The Past Returning

My life seems to have a habit of throwing up things from the past at the moment.

We have a new volunteer at Oxfam who works full time so can only do Saturdays. I  take my hat off to her for wanting to volunteer for half of her weekend.

She has moved to the area and wants to find ways to integrate and luckily for us, she has chosen the bookshop.

She works for the Environment Agency and many, many years ago, I did too, though it was so long ago that is was then the National Rivers Authority.

I moved to Yorkshire to take up the job and learned the geography of the area via its rivers – a nice way to learn anywhere.

I loved that job – one of the best times at work and yes I can bore for England with stories of the droughts, floods, a bitter lemon spillage from the Schweppes factory which killed a lot of fish in the River Aire and more.

An aside: my best friend was once at a dinner party with people we had known years before and there was some catching up to do. She was asked what I was doing and she said I was working for the NRA. They looked rather shocked and someone said they had no idea I had taken my politics that far. They thought she had said I was working for the IRA.

Anyway, the new volunteer and I can chat happily about pollution incidents we have known as we cull the craft shelves or re-arrange the history books.

(And, before I go on, I will give you a quick Oxfam update: in the week up to Christmas Eve we took more than £3,500 which is by way of a bit of a record for us.

So thank you to all those people who bought armfuls of books and especially to the two lads who were bribed into buying the joke toupee I found in the bottom of a donation and agreed to take it off our hands in return for some home-made mince pies.)

So, change of subject, my sister invited my Best Beloved to speak at a course she runs called Crucible.

I invented that course more than a decade ago.

My involvement eventually stopped but the course kept going and through a long a circuitous route my sister got involved in running it.

And the venue for this running of the course was the same hotel I used to stay in as part of the NRA’s management team planning meetings.

It seemed strange that I was at home with the dog, doing Oxfam stuff whilst they had time with exceptionally interesting young scientists.

Did I feel left out, slightly resentful that I wasn’t involved, pleased that my invention had such a long and successful life, happy that my BB did a good ‘turn’ and enjoyed his time with them, wistful for my productive working life, cross with myself for not doing more with my life, wondering if I could do something like that again….

All those things.

I guess that is what happens when your past arrives in your present, looking so much more glamorous than your life today.


Winter Lunch

I may have mentioned before, dear reader, that we have an annual winter lunch to which we invite a crowd of friends.

We have been doing this in various locations for many years now and it is now, unsurprisingly, considered a tradition.

The first year we did it in Deepest Sussex we were in a tiny rented cottage so borrowed a barn and told everyone to wear very warm clothes – it worked in a kind of ‘we’re all in this together and really have to make the best of it’ way.

The first year we did it in this part of Deepest Sussex, I had sent the email invitation out on one email address but (stupidly, it must be noted,) checked for replies on my other email address.

Thinking no one who I had not invited personally and who had said yes, was coming, I panicked and invited anyone I could think of at the last minute – some that morning.

I was therefore surprised when all those other people turned up and though in the habit of catering enough to feed a small and hungry African nation, I did set about adding anything I could find in the pantry which didn’t need major cooking, to the table.

We haven’t got a big house and so now – with more friends – we rely on good weather (yes, it is in December) to allow hardy souls to eat at the garden table.

A very nice farmer friend, who likes sitting down with his food on a table in front of him, with cutlery, and none of this standing up and chasing stuff around his plate with a fork, leads the way – I rely on him quite a lot.

Last year, I may have mentioned this before, I got a bit stressed because a well-known chef said he was coming, at the last minute.

My best-beloved is not a man who delights in holding such events and was not used not me getting my knickers in quite such a twist.

 So, this year, I planned an easy menu, the chef couldn’t come, and I assured the best beloved when he asked, that no, of course I had not invited too many people.

Twenty, he reckons, is the ideal.

I had checked my emails and what seemed like lots of people had said they were busy and so, I thought, it will be fine – a more ‘intimate’ gathering of about 20.

 Then I totted up the replies properly and, of course dear reader, there were more than 30.

I have to tell you, I quite like cooking before I go on to tell you that making pastry and filling for pies to satisfy more than 30 people is not really an issue if you plan ahead.

And I did. But the rolling out and baking blind and etc etc does take a toll on a girl.

 (Can I bore you with the whole menu?

Various canapés – including the surprise best-seller which was red lentils cooked to a pate/paste with garlic and cumin in a little crispy cup thing bought from Waitress, with a dollop of mango chutney on the top.

 Cheese and leek pies – did I mention the pastry issue?  And there was a lot left over so I sent people home with doggy bags of pie.

Artichoke, sundried tomatoes with preserved lemons and garlic

Sausages with sage – no, of course I didn’t make them

Roasted new potatoes

Rosewater cream pudding – from one of my favourite old cooks books, a Balkan recipe should you be in the slightest intrigued

A delicious sticky toffee pudding with sauce – made by a good friend

Various sweet things I had bought from Lidl.)

 In the pub tonight, someone who had been at the lunch suggested that instead of making such a fuss about the pastry making, I should buy some puff pastry and use that.

 It was a generous thing to say, but it misses the point.

 Darling, I cried in my best Sussex Housewife voice (no, I didn’t really) I can’t make the same food next year ( I did say that though.)

No one would mind she said.

 But she’s wrong.

Firstly, I would be horrified at the thought of the same food year on year but secondly, I am asked by several regulars what the menu is this year – I know that sounds so pretentious but if you can’t be pretentious in your own blog, where can you be?

I have a sneaking admiration for the simplicity of the Jeffrey Archer cottage pie and champagne take on his annual event – the only possible sneaking admiration I can have for him as it certainly does not extend to his books.

But just think, dear reader, of all that potato mashing….

So, this is a bit of an aide memoire for next year:

No homemade pastry, don’t panic about any visiting chefs, create a large pot of something delicious and pray for good weather.








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Christmas Eve Parties

You know when you mishear something?

Well, I was at my upholstery class and we were chatting in a Sussex Housewife sort of a way when I mentioned that I was thinking of having a poker party on Christmas Eve.

Someone said, ‘Blimey that’s rather retro and risqué ‘

‘Not unless it is the strip version,’ I said.

‘Well, there’s not much to strip,’ she said.

‘What?’ I said.

‘You’d just unwind it,’ she said.

‘Unwind what?’ I said.

‘Well the sheet, the tablecloth, whatever,’ she said.

‘What??’ I said.

‘The toga,’ she said.

Now I had not thought about a toga party for a long time – and it did bring back a range of memories…..

Two days later, I was in a charity shop as is my wont, and I was looking for a pair of curtains (unsuccessfully as it turns out, but charity shopping is always a lottery.)

Another woman was also rootling around looking at a large white sheet/tablecloth/duvet cover and we got chatting.

‘I’m going to a toga party,’ she said.

‘Really?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘ We do it every Christmas Eve.’

Blue Trousers

‘By the way, it’s a black tie event,’ said my best beloved as he headed off to somewhere in Bulgaria leaving me with a very busy week – and nothing appropriate to wear.

I had just sold on eBay the only dress I had which could have passed muster at a black tie event and now had three days before the event and really no time to go shopping.

As you may recall, dear reader, I am a dedicated charity shopper and the thought of paying money for a posh new frock I would not have just cause to wear for the next ten years, seemed just silly.

But one of the first rules of charity shopping is that you cannot go looking for something specific, in your size, in your style, and available on that day – it just doesn’t work like that.

But, optimist that I am, I thought I would find something.

As I mentioned, I did not have a lot of time – book sorting, dog walking, refugee good cause meetings etc etc take up time, even for a Sussex Housewife.

So, I raced around the charity shops of Petersfield and took stock, as it were.

That looked nice, but not on me. That was nice too, but sadly wouldn’t go over my shoulders or pulled the other way, past my bum. That was a nice colour, but that was all that was nice about it. That looked like something my gran would have thought nice. And so on.

In the end I went back to my wardrobe and rootled out a rather lovely garment that I had worn for a friend’s wedding evening do.

It is a bright green turquoise with yellow embroidery – bear with me, dear reader, it is striking, but not garish. It is long and has what we used to call, in my youth, a Mandarin collar – do they still call it that?

Anyway, it is long with buttons from throat to nearly the floor but it also had slits up the side from nearly the floor to nearly the hips. I am not Elizabeth Hurley.

On the previous occasion, I had worn it with jeans and rather liked that jeans-with-posh look but even I know that jeans at a black tie occasion at an Oxford College celebrating its bicentennial was probably a step too outrageous for me to carry off.

Never mind, I thought, as a speed-dash around the charity shops again failed to provide me with navy skinny trousers, we can get to Oxford in good time and I will find something there.

I guess you have an inkling where this is heading.

I could not find navy skinny trousers in Oxford for love nor money.

Well actually, in panic, I did find them, for (a lot of) money.

Suffice it to say, L K Bennett, not even in a sale.

And they are glorified leggings.

( Very, very good leggings and a delight to wear but even so, dear god, what a price shock to the person not used to paying more than £5.50 for a good-label item.

I am now wearing them at every possible opportunity. There’s that thing that if you wear them more often then each wear has cost you less, and eventually they feel like a bargain – I am not, dear reader, at that stage yet.)

That night, I put them on and my striking Mandarin collared ‘dress’ and went down to the pre-dinner drinks.

I did a head count to find fewer than ten other women in the room and not one was wearing anything different than you would wear to an office meeting with your immediate boss. I have dresses like that!

Was I gutted? well yes and no. I did feel the best dressed woman there – and though was wearing bloody expensive posh leggings I needn’t have bought, I also had a very stylish charity shop find on too  – and I will bet no one else in that room could have said that.

Leviticus and Box Sets

French telly is a lot of men in black polo-necked sweaters either in films where they smoke Gitanes and then strip off to ‘delight’ young women, or they keep their sweaters on in news programmes to talk ‘meaningfully’ about the issues of the day.

Or at least that was my experience, and what is more, they spoke so fast my fledgling French understanding couldn’t keep up.

So, there was the time when I thought someone was complaining about almond croissants and was infact talking about feeding growth hormones to cattle – hormone de croissance.

So, instead of French tv, we watched box sets on our very small television.

( The television was bought some years before in Brussels as a stop gap until we got something bigger which we never got round to buying. And, when the remote got lost in the move and I thought it was a chance to buy something just a little bit bigger, the Best Beloved sent to North Korea or somewhere nearby, to get a replacement – and it turned up….)

There were two stand-out favourites: The West Wing and The Wire.

( The Wire, in case you don’t know was the parallel lives of drugs dealers and the police and we spent quite a lot of time leaning forward and saying to each other, ‘What did he say?’ After all, a very small television with poor sound does not help with black Baltimore ‘patois’ for two middle aged white people.

The drug dealer did a qualification in business and the police went out and got drunk – but of courser, dear reader there is much more to it than than that and I highly recommend you find yourself some wet-winter-time to settle down and watch it.)

Friends of ours in similar situations used to ration themselves to one episode a night – or in some puritanical households, to one a week.

But the BB and I are greedy and used to egg each other one for ‘just another.’

We watched The West Wing – all through, all seven series, several times.

Good Lord, I wish Jed Bartlett was the current president of the US and Josh and Toby were in charge and C.J was handling the press corps, but we have what we have.

There is one scene when Jed who, in case you don’t know is the President, is doing a press conference and one journalist doesn’t stand when he walks into the room because she is against his liberal policy on gay rights.

Here it is:

After that, dear reader, you shouldn’t be back here reading this, you should be out buying the brilliant West Wing box set.

(And in case you want more ammunition here are some others you can use




Cockroaches and Balls

The other day seemed to be one of those when the strangest donations come to light in the Oxfam bookshop.

A lot of our donations are repetitive and can I say, just sometimes a little boring, but now and then you find something interesting and odd in many senses of the word.

I am sure there is a book about any and every subject out there somewhere and many seem to find a (hopefully, temporary) home in Deepest Sussex.

Before now, I have found a book on making your own horse-riding equipment and one on how to chop and stack wood the Norwegian way.

So, the other day I found a coffee table book on Anatolian Vernacular Architecture. Not a usual find and one that is, perhaps surprisingly, worth a bit and now is listed, should your heart be beating a little faster, on Oxfam Online.

And then I came across a collection of old Spurs books. I am not a football fan but I was rather taken with the delightful History of Tottenham Hotspur FC 1882 – 1946. Spurs was referred to as the Hotspur Athletic Club – how charming is that?

And then, my cup runneth over when I found this:



Now isn’t that splendid?

And if that wasn’t enough, I found this book which was the answer any anyone’s Christmas book present dilemma. It is the book, I thought, that anyone would want in their stocking. This is it:


I tweeted to that effect and it got a few likes and re-tweeted gently around the Oxfam network, and it made me laugh.

Low and behold, I was at home this afternoon when my Oxfam manager rang me and said, ‘I’ve had someone on the phone – something about social media and cockroaches – is that anything to do with you? ‘

Someone wanted the buy the book! So over the phone, I directed my manager to various alternative possible places where I could have  stashed it.

( You should go behind the scenes at an Oxfam bookshop one day to understand that things are run on stashes, piles, boxes, shelves, bags and things stuffed into all sorts of places.

Every now and then I get round to sorting out an area and find all sorts – the skeleton of a forgotten volunteer, for example.)

Anyway, he found it, we put the price up a bit, and I wait to hear who bought it. If I’d been there with the customer I would have asked for the whole story about who was going to be so delighted on Christmas Day but I guess, I will never know.