Author Archives: jennyridgwell

Cookery practical exams in the 1970s


The summer term of 1973 brings the final test for my teaching skills – the cookery practical exam. I have to get 60 students to cook an elaborate, edible meal, with hot drink, flower arrangements and all the other silly exam tasks that they throw at us. This feat takes place over several days as each student is allowed their own cooker and sink, which is unheard of during the rest of the year. And I provide all the ingredients. The headmaster has agreed that since it is an exam, the school will cover the cost!
These are some tasks.

‘Cook a two course lunch for 4 people and prepare an evening dish for someone coming back from a fishing trip. Clean a pair of muddy football boots.’

‘Prepare a hot breakfast for a family of four who are going out for the day. Make a packed lunch and some cakes and a drink for them to take with them. Wash and starch some napkins.’

‘Prepare an evening meal for a family with a teenage girl. Make sure that the meal is rich in iron and calcium. Bake some pasties for a packed lunch. Wash and iron a shirt.’

On the day of the practical exam, I switch from helpful teacher to the role of THE EXAMINER and march round the room with my clipboard, watching my students peel and chop vegetables, prepare pastry, bake cakes, biscuits and bread. I take off marks for poor cooking skills, messy worktops and general flustered bumbling.

They’ve had lots of practice at learning what loses marks. I peek over shoulders, open up saucepan lids, bend down and peer into ovens, and rootle in the rubbish bin for food wastage.

During exam rehearsals  I bark out warnings.

‘Turn the pan handle in – someone could knock over the boiling water.’

‘Don’t cut away all that potato skin– use a potato peeler.’

‘Use your fingertips to rub the pastry fat into the flour – if you squeeze it anymore it will be a soggy lump’

‘Don’t throw those bits of pastry away – make some jam tarts – we have to use everything – no wastage!’

‘Don’t peel the apple with the cook’s knife!’

‘Don’t lick your food – I won’t taste it if you do!’

Licking loses loads of marks.

Privately I love licking. My favourites are spoonfuls of fluffy margarine and sugar, beaten to pale creaminess for Victoria sandwich. Then the foamy, whisked eggs and sugar which make Swiss Roll.

Savoury and sweet dishes have their own bizarre serving rules. Savoury flans and cheesy scones are cooked and cut with PLAIN rings and cutters.

Sweet tarts and lemon meringue pies must have FLUTED edges. These are the RULES laid down in some Victorian kitchen and they are not to be BROKEN.

Years later I am shocked when I see a Sainsbury’s savoury quiche baked in a fluted flan case. An unforgivable sin committed by the food product developers.

D’oyleys follow savoury and sweet rules – plain for savouries and frilly ones of sweet scones and cakes.

One mark lost for the wrong choice and a scowl from me.

On the exam day they work in silence. except for emergencies.

‘I feel sick miss.’

‘Just keep on cooking Angie – we can’t waste these ingredients.’

‘I’ve dropped my eggs on the floor miss.’

‘Dan, here’s a cloth – clear up and start again.’

I only come to their aid if there is real danger.

‘Paul – put the lid on your frying pan quickly and so that it doesn’t catch fire! And take that tea towel off the top of the cooker!.’

‘Please miss, it was an accident.’

I press my finger to my lips. No speaking, no excuses, this is the real test.

The exam lasts  two and a half hours. They must keep to time and follow their plan and produce edible food on the table.

‘OK class you have 20 minutes to finish.’

A class gasp of panic.

‘I’ve burnt the cake miss.’

‘Cut off the black bits and cover it with icing.’

‘My chocolate mousse isn’t set.’

‘Stick it in the freezer, quick.’

They scurry round the room,  tarting up the dishes with garnishes of parsley for savoury and sticky glace cherries and angelica diamonds for sweet desserts.

Suddenly it is over. ‘Time’s up – present your food.’

Amazing pies with crisp, golden pastry appear hot from the oven.

Steaming dishes of perfectly cooked cabbage and carrots sprinkled with chopped parsley and topped with a knob of melting margarine.

Soft mounds of creamy mashed potato, decorated with a sprig of parsley.

Pineapple upside down cake glistening with glacé cherries and rings of tinned pineapple served with a jug of creamy Bird’s Custard.

And a pot of tea with a strainer, jug of milk, sugar bowl and matching Beryl Ware cups and saucers.

And a rose in a polished vase.

And a clean pair of football boots.

They scramble out leaving sinks heaving with dirty plates, bowls, burnt pans and sticky baking trays.

Now for my tasting session. All dishes have to be tried and my face must remains deadpan. The students are watching from outside the classroom windows. Once, when I tasted a really sweet kidney ragout, I realised the student used icing sugar instead of flour to thicken the sauce. The dish was inedible so no marks.

Are the bread rolls crisp? Is the shepherd’s pie well seasoned? Are the vegetables overcooked? Has the egg custard curdled? Is the cake properly baked?

I poke and prod, slice, taste and appreciate. It is delicious. They have done me proud.

The marking is over and they surge in to photograph and fuss. Friends come in to congratulate and commiserate.  But mainly to eat. Then pack up, wash up, and leave with a wave and ‘Thanks miss – I enjoyed that!’

I have taught them to cook and they have learnt well.

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That was the week that was May 11th


That was the week that was May 11th

4th May was exchange day on our house in 22 Cliff Close and Simon and Ed moved our stuff into the Sea House (23) next door. Completion on May 21st – hooray one thing will be settled in all this mess.

The estate agent assured us that the buyers, who made the offer in January, were safe and keen and it would be done by the end of the day. But by 5 pm no news and our solicitor emailed theirs and said the agent must be a liar.

So Mark and I had packed up one house and moved into the airbnb one that already had enough furniture and stuff, but smaller wardrobes and a kitchen designed for a mouse to cook in.

Mark decided that his hundreds of spirit books would go to Amsterdam for training bartenders.

I decided that any books that could be bought back from Amazon for 1p should go to the charity shop. But gradually the garages in Seaford and Lewes fill up. And in my absence, Simon carts stuff to the dump before I could squeak.

Bank holiday Monday and my wonderful niece Mimi came with Daniel her American boyfriend and we sat on the Sea House balcony as the sun sparkled on the sea. Simon, Tamsin, Daisy and Charlie arrived. Such a hot day and they took the canoes out onto the sea and paddled round to Splash point. Constant eating and drinking as I found when taking the beer and wine bottles to the recycling bin next day.

Tuesday morning early, we hear that our buyers have dropped out. Four months of correspondence with our solicitor and some lame excuse about family matters. Despair does not cover it.

‘Bring it on’ I silently curse to the sky. What else could happen?

Well it did. My alcoholic younger brother Roger is reaching final stage of his addiction and his daughter Mimi has to watch in frustration while he pickles himself to death, all the time in denial that he needs help. I realise I have protected myself from the pain of someone ten years younger than me throwing his life away for his boxes of wine that he drinks for breakfast. And now his body is festering with sores but again I am protected from images arriving on my phone. I’ve sent a card and messages but he is too disconnected to care and will think I am nagging.

Mark decides that he wants to go away and I feel sick at the stress of travelling with him. ‘I know my body’ he shouts when I question how we will deal with his ailments.

‘Then did you know if you had cancer!’ is my sharp and unnecessary reply. I tell him I won’t go without travel insurance and he spends the morning ringing round the brokers listing his five cancers – bowel, lung, liver, lymph and bone. I feel his despair as each one refuses, then one offers £10,000 with limitations. ‘I’ll go without insurance’ he decides. My stomach churns at the thought of emergency medical helicopters bringing us home.

I set off to stay with my sister Isobel and my niece Polly with her delightful one year old daughter Velvet. And walk in the bluebell woods and spy a cluster of maroon wild orchids. Beautiful.

Home the next day, I agree to go to Cornwall after his May Fayre on May 20th. It’s the only plan I’ve put in the diary since February. Well, there were plans such as the trip to Uzbekistan but they have all been cancelled.

Friday 11th Mark gets a reply from his oncology nurse that he should not fly after chemo as there is a risk of infection and thrombosis. But we have non refundable tickets. And he’s prepared to take the risk. One of my friends, no name mentioned, says what have I got to lose if it goes badly wrong. And we laugh. She’s right. This journey is heading in one direction and we can speed or go the slow route.

Just listening to the inspiring Abi Morgan on Desert Island Discs ‘Enjoy the beauty of the moment’ she says. I must pay attention.

Went to see Barry, my counsellor. We chat like old friends but he leaves me with skills that I need to engage. Last week I tried to build a ring of steel around me to not get hurt by the daggers of cancer symptoms, so that I could lessen the pain of these times. But moving house raised rows and fears and the challenge of sorting stuff. It reminded me of watching Michael Landy’s Breakdown in 2001 where he destroyed all his stuff in an assembly line in the old V&A store in Oxford Street. I wish he would visit me and free me from my things, that I think are heirloom treasures, but they are not.

This week I need to learn to live for the moment more, engage in more courage by going away and confront angry shouting by walking away from it. Mark may be full of cancer but it is unkind to accuse me of selfishness at this time. I read a list to Barry of the week’s events and he says I am in need of respite care. The list is too serious and I am running on empty and will crack unless I look after myself.

Mark and I are used to spending time apart, and the cancer has thrown us together in a place, Seaford, that I have come to hate. So time away is going to be important.

Key words – courage, more of it, respite, enjoy, barriers, get out and about, laugh a bit.

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Walking to the end of life April 8th


I looked down from my favourite seat on the 93 bus from Putney to Wimbledon – front seat left hand side, with its big window view of the world where I can peak into the giant front gardens on Wimbledon Common. An old man walks slowly along the pavement below me, head down, wearing an overlarge black anorak, it’s hood cloaking his head like a monk’s habit. A man that does not want to be seen, lost in his own thoughts. My husband. As I journeyed on the bus to fetch our shopping I realised these past weeks had been spent walking beside a dying man. A man who was once strong and upstanding, argumentative and opinionated. A man that supported me in all things and got things done. And now it is my turn to remember the keys to the house and cars. My turn to make sure the car is full of petrol with a valid MOT. My turn to check that we have the chemo pills and remember to drive us to hospital appointments. My turn to take out the rubbish and buy the toilet paper.

We are never going on holiday together again, never to the theatre or an art gallery. Our travels from now on will be hospital and surgery visits, with short drives round the countryside for stops for cups of tea and toilet visits.

Now we are on our most courageous journey together towards his death. He does not want to travel there and I do not wish to take him, but cancer gives us no choice. Like the men on death row, the hostage taken by Isis, the tortured in Iranian prisons, we must face our future. Like those people there is usually one end – death. How hard for the wives, mothers, and children of those men to face losing their lives. I wonder at their pain, and I cry at my own.

Cancer is not a kind, fair way to end the life of a man that has always been kind and fair. What purpose is served in us suffering so?

My husband and I walk together to his death. He does not make this journey on his own.’Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ said Dylan Thomas of his dying father. Can I write something better for my crying husband who says he is not afraid to die, but finds the process unbearable. Can I find a way to shelter his suffering, to morphine out his memory and help us to cope?

Our revels now are ended  .. We are the stuff that dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

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April 10th On Philip Carr Gomm’s retreat


April 10th On retreat

From Mark

At the weekend we had another break to civilisation, to Wimbledon, where all are busy with life rather than existing as they seem to do down here in Seaford.

Another evening in San Lorenzo with Jenny, Annabel and Simon who very kindly drove up specially with my chemo pills that I left behind but had a good dinner as reward.

Into 3rd chemo now and the low white blood cell period so need to take care. No more out of date or carelessly reheated food for me. But bowel movements are easier so hoping a CT scan soon will show some reductions in the growths.

From Jenny

Today I’m leaving Mark for the first time since his diagnosis on February 8th – 9 weeks after I was given the prognosis of ‘weeks to live’. Annabel and I are going on a retreat for 2 days with Philip Carr Gomm in Sussex. The course description says

‘The long British winter tends to diminish our reserves, but by April, longer and warmer days are starting to arrive. Here is your chance to take some time out to welcome the Spring and recharge your body and refresh your soul.’

I’ve never done a retreat before but in the early days of Mark’s illness, Philip visited us and gave us a calmer, wiser perspective on life and death and our place in the world long after we have gone. It made a refreshing change from the clatter of complicated medicine names and chemo procedures. And after the greyest, wettest, windiest winter I can remember, I’m hopefully driving away from the rain clouds into a sunnier climate, fifty miles away.

So it’s Yoga Nidra, conversations on spiritual life and exercises from sophrology and Druidry for me and visualisations to calm the mind. Mark had promised that he will keep well as he enters the seventh day after chemo when he becomes more vulnerable to infections due to low blood cell count. His wonderful sister Carole is replacing me and feeding him organic vegetables from her allotment.

A headline in The Times today says ‘Sudden weight loss a cancer indicator in the over sixties’.In January Mark lost the weight suggested by the doctor in his health check and I puzzled how he had done it. At the time he said he had cut down on the number of daily meals he was eating, but now we know the real reason.

Some of you may wonder what’s going on in exciting Seaford.

The beginning of April has seen busy times on Seaford beach. By 3rd April the huge shingle moving trucks have driven away leaving the stones to go back to play and crash about in the constant winds, waves and storms.

On April 2nd, groups of twitchers, birdwatchers or birders arrived. I Googled ‘What’s the difference between a birder and a twitcher?’ Answer – A birder or birdwatcher likes being outdoors and to watch all birds but twitchers prefer to track rare birds and add them to their lists.’

I don’t know whether Splash Point has birders or twitchers who arrive at dawn and sit under umbrellas holding large telescopes and scan the horizon for hours. As a group they are intent on writing tiny pencilled notes on sodden paper notepads and not keen to talk to me.

So what birds do they see?  I point out that the great yellow thing in front of their telescopes on the horizon is the Dieppe to Newhaven ferry but the pompoms on their hats sink lower as their heads drop onto their notepads and they hope I’ll go away.

Can you see the ferry?

My rain spotted glasses mean I can’t see anything but it seems there are plenty of Brent geese, Common Scoters, Red Throated Divers and Sandwich terns flying past. The birds need a wind from the south east which blows them up to the Arctic for their breeding season. I’ve found a blog by Matt Eade who keeps a tally of all the birds he sees each day so maybe I can make a new chum – as long as I don’t speak during birdwatching hours!

Can you see the ferry now?

 

Another group of visitors arrive along the Seaford seafront as busloads of students pile out onto the windy coast and shudder in the storms. Clutching clipboards and huddling together they are poorly dressed for their cliff climb and the horizontal rain which gets under the tightest tied hoodie. Sometimes poorly prepared teachers take their groups up the cliffs and let them perch on the chalk cliff edge, presumably unaware of the massive cliff falls during the autumn of 2017.

‘Where have you come from?’ I occasionally ask. ‘Oh very far away.’ ‘Where’s that then?’ ‘London’ is the usual reply.

It seems this Geography GCSE day trip is to investigate ‘How coastal processes create distinctive landscapes and the role of human interactions in altering this.’ They look at how to prevent Seaford from flooding and the impact of erosion of  the chalk cliffs. Our address will be Cliff Closer soon instead of Cliff Close.

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April 5th NHS help – don’t bother just live in La La land


From Mark

On April 2nd my sister Janet and husband Bryan arrived bearing a truly magnificent turkey pie. Enjoy it I did but bowel cancer is just that so this lover of fine food does now have a downside – multiple loo visits during night.

Same in hospital. Went.for 3rd.chemo yesterday. Blood test better so OK to proceed. Everyone else brings bags of food for their 3 hour session. One had a home made Madeira for his 10 hour blood transfusion. But I risk eating nothing rather than have to drag my pillar of poisons to the loo and back.

Janet made the receptionist’s day when she asked for help on crossword. He got Yakitori and was chuffed to know he’d done the Times crossword albeit the ‘easy’ one.

Third chemo went ahead and this time it’s the full dose meaning 6 more chemo tablets, size of pessaries but taken orally today and 6 more tomorrow.

From Jenny

Many thanks to Janet and Bryan for coming to stay and help share time with Mark. And thank you for taking him to the hospital for chemo – a task that I dread. The time on my own meant I could create a new, softer bed, without him telling me the old one was fine and get essential work done.

In the fifty two years that we have been together, Mark has always been so strong in body and will and busy with new schemes and help for others. When we moved to Lewes he immediately joined Southover Bonfire. As a Down from Londoner, he knew he had little time to prove his worth as a bonfire boy so set up the annual May Fayre which this year, its tenth is held on May 20th in Lewes Priory. Many other local initiatives were supported and in Seaford he gave his rum and gin tastings to raise funds for the Sailing Club as well as taking the safety boat out to sea during racing days.

Now his cancer has exhausted and debilitated his energies – as a friend said ‘Cancer is very selfish’

This is the poem that comes into my head this week – Dylan Thomas written for his father
‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Written for his dying father.

Becoming a carer

Last week in the middle of the night I joined the Macmillan Cancer Support Online Community. Eight weeks after diagnosis I identify as the carer and here is a Carer group for me on the site. What a wealth of stories and help is found on the website but I wonder if it was voyeuristic to read the postings. It is a private space where people share the raw issues of their lives and it has given me confidence to know that many postings echo my inner thoughts. There are so many posts, so many carers dealing with challenging health issues, and maybe finding support from a chat room. And so many like me that find the health system is broken and in the end the carer is left alone to cope.

How not to get grumpy when people say. ‘You need to think positively.’

What does that mean? Give me some clues when the oncologist’s letter says ‘palliative, terminal’ with big, medical cancer words for what lies ahead.

Some posts write about the helplessness of dealing with pain. And the frustration that medical services are closed at weekends. The four days of Easter have been especially long for me. Chat room responses show the expertise that carers have learnt. Drug treatment with opiates needs laxatives to take with them to help constipation – this is a serious issue for Mark with his blocked bowel.  But pain relief must be carefully managed – so it’s down to me again to find help. Google has become my doctor.

They unburden the stress and frustration when the patient gets sent home quickly after treatment to a bewildered and unprepared carer.

How the carer must look after themselves as they are the one left standing.

As the airline says – Put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else.

Carers need to keep an hour or so a day for themselves to have a nap, read a book, go for a walk, play on the computer – so thankyou to all who have stayed and visited and given support.

And carers will get by because we have to.

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March 31st Securicare Putting you first card


31/3/2018

Securicare Putting you first card

From Mark

Now I have a blue badge to park on double and single yellow lines so watch out as I’ll be in your way – although parking wardens fine you for any mistakes.

But I also have a Securicare Putting yourself first card which says ‘ I have a medical condition and anyone I present this card to must allow me immediate use of their toilet/’

I asked Annabel what she would do if I turned up on her doorstep in Tooting and presented her with this. ‘I’ve never heard of this and I don’t know what I’d do in London – there’s no picture on you. If you live on your own it’s a hard one/

Mark says ‘I’d be peeing on your doorstep while you check out the card on the internet.

Jenny says

The challenges of cancer move on apace and now we have to deal with toilet help.  I never imagined a disease would confront our dignity so furiously. It makes leaving the house to have a change of scene such a provocation and trial. The Securicare card may never be used. I can’t envisage turning up at any of your doorsteps to beg for Mark to be let in to use the loo.

As a child on our family holidays we roamed Britain in our rented dormobile for two weeks and went wherever the weather forecast was fine. My wonderful grandmother came with us, but she had a phobia of thunderstorms. My job as an eight year old was to knock on doors when the thunder and lightning were at their height and ask if my grandmother could sit under their stairs until the storm subsided. That now seems no different to me offering the Securicare card at doors today. If anyone else had a relative with these special needs, let me know.

My reward for this trauma was to stay in a bed and breakfast for the night with her – I also had to go in and check out the room. One night we stayed in Whitby and I remember sitting at the breakfast table overlooking the sea which had a large decorated blue china pot in pride of place. The owner said it was Captain Cook’s apprenticeship award. Can that be true?

 

So here is another idea for you inventive foodies. What would be your final meal? I’ve collated your final hour and many of you were eating – you can find the details on this link.

Mark’s final meal

Ceviche of tuna and other fish

Bavette steak with mushrooms, tomatoes, allumette potatoes and bearnaise sauce

Chimichurri sauce made by the Rose and Crown Fletching

Vanilla Angel Delight

Annabel

Sashimi

Katsu Curry and rice

Pavlova and summer fruit

Jenny

Modern version of prawn cocktail with kindly caught prawns

Skate wing – cooked by me in Normandy hand churned butter

Mashed potato and spinach, cream and rosemary as cooked in Simpson’s in the Strand

My grandmother’s bread and butter pudding made with white bread and sultanas.

 

So let us know your meals!

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March 28/3/2018 Wombles of Wimbledon


March 28/3/2018 Wombles of Wimbledon

From Mark

Last weekend was back to the Wombles of Wimbledon, so I’m sorry but busy in London this meant no email. Our flat was in great shape after the refurbishment so thanks to Jenny and Annabel – interior designers as well as great cooks. It was good to walk on the Common and see Sue and Axel, Lesley and Fiona. Jenny was able to pop out and see more of her London friends. Simon got together so many of the young men who we were privileged to entertain at so many Sunday lunches during their school years at King’s Wimbledon. You can see the picture of the magnificent young men.

Now we are back in Seaford and have met the oncologist with possible encouraging news. When we first met in early February she said I was dying. She now thinks there are signs that the cancer is being hit. But verdicts have to await next week’s blood test, which will hopefully allow me to receive a full chemo shot for the first time and then a CT or MRI scan to see the effects.

From Jenny

I’ve stopped reading journalist Melanie Reid’s pages in the Sunday Times magazine – she was paralysed in a riding accident five years ago. And I’ve stopped listening to most of the news.  Yesterday my challenge was to find humour during our visit to the oncologist. I’d spoken to an ‘O2 guru’ about my phone so who knows if funny things were out there to make me laugh.

As you enter Eastbourne Hospital there’s a huge sign.

‘Let’s get you home. Every day you spend in hospital when you don’t need to makes your recovery take longer. Your own bed is the best bed. A hospital is not a home. People Recover better at home.’

So essentially ….. Off and go home.

My humour did not stretch any further.

Kings students in Wimbledon

Let’s get you home!

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