Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Favourite Recipes - Dark Chunky Marmalade

The finished marmalade cooling outside. The small jars are for those who ask for some!

I love marmalade - the darker and richer the better - and eat it every day for breakfast with soughdough toast. But I have never tried to make it myself until this year. However this January, finding Seville oranges in my local greengrocer, Beccy's, I bought three pounds and posted my intentions on Facebook, looking to my friends for their best recipes. I received several, including one that required a pressure cooker and others that sounded pretty complicated.

In fact, I was given a jar of my sister-in-law's marmalade and thought it the best that I had tasted, and so in the end, decided to follow her recipe which she had from Delia Smith and which involves slow cooking over two days. This is it:

Dark Chunky Marmalade

The problem with modern marmalade-making is that today's hobs don't always oblige when it comes to getting large amounts of marmalade up to what old-fashioned cooks called a rolling boil, without which traditional marmalade stubbornly refuses to set. So when, in 1994, I tasted one of the best marmalades ever, I was thrilled to learn that the friend who had made it had cooked it long and slow – which solves the dilemma completely. Here is my version of Mary McDermot's original recipe, and it's the best I've ever tasted.

Makes seven 0.5 litre jars

This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection.

Dark Chunky Marmalade
 3 lb (1.35 kg) Seville oranges
 2 lemons
 6 lb (2.7 kg) granulated sugar
You will also need a preserving pan, a 15 inch (38 cm) piece of muslin or double gauze, a nylon sieve, some foil, seven 0.5 litre jars, and some small flat plates to test for setting point.


So for stage 1: lightly scrub the fruit then place it in the preserving pan, add 5 pints (3 litres) of water and bring it all up to a gentle simmer. Now take a large piece of double foil, place it over the top of the pan and fold the edges firmly over the rim. What needs to happen is for the fruit to very gently poach without any of the liquid evaporating. This initial simmering will take 3 hours. After this, remove the preserving pan from the heat and allow everything to get cool enough to handle. Then place a large colander over a bowl and, using a draining spoon, lift the fruit out of the liquid and into this. Now cut the oranges in half and scoop out all the inside flesh and pips as well, straight into a medium-sized saucepan. Next do the same with the lemons but discard the peel. Now add 1 pint (570 ml) of the poaching liquid to the fruit pulp, then place the saucepan over a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Have ready a large nylon sieve, lined with gauze, and place it over a bowl, then strain the contents of the saucepan through the sieve. Leave it all like this while it cools and drips through.While you are waiting for it to cool is a good time to deal with the orange peel. Cut the halves of peel into quarters then cut them into chunky strips – the thickness is up to you – according to how you like your marmalade. Add these back into the preserving pan. When the pulp is cool what you need to do next is gather up the corners of the muslin and twist it into a ball, then, using your hands, squeeze all of the pectin-rich juices into the preserving pan. Don't be faint-hearted here – squeeze like mad so that every last bit of stickiness is extracted and you're left only with the pithy membranes of the fruit, which you can now discard. When you have added the strained pectin, just leave all of this overnight, loosely covered with a clean teacloth.
Stage 2: the following day, empty the sugar into a large roasting tin lined with foil then place it in a warm oven, gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C), and allow it to warm gently for 10 minutes. Then place the preserving pan and its contents over a gentle heat and as soon as it starts to warm through tip the warmed sugar into the pan to join the rest. Now, using a large wooden spoon, stir the marmalade, keeping the heat gentle, until all the sugar crystals have fully dissolved. What you must not do is let the marmalade boil until all the sugar is completely dissolved. Keep looking at the back of the wooden spoon as you stir and when you are sure there are no more crystals left turn up the heat and let the marmalade bubble away gently – it can take 3-4 hours for it to darken and develop its lovely rich flavour.

When the marmalade has been cooking for 2½ hours place some small flat plates in the fridge. Then to test for a set, after 3 hours draw the pan from the heat and spoon a teaspoonful of marmalade on to a chilled plate. Allow it to cool for a minute back in the fridge, then push it with your little finger – if a crinkly skin forms, it has reached setting point. If not, continue cooking and do more testing at 15-minute intervals. When it has set, leave the marmalade to cool for 30 minutes before ladling through a funnel into jars that have been washed thoroughly in warm soapy water, rinsed and dried, then warmed in a medium oven. Seal the jars with waxed discs while they are still hot, then label the next day when cold. Then, as soon as possible, make Chunky Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding. It's utterly divine!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Inequality - A Growing Problem

Much is true in this article; I have watched pay inequality growing exponentially since the 1980's.  I began work in the City in 1967 on a salary of £1000 a year, when at that time an average CEO's (then called a managing director) salary was only five times as much - £5000 a year. By the early1980's, although then a partner, I was still only earning £25,000 a year. The big changes began in 1986 when 'Big Bang' allowed American financial institutions to buy up the City - the banks, insurance companies and stockbrokers - and soon introduce bonuses.

Bonuses built into one's employment contract were an anathema to old-established businesses and were regarded as immoral - both in the giving of them, as they were liable to twist a person's performance in a particular unintended direction - and the receiving of them. We would have felt insulted to be offered a bonus when we already worked as hard as we could.  In those days exceptional work could be rewarded by some one-off gift - such as the trip on the QEII to New York given to one of my colleagues who had done enormously valuable work on the removal of the wreck of the 'old' Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour after a fire.  And this is the only example that I can recall. Even now, my old firm avoids bonuses but has has a modest profit-sharing scheme. Furthermore the most senior executives are not paid a disproportionate amount more than those at entry level (probably a multiple of 10), despite the firm being one of the most successful and respected in the City.      

Monday, 12 January 2015

Annie May Spawton 1944 - 2014

Annie May

Annie May (nee Ommanney, later Thorpe and then Spawton) was born at the Anglo-Italian Hospital in Alexandria on 3rd April 1944. Her Italian-born mother Tita had followed her father to Egypt but they separated early. Tita then married Max, a naval officer, who became Annie's step-father and they lived for a while in Hong Hong and Malta. A step-sister, Frances ('Fanny'), followed in 1950.

Annie grew up in and around Droxford and went to Miss Etheridge's kindergarten school in the stables at Fir Hill House, then owned by the Hulberts, where she was the contemporary of Will Martin and Herry. She later claimed that she bit Will ('and everyone') but we only have fond memories of her in those early days. Her mother Tita was a formidable woman - among other things an Italian Olympic swimmer. She had a fiery disposition and she and Annie clashed from an early age. And it was not until Fanny was 15 that Annie took her aside and told her that she was her stepsister. In 1962, she attended Les Rosey School in Lausanne and later went to finishing school there. Needless to say, she spoke perfect French.

Because she moved around so much and because of her schooling abroad, she didn't join the active social life of the rest of us until later. We were rarely out of each other's houses and pursued a constant round of tennis parties in the summer and dances in the winter. But she attended the naval parties at HMS Dryad in Portsmouth and at one of them gave the previously gnawed-on Will his first kiss. Soon her attractiveness, vibrancy and wit made her irresistible and in her late teeens she became one of the gang. In those days though there was no 'pairing off'. As Annie later put it, we enjoyed 'rushing around in a heap' too much.

Annie apparently fully clothed on a li-lo in the pool at Stocks. Mervyn Archdall on the side

I remember driving around with Annie sitting on straw bales in the back of one of the farm vans, probably with Richard Courtauld (who Annie was rather keen on) and on other occasions, following her car though the lanes in my Mini with my lights off so that I could surprise her at the other end. We held dinner parties at Stocks that on one famous occasion began with carefully disguised vodka consommé (frozen so that the vodka was effectively tasteless) that degenerated more quickly than usual into games and helpless laughter. It might have been on that occasion that Nick Duke attempted a barrel roll out of the drawing room window and smashed it. And it was at Annie's wedding in 1969 that I first drank anything stronger than Coke and was found laughing helplessly and had to be taken home.

Annie married a submariner, Lt Stuart Thorpe, and moved  to Bishops Waltham, next to the Knollys' (Cmdr. Hugh and Curly and parents of Willow). Curly was an artist and became a close friend, while Hugh's attentions were less welcome.  The house became a magnet for parties while her artistic talents came to the fore and she painted and made things and wrote interesting plays. There were no children so Annie and Stu adopted Toby and Barney but soon divorced and Annie moved to Wales in 1979.

Annie painting children at Fuff's farm, Castell Howell in 1980

There Annie met Geoff Spawton and joined his farming life. They later married and moved to a farm at Cellan, near Lampeter and built it up into a thriving business. The house though was somewhat rustic, and it was with great pleasure that they heard that their neighbour, Hammond Innes, had left them his much more comfortable place when he died in 1998. This became a lovely home with a huge warm central hall and idiosyncratic touches like baths in bedrooms, and was a magnet for the farming community as well as the artistic and intellectual folk in the area.  Annie went back to school and studied classics at Lampeter University and then began teaching there as well as being a guest lecturer at Aberystwyth. She also undertook six years research into Women's Emplyment issue on behalf of the EU

Annie used to come to London a least once a year and gave lunches for her friends at at her club, the University Womens' Club in Mayfair, usually accompanied by her very well-behaved collie, Pansy. She loved cooking and entertaining and wrote a cook-book, 'Take a Sharp Knife'. 

In 2009, she and Geoff came to a party in Droxford which I organised for my family (she was my son Edward's godmother) following a Christmas and New Year spent in Ireland and as always lit up the room.  

Such was her energy and love of teaching that she started a young person's drama club - the Lampeter Youth Theatre (LYTss), that became enormously popular and successful.

Despite the demands of the theatre club, Annie was always very much involved with the farm and Geoff said that he never chose cattle at an auction without consulting her. She joined in the physical side of farm life with characteristic vigour and genuine love.   

A couple of her posts from Facebook capture her true farming spirit and love of nature: 

'That was very lucky! Had quite a chase through the snow to get the cattle into the box. Total white-out as we left grazing ground. The weight of the cattle box made steering very difficult. No shopping, of course, but home for tea and hot buttered toast absolutely, triumphantly, exhausted!'

'Been on the road feeding stock since after breakfast. It's heavenly out there! You can see the Brecon Beacons from the Mountain as if they we across the road not 40 miles away! And the air's like wine! Just footling on FB while I wait to change for dinner!'

Annie fell ill in March 2014 with stomach pains and was diagnosed with an ulcer.  It wasn't until May that the doctors found that she had peritoneal cancer and despite treatment, she died in December. Fortunately, before she began her treatment, she held her 70th birthday party at home on a glorious warm weekend at the end of August and despite being very uncomfortable, was on marvellous happy form. The photograph of her at the end of this piece was taken by Belin Martin at that time. 

Annie was interested in everybody and everything and looked for the best in everyone. She was also a wonderful listener. Consequently she always hugely interesting to talk to. Her step-daughter Laura - who spoke movingly at her funeral - said that she could always talk to her about anything. She was full of generosity and fun and there was always laughter wherever she was. Her death has left Geoff and her family and many friends deeply saddened but also with an inextinguishable memory of a bright and beautiful light. 

For more photos of Annie, click here


Friday, 9 January 2015

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary 2015

King John signing Magna Carta at Runnymede 15th June 2015
I have been enjoying Melvyn Bragg's discussions about Magna Carta, which was signed 800 years ago this year. Although most of its 63 clauses in Latin are irrelevant today, its key provision served to put the everyone in the land, including the monarch, under the law. Article 39 read:

'No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised [dispossessed] of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right'.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.

And still when Mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

Rudyard Kipling - 'The Reeds of Runnymede'

“Magna Carta is the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.” - Lord Denning

Monday, 5 January 2015

Favourite Poetry - The North Ship

I saw three ships go sailing by,
Over the sea, the lifting sea,
And the wind rose in the morning sky,
And one was rigged for a long journey.

The first ship turned towards the west,
Over the sea, the running sea,
And by the wind was all possessed
And carried to a rich country.

The second ship turned towards the east,
Over the sea, the quaking sea,
And the wind hunted it like a beast
To anchor in captivity.

The third ship drove towards the north,
Over the sea, the darkening sea,
But no breath of wind came forth,
And the decks shone frostily.

The northern sky rose high and black
Over the proud unfruitful sea,
East and west the ships came back
Happily or unhappily:

But the third went wide and far
Into an unforgiving sea
Under a fire-spilling star,
And it was rigged for a long journey.

Philip Larkin

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Stockbridge Christmas Shopping Evening

Stockbridge has a wonderful late-night Christmas shopping evening in December and this year's was even better organised and attended. The cold and drizzle failed to dampen spirits as the shops served mulled wine and prosecco, sausages and hot dogs while the the Christmas Tree lights were switched on by Alex Lewis. A carol service was held in St Peter's Church.

For more photos, click here

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Wellbeing of Women Christmas Fair at the Drapers' Hall 2014

The now annual Christmas Fair organised by Wellbeing of Women at the Drapers' Hall on 1st December was so well attended that at certain times numbers being allowed into the principal rooms had to be limited. The stalls were even more varied and interesting than in previous years and much early Christmas shopping was done. But the crowds made it more difficult to take photos so photos are limited.  

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Uncle Capt Michael Pugh, killed at Anzio near the end of WWII

A war poem written by Michael Pugh

The incredible installation of myriads of poppies at the Tower of London

See also War Memorials for some more memorable war poetry

Monday, 6 October 2014

Grave Threat to Stockbridge and Longstock from Developers

Latest News: The Test Valley Northern Planning Committee voted to refuse permission for this development at their meeting on 13th November 2014. A splendid result. 

Stockbridge High St. The site of the the proposed development is the green field above the trees at the far end of the street.
The representation of visual effect of the proposed building of 46 houses above Stockbridge and Longstock, as seen from the Down

Stockbridge and the linked village of Longstock lie in the Test River valley, in some of the most picturesque and unspoilt countryside in Hampshire. The town of Stockbridge has a long and interesting history, having developed from its Roman origins as a key causeway across the river into a thriving centre for fishing and country sports, and is particularly famed for its unusual range of independent shops, which flank the broad single street. At either end there is downland and open countryside, and on either side lie a fine grazing marsh and water meadows. 

For the past year the town has been under threat from plans for a completely inappropriate development initiated by a well-connected local councillor seeking personally to benefit from the sale of the proposed site. Apart from the fact that natural justice requires that councillors should not be able to benefit from large-scale development in areas they represent (and moreover should certainly not be allowed to insert clauses in contracts for the sale of their property purporting to prevent buyers from objecting to local planning proposals), the development itself is going to have a dramatic adverse visual impact on the town of Stockbridge and change its character forever. 

Currently the developers, David Wilson Homes, have resubmitted their plans for consideration by Test Valley Borough Council before any decision has been taken, as the result of initial fierce local opposition. However, the revised plans do nothing at all to change the basic objections, and have been soundly condemned by many, including the National Trust.  

The basic objections to the plans can be summarised as follows:

£  This urban style development is still far too large; it is not suited to its rural location and will only serve to encourage further inappropriate development in the countryside surrounding Stockbridge. 
*Contrary to Chap 7, Policy E1 & Policy E2 of the emerging TVBC Local Plan and Longstock & Stockbridge VDS.

£  In the revised plans David Wilson Homes (DWH) admit that the proposed development of 46 houses and flats will be visually intrusive in this area of open countryside.  The suggested tree planting will do little to address visibility, day or night.  The proposal will significantly change the appearance of the area and have no relationship with the established character and development pattern of the surrounding villages.  It will appear as a sporadic urban development that is out of character and context with this part of the Test Valley.  This site will permanently compromise and irrefutably erode this rural area, irrevocably damaging the character of Stockbridge. 
*Contrary to Chap 7, Policy E1 & Policy E2 of the emerging TVBC Local Plan, Longstock & Stockbridge VDS and Chap 11 & 12 of the NPPF.

£  The affordable housing offered in this development still does not meet actual need for all three parishes.  Current housing figures as at August 2014 show a total requirement for 35 properties;

1 Bed
2 Bed
3 Bed
4 Bed
Actual Need

It is clear that the affordable housing offered in this development will not be filled by people with a local connection to the three parishes, contrary principles of rural affordable housing.   These 18 affordable properties are simply being used to justify building 28 market value houses in undeveloped countryside outside of the defined settlement boundary. 
*Contrary Policy E2 and COM 8 of the emerging TVBC Local Plan and Para 7 and Chap 9 of NPPF.

£   The site is not sustainable.  There is limited employment in Stockbridge and the surrounding villages which will result in residents from this development commuting.  There is only a very limited bus service - no other public transport exists and roads are unsuitable for cyclists.  The site is too far away from the nearest towns to encourage walking.  This will result in an environmentally unacceptable increase in traffic through Stockbridge.  The economic benefits offered by this proposal are overstated and would duplicated if this development were placed anywhere within the Test valley.  Stockbridge cannot cope with such a significant increase in population, it will overwhelm existing infrastructure and result in an unacceptable reduction in service to its current residents. 
*Contrary to Chap 4 Para 4.1 of the emerging TVBC Local Plan, Para 7 and Chap 3 & 4 of NPPF.

£  The development site already experiences problems with rain water runoff which will be exacerbated once built upon.  DWH are using run off statistics collated in 2012 prior to last winter’s flooding**.  Siting a development of this size above a flood plain fails to safeguard existing residents from future flooding.   
*Contrary to Policy E7 of the emerging TVBC Local Plan and Chap 10 & 11 of NPPF.

The local planning officer hearing the case is Mr Jason Owen of Test Valley Borough Council. He can be contacted on or an online form exists for objection to be filed by 14th October