Home Sweet Home

My brother, Martin, cooked when I couldn’t: https://youtu.be/bM1uxyiwx8s.

We were celebrating my return from hospital.  Having survived the world tour cooking across six continents , I nearly died in a car accident in France.  I was there to discover new cooking opportunities but ended up in hospitals for five months: two months in Intensive Care and six weeks in a coma.  It was truly touch and go as to whether I’d survive and, if I did, whether I’d be paralysed from the neck down.  Looking back at the first video I made in the hospital https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBMOMDSInYY it’s clear that I was still struggling.

But with excellent medical care, fantastic support and much love, I got through it and soon started to sound and look much stronger https://youtu.be/h7nJI57H-M8


When I eventually was able to return home, I still wasn’t well enough to stand and cook.  Former Royal Navy Fleet Catering Officer stepped in to the breach: Martin spent nearly a whole day making his magical Italian ragout for our special meal to mark the homecoming and all the efforts of family and friends to keep me going.

This is certainly one of those dishes that has to be cooked from the heart: chopping vegetables so fine that they virtually disappear; hours and hours of stirring and gentle simmering;  two types of minced meat with just the right balance of lean and fat; the weird but successful addition of milk; lashings of wine to evaporate and, ultimately, such rich  unctuousness   that anything more than simple plain pasta would be overwhelming.  This is definitely not a meal for the faint-hearted or cholesterol-conscious.

For someone who’d been living on rather plain hospital fare for months, it was a distinct shock to the system but gloriously indulgent and heart-warming.  What a wonderful welcome and huge incentive to get back in to the kitchen.    Next time, you can see that I’d been inspired by Martin and was cooking again.


Massive summer party

Nearly 70 Baking Blind co-cooks, family and friends were at my all-time-record biggest party this summer.  Lots of people brought wonderful salads and marvellous puddings to take a bit of the strain and Martin, my favourite pork butcher brought an outstanding hog roast.

Top billing went to the “Gentle Jazz” band of volunteers who play for charity: we managed to contribute over £630 to their “Macmillan Cancer Support”.  Most moving of all was the special song that their leader, Gerray, had written for me.  I had no idea that song sheets had been covertly distributed so that everyone could join in – and there were many sniffles and wet eyes as a result.  Many of us danced under the apple trees, shared a bottle or more and generally had a memorable day under sunny skies.

It was my chance to thank so many people who has supported me and contributed to Baking Blind and winning the Holman prize.  And very special thanks go to brother Martin and friend Alan for managing the logistics plus key supporters Lorna, Karen, Jane and Peter for ensuring that all preparation was on track plus Sam and Hannah for great service on the day.  All I needed to do was waft around and chat with this outstanding group of friends – and it was a rare occasion to have all four of my brothers here together.

If you want a very special band for an event, contact: Gerray Thomas gerraythomas@googlemail.com


You can support the Holman adventure too: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/penny-melville-brown

Best wishes





Front Cover Image-needs croppingDid you know: • The best-laid plans for a funeral can quickly run amok. • Grandchildren’s drawings display creative dynasty.

It was a funeral with all the possibilities of disaster: the hearse so late that we had to leave Catisfield without it, the eventually-formed convoy motoring at indecorous speed on the motorway to Brighton and still unable to follow the planned route; the dangerously overheating engine of the coach carrying guests; the near-topple of the coffin bearers; orders of service not distributed; the wrong button pressed at the crucial moment of committal; return travel plans near-thwarted.  But, instead, it turned out to be a great day of celebrating Mummy’s life.  We all wore bright colours and flaunted the silks she had hand-painted for us.

Despite so many decades of community activity (from founding the local WI and having leading roles in  the horticultural Society, the Friends of Woodingdean, the Sussex Downsmen and more), she was never truly confident that anyone had noticed  or appreciated what she had done – so obituaries in two newspapers would have given her immense satisfaction.Leader News article scan

She’d been pretty clear as to her requirements: Sibelius, no black, no religion.  So we had a fairly free hand to design an occasion to celebrate her life.  A whole group of us created massive flower arrangements aimed at reflecting her beloved garden – drifts of fragrant pink lilies and more delicate summer flowers in the sweeps of herbaceous borders to frame her in the hearse.

Grandchildren Toby and Nora drew special pictures alongside her photos in the order of service.  Her four giant sons carried in the coffin to the strains of Sibelius.

flowers 5Although my brief outline of her life and recent illness gave some background, it was Jonathan’s performing skills that captured her energy, her travels and bee-keeping that Annika encapsulated in singing “What a Wonderful World”.  Peter drew on some of the thousands of images captured by Mummy’s passion for photography throughout her years of gallivanting around the world and set them to part of another symphony.  There were a few tears but more smiles when Martin summed up her life in just 20 evocative words.  A few more sentences about her courage and determination before Peter read the committal and then we all sang “The hills are alive to the sound of music”.

There’s a line that says “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely” – and she did – and she found great companionship and joy walking with her friends across the South Downs, climbing in Scotland and exploring all over the world.

Mummy would have loved the tea that followed at Stanmer House – it was a familiar venue for gatherings and she loved the gardens.  We had set up some of her paintings, more of her photos and many of the memories that friends had contributed – we could laugh together over favourite stories of her exploits and weep a bit over a life that had been so full.

She would have been glad that the flowers went back to the rowans hospice  where they had given her such good care before she came home to me.  And the coach delivered the Catisfield contingent back here that evening too – time for more reminiscences and some collective deep breaths after so many emotional highs and lows.

Now, some months later, we went on to the Downs to scatter her ashes – it was easy to imagine her: speeding up another escarpment, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed and a little out of breath but full of joy and exhilaration.150725 - Ashes

More images here


Blind veterans at Palace

Did you know: • Blind veterans celebrate 100 years of support by UK charity. • Royal garden party marks blind ex-military centenary. • Armless mermen support royal folly at Palace.Garden Party 2About 7,000 blind ex-military men and women (with their guides) were negotiating the paths, lawns and tea tents at Buckingham Palace in June.  The Royal Garden Party celebrated 100 years of St Dunstan’s  (now Blind Veterans UK)  – created in 1915 to help those blinded by serving in World War 1.

tent 2Even during her final days, Mummy was regaling nurses with her plans for her fourth Palace visit, worrying about what she would wear and how the ambulance would get there.  We had struck a bargain of hope: she would get well and I would take her.  It took much more reassurance to persuade her that another London trip didn’t mean she’d been left behind. But, in the end, she didn’t make it.  Instead, the slick BVUK organiser shoe-horned ex-Navy brother Martin in to the guest list so we could treasure the occasion in her place and memory.  There was space, time and quietitude enough for walking the paths she had trod so proudly, re-touching the sculptures she triumphantly found me.  An utterly devoted gardener for decades, such special access was a delight – with the pomp and circumstance giving her that extra swagger.


On the day, we were mistakenly elevated to the dizzy heights of the Diplomatic tent and enclosure.  Not quite as posh as the red velvet ropes and brass stanchions that distinguished the Royal tent but more comfortable than the plastic garden chairs of the general throng.    Clearly, someone had guessed that, like diplomatic bottoms, we needed more substantial seating.  Tea was probably more egalitarian but classically English: delicate cucumber-and-mint or smoked salmon finger sandwiches followed by delectable dainty tartlets and cakes – served on tiny china trays.  Meanwhile, the military bands paraded and played to the scent of hot crushed grass and a troop of sweating Beefeaters had escaped from the Tower

Giant UrnWe sipped tea and lemon barley with another brother and sister. They were truly remarkable: he was an RAF policeman until an accident caused debilitating head injuries and blindness; she had given 15 years to battling for his independent living with a war pension and medical compensation.  One’s own story fades in to insignificance.

Exploring the gardens was the crunch of gravel and the rumble of traffic beyond the walls that envelop summer heat.  Heron statues on impossibly slender legs trembled to the touch.  The huge stone urn’s massiveness was impossible to encompass even standing tall on its plinth.  Nearby, a bevy of life-size armless mermen, chests warm and smooth from years of paint, buttress a garden chalet in odd juxtaposition with the domesticity of its rear sash window.Folly

What a glorious combination of courage and custom, eccentricity and elegance, pride and patriotism –both the Palace and the people there that day.  One national institution honouring another, the men and women who have served and the generosity of those who give us a hand-up rather than a hand-out.Garden Party