Friday, 16 June 2017

The start of it all: Derbyshire's industrial heritage

Where would we be without the Industrial Revolution? 

Derby Silk Mill c.1910, via Wikimedia Commons

The development of factories changed our world beyond imagining.  People worked in different ways, ate different food, expected different lives, bought different possessions.  The effects were so wide-ranging that it's astounding to realise that it all came back to a few men in a few places on a small island in the North Sea.  Over the couple of centuries from 1750 to 1950, Great Britain burned coal, harnessed steam power, invented machines, built mills, and had an industrial output out of all proportion to its size.  Once you try and wrap your head around the magnitude of what happened here, it's just incredible.

And Derbyshire was in at the very beginning of all that.  The first factories, buildings made just to do one job, over and over again.  The development of the idea that one water wheel could drive all the machinery in that factory.  The employment of women and children to work to the rhythms of the machines, day and night.  The disputes between those who worked and those who pocketed the profits.  The heat.  The noise.  The injuries.  And the ideas which spread all over the world.


Most of the mills are quiet now.  Lumsdale Valley, near Matlock, is so tranquil that it's hard to imagine it ever being a hive of industry.  A cluster of stone buildings tumble down the slope beside a splashing stream.  Only their names hint at their previous existence: the paint mill, the bleaching works, the saw mill.  The earliest date back to the 1600s, probably; by 1780 things had really got going, and there were half a dozen small businesses drawing power off this one small section of the Bentley Brook.



A little further south, at Cromford, the entrepreneur Richard Arkwright also harnessed the power of falling water.  In 1772 he built the first successful cotton mill in the world.  His spinning machines ran 24 hours a day, attended by hundreds of women and children.  It made his fortune, and it made anyone else who was at all interested in this new technology sit up and take notice.  Everyone wanted a mill like Arkwright's mill.  And pretty soon, it must have seemed like everyone had one.



Meanwhile down in Derby, Lombe's silk mill had been running for years.  It was already a tourist attraction by the 1770s.  Making silk had been the Italians' closely guarded secret for a long time, but John Lombe had gone to work in the silk industry there, slipping downstairs at night to make drawings of the machinery, and come home to England to build his own silk mill.  The new building on the River Derwent, with its distinctive tower, was one of the first factories in Britain.  The Italians had their revenge, though: Lombe's death in 1722 was thought to be the work of an Italian assassin, sent to poison him.



Now the Lumsdale Valley is a pleasant walk, the Cromford Mills are a tourist attraction, and the Silk Mill is a museum, currently draped in poppies as a memorial to World War I.  The energy and the innovation of the Industrial Revolution has dissipated.  So has the smoke and the squalor.  But the legacy lasts, not only in these buildings, but in almost every way we live our lives.  Here was the start of it all.  And it hasn't ended yet.

Friday, 9 June 2017

It isn't that important to me...

When we went sailing a few weeks ago, I mentioned to one of the club members that I had tried sailing a topper as a teenager, and really enjoyed it.  He asked: "Why haven't you done any sailing since then?"

Well.

On the face of it, that's a perfectly reasonable question.  On the other hand, why don't we do all these many things that we would probably enjoy if we did them?

Because our weekends are already full. 
Because we don't know anyone else who does it. 
Because it will cost money. 
Because we're afraid it will take up all our time.
Because the kids don't want to.

Because, quite frankly, it isn't that important to us.

Which isn't really something you can say to someone who's been sailing for longer than you've been alive.  But that's pretty much what it comes down to.

That brief conversation, and a similar one with a tennis instructor, served to point out the difference between those who are "in" an activity - and can't understand why someone else wouldn't at least want to try it - and those who are "out", for whom the question, "Why not?" is answered by, "Why would I?"  When sailing is your whole life, it can be hard to comprehend that it's not even on someone else's radar.

Church, of course, is much more than a leisure activity - at least for those who are in it.  But there are certain similarities to a sailing club.  It's what you do at the weekend.  It's where you make friends with like-minded people.  It organises barbeques and breakfasts.  It will take over your life if you want it to (and possibly even if you don't).  It has branches all over the country.

And those who are "in" don't really understand why those who aren't, aren't.

I mean, we know, of course, that plenty of people don't go to church.  Or sail.  Or play tennis.  And we realise that this is for the same kind of reasons that we don't play bowls or join the local fishing club.  But it's still hard to get past the idea that if they just tried it, they would be there every week.

To a certain extent, that does work.  I mentioned before how impressed I was by the efforts the LTA is making to get people into tennis.  And you know what?  I could see us getting into tennis.  Not in a big way, but in a join a club, get a bit better at it, play a few fun games kind of a way.  And this is coming from someone who has never been into organised sport, and whose main memories from school are of repeatedly failing to hit the ball.  Ever.  In anything.  So they must be doing something right.

Likewise, sometimes all it takes is an invitation to church.  But it's still got to coincide with some recognition that this is important.  That it's worth the time and money that it takes.  That it provides something that is missing in our lives.

So.  Why not?  Want to give it a try?

See?  It's fun!

Monday, 29 May 2017

A free weekend (including Graham's birthday)

It's not often you get to do things for free, still less a whole weekend of them!  But a few weeks ago, for Graham's birthday, that's exactly what we managed to do.  Free sailing, tennis and swimming, accompanied by free desserts and strawberries and cream! 


Graham was working on Saturday morning, which gave the boys and me time to decorate his birthday cake.  We presented it to him at lunchtime, along with a little liquid refreshment.



For the afternoon, I thought it would be nice to do something a bit different.  Scanning the internet, I discovered that Burton Sailing Club had an open day, and we could go for a free ride on a sailing boat.  Perfect!  We headed down the road to Foremark Reservoir.  The very friendly club staff got us signed in and set up, and we all clambered into the motor boat to go catch a ride.  Unfortunately we'd picked the one moment of the day when the wind picked up and the rain came through.  Theo and I went first and missed the worst of the rain, but even so, the gusts made sailing a little too exciting for him, so we only had a short trip.  We switched with Toby and Graham, who had an even more exciting ride, with rain and a couple of mishaps (no one fell in!).  Straight after that, the sky cleared and the wind dropped right down, and we were back on shore watching all the boats peacefully drifting around in the sunshine.




For birthdays, we like to treat ourselves to dinner at a really high-class restaurant... so we went to McDonalds.  This decision was partly made because we had coupons to the value of three ice creams and a doughnut, so that was our free dessert.

In my search for things to do, I'd also discovered that it was a Great British Tennis Weekend.  Toby was very keen on this option, and barely managed to swallow his disappointment when Dad chose sailing instead.  So we decided that we could manage tennis after church on Sunday.  We went to the David Lloyd fitness club, which is one of those huge luxury gyms that you have to take out a mortgage to join.  It was warm and sunny and felt like we'd gone on holiday for the afternoon.

I'm very impressed by the efforts of the Lawn Tennis Association to get more people into tennis.  Last year Toby did a free six-week course; this year they have a couple of open weekends (the next is 22/23 July).  All the coaches we've met have been enthusiastic, friendly and professional, and it's resulted in us batting quite a few tennis balls around on the patch of grass at the end of our street.  This time Graham and I got a workout too, as we joined the adult coaching session and learned some of the basics of moving our feet and placing the ball.  Theo was noticeably youngest in the kids group, but he seemed to have fun and got some one-to-one attention.  Toby enjoyed being back on a court again too.

Afterwards we relaxed on the grass with a free bowl of strawberries and cream (an unexpected bonus!).  Then we had free run of the club's facilities for as long as we wanted.  We'd come prepared with swimming costumes, so we got changed and enjoyed the outdoor heated pool and jacuzzi.  We finally dragged ourselves out and headed home, sun-soaked and tired out by our free weekend!


Friday, 12 May 2017

How does your garden grow? Spring 2017

Isn't it exciting when little seeds you've planted start cautiously unfurling stalks and leaves, and turning into proper plants?  Most of my vegetable planting is now done for the spring, so I thought I'd update you with what's in this year.

I used some plastic sheets to turn my vegetable boxes into mini greenhouses, which I'd like to think helped with the germinating process.  One unexpected thing which sprouted were half a dozen courgette plants, which I assume are the same ones that never came up last year.  I transplanted them to some pots, where one has already been savaged by slugs.



The seeds that I did expect were spring onions, carrots and rocket, which have duly come up in neat little rows.  I haven't tried carrots before; they're supposed to be good companions for spring onions in some mutually beneficial way, so I'll put in another couple of rows soon and see how they go.

tiny spring onions and carrots


tomatoes and rocket

Other plants have been bought in.  Someone in the village put a mini-greenhouse-full of tomato plants outside their house, with an honesty box for charity, so I acquired four for a good cause.  The peas were a garden centre bargain - £2 for a tray which contained far more than I needed.  I do hope they do well, as I rather fancy podding my own peas.  I can't remember when I last ate peas from a pod - can you?

dwarf peas

Last year I coaxed strawberry runners from my old plants into growing by themselves.  The old plants died off, but the new ones are doing well.  When I turned the compost out of the old strawberry pots, I discovered it was full of woodlouse larvae, which may have had something to do with the demise of the strawberries.  Are they bad for plants?  I suspect ants of living in the other pots, which I wouldn't have thought would be much good for the plants, but so far they don't seem to be doing any harm.

strawberry flowers
So that's my attempt at self-sustainability this year.  How about you?  Are you growing anything?

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Monthly Munch: April 2017

Looking back, it seems like lots of nice things have happened this month.  My diary records sunny afternoons with friends; discussions about 'what is poetry?' and 'what if Jesus hadn't been raised to life?'; visits to and from parents; a stop-off at Stratford-upon-Avon (nice town, even if you don't do anything Shakespearean); Easter bonnets, Easter biscuits, Easter church; parks, plants, parties; and my first attempt at ten-pin bowling in a long time.  (Since you ask: No.  I was awful.  But we had fun.)
Helping with a lock gate on the Stratford Canal

In the interests of keeping it real, this month has also included tantrums, whinging, fights, bleeding from the head, food on the floor, a screw in a car tyre, and me failing to get a job I interviewed for.  You didn't really think we had it that easy, did you?

Life goes up and down...


Toby



- got his silver award for achieving 600 Dojo [award] points.

- learned to do Sudoku puzzles with Grandpop.

They liked 'bouncing bubbles' from Grandma & Grandad

- is practising A and B on the recorder.

- wants us to time how fast he can do everything.

"Time me to run across the aqueduct and back!"

- carefully counts his money.  He's saving for more Lego.


Theo



- started going to preschool three mornings a week, and goes in without a backward glance.

- rarely needs the pushchair now, except for the 'double dash' where I have to cover the mile between school and preschool in 15 minutes.

Still likes sweets - and barbeques

- always has to help stir the dinner.  Doesn't mean he eats it, mind you!

Adding pepper to bean chilli


Thankful for:

 - Graham finding a garage to fit a new tyre half an hour before they shut for Easter weekend - and they gave us free Easter eggs!

- finding a beautiful new place to walk: Blithfield Reservoir, near Uttoxeter.

photo of a woodpecker from the bird hide at Blithfield


- a new net for our old trampoline (finally fitted after I ordered the wrong size and had to return it...)

Recipe of the Month: Orange and Ginger Cake with Marmalade Glaze



I adapted a recipe for marmalade cake, to try and use up a jar of chopped ginger in sugar syrup that has been sitting in my fridge for ages.  The result is not too orangey, not too gingery, just a light and delicate mix of both.

6 oz butter, softened
3 oz sugar
2 eggs
2 oz chopped ginger in syrup
5 oz marmalade, plus extra to glaze
10 oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of one orange

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Grease and base line a loaf tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well, adding more orange juice (or milk) if needed to give a soft consistency.

Scoop into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until firm.  Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then put a couple of teaspoons of marmalade on top of the warm cake, and smear it around so that it melts to form a glaze.  Remove the cake from the tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Visions of Delight

As homework for the writing group I've joined, we each drew three cards from an envelope: a person, a place and a thing.  Our task then was to link these three randomly chosen items together to form a short story.

I picked an angel, a guard's van and a whip.  What would you have made of that? 
This is where my creative juices took me...

[For those of you who didn't grow up in the UK in the late 20th century, you may need to know that the names mentioned in the final paragraph are brands of instant pudding mix.]


Visions of Delight

In the guard’s van, Ted relaxed back in his chair.  His duties done for the evening, there was nothing more to worry about until the train reached Carlisle in two hours’ time.  Usually he’d pick up a newspaper to pass the time.  Tonight, though, he was tired.  His eyes settled on the dark night swishing past the window, as his mind vaguely toyed with the options for his midnight snack.  The train wheels rumbled rhythmically, and the black world went flying by…

…And the reflected lights in the window shifted and moved.  Ted blinked, peered, blinked again.  As if they were walking towards him out of the night, two figures appeared.  One was as upright as a flame, a cloak of shining white covering a dazzling suit of chain mail.  He held a long sword poised, its deadly point glittering.  The other person was hidden in shadow.  Only a few features showed redly, as if reflecting the light of an invisible fire.  Hooded and gaunt, he seemed more absent than present.  Then a glowing line bit through the air, and Ted realised this figure was armed with a whip.

The white-cloaked soldier retaliated instantly, with a mighty sweep of his sword.  It seemed as if the shadow must have been sliced in two, yet somehow he was still standing, recoiling his whip for its next vicious slash.  On his head, an odd shape caught the light for an instant: a horn? A pair of of horns?  He whirled, and it was gone, lost in the darkness behind the fiery whip.

Yet Ted was not altogether surprised when the soldier turned for a moment, revealing on his back a sheaf of snowy feathers.  He knew now who was fighting, and watched in vivid fascination as the battle unfolded.  The slashes and jabs carried a fierceness he had never before seen; yet the fight continued in utter silence, as if more than a pane of glass separated him from the contenders.

The whip was suddenly everywhere at once.  Bright slashes blazed criss-cross over Ted’s vision, like a swarm of angry bees surrounding a shadowy hive.  Squinting, he could just see the hooded figure with its tell-tale horns, skinny arms lashing, back hunched with determination.  Every blow drove the soldier back a step. His sword looked frail, his cloak shredded at the hem.  But his eyes were intent, watching for his chance.  There it was.  The whip caught, for no more than an instant.  And in that instant, the sword was driving forward, and the shadow writhed on its point, and the soldier’s great white wings spread wide, wider…

…And with a great rush and a clatter, the lights of a station splashed across the window, and then there was nothing but the dark outside.  Ted stretched, and rubbed his eyes.  His glance fell on a couple of packets, laid on the table.  He chuckled.  “Guess it’s Angel Delight for tonight, then,” he murmured to himself.  He reached over, put the packet of Instant Whip back in his bag, and started to pour milk into a bowl.

Image result for wikimedia angel delight

Friday, 7 April 2017

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Sometimes it seems frivolous to write about recipes and the small events of my own life, when in other parts of the world, awful things are happening and other people's families are being ripped apart.  Sometimes the knowing seems to demand a response, or even a responsibility, to look up from my own affairs for a moment, to say yes, I see this, however powerless I feel to do anything about it.

And I wrote that paragraph yesterday, thinking of the chemical attacks in Syria.  But now there's Stockholm.  And whichever day you read this, there will be something else.  The task of making peace seems too enormous to contemplate.


Maybe we should make cheese instead.  Many years ago, I stayed with a family in Romania who became my friends.  I spoke very little Romanian, though some of them spoke English, and many things in their house were very different to mine.  Welcoming as they were, it was hard to feel at home until the evening we made a cake.  Sitting together, passing a bowl of thickening cream around as we took turns beating it with a hand whisk, simply melted away language barriers and cultural differences.  It's hard to be a foreigner to someone you have cooked with.

Unfortunately, I had no one new to share my first experience of making cheese with.  But it was a cheese from a different culture, if that counts.  Theo gave his baby bottle away and unexpectedly decided that this meant his milk intake should fall to zero.  So I had 8 pints of whole milk to use up in a hurry.  My Indian cookbooks assured me that paneer is very easy to make, so what did I have to lose?  I boiled the milk for the requisite five minutes, added a few spoonfuls of lemon juice - slightly sceptically, I have to admit - and to my surprise, it separated neatly into lumpy curds swimming in a yellowish liquid.  I drained it in a net that I usually use for making jelly, squeezed it flat with a saucepan, and I had my very own paneer!  I felt like the pressing could have been improved on, as it was a bit crumbly, but it tasted fine.



Blessed are the peacemakers.  They need all the help they can get.  But when making peace seems far too difficult, maybe we can be a blessing by making cheese together instead.

Dove image: By Darolu Dove siluette from Vervexca Peace Dove.svg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Monthly Munch: March 2017

We've had some lovely warm sunny days (interspersed with hail and rain!) and the clocks have changed, so it's feeling like spring.  We seized the chance to attempt a "proper" walk on a beautiful cloudless Sunday, and successfully ascended Win Hill in the Peak District.  It was a lovely climb up through woods by a little stream.  We had a grand panorama to eat our lunch by, and a ramble along little lanes and through fields to return to the car.




Toby



- lost his first two teeth!  Actually he went to the dentist and she said, "get those wobbly ones out", so they weren't so much lost as well and truly yanked.


 - finally got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the library, and devoured it.

- bounded up Win Hill ahead of us all.  He still had energy left at the end!



- was proud of his rocket booster for a "Bling a Bottle" project at school.


- has had a story he wrote at school highly commended.  His teacher showed it to the headteacher and the Year 6 class!

Theo



- got the chickenpox.  It seems like every kid in the village has had it, so it was hardly a surprise.  Fortunately he only had a couple of days of being properly miserable.



- loves a book called Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose, and can recite it (complete with funny voices).

- made it round the whole of the Win Hill walk with no complaints.  Fortunately the last bit was muddy which got him excited again (although you should have seen both boys' shoes...)


- now that the weather's warmer, is rocking the hat, mittens and T-shirt look.


Thankful for:


- our boiler managing to break on the warmest days of the year so far!  It was an issue we've had before, so a quick fix - for now, anyway.



- lovely cards and presents from my boys on Mother's Day.


Recipe of the Month: Fish in tomato sauce



I'm rather enjoying Alex Mackay's Cookbook for Everybody Everyday - a library find that I may have to pay actual money for at some point.  This is a much-simplified version of a recipe which you are supposed to make with a home-made tomato compote.  That'll be a jar of pasta sauce then.  Plus, when I assured the boys that yes, it was exactly the same stuff which I put on their pasta, they were much more motivated to eat it.  It's a doddle to make and you can even leave the breadcrumbs off if you want to make it easier (or gluten-free).

500g jar of chunky pasta sauce
4 frozen (or fresh) white fish fillets (pollock, cod or similar)
20-30g butter
breadcrumbs from a slice of bread (roughly)

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Get a baking dish big enough to hold all your fish fillets in a layer.  Tip the jar of pasta sauce into it, and spread it out evenly.  Put the fish on top.

In a small frying pan, melt the butter and then stir in the breadcrumbs.  Keep stirring till they're just golden.  Spoon them on top of the fish, trying to keep them mostly out of the sauce (that just makes them go soggy).  Put the dish in the oven for about 30-35 minutes for frozen fish, maybe 15 for fresh.

We ate ours with mashed potato and peas.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Red Nose Day Maltesers Cake

When I saw that Maltesers was donating £5 to Comic Relief for every cake made in their #bakeamillion challenge, it seemed like a better than usual reason to make a chocolate cake!  The devil's food cake I'd tried for Theo's birthday was so good that I didn't need much persuasion to bake it again.  The original recipe made a BIG cake.  So in the interests of all our waistlines, I halved the quantities this time.  And of course, adorned it with Maltesers.



Devil's Food Cake
Recipe adapted from Green and Black's Chocolate Recipes.  Apart from halving it, I reduced the amount of sugar and avoided mixing the cocoa with the cold water.  In my experience, all this does is give you a brown sludge which is hard to get out of the measuring jug.  I don't see how that improves the quality of the cake.

175g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
50g cocoa powder
200ml cold water
125g margarine or shortening
200g sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cocoa.

Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and very soft.  Whisk the eggs, then add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well.  Add the flour mixture alternately with the cold water to give a light airy batter.  

Scoop into a greased and base-lined 8-inch round tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then on a wire rack. Decorate as desired.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lake District photo dump

Day 1:

We stopped at Rufford Old Hall for a lunch break on the drive up.  We enjoyed the drifts of snowdrops, the very friendly volunteers, and the binoculars!  When we arrived at Grange-over-Sands, we went for an evening walk along the promenade.





Day 2:

We went on the Windermere Lake Cruise, starting off on the top deck and retreating to underneath the seats, and ultimately the covered lower deck when it began to rain.





Day 3:

We spent the morning at the very well-stocked Lakeland Motor Museum, packed with cars, bikes, motorbikes, toy cars and much more.  Then we drove up to Skelwith Bridge for lunch (the cafe we had hoped to go to was packed out, so we had a picnic instead) and walked along the River Brathay.  There was a small but fierce waterfall, and the boys enthusiastically dissected a rotting tree. It took so long to drive back down the M6 that we were forced to stop at McDonalds for tea.