Monday, 20 March 2017

Vernal Equinox

I am a creature of the seasons.

I used to think the four quarters of the year were all about temperature, but it’s much subtler than that.

The turn of the planet is crucial. Spring to summer to autumn to winter. A natural order of events. Until chaos intervenes.

Recently, my personal life has been chaotic and this is reflected in the stories. But that’s how we process difficulties, disorder and dissidence.

Seasonal Disorders is my take on a personal calendrical chaos. Four long/short stories (mini novellas), written at pivotal moments in my recent life, which has been so different from what it was that I scarcely recognise it.

Now I'm doing better, in case you were worried. Updates ensue.

Mad fairies, evil spirits, sinister coincidences, ancient beings, coincidental aliens ... Well. No madder than my than current existence. Bring it on, as they say.

AJ Monkton is my pseudonym for the darker side.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Back to Bath

Whoever said ‘never look back’ clearly never lived in Bath.

We moved to the city in the late 1980s when my husband got his first ‘proper job’ at the university.
For the first few months, we stayed in a flat up at Norwood while house-hunting, and within a few months found ourselves a super mid-terraced Victorian two-and-a-half-bedroom house near Larkhall which we loved to bits.

I began shifts on the local newspaper, the Bath Chronicle, and off we went. Broke, of course, given that interest rates were 15%!

Time went by. We got a lovely dog, Amber, then our daughter Lauren was born. Work took us elsewhere in the mid-1990s but we secretly hankered for Bath life.

And a misguided early retirement brought us back, by way of Scotland. (Long story for another occasion.) Anyway! We’re here!

This time, we’re staying in a flat near Laura Place while house-hunting. Rob is back at the uni and today, I heard I have some shifts at the Chron. Slightly bonkers, but we don’t care. We are relishing our reinvention. And yes, we're looking at property in Larkhall - hoping to get ourselves a rescue dog as soon as possible.

Of course, Bath has changed somewhat – and so have we – but it’s still the greatest little city I know.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Tomorrow’s Anecdote - reborn

The reinvention continues.

To coincide with Storm Doris, I’m happy to be re-releasing Tomorrow’s Anecdote – this time under a new author's ID. Henceforth, all my historical fiction will be under the name of A. J. Monkton.

I’ll be keeping my actual name for fantasy books and short stories, plus any random journalism that comes my way.

In an eerie loop of circumstance, the story is about the Great Storm of 1987 and how it wreaked havoc on a provincial journalist, upturning her assumptions of the past and changing the present.

It was odd this morning, seeing all the images of fallen trees and debris that haunted me at the time, so much so that the event inspired the book.

Check out the Tomorrow's Anecdote website for more information and some 1980s nostalgia.

Is it autobiographical? No, no, no. Of course not.

Here’s the new cover and blurb ...

Just another day in the newsroom? Hardly.

It is October 1987.

Clare Forester is an overworked and under-appreciated features sub on a provincial paper in Somerset, cheerfully ranting about her teenage daughter, her spiteful mother, her reclusive lodger, the Thatcher government, new technology, grubby journalists, petty union officials, her charming ex – and just about anything that crosses her path.

If things aren’t tempestuous enough, on Thursday, October 15, the Great Storm sweeps across Britain, cutting a swathe of destruction across the southern counties. At the office, Clare is pushed to breaking point by pushy bosses and inept colleagues, and loses her temper with gale-force fury. She is suspended from work and finds herself in therapy for stress, while her union embarks on strike action. Worse is to come.

Black Monday follows and the markets crash. But it's not just the future that's giving Clare grief.

Dark family secrets come back to haunt her. One thing she learns ... Never trust the past.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

When you can’t see the view for the trees

I need to start by saying I’m a paid-up member of the Woodland Trust. Many years ago, I placed myself in front of a large oak tree being menaced (both of us) by a big bloke with a chainsaw. Can’t believe I did, but it’s true. And we stopped it getting chopped down without permission.

I’ve planted sensible British trees in my various gardens over the years and I can tell a whitebeam from a hornbeam. A tree fan, I am. With a surname like Kelt, its not surprising.

But I had a bit of shock the other day. You may have gathered from previous posts that we used to live in Bath. One of favourite walks, especially after a broiling day at the old Chronicle offices in Westgate Street, was Primrose Hill. 

Wed drive up Lansdown Road, and before you get to the Hare and Hounds,  turn left and down a short road, over a style and then we were in open fields. Our dog Amber loved sproinging over the tussocky grass, as we followed behind in a cloud of butterflies. Down below, the city of Bath was laid out in its golden glory. 
Getting a breath of cool air and looking down on the busy streets was a great way to get some perspective on a busy day.

Imagine our surprise when we found the whole area covered in trees. Quite tall, well-established trees.
Very few views to be had. There was much birdlife, of course, and evidence of a wonderful community project. Bees in summer, hopefully.

It was rather muddy, so we’ll go back on a spring day and dutifully applaud the careful work.

Times change. Cities change. And I know the planet needs more trees, I really do.

But I have to ask ... Did the whole area have to be planted up? Why are so many  trees in rows and not in natural clumps? And why didn’t someone leave a little more space for walkers get some air and take in the panorama below? Just a thought. Perhaps this is a perfect example for some drastic wildlife management. Some was already happening, but is there a case for returning some of the land to meadow?

The last shot is the best one I could get, squeezing against the fence.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

My mayonnaise dilemma

I love making mayonnaise but the past few months, it hasn’t been emulsifying. It hasn’t curdled, it just stays thin. Shock horror. This was a mainstay of my mystic culinary skills (courtesy of the recipe from an original Cyclonic Wizz bought in Oz).

As my confidence dwindled, we tested different theories. Weather? Temperature? Humidity? Nothing changed. Equipment? A new blender produced the same watery result.

So, ingredients. We wondered if the sunflower oil I used had been thinned somehow. Not according to the labelling. I tried adding more olive oil, swapped to vegetable oil, experimented with combinations of the above. Still no joy.

Vinegar, then. White wine, cider, red, balsamic – all had the same sorry result.

The eggs? I tried every sort available, sometimes using up to eight for one small pot of mayo. I can’t even begin to describe the mountain of greasy washing up. Oh, I just did.

It must be the mustard, we concluded.

I sought help from my daughter, well trained in the mustard arts. Within seconds, my junior acolyte produced a classic mayo, using the exact same equipment – and most of the ingredients – as I had. Indeed, it was thick enough to stand a teaspoon upright in its glorious stickiness.

Her trick was she that she now uses no fewer than three types of mustard to gain emulsification – Colman’s mustard powder, any Dijon mustard and a whole-grain to finish the job. A good teaspoon of each for every 200ml of oil, in case you’re wondering.*

We were astounded, recalling quite clearly my days of making perfect mayonnaise using just a quarter of a teaspoon of mustard powder.

Confused, we peered at less than helpful food labels. ‘MUSTARD flour’ it says on the tin. No kidding.

Time to go to the sauce, I mean, source. I knew that Colman’s mustard powder contained flour, as I have several coeliac friends, so I thought that might be a useful place to start, rather than saying ‘what the heck have you done with your mustard mate?’

Unilever responded fairly quickly but the letter was so evasive, it simply exacerbated our suspicions. This is the gobbledygook they sent. Note the repeated use of the word 'information'.

In regards to your enquiry I would like to give you the following information. Mustard flour is the ground seed of the mustard plant from which some of the oil and most of the hulls have been removed. Mustard flour itself does not contain gluten. Although Colman's English Mustard is not gluten free as wheat flour is used as a thickening agent. This information has been provided in good faith using the most up-to-date information. Please note that the information is subject to change due to recipe amendments and therefore ALWAYS check the product label for the most accurate information. 

Talk about 'cut and paste'!

We still have no idea what is in the mustard powder, or why it doesn’t work to make mayonnaise any more. All I know is that I intend to keep a selection of other brands of whole-grain and Dijon stashed in my cupboard. At least they’ll cut the mustard.


So, this is my daughter Lauren’s M.O. for mayo, so thick it will support an upright teaspoon. You’ll need a hand-held blender and matching measuring canister:

Crack a single egg and place it at the bottom. On top, place a teaspoon EACH of mustard powder, whole-grain mustard and Dijon. Add a mere dash of balsamic vinegar, half a clove of garlic, pinch of salt and grinding of pepper. Make up to 200ml with a dash of olive oil, topping up with sunflower or vegetable oil.

Place the blender head gently over the egg yolk and whiz hard without rocking until you see the oil emulsifying. Draw up the blender very slowly until the whole mixture has set. You can go back in for a few more seconds to remix with herbs, lemon juice, spices or whatever and it will thicken further.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The shortest day ...

There’s something about the light in Bath. There's a great deal of it, and I wonder if it’s all to do with reflection. Pale gold stone, a river and a canal, much glass, big sky. I don’t have the answer but it’s a dazzling city in so many respects.

We took a break preparing for dinner for special friends and took a family walk from Henrietta Street, via the Holburne Museum, to Sydney Gardens, the canal and back via Bathampton.

Highlights? Cutely mad European folksy exhibition at the Holburne. Fab Christmas tree on the balcony. Kingfisher by the river. Blackbird eating scarlet apples. A majestic Husky called Thor with crystal eyes and a silver mane. Stoic ponies in an orchard. A glimpse into the new refurb at the terribly posh Cleveland House - its chandeliers all intact. The secret hideaway of Raby Mews. Medieval-style intricacy of plants around railings in Henrietta Park. Then a family pint at the Pulteney Arms. 

And now the nights will stop drawing in. More light! Astonishing.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The longest night ...

Today is the Winter Solstice. More accurately, it occurs for a fleeting moment at 10.44 here in England. This is when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. It occurs when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.4 degrees – away from the Sun.

The shortest day and the longest night  ... For the ancients, this was the moment to assert the power of light over darkness and prepare for the harsh months ahead. Although eclipsed by Christian doctrine and contemporary commercialism, this calendrical moment is still crucial to many, harking back to our primitive instincts.

As a Celt, I’m always aware of the Solstice, although I’m not saying I’m going to start hacking down mistletoe with a golden sickle, as the Druids were wont to do – or so it’s said.

I’m happy to finish the decorations with fresh greenery, make an ice candle and pour the mulled wine. This year, I've also made a sparkly 'fairy ball' with green lights and a small glass globe.

It's also a great time to curl up and read ... A Walk in the Park is a ghostly winter’s tale to mark the occasion (now out on Amazon). When I wrote it, I scared myself to bits!

The moon. The stars. One malevolent entity. 
A supernatural romance of astronomical proportions for the Winter Solstice.