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Nearly Valentine’s Day

Pass the bucket

It is nearly  Valentine’s Day.  The day on which Clinton Cards can justify its existence and young hopefuls shower their prospective squeezes with sentiments so far outside of their normal range of speech, taste and experience that it leaves one gasping for all the wrong reasons.

There are some beautiful, tasteful cards available, but many are unforgivably soppy or distastefully vulgar.  And let me tell you now, if anyone sent me a Valentine that had kittens or teddies on it (unless it was done with a hefty dollop of irony) I would be sick in a bucket – and then send them the card back in the bucket. With a pink ribbon round it.

Better still, make a card yourself, take the time and effort to make something special.  The Father of my Children, being an artist, used to paint the most beautiful cards (for all occasions) and I treasure them still because they were made just for me.

But never send a card anonymously.  Actually, never do anything anonymously.  What’s the point?  Give a clue, give a hint, but if you’re too timid to sign it, you don’t deserve them anyway.


Neglectful husbands purchase overpriced chocolates and clichéd flowers in the hope of reviving their sex lives, and downtrodden wives will kill their husbands if they don’t get a card as a minimum requirement whilst hoping against hope that they might just get one from a secret admirer who will take them away from all this. If they did, their husband might actually get laid.

Where is the true romance?  Where are the love letters written on beautiful paper in elegant handwriting?  Where are the spontaneous flowers given on an un-named day in June because you know he will be delighted?  How many times do women buy beautiful flowers for men anyway?  And where are the chaste yet passionate moments at railway stations?

Gone to hell in a handcart.

I will share with you my favourite ever Valentine – apposite, direct – received in the 80s when I was very politically active.

Labour is Red
Tories are Blue
But I am a Liberal
Can I sleep with you?

The answer was, of course, …..

deep sigh

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Sunday Poem 138

I started this off as an extract, but as I typed, I thought the story was just too good and atmospheric to deprive you.  I found it so creepy I had to look at pictures of fairies and kittens to ensure an unbroken night’s sleep.  I can say quite openly that it would be close to my idea of hell to be stuck in a deserted church, in the dark, alone, in the middle of Lincolnshire.  It’s up to you how much you read!

A Lincolnshire Tale – by John Betjeman (1906-1984)

Kirkby with Muckby-cum-Sparrowby-cum-Spinx
Is down a long lane in the county of Lincs,
And often on Wednesdays, well-harnessed and spruce,
I would drive into Wiss over Winderby Sluice.

A whacking great sunset bathed level and drain
From Kirkby with Muckby to Beckby-on-Bain,
And I saw, as I journeyed, my marketing done
Old Caistorby tower take the last of the sun.

The night air grew nippy.  An autumn mist roll’d
(In a scent of dead cabbages) down from the wold,
In the ocean of silence that flooded me round
The crunch of the wheels was a comforting sound.

The lane lengthened narrowly into the night
With the Bain on its left bank, the drain on its right,
And feebly the carriage-lamps glimmered ahead
When all of a sudden the pony fell dead.

The remoteness was awful, the stillness intense,
Of invisible fenland, around and immense;
And out of the dark, with a roar and a swell,
Swung, hollowly thundering, Speckleby bell.

Though myself the Archdeacon for many a year,
I had not summoned courage for visiting here;
Our incumbents were mostly eccentric or sad
But – the Speckleby Rector was said to be mad.

Oh cold was the ev’ning and tall was the tower
And strangely compelling the tenor bell’s power!
As loud on the reed beds and strong through the dark
It toll’d from the church in the tenantless park.

The mansion was ruined, the empty demesne
Was slowly reverting to marshland again –
Marsh where the village was, grass in the Hall,
And the church and the Rectory waiting to fall.

And even in springtime with kingcups about
And stumps of old-oak trees attempting to sprout,
’Twas a sinister place, neither fenland nor wold,
And doubly forbidding in darkness and cold.

As down swung the tenor, a beacon of sound,
Over listening acres of waterlogged ground
I stood by the tombs to see pass and repass
The gleam of a taper, through clear leaded glass,

And such lighting of lights in the thunderous roar
That heart summoned courage to hand at the door;
I grated it open on scents I knew well,
The dry smell of damp rot, the hassock smell.

What a forest of woodwork in ochres and grains
Unevenly doubled in diamonded panes,
And over the plaster, so textured with time,
Sweet discolouration of umber and lime.

The candles ensconced on each high panelled pew
Brought the caverns of brass-studded baize into view,
But the roof and its rafters were lost to the sight
As they soared to the dark of the Lincolnshire night:

And high from the chancel arch paused to look down
A sign-painter’s beasts in their fight for the Crown,
While massive, impressive, and still as the grave
A three-decker pulpit frowned over the nave.

Shall I ever forget what a stillness was there
When the bell ceased its tolling and thinned on the air?
then an opening door showed a long pair of hands
And the Rector himself in his gown and his bands.

* * * * *

Such a fell Visitation I shall not forget,
Such a rush through the dark, that I rush through it yet,
And I pray, as the bells ring o’er fenland and hill,
That the Speckleby acres be tenantless still.

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This little Housewife went to Market (and found that it might be closing)

In which the Wartime Housewife takes a Market Stall at Market Harborough’s indoor market despite the threat of closure.

Ever one to buck the trend, I have decided to take my merchandise from the virtual to the real world.  Every Sunday, Market Harborough has an Antique and Collectors market which I have mentioned many times on these pages.  It is a very pleasant place to go on a Sunday and has the added advantage of a nice cafe where one can enjoy tea and a bun or a sustaining and healthful Full English Breakfast.

This indoor market is also open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for general traders and it is a wonderful resource as a provider of many items which are not available in the rest of the town, and as a useful meeting place because of the cafe.  This means that many people often spend time there because it is indoors and even on a foul day, one can shop in a leisurely way and meet friends in comfort.  It is particularly convenient for the elderly as it is all on one level.

Last Sunday, I took a stall for The Wartime Housewife and it went down very well.  Not only was it a successful retail enterprise, but I took the opportunity to spread the message of living life in a less wasteful, less profligate and more respectful way and I was embraced warmly by the fair denizens of Market Harborough.  It was also a very jolly way to spend a Sunday.

All the items you see in the photos are available in my online shop – do click through and have a look.

I have booked several more stalls and hope to do a couple a month for as long as the market remains open.  Yes.  I am sorry to say that this wonderful market is under threat of closure because the council has been offered a huge wedge of cash from an, as yet, un-named major retailer who wants the spot.

Summat for the kiddies

Apparently, the market only generates £29,000 a year whereas the un-named retailer has offered £50,000.  The general public and the stallholders suggest that, if the council would allow the market to operate every day, they would raise their £50,000 and the market would be saved as a valuable and popular resource.

The current Market Hall was only built twenty years ago, but there was a market on that site for many, many years before that.  A market has been held in the town every Tuesday since 1221 – the clue is in the name; Market Harborough.  The council has suggested another site next to the present council offices, but it would be outdoors, in a draughty and exposed car park and this would be an unsuitable alternative for most of the market traders and they would be forced to close.  Certainly the Antique Market would have to finish.

A petition signed by 11,000 of the 20,000 inhabitants was got up but, as I was told by one of the market traders, the petition was ‘lost’.  Oh really.  The petition is now underway again and there is to be a Public Protest in the Square on March 17th at 11.30am when it is hoped that the residents of Market Harborough and beyond will show their support for this valuable and necessary local amenity.

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The Versatility of Bath Mats

I always have half a dozen bath mats on the go at any one time.  I buy them in bright colours, cheaply from large stores or charity shops, or re-deploy ones from the bathroom that have become a little threadbare.  They move around the house wherever they are needed.

The great things about bath mats are:

that they are easily washable
highly absorbent
designed not to slip easily as they are for use in wet places
they are available in lots of colours to co-ordinate with any room should these things worry you

Naturally I always have several in the bathroom as the boys consider bath time not so much as a hygiene intervention as a bailing excercise.

I always have one by the back door for the absorbing of wet, muddy hooves

I often have one inside the front door and occasionally one or two along the hall if the weather is particularly wet, snowy or muddy

I frequently employ bath mats in the kitchen.  I am a very messy cook and I splosh left, right and centre.
If I’ve spilt something and mopped it up, I always pop a bath mat down to prevent a skiddy floor.
Likewise by the sink as my cold tap could double as a pressure hose and I always splash water on the floor.
If I’ve mopped the floor in the day, I scatter a few around to stop slippage and prevent dirty footprints

Assorted, fluffy, brightly coloured ones look great scattered on a children’s bedroom floor

Inexplicably there is always a dirty mark outside the bathroom door.  So I put a mat there as well

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My day at The Royal Manuscripts Exhibition

On Saturday I took the train down to London to see this exhibition at The British Library.  I can’t remember the last time I went on a train and it was such a pleasure to travel somewhere and not have to drive.  The train was on time, I had booked a seat and I spent a pleasurable hour gazing out of the window and getting mildly excited when I saw my house above the embankment.

I have not yet received my copy of the lavish and costly accompanying catalogue, so everything I have written has been taken from memory.  I apologise if I inadvertently offend any deceased monarchs by mis-attributing their manuscripts.

I was encouraged that the first exhibit was a large piece of parchment (made of sheepskin) and a large piece of vellum (made of calf skin) with a big sign next to it saying ‘Please Touch!’ Whilst one was fondling the skins, there was  an informative video all about the process of preparing skins, ink, pigments and the application of gold leaf.

The exhibition proper was in a dimly lit room full of glass cases containing the most astonishing collection – much, much bigger than I was expecting.  It was also packed, which I also wasn’t expecting as I’d kind of imagined that illuminated manuscripts were something of a niche interest.  But London is a big place, and the exhibition was on the telly, so not so surprising really.

The bulk of the collection had belonged to Edward IV, Henry VIII, a few from Charles II.  These books had come mainly from The Old Royal Library which was donated to the nation in 1757 by George II. They were predominantly on religious themes – bibles, psalters, prayer books and liturgies.  These had been illustrated in glowing colour with images of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, David, Solomon and so forth.

However, kings of old also read a great deal about history and legends which featured characters from both biblical and classical sources.  Princes were encouraged to read books which would teach them about chivalry and the rules and ethics of warfare as well as books of etiquette and bestiaries which usually contained moral instruction for appropriate royal behaviour.

We were presented with the first known encyclopaedia which was written for Henry VIII and the page that was open to view contained a description of the moon cycles and the movement of the heavens.  All wonderful stuff.

But there were two sections which totally knocked me sideways.  Firstly, there was a row of books which belonged to King Cnut and King Athelstan, among others.  CNUT and ATHELSTAN!  These were Anglo-Saxon kings who lived in the 9th and 10th centuries. These books were more than a thousand years old and the illuminations in gold and azure and crimson were was bright and fresh as though they were done yesterday.

The second blinder was a book commissioned by Margaret of Anjou on personal health and hygiene and the importance of a good diet.  I think they should re-print and make a video:  “Lampreys are most nutritious and good for the digestion, but remember not to eat a surfeit or you’ll really pile on the pounds (or drop dead – whichever).

The other thing which was truly astonishing was the skill of the painters, who were not simply decorating page borders and initial capitals, but painting whole pictures in miniature to illustrate the texts.  The astonishing colours, perspectives and depths to these paintings was hard to take in.  The detail of buildings, the individual faces of kings and lords, clerics and peasants moved me to tears.  One painting was thought to be the first ever representation of a landscape with no people or buildings in it.  This was a contemporary image which gave an un-paralleled glimpse of what the land would have looked like at the time, not an educated guess, but an actual image.

I spent about three hours in the exhibition before I suddenly realised that I was totally overwhelmed.  My eyes had started to mist over and I was wandering aimlessly between glass cases, eyes prickling behind my contact lenses through a combination of low light and over-excitement.

Just as I was about to leave, I spied some music books from the 15th/16th centuries.  I once spoke to an expert in Medaeival and renaissance music who told me that their intimate knowledge of the songs and melodies was the result of years of painstaking research with original source books which they transposed into modern notation.  I envied them their happy lot and now rejoiced that I had seen such books at close quarters and understood the dedication that they have to their work.

The British Library

Sated, I fled to the gift shop to calm myself.  I could have spent a fortune on the books in the exhibition section alone. But I was restrained, as I knew I had ordered the accompanying book and Sister the Second had recorded the BBC4 programmes for me, the DVDs of which are currently languishing in the fetid paws of the Royal Mail, or sobbing pitifully on a shelf somewhere between Marlow and Desborough.

I had missed the cafe, so I sat outside and ate my packed lunch in the bitter cold, watching the streams of people going in and out of the doors of that wondrous place. I have not been to St Pancras station since the building work started, so I took the time to look at the new shops and appreciate the architecture.  There are some really nice shops there, although a visit to the ‘London 2012’ Olympic gift shop left me seething at the way they were ripping everyone off with their tacky merchandise at astronomical prices.

St Pancras Station

It was all very exciting.  I boarded my train and settled down to read my book, but the excitement of the day meant that I couldn’t read a word of it.  My mind kept straying back to my glimpses into the lives, interests and hopes of the people represented by those astonishing books.

The Royal Manuscripts Exhibition is a wonderful thing and I urge you to go if you have even a passing interest in such things.  The British Library is an extraordinary building full of wondrous things which will need my attention, bit by bit, over time.

There is a room called the Sir John Ritblatt Gallery which contains over 200 volumes from The Magna Carta, sacred texts, music, geography, science, illuminated manuscripts, the Lindesfarne Gospels, the original handwritten copy of Alice in Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures Underground) and much, much more.  Oh dear.

London under construction from St Pancras Station

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Cheesy Potatoes

At the request of Penny B, here is the recipe for cheesy potatoes as featured in the last post about Pork Chops with Mustard.

I never peel potatoes if I can possibly avoid it, in order to wrestle every ounce of taste and goodness out of them.


1 x saucepan
1 x ovenproof dish

2lb potatoes – washed and thinly sliced (about 3mm)
6-8oz Cheddar cheese – coarsely grated or thinly sliced
Black pepper
½ pint double cream

Preheat the oven to 180 / 375 / 5
Par boil the potatoes until just softening
Drain thoroughly
Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish and put a layer of cheese on top with a light twist of black pepper
Repeat these layers, finishing with a layer of potatoes
Pour the cream over the top
Place in the oven and bake for about half an hour or until the top is browning nicely

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Wills’ Cigarette Card No 11: Cold Water Dyeing


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The Royal Manuscripts Exhibition


The Wartime Housewife is very excited.  Last year I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about a forthcoming Exhibition at the British Library in London.  They are exhibiting their collection of Mediaeval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts collected by the kings and queens of England for over 800 years.  These treasures are an incredibly vivid source for understanding royal identity, moral and religious beliefs, learning, faith, artistic trends and the international politics of the period.

I’m hugely interested in the Mediaeval period and read as much as I can and attend lectures whenever possible.  A couple of years ago Prof. Michelle Brown, the former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, came to Hallaton Church in Leicestershire and gave a fascinating talk about her subject, particularly focussing on The Luttrell Psalter, which was commissioned in Lincolnshire  in the 1330s.  I already owned her book on this subject and I went all soppy and got her to sign it for me.

Boy stealing cherries from The Luttrell Psalter

This is all dovetailing nicely with a series this week, again on Radio 4, all about the History of Books as part of the ‘In Our Time’ series.  Melvyn Bragg is presenting a programme every day this about the evolution of writing things down, from words scratched on sticks to wooden tablets, vellum and parchment.  He explains how books were disseminated and about the transition from huge illustrated tomes and scrolls to the smaller ‘codex’ which was compact enough to travel with its owner.

Religious texts often had a wider social implication than we might imagine.  Before printing processes were in use, bibles and religious texts were only seen by clerics and scribes, and ordinary people were forbidden access to them.  As printing presses and particularly moveable type came into use, more people had access to the Bible.  This was massively important not just because ordinary people could then read the texts and offer their own interpretations and opinions, but for many this was the only access to the written word they had.  This inevitably contributed to an increase in literacy, education and a kind of power.

The squirrel was a symbol of female sexuality. This may be Elizabeth Luttrell after she was widowed.

The decorations on early manuscripts were astonishing works of art.  They not only serve to illustrate the text in a lavish and beautiful way, they also told additional stories about the people who had commissioned them.  Illuminators often threw in little jokes or snide visual comment and equally often the commissioner would ask to be included in the pictures.

These manuscripts offered dynamic social and religious context.  There was an intimate and continuous interplay between the daily and spiritual realities of the time, which explored politics, moral concerns and the hopes and fears of a generation, which are invariably no different from our hopes and fears today.

The exhibition runs until 13th March, so today, I took the bull by the horns and booked my ticket for the exhibition and I even bought my train tickets which, incidentally, were bought more cheaply and conveniently from Market Harborough station than when I tried to purchase them on-line.

Look forward to an account of my trip at the end of the month.  I must go now – I have some swotting to do…



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Top Tip for Squeaky Hinges

If you have a squeaky door, a quick squirt of washing up liquid into the hinge will sort it out.

It smells nicer than WD40 and if you spill a bit, you can have an ad hoc washing-down of your door which, if it’s anything like mine, has a regular smattering of mucky paw marks, mud, coffee and, recently and inexplicably, gravy, thus killing two birds with one stone.

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New Books

Those of you who have been reading the Wartime Housewife for some time will know that I am mad about books and reading.  My library contains more than three thousand books and yet I still occasionally find myself with nothing to read.  I admit that there are a few books (of the reading type as opposed to the reference-dipping-in type) which I have not tackled, but the chances are that they are sufficiently challenging or potentially upsetting that I really don’t feel like reading them last thing at night, which is when I do 95% of my recreational reading.

I don’t have that problem now though.  Firstly, just before Christmas, Mrs Grable lent me several ‘good reads’ which I have promised to give back when I’ve read them.  I used to be an inveterate stealer of books; my wholy justified view being that if I had read and enjoyed a book, then in must belong in my library from thereon in.  Is that wrong?  Well apparently it is, if the outraged bollockings from my friends and family were anything to go by.  I still possess a copy of the Orton Diaries which I stole from a friend in 1987.  The statute of limitations prevents me from returning it, otherwise, naturally I would post it off … er… post-haste.

I have stopped stealing books though and I have also stopped lending them to people, because I assume everyone is as untrustworthy as I.  If I think someone would like something, I track it down through the second-hand network and if all else fails, or it’s a specific present, then I buy a copy in a bookshop.

I digress.  As I said, Mrs Grable has lent me books.  But even better than that, eight new books have come into my possession since Christmas either through gifts or The Sales.  At the beginning of December, I prowled around my local bookshops looking for titles that people may wish to buy me for Christmas or that were titles I felt I simply couldn’t do without, and noted them down in my little notebook.  Four of those books are now mine.  Hurrah!!!  These are my new books:-





Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson Gift from the Father of My Children I heard this book serialised on Radio 4 and was surprised at how much empathy I had with her story.  Halfway through it already and it’s fabulous.
Dissolution C J Sansom Bought with Waterstone’s loyalty points Mrs Grable introduced me to these Tudor murder-mysteries which are beautifully written and utterly engrossing.
Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch Third off in the sale Saw this before Christmas and simply liked the cover.
The Secret Life of Poems – a poetry primer Tom Paulin Gift to Me from Me I spotted this as I sat cross-legged in the Poetry Section and didn’t feel I could justify spending £9.99 on a paperback.  Then I thought “Sod it, I want it.” So I bought it.
The West End Front – The Wartime Secrets of London’s Grand Hotels Matthew Sweet From Sister the First and Family ‘A lost world of scandal, intrigue and fortitude’ says the cover.  That’ll do me.
The Wartime Housewife was once caught out by a fire alarm at a hotel, in a compromising situation, so she’s really looking forward to reading this.
Empire – what ruling the world did to the British Jeremy Paxman Half price in the sale Having read ‘The English’ and ‘The Victorians’ with great enthusiasm, I am looking forward to getting my nose stuck into this one.
The History of England Volume 1: Foundation Peter Ackroyd Half price in the sale Huge fan of Peter Ackroyd and have read practically everything he’s ever written.  So far I’ve only looked at the pictures which are scrumptious.  The title ‘Volume 1’ is equally enticing as it means I will be obliged to collect the rest.
London Peculiars: curiosities in a capital city Peter Ashley A gift from The Father of My Children I used to own this book but it went missing sometime during a house move. Sadly this gorgeous and fascinating book is out of print but it can be found on the 2nd hand circuit. The sequels ‘More London Peculiars’ and ‘Pastoral Peculiars’ are happily still in print.

That should keep me going for a bit I reckon.  I read thirty-five books last year, all carefully noted in my Reading Record Book, but I think some of these weighty tomes may slow me down a bit.  But, heck! Who needs sleep?

Comments { 28 }