Other Men’s Flowers

On my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend sent me an elegant doorstop with a note saying she hoped this would not prevent her coming through my door again. When I wrote back I included the words of an invocation my nine year old son had learned, and used to recite when we sometimes had family prayers. Since we were attending the silent Quaker meeting at the time, I worried that the children would have no words of comfort, poetry and beauty to fall back on when they needed it, like the store of beauty and strength I had inherited from the Anglican prayer book, so we learned some poetry and prayers together. This was my son’s favourite prayer: 

Oh God, Make the door of this house wide enough receive all who need human love and fellowship, and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power: make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.


It was written by Bishop Ken, described as a ‘man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity to conscience’. He became a bishop after refusing to allow Nell Gwynne, Charles 11’s mistress to stay in his house when the King was visiting Winchester.When the next bishopric came up, Charles directed that ‘The good little man who refused poor Nell his lodgings’ should be appointed. He became the King’s chaplain, and ministered to him during the long week the King lay on his deathbed … two of my favourite people –  one for his gentleness and goodness, the other for his warm and generous open heartedness, his kindness, and his love of Cavalier King Charles spaniels – I’ve had six of these adorable little dogs.
Bishop Ken’s later career was a chequered one, including imprisonment in the Tower, all his vicissitudes being caused by his refusal to compromise his conscience, no matter what it cost. There aren’t many people like that around – either then or now..
In my early teens when like many another teen, I experienced deep despair, these  words by someone called Frederick Langridge kept me going:’Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars’ , and later, twice as old now, in my late twenties, stranded in a foreign country, with no money, two children and no family, I turned to William the Silent, who fought the Spanish to gain independence for his country, the Netherlands, during the time of Elizabeth 1. He didn’t succeed, and was assassinated by a Spanish supporter. But at the start of every day at the newspaper where I was so poorly paid, I turned to his words written in my pocket diary:
‘One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere’. These grim stoical words gave me the backbone I needed to keep on keeping on.

A few years later, in happier times, life still demanded courage and tenacity and I used a Taoist verse to keep me going. During this time, many people wrote to me or contacted me, as a result of the columns I wrote every week. One particular woman rang with what seemed like a convoluted problem to ask my help, so I referred her to a helping agency. A week or so later she came back, saying she was still up against it, unable to get help. So I sent her in another direction. Again some weeks later she was back, sounding even more desperate, so I suggested her MP as a last resort. But no… no go.

She always rang in the early evening when I was preparing our evening meal, and when I was at my most exhausted coping with CFS, and beginning to feel as desperate as she was by the time she rang again. I also began to feel that perhaps she was the problem, rather than the circumstances as she told them.
So finally I said, I could give you some words which I find helpful when I don’t know what to do, and she leapt at the idea. I gave her these words from the Chinese Tao:
Close your eyes and you will see the truth, Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,
Be gentle and you will need no strength, Be patient and you will achieve all things, Be humble and you will remain entire,

I never heard from her again, so I hoped they did help her as they helped me.

Some of my favourite words have lasted me all my life, like the Sanskrit poem :
‘Look to this day, For it is life, The very life of life. In its brief course lies all The realities and verities of existence……

.For yesterday is but a dream And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, And every tomorrow a vision of hope, Look well, therefore, to this day.


Life being what it is, there are always challenges to be met and overcome, and this was my fate yet again, a few years ago, when I had to decide whether to take a great leap into the unknown, or settle for safety, comfort, and an easy conventional life.
I fell back on James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, another of my favourite people and his lines:

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

Having put my fate unto the touch, I find I’ve won it all, and learned yet again, that when one trusts to life, and steps into the unknown, the Unknown supports the adventure…
And now, seven years later, living in the bubble of joy, peace and happiness which resulted from taking that momentous step, ( reckless, some called it ) I don’t really need words of steel or beauty or comfort any more, but nevertheless love to savour them when they come my way.


Kahlil Gibran is famous for his book ‘The Prophet’, one of the most widely read books in the world, but these words of the Lebanese poet come from his other writings. They came to me the other night as I read a book on Lebanon –  that tragic place where descendants of ancient Phoenicians still live amongst the descendants of so many other later civilisations.
Gibran wrote:
Remember, my brother,
That the coin which you drop into The withered hand stretching towards You is the only golden chain that Binds your heart to the Loving heart of God.


Words like these, that connect me to the beating heart of the world, are precious, and as I look back at these verses and poems and prayers that have sustained me, they remind me of a quotation from Montaigne. One of my favorite anthologies of poetry is WW2 hero, Field Marshal Lord Wavell’s book, called ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. It’s a thick book, and contains every poem he had loved, and could recite… a humbling thought that he knew every word of this thick book by heart. He begins by quoting Montaigne, the very loveable French philosopher:’I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own’, said Montaigne.   And that is true of this entry of mine into the logbook of humankind’s experiences.

Montaigne’s work is ‘noted for its merging of casual anecdote and autobiography with intellectual insight’, and as in the case of so many great men and great writers, as well as others as obscure as myself. has influenced and encouraged writers to be true to themselves. That his influence  is still so potent, even today, nearly five hundred years later, is proof of the power of words to strengthen, inspire, comfort, and educate, to open the heart,  broaden the mind and inspire the spirit.


The words that I hope will accompany on my next journey were written by a Roman who no-one is quite sure whether he was Christian or pagan, but his words can work for anyone who believes in a First Cause, or Divine Source, be they Pagan, Hindu, Christian or Muslim: The last three lines of Boethius’s  invocation are:

” To see Thee is the End and the Beginning. Thou carriest me and Thou didst go before. Thou art the Journey and the Journey’s end.


I don’t plan to rest in peace, I shall be journeying and adventuring into new realms of light and love and beauty…’ Light and more light,’ Goethe is reputed to have said as he died – more poetic words to take me with me into the next worlds…. 

PS Though the poetry was written as poetry on the original copy, WordPress, in spite of all my efforts has destroyed the lines and spacing… alas… and with their changed format, I can find no way of adding an illustration… I’m too technically challenged to adjust to their constant tweaking of the format…

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I had to take an offering to the AGM of our community on this remote forest estate where I live, and didn’t have the energy to bake a cake. Along with the kedgeree that I’ve posted before, I took an old favourite of my children’s, simple, easy and didn’t need baking.
 I slowly melted 200 grams of dark chocolate with 75 grams of butter, and three good tablespoons of golden syrup. When this is all melted, stir in as many cornflakes as will absorb the mixture. Pile into individual paper cake cases, and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Even adults devour these chocolate  indulgences.


Food for Thought

Nelson Mandela said ” Our world is not divided by Race, Colour, Gender or Religion. Our world is divided into WISE People and FOOLS.. and Fools DIVIDE themselves by Race, Colour, Gender and Religion”

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Filed under beauty, cookery/recipes, flowers, history, life and death, love, poetry, spiritual, Uncategorized

Where is the future taking us?

Homeless in Hull! That was our fate, on my father’s return from his military duties with the Occupation Forces at the former Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1948. In bombed and blitzed Britain, houses were in short supply, and along with many other homeless army families, we were parked in a former army camp which had housed Canadians during the war.


We had half a Nissan hut each, un-insulated, and freezing in winter, hot and stuffy in summer. We ate in a communal dining room  a hundred yards away. Husbands and fathers were stationed at their new postings, often a long train journey away, and would visit at weekends when they could. We were miles away from shops and schools, and just had to eke out an existence until the distant father could find a rented house, or be granted an army quarter. I felt so bleak in the midst of all this lack of beauty, comfort, convenience, that I jammed my tennis racquet between my bed and the wall, spread a lace handkerchief over the strings, and put a small glass paste jar on the makeshift table and arranged daisies and buttercups in it. A small sop to my ten year old sanity.


These memories came back to me, when I read about riots and protests at the various army camps in the UK where refugees had been sent while they were processed. I thought of how they had come, often at great risk to themselves and their families, from far distant countries, from Afghanistan, and Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Africa. They had been convinced by television, film, social media and many other avenues of information that Europe, and especially Britain, was a promised land. They too wanted good housing, generous allowances, opportunities for education, and freedom from so many thing like war, violence, oppression, poverty,  famine, terrorism. They wanted to feel safe.

But many of them don’t seem to realise that all these things have been achieved in western culture by the hard work and commitment of generations of past Europeans who fought and struggled themselves for freedom of speech, freedom from poverty, for free education and health care. So many immigrants don’t seem to realise that the original inhabitants of the countries they want to settle in are still paying for the privileges won by western culture, and that westerners are heavily taxed and still work long hours, often for little pay, to achieve a decent way of life. And now they are forced to pay for all the people who arrive uninvited on their shores… I notice the first thing that immigrants receive is warm clothing and in hot climates, bottles of water. Their physical needs seem to be taken care of straight away, just as they had probably hoped.

But someone has to pay for everything that is handed out free to immigrants, and many arrivals don’t seem to realise what a high price this has meant to the countries they arrive in. The cost to host countries has often not been counted. Sweden which was once a beacon to all countries, a haven of peace, democracy, plenty, equality, generous social services and a relaxed society, has now been ravaged by riots and rape and there are no-go places in their cities, as in many English cities, where native Swedes or Britons do not now dare to venture. A quick glance through the English tabloids, shows pictures of bearded immigrants who have molested women in their surgeries or during operations, groomed vulnerable teenagers, raped women, set up scams to defraud both charities and government agencies, have initiated gang fights and knifings, and disrupted normal activities with angry demonstrations over the politics of the countries they have come from.


These things are not reported in the ‘good’ newspapers; they are considered racist, and drawing attention to the race or religion of criminals is considered typical of prejudice, white privilege, or right wing conservative thinking. ( which is condemned by the intolerance of the left). I could be indicted for ‘hate crime’ in some countries for writing these facts, and the law is about to be changed in my own country to enable thought police to charge anyone who doesn’t think the ‘right’ way. (George Orwell’s predictions are terrifyingly accurate )


People can lose their jobs or find themselves cancelled when labelled as racist (whether or not they are), or prejudiced against different sexes, or religions. Yet as a Christian in a Christian country you may not wear a cross on a chain, though you may wear a hijab or a turban.


In his fascinating book ‘Cosmos and Psyche’, Richard Tarnas suggests that western man lost his way during the Enlightenment in Europe, when reason divorced mankind from the numinous, and from his connection with the intelligent world and universe, replacing that connection with a mechanistic view of a soul-less random universe. But the Enlightenment never reached the many cultures who are now invading Europe, and they are just as cut off from the intelligent universe, and the world around us.

These cultures from other parts of the globe often don’t have respect for animals or the ecology or with the living world. Many of them have no respect for women and children either, so that while western society is still evolving from sexist attitudes, much worse customs in the shape of  ‘honour killings”, female genital mutilation, sharia law  and repressive attitudes to women and their clothing are now taking hold in the once comparatively civilised societies of the west.


I have lived long enough to be able to look back on days when riots and protests were rare, not commonplace; when noise was not part of our life, with the only outside source of noise being the wireless, which people didn’t take to the beach. or play loudly all night or in their cars as they boom down the road. I can look back on days when littering was unheard of, and a real no-no;  when people may have been more narrow minded, but when they were also polite and courteous to each other. I can remember when I could walk down any street anywhere as a child or adult, and feel safe.
I didn’t grow up, as my grandchildren have done, with the threat of climate change or terrorism or any of the other threats to society and to everyone’s peace of mind. Neither did I grow up to criticise my older family members and their views on life, which is the fate of many older people now, who walk on eggshells around their offspring, for fear of being ‘called out’ for outdated attitudes.


These are strange and apocalyptic times. There is no stopping the human tide of peoples who want a piece of the peace and plenty and prosperity of Europe. But perhaps they have to make some compromises in order to preserve that way of life. It is ironic that so called liberals have castigated and condemned the past, decrying the evils of colonialism, while ignoring the hospitals and schools, railways and roads, law and order that colonialism brought to so many corners of the globe; while at the same time too, so many people in deprived places around the world, want to be part of the very culture and society that western protesters of all kinds and colours and beliefs sneer at. Yet until much maligned colonialism arrived, tribes in Africa, for example, faced the same poverty and oppression, murder and mayhem from their own people, that so many refugees are fleeing now.


With so many challenges facing our societies, including the constant warfare, power struggles and tensions between tribes and states and governments, it would be easy to feel powerless to bring about change.. But there are still signs of hope in our world.
If we didn’t have hope, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by what is happening in the outside world. But as Gandalf replied when Frodo said he wished such dreadful things hadn’t happened in his time:
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also said:  ” It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps darkness at bay. Simple acts of love and kindness” .

Such small green shoots of love and kindness are what can give us all hope, like the work of industrial engineer Shubhendu Sharma.  He was working at Toyota in India when he met Japanese forest expert Akira Miyawaki, who came to plant a forest at the factory, using a methodology he’d developed to make a forest grow ten times faster than normal. Fascinated, Sharma worked with Miyawaki, and grew his first successful forest on a small plot behind his house.

Today, his company promotes a method for seeding dense, fast-growing, native forests in barren lands, and Shubhendu is now using  his car-manufacturing acumen to create a system allowing a multilayer forest of 300 trees to grow on an area as small as the parking spaces of six cars – for less than the price of a cell phone. He’s helped to grow forests at homes, schools and factories, something which we can all do on any scrap of land. Forests may save our lives and the planet.

Another green shoot of hope that the world is changing for good, and not always for worse, are the Parliamentary bills Boris Johnson’s government is bringing in, to improve the lot of animals, banning live animal exports or the importing of that cruel delicacy pate de foie gras ( geese force-fed until their livers are diseased), a ban on keeping monkeys and all primates as pets, and a raft of other animal friendly measures. These decisions recognise that animals have feelings and emotions, a view discredited by Descartes several hundred years ago – and which thus validated cruel experimentation on, and the exploitation of animals .

In this country there’s growing recognition of the need for humanity in farming, to the extent of experimenting with phasing out animals for meat, and creating tasty meat substitutes which don’t involve animals at all. Researchers in Denmark have created a way to replace plastic used in delivery food with grass fibres, which they say is ‘100 biodegradable.’   This project aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions hugely, as well as the use of plastic in supermarkets, since according to a statement from Aarhus University, more than 10,000 tons of packaging for take-away food are used each year in Denmark alone.

And when the pendulum swings back, and the excesses of the BLM movement, militant gender campaigns and woke cancelling have diminished, we will all be more tolerant and kinder, as these movements subconsciously influence our thinking to become more sensitive and more aware. The new vocabulary of wokeness, the definitions of binary and cis-gender, and all the other words with charged meanings will then no longer be used to bully the unwoke. (like me)

Events, movements, history, patterns of thought are all in a state of fluidity and flux. Facts and situations we once thought were permanent turn out to have different meanings for different people. The future has never looked more opaque, and the choices that face mankind have never been so urgent and so life-threatening. And yet as we look around us in our own little worlds, we can see small, simple good things, the smile from a stranger, the greeting from another, the warmth of a receptionist, the concern of a health worker, the dedication of so many people in so many ways, from the cheerful capable ambulance driver, to the expertise of the woman who cooks my fish and chips, the decency of the supermarket check-out ladies, and the friendliness of road workers holding up the stop/go signs.

These small human inter-actions are what in the end dwarf the huge problems that face our generations. We know that we are living on the cusp of huge changes in the history of the human race. We know that we are at a turning point in the long years of life on our planet. And we know we can’t roll back climate change and poverty and terrorism and all the other challenges, as we all long to.

But we can create our own world of goodness and human connection. The human connection is what in the end sustains us, and always will, whatever lies ahead. As we all take this unavoidable evolutionary leap into the void of the future, we have each other.

And as the poet Wordsworth said,” The best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless, unencumbered acts of kindness and of love.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’m always looking for short cuts and small additions to deliciousness these days.

One of the best tips I learned from a  Russian neighbour was about my breakfast pot of coffee. In a pot for one, grind one twist of salt, and three twists of black peppercorns into the coffee. In some indefinable way this improves the depth of taste to the coffee.

I also grind my own coffee beans these days, since I read a chef’s information that coffee manufacturers don’t bother to fish out cockroaches or other foreign bodies from the beans, and just grind everything up together. Ugh!

Another chef has improved my omelettes out of sight. He told us that by cooking the butter until it browns before tipping the egg into the pan, gives the omelette a better taste. And he’s so right, tomato omelettes, my fall back position,  have never tasted so good.

And then there’s the hole in any dish being re-heated in the microwave. By hollowing out a little hole in the centre, the whole dish cooks through evenly and not just the edges.. this works for anything from cauliflower cheese, to cooking onions. Anyone else got some good life saving tips???

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, culture, history

What princes can learn from frogs

The last time I wrote on this subject I was called bitchy by someone I like and admire so I’m treading carefully today. I’m referring to the current soap opera that I follow with fascination – no, not the busty beautiful Armenian family who seem to rivet the States, but a family nearer home (mine!)

The arguments for a republic versus a monarchy are not my domain, but in passing I’d say: do the third of the world’s population who belong to the Commonwealth and accept Elizabeth Windsor as their Queen, really want to swap this benign system for one in which their country is both ruled and represented by a Macron or a Sarkosy, or going further afield, a Berlusconi or a Putin? (I’m sticking resolutely to Europe for these comparisons rather than looking across the Atlantic to another controversial power situation.)


A minor point would be the sheer expense of changing all the millions of letterheads and signs, from the Royal Mail, to Her Majesty’s forces, even to a commission to serve in the army – I still treasure the wording on mine: “To my trusty and well-beloved”..
So I dip my toe very cautiously into the waters of controversy that I’m probably about to stir up as fiercely as they’ve already been muddied. I have both questions which will never be answered, and thoughts which may well be labelled bitchy again!
The world-wide airing of family linen by a woke American TV hostess provoked many of these thoughts, one of which was why didn’t the aggrieved pair who did the shaming and blaming to the whole world, just talk it over with their family?


It’s fascinating to analyse many of the extraordinary statements made, so many of which turned out to be untrue. The first of which was the smiling bombshell dropped, that the happy couple had had a private and secret ceremony three days before their wedding – that splendid ceremonial ritual for which the Royal family and the British taxpayer paid millions.

It felt as though Harry’s wife was implying that the spectacle was just for the peasants, but the real thing was their private ceremony, saying they “called up the Archbishop”, conjuring up a picture of the Primate of all England picking up his cassock and scurrying over to their garden for this touching little ceremony. ‘We have the certificate framed and hung on our wall’, she informed her gullible interviewer.

Well, I’d like to see a picture of this  document in its frame, hanging on a wall in California. The Archbishop, interviewed in an Italian magazine, has said that to have conducted such a misleading ceremony without all the required provisos of witnesses,  certificates, and legal processes would be “to have committed a serious criminal offence”.
So we can all breathe easy, the wedding which millions of people watched with such hope in their hearts Was the real thing, not the sham that Harry’s wife was suggesting. So we were not hood-winked after all. But why did she want to hoodwink us? Did she want us to feel she was too grand to share her vows with the public and family who were paying for it?

Then there was the brushing away of the question from Oprah that perhaps the new arrival had been welcomed into the family, showing a picture of Catherine and her sister taking Meghan to Wimbledon. ‘Things aren’t always how they look’, said Meghan evasively. No wonder she was evasive. That picture had been taken the day after Meghan had turfed forty tennis lovers out of the seats they had paid for, so she could sit with two friends in grand and conspicuous splendour uncontaminated by the great unwashed. She had sent her security men to forbid two other tennis fans from taking pics of her, the only problem being that one, a former Wimbledon player, was taking a selfie with Roger Federer, as was the elderly immigrant of many years attendance at the matches.


The next day, Catherine mounted a rescue operation to try to save Meghan’s face. She roped her sister Pippa in, to make it look like a casual girls afternoon  together, and they sat among the crowd, Catherine and her sister observing the Wimbledon requirements to dress up, while Meghan just wore a casual shirt and skirt.

Similarly at their very last engagement in the UK, the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, when everyone is asked to wear red, white or blue, Harry’s wife ignored the convention, and wore the Kermit green outfit which has since become such a talking point. And strangely all through the service, where the camera focused on the faces of the Royal family listening solemnly and sombrely to the sermon and the service, Meghan is smiling brightly and inappropriately all the way through… why, I wonder?

There hasn’t been much attention paid to one of the reasons Meghan was accused of bullying, but I find it fascinating. Apparently when Harry had a shooting party at Sandringham for his friends, Meghan had ordered red blankets for each of the guests. The staff got the wrong red, according to statements made about bullying. But why Was Meghan doling out red blankets? Was there not enough bedding in the bedrooms at Sandringham where generations of Royal family had slept? Or did she feel that the decor was so fusty or whatever, that she’d improve it with red blankets?  Either way it was a subtle criticism of the Queen’s home, and  disrespect for the generous grandmother who had lent it to her grandson.


And talking of Sandringham, one of the public criticisms of the “family Meghan had never had” in Harry’s words, was that the couple felt  unwelcomed. Yet they turned down invitations to spend Christmas at Sandringham with the whole family, and refused to go to Balmoral for the traditional summer holiday with everyone in the family. Instead, Meghan flew to New York for the weekend to watch her friend Serena play tennis.

The Queen bent every rule she had applied to other engaged members of the family and included Meghan and her mother at traditional family gatherings, including the big Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace for cousins and more distant family members. The public airing of so many petty grievances, imaginary slights, exaggerated claims and outright untruths was a strange decision for a couple who had said they were leaving their duties and their family in order to enjoy privacy in California.

These and many other thoughts filter through my mind as I watch the soap opera which continues to play out. The dignity and sadness of Prince Phillip’s passing is once again being muddied by Sussex decisions – the day after he returned to the US, Harry driving ninety two miles to lunch with an elderly Californian billionaire on his just bereaved grandmother’s birthday, and the re-issuing of the infamous tell- all ‘Finding Freedom’, which will now include the Oprah Winfrey accusations, and all the angst and arrows directed at the Royal family and the British public with which the alienated pair have so freely wounded them.

In a recent blog I used the headline ‘Truth Matters’, and to see how destructive it has been to watch two people give ‘their truth’ in order to have revenge ( what for) or to justify walking away from commitments and responsibilities has been deeply saddening.  The self-serving attempts by privileged adults to undermine the reputations of well meaning people, trying to trash and dis-respect an ancient institution, and bad mouthing a whole country and it’s customs are neither kind, nor compassionate or any of the things this woke couple keep preaching about.

Such ingratitude was all the more surprising from a couple who had enjoyed privileges, palaces, and private jets, couture clothes and continual luxury holidays, while the people they patronisingly lectured about saving the planet, got on with the daily drudgery of earning just enough money to survive. Meghan complained that she was only surviving but not flourishing – yet this is the fate of many others too.

In fact, Prince Harry and his wife are a constant reminder to me how imperfect I am as a human being because they evoke in me such enjoyment of schadenfreude. As so many people have commented, it’s like watching a train crash, but sadly as in any train crash, there’s a lot of damage. Maybe the lesson the terrible two are teaching me is the necessity of integrity, and the value of non-judgement.

And as Marcus Aurelius said nearly two thousand years ago: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine…”

While the pain of Harry and Meghan’s attacks on family and country was unfolding, his ninety-nine year old grandfather died. The world has learned from all his eulogies what a magnificent life he lived, full of good deeds, duty, and devotion to his wife, family and country.

I wrote to a friend in the US:
“Have been feeling rather sad today about the death of Prince Philip, a much maligned man, especially in the nefarious and destructive Netflix episodes. He was a fine man, and I was fascinated to learn that among the two thousand books in his own library, were 650 books on birds, an amazing five hundred on religion, several hundred on horses, and over two hundred poetry books. He was also a talented painter, an interesting, clever and kindly man, very good to Diana, much underrated and un-appreciated… married to the Queen for 73 years, and loyal and faithful, in spite of all the untrue nasty gossip hawked around by Netflix et al. RIP”


And I shared a moment which was so typical of him… my daughter’s godmother, who in her retirement was a guide at St George’s Windsor, had sent my daughter a silver chain and pilgrim medallion struck to mark some historic anniversary.  She wore it to receive her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal from Prince Philip at Government House in Wellington. He immediately noticed her chain and talked to her about it, having recognised it was a St George’s souvenir… how many men, in all that crowd, would have noticed and recognised what one of the teenagers was wearing?

duke.jpg
duke.jpgThe photo of the Duke which I placed here,, of the Duke examining the medallion keeps disappearing on reader’s blogs… no doubt I will understand the arcane ways of WordPress one day.

I met him at a function on their Jubilee tour, he was a gorgeous man, and so relaxed and friendly. I told him I worked from home, and he agreed that it was a great system, saying he too worked above the shop!!!


And I loved this story from my oldest friend, from when we were both twenty. She wrote to me:
“I must admit to quite a few tears, it is so sad, he was an amazing man, now at last the public will find out his true  value.My father took a polo team to Windsor one year, calling themselves ‘Low arrow cottage!’ They were four middle aged men who loved their hunting and their horses and enjoyed their polo, although not that good! They joined the tournament, and  one of their number got injured, Prince Philip strolled over to my father and said , “I see you are a man down, would you like me to play for you?” Which he did, until they got knocked out, how kind  was that !”

You see, Harry and Meghan, as Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets


What no recipe, several readers queried after my last blog! That was some time ago, as my computer collapsed, taking everything with it, and I’m still gathering the lost chords, including my blog, addresses, and all the other blogs I used to read…
However, I have still been eating, and here is a dish I gave to my vegan granddaughter, which I also enjoy.
Take a cup or so of green puys lentils, pour two cups of vegetable stock over them ( I use chicken stock if I’m cooking these for myself ) and start them boiling. Meanwhile, in a tablespoon of good olive oil, saute half an onion, a carrot and a courgette, chopped very small, and add two bay leaves, garlic and thyme to taste. Tip them into the lentils, add some tomato puree or a dollop of soya sauce, and cook till the lentils are soft but not mushy, adding more liquid if necessary. I serve these with salmon, or grilled sausages, and even enjoy them on their own, with a sprinkling of extra olive oil on top… almost calorie -free good protein …

Food for Thought

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. Rose Kennedy

Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Rose’s son

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. Him again.


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Filed under cookery/recipes, kate and pippa middleton, Queen Elizabeth, Royals, Uncategorized

A life-changing accident

I was dragged screaming from the car. No- one realised that the reason I couldn’t lift my leg to get out was because I’d broken my hip.

Once inside the hospital the next ordeal was the battle to save my clothes. Cut off the expensive trousers l’d only been able to afford because they were in a sale? No, no, no… Cut off the top given me by a friend who only gave expensive extravagant beautiful presents? Again no. My newest bra? At this my love exploded,” I’ll buy you fifty bras, to replace it”… the bra went.

After the X-rays, came the two-and-a-half- hour drive in an ambulance over winding country roads which seemed to be pitted with railway level crossings every half mile. Thank heavens for morphine.

In the orthopedic ward, there were five other women – three other feisty intelligent women with a wicked sense of humour. Another was so ill that her three daughters kept a vigil by her bed – three graces – elegant women with long legs, wonderful clothes and an active sense of humour. They wore clothes to gladden the eye – a skirt made of pleats from every shade of red, pink and orange to yellow, a long red sixties dress… The daughter who kept the night vigil made us tea in the night and pulled up our blankets to cover us when we fell asleep. The sixth woman was a gentle sweet soul who was too vague and forgetful to look after herself, and brought us all together in our efforts to protect her.

 In the bed opposite me lay Jane, a kindred spirit, and one who had risen above the tragedy of her terribly handicapped daughter and helped to revolutionise the care of disabled people, including organising a nappy service, taxi services, and getting the law changed in recording the very existence of such children. In the far corner was an older Maori woman typical of so many older women of her race – full of life and fun and stroppiness and dignity, while in the other corner was a quiet, witty and intelligent English woman.

The nurses were gentle, kind, mainly Filipino and Indian girls, while the two male nurses were a gift. One, a tall American engineer, had changed course in mid career and put himself in the power of bossy female charge nurses. His dry sense of humour and calm competence and compassion brought serenity into the ward every time he appeared, while the other young man with the bluest eyes , was intelligent, capable and fun.

“Is there any word in the English language you don’t know?” he asked me after a couple of days. He then instituted a game in which we both presented each other with an arcane word every day which we had to recognise and spell.

When we had all had our operations and split up to go to other hospitals, the Maori woman stood in the doorway surrounded by her daughter and grandchildren and sang a Maori farewell. I replied by singing ‘Auld lang syne’ and everyone in the ward joined in, a beautiful swelling chorus of male and female voices. When we said goodbye to the three graces the eldest said she had always thought hospitals were sad places, but she’d never laughed so much in her life.

Jane, who had had the same operation, and I, repeated the purgatory of the ambulance ride back to our local hospital, but this time it was a journey filled with laughter, as our ambulance driver took on the persona of an airline pilot, and conducted the whole journey as a send-up of a plane flight.

Back at the hospital, Jane and I shared a room decorated in soft celadon green with heavy expensive matching curtains and our own bathroom. There was a legend, that on the door of our room was a notice saying ‘Do not mess with these women’, and our days filled with laughter continued.

When we were able to totter around on walkers, I found that every ward looked out onto flower gardens. Every day I sat in a bower where hundreds of gardenias scented the air, a blue jacaranda tree flowered overhead and birds sang in the sunshine.

The delicious food, we discovered, was cooked by the chef from the local restaurant in town that was a by-word for good food. Each day we ticked our choices off on a form, and the second day  I decided to buck the system. Where it listed sweetener for the porridge I wrote ‘Lots of brown sugar’. To my surprise, lots of brown sugar arrived, so the next day I pushed my luck even further. Where the list said margarine, I wrote ‘lots of butter’. These treats arrived for several days and then the Food Police pounced. ‘Please consult your dietician and health professionals about your diet.’

I groaned and gave up, knowing the days of brown sugar were over. But lo, the next morning porridge and brown sugar arrived for me. I never discovered who had noticed and intervened and sneaked in the magic words on my order, but what a joy to know someone cared! After a week at this happy little hospital, I returned home armed with enough medication and rehabilitation equipment to equip another ward, and settled back, to be visited by teams of helpers, physios and nurses.

While the rest of the world struggles with Covid, all I have to cope with is a broken hip, and the experience was truly life-enhancing. If having an accident was bad timing just before Christmas, the silver lining was the amazing experience of being with so many beautiful people.

I emerged from what could have been an ordeal, with the knowledge instead, that goodness, kindness, courage, and laughter are as much part of our world as all the misery we read of in the media. I had been reminded that these are the things that keep the world turning, not politics and mayhem. Happy memories and gratitude and the knowledge of the goodness of life, are the lasting after- effects of another profound experience with which life has gifted me. In that alternative universe where goodness triumphs, all is well  and all manner of things are well, as Mother Julian reminded us.

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Filed under happiness, humour, kindness intelligence, Uncategorized

Truth does matter

It must be hard for a plainish, dumpy, brown-eyed actress to play the part of a vivacious and witty, beautiful blue-eyed woman, possessed of a tiny waist, lovely legs, and an exquisite complexion. Mind you, this actress has form. She also played the wife of King George V1 in the US film, ‘Hyde Park on the Hudson.’

George VI was portrayed as a good mannered but pompous prat, while his proverbially charming, warm and outgoing wife was played by Colman as a hard, bitter, bitchy snob. This was a Hollywood version of the King and Queen, so hardly surprising that an America film for an American audience would distort the characters of these two decent people. Even the great President Roosevelt, a profound and intelligent man, was portrayed by Bill Murray as a manipulative philanderer, so no surprises there.

Typical of that Queen, who became the Queen Mother, was when she was touring New Zealand in 1966, and at Clyde, the male photographers jostled and hustled seventeen -year- old cadet Eileen Wockner out of the way. Years later, Eileen told me how the Queen Mother noticed, and stopped the proceedings, so Eileen could take her picture in peace, and later posed especially for her, pretending to weigh gold – just the sort of kind and perceptive action which made her beloved throughout her sixty-six years as a Queen.

Such simple acts of perception and sensitivity don’t make it into The Crown. The debate at the moment over the latest version of the Netflix Crown series saddens me. It must appal the people themselves, who are being portrayed in such a cynical bitter light. I was so alienated by the distortions and untruths in the first instalments that I haven’t watched any since.

When I met the Queen, I spoke to an intelligent, witty woman, putting her whole heart into the job she’d been born to. Prince Phillip, her highly intelligent and much maligned partner, was born to the job too – twice as Royal in genealogical terms as the Queen, he was never the self -indulgent, spoiled and immature spouse, dodging Royal duties as portrayed by the screen writers – nor was he a philanderer – another brush with which he was tarred. He likes women, like many men who were brought up by, or surrounded by a bevy of sisters – both of which were his fate, with a truant father and hospitalised mother.

In spite of his distinguished war record in the Royal Navy, he was often derided as ‘Phil the Greek’ by the ignorant and prejudiced. But unlike Prince Harry’s wife, who in spite of the cheering crowds and warmth and enthusiasm with which she was welcomed, still complained of prejudice against her, Prince Philip adopted the dignified royal mantra of never explain and never complain.

He’s also been pilloried for being a rotten father, but this too is untrue even though Prince Charles in his darkest moments has bad-mouthed him. None of his other children have complained of the father who was quoted as saying “It’s no good saying don’t do this or that, you can warn them or say this is the situation you’re in, these are the choices, on balance this is a sensible one. Go and think it over and come back and let me know what you think”… His biographer Basil Boothroyd, who followed him around observing him, said Prince Philip ran family life as a committee and watched the affection between him and his children.

Though the Queen was not a noticeably maternal person with her two elder children, as a more mature mother, and as an experienced monarch, she was able to give her younger children a lot more mothering – as she did too, with Princess Margaret’s children – usually taking them on holiday with her own while their parents were off to the West Indies.

Philip was always a supportive parent to his children – more so with the three younger ones. Prince Charles’s fate, that of many previous eldest Royal sons, was to have anxious conscientious parents trying to groom him for kingship and making mistakes from the best of intentions.

Having invaded the Queen’s private life, and damned her with imaginary mockery and coldness in her response to the tragedy of Aberfan ( one look at the deep grief on the devastated Queen’s face on newsreel is enough to contradict Colman’s hardness) it was inevitable, I suppose, that writer Peter Morgan should have delved into the tragedy of Charles and Diana’s marriage with such salacious relish, given his past excesses.

I walked out of his acclaimed play, then film, ‘The Audience’ about the Queen’s weekly audience with all the prime ministers of her reign. Once again in this un-satisfying pseudo- documentary, he skewed the facts, shifted the truth and caricatured the characters, including the Queen, played by Helen Mirren. Her energy was so heavy and her humour so mocking, her heavy wigs so ugly, that there was almost nothing of the real person in her impersonation of an attractive, witty and intelligent monarch.

Morgan’s portrayal of Princess Anne was puzzling too… while happy to expose her marital skirmishes and relationship with her bodyguard, he didn’t bother to show her in her finest hour, during the kidnap attempt in the Mall, when several people were shot and badly wounded, and she resisted the kidnapper. Her courage and  refusal to panic or show the slightest discomposure as he tried to drag her out of the car – ‘Not bloody likely!’ she exclaimed as she resisted – were a nation’s delight at the time.

 The admiration of the country was won too, by the Queen’s courage and composure when she was shot at six times while leading her Guards down the Mall on horseback, two years after the IRA had also attacked at the end of her birthday parade. Then, they left four dead men, eight dead horses and thirty-one wounded men lying all over the road. (the Queen once called it “the worst day of my life”) And as an ex-army person myself, I also admired her perfect salute unlike the shabby amateurish attempt of Olivia Colman’s. Every recruit is taught how to perform correctly this simple military gesture of respect.

Respect is a quality missing from this script. The tally of distortions, untruths, destructive interpretations and fictional scenes in this series doesn’t just change history into fiction – and it’s a mean-spirited un-enlightening version at that – not just white washing the facts but black painting and tarring them with nonsense and negativity.

But there’s something much more significant.

Before Mel Gibson released his fictional and prejudiced account of Scotland’s history in the film ‘Braveheart’ – a tirade against the English from an American/Australian – relations between Scotland and England had been amicable ever since the Scots request for Union in 1707. Then, the English Parliament had paid off the Scots’ debts in exchange.

After ‘Braveheart’ had been seen and believed in Scotland, the whole relationship was disrupted, with surveys showing that the Scots now believe the English were as perfidious as Gibson had portrayed them. This was when the demand for independence gained the traction which is now pulling the Union apart.

Similarly and sinisterly now, some surveys have shown that more than fifty per cent of watchers in England alone, believe and disapprove of this fictional and derogatory version of how the Royal family live their lives – with pettiness, arrogance, and mean-spiritedness.

 The Netflix Crown series is undermining the respect, regard, affection and approval of the people on whose support the monarchy depends. While Prince Harry and his wife have recently demeaned the dignity of their family, The Crown is successfully and regrettably doing the same thing, with potentially more damaging effects.

Historians may mark the decline and gradual fall of this thousand- year old unifying institution from this moment in time – when a disastrous and destructive work of fiction was delivered into the homes of many people who believe it must be fact. The ethics of blackening people’s characters and inventing questionable behaviour when they are alive and in no position to defend themselves is another matter.

So sadly, this trivial and dishonest Netflix money spinner seems to be yet another nail in the coffin of respect for the past, and for the rituals that bind a community and a country. It is loosening the safeguards against politics, money and power becoming the dominant force in the nation.

 The mayhem the world is watching in the dis- United States of America is a reminder that the monarchy may be a hereditary and imperfect institution, but it also provides stability, and still has a function to play, and services to perform in one of the world’s oldest democracies. Constitutional monarchs can’t interfere in politics, but do perform the duties of a head of state who is above lobbying, campaigning, or manipulating power. So yes, it seems logical to end with ‘Long live the Queen!’

Food for threadbare gourmets

As ‘sumer is icumen in’, in the words of the 13th century English song, I have a glut of tomatoes. I played around with the thought of the big beefsteak tomatoes I ate in France as a child, stuffed with real golden mayonnaise – a true taste of summer.’

So I cut a sliver off the bottoms of my smaller tomatoes so they would sit properly on the plate, and hollowed out the insides, keeping the tops and seeds to use elsewhere.

I mashed blue cheese with some good bought mayonnaise and stuffed some. For others I used real homemade mayonnaise, with  ripe avocados mashed in, and stuffed the third row with simple homemade mayonnaise. With baby spinach leaves and warm sour dough bread and unsalted butter, they made a simple satisfying light supper

Food for Thought

Just a thought in these divided times: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Anonymous

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Filed under army, cookery/recipes, leaders. presidential election, Queen Elizabeth, royalty

Small Happinesses

Small happinesses are the things that keep me going in these tumultuous times. As Thomas Paine so famously wrote as he tried to  bolster the morale of the thirteen American colonies who were about to break away from Britain: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman’.

That was in 1765 … and today it seems that we all, all over the world need our morale boosted as civilisation seems to be struggling with crisis after crisis, which I don’t intend to list… we all know what they are. My way of coping with the outside world is to savour the world near home… it does no good to wring my hands over the tragedies and trials cutting their path through lives in every corner of the globe, it seems. So instead of adding to the pile of pain, I try to revel in the goodness of life.

And there’s so much, from the wonderful electrician in the States, who realised that the house of Gloria, belonging to the old woman whose dangerous light fixture he was repairing, needed a lot more repairs to her dilapidated old house. On Facebook he organised a crew of tradesmen who came along and repaired and rebuilt and improved the lonely old lady’s home. They also befriended her, calling themselves Gloria’s Gladiators, and thus sparked off other communities who now do the same. (I bet Gloria’s Gladiators were both Republicans and Democrats, because goodness, generosity of spirit and kindness don’t recognise politics or boundaries)

Then there’s the new trend of leaving a bunch of flowers on a park bench or in a bus shelter to lift spirits, and for someone to take and enjoy. There’s the old lady who used to walk around our local park refilling with water all the bowls she left under hedges for birds and the chickens who lived there; the woman who began leaving books in a phone box in an English village for people to borrow and enjoy during lockdown, which developed into a place where people left fresh eggs and home grown vegetables, and meals for people who needed them, and notes about services they could offer for free.

There’s the retired fire fighter who sold his house and bought a small country place where he could re-house all the stray cats trapped and due for death in his town, and who now has rescued ducks and dogs and donkeys and pigeons. He works at night in order to support his menagerie. I met him in the hospital ward where I lay – where this big burly man was dancing a light-footed tango to cheer up his sick mother.

Just reading about these committed, not random, acts of kindness lifts my spirits, and then there are other heart lifting small happinesses.

My Albertine rose is blooming, bright pink buds flowering into blowsy pale pink powder puffs- we nursed it through drought and storm and the most dangerous attacks of all, from hungry possums who love its buds. Night after night we draped it in layers of mosquito netting to foil the pests, and now it’s rewarding us with all its beauty.

There’s the small happiness of feeding the wild quails and waiting for the day they bring their tiny fluffy offspring… the pleasure of subsiding tiredly into a well-made bed, the satisfaction of accidentally stirring ginger into asparagus soup instead of garlic from an identical jar, and finding the soup now has an inner warmth that comforts my chest as well as pleasuring my taste buds.

There’s the joy of sitting with friends as we did last night, eating, drinking and laughing under a starry sky, waves of perfume from blossoming manukau trees wafting by, and thinking, oh bliss, more lovely honey for this year… watching the planets and the constellations come out, Mars and Orion the brightest, the light of satellites beating across the dark void, the flashes from an old iridium satellite… and an owl calling nearby. As the sky sparkled with coruscating jewelled pricks of light the words of beauty from Yeats poem crowded into my mind:

‘Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light… ‘
The last line reads ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ Yes, we do still dream and we do long for a peaceful world in these ‘times that try men’s souls.’

And small happinesses for me are the signposts to finding our peace in our own corner of the world.

Back in 1945, writer Frances Partridge wrote: “I used to assume that there was some stream of human existence which would prevent any great loss of civilisation already won. Now it seems as though that very thing has happened… and the violence of the present world. Oh how one longs for tolerance, humanity, kindness and for thought and discussions to come back into their own again.”

When re-reading those words written seventy- five years ago (another small happiness, re-reading the books one enjoys) it felt as though the turmoil engulfing the world at the moment is yet another turn of the wheel. It seemed to me that rather than be overwhelmed by times that try men’s souls, we can still dream of making a better world; that small happinesses, and committed kindnesses, and goodwill to all men can be the yeast that quietly helps us all to rise above fear, judgement, grief, and anger, or despair, doubt and despondency during this turn of the wheel. These small happinesses bring us back to the present moment, and anchor us in the goodness of the world.

Roses and birdsong, starry skies and soft rain, all the gifts of the world can comfort and enrich us if we recognise them. We just need to remember to look and feel. We are not ‘sunshine patriots’ in Paine’s words. We are citizens of the world, and our optimism and courage can be our gifts to our world and our civilisation, and our next step into the future as the wheel turns once again.

PS Not having blogged for a while, I find that WordPress in its wisdom has changed the method of posting a blog… hence the strange appearance of a photo I hadn’t intended to use, but gave up in the end… que sera sera…

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Not angels or saints – Women

This is a story about three women who were described as the Angel of Arnhem, the Virtuous One and Queen of Okoyong.

Kate ter Horst was called an angel by those who received her heroic care under fire. The mother of five children, she lived happily with her husband Jan at Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, where part of the Allied assault, Operation Market Garden took place in September 1944.

As the battle for Arnhem Bridge intensified, an army doctor by the name of Randal Martin knocked on Kate’s door and asked if he could bring some lightly wounded men there for shelter, as their field hospital was running out of room. With her husband away helping the Dutch Resistance, Kate agreed, and putting her children safely in the cellar with their nanny, she opened her doors to the wounded, the men of the British Parachute Brigade.

They never stopped coming as the battle raged, until over three hundred wounded and dying were crammed into every available space, where there was no room to step anywhere, she told her children afterwards. When the house became a target, she improvised water for her unexpected house guests siphoning off water from the boiler and the toilet cistern. But mostly she comforted and supported the wounded. Talking to them, reading the Bible and prayers to those who wished, holding their hands when they died. She infused the house with calm, and loving kindness.

Liv Ullman plays Kate in the film, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, with great soul and sensitivity, so that one knows how much the shattered soldiers loved her, and clung to her steady, gentle kindness. “She brought light into darkness,” a wounded general said afterwards. Over three hundred men finally lay on the polished oak floors, on the stairs, on sofas and make-shift beds. The young English doctor was wounded twice as relentless sniper fire targeted the house and explosions rocked it. Fifty-seven dead soldiers were hastily buried in the garden, and when the Germans finally marched in, Kate and her children were expelled from their home, walking away with nothing.

They called her the Angel of Arnhem and never forgot her. When the war was over, those who survived and the families of those who didn’t, came back to thank her and to be with her once again. Dr Randal Martin, like some others, became a life-long friend, and when Kate was killed in a car accident in 1992 and her husband badly injured, Randall flew over to Holland to care for him. They were awarded an MBE by the King, and when Kate died, the British Parliament stood to honour and pay tribute to her.

Her daughter Sophie continued to live in their re-stored house. She said: “I cherish this house and feel privileged to live here. It’s where British men gave their lives to free Europe. I’ve lived with their memories all my life. I think of them all the time.”

(of the 10,000 men who fought at Arnhem, only 2,400 returned). Her mother turned the garden into a shrine to the young men who had died there, and when her husband became mayor, he started the custom of all the children in the town being responsible for one grave, which they tended and decorated with flowers since the families of the dead were too far away. It continues to this day.

Gladys Aylward was also involved in a war – the terrible conflict between the Chinese and Japanese. A house-maid before she had saved enough to pay for the cheapest fare available to go to China – she had two pounds and nine pence when she set out on the dangerous journey overland to become a missionary. Missionaries have had a bad rap over the years, along with the British Empire (which abolished suttee – the burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre, helped abolish foot-binding in China and tackled infanticide in parts of Africa)

When thirty- three year old Gladys arrived in China she joined a seventy- three year old missionary, Jeannie Lawson, in a remote part of the country, where the two women restored a ruined haunted hotel, and made a warm welcoming stop for mule trains… while they ate their food, one of the women would tell them Bible stories, in the hope the muleteers would pass them on! When the elderly Jeannie died from a fall, Gladys took over on her own. She overcame local hostility and prejudice against all ‘foreign devils’, learned the language, became a Chinese citizen, quelled a local prison riot and obtained decent conditions for the prisoners.

She became an official employee of the government to abolish the barbaric practise of foot binding, having great success in remote regions in spite of the resistance of the men. (footbinding involved breaking the toes and the instep, binding the toes to the sole very tightly and creating a foot of four inches, on which women could hardly hobble and were trapped at home. They often fell and broke their bones which became more brittle than unhandicapped women’s. It was agonising, and considered a sign of beauty) At the same time Gladys was adopting orphans whenever they came her way! The locals loved her and gave her a Chinese name – Virtuous One.

She ended up at the outbreak of war having to lead a hundred orphans of all ages to a safe town, away from the Japanese, who were destroying all the towns and villages, and killing everyone.

Her epic trek over the mountains with the children for twelve days, almost starving, sleeping in the open, trudging through rain and up and down steep mountain passes was the subject of a film, ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ a distorted Hollywood account which included a fictional love affair, which the modest Gladys hated.

At the end of the journey she collapsed with typhus and fought for her life, before going back to work with her beloved orphans. With the coming of Mao she had to escape China, and she ended her life caring for orphans in Taiwan. Not bad for a four foot ten inch London parlour maid.

Mary Slessor was a Scots girl, who from the age of eleven had to work to help support her family, who were unsupported by an alcoholic father. She worked in a weaving mill until she was twenty eight, when she felt able to leave home, and sailed off to Africa to be come a missionary. She went to Calabar in Nigeria, and after a short time at the mission, she set off into the unknown interior of the great continent.

Back in 1878, this really was darkest Africa, with many hostile tribes, particularly brutal forms of slavery, constant tribal wars and barbaric and brutal customs which made everyone’s life a fragile dangerous ordeal. Other missionaries who had tried to spread their message there had been killed. Undaunted, Mary learned Efik, the local language, and bringing nothing with her but love and a desire to help the oppressed, she set off.

She spent the rest of her life exploring and serving this part of Nigeria and with sheer force of personality taming murderous chiefs, curbing the power of witch- doctors, trying to end the practise of chaining the wrists of a suspect and pouring boiling oil over them -if he was innocent, he would not be harmed! She rescued slaves condemned to death for trivial mis-demeanours, and saved the lives of many women from being killed for irrational reasons, stopped the practice of finding someone to blame when someone died and taking their life too, put a stop to all the chief’s wives and servants being killed when he died, to go with him, and everywhere she went, building her own house, chopping logs and fixing roofs, and always having her adopted children with her.

Her most powerful achievement was to end the killing of twins, whose parents were deemed cursed by their communities and the mother driven off to die in the jungle and the father considered a ‘devil child’. She scoured the dense undergrowth whenever the grapevine told her twins had been born and rescued hundreds of the abandoned babies, nursed their broken mothers back to health, tried to re-unite the parents, and above all, worked on the chiefs to get them to stop this cruel practice. She cared for the babies, finding homes for them and adopted four girls and a boy herself.

 The people adored her for the loving and unstinting energy she gave to improving their lot and trying to change things for the better. Mary had contracted malaria soon after her arrival in Nigeria, and struggled with it for all the years she worked in Africa until she died a sixty- seven in 1915.

But until then she never gave into it, and battled through fever, debilitation and pain to the rescue of endangered women, or to stand in the path to stop an invading tribe attacking. Though she was a timid woman, hiding in doorways if she saw a dog in her native Dundee, here in Africa, using prayer to sustain her she showed such courage that all, European and Africans alike, were awed by her achievements. Her focus was on teaching Christianity, settling disputes, encouraging trade, establishing social changes and introducing Western education. She changed many lives simply by her example.

She had an extensive correspondence with children  back in Scotland, and even with the crippled son of hotel owners in the Canary Islands. Knowing the labour of hand writing long letters, this reaching out with loving encouragement to these children was an extraordinary service on top of all her other self-appointed duties.

The British Government in Nigeria cooperated with Mary’s efforts to stop the killing of twins and passed a law against it. They also made Mary the local consul with the power to preside as a magistrate and keep the peace in her area. By now, she was known by all, as the Queen of Okorong, for all the tribes and chefs deferred to her and brought their disputes to her, knowing she would resolve their problems with fairness and kindness as she knew their ways and customs. Everyone trusted her.

Mary refused a salary for this important post saying she was serving God, not the government, so the government paid her salary to her local mission. The frail missionary became beloved by all who knew her, and though George V honoured her with the award of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, she valued far more the love of her adopted children and all those she worked with and served. When she died, the colonial authorities gave the red-haired blue-eyed Scottish girl from the Dundee slums the equivalent of a state funeral

All these women brought light into darkness, and they are an inspiration. Gladys and Mary and Kate are well-known, but at the same time, in each place in the world where they laboured, there were many other women (and men) bringing light, and kindness among people who needed hope; people struggling against centuries of oppression, poverty and the cruelties inflicted by the powerful, as well as by the tragedies of war.

The tapestry of the past is composed of dark and light, but by looking at the light, and acknowledging it, instead of focusing only on the dark, we can see how the light has showed us the way to a more just, more compassionate present. The light can inspire and lead us out of the darkness of injustice or cruelty into the possibilities of a fairer kinder future.

Dale Carnegie had a point when he said two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars. These women were stars and their lights still shine for those who choose to see it.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

Not for the first time, Nigella Lawson has enhanced my life! I read her tip to cook chips in COLD oil. This looked too good to be true. But using a deep saucepan, instead of a frying pan, I tipped chips into cold vegetable oil and left them to cook. Miracle – crisp outside, soft and fluffy inside, and they took half the time and no hot oil spattering. Next time I tried with kumara/sweet potato as well – just as good but they cook a lot quicker.

So then, in a separate pan, I tried chopped onion in cold oil. The recipient, an aficionado of fried onions, said they were the most deliciously crisp of any I had cooked before. I tip them onto kitchen paper, to dry out a bit of the oil, but they seem to be less oily than ordinary chips. Must be vegetable oil, so I use grape-seed.

Food for Thought

What is civilization? I answer, the power of good women.     

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, history, human potential, slavery, uncategorised, womens issues

That’s Life

Family-friendly recipes and snippets of family life from an Irish kitchen. Irish Recipes, Chef Recipes, Baking Recipes, Dessert Recipes, Dessert Food, Rachel Allen, Apple Desserts, Apple Recipes, Cooking Forever

I lost my blog, and had no idea how to get it back until dear Linda at coloradofarmlife.com told me how to find it, after I told her how frustrated and helpless I was. However, I was still writing, and this is the result of my labours:

Dearest Alice,
I know what you mean about time getting away from you… it’s got away from me…
What an interesting letter, thank you… loved the stuff about the trees drinking the water…. have been fascinated by the life in them ever since I read how they communicate with each other through their roots, and there is a mother tree who is leader of the pack !!!
Like all animals… It broke my heart to read that when a grandmother elephant was returned to a zoo recently where her daughter and granddaughter were, after a twelve year parting, she immediately entwined trunks and showed how she remembered them… we break up animal families without a second thought… years ago I read about a sheep farmer who milked her sheep for feta cheese, and she told how when she banged on the bucket to milk them, they all came to her in their family groups of three or four generations, great grandmothers and all their offspring…

Wild swimming, we did it without thinking when we were young didn’t we – swam in rivers and lakes without ever thinking it was wild swimming! – lovely for you to find a place where you can… do you feel you’re settling into your new home?

Huntington’s chorea – ugh – a terrible illness… we also knew a family with it, and all the children in this generation decided not to have children…

We’ve been having strange times here… got back from the dentist in Thames the other day to find a snowstorm up here, and drifts of it lying around for ages it was so cold. We’ve never had snow in this temperate region with a podocarp – almost tropical forest… The night before last we were awakened by a stiff earthquake, the rattling of everything in the house woke us, and then we felt the tremors… we went back to sleep and slept through the after-shocks… then last night another earthquake…
Strange times … first snow, then earthquakes, maybe a plague of frogs next – I hope they’re the environmentally threatened Archey’s that we protect here !!!

D- is busy putting an elegant coved ceiling in the sitting room, it feels so snug and light and airy… plus a lovely wrought iron chandelier a friend gave us when she didn’t want it… I painted it cream and it looks great…
And now a small gang of quail have arrived for a snack of bird seed… they’re eating us out of house and home, but D- adores them…

I was thinking about spring coming soon, and an old memory came back… when we were at Guildford you gave me a book of funny rhymes, and I still remember :
In the springtime come the breezes.
With the breezes come the squeezes,
With the squeezes come the maybe’s
With the maybe’s come the babies !!!

It was my twenty first birthday, and you also gave me a beautiful silk scarf of pink and white squares which I loved. Very useful when you had the hood down in your MGA.

Just off to make a fudge icing for an apple cake I’ve made to take to some very old friends. There isn’t a swish restaurant in Thames where they live and we wanted to take them out to lunch. So I’m taking everything to their lovely house, oyster bisque and rolls, cheeses and pates, and the cake and champagne… I’ve known them since we were neighbours back in 1975….

Andrew was lovely, and I’m so glad you have such happy memories to comfort you…
Much love, dear friend,

To a grandson

Darling, when you rang yesterday, you explained / apologised for not ringing me last week.
I Really want you to know that there is no onus on you to ring me regularly. I always simply love it, and feel smiling and happy when we ring off, because it is a gift…
But I do not expect it, and know too that you Are busy so I always appreciate it when you think of me, but would never start wondering why you hadn’t – if you didn’t!
D- always says it’s a ‘bloody miracle’ when you ring me, (meaning that so few young people remember oldies ) he thinks you’re so wonderful to think of me, and usually makes me a tray of tea when you ring, so I can sit and enjoy talking to you and sip my lapsang souchong at the same time…
I think you’re wonderful too, to include me in your busy days, so thank you, thank you for making the time, and know that it’s a bonus for me, not something expected.
You have always been so special to me from the moment you were born and I held you while V-  had a shower – and that too I felt was such an unexpected joy and a gift…. and when you were fretful in the days after you were born because your head had been so squished out of shape and it must have been so painful, I used to hold you to my chest
and sing Tallis’s Canon over and over so that the sound would reverberate and throb and beat against your heart to try to comfort you.
In e.e.cumming’s words, I have always held you in my heart.
So much love from your Grannie XXXXXXX

To my son,

Hi darling, thought you’d be interested in this comment about Sophia’s video from Jilly, I had sent it to her. She wrote:

I must comment on your amazing step-grand daughter’s video. Thank you for sending it, and what a great story it is. She readily admits her family had to make huge adjustments, and I do know just what that means. It is a lovely uplifting story and I felt she is a very strong and gracious young woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ahGz2nhOps

I’ve watched it again, and it’s amazing just what a person with tetraplegia can do and what she is making of her life.

Such courage and persistence.

From Daughter:

Got these lovely beeswax candles in Wanaka at lavendar garden and put in Great Grannie’s candlesticks today…

Me: Oh, how gorgeous… they always smell divine…. you can get more at the church shop on the corner of the Ellerlie off ramp. I hate the ordinary candles, which burn paraffin, and I discovered, because we burn candles quite a lot, that they actually leave grime on the windows… funnily enough D- bought me a pack of beeswax candles while I was at the dentist on Thursday, to cheer me up…. we’ve even explored the internet to buy beeswax, and make our own, but it’s just as expensive as buying them….

I’ve often thought I’d like to tell the family that I don’t need any birthday or Christmas presents – just beeswax candles !!!

Daughter:

Found these on Trademe. $12 for the pair which is cheaper than church shop. It’s a shop in Hawkes Bay that makes their own…

Me: Thank you darling.

To another grandchild….

Lovely to see you darling… to continue our conversation – I knew how you felt about BLM when it started… I really hadn’t realised how subtle  much racism is (and simply bad-mannered) until you explained, and I could really sympathise with the movement in its beginnings. But I now feel differently. It was the last straw for me when the German director of the treasured British Museum said ‘we’ (obviously forgetting Germany’s painful past) had to face up to the painful facts of British colonial history and ‘cancelled’ Sir Hans Sloane.

He was the person born in 1660 who funded the British Museum, the British Library, the Natural History Museum, Chelsea Physic Garden, gave medical attention to the poor every morning for free, and gave his salary to the Foundling Hospital, as well as being a scientist and naturalist who was a benefactor to these fields of English endeavour as well.

His wife owned slaves in the colonies, so Sir Hans, a kind, good man and generous philanthropist, has been symbolically tarred and feathered, and his statue moved out of sight. I wonder what these fanatics thought people living in those times should have done. If Sir Hans had freed his wife’s slaves, how would they have survived in the society in which they had been enslaved. No-one would have employed them when they had their own free labour – their slaves… so these freed slaves would have faced a life of starvation or deprivation and outlawry, having no place in society.

I read this comment below, in a newspaper  story dealing with all the destruction of treasured heroes of the American past from Washington, to Lincoln and U.S. Grant, whose crime was to be given a slave by his father in law and to free him within a year, at some cost to himself since he was  on the bare bones of existence at the time.

“This describes a lot of us. Tread lightly! My tolerance is running out. I never cared what colour you were until you started blaming me for your problems. I never cared about your political affiliation until you started to condemn me for mine. I never cared where you were from in this great Republic until you began condemning people based on where they were born and the history that makes them who they are. I have never cared if you were well off or poor because I’ve been both.

“Until you started calling me names for working hard and bettering myself, I’ve never cared if your beliefs are different than mine. Until you said I am not entitled to my beliefs, now I care. I’ve given all the tolerance I have to give. This is no longer my problem. It’s your problem. You can still fix it. It’s not too late, but it soon will be.  I’m a very patient person at times. But I’m about out of patience. There are literally millions of people just like me. We have had enough.”

I know where he’s coming from! We’re never going to make a better world for all those who feel deprived or victims, until we stop shaming and blaming everyone for the colour of their skin. Many white people don’t feel privileged at all! Many of them are descended from ancestors who lived lives very nearly as hard as slaves, working crippling hours in mines, being impressed into the navy, making lace in badly lit attics and going blind to mention only a few instances… history is full of injustices.

So is the present, with slavery still being practised /endured all over the Middle East and Africa… and China too, in all but name. Those are the people who are suffering today. BLM being victims of the past doesn’t solve the present. Patience, tolerance, kindness and generosity are the things that may. And until we all try them we will never know.

I’m still learning all the new terms to keep myself up to date! –  have mastered woke, and now there’s cis-gender, transgender, AFAB – that’s a funny one – Assigned Female At Birth – don’t think anyone bothered to do that with me – they just supposed that on the evidence I was a girl!

Looking forward to seeing you when lockdown is over again…

Dearest Dick and Bella,
What a lovely, lovely occasion…. it was lovely to see you both, and so sweet of you both to make it such a beautiful occasion, flowers, champagne and fun and good conversation… Douglas and I loved every minute, thank you so much XXX
And I loved hearing about Lily, what a precious person she sounds … you brought up special people…Lily’s beauty is something really
rare…
It was such a celebratory event…you are so good at them, thank you !!
And then, to get home and savour more generosity, all your beautiful gifts… The beautiful posy is sitting in a big pink paisley patterned
mug, with the word love on it… not quite as unique as your mother’s gorgeous green vase, but it works!
Oh Bella, what a collection of treats in your beautiful hamper – so spoily and undeserved – you are amazing… I slowly unwrapped each treat, feeling more and more amazed at your imagination as well as your generosity… the eggs – what a precious way of presenting them… it made me realise just how exquisite eggs are… the ginger puddings – echoes of childhood when we Always had a pudding – steamed ginger, apple pie, treacle tart, or just stewed apple or plums or rhubarb with rice pudding or custard… I shall savour them, as well as all the other beautiful handmade goodies… the extra special chocolate, and the lovely scented soap…and that darling delicious little bell… so delicate and beautiful… thank you so much for all those thoughtful imaginative treats… The lemons look lovely in an antique French provincial pottery bowl I recognised in the op shop, and which they sold disdainfully ( ‘tatty old pottery thing’ ) for five dollars… and  I can’t wait for the house to be back in order after all D-‘s efforts when we had already planned to celebrate with lighting some beeswax candles, and now we have them, thanks to you !
I feel really moved and quite overwhelmed with your generosity dear friend… thank you thank you… I do hope you’ll feel like the journey here when the weather improves, so we can try to spoil you XXX

Now, the apple fudge cake – I still have the 1987 cutting from the Herald in my scrapbook… Elizabeth Pedersen, a nice Dutchwoman I think she was… The recipe calls for three fresh Grannie Smith type apples, but as I mentioned I do it the lazy way now with a tin of apple, chopped small…she says vegetable oil, so I tend to use grape oil… and I usually use slightly less milk in the fudge topping so it’s a bit dryer and more manageable as a cake…and I use SR flour instead of plain plus baking soda ( a lazy cook !)
12 oz SR flour
tsp salt (I just use a generous pinch)
10 ozs vegetable oil
13 oz caster sugar
3 eggs
3 medium sliced apples ( or one tin )
few drops of vanilla essence – (I use nearer a teaspoon)
Oven gas 4 or 175 C
Cream oil with sugar till light and smooth. Beat in the eggs one by one, vanilla, then the flour in three batches, and then stir in apples. Bake for one to one and a half hours. When it’s cool, spread the topping…six generous ozs brown sugar
60 ml milk
125 ml unsalted butter
vanilla (I use half a teaspoon)

Melt, and stir until smooth, boil for two minutes, then cool, stirring occasionally. Stir the topping over ice until it begins to stiffen, then spread over
the cake, letting it drip down the sides…
As you can see – so easy.

So that’s some writing in the life of… letters…and now to catch up on all my blog housekeeping, and with all the other old friends around the world linked by our network of golden threads called WordPress.

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Filed under beauty, consciousness, family, happiness, love, philosophy, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The Soldiers – ‘A Richer Dust Concealed’

100_0584The beginning of July is pock- marked for me with remembrances, memorials and history… the birthday of my father, the day I shattered my leg four years ago, spending two and a half months in hospital, and the unforgettable anniversary of one of the worst battles of the First World War.

It was a hundred and four years ago,  when my step-grandfather stepped out with thousands of other young men on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The first of July, 1916.

He was a north countryman from Northumberland, and the four Northumberland regiments were the first to walk into battle at 7 30 am on a blue sunny morning with the birds singing. The four Geordie regiments stepped purposefully towards the German lines which were supposed to have been bombarded into nothing after five days of thunderous firing – the barbed wire cut by the bombardment also.

For a moment, these fine young men walked into the sudden silence, and then the German machine guns began to fire. The bombardment had neither cut the wire nor killed the enemy, who had moved out of range. The German guns now simply swept the battle field, as their targets continued walking steadily towards them, and line after line of brave young men fell. These regiments belonged to what was known as the New Army, bodies of men who had joined up from their towns, villages and workplaces, calling themselves names like the Grimsby Chums, and the Manchester Pals. They were, to use a cliché which has meaning in this context, the flower of the country’s youth. They had set off that morning believing that this battle would end the war.

Percy, my step-grandfather, didn’t become one of the 60,000 dead British soldiers killed on that one day, but just one of over 30,000 wounded. He was a young officer, and like them all, easily distinguishable to the German machine-gunners. Officers went into battle wearing their service dress, collar and tie, shining leather Sam Browne belts, and carrying a pistol, not a rifle. By the end of the day, seventy five per cent of officers had been killed, compared with fifty per cent of men. The three colonels of the four Geordie regiments were dead, the fourth badly wounded.

Percy was shot in the face, and later buried in a huge crater after a mine had exploded. He was found four days later, still alive – just – and he grabbed a helmet lying on the ground to drink from it and quench his terrible thirst. The helmet was full of chemicals and poisons from the battlefield, and Percy ruined his insides. The face wound healed, he returned to the battlefield, and unlike so many of the men who endured the hell of the First World War, he survived to see peace.

The day that 60,000 brave young men died on the Somme was the worst day of that terrible war. Waterloo was accounted a bloody battle, but Wellington lost only 25 per cent of his army, 8458 men. El Alamein, an eleven- day battle, cost 1,125 men a day, while on D-Day the British and Canadian casualties cost 4000 men.

So my step-grandmother, living in a north country village, had seen all the young men march proudly through the streets on their way to fight for their country, trumpets blowing, banners flying, girls throwing flowers. Now all the houses had their blinds down, mourning their sons and husbands, brothers and fiancees, friends and neighbours. It wasn’t the same back in Germany. The Germans had not been slaughtered. For every seven British soldiers killed, they had lost one, from a much bigger population.

Paddy Kennedy, a soldier with the Manchester Pals, another regiment which was destroyed that day, helped to take a German post at Montauban. In the German trenches he found a small black frightened kitten, the pet of a dead soldier. Feeling sorry for it, he fastened it inside his pack, and took it with him. During lulls in the fighting he took it out and played with it. A few days later, he gave it to the company cooks as a mascot, and got on with his job… the following year, the kitten, now known as Nigger, went back to England hidden in a soldier’s battledress.

The young man took it home on leave to his family in Rochdale, and left it with them. He was killed at Passchendale shortly afterwards. But Paddy Kennedy, who’d gone back home to Manchester after the war, had not forgotten the cat. Throughout the twenties he went to visit Nigger at Rochdale.

This reminded me of the Dogs Cage on the beach at Dover. As the soldiers arrived back from Dunkirk in 1940, hungry, wounded, shattered, they brought with them dogs and puppies which they’d rescued from the deserted, burning town of Dunkirk. Since rabies could not be allowed to invade the British Isles, the commanding officer at Dover organised for the dogs to be labelled, and their addresses recorded; and after six months in quarantine, these French dogs were delivered to their rescuer’s homes around the British Isles. I suppose that by then they knew what ‘sit,’ and ‘stay’ were in English…

These loving actions by soldiers in the midst of fighting, somehow ease the heart when one reads the horror of those battles. So when I think of Percy and all those other wonderful young men, whose deaths wring the heart – “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”, I think of their kindness and courage and decency – and try not to think of the warmongers who forced war on the world, of the devastated people in Belgium and Northern France, who suffered atrocities perpetrated by Germans, not Nazis, who conveniently took the blame for similar atrocities in the next world war.

When some of those young men rescued the frightened black kitten, they lovingly gave it a name which is now anathematized in some parts of the western world, and I wonder what those brave young men would have thought of our world now.

Of the million white slaves in the Middle East, some would have been the ancestors of these soldiers, some would have ancestors who slaved in the mines, others impressed in the navy for seven years, and many more who scurried up and down stairs as over-worked and underpaid servants. Most soldiers would have come from families whose members had always been poor, overworked, and downtrodden throughout the history of their country.

But they loved it, and wanted to protect it. They didn’t want to impose it and their way of life, and their culture on others. And they died trying to save it.

The title comes from Rupert Brooke’s famous (and now unfashionable) poem, The Soldier.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’m just emerging from a bad bout of ‘flu, so apologies to all the wonderful friends who commented on my previous post, and I will be getting back to you. I also had a posse of zoo researchers coming to dinner, before they began their nights research into our almost extinct species of frogs and lizards in the forest.

I wondered how I was going to put on dinner for five – the spirit was willing but the body was weak, so I turned to my newly acquired slow cooker for rescue. Brilliant! Into the pre-heated container went chopped onion, garlic, a stick of chopped celery, chopped mushrooms, and a few rashers of chopped bacon. Then a layer of chopped chicken- good sized chunks – I used boneless thighs and tenderloins, then smothered the whole with a tin of condensed chicken soup plus a chicken stock cube and hot stock, plus a liberal helping of cream, and salt and pepper.

I put the lid on, and it cooked for four hours on high. Then I added a packet of lasagne, made sure the liquid covered it, by adding a bit more hot chicken stock, and continued cooking for another hour and a bit till the pasta was ready. With a green salad, and freshly grated parmesan, it was a doddle.

And for an easy pudding, I whipped up cream, added the same amount of apricot yogurt, plus succulent chopped peaches I’d freezed in summer, some sugar, and a tin of mandarin oranges to decorate the top. In a crystal dish, it looked good enough to eat!

Food for Thought

Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me.

The prayer of Cavalier, Sir Jacob Astley before the Battle of Edgehill 1642

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Take a knee

The Great War in France - battlefields sites and monuments

“Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”  Said Henry Kissinger.

I had thought of these callous words when I copied the food for thought in my last post: “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

As a military daughter, wife, sister, serving officer myself, and descendant of soldiers, I’ve sometimes found myself defending military men, as I did once at a Quaker meeting where everyone is committed to pacifism. And I thought of these stories of profound wisdom by three military men in recent wars.

In 2005, Dan Baum wrote this inspiring tale in the New Yorker: “During the early weeks of the Iraq war, the television set in my office was tuned all day to CNN, with the sound muted. On the morning of April 3rd, as the Army and the Marines were closing in on Baghdad, I happened to look up at what appeared to be a disaster in the making. A small unit of American soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf when hundreds of Iraqis poured out of the buildings on either side. Fists waving, throats taut, they pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror.

“I reached for the remote and turned up the sound. The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic with rage. From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as frightened as the soldiers. This is it, I thought. A shot will come from somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war.

“At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground. Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture—almost Biblical. “Take a knee,” the officer said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses.

“The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy. Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armour and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to withdraw.”

It took Dan Baum two months to track down Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes to hear his story, and his spontaneous reaction to the peril he and his men were in.

Major Chris Keeble was a British soldier fighting in the Falklands War. During the Battle of Goose Green, he inherited command of the 2nd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment when Lieutenant-Colonel H. Jones was killed in action. Keeble was a devout Christian. The battalion was at a point when its attack upon the Argentine Army position had broken down, having lost one in six of its men; it had almost run out of ammunition, had been without sleep for 40 hours, and was in a debilitated condition in Arctic conditions facing the unknown potential of a counter-attack from the Argentine forces all around.

After kneeling alone in prayer amongst the burning gorse seeking guidance as to what to do, Major Keeble conceived the idea of refraining from more attacks to try a psychological ploy. He released several captured Argentine prisoners of war in the direction of their Goose Green garrison, carrying messages to the commander requiring its surrender or threatening it with a fictitious large-scale assault by the British forces, supported by artillery. The Argentine commander, subsequently surrendered the garrison to the Parachute Regiment without further fighting.

Keeble said later that: “perhaps the most profound factor of all, was that 112 civilians were locked up in the Community Hall in Goose Green! This fact, discovered overnight, re-emphasized the need to use more subtle means than the bayonet! After all, we had not journeyed 8,000 miles merely to destroy the very people we had come to save.

“And so, standing in a small tin shed on the airfield next day, with the Battery Commander, and our two bewildered journalists, Robert Fox and David Norris, we confronted the Argies.” They surrendered their forces which were three times bigger than the British forces.

And these are the spontaneous and noble, almost Shakespearean words of another soldier – the eve-of-battle speech made by Colonel Tim Collins to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment in Iraq in 2003. Luckily there was a reporter there who took down in shorthand the only record of these inspiring words.

“We go to liberate, not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.

“There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others, I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.

“Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there. You will see things that no man could pay to see – and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis.

“You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing. Don’t treat them as refugees for they are in their own country. Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.

“If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly and mark their graves.

“It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive. But there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign. We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow.

“The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction.  As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.

“It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.

“If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family. The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please.

“If you harm the regiment or its history by over-enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer. You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest – for your deeds will follow you down through history.

“We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation. As for ourselves, let’s bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there. Our business now is North. “

No, Mr Kissinger, military men are not just dumb stupid animals, their lives and words and deeds matter. As Rudyard Kipling wrote:

‘For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”

But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

At a little end- of- lockdown soiree, I made these nibbles, which disappeared very fast. Cut parsnips into fingers, slightly thicker than a finger. Dunk them thoroughly in beaten egg, and then roll them in freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Arrange in a baking tin so they don’t touch each other. Bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes or so, until cooked. Eat warm or cold.

 

 

 

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Filed under army, british soldiers, culture, history, life and death, military history, shakespeare, Uncategorized