Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Soldier’s Life is Terrible Hard!

Too tired after Tai Chi to discover what I think today, so here’s a story instead… a soldier’s life is terrible hard, said Alice – when Christopher Robin went down to the Palace! It didn’t seem that way to me when I joined the army at eighteen.

I’d left school, and was mooning around at home not knowing how to get myself to university. I didn’t think I was pretty enough to be a model, or clever enough to be a nurse, so uni seemed the only option; until the day my military father came home and told me he’d made an appointment for me with the local recruiting officer. To say I was flabbergasted would be only a partial description. I was also deeply depressed, but consoled myself with the thought that at least I’d be earning money so I could buy books and records and bury myself in them.

So I signed up, and went off to be tested to see if I was officer material. And there I had a pleasant surprise – though I was the youngest, everyone else was young and full of fun – life began to look up. So when I continued to drive my parents mad dreaming around the place waiting for the date to join up, and my father would utter with relish threats like: “they’ll wake you up when you join the army”, and: “you’re going to get the shock of your life when you get there”, I wasn’t too worried.

I got there on the wrong day, just as I’d got the dates wrong all my life, taking half term holidays when every-one else was at school, arriving to catch the plane as it landed the other end, taking a train to Chester instead of York, or Birmingham instead of Cardiff. Everyone had given up meeting me off trains, because it was so unlikely that I’d be on the right one.

So my unheralded arrival at the depot caused great consternation, and several anxious conferences I discovered later. It was decided to park me with the recruit company which was already half way through its training. The quartermaster resolutely refused to issue me with a uniform, because it would screw up her account books, but was prevailed upon to allow me a pair of shoes in order to do all the marching I was about to embark on.

Not knowing the procedure, when they took me to the quartermaster’s stores, I took fitting my shoes as seriously as though I was in Russell and Bromley buying some fabulously expensive gear. I pinched the toes, checked the heels, worried about the width, and walked up and down trying several different ones for size, while the quartermaster’s staff looked on in dumb disbelief, and allowed me to get away with it, since I was obviously away with the fairies! Later I discovered that it was just a question of saying your size and taking what you were given. Innocence was bliss…

I was then escorted to the barrack-room, with a corporal helping me to carry my stuff. As we neared the entrance, I heard the clatter of seventy pairs of shoes thundering along wooden floors, and can still remember my subconscious thought, “ Oh, they must have taken the carpets away for cleaning”…

Since the Quartermaster – a fearsome figure – had dug her toes in over my uniform, I had to trail around at the end of the squad in my red raincoat, the only thing I’d brought with me. Every time the Colonel – another fearsome figure – saw my red mac, it was worse than a red rag to a bull, because she then trounced the Adjutant for the incompetence of everyone down the chain of command who hadn’t issued me with uniform. Thus, unbeknown to me, I became famous or rather, infamous throughout the depot.

Meanwhile I solemnly got on with the job of being a recruit, with a lot of help from my fellows, who thought I was going to be a clerk or a cook like them. Since I was out of sequence with the other officer cadets, I was in with a room of diverse and fascinating girls, some escaping the slums, some escaping their parents, others escaping an unhappy marriage, or a cruel employer. There were also two girls from the Gorbals, the notorious Glasgow slums, whose speech was salted with curses and swear words – most of them new to my ears.

One night, after another exhausting day of “by the right, by the left”, right wheeling, left wheeling, right form, and lectures, with the same programme on offer the next day, I got tired of their strident voices and obscenities keeping us all awake while we tried to get our much needed sleep.  So I said very crisply in my pukka Queen’s English, down the length of the barrack room – “Good Bloody Night”. There followed a deafening silence and I went straight off to sleep.

At lunch-time the next day, a deputation from the barrack room came to me, and asked me very seriously not to be corrupted, and start using bad language. They gently told me I’d been brought up properly, and they didn’t want me to be influenced by people who didn’t know any better!I promised them I’d be a good girl, thinking of my father, and wondering if he would think I was getting that shock to the system that was going to wake me up!

Because I’d muddled up my dates, when I emerged as a fully fledged recruit, my fellow officer cadets were still some weeks behind me, so I was a spare wheel. They invented a temporary rank for me, and I was called a Senior Private. I had the job of marching the new recruits to the cookhouse, which was no sinecure, because you had to remember the right military words of command, shout them loud enough for a long column to hear, and get them timed for the right feet to come to a halt in sequence.

My counting was a shambles, so they stumbled instead of coming to a brisk halt, and the worst time was when we’d reached the cook house and I couldn’t remember the word for Halt! Finally, as they were in danger of piling up against the door, continuing to march with no word of command to halt them, I shouted “Stop!” in desperation, and I could hear them all muttering things like, “we didn’t get the right foot… she didn’t give us the right command… what’s wrong with her”… responsibility is a terrible thing, I would have told Alice.

By now I was in a new barrack room with all the tough old hands, and one morning in the first week, someone dropped their highly polished shoes for parade, and exclaimed: “Shit”. There was a heavy intake of breath around the room, and then silence. She turned to me, and said “I’m sorry”. “Why apologise to me?” I asked in amazement. “Because we all decided we wouldn’t swear when you came into this room,” she said!

My poor father would have been sadly disappointed – coddled and protected, when was I going to wake up! Well, that’s another story! But a soldier’s life was terrible fun!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Feeling chilled after getting back from Tai Chi on another cold night, I decided to spoil myself as I collapsed into bed. Hot chocolate flossied up with some orange essence drops, since I hadn’t got a fresh orange, some drops of vanilla essence, and a tot of kahlua. I slept like a top.

Food for Thought

It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.               Virginia Woolf   1882 -1941  renowned  writer who pushed the boundaries of literature.

 

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Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, great days, humour, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Happy Accidents and Meaningful Coincidences

That’s a longer way of saying serendipity and synchronicity – both events being a part of this weekend.

It started rather well, in a delicious new restaurant on Auckland Harbour’s edge, at a birthday party for a very old friend. Gathered together for her seventieth birthday were old school friends, bridesmaids, long-standing friends like me, and of course family and children and grandchildren gathered in from around the globe.

I sat with two other old friends, by the windows which flowed straight out onto the concourse where people dis-embarked from the ferries from the islands and from the harbour crossings, so that we felt part of the stream of this life too.

As I was telling the girls (a euphemism) about an amazing story of a springer spaniel who roamed Dartmoor with a bottle of milk in his mouth to feed the various orphaned lambs, another ferry docked. Pictures of this mothering spaniel showed her as a brown and white one. And as I described her, a couple walked past from the ferry, being towed along by a brown and white springer spaniel, a breed rarely seen here!

Well, one synchronicity down! The friend I was talking to always says you’re on track when synchronicities happen in your life, so I felt a great sense of well-being at this little flag from the universe, telling me, I assumed, that I’d got it all together for the moment, at any rate…

Serendipity, the happy accident next day wasn’t quite an accident, but an unexpected joy. My busy busy daughter rang to say they were coming up to do some housekeeping on their holiday house next door, and they’d come and have dinner with us. I had no fatted calf to kill, but a deep frozen organic corn fed chicken to defrost seemed a good substitute.

More serendipity, she came over and spent the afternoon with me too. Our conversations are a series of interruptions: “did you see ‘ – yes, but what did you think he? – well, he should have – yes, but when he – I suppose so, but she shouldn’t have- well, wouldn’t you – true. What about? Yes, I thought so too -you should have heard – really, did he refuse – no, when he offered – he didn’t! I thought – I know, so did I….”

Neither my husband, or her husband, have any idea what we’re talking about, but we know exactly. The only confusion was at the dinner table when she referred to “her ex,” and I thought she meant the long ago ex-husband of a friend, whereas she was referring to a recent ex-boyfriend. That snafoo ironed out, we were off again.

Apart from nattering, we played around on Trademe, and I ended up thinking it would be worthwhile getting rid of my ancient and uncomfortable ladder back dining chairs, and exchanging them for some comfortable modern ladder back chairs. That decided, we began to mull over the attractive dining table that came with them, and with a bit of prodding from her like: “well, I’d want my room to work, rather than look charming”, I decided to sell the elegant round table in the window, move my present dining table there to use as a desk, and paint the incoming dining table white to match everything else.

We clicked the Buy Now button, and now I’m shuddering at the huge upheaval of moving every stick of furniture and every piece of china, heaps of books, side tables with books and lamps and knick-knacks piled on them, a heavy antique bench and all the chairs, in order to get one table out, and another in!

My husband emerged from his study to find us up to our ears in re-organisation. Refreshed and invigorated! My daughter went off next door to tidy up for dinner, while I basted the chicken and made the cream, garlic and mushroom sauce instead of gravy. Dinner was good, chicken perfectly cooked, the stuffing divine, and minted new potatoes, the first spring asparagus, paired with roasted pumpkin and parsnips, meant that I had two very satisfied men at the table.

Come the pudding, my daughter had said she’d do it, so she arrived with the first strawberries of the season, whipped cream, sweet grapes, and a moist lemon cake from our favourite bakery – the only cake, we both agree, that we’d ever buy.

And then occurred one of those moments that I treasure – complicit laughter with my daughter. The old chap complimented her on the lemon cake, asking if she’d made it, and jokingly she replied yes, thinking he’d know she hadn’t. But his response showed us he believed her. Eugenie and I then went into over-drive at his expense.

We gave them clues, but they didn’t catch on. I said conversationally to her that I always found that the base of cardboard and silver paper made a difference to the texture when baking, to which she added her own refinement, while we laughed ourselves silly, developing the theme to heights of ridiculous nonsense , and the hapless men had no idea what was so funny. Trivial, silly, but oh the joy of laughing with the ones you love.

Serendipity indeed, and I still feel warm with it a day later as I tell you this. So a happy week to you all, too. Musical tables begins three days from now, when the carrier has fitted them into his schedule. Think of me with compassion.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The stuffing for the chicken is easy but delicious, quite unlike those awful packets and the sort in basted chickens from the supermarket. It doesn’t go into a hard ball, but is moist and melting.

It must be good quality bread. I always use stale sour dough bread, but a friend made a lovely stuffing once with very grainy whole meal bread and apricots. But I love the classic sage and onion.

So grate two to three cups of stale sour dough into a bowl. Chop very finely and fry a large onion.  Chop half a dozen mushrooms finely, and add to the  onion when it’s nearly cooked, plus a big knob of butter. Meanwhile chop a handful of fresh sage leaves and plenty of fresh parsley. I also add a generous sprinkling of dried sage, to give it a bit of extra kick. Add salt and pepper and enough cold water to make it moist enough to push inside the chicken cavity. And that’s it.

Food for Thought

A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.

Ken Keyes Jr  1921 – 1995  Personal growth author and lecturer

 

 

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, humour, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Follow The ( American) Leader

What IS a modern leader? A – a politician with pots of money and a longing for power?  B – an idealistic altruist who wants to help humanity?  C – a petulant six year old wanting to play with grownup toys?

Frequently A and C are combined, and it seems to me that this is the sort of leader most of us get these days. I read a report the other day that the most successful leaders also have the character traits of a psychopath. This certainly explained a lot to me.

But do we really need leaders who are psychopathic, spoiled rich men, politicians who’ve compromised and bent their principles until they haven’t got any? Bring back The West Wing I say, at least we had decent men then, even if half of them were alcoholics, workaholics and egotists of various shades. Oh gosh isn’t it possible to think about leaders and leadership without thinking negative thoughts like that?

I’ve thought of other leaders, people like US Grant, who right at the beginning of the Civil War, on his first march with the civilians he’d trained, found that few of them were ready for the first stage of the march. The next day was the same. The third day he set off at the agreed time, leaving the stragglers behind. No threats, no harangues, just marched off without them. Boy, did they scramble to catch up, and he never had any trouble again. A man of his word, and one who never wasted them. (Also a man who loved animals, never went shooting, punished his men if they ill-treated their horses, and refused to attend a bull fight in his honour in Mexico when he was president)

But great soldiers don’t seem to make great heads of state. Grant made a hash of his presidency because he didn’t understand power games and trusted corrupt politicians. Eisenhower was not as successful a president as he was a genertal (towards the end of his presidency when he spent most of it on the golf course, the joke was that the White House was known as the Tomb of the Well-Known Soldier). Even the Duke of Wellington, when he was made prime minister, made a mess of it.

Interestingly, none of these leaders seemed to show the psychopathic traits that successful heads of state are supposed to need (presumably, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were role models for this type of leadership – and I wonder about Putin).  Lyndon Johnson would have been a prime example of this sort of leader in the west, with his iron controlling will and ambition, which is not the same as wisdom and judgement. Jimmy Carter by contrast, a reasonable man who was the exact opposite of Johnson, didn’t make a second term.

The whole world is watching the contest going on in the US at the moment, and yet after having watched the West Wing, we are now so savvy about the constraints and checks on a president’s power from his lobby groups, senators and congressmen, and their need for votes from satisfied voters, that we know that maybe the man is not who matters , but the party and its policies.

And yet at the same time, thanks to TV and media outlets, we still see the parties’ figureheads as personifying the policies. So when one hasty or ill-chosen word can trigger riots and violence all over the Middle East, and terrorism in our own countries, it matters terribly who is speaking for America and by inference, for the West.

So we all have our preferences, hoping that the man we think thinks most like us will win. One of the things that made non-Americans love John Kennedy, regardless of his politics, was that he seemed to value the rest of us all around the world, and to see us as partners in the progress of the planet.

Since then, other presidents have often seemed to us outsiders as thinking that America matters more than the rest of us. Yet the day of 9/11 actually showed us how the world is a village, that we are all connected, and people shared and grieved collectively all around the world. And people all around the world also grieved for loved ones they too had lost in New York that day. So it’s never been possible to think since then, that what happens anywhere doesn’t affect us all.

What happens anywhere does matter to us all, whether it’s the third year of drought affecting American farmers, and the consequent drop in their earnings, and the raising of food prices around the world, to honour killings in Pakistan and the ripples of hostility that go round the world, raising levels of distrust.

So when America chooses its leader, we long for a man who can see the rest of us as valuable inhabitants of our world, not just fodder for American corporates peddling pesticides, milk powder, GM foods or arms.

Many of us are beginning to understand Nurse Edith Cavell’s words. She was the English nurse executed by the Germans for nursing wounded soldiers of all nationalities, whom they shot as a spy in 1915. Her last words were: “Patriotism is not enough”. We are beginning to understand that if something doesn’t work for one country, then it will affect us all; that western countries can’t go on supplying arms or polluted goods or subversion in the name of diplomacy to other parts of the world and not be harmed ourselves eventually.  ‘My country right or wrong’ is now an outmoded concept for the citizens of the twenty-first century.

Most importantly in a world where nuclear arms are commonplace, is to know that our leaders are not ambitious patriots, or frightened six year olds who can press a nuclear button without thinking it through. Tsutomu Yamaguchi who survived Hiroshima, and then dragging himself to his family in Nagasaki, survived a second atom bombing, said before his death in 2010, that: ‘Nations with nuclear armaments should be lead only by women who are breast-feeding.”

I’d go further than that, and say that maybe all nations would be better led by mothers who are breast-feeding. And I don’t need to explain why, do I?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This recipe comes from a little book of risottos by Anna del Conte. The page is badly thumbed and stained, and it’s one of my favourites, though I’ve adapted it slightly. Risotto al Limone, risotto with lemon.

Simmer five cups of vegetable or chicken broth, and keep it simmering all the time. Sauté an onion and finely chopped celery stalk in two tablespoons of butter. When they’re soft mix in a cup and a quarter of Arborio rice or similar, and stir for a few minutes till the rice is translucent. Stir in two thirds of a cup of broth until it’s absorbed, and continue to do this until the rice is cooked. You may not need all the broth.

While this is cooking, thinly pare the zest from an unwaxed lemon, and chop it into six fresh sage leaves and the leaves from a small sprig of rosemary. Stir this into the rice halfway through cooking. Squeeze half the lemon into a small bowl, and combine with an egg yolk, quarter to half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, quarter of a cup of cream, a little salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Mix with a fork.

When the rice is cooked, add this to it, plus another two tablespoons of butter. Cover and let it rest for a minute or two. Give it a stir and serve immediately with more Parmesan if you want. Serves two greedy people over-generously, three well behaved people comfortably, and four as a starter. If I have any left over, I mould it into patties, sprinkle with flour, and fry to make a delicious light meal.

Food for Thought

Prayer obviously produces results, otherwise millions wouldn’t pray.                                                                                                                       Krishnamurti    1895 – 1986  Indian spiritual thinker and teacher

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Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, history, life and death, military history, politics, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Bloggers Addictions

I’m going through what can only be called a life crisis. Looking at my stats this morning I saw in that funny place called search engines, two separate entries, one saying ‘Valerie Davies died abroad’, and the other ‘Valerie Davies dies abroad’.

I tried to click on it to find out more about my death, feeling somewhat as Mark Twain must have done when he said that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

But it won’t let me click, so perhaps – since I feel very much alive – I’m in that place called limbo, where I gather, we spend some time reviewing our lives and our mistakes and our decisions.

This feels quite a familiar place to me, having spent or wasted quite a chunk of my life reviewing my decisions, and regretting my mistakes, and now I’m doing it in Bloggerland.

It’s four months since in blissful ignorance, I posted the first blog. If I’d read any blogs first, I might have started differently, but since I knew no better, when my friendly printer said he’d got my blog ready, and now all I had to do was to write, I believed him. Four months later, having worked my way through the most obvious Blogger Complexes, I’m now swimming in deeper waters.

Yes, there is that Bloggers Delight, when a reader writes a comment that blows your socks off with its intelligence, perception, kindness or goodness. There is also the Bloggers Delight of discovering a blog that sings to you, so you click the follow button without more ado. This can happen with both photos and the written word.

Then there are the Bloggers Friendships, when a select group of like minds read your blogs regularly, and leave comments that range from encouraging to loving – a unique form of friendship, in which goodness and mercy float across the aether, blessing him that gives and him that takes.

Bloggers Dilemma is the apparent randomness of whether a post is successful or not. The blogger writes a post, anticipating a nice spike in the stats, wall to wall ‘likes’ or a rash of interested comments, only to find a flat plateau, and few ‘likes’, and nothing much in comments. This leads to Bloggers Heart-searching: was it too long? Was it too short? Why didn’t they like it? Am I writing too often? Am I writing enough? Longer or shorter gaps? Should I take it off now, or leave it a little longer?

In its most extreme form, this Bloggers Angst is likely to deteriorate into Bloggers Breast-beating:  am I a bore? Do I kid myself in thinking that what I have to say is interesting? Am I old hat? Am I irrelevant? Was it a mistake? Should I stop blogging and get myself a life again?

Looking on the bright side of things is Bloggers Fancy, the logical conclusion of that wonderful hobby of Blog Hopping. Browsing through a blog and its comments, the wit, intelligence or humanity of a comment invites you to trace that blogger, and having found her and read her stuff, finding another like minded comment, jumping to that blog, scattering ‘likes’ and ‘follow’ with gay abandon. Which means that when one of these bloggees asks how you found him or her, you have no idea by what zig-zag path you got to them.

Bloggers Fancy can thus trigger a certain amount of over-indulgence, which begins to add up to Bloggers Burden. This is when the blogger opens her e-mails and finds dozens and dozens of tantalising titles, subjects and topics, all must- reads, all demanding her attention, and too little time on her hands.

Suddenly meals arrive late, ironing piles up, business gets pushed aside, weeding is forgotten, books are unread, nights get later. This is the stage when blogging slides from a Bloggers Hobby to a Bloggers Complex, before flowering into a full blown Bloggers Addiction.

And this is when we become defensive about the amount of time we spend on the computer. We hastily switch off when partners come into the room, pretending we’ve just been reading a book, or checking something. We find ourselves making meals a little more ordinary, no time to spend slaving over a hot stove any more, whipping up some fresh mayonnaise or concocting a tasty rice dish.

Pasta becomes popular, as it’s quicker to cook than potatoes when we’ve forgotten the time. Saucepans get burned as we slip away to the computer to catch up on just a few more blogs, while the eggs boil, or the soup heats up, or the potatoes cook. Sometime later the soup is stuck to the bottom of the pan, the boiled eggs are hard as cannonballs and about to explode in an empty smoking saucepan, and the potatoes are an un-mashable soggy disintegrating pulp.

This is the dark side of blogging! There are also Bloggers Challenges. I inadvertently stumbled into an impassioned defence of guns between a macho group of far right extremists, who all agreed that Jefferson had said they could all carry guns and defend themselves, rather than that he meant they could carry guns to defend their homeland. The Challenge was to move on before becoming either depressed or dismayed by an alien culture. There are, I discover, plenty of alien cultures in Bloggerland.

But the Challenge is a necessary stage of the Bloggers Rite of Passage, when we discover that though we all share the same planet, we actually live in different worlds. Bloggers Challenge then, is to find our own world. And the funny thing is, since birds of a feather actually do flock together, we do all find our own community of kindred souls. Not quite heaven on earth, but better than limbo. And it’s called Bloggers Blessing.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

While still plying my husband with steak and the like, I’ve given up eating meat myself in the hope of easing my arthritic hands, having tried everything else, like giving up sugar and giving up carbohydrates. Still eschewing the sugar, and hoping that the meatless regime will help. So this is one of the delicious non-meat dishes I’m enjoying.

It’s an Indonesian dish called Sambel Goreng Telor, which means eggs in coconut milk, and though it may not sound very promising, it’s actually delicious (and cheap).

This recipe is for four eggs. I use two, but still make the same amount of sauce. While the eggs are hard boiling,( and no clandestine checking of blogs) finely slice an onion, a large clove of garlic, a tomato and a red pepper. Fry the onion and when it’s beginning to soften, add the garlic, tomato, pepper, some salt and some sugar to taste, and continue to cook. Lastly add half a cup (I use a bit more) of coconut milk, and finish cooking. Slice the eggs in half and pour the sauce over. Serve with rice.

This recipe was adapted for westerners. I think that the original recipe would have used palm sugar rather than sugar – it also specified a tablespoon of sugar – this seemed a lot to me, and I used less.

Food for Thought

I love the juxtaposition of serious and ridiculous, so this parody of Kipling by Catholic priest and English writer Ronald Knox 1888 – 1957 just fits the bill:

The tumult and the shouting dies,

The captains and the kings depart,

And we are left with large supplies

Of cold blancmange and rhubarb tart

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Filed under addictions, bloggers, complexes, cookery/recipes, food, great days, humour, life and death, life/style, The Sound of Water, Uncategorized

Life’s Like That

My life, like many, is not so much a drama as a tale of tiny things. But in the end they add up to a life. This is the tale of a few days of this week.

Tuesday          When I walked through the cemetery to the marble bench to sit in the sun, the grass seemed to be sprinkled with flowers like pink confetti. They were bright pink with yellow centres, the size of primroses, but only growing half an inch from the ground. I sat on the warm bench and looked over the turquoise harbour.

A monarch butterfly floated across and came to rest on the purply-blue flower of a creeper in the tangle of shrubs leading down to the water. I watched the orange and black wings spreading over the amethyst flower, and watched it lift off again, and swoop and flutter in a wide circle before coming back to the same flower. It then drifted to another flower head, before settling on the grass, presumably to digest its meal.

When it rose again in the air, it dropped down to a shrub where another monarch was already feasting. The two rose in the air, fluttering and dodging around each other, until my butterfly was driven away, and did a wide arc halfway round the cemetery, before coming back and settling on another bush.

I drifted back home, missing Cara the cat, and realising that when she had stopped coming with me but sat by the gate, and then, didn’t even cross the road, but sat by our path, waiting for me to return, she wasn’t being cussed – she was obviously too weak or weary in those last months to come springing across the grass with me, her tail held high, and perfectly straight.

Wednesday          Went for a walk to get away from the problems besetting me in the house. I passed a monarch butterfly fluttering on the pavement. It’s wings were almost completely chewed away, presumably while still in the chrysalis by a voracious praying mantis, but its head and body were intact. It lay there, fluttering the fragments of its ragged wings. I put it in the grass, and went for an illegal wander round Liz and Richard’s empty beautiful garden looking over the harbour.

On my way back I looked, and the butterfly was still struggling. I nerved myself to carry it to the pavement so I could stamp on it and put it out of its misery. I laid it down, and it spread its pathetic little rags in the sun, and I had the sense that it was enjoying the sunshine. I just couldn’t bring myself to stamp the life and the consciousness out of it. So I carried it gently back to the grass, and laid it in the sun.

The colours today are like summer, aquamarine sea, and snowy white foam as the waves dash onto the rocks below. The sun shines, and a bitter wind blows. It seems to have been cold for weeks, so we’re chomping through the walls of logs piled up in the garage.

It was hard to go out tonight, but I’m glad I did. Our monthly meeting when people talk about their life. Journeys, we call them. A woman who lives nearby told us how she had dissolved her three generation family business in fashion, and looked for somewhere in the world to serve. She ended up teaching in a Thai monastery, where her experiences there and at various healing sanctuaries were life- changing. She was glowing.

Thursday          Another bitterly cold day with the sun shining brightly. But the oak tree is shimmering with its new spring green, the crab apple has pink buds peeping out, and nasturtium and arctotis are beginning to spring up in their lovely untidy sprawl through the other greenery. A clutch of tuis are sucking the honey in the golden kowhai trees across the road. They are all covered thickly in their hanging yellow flowers along the roadside, and always seem like the heralds of spring.

Yesterday I got my sweet cleaning lady to help me rip down the white sheets which serve as a canopy on the veranda in summer. Have n’t had the strength in my arthritic hands to do it myself. I’ll wash them and use them to cover things in the garage – not sure what, but there’s bound to be something that will benefit. She told me the four ducklings she’d rescued sit cuddled up to each other at night and cheep for ages. “ I’d love to know what they’re saying to each other”….

Before going to Tai Chi, I rang Friend to thank her for lunch on Sunday, and found her devastated. They’d taken Smudge the cat to the vet because he’s dribbling blood and saliva. He has cancer of the jaw, and they’ve brought him home to try to eke out a few more weeks with him….

Tai Chi was freezing in the scouts hall. Coldest night for a long time. I noticed how pinched all our frozen old faces were by the end – and even the few young ones!

Friday           I rang Friend, she was struggling to get the cushion covers off the sofa, where Smudge had taken refuge from the icy night. They were covered in blood and saliva, so I promised to get my sheets from the veranda washed and dried by tonight so that she can drape them over the two sofas. Then took her for a consolatory coffee at the Market, where we gorged ourselves on good coffee and delicious lemon cake well blanketed in whipped cream… so much for diabetes and arthritis!

As I was writing this, I heard the noise of many children all chattering at onceGot up to look out of the window to see why, and saw two little girls making their way down the steps. I got to the door as they did, and was assailed by both of them talking at once as loud as they could. They were collecting for an animal charity, and the commotion was simply two seven year olds talking at once, and neither listening to the other. I emptied my purse of change and they went on their way well pleased.

So this is life, what happens between getting up to make a cup of tea to take back to bed in the morning, checking the e-mails and reading blogs, keeping the fire piled high with dry logs, and going back to that warm bed at night, with the electric blanket on high, a tray of tea for last thing, and a good book!

This is the raw material, and whether we make a silk purse out of it, or see it as a sow’s ear, it’s up to us. It can be satisfying or it can be boring, but the choice is ours. But as I go through my gratitude list at night before slipping into sleep, there seems much to thank the God of Small Things for.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends dropped in for glass of wine, and apart from a tin of olives stuffed with anchovies, which is a waste of good olives and anchovies to me, I had nothing for the wine to soak into. (I’ve taken to heart the advice to always have a few bites of something first, so the sugar in the wine doesn’t go straight into the blood stream. I also find the wine tastes much nicer if it isn’t sipped on an empty stomach). A dash to the village shop, and I came home with a little pack of the cheapest blue vein cheese, and a carton of cream cheese. Mixed together they make a lovely spread on little chunks of crusty roll, or any good water biscuit. It was enough.

Food for Thought

We thank God then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of events of the day…

From Christian Faith and Practise in the Experience of the Society of Friends.

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When Elephants Wept and Gorillas danced

Kiwis are not just New Zealanders. They are the a rare and unique breed of bird. And a few weeks ago after heavy rain in the South Island, a kiwi’s nest was threatened by floods pouring through its enclosure. The male and female kiwi had been conscientiously nursing their egg, a precious one, since they are an endangered species.

As the water began surge through, threatening to wash their nest and egg away, the male kiwi sprang into action. He seized twigs and grass and any materials he could find to stuff under the nest to raise it above water level. Outside, conservation staff began digging drainage too.

What this told me is that that kiwi father understood the principles of engineering.  Knowing that by levering his nest up with whatever he could find, he could try to save his offspring. He did.

The week before, I had seen some amazing pictures in an English newspaper. Two gorillas who had been born in a zoo and had grown up together, were parted, when the elder was sent to another zoo for a breeding programme. After three years, coming to the conclusion that the giant black gorilla was infertile, the zoo decided to send him back to join his brother, who during this time had been shuttled off to another zoo.

The pictures were of their re-union. Recognising each other straight away, they ran to each other, making sounds, hugging each other, rolling on the ground together in ecstasy, and dancing with joy.

What this told me is that separating animals and shunting them around to zoos and breeding programmes is as cruel as it was to break up slave families and sell mothers away from their children, and split up fathers and brothers in the days before Abolition. I read many years ago of a woman who decided to make feta cheese, and began breeding a small flock of sheep. As each generation was born, mothers, grannies, great grannies and children all remained in their family groups, and when she banged on the pail each day to gather them in for milking, they came in their family groups.

And yet we take lambs and calves from their mothers all the time, and foals from their mothers to race them as yearlings before their bones have matured, which is why so many young racehorses come to grief. Horses are not fully grown for six to seven years. Treating animals with no regard to their rights is called speciesism, a term coined by Australian philosopher and animal campaigner Peter Singer. He likens it to sexism, and racism.

In March this year, legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in Africa. He was known as ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. He had learned to calm and heal traumatized elephants who were sent to Thula Thula where he lived. The first herd arrived enraged from the death of a mother and her calf. The fifteen year old son of the dead mother charged him and his rangers, trumpeting his rage, his mother and baby sister having been shot in front of his eyes; a heartbreakingly brave teenager, defending his herd.

The traumatised elephants were herded into an enclosure to keep them safe until they were calm enough to move out into the reserve. The huge matriarch gathered her clan, and charged the electric fence, getting an 8,000-volt. She stepped back, and with the family in tow strode round the entire perimeter, checking for vibrations from the electric current. That night, the herd somehow found the generator, trampled it, pulled out the concrete embedded posts like matchsticks, and headed out, in danger from waiting poachers with guns at the ready.

Recaptured, Anthony knew it was only a matter of time before they escaped again. He talked to Nana the huge matriarch, telling her they would be killed if they broke out again. He feared he would be killed too, if he didn’t make a connection with them before they charged him. Momentarily he did feel a spark of connection with Nana, and then decided that the only way he could help them was to live with them and get to know them. And this was the start of many troubled elephants being brought to him for healing.

When Anthony died, there were two elephant herds in the reserve. They hadn’t visited Anthony’s house for eighteen months. But when he died in March, both herds made their way to his house. It would have taken them about twelve hours to make the journey, one herd arriving the day after, and the second a day later. The two herds hung around the house for two days, grieving, and then made their way back into the bush.

Feminist and Fulbright scholar Rabbi Leila Gal Berner is reported as saying… ‘If ever there were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephant’s hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.’

Some years ago another herd of elephants descended on a herd of antelopes who’d been penned up preparatory to being transplanted to another part of Africa. The rangers saw this herd of elephants bearing down on them and thought they’d come to kill the antelopes. What they did was trample down the enclosure so that the antelopes could escape.

I find all these stories of animals unbearably moving, because they all illustrate intelligence, emotional depths, and extra consciousnesses that man doesn’t possess. We say we are superior because we can reason – didn’t the kiwi reason – because we are self conscious – has that been a blessing or a curse – because we can use tools – but many animals can, as research is now showing us – because we have souls- why are we so sure that animals don’t?

Maybe American writer Henry Beston, who wrote the classic ‘The Outermost House’, put it best when he wrote: ‘We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they live finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

It seems to me that it’s man who has the splendour of the earth, and animals who have the travail. Maybe, as more and more of us care about them, that will change.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The old chap’s 83rd birthday, and some of the family for lunch to celebrate. I made it an easy one, roast chicken breasts for them, stuffed with sausage meat and sage, and wrapped in bacon – all free range and organic. The usual, a big dish for people to help themselves – roasted parsnips, onions, potatoes boiled in their skins, and then slightly crushed with plenty of butter, spring carrots and Brussels sprouts, plus the famous mushrooms in cream, parsley and garlic instead of gravy. Pudding was easy, using the same oven, and on another shelf, I baked some apples, cored and stuffed with spoonfuls of Christmas mincemeat, placed in a dish with cream and whisky poured over. This juice is heavenly. Serve the apples with crème fraiche or ice cream and a little shortbread biscuit. It was good with coffee served at the same time.

 

Food for Thought

A friend sent me this poem, and I offer it to all my fellow bloggers:

“..a poet/writer is someone

Who can pour light into a spoon

And then raise it

To nourish your parched holy mouth’

Hafez  1315 -1390   Renowned Persian lyric poet

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Travels in Foodie Heaven

Food was not a topic of much joy in my war-time childhood. Green ration books for us children, cream ones for adults. If you went shopping without them, it was a waste of time, and you had to get a bus back home to pick them up and start all over again, standing at the back of the queue at every shop.

The biggest foodie thrill I can remember back then was the one orange a year, stuffed in the bottom of my Christmas stocking. Things looked up slightly on my tenth birthday, the first I had ever spent with my father. (I was ten months old when he went to war in 1939, returning for two weeks leave in 1945, before finally coming home in 1947. But we only saw him for a month before he was posted to Belsen).We qualified for an army quarter by the time my birthday arrived, and joined him. To my parents’ horror it was the former home of the Beast of Belsen, the sadistic commandant of the concentration camp.

Knowing nothing of this, I concentrated on my birthday. My new parents took me for a treat to the Officers Club. The palace of the Princes of Hanover now served as the Officers Mess, where we children were allowed for the children’s Christmas party; it was held in the marbled, mirrored, chandeliered ballroom, with satin and gilt chairs to fall over during musical chairs. And the Prince’s hunting lodge deep in pine forests running with deer and wild boar, was now the Club.

The speciality of the German couple who ran it was their sugary doughnuts with butter cream and jam inside (Had the Hanoverian princelings also enjoyed these goodies before us?) I had never tasted anything like them -the nearest thing to heaven in my gastronomically deprived childhood. This may have been the moment when I became a foodie.

The next high point in my foodie career was staying in Vienne in central France a few years later. We were still on rationing in England at the time, and the rich French provincial food was a shock to my spartan system. But here I discovered real French bread. It was brought up from the village to the chateau by one of the maids every day, fresh and warm for breakfast. And in the afternoon a fresh supply was delivered to the kitchen by a boy on a bike. We children would gather illegally in the kitchen and annoy the maids by tearing into the warm bread and eating it with delectable runny confiture dripping onto the floor.

Malaya was another foodie milestone. We lived in a hotel on the edge of the sea in Penang for over a year, and ate in a dining room reminiscent of the forecourt of St Pauls Cathedral. Great pillars stretched the length of the ballroom. We walked this length between palms and pillars three times a day for every meal, and subsided at the end of it in the dining area, still pillared and palmed. We ate the same meals every week, in the same order and my favourite day was Friday when we had nasi goring, the only nod in the direction of the local cuisine.

I’ve tried to get Malayan friends to replicate it, I’ve tried myself, but nothing has ever had the same texture, tastes, variety and delicacy. I can copy most of the culinary joys of the past, but that one has proved impossible – it’s just a fragrant regretted memory.

In Majorca, when few people had even heard of it, at a little fishing village called Cala Ratjada, we stayed in the first hotel to be built there,( there are now over fifty) which they were just finishing, and the water for the shower came speeding through the bidet, and the hand basin only had water in short bursts. But down by the sea was a fish restaurant, and there I tasted two foodie classics, a genuine paella, and a lobster salad which is still fresh in my memory. I was beginning to sensitise my taste buds.

France a year later, this time a hamlet somewhere between San Tropez and Le Lavandou, where every meal eaten under the vine covered terrace was like ambrosia – never a dud. My lasting memories of this bliss were the fresh croissants for breakfast with unsalted butter and delicious homemade apricot jam, and aoli.  Eating aoli was like discovering the secret of culinary life- the simplicity of it, the exquisiteness of it, the white china, the perfect egg, the salad and the aoli. I decided there and then that I’d learn to make it when I had my own kitchen. (Living in an officers mess didn’t give me much scope for cooking experiments at the time.)

Later, driving back from Bonn with a girlfriend, we stopped at Aix (shades of “How they brought the good news from Aix to Ghent!”) for a coffee. We ordered rum babas and though it was fifty years ago, I can still remember the shocked delight at the taste of the rum and the cream and the yeasty cake. They were a benchmark for all rum babas eaten since, and none of them have measured up to the rum babas of Aix. We sat by a river in the sun, with dappled leaves reflected in the water, tall, grey eighteenth century buildings lining the other side of the road.

The next foodie revelation was staying with an old school friend in Winchester, who had become a talented cook in one year of marriage. We started the meal with shrimps in mayonnaise in half a pear, a very 50’s thingie and followed this with roast duck and orange. By the time we got to the crème brulee poor Brenda had fled the room to cope with not morning sickness, but evening sickness.

Her husband and I somewhat unconcernedly tackled the heavenly crème brulee she had left behind. I’d never tasted it before, cream not having been freely available in my past, so this was another taste bud sensation. To this day I can’t go past crème brulee however much I may have eaten beforehand.

Hong Kong? Oh yes, lots of lovely Chinese dishes, but what I remember from those days was the bombe Alaska at a place called Jimmy’s Kitchen. A girl friend and I would skip out from the office at lunchtime and order a bombe Alaska each. Fortified by this self-indulgent mix of sponge and fruit and ice-cream, brandy and meringue, we would totter reluctantly back to our desks to resume writing our boring little stories about fashion parades and new cosmetics for the woman’s pages.

So now, after a lifetime of enjoying food, here in New Zealand, land of milk and manukau honey, what gluttonous delights light my fire? Well, there are two things I cannot live without these days. One is a nice cup of tea. And the other is a nice cup of coffee!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When the crusty Duke of Wellington came back from his campaigns in foreign parts, legend has it that all he wanted was a slice of hot buttered toast. What he was talking about was comfort food, and it’s different for each of us. Mine is cornflakes if I’m on my uppers, or creamy mashed potatoes, or scrambled egg. My husband believes that scrambled egg is the apex of my culinary skills, but others have been known to recoil in horror clutching their hearts, when they discover how many eggs and how much butter and cream have gone into them!

For your run of the mill ordinary breakfast scrambled egg, I use a generous sized walnut of butter, and about two tablespoons of milk. I melt them, and then break the eggs in and stir to mix. The trick is to have the buttered toast ready, and then stir the scrambled egg in the pan very gently so it forms large curds. Cook it very slowly, if it’s cooked too fast, it becomes stringy, tough and watery. As soon as the curds are almost cooked, I tip it onto the waiting toast, as it still goes on setting while it’s hot. For softer, creamier scrambled eggs, add more butter and use cream – delectable.

Food for Thought

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

From a speech in Washington in 1953, by President Dwight. D. Eisenhower 1890 -1969

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