Jan 19 2007

Ladies in Waiting


We seem to have tumbled into the New Year; 2007 has arrived with a great whoosh in every way, drama on all sides. As I sit here looking out of my window I’m wondering if the room will be blown clean off the side of the house. Such a storm is raging; trees are bending over at ninety degrees lashed from side to side. The Monkey Puzzle is doing an extraordinary swirling dance, all seventy feet of it. Oh, I do hope it stays rooted to the ground! The noise is amazing as the wind funnels its way, howling down the valley. Gusts of ninety miles an hour were recorded off the south coast according to the radio this morning….And January usually cheers me up after the dark dank days of November and December. But this year, so wet and wild, even the carpet of snowdrops, early camellias and smiling hellebores fail to give my spirits the usual lift. I hope things improve before lambing begins. We’re starting earlier this year in anticipation of another long hot summer! Fat Ladies in Waiting graze the hillside and race rudely to the yard for afternoon tea.

Lady_in_waiting_2 Lady_in_waiting_1_1

…….whatever happened to Afternoon Tea? Where did it go? What happened to cucumber sandwiches and those tiny tomato ones neatly trimmed of their yummy crusts. Remember hot buttered toast, crumpets oozing with butter and honey, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Where have all the éclairs gone? Have they just turned into Profiteroles for pudding? What about musical cake plates and three tiered cake plates? Remember those, bedecked with home made biscuits, flapjacks, Victoria Sponge or Fullers Walnut Cake. Where have all the wide brimmed, bone china cups gone? You know, the ones which rendered tea cold in seconds. Have they all gone to auction? But who bought them all?….”will you take China with lemon or Indian with milk and sugar?” No tea time Balkan Sobranie either or those cigarettes that Granny used to smoke through a fine ivory holder, each rolled in different coloured paper. Dressed in her velvet tea gown, fat little feet spilling over her shoes, red rose pinned to her bosom, she puffed genteelly between sips of cooling tea! Has it really all vanished into a paper cup, vending machine, a dry biscuits, a quick smoke on the street, out of the building, to keep the nicotine levels up and office pollution down…..the ubiquitous tea break?


But I digress; back to January. The village pantomime at the beginning of the month added a certain frizzon to the weeks before Christmas. Chaotic rehearsals spiked my anxiety as I asked myself over and over again why I had agreed to play a rather fading old  Fairy Godmother in our version of Cinderella.  The whole village pitched in to help one way or another, oh all quite marvellous and so very “Archers”! Though, I hasten to add, our producer was no Linda Snell! Never the less I was racked with fear for all three performances to a packed village Hall.


Of course it was a resounding success with a marvellous troupe of small villagers and even smaller fairies. I had no idea there were so many children in the village. Cinderella was beautiful and Prince Charming did remember her lines. The Ugly Sisters looked out of this world, one even retaining his greying beard. The Baron conquered his nerves, a minute Dandini nearly stole the show and the old fairy exploded onto the stage amongst appalling bangs ands bursts of confetti; she turned pumpkin into carriage, mice into fairies and Cinders into a Princess….”You shall go to the Ball”. The baraquing and laughter from the audience nearly lifted the roof of the Hall. The New Year came in with a bang!


 But, then we came down to earth again with a bump. It has been a bit of a sad donkey time. Last year saw the not unexpected demise of old Sweep, dear old friend of nearly fifty. But then just before Christmas I had a call from the Veterinary Department at the Donkey Sanctuary saying no more could be done for my beloved, little Friday. He and Nutmeg had been at the Sanctuary since last summer for yet more treatment for sarcoids. At first things seemed to improve a bit as they joined the “Sarcoid Group” for ground breaking research into this horrible equine condition.


But then every thing flared up again for little Friday and a decision had to be made. He was only eight. Poor mother Nutmeg was distraught, they said, having never been separated from him since he was born. Then to my huge relief the vets decided I could have her back on condition they continued to monitor her.


She arrived home last week after six months. She stepped straight out of the horse box, marched to her stable, kicked the other amazed donkeys, refused to come near me, sniffed her way round every inch of every stable. Was she looking for Friday, I wonder? When her search was complete she walked quietly up to me, gave me a gentle shove and went into the big barn to eat hay. She has been sweet and quiet ever since. So now the little group is complete; two geldings and two Jennies, a perfect balance.


I foolishly thought everything seemed to be settling back to normal as I set off with the dogs to check the sheep yesterday.  A rash thought indeed. Paul went to the farm shop and dogs and I trudged up the slippy, slidey hill feeling unpressured and relaxed. Old Truffy decided to come too so I knew it would be a slow expedition. She’ll be fourteen in March, wobbly, deaf, greedy and happy. She must stop to sniff every blade of grass in old Labrador fashion. We walked through the top field and last years lambs looked up at us enquiringly as I opened the gate; I should have guessed. Three dogs ran through, I turned to wait for Truff and before I could think, blink, turn around, quick as a flash all those fat little yearlings flew past me, in one bound into the next field. Bother, I thought, still without concern, thinking the field was still empty.  Alas, Paul had not told me he had moved everyone around the day before….It was just then I saw the ram. Anxiety began to creep over me. Oh hell, had I, had I? Surely we didn’t have that many wethers, did we? I tore down the hill to look at the Ladies in Waiting, then realised I must wait for old Truff. Panic was rising inside me. Hurry Truffy, do try and hurry, old girl.


Into Sunday Orchard and the panic took hold. Only fat ladies grazed quietly on the hill. No yearlings to be seen. I knew without a doubt what I had done.


Heart pounding I slid across the muddy field chivvying Truff and gathering a reluctant Cairn under my arm, yelling at sheep dogs to follow. Once in the house I grabbed the phone to ask Paul what to. “It has not been possible to connect your call….” I nearly hurled my handset across the room. Calm, calm, calm I thought, I’ll ring the farm shop. Shaking, I explained what a foolish thing I had let happen. “Don’t worry, just go back, move them back into the first field, shut the gate and then push them through into the little top yard”…..ah, fine, so simple, of course…why hadn’t I thought of that….


Back we trudged, Labrador and Cairn free, up the hill again. We, sheep dog, lurcher and I, moved the ragged little flock into the next field as per instruction. Dog helped, “thank you, dog”. Then dog decided, as dog does, that that was quite enough for dog and, anyway, what on earth was I expecting her to do about it. She sat down. Once again I did my, now, quite impressive sheep dog impersonation. “Come by, come by” I told myself, “walk’em on” I said “Oh God, why on earth do we have …. sheep anyway, stupid things, don’t they realise the situation, hm, well maybe the ram will in a minute, oh yes….”


Finally on the third attempt they funnelled into the tiny space outside the top tumbledown old barn. I slammed the gate  behind them and, grabbing a hurdle, thrust it against it for double security. Breathless, heart pounding I glowered at them daring them to move. Motionless, we stared at each other waiting for the farmer. I had kept them all so busy the ram hadn’t had time to realise his luck. Phew!  Farmer arrived, fortunately, irritatingly calm. We penned them up, turned each one over again and sent them on their way to separate fields, girls this way, boys that; no harm done, most of a day wasted. Oh how furious I was with myself for the rest of the day. The only  sensible thing to do was to go home for tea. Good thing I don’t sheep farm in Australia………



A Comforting Tea Time Cake !


I turn to my beloved Constance Spry Cookery Book first published in 1956. ….”in those days the disposition of a woman’s time made tea time possible, and the taste for, shall I say, the cosier figure gave no cause for apprehension…..” She goes on to discuss the merits and, indeed, politeness of tea time entertaining going into the tricky business of whether one puts ones milk into the tea before or after pouring. There follows a delightfully trivial debate of what was and was not de rigueur at Afternoon tea! Suddenly I was a child again having tea with my scary Granny!


An absolute must, she tells us, is an Old fashioned Sponge Cake with a Crust:  I quote:  “take five eggs and their weight in castor sugar, and the weight of three of the eggs in flour, plus 1 tablespoon of orange flower water….  ( if you can get it! I will substitute a little orange zest in mine; not the same I know but something rather than nothing)  

Separate yolks from whites. Take 1 tablespoon of sugar away from the total quantity for every egg white. Put the remaining sugar into a bowl with the egg yolks. Whisk over gentle heat until white and mousse-like. Add orange flower water. Whip the whites stiffly, incorporate the remaining sugar, and fold into the mixture with sifted flour. Turn at once into a greased and sugared cake tin, bake in a slow to moderate oven forty minutes to one hour.


No more instructions, you’re on your own! I guess you just turn it onto a wire rack cool and eat! Bon appetite, sit down, relax, enjoy your afternoon tea!

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Ladies in Waiting”

  1. Barry Glickon 20 Jan 2007 at 12:57 pm

    For more on Hellebores:


  2. Ashley Melvilleon 08 Feb 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Hello Sally,
    I was just looking for the recipe for cottage pie and i came across your fantastic website. I must say, just looking at the pictures of the things you’ve made are making my mouth water! i’m not the greatest cook in the world but have made a vow to stop being lazy with these packet sauces and start making my own. So here goes with your recipe, it all seems very clear what i have to do. I’m a student by the way, so this is going to be a challenge.
    thanks very much.
    Ashley, London

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