Last week I had a date with Dawn French. Well, me and hundreds of other Manchester Palace Theatre goers. It was a great night, less the stand-up routine that some people were expecting (judging by some overheard comments) and more about what it is to be Dawn and bits, really big bits, from her life so far.
This was story telling at its best, enhanced with a backdrop of photos from the family album. At times it was laugh out loud hilarious, at others so heart wrenching that certain, ahem, people in the audience had to stuff their gobs with tissues to muffle the sobbing. It was no holds barred, very well written, superbly delivered and I loved every minute.
Staying over with the Girlie and her mister we ventured into neighbouring Derbyshire the following day for a mooch amongst the gloriously autumnal colours before a delicious late lunch.
Back home (somewhat later than planned after a mix up in arrangements which had me waiting to be picked up in one location in town and the mister and his car in another), the cake tin was empty so the bowls came out and brownies were baked. This was another of Jamie's recipes, very chocolatey, very tasty but a tad too crumbly for me. I prefer my brownies squidgy so would maybe take them out of the oven sooner next time.
We're not looking forward to November 5th here. Not that we don't enjoy fireworks, we do. It's just that Boo doesn't. He really really doesn't and turns into a quivering, panting, petrified mess at the slightest bang (which is slightly barking as he's a gun dog). So we're using a couple of these. There have been several firework parties locally in the run-up to Bonfire Night and, so far, the plug-ins have made no difference whatsoever. Nor have they had any visible effect on Boo's similar reaction to Jeremy Paxman's voice.
Actually, I was only responsible for the face which wasn't the design I'd planned but hey ho.
In case you're wondering, it's supposed to be a cat.
And I didn't lose any digits in the process.
This is also the first year I've used the pumpkin's innards, making puree which went into a batch of pumpkin spice cupcakes (four down, plenty more to go) and roasting the seeds with a mix of ground fennel seeds, chilli flakes and sea salt à la Jamie. Predictably, neither have been well received by the other two here. Ah well, more for me.
This is usually a busy night in our street and we've already doled out plenty of treats from the big bowlful by the front door. Fingers are crossed that supplies don't run out.
I've lit a pumpkin spiced candle, there's a scary film to watch once the visits from the Trick or Treaters stop and a new book for bedtime.
Spicing up bathtime. Perfect for using as a body wash in the tub if, like me, you prefer a long leisurely soak to jumping under the shower.
Visiting the farmers market in our local park in pouring rain early on Sunday and buying lots from the bread man. He'd baked for two markets only to have the other one (he hasn't perfected the art of bilocating, his girlfriend sells there on his behalf) cancelled at the last minute, so everything was BOGOF in an attempt to get rid of as much as he could.
Hurting, in my tum, just a little bit, after eating much more than a little bit of bread.
Welcoming a small army of teeny men into my life, sitting them atop gingerbread and caramel cupcakes and passing them on to a friend who was hosting a fundraising event for MacMillan Cancer Support.
Buying a pumpkin, showing the mister the design I wanted and being told 'You're joking. You'll have to do it yourself'. Someone may well be wearing our pumpkin this year.
Demonstrating it may be unwise to give me responsibility for undertaking a project involving a large round orange fruit and sharp implements.
Moaningabout inconsistent clothes sizing. Despite what the labels say, I'm not an 8 and never have been. Looking at you, M&S.
Celebrating Aunty M's birthday with chocolate cake and lunch out in Barnard Castle.
Finishing the latest book at bedtime, a novel about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid. Margaret Forster is one of my favourite writers and the effective interweaving of fact and fiction in this tale provides a detailed account of life as a servant in the poet's household. Other recent reads highly recommended are The Snow Child (a 1920s Alaskan setting, a Russian fairytale, a question - is she real or imagined?) and The Easter Parade(two sisters, two lives, two different paths taken over a period of forty years).
Thinking about Christmas, planning Christmas stuff and buying a Christmas present or two. And I'm not even sorry.
When I was little, I wanted to be a bus conductress when I grew up. It seemed the perfect job to my very young self, spending every day being driven around on a double decker (I definitely wanted a top deck) with a ticket machine strapped over one shoulder and a money bag over the other, standing on the platform after all the fares had been collected, hanging onto the metal pole at the doorless rear entry/exit, telling passengers to 'move along there' when the bus was full to bursting, helping to change the number and destination blinds at the front and, best of all, ringing the bell at each bus stop to signal to the driver it was safe to set off.
No surprise, then, that a favourite game to play in the living room at home was pretending to be a bus conductress. With a selection of coins borrowed from the till in my parents' shop in a little shoulder bag, a stack of used bus tickets to give out to the passengers (dolls on dining chairs, usually) and the old style light switch to serve as the bell, I was ready to work a shift. Sometimes, I managed to get my 16 years older than me brother to play the part of Inspector and check everyone's tickets, poor lad.
I remember my dad was once tasked with taking me into town for a haircut. When we arrived at the salon (it was called Fullers and in the basement of the town's most historically important building, sadly long demolished), I refused to go in so my dad took me for a wander around the shops whilst he used all his powers of persuasion to get me to agree to go back. Inside Woolworth's store, there it was. A bus conductress set, complete with, oh joy, cap and badge. A bit of skilful negotiating followed and oh yes, I got the set of my dreams and, just a little later, a haircut and a fat sachet of egg shampoo to take home.
Another essential piece of kit for the bus conductress in those days was a pair of fingerless gloves for the winter months (buses had no doors and they certainly didn't have much in the way of heating). I didn't have any and I commented to the mister that the couple of pairs I knit last week would have come in handy (see what I did there?) during all that play acting.
My parents worked long hours (they didn't employ anyone else) in their shop which was open until 10 p.m. 365 days of the year. They used to have two nights off (Wednesdays and Sundays) when Aunty M took over for a few hours and off they went, to meet up with friends in the pub or to a dinner dance (my mum loved dancing) or to a show (the town had a very decent theatre back in the day).
Years later, my mother told the story of the night she and my dad were on their way out to some social event or other. Dressed to the nines, she put on her gloves as my dad started the car. I remember those gloves so clearly even now - the softest, most supple brown leather palms and brown suede uppers decorated with tiny hand painted white spots. As she pulled them onto her hands, it was immediately apparent that someone had hacked off the ends of each and every one of the gloves' fingers.
I love a bit of bus conductress improvisation, me.
'I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers'.
(L M Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)
At last it feels like autumn is really here and just a week into the new month I've:
drunk the first spiced latte of the season whilst admitting that I sometimes give a fake name to the barista ('Pumpkin spice latte for Eve'). I'd really like to be Araminta but they'd never spell it correctly here
enjoyed a long solitary walk locally, passing a friend's horse (and hard to spot pony) grazing in his paddock next to the building site where the first of 900 houses (oh, joy) are in the process of being constructed
noted the irony of 'Silence is golden' playing at full volume on the builders' radio
kicked my way through the piles of leaves in the lane leading up to the church
been greeted by Bob (no idea of his real name but with those dreadlocks what else could he be called?) in the field next to the church and parted and de-twigged his overgrown fringe
finished a scary book which started well (happy family, missing 4 year old, mysterious figures appearing in photographs, whisperings and ghostly goings on in the family home) but which changed direction towards the end and degenerated into slasher horror
baked bug eyed gingerbread men using this recipe which results in deliciously chewy rather than overly crunchy treats
bought a chunk of cocoa dusted Yog Nog soap (it's made with soya yoghurt ) from Lush which smells of nutmeg and cloves and I just want to eat it. I won't. Probably. (By the way, that isn't a giant piece of soap in the picture, it's just a teeny weeny rubber ducky)
settled down in front of the fire. This house isn't blessed with the real thing but even gas powered flames give a cosy feel
I finished my scarf (which you might remember was inspired by this somewhat pricier version). It's OK, if slightly wider in parts than others as a result of some clumsy and probably unnecessary pressing. But it does have a proper label (get me). I've also made a couple of knitted cotton washcloths because you can't have too many. Or, looking in the bathroom cupboard, maybe you can.
In the garden
The eucalyptus near the pond has had its five yearly trim, much to the delight of certain neighbours who gave us a thank you card and went halves with the bill.
Out of the oven
A couple of heavily speckled bananas were languishing in the kitchen so I made a cake, based on thisrecipe (subbing half wholemeal flour, soft brown sugar and sunflower oil) with the addition of a handful of roughly crushed walnuts and using Willie's Cacao (the best chocolate, no kidding) buttons. Rather than baking the mixture in a loaf tin (my track record with those is dire), I used a parchment lined brownie pan and it turned out well. Moist without being overly so (some egg free cakes can be positively damp) and oh so tasty.
From the bookshelf
My latest reads are all recommended. The current book at bedtime is Stoner which is beautifully written. It hasn't had me crying yet but I have a feeling it will. Annie Proulx's Postcardswas her first novel and I think I just might rate this even more highly than The Shipping News. It begins in the 1940s with a girl's sudden death and the subsequent departure of Loyal Blood from his family and life on their Vermont farm. His only contact with his parents and siblings over the next forty or so years is through a series of postcards, all sent with no return address. Each chapter begins with a postcard, though not all are written by Loyal. If you're looking for an uplifting read and a happy ending, this isn't for you. This is a book about tough lives, about choices, about survival. Initially, I wasn't too sure about Life After Lifeand found the repetitive start-stop-start again format ('What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? ') a tad disorientating. But it really works and the retelling of events in main character Ursula Todd's life/lives is very cleverly executed.
We were in London most of last week. No special reason, just a short break doing touristy stuff with the Boy. We travelled by rail, rented a lovely apartment in a narrow little street in Spitalfields, hopped on and off underground trains and, mindful of the mister's still impaired mobility and differing interests, fitted in:
a night at the theatre (yes, a different production to the one we had tickets for but a cast change and temporary closure meant some last minute rearranging)
lots of coffee and cake breaks
an evening meander along Brick Lane and being hassled every couple of steps by restaurant touts which had the opposite effect to the one aimed for
half a day browsing, tasting and spending at the market
a linger by the river
a moment to reflect alongside the poppies
a visit to the Imperial War Museum and remembering that a much missed dear friend used to attend the school opposite
about 5 minutes in Camden which was long enough, thank you very much
a ride up the city's (and apparently western Europe's) tallest building and a glass or two of champagne at the top
a walk across a bridge and some landmark spotting
Now we're back home and have mostly caught up. Animals have been collected from their respective holiday homes, cases have been emptied, clothes washed, ironed and put away, the garden has been tidied, a couple of recorded TV programmes have been watched and I'm sitting here asking myself:
why, when it's so easy to jump on an East Coast train, don't we visit the capital more frequently?
how come we brought back so much stuff - fruit, veg, bread, cereals (it isn't granola, it isn't muesli, it's granuesli), chocolate, cakes, coconut in various forms, cheese, oils, spices, Turkish delight - to eat?
what the hell is going on with Lady Mary from Downton's accent?
I've been visiting Saltburn-by-the-Sea all my life. It's a town on the coast just down the road from here, easily reached by car, bus or train so an ideal destination for day trips. When I was in my teens, my parents bought a caravan there so that me and my friends had somewhere to hang out at weekends and holidays, and stays became longer. I remember four girls pretending to be French, reading poetry aloud till daybreak, beach parties, lost caravan keys and my poor dad being hauled before some complaints committee as a result. Happy days.
Last weekend, when the Girlie and her mister were home, we decided to spend the afternoon in Saltburn and caught the tail end of the monthly market, managing to buy garlic, shortbread (rhubarb and custard and ginger flavours) and a scented geranium before the stallholders packed up. There's a very good charity shop across the road from the deli we lunched in. I resisted a box of sewing patterns from the 80s (think lots of padded shouldered and headband wearing brides) but a couple of booksmight have been purchased. We rode the Victorian tramway down to the beach, passing the yarnbombers' somewhat droopy knitted poppy wreath and the ice cream van. The donkeys (members of an award winning team, no less) were coming to the end of their shift and a little dog looked hopeful of his owners dropping a chip or two. Back home, another dog wondered why he'd been left behind.
Seems I've been doing it for 7 years. Blogging, that is.
In that time, love those cupcakes has chugged along and been pretty much low maintenance. I've stuck with Typepad since the beginning, paying the minimal fees, playing about with their templates every now and then as the mood takes.
I don't plan posts. I don't have a stack of drafts sitting waiting for me to hit 'publish now'. I don't have a posting schedule. (These days I don't have any schedule.) I post whenever I want about whatever I want.
This blog doesn't have a particular theme (clearly). It isn't my job nor do I view it as a route to new doors potentially opening. love those cupcakes isn't my take on the world.I avoid controversial topics. I don't post about deep subject matter. I don't advertise. I don't set out to influence. I don't intend to provoke. I don't hope to inspire.
I certainly don't fuss about the numbers. In fact I've never looked at visitor statistics. Being popular and attracting a large fan base isn't what blogging is about for me. Being concerned about blog traffic, and worrying about how to maintain the interest of the following masses, is the last thing I want or need.
That's not to say that I don't welcome comments because of course I do. Blogging is far from private. It enables conversations andI'm always ridiculously pleased when Typepad inform me that someone has left a comment on a post. I always appreciate and read comments and try to make sure the favour is returned by visiting a commenter's blog and/or replying because not to do so is a bit like speaking to someone who continually ignores you. And that's just plain rude, yes?
So why, after 7 years, will I carry on blogging? To keep the journal (which is probably what I consider love those cupcakes to be) going and to have something to look back on. To keep recording the cyclical nature of a life being lived and those simple, everyday happenings - books read, films watched, memories evoked, places visited, festivals celebrated, cakes baked, meals eaten. To make the time to press the pause button and focus on and savour the little stuff that makes the world go round, those seemingly ordinary details which can get lost or forgotten amongst all the big events (which, let's face it, none of us usually has any problem remembering yet which can also have their place in some posts).
But I'll carry on mostly because I enjoy being a blogger, me.