Skip to main content

Tastes of yesterday

Tomorrow I'm driving to Norfolk to lead a life writing course at Mendham Mill. We'll talk about what it means to write from life, what the issues are surrounding the sharing of personal and deeply felt events. We'll uncover memories and discuss ways we can shape them on the page.

There's something about tastes and smells that evokes vivid memories. Do you remember this?


I wasn't a fan of lollies. Not even a Mivi whose icy skin covered a wadge of vanilla ice-cream. I preferred 99s or Oyster Shells. At a push I'd have a milk lolly which was more like ice-cream than lolly. Or a wafer: a rectangle of Wall's ice-cream between two thin boards. There was a right way to assemble your wafer. Open the wrapping on the ice-cream block and lay it ice-cream face down on one wafer. Take off and discard the rest of the paper wrapping, add the second wafer to make your 'sandwich'. Don't let anyone tell you there's another way.

There's another photo I came across in my hungry writer album that takes me back to childhood. I wrote about my dad's green beans here. But here's a poem from many years ago when I first started writing.


Bean Picking

for my father


When the jungle of leaves
dropped their scarlet blossoms
we waited for them to grow
at first invisible against the green

but in August we pushed
between the rows with a colander
and your orders to leave the small
and not to miss the big.

The coarse underside of leaves
grazed our bare shoulders, sun
dribbled through the overlaps.
We smelt hot, uncooked beans

and tugged them from their stalks,
some solid bodied, plumping
along their length, others curling
like witches’ fingernails.

In the kitchen you topped, tailed,
and pared the spines away.
Just a plate of these’ll do me you used to say,
with butter and a drop of pepper.

At the end of Summer
you saved twelve maybe twenty
moist red hearts
to harden in brown paper.

As a poem it has weaknesses. I can see that now. But I am still fond of its simple honesty. And honesty and directness are qualities I want to have more and more in my writing. And I want to recognise them in other people's words too. So many poems in my first poetry collection relied heavily on what I call 'literary fireworks': clever linebreak, extended metaphor, imagery designed to startle. I'm aiming for a quieter approach these days. Not that it makes the crafting of the work any easier though: simplicity doesn't mean an absence of effort. Remember what Fred Astaire said?


If it doesn’t look easy, you aren’t working hard enough.


Hungry writing prompts
  • Write about what frightens you.
  • Write about buying ice-cream.
  • Write about growing vegetables.
  • Write about what you like to read.
  • Write a list of simple things.



Popular posts from this blog

Pie, pie glorious pie

So often when we talk about food we are talking about family. In fact that was how the hungry writer blog began, nearly six years ago: weekly memories or life stories linked by the theme of food. Food is nurture and love. It can be celebration and anxiety too. It can also be a battleground, as the parents of young children know so intimately! Which is rather a satisfying segue into the family featuring in this week's blogpost: The Radfords. Because if anyone understands the feeding of children, really, really understands, it has to be Sue Radford who, with her husband, Noel, has 19 children. You can read about the family on their website but don't rush off yet as what I really want to talk about is pie. And specifically Radford's pies.
Noel Radford has been a baker for 25 years and opened his own bakery in 1999 in Heysham, Lancashire and makes pies with locally sourced ingredients. That, along with his skill as a master baker, means that the pictures of the 'filled to t…

Eat, laugh, cry, remember: Baked Camembert

Once, on a holiday in Malta, I dressed Tony up in my gypsy skirt and stretchy white vest, used two satsumas for breasts and made up his eyes and lips with the brightest colours I had with me. Then I took a photograph. He didn’t seem to mind, in fact he seemed quite tickled by the fuss and attention to detail, but the quantity of rosé we’d shared at Snoopy’s restaurant on the seafront in Sliema earlier in the evening might have had something to do with that.

This was 1988. There were no digital cameras for instant viewing (and, praise be, instant deletion). The only instant photographs at the time came courtesy of Polaroid, with their packages of square film and box-like cameras, and slid out of the front of the machine on shiny thick card that everyone huddled over and watched develop. But they tended to be party cameras, appearing at Christmas, birthdays, engagements. You captured your holiday photos on a proper camera, one you had to load and feed film into, then unload and drop off…

The Mythic Biscuit: Oreos

My childhood biscuits were mainly plain but had lovely names: Marie, Nice, Rich Tea. Quiet biscuits. The kind of biscuits that would never interrupt a conversation. Polite, not pushy. At the other end of the spectrum, and only irregularly present, probably a result of practical economics, were cheeky Jammy Dodgers, irritable Garibaldis, and self-contented and reliable Bourbons. And even more irregularly, the flashy inhabitants of a Christmas Box of Biscuits: Pink Wafers. I ate them at the same time as not liking them very much, a bit like Miss World Contestants in sparkly dresses, too much eye make-up and a saccharine idea of world peace. 
I'm in the mood to think, and personify, 'biscuits' because the lovely team at Oreo sent me some samples of their new Oreo Thins. I hadn't heard of Oreos until the early 1990s when a friend asked if I would bring him back a packet from a Florida holiday. I forgot and pretended I couldn't find them. 'But they're everywher…