• My latest Novel,  The Disenchanted Hero

    The Changing Face of Food

    ‘It was Sunday and Molly had decided to follow a recipe for vegetable and oatmeal goulash which had appeared on one of the government information leaflets that had come through the door recently. It talked about ingenious ideas for fooling the taste buds and in this recipe a bit of paprika was meant to deceive you into thinking you were eating meat.’

    An excerpt from my novel: The Disenchanted Hero.

    During WW2 food rationing was introduced as the government knew that it would be harder to import food.

    Vegetable and Oatmeal GoulashFoods like butter, meat, cheese, eggs, milk, tea, jam and even sweets were rationed!
    Most, like my character Molly, ‘dug for victory’ and turned their whole gardens over to vegetable growing and kept chickens.
    The Vegetable and Oatmeal Goulash certainly doesn’t galvanise my taste buds. But, hey, you might be lucky enough to have a tin of corned beef to add to it.WW2 Recipe for Oatmeal and Vegetable Goulash
    One thing is for sure, very few had cars and so the vast majority got around by walking or cycling.

    What with this and the restrictions on food, we were a very healthy nation.

    Abundant choice in the 21st Century

    We are incredibly lucky in this day and age to have access to a wealth of food. Here, in Suffolk, local farm produce is readily available and the nearest farm shop just a five-minute drive away. Chef-led TV is aired daily – Saturday Kitchen is my favourite – and then any recipes you fancy are downloadable in an instant.
    We have seen the rise of convenience foods and processed foods filling our supermarkets. I think nowadays there’s a kick back against this way of eating and a move towards healthier options. Certainly in my household we have become flexitarians, opting for a lot more vegetarian foods.

    Healthy Eating

    Just in the last year the trend has been for:

    • Plant-based proteins: tofu, tempeh and quinoa with some becoming Vegans
    • Gut-friendly fermented foods
    • Hyper-local food
    • Recipe kits delivered to your home
    • More use of spices and herbs to flavour food
    • Organic food – ditch the pesticides

    Which trend are you following?

    Read more about Molly and her WW2 experiences in The Disenchanted Hero, now available on Amazon.

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  • My latest Novel,  The Disenchanted Hero

    21st Woman has it all?

    In the recession of the 1930s it was not easy for women to work and only about 30% managed it. Of those nearly a third were in domestic service.

    The character in my latest novel, Molly Brooks, went into domestic service at the tender age of 15 out of necessity because her family fell on very difficult times. Her father fell ill and lost his shoe-making business which put him and Molly’s mother in the workhouse. Molly and her older brother, Joe, knew they had to get them out and so Molly took a huge risk and travelled from Truro in Cornwall up to London to take a position as a Lady’s maid.

    At that time getting married meant giving up your job. It wasn’t actually illegal to work as a married woman but socially unacceptable. The civil service, the education sector and new professions including the BBC operated a “marriage bar”, which meant that women had to resign their posts as they took their vows. About 10% defied this convention but as soon as they got pregnant, it was made impossible for them to continue.

    ‘Women’s Work’

    Women were confined to the lower paid unskilled jobs. This meant:

    • assembly work in the engineering, electrical, food and drink industries;
    • clerical work and typing in offices;
    • counter-sales in shops. 

    They were usually excluded from supervisory roles or work that was considered to be “skilled”, despite the fact that they had managed theses roles successfully during WWI.
    The domestic life of women wasn’t easy too. Without electrical appliances like washing machines, fridge freezers and dishwashers, not to mention cordless vacuums(!) that we take for granted today, housework was time-consuming and hard work. Add on top of that having babies and bringing up children, you can see why the wider family unit would stick together.

    War breaks out and suddenly your country NEEDS you

    With thousands of men away serving in the armed forces, British women were called upon to take on a variety of jobs during the Second World War. By mid-1943, almost 90% of single women and 80% of married women were working in factories, on the land or in the armed forces in roles such as mechanics, engineers, munitions workers, air raid wardens, bus and fire engine drivers.
    Women also played a vital role on the home front, running households and fighting a daily battle of rationing, recycling, reusing, and cultivating food in allotments and gardens.

    After the war

    At first the view was very much that women should give up their jobs to allow men returning from the front to have ‘their’ jobs back. But then Britain entered a period of sustained economic growth and the welfare state was launched and suddenly a larger workforce was needed.
    The newly created National Health Service created jobs in nursing, midwifery, cleaning and clerical work. Banking, textile and light industries such as electronics also expanded during this period and provided women with opportunities in clerical, secretarial and assembly work.

    But women still only had the lower paid jobs. The ‘marriage bar’ continued in many areas of work and women were routinely sacked for being pregnant.

    So you really did have to choose between work OR marriage and having a family.

    Having it all

    Now, in the 21st century they say women have it all and don’t need to choose between career and family.

    We do have more equality in the workplace with more women taking top jobs but there are still more women in lower paid jobs. The gender pay gap was highlighted recently when the BBC’s gender inequality was exposed after the government forced them to publish the salaries of their top earners. Interestingly, this has lead to male presenters leaving the BBC and more women in the top roles.

    Many women are still working long hours. In managerial posts it is the expected norm to work longer than 9 to 5. Women with unskilled jobs often have more than one job to make ends meet.

    Many jobs are proving stressful which leads to stress-related illness.

    Having children makes working harder due to childcare costs. Some mothers chose to job share halving their earnings. Others give up employment for self-employment so that they can work around their childcare needs.

    It seems to me that our working lives are no less challenging – it’s just a different set of challenges.

    Do we have it all? Or is it all too much?

    If you would like to read more about Molly, The Disenchanted Hero
    is out in paperback and on Kindle available from Amazon:

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  • Life with The Grey

    My Artists Studio

    My Art Studio

    I started painting watercolours when I moved to Suffolk in 2015 and found myself sitting by the river at Flatford Mill where Constable painted the Haywain. Nobody told me that watercolours are the hardest medium to paint in!

    Then I discovered a delightful art group run by Hazel Bradshaw just up the road from Monks Eleigh where I live. Here I was introduced to acrilyic paint which is a joy to work with!

    A holiday in Trujillo, Spain where there were nine pairs of nesting storks resident in the chimneys and bell towers of this delightful medieval town prompted me to paint the beautiful Spanish White Storks.

    Walking in the beautiful Lake District you come across many a dry stone wall and that became a theme for a while.

    I’ve also painted beloved pets to bring joy to their owners and and other animals that take my fancy.

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  • Life with The Grey

    Restoration of body, mind and mantelpiece

    We are blessed with sunny weather here in Suffolk and with a sense of spring in the air I decided it was time to restore the rustic legless mantelpiece we acquired in the Cotswolds last October.

    When we stumbled across this objet trouvé it was day one of what turned out to be a very rainy trip when we stumbled across an antique shop in Chipping Norton (which The Grey referred to as sodding Norton as the wet week progressed) and spotted what looked like the top section of a Georgian style fire surround with what I read to be £25. Why wouldn’t you? I imagined lovingly restoring it in my art studio, working away, at one with the world.
    The owner of the shop was quite a character and full of banter. We got some of his life history as well as being told several times that what we were buying was ‘genuine Georgian’ and he had in fact wanted the piece for himself. Come to think of it he didn’t say why he didn’t keep it for his own home. It was clad in an old piece of cloth and The Grey was walking down the road to the car park when I discovered that there was a 1 in front of the 25 making it £125… Ahhh…
    ‘No worries, Madam,’ the cheeky dealer said, ‘I can refund your money onto your card.’
    But I wanted it! What would be a palatable figure for The Grey? He’s pretty laid back on these matters really.
    ‘How does £75 sound?’
    ‘It’s genuine Georgian you see.’ We eyeballed each other. This is the bit where you don’t blink first. ‘£85?’ he suggested.

    My friends back home assure me I got a bargain. Phew.

    So, back to my sunny day: I’m in the garden painting the now infamous mantelpiece with a gloss paint (not favoured by The Grey so purchased surreptitiously one Saturday when he wasn’t looking) which is supposed to be antique cream but looks white to me; I tell myself it will miraculously change to its true colour at some stage. With just the gentle sound of nature and a paint brush in my hand I felt a sense of calm; a sense of this is what it’s about. And perhaps it went some way to restoring body and mind as well.
    So here is the fine piece; restored but still legless.

    Georgian mantelpiece restored

    Looking fine!

    It’s now raining and according to my weather app this is the status quo until Thursday, so the verticals to complete the fire surround will have to wait.

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  • Life with The Grey

    Tuscan landscapes

    I had the pleasure of staying in the small town of  San Quirico d’Orcia in the southern part of Tuscany last year. The surrounding countryside and villages were a joy and I was very busy with my camera capturing the idyllic beauty of the place when we went out exploring.

    One day I didn’t go out with the main group but ventured into town where to my surprise there was a vintage car rally zooming through the narrow streets of San Quirico which were lined with locals and a few tourists cheering them on.

    I continued up to the Municipio di San Quirico – the town hall – and up two flights of stone stone steps until I reached a photography exhibition with the most amazing Tuscan landscapes. I was mesmerised by every picture.

    When I returned home to Suffolk I set too with my paint brush to try and capture some of the stunning splendour of those landscapes. And here are the results.

    Tuscan landscape

    Landscape painting of Tuscany, Acriylic on Canvas










    Tuscany landscape




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  • The Disenchanted Hero by Gill Buchanan
    My latest Novel,  The Disenchanted Hero

    A Tribute to Molly

    Molly Hugh was an extraordinary woman and I’d like to remember her on this, International Women’s Day.

    In 1925 at the tender age of fifteen Molly and her sisters and one older brother were thrown out on the streets with their deaf and dumb parents. Father, Anthony, had become ill and his shoe-making business had fallen on hard times and in one fell swoop they had lost everything.

    But Molly was not someone to be easily beaten.

    She had already left school and was working in a local cake shop where she earned very little. She quickly realised she was going nowhere. It was down to her, as the oldest daughter, and Joe, the oldest son, to get their mum and dad out of the workhouse.

    It was down to her plucky ways that she landed a plum job as a lady’s maid in London after an hour answering an advertisement in The Times. She had no experience of this kind of work and was taking a huge leap of faith when she got a one-way ticket for a train out of Truro to London. Her sisters were not so lucky and were at the mercy of the nuns where they lived in harsh conditions until they were old enough to leave. Ten years later Molly had enjoyed her time in service and had a very good relationship with her employer who thought the world of her. She met Johnny Brooks having been taken in by his charm and smooth moves on the dance floor. He was quick to ask her to marry him and why wouldn’t she say yes but sadly he turned out to be a ‘wrong’en’ as folks would said and it was not a happy marriage.
    It was 1943 when she met Guy Woodhead and a wonderful romance ensued, despite all the odds being against them. Perhaps it was the backdrop of World War 2 that made them reckless and live for the moment. They had to relish what little time they had together before Guy felt he should do his duty and sign up with the military police where he served firstly in South Africa and then on to Italy. He was away for many years and Molly lived out these years working as an electrician in the aircraft factory on the old Brooklands race track at Weybridge. Many men said it wasn’t right that women were doing the jobs of highly trained men how could they just pick it up and carry out important work building Wellington bombers? But that’s what they did. Some even learnt to fly the aircraft to their destinations. Whatever next?

    As well as working long hours a woman was expected to shop weekly with her

     coupons and somehow feed her family with what little rationing provided. Molly turned her garden into a vegetable plot and kept chickens.

    Did Molly manage to rid herself of the awful Johnny Brooks?

    One thing I can tell you is that I had the fortune of marrying the son of Molly and Guy so I am able to tell this heart wrenching story.

    The Disenchanted Hero by Gill Buchanan will be out shortly on Amazon.

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  • Life with The Grey

    Tangy Orange Cake: a very tasty, easy bake!

    Tangy Orange CakeAll that #Bakeoff has inspired me to get baking! And this Tangy Orange Cake is truly delicious. There is lots of orange flavour and it’s not too sweet. Once you have invested in a Microplane Premium Zester, you are ready to bake!

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  • Life with The Grey

    Autumn Food

    Warming Autumn FoodsOkay so Summer’s officially over and the night’s are drawing in, but it’s a good excuse to turn to warming, ‘comfort’ foods and turn your central heating on!

    Autumn makes me think of recipes with butternut squash. I have a wonderful risotto recipe with squash (or pumpkin), chilli, fresh peas and mint which I will share with you. There’s always a few autumn vegetable soups around with celery, beetroot, broccoli and garlic all at their best in October. Aubergines are still available so there’s still time to try my Aubergine, Mint and Pecorino Bake if you haven’t already!

    Then, of course, our wonderful British apples come to the fore. Ive got some bramley apples which are the best for my Autumn Apple cake recipe which has already been widely distributed by my Mum! It makes a delicious moist cake; one that I’m sure Mary Berry would be pleased with! I will add it to this blog in the next couple of days.

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