June 2011

4th June


Well, June couldn't have got off to a happier start - I received my first bulk consignment of Gondarlan from Chipmunka, and have started taking orders straight away! So if you live in Great Britain and would like a copy, I'll gladly put a signed one in the post to you for £11 including postage & packing - saving you £1.99 on the cover price. Just email me on her.story@hotmail.co.uk, phone on 01924 255969 or text to 07977 967963 to place an order... and as soon as I receive your cheque, I'll mail your book out.


The excitement of getting the hard copies has motivated me to crack on with Book 2, in which the heroine starts her voyage of discovery (literally and metaphorically) - I'm hoping to have it finished by the end of this year. I've been working on promoting Gondarlan, too - after all, no-one can buy a book if they don't know it exists - and looking forward (albeit somewhat nervously!) to getting a batch of reviews I can use. Watch this space...

cover slug

Aside from that, we've been having a hectic time in the garden... where we've just unleashed biological warfare! Sick to death of the slugs that reduce our lettuces to lace and graze all over our strawberries and radishes, we decided to hit them with the wonderfully named 'Nemaslug' - a 10 x 14cm packet containing a mind-boggling TWELVE MILLION nematode worms. You just water them into the soil and they parasitise the slugs, stopping them feeding and eventually killing them (under the soil, thank goodness - your garden doesn't turn into a disgusting slimy graveyard). And so far, so good... I've just picked a lovely big bowl of intact strawbs, which I guess means that deep within the soil of Helmickton, a deadly battle is being waged - and the nematodes are winning! The manufacturers, Becker Underwood, also supply nematodes to kill off other garden pests including ants and vine weevils... so if you fancy trying a pesticide-free, natural (albeit somewhat macabre) way of protecting your cherished plants, check out their website www.nemasysinfo.co.uk .

12th June


Hubcap and I had a great time yesterday, at the long-awaited 'Interpreting Battlefield Finds: Making the Most of Museums' conference at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It should have taken place on December 4th, but had to be postponed due to the snowy weather. Luckily, although it was a bit nippy yesterday, we didn't get snow - just a riveting day's entertainment. As the title suggests, it was all about how battlefield archaeologists and museum curators can help one another interpret artefacts from land and underwater conflict sites, to supplement the historical record and better understand what took place. A tremendous range of land sites were touched on, from Fulford (1066) to the English Civil War battlefield near Lostwithiel in Cornwall, and two marine sites: the famous Mary Rose and the Elizabethan Alderney wreck. All the speakers (including Tim Sutherland on Towton, see pic below left) were brilliant, and we particularly enjoyed the deeply thought-provoking final presentation by Professor Richard Morris on the archaeology of 20th century military installations. If you'd like to read a full report, click the button!



Altogether, at £35 including tea, coffee and an ample buffet lunch (albeit grievously lacking in biscuits and cake!), this conference was exceptionally good value for money - and a great way to launch this planned series of collaborations between the Royal Armouries and the Battlefields Trust (the next one will be on the English Civil War). The TBS contingent certainly had fun, as you can see from the pic below right... and I was also greatly cheered to learn that the two Society authors currently reading 'Gondarlan' (Dave Cooke and Peter Algar) are both enjoying it!

ra conference ra delegates

Tim Sutherland (left) & Dr. Jonathan Riley, Master of the Armouries                 Some TBS delegates: L - R: me, hubcap, Dave Cooke, Mick Weaver,

(right) during Tim's presentation 'Conflicts & Allies'                                              Judy Thomas, Des Thomas

21st June


This week's big news for Herstory is that Wakefield Libraries have just bought two copies of Gondarlan - and ten of Walk Wakefield 1460! So they should be appearing on the shelves any time for local readers to borrow - or for readers further afield to get through inter-library loan. I'm delighted - and about to apply for my Public Lending Rights on both titles. Plus I've just had a royalties cheque for my chapter in the 2nd edition of Blood Red Roses, the Towton mass graves excavation report published by Oxbow - their all-time biggest seller, which continues to sell several hundred copies a year (pretty impressive for an academic publication, and good news for everyone involved with it).


Meanwhile I'm coming down from an intense, and very enjoyable weekend. Friday saw me chained to the kitchen in a massive medieval 'cookathon', preparing our food display-cum-lunch for the Open Day at St Oswald's Church: to go with Alex's pork-and-raisin rolls, I made frumenty, salat, gingerbread, stuffed dates and the sumptuous elderflower cheese tart called sambocade, and brewed a batch of hypocras (sweetened spiced wine). And it all went down a storm on the 18th with the Frei Co and public alike... we got a lot more visitors than last year, took £20 from have-a-go archery which we donated to chuch funds - and made a whopping £135 for TBS on the Society stall!


It's elderflower time again ...

Since it was a hot day, something else that went down well was hubcap's famous elderflower champagne. Elderflowers were widely used in the 15th century to flavour sambocade, rice puddings and a sauce to serve with fish; and although we're not sure this recipe is medieval, it's such a fantastic, refreshing summer drink I thought I'd share it with you:


For 1 Gallon of Elderflower Champagne: Pick at least 4 big heads of elderflower (or 8 small ones); shake off large insects; then put in a bucket covered with a dark cloth, with just one little chink left clear, for a couple of hours. (Any remaining insects will vacate the flowers and migrate to the light). Don't wash the heads afterwards, or you'll wash all the natural yeasts off. Dissolve 1lb sugar in warm water in a sterilised brewer's bucket. Add the juice of a lemon, its peel cut in quarters, and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Put in the de-bugged elderflowers, top up with water to 1 gallon, and give a quick stir. Cover with a cloth (to let air in but keep dust and critters out) and leave for at least 3 days without peeping. (If you bottle at 3 - 4 days, it'll be sweet and very fizzy; we prefer to leave for 5 - 7 days so that it's drier and less effervescent).




bucket of yuck

After your preferred brewing time, take off the cloth. Recoil in horror at the vile scuzz of mouldy lemon peel and flowers floating on the surface (see left) - but don't skim it off! Instead, just dibble a little hole, insert a plastic tube and siphon off the liquid - underneath the scum it's a lovely clear pale yellow with little bubbles - into screw-top bottles. Chill in the fridge, then serve forth and enjoy - that's all there is to it, and it makes a magnificent, fragrant drink perfect with summer desserts like fresh strawberries. (For the rest of the batch, it's a good idea to periodically loosen the bottle caps for a second to let it off-gas a little - otherwise it tends to explode in a cascade of foam when you want to drink it!). So get out there and get picking... alas, the elderflower season's nearly over for another year...


25th June


It's been another all-round busy week for Herstory... on the writing front, I've made a start on the sequel to Walk Wakefield 1460, the second of what I hope will build into a full 'Walk the Wars of the Roses' series: Walk Towton 1461. This one will be co-authored with one of our TBS chums, Alan Stringer, who's been studying the battles that took place at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale just before Towton... and I'm looking forward to going with him next month to Mortimer's Cross, where the first engagement in the campaign occurred, to suss out the lie of the land, photograph the battlefield and make some notes for the text.


I'm also plugging away on Book 2 of Lay of Angor, to try and satisfy my (so far small but enthusiastic!) group of fans - I'm now on Chapter 12, but the trouble is, they can read it a lot quicker than I can write it! And in-between-times, we're trying to keep on top of our burgeoning garden... it's a terrific year for salad greens and soft fruit, and we gorge ourselves daily on lovely fresh berries. I find the mixtures of raspberries (red & golden), currants (red & black), and strawbs (cultivated & the


Enjoying the fruits of Helmickton: goosegogs, red and black currants, strawberries, sorrel, chives - and plenty of flowers for the bees!

gorgeous tiny wild ones) are especially good steeped in hubcap's beech-leaf noyau, a stunning liqueur and very simple to make: just dump a bottle of gin onto half a kilner jar of fresh young beech leaves, and leave for 3 weeks. Then strain off the liquor, add 8 ounces of sugar boiled in a half-pint of water, a glass of brandy, and lo! You have the most delicate and unusually flavoured liqueur, vaguely reminiscent of the old 'Beech Nut' chewing gum, and perfect for drinking after a summer dinner.


Anyhow, at the end of our week of labour, we felt we deserved a pint at the Three Houses on the A61 Barnsley Road near Sandal Castle - well worth checking out if you're in the area, the beer and food are both cracking. So we met our pal Dave Cooke (whose review of Gondarlan should be appearing on this site soon) there for a quiet bevy... though we were soon driven out by the arrival of the 'Orange Shriekers', a species of bird with gaudy summer plumage, a non-stop chattering voice and a deafening raucous cackle, which flocks around public houses in large numbers, particularly of a weekend! Seriously though, it was great to see a local pub doing such a (literally) roaring trade... even though us oldies couldn't hack it for too long.