Category Archives: gettysburg

Am I not a man and a brother?


My husband took one look at my ravaged face, and retreated to his study. I had just returned from seeing the film ‘The Butler.’ Instead of the gracious meander through history at the White House that I’d expected from the trailer, I had watched another episode of the American Civil War which I thought had ended in 1856.

Too appalled even for tears, at the end of the film was I shell – shocked to hear that many of the freedoms fought for in that bitter sixties campaign I’d just watched, had later been repealed, replaced or blocked by President Reagan. ( I’d like to think that information was wrong )

It’s hard to get my head round this long-running disaster for humanity. Having grown up in a country where people joyously belt out: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, in their annual singing orgy at the Albert Hall on the Last Night of the Proms, slavery under its many names had been something I grew up thinking  had disappeared from the civilised world,

It ended in England before the founding of the US, when in 1772 the Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, decreed that anyone who set foot in England was automatically a free man. By this act he initiated the beginning of the abolition movement, led by William Wilberforce, and his supporters who included Quakers and Evangelicals. (Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic had been agitating for emancipation in the ‘Citty upon a Hill’ since George Fox, founder of Quakerism, visited the States, and preached against it in 1672)

Though a sick man, who took opium for most of his life to alleviate his pain, the heroic and persistent Wilberforce brought his anti – slavery bills before Parliament for over twenty years, until finally, Parliament voted against the slave trade in 1807. In 1808 the US also voted to end it, but not slavery itself, and so slaves were still bought and sold in the States. As a result of the British vote, the British Navy created the West Africa Squadron to patrol the African shores to prevent slave trading. The navy patrolled for sixty years, and at times, one sixth of the navy’s ships were at sea on this mission. Freed slaves were taken to Freetown in British Sierra Leone where they were safe from being re-captured. Over 150,000 Africans were freed in this way.

By 1834, England- as personified by Parliament – had come round to the idea of emancipation, and slaves were freed in most of the British colonies, including Canada and South Africa, and slave owners compensated at huge expense to the government. It meant that 800,000 slaves were gradually freed, and it also meant that many imports into England now cost a lot more. In the sometimes unhappy history of the British Empire this is one brownie point.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it had bigger sales in England than America, and as one of her readers, as well as being an afficionado of the American Civil War, I had thought all had ended well for the slaves when the South was defeated. ‘Gone With The Wind’ did incalculable damage to the thinking of ignorant people like me.

The picture it painted of a noble, benevolent society with happy, contented slaves living in harmony with masters they loved, was a travesty of truth, I discovered –  no hint of anyone being bought and sold, families destroyed, and later, lynch mobs, Klu Klux Klan or Billie Holiday’s song ‘ Bitter Fruit’- which came out in the same year as the film. The rude way black people were spoken to and humiliated, even in benign films like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, shocked me. As did the true story of Hadley Hemingway losing all Hemingway’s manuscripts, and when she was too shattered to tell him, he finally confronted her with the thing he dreaded most: “You’ve been sleeping with a Negro.”

Twenty years ago when  Ken Burns’ moving films introduced me to the Civil War, I also read a fascinating and horrifying series of reports which jobless students were commissioned to write during the Depression. They interviewed and recorded the memories of the slaves who were still alive in the thirties, and those memories were harrowing, whether before or after Emancipation. Singer and actress, Hattie McDaniels, who played Mammy in ‘Gone With The Wind’ was the daughter of slaves, and her lot was not much better.

She was asked not to attend the opening night of the film in Atlanta in 1939, and when she won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, had to sit alone in specially segregated seating. She was also not allowed to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery which even practised segregation in death! When I learned this, I was still not aware of how the South had been gradually winning the Civil War with Jim Crow laws, and especially in the twenties and thirties, suppressing black civil rights, expanding segregation, and passing laws like the ‘one drop of negro blood’ in 1924, which condemned innocent people to a ‘shadow’ existence.

‘Shadow’ families were those like Thomas Jefferson’s children, born to a slave, Sally Hemings. She was herself more than half white, and thanks to the exploitation of slave women then, was also an aunt of Jefferson’s legitimate daughter through Jefferson’s wife.  Jefferson’s and Sally’s children were seven- eighths white. If they hadn’t already disappeared into white society back before the Civil War, they would have been trapped by these creeping race rulings.

A friend whose ancestor was General Pettigrew, the other general who led Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, gave me a biography of the general which had been published recently. As I read it I became increasingly puzzled, for the general was such a heroic paragon , who apparently embodied all the chivalric qualities of a noble cavalier, that even his predilection for quarrelling and the resultant duels were held to be virtues, and typical of his aristocratic society.

The barbarians of the North, inhospitable, dour, materialistic Protestants, had destroyed both this magnificent young man and the civilisation of the ‘old South’ that he represented, according to the writer. In the end, I Googled him, and light dawned. He was still fighting the Civil War! Not only was this writer a man of great reputation in the South, but he had founded a league of Southern gentlemen, which some people – like me – would feel that in the light of Southern men’s record, was an oxymoron.

There’s another film due to come out about slavery, the true story of a free black American living in the North who was kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the South. His horrendous ordeal lasted for twelve years, and when he escaped he wrote his story, which has gradually been forgotten.

Two black Englishmen have produced this film, and I won’t be watching it. I know enough. I already believe in the cause of freedom, and I’m too much of a coward to watch the cruelties and inhumanities that I saw in the trailer. The title to this blog comes from a medallion struck in 1787 by Josiah Wedgewood, the great potter, and  supporter of Wilberforce’s abolition campaign. The words go straight into my heart.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I had a big bunch of watercress, and decided to make soup with it. Mrs Beeton, who I consulted, had three recipes for it, and this was the one I fancied. The fiddliest bit was taking the leaves off the stalks, as I have a feeling the stalks taste bitter. Gently sauté the leaves in butter for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat. Mix about a dessertspoonful of cornflour with some milk, whisk it into chicken stock, and add the cress. I leave a few leaves aside, and then whisk everything with my stick whizzer. Quickly re-heat and add cream to taste, and a pinch of cayenne. The rest of the cress leaves float greenly on the top. The amount of stock depends on how much cress you have, and it’s easy to gauge.

Food for Thought

 “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”                                                                                          Elie Wiesel- born1928.  Writer and survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger of peace”.


Filed under cookery/recipes, gettysburg, great days, history, slavery, spiritual, The Sound of Water, the sxities, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The good enough life




Back in the last century, a psychologist called Dr Winnicott coined the comforting phrase ‘A good – enough mother’ …. I looked back at yesterday, and thought, yes, I suppose it was a good enough day …

I woke to the sound of the sea smashing onto the rocks. Good, I thought. I love it when there’s a thundering sea running. Up early to take my husband for minor surgery, I went to the cliff edge to see the white foam breaking over the rocks, and looked out to the horizon. The sun was just rising, a flaming red band above the sea, fading to amber, and then to palest turquoise, the few clouds black in the pearly lightening sky. Still. Not a breath of wind in spite of the pounding waves.

I fed the birds and then drove into our nearest country town, and it was chill enough for rags of white mist to drape the hollows, and drift across the dips in the road. By the time we had reached the surgical centre, the sun was up and the burnt gold and brown fields were lying defenceless in the baking heat again. Animals lying heaped in scraps of precious shade …

Leaving the old chap to the anaesthetic and the knife, I searched for a cafe open at 7.30 to have some breakfast, and decided that Eggs Benedict would help to while away the two hours  until I fetched him. But by the time I’d picked up the invalid and driven back home with my wonky liver making its grumpy presence known, I realised that Eggs Benedict that early in the day was not a good idea.

Later the morning soared into joy with a long phone call from eldest grandson, completing a double degree in arts and science at Uni. By the time we’d debated GM experimentation and the environment, knocked off Schopenhauer and his will to live, breezed through Nietzsche, explored  his theory of the nature of pain, tried to define happiness a propos Nietzsche and his fulfilment of will,  covered the architecture of Paris, categorised various behaviours as schizoid, narcissistic etc,  explored Maslow’s concept of peak experiences, agreed on beauty, argued about the number of different species of birds, butterflies and animals, discussed his fitness regime and the nuances of rock climbing, I felt as though my brain had had its own peak experience and a mental workout as well.

I put down the phone smiling like a Cheshire cat. Nothing – not even a peak experience – beats talking to my grandchildren.  Lunch was a breeze, as a neighbour had dropped in some hot savoury scones and cheese turnovers, so I didn’t have to cook. I replenished the bird’s various feeding bowls with wheat, and then tooled back into town to the surgeon for the invalid’s dressing to be changed, and various instructions for his care. At the chemist, picking up the prescriptions to administer, I was greeted warmly by another customer, a youngish woman in a huge multi-coloured caftan to disguise her weight, and only one arm. As her joyful goodness enveloped me, I felt ashamed of my livery grumpiness.

So I’m now not only cook, bottle-washer, car-washer, gardener, log- carrier, accountant, chauffeur but also nurse. Not, my friends tell me, the sort of cheeky flirty sort that they were in their young days, “ All the men in my ward fell in love with me,” giggled one still beautiful seventy- year- old on the phone…

Stopping at the village shop for milk on the way home I found a parcel waiting for me. It was ‘Carolina Cavalier’, the biography of James Johnston Pettigrew, the other General who led Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. One of his descendants, a dear friend, had sent it, knowing my fascination for the Civil War.

Early to bed, too tired to start my new book – I just needed some mental knitting – so skipped happily through a Georgette Heyer. Before putting out the light, and opening the window wide so that the sound of the sea would fill the room and all the spaces of the night, I thought about that phrase, a good enough day… and remembered that old legend about the poor man who had a horse he treasured.

One day it disappeared, and all the villagers commiserated with him about his bad luck. But he brushed aside their sympathy saying it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. A few days later the horse re-appeared bringing with him a herd of wild horses. Everyone congratulated the old man on his good fortune, but he again brushed it off, saying it was neither good nor bad. His son began breaking in the horses, so that they could sell them, but one day he was thrown, and broke his leg.

More commiserating moans from the villagers, and once more the old man shrugged and refused to judge what had happened. While the son was laid up, the king levied a call on all young men to join the army to fight for their country. How lucky you are that your son can’t go, exclaimed the villagers. And the old man made no comment again. He never judged anything that happened, recognising that he actually never knew whether what happened was fortunate or unfortunate. Life just is.

So I looked back on another daily round filled with common tasks, which furnished all we ought to ask, in the words of the hymn, and there were unexpected gifts as well as the expected challenges. I don’t know what the hidden significance of any of it is… maybe one day I will. Maybe I will never know. Maybe I will know when I reach the other side. It was simply another good enough day. Neither good nor bad. The stuff of life.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I have people coming for dinner on Sunday. It started out as four of us, but visiting overseas mutual friends, means that we’re now eight. So I’ve decided to haul a small turkey out of the deep freeze. I’m also going to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Auckland on Saturday night with my daughter, and a party afterwards, and know I won’t be as on the ball on Sunday as I’d like to be. So I cooked the pudding today and it will reheat perfectly. Because it’s a sort of Christmas turkey, I thought I’d do one Christmassy- type pudding, and one refresher – a lemon cream. The Christmassy option is apple crumble, the stewed apple mixed with Christmas mincemeat. It lifts apple crumble into another realm, especially with a little brandy added to the apple- mincemeat mixture, and the crumble a really rich one.

For the crumble – a big one – I used ten ounces of flour, and two of ground almonds, six ounces of butter and eight ounces of sugar, plus grated lemon rind. Mix the butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients, tip over the fruit in an ovenproof dish, and bake for forty minutes or so in a medium to hot oven. It will wait in the fridge, and re-heat on the day. I’ll serve it with crème fraiche.


Food for Thought

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.

Eckhart Tolle  born 1948  Influential teacher, philosopher, and best- selling author of spiritual books

















Filed under birds, cookery/recipes, family, gettysburg, great days, happiness, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, village life

Another Milestone

I’m not sure if I could choose, which is more satisfying- going to the henhouse to check for new laid eggs in the morning, or going to switch on my computer as soon as I’ve had my morning tea in bed, to check for new laid ‘likes ‘and comments.  (Not that I have hens these days)

When I wrote a roundup of my first month of blogging, I hadn’t begun to get beyond the frontiers of this new world I’m venturing into. Four weeks ago, all I knew was doing the writing, and seeing numbers and places and countries popping up on the charts in the morning. But now I’m beginning to get to know some of the inhabitants of this fascinating new world. I’m told that there are 156 million blogs!

And I’m always amazed that any of them make contact with me. For a start, I’m so technologically incompetent, that I haven’t worked out how to find other blogs, and I have no idea how people find mine. So it’s  a bit like someone hobbling along on one leg, I’ve had to try to find other people’s blogs by clicking on the bloggers on the sites that have contacted me. Sometimes I can find their sites, other times I’m baffled by comments like ‘This URL is illegal’ – I’m hoping to discover what my URL is one day.

Whenever I try to obey the instructions in order to make a comment, and type in the name that seems logical to me, it turns out to be verboten, and I get another stern slap over the wrist from the distant all-seeing Great God of Technology – “This name is not yours”. I cower and switch off in panic, hoping the God doesn’t know what my real name is – but if he does, I wish he’d tell me! I don’t know what a widget is, and I don’t know how to do all sorts of things that appear on my charts… my computer is basically a bully and refuses to divulge who my followers are. It lets me click on everything else but won’t let me see the one thing I’m longing to see. It just keeps repeating:  ‘error on the page’. So I’ll have to drive for half an hour into town with the lap-top, to have a session with the computer repair man.

I realise that experts reading this – if they can bear to get this far- are probably steaming with frustration at the amateurish ignorance of this age-challenged blogger – but que sera sera…

BUT, the big but, has been the unexpected fun and enjoyment of contacting other people out there. Wonderful people, like the man who’s given me the lowdown on wind farms, the mountaineer who shared glorious photos of Canadian mountains in  the pink light of dawn, the aunt raising money for her handicapped nephew and writing warm witty posts about the journey, the man setting sail for a new life in Sweden, the Russian historian, the wonderful Indian gourmet-cook, the men and women who care about grammar and punctuation and writing and literature,  and communicate their passion with wit and kindness. I’ve followed the couple in their travelling home, and seen their photographs of the battlefield at Gettyburg – the turning point of the American Civil War – and also envied them their freshly caught lunch by a Canadian lake. I’ve read about the site of the Battle of Naseby, the pivot of the English Civil War.

I’ve read about the plight of Chinese farmers – what a terrible life – and caught up on historical moments like the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the day of the first landing on the moon. I’ve read some wonderful cookery columns, not just your elegant recipes, but lovely witty discussions about food, which is the real fun; and I’ve read and shared with friends the spiritual poetry of a man in Manipur, a place which I’d never even heard of before. I’ve enjoyed reading about the books that other bloggers have read, the funny encounters in an American supermarket, and the afternoon shopping in a little English town.

Above all, I’ve been enchanted by bloggers’ etiquette – the good manners, the acknowledgement of any comment or communication, the friendliness, the courtesy and the kindness of bloggers. They support each other, they click the ‘like’ button, they write friendly comments and they share their points of view with no aggro, just humour and patience. They ‘follow’ and they encourage. There’s no criticism or sniping, it’s a world of open mindedness and tolerance. Everyone’s point of view is accepted, and the amazing thing is, that so far everyone I’ve discovered, has written such sane and sensible, wise and informative viewpoints. What a world we would live in if everyone behaved like bloggers!

So now I’m proud to tell my friends that I have a new career as a blogger – I like the sound of it… it reminds me of old English bodgers, who went into the forest every day to chop and turn chair legs and stretchers. They were craftsmen who worked alone. I like to think that I too am a craftsman, working alone in my distant little fishing village in the Antipodes.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Several readers were so taken with the idea of enjoying greed, that I thought I’d share the ultimate in greed. Having nothing but pudding for lunch! When my children were home in the holidays we always had fun, and on this day we agreed that I’d bake them a Bombe Alaska so they knew just how delicious it was. And because it was so much effort we all agreed – three of us – that that would be all we’d eat for lunch.

Step one was to switch on the oven to heat up to really hot, and lay the kitchen table. We cut the base of a sponge cake to fit a baking tray, and soaked it in brandy. Then we piled on the fruit salad. Using some good vanilla ice-cream we covered   the fruit salad with great gobs of it, and when the fruit salad was completely covered in a thick layer of ice-cream, we put it in the deep freeze.

 For the meringue we needed four egg whites and two tablespoons of castor sugar for each egg white – eight tablespoons. This was whipped until the egg-whites stood in peaks and then the sugar added in three lots, beating till stiff each time. Once the meringue was ready, out came the base from the freezer, the meringue was smeared all over the ice-cream, and then the white tower went into the hot oven for three or four minutes until the meringue was browned.

The children were waiting expectantly at the table, each accompanied by their cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Sheba the afghan sitting underneath the table, when out came the glorious confection of sponge, brandy, fruit and ice cream, and lashings of meringue. There was no point in trying to save any because it wouldn’t keep! Delectable, delicious and disgustingly fattening!

Food for Thought

Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.            Navajo Song


Filed under animals/pets, bloggers, cookery/recipes, family, food, gettysburg, great days, humour, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, technology, The Sound of Water