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Big Garden Birdwatch – Your Chance To Get Involved

You are invited to take part in the RSPB’s biggest wildlife survey to create a snapshot of the birds in our local area for one hour during next weekend – 26th and 27th January 2013. This is the 34th year that the survey has taken part and the RSPB are keen to make this year the biggest yet!

All you have to do is count the birds in your garden (or your local park if you do not have a garden) and submit your results to the RSPB.

To find out more and register to take part, click HERE.

As a thank you for taking part, the RSPB are offering a £5 voucher to spend in their online shop – valid until 3rd February.

Happy Counting!

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Welcome to the WISH Allotment

Let us introduce you to Allotment 72 – WISH’s very own plot that we have just taken over. Last Saturday, a group of hardy souls braved the wind and the freezing January conditions to make ourselves acquainted with our new space.

We do not call ourselves experts by any means but we are keen to learn and with enthusiasm we hope to produce wonders over the coming months and years. Our team is led by Sarah, whose knowledge of plants, soil and weeds is incredible. She has even dismissed the girly stereotype by posing with her new friend, worm.

The allotment was previously ran by a fellow Wi’er, who left it in great condition with handy raised beds (Thanks Michelle!). Even so, we have great plans:

  • We hope to grow a selection of seasonal fruit/vegetables and flowers – There’s a good possibility that some of these may find their way into some WISH Jams & Chutneys too!
  • We have a designated Children Section – Our very own Tot’s plot will provide the gardeners of the future with a place to dig, get messy and learn to grow.
  • A sunflower growing competition – for the young gardeners and the not-so young gardeners!
  • We aim to grow organically, wherever possible avoiding the use of pesticides
  • We also aim to be Bee Friendly Gardeners following guidance from the British BeeKeepers Association.
  • Our biggest challenge may be the size of our plot so we intend on using as much of the available height space as possible.

We welcome as many people who WISH to get involved as possible – the more, the merrier.  Any tips for successful growing are greatly appreciated, as are any donations of seeds, plants and/or equipment.  We hope for our allotment to be a space to learn, make friends, relax and have fun.

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Book Club: 16th January 2013 – The Greatcoat and The Snow Child

We had a great turn out for Wednesday’s Book Club. Thank you to Sue M for leading the group and the insightful summary of the evening:

The cold didn’t put us off – after all, we had just read all about Alaska, so it felt almost tropical as we settled down to discuss our choices:

The Greatcoatby Helen Dunmore

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

First we launched into The Greatcoat. The concensus was that it was a good read but hardly groundbreaking. It was a ghost story, but not at all creepy. Most thought the idea of snuggling up to an itchy, smelly greatcoat a bit far fetched! Some elements were more believable though, especially the realistic presentation of post-war society. Terms from the war were used effectively and sparked a curiosity leading to an unexpected bonus for one member who had the opportunity to discuss National Service with a relative who had rarely spoken of this period in his life. There were contrasts in the interpretation of the ending too – always interesting to discuss.

Our ratings:

An interesting and easy read. Not very scary for a ghost story but left you wanting to get to the end to see the outcome. 3/5 – Mary

Didn’t have enough depth to keep me interested. I struggled to get tot know or like the characters and thought more work could have been done on developing the characters to allow some emotional connection for the reader.
2/5 – Sarah

An unusual take on a ‘ghost’ story. Quite a short fast paced read, but great descriptions of World War II airfields and night raids. Enjoyed it!
4/5 – Kath

Couldn’t really get to know the characters or care about them. The coat felt creepy to me. A quick read but not one that I would particularly recommend.
2/5 – Helen

A good tale of 1950′s and wartime life but a poor ghost story – not scary or creepy at all!
2.5/5 – Morven

I think I was in the minority within the group in finding this quite a pleasant read. I thought the Greatcoat was used as a great device to access another time and place. The atmosphere of the air field, the fear and anticipation of the raids was very well portrayed. I agree that further characterisation would have made it a more well rounded read, but the novel also benefitted from the fast paced nature of not being padded out with too much unnecessary detail.
4/5 – Cara

Could have been much more satisfying but I felt the characterisation lacked depth. I wanted to care more about them.
3/5 – Sue

The Snow Child had a more unanimous response. Everyone had thoroughly enjoyed it. The Alaskan landscape was drawn to perfection – its hardships and its beauty in equal portions. Interestingly, there were more parallels: the description of Jack and Mabel’s fresh start in a remote homestead with all its despair and hope rang true for one member whose parents had experienced a similar move to the wilds of Wales. The magical, fairy tale quality of the book was always balanced by the harsh reality and humanity as well as the veracity of the environment. Again, the ending sparked a lively debate – what really happened? No fairy tale ending perhaps, but isn’t that the point? A recommended read!

Fabulous book! A fairy tale set in Alaska. The landscape was the biggest character giving a backdrop to a lovely heartwarming story.
5/5 – Sue

Beautiful story full of hope and I become obsessed with the glimpses of happiness and laughter that developed as the story unfolded. Very descriptive and great characterisations. Highly recommended.
4/5 – Sarah

Breathtakingly beautiful setting. I fell in love with Alaska along with all the characters. A wonderful first novel. I’d highly recommend it.
5/5 – Kath

A lovely read, felt very magical. Really got to know Mabel. Fabulous descriptions of the extreme cold and the desperation that the couple felt.
4/5 – Helen

A book to get lost in! It transported me to a time and a place I knew nothing about beforehand, and I totally fell in love with it all. The characters were brought to life so brilliantly, that I felt as if I was living with them whilst reading it. I’ll be making my own snow child at the first opportunity.
5/5 – Cara

Brilliant fairytale
5/5 – Rhona

The choices for the next discussion are:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fryby Rachel Joyce and/or The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill Houseby Kate Summerscale.

We will meet at 7.30pm on Wednesday 20th March – Pavilion Bar, Ruskin, Ruskin Drive, St Helens, WA10 6RP.

We have so many great books suggested each meeting, but obviously can’t choose them all. Here are some that you may wish to take a look at independently.

A Street Cat Named Bob

Go Ask the River

The Sense of an Ending

The Bell Jar (50th Anniversary Edition)

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

The Red Tent

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Book Club: November 2012 – The House of Silk & The Last Lecture

The House of Silk, Book Review, Anthony Horrowitz

We struck out for this month’s choices and went for two books. The first The House of Silkis Anthony Horowitz’s take on a new Sherlock Holmes novel.

“It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a
merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks.

Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston. As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society

The majority of members were very positive about the new novel. Admitting that they had never read any of the originals, and being drawn into the mystery very quickly. The discussion led us to conclude that many of the characters had multiple layers and seemingly insignificant details all had a purpose by the end of the novel. For example Holmes asking one character if his wife could swim, resulted in a very significant conclusion and key to unravelling the mystery. Although set circa 100 years ago, many issues within the novel are still as shocking in present day.

A very clever homage to the original texts. The subject matter was rather a shock to me when it was revealed what the House of Silk turned out to be. Loved the discussion of the group, to hear other peoples opinions and interpretations.
Cara – 4/5

Here’s what the other members had to say:

An extremely well written book, true to the original stories re; Sherlock and Watson. Detailed and thought provoking. However I found the interestingly up to date storyline disturbing and unpleasant. Anne - 4/5

This really had the voice of the originals. Great portrayal of Homes and Watson. Deb - 5/5

I think the author felt pressured to stretch a Sherlock Holmes story out to a full novel. The result feels like two stories mixed into one. Which can be a bit confusion. Kate - 3/5

A rip-roaring tale in the style of Sherlock Holmes. Some aspects of the finale were disappointing but overall I really enjoyed the book. Morven-4/5

I thought Horowitz did a good job of keeping the tone and dialect true to the original stories. An easy read, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it . Cathy-3/5

The second book up for discussion was The Last Lectureby Randy Pausch. This book was based on an actual lecture given by Randy Pausch when he knew he had incurable pancreatic cancer. It was a very inspirational look on our childhood dreams and how we should pursue them. Some of us hadn’t actually read the book but had watched the lecture on You Tube here.

A bit cheesy but thought provoking and a few pearls of wisdom. Worth a quick read. Cathy-4/5

I loved this book (and the YouTube video). I found it very uplifting and a chance to evaluate your own life to make changes for the better. Morven-5/5

Lovely legacy for his children. Worth a read. Rhona-4/5

Worth a watch. Deb

Moving and inspiring, a lecture courageously given as a professor comes to face his imminent death at a young age. For me, many messages are available having watched the lecture on YouTube. You will take from this what you need to. Anne-5/5

Uplifting, inspiring and scattered with good advice. Very moving read/watch. Kath-3/5

As the choice of two books worked well we decided to do this again for our January meeting. The book choices are The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore. We will be discussing them at 7.30pm on 16th January 2013 at The Pavilion Bar, Ruskin Leisure, Ruskin Drive, St Helens, WA10 6RP.

Sue Morris will be leading the January group. Anyone wishing to lead future group sessions, please shout.

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WISH visits Denman College – A memory to preserve!

Last month, one of our members, Louise embarked on WISH’s first visit to the WI’s training college, Denman.

Louise tells us about her experiences below. For more information about Denman college and details of future training courses click here If you are booking a course, let us know, there may be the opportunity to get a small contribution towards your travelling expenses.

Every year I dream of giving homemade Christmas presents. I love the idea of homely, lovingly made jams and chutneys to give to friends and relatives. So, how many of my friends and relatives have ever received such a gift from me? None! Why? Because every year, as Christmas approaches, I chicken out. What do I know about making jam and chutney? My only experience of jam making was 30 years ago in Mrs Hopkin’s Home Economics class, and all that talk in recipe books of pectin, setting points and sterilising jars is enough to scare anyone off.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered Denman College had a course designed just for me: ‘Autumn Preserves – An introduction to the secrets of making perfect jams, pickles and chutneys.’ It had my name all over it, so I threw caution to the wind and booked a place.

Before I tell you about the course, what can I tell you about Denman College? It’s a beautiful building, surrounded by manicured gardens, located in the picturesque village of Marcham, and the facilities and tutors in the cookery school are fantastic. They even grow mulberries that you can pick and put in your jam. If you want to learn a new skill, or develop an existing one, this is the place for you. If you want a fast pace and wild nights out, you might want to rethink your destination!

‘Autumn Preserves’ was described as perfect for beginners and experienced preservers alike. On our first evening, I joined my fellow delegates (there were 11 of us) for the course introduction and discovered our experience ranged from complete novice to county market weekly curd and chutney maker. I was the only novice. I felt out of my depth before we’d even started!

Our first challenge was chutney. Carrot relish, rhubarb chutney, banana chutney (nicer tasting than it sounds, I promise) and chilli pickle. I was tasked with carrot relish. I must tell you, one of the great things about the cookery school at Denman is that all the ingredients for each recipe are measured out for you – how cool is that? After grating carrot, chopping apples and onions, all I had to do was chuck everything in a pan, bring it to a boil and stir occasionally until it thickened enough to jar it up. Easy. What had I been so scared of if that’s all there was to it?

My confidence grew. Bring on the next challenge! Gooseberry and Bay jam. It turns out my confidence was misplaced. I was far too cocky and complacent, didn’t stir my sugar until it had dissolved, and managed to burn the lot. Carrie, our tutor, was very kind: “Your jam will have a lovely toffee flavour to it”, she said as I jarred my brown sticky mess into jars In the meantime, everyone else’s jam had taken on a lovely pink hue. I was despondent. It took 2 days of soaking to get the black tar off the bottom of my jam pan – my jam had gone way beyond ‘toffee-tasting’.

After my jam disaster, I determined to knuckle down and take home preserves I’d actually want to eat. I concentrated harder and had much greater success with my peach conserve, autumn and mulberry jam and lemon curd. During the 2-day course I also learned about spicing vinegar, making jellies and pickles, how to check for setting point using the ‘flake test’, the best way to sterilise jars and bottles, which sugars to use with which fruit, along with a myriad of other tips and techniques. It really was a great course and I’d recommend it to anyone.

On returning home, I knew I needed ‘to strike while the iron was hot’. I had a drawer in the freezer full of gooseberries donated from a friend’s allotment. Was I up to the challenge after my first disastrous gooseberry jam encounter? Time to find out. I located the family jam pan, gathering dust and cobwebs in my sister-in-law’s shed, trotted off to Lakeland for my wax discs and cobbled together a motley selection of jam jars. What can I tell you, I was nervous. I never took my eye off the pan for a moment, stirred it pretty much constantly, tried the ‘flake test’ far too often, but in the end my perseverance paid off. The colour was great, it set beautifully, and it tasted delicious. Success!
Since then I’ve made plum jam, more carrot relish and Christmas mincemeat. I’m currently waiting for a delivery of jam jars and have chosen the preserves I’ll be making for Christmas presents. Who says dreams can’t come true?

Louise Miller

Netta Brodrick. Editor, Lancs HotPot - December 13, 2012 - 4:12 pm

Many congratulations on your website. Particularly liked the County Show slide show – congrats on your success. Louise’s account of her visit to Denman on Autumn Preserves is so readable & ties in well with the present crisis at the college. I wonder whether she would agree to us using it/some of it for publication in the County Newsletter – we occasionally have space to fill! Such a joyful account of a first visit & encouraging to others. We have limit of 500 words max. I look forward to hearing from her at some time. Keep up the enthusiasm. Wishing you all @ WISH a Very Happy Christmas 7 Healthy New Year. Netta Brodrick, Editor, HotPot.

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