Tag Archives: birthday

My birthday foolishness

Yesterday was my birthday.  I am 83 but I look absolutely marvellous.  Not really, I’m 46, but still marvellous, obviously.

I had to work in the morning but I was taken out to lunch by my sister in law which was lovely.  I then picked up the boys from school and took them to their tutor which meant a tranquil hour  for me in  the village Tea Room, opening my cards and presents and answering e-mails.

At 5pm The Father of My Children joined us and we had wine and cheesy chips and after a while  TFOMC’s girlfriend arrived as well.  Then his daughter turned up with her partner and his friend, which was when the singing started.  The friend has a fine Welsh baritone and we sang loudly in two-part harmony. For some time.

We decided to carry on the party at TFOMC’s daughter’s house, although he and his girlfriend bowed out gracefully at this point and very wise they were too.  The wine flowed, we got the munchies and ordered pizza, and I, somewhat predictably, sang the Welsh National Anthem, in Welsh, to make The Friend feel at home.  I will not recount any more details, but I will say this for the purposes of context:  my hangover started before  I eventually went to bed at 2.30am.  This is never good, particularly as we had to be up at 7am in order to get home, wash and change and get to school / work – menial, lavatory scrubbing, plughole plunging work in my case.

I have learned a hard lesson today my friends.  If you don’t keep in training, an energetic game of football will leave you aching and in pain.  The same applies to drinking.  I must train and train regularly in order to keep in shape.  But not today….


Filed under Life in general

Easy cupcakes for any occasion

I’m not one for jumping on fashion bandwagons of any kind and I’m sure many of us having been making cupcakes or fairy cakes for as long as we can remember; what’s the big deal?

Of course, there isn’t one.  Cupcakes are simply 4442 sponge mixture with the decoration of your choice on the top.  You can take a week making sugar flowers or you can go to a decent kitchen shop and buy some, it all depends on the occasion.  Cookshops usually have a fabulous selection of ready-made decorations, food colourings, edible glitter and pearls.  You can have such fun and don’t need to be a skilled cake decorator to produce something lovely.

Boy the Younger will be 8 tomorrow, so I am sending him in with a tray of simple cupcakes to share with his school friends as he won’t be having a proper celebration until next month.  I’m going to do the same thing that I did for Boy the Elder’s birthday and take him and his chums to an English Heritage property and take a picnic.

  • I trebled the amount of mixture, doing 12 12 12 6 quantities which made 36 cakes
  • I trebled the quantities for the mock cream for the top. 
  • I tinted the mock cream with a tiny bit of pink food colouring – pastes are better than the cheap liquid stuff you get in the supermarket
  • I piped it through a wide serrated icing nozzle such as one might use to pipe mashed potato
  • I bought the sugar flowers and edible pearls from the Kitchen Range shop in Market Harborough
  • I used co-ordinating paper cases for the type of decoration I was doing

I was really pleased with these.  Unused as I am to blowing my own trumpet, I have a duty to let you know that I have a trumpet, so that you can have a go at making these yourselves.


Filed under Children, Family and Friends, Food, Food Presents, Recipes, Storecupboard

We don’t do culture: a birthday treat at Audley End

Boy the Elder is now 13.  I have stared at him very hard for two days now but there is no discernable difference is his nature or comportment.

As mentioned in Saturday’s blog, The Father of My Children (TFMC) and I took The Boys, plus six of their friends, down to Audley End in Essex for the day.  I’m sorry to say that the weather was not kind, but we all had raincoats and, despite the fact that Boys of That Age are normally very fearful of water (or soap or toothpaste) they’ve worked out that rain will not kill them. Saying that though, there was one girl in the group, who certainly has the power to encourage more than one of them to spontaneously freshen up.

The Stable Block

We arrived at about 10.30 – it was dull and damp but not actually raining – and went straight to the newly opened stable block.  From the outside, it’s hard to believe that this beautiful building was designed purely for the comfort of thirty horses as it looks like a fairly luxurious country house in its own right.  Inside there were two tiny ladies demonstrating the harnessing of two of the largest horses I have ever seen; a big black shire horse and a ginger Suffolk Punch.  They explained what sort of work the horses would have done and that there are only 400 Suffolk Punch horses in existence.

We then went to the play area to let them all run off a bit of energy (while TFMC and I had coffee in the warmth of the cafe) before a tour of the house.  The father of one of the boys had said to me before we left “Oh, So-and-So doesn’t do culture” so I was a little worried about how they would cope going round the enormous and spectacular Jacobean mansion.  My two are used to it, but one’s never sure of other people’s children. I had given the little ones activity sheets which they completed with great seriousness, but we lost sight of the older ones almost immediately.

Audley has been much altered, enlarged and shrunk throughout its history.  Initially it was adapted from Walden Abbey, after the dissolution of the monasteries, by Sir Thomas Audley.  It was then re-built by his grandson to three times is current size, fell to rack and ruin, bought by  Charles II, proved too costly for William III and was then returned to the Suffolk family.  When the Suffolk’s died out, the Countess of Portsmouth bought it for her heir who later became the first Baron Braybrook.  It then stayed with the Braybrook’s until 1948 when it was purchased for the nation.

The grounds were modelled by Capability Brown and a suite of rooms was created by Robert Adam.  The art collection was acquired by the young gentlemen of the house during their Grand Tours and it is a collection of such quality and beauty it would make you weep.  The boys got very excited about the Natural History Collection which comprised a corridor lined with glass cases full of hundreds and hundreds of stuffed birds and animals.  The 4th Lord Braybrook’s motto should have been “I came, I saw, I shot and stuffed things”.  Latin translation please…

Then we looked around the magnificent kitchens where servants were working as though it was a real, living kitchen; baking things, mixing with their hands, making butter and talking to each other as though it was still 1881.  Brilliantly done and it really brought everything to life.

It was starting to drizzle a bit, but we bravely set out our picnic on the tables by the Cloud Hedge and tucked in with gusto.  We attempted to light BTE’s candles on his cake, but it was too windy so he just pretended to blow them out, made a wish and we cheered like mad and sang Happy Birthday.

We prowled around the gift shop hoping that it would stop raining, but instead the clouds hit the ground and the torrent began.  “Let’s go to the Temple of Concord!” (in the far reaches of the grounds) a hardy boy shouted.  “Yes let’s!” they cried in soggy chorus.  “Not bloody likely” said the grown-ups. “We’ll meet you in the cafe and get the hot chocolate ready”.  And off they went, returning half an hour later having seen the Temple, fallen off the ha-ha, and visited a tent full of birds of prey for whom, sadly, it was too wet to fly.  They had an absolute ball, with the boy who “didn’t do culture” having more questions than any of them.  I was also most gratified when a member of EH staff came over and complemented us on  how enthusiastic and well behaved the children were.

Making spicy cabbage

We were just planning to leave, when a fellow visitor reminded us that it was Apple Day and there was a big marquee full of people cooking things with apples – a delightful cook and food historian called Monica Askay was making spicy red cabbage which filled the tent with a tantalisingly piquant aroma.  The Estate was selling produce from the enormous and impressive organic kitchen garden, there was row upon row of obscure varieties of apple, the Essex Bee Keeping Society were being informative and selling their produce – it was a hive of activity! (sorry).  We saw a Victorian apple press and drank the juice, sampled fruit wines and were beguiled by a tray of insects demonstrating the differences between bees, wasps and hornets.

Finally we left for home, sopping wet, tired and happy.  They all came into the house briefly to open presents and run about shouting, after which they were delivered to their respective homes.  BTE and his lovely friends so enjoyed themselves and we could tell by the expressions their faces that it was a day they would all remember. 

And, because we are English Heritage members, it hardly cost a thing


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends, Food, History, Leisure, Outdoor Activities

Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

Presents 1 - 30.07.09 There was a programme on the excellent Radio 4 this morning, in which the presenter discussed the ethics of the growing trend for making lists of the presents one wants for birthdays and Christmas.  I immediately pricked up my ears, as my family have done this for years.  The reason that we started is because we all live apart, we all have very different tastes and, most importantly, we don’t want to waste our money on fripperies that may have no use.  Some of the best presents the Wartime Housewife has ever had have been a glorious set of chisels (in their own box with little covers for the blades) and a cordless screwdriver, but I know that, on receipt of such a gift, many of my female friends would have been on the ‘phone to the family solicitor within the half hour. 

In times of austerity, however, the courteous use of a list is invaluable both to the giver and the recipient.  It is so hard to know what will be useful and appreciated and whilst one should be grateful for any gift, it’s sometimes hard to put on a delighted expression in the face of some ill-conceived monstrosity.   I was once given this handbag …. let’s just say a drag queen in Hackney was delighted to find it on ebay and we’ll say no more about it

Small electrical appliances, such as hand mixers, toasters, kettles etc frequently only last a year or two these days and on a restricted budget, an unexpected £15 or £20 can be hard to find, but the items are very hard to do without.  Books, CD’s and DVD’s bring so much pleasure to our lives and  are undoubtedly a treat but people who don’t live with you are highly unlikely to know what you do or don’t have, or even what your taste might be.  Following the Wartime Housewife’s creed that we should always attempt to repair before we replace, even simple tools can be expensive to buy and there are some lovely basic tool kits for men and women which would make super gifts, whose benefits would last for years.  Cosmetics and cleansing products are a regular expense and always seem to run out at once.  If there is a particular brand of lipstick for example, that you like and can’t quite justify buying for yourself, again it is a gift that could last a whole year. 

If your family and close friends are not in the habit of list writing and you feel it would be beneficial, I would suggest approaching it like this.  As a birthday or Christmas approaches simply tell people that, as we are all having to pull our horns in, you would like to make sure that any gift you buy for them is what they truly need and would be helpful or a treat.  Maybe suggest a rough budget at Christmas time and stick to it.  Christmas in particular can be such an appalling orgy of consumption that I feel it would be rather nice to change the focus from profligate gift giving to a more thoughtful celebration of what we truly have.  The key here is courtesy.  Never present someone with a list unless it has first been discussed or requested.  Keep the list to a reasonable length – too many items are overwhelming and frankly a little greedy – and don’t include anything that is hideously expensive unless it is appropriate to do so.

The other big consideration is whether you give everyone the same list; if you do this, you need to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other in order to avoid getting three sets of chisels or four copies of ‘The Best of the Andrews Sisters’ CD (the modern e-mail system is so handy for this).  One major benefit of the list is the potential for ‘Joint Presents’ and this is particularly useful for children whose accoutrements get ever more expensive.  For my birthday this year I asked my sister and mother to club together and buy me a year’s membership of English Heritage.  This has given me and the boys a whole year of free entertainment which will have the knock-on effect that we will do far more fun and educational things together on a regular basis.  The National Trust also offers excellent value.  My other sister paid for me to have my hair done at my favourite salon which was a lovely treat and gave me tremendous boost.

Do not be afraid of The List.  Simply approach it with courtesy and sensitivity and it will result in less consumption, more appreciation of what you have and significantly more space in the cupboard under the stairs.


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Christmas