Monday, 4 August 2014

The Family Holiday: A Rite of Passage for New Grandparents

When our twin boys were babies we were struggling for money and sanity; so our parents took us for a break  to North Wales. Their parents had done it for them when they needed it. This last week we passed on the same gift and had a week together in a beautiful Welsh cottage.

We are fairly new grandparents with a baby granddaughter and a five-years old grandson who came with his mum into our lives a few years ago.

Since our own sons became adults we've moved on a bit. We like our home when there's only us and the dogs in it. The funny thing is we've never really thought about how they live: that's their world and we only glimpse it when we help out. But being cheek by jowl with each other thrust their lives right in front of us in a way I wasn't quite ready for.

I'm a reasonable man, but how hard is it to move a nappy after you've changed it, or pick up the towels, or wash the baby's used bottle after a feed?

Then there' s breakfast.  I get up early, have a quiet breakfast with a fresh coffee and a read. So at 7.00 am when five-years-old Austin bowls into the kitchen full of fizz that by rights should have taken hours to build up I can be forgiven for it grating a little. Can't I?

'Grandad, do you know?...' He says. There follows a richly detailed description of which Power Ranger is best and why. Then the telly goes on - seriously, at that time in the morning!

Just as my umbrage is gathering steam and I'm building up to a righteously indignant but pointless inner  rant, another voice, one with an accusing tone, whispers unbidden in my ear:

'Have you really forgotten? Can you not remember how glad of the telly you were to occupy the boys when they were little? Can you not remember how grateful you were to your parents for that trip to Wales that you would otherwise not have had? Did you ever wonder how chaotic your own struggles to manage twin babies might have looked to other people?'

I had forgotten some things: how much fun cricket on the beach is, or splashing in the waves, or just listening to the innocence of children's chatter. So at 7.45 am each day I sat and watched Milkshake, and had it all explained to me in great detail. And it was great.
Arriving home at weekend it all seemed very quiet, or was it peaceful? I was exhausted but very happy to have been able to do it, and looking forward to when the grandkids have their next sleepover.  



Tuesday, 10 September 2013


In January 2007 I had my heel removed, realigned and reattached with a Titanium screw. It was encased in plaster and I was left with almost four months to discover what life was like for people who are housebound. My hospitalisation and encarcerationgave me a rich seam of experience that itched for want of someone to share my thoughts with. 

I started this blog and inadvertently, and by increments, became an avid user and consumer of a range of social media. 

Reading back over my posts now is like finding an old diary or sketch book. I smiled at memories of funny and interesting things that populated my life for the years I blogged regularly. Yes, years. My blogging continued well after my recovery, and actually for a while became part of my job. I wrote my boss's blog and advised others on blogging. 

The nature of social media is that it never rests - constantly churning and evolving to meet the changing whims of an audience addicted to easy fixes of information (or does that framing betray my getting older and ever so slightly out-of-touch?). I lost interest in my blog - it took time to craft a piece of writing and seconds to Tweet.

Social media is now an integral part of the communications industry, every business or organisation must be accessible by a range of channels. 

So where does that slick professionalisation leave my little blog? Does it matter that sometimes only half-a-dozen people read what I had written - was it worth all that effort?

Even now, years after I shared my various and sundry experiences, someone living 10 or 10, 000 miles away will occasionally pop a comment on one of my posts to say they had stumbled across it in a Google search and my experience resonated with their own. 

Hooray for the Internet that gives us the freedom to express ourselves, like any heart wrenching, hand written journal entry, yet allows each of us to reach out to, who knows where, and who knows who.

With possibly more time on my hands to come perhaps the time is right to reacquaint myself with Crofty's Blog. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sourdough at the Handmade Bakery

I don't mind admitting I'm a bread geek. Baking bread, for me, is far more than the simple combination of ingredients to form what, on the face of it, is a basic foodstuff

So you will understand why I was looking forward to my course with Dan and Johanna McTiernan at The Handmade Bakery in West Yorkshire. The course set out to dispel the myths that surround sourdough baking and that make it sound so difficult. If you've read my blog before you will know that sourdough is easy.

What I was hoping from the course was more about the pleasure of baking in a commercially run bakery with a really passionate expert. I wasn't disappointed.

Dan and Johanna weave practical baking craft with, what for me, is the heart of bread making, the social challenge of producing sustainable, local food. I couldn't help thinking though that in the case of our course he was preaching to the converted. Most of us arrived at Dan's back door because we already knew that his and Johanna's views resonated with our own. And yes, it was great to be among fellow geeks sharing pleasure in the deck ovens and the baking rotas on the walls, And it was great to ask bread-head questions and not be thought nerdy, but the challenge for all of us who feel this way about bread is to show people who probably would not usually access Dan's excellent courses that good food is a right, not a privilege.

The second challenge is to show people that they can afford really good bread by making it themselves - it's easy. 

I think though that our evangelising about real bread does not help. My colleagues sum it up when they say: 

'Crofty's bread's lovely, but I wish he wouldn't go on about it so much.' 

That then, is the answer. Let the bread do the talking. 

I heartily recommend anyone who is interested in bread to consider a course at The Handmade Bakery with Dan and Johanna - you will not be disappointed. If you do not want to become a bread geek like me, and aren't, for example,interested in where Dan got his ovens (a Greggs bakery, second hand, I loved his comment - 'it was like rescuing a battery hen'), you will come away with armfuls of absolutely delicious bread, and the means to make it for yourself.

Here's what I made. 

I made this!

If you want to know more about real bread and why it is important check the Real Bread Campaign website here. 

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sourdough - The (not so) Secret

Culturing sourdough is easy, so why does much of the advice about it sound like a cross between necromancy and alchemy?

Why does sourdough seem so difficult?

Most amateur bakers have their own bread-bible for guidance, mine is Andrew Whiteley's Bread Matters, Dan Leopard's True Loaf is another, the sourdough starter recipes are consistently simple, here's one:

Some organic wholemeal Rye Flour
Some water
Nature (or science if you prefer)

If you think I'm being flippant I apologise. In truth I struggled to get a starter going at first but the reasons were simple.

Let's go back to the recipe and consider each ingredient:

Organic wholemeal rye flour -sourdough relies on natural yeasts in the air and flour to give it life. Therefore the freer your flour is from artificial messing about the better chance you have of seeing some life from it.

Water - again the cleaner and purer the better, if your tap water doesn't have chlorine in it all the better (chlorine's there to kill bugs, we want to encourage them). Our water is chlorinated - it still works ok.

Nature (or science) - yeasts multiply best between 28-32 degrees centigrade (apparently).

This was where my error lay. Time after time I'd mix a gloopy slop and wait for bubbles to form, sniffing tentatively and hoping for that tell-tale fruity tang that let's you know the yeasty blighters are reproducing.

Again and again it either dried up or went mouldy.

I returned to bread- guru Whiteley's advice and it struck me: consistent temperature.

I set about searching for a consistently warm place, but with no hot water tank, drew a blank.

Then I had a eureka moment: this was very similar to brewing. I investigated a variety of brewer's heat pads, which all looked promising. Then I remembered my mum-in-law's arthritis. All that remained was to whip the fleecy heating pad from her feeble grip and we were set.

It works a treat.

What? Her arthritis?... Err...

Anyway I have had a sourdough going for months now. So long as I use it and refresh it once a week, replacing old with new each time, it delivers vigorous, bubbly life to my loaves every time.

(The only secret is to make sure the Moon is in Gemini when you start your culture; that and the naked goat-dance in the garden.)
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Stained Glass

The stained glass in our church was created by the renowned Brussels glass painter Carpronnier. Our church must have attracted some wealthy Victorian patrons - there is a wealth of high-quality art like this that we certainly couldn't afford today! The detail on these pictures is from three windows in the same triptych in the East wall depicting Christ carrying his cross, crucified and his body being removed.

I always wonder whose faces the artust chose for the figures. Would have been quite something to think your face would be gazed upon almost 150 years later. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow and the British Motorist - A Rant By Crofty

Click here to download:
car in snow (44 KB)

The thing I like about posting blog stuff by Posterous is that you can pretend you are simply sending an e-mail to a good friend, the sort of friend who wouldn't mind if you had a good old whine and, you know, let rip about something that was really getting on your tits.

Take, for instance the snow. This is not a snow-moan - there has been enough of those. My message to anyone who moans out loud about the snow is this: WE ALL HAVE THE SAME WHITE STUFF. IT BUGS THE SHIT OUT OF ALL OF US, NOW GET ON WITH LIFE DESPITE THE SNOW LIKE THE REST OF US.

That wasn't my rant.

My rant is about car drivers, sorry, that's not fair. Some of you (I include myself in this category) are quite good. You slow down or move aside for a pedestrian who, due to three feet of snow on the footpath, finds it safer to walk at the edge of the clearer road. No, this rant is about the rest of you idiots who seem to think that once you climb inside your metal cocoon you are only governed by the bits of the Highway Code you can remember from when you passed your test, probably thirty of forty years ago, oh except of course you didn't read the bit about pedestrians having right of way and being rather more vulnerable - due to their lack of a metal box protecting them.

These motorists seem to have separated their behaviour from things like 'good manners' or 'common decency' to a kind of arrogance that transcends gender, race, sexuality and binds them together in a one-worldliness based around a common value of behaving like an arsehole.

So, if you were the man whose wing mirror clipped me as I trudged wearily through the snow to work the other morning and thought that shouting at me in a loud voice questioning why I was walking in the road (duh!), and who I shamefacedly admit got the brunt of some rather ungentlemanly ripostes on my part, if you are that man, this is for you.
I appeal to the British public at large to seek new role models of motoring that are not modelled on Mr Toad in Tales Of The Riverbank and whose response to pedestrians was to bawl "Get out of my way!", or role models that don't aspire to the epitome of masculine arrogance Jeremy Clarkson who seems to be breeding arrogance of a scale that rides roughshod (or should that be drives in some sort of four wheel drive monster truck) over any semblance of an idea that the idea of the internal combustion engine doesn't equate somehow to a deity, preventing us from considering that life might, some day, actually continue without motor cars.

There now, that's better, thanks Posterous.

PS The superb image is from Flickr, here's the link:

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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Crofty's Message To The Nation on this Pointless Celebration

If you have read my blog before you may be familiar with my views on New Year. Each year on this date I publish my annual message to the nation setting out my views on the festivities. So here it is:

Try telling anyone, as they are liberally splashing Hugo Boss over their manly chest or donning a posh frock (not necessarily the same person you understand) that New Year is a stupid celebration and they look at you like you have just told them you are off to join a commune of some strange religious sect. Now that it's all over I will explain why I have never quite understood the need to draw an arbitrary line in the sand of time and call it a new year. For that is all it is: an administrative necessity to have a beginning and an end of the so called year. I understand why it is convenient to have one but why celebrate it?.. nothing changes.

At least Christmas, Eid or Divali have some sort of symbolism, even if you don't believe the in the spirituality that goes with them; but new year is a nothing. If we are going to celebrate it we might as well celebrate it in April when at least the accountants have something to be pleased about.

For many people this idea of taking stock of the previous twelve months and looking forward to the next is anathema. The time to take stock is when it is right for you. That is why so many new year resolutions fail: people are forced into resolving when their hearts are not in it. When you really want to do something do it; make a plan, find your motivation for achieving it and go for it. Away with this clap trap.

And by way of a cheery note on which to end; did you know that the early hours of new year morning are the most common time for suicide. Surprised? You shouldn't be when thousands of people who have had a shit year and another shit one to come are forced to reflect on the fact.

Happy New Year!

Now normally my grumpiness is tempered by watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny, there's something cheering about good music, a bit of a laugh and great music (and some good whisky), this year though my heart isn't in it. Why? Because a friend of mine was purchasing tickets for Hootenanny and, just before putting in his credit card details, he glanced over the details of his order. The date of the event was, wait for it, in November.

Not quite the same is it? So thanks Jools - wherever you are. Probably watching Hootenanny on his own wearing his slippers, reflecting on his deception of the nation. Sheesh.

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