Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bloggers Bloopers and Expletives

Blogging has many unsuspected pitfalls, especially if typing is not up to scratch. I’m thinking I may have to get a new keyboard, as the five vowels have worn away and a number of the consonants too. I know that real typists don’t have to look at the letters but since I’ve never learned to type, I need to know where the letters are, and I often have to offer myself alternatives as I move blindly from one blank key to the next.

I pressed the send button too late the other day to stop a reply going out starting:” Hell Liz”. I’m onto it now, but fear there may have been other unfriendly bloopers emanating from this e-mail. What surprises me is how many words become insulting or obscene, with just one little misprint, or a key mis-hit.

Hello with the O left off is one thing, but I was shocked to re-read a comment and find I’d misspelt ‘friend’, and with the R left out it had become ‘fiend’. Since I was referring to a friend’s boy friend which had also come out with a typo reading ‘bog’, a ‘bog-fiend’  could have meant trouble. I was also commenting to this friend on ‘coping’ with her sick horse, which came out as ‘doping.’  And a comment was just saved in the nick of time, when I discovered that instead of writing ‘bigger’, I had typed U instead, while in another comment, I thought I’d written I was ‘touched’, but it came out as ‘toughed’.

One of the problems is that the writing for comments is so small I can hardly see it, and when trying to correct my inaccurate typing, too often I make a mess worse. It takes me hours to compose a properly spelt, polite comment with all typos and un-intentional expletives deleted and then to dare to press the ‘Reply’ button.

When it comes to expletives, I am actually a world expert, having read the un-expurgated copies of President Nixon’s tapes. I was back in England staying with a school friend, and her husband who was a lawyer, had paid an enormous amount of money to buy the un-expurgated tapes when they came on the market. My eyes started out of my head when I tried to read them. We’d become used to newspaper reports of the infamous tapes, saying things like: “Send the expletive deleted – expletive deleted – another -expletive deleted instruction, then he’ll -expletive deleted- know what the – expletive deleted- it’s all about…

Until I read President Nixon’s prose, or rather conversation, I had no idea it was possible to swear in so many ways and in so many words. To misquote Winston Churchill: never in human history has one man used so many swear words, in so many ways, so frequently. However, I try to avoid this myself, in my blogs and comments.

But even the word ‘blog’ gets away from me, and I find myself correcting ‘glob’. Today’s variation was ‘blogal’ instead of ‘global’. However, when I want to cheer myself up I go to Spam, and reading the comments there makes me feel I’m a master both of English prose and of the keyboard.

How about this one, taken at random from a bulging spam file.  The writer had read my post ‘Gaia Knows Us’ and this was his mind boggling response:

“I precisely wanted to appreciate you all over again. I’m not certain the things I would have worked on in the absence of these information discussed by you regarding this concern. It absolutely was a horrifying setting in my opinion, however, taking a look at this specialised mode you solved the issue forced me to jump for delight. Extremely happier for the service and in addition have high hopes you are aware of a great job you were putting in educating people today through your web site. I am sure you have never got to know any of us.”

Since the post ‘Blogging is The New Black’ came out, the spam file has been deluged with offers to sell jerseys, sweaters, Denver Bronco sweaters, jumpers with stitching that will not chafe or itch small children, Redskin jerseys, every sort of jersey, jumper, sweater, pullover,  hoodie, from places all over the US. Fashionistas who require jerseys also seem to need many brands of makeup and also Ugg boots.

I’ve had hundreds of these jersey offers, including one which tells me that:  “as soon as you arrive on campus report promptly to the office accountable for assisting international students and scholars and Billy Cunliffe Jerseys can be offered  to eligible students who apply”…  Presumably all these jerseys are black…as are the Ugg boots, judging by a message which read: ‘The things you need to understand about black Uggs!’ ( and who is BIlly Cunliffe?)

These jersey offers are considerably less disturbing to my peace of mind and self-esteem than the ones which tell me, a propos of ‘Writing for Survival’ – “this is kinda boring”. And advise me to go to Yahoo for some good headline ideas. Or after the story on the Sixties, some bright young thing asked:  “What would you think of writing about interesting things?”

It feels like reading school reports when I see “Try to improve your posts so they can be more detailed”, written a propos of ‘A Soldiers Life’, and another comment on the post about the Sixties:  “I’m trying to understand more about this. Can you explain it clearer?” On the other hand I had that timid glow that faint praise from the head-mistress invoked in the past, when I read: “I really believe you will do much better in the future.”

As I pick myself up after these blighting assessments, I decide I’m better off staying in my own narrow, boring little world rather than venturing into the big cruel world of Spam where obviously all the bright young people live, where they dress in black Ugg boots, and Redskin jerseys in black, wear lots of make-up, and speak in a secret language which only they can make sense of. (They also seem to need a lot of Viagra)

In the mean-time I’ll struggle on with my secret language which has no vowells and no T and no R and no H or D on the keyboard. And I hope you’ll understand when I make a comment saying “Hell Jan, a bog fiend has a bugger glob that is very toughing and going blogal, but is still doping”.

( translation: Hello Jan, a boy friend has a bigger blog that is very touching and going global, but is still coping)

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

My version of ratatouille was on the menu last night. Himself had it with a lamb chop, I had it as is. I love it! The classic recipe has aubergines and peppers in it as well as tomatoes, but since, on behalf of my arthritis, I avoid stuff from the nightshade family, rather than have three forbidden hits, I leave out the aubergines. I substitute courgettes and mushrooms

After heating some olive oil, I simply chop and saute an onion  untill soft, add some chopped mushrooms, chopped red and yellow peppers, followed by courgettes, and then lots of chopped tomatoes. I cook them all until soft, and remove the tomato skins as I go along. It usually needs topping up with more olive oil as it progresses. I might add a squeeze or so of tomato puree at the end, and of course, salt and black pepper. It’s all the better for sitting around, and can be eaten hot or cold. When I’m having it as a meal, I sprinkle freshly grated parmesan over it – lavishly – and mop up the juices with some warm crusty bread… a glass of wine also assists with the digestion of course!!!

Food for Thought

Beyond the night…

Somewhere afar, some

White tremendous daybreak…

Rupert Brooke 1887 – 1915 English poet


Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, great days, humour, politics, Thoughts on writing and life

Abortion is Hundreds of Shades of Grey

Abortion is not a cut and dried, black and white issue, which is how it seems to be being debated in the US. It’s hundreds of shades of grey. It’s about more than religion and women’s rights. It’s about a baby’s right to happiness.

When does an unwanted child become a happy child? Does a woman already worn out with childbearing, want another baby when she already has a houseful, courtesy of a husband? Does a thirteen year old, raped and pregnant, really want that child? Does she know how to be a mother? Does she or her family want a child who is bearing half the genes of the rapist?

Does a solo mother who made a mistake, and trying to make ends meet, really want to carry another child and bring it up, when she can’t afford the ones she already has? Does the college student, pregnant after an encounter in which the boy has disappeared in panic, really want a child who is going to blight her chances in college, and who she can’t afford?

Unwanted babies rarely become happy children. In Sweden where they’ve had a liberal policy for years, they carried out a study on the children whose mothers were refused abortion. They started the study with the children who had actually survived to their fifth birthday! The findings were heart-breaking. Most of these children did badly at school, had a range of emotional and physical problems, found it hard to make friends, and when it came to military service, most of them were rejected because they weren’t physically fit enough.

Which tells us about the lot of unwanted children. Worse still, the latest research has shown that if a mother is depressed in pregnancy – and carrying an unwanted child would surely make you depressed – it damages the development of the baby’s emotional centres of the brain, which in follow-up  studies showed that these babies were depressed for most of their lives, and prone to depressive illnesses.

Brain research has also shown us that when a baby is loved, and his or her mother spends time cuddling, talking, singing, playing, making eye contact – feel-good hormones feed into the connections of the brain in which emotional development takes place. When a baby is deprived of these’ hormones of loving connection’, as they’re called, and left to cry, feeling unloved and alone, then cortisone builds up in the brain, damaging the emotional centres. Child psychologists are now sheeting back most childhood problems like AHD, depression, anti –social behaviour, anxiety, panic attacks, to the first months of the child’s life when she was deprived of the emotional food for the brain that makes a happy child.

Obviously not all unwanted children end up as delinquent, but there are many more child suicides than we hear of – of children as young as eight or ten – there are many unhappy depressed children who grow into unhappy miserable adults, who make unhappy miserable parents, and there are also children who overcome the handicaps of their parenting and past, and grow into decent kind, even enlightened adults who have much to give the world.

It’s easy to recognise an unwanted child. They often have bad posture, they often look anxiously sideways, as though ready for the harsh word or even blow. They are always gauging the atmosphere – are the adults ok, or is it a bad day? They find it hard to look you in the eye, because they have no trust.  They have lots of accidents, sometimes caused by the adults, sometimes because accident-prone children have emotional problems… and this is just a short list of how to recognise unhappy children..

So before trying to make hard and fast rules which control women’s sexuality, perhaps we should be looking with real insight and compassion into the needs of children.

If the people – usually men- who advocate that all women should bear all babies, are they also offering support, both emotional, material, and financial to help women to bring up these unwanted babies? But how do you make a woman want a baby, if she doesn’t want the child of her rapist? I can’t imagine what it must be like to carry a child you don’t want, it was tough enough being pregnant with children I did want.

And of course a mother carrying an unwanted child is going to feel hostile and resentful, unless the miracle of bonding occurs at birth. But as any farmer will tell you, that vital connection, which ensures the life of his lambs or calves, can easily be broken.

The magic hormones that flow through the body of a woman during pregnancy and afterwards, that ensure the safe and happy birth of a baby, don’t operate automatically in all circumstances – women’s emotions are also part of the equation – they are not  child bearing machines any more than an animal is.

So to impose on all women, regardless of their age or circumstances or beliefs, a one size fits all rule is not only an infringement of women’s rights and their ability to conduct their own life, but also complete insensitivity to the needs of a baby, and complete ignorance about the miracle of birth, life and the growth of the human spirit .

If the no- abortion rule is applied to women, I feel that a compulsory sterilisation or vasectomy programme should also apply to any man who begets an unwanted child. This would probably solve the problem satisfactorily. Women would know that they were not being unfairly discriminated against if men were also subject to the same draconian principles being  promised to women, and men would know that they had to be responsible for their actions too.

If this meant a shortage of children with so many men unable to have children, then the unwanted children could be adopted into homes where a child was really, truly, wanted. Imagine a world where all children were happy – now that’s a vision to aim for – both in the US and all over the world.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I was desperate for some chocolate the other day, and only had dark chocolate in the house which doesn’t do it for me. So I decided to make a chocolate cake. By the time it was cooked and iced several hours later, the craving had left me, but we were also left with a lovely chocolate almond cake!

I melted four ounces of butter with four ounces of black chocolate and left it to cool. In a large bowl whisk four eggs with six ounces of castor sugar until thick and white – it does take a bit of time. When they’re ready, fold in the chocolate mixture in several batches, alternating with six ounces of ground almonds. Add a teasp of vanilla, and pour into a greased tin lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake for about three-quarters of an hour at 200 degrees or just under. The cake should be slightly undercooked, and should be left to cool and shrink a little in the pan.

When it’s ready to turn out, let it cool completely before icing it. I use three ounces of butter to about eight ounce of icing sugar, and a few teasp of water or freshly squeezed orange juice, and whisk them altogether, adding a bit more liquid if I need it. It’s an incredibly rich cake, and though it’s delicious the first day, I think it improves with keeping -if you can!

Food for Thought

It is harder for us today to feel near to God among the streets and houses of the city than it is for country folk. For them the harvested fields bathed in the autumn mists speak of God and his goodness far more vividly than any human lips.

Albert Schwietzer  1875 – 1965   Humanitarian, medical missionary,  Doctor of Theology, Doctor of Music, Nobel prize-winner and philosopher.






Filed under babies, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, happiness, life and death, love, philosophy, politics, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Snails Have Feelings Too!

Not exactly breakfast at Tiffany’s but breakfast at the river cafe. And not exactly breakfast either – I preferred a freshly baked friand and two cups of coffee – my way.

I sat in the spring sunshine and watched the ducks, bottoms up, having their breakfast. The sparrows hopped so close that I could see the tiny inky black dots like a bib in front of the male birds’ necks. As I walked up the steps to the grocer, the scent of the miniature lemon bushes flanking the water-slide bisecting the flight of steps wafted past. The cherry trees were in that delicate stage of fading blossom with a faint green haze of leaf buds emerging. Altogether, so enjoyable that I decided to take my time going home.

Turning down a country road with a few houses at scattered intervals, I slowly drove down peering up long drives trying to see the houses at the end. One long and infinite drive was lined with poplars, the translucent apricot- coloured spring leaves just uncurling, shiny and shimmering with the sun striking through them, and their bunches of pale green catkins wriggling in the breeze.. On one side of the road was a meadow snowy with daisies, and a little further down, was another one sparkling with gold buttercups.

They wouldn’t gladden a modern farmer’s heart, but they did mine. Cows no longer browse on all the herbs and grasses that their system needs, they just get cultivated grass of one variety which feeds them: but this doesn’t give them the balance of minerals and herbs they instinctively seek out when left in organic fields with all these nutrients available to them.

I only know this from a farming friend whose cows needed copper injections, but when someone left the gate open, they rushed out and began browsing in the mixed grasses along the roadside. When their health improved immediately, he was converted there and then to organic farming. I also heard a radio programme last week in which an organic farmer said his vet’s bills dropped from over two thousand dollars a month, to a hundred and eighty a month when he switched over to organic.

Further down the road some horses were grazing contentedly in the sun, one beautiful palamino stretched out on his side soaking up the warmth. I hastily drew up at this curve in the road, for a big clump of deep blue Norfolk Island forget-me-nots had self-seeded and were sprawling along the verge. I snapped off two sprays which had gone to seed and put them carefully on the front seat so I could see if any seeds fell off.

Heading back I detoured to a tiny wharf on the edge of the estuary. The first settlers who came here in 1850 had landed their goods from Auckland here, and by 1880 this little wharf had been built. All the traffic into this region came up from Auckland and was decanted ashore here. A few years later, an enterprising local man built a shop out over the water next to the wharf, so that fresh goods could be taken straight off the boats, and this tiny space between cliff and sea became the hub of the area.

Now, only the restored wharf remains, and I stood there in the sunny silence watching the tide flow up the river, clear and blue. There were some huge shells down on the mud, so I climbed down the steep steps to gather a handful, magenta and maroon and plum colours merging into sherry and then cream. Big curved shells, and flat fluted ones, with not a chip or a mark on them.

As I stepped towards them, my black patent shoes sank deep into the mud, and I had a moment’s panic. But then thought, well you can always wash patent leather. I gathered a handful of shells, and then wiping the soles of my shoes in the grass, stopped in another bay with a tiny boat building industry, before driving home.

I put the forget-me-not stalks in a flower bed to dry and seed, but when I put the shells to dry in the sun, I found I’d inadvertently brought a muddy looking snail shell home too. I could see there was a live sea-snail inside, so put it carefully out of the sun to take back. It was only about an inch wide.

I was going to take it to the harbour, but then thought that was a bit unfair. If I’d been abducted accidentally by giants or aliens, I’d want to be dropped back home, so I did the same for the snail or crab.

Many people think it fanciful to attribute human feelings to other species, but since they can show fear and joy and all the other human emotions, why not credit them with other responses too? Some Christian authorities describe it as anthropomorphism, and use the term patronisingly and derogatively – okay for St Francis, but not for the rest of us!

But since we know that even a snail’s brain contains between 5,000 and 100,000 giant neurons, and they know when they’re being carted to market in a basket, and have lifted the lid in a concerted effort, broken out and escaped in recorded instances, can we really assume that any creature has no feelings or intelligence?

Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote an exquisite book called ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’, a story about her companionship with a snail that came into her sickroom in a potted cyclamen. Snails, she discovered, lay eggs in different places, and visit them all regularly until their babies are hatched. So snails are maternal. The secret life of snails we can only guess at!

After reading her book I’ve been unable to put out snail bait in the garden. I either grow plants they don’t like, do companion planting, or in the case of petunias, put out some lettuce leaves by them at night, and they obligingly eat the lettuce leaves instead of the petunias. I know of a couple who go out late at night and gently gather up all the snails in their garden and taken them to a wild place where they can do no harm to a garden.

We don’t know what place snails occupy in the great chain of creation, but what we Are learning is that every creature seems to have a purpose. We are learning that now GM plants are bred with pesticides in them that kill off pests, good insects are also dying, and bumble bees who ingest pesticides, lose their sense of direction. In Africa where pesticides are widely used, not only are they polluting the lakes and rivers causing fish to die, and fishermen to lose their livelihoods, but the animals and birds that feed on creatures that have absorbed pesticides are also dying.

So it seems to me that every little snail and spider and insect may just matter more than we realise. That to tinker with the ecological chain, is as destructive to our planet as drilling for oil in the seas, burning down forests, clubbing baby seals to death, and all the other hostile acts that we perpetrate on our world. So I was happy to return my little captive to its home in this world – which is also our home – and the only one we will ever have.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

There was plenty of risotto left over from the day before, so before putting it into the fridge that night I had fashioned it into patties. The next day they had set so firmly I didn’t bother to roll them in flour, but just put them straight into some hot olive oil and butter, and fried both sides. The crispy outside, and soft tasty inside were delicious, and sprinkled with parmesan, I almost felt the leftovers were better than the original dish.

Food for Thought

Man is so made that he can carry the weight of twenty four hours – no more. Directly he weighs down with the years behind and the days ahead, his back breaks. I have promised to help you with … today only; the past I have taken from you …

From God Calling written by Two Listeners in the thirties. You can Google it and find the messages for each day. The language is slightly dated after 70 years, but the messages are still timely.


Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, food, great days, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, wild life

Soap Dramas and Domestic Power Struggles

Feeling I needed to rest my knee after some full-on glamping training, I decided to have a bath instead of a shower.

And I needed to warm up. It was a cold morning, and I hadn’t lit the fire because I’m going out to lunch, and the old chap is downstairs in his study. I could have put the heat pump on, but an innate meanness makes me feel I’d rather burn wood that I’ve already paid for, than use electricity that I’ll have to pay for in the future – probably through the nose.

I don’t often have a bath these days, mainly because I can’t trust myself not to go on adding more and more hot water, until I finally drag myself out, weak and exhausted from all the heat and steam, and need half an hour to cool down and recover. This seemed an attractive prospect this cold morning, so I put on the hot tap – hot first, so there isn’t a cold layer of water at the bottom, and sashayed off to make the bed.

I was waylaid by the thought that  I owed a thank you note to a friend for our dinner with them on Sunday night, so went to the computer instead. Thought I’d have a look at stats and notifications while I was there, replied to a few messages – suddenly remembered the bath! The water had reached the top, but at least was not over-flowing. But it had run cold, so I could put my hand in to let out some of the luke-warm water. As I stepped into this disappointing bath, I thought to myself – I may have to give up blogging.

I put my hand behind me into the soap dish and found it empty. Empty! I knew I’d put a fresh bar of Pears soap there only the other day. Why the old chap had to use the soap from the bath, when there were already three bars of soap in soap dishes in the hand basin was a mystery I grimly decided to solve. Three bars, because my son always gives me black Spanish glycerine soap to match my black and white bathroom. But the black soap does tend to stain white flannels, so I put an extra bar of inoffensive Pears glycerine soap there for flannel-using ablutions.

Soap has been on my mind since reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s  ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ a few weeks ago. One of many delicious incidents was between an elderly married couple, and how their marriage had nearly broken up thirty years before over a bar of soap. For a few days she kept forgetting to put a new bar of soap in the bathroom, and would remember each time she went in for her shower. On the third day her husband came out of the bathroom in a tantrum and accused her of leaving him without soap for a week.

Neither would back down. The petty argument developed into hostile silence between them, and he then went to stay at his club for three months – finally he had to come back home because they were re-furbishing the club, but he moved into another bedroom. He had to come through hers though, to get to the bathroom, so if she was in there, he lay on the bed, waiting. One day he fell asleep, and when he woke couldn’t be bothered to get up. “It wasn’t a week” he said. She then admitted she had meant to replace the soap each day.

It was the perfect illustration of the petty squabbles that grow into huge rifts, simply because no-one will back down, or admit they were wrong. I have some friends, married now for nearly forty years, and she told me they had had their first row the night they came back from honeymoon and moved into their first home. “Paul said the toilet roll had to have the paper hanging down behind, and I said it had to hang down the front.”

“What happened?” I asked. “I let him have his way,” she said … and she’s been letting him have his way ever since! So they’ve never had any power struggles because she just gives in. It’s when we change, that those sorts of rackets can cause relationship breakdowns. If both change, the relationship may survive, but if one can’t give up their need to control, then the other for their own self-respect has to go, or engage in endless power struggles.

There was no power struggle in this case. I simply asked him rather coldly why he needed a fourth bar of soap. The poor chap had no really convincing answer, unless domestic blindness qualifies, and in the interests of compassion I let him off the hook.

Glamping training? This is beginning to eat up as much time as blogging. Glamping is short for glamour tramping, and means we walk for some hours every day, while our luggage is delivered to our destination. We arrive at a comfy cabin, with a masseur waiting, a glass of wine and a platter of nibbles, before showering and enjoying the gourmet meal provided. We then relax into our freshly made up beds. The next morning we set off across another farm, the sea on one side, rolling hills on the other, to arrive at another destination equipped with masseur, wine, platter etc.

I’m ten years older than the friends I’m going with, and hoping I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Twice a day I set myself on the road, trying to get fit after months of sitting in front of the computer. After striding up and down a length of flattish road, I walk round and round the cemetery, figuring that I also need to practise walking on grass and rough terrain. I’m becoming increasingly nervous. The closer it gets I will need your prayers or goodwill, depending on whatever you think is appropriate !

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Reading Honie Brigg’s blog on her Italian holiday has had me in a fever of greedy desire as I scrolled down the pictures of their foodie feasts. Finally last night I could stand it no more, and cancelled the plans for our evening meal. The old chap didn’t fancy mushroom risotto, so he had a steak pie with all the trimmings, and I meditated over the risotto, fortified by a glass of wine.

Gently fry an onion in a little olive oil or butter – I use a bit of both so the butter doesn’t burn. When the onion is soft, add plenty of finely chopped mushrooms – I estimate three to four per person. When they’re soft, stir in three quarters of a cup of Arborio rice, or other risotto rice, and gently fry till the grains are translucent. Add a glass of white wine and let it bubble away. Then keep adding- in small amounts- hot chicken or vegetable stock – I used vegetable bouillon cubes for this emergency risotto. When the rice is cooked and has absorbed as much hot stock as it can take, I stir in a big knob of butter, cover it and leave for about five minutes.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan, followed by salad, and eaten with a glass of wine, of course – in this case I had a bottle of Gewurztraminer already open, so it was that. And the whole thing- served in a big white Victorian soup dish with a broad blue rim – was delectable … and the nearest I could get to Italy.

Food for Thought

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.                                                                         The last lines of the novel Middlemarch by George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Anne Evans. Great Victorian novelist, 1819 – 1880


Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, humour, life/style, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Were You There?

‘They were the best of times and they were the worst of times’. They were times of magic and they were times of mayhem. They began with the election of John Kennedy and the creation of the Camelot legend… Kennedy’s inspiring, idealistic and often profound words spoke to the whole world of young people. His ravishing wife mesmerised them. His death devastated them.

It felt as though a light had gone out. Joseph Campbell in his powerful description of his funeral in ‘Myths to Live By’, described him accurately as “that magnificent young man representing our whole society… taken away at the height of his career, at a moment of exuberant life”.

But we picked ourselves up, and listened to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and began to see the world through different eyes. Mary Quant changed the way we dressed (her father had taught me history – a sprightly and kind, grubby little man with his daughter’s features, who told me their name came from the Quantock hills in Somerset, where their family had lived forever). Up went our hems and out went our stuffy classics – the clothes our parents wore.

A name we’d never come across before, began appearing on our TV screens – Vietnam. It crept up on us. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s haunting song ‘The Universal Soldier’ came out in 1964, but it didn’t mean much to us then. It took a few more years before it became our lament for the war.

And the Beatles came in singing, songs pouring out them, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and then Sgt Pepper, which took them and us to a whole new level. In their snappy suits and with their long hair – except that it wasn’t really long – they terrified parents who saw them as decadent. But they were innocent schoolboys compared with the Rolling Stones.

Vietnam rumbled along, spawning horrible words like overkill and escalate, which disguised the indiscriminate killing and the napalm. The soldiers came to Hong Kong from Saigon, for what was called R and R – rest and recreation – which really seemed to be exhausting themselves in the brothels of Wanchai. And all the really great newsmen in the world were stationed there in Hong Kong, the heads of NBC and CBS bureaus, journalists on the great newspapers from the capitals of the world, and the magazines like Time and Life. I was lucky to know many of them, and saddened when some of them never came back from Vietnam, and then Cambodia, and their broken-hearted wives and children packed up to go back home.

Maybe it wasn’t so, but it often seemed that the whole world was focussed on this part of the world from Saigon and Phnom Penh, to Hong Kong and Peking, as it was still known then. Draft dodgers from the US ended up in Hong Kong, refugees from the Cultural Revolution, as well as Quakers on missions of peace.

And as the news from Vietnam got worse, and then the news from the America, I hardly knew what to say to my closest American friends, as they grieved and felt ashamed for the assassination of Martin Luther King, and then Robert Kennedy a few months later. They shared the shame too, of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. The students’ protests in the States, the rallies, the marches, the singing all reached us in Hong Kong.

But we were so close to the conflicts in Vietnam and then Cambodia,that these places overshadowed our lives as the correspondents and photographers flew in and out, escaped the Tet Offensive and Khe Sanh, or were ambushed and never came back. I lost several close friends, and their families lost fathers and husbands. And we were also sucked into Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which reverberated on into Hong Kong, with student rallies and bombs and Mao’s Revenge – cutting off our water for the whole summer of ‘68. We existed between the convulsions of China and the traumas of America.

And all the while we sang the songs of our time, and embraced what we called Women’s Lib, the gentler fore-runner of a later angrier and more effective feminism. We wore clothes with colours called psychedelic. And in ‘67 when we loved and danced to ‘When you come to San Franscisco,’ and the words, ‘there’s a strange vibration, a new generation, with a new explanation’ – flower power took over the world, and gentleness was fashionable. Girls in their long skirts, long beads and long hair, boys in ragged jeans, beads and beards were the symbol of those times. Hippies and alternative life-styles became part of our language and our culture.

They symbolised a youth who had turned their back on the values of the old world, the world of war and the assassination of all their heroes. They set their world on fire, marching, protesting, having sit-ins and singing, forever singing – ‘We shall overcome’, ‘Blowing in the wind’ … placing flowers in the mouth of the guns facing them on the campus. It was a conflict of established power against the youth of the world and the fulcrum was on US campuses. When firing erupted in May 1970 at Kent University it felt unbelievable. Did authority feel so threatened that they wanted to kill their own young?

Woodstock  had felt like the triumphant ending of the decade in 1969… the young really felt then that the world would change, that their good intentions and their ideals, their songs which mirrored their disillusionment with the past and their hope and determination for the future, were the beginning of a new Aquarian age of love and peace.

Some say it was all hot air and youthful rebellion. That all the idealism and hope were dissipated with adulthood and a mortgage and materialism. But a recent survey of people who participated in those days of flower power – who were committed to changing the world – has found that those people were, and are still committed to their beliefs – that they had worked in places where they could help people, and live out their beliefs in love and peace, trying to bring hope to those who had none.

They had been volunteers in shelters, social workers, overseas volunteers and teachers, some were Buddhists or Quakers, or had found other spiritual beliefs. Some had none. Some were simply committed. But they hadn’t given up, the sixties did change them, and at grassroots level they are still putting into practise their songs and protests and beliefs about love and peace.

Those of us who lived through the sixties wear it as a badge of honour. This was our time, and Christopher Fry’s poem says it for us:

The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size….’

Those words are as true today as when they were written, but perhaps more urgent.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I have stale bread, I use it in two ways, unless there are ducks to feed! I chop it into cubes, and quickly fry them in hot olive oil (light). They can be used straight away in soups, or frozen and re-heated in the oven. Good bread like sour dough or wholemeal is best for this. Supermarket soggy reverts to type as soon as it hits the soup.

If I have stale sliced bread – supermarket soggy – which I’ve bought for indulgent sandwiches, (love egg, and cucumber sandwiches in soft white bread!) I lightly toast it, and cut the crusts off. Using a very sharp knife I slide it down the soft middle, and then have two very thin pieces of half toasted bread. I put these in the oven on medium for about ten minutes, and they curl and become wonderful melba –like toast for pate or spreads. Make sure they don’t over brown…if you have toast bread, it’s even better.

Food for Thought – Christopher Fry’s poem has given us that!


Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, history, life and death, music, philosophy, poetry, politics, spiritual, The Sound of Water, the sxities, Thoughts on writing and life

Blogging is the New Black

I’m part of the class of 2012. Five months of writing and blogging, and someone called me a seasoned blogger. That surprised me, as I still think of myself as a beginner, but since the posts have now racked up to fifty plus, I suppose I am seasoned.

I still look with awe at archives that have the magic number 11 on them, and am even more impressed with archives that go back years. What commitment, what hard work, what character and persistence!

The longer I blog, the deeper my understanding of this extraordinary phenomena becomes. It’s a new world which is developing, and establishing its own conventions and customs inside WordPress’s intelligent frame work. Bloggers find their own communities of like minds, and at the same time we stray across the boundaries to visit other small villages in the blogosphere.

I now know who to go to for hilarious blogs, and sardonic wit and humour, who will soothe my soul with the sweetness of animal life and farmy rituals, who’ll give me the inside running on events that are shaking the world today, and who’ll remind me of historic events, past and recent, that I’d almost forgotten. I know where to go to find out about fashion, and there’s that refuge for dreamers, the blogs with beautiful interiors, and the glorious recipes for foodies like me. There’s music and art, history and travel.

I know who to go to for photos of beauty and extraordinary depth and soul, and likewise for poetry which plunges deep and stirs the heart. There are the moving stories of lives overcoming incredible odds, and the accounts from others of making a difference in various parts of the planet. I live vicariously in France, in Spain, in Cornwall and Hampshire, in Colorado and Florida, Hawaii and Mexico, Canada and Nova Scotia, Melbourne and New York.

This is the magic world that only those with the courage to enter it discover, unknowing of the challenges of time and commitment. In Joseph Campbell’s lingo, we are the heroes on the hero’s journey creating a new world, and we have no idea where this new concept of planetary connection and friendship is taking us.

Will we one day be able to look back and see that we were the pioneers for the new consciousness; the global village where we all care about each other, and know that when we pollute or exploit our corner of the globe, it will impact on everyone else, and our planet too. Will we be the first hundred monkeys to wash our potatoes?    (Everyone knows the hundred monkey story, don’t they, when a few monkeys start washing the sand off their potatoes, and when it reaches a hundred monkeys, suddenly everyone does?)

When I look back at my first posts, I can see how much blogging has helped me to improve my writing. This is mainly because the blogging world offers encouragement and acceptance. A study in Vienna in the thirties in which groups of children were either encouraged all the time, criticised all the time, or received the normal see-saw of encouragement and criticism that most people get, produced interesting results.

The work of the criticised group deteriorated and fell behind the level they had previously reached, they had become so discouraged. The half and half group made normal progress. The group who only received encouragement streaked ahead, enjoyed their work, and produced great results.

So the unstinting encouragement that we bloggers receive from each other has a powerful outcome. It gives us the confidence to write from our hearts directly and honestly without fearing we will be put down, criticised or rejected. I know that I’m writing much more spontaneously now because I have the confidence given to me by other bloggers.

‘Likes’ and ‘comments’ are the joy of a blogger’s life, especially when it’s the sort of remark or comment that pushes the blog a bit further. Writing is only the one half of blogging – the response, the understanding and the interpretation – completes the act of creation, rounds out the concepts, and the writer and the reader are a symbiotic partnership in a way that readers of a newspaper or even a book never experience.

And unlike a newspaper, our blogs stick around, people go on reading them when we’ve moved onto the next posts, while the joke in newspapers is that today’s  story will be wrapping the rubbish tomorrow. So blogs are a halfway house between the longevity of a book and the ephemeral life of a newspaper.

Bloggers enter the lives of their fellows with courtesy and sensitivity. There’s such good manners and kindness in all the comments I read – witty, pithy, but never any word that steps over the line. Rather, there’s a concern for the well-being of each other, and support for those who are facing challenges, however the challenges may come. So we are reaching deeper levels of respect and compassion, sensitivity and insight into other cultures and communities. I’m sure we all had these qualities already, but blogging seems to exercise them daily.

So I’m a blogger, and I feel a bit like a bodger. In another post I mentioned bodging… a bodger was a craftsman who carved the legs of chairs in the woods in England, a hundred years ago and more. He worked alone in the beechwood, perfecting his skills, and that’s how it feels for me, sitting in my remote little fishing village in the Antipodes, finding the right words to express as accurately and truly and beautifully as I can, what I want to say.

I feel I’m a bodger too, a craftsman working alone. But I don’t feel alone- for the craft of blogging reaches out into the lives of all those other kindred spirits and great hearts around our beautiful planet. Namaste – I honour you all.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends are dropping in mid-morning on their way north for the holiday weekend, so it’ll be hot scones and strawberry jam to have with their coffee. For four of us I use eight oz self raising flour and about three oz of butter rubbed in like pastry. Beat an egg into a few tablesps of milk, plus a pinch of salt, and use this to make the dough. If you need more milk, just add a little as you need it. Don’t bother to roll it out, just quickly drop the dough on the bread board, and with as little handling as possible shape it into a flattish round or square about an inch and a half thick.

I then simply cut it into squares, instead of bothering with a pastry cutter. Put the little blobs of scone mix onto a buttered floured baking tray, cover and leave in the fridge for half an hour. Just before the guests are due, I pop them in a hot oven, and they cook in about fifteen minutes. I take them out when they still have very little colour, because they are so light at that stage.

Eaten hot with butter, strawberry jam and whipped cream, they always disappear in double quick time. If there should happen to be any left over, I slice them in half and fry them with bacon for the old chap’s breakfast. You can add sugar, cheese, sultanas, herbs, whatever you fancy. But I don’t feel you can improve on the classic scone.

Food for Thought

Suddenly from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery.

It takes more than a moment to fully realise this is Earth … home.

Edgar Mitchell from ‘The Home Planet’,  Astronaut, born 1930


Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, food, great days, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life

Gaia Knows Us

There isn’t a notice saying ‘people give way to birds and plants’, but it’s fairly obvious. It’s quite a mission for anyone to come to my door. First they have to dodge the overhanging branches of the red bottle brush tree, rustling with singing tuis and silver-eyes, and monarch butterflies fluttering in and out. They have to make their way past this tree, between banks of blue agapanthus bending over the path, and down the steps, before pushing past self-seeded white valerian springing across the steps, and bending down beneath the overhanging branches of the plum tree, laden at the moment  with tiny red fruit which will ripen into lovely sour little plums by Christmas – perfect for cooking with red wine, bay leaves and cinnamon…

I hope they will avoid stepping on the bricks where some self- seeded love- in- the- mist are pushing their way up in the cracks, and at the bottom of the steps, they have to avoid a self- seeded garden of valerian, orange nasturtiums and that wonderful purple spiky flower which I think some people consider a weed, because it grows so prolifically. I particularly love self seeded plants.

As they reach the door, the curling suckers of the purple wisteria I was forced to cut back before it prised the roof off, are beginning to wave their pale translucent leaves, and the honeysuckle I grew from a cutting taken from a country road is just beginning to sprawl across the trellis.

The other path into the garden is just as tricky for visitors. They have to negotiate two steps down onto a side path. But I erected a trellis arch above it, and now it’s enveloped with Albertine rose and all its prickles, intertwined with ivy and star jasmine. No room to put their hands on the trellis to steady themselves as they come down that path. And having negotiated the steps, they then have to dodge the overhanging branches of the guava tree – its fruit is the nice red tangy sort, which makes lovely guava jelly, but also makes the path hazardous when they drop.

When visitors get here, they never notice the lovely antique wrought iron French door knocker I’ve nailed up by the door, so after using their knuckles to knock tentatively and fruitlessly on the door, they make their way round to the French doors. When they finally get inside, a warm welcome awaits them, and they’ve worked for it!

Last year I wouldn’t even let them go down the main path, and re-routed everyone to the hazardous steps and prickly roses. There was a blackbird nesting in the bottle brush tree. I twined fine chicken wire around the trunk so that the beloved and wicked little black cat wouldn’t get up there. She had sat on the steps under the trellis for weeks, and I hadn’t realised why until winter, when all the leaves had gone from the Albertine, and there was a half finished nest, abandoned by some canny thrushes. The blackbirds made it safely. I used to tiptoe up the path and look up very slowly so as not to frighten them and there would be a head and a tail peeping over the nest, until the day when there were several little heads and open beaks stretching up instead.

This green garden is a tangle of shrubs and plants. When we first came here, there were only big smooth grey river stones sitting on weed-mat, and planted with cactus, a few succulents and spiky yuccas, which I gave away. The grand-children helped me toss the stones into a corner, but most of them were cemented in around every garden bed and along every path. A demented stonemason must have spent a fortune on these big round river stones. So the only thing to do was cover them. Out came the cactus and the rest, and in went ivy –  I just couldn’t get the weed-mat up, so I planted ivy on top.

Big square terracotta pots with my topiaried box plants were spaced along a terrace, and now it’s a green garden with a few beds riotous with self seeded flowers and perennials like hollyhocks, fox gloves, day lilies, ageratum, lavatera and marguerites. In autumn, dahlias and white Japanese anenomes brighten the green backdrop. At the moment bright orange cliveas, nasturtiums and pink and orange impatiens light up the bosky green bower.

A friend with a flowerless sculpture garden  -with just trees and grass and water –  came to see this tiny garden last year. She said: “It talks to me – all those flowers have a meaning for me”. They have meaning for me too, holding memories of childhood, past gardens and friends. The Mexican daisies that I carefully allow to spread, even though they are on the politically incorrect list, came from a friend called Oiroa, Oi for short. They’ve been known to us for nearly forty years as Oi’s daisies, and their roots carried from garden to garden. Then there’s Keith’s Kreepies, the little purple spreading ajuga.

In a big pot by the front door is a rose that has also been carried from garden to garden. I’ve Googled a description of it, and now know it’s a Reine des Violettes which has no prickles. The scent fills the whole garden for the month that its deep pinky- purple tightly layered petalled heads bloom. So many petals – between 50 and 75  – according to the official description, and bred in France in 1860. It was given to me by a friend who’d spent six months at Findhorn, the famous New Age centre in Scotland where they grow astonishing crops in poor sandy soil by communicating with Gaia – the consciousness of the planet- and the devas of the place. Marjorie came back home and put these principles into practise on her farmlet where she grew macadamias to fund her husband’s sub-Antarctic Islands explorations in his yacht, and grew most of her own food. She gave me this cutting from a rose growing by her door.

At her funeral her daughter told us that at a gathering some years before, each person was asked to say what creature they thought they were like. And what creature they would like to be. Gentle un-assuming Marjorie felt she was a worm, beavering away out of sight under the earth doing a vital job, but hidden and un-appreciated. She said she would like to be a bee, doing another vital job, pollinating and making honey, buzzing around in the sunshine, enjoying the beauty. The third aspect of this exercise was how others saw her. And they saw her as a thrush, a beautiful song bird, bringing joy to the garden and to other gardeners and friends.

Her daughter told us that the day Marjorie died, her garden was suddenly full of bees buzzing in all the flowers, and as her girls gathered at the house, the air was alive with the sound of thrushes singing. And when she left the house for the last time, a flight of birds flew over the garden. Gaia knew her faithful daughter, and Gaia  “works in mysterious ways”.


Food for Threadbare Gourmet

Still pushing the barrow for broccoli, I love the way the Japanese serve it with sesame sauce. Whenever we are out together in a Japanese restaurant, my daughter and I always order it. You can buy bottles of sesame sauce, but it’s not the same. I can’t be bothered to get all the Japanese ingredients just for this, so I adapt the bottled bought stuff, by adding it to a little mayonnaise – the bought stuff – and stirring it altogether.

Or I make a peanut sauce, which is not the same, but just as delicious. You need four tablesp of peanut butter, two tablsp of brown sugar, one tablsp of vinegar (I use cider vinegar) two tablesp of water, and three tablsp of soy sauce. Mix them altogether over a gentle heat until smooth. I use crunchy peanut butter so it has some texture. Pour over steamed broccoli, this makes a delicious vegetarian dish.

Food for Thought

Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me. I want people to know why I look like this. I’ve travelled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.

I agree with him! This is another quip from Will Rogers, famous part Cherokee cowboy, entertainer, wit, film star and newspaper columnist who died when his plane crashed in 1935




Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, great days, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Imagine if We Did

John Lennon seems to be around at the moment. I watched him singing’ Imagine’ on George-B’s blog EuCaSia and read about him quoting his mother on happiness at onthehomefrontandbeyond.

He was never my favourite back then in Beatle-mad times. My teenage cousin who used to come and stay with me in the holidays from her boarding school, introduced  them to me.

I was bogged down with two tinies under two, no washing machine, boiling and rinsing the nappies by hand, drying them one by one in front of the fire, since they froze solid if I hung them out in the bitter cold, and was an exhausted slave to housework in the very large rented 15th  century manor house that we lived in.  My brilliantly intelligent and flighty young cousin produced Norwegian Wood, which as someone who lived and breathed Vivaldi and Bach, Beethoven and the rest, I looked on with some suspicion.

I let her use my gramophone, and bingo – their energy and zest for life kick-started me. ‘ Michelle, ma belle’ … ‘I wanna hold your haaaand’ … I could hardly bear to let her go back to school taking the record with her. I loved their exuberance, their cheekiness, their vitality – and their music. Eventually I could afford my own records, and acquired the rest as they came out. I waited longingly for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, by then an increasingly depressed housewife in Hongkong. The Beatles and Bob Dylan brightened my life…

I could never see what people saw in Paul, apart from a cheeky charm, and amazing talent. Ringo, of course was not a heart throb – was he? John Lennon… I found him rather brash and tough, but George – now we’re talking. Tall, handsome, withdrawn and interesting, and very nice waistcoats. Above all it was his interest in the spiritual life that drew me to him.

Then along came Ono. Perhaps if none of them had married, they’d still be together, but being the men they were, both Paul and John married powerful, talented interesting women, who changed the whole dynamic of the group.

Like Linda McCartney, Ono was an artist in her own right, though I’ve never understood her art. She’s won countless prizes over the years since John’s death, the last one this year, being the Oscar Kokoschka Prize, Austria’s highest award for contemporary art. Her achievements are too numerous to name, and her awards are for her genius in merging pop art with avant garde. That may make sense to some people, but it’s double dutch to me. The one thing I do understand was her concept of the wishing tree, a beautiful idea which has now spread.

When Ono met John, she was seven years older than him, born in 1933. She had already been married twice, and had had a daughter who’d been kidnapped by her American father and who Ono never found until the daughter was grownup. Ono came from an aristocratic Japanese family, descended on her father’s side from the Emperors of Japan.  During the war when her father was separated from the family, her mother and her siblings became destitute. They survived the fire – bombing of Tokyo, and fled to the mountains where they bartered their remaining possessions for food.

After the war, when the family were re-united, Ono went to the exclusive peers school in Tokyo, and shared a classroom with Prince Akahito, now the Emperor of Japan. When the family moved to the US she attended Sarah Lawrence College. She’d already had exhibitions and performed when she and John got together.

Before their marriage and their famous lie-ins for peace, they had had a turbulent on-off relationship, and they both underwent primal therapy, which is usually a life-changing process. Ono was never going to be a star-struck wife. When she became pregnant she agreed to have the baby if John became a house husband so that she could get on with her career. He did. He gave up his music and spent five years looking after his baby son.

When I watch him singing ‘Imagine,” it’s like watching a different person to the brash young Beatle who repelled me. His face is lean and calm, chiselled by profound inner experience. Five years away from the screaming crowds, the insane  celebrity, the constant performing; five years devoted to being at home with a baby who needed him; five years in which he had lived an inner life, had given his face the purity of an early Christian ascetic.

Watching him sing’ Imagine’, with deep conviction and a commitment to the peace of the world,  is like watching someone singing a sacred song. Which it was, and is. His haunting plangent tones and inspired words go straight to the hearts of all who are open to that longing for peace on earth.

Seeing him sing, and seeing that inner light emanating from him, makes me feel that his death was not untimely, or a cutting off of his talents. In hindsight, he seemed to have reached a point where he had done what he had come to do – used his talents for mankind, and discovered inner peace for himself.

The ones who perhaps suffered the most were his children. Ono took up with an antiques dealer four months after John’s death, in a stable relationship that lasted until 2001, and has continued on her stellar path. Her commitment to peace has never wavered.  And for us –  ‘Imagine,’ is still the prayer of so many of us too.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Still thinking broccoli, it’s so cheap and plentiful at the moment. I use it for a light lunch, and this dish is a lovely easy one to serve to a few girls with hot rolls and a glass of wine… followed by good coffee and a nice pudding or piece of cake.

Break the broccoli into sprigs and steam. At the same time put two cups of cream into a saucepan, and break into it pieces from two of those segments of sharp blue cheese – Danish or similar. Stir all the time until the cheese is melted and amalgamated.  It’s quite nice with a few small lumps of cheese left in it. Just pour this over the fresh steamed broccoli. This is plenty for two, double the quantities for four. It’s good to have the rolls to mop up any sauce left over. It can also be re-heated. I’ve even dropped a left- over dollop into broccoli soup.

Food for Thought

This thought is dedicated to Maggie at and her devoted readers will know why:                                  Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.                                                             Cherokee Indian, cowboy, entertainer, newspaper columnist, film star. Died when his plane crashed in 1935







Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, culture, great days, music, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Nothing Is Trivial

It’s ten thirty in the morning, and already I feel as though I’ve lived through several days. I awoke to my usual pattern, get up and put the kettle on to take a tray of tea back to bed. While the kettle’s boiling, I pull back the curtains and check the stats and read any messages. Then back to bed with the tea tray, followed by meditation, and getting myself going.

Before breakfast I looked at the e-mails, and answered a query to the printer about the cover of a new book. Packed up some other books to send to a library supplier, and calculated that I had to get some more muesli for the old chap’s breakfast, and some undercoat to start the process of painting the new table and chairs – every-one is appalled by this vandalism – but I always have white rooms, and there’s no way I’m going to live with an expanse of heavy dark wood.

It got so late that I decided to skip breakfast, and go straight into the next door big village to get all the posting parcels and shopping done first thing, and then leave the day free for checking proofs, getting on with the washing, reading and commenting on blogs, and planning some stories for a magazine deadline.

At the big village, I bought my groceries, and checked up on Prasad, the Indian genius who’s transformed the tatty old shop into a spick and span grocery. He’s leaving, and all my friends have charged me with the office of finding out where he’s going … he’s given some of us nick names, and mine is ‘Girl”. Off to the hardware store for the paint, and a discussion about cockerels, as one of the genus was stretching its lungs somewhere nearby. We discussed the cockerel in town which has taken up residence with the vet, and sits on his veranda nestled up to his cats when it’s not strutting around the court rooms next door.

On to the lovely coffee place, where I enjoyed a good flat white with chocolate sprinkled on it, and a piece of iced lemon yogurt cake with cream, and raspberry coulis (oh dear). I sat in the window by the river, and watched the village cat peering into the ornamental runnels of water stocked with goldfish which edge the market square. My amusement turned to horror as the little black rascal leaned over and fished out a struggling orange body. I FELT the crunch of the sharp teeth piercing through the scales of the wriggling, doomed goldfish, then the cat ran off with it between her jaws.

When the girl delivered my coffee I mentioned to her the cat’s shameless bite and run, and she told me her mother had eight cats and a goldfish pond. “She put one in the water, and they gave up hunting the fish then,” she laughed. She then began to list the dogs they owned, starting with a pit bull. “Oh, the darling thing”, I exclaimed, to which she replied, “Oh, I expected quite a different response from you – everyone shudders when I say pit bull”. We discussed the sad fate of pit bulls owned by people who brutalise them, and the goodness which is the birthright of all creatures until man degrades them.

Feeling refreshed, I sailed off to the village bookshop presided over by a green eyed black haired goddess. “I’ve come to make a complaint,” I smiled.  She beamed back: “Go ahead – make my day”!  “You’re not feeding the cat,” I accused her. “She’s just murdered a goldfish.”

The goddess laughed, “I’ve just given her breakfast,” she replied. The cat technically lives in the pub across the road, but has taken up with everyone else in the market place. Sometimes when I’m in the cinema I see her prowling across the back of the seats, and one day at the opera, the chap next door to me put his sweater under his seat. I had to warn him to leave it there for the rest of the film, because the cat was nestled on it.

The green eyed goddess said she’d been at the cinema the night before, and the cat had found her and jumped up on her lap, and spent the whole film stretched out across her legs purring. “It was just like being at home with my cat on my lap”, she laughed. Before getting back in the car, I dropped in on the florist to order a big bunch of gypsophila when it comes into season, and she had also watched the violence in the market square. “What with the cat and the grey heron, there’s going to be no goldfish left”, she exclaimed feelingly. “I saw it happen. She didn’t even eat it. She just dropped it – it’s dead”, she assured me seeing the horror on my face. I drove home rather later than I’d planned, but feeling that the waters of life had been flowing strongly.

The great philosopher Martin Buber wrote that everything in our lives has a hidden significance. “ The people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farm-work, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it towards its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they in ours, then we shall ourselves be debarred from true fulfilled existence….the highest culture of the soul remains basically arid and barren unless, day by day, waters of life pour forth into the soul from those little encounters to which we give our due…”

Yes, it felt like that as I drove home, and now I feel too, that the waters of life flow not just through our individual lives but through our internet connections as well, and through all the little encounters we have with other souls and other lives around the world. And they certainly feel like genuine relationships in our little blogging village. This Must make a difference to the planet.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Though it’s supposed to be spring, it’s still cold, so I rustled up a quick soup for lunch. Broccoli soup is one of my favourite soups, and I love it hot and I love it cold. Chop an onion and a generous sized head of broccoli into small pieces, and sauté the harder green stems to start with. As they soften, add the rest of the green head, keeping some sprigs aside. Chop in a potato and then add enough chicken stock, about three to four cupfuls. If I haven’t any stock, the good old bouillon cube has to do.

Simmer till everything is soft. Put some milk in the blender, and then add the broccoli mixture, until it’s all liquidised. At this stage add the bright green broccoli  sprigs and liquidise them- they give some bright greenness to the soup. Re-heat long enough to cook the added broccoli fragments. Add grated nutmeg to taste, and salt and black pepper. Serve immediately, or let it cool and put in the fridge to chill. When the soup is iced, you may need to add stronger flavourings – more nutmeg, salt and pepper… needless to say I often add a dollop of cream to either version. This amount serves two people heartily, or four daintily.

Food for Thought

To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-wracking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence.                                                                                                                              Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated  without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.                                                                                                                                                                      E.F. Schumacher discussing Buddhist economics in ‘Small is Beautiful’.


Filed under cookery/recipes, food, great days, humour, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, village life

Writing for Survival

I fancied being a poet when I was eight, but unfortunately my uncle came home to my grandmother’s house, from prisoner of war camp. He didn’t know anything about children, but thought he did about poetry. So he drummed into me rhyme and rhythm and metre and blank verse and I quickly realised that if this was how you had to write poetry, I wasn’t poet material.

He was also the unfeeling brute who, when he found me streaming with tears over one of my grandmother’s Victorian children’s books about a child dying of starvation in the East End, called ‘Froggie’s Little Brother’,  said, “well, don’t read it”. (‘Froggie’s Little Brother’ is a hilarious classic for anyone who wants to study minor Victorian horror stories.) But I digress, as they say in Victorian prose!

My writing life didn’t actually begin until I was fourteen, and was obliged to enter a writing competition at school, part of the annual arts festival. I also went into for clay modelling and made a bust of my father, which looked so like Field Marshal Montgomery that I entered it as Monty. But obviously the judges didn’t think so, for Monty was unplaced.

My short story was a different matter. I had an idea, but was terrified people would laugh at me, so I made a bargain with God that if I wrote the story which was about a fictional incident in His Son’s childhood, He must guarantee that I win. God obviously agreed, and kept his side of the bargain, and success was very sweet.

My writing career then went into a period of latency, ‘ my wilderness years’ I suppose you could call them, and it wasn’t until I was 24 and a young captain at the War Office that my talents flourished again! I was part of a team of six lecturers sent out to talk to schools about the army, and we roamed far and wide across the British Isles with a driver who was also a film projectionist.

After each talk we had to write an account of what the head master was like, what the school was like, how receptive the audience and so on, as a guide for the next lecturer in a couple of years. I found my predecessor’s notes so scrappy as to be useless, so conscientiously wrote a full, honest and un- expurgated account of every school and their sometimes objectionable head-masters or bossy head mistresses for my successor.

Shortly before leaving the army to get married, one Friday afternoon as I left a school outside Gloucester, I found to my dismay my colonel from the War Office waiting by my car. I couldn’t get my uniform hat on because I’d had my hair done in a huge bouffant style in order to go to a hunt ball that night, so I was carrying it. I expected trouble: a, because I wasn’t wearing my hat and therefore was improperly dressed, and b, because he was there!

It turned out that he wanted my reports. I immediately went into collapse, and wondered why – I thought I was up to date – what was the problem that he’d come all this way from London to collect them. “Oh,” he said nonchalantly, “they go all round the office – they’re damn funny – the general always reads ‘em, worth a guinea a minute he says, and he wants some more!” I thankfully handed over another batch, completely mystified as to why my serious reports should be so entertaining. He didn’t even notice I wasn’t wearing my hat!

Shortly after this I embarked on a life of penury and drudgery, and discovered quite soon that I was going to have to make some money in order to feed the two children who had arrived so promptly. Realising that I’d better get organised before I was really destitute, I scanned the local South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s main English newspaper. The only things they didn’t have on the women’s pages were recipes, so I cheekily offered them a cookery column. I knew nothing about food, but I liked eating, and they didn’t ask for my credentials.

Writing a cookery column seemed the height of literary achievement to me. Six weeks later, the next literary peak I scaled was to become a temporary feature writer. I became a permanent one, and then eventually Woman’s Editor. But I had never learned to write, and apart from discovering that you had to start with an arresting first paragraph in order to grab your readers, I knew nothing about journalism or writing.

I just had to bluff, and from reading the good women’s pages in the English newspapers, I learned that there was a style of writing for feature pages which was different to writing on news pages. I found it quite hard to write a straight news story because my “voice” or writing style would break through the boring facts, so I always ended up being a columnist and features writer. But none of this taught me anything about writing. I had to work that out for myself.

The one thing I did learn about writing back then, was that it was no good calling on a “muse”. Newspapers aren’t interested in the dramas and vagaries of “muses”. They just want working journalists who can stick to a deadline and just do it. It was wonderful training. I had to write, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, through chronic fatigue syndrome and divorce, children’s chickenpox and school holidays. And so to this day, thanks to this training, I have never had “writers block”.  More’s the pity some might say!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

There was a piece of fresh salmon in the fridge left over from the previous night. It was too big for one, but not enough for two. So I made one of my favourite recipes, quick, simple, and good enough to serve to friends. This time it was just us.                                     Simply melt a generous knob of butter in a pan – I use a frying pan, and add to it a good cupful of cream, and half a cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese. Stir till the cheese is melted. Then just add the chopped up salmon pieces, lots of chopped parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and serve on some pasta, with more Parmesan if wanted. I used tagliatelle .

Food for Thought

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.                        By Don Miguel Ruiz. The First Agreement from his book ‘The Four Agreements’.


Filed under army, cookery/recipes, food, great days, humour, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life