From Zero to Hero

There’s something about classic cars that is just so glamorous. Probably the same kind of thing which makes the clothing so beautiful.

A love that went into the crafting, perhaps, or into the designing.

My dad’s owned a Spitfire for the better part of his life. It was fun all of us (my three siblings and me) squishing ourselves into it on sunny days to go to primary school.

Why do I tell you this? Well, some years ago, my dad and I got a Herald 1200. A project for restoring. It took a while. Mostly because I was supposed to be doing more of it than I did – I’m frankly better at taking things to pieces than I am at putting them back together – and my dad always had lots of other things to do.

Anyway, she went from this:

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To this:

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The blue and white one in the foreground. Photos both taken by my father.

And apparently for less than £1K. Not bad for a 40-year-old car that had spent the better art of twenty years rusting in a barn. Poor thing!

And now she’s up for Practical Classics’ Restorer of the Year at the NEC Restoration Show in April.

Such a pretty car! If I do say so myself (me being the one to choose the paints. My dad wanted to paint a Union flag on the roof, to go with the blue and white paint-job and the red leatherette upholstery).

Peaches and Cream

In honour of International Women’s Day, I want to say just one thing. I’m not a feminist.

I was going to ask about an International Men’s Day, but apparently I’m over a decade behind the times. I just haven’t heard about it. It’s in November, apparently.

I am not a feminist for the simple reason that I believe in equality. Feminism is inherently biased towards females. The clue is in the name. If I have to label myself, I prefer ‘equalist’ because I do not care if you are male or female (or, for that matter, with whom you share your bed; that is your business, not mine). I only care if you are a good person (and if I were looking to hire somebody, whether you are the right person for the job; your gender is irrelevant. Can you do the job well with the tools at hand?). I agree, people doing the same job need to be paid the same. That’s just fair. Equal. Not a feminist issue, but an equality issue.

I think the idea of “female-only lists” is a bad one. Why would any woman want to be considered the best female candidate, rather than the best candidate? Which is what she would be if the list had contained men. Surely by accepting such things, us women are only proving what men have thought for centuries: that we aren’t capable and we need special circumstances to show that we are. Likewise quotas for top jobs. Why be chosen on the basis of being the best female (or indeed on the flip side, the best male) for the job, rather than the best person for the job?

Maybe it was just the calendar being given away at my freshers’ fair in my final year (OK, I wasn’t a fresher, but never mind; pens and calendars), but the number of days dedicated to female things compared to the number for male things was vastly larger. From September through to June, there was about eight days for women and just two for men.

There’s probably an awful lot that I’ve missed, but honestly? I’ve got better things to worry about. As long as I’m being paid the same as a man in the same job, and I have the right to vote, and to do pretty much anything I set my mind to (within legal reason and as long as I’m physically capable), then I’m happy. 

Anyway, while the sun is still shining, and Summer is clearly on its way (I tend to only consider two seasons: Summer and Winter, defined by the clocks going back and forth), I thought I’d share a summery sort of cake recipe, which, in the interests of full disclosure so you don’t think I’m cheating on my Lenten fast, I made several weeks ago. Long sentence, sorry!

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So, Peaches and Cream Cupcakes, from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.

120g plain flour

140g caster sugar

1 and a half tsp baking powder

40g unsalted butter

120ml milk

1 egg

Splish of vanilla extract

Peach slices, enough for a bite in each cupcake case

 

It’s another simple recipe. Start by putting the bits of peach in the bottom of the cake-cases and put to the side while you make the cake-batter.

Which you do by beating together the flour, sugar, baking powder and butter until you get a sandy consistency. Then add the milk, egg and vanilla. You’re supposed to add half the milk and beat a bit, but I didn’t read that bit, and they turned out just fine. Mix until smooth.

Spoon over the peach bits and half fill the cases, as per normal with cupcakes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 until golden brown.

Ice with vanilla butter icing (butter, icing sugar, a splish of milk and dash of vanilla).

Put the kettle on, and enjoy!

Chocolat

I love chocolate. At one point I toyed with the idea of becoming a chocolatier. My siblings liked this idea. They like the idea of there being lots of chocolate at hand. I have lots of chocolate-making stuff: moulds, jars of chocolate drops, cocoa butter and chips of cacao for making my own. I make truffles, fudge, cakes. If it’s a chocolate recipe, I’ll try it. I lace bolognaise with a chocolate red wine.

I won’t lie. Being a chocolatier was not something I’d thought about growing up. Not until I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

Something about the book is just magical. I’ve read it in its original English and its Swedish translation. In both languages, I spent the afternoon in a swirl of scents and smells and tastes. Chocolate and spices. It’s difficult to really explain just what it is about the book which makes it so wonderful. I don’t really remember much about the details of the story. But the feeling that the book gives me – well, it’s pretty much indescribable.

Just, you know, read the book.

Not made by me!

Not made by me!

The chances of me ever making it as a chocolatier are slim. I haven’t the patience or the busyness to be a full-time retailer. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t dabble for fun. I annoy people by being slightly picky about chocolate. I refer the ones which use less sugar. Not necessarily dark chocolate, just the less sweetened versions. I like good chocolate.

That’s not to say that sometimes, Cadbury’s (for example) makes a nice bar with exciting things strewn throughout which makes it worth buying. Just, I don’t normally.

In any case, this year’s Lenten challenge is similar to last year’s. I’m giving up refined sugar. I’m allowing honey this time because Mark and I still have to choose cakes. But unless it specifies honey as the sweetener, I’m not eating it.

Who would You be?

In an Ideal World, who would you be?

I was asked this question (or something near enough it) when I was about 12, by a teacher who was probably trying to instil decent self-esteem in my class. We were all asked to bring in a photo of someone we wanted to be.

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So, dutifully, photos were brought in. Of celebrities: footballers, WAGs, models, etc. The normal range of people that are held up as unwitting role models. For reasons from “She’s got straight hair” to “He’s a footballer”.

Except me. I wasn’t exposed to popular culture because we didn’t have a TV or any way of playing films until I was a teenager. I didn’t have a photo. I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to be. Except maybe Sara Crewe, or Katy Carr, or Darrell Rivers, or any number of characters from the books I read, and only because everyone kept asking who I’d chosen. Hermione Grainger. Pollyanna. Jo from the Chalet School or Little Women; they both became writers. I went through a stage once of being Lady Jane Grey, from a programme tie-in novel that I found. I think that was my “emo” stage. Or maybe my Goth stage (minus the make-up. I’ve always been quite lazy when it comes to make-up. So much effort). Whichever, it didn’t last long. There’s something romantically tragic about her.

What no-one did, which is what I think my teacher wanted, was bring in a photo of themselves. Apparently no-one was happy enough in their own skin to own up to it.

Now, I’m just as happy being me, because I’m happy in my own world. I like the worlds of authors and I’ll happily spend hours exploring. But I have my own worlds to explore too. Kind of like the worlds at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree. Especially now that the one I found when I was 14 seems finally to be a bit more concrete and my characters are telling their story more coherently. It’s undergone quite a lot of renovation and the people reincarnated through the years, but we’ve come to an understanding.

Hopefully one day soon, I’ll be able to introduce you.

I’d ask who you want to be, but if you’ve got this far, you should know the “right” answer! I’m going to take it for granted that there’s a fictional person you’d be. (Who, by the by?) Although, I just thought, wouldn’t that then mean you can’t explore all the other lovely fictional worlds?