How to Cook Like a Toff – Junior Parties

Prunella teaches you how to cook like a toff!

It’s not bit of good you groaning like that – little Parasol (or whatever outlandish moniker you have decided to burden the fruit of your loins with) will have been invited to, and attended, parties for every other little monster in their group at school. Ergo, when the anniversary of their own birth comes along it is incumbent on you to do the decent thing.
I have suffered through several of these occasions, before Rodney Junior and Caroline reached the age where they would sooner have their eyeballs plucked out than have a party anywhere near their aged parents, and I am feeling magnanimous enough to share what I have learned.
First. The invitations. It is neither cute nor funny to write the things yourself – most particularly if you elect to do pretend child writing. No. Get your local speedy print, or the geeky nephew of your daily woman, to make them and then all you need to do is pen the name of a child on the envelope.
Next. The entertainment. A conjurer no longer answers the trick (even if you can find one without a police record). No. A discotheque is the thing. For preference in one of the outbuildings and with a sensible mummy tasked to keep and eye on the deejay.
The Food. Ask yourself what children actually eat and prepare accordingly. Do. Not. Be. Fooled. By. Any. Popular. Cookery. Expert. Children really won’t eat couscous, raw vegetables with dips, hummus, homity pie, cupcakes (they eat the icing and attempt to murder each other with the rest), jelly, or any trendy little number whose texture resembles cold porridge. What they will eat is chips (fries if you are of colonial descent), burgers, sausages, chicken dippers, crisps (chips to colonials), chocolate buttons and ice cream. Therefore the plan goes as follows. The day before, assemble the actual burgers. They should be small, flattish and consist solely of minced steak (with a little breadcrumb and egg to bind). Place same in the refrigerator overnight. If you are lucky enough to be in possession of a large enough refrigerator, the burgers can be placed on lightly greased oven trays before refrigeration – thereby making it the work of but a moment to shove them in a hot oven. Purchase sufficient small bread buns in which to shove said burgers when cooked. The addition of a slice of revolting processed cheese will serve to convince the bloody little heathens they are eating ‘proper’ burgers and not pale home-made imitations.
On the day, place packets of crisps and ‘fun sized’ packs of chocolate buttons on a table and let the little darlings help themselves.
At the appropriate time shove the burgers in the oven alongside trays of ‘American fries’ (very thin chips) serve in cardboard boxes with paper napkins.
On No Account let the brats have salt, vinegar or ketchup. It is not worth the tantrums.
When the main course has been eaten/stamped into the floor/thrown up save the day with ice cream cones. Don’t be cozened into buying the expensive stuff from the local artisan place, or offering choice of flavour. You want soft scoop vanilla.

On the other hand you could make the Hon. Rodney put his big fat fingers in his wallet. (He was there at the conception (probably) and has had little to do with the brats since.) Take the tribe to the cinema where they can sit through whatever Disney has on offer, and then troop them all across the road to the golden arches where they can stamp their food into somebody else’s floor.
Note: this also has the advantage of you not having to provide gin and canapés for their dreadful mothers.

Look out for more tips on how to cook like a toff next week!

Red Sky at Night

A sunset. Bronze and mercury
Painted by an unseen hand
Where children point excitedly
As crimson stains the evening land
And faces shine in copper glow
Of those who view the dying day
Their little lives lived out below
The light that keeps the dark away
The magic of a sunset sky
Where clouds like molten metal float
Leaves an imprint on the eye
And brings a lump into the throat

©️Jane Jago

Weekend Wind Down – Frontier Justice

There were two of them.
They walked into my office looking as if they’d just come in on a low-end freetrader’s scrapheap and hadn’t found time to freshen up since. I’d not known they were coming and that suggested something urgent, which meant something dangerous.
The good news was I knew one of them. Halkom Dugsdall—taller than most who were tall, dark red-brown hair that always stuck out as if he’d not combed it in days, and eyes like the business end of an energy snub.
His work brought him out here two, maybe three times a year, sometimes more and we’d shared stakeouts and bar tabs enough that we’d got to know each other pretty well. Him, me and Commander Burgas who headed up the local police here until his retirement three cycles back. We’d made a formidable team.
The last time I’d seen Dugsdall must have been at Burgas’ formal retirement event. He’d missed the private party after because of work commitments. But then he was the Coalition Security Force’s ‘go-to’ operative for hunting the very worst criminal scum. His frequent visits were down to the fact that my patch attracted a lot of them. It was at the sharp end of a frontier sector on the Periphery. After you left it, there was a mess of wildcard prospecting and mining concerns, a few low-tech Protectorates and a cluster of thinly populated Independent worlds which the Coalition couldn’t be bothered to stretch its hand out to grasp. The butt end of the galaxy and all my very own.
Even though I’d already figured that this visit was far from being a social call, I mustered a warm smile.
“Good to see you again, Grim. Who’s your friend?”
She reacted with blank surprise to my use of that name. Alright. Not a friend. She was tall too, but where Grim was leanly muscled, she was just skinny. Shiny black hair with a metallic lustre and cheekbones that seemed keen to get out ahead of her nose. A challenge, as her nose was pretty prominent itself. Cold eyes scoured me from above it. Seemed she didn’t like me already. Or maybe she didn’t like the voice I’d chosen from the handful I kept on my favourites menu.
“Good to see you too, Saj.” Grim gestured between me and the woman. “Sajmar Dyep—Tak Tanka.”
We nodded to each other and, introductions out the way, I let them sort themselves out to sit down and reached over to the synth to serve up a tray of mild stimulant drinks. They looked like they needed that.
“Thanks,” Grim said, helping himself to one from the tray and passing another to his companion as he carried on talking. “Sorry to descend on you like this, but it’s one of those fast action things. You know what I do, and Var Tanka here is a specialist in matters relating to the Legacy.”
Var Tanka? So formal. Definitely not friends then. Or maybe she was just so senior, us regular street-level operatives weren’t going to make it onto her link-list of contacts.
“We don’t get much trouble with the Legacy here,” I told her. “They tried once, but those terrorist fanatics could never make any ground with the sort living on my patch. People here are all about how they would like more Coalition involvement, not less.”
“I find the facts are more valuable than speculation, Dyep. But your opinion is noted.”
Oh my! Underling know your place…
Grim cleared his throat.
“Sajmar has some expertise on the Legacy herself, Var Tanka. She worked undercover in a Legacy cell before she took on the local CSF office here.”
“Oh? Really?” The cold eyes flicked away from mine. “That must have been some years ago then. There’s been a lot of change in the Legacy’s approach recently.” She wasn’t going to give me any ground.
Grim met my gaze and held it just long enough whilst the other woman was busy pulling up screens and pinning them over my desk.
“This is who we are here for.” She stabbed a finger towards one of the screens and my heart sank. “Ozrin Walorn. He has a history of low-level smuggling, but evidence links him with a recent incident of piracy in the Varn Sector and”—she impaled another screen with her nail—“his name’s occurred in relation to a Legacy-backed attack on a planet called Kesser. We think he helped supply the rebels there, resisting Coalition integration against the local government forces.”
Oh Ozzy! What have you been getting involved with now?
“We have reason to believe Walorn is registered as a resident in your area,” Grim added.
What could I do? I moved my head forward the small amount allowed by the couple of fused vertebrae of my neck. It approximated a nod.
“He is someone who’s crossed my screens before,” I admitted. “If he’s at home, I can find him for you. Where’re you staying?”
“We didn’t get that far yet,” Grim said.
Tak Tanka waved me away. “I don’t intend to be here long. This is a courtesy call. We could have linked you for the information, in fact, instead of wasting—”
Grim cut in.
“In fact, we realised that your local knowledge would be of immense value in locating our target, which is why we are here. And as that might take a short time, we’ll take rooms in the spaceport stopover.”
Maybe she’d more sense than I’d thought, because Var Tanka snapped her mouth shut as Grim spoke across her.
“I’ll be in touch later today,” I promised him. “Let me see you out.”
Tak Tanka had already risen from her seat and was stalking to the door, her entire body from her stiff, erect spine to the set of her shoulders screaming disapproval. As I moved around the desk to be polite and escort Grim, I glanced up and caught his eye again. He was a hard man to read, his face more a mask for his emotions than a mirror of them, but I was pretty sure I could see the dislike there.
I stopped at the door and Tak Tanka turned, didn’t notice me for a moment, then looked down and her mouth opened slightly. Pity or horror? I always made a private bet on which it would be. But this time it was surprise followed by the same dismissive coldness as before.
“I’ll be in touch,” I said and opened the door to free her from having to reply. Grim gripped my shoulder briefly and followed her out.

The opening of The Invisible Event, which is a Fortune’s Fools story by E.M. Swift-Hook. One of the stories in Challenge Accepted, an anthology of speculative fiction, featuring people with disabilities who rise to the challenge. 

Granny Knows Best – Kitchen Knives

How many kitchen knives does anyone actually need?

Hands up all you daft buggers who own sets of ‘chef’s knives’.

In wooden blocks or hanging on magnets.

Twenty-three mild steel knives you have to sharpen if you so much as look at them…

Twenty-three silent testaments to your gullibility.

Twenty-three knives of which you use probably none.

My late unlamented was a chef by profession (his cooking being one of the reasons I put up with his presence for so long). He used three knives – and one of them was solely for threatening people who wandered into the kitchen.

You need a big knife and a little one.

That’s it.

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Coffee Break Read – The Banker’s Wife

When the youngest son of a minor banking dynasty wanted a wife, the plain-faced and dumpy daughter of a middle-ranking merchant was deemed more than good enough for him.
But. By the time he was forty he was the richest man in the city. 
A subtle campaign begun. Fat old men dropped sugared words in his ears, and fragrant young women breathed adultery in his nostrils. 
None of the city’s merchants and bankers could believe that he might not wish for divorce and a toothsome young bride, so they threw their daughters and sisters into his path like sacrificial lambs. 
He bore it stoically, until he found one young madam pink and naked in his counting house very early one morning. The gentlemanly thing to do would have been to repudiate his wife and children and marry the girl immediately, but he wasn’t a gentleman so he had her wrapped in a horse blanket and escorted back to her father’s house before foreclosing on the mortgages he held on the family’s vineyards and hill farms. 
That put a stop to the most outrageously obvious behaviours but not, sadly, to the ambitions of the owners of young unmarried daughters.
The whispering against his wife began soon after it became obvious nothing else would move the wealthy banker. At first it was subtle enough to be ignored. But when he heard that it said that she had a number of lovers he stormed home in righteous anger. 
He found his wife serenely engaged in her stillroom.
“Why are they doing this to us?”
“Doing what in particular?”
“Blackening your name now..”
His wife smiled her sweet smile and pressed his shoulder.
“Because I’m not good enough for you.”
He swore, before taking her small work roughened hands in his. 
“But don’t they understand that I love you?”
“How would they? Most of them love only money, and position, and showing off to the world. How would they understand the happiness of our home?”
He groaned but had to admit the truth of what she said.
“That is as maybe. But there has to be a way to stop this constant drip, drip, dripping. Before I do something regrettable.”
“I’m sure there is. We just have to think.”
Obscurely comforted the banker went back to his place of business, while his wife carried on bottling cordial and thought very hard.
By the time her husband came home for his supper she had the seed of an idea. When he had finished his food and was sitting by the fire with a stoup of ale in his hand she broached the subject.
“My dear. How many of the noble families in the city owe you money?”
“Without my books I don’t know precisely. But I suspect the answer is all of them. Why do you ask?”
She smiled. A secret folded sort of a smile. “I have been thinking about our little problem. I was wondering how the great and good of this city might react if there was a rumour set abroad that you were considering foreclosing on the mortgages of one or more families as you suspect them of speaking mischief against you…”
He stared at her, then started to laugh. “With extreme fear my love. But how would one set such a rumour afoot?”
“Among the women. I have only to drop a word or two in the ears of one or two of the less discreet of my acquaintance and the thing is done.”
He put his silver tankard down and came to kneel in front of her chair. “Will that be sufficient for them to leave us alone, do you think?”
“It is my hope. But if not we will have to decide who we dislike most and ruin him…”
He threw his head back and laughed delightedly.
“You have the right of it my dearest. You set your rumour about and I will drop hints that I might be acquiring a rather nice country property or two in the near future.”
His wife smiled demurely. “I never fancied a country house. But I wouldn’t mind a bigger garden.”
“If we don’t have to foreclose on anybody I’ll just buy you a house with what you want.” 
“Another child?”
With a roar of delight, the banker dragged his by now laughing wife into his arms. “Come to bed hussy. I must prove myself more manly than your lovers.”
And so he did, and he only had to foreclose on three mortgages before he and his family were left alone to enjoy the finest house in all the city and the happiest of families.

© jane jago 2019

Life Lessons for Writers – Five

Jacintha Farquhar here again. Slightly the worse for life but still able to muster a thought or two. 

Rather bewildered by two sad females thinking their readership might benefit from my rather robust advice – particularly considering the sad steaming ordure my only offspring thinks of as his magnum opus. (There are times when he is very like the sad excuse for a human being who fathered him on one distinctly unmemorable ouzo-fuelled night. Unfortunately.) But if people have faith in you, you are kind of obligated to do your best. 

Today’s lesson concerns the thing most badly written about of all. If you discount lerv (which one may dabble in at a later date).

Life Lessons for Writers – Five: Lovemaking

The awful remembrance of just how large was my hangover on the morning after Moons was conceived, and the equally awful recollection, after much rummaging about in the grey matter, of how small and uninteresting was his father’s penis dragged my consciousness round to the elephant that sits in the corner of most rooms. 

Sex.

Okay. 

Let’s deal with the givens first. A sexually mature couple – whatever their gender or orientation is liable to dabble. Accept it and decide how you are going to deal.

You have options.

  1. The drawn curtain
  2. A peep between the sheets
  3. Erotica 
  4. Porn

Before you decide which avenue to investigate there are a couple of ground rules you will ignore at your peril. 

First. Before you set finger to keyboard, have a proper think about the age and experience of your protagonists. A pair of virgins is unlikely to leap straight into wildly imaginative sexcapades. The likelihood is that you will, if you choose not to gloss over the whole thing, be describing awkward fumbling, embarrassment and a very short-lived experience. Conversely, a forty-year old libertine is unlikely to be unmanned by a pair of blue eyes.

Second. Do. Your. Research. If you have any specific practices in mind, read them up, and establish both the physical possibility and the likelihood of such an act occurring between your chosen couple. 

Third. Avoid bandwagons. However many shades of whatever colour has been done already. Leave it alone….

And finally – do at least try sex before you attempt to write about it. Ideally you should try what you intend to write about, but I’m guessing that is unlikely amongst the assorted virgins, snowflakes, and prudes who are likely to be reading this. Porn sites are your friend.

Returning to our quartet of options…

It is my contention that in most cases only A and B are practicable alternatives. Most of your readers will be perfectly well aware that Tab A fits into Slot B so description of the mechanics is at best superfluous, and at worst cringeworthy. Be warned.

Let’s look at some examples…

Example A wherein it is pretty obvious what is going to occur but we the bedroom door is closed before anything actually happens.

He laughed and scooped me into a very satisfactory embrace.

“Who’s a clever girl then?”

“Me. And would there be a reward in it?”

His grin turned naughty, and we forgot all about our hosts and their problems.

Example B which is a little more descriptive 

I dropped my bottom onto his lap and I knew what his problem was. He had a most impressive erection. I wriggled my backside, feeling the responsive jerk. He grabbed me by the shoulders.

“You better stop doing that unless you mean it.” he said very quietly. 

I smiled into his eyes and wriggled some more.

As to C and D. Well they are more chacun a son gout. And to be bleakly honest if you need my advice you have neither the experience nor the balls to write them.

Now push off and get some experience of something that isn’t missionary position with the lights off….

Coffee Break Read – Faked News?

The rapturous applause ringing in her ears, Zhang Xiu Ying stepped off the podium and returned to her seat. Although it was wonderful to have the sense of support and approval for her unpublished and un-peer-reviewed paper at this symposium, her thoughts were already on the submissions process to the few scientific journals respected in her field.

In the audience, Krish Anand thought the Chinese girl who had been speaking looked cute and he posted a picture of her to his social media. As an afterthought, since he did not want anyone assuming he was sexist, he added a few words about what she had been saying.

Her news blog needed livening up, so Florencia Quezada put the picture of the pretty Chinese academic on her page, read the words Krish had put with it and – as she didn’t really understand it – added some thoughts and ideas of her own to make it into something a bit more substantial.

It was a quiet day on RadioNews247 and Bjorn Olafsson had been searching the internet desperately for something to feed the ravenous maw of twenty-four-hour news coverage. There had been no terrorist attacks – or at least none in any place the 247 audience would have ever heard of or cared about; the politicians’ tweets had been banal to dull and lacking in controversy and he was at his wit’s end. Then he saw it. Grinning with triumph he wrote a few lines to go in the next ‘On The Hour’ bulletin and started phoning a couple of people he knew would be free and willing to comment on air.

Zac Wade had the radio on as he was driving home. He didn’t like TV as that meant you might get noticed somewhere by someone. No cell phone for the same reason and no computer neither. Life off-grid was safest. You could keep out the government and defend your own land. The news bulletin made him put his foot to the floor of his battered old Dodge cab-over pickup. Them aliens was invading – said so on the news.

Waiting to board her plane home, Zhang Xiu Ying glanced at her newsfeed ‘Chinese Scientist Proves Aliens Are Invading’. There was a picture of a narrow, hairless face with black olive-shaped eyes. Clickbait crap. She scrolled on without really thinking more about it. She was just happy her article speculating on tiny anomalous ferric inclusions in a layer of Pleistocene clay as being extra-terrestrial from a meteor shower was being considered for a quality geological journal.

E.M. Swift-Hook

How to Cook Like a Toff – Charity Bake Sales

Prunella teaches you how to cook like a toff!

These used to happen only once a year – but now the yummy mummies are at the helm there seems to be one every bloody week. In support of this or that worthy cause, and, no doubt, well-attended by those with nothing better to do. However, one digresses.
Should you be foolish enough to be bamboozled into providing ‘something for the cake stall’ I have the following advice.
If you just want to get it over with choose any one of an almost infinite number of tray bakes for which you will find recipes on the darknet and bake it in a disposable tray. Voila.
However. Should you wish for cult status in your community there is a way. Chelsea Buns.
Spiced bread buns loaded with fruit and drizzled with white icing. The catnip of the cake world.
However there is a price to pay. A four in the morning start. But if you are willing…

At four in the morning.

Into the bowl of your trusty stand mixer place the following.
2kg strong plain flour
8oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
250g very soft butter

Mix gently while the kettle boils. In a large jug put half a litre of cold milk add half a litre of water just off the boil (this equals tepid) add four sachets of dried yeast. Pour the lot into the dry ingredients mixing slowly. This should make a fairly sticky dough. If it’s too dry add some more milk.
Crank the Kitchenaid up to number three and leave it to knead the dough for ten minutes. Then switch it off and crawl back to bed. Not forgetting to set your alarm for six.
When you crawl downstairs knock back the dough and divide into thirds.
Melt 250g of butter
Mix 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and one of ground cinnamon into about 150g of brown sugar
Open a bag of good quality sultanas (500g)
Roll a third of the dough into a rectangle approximately 18in x 9in
Spread a third of the melted butter across the surface. Sprinkle a third of the ginger/cinnamon sugar and a couple of large handfuls of sultanas.
Roll up from the long side. Cut into about 1.25in slices.
Lay the resulting spirals flat on a baking tray leaving about an inch all the way round (baking paper is much easier than greasing the bugger).
Repeat with other two bits of dough.
Cover with a clean old sheet.
Go back to bed.
Set alarm for 8
Buns will have doubled in size. Crank oven up to 220C (which will stink to high heaven if the oven isn’t clean – make note to self to have Mrs Thing clean oven when she comes in on Wednesday).
Bake buns.
They will take about 15 minutes (the way to tell is to pick one at random and eat it).
When buns are cool, make up a bowl of simple water icing (icing sugar sieved and cold water) drizzle over buns and top each with half a glacé cherry.
Done.

Alternatively. Find an independent bakery and order four dozen buns.

Look out for more tips on how to cook like a toff next week!

New Year

Father Time his heavy scythe set down
Upon his face there was a weary frown
“This race of days and months and passing years
Is bringing less of laughter more of tears.”
Beside him stood a golden youthful lass,
She smiled and said “You know that all things pass.
From every tear that waters all those woes,
Comes Wisdom and ways to defeat life’s foes.
Each passing year and month and every day
Is building Hope and finding a new way.”

But Father Time his head he still held low.
“What use is that if all we love must go?
If every blessing deep within its core
Bears the curse that it will be no more?
How can we smile and laugh and dance and sing
When death and loss are all that Time will bring?”
The youthful maid did soothe his furrowed brow
“What matter time to come, when we live now?
The future may hold more than you yet see
And even Time’s own curse may one day cease.
Why weep what hours and days and years away
When you can fill with laughter each new day?”

Then Father Time did smile and with a sigh
Picked up once again his heavy scythe.
“You speak the truth, dear Hope, so as we walk
We’ll laugh and smile and jest and share and talk.”
So hand in hand did then they take the road
With Hope relieving Time’s so heavy load.
And in their footsteps, shy Wisdom did steer
To bring with joy this Happy New Year.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Granny Knows Best – New Year’s Resolutions

I know, even as I sit here with a large glass of something restorative, a new packet of ciggies, and Gyp beside my feet snoring and farting gently, that all around the world there will be people who are about to begin 2023 with their good intentions firmed up into New Year’s Resolutions….

*pauses for a large drink and wonders where to begin the diatribe that is burning her brain*

Okay. Here goes.

Whatever possesses anybody with even half a brain to think drunken promise made to their other half in the pub (in the vain hope of oral gratification) is going to last beyond Tuesday? Worse though are those persons of a prim self-improving mindset who will have written down their plans/resolutions at some time in mid-November. (In my opinion they just need a slap/a life.)

Anyway, whoever you are and whatever you have resolved to do. You. Won’t. Do. It.

The gym membership card will grow dust on the mantelpiece and, by August, you will throw it in the bin thinking wistfully about the amount of  Prosecco/Doom Bar/WHY that seventy-four quid could have bought you.

The packet of ciggies you dramatically throw in the dustbin at 12.01am will be retrieved and tenderly cleaned before breakfast time.

The jog you set out on will only result in you laying by the footpath bringing up your toenails, while a whole slew of elderly ladies will walk their dogs past you and make no attempt to disguise their mirth. (Some of the dogs will piss on you as you lay there sunk in your own misery. Do not attempt chastisement. Old ladies will set about you with their walking sticks if you abuse Tinkerbell or Fluffy.)

The bicycle you were going to ride to work will appear on Craig’s List before the end of February.

The bread ingredients will just sit in the cupboard until they are so far past their sell-by date even my friend Ruby would think twice before ingesting them.

The strange computer thing that you were going to use as an aid to exercise will have become the property of your teenage son/husband and will now be either a golf course or something I wouldn’t pretend to understand – or want to.

And the book on self-improvement (by whatever skinny prune-faced female is currently in fashion) will join hundreds of others in the window of whatever charity shop you hate the most.

So you see, whatever way you cut it, making New Year’s Resolutions is the last resort of the pathetic – and is absofreakinglutely not the way to sort out your life.

Go away and have a proper think about what you need to do, and stop wasting money on crap to make yourself think you are seriously taking charge….

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