Festive season good wishes to everyone.

Amongst the vintage cookery leaflets I was gifted two weeks ago was a guide to Christmas entertaining.

This little gem…

christmas cookery 4is full of invaluable advice. After all…

christmas cookery 1

…at this time of year.  And then…

The hostess is confronted with the problem of cooking for a much larger number than usual with no other appliances than those she has fitted in her kitchen to suit her normal household requirements.

The thing to remember is that…

christmas cookery 2

…including, apparently, the local bobby, and the man with the red scarf.  Have they been invited in to admire the goodies?  There doesn’t seem to be a spare seat.


All [the hostess’s] difficulties may be overcome by careful planning and methodical arrangement with the aid of the reliable “New World” cooker.

The key, it seems, to keeping guests happy is a …

christmas cookery 3

And, by the looks of it, some unfortunate maid to keep all the plates loaded up. Not sure about that hosepipe, doesn’t suggest fine dining to me.

Still, it’s to be hoped that with all those bottles on the table, the happy diners will leave her some generous tips.  My guess is that she wishes she had a ‘reliable New World cooker’ of her own.  I know I do.

The hosts role, it seems, is to carve the turkey.  Ah, the good old days!

I leave you with my best seasonal good wishes, and hope that no matter what your take on the festive preparations happening in many lucky households today, you too have plenty of gravy.

What else is there to know?

‘Are you teaching the first world war now, then?’ said Eric, as he helped me gather up the papers I’d scattered across his kitchen table while I was child-minding.

Book cover‘Well I was,’ I said, ‘earlier in the autumn… in a way.  We were discussing short stories about the first world war. It’s a course I don’t get to do very often, which is a shame.  It’s such a great anthology, and I can’t seem to persuade many groups to do it, even though next year will be the anniversary of the armistice.’

‘I suppose,’ said Eric, ‘there are so many books and diaries from those times that there’s not much need to read more on the subject.’

‘Oh, but stories aren’t exactly about the knowable facts,’ I said.  ‘We don’t talk individual battles, or much about the trenches.  These are imaginative responses to experiences.’

‘Everything’s been said, though, hasn’t it?’ said Eric.

I paused, as always struggling to find a way to explain the joys of cracking open a short story, when not actually discussing a specific example.  ‘Do you think so?’ I said.  ‘There are so many ways it impacted, not just on the people who were at the front, but at home, then and later.’

‘Maybe,’ he said, as he walked me to the door.

I know that ‘maybe’.

Eric reads a lot.  He likes history, biography and novels and I share some of that taste, so sometimes we swop books.  He’s not a great talker though.  If I ask, ‘What did you think?’ he uses one of three basic responses: ‘it was okay’;  ‘that one was a bit of a struggle’ or ‘I got a couple of pages in and couldn’t be bothered’.

I can resist everything except…

My mother has been tidying this week.  So by Saturday she had a few books for the charity shop.  Tewkesbury was busy, parking was going to be tricky.  It seemed simplest for Ray to pause at the curb round the corner while we jumped out with the bags.

As he drove off to find a parking space, one of the three bags split.  Luckily, it was not the one with the hardbacks, not even the heavy paperbacks, instead a handful of old cookery cookery leaflet 3booklets slithered out.  Even more luckily, the pavement was dry, because these were vulnerable.

The pages were soft, finely textured paper that felt silky, and the covers were slightly thicker, printed in colour, with no fancy plastic film or varnish welded to their surface.  In fact, they should probably be properly called ‘vintage’.  There were no dates, but the illustrations suggested maybe the late twenties or early nineteen thirties.

As I crouched on the pavement making spaces to slip them in with the other bags, one caught my eye. ‘Keep it,’ said the woman who’s spent the week clearing small clutter from her house.  ‘It won’t take up much space.’

cookery leaflet 5‘Well,’ I said, flicking through the pages of Do come to my party! says Miss Regulo by Radiation, ‘I was wondering if I might be able to use them in a class…’

‘Have you seen this one?’ said my mother, handing me A Practical Guide to the Use of Canned Goods.  I didn’t notice horns sprouting from her forehead, or her feet become cloven: but, could this be the same mother who used to complain about the muddles in my bedroom?

Given time, maybe I would have thought about that heap of ancient newspapers on the old chair in my office, or the boxes of postcards and pictures stacked against the side of my desk, all waiting to be utilised.  Instead, I became aware that I was an irritating cookery leaflet 4obstacle on the busy pavement, and in my hurry to move on, somehow a handful of those tempting pamphlets slipped into my bag, rather than one of the charity shop ones.

A remnant of resistance was still in evidence as we reached the shop door. ‘Of course, I could bring them here after I’ve looked through them,’ I said.

We stepped into the warm, book-lined haven. ‘Think of them as an advent present,’ mum said.

‘That’s a nice idea,’ I said.  I zipped up my bag. ‘I like that. Thank you.’

Aren’t mums the best? I spent a lovely evening browsing through recipes for Messina Pudding, cheese saucer savouries, Parisian cake, West Riding pudding, a chocolate castle and a sandwich house, and am already getting glimmers of thoughts about using them.


Who does own the words?

A commonly repeated quote, or misquote, for writers is either: ‘Good writers borrow, great writer’s steal’ or ‘Mediocre writer’s borrow, great writer’s steal’.  I like both, because they remind me that writers have been continually and consistently ‘borrowing’ for centuries.

If Chaucer and Shakespeare didn’t quibble to re-use plots and ideas, why should we?  I know, you’re about to scream out, ‘plagiarism,’ and that word steal does seem to imply a danger.

For the aware writer though, this is a variation on theft: a kind of homage to literary predecessors or contemporaries.  Fielding, Thackeray, the Brontes, Eliot, Tolstoy, Sayers, Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence plus lots of others in-between, before and after, loved to drop literary hints on sources into their novels – and the writing they did about their novels.

Over time, some of those allusions have lost vigour – when the original has fallen out of fashion, for instance.  Often we read past references without recognising the relevance.  Or when the story is so entertaining we don’t stop for something that seems a little familiar…  Other connections might be so subtle that we absorb them without consciously understanding the colour they’ve added to our enjoyment.

Getting back to my quotes, though, you can find either of them ascribed, variously, to T.S. Eliot, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and more recently the screen-writer, Aaron Sorkin.  My immediate response to this has always been a pedantic one.  I wanted the origin pinned down definitely, none of this ‘reputed’ business, who said it?

Call me slow, but I had no idea I’d missed a joke.

Then yesterday, I metaphorically tripped over this piece of artistry:


It took a second look, and a moment, but having finally got there, I just had to share this with you.

I wonder, is this visual flash-fiction?