Category Archives: cars

Drugs, Death threats, Alfred Dreyfus and Pastor Niemoller

Image result for phonographs

Another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

 Alfred Dreyfus, the Frenchman wrongly accused of spying, and the victim of twelve years of imprisonment, trials and injustice, ending in his pardon in 1904, seemed an odd person to enter our lives – but he did.

Dreyfus was framed and punished for a crime he didn’t commit, and his case has since become the classic example of  bias and state bullying. Among the people who campaigned to exonerate him and re-gain his freedom was the writer, Emile Zola, who wrote a powerful and explosive newspaper article entitled ‘J’Accuse!’ aimed at those who had collaborated in this crime by the establishment.

So many aspects of Dreyfus’s ordeal were repeated in the case of Arthur Thomas that Patrick began to use the parallels and wrote his own version of ‘J’Accuse!’ Whenever he was invited to speak to a meeting, be it conservative anti-Thomas, pro- establishment Rotary clubs, or dinners for Justices of the Peace, he would tell the story of Dreyfus, not mentioning his name.

The audience would grow visibly angry since they believed that justice had been done to Thomas. At the end of his talk he would say – no, not Arthur Thomas, but Alfred Dreyfus. This would always cause a stir, and suddenly they became open to hearing about Arthur’s case, asking the questions Patrick wanted to answer. The constant campaigning went on, while I beavered away by now, at producing the women’s pages as well as writing two weekly columns for the Star and Women’s Weekly.

Life became a juggling act with the children now at secondary school in the city, forty minute’s drive away, and reliant on us to get them there as public transport was difficult from our remote little valley. By the time  we’d added in their weekly piano lessons  with two different teachers in two different  directions, flute lessons in another distant suburb, weekend children’s orchestra, regular piano concerts in which their teachers had entered them, plus my daughter’s activities, which included the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal, and rehearsals with the Handel trio she’d organised, culminating in the finals of a nation-wide competition -to name only a few of their activities – life was hectic.

Friends came to stay from England – a god-mother for three months, other friends for weeks at a time and Shirley, who became a regular visitor who collapsed with exhaustion on her arrival, slept for a few days, and then left – refreshed! This schedule was interrupted with increasingly frequent bouts of what is now known as chronic fatigue syndrome, but in those days got me diagnosed as hypochondriac, or emotionally disturbed, and other enraging judgemental descriptions. I eventually gave up on conventional medicine and went to a homeopath.

He was a very tall, handsome and distinguished man with great compassion, who a few years later returned to England to become the Queens’s homeopath, but was murdered by his mistress with a pair of scissors before he could take up the appointment.

When I went to see him, he was appalled at how weak I was and sent me off to see a raft of specialists, from an endocrinologist, a gynaecologist, a neurologist and finally a faith healer. No-one could get to the bottom of my puzzling ailment, and because no-one could put a name on it I was in a sort of limbo… not really ill at all… I dragged myself around to walk the dogs and speak to meetings, organise, write, interview and lay-out the women’s pages, working from home for most of the tine, and driving into the office two days a week.

One of the high spots of this time was meeting the Duke of Edinburgh, who was handsome, charming, intelligent and witty. Later, a cocktail party on board Britannia to meet the Queen was another fascinating experience, not just talking to her but watching her vivacity and sense of fun as she mingled with other guests. Other interviews were with people as diverse as tennis player Yvonne Goolagong and the new Governor General, Erin Pizzey, English campaigner against domestic violence, painters, poets, midwives, and Maoris…so many good people doing their best for their world.

Patrick in the mean-time pursued his rather expensive hobbies, so although we were always struggling financially, he still managed to collect antique phonographs and records, until he had hundreds of old cylinders and records, and over twenty horned gramophones, Victrolas and other models. Vintage cars were another of his passions, and he was always coming home with another brass headlamp, a brass horn, a new radiator and other trimmings which I used to call Christmas tree decorations, the cars were arrayed with so many extras.

One day he came home with a strange story about one of his girl cadets coming to see him because she was worried about her flat-mate. She feared her friend was working for a shady magazine with odd connections… false passports in the safe, strange phone calls, and stranger people calling. The following week, having followed it up, he felt he had stumbled on a drug ring.

Over the next few years, in tandem with the Thomas campaign, he investigated this frightening international crime ring, which he nicknamed The Mr Asia Drug Ring. He was assisted by a team of three brave and enthusiastic reporters. Up to twelve people were murdered by the two principals, and my heart used to sink at having to listen to more stories of crime and depravity. Eventually I couldn’t take any more, and my daughter claimed her stepfather unburdened it onto her instead on the school run!

But I still couldn’t escape the ramifications of this dangerous mission Patrick was now committed to. After several years of investigations and a big front-page story, the phone rang that eveing, and an educated woman’s voice spoke at the other end. “Martin is not going to like it.” she said menacingly, naming one of the two drug ring-leaders. Since we had an unlisted number this was worrying; we learned later that she worked in the office of Arthur Thomas’s counsel, and had found it easy to get our details.

This barrister, a QC, who had demanded such a price for volunteering to be Arthur’s legal adviser that the Thomas parents had had to mortgage their farm, was also successfully defending one of the two drug lords. This was a strange situation for Patrick, who while he discussed Arthur Thomas with the QC, never mentioned Terry Clark, the other client who he, Patrick, was trying to expose and destroy, while the QC was trying to defend him!

Now, the prime minister, Rob Muldoon caused another huge ripple in our lives. He sent a list to all the newspapers of all the supposed communists in the country, and Patrick who was editing the Star at the time while the editor was on holiday, refused to publish it. I remembered Pastor Niemoller and rang Patrick at the office with his famous words:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Patrick printed them in his editorial – saying next it will be homosexuals in the education department, or Catholics in the health department. His staff were enraptured, exclaiming that they were proud to work for the liberal newspaper, while it caused a stir throughout the country. Flushed with pride Patrick was furious when his boss came hurrying back from holiday, and criticised his  decision.

The next morning, I awoke to hear him say, “I’m resigning.” Suddenly, after a few good years of what felt like prosperity, we were thrown back into the hardship of never having enough money. The big yellow Austin Princess office car was returned to the newspaper, and my lovely new yellow station wagon, the only new car I have ever owned, had to be sold.

With the proceeds, Patrick bought a vintage car called a Dodge, so he could have the fun of it, he said, and we could use it as transport. It was a disaster, always breaking down, and hideous to boot! We ended up selling it at a loss – of course – and buying three very old Morris Minors, one for Patrick, one for me, and one for the children to drive themselves to school- my earnings paid for their school fees. Patrick found it hard to find another job with his reputation for not toeing the establishment line, and went into radio which he didn’t enjoy.

I mentioned to him that there was a lot of rattling in my Morris Minor when driving along our steep and winding country roads. When he checked, he found some -one – the drug lord’s henchman? – had somehow penetrated our isolated home, and had unscrewed all the nuts on the front wheels except one, which hung by a thread. And just in case we hadn’t got the message that ‘they’ knew where we were and would stop at nothing, when we were away on holiday for a week, they broke into the house, and switched off the deep freeze, so that everything had rotted… a sinister calling card…

Other troubling messages continued to reach us, like the one brought by a reporter who’d been dining at a restaurant. As she was leaving, a man at a table put out his walking stick to prevent her passing and said: “Tell Mr Booth that I am always thinking of him”. This was frightening, as was the information relayed by the police, that the drug ring had put out a contract on Patrick’s head, with return fares to and from Australia, and a payment of thirty thousand dollars – which, nearly thirty years ago was a lot of money.

To be continued

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I use this mixture in a pie, or if I’m pushed for time, over two minute noodles. For gluten free foodies, it could be served over rice, but I think I’d jazz up the rice with some frozen peas, chopped parsley, mushrooms cooked in butter, fried onions or similar. It’s just three chopped leeks, gently fried in butter with a spring of fresh chopped thyme.

Mix two table spoons of flour with two table spoons of cream, and add to the leeks along with 200gms of crème fraiche. If no crème fraiche I might use cream cheese. To this add 200 gms of ham, though I use chicken and a few rashers of cooked, chopped bacon. Then salt and pepper, and a good dollop of chopped blue cream cheese… 100 gm at least. When they’re mixed, tip into a greased pie dish, and cover with short crust or puff pastry, brushed over with some milk.

Make a small hole in the centre for steam to escape – those old china pie funnels are ideal – and bake for thirty minutes or so. Good with carrots and broccoli, and creamy mashed potatoes for a homely winter meal on a cold day. In summer it’s just as good with salad.

Food for Thought

There is life on earth – one life, which embraces every animal and plant on the planet. Time has divided it up into several million parts, but each is an integral part of the whole. We are all of one flesh, drawn from the same crucible. The instructions for all life are written in the same simple language. An intricate web of interaction connects all life into one vast self- maintaining system.

Lyall Watson. The opening lines of Supernature

 

 

 

 

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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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No Gold Medal for This Driver

That old saying – when you let something go, something new comes into your life may be true – but they never said how traumatic the new could be.

So there was the dinky little new car waiting at my daughter’s house. They were all away, so I locked up the old car, patted it, said goodbye with tears in my eyes and climbed into the new. When you’ve been driving for fifty years, it’s a piece of cake isn’t it!

But as I pulled away to join the rush hour and looked at the gears, I realised that I had no idea what I was looking at. I assumed D/ S was the gear to drive in, but was ‘ L’ a top gear, since it was the last in line? The nearest petrol station was marooned in heavy traffic, so I went back to the friendly car wash, where the attendant had been so helpful. He put me right on ‘ L,’ so I sailed onto the motorway and into the going- home rush hour traffic.

Not being used to the sound of small cars, I wondered if the noise I could hear was mine or outside. I pressed the side window button, and got the left back window. Pressed the front, and it worked, and I listened and found I was making the sounds I could hear, so went to put the window up. It wouldn’t go. Neither would the back window. Bowling along in heavy traffic, I sat in the cross draught with an icy gale blowing, getting soaked as the rain flew in. I tried every button, and the car began to behave like a Mr Bean nightmare, push this, and the side mirrors curled in, push that and the wind screen wipers swirled, push another and a blast of hot air told me I’d got the heater. That was good, it slightly balanced out the bitter wind and rain.

Three-quarters of an hour later, frozen, I pulled off at the first petrol pump on the left and asked a man getting his petrol how to get the windows up. I didn’t have to put on a pathetic little old lady act – I was one!

It was quite simple, I just pulled the tabs up. As I backed away to resume the journey, the car started shouting at me. I jumped and nerves completely shattered by now, crawled to another pump occupied by a man and six sheep. He suggested maybe it was the seat-belt. It might have been. So I carried on home, and deposited it in the garage after various other tribulations.

Come the morning I had to drive over an hour and a half to get my frail husband to the airport to see his even frailer older sister, pushing ninety. Problem number one, we couldn’t unlock the doors. The driver’s seat was still unlocked from the night before, so in the end- quite desperate – I stuffed my bulky husband into the driver’s seat and pushed and shoved him and his unyielding stiff legs into the other seat. Feeling slightly unhinged by this, and with all the mud coming off the soles of his shoes into the pristine car, that he didn’t know where it had come from, I got in front of the wheel. The gears wouldn’t budge. Some time later, I unlocked the house, went back inside and rang the garage. Saturday morning and just a stand-in selling petrol. So I rang the boss at home and got his wife. “Try putting your foot on the brake,” she suggested.

Locked up the house, back to the garage, and trapped husband.  Foot on the brake and I could move the gear stick. Hooray. Off we go. But we don’t. I can’t start the wretched thing (and by this time four letter words were being used quite freely). Try taking your foot off the accelerator said my husband, whose advice had not, frankly, been too good up till now. This time he’d hit the spot. The car started, and as we backed out of the garage, I discovered why it had been making frantic noises the day before at the petrol pump. It does make these noises when I back. It’s the nature of the beast.

And so off to the airport, still not knowing how to unlock the doors, work the wind-screen wipers with any accuracy, or the heater with any certainty, and the inside light and the head-lights a complete enigma. Reader, (to quote Charlotte Bronte) we got there! A stop for petrol and a helpful attendant meant I discovered central locking and some of the other baffling refinements.

On the way back, travelling at my normal speed – which has earned me in the past the epithet of ‘racing grannie” – a number of large cars of the Chelsea tractor variety, passed me quite dangerously, and cut in on me. I was puzzled at first, and then it began to feel familiar. Yes, it was  ‘the- little- old- lady- in- a- little- car- must- be- driving- too- slowly’ syndrome. I’d experienced it years before when I used to drive a little Ford laser. Back home I mentioned it to a friend. “Oh yes”, she said, “in Mike’s big car, I get around no trouble. In my little car, I get hassled, and bullied, especially at roundabouts and junctions.”

I felt quite indignant. It’s bad enough being introduced to the same man over and over again, because men never recognise or remember women with grey hair, but to be hassled and despised in my car because I have grey (to white) hair as well is the pits! The family were mortified when I described my ordeals because they had actually thought I had understood their briefing on the car. But I am someone whose only kitchen gadget was a pop-up toaster for most of my life (made mayonnaise with a wooden spoon), and who has never learned to thread a sewing machine, so made all my curtains by hand. No wonder I struggle with my computer! As for the car manual – that’s another story, but I’ll spare you the details.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The winter weather seems to get colder with every day that passes, my huge pile of firewood is dwindling, and our need for comfort food increases. So today I did my  chicken stew special. Searching the deep freeze for something edible that would de-freeze quickly (no, I don’t use a microwave) I came on something I recognised – a couple of chicken thighs. I try to label, but usually decide I’ll recognise it when I want it. This means that the day I defrosted some lentil soup for supper, we ended up having Christmas pudding instead.

So I got out the big saucepan and sauted a couple of onions and celery sticks, added a couple of chopped leeks and browned the still frozen chicken pieces. Then I added two chopped carrots, one grated carrot, a big cup of mashed pumpkin from the day before, and another quarter of chopped pumpkin, a parsnip, a few chopped garlic cloves, and some chicken bouillon cubes, a squeeze of tomato puree, Worcester sauce, salt and pepper, and let it all simmer till soft.

Meanwhile I put four tablespoons of self raising flour in a bowl with two tablespoons of grated suet, salt and pepper, and a teaspoon or more of mixed herbs.

Mix this with enough water to make a soft dough, and leave to stand in the fridge for half an hour. Ten minutes or so before serving, drop large tablespoons of the dumpling mixture into the simmering stew, and cook for about ten minutes or until a needle comes out clean. On other days I would use whatever other vegetables I had in the house, or even add some washed lentils, but always onion, celery and carrots. If I put potatoes in I wouldn’t make dumplings, but would add the mixed herbs to the stew. I usually throw in a handful of frozen peas at the end, for the colour. There’s always plenty to have the next day as soup, and for added nourishment I add plenty of chopped parsley and grated cheese on top.

Food for Thought

Few have heard of Fra Luca Pacioli, the inventor of double-entry book-keeping; but he has probably had more influence on human life than has Dante or Michelangelo.

Herbert J Muller, 1905 – 1980     American philosopher

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Buying a New Car

My daughter has finally winkled me out of my ancient and large white car with the bribe of going halves on a new one. An irresistible offer! A nippy little silver job, easy to park, and flies like the swift it’s named after.

But first, there was the old car to dispose of. Cleaning it out was a bit like moving house. The glove box obviously, was a mess – old sunglasses, handbook, old warrant of fitness bills, old maps – out of date – and a heavy choke chain and lead for a big dog. The middle shelves gave up a hoard of tooth picks- the wooden sort and the plastic brushes with a plastic lid – peppermints, a box of matches, a pen, some packets of almonds for hungry emergencies, loose change for wind-screen washers at traffic lights, a couple of elastoplasts, a defunct key-ring and a lipstick. The compartment in the door had to be cleared of tissues – clean- a bottle of Yardley’s lavender water, peppermint wrappers and a small choke chain and small dog lead.

The back seat was divested of rug, a basket containing a bottle of water, a pair of gloves, a nearly empty bottle of Chanel No 5, and some empty egg boxes for re-cycling. The pocket in the back seat had another out- of- date book of maps and some dog biscuits. On the floor were a couple of shopping bags, and a large Tupperware box to be returned to a friend in the city when I was going her way. In the back window, two purple umbrellas, purple because they had a loop handle to go over the arm, and also dozens of spines instead of the usual five or six, to stop them blowing inside out. Purple because that was the only colour they had!

In the boot, a big towel for wiping wet rescued dogs, a child’s plastic beach bucket and a big bottle of water for thirsty dogs, a walking stick in case my husband forgets his, a picture and frame to be taken to have the glass repaired when I find a good picture framer, a bag of books to take to a hospice shop, and another bag with some of my own books as – just occasionally – people I meet ask to buy one.

I’ve got so much gear for dogs because if there is a lost dog within a hundred miles of me, it will eventually cross my path. In the past I’ve had a springer spaniel found in a forest, two over-sized muddy mongrels escaped from home, a lost retriever found on the road late at night, and stowed in the garage with a message left on the draining board for my husband – ‘Warning. Large dog in garage’. I’ve found a labrador puppy, whose teeth marks still deface the arm-rest in the front, and a Staffordshire bull terrier who leant gratefully against the back seat, knowing he was now safe; there was a huge shaggy German shepherd, and a little dog who I lured into the car by giving him my husband’s steak for dinner, and throwing a blanket over him as he ate. He turned out to be a well known local tramp, accurately named Scruffy. Then there were the sealyham and the scottie wandering down a country road late at night, two retriever puppies stranded on a busy city roundabout… and a litter of sheepdog puppies gambolling down another country road on a summer’s night on our way out to dinner…and these are just the ones I remember!

The now empty car needed a good vacuuming, getting pine cone crumbs off the back seat, when I couldn’t get mesh bags of them into the boot because I’d forgotten to empty it of some boxes my daughter had asked me to put in her garage, the odd mouldy chicken nugget retrieved from under the seat, the fossilised relic of a grandchild’s snack, and the general mess from carting bags of compost, potting mix, bark, plants and the rest.

I took the old car to a car wash and gave it the works, and then drove it to my daughter’s where the new car awaited me. By now I was beginning to feel a bit weepy, as though I was abandoning a beloved friend. It had carried me faithfully for over eleven years, done thousands of miles especially when I was doing a six hundred mile round trip once a week to see my grand-children. It had never let me down, and in turn I faithfully oiled and watered and serviced it. I thanked it each time it passed its six months warrant check, and felt grateful for its loyalty, reliability and dogged service.

I’ve laughed in it, and prayed in it, sung in it, meditated in it, cried in it, enjoyed friends in it, and carried my grandchildren in it- even my grand-daughter’s dollies propped up in the back seat when she wanted them to have some fresh air. I look back on moments like the one when the fourteen year old was asleep on the back seat, after we’d had a long adventurous day out together. As we returned to civilisation and approached the harbour bridge, I called out to him to sit up and put his seat belt on. “I’m too tired, Grannie”, he murmured from the depths of the seat. ” Well, I could be caught and fined by the traffic police you know”, I replied. “No, you won’t Grannie,” he answered, “they’ll just think you’re a dear old grannie, and let you off!”

And another child at four years old, sitting in the front seat going home after the weekend, looking wizened and sad in the middle of an asthma attack. He asked a question, and after I’d given him the answer, he looked grumpily at me with his big brown eyes, and said; “How come you know everything Grannie?”  I gulped, and then came up with the answer: “Because I’m so old”. This seemed to satisfy him!

So this car, a heap of metal, was much more than that to me. I loved it and it held so many memories. Martin Buber, the great Jewish teacher once wrote that: ’no encounter with a being or a thing lacks a hidden significance’. He said that: ’the people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farmwork, the soil we till, the material 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’. Recognising the part that this big heap of metal had played in my life – this old car which seemed to have its own personality –  and remembering Martin Buber’s words, made me feel less foolish at being so upset at saying goodbye to it.

I just hope its next owner loves it too.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The lemon chutney I made the other day is wonderful with cheese or cold meat, and also makes a lovely gift. At this time of year in New Zealand the trees are laden with citrus fruits, and it’s a particularly good year for lemons.

You need seven or eight  lemons –  the thin skinned sort. Cut them in eight wedges and pick out the pips. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon flesh with one and a half tablespoons of salt, and leave for two days. Put it all in a blender with 500grammes of raisins and four cloves of garlic, and blitz.  Tip the mixture into a large saucepan with two teaspoons of horseradish sauce, one teaspoon chilli powder, a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, a cup and a half of cider, and 500grammes of brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer gently without a lid until thick. Pour into clean hot jars and seal. Yum!

Food for Thought

If it is to be, it is up to me.       Advice for life to his boys, by an anonymous English headmaster.

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