The Cancel Culture

Will I be cancelled?
One of my first geography – or was it history – lessons when I was about six, consisted of our teacher pulling down a map of the world and pointing to all the pink bits scattered plentifully  around the globe. ‘This is the British Empire’, she said. I remember feeling very impressed.

I write this knowing how much cancelling, triggering, no-platforming and all the other latest cliches for being sent to Coventry will rain down upon my unapologetic, white privileged, cis, Silent Generation head ( I’m a proud pre-Boomer)

Later, I was even more impressed when I discovered that this vast network of territories around the world was administered by a tiny island whose tiny army was smaller than Serbia’s at the start of World War One. This must mean, I thought, that most people must be happy with the status quo, law and order, and the opportunity to live peaceful lives.

But judging by the torrent of constant aggrieved and angry condemnation of Colonialism which is now the daily ration of news in most media outlets, and by so many woke and anti-racist groups, I was hopelessly  wrong. Even Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, accuses the west of racism because we’re upset about Ukraine, but we weren’t about Syria and Afghanistan. He’s right, we are concerned about Ukraine because it’s much nearer home, and could affect and is affecting the whole world. But has he also forgotten, or never knew that the British army liberated his country Ethiopia in 1941, when Mussolini’s Italians had invaded it and perpetrated terrible atrocities?


As their Emperor Haile Selassie told the world : “Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft so that they could vaporize, over vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain. Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet. It was thus that, as from the end of January 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes, and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain. In order to kill off systematically all living creatures, in order to more surely poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again. That was its chief method of warfare.

“When it comes to racism, the woke- racism weapon against the past is to see only the West’s part in the terrible historical centuries old crime of slavery and the apparent miseries of colonialism. Even a search of the internet, in entries about Africa, only mention the Atlantic West coast slavery,

.But Tidiiana N’Diaye, the Senegalese anthropologist,  says that what happened in East Africa over the centuries should also be openly discussed.

“Most of the African authors have not yet published a book on the Arab-Muslim slave trade out of religious solidarity. There are 500 million Muslims in Africa, and it is better to blame the West than talk about the past crimes of Arab Muslims. Initially, the Arab Muslims in Eastern and Central Europe took white slaves to sell them to Arabia,”  Tidiane N’Diaye said in an interview. “But the growing military power of Europe put an end to Islamic expansion and now that there was a shortage of slaves, Arab Muslims were looking massively to black Africa.”


When missionary David Livingstone was exploring central Africa, and based at Zanzibar, one of the centres of the slave trade , he estimated that 80,00 to 100,00 Africans were captured by Muslim Arab traders every year. He wrote: “The strangest disease in this country seems really to be broken heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves”. And out of those huge numbers of slaves captured to be sold and transported from Zanzibar, only one in four survived the journey, most of them died from hunger and exhaustion. A stick was chained to their neck and linked to the next man in the long chain of desolate captives.

It was not until 1873 that Sultan Seyyid Barghash of Zanzibar, under pressure from Great Britain, signed a treaty that made the slave trade in his territories illegal. But that decree was not enforced effectively. It was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in East Africa. It was the mid thirties before it ended in Ethiopia.


According to author N’Diaye, slavery still exists, albeit in a different form. It is estimated that nearly 40 million people worldwide still live in slavery. In Africa there are hundreds of thousands. “In Mauretania they say they have abolished slavery, but in reality the situation in North Africa has not changed much. Young people are enslaved against their will, forced to work and sexually exploited”


 Between the late 1870’s to the 1960’s, Colonialism took over from tribal warfare throughout most African kingdoms, tribes, provinces. The tales of the atrocities and tortures and massacres that were visited previously on defenceless peoples, or on the beaten armies, or revolting tribes, are horrendous. James Bruce, the British explorer who traced the source of the Blue Nile in 1770, spent two years at the Ethiopian court, and described not only the dreadful fates of the king’s constantly warring enemies, but the Ethiopian habit of enjoying fresh meat cut from a living beast, describing one horrible victory feast when a bull was tethered and steaks systematically carved from the bellowing desperate creature.


The accounts of other explorers over the hundred years before western rule, tell of the same brutalities and cruelties by psychopathic rulers who inherited bloody tribal rites and continued them to practise them. In spite of ancient civilisations which had risen and fallen in other ages on this continent, the Africa the explorers found was primitive and bloodthirsty. In 1861, explorer Christopher Speke described King Rumanika of Karagwe’s harem, whose wives were force fed milk through pipes from a gourd, to become so horrendously fat that they couldn’t stand, but rolled around like seals, he said. Men with whips stood by to enforce the endless fattening up.

While Speke was detained at his court for months in 1860, he described  King Mutesa of Buganda killing people at his court daily, for trivial reasons such as a girl speaking too loudly, or a page neglecting to open or close a door, innocent people burned alive, tortured and murdered in all manner of ways.,

So was the advent of colonial rule for that hundred years, really such a tyranny? In Nigeria for example, the governor, Sir Evelyn Lugard having brought peace to the warring north,  ‘set out the same principles of the administrative system subsequently institutionalized as ‘indirect rule’. Essentially, local government was to be left in the hands of the traditional chiefs, subject to the guidance of European officers.

‘ Native institutions were utilized and interference with local customs kept to a minimum, although the British did not always understand the local customs. While this system had built-in contradictions, over the years the Nigerian system developed into a sophisticated form of local government, especially in the emirates and under the banner of “native administration,” which became the hallmark of British colonial rule in Africa. ‘

The colonial authorities of most nationalities, French, Portuguese, German, as well as British, left behind the rule of law, plus roads, hospitals, schools, railways, drains, and most of the advantages of western civilization. Since these countries gained independence, many have ignored ‘due process’ of law, press freedom, individual liberty and human rights’, in the words of Amnesty International. Systems of democratic government established at independence, have been dismantled, and corrupt authoritarian regimes imposed, with many presidents declaring themselves in office for life.

Since Independence there have been unspeakable massacres, tribal wars, repression of any dissent, and previously prosperous countries like Zimbabwe reduced to bankruptcy – though to read the internet, you would think it was a thriving happy prosperous society, untroubled by violence, famine, corruption, unemployment, and bulging prisons filled with people from the wrong tribe. ( I know, I have a close relative who was matron of the hospital in Harare. I have two friends who worked in Kenya for a few years, where they had to have an iron door fitted to their bedroom like everyone else so that they wouldn’t be murdered in their sleep by robbers. When they left, they left all their possessions, being allowed only enough cash to buy a coffee and bun at the airport.)


Human rights groups have gone on record as describing ‘extensive political repression, including illegal and arbitrary detention, threats or other forms of intimidation, disappearances, politically motivated trials, and the massacre of peacefully protesting civilians ‘ in many countries.


None of these regimes are castigated by the critics of the West. Both the crimes of the past, and the crimes of the present are ignored, overlooked or unknown to those pulling down statues and condemning European and American slave owners. Slave owners who were also philanthropists whose generosity sustains the very colleges and schools, hospitals and libraries, art galleries, orphanages, that today’s woke critics benefit from. And apart from all their other crimes, these were mostly old white dead males – an unbeatable combination if you’re inclined to find a good whipping boy… while woke culture requires that we change our  minds and our beliefs about these men and about the past, and think as they do.

The philanthropy of many traders and owners, which contributed to the great civilization of the west, their gifts to the arts, to medicine, to science, to music, to literature, to architecture, to good government and a decent society may be forgotten in this present orgy of righteous indignation and judgement, but let us hope that the pendulum swings back before all that they gave and achieved is obliterated.


Those lovely words from the book of Ecclesiastes honour these sort of men,
‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begot us’… Some of the most famous and indispensable men in history have been slave owners – men who reflected the customs of their times and place. Like most of us they all had gifts and they all had flaws, and they were men of their time. They didn’t think like us. In time to come we may be abhorred too, by more advanced societies for the way we treat and eat other species, and exploit the natural world

These slave-owners include men like the Prophet Muhammad, William Penn, the great Quaker who founded Pennsylvania,  and influenced Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the unforgettable words of the Declaration of Independence, Demosthenes, influential  ancient Greek statesman, many US presidents, including George Washington, most rich Romans and ancient Greeks, not many British, they tended to have money invested in  trading, and so we come to wonderful William Wilberforce, and his supporters who battled so long to abolish the slave trade.


Many of their descendants have been proud of the achievements of such men, others have been influenced by them, or inspired by them, while others have followed them – as in the case of Muhammad. So perhaps their critics could try to forgive them, leave their statues where grateful people erected them, and remember that it is because so many of them worked for a decent humane society, that we have the freedom to say what we think without the fear of criticism, or of being ‘cancelled – a freedom which applies to us all, white, privileged, Bame, Terf or transgender.
“I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls,” said Elizabeth I back in the 1550 ‘s, and  I think she had the right idea.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I discovered this wonderful lemon tart recipe in a gardening magazine, and with a few tweaks have made it my own !
Prepare a pastry case. Place a large chopped and de-seeded lemon ( I have also added half an orange or another lemon) in the stick whizzer. Add four eggs, 100gms melted butter, a generous cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and blend it all together. Put into the pastry case and bake at 180 for 30 minutes or more. When cooked, dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream. Divine !


Food for Thought

‘In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.’Czeslaw Milosz, poet and writer, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 In its citation, the Swedish Academy called Miłosz a writer who “voices man’s exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts”.
He wrote The Captive Mind, a book about Stalinism

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Filed under colonial life, cookery/recipes, history, slavery

Triggered by Jemima Puddle Duck

I bought a pristine copy of ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck’ in a junk shop for fifty cents the other day. No great grandchildren in the offing to receive it, but rather on account of the nostalgia I felt at the very words Jemima Puddle Duck.
I was given a copy of this classic on my eighth birthday, and mightily disappointed I was too, by the waste of a birthday present.


Having read ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in my grandmother’s original edition, published in 1719,  having given up on ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ in another original edition, when I got to the unbearably depressing engraving of the Slough of Despond, and having wept over ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, and become an abolitionist on the spot, Jemima Puddle Duck was small beer.


But I do remember when I rather contemptuously read it, my feelings of alarm when Jemima encountered the polite gentleman with a bushy tail and sandy whiskers. In today’s parlance I was ‘triggered’, and quite anxious until I reached the happy ending and violent demise of said sandy whiskered gentleman. Oh dear, violence too… Beatrix Potter is obviously on the slippery downward slope to becoming cancelled -violence and cruelty to animals being very good reasons for Beatrix to go on the Index ( the list of banned books by the Vatican, but in this case, banned by the guardians of our thoughts and minds  – the virtue signalling woke brigade.)


I was not much surprised after the continual fanatical research by the Thought Police, to read that the Declaration of Independence being displayed at the National Archives in Washington has now attracted a ‘trigger warning’ on one of the original copies. How could we even hope that those resounding words: ‘ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’  would be acceptable in these days of endless virtuous Thought Correction.


But I Am surprised that ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ hasn’t received a trigger notice yet – however virtuous the subject- as it contains a great deal of violence which might upset snowflakes.

If Browning and Wordsworth – the latest culprits –  can be cancelled, I’m just waiting for Shakespeare to go on the index too, as he qualifies for it over and over again  – sexism or violence in just about every comedy or tragedy I can think of…


I read that Hollywood is not prepared to film any plot line that doesn’t cover diversity and inclusion, and any other popular buzz word at at the moment… (sigh)… so no more corny re-makes of ‘War and Peace’, or  ‘The Dambusters’, all populated by macho white men, and not a coloured person in sight, just macho men and violence the backbone of  ‘The Dambusters, … and class, snobbery,  materialism, and  conspicuous consumption as well as violence, the themes of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. Trips down memory lane to ‘The Red Shoes’, the story of art versus true love, a giggle over ‘Some Like it Hot’ .feeling guilty about laughing at cross dressing, and no more fun with Georgette Heyer, and her regency frolics, no diversity, no poverty, but lots of gorgeous men with money and poor girls who marry them…..are these all verboten in this new age of compulsory virtue and righteousness?

‘Zulu’ comes up to scratch on the diversity scale, but the violence, and defeat of the natives/ tribes/ noble indigenous fighters  – not sure what description is acceptable these days – might not go down well with BLM, and the on- the- edge- of -your seat- violence, would probably cause snowflakes to have a conniption.


‘Cry, the Beloved Country,’ one of the most powerful novels about apartheid ever published, triggered such buckets of tears from me, that it must be a candidate for being plastered with trigger warnings, while I fear for that magnificent novel ‘Middlemarch’, by George Eliot and indeed, for all her books, for they contain no diversity at all – nineteenth English society being a fairly mono-cultural one, and therefore diversity an unknown concept.


Liberal thinking, modern concepts of liberty, equality, and diversity, whether in terms of race or gender, were not common in previous ages, so most of the great classics, though they often helped to push the boundaries of thought in all these things, are doomed, I fear.

Literature, described by one writer, as the ‘logbook of the human race,’ will struggle to exist if the woke mobs have their say – and history and theories that enlighten and educate and shift our thought processes, and initiate new paradigms. The creativity of uncensored minds is what leads  civilisation and lifts it to greater heights..

Power corrupts, and the power of virtue signallers of all colours seems to have brought about the disgrace and cancelling of numerous forward looking thinkers, of established and reputable writers like JK Rowling, and even of ordinary people who posses the common sense to see things in  perspective and the courage to speak out, and who lose their jobs and reputations as a result of this persecution.


For every righteous campaigner against Western racism and slavery, there are few who dare to point out the horrors of the slavery as  practiced by the Barbary Pirates of the North African coast for three or more centuries, when they  rampaged along the shores of nearly every country in Europe from Iceland and Cornwall, to Italy and Greece. These merciless pirates captured white men and women from sea-side villages far beyond the Mediterranean.


Spanish writer Cervantes was the most famous of all, only being ransomed after five years when his family was finally able to raise the money. At least million and a quarter were enslaved to work as galley slaves or in other brutal activities. Ethiopia only closed down the slave trade in the mid nineteen thirties, and a huge slave trade of Nubians and Abyssinans from the Upper Nile had sustained the Egyptian economy for centuries until the nineteenth century.


Yet no-one seems to have been cancelled  in any of these places, or had their memorial destroyed –  maybe, because those slave traders hadn’t also been benefactors of their societies by endowing schools, hospitals, universities, libraries and orphanages, along  with the other benefits, that so many cancelled historical figures in Britain’s history did. ( And those who so righteously condemn Britain for the slave trade, forget that she was one among many at that time, and was also the first nation to abolish it, spending large sums of money and several thousand British sailors lives,   maintaining a naval squadron to patrol the seas for sixty years, intercepting slave ships, and freeing the slaves.)

Will the Thought Police cancel our favourite classical composer, the mainstay of British musical life – the magnificent Handel, who even the wonderful Beethoven acknowledged as the greatest composer who ever lived. Handel, who had no family, put his money into the shares of the infamous Royal African Company, the main British trading organisation which was formed as early as 1660.


So I fear for Handel , as I do for Jane Austen – no diversity, but worse still, in Mansfield Park the whole plot hinges on the paterfamilias  being absent looking after his estates /plantations in Antigua, a sugar producing slave working island. Jane Austen’s novels of course, were bereft of diversity, gender re-assessments, abolitionist sentiments, or of any redeeming woke features.


Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this sort of censorship is the way employees of publishers now seem to hold the upper hand, and refuse to work if they don’t like the content of a book, so that publishers and writers are intimidated. They have become fearful of publishing or writing any book which doesn’t conform to the guidelines of the new groups who demand that we all think like they do. An example of this was the boycotting by staff of every publisher of a book by an American expert who had reservations about the exploding numbers of teenagers having re-assignment surgery in the States. She couldn’t get her book published.

Not only does this sort of policing of our minds and thoughts have terrible similarities both with the Nazi era, and the unforgivable brain washing of the Russian population during this latest unspeakable war, but it also limits the creativity and diversity of thought by which a society itself expands its perceptions, and explores the further reaches of thought and creativity, and the possibilities of the human spirit.

It’s called gaslighting when a person undermines the feelings of another person, making them feel that their feelings have no validity and don’t matter. What is happening to our history, to our literature, to our culture, is another form of gaslighting, which can also be described as bullying.

Therapists say it’s important to call out the attacker if we feel we’re being gaslighted. It’s just as important to do the same to those who would undermine our inheritance of books and poetry, our literature, and history, our precious customs, and even our favourite books. If Black Beauty gets a trigger warning, which for a number of woke reasons, I think is due, I shall despair. It’s books such as these, which educate us and civilize us, and in this case has taught generations that other species matter, which are irreplaceable.


 These are the sort of books which teach us to be better humans, as did Beatrix Potter’s legacy of sympathy for animals, and her legacy of love which so many share, for delicious little Mrs Tiggywinkle and Peter Rabbit, and slightly simple Jemima Puddleduck who longed to hatch her eggs before they were taken away for eating.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I wanted a quick meal for one, but I ached for something delicious. This was it. Pour a cup of cream into a frying pan, and grate a good handful of parmesan cheese into it. Chop smoked salmon finely, add to the cream, and boil them all up together.At the same time pour boiling water onto two minute noodles.
When noodles are cooked and drained, pour the salmon and bubbling cream over the noodles, grate more parmesan and some black pepper over and eat !

Food for Thought
“One man with courage is a majority.” —Thomas Jefferson   Founding Father, philosopher and lawyer, diplomat and architect. A superb portrait of both he  and his fellow Founding Fathers is the TV series called ‘John Adams’, a magnificent account of the American Revolution and creation of the US.

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Filed under books, cookery/recipes, culture, history, jane austen, literature, shakespeare, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The fog of war

Another day, another search through news headlines, Youtube videos, TV news, on the spot reports, to find some hope that the war will end, that right will triumph over might. Wion, and BBC, Caspian Report and Sky News, The Guardian and Daily Mail, The Times and CNN, Fox News and the rest, are all grist to this pointless mill.
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It’s called the fog of war, and the fruitless search for encouraging news is an attempt to find comfort.

Someone said to me the other day that she didn’t watch the news as part of her ‘self-care”. I didn’t bother to watch for years, either, but to opt out of this trauma which is convulsing so much of the world now would seem like a cop-out to me. I’m part of the human race, so I have to be in. We are living through history.

Anger, despair, sadness, are all emotions that seem to swamp my formerly peaceful world, as they are doing for most decent compassionate people throughout the world.


Feeling the pain of Ukrainean families fleeing, of grieving relatives, seeing shattered cities, watching demoralised Russian soldiers, cheering at the courage and triumph of the men and women resisting the bullying, the bombing, the brutality, doesn’t help those suffering, but leaves me/us feeling helpless, as well as all the other emotions.


To be forced to be a spectator, and watch all the conflicting opinions, analyses, predictions, and vacillations of pundits and politicians and retired generals feels, if not shameful, then ignoble.
So for me it means facing the pain and shame, rather than trying to pretend that life is okay in my happy little world. Because it isn’t.

My world is now part of the global village, and we are all connected, not just through pain and misery and anger and horror, but through the internet, and podcasts and news reports and cell phones, and through supply lines, and delivery chains, which mean rising prices, and inexplicable shortages from olive oil to lemons to building materials or Italian tomatoes.


Yet life does go on for those lucky enough to live in a place like New Zealand, or Iceland, and so in the end, I have to feel gratitude. And in the light of the world’s suffering, not just in Ukraine, but in so many other places, gratitude seems a gigantic travesty.


So having talked myself into a corner, I have to resolve to make the place where I stand the kindest, purest, most honest and most decent place possible. I can only love my corner of the world and try to share love to add to the goodness in the world, and not get bogged down in the pain of the world.


 Philosopher Martin Buber said,”You can rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way …. In the time I am brooding over it, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of Heaven”. He’s right. Yes, brooding is a waste of time, so I will try to string pearls instead of futile brooding over the tragedy of Ukraine – pearls of love and kindness and a little laughter.

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Filed under consciousness, history, life and death, love, spiritual, Uncategorized

The Light of the Sun

The light of the sun

Item from UK Guardian :’ Pictures of a visibly injured Mariana Vishegirskaya leaving the maternity hospital were targeted by a vile Russia disinformation campaign accusing her of faking the injuries. In happier photos taken on Frid ay, Vishegirskaya holds her new baby daughter Veronika.’

There was once a beautiful Tik -Tok person – I don’t understand Tik Tok but that apparently was what she was – blonde, de rigueur hair extensions, mile long false eyelashes, peachy pouting mouth, and offering us cosmetics to help us look like her.

This rather sweet looking young woman became pregnant, and was awaiting the birth of her child in a Ukrainian hospital bombed by  Russians, who claimed, first,  it was empty,  and secondly that it was occupied by terrorists. The Russian propaganda machine also informed a sceptical world that the anguished blonde, one-time glamorous Tik-Tok person was faking her injuries.

She was wearing a black and white spotted pair of pyjamas or similar maternity wear. A few days after the contrasting pictures of the glamorous girl, and the shattered pregnant walking wounded woman, another picture emerged into the coverage of the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. This time she was lying cradling her baby girl Veronikia, her face still covered in small flecks of blood, and still wearing the same spotted clothes as before, grubby and crumpled. The look on her face, not that of joy and pride which most of us experience when we’ve just given birth, was instead, of utter despair.

No spotless white pillows, fresh clean clothes, lovely cup of tea, joyful family, just the grunge of unwashed clothes worn before, during and after labour, still stained with the dust from the rubble of bombing, and lumpy makeshift bedding seen in the dim light of a bombed-out maternity unit hidden away from more bombs in a cellar.

That picture and the one of dozens of dogs of every kind among five hundred, waiting in an animal shelter, where their fleeing owners had left them for safety along with their cats, which was now running short of food, because  the girls delivering it had been shot and killed by Russians, reduced me to tears, like many another, I’m sure.

My life has been book ended by war, I know what it is like to lie in bed at night paralysed with fear, as bombs fall, and this war had crept up on me unawares, as it probably did for many others. Peace is contagious, and it seemed unthinkable that war could erupt again in our lifetimes, though the warning signs have been there for years. But we didn’t want to see them.

It is easy to not see things we don’t want to acknowledge, but as I sadly contemplate the place the world is in now, I tried to see more… more of the good things that go on happening even as the bad things seem to overwhelm us.

I look at my community, where a neighbour goes to clear the drive of a frail old couple, of the fallen trees after a storm, and who builds quail protectors for their vegetable garden.

Another spends days trimming and pruning the overhanging trees and shrubs along our two mile long shared  private road, and another who looks after the animals of a distant neighbour who’s gone off with his children to find somewhere else to live.

There’s a couple who live some miles away, who come regularly to make sure the home of the owners who are overseas seeing grandparents, is unscathed by the storms we’ve been having, and another devoted couple, who lend their home to those who need shelter, visit those they think are lonely, and chauffeur a neighbour to and fro from hospital morning and evening for weeks while she stays with her sick husband, among many other silent deeds of devotion.

When I start to see these sorts of things the world seems less grim..

 I remember the US electrician who went to fix a light in an old lady’s house, and seeing that the whole house was in desperate need of maintenance rustled up a team of volunteers via Facebook who called themselves Gloria’s Gladiators. They not only repaired the house, but transformed the old lady’s life by giving her ongoing friendship and support. Other groups grew from this single act of  random kindness.

I remember the Muslim immigrant garage owner in the US who gave a doctor rushing to an emergency at the  hospital, petrol for free, and then replaced his punctured tyres… saying the Koran tells them to be kind to their fellows.

I remember the kindness of strangers to myself – the nurse in hospital who realised I only liked one kind of biscuit, and used to hide them for me, another who used to give me stocks of various dressings and equipment which she hid in my locker, so I wouldn’t run out when there was a shortage… the visitor to a patient in the bed across from me, who covered me up with a blanket when she saw me asleep without one – these are tiny acts of goodness and kindness which transform trying situations into happy memories.

The concept of random acts of kindness merely put into words what so many do simply because they are good people… like the mayor of Auckland who went to Russia with his wife some years ago,  to adopt a Russian orphan, and when they got there, the little girl asked if they would take her two brothers too. To their undying credit, the mayor and his wife brought all three orphans home to New Zealand, where they’re growing up to be happy, responsible citizens .

I also discovered that after committee meetings late at night, this lovely man would drive to three places around the city where there were colonies of stray hungry cats, and feed them every night.

We can all bring sweetness and goodness into our world, even small things like a smile to a passerby, feeding the birds, care for thirsty trees and drooping plants,  a bowl of water by the gate for thirsty dogs and other creatures, acknowledgement of the careful pattern on top of our freshly made coffee to the barista, these tiny things can mean a quality of life, actions which can bring softness into the harsh times in which we find ourselves. Small happinesses which we can give to others, usually make us happy too. And the light of gratitude we feel when we recognise the beauty and bountifulness of nature and the world  – these are the  things that can uplift us –  remind us of the miracle of life which can overcome fear, depression or anxiety.

If Vladimir Zelensky can extol Life in the middle of death and darkness, as he did yesterday, we too can grasp that courage and glory of the human spirit, and be inspired to live our lives with hope and optimism.

It was dear old Samwise in Lord of The Rings who said,
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer”. 
Let us hope so. Even the shattered ruins of Leningrad have been transformed into the golden glory of St Petersburg with the passing of time. Let us hope that the devastation we see now will be healed in a real peace between nations whose people do not want to fight – that this Will pass and a new day Will come. And the light of the sun will shine on us all.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Who needs KFC when you can have chicken and chips in the comfort of home?
So easy too. Marinade boneless chicken thighs in lemon juice, garlic and olive oil for a few hours.
Meanwhile, cut the potatoes in thin slices – I don’t bother to peel them – just scrub and clean.
Tip them into a saucepan of cold vegetable oil.
They’ll take about half an hour, and towards the end just lightly stir them to keep them separate.Twenty minutes before the chips are cooked,  douse the chicken in flour with plenty of powdered ginger, salt and pepper, and quickly fry them on both sides till golden. It doesn’t take long, and over cooking toughens them. Serve straight away, with salad or vegetables.

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, life and death, peace, uncategorised, Uncategorized

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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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 The Crown 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 the Netflix fictional and derogatory version of how the Royal family live their lives – with pettiness, arrogance, and mean-spiritedness.

 The 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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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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