Today is my beloved J’s birthday. I won’t embarrass him (or me) by telling you how old he is. We are cousins, I can never remember if it is second cousins or first cousins once removed, but it doesn’t matter, he is so close to me in age and we lived so close too each other when we were children, he is more like a brother than anything else.

And I love him as if he were my brother.

He was always different from the other boys I grew up around. At the time I thought nothing of this, or if I did it was with relief, because he didn’t want to bully me into being the baddie in all games of imagination or doing the job no-one else wanted in all sport…I played street cricket and street football as a child, but never got out of goal or was allowed to be anything but wicket keeper, the two positions none of the boys wanted because it meant being a target or having to do all the running around collecting the ball.

He and I did lovely things together, we read books, did jigsaw puzzles and talked about history. We raised a family of guinea pigs,went fossil hunting at the family sand extraction pit and hid from our mutual great-grandmother who smelt terrible and had an evil Pekinese addicted to ankle biting. We had numerous collections of numerous things, each one a passing fancy which didn’t last, but which were deeply satisfying at the time.

When I was about nine and he was not much older, we were allowed to go roaming, it was a safer more innocent time. We had what were called “Red Rover” tickets which allowed you to ride on any red London bus anywhere you wanted to go for a whole day. Over the course of many school holidays we went up to London, two children wandering though a great city together. We went to Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument and Trafalgar Square. We looked at the Houses of Parliament and went around The National Gallery and every museum we could find. We went to The Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and down Whitehall to see 10, Downing Street. I remember going to see Cleopatra’s Needle because it sounded so exciting and being very disappointed, because it wasn’t.

These are such happy memories, shining moments which have stayed with me through the years, lighting up the dark times.

But, things happen, families drift apart and when I was in my early teens and beginning to feel more and more vulnerable and in need of a friend, J’s family moved away and he was gone from my everyday life and I missed him so much and I was for a long time, very lonely.

I saw him occasionally after I left school and went out to work, but it was just fleeting lunch dates. He had become what I probably always knew he would become – clever, so much cleverer than me, intellectually brilliant and a complete and unashamed snob…in other words a totally adorable, impossible delight, although that might just be my opinion.

I got married and so did he. I had some of kids and so did he. We exchanged Christmas cards and the odd phone call, but he seemed distant, not my J, not quite the boy I loved so much. Every now and then I’d get a glimpse, but something had changed.

I hadn’t heard from him in ages, maybe a few years and I suddenly had a feeling all was not right, so I rang. I got his wife who told me she and J had split up and he had left. It took me a while to track him down, but my detective skills are pretty neat and I have no problems about lying to unsuspecting persons in offices etc.

When we finally spoke he told me he had left because he was gay, had always been gay and had always known he was gay and spent half a lifetime trying to conceal it. I’m not sure what reaction he thought he would get, knowing him I suspect he didn’t give a damn, but for me it was a wonderful moment, because everything I knew and loved about him now made sense. In that moment, J was again the “brother” I adored, he was back and one of the brightest stars in my memories was once again burning bright in my life.

And then a truly wonderful thing happened, J met D and married him. D was pure undiluted joy, a small round teddy bear of a man with eyes that twinkled and the warmest and happiest smile it is possible for a human being to have, to know him was to love him.

I think, in fact I know, many cruel and unkind things have happened to J over the years, but D’s early death was probably the cruellest and the hardest, but so much of that earlier unhappiness could have been avoided if he had been born at a time when being gay was accepted as being just as normal as being born straight.

Its fifty years since it stopped being a crime in England and Wales for men to be gay, a mere fifty years since one chunk of injustice and cruelty was stamped into the mud of history where it belonged. Think how much joy and happiness and loving relationships there might have been if it had never seen the light of day in the first place.

Happy Birthday J. XXXXXXXXX

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Ashkenazi or Sephardi?

I’ve had an interesting week and as you have probably guessed from above, it has involved Jewish people. And, if your mind works a bit like mine, your first thought was FOOD! And how very right you would be.

This week I had my very first visit to a synagogue. The military historian to whom I am wed was giving one of his talks to a Jewish retired group and I went with him to do the navigating. Neither of us realised it would be in a hall at the side of the synagogue, don’t ask me why it never crossed our minds, we were having a dumb moment.

Anyway, when we arrive, himself is required to wear a skull cap, which fortunately didn’t fall off during the time we were there and I got a conducted tour of the synagogue itself. It was beautiful and fascinating and I found everything really, really interesting. The stained glass was lovely, very modern, but very well done and richly coloured. The lower set represented each of the Jewish festivals, Passover, Rosh Hannah etc and the upper set were The Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The lovely man who was my guide showed me were The Torah is kept and told me very proudly that theirs is over 300 years old and was written by a scribes of exceptional skill. he also took me through a part of a service, showing me the Hebrew side of the prayer book and the English side. I thought it was a very good job I hadn’t been born Jewish, I could barely mange an F- in French, I would have been a total disaster with not only a different tongue, but a different alphabet would have been something which made my 11% in the French mock “O” level look like a triumph.

As you may have guessed, my ability to learn, speak or understand a foreign language is pitiable, except for culinary French…where do you think I managed to pick up the marks to achieve my 11%.

Back to food.

After Himself had given his talk ( “Women in the Army in World War One”), there were question and tea and cake. And what cake, my dear ones, absolutely delicious homemade, kosher ones. There was a chocolate sponge which looked very boring, just brown sponge, but which was in fact a diet busting, several slices, fabulous chocolatey delight. And the biscuits ( cookies, my American buddies), were yummy.

I got talking to the ladies who had conjured up these goodies, none of which were under 75 and several of whom were over 90, and they told me they all got their recipes from Florence Greenburg’s Jewish Cooking. One of them said her copy was so old and so well used it was only held together by sellotape and chicken fat. Well  of course I wanted a copy of this book, but a quick trawl through various book sellers showed it was out of print and what second hand ones I could find where either affordable, but in vile condition or in excellent condition, but so expensive it made my eyes water.

Then the military historian reminded me I do have a copy of “The Book of Jewish Food” by Claudia Roden. In fact, he said, you have a hard back first edition in a dust wrapper. And, he said, you have never opened it despite the fact I bought it for you in 1997.

I obviously treated all this with the contempt it deserved and went on a book hunt the second we got home. This might sound a bit exaggerated, but you haven’t seen the inside of Allen Towers and the way the walls are held up by over stuffed bookcases. Remarkably, I found the book almost immediately and what treasures I have found inside.

The book is divided into the two culinary traditions, The Ashkenazi World and The Sephardi World, the first is the food of the cold north, heavy on potatoes, cream and eggs, while the second is the food of the warm south, fragrant with citrus, rose water and pistachios. Both a totally delicious and I can’t hardly decide what to cook first.

Hardly, but not impossible. I am going to start with an apple cake and some savoury pancakes stuffed with minced beef. Then I am going to try Pipiruchkas Reyenadas de Keso (Peppers stuffed with cheese), Kubba Halab (Meat-Filled Rice Croquettes) and a Chocolate and Almond cake which has a method I have never seen before.

Later I want to try making some of the bread recipes, I make all my own bread using the lovely lazy no-knead method, so how well I will do with going back to the old manual method I amd my arthritic wrists I do not know, but I do love a bagel, especially with London cure smoked salmon and cream cheese.

So thank you to the ladies and gentleman of the synagogue, thank you for showing me your beautiful temple and thank you for sending me off on a new culinary adventure.

Teatime with a Zombie

One of the best things about writing books and short stories is doing research about stuff you need to know in order to convince a reader you aren’t as thick as a bucket full of day old porridge.

When I wrote “A Solemn Curfew”, the biggest story in “A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales”, I did loads and loads of work on mushrooms and how to cook them. I discovered varieties with really great names like Black Trumpet, Scarlet Hood and Amethyst Deceiver, you can eat those three, and Lilac Bonnet, Brown Roll Rim and Panther Cap, all of which will kill you faster than you can say “cook quickly in hot foaming butter”

Currently I am working on a couple of projects, over and above the Scots one (see previous post), one which involves toxoplasma which I will leave for now as it is making even me go “yuck” and the other is about zombies.

As most of you undoubtedly know, zombies come in two types, there are the shuffling, infectious, brain devouring types…socially difficult, not good at dinner parties, but probably very amiable once you get to know them…and the Haitian sort who don’t eat brains, usually speak very good French and while being a little bit dead, don’t hog all the nibbles at a buffet.

For the purposes of my project, I have decided the first sort won’t do for London in 1934, but the second type will fit in perfectly. If nothing else, they won’t notice the weather, which might limit their conversation, but does mean they won’t complain the rain.

The research has been fascinating, you wouldn’t believe how much of the internet is devoted to zombies…one second thought, you probably would, it s not as much as there is about cats of course, but it is a fair chunk. BTW, I have been forced to introduce a damned cat to my Mrs Lillicrop stories. What is it about cats? They manage to slide themselves into any situation where there is a big sign saying “no cats.”

I’m not anti cats, we are currently allowed to be of everyday service to Fitzwilliam Big Chief Paddy Paws Our Cat Allen, an elderly Birman of uncertain temper and an addiction to the contents of a “Goody Bag”. Today’s favour choice is Mixed Grill which is okay, but I have been made aware that the absence of “seafood Cocktail” is not what he has come to expect and someone had better get down into the town and buy the right sort asap.

However, as the breed was probably unknown in London in the 1930’s and Fitz doesn’t require anything to further inflate his ego, I have chosen a black and white one. He was supposed to be just an ordinary moggy, like my very first cat Tim who came to live with us when I was four, but…of course…he promptly promoted himself to Chief Secondary Character II, named himself Hezekiah and looks a lot like this.

Back to zombies…see what I mean about cats, one second you are having a very reasonable discussion on a subject of cultural interest and the next second you are ankle deep in fuzz and fur…the important question I needed answers for is “can you invite a zombie for tea?” and if you can, should you ask him home or to a suitable venue.

If it is home, what do you serve? Would Gentleman’s Relish on toast be too salt, apparently you can kill a zombie with a salt sandwich. Are meringues acceptable? Would a Victoria Sponge be just a bit much for anyone who used to have some French blood running through their veins?

Come to that, what do they eat in Haiti? I see more research is required.


On a much more mundane, but important note, a certain very important small person has reached the amazing age of three and as such requires a celebratory quilt. In honour of this, I am have way through a “Cat in the Hat” one which I will post pictures of once I have sorted out the half square triangles whose points have failed to meet quite as well as they should. And I’ve done the quilting of course.

If you feel you can, please click the “follow” button and let me know if you want to hear more about what is going on in my writing, cooking, quilting world.


Ye banks and braes

To my astonishment and enormous delight, several people have enjoyed “Mrs Lillicrop Investigates” and it is possible the story will see the light of publication in the not to distant future. More later.

It has inspired me to write another tale about my lady occult detective. It is very much work in progress, but the working title is “Mrs Lillicrop Goes to Scotland.” The cast of characters so far includes a handsome laird, a nervous wife, a difficult mother-in-law and batty sister-in-law in need of a good slap, several manifestations of a disruptive nature and a very drafty castle. Add over cooked venison, under cooked mutton, porridge, lashing of single malt and some shortbread and all the components of the occult are present.

Why Scotland I hear you cry…okay I don’t, but bear with me I’m in composition mode and its hard to turn it off. Two reasons…first,  my BFF has just up sticks from Kent and the roar of planes overhead for the tranquil beauties of Argyll and sea loch views. She tells me she is still getting used to the lack of noise, except for when the dog considers it is his duty to bark at all passing boats in case they are carrying invaders.

And second, because I fell in love with the Highlands when we visited a few years ago and I wanted to set a story there. And this is in spite of nearly being killed by a gentleman who’d had a liquid breakfast and decided to sleep it off while driving along the A96 straight at me. We left our written off car at a garage by Culloden, which some how seemed appropriate.

Even this excitement didn’t put me off and I really wanted to write something set in this beautiful land, but until now, nothing came to mind. I admit that Fara in “The Lord of the Farans Hills” is a thinly disguised Scotland, but it isn’t the real thing.

Its not just the beauties of the Scots scenery which calls to me, it is tradition and one particular tradition more than any other. More years ago than I like to remember, I married a military historian and got corrupted by The British Army. I was a little corrupted already, having been seduced by Regency Romances into reading up on the Peninsula War and falling for such characters as Johnny Kincaid, Sir John Moore and Harry Smith…there will now be a brief pause while I and the previously mentioned military historian who is reading this over my shoulder have our usual fight over what he has the audacity to call “a bunch of cocky little bastards in green jackets” and I call my beloved Rifle Brigade…hang on, there maybe hitting.

Back to Scotland…you can guess where I’m going, all those glorious regiments with their wonderful names…The Black Watch, The Gordons, The Cameronians etc etc.

Someone once asked me if I was going into battle (please god it never happens, read military history, it will make you a pacifist faster than anything else) who would I want surrounding me. Membership of my army has changed over the years, but one choice always remains, I want Highlanders in front.

Who goes on the right and left flank…go for it Macaulay!

Then out spake Spurius Lartius,—

A Ramnian proud was he:

“Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,

  And keep the bridge with thee.”

And out spake strong Herminius,—
  Of Titian blood was he:

“I will abide on thy left side,

  And keep the bridge with thee.”

I’d apologise for that if I had any restraint or a grain of conscience.

So who will be on the flanks or even bringing up the rear? My adored Rifles, any regiment of Sikhs or Gurkhas you care to name and the Brigade of Guards…all of them, we aren’t doing this by halves. With a Highland regiment advancing, pipes sounding, I think there would be a good chance of surviving the day.

The Highlands, the mountains and the lochs, the forests and the heather, it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and if you have never seen it, you should. Robert Burns said “My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,” and English as I am through and through, I think he might have been right.

We are What We Eat.

I have just sent my occult detective short story off to the editor and his first comment was on the part food plays in it. Lovely John Linwood Grant made the same comment about my other short stories in an interview I did with him recently, only he mentioned the other F word…fertility, more of that at a later date.

It got me thinking, because food does play an important part in my stories. I think what a character cooks and eats is important to understanding them and can give you as much insight as what they wear, where they live and what they believe. Chances are if they don’t eat pork, they are from one of the Faiths of the Book which forbid it, or if they don’t eat beef, they maybe Hindu. If they don’t eat meat at all, they maybe vegetarian or vegan, either by conviction or faith again.

Some of us are heathens with the moral values of a vulture and eat almost anything…I’m not judging, I’m just saying, cos I suspect I may have to put my hand up and be counted in this group.

Maybe this is the moment to mention my favourite food apart from bread and butter, because I don’t get to eat it very often and if you just happen to have a tin which needs a home, I would like you to consider me first.

Yes, I love caviar. I don’t need your blinis or your soured cream or your chopped egg, just give me a spoon.

I digress… back to food in stories and the insight they give to character. For example, if an individual breakfasts on raw chicken gizzards with a side order of hot caramel sauce, the chances are they are either the villain or not playing with a full deck.

I couldn’t find a picture of raw chicken gizzards, so here is one of tentacles. I would most certainly eat this, but not with a side order of hot caramel sauce.

On the other hand, Mrs Lillicrop, my occult detective breakfasts on porridge and kippers and has a fondness for afternoon tea. Already you are getting the picture of middle class respectability and you would be right, apart from a tendency to attack poltergeists with nothing more than a pince-nez and a stern word of reproach.

I sometimes visit a site where young authors ask for advice, often it has to do with what name would be best for their characters and what hair colour to pick etc etc. I think it would be a far better if they first worked out what their creation likes for lunch…see previous about breakfasting…a tuna sandwich with no mayo says more than sea green eyes and dirty blond hair imo. I’ve not suggested any of this to them, because they would probably regard it as grossly frivolous.

As you probably know, or have guessed, I like to cook and I like to cook things I have never cooked before, especially if I can use ingredients I haven’t tried. I also like to read about cooking down the ages, because the evolution of food and cooking technics reflects the evolution of mankind. It is part of our history, all of us, no matter where we come from, how we eat and how we cook it is the result of thousands and thousands of years of experiment and enjoyment. Tastes differ all over the planet, but very few of us eat what we don’t like, although plenty of us eat too much of what we do like, and yes, I’m guilty of this…warm crispy bread and lashing of fresh butter…mmm.

What people don’t like to eat can tell you more, Mrs Lillicrop is off to Scotland in my next (work in progress) story, but she will not be eating haggis. Why? Because I hate it, can’t stand it, its up there with cabbage and beets, my other two top hates. I will now sit back and await the comments of haggis lovers, including no doubt my husband who adores it and has to cook it himself if he wants to eat it. He is lucky I don’t make him do it in a fire pit in the garden. He likes cabbage as well, I sometime wonder why I married him.

However, what those around Mrs Lillicrop do eat on her Scottish adventure and what they don’t eat will provide much to explain them and their thoughts, tastes and motivations.


BTW, he doesn’t like lobster either, I have to eat his share for him, it’s so hard, but someone has to do it.