Monday, April 30, 2012

Miss, Miss, the cat ate my really, he did

At the weekend, my WI was providing refreshments at a 10km run, starting off at the lovely Langford Lakes. Now, I’m the first to say that I’m no baker (along with being no cook, needlewoman, crafter… in fact, the list of things I’m not could probably run to pages – but I make a mean Christmas wreath).
Usually in these situations I defer to those members who can knock up a reasonable batch of brownies, or a cake that actually rises but this time I decided to face my fears and make a cake myself. Well, if I’m going to be completely honest, I asked The Girl to make one, being as she has eschewed a teenage life of getting drunk and being sick on passing vicars like her mother, for one of the heady joys of cupcake making. And believe me, her peanut butter cupcakes are quite likely better than sex.  Yes, I have failed miserably in the upbringing of my daughter. The last time I left her and her friends alone for an evening I came back to ‘The Great British Bake Off.’  In my day, it would have been an illicit pack of No 6 fags and a crafty bottle of Malibu. She has no idea how to misbehave. Sadly, she was too busy.
Anyway, back to my cake.  I decided to make a carrot cake using the (not-so) secret recipe given to me by my old Canadian flatmate. It’s an old family recipe which she used to lure men into proposals of marriage. Well, it wasn’t so much that she used it to lure then, it was just that it is so incredibly, amazingly delicious that marriage proposals were inevitably forthcoming.  I should say, but don’t spread it around, that I am the only person outside of her family who has the recipe, most likely because she knew I was the least likely to use it. She was party to my Weevil Curry and so was very well-acquainted with my culinary misadventures.
I won’t go into how I grated the carrots (and the odd finger), enough to make it, surely, one of my Five A Day, lovingly beat the eggs into the finely sifted flour and so on but let’s just say that a lot of effort was put into it.  It came out of the oven looking pretty damned good. Beautifully risen, light and spongy to the touch. I left if on the side while I prepared the cream cheese icing with just the right balance of cheese and sweetness. Actually, that sounds pretty vile but we all know that cream cheese icing is a must for carrot cake. The icing was spread over it in long, languorous swirls and the end result was carrot cakelicious and definitely worthy of a photo.
How was I to know that Gizmo, my stupid, deaf cat would have a penchant for cream cheese icing? By the time I came back with the camera, he was up on the range cooker deftly removing the icing with his tongue. I shouted at him but he ignored me. Not really much point shouting at a deaf cat, is there really?  I shooed him off and surveyed the damage. It was well-licked but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. I can almost hear the intake of breath from any committee members reading this. She didn’t did she? O.M.G! Did she really serve a cake that the cat had licked to members of the public, even if they are the ones stupid enough to go on a 10km run in a hurricane?
The answer is……no. Of course I didn’t. I didn’t want the slow, lingering deaths of members of the Salisbury Tri-Club on my conscience. They say a cat’s mouth contains more bacteria than anything else on earth. Well, if you discount RyanAir in-flight meals, of course. No, I swore at the cat, threw him outside and chucked it in the bin. Or did I chuck the cake outside and the cat in the bin? One or t'other. Now what? I had no more carrots for a re-run of the carrot cake, nor the time to do it. There was only one thing for it. I needed a helping hand from my friend Mrs Crocker. You might know her as Betty.
I dashed to the supermarket and, lo and behold, she’s managed to reduce a carrot cake down to a bag of dried ingredients with suspicious looking orange bits. I don’t think they’d count as one of your five a day. Back home, I added a bit of oil, some water and a few beaten eggs and that was that. I did wonder why I’d spent hours grating carrots when all I really needed was one of Betty’s cakes-in-a-bag. The end result wasn’t quite as good as the first one but it was passable and tasty. I kept it well away from the cat. So there you have it, my ‘homemade’ cake was an imposter. I snuck it in among the proper homemade stuff and didn’t mention Betty’s involvement. So there you have it, I’ve fessed up, I’m a homemade Carrot Cake Counterfeiter.

Sorry, but it was Betty's, not mine

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Praise of 'Old School' Women

I sit on the committee of our WILite and, more recently, on the committee of our Rugby Club. The two couldn’t be more different.  Our WI meetings are held at someone’s house, tea, coffee, wine and  nice nibbly things are always served. The committee is, as you would expect, entirely women.  The rugby club, on the other hand, meets up at the club, they don’t put the heating on and you don’t get so much as a glass of water. It is, as you would expect, almost entirely men.

The WI committee meetings often run on for hours, the agenda is something that is loosely adhered to, and the most common sentence uttered  is ‘so, back to the matters we need to discuss’ as the evening invariably goes off in several tangents. That’s not in itself A Bad Thing although it does sometimes make for a late night. Women seem pre-programmed to turn everything into a comfortable, social event and I’m all for that. At the rugby club (with the heating off), however, the men seem to have no need to turn it into anything other than a committee meeting, social interaction is at a minimum and generally saved for a few minutes when the meeting is over, most likely because it’s so cold that you are numb from the feet upwards.

It is the first time I’ve sat on an (almost) all-male committee so it’s interesting to see how differently they function. Men seem much more able to stick to the matter being discussed without the need to digress. Women seem much more able to digress without the need to stick to the matter being discussed. It’s not because we are all barefoot, pregnant, tied to the kitchen and waiting on men who are unable to even put the loo seat down, so we need the social interaction. Is it because we are all accomplished multi-taskers so feel able to talk, discuss, gossip a little and drink wine?  Men, on the other hand, are not quite so accomplished at multi-tasking, despite their ability to flick through the channels with the remote and simultaneously watch several different programmes (while you’d much prefer just the one you were watching).

My friend, neighbour and fellow blogger, amodernmilitarymother, says that ‘modern women don’t sit on committees’ and that it’s an ‘old school’ thing. I wouldn’t, personally consider myself ‘old school’, I’m not even sure I know what one of them is, and certainly, looking around our WI committee, it includes a diverse mix of thoroughly modern women, all of whom are professionals, several of whom run their own successful businesses. The WI plays an enormous role in empowering women and campaigning for women’s issues, far more so than some of these ‘right on’ websites who think they are empowering women because they print a few articles about vibrators and seem to exist so their members can moan about what A Hard Job it is bringing up their one or two children but never mind, there’s always wine (or is it whine?). I wonder if some of them would find themselves more empowered if they shut down their laptops and got themselves on a committee, or at least engaged a bit more with the outside world and less with the cyber one. Meanwhile, the WI is campaigning against changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the erosion of means of help for women suffering from domestic violence. I know which one I think is more empowering.

I think it’s not so much a question of whether modern or old school women sit on committees but that so many people just can’t be arsed. In my parents’ village the Jubilee celebrations are being almost entirely organised by people over 70. The ‘youngsters’ can’t help because they have A Very Busy Life. My mother says most of them don’t work, unless you count the school run, and spend most of their day on their laptops (probably reading about other people’s Busy Lives) while the kids run riot. She says there’s probably little point in the private tutor to get Phoebe into the local grammar school because she’ll probably end up pregnant at 15 just to get her mother’s attention. She’s spent enough of her life working with young people to probably be right. I wonder how these ‘modern women’ would have managed with her life, living in Iran at 20, thousands of miles away from her family and friends, bringing up her children as well as working in a country where is was absolutely against their culture for a woman to work. She’s definitely ‘old school’ as she sits on about four committees and is probably worth about 50 ‘modern women’.

I think it’s such a shame that many younger women are so disengaged from their own communities; so content to sit back and let the others do the work then just turn up and reap the benefits. When all these ‘old school’ women are gone who will be pulling the community together? Back in the day, villages operated as co-operatives, with everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, pulling together for the good of their community. It was a happier, healthier way of living. People didn’t die alone, their bodies undiscovered for weeks. Young women struggling with motherhood had a huge support network to fall back on. What happens these days if you are having trouble breastfeeding, for example? You might have your mother handy but if not you probably call a local lactation adviser. She in turn is most likely linked to a voluntary organisation, and that in turn is run by a committee. In our local area we have a group of volunteer first aiders who run a ‘rapid first response’ service to support the local ambulances. They can get to the scene of an accident faster than the ambulance and start to get the situation under control in those vital early minutes that can, literally, be the difference between life and death. The service is run by a committee.

Committees impact on virtually every area of our lives and if ‘modern’ women feel they don’t need them, I say, think again. Live in splendid isolation if you wish but committees and the people who give up their time to sit on them perform a valuable service and our communities are better places for them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tales from the Village - Easter Egg Throwing

... As in throwing eggs at Easter rather than throwing Easter Eggs. That would just be wasteful.

Easter Sunday is the time of year for our village's Annual Egg Throwing Competition, when people come from miles around - or at least from the next village, to try their hand at throwing and catching an egg (uncooked) over the greatest distance.

I'd like to say it has its origins in the dark annals of country lore, but in fact it arose out of a beer-fuelled conversation at the local pub about 10 years ago which resulted in a rather novel and entertaining way to get rid  unwanted eggs, while raising money for charity.,

Our village is part of a 5,000 acre shooting estate, where pheasant and partridge are bred for sport. Every year, a large number of eggs are left over, leaving something of a logistical problem which was solved by the inauguration of the Annual Egg Throwing Contest.

At 3pm, we gathered outside our local pub, where the road had been marked out with a three lines equidistant apart.  The idea of the competition is to work in pairs, with each one starting off at the outside marker. If each one throws and catches the egg successfully, they take three paces backwards.

On the oche!
Of course, the first few throws are easy, but once the distance becomes bigger, the likelihood of an egging gets ever greater, to the delight of the crowds.

Various styles of throwing and catching were egghibited but in the end, as long as you caught your egg intact it didn't much matter. Eggs were caught one-handed, behind the head and even by someone who was just standing and watching, pint of beer in hand. When a wayward egg headed his way, in a speggtacular display of dexterity, he managed to catch the egg without breaking it and, more importantly, not spill a drop of his beer.

Overarm throwing was proven to be unwise with the speed of the egg proving eggstremely difficult to catch and resulting in a thorough egging of the unfortunate catcher.

With the pride of the village at stake, Mr M and Mr T took to the 'arena', confident in their egg throwing and catching abilities.  The crowd wasn't disappointed as the distance between them got ever greater. With lots of oohing and aaahing, the little blue egg rocketed back and forth between them.

Take a bow, Mr T - oh sorry, it's just your egg
catching technique is it?

The distance growing ever greater....

Now, where IS that egg?

Until an undetected crack in the egg opened up and we all discovered that eggs soon lose their aerodynamic properties with the yolk oozing out. But surely this had to be the winning pairing.

Others stood up to the plate with varying degrees of success...

The Husband, not one to miss out on a bit of local competition (let's not forget that he was one of the only foreigners to ever enter the Agen Prune Stone Spitting Contest when we lived in France...... on second thoughts, maybe we will forget it), paired up with The Boy both dressed in unsuitable clothing as we had been out for lunch but the bar, it seemed, had been set eggstremely high.

The Boy and The Husband - jacket removed!

Mr N, from No 4, showed good throwing and catching skills with his partner, Ms B but with the road becoming more and more slimy it was getting difficult

The bells.... the bells.....

And, after a hard fought battle with some competitors from the neighbouring village, Mr N (above)  was the eventual Champion, having ditched his poor partner for someone who he clearly thought was a better bet, the other Mr N.  But she got the last laugh when the prize was a romantic dinner for two. We shall all look forward to seeing the two men staring lovingly into each other's eyes over a candlelit supper.

Because I can, I'm also making my own awards, although they don't come with any prizes.

The Best Catch Behind The Head Award - Ms B for her eggsellent effort after a bum throw from Mr N

The 'I nearly caught it in my cleavage' Award - the lady from t'other village who's name I don't know but who nearly did

The Egg Throwing in Unsuitable Footwear Award - The Boy who chose to enter wearing a pair of suede desert boots, now slightly crispy round the edges

The Egg Throwing in Unsuitable Clothing - The Husband, who entered wearing an Armani jacket

The SPLAT Award for the best (and only) Direct Hit on a Parked Car - Miss L from t'big 'ouse

The INCOMING! Award for the Most Wayward Throw - Miss L again, who demonstrated perfectly why you can't throw eggs overarm

The Best Throw in Heels - The Girl whose shoes may never be the same

The 'The Bells, The Bells' Award for the Best Quasimodo Impression - Mr N

The Egg on yer face, yer shirt, yer jeans Award - to all those valiant souls who entered and gave us all a jolly good laugh.

All in all, an eggsellent afternoon of amusing entertainment - and money raised for charity too.