Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pooh Bear has the answers

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I’ve only been on one teddy bear’s picnic. There were lots of teddy bears, crammed into a little dolls pram, my three year old grand- daughter and me.  We solemnly walked the pram to a tree in the park in Melbourne next to the house where they lived.

There, on a cold, slightly misty winter’s afternoon, we carefully propped a huddle of teddies of different sizes and varying shades from honey to dark brown, around the base of a tree. After careful discussion as to what teddy bears might eat, we had plumped for very small brown bread and honey sandwiches – we thought that arbiter of bear behaviour, Pooh Bear, would have approved, and that was all we needed to know really. We thought bears would probably only have wanted to drink water, so that was easily solved….

I was thrilled that she still remembers this occasion now she’s old enough to be at university. And she remembers too, jumping on our shadows the year before, and learning to sing ‘Kumbaya, my Lord’ when she was even smaller (in an English accent!). These memories may be more precious to me than to my grand-daughter, and most grand-parents will understand just how precious they are.

When I look back to my memories with my grandmother, I marvel at what I learned from her, much more, I suspect than today’s grand children learn from theirs. She taught me to knit and sew and do French knitting, and embroider dozens of stitches I’d forgotten till leafing through an old Mrs Beaton cook book recently – daisy stitch, herringbone stitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, back stitch, buttonhole stitch, cross stitch. She told me the names of flowers and saints and cousins I’d never seen, the stories of dead great uncles in the war. She taught me prayers and proverbs and songs.

But somehow, once the days of reading aloud Pooh Bear and Dr Seuss and Dear Dinosaur had passed, all my grand-children were so engrossed in their play stations and favourite, regular afternoon TV programmes, that there was rarely a space for the sort of boredom or blank days we used to have in my childhood; those times when for lack of something better to do, we mastered a new skill and learned to knit, or read a book considered too hard or too boring before, and which was now discovered to be a treasure.

It was on those long empty days that I discovered the joys of rambling alone with the dog, or daring to cross the weir by the mill with friends, or digging around the Roman mines, hoping after two thousand years to find a Roman coin; it was when we picked primroses in the woods, and carried catkins and pussy willow home as spring announced itself … As we grew older we made egg sandwiches and took a bottle of ginger pop to picnic on empty beaches with names like Man o’ War Bay and Arish Mell Gap, coming home tired and sunburned.

But my grand-children have done it differently. Today they’re not free to roam alone as we were – instead, they went on exciting holidays, in the tropics or to fishing lodges, or learned to sail or ski. But then they’d come to stay with me, and do ordinary and yet totally absorbing things. Leaving their play stations, they’d feed the eels in the river at the bottom of the garden, spend days making boats out of flax leaves, and floating them down the waterfall, building dams, playing Pooh Sticks.

They could spend an afternoon totally absorbed in throwing stones down into another river, far below, and listening for the plop. Another morning in the city when I took all four of them to a secret spot above the harbour, where old oak trees spread, they spent a whole morning searching for acorns and throwing them down into the water. Not aimlessly, but aiming.

And not a question of little things please little minds, but being ‘in the zone’, alive and  present. Blowing bubbles from my veranda and seeing who could make the biggest one that drifted furthest and lasted longest; or the ritual playing of hunt the thimble with the same silver thimble every time, seemed to give them more fun and shrieks of laughter than watching their Japanese TV serials and videos or war games on the computer. And grandparents have time for long conversations about the size of universe and whether ice-cream is good for you, and what dogs are dreaming about – and about important things – like ethics – which even small children understand in terms of right and wrong, or better still, kind or unkind  …

Sometimes I think that this is one of the few gifts we can give our grand-children in this busy technological age when our grandchildren know more than their grandparents, and learn to teach us, instead of us teaching them. We can give them the time and the space to savour the little things. We can listen to them uncritically.  We can give them unconditional love, because we don’t have to make sure they eat up all their vegetables. And the utter bliss of it is that they give us the same unconditional love too. “I’ve got to, but I’ll still be your darling”, said one when I asked him not to grow up!

It’s that ubiquitous bear, Pooh, that ‘bear of very little brain’, who puts into words what I would say to my precious ones in the future. He says so memorably and so truly: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

It’s that wonderful time of year for both birds and people – when the figs are ripe. A friend made the most delicious salad the other day using real lettuce – not mixtures of baby leaves – and tossed them with chopped- not sliced – cucumber, fresh peas, and thinly sliced figs, with a vinaigrette sauce. The sweetness of the figs with the crunchiness of the cucumber and the crispness of the lettuce was delicious with cold lamb and couscous.

Food for thought

…’It often takes great courage to follow intuition. It takes a Viking, who is unafraid to sail in unknown seas…. to live intuitively is to live fourth-dimensionally’…                                           Florence Scovel Shinn, 1871 – 1940   New Thought writer who influenced Louise Hay.

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

Very gallant gentlemen

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It was like a large black diamond, about two inches across and each of its seven or eight facets had been carved and smoothed by aeons of icy wind and weather. It looked and felt like a precious stone. It was. It had been smuggled out from the Antartic, where no one is allowed to take anything from that pristine wilderness.

A friend had brought it out for us. For years I carried it from house to house, and on the last move it disappeared. I regret it more than anything else that I’ve ever lost or broken or damaged. Eight years later, I still feel sad to no longer have that irreplaceable, potent black stone sitting on my table among other treasures. It was the treasure of treasures.

But I still have my shelves of books on that mysterious continent, and the extraordinary men who couldn’t stay away from it. Captain Scott’s expedition is the one that still reverberates among the English… a bit like Dunkirk, his heroic failure somehow thrilled them more than if he had achieved his goal of getting to the South Pole first. Poor Amundsen who did, is hardly rated by Scott afficionadoes. He made it look easy, while Scott and his men laboured mightily.

Yet men who were quite ordinary have become legends since their snowy deaths back then – men like Captain Oates stepping outside the tent into a blizzard with his :’ I am just going outside and may be some time’, and heading off to die… his portrait entitled: “A very gallant gentleman” still proudly hangs in his old cavalry regiment’s mess. He knew his frostbitten feet were going to make the difference between Scott and the  other two getting back to safety, or being held up by him and never making it. But it was too late by then anyway, with the unexpectedly terrible weather making impossible the last few miles of the journey to safety.

Oates, who in spite of being taciturn, was a potent presence and a penetrating observer, was unimpressed by Captain Scott, and spent a great deal of his time before the expedition started, trying to cosset his Mongolian ponies, crouching with them in their freezing stalls, coaxing them to eat their in-edible rations, or rescuing harness, headstalls and any other object which the bored and ravenous animals were tempted to devour.

His cronies who shared one side of the cramped hut which was their home while wintering at Cape Evans, consisted of Bowers, Cherry-Garrard, Atkinson and Meares, who were known as The Tenement Dwellers, anti-feminist, anti-scientist, conservative and spartan – and, one has to add, narrow-minded and philistine.

The other side of the twenty-five foot wide hut were the scientists, who made a dainty attempt at home-making, mocked by Oates who called their space The Opium Den. They draped a curtain, scrounged from photographer Ponting, across their bunks to give themselves privacy. One added a branch acetylene light, another stained everything stainable with Condy’s fluid, making it a uniform red brown, the Norwegian, Gran, put red borders made from photographers’ material on their shelves, and another adorned his bunk with a piece of dark blue material which had started life as part of a Sunday altar cloth.

Yet all sixteen men relied on each other for company and comfort, succour and safety. They knew that their survival depended on each other, and perhaps in this way discovered for themselves the truth of the ideal society in which all life and all things and all men are connected to each other. No-one is separate from the whole, a truth which our civilisation as a whole, seems to have forgotten.

Writing of the expedition to Cape Crozier he made with Bowers and Wilson on their ‘worst journey in the world’, (the title of his book) Cherry Garrard said: ‘ And we DID stick it… we did not forget the Please and Thank you, which mean much in such circumstances, and all the little links with decent civilisation which we could still keep going. I’ll swear there was still a grace about us as we staggered in. And we kept our tempers – even with God.’ A bond of mysticism carried these three men through.

Tactful Dr Bill Wilson, secret disciple of St Francis, and known as Uncle Bill, was the advisor, peace-maker and comforter in this tiny society. Birdie Bowers, bachelor, tiger for punishment, endlessly strong and tireless long after everyone else was fainting with exhaustion, was the other closet mystic in the party – ” The purpose of life,” he wrote “… is to make a great decision – to choose between the material and the spiritual, and if we choose the spiritual we must work out our choice, and then it will run like a silver thread through the material… nothing that happens to our bodies really matters.”

And it’s this which is what makes Scott’s expedition so continuously fascinating, that they were people, who at the extremity of their strength, dying of starvation, continued to be kind and considerate to each other, and never did forget the pleases and thank you’s, the courtesies and the deeper meanings of  civilisation. Because they cared about their animals they didn’t kill and eat their dogs like Amundsen did, and Scott also refused to eat the ponies on their journey, which ultimately sealed their fate.

So though they failed to achieve their purpose, they remain inspirational.  They were ordinary men stretched to the limits of their endurance, and they never lost their decency, and goodness and humanity. This is why their story is so enduring. They were true to themselves and to their code of honour. They remind me that simple human decencies are actually what make men and women great and that these qualities are the bedrock of our civilisation.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A weekend lunch party at a friend’s house, seated on her veranda overlooking a turquoise sea, and embellished with sunshine, laughter, lots of rose to drink and delicious food, ending with summer pudding – what else on a perfect summer’s day? Here’s how to make this delicious and easy classic English pudding.

You need about two pounds of a mix of summer fruit and berries.  Keep strawberries separate from the rest. In a pan melt 175 gms of sugar with three tblspns of water. Then add the prepared fruit except the strawberries. Gently cook for a few minutes to soften. Line a pudding bowl with thinly cut slices of bread, no crusts, all fitted and slotted into each other so there are no cracks.

Pour the fruit into a sieve to strain off the juice. Fill the bowl with the fruit, adding the strawberries if you have them, in different layers. Soak slices of bread in some of the juice, and fit them over the top.  Weight the top with a plate and some heavy tins, and leave in the fridge overnight for at least six to seven hours. Turn out this wonderful looking pink pudding, and serve with lots of cream to eight delighted people.

 

Food for Thought

Always do your best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

Don Miguel Ruiz. ‘The Four Agreements’

 

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Souvenirs of life

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These stones and feathers and shells can tell the story of my life in the last few decades… shells collected with the children on a Northland beach, a black and white feather lying outside the door when I opened it on our first day in a new house –  greeting from a tui… the brown and cream morepork feather found on a long walk around the harbour with the thoughts and dreams of that afternoon threaded through its fronds.

An ancient stone from a river bed in the Blue Mountains of Australia was picked up after a day spent abseiling in abject terror, another from a cold pebbled beach in Devon, the chill of the Atlantic  breakers still embedded in it after all these years, while the polished brown stone came from an underground cave in the central North Island where glow-worms illuminated the roof, and a river flowed through.  These things are the stuff of my life… as they are of every life in which they are valued.

As I looked at them I thought of how other collections can also tell the story of a life. When I renewed my passport recently I found all my old ones, going back to when I was twelve and going to France on my own to learn French. In that passport photo two frightened brown eyes gazed out at the world. I had been so appalled at this picture that I promptly destroyed the evidence.

Which left the rest – a twenty one year old about to go on holiday to Spain, well- groomed hair, immaculate lipstick, and veiled blank eyes… the next, an exhausted mother of two toddlers about to go to Hong Kong, badly cut hair, eyes sad and resigned. And then, a picture of a thirty five year old woman, lots of dark hair piled up confidently, smiling eyes, relaxed smile. Life to be lived now, not endured. In the decades since, the hair has got shorter and then faded, and the last photo was so awful I hoped to be un-recognisable, but the story of a life is told in those passport photos.

Another can tell the story of their life in their jewellery, the coral necklace given at a christening, the charm bracelet for a little girl, pearls for a twenty-first, the engagement ring and the gold band…  a gift to mark the first child,  a clumsy pottery brooch made  at school and proudly presented to a beloved mother… the ring inherited from a grandmother, the eternity ring at a silver wedding…  such precious collections can mark out the steps of a life quite as well as a photograph album.

I wonder if there is even a market these days for photograph albums now all our photos are taken on phones and I-pads. I was never much  of a photographer, so that the photos of my honeymoon were on the same roll of film as the pictures of my first baby. But I did have a memory.

I remember one summer’s afternoon when the children were three and four as they tumbled around on the grass, one wearing a sun-suit in glorious colours of pink and orange and red, the other in matching shirt and orange shorts. As I looked at them, revelling in their laughter, their shining hair, and sparkling eyes, pearly teeth and glowing sun-tanned faces, I thought to myself, I’m going to remember this moment forever.

It was a turning point, because I found I did never forget that moment. So now, I know I can fasten those moments I want to remember with that little intention, and our minds are so obedient that they obey the instructions, and can call up the images whenever they are wanted. On the other hand, I wonder if the ease of communication, the instant photos, the selfies sent from Rome or Khatmandu which reach every member of the family all over the world the same day, make it easy to forget. We don’t have to remember, because it’s all there, on Facebook or in the picture file on the computer.

But for how long? Until the internet crashes? Or some other disaster hits the net? The computer is stolen? Few people will be able to pick up old albums in the future and leaf through them re-living their own lives, or discover the lives of their ancestors. And how will biographers fare in the future? In the past we’ve had portraits and miniatures in pre-photography days; then the wonderful stilted posed photos of the early days of photography, with the expert’s head hidden under a black cloth over a tripod while he captured forever the people and that moment in their time.

Then came the brownie box camera and all the other simple do- it- yourself cameras, and families recorded their events and special moments themselves. Biographies of the famous from the twenties until the sixties are full of revealing snaps, but what will there be for future  writers and historians wanting to illustrate their books about the powerful and famous? Not much, I suspect.

In the past, many anonymous photos turned out to be records of history – impromptu black and white snaps of Battle of Britain pilots ‘scrambling’, shots of families crouched in air –raid shelters from London to Leningrad, soldiers in Africa or Italy taking grainy pictures of each other to send back home… joyful hugs and kisses of victory – all these spontaneous pictures of humanity enduring both the ordeals and the pleasures of the twentieth century, captured in black and white film, are the stuff of history.

But I wonder what history is being preserved today in our somewhat ephemeral records? Will collections of jewellery or stones, in the end be the things to jog people’s memories in the future? Maybe the photos in passports and on driving licenses will the best concrete records we will have… time to get a decent picture taken for these official documents perhaps !

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Summer salads don’t always mean lettuce for me… One of my favourites is grated cauliflower, mixed with chopped hard- boiled egg, some chopped Medjuel dates, toasted slivered almonds, and lots of chopped parsley. Then stir in enough good mayonnaise to the consistency you like. Chopped apple or banana is a variation, but actually anything can be added, and it still tastes good. But it can’t sit around, or it turns watery. I eat it on its own, but it’s also good with cold chicken.

Food for thought

And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty. And he answered: Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself  be your way and your guide?  Beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is… a heart inflamed and a soul enchanted … a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels in flight.

‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese poet, 1883 -1931. ‘The Prophet’ has never been out of print since it was published in 1923.

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Radio, music and me

My daughter has instructed me to make her proud, and is checking  up on me, to see that I have written this post to all my New Zealand  readers, and anyone else who might be interested.
I’m finding this hard, it’s so much easier to write a blog than blow a trumpet. 
She tells me I have to say that Kim Hill, one of Radio NZ’s  most respected and stimulating personalities is interviewing me and playing my favourite music on Saturday morning.. Should be fun. So this is the link:

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A summer storm

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It arrived unannounced at roughly eleven- thirty in the morning. Before then it had been a quiet silvery morning, still silver sea, and pale grey sky. The wind built up, the clouds lowered, and rain flew in the wind. By evening it was a fully fledged storm and too good to miss, and I decided this was the day I tackled the hundred and fifty- seven steps up and down to the harbour, a trial of strength I’d avoided for too long since I twisted my ankle.

They led down through a ravine of tangled woods, and at the bottom as I stepped onto the wet sand there was a Buddha-like figure, a girl in a  faded pink jerkin sitting in the lotus position, meditating on the rocks. With this blessing at my back I carried on round the edge of the water, past a few old fishing cottages, now expensive sea-side dwellings.

Being a holiday, most of them had their families snugly tucked inside against the weather. Where they had their lights on in the grey day, I peered inside, approving when I saw walls of book- shelves, and enjoying a family gathered round a table eating their supper. A teenager was sitting on the branch of a pohutakawa leaning over the water, and when I waved, he waved back, his long arm a great wide semi-circle of  greeting.

The path wound round the edge of the harbour, sometimes deep in trees and woodland, and sometimes looking straight over the water with fishing boats at anchor swinging around in the wind and the waves. Promising myself to complete the circuit the next day I retraced my footsteps, and returned to the foot of the staircase leading up to the road.

A young man was now kneeling in front of the meditating girl, and as I approached she gazed at him with a look of such tender love that I flicked my eyes away and hurried up the steps so as not to disturb them.  Not that I could, even in bright red jacket and black trousers I was un-observed.

The hundred and fifty seven steps were not as bad as I feared, and I strode back along the road bent into the gale. Back to my end of the peninsula, where the shelter of the harbour no longer protected us, the great pohutakawa trees ringing the cemetery and leading out onto a little rocky peninsula bucked and swayed in the tempest. It wasn’t even high tide, but huge green waves were surging onto the rocks and white spray flying through the air.

As I looked down onto the rocks, and leant against a tree trunk to avoid being blown off myself, watching the hungry waves hurling themselves against the rocks, and the boiling white water swirling around them, it truly felt like ‘the cruel sea’.

The sound of the water and the trees was deafening, and mesmerising. There was nothing else outside this circle of wind and waves and sound and solitude. Impossible not to be totally present to the wild beauty and magnificence.

Finally the wind became so furious that I felt I had to make a dash between lulls. But there were no lulls, so I made a dash anyway, and  wandered back through the cemetery – which is still full of the stuff of life – one grave –stone facing out to sea inscribed:  “ He loved life and his fellowmen”,  another, saying: ”Sleep on grumpy” and another, telling passersby that this man had left Scotland for this new world, in 1865. His gravestone was at one end of a miniature cricket bowling pitch, with three stumps set in concrete the other end.

Reluctant to leave the aliveness of the storm I stood on the edge of the cliff, and wondered where had all the birds gone – no gulls or pigeons, tuis or doves. Somewhere dozens and dozens of birds were silently riding out the storm in places that no human could see.

We don’t have to worry about ‘those in peril on the sea’ these days. Fishing boats stay at anchor when they get the weather forecast and the big ships can ride out the storms. This storm, unlike so many others around the world, caused no harm or hardship. So savouring the elements is a guilt-free pleasure, and those like me, far from city pavements, are so privileged that we can. But maybe more importantly, this pleasure has a spiritual dimension,  since it’s also an acknowledgement of our beautiful and irreplaceable planet.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

I’ve had so many people dropping in for various reasons, that rather than make a cake I’ve been making a succession of scones- fresh out of the oven, melting in the mouth, served with unsalted butter, strawberry jam and cream, they always disappear quicker than the proverbial hot cakes. They’re so simple to make, and I never add sugar, currants, cheese, or chopped anything. They are perfect just as they are.

Put six spoonfuls of self raising flour in a bowl with an ounce to an ounce and a half of softened butter. Rub it in, break an egg into a well in the centre and add half a cup of milk. Just mix it altogether with a knife, adding more milk if needed. It should all come together into a soft dough. I simply press it down on the pastry board, at least an inch thick, and cut it into squares. Half an hour in the fridge, covered is good for them. Bake on a floured or greased tray in a medium to hot oven for ten minutes or until raised and slightly brown. The trick is to serve them at once !

 

Food for thought

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.

George Eliot  1819 – 1880  Great English novelist

(New Zealand readers might be interested to hear me being interviewed on Kim Hill’s programme on Saturday morning, choosing favourite records and talking in between)

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday)

 

 

 

 

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The birds in our hands

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Every morning the pink breasted doves are waiting for me and their breakfast at the top of the steps, cooing like pigeons, and many mornings their cooing makes me think of Cher Ami.

Cher Ami, a black checker cock, was one of six hundred homing pigeons British bird fanciers had given to the American Army when they arrived to fight in the last six months of World War One. Trained pigeons were an indispensable part of warfare then. Cher Ami won fame when he became the last of the pigeons left with a doomed battalion fighting in the Argonne forest. Their commander, a hero named Whittlesey, had warned that the plan was a disaster before they began, but no-one was game to take on General Pershing and argue it with him. So as Whittlesey had feared, the battalion was surrounded by the Germans. When he sent a pigeon bringing their position to HQ,  US artillery came to their rescue and began pounding the Germans surrounding the trapped men. Disaster – they were actually shelling the trapped men.

Whittlesey had one pigeon, Cher Ami, left out of the eight he’d started with, so he sent a message: “Our own artillery is dropping barrages directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it”. After a few false starts, Cher Ami took off, and the Germans tried to shoot him down. He circled overhead before setting off through a storm of German shrapnel. Once he staggered and fluttered helplessly before gathering himself together and continuing his flight. One leg was shot off, but he continued on. Somehow he got back to HQ, dropping like a stone onto his left breast. He staggered on one bloody leg to the trainer who caught him. The capsule bearing the precious message hung by the ligaments of the wounded leg, and he had been shot through the breast bone as well.

Thanks to him, the artillery barrage was lifted and lives saved, though the heroes in the pocket still had several more dreadful days trapped, until un-aided by their own side, a handful of survivors made it safely out. Heroic Cher Ami lived for another year, was stuffed and now resides at the Smithsonian museum.

Human beings (not homo sapiens) have used pigeons for their purposes for some thousands of years. By crossing breeds, they’ve evolved fast pigeons who can do roughly 60 miles per hour, fast ones up to 110 miles per hour. Paul Reuter of the famous news agency used them, a pigeon took the news of Waterloo from Brussels to Britain, and even in the eighties, pigeons were being used to carry blood samples to and fro from two Southern English hospitals. Here in New Zealand an enterprising Kiwi founded a pigeon- post from Great Barrier Island to Auckland back in 1897.

Though people assume it’s just instinct that gets them back home, during World War One, while the French were pushing back the Germans from the Marne, they took the pigeon lofts forward with them, yet when the birds returned from Paris they always managed to find their lofts, even though they had been moved… intelligent too…

Pigeons are not the only birds men have used for their purposes. Here in NZ  the Maoris used to catch the male birds and trim the brush-like growth at the end of their tongues so they could train them to speak. They taught tuis chants as long as fifty words, keeping them imprisoned in the dark in a tiny cage till they were trained. Each poor prisoner, when able to do all the Maori cries and chants, was then imprisoned for the rest of his life in a cage, shaped rather like a Maori eel-pot, fifteen inches wide at the bottom, and thirteen inches high. The bird-cage was often hung at the entrance to a marae. This reminds me of the old Chinese men in long grey or brown robes, in Hongkong, who would solemnly take their caged birds for a walk in the parks, still in their cages.

Parrots too have always had a raw deal locked up in cages with their wings clipped. In Japan recently one escaped and a few days later ended up at the local police station. With a captive audience the intelligent bird told them his name and address and telephone number. His relieved owner then came to fetch him.

When Time magazine ran an article discussing the intelligence of animals and other creatures, they ended by quoting the example of a pet parrot being taken to the vet and having to stay behind for treatment. The bird understood he was being left, and began begging his owners not to leave him, promising to be a good boy. This is the exact pattern of small children left in hospital, and attributing the horror of it to what seems like punishment for their own misdeeds. The parrot had responded with the same emotional pattern as a human toddler, but the researchers described him as ‘mimicking human behaviour’.  This did not prove that birds and animals had feelings, the article ended.

I gave away a book on birds in disgust a few weeks ago. It was a detailed account of how they hear see, fly, etc etc. The book opened with a vignette of a white goose waiting by the side of an icy road beside its dead mate, somewhere in the frozen north. Three weeks later it was still there, still waiting, still grieving for its lost mate. The book closed by returning to this grief-stricken creature, and said, just like that  Time article, that neither this behaviour, nor that of the birds they had observed mating for life, returning year after year to each other, flying around each other, greeting and calling ecstatically when they’d been parted, proved that birds had emotions like us. So how do these heartless researchers explain what birds are doing when fluttering around the body of their mate killed on the road, hiding from cats in the garden, protecting their young, showing fear?

Scientists seem terrified to admit that other species have emotions like us. They call it anthropomorphism and think those of us who practise it are mistaken and merely sentimental. And though St Francis was allowed to acknowledge the feelings of all creatures, the rest of us are still supposed to accept Descartes’s malign thinking that since animals and other creatures don’t have feelings and don’t feel pain, they can be used for any purposes (there are still scientists who argue for this).

Descartes’s theories have influenced our society since the so-called Age of Enlightenment.  But if only we really had been enlightened! If we were, would we all be anthropomorphists? I suppose it depends on whether we come from our head or our heart.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Reverting to an ancient English tradition, we had roast lamb for Sunday lunch! I never do it with mint sauce, since originally the idea of the vinegar and mint was to disguise the taint of meat that wasn’t fresh, but I do like the mint, so I chop it up and stir it into the gravy. (When my seven year old son first encountered mint sauce at a friend’s house, he told me the meat was covered in: “yucky black tea-leaves!”). When putting the lamb in the oven, I rub the skin with salt to make it crisp.

I also make an onion sauce, which I suppose is some sort of throwback to the capers in white sauce that used to be served with mutton- a meat no-one seems to encounter in the west these days. I boil a large chopped onion, and drain the onion water, using it to make a white sauce which is then enriched with milk or cream and a good tasting of nutmeg. Then stir in the chopped onion – delicious with the lamb.

 

Food for thought

Accuracy is not a virtue; it is a duty.

AE Housman, 20th century English poet and brilliant classicist, best known for his poems in ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

 

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