Monthly Archives: April 2015

Our life-lines

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I woke this morning to the cooing of doves and the sound of tuis warbling their bell-like song. There must be a storm somewhere out in the ocean, because the foaming white waves are pounding on the rocks with a dull roar, and all is well in this tiny corner of the world.

One night in the big smoke, light nights, no darkness, no stars, no silence, the sound of traffic and bustle filling every crevice of the day is enough to send me helter-skelter back here. To peace, birds, and the silence that is never silence, but which is filled with the sounds of the earth – the wind in the trees, the buzzing of bees, the clicking of cicadas, birds chirping, and the contented murmurs of the neighbour’s chickens who have escaped to the grassy cemetery across the road.

For the whole of my first year at secondary school, my class had to keep what was called a nature diary. No matter what experiments we had done in science classes with Bunsen burners, tripods and test tubes, we still had to write up our nature diaries every week for homework.

The girls who lived on farms and in the country had it made. They prattled away about lambing and crops and used to get top marks every week of the year for their diaries.

I used to catch a bus home from the little town through five miles of country and then walk up the road to home, where my parents were indifferent gardeners and too busy with their challenges and life in a smart cavalry regiment to have time for discussing the wonders of nature with their eldest child.

So I used to dread Tuesday evenings, the night before we handed in our diaries for marking. My ingenuity was stretched to its limits. I discussed the lichen on the trees, and how it changed colour in the rain. I snatched up unusual cloud formations, sunsets and rainbows, worked over old ground like spring and catkins, seized on the odd bird’s egg or fallen nest, poked open pods in the hope of a nature story and searched the hedgerows for different flowers, insects and chrysalises.

It was of course, marvellous training for a noticing eye, and to my surprise I quite missed it when I stopped doing our diaries the following year…no more stamens to marvel over, no more shiny conkers to draw or patterns of snail and butterfly.

That training though, has never really faded away, and a life-time later I still savour the same marvels of seasons and growing things. What they mean to the spirit has only slowly seeped into my consciousness.
The first time I had an inkling of it was when I read the story of Odette Churchill, the Resistance heroine. Though I read her story at the age of twelve, I have never forgotten the moment when the guard opened the door of her underground prison cell to stick her daily meal inside the door. As he did so the skeleton of a leaf blew in.

Odette seized it and hid it till the guard had gone. Then she gazed at it, savoured it, penetrated its existence, the miracle of the lacework of the veins and the glory of its being. It existed outside the world of horror, torture and degradation which had laid hold upon her. She said it was a turning point in her struggle to retain sanity, self respect and a belief in the real world of love, truth and beauty.

Years ago I visited a man who was in the prison wing of a mental home. From childhood he had been marked down by misfortune, and most of his life had been spent behind bars. He had no education, no training, and no hope of ever building a life outside prison walls. He had long ago stopped believing in love as an abandoned child, and we found no way of reaching his bruised hurt self beyond the wall of toughness, bravado and real mental disturbance.

The conditions in which he and the other prisoners lived were unspeakable. Even a sane man would have gone mad in that setting, and one with no stability would find it hard to resist despair (mercifully this institution has since been closed down).

But this tough, violent man told us that his one hobby and relaxation was to keep a biscuit back from his tea and crumble it up outside the bars of his window. Through the bars he watched the birds snatch up the crumbs. He said there was one little sparrow that had got to know him, and was tame enough to come near the window. A man who was unable to love any person, even himself, could not help loving a sparrow.

It’s now common knowledge that people who keep pets and love them are healthier than those who don’t. Lonely people who love a pet have lower blood pressure, and the giving and taking of love from their pet keeps them happy and relaxed and gives them a purpose for living.

Other find their deepest satisfaction and greatest relaxation in their garden, planting flowers, trees, vegetables, savouring the feel of earth, and unconsciously finding serenity by their contact with flowers and all growing things.

It almost seems as though man can remain human only if he does retain contact with the natural world, the world of tiny creatures, flowers, trees, earth, sky, sunsets and moons.
Yet though we need them for our very existence, we tend both to take them for granted, to neglect them, even to destroy them. We have had warnings of an environmental crisis since the eighties. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to remember more often that: ‘the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind’ before the earth was filled with every form of life except man, and that we came last.

Even now, as I look out of the window at a plump blackbird drinking from the bird bath in the shade of the plum tree, I know that I need him for my sanity and sense of well-being. I need the plum tree too, for shade, its fruit, the scent of its blossom and the bliss of its very existence. But both could live without me.
So when we feel the joy which the sight of a hedgehog in the city, or in the country gives us, or a tree with budding leaves in spring, we should remember that we actually need them, and we should cherish them for what they are – our lifeline not just to existence, but to serenity and well-being, to sanity, to joy.

Food for threadbare gourmets

I love recipes that make life easy, so this one for scones which didn’t entail any rubbing of fat into flour was meat and drink to me. Combine four cups of self raising flour with a good handful of chopped dates. Pour in one and a half cups of lemonade and one cup of cream and lightly and quickly mix everything together.
Gently form into a shape two inches thick, and cut into small squares. Bake at 180 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. Eat hot with lots of butter and good strawberry jam!

Food for thought

Our oceans are endangered too. Eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. This equals five plastic bags for every foot of coastline around the globe. And in the next decade the amount of plastic is expected to increase by tenfold unless we find a better way to dispose of it. The threat to our already endangered oceans is catastrophic.

And every plastic water bottle that ends up in the ocean? It’ll stay there for 450 years. So what are we all going to do to save our world from the plastic plague? These facts came from http://earthstonestation.com/2015/04/23/earth-day-project/

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Uncommon woman – uncommon heroism

 
Warning – this is a long but true detective story about an extraordinary woman.

Back then, cloudless skies were silent, roads empty, white beaches fringed with thick belts and filmy foliage of casuarina trees. Gay painted fishing sampans were lined up at the top of the sands, sailed by fishermen who looked like story book pirates. They wore brightly coloured turbans round their heads, and were lean and handsome.

The women, recipients of both a Thai and a Malayan heritage up there on the border, had the fine sculptured features of the Thais, and the soft voluptuousness of the Malays. They were famed for their beauty, and like their men folk wore richly coloured clothes – sarongs in bright batik patterns of red and turquoise, and orange and cobalt blue, unlike the drab browns of other Malayan batiks.

We lived not far from that long empty beach, one of many in this part of Kelantan, the most famous called: ’beach of passionate love’. (I know the Malayan name, but am not sure how it’s spelled) Our pink stucco house sat on the edge of the river, the river up which the Japanese had sailed in their motor boats early on the morning of 6 December, an hour before they attacked Pearl Harbour. Modern communications might have altered the events which took place on that fateful day, but in this remote corner of Malaya the invading Japanese were able then, unmolested, to rake the house with machine gun fire as they chugged inland.

The line of bullet holes was still there twelve years later when we lived there. We looked across to a small kampong, where a handful of wooden houses thatched with palm, were raised on stilts beneath the coconut palms, and where the grandfather sat motionless all day fishing, and his granddaughters bathed in the green river at sunset every night without taking off their bright sarongs.

Not far from this scene of primeval beauty, was the sleepy town of Kota Bharu, and it was here that the woman I called Mammy ran the newly built Palm Court Hotel. I wrote in a blog in April last year: ” Here too, lived Mammy, a giant White Russian, over six feet tall, wearing thick pebble specs for her short sighted grey eyes, and wearing the first caftans I ‘d seen over her enormous frame, all in brilliant colours and garish patterns . Mammy ran the local hotel where everyone gathered in Kota Bharu, and was a local joke too. As a seventeen year old I didn’t think she was such a joke. She and her husband had escaped the revolution in Russia … and so on …..

Eight months later, I had an e-mail from a man who wanted to know if I knew more about her. He told me she was Madame Luba Ruperti, and had been on not just one, but two ships crammed with women and children sunk by the Japanese as they escaped from Singapore and she was a very important link in the unrecorded story of what had actually happened on those hellish days just after the fall of Singapore.

He sent me all the information he had about her, and from his lists, and delving into the internet and other sources, I pieced together the remarkable story of this unusual woman. Luba Ruperti was a White Russian born in 1896. She fled with her parents from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918 via Shanghai to the safety of British Singapore, after her sister had been killed by a revolutionary mob.

In 1925, when she was nearly thirty, she married another White Russian, Alexander Ruperti, formerly a Lt Commander in the Imperial Russian Navy, but three years later, newspaper reports show him becoming bankrupt, and he disappeared. Luba, now alone, became a fixture of the social scene attending parties and dances, and opened a hat and dress shop to make her living.

In those years before the war, Luba would have felt safe in this seemingly impregnable British colony. But some weeks after their grim appearance in Kelantan, the Genghis Khan-like hordes of murdering Japanese ( no exaggeration – among their atrocities was tying British soldiers together with barbed wire and setting them alight) reached Singapore. Here they invaded from the unprotected landward side.

It was in that mayhem of murder and bombings, killing of patients in hospital beds, raping of nurses etc. that somehow Luba got to the dock and managed to board SS Kuala, an overloaded ship with five hundred or so other women, children and babies, including a number of Australian and New Zealand nurses.

The next day the Japanese sank the ship, setting it on fire and mothers threw their children overboard trying to get them into the rafts below. As women and children struggled in the sea, wounded, drowning, trying to hold onto rafts and floating debris, they were machine-gunned in the water. Those who survived terrible thirst, hunger, horrendous wounds, madness and burning sun to make it to shore several days later, were machine gunned in the water and as they staggered over rocks and up the beach into the shelter of the trees. They had reached Pom Pong Island which had no food, and only a tiny source of water.

A few days later the SS Tandjong Pinang arrived from Rengat in Sumatra to rescue the small band of between a hundred and a hundred and fifty survivors from the original five hundred, but hardly had they embarked than the Japanese were back, and sank this ship too. Luba was one of only handful of survivors of this second disaster.

The few the Japanese captured on shore ended up suffering and usually dying in the terrible conditions of internment. Luba got away, and ended up somehow or other in India, via Ceylon. Here in February 1943, nearly a year later, she gave her great gift to all those who had died, suffered or survived. She had compiled a long list of the names of the people who had boarded the SS Kuala at Singapore and who had survived to board the SS Tandjong Pindang.

In the chaos and panic during the bombing of the docks in Singapore as frantic passengers tried to board the ship, no records had been taken. No-one knew who had boarded, who had escaped, or who had survived. Families would never have known if their loved ones were still alive in some corner of the world. Luba must have started compiling her lists during their terrible ordeal on Pom Pong island, as there was no way otherwise that she could have known so comprehensively who was there, the names and the children.

It was an act not just of heroism in those hellish days, but of responsibility and altruism in conditions when it could very well have been everyone for himself. Her act of witnessing and recording rescued both the dead and the living from oblivion, and told their story – a story that no one else was able to share with the world for another three years, when the war ended and a pitifully small handful of survivors could then bear witness to their sufferings.

Typically, the next we hear of the resourceful and penniless forty-seven year old Luba is as manageress of the Woodland Hotel, an army hostel in New Delhi, (the rundown hotel is still there) and it was here that she gave her vital and historic list to the military authorities. When the war ended, Luba gave up her secure and safe employment in India and returned to Singapore … where she had several unsuccessful business ventures. When I came across her, as an ignorant seventeen year old in 1955, she was running the newly- built smart Palm Hotel in Kota Bahru, where all the Europeans and rich Chinese went for their fun.

She was over six foot tall, frizzy-haired and be-spectacled and wearing caftans before they’d been invented. She was irrepressible, jolly and welcoming… she may have felt it came with the job. In an archival story I found a reference to her later being back in Singapore by 1958, and by the mid-1960’s nearing seventy, she was: “utterly dependent for her living by making and selling exquisite dolls dressed in the costumes of old Russia, complete with tiny earrings, bracelets and rings on the dolly fingers,” according to quotes from a story in the Singapore Straits Times. The same archival entry comments that: “she appears at this stage of her life to have been still the exuberant woman who had lived through so much fear, chaos and loss without losing her innate spirit”.

I found a mention absolutely characteristic of her when I came across an obscure story about the food Jews created for their festivals in various remote outposts of the world. The story included the celebration of the seder festival in New Delhi, and on the menu was a dish created for them by Madame Luba Ruperti – Boeuf Strogonoff of course – what else from a White Russian … Luba, still in the thick of things, still making a difference to her world with her generosity and commitment to life.

There are many families who may not even know their great debt to this feisty open-hearted woman… who never seemed to be defeated by the perils and tragedies of her extraordinary odyssey from Czarist Russia to post- Colonial Malaya, via Shanghai, Singapore, Indonesia, India and back to Singapore, surviving abandonment and poverty, loneliness, bombings, torpedoed ships and dangerous journeys. I like to think that more than half a century later, some of us will remember her and revel in the thought of her undaunted courage, resourcefulness, intelligence, and joie de vivre, and marvel at the human spirit.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Leafing through piles of old clippings I came across the infallible strawberry jam recipe I thought I’d lost. As I read it I decided to start making this delectable treat again. If one is going to sin with sugar, it might as well be in the most delicious way.
To four pounds of freshly picked strawberries, you need six pounds of sugar (horrendous I know), one and a half teaspoons of butter and an ounce of tartaric acid. Mash half the fruit in a buttered preserving pan and add all the sugar. Add the rest of the hulled strawberries, bring to the boil and boil hard for six minutes. Add the tartaric acid and boil for another six minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Bottle in sterilised jars and cover. This makes nine one pound jars, so you could halve the ingredients and just make a small amount. It stays a lovely bright red.

Food for thought

I don’t know who wrote this but I like it.
If a person is living out his destiny, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.

PS if anyone can tell me how to stop word press closing up my paragraphs, I’d be eternally grateful, Valerie

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The dangers of words

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When Boxer was driven from ‘Animal Farm’ in a knacker’s van, the whole family dissolved in tears. I’d been worried that the syllabus at the children’s schools didn’t seem to cover the riches of English literature, so we began a nightly practise of all gathering around the fire, including the two Cavalier King Charles spaniels and a lanky afghan, for nightly reading sessions. ‘Animal Farm’ was a favourite even to those of us who were unaware of its deeper political meaning.

‘David Copperfield’ was another favourite… though I could hardly get past David’s childhood sitting cold and alone in his freezing bedroom terrified of Mr and Miss Murdstone. It reminded me too uncomfortably of a period of my childhood. “Don’t go on reading,” my children begged as the tears streamed down my face. “We’ll get there”, I’d say, mopping my cheeks. Peggotty saved us.
How did she know, I used to wonder when I read ‘David Copperfield’ as a child, that ‘Barkis is willing’, meant he wanted to marry her… ‘Barkis is willing’ must be the most phlegmatic proposal in literature.

The night that silly sweet Dora died was the night my husband was working late, and it was a cold dark winters’ night, just as it was in the book. So we all piled into our big bed, children and me under the duvet, Cavalier King Charles’s and the afghan on top. As we read of Dora slipping away, we all wept, but the coup de grace was the death the same night, of Dora’s spoiled little spaniel, Jip, who lived in a pagoda which was too big and tripped everyone up. Jip had also walked all over the dining table and put his paws in the butter and barked at Traddles, their first dinner guest… So when the man of our house returned, there was just a sodden heap of dogs and people to greet him.

Traddles, of course, was the man whose hair was so irrepressibly unruly, standing upright on his head, that his fiance’s sisters made jokes about keeping a lock of his hair in a book with a heavy clasp to try to keep it flat. Yes, we laughed and cried all through David C.

We laughed through ‘The Wind in the Willows’ too, especially Toad’s adventures and his come-uppance at the hands of the washerwoman. Later, we cried when Hereward the Wake was escaping from William the Conqueror’s army. Fleeing through the fens in the dark, with his great faithful mare swimming behind the boat, he cut her throat and she sank silently into the black waters.

I don’t know whether the children were any the wiser about English literature after those years of reading aloud together, but what fun we had. Reading aloud was the way most people enjoyed their books in times past. One person with a candle could keep the whole room enthralled, and it was only in recent times that silent reading became the norm for every-one. The early saints read their missals and bibles aloud, and it was cause for remark when St Augustine came upon his mentor, Bishop Ambrose, silently reading the words without moving his lips. Augustine was so amazed that he described it in his ‘Confessions’.

Dickens, like Orwell and many another, was a subversive writer. Dickens was trying to change society and arouse compassion by telling stories of injustice and pain. Orwell, on the other hand, was trying to warn us of what was to come. And what he wrote has come to pass.

The cliche that the pen is mightier than the sword is true; words can change people’s minds, open their hearts, give them insight, knowledge and hope, and move them to tears or laughter, while the sword can only silence them.

I have a beautiful coffee table book called ‘Women Who Read are Dangerous’… this could also apply to men of course. But in this instance, the book makes the point that men in the past have resisted the idea of women reading – precisely because men unconsciously realised that reading was subversive, and allowed women to escape, to start thinking for themselves, to explore ideas and reach for larger worlds than the circumscribed one that so many women were forced to inhabit.

Alan Bennett wrote a witty little book called’ The Uncommon Reader’, in which he outlines just this scenario. The reader is the Queen. She stumbles on the travelling library van parked in Buckingham Palace kitchen courtyard when the corgis have run off. Driven by a life-time of in-escapable good manners and a desire to set the librarian at ease, she chooses a book – a very difficult book – but again, propelled by her sense of duty, forces herself to finish it. Returning it, she feels she should seem to have enjoyed it, so the librarian presses another book on her.

Gradually the Queen becomes a dedicated reader… begins to neglect her duties, reads a book in her lap when she should be waving to crowds from the car, doesn’t care what she’s wearing as she’s more interested in finishing her book… and finally decides she wants to find her own voice, and write too. The horrified prime minister points out that this is dangerous and unconstitutional, as the truth would make devastating reading. So she abdicates so that she can write her truth

Writing the truth is what makes a writer’s life so fraught with peril. Writer Stephen King says: “if you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered”. He could just as truthfully have said your days as a member of your family are numbered too, as what is truth to one person is seen as slander, untruth or simply bad taste to others.

Nancy Mitford’s parents, described in ‘The Pursuit of Love’ were upset about their portraits, though James Lees-Milne, a close friend, vouched for the truth of Uncle Mathew and Aunt Sadie – now two of the great comic characters of English literature. James Lees-Milne himself often rued the day he‘d published his fascinating diaries of living through World War Two, as he and his wife encountered cold shoulders and black looks from those who saw the truth differently.

So if reading is seen as dangerous, it is as nothing compared to the dangers of writing. Insipid romances or doctored memoirs may satisfy some writers, but true writers need to write the truth as they see it. It’s a responsibility and a necessity. Which may be why so many writers and journalists end up in prison or worse, both in the past, and sadly, in the present.

Today, many bloggers share that fate too, and risk their lives to write the truth on the internet. And their lives, like other writers, are in danger at this moment in history, because in closed totalitarian societies, words are recognised for what they are… the most powerful weapons in the world. Words are the weapons that can change lives and whole societies. And we bloggers get to play with them.

Food for threadbare gourmets

I love potatoes cooked every which way. This way is a favourite, and this recipe is a refined version of the way I’ve always made what some call crispy potato cakes, and others might call latkes.

To three large potatoes like agria or other type with a high starch content, you need 75grams of melted butter. Grate the potatoes coarsely, dropping them in cold water as you go. I often just scrub them instead of peeling. Drain them and squeeze them as dry as you can. I use several layers of kitchen paper on a clean kitchen towel.

Mix them in a bowl with the melted butter and salt and black pepper just before cooking. Drop spoonfuls into hot oil in a heated heavy frying pan, and keep them warm in the oven as you go. Don’t fry too quickly or the inside won’t be cooked. They taste good with anything, and especially with freshly picked mushrooms from the grass outside my gate, and bacon from happy pigs, for a quick meal. In New Zealand we call this Freedom food…freedom from cruelty etc. etc.

Food for thought

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lot of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently in your head, directly to you.
Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, bringing together people who never knew each other, citizens of different epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. Carl Sagan

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Back Again!

When I read one of my favourite blogs, Cecilia at http://thekitchensgarden.com/2015/04/01/did-you-find-your-voice/#comments I felt the torpor of my hiatus dissolving…
So greetings to the friends who have been by my side during this long absence… it’s been one of the wonders of blogging to discover from messages and comments left on my blog, and private letters, that blogging friends care, they don’t forget and they don’t go away. Thank you, lovely friends who’ve sustained me during my absence from our blogging world. And thank you to dear Celi and her Fellowship of the Farmy. Reading their conversation enticed me back, to use my voice again. These were my thoughts yesterday, as I pondered Celi’s words about finding our voices. This is also something of an experiment as I try to find my way round the new systems which have evolved since I last posted!

BEFORE THERE WAS FEMINISM
Sorting through old piles of letters I came on a clipping from the Daily Telegraph – the obituary of one of my dearest friends.
We’d been in the army together and known each other since we were nineteen. She died nearly twenty years ago at fifty six. In the beginning, Jackie was a bit of a joke… always a bit harum- scarum when we were required to be constantly immaculate and impeccably punctual… and always bubbling with fun, and deadly serious about saving to buy a car. She’d been saving since she was eight, and even now, every penny she earned went into her car fund, so she missed out on quite a lot of fun with the rest of us.
When she was posted to Germany, she found to her ecstatic surprise that by buying a Morris Minor and having it shipped overseas, she didn’t have to pay purchase tax, and she could at last afford her dream. Not long after, she married a man as kind and decent as she. And later I visited her in hospital during her miscarriages, and called in on her during trips back to England, sometimes having to sleep in her absent son’s bed, because her elderly and doting bachelor admirers couldn’t tear themselves away from her warm- hearted home and spare room. She was a generous godmother to my son and a loving friend.
Re-reading her obituary I was as awed as I had been on first reading it. Jackie was deliciously dyslexic, leaving big spaces in her letters while she went to look up the dictionary and then forgot and posted the letters anyway. In spite of what could be seen as a handicap, at forty she began writing in ‘Soldier’, the British army’s magazine for soldiers. For the next seventeen years until just before she died, she campaigned for unemployment benefits for army wives serving overseas, maternity benefits for serving women soldiers, fought for the rights of separated and divorced women, and found night shelters for London’s homeless ex-servicemen.
She crusaded for compensation for solders injured in training, for anti-Aids packs for British soldiers and their families serving in Africa, and for improvements to married quarters. She worked for better care for soldiers suffering from combat stress, set up the Army Playgroup Associations, and helped start the Federation of Army Wives. This is only a short list of all that she achieved before dying of cancer, not to mention the loving and beautiful home she had created.
As I thought about Jackie, I thought of my other friends. My oldest school friend who became a local body politician and the first Labour councillor for the city of Winchester, and who, besides learning to upholster furniture, became a gourmet cook, talented gardener, bee-keeper and honey-maker, and dedicated mother. She also completed a three year diploma in dying, spinning and weaving, before becoming a secretary at the House of Commons, running her MP’s constituency for him! She now writes cookery books.
My other army friends included Anne, my dearest friend, who’s still a riding instructor, exquisite interior decorator, and like my school friend, graduated from college as a mature student with a diploma in arcane skills like weaving and soft furnishings, upholstery and other arts. Now in her mid seventies, still caring for her dogs and horses, children and grandchildren, she’s about to walk the El Camino Pilgrim trail in Spain.
And then there is Cordelia who started Alcoholics Anonymous in Hongkong – so greatly needed that there are now 17 branches there – and a single mother who supported her children by modelling, doing radio programmes, exquisite sewing, and making sought- after soft furnishings, before becoming a county councillor in local government until recently, and is now a painter …
And Perfect Prue – enviably beautiful, clever and talented, tennis champion, fencing champion, darling of all the senior officers to our chagrin. She married the man of her dreams – she’d loved him since her teens – and found jobs for him, and when he walked out on each one she bought a country house and turned it into a Michelin rated restaurant and hotel, while the husband chatted to guests over gin and tonic, and finally disappeared.
All these wonderful achieving women came from that generation which notoriously wasn’t trained for anything, and who were expected to stay home and look after their husbands and children… and maybe garden and play bridge. They were never feminists – too busy getting things done in their own lives to even think they were being discriminated against. And they probably were, but they learned to work around the system, and didn’t waste their time repining.
The next generation took up the torch of feminism, but these women just accepted Bill Gates’ dictum: ‘life isn’t fair’ – and made the most of it… no grumbles, no sense of victim, just a joyous commitment to making the best of things. They nearly all made their own clothes, some baked their own bread, and Anne still scours hedgerows for hips for rose-hip jelly, elderberries for wine, blackberries for jams.
Life often wasn’t easy for them, the war had done dreadful things to their childhoods, but they never looked back in anger or self-pity. They cherished their families and tried to improve the lot of others. They weren’t into saving the world or marching for peace, they just did what needed to be done in the small worlds they lived in. They were gentle and kind and were what would have been called ladies back in their day.
All these lives – like all lives – seem like a miracle and a mystery, in which the years have enfolded secret sorrows, public joys, wearying challenges and unworldly wisdom. And now these friends from my youth are devoted grandmothers, back-stops and rocks in tough times, and often indispensable to their families and communities. I treasure them, and yet I sometimes wonder too, how other generations perceive them….tiresome oldies, or beloved matriarchs – or both? … Another of life’s mysteries!

Food for threadbare gourmets
A girl’s dinner and I needed something between nibbles and hors d’oevres to soak up our first glass of champagne. I made a very garlicky aoli, and chopped some cucumber half an hour beforehand, cut out the seeds, and let it sit in some salt and sugar. I patted the chunks dry before arranging them on each plate, and gently fried some fat king prawns in butter and garlic, arranging them on the bed of chopped cucumber, with a big dollop of aoli in the middle. Served with a little napkin and small fork, this went down very nicely with the champagne. I thought it would be rather nice too for a light lunch with some warm crusty rolls.

Food for thought

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You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. G.K. Chesterton

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