Tag Archives: peace

All people great and small

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 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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Poignant symbolism

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‘Mummy doesn’t like carnations,’  the nine year old told him coldly, her information holding a world of meaning as she correctly assessed that the man at the front door was a suitor.

She was right, and though he persevered on that occasion, he never gave me carnations again. It’s a shame about carnations, but at the time I could only see the sad, scentless etoliated versions wrapped in cheap cellophane and sold on garage fore-courts. They symbolised the  capitalism and commercialism that exploits and corrupts even beauty.

The real thing has a big, heavy deliciously clove- scented head, with a tangle of frilly petals, and was originally used by the Romans for wreaths and garlands, known in Latin as corona. When these flowers first came to England with the legionaries nearly 2000 years ago, their name was coronation, until the word evolved into carnation.

I was just as dismissive about daffodils, when I was presented with a bouquet – or rather some bouquets – which I rather regret now. In my salad days when I was a twenty two year old in the army, and stationed outside a beautiful village in Shakespeare country, I was the only girl in an all male officers’ mess. I had my own little cottage where I lived with the mongrel I’d rescued and dignified by calling him Rupert.

Late one night there was a loud knocking, so I dragged myself from deep sleep, hurried on my pink dressing gown, and stumbled to the door.  Grouped there were all the young officers who had gone to watch a rugby match at Twickenham. It had taken them many hours to get back here, judging by the time – two o’ clock in the morning – and one of the things which had delayed them, apart from merrymaking at every pub on the way back, was that they had also stopped at every roundabout, it seemed, between my cottage and London.

Each roundabout they had stripped of its spring flowers, and here at my door was the result of their labours. Each young man was wearing a proud grin and holding a big bunch of golden daffodils in the moonlight. Sadly, I was not amused, deeply disapproved, and was more intent on getting them to go away, and stopping Rupert from barking and waking senior officers slumbering nearby, than in being grateful for their generosity at the expense of every town council between here and London!

So I did know how my three year old grand- daughter felt when I gave her a disappointing bunch of flowers. I’d chosen a big blowsy thank you bouquet  for her mother, and had as much pleasure in choosing the flowers as my daughter- in –law had in receiving them. My grand-daughter was also ravished by them, so I decided to walk back to the shop through the bitter Melbourne winter’s day and get her the little bunch of flowers I’d refrained from getting on the first visit.

I brought home a posy of exquisite purple violets, the perfect symbol, I thought, for my exquisite flower-like little grand-daughter. She took one look at the dainty flowers and burst into indignant tears, and then threw an uninhibited tantrum in which she expressed her un-utterable disappointment at not having a big grown-up bunch of flowers like her mother’s. Mortified, I could see her point.

Two years later a small posy of white rosebuds with one word ‘Mummy’ on Princess Diana’s coffin reduced half a world to tears.

The symbolism of flowers is far more profound that the sentimental Victorian descriptions of the language of flowers. The flaming red poppy, whose name is now synonymous with the word Flanders, is a poignant reminder still, of every young man who died in the terrible war that my grandmother called The Great War.

And in the next terrible war  flowers softened another battlefield. I remember my father telling me how the hills of Tunisia were smothered in glorious spring flowers as his tank regiment fought their way to join up with Montgomery’s army.

Bruce Chatwin painted an unforgettable image of flowers in that same war, in his book ‘The Songlines’. On the first page he wrote of a Cossack from a village near Rostov on Don, who was seized by the Germans to be carted off for slave labour to Germany. One night, somewhere in the Ukraine, he jumped from the cattle-truck shunting him and other captives away from their homelands and fell into a field of sunflowers.

Soldiers in grey uniforms hunted him up and down the long lines of yellow sunflowers, but somehow he managed to elude them. I can still see in my mind those rows of strong, towering green stalks and leaves,  great, yellow tangled- petalled heads benignly sheltering the fugitive crouched beneath.

I can never forget the endless fields of shimmering purple lupins alive with dancing blue butterflies, stretching along- side thousands of burnt -out tanks in post-war Germany just after the war.  And I could never bear the pink rose bay willowherb, which grew on every English bomb site… the only plant that seemed to thrive in those derelict tragic places. They came to symbolise for me as a small girl, all the horror and sadness and destruction of the war I didn’t understand.

But perhaps the most powerful flower image of all, is that glorious girl on an American campus in the sixties, walking up to a row of armed, helmeted men, and tremblingly pushing a flower into the barrel of a gun pointed at her, her hand shaking slightly as she dared the outrageous.  A girl and a flower speaking the in-effable language of peace.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes home-made mayonnaise can seem a bit heavy, but I use a quick and easy French recipe to lighten it up, learned from my French neighbour. After making the mayonnaise, beat the white of an egg until stiff, and then gently beat it into the freshly made mayonnaise. It gives it a lovely creamy texture, and is particularly good with fish like freshly poached salmon. Another variation is to use a clove of garlic when making the mayonnaise and then add finely chopped avocado with the egg- white. This is a good accompaniment to the chicken mousse from the last post.

Food for thought

That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions’, the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could grasp them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.         Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926  Austrian mystical poet

 

 

 

 

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Nineteen Eighty-Four has caught up with us in NZ

 

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This blog is written by my husband, Pat Booth, a NZ journalist. It’s his weekly column, and I think it’s important for several reasons.

He writes:  “It’s a pattern that an author would die for. Actually, he’s dead already. But interest in his book is at its highest level in decades. Latest figures: Sales up 6884 per cent in 24 hours.

An unlikely sales team is working on the project world-wide – the CIA, presumably MI6, some secret group called Prism, China’s deceptively tame-sounding Ministry of State Security,  the Five Eyes partnership and NZ’s GCSB.  New Zealand’s promotion team is headed by the Prime Minister, John Key.

The book? A brief  resume (with credits to Wikipedia): “Nineteen Eighty-Four”  by George Orwell, published in 1949, is set in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thought crimes.

“Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.  “The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, (Aha!) is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism.

“His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skilled worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.” Of course, any spy epic must include sex.

But Orwell would never have produced  anything quite as cute as whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s girl friend, Lindsay Mills, who labels herself in her blog  as “specialising in pole dancing, partner acrobatics and aerial dancing”. She knows her “Man of Mystery as “E” … As I type this on  my tear-streaked keyboard I’m reflecting on all the faces that have graced my path …” etc etc

All this is good for a giggle –  if only it didn’t reflect so clearly the sort of world we live in. Today’s facts are as worrying  as anything in Orwell’s fiction. Digital science has outdated him.

Modern scandals represent so much of modern life – the ability in our society to dig into phone and e-mail records to identify who we call and when, phones that take and send photos, so called security systems on streets and in buildings intended as a protection from crime which can be tapped as to who was where and when, charting  movements by vetting data in those same mobile phones.

Here is a guide to aspects of the spying world you may never have believed  existed. The GCSB: The NZ Prime Minister, Mr Key chairs the committee which in early July will hear submissions on the “Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill” (to those in the know, “the Spy Bill.”) It allows the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in set circumstances. GCSB’s web site boasts that it “employs the cream of New Zealand’s talent… many recognised as leaders in their field of expertise.”

PRISM: What’s most troubling about the U.S. PRISM isn’t that it collects data. It’s the type of data it collects. According to the Washington Post it collects: “…audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs… [Skype] can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone, and for any combination of audio, video, chat, and file transfers when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance.”

PRISM’s masthead has familiar massive white inflatable globes on its masthead – like those  in that secret US base at Waihope in NZ’s South Island that no one will talk about!

Insisting that broad national security requests seeking users’ personal information were unconstitutional, Yahoo went to US court fighting a PRISM demand  that they  join the spying programme and hand over data. They lost. A secret US court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) sided with the National Security Agency and forced Yahoo’s hand. Most recent figures show that Facebook got up to 10,000 requests for data from NSA in the last six months of 2012, involving  between 18,000 and 19,000  Facebook users on a broad range of surveillance topics, from missing children to terrorism.

Microsoft had between 6000 and 7000 orders, affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts, but downplayed how much they had revealed. Did you get all that? Similar “depth of access” applies to Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest. Just to be clear: This covers practically anything you or I have ever done online, up to and including Google searches as you type them.

Five Eyes:  This “intelligence community” grew out of close UK-US intelligence cooperation in World War 11. Early in the Cold War, “faced by growing Soviet conventional and nuclear threats, American and British intelligence cooperation grew.”  Out of that came a Top Secret sphere of sigint  (secure integrated global network) cooperation whose existence was denied by participating governments  – including ours – for many years. Its website includes an up-beat statement from Canadian Brigadier General James Cox:

 “Cyberspace is now an accepted domain of warfare and Five Eyes sigint agencies are the principal ‘warfighters’, engaged in a simmering campaign of cyber defence against persistent transnational cyber threats… “…to provide governments with foreign sigint in support of national decision-making. In doing so, Five Eyes partners – the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and  New Zealand  – rely on each other to share the collection and analysis burden.

“Today, technological and computational advances create innumerable opportunities for the interception of diplomatic, military, scientific and commercial communications, as well as the extrapolation of radar, spacecraft and weapons systems. While it cannot always reveal what an opponent is thinking, sigint can tell you what he is saying and doing, Most critically, sigint can provide warning of imminent enemy activity at various levels.”

The general also says rather unconvincingly: “Five Eyes partners apparently do not target each other, nor does any partner seek to evade their national laws by requesting or accepting such activity. There is, however, no formal way of ensuring such eavesdropping does not take place. Each partner is trusted to adhere to this ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between allies.”

“Apparently” is not good enough. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister says: “It is the Prime Minister’s view that New Zealand’s relationships with its partners are of overwhelming benefit to New Zealand’s national security.  I’m not convinced.  Are you?  It’s worse than “1984”. It’s real.”

End of my husband’s thoughts on spying, and Canadian spy chief’s gobbledegook. Noam Chomsky has suggested that younger people may not be as outraged by this invasion of privacy as older people, since they’re already used to the open slather of Facebook and Twitter. But if so, I think they haven’t, in the words of the old joke : “realised the gravity of the situation”…

On the other hand, while a sinister interpretation can be put on these spying measures, in another way it shows us how we are all interconnected – that no-one is not, these days, part of the global village. The US and its allies have unwittingly united us all in their network of operations, and in so doing  may well unite us all too, in our resistance to being swallowed up in the phantom fears of fighting terrorism and in the brain-washing of the so-called fight for freedom.

This determination to monitor the citizens of the world may back-fire and show us all that seeing every-one as a potential enemy, terrorist or undesirable person is not the answer to peace. Peace is a state of mind, not a war on anything.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

All the family came for lunch yesterday to celebrate my birthday. Too many to sit round the dining room table, so I had to devise a menu to eat on our laps. It was a cold meal, so I made some hot mulled wine to warm everyone up on a freezing day before we began on the champagne and the rest.

It was quick and easy, using one bottle of good red wine ( I used some local Sangiovese), quarter of a cup of brandy, a peeled and sliced orange, eight cloves, three cinnamon sticks, two teasp ground ginger, and at least a third of a cup of honey… you can use more or less, depending on your taste.

Gently stir /mull for about twenty five minutes without boiling. I served it in coffee cups. This amount is enough for four to six people, but serving it in little coffee cups stretched it out to more than that.

Food for Thought

From the centre which we call the race of men

Let the Plan of Love and Light work out

And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth

The last verse of The Great Invocation, channelled by Alice Bailey 1880 -1949  writer  on philosophy and occult themes

 

 

 

 

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Peace and the heart of blogging

100_0395Part of this has been re-blogged.  Life’s rich pageant, as a comedian used to say, has run me over this week, so I’ve returned to the thoughts in this blog.

I had read a novel by a distinguished prizewinning writer, polished it off in a few hours, turned over and went to sleep. And in the morning I awoke thinking how depressing it was… not one man or woman who was inspirational, kind, or good – everyone ambivalent and self-absorbed. Then I remembered one peripheral historical character, whose real life contribution to the care of the wounded in World War One is one of the more fascinating true stories of that time. He was a man of integrity, compassion and genuine goodness. And as I thought about him, I felt my whole body relaxing, and a smile on my face. I thought to myself how much I love reading about goodness.

I thought about Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim, that amazing woman who for twenty-eight years walked the length and breadth of the States seven times. She carried nothing but a few items in the pockets of her jerkin which was emblazoned with the words: Peace Pilgrim. From 1953 until her death in 1981, she walked to remind people of peace.

She walked through the Korean War, all through the Vietnam War, and on through all the other conflicts, until the day she died. She had no means of sustenance, she ate when she was given food, and slept wherever she was, and usually people recognised her goodness and gave her a bed…” walking until given shelter, fasting until given food”. When she reached 25,000 miles in 1964, she gave up counting.

Wherever she went she talked of peace, saying: “We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.”

Ironically she was killed in a car crash while being taken to speak to a meeting. But her disciples carry on her message. She was seventy -one, a gentle, silver- haired blue-eyed woman with a tanned complexion.

Then there was Don Ritchie, ‘The Angel of the Gap’. I can’t read about this beautiful man without tears blurring my eyes. He retired as a salesman, and bought a house with a marvellous view of the ocean just outside Sydney, which also overlooked a famous suicide spot. He spent the rest of his life looking out of the window at that famous view. Not to enjoy the view, but – “for a far greater purpose,” as one obituary put it – to rescue those who came to end their lives.

As soon as he saw someone lingering there, he walked across to them smiling, with his hands out, palms up (what a beautiful, instinctive gesture of peace and non-violence). “Is there something I can do to help you?” he asked.  He talked to them until they were ready to pick up their shoes and their wallet and their note, and to come back to his house where his wife had a cup of tea waiting for them.

Sometimes he risked his life struggling with those who were determined to jump. The official count of the lives he saved is a hundred and sixty – four, but those who knew him believe the figure to be nearer five hundred. Bottles of champagne and cards arrived for him for years after from those whose lives he’d saved.

He used to say: “never under-estimate the power of a kind word and a smile”. He died last year at eighty-six, proof that no-one needs special training to serve their world, that love makes a difference, that great goodness is to be found in ‘ordinary’ people ( if indeed they are ordinary) as well as in spiritual mentors…

This goodness is what I’ve found in so many blogs I read. Some I never miss… not witty or intellectual or spiritual, but filled with a sweetness and a simple goodness that lights up my day… they make me think of that haunting little Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’… because their goodness is a gift, and it’s a simple uncomplicated sort of goodness, spontaneous and undemanding. Reading these gentle blogs about ordinary events and everyday lives filled with weather and animals and growing things is like smelling a flower.

In the last few months I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the world of blogging. I’ve come to see that for many people it is their life-line. There are those who are sick, but never reveal it, who use blogging as their way of meeting and communicating with others. There are those coping with family illness, death and other domestic challenges, who receive kindness and understanding and a listening ear from the blogging world, and who in their turn open our eyes to the depths of life, and teach us truths about the human condition. As they share their ordeal, their pain and questionings, we bloggers also gain from the perceptions and understandings and resolutions they reach. And there are some who use blogging as a comfort and a support as they search for a job, or a purpose, or tackle a new challenge.

And blogging is an education. As it links us all from around the globe, we learn about the lives and countries of other bloggers. More importantly we share their feelings and gain greater understanding of our global village. And in the year or so that I’ve been blogging, my general knowledge has expanded as I’ve read scientific blogs, climate blogs, artistic blogs, literary blogs, mystical blogs…

But the kindness of bloggers is the heart of it all. That’s why I think blogging has a part to play in raising the consciousness of the world. Even the self-imposed conventions of conduct that we observe, never criticise, judge or write anything hurtful … to be supportive and respectful, are habits that can make the world a kinder place. Kindness stimulates the flow of peace and goodwill which is what will in the end, transform the world into a village, where we know and care about each other, and where, in Thich Nhat Hahn’s words: ‘peace is every step.’ The heart of bloggers is becoming a part of the beating pulse of the world… Namaste, my friends.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Felled by a gruesome couple of visits to the dentist, I needed something to eat that didn’t need chewing. So I de-frosted 500gm of minced chicken and sauted some chopped onion and some celery in a little oil and some butter. When they were soft, I added a cup of grated carrot, some chopped garlic cloves, chopped thyme and a couple of bay-leaves, a squeeze of Worcestershire sauce (you can leave this out). Add the chicken to the pan to quickly brown, and then tip it all into a casserole with some chicken stock to cook slowly in the oven – less than 150 degrees.

This, eaten with creamed potatoes, and pureed peas was just what was needed, and also passed muster with the other hungry threadbare gourmet in the house. And there was enough for another meal.

Food for Thought

Life has a bright side and a dark side, for the world of relativity is composed of light and shadows.

If you permit your thoughts to dwell on evil, you yourself will become ugly.

Look only for the good in everything, that you absorb the quality of Beauty.

Paramahansa Yogananda 1893 – 1952  Indian guru and author of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’

 

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War and Peace

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One night in early June, sixty nine years ago, I lay awake in bed and heard the thunder of hundreds of aeroplanes flying over my home, hour after hour, all through the night. I was six years old, and I lay there frozen with terror, thinking that Hitler was coming to get us.

My mother was not home as usual, so it was my job to get my younger sister and the baby downstairs and into the air-raid shelter when I heard the warning siren. On this occasion, there was no air raid siren, which totally baffled me, and I lay there petrified.

Reading Anthony Beevor’s study of D-day recently, I learned from it that that night was June 5, when a great armada flew across the channel ahead of the landings at dawn. Beevor described people all over the southern England in their night clothes, standing out on the warm June night gazing up at the sky, and watching with astonishment this stupendous aerial army, wave after wave, hour after hour, flying overhead. They knew that the long-awaited invasion was beginning.

Only as an adult did I realise what an anxious, nerve-wracking day that was for the whole country. Europe had never been invaded across the Channel and the men who were attempting it were facing a fortress bristling with weapons, skilled warriors and impregnable fortifications. Western civilisation was hanging in the balance, and with it the lives of unknown millions in Europe. As the army mustered in the ships and then stood in the landing craft, some smoked, some prayed, and if they were American, some chewed gum, then an unknown invention in England. Some read the Bible and some officers recited Shakespeare’s words on St Crispian’s day:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian. …
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours…

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin‘s day.

Many of these young men had never been in combat before, while the battle- weary British troops who’d been fighting for the previous five years, were now somewhat reluctant heroes. My father told me much later, that he felt his courage had ran out in Italy.

They had breakfast while they sailed into the dawn, the Americans enjoying steak, pork, chicken and ice-cream, the hard-up British, corned beef sandwiches and a tot of rum. On one ship the sailors made sure the Canadian Scottish regiment had two hard boiled eggs and a cheese sandwich to take with them… and thus fortified they all went into battle.

Back in England, every-one was on tenterhooks, knowing what a huge gamble it was. Churchill was in agony, knowing what failure meant, in terms of the dead and their families, with his experience of the carnage of World War One. He was also worried about the French civilians. 15,000 had been killed, 19,000 wounded in the bombings before the Invasion. Roosevelt had rejected his pleas to concentrate on the Luftwaffe. (One wonders if Roosevelt would have been so gung-ho about that number of American women and children dying in their homes. I also wonder if there are memorials to these dead, as well as to the soldiers who died.)

If everyone else was on tenterhooks, I wasn’t. No-one told a small girl what was going on back then. One just snatched at clues, and tried to piece things together. One of my earliest memories was of the Battle of Britain. I remember standing with my mother and a couple of other women, as they gazed up into the cloudless blue sky in the Dorset country-side , saying: “There’s another dog-fight”.  I craned to see these dogs fighting in the sky, but all I could see were silver crosses diving across the blue space with white lines trailing behind them.

I was two then, I couldn’t talk, but I could understand what adults were saying. Later, I remember people promising that in Peace-time we would have sweets, and toys, and clothes. I thought Peace-time must be like Christmas, only better. At Christmas we had an orange at the bottom of our sock, a once a year treat.

I used to peer out of the window looking over the quiet street where we lived, watching the big girls I admired, roller-skating past. I was six and they were twelve. They didn’t know I existed as I peered through the small diamond shapes on the window which was criss-crossed with wide, sticky brown tape to stop the glass shattering if a bomb fell.  This was at Weymouth, and the American soldiers who fought at Omaha left from Weymouth Bay.

As long as I could remember, the beach had been covered in thousands of khaki camouflaged vehicles, surrounded by barbed wire. There was just a tiny corner of the beach where we could use the golden sands. And in the sea were lines of cruel metal spikes sticking out of the waves to stop the Germans coming. I thought all beaches were covered in barbed wire and protected by rows of big black spikes.

And then one day they were all gone – troops, vehicles, barbed wire and spikes. No-one told me why. I was an adult before I managed to piece the story together. Today, every child knows about war. It comes into their homes every night on the TV screens. They must feel that war is normal. But my war was different. It was a monstrous aberration which we all longed to end, everyone hanging out for peace. When it came, nothing much changed for us, rationing went on into the fifties, hardship was part of our daily lives. But at least we thought we had won the peace.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend gave me this recipe, which she had gleaned from another friend. It’s supposed to be for four lamb shanks, but I used it for four chicken breasts. Brown them, and gently cook a large onion until soft. Put the chicken and onion in a casserole with four chopped spring onions, six tablesp of peanut butter, four slices of  fresh ginger, three cinnamon sticks, three star anise, 80 grams of dark brown sugar or palm sugar, three tablesp of dark soya sauce, three tablesp of Hoisien sauce, and three tablesp of rice wine. ( I didn’t have any rice wine, so used a medium/sweet sherry instead).

I poured three cups of boiling chicken stock over it all, and put it in the oven at 80 degrees for twelve hours. It is melting when it’s ready. I served it with the kumara puree and parsnip and carrot puree.

Food for Thought

There really seems to be only one hope for man: not to change the world and others, but in some degree to change and improve himself. The salvation of the world rests secretly upon those who manage to do so.

Herman Hesse  1877- 1962  German poet and novelist, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946

 

 

 

 

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Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, great days, history, life and death, military history, peace, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, world war two

The longest journey

100_0404I’m sitting by the wood fire with the rain falling steadily outside onto the green garden. It’s fragrant with the scent of all the cyclamens I bought this year to put in pots. I hadn’t realised what a beautiful perfume they had. I picked some roses before the rain drenched them, Monteverdi’s exquisite lilting Vespers – trumpets and choirs –  is playing, and I had for lunch a delicious helping of the grocer’s bargain Gorgonzola Dolce with fresh sour dough bread.

And coffee. My coffee tastes entirely different now that I’ve learnt to put the milk in first, thanks to the coffee drinking bloggers who commented on the blog I’d written about tea, and how Milk in First – so frowned upon by the pukka – is actually more delicious than milk poured in after the tea. So I’m now drinking coffee milk in first.

I’ve been watching a blackbird pecking at a red apple nailed to the fence outside the window. The sparrows love their grain in the swinging blue and white bowl suspended from a tree near the bird-bath. As I watched them, I was amazed to see a host of different birds in the garden, so unusual in this country.

There was a wood pigeon sitting in the guava tree in its approved partridge in a pear tree fashion, three pink-breasted grey doves pecking on the grass, a couple of tuis frisking in the bottle brush tree, sparrows in the feeding bowl, fan tails flitting around between plum tree and bird bath, a couple of lime-green and grey wax- eyes flickering among the leaves, and to my astonishment, a gold finch pecking around the green copper with pink cyclamen – the pink and the gold, and the verdigris of the copper a delight.

The tiny wax-eyes or silver -eyes, which are half the size of a sparrow – would top the list of NZ birds I love. Victorian Walter Buller, the earliest NZ authority on birds, called them silver-eyes. They ‘re supposed to have arrived in New Zealand in June 1856. Buller wrote: ‘…in the early part of June of that year, I first heard of its occurrence at Waikanae, a native settlement on the west coast, about forty miles from Wellington. The native mailman brought in word that a new bird had been seen, and that it was a visitor from another land.

‘A week later he brought intelligence that large flocks had appeared, and that the “tau-hou” (stranger) swarmed in the brushwood near the coast; reporting further that they seemed weary after their journey, and that the natives caught many of them alive’. Buller tells us that they were then seen in numbers in Wellington, and greatly welcomed as they ate the aphis known as American Blight which was ruining the settlers’ apple trees. The little silver-eye has flourished here ever since its epic thousand-mile journey across the Tasman.

Why did they come, flocks of them, not just a few blown by the wind? What a great heart in a tiny frame, and what impelled each one to embark on this huge migration across an ocean? Flocks of them sometimes clung exhausted to the masts of ships in mid-ocean. How did they know that a land, New Zealand, was awaiting them at the other side of the trackless sea? And how sad, that at the end of the endless journey, tiny wings beating against the winds, they were so exhausted, that many were caught by hand by Maoris and ended their lives precipitately in the Promised Land.

Whenever I see the tiny green creatures flitting in and out of the birdbath, sipping the honey in the bottle-brush tree, and nibbling the apples I put out in winter, I remember their great journey and noble hearts. Was their quest a search for a better life, like so many of the settlers, who in those same years also sailed across oceans for six months to reach here, surviving perils which included drowning, sickness and starvation?

This quest of men and birds took not just courage but a leap of imagination, and I wonder if these are the times now when we must all also take another leap of imagination and courage to save the dear earth that we know – to take, in Christopher Fry’s words, “the longest stride of soul men ever took”.  Eckhart Tolle has warned that all the structures that we’ve always known will start to crumble, and we are now seeing trusted institutions, organisations, freedom, democracy, justice, free speech, free press, the environment – all under threat.

So this must be the time to take that long stride of soul – to create new ways of living on this planet, salvaging the best, and joining together to share peace and goodwill, as well as food and resources.  The Dalai Lama has said that meditating is not enough – we need to act – and Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that we can’t go on the way we are doing.

He says otherwise: “there is no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed. This will require enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction.”  So enlightenment, it seems, is a journey which we can’t delay, and however difficult this may seem, and whatever it means to different people – as Lao Tzu so famously said nearly fifteen hundred years ago – a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets 

As a threadbare gourmet, I pride myself on getting at least eight meals out of a chicken, so I put the legs into the deep freeze to take out when I wanted them. After de-frosting and taking the skin off, I added them to a pan in which I’d sauted garlic and chopped mushrooms in butter and cream. I also crumbled a chicken cube in a little boiling water and added it to the mix to boil up and thicken. Then I stirred in half a teasp of Dijon mustard, some nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I serve this on pasta, this time I served it with buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.

Food for Thought

Life is an endless struggle full of frustration and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like!

 

 

 

 

 

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Peace or Patriotism?

100_0332

Is patriotism enough? Nurse Edith Cavell first raised the question before she was shot by the Germans for treason  in 1916. She was an English nurse, matron of a Belgian hospital when the Germans invaded Belgium on their way to invade France. On the outbreak of war, her hospital was immediately designated a Red Cross hospital. For the next two years she not only carried on with the work of the hospital, but rescued and nursed back to health wounded British and French soldiers, who were then helped to return to their countries. She also nursed wounded German soldiers. She knew that she was in danger, but she said: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.”

The Germans arrested her, and court martialled her for treason. Under German law she was sentenced to death. From this perspective, it seems strange that an English nurse working for a Belgian hospital in a country which the Germans had invaded, breaking their treaty of neutrality, and then ravaging the country, shooting whole villages, burning ancient cities, should have been expected to be loyal to these invaders! The Germans said that they had treated her fairly.

She raised the question on patriotism just before her execution, when she actually said that: “Patriotism is not enough”.

This phrase has been in my mind, as this country prepares for the most solemn day in its calendar – ANZAC day – a day of national mourning and unity which it shares with Australia. It commemorates the Battle of Gallipoli on Turkish soil. It was a disaster for the Allies, who lost 21,555 British soldiers, 10,000 French, 8,709 Australian and 2,721 NZ soldiers. Winston Churchill has always been blamed for it, but from the beginning of his idea, and the actual carrying out of it, something now called ‘mission drift “ occurred, in which the original idea got lost in  more ambitious schemes, but without the extra men and supplies needed for these  ambitions.

In the forty three years that I’ve lived in NZ, I’ve seen a revived connection with these ceremonies, as more people remember – though they may not understand – their history, and the heroism of their ancestors. At my age, I heard firsthand the memories of my great-uncle and grandfathers who were in the navy and the army in the First World War, so it doesn’t seem almost a hundred years ago to me.

And one of the things that always saddens me about these ceremonies and rituals in my adopted country, is that this day also becomes an opportunity for some to bash the British in their sermons and newspaper articles. So it tends to be forgotten that the British and the French lost great numbers of young men in this battle too… and that they always valued the great qualities of the NZ and Australian fighting men. This is what is called chauvinism… the dictionary defines it as:militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism’.

And it happens all around the world, in some countries more than others. On the other hand, there are also many people around the world who have responded to Edith Cavell’s insight, and can see that patriotism is not enough. She also said:  “I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” She was not just a brave woman, but a deeply spiritual one, and had reached insights that many of us are still struggling towards.

Another one who did have those insights was the officer commanding the Turks at Gallipoli. Fourteen years after the Gallipoli campaign, some of the mothers of the soldiers who had died on the Turkish peninsula, wrote to the President of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, asking for permission to visit the graves of their sons. Kemal Ataturk had been that commander at Gallipoli, and he sat down and wrote these words to the grieving mothers:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers, who sent their sons to faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

I can never read these beautiful words without the tears welling in my eyes….

Kemal Ataturk was the great visionary leader who transformed Turkey into an enlightened and free country back in the twenties and thirties. In two years, his drive and vision raised literacy from ten per cent to seventy per cent, and he gave women all the freedoms that men enjoyed. His early death from cirrhosis of the liver was a tragedy for Turkey and for the world.

His foreign policy was simple: ‘Peace at home. Peace in the world’. These are the words and thoughts that rise above mere patriotism, and to use those lovely old words from the Anglican prayer book are what could bring us: “peace in our time”.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The cemetery with the war memorial in our village lies on one side of the tiny peninsula where we live. It looks out to sea. The other side of the road, we look out to sea in the opposite direction. So since everyone gathers in the road outside our house before entering the cemetery, we always end up having friends in for coffee when the service is over.

The cake I’m doing for this occasion is an easy apple cake – I seem to have dozens of different apple cakes – and this one is quite a chewy one. Peel and slice five apples, mix with a cup of brown sugar and put to stand for 15 minutes. Mix together a cup of self raising flour, a teasp of ground cinnamon, half a cup of oil, a beaten egg, half a cup of chopped dates (I often leave this out) and three quarters of a cup of chopped walnuts. Stir in the apples and sugar. Tip into a greased and floured tin and gently press the mixture down.  Bake in a 160 degree oven for one and a half to two hours, and cool before turning out. I often sprinkle sugar over the top, and add a dash of vanilla to the mixture.

Sometimes I serve it with stiff whipped cream, and make it the day before, as it matures deliciously.

Food for Thought

Everyone has within him something precious that is in no-one else. But this precious something in a man is revealed to him only if he truly believes his strongest feeling, his central wish, that in him stirs his inmost being.

Martin Buber  1878 -1965 Austrian born Jewish philosopher

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Filed under great days, history, military history, peace, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, world war one