Tag Archives: love

Other Men’s Flowers

On my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend sent me an elegant doorstop with a note saying she hoped this would not prevent her coming through my door again. When I wrote back I included the words of an invocation my nine year old son had learned, and used to recite when we sometimes had family prayers. Since we were attending the silent Quaker meeting at the time, I worried that they would have no words of comfort, poetry and beauty to fall back on when they needed it, like the store of beauty and strength I had inherited from the Anglican prayer book, so we learned some poetry and prayers together. This was his favourite prayer: 

Oh God, Make the door of this house wide enough receive all who need human love and fellowship, and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power: make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.


It was written by Bishop Ken, described as a ‘man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity to conscience’. He became a bishop after refusing to allow Nell Gwynne, Charles 11’s mistress to stay in his house when the King was visiting Winchester.When the next bishopric came up, Charles directed that ‘The good little man who refused poor Nell his lodgings’ should be appointed. He became the King’s chaplain, and ministered to him during the long week the King lay on his deathbed … two of my favourite people –  one for his gentleness and goodness, the other for his warm and generous open heartedness, his kindness, and his love of Cavalier King Charles spaniels – I’ve had six of these adorable little dogs.
Bishop Ken’s later career was a chequered one, including imprisonment in the Tower, all his vicissitudes being caused by his refusal to compromise his conscience, no matter what it cost. There aren’t many people like that around – either then or now..
In my early teens when like many another teen, I experienced deep despair, these  words by someone called Frederick Langridge kept me going:’Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars’ , and later, twice as old now, in my late twenties, stranded in a foreign country, with no money, two children and no family, I turned to William the Silent, who fought the Spanish to gain independence for his country, the Netherlands, during the time of Elizabeth 1. He didn’t succeed, and was assassinated by a Spanish supporter. But at the start of every day at the newspaper where I was so poorly paid, I turned to his words written in my pocket diary:
‘One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere’. These grim stoical words gave me the backbone I needed to keep on keeping on.

A few years later, in happier times, life still demanded courage and tenacity and I used a Taoist verse to keep me going. During this time, many people wrote to me or contacted me, as a result of the columns I wrote every week. One particular woman rang with what seemed like a convoluted problem to ask my help, so I referred her to a helping agency. A week or so later she came back, saying she was still up against it, unable to get help. So I sent her in another direction. Again some weeks later she was back, sounding even more desperate, so I suggested her MP as a last resort. But no… no go.

She always rang in the early evening when I was preparing our evening meal, and when I was at my most exhausted coping with CFS, and beginning to feel as desperate as she was by the time she rang again. I also began to feel that perhaps she was the problem, rather than the circumstances as she told them.
So finally I said, I could give you some words which I find helpful when I don’t know what to do, and she leapt at the idea. I gave her these words from the Chinese Tao:
Close your eyes and you will see the truth, Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,
Be gentle and you will need no strength, Be patient and you will achieve all things, Be humble and you will remain entire,

I never heard from her again, so I hoped they did help her as they helped me.

Some of my favourite words have lasted me all my life, like the Sanskrit poem :
‘Look to this day, For it is life, The very life of life. In its brief course lies all The realities and verities of existence……

.For yesterday is but a dream And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, And every tomorrow a vision of hope, Look well, therefore, to this day.


Life being what it is, there are always challenges to be met and overcome, and this was my fate yet again, a few years ago, when I had to decide whether to take a great leap into the unknown, or settle for safety, comfort, and an easy conventional life.
I fell back on James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, another of my favourite people and his lines:

He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch To win or lose it all

Having put my fate unto the touch, I find I’ve won it all, and learned yet again, that when one trusts to life, and steps into the unknown, the Unknown supports the adventure…
And now, seven years later, living in the bubble of joy, peace and happiness which resulted from taking that momentous step, ( reckless, some called it ) I don’t really need words of steel or beauty or comfort any more, but nevertheless love to savour them when they come my way.


Kahlil Gibran is famous for his book ‘The Prophet’, one of the most widely read books in the world, but these words of the Lebanese poet come from his other writings. They came to me the other night as I read a book on Lebanon –  that tragic place where descendants of ancient Phoenicians still live amongst the descendants of so many other later civilisations.
Gibran wrote:
Remember, my brother,
That the coin which you drop into The withered hand stretching towards You is the only golden chain that Binds your heart to the Loving heart of God.


Words like these, that connect me to the beating heart of the world, are precious, and as I look back at these verses and poems and prayers that have sustained me, they remind me of a quotation from Montaigne. One of my favorite anthologies of poetry is WW2 hero, Field Marshal Lord Wavell’s book, called ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. It’s a thick book, and contains every poem he had loved, and could recite… a humbling thought that he knew every word of this thick book by heart. He begins by quoting Montaigne, the very loveable French philosopher:’I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own’, said Montaigne.   And that is true of this entry of mine into the logbook of humankind’s experiences.

Montaigne’s work is ‘noted for its merging of casual anecdote and autobiography with intellectual insight’, and as in the case of so many great men and great writers, as well as others as obscure as myself. has influenced and encouraged writers to be true to themselves. That his influence  is still so potent, even today, nearly five hundred years later, is proof of the power of words to strengthen, inspire, comfort, and educate, to open the heart,  broaden the mind and inspire the spirit.


The words that I hope will accompany on my next journey were written by a Roman who no-one is quite sure whether he was Christian or pagan, but his words can work for anyone who believes in a First Cause, or Divine Source, be they Pagan, Hindu, Christian or Muslim: The last three lines of Boethius’s  invocation are:

” To see Thee is the End and the Beginning. Thou carriest me and Thou didst go before. Thou art the Journey and the Journey’s end.


I don’t plan to rest in peace, I shall be journeying and adventuring into new realms of light and love and beauty…’ Light and more light,’ Goethe is reputed to have said as he died – more poetic words to take me with me into the next worlds…. 

PS Though the poetry was written as poetry on the original copy, WordPress, in spite of all my efforts has destroyed the lines and spacing… alas… and with their changed format, I can find no way of adding an illustration… I’m too technically challenged to adjust to their constant tweaking of the format…

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I had to take an offering to the AGM of our community on this remote forest estate where I live, and didn’t have the energy to bake a cake. Along with the kedgeree that I’ve posted before, I took an old favourite of my children’s, simple, easy and didn’t need baking.
 I slowly melted 200 grams of dark chocolate with 75 grams of butter, and three good tablespoons of golden syrup. When this is all melted, stir in as many cornflakes as will absorb the mixture. Pile into individual paper cake cases, and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Even adults devour these chocolate  indulgences.


Food for Thought

Nelson Mandela said ” Our world is not divided by Race, Colour, Gender or Religion. Our world is divided into WISE People and FOOLS.. and Fools DIVIDE themselves by Race, Colour, Gender and Religion”

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Filed under beauty, cookery/recipes, flowers, history, life and death, love, poetry, spiritual, Uncategorized

Where is the future taking us?

Homeless in Hull! That was our fate, on my father’s return from his military duties with the Occupation Forces at the former Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1948. In bombed and blitzed Britain, houses were in short supply, and along with many other homeless army families, we were parked in a former army camp which had housed Canadians during the war.


We had half a Nissan hut each, un-insulated, and freezing in winter, hot and stuffy in summer. We ate in a communal dining room  a hundred yards away. Husbands and fathers were stationed at their new postings, often a long train journey away, and would visit at weekends when they could. We were miles away from shops and schools, and just had to eke out an existence until the distant father could find a rented house, or be granted an army quarter. I felt so bleak in the midst of all this lack of beauty, comfort, convenience, that I jammed my tennis racquet between my bed and the wall, spread a lace handkerchief over the strings, and put a small glass paste jar on the makeshift table and arranged daisies and buttercups in it. A small sop to my ten year old sanity.


These memories came back to me, when I read about riots and protests at the various army camps in the UK where refugees had been sent while they were processed. I thought of how they had come, often at great risk to themselves and their families, from far distant countries, from Afghanistan, and Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Africa. They had been convinced by television, film, social media and many other avenues of information that Europe, and especially Britain, was a promised land. They too wanted good housing, generous allowances, opportunities for education, and freedom from so many thing like war, violence, oppression, poverty,  famine, terrorism. They wanted to feel safe.

But many of them don’t seem to realise that all these things have been achieved in western culture by the hard work and commitment of generations of past Europeans who fought and struggled themselves for freedom of speech, freedom from poverty, for free education and health care. So many immigrants don’t seem to realise that the original inhabitants of the countries they want to settle in are still paying for the privileges won by western culture, and that westerners are heavily taxed and still work long hours, often for little pay, to achieve a decent way of life. And now they are forced to pay for all the people who arrive uninvited on their shores… I notice the first thing that immigrants receive is warm clothing and in hot climates, bottles of water. Their physical needs seem to be taken care of straight away, just as they had probably hoped.

But someone has to pay for everything that is handed out free to immigrants, and many arrivals don’t seem to realise what a high price this has meant to the countries they arrive in. The cost to host countries has often not been counted. Sweden which was once a beacon to all countries, a haven of peace, democracy, plenty, equality, generous social services and a relaxed society, has now been ravaged by riots and rape and there are no-go places in their cities, as in many English cities, where native Swedes or Britons do not now dare to venture. A quick glance through the English tabloids, shows pictures of bearded immigrants who have molested women in their surgeries or during operations, groomed vulnerable teenagers, raped women, set up scams to defraud both charities and government agencies, have initiated gang fights and knifings, and disrupted normal activities with angry demonstrations over the politics of the countries they have come from.


These things are not reported in the ‘good’ newspapers; they are considered racist, and drawing attention to the race or religion of criminals is considered typical of prejudice, white privilege, or right wing conservative thinking. ( which is condemned by the intolerance of the left). I could be indicted for ‘hate crime’ in some countries for writing these facts, and the law is about to be changed in my own country to enable thought police to charge anyone who doesn’t think the ‘right’ way. (George Orwell’s predictions are terrifyingly accurate )


People can lose their jobs or find themselves cancelled when labelled as racist (whether or not they are), or prejudiced against different sexes, or religions. Yet as a Christian in a Christian country you may not wear a cross on a chain, though you may wear a hijab or a turban.


In his fascinating book ‘Cosmos and Psyche’, Richard Tarnas suggests that western man lost his way during the Enlightenment in Europe, when reason divorced mankind from the numinous, and from his connection with the intelligent world and universe, replacing that connection with a mechanistic view of a soul-less random universe. But the Enlightenment never reached the many cultures who are now invading Europe, and they are just as cut off from the intelligent universe, and the world around us.

These cultures from other parts of the globe often don’t have respect for animals or the ecology or with the living world. Many of them have no respect for women and children either, so that while western society is still evolving from sexist attitudes, much worse customs in the shape of  ‘honour killings”, female genital mutilation, sharia law  and repressive attitudes to women and their clothing are now taking hold in the once comparatively civilised societies of the west.


I have lived long enough to be able to look back on days when riots and protests were rare, not commonplace; when noise was not part of our life, with the only outside source of noise being the wireless, which people didn’t take to the beach. or play loudly all night or in their cars as they boom down the road. I can look back on days when littering was unheard of, and a real no-no;  when people may have been more narrow minded, but when they were also polite and courteous to each other. I can remember when I could walk down any street anywhere as a child or adult, and feel safe.
I didn’t grow up, as my grandchildren have done, with the threat of climate change or terrorism or any of the other threats to society and to everyone’s peace of mind. Neither did I grow up to criticise my older family members and their views on life, which is the fate of many older people now, who walk on eggshells around their offspring, for fear of being ‘called out’ for outdated attitudes.


These are strange and apocalyptic times. There is no stopping the human tide of peoples who want a piece of the peace and plenty and prosperity of Europe. But perhaps they have to make some compromises in order to preserve that way of life. It is ironic that so called liberals have castigated and condemned the past, decrying the evils of colonialism, while ignoring the hospitals and schools, railways and roads, law and order that colonialism brought to so many corners of the globe; while at the same time too, so many people in deprived places around the world, want to be part of the very culture and society that western protesters of all kinds and colours and beliefs sneer at. Yet until much maligned colonialism arrived, tribes in Africa, for example, faced the same poverty and oppression, murder and mayhem from their own people, that so many refugees are fleeing now.


With so many challenges facing our societies, including the constant warfare, power struggles and tensions between tribes and states and governments, it would be easy to feel powerless to bring about change.. But there are still signs of hope in our world.
If we didn’t have hope, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by what is happening in the outside world. But as Gandalf replied when Frodo said he wished such dreadful things hadn’t happened in his time:
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also said:  ” It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps darkness at bay. Simple acts of love and kindness” .

Such small green shoots of love and kindness are what can give us all hope, like the work of industrial engineer Shubhendu Sharma.  He was working at Toyota in India when he met Japanese forest expert Akira Miyawaki, who came to plant a forest at the factory, using a methodology he’d developed to make a forest grow ten times faster than normal. Fascinated, Sharma worked with Miyawaki, and grew his first successful forest on a small plot behind his house.

Today, his company promotes a method for seeding dense, fast-growing, native forests in barren lands, and Shubhendu is now using  his car-manufacturing acumen to create a system allowing a multilayer forest of 300 trees to grow on an area as small as the parking spaces of six cars – for less than the price of a cell phone. He’s helped to grow forests at homes, schools and factories, something which we can all do on any scrap of land. Forests may save our lives and the planet.

Another green shoot of hope that the world is changing for good, and not always for worse, are the Parliamentary bills Boris Johnson’s government is bringing in, to improve the lot of animals, banning live animal exports or the importing of that cruel delicacy pate de foie gras ( geese force-fed until their livers are diseased), a ban on keeping monkeys and all primates as pets, and a raft of other animal friendly measures. These decisions recognise that animals have feelings and emotions, a view discredited by Descartes several hundred years ago – and which thus validated cruel experimentation on, and the exploitation of animals .

In this country there’s growing recognition of the need for humanity in farming, to the extent of experimenting with phasing out animals for meat, and creating tasty meat substitutes which don’t involve animals at all. Researchers in Denmark have created a way to replace plastic used in delivery food with grass fibres, which they say is ‘100 biodegradable.’   This project aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions hugely, as well as the use of plastic in supermarkets, since according to a statement from Aarhus University, more than 10,000 tons of packaging for take-away food are used each year in Denmark alone.

And when the pendulum swings back, and the excesses of the BLM movement, militant gender campaigns and woke cancelling have diminished, we will all be more tolerant and kinder, as these movements subconsciously influence our thinking to become more sensitive and more aware. The new vocabulary of wokeness, the definitions of binary and cis-gender, and all the other words with charged meanings will then no longer be used to bully the unwoke. (like me)

Events, movements, history, patterns of thought are all in a state of fluidity and flux. Facts and situations we once thought were permanent turn out to have different meanings for different people. The future has never looked more opaque, and the choices that face mankind have never been so urgent and so life-threatening. And yet as we look around us in our own little worlds, we can see small, simple good things, the smile from a stranger, the greeting from another, the warmth of a receptionist, the concern of a health worker, the dedication of so many people in so many ways, from the cheerful capable ambulance driver, to the expertise of the woman who cooks my fish and chips, the decency of the supermarket check-out ladies, and the friendliness of road workers holding up the stop/go signs.

These small human inter-actions are what in the end dwarf the huge problems that face our generations. We know that we are living on the cusp of huge changes in the history of the human race. We know that we are at a turning point in the long years of life on our planet. And we know we can’t roll back climate change and poverty and terrorism and all the other challenges, as we all long to.

But we can create our own world of goodness and human connection. The human connection is what in the end sustains us, and always will, whatever lies ahead. As we all take this unavoidable evolutionary leap into the void of the future, we have each other.

And as the poet Wordsworth said,” The best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless, unencumbered acts of kindness and of love.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’m always looking for short cuts and small additions to deliciousness these days.

One of the best tips I learned from a  Russian neighbour was about my breakfast pot of coffee. In a pot for one, grind one twist of salt, and three twists of black peppercorns into the coffee. In some indefinable way this improves the depth of taste to the coffee.

I also grind my own coffee beans these days, since I read a chef’s information that coffee manufacturers don’t bother to fish out cockroaches or other foreign bodies from the beans, and just grind everything up together. Ugh!

Another chef has improved my omelettes out of sight. He told us that by cooking the butter until it browns before tipping the egg into the pan, gives the omelette a better taste. And he’s so right, tomato omelettes, my fall back position,  have never tasted so good.

And then there’s the hole in any dish being re-heated in the microwave. By hollowing out a little hole in the centre, the whole dish cooks through evenly and not just the edges.. this works for anything from cauliflower cheese, to cooking onions. Anyone else got some good life saving tips???

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, culture, history

That’s Life

Family-friendly recipes and snippets of family life from an Irish kitchen. Irish Recipes, Chef Recipes, Baking Recipes, Dessert Recipes, Dessert Food, Rachel Allen, Apple Desserts, Apple Recipes, Cooking Forever

I lost my blog, and had no idea how to get it back until dear Linda at coloradofarmlife.com told me how to find it, after I told her how frustrated and helpless I was. However, I was still writing, and this is the result of my labours:

Dearest Alice,
I know what you mean about time getting away from you… it’s got away from me…
What an interesting letter, thank you… loved the stuff about the trees drinking the water…. have been fascinated by the life in them ever since I read how they communicate with each other through their roots, and there is a mother tree who is leader of the pack !!!
Like all animals… It broke my heart to read that when a grandmother elephant was returned to a zoo recently where her daughter and granddaughter were, after a twelve year parting, she immediately entwined trunks and showed how she remembered them… we break up animal families without a second thought… years ago I read about a sheep farmer who milked her sheep for feta cheese, and she told how when she banged on the bucket to milk them, they all came to her in their family groups of three or four generations, great grandmothers and all their offspring…

Wild swimming, we did it without thinking when we were young didn’t we – swam in rivers and lakes without ever thinking it was wild swimming! – lovely for you to find a place where you can… do you feel you’re settling into your new home?

Huntington’s chorea – ugh – a terrible illness… we also knew a family with it, and all the children in this generation decided not to have children…

We’ve been having strange times here… got back from the dentist in Thames the other day to find a snowstorm up here, and drifts of it lying around for ages it was so cold. We’ve never had snow in this temperate region with a podocarp – almost tropical forest… The night before last we were awakened by a stiff earthquake, the rattling of everything in the house woke us, and then we felt the tremors… we went back to sleep and slept through the after-shocks… then last night another earthquake…
Strange times … first snow, then earthquakes, maybe a plague of frogs next – I hope they’re the environmentally threatened Archey’s that we protect here !!!

D- is busy putting an elegant coved ceiling in the sitting room, it feels so snug and light and airy… plus a lovely wrought iron chandelier a friend gave us when she didn’t want it… I painted it cream and it looks great…
And now a small gang of quail have arrived for a snack of bird seed… they’re eating us out of house and home, but D- adores them…

I was thinking about spring coming soon, and an old memory came back… when we were at Guildford you gave me a book of funny rhymes, and I still remember :
In the springtime come the breezes.
With the breezes come the squeezes,
With the squeezes come the maybe’s
With the maybe’s come the babies !!!

It was my twenty first birthday, and you also gave me a beautiful silk scarf of pink and white squares which I loved. Very useful when you had the hood down in your MGA.

Just off to make a fudge icing for an apple cake I’ve made to take to some very old friends. There isn’t a swish restaurant in Thames where they live and we wanted to take them out to lunch. So I’m taking everything to their lovely house, oyster bisque and rolls, cheeses and pates, and the cake and champagne… I’ve known them since we were neighbours back in 1975….

Andrew was lovely, and I’m so glad you have such happy memories to comfort you…
Much love, dear friend,

To a grandson

Darling, when you rang yesterday, you explained / apologised for not ringing me last week.
I Really want you to know that there is no onus on you to ring me regularly. I always simply love it, and feel smiling and happy when we ring off, because it is a gift…
But I do not expect it, and know too that you Are busy so I always appreciate it when you think of me, but would never start wondering why you hadn’t – if you didn’t!
D- always says it’s a ‘bloody miracle’ when you ring me, (meaning that so few young people remember oldies ) he thinks you’re so wonderful to think of me, and usually makes me a tray of tea when you ring, so I can sit and enjoy talking to you and sip my lapsang souchong at the same time…
I think you’re wonderful too, to include me in your busy days, so thank you, thank you for making the time, and know that it’s a bonus for me, not something expected.
You have always been so special to me from the moment you were born and I held you while V-  had a shower – and that too I felt was such an unexpected joy and a gift…. and when you were fretful in the days after you were born because your head had been so squished out of shape and it must have been so painful, I used to hold you to my chest
and sing Tallis’s Canon over and over so that the sound would reverberate and throb and beat against your heart to try to comfort you.
In e.e.cumming’s words, I have always held you in my heart.
So much love from your Grannie XXXXXXX

To my son,

Hi darling, thought you’d be interested in this comment about Sophia’s video from Jilly, I had sent it to her. She wrote:

I must comment on your amazing step-grand daughter’s video. Thank you for sending it, and what a great story it is. She readily admits her family had to make huge adjustments, and I do know just what that means. It is a lovely uplifting story and I felt she is a very strong and gracious young woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ahGz2nhOps

I’ve watched it again, and it’s amazing just what a person with tetraplegia can do and what she is making of her life.

Such courage and persistence.

From Daughter:

Got these lovely beeswax candles in Wanaka at lavendar garden and put in Great Grannie’s candlesticks today…

Me: Oh, how gorgeous… they always smell divine…. you can get more at the church shop on the corner of the Ellerlie off ramp. I hate the ordinary candles, which burn paraffin, and I discovered, because we burn candles quite a lot, that they actually leave grime on the windows… funnily enough D- bought me a pack of beeswax candles while I was at the dentist on Thursday, to cheer me up…. we’ve even explored the internet to buy beeswax, and make our own, but it’s just as expensive as buying them….

I’ve often thought I’d like to tell the family that I don’t need any birthday or Christmas presents – just beeswax candles !!!

Daughter:

Found these on Trademe. $12 for the pair which is cheaper than church shop. It’s a shop in Hawkes Bay that makes their own…

Me: Thank you darling.

To another grandchild….

Lovely to see you darling… to continue our conversation – I knew how you felt about BLM when it started… I really hadn’t realised how subtle  much racism is (and simply bad-mannered) until you explained, and I could really sympathise with the movement in its beginnings. But I now feel differently. It was the last straw for me when the German director of the treasured British Museum said ‘we’ (obviously forgetting Germany’s painful past) had to face up to the painful facts of British colonial history and ‘cancelled’ Sir Hans Sloane.

He was the person born in 1660 who funded the British Museum, the British Library, the Natural History Museum, Chelsea Physic Garden, gave medical attention to the poor every morning for free, and gave his salary to the Foundling Hospital, as well as being a scientist and naturalist who was a benefactor to these fields of English endeavour as well.

His wife owned slaves in the colonies, so Sir Hans, a kind, good man and generous philanthropist, has been symbolically tarred and feathered, and his statue moved out of sight. I wonder what these fanatics thought people living in those times should have done. If Sir Hans had freed his wife’s slaves, how would they have survived in the society in which they had been enslaved. No-one would have employed them when they had their own free labour – their slaves… so these freed slaves would have faced a life of starvation or deprivation and outlawry, having no place in society.

I read this comment below, in a newspaper  story dealing with all the destruction of treasured heroes of the American past from Washington, to Lincoln and U.S. Grant, whose crime was to be given a slave by his father in law and to free him within a year, at some cost to himself since he was  on the bare bones of existence at the time.

“This describes a lot of us. Tread lightly! My tolerance is running out. I never cared what colour you were until you started blaming me for your problems. I never cared about your political affiliation until you started to condemn me for mine. I never cared where you were from in this great Republic until you began condemning people based on where they were born and the history that makes them who they are. I have never cared if you were well off or poor because I’ve been both.

“Until you started calling me names for working hard and bettering myself, I’ve never cared if your beliefs are different than mine. Until you said I am not entitled to my beliefs, now I care. I’ve given all the tolerance I have to give. This is no longer my problem. It’s your problem. You can still fix it. It’s not too late, but it soon will be.  I’m a very patient person at times. But I’m about out of patience. There are literally millions of people just like me. We have had enough.”

I know where he’s coming from! We’re never going to make a better world for all those who feel deprived or victims, until we stop shaming and blaming everyone for the colour of their skin. Many white people don’t feel privileged at all! Many of them are descended from ancestors who lived lives very nearly as hard as slaves, working crippling hours in mines, being impressed into the navy, making lace in badly lit attics and going blind to mention only a few instances… history is full of injustices.

So is the present, with slavery still being practised /endured all over the Middle East and Africa… and China too, in all but name. Those are the people who are suffering today. BLM being victims of the past doesn’t solve the present. Patience, tolerance, kindness and generosity are the things that may. And until we all try them we will never know.

I’m still learning all the new terms to keep myself up to date! –  have mastered woke, and now there’s cis-gender, transgender, AFAB – that’s a funny one – Assigned Female At Birth – don’t think anyone bothered to do that with me – they just supposed that on the evidence I was a girl!

Looking forward to seeing you when lockdown is over again…

Dearest Dick and Bella,
What a lovely, lovely occasion…. it was lovely to see you both, and so sweet of you both to make it such a beautiful occasion, flowers, champagne and fun and good conversation… Douglas and I loved every minute, thank you so much XXX
And I loved hearing about Lily, what a precious person she sounds … you brought up special people…Lily’s beauty is something really
rare…
It was such a celebratory event…you are so good at them, thank you !!
And then, to get home and savour more generosity, all your beautiful gifts… The beautiful posy is sitting in a big pink paisley patterned
mug, with the word love on it… not quite as unique as your mother’s gorgeous green vase, but it works!
Oh Bella, what a collection of treats in your beautiful hamper – so spoily and undeserved – you are amazing… I slowly unwrapped each treat, feeling more and more amazed at your imagination as well as your generosity… the eggs – what a precious way of presenting them… it made me realise just how exquisite eggs are… the ginger puddings – echoes of childhood when we Always had a pudding – steamed ginger, apple pie, treacle tart, or just stewed apple or plums or rhubarb with rice pudding or custard… I shall savour them, as well as all the other beautiful handmade goodies… the extra special chocolate, and the lovely scented soap…and that darling delicious little bell… so delicate and beautiful… thank you so much for all those thoughtful imaginative treats… The lemons look lovely in an antique French provincial pottery bowl I recognised in the op shop, and which they sold disdainfully ( ‘tatty old pottery thing’ ) for five dollars… and  I can’t wait for the house to be back in order after all D-‘s efforts when we had already planned to celebrate with lighting some beeswax candles, and now we have them, thanks to you !
I feel really moved and quite overwhelmed with your generosity dear friend… thank you thank you… I do hope you’ll feel like the journey here when the weather improves, so we can try to spoil you XXX

Now, the apple fudge cake – I still have the 1987 cutting from the Herald in my scrapbook… Elizabeth Pedersen, a nice Dutchwoman I think she was… The recipe calls for three fresh Grannie Smith type apples, but as I mentioned I do it the lazy way now with a tin of apple, chopped small…she says vegetable oil, so I tend to use grape oil… and I usually use slightly less milk in the fudge topping so it’s a bit dryer and more manageable as a cake…and I use SR flour instead of plain plus baking soda ( a lazy cook !)
12 oz SR flour
tsp salt (I just use a generous pinch)
10 ozs vegetable oil
13 oz caster sugar
3 eggs
3 medium sliced apples ( or one tin )
few drops of vanilla essence – (I use nearer a teaspoon)
Oven gas 4 or 175 C
Cream oil with sugar till light and smooth. Beat in the eggs one by one, vanilla, then the flour in three batches, and then stir in apples. Bake for one to one and a half hours. When it’s cool, spread the topping…six generous ozs brown sugar
60 ml milk
125 ml unsalted butter
vanilla (I use half a teaspoon)

Melt, and stir until smooth, boil for two minutes, then cool, stirring occasionally. Stir the topping over ice until it begins to stiffen, then spread over
the cake, letting it drip down the sides…
As you can see – so easy.

So that’s some writing in the life of… letters…and now to catch up on all my blog housekeeping, and with all the other old friends around the world linked by our network of golden threads called WordPress.

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Bloggers addictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for Gourmets

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

Food for Thought 

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

 

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Love Actually

Fern.jpg

Over forty years ago I found myself visiting a man imprisoned in a psychiatric ward.He had no family, no other visitors, and the story of his life was a search for the only person who had ever loved him. His mother.

He was thirteen when he had his first brush with the law, and was placed in a juvenile delinquent institution after he attacked his mother’s lover with a baseball bat when his mother was the victim of domestic violence. Back then domestic violence was not taken as seriously as it is now.

He ran away to get back to his mother and from then on was placed in stricter and harsher environments. Having no trade, skills or any means of support he ended up robbing a bank. This is a gross simplification of his tragic descent into despair and the appalling experience of solitary confinement in the prison hospital.

His cell was bare, no books or television, yet with all the deprivation of twenty years in and out of prisons, he was an articulate and sensitive man. In retrospect his whole life had been a search for love, and yet he’d had no opportunity  to find or develop relationships, or to find a person to love.

He sat on one side of a table placed across a bleak corridor in the hospital, we sat the other side. With warders standing nearby, he told us that his one amusement was watching the birds from behind the bars of his tiny cell window. He saved crumbs from his meals and fed them to one particular sparrow who came to the window sill. It was obvious as he spoke that he loved that little sparrow, and that the sparrow was giving his life some meaning.

He didn’t need to know whether the sparrow loved him. The sparrow filled his need to love. I still remember when my first great love sent me a Dear John letter. (Dear John oh how I hate to write, dear John I must let you know tonight that my love for you has died )

I was twenty- one. When I read it, my head spun and the world seemed to go black amid the giddyness. As time went on, I realised that one of the worst things about it was feeling was that I could no longer love him. At which I also realised that there was no need to stop loving him… loving was what made me feel less bereft, and loving him filled the gap in my heart until I was able to move on.

A teacher on one of our personal growth courses once observed that when a person lives alone, they often make a loving connection with a creature, if they have no-one to love – pets, birds, wild creatures become their beloved companions. Even snails can become the beloved – Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote one of the most exquisite books about love, when she became aware that a snail lived in the wild cyclamen a friend had dug up and brought to her sick room.

Her loving descriptions of the tiny creature and its habits, and the knowledge she acquired about one of our humblest companions living alongside us on this planet teeming with life, gave me a deeper understanding of the value of all life. Loving this tiny snail gave the sick woman joy and meaning to her life.

Being loved somehow doesn’t seem as sustaining as loving. ‘Lord grant that I may not so much seek to be loved, as to love,’ was the prayer of St Francis, who loved ‘all creatures great and small’, in the words of the hymn. Krishna Murti described another aspect of love in his journal.

‘He had picked it up, he said, on a beach; it was a piece of sea-washed wood in the shape of a human head. It was made of hard wood, shaped by the waters of the sea, cleansed by many seasons. He had brought it home and put it on the mantelpiece; he looked at it from time to time and admired what he had done.

One day, he put some flowers round it, and then it happened every day; he felt uncomfortable if there were not fresh flowers every day and gradually that piece of shaped wood became very important in his life. He would allow no-one to touch it except himself; they might desecrate it; he washed his hands before he touched it.

It had become holy, sacred, and he alone was the high priest of it; he represented it; it told him of things he could never know by himself. His life was filled with it and he was, he said unspeakably happy…’

This beautiful story electrified me. It showed me that by loving, whatever the object may be, loving gives life and meaning to whatever it touches. My friend Oi, who I’ve written about in another blog once told me about a very rich friend, whose house was filled with opulent treasures, which Oi found overpowering. But, she told me, as the years passed, and she visited her friend, though all the treasures were still there, gleaming and cherished, she felt differently about them. She said they had been so lovingly cared for and cherished by their owner, that they no longer had the patina of wealth, but exuded their intrinsic beauty.

So it’s the loving that matters, that transforms and gives meaning. Which is why the experiment I once read in which people in prison were given an abandoned dog to rehabilitate, were rehabilitated themselves. Love heals.

Here in our forest, where we are not allowed dogs or cats who might kill the threatened species of flightless birds who shelter beneath the thick undergrowth, we have become devoted to the wild quails who make their way into our garden. We began feeding them, discovering that the food they love best is budgie seed.

Every year they return with their tiny fluffy babies, who scamper after their parents like little windup toys; and we now have dozens of beautiful little creatures who push through the undergowth out of the forest and march determinedly down the drive to feast. When they hear our voices, they break into a run. We spend far too much on birdseed, and in lockdown, it is the one thing we make sure we always have plenty of. They start arriving early in the morning and when we hear their sharp call, one or other of us leaps out of bed, still half asleep, to scatter seed

Loving them makes us ‘unspeakably happy’. There must be many other people in these strange days who find that having the time, no longer trying to stuff too many duties and activities into their day, they can now discover the world of small things around them, and find it utterly loveable. Birds singing, leaves unfolding, spiders spinning their miraculous webs – all these things can be food for the soul and can remind us of the goodness of life even in ‘these interesting times’, in the words of the Chinese proverb.

 

Food for Housebound Gourmets

The cupboard is bare – not of food, but of inspiration, Having put my back out and drugged up with painkillers, unable to stir from bed without yelps of pain, I’ve been calling instructions to Himself  in the kitchen, on how to boil an egg, or where to find the butter…

Food for thought

By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.  Albert Schweitzer

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May only love prevail!

lion lovr

I try not to hate. But I do hate experiments on animals. Reading a dying girl’s account of her last months, and the things which sustained her, I came across this story. It was an experiment on animals, and horrible though it was, it gave me food for thought, and some real joy, as it did her.

Healthy laboratory rats were being injected/ infected with cancer, in order to test a cure, but the researchers were puzzled that one batch of rats remained healthy. Investigating the rat’s life cycle to discover why they were immune to cancer, they asked the laboratory technician looking after them what their routines were. He told that them before he fed each rat, he couldn’t resist cuddling and stroking them.

So, these intelligent, lovely creatures, experiencing love, were able to resist deadly infection. I’ve thought a lot about love since, and what it means and how it manifests itself in all creatures and all forms of life.

It’s that time of year here, when the calves have been born, and their mothers demonstrate the same sort of mother love that our supposedly superior species do too. When the calves are born, the mother cow washes them and nuzzles them, and the washing and nuzzling and warm contact – love – is vital to keep them alive and anchor them in this world. The mothers feed them, and they nurture them. And when the calf is taken from them after a few days, depending on the farmer’s routines or whims, they grieve terribly, their bellows of pain echoing across the fields.

Thanks to this annual ordeal we are able to enjoy milk and butter and cheese, and thereby keep up our calcium levels and build strong bones. Being human is a terrible dilemma, where compassion is at war with what we perceive to be our needs or our enjoyment.

The intelligence and life force in everything around us is a constant miracle to me. I read today that plants, which all have their own individual scents, emit a warning smell to all plants around them when they’ve been attacked by a snail or an insect nibbling a morsel out of a leaf. And though all plant species have their unique scent, this warning scent they send out is the same for all different species… an amazing, intelligent and altruistic response to danger… Could Kant argue against altruism in plants as he did in human beings? I think not, there’s no advantage to a plant to warn fellow plants of all kinds, that they should beware… it must be pure love…

Loving plants! I think of trees, how scientist have discovered that the biggest, mother tree, apparently communicates with other younger trees around her, via fungi spores, and how dying trees send their energy along the spores to other healthy trees, a legacy of love from a dying tree.

And getting back to snails, the enemy of gardeners, and delicious delight to gourmets – we under-rate their feelings and intelligence as we do every other living thing except ourselves. I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Luard’s book about bringing up her family in Spain and Provence, a medley of recipes and rich experiences.

A carnivore as well as afficionado of the bull fight, she unashamedly ate what the local people eat, with no scruples. So in the Languedoc, she and her children gathered snails by the bucket full, and then starved them for a few days on just a few herbs like thyme and rosemary, to clear their digestive system. But snails ain’t stoopid!

She described countless mornings coming downstairs into the kitchen, to find the snails had banded together in a concerted effort, lifted the bucket lid and escaped. ‘Snail break-out!’ she’d call and the household would tumble downstairs to search for the clever little gastropods.

Snails are altruistic too. I once read of two snails being observed in a garden with very poor pickings for a snail. One of them was sick, and the other seemed to abandon it by climbing the garden wall and finding a healthier environment down below. But he came back and accompanied the sick snail to greener healthier pastures. Which leads me to believe that snails can communicate with each other, and feel kindness and responsibility to a fellow snail! Maternal mother snails lay their eggs in little clumps, and visit them regularly until they hatch.

Though it seems amazing to read of solving the riddles of outer space, I find the incredible miracle of life on earth even more amazing, and I know that at this moment, our understanding of it is only scratching the surface of all that is underfoot and all around.

For so long homo sapiens has claimed superiority over all the earth’s creatures, and not just those who read Genesis which tells us we have dominion over all creatures… Buddhism seems to be one of the few creeds which honours other forms of life. While so-called philosophers like Descartes have encouraged mankind to ignore the feelings of animals and given us carte blanche to treat them as though they are mindless unfeeling machines.

Yet the beauty, the intelligence, the goodness, the love and the life in the whole of creation, is, it seems to me, reason for admitting that all creatures are equal in the sight of the Creator, the Source, or whatever we want to call the First Cause. (Reading of the way women are treated in some countries and some cultures, I feel the same about them too.)

One of the most powerful images of love is that of Christian the lion, racing down the African hill-side to leap into the arms of the two men who had brought him up, to hug them and lick them. The men had bought him from Harrods, and he lived with them in London until they were able to re-wild him as a teenager, with the help of George Adamson. It was a dreadful wrench to leave him in Africa and return to London, and they went back to visit him a year later. Christian saw and recognised them from afar, and crying and making heartfelt noises, tore down the hill to be re-united with the people he loved.

Sometime later, when they returned again, Christian had a wife and cubs, and led his two former guardians into the wild to meet them. The two men sat there quietly all day in the hot sun among the rocks with Christian and his wife and children, the very picture of Edward Hicks’ painting of ’The Peacable Kingdom. ‘

Over the years our family lived with fifteen rescued dogs, three at a time. They were all breeds, two afghans, boxer, cavalier King Charles spaniels (six), borzoi, labrador, bull mastiff, salukis. We also had several dogs who were ‘chosen’, not rescued, and much as I loved them, there was a particular quality about the love our rescued dogs gave us… it was as though they never forgot their past, and were utterly devoted to us who were their new owners. It always seemed wrong to say we owned them – we cared for them.

The gifts of love they gave us meant that the house seemed always to be brimming with love and fun, the same sort of love and fun which fills a house with toddlers in it. And when I read of experiments when different bowls of rice are treated to indifference, or interest – one ignored, the others greeted – and the subsequent decay of the ignored rice, and flourishing health of the others, it sends a powerful message.

It tells me that love is behind all life. Indifference is the opposite of love and is a killer. But love gives life, and health and hope. Scientific experiments have shown us that the observer can change the behaviour of what is observed, so maybe loving thoughts are as powerful as loving deeds. Maybe the rats would have survived the experiments supposed to make them ill, if they had just sensed and felt that the lab technician loved them.

This thought encourages me to use that lovely mantra: ‘may only love prevail’, in all circumstances, even when someone has stolen my parking place or overtaken me dangerously! Love your enemies said a great Teacher… I think I begin to understand what He was talking about.

I also love food… and for many of us cooking is a tangible way of loving our loved ones. I’m always looking for new ways to cook for my loved ones, and the other day hit the jackpot with a super-easy way of cooking organic chicken thighs…saute in butter and set aside. Pour a glass of wine into the pan, a generous teaspoon each of Dijon mustard and whole grain mustard. Boil them up, add a cup or more of cream, heat it, and pour over the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook in a moderate oven for half an hour or until tender.

We ate it with plain boiled rice and spinach – it was good. With the one piece left and some of the leftover cream, I made quick cream of chicken soup for a light lunch the next day, while Himself enjoyed something more substantial.

I added a chopped leek sauted in butter, some garlic, and half a tin of condensed chicken soup. With a chicken stock cube, boiled and whizzed smooth, a dollop of cream and some nutmeg, it was a treat. As Orson Welles advised “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

 

 

 

 

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Another mansion

House, 24 Domain Drive, Parnell by John Fields
Our new home

A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

 With a job under my belt, working on a liberal family- owned afternoon newspaper, The Auckland Star, I now had to find somewhere to live. I stumbled into the perfect place, in a good suburb only a few minutes drive from my office, with a good school in walking distance, and a small community of interesting neighbours.

Once again, John was behind my find. A friend of his contacted a friend of hers, and within a week I was ensconced in a beautiful second floor apartment in a huge old house on the edge of the Domain, a splendid botanical park which was a buffer between the business heart of the city and our little suburb.

The Victorian house had been built by a rich wine merchant on the lines of the American Belle Epoque mansions, only doubling its size. Architectural experts loftily said the house had no value except for the beautiful fanlight above the front door. But the ballroom on the ground floor which housed an exquisite carved marble fireplace, and sash windows with the bottom pane high enough for a Victorian crinolined lady to step out onto the wide pillared veranda was intriguing in itself; while the wide curving staircase and banister ascending to my apartment was a small boy’s dream to slide down.

My new home sported a sitting room, twenty- two feet long and eighteen feet wide, with floor length windows in the big bay at the end of the room, overlooking lawns and then the huge plane trees which edged the Domain.

It wasn’t too promising when I first saw it, a hodge-podge of elements cobbled together to make it a flat. But the landlord who lived downstairs decided to improve it for me. I chose plain blue tiles for the kitchen, bathroom and loo floors – to his amazement – wouldn’t I want different patterns in every room? The hideous – patterned coloured wallpapers in each room he promised to re-paper over time, room by room, and was astonished when I said I just wanted them painted over in white, and everything – paintwork, carved wooden fireplaces – all covered in white.

The only thing left was the dreadful green patterned carpet with sprays of red, brown and blue flowers. But I got his permission to dye it. Every night for six months I came home with small tins of blue dye from the chemist. When the children were in bed, I changed into my bikini, so as not to spoil my clothes and scrubbed boiling dye into the carpet with a stiff nail brush.

Even with rubber gloves, I could only manage three square feet of the scalding hot dye a night, and the blue splashes easily washed off my arms and legs and torso when I’d finished. I sewed blue curtains by hand, finding beautiful fabrics in sales, and made blue velvet cushions for the second- hand arm chairs discovered in junk shops. I found a big chesterfield sofa with brown Sanderson flowered linen loose covers and dyed them blue in the washing machine. By the time I’d finished I had a beautiful blue and white room adorned with the treasures I’d brought from Hong Kong- a pair of Bokhara rugs, lamps, blue and white china, pictures, and books.

The house was set back from the road in a big garden and surrounded by trees. The first day we moved in, I looked out and saw the two children lying on their stomachs on the soaking wet grass. I flung open the window and called – “what are you doing?” “Looking at the grass, “ they called back, after four years of living in a concrete jungle. We bought precious nasturtium seeds and planted them, and then, astounded, ripped them out again when the gardener confronted us to ask why we were planting ‘weeds’ in ’his’ garden. They spread everywhere, he grumbled. Now I grow them everywhere!

Our first weekend in our new home, when we still just had new beds, and a tiny eighteen- inch square side table that had been left in the flat by a previous occupant, we knelt around it having our porridge for breakfast, and then put on coats and jackets and walked around the corner to the beautiful Anglican cathedral, the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere.

I didn’t realise then, but we were a striking threesome – a tall  woman in black, holding the hands of two children immaculately dressed in red quilted coats and red trousers. I had bought three polo necked ribbed jumpers each for them in black, white and red, so they could get dressed quickly and always look neat. I had my own formula for speedy mindless dressing too, – black trousers and jackets and red, black and white jumpers.

When we arrived, the dean of the cathedral came across to greet us, and showed us to a pew, and after matins ushered us into the adjoining parish hall for morning tea, where he introduced us to his other parishioners. One of them was a kind practical woman with children the same age as mine, who offered to have the children for three weeks on their way home after school, until they got used to walking home alone.

So began a friendship which progressed through her husband’s elevation to bishop, archbishop and then Governor General, during which time we enjoyed meals in their vicarage, then bishop’s house, archbishop’s residence, and finally governor general’s stately home. The Dean also became a good and helpful friend, calling regularly to chat in my blue and white room, enjoying a glass of sherry. I had other regular callers too, including my landlord, who came so often for a tot of sherry that I used to joke to others that what I didn’t pay in rent I paid in sherry.

The children settled into their new school, and I trained them to come back to the unlocked home, eat a snack and a drink waiting for them, and then have a nap. As they got older and I acquired a television, they watched until I got home, until my daughter, always gregarious, began to explore our neighbourhood.

She was going on seven now, and before long, she was the trusted friend and helper to our landlady downstairs who had an ulcerous leg, making tea for her, chatting and keeping her company. She watched TV with Peggy the childless taxi-driver’s wife across the road, and frequently kept Mrs Andre – the doctor’s wife round the corner – company while she had her early pre-dinner sherry and gave my daughter lemonade.

She played patience with crusty, chain-smoking Lady Barker, a recluse of seventy- plus, who lived behind locked and barred doors. I never discovered how she and my daughter got to know each other. She helped Mr Buchanan, our grocer who delivered every Friday, to unpack his butter and bread, and fetch and carry stuff in his shop. Melanie, the drug-addict’s wife on the corner with three small boys, relied on her for company, help in amusing her boys, and even helping to paint her kitchen.

While I found myself battling social welfare for Melanie’s payments to arrive on time for her, and creating mayhem with surgeons on her behalf when the hospital kept cancelling her appointment for an operation, my daughter was her daily prop and stay. I tried to avoid this sad depressing woman, who used to call on me to come and sort out the dramas when her violent husband turned up to make trouble, but my daughter was able to lift her spirits most days.

I also came home from work a few times, to find this enterprising child had co-opted her brother into picking the garden flowers, setting up a stall on the pavement and selling the flowers to passers-by. And she would ring me at the office to tell me she’d been reading the newspaper, and found an ad which said if I got to a certain shop in Karangahape Road by such and such a time, I could buy toilet rolls with ten cents off. They were funny, happy days…

When Princess Alexandra came to Auckland, and was dining at the Auckland Memorial Museum, a few hundred yards from our home, my daughter insisted on my taking her to watch the Princess arrive. In the darkness of the winter night, she scoured the garden for some dahlias, wrapped them in a creased brown paper bag from the kitchen drawer, and when the Princess in shimmering evening dress arrived at the Museum, stepped up to her and smilingly presented the little bouquet. I still have the press photos of the moment and was told that Alexandra had carried the unlikely bouquet all night.

Her brother, meanwhile, was engaged in small boy activities which included helping the taxi-driver to wash his treasured limousine, exploring with his mates what was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail back then- a wild path down by the railway- and to my horror when I discovered, scrambling across a huge drainage pipe which stretched for over a mile across a deep muddy tidal creek down by the harbour. He also haunted demolition sites on his way home from school, filling his trouser legs and arms with pieces of wood when he could carry no more.

It took him hours to make his way home thus burdened and stiff-legged, unable to bend his knees for the splints of wood in his trousers, and as I said to a friend, if I’d asked him to carry these huge unwieldy loads, he wouldn’t have done it. They were of course destined for a ‘hut’ hidden in the garden.

When our landlady banned him from sliding down the banister on the grounds that he’d fall and break his leg, he would slowly walk down the stairs instead, mimicking the sound of his sliding, and poor Pat would rush out to catch him, and be met by a gap-toothed small boy smiling blandly at her. These times were some of my favourite memories … gentle and happy …

And I was carving out a career on The Auckland Star. I knew nothing about journalism when I had bluffed my way into a job, having only learned to write stories after a fashion. But the nuts and bolts of the profession, the art of finding facts, knowing who to go to and how to find information, were a closed book to me. So I felt I was walking a tight-rope of ignorance for the first few months until I found my feet. And as time went by, things changed.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 We had half a bought cooked chicken left over after an emergency meal, and the weather was far too wintery for cold chicken salad to be appealing.So I made a thickish white sauce, using chicken stock, chopped the chicken into it, and lightly flavoured it with cheese.While this was cooking, pasta of the sort used for macaroni cheese was cooking. Tipping the drained pasta into a casserole, I added the chicken mixture, and stirred in enough grated cheese to lightly flavour the already flavoured sauce. Covering the top with grated parmesan, it went under the grill for a crisp brown topping, and turned out to be a delicious lunch, with a salad.

Food for thought

“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who are alive and those who are afraid.”     Rachel Naomi Remen,  inspirational writer and therapist

 

 

 

 

 

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Life and loss, love and death

Image result for south  bay hk

Deepwater Bay

Another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to writing my normal blogs

Ensconced in Deepwater Bay, life now took on the tone and routines that shaped our lives until the final disintegration of our marriage. My husband would go off to University every day and return home in time for dinner. After dinner he would take off back to Victoria – to the officers mess, he would say, to see Henry or Richard or whoever… I assumed for some time that he was bonding with the other people on his course, in spite of having spent all day with them.

Later he would say there was a party or a get together. And later still, when the whole saga had ended, friends would tell me that I had no idea of how many girl- friends there had been – “You didn’t know the half of it”….

I tried everything, and one night I remember in despair taking the car before he did and driving round to beautiful South Bay, an empty semi- circle of still water, ringed with flame trees, and where I watched the flaming sunset. The beauty was so moving, I felt I must share it with him, and drove back home, and persuaded him to come back to South Bay with me. He did, and then took the car and drove off- somewhat delayed – to whatever rendezvous he had in town.

Two things helped me through this time. I had found a wonderful amah, Ah Ping, a shy eighteen- year- old girl with very little English, and a lovely nature. She adored the children, and we had a little competition at bath-time over which of us was going to enjoy bathing the youngest, still very much a baby. She learned to speak English with my accent and tone, so that people thought it was me when she answered the phone. She helped to maintain the happy atmosphere for the children and they  loved her.

The other thing that sustained me, was my first foray into writing. I studied the woman’s pages of the South China Morning Post, the main English speaking newspaper in Hong Kong, and realised that the one element missing was cookery.

Cheekily I offered my services to the woman’s editor, a childless and fashionable young woman, Jane, the same age as me. Feeling plain and boring by now, I somehow managed to keep my end up with her at my interview and got the go ahead to write a cookery column on Fridays. I had no qualifications for this of course, apart from an abiding love of food, but I managed to make it sound as though I knew what I was talking about.

After six weeks, I was offered another bite of the cherry, when Jane suggested I write a story to fill Thursday’s page – she wanted something about bringing up children, and now she had as it were, a captive mother, I filled the bill. This was meat and drink to me and writing about children and parenting became one of my areas of expertise and was something I only stopped doing fifty years later at seventy- seven.

My husband’s social life was costing us, and debts had begun to pile up, so the money I now earned was important to me, as I knew I could always feed the children with it. I could also afford to visit the famous alleys, and find cheap lengths of gorgeous fabric, which I sewed by hand, making glamorous new summer dresses. I had new friends, and was making a life, but I still felt miserable and longed to be loved. I tried to fill the emptiness by playing Bob Dylan and the Beatles and they left me feeling even more alone and bereft. I also started having blinding migraines which took five days out of life every time they struck.

One evening my husband came home and said we’d been invited to a party at the naval base on the commander’s ship. I put on a red dress from my pre-marriage party days and set off, feeling like I always did these days, in-adequate and plain.

At the gangplank we were warmly greeted by a man with piercing blue eyes and golden hair. His wife was a ravishing blonde ex-ballet dancer with huge brown eyes, beautiful features, and a pile of hair pinned up,   so long that when it fell to her ankles when we were dancing, she looked like Rapunzel. Her chic little black dress showed off her ballet dancer’s figure to perfection. I was in awe of both these glamorous people.

Later we went back to their house where we all sat down at the dining table for an impromptu dinner. Our host sat me at his right hand and talked to me as though I was actually interesting. I felt such gratitude for his kindness. We continued to meet at parties as our friends were old childhood friends of them both. At each occasion he sought me out, raising his glass to me across many crowded rooms before making his way through the throng to us.

And then one night as he handed me out of his car after a party, he squeezed my hand. The next party we went to was at a French officer’s house. He and his wife were a gentle couple, and we played silly childish games, since we were a mixture of French and English couples with few of us speaking each other’s language, so conversation was difficult.

During one game if a player won some sort of forfeit, they placed a cushion in front of the person of their choice and knelt and gave them a kiss. My naval friend placed his cushion in front of me when it was his turn, and I said to myself if he does it again, I will know that he meant it. And he did. The next two months were a dizzy time of love and longing set against the back drop of riots and curfews and water rationing and our move into army quarters in Repulse Bay, where we became neighbours. Neither of us ever said a word but were drawn to each other at every meeting.

At the same time, I was fascinated by his ravishing wife, and couldn’t believe that he could care for me, when he had such a spell-binding partner, who I knew he’d loved since they were children. I could see that she was scatter-brained and sometimes strangely childish, but still found her beauty entrancing.

The night before they left to return to England we all met for one last time. As we danced he told me he loved me. I said I thought it might have been a sailor’s girl in every port, and he reproached me. He told me that his fey, feckless wife was a millstone round his neck, and that we both had “to make a go of it”.

They flew out the next day, and I went into a sort of collapse. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for a few weeks, and somehow struggled on into the grey winter like a zombie. The migraines ambushed me more and more often. I felt too fragile and depressed to write to my father.

My husband now asked me not to leave him alone with the husband of a woman I’d thought was my best friend because he feared being beaten up. The husband had discovered that my husband and his wife had been having an affair. I felt shocked and betrayed by my friend, but then, I found my husband was having another affair with another colleague’s wife, and I stopped caring.

After Christmas Jane, the woman’s editor offered me a fulltime job, and I began in January. A few weeks later, I woke up one morning, looked out at the sea, watched the fishing boats streaming back after their night’s fishing, and felt different. It was as though a huge grey cloud had lifted from me, and my first thought was – now I can write to my father. Because I was still trying to juggle my job and the children, and learning the ropes at work, I put it off until I had a moment to sit down and enjoy communicating again.

A few nights later I dreamt that one of my father’s good friends who was in Hong Kong, was sitting on my bed with its beautiful blue and green patterned Venetian bedspread, with his arms around me, comforting me. When I awoke in the morning I inwardly castigated myself that I was so desperate that I was dreaming about my father’s friends!

That night, as I slept, I heard the phone go, and my husband answer it. I heard him say: “Thank you, I’ll tell her.” When he walked into the bedroom I sat up in bed, and cried out, “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”

“Your father’s dead.” he said. The War Office had rung.

I immediately rang my father’s friend Ian, and unwittingly destroyed a dinner party. Ian came straight round, and as he sat on the bed and put his arms around me, my dream came back to me.

It felt as though the bedrock of my life had been ripped from beneath me. It seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened to me, even though I knew it happened to everyone.  But he was only fifty- four. My siblings who were scattered around the globe on various rocks – Gibraltar, St Helena, Aden gathered, but I was too far away. No-one contacted me. I never heard from my stepmother again for nearly forty years when she was in her late eighties. My father-in-law wrote and told me about my father’s funeral, and now I was alone.

I had leant Pat Hangen my copy of Towers of Trebizond in which was a poem I felt I needed. As soon as day broke after the phone call, I rang and asked her to return it. The poem was like a lifeline back to sanity. Every time I was overwhelmed with grief, I read it again and it brought me back to a place where I could still stand being alive. It was John Davies of Hereford’s dirge for his friend Thomas Morley:

Death hath deprived me of my dearest friend.

My dearest friend is dead and laid in grave.

In grave he rests until the world shall end.

The world shall end as end all things must have.

All things must have an end that nature wrought.

Death hath deprived me of my dearest friend.

The rhythm of these lines helped somehow, while the words of the gurus did not. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of life.” Joseph Campbell once said, and: ‘we can choose to live in joy’. But had he ever  experienced the sorrows of life, in his long, happy,  childless relationship (with none of the agonies and ecstasies of parenthood) and his sheltered affluent university life-style? Words like his seemed to mock.

In my world, enduring the sorrows of life, it took weeks to move beyond the pain of grief and despair, and my husband lost patience with me. Then both children developed bad cases of measles. It took the spots ten days to come out for my son, and with his high temperature I feared he’d develop encephalitis. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My daughter developed bronchitis and was very sick at the end of her bout of measles.

One night, as I lay by her side in bed anxiously watching her, my husband came to the bed room door. I’d been so pre-occupied with the children’s sickness, that I hadn’t really noticed that his party round had been even more frenetic that usual. He stood in the doorway, looking dreamy and dazed, and said to me, “I’ve just met the woman I’m going to marry.”

I replied coldly, “Well, you’re still married to me.” But inside, I felt a surge of relief. We must be on the home straight! We were. I even stopped having my debilitating migraines. I began saving my earnings for when I would need then.

Now too, my job became really interesting. I began interviewing all the interesting people who came to Hong King. They included charming, handsome Dr Seuss, a man of goodness and integrity. Writer Iris Murdoch was a challenge, and I wish I could do it again now that I know more about life. But then I was so naive that I wondered how such a plain woman could have found a husband! John Bailey, the husband who later betrayed her when she had Altzheimers, was vague and donnish when I met him. Robert Helpman, the great ballet dancer was a joy, gentle, charming, and kind.

Barbara Cartland, so exuberant and full of life at seventy- four (honey and vitamins she told me) took me to her bosom- literally – when I mentioned one of my closest friends who was her son’s best friend. When Raine, Lady Dartmouth, her daughter, came to Hong Kong a few months later, she was just as friendly and charming, seeking me out with all eyes on her as she walked across the dining room to greet me while I was lunching in the Eagles Nest of the Hilton. She was radiantly beautiful, tall and elegant, with big china blue eyes and peaches and cream complexion like the Queen’s. It was hard to see her as the wicked stepmother of Princess Diana in the years that followed.

I don’t think I was very good at writing interviews, but I did uncover a talent for writing columns which blossomed when I moved to another country. I also discovered that journalism could be a powerful force for good when a woman rang me one day and asked to see me at my home. She gave me what she said was a false name.

I opened the front door to a tall, fair-haired sweet-faced woman with great poise and dignity. She wanted to talk to me about setting up Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, the family support group in Hong Kong. I ended up attending meetings of both, and then writing several stories. Both groups took off, and today, the woman, who became one of my closest friends, tells me there are at least seventeen groups now flourishing in the territory, three of them for Europeans.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 I’m still on my what to do with lettuce and greens jag and have adapted this recipe for lettuce soup from my old copy of the one and only Mrs Beaton. I use four spring onions if I have them and soften them with a couple of thinly sliced onions, a chopped garlic clove and a finely chopped carrot. When this is soft I pour in three cups of heated chicken stock. The lettuce then goes in, torn into small pieces, and a cup and a half of frozen peas, salt and pepper. Cook for eight to ten minutes and remove from heat while the soup is still bright green. Whizz in the blender until smooth. One of my oldest friends combs the hedgerows in the Forest of Dean for edible wild plants, and she would add leaves like nettles to this soup. I am not so brave…

Food for thought

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice… by poet Pablo Neruda

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Sailing to the fabled East

EMPIRE TROOPER leaving harbour

A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

Southampton 1953. The first night on board ship (shown above) my father took me for a walk around the deck while my stepmother settled my brother and our luggage into our cabin. It was the first time we had gone for a walk together since that memorable and devastating day in London when we first joined him and my stepmother. He had mellowed in the six years since then. There was a joyous bustle and excitement everywhere we walked in these last few hours before we sailed.

Since I was fourteen I was allowed to eat with the adults, which meant attending the formal dinner every night. Though this was a troopship, the elaborate routines and rituals of an ocean-going luxury liner were still maintained. It had been a German ship during the thirties and when captured during the war, had been transformed into the military ship in which we were now travelling, though still with its sweeping curved staircases and ornate dining room, and a waiter who still processed around the corridors banging a soft gong to announce each meal. So every evening, we ate a full Edwardian dinner, course after course, in full evening dress.

My father had deliberately packed his uniforms, which were now buried in the ship’s hold, so he couldn’t dress up in full regimentals. This had earned him a very black mark from the captain, to which he was impervious. All around us, other officers sweltered and swaggered in mess kit, short jackets laden with gold braid, jingling spurs and tight overalls – as their long tight trousers fitting over Wellington boots were called – while my father relaxed in bow tie and dinner jacket.

With my stepmother wearing her long black silk evening dress he apologised to the others at the dining table for looking so funereal, and as he made his witty remarks, I watched the two poised and elegant young naval officers on our table fall under the spell of his debonair charm, like all his young regimental subalterns. These two young men were exquisitely mannered, especially the blonde blue-eyed one with an indefinable air of distinction, who, my father told me, came from a distinguished aristocratic family.

As the voyage progressed, and we sat with the same diners at every meal and got to know each other, both these young naval officers told me what a wonderful man my father was. By then, I was old enough to see something of what they meant. He was handsome and distinguished in his own right, witty and wicked, with a mischievous sense of humour, gay and rather gentle, and exuded integrity and intelligence. Above all, he shared a zest for life, a joy in people, and a laughing disdain for authority.

This was partly why we were on our way to Malaya, where he was going to help form the Federation Regiment. His career as a gunnery expert was soaring when he had complained to the Army Council about the lack of proper treatment for accidentally injured soldiers during a huge army exercise. Whistleblowers always suffer for their intransigence, so this had meant the end of his career. He left the cavalry and became an infantryman, an unusual career move!

He had had a long hard war, and didn’t get away from France until two weeks after Dunkirk.  His tank regiment had been ordered to support the French on the line of the Somme, but the French never turned up to be supported, and his outnumbered, outgunned regiment was in considerable peril from the swiftly advancing German army. They managed to retreat to Cherbourg, where they destroyed all their tanks and equipment, and were packed onto a cargo ship for the dangerous cross channel journey through the night.

Two thousand men were crammed on to the deck, hungry, exhausted and relieved. He said he never forgot the women of Plymouth in the WVS, waiting for them on the docks at dawn with hot tea. He was then sent to Africa, to serve in his tank regiment in the Eighth Army, and then the First Army. He was one of the famous Desert Rats. The names of his battles echoed through my childhood: Tobruk, Sidi Bahrani and Sidi Rezegh, Bardia and Benghazi, Salerno and Cassino…

I knew where he was, because he sent little cream cards with Pharaohs on them, sitting sideways with their arms bent, with long, black hair and black, almond shaped eyes. He also sent little wicker baskets of almond nuts, perhaps when he was in Tunisia. And later, when he was in Italy, he wrote letters and drew pictures of himself drinking wine at the top of steep hills. But then, after my mother disappeared, his letters stopped coming. As though the heart had gone out of him.

So I sat at table now, in the big dining room, and watched as he charmed our dining companions, who included a childless couple, he, very conscious of his grand regiment; she, still living on her memories of being ‘presented’ at court before the war, when, she told me, as a debutante she wore her long white dress with a train and two white feathers in her hair, to make her curtsey to the King and Queen at the evening courts.

I wore a smart new summer dress my stepmother had bought for these occasions, but since the rest of my wardrobe was in tatters, and my only shoes were a pair of gym shoes, she lent me a pair of flat red Russell and Bromley shoes to complete my outfit.

With a life-time of war-time rations behind me, I couldn’t believe my eyes as course after course of delicious food was served, not just at dinner, but at lunch and breakfast, and even afternoon tea. Few adults slumbering in their cabins, bothered with afternoon tea, but to me it was unmissable, with cake stands laden with mille-feuilles, meringues, slices of Battenberg cake, Florentines, petit fours and other delicacies I’d never even seen before. (The waiter named each exotic cake for me)

After the first week or so of this high life, I was approached by a group of young army lieutenants. They had asked my father first if they could include me in a play they were writing. I discovered that they called me Angelina, and I now enjoyed a court of charming young men who spoiled me and made me the heroine of a play they wrote and produced for the entertainment of the other passengers, so I enjoyed a brief moment of glory.

But I was immune to their considerable attractions, as the night my father had walked me round the deck, I had fallen hopelessly and secretly in love with an unknown naval officer with blue eyes, standing with a group of friends having a drink in the bar. I saw him through the open window as we passed. I never knew his name or anything about him, and craned to see him in the dining room, and hoped to see him in the lounge, and never passed him on the deck.

At Port Said we visited the places my parents knew for old times sake, so I never saw him there. At Aden he was nowhere to be seen, and at Columbo, as we sat and had tea at Mt Lavinia, the famed hotel by the sea, I saw he was playing tennis, and my heart turned over. When we disembarked at Singapore, and he sailed on to Hongkong, I cried for days. I must have driven my parents mad, and no doubt they put it down to hormones, since they didn’t know why I was such an emotional wreck!

Sailing into Singapore in the flaming red dawn was a little like approaching Venice from the sea, and this old port was just as fascinating back then before the skyscrapers arose, and the old streets and dwellings had been razed. It was still a maze of narrow alleys, where long bamboo poles festooned with drying clothes protruded from windows high above pedestrians and trishaws, and below them, shops crammed with intriguing foods, clothes and rugs, jewellery and carvings lined the thronged pavements.

We stayed in a hotel just around the corner from the fabled Raffles Hotel. Our hotel was built around a courtyard where tall palms grew and fragrant frangipani scented the air. In the warm, dark tropical night, I looked down from our bedroom windows to where knots of people squatted around the flames of tiny stoves on the pavement and cooked their evening meal… the scents of their spicy food, and the sound of their voices drifted up through the night, and they became a part of the palimpsest of this strange and enchanting Eastern city.

It was still recovering from the years of deprivation, persecution, and near starvation under the brutal occupation by the Japanese during the war, but then I only saw the beauty and fascination of another culture.

For a few weeks we explored the city, visited old friends in the army quarters and every day took a taxi to the beautiful Botanic Gardens in the cooler late afternoon where we fed the monkeys pea-nuts. Then we took the long train journey the length of Malaya, trundling endlessly through palms and past muddy rivers until we reached Penang, another romantic island, approached by ferry this time. We arrived in this beautiful place to another great hotel, the Runnymede, a rambling white stucco building on the edge of the sea, originally built by that splendid Georgian Englishman, Sir Stamford Raffles, as a home for his first wife and family in 1805.

He’s remembered as the founder of Singapore, but he also abolished slavery wherever he was posted, established law and order and free trade, religious freedoms and free schools. He spoke Malay and wrote a history of Java and was one of the founders of the London Zoo, and London Zoological society. Typically, he was frowned on by the English government, which refused him a pension, and fined him twenty- two thousand pounds when he retired because his land reforms meant he hadn’t made enough profit from the territories he administered! It was a risky business and didn’t pay to be a just and creative colonial official!

The Runnymede Hotel had been extended enormously since Raffles’ time and had evolved into one of the legendary hotels of the East, like Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and the Peninsula in Hongkong. Life for the wives in Malaya before independence – or ‘Merdeka’- as it was known, had a thirties flavour. Very little had changed since before the war in this tiny enclosed world. We spent eighteen months living in this luxury hotel on the edge of the sea which had been commandeered by the army to house officer families.

So while the husbands were scattered all over the Malayan peninsula, banging off at Chinese bandits or Communist freedom fighters – depending on your point of view – in steaming, leech-infested swamp and jungle, their wives and children lived lives of bored luxury in Penang. I, of course was one of these fortunate children, and since now my step-mother’s friends had amahs to look after their children my child- amusing duties were redundant.

I was at an awkward age -fourteen and a half – too young to really be included, but useful when they were short of one for canasta. Too young to learn bridge, or to be invited to join them and their friends for a pimms or gin and tonic before dinner, but too old to eat with the children. So I watched them and tried to understand the shifting friendships and social hierarchies.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 We’re having roast chicken on Easter Sunday, so I decided to make  bread sauce, which I haven’t bothered with for years. It’s supposed to be served with turkey or partridge, but I think it’s just as good with chicken. Stick eight cloves in a peeled onion,and put it in a small saucepan with 500mls of milk, two bay leaves and two springs of thyme. Slowly bring to the boil, and then leave to infuse for at least thirty minutes.

Strain the milk, discard the herbs and the onion. Stir into the milk a 100gms of fresh white breadcrumbs (I use sour dough) and slowly bring to the boil stirring all the time to make a thick smooth sauce. I make this the day before. On the day I will add 100 ml of cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. It can be thinned with more cream or left nice and thick which is how I like it.

Food for thought

 According to my parents, I was supposed to have been a nice, churchgoing Swiss housewife. Instead I ended up an opinionated psychiatrist, author and lecturer in the American Southwest, who communicates with spirits from a world that I believe is far more loving and glorious than our own.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Pioneer in near death studies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All people great and small

 dresser
 He wrote to a ninety-one- year old woman begging to be allowed to be a footman in her household, even if it was just for a day. Her secretary wrote back to the young Fijian and said yes, this could be arranged.

So a few weeks later, when the Queen entered a state room to meet an assortment of ambassadors, governors and other Very Important People, the young Fijian was in attendance, resplendent in his Royal household footman’s uniform. She saw him straight away and ignoring all the Very Important People waiting to exchange a few pallid jokes and platitudes with her, she walked straight across the room to talk to her newest recruit. The guests probably assumed he was an even more important person then they were….

I love such little vignettes which give an unexpected insight into character. On this occasion, the Queen’s humanity would have meant an unforgettable experience for the young man from the Commonwealth and the other side of the world.

I think of the story I read in a blog, when a South African blogger I used to follow was taking her dying daughter for a specialist appointment. While they were waiting outside the lift, the daughter sitting in her wheelchair, the doors opened, and out stepped a tall African. On seeing the mother and daughter, he walked over to them, and bent down and had a few gentle words with the dying woman, before smiling at her mother and continuing on his way… another act of kindness and connectedness – from Nelson Mandela who could well have just continued on his busy way.

I loved reading about Albert Schweitzer, the famous doctor, musician and founder of the hospital at Lambarene in Africa, standing on a train platform in the US where he had been invited. One minute the old man was talking to his group, the next, he was nowhere to be seen. And then someone saw him down at the end of the platform, carrying the suitcases of an old woman, helping her onto the train.

The Queen’s mother was famous for these sort of spontaneous kindly deeds, though one of my favourite stories was of her as a young woman… she had a sweet tooth even then and was happily chewing a caramel as she drove through Liverpool… she caught the eye of a young policeman, and tossed him a caramel, which he caught! Did he chew it too, or keep it in a glass cabinet as an unlikely relic?

A shopkeeper whose shop was on her route to Cheltenham races once wrote to her to say he would like to present her with a bunch of flowers when she drove past on her annual visit. She replied, and for the next eighteen years, until she stopped attending the race meeting, she stopped to talk to him on her way. By then, a crowd was always waiting too, and she never failed to stop and chat with her faithful admirer.

Her grandson’s wife, Diana, not one of her favourites, also had this gift. Few people know of the time when she was visiting this country as a twenty-one -year old. She came out of a reception in Wellington, the country’s capital, and a noisy group of IRA sympathisers was waiting for her with hostile banners and angry shouts. Gathering her courage so as not to disappoint the other people who were waiting to see her, this brave young woman walked over to them, and ignoring the heckling of the Irish, talked to the others. That took real character.

And later, in Auckland, she came out of a banquet late at night, and seeing a little girl standing in a knot of spectators, crossed the road in the pouring rain, red shoes and white tulle dress getting soaked, and bent down to talk to her and take the posy being offered.

General de Gaulle has never been one of my favourite people. Hating the British who sheltered him, gave him offices, staff, aeroplanes, money to support him throughout the war, he could rudely say to Mr and Mrs Churchill while lunching with them at Number 10, and discussing how to handle the French fleet in North Africa, he said it would give the French great satisfaction to turn their guns  onto the British. This, of course, was the man who was able to write a history of the French Army without ever mentioning Waterloo.

But many years later, sitting next to Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary, when she was the wife of the British ambassador, he asked how she passed her time. She blurted out, ‘walking my dog’, and was deeply touched that he spent the rest of the lunch discussing the best places to do this. Even de Gaulle had a heart! He showed it again, writing a tender and touching letter to Lady Churchill on the first anniversary of Churchill’s death.

And talking of animals James Herriott the Yorkshire vet who wrote the popular series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, was the vet to some of my closest friends. He lived up to his reputation. Anthony told me that when they first moved to Yorkshire and signed up with Herriott, then just an unknown country vet, their cat seemed unwell. It was Sunday but they rang their vet anyway. Herriott was enjoying Sunday drinks before lunch at a friend’s home, but he dropped everything and came to the house to treat Anthony’s cat.

These are not great acts of heroism, but little random acts of goodness, kindness or humanity, spontaneous responses in circumstances where pomp and ceremony were often the order of the day… and that’s why they are so revealing… they demonstrate character and connectedness. And there are many people who are not public figures who also respond to everyday situations with spontaneity and kindness, and we never hear of them… let us now praise famous men, as the psalmist wrote… and some there be which have no memorial.

When I listed all the beautiful gifts a friend had given me over the years, and all her acts of kindness and imagination towards me, my love said why don’t you write and tell her. I said I have and I do…. But I made a mental note to tell all my other friends too, how much their friendship and love have meant to me over many years.

I thought about all the wonderful things people tell about their loved ones at their funerals. I always hope the spirits of the dead may be hovering to hear these words of love and appreciation. But how much more they would have enjoyed these tributes during their lifetimes. So one of my resolutions for the rest of my life-time is to make sure those I know and love also Know how much they are loved and valued… not just for their deeds or gifts but for the essence of who they are. Seeing a person’s essence is to recognise their soul. There can be nothing more satisfying than to know you have been Seen, that you have been recognised for who you are, and that who you are is precious, beautiful and utterly loveable.

This is a priceless gift which should be the birthright of every child, and this is my daily prayer: that the parents of all children may see and love the essence of each child, so they grow up undiminished by self- doubt. Then they can feel, and are, whole and happy and loving themselves. A world of loving souls would be a world without fear, and a world of peace, the sort of world we all long for – where peace and goodwill to all men would obliterate the divisions of race, religion and other limiting ideas which separate and divide us. For, as Thich Nhat Hahn says: ‘We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.’

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

The picture is my kitchen dresser groaning with summer produce. We’ve had lots of fresh asparagus this spring, but I had reached satiety with asparagus with melted butter, asparagus with vinaigrette dressing, and asparagus with a complicated Japanese dressing. So when I was the grateful recipient of a harvest of fresh broad beans from my daughter-in law’s garden, I decided to try something else. This is it!.

Wrap enough asparagus stalks for two in a sheet of kitchen paper, putting the join underneath so it doesn’t blow open. Sprinkle the paper with water, and cook the asparagus for just over a minute in the micro-wave. At the same time, chop and fry in a little butter a small piece of good thick ham, then pour in cream, a capful of brandy, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, (I used chopped garlic from a jar!) and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Boil it all up until it thickens.

Blanch the broad beans -enough for two. Cook in boiling water until tender – I used small fresh ones, so didn’t need to pop then out of their outer skin. Then cut the asparagus stalks in two, and add them and the broad beans to the ham and cream mix. Eat with good bread to mop up the delicious juices – and I had a glass of champagne too, to enhance the feeling of well-being!

Food for thought

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.  Albert Schweitzer

 

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