Moving mountains….

For me, the best time of the year has to be Spring…. New beginnings – the promise of Summer to come….anticipating long hot sunny days and warm, balmy evenings…. After enduring months of dreary winter weather, surely we deserve just this? OK – this particular summer started on a very positive note – soaring temperatures, unbroken spells of sunshine…but then – Well! What the hell happened? The jet stream apparently….

I can’t moan too much…. I am very fortunate, as I have just had a fabulous two-week holiday in a part of the World that has become very dear to me…. When I first met John, nearly 15 years ago, he introduced me to a region in the South of France, somewhere very special to him…. A place we have visited almost every year since…

In the early days we would all travel down together; leaving at a very anti-social hour to catch an early ferry from Dover to Calais. The car would be fully laden, every inch of available space utilised – one year we even transported a sofa bed on the roof….


It was never the most comfortable of journeys, one that took the best part of 36 hours, including an overnight stop. John loves the drive – Jordan and I are less keen…. The final straw for me came the year we were unable to find somewhere to stay overnight and ended up ‘kipping’ in the car….only to breakdown the following morning, on the motorway just as we were about to cross the Millau Bridge… Not an ideal start to a holiday – especially as this particular one was rather special – it was our honeymoon…!

Nowadays, things are much more civilised. John still drives down – he heads off a couple of weeks before us, taking all our baggage and paraphernalia with him…. He’s happy – as he gets a bit of time to himself, does a few chores and unwinds…. Jordan and I then fly down to join him – leaving home at a very respectable 11am and arriving in Perpignan around 7 in the evening – where John meets us….

I love making the journey this way – it’s far more relaxed and I get to spend a little quality time with my son. Once landed, we’re off the plane, through passport control – and as we have no baggage – we’re out of the airport and into the car in a jiffy…. Perfect….!

Once we are out of the hustle and bustle of Perpignan, we’re on the road across the Plain of Roussillon to Llauro, a French Catalonian village, about half an hour’s drive away…. As the scenery rolls by I look out for the familiar landmarks, not least the majestic peaks of the mountain the is Le Canigou….


It is perhaps its isolation that makes Canigou stand out so much – whereas other mountains are surrounded by massive peaks within their range, Pic du Canigou stands proudly alone…. At an elevation of 2,784m (9134ft) it was, until the 18th Century, thought to be the highest peak of the Pyrénées – (This accolade actually goes to Anéto in the Province of Huesca, at 3,404m or 11,168ft)…. By mountain standards,  Canigou is not a massive peak, it is only the 395th highest in France alone….but this does not make it any less impressive….

Visible from much of Southern Languedoc-Roussillon, Canigou lies west of Perpignan and about 10km, as the crow flies, from Prades, a small town in the Eastern Pyrénées – and is within the Parc Naturel regional des Pyrénées Catalanes (Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees). Canigou became a Listed Grand Site de France in 2002….

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Le Canigou Museumdetoulouse via / CC BY Original image URL:

To the people of Catalan it is the sacred mountain – ‘La Muntanya Sagrada’. Canigou is a symbol of unity for those living on different sides of the border but sharing the same land….a physical and spiritual landmark…. For many, to climb it, is in fact a pilgrimage….

Many myths and legends surround the mountain and being the spiritual home of Catalan it is a place where French and Spanish Catalonians gather for certain celebrations. One such time being the Nuit de Saint-Jean – or the eve of Saint John’s Day – on the 23rd of June (which also coincides with the Summer Solstice). Saint John’s Day is the feast day of Saint John the Baptist – ‘Féte de la Saint-Jean’ – and is a Catholic celebration. On the night of the 23rd a fire is lit on the summit of Canigou – known as the ‘Flama del Canigó’ – the Ceremony of the Canigou Flame. A vigil is held throughout the night and from the flame torches are lit and relayed all across the Pyrenees and Catalonia, to light bonfires elsewhere…. Some sources say up to 30,000 fires are ignited from this flame….

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Flama del Canigo 2014 Ajuntament de Cubelles via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

The weekend before Saint John’s Day sees the ‘Trobade’, which comes from the Catalan ‘Trobada’ – meaning ‘meeting’. Bundles of wood are taken to the summit where they are deposited – hidden within these bundles are messages of friendship, love and peace….

The first Sunday in August is also a notable date in the Canigou calendar – it is when the ‘Course du Canigou’ or Canigou Race takes place. It entails a 34km course, with a 2,180m climb, from the spa resort town of Vernet-les-Bains at the base of Canigou, to the summit and then back again…. Not for the faint hearted…!

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Vernet les Bains et le Pic du Canigou Thierry Llansades via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

Personally, I have yet to climb to the summit of Canigou, the furthest I have been is to the Chalet des Cortalets, one of the starting points often chosen by those making a more serious ascent…. My son puts me to shame in this respect, he and John climbed to the top a while ago, when Jordan was just eleven or twelve years old….


The locals often say it is a savage mountain….the weather can be unpredictable, with fog and storms arriving with very little warning. In deed this was the case the time I visited, one moment it was glorious sunshine – the next we were amidst a ferocious thunderstorm…. So it is advisable to check the forecast thoroughly before attempting to make an ascent and to be aware the weather can change in an instant…. The best time to climb is June to September; it is wise to leave early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Some choose to spend the night before at one of the refuges, for example Cortalets, where  climbers and walkers can sleep, cook and refresh free of charge…. There is also a café at Cortalets….

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Massif du Canigou, Refuge de la Jasse des Cortalets Thierry llansades via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image source:

On the North side of the mountain there are jeep tracks; it is possible to drive a certain distance before having to resort to foot…. There is more than one way to tackle the climb – a popular choice is from the afore-mentioned Chalet des Cortalets; at 2,150m it is roughly a 3.5 hour round trip to the summit and back. Another well-known route is from the Mariailles Refuge – this is, perhaps, for more seasoned adventurers as it is approximately an 8 hour round trip….


From the base to between 800 to 1,000m a Mediterranean climate prevails; between 1,000 to 1,700m it becomes a mountain climate. Venture up further, between 1,700 and 2,300m a sub-alpine climate is found and then 2,300m to the top it is an alpine climate…. Generally snow is continuous over 1,800m from mid-November through to May….

On the way up there is plenty of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered; you never know you may just spot a marmot or a vulture and there are plenty of eagles to be seen soaring in the skies….

On reaching the summit there is a cross to be found – often decorated with the Catalan flag and always adorned with offerings from climbers and pilgrims alike…. There is also an orientation table….

The view from the top is that of the Pyrénées Mountain range, the Roussillon Plain and the Mediterranean Sea…. On a clear day, Barcelona can be seen, which is 200km south, as the crow flies….

It is said the first ascent of the mountain was made by Peter III of Aragon in 1285 – (there is some discrepancy, as recorded by Italian monk – Fra Salimbene – as to whether he actually made it to the summit). Legend has it the king claimed to have thrown a stone into a lake on the mountain…. From the water emerged a dragon, so vast that when it flew into the sky it obscured the sun, blotting out the daylight….

For those not brave enough to attempt the climb to the summit, Canigou has two ancient monasteries at its foot that are well worth a visit….Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Martin-du-Canigou….

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Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa Phillipe Garcelon via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

We visited Abbey-Saint-Martin last year. Quite a steep climb that zig-zags up the mountain side – but I’m glad we made the effort…. Built on a rocky peak, at the beginning of the 11th Century, by Count Guifred, it was a Benedictine Abbey for 800 years. It eventually fell into ruins but has since been restored and is now a spiritual retreat for members of the Communauté des Béatitudes – who are very welcoming to visitors, so during the holiday season it does tend to be quite busy…. On reaching the top, one simply has to take the path that climbs above the Abbey – to look down on what is one of the most stunning views imaginable….

The great-grandfather of Count Guifred was reportedly the founder of the Catalan dynasty. According to legend it was he who created the Catalan flag. Mortally injured in battle, he dipped his fingers into his own blood and drew them across his shield, creating four red stripes….he declared this was to become the ‘flag of Catalan’….

The first written references found relating to Canigou are in Latin from 949; ‘Montis Canigonis’ and ‘Monte Canigone’. The first written Catalan reference dates to 1300; ‘Canigó’ – from this comes the French – ‘Canigou’….

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Image taken from page 189of ‘Promenades dans les Pyrenees. (2e Serie.) [with illustrations.] The British Library via / No known copy right restrictions Original image source:
One of the greatest Catalan poets, Spanish writer Jacint Verdaguer (1845-1902), celebrates Canigou in his works. In 1877 he wrote ‘Canigó, L’Atlàntida’ – an epic poem consisting of ten books! In it he covers many wonders such as the creation of the Mediterranean Sea, the discovery of the Americas and the sinking of Atlantis…. Manuel de Falla’s opera, ‘Atlàntida’ is based upon it….

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Jacint Verdaguer, per Ramon Casas, 1901 Diari La Veu – via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Canigou can only be described as one such wonder in itself….the way its majestic beauty dominates the Roussillon Plain…. Sometimes it looks peaceful and calm, with the sunlight glinting upon it…. Other times it looks moody and angry…. Occasionally it can’t be seen at all, as it is shrouded in mist and cloud…. Whatever mood Canigou is in – I, for one, never tire of looking at it….

At the end of each holiday it’s time to pack the car up again for the return journey. We all drive back together as I have not successfully managed to persuade John that it is absolutely necessary for Jordan and I to fly both ways…. It is an epic 18 hour non-stop door to door trip – and quite frankly a bit of a killer…. When we set off at first light I take one last look at Canigou – waking from its slumber – and I whisper ‘au revoir – until next time’…. I like to think Canigou bestows a little of its magic upon us, to see us home safe and sound….



Here in the UK about a third of us can be classified as ‘collectors’ – and we are far from being alone – all across the World there are like-minded people adding to their own accumulations; a collection of collections which is more diverse and varied than most of us can possibly imagine….from the simple, to the sublime, to even the outright bizarre….

For many of us, collecting is something that begins in childhood; it may be trading cards, Lego, stamps, Barbie dolls – whatever captures the young imagination…. For my son, in his infant days, it was an insatiable appetite for Thomas the Tank Engine – we still have a huge stash of die-cast models up in the loft (I think he’s quietly hoping they may one day increase in value)…. Later he moved on to Lego – I’m currently badgering him to do something about his hoard – it is surprising how much space it takes up….

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Lego photo credit

The thrill of coming across that elusive Pokémon card or that hard to find action figure….that feeling of satisfaction…. Of course, those feelings don’t necessarily disappear upon reaching adulthood, very often we elevate to more elaborate things to amass – frequently with a passion and sometimes even with an obsession….

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Trading Cards Minhimalism via / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

It is only over the last 150 years or so that everyday people have begun to collect. More disposable income, an increase in leisure time, the advent of consumerism and having more personal space has allowed the magpies amongst us to indulge our whims….

In 1892 the US Mint produced its first commemorative coins, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Europeans arriving in the Americas. Nowadays, the commemorative coin market is worth a mint in itself…. Obviously it’s not just coins that are produced purely for the collector; plates, figurines, stamps, soft toys, t-shirts – the list is endless…. Memorabilia is another area that often attracts – be it a Royal wedding or maybe a national event, people like souvenirs…. I doubt if there are many households in Britain that don’t have at least one mug, spoon or plate commemorating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee….

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God bless you maam Project 365(3) Day 11 Keith Williamson via / CC BY Original image URL:

Then there’s celebrity memorabilia; an autograph (or more likely these days a selfie with one’s favourite celeb), perhaps a lock of hair, underwear…. Yes! I’m serious – a quick on-line search might well reveal just how much a famous person’s knickers can fetch….

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Photo credit:

Household trade brands were quick to recognise the potential of producing relative paraphernalia – often involving trademark characters, such as Homepride’s Fred, Robinsons Gollies – or what about those Natwest Piggies so many of us aspired to – how could we ever forget those?…

Personally, I am old enough to remember a time before teabags became the norm…. I recall, as a nipper, hanging around excitedly when my mother opened a new packet of tea – waiting to see what the enclosed card would be…. I never took it as far as trying to complete a set – but plenty of people did – what a brilliant way for companies to ensure customer loyalty…. Cigarette cards were another biggie of the time – smoking may no longer be in vogue but those cards have managed to remain a mainstay in the world of collecting….

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Roses Cigarette Card Effervescing Elephant via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:

Sometimes a craze takes the Planet by storm; one particular one that springs to mind is the Beanie Baby phenomenon back in the late 90s…. At the time I had two gift shops and stocked the collectable little bean bags…. When a new delivery came in, very often it became what can only be described as pandemonium…. I have witnessed grown adults fighting over some of the more desirable of what were essentially intended to be children’s toys…. Such was the secondary market that certain Beanie Babies changed hands for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of pounds…. I feel a little embarrassed to admit I still have a large collection myself, taking up room at my mum’s house (and I have the audacity to complain about Jordan’s Lego)….

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Sometimes companies will collaborate and work in affiliation with each other; sticking with the Beanie Baby theme, Ty and McDonald’s did just that – with a range of Teenie Beanies produced for McDonald’s Happy Meals…. Collecting the free toys given away with Happy Meals is in itself a pastime enjoyed by many – but did you know, Mike Fountaine, owner of McDonald’s, has over 75,000 pieces of memorabilia from his World famous burger restaurant chain, occupying 7,000 sq ft of his home?…

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McDonald’s jun560 via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

Of course, collecting is a very personal thing – maybe it could be a preference for a certain kind of animal: cows, owls, cats, dogs, ducks etc etc…. Sometimes collections happen by accident…. Having acquired a spinning wheel, which resides in our sitting room, it has over the last few years become home to an array of various ornamental sheep…. Naturally, when it becomes known that someone has a collection of a particular item (or theme), they can expect to receive related gifts, when it comes to birthdays and other such occasions….

Soft toys are often a popular thing to collect, perhaps because they have a nostalgic link to our childhoods; characters such as Winnie the Pooh are always a favourite. Dolls such as Barbie or Raggedy Ann remain firm contenders – Troll dolls are another example; one collector, Sherry Groom, has more than 3,500…. Then there’s the occasional quirky collectors….one couple own 240 blow-up dolls (yes, you know the ones)….they like to dress them and treat them like members of the family….

Me, I’ve got a soft spot for teddy bears…. There’s not a room in this house that doesn’t have at least a couple of bears lurking somewhere…. My weakness is for those German bears with the tag in the ear….

To be honest though, I find it hard to resist any bear…. My collection will never rival that of Jackie Miley though, who has over 7,000 of our furry friends…. The other collection that appears to be growing in this household is themed around witches – there seems to be at least one of those in every room too…. now, I can’t think why – but there again I do believe there are those who consider I might be one….

Witchy profile

Sometimes people may accumulate things associated with their profession, be it of a humorous nature or more directly connected….maybe vintage tools of the trade or examples of the end product…. Former milkman, Paul Luke, boasts over 10,000 different types of milk bottle….

Men and women are equally likely to collect….occasionally crossing the stereotypical boundaries….  Perhaps the largest collection of women’s dresses belongs to German, Paul Brockman – who owns more than 55,000 of them – (although in his defence, he claims they are for his wife)…. Now, there’s one wardrobe I wouldn’t mind having a rummage through….

Housing large collections can cause a few headaches – especially for those living in the same space as the collector. Sure, there are those lucky enough to be able to devote an entire room to their passion but for many every available nook and cranny gets taken over. I wonder where Valli Hammer keeps 2,450 rubber ducks and where does UK’s David Morgan store his 137 traffic cones? Then there’s Russian Grigori Fleicher with over 1,300 toothbrushes and the Dutch collector who has more than 6,000 air-line sick bags….

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Sick Bag by Jill Hadfield Map of the Urban Linguistic Landscape via / CC BY Original image URL:

There is no end to the odd things people collect…. I found a huge quantity of shower caps acquired from hotels, whilst helping to clear my mother-in-law’s house…. My own mum used to save those little sticky labels that often come attached to individual fruit and vegetables…. She used to stick them to the inside of a kitchen cupboard door and over time built up quite a collage of them…. Collecting is such an individual thing, it can be whatever captures the heart – like Italian David Andreani, who has Coca Cola cans from nearly every country in the World; or Carsten Tews from Germany, with over 1,500 different mobile phones….

Then there is the more bizarre…. Graham Barker collects belly button fluff….his own admittedly; he began accumulating it in 1984 and now has over 21 grams of the stuff stored in jars…. Or how about a hoard of 24,999 toe nail clippings? Gathered for a scientific study in 2013, this has to be one of the more gruesome accumulations….

There are those who particularly like gruesome or even ghoulish…. Victorian surgeons’ equipment is an area some find interesting – but how about corpse tattoos? Tattoos are  removed from dead bodies, preserved with mummification and stretched so they become translucent and are presented mounted under glass…. Or what about murderabilia? Artwork produced by convicted serial killers….it might sound like a very odd thing to collect but it is extremely popular on-line….

Then there’s those who collect things that many of us may find very distasteful…. I used to work with a chap who had an interest in Nazi memorabilia. He used to wear a ring which he claimed was made from gold taken from the teeth of victims of the Holocaust – I personally found that absolutely horrifying and abhorrent….

On a lighter note – I naturally come into contact with many a collector through my line of work…. Being a dealer in vintage/antique I am often asked if I ever come across certain items and pieces – I have met some fascinating people and it never ceases to amaze me to the variety of things folk choose to collect…. For every person who collects something, from the man who acquires vintage cars to the woman who accumulates kitchenalia….they do it for a reason….it gives them pleasure. Some may not understand, how what to them is an ordinary and mundane object, can be another’s passion – take for example those who collect antiquities – I, for one, totally get that – (well, I would wouldn’t I)? I hope long may they continue to enjoy their passion – purely for selfish reasons – it gives me an excuse to continue indulging my own – one which I’m also lucky enough to call my job….

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Striding down the road to knowledge….

To me it seems such a short time ago that we moved into what was then a ‘building site’…. It was the beginning of September 2005; I had always been adamant we were not going to live in a half completed house and that the renovations had to be finished before Jordan started school….but so often these things don’t go according to plan…. That is how we found ourselves frantically moving into a semi-derelict cottage the day before Jordan took his place in the reception class of a local primary school…. A rather chaotic and stressful beginning to his academic life….

How the time has flown – this week Jordan’s school year will be celebrating the end of the exam season and their final year at secondary school, in the way that has become customary in the UK – with their school prom….

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CXO Prom 2017 danxoneil via / CC BY Original image URL:

I have to admit, the school prom is a completely new experience for me too…. A fairly recent tradition that has taken the best part of a century to cross the Atlantic from the States…. I left school in the early 80s – I can’t remember if we even had a leaver’s disco, let alone a prom! How things have changed…. On Thursday evening Jordan and his school friends will be attending a formal dinner dance at a rather plush wine estate in Dorking…. His new suit, bought for the occasion, is hanging on the back of his bedroom door; he has a new shirt, tie, pocket-chief and shoes, to complete the ensemble…. I perhaps ought to think myself lucky I have a son, I can only imagine the preparations (and expense) for those with daughters….

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Day 23 …girls just wanna have fun! @RunRockPrincess via / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

With over 85% of schools now holding leaver’s proms in the UK, it is a massive business; over £100 million a year is collectively spent countrywide on the occasion – prom dresses/suits (hair, makeup, nails, accessories etc), transport, the venue…. Then there’s year books, leaver’s hoodies…. so it goes on…. Some parents can expect to fork-out up to £1,500! It is now a huge industry and this year is set to be the biggest yet….

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Standing beside limo jabzoog via / CC BY Original image URL:

It is hard to think, that less than 150 years ago it was not even a legal requirement to attend school at all….

The oldest school in the UK, Kings School, Canterbury, was founded in Saxon times, in 597. During the Middle Ages schools were established to teach Latin grammar to boys from aristocratic families, mainly for those being prepared to enter the Clergy. During Tudor times, under Edward IV’s reign, the system was reformed, to provide ‘free grammar schools’. Theoretically, these were open to anyone – but the majority of poorer families could not spare their children, they were needed for work, their labour bringing in much-needed income to the family….

Up until the late 19th Century the majority of education was organised by the Church, concentrating mainly on religious studies and the teaching of Latin and Greek. The University of Oxford was set up in affiliation with the Church, shortly followed by Cambridge…. For many a child, the only education received was in the form of Sunday school; by 1831 some 1,250,000 children attended Sunday school – this is often seen as the beginning of the British school system as we know it….

Children in wealthier families may have had a governess who would have taught them at home until they were 10 years old. Boys would usually have gone on to public school, whilst girls might have continued education at home. Other children may have attended ‘charity schools’, (informal village schools); or they may have gone to ‘dame schools’. These were run by school mistresses and were basically private schools at the lower end of the scale – they were often very basic, teaching only spelling, occasionally maths and grammar, depending on the mistress’s own abilities…. Many of these lessons were conducted in the school mistress’s own home….sometimes a purpose-built building was available ( a few of these still survive today – a nearby village to here, Thursley, has one within its churchyard)…. Although given the name ‘charity schools’, they were not exactly that, they were not free of charge. In 1870 the Education Act stated schools could charge no more than 9 pence per week per child; it wasn’t until 1891 that free education became available….

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Victorian School Photograph at Frenchay Church of England School brizzle born and bred via / CC BY-ND Original image URL:

It was actually in August 1833 that the State became involved in education, allocating money for schools to be built for poorer children in England and Wales – (Scotland had begun its programme in the 17th Century)…. In 1837 a bill for public education was presented to Parliament…. In 1880 the Elementary Education Act made it compulsory for 5-10 year olds to be educated (with the exception of blind or deaf children). This was not popular amongst many poorer families; tempted to keep their youngsters out earning, they risked a visit from the ‘Attendance Officer’…. Only when a child had reached the required satisfactory level of educational standard were they issued with a School Certificate, enabling them to work. If this certificate could not be produced by any working child under the age of 13, the employer in question could face heavy penalties….

In 1893, the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act raised the minimum leaving age to 11, this time including blind and deaf children on a voluntary basis, (by now specialist schools were being introduced). An amendment in 1899 raised the age to 12, a further amendment raised it to 13 and made attendance compulsory for blind and deaf children…. During the late Victorian era the grammar school curriculum was brought up to date but Latin was still taught….

In 1944 the school-leaving age became 15 and on 1st September 1972 it increased to 16…. Of course, things have changed again recently….unless taking up an apprenticeship, it is now a legal requirement to remain in full-time education until the age of 18….

The first exams for schools were introduced in 1858, the schools themselves demanding them as a way of determining achievement levels. Universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge were asked to produce them so boys could sit exams in their home towns (they may have been sat at the school or somewhere like a church or village hall)…. Girls were not permitted to sit exams until 1867….

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Girl Scholars 1895 Sunderland Public Libraries via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

The first exams took place on the 14th December 1858. There were 2 levels; Junior (for the under 16s) and Senior (for 16s to 18s). Subjects included: English Language and Literature, History, Geography, Geology, Greek, Latin, German, French, Political Economy, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Music, Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Zoology and Religious Knowledge (although parents had the right to withdraw their child from this particular one)….

Examiners would arrive wearing full academic dress, carrying a locked box containing the exam papers. Nowadays, the papers are sent in advance, schools appoint their own invigilators and the papers are returned for marking. Even that is changing though; with the advent of ‘e-testing’, exam papers could well become a thing of the past….

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Day138/365 Kennysarmy via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

In 1944 the 11 plus exam was introduced, determining whether a child should attend a grammar, technical or secondary modern school for their senior education. It wasn’t until 1964 that comprehensive schools (a school for mixed abilities serving a specific catchment area) were proposed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government….

A General Certificate of Education (GCE), O-levels and A-levels were introduced in 1951 (replacing the School Certificate) – but these were mainly for those attending grammar schools. Some education authorities brought in their own exams for those not eligible to take GCEs and in 1965 the CSE was introduced as an alternative. O-levels and CSEs were then replaced by the GCSE in 1988. In 1995 a further set of tests, often referred to as SATs, were introduced for children aged 7, 11 and 14….

Back in those early days, exams took place over the period of a week….papers were sat morning, afternoon and evening. Nowadays, the exam season extends over 2 months in early Summer. Expectations of students were also very different in the beginning, vast amounts of information had to be learnt off by heart…. A more flexible approach now means students are allowed to demonstrate they can analyse information and show they can apply knowledge and understanding….

Modern day thinking takes the view that children should be encouraged to ask questions in order to learn. In days gone by this was not the case; the belief was that children had to be taught to behave in a correct manner; “children should be seen and not heard” – “spare the rod and spoil the child”. This ‘reasoning’ stemmed from religious views, the Christian belief that mankind was born with a tendency to sin and do wrong. Discipline in Victorian schools probably had to be tough due to large class sizes. Any form of physical punishment today is viewed as abuse; Victorians certainly had no such view – slipper, belt, cane – sometimes it really must have been a severe case of abuse, cruel adults unable to show restraint….both in school and at home…. Poland was the first country to abolish corporal punishment in schools, in 1783. It took English state schools until the late 1980s to follow suit (2000 for Scotland, 2003 for Northern Ireland) and in Britain’s private/public schools right up to 1999. Nowadays corporal punishment is not practised in any European country (although some parts of the World still use it)….

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Junior School Punishment Book theirhistory via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

There are those who would argue the cane should be brought back, a little discipline should be instilled. I don’t know, perhaps it is just good fortune – but having just had a child go through the state education system, up to the point of starting college, it has been nothing but an exceptionally positive experience. I have always admired the level of respect both teachers and pupils have shown to each other and there has been a genuine desire from the students to learn and do well…. The kids have worked so damned hard towards these exams; now they are over and prom night is upon us. I hope every single one of them has a fantastic time….they deserve it….X

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Happy School Kids ‘playingwithbrushes’ via / CC BY Original image URL:


A nation of shopkeepers….

It is a busy time at the moment – sorting through my stock ready for when I move into the antiques centre at the end of this month – At the same time, I can’t resist looking for one or two more unusual bits, to add to the flavour…. I was particularly excited this last week to happen across a Victorian butter churn…. I had to have it….


Butter dates back to 2000BC; possibly it may have been discovered accidentally. The first butter was produced by putting milk into bags made of animal skin and then literally shaking until the milk and fat separated…. It is quite likely this process came to light when milk was being transported by animal….

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Rollin’ USFS Region 5 via / CC BY Original image source:

Butter churns have probably been around since the 6th Century…. There are different variations of them but all use the same concept….to agitate the liquid until separation…. The buttermilk is then strained off (and can be used in cooking and baking), leaving behind the creamy butter…. To speed up the process, cream skimmed off the milk could be used; well into the 1800s this was done by simply allowing the milk to sour a little – but by the late Victorian / early Edwardian times cream separators became available….

Edwardian stoneware cream separator – one method used to separate cream from milk….

The more familiar styles of butter churn are: The Plunge Churn – (also known as the Up and Down Churn) – an upright container, with a pole inserted through the top, which is then moved up and down vertically….

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Butter Churn and Washboard chris league via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source:

The Barrel Churn – a barrel with a handle attached, that either turns paddles within or rotates the whole barrel itself….

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butter churn Steve Slater (used to be Wildlife Encountered) via / CC BY Original image source :

Or, The Paddle Churn – a container with paddles inside, that are turned by a handle…. The butter churn I acquired this week is of the latter form; it is French in origin and full of rustic charm…. The paddles inside are made of wood, with cut-outs in the shapes of heart, diamond, club and spade, as in a pack of playing cards….


The crank handle on the outside still turns the paddles and so I guess it’s in full working order…. Theoretically, butter could be made – I don’t think I will be giving it a go, though – I’ll stick to buying my butter from the shop….

In years gone by, it would have been very much my job to make sure the family had butter, an essential part of a woman’s daily work…. Even producing the most simple of meals, such as a breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and jam required much effort…. After tending the chickens and collecting the eggs, the bread needed to be made and baked, ready to be slathered with freshly churned butter and home-made jam…. At least in more recent times it became possible to nip down the village shop….

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Image from page 10 of “The days of long ago, and Immortality (Antithesis of “The Rubaiyat”)”(1909) Internet Archive Books via / No known copyright restrictions Original image source:

Mankind has been trading his wares for centuries…. The Ancient Greeks had their ‘agoras’ and the Romans their ‘forums’ – market places to you and I…. The Romans were even known to use shopping lists – one was found close to Hadrian’s Wall – dating to 75-125CE (current era, the numbering system for the Julian and Gregorian calendars)…. The Middle Ages saw street hawkers, markets and fairs…. As the 1600s approached, the average Englishman’s purchasing power increased….the demand for sugar, tea, cotton and luxury goods rose….the beginnings of consumerism. Market places expanded…. In 1609 the first shopping ‘centre’ was opened in the Strand, London, by politician, Robert Cecil, the first earl of Salisbury…. This was the start of specific streets and areas being designated to retail….

The first plate-glass windows arrived in the late 18th Century, allowing displays to entice customers in…. A tailor’s shop in Charing Cross was amongst the first to install such windows…. Department stores also arrived in the late 1700s….the first is believed to be Harding, Howell & Co. of Pall Mall, in 1796; it closed 24 years later, after the partnership dissolved. During the 1840s and 50s department stores took off in a big way across the UK, France and USA….

Most villages would have had a village shop…. A centre of the community, where locals would meet and exchange news and gossip….where the proprietor knew most of his customers by name…. Very often, these little shops were a life-line to some of the village’s residents….


Britain’s oldest surviving shop is the Boxford Stores, in Suffolk. Documented evidence shows it was first used as a warehouse for the buying and selling of wool and fabric. It has been in continuous service as a shop since 1528, when it was rented to Thomas Rastall, a butcher…. Over the centuries it has accommodated a variety of retail businesses, including green grocers, iron mongers and drapers…. Concerns were raised in 2015 that it may close as a shop, when ownership changed hands – but it was bought by two businessmen and it now trades as a green grocers and delicatessen….


The corner shop is the urban equivalent to the traditional village store….both have been facing a struggle to survive, many have already disappeared. Very often, small shops are family run businesses; because of other opportunities available to them, it is often the case that the children of the family don’t want to take over the running of the business. Of course, the other main reason for their demise is competition from the ‘big boys’…. Smaller premises means the variety of produce available is limited and with their larger purchasing power, supermarkets can very often sell goods at much cheaper prices….

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Premier chrisinplymouth via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image source:

The concept of the self-service grocery store came about in 1916. On the 6th of September of that year, American grocer, Clarence Saunders opened his first ‘Piggly Wiggly’ store at 79, Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee…. By 1922 he had 1,200 stores across the States and by 1932 the number had risen to 2,600….


The first supermarket to be opened in the UK was by the Cooperative Society on the 12th of January  1948, in Manor Park, London…. (Sainsbury’s first opened in 1950, followed by Tesco in 1954)….

Up until that point, shopping meant a trip to several different stores….the butcher, fish monger, green grocer, baker etc…. It meant queuing at the counter, waiting for purchases to be weighed, measured and packaged….which all took a considerable amount of time….

On that first morning of the brand new Co-op store opening, housewives queued outside in the freezing January cold…. Once inside they were amazed by the variety available to them….and were confused by the concept of serving themselves….

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“The arrival of the Supermarket, it changed our lives forever” brizzle born and bred via / CC BY-ND Original image source:

Early stores did not carry fresh produce, such as fruit, vegetables and meat…. How different things are today…. As we all know, just about everything we require on a day-to-day basis can be found under one roof….and of course, bigger stores offer so much more….clothing, electrical goods, toys, even financial services…. There really is no stopping them…. Nowadays, many of the old corner shops are being replaced by the big chains with their smaller convenience stores….

The way we shop has also changed…. Competition between the big concerns and the relaxation of Sunday opening means stores are trading for longer hours, some are even open 24 hours a day…. In recent years we have seen the advent of on-line shopping…. A few clicks and the weekly shop is delivered straight to your door…. ‘Dark stores’ exist; warehouses essentially layed-out like supermarkets but not open to the public – their sole purpose to fulfill all those on-line orders….  Nowadays, the focus is very much on on-line shopping for just about everything…. We don’t have to take time out of our busy lives to trudge around stores and can arrange delivery to a convenient location, be it home, the office…. Actual, physical ‘shopping’ has, to some extent, become reserved as a leisure activity….

We are all often nostalgic when we think about our village shops and corner stores….

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The Corner Shop brizzle born and bred via / CC BY-ND Original image source:

Unfortunately, it is our preference for convenience that has seen the demise of so many….we simply haven’t supported them…. Although it may be too late for some, it’s not all doom and gloom….there are plenty that are fighting back…. It is not unusual these days for a village shop to be owned and run by the villagers themselves….often selling local produce – eggs, milk, vegetables from a local farmer, bread delivered daily from a local bakery…. Sometimes these shops will offer a range of artisan or hand-crafted foods…. Many might provide a facility for fresh coffee and place to catch-up with neighbours whilst picking something up for dinner…. The village shop is still, in so many cases, the central hub of the community…. Thankfully, their value has been recognised and conscious efforts are being made to preserve them…. Obviously, we all have to move with the times, many of these little stores are doing just that…. It’s up to us as individuals to help keep them going; personally, I love it when I can pop into a little shop and find something different….may be a jar of locally produced honey – or handicrafts made by somebody within the village…. Let’s face it, we all love a little retail therapy….

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight, appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers”….  Adam Smith – Wealth of Nations 1776












Hey! That’s not a weed….that’s lunch….

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered….”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson 1878

With the arrival of the good weather it dawned on me there really was no excuse now, time to get outside and do some serious jungle clearance in the garden…. That’s how I found myself on my knees for three hours, pulling out ‘weeds’…. When my aching back could take no more, I hauled myself to my feet and stood back to survey my handiwork and was quite disgruntled that it really looked no different to when I had first started…. The only evidence I had to show for all my hard toil was a bucket full of wilting, sad-looking, unwanted vegetation. With a sigh, I plucked out a piece of limp greenery and inspected it…. There was something vaguely familiar about it, or maybe a similarity to something else…. After a moment of pondering, it ‘clicked’ – it reminded me of spinach. Naturally, I had to go and investigate – what was this little plant and could I eat it….?

My ‘spinach’ lookalike turned out to be Lambs Quarters; and indeed is a relative of spinach and perfectly edible…. This got me wondering to what other culinary delights might be lurking in the garden…. I was in for quite a surprise….

Lamb’s Quarters: A single plant can produce up to 75,000 seeds, as a result this makes Lamb’s Quarters one of our most common garden ‘weeds’. It was initially thought to be native to Europe but evidence has been found that even American Blackfoot Indians used it in the 16th Century. There is obviously a good reason for the widespread existence of this abundant little plant; Lamb’s Quarters are excellent at restoring healthy nutrients to the soil. They are also capable of providing us with plenty of healthy nutrients too; they are a good source of vitamins A and C and contain calcium, phosphorus and some thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. The leaves, shoots and flowers are all edible (as are the seeds but not to be consumed in excess as too many can be toxic). Lamb’s Quarters can be eaten raw in salads but sparingly as they contain some oxalic acid – but once cooked, this is removed. Cook as you would spinach, preferably by steaming; add to soups, stews, casseroles, egg dishes – in fact it can be used as a replacement in any dish requiring spinach, as it is in effect ‘wild spinach’. It can be preserved for winter by drying or freezing…. Pick young leaves to enjoy the mild, spinachy taste….

Lamb’s Quarters Pesto :
3 handfuls Lamb’s Quarters leaves
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
1 handful pine nuts
2 chopped cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in to a blender and blend until combined and smooth.
Store in the fridge in a glass jar for up to a week (or freeze for up to 6 months)….


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Photo credit: Skvalderkal Isfugl via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Ground Elder : Yes, that stuff! The bane of many a gardener; this invasive ‘pest’ of a plant was first recorded in Britain in 1578 but was most likely introduced by the Romans as a herb. It is also known as Bishop’s Weed, probably because it was once commonly used by monks. Another name given to it is ‘Gout Weed’; in old folk-medicine it was a treatment for gout…. Also handy to know, is that a poultice made of the leaves is a good remedy for insect bites, burns and minor wounds….

In the Middle Ages it was cultivated as a food crop as it was one of the first edible greens to emerge in the spring. It is best harvested between February and June (before the flowers appear) and can prove to be very versatile…. Eat raw in salads, dress it with olive oil, lemon juice and a twist of black pepper….or put it in a sandwich. When cooking it can be treated like spinach; pop it in a pan with a large knob of salted butter, cover and cook until soft – serve once again with black pepper. Ground Elder can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, omelettes, quiches and pies…. There are countless ways of consuming this ‘fiend’ of the garden….


Purslane : This half-hardy ‘weed’ was once to be seen growing in the beds of gardens in the Middle Ages, as it was thought to ward off evil spirits! Nowadays, we know it is good for us in other ways; it is high in vitamins A, C and E and is also a source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. With its salty, lemony, sour, spinach like flavour, it is a lively addition to salads and sandwiches, with a satisfying slight ‘crunch’ to the leaves…. Again it can be cooked as you would spinach, it can be added to soups and stews – and is great in a stir-fry…. In French cookery it is used with equal amounts of sorrel to make the classic ‘Bonne Femme Soup’. As a more simple alternative, try a quick and easy….

Purslane and Potato Soup :
250g chopped Purslane
250g peeled, diced potatoes
50g butter
1 litre vegetable stock
3 tablespoons single cream
seasoning, to taste

Sauté Purslane in butter; add stock and potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
Add seasoning. Puree soup mixture in a blender; stir through cream.
Serve garnished with fresh Purslane….


Chickweed : Oh, how can we possibly call this one a weed? It is a gift from Mother Nature, herself…. This highly nutritious plant is available nearly all year round and was once thought of as a valuable food source during the winter months…. Packed with vitamins C, B6, B12, D and A, it also contains magnesium, phosphorus, copper, flavonoid (rutlin), iron, zinc, calcium and beta-carotene….but don’t be deceived, despite all that it has a mild flavour, almost like iceberg lettuce. Therefore, it makes an ideal salad base and is great in a sandwich. It can be cooked but chop it up finely, as it can become a little ‘stringy’. Put it in soups and stews, add it to quiches, pies and omelettes – pile it on your pizza….

However, the benefits this wondrous little ‘super food’ offers don’t stop there! It has many medicinal properties too. It can help with circulation and stomach disorders and as an aid for rheumatic and respiratory conditions (especially those where there is a lot of mucous present). It is also known for its skin soothing effects, making a good emollient or can be administered via poultices, compresses or baths. It can be used to treat ulcers, boils and abscesses; it will alleviate bites, stings and blisters – even nappy rash! It is thought to help with eczema and psoriasis symptoms…. I must admit, I now have so much respect for the humble Chickweed….


Nettles : Those horrible, pain inflicting plants we’ve all been stung by at one time or another….but they’re only trying to protect themselves and the precious cargo of young wildlife they offer a home to; namely the caterpillars of some of our most beautiful butterflies….

If you are brave enough to attempt to prepare them for culinary use, they provide an excellent source of vitamin C and minerals – particularly calcium, potassium, silicon and iron. They were once used to ‘revitalise’ the body after the winter period and are believed to help with arthritic conditions and eczema. Some herbalists use them to treat hay fever and skin allergies….

Never, ever, attempt to eat them raw – for obvious reasons…. Use the young leaves and cook like spinach (older leaves are high in calcium oxalate).  Add to soups and stews….steep in boiling water to make nettle herbal tea…. Of course, you can always take the sting out of them by turning them into beer or wine….

The Cornish use them in the production of Cornish Yarg; a handmade, semi-hard cheese that has a creamy taste.

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Photo credit: Cornish Yarg – cheese wrapped in nettles. Much better than it sounds! gingerbeardman via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

After pressing, the cheese is wrapped in nettle leaves, in a decorative manner; this then attracts natural moulds which occur in varying colours. The mould helps with the ripening process and gives the cheese a subtle, ‘mushroomy’ flavour….


Dandelions : Admittedly, this is one ‘weed’ that, to a certain extent, gets a ‘stay of execution’ in our garden – as the family bunnies love them…. Rich in pollen and nectar, this hardy perennial is also very attractive to insects, including bees…. So, another good reason to leave them put. However, they certainly have their uses in our kitchens too….

The young leaves are good in salads but older leaves are best blanched to reduce their bitterness; they can also be used in stir-fries…. Dandelions are a good source of potassium….

The roots can be used to make herbal ‘coffee’…. At the end of the plant’s second season, lift the roots, wash well, chop and dry…. They can then be ground to make ‘coffee’. Another, more familiar drink, made from the fermented roots, is Dandelion and Burdock; now marketed as a soft fizzy drink, it was once sold as a health drink during Victorian times….

The dandelion flower can also be used to make a very pleasing wine…. This personally brings back childhood memories for me…. Many a happy hour was spent helping my Dad pick dandelions for his homemade wine….

Dandelions are well-known to help with liver and kidney ailments as they have a diuretic effect on the urinary system; they may help to reduce fluid retention and help the body to get rid of toxins. They are good for gallbladder complains and are an effective laxative….

Another name dandelions are known by; ‘piss en lit’ – yes, seriously – when translated from the French it means ‘wet the bed’….


Clover : A member of the pea family, clover is high in protein, beta carotene, vitamins B and C. When picking the flowers, choose fresh blooms that have no signs of browning on them. Rinse well in cool water and blot dry with kitchen paper….

Toss the whole heads in to a salad, or dust with flour and pan fry for a tasty nibble…. Alternatively, they can be frozen into an ice-cube and make a pretty addition to a cold drink….

The flowers are known to help with eczema and psoriasis; also if used as an infusion or syrup, they can alleviate coughs and bronchitis. Clinical studies suggest they can aid in menopausal symptoms due to compounds called isoflavines found in both the flowers and leaves; these isoflavines possess mild oestrogenic properties….

To make red clover tea – pick 3 or 4 fresh flowers; remove stems and place in an infuser (if you have one) – if not, straining will be required…. Pour over boiling water and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes…. To make a refreshing version, add a couple of mint leaves with the clover blooms….


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Photo credit: 3572 daisy field crabchick via / CC BY Original image URL:

Ox Eye Daisies : Not really a ‘weed’ as such, rather a very pretty wild flower – but if left unchecked in the garden they can soon get out of control…. So, waste not want not….

Ox Eye Daisies are tasty when eaten raw, add flowers and buds to salads…. Alternatively they can be fried in tempura batter (rather like you would a courgette flower); makes a great savoury when paired with chilli or sesame seeds – or for those with a sweet tooth….dust with icing sugar after frying….

Ox Eye daisy buds can also be pickled like capers….

Put in to a saucepan….

500ml white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon each of salt, peppercorns and mace
2 chopped garlic cloves

Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least an hour….
Meanwhile, fill two 1/4 litres preserving jars with Ox Eye daisy buds,
then press down so the jars are 3/4 full….
Once cool, strain the vinegar mixture through a sieve to remove solid ingredients
and pour liquid in to jars until full.
Cap and keep for a few weeks to mature….

Or, how about using Ox Eye daisy leaves as an accompaniment to a curry….

150ml coconut milk
150g natural yoghurt
Juice of half a lime
20g Ox Eye daisy leaves

Chop the leaves finely. Put yoghurt, coconut milk and lime juice into a bowl and mix.
Add leaves and stir through to combine thoroughly….
Allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes….serve with your curry….

Finally, we come to dessert…. Now, here’s one that really did surprise me…. I had no idea this could be eaten…. (and I am actually quite thankful we don’t have this particular one in the garden)….


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Photo credit: Japanischer Staudenknoterich (Fallopia japonica) blumenbiene via / CC BY Original image URL:

Japanese Knotweed : One of the most invasive plants around and extremely difficult to eradicate….laws exist as to the means of its correct disposal…. Knotweed grows approximately 3 foot a month and its roots can go down to a whopping 10 foot! It was first introduced to Britain in about 1825 as a garden plant and has since become a thorough nuisance…. It is spread via the roots; just a tiny piece, the size of a postage stamp, is enough to produce a whole  new plant. If you are going to use it for culinary purposes it is strongly advisable to burn any unused material – as nobody wants to be responsible for inadvertently spreading this highly invasive plant….

Knotweed can be eaten raw but it is best cooked. It has a lemony, tart, crispy, rhubarb-like taste and can be used in just about any recipe that calls for rhubarb….

The best time to pick it is mid April to May; the stems have to be gathered whilst they are still tender i.e. before  they become hard and woody. Ideally, the shoots should be between 6 to 8 inches in length….

Knotweed is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, it also has zinc, potassium, phosphorus and manganese. It is suggested it can help treat and prevent Lyme’s disease…. It also contains resveratrol – the substance found in grape skins, that is known to protect against heart attacks…. In fact, beer or wine can be made from Knotweed (personally, I think I’ll stick to a decent glass of red)…. It is also possible to make a tea; the Japanese call it ‘Itadori tea’…. Simmer shoots for 20 minutes, strain, add sugar to taste and serve chilled….

Knotweed and Date Crumble

20 lengths Knotweed, cut into 5cm chunks
A good handful or two of chopped dates
4 tablespoons orange juice
110g butter
225g plain flour (sifted)
110g light brown soft sugar

Make crumble by rubbing flour into butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir through sugar….
Place Knotweed and dates into an oven proof dish, pour over orange juice.
Cover with foil and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes.
Remove foil, cover mixture evenly with crumble and bake for a further 20 minutes,
until golden….
Serve with custard or cream….

Sounds yum, doesn’t it….? In all honesty though, it would take an awful lot of crumble to eradicate one Knotweed plant….probably best to get it disposed of properly….

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Photo credit: Controlled Waste Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors via / CC BY-SA Original image URL:


So, there we have it…. Next time I’m working in the garden, I will think of it as ‘maintenance foraging’ as opposed to ‘weeding’….although I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to cross that bag of rocket off the weekly shopping list yet….

Of course, it goes without saying….if you do decide to take advantage of Nature’s free veggies….be both 100% certain they come from a totally weed-killer free environment and that they have been correctly identified…. Also, as a lot of these plants are used in herbal medicines it is strongly advised not to participate if pregnant or breast-feeding…. Far better to be on the safe side….

“There was a young farmer of Leeds,
Who swallowed six packets of seeds,
It soon came to pass
He was covered in grass,
And couldn’t sit down for the weeds….”
Limerick – Anon.