6 September 2011


I tootled out of London for the summer back in early August. A rash of holidays, family gatherings, weddings and general celebration-making swiftly followed. 

Adventures included:

Hot tubbing in Cornwall: hence the word rash...

Mackerel fishing in Pembrokeshire: I caught one straight away and had only cast my line out again for about 30 seconds when Oliver, aged 3 and in a dark mood, declared "She's struggling now." His words struck a death knell over the whole endeavour. We caught no more fish that night. I still had the rash.

Tea at the Pump Rooms in Bath: "What will we do when we're 60 if we're already doing stuff like this now" wondered Sophie, with slightly more than a hint of desperation. I was too busy to answer as I stealthily scanned the room for my Mr Darcy, only to be sickened by the sight of wall-to-wall blue rinses and National Trust types. Happily, our disillusionment turned into wonderment and our wonderment turned into absolute fulfilment as we ploughed our way through a stack of scrumptious sandwiches, scones and smart little cakey things. Sadly, before we left, Sophie sheepishly pocketed two handfuls of sugar cubes to make cocktails that night. The shame...

Starting and finishing "One Day" in one day: my overly rapid ingestion of the book was followed by a late night binge-dash to the cinema to see the film. Then I proceeded to panic wildly about all the chances of happiness I've screwed up in my life (with special thanks to Steve and JT for screwing up the rest for me), before finally getting a grip and re-establishing the faint but crucial line between fact and fiction, my life and Emma's. The whole experience was rather like eating my body weight in jelly beans then throwing them all up. But at least the rash had faded by now.

After all that considerable excitement, I eventually wound up at home in the beautiful shire. That's here:

Saiorse Pumar-Reid came by for a couple of days with her globe-trotting parents, Mike and Margo. We walked, we talked, and we made sixteen jolly jars of gloopy, purple chutney from the glut of plums in the kitchen garden: "Saiorse's Deadly Plum Chutney: it's to die for". The name and tag line were coined due to an extra ingredient which was tossed in at random, then panicked over as we web-searched to find out if it was poisonous. We didn't think so, and so far partakers of the noxious brew seem to have remained resolutely alive and well. 

On the whole we agreed that it was plummy good. It smells fruitily sweet, has an excellent texture and goes very nicely with a wedge of mature cheddar, lashings of salty butter and a Bath Oliver or two.

Recipe below, just in case you come across a few sour plums or rock hard damsons and feel like turning them into something good. Damsons and pearls...see!

Saiorse's Deadly Plum Chutney
  • 2.7 kg plums or damsons
  • 1 kilo cooking apples (cored and chopped fine)
  • 1 kilo onions (chopped fine)
  • 600g dried apricots (chopped smallish)
  • 400g raisins (chopped in half)
  • 900g soft brown sugar, or a bit less if the plums are already sweet 
  • 4 cloves of garlic (chopped fine)
  • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 4 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp of allspice powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1.5 litres white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp of chilli flakes
  • 4 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • A good handful of black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp of mustard seeds
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • One or two heads of lavender (not the leaves - they were the bits we thought might be poisonous)
Stone the plums and if big enough cut into slices. We stoned them by simmering them for 20 mins in 150ml of white wine vinegar (using some of the vinegar we went on to use in the chutney). After they've cooled you can just pull out the stones from the mulch. 

Chop the apples, onions, raisins and apricots. Put everything in a large heavy bottomed saucepan and bring slowly to a gentle boil. Turn the heat down and simmer very gently for five hours or until the mixture has broken down and thickens. Stir now and again, and a bit more often towards the end. When done, pour into sterilised jars, put wax discs on top of the chutney as it cools, then put the lids on when it's cold. 

Chutney complete...

And next up the Parmiters came to stay. We river swam, stalked crocodiles, played pooh sticks, walked a 10-yard section of the Offa's Dyke path (so energetic) and made plum crumble, or "crumb bumble" as Molly liked to call it as she scooped up the windfalls with her grubby little paws. 

Then it was my birthday. Parisian biscuits arrived in the post (thank you lovely Bee and Joe), an unsigned card plopped on to the doormat (adding a little whiff of mystery), and I began The Artist's Way on the recommendation of three esteemed friends...a 12 week course (at home, using a book, nothing fancy) in "discovering and recovering your creative self". Some bits I've liked so far:

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.  Henry Miller
Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.  Georgia O'Keeffe

And just like that, one day into the 12 weeks, I felt like writing a blog. Never felt like it before...in fact I've always been quite stridently anti-blog, but the time feels ripe to me somehow (perhaps it's all the plums and sloes and blackberries bursting on to the branches outside). 

So here it is. If you're in the anti-blog camp I won't be in the slightest bit offended. So am I. Sort of. 

I don't know where it will go or what it will contain. Perhaps this post will remain solo, an epitaph to itself. Perhaps it will take the place of a round robin email, keeping my friends and relations up to date with what I'm up to for a while, other than having permanent 'sabbatical hair' (no update needed there).

I hope that in the rare time I have ahead to enjoy some outdoor space and rest and explore, it might provide me with a blank page on which to wonder and splurge and share a little of the journey.


  1. Yay Bagel! Lovely blog. I don't know why you are anti-blog because it's lovely for us to hear what you're up to and what you're thinking about and to read it with a nice photo of grass behind is nicer than in an email.

    Lots of love from us both,

  2. Lovely musings Bagel - information, comedy, inspiration and a recipe for chutney. All the essesntial ingredients of a good blog. xx Goose

  3. You rock Bagel and not just back and forth. feel like i'm there with you which feels just fine. we love you! xxxx Em+Ed+a little bug.

  4. I love it Lols! It's got a way to go before it reaches the dizzy heights of my old school work on 'Family' and random limericks but keep trying ;o)

    p.s. Oli's little gem made me LAUGH!

  5. One long June
    I came down from the trees
    and kerbstone cool
    You were a freshly painted angel
    Walking on walls

    Build a rocket Bagley!
    Beautiful writing.....

  6. I believe it was 3 pods of cardamon. You don't want to overdo it you know...

  7. Loved reading your musings Bags. Have subscribed on Google Reader and look forward to the next entry x

  8. I chuckled a number of times and then got a bit teary (at the fact that you're launching into an amazing new season right now with this writing)
    ...both essential reactions to good pen(wo)manship. So excited that you've started this!

  9. 'mezin cuz! you write so beautifully. keep blogging xxxx

  10. love you're back up and running with the blog - makes me feel as if i am in Cider with Rosie when i read it..