It is Freddie Mercury’s birthday.

I am joining in with this blog hop for the first time. I love music, always have and have eclectic tastes too. So I hope to be a regular for this particular linky.

I have to select a Queen song today in honour of Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday.

Freddie is a hero of mine. I became a fan when I realised that I liked every Queen song ever made. So how do I choose just one. I like his solo stuff too so that gives even more to consider. Can I have them all please? After all, it is a very special day.

Don’t Stop Me Now has played loudly in my life whenever I need a particular boost to my self-belief. Education, jobs, public speaking, parties – it works well for them all.

Killer Queen is another favourite but as soon as I say that I think of a load more I love. I think I would like as my epitaph, “Perfume came naturally from Paris …” I don’t live a glamorous life but, hey, there is time yet.

Barcelona is special because my mum loved it. We both cried when Freddie died. Even Dad had to admit that Freddie had a great voice even if he did get very grumpy when we ended up in the traffic for the Knebworth Queen concert when I was a kid. He said to me, “Couldn’t you have bloody told me and I could have taken a different route?” Mum and I smiled at each other slyly and enjoyed the impromptu Queen party as people got out of their cars, danced on the road, laid on bonnets and sang along to Queen from their car radios.

When mum herself died, I turned on the radio and heard Radio Ga Ga. I played it very loud and the lyrics took on a whole new meaning. I found it quite life-affirming on the most difficult of days. It made me think things would somehow be OK. Freddie there for me in my hour of need again.

I don’t just like Freddie’s music. I like the things he said too. When asked if he was good or bad, he replied “Both, just like everybody else”. That is true sanity and so many people identify as one or the other when actually we are all a unique concoction of the two.

Well, I could go on and on but I think you get the message by now.

Happy Birthday Freddie. I bet there is a huge party going on in Heaven today.

With love from the Striking Mum x

The Pramshed

Christmas is a time to think of loved ones and to miss those who are no longer with us.

I lost my Mum in 2009 and my Dad in 2012. I seem to have moved to that stage of grief where you enjoy the memories so much that the pain is almost cancelled out.

Christmas at home. I miss it. I was the baby of the family by 16 years and for many of my childhood years my two brothers lived elsewhere as young adults.

I loved the magic of Christmas and coming down and finding all the presents. There was always a huge pile. Weirdly I remember very few of them – the doll’s house my Dad’s friends made and a doll that tumbled after hours of Dad trying to get it to work. I got to open my presents first as we always did it in age order. The gifts were piled on chairs rather than under the tree.

The tree was the same one every year with decorations going back to the start of Mum and Dad’s marriage in 1950. It was a green and silver affair that always went up on my birthday with me seeing it as the treat of year to decorate it. It was also my job to put up the Christmas cards. I took both of these tasks incredibly seriously. Things had to be just so – an example would be some system that meant a Nativity Scene was followed by a robin was followed by a snowman and so on. I am sure nobody else card but I did.

My uncle bought me this marvellous Nativity set in a lovely pale wood. I loved arranging the figures and that Jesus was not put in his manger but miraculously appeared by Christmas morning.

Church was a huge part of Christmas whether Midnight or morning mass. Mum dressed me up as if I was a doll and I once famously caught fire when I got too near the candles in my fur coat.

I got used to waiting for a knock of the door on Christmas Eve. Often there would be a family drama with someone turning up in a crisis that my Mum and Dad would sort out. You just hoped that two warring family members would not both turn up with their tales of woe at the same time.

My brothers would come for Christmas although my oldest did not always do so and this broke Mum’s heart. It is always strange how the one who absents themselves seems the most loved of all. My Uncle would arrive in his sheepskin coat with presents wrapped in gold, silver, red and green shiny paper. His were always the best wrapped and the most unusual as he lived in London and travelled overseas a lot too.

Drink would flow. My family always had a drinks cabinet with a whole host of stuff in it including gin, dark rum, brandy and Dimple. Dad was well respected in the business world so used to arrive with bottles from organisations throughout December. My parents were not really wine drinkers till later in life. Sherry was the first tipple of the day and as I got older I liked the tradition of trying it in a special glass whilst not really enjoying the taste.

Mum spent most of her time running in and out of the kitchen. As a cook by trade, she loved showing just what she could do at this special time of year. If I am honest I think we were guilty of leaving her to it. Several years later, she downed tools so that she too could enjoy Christmas and we started dining out on Christmas Day. I have always admired her for that.

What do I actually remember of the lunch? I always had Heinz tomato soup as a starter by request. I can’t remember much of the main course apart from sprouts which I loved then and now. I was never a fan of real carrots, bread sauce or Christmas pudding all of which you had to eat at Christmas.

In the afternoon, there would be lots of playing with cards and draughts, sometimes chess. I remember getting Operation and that causing a lot of hilarity.

I think it is interesting to reflect on what I miss about Christmas at home.

1. The things that were the same every year from the brown soup bowls to the oval plates and the pink and white tureens filled with vegetables.

2. My plastic stocking with pictures of Christmas trees on it. This came out every year and there was always a coin at the bottom of it. I went mad when Mum did not put it up the year I started university.

3. I miss how Mum would go wild spray painting Honesty gold and silver as decorations.

4. I really miss that feeling of a community where generations had lived for years so people knew not only each other but also family histories. There was a sense that people knew where they fit. I think we lose that when we leave our home towns. I often question whether I might have been happier staying put. For us the community revolved around the Irish Nash Club, the Parochial Hall, church and the school.

5. I liked how I would be teased in little ways like when my brothers and uncle convinced me that the lemonade they gave me was actually a gin and tonic.

6. I miss the table and its white tablecloth with patterns in embroidered by my Mum.

7. I miss standing together in church as a family and how my Mum loved the carol “In the Bleak Mid Winter” and how we both loved “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”

8. I miss how daft Mum and Dad could be so we had so much laughter and fun interspersed with the odd drama to keep things interesting.

9. I miss how Mum always banned us watching the Queen’s speech.

10. I miss the days around Christmas. Boxing Day often found us at the coast with biscuit tins full of sausage rolls and Mum bringing a bottle of brandy out of her handbag to add to our coffees to warm us up. I miss going to see Auntie Margaret, Uncle Cyril and Sean and how Mum used to secretly enjoy how Margaret never could do the kitchen stuff anywhere near as good as Mum.

I find it enlightening that I do not remember the presents really but rather the time put into making them. I miss the people, the love and the laughter. How quickly it is gone. How naïve we are about that which is why it is so important to make great memories and ongoing traditions. And let’s look after Mums at Christmas who usually drive themselves into the ground to make it just as perfect they can.

I was such a lucky girl. And I realise as I write this that one day one of my children will also be remembering our Christmases and how the best things of all were the things we did every year or the things that cost nothing.

I will round this off with a little conversation between me and Him Indoors on Christmas Day.

Me “You are daft you are”

Him “So are you – that is why it works!”

Did you watch the Great British Bake Off last night?

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It was Biscuit Week so with my mission to do more baking and to be inspired by the show, I will be making biscuits this week.

I have made biscuits in the past. My biggest issue is allowing enough space between the biscuits on the baking tray. I don’t think I have ever made savoury biscuits as they did in the show so that will be a new challenge. I loved the sound of some of the flavour combinations last night.

The technical challenge in yesterday’s episode was to make Florentines. As food can do, I was immediately transported back to my late mum’s kitchen at Christmas. Isn’t it lovely how food so often creates memories of special family times? It might be a very different memory for my children as I attempt them for the first time. Apparently they are easily burnt. Then there is the challenge to ensure they have a delicate lacy look and an even distribution of chocolate. Delicacy, even – not really my forte!

There was a lot of emphasis last night on making things look the same. Is uniformity important to you when you bake? Or if it tastes delightful, will that do?

I felt sorry for the two older bakers thinking how their grandchildren would love their efforts and perhaps that is what really matters.

I am not sure whether to take on the 3-D showstopper challenge. As with many things, I have great ideas in my head but making them appear in the real world is not quite the same thing. I fancy doing the solar system in biscuits. I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye.

Last week, I did not do as much baking as I had hoped. Having recently moved, we seem to have lost some of bakeware so I intend to go on a shopping spree at the weekend. My Swiss Roll did roll and tasted good so that’s a start.

Sometimes in the blogging world, people do the same thing. I did not know that there was already a linky challenge on another blog when I wrote last week’s post but was told about it on Twitter so here is a very good place to link up your relevant posts

http://www.mummymishaps.co.uk/2014/08/ginger-lemon-chocolate-biscuits-greatbloggersbakeoff2014-week2-biscuits.html