A tearful (sob) tale !

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If I’m going to cry I want it to be when I’m laughing. I think that may be one of my favourite pleasures, to laugh till I cry… but it’s not something that can be planned… such moments seize us out of the blue, and swoop down without any warning. And then it’s bliss…I love it – having laughed my way not just to good health but to aching sides and streaming eyes.

Tears come more easily to some than others… my tear ducts are the sort that let me down and embarrass me constantly… it was about the only thing I had in common with Princess Diana, being neither blonde, rich, thin, Royal or any of the other things she was…. but she cried easily… she cried waving goodbye to her fiancée when he flew off to NZ for a couple of weeks, she cried, bless her, when the band played God Bless the Prince of Wales on her honeymoon, and she cried among other times, when she was complimented on her work on the day her separation was announced. By contrast her sister-in-law Princess Anne has only gone on record crying once… when she waved farewell to any more cruises on the royal yacht Britannia as it was de-commissioned.

The tough and the strong are sometimes tempted to despise we weaker vessels, and that’s when tears are so humiliating, if we forget that some of the sweetest moments in life, and the most memorable, are those which move us to tears. Tears are one of the things that make us human beings – though I have watched that heart-breaking video when an elephant who had been starved and beaten for fifty years was finally freed, and he wept – rivers of tears slowly trickling down his wrinkled old grey cheeks -and I wept too.

So yes, tears reveal us as feeling human beings… and though times of hormonal change… those teenage years, pregnancy, post-natal months, menopause, depression, even the wrong medical drugs can cause unexpected floods of tears, nevertheless, tears should not be sniffed at. A baby’s tears are his only means of showing his hunger, hurt, fear, anger, discomfort, insecurity and other problems…. but as we grow older and find less direct forms of communication, tears assume a different place in our lives.

They still mark emotions like fear, misery, anger, grief, hurt, but as we grow older – joy too. So why does our culture sneer at tears and try to train children not to cry, with the jeer: ‘cry baby’ or ‘softie’ being an allowed insult in the playground or even worse: ‘don’t be such a girl’.

When I landed in New Zealand in the middle of winter many years ago, my luggage two small children, tears of fright flowed behind my huge black sunglasses in spite of all my efforts at control. And there have been many other moments since when tears marked unforgettable moments of joy and sorrow… including watching first my children, and then my grand-children’s nativity plays… I cried when I watched my tall, skinny thirteen year old son walking away from his childhood into ‘big’ school, head and shoulders above the others his age… at my daughter’s wedding, and my grandchild’s christening… a perfect watering can.

‘Don’t cry when you say goodbye to us’, my eight year old daughter had said before they took off across the world to see their father. So I smiled and waved, and tried to pretend tears weren’t coursing down my cheeks in great rivers. Later, the exquisite voice of Joan Sutherland singing in concert brought tears to my eyes and to many others. Few of us could define what these involuntary tears were triggered by but they were precious, and the moments memorable. I’ve heard other great singers in person including the incomparable Kathleen Battle, but none of them drew that spontaneous tribute.

When my first baby was born the midwife who delivered her did so in floods of tears… she said she always cried when a baby was born. Now, tenderised by life, I know what she means. I only have to see a new born to feel those tears start gushing. It’s hard not feel embarrassed or humiliated by these ever-ready tear ducts.

I am famous in the family for beginning to cry in the cinema at the beginning of a film. As the credits went up on the film ‘The Young Winston’… the traditional ride of the Adjutant on his white horse, up the flight of steps to the library at the end of the Passing- Out Parade at Sandhurst filled me with such nostalgia for my military childhood that I was lost at the first frame.

And I remember lingering in the cinema loo mopping my eyes with my best friend as we tottered out after Disney’s ‘Old Yeller’ (about a Labrador) had ended, ravaged with tears and nearly blinded with clogged mascara. I can go to a funeral of someone I hardly know, as a courtesy to a family member, and become a tearful wreck… not quite sure whether I’m crying in sympathy with those who are really mourning, whether tears are contagious like yawns, or whether I’m touching into old and forgotten griefs.

In the end it’s animals who really pull the heart-strings and have provoked so many gallons of tears I could fill buckets with them … I was ten when I wept over the shooting of the ponies in the film ‘Scott of the Antarctic’… blow the men dying heroically in the snow, it was the ponies I cried over. The deaths of our fifteen or more rescued dogs and a cat was always a tear- streaked nightmare over the years, and it isn’t just me who’s reduced to an emotional wreck by animals.

On one particular personal growth course, a man who had remained unmoved by harrowing moments supposed to break down our innermost defences, went home one night to find his precious bull terrier fighting for her life, and losing it in child birth. The next day, as he told us all about his beloved ‘Maggie’, he dissolved into heart- broken sobs, as did all the women and most of the strong men in the room. Loved animals in distress can make even the toughest weep.

Broken with grief, this man was then able to do the inner work he had come for, the tears had dissolved his emotional barriers, and he became a softer, kinder, warmer person overnight. So in spite of the superiority of those who have well controlled tear ducts, it does seem that weeping is good for the soul, even though it’s terrible for the complexion. Doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re weeping from laughter or weeping from grief, or weeping from any other emotion, tears seem to loosen us up.

Yet mostly, tears don’t seem to come in the moments of great crisis… then the mind is focussed. Shock and intense attention keep us icy cold, functioning unhampered by anguish or emotion… so maybe tears are a bit like Wordsworth’s definition of poetry: emotion recollected in tranquillity, but in the case of tears: emotion when there’s time for it. I rather treasure the words of Kahlil Gibran, who puts tears and laughter into perspective, as ever… that they are both – in the pompous self-mocking phrase of a friend – part of ‘life’s rich pageant’!

Gibran says: “I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm. It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter.”

So weepers of the world – unite! Hang onto your sodden tissues, and leave off your mascara. Don’t feel intimidated by the stiff upper lips or cold embarrassment of stronger mortals, our ability to cry at the drop of a hat means that we’re living, breathing, sentient beings,
Yours tearfully…

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

A friend for supper on a cold winter’s night meant that I wanted to spoil her with comfort food, and what more comforting than blackberry and apple crumble?

I had the apples, and a tin of blackberries, though I prefer fresh or frozen, and also often use boysenberries instead. I tipped the cold, cooked sliced apples and the blackberries into a pie dish, with plenty of juice, and sugar to taste; then the crumble was spread on top, baked in a moderate oven for forty minutes, tested with a knitting needle to make sure the crumble was cooked, and served with cream… delicious and she loved it.
The trick is the crumble… eight ounces of flour, four ounces of cold butter, grated and mixed with the flour, six ounces of brown sugar, the grated rind of a lemon, and two ounces of ground almonds. Mixed altogether, it only takes a few minutes to prepare, and not much more to eat!

 

Food for thought

All children long for recognition and acceptance of their essence – secretly so do most adults. The insistent question inside all of us is: do you see me, not only my body, but my essence; the gifts, potential, needs, wounds, character and quality of soul that shape me individually?
Professor Richard Whitfield

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That two -letter word

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Over the years I’ve worked hard to banish some words from my thoughts and vocabulary, words like must and mustn’t, ought to and oughtn’t, should and shouldn’t… learning to ignore the inner voice that has bullied me from childhood. I’ve also worked even harder to introduce a two letter word into my voice and into my life. That wonderful little word ‘no.

Granted I heard plenty of it as a child but it wasn’t a word I often used myself. Brought up to be a good girl and do as I was told, it would never have occurred to me to say ‘no’ to just about anything. And now, it’s a freeing experience to say no, and not follow it up with excuses and reasons why I’m not being ‘nice’ or ‘good’. I might sometimes add: ‘I don’t think so,’ to take away a little of the baldness of a straight’ no’. But there it is, a neat little addition to my tools for living, a power tool you could say.

But there’s another two- letter word that bothers me, that I try not to use, and which always bothers me too when I hear others using it. It’s when some- one refers to ‘My’ people,’ my’ church, ‘my party, ‘my god’, ‘my’ country…. I even used to object to the man in my life saying ‘my lawns’ or ‘my car’… ‘they’re the lawns, or it’s the car’, I’d say… and it was always the children, not ‘my’ children.

As soon as the word ‘my’ is uttered, those who are not mine, are other – different, on the other side. When someone says my country, my people, my party, they are implying loyalty to those groups, and loyalty often leads to division, hostility, and sometimes war, it seems to me. The great spiritual teacher Krishnamurti was once asked how we could stop wars. And he replied that we should not join anything – a political party, a religion, any group, implying that as soon as we are committed to a set of beliefs that commit us to sticking with them, defending that point of view closes our minds to other possibilities and ideas.

‘My’ country right or wrong used to have a fine ring to it… but now that we are a global village and after the shock of 9/11 which contributed to that understanding, we can’t afford to indulge in that mindless patriotism. We now know we are all so interlinked, that when Japan suffers an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster, it affects the ocean, and thus the whole world. When Russia’ s nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl happened, it affected farmers and their sheep as far away as Wales, and poisoned the whole crop of camomile right across Europe for starters…. so it’s getting harder to just be a patriot, now that we are citizens of the world.

‘My people,’ whether it’s a Maori elder, or a Catholic priest speaking, refers only to those who can claim to be part of that tribe or religion. The implication always seems to be that the others are less, different, not worth as much as those who are ‘mine’. We only have to look at the despair in the Middle East to see what happens when we belong to a group or a country or a religion.

Israel feels comfortable oppressing people who are not Jewish, and now, like Muslims is discriminating against women, Sunni Muslims despise and exterminate Shia Muslims and vice versa… Kurds or Yazidis, Druze or Maronite, Christians or Ba’hai are in constant danger – whenever anyone belongs to a sect or nationality it exposes them to hate or oppression by those who belong to a different religion, creed or nationality. And I haven’t even mentioned different genders…

And ‘my’ is the word that breaks up families and small communities even in so called peaceful places. Disputes between neighbours over a right- of way which runs over ‘my land’, or the rows about fishing on ‘my river’, are so often caused by that little two- letter pronoun ‘my’, while the word ‘my’ in front of money is often the reason for not sharing with those who have none… and the excuse by giant corporations for exploiting both people and oceans, wildernesses, forests and rivers.

My dog, my children, my family… as soon as we use that description, so often it becomes the unspoken reason for not caring about other children, other dogs, all families.

I sometimes feel that ‘my’ is a word that blocks love… if we thought of our children, our dog, our world, our dying oceans, our disappearing elephants, perhaps we would be able to change our mind set and work with each other to save lives, share happiness, and even save our world from the sixth great extinction which scientists fear is imminent.

The Pope’s call to act to rescue our planet from impending disaster actually means giving up the word ‘my’ and beginning to think in terms of us and our. It could even mean giving up loyalty to deeply held beliefs, letting go our loyalties to race or colour or creed, and opening our hearts to other minds and other ideas. We might even discover that no-one is right, no-one is wrong, that we are all coming Buddhas, and that that little two -letter word ‘my’ was irrelevant. That would be a world on track towards a great leap in consciousness…’we are the world’…

Food for threadbare gourmets

This is the first recipe I shared in my first blog back in 2012. There may be readers who would like it now, so here it is, comfort food with just three ingredients – a simple potato hotpot:
Peel and slice some potatoes, chop some onions, and chop up some bacon – the more you can afford, the better. Make plenty of white sauce, using butter and if you add a little cream, all the better. Then layer the potatoes, onions and bacon in a casserole or oven-proof dish, finishing with a layer of potatoes.

Pour the white sauce over it, letting it seep down through the layers. Cook in a moderate oven for one and a half to two hours, testing to see the potatoes are soft. Eat with some green vegetables or a green salad. Cheap as, delicious, and filling.
Adding anything like cheese utterly spoils the taste… it’s one of those simple things that is perfect without any so-called improvements.

Food for thought

I allow myself to say ‘my’ birthday! A friend sent me this prayer for my birthday yesterday.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love
to postpone my dream no longer
but to do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more !
John O’Donohue

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The wilder shores of love

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I’m a sucker for romance, passion, adventure – is there a woman who isn’t? Not the bodice ripper stories of the supermarkets racks but the real thing… the: ’Love is an ever-fixed mark ‘ stuff of life.

I admit I revelled in The Prisoner of Zenda as a teenager, the ‘I did not love thee dear so much, loved I not honour more’, and the red rose delivered once a year to the ravishing queen from her honourable and faithful cavalier, a very English gentleman. And it took me a while to recognise Ashley Wilke’s gutless having his cake and eating it with Melanie and Scarlet, I was so dazzled by his weary elegance and assumption of honour.

But it’s the real thing that hooks me now… the courage to dare and love and think the world well lost in order to follow the heart. So how could I resist Jane Digby? Not her famous descendant, Pamela Digby.

She married the famously un-likeable Randolph Churchill, becoming Winston Churchill’s daughter- in- law, lover of Averill Harriman during the war, mistress of every millionaire, playboy and sex symbol in the post war years… Prince Aly Khan, Marquis de Portago, Fiat heir Gianni Agnelli, Baron Elie de Rothschild, and Stavros Niarchos amongst others. Ed Murrow intended to give up his wife for her, and returned home to fix it, and reneged. She became the fifth wife of impresario Leland Hayward, and finally, when he was eighty-one, snaffled Averill Harriman again, this time in marriage, and became powerful and respectable as US Ambassador to France. No, Pamela Digby’s quest feels like something other than love.

But her beautiful ancestor Jane Digby was something else. Jane was married very young to a man twice her age, who dallied with a servant girl on their honeymoon, and not surprisingly the marriage never took off. Left to her own devices while Lord Ellenborough devoted himself to his political career, she not surprisingly fell in love with a gorgeous playboy, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, who was besotted with her. Jane, young and naive, never thought of hiding her love, and of course they came to grief.

The Prince was withdrawn from London in the interests of his glittering diplomatic career, Ellenborough divorced Jane – a horrendous and tortuous decision which entailed Jane’s actions being dragged through the House of Lords and the House of Commons and her becoming a pariah – and she followed her lover to Paris where she gave birth to a daughter. Schwarzenberg kept her on a string for some years, and Jane was too blinded by love to see it.

Finally she left and went to Munich, where the King Ludwig, a clever intelligent man became a close and loving friend, and an upright but ultimately boring German aristocrat wooed her for some years before she gave in… and then she fell in love with a handsome Greek count. Her husband Baron Karl von Vennigen fought a duel with Count Spiridion Theotsky… and Jane ended by running off with her glamorous Greek. They enjoyed a lotus- eating life in places like Corfu, before ending up at the court in Athens. Von Vennigen never stopped loving the fascinating Jane and wrote to her until he died.

In Athens her Greek husband became unfaithful so Jane took up with a sixty- year old white mustachioed Pallikari bandit chieftan , Cristos Hadji-Petros.
She entered  into mountain life wholeheartedly, dressing like the peasant women of the tribe, and learning to cook, make feta cheese, sleep in the open air on goats-hair blankets, galloping on horseback around the mountains, drinking retsina and making mad, passionate love with the wicked old bandit.

It all fell to pieces when Jane’s maid told her she having trouble fending off the calculating rough brigand who smelt of garlic and too few baths. Jane and her maid disappeared from Athens, Jane now sad and depressed and nearly fifty… and she decided to explore all the ancient cities and historical sites now under the sway of the latest bandits, Isis.

She negotiated a bodyguard to escort her to the glorious ruins of Palmyra. Even back in 1853, tourists were drawn to the dangerous journey to this fabled city, and the Bedouin tribes competed against each other to guard travellers from other tribes who threatened to rob the Europeans. Sheik Medjuel el Mesrab was the Bedouin chief who commanded Jane’s bodyguard, and by the time they had reached Palmyra, he had proposed to Jane and offered to give up his wife.

She didn’t succumb straightaway, and later had to fend off an offer from another determined Arab sheik. Feeling depressed and lonely she continued travelling before returning to Damascus. But Medjuel had kept tracks on her, and as she approached Damascus he rode out to meet her, with an Arab mare as a gift of welcome, and his wife already sent back to her people with her dowry.

They fell deeply in love and married. Jane spent the last twenty five years of her life living partly in Damascus and partly in the desert whenever her husband had to take his flocks and people to different areas of grazing, or to fight other tribes. Jane rode with him into battle. She was a brilliant horsewoman and broke in many of Medjuel’s Arab thoroughbreds, she spoke nine languages, was a witty conversationalist and a talented artist. Her exquisite manners, gentleness, beauty and charm won over both the reluctant tribe and the disapproving local community.

Jane threw herself into the life of the Bedouins when they camped in the desert, and dyed her long fair hair and eyebrows black as the Arabs felt that fair hair attracted the Evil Eye. She plaited her hair in two long braids which reached to her feet and wore the clothes of the Bedouin women, learning to milk camels, prepare her husband’s food, and stand and wait on him, and wash his hands and hair, face and feet. Medjuel on the other hand, impressed everyone who met him with his refinement, intelligence, and elegance.

In her home in Damascus she had a huge menagerie of creatures and created one of the most famous gardens in a city famous for its gardens. She and Medjuel had a passionate and tempestuous relationship which never lost its intensity in over twenty five years. Nearing seventy four, she wrote in her diary: “it is now a month and twenty days since Medjuel last slept with me. What can be the reason?“ Though younger than Jane, Medjuel was feeling his age by now, and this year stayed close to his wife instead of joining his tribe. Not long after writing these words, she faded away after an attack of dysentery, Medjuel by her side.

The Sheik was persuaded to ride in a closed black carriage to her funeral, until suddenly overcome by grief and needing open space he bolted from the carriage and fled in the opposite direction to the cortege. Everyone was shocked by this breach of funeral etiquette. But as the clergyman was intoning: ‘ashes to ashes’, Medjuel galloped up on his wife’s favourite black Arabian mare. He sat motionless staring down into the grave and no-one moved or spoke. Moments passed as he sat there in anguish and then the Bedouin Chief rode away.

Jane would have loved her husband’s farewell. He returned to the grave once more. He brought a rough slab of Mazoni rock, carved to fit over the base of Jane’s tomb. He carved her name: Madame Digby el Mezrab on it in Arabic and disappeared into the desert.

A missionary who knew her well described her life as: ‘wild, passionate and reckless’, while her devoted friend, the explorer Sir Richard Burton said that her ‘life’s poetry never sank to prose’. Her life is an inspiration to a romantic. By following her heart she finally found the one person in the world, in Truman Capote’s touching words in The Grass Harp:’ … from whom nothing is held back…’ and: ‘to whom everything can be said’.

And those words, it seems to me, are the definition of true love. They mean perfect trust. No co-dependency, neediness or misunderstandings through lack of communication. But trust takes courage, and maybe to paraphrase the words of that haunting song ‘The Rose’, true love is only for the brave … like Jane Digby el Mesrab.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes I just want a plate of roast vegetables, but also feel I must need some protein. I kid myself that this pea-nut sauce will fill the gap. It’s quite unlike the traditional pea-nut sauce, and was dreamed up in front of me by a chef at a demonstration.
In a stick blender, I spoon a cup or more of pea-nut butter, the skin thinly peeled from a lemon, plus the juice, a good teaspoon or more to taste of dried thyme, a couple of garlic cloves, a tea-spoon of fish sauce, a dessert-spoon or more to taste of brown sugar, plenty of salt and black pepper, and a cup or more of olive oil. Just whizz everything together. And add more olive oil if you need it. It lasts for plenty of time in the fridge, and is good with baked or sauted vegetables for a light meal, and also with baked salmon.

 

Food for Thought

He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch
To win or lose it all…
From ‘My dear and only love’, John Graham, Marquis of Montrose

 

Lesley Blanch who died this year at 103 wrote The Wilder Shores of Love

 

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These I have loved

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Preparing for the next adventure in my life, I look around the house wondering what to keep and what to let go, and I realise there are some things I cannot be parted from. They own me and I am their custodian.

There’s the pair of wooden corkscrew candlesticks which belonged to my grandmother. They sat on her kitchen mantelpiece above the black range, and since they came into my hands, I have carted them around the world. She was a feisty little red- haired late Victorian lady who converted to the Salvation Army as a girl and went to the East End of London to help save souls and sell the Army’s newspaper, ‘The War Cry’ outside pubs at closing time – and got pelted with rotten fruit for her pains. Another of the stories she told me was about her grandfather, Captain Covell, reputedly the first man to sail a paddle steamer up the Thames in the early years of the nineteenth century, and that when he arrived at the docks he was given the Freedom of the City of London.

She told me how she was asleep with her sister Jessie in her bedroom in a leafy Kent town the night Woolwich Arsenal blew up in 1907. The sky was red, and the bedroom windows and the glass in her dressing table shattered.
“We fell on our knees, and prayed” she told me, “we thought the end of the world had come.” At seven I had never imagined the world could come to an end and was haunted by this terrifying possibility for the rest of my childhood (neither did I know what Woolwich Arsenal was). She always referred to World War One as ‘The Great War’ … her husband had fought in it and her only brother died in it.

She was a highly intelligent woman, who typically for her period in history, had no outlet for her talents, and my brother once told me he’d never seen anyone add a column of figures faster; while I, during my childhood, was the beneficiary of her large collection of books, including antique early editions of classics like Pilgrim’s Progress, Foxe’s Martyrs, and Robinson Crusoe (which I was driven to read by the time I was eight, for lack of children’s books). My sister inherited her feisty nature, my brother her piercing intelligence, and I, her bent for the spiritual life which never left her, her love of reading, and the candle sticks.

A treasured brass tray on the pine dresser was hammered out of the top of a shell case by my father’s batman. The batman had etched classic Egyptian figures into the brass, in their classic sideways pose. I don’t know how long they had served together… but my father had been a Desert Rat and escaped from Tobruk, while the alliterative names of his battles rang around my childhood, Sidi Bahrani, and Sidi Rezegh, Bardia and Benghazi… before then he had escaped from France three weeks after Dunkirk, and later, fought his way up Italy before returning to Egypt when the war was over.

I was a baby when he left, and nearly nine when he returned in 1947, to be posted with the Occupation forces to Belsen two months later. My tenth birthday was the first I ever spent with him, and he was so excited that he gave me my presents the night before… a string of pearls and a black fountain pen with a gold nib and clip… the last presents he ever chose for me himself. He died too young to know his grandchildren and great grandchildren, and before I was mature enough to want to know about him and his war, so the brass tray, the one possession of his that I have, is priceless.

The egg-shell china antique coffee set, white, blue and gold, was given to me on my wedding day by my step- grandmother who had also received them on her wedding day, and her book –Testament of Youth – she gave me to read when I was seventeen. In spite of Vera Brittain’s rather priggish voice to me, a child of the forties and fifties, I still dissolved into a puddle of anguished tears as I read it. And I understood from it much about this grandmother, who over a hundred years ago now, had waved her fiancee away, rainbow banners billowing in the north- country breeze, flowers flying, trumpets sounding, drums tapping out a triumphant tattoo as the exuberant young men marched through the village in 1914… never to return.

She was so beautiful that it wasn’t hard for her to find a husband even in a time when there were too few men, and she often reminisced to me about that distant past. She told me about the floating flowered tulle tea gown she wore to a garden party in Shrewsbury in the early thirties when she met the Prince of Wales; of the doctor who set eyes on her, and wanted to marry her, only to see her pushing her pram a few days later… the time her long frilly white petticoat suddenly fell to the pavement from under her long skirt, and how she simply stepped out of it and walked away…. memories that will disappear like gossamer shreds of tulle too, when I no longer remember them.

I will keep the tiny etching of Ripon Cathedral for a grandchild – it had once belonged his other great-grandfather, a padre who was badly wounded on a beach at D-Day. On the back in faded italic handwriting is its story. It says that when the North Transept of Ripon Cathedral was re-roofed in 1842, the wood from the original roof was used to frame this picture. The Cathedral, a work in progress on the site of three former buildings, was finally roofed in 1156. It takes up to a hundred and fifty years before an oak is ready to use in construction, so the mature oak used for the roof, and now framing the picture, must have been growing well before 1066, that dividing line in English history. So the wood in this frame is over a thousand years old.

Which makes me think of the span of years that my memories stretch across. Our formidable black-garbed great-grandmother was in her nineties when I met her as a four- year- old in 1942, which means that she was born just before the 1850’s, a hundred and sixty-five years ago now. By the time my eldest grandchild is in his eighties, sixty years from now, the span of generations will be two hundred and twenty five years… not long in the history of the world, but the span of two lifetimes have seen the world move from the age of steam, crinoline and candle-light, to this blog – one of over eighty million on the internet – and to travel in space among the stars… so where will the world be at the end of that third life-time in 2075?

These facts and figures make me feel that my sentimental memories and guardianship of these little possessions may not have any significance at all. L.P. Hartley wrote: ‘The past is a foreign country’, and for today’s generations this may be only too true. So I now feel that though I‘ll continue to cherish these objects linked to other proud and passionate lives – lives lived through some of the most turbulent times in the history of the world – in the future, these things may not be so precious to anyone else
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To a generation who live in the present, preserving the moment in selfies and on Facebook, tweeting and twittering and texting, my past, our ancestors, and the last century must seem as far away as the days of the dinosaurs… ah well, I tell myself, ‘ sic transit gloria mundi ‘- ‘ So passes away earthly glory…

Food for threadbare gourmets
On a cold wet winter’s day when I read of summer blossoming in blogs all over the northern hemisphere, I think of this salad, which is good in any season in which you can find fresh fennel and hard green apples – preferably grannie smiths.
I grind 75 gms of walnuts in the grinder which I use for parmesan cheese, and stir them into a quarter of a cup of good quality mayonnaise, quarter of a cup of plain yogurt and the zest and juice of a lemon to taste. Slice two grannie smiths and a large fennel bulb into thin matchsticks, and then mix with the walnut mixture. A few chopped fennel leaves are good too. If you like ham, it’s good with it, but I just eat it with a hard-boiled egg and crusty rolls for a refreshing lunch.

Food for thought
These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood …
The first lines from Rupert Brooke’s nostalgic poem The Great Lover

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When the cows come home

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The cows were lined up by the fence as I drove to a halt by the stop sign and orange traffic cones. Lovely chunky brown and white ones with thick white curls on their foreheads.

They were curious, and interested… this small hiccup on the road was a break in the monotony of their lives in a field hemmed in by fences. Back in the mists of time they would have roamed free, grazing, not just on boring green grass, but also on a variety of herbs and other grasses they were drawn to in order to maintain their good health. They reminded me of when I was staying with my best friend in the Forest of Dean in England. We were crossing a field to get to the Forest for a long walk.

The notes of a flute floated across the meadow, and then we saw a ring of cows –in fact every cow in the vicinity – gathered around the tree from whence came the music. Black Friesians. A man was sitting in the tree playing to them… a delicious eccentric – and after an intriguing exchange – my friend was mystified by the idea of a man playing music to cows, we carried on down to the Forest. I was fascinated… the cows confirmed all I had ever wondered about them. They were so curious and fascinated themselves, they couldn’t tear themselves away from the tree and the new sounds.

The definition of curiosity is a desire to learn and acquire knowledge… and how often do we credit cows with these qualities? When we want to describe someone disparagingly, who is slow, we call them bovine, and the dictionary definition of this word is being ‘slow and un-intelligent like cows and cattle.’

I think of the Welsh farmer who was gored by his bull, and fell to the ground unconscious, his leg broken. When he recovered consciousness, all his cows were spaced in a ring around him, protecting him from further attacks. As he began to drag himself to the gate at the edge of the field, his cows moved with him, keeping him safe. Faced with an emergency they had never encountered before, they solved it efficiently and cooperatively. What an example of goodness, intelligence, and can I say it – humanity? We credit mankind with humanity as though it was something unique to mankind… though sometimes one wonders what has happened to humanity in today’s world.

The dictionary defines humanity as having the qualities of compassion, brotherly love, kindness, understanding, consideration, mercy, generosity, sympathy, goodness… I find that all these words could be applied to the actions of these cows in protecting their owner… plus two more, intelligence and imagination.

In New Zealand we have an annual country custom called calf club day. Every year a child on a farm is given a lamb or a calf to nurture and train, and on calf club day they all bring their pet lamb or calf to school, and parade them and they are judged – most obedient, prettiest etc. When I was asked to judge, I couldn’t and gave everyone a ribbon … and then the next day, life is turned on its head for these gently reared and nurtured creatures.

The lambs go off to market in a trailer to be sold and eaten, the calves get turned out into the field with all the others. Once as we walked past a herd of jerseys grazing peacefully, admiring their long lashes and silky coats, one of them broke away from the herd, and ran towards us. As we talked to her and stroked her, we sighed – someone’s pet calf we murmured.

And so, lonely, missing her childhood companion, she was doomed to the monotony and heartbreak of a cow’s life – doomed to breed and produce a calf every year, doomed to have it torn away from her within a few hours or days, doomed to give up her milk and live her life in boredom and sadness. The sound of a cow bellowing in anguish when her calf has been taken from her, and the pitiful cries of the calves as they get used to being parted are part of the nightmare of country life.

Not to mention the terrified male /bobby calves lying in crates by the farm gate waiting to be gathered up in a cattle truck and after long hours of being thrown around the truck, ending up at the meatworks… I haven’t been able to eat anything with gelatine ever since I discovered how we get it… much of it derived from the skin and bones of calves… and hidden even in products like yogurt to bulk it up and make it creamier.

This is the reality of modern farming many will say, and so it is…. and yet organic farmers show how it can be done differently, keeping calves with their mothers, and still getting milk from the cows. Remembering that cows are not milking machines, but intelligent, loving consciousnesses could make a difference perhaps to the lives of millions of creatures who share this planet with us… and who as sentient beings, need the same protection and consideration that all life deserves.

My heart stopped at the pictures the other day of a woman matador in the South of France, holding aloft in gleeful triumph the ears of the magnificent bull she had just killed in torment, its blood running down her hands. Killed in torment to give so-called humanity some fun…

Yes, creatures have a different consciousness to human beings, and yet also share many of the same emotions… but since we have established – in the words of the Bible – ‘dominion over all creatures’ so we also have the responsibility to make sure that life for the creatures who give us life, is not also hell on earth.

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals’ wrote the great writer on the natural world, Henry Beston… ‘Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through his own knowledge… and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves.

‘And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow travellers of the splendour and the travail of the earth.’

Many years ago a group was formed in Wales, calling itself Women for Life on Earth… I like to think that we could all be un-official members of this wonderful sounding circle of goodness.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes I just need a quick and easy something to give guests at morning coffee time, or to cheer up a soup meal. These cheese muffins do the trick. I always have grated cheese ready in the deep freeze, so with a heaped cup of grated cheese, and another of self raising flour, I add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper, and mix it all with one egg and three- quarters of a cup of warm milk. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin tins – I use tiny ones- and these take fifteen minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Food for thought

O servant, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.

Sufi poet Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore

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That road less travelled

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The man who wrote ‘What is this life, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’ was a tramp for most of his.
And this was where the inspiration for his lyrical poetry about nature came from. He lived and moved and breathed nature, slept under the stars, lay in long grass, watched the seasons, observed the butterflies and flowers and birds.

And is it just coincidence that the man who wrote: ’Turn but a stone, and start a wing! ‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces that miss the many-splendoured thing’, was also a homeless street sleeper. One who lived beyond the fringes of the well-ordered world of habit and conformity.

Their words have been echoing round my mind in the last few days as I look at my life. Thoreau set me off with his magic words written during his time-out at Walden Pond:

‘There was a time when I could not sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flirted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

‘I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.’

I think we all know these days that we need time for ourselves, but it seems to me that there is something deeper than that in the words and thoughts of these people who would probably have been called drop-outs today. At the end of his book ‘A New Earth’, Eckhart Tolle talks of such people, and says that in other ages they would have been called contemplatives, and he calls them the frequency- holders … ‘here to generate consciousness through the activities of daily life…. they endow the seemingly insignificant with profound meaning.’

He says the task of such people is to be absolutely present in whatever they do. ‘There is consciousness and therefore quality in what they do, even the simplest task…’, and Tolle goes on to say that since we are all connected, ‘they affect the world much more deeply than is visible on the surface of their lives’…

Depending on where we are on the spectrum of consciousness ourselves, depends on whether we accept this concept and deem these people valuable. For me, part of the significance of the outsiders and their lives on the far side of accepted modes of being, is that they had the courage to live their lives the way they wanted.
Most people, including me, struggle along doing what we think is expected of us. We accept and fulfil roles, which may range from our occupations – nurse, teacher, lawyer, sales rep, or our place in family and society – wife, husband, mother, brother, sister, daughter – or a persona we project – dutiful daughter, conscientious employee, playful friend, and try to fulfil the expectations of those around us.

Everyone else around us – fulfilling their roles too – expects that like them, we should do our duty, stick to our place in the scheme of things, and above all – not step out of line, rock the boat etc etc…
But to some, there comes a time, when the soul, or higher self or whatever you like to call it – but it is an inward voice – demands to be heard. Ibsen put it so well in ‘The Dolls House’ when he wrote the revolutionary lines:

HELMER: But this is disgraceful. Is this the way you neglect your most sacred duties?
NORA: What do you consider is my most sacred duty?
HELMER: Do I have to tell you that? Isn’t it your duty to your husband and children?
NORA:I have another duty, just as sacred.
HELMER: You can’t have. What duty do you mean?
NORA: My duty to myself.

By recognising her duty to herself and breaking out of her expected roles, Nora cracked open her life and the lives around her. She had found she couldn’t go on playing the part assigned to her by society, custom or duty. Her whole being demanded a greater authenticity from her, whatever it cost.

And it always does cost, because when a person takes this sort of step, it rattles the bars of the cages of those all round him or her. When Jesus said the truth will set you free, he didn’t add the other half, which is that the truth may also make you angry, but even more likely, the truth will probably make others angry too.

“Take what you want and pay for it,” goes the Spanish proverb, and resistance or hostility from others is often the cost of taking that leap into the unknown when a person listens to their inner promptings, and which if denied, makes them unhappy, frustrated, depressed, and feeling that their life is pointless and wasted.

Making a grab for freedom from the concepts of society can trigger many unforeseen consequences, but even in the dark night of the soul which is so often the lot of the person trying to become free and self-actualising, the one thing they can say is that however lonely or isolated they are, they are not a victim, for this is what they have chosen, whatever it costs.

“What price loyalty?” demanded one angry person, and the reply they received was: “I had to be loyal to myself.” As we all know this is a hard choice when all our conditioning is about putting others first…

Maybe Oriah Mountain Dreamer put it best when she wrote those telling lines in The Invitation:
‘I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.‘

Tough words, and like love only ‘for the strong’… but those who choose the fork in the road less travelled can console themselves with the knowledge that they are part of a growing band of brothers, who are all at this time in the world’s turbulent present trying to listen to their inner voice and act on it, whatever it costs. It may mean losing everything but it also means gaining the things that matter – like self-respect and authenticity – and maybe too, discovering those broad margins with that time to stand and stare, and savour those many- splendoured things.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Raw food isn’t really my thing, but I found this recipe for mushroom pate rather delicious. Chop twelve to fifteen baby mushrooms or two really big portobello mushrooms, and marinate them in two tablespoons of olive oil and the same of tamari soya sauce, for half an hour. Put half a cup of walnuts in a food processor and pulse until slightly broken down, and add the mushrooms and a clove of garlic. Pulse until the mixture is slightly chunky and add salt and black pepper to taste. It’s good on crackers with a glass of wine, or sherry…

Food for thought

Evolution takes place inside. It isn’t a matter of pilgrimages, observances, and obeying religious rules. No code of conduct can alter the fact that every mind is on a soul journey. Dipak Chopra

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Could this experiment change the world?

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Andrea was a Dutch woman who had lived through the German occupation of Holland. Her brother hid in a wardrobe in her bedroom for the whole five years of the war to avoid being carted off as slave labour to Germany. When there were searches by Nazi soldiers she had to fend them off to save her brother.

When the war was over, after a stint as a glamorous air hostess with KLM, she emigrated to this country to put the miserable years of her adolescence and then a failed marriage behind her. Her degree in social science was a passport to nowhere in the early sixties in New Zealand. The only work she could find here was teaching; and the only teaching domestic science, which was called “manual”- which meant cookery and needlework.

Her resourcefulness raised these two domestic chores to an art form. The children didn’t actually learn the boring basics of scones, custard and rock buns like most other unlucky students back then. No, they learned to cook with garlic and herbs and spices, unheard of in the days when the only use for olive oil was for curing earache with a few drops on a dab of cotton wool, and garlic was a wild flower…

Her manual classroom became a mecca for school inspectors when Andrea transformed it with the glorious colours and designs the children created in sewing, and was a source of chagrin to the resident art teacher. Andrea taught both boys and girls, and I still have one of the vivid embroidered hangings they made.

To keep the whole class occupied while she taught them one by one to thread the sewing machine, she tossed a selection of brilliantly coloured wools on the floor, with some square pieces of hessian, and told them to make shapes with the colours and embroider them onto the squares. These wonderful squares still vibrate with colour and spontaneity. Andrea then sewed all the squares onto large sheets of hessian, and had these amazing techni-coloured wall-hangings draped across the drab manual classroom walls.

She taught the children how to thread a sewing machine by giving each step of the process a phrase about an animal – “Catch the fish, watch the bird……” Twenty years later, at the testing station for a warrant of fitness for her car, a tousled head popped up out of the inspection pit beneath the car, and said delightedly: “It’s Mrs Winter, isn’t it ? ” and then proceeded to recite his sewing lesson – “Catch the fish, watch the bird… !”.

These sewing classes were heaven on earth for one little Indian boy, who seemed to have been born as a master tailor. One day, he made a wonderful waistcoat, but there was only enough material for the edges to meet, and he and Andrea were puzzled as to how to fasten it. At the next lesson he told her he had had a dream and had solved the problem.

He then solemnly created frogging and bobbles to loop across and fasten it. When Andrea told this story in the staffroom, everyone was amazed. This child had long since been written off as so dumb that everyone else had given up on him. He sat in class, one of the silent, forgotten army of apparent no-hopers.

So, one by one, each teacher crept into the manual class to silently observe this child, and was blown away by his vivacity and calm confidence, and how all the other children deferred to the “master” of this skill. It changed his life.

I thought of Andrea and her little master tailor who moved from miserable anonymity to confident authority when I read the story of Japanese scientist Professor Masaru Emoto. He’s already famous for his discoveries about water and how it absorbs and reflects both good and negative energies. His latest experiment was with rice.

He put a handful of rice grains into three glass beakers and covered them with water. Placing them on a table, he visited them every day for a month. The first glass he thanked every day. The middle glass he ignored. The third glass he insulted every day.

At the end of the month the rice in the first glass was fermenting gently and emitting a sweet smell. The insulted rice had mouldy patches and didn’t look very good. The ignored rice in the middle glass had rotted and turned black.

What a metaphor for how we treat people, and how we can actually change the world by appreciating everyone. Could we turn around the brutality and pain that rages in places like the Middle East, in ghettoes all around the world, in zoos and in jails if we all stopped judging people and creatures in our minds, stopped writing them off, or ignoring them?

Andrea changed one little boy’s life by acknowledging and thereby encouraging him, and giving him self- respect, and this changed everyone else’s minds about him. What could we do for the sulky hurt person on welfare who feels judged, for the dunce at the bottom of the class who has no-one to encourage him and root for him, for the pining desolate animals in zoos far away from their natural habitat and their fellow creatures. What could we do to heal the ignored and insulted planet by acknowledging and thanking it every day?

If we all sent a different energy to thugs and terrorists of any creed or colour, suspending judgement, anger, condemnation or horror at their actions, could we change our world and help to spare their victims? If parents found new ways of talking to their children and encouraging them instead of criticising them; if they treated their children with the same respect and courtesy as their friends, so that children didn’t lapse into desperate negative attention seeking, could we have a world of happy loving children growing into loving adults?

Utopia has been a dream for centuries, but maybe this simple experiment, showing us that words can make a difference, that the right words can create miracles, and that the wrong words can destroy, could be the breakthrough. This simple experiment shows us that with our words and our feelings we can create the energy of life or death, of happiness or misery: that we can all be responsible for our own world, and we could each make a world in which only goodness and mercy exist and where only love prevails.

It’s like the prayer that Jesus taught – not something to publically parade and talk about, but something we can do privately for the world, and no-one need ever know… Could we change our world? I’m going to have a go… maybe you will too – in private…as I said to a friend – think ‘rice’.

The video on youtube is worth watching https://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/can-thoughts-affect-the-environment-masaru-emotos-rice-experiment-120/

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sticking with no sugar, and loving sweet things, I found this cake was delicious. Take two cups of chopped baking dates and gently boil them in half a cup of water… adding more water if they get too dry… they need to be moist and soft. Stir or mash to a mush.
Put them in a bowl and stir in half a cup of oil – I used light olive as I’m suspicious of some other manufactured oils ( the recipe said to use melted butter, but I wanted a dairy free zone too). Grate a courgette, a carrot and 200grams of sweet potato/orange kumara. Stir them all into the date mixture.
Then add four beaten eggs, grated zest of two lemons, three teaspoons of mixed spice, 200 grms of almond meal, a 100 grms of self rising flour, either gluten free or ordinaire, a teasp of baking powder and quarter of a teasp of salt.
Mix everything together with a slotted metal spoon and tip into a prepared greased and lined cake tin. Bake for an hour in 180 degree oven. If it starts to brown, cover the top with tin foil. Leave in the tin for ten minutes before turning out. (I used a loaf tin)
The recipe suggested icing of cream cheese, zest of 2 lemons, two tablsp of lemon juice and three or four tablesp of maple syrup.
Sounds delicious but I decided not to despoil the sugar free zone, contenting myself with a little sprinkling of sugar on top of the cake before it went in the oven just to make it shiny and sweet.
It’s good while still warm and keeps well wrapped in foil in the fridge for several days. I sometimes had a slice spread with butter too.

 

Food for Thought

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, food, great days, happiness, Japan, life and death, love, peace, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life