Friday 8th November 2019 would have been my lovely mum’s 97th birthday. Sadly the ‘old girl’* only made it to 93, after suffering a major stroke in December 2015, she died peacefully 6th February 2016 with her family by her bedside. Mum may be gone but she’s certainly not forgotten.

Traditionally at this time of the year we’d travel to Manchester, or mum would come and stay with us, and we’d take her out for a special birthday meal. And the fact that she’s no longer with us I don’t see any reason to stop the tradition.

The first two birthdays without mum have been spent in London with my daughters, an opportunity for the three of us to spend some quality time together, eat great food and raise a glass or two, or three to a much loved and much missed woman.

As I was in London last weekend and the girls were working I decided to stay more local and go with Him indoors instead. After much deliberating and consulting our trusty bible, Waitrose’s Good Food Guide (WGFG), we chose the Michelin one star pub The Blackbird.

waitrose GFG 2019

The blurb in the book says: Amid the secluded mansions, streams and fields of pastoral Berkshire, with Donnington not far off, the hamlet of Bagnor is home to Dom Robinson’s red-brick, half whitewashed country inn. Old-fashioned pub furniture and crockery, not to mention the odd doily, make a refreshing change from the pared-back look, and the service takes a relatively formal tone.

A quick browse at their website and although I was intrigued by the quirkiness of the old fashioned set up, if truth be told it was really the Chocolate marquise with black cherries & Disaronno dessert that sealed the deal. Any chef that combines chocolate, black cherries and Amaretto will get me banging down their door!

In the short time it took us to drive there (about 20 minutes) the sun decided to show its face and the WGFG description was spot on, a picture postcard scene if ever there was one.

As we pulled into the car park the whole Blackbird team were gathered around the entrance. Now that’s what I call a warm welcome! No they weren’t putting the flags out in honour of the ‘old girls’ birthday but were posing for a team photo to celebrate retaining the much-coveted Michelin star. As the ‘photographer’ was part of the team but wasn’t sure how to set the timer Mark stepped in to help.





The interior was far less stuffy than I was expecting with a mix of old fashioned and modern artwork on display, including an interesting photo of American servicemen who’d been based in the area during the second World War and a wall of plates with scenes from around the world.


When we arrived we were the only ones there and the staff were very friendly and attentive, much less formal than we were expecting given the book said ‘… relatively formal tone.

And so to lunch…

The original plan was to stick with the three-course Menu du jour for £29 (2 courses £24) but as my ‘dessert of dreams’ was on the A-la carte menu I went off plan, way off plan! Well it was my mum’s birthday.

I chose:

  • Twice baked souffle of aged Comte with Calvados sauce, apple & walnuts (A-la carte)
  • Roast rump of lamb and glazed sweetbread with pommes Anna & young vegetables (Menu du jour)
  • Chocolate marquise with black cherries & Disaronno dessert (A-la carte)

Mark chose:

  • Pumpkin soup with aged Gouda on toast & wild mushrooms (v) (MDJ)
  • Poached fillet of plaice with creamed leeks, Jersey royals & sauce Veronique (MDJ)
  • Prunes in armagnac sundae 

The meal was kicked off with a delicious wedge of treacle rich soda bread and ended with coffee. All courses were tasty but we both agreed the pumpkin soup and chocolate dessert were our favourites with the cheese soufflé coming a close second.

The wine list is reasonably priced and you can order by the glass. I enjoyed the Albarino from Spain with the soufflé and the Argentinian Malbec with the lamb.

If you’re tempted to give The Blackbird a try I’d recommend booking as we could only get a 12.30 sitting and although we were the only ones there at that time by 1pm the pub was full. You may also want to be aware that 12% is added to the bill at the end.

A thoroughly lovely afternoon remembering a wonderful woman by enjoying good food, good wine and great company. I think she’d approve.

I’d like to end this post with a poem.

Happy birthday mum and thank you for keeping me dry for 52 years. xx


Oh and in case anyone thinks I’m being disrespectful to my mum, *old girl was an affectionate name and a joke we shared. Despite her advancing years she didn’t consider herself old. She would often say when out shopping “I’m not wearing that, that’s what old people wear.” 


The Independent on Sunday says Me Before You is ‘A novel that demands an afternoon on the sofa with a fistful of tissues.’ Well thanks to a bad cold that’s exactly how I came to find myself reading it, only instead of a fistful of tissues it was a whole Andrex toilet roll. Classy I know. And unfortunately for my now very sore nose, it wasn’t the quilted type!

Lou Clark is 26 and lives at home in a four bed semi with her working class parents, her granddad, younger sister Treena and her five year old nephew Thomas. She’s been going out with her fitness fanatic boyfriend Patrick for five years and enjoys working in the local café The Buttered Bun. She knows how many steps, 158 to be exact, there are between the bus stop and home. Her life is simple, dull but simple.

Out of the blue Lou is made redundant from the café where she works and, as money is tight and her dad is constantly under threat of being made redundant, she’s forced to take a temporary job for a maximum of six months as a carer to a young male quadriplegic. Once confirmed there’s no bottom wiping involved Lou reluctantly agrees to take it.

Before the accident, Will Traynor was a high flier in the city but now he’s confined to a wheelchair and requires twenty-four-hour care, mostly by trained nurse Nathan. Lou has been hired to mainly keep him company and help him with food and drink and generally see he comes to no harm.

Will is trapped in a wheelchair unable to enjoy the full and energetic life he had before the accident nearly two years ago. Lou is also trapped. Living at home with her wonderful but slightly mad family, she’s the butt of everyone’s jokes and forever in the shadow of her younger more intelligent sister. She occasionally escapes to The Kings Head with boyfriend Patrick for the Hailsbury Triathlon Terrors meetings where they all sip mineral water or check the sweetener ratios of their Diet Cokes while discussing their latest running times. Personally I’d have spiked Patrick’s high energy drink with laxatives to help him along the way to achieving a new personal best!

Will is upper class and ignores Lou most of the time or when he does acknowledge her he’s rude and obnoxious. As the job is slightly more appealing than working in the chicken processing factory and the family need her wages, Lou decides to make the best of a bad situation and stick it out for the six months.

Until that is, she overhears Will’s mother Camilla and sister Georgina arguing about his plans for the future. In less than six months time Will has an appointment booked with Dignitas, a Swiss assisted-dying group that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses to die, assisted by qualified doctors and nurses.

Horrified to find out the real reason why her job is only temporary Lou leaves. But after being persuaded by Camilla to return and try and convince Will that his life is worth living she returns with a plan.

My favourite scene was when Will comes to the house to share in Lou’s birthday celebrations.
The relationship between the various family members in this scene is both poignant and witty and the tension between Patrick and Will is portrayed beautifully by Moyes.

Me Before You is a book that made me laugh out loud one minute and shed a tear the next. It’s a thought provoking book that will make you think, what you would do if it were your son, daughter, husband or wife.

Oh and please don’t be put off by the God awful cover. I’d never normally look twice at a book that cries out Chicklit but after watching the author (who I follow on Twitter) being interviewed by the doyens of the book world, Richard and Judy, it sounded interesting and I thought I’d give it a go. And I’m glad I did.

Me Before You is the first book by Jojo Moyes I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Silent Sunday

No words needed! For more Silent Sunday Christmas posts click on the image below.

Silent Sunday.

Merry Christmas everyone. For lots more festive photos click on the image below.

Silent Sunday.

Love is… like an onion

A poem by Carol Ann Duffy sums up what LOVE is … it’s not the red roses, the scribbled love notes or other such sentiments but something much more simple.

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Love is … still going strong 25 years on. Something I am immensely proud of.

This the last Gallery prompt from Sticky Fingers for 2010. Before you pop over to see how others have interpreted the Love is theme let me wish you all a happy Christmas and hope 2011 is filled with LOVE, HEALTH & HAPPINESS. xx

Home for Christmas

Twelve years ago today, I sat by a hospital bed, holding my mum’s hand, as my dad passed away. I use the term ‘passed away’ because that’s exactly what he did. He had been unconscious for three days and with his family watching and waiting, he took his last breath and left us.

Dad hadn’t been well for some months, like many men of his age (82) he had problems with his ‘plumbing’ (quite ironic after the week I’ve just had).

For the last few years or so, every six months dad went into hospital for an overnight stay to have his pipes unblocked. He was waiting for his usual hospital appointment to come through. The doctors kept fobbing him off and telling him to be patient.

The appointment he had been waiting for never came.

Mum phoned me on the Saturday to say dad had finally been taken into hospital. For the last few weeks, she had been trying to get him to create a fuss with the doctors to bring his appointment forward, as it was now well overdue. But that wasn’t his style he would ‘sit it out’ and wait. I asked mum if she wanted me to come home. She said there was no need, now he’s in hospital they’ll do what they need to do and he’ll be back home in plenty of time for Christmas.

Sunday night the call came to say it was too late. The doctors couldn’t do anything more, if he had gone in sooner they could have fixed it. Basically, the waste he hadn’t been able to get rid of had slowly poisoned him.

I caught the next train up to Manchester and went straight to the hospital to be with mum. Yes it was my dad who was dying but it was mum who I wanted to be there for.

Dad was 49 when I came along, an unexpected fifth child. Not the menopause after all!

He was a strict Roman Catholic who went to church every Sunday, with his family tagging along. We had no choice. Eventually, in my late teens, I plucked up the courage to say that I wasn’t going to spend another Sunday sitting in a cold building listening to rubbish. I waited for lightning to strike. It never came.

Dad’s parents were strict Catholics and so religion had always been an important part of his life. Often more important than his family. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t go to church. When he retired, aged 65, he went every day. I think this was to give him some kind of routine and structure to his day. But we joked it was an insurance policy to ensure he got the ‘best seat in the house’, when the time came.

Everyday, as long as I can remember, dad wore a shirt and tie, even at weekends and holidays. I can recall a family day out to Blackpool with him sat on the beach, shirt and tie tightly fastened and a flat cap to stop him burning his head.

In his youth, he was tall and slim and I’m told a bit of a ‘looker’. He met mum when they were both in the army, serving King and country. They married in December 1945 and were together for 53 years.

Dad smoked since being a teenager. His fingers were stained the colour of English mustard. He would easily smoke his way through 60 Senior Service a day.

To me, dad was this person who sat in the other room reading the Daily Express or Manchester Evening News, puffing away, while the rest of the family, well, were being a family.

Every night his dinner was ready for him as he walked in the door, even though my mum also worked. I suspect this was how life had been for his father too.

He taught both my brother and I to swim and had us reciting our times tables every night before going to bed. He would get so frustrated with the fact that we both didn’t ‘get’ maths. But most Friday’s he would present us with a bag of sweets from the newsagents where he bought his daily paper. We always looked forward to Fridays. When I smell the scent of parma violets, or chew on a drumstick lolly, I’m 10 again.

Dad never raised his hands to me, or any of us as far as I’m aware. But he also never wrapped them around me. I never heard him swear and he very rarely raised his voice. Although he went out for a drink most nights, I never saw him drunk. I also never saw him let his hair down or have fun. He was from the old school of fatherhood – he provided for us. He wasn’t a coldhearted man, he just found it incredibly difficult to express his feelings. But I know he loved us in his own way.

The last time I saw him was the October before he died. We were visiting in the half term holidays because my mum’s birthday is in November and so it was an early birthday/Christmas visit. I noticed he was quieter and less cantankerous than usual.

By now, dad had given up smoking. After years of living in a pea soup fog, at the ripe old age of 70, he finally gave up the fags. One day he was sucking in 60 a day, the next none. An unopened packet sat on the windowsill for months. This couldn’t have been easy for him. Years after I remember him saying he could still ‘murder for a cigarette’.

For the next 12 years, with more money now spare, my parents enjoyed many holidays in the UK and overseas. They always returned like two lovebirds. However, it was short lived, dad was a jealous man and didn’t like to share mum, even with his children. The childish bickering would soon resume.

Although quite a chunk of money was now spent on holidays, dad also replaced his high tar addiction with sweets, chocolate and cakes. His particular favourite being Turkish Delight, something we bought him every Christmas. And soon his waistline resembled Colonel Mustard!

Too late to worry about his teeth decaying, for every day of the 21 years I lived at home dad’s pearly whites glared at me, from a glass in the bathroom. In fact dad’s teeth played a cameo role on my wedding day.

December 1985, it was once again his turn to ‘give’ a daughter away. Obviously a role he thought he’d never be required to do again. Years later he was called upon again and he saved his best performance to for the last. Just when you thought you knew him, he threw up a surprise or two.

My niece married a few years after her beloved dad tragically died, aged 49, of cancer. Her rather rotund granddad, now known by some as Big Frank, stepped into Kevin’s shoes to proudly walk ‘Ragga’ (Helen) down the aisle to the handsome young marine nervously waiting at the front.

The speech he gave at their wedding breakfast was entertaining and yet incredibly moving. One minute the guests in the room were howling with laughter, the next there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Some mean feat when you consider the majority of the guests were Royal Marines. Dad certainly did his family and Kevin proud.

The speech dad gave at my wedding was entertaining too. But for quite different reasons. As it was a special occasion he decided to wear his ‘best’ dentures. We soon realised why they hadn’t been seen, or heard, before. They were a little too tight and whistled when he spoke. So fortunately for all the speech was short and squeak!

I’m never really sure whether dad was upset or annoyed that I chose to abandon the Catholic Church and take my vows in the opposition’s. He never commented. And that was the problem with dad, I never really knew what he was thinking.

And so, Wednesday 16 December 1998, when the time came, I held my mum’s hand as the man she had spent the last 52 years with took his last breath and left us.

The funeral was held 22 December so in a way Big Frank would indeed be home for Christmas.

This post was written for the Writing Workshop – Remembering over at Sleep is for the Weak. It doesn’t really fit any of the prompts but to read some that do click here.

Silent Sunday

For other more cheerful Silent Sunday posts, hop over to Mocha Beanie.

Silent Sunday

Today Twigman and I spent several heavenly hours in our favourite store.

Silent Sunday

Pop over here to see some other Silent Sunday posts. There’s another gorgeous fella here too. Welcome to the world Elliot.

Silent Sunday