New Year, more cake



Mary dear how wonderful to see you looking so full of the festive vigours.  Do come through. Dorothy Lanesborough, Gussie Twot-Wickham and Javala are all in the lounge. We’re just reviewing the success of our belly dancing show at the Bishop’s Palace.

Ooh how delightful, I must say the Count was very impressed with everything.  He has been quite mute with admiration since, keeps asking me to show him some of my moves again.

So you’ve had a quiet Christmas then Mary?

Absolutely!  It’s been heaven (enters the drawing room with Agatha)  Darlings, how wonderful to see you all looking so vibrant.

Let me ring for Ethel and get us some more tea and some of that delicious mincemeat crumble cake that she’s been making for us.

Mary dear, how lovely to see you!   Have you quite recovered from your belly button jewel flying off and hitting the Bishop on the head?  I do believe he came over quite peculiar, but was soon brought round by some of Snetter’s special mulled wine.  

Oh Dorothy, yes it was a slightly un-nerving but I just didn’t want to upset the routine; particularly after Agatha had stunned so many of the audience with her amazing travelling hip swivels and alarming back bends.  


Yes , I noticed the concentration on your face, Agatha.  I also noticed that most of the gentlemen were not actually looking at your face, they seemed to find you quite distracting!

Really, at my age.  What a load of tosh, Gussie!  

But, my dears, it was a truly magnificent evening and I can’t thank you enough.  If the figures are to be believed we have raised an astonishing sum for Refuge and we still have some of the auction money to count too.

Fabulous news Gussie.  With the added benefit that one found the whole experience of twirling semi naked in public totally liberating.  I, for one, feel we should all continue into the new year.

(there are cheers all round, and Ethel brings in more tea and cake.)

You know ladies, I do feel that the most invigorating thing about our belly dancing is the way it has changed my view of our bodies.

How so Agatha dear?

Well, I was reading this month’s Vogue and there is a refreshingly honest article about Ashley Graham who is on the cover.  

But, darling what on earth has this Ashley Graham got to do with us and our bodies?  She is young and beautiful.

Mary dear, I quite agree but Ashley Graham is a ‘Plus-size model on a mission to reshape fashion’ and wants us all to embrace our shape, whatever it is, and love ourselves.  There is a wonderful TEDX talk that covers all aspects of her size and how women are unable to say that they love themselves.

Oh yes, Agatha, I did read about this.  She really is quite inspiring and says that she looked up to her Mother who told her that she should love herself from within.  Apparently her mother would say ‘If you call yourself fat, you’re going to be fat, if you say you’re stupid, you’re going to be stupid’.  

By jove Mary she sounds an entirely inspirational woman and hasn’t fallen into the trap that of trying to perpetuate the media’s idea of the ideal shape which is, quite frankly, unattainable for many without causing damage to body and mind.

Quite dears, and we should not wait until we have reached our grand old ages to finally accept ourselves for who we are.  It’s terrible to think that young women and girls today wish they looked like someone else.  How many of us have looked back at photographs of ourselves in our teens and twenties and wondered how we ever thought we were unattractive or the wrong shape back then?

Oh yes Agatha, it’s such a waste of youth.  And as the wonderful late Carrie Fisher said

“We treat beauty like an accomplishment, and that is insane. Everyone in L.A. says, ‘Oh, you look good,’ and you listen for them to say you’ve lost weight. It’s never ‘How are you?’ or ‘You seem happy!'”


So in her memory, let’s have another slice of cake and keep dancing!

Absolutely darlings!



Life Love and Dirty Dishes

Hope and horses


Mary my dear, how lovely to see you, and goodness you do look flushed.  Has the Count been making advances or are you just a bit wind beaten?

Agatha my dear, I am simply recovering from the onslaught of the Count’s relatives.  They  have finally left and I have been able to wander about in my own home without being accosted by Uncle Rasputin in the corridors. I had to wear my Barbour and Wellingtons indoors so I could make a hasty escape into the garden.   I spent a lot of time out in the grounds, hiding.  The elements certainly don’t help one’s complexion.  I feel as though I need a holiday to rejuvenate myself.

Why don’t you try one of these Mary,  Ethel has made some delightful little Financiers.

Do you mean tiny models of our lovely friend Derek who works in the City?

No dear.  They are French almond cakes.

How fabulous darling.  Yummy!

But I do agree with you about holidays dear.  It feels that Egypt and all the joys, and camels, were several years ago.   Now, do come into the drawing room, I ran into the lovely Dorothy Lanesborough last week and thought that we hadn’t had a good catch up with her for some time.  She’s quite an inspiration you know.

Goodness me, I haven’t seen Dorothy for over twenty years; she was quite the gal about town if I remember correctly.  Didn’t she go off to canoe down the Amazon for charity?  The last I’d heard she’d married the head of some remote Amazonian tribe.  Golly, it certainly will be good to catch up with her.


Yes, she was telling me all about them.  They are  the Nukak.  A terrifically ingenious but terribly endangered tribe.  I believe Dorothy has been helping to raise awareness of their plight at the hands of developers and drug lords

Tell me Agatha (as they walk down the hall towards the Drawing Room), is Dorothy quite changed?

Oh Mary dear, if you mean has she gone native, no she’s perfectly well dressed, in a manly fashion, but she is less pale than she used to be, and her hair has gone quite blonde from the Amazonian sunshine!  In fact, despite her advancing years (sighs) she looks quite lovely.

Oh how absolutely ripping, I can’t wait to hear about some of her experiences.

(They both enter the drawing room to find Dorothy sitting perfectly on the chaise longue, the light silhouetting her form and making her hair glow).

Dorothy darling, how lovely to see you after all this time.

Blazes!  Mary you look perfectly spiffing.  Can’t remember how many millennia it’s been since I saw you.  Goodness, you do look positively blooming!

Err, thank you dear.  You look quite transformed.  Tell me, how was the Amazon?

Well my dear old gal, it’s just as you’d expect really – hot, humid, full of creatures of all sorts.  Life with the husband was lovely for a while, even though there was little we had in common and communication was extremely hard –  I did become quite adept with a bow and arrow, and making my own clothing.  I have brought back a suitcase full of interesting garments to see if I can raise some money.

More tea and another Financier Dorothy?

Coffee please, if you wouldn’t mind Agatha.  I’ve got so used to living without tea that I really don’t think I’ll ever go back – the bush tea that we had was positively dreadful – bark and a few dried leaves from some tree or other.  But the overall effect of eating fresh and natural foods has made a real difference to my health dear one!

I must say Dorothy, you are looking splendid.  In fact you haven’t aged a jot in the last twenty two years. Here you are (as Agatha passes her coffee and cake).  Now tell us, what you are up to at the moment?

Well, I was up in Wetherby the other day at the races and had a flutter on a filly called Actinpieces.  Blow me down she came in first!  But what’s more interesting is that she will not allow a male jockey to ride her.  She bites them sharply on the bottom if they try to mount her.


Much like you with the Count, Mary dear.

Anyway.  This plucky mare got me thinking about setting up a stables that is purely for women – give the men a run for their money what?

Well Dorothy, that certainly sounds a marvellous idea.  After all darling Liz Taylor rode in the Grand National!

Agatha dear, that wasn’t real – it was a film with her and Mickey Rooney!

Balderdash!  So Dorothy dear, would you be donning your jodhpurs for this venture?  I can imagine you tearing down the gallops in gay abandon.

Quite possibly Agatha.  But actually,  my real reason for seeking a business opportunity is to support the Lullaby charity after my tragedy in the Amazon.

(Mary and Agatha sip their tea in silence, not sure what to say for once).

Dear husband and I were so delighted when our little girl arrived, she would be twenty today in fact.  But we were so cut-off from the latest thinking about how to best care for babies.   (Pauses)  Well, all I can say is I wish I’d been here to read about the wonderful work that lovely Anne Diamond did following the loss of her son twenty five years ago.  It may have saved  husband and I a great deal of pain.

(Together)  Dorothy dear, how dreadful for you.  I certainly remember the campaign and how simply putting children on their backs has saved so many from cot death.  It’s such a horrible way to lose a child, feeling that you should have been able to do something or done something differently.

Indeed my dears, but Anne was, and is, such an inspiration – turning all that anger and sorrow about her son’s death into such a positive cause, I wish I’d been able to do the same; but what can you do when you’re thousands of miles from civilisation and without a paddle!

Dorothy dear, you’re incredibly brave about it all.

Oh not really dear.  It’s just that stiff upper lip stuff that Pa drummed into me – I’ve got quite used to hiding the pain after all these years.  Can’t torture myself with going there any more, but it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten, (pauses)  But I do hope that when I pass, I’ll see my beautiful daughter again; I’m hoping she’s waiting for me, ready to show me the way.

(All three sit in silence, in tribute to all those lost)

Mary dear, wouldn’t we be able to add her charity to the Bishop’s Christmas Show fund?  We could do two sessions of belly dancing – one to support Refuge

and one for Lullaby 

What’s that old fruit?  You both do belly dancing?

Well, Mary is slightly better at it than me – she has much more of a rhythmic control of her bosom; but I’m not too bad when it comes to the leg department.

Is this something you’d consider Dorothy?

By Jove, ab-so-lute-ly my dear ladies!  One is always keen to try out new things you know! Maybe it’ll help tone up the old lower regions so I can get into some decent jodhpurs!

Oh how marvellous, you can join Agatha and me next week.  I believe Javala will be quite open to having a new victim, err, participant.

That’s completely spiffing dear ones.  Now, did I tell you about the time I discovered the joy of topless weaving…..?



How to make French financiers

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Life Love and Dirty Dishes

Twirling and Whirls


Agatha dear I feel quite invigorated after our first belly dancing lesson.

It was exhilarating Mary, exhilarating.  I feel quite 72 again.

I really was impressed with the ability of my new brassiere to hold everything in place – there were plenty of moments which could have resulted in a wardrobe malfunction.

Indeed Mary dear, it was quite a relief for all of us I’m sure.  Viennese Whirl?

Ooh please, how delicious.  Wasn’t Lucia Pintworth a gem – quite stunning in her crimson silk pantaloons,  she was the spit of that lovely Karen Clifton from Strictly, I thought.  And a youthful 59, if I understood her correctly.

Surely not, by the way she was bending backwards in such a supple fashion she can’t be more than 42.  But didn’t she marry Maxim as a result of a holiday romance when he was on a Grand Tour?

Goodness, I didn’t think anyone went on a Grand Tour nowadays dear one, well apart from those terribly rude Top Gear boys.  Anyway, there is a little more to the story of how Maxim met Lucia.  Did you not hear about the unpleasantness between him and Fortescue Warboys?

Really, Mary?  I am quite in the dark as to any kerfuffle between Max and Forty.  

Well,  some years ago he and Fortesque had a colossal ding dong at one of their table tennis tournaments in our games room. Maxim got quite out of hand, bordering on the violent.  As a result they smashed the display cabinets in the Count’s games room and nearly took out his favourite stuffed Parrot.  In fact, the dear old fruit was certain that there was going to be pistols at dawn!

Goodness Mary, I do believe your husband can get quite carried away sometimes!  I can imagine his Italian blood quite on fire at two English Toffs smashing their ping pong balls about and getting into a tizzy.

That is true dear, I had to calm him down with several large glasses of Chianti.  But the whole episode was really about Maxim wanting to marry Fortesque’s cousin, and dear old Forty went into a total fizz about the whole thing, protesting that Maxim was only after the Fabergé snuff box that the Tzar had supposedly given her.  Trouble was everyone, except Fortesque and Maxim, knew it was a fake!

He sounds too much like Binky dear, and we all know how that ended.

Yes Agatha dear!  Anyway, Maxim was shipped off to stop him from interfering and quite frankly at 78 he really was becoming a bit of a liability – (whispering) too many dalliances with the servants so they say.  So in Italy he met the delightful Lucia.

And such an asset she has turned out to be.  She has certainly calmed Maxim down, but she talks nineteen to the dozen and I think he just lets it wash over him, can’t understand more than one or two words of what she says.  Neither can I of course!

Well Agatha dear, I may have a solution to that, and it really is quite exciting when I think about it.  

I can see that dear.  You look positively overcome, fit to burst.  Tell me then, while I pour the tea.

Well, I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.  I’ve been reading articles about teaching yourself new things to stimulate the brain and stave off dementia.  So, I’ve decided to go back to School!

Oh Mary dear isn’t that a bit radical?  I don’t believe St Margaret for the Pure of Heart isn’t quite the same now.  I understand it’s a comprehensive and really quite modern!  And, erm, not wanting to put too fine a point on it dear, aren’t you a little old for gymslips and satchels now?  Although I must say you can’t beat a pleated skirt and a nice blazer – they’re quite ‘on trend’ this season I believe.

Oh Agatha sometimes you are just too old fashioned!  I have no intention of going back to my Almer Mater, I’m enrolling in one of those delightful online learning courses which means I can do everything from the luxury of my own home.  And besides, you know perfectly well what happened the last time I wore a gymslip and had to hang onto those bars in some kind of arcane ritual…


Golly yes, but you did look most decorative dear heart.  But anyway, what on earth has possessed you to take on this challenge dear?

Well, you know that The Count and I just about rub along due to the differences in our languages?  Well,  recently I have found myself wanting to have chats with the dear chap around subjects that are a little more in depth than one or two ice cubes in my G&T.  So, I am learning Italian!

How confusing dear, it means I won’t be able to understand either of you!  Don’t you think this is all a bit much Mary?  I mean we’re only just back from Egypt, and most of the time I had to get by with sign language and some charades – goodness know what language they were speaking!

I do believe it was English, Agatha.

Well, yes, but I struggled to understand our guide at the Goddess Temples in Luxor.  So at our age, do you think it’s possible to learn a new language?

I do believe that women – even chaps – can turn their hand to anything at any time of their life Agatha.  After all we hadn’t been belly dancing until tonight and look at the progress we’ve made – you managed to get your tassels twirling most becomingly.  Besides, the lovely people at Future Learn – the online education people – let you go at your own speed.  

Well if you must dear, but it’s all a bit beyond me I’m afraid.

Oh but Italian is such a wonderful language, and besides, I can now successfully order a glass of white wine – “Vorrei un bicchiere di vino bianco”

Oh, it sounds so much more sophisticated in Italian – I’m transported to the old days of elegant sipping and cocktail dresses *sighs*  


I know, so romantic is it not.  But that’s just the start of course.  It’s totally super that after just one lesson I can ask The Count for two different types of tipple!  Now I need to learn how to say “Please may I have another Viennese Whirl”

Free online language courses:


Viennese Whirl recipe:


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Life Love and Dirty Dishes

Return of the goddesses


Oh Mary dear, it was such a wonderful trip to Egypt.  Despite the colossal ding dong with Binky, my jewellery and him ending up floundering in the Nile, I feel quite refreshed and invigorated!

Yes Agatha, at it all ended quite splendidly I thought.  After all, you deserve better than a conniving snake for a partner, I always suspected he was being disingenuous about his adoration of your thighs.

Well, quite, but let us not fall into the trap of feeling worthy only because of our bodies.  Let’s face it dear one, they have lasted pretty well.  I was amazed at how sprightly you were at dodging the hashish sellers in the markets

Well… I do have a tiny confession to make Agatha.  I was not totally successful.  One rather persuasive gentleman did manage to convince me that his particular strain was pure and gorgeous so I did partake in a puff or two whilst you were having tea with that carpet seller!


I thought you were a little wide eyed and excitable afterwards dear, so that explains it.  So, did it take you to new heights of ecstasy Mary?

No, it just made me light headed and peckish.  Still, the delicious falafel and flatbreads afterwards took care of that side effect!

And now, here we are, back in Blighty with our Earl Grey and custard creams.  It all seems rather dull in comparison.

Not a bit of it.  Remember, dear, we have our annual underwear fitting at Rigby & Peller tomorrow.  Always something to look forward to.  Despite the extra poundage we have no doubt gathered on our travels, I am keen to see their new lines.

Oh yes, I had forgotten Agatha.  I agree, it’s quite a treat to be fitted for snug and supportive underwear by capable hands.  Isn’t the charming Ethel at the shop also underwear supplier to Her Majesty?

She used to be I believe, but since the incident with the mix up in the order – when apparently a box of racy lacy red frivolities was delivered instead of the sturdy cream numbers our beloved Queen prefers – dear old Ethel has been off the list.  Still, she looks after us very well.

Yes she does, and I am given to understand that she has some interesting pieces in this season.  I was reading an article on the aeroplane about how attractive undergarments are now available for the less than stick perfect figure.  It was that talented American, Lena Dunham, who has been getting her kit off again, this time in rather lovely lingerie to show women everywhere that your body should be celebrated, whatever it’s shape.

Lena Dunham in Lonely lingerie

But Mary, surely at our age we should be acting, and dressing, appropriately?  I mean to say, youthful vigour is all very well in the young, but by the time you get to our age dear, most people just regard it as eccentricity

Absolutely not dear, you and I have always been eccentric – it runs in our families and age has nothing to do with it.  So let’s put propriety to one side tomorrow, and try out some daring lingerie.

Allright dear, just so long as it provides support where needed.  

Absolutely my dear, I managed to catch Woman’s Hour the other day and they had a lovely lady from Selfridges in who worked in the lingerie department ensuring that our bosoms are truly nurtured with the right underwear.  Interestingly she said that women, no matter what size or shape, are relentlessly hard on themselves about some aspect of their body.

But that is dreadful dear.  We really must be celebrating our bodies more.  I believe we should start wearing lingerie that suits us and makes us feel good, pamper ourselves with positive thoughts and dismiss that negative committee that tends to sit on one’s shoulders.

Yes, just like those Egyptian Goddesses, one of whom decided to sport a fake beard I understand – now that is eccentric!  

How completely magnificent Mary, and I must say it reminds me of your aunt Bernie, the one who used to dress as a chap.  Yes, she really was quite different, never gave a fig about what people thought of her.  Don’t you remember when she was playing Hamlet down in Minack as part of the summer festival and came on in the final scene wearing just a flimsy vest and pantaloons – no brassiere – she caused quite a stir.


My goodness dear I’d quite forgotten.  I do remember the critics being quite perplexed that a woman could play so convincing a role and be so liberated as to not give a hoot about convention.  Also I believe the audience sitting in the front row got quite an unexpected eyeful when the vest blew up over her head during a sharp gust of wind.

Yes indeed, and her large frontage was certainly passed down to you dear – happily you keep yours in check.  Still, it was a talking point amongst Shakespearian scholars, you know, the juxtaposition of the male and female, and Hamlet’s obsession with his mother embodied by him possessing breasts.

How we hooted with laughter dear!  Bernie was not making a point about anything, she simply had a wardrobe malfunction.

Isn’t it amazing how we tend to overthink these things dear.  I think we should all take a leaf out of dear Aunt Bernie’s book, and just be ourselves and throw caution to the wind.

Yes, just so long as it doesn’t lift up your shirt and reveal a little too much!

I believe you may have a point Mary dear.  Another custard cream?

Ooh yes please dear.  Home made?

Of course.


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Agatha and Mary’s Egyptian Odyssey/3

Part Three – Celebrate your Inner Goddess!

(over a rather large breakfast of fresh fruits, yoghurts, flat breads, and various types of eggs)

Goodness Agatha, what on earth did the Captain discover?  I mean, I can’t believe Binky followed you all the way to this luxury cruiser in Egypt, incognito, just to out of sheer devotion?

Oh Mary dear, do stop wafting your bosom around as though it was a major calamity…. It appears that darling Binky was up to his old tricks again and couldn’t bear to be parted from me….

But Agatha, you must surely admit that he would have sunk to the bottom of the Nile if you hadn’t rescued him – his pockets and knapsack were laden with your jewels….I did hear from that rather overbearing German Countess that he was found in your cabin, tried to escape when he heard footsteps, but some unfortunate passenger opened their cabin door at the wrong moment and sent Binky flying over the railings and into the drink!

Yes dear, I suppose I need to finally own up to my foolishness.  But of course my dilemma is that whilst Binky may well have been of service in the – err – physical department, it now seems that he only pretended to adore me for my thighs, when really it was just my money and jewels.  I have been so blind Mary dear!

No, not blind, many women found him irresistible!  He did look quite a dish dressed as Hercule Poirot I thought, such a shame. Does this mean that things between you are finally over?

Yes, I am afraid so.  There is only so much pilfering of one’s beloved treasures that one can cope with.  


But, dear one, don’t be so hard on yourself.  He has been totally charming and I believe given you a little unexpected joy in your vintage years…

Indeed he has dear, but I cannot bear to see the years of hard grafting that enabled me to purchase those wonderful jewels just brazenly ignored in a moment of greed.

Agatha dear, what do you mean?

Well Mary, as you well know us women have to fight for the same wage as men in the same roles.  Before I met Jonty I had worked jolly hard to attain a Senior Management role in the Agricultural Machinery business – tractors and so forth.  But I was aware that my wages fell well below my male counterparts, particularly that smarmy Charles Snodgrass who was certainly a few bales short of a combine harvester.  It always stuck in my craw.

Oh, that’s where you got your nickname Aggie the Rotavator – I always wondered!

No dear, that came from my time as Head of Jam at the WI – less said the better.  Anyway it seems that dear Binky could never understand how precious those hard-won rewards actually were.  He assumed the jewels had been lavished on me by my wealthy late husband.  I do think he saw himself as another Richard Burton – you know he gave her those fabulous emeralds and diamonds after they filmed Cleopatra don’t you?  Now she truly was a goddess and proof that a women of, shall we say, advanced years still has so much to offer.

Agatha dear. don’t get me started – there is that dreadful outmoded assumption that a women with property have been gifted it by a wealthy man!  Women do so much and quite frankly are just belittled by a state that is ruled by historic patriarchal values.  Then of course there is the whole age thing….

Quite, and when all is said and done, Mary,  Binky would never have treated me as an equal and never understood the injustices of the pay gap – or the attractions of an older woman.

So really dear one, you should have left Binky floundering in the Nile at the mercy of the crocodiles.

Perhaps dear (Agatha gazes down into the water)  It would have been an ignominious end for the cad!  

Ah, but fitting one might say!  Still, let’s throw off the shackles of doom and embrace this land that celebrates women and Goddesses.  I’m feeling quite Cleopatra after all that drama!

Yes Mary, I can see that you have unshackled your large frontage – you seem quite free and liberated today! and I must admit it would look splendid adorned with a few choice jewels.

Well, I normally encase my bosom in tweed, but it’s far too hot here, so loose linen is the order of the day, I’m not quite going full out bare breasted like those Queens of Ancient Egypt, not sure if the locals would be quite up to it!


Steady on dear one!  Anyway, some charming Americans at pre-supper drinks last night mentioned the tombs at Luxor, particularly the majestic Temple celebrating Queen Hatshepsut who was arguably the most successful Pharaoh Egypt has ever seen.  Did you know that she ruled for twenty years?

How fabulous and inspiring darling.  I think we would both have made fantastic ancient Queens ourselves, just think of all the jewellery and bathing in asses milk!

Might have been a bit whiffy in this heat one imagines.  Let’s step ashore at Luxor then,  I fancy poking about in an ancient tomb and admiring the artwork.  

Yes, lets celebrate our Inner Goddess – after the events of the last few days, Agatha, you have certainly earned the title!

Quite dear, let’s just hope we don’t meet any asps!  Tell me, is there any cake?


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My Random Musings



So Mary, I bumped into your granddaughter Emma in Wimbledon the other day.  She looked well, her little boy is a bonny lad, sitting up in his pram and chucking toys at me. What a darling!

Oh he is quite adorable isn’t he?  Looks just like his father don’t you think?  Shame about the hairline of course – he’ll be bald by 20, but c’est la vie!  Yes lovely young Emma has caused quite a stir with the in-laws as she’s is thinking about going back to work. Did you know?

No, dear, she didn’t mention it.  But little Hubert is only six months old.  Does she want to go back so soon?

I think it’s more a matter of needs must, Agatha.  But she did used to enjoy her job so I think a part of her is looking forward to working again, and no doubt regaining some of her identity.

Of course in our day, Mary, we had maids and nannies to look after the wee ones when we needed.  And do you remember that fabulous job I had when my offspring were little?

Wasn’t it stuffing teddy bears for the WI, dear?

I only did that once as you well know Mary, don’t you remember that dreadful reaction to the stuffing that I had?  Every time I see calamine lotion I shudder!  No, no, if you recall I was Head of Jam.  It was a much tougher job than one would imagine and of course it was terribly important – I was in charge of ensuring quality, consistency of colour and texture and making sure no one had bought it in Marks and Spencer and switched the labels.  Of course, there was a great deal of tasting involved and one had to be incredibly diplomatic of course.  

Yes, I do remember the time when you got into a heated discussion with Mrs Porpington-Smythe about boiling temperatures.  It was wooden spoons at dawn, wasn’t it?

Ooh you do make it sound quite dramatic Mary dear!  But getting back to Emma and her job, how did she decide it was the right time to go back?

Well, she and her husband Jasper had long discussions, dear.  But I think it was her decision, when she felt “ready” as they say nowadays.  And I have been telling her that she will be absolutely fabulous back in her job and not to worry that she has forgotten anything.

Oh I do remember that “nappy brain” feeling, when you can’t seem to string a sentence together, let alone type a coherent proposal.

Well, Agatha, in your case I think that lack of facility was more to do with too much brandy, after all it seemed to carry on until your children left home!

Oh Mary dear how you do like to exaggerate, it was just a little pick me up as you well know.  Unlike you, I can’t eat too much cake or chocolate because of my thighs!

Point taken Agatha!  But Emma has become so terrifically organised since little Hubert came along – it will help her when she goes back to work.  After all, most new mums find they achieve spectacular things they never thought possible when baby comes along.

Like waking regularly in the night and making a bottle, or changing a nappy, without screaming you mean?

Oh absolutely dear; just like juggling when to wash your hair, or go to the toilet. Sometimes I managed that more than once a week – it was all quite thrilling!


But Mary dear, in our day we didn’t have any rights so we just had to get on with things, but what about nowadays?   What happens if Emma needs to work, what is it called, flexible hours?  

Well Agatha, she found this amazing spiders web link thing which gave her lots of good information.   

Legal situation:

Mary, dear, I think it’s called the Interweb, not Spiders Web – but never mind.  This all looks perfectly splendid to me.

Oh Agatha yes it is, and there are some lovely people out there ready to help you if you need some advice on all sorts of things to do with going back to work after having a baby.  

Women Like Us are a good place to start:

In our day, of course, you just listened to your husband and did what you were told.

Quite, Mary, except you never listened to the Count, did you?

Never understood a word he said, dear.  Always spoke Italian and I never could get the hang of it.  Still, that’s probably the secret of our successful marriage!  Another slice of jammy sponge?

Oh please, and this must be your own jam recipe no doubt!  I must say as one gets older one does rely more on the support of one’s underwear to cope with the fact that everything is either spreading or heading south.

Speak for yourself dear, the Count commented how ‘fit’ I think the term is, I was looking the only the other day.

Well dear, I find that hard to imagine.

Yes, come to think of it he was talking about that night the four of us invented a new dance.  I’m convinced the lovely Michael Jackson took inspiration from us for his Thriller song.

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But you know what Agatha dear –  I think these young women today are absolutely marvellous.  Not only do they embrace motherhood and all the picalilly nappies that go with it, but they somehow manage to go to work on minimal sleep, juggle babies, husbands and running the home.  And look at the rise of the mummy blogger, how wonderful they are.  But we know that the old idea of “having it all” is not possible. Women don’t need to be juggling a high powered city career with six kids to feel successful.  Just getting through the day and giving your children a cuddle and story at bedtime is a real achievement.

Oh Mary dear how right you are!  We don’t need Super Mums to make us feel like we are constantly failing.  And sometimes success comes from doing what you love.  Just look at that Nadiya from The Great British Bake Off, she’s just getting on with motherhood and doing all the stuff that holds a family together as well as fitting in time to bake a cake for the Queen and write a cookery book.  

I quite agree dear.  I feel we should raise a glass to our fellow mothers, working or at home, who are holding everything together and still finding the energy and commitment to make their lives, and those of their families, better.

Oh admirable Mary dear, I’ll ring for Snetter.  A bottle of the Bolly ’48 would be perfect with your cake.



Petite Pudding
This post first appeared as a guest post on Petite Pudding
My Random Musings

Such a Shame!


Oh Mary dear, I’m so glad you’re here.

Why Agatha, what’s happened?  You’re quite worked up.  I’ll ring for Ethel and she can fetch you some camomile tea.

Oh bless you dear.  It’s just I’m feeling a little anxious today.

Oh you mean about Theresa May being our new Prime Minister?

Good grief no dear, I’m not fussed about someone who sounds like a shampoo brand being PM.  No dear, this is much more serious.tresseme

I think I’d better sit down then Agatha!  (pause)  Now, do tell me what you are talking about.  Ethel should be here with tea soon.

Well Mary, I seem to be experiencing something unpleasant.

Is it that new underwear you bought the other day?

No dear, I think I feel ashamed!

Oh, that is nasty. But whatever do you have to feel ashamed about?

Well, Mary, you know I normally don’t give a monkeys about what people think?  Well, I did hear from an old friend that people have been talking about me, and it makes me feel quite tremulous.

That’s not like you at all Agatha.  Such a stout heart, you have, so what were people saying?

Well, you know those new clever friends of Fluff Fortescue, our old neighbour in Wiltshire, well they came to tea on Wednesday – I hadn’t invited them but Fluff was insistent that we would all get on like a house on fire.  Anyway, they seemed perfectly charming, and I was poised to add them to my Christmas list when Fluff called.  She told me that they had been sniggering in the car on the way back to Salisbury about the state of my house.


What’s wrong with your house, dear?

Well, I thought everything was tip top, Ethel had done some light dusting that morning and the brass door knocker had been polished by Jones the gardener, so I was totally shocked to hear that they felt it was not up to scratch!  Something about cobwebs in the architrave and grubby skirtings.  Well, I needed a long sit down and a stiff gin when Fluff revealed their concerns, I can tell you!

How dreadful.

I know.  I’m normally immune Mary dear, but since then I’ve been flitting about the house, damp cloth in one hand, magnifying glass in the other, it’s all been quite distressing.  I feel (pauses and takes a deep breath) dirty!

Well, Agatha, I think you can just stop fretting.  These people have probably got some chip on their shoulder about your status, or something.  I’m certain it’s all down to jealousy.  You are not dirty, well, certainly not since we took that trip to Turkey and had a mud bath. It was amazing where the mud seemed to end up!  Put it right out of your mind.  Here’s Ethel with your tea.  Or would you like something stronger?

No, this is lovely.  And maybe you’re right dear, they did look a little envious when I showed them my collection of silver spoons.

That’s right, chin up dear one.  Anyway, you don’t have the monopoly on shame.  Do you remember when I had the grandchildren to stay over the summer, a few years back?  Well, I felt a little itchy after they left, went to have my shampoo and set and – would you believe it – dear Claude, who was combing me out, found a hair louse!  More than one!  I can tell you,  I blushed right up to my roots, high-tailed it out of there.  I was still wearing the protective cape.  I think I alarmed a few people who were walking past.  They must have thought I was some sort of elderly superhero as I dashed along, cape flowing. But I just needed to be far away from Claude and his tutting!

Oh yes – I do remember Mary.  I think I laughed about that for a week.  Sorry dear!  

Forgiven, dear heart.  But, these feelings of shame we have, they are about something a little deeper, are they not?

What do you mean?

I mean, shame is something so many people feel.  And women feel it in complex ways.  Did you see that terrific American lady on TED?  

Mary dear I am totally confused, and, if I say so, I think you may have lost the plot a bit here.  Teddy Roosevelt died years ago.  I don’t see how you could possibly be talking to him, unless you had a seance with that fantastically bonkers woman that Mrs Herbert introduced us to?


Agatha honestly!  I do worry about you sometimes.  No dear, a TED talk is a talk that you listen to and watch on the internet.  This one was by Brené Brown.  She talks about vulnerability and how shame is the precursor to vulnerability and that it impacts on so many aspects of women’s lives and even men’s.

Oh, I see.  Well I agree that society nowadays seems to control people through making them feel ashamed.  Women are told to Do It All, Do It Perfectly and Never Let Them See You Sweat!  It seems we have, particularly for young women and mothers, a set of unattainable expectations which put them in a strait jacket.

And men too, apparently.  But theirs is apparently Not To Be Perceived As Weak.

Oh yes, dear, it’s very confusing for the young people nowadays.  Do you think it goes back to the Catholic dogma of Original Sin?

Oh, certainly, yes Agatha, the Count was led to believe that we are born with it –  it’s had quite an impact on him and I can’t say we haven’t faced a few demons because of it.  Of course the Catholic church is not the only religion with a monopoly on shame.  Others drive the most dreadful behaviour, making families conform to certain rules about marriage, heaping shame on those who step outside those rules.

Yes, and even small feeling of shame can have huge repercussions.  I mean, young girls starving themselves to look like models.  They seem to feel they are simply not good enough as they are.

Yes, and it comes up in lots of other ways Agatha dear.  It can be shame about keeping the house clean and tidy, to shame about not being a valuable and worthy individual – or even shame because you feel you have no right to exist.  In whatever form, the symptoms of shame manifest themselves according to the individuals demons.

Do you think I feel shame from eating too many tea cakes dear?  You seem to know a lot about it, so do be blunt.

Agatha don’t be ridiculous!  (Pause) You always do have a tendency to be melodramatic! Eating too many tea cakes is merely a guilty pleasure.  Guilt is very much a different thing; it is more about feeling bad about something you have done.  Shame is deeper, its about feeling bad about who you are. 

So then Mary dear, what can be done about it all?

We have to empathise dear.  Don’t you remember when your Archie graduated and met Stephen Fry?  Didn’t you tell me that Mr Fry talked about being kind to each other, that kindness was the most important thing.  Well that’s what we must be, we must question everything that we do – from parenting and the norms we offer our children, to what our expectations of people are, and to challenge some of these ridiculous expectations that the media gives us to conform to body shape, jobs, the state of our homes, perfect hair, that sort of thing.  

That doesn’t sound like it can be done in an afternoon dear?

Absolutely not Agatha, but kindness may lead to people show some vulnerability, even if it is about not being able to cope with the traumas of the day.  So if we ask for help, and are listened to with empathy and support, this can instigate change and I think that’s a good thing isn’t it?

Of course it is Mary.  Another tea cake?

Ooh I can’t resist – these are that lovely silver fox, Paul Hollywood’s recipe aren’t they?

Yes Mary – don’t forget, lashings of butter!


Life Love and Dirty Dishes


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Mary dear, lovely to see you – cook’s in a bit of a tiz this week as I asked her to prepare an apple pie for us.  She called me a BDW!   Now just what do you think that means?  Is it a car darling?  I don’t think I’ve ever been compared to a car before….

Oh Agatha dear, do sit down you are getting quite unnecessary.  I believe a BDW is one of those Bloody Difficult Women that have been in the press this week.

Have they dear?

Oh yes, Ken Clarke put his foot in it again…

Seems to me he’s constantly walking in it dear, but let’s move on shall we?

Not until he’s wiped if off his shoe, dear one.  We don’t want it through the house!

Quite Mary!  Anyway, he’s said that Theresa May is a BDW which seems a good thing.

Does it dear?  I know I can also be difficult, particularly with the servants, but one has to if one is going to run a tight ship.

Absolutely!  I don’t think Ken was being derogatory, just stating that there is a type of woman who gets things done come hell or high water.

A bit like the unsinkable Molly Brown then dear?

Oh my goodness yes.  And do you remember my Aunt Fenella?  When she was being interviewed by the local rag about what she attributed her long life to, said “Well getting off the Titanic helped!”  Bravo for her I say and yes, she was a BMW.

No dear, not BMW, a BDW!  Anyway I do think the world needs them – my sister is one you know?

Oh goodness yes, Celophina’s certainly one – always coming round and whizzing about tidying the whole place for you and telling you to get your life in order and by the time she leaves 15 minutes later, it is.  And that time she supposedly “rescued” that swan.  I’m sure she only did that so she could claim compensation from Her Majesty!

Bless her Agatha, yes!  It’s infuriating really as we can never find anything after one of her tidying episodes.  She always winds up putting everything in the oddest places.  I remember I found our guest, Dr Fitzwilliam, stuffed in the broom cupboard once.  We thought he’s gone home, but Celophina had tidied him away as she thought he was the children’s old mannequins – you know ‘penny for the guy’ type of thing!  Poor man he was quite discombobulated; turned out he’d been there for 5 days!

My word!  Wasn’t he the chap who knew Mary Seacole?

I do believe you’re right dear.  How apposite.

What’s that Mary dear?  More apple pie?

Oh yes please Agatha. But I do believe that a new statue of Mary Seacole has just been unveiled at Guys/St Thomas’s Hospital.  Now, she most definitely was a BDW.


Quite dear.  Wonderful woman.  She was one of our greatest unsung heroes.  A black homeopathic nurse who took herself off to the front line during the Crimean War and just got on with the business of saving lives.  She was quite a star at the time – I seem to remember that she had tea with Great Aunt Winifred at one time, but I may be wrong.

I do believe you’re right dear, but then it all got horribly political and then the government got involved and changed the curriculum so little Bertie and Algie were taught about Florence Nightingale instead.

Well it seems at last that Mary is taking pride of place and quite right it is too dear and I am totally delighted to see that, finally, we have immortalised the very first black woman in this way here in the UK.

You would certainly need to be a BDW if you’re on the front line dealing with the suffering soldiers on that scale,  Agatha dear.

I do think it’s a tad peculiar though, Mary, that the male version of a BDW would be … well… a man!

Oh not that old chestnut again, dear.  We need to accept that women just have to be stronger, more determined, better jugglers than our male counterparts just to sit at the same table.

Oh but it were different Mary!  I mean, my niece Lucy, she complained just last week of being upbraided by her male boss for not being “assertive” I think was the term he used.  He made it clear that she needed to behave more like her male colleagues to get on.  It was all I could do to stop her ordering some testosterone on the internet and injecting herself!

Now, we wouldn’t want that at all, just imagine the side effects (shudders).  No, I think it’s perfectly possible for gals to be successful just by being themselves.  No need to “man up” as they say.

I agree, dear.  That’s all rather 1980s now anyway. But they need to stand up for themselves more.  Just think dear – Companies are having to publish the gender pay gaps, and there will be no surprises to find out how far behind women are at work on equal pay – still!

Is the gender pay gap like the Cheddar gorge?

No, it’s much larger dear.  Another slice of apple pie?

Oh yes please Mary dear.  But don’t you think that a lot of companies won’t do that, you know small businesses who like to keep women at a certain level because they are only women and they fulfill a traditional role in business?


Oh now don’t get agitated Mary dear, you know it sets you off and really dear I think that’s a topic for another conversation when we have the strength to deal with it.  Sometimes you can be quite exhausting!

Well Agatha, I must admit I am quite fatigued.  The dear Count had me up till the wee hours with his snoring.

But Mary dear, how many times have I told you, just move into the room next door.

But Agatha , I moved to the East wing and he still kept me awake!

Have you tried the gardener’s cottage?  I hear he is quite a young lad…

(Blushing) Now now, you know what happened when we had that charismatic Mr Lawrence stay with us….

(Blushing even more) Another cup of tea dear?

Apple pie recipe:

Life Love and Dirty Dishes


GGAuntBarnaby (1)

Well, Agatha, I must say last week’s drinking took a while to recover from!

What do you mean, Mary?  You seemed fine when you left.  The Dundee cake soaked up most of it, surely?

You were passed out on the chaise longue when I left dear – so you can’t possibly remember the state I was in.  It took me fifteen minutes just to put my hat on in the hallway and even then Ethel had to take it off and turn it around!  Honestly darling I thought I was statement dressing, but your servant clearly had another agenda!

Oh, well.  Perhaps we should stick to tea today!  But you do remind me of a time when everyone wore hats, ladies and gents alike and anyone passing the cenotaph would take them off as a mark of respect as they walked passed.  Those were the days when people knew how to dress – we had none of those dreadful American monstrosities – baseball caps!

Quite dear, and don’t know about you but we were fortunate enough to live in a time when anyone who was vaguely ‘eccentric’ I think they used to say, could dress in anything they wanted.  It reminds me of great Aunt Barnie.  She was quite the snappy dapper dresser.

Oh yes, I do remember her.  Wasn’t she the actressy one, who wore velvet jackets and bow ties and no makeup in the 1920’s?  It was quite shocking back then, but there again she had the personality to carry it off.

It was, Agatha, the family didn’t quite understand her I seem to remember.  I loved her, of course.  She didn’t care what anyone else thought.  And she wasn’t the only lady dressing in a masculine fashion.  Do you remember Dorothy Lawrence, she fought as a chap at the Somme.  It was quite scandalous at the time.  She dearly wanted to be a reporter and smuggled herself out to the front line dressed as a Tommy.



I do indeed remember her.  It was a scandal that the whole thing was hushed up.  Apparently she wrote a book about her experiences and the military at the time refused to allow publication, she died in an asylum, poor thing.

Indeed, dear.  She suffered for her gender, we should be celebrating this type of courage, not hushing it up.

Of course there was also James Barry, that successful British Army surgeon who served in India and Cape Town and rose to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals.  Apparently the only way she (Margaret Ann Bulkley) could get into medical school was to dress as a man.  Tragic really, you know, that you’d have to go to such extremes.  Still, it was only when she died that everyone found out the truth.


Goodness my dear, but what is so shocking is that women still have to disguise themselves as men, Mary.

I know Agatha it is truly dreadful.  Don’t you remember when we tried to out-do Miss Snetter, our dorm mistress, when we borrowed Jack and Algie’s country plus fours and used charcoal to pain moustaches on our faces?

Of good grief Mary – that’s too painful to remember.  The tweed chafed so much I couldn’t sit down for days!  I had to ask Suzie Braithwaite if I could use her cold cream – it’s was all just a bit of a nightmare, but I seem to remember you got off rather lightly as your Pa’pa made a donation to the Cecil Locke Library?

Ah, yes (embarrassed and blushing)…. More tea dear?  And perhaps a slice of Victoria?

It’s no use trying to change the subject Agatha, but since you mentioned it, yes please.  (Pause.)  But truly, don’t you think that it is simply appalling that even in this day and age women feel that they have to take on the identity of a man to earn respect and standing?

I do indeed Mary.  Look at our beloved JK Rowling, writing as a man – Robert Galbraith – to ensure her work was taken seriously.

Yes, and of course the famous and talented Mary Ann Evans who wrote as George Eliot.  Of course back then it was frowned upon for women to write professionally, and just think of the loss to our culture if she had bowed to the pressure and just taken up needlepoint and playing the harpsichord!

Absolutely Mary dear.  Take Marlene Dietrich for example, you couldn’t imagine her sitting at home with needle and thread counting the stitches till she had to go to bed now could you?

No Agatha, indeed not.  Didn’t she cause an outrage when she dressed in a gentlemen’s tuxedo when she played Mademoiselle Amy Jolly in that film ‘Morocco’?


Yes dear.  I don’t know who were more outraged; the men who went to see it or the men who simply heard about it or the men that pretended to be outraged for the sake of being outraged!  As far as I recall I don’t believe any of our female friends were at all phased; we just wanted to know where we could get a tux, but I guess it took Angelina Jolie to really bring it into the modern world.


Quite, Mary dear.  Wasn’t she in Mad Men or am I getting her confused with that lovely girl Christina Hendricks?

Yes Agatha, you are.  But don’t you think that all that dress in the 1950’s was the cause of the female liberation movement of the 60’s?

Oh, without a doubt dear.  That, and the fact that the 50’s saw the birth of the housewife.  All those men back from the war without jobs and therefore nothing to do, just sitting at home going crazy with all sorts of things going on in their heads.  What was the government to do apart from create the role of the housewife which meant that the men could carry on being men and the women, who’d kept the nation functioning during the war could go home and put their feet up and wear impossibly uncomfortable lingerie to boot.

Well Mary, I must say I’ve not seen you so agitated for days.  Have another cup of tea to calm your nerves.  You’ll be getting all unnecessary and the Count just won’t know what to do with you!

Sorry Agatha, but what is it the young people say?  (Pause) Is ‘Pants’ the right expression dear?

Speak for yourself Mary, you know I have trouble in that department due to the size of my thighs!

Sorry Agatha dear.  More cake?


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3 Little Buttons

The name’s Bond – Jane Bond


Mary dear, I’m so glad you’re here.  Binkie’s been digging around in the attic – keeps him out of my hair and gives him something to do, that type of thing.  He’s found our old photos and some of Mama’s letter’s to Pa and Uncle Claude during the war.  They’re a tad racy and not what you would imagine at all.  It gave me quite a turn I tell you and Margaret had to pour me a stiff brandy even though it was only 10.15!

That sounds interesting Agatha dear, let me get settled and I’ll get my Lorgnette – can’t read a dashed thing without it. (Pause) My goodness dear!  I see what you mean.  If it wasn’t too early in the afternoon I’d ask for a brandy too.

That’s all right Mary, I’ll ring for one – I’m still recovering myself.

You know Agatha; this is just SO on topic, as they say.

What’s that dear?  I haven’t been to the tropics, that was poor old Bertie Fry – got bitten by something nasty in the jungle, died horribly so I was told.

No, no dear – you really must clean your hearing trumpet!  No, I’m talking about female spies.  There’s a new book out by Natasha Walter called “A Quiet Life’ and its based, to some degree, on Melinda Maclean – you know Donald Maclean’s wife.

I’m sorry Mary dear, but I do think I need another brandy.  What exactly has toothpaste got to do with spying?

Agatha you really are so infuriating and I do think you should see someone.  Donald Maclean was a spy, one of the famous ones from Cambridge – you know along with Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.

Oh, sorry dear.  So female spies are all the rage then is that it?

Yes Agatha.  There is even talk about the lovely Gillian Anderson playing Bond.


Now that’s a game I don’t know! (laughing).  Oh I do so love winding you up Mary dear, you and Binkie are just the same.  What a hoot! (pause).  Let’s have another brandy.  Yes a female 007 would be worth watching and Gillian would be superb, but don’t you think that Josephine Baker would have been good too, I mean, not only was she a famous artiste, but she helped the French Resistance during the war, she was decorated by Charles De Gaulle!


Its simply astonishing how many talented ladies were involved in helping our campaigns, and their efforts seem to be forgotten, at least not celebrated and understood by young gals today.  There was also of course Hedy Lamarr – simply stunning gal and brainy too.


Didn’t she say “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”?

Yes, I do believe so Agatha.  Amazing what a spot of the hard stuff does for one’s brain during the afternoon.  Anyway, don’t you think that being a spy is an absolutely the ticket for any young woman.  I mean they’re just so much better a getting on with things.

Do you mean seducing men dear?  As you know, my thighs put an end to that!

Not just that Agatha, but we’re better at keeping secrets, we look more glamorous even when we are just standing still! We’re generally more intelligent and creative and above all we’re more practical and we blend in more.

And don’t forget dear if you’re talented like dear Hedy was and a real stunner to boot, then you can just about do anything.

Absolutely, didn’t she invent that secret communication system that all this wi-fi stuff is based on?  Anyway it seems that your darling Mama got up to quite a few games too.

Yes, quite surprised me.  Another brandy dear?

Oh Agatha you’ll get me quite tipsy!  But isn’t it just delish-ush???

Well, if you’re having another I don’t squeal to bad about one myself.  But I don’t even thing Pa knew that she was working for the resistance but clearly Uncle Claude was in on it.  She must have been sending back code to him.

Quite possibly Agatha dear.  Do you know what, I think it’s simply marvellous that we can celebrate all these wonderful ladies.  Its time we realised that, despite everything and that infernal glass ceiling, we can finally stand up and be recognised for everything that makes a woman great.

Well said dear. And, lets just say that we totally embrace our European friends, all those fabulous ladies who worked in France during the occupation, where would we be without them dear?  We celebrate women, and their men,  all over Europe from the past to the present day.

From sponge bakes to spying and from medals to motherhood, we just seem to take it all in our stride really.

Quite- apart from that early invention attempted by Aunt Maude of course – the world was simply not ready for mobile phones back then!


Yes, best forgotten I think. Ooh sponge, I almost forgot – cook has made Delia’s lovely Dundee cake.

Now she would have made a great spy….


My Random Musings