Gin isn’t a thing. Fact.


 Gin isn’t a thing. Fact.

 For my birthday, one of my gifts was a voucher to visit a gin distillery and learn about gin. (I am choosing my words carefully here, I’ll tell you why in a minute.) I am rather fond of gin, though I have to confess that despite the rows of exciting gins offered by pubs and restaurants and bars, I actually prefer the cheaper brands—my gin of choice is probably Gordon’s or Beefeater. But I’m sure the ‘bespoke’ gins are very nice too.

We set off, Husband and I, clutching my vouchers and trying to find the distillery using Satnav. The Distillery—Greensands Ridge Distillery—had sent a map, saying that it wasn’t very easy to find. It wasn’t, but we managed. It was harder to find the correct entrance, as it was unmarked and a tiny door cut into a huge coach house door. But we managed that too.

The Greensands Ridge Distillery is a small industry, set up in an old stables and coach house. We were welcomed into a large room surrounded by barrels and fancy-looking copper equipment, and offered tea and coffee. It was very good coffee, though it felt wrong to be drinking coffee when surrounded by stills and urns and delicious smells. The owner, Will, then gave us a short talk about gin, and gave us a small plastic thimble of Raspberry Ghost, which tasted like a fruity brandy (which I didn’t much like). We learned that distilling produces a clear liquid, leaving all the sugar and colour and proteins behind. I remember this from chemistry lessons at school.

There were four couples at the event, and each couple was provided with a small copper still, which were Moorish in shape and originated from Portugal. Many fruits and flowers have oils which historically, people wanted to use—for perfume or medicine—but they don’t dissolve in water, so people began to distil alcohol to dissolve the oils. They realised that when juniper berries were added, the result tasted rather nice, and hence we have gin. Juniper berries cannot be fermented, so the only way to extract their flavour is to dissolve them in alcohol. Here’s the thing: gin isn’t really a thing! I always thought that gin was like vodka, or wine, or brandy, or rum, that something was fermented to produce it, but it’s not. There isn’t something which is fermented to produce gin, any alcohol can be used. The process which turns the alcohol into gin (any old alcohol, as long as it’s agricultural alcohol, you can’t use ether or surgical spirit!) is the adding of juniper berries. The alcohol must be very pure: 96%, so it has no taste at all. (I don’t know this from experience, I decided to believe the man.) So, Vodka with juniper berries added, either by leaving them in there—infusion, or by distilling them, results in gin. Different distilleries add different ingredients, so the taste is slightly different, but basically, juniper + alcohol = gin

We then were introduced to glass jars of flavours. We went along the shelf, smelling various herbs and spices and plants, and deciding which ones we liked. We were advised on quantities, and how to ensure balance of flavour, and then we weighed them into our little stills, added juniper and alcohol and water, and turned on the heat. Gradually we felt the copper urns warm up, we watched the temperature gauge rise, and turned on the water tap so the steam pipe was cooled, the vapour condensed, and gin dripped into our collecting jars. It was strangely exciting!

We had spoons, so could taste the gin as it dripped out. As the different flavours vapourise at different temperatures, the taste changed as the heat went up.

We were given a rather delicious gin and tonic to drink while we waited. We also learned that due to the purity of the process, larger distilleries actually produce better gins than the small bespoke distilleries—so my preference for cheaper, mass-produced gins was not so weird after all. The purest gins are ‘London Gin’ because they don’t have any flavours added after distilling. Both Gordon’s and Beefeater are London gins.

To make my gin, I added: lemon and orange peel, frankincense, cassia, nutmeg, goji berries, sarsaparilla (which has a vanilla smell) cacao nibs (chocolate!) and of course, lots of juniper berries (otherwise it wouldn’t be gin). I started to write down the recipe, with quantities, but Will (the owner) stopped me, and asked what I was doing. I told him I wanted to write about my experience for my blog—to tell you all about it. Will made a funny expression. He then explained that to make gin, to own a distillery and the equipment we had used, requires a license. He has a license, and this means he could let us use the equipment and make a bottle of gin. But he could not be seen to be teaching us how to make gin ourselves. We could not then go home and produce our own. This would be illegal. Before we could remove the bottles from the premises, they had to be tested for alcohol content, and the bottle clearly labelled, saying what it contained. We also had to have a sticker, showing everything was properly licensed, and the tax paid. (£8.05 duty on a 700ml bottle of gin.) Generally, I’m not a great one for rules, but I rather liked my ‘gin experience’ and I don’t want to cause trouble for Will, so I’m afraid the exact details will have to remain a secret. I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you. Or of course, you could simply visit the distillery yourself! It makes a very nice (if rather expensive) gift for someone you love. (www.greensanddistillery.com)

Thanks for reading. I hope you have some lovely drinks this week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Getting Started


Getting Started

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Do you ever feel you spend the whole day ‘not getting started’? I suspect this is especially true for writers, but probably affects everyone. I mean that whole, being busy but not quite managing to do what I intended to do sort of day, when time slips past like an oily jelly, and suddenly it’s lunch time and I still haven’t started what I intended to do.

It’s not that I haven’t done anything, more that I have not accomplished what I planned to do. Like, when you want a cup of coffee, but first you have to wash-up a mug—the washing-up bit was not your purpose, it is merely one of those have-to-do jobs that appear before the main event. I seem to have a lot of those. . .

Take today, as the perfect example. Today, I plan to write. I am two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my new novel, and I’m loving it, and the characters are completely real people inside my head, and I am excited by where the plot is going inside my head, and over the weekend it occurred to me exactly how the book should end. All inside my head. Therefore, this morning, I am raring to get writing, and put those ideas into words. Today I plan to write. But. . .

I cannot really function without my morning coffee and Bible time, so after cleaning my teeth, I go downstairs and put on the kettle. A chick hatched overnight, so I go and check it is managing to drink (touch and go whether this one will survive). I refill the dog and cat’s water and food, make my coffee, read my Bible. Then it’s time to go for a run (not far, a 20 minute yomp to the end of the road: has to be done first-thing otherwise my exercise for the day is non-existent). Husband wants to come, so I agree to wait for him and fill the time sorting out my mother’s shopping for the week with Ocado. Husband appears, we run.

Return to house breathless and very sweaty. While Husband showers, I give feeble chick more water. Then I go to the pond to check chicks outside have water and food and aren’t stuck anywhere. Mother hen is very ferocious, and tries to attack me as I change water and top up food and attempt to grab some of the dirty hay and replace it with clean bedding. I check on Matilda. Matilda is a pheasant I found on a dog-walk, clearly dying as she had been hit (I assume) by a car, and lying on an oft-walked route, so likely to be mauled by the next passing dog/fox—not a nice way to die; so I carried her home and put her in a duck hutch to die peacefully. Except she didn’t die, so I now have a one-legged pheasant living in a hutch. (I have received a lot of family feedback about this.) Matilda is fine. Change her water, and top up the duck food.

Am about to shower, when I realise I haven’t ‘fed’ my sourdough starter today. I make a loaf every Tuesday, and it needs 24 hours to ferment, so I weigh the flour and stir it into the gloop, ready for tomorrow.

Grab a few dirty clothes and shove them into the washing machine, and give feeble chick another few sips of water.

Finally make it into shower, last hurdle before I do what I planned to do, and write more of my book. Except. . . while in the shower, it occurs to me that this would make a reasonably interesting blog, and if I quickly write this first, it leaves the rest of the week beautifully clear for wring my book.

At last, I have finished, and I hope that today, you manage to achieve what you planned to achieve, with no distractions. Now, if you will please excuse me, I have a book to write. . .

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Electric Toothbrushes Can Cause Blindness


Electric Toothbrushes Can Cause Blindness

“Get an electric toothbrush,” they said.

“An electric toothbrush is much better for your gums—and gum disease is a bigger problem than tooth decay.”

I listened to the advice from my dentist, and considered whether he might be right. I have terrible teeth, and for many years as a child I neglected them, so now they are full of fillings. Plus, they’re too big and stick out (my dear husband describes them as ‘horsey teeth’). If I had the ability to change one thing about myself, it would definitely be my teeth. I guess we all have something we’d like to change.

However, now I am all grown up, I do attempt to take better care of them, and I have not needed a filling since the 1970s, so I feel I’m doing okay. I clean my teeth morning and night, with a fluoride toothpaste, and a medium sized toothbrush, which I replace regularly. I did not see the need for an electric toothbrush. I also did not especially trust my dentist, who was a new one, due to my dentist of 30 plus years inconveniently retiring. But Mr. New Dentist was insistent, an electric toothbrush was the way to go.

I left scowling.

The following weekend, Bea visited, and I heard her cleaning her teeth. She was using an electric toothbrush. She extolled the virtues, and told me I should listen to my dentist.

I scowled some more.

I looked online. There were a vast array of electric toothbrushes available, ranging from fairly cheap to needing a mortgage. I chose a not-too-expensive one, because I wasn’t convinced it would be used more than once.

Toothbrush arrived. The packaging was impossible to open, I cut my finger trying to remove it from the plastic case. I glanced at the instructions, and there seemed to be a bit missing, but perhaps they were generic instructions and referred to a different model. I carried toothbrush to the bathroom and plugged it in, hoping that it wouldn’t charge. It charged.

Returned to bathroom and scowled at toothbrush. It stood on its stand, looking smug and slightly dangerous, as if it knew things that I didn’t suspect. I picked it up and held the head under the tap until it was rinsed, then applied a ‘pea-sized blob of toothpaste’ as per instructions. So far so good. Pressed the button, and the fun started.

The toothbrush came to life with a high-pitched whirring that took me straight back to childhood and the dentist’s chair and the whine of his drill. At the same time, the pea-sized blob of toothpaste scattered into a thousand tiny specks that coated the mirror and the sink and my sweater. I realised my mistake, and hastened to place toothbrush into my mouth. It juddered across my cheek, whirred around my mouth, snagging my gums and the inside of my cheek and skimming across my teeth. I tried to stop it, and discovered I am incredibly uncoordinated. My efforts to press the stop button, rinse the brush, return to mouth, press on button, all became muddled. I splattered the whole bathroom with water and toothpaste, and some went into an eye. Toothpaste in your eye really stings. Am pretty sure I will go blind now—but at least I won’t be able to see my horrible teeth.

I managed to stop the toothbrush, rinsed it and returned it to its stand. It looked very smug.

I am looking for a new dentist, if you have any recommendations?

Have a good week.

Love, Anne x

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Quarantime to Read. . . Counting Stars: The Journey


Chapter Two

She doesn’t look, think, or fight like James Bond, but sometimes a mother simply has to do whatever it takes. . .

The Journey Continues

 

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****

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1589905723&sr=8-1

Slavery on the Plantations


I had planned to be in Italy now. In preparation, I wrote this post last year, and postdated it to be published today. It is weirdly relevant given what is happening. As I read Fanny’s book, it was fascinating to hear her say things that today would be considered blatant racism, even though she was fighting for the abolition of slavery. There is a lesson here for today. If we are protesting against racial inequality, is it okay to shop for cheap clothes, which are made by slaves in Bangladesh? Do we only want racial equality in the UK and the US? Or are we prepared to give our money to aid agencies to help fight Covid-19 amongst the poor in India, Africa, and beyond? What, I wonder, will the future think of us?

Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839

by Frances Kemble

While we were visiting the Southern States of America last year, we were very aware of echoes of the past wherever we went. We saw old plantations, fields of cotton, museums, relics from the civil war, and were ever conscious of the comparatively recent slave trade. I began to explore this a little, to try and discover some facts beyond what we could see, and one of the books that I bought was the Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation. It is a brilliant book, and allows the reader to see the slave trade, as it was, through the eyes of another investigator.

Fanny Kemble was an English actress. She was fairly well-known, as both an actress and an author, and during a tour of America with her father, she met Pierce Mease Butler. They married, and she went back to live with him in America, having no idea about how, exactly, he made his money. She then discovered that Butler owned a plantation, and slaves. Fanny deplored the idea of slavery, and insisted that she be allowed to visit the plantation, and see for herself the life of the slaves owned by her husband. The book is a series of letters and extracts from her journal, describing what she discovers.

I read the book shortly after arriving home from our road trip through Georgia and the Carolinas, so much of what Fanny describes is clear in my memory. She talks about the swamps, where the trees appear to be balanced on long fingers, and she calls them ‘woods of water.’ She describes the wildlife, the climate—all of which is pretty much unchanged even today. However, read through modern eyes, Fanny herself would be classed as racist, as her language reflects the thinking of the day. A strident abolitionist, Fanny makes a strong argument for the evils of the slave trade, whilst also describing black people in unflattering terms. It is unclear whether Fanny considers the slaves to be her equal, or whether she simply thinks the owning and degradation of human beings is deplorable (which is not quite the same thing).

The living conditions of the slaves are described as dirty, with no comfort, insufficient food. However, the aspect that affects Fanny the most is the whole being owned principle. Although the slaves married, and had children (which were then considered the property of the plantation owner) this was not respected beyond the confines of the slave residencies. So a man might return home from work one day to find, without warning, that his wife or child had been sold to a new owner, many miles away. Fanny also refutes the idea of benevolent owners, saying that those people who claimed to be kind to their slaves were still treating them as animals, and doubting whether a full-grown person would prefer to be treated as a much-loved pet dog, or as a donkey–both are belittling, and both undermine the basic principle that people of all colour, are human. This was radical thinking for her times.

One part which was interesting, is when Fanny is discussing Shakespeare (which would be very relevant to an actress). She ponders the play of Othello, and how the character, who is black, is described as a Moor, not a Negro. Fanny tells her friend that the hateful speech by Iago, Othello’s enemy, would be much more realistic if his hatred of “the moor” was changed to “the negro” and would add to his criticism of Desdemona, who has married a “negro.”

To discover what happened to Fanny later, beyond the pages of the book, I had to search the internet.

Fanny later divorces Butler and returns to England. Butler squanders his money, and eventually sells 436 slaves at The Great Auction in Savannah. This was notable, and is still part of the remembered history of Savannah today, used as an example of the horrors of the slave trade. Families were wrenched apart in the sale, and local people described the wailing and crying.

I found this book exceptionally interesting, though the style of writing was not my personal taste. It gives a clear account of how someone living in the times of slavery viewed what was happening, and I loved how her own biases were unconscious, and never addressed. I wonder what Fanny would think of her own writings if she was alive today. . . and I wonder what a future Anne would think about my own views. We are all products of the society in which we live, even if we like to think our generation has ‘sussed it’. I wonder if perhaps before we shout at those who we think are racist today, we had better look into our own hearts. You might claim that you believe all people are equal–but have you ever bought cheap clothes that might have been made by slaves in Asia? When did you last donate money to help downtrodden people? Would you allow the field near your home be used to build homes for refugees? I wonder. . .

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Will You Look Outside of the Bubble?


Looking Outside of the Bubble

I miss my family. I want to see my son and his girlfriend, and I want to see my sister—who was due to visit from Canada but then had to cancel her trip because of lockdown and quarantine and all-things-Covid. I feel like I’m living in a bubble, much of which is not terrible, but there are snippets of life that I sorely miss, and people who I love are some of them. I also want things to be normal again, and I’m not sure they ever will be. I don’t much like living in a bubble, do you?

If I look further beyond my bubble, there is India. Do you ever wonder what is happening there now? All our news is as Covid-dominated as our everyday lives, and news from outside of England has been hard to find. But I know people in India, I have walked through the slums, and held babies, and giggled with children on the road outside a brothel. What has happened to them during lockdown—do you even care? Will you let me show you, for a few minutes, what is happening outside of your bubble?

I want to show you Samir. Actually, Samir isn’t her real name, I have no idea what her real name is. She is a girl, caught on a photograph during one of our trips to India when we went to see the work Tearfund partners were doing among the poor. Look at her for a moment. She’s clearly having a laugh, teasing someone who’s inside the house. Someone has tied back her hair, found her clothes—but not shoes. Look at her poor feet as she walks through the discarded rubbish of her home. She captured my imagination with her dancing eyes and zest for life, and she’s the screen saver on my computer, and when I’m feeling fed-up, I look at her and remember that some people laugh when they live in a dump, children giggle even when they’re hungry.

There are lots of poor people in India. They make their homes from what they can harvest from the society around them (okay—they probably steal it—I suspect building sites regularly lose stacks of bricks and sheets of corrugated iron). They live by what they can earn day to day on the streets. They clean the homes of rich people (that’s us) and they drive taxis, and they have food stalls, and do laundry, and a whole myriad of other jobs that allow them enough to feed their families. I love India because everyone seems to be busy, everyone is scurrying around, trying to improve their life.

But then came lockdown. The government suddenly announced everything was closing, people had to stay at home. If you think there was panic-buying in England, you can imagine what it was like in India. The initial restrictions were eased, and people were allowed out to buy essential food, but the shock, the severity of the situation, smacked into the poor of India with no warning.

In England, we had to stay at home for our lockdown, and could only meet friends online, and our activities were reduced to screens and books and going out for exercise once a day. Look beyond the bubble for a minute, and see what lockdown meant in India. They don’t have screens in the slums, or books. . . or food. Those people who have left their villages to crowd into the city because they can glean a living working among richer people, suddenly had no work, no income, no food. So what did many of them do? They realised they could either stay in their make-shift homes and starve, or they could take their families back to their villages—where at least they could try and grow food. And so they set off, in their tens and hundreds and thousands.

But there was no public transport due to the lockdown, so they walked. At first, they walked on the roads, but when the police came to turn them back (because a mass exodus from cities meant a spread of the virus) they used the train tracks. When people were killed on the tracks, they took to the fields, wading through rivers when necessary, with their possessions, and elderly relatives, and children. Desperate people will always find a way. Other people opted to stay in the cities, but the aid agencies that provided a meal every day could no longer operate in the same way, the fabric of their lives, their means to make a living, had all but disappeared.

Gradually, things are being organised in India. Aid agencies are finding ways round the rules, the government are trying to provide what is needed—but people are still falling through the cracks. The slum I visited had water barrels outside each building, because water was only available at certain times of the day, so they would fill the butt and then use it throughout the day. Homes didn’t have toilets—there were buckets or shared facilities in the street. Whole families crammed into a couple of rooms. How does social-distancing work somewhere like that? How can people wash their hands regularly when there is no running water? How do they escape a virus which will probably devastate them because their health is already worn down by malnutrition and TB and other illnesses? Yet these people are unlikely to be the first on the list when a vaccine becomes available. These are the forgotten people. . . we don’t even know their names.

Please will look with me for a moment, beyond the bubble that has become our lives? I know that you are tolerating your own hardships, your own struggles. But there are people beyond the bubble who still need the help of others, who struggle to survive and are constantly knocked down again. We might not know their names, but if we try, we can still see them, they are out there, beyond our bubble. Please will you try to see them? Please will you help? A few pounds might just help my little photograph-girl to have some dinner–even if we don’t know her name.

Thank you.

Please reach out of the bubble, and click the link below. Be part of something. . .

Tearfund link here

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The next chapter from Counting Stars will be posted on Wednesday.

 

A Matter of Life and Death


I don’t know about you, but I am always surprised by how much life bursts forth in the spring. Suddenly, every weed in my garden is ten-foot-high, the chickens start hiding their eggs and going broody, wild birds start to go bananas. It is mostly wonderful.

There are a few downsides though—like the bag of potatoes I found at the bottom of the larder, with roots practically piercing the bag. Maybe not so good for mash. I had the clever idea of planting them, so the chickens could eat the new leaves when they sprouted (wouldn’t take long!) I took them up the garden, and found an area against the chicken coop fence. Ideal, I thought, I’ll chuck them there, toss a bit of compost over them, they can grow through the fence and the chickens can eat the leaves. All good.

About 3 days later, the potatoes appeared in a bucket next to the door.

“Look what I found!” announced pleased husband, beaming all over his face. “These must be the seed potatoes you planted last year, and they’ve grown new tubers.”

I told them I thought they were possibly some old potatoes that I’d found in the larder (I didn’t go into too much detail), but he assured me that the roots were really long, and there was no way they could possibly be from this year. I checked the area next to the chicken coop. No potatoes or heap of compost. I keep trying to avoid the subject, but husband has mentioned it about 50 times since then, saying how amazing it is. Might have to confess.

The welcoming committee. . .

We also had birds in the nesting boxes that Uncle Frank made. He gave them to me ages ago, and I put them near the kitchen window (good plan) so I would see if any birds took an interest. We had some great tits in the area, and I guessed the eggs must have hatched when I noticed a welcoming committee of four cats staring at the nesting box. I started to shut the cats in during the day, letting them out at night. But then one morning, I came down to find one cat up the tree, and by the time I had run outside, he had fished a baby out of the box and was playing with it. I grabbed the baby, shoved it back into the box, and shut the cat inside. Husband then assembled some protective obstacles around the base of the trees. The view from my kitchen window resembled a cross between Guantanamo Bay and a WW1 trench. Not quite what I’d hoped, but at least the birds were safe.

A little like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ wildlife picture, but this is one of the birds.

We watched the parents feed the birds, and I did some online research. Did you know that great tits have a black stripe down the centre of their breast, and that the male has a wider stripe than the female? The width is directly proportional to how many sperm he produces, so female great tits will try to select a mate with a very wide black stripe. Our male was in the ‘acceptable but not a super-stud’ range. Cool fact huh?

We guessed the hatchlings were flying because several blue jays appeared in the garden. Am hoping they didn’t catch them all—maybe the blue jay family had a banquet that day. The next morning, the nesting box was empty except for moss and feathers.

In keeping with the explosion of life that is spring, I have some duck eggs incubating in the utility room, and my beautiful white leghorn chicken is sitting on some eggs in her nest. She has a choice of leghorn (white) cockerel or legbar (grey) cockerel to choose from. I am hoping to have a female chick from the legbar male, as they lay lovely blue eggs (though whether or not a hybrid will, remains to be seen). They are due to hatch next week, so I will let you know how they fare.

I also have a female pheasant (I can’t tell you how delighted Husband is about this!) I found her in a ditch, so am guessing she had been hit by a car. I knew the fox would get her, and I figured it would be nicer to die somewhere peaceful, so I carried her home and put her in an empty duck coop next to the pond. But she didn’t die. I’ve had her a couple of weeks now. I’m feeding her grain and apples (have to smuggle the apples out of the house because technically they belong to Bea’s boyfriend). She can’t actually walk (the pheasant, not Bea) but seems quite happy lolloping around the coop and watching the ducks. There is a ramp down to the pond, and I do have some worries that she might drown herself (pheasants are very silly birds) which means Husband will have to wade out and retrieve the body—which he will mutter about for several days—but at least it will stop him talking about the blessed potatoes!

I hope your week is full of life.

Take care, and stay safe.

Love, Anne x

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Another chapter from Counting Stars will be posted on Wednesday.

Making Sour Dough Bread


Sourdough Bread

One of the things I have attempted during lockdown is making sourdough bread. I don’t actually like sourdough—it tastes too sour!—but Husband likes it, and I rather liked the idea of making it. It’s completely different to making ‘normal’ bread, and has no yeast. Instead, you have a sort of mini chemical plant bubbling away in your kitchen, which you feed each day, and when it has grown to the appropriate size, you use it to make bread.

It reminded me of when I was a child, and we made ginger beer, having a ‘plant’ of sludge bubbling away in a jam jar, feeding it sugar and ginger every day, and then on a Saturday, filling the sink with bottles we had begged from relatives, filling them with boiling water to sterilize them, and then filling them with ginger beer; which we stored under the kitchen table for a couple of weeks, before drinking copious amounts of wonderful fizzy ginger beer. Any fizzy drink in those days was wonderful, as my parents only ever bought them at Christmas, due to cost. I’m not sure how the cost of the sugar we added when making the beer compared, but to my childhood self, ingredients didn’t count as a ‘cost’ and the beer was therefore ‘free.’

There was the week when our boiling-water-method of ‘sterilization’ obviously didn’t work (I learnt a lot about what ‘hot’ and ‘hurts’ meant in those days) and one of the bottles exploded, all over the kitchen floor. My mother was very good about things like that, she never minded us taking over her kitchen to cook, and she was never angry when we spilt things or bottles of fizzy drink exploded everywhere. It is one of the things I tried to copy when I was a mother.

Anyway, all this fuelled my desire to try and make some sour dough. I was not disappointed.

I found a recipe online, and made my ‘starter’. This was a goo of milk, yogurt and flour. Apparently, in days gone by, people made the starter simply by leaving flour (probably whole grain) to soak, until it started to ferment, and this became the base for the starter. But it’s quicker with yogurt, and less likely to go rancid. Each day, I added flour and water. The first couple of days, it expanded slightly, and bubbles appeared on the surface. But then it went flat, and looked dead. I think my house was too cold, and the bacteria couldn’t be bothered to do anything. I moved it to a warmer place, and it started to bubble again. I made it in a small Pyrex bowl, covered with clingfilm and a tea towel (to keep it insulated, as it needs to be warm, but not too warm).

Some days it looked as if the water and flour had separated, and there was water on the surface. This is actually alcohol (with a fancy name). I just stirred it back into the sludge. It looked gloopy, a bit like baby vomit, but it smelt wonderfully beery. If it starts to smell nasty (of poop) then it’s gone off, and you must throw it away and start again.

After six days, I was ready to make the bread. There was a lot of goo and sticky involved, and a good muscle workout in the kneading bit. It also took hours, as a sour dough starter is not as fast as yeast, so it needed two lots of 2 ½ hour rest periods to rise. The dough was never firm enough to support itself, so needed to be left to rise in a bowl. The instructions said to line this with a floured tea towel otherwise it would stick to the bowl. I did, and it stuck to the tea towel. When it was cooked, I was supposed to place tins of water in the oven, to produce a steamy atmosphere, but I forgot.

However, it was all great fun, and interesting, and I loved the slightly beery smell of the starter and the bread. I made two loaves, and they looked suitably rustic. Inside, they had the big bubbles we think of when we buy sour dough. It tasted—well, exactly like sour dough bread! So I didn’t much like it, but Husband was very pleased. I will make it again, because it was fun. I have included the recipe below, in case you fancy making some too.

 

Sour Dough Starter

  1. Day One: Heat 6fl oz skimmed milk (but not too hot to touch, or it will kill the bacteria, and bacteria is your friend here). Mix with 5 tblsp plain yogurt (you need the stuff with bacteria in, and not a flavoured one, as that would make very odd bread!) Cover the bowl. Leave 24 hours (somewhere not too cold). Stir.
  2. Day Two: Stir in 4oz (100g) white bread flour. It needs to be proper bread flour, not plain flour, as it needs the extra strength—otherwise your loaves will flop over in despair and you will have made weird sour pastry, not bread. Cover. Leave 48 hours.
  3. Day Four: Add 6oz (150g) bread flour, and 100 ml water, and 3 tblspn milk (I used semi-skimmed milk). Leave 24 hours.
  4. Day Five: Remove half the starter. You can throw it away, but I put it into another bowl, in the fridge. When I wanted to make more, I simply put it into the warm kitchen and started at Day Four again, hence making another lot of starter for more bread. Apparently, some people keep their starter for generations, passing it on and on, a sort of sludgy heirloom. Not sure my children would especially enjoy inheriting that.
    Add 5 ½ oz (150g) bread flour, 150 ml water. Mix well. Leave 24 hours.
  1. Day Six: Use the starter to make the bread.

Sour Dough Bread

500g Strong White Flour

300g Starter (this is what the above recipe will give you)

2 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp salt

oil for greasing

9fl oz (150 ml) warm water

loads and loads of extra flour to stop the dough sticking to your hands/board/tea towel

 

  1. Mix the starter and flour, gradually add the water until forms a soft dough, you will probably only need about 6 fl oz. (I added it all, because I didn’t read the recipe properly, and made a sticky mess. Had to add a lot of extra flour to make it workable.)
    Add sugar and salt.
    Knead for 10 minutes, stretching and pushing and squeezing the dough. It’s ready when you can stretch out a piece so thinly that it’s almost translucent. This means all the gluten in the bread has burst, and will hold the bubbles in the dough when it cooks. If the dough isn’t stretchy enough, keep kneading until it is, otherwise you will be making biscuits (ones that will break your teeth).
  1. Put into an oiled bowl. Leave somewhere warm for 2 ½ hours.
  2. Knock back (ie, knead a little bit more, so some of the air is released, but not enough to push out all of it). Shape into two loaves. Cover a tea towel with loads of flour (really, loads, push flour into the fabric with your fingers—it will still stick!) Place the tea towel into a bowl, and add your loaf. (If you leave it to prove on a tin, like normal bread, it will collapse into a dollop). Leave 2 ½ hours.
  3. Place loaf onto an oiled tin. (Good luck with that! I surgically removed the tea towel with a knife. But the scraggy top of the loaf looked quite nice when it was cooked.) Score a hashtag shape on top with a sharp knife (try not to press on the dough—you want to keep all the air bubbles inside now).
  4. Bake 200˚C for 35 minutes. If you remember, put a tin of water in the bottom of the oven, to create a steamy environment. The loaf will sound hollow when it’s cooked (so get it out and knock on the bottom if you’re not sure!)

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*****

Quarantime to Read. . . Counting Stars: The Beginning


About 6 years ago, I decided to write a dystopian novel, looking roughly 100 years into the future. At the time, my three children were all studying—economics, science, law—so I asked them what they thought was coming in the near future. They all gave me lots of ideas, and especially the scientist was very enthusiastic about discoveries which had been proven, but due to ethical or financial implications, were not considered viable.

It was written at a time when there were several religious terrorist incidents, and so I tried to imagine how the world might solve this problem—and what new problems would arise in its place. It was rather fun to look at the problems in the world—why do we still have people dying of hunger when we can send people into space?—and to solve them all, and then to consider what new problems my solutions would create. I also tended to go off on tangents when things took my interest. I had recently had brain surgery, so was fascinated by how we are affected by relatively small physical changes within the brain, and I became side-tracked with a quick study of Lamarckian theory (such fascinating ideas). I tried to incorporate all this within a story, about a family, set 100 years from now. My rule was that it had to be possible, even if it wasn’t probable. It was great fun to write, and in 2015 I put a new section on my blog each week. At the time, it was very popular, and I had students writing to ask me to send me the next chapter because they didn’t want to wait a week, and elderly ladies complaining they had been on holiday and missed a chapter, and middle-aged men who emailed to say it was the first time they felt properly represented by a character in a book.

It is several years later, and a surprising number of those futuristic predictions are now beginning to appear (though thankfully not all of them). I thought it might be interesting to post it on my blog again, so I hope my faithful followers from 2015 won’t mind reading it again. When I had posted the last chapter, I rewrote it, and sent it off to an editor, who charged me £300 to improve it, and I then turned it into a short book, available from Amazon. I therefore hope that if you are rereading it, you notice some improvement! The editing took all my funds, so the cover was a DIY job, and I have reliable feedback that it’s pretty terrible. Please do not judge the book by the cover. One day, I will perhaps design a new cover, but I am always besotted with my work-in-progress, and the time to redesign a cover that is rarely seen is very low priority.

Anyway, of all my books, I think this was the most fun to write. I hope you will enjoy it too. I will post sections of it every Wednesday and Sunday. Enjoy. . .

 

Counting Stars

by Anne E. Thompson

She doesn’t look, think, or fight like James Bond, but sometimes a mother simply has to do whatever it takes. . .

Chapter One

 The Door

They wouldn’t know her, because they had never met. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she remembered. It was what she did—remembered. It was why she was useful.

Due to the KDP rules on Amazon, I am not allowed to upload a whole book anywhere other than on the KDP site. I can therefore share chapters with you, but must remove them when read.

 

If you would like to read the whole story, or perhaps buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you. The link is below:

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1589905723&sr=8-1

***

To be continued on Sunday.

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If you want to buy a copy for a friend, Counting Stars is available from Amazon: UK Link Here!

“There’s none so queer as folk. . .”


Sometimes, after selling books at a craft fair, I am dying to tell you about some of the people who I’ve met—sometimes because they were very odd, sometimes just because our conversation was interesting. But I try to hold back, and not say too much, because it feels like an invasion of privacy to tell you too much about people who do not expect to be written about.

However, as I have attended more and more fairs, there is a general pattern of types of shoppers emerging, and so, in general terms, I feel I am safe to tell you about them. (If you have ever spoken to me at a fair, then you might recognise yourself, but I am writing in very generic terms, so my descriptions will apply to several people rather than a single individual.)

First of all, there are the Rebuffers. These are the people who really do not want to buy a book, they are generally in a hurry, and will rebuff my initial approach briskly. Sometimes they manage to do this nicely, with a smile and shake of the head whilst not breaking step.

Sometimes they are rather rude, and will reply to my: “Hello, do you like reading?” with a curt: “No!”

I have even known people say: “Not those kinds of books” or, “Not books by a woman!”

Secondly, there are the Chatterers. These people consider that as I have approached them, I must be lonely and want to chat. They will talk, for a very long time, about the kind of book that they would write, if so inclined. It is sometimes difficult to move these people on, and I have watched with despair as several potential customers pass by while a non-buying woman launches into the year after her second child was born when they went on holiday to Paris and there was a man on the ferry who. . .

Thirdly there are the Predators. These people will ask lots of questions, they will examine my books in detail, asking who published them, how I sell them, how many I have sold. By the time they have asked their 57th question, I am beginning to realise that they have no intention of buying, they are simply checking out the opposition! Invariably they turn out to be authors themselves, who have never considered asking bookshops if they can do a book-signing, or taken a table at a craft fair, and they are trying to decided whether they should copy me. I will link these people with the authors who think that as I have told them about my books, I will now be interested to hear about their own. They tell me at length about the plot of their book, and who published it, and how I can buy it—without considering that I have paid £40 for my stall, and really I need to SELL enough books to cover my costs, not look around for other books to BUY!

Next, we have the Investigators. Some of my books are about psychopaths, and they were written after months of research: I read papers by neuroscientists, bought books by neurologists, listened for hours to convicted psychopaths, and found two mothers who would talk to me about raising a psychopathic child. So, although I am a lay-person, I felt sufficiently qualified to write novels about psychopaths. However, I find that some people—often but not always, health professionals—are deeply suspicious. They will start to ask questions about my research, and the questions turn into an aural examination/inquisition as to my understanding of the subject. Generally, I manage to answer satisfactorily, and they often go on to buy a book (one even asked me to write an article for a mental health magazine) but it is uncomfortable. Actually, it is often most uncomfortable when the person has no scientific knowledge themselves, but considers themselves to be an expert because they have read an article or watched a television programme, and often their own understanding is somewhat flawed, which makes it difficult when being ‘tested’ by them.

What if…you were the mother of a psychopath? The story of Joanna and her family – an exciting novel.

What if…a psychopath managed to do something good. Can psychopathy ever be a strength?

This is the story I always promised myself I would write ‘one day’ while I was teaching in an infant school. A light-hearted novel about 3 teachers.

These people contrast well with the Defensives. These people ask questions about my novels set in a school (Hidden Faces) or a farm (Ploughing Through Rainbows) and then go on to explain that they too could have written a book about their past employment. Perhaps they are a nurse with a lot of funny stories, or a teacher with more experience than me, or a prison warder. They inform me, fairly grumpily, that their lives are just as interesting as mine, and that their book, if they had found time to write it, would be much better than mine. I’m sure that in some cases this is true. However, they haven’t written a book and I have, so it is bit of a non-conversation in my mind. Nor am I quite sure why they are telling me this—am I meant to agree with them and pack up and go home?

A hilarious family saga set on a farm. Being a parent has no end-date, as Susan discovers when her adult sons begin to make unexpected choices in life.
A warm-hearted, feel good novel that will make you smile.

Finally, there are the Lovely people. These people show a genuine interest in my books, whether they buy a copy or not. They are polite, and interesting, and it is always nice to meet them and have a conversation.

I will leave it for you to decide which category you fit into—I’m sure it’s the last one!

I hope you meet some lovely people today. Thank you for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne xx

Thank you for reading.
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Have you read any of my books? Available from bookshops and Amazon. Check out my author page Here!