Category Archives: cookery/recipes

Other Men’s Flowers

On my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend sent me an elegant doorstop with a note saying she hoped this would not prevent her coming through my door again. When I wrote back I included the words of an invocation my nine year old son had learned, and used to recite when we sometimes had family prayers. Since we were attending the silent Quaker meeting at the time, I worried that they would have no words of comfort, poetry and beauty to fall back on when they needed it, like the store of beauty and strength I had inherited from the Anglican prayer book, so we learned some poetry and prayers together. This was his favourite prayer: 

Oh God, Make the door of this house wide enough receive all who need human love and fellowship, and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power: make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.


It was written by Bishop Ken, described as a ‘man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity to conscience’. He became a bishop after refusing to allow Nell Gwynne, Charles 11’s mistress to stay in his house when the King was visiting Winchester.When the next bishopric came up, Charles directed that ‘The good little man who refused poor Nell his lodgings’ should be appointed. He became the King’s chaplain, and ministered to him during the long week the King lay on his deathbed … two of my favourite people –  one for his gentleness and goodness, the other for his warm and generous open heartedness, his kindness, and his love of Cavalier King Charles spaniels – I’ve had six of these adorable little dogs.
Bishop Ken’s later career was a chequered one, including imprisonment in the Tower, all his vicissitudes being caused by his refusal to compromise his conscience, no matter what it cost. There aren’t many people like that around – either then or now..
In my early teens when like many another teen, I experienced deep despair, these  words by someone called Frederick Langridge kept me going:’Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars’ , and later, twice as old now, in my late twenties, stranded in a foreign country, with no money, two children and no family, I turned to William the Silent, who fought the Spanish to gain independence for his country, the Netherlands, during the time of Elizabeth 1. He didn’t succeed, and was assassinated by a Spanish supporter. But at the start of every day at the newspaper where I was so poorly paid, I turned to his words written in my pocket diary:
‘One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere’. These grim stoical words gave me the backbone I needed to keep on keeping on.

A few years later, in happier times, life still demanded courage and tenacity and I used a Taoist verse to keep me going. During this time, many people wrote to me or contacted me, as a result of the columns I wrote every week. One particular woman rang with what seemed like a convoluted problem to ask my help, so I referred her to a helping agency. A week or so later she came back, saying she was still up against it, unable to get help. So I sent her in another direction. Again some weeks later she was back, sounding even more desperate, so I suggested her MP as a last resort. But no… no go.

She always rang in the early evening when I was preparing our evening meal, and when I was at my most exhausted coping with CFS, and beginning to feel as desperate as she was by the time she rang again. I also began to feel that perhaps she was the problem, rather than the circumstances as she told them.
So finally I said, I could give you some words which I find helpful when I don’t know what to do, and she leapt at the idea. I gave her these words from the Chinese Tao:
Close your eyes and you will see the truth, Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,
Be gentle and you will need no strength, Be patient and you will achieve all things, Be humble and you will remain entire,

I never heard from her again, so I hoped they did help her as they helped me.

Some of my favourite words have lasted me all my life, like the Sanskrit poem :
‘Look to this day, For it is life, The very life of life. In its brief course lies all The realities and verities of existence……

.For yesterday is but a dream And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, And every tomorrow a vision of hope, Look well, therefore, to this day.


Life being what it is, there are always challenges to be met and overcome, and this was my fate yet again, a few years ago, when I had to decide whether to take a great leap into the unknown, or settle for safety, comfort, and an easy conventional life.
I fell back on James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, another of my favourite people and his lines:

He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch To win or lose it all

Having put my fate unto the touch, I find I’ve won it all, and learned yet again, that when one trusts to life, and steps into the unknown, the Unknown supports the adventure…
And now, seven years later, living in the bubble of joy, peace and happiness which resulted from taking that momentous step, ( reckless, some called it ) I don’t really need words of steel or beauty or comfort any more, but nevertheless love to savour them when they come my way.


Kahlil Gibran is famous for his book ‘The Prophet’, one of the most widely read books in the world, but these words of the Lebanese poet come from his other writings. They came to me the other night as I read a book on Lebanon –  that tragic place where descendants of ancient Phoenicians still live amongst the descendants of so many other later civilisations.
Gibran wrote:
Remember, my brother,
That the coin which you drop into The withered hand stretching towards You is the only golden chain that Binds your heart to the Loving heart of God.


Words like these, that connect me to the beating heart of the world, are precious, and as I look back at these verses and poems and prayers that have sustained me, they remind me of a quotation from Montaigne. One of my favorite anthologies of poetry is WW2 hero, Field Marshal Lord Wavell’s book, called ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. It’s a thick book, and contains every poem he had loved, and could recite… a humbling thought that he knew every word of this thick book by heart. He begins by quoting Montaigne, the very loveable French philosopher:’I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own’, said Montaigne.   And that is true of this entry of mine into the logbook of humankind’s experiences.

Montaigne’s work is ‘noted for its merging of casual anecdote and autobiography with intellectual insight’, and as in the case of so many great men and great writers, as well as others as obscure as myself. has influenced and encouraged writers to be true to themselves. That his influence  is still so potent, even today, nearly five hundred years later, is proof of the power of words to strengthen, inspire, comfort, and educate, to open the heart,  broaden the mind and inspire the spirit.


The words that I hope will accompany on my next journey were written by a Roman who no-one is quite sure whether he was Christian or pagan, but his words can work for anyone who believes in a First Cause, or Divine Source, be they Pagan, Hindu, Christian or Muslim: The last three lines of Boethius’s  invocation are:

” To see Thee is the End and the Beginning. Thou carriest me and Thou didst go before. Thou art the Journey and the Journey’s end.


I don’t plan to rest in peace, I shall be journeying and adventuring into new realms of light and love and beauty…’ Light and more light,’ Goethe is reputed to have said as he died – more poetic words to take me with me into the next worlds…. 

PS Though the poetry was written as poetry on the original copy, WordPress, in spite of all my efforts has destroyed the lines and spacing… alas… and with their changed format, I can find no way of adding an illustration… I’m too technically challenged to adjust to their constant tweaking of the format…

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I had to take an offering to the AGM of our community on this remote forest estate where I live, and didn’t have the energy to bake a cake. Along with the kedgeree that I’ve posted before, I took an old favourite of my children’s, simple, easy and didn’t need baking.
 I slowly melted 200 grams of dark chocolate with 75 grams of butter, and three good tablespoons of golden syrup. When this is all melted, stir in as many cornflakes as will absorb the mixture. Pile into individual paper cake cases, and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Even adults devour these chocolate  indulgences.


Food for Thought

Nelson Mandela said ” Our world is not divided by Race, Colour, Gender or Religion. Our world is divided into WISE People and FOOLS.. and Fools DIVIDE themselves by Race, Colour, Gender and Religion”

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Filed under beauty, cookery/recipes, flowers, history, life and death, love, poetry, spiritual, Uncategorized

Where is the future taking us?

Homeless in Hull! That was our fate, on my father’s return from his military duties with the Occupation Forces at the former Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1948. In bombed and blitzed Britain, houses were in short supply, and along with many other homeless army families, we were parked in a former army camp which had housed Canadians during the war.


We had half a Nissan hut each, un-insulated, and freezing in winter, hot and stuffy in summer. We ate in a communal dining room  a hundred yards away. Husbands and fathers were stationed at their new postings, often a long train journey away, and would visit at weekends when they could. We were miles away from shops and schools, and just had to eke out an existence until the distant father could find a rented house, or be granted an army quarter. I felt so bleak in the midst of all this lack of beauty, comfort, convenience, that I jammed my tennis racquet between my bed and the wall, spread a lace handkerchief over the strings, and put a small glass paste jar on the makeshift table and arranged daisies and buttercups in it. A small sop to my ten year old sanity.


These memories came back to me, when I read about riots and protests at the various army camps in the UK where refugees had been sent while they were processed. I thought of how they had come, often at great risk to themselves and their families, from far distant countries, from Afghanistan, and Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Africa. They had been convinced by television, film, social media and many other avenues of information that Europe, and especially Britain, was a promised land. They too wanted good housing, generous allowances, opportunities for education, and freedom from so many thing like war, violence, oppression, poverty,  famine, terrorism. They wanted to feel safe.

But many of them don’t seem to realise that all these things have been achieved in western culture by the hard work and commitment of generations of past Europeans who fought and struggled themselves for freedom of speech, freedom from poverty, for free education and health care. So many immigrants don’t seem to realise that the original inhabitants of the countries they want to settle in are still paying for the privileges won by western culture, and that westerners are heavily taxed and still work long hours, often for little pay, to achieve a decent way of life. And now they are forced to pay for all the people who arrive uninvited on their shores… I notice the first thing that immigrants receive is warm clothing and in hot climates, bottles of water. Their physical needs seem to be taken care of straight away, just as they had probably hoped.

But someone has to pay for everything that is handed out free to immigrants, and many arrivals don’t seem to realise what a high price this has meant to the countries they arrive in. The cost to host countries has often not been counted. Sweden which was once a beacon to all countries, a haven of peace, democracy, plenty, equality, generous social services and a relaxed society, has now been ravaged by riots and rape and there are no-go places in their cities, as in many English cities, where native Swedes or Britons do not now dare to venture. A quick glance through the English tabloids, shows pictures of bearded immigrants who have molested women in their surgeries or during operations, groomed vulnerable teenagers, raped women, set up scams to defraud both charities and government agencies, have initiated gang fights and knifings, and disrupted normal activities with angry demonstrations over the politics of the countries they have come from.


These things are not reported in the ‘good’ newspapers; they are considered racist, and drawing attention to the race or religion of criminals is considered typical of prejudice, white privilege, or right wing conservative thinking. ( which is condemned by the intolerance of the left). I could be indicted for ‘hate crime’ in some countries for writing these facts, and the law is about to be changed in my own country to enable thought police to charge anyone who doesn’t think the ‘right’ way. (George Orwell’s predictions are terrifyingly accurate )


People can lose their jobs or find themselves cancelled when labelled as racist (whether or not they are), or prejudiced against different sexes, or religions. Yet as a Christian in a Christian country you may not wear a cross on a chain, though you may wear a hijab or a turban.


In his fascinating book ‘Cosmos and Psyche’, Richard Tarnas suggests that western man lost his way during the Enlightenment in Europe, when reason divorced mankind from the numinous, and from his connection with the intelligent world and universe, replacing that connection with a mechanistic view of a soul-less random universe. But the Enlightenment never reached the many cultures who are now invading Europe, and they are just as cut off from the intelligent universe, and the world around us.

These cultures from other parts of the globe often don’t have respect for animals or the ecology or with the living world. Many of them have no respect for women and children either, so that while western society is still evolving from sexist attitudes, much worse customs in the shape of  ‘honour killings”, female genital mutilation, sharia law  and repressive attitudes to women and their clothing are now taking hold in the once comparatively civilised societies of the west.


I have lived long enough to be able to look back on days when riots and protests were rare, not commonplace; when noise was not part of our life, with the only outside source of noise being the wireless, which people didn’t take to the beach. or play loudly all night or in their cars as they boom down the road. I can look back on days when littering was unheard of, and a real no-no;  when people may have been more narrow minded, but when they were also polite and courteous to each other. I can remember when I could walk down any street anywhere as a child or adult, and feel safe.
I didn’t grow up, as my grandchildren have done, with the threat of climate change or terrorism or any of the other threats to society and to everyone’s peace of mind. Neither did I grow up to criticise my older family members and their views on life, which is the fate of many older people now, who walk on eggshells around their offspring, for fear of being ‘called out’ for outdated attitudes.


These are strange and apocalyptic times. There is no stopping the human tide of peoples who want a piece of the peace and plenty and prosperity of Europe. But perhaps they have to make some compromises in order to preserve that way of life. It is ironic that so called liberals have castigated and condemned the past, decrying the evils of colonialism, while ignoring the hospitals and schools, railways and roads, law and order that colonialism brought to so many corners of the globe; while at the same time too, so many people in deprived places around the world, want to be part of the very culture and society that western protesters of all kinds and colours and beliefs sneer at. Yet until much maligned colonialism arrived, tribes in Africa, for example, faced the same poverty and oppression, murder and mayhem from their own people, that so many refugees are fleeing now.


With so many challenges facing our societies, including the constant warfare, power struggles and tensions between tribes and states and governments, it would be easy to feel powerless to bring about change.. But there are still signs of hope in our world.
If we didn’t have hope, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by what is happening in the outside world. But as Gandalf replied when Frodo said he wished such dreadful things hadn’t happened in his time:
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also said:  ” It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps darkness at bay. Simple acts of love and kindness” .

Such small green shoots of love and kindness are what can give us all hope, like the work of industrial engineer Shubhendu Sharma.  He was working at Toyota in India when he met Japanese forest expert Akira Miyawaki, who came to plant a forest at the factory, using a methodology he’d developed to make a forest grow ten times faster than normal. Fascinated, Sharma worked with Miyawaki, and grew his first successful forest on a small plot behind his house.

Today, his company promotes a method for seeding dense, fast-growing, native forests in barren lands, and Shubhendu is now using  his car-manufacturing acumen to create a system allowing a multilayer forest of 300 trees to grow on an area as small as the parking spaces of six cars – for less than the price of a cell phone. He’s helped to grow forests at homes, schools and factories, something which we can all do on any scrap of land. Forests may save our lives and the planet.

Another green shoot of hope that the world is changing for good, and not always for worse, are the Parliamentary bills Boris Johnson’s government is bringing in, to improve the lot of animals, banning live animal exports or the importing of that cruel delicacy pate de foie gras ( geese force-fed until their livers are diseased), a ban on keeping monkeys and all primates as pets, and a raft of other animal friendly measures. These decisions recognise that animals have feelings and emotions, a view discredited by Descartes several hundred years ago – and which thus validated cruel experimentation on, and the exploitation of animals .

In this country there’s growing recognition of the need for humanity in farming, to the extent of experimenting with phasing out animals for meat, and creating tasty meat substitutes which don’t involve animals at all. Researchers in Denmark have created a way to replace plastic used in delivery food with grass fibres, which they say is ‘100 biodegradable.’   This project aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions hugely, as well as the use of plastic in supermarkets, since according to a statement from Aarhus University, more than 10,000 tons of packaging for take-away food are used each year in Denmark alone.

And when the pendulum swings back, and the excesses of the BLM movement, militant gender campaigns and woke cancelling have diminished, we will all be more tolerant and kinder, as these movements subconsciously influence our thinking to become more sensitive and more aware. The new vocabulary of wokeness, the definitions of binary and cis-gender, and all the other words with charged meanings will then no longer be used to bully the unwoke. (like me)

Events, movements, history, patterns of thought are all in a state of fluidity and flux. Facts and situations we once thought were permanent turn out to have different meanings for different people. The future has never looked more opaque, and the choices that face mankind have never been so urgent and so life-threatening. And yet as we look around us in our own little worlds, we can see small, simple good things, the smile from a stranger, the greeting from another, the warmth of a receptionist, the concern of a health worker, the dedication of so many people in so many ways, from the cheerful capable ambulance driver, to the expertise of the woman who cooks my fish and chips, the decency of the supermarket check-out ladies, and the friendliness of road workers holding up the stop/go signs.

These small human inter-actions are what in the end dwarf the huge problems that face our generations. We know that we are living on the cusp of huge changes in the history of the human race. We know that we are at a turning point in the long years of life on our planet. And we know we can’t roll back climate change and poverty and terrorism and all the other challenges, as we all long to.

But we can create our own world of goodness and human connection. The human connection is what in the end sustains us, and always will, whatever lies ahead. As we all take this unavoidable evolutionary leap into the void of the future, we have each other.

And as the poet Wordsworth said,” The best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless, unencumbered acts of kindness and of love.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’m always looking for short cuts and small additions to deliciousness these days.

One of the best tips I learned from a  Russian neighbour was about my breakfast pot of coffee. In a pot for one, grind one twist of salt, and three twists of black peppercorns into the coffee. In some indefinable way this improves the depth of taste to the coffee.

I also grind my own coffee beans these days, since I read a chef’s information that coffee manufacturers don’t bother to fish out cockroaches or other foreign bodies from the beans, and just grind everything up together. Ugh!

Another chef has improved my omelettes out of sight. He told us that by cooking the butter until it browns before tipping the egg into the pan, gives the omelette a better taste. And he’s so right, tomato omelettes, my fall back position,  have never tasted so good.

And then there’s the hole in any dish being re-heated in the microwave. By hollowing out a little hole in the centre, the whole dish cooks through evenly and not just the edges.. this works for anything from cauliflower cheese, to cooking onions. Anyone else got some good life saving tips???

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, culture, history

What princes can learn from frogs

The last time I wrote on this subject I was called bitchy by someone I like and admire so I’m treading carefully today. I’m referring to the current soap opera that I follow with fascination – no, not the busty beautiful Armenian family who seem to rivet the States, but a family nearer home (mine!)

The arguments for a republic versus a monarchy are not my domain, but in passing I’d say: do the third of the world’s population who belong to the Commonwealth and accept Elizabeth Windsor as their Queen, really want to swap this benign system for one in which their country is both ruled and represented by a Macron or a Sarkosy, or going further afield, a Berlusconi or a Putin? (I’m sticking resolutely to Europe for these comparisons rather than looking across the Atlantic to another controversial power situation.)


A minor point would be the sheer expense of changing all the millions of letterheads and signs, from the Royal Mail, to Her Majesty’s forces, even to a commission to serve in the army – I still treasure the wording on mine: “To my trusty and well-beloved”..
So I dip my toe very cautiously into the waters of controversy that I’m probably about to stir up as fiercely as they’ve already been muddied. I have both questions which will never be answered, and thoughts which may well be labelled bitchy again!
The world-wide airing of family linen by a woke American TV hostess provoked many of these thoughts, one of which was why didn’t the aggrieved pair who did the shaming and blaming to the whole world, just talk it over with their family?


It’s fascinating to analyse many of the extraordinary statements made, so many of which turned out to be untrue. The first of which was the smiling bombshell dropped, that the happy couple had had a private and secret ceremony three days before their wedding – that splendid ceremonial ritual for which the Royal family and the British taxpayer paid millions.

It felt as though Harry’s wife was implying that the spectacle was just for the peasants, but the real thing was their private ceremony, saying they “called up the Archbishop”, conjuring up a picture of the Primate of all England picking up his cassock and scurrying over to their garden for this touching little ceremony. ‘We have the certificate framed and hung on our wall’, she informed her gullible interviewer.

Well, I’d like to see a picture of this  document in its frame, hanging on a wall in California. The Archbishop, interviewed in an Italian magazine, has said that to have conducted such a misleading ceremony without all the required provisos of witnesses,  certificates, and legal processes would be “to have committed a serious criminal offence”.
So we can all breathe easy, the wedding which millions of people watched with such hope in their hearts Was the real thing, not the sham that Harry’s wife was suggesting. So we were not hood-winked after all. But why did she want to hoodwink us? Did she want us to feel she was too grand to share her vows with the public and family who were paying for it?

Then there was the brushing away of the question from Oprah that perhaps the new arrival had been welcomed into the family, showing a picture of Catherine and her sister taking Meghan to Wimbledon. ‘Things aren’t always how they look’, said Meghan evasively. No wonder she was evasive. That picture had been taken the day after Meghan had turfed forty tennis lovers out of the seats they had paid for, so she could sit with two friends in grand and conspicuous splendour uncontaminated by the great unwashed. She had sent her security men to forbid two other tennis fans from taking pics of her, the only problem being that one, a former Wimbledon player, was taking a selfie with Roger Federer, as was the elderly immigrant of many years attendance at the matches.


The next day, Catherine mounted a rescue operation to try to save Meghan’s face. She roped her sister Pippa in, to make it look like a casual girls afternoon  together, and they sat among the crowd, Catherine and her sister observing the Wimbledon requirements to dress up, while Meghan just wore a casual shirt and skirt.

Similarly at their very last engagement in the UK, the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, when everyone is asked to wear red, white or blue, Harry’s wife ignored the convention, and wore the Kermit green outfit which has since become such a talking point. And strangely all through the service, where the camera focused on the faces of the Royal family listening solemnly and sombrely to the sermon and the service, Meghan is smiling brightly and inappropriately all the way through… why, I wonder?

There hasn’t been much attention paid to one of the reasons Meghan was accused of bullying, but I find it fascinating. Apparently when Harry had a shooting party at Sandringham for his friends, Meghan had ordered red blankets for each of the guests. The staff got the wrong red, according to statements made about bullying. But why Was Meghan doling out red blankets? Was there not enough bedding in the bedrooms at Sandringham where generations of Royal family had slept? Or did she feel that the decor was so fusty or whatever, that she’d improve it with red blankets?  Either way it was a subtle criticism of the Queen’s home, and  disrespect for the generous grandmother who had lent it to her grandson.


And talking of Sandringham, one of the public criticisms of the “family Meghan had never had” in Harry’s words, was that the couple felt  unwelcomed. Yet they turned down invitations to spend Christmas at Sandringham with the whole family, and refused to go to Balmoral for the traditional summer holiday with everyone in the family. Instead, Meghan flew to New York for the weekend to watch her friend Serena play tennis.

The Queen bent every rule she had applied to other engaged members of the family and included Meghan and her mother at traditional family gatherings, including the big Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace for cousins and more distant family members. The public airing of so many petty grievances, imaginary slights, exaggerated claims and outright untruths was a strange decision for a couple who had said they were leaving their duties and their family in order to enjoy privacy in California.

These and many other thoughts filter through my mind as I watch the soap opera which continues to play out. The dignity and sadness of Prince Phillip’s passing is once again being muddied by Sussex decisions – the day after he returned to the US, Harry driving ninety two miles to lunch with an elderly Californian billionaire on his just bereaved grandmother’s birthday, and the re-issuing of the infamous tell- all ‘Finding Freedom’, which will now include the Oprah Winfrey accusations, and all the angst and arrows directed at the Royal family and the British public with which the alienated pair have so freely wounded them.

In a recent blog I used the headline ‘Truth Matters’, and to see how destructive it has been to watch two people give ‘their truth’ in order to have revenge ( what for) or to justify walking away from commitments and responsibilities has been deeply saddening.  The self-serving attempts by privileged adults to undermine the reputations of well meaning people, trying to trash and dis-respect an ancient institution, and bad mouthing a whole country and it’s customs are neither kind, nor compassionate or any of the things this woke couple keep preaching about.

Such ingratitude was all the more surprising from a couple who had enjoyed privileges, palaces, and private jets, couture clothes and continual luxury holidays, while the people they patronisingly lectured about saving the planet, got on with the daily drudgery of earning just enough money to survive. Meghan complained that she was only surviving but not flourishing – yet this is the fate of many others too.

In fact, Prince Harry and his wife are a constant reminder to me how imperfect I am as a human being because they evoke in me such enjoyment of schadenfreude. As so many people have commented, it’s like watching a train crash, but sadly as in any train crash, there’s a lot of damage. Maybe the lesson the terrible two are teaching me is the necessity of integrity, and the value of non-judgement.

And as Marcus Aurelius said nearly two thousand years ago: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine…”

While the pain of Harry and Meghan’s attacks on family and country was unfolding, his ninety-nine year old grandfather died. The world has learned from all his eulogies what a magnificent life he lived, full of good deeds, duty, and devotion to his wife, family and country.

I wrote to a friend in the US:
“Have been feeling rather sad today about the death of Prince Philip, a much maligned man, especially in the nefarious and destructive Netflix episodes. He was a fine man, and I was fascinated to learn that among the two thousand books in his own library, were 650 books on birds, an amazing five hundred on religion, several hundred on horses, and over two hundred poetry books. He was also a talented painter, an interesting, clever and kindly man, very good to Diana, much underrated and un-appreciated… married to the Queen for 73 years, and loyal and faithful, in spite of all the untrue nasty gossip hawked around by Netflix et al. RIP”


And I shared a moment which was so typical of him… my daughter’s godmother, who in her retirement was a guide at St George’s Windsor, had sent my daughter a silver chain and pilgrim medallion struck to mark some historic anniversary.  She wore it to receive her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal from Prince Philip at Government House in Wellington. He immediately noticed her chain and talked to her about it, having recognised it was a St George’s souvenir… how many men, in all that crowd, would have noticed and recognised what one of the teenagers was wearing?

duke.jpg
duke.jpgThe photo of the Duke which I placed here,, of the Duke examining the medallion keeps disappearing on reader’s blogs… no doubt I will understand the arcane ways of WordPress one day.

I met him at a function on their Jubilee tour, he was a gorgeous man, and so relaxed and friendly. I told him I worked from home, and he agreed that it was a great system, saying he too worked above the shop!!!


And I loved this story from my oldest friend, from when we were both twenty. She wrote to me:
“I must admit to quite a few tears, it is so sad, he was an amazing man, now at last the public will find out his true  value.My father took a polo team to Windsor one year, calling themselves ‘Low arrow cottage!’ They were four middle aged men who loved their hunting and their horses and enjoyed their polo, although not that good! They joined the tournament, and  one of their number got injured, Prince Philip strolled over to my father and said , “I see you are a man down, would you like me to play for you?” Which he did, until they got knocked out, how kind  was that !”

You see, Harry and Meghan, as Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets


What no recipe, several readers queried after my last blog! That was some time ago, as my computer collapsed, taking everything with it, and I’m still gathering the lost chords, including my blog, addresses, and all the other blogs I used to read…
However, I have still been eating, and here is a dish I gave to my vegan granddaughter, which I also enjoy.
Take a cup or so of green puys lentils, pour two cups of vegetable stock over them ( I use chicken stock if I’m cooking these for myself ) and start them boiling. Meanwhile, in a tablespoon of good olive oil, saute half an onion, a carrot and a courgette, chopped very small, and add two bay leaves, garlic and thyme to taste. Tip them into the lentils, add some tomato puree or a dollop of soya sauce, and cook till the lentils are soft but not mushy, adding more liquid if necessary. I serve these with salmon, or grilled sausages, and even enjoy them on their own, with a sprinkling of extra olive oil on top… almost calorie -free good protein …

Food for Thought

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. Rose Kennedy

Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Rose’s son

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. Him again.


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Filed under cookery/recipes, kate and pippa middleton, Queen Elizabeth, Royals, Uncategorized

Truth does matter

It must be hard for a plainish, dumpy, brown-eyed actress to play the part of a vivacious and witty, beautiful blue-eyed woman, possessed of a tiny waist, lovely legs, and an exquisite complexion. Mind you, this actress has form. She also played the wife of King George V1 in the US film, ‘Hyde Park on the Hudson.’

George VI was portrayed as a good mannered but pompous prat, while his proverbially charming, warm and outgoing wife was played by Colman as a hard, bitter, bitchy snob. This was a Hollywood version of the King and Queen, so hardly surprising that an America film for an American audience would distort the characters of these two decent people. Even the great President Roosevelt, a profound and intelligent man, was portrayed by Bill Murray as a manipulative philanderer, so no surprises there.

Typical of that Queen, who became the Queen Mother, was when she was touring New Zealand in 1966, and at Clyde, the male photographers jostled and hustled seventeen -year- old cadet Eileen Wockner out of the way. Years later, Eileen told me how the Queen Mother noticed, and stopped the proceedings, so Eileen could take her picture in peace, and later posed especially for her, pretending to weigh gold – just the sort of kind and perceptive action which made her beloved throughout her sixty-six years as a Queen.

Such simple acts of perception and sensitivity don’t make it into The Crown. The debate at the moment over the latest version of the Netflix Crown series saddens me. It must appal the people themselves, who are being portrayed in such a cynical bitter light. I was so alienated by the distortions and untruths in the first instalments that I haven’t watched any since.

When I met the Queen, I spoke to an intelligent, witty woman, putting her whole heart into the job she’d been born to. Prince Phillip, her highly intelligent and much maligned partner, was born to the job too – twice as Royal in genealogical terms as the Queen, he was never the self -indulgent, spoiled and immature spouse, dodging Royal duties as portrayed by the screen writers – nor was he a philanderer – another brush with which he was tarred. He likes women, like many men who were brought up by, or surrounded by a bevy of sisters – both of which were his fate, with a truant father and hospitalised mother.

In spite of his distinguished war record in the Royal Navy, he was often derided as ‘Phil the Greek’ by the ignorant and prejudiced. But unlike Prince Harry’s wife, who in spite of the cheering crowds and warmth and enthusiasm with which she was welcomed, still complained of prejudice against her, Prince Philip adopted the dignified royal mantra of never explain and never complain.

He’s also been pilloried for being a rotten father, but this too is untrue even though Prince Charles in his darkest moments has bad-mouthed him. None of his other children have complained of the father who was quoted as saying “It’s no good saying don’t do this or that, you can warn them or say this is the situation you’re in, these are the choices, on balance this is a sensible one. Go and think it over and come back and let me know what you think”… His biographer Basil Boothroyd, who followed him around observing him, said Prince Philip ran family life as a committee and watched the affection between him and his children.

Though the Queen was not a noticeably maternal person with her two elder children, as a more mature mother, and as an experienced monarch, she was able to give her younger children a lot more mothering – as she did too, with Princess Margaret’s children – usually taking them on holiday with her own while their parents were off to the West Indies.

Philip was always a supportive parent to his children – more so with the three younger ones. Prince Charles’s fate, that of many previous eldest Royal sons, was to have anxious conscientious parents trying to groom him for kingship and making mistakes from the best of intentions.

Having invaded the Queen’s private life, and damned her with imaginary mockery and coldness in her response to the tragedy of Aberfan ( one look at the deep grief on the devastated Queen’s face on newsreel is enough to contradict Colman’s hardness) it was inevitable, I suppose, that writer Peter Morgan should have delved into the tragedy of Charles and Diana’s marriage with such salacious relish, given his past excesses.

I walked out of his acclaimed play, then film, ‘The Audience’ about the Queen’s weekly audience with all the prime ministers of her reign. Once again in this un-satisfying pseudo- documentary, he skewed the facts, shifted the truth and caricatured the characters, including the Queen, played by Helen Mirren. Her energy was so heavy and her humour so mocking, her heavy wigs so ugly, that there was almost nothing of the real person in her impersonation of an attractive, witty and intelligent monarch.

Morgan’s portrayal of Princess Anne was puzzling too… while happy to expose her marital skirmishes and relationship with her bodyguard, he didn’t bother to show her in her finest hour, during the kidnap attempt in the Mall, when several people were shot and badly wounded, and she resisted the kidnapper. Her courage and  refusal to panic or show the slightest discomposure as he tried to drag her out of the car – ‘Not bloody likely!’ she exclaimed as she resisted – were a nation’s delight at the time.

 The admiration of the country was won too, by the Queen’s courage and composure when she was shot at six times while leading her Guards down the Mall on horseback, two years after the IRA had also attacked at the end of her birthday parade. Then, they left four dead men, eight dead horses and thirty-one wounded men lying all over the road. (the Queen once called it “the worst day of my life”) And as an ex-army person myself, I also admired her perfect salute unlike the shabby amateurish attempt of Olivia Colman’s. Every recruit is taught how to perform correctly this simple military gesture of respect.

Respect is a quality missing from this script. The tally of distortions, untruths, destructive interpretations and fictional scenes in this series doesn’t just change history into fiction – and it’s a mean-spirited un-enlightening version at that – not just white washing the facts but black painting and tarring them with nonsense and negativity.

But there’s something much more significant.

Before Mel Gibson released his fictional and prejudiced account of Scotland’s history in the film ‘Braveheart’ – a tirade against the English from an American/Australian – relations between Scotland and England had been amicable ever since the Scots request for Union in 1707. Then, the English Parliament had paid off the Scots’ debts in exchange.

After ‘Braveheart’ had been seen and believed in Scotland, the whole relationship was disrupted, with surveys showing that the Scots now believe the English were as perfidious as Gibson had portrayed them. This was when the demand for independence gained the traction which is now pulling the Union apart.

Similarly and sinisterly now, some surveys have shown that more than fifty per cent of watchers in England alone, believe and disapprove of this fictional and derogatory version of how the Royal family live their lives – with pettiness, arrogance, and mean-spiritedness.

 The Netflix Crown series is undermining the respect, regard, affection and approval of the people on whose support the monarchy depends. While Prince Harry and his wife have recently demeaned the dignity of their family, The Crown is successfully and regrettably doing the same thing, with potentially more damaging effects.

Historians may mark the decline and gradual fall of this thousand- year old unifying institution from this moment in time – when a disastrous and destructive work of fiction was delivered into the homes of many people who believe it must be fact. The ethics of blackening people’s characters and inventing questionable behaviour when they are alive and in no position to defend themselves is another matter.

So sadly, this trivial and dishonest Netflix money spinner seems to be yet another nail in the coffin of respect for the past, and for the rituals that bind a community and a country. It is loosening the safeguards against politics, money and power becoming the dominant force in the nation.

 The mayhem the world is watching in the dis- United States of America is a reminder that the monarchy may be a hereditary and imperfect institution, but it also provides stability, and still has a function to play, and services to perform in one of the world’s oldest democracies. Constitutional monarchs can’t interfere in politics, but do perform the duties of a head of state who is above lobbying, campaigning, or manipulating power. So yes, it seems logical to end with ‘Long live the Queen!’

Food for threadbare gourmets

As ‘sumer is icumen in’, in the words of the 13th century English song, I have a glut of tomatoes. I played around with the thought of the big beefsteak tomatoes I ate in France as a child, stuffed with real golden mayonnaise – a true taste of summer.’

So I cut a sliver off the bottoms of my smaller tomatoes so they would sit properly on the plate, and hollowed out the insides, keeping the tops and seeds to use elsewhere.

I mashed blue cheese with some good bought mayonnaise and stuffed some. For others I used real homemade mayonnaise, with  ripe avocados mashed in, and stuffed the third row with simple homemade mayonnaise. With baby spinach leaves and warm sour dough bread and unsalted butter, they made a simple satisfying light supper

Food for Thought

Just a thought in these divided times: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Anonymous

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Filed under army, cookery/recipes, leaders. presidential election, Queen Elizabeth, royalty

Not angels or saints – Women

This is a story about three women who were described as the Angel of Arnhem, the Virtuous One and Queen of Okoyong.

Kate ter Horst was called an angel by those who received her heroic care under fire. The mother of five children, she lived happily with her husband Jan at Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, where part of the Allied assault, Operation Market Garden took place in September 1944.

As the battle for Arnhem Bridge intensified, an army doctor by the name of Randal Martin knocked on Kate’s door and asked if he could bring some lightly wounded men there for shelter, as their field hospital was running out of room. With her husband away helping the Dutch Resistance, Kate agreed, and putting her children safely in the cellar with their nanny, she opened her doors to the wounded, the men of the British Parachute Brigade.

They never stopped coming as the battle raged, until over three hundred wounded and dying were crammed into every available space, where there was no room to step anywhere, she told her children afterwards. When the house became a target, she improvised water for her unexpected house guests siphoning off water from the boiler and the toilet cistern. But mostly she comforted and supported the wounded. Talking to them, reading the Bible and prayers to those who wished, holding their hands when they died. She infused the house with calm, and loving kindness.

Liv Ullman plays Kate in the film, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, with great soul and sensitivity, so that one knows how much the shattered soldiers loved her, and clung to her steady, gentle kindness. “She brought light into darkness,” a wounded general said afterwards. Over three hundred men finally lay on the polished oak floors, on the stairs, on sofas and make-shift beds. The young English doctor was wounded twice as relentless sniper fire targeted the house and explosions rocked it. Fifty-seven dead soldiers were hastily buried in the garden, and when the Germans finally marched in, Kate and her children were expelled from their home, walking away with nothing.

They called her the Angel of Arnhem and never forgot her. When the war was over, those who survived and the families of those who didn’t, came back to thank her and to be with her once again. Dr Randal Martin, like some others, became a life-long friend, and when Kate was killed in a car accident in 1992 and her husband badly injured, Randall flew over to Holland to care for him. They were awarded an MBE by the King, and when Kate died, the British Parliament stood to honour and pay tribute to her.

Her daughter Sophie continued to live in their re-stored house. She said: “I cherish this house and feel privileged to live here. It’s where British men gave their lives to free Europe. I’ve lived with their memories all my life. I think of them all the time.”

(of the 10,000 men who fought at Arnhem, only 2,400 returned). Her mother turned the garden into a shrine to the young men who had died there, and when her husband became mayor, he started the custom of all the children in the town being responsible for one grave, which they tended and decorated with flowers since the families of the dead were too far away. It continues to this day.

Gladys Aylward was also involved in a war – the terrible conflict between the Chinese and Japanese. A house-maid before she had saved enough to pay for the cheapest fare available to go to China – she had two pounds and nine pence when she set out on the dangerous journey overland to become a missionary. Missionaries have had a bad rap over the years, along with the British Empire (which abolished suttee – the burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre, helped abolish foot-binding in China and tackled infanticide in parts of Africa)

When thirty- three year old Gladys arrived in China she joined a seventy- three year old missionary, Jeannie Lawson, in a remote part of the country, where the two women restored a ruined haunted hotel, and made a warm welcoming stop for mule trains… while they ate their food, one of the women would tell them Bible stories, in the hope the muleteers would pass them on! When the elderly Jeannie died from a fall, Gladys took over on her own. She overcame local hostility and prejudice against all ‘foreign devils’, learned the language, became a Chinese citizen, quelled a local prison riot and obtained decent conditions for the prisoners.

She became an official employee of the government to abolish the barbaric practise of foot binding, having great success in remote regions in spite of the resistance of the men. (footbinding involved breaking the toes and the instep, binding the toes to the sole very tightly and creating a foot of four inches, on which women could hardly hobble and were trapped at home. They often fell and broke their bones which became more brittle than unhandicapped women’s. It was agonising, and considered a sign of beauty) At the same time Gladys was adopting orphans whenever they came her way! The locals loved her and gave her a Chinese name – Virtuous One.

She ended up at the outbreak of war having to lead a hundred orphans of all ages to a safe town, away from the Japanese, who were destroying all the towns and villages, and killing everyone.

Her epic trek over the mountains with the children for twelve days, almost starving, sleeping in the open, trudging through rain and up and down steep mountain passes was the subject of a film, ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ a distorted Hollywood account which included a fictional love affair, which the modest Gladys hated.

At the end of the journey she collapsed with typhus and fought for her life, before going back to work with her beloved orphans. With the coming of Mao she had to escape China, and she ended her life caring for orphans in Taiwan. Not bad for a four foot ten inch London parlour maid.

Mary Slessor was a Scots girl, who from the age of eleven had to work to help support her family, who were unsupported by an alcoholic father. She worked in a weaving mill until she was twenty eight, when she felt able to leave home, and sailed off to Africa to be come a missionary. She went to Calabar in Nigeria, and after a short time at the mission, she set off into the unknown interior of the great continent.

Back in 1878, this really was darkest Africa, with many hostile tribes, particularly brutal forms of slavery, constant tribal wars and barbaric and brutal customs which made everyone’s life a fragile dangerous ordeal. Other missionaries who had tried to spread their message there had been killed. Undaunted, Mary learned Efik, the local language, and bringing nothing with her but love and a desire to help the oppressed, she set off.

She spent the rest of her life exploring and serving this part of Nigeria and with sheer force of personality taming murderous chiefs, curbing the power of witch- doctors, trying to end the practise of chaining the wrists of a suspect and pouring boiling oil over them -if he was innocent, he would not be harmed! She rescued slaves condemned to death for trivial mis-demeanours, and saved the lives of many women from being killed for irrational reasons, stopped the practice of finding someone to blame when someone died and taking their life too, put a stop to all the chief’s wives and servants being killed when he died, to go with him, and everywhere she went, building her own house, chopping logs and fixing roofs, and always having her adopted children with her.

Her most powerful achievement was to end the killing of twins, whose parents were deemed cursed by their communities and the mother driven off to die in the jungle and the father considered a ‘devil child’. She scoured the dense undergrowth whenever the grapevine told her twins had been born and rescued hundreds of the abandoned babies, nursed their broken mothers back to health, tried to re-unite the parents, and above all, worked on the chiefs to get them to stop this cruel practice. She cared for the babies, finding homes for them and adopted four girls and a boy herself.

 The people adored her for the loving and unstinting energy she gave to improving their lot and trying to change things for the better. Mary had contracted malaria soon after her arrival in Nigeria, and struggled with it for all the years she worked in Africa until she died a sixty- seven in 1915.

But until then she never gave into it, and battled through fever, debilitation and pain to the rescue of endangered women, or to stand in the path to stop an invading tribe attacking. Though she was a timid woman, hiding in doorways if she saw a dog in her native Dundee, here in Africa, using prayer to sustain her she showed such courage that all, European and Africans alike, were awed by her achievements. Her focus was on teaching Christianity, settling disputes, encouraging trade, establishing social changes and introducing Western education. She changed many lives simply by her example.

She had an extensive correspondence with children  back in Scotland, and even with the crippled son of hotel owners in the Canary Islands. Knowing the labour of hand writing long letters, this reaching out with loving encouragement to these children was an extraordinary service on top of all her other self-appointed duties.

The British Government in Nigeria cooperated with Mary’s efforts to stop the killing of twins and passed a law against it. They also made Mary the local consul with the power to preside as a magistrate and keep the peace in her area. By now, she was known by all, as the Queen of Okorong, for all the tribes and chefs deferred to her and brought their disputes to her, knowing she would resolve their problems with fairness and kindness as she knew their ways and customs. Everyone trusted her.

Mary refused a salary for this important post saying she was serving God, not the government, so the government paid her salary to her local mission. The frail missionary became beloved by all who knew her, and though George V honoured her with the award of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, she valued far more the love of her adopted children and all those she worked with and served. When she died, the colonial authorities gave the red-haired blue-eyed Scottish girl from the Dundee slums the equivalent of a state funeral

All these women brought light into darkness, and they are an inspiration. Gladys and Mary and Kate are well-known, but at the same time, in each place in the world where they laboured, there were many other women (and men) bringing light, and kindness among people who needed hope; people struggling against centuries of oppression, poverty and the cruelties inflicted by the powerful, as well as by the tragedies of war.

The tapestry of the past is composed of dark and light, but by looking at the light, and acknowledging it, instead of focusing only on the dark, we can see how the light has showed us the way to a more just, more compassionate present. The light can inspire and lead us out of the darkness of injustice or cruelty into the possibilities of a fairer kinder future.

Dale Carnegie had a point when he said two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars. These women were stars and their lights still shine for those who choose to see it.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

Not for the first time, Nigella Lawson has enhanced my life! I read her tip to cook chips in COLD oil. This looked too good to be true. But using a deep saucepan, instead of a frying pan, I tipped chips into cold vegetable oil and left them to cook. Miracle – crisp outside, soft and fluffy inside, and they took half the time and no hot oil spattering. Next time I tried with kumara/sweet potato as well – just as good but they cook a lot quicker.

So then, in a separate pan, I tried chopped onion in cold oil. The recipient, an aficionado of fried onions, said they were the most deliciously crisp of any I had cooked before. I tip them onto kitchen paper, to dry out a bit of the oil, but they seem to be less oily than ordinary chips. Must be vegetable oil, so I use grape-seed.

Food for Thought

What is civilization? I answer, the power of good women.     

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, history, human potential, slavery, uncategorised, womens issues

The Soldiers – ‘A Richer Dust Concealed’

100_0584The beginning of July is pock- marked for me with remembrances, memorials and history… the birthday of my father, the day I shattered my leg four years ago, spending two and a half months in hospital, and the unforgettable anniversary of one of the worst battles of the First World War.

It was a hundred and four years ago,  when my step-grandfather stepped out with thousands of other young men on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The first of July, 1916.

He was a north countryman from Northumberland, and the four Northumberland regiments were the first to walk into battle at 7 30 am on a blue sunny morning with the birds singing. The four Geordie regiments stepped purposefully towards the German lines which were supposed to have been bombarded into nothing after five days of thunderous firing – the barbed wire cut by the bombardment also.

For a moment, these fine young men walked into the sudden silence, and then the German machine guns began to fire. The bombardment had neither cut the wire nor killed the enemy, who had moved out of range. The German guns now simply swept the battle field, as their targets continued walking steadily towards them, and line after line of brave young men fell. These regiments belonged to what was known as the New Army, bodies of men who had joined up from their towns, villages and workplaces, calling themselves names like the Grimsby Chums, and the Manchester Pals. They were, to use a cliché which has meaning in this context, the flower of the country’s youth. They had set off that morning believing that this battle would end the war.

Percy, my step-grandfather, didn’t become one of the 60,000 dead British soldiers killed on that one day, but just one of over 30,000 wounded. He was a young officer, and like them all, easily distinguishable to the German machine-gunners. Officers went into battle wearing their service dress, collar and tie, shining leather Sam Browne belts, and carrying a pistol, not a rifle. By the end of the day, seventy five per cent of officers had been killed, compared with fifty per cent of men. The three colonels of the four Geordie regiments were dead, the fourth badly wounded.

Percy was shot in the face, and later buried in a huge crater after a mine had exploded. He was found four days later, still alive – just – and he grabbed a helmet lying on the ground to drink from it and quench his terrible thirst. The helmet was full of chemicals and poisons from the battlefield, and Percy ruined his insides. The face wound healed, he returned to the battlefield, and unlike so many of the men who endured the hell of the First World War, he survived to see peace.

The day that 60,000 brave young men died on the Somme was the worst day of that terrible war. Waterloo was accounted a bloody battle, but Wellington lost only 25 per cent of his army, 8458 men. El Alamein, an eleven- day battle, cost 1,125 men a day, while on D-Day the British and Canadian casualties cost 4000 men.

So my step-grandmother, living in a north country village, had seen all the young men march proudly through the streets on their way to fight for their country, trumpets blowing, banners flying, girls throwing flowers. Now all the houses had their blinds down, mourning their sons and husbands, brothers and fiancees, friends and neighbours. It wasn’t the same back in Germany. The Germans had not been slaughtered. For every seven British soldiers killed, they had lost one, from a much bigger population.

Paddy Kennedy, a soldier with the Manchester Pals, another regiment which was destroyed that day, helped to take a German post at Montauban. In the German trenches he found a small black frightened kitten, the pet of a dead soldier. Feeling sorry for it, he fastened it inside his pack, and took it with him. During lulls in the fighting he took it out and played with it. A few days later, he gave it to the company cooks as a mascot, and got on with his job… the following year, the kitten, now known as Nigger, went back to England hidden in a soldier’s battledress.

The young man took it home on leave to his family in Rochdale, and left it with them. He was killed at Passchendale shortly afterwards. But Paddy Kennedy, who’d gone back home to Manchester after the war, had not forgotten the cat. Throughout the twenties he went to visit Nigger at Rochdale.

This reminded me of the Dogs Cage on the beach at Dover. As the soldiers arrived back from Dunkirk in 1940, hungry, wounded, shattered, they brought with them dogs and puppies which they’d rescued from the deserted, burning town of Dunkirk. Since rabies could not be allowed to invade the British Isles, the commanding officer at Dover organised for the dogs to be labelled, and their addresses recorded; and after six months in quarantine, these French dogs were delivered to their rescuer’s homes around the British Isles. I suppose that by then they knew what ‘sit,’ and ‘stay’ were in English…

These loving actions by soldiers in the midst of fighting, somehow ease the heart when one reads the horror of those battles. So when I think of Percy and all those other wonderful young men, whose deaths wring the heart – “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”, I think of their kindness and courage and decency – and try not to think of the warmongers who forced war on the world, of the devastated people in Belgium and Northern France, who suffered atrocities perpetrated by Germans, not Nazis, who conveniently took the blame for similar atrocities in the next world war.

When some of those young men rescued the frightened black kitten, they lovingly gave it a name which is now anathematized in some parts of the western world, and I wonder what those brave young men would have thought of our world now.

Of the million white slaves in the Middle East, some would have been the ancestors of these soldiers, some would have ancestors who slaved in the mines, others impressed in the navy for seven years, and many more who scurried up and down stairs as over-worked and underpaid servants. Most soldiers would have come from families whose members had always been poor, overworked, and downtrodden throughout the history of their country.

But they loved it, and wanted to protect it. They didn’t want to impose it and their way of life, and their culture on others. And they died trying to save it.

The title comes from Rupert Brooke’s famous (and now unfashionable) poem, The Soldier.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’m just emerging from a bad bout of ‘flu, so apologies to all the wonderful friends who commented on my previous post, and I will be getting back to you. I also had a posse of zoo researchers coming to dinner, before they began their nights research into our almost extinct species of frogs and lizards in the forest.

I wondered how I was going to put on dinner for five – the spirit was willing but the body was weak, so I turned to my newly acquired slow cooker for rescue. Brilliant! Into the pre-heated container went chopped onion, garlic, a stick of chopped celery, chopped mushrooms, and a few rashers of chopped bacon. Then a layer of chopped chicken- good sized chunks – I used boneless thighs and tenderloins, then smothered the whole with a tin of condensed chicken soup plus a chicken stock cube and hot stock, plus a liberal helping of cream, and salt and pepper.

I put the lid on, and it cooked for four hours on high. Then I added a packet of lasagne, made sure the liquid covered it, by adding a bit more hot chicken stock, and continued cooking for another hour and a bit till the pasta was ready. With a green salad, and freshly grated parmesan, it was a doddle.

And for an easy pudding, I whipped up cream, added the same amount of apricot yogurt, plus succulent chopped peaches I’d freezed in summer, some sugar, and a tin of mandarin oranges to decorate the top. In a crystal dish, it looked good enough to eat!

Food for Thought

Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me.

The prayer of Cavalier, Sir Jacob Astley before the Battle of Edgehill 1642

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Letter to a Protesting Grandson in London

100_0106Thank you for your letter darling. As a veteran of pro-peace, Anti-Vietnam marches, Anti-Apartheid protests, even walking for Save the Whales, it’s good to know that you’re following in your grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps!

And thank you too…. will go and follow up your Wiki research on BLM… you have set my mind at rest somewhat. There seemed so much destruction and hate, and though I can understand how bitter and sad black people and their families are, who have suffered both in the present and in the past, it doesn’t help the cause when white people join in the vandalism and add to the hate and divisiveness on both sides of the ‘divide’. Martin Luther King said: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Of course I whole-heartedly agree with what you say about the dreadful injustices both past and present…I’ve always thought it was abominable that the film ‘Gone With The Wind’ was written, filmed, and enjoyed – when it was actually a hymn of praise to the South and slavery … But I just wish the protestors would stop tampering with British history which is not as black as they paint it!

Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice ruled in, I think it was 1772, that any slave who set foot in Britain was automatically free – slavery had no part in English law, he said. (The case of Somersett, a slave – I wrote about it in my book ‘The Sound of Water’). This was nearly a hundred years before it was abolished in the US.

For sixty years between 1800 and 1860 the Royal Navy maintained a permanent anti-slavery squadron, which cost not just millions of pounds, but more importantly, the lives of over two thousand sailors as they battled traders and rescued captives on slave transports all over the Atlantic. The RN rescued at least 150,000 Africans who they re-settled in Liberia. Britain was the first nation to propose a motion calling on all European nations to end slavery at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

During the American Civil War, in 1862-6, cotton workers at the mills in Manchester and around, refused to buy cotton from the South, thereby aiding the North, and plunging themselves into penury… just as when Britain voted to abolish slavery in all its colonies, this caused a huge rise in prices for everything for people all over Britain… Dear old William Wilberforce, who campaigned all his life against slavery (remember that film I took you to – ‘Amazing Grace’) – was also one of the founders of the RSPCA….

The  Indian writer, VS Naipul, went on record as saying that for every year since the British left India, the country has gone back ten years… as a woman, I feel that one of the best things the Brits did was to abolish suttee – the burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre!!!

And when I was researching China’s slow march to world domination about eight years ago, I read of some African leader whose country has been infiltrated by China and Chinese workers, (he had of course been in prison in the last years of British rule, for sedition – most African rulers seemed to do a stint in prison as part of their careers as activists back then!) wishing the British were back, they employed us and built hospitals and schools and roads, he said….The really brutal colonists were the Dutch and Belgian….

I suppose because I actually lived in a colony-  Malaya- during the last years of colonial rule – before they achieved Merdeka -freedom, the year after I left, and seeing the intelligent, humane and decent rule of law there, and the respect for the Muslim culture and way of life, I feel sad at the distorted and one-sided view of history which so many un-informed people have.

Ulysses Grant, the great US Civil War General, one of my heroes, and whose diaries I have, wrote that of all the colonial nations Britain seemed to have achieved the best balance, and relationship with the peoples they ruled – (He was another animal lover, an amazing horse-rider, punished his soldiers if they ill-treated their horses, and refused to attend a bull fight put on in his honour in Mexico when he was President…)

One protestor, as he defaced the statue of Winston Churchill, was reported as saying Churchill didn’t fight for blacks – he fought for colonialism, whereas he actually fought to save Britain and the world from one of the most evil regimes in the history of the world

Reading the English newspapers this morning, I see that another of my heroes, Captain James, Cook, a straight up and down working class Yorkshire lad, who rose to become not just a captain in the British Navy, but also one of the greatest explorers and cartographers in history, whose explorations also saw him initiate a new science of anthropology, is also on the list of statues threatened with demolition by British BLM protestors.

Cook had nothing to do with slavery, though his discoveries did have a lot to do with the eventual expansion of the British Empire. In their sealed instructions, the Royal Navy told Cook not only to map the coastline of any new land, but also “to observe the genius, temper, disposition and number of the natives, if there be any, and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a friendship and alliance with them… You are also with the consent of the natives to take possession of convenient situations in the country, in the name of the King of Great Britain.”

Which is why we all now live in New Zealand. When your mother was six, I decided after living in the horrendously crowded island of Hongkong for four years, I didn’t want to go back to another crowded island, England. So we came here to a country the same size as the UK, but with only three million inhabitants. After fifty years we now have four million people, but we still have plenty of space!

In that fifty years, the population in my beloved birthplace, has grown from fifty-five million to over sixty-six million. And maybe that’s why we’ve been able to beat Covid 19 in this country. We all banded together and observed lockdown scrupulously, with only twenty-two deaths, and have had no more cases for nearly three weeks.

I continue to be shocked by the way both young doctors and nurses are treated by our health system… the huge rewards for different workers, – like Ceo’s and lawyers, seem so unfair compared with the under-paid, essential and self-sacrificing people like health workers and others…I admire your brother’s beautiful doctor girlfriend enormously for her persistence, dedication and intelligence, and sticking with such a demanding and difficult calling…

Love talking to you darling, you give me fresh viewpoints and lots to think about…

Much love Grannie

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

With my bad back still dogging me – in a manner of speaking – I’ve perfected a number of dishes for a hungry man without too much angst for the cook.

Take for example, half a dozen chicken drumsticks, and brown them on both sides in the frying pan. Then arrange them on a bed of chopped onions. Pour some olive oil over the chicken, and a little water among the onions. Salt and pepper.

Cook them in a hot oven for about an hour. When the chicken is ready, put in the microwave a packet of pre-cooked rice for the prescribed minute and a half. Pour the juices from the pan over the rice, and if you have the energy, rustle up some broccoli, peas, or salad to eat with the chicken, onions and rice…

Food for Thought

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. …

I don’t know who said this, but after re-watching Band of Brothers for the last few nights, it rings very true.

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Those were the days, my friends…

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I’ve only recently discovered that being called a baby boomer is an insult when used by young things intent on saving the planet. Heaven knows what I would be called, being even older than a baby boomer, but hey, it’s been worth the long ride!

The tragedy of the Covid 19 seems to have gone a long way towards meeting the Extinction Rebellion’s movement’s aims. It seems even worse than their favoured methods of bringing attention to the plight of the planet. These seemed to involve bringing the maximum misery and difficulty to the world’s workers who found themselves unable to get to work, get to hospital, late home after a tiring day’s drudgery in their offices and cafes and other work spots, thanks to delayed trains and blocked motorways.

But the other side of the coin of lost loved ones, lost jobs and lockdown in the Pandemic has been the joy it’s brought to the rest of the planet… there have been pictures of hippos surfing on empty South African beaches, and monkeys running amok in deserted Indian squares. There are majestically antlered deer grazing on English village commons, and jellyfish gliding through the newly clear waters of Venice canals. The blue unpolluted skies have restored long lost views of glorious places like the Himalayas, and there are weeds growing between the paving stones in empty Roman piazzas.

Bird-watching societies in England report that their membership has soared by thirty per cent during lockdown, and English optimists are reckoning on a bumper crop of baby hedgehogs, as with empty roads, the populations of amorous adults are getting to the other side without being squashed by continuous traffic. The seas around busy Portsmouth and the Solent, usually a dull muddy brown, are now sparkling tropical turquoise blue; and not only are the skies clear and bright, but with no travel and no aeroplanes the continuous drone of noise in the sky has ceased.

People are hearing the birds again, and fish in the sea, disturbed for so long by the vibrations of tankers, ferries and cruise ships, are able to roam the deep in peace. The beaches in this country, NZ, usually alive with overseas tourists, are now deserted in lockdown and the few observers doing their allowed daily stroll, say it feels as though the land is returning to its pristine beauty before man arrived here.

How can we keep these gains, not just for the planet but for ourselves, when lockdown ends? Will we go back to the extravagant wasteful consumerism of the last decades… or will we try to limit our travel both in our cars and overseas, stop buying cheap Chinese goods ( very difficult when they even make the screws in appliances made in other countries), continue to keep cooking nutritional food at home, and consider the creatures we share the world with?

This would not be difficult for baby boomers, and those like me who lived through an even simpler childhood than theirs. We had few clothes, and usually only one or two pairs of  shoes – an indoor and outdoor pair – which when the soles wore out we took to the cobblers to be repaired. Our clothes were made of natural fibres like wool and cotton -man-made substitutes weren’t available then – and clothes were often homemade and usually too big so we could grow into them. The hems were ‘put up’, and as we grew, they were ‘let down, and I hated the crease which was ineradicable so you could see where it had been lengthened.

We usually knitted our jumpers, and often our socks. We darned holes, repaired tears, and handed them on to smaller or younger siblings, and others. When I was twelve, I remember the glory of a luxurious reversible satin dressing gown – pink one side, blue the other – which the Colonel’s wife handed on to me when her daughter had outgrown it… and her linen flowered pyjamas…

We scraped the butter wrapper with a knife to get the last fragments of the two ounces per person per week – a butter substitute was to mash parsnip with banana essence – not recommended –  I preferred dry bread with a soupcon of rationed jam. We ate dripping from the tiny Sunday roast – our meat ration was five ounces per person per week –  smeared on bread with salt and pepper, while one egg per week per person meant falling back on dried egg substitute – revolting. We never left anything on our plates and never threw food away.

We had larders instead of fridges which didn’t use any power… they were dim and cool and usually had a stone floor, and marble slab for meat and cooked food and leftovers, and shelves on which to store bottled fruit, jams, pickles and tins – if our war-time coupons ran to buying them – and if we could find them in the shops.

Though it was boom-time in America after the war, England and Europe were still struggling with shattered economies, bombed cities, broken bridges and wrecked or neglected infra structures. We endured food rationing for fifteen years until it ended in ‘54. There were no boom-times for boomers. The frugal life of war-time continued into peace-time for many years. Few had TV’s, telephones, fridges, mixers or electric kettles. (the Queen’s coronation in ‘53 prompted a surge in TV ownership) Neither did we use power for washing machines and dryers – we sent our sheets and linen to the laundry every week, and washed the rest ourselves.

There were many women who eked out a living by taking in other people’s washing – boiling, rinsing, starching, mangling, ironing, and we all washed our own cloth nappies. Children felt useful as they were required to run errands and deliver messages to neighbours, since we had no phones or computers…

We listened to the radio for selected programmes and the news, and read books, and knitted and painted and did jigsaw puzzles, played cards and chess, Ludo and Monopoly.One of the features of the news, was that at the end, a solemn voice would say: Here is an SOS message for… they would give the name and last known address and ask them to report to their nearest police station as soon as possible. With no telephone this was the quickest way to contact people in an emergency. Otherwise, the telegram boys would deliver a short cryptic message, in which every word was counted and paid for.

We wrote letters by hand in ink, and posted parcels in re-used (re-cycled we’d say now) brown paper, tied with string which had been used many times before with knots laboriously untied. We used sealing wax to make sure our knots on the parcel didn’t come undone. Envelopes were constantly re-used, with sticky labels to cover the previous address, and a sticky label to seal it.

We’d never heard of takeaways, or drive thru… we queued for fish and chips wrapped in newspaper on Friday evenings, and that was our one bought meal.We had real milk, sold in bottles, which were washed and put out the next morning for the milkman to replace. We didn’t go to a rubbish tip – if there were such things – but when the rag and bone man drove round the streets with his horse and cart, we brought out our inorganic rubbish.

When things were broken, we had them repaired. All these customs and this way of life, meant that these jobs gave many people work – laundering, collecting the metal dustbins, delivering coal and milk and letters and telegrams, cobbling shoes, dress-making, mending clothes, repairing watches, lamps, and a myriad of other household items. Most of these skills and jobs have disappeared now in the disposable society in which today’s millennials, generation X and all the other categories now live.

Boomers couldn’t afford to be wasteful. We lived frugally, and didn’t despoil the planet with travel, tourism, eating foods out of season, flown around the world, throwing away the cheap clothes which shrink or lose their shape.  Actually, we had a quality to our lives – good food grown locally, leather shoes, wool or cotton clothes, and simple pleasures and pastimes.

So though Greta Thunberg (who comes from Sweden where, not having participated in the war, their Boomers didn’t have to cope with the ruin of their country and economy) told us at the UN that we had ruined the lives of her generation; and while the Extinction campaigners rail at us for being Boomers, it isn’t such a badge of dishonour as they would try to make us think.

This wonderful world which has re-emerged during the tragedy of the Pandemic has shown us how it used to be, and it’s up to us all to try to keep it that way. One of the ways in which the world was a kinder gentler place when we grew up, was that people didn’t insult and name-call those whose opinions were different. The spitefulnesses of social media were un-imagineable cruelties.

So the challenge for us all, is to not only try to preserve the planet, but also to preserve the tolerance and kindness, the courtesies and decencies of those times so stigmatised by younger generations. Live and let live so that we can all share a brave new world!

Note: we are indebted to Shakespeare for those ringing words: a brave new world.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Unable to stand for long with my bothersome back, the microwave has become my friend, and this little dish has become my comfort food.

For one person, slice about a third of a leek into thin rounds, arrange in small ovenproof microwave dish, and pour hot water over half the depth of the leeks. Cover with kitchen paper, and zap in the microwave for five minutes.

Remove and cover with cream and a thick layer of grated parmesan, and grill till golden under the grill. When I’m up to it, I shall also chop a hard- boiled egg over the leeks and then cover with Parmesan.

It makes a small meal for a delicate digestion! Better still, for the hale and hearty, would be to enjoy a hot roll and a glass of good white wine with it ….

Food for Thought

Winston Churchill spoke these words during those times of our lives:

‘The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’

‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope.’

 

PS- a reader has written privately explaining why boomers are condemned, this was my reply:

  • I know it’s fashionable to beat boomers with a stick over consumerism, the environment etc, but maybe some of these positive facts and thoughts may console you for being unfortunate enough to be born a boomer!!!
  • One of the things I’ve always been glad about is the spread of the motor car, so we no longer mistreat overwork and exploit horses to carry us around ! On the other hand, the diminishment of public transport everywhere because of the spread of cheap Japanese cars after people got over their prejudices about their atrocities, has undoubtedly damaged the planet…
  • Wiki. states that …
  • Boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and the “second-wave” feminist cause of the 1970s.
  • Boomers
  • 60% lost value in investments because of the economic crisis
  • 42% are delaying retirement
  • 25% claim they will never retire (currently still working)[4
  • Memorable events the boomers were involved in -: the Cold War (and associated Red Scare), the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., political unrest, walk on the moon, risk of the draft into the Vietnam War or actual military service during the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, drug experimentation, the Civil Rights Movement, environmental movement, women’s movement, protests and riots, and Woodstock

 

  • So Boomers – and not merely American boomers, helped to change the world in many positive ways when you read about their challenges, and what they were involved in.
  • Just saying !!

 

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Love Actually

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Over forty years ago I found myself visiting a man imprisoned in a psychiatric ward.He had no family, no other visitors, and the story of his life was a search for the only person who had ever loved him. His mother.

He was thirteen when he had his first brush with the law, and was placed in a juvenile delinquent institution after he attacked his mother’s lover with a baseball bat when his mother was the victim of domestic violence. Back then domestic violence was not taken as seriously as it is now.

He ran away to get back to his mother and from then on was placed in stricter and harsher environments. Having no trade, skills or any means of support he ended up robbing a bank. This is a gross simplification of his tragic descent into despair and the appalling experience of solitary confinement in the prison hospital.

His cell was bare, no books or television, yet with all the deprivation of twenty years in and out of prisons, he was an articulate and sensitive man. In retrospect his whole life had been a search for love, and yet he’d had no opportunity  to find or develop relationships, or to find a person to love.

He sat on one side of a table placed across a bleak corridor in the hospital, we sat the other side. With warders standing nearby, he told us that his one amusement was watching the birds from behind the bars of his tiny cell window. He saved crumbs from his meals and fed them to one particular sparrow who came to the window sill. It was obvious as he spoke that he loved that little sparrow, and that the sparrow was giving his life some meaning.

He didn’t need to know whether the sparrow loved him. The sparrow filled his need to love. I still remember when my first great love sent me a Dear John letter. (Dear John oh how I hate to write, dear John I must let you know tonight that my love for you has died )

I was twenty- one. When I read it, my head spun and the world seemed to go black amid the giddyness. As time went on, I realised that one of the worst things about it was feeling was that I could no longer love him. At which I also realised that there was no need to stop loving him… loving was what made me feel less bereft, and loving him filled the gap in my heart until I was able to move on.

A teacher on one of our personal growth courses once observed that when a person lives alone, they often make a loving connection with a creature, if they have no-one to love – pets, birds, wild creatures become their beloved companions. Even snails can become the beloved – Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote one of the most exquisite books about love, when she became aware that a snail lived in the wild cyclamen a friend had dug up and brought to her sick room.

Her loving descriptions of the tiny creature and its habits, and the knowledge she acquired about one of our humblest companions living alongside us on this planet teeming with life, gave me a deeper understanding of the value of all life. Loving this tiny snail gave the sick woman joy and meaning to her life.

Being loved somehow doesn’t seem as sustaining as loving. ‘Lord grant that I may not so much seek to be loved, as to love,’ was the prayer of St Francis, who loved ‘all creatures great and small’, in the words of the hymn. Krishna Murti described another aspect of love in his journal.

‘He had picked it up, he said, on a beach; it was a piece of sea-washed wood in the shape of a human head. It was made of hard wood, shaped by the waters of the sea, cleansed by many seasons. He had brought it home and put it on the mantelpiece; he looked at it from time to time and admired what he had done.

One day, he put some flowers round it, and then it happened every day; he felt uncomfortable if there were not fresh flowers every day and gradually that piece of shaped wood became very important in his life. He would allow no-one to touch it except himself; they might desecrate it; he washed his hands before he touched it.

It had become holy, sacred, and he alone was the high priest of it; he represented it; it told him of things he could never know by himself. His life was filled with it and he was, he said unspeakably happy…’

This beautiful story electrified me. It showed me that by loving, whatever the object may be, loving gives life and meaning to whatever it touches. My friend Oi, who I’ve written about in another blog once told me about a very rich friend, whose house was filled with opulent treasures, which Oi found overpowering. But, she told me, as the years passed, and she visited her friend, though all the treasures were still there, gleaming and cherished, she felt differently about them. She said they had been so lovingly cared for and cherished by their owner, that they no longer had the patina of wealth, but exuded their intrinsic beauty.

So it’s the loving that matters, that transforms and gives meaning. Which is why the experiment I once read in which people in prison were given an abandoned dog to rehabilitate, were rehabilitated themselves. Love heals.

Here in our forest, where we are not allowed dogs or cats who might kill the threatened species of flightless birds who shelter beneath the thick undergrowth, we have become devoted to the wild quails who make their way into our garden. We began feeding them, discovering that the food they love best is budgie seed.

Every year they return with their tiny fluffy babies, who scamper after their parents like little windup toys; and we now have dozens of beautiful little creatures who push through the undergowth out of the forest and march determinedly down the drive to feast. When they hear our voices, they break into a run. We spend far too much on birdseed, and in lockdown, it is the one thing we make sure we always have plenty of. They start arriving early in the morning and when we hear their sharp call, one or other of us leaps out of bed, still half asleep, to scatter seed

Loving them makes us ‘unspeakably happy’. There must be many other people in these strange days who find that having the time, no longer trying to stuff too many duties and activities into their day, they can now discover the world of small things around them, and find it utterly loveable. Birds singing, leaves unfolding, spiders spinning their miraculous webs – all these things can be food for the soul and can remind us of the goodness of life even in ‘these interesting times’, in the words of the Chinese proverb.

 

Food for Housebound Gourmets

The cupboard is bare – not of food, but of inspiration, Having put my back out and drugged up with painkillers, unable to stir from bed without yelps of pain, I’ve been calling instructions to Himself  in the kitchen, on how to boil an egg, or where to find the butter…

Food for thought

By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.  Albert Schweitzer

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Keeping body and soul together

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About a month before the full extent of the crisis which is now overtaking the whole world was obvious, I began quietly accumulating food-stuffs in my store cupboard. Two of this or three of that instead of just one. So when the catastrophe reached this country, and we went into lockdown within a few days of the first cases of the plague arriving in these shores, I didn’t need to do any panic shopping, just last minute perishables like milk, mushrooms and courgettes.

When the drawbridge went down and we all retreated to our own castles, I felt like a biblical wise virgin – perhaps not – a wise crone perhaps, with the oil in my lamp, ready for the challenge, not of spiritual growth but of living without all the amenities that we take for granted in the western world. We had stocked up on gas for the cooker, and petrol for the generator in case the power went down, filled the car and checked the oil.

The old freezer we’d replaced when a friend bequeathed her up-to-date appliance while re-modelling her kitchen, was still sitting here. No-one else had wanted it. So it came back into service in this emergency and absorbed all the bulky things like bread, and the extras like the butter and grated cheese and pastrami that we weren’t going to be shopping for in the foreseeable future. We felt ready for anything.

I can live off baked beans for a month, my love bravely declared. There’s no need, I kept re-iterating, we’ve got plenty of everything. And now we seem to have so much more time than we did before the Great Retreat, I’ve also had more time to think about food, and how to marshal our resources; and also to read new recipes and ideas.

We seem to be living rather luxuriously, rather than frugally… though that may come. So instead of just putting together my normal macaroni cheese which is a favourite in this house, I found a French recipe which we tried last night.

I left out the tomato puree, which I didn’t fancy, and for lack of a bacon hock, just chopped up and lightly fried some rashers of good bacon. Instead of making a normal cheese sauce, I broke into the packet of mascarpone nestling in the fridge as per the recipe, and beat it into the yolks of two eggs.

I added grated cheese, no Gruyere in the house, just good old Cheddar, leavened with some Gouda with cumin seeds, found at the back of the fridge and grated, which added a layer of je ne sais quoi to the mix.  With plenty of black pepper, the bacon, the cooked pasta and all, was tipped into a casserole with a layer of grated parmesan on top, and left with enough time in the oven to warm it up and grill the top till crisp.

Even the pasta wasn’t macaroni. I had several packets of two-minute noodles sitting in the cupboard, having previously used their sachets of chicken stock for flavouring soups. I simply pour boiling water over the noodles, and leave them for a few minutes until they’re soft and ready to drain and use. Combined with all the other ingredients, their humble origin didn’t matter. The whole dish took only as long as separating the eggs, frying the bacon at the same time, and soaking the noodles, before ten minutes or so in the hot oven.

This is my idea of cooking these days – something quick, easy and delicious, using for the most part good ingredients, and not shying away from short cuts. I do a lot of things now, that I inwardly swore when I was young, I’d never do, like using chopped garlic from a jar, buying grated cheese, and even using pre-cooked packets of rice, when I lack the energy to slave over a hot stove. These packets of basmati, long grain and jasmine rice, which are more expensive of course than loose rice, were the despised unwanted items left on supermarket shelves during the Great Shopping Rush, but for me, they are a gift.

They mean a fried rice, or a kedgeree, or a curry in a few minutes instead of the hard labour of thoroughly washing and rinsing, boiling and draining of the real thing.  Nearly fifty years ago, I remember watching in Stanley Market in Hongkong, an old Chinese lady, wispy white hair scraped up into a tight bun, wearing clogs and grey sam-fu with black trousers, crouched by a tap on the edge of the pavement, washing and rinsing rice in a battered aluminium pot, over and again.

She poured in the water, swishing it about with her hands, draining it carefully out through her old wrinkled fingers, never losing a single precious grain, and then beginning the whole process over again until the water ran clear into the gutter.I think of her, every time I cook rice, but no longer feel guilty at cutting corners to save my energy, as I used to.

Energy is precious, and so is time; and while plenty of time is the gift of the Great Retreat, energy is not so plentiful. Yet this too is the gift of this unexpected home detention, isolation, withdrawal, lockdown, whatever we call it. Time is our own. We can measure our energy, plan our time, listen to our inner clock, and nurture the needs of our mind and soul as well as our body.

Those of us who are retired, and those who have no duties of care for children, or family who need us, are fortunate. We can still enjoy human contact by phone, the internet, skyping, even blogging. Even those of us who don’t have pets to nurture, and be nourished by, still have the time to enjoy the pleasures of books, music, knitting and other pastimes we often don’t have space for in our busy western lives.

I’ve been painting a new porch and veranda black – posts and roof and steps and lovely curved front, a bit Japanese looking, jutting out into the forest. Bitten by the bug, I then painted the wicker chairs black, and then a white side table which had once been gilt and then white, became black, and a big pot which had once been black, and then white, is also black again!

And so now we have another place from which we can look into the trees, watch the weather, listen to bird song,  gaze at the sunset, and see the moon rise. So many people in their homes and apartments, in so many places throughout the world, are cut off from the outside world, and yet by a strange paradox they are now savouring the growth of spring in the northern hemisphere, watching the clouds and the rain, becoming conscious of the sun rising and the moon waning, and connecting more and more with the natural world. So too, are we, in the southern hemisphere, as autumn creeps up on us. For once, in the poet’s words, we all have the time to stand and stare.

 

Food for Housebound Gourmets

 For those who fancy trying my fancy French macaroni cheese, here are the amounts for four people:250 gms crème fraiche, 2 egg yolks, 225 gms macaroni, 115 gms gruyere cheese, and a sprinkling of parmesan

Stir crème fraiche and egg yoks together, add cooked pasta and all the other ingredients, including pepper. Sprinkle parmesan over the mix and bake until hot and the top golden. Enough for four, and we will have it again tomorrow jazzed up with salad etc.

I would use cream instead of creme fraiche next time, as I like a looser cheese sauce… or I’d use my other short cut… cook the pasta and stir in a tin of condensed chicken soup, grated cheese, black pepper and nutmeg, loosen it to taste with cream or milk – and hey presto.

I’m keeping a record of what we’re eating and will be fascinated to see how it works out over the time. So far:

Day one: Coq au vin using chicken legs.

Day two: pork chops, plus leftover risotto from the deep freeze, fried onions for him, kumara/sweet potato for me, and acid free tomatoes cooked in butter and cream a la famous chef, Dr de Pomiane.

Day three: spaghetti Bolognaise for him, egg/avocado/tomato salad for me.

Day four: chopped cooked chicken from deep freeze stirred into a white sauce flavoured with chopped bacon, chopped mushrooms and nutmeg, the sauce made with some meaty stock made from scraping the pork chop pan the other night. (plus cream!)served on rice with green beans.

Day five: baked chicken drumsticks cooked on a bed of chopped onions, with rice, mushrooms and tomatoes for him, kedgeree with hard-boiled egg for me, and enough to store half in the deep freeze..

Day six: macaroni cheese.

Ah, food, glorious food.  As someone once said, “The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating it.”

Food for Thought

 Over three hundred years ago a prisoner in the Tower of London carved on the wall of his cell during his long imprisonment: ‘It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under cookery/recipes, life/style, sustainability, Uncategorized, world war two

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