Sunday, March 29, 2009

Labour Party Conference - a weekend in Mullingar

We have been in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in the Irish Midlands, this weekend for the Irish Labour Party Conference, which was attended by around a thousand delegates from all over the country. It was a lively event, as these occasions generally are, with plenty of debate on the hot topics of the day and an excellent speech from Eamon Gilmore, the Party leader, last night, which gave a realistic message to the country in these straitened economic times. There was a great positive buzz at the conference, and while there is recognition that it might be a thankless job to be in government at this time, with the economy in shreds, house prices crashing thanks to the over-inflated property bubble, and jobs crises, the present government have to do a whole lot better at rebuilding confidence or they might be looking down the barrel of a ballot box in the near future.

This June we will have local and European elections in Ireland, so there was a lot of interest in the various candidates, who have already been selected. As hubby is running for the Lismore Town Council, he had a special interest in that whole area, and he is in campaigning mode with canvassing starting in the coming month or so. He is currently the Mayor of Lismore, and he had to wear the chain at the Leader's address as did all the Councillors who hold such office, either at town or county level, so there was a lot of bling on display among the chain gang! I won't go into the complexities of local government where the various Parties rotate the position of Mayor on an annual basis, but if you are driven by curiosity you could check out the Town Council.

There will be a mini-budget in two weeks which promises to be tough; we have no idea yet what form of cuts or increases it will bring but it will be a hairshirt one. The trade unions called off a national day of strike/protest tomorrow when they agreed to accept a government invitation to recommence talks on a national recovery plan. The current Social Partnership agreement took a hit back in February when pension levies on the public sector workers was unilaterally announced, leading to the massive protest march which I wrote about, and threatening industrial unrest unlike any seen since the 70s. I wasn't looking forward to the day of action which would have been a work-to-rule rather than a work stoppage in the nurses' case, but it would have been inevitable if talks were not resumed.

So this weekend was a chance for the Labour Party who have not been in government in over a decade to lay out their stall for economic recovery and I am not going to go into the detail, as it is all on Eamon Gilmore's Leader's Address here. Suffice to say it was a blend of pragmatism and realistic and workable solutions for the recovery, which would raised taxes for the high earners, without penalising those on lower incomes. It would also see an end to the conflict of interest links between banks and developers and the cronyism that has been exposed in various Tribunals of Enquiry in recent years and particulary the massively inflated salaries and bonuses of the bank chiefs. The capping of salaries of bank CEOs in the wake of various revelations of vulgar excess has led to some candidates rejecting job offers, as they seem to see it as an affront to their dignity and a compromise on the lifestyle to which they became accustomed to have to live on up to €500,000 a year. (Yes, that's half a million Euro, about $665,000 or £465,000 - you try getting by on a pittance like that!)

The diversity of Labour members breaks the stereotypical mould, as they represent every sector and walk of life. Yes, there are a lot of trade unionists and student activists, and public sector workers, and academics, but what strikes me is their integrity and passion, and genuine indignation at the state of the country now, how the boom was wasted by not investing for the rainy day that is now well and truly here! Just so you know it's a party true to its Labour roots, they rounded off the Conference, as usual, with a rousing rendition of The Red Flag - the anthem of the International Labour Movement, which was written in 1889 by an Irish man, Jim Connell, and was the British Labour Party's anthem for years.

I don't want to give the impression that the conference was merely a collective of worthy sandal-wearing, bearded sackcloth-and-ashes types, as there was a lot of enjoyment and socialising (as befits Socialists!). It was unfortunate that the clocks went forward last night, as we were deprived of a much-needed extra hour to either party or sleep. It meant that the dancing to a local band (The Tennessee Breakdown Country Band, in case you're wondering!), which kept us all on our toes with their jiving country sounds, ended at 3a.m. instead of 2a.m. There were a lot of bleary-eyed delegates around at this morning's session! The Leader's Address, broadcast live on national TV and via the web, coincided with Earth Hour, which was just grist for the mill of the anti-Labour media. They were gleeful about the fact that people would miss the speech if they actually did what Labour endorse as ardent supporters of Earth Hour, which would be to turn off the telly and uneccessary lights!

In case you think I spent every waking minute in the conference hall listening to speeches and motions - I didn't! I took time out on Saturday afternoon to visit Belvedere House outside Mullingar, a lovely 18th Century house and gardens, which was given to Westmeath County Council by the last owner in recent years. It is now a major tourist attraction and I took a lot of photos of the house and grounds. It is beautifully situated on the shores of Lough Ennell, and the park has been themed as Narnia, with the follies given a new identity as various Narnia locations and settings. I will either post them separately or return to edit this post tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spell-check and Grammar Night Classes anyone?

This sign was posted to a pole on the road to work for a week or so last autumn, near Dungarvan in Co. Waterford. I nearly crashed the car when I drove past it the first time and thinking I had been seeing things, I looked out for it later in the day when passing the same spot. This time it was on the way back into town, on the other side of the road. No chance of anyone missing it!

I thought of this when I read Kristin's post on Student Howlers, and on commenting on it realised we are both what could be kindly termed Grammar and Punctuation "Anoraks" - my kids and hubby call me pedantic and they are probably right, but I defend my right to be boringly pedantic in the interest of good English!

One of the funniest books I read in the past decade has to be Lynn Truss's "Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" which is all about the mangling of the English Language by poor punctuation and grammar. The title comes from the following joke.

A panda walks into a café, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and fires some shots in the air, and then stands up to go. "Hey!" shouts the manager. "Where are you going? You just shot at my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich!" The panda says to the manager "I'm a PANDA! Look it up!" and he throws him a badly-punctuated wildlife manual. The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition: PANDA: large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.

The bugbear for all members of the Punctuation Police has to be the so-called "Greengrocer's Apostrophe" which renders every plural noun a possessive. "Apple's - 6for €1" is a good bargain but gets me off on a rant every time I see it.

The wonderfully curmudgeonly John Humphrys of BBC 4 "Today" fame has written another hilarious book on the same language assassination, called "Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language" . Both these books are just the tip of the iceberg of a whole genre of books that lament the sloppiness and lazyness that has resulted in kids being taught English by teachers who never learnt the basic rules of good grammar. Children who don't know how to "speak proper" are writing essays in txtspk ( has been done, in the UK an exam essay was submitted that had been written in the text shorthand that is the first language of all digit-happy children from their pre-teens).

So I was gobsmacked with the poster for the night classes, and wondered how long it would be before someone realised the bloomer. That would be about a week! The school is a very reputable secondary and post-leaving certificate college that runs excellent Fetac courses. I mentioned it to a colleague who had also noticed it. He said the principal had become aware of it, and was probably highly embarrassed that it had been printed and posted without proofing. It makes you wonder about the printers that didn't notice alarm bells ringing. I guess they didn't hear them, as I read an article this week about the havoc wreaked by homonyms (words sounding similar with different meanings: e.g. threw - through; phase - faze) that slip under the radar of the spell-checker. Proof-readers have a whole new challenge now to catch the culprits before they hit the printers.
I hope I am not being holier-than-thou in all this - it is just something that bugs me, and I am not a grammar whiz by a long shot. I was appalling in school in formal grammar; parsing and analysing sentences passed me by without as much as a glance, and I am totally at odds with the rules of adjectives and pronouns and verbs. One thing I did learn in school and at home was to spell correctly and use "proper" grammar almost intuitively - from a lot of rote-learning and by reading widely. My mother was very intolerant of lazy speech and I would never get away with quaint colloquialisms like "I done that" so I guess a lot of it is pretty ingrained.

Thanks to Kristin for inspiring this post, and apologies if I've annoyed some of you by being a tad pedantic on my crusading hobbyhorse!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A day at the races - and other events

This weekend the sun shone gloriously and it felt warm outside, lovely to be out and about in jeans and a jumper, shedding all the layers of winter (apart from the fat layers - that comes later!). Today was Mother's Day and was pretty much the same as any other Sunday, I guess I like every day to be Mother's Day ideally and am not too keen on manufactured days whose raison d'etre seems to be overly commercial, and to enhance Hallmark and their ilk with cheesy cards. (Oh dear, that sounds curmudgeonly and sour grape-ish on re-reading, but I am really not into all the hype). At the same time I spent time today with my mother in her long-stay care unit - she is almost 94 and has been bed-bound for the past year or more, and has dementia, which is very sad. We shared some chocolates, which is one treat she still enjoys.
I like to relax at the weekends, though this one involved some activity as we were getting the polytunnel started up for the year. My back was stiff and achey from the unaccustomed bending - transplanting strawberry plants in the tunnel even though hubby did all the hard labour - digging in the compost as we emptied the bin last week and raking and tilling the soil to a nice dark fine tilth. We will plant courgettes, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, peas and beans, and beetroot, and the rhubarb in its outdoor bed is coming along nicely after being under buckets for the past few months.

Ireland won the rugby Grand Slam yesterday for the first time in 61 years by beating Wales in a nail-biting final in Cardiff, and the country went as mad as it only knows how when Ireland win a major international in any sport, with a major homecoming today in Dublin. Then late last night Bernard Dunne became won a World Boxing title in Dublin while Katie Taylor won another boxing match; she is already a world champion. All told it was a good weekend for the Irish in sport, and at local level, our daughter's camogie team, the Lismore Under-14s, won a match this morning against rival neighbours Tallow, I think the final score was 10-9 to 0-0! The Lismore Senior girls from the local Blackwater Community School won the All-Ireland Camogie schools championship during the week, so yes, it was a good week for much needed morale boosting wins!

Between St. Patrick's Day, lovely weather and sporting victories, even the economy got eclipsed and the recession put on the back boiler for the moment, though not for long as the spring of discontent looks set to continue well into April. There is another union-led day of work stoppage/strike action on March 30th and on April 7th there is another hairshirt mini-budget which promises to be anything but (mini). Watch this space for updates!

I went to Dungarvan on Paddy's Day to bring teen daughter and her friend to the parade, which is generally a showcase for local business and clubs, with some marching bands and floats. The political one this year showed a cow(en?) and some dodgy looking politicians with the caption "TDs milking the country"! (TD is MP in Irish). Otherwise the parade doesn't vary from year to year so we went to the cinema to cry at "Marley and Me" - the film that seems to get grown men bawling, can see why!

Back to the races. The annual Point-to-Point races have been an institution in Lismore as long as I can remember, and as I know nothing about horseracing, all I can tell you is that the race is a cross-country circuit on the Castle farm lands. They start and end at roughly the same point (hence the name I guess) and it is a good day out for the racing fraternity from far and wide, and for the locals if the weather is nice. My memories of the point-to-point races are usually associated with freezing sleety sideways driving rain, and Glastonbury-proportioned mud squelching, but not today.

I wandered up to the course at around half past two, and managed to miss all but the last race which was at the ridiculously early time of 3.30pm. I didn't back any nag, as I wouldn't even know how to read the form on the racecard, but enjoyed the ambience and the colour of the jockeys' silks, the bookies' umbrellas, the stalls of toys and trinkets and fun stuff for the kids, and the smell that I always associate with outdoor events like this - the ubiquitous chip van. I couldn't resist joining the long queue for some delicious curry chips from Kearney's van, which shows the strength of my Lenten willpower. Daughter and friends, basking in their camogie victory, were having fun spraying their hair pink and the boys with "fart spray" which was a new one to me seemed to be a hot favourite with both sexes. By the time she got home it had dissipated somewhat but it was straight to the shower nonetheless! In my young days I loved the "amusements" - the Chairoplanes, the Swing-boats and the Dodgems or Bumper cars. They are no longer there, probably a victim of health and safety regulations, which is a pity.
I started the day with a rush of domesticity, and made a batch of mini-bakewell buns, fairy cakes and an apple tart, and found some strawberries in the freezer and made some pots of jam, which made me feel very virtuous (see the photo at the top!) and with enough energy to enjoy the rest of the day - at the races.
Tomorrow is my birthday and as I have already had my big present in advance, with my lovely new camera, it will be a low-key day, which suits me fine as I have the day off and will just enjoy it - with a dental appointment! Oh well, timing is everything!
(NB: I am experiencing some gremlins with posting photos here, as I wanted to add some more but can't move them around - they may have to be in a separate post. Hope this is a one-off !)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Devonshire Day in Lismore Castle

Yesterday we had a lovely day in Lismore Castle. It was a fundraiser for the annual Immrama Festival of Travel Writing which will be held in June and this was the 6th Devonshire Day, as this day is called. It is so called as the Castle is the Irish seat of the Dukeof Devonshire, and the idea has evolved into an annual day out on the Sunday nearest to St. Patrick's Day, which falls tomorrow.

The Avenue from the riding house looking towards the main gate and courtyard

The Castle is not normally open to the public, as the son of the present Duke, Lord Burlington, and his wife, spends quite a lot of time in Lismore, and as the castle is an upmarket guest house for well-heeled guests (those who can spare about €35,000 for a week's full-board with the butlers on hand for a party of 12!) it is also not practical to have tourists tramping about the rooms. So this day is an opportunity to see a little of the interior and people travel from far and wide to enjoy the day.

Enjoying the tea during the talk

The visitors have Devonshire Cream Tea in the Ballroom, which was formerly a chapel and is known as the "Pugin Room" as it was designed by Augustus Pugin, an architect and designer who also designed the Houses of Parliament in Westminister. A number of church and big house interiors have his signature wood panelling and furnishings. It is now used as a room for events like concerts, wedding receptions occasionally, and banqueting hall for large parties of houseguests. It has a marble fireplace which was originally built by Pugin for the Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1851 and brought here after that was dissembled, with the addition of "Céad Mille (sic) Fáilte" written across the top (this means 100,000 welcomes in Irish.)

Various views of the castle from the courtyard

When Prince Charles and his then fiancée Camilla came to Lismore a few years back for the 60th birthday bash of his pal the current duke who was then Lord Hartington. (The old Duke died some years later and Lord Hartington inherited the title. I suppose that means that Lord Burlington, his son, is technically the new Marquis of Hartington, but he is still using the same title.) Charles and Camilla really chilled out on their visit and did a handshaking walkabout after Sunday service in the Cathedral, with minimal security on hand. He is seen as either a harmless tree-hugger or vilified for his marital infidelity to Diana, but he was accepted in Lismore as another visitor to the castle, without much fuss being made of either of them.

The Duke's main home is Chatsworth in Derbyshire, which is one of the great houses of England and a major tourist attraction, much more open to the public than Lismore Castle. Bolton Abbey is another of their houses, and I have never been to either place, but my son played cricket with the Lismore Cricket Team when they went to Bolton Abbey play the Duke's 11 some years ago, and had a chance to see both houses. Our sons have had summer jobs there as butlers over their student years as well, and were working there for the royal visit. They are extremely discreet so I never get any gossip from them, no matter how much I fish!

Enough potted history for now. Yesterday's event was practically fully booked, as the format was five groups of 60 max came at 80 minute intervals. They arrived via the Castle Avenue to the Courtyard and went to the Ballroom, where they had their tea, surrounded by the splendour of the stained glass windows and the Pugin-designed chandelier and wall lights.

During the tea there were talks on the history of the Castle and Lismore, the "Big houses" along the River Blackwater, and the Castle Gardens from various local historians and the Head Gardener. These informative talks put a context on the day, and after tea they got a guided tour of the spring gardens from the wife of the Head Gardener, as he was out of action from a (work-related) foot injury.
So that was the pattern of the day. I am involved in the festival from the health and safety angle and attend all the events as a First Aid person. This entailed accompanying each group around the gardens, tastefully clad in a yellow Hi-Viz jacket and armed with a medical kit! Luckily my skills weren't called on yesterday and I had a chance to take lots of photos and learn about the wonderful plants, shrubs and trees, and the garden's architecture, which has the remnants of a 19th century Joseph Paxton greenhouse. Paxton designed the above mentioned Crystal Palace in London for the Exhibition in 1851 and he was the head gardener of Chatsworth but was also responsible for how Lismore Castle looks today, as he re-designed it to its current look. There are a number if sculptures in the gardens, which are nice to come upon as you go around. There is a typical Anthony Gormley bronze body cast - his own as is his signature - and that is in the middle of an ancient yew walk in the photo.
His most famous work is The Angel of the North in Newcastle-on-Tyne in England, visible for miles around. The magnolias are magnificent right now and you can see their splendour in the photo, a highlight of the spring garden, along with rhododendrons and azaleas.

I hope you like the photos and links and if you get a chance to come to Lismore you can visit the gardens from tomorrow until October when they will be open daily, minus the guided tour - you can get a brochure with identifiers for the trees and shrubs and history - and the Castle Arts Gallery which is in the renovated West Wing and has a different contemporary exhibition every summer. If you like weird and wonderful art - in a multitude of media from sculpture to video installations to technology installations - in a lovely setting then this one's for you!
Sotheby's have had a preview of their Irish Art sales here for the past few years as well, which gives a nice opportunity to see some amazing artworks. The annual exhibitions are not all to my taste, but then I am a traditionalist at heart and love a good Old Master. There was a show two years ago when they juxtaposed the old and the new, with a private Florida-owned collection of very contemporary stuff out in old stables and coalsheds that led to a lot of bewildered head-scratching, and in the Gallery there were lovely works by Van Eyck, Gainsborough, and other famous painters. Each owner selected the works of the other for the exhibition, an odd fusion to say the least!
Yesterday's visitors were very enthusiastic about the whole experience and then they went to the Heritage Centre as part of the day's package. The sun shone and there was spring warmth in the air, and Farmer's Market was in full swing in the Castle Avenue,
so the town was buzzing.

Immrama will have its launch in the Gallery in a month or two, so watch this space!

(If you want to see more photos I have uploaded them to a Picasa slideshow on the sidebar of this blogpost, right at the top right at present. Click on these photos to see them full-screen size, if you want the detail.)

The Stained Glass window overlooking the Ballroom with the Pugin Chandelier in the foreground

The Stained Glass window over the Minstrel's Gallery, with St. Patrick on the Right and (I think) St. George on the Left
Some of the sculpture in the Lower Garden

The yew walk with the Gormley figure visible on the right half-way down

The Pugin marble fireplace
The misspelt Irish greeting
The castle from the Lower Gardens
The Magnolias in full bloom in the Lower Garden with the Riding House in the background. This straddles the Avenue and links the upper and lower gardens

Saturday, March 7, 2009

St. Carthage and Lismore - a brief history

St. Carthage is the patron saint of my home town of Lismore. I posted a picture of a tree carving in a recent post of a lightning-blasted tree that had been sculpted into a statue of St. Carthage on a plinth, very cleverly done by a Welsh sculptor in 2005, when she was commissioned by the Town Council to turn it into something emblematic. This showed some ingenuity not usually associated with local government and was a welcome change from the more usual chop it down for firewood approach. You can see the end result here and it is pretty quirky and quite a conversation piece in the local Millenium Park. Some of the comments on the earlier post focused on the tree carving so I took some close-ups of it for this post. And I thought to include a potted history of himself in the event any readers are into ancient history!

The sculpture tree of St. Carthage in Lismore's Millenium Park, with the fountain in foreground

St. Carthage came to Lismore from Offaly (where Barack Obama's somewhat tenuous Irish links originated!) in 636AD and founded a monastery - Lismore was a great seat of learning in those days until the Vikings came along in the 9th and 10th Century to plunder and pillage - and it managed to retain its academic status until the Normans arrived in 1172. You can read more and see some pictures and photos here . Lismore Castle was built some years later by Prince John - later King John - when he was sent as Lord of Ireland by his dad King Henry II, who came here on foot of papal "Bull" (not a derogatory term but the actual one for some sort of edict) to bring the natives into line with the church in Rome.

I think we as a nation have collectively and conveniently forgotten the moot point that it was really the church's intervention in Irish affairs that instigated the turbulent centuries of colonisation. This "elephant in the corner" attitude merely reflects the unquestioning acceptance of the Irish population to the teachings of the church and its insidious intrusion into every aspect of Irish society right up to the first (defeated) divorce referendum in 1986. Thereafter its influence waned considerably, as one after another unfolding scandal caused a loss of all credibility, resulting in a much healthier relationship and division between church and state, well in all areas except the schools which is a whole other story for another day.

Back to King John - this was the start of the 800 years of occupation which has had such resonance in our recent history, culminating in our independence in 1922, following a bloody Civil War and the famous Easter Rising of 1916. The euphemistically named "Troubles" in the North of Ireland gained notoriety for Ireland over the past number of years until cross-border agreements led to a power-sharing that would have been unthinkable in the dark days of the 70s and 80s, and much of the 90s.

Detail of the tree sculpture

Lismore Castle

The Castle has been rebuilt numerous times and only took on its current look after rebuilding in the early 1800s following a fire. Robert Boyle the scientist of Boyle's Law fame lived here in his youth, and it has been the Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire for generations. It was the setting for an ITV production of Austen's "Northanger Abbey" a few years back, and has links with Fred Astaire as his sister Adele was married to a former Duke and they came here annually, right up to their deaths.

Lismore has two churches named for the patron saint. The Church of Ireland (Anglican) one is St. Carthage's Cathedral, and it is a church that predates the Reformation, with stone figures from the 9th Century. The Catholic St. Carthage's Church is also technically a cathedral as it is a Diocesan seat of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, but is much newer, dating from 1884. The older church is a wonderful venue for musical events, as the acoustics are terrific, and we have all enjoyed many a choral or classical concert there over the years.

St. Carthage's Catholic Church as seen from my front door last week in a snowfall - an Irish blizzard!

There is another local link to St. Carthage and that is the Holy Well, which has recently been renovated. His feast day is celebrated on May 14th or 15th, depending on your vintage - I always thought it the 14th. As a child that was the only day the well was open for prayers and rumour had it that the well only filled at this time, and was dry the rest of the year. An urban myth or wishful miraculous thinking, as since the renovation and year-round accessibility, it is always full! There are some photos of the well and its descriptive plaque here.

So that's a bit of local history and something I grew up with and somehow the tree sculpture has rekindled a lot of interest in the background to Lismore's origins as a once-renowned seat of learning all over monastic Europe. You can see much more at this Heritage Centre link if you wish.
St. Carthage's Well - newly renovated and open year-round.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mini-Bakewell and Jam Tarts

This is a lovely variation on the classic Bakewell Tart, which to the best of my knowledge is almond topping a pastry base, with strawberry or raspberry jam in the middle. I sometimes make a full-sized tart, although tart is probably a misnomer as its only relationship to a tart is the pastry base, with the topping made of a cake-like mix. In fact some recipes only use a rich marzipan-(egg-sugar-almond) mix with no flour, and I rarely do this, as I find it a bit overwhelmingly rich and prefer a Victoria Sponge-type filling.
These are delicious bite-sized buns actually, the sweet shortbread pastry base is crisp and light and a perfect foil to the sponge topping, with the pastry strips on top finishing it off nicely and using up the trimmings as well. I have put Lidl marzipan (very yellow this, as it is commercial and not lovingly hand made from scratch as my Christmas Cake Almond Paste was, honest!) in some of them; it tasted just fine and despite the colour it was not full of artificial E-numbers.
(I actually Googled the colouring agent, Lutein, and it is classified as a natural herbal food colour extracted from Marigolds which as many of you will know have numerous properties besides being nice flowers. They are an excellent insect repellent in vegetable gardens, and in Tanzania the Mexican Marigold root was used to make a natural insect repellent on crops in the villages where our NGO had projects, with great effect!) There's a bit of information you didn't expect in a recipe for Bakewell Tarts so back to the main topic and here is the recipe for them.

Mini-Bakewell and Jam Tarts


(for 24 tarts or 2 bun trays full)

8oz/225gm flour (self-raising or plain with 2-3 teaspoons baking powder)
8oz/225gm sugar

8oz/225gm butter

4 eggs

Almond or Vanilla Essence (as preferred)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (for base) (*half this quantity is probably enough but I make a batch and freeze the leftover for another day)

1lb/450gm plain flour8oz/225gm chilled butter (preferable to margarine).
2 oz/50gm sugar (or caster sugar or icing sugar).
1 egg.
A few tablespoons of cold water to bind.

Fillings: Strawberry Jam or Marzipan


Rub the butter into the flour until crumbly consistency.

Add sugar and egg, mix well with knife blade.

Add water if necessary to bind, careful not to overhandle.

Roll out and cut with cookie cutter to fit baking tray cups - line tray cups with pastry discs and add a dollop - teaspoon - of jam or marzipan.

Cake topping

Put all ingredients into mixing bowl and whisk together, using electric whisk preferably. Otherwise, using a wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar well, add essence and beaten eggs and flourand baking powder (if used) alternately until a dropping consistency is reached.

Add spoonfuls of the cake mix to the pastry/jam bases and decorate with strips of pastry leftovers as you wish - a cross, basketweave or whatever takes your fancy. This bit is entirely optional!

Bake in a hot preheated oven (200degrees Centigrade/375 degrees Fahrenheit) for 10-15 mins, reduce heat to 150 degrees Centigrade/300 degrees Fahrenheit) and bake to golden brown and pastry should be light golden colour.

Remove and cool, then sieve icing sugar on top to decorate - I like this finish but you can leave plain if you prefer.

Enjoy! Delicious warm with a nice cuppa tea!