Supper time in the Raven-Hill household

Boy the Younger: What’s for supper, Mother?
Me: Chilli
Boy the Younger: Oh brilliant! You make the 2nd best chilli in the world!
Me: 2nd best? Who makes the best?
Boy the Younger: Lucy (his sister)
Boy the Younger: You make the best banana splits though
Me: There are no banana splits
Boy the Younger: Oh.

Exeunt all pursued by a bear

And I’ve just realised that I’ve never given you my recipe for Chilli Con Carne.  It will be remedied.

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Biff Moves House Yet Again

Oh my dear, dear readers, my landlord is selling up and my little household has been obliged to move house AGAIN (again, again, again).    I also wrote my car off and have had to scramble around with some urgency to find another vehicle.

I allowed myself ten minutes of abject, breast-beating, garment-renting self pity and much gnashing of teeth before I pulled myself together and started hunting.  I have found a house two miles down the road which is lovely and I shall be moving in on 20th June.  Also, thanks to the First Wife of the Father of My Children, I have acquired  a rather beautiful, lipstick-red Ford Mondeo in immaculate condition.  Now to start packing up the possessions of three many-book-owning, obsessive collectors.

Now I’m going to ask you a question.  In view of my manic state, would you prefer it if I say that I shall be simply absent until July or would you rather I post the occasional thing when I can, but in a haphazard and sporadic fashion?  Let me know… and wish me well!

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Sunday Poem 228

This poem is taken from an anthology by Cardinal Cox entitled ‘Edge Rows’.  This super little book is a tribute to the poet, John Clare and includes some very moving and unusual work in equally unusual verse forms.  I have featured more than one Clare poem in the Sunday Poem section and this acts as an interesting counterpoint.

Watermark – by Cardinal Cox

At Wansford, where rested coach horses
And Byron slept beneath the Haycock thatch
Water diverted from river to turn
Rag to paper that would welcome
Pen to birth words upon it
Rough sheets as might be salvaged
From wrapping to become nests of verse
When drawn from hat’s crown
To have fresh sentiments from
Scenes around sewn through
With lead pencil

Later, much later, hard on railway station
By gasworks and hotel
Arbourfield Mill drank Eastwell
And Ram Dike to press wood pulp
Into deckle frames – as would
Have been recognized in China
Or Samarkand a thousand years before –
Into finished sheets as filled
Penny post with kind thoughts
Too late though for a silenced poet

Author’s note:  Poor John, with paper manufacturers so close and yet he had to salvage what he could for his own use.

More from John Clare:
Sudden Shower
Open Winter
Evening Schoolboys

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Practical Hints and Trade Secrets – by Albert Cronkshaw

I found this book at a flea market in Hebden Bridge at the weekend and if there was ever a book more suited to this website, I challenge you to find it.  It was originally printed in 1920 and revised and self published by the author several times consequently.

Cronkshaw appears to be a Lancashire name, specifically Rossendale, which is just over the border from Hebden Bridge.  I had to smuggle the book out in my underwear.  However, I have failed to unearth any information whatsoever about Albert except that, in his foreword, he expresses the desire to
“Assist the enquiring man or woman in their search after useful knowledge.”
Well done that man.

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets - Poisons

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets - Physiognomy


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Books – Their Part in my Downfall

british-library-london-2005The problem with buying books is the tendency to fill one’s head with ideas that need to pour out, but struggle to get out in the right order, to say nothing of the need to dispense with furniture in order to accommodate bookcases.   I have bought several books recently in response to things I’ve heard on the radio, subjects I’m researching and matters arising from subjects I’m researching.  I have re-read books that I’ve read before and which are appearing to me in a new light.

The four books causing me such difficulties at the moment are these:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This is probably my favourite book and the edition I’m reading is a beautiful volume given to me by my lifelong and beloved friend, Heather Coombs for my 19th birthday.   I must have read this book twenty times or more since I was introduced to it at school, aged ten.  At the time I was at boarding school and identified strongly with Jane’s loneliness and sense of abandonment, and  I understood her pent up rage and her inability to express it.  Unlike her, I broke out and became a Naughty Girl, but I was always aware that her quiet strength was an inspiration and that her moral integrity was hard won.

It is only reading Jane Eyre again now, that I realise quite how hard her separation from Mr Rochester was and how wretched and despondent she must have felt.  I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach when she left Thornfield and her journey into the wilderness, signifying her third phase of development was equally heartrending.  Maybe because of my age, my own progression and my own attitude towards relationships, I feel as though I’m reading this book with cataracts peeled from my eyes and a sense of wonder at the modernity and enduring relevance of the Brontes.

The Invention of Pornography Ed. Lynn Hunt
The Vagina:  A Literary & Cultural History by Emma Rees

I am soon going to have to write a well-informed and entertaining essay on female body image and the difference between pornography and eroticism and I am therefore working my way through the Gender Studies section of my library.  And yes, I genuinely have a Gender Studies section in my own house and despite this, I have no official diagnosis.

‘Pornography’ is a wonderfully researched series of essays, putting the subject into historical context.  The pleasures, dangers and social attitudes towards sexual expression are explored in a fascinatingly human way that sheds a great deal of light on our current sex-obsessed society.

‘The Vagina’ on the other hand is an absolutely essential read for anyone who has every contemplated women and sexuality in any context.  The book is terrific fun, learned and joyful in equal measure and by the end you will never be frightened to say the word ‘vagina’ again.  And by golly, folk is frightened of  fannies….

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets by Albert Cronkshaw
Who wouldn’t hand over money for a book by someone called Albert Cronkshaw?  It is so up the Wartime Housewife’s alley but it covers a very peculiar range of topics from how to make paint to a section of general knowledge facts to trot out in the event of your having an argument about the year in which the first Atlantic cable went into operation.  I’m not sure that I have ever sat in pub, my fifth gin and tonic warming my gizzards, without entering into fisticuffs with my needlework chums about the date of the first sewing needles or the maximum age of a baobab.  But that’s how we roll in Northamptonshire.

Tomorrow, I shall share some of Albert’s wisdom with you.  General Rules of Poisons anyone?


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Normal for Norfolk

P1070117This weekend didn’t go quite as planned as I was supposed to be trading at an open-air Steampunk festival in Diss, but a combination of  difficulties plus the vicissitudes of April weather rendered the trip unfeasible.

On the Sunday, however, The Father of My Children invited us to go and photograph ruined churches which he needed to do for his forthcoming book, with the promise of a visit to the coast if we got going early and got all his locations done.  We arrived at his house at 8.30am (which is the middle of the night for a Sunday), piled into his Jag, a picnic and bathing suits stowed safely in the back, and set off  for Norfolk.

Boy the Elder and I promptly fell asleep in a heap on the back seat and woke up alone in a farmyard adorned with rusting machinery. “I assume this is Norfolk?” I said sleepily as a lone bell tolled on the wind.  We had missed the first location but managed to stay awake for the rest as we headed down remote lanes, climbed fences and dived through hedgerows in search of the crumbling remains of England’s religious heritage.  I was certainly brought rudely to my senses when, running like flint down a bridleway out of sheer high spirits,  I went arse over tit and took four inches of skin off my arm in a reflexive desire to protect my camera.  Remarkable, I don’t bounce like I used to, but at least I didn’t cry….

P1070122We found picturesque arches, wildflowers growing in chancel brickwork, round towers in stands of Scotch Firs and no end of headstones of long-forgotten Victorians, slowly being digested by the earth and scrub.  Best of all was a square  tower , so completely reclaimed by nature that it was almost indistinguishable from the trees and hedges surrounding it.  It contained a glorious archway and a window with the iron cross still in it and we all had the ethereal and delicious feeling that we could step into Narnia at any moment.  We finished the photography in record time and headed excitedly for Cley-next-the Sea.

Now it is important at this point, that I draw your attention to my predilection for wild swimming, especially in the sea.  I cannot go near a salty expanse without, at the very least, having a paddle to satisfy a deeply held longing for communion with this elemental force.  I have swum in early morning fog in Brighton, I have paddled in Sunderland in November.  I have stripped naked and plunged into Scottish lochs with no provocation, and frolicked, mermaid-like, in Italian lakes, in my undies, with no discernible sense of decorum.

It is also worth noting that I was absolutely determined to try out my new Edwardian bathing dress, in which I am well pleased.  This costume has every possible advantage; the fabric is thin and dries quickly, it covers flab and untidy bikini lines, it stops me from burning (and crikey do I burn, even in the weakest sunlight) and, most importantly, I feel fabulous in it.

G, B & P with champagneDespite the bright sunshine and a balmy temperature of around 60o/19o, the wind was blowing at 37mph with 50mph gusts.  We battled our way along the shingle beach and found shelter behind a WW2 pill box to have out lunch to which TFOMC had contributed a bottle of delicious champagne which fortified me for the adventure ahead.

I stripped off, donned The Bathing Dress and headed for the surf, my long hair whipping my face like a vengeful jellyfish.   I ran  enthusiastically at the sea and went in up to my waist, screaming with the cold and the inevitable onset of hypothermia, mixed with delight and  exhilaration, the  heavy waves making absolutely sure that not an inch of me remained dry or warm.  The salt water made the cuts on my arm sting like hell which is a sure way of knowing that healing has begun.  I felt a bit of a nancy for not going for the full immersion, but my tiny boys are too young to be motherless as the result of my inevitable death from North Sea Shock.

Dry, warmed and dressed, we headed back to the car and Boy the Elder and I enjoyed sleeping through the journey home.  It had been a wonderful day and a terrific end to the Easter holiday.  On returning home, we had big mugs of scalding tea, prepared uniforms and lunches for school the next day and fell into bed, to dream of Narnia, hurricanes and mermaids.  In Edwardian bathing dresses.

Biff in the sea - cropped

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Sunday Poem 227

‘Five’ from Fourteen Steps Along the Way – by Neil Curry (b. 1937)

There was this man coming home from work.
Simon his name was.  Not looking for trouble.
If he’d thought on he’d have gone the other way
and not got mixed up in any of it,
but the centurion, he said ‘Hey, you, buggerlugs,
give him a hand with that; he can’t cope with it.’

It was some terrorist too.  Well, anyway
that was why when he did get home his clothes
were all mussed up and there was this great bruise
on his shoulder.  Said he didn’t want to talk
about it; except he did say you never can tell
just when something’s going to come and clobber you.

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Battenberg CakeI was astonished to discover that I have never given you the recipe for home-made Battenberg Cake.

Apart from the nut allergists and deviants, is there anyone who doesn’t like a slice of Battenberg?  It looks so appealing and impressive on the plate and isn’t difficult to make.  I once made one for a market stall and had a member of the public say to me “Ooh, I didn’t know you could actually make that!”.  Mmm.  Marzipan has been a sweet favourite in Britain since the Middle Ages when it was called Marchpane; it probably came over from the Middle East.

This cake was invented in the Victorian Royal Household to celebrate the marriage of Princess Victoria of Hesse and Prince Louis of Battenberg.  It could so easily have been called Hesse Cake.  It’s a bit fiddly, but worth the effort, as most good things are.  Incidentally, this cake freezes well, so you can make a few and knock them dead at the next fete.

1 x large mixing bowl
1 x medium mixing bowl
1 x electric mixer
2 x 1lb loaf tins
1 x wire rack


6oz / 180g softened butter
6oz / 180g castor sugar
5oz / 150g self-raising flour
3 eggs
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Pink food colouring
6oz / 180g seedless raspberry jam
1lb / 500g marzipan
Icing sugar for dusting and rolling out


Pre-heat the oven to 180/375/4
Grease and flour the loaf tins
Put the butter and sugar into the bowl and beat until very light
Gradually add the flour and the baking powder
Then beat in the eggs and vanilla
Put half the mixture into the smaller bowl and colour it pink
Put the yellow mixture into one prepared tin and the pink mixture into the other
Bake for about 15-10 minutes – test it with a skewer or thin knife – it should come out clean
Leave to cool on a wire rack
When cool, trim the edges to get any brown bits off
Cut each cake in half lengthways and trim so they are the same length
Stick the cake bars together with the jam into a block of four to give a chequer board effect
Lightly dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan to about a ¼ inch thick
Brush the outside of the sponges with jam and wrap the marzipan round the cake, leaving the ends showing.
Trim the marzipan to a nice neat oblong shape with the join at the bottom.  Et voila!

You can use any leftover scraps of marzipan to make little decorative flowers for the top or, for an Easter treat, you could put little sugar eggs or sugared almonds  and some angelica on the top.

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I am a woman who has to carry a giant bag or no bag at all.  Not for me the tiny clutch or the miniature shoulder bag that holds nothing but a lipstick, a prophylactic and two and six for the bus home.  For a few years now I have carried a carpet bag with a kitten tapestry on it.  This is not as revolting as it sounds but I derive a peculiar pleasure from possessing something so uncharacteristically kitsch.

1But over time, the handles split, the leatherette coating flaked off and the rubber tubing inside the handles broke and fell out, leaving me with nothing but a frail strip of discoloured, twisted webbing.  There was no way that I was going to forfeit an entire handbag for want of a pair of handles and, being me, taking it to a saddler would have constituted DIY surrender.  I had to get creative.  What could I do to the Kitty Bag which would render it once again useful, but imbue it with an air of edginess that would better suit my personality?  Where to start?

2 D ClipsKittens, I mused, the bag is covered in kittens.  How can I complement the kitten theme and maintain a pair of  practical, load-bearing straps of a sufficient length to sling jauntily over my shoulder, without spending my life savings with a leather worker?  My brain raced! Kittens!  Leather!  Straps!  Buckles!  Hang on…… Good gravy, I think I’ve got it!

3 Dog Collar BuckleDog Collars!  I would make some handles out of dog collars.  I found some brown, studded 20” collars on Ebay and four double-ended D-clips to attach them to the rings on the bag.  The buckle end of the collars clipped easily onto the rings but the other end 4 Dog collar strapwas going to be more tricky.  I removed the rings onto which one would attach a lead and moved them to the end so that I could fold the end of the collar over to secure it, but couldn’t work out how to actually fix a stud through.  Then I had a brainwave.  Cobblers.  Cobblers do that stuff and the shoemender in 5 Clipping on handlesHarborough took all of three minutes to rivet the collar and complete the new handles.  And he was so impressed with my creativity that he didn’t even charge me.

They look fabulous and the bag now displays a pleasing combination of cute with a hint of pervert.  And it jingles so awfully nicely.

6 Carpet Bag

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Sunday Poem 227

An amusing video poem today by a charming, clever man called Harry Baker (dob very young).  Don’t be put off by the opening lines – he is displaying self-irony.


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