Category Archives: Thoughts on writing and life

Bloggers addictions

100_0347

I’ve been blogging for eight years now, a small stretch of time for some bloggers, I know, but for me, those years seem to have covered life-times, and indeed I have actually crossed over into another life-time in those years, thanks to blogging.

Back then I wrote that a friend had queried how truthful my blogs were. Do you have a Bloggers License, she asked?

No, that was exactly how it happened, I answered. I thought about this. I wrote then that after three months of blogging I could see some patterns, and I still feel the same now. Back then I said that as far as I could see, Bloggers write the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, in the interests of good taste, and other people’s feelings.

So for me, Bloggers License is still being able to choose to write what we want and when we want- unlike the grindstone of journalism.

Bloggers Temptation is to write too much and too often for followers to keep up.

Bloggers Fatigue is to get behind with reading other people’s Blogs, and failing therefore to keep the other half of the Bloggers Contract – ‘I engage to encourage you in the same way that you never fail to encourage me’.

Bloggers Heaven is to open the computer and find Likes and Comments and Followings sprinkled like confetti all over the Inbox, and winking through all those other Blogs waiting to be read and enjoyed. Bloggers Heaven is also looking at Stats and seeing not just a high spike, but a lofty plateau of readers every day. If only.

Bloggers Hell is to open the computer and find nothing but other Blogs, and then open Stats and find only a dribble of readers. Hell, indeed.

Bloggers Hell leads to Bloggers Despair. Feeling that I am a failure. Feeling that I have nothing of value to say to the world. The world does not want to hear what I have to say. The world is passing me by. I write because I love it, but this is like starving in a garret with no-one to appreciate my literary gems…

Blogger’s World is a place where most people write grammatical, entertaining, interesting, inspiring prose or poetry.  Subjects may cover personal highs and lows, current affairs, beauty, politics, history, spirituality or any other topics which intrigue, amuse, or engage the Blogger. Many Bloggers have a passion which they communicate, or a long running project, like the Camino Trail, getting a book or a play published, running a farm, or reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Most people (except me) have a theme which people know to expect when they visit a Blogger’s web-site. And there are also Bloggers who share their wonderful photography, the sort of artistry that I drag into the To Keep box.

Bloggers seem to have common characteristics. They seem to be intelligent, often committed to preserving the environment, devoted to animals and concerned with social justice. They are sincere and witty and have a sense of fun. Bloggers notice and enjoy the small things in life. Many enjoy the good things in life, like food, beauty, flowers, music, gardens, architecture and antiques. They are uniformly courteous, kind, committed to high ideals, and often to spiritual growth. If anyone asks for help, they are swamped with responses from Bloggers who really care. Bloggers are good people.

I wonder if Bloggers are the cutting edge of the wave of the new consciousness that the world needs to move to another level of thought and awareness. It’s awareness and commitment that the world needs in order to move to the next stage of our civilisation and growth. It’s only by thought  and respect that we’ll solve the problems that challenge us to take the next step, and it seems to me that Bloggers are the sort of people who each take individual responsibility for their corner of the world – themselves. So the Bloggers World is a sort of alternative new world that we inhabit.

This is an addendum, because the first comment which arrived today was from a friend. I had forgotten to mention Bloggers Friendships. I have never met this friend, just as I have never met so many other beautiful friends I’ve met through blogging, one in Canada, another in Cornwall, Arizona and Colorado, Washington and Melbourne, France and Germany, Australia and India, Scotland and Wales, Singapore and South Africa … we’ve shared our lives and our pasts, our children and our memories, our recipes, and deep respect. These connections are one of the most treasured aspects of blogging.

Bloggers End: this is a situation that few of us know anything about – much the same as we know little about our passing into the next world. There is little research into the demise of the Blogger. Does she just fade out, obliterate the Blog (how?), just stop clicking on Like, or stop writing the Blog? These are all huge questions that every Blogger will one day face. But until this great Unknown state of consciousness overtakes us, we don’t know the answers. And will we ever? If Bloggers stop communicating how will we ever know? Will some brave soul send back messages from the other world, that cruel world where people scoff at Bloggers? There are still unsolved riddles even in the great World of Blogging.

Bloggers Nightmare is the horror of opening the in-box and finding it overflowing with dozens of blogs to read when you’ve neglected Blogging Housekeeping, and have neither read the blogs you follow, answered all the precious comments, acknowledged new followers or likes, and failed to delete  the various spam items that creep in.

On the other hand, Bloggers Delight are those wonderful comments, especially those written with such encouragement and appreciation and expression of spirit, that you feel privileged to live in the same world as the writers. This is the bliss of blogging, to know that you’ve been understood, that like minds are on the same journey, and to feel and know the truth of that ancient cliche that birds of a feather flock together, even among five hundred and twelve million bloggers around the world.

In my case, this is a literal truth. An intelligent, sensitive, exquisite soul became a follower, his comments became letters, his letters, skype conversations, and finally, he left his life and country and friends and family and profession, and came to join me in a new life we began in a remote forest. That was nearly five years ago. We are both still blogging, and both living in what could be called Bloggers Bliss!

Food for Gourmets

The painkillers for a bad back have sabotaged any hope of eating, and no-one wants to share a recipe for the thin bland watery soup which is all I am consuming at the moment! (But good for my figure, I hope)

Food for Thought 

The world is a like a huge city reflected in a mirror. So too, the universe is a huge reflection of yourself in your own consciousness.     Yoga Vasishta, ancient Vedic text, quoted by Dipak Chopra in Synchro Destiny

 

33 Comments

Filed under bloggers, consciousness, humour, love, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Love Actually

Fern.jpg

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

37 Comments

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

Comfort and Calm in the Crisis

Lot18again

This is the first day of our NZ lockdown. We are in self-isolation in our forest, enjoying peace, solitude and solicitude.

Not just words, and offers of help from our little caring community, but the delivery of a bag of organic fruit and vegetables and a dozen big brown free-range eggs from neighbours who also have a farm-let some hour’s drive away.

The doctor rang me, so I didn’t have to drive into town to see her, and wrote a prescription which I can collect from the chemist.

When we ventured into town briefly yesterday before lockdown, to pick up a prescription for Douglas, both chemists had a table at their door, where drugs were handed to customers. The queues at each place stretched along the pavement in the gentle autumn sunshine because everyone was observing the six feet rule between each person. The atmosphere was calm, sensible and caring.

At the supermarket there were far fewer people than normal and no loaded trolleys. People seemed to be picking up last minute items, as we were. No pasta or tins of tomatoes left, and intriguingly, shelves bare of chocolate. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and no panic.

Douglas insisted on us washing the beautiful apples, pears and squash from our friends, after watching a video which had showed how germs travel and last on surfaces. I hard boiled one of the precious eggs for my lunch, and nestled the peeled egg into a bed of steamed leeks, poured some cream over them and topped them off with a thick layer of grated parmesan leftover from the previous night’s supper.

A few minutes under the grill turned it into a crunchy gold topping. I had forgotten what an almost sweet taste and texture a fresh egg from a happy hen was like. This delicious little lunch ended with one of the crisp, freshly picked apples from a tree which had never come in contact with a chemical.

Himself had tender pork sausages for his lunch… I boil them now to cook them, and then they just need a few minutes in the frying pan acquiring a crisp golden skin.

In the soft sun-light I sat on the sofa looking out through the open French doors across the green valley. The urgent call of a covey of distant quails were the background to the sounds of swallows twittering as they circled and dived around the house, and I heard  the first autumn serenade from a cicada. Though I am concerned about my beloved family, this place felt peaceful and nurturing.

Like everyone else, my family is scattered and coping with this unprecedented crisis. One grandson is in London, another has had his business closed down for the lockdown, the end of which is uncertain and unknown. Our tetraplegic step-grand-daughter, who only has thirty percent use of her lungs and a totally compromised immune system has had her three daily carers leave… the family don’t know who they would have come in contact with, the risk too great, so the huge burden of 24 hour daily care has fallen on my son’s wife. He has to work from home so as not to bring infection into their isolated little bubble of comparative safety.

Other family members who were going to share the load can no longer do so under ‘lockdown’ since they don’t live there. My daughter who is president of boards and clubs, and director of national organisations, is coping with total chaos across every facet of her normally hectic life. And I can only watch from the distance. I am like every other older person, watching sadly from the sidelines as our children and grand-children and other family struggle, while this tsunami engulfs their lives and their livelihoods and threatens every known certainty.

The actual illness seems almost like a sideshow compared with the dire effects of it on the whole world. And yet when I woke this morning with the dry thyroid cough I often have, and remembered the head-ache I’d had in the night, and felt the slight soreness in my throat, I had a sudden moment of panic – these are the symptoms of the bug. Then I had a drink and the throat returned to normal, and the fear faded, and I remembered my firm intention not to join the crowd!

I looked across to the window, where outside, the sun was shining on the mountain, and the jitters – a word that emerged in the early days of the Second World War, evaporated in the peace and beauty of this blessed place.

Now the day is ending, night is drawing nigh, shadows of the evening, steal across the sky – the first lines of a hymn my grandmother taught me during WW11. The first day is ending of our long retreat into self-isolation, night is drawing nigh. It has been a good day for us. I just long to share that goodness with others, before the shadows steal across so many lives.

Afterword.

It may cheer some to know that ISIS’s Health and Safety Department – fancy a terrorist group having such a thing – have advised their enthusiastic jihadis who are all dying to create mayhem, to steer clear of western infidel countries in order to avoid infection from the virus. So there is a silver living to every cloud!

40 Comments

Filed under beauty, birds, family, food, life and death, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

Dynasties, duties and decisions

liz
The Queen on her way to open her first Parliament  in 1952
When I worked on a magazine, in an idle moment I picked up a tome lying around. It was a biography of Queen Mary, this Queen’s grandmother, and written by James Pope Hennessy, who the Royal family considered a ‘safe pair of hands.’ So he had access to all the Windsor archives. (sadly, being a safe pair of hands wasn’t enough to stop him being murdered by his gay lover a few years later)

The book became an obsession, filled with trivial delicious gossip and detail as well as history, and ending with flimsy folded pages of yard long pull-out family trees of all the British and European monarchies, their marriages and inter-marriages, offspring, ancestors… and genealogy became another hobby.

A friend gave me my own copy of the book, and I followed it up with the acquisition of biographies of everyone else, from Queen Victoria and her numerous offspring, who became Queens, Grand Duchesses and Empresses of duchies, kingdoms and empires all over Europe. I gobbled up the histories of her successors, the Edwards, the George’s, Alexandra, Elizabeth’s, and so on.

I devoured Victoria’s letters to her daughter, the Princess Royal who became Empress of Germany, who with her tragic husband  battled Bismarck  and then Bismarck’s pupil, her son, the notorious Kaiser Wilhelm; Victoria’s letters to her second daughter Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the disaster of both haemophilia and diphtheria which claimed her family. And Alice’s six-year-old son saying why can’t we all go together, as another sibling died. And the eerie events that followed, when his sister Tsarina Alexandra and all her family died together in the cellar at Ekaterinburg, and he, by now, Grand Duke, dying in an air crash with all his family, wife, children, mother in law, on their way to a wedding in England, and finally Mountbatten, Alice’s grandson, dying with members of his family and others in the IRA atrocity in Ireland.

I learned about Edward the Seventh’s  affairs, including his longest and deepest commitment to Mrs Keppel, the present Duchess of Cornwall’s great grandmother, the anorexia and vanity of ravishingly beautiful Empress Elizabeth of Austria who used to wear damp skin-tight leather riding habits to accentuate her figure, and was assassinated by an anarchist as she walked to a  ferry in Geneva; poor George who became King when his brother abdicated, in agony for much of his childhood from splints to correct knock knees, and the physical strictures he suffered from having to stop being left handed – no wonder he stammered as an adult.

I absorbed Sir Charles Petrie’s acute psychological analysis of the ruling house of Britain when he described the brutal Cumberland streak,  a reference to Queen Victoria’s sadistic uncle; the conscientious Coburg inheritance, from noble Prince Albert, whose last action as he was dying of typhoid was to avert war between the US and Britain in 1861, a war which could have changed the course of history; and the artistic, self-indulgent, party-loving, charming Hanoverian streak inherited from the Prince Regent who was known as Prince Charming back in the 1840’s, and personified more recently by Princess Margaret. These personality types are still obvious to this day in each generation of the Royals.

So when a publisher commissioned me to write a book on the Royal’s relationship with NZ, I had already primed the pump, as it were. One of the fascinating aspects of following such a well -documented family is to see how heredity plays its part in each generation – including William’s conscientious Coburg nature, like his grandmother the Queen’s, to Harry’s red Spencer hair, a legacy of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough three hundred years ago. She had a mane of glorious red hair which in one of her famous rages, she chopped off to spite her devoted husband, John. After this great Duke of Marlborough died, she found a box with her hair in it, lovingly preserved by her husband. That red hair has descended through every generation of the Spencer – Churchill family including to Winston Churchill and Princess Diana’s brothers and sisters.

So when Prince Harry married his American bride with her exotic heritage, like everyone else I was fascinated and intrigued for all the many reasons commenters and pundits have expounded. And fascinated too, by the enthusiasm with which the British people took the newcomer to their hearts – great crowds wherever the couple went, huge mobs of thrilled and enthusiastic spectators at their lavish wedding and the excitement when a new baby was announced ( though somewhat mixed, since the announcement seemed timed to overshadow the Queen’s grand daughter’s wedding)

Since then as everyone knows, the fairy story has dissolved in the light of common day, diverse personalities and controversial decisions. As the opposing sides have argued, Royal Family fans versus the Sussex’s, I’ve been saddened by the distortions of truth, which have ended up tarnishing the Queen and Catherine, William’s blameless wife.

For example, the defenders of Meghan’s decision not to bring Archie, the Queen’s great grandson, to see his family, argued that the Queen left her two eldest toddlers for six months. She did. But she left them with their doting grandmother, the Queen Mother, and their aunt Princess Margaret.

She had no choice. When she took up the tour of the Commonwealth to thank each country for their support during WW2, which George VI had been unable to do because of ill health, it was aborted in Kenya on the death of her father. The following year she tried again and during my research for the book I’d been commissioned to write, I found they stayed nearly every night at a different town and new hotel all over the world.

Even when they wearily got to their destination each night in this country, choirs came and serenaded them outside, every evening, so they had to go out and thank them before collapsing inside. No point in dragging their toddlers from one strange place to another every day. By contrast, when Charles and Diana brought William, he learned to crawl on the lawn of Government House in Auckland where they were able to make their base.

Others pointed to Catherine leaving her children for a week’s second honeymoon, but again they were with their doting grand- parents, not just a friend of their mother’s. Which is one of the odd things about Arche’s situation, that his grandmother, his only other family member, doesn’t do what most devoted grand-parents do, and take the opportunity to be with him when his parents aren’t. Though Meghan says she’s done the right thing as she wants her son to grow up in a loving fun-filled environment, he’s actually been wrenched away from his wider family, with a clutch of happy fun-filled young cousins, family summer holidays at Balmoral and Christmases at Sandringham.

The worst thing of all, to me, is the way both the Royal Family and the UK have been vilified in order to justify what many people feel is a dereliction of duty. To call the family ‘toxic’, and the country ‘racist’ is not just untrue but deeply hurtful to everyone involved. To those who call England racist I can only point to the front bench of the present government. The three great offices of state in Britain are the First Lord of the Treasury, the Prime Minister’s formal title, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. The last two offices are held at this moment by the sons and daughters of Pakistani and Ugandan immigrants. The Lord Mayor of London is the son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants. Similarly, the Labour party is well stocked with WOC and even Men of Colour both from the West Indies and other parts of the world!

Sadly these accusations are repeated by some vocal and disaffected men and women of colour and others, both in England, and on American television and in their media, blackening England’s name and reputation as a kind and tolerant society, which it always has been, which is why so many refugees have made their way to it over the centuries.

It was in England that Lord Chief Justice Lord Mansfield, made the first great declaration on freedom and slavery, when he decreed in 1772 that the slave Somersett, who had escaped his American master, should be free, and that any slave who set foot on English soil automatically became free. Slavery, he said, was odious and had no basis in English common law. It was finally abolished in 1834 throughout the much-maligned British Empire, and the Royal Navy patrolled the seas for sixty years with a special anti-slavery squadron to stamp out slave trafficking by other nations. It cost some thousands of sailor’s lives, as well as money.

George Orwell wrote in 1940 that ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box.‘

Sadly the huge rent in the fabric of the Royal family with the defection of two senior members, is being reflected in the country as a whole; in a split between the voices of common sense and tradition, and the voices of woke, liberal elites – the ones George Orwell was describing eighty years ago. The voices of common sense and tradition were those which rejected ‘isms and ideologies of the ‘woke’ factions in the recent election.

And these decent hardworking people are for the most part, patriotic – anathema to liberal elites. Yet as Orwell explained: ‘By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.’

The people who cheered on Meghan and Harry at their wedding, were patriots, and they welcomed the introduction of a lively new foreign addition to their ranks. Yet now those same decent people of England with their proud history of tolerance, and of opposition  to racism/slavery when it was still accepted elsewhere, are having to live with the label of racism pinned on them by their own much-loved Prince Harry and his wife of less than two years.

And the Royal family who welcomed that wife are having to live with the label she gave them of being ‘toxic.’ As usual they are carrying on, keeping on, doing their duty to their dynasty and to their country. The monarch has the daily three-hour long perusal and signing of Parliamentary business, and constant reception of overseas diplomats and potentates, as well as the obvious tasks – like opening a sewerage plant in Norfolk, (as the 93- year- old Queen did a few weeks ago).

She and other family members carry on with the cutting of ribbons in Wolverhampton, planting trees in Abergavenny, visiting hospitals in Scunthorpe, meeting ambassadors, conferring with charities who need their support, visiting the regiments of the armed forces, pinning medals on veterans, marking anniversaries and state occasions, shaking hands, making small talk, oiling diplomatic relations between countries and peoples, bringing a sense of caring and continuity to society, swotting up  the details of the people they’re meeting and the places they’re visiting, doing the boring unglamorous aspects of being in service, and living their motto: never complain, never explain. It’s served them well for nearly a thousand years. They also know that privilege entails responsibility. It’s called noblesse oblige.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I needed a cake, but didn’t have the time to nurture a long bake in the oven, so I experimented with this cake that only takes 20 minutes to cook. It was a great success, but tasted even better the next day. It’s all mixed in a saucepan in which 250 gms of butter, one cup of sugar, 2 tablsp of cocoa and one tablesp of golden syrup are melted. Don’t let it boil. When cool, add 2 cups SR flour, one cup of almond meal, a teasp of vanilla essence and a pinch of salt. Mix it all together. No eggs.

Grease and line a cake tin, and bake for 20 minutes only, so it’s a little fudgy. When cool ice with chocolate icing… icing sugar, butter, cocoa and a little milk beaten till smooth. Next time I make it I might experiment with brown sugar …

Food for Thought

Folksinger Pete Seeger has been called America’s tuning fork. He said: ‘I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist… According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God… And maybe I am… I think God is literally everything, because I don’t believe that something can come out of nothing. And so there’s always been something. Always is a long time.’

 

 

 

 

22 Comments

Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, life/style, Queen Elizabeth, Royals, slavery, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Time has told, Small IS Beautiful

100_0767

 

They don’t make it easy, to quote Megan Markle speaking on quite another subject. I was actually trying to wrest the immoveable foil covering off the plastic milk bottle, and as usual was giving up, finding a sharp pointed knife, and prizing it off.

I thought of the good old days, when we had shiny aluminium tops on glass bottles, which were washed out every day to be exchanged for a fresh bottle of milk the next day. It was usually delivered by the milkman driving his horse and milk cart – the horse, so familiar with the routine – that he stopped and started at each house, while the milkman ran in and out of each gate to leave the milk bottles on the door-step.

He was an un-official social worker as well as a milkman, and if the milk went uncollected for more than a day he’d check in the house or alert the neighbours, and many an old person was rescued from illness or accident in this way.

Before the aluminium tops, we had cardboard lids on the bottle with a little cut-out circle indented in the centre which we pushed open, if the sparrows hadn’t got there before us. They enjoyed the cream as much as we did – yes, we had cream in our milk in those days, you could either pour it off to save and consume as cream, or you shook the bottle up, and distributed the cream throughout the milk.

Sometimes at school, instead of drinking our half pint of milk given to us every day by a benevolent state, we shook up the bottle for fun until we’d made a knob of butter from the cream, and later spread it on our lunch-time potatoes. We also used the cardboard circle from the bottle to wind wool round and make bobbles, or thread on a ribbon and paint for Christmas decorations

Prising the top off the milk isn’t the only strongman feat I’m forced to perform every day. If I want to open a bottle of vitamins there’s a tight clear plastic wrapper bonded to the bottle and the lid. When, with a pair of nail scissors I’ve managed to break into this casing, and unscrewed the lid, there’s the same sort of stiff foil lid stuck irrevocably to the bottle as with the milk. More jabbing with knife or scissors, and when I finally wriggle into the jar, there’s a long wad of cotton wool to drag out into the light of day. The pile of plastic rubbish from just one small bottle of vitamins is outrageous.

A packet of bacon? Plastic wrapped cheese sweating in the casing? A new toothbrush – that truly is the worst – it’s almost impossible to break into all the wrappings, both plastic and cardboard, that bar entry to a simple toothbrush.

I waste hours of my life trying to gain access to items of food and household products which were once sold loose, but now need equipment in order to eat, drink, use or cook.

When I used to read the Manchester Guardian in my salad days I was transfixed with wonder, when a woman wrote to say she was tired of trying to break into biscuit packets. Back then in 1965, it seemed like a miracle that biscuit manufacturers got the message, listened to a woman and provided consumers with a tab to pull, so as to gain entry to said biscuits. We really can be heard, and can change things, I gloated, somewhat prematurely it seems.

For today, health and safety and hygiene requirements, techniques for packaging to extend ‘shelf life’, marketing strategies to make products seem more desirable, have meant that most food items are now locked away behind plastic, unless it’s an unwashed potato . So even though we virtue signal with plastic bags banned in our supermarkets, we still have mountains of plastic rubbish after each shopping trip, be it a new shirt, or a bag of rice. The sort of plastic rubbish that pollutes oceans and clogs up the stomachs of whales and sea-birds, fouling the oceans and killing the wild life.

And speaking of potatoes, in my youth we bought muddy potatoes in a small hemp sack. The mud preserved the minerals in the spuds, and the darkness of the sack kept them fresh, so even at the bottom, the potatoes were still good to eat. Washed potatoes in a see-through plastic bag, the very opposite of mud and sack, means that the soil around the potatoes which preserved them has gone, so they go stale and lose much of their nourishment, while the clear plastic lets in light so they deteriorate quicker. And what about parabens?

So I buy unwashed potatoes, and being somewhat lazy, I now get the mud off by washing and scrubbing them with pan scourer, kept especially for the purpose.

A friend gave me some of her new laid eggs from her hens and brought back long forgotten childhood memories as she wrapped each egg in a small piece of torn newspaper, before laying them in my little basket. There was something very sweet in the gentle handling and detailed care with which she wrapped and packed them. It felt a world away from the dull supermarket routine of shopping in bulk.

Before the coming of super-markets, we shopped every few days, meeting and greeting neighbours and other shoppers as we walked to the grocer, who was often ‘on the corner’. It’s now acknowledged that this simple routine was a wonderful boost to everyone’s emotional well-being as they connected with neighbours, and nodded to strangers who became familiar during the regular shop. We took baskets and string bags and no-one expected a shop to wrap everything we bought.

Shops had regular hours, so when you ran short of sugar or needed an onion, you had no 24- hour dairy or superette to fall back on. Instead you fell back on your neighbours, and a child was often dispatched to borrow half a cup of sugar, or a jug of milk. These small inter-actions and friendly connections stimulated a sense of community. The sharing of garden produce, small helpful deeds and kindnesses, borrowing and returning, nourished human relationships, friendships and neighbourhoods, fostering small societies, and creating villages within villages.

And back then there were plentiful bus services and little local railway branch lines, so people didn’t need cars. It was easy to move from village to town, or town to city on reliable public transport, and there were no roads clogged up with parked cars or traffic jams of weary people. I don’t remember pollution either…

When we all get down to the serious business of becoming carbon free, and relinquishing our right to car ownership, maybe the powers that be will re-instate these antiquated forms of transport. The one thing I do hope no-one suggests, be they government agencies or climate campaigners, is to use a horse and trap, or other animals as beasts of burden. The blessing of the motor car was that we gave up exploiting animals to get us around, flogging them to death, with overwork or not enough food.

Yet at the moment we still seem to have a mind-set which involves the right to own our own transport. The car industry estimates that there are 1.3 billion cars on the road at the moment and projections rise to two billion by 2035. Cars are a passion, both in the first world and the third world, and technology is forever coming up with new ideas for a driving future. Yet all this effort, which is now going in the direction of self-driving electric cars, seem self-defeating to me, since each such vehicle requires the equivalent of 40 desk top PC’s in energy consumption for the computer brain. Then there’s the energy needed for the battery. So much for reducing carbon emissions.

Maybe the challenge of tackling transport, climate change, pollution, the plague of plastic and all the other problems of our wasteful throwaway and over packaged society is to find a way of life which is as simple as the one I remember. It was a way of life in which we lived ‘care-fully’, buying food in small amounts so we had no wastage, a way of life in which we used public transport and helped each other in small, kind and ‘care-full ways’. ‘Small is Beautiful’, Schumacher’s creed, now overtaken by globalism, may be the answer to the huge problems of over-consumption, wasteful habits and huge soul-less cities, whether buying the family groceries, owning a car, or finding a happy home.

A Guardian article some years ago wrote that; ‘Schumacher warned against exactly the issues we are now dealing with as levels of mental illness – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress – rise and the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the second most common health problem in western developed nations by 2020.This was what Schumacher feared, and his answer was “small is beautiful”.’

Schumacher’s thesis was that we should go back to the human scale: human needs and human relationships. He felt that from that small scale would spring the ethical response of stewardship to the environment.

And as we re-create such small kind communities, I’d be grateful if we could also solve the plastic crisis, and mountains of resulting rubbish. The wasted hours spent tackling the menace of packaging could be used for so many other small and beautiful pleasures. Dwight Eisenhower once remarked that in his childhood, “Our pleasures were simple – they included survival”. That could well be the case in the future.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Though I love leftovers, leftover slices of slices of breast from a roast chicken can be boring. My way round this last night was to combine leftover mushrooms, cooked in garlic, cream and parsley, with the chicken. To top up this mix, I added more garlic and parsley, and the essence poured off from the hot chicken the day before. A little cream to make it thick and delicious, and the chicken was transformed. Eaten with mashed potatoes, peas and fresh spring asparagus it was as good as the original roasted chicken.

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, happiness, philosophy, pollution, sustainability, technology, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

What’s wrong with a stiff upper lip?

war  The East End of London during the Bitz. The woman on the right lived in the bombed building opposite. Their food was cooked on a campfire in the basement.

 

Victors or victims? These thoughts came to me when I chanced upon these words in a book I’d written some time ago.

“I’ve been re-reading Robert Massie’s ‘Dreadnought’ very slowly, trying to take in and remember all the detail. As I worked my way through all the biographical stuff on the various late Victorian and Edwardian English statesmen of the period, I began to notice a rather surprising pattern – which was not repeated in the biographies of their German counterparts.

“It began with an account of the great Lord Salisbury’s childhood, and how he survived his mother’s death before he was ten and the indifference and hostility of his father who thought he was hopeless. Then there was his brilliant and equally successful nephew, Arthur Balfour, who also became prime minister like his uncle. Balfour’s father died when he was seven, and his highly-strung mother Blanche struggled to bring up a large family alone.

“ Herbert Asquith, another prime minister of that time, grew up in an impoverished solo parent home after his father died when he was eight, of a twisted intestine after a village cricket match. My favourite statesman of the period, Sir Edward Grey (“ the lights are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”), was also fatherless by the age of eight, while Admiral Jackie Fisher, the great mover and shaker of the navy, was sent back from Ceylon at the age of six, never to see his father again, who died when he was sixteen, and Fisher was an adult before seeing his indigent and disinterested mother again.

“Winston Churchill’s childhood was famously deprived, brought up by his nanny, deprived of her when sent to boarding school at eight, and writing letters begging his parents to come and see him – they never did. On one occasion his mother, a famous beauty, returned his letter after reading one page. She required him to write to her in French, and she told him his French was so appalling, she had no intention of reading any further. The emotional deprivation and abuse he suffered is legendary, yet not he, nor any of the others, ever made excuses that the challenges of their childhoods interfered with living a useful constructive life. They lived lives full of achievement, unhampered by chips on their shoulders, theories of deprivation and emotional maladjustment or of feeling victim.

“It was much the same with an earlier hero, the great philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, who among many other causes, stopped the employment of children as young as five in coal mines. He also opened Ragged Schools for slum children, opposed vivisection, and stopped climbing boys being sent up hot sooty chimneys from the age of five onwards, (small boys, because only small boys could squeeze up the chimneys to clean them).

“Like Churchill, he too was neglected and emotionally deprived by his hostile parents, and the only love he received as a child was also from his nanny, Maria Mills, who died when he was nine. Then there was wonderful William Wilberforce, orphaned at nine when his father died, and a year later sent to live with relatives. These men also endured dreadful years at bullying, inhumane schools.

“Yet in spite of all the angst we hear now, about children of single parents being handicapped in the so-called race of life, these people all achieved great things, and apart from Balfour, who never married, all had loving marriages too. Was it because the communities they grew up in were united by values, principles and religion? They also all believed in a Divine Source to sustain them, and perhaps just as important, their sole parent usually had no money worries, so that they were properly educated and thus equipped to make their way.”

During the years I was a solo parent, I was constantly coming up against the stereotype of one parent children being handicapped or deprived, which caused me much heart-ache. This lasted until my son’s teacher, a solo parent herself, asserted that many of the children in her class came from dysfunctional two-parent families, and that loved children with a sane intelligent mother were the lucky ones. I took her at her word.

One of the common features of these men and others, was that they were the possessors of that much maligned British stiff upper lip. I may even have possessed one myself. Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone, was always in my mind, as I navigated disasters that sometimes felt overwhelming.

When I was at boarding school, several of my friends has been passengers on the troopship Empire Windrush when it caught fire in the Mediterranean and sank.  They only referred to it in terms of having lost all their clothes and possessions. Recently I Googled the Windrush, and found several newsreels about the disaster. On them is recorded the amazing behaviour of all the women and children as well as the military wounded and servicemen from Korea.

The electricity was affected by the fire, so the life boats couldn’t be lowered and were eventually dropped into the sea. Neither could the intercom work, so all the passengers had to be awakened at 6.30 and they climbed off the ship into the life boats in their dressing gowns and pyjamas.

I watched moving newsreels of mothers holding their babies, children holding the hands of toddlers, all in their night clothes, climbing off a rescue ship which conveyed them to Tangiers. They walked in a quiet orderly procession along the dock, no tears, no hysterics, just calmly disciplined. No panic, no fuss, just that wonderful stiff upper lip as all ages coped efficiently and courageously. This was the story my school friends had omitted to tell when they mentioned in a matter of fact way that they’d lost all their possessions when their ship caught fire on their way home from the East.

That same stiff upper lip was what carried my parent’s generation through the second world war, living through perils and dangers, deprivation and destruction. The bombing, sleeplessness from air-raids, invasion fears, stern rationing, black outs, no petrol for travel, working in factories, on the land, in the army and the navy and air force in horrendous conditions, families traumatised by years of separation and sometimes death in battle, or at sea, or in the air, and the nightmares and undiagnosed PTSD, all had to be endured and survived.

No tranquillisers, anti-depressants, therapists or other emotional support were available. Cigarettes were the nearest thing! They didn’t see themselves as victims, both civilians and servicemen just stoically soldiered on for six years until they achieved victory.

It was another Edwardian, Captain Scott of the Antarctic who famously gave voice to the stoicism and courage which is disguised by that stiff upper lip. Once a hero, then derided by revisionist historians, he has had his reputation restored to heroic status recently, by the advances of science.

Researchers and modern scientists have discovered that when the dog teams with food  failed to rendezvous in spite of Scott’s written orders, his party were abandoned in the ten-day Antarctic winter blizzard. Scott and his men perished in a blizzard which was a once in a thousand-year event and the cold was colder than anyone had ever experienced, – 40 degrees Fahrenheit, too cold for human beings to survive in.

As he lay dying in his snow bound tent, the others already dead, Captain Scott wrote the immortal words in which he took full responsibility for their fate – never complaining, never making excuses, never wallowing in self-pity.

He didn’t see himself as a victim. Instead he wrote: “We took risks, we knew we took them: things have come out against us and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined to do our best to the last”.

The difference between being a victor or a victim is simply a change of perspective. When we can accept that the choices we made, have brought us to this point (and some believe that these choices were made before we returned to this plane of existence), we can see the events of our lives from a different perspective.

We can choose to see our lives through a different lens. The quickest way to shift from the misery of self-pity and victim-hood, to the freedom of accepting responsibility, is to begin to feel grateful for our life, the highs and the lows, knowing there is a point or a purpose to all challenges. We may not see them straight away but when we look back, we see there are no accidents and no mis-steps. We can see that all our actions and decisions have led us to this point.

English House and Garden magazine editor, Sue Crewe began keeping a daily gratitude diary after a period of heartbreak in her life. Every day she listed five things. Some years later she wrote:

‘The most transformative revelation is the power of gratitude itself: it takes up so much room that everything coercive and depressing is squeezed to the margins. It seems to push out resentment, fear, envy, self-pity and all the other ugly sentiments that bring you down, leaving room for serenity, contentment and optimism to take up residence.’

What a glorious way to live life.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Potatoes without butter are not the same… mashed potatoes, potatoes baked in their jackets, potatoes baked in cream, new potatoes anointed with melted butter… what is a potato without butter or cream?

The answer is potatoes cooked the way I’ve discovered! Simply cube them, peeled or unpeeled -not too small, about three-quarters of an inch squarish. Boil them till soft but still firm. Drain, and tip flour over them. Put the lid back on the pan, and toss the potatoes in the flour before frying batches in hot oil. When crisp, drain them on kitchen paper as you tackle each batch, and keep them warm. They end up crisp outside and soft inside. Serve these delicious crisp morsels with sea-salt, and chicken, sausages or whatever takes your fancy.

P.S. For an extraordinary story of courage and stiff upper lip, GP Cox’s blog today, about Mrs Ruby Boye in the Pacific War takes some beating.

 

 

21 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, happiness, history, life and death, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, world war two

Light footfalls in the Forest

dresser.jpg

I’m back… after a lull and a few health issues, can’t resist coming back to blogging. I’ve kept up with reading all my old friends, under the radar, and am up with the play on the health and antics of various cats and dogs and pigs, and people! And thanks to the magic of technology, the internet has kept me up to date on the strange happenings around the world. I hesitate to put a name to the events which fill today’s headlines.

Here in our remote rainforest, politics and pollution, carbon footprints and climate change feel a long way away. Though I did calculate our carbon footprint today, and since we make one trip into town a week, amounting to fifty kilometres, catch our own water from the roof, and purify it, don’t waste water since we have a compost toilet, build our house with re-cycled windows, doors, kitchen bench, neighbour’s cast-off extractor hood and other donations, and only use electricity for heating, our footprint is fairly light.

D, my love, has used skateboard wheels to create a sliding door which purrs every time it’s opened, while a steel knitting needle and some big beads from a necklace have been used to fashion a light fitting that can be adjusted and moved above the dining table depending how many guests we have. He’s made exquisite sounding bells from divers cast off tanks which function as warning bells for us, and become presents for the people who are enchanted with the sound of the bells, and want one too.

A friend gave us an unwanted Italian stone plinth which, with a great, perfectly round concrete ball cast by D for me for Christmas, has become the focal point of my new garden; another friend delivered a ten foot pallet he wanted to dispose of, which has, with a few extra pieces of wood nailed on, become an elegant trellis barrier painted black and swathed in white wisteria, honeysuckle and star jasmine, dividing drive from garden.

Along the top of the trellis are ranged a row of perfect round black balls. They were once the feet of an armoire, and so ugly that I had them cut off, and have carted them around for the last nineteen years, hoping to find a use for them someday. That day has arrived. Painted black, and augmented with a big central one made by D, they have come into their own. The honeysuckle was grown from cuttings taken from the side of the road. The stubs of used candles are melted down and blended together to make candles for the storm lanterns down the drive when friends visit.

Arum lilies, dug up from a field at a friend’s farm, and roses grown from cuttings, fill the urns and pots, and on finding half a dozen miniature pink buckets in an op shop, I filled with them with pink cyclamens and lined them up on the steps to the house. I fill any gaps in the garden with big white marguerite daisies grown from cuttings – the original plant I bought back in 2003, and have kept supplies of these generous sized daisies ever since. At this moment in the porch are twenty- four flourishing little green rootlets waiting to be transferred to wherever they are needed. Ivy cuttings are also rooting quietly after a walk past an overgrown wall.

A raised vegetable garden is the next step… to be tackled when D has finished inserting two beautiful coloured lead light windows into the bathroom wall which looks out into the forest. They came from a dresser we bought for a song at the local rubbish tip shop. The hinges on the doors and handles would have cost more than we paid for the whole dresser if he had bought them new, D says.

And as well as the hardware, we have the lead light doors to the cupboard now transformed into windows, and the bottom shelves, divested of doors, painted white and flossied up with a bit of moulding, matching another sturdy bookshelf the other side of the room.

The satisfaction of this way of life is immense. Though we are surrounded in the forest by splendid architect designed dwellings furnished with architect-speak fashionable furniture, black leather Mies van der Rohe-like loungers, cow-hide rugs, low backed sofas, I am unmoved by this elegance. I still love my ancient seven-foot sofa, bought from an acquaintance twenty- five years ago when it was already twenty- five years old. New feet gave it a new lease of life, and loose covers made from hemp twenty years ago are still as good as new.

My antique French Provincial arm chairs are still comfortable, even though the cat appropriated them all the years of her life, and the old painted peasant looking chest of drawers gives me as much pleasure as our walnut and rosewood antiques of yesteryear. Pretty china, rugs and cushions, lamps and books have been the same companions for the last four decades.

And books continue to find their way in. Last week it was a book on Tuscany found for a dollar at the local rubbish tip shop. It’s a big illustrated hymn to Tuscany by Frances Mayes, whose other books on finding her Italian house have always enchanted me. This one is filled with exquisite pictures, disquisitions on art and architecture,  wine, and food and recipes. She tells us that when children are born in Italy, they say they have entered the light. The poetry and beauty of this idea of emerging from the darkness of the womb into the light of the world I find very moving.

Mayes says that Italians have the lowest rate of suicide in the world. She puts it down to the contentment of living amid so much deeply satisfying beauty. She also says that Italians are very low on obesity scales compared with other countries, and she puts this down to the fact that they eat such nourishing delicious food, that they feel satisfied and don’t need to fill up with junk food and sugar treats.

So needless to say, I bustled into my kitchen, and began experimenting with her take on Tuscan food, which doesn’t rely on fancy ingredients, and at a quick glance just seems to require good olive oil, good bread, fresh vegetables, including garlic, fennel and mushrooms and devotion to good food! That devotion I have in spades.

Watch this space!

 

 

49 Comments

Filed under environment, flowers, gardens, life/style, pollution, sustainability, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized