A fire at Brookfield

A fire at Brookfield

With hindsight, it had  been a mistake holding the fireworks party in the garden of their  farmhouse built many years before on the Brookfield flood plain but Daphne hadn’t expected that strong wind to come in from the West to guide errant rockets or still-burning cigarette butts  to land in the thatch, still very dry after the rain-free month of October, and set it alight. Perhaps it was just a single cigarette butt, probably from that blazer clad Henry that she didn’t remember inviting. She had only seen him once, in the Bull, and she hadn’t liked him then. He smoked, which was bad enough, but his suicide weapons of choice were Du Maurier filter kings. Those expensive cigarettes in their cartons with pretentious purple panels framed by gold.

The fire had been quickly seen by those in the garden so there had been time to get everyone clear of the house and to call the fire service. Her mistake had been to go back in and climb the stairs to her bedroom to try to save some of her precious photos. Up here she could feel the heat but was taken by surprise when a backdraft up the stairs goaded the flames to break through the ceiling and free the deadly beam, dried to kindling by the cascading centuries, to fall, trapping her legs. She was not hurt but could not move with the weight of the old knotted oak crushing her to the floor.

The immediate danger was the choking smoke which quickly filled the bedroom, making her cough uncontrollably, rather than the encroaching flames which were already raising the air temperature. She burrowed her head down to the floor to try to hoover up the remaining oxygen from the clear air layer clinging to the  floor boards, when she felt the blessed coolness of a water spray from the firefighter’s hose as she fought her way up the stairs behind her colleague who was protecting her with a water wall barrier against the flames and heat with his fan-set hose.

She had a sudden, panicky, irrational thought of Manderley and wondered if Rebecca had managed to set the all horses free from the burning stables or had the fire trapped her favourite thoroughbred, Jamaica, in? She remembered then that there were no stables at the farmhouse and didn’t think she owned any horses but she couldn’t look now. These crazy, fear – inspired thoughts were for the birds.

‘I thought I was going to die’ she muttered to the first firefighter as she bent over her to check for injuries. ‘Can you get this off me?’

They strained to lift the beam, let it fall to one side and gently strapped her on the Neil Robinson stretcher ready for the medivac.

‘ We knew you wouldn’t die’ they reassured her, ‘We checked the script and you are in the next episode’

Her over tensed body sagged with relief, she was desperate not to be written out of the Archers.


©Richard Kefford

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You only have to mention ‘Custard Creams’ to an English Person and the immediate thought is, ‘my favourite biscuits.’ There is no need to specify ‘biscuits’ as the connection is obvious. They are the Nation’s favourite biscuit, or the ninth, depending on which survey you trust – if any.

Why is this? Is it the taste of the biscuit, the cream filling or the look with its plagiarism of a sandwich adorned on each surface with the victorian idea of fern leaves, or is it something deeper in the psyche with the harking back to childhood and comfort foods?

When your spiritual guide is visiting for tea in the afternoon, she may refuse your offer of, ‘more tea vicar?’ but she will always accept, ‘perhaps just one more biscuit?’ if, of course, you have served Custard Creams.

Custard creams are neither luxury and guilt inducing, like Belgian chocolates, nor cheap and cheerful as is Tesco ready-made, gritty, spag boll and the like. No, they are carefully sited in between, luxuriant without being indulgent. Able to be eaten at any time of day and not limited to the singular. A complete cellophane wrapped number has been known to disappear in one sitting without residual guilt, just a few crumbs remaining around the mouth as evidence.

People eat them in different ways, of course. They are excellent indication of inner underlying character. Who has not seen the CCG ( Custard Cream Gulper ) who will insert a complete biscuit in the mouth without caring to partake of a small, savouring bite first? This is only acceptable in polite company, of course, when there is an absolute ban on any crumb residue to evidence the activity.

Signs of the inner child may be seen when an acquaintance breaks the seal between the biscuit layers, having taken a small, silent, internal wager on which semi biscuit the cream will adhere. If this is on the upper, then a swift dextrous turn will result in the cream filling being displayed, ready for the 360 degree nibble to remove the excess that has been squeezed from its original deposited position. This is followed by first the non creamed side, then the long awaited creamed side. This method, of course, demonstrates the delayed gratification so beloved of psychologists as the ratio of cream to biscuit is twice that of the complete artefact. Danger lies with this method, however. As with most childhood eating methods, it is difficult to carry out the complete procedure without leaving some crumby trace behind and some creamy trace around the lips.

Occasionally you may see an eater of a custard cream insert it in the mouth sideways, that is with a long side leading. Someone who does this is evidentially untrustworthy and should not be left alone with the silver tea spoons.

The correct eatiquette is as follows:

Take an offered biscuit gently from the plate. Raise it to eye level and check for damage. Reject any biscuit that is not perfect – is the fern display smudged? Are the two halves firmly adhering to the cream filling? Is the cream filling central, smoothly deposited and of an even thickness?

Turn the biscuit so that a short side is facing the mouth. Insert the biscuit and bite off precisely one third of the length. This may be difficult for you to judge at first but DO NOT WORRY, your judgement will improve with daily practice.

While you enjoy the first third of the biscuit, remove the remainder from your mouth and carefully rotate it ninety degrees in the horizontal plane.

Now your judgement is again required as you carefully bite off exactly half of the remaining two thirds of the biscuit.

When you have fully consumed this, the remaining third can be carefully masticated.

You have now proudly completed the third/third/third procedure and can regard yourself as a fastidious and precisely controlled person. Extensive successful eateration of this procedure will entitle you to the award of the Golden Biscuit. This may only be worn at white tie receptions or with full dress uniform.

How to deal with crumbs.

This is a question that the keepers of THE RECIPE are often asked.

There are several ways but I will only concern myself with the best known and most often seen methods.

1 – The Undercup.

This involves having two hands free for the eating of the Custard Cream.

One hand manipulates the biscuit, depending on the method chosen – see above. The other hand is cupped below the mouth and pressed firmly against the chin so as to allow no crumb leakage between the edge of the hand and the chin. This hand then collects all crumbs that may drop from the biscuit eating and manipulation operations that will be going on above. After the completion of the biting operations it is safe to remove the hand, while ensuring that all crumbs remain in the cupped hand. Once chewing and swallowing is complete then the cupped hand may be held up to the mouth and the crumbs tipped into the open mouth whence the biscuit aftertaste may be savoured – much in the same way as a fine wine. This operation should not be hurried.

2 – The Tilt.

This method should only be used in public after much private practice as an apprentice practitioner may find herself falling over backwards like a penguin watching a helicopter passing overhead in the Falkland Islands.

It consists of carrying out any of the procedures mentioned above while tipping the head back as far as possible. The mouth is open during all biting operations and so gravity will ensure that all crumbs descend into the mouth.

A major disadvantage of the crumb collection method is that the aftertaste lingerance is much shorter than method #1 above.

Here I must append a short note on the increasing fashion of dipping the biscuit in tea before eating. Adherents of this method will attempt to justify themselves by saying that the biscuit tastes better and there are no crumbs. The first justification is self evidently incorrect as the taste of a Custard Cream has been perfected for some years. The riposte to the second is that while there may be no dry crumbs, there may well be the descent of a soggy blob of biscuit material on to ones clothing. Please do not try this disgusting habit of ‘dunking’ as I believe it is called.

3 – The Gulp

I have mentioned this method before. It is normally only used in polite company when a few crumbs on the carpet would be a major indiscretion. The easy way to avoid this conundrum is to refuse the offer of a Custard Cream but, however, for some reason this very seldom happens and so the perpetrator is forced down the route of the gulp. You may think that the ‘Undercup’ or ‘Tilt’ methods of crumb control could be used but these are not completely foolproof. I think you can see that this unapproved method is only used by weak vessels who cannot resist the lure of a Custard Cream – even when contra-indicated.

4 – The Spray

This is a method that is NEVER used in polite company. A proto biscuit consumer will gather a few biscuits in his hand and proceed to eat them with no consideration of the surroundings and any people that may be nearby. The biscuits will be pushed into the waiting maw and masticated vigorously with the no thought of the consequences. A mouth is, of course a multi use organ and can be used for speaking as well as eating, so this will result in the biscuit consumer holding forth on some inconsequential subject while simultaneously reducing the biscuit to a swallowable bolus. Unfortunately, having the mouth open while masticating vigorously will result in a spray of biscuit crumbs being ejected at some velocity toward whoever is the unwilling recipient of the  pearls of wisdom that droppeth from the eater’s mouth.

It can be seen from the four items above that the way a custard cream is handled and eaten is a good indication of character. A close eye on the method employed and an eagle eye kept on any displaced and non recycled crumbs will tell you all you need to know and the appropriate action to take – whether lethal or otherwise.


It has recently come to the notice of the Keepers of THE RECIPE that some audacious people have embarked on the manufacture of a spread that purports to mimic the taste of Custard Creams. This is not authorised by the Keepers of THE RECIPE and so cannot hope to replicate the unique sublime taste of the cream filling we all know so well. Please be aware that it may well contain trans fats and other ingredients that may have deleterious, not to say, egregious, effects on the human body. We just hope that these effects do not approach the existential.

This appreciation was prepared with support from the Keepers of THE RECIPE.


©Richard Kefford 2016

My Kindle books are on Amazon at:


Under the illusion of gaslight

We clashed, under the illusion of gaslight

We clashed, under the illusion of gaslight
When you couldn’t cope with my life
You tried your own take on deus ex machina
But the only person who would have been happy
With the ending, would have been you
You used psychology as a weapon
Wielding a passive aggressive shield
You thought yourself above discovery
Only you failed to convince me
That I was the victim of my own psyche
The only forces at work
Were your egotistical machinations
A fail of epic proportions I survived you intact
And as our paths diverge, I am stronger
Not vulnerable as you hoped
Being haunted by the living
Is more draining than anything the dead have to offer

©Alysa Blackwood-Bevan 2016

… and in my dreams I still see her falling…

Sometimes ideas come in flashes, inspired by an overheard conversation, a glimpse of someone doing something unexpected, people in a busy street as you flash past on the top deck of a bus, or half remembered dreams… Sometimes these ideas are written down just as they are and then put away to be looked at and played with and worked on later… sometimes later never comes, and these little extracts sit neglected in a file. When they are found, usually while looking for something else, they are a complete mystery; what inspired them? Where were they going? Did i even write this?

Here is something Lois Elsden found… maybe it will become something, maybe it will go back in the file and be rediscovered when searching for something else:

“Don’t jump!” I screamed kicking off my high heels as I ran. “For god’s sake don’t jump!”

The figure balanced on the narrow rail of the bridge, crouched, one arm holding onto a pillar looked my way. Man woman, young, old I couldn’t tell. The person slowly stood up, wobbling, but still holding on to the pillar.

“Phil!” I yelled but there was no sound of his feet pelting along behind me and I daren’t look back, daren’t take my eyes off the figure standing straight now. I slowed to a walk and the young woman looked at me.

“Please, ” I begged. “Please, just talk to me, ” I gasped. I could hardly speak with breathlessness and fear. “look, my name’s Emma, just talk to me.”

The woman, maybe thirty, it was difficult to tell int the muted glow of the lamps, shrouded in mist, looked at me as if she was terrified of me. I stopped a short way away, I didn’t want to scare her into falling.

“My name’s Emma,” I repeated “What’s yours?”

She looked down at the motorway, some hundred metres below.. But it was the quickest of glances, not enough time for me to leap and – leap and what? I’d more likely push her over than drag her back.

“Just let me catch my breath,” I said. I had a terrible pain in my side, like a stitch. She glanced at the water again and seemed to wobble and I gave a little shriek and alarmed she looked at me again.

“Sorry,” I apologised, sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, but you scared me,” and I gave a silly hysterical giggle.

She slowly crouched down again and I edged closer to her. I risked a glance over my shoulder. The lights of the car had not moved and there was no sign of Phil. Maybe he was calling the police… he should be here helping.

“What’s your name?” I asked again. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be nosy, I just thought it would be easier to talk if I knew your name…” stupid, inane conversation as f we were on a date, as if I was chatting her up.

Slowly slowly she eased to sit on the rail and my heart slowed a little . She was still holding the pillar, not tightly, more to steady herself, her hand flat her fingers spread. She had a ring which glinted in the dull light. A car sped past in the opposite direction but nobody stopped.

“You must be very cold, I am,” I said, stupidly. “That’s my car there, why don’t you come and sit in it? We could talk or I could take you somewhere,” I was becoming a little more rational.

I moved closer and was almost in reach of her. She had a long thin face, and a rather large nose. She had a wide mouth and her hair was longish, hooked behind her ears which stuck out rather. I suddenly wondered if maybe she was foreign.

“Do you speak English?” I asked, a foolish  question. “I just wondered if I was making sense, I seemed to be babbling, and then I wondered if maybe you didn’t speak English. “Spriechen Sie Deutsch?” German was pretty widely known, I tried some faltering Russian. “Вы говорите на русском языке?”

Her expression did not change, she still looked terrified.I stepped nearer and she didn’t move, I took another step and was able to put my hand on her hand which was on the rail. her fingers were warm, somehow I had expected them to be cold.

“Please just talk to me,” I said in English.

“Symposium of terror,” she whispered. It was so unexpected that I thought I had misheard.

“What did you say?” I asked puzzled and in an almost normal voice. I tried to hold her hand but she kept pressed down on the rail.

“Symposium of terror,” she said again. “Goodnight, Lisette,” and then she slipped away.

I grasped her wrist and the jerk of her fall nearly wrenched my arm from its socket. I held her for a moment, looking down into her face. She smiled up at me as I screamed.

“Goodnight, Lisette,” she said again and jerked her arm so she slipped and fell and fell… and in my dreams I still see her falling…

Except I never see her land… she just falls and falls, becoming tinier and tinier until she’s there again. And sometimes she’s in my arms and I’m embracing her, and she calls me Lisette, but who is Lisette?

“Don’t jump, Lisette, don’t jump!”

©Lois Elsden 2016

Lois publishes through KDP on Amazon; you can find her novels here: