Comfort food

In these strange and uncertain times, I’ve been indulging a penchant for some traditional comfort food. Some of these weren’t necessarily favourites in childhood, when the exotic was more appealing than the everyday, but now have a nostalgic appeal.

The other day saw us with braised beef and herby dumplings, but today is a sweet treat, albeit very simple.

Baked Egg Custard

Baked egg custard

4 eggs

Scant 2oz sugar (if you have vanilla sugar, use that, or add optional drop of good vanilla extract or essence)

1pt milk (semi-skimmed is fine or full cream for a richer mix)


Little butter for dish.

Preheat oven to 170, 150 fan.

Lightly butter a 2pt dish.

Beat the eggs lightly with the sugar. Heat the milk gently to boiling point, add to eggs, whisking constantly.

Pour mixture through a sieve (optional) into the prepared dish. Pour hot water into the baking tray (enough to come halfway up the dish).

Sprinkle grated nutmeg over the top.

Place baking tray with water carefully in the oven, then put the custard dish into the tray and bake for about 40 minutes. Check from 35 mins on. A metal skewer poked into the centre will come out clean when set, but there should still be a bit of wobble when you shake the dish.

Serve hot or cold. If serving hot, leave to stand for 25 minutes or so.


Try variations – top with a sprinkle of ground cardamom for a change, or cinnamon, or leave plain and serve with a tsp of jam.

Add the finely grated zest of an orange and a half-to-full teaspoon of orange flower water to the custard, omit the nutmeg. Delicious! Particularly good with the richer, part cream, version.

Serve alone, or with fresh fruit such as raspberries, stewed fresh fruit or bought compote. Rhubarb and apple both work well. For a store-cupboard tea, use longlife milk and serve with tinned fruit!

Top with a teaspoon of soft strawberry or raspberry jam or gently warmed marmalade.

Top when cool with a thin layer of soft brown sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch or under a hot grill.

For a luxury version replace a little of the milk with cream.

Use 6 individual pots, check after 20-25 minutes.

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Revisiting the past: ‘dame school’.

I occasionally search desultorily for some of my childhood memories in one form or another. A search for mentions of my ‘dame school’ in Bukuru, Nigeria, threw up a surprise result today, in the form of a book written by a fellow pupil with whom I must have overlapped for just a few months. I’ve now bought the book and shall enjoy reading it, assuming that my increasingly rusty German holds up. I was particularly delighted to have a reply to my message to the author, the only other former pupil I’ve come across.

School badge, 60 years on!

In the preview shown in my search, two key chapters for popped up for me; Mrs Prescott’s Academy and Stormclouds over Bukuru. The first of these reminded me of the front-room school this little, but formidable lady had set up, housing some 40-odd children from three to thirteen or so, with Mrs P dotting around from one to another. Author Nicola Vollkommer Sperry recalls some deterrents I’d not remembered, such as a plastic ruler wielded on transgressors, or, the ultimate deterrent of Mr Prescott’s slipper hanging on a nail! As I don’t recall them, presumably the deterrent effect worked! Nicola tells an amusing tale involving some impromptu art work in Mrs P’s garage.

I recall being very scared one day at the school, as a fellow pupil took great delight in telling us littl’uns that the sun was going to disappear. Once en route home and duly consoled, I learned a bit more about eclipses!

One of the highlights of the school week was at end of play on Fridays (school was morning only) we were allowed to browse Mrs Prescott’s bookshelves and borrow a book, to be taken home and devoured – I was an avid reader. For some reason The Wheel on the School remains imprinted on my brain; I still have a fondness for the book discovered there.

Other random memories include the cry of ‘Team lines’ which was the call we all echoed as we ran to line up at the end of break on the garden playground area. At least, I did, after my first day at the school when I thought everyone was shouting ‘Tea lies’ for some unknown reason!

Another odd “snapshot” remains in the memory bank, of us all lined up as for our return to class, and receiving vaccination jabs (with ever-blunter needles in those days). How we didn’t all get tattoed at the same time with all the laterite dust in the air, I’ll never know!

Dealing with so many children on an individual basis must have been a challenge, especially with limited resources, but I was introduced to French lessons there, aged 6 or so, and to be fair, my experiences with ‘Madame Souris’ there effectively saw me through my first year or so of French at secondary school several years later with little effort!

We went to visit my former teacher at her home near Blackpool when they returned from Nigeria, in about 1967. We walked down the path at the side of the house, a bungalow, I think, and peeped in the window in passing – there was Mrs P at the sink in the kitchen, at about eye level with me (aged about 12). We knocked on the door, and I looked straight ahead as it opened, expecting to see this impressive, tall presence that I recalled – and had to look down a good foot or so, at a trim little lady with a sedate blue rinse! Clearly it was her personality that loomed so large.

The other, much more sombre, chapter mentioned above recalls a dreadful incident during 1966, that I had heard about but not witnessed, and which I’ll pick up in another post. In the meantime, here’s to you, Mrs Prescott!

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“Alas Too Idle Yet Writing a Book” – Census Gems

A quirky look at the census…


If you think reading the census is dull, think again. It can reveal some unexpected gems. I thought I’d share a few I’ve viewed over the years – ones I’ve found, and some located by others. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As March is designated Women’s History Month I’m starting out with some 1911 census entries. The suffrage movement advocated boycotting this census. Some women deliberately absented themselves on census night, 2 April. Other census forms have information and notations which indicate they are clearly linked to people actively involved, or sympathising, with the suffrage movement.

Suffragist, and a founder member of the Women’s Freedom League, Dr Octavia Lewin of 25 Wimpole Street, Marylebone wrote ‘No vote. No census. I absolutely refuse to give any information’. She does then go on to list her impressive array of qualifications, ending with ‘assistant physician…

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Belated Happy New Year!

And an even more belated post. I can’t blame the art summer school (August), daughter’s wedding (end of September), various forays into printing and a flurry of bookmaking for my first ever demo (November) or even the post-election depression and happier pre-Christmas activities for the radio silence. A lack of mojo has been evident, and I am hoping that the 64 Million Artists’ January Challenge will help to revive said mojo!

So, for now, I simply wish you a happy and healthy new year, and hope to be with you more regularly!

Here are a few pictures from the ‘missing months’ in the meantime.

Wedding pics – just the grab shots I managed on the day.

An October outing to the Black Country Living Museum with photographer friends.

And finally, some pictures from Halifax Minster before Christmas.

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Revisiting some photos I took in Lisbon aquarium earlier this year and a re-version of some blue and blurry shots (deliberately blurred this time, honest, guv!)  – intentional camera movement and longer exposures – and thought I’d give them an airing as an AV.


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Happy birthday and solstice solace…

We stopped for a while today at a delightful poppy field near Kidderminster, Worcestershire. It was a delight, and I thought how my mum would have loved to see the blowzy, nodding mass of poppies in all their slghtly rain-battered glory.

In honour of what would have been her 92nd birthday, I collected some English strawberries from the shops (I am waging a one-woman war on the tasteless Elsanta) as today was traditionally the opening of strawberry season in the family. If mum’s hadn’t ripened in our garden in ‘sunny Yorkshire’, we resorted then, as now, to the shop.

Dad also use to tease her that as she was born on the longest day, she’d been making up for the lost sleep of the short night ever since. Not morning people, mum and I…



The official opening of strawberry season!


My lovely mum, Jean.

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via Penguins

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Around the garden

There seems to be a seasonal colour theme going on in the garden today… Montage of a  few phone snaps.

I do feel a bit guilty at robbing the poor embarrassed moai of their dignity with the pansy hats!


Rosemary, chive bud, aquilegia, papillon lavender and two slightly grumpy moai with floral ‘hats’!

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You can take the girl out of Halifax…

I managed to come over all decisive today and finish off the mixed-media piece I started a few weeks ago on a course at Malvern Hills College.

It was acrylic-based and also I learned how to do gelli prints and transfer prints, all totally new skills for me.

I had intended to do something akin to my ‘Half-remembered dreams’ series but with a head buzzing with some family history research, it turned into this nod to my lineage and the town of my birth.

The unique Piece Hall features twice, and I have a great affection for the place. It was the cloth exchange originally but in my great-grandfather’s day it was the wholesale fruit and veg market. Frank Marsden, greengrocer, went there regularly to stock his shop. My uncle Nigel’s words about the flickering yellow gas lamps, inscribed on the larger Piece Hall image are from the description of a childhood visit there with his granddad.

The two pictures of the Piece Hall are photos I’ve created; I always feel the family connection as well as being simply impressed by the place.

My mother, Jean, features with her cousin in a happy picture against the backdrop of the hills around Halifax, and the music score is from one of her ‘party pieces’. My father appears twice, once in a happy group with his mum and sister, once just with sister Joyce. I worked out that the photo was probably taken just before they entered a local orphanage as my widowed grandmother was unable to support them in the 1930s depression years. That would certainly explain the solemn expressions.

The plans and architectural drawings are of West Hill Park, a model estate where my paternal grandmother lived – and so did my parents and I, briefly. A classic terrace, still with outdoor toilet in the 1960s, I only realised it was in one of the spate of Victorian model estates in latter years!

The music references my mother’s family; all three siblings played instruments and sang, grandmother and grandfather were in the chapel choir and grandfather Clifford Morton had ‘a tenor voice like a golden trumpet’, according to a newspaper review – under his stage name of Morton Clifford.

This gift was a double-edged sword as it led to his leaving home to go to the Carl Rosa touring opera company and then a divorce. Clifford married a singer from Carl Rosa and ended up in South Africa.

Finally, the maps are of the Northowram area, where I lived as a child, and have just discovered some distant 18C relatives who lived there, so we’ve come full circle!

The painted and printed background tries to hint at the hills that surround Halifax (Beacon Hill remains a key landmark) and the many mills that nestled in the ‘bowl’. Before the clean air acts, the smoke and steam from chimneys and cooling towers would sit like a witches’ brew in the hilly cauldron. Dean Clough mills remain as a massive memorial to our industrial history, now repurposed and housing small businesses and an arts centre.

It’s not the best executed of pieces, I have yet to refine the photo transfer process with the intriguing partial effects that it gives, and I have no clue about painting! Whatever the shortcomings, I am happy with what it evokes for me. and have taken immense pleasure in the process. I hope you find some enjoyment or interest in it, too.

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Spring on the farm

Popped in on Lower Smite Farm briefly today. The cowslip meadow is in fine fig! Enjoy…

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