Tuesday 31 January 2017


Last week we listened to Dan Cruickshank give a talk on his lifetime of travel in search of extraordinary architecture. Dan has been privileged to explore buildings all over the world in the environment that they were designed for and his passion for his work made it a fascinating evening.

At the end of the talk he described a perilous trip into the mountains of Afghanistan to visit the Minaret of Jam. I was captivated by his description of heat and dust, river crossings, encounters with bandits, and finally arriving at the remote valley hardly knowing what to expect. The tower is an architectural masterpiece, the second tallest brick built tower in the world and is covered with intricate decorations and inscriptions. Inside the minaret there is a double helical staircase coiling up the walls to a spectacular view of the mountain pass.

We are fortunate to live in an age when exploration can be shared through high quality images and video but only a gifted communicator such as Dan can enable an audience to experience the thrill of turning into a mountain valley to see that extraordinary, fragile tower which has survived against all the odds since 1190.

Saturday 28 January 2017

country mice

I don't want any of you to be anxious that I will fail to meet my weekly recipe target. The photo above is evidence of Lamb Boulangère from the current 'Delicious' magazine. It is Westcountry lamb, of course, bundled up most artistically in red and white butchers twine. I cannot say hand-on-heart that I have never cooked à la Boulangère before but I have never cooked lamb on top of potatoes before so I'm calling it new and MissM is fully occupied this weekend maintaining her cultural and gastro profile in the coolest parts of London so I can cut myself some slack. MasterM is at home for the weekend and has been riding on the moor, dodging rain showers and building up a healthy appetite so we will pop out after eating the lamb and get our pudding in the local pub. It is a warm and convivial place in the heart of the village and the menu distinguishes between HM (homemade) and LM (locally made). I have a weakness for Suzy's bread pudding but the portions are enormous, calculated to feed a ploughboy and his oxen, so I try to resist the temptation. And now I must stop to close the curtains and put another log on the fire. Keep cosy is my new motto.

Thursday 26 January 2017

MasterM, Obedient Servant

MasterM is writing a letter to his new Commanding Officer. With a fountain pen.


I have the honour to inform you that following my commissioning...I will be reporting for duty...at 0700 on Monday x January.

Various pleasantries follow until the letter concludes

I have the honour to be,
your obedient servant,


Letters like this have been written by successive generations of young officers. It may seem an anachronistic tradition in an age of email and text message but the structure of the letter is designed to introduce MasterM, giving information about his achievements and interests. In return MasterM will receive a hand written letter of acknowledgement and welcome. These formalities ensure that working relationships and new teams can be established as quickly as possible.

MrsM ponders the vision of MasterM as an obedient servant and concludes that miracles must happen after all.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

bring on the vegetables

Plate of White Beans
Giovanna Garzoni (1600 - 1670)

I have been reading "This Is Not A Diet Book" by Bee Wilson. It is full of common sense - ideas that I have read over and over again in the past few years collated in a slim volume. I want to find it inspiring but it is curiously dampening as though I have been trapped in a corner at a party by an evangelical vegetarian. I know that the proposals are sensible but at the end of each chapter I feel like escaping to find a cookery book with pictures of decadent pavlovas and lush trifles which is foolish because I need to make changes.

Plate of Asparagus with Carnations and a Grasshopper
Giovanna Garzoni (1600 - 1670)

Much of my time over the past twenty eight years has been devoted to looking after my family but now I want to find a way to cook and eat which fits into my new 'Home-Alone with MrM' lifestyle. I have to unlearn the habits that have served me well feeding four and it is harder than it should be because the instinct to nurture is embedded at a deep level and I resist every step. I have to deconstruct my pattern of shopping and eating, discard what is no longer appropriate and experiment with new foods. And then, if I can successfully simplify my relationship with food, I want to get on with living. I must persevere.

Bowl of Artichokes
Giovanna Garzoni (1600 - 1670)

Tuesday 24 January 2017

positive self-talk

Amaryllis grew 3mm overnight.

Have calculated that the EDF (*Expected Date of Flowering) is 24 October 2017.

Am getting well ahead for Christmas 2017 decor plans.

Monday 23 January 2017

Opus Anglicanum

Clare Chasuble (1272 - 1294)

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It is Friday night at the V&A. The galleries are full of the bright young intelligentsia of London, a man who is the spitting image of Ai Wei Wei, and MrsM having a date night with MrM in the Opus Anglicanum exhibition

The exhibition is awesome in the original 'full-of-awe' meaning of the word. Exquisite embroideries which have survived for hundreds of years, lustrous materials in rich colours, delicate shadings of thread, shimmering gold accents. Most of the extant examples are church vestments which have been protected by ritual use and careful storage in huge cope chests or buried as funeral garb.

Two of the bright young things are walking around just in front of us and they stop in front of the Clare Chasuble and exclaim "This fabric came from Iran! In the thirteenth century! Isn't that absolutely mind blowing!" Everything about this chasuble is extraordinary: the blue-green satin fabric which must have travelled from Iran to England, the vibrant colours and sinuous silver embroidery, the lively characterisations of the figures, and the fact it has survived for over seven  hundred years.

It is almost certain that this chasuble was commissioned to commemorate the marriage of Margaret de Clare to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall in 1272. Margaret de Clare, aunt of Elizabeth de Clare who endowed Clare College, successfully sued for divorce in 1294 on the grounds of cruelty and then lived quietly until her death in 1312 when she was buried in Chertsey Abbey.

Many thanks to the fascinating Edward II blog for untangling the lives of the three Margaret de Clares.  

Friday 20 January 2017


In a surreal moment I hear myself saying "Hello, I am enquiring about one of the pictures on your website - how much are you asking for the large stuffed antelope head on the red chair?".

Let's face it - I'm desperately hoping that MasterM doesn't have time to negotiate a deal because this is well outside my comfort zone. Just looking at the photo gives me the creeps. I do not want to be in the same room as that poor disembodied head. I have an unreasonable fear that I am going to be asked to collect it from the antique shop and drive home with those beady eyes watching me from the back seat.

I feel my role as MasterM's mother slipping uncontrollably into the scary paragraph at the bottom of the contract where it says "...and any other tasks that your line manager son considers to be consistent with your job description".

I think I need support from my union.

Thursday 19 January 2017

a duty of care

Ard Daraich, a pink house under a hillside.

A house enveloped by layers of garden so that you are not sure where the house ends and the garden begins.

A house lived in, filled with beautiful things, soft at the edges.

A house that taught me that it is the attention to comfort that makes guests feel at home : warm beds, crisp sheets, comfortable chairs, candles on the breakfast table, a log fire waiting for you at the end of the day.

A house with a guest book composed of the laughter of other people who have passed through.

I try to pinpoint what it was that I loved about Ard Daraich and I see Norrie in his striped pinafore making porridge for our breakfast - so perhaps it is not the beds or the log fire after all, but a feeling that you are being cared for, a rare thing indeed. 

Wednesday 18 January 2017

over the sea to Skye


Dunvegan Castle


In October we had a blissful week in Scotland driving from Edinburgh to Skye and then on to Fort William. It was perfect timing - the end of the tourist season so the roads were empty but the colours had started to change and at every turn the scenery was breathtaking. I didn't want to leave.

This selection of photos from our two days on Skye is for Karen at Cornflower because we had a very jolly evening with Mr and Mrs Cornflower in Edinburgh and this is my first blog opportunity to say thank you. Afterwards I received a letter from Karen in her exquisite cursive handwriting which says 'Haste ye back'. We will!

Tuesday 17 January 2017


I did a little applique work over the weekend, sewing on MasterM's pips. It was not as easy as you might think because the embroidery is done on very thick black fabric so there was a minor finger injury and some unladylike language before I resorted to a thimble and tacking respectively.

It was odd to realise that I could not remember the last time I had threaded a needle and yet I used to sew for pleasure. Dressmaking, patchwork, embroidery and tapestry were once essential for my creative self-expression and now they are abandoned at the high water mark of another part of my life. My lovely friend Caroline, a keen needlewoman, would be shocked if she knew and encourage me to join a class or start a new project and perhaps I will but, right now, sewing on pips is enough.

Monday 16 January 2017

burnt offering

MissM is taking her role as mentor very seriously. I have just received a message enquiring what my next recipe is in the 2017 Recipe Challenge. I had to admit that last night New Recipe #2 had started out as Pork Chops with Rosemary and Pears and ended up as carbon fibre.

MissM asks what went wrong. I explained that I should have cut the carrots into chunks so that they cooked at the same rate as the other ingredients, the recipe stated a high oven temperature which must have been a typo and finally it was a mistake to fall asleep in the bath while it was cooking. I promise to do better next time.

Friday 13 January 2017

MasterM : Officer

Just before Christmas we attended the Sovereign's Parade at Sandhurst. It was the culmination of a year of training when MasterM and his fellow Officer Cadets paraded before the Duchess of Cornwall, representative of the Queen. 

We sat in the stand and felt so many emotions:

Surprise that MasterM had ended up applying to join the Army. Relief that he had made it through a tough year where he was challenged physically and mentally. Joy that we could be there with his sister and grandparents to watch and applaud. Gratitude that Master has ended up in a place which uses his gifts and experience. Astonishment at the gold braid, flags, trumpets and pageantry.

Meanwhile...what was MasterM feeling?

Anxiety that we would accidentally step on his polished boots.

Thursday 12 January 2017


MissM says "How are you getting on with your resolution?" I look around, hoping that she is talking to someone else but there is no-one else in the car. I prevaricate and ask "Which resolution?" as though there is a long list. MissM is implacable "The one where you promised to make a new recipe every week" I laugh weakly "It's only a few days since the New Year..."

MissM helps me to understand how disappointed she is that I have failed already and asks me to message her with details of the first new recipe. "You will enjoy the challenge once you start" she promises.

I fry sausages and make lentil ragout. It is filling but brown,  I message MissM as requested - she keeps me honest, that one. Only 51 recipes to go. It's going to be a long slog. 

Wednesday 11 January 2017

stretch and breathe

There is a day in January when it is all over. All the preparation and shopping and wrapping and cooking and eating and clearing up. You cannot predict when it will be but it was today. Not yesterday, first day back at work. Or the day before, MasterM and MissM go their separate ways. Or the day before that, the dismantling of the decorations. But today there was space to stretch out, breathe slowly and think of Spring. The empty days of January are ahead, uncluttered and tantalising. I think I shall go to the garden centre tomorrow and spend my Christmas money.

Tuesday 10 January 2017


I can't pretend that I needed new mugs but this is what happens when you discover a very talented local potter who will accept commissions. I can confirm that MrM has agreed, more than once, that the mugs are perfect in size, shape, colour and general heat retention qualities although this might be because I was so thrilled I kept saying "Look how they fit into your palm! Don't you just love the colour? Aren't they wonderful! Shall we have another cup of tea?"

Sunday 8 January 2017

time for tea

What is this???

It's a teapot mat from Mozambique.
MasterM saved the caps
from all the beers he drank on holiday
and then he covered them with fabric
and sewed them together.
Isn't he clever!

MasterM looks appalled.
Sewing little bits of fabric together?
Utter madness!
Do real people do that?

Friday 6 January 2017


A Great Oak Tree

John Constable
1801, Black chalk with gray wash, 21x 17 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

We all have the potential to discover our vocation, a role in life which brings together our gifts and experience and makes us feel fulfilled. This might be in the public sphere in our paid or unpaid work or it might be a private vocation for home-making or caring. Whatever it is there is a sense of having arrived, perhaps unexpectedly, at the right place.

I thought my vocation was to be a priest in the Church of England and over the past two years I have been exploring that understanding in a formal process called Discernment. This was not a recent conviction which arrived as a bolt from the blue but one that had been at the back of my mind for many years, even as far back as university. Unfortunately my student days pre-date the change which allowed the ordination of women and when that decision was made in 1992 I was looking after two pre-school children. By the time I was able to put myself forward for consideration the seed which had been sown so early in my life had grown into a great tree which blocked my path.

The outcome was not what I expected. It became clear to me that I was not the type of person that the Church of England was looking for: I was not under 35 and committed to introducing what is known as Fresh Expressions of Faith and I could not improve the diversity statistics. In June I decided to withdraw from the process.

It was the right decision but it felt as though the tree which had represented so much crashed down on top of me. I can not say whether it fell in an instant or had been weakened over a period of time but I scrambled from under the branches feeling very battered and it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the new landscape. I decided that I must not walk away from the wreckage and I have worked hard in the past six months to chop up the tree, examine the pieces and stack them away.

When a tree falls everything changes. New vistas open up and seeds germinate as light reaches the ground where the tree had been. These are positive things but there is the period of loss first, grief for the old familiar landscape and then trying to make sense of what happened. I do not know what direction my life will take now but let's hope that there is a seed putting out tiny leaves somewhere in the undergrowth.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

honouring the ordinary

MasterM (right) and friend, somewhere in Mozambique

I urge you to read this post on Absence in Women's Lifewriting because it is relevant to us all as bloggers. In the post Jennifer Sinor describes reading a journal that had been passed down in her family from her great great great aunt who lived in Dakota in the 1880s, a record of everyday life as a homesteader's wife. What fascinated me was not the content of the journal but Sinor's response as she searched through the minutiae of baking, sewing and visiting for the extraordinary only to discover that it had been omitted. Frustrated, she used her research skills to find out more information about her distant relative, looking for a narrative to her life, until she had a revelation that the real value of the journal is in the detail that she has skimmed through. Extraordinary events may determine the direction of our lives but it is by recording the details, that 'multitude of small delights', that we honour our days. 

I think all bloggers forget that each of us has different types of ordinary and that is what makes blogs so readable. You might feel anxious about writing about your reading or your gardening or your knitting but it is this sharing of our domestic lives that I value as a reader of blogs. So I challenge you: write on, honour your ordinary days!

My ordinary life today includes collecting MasterM from the airport and I must dash now because he is enroute from a remote area of Mozambique via Maputo, Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi and Rome. His last messsage from Rome airport was a cri de coeur "See you soon. Bring Chocolate!!" Same old MasterM. 

Tuesday 3 January 2017

pot pourri

Woman making potpourri
Herbert James Draper (1897)

It was a fallow year last year. The Garden and I came to an understanding that we both needed a rest. Perhaps some time apart. And so I got on with my job and looking after my family and going on assorted holidays with MrM while the Garden relaxed from the effects of constant supervision and became an eco-warrior, offering shelter to little creatures and nourishing victimised plant species. At the end of the period of separation I realised we needed professional help to rebuild our relationship so I employed the lovely Tracey who is a gardener of the Boot Camp variety. Now the Garden and I are looking stripped back, fighting fit and ready to start 2017. Fallow is so last year.

I can't promise regular and informative bulletins from the potting shed but if a sporadic scattering of the pot pourri of family life as seen from the comfort of my sofa appeals I think I can manage that.