Sleep on it…

Humans, like all animals, need sleep to survive. For we humans, sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being. I am always amazed when I read that we spend up to one-third of our lives asleep!

Most of us know that getting a good night’s sleep is important, but too few of us actually make those eight or so hours tucked up in bed a priority. To make matters worse in today’s busy world, stimulants like coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, and external lights—including those from electronic devices—interfere with our ‘circadian rhythm’ or natural sleep/wake cycle. And then of course… there’s our old friend stress, perfect for inducing insomnia!

Anyone who has woken up at 3am, eyes wide and mind racing, knows how difficult it is to get back to sleep or, as affects many people, getting to sleep in the first place! I know when I’ve been going through stressful times, I tend to fall into the ‘middle of the night wake up’ category, which can be utterly exhausting.

There are, however, lots of things you can do to ease your passage into a restful sleep, so here are five suggestions you might find helpful.

Music
Small children invariably fall asleep to the sound of a lullaby and adults can do the same thing too. With modern technology, falling asleep to soothing tunes or the sounds of nature (I love the sound of waves on a beach) is not difficult to organise through smart phones or even a special pillow with built-in speakers!

Essential oils
I have written a lot about essential oils over the years, and they are really not to be under estimated. Chamomile, marjoram and, of course, lavender are all known to help relaxation. Sprinkle a few drops in a bath before bed (the post-bath drop in temperature is also sleep-inducing) or onto your pillow, I find lavender especially soothing.

Bed socks rule
If cold feet are keeping you awake—especially during the winter—warm them up with a soft pair of socks. The extra layer under the covers can help improve circulation in your extremities, which can help you fall asleep more quickly.

A good book!
I don’t know if my novels send people to sleep (probably!!) but reading, or listening to an audiobook is a great way to help you nod off.

Country air
Well actually, it can be country air or sea air for me, but the important thing is clean air and a bracing walk! I can guarantee it will make me feel tired in a really lovely wooly way… if you know what I mean!

 

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Giving it some welly!

When you live in the real countryside, ’sensible’ outdoor footwear is something of a necessity. True Devonians will always smile and say you can ‘spot the incomer’ a mile off by their inappropriate choices of heels, open toed or pale coloured shoes. You can buy all sorts of fancy boots but, at the end of the day, the wellington boot is the countryman’s footwear of choice!
WellyDrain

I shared this fun photo (right) on Facebook this week as it made me smile and think that Albert, the lead male in our Swaddlecombe Mysteries, would find this a good use of a leaking welly. In contrast, Victoria, our leading lady, would probably use a pair of old wellies as planters for some organic herbs…

So what’s the history of the wellington boot? How did this rubberised footwear come into being? The wellington boot is associated with Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). The Iron Duke, as he was known, instructed his shoemaker, George Hoby to modify his hessian 18th-century boot and make it out of calfskin leather.

WellyMontageWellingtons first appeared in 1817 and proved popular with the troops because they were hard wearing for battle, yet comfortable for evening wear. The boot leather was treated with wax to make them softer and more waterproof. The new boots became a very popular fashion accessory for gentlemen. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men throughout the 1840s.

American, Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), who invented a vulcanisation process for rubber, began making rubber boots. Hiram Hutchinson saw the potential for agricultural workers in France and bought the patent from Goodyear in 1852. The new waterproof boots were quick to become established and sold well within the large rural population. Amazingly, by 1857 the company were hand–making 14,000 pairs of boots per day!

Fellow American, Henry Lee Norris, moved to Edinburgh and started producing rubber wellington boots in 1856. Norris believed Scotland was a good place to manufacture wellingtons because of the country’s high rainfall – good decision! He founded the British Rubber Company and four former boot–makers from New York trained the Scottish workforce The company went into production first making rubber shoes and boots and then quickly expanding to produce an extensive range of rubber products, included tyres, golf balls and hot water bottles.

Come the outbreak of the First World War (1914- 1918) the trench war ensured high production of rubber boots and again, in the Second World War, the armed forces used vast quantities of rubber wellington boots.

And so to today, when the Wellington boot has gone full circle and become highly fashionable again. When I was a child, wearing wellies was deemed very boring. They were always plain black and not very comfy and you would go out of your way to avoid wearing them. Now, when we are so sophisticated with technology coming out of our ears, I find it amusing that something as simple as old-fashioned as a boot made out of rubber is so much in demand. You can have them in various designs and in any colour and, if you choose green ones, you can even spend a fortune on them!

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Children’s books – expanding imagination!

As an every-so-slightly doting grannie, I was very interested to read a recent BBC radio poll about which books most adults say every child should read. At the moment I read my granddaughter Grace Winnie the Pooh (the original, not the Disney version) and a lot of Spot the Dog books and ‘noisy’ books that have buttons to press that make different noises! She is not yet three, but I am already planning her future reading, so was interested to see what the top picks were in the poll…

… and it’s no surprise really that the poll suggested 26% of British adults think Harry Potter is the book they think every child should read, closely followed by Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Top10BooksThe top ten list looks like this:

  • Harry Potter
  • The BFG
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Famous Five
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Gruffalo
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Bible

When people were asked why they chose any particular book, the most common answer was because it ‘expands imagination’, followed by the desire to pass on the pleasure they themselves got from reading it. Couldn’t agree more! Books are so wonderful to lose yourself in, whatever your age.

The top choices of books varied across the generations with Harry Potter (35%) and ‘The BFG’ (31%) the runaway favourites among 18-34-year-olds.

However, ‘The Famous Five’ (26%) and ‘The Wind and the Willows’ (25%) are the most common recommendations for those aged 55 plus – ahem, I think that’s me then! I adored ‘The Famous Five’ series and owned every one, and ‘The Wind and the Willows’ had me enchanted, and I still love it today.

To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen because it provides lessons about the world and because it helps to develop good moral character. It wasn’t a book I particularly enjoyed… but each to their own!

The poll showed that for the most part, choices are evenly split between the genders – however, The Famous Five is a more popular recommendation among women (22%) than men (15%), while The Lord of the Rings is more likely to be recommended by men (20%) than women (9%).

I was also thrilled to see that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was listed. I wrote a blog about it in 2015 when it was the 150th anniversary of its publication and, since it was first published, it has never been out of print. It is the most fascinating story, simple and also complex, however you want to read it and a book that most certainly expands imagination.

What were your favourite childhood reads? And what did you read to your children or grandchildren? I’d love to hear!

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Easter time

So it’s Easter time again… But it’s a different date to last year. So why is it that the date of Easter can vary by up to a month? The problem is that Easter is one of the festivals that tries to harmonise the solar and lunar calendars. As a general rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday, following the first full moon after 21 March. But not always…

The problem comes because a solar year (the length of time it takes the earth to move round the sun) is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds whereas a lunar year is 354.37 days. Calculating one against another is seriously complicated! There are literally dozens of permutations that are way beyond me to explain, but take my word for it – it’s complicated!

Having got the peculiarities of the date out of the way, what about the various traditions we associate with Easter? Two of the most popular are the Easter egg and the good old Easter Bunny!

A lot of us may chomp on chocolate eggs at Easter but originally eating eggs was not allowed by the church during the week leading up to Easter, known as Holy Week. Any eggs laid that week were saved and decorated to make them ‘Holy Week eggs’ that were then given to children as gifts.

The first chocolate eggs appeared in France and Germany in the 19th century but were bitter and hard. As chocolate-making techniques improved, hollow eggs like the ones we have today, were developed. Unsurprisingly, they very quickly became popular and remain so!

As with so many ‘traditions’ that we hold dear today, we only need to go back as far as the Victorians to establish how the Easter egg as a decorated gift developed. They adapted the traditional egg and, with their customary lavishness, created satin covered cardboard eggs filled with Easter gifts.

So finally, where does that fluffy little character the Easter Bunny fit in? The story of the Easter Bunny is thought to have become popular in the 19th century. Rabbits usually give birth to a big litter of babies, or kittens, so they became a symbol of new life. Legend has it that the terribly industrious Easter bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs as they are also a symbol of new life. But she doesn’t do all the work alone though – in Switzerland, Easter eggs are delivered by a cuckoo, and by a fox in parts of Germany.

Happy Easter to one and all – and don’t eat too much chocolate!

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Malted Chocolate Cake

We decided we needed to celebrate the ongoing success of our latest Swaddlecombe Mystery novel ‘ A Fowl Murder’… and what better way to celebrate than with a cup of tea and homemade chocolate cake!

The recipe is by Mary Berry from her ‘Absolute Favourites’ cook book ­ – an excellent buy by the way!

Cake Ingredients

  • 30g (1oz) malted chocolate drink powder
  • 30g (1oz) cocoa powder
  • 225g (8oz) butter softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 225g (8oz) self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs

Icing Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp malted chocolate drink powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons hot milk
  • 125g (4 ½ oz) butter, softened
  • 250g (9oz) icing sugar
  • 50g (2oz) dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 20+ Maltesers to decorate

Method

You will need 2 20cm (8 inch) round sandwich tins. Preheat oven to 180c/160 fan/Gas 4 and grease the tins with butter and line the bases with baking paper.

Measure the malted chocolate drink powder and cocoa powder into a large bowl, pour over 2 tablespoons of water and mix to a paste. Add the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth.

Divide evenly between the prepared tins and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Set aside in the tins to cool for 5 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, measure the malted chocolate drink powder into a bow, add the hot milk and mix until smooth. Add the butter, icing sugar and melted chocolate and mix again until smooth, then add the boiling water to  give a gloss to the icing.

Place one cake on a plate and spread over half the icing. Sandwich with the other cake and spread (or pipe) the remaining icing on top using the tip of a rounded palette knife to create a swirled effect from the centre to the edge of the cake. Arrange the Maltesers over the top.

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