Sunday, 4 April 2021

A Candy Conundrum


Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

A Candy Conundrum

Relationship matters


On Halloween, the subject of candy, or sweets, as some of us would call them, cannot be avoided. Advertisements everywhere, reminders to buy treats, even though trick or treating has been ruled out due to the risk of spreading Covid-19. I set up a treasure hunt indoors for my granddaughter, searching out mini packets of candy under beds and behind doors. It was fun for a little while and helped to give the day a Halloween feel.

But that is not what this story is really about. What I am going to describe is a serious issue that affects the enjoyment of candy, impacting on relationships. At least I am assuming that there are many couples out there who have this same problem. In the grand scheme of things it might seem relatively minor, but believe me, it is only minor if you are not afflicted by it.

Here is how it begins. Early in your relationship, it feels good to go to the cinema, and just before you take up your seats, you probably buy some candy or popcorn. If you only buy popcorn, then you can avoid this little problem. If you choose  soft candy, everything will be alright also. It is the hard candy, the boiled sweets, the pear drops, bulls-eyes, the gob stoppers and any other variety in this category that cause the problem. You buy a bagful to share, because sharing brings you closer and dating is all about sharing.

You have already had the discussion about which candies you like best, and probably compromised a little on the varieties, so that every type you bought  you are happy to share. You sit down and the film starts. He passes the bag over to you and you choose one, pop it in your mouth and start to roll it about your tongue, sucking it slowly to get the full benefit of the flavour.

He takes one from the bag, pops it in his mouth and immediately crunches it up and it is gone! He takes another, but of course since you are still sucking your candy slowly, you are no way ready for another one. His second candy is smashed to smithereens in his mouth in no time at all. Before long, he has consumed more than half the candies and you have only had two or three. In addition, you find the crunching noises really quite irritating, making it hard to concentrate on the dramatic bits of the film.

Well friends, let me tell you, there is no satisfactory solution to this problem if you want to continue to share your bag of candy. You will simply have to accept that he is a cruncher and you are a sucker because he certainly won’t change, and why should you?

My suggestion on how to overcome this relationship incompatibility is to choose chocolate instead. Even crunchers become seduced by the smooth, velvety texture of chocolate. They may consume a little more than you, as they unthinkingly chew the first one or two, but don’t despair, he will soon settle to a more leisurely eating pattern as the endorphins begin to circulate in his bloodstream. The result will be a much more mellow partner, no unpleasant mouth noises to disturb your pleasure in watching the film and a much more equal distribution of your chosen candies.

Previously published in Medium

Taste from my childhood


Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Brown soda bread

I grew up in Dublin and brown soda bread was a staple part of our diet. Every few days my mother would bake a loaf and the house would be filled with the smell of delicious bread. No need for yeast, or time consuming pounding of the dough, the ingredients could be put together in an instant. Warm from the oven, spread with butter and home made marmalade, there was nothing better for breakfast.

Lunchtime it would be brought out again to eat with soup or a slice of strong cheese. Later, with a cup of tea, it went down well with some tangy raspberry jam.

Now if you would like to make it, there are two vital ingredients which are required, both of which may be difficult to source, depending on where you live. The first is buttermilk. Available in most grocery stores in Ireland, but hardly ever seen in the shops of mainland Britain. The second item required is coarse ground whole meal flour. Most of the commercially available flours are too finely milled, and though it is possible to make a white soda bread, it is the nutty flavour of the brown flour that gives it its signature taste.

Provided you can get all the ingredients, here is how to make this wonderful bread. This is the original recipe and the measurements are in Imperial measure.


12oz whole meal flour
6oz plain flour

1 pint of buttermilk

2 heaped tsp of baking soda

1 level tsp salt

1 level tsp sugar

Method: Heat oven to Gas Mark 6, or 220degrees. Sieve the flour and soda into a bowl with the whole meal flour. Add salt and sugar. Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon. Mixture will be quite wet. Add a little ordinary milk if it is too thick. Pour mixture into a greased deep tin. Mark the top and sprinkle a little flour over. Place in the oven and turn it down to 190 degrees. Leave for 35 minutes. Turn off the oven, place the bread back in the oven upside down to firm up the bottom of the loaf. It is done when the loaf sounds hollow as you tap it.

As there is no yeast in this bake, it doesn’t cause the excess gas and bloating that commercial bread may do.  It provides a good source of fibre, and even if it gets a bit dry, makes very nice toast.

What did you eat as a child? Have you got some recipes which have been handed down through the generations? Let’s share them together.

Previously published on Medium.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Book Review The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal


This is a hugely atmospheric book set in London in 1850. It reeks of gothic undertones, poverty and social class delineation. The characters are memorable and full of colour.

The female protagonist, Iris, moves from abject poverty to a life of relative luxury by becoming an artist’s model, even though the impact of this on her status in society brings mixed reactions.  She learns to paint and finds herself thrown into the esoteric world of the Pre- Raphaelite painters.

On so many levels, this is a good read. There is much that is factual and true to the period and the novice to historical fiction will be drawn in and wanting to find out more.  There is a love story with a strong female character who does not hesitate to explore her sexuality. There is a dark subplot involving stalking and kidnap which is chilling.

My only disappointment was the ending which seemed to lose impact, but perhaps there is another episode to appear in the future?

 I have no hesitation in recommending this book and I am just sorry that I missed it as a serialized book at bedtime on BBC radio 4.


Saturday, 4 July 2020

The Personality of Smell

The Personality of Smell

Imagine for a moment that you have been asked about the personality and colour of smell in a job interview. What would you talk about? It is known that some people visualise colours when they smell certain scents, and this is apparently more common in artists. Perhaps it is possible to train the brain to recognise scents from other sensations.

Let's keep it simple and focus on a few specific scents and describe visual characteristics and memory prompts.

Coffee is the first. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, or coffee beans roasting in an oven must be familiar to everyone. Coffee is exotic and exuberant, dancing in the streets of Rio de Janeiro clothed in bright coloured feathers, attracting crowds. No shrinking violet is coffee. In your face, loving media attention, alert, head turningly attractive, ready for anything. That is the personality of coffee.

Somewhat gentler is the scent of lemon. Soft downy day old chicks, pale yellow baby shawls, flowers imitate the colour beautifully. A confused fruit that looks so very inviting but the juicy flesh is bitter like an unmarried aunt. Memories of walking in Mediterranean fields with crushed thyme and mint triggering lemon like whiffs, but never quite succeeding. Tall, thin and acerbic, a bit stand offish, an observer rather than a game player. That is the personality of lemon.

And now for garlic. Garlic is a bumbling Pickwickian character, with black greasy hair sleeked back with Brylcreem, a waddling gait and a sweaty handshake. He is a seedy vacuum cleaner salesman who wheedles his way into your home and leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. On the positive side, he loves entertaining and having his large family around for spectacular Italian dinners al fresco. He never bothers the very young or very elderly and is indulged by many for his good nature and loyalty. A colourful character who may burst into song with a glass of red wine in his hand.

The scent of rose is altogether different. Overpoweringly seductive, she is approaching middle age, her face heavily made up. Her hair is bleached blonde and bouffant style, maintained with strong hold hair spray. Her ample bosom straining to be free of her expensive French lingerie, she walks with a flick of the hips which openly states her availability. Beware young men, she might tempt you into dangerous ways!  When seen strolling down the High Street, men doff their caps to her hiding a hint of a smirk, while women indignantly rustle their skirts and turn the other way.

Now have I got you thinking about personalities and smell? Where will your imagination lead you? Your turn to try. Your interviewers will be impressed.

#smell  #creativewriting #food #flowers 

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Why write?

Why write?

Why do people write? There are many different answers to this question, but the theme that runs through all the answers is because it gives pleasure to the writer. Not everyone will be lucky enough to earn money from their writing, and dare I say it, this is not actually as important as you might think. The personal benefits from writing are what counts, at least initially.

When you speak, your words disappear into the air, and unless someone records your speech, they may never be recalled accurately. When you write, on the other hand, you are making a permanent or semi-permanent record of your words. When you do this, you are bringing together different strands from your upbringing, education, culture and genetics. Everything you write is entirely individual to you. No-one else has ever written identical words. You are making a unique statement.

In this way you are expanding your personality into new areas of consciousness, you are putting out feelers into the complex and fascinating world of language. Every word that you learn, whether in your mother tongue or in a foreign language will enrich your vocabulary . New sounds, new meanings, connections  between languages, dialects, regional variants of speech – all these things will come together to increase your depth of knowledge and influence what you write.

And the best part of all this? You only need a pen and a notebook to get started. What a great excuse to go out and buy some lovely new stationery.

But there is more.

There are subtle changes that will begin to happen when you start writing.
First of all, you will start to become more observant. You will notice birdsong, conversations in a café, the colours of the sky, the words of songs. Things around you will start to prompt you into writing. You will wake up in the morning with your brain buzzing with ideas. You will get more in touch with your own world.

Secondly, you will start to read things differently. You will become aware of the plot and the way the characters are described in a novel that you are reading. You will start to be able to critically analyse others writings.

And finally, you will begin to learn things about yourself and new coping strategies. Stories from your childhood will reappear in technicolour detail, conversations you thought you had forgotten burst back into your memory . You will be able to immerse yourself into fantasy when real life becomes a bit too serious. Colourful characters will march across your consciousness. You can legitimately peer into their lives, move them about puppet like into imagined situations, and all from the comfort of your very own arm chair.

Next time I will talk about how you can incorporate writing into your life, even if you have never attempted to put pen to paper since you left school or college.

#creativewriting  #startwriting  #becreative 

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Book Review. All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve

Essentially a love story, Nicholas becomes besotted with Etna and determines to marry her. He cannot understand her initial reluctance, but his persistence pays off. However, Etna remains somewhat distant and unemotional. It is not until the end of the novel that the reasons for her unhappiness unravel.

Set in New Hampshire in the late 1800s, the description of the characters and their small town life is realistic and enduring. The limitations of society and lack of opportunity drive the characters into circumstances which seem immutable. The deep unhappiness of Etna contrasting with the obsessive love displayed by Nicholas makes for disturbing reading. The reader’s sympathies are split between the two.

This is a book that will remain in my memory as a skilled depiction of an unequal and unsatisfactory relationship. There is a sadness that seeps through the narrative that does not leave the reader easily.


Saturday, 11 April 2020

Book Review Circe

Circe by Madeline Miller

This book gives the reader a fast paced trip through Greek mythology. The heroine, Circe, is depicted as an awkward child, not endowed with beauty, desperately craving affection in her early years. 

Unaware of her powers at first, she grows into a strong willed, independent young woman, not afraid to challenge long existing traditions. Her punishment for stepping outside the boundaries is to be in lifelong isolation on a far off island. Here, she develops her powers by learning about the plants and herbs which grow around her, producing powerful potions and manipulating her world.

Encounters with human love, power intrigues, witchcraft and monsters keep the reader enthralled. This is a rewriting of myths from a feminist point of view with a freshness that draws the reader in.  Young readers will enjoy the magical world while admiring the stoic persistence of a woman against adversity.

My only disappointment was the ending. This was somewhat predictable and a little flat after the extraordinary encounters throughout the novel. However, I believe many readers will now be stimulated to dip into the Greek mythologies to learn more as a result of reading this book.