With the rain lashing down and the wind howling round the house, it’s time to blob out by the fire. Some people blob out with TV or a DVD – I blob out with a book. And not just any old book.
Men often relax with crime or detective novels, depending what you want to call them, and science fiction. Time was, when men would devour westerns, but they don’t seem to be around these days… and these forms of escapism always seemed respectable. Intelligent men can boast that they read detective novels for relaxation, but women tend to admit somewhat shamefacedly to blobbing out with Mills and Boon – romance seems slightly down-market, while chick-lit seems okay.
I’ve often thought that Jane Austen was a sort of superior version of Mills and Boon – like the real thing – real roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as opposed to meat-flavoured potato crisps. Jane had plenty of love interest, and concerns about position and status, just like a Mills and Boon paperback, but developed the same themes in beautiful elegant English, unlike Mills and Boon.
But sometimes you don’t want roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I go for the middle ground, not roast beef or potato crisps, but for the literary equivalent of chicken and chips. A lot of men would prefer something heartier than chicken and chips, but as a woman I could eat them forever. Which is how I feel about my favourite reading when I just want to be alive, but not to think.
I ‘m taking a long time to get round to owning up what is my favourite Jane Austen lite. Partly because I’ve spent a life-time concealing it, partly because as soon as I divulge the name, or people get to see the rows of books on the shelf dedicated to Jane Austen lite, I get superior remarks, patronising jokes and some male derision, as though I’m reading some sort of trash! I was greatly relieved to read a few years ago about a very intelligent woman who used to hide the latest book from our favourite author in the covers of something acceptable – like ‘The Great Gatsby’, or Shirer’s ‘The Third Reich’. At least I wasn’t the only one with these apparently laughable lowbrow tastes!
I knew exactly how she felt. But I’ve come out of the closet now I’m old enough and tough enough to put up with people’s scorn – based mostly on ignorance, I should say – because anyone who’s read these books knows that they are full of wit and fun, well written, historically accurate without being boring, and often deal with themes like self esteem, the evils of gambling and racing, the value of good manners and integrity, and best of all, they END. They don’t leave me hanging in the air, the story unfinished, and fashionably enigmatic. And even better, the good always triumph over the evil, the dreary, the boring and the unwise!
Years ago, whenever I felt a bout of chronic fatigue syndrome begin to close down on me, I’d stock up with bars of caramello chocolate, and stop at the bookshop where they had a permanent stock of the latest re-prints, even though the author had been dead for some years. Armed with these essentials, I’d drive home and collapse into bed, and read until the fatigue closed my eyes. Nowadays I don’t have that excuse for reading these books. Instead I take them when I’m too tired to concentrate on anything else – mental knitting. I know them practically by heart now and have to rotate them .But the wit and the fun remain intact, familiar though they are.
So this is my private pleasure and mental knitting, and Sylvester, and The Grand Sophy, The Devils Cub and The Reluctant Widow, Frederica and Arabella relax me and send me off to sleep, just as surely as a good brandy or a bout of bad TV does for others.
Georgette Heyer is the hallowed name of my secret vice. Are there any other devotees/fans out there?
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
In the cold days of the Antipodes winter, I’m thinking comfort food, and what better than the old fashioned and very economical toad-in-the hole. The combination of (good) pork sausages, and batter, baked in the oven, served with well buttered, mashed potatoes and baked beans in tomato sauce, or a good tomato and onion sauce, is homely, tasty, cheap and filling.
You can either have a crisp batter or a soggy batter. I always incline to the soggy sort, but will give both recipes. You need one sausage person. For soggy batter: take four ounces or four rounded tablespoons of flour, good pinch of salt, an egg, and a quarter of a pint of milk mixed with a quarter of a pint of water. Break the egg into the flour and salt, and gradually add the milk and water. Then beat well. Leave in the fridge for at least half an hour or longer.
Heat two tablespoons of fat (not oil) till smoking in the roasting pan. Take out the batter and give another quick beat. Then pour it into the smoking pan, and lay the sausages in it at regular intervals. Bake for an hour in a hot oven at 200 degrees. This amount will serve four, and if you want to feed more, just double the amounts. For a crisper batter, simply use all milk, and no water.
Food for Thought
Look to this day: For it is life, the very life of life… 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. Sanskrit proverb