This has reminded me of an episode involving trifle production during my girlhood in Sussex.
I grew up in a very rural environment. Our nearest neighbour was a mile away across the fields, our house was tucked at the bottom of a long bumpy track that led to more fields and we were surrounded by acres of unbroken grass and woodland. We regularly got cut off in bad winters when snow blew in drifts across the lane and you could walk from one hedge top to the other and not know there was a road buried eight foot beneath your feet.
We had ponies and my sister and I spent all our free time riding in the eighty acre wood opposite the farm house. In many ways it was an idyllic childhood, simple, understated and uncomplicated.
For the most part our neighbours were farmers, but increasingly as time passed people came from outside to buy up the farms and manors and so we gained new neighbours (albeit at a distance of miles!) who were not country people but had made a pile in London and invested it in the Sussex countryside.
One such family were the Shaws. They bought a large estate on the other side of the wood from us. My sister and I used to ride through it from time to time, following the bridleway that wound through the trees and came out on their drive. The big house was not all that pretty; the real gem was an ancient cottage hidden away in a small clearing near where the bridleway came out of the woods.
The place can hardly have changed in the five or six hundred years since it had been built; it was a wattle and daub timber framed construction and had a circular hearth in the middle of the floor. The old lady who lived in it, a tenant of the new family now, had been born there and by her old age had become so bent double that the village children used to refer to her as the Witch In The Woods.
I loved this cottage and was sad when the old lady who'd loved it too died. I was very taken with history and your imagination could really run wild when you looked at such a place. You will imagine my horror and disbelief one day when riding past it I discovered that the trees that surrounded it had been ripped away and uprooted, the ancient leaded-light windows taken out and replaced with modern plastic ones, and the entire cottage looked as if it had been subjected to a blast of considerable duration from a monster jet wash with the result that it now looked like a mock-tudor horror on a modern housing estate.
It broke my heart and I was upset for days. I can still remember the feeling some thirty years later.
Of course such a thing could not happen today, but back then grading and planning was looser, and the place was so tucked out of the way I suppose no one really noticed.
Anyway, the point of telling you this is that not long after the desecration of my beloved gingerbread cottage, the man responsible came to supper at our house.
Mum was preparing a trifle for pudding. At that time we had a house full of cats (our resident, much-loved and characterful Burmese Matilda Jane having produced five kittens who were the result of a rapid and ultimately doomed love affair with the local rakish Tom). For some unaccountable reason because I don't remember them ever being there before, there was a bowl of cat biscuits on the kitchen surface.
Something happened to distract my mother and the cat biscuits, which were small round balls of dried meat, fell on the floor. She swept them up with the dustpan and went back to making the trifle, lining the sides with Viennese sponge fingers, drizzling the sherry over them, then adding the raspberries and sliced banana, before finally topping with custard and cream and scattering slivered almonds on top.
The pudding went into the fridge and she went off upstairs to get ready.
The Shaws were late. Dad got a call to say they'd been delayed because Mr Shaw (David) had had an accident while mowing the lawn that afternoon and had had to go to casualty. Of course this piqued our childish interest hugely and we were allowed to stay up to find out what had happened.
They duly arrived, and my eyes immediately went to the thrillingly large and in places satisfyingly blood-stained bandage that was all we could see of David Shaw's right hand.
We were introduced (my mother had a strained look on her face as though she thought I might lambast him at any moment for ruining the old cottage) and then quickly ushered out to go and watch TV.
Barely ten minutes later the door opened and in came my mother, clearly trying not to laugh and not succeeding.
"Oh Sue!" she giggled, "This is dreadful! He's cut off his fingers with the mower! And all I can think is that the sponge cakes in the trifle look just like fingers. How am I going to serve it without getting a fit of the giggles?"
"Even worse," I said helpfully, "they look like bloody fingers because the raspberry juice has leaked all over them."
I thought it was very funny and from that day on Viennese sponge fingers have been known universally as "David Shaw's Fingers" in our family.
But it was to get worse. I found out the next day from mum that she had managed to serve the trifle while maintaining her composure, only to discover to her absolute horror that some of the cat biscuits that had fallen on the floor had somehow got into the custard. We can only surmise they must have slipped out of the dustpan. All was well though, because Mr Shaw thought they were balls of caramel, remarking on how unusual but delicious an addition they made to a traditional English pud!
I think the cottage and it's old lady got their revenge, don't you?
I'll leave you with some pictures of the Woodpecker's Child, who finally came visiting yesterday. Even better, I think there are three of them, although only one came really close. How exciting! And worth waiting for.
Greater Spotted Woodpecker Chick Number One
Getting the hang of the feeders....
How does this work then??
GSW Chick Number Two
GSW Chick Number Three
And even more finally, here is a Poplar Hawk Moth who graced the box yesterday... Magnificent, don't you think? I've heard them called the Daddy of the Moth World and you can see why.
And perhaps the loveliest name for a moth I have yet come across, the very delicate if slightly holey Maiden's Blush.
Here's looking at you kid