Category Archives: womens issues

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

Closing Circles

Image result for valerie davies nz

The penultimate instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

A year after Arthur Thomas’s pardon, a Royal Commission condemned the policeman who’d planted the cartridge, and said Arthur should never have been charged. I sat through the weeks of testimony, crocheting a colourful rug from all the scraps of wool I had, and I think driving the male chauvinists around me quite mad!

I was back home towards the end when Patrick took time off from his office to hear the last stages of the inquiry which was all based on his findings. He rang and said they were being asked to put in a claim for what the investigation had cost them, and Jim Sprott was claiming $150,000. Patrick said it didn’t feel right climbing on this bandwagon of claims… so I told him about the painter Whistler’s damages of a farthing in England when he sued Ruskin for defamation in 1870, and suggested Patrick likewise claim a dollar – otherwise you’ll be written out of the court’s findings, I said.

So he did claim a dollar. Arthur was given a million dollars in compensation, and Patrick was rewarded with an OBE. The following year the Queen presented it to him, at the same time that my daughter received her Gold Medal from the Duke of Edinburgh

While all these dramas were playing out, I resigned as Woman’s Editor of the Star, feeling that the increased attacks and hostility from feminists would lose their sting if I wasn’t there, and the women’s pages might become unmolested!

I took the children to England for a holiday, and when we returned took up writing my columns again, and was commissioned to write several books. I once calculated that fifteen years of writing two columns of a thousand words a week, probably added up to about 780,000 words, and that didn’t include all the articles and interviews I wrote in that time as well. At least half as much again, I suspect.

A column which covered vivisection and the experiments and horrible operations that people like South African heart surgeon Dr Christian Barnard performed on animals, caused huge repercussions. It revived the moribund anti-vivisection society known as SAFE, (Save Animals from Experimentation) and Patrick and I became president and vice-president.

This column also triggered a big meeting of angry doctors at the Medical School at Auckland University where they reportedly discussed: ‘What to do about Valerie Davies’. At the time I had also castigated the practise of every medical student having their own rat to kill – they  bashed it on the table by holding its tail, before dissecting it.

They sent my article to Christian Barnard in South Africa, who’d become a high-living celebrity by then, and he responded by sue-ing me and the Star. The Star cravenly paid up the money he demanded, but I refused, telling my solicitor I’d rather go to jail. The children were devastated, and my son even had tears rolling down his cheeks when I explained what I was doing.

In the event my clever lawyer wrote told Barnard’s solicitor that my defence would be that I’d found all the hideous boasts about making a two headed dog, and the screams of a baboon wrenched from his mate to take his heart for an experiment, in Dr Barnard’s own autobiography, and a TV interview. We heard no more!

I continued writing columns that enraged people, writing of the barbaric treatment of calves in modern farming, to the use of 245T (a dioxin based pesticide) the indiscriminate felling of trees, and other environmental concerns. After a column on climate change and the ozone layer, a university professor wrote a scathing letter to the paper calling me a ‘knee-jerk environmentalist’, while a professor of paediatrics, rang me at home he was so furious when I wrote that babies should never be left to cry as it broke their trust in their parents.

Now all the research into brain function has proved me right. Child psychology preaches the benefits of cuddling and of feel- good pheromones  connecting in the brain, and the dangers of cortisone building up in the brain if babies are left to cry, which leaves them prone to depression and a host of problems as they grow older…

Sometimes, in the rain and misery of the Springbok winter, traipsing in and out to the Royal Commission in the city- an hour’s drive each way- struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, living on willpower, not energy, seeing the miseries of modern farming as I drove past fields with bleak herds of cows deprived of their new calves, stopping the car to untangle desperate goats tied up and used as lawn-mowers on the road-side, I used to wonder what was wrong with me.

Why was I so out of step with everyone and everything? And then I discovered a group in England called Women for Life on Earth, and I knew I wasn’t mad after all, and that my concerns were those of many others too. Knowing this restored my confidence and gave me heart. (This group morphed into the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, and their historic resistance to nuclear weapons.)

My illness had got worse. I couldn’t bear light, and had tortoise shell rattan blinds on every window as well as curtains, I had difficulty understanding speech and used to exhort the children and my husband to speak clearly. I couldn’t bear any music except formal baroque tunes, and was in constant pain.

Somehow, I kept up with driving the children around, having friends and Patrick’s family to stay, his other four children and their friends for meals, walking the dogs twice a day, cooking decent nutritious food on time, fulfilling numerous speaking engagements – teachers conferences, school prize-givings, parents groups, schools, Rotary and other clubs, even the annual lunch of accountants – to mention a few – writing the columns which generated so much controversy and so many letters to answer, not to mention the dreaded housework. I paid the teenage children to help… my daughter to do the washing, my son to clean the bathrooms.

And at the end of this hard, sad winter we left our dream home in the country, where no-one had waved or spoken to us in over a year, and moved back to town, where friends welcomed us, strangers called in with fruit and flowers and cakes, and we felt we had come home.

A young, unprejudiced and open-minded woman doctor friend dropped in to see me, while I was having an episode of CFS. Mimi introduced me to Re-birthing, a system of connected breathing which was all the rage at that time, and this was a turning point for me. The breathing got me on my feet, and I was now strong enough to become involved with a personal growth group, Self-Transformation, which I helped to establish in this country.

It grew exponentially. This was the early eighties, when groups like EST were breaking down so many barriers, and people all over the world were ready to start their journey towards self-actualisation. Jung was often the starting point, his book and his theme ‘Modern Man in Search of his Soul’ in tune with the new age.

Abraham Maslow, Ken Wilbur, then Dipak Chopra, Jean Houston, Caroline Myss, one after another, names and techniques came crowding into our consciousness, and people like me couldn’t get enough…meditation, yoga, Reiki, shiatsu, rolfing, holotropic breathing, aromatherapy, sweat lodges and other methods of bodywork we explored put us in touch with our emotional blocks and old traumas, and kept us busy for years.

Buddhism, the Essenes, Hawaian Kahunas, Shamanism, gurus from Ram Dass to Sai Baba, Raj Neesh, and the Dalai Lama held many in thrall – though gurus were not for me – and this is only to touch on a few of the influences, techniques and people who influenced my friends and I as we journeyed on. I sold most of my precious things to pay for all this… silver from my first marriage, oriental rugs I’d collected over the years, a precious French provincial table… it was worth it.

It was all a mystery to my husband, who called me a New Age Nutter, which didn’t bother me at all. I tried often to explain what I was doing, and it didn’t matter how often I did, he never understood or remembered.

He had a different journey. He had ten jobs in twenty years, travelling from radio back to newspapers, then magazines to public relations, radio again, magazines, to teaching journalism and back to newspapers, finally becoming editor- in- chief of a group of suburban newspapers when he was in his early seventies. They were years of financial insecurity, when he was badly paid, and I was glad to still have some money from my writing and then the counselling practise that I managed to operate for all those years until I was in my mid-seventies.

In every job he found, pressure would build-up, and he would be unable to see eye- to-eye with his boss, just as he had been so often at the Star. It’s only as I look back that I realise that this was his modus operandi.

He’d come home and I’d sympathise and take on the angst and the anxiety. We moved house often, buying old wrecks which I restored and beautified, each time hoping that by reducing the mortgage or making life easier at home, with less travelling, or some other excuse, it would reduce his stress. It never did.

He had also become obsessed with Japan, and apart from writing books about it, studying its history and customs, and collecting anything Japanese, he became an expert on samurais, Japanese sword-play – kendo and eido- and antique Japanese swords, which were hugely expensive. He was always buying more and more precious ones, as he learned more and more about them, and went to Japan half a dozen times.

As my car fell to pieces, because we couldn’t afford to replace it, he was ‘investing’ he assured me, in his swords, which would pay for our old age, so we didn’t need to save or pay off the mortgage. I believed him.

And so we came to the end of our roads. As Paul Coelho wrote: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

Next week is the last instalment of this series. The Who-dun-it of the Thomas case will be told in an Appendix the week after that.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

As we talked about our go-to puddings over a nice drop of affogato in our favourite restaurant, one of my closest friends asked me for the recipe for my hot chocolate sauce for ice-cream I was boasting about. This is for her.

It comes from good old Mrs Beeton, and my children loved it over ice-cream, while I serve it for guests now with pears baked in wine plus ice-cream.

Blend together a rounded dessert spoon of cornflour, two rounded dessertspoons of cocoa powder, and three rounded dessertspoons of sugar with a little cold water measured from half a pint. Boil the rest of the half pint of water and pour on the mixture. Pour into a saucepan and boil for two minutes, stirring all the time. Add three drops of vanilla and half an ounce of butter. Simple and  delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, Japan, self knowledge, The Sound of Water, Uncategorized, womens issues

Halcyon days and finding my voice

Valerie33

A Life- another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

The first months were tough… Auckland was one of the world’s largest cities in area back then, and map-reading a strange city is challenging. More challenging was map-reading the events and psychology of a new society when instructed to write a story about the effects of a trade union decision or writing about a fight after a fight at a boxing match.

I wasn’t cut out for this sort of reporting… even when I managed to ferret out the salient details of a story, I found it hard to write without a personal slant, a humorous aside, a detail about character or clothing… none of it suited to the newsroom’s style!

The last straw was an interview with ninety- year- old Dame Flora Macleod, visiting her scattered clan this side of the world. Full of detail, enthusiasm and warmth, to my chagrin, this effusion never made it to the news pages, but was banished to the women’s page- to the regret of many other reporters I heard later.

So it was wonderful when I was transferred to the women’s page which some might have seen as a demotion, but which was for me, a welcome respite from the masculine challenges of the newsroom.

My boss Val, was a friendly six-foot blonde amazon who’d been a champion swimmer, her assistants a fiercely feminist single mother, and a happy pregnant Auckland socialite. They all provided different aspects of life for the page, and I unconsciously began carving out my own niche, when I observed that if Maoris were supposed to be equal members of New Zealand society, it was strange that we never had any stories about them and their doings and achievements. “You can be the Maori news-person”, said my boss.

So began a series of really interesting stories about wonderful Maori women achievers, professors at the university, charity workers, community idealists, political activists, nearly all of them working for a better deal for poor Maoris, women and children.

One rainy morning when we were all fruitlessly racking our brains for ideas for stories to fill the empty page for that afternoon’s edition, I wrote the first of what Val called my ‘think pieces’ which developed into regular columns.

And then I began to realise how tough this pioneering society was on children, especially after an encounter with one of the country’s most distinguished women paediatricians, who also pioneered family planning clinics around the country. Alice Bush, who became a friend, told me that she felt in her forty years of practise that parents were less tolerant now, and more inclined to punish their children physically.

I dropped all my feminist crusading at this and began to campaign in every way that presented itself for a better deal for children. I felt too, that the immense and enthusiastic wave of feminist activity and the drive for equality for women meant that too often children’s needs were being overlooked.

This led to a surprising development. The feminist in the office was closely involved with the very militant students at Auckland University, and I suddenly found I was persona non grata with them and every other feminist in the country, both in the trade unions, the universities, and several influential magazines. I was blacklisted from all women’s conventions and conferences, and even cut dead in the streets by hostile women.

The very real hostility continued for years, and during the concerted campaign to undermine me, a stream of hostile letters were published in the newspaper castigating me and my writing and opinions. The editor was so intimidated by these strong women, both on the newspaper staff and elsewhere, that he caved in and published these attacks on a member of his staff.

One of the aggravating features of this unhappy situation for my adversaries was that I became very successful, the general public loved my columns, and when I became women’s editor and introduced an entirely new concept – a weekly pull-out newspaper for women – it became the talk of the country. I covered every subject that I thought women would be interested in, from breast-feeding, to treatment for cystitis, to bringing up children, to the struggle of women in other countries, from the mothers and grandmothers in Argentina, to Winnie Mandela and Helen Suzman.

The readership reached not just women in the towns and in the country, in rich suburbs and new cheap housing estates, but men, too – judges, surgeons, lawyers – people of all ages and walks of life. In a small country, one size fitted all, there were no niche newspapers or other publications. This was also a challenge – to find a way to appeal to everyone at the same time.

At the same time, I was writing a column for single mothers in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, a wonderful little magazine, which was bought by a quarter of the people in the country, and according sales lore, and the ‘hand-on’ theory, meant it was read by at least two more people, so that at least three -quarters of the population of the country read this publication.

It sat in every waiting room- hairdressers, doctors, dentists, lawyers and so on, and there was hardly a home which it didn’t penetrate. Surveys showed that it was the favourite reading of all females from the age of eight or nine upwards, and the favourite reading of most boys up to the age of fifteen.

It reached a huge readership. One day the editor asked me to do something about a letter which had reached her, from a single or solo mother as they were called. I researched the whole subject and wrote an article for the magazine and I was then deluged with dozens of letters from solo mothers. From then on, every week I wrote a column for them. Thirty years later I was still meeting people or receiving letters from widows or divorced or single women saying that my column had been their life-line – just knowing that someone understood their problems and cared, had helped them through their lonely hard times.

After one letter from a woman whose husband had walked out leaving her with three children under five, including a year old, and how she had to work digging potatoes; how she had to leave the children locked in alone in the house, with no heating which she couldn’t afford, and just bread and milk to eat all day, I realised that there had to be some sort of assistance for women abandoned by their husbands.

Women who became pregnant – out of wedlock- as it was called back then, had no benefit either, apart from a tiny payment which lasted four months, as long as they were breast-feeding. This meant that no-one could afford to keep their baby, and there was a very high rate of adoption in NZ.

So campaigning for assistance for women and children also became one of my priorities, and the following year, the new Labour government which had also reached this conclusion, introduced a benefit for women and children who had been desperate and destitute up till then.

And there were still the plums – the fascination of meeting such luminaries as Doctor Spock, the man whose books were a bible to most mothers back then. He was a big genial man, who cared about more than just bringing up children kindly. He’d been an Olympic rower in his youth, and by the time I met him was deeply involved in political activities which included opposition to the Vietnam War.

His wife Jane listened to our interview, and at the end said to me that she’d like me to interview her as I was not like the aggressive journalists she’d come up against in the States. I did, but the interview was unpublishable. She was a hurt, angry woman, who felt her part in bringing up their sons and providing much of the material and experience that informed her husband’s books, had never been acknowledged… “He just sat behind his big desk, while I brought up the boys and told him what I was doing…”. I wasn’t surprised to hear that they divorced a few years later.

Life was not all work either… John continued to call either at the office or at home, bringing his dogs with him… taking my son for fishing weekends, arriving and gathering us up for a trip to a distant beach with his friends and sitting round a camp fire chatting and singing in the dusk.

There was the fair-haired, blue -eyed Italian aristocrat who would ask me which car I wanted to go to dinner in, his Lancia or his Alfa Romeo, the laughter in the office at another would- be suitor, a bearded be-spectacled man with shorts, hairy legs and sandals who was always bringing my copy to discuss with me; and the perfectly happily married man who stood in front of my desk as I looked up over my typewriter, and declared that he’d crawl across broken glass to have a cup of coffee with me. Words which brought more gales of laughter from my colleagues in the office! They weren’t days of wine and roses, but were definitely days of goodness, fun and freedom, and a respite before the next chapter of our lives.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 Since I shattered my leg two years ago, and prefer not to stand for long, I’ve evolved all sorts of short cuts to get me by when I’m slaving over a hot stove!

First and foremost… I use chopped garlic and ginger from a jar – something I always swore I’d never do, though I still grate fresh Parmesan. When making pommes anna – potatoes in cream and garlic, a fairly common occurrence in this house, I no longer peel the potatoes, but scrub them clean with a pot scourer, and slice them thinly, and it makes no difference to the taste. When making apple crumble or scones, I never rub the butter into the flour any more, but grate cold butter from the fridge, stir it into the flour and it works just as well. I never bother to roll out scones, but simply place the dough on a floured board, nudge it into a shape about an inch  thick, and simply cut it into squares, not bothering with  pastry cutters.

I cook onions in the micro-wave for six minutes, and then fry them for a few more minutes to brown nicely, thus eliminating the time spent formerly standing turning them in the frying pan.

When I cook mashed potato, I do plenty extra to use in leek and potato soup, or to fry with bacon and sausage. And I cook double amounts of spaghetti bolognaise – half for the freezer, half for himself, while the leftover extra cheese sauce from lasagne or macaroni cheese is perfect over broccoli for a small lunch dish for me. Risotto is always a double amount – either re-heated in the micro-wave, or gently fried in a little olive oil to make the crust crisp and delicious. So many other small things which make life easier …

Food for thought

It is as necessary for man to live in beauty rather than ugliness as it is necessary for him to have food for an aching belly or rest for a weary body.

Abraham Maslow, ground-breaking thinker,  therapist and writer

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Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, happiness, Media and interviews, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, womens issues

Chickens coming home to roost

Nobel prize-winner Malala Yousafzai

I’ve wondered why I’ve been so fascinated by it. I normally never read the news, especially salacious negative or destructive items, but I’ve been rivetted to the Harvey Weinstein story.

As I finished the washing up after lunch today, I realised why, and what I’ve been trying not to remember… all those times it was happening every day and as part of life when I was growing up.

I thought of the maths teacher when I was fourteen. When I started this school, my new friends warned me that when he called me out to his desk to go over some maths problem, he would run his hand up under my gym slip, and massage my thigh. Whether the massaging was more than that and my friends couldn’t bring themselves to say, I don’t know, because I was a very immature, slow developer, and he never tried it on me.

I remembered joining the army when I was eighteen, and being measured for my uniform by the regimental tailor. Afterwards when we compared notes back in the barrack room, we all found we’d had the same experience of him feeling our breasts as he took our measurements.  And I thought of a night at cadet school a few months later, when eleven of us were sitting around late at night over a cup of hot chocolate, and we discovered that nine out of the eleven of us had had the experience of a man exposing his hairy genitals to us as a child.

The following year one of us who had been to a wedding in Scotland, was raped in the sleeper on the train back from Edinburgh.  Jo – as I’ll call her – a gentle sweet-natured girl, was so intimidated by the notice which said the fine was five pounds for pulling the emergency chain un-necessarily, that she didn’t dare reach over to pull it and save herself.

There were plenty of us who felt intimidated like that back in the fifties and sixties. When I worked on the South China Morning Post in Hongkong supporting my children on my meagre pay, the managers brought in a time and motion expert from the UK to assess whose job was necessary or financially worthwhile. The expert took a fancy to me, and I was over a barrel between trying to avoid him by fleeing the office and inventing interviews, and being seen conscientiously bending over my type-writer justifying my existence and my salary.

It became a joke on the women’s page that  he was always asking where I was, but it was no joke to me. Finally, I could avoid having dinner with this married man having a bit of fun while he was away from his family no longer, and at the end of the evening, feeling completely powerless, I ended up on the sofa at his flat. I escaped as he undid his zipper, and then had the anguish for weeks of wondering if, when he wrote his report, I would still have a job.

I’ve often wondered since why I didn’t just say no thank you when he pressed me to go up to his flat after dinner, replying:’ I have to get my children up for school in the morning, and get to the office on time!’ End of story. But I was too fearful then of men’s power as I battled for custody of my children, and struggled to keep my job.

Just as when the editor sent me to interview a friend of his a few weeks later, and the blonde handsome Swede behaved as though I was a call girl. Once again, as I escaped his clutches, I knew it was no use complaining to the editor about his influential friend… I would just have been a trouble maker, who couldn’t take it. I wasn’t just trying to get a job like the Hollywood stars I’ve been reading about, I was trying to keep a job which paid me half what a man was paid, in order to house and feed my children.

The choices are just as bad for so many women even now… there are Filipino maids all over the world putting up with all sorts of forms of exploitation and wicked treatment because their families are relying on the money they send home. I read that it is now illegal for men in India to rape their teenage or child wives. But how many child brides know their rights, and how many would dare to offend a strong powerful man who had total power over her life?

There are women and children both in Africa and England and everywhere in between, who endure the horrors of Sharia law, which often includes genital mutilation. There are states in a western country like the US where it’s legal for a husband to beat his wife, while both fundamental Muslims as well as fundamental Christians also claim this right. And many women stay in abusive relationships in order to protect their children and try to bring them up, while leaving a violent marriage simply isn’t a financial possibility for too many other women.

So-called honour killings – when a woman or a girl has been raped – means that in many Muslim countries, it is the woman who is punished for the crime – often with death by stoning or barbaric whipping. That old joke, a woman’s place is in the wrong, is no joke in those countries. Yazidi women raped by Isis, school girls captured by Boko Haram soldiers, women forced to hide behind, and under, curtains of black material invented by men to deny their uniqueness, are up against something much worse than the harassment of Hollywood actresses and their fear for their careers that we’ve been reading about.

Nobel peace prize-winner Malala Yousafzai was a school-girl when she was shot by Taliban in Pakistan for advocating education for women. Since then, she’s recovered from her dreadful wounds, though she’s lost the hearing in one ear. She went to England for medical treatment and to be educated safely away from the murderous men who wanted her dead, and now she’s just started her degree studies at Oxford. She has never given up her cause, and says: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

There are unheard voices all over the world, and if this scandal about harassed actresses can remind us of those other unseen, unheard women, it will be a service to them all. Because I’m human it feels good to know that one bully is being held to account for his actions, but the other part of me wants to feel that something good  can also come out of this story of human frailty.

When truth is revealed it can be the catalyst for change. I hope this story is big news everywhere, so that people everywhere get the message that it’s not okay to misuse power and terrify or deprive women; that they learn that women do have the right to all the freedoms and goodness in the world that men enjoy too.  Let’s hope that this change of heart and mind can work its way into the consciousness of all men everywhere because of the public downfall of one powerful man.

Not into the consciousness of the many good men who do care about women, but into the hearts and minds of men whose cultures have taught them that it’s okay or even de rigeuer to oppress and suppress the feminine – whether it’s their wives or daughters or other women, or the feminine in their own natures.  The qualities of the feminine – gentleness, nurturing, empathy, creativity, are the things that most of us want in our homes and families, and societies, as well as the masculine qualities of strength and power. Balance, wholeness, the middle way, are what makes for health in people and in societies and honouring both sides of our natures is the way to this balance and goodness.

A tacky scandal in the western world of entertainment may seem trivial when set against the appalling suffering of so many silenced women all over the rest of the world. But good can come out of this saga of silence if it causes a change of heart and mind beyond the homes and habitats of Hollywood and its power brokers. I do so hope so.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Spring is coming to this end of the world and I feel like different food. With cold chicken the other day I used a favourite way with avocado. To half a cup each of chopped avocado and cucumber, use three quarters of a cup of cream, a quarter of a cup of lemon juice, one finely chopped onion, two cloves of chopped garlic, salt and black pepper, and put it all in a blender. Whizz until smooth. I love this with raw or cooked vegetables as well as with chicken, cold turkey or ham.

Food for thought

Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.” Gloria Steinem

 

 

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Behind every great….

100_0087‘Behind every great man stands a great woman’, one of my dearest friends declared, a propos Winston Churchill and the love of his life, his wife Clementine, and of Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor. We were lunching at the latest fashionable eatery for ladies who lunch, and I rather lowered the tone by quipping that behind every great man is a woman with nothing to wear!

As I sort through years of accumulation in this house, ready to take my next steps forward, I thought of this conversation, and thought of a much ignored and rather valiant woman who stood behind a great man. Her influence over a hundred years later is behind the room I sit in.

I looked around at this white room, white walls and cream curtains, white French furniture and if not white, then painted white and distressed by me, the guts of the rooms being created by the richness of books, and the colour of china. Only three pieces of furniture are the exception to the reigning white – the pine dresser in the dining area, and the antique round Dutch rosewood table laden with piles of books, and a battered old French bench painted in soft grey and cream.

After years of blue rooms, red rooms and yellow rooms this pale restful room is how I want to live these days. Syrie Maugham, Somerset Maugham’s ex-wife, is usually credited with inventing all-white rooms in the thirties. She bleached and pickled and painted furniture and floors, had carpets specially woven in white, and white on white became all the rage.

But the first white rooms in interior decorative history were Mrs Oscar Wilde’s drawing room and dining room in Tite Street, Chelsea.

The poet W. B Yeats described: ” a white drawing room… with white panels, and a dining room all white, chairs, walls, mantel-pieces, carpets…” The Wildes were leaders of fashion, and the much under-rated Constance Wilde edited the Rational Dress Society’s Gazette, often detailing accidents which had befallen women owing to the restrictions or impracticality of their dress.

Her white dining room may have been impractical, but she was an unusual Victorian parent who allowed her two sons to romp and play in its pristine whiteness – and they also scandalised some – as their unconventional mother allowed them to do this naked.

Though not as talented as the wickedly brilliant Oscar, (arriving in America and being asked what he had to declare, he replied, ‘Nothing but my genius!’) she more than held her own, collaborating with him in many of his projects, writing books for children, as well as writing in, and editing her magazine, while creating the artistic and aesthetic environment which had such an influence on their circle and their times.

Constance was also interested in the spiritual life, and became involved with the famous metaphysical and mystical society The Order of The Golden Dawn, where amongst others, well known personalities like WB Yeats, Maud Gonne, famous mystic Evelyn Underhill and even wicked Aleister Crowley before his fall, used to meet.

After the difficult birth of their second son the Wilde’s sexual relationship dwindled, and it was then that Oscar became involved with the love life (what his lover famously described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name ‘) that ended his career and the happiness of them all.

It’s only recently that it’s been understood that the mysterious and crippling illness which blighted Constance’s life, and probably their marriage in the five years before Oscar’s downfall, was the onset of multiple scelerosis. It was a condition which had only been recognised a few years before, and which Constance’s doctors were obviously not aware of.

This too, must have made a huge difference to the quality of the Wilde’s marriage, though they both obviously loved each other. Constance continued to support Oscar’s achievements after his disgrace and was the first to praise the poignant ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’. But his inability to keep at a distance the beautiful but destructive and heartless “Bosie” Douglas, the other half in the scandal, finally drove husband and wife apart.

Constance took her two boys to Italy to escape the scandal, and died there a couple of years later from the dangerous quack treatment she sought for her increasingly debilitating illness.

There’s been much sympathy and rightly so, for Oscar Wilde and his trials and tragedy, but Constance is often the forgotten one in this tribulation which affected them all. Not only does a fine woman stand behind most great men, but behind every disgraced man stands a humiliated and heartbroken wife…

Since I learned her story many years ago, Constance Wilde has always had a place in my heart… I can never resist women who make the best of things, however bad the things … and as Eleanor Roosevelt so memorably said: “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

Food for threadbare gourmets
After my grandsons had been for lunch and I had made gallons – as it were – of chocolate sauce, I wondered what to do with all the sauce left over. Luckily I had a friend for supper a few days later, and decided to put the chocolate sauce to good use.

I gently stewed some peeled and cored pears in hot water with maple syrup, ginger wine, a few cloves, star anise and a bay leaf added. When soft I left them to steep in this juice, and later, boiled it away until it was thick and syrupy.

Served with whipped cream, re-heated chocolate sauce, and a little shortbread biscuit, it was wickedly delicious to one who has renounced sugar!

Food for thought

There is that which has always been there,
Which has never left your side,
Which has always been present,
Whatever the feeling, the circumstance.
When you turn your attention to trusting that,
You surrender to yourself.
Anon

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What IS so wicked about knitting?

 

0000674Knitting was for old ladies or dowdy ones when I was a child. My stepmother and her friends, or anyone with pretensions to chic would not have been seen dead with a pair of knitting needles in their hands… tapestry, petit- point, yes, but not knitting needles… while as for a crochet hook… that belonged to the dark ages along with that funny little thing even older ladies used for tatting.

But knitting has a become deliciously domestically subversive activity these days, the latest yarn storming being perpetrated by a wonderful group of women, who are using knitting as their medium of protest… knitting against racism and sexism… which just about covers most problems of the western world, since these words are an umbrella for any number of ills, from poverty, lack of equal pay, discrimination etc etc.

This group of imaginative and courageous women meet at a coffeehouse on the south side of St Louis, where they discuss how to knit, purl and dismantle white supremacy. They are The Yarn Mission, a collective formed in October 2014 in response to the violence and police brutality in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

They aim to “use yarn to promote action and change to eradicate racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression”. Founded by CheyOnna Sewell, a PhD student in criminology, the group seeks to spark conversation about race and police brutality by engaging with curious passersby as they knit, all the while providing a comforting activity for beleaguered activists.

Their courage and their cause reminds me of the women of the Black Sash in South Africa… who though not knitters, wore a black sash to protest against apartheid for over twenty years, and who still work for the disadvantaged in their country. When meeting in groups was banned, these brave women stood alone with their banners and placards, lone figures of courage and conscience in a cruel world.

More recently, the KNAGs have evolved their own unique women’s protest. KNAG stands for Knitting Nanas against Gas, and they, through their knitting and demos are trying to preserve their Australian countryside against gas drilling and other threats to the land, the air and the water of their regions. Knitting grannies – against big business and environmental destruction – mothers and matriarchs – are the conscience of the country.

Over thirty years ago the very name of a Welsh group who called themselves Women for Life on Earth, gave me comfort when I felt isolated and as though I was mad in a farming community where hard- hearted practises towards animals and the earth were accepted as normal.

These women were the start of another unique women’s protest.
Women for Life on Earth evolved into the great woman’s peace protest at Greenham Common. In 1981, thirty six women and mothers protested against the US nuclear missile base at Greenham Common and were inevitably arrested. The following year, 30,000 women gathered to demonstrate peacefully against nuclear war, holding hands around the perimeter of the base. And the next year, 1983, 70,000 women came to hold hands along the fourteen- mile stretch of road between Greenham Common, the Aldermaston Nuclear site and Burghfield, the ordnance factory.

This peaceful women’s protest lasted for nineteen years, and during that time many women camped there for years… and were often arrested and frequently maligned in the media, parliament and everywhere else… Many mothers brought their baby’s booties and tied them on the wire around the camp. The tiny flower-like knitted baby shoes hanging on the wire symbolised that this was a protest by mothers, who wanted to protect their children and make the world safe for them.

It made me cry when I read about it. It was a very feminine protest, in that it evoked so many of the deepest feelings of women and of men who oppose violence… emotions like tenderness, sharing, caring, peacefulness , acceptance, and a deep connection to the planet being pillaged by the masculine energies of the world.

And when they weren’t linking hands around perimeter of cruise missile sites or getting arrested, what were these women doing? Knitting of course – a very centre-ing and meditative occupation when alone, and a very social one when in company. So it was fitting that a couple of years ago when a fourteen mile memorial march was made from Greenham Common past Aldermaston nuclear energy site to the ordnance factory site at Burghfield, it was marked by knitting.

For a year beforehand, knitters of the world, people from all over the globe had been knitting metre- long strips in pink wool, and on the day these strips were joined up the whole length of the march. Pink – the most gentle, peaceful colour in the spectrum, symbolising caring, feminine maternal energy.

In this subversive feminine warfare, wool against weapons, the colour pink has always played a role. In May 2006 in Copenhagen’s main square, a World War II tank was covered from cannon to caterpillar tracks with more than 4,000 pink squares, woven together from the handiwork of hundreds of knitters as a symbolic act of protest against Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq war, along with everyone else. Passersby stopped and helped sew the squares and cover the tank.

Knitting has had a long history of subversion… we all know about the fearsome Madame Defarge from ‘A Tale of Two Cities”, but in 1914 knitting also played a part in that war. Belgian officials encouraged elderly women to help in the war effort against the invading Germans.

BBC Radio 4 reported, “they would contact little old ladies who sat in their houses that happened to have windows that overlooked railway marshalling yards, and they would do their knitting and they’d drop one for a troop train, purl one for an artillery train and so and so on…” Because of this the official US and UK censors banned posted knitting patterns in the Second World War, in case they contained coded messages.

Even in my remote neck of the woods, we have our own yarn bombers, and even though their knitted graffiti is only fun, the fun police do their best to stamp it out. One Christmas, they knitted big red and white trimmed Santa hats for the two giant carved faces symbolising the sexes for the swept- up new public loos, only to have them whipped away the following day. But undeterred, the knitting subversives tried again, and this time their fun lasted a bit longer.

I caused raised eyebrows thirty years ago when I took my crochet into a long drawn out Royal Commission of Enquiry. I was using up scraps of wool, not on crochet squares but on one square which got bigger and bigger as the months went by. I watched with furtive amusement the veiled horror on the faces of the three judges on the first day as I sat among grave police and scientific experts, flaunting my coloured wools, and plying my crochet hook, and knew that most of the men were itching to tell me to take it away… they never dared try !

I was intrigued to discover a traditional knitting pattern in the English Guardian newspaper, entitled,’ Knit your own purse grenade’. At the end of the bona fide instructions it tells the knitter how to assemble the pieces, ending with: “you are now ready to throw your grenade”.

So knitting is not all it seems – it is much more than it seems, and a wonderful, wickedly mischievous way of making a stand. It’s a potent protest against all the ills that plague us; perhaps most satisfyingly of all, it annoys the politically correct… because the subversive quality of knitting is so hard to pin down. What IS so wicked about knitting?

 

 

PS An ironic tail piece. My subversive uncle and aunt used to set up a soup stall and sell soup to the CND anti- nuclear disarmament marchers whose annual protest march passed their door. Over the years with the money they earned, they were able to subsidise a new women’s wing at the local hospital, which the Queen Mother opened, and unwittingly congratulated my aunt on her fund-raising.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Two beloved grandsons with hollow legs for lunch today. Not having much time to prepare I did a quick and easy pudding… ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce. I couldn’t lay my hands on my Mrs Beeton cook book recipe with my infallible hot choc sauce, so I improvised with this hot chocolate fudge sauce.

Place in a heavy- bottomed saucepan two ounces or so of butter, four heaped tablespoons of brown sugar and about half a cup of cream. Bring this to the boil and add two chopped up Mars Bar, or squares of black chocolate, a teaspoon of vanilla, and boil stirring all the time until the chocolate is melted. Let it boil a little longer stirring all the time and just re-heat when you want it… easy-peasy! I’ve also used Toblerone bars for this… just as good, and I would think some rum would be good for the right audience!

 

Food for thought
Our spiritual destiny is to be in the Right place at the Right time. Anon

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A refined conversation

0000534There were six of us sitting at the dining table. The only husband was ‘a former naval person’, in the words of Winston Churchill signing off his telegrams to President Roosevelt. My husband wasn’t well enough to join us, so the rest of us were what some people would call old ladies, but I don’t think it had occurred to any of us.

There was the magnificent matriarch, well into her eighties, now a great grandmother, still jetting around the globe to various children and grand-children, still walking her dogs every day, still wiping the floor with everyone at bowls and golf, still giving lectures on arcane subjects to U3A, the university of the old, still beautiful, slim and elegantly dressed. She was entertaining two of the other ladies in her sea-side house, so I’d suggested they come for lunch.

One of her friends was a gardening devotee, fresh from a tour of the gardens in Melbourne …  sitting beside her, she and I discussed great Australian gardeners like Andrew Pfeiffer and Edna Walling. Magnificent matriarch’s other friend was the titled widow of a distinguished sailor, and a painter, while my other friend, who also painted and had spent her life in France, also sported a title. So you might think that we would generate a decorous and refined level of conversation. I’m not sure what triggered the subject of washing nappies, but this generated more energy, heat, and hysterical laughter than many other subjects before or since around that dining table.

We explored the horrors of scraping and rinsing, the wringing out and pegging on the line outside in freezing cold with frozen fingers. I described my primitive electric boiler on wheels, into which I placed a hose for the water. In it I put the horrid wet smelly nappies and soap powder, and boiled it up, steam filling the kitchen while a particular smell of boiling clothes would penetrate the place. When they’d boiled sufficiently, the heavy boiler had to be rolled to the kitchen sink, the nappies fished out one at a time and swung from the boiler into the sink for rinsing. We all agreed that we used a wooden spoon for this rather than the tongs. By now the kitchen was filled with steam and all the windows misted up.

The sailor’s widow claimed that her lot was worse than the rest of us. She didn’t even have a boiler, but had to fill a bucket and lug it across to boil it on the top of her stove, which then entailed heaving the boiling bucket with stewing nappies back across the kitchen to the sink. The magnificent matriarch reminded us of how the fingers used to swell with all this rubbing and wringing, and I remembered how I’d stopped wearing my wedding and engagement rings as my fingers had swelled so much.

French lady complained about the horror of having a baby sitting on your lap, and the sudden realisation that the bottom of the baby was sodden. Sailor’s widow and I swapped notes on the anguish of getting them dry in a cold climate. Her husband was stationed in Canada then, and mine in England. We carried stiff , square, frozen nappies in from outside, and draped them over a clothes horse or chair in front of the fire to thaw them and dry them. With two babies under two, I was often only one nappy ahead of each baby. No such thing as a dryer back then – a clothes horse in those days was made of wood, with hinges of heavy-duty linen.

We discussed the fine cotton inner nappy and the bulky outer terry towelling nappy, and the great day when plastic outer pants were invented, thus saving us from the trauma of the wet nappy sitting in the lap. Former naval person sitting at the end of the table sat riveted with horror at this refined lunch-time conversation, and rolling his eyes and groaning at intervals, just to remind us he was there.

We happily ploughed on eating our chicken vol- au- vent, and alcoholic dried fruit compote for pudding, his revulsion just giving an added edge to our enjoyment – maybe even revenge for the trials we had all endured. We envied flower expert’s possession of a high-ceilinged old fashioned kitchen which had meant she had room for an airing rack on a pulley to dry everything in the warm air up on the ceiling. French lady boasted that by the time she had her last child, she could order a nappy service in Paris to collect and deliver. We practically jeered at this decadence, sailor’s wife claiming with determination that she had had the worst experience with nappies, and who could argue… buckets, frozen nappies, an’all ?

Our children had it easy, we all agreed, and we had all noticed that our grandchildren never had any problems with nappy rash from their easy disposables. Threat though they are to the environment, this, we agreed was a huge plus, freeing  mothers from the guilt which we experienced if any of our babies  displayed that bright red rash, for which we blamed ourselves for not rinsing the nappies well enough, or not changing them often enough.

This burning subject and un-savoury occupation which kept five intelligent, well-educated  women from prosperous backgrounds fully occupied for years of their lives, would seem utterly trivial to today’s mothers, who not only enjoy disposable nappies, but washing machines and dryers which do the job at the touch of a button.

But today’s women also juggle jobs with housework, children and commuting. I don’t envy them. Though fifties women are considered a joke by most people now-a-days, we actually had time to spend with our children and ourselves. And our trials were very character-forming!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Dried fruit compote is one of the easiest luxurious puddings I know. Roughly chop about three cups of dried peaches, prunes, figs and apricots into three cups of cold tea and add rum to taste, plus a cup of brown sugar. Add a stick of cinnamon, six cloves, and two or three star anise and at least a teasp of vanilla essence. Gently heat and simmer until soft, and serve hot or cold with crème fraiche or whipped cream, and maybe a little shortbread biscuit. Peeled sliced apple and tamarilloes are also good in the mix. Add more liquid is needed.

Food for Thought

In Islam, especially among the Sufi orders, siyahat or ‘errance’ – the action or rhythm of walking – was used as a technique for dissolving the attachments of the world and allowing men to lose themselves in God.

Bruce Chatwin,  1940 – 1989  Traveller and writer

 

 

 

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Rise up children and be free

100_0314

How to make yourself very, very unpopular!  Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.

To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.

I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.

So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.

But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.

But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?

And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?

For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.

I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.

We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships.  How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?

I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised  children of traumatised parents?

Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out?  Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.”  Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.

A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…”  Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.

I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.

Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.

It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.

Food for Thought

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.

Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman

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The upsides and the downsides of being a woman

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Something made me re-read a book for girls which my Victorian grandmother had pressed on me when I was seven. It was about a girl who’d lost her mother, and whose military father was absent. It pressed a few buttons for me, though at seven I didn’t realise why. ‘The Wide Wide World’ by Miss Wetherell, was published in 1850, and became an instant best seller on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a vivid picture of rural America in the 1840’s, and the forerunner of all those other girls books. Jo March reads it in ‘Little Women’.

Ostensibly the story of an orphan who becomes a fervent Christian and whose faith sustains her throughout constant miseries and trials, re-reading it I saw something else. It was a perfect picture of the powerlessness of women, and of how ingrained this powerlessness was.  Ellen, the heroine, never has any choices, and even when she finds happiness with the upright Christian, John Humphreys, she is totally subservient to him, and finds her greatest happiness in pleasing him. So powerlessness was held up to generations of girls as being a virtue.

This theme of powerlessness was on my mind, after reading a wonderful list in another blog, of a person’s rights, which included having the right to say no, to remove oneself from an abusive situation, not have to explain oneself etc. And as I thought about these rights, and how I’d painfully allowed myself to claim them over a long life of invalidating myself, I realised that the reason most people – but especially women – have to be reminded of these rights is because they do feel powerless, and this is too often the result of the way we bring up our children.

We don’t allow them to be angry and say no, or choose what foods they eat, or what subjects they will take at school… too often from the day they are born, children are treated like brown paper parcels, and rarely given information about where they’re going or what they’re going to be doing; often their needs are secondary to the needs of parents or other pressures, and in so many tiny ways we unwittingly make children feel powerless and without a voice. They learn to please their parents by giving away their power and conforming. I’m not talking about permissive parenting here, but about the courtesy we give to adults, but not to children

In the book, Ellen is often in floods of tears, which reminded me of my childhood, and it’s only well into life I realised that I was always in tears as a child because I so often felt powerless and therefore angry. Saying how we feel, expressing anger, was not allowed, and it’s a skill that many of us haven’t mastered or taught our children.

So the only other way people can express their anger and powerlessness, is to be destructive, and we see this constantly in the courts, on the roads, and in relationships. But it was comparatively safe for a child to cry, so many children from Ellen onwards, learned to divert their anger into tears. As a mature adult whenever I was angry, to my annoyance I would cry…  until I realised that this was the way I’d dealt with anger as a child. They were tears of powerlessness.

It was gentle Anne Bronte in ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, published two years before ‘The Wide Wide World’, who challenged this powerlessness of women in her book which was considered shocking when it was published, and instantly became a best seller! In the book, which is about a woman trapped and terrorised by a drunken and sadistic bully, the wife, driven to desperation, slams the bedroom door in his face and locks him out, before eventually escaping.

This one act of slamming the door in her husband’s face reverberated throughout Victorian society. She had violated her husband’s rights, and broken the law at the same time. Some have called this the first feminist novel. This heroine had defied the centuries old acceptance that a woman was a father’s property until she married, when she became her husband’s property.

When Mrs Caroline Norton, whose husband was also a drunken bully, famouslyleft her husband in 1836, she not only had no rights to her children and no rights to divorce him, but when she earned money to support herself it became her husband’s property. The Married Women’s Property Act in 1870, finally allowed women some independence in England. But women were still powerless in many other ways, as Mary Lincoln’s incarceration in a lunatic asylum for no reason other than eccentricity, unresolved grief, and falling out with her son over money, showed.

While slavery – owning a person, buying and selling them, breaking up their families and working them to death  – became illegal in the western world, it wasn’t for many more years that women achieved the vote and a measure of freedom. And still, in some places in the west women are struggling for equal pay and equal rights.

Religion has not been on the side of women – as President Jimmy Carter has said:  “The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

They have in fact chosen to play the power game. And it isn’t just Christianity which has made this choice. There’s hardly a religion in the world which doesn’t rate women as lesser beings. In Jerusalem these days, women are now segregated on buses, not allowed to pray at the Wailing Wall, and subject to increasing discrimination by extreme members of the Jewish faith. And we all know the fate of too many women in Muslim, Hindu and other religious societies.

Marve Seaton in her courageous blog about the abuse of women, continually draws attention to female circumcision, breast ironing, gang rape, acid attacks, stoning and “honour” killings, (a euphemism for male sadism, ego, and heartlessness) amongst other outrages inflicted on women. Most religions, including extreme Christian sects, still think that it’s okay, and a husband’s right to beat his wife.

The UN figures show that two thirds of illiterate people in the world are women, that women work harder and longer hours than men as well as being responsible for their households, and  that men own most of the land in the world, and most of the money.

Women in the west who feel powerless, who are struggling with low wages, male chauvinism and hostility from the far right of some Christian churches, have it easy compared with their sisters in the third world and elsewhere…  and women everywhere are often too emotionally connected to the needs of their children to find any way out of their dilemmas of poverty and powerlessness.

But when I look back at the position both of slaves and of women and children a hundred and fifty years ago in the west, I can see how far we’ve come. And now it’s the time for our sisters in the rest of the world to start to edge towards their freedom too, which for many of them means feeling safe. Anne Bronte’s book also preached universal salvation, and it must have seemed an unattainable vision when she wrote ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’.

But western men did change their minds, and western women are well on their way now. So it IS possible that things can and will improve for our sisters in the rest of the world, that the climate of thought can change other men’s minds. Changing the way men think is the challenge for those women, and it’s our challenge to support them in doing it. We’ve come so far, that we can be optimistic that the time will come when we will all be free. Progress does happen. Change does happen. This is the blessing of modern times.

As Emily Dickinson said back then: “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Deep disappointment today! Desperate for something sweet, I decided to make myself a banana split. I knew I had some ice-cream in the deep freeze, because I’d seen the plastic container. Alas. It wasn’t labelled, and turned out to be soup. Undeterred, I dashed up to the village shop and bought a packet of vanilla ice-cream. By the time I was home I’d changed my mind, and instead of banana I made a quick hot chocolate sauce to pour over the ice-cream. It’s heaven, and used to be the children’s favourite pudding outside chocolate mousse.

It comes from Mrs Beeton, the famous Victorian cookery writer. All you need is one rounded dessertsp of cornflour, two of cocoa and three of sugar, half a pint of water, half an ounce of butter and some drops of vanilla. Mix the cornflour, cocoa and sugar together with a little of the water. Boil the rest of the water, and pour over the chocolate mix. Pour into a saucepan and boil for two minutes, add the butter and vanilla, and pour over the ice-cream. Delectable and cheap.

 

Food for Thought

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.
How does one look after others by looking after oneself?
By practicing mindfulness, developing it, and making it grow.
How does one look after oneself by looking after others?
By patience, non-harming, loving-kindness, and caring.   Samyutta Nikaya 47.19  Verse from the Buddhist scripture

 

 

 

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Lincoln’s wife – ‘that woman’

This is the story that Isn’t in the film on Lincoln. But I couldn’t look at Robert Lincoln in it, without thinking of how he betrayed his mother and had her certified as insane and bundled into a mental home ten years after her husband died.

After her husband’s death and then the death of Tad, Robert was her only son. He left her to grieve alone in her cheap hotel when Tad died and went off on holiday for a month. Later, after she had had a premonition that he was in danger, he decided he’d had enough.

Reasons for certifying her were her obsessive grief, belief in spiritualism and premonitions  – her husband had dreamt of his death shortly before his assassination – compulsive shopping, and embarrassing efforts to raise money – like selling her clothes – because she couldn’t afford to buy a house when she left the White House, and was lobbying for a pension..

Two men arrived at the hotel where she lived, took her off to court, where Robert had bribed six doctors who’d never seen her, to say she was insane, and the jury – of men – certified her. After three months, she managed to smuggle a letter to a woman friend who was also a lawyer though barred from practising because she was a woman, and finally extricated herself from the asylum. She went to live with her sister.

The actor playing Robert was a remarkable likeness, as was Sally Field, who wore copies of the same clothes that Mary Lincoln had been seen in, and also looked uncannily like her. Mary Lincoln, for all the slurs and vicious attacks on her in the newspapers of the time, was her husband’s most loyal and percipient supporter. She’d seen his greatness from the days of their courtship, when she turned down another suitor – Stephen Douglas –Lincoln’s political rival, and said she intended to marry a man who was going to be President, and it wasn’t him!

When her confidant Elizabeth Keckley, and she fell out, Keckley wrote a book about Mary’s years in the White House. Who of us would want our lives exposed by a friend we’d fallen out with? Over the years newspapers picked up every piece of malicious gossip, true or not and ran with it, while Robert’s explanations for his behaviour added to the picture of an unbalanced and unlovable woman. The lasting effects of all this negative publicity shows in her entry in Wikipedia in which all the slurs of that time are repeated as though they were true.

One of the last massive  public snubs this unhappy and difficult woman endured was when one of my favourite people, Ulysses Grant, and his wife Julia, were given a triumphant reception in Pau, where Mary Lincoln was living in frugal exile in France, and they failed to even call on her.

In psychological terms, she never got over her feeling of being a victim, which she was, attracting the very events which re-inforced her victimhood. She was a victim both of the times she lived in, and of her own frequently tactless behaviour. Displaced as a year- old baby by two more brothers, she became the forgotten middle child in a family of six, and then her mother died when she was six years old.

A new stepmother arrived swiftly in the family and one of her methods of dealing with her unwanted stepchildren was to shame and humiliate them, which to a vulnerable six year old would have been devastating. As more and more children arrived in the family via the stepmother, the older children became more side-lined and alienated.

Mary became a boarder at a school in walking distance from her home, and at seventeen left this unhappy house to live with her sister. She was pretty, mad about fashion, accomplished, speaking French fluently,  highly intelligent, and fascinated by politics, an unusual quality at a time when most girls left school and thought of nothing but clothes and who they would marry .

When she met and married Lincoln, unlike most other women then, Mary had neither slaves not servants. She kept her house like a new pin, became a noted cook and hostess for her husband’s political supporters, and brought up their children in a very modern way, easy-going and tolerant, as was Abraham. But the deaths of three sons and her husband devastated her already scarred psyche.

After each death she did become emotionally unbalanced, no doubt driven by that first deep wound of her mother’s death. And history has not been kind to her.  Today, she would have been understood and received the counselling and therapy she needed to exorcise her pain. Today we would have understood that her extravagant shopping was an attempt to comfort herself… who of us has not enjoyed some retail therapy at some time in our life?

Today, her child-rearing methods would have been accepted, as would her need for an outlet for her talents and energy. Today it would not be possible to bundle her off out of sight into a mental home because she was an embarassment. But it was okay to do that to a woman in the 1870’s.

Today, she would have received proper medical treatment for the post childbirth problems she suffered for the rest of her life, as well as for her constant migraines. She would not have been treated as a hysterical neurotic with no rights. (“Get that woman out of here,” a man said when she was weeping over her dying husband.)

Today, she would not have had to leave the White House with no means to buy a house for herself and her children, would not have had her husband’s estate withheld from her for two years because of dilatory executors, and she would not have had to beg for a pension. After leaving the White House she lived in cheap hotels for the rest of her life.

She had a happy marriage and a devoted husband, and had no need of VAWA, and the protection against violence that so many women need today all over the world. She needed the protection of rights and respect, and in Western countries at least, today women can no longer be treated like chattels or second class incompetents – they are equal under the law, they have a vote and a voice.

The contrast between Mary Lincoln’s treatment then, and women’s rights and opportunities today shows us that we have made progress, that civilisation is inching its way to a better world, and that though there are still so many areas of pain and poverty that need to be tackled, we can still hope to ease the suffering, knowing that we’ve achieved so much already.

Don’t miss that film ‘Lincoln’!

P.S. If I seem neglectful at reading your blogs, it’s I’m having great trouble with Word Press. According to the teenage son of the garage proprietor I’ve lost my cookies or something, but he can’t fix it… So it means a long drive into the nearest town to the computer man to get it done… I have visions of a computer buff scoffing a plate of chocolate brownies, but presumably computer cookies are something else….

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Summer and salad days. We have a glut of cauliflower, thanks to a generous neighbour. We’ve done cauliflower cheese of course, but my favourite way with cauliflower is raw. This recipe is for one person, just increase the amounts for each person. Grate a cup, to a cup and a half of cauliflower, chop lots of parsley, hard boil one egg and chop three or four dates. Pour a tablsp of almond chips – not flakes- into a non stick frying pan, and watch carefully until the almonds brown in their own oil. Tip into the grated cauliflower immediately or they go on cooking, and mix everything together gently with enough good mayonnaise to bind it. Sometimes I add grated carrot, sometimes chopped banana, but this is the mix I like best. It’s filling enough on its own for a meal.

Food for Thought

The success of any great moral enterprise does not depend on numbers.              William Lloyd Garrison   1805 – 1879     One of the great heroes of Abolition, whose life was sometimes endangered by his crusade against slavery. He also campaigned for women’s suffrage, and civil rights for blacks.

 

 

 

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