book review: Jump! by Jilly Cooper

When Jump by the lovely Jilly Cooper was released, I rushed (in the manner of a Jilly heroine) to the shops to buy a copy. I put it to one side, in a delaying-gratification sort of way, and somehow (I have an excuse – I was writing a book) several months passed.

This morning on the way to school we were chatting about books. No2 child is reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and explained to no1 that he was on page 11, ‘but nothing much is happening really, yet, so it’s a bit dull.’ No1 child said ‘Ah, you see I think that’s why J.K. Rowling is so successful, because all of her books are a bit like that. They start off really boring, but if you keep going they get good.’

Jilly Cooper book - Jump

Mmm, I thought. Jilly Cooper is my favourite writer, ever. But she too has a habit of writing books which take a while to get into. I suppose when you’re a bestselling author you can do that. Her latest novel, Jump! is based in the world of horse-racing. I spent quite a long time – probably the first third of the book – waiting to be gripped. The main character, Etta Bancroft, is very nice, but a bit of a weed. That’s a bit unfair, I suppose. She’s spent years being squashed by a horrible man and her vile children. But I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a shake. She does improve, I am happy to say, and it is very lovely to have a main character who isn’t a lithe young goddess of foxitude. And as ever, Jilly’s characters are beautifully drawn, both human and animal. It’s a testament to her writing (Jilly’s books are right up there on my comfort reading list that characters she first wrote years ago (Rupert Campbell-Black and Billy and Janey Lloyd-Foxe) have stayed so alive that when she brings them back into the story, they are real and not just cardboard cut-outs.

There is a strong focus on the world of racing, which Jilly has researched thoroughly, and her depictions of the highs and lows of a training yard are wonderful. It’s a bit like a Pullein-Thompson for grown-ups, really, and I can imagine that the numbers of people joining racing syndicates will be rising like – well, if I were Jilly I’d make a naughty pun here, but I won’t. Nobody does them quite like Jilly Cooper.

There’s a point about three-quarters of the way through where she dashes through a fairly long period of time in about a chapter. I felt she was going ‘come on, come on’ and dying to get to the next part – and when it happens, well, you can see why. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean, but when old blue eyes comes back on the scene, Jilly’s writing picks up with the verve and wit for which she is known. Every word is a delight. And when Jilly does death, she does it beautifully. I cried buckets (again in the manner of a Jilly heroine), and had to stop for a cup of tea and compose myself.

Jump! by Jilly Cooper – it’s a litte bit slow out of the starting gates, but finds its feet and races to the finish, leaving the rest of the pack standing*.

*I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that

finding happiness in housework

I really, really want to be tidy.
I really, really want to like housework.
But (and I can’t believe I’m alone in this) it just seems like the most boring thing in the world. One of the first posts on this blog was a rant about the never ending cycle of housework and washing that comes with having four children.
So when I was offered a review copy of Danielle Raine’s Housework Blues – A Survival Guide I was rather hoping it would solve all my problems.

It didn’t. It’s not that sort of book. It won’t tell you how to become a domestic goddess, or give you the secret to a spotless sink (I can tell you that: scrub with bicarbonate of soda – makes it really shiny and won’t harm the environment, either). But it will make you think.

One of the reasons I love gardening is the mindlessness of repetitive tasks like dead-heading roses, or weeding. I find if very zen and relaxing. I’ve never looked at housework like that: I mutter and grumble and think of all the things I could be doing. Danielle’s book challenges us to look at housework in the same way, and to use it as an opportunity to contemplate life. It works. As does her sneaky method of starting something, and finding that before you know it other people in the family have joined in. (Shh)

Any writer who admits ‘I find little in common with naturally tidy people sharing their tips’ wins brownie points from me. I know my fondness for the ultimate domestic goddess, Martha Stewart is well documented, but I still haven’t mastered the dark art of folding a fitted sheet (and frankly, life’s too short).

It’s a lovely book, and miraculously, it’s made a difference to the way I think about housework. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some thinking to do, so I’m off to clean the kitchen.

pumpkin pie and autumn garden plans

gardening and christmas planning What I really love about autumn is the planning.
Gardening catalogues and a notebook where I can sketch ideas for next summer, a cup of coffee, a pile of russet apples.
The good thing about gardening is that if it doesn’t work out one year, you can start all over again the next. I commited the heinous crime of moving an established grapevine this summer, because it was in the wrong place.
It’s forgiven me, I think (well, it’s not dead yet).
Then there’s toy catalogues and thoughts of Christmas, cookery books and what we’ll eat on Christmas day.
Because we are rather piggish in our family we’ve already had the ‘who’ll-cook-what-and-where’ conversation – I’m doing Nigella’s Ginger Glazed Ham again because it was so delicious, and my mum will be brining the turkey. (I’m going to get a text message later saying no, I am not. Turkey is a bone of contention in our house, because most of us prefer, well, anything else really, but we’re all stubborn old traditionalists and nothing else seems right.)

Other things I love about autumn: pumpkin pie. It’s not easy to get canned pumpkin over here (and actually, I’m not a great lover of canned anything when the real thing is growing in my garden) so I split the pumpkin, bake it in the oven, then scoop out the flesh. If it’s a bit wet, I put it in a muslin lined colander and let it drip for a couple of hours.
I use Martha Stewart’s pumpkin pie recipe and we serve it with whipped cream, spiked with a little bit of maple syrup. Swoon. And no calories at all, obviously.
Best served with a cup of coffee (I dream of the day that Starbucks bring their Pumpkin Spice Latte over here) and a good book. Preferably something comforting and curl-up-in-a-chair-ish like Flambards. It’s nice to escape from the real world for a little while, I think.

Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Pie (© Martha Stewart)

•1 cup packed light-brown sugar
•1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour)
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1 teaspoon ground ginger
•1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
•1 1/2 cups fresh Pumpkin Puree, or canned
•3 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 egg for glaze
•1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
•Pate Brisee (Pie Dough)
•1 tablespoon heavy cream

1.Preheat oven to 210C/ 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin puree, and 3 eggs. Beat well. Add evaporated milk, and combine. Set aside.
2.Between two pieces of plastic wrap, roll pate brisee into a 12-inch circle. Fit pastry into a 9-inch glass pie plate; trim dough evenly along edge, leaving about a 1/2-inch overhang. Pinch to form a decorative edge. If the dough begins to soften, chill for 15 minutes.
3.Make the glaze: Beat the remaining egg, and combine with heavy cream. Brush glaze very lightly on edges of pie shell. Fill pie shell with pumpkin mixture. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.
4.Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 175C/350 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack.

And if that all seems a bit complicated, pop over to Liz at Violet Posy for a superfast easy version!