All the Fun from the (International Children’s Book) Fair

In December, Kate Smith and I created our very first children’s book together for Christmas h.Art (read more about this here and here). ‘A Yuletide Tale’ was received very well and the sales meant that we were able to reach our goal of funding a trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair! This is the major international children’s publishing event of the year.

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We spent four days at the Fair in Bologna. There was an incredible  atmosphere at the Fair – the exhibition halls are enormous and are packed with representatives from publishers, agencies and rights agencies from across the world. (There were also a couple of ice-cream stands for a bit of light relief!) The Bologna Fair is a trade-only event, and everyone there is a professional in the children’s publishing world. We worked hard beforehand to secure a series of appointments with a range of those professionals; we were delighted not only to have had the opportunity to talk to these people, but also to have had incredibly positive feedback from everyone we spoke to.

We sought out these appointments because we wanted guidance from the best in the business. ‘A Yuletide Tale’ is to be part of a series of books and we thought that it would be helpful to discuss the best way to go about this new project with those who know what they’re talking about.

Everybody was very impressed with ‘A Yuletide Tale’, particularly given what we’d achieved in the short window of time we gave ourselves to produce the book. We made sure that we had come prepared, and it boded well for us that we were able to produce and sell our own books.

We were told that there is nobody else like us, and our teamwork and traditional English handmade approach is something that makes us stand out from the crowd. One of our USPs is that we’ve made our books ourselves, and we want to continue to work independently which means we can explore our ideas with freedom.

We believe that children’s books should be treasured, and the stories that we have in mind currently buck the trend for the UK publishing market. Many people we spoke to commented on the commercialisation of the UK market at present; as we were walking around the Fair, we noticed a greater variety in the European market and felt creatively much more at home amongst the continental publishers’ stands.

We were thrilled with the comments we received over the four days, and we feel very proud that lots of people suggested that our book was too beautiful to sign over to commercial publishers. Everyone was very impressed at our dedication; they thought that we had the ability and more than enough chutzpah to take on the challenge of producing our books ourselves.

We would like to continue exploring our mutual creative ideas, and we are very excited to announce that we will develop the next few stories in the series independently under our own publishing name…

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Watch this space for news of our new name and for more information on our next books!

The Power of Friendship (or, what can be done what you put your mind to it)

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how making new friends was like dating… I think the time is ripe for an update on that initial date!

Kate is the friend I mentioned in the post. It’s very rare, particularly as you get older, to meet someone you really click with – and Kate is one of those people. Having met by chance at her exhibition (she is a very talented artist – visit her website here!) and got on really well, I messaged her afterwards asking if she’d like to have cake some time. THANKFULLY she said yes (see what I mean about dating?), and we’ve been getting on like a house on fire ever since!

A few months into our fledgling friendship, whilst I was on holiday in Norfolk with my family, I was struck with a large and shiny bolt of inspiration for a project for Kate and me. I had to contain my excitement until I saw her face to face (I found out later that she’d been imagining me suggesting speed dating together and wondering how to politely say no), and it was worth it when I proposed that we write a children’s book together. We’d discovered some time before that that was something we’d each always wanted to do, but had never quite been brave enough! It seems that we each have the ability – or the confidence! – in an area where the other one is less comfortable. She’s always wanted to illustrate a book, but was over-faced by the writing aspect, whilst I was happier in the writing side and dreading the illustration part. A dream team, it seems! And so, ‘A Yuletide Tale’ came into being.

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It would have been very easy to talk about it for hours on end and then never actually get around to it – so it was both exhilarating and terrifying when Kate said that we should aim to produce the book for the first weekend in December, when she and her mother (the equally talented ceramicist, Lit Smith – website here!) are hosting an open art studio at home.

The impending deadline didn’t half sharpen the mind – and I was having kittens quite regularly that my story wouldn’t live up to Kate’s beautiful illustrations! I felt a huge fraud – she’d held exhibitions of her work and all I felt I was bringing to the party in terms of writing experience was my blog. Good grief. Luckily, we’re both the sort of people who both need and give plenty of encouragement, and throughout the whole experience we each gave the other a boost when she felt overwhelmed. I’m very grateful to her for being so supportive of this poor little novice!!IMG_7928

In the end, we’ve done it! A huge thank you to our parents for their support and participation in our production lines, to Iris Print for their beautiful prints of Kate’s work and to the Reprographics Department at King’s, Worcester for printing the pages.

We are delighted to announce the arrival of ‘A Yuletide Tale’ – a Christmas story inspired by the ‘Holly and the Ivy’ carol, featuring two little sisters who have a case of sibling rivalry… We have a limited number of the (hand bound) books available – there are only 50 on sale. Copies are available either at the open weekend, or by emailing aebrunt7@googlemail.com or katebsmith89@mac.com

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PS Read Kate’s side of the story here!

‘Experience is the term we give to our mistakes’

All has been very quiet on the blogging front – a circumstance which I am determined to rectify. I have even gone as far as putting a regular reminder in my calendar to make sure that I don’t forget (although it might become a Neville Longbottom-esque Remembrall situation: ‘I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten…’). I do have a secret weapon up my sleeve though, and that is my brand new, shiny, beautiful MacBook Pro. I have finally bitten the bullet and bought an Apple computer, and I am disproportionately excited! I am in LOVE – any spare time I may have had will be taken up with admiring, stroking and venerating this clever new toy. I know that I’m going to be much better at regular posts because I LOVE my new computer so much!

However, I am purposefully restraining myself from gushing too much about the new toy – not only because I could ramble on at length about it, but also because this is not supposed to be a post about my computer. That will come later, together with my motivations for biting that bullet, when I tell you about a Very Exciting Project I’m working on with a friend. Watch this space.

My focus this time is going to be on a project I finished today, and it’s something I am very proud of.

My dad turned 60 last month, and I’d been faffing around for months trying to decide what to give him. He didn’t want more stuff, and I’d tried giving him vouchers for experiences in the past, but he’d never got round to actually going on the days out. I was nibbling at my fingernails like a Disney character nibbles corn on the cob, at a complete loss at what to give the man who considers that he has everything he wants. Four days before his birthday, I stumbled across something on Pinterest, which was like turning a light on in my brain. I would pull together ’60 Years of Memories’ for him, from family, friends and colleagues past and present. This, I knew, would mean far more to him than the bog-standard gift set from the high street.

Luckily for me he was abroad for most of October on business (including the week of his birthday) which gave me more time to contact, chivy, thank and assemble responses.

I went through my parents’ address book, and wrote to over 120 people, from different stages of Dad’s life, asking them to send me a memory they had of him. Coming from an events management background, I knew from experience that you have to make people’s lives as easy as possible, so I also included a stamped addressed envelope and my email address.

This was the letter I sent out:

Hello,

I hope that this finds you well!

I’m writing to you to ask a favour… You probably know that my dad has a Big Birthday this month, and to celebrate this, I’d like to put together a little surprise. I’m going to try and create ’60 Years of Memories’ by filling 60 envelopes with memories his friends and family have of him – and this is where you come in!

If you have a spare moment in the next few days, I would be really grateful if you could think of a favourite memory you have of Dad and send it back to me, either by email or by post (using the stamped addressed envelope enclosed). It doesn’t have to be anything long or detailed – simply write it down on a piece of paper, sign your name, and pop it back. You can mention anything you like – although the more nostalgic the better! Also, you’re very welcome to send more than one memory if you want (in fact, I’d welcome it – I’ve got 60 envelopes to fill!), but please make sure you write them on different pieces of paper, and sign your name to each, so I can split them up. 

Thank you so, so much for taking part and helping me out – I know everyone is busy, and I do appreciate you taking a few minutes to do this. It’ll be so worth it when he reads all the memories people have of him! …Please don’t forget to keep it a surprise until then, though! 

Alice

The response was genuinely amazing, in the real definition of the word. I found out so much about the man I thought I already knew pretty well – it’s been wonderful for me putting this all together. I’ve had messages from people who knew him as a little boy, right up to his accountant who he met only last year. It’s revealed facets of him I hadn’t even realised were there! Once I’d gathered all the replies that had come through over the past few weeks (and I think there are going to be some stragglers), I had a mammoth folding and stuffing session into some very jazzy envelopes

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I took the pile of letters over to my parents’ house this evening and gave my dad the memories collection. We made the decision not to have the big party for this milestone, but instead for my mum and dad’s next wedding anniversary (touch wood), so it was only the four of us there. We sat down with a glass of fizz, and although Dad was confused at first, once he realised what was going on, he was overwhelmed and just couldn’t believe that so many people had remembered so many nice things about him! He is not the type of person to gush, but the fact that he kept saying how fantastic it was showed that he really meant it.

I also bought a display folder for him to put the letters into once they were out of the envelopes, and he spent a bit of time putting them into the folder and re-reading them – something I think he’ll do quite a bit in the future! Much easier to look at, too, than bits of paper floating around.

The final point that has stayed with me tonight is the fact that doing this project has proved that people who you think have come into the world fully-formed, having made no mistakes, don’t exist. My dad is still an incredible, talented, clever, canny and shrewd man – but he started as an inexperienced twenty-something, who made a few mistakes along the way! I recognised a lot of myself in him at the same age I am now, and that has been the biggest reassurance. As my dad himself says to me, ‘Experience is the term we give to our mistakes’.

Sorry… that I’m not sorry

I was going to start this post apologising for how long it’s been since I last blogged, but then I thought, why?

It’s actually been a difficult, all-consuming couple of months – my grandmother died in June after a rapid month-long battle with returning, vengeful cancer, and it hit me a lot harder than I ever imagined. This was my first experience of adult grief – my only other experience of losing a close family member was when I was eight and my grandpa died.

When he died, I remember crying my eyes out for days, but it was a child’s grief. Aged 24, losing my granny bowled me over.  My parents, who run their own business, were able to go and live with her for the last three weeks. For those three weeks, I was living on a knife edge – every time my phone went off, I thought that I was going to read the inevitable awful news.

When the end finally came, I had a momentary release – that moment of thanks as you realise that the person you love is no longer suffering. I’d thought that the waiting for the news was the worst. How wrong I was. As you live through each subsequent stage, you get increasingly wrung out; for starters, I underestimated how tired grief would make me. Waiting for the funeral was hard, and then the funeral itself was a steamroller on your emotions, not to mention the committal. Then, just as I thought the worst was over, my immediate and extended family are now having to go through her house and possessions, and decide what to keep and what to discard whilst we wait for the house to sell. Right there, that’s the hardest part. Having to put clothes, books, furniture, things that she loved, on the charity pile because you just don’t have the room to keep everything is just the worst feeling.

Cliche and awful as it sounds, going through this really gave me perspective. For a start, I honestly don’t know how people cope with losing parents, siblings, children. I’ve ‘only’ lost my grandmother and I’m a mess. Secondly (and I know this sounds ridiculous), I’ve been panicking about turning twenty-five this month, as I worry that I’m not making enough of my life, that I haven’t travelled enough, that I can’t shift that last half stone, that I haven’t achieved everything I should have done by now. I then took a step back and thought, you know what? Cut yourself some slack. You’re only 25, and if you match your grandmother, you’ve got 60 years more on this earth to achieve everything you want to.

So, on that note, I’m not going to apologise for a late post. What I will do is include my favourite brownie recipe, which my granny loved, and the making of which was a massive comfort over the past few weeks.

Eat, enjoy and revel in life.

Delia Smith’s ultimate chocolate brownies
Makes 15 squares

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/350 degrees Fahrenheit/180 degrees Celsius
You will need an oblong tin measuring 7 x 11 inches (18 x 28 cm), well-greased and lined with greaseproof paper.

INGREDIENTS

110g (4oz) butter
50g (2oz) plain chocolate (unsweetened, dark chocolate – although Green & Black’s Mayan Gold is an excellent substitute)
2 eggs, beaten
225g (8oz) granulated sugar
50g (2oz) plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
110g (4oz) chopped nuts (optional) – these can be walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or Brazils or a mixtures

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1.       Melt the butter and chocolate (broken up into small pieces) together in a bowl balanced over a pan of simmering water.
    2.    Away from the heat, stir all the other ingredients into the butter and chocolate mixture thoroughly.
    3.    Pour all of the mixture into your tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until the mixture shows signs of shrinking away from the side of the tin, and the centre feels springy. To make sure that it is ready, stick a knife in the middle of the tin, and if it comes out clean, it is ready. (Make sure that you check on your brownies every few minutes from the 25 minute mark to check they don’t burn).
          4.    Cool the Brownies for 10 minutes before taking them out of the tin. After ten minutes, take them out and leave them to cool on a wire rack.

 

Brownies

How to make friends… and influence people?

Making new friends in your twenties is like dating. Think I’m mad? Let me explain.

I was having a discussion the other day about how hideous it must be in life to be one of those people who peaks whilst they’re in their teens. These are generally the types who consider themselves to be top of the dungheap whilst at school: the popular ones, the queen bees, the leaders of the pack – whatever you want to call them. They are the ones who reduce us mere mortals to gibbering shadows of our normal selves (not just me hopefully?).

Just think though, and imagine how awful it must be to turn twenty and realise that you’ve peaked! Life then becomes a case of desperately trying to cling on your former glory… However, and may I say this in a smug tone, for the rest of us – the normal ones – we bide our time and slowly start to come into ourselves after we turn twenty. (This excellent musical number illustrates the idea of improving with age beautifully.)

It’s ironic, therefore, that the time we normal people spend in school avoiding the teenage-peakers is one of the times in life where it’s easiest to make friends. The other times, similarly, are primary school and university. Aside from the fact that a major bonding incentive lies in the afore-mentioned avoidance tactics of queen bees, education is the window in life where you meet such a high proportion of your contemporaries.

I don’t know about other twenty-somethings (or, come to think of it, thirty-, forty- and fifty-somethings), but I feel that once you enter the real world, it becomes harder and harder to meet new people who you instantly click with… If you work in a small company, or if you’re the only one of your group of friends left in the town you grew up in, you start to wonder whether your lack of ability to meet new faces and stay friends with them is down to your over-exacting standards, or the fact that actually, you’re becoming a rather boring person. It’s not a pleasant sensation.

When you do finally meet a new friend you really hit it off with, all of a sudden your life shifts subtly… This is where the theory that getting to know new friends is like dating comes in. You arrange to meet up for dinner dates and day trips whilst you get to know each other properly. You go to Ikea together and trust their taste. You start looking up books and candle smells that the other person happens to mention in passing. You meet their family. And you also start planning for the future (starting at Christmas, because you want to make sure you get them a nice present), as you can see that you and this new person in your life are going to be in each other’s lives for a long time!

This friend-dating experience has recently happened to me, and we’ve just ticked off our first home-made dinner together. I cooked, and I made this for pudding. It was the first time I’d made it, and although there was the element of fear that it could go disastrously wrong, it didn’t, and I feel VERY proud of myself!

It’s from Emma Goss-Custard’s book ‘Honeybuns’, which is a gluten-free baking book and which you can buy here.

Peach and raspberry roulade
Serves 8

Roulade

5 eggs, separated
140g caster sugar
40g ground almonds
Grated zest 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
Icing sugar

Filling
300ml double cream
150g mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 large ripe peach
200g raspberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 35/30cm baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and very thick. Whisk in the almonds and the lemon zest & juice.
  3. In a separate large, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until very stiff. Using a metal spoon, fold the whites until the yolk mixture and pour into the tin.
  4. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until firm to touch. Slide the roulade out of the tin and onto a rack (still with the parchment in place), cover with a clean, damp tea-towel and let cool for 2 hours.
  5. Dust a sheet of baking parchment with icing sugar and turn the cooled roulade upside down onto it. Peel off the paper.
  6. For the filling, whisk together the cream and mascarpone until thick but not stiff. (I added icing sugar to this mixture as I don’t like unsweetened cream, but it’s entirely personal choice)
  7. Smooth this over the roulade with a palette knife or spatula, spreading evenly to the edges. Drizzle the honey over the cream mixture.
  8. Arrange the peach and raspberries over this and push in slightly. Then, with the longest side towards you, use the baking parchment to roll the roulade away from you into a Swiss roll shape. Run your hands along the length of the roll to tighten it up, then roll it out of the parchment and onto a serving plate, dusting with icing sugar to serve. (I sprinkled some flaked almonds over the top as well, for added texture)

(NB – I’m usually quite haphazard when it comes to cooking, but with this recipe it’s important to follow it to the letter. The minor amendments I made don’t affect the integrity of the baking part)

Serve with a flourish to impress your new friends!

Who doesn’t love a good Ikea hack!

I am painfully aware that I haven’t posted for ages. BUT I would like to say – it’s been with good reason! Drumroll, please. I have been working on the king of all craft projects (as you will know, I do love a good craft project), and it’s been all-consuming. Well, it was all-consuming and intense in the beginning, but then as I got to the end, there were a few niggly bits that I really had to pull myself together to finish.

I get such a warm glow of achievement with this kind of project, and it really helps to give a focus to my evenings where it would be too easy to just loll on the sofa and gormlessly watch repeats of How I Met Your Mother. This particular project has taken a long time, which is why it’s taken me ages to post about it – I wanted to shout and wave it about but wouldn’t let myself until I’d finished the finishing touches.

OK, I’m now too excited to put off the grand reveal… Ta-da!

It was originally an Ikea ‘Moppe’ chest of drawers, but transformed. I found the idea whilst trawling through Pinterest – there are so, so many potential projects on Pinterest, but this one really sparked my imagination. The original poster wanted to jazz up her ‘Moppe’ that she’d found lying around, and based her idea on a little postcard she found in a flea market. You can see hers here (it’s in German but Google Translate is a huge help!) – I have to give her a big nod as the root of my inspiration! I had one languishing in the loft from when I was a teenager, and thought it was due a facelift.

Mine is different obviously in terms of painting – I start off copying things (like the people…) and then something goes wrong, so I have to amend the design to incorporate the mistake! I also decided to make the red shop a patisserie rather than a Christmassy charcuterie – not only would Christmas limit its exposure, but I couldn’t resist the idea of painting tiny cakes! The other big difference is that I made my roof out of papier mache. Instructions below!

For the chest of drawers:

  1. Paint the outside in a suitable brick or stone colour. Use the drawers to make the edges of the walls at each level. Word of warning – don’t paint the ‘shelves’ that the drawers sit on, as it makes the drawers stick a little when you try and pull them out (you can tell that I’m speaking from experience).
  2. Lightly pencil the design for each layer of the two shops onto the relevant drawer.
  3. Fill in the pencil lines with paint. I used acrylic as it’s versatile, bright and most importantly, forgivable. If you go wrong, it’s straightforward to paint over the mistake once it’s dry. This stage – for all 6 drawers – does take a while but because they’re all quite small, you can do them in short bursts, even whilst watching TV.
  4. Once you’ve finished the painting, trace over the finer detail with a black permanent marker.
  5. Nerdily, I found some sticky-back felt which I measured out and stuck onto the insides of the drawers. A wooden spoon helps this process if you use it to rub the backing sheet off the felt as you go – don’t peel all the back off at once as it will never stick straight in the drawer.

For the roof:

The original version was made out of wood. Quite honestly, aside from having no glue gun and no wood, this seemed like a lot of hard work, so I cast around at home for an alternative. Luckily, I’d just had an order arrive from Amazon and had a load of cardboard lurking around in the kitchen – so I thought that I’d papier mache the roof!

  1. Start off by measuring and cutting out a shape the size and shape of the base of the chest of drawers.
  2. Next, measure the widths of roof you want, and cut two lengths of long, thin cardboard. Stand these on the base and work out which heights you like best. I went for very different – if I did it again, I might have made the tall one a tiny bit shorter – but you can make them the same height if you prefer. Secure the two pieces with masking tape.
  3. The gable windows are actually VERY HARD. Angles are not my strong point. If you can, use the shapes in the original post as a guide! Cut out the five pieces (front, two sides, two pieces of roof) and stick together with masking tape. Make sure there are no small children around as the air will be blue at this point.
  4. Stick onto the roofs.
  5. Next, get macheing! There is an excellent guide to papier mache here. The only thing I would add to this is one simple bit of advice: When you’ve reached the stage when you think you can add no more layers/really can’t face smearing the glue all over the cardboard AGAIN, force yourself to do another layer. It will be worth it.
  6. Paint the roof tiles and windows, and make sure that the windows match the shop below!

Then, just pop the roof onto the Moppe, and voila! Rather narcissistically, I’ve stood mine opposite the door into my living room, so I can see it every time I come downstairs and feel smug. I will move it eventually, but having spent so much time on it, I want to make sure that I admire it!

 

Writing poetry is easy, right?

I have a very exciting thing to talk about today.

I went to a creative writing workshop this week…with Wendy Cope. Wendy Cope! WENDY COPE!  She of ‘Bloody men are like bloody buses/You wait for about a year/And as soon as one approaches your stop/Two or three others appear’ fame (I know!)!

 
This wasn’t just as a result of either a) me stalking or b) begging or even c) paying – I’m lucky enough that she is currently the poet-in-residence at the school where I work. Every year, the school hosts a themed week-long festival, and the theme rotates tri-annually between Science, Art and Words; this time, the theme was Words (it’s an amazing thing, actually – there are all sorts of activities, plays, lectures and workshops on offer throughout the week, and we’ve had various authors popping through since last Thursday to talk to pupils about their work). For each festival, a ‘person in residence’ stays for the week, and Wendy agreed to act as the poet in residence. She hosted a wonderful evening last week, where she read some of her poems and took part in a question and answer session, and has been taking part in regular workshops for pupils.

One of the (really quite special) things that had been organised during this week was a creative writing workshop just for staff. I’ve been utterly useless at spotting things on the noticeboards in the staff room recently, and had missed the sign-up sheet, but LUCKILY one of my friends checked with me yesterday whether or not I’d signed up.

I popped in this afternoon having battled from one side of school to another through the awful rain, and was the last person to come into the room. There were about 6 other people – including a couple of English teachers – and I was feeling a little intimidated, I have to say, and more than a little self-conscious. However, you just have to pull yourself together in this sort of thing so I took a big piece of cake and sat down, fishing out a pen.

 
Wendy started us off by reading through a couple of pages of things she called ‘I remembers’, and then gave us five minutes to write our own. The idea was that you write down the first thing that comes to mind – a few of her examples were ‘I remember Walnut Whips’ and ‘I remember ‘The Herbs”’- and of course your mind goes blank the second somebody tells you to think. I did manage to get some down in the end, and once the time was up, we all had to read out a few. The ones of mine I chose were: ‘I remember making biscuits with my mother and sister, and using a variety of cutter shapes, which included everything from cars to feet to hedgehogs’, ‘I remember my first ballet show, waiting for the curtain to rise with my bottom in the air’, and ‘I remember wondering why everyone liked horseradish, so I dug a big spoonful from the jar and ate the whole lot with a tiny piece of beef (needless to say I can’t eat horseradish now)’.

Following this, Wendy then asked us to write a 10-line poem, made up of 5 couplets. We could either pick from a lucky-dip of first lines that she brought out, or we could use one of our ‘I remembers’ as a starting point. We all got up to rummage through the pieces of paper, and I took one that said ‘I’ve been giving a lot of thought’ because I thought it would be simple.

 Ha! Two lines in, I was stuck. I then retrieved another slip of paper and decided to combine that first line with one of my memories. This proved far more fruitful, and I skipped through the next 9 lines with relative ease, feeling incredibly self-satisfied that I’d done so well and obviously I’d missed my calling in life as writing poetry was just SO EASY and I knew that Wendy would clap her hands in RAPTURE.

I say again – Ha!

 Once we’d had a rough idea of how our poems were shaping up, we had to take them to Wendy for her to read through and critique. She’s going to love it, I thought. A* for me, I thought.

 She then proceeded to cross bits out left, right and centre, and question why I’d chosen certain words – I did feel like I’d regressed a few years and had gone back to being an inky-fingered schoolgirl – but quite clearly, she knows what she’s doing, and I am very grateful (and quite star-struck) that Wendy Cope has helped me write a poem. The picture attached to this entry is of my first draft with her annotations. I don’t know how she stays so upbeat – having to be nice about people’s rubbish attempts at her craft must be exhausting! (It’s also amazing what you find out about your colleagues – I found out that the head of English writes his wife a poem EVERY YEAR for her birthday!! He read out what he’d composed in the workshop, and it was amazing. Universe, take note – I’ve added another must-have quality to my list.)

 In any case, I am now much happier with the poem I’ve ended up with – and as a result, have a much deeper appreciation of non-rhyming poetry. This is the finished result:

 ‘A small child, who had longed
for a horse of her own, a wish based,

Primarily, on reading Enid Blyton,
Found a substitute.

The glee she felt when fastening the saddle,
And tying the bridle, and during

the passengers’ parade around the garden,
was matched only by the expression of indignity

 and long-suffering, cast on me by the dog
with dolls strapped to his back.’

Not too awful, is it? And may I smugly point out that, despite my wobbly execution, Wendy DID say that ‘I painted an enchanting picture’?!

Enough for now.


PS – The other one I started in the workshop I’ve just finished now, and am also quite pleased with this one:

‘I’ve been giving a lot of thought
to why, exactly, I said I could cook.

It can’t be that hard – after all,
They don’t even follow recipes on TV.

They chuck things in willy-nilly,
And it always looks bloody great.

Faced with an impending dinner party,
A collection of burnt pans and split sauce,

I weigh up my options.
Fish and chips it is.’

Making rabbit food palatable – hello Cobb salad!

There are quite a few perks to working in a school – and one of them is the onsite canteen. It’s brilliant – there are about 7 different options you can choose from, and that doesn’t include the salad bar or the PUDDINGS. Eating in a canteen is great – I quite literally pile my plate high every lunchtime. Also, other people’s eating habits fascinate me; my mother always told me it’s rude to examine (heaven forbid comment on) other people’s meals, but I side-eye what my colleagues eat and either seethe with envy at the tasty morsels they’d picked up that I’d missed, or throw up a little bit in my mouth at the person who combined baked beans with cucumber. (Boring life I lead, isn’t it?) Obviously I would never say anything, but this social nicety passes some people by.

As a rule, I try my best to avoid the puddings – this wasn’t initially for any other reason apart from the fact that if I follow a mountain of jacket potato, and assorted toppings with a custard-soaked bowl of crumble, I will inevitably slump forward onto my keyboard at 3pm and snore. Not cool at all. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had pudding – proper pudding, not the yogurt/fruit options I usually go for – but sod’s law says that the time I pick up something sweet is the time somebody rather self-righteous sits next to me.  This particular occasion makes me want to spit feathers – this is what happened: A colleague came and sat down just as I was tucking into a (well-deserved) bowl of profiteroles – who can resist those, right? Having said hello, I carried on with the conversation I was having with a friend about the sale items I’d bagged from a high-end high street brand. As I triumphantly paused for effect having issued the closing statement, ‘And I don’t feel guilty at all!’, my new neighbour leaned over, tapped my bowl with her spoon and said, ‘But you should feel guilty about that!’ I could not believe either my eyes or my ears. My inner African American was giving that colleague a head-shaking ‘Oh no you didn’t!’ retort.

Harrumph, I thought. Rude.  Also, was something being implied? Are you saying my already cumbersome waistline is going to suffer? Whatever was meant, I wasn’t impressed.

As we’re now in the Easter holidays, the daily meal at work has been suspended and – shock horror! – I have to bring in my own lunch for the next three weeks. No opportunity for anyone to comment on my choice of food.

Having said that, I am on a healthy eating mission – I turn 25 in a few months’ time, and by the time my birthday rolls around, I actually want to feel brave enough to don a pair of shorts without tights… So, I googled some inspiration for healthy lunches, and came across the American classic, the Cobb Salad. Apparently, Jennifer Aniston used to have this for lunch every single day whilst filming FRIENDS… If it’s good enough for Jennifer, it’s good enough for me. Another bonus is that it’s ludicrously simple. Here goes (my amendments in italics):
Unorthodox Cobb salad

Cobb Salad

1/2 head of romain
1/2 head of Boston lettuce (I didn’t have any of this, so I left it out)
1/2 bunch of watercress, coarse stems discarded (ditto Boston lettuce)
6 slices of bacon
2 ripe avocados, seed removed, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (cunning trick – score like a mango then scoop out with a teaspoon)
1 whole skinless boneless chicken breast
1 tomato, seeded and chopped fine (I used cherry tomatoes)
2 hard-boiled large eggs, separated, the yolk finely chopped and the white finely chopped (recipe says separated, I just shoved it all together)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (I left this out too)
1/2 cup finely grated Roquefort (I don’t like blue cheese, so I substituted this for mature cheddar)
French dressing (you can make your own; I bought mine)

METHOD

1 Grill the bacon, then let it cool. When cool, chop into small pieces and set aside.

2 Cook (/poach/grill/bake) the chicken and dice when cool.

3 In a large salad bowl, toss together well the various lettuces and watercress.

4 Compose the salad. Arrange the chicken, the bacon, the tomato, and the avocado decoratively over the greens and garnish the salad with the grated egg and the chives. (You can faff around with this decorative nonsense – I just threw it all in a pot and shook it around with the dressing)

5  Stir the Roquefort into the French dressing and whisk. Serve separately or toss in with the salad. (See above re blue cheese – I dribbled the dressing over the combined salad and sprinkled the grated cheese over the top)

Ta-da! Really good for you, and really very good. Makes eating salad much more exciting, AND it keeps you full for ages. Positive result all round.

Enough for now.

Alice

PS You can of course follow original recipes to the letter, but there is no way I’m going to take ages to arrange the various ingredients into pretty shapes for it to get jumbled up on my walk to work. The only thing I would say is to add the dressing just before you eat it, but that’s just personal preference. Admittedly, my version of the salad is nothing like the classic, really, and I’m sure that Americans would be horrified at what I’ve done. However, as cooking is all about individual interpretation, I’d be prepared to defend its bastardisation. If you’d like the purist original version though, you can find the original recipe I based mine on here.

PPS My picture also features a quinoa salad – nothing complicated, just boiled quinoa mixed with shop-prepared Mediterranean vegetables I roasted for 30 mins and tipped into the grains afterwards.

 

 

Being late to the proverbial party

I have a confession to make. This post is late, and there is a reason why.

I am one of those people who always arrive late to the proverbial party – for example, I only recently watched 500 Days of Summer. It instantly became one of my favourite films – and just think how much time I’d wasted not loving it – and the latest late party is entirely responsible for the tardiness of this entry.

The party I have just arrived at is: Game of Thrones. HOW did I miss it for three years?! On Friday evening, I got talking to my friends at work, who are all obsessed. One said that her housemate has copies of the first three series. I crawled out of bed on Saturday, went over to borrow them, and consequently spent the whole weekend watching the all of series one. Actually I feel it was a very good use of time – I’d been out at the pub on Friday night, and had a lingering hangover on Saturday (amazing really that I’d managed to go and get GofT given how fragile I was feeling), so schlepping in front of the TV was about the most energetic thing I could bring myself to do.

I did originally want to get through all three so that I could watch series four with the rest of the world when it starts on Thursday, but even at my dedicated pace, that inconvenient thing called WORK gets in the way. Plus I do want to sleep. And actually, even hungover you do get a bit sick of the TV. BUT I’m hoping that I might be done by the end of next weekend (ha ha), which should bring me up to speed. Anyway – I loved it. Definitely not the kind of thing you would want to watch with your parents, there are more sex scenes than you can shake a stick at (oo-er), it’s packed to the gunnels with violence (there were several times I audibly squawked in revolted shock), and there are millions of characters who all have complicated names and are all somehow related to each other – but I loved it! Late to the party, but making up for lost time!

By Sunday, my hangover had started to recede, and I thought that I should do something besides schlepping in front of the TV. I still schlepped, but I started concurrent work on two craft projects. One is quite big and time-consuming (and if I say so myself, deserves its own post when I finally finish it), but the other one I thought I’d share now.

So, this is the smaller, simpler project:

Rather than just sitting totally gormlessly in front of Game of Thrones (which admittedly had worked beautifully the day before), I decided to multitask. I’ve got a lampshade in my bedroom – you know, one of those paper spheres you get for squids from Ikea – and have been meaning to make it more exciting for ages.

My room is cream and crimson-themed, with big stylistic floral curtains, so I thought I’d decorate my paper sphere lampshade with little cut-outs of butterflies. Normally I’m not keen on butterfly-themed things, but this does look good (don’t you think?)

WP_20140330_004 (1)

What you need for the butterfly lampshade:

–  Paper sphere lampshade from Ikea
–  Red card (or any colour you want)
–  Scissors
–  Pencil
–  Glue

  1. Take your card, fold it in half and draw the shape of a butterfly on it. Cut out the shape and unfold. This will be your template. Note – make sure that you include a bit of the body.
  2. Trace around the template on your card (I think I did 25) and cut them out.
  3. Take each little butterfly, and fold the wings on either side of the body (as opposed to just in half) so that the body is flat, and the wings stick up.
  4. Glue the underside of the body, and stick to your lampshade. Hold it for a few seconds whilst the glue goes tacky.
  5. Repeat. Be as neat or as random as you like – I positioned mine more ‘freestyle’ as I liked the natural effect it gave.
  6. When dry, attach your lampshade back onto the lightbulb.

Ta-da! Perfect TV craft job! Something that looks nice, is easy (but time consuming) to do, and also provides a bit of a distraction when there are daggers being plunged through eyeballs. Happy days!