Monday, March 9, 2015

Mothers and Mothers in Law


Sunday 8 March 2015

Sunny with light breeze
6 degrees to rising to 15

International Women's Day

Woke up excited at the prospect of a visit on our big rental unit.  OH still muttering and cocooned in his sheet wrap so I went down town alone and ran around, opening windows and then closing them because I could hear the gypsies down the street, shouting and banging about.  I put on lights in the darker rooms and turned on the radiators in chilly corners.  At 10 am I was on guard at the front door.  Mr L was on time - petite and Vietnamese - he bounced up the 42 stairs with great ease.  We did the tour and he was smiling - always a good sign - and was taken with the large rooms and how light they all are. He took lots of photos and said he might come back with a member of his family.  Back home to pick up the dog and take a birthday present to a friend.

The friend in question is an ex-client and she and her husband bought a lovely little house, typical of this area with its orange tiled roof rising to a sharp peak and rectangular stone construction with shuttered windows.  They have recently added a large kitchen extension with cupboards from Wickes and a large granite central island.  I have spent most of my life with Ikea kitchens.  Whilst I love Ikea, I decided I loved Wickes more and stroked the gleaming marble, admired all the space for prep, and opened and closed the beautiful clerical grey cupboards.  The dog took the opportunity to run off and then, when tied up, to trample the monbretia and crap on the camellia.  My friend's dog, a Jack Russell, wouldn't let him over the doorstep so we all sat outside, caught up with the news, and drank a lot of lovely milky coffee.  

Back home to find that OH had dismantled the chainsaw and it still didn't work.  He went outside in the shed and I enjoyed ten minutes of peace and my lunch before he came back in and said he had a solution.  The solution was to take the circular saw, drilled to its bench, 250 metres up to the place where the cut branches were stored, and then cut them up there. I am 5'2" and just under nine stone.  The bench probably weighed more than I do and the land was gently sloping.  I needed oxygen by the time we got there.  The dog took the opportunity to run off so I tied him to a tree where he barked a lot.  

The wood had come from the London Planes which had cast many leaves over the new parking area and had therefore suffered severe trimming.  There is nothing like cutting wood to take away the romance of a wood burning stove.  Was amazed, after three hours of cutting, that our hands werent grazing the floor.  Wood is dreadfully heavy.

Went to the kitchen and cooked before sitting down and passing out.  Chicken pie with roast potatoes and apple sponge.  At 9.30 the phone rang and it was the seller of the house in town who is honest enough to have told me that the buyer I presented had tried to buy directly.  She says she cannot afford to lose the sale and is there any way that we can arrive at an agreement over fees.  My heart goes out to her - I so wish I could find someone better to buy her house - promise to speak to the head of the agency tomorrow.

Rooting through a drawer, I find some old pictures of my mother and also of my mother in law.  I did write about them a while ago, and here it is

My mother and my mother in law were both born in 1921 and were female.  They had similar working class backgrounds and lived through the Second World War.  Their resemblance one to another stops at that point.  My mother was born in Birkenhead, Lancashire  and lived with her three sisters and one brother in a terraced house.  She was the baby of the family and when she was born, Frank, the eldest, was already 15.  Her father was a butcher and her mother was a cook.  When the War started, she was evacuated into the countryside: she missed her family and the city and was only away a month.  She came back home and was then sent to Bletchley to do 'something with wiring'.  She was away a month there too and came back to find a job in the NAAFI which was much more her style.  Mum loved being the centre of attention and enjoyed her War to a large extent.  Dances, dying legs with coffee dregs and drawing a line on the calves to simulate real stockings, peroxide, exciting US soldiers (two of her sisters became GI brides), makeup and clothes.

      In 1942, having been bombed out of three houses, the family decided to leave the city and went to the tiny village of Weston Rhyn in Shropshire.  After the initial shock of no electricity (gas provided both heat and light until into the 1950‘s), no shops and so much grass, they settled in.  The War did not physically touch Weston Rhyn - on the one occasion when a German plane passed overhead, apparently my Grandmother ran out of the house, clutching her ration book, only to find herself alone in the street; the locals still warm and quiet in their beds. 

      I have a photo of my mother taken in the early 40's, standing on a rock at Llandudno, wearing a ruched one piece swim suit and with a figure that I have never, in any decade of my life, achieved.  She was always glamorous.  She was always well turned out.  Just about the only piece of advice that she gave me was 'get yourself ready first'.

      My mother in law was born in Preston, Lancashire and had two brothers and a sister.  Naturally blonde, she was once teased that she ‘touched up’ the colour with peroxide and was embarrassed.  She was conservative and never discussed the past with me, apart from mentioning that she and her sister Betty used to be on ‘fire watch’ which in the early stages of the War involved going onto roofs of tall buildings and spending the night looking out.  The most interesting story of all which is one which my hubby told me.  Apparently Lilian was in Ribbleton, it was in the early 60’s and she was hanging out washing on the line.  She looked up.  There was a space ship - a classic spinning saucer, hanging over the garden.  It span for a minute and then flashed up high and disappeared.   I have no hesitation in believing my mother in law - she was completely unfanciful and would not have welcomed the attention that this story would have brought.

      Apart from a spell in Birmingham, my mother in law spent the rest of her life in the north west - the latter twenty odd years near Preston, which is where my husband was born.  Her life was her family and her Christian faith and she was content with it.  My mother always hankered for a more exciting life.  We were in the garden once and a passenger plane passed overhead ‘take me with you’ shouted mum at the tail stream, and then laughed.  I was 13 at the time and it disturbed me.  We did not have a quiet life - mum and dad’s favourite occupation was moving house.  We must have moved on average about every couple of years.  Of most of the houses I only remember one or two rooms or a patch of the garden.  I have had to write them down in case I forget.   My brother and I had numerous primary and several secondary schools.  They were mostly dreadful and we emerged with poor exam results.  My mother in law was horrified to hear of our fractured education.  ‘You can move house all you like, but you’ll still be the same person’ she concluded.  A conclusion that my mother didn’t arrive at even after dozens of removals.

        It was my mother in law who came to stay when we had our babies and who cooked and cleaned for us.  She came on holidays and babysat.  She loved her grandchildren completely.  I remember her holding WF in her arms when she came to see me in the maternity unit and saying with wonder ‘its as if I have known him all my life’.  Her views on the relation between husband and wife were very different to my own and the cause of much grinding of teeth (probably on her part too) but I miss her enormously, so this is my tribute.  We all loved you and now your lovely malt loaf will be out there in the wider world xx

My Mother in Law’s Malt Loaf

3/4 pound of self raising flour
cup of fruit
cup of sugar
1 tablespoon treacle
1 tablespoon syrup
1 egg
1 cup of milk

Mix altogether well & put in a greased loaf tin, medium oven 1 hour.

The cup I use is a large tea cup - I fill it with mixed fruit and add some nuts.  I use three quarters of a cup of sugar.

Take a large pan and put in the fruit, sugar, treacle and syrup.  Warm gently until the treacle and syrup start to run.  Add the cup of milk and stir.  Sift in the flour, mixing well.  Finally add the beaten egg.  The mix is quite stiff.  Grease the rectangular loaf tin and I usually line with baking parchment so it comes out easily.  Fill with the mix, leaving at least three centimetres between the top of the mix and the top of the tin.  It does rise considerably so place in a baking tray to avoid oven floor spills.  The top will crack as it cooks.  Test for doneness with a skewer after an hour.  It is better to cook for longer at a lower temperature than for shorter at a higher one as the elevated sugar content will cause the top to burn.  About 170 degrees C in my fan oven is usually fine.