A Kindness of Quilters

I have dropped the military this post in favour of one of my other passions  – quilting!

I love patchwork and quilting, it satisfies so many of my creative itches, it has colour and in has order and symmetry. I have never been one of those for whom creativity is winging it or free expression, I didn’t even colour outside the lines when I was a child, in fact I found people who did unnerving and slightly disturbing, I like the certainty of straight lines and carefully measured angles.

I’m a bit the same with writing, while the plot might be a road I travel to find the end, I can’t have characters without purpose, I don’t do spear carriers, at least not willingly, every person and every event I create must have a reason, they must be a part of a complete pattern. I might get into a mix of shades like a Log Cabin block, but in the end all the blocks must come together to form one cohesive quilt.

I belong to several sewing groups, Market Street Quilters is fairly large, about fifty of us. I go here for talks and classes and for exhibitions, we have one every three years to show off what has been made since the last one and to raise money for a charity. The next is in 2020 and I will share tales of organisation, exhibits and rising panic another time, here I want to talk about the two other less formal groups.

I guess you can divide them into Sewing Sisters – hand sewing and Stich in Time – machine stitching, but all variations are welcome and all types of fabric craft as well. I want to talk about them not just because they are both made up of a bunch of talented women, but because they are also truly lovely women.

As some of you know I have recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I’ve been becoming more and more disabled over the last couple of years and now I am awaiting referral for a wheelchair, which will be a necessity in the near future, In the mean time I wobble about on two sticks.

Sympathy is all very well and sometimes I feel sympathy is often nothing more than curioustity, but kindness is another matter and the women who make up theses two sewing groups are some of the kindest and most companionate people I know.

They take care of me, they bring me coffee and biscuits, they pick up anything I drop. When we go anywhere, a quilt shop or out to lunch, they make sure they get me as close to the destination as they can and they always find me a seat. They carry stuff for me, be it my sewing machine or a purchase, one of the bugbears of two sticks is not being able to carry anything.

And they do all this without making me feel a nuisance, in fact, just the opposite, they make me feel wanted and valued which for someone like me with the self worth of a discarded sandwich wrapper is a bit moving and makes me want to have a little cry every now and then. I’m pretty sure I’m a pain in the neck, but they never allow me to feel like one.

I could name them, but I might miss one and I would never want to do that. And probably none of them will read this, not having my taste for soldiers or for the sort of books and stories I write, but in case they do….THANK YOU….love Bev.

The picture is from the last exhibition, my first and possibly last king sized quilt.

 

 

 

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Charlie’s Diary

I started my working life in an office. In fact I spent nearly ten years working in a variety of offices and I can, hand on heart, say that apart from one reasonable year I hated every bloody second of the time. I was emotionally and temperamentally totally unsuited to office life, but I’d believed the accepted propaganda of the time that every young single woman needed a good steady job with a pension.

If this had continued I think I would have ended up in a straight jacket, but I got married to the military historian and my working life took a dramatic turn. In the years we have been married I’ve been a china restorer, an antique dealer, a charity worker, a novelist and the toughest job of all, a mother, but the job we’re here to talk about today is as researcher.

Not unsurprisingly the research I’ve done has been on military history and it has been such fun. I’ve sat in a library searching through Medal Durbar programmes looking for recipients while a smiling Gurkha insisted on bring me endless cups of tea, calling me “Mem” and telling me about his uncle who was a VC winner.

I have been trapped in a lift with a bunch Korean War veterans, each of them a Glorious Gloster. I’ve attended conferences where I’ve met dignified old Sikh gentlemen, their beards white with age and every one of which had fought their way down the Burma Road.

It has all been fantastic and fascinating, but the bit I want to share here is Charlie’s Diary. A few years ago the VMS  ( http://www.victorianmilitary.org.uk) was approached by a member of the public who had an ancestor’s unpublished Boer War diary…. would we be interested in it?

We didn’t actually bite their hand off, but it was close.  What they had was not the whole thing, but a fragment, but it was a substantial fragment covering most of a year and it had been kept on an almost daily basis. There was just one problem, no-one in the family was entirely sure who the diarist was.

For my husband and I what followed was a long period of discovery and as we carefully transcribed the hand written whole, checking place names and finding collaborating accounts in books and memories and magazines, the London Illustrated News was a real help. We researched the people and events mentioned and we sifted out every scarp of personal information we could find about Charlie.

We worked out his regiment, the Northamptonshire and we found his age when he recorded his birthday. We discovered he was a reservist, called back to the colours and that he had previously seen service in India, he’d even had fever and been in the hospital at Doolally. From the date the diary started and the date it ended we knew he would have been awarded both The Queen’s South Africa Medal and The King’s South Africa Medal. Armed with all this we consulted the medal roles, certain we would find him and we came up with a short list, including one very promising name….and of course the records that that particular soldier were missing! So while we can make an educated assumption Charlie’s surname was Holmes, we can’t say for sure.

However, all this work and the every day life and opinions of an ordinary British Tommy on active service c.1900 were way, way to interesting to keep to ourselves, so the VMS published his diary and our research and you can find it here.

https://tinyurl.com/y469oo5t

 

 

 

 

Ma’s Weird B****cks!

Normally I write books adventure stories, tales of daring-do with soldiers, woodsmen and assorted heroes and villains, but these are proper books with things like chapters and a large word count. They take me a while to write, mainly  because I am incapable of writing to a plan, I have enormous admiration and not a little envy of those authors who have a detailed guide to what they are going to write, it all set out chapter and verse  (yeah…sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself) , I know how my books start and I have a vague idea how they will end, but the journey from one to the other is an exciting adenture in re-writes as I try to make sense of the fun stuff my brain comes up with.

But. there is another side to my writing, what my darling children refer to as “Ma’s weird bollocks.”  Seriously, all those school holidays when I managed to keep my hands from their throats and this is the thanks I get, however  MWB as we shall now refer to it, is my short story addiction.

I love writing short fiction, for me it’s the petit fours with coffee part of the writing menu…. home made chocolate truffles, tiny macaroons, smooth soft fudge….damn, now I’ve got to wipe the drool off the keyboard….back to short fiction, sometime it’s serious, if you look around this blog you will find some of it, but mainly it’s MWB, my tales of the paranormal, of ghosts and mediums. of the fae and the shadow you see out of the corner of your eye, but is gone when you turn around.

I blame J. , I sure it was him who gave me the Dracula graphic novel to read before I got into double digits, frightened the life out of me and left me with a supernatural itch I have to scratch. I got the Wiccan bug as well, but that is another story.

Back to MWB…I like to plant the weird in the every day, in the kitchen and in the garden, with the jobs women have done down the centuries, the dairy, the laundry and the still room and with the bobbin, the needle and the loom.

Not to decry these jobs, with the exception of laundry which I most definitely don’t love, I enjoy the rest, I like to cook and make jams and pickles,  and I like to sew and about once every five years I convince myself I like to knit, it usually doesn’t last long, but like flu, I have to odd attack. I’ve even had a go at the dairy stuff, I can make a nice soft cheese, butter and yoghurt and I have an enormous fancy to make my own clotted cream.

All these things go into MWB stories. I’ve set one in a diary, another in a kitchen and two involve gardening, Someone once said food and water are a regular theme…quite right I say, you can’t live without either.

You can find those stories here in “A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales”. Title “A Solemn Curfew” is about mushrooms and the name comes from Shakespeare “….to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice To hear the solemn curfew; ..”

https://tinyurl.com/y4e3oxny

I have recently branched out and taken MWB to another arena, the 1930’s. That gloriously named organisation The Occult Detective Quarterly have given a home to Mrs Lillicrop, a mysterious and elegant lady with a talent for the weird and dealing with the unsettling. Her first appearance c.1934 “Mrs Lillicrop Investigates” appears here

https://tinyurl.com/yxemgvrn

Mine is just one of many in this book and I am both proud and humbled to be amongst such talent.

The next instalment will be “Mrs Lillicrop’s Trip to the Highlands“, it is still 1934, but “Mrs Lillicrop Intervenes” is underway, the year in 1935 and war is coming. I will let you know when Mrs L. comes to the light.

In the mean time, I’ve a couple of novels in my head, I suppose I better get on with things.

 

 

Soldier, Soldier!

Judging by the number of people who have liked my FB page recently, this title will go straight to their hearts. Yes, I like soldiers, but, as I have said on many, many occasions, this does NOT mean I stand on street corners near barracks swinging a handbag and asking passing squaddies if they are looking for company, it means I feel a deep respect for those who put on a uniform in defence of their home and a deeper respect for their courage in being willingly doing so.

I discovered this Affection for the military mainly through reading, but I am of that generation whose grandfathers fought World War One and whose fathers fought World War Two.

My first “date” was inevitably with the likes of Harry Smith, Johnny Kincaid and Sir Arthur Wellesley, you can’t be a teenage girl, read all those Regency Romances without wondering why all those young men went off to “The Peninsula,” …well I suppose you could, but I’m not made like that, I read and I read and I read, so when I met my husband and we had our first date and he found not only did I know about Elizabeth Longford’s “Wellington : The Years of the Sword”, but I’d read it and could talk. without sounding like an idiot, on the Napoleonic Wars, he tells me he was hooked. I think we knew we were made for each other even before we had agreed on the superiority of square over column, although it might all have fallen when he kept referring to my beloved Rifle Brigade as “cocky little bastards in green uniforms”. He still does it and I grit my teeth.

So we got married and I learned more than I wanted to know about “The War of the Spanish Succession” , but never enough about The H.E.I.C and The Indian Army. In time I came to write stuff and inevitably soldiers became a part of much of what I wrote, even the paranormal stories, which my adoring family refer to as “Ma’s weird stuff”…seriously,  eleven hours in labour and this is the respect you get. My  lady occult detective, Mrs Lillicrop” is the wife of an Indian Army officer, even though no-one yet knows what has happened to Major Lillicrop, maybe I’ll tell you one of these days.

I wrote a book called “Jabin” which is stuffed with soldiers. It is currently out of print, but I will get around to re-publishing it soon. Amazon frightens the life out of me and I need to build myself up to the trauma of adding a book, it always ends with me in tears and wailing for help from several long suffering friends.

However,,,should you feel like seeing if I can handle the military successfully, may I point you in the direction of “The Lord of the Faran Hills“, a tale of muskets and mercenaries.

https://tinyurl.com/yyzd7hve

I am currently working on a new Mrs Lillicrop story and at the back of my mind there is brewing a new book, Time will no doubt bring both to the front if this irritating fatigue lets up, it is one of my the main bug bears of the embuggerance, this feeling of being sand bagged every now any again, however, we will not allow it to stop the advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jam, Jam, Jelly Jam

Not to mention chutney.

I’m bored with being ill, let’s talk about nice things.

It’s that time of year again, preserving and storing the yummy things of summer to be enjoyed in the dark, cold days of winter. Every year I promise myself I will be adventurous and make loads of different things and while I do manage a few novelties, every year the same three staples come out of my kitchen, bramble jelly, apple butter and apple chutney.

My recipe or rather method, for bramble jelly is on here somewhere. Nothing really changes from year to year,  blackberries are still a wonderful natural and free food and they’re still vicious bastards. Every year I try a new, thicker pair of gloves and every year I end up dripping blood, scratched to ribbons and stained purple in unlikely places.

The only change I have made is I now put them in a plastic box with a sealed lid for a few hours after I’ve picked them. It is remarkable how many creepy crawlies emerge and pin themselves to the lid looking for an escape route and nothing puts you off a clotted cream and bramble jelly scone more than the presence of something leggy embedded in the sweet purple yumminess..

Apple butter and apple chutney are going to be a bit more of a problem this year. Ever since we moved into this house the apple tree in the garden that backs on to us has hung its unpruned branches over our wall and dropped piles and piles of wind falls into our lawn and every year I gather them up, cut out the bruises and the bugs and turn them into apple butter and chutney,

This year the behind neighbours have FELLED my apple tree!!! Okay, it was their tree, it was rotten and it was trying to bring down the wall, but that is not the point, where am I going to get free apples now? I’m trying not to mutter and I’ve started training binoculars on other neighbours gardens. I think I’ve spotted a tree a couple of doors down. so the time may have come to take an offering of cake there…just to be friendly you unbderstand,

There are as many recipes for apple butter on the web as there are apples on a tree. Find one you like and give it a go, its a great resource, it can be eaten on bread like jam, made into a pie or even eaten as it comes with cream or poured over ice cream. I once served it at a posh dinner party with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon shortbread biscuits, I could say it wasn’t a triumph, but I’d be lying.

Apple chutney is also not something I can give you a recipe for, because it varies every time I make it depending on what sugar is in the larder, what vinegar (I avoid malt) and what dried fruit and spices are left over. Cook chopped apple in vinegar and sugar adding what you like, chilli, allspice, cinnamon, cloves…the spicy world in your oyster and your choice of dried fruit. Last year I used white wine vinegar, soft light brown sugar, dried figs and apricots and allspice. You cook it until a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line and then pot it. Do NOT be tempted to try it, it will taste harsh and you will want to cry, but if you leave it for a couple of months it will mellow and mature into a gorgeous product that goes wonderfully with cheese, ham and pork.

Don’t waste what the sun and the good earth have provided, preserve it, but always leave some for the birds and the animals who will need it to survive the lean times that are now just around the corner.