, but he survived, and so did I. The greatest danger I think I faced was when two of the nastier boys grabbed me when I was on my own and bundled me into one of the caves.  I remember being very frightened but also angry. At that moment, an older girl called out for me across the woods. Even though I was being threatened to keep quiet, I shouted back “here I am!” and the boys let me go. It was only many many years later, I realised what might have been in their minds.

Our village consisted of two roads which led off a main road. They started at the bottom of the hill and immediately parted company.  I lived on the steepest road which twisted in narrow hairpins towards the chapel and then straightened up just as you passed the big black and gold notice board with “whosoever” on it.  I loved that word.

We moved there when I was eight. The old school house was redundant and was in the process of being turned into a dwelling. There simply weren’t enough children to keep it open and we went by bus to school in the next village. Houses ranging from semis to terraces to miners’ cottages lined the road. On one side was an upward slope which led into the woods. On the other was a field which led down to the river. (The field was, much to our disgust, later turned into a housing estate.)  The river led down to the waterfall and then joined a bigger river which ran alongside the newly renovated canal.

We’d sometimes have picnics at the canal, and Dad would send us with a bottle of home-made ginger beer which he made from what he called a “ginger-beer plant”. There is another version, using a lot more fresh ginger, but this is the one he made. The resulting liquid looked utterly disgusting but was sort of nice and nasty all at the same time. I have just looked this up and this is how it’s made:

Ingredients for the ‘fake’ ginger beer plant:

Half a teaspoon of dried yeast
1 teaspoon of ground or fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
Making the ‘fake’ ginger beer plant:  Mix ingredients in a jar and cover with a piece of muslin. Secure with a rubber band. For the following week, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of ground or fresh grated ginger daily.

Apart from a few teenagers (of no interest to us), in the village there were, as far as I can recall about ten girls and about ten boys under twelve.

One of the girls used to pop in to see her grandmother on the way to the school bus because the grandmother would open a drawer full of sweets and select something for her to take to school against starvation. Candy was discouraged in our house, so I was always jealous. On the other hand, the poor girl subsequently spent most of her teens trying to lose weight and going to the dentist.

Many of the boys were trouble.  Some of them were motherless, which might have been why they were so wild, but even so, they were a horrible bunch. They stole our apples. They set their dog on our cat (although she got her own back by slashing it across its nose). At Hallowe’en they would chuck eggs at doors and torment people by placing leering Jack O’Lanterns along their walls.

Of the nicer boys, I remember that one said he saved time at breakfast by putting his toast and marmalade on top of his cornflakes and poured his tea over the top so that he could eat the whole thing as a sort of mush.  This always appalled me, because chaotic as my house was, table manners were rigid.

As we grew out of childhood and into our teens, we spent less time outside, found friends from other places and discovered other pastimes. Our secondary education was fragmented and split us up. We attended one school in a village a bus ride away between the ages of  eleven and twelve and then another, a mile’s walk away, between the ages of twelve and sixteen. At sixteen, if we wanted to go to sixth form or college, they were in a different town altogether. At eighteen, those of us who went on to university, mostly moved away and never went back.

The point of all this nostalgic rambling is that just looking back at being eight to twelve years old, I have plenty of fuel for my imagination. So yes, a lot of the stories are true, just not entirely true.

Apart from the dragons of course…
JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW:
* “penny for the guy”. I haven’t seen this for a very long time. When I was a child and where I lived, not much was made of Hallowe’en. We’d never heard of trick or treating. My husband who is the same age as I am, says he does remember it. But then he lived in a city and I lived in the west about twenty years behind. However, we did celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, also called Bonfire or Fireworks Night. Nowadays not many people do this at home as fireworks are expensive and people are more safety conscious. Except in a few places, the taste for making a “guy” (an effigy named after Guy Fawkes who, in 1606, was caught in an act of terrorism and subsequently executed) and setting fire to it, is also less popular, especially because of the sectarian implications. Back then however, children (who couldn’t care less about the political or religious aspects, but just liked the chance to get some cash) would make a guy out of old clothes and cart it round the neighbours’ houses. If you were lucky, they’d give you some cash. Sometimes you got sweets. A month later, we went round carol-singing with the same aim in mind.

** “Blue Peter” is a long running BBC TV children’s programme. It runs an annual charity appeal, giving children the chance to raise money in simple ways. I like to think we contributed to training perhaps a paw of a guide dog.

dragon
Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon (pottery dragon bought many many years ago in Neath, West Glamorgan, South Wales.  I would credit the maker if I could!). All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Hot Cuisine

“So,” my Scottish great aunt asked my husband, “is she a good cook?”

Sensibly, he affirmed.

“Ah that’ll be the English in her” said my aunt, probably one of the few times when ideas of Englishness and good cooking have been put together.

I was somewhat surprised at my great aunt who was usually quite modern. But maybe she thought it was still the sort of thing you asked a relatively newly married couple.

“The Scots can’t cook” she informed my Welsh husband.

“Granny Mac was a good cook” I argued (Granny Mac being her older sister).

“Uh-huh but that’s unusual, perhaps it was all that time living in England.”

Fast forward a few years, and my Welsh mother-in-law tells me that what I’ve just cooked couldn’t possibly have been welshcakes because I didn’t use a bakestone but a frying pan. In the end, I told her they were English and therefore King Alfred cakes, if partly because in the absence of a bakestone and as we were all hungry, they had got a little scorched in my hurry. Using the same sort of logic, my mother might possibly argue that I can’t cook scotch pancakes because I don’t have a girdle. Linguistically speaking this all boils down (if you’ll pardon the pun) to localised words for the same thing. A girdle is the same thing as a bakestone is the same thing as a smooth cast iron griddle. Call it what you will, all I have is a heavy bottomed frying pan. And if I eat too many of my mother-in-law’s delicious welshcakes I will need one of the other sorts of girdle.

My mother is a good plain cook. When I was about six she taught me to make scones. This was a great idea. Come home from school and hungry? Make some scones. I mention this to my daughter now when she rings me at work to complain that she’s just come in and there is NOTHING IN THE HOUSE TO EAT (having ignored the fruit bowl and vegetable basket). I tell her that when I was in the same predicament, faced with either fruit or having to do some baking, I made scones but she says “yeah but that was then, I want a packet of crisps.”

My father had a great love of food and a fascination with cooking, the more exotic the cuisine the better. Unfortunately, he also had no patience. Crispy fried eggs, undercooked potato in Spanish omelette, burnt apple pancakes anyone? Fortunately I had left home a long time before he started experimenting with making kim-chi. The only thing I ever remember him refusing to eat (apart from a Guinness cake made by my sister, which was still liquid after three hours in the oven but too revolting to drink) were “eggs cooked in vinegar” which he had found in a Middle Eastern cookbook and should have left there.

He and I had a fairly longstanding battle over food if it involved my not wanting to eat what was in front of me, particularly soft boiled eggs, but we did agree on the delights of good cuisine and his interest and curiosity led me to being willing to try most things at least once, even if we’re abroad and I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be. A plate of gizzards wasn’t one of the best of these choices.

My husband is a great cook, although defaults to putting extra-hot chillies in everything. Both my children can cook if they can be bothered. The least said about my sister’s cooking the better.

Although Granny Mac was indeed a good plain cook, her real creativity flowed into painting in oils. Granny D however, expressed her love through sewing, knitting and cooking. I suspect that if she hadn’t married a frugal man with plain tastes, her table would have groaned under mad experiments with rich flavours. I imagine she would have loved the cornucopia of ingredients available nowadays and would have lapped up all the cookery programmes on TV. As it was, my happiest childhood memories are being in her sunny kitchen as she gave my sister and me delight after delight. We were given segments of orange and powdered glycerine for dipping so that we got that little bit of extra sweetness just for a little snack. In the days before anyone thought about sugar or salt as bad things (especially by Granny’s generation which had put up with wartime and post-war rationing), we were spoiled with blackcurrant squash and yeast extract spreads on the grounds they must be good for children, and fed up with biscuits, melt in the mouth macaroons and when the home made bottled plums finally run out or it was a special time, we had Yum-Yum cake for Sunday pudding.

Many years later, when my parents were moving from the family home to a bungalow, I found the notebook where Granny D had written down recipes from the radio or TV or magazines. In it, I found the recipe for Yum-Yum Cake, which according to her note was taken from Jimmy Young’s radio programme in 1968. She can’t have been the only person who noted it and passed it down because I am sure I saw a very similar recipe on “The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best” TV series once.

Granny D taught me dressmaking and an instinctive method of cooking. I learnt how to make a roux for a bechamel sauce by eye rather than measuring and I can do the same when making pancakes if, on Pancake Day, it all seems too much of a faff to measure out. At a push, I can just about do this with scones too. On those mornings when I remember we’ve run out of anything suitable for breakfast, I get up to make some Bad Mummy Cheese Scones (which don’t need rolling out) and put them to bake while I’m showering. I have no idea how long these would keep for as they barely have time to get cold before they’ve all been eaten.

Looking at Granny D’s terrible handwriting in her notebook fills me with nostalgia and longing for her. More years than I care to remember have passed since she died, yet I still remember the smell of her perfume and make-up, the softness of her face and her hugs. I don’t recall one negative word from her. She sat patiently and watched as I learnt to cook and sew. And as each attempt, however wonky was encouraged and supported by her, I learnt to be brave enough to try and try again when things went wrong. Perhaps that’s the greatest thing she taught me in her gentle way.
Here are some recipes for anyone who’s interested (NB Granny D’s measurements were in imperial so the conversion is the closest possible. I learnt to make scones using imperial and my electric scales can be changed from metric to imperial so I tend to use imperial. I’m not even going to try to convert to cups!):

JIMMY YOUNG’S YUM YUM CAKE

2oz (50g) brown sugar
3oz (75g) butter
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence (and a little less of almond essence)
6oz (150g) flour

Mix butter, sugar, essences, yolks well and add flour. When rather crumbly, put into oven dish and press down slightly and level top.

Topping
1oz (25g) chopped walnuts
1oz (25g) chopped cherries
4oz (125g) caster sugar

Whisk whites stiff, add 2oz sugar, whisk again, fold in other 2oz sugar and lastly the cherries and nuts.
Spread over mixture in dish and bake for about 30 minutes on second shelf at No 4 [180°C (350°F Gas 4)] Perhaps the oven could be at 6 [200°C (400°F Gas 6)] for quarter of an hour then turned down. This depends on oven. Delicious hot or cold.

*****

BAD MUMMY CHEESE SCONES

8oz (250g) self-raising flour
2oz (50g) soft spread or butter
4oz (125g) grated strong cheddar
1oz (25g) mustard (dry or made)
3-4ish tablespoons of milk (you may need more or less depending on the flour)

Put oven on to 200°C (400°F Gas 6) and line a baking tray with greaseproof or oven paper.
While oven is heating up, mix the flour and rub in the spread or butter. If using dry mustard put it in before spread and mix with flour, if using made mustard add it after you rubbed in the spread (if you get it wrong the world will not end but someone might end up with a bit more mustard in their bite)
Mix in almost all the grated cheese.
Mix in the milk, bit by bit until you have a soft ball. If it’s a bit wet add some flour, if it’s too dry, add some milk.
Divide the dough into six or eight and roll each section into a ball and put onto baking sheet.
Flatten each scone slightly and sprinkle on the remaining grated cheese.
Pop in oven for ten minutes. They are done when the bottom is slightly brown and you can “knock” on them.
Best eaten hot from the oven with butter.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

yum-yum

 

img_1900
Here’s a block of butter, marked in 25g sections
img_1902
Here’s the butter measured as 1 oz on my digital scales which can be adjusted to ounces or grammes. It’s impossible to get it to read exactly 1.  It comes out as 0.99 of an ounce or 1.02 of an ounce, but I don’t think that’s going to make a huge difference somehow!
img_1903
And this is non-digital scale which also measures in ounces (along the outside of the circle) and grammes.

 

Letter to My Bully

I found the old class photograph and I looked for you.

I can remember your words, most of them.

The words that stung, that ripped into me, then undermined me even when they made no sense: weird, strange, not normal, ugly, stupid, clumsy, useless, soft, cry-baby, weak: the jibes about my body, my face, my hair, my skin, my family, my past, my future.

I remember the separation, the isolation, the other-ness.

But guess what? Your face itself is blank.

Do I wish I learnt earlier to hide the pain? Maybe.

Perhaps I wish I had stopped looking at myself sooner and looked at everyone else instead to see that their vulnerabilities, their weaknesses, their weirdnesses, stupidities and so on were no less than mine. It was simply that theirs were not pointed out.

I certainly wish that it had not taken me so long to realise that you were the one with the problem, not me.

Someone who could uses fear to make companions is just as friendless as someone who sits alone. Maybe more so.

And if I was vulnerable and sensitive, in fact, if I am still vulnerable or sensitive then I am glad.

I have learnt that these are good things to be.

At least I can recognise pain and doubt and fear and try to comfort rather than exploit. I want to be kind and loyal. I bitterly regret every unkindness or disloyalty I have ever been guilty of.

And I do not fear failure. I know I can start again and again and again.

You thought that failure makes you weak. But you were wrong. It is not failure which makes you weak. Failure makes you strong. Failure makes you look at yourself and analyse what went wrong and move forward.

Being cruel makes you weak. Being a bully makes you smug on victory, building yourself up and up … but there is nothing but destruction waiting when you fall.

So I can look at the school photograph and find myself. I remember how alone I felt in that class of young faces. I can name most of those other children, including the ones who told me afterwards how afraid they were of you and the ones who tried to be kind even when you picked on them for trying to befriend me. But I can’t find you. If you’re who I think you are then you looked like everyone else. You don’t look so scary.

I am not ashamed to have been that shy, lonely little girl who didn’t know how to hide her feelings. I am proud that I have grown to want to be kind.

Are you proud to be the one who made me cry?

b&w

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission