21 Feb 2016

Running through History: Addington, Kent


I am hoping that I never ever need to use one of these when I'm out running. This one's in an adopted BT phone box at the top of the hill leading to Addington Village Green, but as I'm tackling the climb up from the A20, past the entrance to West Malling Golf Club, there's something oddly reassuring about knowing it's there! And it seems that any village with a redundant phone box can take steps to change it into a mini-medical centre - read how here.

footsteps heartbeats the breath and measure of my days 

Addington, aside from being the name of the village, is also the neighbouring parish to Offham, where I live, although we used to lie within Addington Parish until boundary changes a couple of decades ago. The original rectory to Addington Church is across the lane from me. And the land the houses in our small hamlet are built on was once part of Addington Park, the estate and gardens belonging to the Jacobean manor house, Addington Place. The manor house changed hands at a series of auctions in the 1920s and 1930s, was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence during World War II and subsequently demolished in 1950 after it had been gutted by fire. 

story time the scent of woodsmoke 

The road I follow from Addington village green is called Park Road. It was originally just a track but road engineers deepened it in 1828 to construct a carriage road. The fact that the track ran over the top of a Neolithic long barrow evidently didn't hold much interest at the time and the barrow, one of Kent's, if not Britain's, most ancient monuments, remains divided by today's road, with the mounds clearly visible on either side. 



Most of the stones belonging to this megalith - Addington Longbarrow - maybe as many as 50, have been flattened, removed or half-buried. But a 100 yards to the north-west there's another burial chamber: The Chestnuts. Thousands of flints, from the earlier Mesolithic period, have been recovered from this area: scrapers, cutters, chisels, awls, saws and axes. The tools of people living from the land. I held some of these in my hand around 20 years ago, when I was running my bookshop in nearby West Malling, and the landowner, a regular customer, showed me around the sarsen stones (sandstone hardened during the ice age by silica rich sand) that were re-erected during excavations in the early 1960s. And you can still visit them today, by appointment with the owner. 


Today, I ran through the middle of the longbarrow, past the gateway towards the standing stones, along Park Road towards St Vincent's Lane flanking the fairways and greens of West Malling Golf Course which spreads across the old mansion house grounds. Then stopped abruptly when I glimpsed the abandoned sandpit through the bare winter hedges. Suddenly history wove itself more tightly for me, random events threaded together and making sense, as I noticed walls of silent stone rising above the void on the other side of the field. 


The hum of traffic from the motorway, the occasional golfer's shout, a dog bark, or the changing gears of a local car negotiating the bends in the lane are the only sounds you hear now. But if I stood here long enough, imagined the people who occupied this land so many thousands of years ago, would I hear the patient strike of flint against stone, feel the determination in their work to revere their dead?

reading the past missing letters on my grandmother's grave


Source material
Richardson, Patricia, Addington, The Life Story of a Kentish Village, privately published by the author, 2012

13 Feb 2016

The Sprout of Gratitude, The Crumb of Romance and The Gloop of Disappointment

Cat hiding in a pot
I am not the best patient. I know that. When I'm ill I like to be left alone, for the most part. A bit like a cat: just let me curl up in a corner and heal quietly. I don't snarl or bite though. And I do appreciate, and respond civilly, to regular cups of tea or Lemsips. And the occasional snack. The kind of snack that appeals to a convalescent, someone with a light appetite, something visually tempting. Hot toast with melting butter. Some lightly scrambled eggs with a sprinkling of chives. Even a mug of Heinz tomato soup swirled with a little creme fraiche. 

There was an M&S chicken pie in the fridge. Hmmm ... not sure, maybe. But I'd probably eat some lightly cooked vegetables. An hour later, Tony called me. And I really don't want to sound ungrateful. But sprouts? Vigorously boiled sprouts? Sprouts, of any texture, just don't whisper: get better soon. I ate some. They were very soft. That was the only sprout of gratitude I could muster. 

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about the things you are grateful for.

And it's almost Valentine's Day. A day, allegedly, to show (or convince) your loved one how grateful you are to have them in your life. Sometimes your plans unroll like a plush, sandalwood scented carpet. And then they don't. You can read one of my Valentine experiences at this link, published by Women's Memoirs a few years ago. Lots of heat. But the wrong kind.

by Francesca Hornak in The Dish,
Sunday Times Food Magazine
February 2016
An article in last weekend's Sunday Times' food supplement explored the 'culinary minefields' surrounding Valentine's Day. The one that made me laugh out loud was:

'Home-cooking: ... Unfortunately the male cook will typically attempt something so ambitious that dinner won't be ready until 10pm. During this process there will be a half-argument about how he is handling the raw chicken. [The big wooden board marked with an 'M' is the one for meat!] By the time it's ready she will be tipsy and already full from eating Kettle Crisps.' 

I worry there's a secret camera in my home.

I am going to make a Valentine's cake for Tony, a cake that clearly says, 'I love you to the galaxy MACS0647-JD and back' to a person with a sweet tooth. It's Sweet Paul's Cuatro Leches ['four milks'] Cake. And, even though I'm nowhere near as fond as desserts as Tony, it really does appeal to me too (minus the frosting). Why? The word 'homey' in the description maybe? The pretty photo of a creamy, plump soft-crumbed slice accompanying the recipe? But perhaps it's just the word 'milk', the food that welcomed us into the world. A word we automatically associate with nurture. And here we have milk x 4. 

So here we go. Watch the rugby (Six Nations). I'll be back...


Cake batter
Ramblings of a Demented Baker

Back sooner than I thought. That is one strange recipe... but I'm going to trust Sweet Paul because no one who's first name is Sweet would let me down, would they? 

I think my eggs were too big ... after 25 minutes in the oven, when 15 to 20 were recommended, it is still liquidy in the middle when I stick a wooden skewer in. And the rise of it in the dish doesn't look like there'll be any room to pour over the milks.

I am starting to doubt the recipe: do you pour the milk mixture into the cake hot from the oven? Do you leave the cake to cool? Is there enough flour to get a crumb texture? I am tipping through doubt towards failure. 

30 minutes in the oven now. Have I used the wrong dish? Ceramic instead of glass? It smells like egg. The eggs were definitely too big.

Where's Mary Berry when you need her? Note to self: do not trust a recipe that has no reviews.

35 minutes. What is most annoying is the potential waste of ingredients, including 5 eggs. The dish of loveless gloop I am imagining. 

Yes, the dish, the sides too thick to allow the heat to penetrate to the centre of the cake. At the moment I'm looking at a crisp border and a soft centre - something you might want in a chocolate truffle but not in a cake.

After 45 minutes I'll have to take it out of the oven and hope for the best, or the best of the worst.

A soggy middle rather than a soggy bottom.
It's out. I didn't leave it cool on the grounds that I want this to be over soon! I pricked it all over with a skewer (not in the recipe) but it seemed like a good idea to allow the milks to be absorbed. So much milk too, almost a litre of tinned, fresh and cream. But it all eventually soaked in. It's resting. That's what I should do. And breathe. And wait.

Soaked in. 
But for how long?

What's that phrase again? Oh ye of little faith?


It's like a mixture of Madeira cake and rice pudding. Sweet, soft. And yes, homey. It is a touch too moist towards the centre, but nowhere near the disaster I was anticipating.

Will I make it again? Yes. With smaller eggs. And a thinner dish. And, I hope, less angst. 


And Tony says it's definitely a 'I love you to the galaxy MACS0647-JD and back' cake.