Swimming! By Luke Martin-Jones

It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole darn process.

As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.

It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.

Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.

There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.

I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.

In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!

‘Making Waves’ by Luke Martin-Jones

There was a distinct chill in the air, lots of glum faces; a rumbling of discontent throughout the school, as pupils digested the latest attempt to reshape our place of learning, conforming to more traditional ideals. It was a few days earlier that each of us were given a letter to hand to our parents announcing the introduction of a new school uniform in keeping with the schools new name and status within the community in which it served. In was 1983, I was in my second year of senior school, at a time when Britain was suffering the spectre of recession. Money was in short supply, unemployment was high and the cost of living out of control. The last thing families needed was another bill to contend with; the price of our new identity would not come cheap. Understandably disaffection was bubbling to the surface, as pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.

It was late afternoon, double Science, probably one of my least liked subjects. Looking around the room, there seemed to be a lot of absences, the class was rather sparse and lackluster; the few of us who were there had thoughts elsewhere. As I glanced out of the window onto the playground below, I could see a group of students milling about, talking, shaking their heads, arms raised in consternation. Even I felt anxious and I didn’t know why. There was an atmosphere of revolution and insurrection; rebellion was in the air.

I could hear whispers behind my back, two classmates talking about joining the growing throng outside. One tapped me on the shoulder, ‘are you coming?’ they said. Confused I asked what they meant; I was oblivious to events unraveling around me. ‘We are going on strike; there’s a protest on the all weather pitch, everyone will be there!’ they exclaimed, encouraging me to join them and make our voices heard. I understood that there could have been a demonstration about the new rules being introduced at the school, but really brushed them aside as ‘just talk.’ I was surprised that my friends were taking matters into their own hands and a little apprehensive about what would happen to those of us who took part!

Briefly I thought about what I should do; looking out the window, I could see more and more classmates joining ‘pupil power’ in action. I turned back to face my peers, nodding my head in agreement. As our Science Teacher continued his lesson on photosynthesis, I duly packed my brown adidas bag and abruptly left the room, all three of us heading downstairs. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come back here now!’ I heard Mr Roche shout as we left the room; running quickly down the stairs and outside into the busy thoroughfare below, we joined everyone else in our campaign for justice!

I don’t remember the exact number who took part that day, though it was quite a few. Chanting and cursing we made our way through the school and onto the playground beyond, refusing to move until the powers that be, retracted the requirement for compulsory school uniforms. A sit down protest on the edge of school created waves, as teachers tried to encourage us to return to class. Of course as time went on and stomachs began to groan, pupils started to leave anyway. In truth when I look back to this time, I was carried along with the sea of emotion surrounding this stance. I really didn’t care if I had to wear a shirt and tie or not, in fact it was the best thing for the school, but when you become part of a crowd you tend to follow the course, losing all sense of reality, forgetting just what the initial action was about in the first place. As children, fickle to the core, a few hours off last thing in the afternoon, became our overriding ambition.

The school uniform remained, those of us who took part were given detention and we had our day in the local rag but the reasons for our discontent didn’t go away. Changing the identity of anything, whether school, person or brand, can only be done with the support and influence of all of those impacted. In future pupils and parents were consulted every step of the way. New rules were implemented without the frustration and anger that surfaced that day.

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 16th May, 2018)

The Bread and all its Terror

This is a little more painful to write about. Fast forward one more year. I am now a third year senior at Fareham Park Comprehensive School which now has some newer buildings. The dance and drama studio is built. The music rooms are ready to go. The gym is built. We have an all weather pitch, a track, tennis courts and many more facilities for physical education. We have a building for art, woodwork, metal work, sewing and home economics. A far cry from the one building and a couple of modular classrooms that we had two years earlier.

Now that we have a home economics room, we have cooking on the schedule. This is definitely not fun for me.

The time that stands out most is the day that we made bread. I have little recall of anything else so I assume this is the one time that we cooked and the rest was book work, but I could be very wrong there.

A prelude to the bread story are the images of crowded hallways and stairwells where all the students of the school were changing classrooms, using the toilets, getting stuff out of their lockers. The stairs in particular were a source of consternation. Those girls would wait for me at the top of the stairs, As soon as I started on my way down, they would home in behind me and start to push me down, all the time laughing their heads off. It was hard to keep upright and not slip. I hated it. I had no idea what to do to help myself and to get out of the situation. It may only seem like a little thing, but I felt helpless. There were no teachers around.

These girls were in my tutor group and they were also in my cooking class. Cooking became a big nightmare. There the girls would use wooden spoons to hit me when the teacher wasn’t around. They would laugh in a mocking way. Any type of reaction exasperated the issue. I felt stymied. Powerless.

So it was in this atmosphere that we had to make bread.

There are just a few things that I remember about this bread-making activity. I remember the mixing bowl. I remember the yeast. This wasn’t dry yeast. This was fresh yeast. I remember that it looked dark and grey and pretty gross. We had to add it to our flour and use our hands to mix the dough mixture together. Then we had to knead it until the yeast was all absorbed.

As I write this with an adult’s perspective, something feels off about that yeast. So I read around and now understand that fresh yeast should look firm and moist, cream-colored and cool to the touch. If it is crumbly, dryish and dark in places it is stale. Apparently to use it, it must be added to liquid and mixed into the dough straight away. Here is what I also found on the internet concerning fresh yeast and the processes to activate it:


In this article it demonstrated that yeast needs to be broken up into smaller parts. I was told to put my yeast and water straight into the bowl. I don’t remember it frothing up. The teacher was hurrying us along. I was taking longer than the others – not a natural cook, I’m afraid. I was kneading away. The yeast was not becoming absorbed into the dough.

I think the teacher was pretty frustrated with me. She didn’t listen to my explanation that the yeast was not amalgamating with the dough but she did come and help knead the dough and got it in the pan.

At last the lesson was over. What a relief. My bread looked really pretty. Despite the events of the day and the ongoing bullying, I was pretty chuffed with my success at cooking this bread.

At home, I was so excited as we were going to eat my bread as an accompaniment to our dinner that evening. I eagerly watched as my mum cut into the loaf.

“Eww! Yuck!” My Mum exclaimed as she cut the loaf in half.

My heart sank. “What’s wrong?” I mumbled.


“Look!” She said. She turned around from the kitchen cabinet where she was cutting, holding the two halves of the bread in her hands. I looked. Inside each half of the loaf there sat a dark gray piece of yeast. My mum started to laugh. I let her know how I had trouble mixing that yeast into the dough and how the teacher had helped me. I then laughed with my mum although my insides were empty.

When I could, I left the room and went upstairs to my bedroom where I closed the door and cried.

My daughter is a master bread maker. She makes the most gorgeous and succulent bread. Her favourite receipe is found at https://weareeating.blogspot.com/2008/01/whole-wheat-bread.html?m=0

Here is the receipe that my friend gave me a few years back. I usually use this one when I make bread now:



10 cups whole white wheat flour;
2/3 cup honey;
6 cups of water;
2 tbsp yeast (dried!);
2 tbsp salt:
3/4 cup oil;
2-3 tsp gluten;
2 tsp lecithin.

Optional: 1/2 to 1 cup ground flax seed substituted for 1 cup whole wheat flour.


I usually use a bread maker these days. I adapt the quantities of the ingredients accordingly (I do like to add the ground flax also) and follow the instructions of my bread maker.

(First published in Roaming Brit on 15th May, 2018)

Osmond Mania and What It Taught Me.

‘Top of the Pops’ was always on the television in our house each Thursday evening. My parents really enjoyed it, especially my dad. Early in the 1970’s, the Osmond’s became very popular with the English girls. New reports showed huge crowds of girls screaming and getting hysterical over the Osmond’s when they toured Britain. I never quite understood the hysteria and the need to touch the pop stars, but it was interesting to observe and wonder about.

My Dad would always call us down to watch the Osmonds whenever they were on – whether it was ‘Top of the Pops’ or the ‘Andy Williams Show’. My little sister was very taken with them and received a couple of their books one Christmas. Of course, I wouldn’t say that I liked them and tried to keep my feelings to myself. Mine was more a fascination of how they related to each other and their close family relationships.

So once my sister’s books went into the bookcase, I was able to ‘borrow’ them. One of my favourite things to do when I was a young girl was to read so I was able to read these books fairly quickly. Two things stick out in my mind from these books. First was that Donny Osmond liked to make things. He made a bed that he could raise up to the ceiling when he didn’t want it in the way and then he could bring it down when he needed to sleep in it. I have often thought of that bed and how cool that would have been! I tried to get my head around how he would be allowed to do something so major like that in his bedroom.

The second thing was something they said about their beliefs. They said that they img_0070believed they lived before they came to earth. In this earlier life, they were spirits, children of God. In this life they reached a plateau. When I read this, I really didn’t knew what a plateau was and imagined these spirit people stuck on ledges up a mountain. Yes, I know, such an odd picture. I can quite see why I came up with these pictures in my head because England has lovely green rolling hills and I had never heard of a plateau, mind seeing one. img_0067My experiences in Utah and Arizona have shown me what mountains are like and what Mesas are like. People in America love the outdoors and love to go hiking. Such a contrast from my sheltered suburban life ….

When I saw the word ‘plateau’ in the book, I automatically imagined something physical rather than relating to the word as a verb. I thought people sitting on ledges was such a img_0069weird concept. Although I didn’t fully understand what I had been reading, for some reason, this picture stuck in my head acting like a weird symbol, reminding me of living a pre-earth life. If you read my earlier blog – The Story With A Twist – you may remember that the story my school teacher read to us introduced me to the concept of living before we came to earth and being able to choose whether we accept our lives before we embarked upon them.

This was something that, as a child, I thought about a lot. For my fifteenth birthday, my boyfriend, out of the blue, bought me the Osmond’s cassette – ‘The Plan’. He didn’t know that I was fascinated by the Osmonds because of their family culture and because of these thoughts from the books that I had read. It was a nice surprise as we usually listened to Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.

I have to say that my very favourite song on this album (that was on cassette) was ‘In The Beginning”. I just loved the words (the melody was pretty good too 😉 )

“Before the beginning we were living
Oh, so far away from here
And we called it home but didn’t stay
We knew that we could leave one day and cry
Before the beginning we were willing
To lay aside whom we had been
And take a chance to slip away
Or make it back to home one day, what for
Ever since we came to be
With the plan we’ve learned to see
We alone would guide our destiny
In the beginning we’d be living
As we would be, he once was
To look at him, to look at me
And think some day like him I’ll be, what more
Ever since we came to be
With the plan we learned to see
We control infinity, what more
What more“

Here is the link to the song on YouTube as I can tell you are dying to listen to it 😉 !

‘In The Beginning’ by the Osmonds

I don’t think it was by chance that I heard ‘The Story With A Twist’ and was given this music to listen to. I was being prepared for something greater that was to come into my life and radically change it. More on that on another day …..

The Tale of the Cauliflower Who Couldn’t.

This is the tale of the cauliflower who couldn’t.

There were two hundred children in my year at senior school. As I have mentioned before, due to the school being built up around us, for cooking lessons we travelled to Fareham Technical College. As there were so many of us, I only remember having two cooking lessons there – probably one in the first year and one in the second year.

The day that we were being taught to cook cauliflower cheese was the day that my cooking skills rose to the highest level they would ever obtain. We were in a different room than the one where we made our fruit crumbles and I wasn’t with anyone that I knew. I remember the room being much lighter, however, my anxiety in this situation was not very light.

I was relieved when the cauliflower was in the saucepan. One thing down, one to go. I began the rue sauce. My heart was pounding as I began the process. I could follow directions, what was so hard about this? Was it because I didn’t know what the end product looked like? Was it because it was one of my first exposures to doing this myself? Was it because I was in a strange and unfamiliar place? I was relieved when the rue sauce was thick. I added the cheese and it melted.

However, I was stuck. My cauliflower had not cooked. Everyone had their cauliflower cheese in the oven. Mine was still simmering away in the saucepan. I poked it with the knife. Still hard. The teacher came over and poked it with the knife. “Give it another five or ten minutes,” she said.

The others were taking their cauliflower cheeses out of the oven and letting them cool before we went home. Mine was still boiling happily away in the saucepan. I poked it with the knife. Still hard. The teacher came over and poked it with a knife. “You’ll have to finish this off when you get home. Drain it off. Put it in your casserole dish. Put the cheese sauce over the top. Wash up.”

For some reason, this cooking exploit felt like a colossal failure. I felt like my faux pas had been exposed in public. The tale does not end here. When I got home, I explained about the ‘cauliflower who couldn’t’ to my mother. She said, “Well, we will finish cooking it in the oven’. On went the oven. An hour later, she took out the cauliflower cheese. She poked her knife into it! Yep, you’ve guessed it – hard as a rock!

To this day, I do not know why the cauliflower couldn’t, wouldn’t cook. Maybe this experience is why I tend to always overcook cauliflower now? It is now a standard joke in the family as are my mad cooking skills! However, it is good to have something to laugh about, right?

Cauliflower Cheese


A Cauliflower;
1 oz Margarine;
1 oz Flour;
1/2 Pint of Milk;
2 – 4 oz Grated Cheese;
Salt & Pepper;
1 tbsp Breadcrumbs.


1. Take off any part of the leaves that are withered. Wash cauliflower. (I personally now, cut the cauliflower into smaller florets);

2. Put the cauliflower into some slightly salted water, bring to the boil until tender (Hopefully, yours won’t take as long as mine did!);

Meanwhile make the Cheese Sauce as follows:

1. In a saucepan, melt the margarine. Add flour. Stir together until sandy. Cook gently for 1 minute.

2. Take the saucepan off the heat and gradually add milk, stirring all the while.

3. Put the saucepan back on the heat. Stirring continually, bring the sauce up to the boil. Turn the heat down a little and cook until sauce is a thick consistency.

4. Take the saucepan off the heat. Add seasoning to taste. Add 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted.


1. Drain the cauliflower and put into a casserole dish.

2. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower.

3. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and add the breadcrumbs.

4. Put in the oven (395 F, 200 C, Gas Mark 7) for about 20 minutes or under the grill and cook until cheese is bubbling and starts to turn a little brown.

(First published in Roaming Brit on 8th May, 2018)

Luke Martin-Jones

I first ‘met’ Luke when he published a post in our school group on Facebook. He was asking for short-stories or photos about Fareham Park School for a book that he was writing. At first, I was thinking whether I or my mum had any old school photos from junior school. Soon after, I wondered if I could share some events that I could remember at school.

The next day, I reached out to Luke to see what kind of stories he wanted and what kind of style he was looking for. He was very magnanimous with his time and said I could get a feel for what he was looking for on his blog where he had written a few articles on his childhood.





Later in the day, I went on his blog and read a couple of his related articles. My mind kicked into action and I started thinking. (Which is really dangerous!). My penchant for perfectionism swung in and I had to read Luke’s blog from the beginning. It took me a couple of weeks. Luke’s bravery and courage, his honesty and love for writing hit me square in the face. Luke, through his writing, gifted me with the daring to write again.

Luke has encouraged me the past few months to write for his blog, Roaming Brit. As I started to write, I started to think. It has been a very long time since I have really thought. I usually keep myself really busy so I don’t have time to think. Now my thoughts are racing and writing has become therapeutic and a passion. I am so grateful to Luke for this gift.

Since Luke has been so generous in asking me to be a regular guest blogger on his site, I now look forward to featuring his articles here. Please find his first article for Once Upon A Wren before this one.

Welcome Luke! It’s great to have you onboard!

Cooking Exploit One.

100_0653-8It one were to say that I was renowned for my cooking skills, it would be an understatement. I am the queen of cooking flops. Even my children still laugh at the memory of pork chops setting off the smoke alarms, not just once but several times.

Being the first year through Fareham Park Comprehensive School, we attended school as it was being built around us. We didn’t have the home economic facilities until we were third year seniors (aged about thirteen) so, before that time, our cooking classes were outsourced to Fareham Park Technical School.

The school employed a seven day time table so our class schedules had a nice long rotation. Some things like music lessons, embroidery club, after school sports and so forth practiced the usual five day week schedule.

We walked to school. Every day we had our satchels ladened with our books, homework, folders, paper, pencils, rulers, slide rules, pens and our lunch. Some days we had to carry more: freshly laundered PE kits, musical instruments and music, embroidery projects, and there were those days, when we also had cooking class and had to take to school all the fresh ingredients for the receipe and the dish to bring it home in. How the heck did we do it?

Cooking did not start off well. One of my first cooking lessons was making a fruit crumble.

I was feeling so grown up on the day that we went to Fareham Park Technical College for a cooking lesson. Ladened with plastic bags containing a Pyrex dish, a large tin of rhubarb, a bag of flour, a bag of sugar and some margarine, I followed the others into a large room with ovens, cupboards and white, horizontal tables arranged in groups of three. I was assigned to sit with two boys, Robert and Fritz. Both boys assumed that because I was a girl, I knew how to cook. This lady cooked toast and cereal and that was about it. They sought my advice from the get go. It was kind of nice to be looked up to. So I winged it.

The first thing that we did was to get all our ingredients out on the table and our receipe. Some people had tins of peaches, others tins of pears, My mum had given me a tin of rhubarb. We were shown where we could find a bowl to mix the crumble, spoons, tin openers, colanders, and how to preheat the oven.

The second item of business was to undo the tin of fruit that we had bought and strain off the juices. Tough stuff this cooking! Not wanting to waste anything, I commented to the boys that it was a shame to waste the rhubarb juice. Their eyes lit up. “We’ll have it!” They exclaimed. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Oh yes!” They said. So I shared the juice out between them in some cups. They doused it down and I put the rhubarb into my mum’s Pyrex dish.

We got on with our crumble, weighing out the flour, sugar and margarine. We began rubbing in the marg to the flour. The boys started washing their hands with some urgency. ‘Are you finished already?’ I asked them. They looked at me quickly and rushed out of the room. I felt a little abandoned.

I continued to rub in the margarine. It wasn’t very fun as I got my hands dirty. I added the sugar, stirred it in, and put the crumble mixture on top of the rhubarb. About ten minutes after they had left, the boys ambled back into the room. My crumble was ready to go into the oven. By the time I got back from the oven a few yards away, the boys were running towards the door again.

“What were they doing?” I started cleaning up the table and getting the bowls and other utensils that I had used washed up whilst I waited for the crumble to cook. It would take just over half an hour.

The boys sauntered back in again looking a little ashened. The teacher told them to hurry up and get their crumble done. They got back to their bowls. When I had finished washing up, I sat down at the table. With nothing to do, I watched the activity of the boys. They looked up and whispered ‘Rhubarb juice’. ‘Rhubarb juice?” I questioned. “Yes, we will NEVER drink rhubarb juice again!” Suddenly the penny dropped and I suppressed a giggle.

So first lesson in cooking:

1. Know the properties of your ingredients;
2. Don’t share your rhubarb juice if you are trying to impress male friends;
3. Only give your rhubarb juice to your enemies.

Rhubarb Crumble


One tin of Rhubarb;
4oz butter or margarine;
6oz plain flour;
2oz caster sugar


1. Heat the oven (Gas Mark 6, 400 degrees F 200 degrees C);
2. Drain juice of rhubarb (and be cautious who you give the juice to);
3. Put rhubarb in the bottom of a pie dish;
4. Rub the butter or margarine lightly into the flour until I resembles coarse breadcrumbs;
5. Stir in the sugar;
6. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit and press down lightly;
7. Sprinkle the top with sugar and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes;
8. Service with hot custard!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 1st May, 2018)