The first musical instrument I learnt to play was the recorder. I think a group of us used to play recorders to accompany hymns in our primary school assembly. Listening to a group of small girls tooting and squeaking away must have been particularly delightful for our fellow pupils. Having said this, I heard a recorder group playing at a carol service this Christmas and they did sound lovely, so maybe recorders aren’t all bad. When I moved to secondary school I had piano lessons for a couple of years, mainly I think because we had a piano at home already. Sadly, I wasn’t keen on doing much practice, and I eventually gave up without ever being much good.
Pictures by Patrick Schneider, Sandra Wattad and Ryan Holloway on Unsplash
My best friend at school played the violin (very well) and I thought that this was a wonderful instrument – lovely to look at and feel – and very portable. Many years later, I bought a cheap violin and took some lessons. Initially these were classical, but I quickly realised that I actually wanted to play Irish fiddle music. I’ve enjoyed listening to fiddle music in a few pubs in rural Ireland and thought it would be amazing to just be able to join in a session….. Of course, life got busy, we moved cities and the fiddle was put away. I thought perhaps I would start playing again when I had more time, although I was never sure when this would be. Of course this is ridiculous and I will clearly never be able to join into a fiddle session unless I play regularly. So… playing the fiddle again is one of my 50in50 things to do. Poor Mr McGregor has been subjected to my revived interest in jigs and reels (for some reason he has taken to doing noisy DIY which seems to involve a lot of drilling). Hopefully I’ll keep it up and be able to play a half decent jig by next year. Now, where’s that old recorder of mine?
I recently made this lovely apricot and almond cake (pdf: Apricot and almond cake). It is my version of one by Nigel Slater, from his book ‘Tender’ – but with ~1/3rd of the sugar and more apricots. It’s a shallow cake – the thickness of a single layer of sponge. Mr McGregor enjoyed eating it with fresh raspberries.
80g caster sugar
75g ground almonds
100g plain flour
120g soft dried apricots
3 large eggs, beaten
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Grease and line the base of a 23cm round tin. Preheat oven to 180 degrees, gas 4
- Beat the butter and sugar until white and fluffy
- Mix almonds and flour together
- Blitz apricots in a food processor until they are almost a puree
- Add eggs to butter and sugar mixture gradually, making sure all mixed in and scraping the mixture from the sides of the bowl as you go
- Turn machine off, add lemon zest and 1/3rd of the flour/almonds and mix in slowly
- Add the second and then third batch of flour/almonds, turning the mixer off each time and mixing slowly. Doing this too quickly gives a heavy cake
- Finally mix in the lemon juice and apricots
- Spread into tin and bake for around 35 minutes until firm and golden