On egg disasters and brilliant cake.

Tilly and her tub of blackberries.

Tilly and her tub of blackberries.

I’m not usually very evangelical about baking, but I feel moved to share my marvellous using-up-of-blackberry-stash recipe find, incase it is helpful to anyone, who like us, has a fridge full of margarine tubs of enthusiastically-picked berries and is in need of some inspiration. The children have really taken to foraging this year, which is great, but they completely dissed the blackberry muffins I made for them, and they don’t like blackberry jam either!

A while ago (here) I mentioned this Hugh F-W recipe for raspberry almond streusel cake. (I think you can guess where I might be going with this.) The original is delicious, but then again, so is the BLACKBERRY version. In a flash of inspiration, I replaced 200g of raspberries with 200g blackberries. This is not exactly rocket science, but it does result in AMAZING CAKE. Which is always a bonus.

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Blackberry Cake (and my be-jewelled cake slice!)

Incase you are thinking that I didn’t really put much effort into this post, I’ll have you know that a mis-timed purchase of a box of eggs – just before I had to escort 3 children, 3 scooters and a gazillion bags/lunchboxes/flasks home from school – resulted in the dropping of the shopping bag containing said eggs. Yeah. Omelette in a carrier bag. So in order to retrieve the 4 unbroken ones, I had to put my hands into a carrier bag full of raw egg. Delightful. Perhaps it might be considered theraputic – a bit like a mud bath for the hands. It might, actually, be to the 2010’s what swimming with dolphins was to the 1990s. But less expensive. And less traumatic for dolphins.

So in summary, I suggest that those with blackberries to spare try the cake. You won’t regret it! Just don’t do the egg-bag thing.

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The Plan

This is a poem for a Monday if there ever was one. It’s another one from Sophie Hannah’s collection Pessimism for Beginners. I’ve written about another of her poems here.

The Plan.

Take any mind. Open its doors.

Remove all news, all views on wars,

The thought of censure or applause.

 

The ratio of slights to cheers,

Peel back the clutter of the years,

Paranoid doubts, ungrounded fears.

 

Evict the hearsay, then the fact,

The wondering how you should react,

The dream of what your life has lacked,

 

Smugness for all you have acchieved.

Banish whatever you’ve believed –

All doctrines, proved or preconcieved.

 

All shopping lists, tasks underway.

The papers piled in your in-tray.

Tomorrow, ditto yesterday.

 

Take your own mind. Knock down the walls.

Let wind gust freely through its halls.

Empty the grand tier, circle, stalls.

 

Then, with the view completely clear,

Real life as far as it is near,

Sit back and have your best idea.

Happy Birthday to Dan Albone – progressive cyclist!

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Taking a stroll through Bedford’s newly refurbished museum, The Higgins, a few weeks ago, I came across some information about a guy called Dan Albone – or ‘Smiling Dan’ as they referred to him. Dan lived in Biggleswade, and was born in 1860.

This was about as far as I got with reading about Dan because I was summoned to the play grocery shop that the children had found at the back of the room. Seriously, The Higgins is one of the best museums I’ve found to take the kids too – they really have thought of everything! So I pretended to buy some wooden fish, and made a note to find out more about Dan  Albone. I mentioned it to my Dad a few days later. “Oh yeah,” he said in his wise, Dad-ish manner. “The chap from Biggleswade? I’ve got a book about him. You can read it.” So tonight he brought round the book (title: ‘A thorough good fellow’ !) which I opened. The first chapter begins: ‘Dan Albone was born on September 12th, 1860.’ Well. Today being the 12th September, it was a little moment of serendipity: Happy 153rd birthday, Dan!

For his 9th birthday, Dan was given a boneshaker bicycle, which started his lifelong passion for cycling. He went on to become a very successful cyclist, winning many races including the 1885 one mile open handicap at Crystal Palace, the 1887 one mile open and two-mile open at Oundle, and the awesome-sounding 1888 International Tricycle scratch race at Schevenigen, in the Netherlands. But he was an inventor as well as a racer, creator of  the Ivel safety bike (that’s a bike with two wheels the same size, rather than the penny-farthing type model. They could have called it the sanity cycle as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on a penny farthing.) He was one of the first riders to use pneumatic tyres, was a founder-member of the Great North Road Cycling Club. He also invented the first successful light tractor, the Ivel Agriculture Motor – one of which is on display in the Science Museum.

I’ve only read a bit of the book, but what immediately struck me was how progressively he was thinking in terms of cycling. He was one of the first people to use a child-seat on a bike, and his wicker bike seat became one of his best-selling creations. Not all, it seems were ready for such things. This was what the Bedfordshire Times had to say about it in May 1891:

“Some sensation was caused in the High Street (Bedford) on Tuesday by Dan Albone of Biggleswade on a Pneumatic Safety with a wicker chair in front, in which was seated his little boy. At two or three stopping places crowds assembled around the machine and took stock of the little voyager.”

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Kathy Hindle, who wrote the book says:

“The safety bicycle was the very model which gave women cycling freedom…controversy raged for some years, but women took to cycling in ever-increasing numbers. Keen female cyclist, known as ‘Scortchers’ could be seen in the parks of London from the 1890s. Gradually, cycling for women came to be accepted as a healthy past-time, and this led forward to women being able to use cycles as a form of independent transport. Indeed, the cycle helped to liberate women from their homes, as bike accessories for children were invented.”

I’m planning on reading the rest of the book – and I’m sure there are loads of other fascinating insights into how Dan Albone revolutionised cycling, but having spent most of the summer feeling liberated by cycling around Bedford with the children, one ‘little voyager’ riding for much of the time on a -sadly non-wicker – bike seat,  I really appreciate his work. And how brilliant to have found some inspiring local history at our new local museum!

Incidentally; if ANYONE had told me a few years ago that I would be reading (and enjoying, more to the point) one of my Dad’s local history books, I would have snorted with laughter, or hit you. (Both: rude.) Funny how wrong you can be…

Big Night In

I usually resist the urge to enter competitions, as I am very rarely successful and therefore have become embittered (with the exception of the Rare Pamper Night Raffle Victory™ of 2010.) However, when I saw that great blog Little Stuff was running a competition in association with Two Little Fleas to win £750 of vouchers to spend at John Lewis on your perfect Big Night In, I couldn’t resist. I was brought up to speak of John Lewis in revered tones, and it’s something I never bothered to rebel against. John Lewis is just great. Going there is like going on a guided tour of my favourite things I never knew existed. So, rashly throwing both caution and bitterness to the wind, I hereby enter:

Even with a big night in, I still think it’s all about the little stuff. The details; the trimmings.  I usually pride myself on being perfectly capable of planning a big night in on a budget of £7.50  – that’s wine from our local Italian deli for £4.99 – really very nice – a film (such as Wimbledon!) from entertainment exchange for around 50p and a box of Lidl’s seashell chocolates (£1.99.)  But given a massive £750 as a budget for a big night in, I still think I’d focus on the small stuff and then blow some cash in a grand finale-type way. Firstly I would gather together a bunch of friends willing to risk an event designed entirely by me. Given the criteria, this might be a ‘select few’ type gathering, but frankly it wouldn’t be much of a night in without some lovely friends who live a long way away, so I’d immediately spend £150 on rounding up Sarah from the Isle of Wight, my lovely sister-in-law from Devon, my best buddy Lois from Kent, and my sister from Nottingham.

Firstly: there must be cake. Marie Antoinette certainly knew a thing or two about hosting a night in, even if her PR needed some attention.  And cake clearly requires a cake stand. You can’t, in my opinion, beat Orla Kiely when it comes to design, so this stand would host my (in)famous lemon drizzle offering, plus some fairy cakes. And that is actual fairy cakes, none of your cupcake nonsense: the buttery interloper of the cake scene.

Pretty scrumptious-looking to me

Pretty scrumptious-looking to me! Orla Kiely cake stand at John Lewis

As the cake stand has a retro vibe about it, * it seems only right to serve some retro snacks. I’m proposing to party like it’s 1989 with some iconic mint matchmakers, bottles of babycham and immaculate pyramids of Ferrero Rocher! A budget of £750 would allow for some decent-sized pyramids, a la the Ambassador’s reception, or indeed the Pharaohs themselves, I feel.

*I’m not suggesting actual vintage cake, by the way, that’s a mouldy step too far.

Babycham

Pure class in a glass.

However, anyone invited to my BIG night in wouldn’t have to be dressed for the ambassador’s reception. You can’t beat a PJ party, and having a BIG budget is the perfect excuse to purchase some new PJs.

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Possibly the most tasteful onesie ever made! Dandelion Onesie by John Lewis

Show-stopping PJ trousers

Show-stopping PJ trousers by Joules at John Lewis

There would, obviously, also be Prosecco. It’s not really a party without Prosecco. Well, it is, but  just a different kind of party. And any excuse to buy a new cosy yet stylish throw – this beautiful Avoca one would look perfect on my sofa. Or my bed. Or just on me. It just emphasises the cosy nature of a night in, and is also a selection of pleasing autumn-ish colours. AND it’s called ‘Jellybean.’

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“Kick off your shoes and jump beneath this gorgeous throw to experience serious comfort and warmth.” Oh, I do take my comfort seriously. Yes please! Jellybean throw £80

Entertainment-wise, I always think you can’t go too far wrong with proper party games. Why should the kids get all the fun? Pass the parcel is hilarious, particularly if you include comedy forefeits (do your very best Simon Cowell impression. Sing in a Dutch accent, That kind of, y’know, mature thing.) And it could be something really nice -or indeed another box of matchmakers – inside the parcel. That game where you choose a name and put it on your forehead and have to ask questions to guess who you are supposed to be. “I’m Margaret Thatcher, aren’t I? No? Joan of Arc? No. Madonna? Madonna? OH.”

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This leaves me with approximately £260.05. Always handy to have a 5p left over – for the moneybox marked ‘next big night in’.

So then, with the remaining £260*, in a grand musical climax, I would hire someone to play real life live music. I’ve blatantly nicked this idea from my friend Ali’s recent party where acoustic guitar band Barricades Rise played to a crowd of entranced toddlers and parents in her dining room. Beautiful. Ukuleles are always welcome in my living room, although as it would already be fairly full of PJ- wearing, retro-snacking, party-game-playing ‘grown-ups’, they might have to sit on our dining table. A truly unforgettable night in, I think you’ll agree.

*I’m not sure if they’d play for £260, so I might bribe them with some leftover babycham and a matchmaker or two.

Poetry Monday: One Another’s Light

I found this poem by Brian Patten whilst I was looking for another one – but I really like this. About, I think, how occasionally you will meet someone who will change your life a little. Perhaps because of getting to know them you go off in a different direction, or maybe they change the way you see things. Either way, it’s not often that you meet people like that – they’re pretty special and certainly worth celebrating for this (rainy, dull) Poetry Monday.

One Another’s Light
I do not know what brought me here
Away from where I’ve hardly ever been and now
Am never likely to go again.

Faces are lost, and places passed
At which I could have stopped,
And stopping, been glad enough.

Some faces left a mark,
And I on them might have wrought
Some kind of charm or spell
To make their futures work,

But it’s hard to guess
How one person on another
Works an influence.
We pass, and lit briefly by one another’s light
Hope the way we go is right.

Brian Patten.

Brains in your head, feet in your shoes!

This post is a more upbeat one on the theme of children who are off to school for the first time. (Apologies to anyone still traumatised by that Abba song.) What a fab poem by Dr Seuss. Made for days like tomorrow.

“Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

Congratulations to all my friends with kids off into the big world of school.

Love from Alice xx (Oh, and Dr Seuss.)

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets.  Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don’t worry.  Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.  there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame!  You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Schoolbag in hand…

This is happening. On Thursday, my youngest (and possibly loudest) child goes to big school. I will be one of those mummies decimating tissues and sobbing into my sleeve, trying not to be seen by my (hopefully) excited daughter, as she careers into her primary school education without a backwards glance.

This moment is the culmination of what has been almost eight years of being at home, with the kids. Doing bits and bobs of work but mainly playing with playdough and pretend tea sets and trains and trying to sneak into the bathroom on my own for five minutes to drink a hot cup of tea and read Grazia. It’s been fun. I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s definitely not been easy – if you can stay at home and look after the kids whilst maintaining your own identity and not going entirely mad -it’s pretty much a requirement that you go ever-so-slighlty insane, at times – then you are doing well, in my book. There have been moments where I have wanted to scream and cry and shout and say I just can’t do this. It’s too hard, too boring, too exhausting. And now it’s done; it’s over. Just like that.

But this moment, delivering your child to school for the first time, remains the same for every parent, whether you’ve gone back to work or not.  The end of an era. The youngest one going to school is a massive milestone for them and for you. It’s one of those moments where the great contradictions of parenting collide; and you similtainiously want to push them forward, into the world, and at the same time cling desperately to them – trying to freeze the pre-school years for a while.

Having merrily packed off the two older ones to school without any tears, this one feels different. Frankly, I have run out of children. There’s just me to traipse off home after drop-off. Whereas before I still had one or two left to pretend to be in charge of during the day, now I do not.

To be perfectly honest, by the time Polly was 4 years and 7 months, I would have paid anyone to teach her. She was the child who had been playing schools ever since she was old enough to reprimand her cuddly rabbits for chatting. She could not wait to bust down that door and learn to read and write and wear a uniform. She was so ready it was hard to feel anything other than I had just given her the best gift ever by delivering her to Bumblebees classroom. Will was a bit different because at 4 years 3 months (ish) he seemed far too young to go to school, and appeared to be rather nonplussed by the whole idea of it. He was reluctant to talk to any of the adults at school. He was in no hurry to read or write. But he soon learnt that playtime with all his friends, an immense packed lunch, with the option of fish and chips on a Friday and choosing time in the afternoons was worth the hassle. Tilly is definitely ready, though right now if you ask her, she says she isn’t sure. She says she’s worried that no one will play with her and that she can’t read. But that’s OK, I say, you’ll learn to read. And of course you’ll find people to play with and find old friends and make new friends. And I am so sure she’ll just love it. Or at least like it.

Everyone, from the minute you have a baby, will tell you ‘it’ll be over in a heartbeat. All of a sudden they’ll be off to school, and you will be wondering where the time’s gone.’ Too right. But when people tell you that, and you are still having to support the neck of your tiny baby, barely able to think further than the next feed, this sounds suspiciously like rubbish. And because life with small children is by definition hectic, you tend not to dwell too much on stuff like the passing of time, instead focussing on stuff like ‘the next meal’, or ‘where everybody’s socks are’ and ‘why nobody will go to sleep at convienient times, but will happily nap through meal times.’ And then suddenly, like they said, there you are sewing name labels into uniform and buying horrid plimsolls and trying not to cry into their lunch box. (Cheese and tears sandwich OK, darling?) From birth, it’s all about milestones. Rolling over, sitting up, walking, talking…you wait impaitiently for that next step. Tick it off, on to the next thing. And this, I think, is the point where you want to pull them back and say ‘hey! Wait, I was just enjoying that…’

But of course, you don’t. Childhood; growing up; life doesn’t work like that.

Tilly at 3 months

Tilly  – 3 months old.

I think that this moment is so scary because it seems so final. It’s easy to look back from here and think of all the things you planned to do before school but never quite managed to do.  There’s a lot of room for thinking mournfully of books not read, pictures not drawn, ducks not fed. A really important chapter is coming to an end. But I’m sure that is not what I’ll look back on in a few years time. You tend to remember the things you have done, not the things you never got round to. And at 4, no one is looking back. That child you’ve dropped off in the classroom is just at the start of something new and wonderful.  And so am I, I hope. New challenges, more work, more time to do the things I’ve been trying to squeeze into an hour in the morning and a sleepy few hours in the evening.

And there are always weekends.

Sometimes, to summarize, you can’t beat an Abba song.