Tag Archives: antarctic

A peculiar Christmas feast and the 4th Wise Man

100_0742Polar explorer Captain Scott and his team celebrated Christmas on their way to the South Pole in 1911. As a foodie, I find their feast a little lacking in… je ne sais quoi …

After his historic Christmas dinner with Wilson and Oates, Bowers and Evans, Scott recorded in his diary what he grandly termed four courses: ” The first, pemmican, full whack, with slices of horse meat flavoured with onion and curry powder and thickened with biscuit; then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger.”

Pemmican was the classic polar food, preserved, dried meat and fat… not my idea of gourmet nosh, but Birdie Bowers, and Taff Evans both felt so filled with warmth and human kindness after this extraordinary collection of unpalatable rubbish, that they decided when they got back to England they would: “get hold of all the poor children we can and just stuff them full of nice things,” in bachelor Bowers’ words.

I just feel the polar feast could have been warmed up with a wee dram of whisky perhaps, or even a swig of medicinal brandy. But then, I feel the cold.

Bowers was responsible for this jolly Christmas celebration, having smuggled the food over and above the allowed weights for the journey. Once the recalcitrant and desperate Mongolian ponies – who had suffered so terribly on the sea journey to the Antarctic, and who had then struggled endlessly in appalling weather and conditions with food they couldn’t eat- had been killed, every man carried his own food and equipment on the heavy sleds.

Bowers had always sneaked his night-time biscuit to his pony. On the night before they were all killed, Wilson, St Francis’s man, gave his whole biscuit ration to the poor creatures, like the condemned man’s last meal. This was the only time I cried during the film: ‘Scott of the Antartic’ with John Mills.  I was twelve, and blow the men, it was the ponies I wept for.

Thankfully my Christmases have never been as cold as theirs, though it felt like it in the hall in which we rehearsed for the Nativity Play when I was five. I had no idea what a rehearsal was, or why we had been marched – or straggled would be a better word – to the hall just down the road. Neither did I really understand the story we were acting in. We seemed to stand around for hours in the unheated hall while teachers talked animatedly to each other, and shifted bodies and chairs around the stage.

I just knew that the white nightie thing I was wearing like all the other little girls, was freezing. To cap it all – like the other angels in their nighties – I had a boring triangle to keep chinging on. This was a watershed in my understanding of the world. I understood then for the first time, that boys had all the fun. Not only were they all dressed up as kings and shepherds, but they got to play drums and tambourines, trumpets and recorders.

I felt as aggrieved as I did when I first saw huge Persil ads, in which the dark haired woman had the grubby grey sheets, and a bright blonde had the sparkling Persil washed sheets. Apparently blondes were better than brunettes.

But that’s another story… a year later my grandmother took me to a midnight carol service. I was riveted. A boy sang the first verse to: ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ in an un-earthly soaring treble, and then read the lesson. At one point his clear voice rang out with the words “And Mary pondered these things in her heart”. My heart leapt. I had no idea what the beautiful words meant, but for many years I treasured them and pondered them in my heart too.

The next memorable nativity play was when my daughter was five, and she was playing Mary. I thought she was utterly precious as she gazed at the world with her big brown eyes, her little face framed by a blue head covering, her solemn gaze taking in far more than I ever did. I sat and watched her with tears running down my face and my heart nearly burst with love. And the same when my small son sang the solo so sweetly at his Christmas concert.

Much the same too at all my grandsons’ nativity plays, only not tears, laughter. My heart nearly burst with love then too, and lots of giggles, as the head mistress darted down from her pulpit to drag a little finger from some-one’s little nose, and then he simply used the other finger on the other hand and the other nostril as soon as she was safely back in the pulpit.

None of them were magnificently garbed magi, just lowly shepherds … but we all sang the sombre, beautiful carol, ‘We three kings of Orient are…’ My favourite wise man is the fourth one, and that old Christmas legend telling his story is one of the most beautiful Christmas stories, to my mind…

He had set out with the other three Magi, but on the way, they came upon a traveller who’d had an accident, and the fourth wise man stopped to help him. Seeing he would be a while, he told the other three to carry on with their journey, and he would catch them up. But he never did, for he kept meeting some creature or traveller who needed his help to get them to safety, and by the time he got to Bethlehem the kings had been and gone, and so had the Child he was seeking.

He spent many years following the trail which had always gone cold when he got there, to Egypt and Nazareth and elsewhere. He was constantly delayed by yet another needy person who asked for his help. The gifts he brought and the stock of gold he had carried with him for the journey, dwindled until he had hardly enough left to buy himself food.

And then he heard that Jesus was in Jerusalem. He hurried there, and arrived in time to stand and watch Jesus carry his cross through the streets. He had one final treasure that he was keeping to give to the One he had been seeking, a beautiful sapphire jewel. But just before Jesus passed, a Roman soldier began to assault a young woman. The fourth wise man intervened, and by now, old and frail, was unable to stop the soldier. Finally he offered him his last possession, the precious sapphire, his gift for the Messiah, and the soldier took it and left.

At that moment Jesus reached the fourth wise man, and he knelt and asked Jesus’ forgiveness for having nothing for him because he’d stopped so often on the way to help the hungry or lost or needy. And Jesus looked at him and said: ‘For as much as you have done it unto these, you have done it unto me.’

In other words… we are all one… so a happy Christmas-tide to us all, dear friends around the world of blogging.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When Christmas is here, our little purply-red plums are ripe, and though I gave this recipe last year, I think it’s worth repeating  The plums which are only so-so for eating raw, are delicious when cooked. Every-one who receives a basket of these fruits also gets the recipe I use – borrowed from Nigella Lawson.

To a kilo of plums – more or less, use 300 ml of red wine – more rather than less! Nigella says stone them – I don’t bother, the stones come out quite easily when cooked.

Put the plums in an oven proof dish. In a saucepan boil the wine with two bay leaves, half a teasp of ground cinnamon, two cloves, one star anise, and 200g of honey. Pour over the plums, seal with foil or a lid, and bake for an hour or longer at 160 degrees, until they’re tender. You can keep them in the fridge for three days, and you can freeze them.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice-cream, or custard. I also think they’d be good with rice pudding on a cold day. The aromatic scent while they are cooking is so delectable that I’d love to catch it in a bottle and spray it regularly around the kitchen.

Food for thought

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Comedian  extraordinaire, Bob Hope  1903 – 2003 His grandson said that when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, he characteristically quipped: “ Surprise me .”

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Voices from the Void

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My accident was a fascinating experience – in retrospect! I was driving happily down the main highway to the village crossroads in my little silver car about ten years ago, when a large, heavy old car – solid as – shot out of the side road, without stopping at the Stop sign.

 

The daffy woman driving it was oblivious to me, and was going to hit me right in the driver’s seat. I had less than a second to brake, turn the wheel to the left to try to lessen the impact and hurl a prayer into the void as I faced what I thought was certain death. “Help me”, I silently implored. The braking meant that she hit more of the right side of the bonnet than me, and the deafening sound of the impact nearly shocked me into the next world.

 

In what felt like slow motion my car ricocheted away from hers, with my hands still on the wheel, and I just wanted to hit the brake and stop. But if I did, I was going to hit a line of parked cars. As the impact shot my car towards a parked blue car, I heard a voice say: “keep going, keep steering”. I did as I was told, using every ounce of my shattered will power to do it, and as I longed to stop, a red car loomed in front, and the voice said: “keep going, keep steering”. I thought, at the end of my endurance, surely I can stop now, but another car loomed. “Keep going”, the firm imperative voice instructed. I did as I was told, and finally, still steering, still going, came to rest safely 180 degrees from the impact, on a  side road where there was nothing. And by now people were running out of their shops having heard the big bang.

 

I was reminded of that Voice last night, when I was re-reading Joe Simpson’s incredible account of nearly dying, and surviving, on a Peruvian mountain. He had broken his leg and his ankle, and then slipped into a crevasse, so deep and dark he had no idea where it ended. His climbing partner thought he was dead and cut the rope between them in order to survive himself, and Simpson fell even deeper into the terrifying black space.

 

Somehow, using climbers’ skills I don’t even understand, using his ice axes, he eased himself endlessly up the icy sides of the crevasse and out onto the cruel mountainside. Then, without food or drink for over three days, he dragged, hopped, and hauled himself over rocks and glaciers, ice and snow; he got himself back to base camp about eight miles away over terrain, and through cold that I cannot even imagine. And he would never have made it without the Voice.

 

” It was as though there were two minds within me arguing the toss. The Voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled…. as I set about obeying the orders of the Voice….”

 

When he wanted to rest or sleep, the Voice would wake him : “go on, keep going… faster. You’ve wasted too much time. Go on before you lose the tracks”… Later, as he fumbled blindly, wanting just to sink into the snow and sleep, the Voice urged him on: “don’t sleep, don’t sleep, not here. Keep going. Find a slope and dig a snow hole… don’t sleep”.

 

The Voice got him back to base camp the night before the other climbers were leaving first thing in the morning. The rest of the story is in his book ‘Touching the Void.’

 

His story reminded me of Charles Lindbergh’s experience when he flying The Spirit of St Louis over  the Atlantic on his historic 34 hour flight across to France. Lindbergh, not noticeably a spiritual man, but one who was very impressed by the Nazis, had a unique experience, in which, unable to keep awake, his conscious mind fell asleep, while a mind entity standing “apart” held firm.  This state gave way to a new extraordinary mind, which at first he feared to trust, and which took over.

 

‘He became conscious of other presences, advising him on his flight, encouraging him, conveying messages unattainable in normal life… He felt himself in a transitional state between earthly life and a vaster region beyond, as if caught in the magnetic field between two planets and propelled by forces he cannot control, “representing powers incomparably stronger than I’ve ever known”.’

 

Battered by winds and storms, and guided and supported, he arrived safely in France. This was like the experience of some of Ernest Shackleton’s men. As they struggled through the Antarctic snows at the extremity of their strength they became conscious of another member of the party, ‘who could not be counted,’ but who was always with them.

 

Whatever we call them… angels, spirits, voices, these visitations are always helpful and benevolent. In each of these cases – and there are many more – these unseen energies are rescuing us from situations in which we are powerless. Regardless of belief in a god or not, these inexplicable and indefinable happenings make me feel that the world is a supportive and benevolent place, with Resources to help us all, whatever our beliefs, if we are open and available for help.

 

Sometimes we ask, sometimes the help comes unbidden, as when an accident happened in Wellington at a Christmas party a few years ago. A balcony collapsed on a two story house, hurling all the party-goers to the ground. A heavily pregnant woman said she felt perfectly safe because a great white angel was holding her, and put her safely on the ground. She was unhurt.

 

Some people find it hard to believe these things. But it doesn’t really matter. When they happen, they happen because they’re needed. But a faith that there is help available does seem to make things fall into place quickly and more often. I sometimes think that there is more preventive thinking in that other Reality than we realise, so that we don’t have to be rescued from the big dramas. So deciding to drive another way today, may mean we’ve been prodded to avoid an accident. Locking a door we never normally lock, may be a message from our helpers because we need protection on that day. When we listen, there are so often messages to hear, and when we look, so many subtle signposts.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

Not much in the house until I go shopping, so I’ll cheer us up with a cheese soufflé – quick, cheap and easy. The most difficult thing about it, is tying some greaseproof paper round the outside of the soufflé dish so that the soufflé stands up above the brim of the dish, and looks spectacular.

 

Next step is to separate three eggs. After greasing the dish, I make a thick white sauce, with two ounces of flour, two ounces of butter, and half a pint of milk, salt and pepper. When it’s bubbled a few times, so you know it’s cooked, stir in four or five ounces of grated cheese with a pinch of cayenne. I often add Parmesan to strong cheddar.

 

Stir in the egg yolks. Putting this aside, whip the egg whites until stiff in a large bowl. Then gently stir in the cheese mixture in three lots. I use a slotted spoon to make this process as gentle as possible. All you have to do now is pour it into the soufflé dish and cook in a moderate oven. Serve at once. I often make a little tomato sauce to go with this, and maybe some thinly sliced green beans. Salad if you’re feeling healthy. This is enough for three, and masses for two- but easy to eat too much…

 

Food for Thought

 

Notice in the grandest and stuffiest club in London, the Athenaum: Will the clergyman who stole my umbrella kindly return it. This club consists half of gentlemen and half of clergymen, and it is clear that no gentleman would steal an umbrella.

 

 

 

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Culture, History, Glamour and Beauty

There’s a mysterious magic in some names and places, names like The Akhond of Swat, places like The Forbidden City, Venice, Timbuctoo or Mandalay. Sadly as the world has shrunk, and tourism has tainted so many remote places, some of the magic has melted away. It’s as though the less we know, the more romantic a place is.

Aleppo is one of those romantic places, but we’ve always known plenty about it, and it’s still a magic place. It’s so old that people were living there over seven thousand years ago. It’s seen every conqueror in history, from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Mamluks and Ottomans, and now the Assads. It’s architecture is older than the Greeks, legend has it that Abraham lived nearby with his flocks, Alexander was here in AD 333, and Saladin made it here too, among many others.

Since the sixteen century many Europeans lived here too, as Aleppo was the first city to have its own consuls, the first being the Venetian consul who built his house here in 1599. The same family have occupied it for centuries, like many other Europeans who came from places like Italy and Austria and stayed, building handsome homes, collecting exquisite works of art and historic libraries. The famous Baron’s Hotel which rivalled all the great hotels of the world hosted royalties from all over the world – mostly Europe! – travellers like Freya Stark and Patrick Leigh Fermor, statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt and Earl Mountbatten, the rich and famous like the Rockefellers and Charles Lindbergh, Agatha Christie and many more. The great Citadel has stood defiant for centuries, the Souk is the longest in the world at nearly 13 kilometers, while all around are ancient ruins, Roman and Greek, Crusader, and Assyrian.

And now – like Babylon, where US troops dug tank trenches, and wiped out ancient Sumerian cities; like Kabul, where the museum with relics from Alexander’s visit was obliterated by Russian and Taliban fighters; like the Bamiyan Buddhas, bombed by the Taliban; like Bayreuth, once called the most beautiful city in the world, destroyed in civil war  – this treasure, which is not just part of the heritage of the Middle East, but is the heritage of humanity, is also being destroyed. Both people and history are being shown no mercy.

The famous Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled by the troops of Assad, an Assyrian temple has been destroyed, and battles have been fought among the famed “dead cities,” the Graeco-Roman cities long abandoned, but preserved in the dry heat of the desert.  When the rebels take refuge behind the thick walls of ancient castles, Syrian troops haven’t hesitated to destroy these historic monuments in order to kill their countrymen hiding behind them.

Queen Zenobia’s legendary city of Palmyra is surrounded by Syrian troops, camped in the castle above the city, and there’s a tank park in the Valley of Tombs. It’s even rumoured that trenches have been dug in the Roman city. All these places, like the places devastated in Iraq, have nurtured many cultures for millenniums, from Sumerian and Byzantine to Christian and Moslem. And desperate men are destroying this heritage. Places of beauty, symbolism and significance for mankind are once again being devastated, as was much of Europe in World War Two, and the previously untouched historic cities like Sarajevo and Dubrovnik in later conflicts.

Africa is also our heritage, the cradle of the human race, that mysterious continent which hosts so many magnificent creatures seen nowhere else on the planet. And the native people who live there today are part of the delicate balance between man and nature, that unlike westerners, they have managed to preserve where they are left in peace. But here too, the ancient, misty culture of mankind, and the existence of the unique creatures who share this world with us, is threatened. Not by war here, but by heartless pleasure seeking. The Masai who inhabit the Serengeti in Tanzania, are facing eviction so that rich oil millionaires, kings and princes from the Gulf can hunt and shoot the wild life there.

The Arctic and Antarctic are also the common heritage of us all. And they too are being despoiled by the oil rush, by tourism, by global warming and power struggles. Our planet is so small now that we are all affected by whatever happens. Recently on TV, Professor Brian Cox, the famous physicist, picked up a huge diamond, and told his astonished audience that we are all so connected that when he rubs the diamond, it affects the stars in space.  So we are certainly all affected by all these events happening in our small world. We Are all one, as the mystics have always asserted.

What can we do to make a difference? Thanks to souldipper.wordpress.com pointing me to Scilla Elworthy’s video on TED, I know that there are many people working to end conflict in all its forms. And the best way? Start with ourselves… which means that though we may hate what’s happening, we can’t hate the people involved – because they all think they’re doing the right thing just like you and me!

And you can help the Masai by Googling Avaaz.org Stop the Serengeti Sell-off.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

An inpromptu little gathering for drinks with a few friends meant rustling up something to soak up the wine, so they would n’t, in the words of a funny article I read, have to drive drunkenly home through country lanes. A dish of olives, and some chicken pate and crackers were the usual nibbles, but I decided instead of doing something with salmon that I’d make a sardine pate. Quick and easy. Two tins of sardines, four tablespoons of cream cheese, some squeezed lemon, salt and pepper, and lots of finely chopped parsley. No need to bother with a mixer – which I don’t have – it mashes into a lovely smooth spread/dip- call it what you will. With thin slices of artisan olive bread left over from lunch, it was a hit, and cheap withal.

 

Food for Thought

Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is only of interest to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees.             E.F. Schumacher. 1911 – 1977  Economist and writer of ‘Small is Beautiful ‘.

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