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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I am temporarily infested.  I tried to download Google Earth and inadvertently chose a rogue version and now the entire forces of the Trojan Army have descended on me.

I have sent for the IT equivalent of The Achaeans.

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Sunday Poem 226

A Kind of Quickening – by Pauline Stainer (b. 1941)

Put your ear to the quoins.
You might think
a redundant church
would be loud
with the sound of silence,
but sacred cantatas
rise to the spandrels.

Look through the squint.
St. Mary-at-the-Quay
in her field of windscreens,
where crane-drivers
glide over the hammerbeams
as if sighting eternity

Smell the mown grass
in the roofless nave,
when children circle-dance
like Wisdom before the Lord
until the sea-fret rolls in
and they pull-up
their pearled hoods.

And the weepers on the tomb –
do they look up
in sunlight
as we repair the fabric,
salt-laden limestone,
an altar frontal
transfigured by the silkworm?

We still celebrate
the energy of otherness.
That shadow on
the lime-washed chancel
not simply Christ
as makeweight
on the flowering tree

but a jazz-singer,
dress blue as hyssop
against the downbeat dusk,
while on the skyline
wind-turbines turn
to the preaching
of the swallow.

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The Ten Minute Review – 24: Fifty Shades of Grey

TimerI was taken to this film, against my will – which is strangely appropriate – by Mrs Cecil who insisted that I see it in order to have the right to an opinion.  Quite right too.

There is so much wrong with this film, I hardly know where to start, although my criticisms are perhaps not the feminist objections that you might have encountered.

Firstly the lead characters, Christian and Anastasia are supremely unattractive people.  Christian is smug, creepy and full of hubris and Anastasia is one of those women who looks and sounds as though she is going to burst into tears at any moment.  I would never tire of slapping either of them.  The fact that Christian is super-rich and, allegedly, handsome  is also clichéd and obvious and the criticism that if he were poor and sloppily dressed the focus would be different, is entirely justified.  It also suggests that women will submit to practically anything if enough wealth and glamour is attached to it, which whilst sadly true in some cases, is offensive to most of us.

The dialogue is stilted, cliché-ridden and delivered with all the realism of a school play and consequently, even though there are moments where one might have begun to engage, I found myself having to refrain from groaning for entirely the wrong reasons.

As for the sexual activity itself, I really don’t know what all the fuss was about.  The only scene which bore any resemblance to something more pervy than an, admittedly intimate,  middle class bedroom romp was unpleasant and distressing, because it wasn’t a game.  I also have the continuing problem that film-makers feel that it’s perfectly alright to show every inch of a female body but  are still positively blushing at the prospect of a penis.  This has the dual impact of devaluing women’s bodies and, I would suggest, giving the impression that penises are hidden and dirty or, at the very least, unlovely, which by implication, devalues men.

I am not without exposure to the bdsm environment and I am a stolid proponent of the idea that anyone should be able to express their sexuality in any way, and with anyone, they choose, providing that the experience is a happy and consensual one.  Anastasia may not have signed a form, but she was undoubtedly consenting, even if that consent was given from a viewpoint of unwordliness, innocence and lack of self-esteem.  The inherent problem was that, for him, it was not a game, it wasn’t healthy role play.  It was an expression of psychological trauma and mental illness that he was wrapping up in the scarlet tissue paper of fetish.

It didn’t help that the auditorium at the cinema was almost entirely female.  The women next to me were giggling and sniggering and ooh-ing and ah-ing in a way that I found quite distasteful, as were most of the audience.  I felt uncomfortable watching it in a public place as the atmosphere had a toned down similarity to a performance of male strippers.

This is a ghastly film,(based on ghastly badly-written books) which has shamelessly and cynically set out to titillate the chattering classes without at any point taking the opportunity to discuss a subject that is really rather interesting.  Please will someone out there make another film on the same subject that is both erotic, intelligent and beautiful.  Oh and with a script full of words that real people might actually say.  Thank you.

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34There is something completely wonderful about  women’s breasts.  I’m not saying this in a pervy way, just as a general appreciation of their shape and cuddliness.  As a Steampunk, there are a lot of lovely bosoms on show and, although it is undeniably sexy, there is also something comfortable, womanly and earthy about seeing all those curves everywhere.

I grew my first pair* when I was pregnant with Boy the Elder, and The Father of My Children marched me into John Lewis where I was measured for my first bra – aged 32.  Up until then I had been very slim and flat-chested and had no need of structured foundation garments, favouring camisoles and crop tops for the sake of decency.  I have talked about the importance of well fitting bras before, but I must admit that it felt rather grown-up making my first purchase and realising that it heralded not only the advent of a new body shape but also the first physical evidence of ensuing motherhood.

And this is the interesting and perennial problem when talking about breasts.  Undoubtedly they have function as a feeding station for young humans, but why do we find them so sexy, and why do some people love little pert ones and others favour a more ample pair?  Boobs induce sniggering from a very early age but are often a most un-funny distraction from a woman’s actual personality or value.

They are evidence of sexual maturity, of the potential to nurture, and size has no impact on sensitivity.  Really large ones can cause back, shoulder and neck problems, small ones make it easier to detect lumps.  The nipples on them are all shades from pink to brown, and range from tiny to bigger than other women’s entire breast.  It makes no difference.  They are uniquely ours and are as individual as our eyes, our hair or our characters.

Humans are inherently tactile and certain shapes and textures cry out to be touched.  Sculptures, carvings and fabrics sometimes prove irresistible for our hands, our skin thrilling to the feel of marble or the surface of beautifully planed and polished wood.  Why should bodies be any different?

JWWaterhouse mermaid 12 x 18 inI enjoy looking at breasts in the same way that I enjoy looking at faces and paintings or listening to music.  I find a beauty there which arouses the same chemical and emotional response as a piece of Mozart or Waterhouse’s ‘Mermaid’.

I am also a very ‘huggy’ person.    I have a Steampunk friend who, as well as being an utterly delightful person, is also tall, statuesque and has a magnificent bosom.  When we trade at the same shows, I can’t help but keep hugging her throughout the day; her shape perfectly fits mine and my arms go exactly round her waist and it’s a bit of a wrench, frankly, to go back to my needy customers.  I do hug her husband as well, who is also tall, charming  and cuddly, but somehow, somehow, it’s just not the same.  It’s the boobs wot do it.

Also, as a woman, I feel perfectly comfortable pointing out to another woman that she has fabulous tits and the responses have always been positive and often followed by a conversation about them.  I was discussing this with Boy the Elder and The Father of My Children who both said  “If we said that, we’d get our faces slapped!”.  Possibly true, although I do believe that ‘it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it’.  If a man approached me in a gentlemanly way and complemented me on my décolletage and proceeded to converse with me in a nice way, I wouldn’t be in the least offended, particularly if I was wearing my Steampunk gear, which draws attention to my relatively recent bosoms.  If, however, a bloke on a scaffold yelled at me in the street “Oi, show us your tits darling”,  I would not feel attractive and appreciated because this is objectification not genuine appreciation of myself as a whole woman.

I’m not going into a long diatribe about the fetishism or politics of breasts, the Freudian interpretations of mother or child fixations, although there is a great deal to be said, but I would urge women to rejoice in their bodies, whatever shape they are, present them as they choose to, on show or demurely covered.  Just don’t allow yourself  to be defined by them.

*This sounds disconcertingly as though I have grown several pairs over time.  This is not the case.



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Sunday Poem 224

At the Millennium – by Anthony Thwaite (b. 1930)

It was a dead time.  Ice on the river,
Snow on the banks, snow on the far field,
Sky white to the top, trees bare.

And nothing moved.  Stiffly, the landscape held
Steady as rock, steadier than ice.  The wind
Had dropped into a wide unmoving stare.

Till something moved: a thing with wings came down
Looking for something there, whatever it was.
There on the snow a brilliant patch, a stain

Concentrated, and still.  And there it lies,
One spot of colour, gathered, focused, where
Whatever happened happened.  What it was

Disturbs the landscape, hides itself away.
It is as if some angel in the air
Came to its aim on the appointed day

And touched the other’s tongue with a cinder of dead fire.

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