Writing In Derbyshire

Recently, I had a couple of nights in a lovely place in Derbyshire.

The BB was coming from his dig near Hadrian’s Wall and we decided to have a reacquaintance meeting in The Old Hall in Chinley – and yes it is recommended.

I had a night and a morning to kill before he arrived.

I would have spent more time – it was raining – on watching Saturday morning telly from my bed but Saturday morning telly was a disappointment.

There are only so many times that you want to hear another take on Donald Trump and North Korea or the alternative of Little Women circa 1940 something, or endless children’s cartoons….

A longish walk? yes, but in the rain on your own without a dog, not so much.

So, I wrote blog posts.

And it seemed appropriate because many moons ago when I was a trade union official, I used to hire a cottage for a week in not so far away Winster and I would write.

It was a tiny cottage with an old fashioned range and you were either freezing as it got going, or an hour later, so hot you were stood against the far wall in only your knickers and vest.

But I liked it, and the local pub, and my typewriter. Yes, it was that long ago.

I have no recollection of what I wrote but clearly it was not a best-selling novel.

After a while, friends cottoned on to this and would invite themselves for a night and it turned into a pop-up B&B – maybe that is why I never got round to writing any deathless prose.

Anyway, recently I have cashed in a defunct endowment mortgage and found myself with a bit of money.

Not a lot, but enough for treats and as I can quite well believe the research which says people are made happier by experiences than stuff, I intend some more breaks in nice places.

And, if you google about or even if you look in your inbox now and then, there are loads of offers of special breaks at bargain prices.

But these sites do annoy me.

Once you click onto the link, it says where do you want to go?

Well, I don’t know – show me where your bargains and surprise me.

Of course, I should do a lot of research and then find what I am looking for but that is not me.

We live in a semi-detached and the neighbour next door has taken all the researching for holiday energy in the building – she is a very good at it – maybe I will ask her.

In the meantime, I am sure even I can find nice pubs with rooms scattered about the British countryside and if I can persuade the BB to let me go a day ahead, I can get a whole lot of writing done.




Mamie Dickens Signed This Book

There are few times in an Oxfam volunteer’s ‘career’ that you get a book which might be worth a few thousand pounds. But then again not many are signed by Dickens’ eldest daughter.

No, I didn’t find it at the bottom of a box – another volunteer did.

I take my hat off to him.

Not least because I have to admit that if it had come through my hands for sorting, I might have thrown it in a sack without looking inside.

But he put it one side and made me look at it.

It is ‘The Household Edition’ and over the years I have learned there were a lot of them printed and quite a few of them come into our shop – whereas, dear reader, not a lot of them sell.

But this one has this dedication:




Mary (Mamie) it turns out, helped run the new household when Dickens left his wife taking the children with him and set up home with his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth and may, just may, have had an affair with her – or more likely gone on to have an affair with Ellen Ternan.

It wasn’t until after her father’s death that Mamie re-contacted her mother.



(Charles Dickens with Mamie and Kate, two of his daughters)

Georgina found living with Mamie difficult, complaining that she was drinking too much. In the late 1880s she persuaded Mamie to move to Manchester where she lived with a clergyman and his wife.

Georgina wrote, “Mr Hargreaves is a most unworthy person in every way – and it was always amazing to me that she could keep up this strong feeling and regard and affection for him to the very end of her life. Mrs Hargreaves has kept true and devoted in her attentions to Mamie during her long illness.”

(I am not sure what the definition of drinking too much was in Victorian times but I suspect Georgina would not approve of my plans for a large glass(es) of white tonight….)

Back to the book: I think the dedication is to Mary Wakeman but I have failed to find her and thus a connection to Mamie.

The dedication is after Charles Dickens’s death and by that time Mamie had gone to live with a Rev Hargreaves and his wife in Manchester which was in itself, or had occasioned, a ‘scandal’ according to Wikipedia.

Then she left Manchester, and retired to ‘the country’ which was in this case, Farnham Royal in Berkshire and is now, to you and me, an extension of Slough – and there she died.

So, I looked at this book and its dedication and I Googled and got nowhere with any search of a similar book and dedication.

When I called our antiquarian book expert, who was on his way to somewhere to do something, he said not to get my hopes up as he didn’t think it was going to set the Oxfam Petersfield Bookshop world alight.

But, and dear reader and this is not something I often say, I thought he was wrong.

He turned up in the shop today to say he was. ( That conversation made me miss Pilates which is not something a Sussex housewife should do.)

Anyway, in the meantime, I had contacted The Dickens Museum in London who said it would be a great book to add to their collection but they didn’t do valuations.

I would like to go to them and if it turns out to be worth £100 they can have it with our blessings and free postage and packing.

But if there are (probably Americans) willing to pay hundreds, even possibly thousands of pounds that is what we will do.

After all this is not, I understand, even in my excited state, a national treasure.

So, I have contacted someone in Bonhams who has helped us before – usually that involves politely telling me what I have is not worth their thinking about.

I have contacted Peter Harringtons, a posh bookseller in London and another posh bookseller called Sotherans, and the retiring board member of the Dickens’ Society at the University of Iowa.

I have emailed the Slough Observer on the basis that Mamie must be a local celeb and perhaps they know of a local historian who knows of her friend and has some more information.

(Do they believe I am an Oxfam volunteer or do they suspect that I am posing as one so they will be nice to me?)

So, now dear reader, I will leave you to try and find Mary Wakeman and who was she to Mamie Dickens, where was Mamie Dickens when she gave this book as a Christmas present, are there any other books out there signed by Mamie, and I will keep checking my emails to see if any of these experts are excited.








Events, Events Part 2

My niece was staying so she came to work on the set up of The Garden Show at Loseley.

She was bowled over by the big house but less impressed by what we were doing, ‘Is it like a big car boot sale?’

To be fair she had never seen one of these shows in full flow and indeed didn’t stay long enough to see it in action – but next year….

Anyway, she and I, along with a very nice man, were delegated to put up bunting.


It may not sound like much to you but it is one of those details which have to be done.

She came up with the idea to string the bunting from the central pole and after a while – always one to consider things before jumping in – she got into the swing as it were and I think she enjoyed the day.

As I said, I am the H&S person so have to give very member of staff a briefing.

We have codes for emergencies – fox for a fire, moses for a missing child, and sands for a suspect package.

Anyway, I was in full flow of this briefing with my niece looking rather surprised that all these people were listening to me and that I had even an airy air of authority when I got to the code around a suspect package.

I explained that we were a garden show and if it looked like a bag of delphiniums it was very likely to be just that.

And we would never be high on a terrorist’s list of targets.

‘Pretty niche terrorism,’ someone said.


Box Sets

For reasons I am not entirely clear about, we seem to have had a lot of donations of sets of books into the shop recently.

There are some for whom the trip to Oxfam was the last daylight they ever saw and before you recoil with horror, do you know anyone who is willing to pay money for a set of Reader’s Digest’s abridged novels in leatherette covers? Be honest now. I thought so.

We are a place of many retired naval chaps and so we get a fair amount of their books which currently include three complete sets of Maritime History ( one of which has been taken by my retired naval friend at a knock down price – very knock down as it happens as he forgot his wallet when he came for supper and took them away).

Theoretically they are worth about £70 but in practice, they appear to be unsaleable – but bulky.

Not nearly as bulky though as the near complete set of naval architecture books we have been given.

A near complete set because the very nice naval architect (retired) who donated them, wanted to keep a few of special significance as in, he was a contributor..

And, as any fellow booksellers will know, a near set is a long way from a complete set.

And when I say bulky, each book weighs kilos and there are currently about 10 crates of them littered around the upstairs of the shop.

Again in theory they are worth good money but even offering on them on Oxfam Online at a heftily reduced price, there have been no takers.

Needless to say, we have listed them as buyer collects.

If you know someone for whom many books on naval architecture would be a treasure trove of fascinating information, a priceless read, a delight to savour, then do get in touch quickly because we need the space and the crates.

The other day I put out a complete set of Graham Greene books and just half an hour later a man came and bought some of them.

He had picked out nine and I managed to persuade him into a round ten of them but now, as per above, I have a less than complete set.

Unfortunately no one has bought any of the set of Rudyard Kiplings – all rather small and sweet and bound in real red leather ( even if it is flaking a bit and the loose bits have to be swept off the shelf now and then.)

I was told he as making a comeback as a ‘fashionable’ author but apparently not yet in Petersfield.

Then there are the complete works of Agatha Christie. I knew she had been prolific but not nearly two whole shelves worth of prolific.


Interestingly, the DVDs of Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford I put alongside them – squeezed onto the end of the second shelf – have sold much quicker than the books.

And the trouble with having sets of books out, is that we get more of them.

There is a direct link between what we put out on display and what we get donated.

(The other week, we very dangerously short of history books. However, I had carefully collected a box of books on WW1 ready for the Paschendale anniversary and we put them out on the table.

That was before I was away for a week os so – when I came back the history shelves were groaning with stock.)

So, I look forward, with trepidation, to endless boxes of, seemingly endless, complete sets.

Still, it fills the shelves.


It Can’t Happen Here

Recently a book came into the shop which I hadn’t seen before and was called ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by John Sinclair originally published in 1935 and (smartly) re-issued this year by Penguin.

The blurb says:

‘A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fearmongering demagogue runs for President of the United States – and wins. Sinclair Lewis’s chilling 1935 bestseller is the story of Buzz Windrip, ‘Professional Common Man’, who promises poor, angry voters that he will make America proud and prosperous once more, but takes the country down a far darker path. As the new regime slides into authoritarianism, newspaper editor Doremus Jessup can’t believe it will last – but is he right? This cautionary tale of liberal complacency in the face of populist tyranny shows it really can happen here.’

The hero of the book is an editor of a local paper and there are all kinds of echoes about the president’s antipathy to mainstream media – or in the case of 1935, just the media.

The latter half of the book talks about camps – now this was 1935 so no Auschwitz in sight, and anyway, I thought/think that is just not going to happen in this day and age.

Mind you, I had not though a president would defend the Klu Klux Klan.

I thought, for what it is worth, it was not a good idea to bring down the statue of Robert E Lee – you can’t re-write history and as Trump said, who is next? after all Thomas Jefferson was indeed a slave owner.

But then i found out that quite a few of these statues had been put up long after the war, in fact into the 20s, 30, 40s and even 50s – and were more of a reminder to the black population of who was in charge than any commemoration of the time.

And the supremacists were there because for them, the statue was a symbol of what they stand for and that is not equality for all, whatever colour, sex or religion you are.

And, yes, I am sure there were leftist protestors who used violence and would do so again.

I am also sure there are those on the right, who went to that march to campaign for the right to keep the statue who were horrified at the sight of someone driving at full speed into a crowd of opponents.

But there is no excuse or defending of white supremacists, anyone nearing the racist or fascist.

So, here’s the deal:

Poor, white men ( and also some women) feel hard done by because they have lost out and in their view, women, black people, gays have had the attention of the establishment, too much support and have ‘gotten’ an unfair deal.

The point is that white men (poor and otherwise) have had to face attempts to equalise society with others creeping up on their supremacy and they want to revert to the status quo – white men in all shapes and sizes, in charge.

They have faith in a man who says he is working for them and against the liberal establishment and maybe he is.

Liberal complacency on my part? Hands up. I had hoped, even presumed, he would never win and that liberal, progressive views would win through. Easy for me, you might think.

Any change of heart? No. I am a liberal and I want equality for everyone.

A wish to get out of my bubble and listen to other views? Well, I’d like to say yes but really….

and that probably is part of the problem.





Events, Events Part 1

Never under-estimate how hard it is to be an event organiser.

You need to be able to see the big picture and the many, many, many tiny details which have to be got right. You need to be unflappable, patient, endlessly charming – quite often to people you don’t like – to be a leader and in the case of the event I work on, deal with the vagaries of the weather.


I would be a hopeless event organiser – high on the list of reasons why not, is my lack of attention to detail  – see previous blog and relucant housewife listing error.

But I do get involved with events run by a woman with all the skills listed above.

For my sins and thanks to that extra glass of wine poured by a good friend some years ago, I agreed to be the Health and Safety person ( I do think you always need capitals for H&S.)

There is something childishly pleasing to me in being a behind the scenes person at an event – and I know it is not Glastonbury, but it is still a sneaky pleasure.

I like wearing a staff wristband, having a radio being able to go into areas where the public are not allowed, knowing many of the exhibitors – and doing a bit of shopping on the side.

The staff team are people who are either related to one another or have been involved for years – and in many cases both of the above.

Ask any new face how come they happen to be working and they will point to their mum, dad, aunt, cousin, son, daughter, brother-in-law, friend, and tell you they were roped in and now they plan on staying.

Quite a few of them have been working on the shows since they started more than 20 years ago.

I am a bit of a johnny-cum-lately with only 7 years under my belt and though I have always felt welcome, have made good friends and the great woman event-supremo is flatteringly nice about my uses – this year I went up a notch in acceptance.

So, there is a patriarchy of security and car parkers.

The patriarch comes from his day job in Leicester and his extended clan gather around him – there were three generations of them this year.

H&S in this context is a bit of a fluid brief and can range from helping to reorganise wind-battered gazebos to crawling along with sticky tape to secure a trip hazard, to assisting the cookery demonstrator, keeping the roadway clear to wait for the arrival of an ambulance for someone with a suspected heart attack, managing queues, sorting out squabbles about pitch size and so on.

I have got to know the patriarch through many shared adventures in H&S – security is a rather fluid brief too – but I think it is fair to say that at the beginning he viewed me with some scepticism suspecting I would be the Daily Mail’s definition of H&S gone mad.

This year he managed to get a quite bad cut on his head – and was off in hospital before I got back from whatever errand I was on. He did his own H&S jokes when he got back – I never would have dared…

Anyway, over the years I have felt that I have earned a little more of his acceptance and that he now finds me a bit more use, rather than ornament or obstruction.

This year at one point, I was garbling something about what we should do about some problem and he put his arm round me and told me to stop gibbering, start that sentence again and then we would get it sorted.

Dear reader, I was so pleased.






What I did on his holidays Part 2

So, this is indeed Part 2 of what I did in the two weeks the best beloved was digging up (very small) pieces of roman history.

And it is a litany of failure I’m afraid – there are by contrast just a couple of things which I can recount with an iota of pride.

But then, that is so often, my life – the 80/20 rule.

(I am going to keep the glimmers of self satisfaction until later as by then I might well need to boost a very flagging sense of self worth.

And if you are one of those people who believe wholeheartedly in being so very positive about yourself, you might want to look away now.)

Firstly, there were the crab apples.

You can’t buy crab apples in the shops, not even at organic, local, grocers.

So, given that we have a crab apple tree I do feel obliged to harvest them and make crab apple jelly – as far as I know there are no other recipes for crab apples.

Anyway, for the first couple of years we were here, it was an autumnal delight, but then became an obligatory chore. ( It is the business of having to get the ‘mush’ to drain through muslim bags overnight and then boil up and etc etc etc…)

So, last year, I gathered them up, simmered them into a mush and put them in the freezer, thinking that I would make the jelly sometime when I was not so busy – later in the autumn.

Yes, indeed dear reader, that overnight dripping day never quite arrived and two large bags of mushed crab apples filled up a goodly part of the freezer until last week.

So, I got them out, defrosted them, hung them to drip and felt a small amount of satisfaction that I had not succumbed to binning them and getting on with the rest of my life.

The next morning – and I would like to remind you that this dripping involves muslim bags hanging from broom handles wedged between chairs all over the kitchen – there was about an inch of crab apple syrup.


Clearly, they do not take well to freezing for nearly a year.

Not enough to make a decent jar’s worth and I had, of course, steralized quite a lot of jars.

The mush went in the bin – which with the benefit of hindsight…..

At least I tried with the crab apples.

I like a pedometer, it makes me do my 10,000 steps. I am not interested in a Fitbit or similar, just want to know the steps.

The one I had got very, very wet at the outdoor event I did a couple of weeks ago and it really wasn’t up to the rain – so I ordered another one and it arrived. See below for how wet it was.



Can I get it – something really quite simple – set up to my stride. Well of course I could if my brother-in-law who is techy and usually does it on an occasional trip from York, hadn’t been inconsiderately on holiday in Greece.

I have shoved it and its instructions into the back of a notebook. But I have a plan to go into the nice techy boys in Carphone Warehouse in town and claim I have forgotten my glasses so can’t see the instructions and could they just help me, even though it is not a phone, but I am a customer…

So, this week, my oldest friends came down to stay the night and I invited local good friends for supper.

The garden had had some attention on Sunday but it really needed the grass cut to look anywhere near tidy.

The best beloved has always cut the grass. I dimly recall in the early days of our relationship thinking that this was something I should fight and that it was utterly ridiculous to assume men had to cut the grass.

Indeed, telling this to a friend who would not call herself a feminist as I do, she said, ‘I’d never let my husband cut the grass, he’s rubbish at it.’

For the first 45 years of my life, I cut the grass. But somehow, over the last seven years, that has slipped into being something the man does.

‘What!’ I hear you cry, ‘Did you not remind yourself of your feminism and bloody well cut the grass – for heaven’s sake it is hardly brain surgery. You just get the mower out and get on with it.”

But no, I asked my oldest friend if she would ask her husband – I was too embarrassed to ask him directly – if he would do it.

And he did. And it looks great and yes, of course, I am grateful and ashamed.

I have a plan to cut it next week and restore my sense of grass-cutting self – but will I ?

But then, if that was not enough, the old friend came in from cutting the grass and asked why did my Twitter account direct everyone to another Reluctant Housewife, who lives in America and writes about Walmart?

‘No idea, ‘ I said, and indeed I didn’t.

He is also a techy person so I asked him to investigate.

After a while he said, ‘ I don’t understand why this would happen.’ Then after some more time, he said, ‘ You listed The Relucant Housewife.’

I was never one for details….

So, to boost my flagging ego, I will point out that I was, meanwhile, making a nice meal.

Get some nice brisket. It is a slow cooking meat and brown it. Then roll it in fennel seed and dried oregano.

‘What,’ I again hear you cry, ‘they are not herbs for beef.’

Live with me on that, and indeed I added bay leaves. You could do more traditional beef herbs if you liked.

Put the brisket back in a casserole  – mine is a Le Creuset given to me by my mother who first imported them when I went off to university and I have been using it ever since – and add the better part of a bottle of red wine and some decent bought beef stock.

Bring up to a simmer/near boil.

Leave to cook at a low oven for a long time – like five hours.

Meanwhile, slice up some really nice tomatoes. ( Actually some were from my garden thanks to good friends who suggested using a tin bath as a veg garden.)

Pulverise some anchovies, washed capers and black olives.

When the meat is cooked, and rested, put the sliced tomatoes on a large plate. Add anchovy stuff. Put slices of meat on top.

Oh, I should have said, cook some oven chips and have them ready.

I had also made a polenta and orange cake and served with marscapone… but hey you don’t want to hear about that.

And today, in Oxfam, I sorted out the DVDs.

Now I know that doesn’t sound much but it was  – and I could bore you with how much that matters in terms of getting our new ‘ film’ volunteer underway …. and how different there before photo would have looked.


But this is already far too many words so I will leave that out of my list of things I am not ashamed of.