Autumn Pork Casserole


Two giant pork chops, a tree laden with ripe red eating apples that don’t store well and an indeterminate eta for husband and supper led to this casserole, enough for 3 portions.
2 giant pork chops, each cut into three pieces
Seasoned flour – I used mustard powder and pepper and some dried herbs
I large onion – cut into thick slices
Oil – I used sunflower
Handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped – I used rosemary, thyme, marjoram plus 2 crumpled bay leaves
Teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Eating apples, unpeeled, cored and sliced fairly thickly – I used half a dozen, but they were quite small. It would have been half as many if I’d got the step ladder and climbed to reach the large ones.
Put an oven proof large frying pan or large base casserole that can stand a hot plate on the hob at a fairly high temperature while you mix the seasoned flour in a bowl or plastic bag. Use it to coat the pork portions.
Set the oven to a medium heat (about 180 degrees C).
When the pan is hot add a little oil to cover the base of the pan and put in the pork slices. Cook until brown on the base and then turn over.
If necessary add a little more oil for the onion before adding it to the pan – it depends how much fat has run out of your pork chops. Cook until onions begin to colour and the other side of the pork has browned.
Add sufficient water (or stock or cider, I had none so used more thyme than I might have done otherwise) to cover the meat and onion, the vinegar and the herbs. Use a spatula to ensure that the meat has not stuck to the base of the pan, and the browned flour is mixed into the liquid.
Arrange the sliced apple over the dish to cover it. These eating apples are really supersweet, but if the ones you have are very tart you could add a sprinkling of sugar.
Bake in the oven half an hour until the apples have coloured, check that the liquid does not need topping up, cover with a tightly fitting lid, turn the temperature down (to 140 degrees C) and let simmer for another ¾ of an hour. If supper is delayed further – reduce the temperature to just under 100 degrees C.
I served it with kale and crispy potatoes.

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Walking to Chanctonbury Ring

Visiting Chanctonbury Ring can form part of a longer walk, but if you only have 1 ½ to 2 hours to spare there is a convenient car park on the lane South of the A283, a mile or so East of Washington roundabout, opposite Water Lane that leads  to Wiston. For 25 years I drove to work past Wiston Post Office, and always felt compelled to check it was still standing. I learned a long time ago that you should not design a house with windows at the edges, brick or stone was necessary (before recent developments in strengthened glass) to support the building. I am delighted to say that the cottage, several centuries old, has not collapsed despite the windows at the North East corner of the building that worried me. Sadly the teashop based there has now closed.

All Saints Church, Buncton is just South of the post office, with a parking lay-by on Water Lane. It is a tiny chapel of ease, almost 1000 years old. There is a narrow path through the trees, so that a visitor can move back through centuries as she approaches the building, to absorb the mixture of Saxon and Norman construction and decoration. Sadly, again, a unique carving has been erased in this century – after surviving for eight of those preceding ours.

But we have crossed to the South of the A283 then driven a kilometre or so up the narrow lane to the car park on the left. As we walked South we crossed the East-West track that runs along the North base of the Downs. To our left this track has huge iron gates with an impressive one for pedestrians at one side. We went on and started to climb past the reservoir and through the woods. This is a slippery path in the winter, I remember climbing it one afternoon when the children were young. When we came down again, in the dusk, we could hear owls hooting all around us – above and below, as the wooded slopes fell away. I maintained a matter of fact commentary to reassure the children, and hid my relief when we re-joined the wider track. When I read Robert Macfarlane’s account of camping at Chanctonbury Ring, and being disturbed by what he feared were ghosts I sympathised, then laughed when in a later book he wrote that the sounds were probably made by owls.

The atmosphere on a summer afternoon was very different. The spaniel and I met other walkers, enjoyed the dappled light through the trees and emerged to sunny pastures and blue skies. We turned right, following the South Downs Way to approach the ring. After the last gate, and a check that there were no sheep grazing about the ring, I released the dog and walked across the open grassland towards the ring of trees. It is nearly thirty years since the great storm that flattened so many of the beeches planted by Charles Goring in 1760. The trees that were planted to replace the casualties have grown to restore the outline we remember. Many of the fallen trees were left as nurse logs, and reminded us that trees are not immortal. The storm hastened the downfall (oops!) of thousands of trees in the South East, but that action did not destroy creations that would have lived for ever.

When I walked round the outside of the tree clump, the spaniel ran Spirograph circles, Ptolemaic secondary orbits based on my circuit of the ring. Overheated as we left the summit, she noticed the cattle trough at the top of the next rise and charged towards it. Standing up on her hind legs, with her forepaws on the rim while she reached to lap the water was not cooling enough. Suddenly the dog had scrambled into the trough and was swimming (doggy paddle of course) with just her head above the water.

We walked back down through the woods, the dog drying slowly, and paused to visit a favourite tree. The tree grows on a bank that has washed away, so that its roots are exposed. It resembles Yggdrasil, I expected to see the Norns weaving our fates but there are only the ashes of a campfire.


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Spring walk, North of Thakeham

This walk has beautiful views over rolling countryside, and the chance to visit two interesting Sussex churches.
We start at the car park by Thakeham village hall, and use the track and footpath to skirt the building site that will become Abingworth Meadows. Left over the first stile and follow the footpath along the hedge. The bank below the hedge is riddled with rabbit holes, luckily the spaniel does no more than push her head into each one, leaving a view of inverted backside and enthusiastically wagging tail.
At the end of the hedge turn left to climb steps and stile, and walk along the headland of a field that is usually planted with maize. Another stile and turn right down the hill, where the cows walk from meadows to milking parlour. At the end there are gates, turn left along the path. Through the gate and cross to the next field and footpath opposite, passing the cattlegrid on your left.
If you have never visited Thakeham church, some parts of which (nave and transept) are almost 900 years old, this is a good moment for a detour. Inside the church much of the woodwork is over 500 years old, look at the door to the tower. The font is even older. It is awe-inspiring to stand and sit where people have come to pray for so long. If you sit at the front and see a Tudor rose on your pew, you know that you are sitting on an Elizabethan pew that has been in continuous use since the time of Drake and Raleigh, Shakespeare and Spenser.
Back on track we cross a small meadow to another gate and stile. Then down into a dingle and swing to the right to cross on a footbridge. Up the other side and into a bluebell wood, and pheasant haunt. The path up through the copse leads to another stile, where the route lies along the top of a pasture that slopes down steeply to your left. The grass is cropped short at all times of year – if you walk this way at either end of the day you will disturb the rabbits as they graze.
It is a steep drop to the gate and stile that leads into the lane from Warminghurst church, and it can be very muddy. The track is a continuation of Park Lane, for many years there has been an occupied caravan beside this pretty path, I love the idea that the address would sound like an expensive property on the Monopoly board. The track crosses and re-crosses a stream, and there are small pools to either side. In one pool, catching the sunlight I see the first kingcups (marsh marigolds) of the year. Their bright yellow, appearing like the celandines before the buttercups and dandelions of later spring remind me a mistake I made nearly 50 years ago.
One early spring on our farm, our herdsman left, and I agreed to help out by feeding the young calves. They were fed with buckets of reconstituted milk, and most needed help to learn to drink from a bucket, you had to hold your hand in the milk and they would suck the liquid through your fingers. Their soft warm muzzles would push into your hand, the smell of milk, calf and clean straw was all around, it was a good start to the day. In those days Farmers’ Weekly had a magazine section at the back for farmers’ wives, with a letters page. I thought I’d earn some money by sending in a letter (Cleopatra kept her skin soft by bathing in asses’ milk, so why after feeding the calves for a week or two are my hands rough, red and raw?). I made two mistakes. One – they did not pay for published letters. Two – they published the author’s name. So at the next few Young Farmers’ meetings I had a lot of interest in my rough, red hands. But what shamed me were the letters forwarded from the magazine from several kind ladies, who told me various recipes with which to make hand cream. The one I remember involved heating up Vaseline and pressing buttercup petals into it. And now when I see a buttercup or kingcup’s bright gold I still feel guilt that my frivolous story was believed and brought such a generous kind response from these ladies.
Back in the present, after passing through another pheasant copse we reach Clay’s lane and turn left. This is a very quiet road, leading back to Thakeham Church, but after a few hundred yards, after passing buildings converted for commercial use we see a large white house on the right. The footpath gate leads us into the grounds where we turn left between the garden and the stables. For several years this part of the walk was even more charming, and sometimes exciting. Donkeys who liked to be greeted lived in the stable, the path then passed through a field of curious goats and ferocious geese. And while you were distracted by the donkeys three huge (were they St Bernard’s or Pyrenean mountain dogs?), immensely friendly dogs would rush up and put their paws on your shoulders. Sadly the family have moved away, so crossing what was the goose enclosure we pass through another gate and into the field beyond.
Up the slope to a curious small enclosure, stiles to enter and leave it. There is quite a deep pond (excellent for cleaning a very muddy spaniel, who jumps in and swims round) on your left – maybe that is why it is fenced. Up the next pasture, to the gate on the right of the recently restored building. Follow the track between the hedge and the copse but do not turn left, keep straight and turn right to cross the school playing field. Keep the hedge to your left and at the end walk down the steps into Thakeham Street. As we are not stopping at the White Lion pub we turn right and walk along the road until the footpath sign on our left, and follow the path that leads high above the B2139 initially, down to the road, and then back to the turn for the Village Hall.

Walk north

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A slippery walk through muddy lanes and footpaths as a wet winter turns into a soggy spring.

A slippery walkStarting from Thakeham Village Hall we can appreciate the size and scale of the building site that is turning the old mushroom farm into housing. The area is protected by tall security fencing. Inside the barrier huge, powerful machinery terraforms the landscape. Enormous earthbanks have appeared, and one giant uprooted tree stump sits incongruously on the grass. We turn our back to the work to pass through the cut, leading through the hedge and beside the stream to the road, and turn left. We walk less than a quarter of a mile to a flight of steps opposite the entrance to the Abingworth Hall Hotel.

The steps take us up onto a narrow footpath high above the Jacket’s Hill cutting, reputedly made by prisoners taken in the Napoleonic wars. Wild garlic leaves have appeared, and some bluebells, but no flowers yet, and the trees are still bare. We stumble single file over the tree roots, and turn right to walk between a garden fence and a hedge. At the end of the high fence there is a fine view of the South Downs to the left, over the horse paddocks. But there are still plenty of unexpected tree roots, and the narrow path is slippery and flooded in places, so we spend more time looking at our feet.

Pheasants are calling down to our left as we reach the end of the paddocks and go right through a gap in the hedge to continue West. There is an electric fence to regulate the cow pastures, and keep walkers to the path. It is clear today, but hard to see in dim light. At the end of the hedge to our left we continue along the ridgeway. With no shelter the wind is fierce, but there are good clear views to North and South. They show how wooded Sussex still is, I’m happy that now I can’t see houses for the trees.

Over the fields to cross a holloway, another North-South lane tramped deep below the level of surrounding fields by long-dead drovers. Over the stile opposite, more views of the Downs to the left, and a pheasant rearing copse to the right. Across a stubble field, and at the end of the copse a slide down a slip of a path to the next stile. Directly across the busy road is a short private road, after passing between a couple of houses there is another public road to cross, then climb a short house drive and over a stile to the right. Again a stubble field (last year this crop was maize) with hedges to our left at first, then the path is once more an open ridgeway, with more pheasants shrieking below us in copses to right and left.

A stile at the far side of the field leads into a path between dogproof fences, next to horse pastures, that leads down almost to Hurston Lane. We swing right at the bottom to go North along a bridle path, at first downhill between high banks, where the path becomes a stream, then through rough grassland before we reach Heather Lane. Right again here, with the woods on our left. We take a detour this time and loop through paths in the woods, around the fenced grazing area.

Snowdrops drooped prettily – to be admired not picked, my mother insists – bringing snowdrops into the house will bring news of a death. She feels the same about mixing red and white flowers. I begin to list the other superstitions my mother taught me. I pretend to laugh at them, but if I crash the car it will be because I am distracted, looking for a second magpie (one for sorrow, two for joy). I reflect that most of her sayings are warnings, all portents were ominous: If thirteen sit at the table one of them will die soon; don’t put (even new) shoes on the table, it’ll bring bad luck; if two knives cross their blades when you are laying the table, slide the bottom one out carefully or there will be a quarrel; stir with a knife, stir up strife. I start to hope a black cat will cross our path, it’s the only promise of good luck I can remember.

Back onto Heather Lane and along this private road to Monkmead Lane, which we cross to a narrow path beside a stream. There is no footpath sign, but a ‘clean up dogmess’ warning implies that dogs are exercised along the track, for the mess to be created, so presumably walking is permitted. The path curves sharply between the high fences of West Chiltington gardens and we reach the road called Common Hill. Today we turn left and follow the pavement uphill a couple of hundred yards to Crossways, which we follow until it reaches Lordings Lane where we turn right. But in this tangled warp and weft of private roads and footpaths we could have crossed directly into Fir Tree Lane, perhaps that route means further to walk along a public road (Roundabout Lane) without a footpath beside it.

At the end of Lordings Lane we turn right and cross over. Immediately, to the left of the opening into Threales Lane, there is a well-marked path through the woods. After a very muddy stretch the path takes us across more rough pasture, and then into High Bar Lane, which leads us back to our starting point – about 1 ½ hours after leaving it.

When I get home I admire the show of snowdrops in our own garden. Time to cast superstition behind me I decide. I need flowers for the house and pick a bunch, they look charming on the study desk. An hour or so later my 90 year-old mother phones. A friend has died, will I take her to the funeral?


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Roast Beetroot Soup

Ingredients: 4 medium beetroot, 1 onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 inch ginger root, olive oil, 1/2 teasp grated nutmeg, 1 small orange, generous teasp horseradish sauce, salt, pepper, sour cream/creme fraiche or yoghurt to finish

Makes 4 bowls soup.

  1. Roast beetroot for approx 1 hour at 180 C – until knife slides in easily.
  2. Peel and chop onion and fry gently in olive oil to soften, not colour.
  3. Add peeled chopped garlic.
  4. Peel and chop beetroot (large chunks are fine), with peeled and chopped ginger, add to pan.
  5. Grate and add nutmeg, add sprinkling of ground pepper.
  6. Add sufficient water to cover, simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  7. While simmering add orange zest and flesh (I used Seville).
  8. Stir in horseradish (creamed or sauce).
  9. Blend to smooth puree (I use handheld blender).
  10. Add more water to give cream consistency, season to taste.
  11. The flavour develops if left for a while before reheating.
  12. Serve with a garnish of sour cream to be traditional. I’ve used creme fraiche and Greek yoghourt at different times. Both worked well.

beetroot soup

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A teacher’s perspective on an IT manager’s role when supporting autonomous learning.

Autonomous Learning – the IT manager’s role in an educational establishment, from a teacher’s perspective.

Autonomous learning encourages students to acquire knowledge by their own efforts, and in the process develop skills in inquiry and critical evaluation. True independent learning requires that students have freedom of choice in determining both objectives and methods (supported by educational professionals) and places additional responsibility on the student for both achievement and value of goals.

In the twenty first century many of the study methods that students should be able to employ involve information technology. This puts a heavy burden on an IT department, with responsibilities to both teachers and students. The IT manager is also likely to be liaising with the institution’s librarian.

Students will need to be able to access resources, create work in different formats, and submit it to their teachers for checking. Teachers will need all of this, plus methods of giving feedback to students as they progress.

As many devices are probably going to require wireless access, adequate wifi coverage is a sine qua non. Different institutions will have different systems – some may rely on a simpler intranet while others have a full-scale virtual learning environment; in some places teachers use cloud systems such as Googledocs, Evernote or Showbie, in others student work is kept within the institution. I’ll try and describe what is needed, how it is provided will vary.

What sort of things will students need to be able to do? Searching the net for information is probably the first impulse of our students when they are faced with a research task. IT managers have a difficult balancing act, maintaining a firewall to protect young people, while allowing them the widest possible access. From a teacher’s perspective I would ask that the firewall should not be too rigid, so that if a student/teacher requests access to a barred site, then it is possible to create a path. My experience has been that if a student asks me, a teacher, to help them in such a situation, the need is usually valid. If students know any request will be checked before authorisation most will be deterred from improper requests.

Students will be encouraged to collaborate, and to review each other’s work. One solution might be a shared area for a class, maybe their own blog within an institution.  I have also used electronic post-it boards such as lino and padlet. Whatever the system it needs to be policed so that students do not abuse – the system, each other or anyone else. Some of the policing may be done by the class teacher, within an institution the need and responsibility for such policing must be understood and allocated, for everyone’s protection. (This ‘policing’ will fall within the whole institution policy for IT and social networking. Parents may need to be reassured that checks are in place).

How free students are, both to choose the device they use, and to choose the methods they employ, will be a matter for an institution to decide, and for teacher preference and judgement with particular tasks. However I should expect students to at least be able to create illustrated text documents, slide shows, annotated pictures, videos, mindmaps and create and analyse spreadsheets. They will also need to be able to collate their work, and to be able to combine formats in a single piece of work. I have found student ebook creation enables both tasks.

I think it is useful to insist on a protocol for submitted text and illustrations, so that they are saved and sent for feedback in PDF format and can thus be accessed on any device. IT managers may need to recommend slideshow and video formats, which will be handled successfully by your system. As an IT manager it may be useful to consider whether a school wide policy for submitted work may both allow students freedom to use their preferred app/programme initially and save later frustration. Storage of students’ work, and later access to it by teachers (including managers) and possibly students, plus storage of feedback as evidence of good practice must also be planned.

Training for teachers and students may be part of the IT manager’s remit – if not then whichever teacher is leading such training may need IT assistance on hand (I always did. And deeply appreciated help with the inevitable glitches with new, unfamiliar systems).

But the most important thing is cheerful reassurance and help for both students and teachers accessible by phone, email or a visit to the IT department. I was extremely lucky to have such support, and deeply appreciate it.

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Walking through Strawberry Lane

Strawberry Lane walk

Map – route takes 40 minutes approx.

I’m out with the spaniel as the sky begins to brighten. To the East across what was Thakeham playing field a wide, luminous deep pink band over the thinnest gold streak shines behind the treetops. The pink sky might warn shepherds to beware storms later, but for now it reveals a clear sky and we enjoy the moment.
The trees stand clear against the skyline. In early winter ash, beech and birch have lost nearly all their leaves, their silhouettes are sharp, jagged skeletons against the pale sky. Oaks still hold much of their foliage, their shapes are massive: solid looming shapes punctuating the branching outlines around them. The rustling quiet is interrupted as a ragged swirl of rooks rise cawing from their overnight perches. The spaniel pays close attention.
We turn right behind the old mushroom farm to climb onto the ridge. The path passes through dead seed heads of teasels and umbellifers. Earlier in the year (and later in the day) clouds of finches would rise from them as we walked, swirling and settling to feed behind us. Now the seed heads are plundered, sere and stark. Willowherb still stands, dry and pink in the early light. Onto the ridge and past the simple stone seat contributed in memory of Ben Richardson. To the South, the Downs are a grey-blue margin to the landscape, with deeper blue cloud resting on them, obscuring their heights. Maybe the shepherds’ storm will arrive sooner than we wish?
Down the other side of the ridge the maize field on the left has been cleared, no chance today of deer or rabbits bursting from its cover. If spaniels had better memories the dog might be disappointed, but as it is nothing seems to mar her joy as she hunts through the stubble rows, nose to the brown earth, looping to find and follow the scent of previous passers-by.
Through the cottages and left along the track, then North as we join Strawberry Lane. This is an ancient way. Thirty years ago, when we moved here, we were told it was an old coaching road, haunted (of course) by a headless coachman driving his horses along the muddy track. But this road was formed long before coach routes were thought of. It is a drovers’ track. Certainly dating back a thousand years, from when Anglo-Saxons drove their pigs from the Downlands Northwards into the oak forests of the Weald to feed on acorns. Very probably far older even than that, the practice was established before the Romans arrived. We tread a path written deep into the landscape by its users’ feet, re-written and reinforced over millennia.
The Lane is memorialised in song. The words and tune of the folksong can be found online in a collection made by Miriam Berg. It was recorded by the Copper family for the BBC and seems to be a variant of ‘Scarborough Fair’:
As I was walking up Strawberry Lane,
Oh, ev’ry rose grows merry and fine,
I chanced to meet with a pretty fair maid,
Who wanted to be a true lover of mine.
And on for many more verses.
The spaniel and I climb through fallen leaves, between high banks and tall trees. The patches on the spaniel’s coat echo the colours of the leaves through which she pushes. Whenever we walk in deciduous woodland I marvel that, even where oak trees are in the minority, underfoot fallen oak leaves predominate, outnumbering and swamping beech, birch, hazel and hawthorn. The leaves maintain their structure while those of other species rot and decay. Their tenacity reflects that of the oak tree itself. We salute an impressive upstanding specimen in our path, four feet in diameter. It’s a giant standing sturdy among the birches around it, who stretch seeming spindly in comparison, in competition to reach the light. Then we see a fallen companion, almost wrenched from the ground some years past, and still from the end of the oak tree’s horizontal body a few leaves have sprung and still cling to its branches’ tips. ‘Hearts of oak’ and stamina to match seem to be worthy aspirations, beyond jingoistic boasting. Gabriel Oak springs to mind, felled by circumstance but resurgent through patient tenacity.
Gabriel Oak’s disaster reminds me of impulsive dogs. The spaniel is delirious between rabbit holes, which perforate the banks, and blackbirds, who fly scolding from the brush and scrub as she plunges between them. She swings like a pendulum bob. First up through bracken and briars to the rim of the lane’s declivity on one side, then the dog dives headlong back down through the scrub to bounce at the path and surge up the opposite slope. A startled blackbird leads her along the track ahead of me and out of sight round the bend. After a moment I whistle, and after two or three more she returns; seeming more greyhound than spaniel as she races, apart from the butterfly ears that spread wide on each side of her head.
At the top of Strawberry Lane, just before the old route has been detoured so it no longer goes through the farmyard, there’s a quagmire. A small wash of water over deep mud. It is possible to walk round it, but not if you are a thirsty spaniel. Lapping and gulping the clean(ish) water in front of her the dog wades through the morass, leaving a wake of mirk and mud suspension. She emerges with sticky black legs and belly.
We choose to walk back along the shorter field paths to the playing fields, rather than through the village. Breakfast is calling. If spaniels lack some long term recall, they also miss long term foreboding. I know I’ll be cleaning dog, shower room and then myself before I’ll taste that breakfast coffee. Later, if the shepherds’ storm holds off, I’ll tackle some of the fallen oak leaves that threaten to bury our garden.

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