Tortilla Espanola


I walk to school in a daze, a child on either side.

“We’ve booked a holiday to Scotland,” I blurt out.

I’m still a bit in shock. The cottage was booked at midnight in a frenzy of panic and exasperation. We have no idea about the area or the local amenities, but there’s a fire pit in the garden and the cottage furniture looks cool. I was determined to get us to the Outer Hebrides on a shoestring but after days of research I finally admit defeat and allow Tom to make the rash decision to Just. Book . Anywhere, because all the decent places are being snapped up and we’re going to end up in a shepherd’s hut at this rate.

“Whats Scotland like?” asks Ollie.

“Ummm,” my mind is still debating whether we’ve done the right thing or not, “well they say och aye the noo a lot and they eat fried Mars Bars.”

“Fried Mars Bars?!” says Ollie appalled.

“Yeah, imagine a battered sausage (who would say that to a vegetarian?!) but replace the sausage with a Mars Bar.”

I hope no one Scottish can hear our conversation because I am sure the country has more to offer than this, (beautiful mountains? stunning islands?) but I can’t think of them right now.

“Oh and the men wear skirts!” interjects Daisy, ” and they wear no pants under them!” she cackles.

Then she launches into an inappropriate story about being in Edinburgh with grandma  and pretending to drop a penny on the pavement so that she could look up a man’s kilt.

“That’s enough of that!” I boom.

Ollie looks fed up about our choice of holiday destination.

“Can’t we just go back to Center Parcs?” he whines.

That night I make a Spanish omelette for tea. It takes a lot of effort, all that fine slicing and sweating onions for twenty minutes, but I have limited options. If there were fish fingers and chips in the freezer we would be having those, but there aren’t and I am left with a surplus of hens’ eggs, some potatoes from the bottom of the fridge and a fussy vegetarian (Ollie) so Spanish omelette it is.



Tortilla Espanola is one of my favourite dishes and there’s not much that beats sitting in a bar in Madrid eating cubes of this, warm and only just set in the middle. It’s hard to replicate that deliciousness (the right sized pan would help!) but on this cold day in February I give it a go and try to slow down my usual rushed cooking style. I switch on the radio and have a cup of tea while the onions fry slowly, and the results are better than usual. Unfortunately this view is not shared by everyone.

“What’s this?” says Ollie suspiciously, when I call him to the table. He looks more miserable than is really necessary when faced with an omelette.

“It’s Spanish omelette,” I say brightly, “You’ve had it many times before.”

“Does it have cheese on it?”

“No. Spanish omelette only has three ingredients: eggs, onions and potatoes, so you don’t need to worry.” I say.

“Oh no!” says Ollie as he slumps across the table, “I can’t eat omelette without cheese!”

This battle over mealtimes  is a regular, sometimes daily, routine in our house and I brace myself for it. It seems that other people though are at the end of their tether.

As Ollie grumbles away,  Daisy loudly pushes her chair away and marches over to Ollie’s side of the table.

“That’s it! I’ve had enough of you complaining at every meal! Just eat it!” she shouts as she boxes him round the ears and violently shakes him by the shoulders.

I’m as surprised as Ollie at this outburst but I can only shrug as he wails, “Mummmmyyyyy!”

She’s saying everything I think.

“Mum! Why don’t you get more angry with him? Why don’t you force him to eat it? It’s so annoying!” cries Daisy.

“Because I’m in this for the long haul,” I tell Daisy, “Ollie will not be one of these children who leaves home only eating sandwiches. I’m going to keep serving up this food until one day I win the battle.”

Daisy pauses for a second.

“I hate to break this to you, mum, but you certainly aren’t winning at the moment.”

I laugh. She sounds far older than her eight years.

Later, I am sitting on Ollie’s bed while he attempts his Biff & Chip reading book. It has not been the most enjoyable evening. Dinner and the lovely omelette were marred with Ollie’s bleatings. I’m feeling fed up and my back aches. I might just go straight to bed myself. Daisy, who should be in her own room, suddenly enters.

“I think we should end the evening on a high,” she announces. “Mum, would you like a back massage?”

She has already laid out a mat on the landing. I don’t need asking twice.

“I need £1.50 to buy my next Sylvanian Family so I’ll give you a 15 minute massage, 50p for every five minutes.” she says, brandishing a piece of paper with her calculations on it. We shake hands on the deal.

Ollie feels lonely on his own so we move the mat into his bedroom, giving Daisy the dual job of massaging whilst trying to teach Ollie phonics.

“Remember that’s a split digraph, Ol,  so the ‘a’ in cake sounds like an ‘A’.”

I’ve got a degree in linguistics but it still sounds like a foreign language to me.

When the fifteen minutes is up, Ollie leaps out of bed to continue where Daisy has left off. He wants no money for it. His hands are a bit small for massage so he progresses on to doing my hair. It’s most enjoyable until he says,

“Mum, you’ve got white bits in your hair”.

“That’ll be a bit of dandruff,” I reply.

He seems unsatisfied with this answer and lowers his voice.

“Daisy, come and look at this. I think mum’s got nits.”

“Mum’s not got nits!” booms Daisy, but comes over anyway to carry out a thorough inspection.

“Oh I see what you mean,” she whispers, “it could be nits.”

” I have not got nits!” I protest loudly and sit up.

“Well you have got those little holes on your face,” says Daisy.

“What are you talking about now?” I insist.

What started out as a nice massage has ended  in an assassination of my appearance.

” When I look very closely at your face,” says Daisy demonstrating, I can see these tiny holes in your skin just like Miss Jones at school who wears too much make up”.

“Do you mean my pores?” I ask.

“I don’t know what they are,” she says casually, “but if you get close up you can really see them.”

That is why at 10 o’clock at night, I am not in bed as planned, nor watching the next episode of Happy Valley, but am holding a mirror very closely to my face to try and see my massive pores……

This may be to the disapproval of many Spaniards, but the best tortilla recipe I’ve ever found is good, old English Delia:





Herb Pancakes with Smoked Salmon


Thursday Lunchtime.

I arrive home on what must be the coldest day of the year to a dead robin on the doorstep and a telephone call inviting me to make a will. The dead bird is the work of Alfie the cat. I don’t believe for one minute that cats leave dead birds at the front door as some kind of gift. They leave them because they are angry. In Alfie’s case, very angry. Someone has forgotten to buy him pouches and for the past 48 hours he’s been forced to eat Go Cat biscuits instead.

After 24 hours he voices his protest by pooing on the bathroom mat. A lovely early-morning greeting for Tom as he stumbles in there at 6am, still half asleep. As this cry for attention does not get the desired result, he enters phase two of his feed-me-something-decent plan: go on a killing spree. Hit the humans where it hurts, he thinks, kill a bird they care about! The chickens have got too big to square up to now but the robin…..the robin would be perfect! The family all love him and he’s easy to find because he’s always on the fence at the back of the garden.

Ollie cries when the news is broken to him of the robin’s demise and demands to see the body, whilst Daisy gives her beloved Alfie a loud telling off with lots of wild hand gestures. The cat looks confused then hopeful that all of this will result in a Whiskas pouch. It doesn’t. Daisy puts him out as he doesn’t seem the least bit remorseful.

(This three-paragraph cat digression might have to be edited out when Tom gets home. He’s under the impression that other people do not find the imagined workings of Alfie’s brain as amusing as I do.)

Back to the freezing-cold Thursday and the depressing homecoming. I realise, whilst defrosting my hands on the hall radiator, that I’ve come home from town without the birthday present I bought for Tom. I groan, having no idea where it might be. On the bus? At the cafe?

Suddenly something catches my eye. It’s a shiny purple rectangle. I pick it up and see that it’s a chocolate bar with a note attached with an elastic band. The note is addressed to The Top Writer. I suspect it might be correspondence for Ollie. He recently started on his Christmas thank you cards but he only got as far as making a card for the postman, thanking him for all the parcels he delivered over the festive period. As Ollie’s only just learning to write and he was left to his own devices at the kitchen table, I have no idea what his card said. He just presented me with a sealed envelope addressed to Tony in yellow felt tip.

I prise the note off the chocolate and read it. It is indeed from the postman. A tear comes to my eye:

….your writing is very good, possibly even better than mine. Be good at school and listen to your mum, you only get one of them.

Thank you,

Tony the postman. 

Ollie’s not been the only one writing this week. Daisy has done a three-day story writing course at school with Mrs. Mann, a real-life writer. (Mrs. Mann’s name has caused more hilarity than it should. Ollie thought she might be married to Mr. Lady).

Daisy is so bitten by the writing bug that she comes out of school, head in notebook, madly scribbling away in illegible gold pen. I can’t get any sense out of her the whole way home. She’s still writing when I go to tuck her in at night.

” Do you want to read my story so far?” she asks.

I hesitate, having the good parent/bad parent debate in my head: washing up still to do, dirty clothes to sort….. Good parent fortunately wins and I get into bed with her.

I really hope the mother-character of this story is not based on me. This woman does a lot of nagging and is not on great terms with her husband.

The premise of the story is a girl called Ivy who finds a crystal ball that can tell the future. The ball tells Ivy that something bad will happen to her friends so she smashes the ball and everyone lives happily ever after.

“Mmm good writing,” I say, “but the plot could be a bit more gripping.”

“How?” she asks.

“Well something bad could really happen to her friends and then you don’t know if it is a coincidence or because the crystal ball does tell the future.”

“What kind of bad thing?” says Daisy nervously.

” What about a school mini-bus accident?” I suggest.

Daisy looks at me as if to say what kind of sick mother are you?

“Ok, ok,” I backtrack, “the story’s great so far. No need to change anything.”

The next morning, the story still isn’t finished and Daisy is in a state about getting it to Mann on time.

“Don’t worry,” I tell Daisy, “just ask your teacher if you can finish it at break-time.”

Unfortunately, the teacher is not on board with my staying-in-at-break suggestion and Daisy, in her desperation to complete it, spends play-time locked in a toilet cubicle writing furiously on the loo. On the plus side, she’s come round to my way of thinking plot-wise and the story takes on an altogether grittier edge.

This voracious writing carries on into Tom’s birthday weekend. When I ask the kids to set the birthday breakfast table, Daisy is unable to assist because she is writing to the Queen. Then when Tom finally emerges downstairs at 10am looking fragile (this will happen if you stay out until 5am; “He’s 37! Not a teenager!” Pops exclaims when I tell him why he can’t wish his son a happy birthday at 9am), he is presented with a card from Daisy detailing the ways in which he has succeeded in all areas of dad-hood.


Yes, this has been an epic week of writing and of cooking. Tom was lucky enough to have herb pancakes with smoked salmon made for his birthday breakfast. I got the recipe from the wonderful Intolerant Gourmet cook book by  Pippa Kendrick and they are gluten and dairy-free. On the downside, Tom couldn’t stomach much and the children were suspicious of all the green bits, but at least the chickens and I enjoyed them.

What was much more popular for breakfast was the homemade bread, and butter(!) given to Tom by our friends, Iain and Hannah. I mean homemade butter! Surely the best food gift you can give to anyone and it tasted A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.


Tom received many culinary gifts for his birthday. Ollie made him monster cakes (aka chocolate crispies with a lotta sprinkles on top); Daisy made him cheese scones; and I made him a chocolate chestnut cake which finally used up the tin of French creme de marrons which has been in the cupboard for too long, but which actually turned out to be the best gluten free cake I’ve ever had.






After a hearty birthday walk to Baconsthorpe castle to blow the cobwebs away, we finish the weekend with a beef and mushroom pie (first time using gluten-free pastry). We forget that the beef had been cooking in the slow cooker all afternoon, and as we come in from the cold and dark, we are greeted with a delicious smell. Only Ollie, our resident vegetarian, is unimpressed with this offering, instead opting for more of Iain’s bread and a boiled egg. A perfect way, actually, to celebrate today being the first day that all four chickens have started to lay. Surely the best birthday present of all?









Chocolate Fudge Cake


This week, as well as eating oysters, making chocolate cake and cursing Jamie Oliver, I’ve also learnt how to breathe properly. It’s amazing what you can squeeze into a week.

Saturday morning, I drop Daisy in town at her drama group and walk up the hill to do some food shopping, except I never make it to Tesco’s, finding myself instead at The Rub AGAIN. It’s a place where you can walk in off the street and have a 10, 20 or 30 minute back massage in one of their chairs. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a cure for all ills and I’m a little bit addicted. Can’t sleep? Got neck-ache? Been hunched over a computer or carrying children too much? A trip to The Rub will solve it all.

Within seconds I’ve got my coat and scarf off and am leaning forward in one of their chairs, instantly relaxed. The silence is broken by the masseur.

“You’re very tense.” ( Yep, that’s why I’m here)

“It’s because you’re not breathing properly.”

I roll my eyes in the head rest. What does that mean? I’ve been breathing like this for thirty seven and a half years; it’s involuntary, isn’t it? I’m half-listening as he tells me I need to breathe more deeply, allowing my stomach to expand, and letting my breath out more slowly.

I return to pick up Daisy an hour later. As we walk up Lower Goat Lane, I remind her of today’s challenge: to buy her a winter coat. This is not a task she is keen on. She puts up an argument to keep wearing the white fur coat that she got from a car boot sale three years ago.

“Daisy, it doesn’t fit you.”

“Yes it does. It’s just like a jacket now.”

“But it’s not waterproof.”

“I’ll use an umbrella.”

Instead of losing my rag and getting tense, I breathe my way through the argument, just like the man told me to.This turns out to be massively in Daisy’s favour because by the time we’ve reached the market I find myself saying,

“Ok then. Forget the coat. Shall we go for a hot chocolate instead?”

We stand in a long queue at our usual stall (where there would be no change from a fiver for two drinks) but it’s cold and we head further into the market until we find a woman with a big metal teapot advertising milky coffee for 70p. Daisy gets a hot chocolate and I get a cuppa and it comes to the grand total of £1.30! We laugh (money for a cone of chips!) and promise to go back there every week.

We sit in the memorial gardens below City Hall and I let Daisy throw chips to the pigeons, even though it’s strictly forbidden, and give her a simplistic explanation on why there’s going to be a march through the city against mental health cuts. (The current government don’t come out of it very well). It’s all very enjoyable and I think: there might be something in this breathing malarky.

Then three days later the cold weather really comes and I begin to doubt myself. It’s so cold that when Tom goes down to shut up the chicken coop, he finds Ruby, Pearl, Betty and Maria snow-covered, sheltering next to the coop. The cold seems to have frozen their brains and I have to help lift them into the coop because they’ve forgotten what to do.

I fret all night that they won’t make it to the morning, and Ollie and I return at dawn with a pan of porridge to warm their little bodies. Ollie uses a stick to break up their iced-over water while I watch with relief as they peck away at the porridge, steam rising from the pan in the semi-dark. They must surely be the only chickens feasting on gluten-free porridge made with coconut milk, I think.

We walk to school and Daisy complains bitterly about how cold she is (in her too-small coat!) The irony is not lost on me, but I breathe my way through it and even offer her my scarf and gloves. I’m like a new person!

Unfortunately, the breathing doesn’t work in all situations. That evening we return from school with Daisy’s friend, Edie, for half-birthday celebrations. The girls dress up and laugh raucously as they pretend they are married to people called Bob and Nigel, while I stress away in the kitchen. I’ve promised decorate-your-own pizza and chocolate cake (on Daisy’s orders) but the local shop was out of packet dough mixes so here I am, massively behind schedule, trying to follow a Jamie Oliver recipe. Abandon the bowl, he says, sieve the flour straight onto the work surface, he says.

The bowl has a papier mache head drying in it (a drama prop in the making), so I am happy to follow J’oliver’s orders. I make a well in the flour and pour the yeasty liquid into it, and guess what happens?  Yep, it floods over and oozes out, quickly surrounding the kettle and running in ravines off the work surface and down the front of the drawers.

“Ollie!” I shout, “I need you!”

I shout so loudly that he actually hears me over the top of Octonauts and comes running.

“Oh mum!” he says, “What’s all that yellow stuff all over the floor?”

I hadn’t noticed the big puddle by my feet.

“Ruddy Jamie Oliver,” I mutter to myself.

“That’s rude, mum,” reprimands Ollie.

“It’s ok, he can’t hear me.” I say.

“He can if he’s dead.” replies Ollie, darkly.

I am still imagining an omipresent Jamie Oliver, who sees all my cooking disasters, while I set Ollie to work on the half-birthday cake. It literally is a half-birthday cake because the other half comes out with me that evening for my friend, Pippa’s,  birthday.

“I don’t have time to make a cake and do pizza, so you’ll have to do the cake.” I instruct Ollie.

He obediently puts on a apron and stands at the hob stirring a pan of sugar and chocolate. I get caught up sorting the pizza disaster and forget he’s only five and can’t read recipes.

“This doesn’t look right, mum,” he quietly informs me.

No it doesn’t. I’ve made this recipe many times and yet in my pizza frenzy I put chocolate in the pan instead of evaporated milk and it’s all starting to burn. I’m glad someone is on the ball.

Once he’s made the chocolate fudge icing (and licked every utensil used in its making), I start him on the food processor. Before I know it, he’s made the cake AND quietly iced it, raspberries and all. I don’t know where he gets his breathing techniques from but I could definitely do with some of his kitchen-calm.



This classic Delia cake has been a favourite of mine since the days of childhood sleepovers. Someone, I don’t know who, would always bring one along, and I loved the fudge icing so much (a mixture of boiled up evaporated milk and dark chocolate) that Delia’s Classic Cookery Book was the first recipe book I ever owned.











Salad Jars


It is the season of detoxing and decluttering. I’m overwhelmed by all the post-Christmas STUFF everywhere so I decide to ruin Sunday afternoon by insisting that everyone must get rid of twenty items.

“If you don’t use it or it doesn’t bring you joy, it has to go!” I order.

This is met with wails and sobs from the younger members of the family. Daisy insists that all fourteen of her handbags bring her joy, even though she doesn’t use any of them, so she wants to keep the lot.

Ollie cries if I as much as suggest he might want to remove anything from his room; and Tom is strangely absent, deciding instead that now is the time to focus on the washing up which has been sitting there all day.

It’s a one-woman campaign but I keep my mother in law in mind (she’s the queen of decluttering) and after three hours we have a car packed with charity stuff and a full wheelie bin.

Bedtime can’t come round quick enough (arguing with your offspring is very exhausting). Once we have got through the farce of putting the children to bed (Ollie now has to have his blanket anointed with lavender oil before he’ll even consider sleep), I’m excited about the prospect of watching the penultimate Bridge.

I’m on a self-imposed internet detox after throwing my phone on the bathroom floor when half-asleep and breaking it. I am now operating an ancient Nokia and completely loving the lack of World Wide Web access. I’ve started reading again and broken the obsessive habit of checking my phone every time I’m in a queue / waiting in the playground/ have a moment to myself. It’s wonderful, BUT that doesn’t mean I want to give up the telly.

I come downstairs to find Tom reading on the sofa. This is an unusual sight. I look nervously from him to the television. The room is silent.

“Shall we read tonight?” he asks.

This is not how our evenings normally pan out. They usually involve murder and sub-titles and a lot of chocolate. In fact our evenings have never involved sitting in silence together. In the early years it was two bottles of wine for a fiver from Le Chateau (paid for on my cheque book); the post-student days were either pub or property programmes on TV; and the baby years were spent rocking colicky babies between the hours of 7 and 11 or obsessively going upstairs and checking they were still breathing . Definitely no reading together.

Tom breaks the awkward silence by announcing that he will be adding to our decluttered, detoxed January lives by taking up exercise. Getting up at 6am every morning and going running, to be precise.

This takes me by surprise, plus I am still reeling from the prospect of not watching The Bridge tonight. As a result I start to say things I will later regret.

“Oh exercise!  Great idea! I’m a 100% behind that……I tell you what, every time you get up and go running before work, I’ll get up with you and make you a healthy lunch to take to work”……

Once spoken, the words can not be clawed back and it is for that reason that I find myself foregoing my fix of Swedish crime, and putting these salads together instead. The prospect of getting up whilst it is still pitch-black is too awful; I’d prefer to do the hard work now.


Once I’ve sourced the jars from the shed, I make an ‘English’ salad for Tom with roast beef, pearl barley and beetroot; an Italian pasta salad for Daisy and a made up Mexican salad for me with rice, black beans, tomatoes and avocados.

The first two are taken from Jamie Oliver’s new book, Everyday Super Foods .

These jars of salad are a labour of love but leave you with a smug feeling and an extra half an hour in bed the next morning. Tom is very appreciative but wants to know if he’ll have to take a big bowl to work to accompany the heavy 1kg glass jar. Daisy is equally enthusiastic in the morning, but comes out of school looking embarrassed.

“It was disgusting, mum,” she whispers, “can I just go back to cheese sandwiches tomorrow?”

Apparently everything got a bit too soggy. I don’t know what these people on the forums are talking about when they say they make up FIVE such salads to last them for five days’ of lunches. What lettuce is going to survive that?

I get more positive feedback from Tom who says the flavours were delicious but there was enough in that jar to feed the whole office. On balance, next time Tom goes running, I’ll be handing him a fiver from my warm place in bed so he can get his own lunch from Waitrose.









Vietnamese Banquet

31st December 2015

New Year’s Eve for fourteen. Ollie in waistcoat runs his own bar from behind the drinks’ trolley. Coconuts with holes drilled in for straws, balanced in tea cups. Colourful beakers of homemade smoothie next to a huge carton of Um Bongo. Tom stands in the frying station, aka the shed, cooking crab crisp parcels in our new toy, the deep fat fryer. The place smells like a chip shop. A huge belly of pork slow roasts in the oven unaware of the angst it is causing the party’s hosts. Has the fat rendered down? Will the crackling crackle? Will it be an improvement on the last unappetising attempt?

I find myself washing bamboo leaves at the kitchen sink. All in the name of presentation. Unsure what to do, I stack them vertically like plates on the dryer. Too late I realise the child-guests might not be up for the Vietnamese cuisine. Scampi goujons are dug out of the freezer and, er, a par-baked baguette (strong French influence in Vietnam, didn’t you know?). They are hastily served with carrot sticks, some salted nuts from the coffee table and pineapple pieces grabbed from Ollie’s cocktail trolley. The kids look confused; I feel slightly hysterical. Fortunately, Anna (6) has brought her own lunch box. I think she’s learnt from previous experience.

We eat Hanoi crisp parcels (cha gio) and prawn summer rolls (goi cuon) dipped in glass bowls of nuoc cham dipping sauce, followed by slabs of roasted belly of pork with papaya salad. The green papaya cost £9 off the market. I hope everyone appreciates it and hasn’t mistaken it for a courgette. It’s dusk by the time we’ve finished eating but we force everyone out of the house for a jaunt to the park. By the time we get to the playground it’s too dark to recognise the person next to me and I worry that the park keeper will have locked us in. The kids though, are having the time of their lives, charging around.

Tom and I lead the way home and slap each other on the back in congratulations. The first two courses have been alright, despite the angst. We may have spoken too soon though. There’s still the as-yet-not-been-tested banana fritter recipe to come. Tom changes the oil on the fryer (a laborious task), while I flatten bananitos (dwarf bananas) with a palate knife and look up a suitable recipe on the iPad. This is not what you should be doing when you’ve got twelve people waiting expectantly in the dining room; pots of ice cream beginning to melt on the table.

Best-Man-Ben can sense the marital culinary tension and joins us in the shed, grin on face, drink in hand, while we bicker over the best way to lower a banana into a fryer without all the batter sliding off. The results are unsatisfactory. The rice flour makes the batter so white that the fritters come out looking anaemic and unappetising. Just as Tom decides to try dropping a bananito in from a greater height, I step closer to peer into the fryer. Oil splashes up into my face in a scene reminiscent of something out of Casualty. I cry out and clutch my face; fortunately my big glasses have taken the brunt of it. We decide to serve the fritters as they are.

The kids look disappointed as pudding is put down in from of them. A long wait for this? Most of them sidle over to the cake tin which contains Helen’s alternative chocolate brownie dessert. Actually, the fritters taste ok and if the children had been blindfolded, I think they might have enjoyed them. I go around the kids’ table and polish off their leftovers.

After everyone leaves, Daisy launches straight into an argument about staying up till midnight. I’ve had a great day but I’d now like to sit down without a child in sight. She is persistent and after much debate we agree on a 9.30pm bedtime. It is with surprise then, that I find three glasses clinking together when Big Ben strikes midnight. I look down to find Daisy on the sofa between Tom and I.

“Mmmm. Very nice!” She says as she knocks back her first ever mouthful of champagne.”Very nice indeed. Now can we turn back to Call The Midwife so I can see the end of the episode, please?”

New Year’s Day, 2016

So it would appear that the blog is back again. So sorry for the rather long absence!  I thought it was all over (writing-wise) but then suddenly there it was back on my New Year’s Resolutions list along with making my own bread, growing my own vegetables and wearing matching underwear. Exactly the same unachieved list as last year.

2016’s blog won’t be a daily occurrence; as unforgettable as those 111 daily blog posts were last year, I want to have the steam to keep going for the whole year so I’m aiming for a weekly update.

Thanks to those who have encouraged me to start it up again, especially my mother who offered to lock me in a room until I actually put pen to paper.

Finally, it just remains for me to say that our New Year’s Eve Vietnamese menu was a complete copy of one of the best meals we have ever eaten. Our great friend, Neil, and his culinary partner, Jaki Jak inspired us at their supper club, Papaya Verte, at The Rosebery in Norwich in November.

I also had the great privilege of attending a Vietnamese cookery course that they did earlier in the year. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went home and looked up flights to Vietnam…….

Virgin Mary Chocolates


Saturday 13th June

The cat is depressed. To add insult to injury, not only has he has been usurped by a flock of chickens, but he’s also been savagely bitten on the head by his arch-rival, William, the black and white mog from over the fence. 

In my usual style, I decide to let nature take its course and allow the wound to heal naturally, thus avoiding any hefty  vet’s bills. Except the cat’s wounds never heal by themselves, and a week later I take him on the inevitable trip to the surgery where I pay £93 for a course of antibiotics and to be told that he might have fleas. 

I wouldn’t mind if this information was given in the privacy of the consulting room, but no, the vet waits until we are back at reception and comes to announce it in a large stage whisper, allowing the whole of the waiting room to hear. A little bit of me dies of shame.

This weekend it will be a relief to get away from the cat with his mournful look and his fixation with the chickens. It has not yet been established as to whether he is capable of murdering them or not.


Tom and I are going to stay at a wonderful B&B near the North Norfolk coast, called The Control Tower It is an ex-World War Two RAF air base that the owners have lovingly restored back to its 1940s origins. This is a last birthday present to myself and I’m very excited. 

The kids are being picked up by uncle Tim and auntie Ella, and are spending the night at Ella’s parents’ in rural Norfolk (Ella’s mother made a previous  blog appearance under the pseudonym Chinese Gilly in Chicken Noodle Soup). 

Tim’s enthusiasm for having the kids on this maiden night away with them, knows no bounds. Every text I get tells of more planned adventures: treasure hunts and boat trips to secret islands; swimming and afternoon tea; barbecues and board games. This is a man after my own heart. I am almost regretful that I’m missing out on all the fun, and then I remember that I’ll be lounging in a hotel room and the feeling quickly goes. 

Tim and Ella’s arrival to pick up the kids on Saturday morning coincides with that of good-friend-Lynsey and toddler Tommy, who are visiting from Lincolnshire. Lynsey’s visit is preceded by a birthday card in the post addressed to Sara Lund-Collier. 

I shouldn’t need to explain who Sara Lund is, but in case you haven’t been bitten by the Scandi-drama bug, she is the Danish detective from The Killing. In another life, I would also be a detective. It’s been a dream job since my early forays into the likes of The Famous Five, Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. 

Lynsey arrives with the best present a detective-loving girl could want: a Sara Lund style jumper. Sara is famous for her chunky Scandi knitwear and I’ve been hankering after such a jumper for years. Tom was going to buy me one three years ago, but they aren’t cheap, and he realised that for the same price, he could buy two Ryanair tickets to Copenhagen instead, and see the home of The Killing for real. 

We spent a fun weekend pretending to be as cool as the Danes, and then ruining it by chasing after what looked like Troels Hartmann on a bike, in the hope of getting a photograph with him.

As we exit Norwich for The Control Tower, the rain is lashing down but we are met with a warm welcome at the B&B from Claire and Nigel. We sit in their 1940s style lounge and drink tea and eat cake whilst chatting about the place. One look at their bookshelves and the brilliant trade union poster in the hall and I feel very at home.

We are shown to our room and Tom braves the rain to get our bags from the car while I sit in bed with a second cup of tea, eating Booja Booja Champagne Truffles and reading The Greengage Summer. I couldn’t be happier. 


In the evening we go to nearby Walsingham for dinner. The village is famed for its religious shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary and is a major pilgrimage centre. My one and only visit there was twenty three years ago and the place spooked me out. The village was quaint enough but every window was lined with religious icons, or at least that’s how I remember it. I’m intrigued to know what the place is like now; was it just a case of a fourteen year old with an over-active imagination?

Nope, I was right. I should have more faith in myself. We park by the Let The Children Live shop (it is not clear what this shop is selling) and walk to The Black Lion Hotel. Everyone we pass is Irish and carrying a candle. 

After what can only be described as a superb dinner, we step back out in the drizzly, dark evening. A sea fret has rolled in and as we walk down the deserted high street I squeeze Tom’s arm a little tighter and hum the tune to a horror film. I’m frightening myself more than anyone else. Through the fog I can see the silhouette of someone approaching. It’s a priest. I feel like I’m in the midst of a whodunit. 

We turn a corner and the village opens out into a square. The only light comes from another pub opposite. We watch as two priests exit in a raucous fashion; there is much revelry in a scene that would not look out of place in Father Ted.

 The next morning, we are served a delectable vegetarian breakfast (no, I’m not following in Ollie’s footsteps; the B&B is veggie). I start with delicious stewed rhubarb and fresh strawberries, followed by a cooked breakfast. Every one of my freefrom needs is catered for, from almond milk for my tea, to gluten-free cereal and dairy-free spread. It is much appreciated, and with great reluctance that we leave The Control Tower an hour later.

After, we return to Walsingham so I can take some pictures in the daylight. We walk around the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I still appear to be hanging off Tom. Instead of being filled with a sense of calm, I find it all a bit, well, creepy, verging on sinister (I’m not the only one, a girl on Tripadvisor feels the same). Tom, on the otherhand, is completely at ease. I think his son-of-a-preacher-man roots make him feel at home. 

  As I take photographs, I follow Tom’s lead around the village. At one point I find myself in a bookshop staring at a display of boxed replica saints. What are we doing here? I search for Tom and struggle to drag him out. He worked in a Christian bookshop in his youth; a moment longer and he’d have been quoting the ISBN numbers of all the different Bibles and regaling me with how many leather-bound King James versions he was able to sell on a Saturday. 


I hurry him back to the car, but not before he’s purchased a Stay Calm and Drink More Tea, Vicar mug for his dad, and some Virgin Mary chocolates for the kids….

It’s a relief to get back on the open road. We arrive in Diss to pick up the kids. Uncle Tim looks a shadow of his former self. All the enthusiasm he exhibited 24 hours has gone and he looks like he could do with a couple of matchsticks to keep his eyes open. 

In the kitchen Ella is making what I suspect could be her fifth coffee of the day. She leans on the kitchen counter while the kettle boils and lets it slip that Ollie was wandering the house at 4am keen to do some Lego. I worry we may have put them off having children for life. 

In the car on the way home, Daisy cheerfully informs us that Tim had to lie with Ollie for AN HOUR singing him to sleep. I’ll credit Tim with a good voice; I’ve never heard a better rendition of I Know Him So Well, but an hour of singing is enough to break anyone, especially as, if the source is to be believed, Ollie eyes sprung open the moment Tim left the room and it took several more attempts to get him finally to sleep…. (I can’t face verifying the truth of these claims).

So, as a tribute to uncle Tim and auntie Ella (there would’ve been no night away without them), and to end what has been a wonderful birthday week, covering three blog posts, it seems only fitting to give you the words of Elaine Paige:

Wasn’t it good (Oh so good) 

Wasn’t it fine (Oh so fine) 

Isn’t it madness he can’t be mine 

But in the end, he needs a little more than me 

More security (He needs his fantasy and freedom) 

I know him so well 

Ok, only the first two lines apply to me, but who can resist the whole chorus?

Death By Chocolate


Tuesday 9th June

My birthday comes with many surprises: I find Ollie cleaning the loo for the first time; Daisy asks me for dating advice ‘on behalf of a friend‘; and I recieve a book in the post from my father-in-law. Turns out it’s ‘my’ book. He has complied extracts of this blog and got them published in hardback. I’m gobsmacked and very touched that someone would spend all that time cutting and pasting my ramblings.

From Tom I receive one of my life’s ambitions: my own chickens. Next on the list is my own caravan. Nothing fancy, just a ’70s style thing that we can tow behind the car and go off at the drop of a hat. After that I’d like a small sailing boat to recreate Swallows and Amazons; we only live a stone’s throw from the Norfolk Broads, for goodness’ sake. I’ve tried to get Daisy into the series but she’s more preoccupied with why Ship Mate Susan always has to stay at base camp and cook and clean, and why Peggy is too timid to go on the adventures whilst the boys have all the fun. I, on the otherhand, struggle not to titter at Able Seaman Titty’s name. How did I not find that funny as a child?

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Today is all about the chickens. We are due to pick up the girls at 4.30pm, but first we have the task of getting the hen house (kindly donated by a friend) from the drive to the back garden. It is too wide to get down the side of the house, so Tom dismantles it and we take it though in bits. Daisy is at school so misses an afternoon of scrubbing and painting and reassembling. 


Predictably, the chicken house is only half reconstructed by the time we go to pick up the chicks from a farm that breeds the unusual combination of hens and alpacas (not together). It is a baptism of fire.

We are greeted by a fifteen or sixteen year old boy who has just returned from a chemistry exam. I want to ask where his parents are, but am relieved I don’t as it turns out that he runs both businesses. 

We follow him obediently to a field where he brandishes a big stick and shouts, 

“Get back Zephaniah! Do not come any closer!” This is aimed at an alpaca as tall as him. Zephaniah has been put into quarantine with the chickens because he was biting the other alpacas. The boy’s stick is also needed to keep the aggressive cockerels at bay and to prevent the two Jack Russells from killing any chicks. It’s like walking into the lion’s den. 

Once in the field, we all stick to the boy like glue. He is the only one with a stick and the alpaca does not look enamoured to see us. We walk over to the first run. Chicks are racing around inside. The corpse of a chick lies amongst them, continually being trampled over by the others. It looks like it’s been there for a couple of days. 

“Oh dear. That one didn’t make it,” says the boy causally before lobbing it into a nearby bin. I don’t think I’m cut out for country living. If that’d been our house, the chick would’ve been dignified with a full burial and memorial service. 

Catching our four specific hens (four different rare breeds) proves very difficult. The boy has to hand over stick duty to Tom because he can’t do two things at once. At some point in the proceedings, Daisy returns to the car (under the armed protection of Tom, leaving the rest of us vulnerable to attack), and arrives back wearing two of Tom’s high-vis tops. I am unsure whether this is to make her more visible to the poor-sighted alpaca, or because she’s cold and has yet again lost her school cardigan. 

We leave an hour later, bewildered and hungry, with a cardboard box of 6-8 week old chickens which we place between the children. 


Once at home we have no where to put them; the hen house is less than ready, and we can’t resume construction until we’ve refuelled with a fish and chip supper. 

I temporarily home the girls in the garden Wendy house. I think I’m being clever by laying down newspaper (mess prevention), and I put water and food in bowls for them. By the time we’ve finished dinner though, the Wendy house looks more like the scene of a massacre than a place where children would want to play. The water bowl has been tipped over flooding the place, the newspaper scratched to pieces and there’s chicken poo everywhere, including in their food. Betty’s beady eyes keep appearing at the window. She is my chicken, we’ve chosen one each, and she’s worked out how to jump onto the child’s chair in there and look around for an escape route. 

Finally, at 9pm the hen house is ready for the newcomers. Yes, the children are still up and yes it is a school night. We send them around to call for our neighbour, Jenny. She’s practically family and we don’t  feel she should miss out on such a momentous occasion. We disturb her watching something on telly, but she comes over obligingly and we have tea in the garden and everyone sings Happy Birthday (but not as well as Jenny who’s is in a choir), and Tom brings out this glorious gluten and dairy-free Death by Chocolate cake that he made with his own fair hands (yes, he has earned mega points), and it all seems like a well-deserved end to a pretty hardworking birthday.    

The next day, Tom, the man who took two years of persuasing re: chicken-ownership, calls three times from work to enquire how ‘the girls’ are getting on. It is like his first day back after paternity leave. 


That evening, the kids have their fishfinger sandwich supper in the chicken pen, closely followed by mine and Tom’s evening cup of tea and catch up. The chicken run quickly becomes our communal area for regrouping. Sitting watching the birds peck away or scratch at the earth is surprisingly therapeutic. I find myself sitting in there in the early morning and not making packed lunches or breakfasts or all the things I should be doing.


So without further ado I really should be introducing our four new additions to the family, who will no doubt be featuring heavily in the blog (individual photos to follow): 

Pearl: Daisy’s Silver-laced Orpington

Ruby: Ollie’s Rhode Island Red

Betty: My Welsummer

Black Maria: Tom’s Norfolk Grey (original name for the breed, Black Marias, after the German WW1 guns which produced a lot of black smoke. Unsurprisingly, the name didn’t take off and was changed to Norfolk Greys). 


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