Tag Archives: books

A Blogger’s Farewell

This is a sad goodbye. Before I drop one of many balls in the air, I have to make a decision.

I’m in the middle of self –publishing a collection of my earlier blogs for family and friends who don’t have a computer or don’t read blogs… a little Christmas stocking filler….

Self-publishing is quite time- consuming, especially when you live an hour away from the printer, and want to discuss spacing, type-faces, size of headings, capitals, design the page lay-out, whether to up or change the italics, design the cover, edit and proof read and lots of other details .

I do my own editing and proof-reading since it’s been part of my work experience (my proudest boast is that knowing nothing of rugby, I edited a gold plated edition of the World Book of Rugby, and picked up when the rugby writer himself  had muddled James Small with Jason Little!). Editing takes time – tightening up sentence construction, and grammar, weeding out unnecessary words, especially adverbs, making sure all the verbs are active and not passive apart from the obvious spelling and punctuation. And then the proof-reading.

I’ve been doing this, as well as spending one day a week with clients who come for counselling, and am also in the midst of writing another book, and have to revise the completed manuscript of another book. I also write articles for a parenting magazine, and do proof reading. And I’m selling my recent book ‘The Sound of Water’ – packing it up to send to libraries and to post to people. I didn’t put it into bookshops, as they take most of the profit on a book. But by doing radio interviews, local newspaper interviews and talking to groups – I’m speaking at another book club next week – the book sells.

I’ve managed to juggle these balls with the time spent on blogging, which as we all know isn’t just writing a blog, but is also a very time-consuming activity!

The ball that I can’t drop, is my 83 year old husband, whose health has taken a dive, and we are into a round of regular hospital visits and side-trips to doctor, x-ray departments, and all the paraphernalia of modern medicine. (As an alternative treatment addict myself, this is all anathema to me.) And I also have family and friends who need me at different levels of engagement.

So I’ve decided that blogging, which has been an amazing distraction from everyday problems, and an enjoyment of unsuspected depths, is the thing that for now has to go on the back burner. The thing that really twists my heart is saying good-bye to the wonderful, loving friends I’ve made.

Reading people’s blogs means that you also read their soul, for blogging is not just creative but a very deep emotional engagement with bloggers who are living lives of challenge and emotional depths. Bloggers share their self doubts, their pain, their heart-aches, and their interests, their joys, their spiritual search. And it’s been very precious to experience that depth of tenderness and vulnerability from the beautiful men who blog. With women we are not surprised to experience their emotional open-ness, but to have that same experience with men, feels very rare and beautiful.

The people – men and women – I’m talking about, will all know who they are, and they are beloved.

I shall miss the animals too, Fuzzy and Boomer, Zoey the Cool cat, fat piggie Charlotte and Ton-ton in his smart blue coat, Sunni’s mischievous little darlings, and Sharla’s kitty-kats who enjoy sitting on the dashboard on long journeys and watching the road ahead. Buckminster and Amber, what will I do without you? How will you manage in Sweden? I shall still follow silently the stories of your lives and quietly click the ‘likes’. But for now, I have to cope with my life.

I’ve learned and discovered so much from reading other’s blogs… blogging has been an education for me. And thank you, wonderful friends who’ve encouraged me, given me the confidence to become more direct and honest in my own writing, and showed me that we can all be accepted for who we are, and not for what we do. It’s been such a privilege to enter this world, and to be accepted, and to make such deep and loving connections. I can’t bear to say goodbye to you, so will continue to read you and to love you.

P.S. If you’re interested in my next book, it’s called ‘Chasing The Dragon – an addiction to life.’ It’s 195 pages.

The ebook version is out now and it will be available free for a limited time on:

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254812

and on some platforms Smashwords distributes to (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc);

and on Amazon Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Dragon-addiction-living-ebook/dp/B00A99RERO/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1353492963&sr=1-3&keywords=chasing+the+dragon

for 99 cents (that is currently their minimum price).

It will also be available as a paperback on Amazon for US$12. 99 plus postage.

To order the printed in New Zealand book (with flaps and deckle edges, printed on Munken Cream paper) which is available now at NZ $30, US $24, and 15 UK pounds, contact Valerie Davies at:

Merlincourtpress@gmail.com

Or  Merlincourt Press,

P.O. Box 161

Leigh 0947, Rodney

New Zealand

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Books That Taught Us The Secrets of Life

As I listened to the Whiffenpoof Yale Choir singing ” As I was young and foolish”, at their concert  last night, I thought I know all about that… I was twelve in 1950 when we were given a lecture during science on human reproduction. It was very boring, nine tenths of it was a film about rabbits , and the last tenth was a diagram of stick figures with arrows demonstrating that the sperm passed from the man to the woman.

“Any questions?” said the science mistress at the end of this, in a very repressive voice, to which I was totally insensitive. I pressed brashly on.  “Yes, how did it get from the man to the woman”, I asked? “You should have watched the film.” she snapped, as the whole class took a deep collective in-breath. “But I did”, I protested. End of lesson. It didn’t really matter, I was more pre-occupied with Baroness Orxy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel at that stage… “they seek him here, they seek him there….”

A year later I got the lowdown on the rudiments of human reproduction in the school train. Rude was what it seemed to me, and I looked with utter distaste at the forty year old English master whose wife was having a baby. How could an elderly man like him – I thought to myself – how could he?

The next step in my education was the publication of Nevil Shute’s “A Town Like Alice”, which was the subject of hushed talk in the Lower Fourth. Most people think it’s about a couple who fall in love during their brutal imprisonment by the Japanese. But we were n’t interested in that. There were two sentences in the whole book which riveted us. The couple found each other after the war, and went off on holiday to try to re-capture their original feelings. One night she wore a sarong like the one she’d worn in Malaya, and this did the trick apparently. We read with bated breath the words “Did what I think happened last night really happen?” and read with some horror, her strange reply: “Well, I’m covered in bruises.” This was puzzling on several counts. What on earth goes on, we pondered.

Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the Durbervilles” was the next heroine who furthered my general knowledge on this rather arcane subject back then. I discovered from this book that human reproduction was a very risky business, which in Tess’s case, led from seduction to unwanted pregnancy, a husband who abandoned her on their honeymoon when she told him, and then the seducer rescuing Tess from poverty and despair, until the husband pops up again. In her rage she stabs the wretched seducer, and ends up being hanged. Not a good look for ignorant teenagers searching for information.

But it came in a much more attractive package when I was at boarding school. This blue book was wrapped in brown paper so that none of the teachers knew we had it. It was furtively passed around the senior girls’ dormitory, and I was at the end of the line, being the most recent arrival. Finally I got to the pages of Frank Yerby’s  “The Foxes of Harrow”, which were causing all the excitement. I discovered from this sex manual that women could be frigid – what on earth was that? And the hero of this tale – if hero he could be called – got so fed-up with his frigid wife that he packed her off to town to be de-fridged by a sort of white witch, who was actually a Black American.

When she returned to her home, and expectant husband, they both couldn’t wait to get up to the bedroom, where the husband stripped off her clothes as fast as he could. But his patience gave out when he fumbled with her pearl necklace, and to our collective relish, he ripped it apart, and priceless pearls cascaded unheeded around the bedroom. Wow, we all thought!  You don’t wear jewellery in bed! This couple too, seemed to have had a rough ride, because in the morning, one or other of them had a back which had, in the words of the story, been “raked” by fingernails. Hell’s teeth! as my father would have said.

Finally Gone with The Wind fell into my eager hands. Not much sex here, but a manual on childbirth for me. Melanie Wilkes giving birth while Atlanta burned around her, and stifling her groans of agony by wringing her hands on a knotted towel stood me in good stead.

When I gave birth to my first child, having moved house as an army wife, and having slipped too through the cracks of any ante-natal classes – if indeed they existed then – I only had Melanie’s example to guide me. I lay on my bed of pain, sunk into the deepest, blackest pit, suppressing my groans like Melanie had done. Somewhere high up above me I heard the midwife say to my husband you might as well go home, she’s asleep.

So off he went, and I didn’t see him for another six months. When I was wheeled back to my room in the morning, there was a brief telegram:” Gone to Cyprus”. The unspoken other half of this communication was: “to be shot at by Greeks and Turks.” His regiment had been bundled off to Cyprus to quell another insurrection.

We were too young to qualify for army allowances, so back home, sans money, family, neighbours, phone and car – since I couldn’t drive the one holed up in the garage, I needed help. I turned to Dr Spock.

Pregnant again as soon as the husband returned unharmed by Greeks or Turks, for the next few years the only book I read was Dr Benjamin Spock’s child rearing manual, as I wrestled with colic and constipation, solids and sleep deprivation. And since those desperate days, the raunchy reading of my youth hasn’t had the same allure. We called them Blue books back then, though they probably weren’t,  and I can’t see me thumbing through Fifty Shades of Grey now… especially since a survey has shown that a surprisingly large number of readers never bother to read to the end!

Dr Spock, on the other hand, I read from cover to cover. Not once but many times, hoping to enlighten my ignorance on how to cope with babies. But really, I needed more than Dr Spock, just as I needed more than Melanie.

Recipe for Threadbare Gourmets

Yesterday I ran out of time and ingredients, and was feeling guilty that I’d been out two nights running leaving the old chap with a cold meal. One night at a concert listening to The Whiffenpoofs, the Yale Choir, and last night, Tai Chi. So I felt I had to cook, and an omelette didn’t seem good enough. Though this is a real threadbare meal, it’s one we love. You need a cup of long grain rice, well washed, and put on to boil with two scant cups of water, salt, three cloves and quarter to half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Clamp the lid on tightly and boil on as low as possible for twenty minutes. Then pull off the heat and leave covered for another ten minutes. Meanwhile gently fry one or two onions, and two cups of chopped celery, adding several cloves of chopped garlic towards the end. At this stage I either chop up some cooked chicken, open a tin of shrimps, or fish out some frozen prawns, and stir whatever it is into the onion mixture. Allow two eggs for two people, but three eggs for four – and this amount of rice is probably enough for four reasonable people – beat the eggs lightly and stir into the pan for fifty seconds. Then add the rice, gently stirring to mix it all up. If I have spring onions to hand, I chop them in. Eat immediately with some green salad. (Just don’t try to eat the cloves.) It’s a very delicately flavoured meal.

Food for Thought

The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.          Lao-Tse     Ancient Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, and considered to be the founder of Taoism

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More about Books

Between six and a half and nearly nine, I lived with my grandmother. My mother had disappeared, not to be found until fifty years later, and my father was at the war from when I was a year old until nearly nine. Those two and a half years I spent with my grandmother were the happiest years of my childhood, and one of the reasons, apart from the fact that she loved and spoiled me, was that she brought loads of book into the house when she came to look after us,

I was allowed to read everything, and my range was a wide one, from Enid Blyton’s fairy story The Faraway Tree, published by instalments in a magazine called Sunny Stories, which I collected from the grocer every week, to Foxe’s Martyrs, a huge leather bound book with engraved illustrations with a piece of flimsy paper covering each one. It was a ghoulish record of the three hundred Englishmen and women who Bloody Mary had had burned at the stake for being Protestants. Foxe’s Martyrs wasn’t one of my  favourite books, but it was there.

Also there, were bound copies of Victorian ladies journals, with stories about beautiful orphans, though of noble birth, and young men with crisp, fair curls, sporting striped blazers, straw boaters and high moral character, who rescued these pure young maidens from lives of poverty and humiliation.

Little Lord Fauntleroy was also pressed on me by my grandmother, as was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which sold even more copies in England than in the US, was one of my grandmother’s favourites, and after reading it at eight, I became a fervent abolitionist. Which no doubt would have warmed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s warm heart.

I never had any trouble with poor old Uncle Tom, in spite of today’s politically correct connotations. I loved him for his moral courage and kindness, which I could understand even at eight. He died for his principles, refusing to inflict on other slaves the same cruel beatings that killed him. Eliza and her child fleeing over the frozen river haunted my nightmares.

The other book on my grandmother’s shelves which shaped my life even more than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was John Halifax, Gentleman, written by Mrs Craik. Published in 1865, the year of the ending of the American Civil War, it was about an orphaned boy who found a home in a Quaker household, and through espousing Quaker virtues became a successful and prosperous pillar of the community. Sounds pretty boring, but even as a child, I loved him for his dignity, integrity, moral courage and loving heart. Like Uncle Tom, he never sacrificed his principles for the sake either of safety or material gain.

When my father returned from overseas, I went to live with him and our new stepmother. I never mentioned these two books, after they had laughed themselves silly when I disclosed to them in an unguarded moment that I had read Little Lord Fauntleroy. I thought maybe these two books might also be material for grownup mockery, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I discovered that they were both well regarded classics. When I re-read John Halifax in my twenties, I realised that the principles that he had lived his life by had been the unconscious grounding of my own philosophy.

My first Christmas with them, my new parents gave me a copy of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women.  Like most children of my generation and previous ones, I read it again and again, and the principles of integrity, kindness and concern for others influenced me deeply, as I’m sure it influenced so many other girls back then. Thanks to Jo March, I also began writing, and produced my own newspaper, somewhat plagiarised, until it was discovered by the adults and became a great joke.

 The last book which influenced me all my life was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, a birthday present. Black Beauty, the story of a horse and his friend Ginger, and how they were exploited by human beings they trusted, until these two fine thoroughbreds had been worn down to become half-starved, broken down cab horses, entered my soul. I’ve always been thankful that we use the motor car now, instead of horses, no matter how much pollution cars cause. Black Beauty taught me to love and respect all animals and all life, including the birds of the air and the creatures in the sea.

Louisa Alcott was brought up and taught by Transcendentalists, including Emerson and Thoreau, while Anna Sewell’s parents were Quakers. So when I look back at the four books that in many ways have shaped my character, I see that they were all written by women in the middle of the nineteenth century, all of whom lived in families and communities with the highest ideals and with a commitment to actually practising what they preached (Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband used to hide escaped slaves).  I feel I was so lucky that these four books came my way at the age that I was so that their philosophies became an integral part of my values and thinking.

As the years have gone by, and I’ve explored different creeds and religions, in the end, the core of them seemed to be the principles that the American Transcendentalists and the English Quakers lived by. So there’s never been any conflict between other creeds and the old beliefs that I picked up from these old books. I often wonder which are the books today that do this same job of inspiring and grounding children in the ideals and values of our civilisation.

I’ve watched the Harry Potter films with my grandchildren, and can see that it’s a struggle between good and evil. But the books that taught me, were about the immediate, down to earth, everyday situations, in which truthfulness, and kindness,  moral courage and selflessness were the standards by which the heroes and heroines lived and died in these old books. And these Victorian books were lovely – gold embossed covers, thick paper and beautiful type-faces.

There are so many well written and inspiring books for children and young adults these days, and the nature of our civilisation is such that there are actually hundreds. So instead of a handful of classics uniting people, so that they knew the same stories and shared the same experiences, today there are so many stories that people don’t have a background in common.

I remember the true story of British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who kidnapped a German general in Crete in 1944. They smuggled him up into the mountains. In the morning as the shocked and despondent general was looking over the mountains in the dawn, he quoted some lines to himself in Latin from the Roman poet Horace. Leigh Fermor recited the rest of the ode with him, and in his words:’…for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

Stories like this remind us of the power of books and words and art.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve been so busy with blogging and making lemon chutney with our surfeit of lemons at this time of year, that I haven’t had time to prepare a sustaining lunch for my hungry 82 year old husband. Quick onion soup will have to do, with hot rolls.

I have some lovely stock from the potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts all cooked in the same water yesterday, so that also makes me feel virtuously frugal. The soup takes four large onions sliced thinly and stewed in butter. When they’re soft, stir in a tablespoon of sugar. Stir until the sugar browns – don’t let it turn black. Then pour in a pint and a half of stock, with either half a glass of wine, or a dash of wine vinegar. Simmer for about 15 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, and a sprinkling of parsley. Caramelising the onions with the sugar gives the soup colour, a rich delicate flavour and thickens it up. Recipe for the lemon chutney in the next post!

 Food for Thought

Whatever the world may say or do, my part is to keep myself good; just as a gold piece, or an emerald, or a purple robe insists perpetually, ‘whatever the world may say or do, my part is to remain an emerald and keep my colour true.’

Marcus Aurelius, born in AD 121, Philosopher, Stoic and Emperor of Rome from AD 161 to his death in AD 180

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Books Taking Over The House

I’ve just inserted a tall narrow bookcase by the fire, the only place I could find to put another bookcase. When the sweep next comes, I expect he’ll tell me it’s a fire hazard, but it’s a risk I have to take.

 The books are taking over the house. Sometimes I do a clean out, and manage to sort out a small pile I think I won’t read again, and then a few months or even a year later, I go to find one, to look something up, or check a fact, and realise it ‘s gone with the wind and kick myself.

It’s such a little cottage that we haven’t got a special room for books. There’s nothing I love more than a room wall to wall with books. But here I have to slip them in between windows, the odd mirror and tall bits of furniture. I can’t bear to let go my collection of green and white china in the white dresser, so that’s book space gone, and we need the two big French armoires for storage, so that’s another two blocks of wall gone. There are windows everywhere to let in the views of the sea and the surrounding trees, so I have no quarrel with them. But there’s less room for bookcases.

 So we have books in the sitting room, books in the bedroom, books in the hall, books in my husband’s study, and books in the garage, books in piles on the round table in the middle of the room, books in piles on the bottom shelf of side tables and the coffee table. The new one inserted by the fireplace has absorbed all the piles of books heaped by the fire, and on the old grey painted bench, and on the stool by the French doors. There’s no more room for expansion, and we face the grim choice of buying no more books – unthinkable – or having piles all over the place again.

Other people manage to have tidy homes, and I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have clear empty surfaces, and no clutter of books, magazines, articles torn out from the newspaper, recipes, things to keep for the grand-children, jars of posies,  collections of tiny treasures, boxes, bits of silver, magnifying glass, candle snuffer, photo frames and the rest.

But books rule. Some I’ve carted round the world for years, like the old leather-bound Complete Works of Shakespeare, with an introduction by famous Victorian actor Henry Irving. The end papers are marbled in black and gold and it’s printed on rice paper with an unfaded gilt edging. I picked it up at the Petersfield market in 1958. A Prayer Book printed in 1745, the year of Bonnie Prince Charlie’ s rising, found on the book stall at Salisbury market in 1963, sits next to Shakespeare. One of the most awe-inspiring things about this book is that at the back of it some mathematical genius calculated back in 1745, all the dates of Easter up to the year 2000, which must have seemed like an impossible date to people in those times. Easter is calculated from what are known as the golden numbers, and involve various other arcane computations to do with the full moon on or after various dates, and taking into account the Gregorian calendar. None of which makes any sense to this mathematically challenged person, whose top mark in most exams was eight out of a hundred.

Lined up with these two venerable treasures is the Oxford Book of English Prose, given to me in 1954 as a prize for reading the lessons at school assembly – my only prize, so rather treasured! With these grand old men of my library I keep all my favourite books, which include the poetry of TS Eliot and John Betjeman, Alan Garner’s exquisite children’s book ‘Tom Fobble’s Day,’ The Oxford Book of Mystical Poetry, seven year old Daisy Ashford’s hilarious classic, ‘The Young Visitors’, Michelangelo’s Sonnets and of course, the Blessed Jane!

Other shelves house my collection of American Civil War books, all the books on Wellington and Waterloo, Arctic and Antarctic books, all Captain Cook’s journeys, including his diaries and the diaries of Captain Bligh of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’s’. Diaries are one of my favourite things, and I have shelves of them, men and women’s, some famous people, others interesting because they live like you and me. I love savouring their lives and the most mundane details that add up to each day lived. ‘Breakfast at eight, then went for a walk,’ sort of thing, gives me such pleasure, experiencing the routines and blessed ordinariness of such daily programmes.

 There’s innocent Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals of her country walks, dyspeptic James Lees-Milne’s quirky portraits of the owners of stately homes he had to inspect for the National Trust, poor old Victor Klemperer worrying about his cat as the Nazis closed in, swashbuckling Samuel Pepys and British MP Alan Clark revelling in their philandering, honest John Evelyn, back in 1654, getting a hammer out of his carriage to bash the boulders at Stonehenge and failing to make a dent… and dear Sam Grant’s memoirs written as he was dying of throat cancer and trying to make provision for his family. Samuel Clemens, known as Mark Twain, was his publisher.

Christopher Morley, American writer, wrote that when you get a new book, you get a new life –“love and friendship and humour and ships at sea at night -… all heaven and earth in a book.” So the piles of books will have to grow, because like the ones I’ve mentioned, they are precious companions, old friends, indispensable comforters and utterly irreplaceable.  Beds R Us, says the ad for the furniture shop on TV. Books R Us in this house, and as an anonymous wit once said, book lovers never go to bed alone!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Seasonal vegetables are the best way to live cheaply, and in winter, leeks are one of my favourites. This fragrant dish is simply hardboiled eggs and leeks. For each person allow one to two eggs, and a couple of leeks depending on size.

Trim and clean the leeks and steam them while you boil the eggs. Make a vinaigrette sauce, two thirds good olive oil to one third lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Whisk them together with a little Dijon mustard, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add capers and black olives to the vinaigrette.  If you don’t have any olives, you can manage without, but capers are a must. Peel and halve the eggs, place them on top of the leeks and pour the vinaigrette over them. Eat with good, hot crusty rolls. Quick, cheap and easy.

Food for Thought

A prayer written by Jane Austen, 1775 – 1817, peerless writer and daughter, sister and aunt of Anglican clergymen :

Incline us O God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with the charity which we would desire from them ourselves.

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Ladies Who Lunch Merrily

This is A Winter’s Tale, and our escape day – from domestic blindness – not ours – from domestic chores – ours – and a chance for another belated birthday lunch (I said before that I spun it out!).

Off we drove to the winery, all flossied up with our little morale-boosters, pearls and rings and scarves and high-heeled boots naturally. We thought we’d missed the turn down a long, winding, muddy, country road, so I did a difficult u-turn and drove back to the main road. We searched for another turning, but finally admitted defeat and turned back to the first muddy road. Three minutes away said the signpost, so I took the second drive, since the first had barred gates. Half a mile from the road, the narrow track ended at a farm gate. Not the winery. I did a three point turn, but alas, the green grass hid a deep muddy ditch.

After grinding deep into the mud, I stripped off my coat, dragged some cardboard and a rug for good measure out of the boot, and tried to spread them in the mud behind the wheels. I’ll push, said my 75 year old Friend. Nothing worked. This felt like a midwinter’s nightmare.  Neither of us had a cell phone, and or could work one anyway. So I tottered down the muddy lane in my high-heeled black leather boots, but there was no tractor, car or person in the vista stretching to a far horizon of olive trees and grape vines, green hills and a few cattle. Finally, I saw a distant car turn into a drive, and called in a ridiculously faint voice, “excuse me,” which cut no ice across the distance. Finally puffing up to the house, I caught the woman as she carried her shopping inside. She wasn’t interested in the slings and arrows of our outrageous misfortune, but said when she’d got her frozen stuff into the deep freeze, she’d let me use her phone.

Ringing the winery, I blackmailed the maitre de shamelessly, saying unless they were able to send a tractor to rescue us, we wouldn’t be turning up for lunch. After a long interval while she searched for someone with a tractor, the chef (who else?) arrived in his four wheel drive. Nice young man, very over-weight, with jeans about fifteen sizes too small, and his builder’s crack positively worrying as he wrestled with a piece of cord between his car and mine. After watching him try fruitlessly to tie a knot that would hold (he was after all, a chef, not a mechanic) I turned away for the sake of my blood pressure, and comforted myself that there was always the AA. As I turned I caught Friend’s eye, the other side of the car, and we both hastily stifled our giggles. After a few more minutes of the increasingly catastrophic builder’s crack and knots that kept unravelling, we were both nearly hysterical with suppressed laughter.

Finally the chef instructed me to sit in the car and put it in neutral. Naturally this didn’t work. Again, my thoughts winged to the AA. Then another car arrived. The woman gardener from the winery. She had the thing sussed in no time. Wearing boots and workman-like trou, she strode into the breach and through the mud, told me to put the car in reverse and rev, while the chef backed his car. The gardener stood in front and lifted the front bumper, mud flew everywhere, and suddenly I was free.

After this comedy of errors, our chef dashed off back to the winery, some miles away, to get back to cooking for the waiting guests, while we followed the gardener in good time, and were escorted into the dining room with much courtesy. Phew.

Lunch was obviously going to be some time, by the time the chef had washed his hands and steadied his nerves, so we comforted our shattered ones with a nice glass of rose. By the time lunch arrived we needed another one, which was one more than our usual allowance. The pudding course was not as we like it, so we had affogato, Friend with cointreau, me with Bailey’s. By now, our liquor quota was about two and a half weeks overdrawn, but our spirits were soothed and mellow.

When we went to pay, the restaurant now empty, we explained to the maitre de who had answered our SOS that neither of our sick and elderly husbands was in a fit state to come to our rescue. This was like a red rag to a bull. “My father is such a burden to my mum, I think he should be pushed over the cliff,” she said fiercely. “He recovered from an operation with all the drugs and now sits around talking of nothing but himself. “ She didn’t seem to realise that she was talking about to be or not to be.

We got ourselves away after I told her that when it was my time, and age had withered me, I intended to grow a garden full of hemlock, and make myself a nice strong cup of hemlock tea, going quietly to sleep like Socrates. She thought this was a good idea.  And in spite of all the excitement and the excess, the merry wives from the winery still managed to drive home in a straight line.

So after much ado about nothing, all’s well that ends well, with apologies to Shakespeare.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A storm has raged, wind and rain lashing the windows – more comfort food is needed. Today it’s thick lentil soup. All you need is two cups of red lentils, two  onions, three or four large carrots and some chicken stock or bouillon cubes. It’s a nourishing protein- rich meal in itself. And cheap too.

I simply fry the onions gently in a little butter till soft, grate the carrots into them and fry for a minute. Add the lentils, which have been well washed, and four cups of stock or hot water and bouillon cubes to taste. Simmer gently till soft, and then whizz to a smooth consistency in the liquidiser. In the old days we would push it through a sieve to get this lovely smooth consistency. Taste for salt. You can add more or less stock, depending how thick you want it.

You can flossie it up with a bacon bone, or a few chopped rashers of bacon, you can add garlic, bay leaves and a dash of curry powder. But I love the sweet simplicity of this recipe with the sweetness of the carrots off-setting the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with salt and pepper, and lots of chopped parsley on top, and with a hot roll and butter you have a filling meal. If you have plenty left over, you’ll find it thickens up over-night, and you might want to dilute it slightly with more stock.

Food for Thought:    Truth has as many skins as an onion.   Old French Proverb

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