Banana and berry crumble

FRUIT crumble in autumn and winter is a great way to use berries, freshly picked or frozen.

This recipe, which uses bananas to sweeten the berries, is inspired by Tony Turnbull in his hugely useful book, “The Only Recipes You’ll Ever Need”.

It contains 250 recipes that cover just about every main ingredient you are likely to use. From chick peas to chicken, from duck to puff pastry, chocolate to salmon, it’s all there in plain language and beautifully illustrated.

His crumble recipe, however, contains slightly fewer ingredients in the crumble and a lot more sugar than mine.

Banana and berry crumble

Serves 4


500g mixed berries, fresh or frozen (blackberries, blueberries, etc)

4 medium bananas (skinned weight c. 400g), sliced into coins

100g butter

100g plain flour

1 tablespoon demerara sugar

75g jumbo oats

3 tablespoons almond flakes


Put berries and banana pieces into oven-proof dish.

Place butter and flour in food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar, oats and almond flakes.

Scatter crumble mixture over berries and bananas. Bake at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 for 40 minutes or until golden. Make sure the almond flakes don’t burn.

Serve with cream, crème fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or custard.



Tearful return – a short story

IT’S so good to see that Salisbury is finally having its own literary festival (27th to 29th October), with an emphasis on creative writing “rather than non-fiction memoirs and celebrity-led books”. Those are the words of Festival director, Tom Bromley, in his Welcome at the front of the brochure.

The Happy Moonraker has never been a creative writer, facts having always been my stock-in-trade. Some years ago, however, in a break with tradition, a short story emerged from the keyboard. I’ve no idea where my inspiration came from, but I am happy to post it on this blog, just for a change from nature notes and similar fact-based ramblings.

I would point out that, since the story was written, the law on carrying babies and children in cars has quite rightly become complicated and strict.

Tearful return

SHE backed carefully into the parking space, switched off the engine and sighed.

‘I just wish I could work out why she hasn’t been in touch. All those promises about emails, letters, phone calls and so on, and in almost two years she’s rung twice, and sent three measly postcards.’

Mike fidgeted in the passenger seat before turning to her. ‘It struck me that it might have been something one of us said when she was planning this trip.’

‘You could be right, but don’t think I haven’t gone down that route too. I’ve been awake for hours, night after night, mulling over the time she stayed just before she left and I honestly can’t find any clues that make me think she was planning to cut herself off for so long.’

‘Still, she’s due on the next train, we’re here, and I’d better go and check the train’s arriving on time,’ said Mike, as he got out of the car. He strode over to the passenger hall, dodging a white taxi as he did so. Mid-afternoon. A weak wintry sun was dipping low to the west. Everywhere was very quiet. Just one woman buying a ticket. He glanced up at the screen. Yes, the London train was due in at 3.34.

He stamped his feet, blew on his fingers and hurried back to the car. ‘It’s damn cold out there,’ he said, as he banged the door shut.

They said nothing. Their breath started to steam up the windows.

Suzie leant across and looked at Mike’s face. ‘You’ve got a bit of shaving foam by your ear.’

She tried to rub it off with her finger.

‘How long d’you think she’s been back in the country?’ he asked.

‘How should I know?’

‘Well, you spoke to her.’

‘That was last night and she said she was on a borrowed mobile, so I told you we couldn’t talk for long,’ said Suzie.

Twisting the rear view mirror, she looked at her reflection. ‘God, what a sight. I look about a hundred. I bet she’ll say I look old.’

Mike chuckled and squeezed her gloved hand. ‘She’d better not. You hardly look a day older than … well  …. 50.’

‘Very funny. It’s so unfair. Why do men seem to improve as they get older? Except for all that hair, of course.’

He changed the subject. ‘She left with that enormous backpack, didn’t she? I wonder if there’s room for it in the boot. Mind you, she may have left it in London.’

A rush of cold air whipped round the inside of the car as Mike opened the hatchback to move his golf clubs.

‘Oh, come on, let’s go and wait on the platform. I can’t bear this,’ said Suzie.

She grabbed his hand as they walked into the station.

‘The thing we have to remind ourselves is that she’s an adult. She was 27 in April, she’s supported herself for the past five years, and she can do what she likes,’ she said, shrugging her shoulders and looking for other signs of life on the platform.

‘I know, I know. And I bet I have to try hard not to start telling her what to do with the rest of her life. After all, if she wants to make any real progress up the management ladder, she can’t just suddenly pack it in and tell them she’s clearing off again. Even a big company can’t afford to invest in all that training and monitoring, only to see the trainee disappearing for two years.’

He thought of how responsible and hardworking he’d been. And how boring it all was, and how he’d much rather have been travelling the world, like his errant daughter. Perhaps he should have gone when he was 25, just as she’d done. But he’d never have met Suzie.

Was their daughter irresponsible? Was she feckless? He didn’t know. All he knew was that he and Suzie felt they’d done their best for her.

As they both heard the familiar buzzing on the rails telling them that the train was about to appear on the bend, Suzie suddenly felt her heart racing. The pulse throbbed in her neck. She began to gulp with nervousness.

The platform had filled up. There must have been about 40 people, some clearly waiting to get on board, others meeting passengers.

As the train approached, Mike and Suzie tried to look through the carriage windows for their daughter. Doors opened with their distinctive hiss and bang, and people started to emerge. Halfway along, they both recognised Louise at the same time but she hadn’t yet spotted them. She then turned round as though she was getting back on the train, only to emerge lifting the front of a child’s buggy, while an invisible pair of hands, belonging no doubt to the mother, held the handle.

‘Oh, look – she’s helping someone with their baby,’ said Suzie, and she smiled as she and Mike started to walk along the platform towards her. But, once the buggy was safely on the platform, Suzie took control of the handles, hitched a bag on her shoulder and turned towards them. As she recognised her parents, she started to run and flung her arms round her father’s neck, before turning to her mother, kissing her on both cheeks and taking her by the hand.

‘Well, we’re back,’ said Louise, bending down to investigate the furry cocoon in the buggy. ‘Mum, Dad, this is Matthew and he was eleven weeks old yesterday.’ She gave a lopsided smile, and then burst into tears.

Suzie was speechless. She found herself gaping. ‘But darling, is he yours?’ she finally asked, trying not to sound horrified.

‘Of course he is, Mum. I’m not in the habit of walking off with other people’s babies.’

‘No, no, I’m quite sure you aren’t. In fact, I seem to remember you being rather averse to them not so long ago. But how are you going to manage?’

Mike felt stunned. Was he now a grandfather then? What the hell was he going to tell his mother? She was fairly old-fashioned about these things at the best of times, but where her own granddaughter was concerned, he didn’t dare contemplate how she would react.

‘Let’s get to the car,’ he declared, ‘it’s too cold to stand here.’

Realising they were the last on the draughty platform, they hurried out to the car park, Mike grabbing his daughter’s bag, Suzie desperately trying to peep at the baby.

‘It’s all right, Mum,’ laughed Louise, through the tears, ‘you can hold him in a minute.’

She gently lifted the cocoon out of the stroller and handed her sleeping son to Suzie, who wrapped her arms round him. She found herself wanting to cry. He was so beautiful. She wondered who the father was and started thinking that it was so sad that all these children were being brought into the world, without much hope of ever having a stable, two-parent up-bringing. Still, she and Mike were young enough to be able to help, if Louise would let them. Her grandson opened his big blue eyes and looked solemnly at her. She could feel his little legs stirring inside his cosy coverings.

With the buggy folded and put in the back, the three of them got in the car and Suzie handed Matthew back to Louise, before turning on the engine in the hope of getting some warmth from the heater.

‘I can’t believe how cold it is in England, you know. It was summer when we left Australia.’

‘Who’s we, darling?’

‘Well, the thing is, I’ve been wanting to tell you, but I just couldn’t find the right moment and the weeks went by and … well, anyway. The thing is, I’m married. In fact, we got married as soon as we could after we’d arrived in Sydney last year, but then I found I was pregnant and I was as sick as a dog and we didn’t know whether to come home or stay put. We stayed put in the end, because of work.’

‘Actually, we weren’t even sure where you were,’ her father said, a note of reproach in his voice.

Louise burst into tears again. She leant forward in the steamed-up car, putting an arm round both her parents and whispered, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ She gulped, blew her nose, and then said: ‘You know Matthew’s father. It’s Ben from school.’

‘It’s who?’ Her mother’s voice rose in horror.

‘Ben Paynter. He joined in the sixth form.’

‘I don’t think I remember his name at all. I thought you meant Ben from round the corner,’ said Suzie, with relief.

‘Oh, Mum, honestly, I haven’t taken total leave of my senses. We met up again at Jane’s party in London just before I left and he said he was about to do a job swap in Sydney, so we saw each other after I got there. And the rest’s history, as they say.’

‘So you and this Ben Paynter married in Sydney,’ said Mike, trying to sound casual. ‘But why couldn’t you invite your old parents to the wedding?’

‘I know it sounds silly now, but we thought we’d surprise you and his parents, that’s all.  And so few people seem to get married these days, we just thought we’d do the unconventional thing, and do it properly. And we are happy, honestly.’

‘Where is Ben now? Is he still in Australia?’

‘No, he’s in Andover, Dad.’

‘We’ve just rented a house nearby because his boss has offered him a job managing a new subsidiary he’s starting there.’

Her mother laughed. ‘And I thought you’d come from London! Why isn’t he with you and Matthew now?’

‘He’s coming over this evening, after work. I promise you we would have come days ago but we were jet lagged and I didn’t want Matthew to be crying when you first met him,’ Louise said, abjectly.

Mike said: ‘But I still can’t work out why you didn’t keep in touch.’

‘Well, the last thing you said to me, Dad, was, ‘if you do anything mad, don’t tell us,’ and I thought you meant it,’ said Louise.

Mike felt a lump in his throat.

‘Come on,’ said Suzie, putting the car in gear, ‘I think it’s time we started for home.’

House martins set for take-off

HOUSE martins are in the same bird family as swallows and swifts, so they, too, will soon be lining up on electricity wires before they depart to spend the winter in Africa.

It is nothing short of a miracle that they can do this, and come back to their original nesting spots in this country six or seven months later.

They often nest in the eaves of houses and these photographs show young martins at a fairly delicate stage of development, and who must be members of a second brood, having been photographed this month.

Resting on an evergreen in a tub, the young feathered martin has probably launched itself from its nest but found flying a little more tiring than expected.

The one in the nest is in a typical spot, under the eaves of a house in the middle of Salisbury and close to a water course where its parents can find plenty of insect life nearby. Its nest, made from mud, is sheltered from the elements even if it is resting on a power line.

The Happy Moonraker wishes them all ‘bon voyage’ and looks forward to their return next spring.


Oliver’s Burghley triumph

Oliver Townend, winner at last week’s Burghley Horse Trials, on Ballaghmor Class, is seen here riding ODT Secret Spy at Somerley nine years ago.

ANOTHER of Britain’s top three-day eventers has further distinguished himself. Oliver Townend and his new horse, Ballaghmor Class, have clinched the championship title at Burghley Horse Trials.

Not to be outdone, The Happy Moonraker was pleased to be able to trawl through the archive and find this photo of Oliver taken at Somerley Horse Trials back in 2008.

Interestingly, Oliver’s Burghley mount, a grey, is only ten years old which is comparatively young to have had such a good win. They always used to say that a grey horse was either very good or very bad and this one is obviously one of the former.

Before the championships at Burghley, Oliver was quoted as saying that Ballaghmor Class was the best horse he had ever ridden so that says a lot about his judgement. He has previously had great success on two other outstanding greys, Flint Curtis (Badminton winner in 2009) and Carousel Quest (Burghley also in 2009).

A golden prize for hard work

Kristina Cook (on Star Witness) is pictured at Somerley Horse Trials five years ago. She was a member of the gold-medal winning British team at the European Championships at the weekend when riding Billy the Red.

IT was great to read that the British eventing team won gold at the European championships in Strzegom, Poland, at the weekend. The last time a British team managed to do this was in 2009 when the competition was held in France. British rider Nicola Wilson and her horse Bulana also took individual bronze this time.

The Happy Moonraker is a fan of eventing, the ultimate test of horse and rider, and it is heartening to see all that hard work paying off. So many things have to go right on the day that to clinch team gold is a huge tribute to the dedication of all those involved, not just the talented horses and riders that we see competing.


Ever thought of getting married?

ANOTHER windy, soggy Saturday passed and I felt sorry for people who were getting married in such terrible conditions. Ruined shoes, mud-spattered dresses and everyone scurrying for shelter. I was reminded of something I had written years ago. It was not about wet Saturdays but it was about weddings.

Tilly the terrier seems a little overwhelmed by this lovely wedding dress at Brides By Victoria in Salisbury.

RUN away to Gretna Green and there is very little to plan.

Or go to your travel agent and get married somewhere exotic. The hotel will even lend you a wedding dress.

The more usual option, though, is to indulge every fantasy you have ever had and marry at home.

Choosing the dress, the venue, the flowers, the colour theme, deciding on caterers, how much to spend on gifts for bridesmaids, favours for guests, working out who should sit where, whether to be married in church or have a civil ceremony, are all questions calculated to test your tact and diplomacy.

Opt for a big wedding and your guests will love you for the trouble you have taken to ensure their day goes as smoothly as yours. From making sure there is enough parking for everyone, to ensuring there is access to loos for those who have driven hundreds of miles to be with you on your big day, your careful planning makes all the difference between “another wretched wedding we had to go to” and “that fantastic wedding we enjoyed so much.”

A friend was a guest at five weddings last year. “All my friends’ children seemed to be taking the plunge,” she says. “But by the third wedding my husband had had enough and I practically had to drag him to the last two.

“He objected to all the hanging around and the cheap sherry, and I found myself criticising examples of bad planning, like nowhere to put our coats at the reception, and no escape from the deafening disco. I feel like quite an expert now, but unfortunately neither of my daughters is even thinking about getting married.”

Like her, we’ve all experienced the trials of being a wedding guest. Whether we’ve suffered from having to sit for three hours at the reception next to someone who has no small-talk skill (and believe me, it is a skill) or we’ve suffered because we chose the wrong clothes, the feelings of disappointment are the same. We can only blame ourselves if we choose to wear tight clothes and uncomfortable shoes, but it is hardly the guests’ fault when photography sessions last for hours while they have to wait around, either in a howling gale or in blazing sunshine with no shade available. It’s not our fault that the best man loses his speech and has succumbed to temptation and had too much champagne too early in the proceedings.

Draughty churches, walking a mile-and-a-half along a muddy lane from the car to the reception, not enough food to go round, and other examples of poor planning stick in the memory. There’s a lot of truth in the old adage: “Cut your coat according to your cloth.” It serves as a gentle reminder not to be over ambitious. A modest wedding organised within your budget can be just as enjoyable as a huge affair. It all boils down to paying attention to the details.

Goodwill is there in bucket-loads, in the hearts of the happy couple’s old school-friends, colleagues, feuding family members who’ve buried the hatchet for the occasion, among the sedentary and slightly confused grandmas and hyper-active and uninhibited small children.

But don’t push your luck. If you want your wedding to be remembered as the happiest and most smooth-running of the year, it takes effort and planning and dozens of lists. On one of your lists must be a detail like warning everyone living nearby if you are planning a long, loud, late post-wedding shindig. It may seem a small matter when compared to whether you’ve chosen the right shade of eye-shadow, but it pays to keep the neighbours on side if they can’t all be invited.

Of course there will be disagreements in the run-up to the big day, and tempers will fray when estimated costs start to escalate and Dad says “no more”, but smooth over the cracks and everything will be fine.

Bossy mothers, sulking bridesmaids, and printers who don’t know the meaning of words like “design” and “deadline” are all part of the fun.

There are wedding magazines, wedding fairs and advice columns, and they will provide you with ideas that you can adopt or reject. The mental image of wedding photographs taken outside a beautiful stately home may be tempting, or a country club setting may be more your style. If you have a garden big enough for a marquee all the better.

The best weddings are often achieved with the aid of professionals. Wedding planners can remove an awful lot of the time-consuming, stressful, nail-biting anxiety from the whole process. They’ve done it all before, they are aware of the pitfalls, they are good at calming last-minute nerves and they know which way to turn if there is a problem.

And no matter how much sympathy you feel for the poor beleaguered bridegroom who just thought he and his beloved would tie the knot quietly in a low-key civil ceremony, spare a thought for the bride who has dreamed of a big white wedding since she was a bridesmaid at the age of six.

It’s probably not worth arguing about it. For better or worse.