George has gone. He gave no warning. I had expected to watch him grow from adolescence into a large hairy black male. I suppose like all adolescents he’s pushed off to find himself, or maybe to find more spacious quarters.
I had had a window into the tiny cosy home he’s left. I had wondered if, when he grew to full size, he would join the other big black spiders I know are living in the hinge of the French doors that I don’t often open. When I do there’s a panic-stricken rush to safety.
George was different. I’d watched him since he was a tiny baby – one of the ones I’d paid the house-washing firm to dispose of. I left George safely on one side of my bedroom window pane during the debate I had with the house-wash people about payment for their very unsatisfactory job. George was my proof. But when his function had been fulfilled, I still felt connected to him, so left him unmolested in his little nest on the other side of the glass, and watched the gradual expansion both of his size, and of his larder, with various tasty grubs and tiny insects.
I enjoyed greeting him each morning. I don’t know what research has been done into the brains of arachnids, but I have had a healthy respect for the intelligence of daddy long legs since I brought a book case up from under the house, and put it on the veranda to paint . I tipped all the baby daddy long legs out at one end of the veranda and took the book case to the other end, and left it while I went to have lunch. The veranda was about thirty feet long, and by the time I returned to get on with the painting, all the baby daddy long legs had found their way down the deck, and returned to their homes in the corners of the book shelves. So these days the long-legged invaders in the bathrooms are treated with respect, caught in a glass, and re-homed out in the garden. My husband watches this routine with disbelief…
But he has n’t read Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s exquisite book called ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.’ She describes living with a snail that inadvertently entered her sickroom hidden in a wild cyclamen brought in for her from the woods. Among the many extraordinary things that I learned about snails from her, is that depending on the species, a snail’s brain has from 5,000 to 100,000 neurons. And amongst other charming things I now know about snails, is that when they lay their miniscule eggs around the garden or wherever, they visit them regularly and keep a maternal eye on them until they hatch into baby snails!
I found that when I put out lettuce leaves at night for the snails to eat in the garden, they left my petunias and other attractive delicacies alone.
Then there was the lizard who found his way inside last week. After a few days I discovered him in the middle of the carpet and nearly killed myself pouncing after him with the glass, finally losing my balance and hitting my head on the edge of the table as he escaped with lightning speed. So I left the French doors wide open all night, and I suspect he found the gap and I hope he is now back in the garden. Like the mouse I kept seeing flicking behind the sofa. In despair one night, I crumbled cheese fragments along the carpet and out through the French doors, Hansel and Gretel style. It must have worked, because there was no cheese left the next morning.
Why spend so much time on the tiniest orders of the animal kingdom? Scientists now tell us that our survival as a species is actually dependent on not allowing the larger animals to die out- and an awful lot of them have done so. And yet the smaller creatures, the bees and the worms and other forms of tiny life are just as vital to our survival. But we don’t know enough about creation to know what is important to the survival of the planet and what is not. What if ALL forms of life are vital to our survival? In her irresistible book ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’, American Annie Dillard, writes that: “of all known forms of life, only about ten per cent are still living today”.
And we know that ninety percent of the big fish in the oceans are now extinct. So maybe, every spider, every snail, every mouse, every insect matters – well, maybe not mosquitoes.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Yesterday I met some friends down by the waterfront to celebrate my birthday. (It isn’t due for a while but I like to spin it out). We were all grandmothers but one, and one friend confessed that when her grandchildren asked her to make pancakes, she didn’t know how. Is it possible to live without pancakes? A staple of my children and my grandchildren, it was the ideal food to fill up hordes of hungry visiting children too. They started with a baked potato each, the inside mashed with butter and grated cheese, and then the pancakes kept coming till they were full. They ‘re cheap, delicious and filling.
In a mixing bowl tip 8 ounces of self raising flour, a pinch of salt, an egg and gradually add half a pint of milk. Beat with a fork until it’s mixed, and then use a beater to whip it smooth. Leave this batter to settle in the fridge for a half an hour.
When you’re ready, beat the batter again, and it may need a little more milk to make it flow well into the frying pan – trial and error. Sometimes some water instead of all milk makes them lighter and crispy, but only experiment when you’ve got the hang of them. Fat, shortening, whatever you call it, is the best for pancakes. In a frying pan, heat a knob of fat the size of a walnut until it begins to smoke, and with a ladle or large spoon pour in enough batter to thinly cover the surface.
Cook till bubbles start to rise and then turn with a slice, and cook the other side until ready to slide out onto a plate (you sometimes have to add more fat to stop it sticking). Sprinkle with brown sugar (white will do, but doesn’t have the taste of brown), fold the pancake in three, sprinkle with more sugar, and squeeze quarter of a lemon over it. The tang of lemon is a must. Eat straight away. Food for the gods.
The first pancake is usually not the best to look at, but still good to eat… it’s as though the frying pan settles down with the second pancake. I usually make double the quantity, and I only eat mine when everyone else is full, so I too, get the delectable taste of a pancake fresh out of the frying pan. Some people use maple syrup or treacle… but to those of us who have grown up on brown sugar, there’s nothing else like it.
When I referred to sausages in yesterday’s recipe, I should have said pork sausages.
Food for Thought: It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. John Wooden, American basketball coach.