Now that I have my own little matriarch-in-the-making, I feel it is important to keep a record of the influences that I have inherited from my wise female forbears. I am hoping that this blog will become a scrapbook of recipes, rhymes, anecdotes and the like which may inspire, help or amuse.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

"She's a card!"

Carla celebrated her first birthday on Easter Monday whilst we were staying at my parent's home in Norfolk. My brother was also visiting from Leeds with his girlfriend.

Carla is a very entertaining young lady and after one of her amusing performances my Mother exclaimed "As your Granny Bysea would have said 'She's a card!'". Granny Bysea was my paternal Grandmother who grew up in Battersea and had a good selection of old London phrases.

Later on that weekend, my brother, who had not been present when my Mother made the former observation, turned to Carla (who was displaying signs of hunger) and said "Do you have a hole where your tummy should be? As my Granny Bysea used to say."

In retrospect it is probably quite obvious that, when with Carla, Johnny and Mother should remember turns of phrase particular to my Grandmother , since the last time they heard those words might have been when we were children displaying similar characteristics. Nevertheless, at the time, I found it rather eerie, almost as if Bysea had come to join us for a while, especially as on my own I would never have recalled those phrases which sounded so familiar the moment they were spoken.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


We've been feeling a bit down of late and whilst it is not my intention for this blog to turn into too much of a diary of events, current circumstances have taken my thoughts to the subject of language and communication within families.

I have already written about inherited language in "The Root of Oral Tradition" and "Basingstoke, my love..." and I am becoming ever more conscious of what you could call my oral inheritance.

My Granny has had two strokes which have left her unable to speak. This horrible disability has been made all the more poignant for me as it coincides with Carla being at a particularly vocal phase of development. Carla is furiously trying to communicate with us and babbling "da, da, da" from waking to sleeping whilst her famously outspoken Great-Grandmother is trapped without a voice.

At times Carla is clearly happy with her linguistic progress. When in the bath she triumphantly picks up her yellow seahorse and says something that sounds like "duck-duck-duck". When we say "clap hands", she understands and claps. But at other times (particularly meal or bed times...) Carla's contented babble turns to frustrated ranting, some of which probably translates as "Come on parents, make an effort to understand me".

When learning a language, comprehension precedes communication. The ability to understand but to remain unable to communicate is an immensely frustration situation to be in. To have lost the ability to communicate, however, is more than a mere frustration.

Having suffered two strokes int he past three months, Carla's Great-grandmother lost her ability to speak. When visiting Granny a few weeks ago, the extent of her desperation was made all the more moving by Carla's presence. Granny sat silent but determined; I could see she was willing her mouth and vocal chords to work. She managed a few words: "ice-cream", "no", and "Bye-bye". Opposite sat Carla feverishly babbling and willing us to understand her. Granny knocked on the table to get Carla's attention and when Carla looked up, they smiled at each other, a knowing kind of smile.

Shakespeare was right with his Seven Ages of Man, but to see this "second childishness" played out before me was almost more than I could bear. Carla will learn to talk and her frustration will be lifted: I may never hear my Grandmother's voice again and if I think to hard on this it overwhelms me with grief. But, somehow, during that visit, Carla and Granny did "speak" to one another and this is a reminder that no matter how difficult it might be, if you are determined to communicate, it can be done; a language can always be found. Our oral tradition is not lost.

Oh, and I finally finished that knitting!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Daddy's Favourite

Last week Ben passed his driving test. Our celebratory meal was an homage to nursery food and school dinners. We ate sausages, baked beans and mashed potatoes followed by a kind of jam roly-poly. The pudding was a recipe from my Great-Grandmother's hand-written recipe book and I tried it out for the first time in honour of Carla's father's driving success as it is called Daddy's Favourite.

The roly-poly was also a success with Ben finishing off his bowlful saying "I think that might be Carla's Daddy's new favourite". He likened it to a cross between a Swiss Roll and a pancake.

This newly discovered heirloom will definitely be forming part of Carla's culinary education and here's the recipe for any of you out there who might be craving comfort in the form of a good old-fashioned pud. I chose to serve it with ice-cream but custard would probably do the job!

Daddy's Favourite (Daddy being my Great-great Grandfather!)
2oz butter
2-3oz sugar (I used 2oz in the batter and 1oz to coat)
1/4lb flour
2 eggs
1/2 pint milk
1/2 tsp baking powder

Cream fat and sugar, add beaten eggs and then flour and milk. Put in baking powder. Put into a well greased tin or pyrex dish.

Bake in a moderate oven till set and slightly brown, turn out onto sugared paper. Spread quickly with warm jam and roll up.

P.S. I have copied the recipe word for word from Great-Granny's book. I used a well greased Swiss Roll baking tin and I baked it at 180c for about 1/2 an hour to 40 mins. You do need it to go golden and start to curl up at the edges so best to just keep an eye on it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Basingstoke, my love...

Carla is a spirited young lady and can get quite excitable around bedtime, which is not ideal. When we were getting her ready for bed recently, I came across two more phrases inherited from my Granny.

Both expressions were used in an attempt to soothe when I was an easily frustrated and temperamental child. The first, "Gently, gently, Mr Bentley", is not unheard of by others but my husband has only heard it in the abbreviated form of "Gently Bentley". Whether my Grandmother embellished the traditional phrase or whether others also use the longer form, I do not know and would be pleased to find out.

My husband was amused by the second expression as he had never heard it before. When I got myself into a tizzie (quite often but that's another tale to be told), Granny would not say "Calm down" but would quietly soothe with the words "Basingstoke,my love, Basingstoke". None of us know where this idiom comes from. Like the "toe-cover", I think my Granny may have claimed it had a literary origin. Perhaps I should telephone her now to find out.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Hand-me-down handicraft

I decided that I would like to knit Carla something before she's too enormous (i.e. whilst the project is still fairly small in size). I am a slow knitter and if I am not careful, she will have outgrown the knitted item before I finish it.

Whilst struggling with a new method of casting on and getting a bit confused about whether I was on a knit or a purl (I'm making a dress in moss stitch), I drifted off into thinking about the people who have knitted for me in the past. As a result of my daydreaming, I have had to undo half a row of knitting, oops.

So, have The Matriarchs handed down their talents for handicraft?

Mother is a fantastic knitter, though she does complain that she knits too tightly. She is also a great seamstress and made me all kinds of great clothes as a child as well as a Clothkits rag-doll. (

Maternal Grandmother (who we dubbed Granny Manchester or Granny Low Road) is an accomplished seamstress and particularly talented at embroidery. However, she is not a knitter. She once told me this story:

During the war people knitted squares which were collected and then sewn together to make blankets for the troops. At this point, Granny Manchester was a medical student in London. She started knitting along with the rest of her friends and had one of these squares in her bag at a lecture one day. The girl sitting next to her saw the knitting and took it up and asked if she could continue it under the desk during the lecture. To my Grandmother's surprise, not only could the girl knit accurately and at great speed without ever looking down at the work, but she turned to Granny when the lecture was over and the knitted square finished and said, "You'd dropped a couple of stitches in the third and fifth rows, so I've picked them up for you and finished this off." I don't think Granny ever bothered knitting again.

Granny Bysea (she lived by the sea), my paternal Grandmother, did knit and I remember some lovely jumpers and cardigans that she made for us as children. I suspect she was a dab hand with a sewing machine too.

So, where does that leave me? Basically, I think that I have inherited my inability to knit from my maternal Grandmother and an obsession with neatness from my paternal Grandmother, which means that when I do try to knit, I end up being incredibly slow and spending more time undoing untidy work than making stitches!

If I ever finish the moss stitch dress for Carla, I will post a picture! For anyone needing knitting advice, I highly recommend if you can't get your Mum on the telephone.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The "Root" of the Oral Tradition

The Matriarchs have taught me a passion for language in written and spoken form. We are a family of natural communicators and I suspect that Carla’s experimentation with babbling and squealing is a sign of her eagerness to communicate.

During early childhood, I was lucky enough to frequently hear more than one language spoken and this encouraged an interest in language and banished any fear of foreign tongues.

Later in life, I discovered that it was not only foreign languages that I had adopted from my family; my Mother and Grandmother were also responsible for unusual words and phrases entering my English vocabulary. When I asked a friend whether the TV was “turned on at the root” and got a confused look in response, I realised that my family, like many others, had developed its own peculiar expressions which were unintelligible to others.

Here, for amusement, are a few special words and phrases used by my Mother and maternal Grandmother and which I am likely to pass on to the next unsuspecting generation:

“to turn something on or off at the root” – I am told that most people would use plug socket instead of root.

“a toe-cover” – a useless item, an ornament or piece of bric-a-brac (my Grandmother insists that this word comes from a book called The Return of the Egg but I have never met anyone who has either heard use of this noun or of the book from which it originates).

“skin-a-rabbit” – said to a child as you help it off with its clothes.