Goodbye Dolly Gray

Many conflicts have a song or a tune which has come to symbolise it, WW1 and “Tipperary” comes to mind, as does “Brighton Camp” for the Napoleonic Wars and for the Boer War the popular song was “Goodbye Dolly Gray”.

These days two great wars have separated us from conflict in South Africa which dominated the years bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it was a hugely influential time. It was the first time The Empire was really challenged and it was the first “popular” war, when men flooded to the colours in a rush of patriotism.

The short comings of the army which were shown up by the tenacity and courage of the Boers led to the reforms which would produce the BEF which went to France in 1914.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because a while ago we were approached by a lady who was the owner of a diary, or at least part of a previously unpublished diary from the Boer War and she wondered if we as representatives of The Victorian Military Society would be interested in it. It covered a year of his service in South Africa during 1900.

What she gave us was a day by day account of an ordinary soldier on campaign and I have had the privilege of being one of the transcribers and it has been a riveting and fascinating insight into the life of an ordinary man who lived in extraordinary times. Someone once said that war is long periods of tedium punctuated by short moments of terror, Charlie (author of the diary), was a very lucky man, because all he got for the duration of the diary was the tedium.

So why was this so interesting?

What has made transcribing this document so enthralling?

And why is The VMS going to be publishing it?

Because while there are endless accounts of battles and officers careers, there are very few about the day to day life of a ranker at this time. Charlie tells us what they ate and what they thought of it. Where they slept and what they did to entertain themselves. He also tells us what he thought of the great events which were taking place near him or which he got news about. Views which are often very modern in their outlook.

We know a bit about Charlie Holmes, gleaned from odd bits and pieces he mentions. He was a reservist, called back to the colours and had served in the Far East. We know where he was born and when, but what we don’t know for certain is if his surnames was Holmes. As if often the case when searching military records, the one you want is missing.

“The Boer War Diary of Charlie Holmes” will be out soon.

The picture is an Imperial Yeoman c.1900 courtesy of “Scarlet Gunner”.

Boer War

 

 

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Apple, Apple, Double Bubble.

It is fast approaching THAT time of year. The time when you open the front door to find one of your neighbours standing there festooned with bulging carrier bags and a hopeful expression on their face.

“Would you like a few apples?” they ask, a slight note of desperation in their voice.

What they mean, of course is “Please, please take some. The freezer is full, the kids are refusing to come home if I serve one more apple dessert and even the dog has started hiding them under the sofa.”

If you weaken, despite the fact that the end of your own garden looks like an exploded cider press, and agree to take “a few”, they will dropped a couple of bags and run before you can change your mind.

You are now faced with dozens and dozens of apples of an unknown variety in a multitude of conditions, from nice to oozy and every stage between the two.

What to do, especially as your own freezer is already full and you are beginning to hear the sounds of rebellion from your own rank and file.

The answer is chutney and jelly, double bubble from the same set of apples.

First peel your apples, discarding black bits, unidentifiable bits and anything which might be protein.. SAVE THE PEEL. Chuck it in a zip bag or a covered box, you will need it for the jelly.

Core the apples, see previous about protein bits, and save the cores with the peel.

Chop up the fruit and some onions, I can’t say how much because it depends on the number of  apples you were fooled into taking, but about 8 oz of onion to 2lbs of apples is about right.

Put them in a preserving pan with a bag of dark brown sugar and enough cider vinegar to cover. Add some sultanas or some raisin or even some finely chopped prunes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours until all is thick and a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line. You will need to check and stirred regularly to stop it burning. Put into hot sterilised jars and cover in the usual way. Leave for a month or so before eating. Don’t be tempted to try it earlier, it won’t be nice.

You can spice up the mix anyway you like. My son-in-law would probably add a fistful of chillies, maybe two fists full, but those of us who like our mouths unblistered might add paprika or coriander or cloves. I like to put mustard seeds in, they add crunch and spice without getting over excited.

This chutney is perfect with cheese, delicious with ham and a must for a pork pie.

Now for the jelly.

Take all the peel and the cores and put them in a big pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until everything has fallen apart and the whole thing looks disgusting.

Trust me.

Take off the heat and put the whole lot into a jelly bag to drip over night. Please put a bowl under the jelly bag to catch the result, I refuse to accept any responsibility for the omission of this.

No jelly bag? A one leg of a pair of tights does an excellent job.

The next day, discard the remaining contents of the jelly bag (tights leg) in the compost heap and tip all the collected juice into a jug and measure it, it may take a couple of goes to measure it all. Once you know how much liquid you have, pour it into a saucepan and add sugar at the ratio of 1lb of sugar to 1 pint of juice. You may have to do some maths, but it isn’t an absolute, so don’t worry too much, just try and be somewhere near.

Heat the mix slowly until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a rolling boil and boil until you reach jam setting point. To skim off any scum, because underneath there will be a beautiful clear, amber coloured syrup which will set to a glorious soft jelly.

You can just put it in jars as you would any jam or jelly, it is delicious with ham or on crumpets or pancakes, but you can also flavour it by adding things to the jars as you pouring in the hot syrup. Herbs like mint, sage or thyme work well, as does strips of lemon peel or a couple of chillies you have slit open to let the fire out.

Two treats for the dark cold days to come from the same unpromising bags.

 

No Beer August

On Monday the military historian was feeling a trifle jaded. He did a lot of sighing and moping around, which I naturally ignored. After a whole morning of angst I was forced to ask what was wrong. Apparently he’d had to let out a notch on his belt and his tummy was uttering mild protests.

“I have decided,” he says like a noble Roman soldier about to defend a bridge. “To give up beer for August. August will be a No Beer Month.”

“What a good idea,” says I. “And if you gave up biscuits as well, think how much extra weight you would lose and how well you would feel.”

He just looked at me and went in search of a restorative custard cream.

Fast forward, mes enfants too today.

Where has the military historian spent lunch time? Could it possibly have been in that fine establishment, The Cow and Calf?

And what beverage has been passing his lips? Was it perhaps Butcombe Beer and Barbury Castle Beer?

So much for No Beer August.

He made it all the way to the 4th.

I will probably stop mocking by September.

Can’t Spell.

Who can’t spell?

Me.

Call yourself a writer and you can’t spell?

Yes, I do, despite a very nasty comment by some troll who picked up one of my blunders on a forum with no spell checker. God, how I love a spell checker function.

Why can’t I spell? Because, like so many others I am dyslexic, what was once called “word blind”. It’s been the bane of my life, it stopped me from writing many, many years because I couldn’t get down on paper what was rampaging through my head. When technology and I finally got it together and I was let loose on my first word processor, all the stories and people inside my head could come flooding out.

And, oh my, did they flood.

I wrote three full length novels (very, very full length) in the space of a year. Will they ever see the light of day ?…not without a hell of a lot of editing and revising and deleting the bits which make even me wince they won’t. Although “Jabin” is a distillation from that pot. I’ll tell you more about him another time.

What is it like being dyslexic?

It’s a pain in the backside and it makes you a very easy target for all the bullies out there, one more thing for them to point their destructive finger at and mock. For me hell on earth used to be reading out loud, because there was sure to be a word I would struggle with, one where the context wasn’t giving me a clue and where my carefully learnt phonetic tools didn’t play the game…the English language is peppered with these little “got ya” gems. It was even worse in a foreign language. One particular teacher of French got her kicks from picking on me when it was a difficult passage. I can see her smug self satisficed smile even now and the gloating smirk she had when ridiculing my struggle. Not all school bullies are kids.

Words like “were”, “where”, “was”, “what” etc. all had a tendency to look the same and out of context, especially on a flash card (possibly the worse way to tell a kid to read ever), I was stumped and, because I could recognise words like “church”…its got steeples…and “aeroplane”…cos its got two wings up and down…accused of not trying with all those so called “easy” words. “Through”, “though,” “tough”,”thought”, “there”, “their”, “then” and “them” were a bloody mine field.

When it came to essay writing and every bit of homework I ever produced, they were decorated with red ink and a curt “use of dictionary if you do not know how to spell a word”.

Great advice…if you know you’ve spelled it wrong! And no matter how often you read through something, if you are dyslexic, you are unlikely to see you’ve gone wrong. I once used the same word in an essay five times, I spelled it wrong each time and each time it was different!

Today I am much better than I was, you learn loads of little tricks as life progresses and the spell checker helps, but only up to a certain point. I often know the word I want to use, but I have NO idea how it is spelled, so little idea in fact that the spell checker does its equivalent of throwing in the towel; then it is off to Roget and The Concise Oxford to see if I offer them enough clues to find it. These days I quite enjoy the search.

How does this all work with the books I write? As an Indie and now a self publishing author, I have never had the luxury of a content author, but I have a small number of wonderful beta readers who do not hesitate to tell me if I have let standards slip or have made a complete hash of the plot line…thank you, people, I love you and couldn’t manage without you.

And I have my two line editors. One is the military historian of course, whose complete inability to understand subtly or poetry in words keeps me from almost all moments of self indulgence (not all of then, I manage to slip the odd bit of romanticism by him every now and then) and the other is Dave, who finds all the nits. I feel bad asking him to do this, but he recently said it was not too bad, because he now knows all my dyslexic stumbling blocks and spot them coming. Thanks, hon. I am so grateful to you and for all you do for me.

If you want to check out Dave’s brilliant work, go and have a look my book page.

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