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Friday 30 January 2015

The view from the window

Let’s linger in the kitchen a little longer as that’s where we spent time together, time listening  and talking as well as eating

The kitchen was quite dark and the only window over looked the crew yard where the animals were over-wintered.  My grandfather kept young cattle (known in Lincolnshire as beast) for fattening.  There were just a couple of dairy cows providing milk, cream and butter for the farm.  They also kept sheep and grew wheat and barley as well as root crops for animal feed.  That sort of mixed farming has all but disappeared now. 

I'm the little girl facing the foxhound.
My sister is the middle of the three girls behind.
 The other three are cousins
Between the kitchen window and the crew was a run where the latest foxhound puppy was kept.  My grandparents didn’t own their farm.  They were tenants of the Earl of Yarborough on the Brocklesby Estate.  The Brocklesby pack of foxhounds is the oldest in the country and it was a condition of tenancy that each farmer took a puppy each year and reared it for return to Brocklesby in the late autumn.  In the spring there would be a puppy show with the previous year’s best puppies winning silver prizes for the farms which had reared them.  I still have some of the silver which my grandparents won.

Foxhounds are singularly silly dogs.  The puppies are reared to live a fairly tough, unpampered life as part of a pack so they never came into the house. However, we children were allowed to play with them and take them out with us around the farm.  When we put them back in the run before lunch they would straight away go and watch us through the window.  To this day I have a very soft spot for foxhounds.

Thursday 29 January 2015

From the album

I've been looking though my collection and have found a few pictures which I'd like to share.

This first is of my grandmother with her husband and two of her four children.  I think it must be from 1918 because my mother, the little girl in the picture was born in January 1917 but grandad was still away at the front, hence the inset photo.  The little boy was my uncle just two years older than my mother.

Moving on a few years in this photograph left to right it is my aunt (mother's younger sister), mother's aunt, her big brother (shown as a 3-4 year old in the picture above), grandma, grandad and mother's younger brother.  I just love grandad's hat!

I think this must be around 1950.  The gentleman is my grandfather.  It was taken at the front of the house I have been writing about.

Monday 26 January 2015

Sunday lunch

All meals were eaten in this kitchen/living room using the oddest collection of cutlery and crockery.   Grandma had some lovely crockery but that was for best.  It came out very occasionally.  (I feel a little sad that she had a full tea service which she used only twice in seventy years for fear of breaking it.)  Grandma was an excellent cook but the range of meals was very limited by today’s standards.  We always had a roast on Sunday; most often it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  The vegetables would be from the large garden so of course we ate seasonally.  Somebody would be detailed to fetch some horseradish in.  This is very pungent and provokes far more tears than onions but it was finely grated and mixed with cream to make horseradish sauce.  Pudding was always a fruit pie and grandma had a wonderful light hand with the pastry so with rich cream from the farm it was a dish fit for a king.

The rule of the house was everyone had to have a little of everything.  That way we learned to be adventurous in our food choices and it was thought very rude to say you didn’t like something.  All adults in the family were agreed on this policy. 

One day grandma made a rhubarb pie.  Just in case any non-Brits are not familiar with rhubarb I’ll just say that it has a very “tangy” flavour or to be honest, it can be very sour so is sweetened with brown sugar in pies.  My grandfather had a very sweet tooth and didn't like rhubarb so he served everyone but not himself.  He was very much an old fashioned man, master of the house, but we children were not going to let him get away with that one.  We had all eaten swede and Brussel sprouts so as far as we were concerned he had to eat rhubarb and, despite warning noises from grandma and our parents, we told him so.  Bless his heart he thought it hilarious, cut himself a substantial slice, smothered it with cream and downed the lot. 

Sunday 25 January 2015

Into the heart of the home

Come a little further into my grandmother’s house with me and go through the door at the end of the dark passage into the kitchen.  It was always called the kitchen although no food was ever prepared there and it was really the living room.  In the middle of the room, dominating it was a mahogany table which had many leaves and could be extended to take as many people as ever came.  It was always covered with a very old chenille cloth and even when it was in use as a dining table the chenille cloth stayed in place.  At the far end of the room was an old fashioned range, (never used for cooking) with ovens which were used for drying wood. 

In front of the fire there was a rag rug, which was made many years ago by my grandparents, one working from each end.  Traditionally such rugs were made on farms at lambing time when the farmer or shepherd had to stay awake for long hours.  Apart from that the floor was covered with lino.  On either side of the fire there was a chair, a high backed Windsor wooden chair for my grandad and a fireside chair for grandma.  By modern standards it was a room lacking in comfort but it was the place where they relaxed.

On one side of the room was a piano which grandma would sometimes play while grandad sang.  They first met through their mutual love of music.  They were Methodists and the vitality of the musical tradition at chapel was something they each enjoyed to the end of their lives.

At the end of the room there was a bureau and there grandad would do the farm accounts, keeping papers in the filing cabinet to one side.   There was a bookcase too but, avid reader though I was, I can’t remember any of the books which were kept there and I don’t remember anyone ever reading them!

The other major item of furniture in this room was a Victorian cupboard on top of which stood the radio.  Until I was about eight there was no mains electricity in the house so the radio was powered by “the accumulator” a bulky battery about the size of a car battery as I remember.  Each Saturday Grandad would go into Caistor to collect a charged battery which he would swap for the one he had collected the previous week.  The radio was on very loud every morning and when staying with them I always awoke to the sound of “Farming Today”.

I’ll bring you back into this kitchen another day.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Dogs, peacocks, snowdrops, ducks and rhubarb

I’m finding January to be quite a difficult month but I try and get out for a while each day so yesterday I headed once again for Normanby Hall.  It was one of those truly lovely winter days: very cold but with brilliant sunshine.  The carpark was incredibly busy when I arrived as the Ramblers Association was about to set out and everyone was rushing to get to the loos!

Quite apart from the Ramblers Association (who I sometimes think should be called the Route March Association), Walks for Health (which are run by the local authority) were leading gentle guided walks for people of varying degrees of fitness and the dog walkers were out in force.

 And it was a lovely chatty day, even if people were just saying “Isn’t it a lovely day!”  I chatted with lots of dog walkers and an English setter tried to hitch a lift on my trundle truck – apparently he has a friend who takes him up. 

Although it is still the depth of winter signs of spring are around.  The snowdrops are peeping through.

The peacocks are getting their wonderful plumage although I didn’t see any displaying.

Some ducks still think it’s too nippy for water sports but a few were on a small pond.
And there was a new explanation board about these so maybe Victoria won’t be exposed too much longer.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

The Bells! The Bells!

I’d like to take you a little farther into my grandmother’s house so come through the kitchen with me.   Apart from the back door the only way out of the kitchen led into a very dark corridor known as the passage.  The passage was used for hanging coats but children found it to be a wonderful place, for in the passage there were the bells.  In an earlier age there would have been maids in such a large house as this, although grandma had no such help.  The bedrooms would each have had a bell pull to summon the maids and these were connected by a system of wires to the bells hanging in the passage.  We children loved to play with the bells but adults endured it for a very short time only!  Oh the temptation!

Half way along the passage there was a door off to the left which led to the pantry.  This was quite a large room and here Grandma kept not just food but crockery, cutlery and the paraphernalia of food preparation.  There was a brick gantry and on there were kept the great pansions of cream, covered with muslin and waiting for the next butter making session.  There was a small cupboard whose door was made of fine mesh wire; this was the meat safe.  Flies were always a problem and food umbrellas and muslin cloths were needed for everything.

Washing up was always done in the pantry in a bowl on a table.  One quickly learnt the best order to wash pots as there was only one bowl of water, heated on the stove and carried through for there was no tap of any kind in the pantry. 

Beyond this pantry there was another pantry (there were three pantries in all) and this one was used for storage.  The thing I remember most clearly is the great wooden trough in which bacon was cured.

I realise that I may have made life in that farmhouse sound almost idyllic but it was very hard work for my grandmother.  I was privileged to have such wonderful times there in my childhood.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

It's that time of the year

It’s that time of the year!  The time when people smirk and ask me why I haven’t taken down my Christmas decorations yet. 

Well, I have taken down my Christmas decorations – but I haven’t taken down my Epiphany decorations.  You may remember that I have a lovely nativity set which came out on Christmas Day.  The shepherds, sheep, goat and donkey are in the stable.

We've now moved on to the Epiphany (6th January) and the magi have arrived complete with camel.  The shepherds are no longer in the stable.

They have returned to their fields and are still watching their sheep.

They have been like this for a week now and they will all stay in place until 2nd February (which is Candlemas) when they will all return to obscurity.

Monday 12 January 2015


I had a telephone call from Bonnie on Saturday.  Her granddaughter had been and had received the letter which I sent her, care of Bonnie.  (See previous post.)

When she first saw it she was a little suspicious.  “I’ve never had a letter in the post before.  Who is it from?” 

“You’d better open it if you want to know that.”  I’d written my surname on the envelope so that Bonnie would know it was a safe letter.

So the letter was opened.

Apparently the little girl couldn’t believe it.  She’s never had a real letter, hand-written to her.  I had made the card myself, and written a very short note thanking her for looking after me at lunch when I went to visit Bonnie.  The letter is destined for her treasure box.

This seems like a good place for a small update.  Back in September I wrote to Tesco to congratulate the store manager on the excellent service which I received from a member of his staff.   I never updated you on that one but I had a letter back from the manager saying that the young man concerned had received an “excellence in service” award as a result of my letter.

Writing thank you brings me great pleasure.

Monday 5 January 2015

A charming child

Today I went for lunch with my dear friend Bonnie.  We've known each other for over fifteen years and for ten of those years I was her pastor but regardless of any other relationship, we were always good friends.

And as always we exchanged greetings at Christmas but Bonnie did more than that, she said, "Come over for lunch some time".

So today, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, I went to her home for lunch.  Her lovely granddaughter was there for the day and she had decided that she would like to be our servant.  She came and answered the door to me and invited me to take a seat whilst she let the mistress of the house know that her guest had arrived.  She then disappeared and a few minutes later came to tell us that luncheon was served.  She was adamant that she didn't want to eat with us and would eat in the kitchen.  She fetched drinks and cleared the table (having refused to come until the lady of the house rang the bell to call her).  When it came to pudding though, she decided that it might be more fun to join us.

I've never been blessed with children or grandchildren and it is such a joy to have the company of the grandchildren of my friends.  When this lovely ten year old was a baby her parents brought her to my church for a blessing.  She continues to be a blessing.

Saturday 3 January 2015

Being with Grandma

Isn’t it funny how when you’ve known something for ever, you stop really looking at it?  I knew my grandparents’ house throughout my childhood until they moved when I was thirteen, but it had never really struck me what an elegant house it is/was until I read some of the comments. 

My lovely grandma
The interior would not strike anyone as elegant!  One came out of the yard into the back kitchen where there was a big scrubbed pine table in the middle of the room.  That was the main place for food preparation as there was a Calor gas stove for cooking and a big old fashioned Belfast sink.   Water was piped into the house when I was about eight but before that it had to be fetched from the outside scullery.   On that table grandma did her baking, prepared vegetables and once a week churned butter in the old wooden churn.  I loved helping with butter making.  My grandmother had her own unique pattern which she would stamp into each block of butter and I was usually allowed to make one pat myself with a very different pattern on it.  Making butter was physically hard work as water had to be boiled to “scald” the churn and actually standing and turning the churn handle for quite a long time certainly made one’s arms ache.

Above the table there were all sorts of things hanging from the beams but the thing I remember most clearly was the basket used for collecting eggs.  My grandmother had a couple of dozen hens which scratted in the yard.  They were her hens and the egg money, such as it was, was hers too.  She used to rear a few chicks which always included a few cockerels which were for the pot.

Every day the post woman, Mrs Stevenson as I remember, would cycle from the village and was a valued link with the outside world.  The farm had no telephone when I was a child so all communication was by letter.  Mrs Stevenson had to wait a while in case my grandmother wanted to write any urgent replies.  She would have a cuppa and there would be a news swap.

It’s about fifty years since our family gave up that farm and my grandparents were very old fashioned even for the fifties and sixties.  I think I am very privileged to have experienced that lifestyle.  I’ve really enjoyed writing this post.  It’s brought back so many memories.  I hope you enjoy reading it,

Thursday 1 January 2015

Nuff said

I just found this and felt that it is the perfect New Year Resolution.

A New Year Ritual

When I was a child I loved New Year.  My parents were definitely party animals and unless they hosted a party on New Year's Eve they invariably went to one.

If they were the hosts I was ushered off to bed before the guests arrived but all the ladies used to come up to visit me.  Some of them kept coming back during the evening with delicious plates of party food.  I was also a keen reader so with ladies making a fuss of me and bringing goodies up to me whilst I read one of my Christmas books I was one happy bunny.

If they were going out I would be sent to my grandparents for a couple of days.  They lived in a big old fashioned farmhouse on the Lincolnshire Wolds.  It kept out the worst of the weather but it was damp and had very little in the way of insulation.  It was not unknown for there to be frost on the counterpane and it was rarely known for there not to be thick frost on the windows on those cold January mornings.  But what the house lacked in warmth didn't matter - it is the warmth of my grandmother's heart that I remember most. 

There was a small ritual on New Year's Eve.  My grandfather would give me a shilling and the three of us would go out into the yard and each of us would hide our shillings.  The next morning we would go out and "find" our money - the idea being that if you brought money into the house on New Year's Day money would continue to come into the house throughout the year.  However, I would have watched where grandad hid his shilling and with grandma egging me on I would  retrieve it for myself.

My grandparents were both wonderful.