24 December 2009

day 24:: peace

STIK is a graffitti artist and you could find his work at the Mile End Park Arts Pavilion down the road recently. Somehow he manages to convey a whole range of expressions with just a few lines. He told me he liked this one, and so do I.

Thanks for opening the doors of this year's Advent Calendar with me, and for your kind, funny, thoughtful comments. Whatever Christmas means and holds for you, I wish you peace and happiness.

23 December 2009

day 23:: candles

I mentioned last year our Christmas Eve candle tradition. This year my mum decided that she would like a red candle. So off we went to the Candle Factory next to the Greek Orthodox church of St John the Theologian in Mare Street to see if we could find one. The factory is simply a large shed in a yard at the side of the church. Inside there are candles of all sorts, sizes and colours for sale, loaded up hugger mugger. In the room at the back, the candle maker dips rows of wicks in a bath of beeswax and its honeyscent wafts through. At the side of the beeswax bath his jug stands covered in melted wax like some surreal sculpture.

Oh I enjoyed my visit. As we were leaving the candlemaker gave me a handful of candles to take home - "they'll smell sweet" he said. It just about made my day.

22 December 2009

day 22:: snow

Late yesterday afternoon, while we were in here playing with trees and greenery, it started to snow. It had been raining earlier and, as the temperature dropped, big flakes started to fall and settle. It's quite hypnotic watching snow fall, the light changing gradually and the sounds becoming muffled as it thickens. Snow - just what I wanted to put behind the door of the advent calendar.

I looked out of the upstairs window before I went to bed. Because the snowfall had been fairly short lived - no more than an hour maybe - we only had about an inch of snow, possibly less. Outside the house, the snow had already been criss-crossed by busy foot prints, people coming home from work, taking a short cut from the Tube station, hurrying to get somewhere quickly.

Only to be expected really, for this isn't any old snow. It's London snow, in such a rush that today all that's left is slushy roads, perilously icy pavements and a mere dusting of white in the park.

21 December 2009

day 21:: lustre

The tree was brought home yesterday from the market and decorated today. I was thinking about not buying one this year. Just not really in the swing of things, a bit lacklustre. But once the tree is in place and the boxes come up from the cellar, my notions of restrained decoration disappear. I begin with a bit of pearliness, then some glittering glass, think about stopping there - briefly - then add a touch of deep red, find some silver to fill the gaps, then a few more pearly baubles. By the time I get to the bottom of the boxes there is not much left. Just the five "gold" rings.

20 December 2009

day 20:: carolling

On the Sunday before Christmas or thereabouts people from the neighbourhood collect in the local square and sing carols. We have a cup of mulled wine and a mince pie, catch up with people we have not seen for a while. This year it was freezing cold, but there were crowds of people and the singing was better than ever.

In the bleak midwinter, a public sing-song, a glass of sherry and a warm by the fire can only be a good thing.

19 December 2009

day 19:: christmas pullovers

Behind the door today we have a little something for knitters - a tale of the Christmas pullover - prompted by a flick through Modern Knitting Illustrated by Jane Koster and Margaret Murray, and some winter re-reading of Barbara Pym's "Some Tame Gazelle". This is the story of two middle-aged spinster sisters, respectable and steady Belinda and the slightly more racy Harriet. Poor Belinda still harbours inappropriate longing from her undergraduate days for Henry, (now Archdeacon) Hoccleve. This is what happens in the run up to Christmas.

"She entered the wool shop, kept by Miss Jenner, who was also a Sunday School teacher. She always liked going to Miss Jenner's as the attractive display of different wools fired her imagination. Harriet would look splendid in a jumper of that coral pink. It would be a good idea for for a Christmas present, although it was impossible to keep anything secret from Harriet owing to her insatiable curiosity. And here was an admirable clerical grey. Such nice soft wool too... would she ever dare to knit a pullover for the Archdeacon? It would have to be done surreptitiously and before Agatha [the Archdeacon's wife] came back. She might send it anonymously, or give it to him casually , as if it had been left over from the Christmas charity parcel. Surely that would be quite seemly, unless of course it might appear rather ill-mannered?"

When Miss Jenner tells her that "eight ounces was the amount of wool that ladies usually bought", Belinda senses the need not to expose her ambitions:

" 'It will go very well with my Harris tweed costume' said Belinda firmly, 'I think that I will have nine ounces, in case I decide to make long sleeves.' After all, she might make a jumper for herself, now that she came to think of it she was certain that she would, either that or something else equally safe and dull. When we grow older we lack the fine courage of youth, and even an ordinary task like making a pullover for somebody we love or used to love seems too dangerous to be undertaken."

The vexed question of whether to knit Christmas presents or not. Love and loss and longing . All part of life's rich pattern.

PS Also pleased that my calendar has included at least one lamb.

18 December 2009

day 18:: pickles

There is no middle way with pickles, so you may want to skip this page which I am dedicating to my brother. I've never pickled onions before but when I saw them for sale at 3lb a £1 at Globe Town Market I was tempted. Then I got talking to Jenny the Cook in the queue and she gave me a recipe which involved brining and sweetening and storing. I was hooked.

This is all good practice for some new year jam making and preserving I'll be doing with the East End WI for the Imperial War Museum as part of their Ministry of Food exhibition which opens in February 2010.

By the way, the dedication has to do with my brother's addiction when he was a toddler, so much so that he learnt to open the fridge and steal pickles. It took a while for my mum to cotton on, which does not say much for her sense of smell. Even now I bet he'd like some in his Christmas stocking. His daughter does not appear to have inherited his tastes. She looked at the onions and wanted to know why we had eyes in a big jar. Mmm.

17 December 2009

day 17:: christmas cactus

This is how my Christmas Cactus looked on the first of December. I thought I might wait to see what happened but never really hoped for much.

And look. The first time it has flowered at Christmastime. this without any fussing with darkened rooms, other than the normal crepuscular light in my kitchen that is.

I also won three twenty five pound prizes on my Premium Bonds. And spent the evening by the fire - which lit first time - drinking Winter Pimms and talking jam recipes.

It's been a good day.

16 December 2009

day 16:: doves

Doves of a material kind.

I've got some sewing to do and not much time to do it.

15 December 2009

day 15:: bumpkins

I know that Whitechapel Haymarket is probably an odd thing to find in an advent calendar, so let me explain. I got it into my head that I should include some shepherds and I remembered that there used to be a tiled picture in the lobby of Whitechapel Library with some besmocked country lads. I associated those smocks with the hiring fairs that shepherds would attend and assumed that they were shepherds - I think I had in mind the scene in Far From The Madding Crowd where Gabriel Oak goes to a hiring fair.

Thus started a quest to find the picture and my bumpkins. The very helpful archivist at Whitechapel Art Gallery, which now incorporates the old library, told me that the tiles has been stored away when building work started, but I could find a picture at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive. So off I went on a damp. grey afternoon last week to the comforting fug of the archives where the charming staff unearthed a box of photos for me. And there it was - carts, horses, hay and my bumpkins. Probably not shepherds after all now I've seen it again. But I do like them. The dreamy looking chap in the middle of the picture, a slip of greenery tucked into his hat, always caught my eye.

So I give you today a fanciful glimpse at rus in urbe - bumpkins in Whitechapel.

14 December 2009

day 14: a visit to santa

From Mrs B's archives, a first visit to Santa at Wickhams of Whitechapel, a small department store with grand aspirations. My mum tells me the matching coat and bonnet were dark turquoise - amazing how she can remember every detail. I love those zip up suede boots, such sensible footwear for such sturdy legs.

I suspect the somewhat grumpy look set the tone for the run up to Christmas for years to come.

13 December 2009

day 13:: yule log

When we walked through the cemetery this afternoon, we came across several logs scattered around the place. A couple of smaller chumps of wood just about fitted in the string bag I happened to have with me. Just right for keeping out the cold this weekend.

12 December 2009

day 12:: star

I stuck this shooting star on the mirror above the fireplace the first year we moved into this house twenty seven years ago. It seemed a shame to take it off when Christmas was over.

I think there is a meteor shower due tomorrow too.

11 December 2009

day 11:: christmas ale

I have been waiting all week to pour this, tantalised by Felix's description of the sound of pouring beer in her sonic advent calendar. I can confirm, as evidenced this evening, that it is a very good description. If your preference is for something cooler, then listen to the sound of this icy highland stream in Kate's captivating passage through December. I am so enjoying both of these calendars, and look forward to my daily visits with the anticipation of a child. Except I'm allowed beer, of course.

(PS Yes, Christmas Ale was in my advent calendar last year too. I offer no apologies.)

10 December 2009

day 10:: angel wings

I didn't expect to come across angel wings on the Regent's Canal towpath this week. Or the gargoyle come to that. But then I didn't expect to be given a bunch of hollyhock flowers in December. Or hear blackbirds singing just before midnight.

09 December 2009

day 9:: stilton

I cycled to Southwark today, taking a route I used to follow when I worked there a while back. It took me over Tower Bridge, down Tooley Street then round the back streets by Southwark Cathedral, past Borough Market and through Park Street. And that's where I caught the scent of cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy.

There was a time I used to treat myself to a bit of Colston Basset Stilton for Christmas. Laziness and crowd avoidance have kept me away since I stopped working in the area. Today I was lured by the scent of cheese coming from the shop and the lovely young cheese monger and I engaged in some mutual schmoozing. She gave me a sliver of stilton, explaining that the taste of cheese will change daily depending on the grass, the mood of the cows, whether the delivery lorry had got stuck in a traffic jam. It was delicious and I bought a small piece to take home to eat with my (best Fenland) celery, leek and apple soup. It was good, very good, a perfect match. I've put it on ration so we can have some tomorrow too.

I keep thinking of the cool, damp, scent of that cheese shop now.

08 December 2009

day 8:: swans swimming

I took a walk in the park today and there were more swans on the lake than I have ever seen before, including lots of cygnets losing the last of their brown plumage. Certainly more than seven swans a swimming, but that's how many I captured here.

07 December 2009

day 7:: not three french hens

Here he is, by popular request, the rooster tea-pot, with a few of his farmyard mates. Funny how the cat has to nose in.

I can't believe that there weren't chickens and cats in that Christmas stable.

06 December 2009

day 6:: fizz

I came across this empty bottle of Prosecco today on the wall of St Leonard's churchyard in Shoreditch. I like the wall, and the moss and cut buddleia.

The party season is with us.

05 December 2009

day 5:: sherbet lemons

I spotted these as I was leaving the old Shoreditch Town Hall yesterday and took one. About 25 yards down the road, I turned round and went back for more. It is not a good move to follow up three roof-of-the-mouth scorching sherbet lemons with chilli dressing on your supper.

I dreamed last night of proper lemon shaped sherbet lemons, the ones that stick together in the paper bag but when I saw some in a shop in Cambridge today, the queue was too long for me to wait. Probably just as well.

04 December 2009

day 4:: hats and headwear

Getting a new hat was an important part of getting ready for Christmas when I was a child. Hats knitted around an alice band for everyday, and more elegant affairs for church and special occasions. There's a picture somewhere of a me in a lovely little angora boater on a winter trip to the circus, sitting on a plaster zebra. And I still love a hat. So today when I came across Janie Lawson at the East London Design Show I indulged myself and bought a flighty little kit and sat down for an hour with Janie making some fancy headgear to wear while I made the Christmas dinner. She was patient and charming and we sat and chatted about how she had become a milliner while she showed me how to make a milliner's knot and sew beads onto sinemay. I was spoilt by her attention. And very pleased with my pretty headwear. Janie will be at ELDS for the next two days if you would like to go along and meet her and make or buy something yourself.

There's only one problem. I didn't have my headwear when I arrived home, which explains why there is no picture of the finished object. I may have left it in the cafe when I had a cup of tea before I headed home.

I'm really needled about it.

03 December 2009

day 3:: board games

I've mentioned before that we are awash with Bishops where I live - well, two actually. One of them moved yesterday and this was the removals company he chose. It made me laugh.

Later I read in the paper a summary of how people spend Christmas day. It think it went something like this: the first argument happens quite early, followed by the first drink. Board games appear late in the afternoon. We don't engage in anything as cerebral as chess, which probably does not count as a board game anyway. Sometimes we manage a hectic game of Taboo. And my brother and I have a Scrabble play off.

I lost my crown to him last year.

( I should have added that it was only a paper crown.)

02 December 2009

day 2:: bell

Every Advent calendar needs a bell so here is my bicycle bell. It was a Christmas present that was put to one side as surplus and found its way onto my new bike this year so it's is still bright and shiny. It is a most satisfying bell, with a lovely sound and it's been echoing round the borough over the last couple of months when I've been out on jaunts. With practice and a light touch, it will oblige with a gentle, polite tinkle, just enough to warn walkers on the Regent's Canal towpath that you are coming up behind them without demanding right of way. It can ring more imperiously when necessary to warn inattentive pedestrians not to step out onto the road. I like it, I like it.

The humble bike bell will do very well for the calendar until I find some bigger bells.

01 December 2009

day1:: amaryllis

I thought I might have a go again at an Advent Calendar again this year. I envisaged something with more "doing" in it, to avoid going over the same ground again, though that seems somewhat inevitable given the season. So really I should be proudly displaying the amaryllis that I had the foresight to plant a while back. No such luck, I'm afraid. These were bought at the weekend at Columbia Road. The first amaryllis arriving is one of those touchstones events that indicate a shift in the temporal season, a gearing up for Christmas. I do love the richness of the colour, almost velvety red. I suspect that these are extravagant in more ways than one though, probably imported from the Netherlands, and possibly grown in heated glasshouses.

Oh dear, oh dear, now I'm feeling guilty. And it's only the first day of December.

30 November 2009

into the light

Every November I go along to a service to remember the dead. Not many people turn up, though I know many of the older people who do attend, parents of people I was at primary school with, staunchly loyal church attenders, people who have been associated with this church on the edge of the city for generations, including my own extended family. During the service, the family names of the dead are read out and people go up one by one to light a candle for them. It is a gently moving and intimate affair, especially when you can remember the time when the people whose names are called used to light candles themselves. Turn round as you make your way out and you can see the candles twinkling away in the chilly building. It's all rather uplifting, in spite of the gloominess and rain outside.

So we segue into December. Advent calendar tomorrow?

29 November 2009

what goes around

I had made a commitment to make a couple of cakes for a fund raising event today and searched in vain for inspiration, something that has been absent from my kitchen recently. Then I came across the recipe - and provenance - for Knit Nurse's Granny's Fruit Cake. It was just the ticket.

The sharing of recipes, patterns, thoughts and knowledge that send you off to try, see, think or read something is wonderful thing.. And a positive comment or follow up from someone who has been inspired by something you have posted is a foot stomping pleasure. (The picture that J sent me of her Apple Cake in the oven is still making me smile)

So I'm passing on thanks here for the recipe, from me and and the mystery person who won one of the cakes in the raffle. And when I make it again and someone tells me what a fine cake it is I'll be able to pass on the recipe too.

26 November 2009

last knockings

It has been unseasonably mild in London for the past few weeks. Only a couple of days ago I saw these climbing over the wall of a garden facing onto Mile End Road. Yesterday I saw acanthus flowering in garden facing onto the Thames. And today John brought home the last of the hollyhocks from one of his gardens. Rather unsettling for late November.

Meanwhile, in our own backyard, there was a bit of a bee thing going on ...

I made it for the East End WI bee-themed AGM last week (possibly an indication of a woman with too much time on her hands). Now, my preference in aprons is normally inclined towards the Quaker end of the market, plain and workaday. However, once I embarked on this apron, it began to develop a life of its own. Working without a pattern, I found that the head of the bee was a little too large and floppy. The addition of some interfacing and darts had the effect of adding a corsetry effect that one of my friends described as somewhat burlesque. And the bee-eyes seemed to develop that weird hypnotic trick of following you around, all seeing, all knowing.

I hear the weather is going to chill down a bit, which is probably just as well.

25 November 2009


Tempting though it is to keep the remnants of last year's spices, if you want your cakes and puddings to excel, you have to sacrifice parsimony and refresh the spice box. So I checked the necessary ingredients, made my list, and visited a cash and carry under the railway arches to stock up. These modern fluorescent emporia are stacked high with variously sized packs and sacks of rice, pulses, nuts and spices, . You have to weave your way through aisles of unfamiliar labels (I should have been asking for jaipal instead of nutmeg) and be very disciplined not to leave with giant packs of exotic ingredients.

Back home we set to pounding cloves and cardamom for the pudding, surely one of the most physically satisfying and sensuously fulfilling of jobs. Even my boy remarked on the scent of oranges and spices filling the house. Unfortunately he was unable to throw any light on the whereabouts of the brandy we bought for steeping the fruit.

The remains of the cloves were stuck into an orange, insufficient for a full pomander, but enough for me to sit here and hold it close enough to smell winter indoors while I listen to the rolling boil of the pudding being steamed. More of which later.

15 November 2009

better late

We finally got round to planting our hyacinths. Probably too late to have flowers by Christmas though.

Better get started on the pudding and cake then

10 November 2009

precautionary principles

One of the best things about autumn is the abundance of vegetables. We are still eating self-sown rocket and mizuna from the plot, and a smattering of container grown red oak leaf from the back garden. Added to these there are the pleasures of more substantial roots and leaves - beetroot, chard, potatoes, leeks.

We dug up our first leeks this weekend to make a smooth and comforting leek and potato soup, pleased that, despite a nasty attack of voracious leek moths, at least some leeks have survived. I need to do something about those moths next year - last year we lost the whole crop. Pheromone traps, perhaps (any advice gratefully received).

I guess it's just as well that we have survived ourselves. We had a note from the Contaminated Land Officer this week to tell us that the historical use of the allotments was for dock dredgings, which pretty much explains why the so-called soil is so awful. As a ship's rigger's driver's daughter, I rather like the idea of gardening on dock dirt. However, according to the venerable CLO, the soil samples indicate "small numbers of contaminants thought to pose low level risk". Her advice is that we should scrub veg before eating, keep children away from playing with the soil, wear gloves, rinse tools, try and cut down on the amount of soil and dust brought into the house from the allotments.

I'll try my best. I can guarantee the first "to do" on her list: enjoy the allotments. Caution thrown to the wind or otherwise.

09 November 2009

felix's apple cake

One of my former work colleagues gave me the recipe for this apple cake at the end of September on the day I finished work and I have just got round to making it. He told me he had been on the hunt for the perfect apple cake and this version, based on a dutch recipe substituting oil for butter, was very near the mark. If, like me, you have a fondness for apples, prefer your cakes to have a fruity-verging-on-tart bite, and don't expect them to be picture perfect, then this may well be your kind of cake.

The recipe suggests that this serves four - in which case the Dutch have a greater capacity than we do. I have biked some over to my mum for her and my aunt to have with a cup of tea, and wrapped some for John to have with his morning coffee at work. We had it for pudding yesterday and tonight, and I sneaked slivers of it before bed, and there is still more than a quarter left. Perhaps I just managed to use some magic apples.

08 November 2009

rosemary and other cemetery flowers

We walked in Tower Hamlets Cemetery this afternoon. It's the place we used to collect our seasonal ivy to deck the halls, much of which has been tidied by enthusiastic volunteers. It's still pretty ramshackle and wild in places. The crows were making a racket and every now and then I could hear the tapping of what sounded to me like a woodpecker. At the bottom of the War Memorial, below today's poppy wreaths, someone has planted a few rosemary plants, for remembrance, straggly and struggling a bit, but still managing to flower.

We found some more flowers. Some seasonal, like this autumn crocus.

And others looking slightly out of place this time of year. Like this cranesbill ( I think that's what it is).

And ragged robin?

Then the remains of a dandelion clock.

Enough said.

05 November 2009


I foolishly chose to go shopping in Oxford Street on the day that the Christmas lights were switched on. That meant that the tube station was closed and I had to walk to the next one. But that was so crowded that I decided to walk on to Holborn. Then Chancery Lane. And when I had got that far, I was in the swing of the walk and thought I might as well carry on because it was such a lovely evening, cool rather than balmy, with a full moon and, of course, all lit up. Along High Holborn, past St Andrew Holborn and Old Bailey, and over the viaduct.

The first glimpse of St Paul's appeared at the end of an alley.

Then into Cheapside, past St Vedast, Foster Lane with its list of old churches incorporated into the parish, and St Mary le Bow.

The city is quieter at this time of night, less traffic, people standing outside pubs or making their way home, then an entrance to the tube on the corner of that other city temple (this link gives an interesting explanation of the name of the street, not for the faint hearted.)

At which point I disappeared underground to get home a little more quickly.

Fireworks tonight

Added later: If you have never seen skylanterns floating away in the wind - which tonight was off towards the low-in-the-sky moon in the east - then try them sometime. Absolutely magical.

04 November 2009


Look, look look! This is genuine Isle of Dogs honey. The hives are kept on the roof of the school where John gardens. Just think - the nectar for this honey may have been collected from his hollyhocks or sedum or knautia or verbascum or mullein or sunflowers or yucca flowers. Or maybe they even got as far as our allotment on the other side of Millwall Park. And let me tell you, this honey tastes very special indeed, not overly sweet, slightly minty to start with, then a richer flavour that I can only think is the result of the variety of flowers those bees have visited. Too good to cook with, it will have to be eaten with something very plain in order to appreciate it, maybe just straight from the spoon.

If you look closely, you'll see that the beekeeper is a Mr Mole (and he is a real person). You couldn't make this up if you tried.

03 November 2009


Seeing these two goats at Mudchute reminded me of conversations that my friend and I used to have about our favoured goats one winter in Cornwall. Those letters reminded me of those conversations when she used to slyly ask me what goat I would keep if I could. She kept British Saanens (the white ones) - the wonderful Peonie, not the prettiest goat but a great milker; her daughter Pipkin, just like her mum; and the divine Strawberrie, the prettiest goat, beautiful conformation, neat little udder, frequent winner of best in show at the then Cornwall Dairy Goatkeepers Association. We used to take the goats out for walks over "the dumps", the area of mine wasteland up on the slopes behind the goatshed, she leading the way (very important that she established her authority apparently) , occasionally showing her superior knowledge of poisonous vegetation to her kidlings by spitting on it and stamping an angry foot. I don't think anyone other than me and the goats witnessed these demonstrations. Fortunately.

The goatkeepers of Cornwall were a lovely lot. Some of them lived on remote farms up in the misty wet hills with granitey fields, perfect for goats to caper on. My friend used to take her girls off in the back of a landrover to be mated with the hardy, bearded boys of good breeding. (The tough little Freelands Caesar 's line of descendants is probably longer than that of Abraham.) These goatkeepers did know how to party - any wine contributed at the annual Christmas party, home made or other, was put in the punch. It was strong stuff. And the raffle prizes were very desirable - a bale of hay, a giant pumpkin, a giant bunch of root vegetables. I won the pumpkin.

There is very little opportunity to use my scant knowledge of udder cream and goaty conformation to profitable use these days. But when I see the Mudchute goats, I still rather fancy having a little Anglo-Nubian (the one on the left in the picture, smiling for the camera), for these were the goats I fancied most, with Toggenbergs a close second. I don't think my friend ever quite forgave me for the betrayal.

02 November 2009

beetroot splash

If I have mentioned before how much I love beetroot soup I make no apologies. The first borscht of the season marks the change from the late warmth of October with its outdoor golds and rusty leaves to the warmth of the kitchen. The contrast between the sweetness of the beetroot and the sharpness of the vinegar; the wonderful dark red colour that I can never quite reproduce; the knowledge that it's made from my own beetroots and home-made stock; the simplicity of the recipe; and the fact that this is John's speciality so I can just sit, watch and dip in some wheat-rye bread at my leisure. All this converges to give beetroot perfection.

The recipe is from Cranks Recipe Book, a very battered version in this case.

Onion (1 med); potato (small); beetroot (1lb/450g raw, though I used cooked); butter (1oz /25g- we use olive oil instead); stock (2 pints/1.2 l); cider vinegar (3tbsp/ 45ml); marmite (1tsp/5ml); salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste; soured cream or yoghurt, and parsley to garnish.
Saute onion, add other veg then stock. Bring to boil then simmer for half an hour. Blend. Serve.

This is the food of the kitchen gods, I swear.

01 November 2009

letters, liberty and smoke in the lanes

I've spent some time looking back this week, for various reasons. My oldest friend came round with a packet of letters she had found in her loft, written by me to her, and spanning some 35 years of our friendship. Some of the letters went back to my first year at university (one made me cry), others covered the time when I was traveling the land a truant girl chasing smoke in the lanes. Here I am with the truant boy a few months after we set off, me in my Liberty print dress.

Those letters tell the story of the animals we had, the kindness of strangers, selling cabbages and holly wreaths from our horse drawn cart, cooking on an open fire and how snug it was inside with the oil lamps lit and the Queen stove burning, how we made and sold clothes pegs for 20p a dozen, how useless I was at calling at houses for scrap metal and rags, buying my rooster shaped tea pot and new china bowl. The letters documented adventures as well as anxieties about making our way up country again through unknown places. I'd remembered the happy times more than the worries.

Only a few material things remain - the letters, some photos, the tea pot and bowl, this Liberty print dress and another one I sewed by hand. If you are quick you can hear me talking about it, very briefly, on last Thursday's Woman's Hour (about 10 minutes into the programme, just after Justine Picardie talking about Coco Chanel.) My 15 seconds of fame.