Monthly Archives: August 2012

Diana

Diana died on 31 August fifteen years ago. Those old enough to remember, know where they were at the moment when they heard that John Kennedy had died, taking with him the hopes and idealism of people all around the world.

And most of us I think, also know where we were when we heard of the death of Diana – there’s only one Diana. Her death left a huge hole in the consciousness of the world. For fifteen years we had gloated over her clothes, admired her beauty, shared her children, followed her travels, marvelled over her commitment to others,  felt her pain at her failing marriage, hated her rival, regretted her lapses of judgement in men and other things, and always loved her.

Who can forget the pictures of her kneeling at the feet of an old blind lady just after her engagement – no Royal had ever knelt to their adoring audience before? Who doesn’t remember those pictures of her on her knees again, arms open wide, love blazing from her face as she greeted the sons she hadn’t seen for a few days? Can anyone forget that picture of her mastering her fear and courageously walking through a minefield to show the world what wars do to women and children?

Do people remember those pictures of her holding the hands of a leper, and another of her sitting with an Aids patient with his hands in hers? These pictures flashed a message around the world – no-one should ever be an outcast. We should include the old and the sick and the pariahs.

And then there were those unforgettable ones of her in a Bosnian cemetery where she came on a grieving mother, and with no common language between them Diana put her arms round this stranger and held her. Being available to her grief, no words necessary. And the shots of her carrying a little Black American girl in her arms to take her for a ride in her limousine, the one wish the little girl had expressed.

There were other pictures – the woman who went to hospital to collect her husband with his broken arm in a sling – the same husband who then, unbeknown to the world at the time, took his mistress up to Scotland to convalesce with his grandmother. Meanwhile, Diana continued to visit the young man she’d befriended in that hospital, and then to visit his family when he got back home.

She went to a childrens’ hospital every few days to paint a little girl’s finger nails pink. She wrote so many comforting handwritten letters to people, that after she died, and the stories were told, people could only marvel.

She did so many kind things in private, and as her marriage broke down, some foolish things in public. But in many ways she lived out all the archetypes of women, and maybe that’s why some people loved her, and some didn’t- if they were repelled by the archetype. So she personified Persephone, the shy goddess of springtime, who in her dark moments refused to eat; she personified Ceres, the mother and good friend, with compassion for all; Hera, the angry, vindictive, jealous and rejected wife of Zeus; Minerva, the career woman who was meticulously briefed and organised in contrast to her husband’s chaotic office, and all the other goddesses. (I wrote of this in depths in my book ‘The Sound of Water’).

She also had that much misused word – charisma – hardened journalists felt her presence, watched her love in action, and melted. She was down to earth- talking to a mayor on an official visit, she had him eating out of her hand when she asked him how much money he gave his children for pocket money!

She had courage. As a shy twenty-one year old on her first tour – in New Zealand – she emerged from a hall to greet the waiting crowds, and was met by a barrage of placards and yelling protestors shouting about Ireland. For a moment she stopped, shocked, and then stepped straight up to the other people standing in front of the protestors and greeted them, all the while enduring the barrage of insults. That took grit. She had courtesy, refusing to shelter from the rain under an umbrella, unless the mayor’s wife standing with her shared it too, the mayor’s wife told me.

In psychological terms, the first relationships people have with their parents shape their later lives. Diana, as the third daughter, was initially rejected at birth by her father who wanted an heir. That sort of emotional shock would have stayed in her psyche, and projected an unconscious fear that she would be rejected by the men she loved. So she was. Her husband rejected her, and then the Pakistani surgeon who she loved for two years and hoped to marry – until he couldn’t face the hullabaloo which surrounded her.

Her last fling on the rebound was unlikely to have lasted. Dodi Fayed simply didn’t have the intellectual and emotional depths that Diana would have needed. She called herself as thick as a plank, because she had failed her school exams. But it’s a given that strife at home blocks children’s progress at school. They can’t concentrate on their lessons when they have emotional trauma going on, and Diana was always torn between her warring parents. On the other hand, people who knew Diana encountered a lively mind and wit, a phenomenal memory, and a musical talent that meant she was able to plunge into the notoriously difficult Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto without any music, when asked to play.

Like all un-integrated people she had many flaws. Who does n’t? That’s no reason to denigrate her, as it’s become fashionable to do in the years since the world wide grief at her death. Her gifts to the world outweighed her private problems. And what were those gifts, apart from her two sons? She left us with a memory of a beautiful soul who wasn’t afraid to love and act spontaneously; who gave compassion- and acceptance – to all who crossed her path, and whose example has given others the courage to open their own hearts and express their feelings.

Her motto was ‘compassion in another’s troubles, courage in your own’. Her acts of random kindness were legion. Her life, her mothering, and her work were an inspiration, while fashion has never been the same since she went to Paris and died. I, like many, still miss Diana’s presence on this earth, and wish I had seen her grow into the magnificent mature woman which was her potential. She was only thirty-six when she died.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend recovering from a major operation came for supper last night, so I made a bit of an effort. Whole chicken legs, slashed at intervals and the slashes stuffed with chopped garlic and grated lemon rind and juice, marinated for some hours before hand. Before popping into the oven, I sprinkled them with flour mixed with ginger, salt and pepper, and sprinkled with some olive oil. Then into a hot oven for about an hour or until cooked. The skin is crisp and tasty. I’d made some of the cream potatoes from the recipe other day, and we had them with Brussels sprouts and little spring carrots.

Not bad. I experimented with a pear and almond tart for pudding – the pastry a wonderful quick easy recipe for another day – the frangipane didn’t taste as almondy as I would have liked… so a bit of jiggling to do there.

Food for Thought

So precious is a person’s faith in God… never should we harm that.

Because He gave birth to all religions.            St Francis of Assisi 1182 -1226

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Filed under cookery/recipes, fashion, food, great days, life/style, love, princess diana, royalty, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Rambling through Youtube

I had the haunting Irish tune of ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ on my mind and turned to lovely Youtube. I did the rounds, Kathleen Ferrier- sublime, Orla Fallon – beautiful,  Marianne Faithful – shallow, and Clannad, performing authentically in an Irish pub – haunting, wistful, and satisfying. And as I flitted from one version to the next, I stumbled on William Butler Yeats himself, reading his poem (though it was based on an old Irish folk song).

It was magic listening to the real voice of the poet, and reminded me what a gift recording is. I never had much time for Yeats in his monocle and black cloak, who left Wilfred Owen out of the Oxford Book of English Verse because he suspected Owen of pacifist sympathies. Yeats, in his fifties, didn’t fight in the war, but Owen was in the trenches for the whole four years, writing the finest war poetry, and dying in an attack across a canal in the last week of the war. So Yeats, born in 1865, doesn’t do it for me, but to hear his voice, echoing across historic centuries was still a thrill.

On the sidebar, there was Virginia Woolf reading on the BBC in 1939, a year before she walked into the river, and never came back. It’s the only recording we have of her. I clicked – of course – and listened to this wonderful voice reading her thoughts on words, entranced as her imagination soared and she opened new worlds of ideas. Her beautiful diction and resonant tones gave an idea of the layers of meaning and perception that she applied to life and art.

Then Alan Rickman showed up at the side, reading Shakespeare’s sonnets. Hearing  that mellifluous voice, reading the cadences of Shakespeare’s phrases and innermost thoughts was so moving. But since Harry Potter is never far from us these days, there was Rickman also in his role as Severus Snape. And once hooked into the world of Harry Potter, I couldn’t go past Emma Thompson as Sybil Trelawny in a scene which has never been shown, as it was cut. Shame. I laughed till the tears ran down my face as she tried to eat her meal in a state of total panic and confusion – doesn’t sound funny, I know, but you haven’t seen it.

I was watching, of course, a master, as were Rickman, Woolf and Yeats. Watching or hearing a master is an experience which stirs the soul. Sitting at a concert of Joan Sutherland , every time she came on stage and that glorious sound rang out, the tears just rolled down my cheeks. Listening to Yehudi Menuhin was like entering a mysterious world of spirit, and sitting motionless, holding my breath, as Kathleen Battle, in black with a cyclamen pink stole about fifteen feet long, sang to a packed hall of spellbound concertgoers is one of my treasured memories.

Masters reveal a world of universal connections, and seeing a Leonardo or a Michelangelo takes us into that same world of universal values of beauty and truth. But one of the favourite books on my shelf is a collection of sonnets to the woman he loved, by Michelangelo, and I love them precisely because he was n’t a great poet, as he was a great artist. In his poetry he shows the side of him that struggles with the same ordinariness – or perhaps I mean common humanity – as the rest of us. As an amateur poet, he is exposed in these poems, while in the mastery of his art, it’s his greatness that we see.

So while I am awed by, and grateful for mastery, there is something very beautiful about amateurishness. Many years ago, on New Year’s Eve at a party in Somerset, I had struggled all evening to look as though I was having fun with a group of people I didn’t know, and had nothing in common with. I was staying with friends, who had taken me with them. As midnight approached, we all gathered in the main hall of the castle, and a man asked if there was anyone who could accompany him on the piano. With no takers, he said he’d sing anyway. I cringed, wondering if he would embarass himself.

And so began one of the loveliest moments of my life. He sang ‘My love is like a red, red rose’. Not professionally, but honestly and lovingly. All our egos which had jostled and struggled to keep their ends up all evening stood transfixed. A long silence followed the ending of the song, and there was a softness in the room and on the faces of everyone. The evening changed. His courage in exposing himself to us all had somehow broken the barriers that separated us. Warmth and kindness showed in every face.

I’ve heard another song sung like that in a voice that had no training, and nothing to recommend it except sweetness of tone, and sweetness of character. And it was just as moving. So while mastery is a sublime experience, the love and honesty that we lesser mortals have to offer, is just as precious in its own way.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

If we’re having something ordinary to eat, and I need to give it a bit of a lift, I make our family favourite, culled years ago, from the pages of Elizabeth David. I only used to make it at Christmas, for the adults, but one memorable year, the grandchildren discovered it, and gobbled it up under the affronted and greedy gaze of all the grownups. So now I make about three dishes of it, and there is a great big potato peeling bee on Christmas Eve, and some of the children eschew the turkey, plumping for the potatoes, and only moving on to the rest of the feast later. If there’s any left over, they eat them for breakfast! So I always make it now when the family come, and often for dressy meals with friends.

All you need are potatoes, garlic and lashings of cream. I use Agria potatoes, which mash well, and also in this dish, absorb the cream. Slice the potatoes thinly into rounds, and pat them dry. Butter a shallowish baking dish, and layer the potatoes in, every now and then anointing the layers with salt and pepper, chopped garlic and a few knobs of butter. When the dish is nearly filled, dot the top with butter and pour in as much cream as you need to nearly cover the potatoes. Bake for an hour or more in a moderate oven. If the cream has dried up by the end, I pour more into the crevices, and put back in the oven for a few minutes. It can be cooked the day before and re-heated, but give it plenty of time. It’s delicious with any meal, and with a few vegetables is also a lovely vegetarian meal.

 

Food for Thought

Ad on Trademe: One toothpick with a FREE son included ( I’m sure there is some law which forbids me trafficking in humans, hence the toothpick)…being a teenager he requires large amounts of food (meat and candy mostly, despite the fridge being full of fruit and veg.) Uses power enough to run a small town ( computer, TV, PlayStation and assorted electrical gadgets as well as always leaving the fridge door open) Unfortunately he is short-sighted and unable to see unwashed dishes, grime, towels on the floor or skid marks. Requires 14 hours of sleep per day. Needs a soundproof room as he either slaughters pigs in there or plays heavy metal (sounds the same to me)

Don’t suppose he managed to get rid of him… there’s a glut of teenage boys like this, I suspect.

 

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Happiness is Our Birthright

I was sitting in my favourite coffee place perversely enjoying a cup of hot chocolate when a young man walked in, carrying his year old baby girl.

As he waited in the queue I saw him drop a kiss on the baby’s head, and I thought to myself, she’s going to be alright. I’d just finished writing a story for a parenting magazine, about bringing up emotionally stable children. I’d turned it round to write a headline, happy children become stable and intelligent people.

Because it’s easy for parents to think they have to be perfect, I made the point that it’s loving parents who take the time to listen and to remember the golden rule about doing to others as you wish to be done to you, who make the difference…

We all want to be comforted when we’re miserable, to be heard when we say something, to enjoy the company of those we love, to have enough to eat and drink and get enough sleep – which is exactly what babies need – they are people too!

But the really important thing for people to know is that cuddling is the answer to all the ills of mankind! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked, too, sung too, cuddled, included, have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain concerned with regulating emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to become a considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes children feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Children who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong. Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with in-appropriate behaviours like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

This is other side of the coin – the research which has shown what most mothers instinctively know, that it’s bad for babies to be left to cry. Imagine being tiny and helpless, unable to move or speak, with crying our only way to get attention when we’re hungry, frightened, lonely or whatever, and we can begin to imagine the panic and powerlessness of a baby left to cry. And if we knew that the person we relied on was there, but ignoring us, we’d feel even more abandoned and hopeless. We’d learn that we can’t trust the people we love and need.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children.

Psychologists now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain- those hormones of loving connection.

All of which means: cuddling is good for babes, crying is bad for them – and the same applies to us all. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep from misery, and felt that awful depression when you wake up un-refreshed, you’ll know how it is for far too many babies – simply because their mothers don’t know.

If we saw a ten year old sitting and crying while we were chatting and having coffee, we’d ask her what the matter was. But if it’s a baby crying, too often we simply ignore him. So I make it my life’s work to admire people’s babies in the supermarket or elsewhere, and then say, you know the more you cuddle him, the happier and the cleverer he’ll be, and if they’re interested, explain. Often young mothers react with huge relief, as though they’ve been given permission to cuddle as much as they want. (They may also say what a boring old bat, when I’ve gone!)

Maybe we could change the world if we all cuddled our babies, and rushed to comfort a crying one. No more sad and miserable children getting punished for behaviour they don’t understand and then growing into depressed or angry adults, taking it out on the world which felt so harsh to them when they were babies. And we could probably all do with lots more hormones of loving connection ourselves, too.

And then maybe when we all have enough of them, Love will at last prevail.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Out for lunch today, so we just needed a light supper. Leeks are still cheap and plentiful, so leeks it was tonight. Take enough leeks for two – they vary in size so much, that it’s easier to estimate your own. Butter an ovenproof dish, split the leeks lengthways and lay them in the dish. Stir 300 grammes of freshly grated Parmesan cheese into 400 mls of thick cream. Pour this over the leeks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for twenty minutes until the leeks are cooked and the cream is bubbling.

Meanwhile hard- boil an egg per person and chop them up. Scatter the eggs over the leeks, and cover with more grated parmesan. Put the dish back in the oven for about five  minutes until the cheese has melted, and then give it a quick grill to brown the top.

Serve with crusty bread and some salad.

 

Food for Thought

I am as young as the most beautiful wish in my heart, and as old as the unfulfilled longings in my life.                   Saying of the pygmy Kalahari Desert Bushmen

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Books That Taught Us The Secrets of Life

As I listened to the Whiffenpoof Yale Choir singing ” As I was young and foolish”, at their concert  last night, I thought I know all about that… I was twelve in 1950 when we were given a lecture during science on human reproduction. It was very boring, nine tenths of it was a film about rabbits , and the last tenth was a diagram of stick figures with arrows demonstrating that the sperm passed from the man to the woman.

“Any questions?” said the science mistress at the end of this, in a very repressive voice, to which I was totally insensitive. I pressed brashly on.  “Yes, how did it get from the man to the woman”, I asked? “You should have watched the film.” she snapped, as the whole class took a deep collective in-breath. “But I did”, I protested. End of lesson. It didn’t really matter, I was more pre-occupied with Baroness Orxy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel at that stage… “they seek him here, they seek him there….”

A year later I got the lowdown on the rudiments of human reproduction in the school train. Rude was what it seemed to me, and I looked with utter distaste at the forty year old English master whose wife was having a baby. How could an elderly man like him – I thought to myself – how could he?

The next step in my education was the publication of Nevil Shute’s “A Town Like Alice”, which was the subject of hushed talk in the Lower Fourth. Most people think it’s about a couple who fall in love during their brutal imprisonment by the Japanese. But we were n’t interested in that. There were two sentences in the whole book which riveted us. The couple found each other after the war, and went off on holiday to try to re-capture their original feelings. One night she wore a sarong like the one she’d worn in Malaya, and this did the trick apparently. We read with bated breath the words “Did what I think happened last night really happen?” and read with some horror, her strange reply: “Well, I’m covered in bruises.” This was puzzling on several counts. What on earth goes on, we pondered.

Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the Durbervilles” was the next heroine who furthered my general knowledge on this rather arcane subject back then. I discovered from this book that human reproduction was a very risky business, which in Tess’s case, led from seduction to unwanted pregnancy, a husband who abandoned her on their honeymoon when she told him, and then the seducer rescuing Tess from poverty and despair, until the husband pops up again. In her rage she stabs the wretched seducer, and ends up being hanged. Not a good look for ignorant teenagers searching for information.

But it came in a much more attractive package when I was at boarding school. This blue book was wrapped in brown paper so that none of the teachers knew we had it. It was furtively passed around the senior girls’ dormitory, and I was at the end of the line, being the most recent arrival. Finally I got to the pages of Frank Yerby’s  “The Foxes of Harrow”, which were causing all the excitement. I discovered from this sex manual that women could be frigid – what on earth was that? And the hero of this tale – if hero he could be called – got so fed-up with his frigid wife that he packed her off to town to be de-fridged by a sort of white witch, who was actually a Black American.

When she returned to her home, and expectant husband, they both couldn’t wait to get up to the bedroom, where the husband stripped off her clothes as fast as he could. But his patience gave out when he fumbled with her pearl necklace, and to our collective relish, he ripped it apart, and priceless pearls cascaded unheeded around the bedroom. Wow, we all thought!  You don’t wear jewellery in bed! This couple too, seemed to have had a rough ride, because in the morning, one or other of them had a back which had, in the words of the story, been “raked” by fingernails. Hell’s teeth! as my father would have said.

Finally Gone with The Wind fell into my eager hands. Not much sex here, but a manual on childbirth for me. Melanie Wilkes giving birth while Atlanta burned around her, and stifling her groans of agony by wringing her hands on a knotted towel stood me in good stead.

When I gave birth to my first child, having moved house as an army wife, and having slipped too through the cracks of any ante-natal classes – if indeed they existed then – I only had Melanie’s example to guide me. I lay on my bed of pain, sunk into the deepest, blackest pit, suppressing my groans like Melanie had done. Somewhere high up above me I heard the midwife say to my husband you might as well go home, she’s asleep.

So off he went, and I didn’t see him for another six months. When I was wheeled back to my room in the morning, there was a brief telegram:” Gone to Cyprus”. The unspoken other half of this communication was: “to be shot at by Greeks and Turks.” His regiment had been bundled off to Cyprus to quell another insurrection.

We were too young to qualify for army allowances, so back home, sans money, family, neighbours, phone and car – since I couldn’t drive the one holed up in the garage, I needed help. I turned to Dr Spock.

Pregnant again as soon as the husband returned unharmed by Greeks or Turks, for the next few years the only book I read was Dr Benjamin Spock’s child rearing manual, as I wrestled with colic and constipation, solids and sleep deprivation. And since those desperate days, the raunchy reading of my youth hasn’t had the same allure. We called them Blue books back then, though they probably weren’t,  and I can’t see me thumbing through Fifty Shades of Grey now… especially since a survey has shown that a surprisingly large number of readers never bother to read to the end!

Dr Spock, on the other hand, I read from cover to cover. Not once but many times, hoping to enlighten my ignorance on how to cope with babies. But really, I needed more than Dr Spock, just as I needed more than Melanie.

Recipe for Threadbare Gourmets

Yesterday I ran out of time and ingredients, and was feeling guilty that I’d been out two nights running leaving the old chap with a cold meal. One night at a concert listening to The Whiffenpoofs, the Yale Choir, and last night, Tai Chi. So I felt I had to cook, and an omelette didn’t seem good enough. Though this is a real threadbare meal, it’s one we love. You need a cup of long grain rice, well washed, and put on to boil with two scant cups of water, salt, three cloves and quarter to half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Clamp the lid on tightly and boil on as low as possible for twenty minutes. Then pull off the heat and leave covered for another ten minutes. Meanwhile gently fry one or two onions, and two cups of chopped celery, adding several cloves of chopped garlic towards the end. At this stage I either chop up some cooked chicken, open a tin of shrimps, or fish out some frozen prawns, and stir whatever it is into the onion mixture. Allow two eggs for two people, but three eggs for four – and this amount of rice is probably enough for four reasonable people – beat the eggs lightly and stir into the pan for fifty seconds. Then add the rice, gently stirring to mix it all up. If I have spring onions to hand, I chop them in. Eat immediately with some green salad. (Just don’t try to eat the cloves.) It’s a very delicately flavoured meal.

Food for Thought

The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.          Lao-Tse     Ancient Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, and considered to be the founder of Taoism

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Bloggers Complexes

Do you have Bloggers License, a friend asked, querying something I’d written.

No, that was exactly how it happened I answered. I thought about this. As I complete three months worth of Blogging, I can see some patterns. As far as I can see, Bloggers write the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, in the interests of good taste, and other people’s feelings.

So for me, Bloggers License is being able to choose to write what we want and when we want- unlike the grindstone of journalism.

Bloggers Temptation is to write too much and too often for followers to keep up.

Bloggers Fatigue is to get behind with reading other people’s Blogs, and failing therefore to keep the other half of the Bloggers Contract – I engage to encourage you in the same way that you never fail to encourage me.

Bloggers Heaven is to open the computer and find Likes and Comments and Followings sprinkled like confetti all over the Inbox, and winking through all those other Blogs waiting to be read and enjoyed. Bloggers Heaven is also looking at Stats and seeing not just a high spike, but a lofty plateau of readers every day. If only.

Bloggers Hell is to open the computer and find nothing but other Blogs, and then open Stats and find only a dribble of readers. Hell, indeed.

Bloggers Hell leads to Bloggers Despair. Feeling that I am a failure. Feeling that I have nothing of value to say to the world. The world does not want to hear what I have to say. The world is passing me by. I write because I love it, but this is like starving in a garret with no-one to appreciate my literary gems…

Bloggers Delight is finding a Comment from a particularly admired Blogger, or an intelligent and perceptive Comment, or a Comment of such sincerity and goodness that you feel grateful for being in the same world.

Bloggers World is a place where everyone writes grammatical, entertaining, interesting, inspiring prose or poetry.  Subjects may cover personal highs and lows, current affairs, beauty, politics, history, spirituality or any other topics which intrigue, amuse, or engage the Blogger. Many Bloggers have a passion which they communicate, or a long running project, like the Camino Trail, getting a book or a play published, running a farm, or reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Most people (except me) have a theme which people know to expect when they visit a Blogger’s web-site. And there are also Bloggers who share their wonderful photography, the sort of artistry that I drag into the To Keep box.

Bloggers seem to have common characteristics. They seem to be intelligent, often committed to preserving the environment, devoted to animals and concerned with social justice. They are sincere and witty and have a sense of fun. Bloggers notice and enjoy the small things in life. Many enjoy the good things in life, like food, beauty, flowers, music, gardens, architecture and antiques. They are uniformly courteous, kind, committed to high ideals, and often to spiritual growth. If anyone asks for help, they are swamped with responses from Bloggers who really care. Bloggers are good people.

I wonder if Bloggers are the cutting edge of the wave of the new consciousness that the world needs to move to another level of thought and awareness. It’s awareness and commitment that we need as we step up to the next stage of our civilisation and growth. It’s only by thought that we’ll solve the problems that challenge us to take that next step into the unknown; and it seems to me that Bloggers are the sort of thoughtful people who each take individual responsibility for their corner of the world – themselves. So the Bloggers World is a sort of alternative new world that we inhabit.

Bloggers End: this is a situation that few of us know anything about – much the same as we know little about our passing into the next world. There is little research into the demise of the Blogger. Do she just fade out, obliterate the Blog (how?), just stop clicking on Like, or stop writing the Blog? These are all huge questions that every Blogger will one day face. But until this great unknown state of unconsciousness overtakes us, we don’t know the answers. And will we ever? If Bloggers stop communicating how will we ever know? Will some brave soul send back messages from that other world, that cruel world where people scoff at Bloggers? There are still unsolved riddles even in the great enlightenedWorld of Blogging.

( Bloggers Nightmare – a private one, that only unskilled Bloggers would know about. It’s given this Blogger a few nights broken sleep: the fear that she’s letting all the other Bloggers down who’ve nominated her for Awards. Until she masters the medium she’s lagging behind in acknowledging the Awards, fulfilling the conditions, passing on the accolades to other Bloggers, and posting the Awards that demonstrate the encouragement, acceptance and approval of her peers. She’s presumptuously banking on the generosity of Bloggers to bear with her till she gets the hang of it all. She’s also longing to be able to dangle these accolades alongside her Blog)

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

There were two bananas sitting in the fruit bowl in a state of perfect ripeness –  just a few brown spots on their golden curves, indicating that they were ready to eat. It seemed a shame not to enjoy them at this peak moment of their prime, so though we rarely have a pudding in the interests of our weight, I couldn’t resist these perfect specimens. It only takes a few minutes to create a delectable banana pudding. I offered my husband a banana split, the banana sliced down the middle, spread with raspberry jam, cream poured over, and a dollop of ice-cream if he wished.

The alternative was my choice, the banana sliced down the middle and then cut in two, gently fried in butter, brown sugar and cream and a tot of Jamaica rum poured into it. This hot concoction served with good quality ice-cream is this blogger’s heaven. My husband went for the first option. I pitied him.

If I was serving this to guests, I would also give them a little crisp biscuit to eat with it, for the sake of texture.

Food for Thought

Sometimes I don’t want to think. I want to laugh. I love this foodie joke from my childhood. It’s anonymous.

I always eat my peas with honey

I’ve done it all my life.

They do taste kind of funny,

But it keeps them on the knife.

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I’m Crazy for Power

Yesterday afternoon I was thrown out of the cinema. Friend and I had gone to see our favourite film before it went off. Quarter of an hour into the familiar dialogue, chuckling at the jokes we’d laughed at before, the film disappeared and a weak little light appeared at the top of the stairs. We waited for them to fix the tape, but instead a girl appeared and said it was a power cut. Great gnashing of teeth. I was thankful for the feeble light by the stairs, imagining what it would have been like to have been plunged into total darkness, and a stampede for the only exit at the bottom of the stairs.

Sitting around outside, they finally told us to go home. Couldn’t give us a refund, because the till wouldn’t open without electricity. So they gave us another ticket.

Before going home, I said I’d just get some tomatoes for my husband’s supper – cold – since I was going to Tai Chi. The grocery was in flat panic. Dark, with no lights, blinds down over the open chilled shelves. I asked to give them some money for the tomatoes, but they had to go to the back and find the key to manually open the till. Then they didn’t know how much they were, because the price would have come up on the till… so off they went to the office to find the list of stock prices, and finally I managed to buy the tomatoes. Thank heavens I didn’t need any petrol. The whole little town was buzzing in despair and panic, no-one could even go to the loo.

Back home, I thought about The Great Storm of four years ago. Most of the country had been blacked out, but power was restored over a few days. In our neck of the woods however, where concrete power poles had been crumbled all over the road  like biscuit crumbs, and a tree had come down over the generator across the road from us, we were powerless for five days.

A different world opens up. We catch rainwater on the roof, store it in a huge tank, and pump it into the house. But no electricity equals no pump, equals no water. No water for drinking, washing, washing clothes, washing dishes, flushing the loo. No power meant no cooking, no lighting, and no TV or stereo. Luckily we could open our garage manually, but some friends had no other way of getting into their garages, and were marooned with their car behind the immoveable garage door.

So I boiled water on a camp fire and on the wood burning heater, fried eggs and bacon, and boiled soup. Didn’t dare open the deep freeze for fear of losing the still frozen contents, and resented opening the fridge for butter, milk and the like. The village store was in darkness, their fridges going on a generator, the garage was closed. No help at the fish and chip shop. Unwashed dishes piled up. Unwashed clothes accumulated. We had to get used to unwashed bodies. Some people cooked on their barbecues, some people had no form of heating except electricity, and froze.

After a couple of days we began to gingerly adjust. I drove to a nearby town which had the power on, and bought water and lots of extra pairs of underpants and panties. My husband thought of using buckets of water from the swimming pool next door – my daughter’s holiday home – to flush the loo. I never got used to not having my electric blanket, but at least we had a hot water bottle. Candles made the house look and feel beautiful, but the light wasn’t good enough to read by at night. Some neighbours used miners’ lamps, clipping them round their heads to go to bed and read. It worked apart from the large circle in the middle of their foreheads from the pressure.

I read today that the Blessed Bill Gates has offered a prize for a loo that works without water, electricity or a septic tank – all components of our system here – a loo that costs only five cents a day to run, preferably captures energy, and discharges no pollutants. A number of brilliant solutions have been invented. And the idea is to provide safe sanitation for the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have it.

I think we should all be able to buy these loos. Our over-crowded world desperately needs sustainable solutions like these for everything. We need alternatives to electricity, oil and coal … we need a dozen more Bill Gates’s to find solutions that involve the sun’s sustainable energy, the wind, the waves. For a few days, we in our village experienced a few temporary discomforts when power was unavailable, but were able to get outside help from places that did have power.

But there will surely come a time when there won’t be enough of anything. The world’s population is estimated to grow to between nine and ten billion within forty years – the lifetime of our grand-children. Two hundred years ago the population of England and Wales was eight million, compared with 56 million now, and it’s the same sort of increase  all over the world. So we urgently need more solutions like Bill Gates’s loos.

This is not cause for despair, for all is not lost. Mankind is brilliant at creating marvellous inventions, and resolving problems when it wants to. I’m reading a book called ‘The Great Disruption’ by Paul Gilding about how you and I can do something to help resolve these problems. Watch this space – I’ll let you know!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Having had lunch with a friend in her bay window overlooking a long, white, empty beach nearby, and then afternoon tea with a couple of friends to swap books, I hadn’t really thought about what to feed us in the evening. Something quick was wanted, so I fell back on my old standby, my un-orthodox version of kedgeree, made with a tin of salmon – cheap too.

A cup of long grain rice on the boil, two eggs on the boil, half a cup each of sultanas and frozen peas soaking in boiling water, and I was ready to begin. After gently frying a chopped onion in oil until soft, I added a couple of cloves of garlic and a chopped up knob of fresh ginger (you can always use powdered, but fresh is nicer).

When the garlic is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of powdered cumin, turmeric and a bit less of coriander into the pan, and let them cook gently. I sometimes also use some made up curry powder as well, and vary the amounts of the spices depending on how hot I want it. Better to start with less, and increase it, than find it’s burning the roof off your mouth (I have been known to add some brown sugar to take the edge off a too hot curry).

Now open the tin of salmon and drain, and add it to the mix in the frying pan. Drain the peas and sultanas and stir them in. Add a knob of butter if it needs lubricating. Drain the rice, and add this, gently stirring with lots of chopped parsley. I always find that adding another generous knob of butter improves the taste. Pile onto the plates and chop a hardboiled egg over each helping. Usual caveat – serves two greedy people generously, and three to four well-behaved people – add an egg for each person.

Food for Thought

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.

Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.

Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.

Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

No, not the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, but a translation from the Upanishads by Satish Kumar  Born 1937.  Jain monk, nuclear disarmament campaigner, founder of Schumacher College, in Devon, England which teaches green values and sustainability, and present editor of Resurgence magazine

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Culture, History, Glamour and Beauty

There’s a mysterious magic in some names and places, names like The Akhond of Swat, places like The Forbidden City, Venice, Timbuctoo or Mandalay. Sadly as the world has shrunk, and tourism has tainted so many remote places, some of the magic has melted away. It’s as though the less we know, the more romantic a place is.

Aleppo is one of those romantic places, but we’ve always known plenty about it, and it’s still a magic place. It’s so old that people were living there over seven thousand years ago. It’s seen every conqueror in history, from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Mamluks and Ottomans, and now the Assads. It’s architecture is older than the Greeks, legend has it that Abraham lived nearby with his flocks, Alexander was here in AD 333, and Saladin made it here too, among many others.

Since the sixteen century many Europeans lived here too, as Aleppo was the first city to have its own consuls, the first being the Venetian consul who built his house here in 1599. The same family have occupied it for centuries, like many other Europeans who came from places like Italy and Austria and stayed, building handsome homes, collecting exquisite works of art and historic libraries. The famous Baron’s Hotel which rivalled all the great hotels of the world hosted royalties from all over the world – mostly Europe! – travellers like Freya Stark and Patrick Leigh Fermor, statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt and Earl Mountbatten, the rich and famous like the Rockefellers and Charles Lindbergh, Agatha Christie and many more. The great Citadel has stood defiant for centuries, the Souk is the longest in the world at nearly 13 kilometers, while all around are ancient ruins, Roman and Greek, Crusader, and Assyrian.

And now – like Babylon, where US troops dug tank trenches, and wiped out ancient Sumerian cities; like Kabul, where the museum with relics from Alexander’s visit was obliterated by Russian and Taliban fighters; like the Bamiyan Buddhas, bombed by the Taliban; like Bayreuth, once called the most beautiful city in the world, destroyed in civil war  – this treasure, which is not just part of the heritage of the Middle East, but is the heritage of humanity, is also being destroyed. Both people and history are being shown no mercy.

The famous Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled by the troops of Assad, an Assyrian temple has been destroyed, and battles have been fought among the famed “dead cities,” the Graeco-Roman cities long abandoned, but preserved in the dry heat of the desert.  When the rebels take refuge behind the thick walls of ancient castles, Syrian troops haven’t hesitated to destroy these historic monuments in order to kill their countrymen hiding behind them.

Queen Zenobia’s legendary city of Palmyra is surrounded by Syrian troops, camped in the castle above the city, and there’s a tank park in the Valley of Tombs. It’s even rumoured that trenches have been dug in the Roman city. All these places, like the places devastated in Iraq, have nurtured many cultures for millenniums, from Sumerian and Byzantine to Christian and Moslem. And desperate men are destroying this heritage. Places of beauty, symbolism and significance for mankind are once again being devastated, as was much of Europe in World War Two, and the previously untouched historic cities like Sarajevo and Dubrovnik in later conflicts.

Africa is also our heritage, the cradle of the human race, that mysterious continent which hosts so many magnificent creatures seen nowhere else on the planet. And the native people who live there today are part of the delicate balance between man and nature, that unlike westerners, they have managed to preserve where they are left in peace. But here too, the ancient, misty culture of mankind, and the existence of the unique creatures who share this world with us, is threatened. Not by war here, but by heartless pleasure seeking. The Masai who inhabit the Serengeti in Tanzania, are facing eviction so that rich oil millionaires, kings and princes from the Gulf can hunt and shoot the wild life there.

The Arctic and Antarctic are also the common heritage of us all. And they too are being despoiled by the oil rush, by tourism, by global warming and power struggles. Our planet is so small now that we are all affected by whatever happens. Recently on TV, Professor Brian Cox, the famous physicist, picked up a huge diamond, and told his astonished audience that we are all so connected that when he rubs the diamond, it affects the stars in space.  So we are certainly all affected by all these events happening in our small world. We Are all one, as the mystics have always asserted.

What can we do to make a difference? Thanks to souldipper.wordpress.com pointing me to Scilla Elworthy’s video on TED, I know that there are many people working to end conflict in all its forms. And the best way? Start with ourselves… which means that though we may hate what’s happening, we can’t hate the people involved – because they all think they’re doing the right thing just like you and me!

And you can help the Masai by Googling Avaaz.org Stop the Serengeti Sell-off.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

An inpromptu little gathering for drinks with a few friends meant rustling up something to soak up the wine, so they would n’t, in the words of a funny article I read, have to drive drunkenly home through country lanes. A dish of olives, and some chicken pate and crackers were the usual nibbles, but I decided instead of doing something with salmon that I’d make a sardine pate. Quick and easy. Two tins of sardines, four tablespoons of cream cheese, some squeezed lemon, salt and pepper, and lots of finely chopped parsley. No need to bother with a mixer – which I don’t have – it mashes into a lovely smooth spread/dip- call it what you will. With thin slices of artisan olive bread left over from lunch, it was a hit, and cheap withal.

 

Food for Thought

Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is only of interest to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees.             E.F. Schumacher. 1911 – 1977  Economist and writer of ‘Small is Beautiful ‘.

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