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Amazon Is So Strange 07 July, 2014

In the two hours since I last looked, A Slice of Britain has leaped up over 100,000 places.

Come and Eat Cake in Chorleywood 10 June, 2014

The kind people from the Chorleywood Bookshop have asked me to come and talk about A Slice of Britain on Wednesday 2 July. Tickets are £5 to include tea and cake, and if you buy a copy of the book you get that £5 back by way of a discount.

The event will take place at 2 p.m. at the Venue Memorial hall Chorleywood WD3 5LN

Tickets available from the Chorleywood Bookshop 01923 283566 or Chorleywood Bookshop.

It sounds like fun to me.

BTW, I’ll also be at the Upton on Severn festival the previous Saturday, 28 June, at 2 p.m: details at Upton

More on A Slice of Britain 14 February, 2014

Blowing my own trumpet again, I had this lovely email from the Production Director of the Real Lancashire Eccles Cakes company.

It is an absolute joy to read. The section on our company is fantastic and the chapter on Lancashire has been read by all the family, including my father. He was very chuffed!!!

My seventeen year old son, Harrison, was also very impressed, I think he’s waiting for the movie.

Kind Things about A Slice of Britain 11 February, 2014

Last week we sent copies out to all the bakers I’d visited and I’ve had some delightful responses:

I’m really enjoying reading it, I’m just heading into Shropshire and looking forward to a few more chuckles along the way!
Jo Roberts

Many thanks for sending the book through - it's fantastic.
James Shepherd

The little bit I have read makes me want to read it all the way through. Good Luck for the launch. I hope I see it everywhere!
John Slattery

and the kindest of all:

I wanted to say a huge thank you to you for taking the trouble to send me a copy of your beautiful new book which I excitedly opened and devoured yesterday. I love the book, from concept through the unique way in which you have lovingly crafted and brought together. What I can say without any hesitation is that it is an absolute pleasure and honour for Grantham Gingerbread to be part of the book.
Alastair Hawken

The best part of researching the book was meeting all these dedicated and enthusiastic people, so I’m chuffed that they’re enthusiastic about what I’ve done.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart 06 January, 2014

I’ve had a friendly email from a stranger (to me) called Simon Murray, who kindly says he is enjoying my An Apple a Day and offers this supplement to my entry for ‘Cold hands, warm heart’:

Anxiety or apprehension can cause cold hands via vasoconstriction and sweating of the palms (and soles). Thus if a young man is talking to a young woman who his heart is warm for... I am a doctor and over the years patients have occasionally commented on on my cold hands (on cold mornings, with frequent hand-washing). They have added not infrequently ‘Cold hands warm heart’. These days if a patient comments on my cold hands I quote this expression to them. To which a rejoinder is often ‘Cold hands, warm heart, smelly feet.’ This also makes sense, given the sweating connection.

If we reprint I’ll put some of this in - though I’m not sure about the smelly feet.

How to Greet the Queen… 08 November, 2013

...and Other Issues of Modern Etiquette is the proposed title of my latest ‘Her Ladyship’ book for the National Trust, which I delivered yesterday. The editor says she particularly likes the bit about cold calling, which tells a true story of a short-tempered friend of mine who was so rude to a cold caller that when she had hung up the supervisor rang back to ask how dare she talk to one of her operatives in that way? You can imagine the short shrift that that second woman got.

It all raised a question about hanging up on people, however. Now that ‘hanging up’ involves pressing a button, you just can’t slam down the phone in the satisfying way you used to. Not all technology is progress.

As Right as Rain in Spain 10 October, 2013

I’ve suddenly become a favourite on Talk Radio Europe. I was invited on to talk about my latest book, As Right As Rain, when it came out a month or so ago. It’s about idioms and the presenter, Selina Mackenzie, had looked on this site and seen I’d done other vaguely similar things. So she asked me back to talk about proverbs - An Apple a Day - which I did yesterday. Next month we’re going to talk about business jargon - Pushing the Envelope. That’s Wednesday 6 November, 12.30 p.m. UK time. The station broadcasts to English-speaking ex-pats in the south of Spain, but I dare say you can listen on line if the fancy takes you.

I’m hoping that in the spring Selina will let me talk about cake.

I’ve Just Discovered a New Word 19 September, 2013

Whilom. It means former. It was originally the dative plural of the Old English word for ‘time’. Who knew? I didn’t.

I read it in The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by the wonderful Persephone Books. Persephone specialise in rediscovering and republishing largely forgotten works, mostly by women and mostly from the early 20th century. This one was first published in 1901 and, although charming and delightful, it is certainly no more than middle-brow. And the word isn’t used in a fancy context: the heroine, about to marry a Marquis and become fabulously wealthy, expresses her surprise and delight to the lady who made the introduction - ‘her whilom patroness’.

So presumably the none-too-intellectual novel reader at the turn of the century would have taken in this word without a blink. Odd that it should have disappeared so completely from day-to-day use. I might start a campaign to revive it.

A Funny Way to Earn a Living 19 September, 2013

My cake book - or, as I should now learn to call it, A Slice of Britain: round the country by cake - is being edited, but two of the recipes are still to be checked. A friend has promised to make Scotch Black Bun over the weekend, but someone else reported near failure on the recipe I’d supplied for Chelsea Buns. So I’ve said I’ll try that one myself. Yesterday’s attempt was far too yeasty - what’s the betting that if I reduce the amount of yeast for tomorrow’s go the dough won’t rise at all?

At the same time, I am getting stuck into my new book for the National Trust, Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Etiquette. It feels very strange, because it isn’t about cake and over the last few months all I have thought about is cake. Can I work a chapter (or perhaps just a box) about cake into a book on etiquette? I don’t know - I ransacked my kitchen this morning and discovered I don’t even possess cake forks.

Poor Grammar Isn’t a Recent Invention 08 August, 2013

In the course of my cake researches, I’ve been dipping into Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England, published in 1954. She’s highly regarded in her field and I’m sure the information in the book is excellent. But under the heading ‘Bakewell Pudding’ she wrote:

This is named after a small town in Derbyshire; they are sometimes called Bakewell tarts.

What was she thinking of? And where was her editor?

Some Things Don’t Change 09 July, 2013

It may seem odd to post something about Christmas at this time of year, but I’m still immersed in cake research and I came across this in a book of Kitchen Essays:

Year by year the propaganda of the shops grows increasingly active; and their suggestions for the keeping of that high feast, including such secular items as dozens of brandy, whisky, and champagne, appear annually more elaborate and incongruous than ever before. Experience leads us, however, to believe that their lavish wares will all be sold and bought, given and received, cherished or passed on, as in the long tale of bygone years.

Agnes Jekyll (sister-in-law of the more famous Gertrude), writing in the early 1920s. I imagine she turns in her grave regularly every December.

Joy in the Morning 19 May, 2013

What a joy to discover a Wodehouse I hadn't read, and to find that it was the first of the Blandings novels. There are lots of familiar characters missing - most notably the prize pig Empress of Blandings - but the dotty Earl of Emsworth is pottering about, his unappreciated younger son Freddie is causing him as near to annoyance as he is capable of feeling, there’s a dyspeptic American millionaire and two people are masquerading as domestics in order to steal back the precious scarab that Lord Emsworth has absent-mindedly pocketed. What more could you want?

Dorset Knob Throwing 06 May, 2013

In case you haven't heard (and don't listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2, who seems to have espoused the cause) the Dorset Knob is a small, rounded, crunchy, savoury biscuit perfect with Dorset Blue Vinny cheese. It’s made exclusively by Moores in Bridport and every year for the last six the little village of Cattistock has hosted the Frome Valley Food Fest and Dorset Knob Throwing - see the website for more.

There were stalls selling Dorset Apple Cake - my real excuse for being there, though the Dorset Knob is going to find its way into my cake book now - and local chutneys, venison sausages and Badger beer. In addition to the official Knob Throwing you could try your hand at the Knob Pyramid or Knob Darts. And there was the most fantastic sense of community. By the time I left (well before lunch time) the volunteers were directing people to the overflow carpark - goodness knows what it must have been like by 3 o’clock. I normally hate great days out for all the family, but this was the best fun I have had in ages. Put it in your diaries for next year.

A Slice of Britain 20 April, 2013

Just back from the Scottish borders, tireless in my search for cake. Favourite discovery of the trip: Melrose Tart, invented by local bakers Dalgetty’s for the Millennium celebrations. It’s made with traditional local ingredients (notably honey and ginger) and decorated in yellow and black, the town’s rugby colours. And it’s available only in Dalgetty’s gorgeous tea room in Melrose. How cool is that? A perfect local tradition, only thirteen years old.

Benevolent Dictatorship? 04 February, 2013

I'm reading A Walk-On Part, the volume of Chris Mullin’s diaries that covers Tony Blair’s becoming Leader of the Labour Party and later Prime Minister. I’ve just reached the 1997 general election, that memorable morning-after when people asked each other, ‘Did you stay up for Portillo?’

Chris Mullin’s constituency was Sunderland, which for some reason is always the first to declare its result. On this occasion they shaved ten minutes off their previous record. ‘For about twenty minutes,’ he observes, ‘I was the only MP in the country. I could have formed my own government.’

You can’t help feeling that things would have been very different if he had.

A Bridge Too Far 31 January, 2013

I'm writing a book about idioms, currently entitled As Right As Rain, to be published in the autumn. One of the entries is ‘a bridge too far’, which - if you're old enough - you will remember is the title of a film starring almost everyone you had ever heard of at the time: Laurence Olivier, Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine to name but a few. The screenplay is by William Goldman, who also has - among others - Butch Cassidy, Marathon Man and The Stepford Wives to his credit.

In A Bridge Too Far, there is a scene in which a corporal offers a mug of tea to Major-General Urquhart, played by Sean Connery.

‘Hancock,’ splutters Sean. ‘I've got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven't arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?’

‘Can’t hurt, sir,’ comes the reply and Sean accepts his tea.

Not immediately relevant to the idiom, but the joy of writing not-quite-reference books like mine is that you can slip this sort of thing in anyway. I've also got in mentions of Spike Milligan and of Flanders and Swann, and I'm only up to the Ds.

Lines I Wish I’d Written No. 912 05 January, 2013

Starting the New Year with a real treat - a P G Wodehouse novel I haven't read before, The Small Bachelor. How’s this for a description of a large woman:

No theatre… could be said to be ‘sparsely filled’ if Mrs Waddington had dropped in to look at the show. Public speakers, when Mrs Waddington was present, had the illusion that they were addressing most of the population of the United States. And when she went to Carlsbad or Aix-les-Bains to take the waters, the authorities huddled together nervously and wondered if there would be enough to go round.

Thank you, P G, as so often.

More Cake News 09 December, 2012

Well, I went to Bath and met the managers of the Bath Bun and the Sally Lunn Teashop, both of whom were charming and helpful and encouraged me to eat buns. The Sally Lunn with Welsh Rarebit on top is, I have to say, excellent.

More recent adventures were to Brighton, where I can highly recommend the Mock Turtle tea shop - it doesn’t do anything specific to Brighton but it does a LOT else, laid out invitingly on a table as you go in the door. I've since baked (orangey) Brighton Buttons and (almondy) Brighton Buns for myself, but can't find anyone who does either commercially.

I’ve been to Banbury and eaten Banbury Cakes and to St Paul's Cathedral and eaten Eccles Cakes. I realise I should be going to Eccles in order to eat Eccles Cakes, and I shall, in the new year, but I was in St Paul’s and they had Eccles Cakes and what is a girl to do? The waistline is holding out OK so far, but the sugar highs are getting a bit alarming.

Cake News 07 November, 2012

Having been to Bruges last weekend, just for the fun of it (and lots of fun it was, too), I’m off this weekend on my first long-distance venture into the world of professional cake eating. To Bath, to check out Bath buns. There are two places that claim to produce the 'original’ and, wearing my loosest jeans, I am going to visit both of them. I'll report back.

New Book – It’s Official 18 October, 2012

How’s this for an assignment: I've been signed up by AA Publishing to travel round the UK and write a book about cakes associated with places - Bakewell pudding (as the locals call it), Banbury cakes, Dorset apple cake and the like. I might even throw in the occasional Devon/Cornish cream tea, and it will give me the chance to visit Grantham (to eat their gingerbread) and Eccles, two places I can't imagine I would ever go to otherwise.

Won't that be fun? I have a burgeoning list of generous friends who have volunteered to come and help with the research.

Positively My Last Word on A P Herbert 26 September, 2012

I’ve just seen in the news that the man who swam into the Thames to disrupt the Boat Race has been found guilty of creating a nuisance. Albert Haddock insisted (when he jumped off Hammersmith Bridge for a bet) that it was an Englishman’s right to do what he liked as long as he didn't interfere with anyone else and that too much of the law was designed to stop him exercising this freedom.

I think the big difference here is that when Mr Haddock jumped off Hammersmith Bridge the Boat Race wasn’t in progress.

Just in Case You Were Wondering 21 September, 2012

I haven't posted news of a new book lately, for the simple reason that there hasn't been any.

However, I'm happy to say that there is almost news. I should be able to start talking about something new in the next week or so. It won't, I hope, be illegal or immoral, but it may well be fattening. Watch this space.

More from A P Herbert 16 September, 2012

Further to my previous blog, a footnote from an essay on Education Tax:

There is something to be said for the view that the ownership or control of two or more newspapers should be scheduled as a Dangerous Occupation under the Factory Acts, since, as a rule, it seems to lead to mania.

There’s an awful lot in this book that makes you think, ‘Some things don’t change.’

Lines I Wish I’d Written No. 864 12 September, 2012

‘A highbrow is the sort of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.’

From A P Herbert’s Uncommon Law, a collection of pieces shown on TV in the 1960s under the title of Misleading Cases and starring the wondrous Alastair Sim and Roy Dotrice. Herbert was a barrister and an MP, and it is largely thanks to him that many nonsenses of the English legal system - notably having to hire young ladies called Prudence and take them to Brighton for the weekend in order to obtain a divorce - were changed.

In another piece, about whether or not marriage, being a lottery, should be subject to the same laws as other games of chance, Herbert writes:

Women complain, in moments of dissatisfaction, that all men are alike, but men complain with equal indignation that no two women are the same, and that no woman is the same for many days or even minutes together. It follows that no experience, however extensive, is a certain guide, and no man’s judgment, however profound, is in this department valuable. In all matrimonial transactions, therefore, the element of skill is negligible and the element of chance predominates.

I wish I’d written that, too.

Although laws have changed (thank goodness), Uncommon Law remains as funny and as incisive as it was when it was first written, in the 1920s and ’30s. My copy is published by Capuchin Press and has on the back the shout line ‘Books to keep alive’. This one certainly deserves it.

Paras I Wish I’d Written No. 406 15 August, 2012

From Salley Vickers’ The Other Side of You, referring to a character who is remarkably casual about crossing busy roads:

A walk with Gus was a definition of a mixed blessing - his company was to die for, and there was always the possibility that one might.

Lovely book, by the way - quite heart-rending. Don’t read it in your local café if you are as prone to weeping as I am.

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