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Friday, 30 December 2011

Dolly tubs, podgers and mangles ... life in the 1950s.

Imagine the scene, it’s the mid to late 1950s on a large and relatively new built housing estate near Derby, pretty ice patterns are forming on the inside of the house windows,  there’s no central heating, a smoky coal fire warms the living room. Lino and Formica grace the kitchen. No fridges or freezers, so food was kept cool in a larder or pantry. In winter time the rented council houses were freezing enough anyway. The solution to being cold was to put on more layers of clothes and then wrap a blanket round you. If you were still cold, you could always jump up and down a bit or skip with a skipping rope.

Once in bed you covered yourself in layers of sheets and a heavy eiderdown and warmed your stockinged feet on a stone hot water bottle. This was domestic life for me and my family in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I started to think about this after using my new luxurious washing machine after five weeks of hand washing and being blessed with good drying weather. How times have changed.

stone hot water bottle

ice patterns on the glass

Only fifty years ago (when I was five years old) my Mum  Marjorie would have had her work cut out on a Monday doing all the  clothes washing in a dolly tub in the kitchen. The soapy wet fabrics were pummelled with the podger and then she would have freshened the washing with clean tap water and afterwards squeezed all the moisture out with the hand operated mangle. Hard manual work. Every week for the then foreseeable future.

Subsequently, the washing was hung out on the washing line secured with dolly pegs and hoisted up in the air with a big wooden clothes prop. The concrete washing line posts were supplied in every back yard or garden courtesy of the local County Council. The washing itself would very often freeze on bitterly cold days and the frosty stiff ice filled clothes were carried in and defrosted in front of the coal fire on a wooden clothes horse. The steam produced made the bay windows run with condensation. The bay window net curtains would then have to be washed too before the constant damp caused them to rot. In the mid sixties my family got a spin dryer which danced dangerously around the kitchen and made a terrible racket but saved a lot of the damp problems and served as cheap entertainment.
Dolly Tub and podger
slightly more modern washing machine
Housework in the fifties followed a rigid timetable, regardless of the weather or anything else. Mondays were wash days and the day for making Bubble and Squeak from the leftovers of the Sunday dinner. Tuesdays were dedicated to the massive amount of ironing. We may have had an electric iron but my grannies definitely used a flat iron that was heated up on the gas stove and ironed clothes on the kitchen table covered with an ironing cloth to protect it. This item also needed to be kept immaculately clean by sandpapering and polishing it. Dusting and polishing were always done on Thursdays, the big shop on Fridays. The shop would mainly take place at the Co-Op store to take advantage of Green Shield stamps or Co-Op dividend points. But, generally, folk back then shopped with a variety of local tradesmen too including a grocery van that came every week. Nothing whatsoever was done on Sunday – excepting making a roast dinner and then doing all the washing up with hot water from the hot water tank. A roast chicken for dinner was seen as a luxury, more commonly and, less expensively for the tight family budget, a joint of brisket or a lamb joint would be the meat of the Sunday dinner. Any leftover meat would be eaten cold for as many days as it took to get rid of it all without wastage.

The kitchen at Perth Street was also the dining room and under the bright, patterned, curtained storage space next to the huge porcelain kitchen sink and draining board, were products like Zal Pine Fluid disinfectant,  Vim for cleaning the kitchen sink and bath, Starch, Reckitt’s blue bags, slabs of green Fairy soap for clothes washing, body and hair washing too, a collection of stout bottles for returning to the Off Licence, a tub of Vick’s vapour rub for chesty colds, shoe blackening polish for keeping the family shoes shiny like in the army and a few of my boys toys like toy soldiers given free with Kellogg’s Cornflakes.

My Mum liked to bake and the kitchen would often be filled with the scent of freshly baked Fairy cakes and Victoria sponges and many other confections. I don’t think that she would have baked bread though as our bread diet was mostly in the form of Hovis loaves, large, white and sliced and perfect for making toast on the coal fire with an extendable toasting fork. Aside from home made jam, one of the fave things to eat on the toast was beef dripping as well as lard sprinkled with Saxa salt. Oh we knew how to live back then!

toasting fork
When the chimney got full of soot my Dad even had his own set of chimney brushes to do the chimney sweeping job himself to save money. All the furniture got covered in sheets as my Dad huffed and puffed and manually forced the stiff brushes up the chimney to dislodge the black soot. The resulting soot then got taken outside and spread about the garden to warm and condition the clay soil for the Spring and to deter soil pests like slugs.
Funny what thoughts can be generated by appreciating the modern gadgets that we take for granted sometimes. Oh well, must get the washing done. Now, where's me podger gone?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Spicy duck soup with rice.

Sometimes it good to make something that you've never made before and today was one of those times. I've been off work today as I have been feeling rough (weak and wobbly from coughing my lungs up all night  -ie no sleep at all - and practically voiceless today as well as feeling exhausted). Blech!

on way to shops to get fresh veg
I've been in bed most of the day but tonight I decided to make something mega healthy from bits and pieces I had around the house and a quick dash in the rain to the greengrocers across the road. So, the remains of the duck I had for tea last night plus garlic, ginger,black pepper, hot chilli peppers and thyme plus mushrooms, arborio risotto rice, red wine and chicken stock all got made into a health giving soup helped down with some homemade bread from next door. Next door also passed over a Christmas card from Dagan, Sun and family in Montserrat featuring a cat that looked just like the back of my fave cat (also from Montserrat) the handsome Mr Harris. Mr Harris has been round himself for a cuddle and fuss. Feline better already. :0)

healthy stuff from the greengrocer

arborio risotto rice cooking

finished duck soup

hmmmmm! yummy!

christmas card from Montserrat

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas Day + digging the microwave out of the coal shed.

Christmas Day 2011

At last, a day off, a double bonus as it is a Sunday off and I would normally be working. The month of December has been a very active one for me with my trip to Germany to perform my one man show of A Christmas Carol and on return to perform it again on Sunday 11th at the Lace Market Theatre.

On top of this I have been working hard at Tesco helping to prepare the counters (meat/fish and deli) for the Christmas shopping experience. As regular readers will know I mainly work on the meat counter where we have had special offers of beef rib on the bone and boned and rolled loin of pork (both half price) as well as Turkeys and Gressingham ducks on sale.

I have also been helping out on the fish counter, mainly selling whole salmons and de-scaling, filleting and steaking these large fish for the festive season. Additionally I’ve been helping my colleagues on the deli cut, wrap and price up a mountain of cheeses ranging from Davidstow creamy mature cheddar from Cornwall to the unctuous brie from the French Président company as well as many a fragrant blue cheese or two. And, on top of this, I have become a master of the Tesco tannoy system, verbally promoting the goodies on offer across the counters.

I haven’t had too many late nights working but often had to be at work at 5.30am and 6.30am to set up my meat counter attractively with all the fresh meats ready for the Christmas shoppers. All the counters staff have worked very hard over the run up to Christmas and come 2.30pm yesterday afternoon I was quite ready to go home and relax and celebrate Christmas in my own style. Actually I was knackered.

Not for the first time, I nearly fell asleep on the bus home and, with four carrier bags of produce in my hands, I stumbled through my front door late yesterday afternoon, unpacked, fussed next door’s cats and set to in cleaning my house ready for Santa. The hovering had been neglected as has the clothes washing this month. Also, I’ve been a bit late in writing Christmas cards this year and, on return, first of all things, I finished writing my remaining cards for neighbours and friends and took a card over to my friend Ann and her cat Henry and spent an hour in her warm and welcoming home catching up on news over a coffee and chocolates. I haven’t seen her for a while and it was nice just to stop and relax and chat convivially. Henry the cat remembered me and all was well with the world.
new curtains in bedroom
I mentioned in the last paragraph about the mounds of clothes washing. Well, some time ago my washing machine broke down and I have been washing everything by hand since and only recently have I purchased a new one. Being too busy and too stressed out consider setting it all up (plumbing in and connecting to plug and reading the bloody confusing manual and trial wash etc) I let the new machine sit forlorn in the middle of my kitchen floor for days. I mentioned this situation to my neighbour Jo on a mad dash for my bus on Thursday and low and behold when I came back from work at 11pm on Thursday night the washing machine situation had been all sorted, by Jo's husband Mick, and, ‘thankfully’ was sitting snugly in the hole provided. I still haven’t actually used it but Boxing Day may be the first day it gets to clean my proverbial Everest of dirty washing.

My bedroom now has some new curtains – the correct drop length- after buying some two feet too short in a rushed attempt at Wilkos last Friday night and having had to return them on the following Monday for exchange.

Spiced beef pre oven

So, back to Christmas Day. It’s now about 1.30pm as I type and the beef is in the oven. The house is clean and smells wonderfully spicy as the roast starts to cook. I have been round to my neighbours Jo and Mick and had a glass or two of champagne and admired their festive décor and they have given me some home-made mackerel pâté and some chicken liver pâté, both big faves of mine.

Telly-wise I have watched Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas and Nigel Slaters’ Christmas show, Eddie Izzard in BBC’s Lost Christmas as well as a few festive DVDs – The Snowman, A Christmas Carol (Jim Carrey), and  It’s A Wonderful Life. Plus I was utterly blown away with a DVD of the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera performed and filmed at the Royal Albert Hall.

being summoned for festive nibbles
Mid-afternoon I got called round to my neighbours’ house for some festive nibbles and more drinks. Their house looked beautiful with lots of natural decorations and they were as welcoming as ever. Their friend Terry was also invited and we had a photo together using my camera and Mick’s sturdy tripod.

I popped in and out of their house throughout the afternoon and also in the evening when we got my unused microwave out of the coal shed so that we could cook the Christmas pudding quickly. Their other friends Jon and Sue arrived and more festive drinking and laughter followed.

About 4pm I retired back to my own house to see to my Christmas dinner of roast rib of beef, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and horseradish sauce with onion gravy. I forgot to cook the carrots and use the goose fat that I had purchased especially for my Christmas dinner. Doh! Later on I watched the Christmas episode of Doctor Who. Great fun.

The rest of the evening got a bit blurred and I remember reading a short paragraph from A Christmas Carol about the Cratchit’s Christmas pudding experience as we ignited and consumed the micro waved pud.

blurred Xmas pudding

Today is Boxing Day and some time today I WILL sort out my washing machine and do some festive  clothes washing. Merry Christmas everyone!!

Mr Harris's Christmas pose

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Merry Christmas from Christmas Foodie heaven.

I love to sit back and watch tv cookery or food associated programmes at the best of times and with a few days festive holiday coming up this weekend then why not indulge myself with programmes by my favourite chefs on the telly. After all Christmas is the time many of us get festive, enjoy some foodie treats and drinks.

Browsing through the Christmas Radio Times I was astonished at the amount of food and drink programes on the telly over the period  - 17th -30th December. Just for fun I typed out the list of programmes and added a few others for a giggle. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I didn't even look at the radio programmes that might feature food reports or anything on Sky ect.

Come dine with me. Five episodes in one afternoon.
Countrywise Kitchen – stocking the winter larder.
Countrywise Kitchen - five other episodes.
Sunday brunch – Saturday starter.
Food Network
The Roasts of Christmas Past.
Celebrity Eggheads - a cracking show.
Christmas at River Cottage
River Cottage Christmas Feast
Christmas at River Cottage (yep, another one from another year)
River Cottage Christmas Fayre
Christmas with Gordon.
An Italian Christmas with Mario and Giada.
Ratatouille – film from a Parisian kitchen from the viewpoint of a cuddly rat
Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen – several luscious episodes.
Best Dish – the chefs.
Jamie’s Christmas – with Bells on.
Sweeney Todd- the demon barber of Fleet Street. Programme with pies and free meat.
The Hairy Bikers Christmas Party.
The Food Hospital.
Delia’s Classic Christmas
Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas.
Nigel Slater’s Simple Christmas.
Lorraine’s Last Minute Christmas.
Raymond Blanc’s Christmas Feast

Come Dine with me - Comedians Christmas Special.
Gordon’s Christmas Cookalong – Get Ready.
Come Dine with me – extra portions.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Christmas Carol in Nottingham - final part of the story.

on the way to work on Sunday with my costume bag and stick
After returning from Germany with my successful one man show, at very late notice, I did a rapid script edit and performed in English only at The Lace Market theatre on Sunday 11th December. The event was organised shortly before I went to Germany. Sorry to anyone who didn't get to see it this time.

I finished my shift at work that day, got a taxi into the city and set up my set and lighting on the Lace Market theatre stage with the help of Colin and Rose with box office help from Gill Scott. I had additional help from a bottle of Sanderson's Specific throat gargle. Since I had come back from Europe I had developed a cold and a particularly croaky voice. Not good when an hour and a half of performing awaits one. Sandsons Specific tastes like wet coal but does the trick in terms of clearing the voice box. The evening went well and I was greeted by an additional round of applause when I entered the bar after the show. I stayed behind and chatted to various friends who had come to see the show, all of whom were very complimentary.

The review below appeared online the next day and in the paper on the Tuesday.

One –man show pays homage to Dickensian delivery.

Phil Lowe’s successful rendering of this Dickens’ classic is a development on the highly successful full-play version he presented three years back.

It is admirable that Lowe doesn’t attempt to usurp the author. This is an homage to the writer; a demonstration of his greatness. And it isn’t a play of the sort with one actor who keeps changing hats – that might have been an embarrassing error.

Rather, it’s an entirely engaging dramatic reading, the kind of show that Dickens himself took on the road. At the start, as soon has some jaunty carol music has faded, Lowe enters from the audience, goes straight to the lectern and gets down to business.

The narrative is beautifully spoken, of course. But Lowe also does the characters well, particularly the grotesques. And he evokes the colours the smells and the emotions. He brilliantly brings out the unfailing emotional tug of the story – Tiny Tim is as annoying as ever, but that’s always the price you pay for Dickens.

Storytelling is, alas, no longer a central part of our culture, but on the strength of this piece of work, it should be.

Alan Geary

Nottingham Post.

promotional display at the Lace Market Theatre

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A super trip to Germany

Carsten and myself
Where do I begin? The great hospitality from my hosts Gerd and   Herrlich and their friendly dog Frickr or the warm reception at the theatre from Markus, Carsten, Manfred and all my friends at the Jakobus theatre? Everything was done to make my stay and my performances as comfortable and easy as possible and I had a thoroughly good time. The reading had been very well advertised in the local papers and arts magazines too.  

Alright, the weather was utter pants, raining for two days out of the three but there ain't a lot one can do about that. The last day (Thursday) cleared up and I was able to be a tourist in the beautiful city of Karlsruhe without getting soaked to the skin. Plenty of opportunities for chilling out and taking a host of photos and enjoying some mulled wine, coffee and apfelstrudel and cream.

My friend Thorsten came to the first performance on Tuesday night and we met up on the Wednesday and enjoyed each other's company at the Christmas Fair over a glass of mulled wine and, later at a student pub and viewing the sights around Karlsruhe. I also went to the theatre that Thorsten belongs to and saw the fantastic set they have built for a production of Snow White.

set and theatre ghost
I thoroughly enjoyed re-uniting with my witty friend Markus during my stay and although our time together was brief it was as fun as always. See you next May Markus!!

Me and me mate Markus. Don't mention our double chins!!

Both the Tuesday and Wednesday audiences were very receptive and seemed to enjoy my storytelling and the actions that helped to tell the story of A Christmas Carol. Another good friend, Andrea Voos and and her daughter Lea and the daughter's boyfriend came to enjoy the Wednesday night show. It was lovely to meet them again and chat after the show, although I was feeling very tired after not sleeping for nearly two nights, due to over excitment I suppose.

After the shows we all went to The Trompeter restaurant in the city and enjoyed some after show beers and pizza. Again my generous hosts refused to let me pay for anything. As promised in the last blog post, I managed to spend some time cruising around town (bad choice of word methinks) on the trams. I also 'managed' to get a nose bleed two hours before my first performance and did the whole show with a discreet wadge of bloody paper tissue stuck up my right nostril. Charming!

A nice beer and me in Cafe Bleu

interior of Cafe Bleu

On Thursday I spent some time at lunch in Cafe Bleu with a beer and also later in the evening with Andrea, Gerd, Herrlich and myself. Lena from the Jakobus theatre made a surprise visit to say 'hello' and it was nice to see her too since their theatre's visit to Nottingham. I feel that I have some real good friends in Karlsruhe and look forward to another visit with the Lace Market Theatre next May. Hopefully the weather will be better and warmer. lol

Weihnachts Markt in the rain
On the food side, I managed to find a fair few joints to nose around and learnt some new names for the specialities on offer. I'm sure one exists, but I never got round to finding an indoors market to nose around. It seemed though, that on every street corner and sometimes one or two in between the was another Apotheke ( a chemist). I have never seen so many in one city!

Regarding the performances I enjoyed them both and enjoyed employing some subtle physical actions to enhance the storytelling. Both the audiences were very attentive considering that the English was very flowery and Dickensian. I felt the idea of playing the music of Personent Hodie and creeping on as the Storyteller rather than just walking to the lectern really worked.

Fricker the happy dog

Gerd and Herrlich, my friends and hosts.
Biggest thanks go to Gerd, Herrlich and Frickr for making my stay so wonderful and last but not least thankyou to Jo and Mick my neighbours for driving me to Stanstead Airport and back!