Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Saturday 30 December 2017

I’m not impressed by my Yorkshire Puddings…

 Why would I be? I make them regularly. Having said that, I’m regularly disappointed by other people’s Yorkshire Puddings.

Often, people seem to take their cooking skills, or the lack thereof, for granted.

I cannot tell you how often people have been hugely impressed by the Yorkshires, which to me are simply my Yorkshires. My guests have expressed wonder at their size, their lightness, their crispness; to some, they appear to be the quintessence of Pudding.

When this happens, and it happens regularly, I simply pass on my Yorkshires recipe, which is hardly a recipe at all.

I’ve been making these puddings my entire adult life. I know not from whom I got the recipe, although I’m confident it was an older woman of my acquaintance when I was still very young.

My Yorkshires were being discussed in the week running up to Christmas. I was visiting my favourite boutique with the husband, and food became a topic of conversation. The shop is family owned and run, and the son is a friend of ours who has partaken of my puddings. He eulogised them to his father. The son has the recipe, but hasn’t used it yet.

I gave the recipe to the father. He is a grown man, distinguished by his snow-white hair and beard, and his fabulous grooming. I’m told that he’s also a very good cook. On the strength of his son’s recommendation, this lovely man used my Pudding recipe to accompany his seasonal meal… And later proclaimed that it had made his Christmas.

I feel that this is a grand claim, but it delights me that something so simple as a reliable Yorkshire Pudding recipe could revolutionise anyone’s Sunday or celebration lunch.

I’m not going to urge anyone to reproduce my Yorkshires, but I can tell you that this recipe is utterly foolproof; I sometimes wonder why there is more than one pudding recipe on the planet… I can only presume it’s because this kind of cooking is about family recipes and good instincts, and those things get handed on. I’m handing on this recipe, and for those of you who try it, I hope you enjoy the results.

Take a small vessel… I use my favourite tumbler.
Fill it first with plain flour
Fill it again with milk
Fill it, once more, with eggs

Whisk these ingredients with a good pinch of salt, and, if you like it, a dash of English mustard powder. I do this early in the day and let the batter sit.

Pour the batter into very hot pans with a good slosh of oil, lard or dripping in them.

Bake in a hot oven for anything up to half an hour.

A note of warning: If you put the shelf too high up in the oven, your Yorkshires, or at least mine, will stick to the oven’s ceiling. Smiles.

We like Yorkshire Puddings so much that we don’t just serve them with beef, we serve them with any roast dinner we happening to be making.

my latest batch of Yorkshire Puddings

Friday 29 December 2017

The Father of my Feminism

And the Corresponding Website
The very clued-up Dort bought me a copy of the fabulous Laura Bates’s ‘Everyday Sexism’ for Christmas, and I’ve been reading it.

This book should be mandatory. Everyone should read it.

Laura Bates isn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know; I’m a middle-aged woman with grown daughters of my own. But, her arguments are beautifully articulated, in her own words and the words of many other women, and she brought greater focus to my Feminism.

I have always been a feminist. I grew up in the ‘70s with the examples of women as diverse as Germaine Greer and Erin Pizzey, with the Greenham Common women, with the Women’s Liberation Movement, and even with the examples of women leaders like Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher.

This book helps me to understand why the older I get, the more Feminist I become, just as my observations of society at large and the financial straits of friends, family, neighbours and young people make me more Socialist the older I grow.

Early in her book, Laura Bates says that some women manage to cope with the nonsense the patriarchy shovels at them and even fight back, but the point is that no one should have to. She’s right, of course.

I count myself among those women. It isn’t about strength of character, and I am insecure about all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons, but, the bottom line is that I do stand up for myself, both in individual situations with men, and when I speak out on my blog. I use my voice for myself, for my own good, but I like to think that I also do it for the young women coming behind me, who, I strongly believe, have an even harder time than the women of my generation have had.

Pops, taken maybe a dozen years ago at a family wedding
My father would probably never have called himself a Feminist, and, in some ways he was deeply flawed. I know that my relationship with him was sometimes complex, difficult and even unsatisfactory, to me, at least. I also remember what it was to be his child when I was simply that.

My father had five children, three of them girls. He was born before World War II, and was, in many ways, a product of his own times and upbringing. He was also the father who bathed us and put us to bed. He was the father who encouraged my endeavours and was proud of me. He was so proud that when I was reluctant to pick up my A level results at school, in person, he collected the envelope for me. He was the father who cooked meals, dried tears, kissed cuts and grazes, bought sanitary protection and administered analgesics for period pains. He was the father who treated me like his child.

It was my father that I ran to when another man, a neighbour, asked why a little boy was knitting. I was sitting at the top of the stairs with my cropped hair, in my shorts, fearfully upset that a man should mistake me for a boy when I clearly and resolutely identified as a girl, at the age of only four or five. It was my father who had taught me to knit. He also taught me to bleed the brakes on his car and make a temporary fan belt out a pair of tights. It was he who bought me my first record and my first Airfix kit, and it was he who discussed maths and science with me.

He wasn’t always perfect… He wasn’t ever perfect… It was natural, or, I suppose conditioned in me to want my father to think I was beautiful. I know that he did, despite him not saying so. He didn’t judge my appearance, my actions or my choices. He was delighted when I was his first child to go to university, despite being the fourth, and a girl.

He knew that I was smart, and he liked it. He knew that I needed a shoulder to cry on at times, and he was sympathetic. When I wanted to put a shelf up in my room, he showed me how, rather than doing it for me. His expectations of me were well-founded, realistic, cheerful.

Yes, he made gentle fun of me at times, but he also respected me when I stood my ground with him or with anybody.

As flawed, as imperfect as he was, my father was a kind, thoughtful, funny, often perspicacious man, the first man to love me, and the first to make that love count.

I haven’t talked about my father very much, about his life, or about his death, almost exactly three years ago, but he, as much as anyone, made me capable of standing up for myself and for other women in a World that doesn’t like, respect or understand us... or care that it doesn't.

His influence and his love was also, at least in part, responsible for the choices I have made in my relationships with men. The confidence in myself, in who I was and could be made me choose to know a lot of very smart, very clued up men, some of whom I still know and cherish. That confidence also made me strong when it came time to questions mens’ behaviour towards me, and to leave the relationships that were detrimental to my physical, mental or emotional health.

I hope that there are many men in the World like my father; men who love their daughters, see them for the people they are and can be, and offer them the strength that the patriarchy so often denies them.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Here I Go Again part ii

I guess I thought I had it covered, yesterday, and then I read this on my Twitter feed.

So understood this. I sometimes feel that I am an "honorary male" because of my spouse. The gods forbid I ever come into my own or stand on my two feet.

I didn’t have to think about it for long.

I think this is true, possibly too true, and certainly true of me. The husband casts a very big shadow when it comes to the work. There are reasons for this, of course, and they are many and complex. The biggest single reason is probably that he has a lot more confidence than I do, so he’s able to work more and question less what he is doing.

If you could bottle his confidence and share it around, we’d all do better, I think. Of course, he has talent, and, of course, he works hard… No one I know in this industry works harder than the husband does. But he trusts his work, that he can do anything, and that it will be good.

I don’t know where this kind of confidence comes from. No doubt, it helps that he’s a white male living in a patriarchal society. I suspect it might also help that he’s an only child with loving, creative parents.

watching his back
It’s hard to quantify talent, so I have no idea which of the two of us has more of it. The difference is that it takes infinitely longer for me to sit down and do the work. I second guess myself, wonder if things are good enough, and, like many of us, I wonder when I’m going to be found out.

Of course, the husband couldn’t do what he does without me… Well, he could, but would it be the same? I enable the husband, in so far as if he wants or needs to work, I’m fine with that. One year, that meant he worked a total of 359 days. Not many spouses would be OK with that.

I also enable him by being his first reader and editor. He always has a sounding board for ideas, and he’s free to use mine when they suit his needs. I also take care of accounts and admin, and, of course there’s the domestic stuff to think about. He’s good at that stuff, too, so he cooks regularly, and he’s naturally tidy, but he never has to do laundry or make a bed… That isn’t because I’m somehow a little wife, it’s because it’s a sensible division of labour.

If I walked into a gaming situation alone, without the husband, would I be accepted in the same way?

I doubt it.

As a woman, are there jobs that I have done that I would not have had the opportunity to do if the husband hadn’t been part of the plan?

Of course there are.

None of this is directly the husband’s responsibility. He is, however, aware of the gulf between us, and he responds positively to it. He gives me credit where it is due, and he he-peats on my behalf.

For those of you who have met me, or who know me, you know there’s another element to this.

Apparently, and I’ve been told this since I was a kid… Apparently, I can be very intimidating.

I may not have the advantages the husband has of being male and having professional confidence, but the one thing I did somehow learn as a child was to speak out.

If it’s necessary, I will talk over other people (and yes, they are often men). I will hammer home a point. I do use higher heels or darker lipstick as a kind of  armour to make myself bigger or more prominent in all those situations I find myself in with men. I do not back down.

All of this can be exhausting, and there are times when I go home and wonder whether I ought to have acted the way I did in some professional situations. The bottom line is, though, if I don’t stand up for myself, I will never be seen. If I don’t stand up for myself, why should the husband bother to back me up?

Of course, if I was a man, nothing I say or do would be considered intimidating; it’s because I’m a woman who is prepared to go toe to toe with any man that I am seen in this light. The fact is, I’m a pussy-cat.

We are all individuals, some more talented than others, some more conscientious, some more confident. Men have the advantage of their gender; it imbues them with traits they may not naturally possess. I know men who, despite lacking confidence are listened to and taken seriously. I know men who, despite lacking talent are given work for other reasons: because they can talk the talk, because they appear confident, because they are reliable, or simply because they are liked.

Women are given work only when they excel at what they do, when they are confident enough to take the hard road, working with men; only when they are thick-skinned, capable and prepared to be intimidating if that’s what it takes. And, for the most part, only when they fit a mould that men understand, which usually includes being physically well-proportioned, and attractive. All of these women are labeled with negatives. They are all considered intimidating in some way.

How much genuine talent is lost because women don’t have all of these qualities, all of the time, no matter how talented they are?

The truth is that I am also less ambitious than the husband. I am happy to be his backroom boy, to fit around him, and to do my own work as and when I really feel the need. Much of this is to do with the personal relationship we have, and the fact that we work together as equals in our domestic life and in our professional life. I do not feel less-than in my partnership or my marriage.

Are there benefits to being married to the husband? Do I become an honorary man in certain  situations? The answer to both of those questions is: Probably.

What many don’t understand is what I bring to my relationship, both personally and professionally. But will I ever tell?

Of course not. I’m a woman.

Monday 18 December 2017

Here I Go Again

Yes, you guessed it, I’m off on one of my rants.

The thing is, we put up with a lot… I’m talking about women in this particular instance, because this post relates to women, but lots of groups put up with a lot. Being a woman isn’t much fun a lot of the time, neither is being any “minority” race, creed or orientation.

We put up with a lot, so, for the most part, we only really talk bout the big stuff. When it comes to being a woman, we’re talking a lot at the moment, and, I might add, loudly, about serious sexual harrassment. It’s a terrible thing, and I’m very happy it’s being talked about, and that men are being called out on this stuff.

My problem, today, is that the big stuff happens because of the small, daily, grinding stuff.

The husband has been on a bit of a signing tour the last couple of weekends. I generally go with him, and we have a bit of fun and a bit of down time, which, at this time of year, has included some drives in the snow, and a bit of Christmas shopping.

The husband has quite a following, and the signings have been well-attended, apart from the one in Leicester, because the city was under three or four inches of snow. Lots of customers of the shop phoned in to have books signed and reserved, which was lovely, but actually present was a small, select group. We all sat around with cups of coffee, and talked about stuff. I had a good time, and there was no differentiation between me and the others, who all happened to be white and male. I was completely comfortable.

Sadly, I was rather less comfortable at one of the other signings.

We arrived with take-out coffees in our hands, and met the staff, who were all very sweet. I didn’t plan to stay, because we were in a city that I know well, and I wanted to have a walk around, but I did want to stay for long enough to drink the coffee. I stood beside the husband as he sat and got himself ready, rummaging around for sharpies, and whatnot.

A man engaged the husband, and started asking questions. This is normal, it’s good, it’s why he’s there, and me too. I joined in the conversation, and the husband broke off to deal with the first person in his queue.

That person spoke. When I looked up, he was smiling; he clearly believed that what he said was charming, matey, even funny. I don’t remember his words verbatim, and I wish I did, because his language wasn’t offensive, even if, when put together, the sentiment was.

He said something like - Does that always happen when you bring her? 

I was having a conversation that he clearly thought I shouldn’t be having, and that’s after the implication that I was there on sufferance.

The husband didn’t miss a beat, he simply said something like - Nik’s my first reader and editor; she knows more about this stuff than I do.

If I’d opened my mouth first, I hope I would have said something like - Well, that’s offensive!

It’s the casual, matey way that men say these things to each other, as if they can form some kind of bond by disrespecting women, including those they should show the most respect to, and I don’t mean I deserve respect because I happen to be married to the husband, but because this man would say the same thing about his wife, his sister, his mother or his daughter.

He also felt completely comfortable saying it in front of me, as if even I, the target, might find it endearing, as if, like women have been trained to do, I might demure, I might smile.

He was wrong.

I left my half-finished coffee, wound up the conversation, and I left… quietly seething.

The husband had answered his comment succinctly, and without any agenda. I don’t know how that man felt about that, and, honestly, I’m not sure I care. I might hope that it would change his behaviour, make him think twice before making a comment like that again. But, it won’t. This shit, as silly as it might seem to you, to anyone, even to women, is so embedded in our society that there is, essentially, no recourse against it.

Had I spoken first, had I actually said - Well, that’s offensive - I would no doubt have been labelled a scold or a shrew, or that terrible word a Feminazi.

Do they know what they’re calling us? And, if they do, what the hell is wrong with them?

We are people. We are all people, and to prove it, here’s another example from the same day out.

We were looking at the sound track album for Twin Peaks. We were discussing the show, and asked one of the staff if he’d seen it. His reply was - I don’t watch David Lynch. None of his characters are Brothers.

He was a Brother who had a point.