I haven’t read much poetry, or written any since I was at school, learning to recite ‘Little Trotty Wagtail’. Our creative writing group teacher asked us to write a poem based on an experience which we remember differently to how it actually happened.

My mind immediately went to a memory I have, which happened on my first ever camping holiday with my parents. I must have been very young. My father woke me up in the night to tell me Moldy Warp the mole was outside, and took me out to watch a mole who had broken the surface of his mole hill. My mum used to read the wonderful Alison Uttely books of Little Grey Rabbit to me, and Moldy Warp the mole was a character from them, with beautiful watercolour paintings by Margaret Tempest. I recently asked my Facebook followers if they too had memories of the Little Grey Rabbit books, and the response was huge. It would seem lots loved them, apart from Pauline, who thought Little Grey Rabbit was ‘a bit wet’ (which did make me laugh).

I must have gone back to bed and dreamt about Moldy Warp, because even now, in my mind’s eye, I can remember seeing a little mole with a silver spade, pipe in mouth, and velvet waistcoat, digging.

Here is my poem. I hope you like it. It’s pretty simple, but it’s a start. I’m really looking forward to learning more about writing poetry when I go to Newcastle University in September to do my MA. I applied for my student loan today, so I’m another step closer!

Come Quietly

“Hush, come quietly!
There’s something you need to see”
Scooped up in father’s strong embrace
Bleary eyed and half asleep. 
Out of the tent
And across the field,
Blanket wrapped tight around me.
A small crowd has gathered
Watching in silence,
Torches pointing to the ground
Where the earth shifts
Fine tilth and dark soil
A little mole is digging.
Velvet waistcoat and purple scarf
Silver spade and pipe in mouth, 
It’s Moldy Warp the Mole!

By Sue Reed

Did you follow The Bridge Cottage Way blog all those years ago, before The Woolly Pedlar took all of my spare time away? Following on from an article in this week’s Observer about my yoghurt making, I thought I’d go back to writing about seasonal eating and growing your own seasonal fruit and veg in the Bridge Cottage garden. The aim is to do one of these once a month, and my dearest wish is that one day a newspaper or magazine will ask me to write a regular column, The Bridge Cottage Way!

It’s nearly the end of May, and despite having had several pickings of rhubarb already, there is a bumper crop. With the family all out for the day, today seemed the day for tackling it. I’m pleased with how the day has gone, and thought I’d share some recipes with you.

The rhubarb and ginger jam is bubbling away on the stove, and the rhubarb and date chutney has just gone into jars. Thank you to the good peeps at Riverford Organic Farmers for the recipes. (Follow these links to find them). There is a big pan of stewed rhubarb with ginger on the go, which will be frozen for breakfasts over the winter.

rhubarb gin
Rhubarb Gin

There is also bottle of rhubarb gin in the cupboard, which will be shaken daily until the sugar dissolves, and will be shared with my sister in law, Kate, at my daughter’s wedding. It was my sister in law who was responsible for introducing me to my husband, Tim, when we were at teacher training college together in Isleworth back in the early eighties. Amazingly there was enough rhubarb gin left from last year to take this photo. Apologies for the chipped glass!

It’s really easy to make your own rhubarb gin or vodka, and the same method applies for any fruit such as raspberries which is equally quaffable.

Rhubarb Gin Recipe

Just chop up slender stems of your pinkest rhubarb (if they are too fat they won’t go into the neck of the bottle). Put into a clean, empty bottle until half full. Add a good slug of sugar. I don’t like mine too sweet, so only put about 100g in. You can add more. If you have any Sweet Cicely around, you can use this instead of sugar. Top up with gin or vodka, pop the top on, and shake every day until the sugar is dissolved, then leave well alone for a few weeks. Strain before drinking It’s really that easy!

It’s goes really well with tonic, soda or Prosecco, or drink neat over ice. Cheers!

I’m told that once all the gin is drunk, the alcohol soaked fruit makes an excellent crumble.

Rhubarb Souffles

Another favourite, newly mastered this year has been rhubarb souffles – thank you to Michel Roux Jnr and Gardener’s World for the recipe! They are not hard to make and are suitably impressive. Just keep the oven hot and don’t open the door until you are ready to serve.

Did you see I got a mention in The Observer this week for my yoghurt making prowess? I found a simple recipe for making ice cream using stewed rhubarb and stem ginger, which is simply churned in an ice cream maker with yoghurt and half a tin of condensed milk. Easy peasy!

My mum is a huge fan of stewed rhubarb and it was a staple of the Sunday dinner table with rice pudding when I was a child. My husband, however, wouldn’t thank you for rice pudding, (says it reminds him of school dinners) but he does have a favourite rhubarb recipe. It is for Rhubarb and Orange Merinque.

Orange and Rhubarb Meringue

Rhubarb and Orange Meringue

(serves 4)


450 g / 1lb young rhubarb; 1 orange; 50g /oz demerara sugar; 40g/ 1.5oz cornflour; 2 eggs separated; 75g / 3oz caster sugar

  1. Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into short lengths. Place in shallow oven proof dish.
  2. Grate rind and squeeze juice from orange. Place in measuring jug & make up to 450 ml / ¾ pint with water
  3. Place demerara sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and gradually blend in the liquid. Bring to boil, stirring and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Stir egg yolks into orange sauce and our over rhubarb.
  5. Cook in centre of a moderate oven Gas 3, 325F, !60C for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to cool, Gas 2, 300F, 150C.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites until stiff and dry, whisk in half the caster sugar and whisk until stiff again. Fold in remaining sugar.
  7. Spread meringue over mixture in dish and return to oven to cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes until it is golden brown and the rhubarb is tender.

I hope I has inspired you to have a go at growing and cooking rhubarb. If you don’t grow rhubarb, you really should! Find someone who does, and ask them to divide a crown for you in the autumn, or pop down to the garden centre to buy one. It loves a good dollop of well-rotted compost over the winter, and will serve you well for years to come. It’s the first fruit to be ready in the new season and is a very welcome crop indeed.

Thanks for reading my blog

Sue Reed Writes

Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival 2019

I look forward to Hexham Book Festival every year, and every year it just gets better. Held in various locations in and around Hexham, but based at the Queen’s Hall, this is an event not to be missed if you are a local lover of books. Cogito Books, Hexham’s independent bookstore, has a stall in the foyer of the Queens Hall, and every year I come away with an armful of new books, many of which have been signed by the authors after having met and chatted with them.

A new venue this year, the Phil and Lit Society on Hallstile Bank, made a great venue for a creative writing workshop led by Tim Pears last weekend. This was excellent. We were looking at how to use location to develop a character. Sent forth into a rainy Farmer’s Market, notebooks in hand, we lurked around the stalls looking for sensory titbits to use in our writing. The workshop was well attended, and Tim led an inspirational morning, giving some useful tips and exercises on developing characters.

Hexham Farmer's Market

This was followed by a hilarious stand up show from Natalie Haynes, at the Queens Hall, bringing the classics alive and making reference to her new book, ‘A Thousand Ships’. In this she concentrated on the stories of the women in the Trojan War, and I now have it on her book shelf waiting to be read. She proved herself to be very knowledgeable about the ancient Greeks, and a great feminist comedian to boot.

Busy with Nanny duties and then my daughter’s hen do on Saturday, I was unable to attend any of the excellent book readings during the week or on Saturday, but Sunday was filled with bookish treats. Firstly, I sat in the library listening to Annabel Abbs talk about her new novel, ‘Frieda’, based on the story of Frieda von Richthofen who, leaving her boring husband, discovered sensual freedom. She was forced to leave her three children when she embarked on a passionate affair with DH Lawrence. I was particularly interested in how Annabel did her research for this novel. I find so little written about some of our women in history, and so much more about the men in their lives. I have an idea for historical fiction, based around a woman from the nineteenth century, but am finding there is very little written about her. Annabel chatted to me and was most encouraging about my quest. Since coming home, I have read her book from cover to cover in two days. Laid up with a chest infection, this has been the perfect accompaniment to my sick bed.

Freida by Annabel Abbs
Freida By Annabel Abbs

However, the highlight for me this year, was seeing Benjamin Zephaniah, who was inspirational. Our lives have crossed in a few ways, having both lived on Prince’s Avenue in Toxteth in the early eighties.  I discovered that we were both in favour from the local car thieves who had told us both our cars were safe from being robbed.

We also both love the work of Bob Marley, and I told Benjamin that I was lucky enough to see Bob Marley Live in Brighton back in 1979.

We also sing off the same hymn sheet politically, and I was thrilled to be in the audience listening to Benjamin’s take on life. He performed a couple of his poems too, which was a treat.

I thought the interviewer however was terrible. He dwelt on the negatives, and couldn’t have been more alien, pointing out the social differences in his life to Benjamin’s. At one point, when asked about his father’s death, Benjamin broke down and wept. There was an awkward silence, which the interviewer did nothing to break. Poor Benjamin wiped tears and struggled to tell us he had just buried a fourteen year old friend who had died from an ecstasy overdose. The silence continued, and it took a member of the audience to break the ice by handing Benjamin a packet of tissues. I was on the cusp of getting out of my seat to take over!

I have admired his life and work for a long time, as has my mother. He was kind enough to sign a volume of his poetry which I shall be giving my mum on her eightieth birthday. I also got this fabulous photo of us together. I have just read his autobiography, ‘The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah’ which I can thoroughly recommend. I got my copy from the library.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Meeting Benjamin Zephaniah at Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival is sadly over for another year. I wish it could go on for ever! Hats off to the organisers, to The Queen’s Hall Arts Centre and to Cogito Books who did a super job of providing a broad spectrum of brilliant authors and their books, but also for the seamless running of this busy and popular event. It was so good to see so many coming out in Hexham to enjoy it. It was also a great excuse to have supper at The Beaumont Hotel in Hexham on more than one occasion.

I have a secret ambition that I will share with you. One day, I would like to have written a book myself, had it published, and be invited to talk about it at Hexham Book Festival. There, I’ve said it! It may never come true, but a girl can dream!

Welcome to my new website and blog. Some of you may already know me, through my work upcycling waste wool knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar. This is a massive time of change for me. I’ve decided, at the ripe old age of fifty-seven to sell my business and apply to go to university to do my MA in Creative Writing.

Sue Reed Writes

Being a writer is on my bucket list, and I secretly promised myself that by the time I was sixty, I would be doing this as my job. So, when I found out that you can get a student loan to do an MA up to the age of sixty, I leapt at the chance. I only have two and a half years left, so I’d better hurry! I had no idea if I was academically competent, or if my writing was good enough.
I was very encouraged by Jacob Polley, the course admission’s leader, who I spoke to at the University Open Day. He told me that they were there to teach me the craft of writing, starting right at the beginning. The module he teaches is called ‘Process’ and does just what it says on the tin. It teaches you the process of becoming a writer. Perfect! After all, I am starting at he very beginning.

The University of Newcastle asked me to submit two short stories of two thousand words each in order to apply, plus a personal statement. I thought I’d better get cracking on building up a portfolio, and so enrolled on the local education authority Creative Writing class. I’ve been going to this since last September, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Our tutor, Clare, gives us a task each week for homework, and then we read it out the following week for everyone to discuss. I have found this very helpful in making me write every week, as well as being able to read out my work, and accept constructive criticism. I soon had two short stories to send off to Newcastle. One was written as a character study of my dear old Nanny Dora, and the other, a more edgy piece, about my times living in Toxteth in the early eighties. I’ll be sending both of these off to magazines to see if I can get them published. I’ll put any links to published material here, and if they don’t get published, I’ll just share them anyway.

I soon rattled off a personal statement, though did find it hard to fit fifty-seven years of experiences onto one side of A4. My degree certificate was found buried in a heap of old papers in the loft. The transcript of my degree was a bit more tricky. The college where I had done my teacher training no longer existed, but it was a University of London degree, so I rang them. A very helpful chap said my degree document was pre-digital (obviously) and so was in a box in paper form, in the basement. Hilarious!

To my utter amazement, the University of Newcastle offered me a place. Taking advice from Ann Coburn, a tutor there (who I met on a course at Seven Stories) I am going to take the two years to do the part time MA. It would be so much better to spread my work over two years, and take my time to enjoy being a student. Fresher’s week here I come!!

In some ways it is sad to be saying goodbye to The Woolly Pedlar, but in others, it is exciting to be starting anew. It has given me a huge sense of pride that I built a business up from scratch, and am looking to sell it as a global brand. I have had a wonderful time pedaling my wool, and have met so many wonderful folk through it. Many of you have wanted to keep following me, and it was your enthusiasm that prompted me to set up this website and blog. I have had some super customers too, from the famous to the not so famous!

Jeremy Corbyn buys his wife, Laura, a woolly wrap from The Woolly Pedlar.
Jeremy Corbyn buys a Woolly Pedlar wrap for his wife, Laura.

Now it is time to clear out my work space and sell my equipment and remaining stock. The website shop is staying open for a couple more weeks and then I will walk away, clear out the woolly garret and turn it into the wordy garret.

Change is scary, but it is also very exciting!

Sue Reed
Sue Reed

Head back to the blog page to read more posts about my progress in the wordy world