Tags: Bathampton, Caen Hill Locks, canal boat, Canal Museum, Canals and Rivers Trust, Chester Canal Trust, cygnets, Devizes, Kennet & Avon canal, Maiden's Trip., tinned milk
Hello there, and I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely May bank holiday weather. It was a little bit wetter last week when I and four chums (yes, there really were Five of us!) went on a canal boat holiday along the Kennet & Avon canal. Although the Famous Five never went on a boating holiday (they do use boats as frequent means of transport though, especially to get to Kirrin Island) it was a very FFS holiday. I suppose the closest point of comparison would be Five Go Off in a Caravan – living in a small and compact space and enjoying a VERY slow pace of travel.
We had three nights and four days on the boat, and I felt very much like Anne when we arrived at Bathampton (just outside of Bath) and were shown over the boat, the ‘Dorothy Beryl’, by Richard, her owner. In Five Go Off in Caravan, the Five are inspired by a passing traveling circus to hire two caravans to take them away for the summer holidays. When the little caravans arrive, one red, one green, Anne and the rest of the Kirrins sequel in delight as they explore their temporary homes:
‘”Bunks along one side – is that where we sleep? How gorgeous!”
“Look at this little sink – we can really wash up! And golly, water comes out of these taps!”
[…] “It’s like a proper house inside.Doesn’t it seem nice and big? […]
The children spent hours examining their caravans and finding out all the secrets. They certainly well-fitted, spotlessly clean, and very roomy.’
Our boat was full of secrets and extremely well equipped. The dining table and seats turned into a double bed, the sitting room area revealed another bed (all bedding stowed underneath) and there were all sorts of cupboards hidden everywhere containing everything we needed. There was even a shower, toilet and little fridge – and a wood burning stove which came in very handy for us to warm up and dry our wet clothes (there was plenty of rain).
Like the Five’s caravans, out boat was fairly modern rather than old-fashioned and traditional. Before the caravans arrive, Anne asks if they will be gypsy caravans, on high wheels, but Julian shakes his head “No, they’re modern, Mother says, streamlined and all that.” I’d been secretly hoping our boat would be old and traditionally painted in classic canal boat style, but she was instead a neat blue with her name painted in bright yellow on her side. We did have a small stool by the stove that was traditionally decorated though. Canal boat art is beautiful, with roses and castles the traditional means of decoration. This example is from the Chester Canal Boat Trust.
If you live in London (as I do), you can also visit the Canal Museum by King’s Cross to see examples of canal art, find out more about the history of London’s canals and even step on board a real boat (and also play inside a recreation of one). Excitingly, the Canal Museum also doubles up as a museum for the history of ice cream (I have previously blogged on this, I think).
When my boss found out I was going on a boating holiday, he recommended a book called Maiden’s Trip, by Emma Smith. It’s about women taking on boatmen’s work during the war and hauling cargoes along the Grand Union Canal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of it before I went, but I was inspired by the blurb on the Bloomsbury website to cook kedgeree for dinner on the first night. We actually ate very well on board. Richard provided delicious breakfast food for us, all sourced locally – creamy milk (with actual lumps of cream floating in it), local bread, eggs, bacon and a pot of homemade marmalade. I brought some tinned evaporated milk for my breakfast coffee (Louis brought an aeropress – I don’t think the Five had one of those). This is our lunch on the first day – cheese and cucumber sandwiches. We were delayed in eating these due to an unfortunate bump we accidentally gave some resident boaters – slightly scary men with large dogs who were not best pleased and actually boarded our boat to give us a piece of their mind. Oops.
This incident did get me imagining a Famous Five-type adventure on a canal boat, with the mystery kickstarted by a similar sort of incident (the Five think the men nasty sorts, moor just around the corner for the night and then witness strange goings on, which could be smuggling by boat, or perhaps a kidnap victim being stashed on board). However, in actuality, the only other eventful thing that happened that day was getting grounded on an aquaduct with an extreme right angle and nearly leaving Louis behind on the bank.
We also had the pleasure of working locks and swing bridges. Because the pace of travel on a canal boat is very slow (you have to go slowly for various reasons, not least because you don’t want to violently disturb all of the moored boats), having locks and bridges adds a LOT of excitement to the journey. The captain/skipper has to steer the boat close enough to the bank for you to hop off and run ahead to open the bridge, or get the lock working (two people are best for the latter). As the boat barely travels at walking pace, if there are a couple of bridges or locks coming up it’s not worthwhile getting back on board so you get a good walk as well as a work out using the windlass (lock key) to work the winding mechanism that lets water in and out. This can actually be quite physically taxing.
We worked about 7 locks on the second day which took us almost up to the bottom of Caen (pronounced ‘Cane’) Hill lock flight. This is a group of 29 locks, with 16 of them being placed in very close succession to take your boat up, or down, Caen Hill near Devizes. The guides say to allow around 4 hours to work the flight, but as as we only had 4 days, we didn’t have the time or inclination to do this (we would have just had to come back down again right away, and it would have taken a whole day). Richard told us about a time he was travelling with a relative who was a marine – he got some of his colleagues to help and they managed the locks in a record time of 1 and a half hours.
We contented ourselves with taking a nice walk up the flight, watching people working its gates and wondering if any of them would get attacked by the nesting swans. You can see films of last year’s swans and cygnets here, on the Canal and Rivers Trust website (I think this year’s must be there too, but can’t find on the website). There were also plenty of ducks and ducklings on the canals at this time of year, and we saw a number of herons plus the usual coots and moorhens.
By the time we returned to Bathampton on Tuesday evening, we all felt like experienced boaters. I’m dying to go again. Because the boats travel slowly, it’s a great way to see the countryside and also relax (if there are a few of you, there’s plenty of opportunity to work (steer, handle ropes, do the locks etc) but you rarely need 5 people so lots of time to read, write, sleep on the roof of the boat and so on. As I live by the Regent’s Canal in London, and cycle the towpath every morning, it’s given me a different perspective of the boats I pass every day. I’m actually quite jealous. There’s something very satisfying about the rhythms of life on the water. And one other curious thing – it took me a day or two to stop having a sensation of gently rocking when I got back on land.
Tags: Little Book of lunch, sandwiches
My friend and work colleague Wendy pointed out this enjoyable feature on lunchbox sandwiches in the Guardian yesterday with the instruction “scroll down”.
Ha ha! I was very pleased to see ‘The Enid Blyton’ given its full due as a valid lunch option. Sandwiches with sides of radishes and hard boiled eggs are excellent lunchtime fare, my only quibble would be to suggest that for a more aesthetically pleasing, and authentically Blytonian, experience you should wrap your dipping salt up in a little screw of paper rather than use tupperware. The sandwiches that the authors of this article and The Little Book of Lunch suggest are watercress – very tasty and classy – but Enid has a wonderful knack for making the humble sandwich sound like the most appetising thing ever, even when it includes such retro delights as Spam. So here are a few more canonical suggestions:
‘”Cucumber dipped in vinegar! Spam and lettuce! Egg! Sardine! Oooh, Mr Luffy, your sandwiches are much nicer than ours,” said Anne, beginning on two together, one cucumber and the other Spam and lettuce” (Five Go Off to Camp, sandwich-maker: Mrs Luffy).
‘”Aunt Fanny cut dozens and dozens of sandwiches,” said Anne. “She said if we kept them in this tin they wouldn’t go stale, and would last a day or two till we went back. I’m hungry. Shall we have some now?”
They sat out in the sun, munching the ham sandwiches. Anne had brought tomatoes too, and they took a bite at a sandwich and then a bite at a tomato.’ (Five on a Secret Trail, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny, with improvisation by Anne).
Potted meat (devoured ravenously and even two at a time by a malnourished Uncle Quentin) (Five on Kirrin Island Again, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny).
‘They had a magnificent lunch about half-past twelve. Really, Mrs Johnson had surpassed herself! Egg and sardine sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, ham – there seemed no end to them!’ (Five Go to Mystery Moor, sandwich-maker: Mrs Johnson, of Johnson’s Riding School).
‘”I made [Timmy’s] sandwiches myself.” [said George]. And so she had! She had bought sausagemeat at the butchers and had actually made Timmy twelve sandwiches with it, all neatly cut and packed. (Five Get Into Trouble, sandwich-maker: George).
Perhaps the best sandwich-making and eating in the Famous Five books comes in Five on a Hike Together. The process of making the cheese, pork, ham and egg sandwiches (4 different types – not all together!) is stretched across no less than five pages (the children do ask for eight sandwiches each so it takes a while) and then there are seven pages of expectation and build up before the children finally sit down in the heather on Fallaway Hill in the late autumn sun to munch their sandwiches while gazing across the lonely moor.
‘At last the sandwiches were finished and the old woman appeared again. She had packed them up neatly in four parcels of grease-proof paper, and had pencilled on each what they were. Julian read what she had written and winked at the others.
“My word – we’re in for a grand time!” he said.’
(Five on a Hike Together, sandwich-maker: un-named ‘shop woman’ aka ‘old woman’ aka ‘Ma’)
Tags: anchor rubber stamp, National Gallery, Paint Your Own Postcards
Whew! Just made my (self-imposed) deadline…
In a pre-mobile phone era, when the Five go off on adventures they have to send postcards back home to let their parents/aunt & uncle know all is well. Anne has, on occasion, expressed a desire to become an artist, so this Paint Your Own Postcards kitswill encourage her to produce works of art with a purpose, inspired by the glorious landscapes the Five encounter on their travels. It contains 20 sheets of thick paper with pre-printed address lines and a stamp square on the reverse.
As an added bonus, while online or visiting the National Gallery shop, you could also pick up this rather stylish anchor rubber stamp that might be a nice stocking filler for Alf the Fisherboy.
Tags: Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, ginger biscuits, Jane Brocket
Yesterday’s reference to Five on Kirrin Island Again gave me the urge to bake a version of Joanna the Cook’s famous ginger biscuits. Joanna knows how to use food to make people happy and cheer them up when they’re sad. When poor George is forced to let her beloved dog Timmy stay on Kirrin Island with Uncle Quentin (he needs a bodyguard to protect him while he conducts top secret scientific experiments), Joanna directs the children towards the biscuit tin. “I made you some of your favourite ginger biscuits this morning”, she tells them, much to Dick’s delight:
‘”I do think good cooks deserve some kind of decoration, just as much as good soldiers, or scientists, or writers. I should give Joanna the O.B.C.B.E”.
“Whatever’s that?” said Julian.
“Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire,” said Dick, grinning.’
As I’m off to visit Anne later (companion on such infamous adventures as Peter’s Tower in 2010 and last summer’s wet and rainy trip to the Blytonian equivalent of Mecca, Corfe Castle) I thought I would make her a batch of ginger biscuits [Anne – if you’re reading this, surprise! And I hope you like ginger…].
I won’t post the recipe for these up here as it comes courtesy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket‘s excellent compendium of recipes based on food in children’s books. I’ve made several of JB’s recipes (Battenberg cake, saffron cake, pineapple upside down cake) and I have to say that they are a) delicious and b) have worked every time. Although having said that, mine look a bit pale, cracked and ugly. And they did take a little longer in the oven than JB recommends. But they taste good and that’s the most important thing, right?!
Tags: Bara Brith, Five Get into a Fix, St David's Day
It’s been quieter here at Famous Five Style than the winter term at Gaylands School. I’m a little bit horrified to see that my last post was written nearly half a year ago. Since then I’ve been busy moving house, hibernating and becoming enamoured with many things Welsh. With this last in mind, I thought I’d bake something traditional to celebrate St David’s Day this Friday, 1 March. It also gives me an excuse to at last write something about the Famous Five’s trip to Wales in Five Get into a Fix.
It’s the depths of winter and the Five have been sent to Magga Glen Farm to recuperate from bad coughs and colds that kept them in bed (and – horror of horrors – appetite-less) over the Christmas hols. Their legs feel like jelly and poor George is looking particularly rough, with black rings around her eyes and a terrible hacking cough. The family doctor recommends that the children go somewhere cold with a high altitude to aid their recovery before they have to return to school. Switzerland would be ideal but is too costly. Happily, old Jenkins the gardener comes up with the perfect solution:
‘Jenkins came in, carrying a basket of ripe, yellow apples, and some plump, yellow-brown pears.
It certainly is, and before you know it, the cousins have packed up their skis and toboggans and are off to stay with Jenkins’s Aunt Glenys (aka old Mrs Jones) up in the snowy Welsh hills. They arrive at Magga Glen tired and weary after a long day’s drive. The description of their arrival at the old farmhouse and their bedrooms is incredibly enticing:
‘”Go through that door, look – and up that little flight of stairs [said Mrs Jones]. The rooms up there are all yours – no-one will disturb you.”
The Five went out of the door and found themselves in a stone passage, lighted by a candle. A narrow flight of stone steps led upwards to a small landing on which another candle burned. The steps were very steep, and the children stumbled up them, their legs stiff after their long drive.
Two bedrooms opened off the little landing, opposite to one another. They seemed exactly alike, and were furnished in the same way too. There were washstands with basins, and in each basin was a jug of hot water, wrapped around with a towel. Wood-fires burned in the little stone fireplaces, their flames lighting the rooms almost more than the single candles there’
Ever the romantic, Anne decides that “I shall go to bed early, and watch the flames”.
And Mrs Jones is, of course, a top notch cook and the Five eat extremely well during their short stay at the farmhouse [although after Timmy has a run in with the farm dogs the Five retreat to a chalet up in the hills and start feasting on tinned food and cocoa made from melted snow and finished off with a good glug of thick, fresh cream]. Mrs Jones gives them crusty fresh bread (home-made), new-laid boiled eggs, ham, and apple pie (also home-made) plus an ‘enormous’ cheese (maybe a good Caerphilly?). Sadly though, there is no mention of either Welsh cakes or bara brith, both of which would be perfect to sustain the Kirrin cousins during a long day of winter sports and mystery-solving in the Welsh hills.
To make up for Mrs Jones’ failings in this respect, I decided to make a bara brith. The name means ‘speckled bread’ and it’s basically a sticky tea loaf which can be made as a yeasted bread or as a fruit cake without yeast. One benefit of the latter is that the brith lasts longer – ideal if you want to take it with you on a winter break far away from civilisation. It’s also very simple to make, although you do need to plan ahead and soak your dried fruits in black tea the night before.
Here’s the recipe, adapted from the ever-reliable Great British Book of Baking:
Welsh Bara Brith
250g mixed dried fruit
100g dark brown muscovado sugar
225ml hot strong black tea (no milk)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tbs dark rum or brandy
1 large egg, beaten
250g self-raising flour
Put the dried fruit and sugar into a mixing bowl. Brew up some tea, pour over the fruit and leave overnight (or for a minimum of 6 hours). When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas mark 3 and butter a 450g loaf tin. Line the tin with one long strip of paper to cover the bottom and the two short sides of the tin; this will make it easier to get the loaf out later.
Add the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum, and beaten egg to the tea-soaked fruit. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then sift in the flour. Mix well and then transfer to the loaf tin ensuring the mixture is spread evenly. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before turning out and wait (if you can) for the brith to be completely cold before slicing and eating it with a generous spreading of butter. A cup of tea goes quite nicely with it too.
Tags: Agnes Jekyll, chocolate mould, Five Fall into Adventure, homemade orangeade, jam tarts
I’ve been desperate to make a chocolate mould for some time, since reading about the ‘smasher of a supper’ served up in Five Fall Into Adventure. After George gets kidnapped – yes, this does happen more than once – the rest of the Kirrins and Joan the Cook receive a ransom note (Uncle Q and Aunt F are gallivanting around in Spain somewhere). They are told to leave one of Uncle Quentin’s notebooks (he’s a top notch scientist) under the crazy paving the garden; once this happens George will be returned to the bosom of the family. The Kirrins are a daring lot though and decide to spy on the kidnappers when they come for the book. But how? They know Kirrin Cottage is being watched so they snatch Sid the paperboy when he comes to deliver the evening news, and Dick makes off wearing Sid’s cap and bag. He then sneaks back after dark to see what happens…
To keep their unwitting kidnap victim entertained for the evening the others play snap and Joan serves up a meal of ‘ham and eggs and chip potatoes followed by jam tarts and a big chocolate mould, of which Sid ate about three-quarters’.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to re-create this rib sticker of a repast hence the slightly lighter stuffed tomatoes (from Five on a Secret Trail), but we did have the combo of jam tarts (strawberry and raspberry) with the chocolate mould for afters. I used a 1920s recipe from a brilliant publication called The Woman’s Book. It tells you all sorts of things, from how to cook and be a hostess, to how to lay linoleum, to how to open a bank account. Here is its recipe for chocolate mould.
(Fr. Moule au Chocolate)
3 gills of Milk [1 gill = 1/4 pint]
2 yolks of Eggs
1/2 oz Gelatine
1 or 2 oz sugar
A few drops of Vanilla
Method. – Break the chocolate in small pieces and put it into a lined saucepan with one gill of milk. Dissolve slowly over the fire and cook until smooth. Then remove the saucepan from the fire and add the remainder of the milk, the gelatine, sugar , and yolks of eggs. Stir again over the fire until almost boiling and until the gelatine is dissolved. Strain into a basin, add a few drops of vanilla and cool slightly. The pour into a wetted mould and set aside until firm. Turn out when wanted, and serve plain or with custard sauce.
This pudding may be made less rich by omitting the yolks of eggs.
And here is my chocolate mould. It doesn’t look too appetising, does it?! I faithfully followed the instructions and added 1/2 oz of gelatine but I think I needed half of that (I can only conclude modern gelatine is stronger). It was hypnotically shiny but a little too solid. Anne served it up for us and was able to cut it with a knife. We had to jiggle the plate hard to get even a hint of wobble. It was quite interesting but not my best pudding ever. I hate to waste things but had to throw the remains away – I really needed a young Sid to consume the remaining three-quarters.
Tags: Touring England
A lovely Sunday afternoon spent with Anne: tea, scones and the Touring England board game – an exciting 1930s race around the country by motor car. Anne won. You actually tour England and Wales but the 1930s was clearly a time more indifferent to the divisions between the nations of Great Britain. Apart from that little slip up, the game is both educational (there are interesting facts about each town or city you have to visit) and fun.
Each players picks 8 cards at random and these decide the destinations you must set off to visit (pre-motorway) before returning to your home town. You choose your route and encounter a number of obstacles along the way (traffic lights, minor collisions, stubborn ferries that require you to roll at 6 before boarding). As the box says, this is a game requiring both skill and judgement.
Tags: bicycles, coffee, loyalty card, Tapped and Packed
A true virtue in the Blyton world is loyalty. It makes up for all manner of other anti-social and annoying habits such as George’s bad temper and Anne’s occasional wimpiness. Loyalty is indeed good (more loyalty in the world please!), as is coffee, and bicycles. So, with this in mind, the new loyalty scheme set up by my (workplace’s) local coffee shop has everything going for it. Tapped and Packed not only do excellent coffee, cakes and sandwiches, they also have bicycle iconography galore – there’s an old bike outside, plus bicycles are stamped onto the cafe’s takeaway cups. There’s even a cute little cyclist who’s used on the loyalty card – collect six cyclist stamps and your next coffee is free! What could be nicer than that?
Tags: Captain Pugwash, Jeake's House, John Ryan, Lion Street Store, Rye, Rye Art Gallery
Anne and I popped down to Rye yesterday for a pre-Christmas break. As some readers may know, Rye was the inspiration for Smuggler’s Top, the setting of the fourth Famous Five adventure. It’s a lovely cobbled town, built on a hill and once the home of smugglers as well as many literary types including Henry James, Radclyffe Hall and E F Benson.
We stayed in the cosy and splendidly decorated Jeake’s House. It was built by an astrologically-minded Samuel Jeakes and a plaque in the wall records the position of the stars at the time the foundation stone of the building was laid in 1689. After various travails across the centuries, Jeake’s house was bought by the American poet Conrad Aiken in the 1920s, and in the 1980s taken over by Jenny Hadfield who has turned it into a very nice place to stay. The bedrooms are now named after Aiken and various literary and artistic luminaries who visited or lived in Rye. We were in the snug and ceiling-beamed ‘T S Eliot’ room but you can also bed down with Radclyffe Hall and Malcolm Lowry amongst others.
It’s ideal for a winter’s stay as there are plenty of communal spaces in which to relax including the parlour (pictured above) and the theatrical-looking bar which is well-stocked with board games, newspapers and alcohol (just write down what you have and it’s charged to your room). Breakfast was in part of the house which was formerly a Quaker chapel. Anne had the full English; I had my current favourite morning repast – a boiled egg with Marmite soldiers.
Top (cold and wet weather) things we did during our brief visited included: a drink by the Giant’s Fireplace in the legendary Mermaid Inn (hangout of smugglers in the 18th century); a trip to the Rye Art Gallery to see an excellent little exhibition on animator John Ryan (creator of Captain Pugwash and long-time resident of Rye); and a look around the Lion Street Store, a wonderful emporium of prints, jewellery, stationery and much more, showcasing work by makers and illustrators such as Emily Warren, James Brown, Nicholas John Frith and Alice Pattullo. A great place for last minute gifts for people with good (nay, excellent) taste.
It’s now officially Christmas Eve and I’m back in London, typing this in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. Tomorrow we collect our bird from the butchers – not a turkey from Kirrin farm, alas – and stock up on Brussels sprouts.
Good luck to everyone who still has presents to buy!
Tags: Famous Five Christmas presents
Well, it’s now December so it’s time for the annual suggestions of presents for the Kirrin clan or for similar-minded folk.
For Julian: Also from Present and Correct, these stylish and useful map crayons for Julian who loves to boast about his excellent map reading skills and well-developed bump of locality. Or from Temple of Commerce, a corrective grammar sticker pack so he can put the grammatical world to rights.
For Aunt Fanny: a beautiful bedspread from vintage retailer Horrockses. These are based on original 40s and 50s patterns. I like this one which is called ‘Betty’.
For George: A dog lamp that will recall the hi-jinx of Five on a Secret Trail. Note that Pedlars actullay describe it as a ‘collar of shame’. So perhaps this is actually quite an insensitive present (and again not an austerity gift)…
For Timmy: Well, I confess I’m struggling a bit here. In previous years I’ve suggested a studded collar and a fake bunny for him to chase and there’s only so much variety you can introduce into doggy gifts. Perhaps George could get him this bone shaped biscuit cutter so that Joan the Cook could make some of her legendary biscuits just for him?
For Dick: Gourmand and gourmet Dick might like to enjoy his ice cream out of one of these gold ice cream bowls, also from Pedlars.
For Uncle Quentin: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing should keep Uncle Quentin quiet and out of the way on Christmas Day. Although I’ve blatantly taken this image from Amazon, I of course suggest that all bookish presents are purchased from your nearest non-chain book shop. I’ve already been to the wondrous Broadway Bookshop for some of my gifts…