Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

A great-grandfather

100_0500While those who were interested in the christening at St James Palace were focused on his famous great- grandmother, I was more interested in the baby’s great-grandfather. The Queen’s husband was a year older than HRH Prince George of Cambridge when he escaped with his life, lying in a hastily improvised cradle which was actually a drawer from a chest of drawers.

His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, had been arrested in a Greek revolution in 1922, five years after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. His mother, Princess Alice, Queen Victoria’s great-grand-daughter, once known as the prettiest princess in Europe, was the niece of the deposed and dead Russian Tsarina Alexandra.

One of Victoria’ numerous grandchildren, King George V of England was cousin both to Tsar Nicholas of Russia – in fact they looked so alike it was hard to tell them apart –  and also to Tsarina Alexandra, and he had refused them refuge in 1917, for fear of provoking revolution in England. So his cousins and their children, the four ravishing archduchesses, and the haemophiliac Tsarevitch were murdered in the cellar at Ekaterinberg.

It was this dreadful memory which spurred George V into sending a battleship to rescue his Greek relatives, taking off Philip’s father from Greece, and then picking up Philip, his mother and sisters who were living under surveillance in Corfu. They were all decanted at Malta. The family went to Paris, where it dissolved. Prince Andrew retired to Monte Carlo to become a playboy, Philip’s mother who was born deaf, though she had learned to lip-read in three languages, retired to a sanatorium in Switzerland with schizophrenia, and the sisters married German princelings, one of them at sixteen. The little boy Philip was shuttled between boarding school in England, his sisters in Germany, and his grandmother in England, another of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, and his uncles, one of whom was Lord Mountbatten, later murdered by the IRA with members of his family. Philip rarely saw his mother.

When his close sister Cecile, perished in a plane crash on her way to a wedding with her husband, two children and other family members, Philip, by then seventeen, walked in her funeral procession, just as he walked with his grandson William in his mother Diana’s funeral procession sixty years later. In between he’d attended Salem School which aimed to: ‘Build up the imagination of the boy of decision and the will-power of the dreamer, so that in future wise men will have the nerve to lead the way they have shown, and men of action will have the vision to imagine the consequences of their decisions.’  Kurt Hahn, the headmaster, fiercely scrutinised the strength of character of any child admitted to the school. So even though his sister and her idealistic husband subsidised the school, Philip was put through the hoops to prove his worth, and with those values, no wonder the Nazis closed in on Hahn, forcing him to flee to Scotland where he founded Gordonstoun School, and where Philip ended up too.

When war came, Philip joined the Royal Navy, and so for seven years was cut off from his sisters in Germany. Now he camped with his grandmother and an uncle until they both died, and then moved in with Lord Mountbatten – not an easy childhood, with absent parents and no home. Yet the combination of heredity (and there’s no room here to go into his fascinating forbears), environment, set-backs and an active enquiring intelligence resulted in an interesting man of many parts. He was also one of the handsomest young men in the world, as a quick glance at his wedding photos show.

No snob either – at his wedding in Westminster Abbey where everyone brought out their jewels and furs for the first time since the war began, he wore his shabby well-worn naval uniform, disdaining to wangle clothing coupons in order to re-place it. But he had changed his name from Schleswig- Holstein – Sonderburg – Glucksburg to Mountbatten – well you would, wouldn’t you?

He had made a love match with the young Princess Elizabeth, and though they knew what the future held, they didn’t envisage her father dying at 54 and thus changing their lives forever. Philip was devastated, as it meant leaving his naval career. While the Queen is always the soul of discretion, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he became, has always been famous for being outspoken, direct, and frequently controversial. But he’s always brought humour and humanity to the boring protocols of Royalty. When he met Malala at Buckingham Palace recently, he said to her – accurately – “in this country, parents send their children to school to get them out of the house”, causing Malala to break into laughter, and clap her hand over her mouth, and her father to laugh out loud too.

Unlike the consort of Dutch Queen Juliana, he has never caused a huge scandal over dishonest corporate dealings, and unlike Queen Margaretha of Denmark’s husband, he’s never stomped off in a hissy fit and disappeared for days at a big Royal wedding, because he felt he wasn’t getting the respect he deserved. Unlike the Spanish King, he hasn’t gone off on African safari shooting elephants with a well-established mistress, and unlike the King of Sweden he’s never had a string of other women either. He enjoys the company of women – with four sisters that’s a given, but though Fleet Street has tried very hard, it’s never been able to pin anything on him.

If Prince George’s parents are sensible, they’ll go to him for advice, as well as to Mrs Middleton. Though the Queen is famous for indulging her children and not reprimanding them, Philip was the head of their family and his philosophy for bringing up children was wise and kind.

Talking of teenagers he told one biographer “Children go through enormous changes. For a time they’re in phase with life around them, then they go out of phase and become unliveable with, and everything they do is wrong and cross-grained and maddening – and then suddenly it all comes right for a bit – then they go off on another tack…

“It’s no good saying do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. You can warn them about certain things, that’s about the most you can do, or you can say , this is the situation you’re in, these are the choices, on balance it looks as though this is the sensible one, go away and think it over, and come back and let me know what you think.”

Philip said he felt that his children’s feelings never went unconsidered or that reasonable requests were denied:

“It’s very easy when children want to do something, to say no immediately. I think it’s quite important not to give an unequivocal answer at once. Much better to think it over. Then if you eventually say no I think they really accept it. If you start by saying no, and they persist in the argument  until you realise you could perfectly well have said yes, you get into a situation where they won’t ask you any more, or you find you’re stopping them doing things which in fact it would be perfectly reasonable for them to do.”

He’s used his position to further and encourage innovation in industry, and championed the environment and preserving wildlife before anyone else was green. Some would think that the luxury and splendour in which he has lived since becoming the Queen’s consort is a good swap for the normal life he was so reluctant to give up, his career in the navy and his privacy. But for an intelligent man of action, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, it must have been a tough life, always one step behind his wife. He has often been misunderstood, and often doesn’t  get the credit for his indispensable common sense,  for his fortitude, and the deep loyalty and love   he’s always given his family –  Queen and country have been lucky to have him, and so is his great-grandson George.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The asparagus season is just beginning, and though it’s hard to go past lightly steamed asparagus and melted butter, I also enjoy it placed on some silver foil, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper, covered and baked for 15 minutes or so in a medium oven. Or steamed, blanched, and eaten with a Japanese dressing of one teasp dried mustard, one teasp hot water, one egg yolk, one tablesp dark soy sauce, one teasp freshly chopped ginger or half of dried, and salt to taste. Mix the mustard with the water, add the other ingredients, and pour over the asparagus. Eat within three hours.

Food for thought

We have enough people who tell it like it is – now we could use a few who tell it like it can be.                  Robert Orben, American comedy writer and Gerald Ford’s speech-writer.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

42 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, history, Royals, royalty, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Not Royal but Remarkable

100_0175The attention of the whole country was focussed on a charming country house set amid quiet leafy lanes. Everyone was waiting for the Royal baby to be born. The Royal mother had gone home to her mother to have her first baby, which would be the Queen’s great grandson. And it would be the first time in history that there had been three generations of heirs to the throne. When the baby was born, he and his mother stayed with their grandmother at White Lodge for another six weeks.

 So many people wanted to congratulate Princess May, who later became Queen Mary, that a marquee was set up on the lawn for hundreds of people to sign the visitors’ book. Queen Victoria came over from Windsor to see the baby, bringing her grand-daughter Alex, and her fiancée- soon to become last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and eventually meet their fate at Ekaterinburg.

 History repeats itself. A hundred and nineteen years later, another mother- to- be and baby are keeping everyone waiting.  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is going home to her mother’s country home for six weeks, and her baby is also the third in line to the throne. But her baby is the lucky one, whatever lies ahead. And this baby’s great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, is also awaiting news of the birth at Windsor.

 The baby born to Princess May was David, better known as Edward V111, the only king to have abdicated. His mother was not a natural mother, and left him to his nanny. She used to pinch the baby before he came into the room in the evening to see his parents, so he entered, crying, and was hastily sent back in disgrace to his nanny. When he was three this woman had a nervous breakdown, and it was discovered that she had not had a day off in three years.

 The next generation was this Queen, and her mother used her own old nanny – Alah, who gave the Queen and Princess Margaret a happy tranquil childhood. This was not the case for the Queens’ children, who had a fierce old dragon to look after them. Like all the Royal children before them, except for Queen Alexandra’s, Charles and his brothers and sisters too only saw their mother for an hour before bed-time, and for a short time in the morning. Someone who knew the Queen well has commented that if she had given her children the same time and attention she had given to her horses, things might have turned out differently.

 We all know that Charles’ wife Diana was a devoted mother. But she was back at work within two months carrying out Royal duties, leaving William in the care of his nanny Barbara Barnes. He adored her, and one day after Diana found him cuddled up in bed in the morning with his nanny, she couldn’t cope with this competition so Barbara Barnes left when he was four…  a huge emotional blow for him.

 So his decision and his wife’s to manage without a nanny is a huge breakthrough in the pattern of Royal maternal and emotional deprivation! Catherine – as she is known in her family rather than the media’s Kate – is the daughter of a devoted hands- on mother. Carol Middleton has endured many slights for her humble background as a working- class builder’s daughter, and as an upwardly mobile air hostess.

 But the slim, elegant figure in pale blue who arrived at Westminster Abbey for her daughter’s wedding is a remarkable woman. When her children went to Marlborough other parents said they just gave up – they couldn’t cope with the care that she gave her children right down the beautifully embroidered and hand sewn Cash’s name-tapes on their clothes. We all had these name tapes in my day, but most people use indelible marking pencils these days. She didn’t just give her own children hampers of tuck food, but also supplied a girl from a broken home with a hamper too.

 When her flamboyant younger brother who she had always mothered, was set up by the press for a drug sting, rather than belabour him for the bad publicity, she rang and apologised that because of their public profile with Kate, he had been targeted. She’s kind, sensible and conscientious.

 And as everyone knows she is the creator and driving force behind the thriving business which supports their now rich life-style. When Catherine was born, her mother devised a little business from her kitchen table so that she could stay at home with the children. From this grew their party-bags empire.

 William spends much time in her home with great enjoyment, savouring the tight-knit family and loving informality he never knew. Carole Middleton sounds as though she’ll be the perfect grandmother – always there, experienced, loving, and well-adjusted. So this baby, born in the green English country-side will have all the good fairies ranged on his/her side, and people watchers and royalty fans will have a new and intriguing family saga to watch.

 And the builder’s daughter born in a council house, brought up by working class parents with the values of hard work, thrift and good manners will be the the most important maker and shaper of a modern king or queen – if the monarchy lasts for another fifty years.

 Walter Bagehot, the Victorian authority on Royalty famously wrote that a ‘Princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact”, and the birth of a new prince or princess to a couple who we’ve followed with various degrees of interest for years is magnified also. To see Diana’s son emerge from all his childhood traumas to become a father in his own right is of immense interest to many of us, monarchists or not… there’s something irresistible about watching glamour and goodness combined with history, high fashion, drama and domesticity. And this is where Carole Middleton- grandmother- waiting, steps onto the stage to join the other players !

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I get bored with bread ! So sometimes I make something else to go with bread and cheese – this is a courgette loaf, good with soft blue cheese, or even just good old Cheddar. Mix two cups of SR flour with one cup of grated courgette/zucchini, half a teasp salt, one teasp mild curry powder, and a cup of grated cheese like Cheddar.  Add a quarter of a cup of oil, one egg and one and three quarters of a cup of milk.

 Lightly mix and tip into a greased loaf tin. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake in a hot oven for forty minutes or so until brown. Switch the oven down after ten to fifteen minutes if it starts to brown too quickly. Serve warm with butter and cheese for a tasty supper…

 Food for Thought

 The feminine principle is the eagerness to collaborate rather than compete, it is the eagerness to relate rather than stand out as an individual, it is the longing for harmony and community and caring and nurturing.

 Lynne Twist –  Global activist, fundraiser, speaker, consultant, coach and author. Dedicated to global initiatives that serve humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

52 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, family, food, happiness, history, kate and pippa middleton, life/style, princess diana, Queen Elizabeth, Royals, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The Queen!

100_0205This post has been re-blogged for the reasons in my latest post The Tragic and Hilarious Life of a Blogger

I’ve just seen a photograph of this radiant elderly woman coming out of hospital, her immaculate white hair shining against the bright red, exquisitely tailored coat which she wore adorned with a simple diamond brooch( if any diamond brooch is simple). Her eyes were shining and her smile sparkling.

She’s eighty-six and the most photographed woman in the world, one of the busiest and most active, and these days, one of the best dressed women in the world too. Once Bobo, her Scottish nursery maid from childhood -who became her dresser – died at 89, Angela Kelly, the new dresser arrived. Suddenly instead of the frumpy clothes chosen by the un-imaginative Bobo who was the despair of all the couturiers who dressed the Queen, the vibrant and now beloved Angela, has transformed the Queen’s clothes and her image.

Angela, who has a broad Liverpool’ Scouse’ accent, and was the daughter of a crane driver, is a creative and vivacious woman with a wonderful sense of colour and design. She designs most of the Queen’s clothes now.

So the once dowdy but beautiful Queen has now blossomed into this stunning looking woman who wears clear jewel-like colours – purple,  primrose, turquoise and leaf green, bright red, and pure white with the matching hats that define her inimitable style. Her see-through umbrellas have a matching coloured handle and are edged with the matching colours.

She wore white decorated with sparkles like her predecessor Elizabeth 1, on her Jubilee cruise down the Thames, gold to echo the gold statue of Queen Victoria at the Buckingham Palace Jubilee concert, shamrock green to go to Ireland, and a smashing pale primrose for her grandson’s wedding, each outfit beautifullly cut and tailored. And of course black with diamonds to Diana’s funeral. (I’ve wanted some fabulous diamonds to wear with black ever since) Her eyes are still as blue as when she was young and her complexion still as clear, though she’s lost her tiny waist and elegant legs in old age – haven’t we all?

But nothing much else has changed. She still walks her corgis every day and feeds them herself, cutting up their meat and dishing it out. She still rides her favourite horse, though not as energetically as she did, and still refuses to wear a hard hat, preferring her trademark  head-scarf.  She still breeds her racehorses and gundogs (black Labradors to you and me) and goes to the races. She still  adores her ninety-two year old husband. She still performs investitures and receives ambassadors, foreign sovereigns, dignitaries, heads of state and travels on Royal tours.

She still carries out between four and five hundred engagements a year; she still spends hours every day reading and signing all the documents in her red boxes, and she still receives her prime ministers every week for an audience to bring her up to date. Actually it’s usually the other way around. She’s so well informed that both Churchill and Wilson left discomfited after their first audiences, having assumed it would be a walk in the park, not a penetrating inquisition.

She’s had twelve prime ministers, and they all loved her – even Maggie Thatcher – and valued her support, knowing she was the one person who really wanted them to succeed for the country’s sake. Rab Butler, often described as the best prime minister England never had ( like the late Adlai Stevenson in the US ) often had audiences when he was acting prime minster.

No mean intellect himself, he was impressed by her intelligence, and also said that she never tried to behave as anything but a woman. He was fascinated by her constant anxiety over inflation as prices began to rise, saying it struck him as “inconsistent in someone who did not do her own shopping.”  But this was the frugal mother who sent her small son Charles back to the garden at Sandringham to look for a lost dogs lead – saying “ Leads cost money.” This was also the little girl whose nursery maid Bobo taught her to unwrinkle and fold the wrapping papers on Christmas presents, and re-use the paper and ribbons – in the depths of the Depression.

When she came to NZ for her 25 year Jubilee tour in 1977, a hard-boiled cynical anti -royalist was assigned to cover her visit to Auckland, the thinking being that there would be no sickly sycophantic reports. He came back to the office a shaken man. “I’ve just stood in the crowd as they walked up Queen Street and felt wave after wave of happiness,” he marvelled. He was amazed and mystified by the joy and excitement of the people overflowing the pavements on both sides.

On board the Royal Yacht Britannia I stationed myself at the end of the line of guests being received and was fascinated to watch the Queen. The first impression was one of innate shyness being overcome with a huge effort of will. She began shaking hands with a long line of people she would probably never see again in her life. As each person bowed or curtseyed, she gazed penetratingly at them, and followed them with her eyes as they moved on, before giving the next in line the same full attention. It was a simple act each time, but she gave it her total concentration. It made it a special moment for each person she met.

Later, as she circulated, chatting, and joined the group I was standing with, she was asked how she had enjoyed drinking kava, the Fijian fermented drink in a huge wooden bowl. She and the Duke had just come from Fiji. She laughed, and started to say: “Oh it tasted like” – when she stopped, remembered she could be reported and it would hurt the feelings of the Fijians, and ended mischievously – “like a nice cup of tea”.

Those who know her say she has a wicked sense of humour and is a brilliant mimic. Angela Kelly, who has become one of the people closest to her, says she’s very good at mimicking her Scouse accent. Nobody knows what books she reads, or what music she likes, and she hides her boredom at what must be excruciatingly boring banquets, lunches, receptions, concerts, parades, factory and hospital visits, and she never tries to be charming or popular.

She sees herself as the servant of her people, so along with presidents and prime ministers, she’s also had to entertain crooks and clowns – including the late and unlamented Romanian dictators, the Ceauscescus, who were preceded by a phone call from Paris where they’d been staying, warning that they’d steal everything, including the gold taps – and Berlusconi at a conference, who she ticked off when he was loudly showing off, asking why he had to make so much noise.

The one thing we do know is that she loves things to go wrong… and then the routine is disturbed, the pomp and ceremony are disrupted,  people become real, they stop being formal and become spontaneous, and she really enjoys herself!  She’s a countrywoman, who is happiest living in her country houses enjoying picnics and field sports (stalking deer, fishing, shooting and generally killing for fun) in the Highlands like all her ancestors before her; and riding and presiding over shooting parties (perish the thought) in Norfolk. She dotes on her grandchildren and is a devout churchgoer..

She’ll be 87 this year, and it’s hard to imagine a world without her… which was how people felt about her great- great- grandmother Victoria. Informed sources comment that she’s fitter than her mother was at this age, yet her mother lived to a hundred and four. So it looks as though she’ll probably outlive me, and I never will experience the world without her. God Save the Queen!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I read an article about sandwiches in the paper yesterday, and it had all my taste buds twitching. But to my mind all the mixtures and combinations people said were their favourites just didn’t compare with a simple egg sandwich. So while my husband chomped through his chicken salad for supper, I made myself the perfect egg sandwich.

It has to be fresh soggy white bread! Thinly sliced. Buttered right up to the edges so that the butter acts as an impermeable layer between filling and bread. Hard boil the eggs, chop and mash them up with salt and pepper and enough good bought mayonnaise to moisten them. Spread this mix over the bread, cut off the crusts and cut into four. (soak the crusts in water to give to the birds) Some people would add lettuce, but that’s a different sandwich – this is my comfort food, what we always ate on childhood picnics.

Food for Thought

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.              Taoist meditation

43 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, fashion, great days, history, life/style, philosophy, Royals, royalty, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Books and real people

100_0233

So many bloggers write about their experiences writing fiction that I’ve begun to look long and hard at what I read.  Mostly diaries, letters, biography, autobiography and history.

Why? I’ve been asking myself. I think of a panorama of people, living and dead and what I love about these accounts of real life are the moments of humanity and truth that emerge, lighting up the character of each person, and giving me such an insight into the goodness, variety, and endless capacity for living which we humans are capable of.

Though fiction gives us these moments too, I love to see them embedded in the life of people we know in history, and to see how we have changed so much – and not changed at all.

So there’s the Venerable Bede, who introduced the terms AD and BC into our language and wrote dozens of books in ‘Englisch’ for the first time in history. This gentle, scholarly man was a foodie in the seventh century, and spiced up the basic monastery fare in remote Northumbria by using rare and expensive peppercorns. He bequeathed his little store to his fellow monks when he died…and also his handkerchiefs… another luxury in that far-off century.

And talking of food – what an intriguing insight into the character of Ulysses Grant – to read that this great soldier, who was responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths in the struggle between the Union and the Confederates – hated the sight of blood. All his meat was overcooked to the point of being crisp. He never went hunting, refused to attend a bull – fight held in his honour in Mexico when he was president, and was probably the first horse whisperer, a superb horseman who could do anything with any horse.

Another great general, Wellington – whose horse Copenhagen, was as famous as Robert E. Lee’s Traveller – loved dancing, and any officer on his staff had to fulfill the job description of being a good dancer. Onlookers were surprised by their frivolity and their dedicated efficiency, but between battles, these dashing young aristocrats danced their way around Vienna, Brussels and Paris, their most famous dancing date being the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. When Napoleon surprised Wellington (“Humbugged, by God!” exclaimed Wellington) many of these officers had to rush straight from the ballroom to the battle in their dancing shoes.

I read seventeenth century John Evelyn’s diaries, and his account of passing Stonehenge in a carriage, and attempting an act of vandalism, hammering at one of the huge stones, and failing to make a dent. He reaches across the centuries when his eldest son, five year old Jack died suddenly, and he wrote what so many bereaved parents feel: “Here ends the joy of my life, for which I go mourning to the grave.”

On the other hand, famous philanderer, English MP Alan Clark, shows that the hard arrogant swashbuckling man is a complex unpredictable human being, when he writes of seeing the heron who’s been poaching the fish in his moat. (He lived in a castle… doesn’t everyone?) and seizing his rifle shoots it. He describes the slow dignified ebbing of life as the beautiful creature keels over, and he weeps in horror as he feels the enormity of what he has done.

I love the story of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, who had had a dreadful carriage accident with two bolting horses. As he lay in pain in bed at home, missing all the action and excitement around the start of Lincoln’s second term, Lincoln came to visit him, on his return from Richmond. He lay down on the bed, alongside the agonised man, propped himself on one elbow, and told him all that was going on, asked his advice, and made him feel he was still an important and valuable cog in the wheels, instead of a sick bystander. The tenderness and sensitivity of the long, lanky President lying on the bed, looking into the eyes of his suffering colleague moves me deeply.

As does the picture of Isabella Burton, the famous explorer Sir Richard Burton’s wife, sitting on the dusty ground in her voluminous Victorian skirts at their house in Damascus, cradling her pet panther in her arms until he died. He’d been poisoned by a neighbour.

Yes, I love fiction, especially the oldies like George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, the inimitable Jane, and others, but it’s that feeling of recognition and empathy that I love when reading about the humanity of these ordinary, or great or historical people. Like crusty old King George V complaining about his eldest son’s suits, with turn-ups on his trousers, and Queen Victoria writing to her second son Alfie ticking him off for his smoking, putting his hands in his pockets, parting his hair in the middle, as well as his “frightful stick-ups” – high collars – they remind us that parents’ disapproval of their childrens’ clothes and habits is a long- standing tradition.

Waiting in a stuffy men’s club, I saw a book- case filled with old books. One title jumped at me – the memoirs of Count Lichnowsky. I had no idea who he was, and became entranced by his historic and vivid descriptions of being German Ambassador in England on the outbreak of World War One. He wrote of his heartbreak as he left London where he admired and respected all the statesmen there, and I read all his frantic telegrams to the Kaiser, trying to stop the immoral invasion of Belgium which triggered the conflict in France.

But best of all, I read his description of Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary who spoke those immortal words on the eve of World War One: “The lights are going out all over Europe.” Sir Edward, a humble and rich man who rode a bicycle to get to and from friend’s houses – up to thirty miles away –  used to feed by hand the red squirrels who came to the window of his house in Scotland.

Tender glimpses of real people, moments of gentleness, of love and goodness… these are the reasons I love non-fiction … insights into men and women’s souls, windows into their lives… the history of the human race in these moments of truth and intimacy. And this, of course, is why blogs are such addictive reading. They give me the same connection with truth and reality.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

One of the things that I’m never without are packets of chipped or slivered almonds (not flaked). They make a difference to every dish I use them in. I toast them in a dry frying pan  and sprinkle them over cauliflower cheese, and they give it a wonderful crunch to contrast with the smooth cheese sauce and soft cauliflower. I toast them to add to raw cauliflower salad for that crunch too.

And they are wonderful in rice salad. This is the basis for a cold chicken salad, which I’ll share in the next post. The rice has peas, juicy soaked sultanas, chopped parsley- plenty – and lots of toasted almonds for the crunch factor. At the last minute, add a vinaigrette dressing and gently mix it through.

Food for Thought

“Oh King, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time which is unknown to us, it seems like the swift flight of a sparrow through the banqueting hall wherein you sit at supper in winter with your thanes and counsellors.

In the midst there is a good fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. The sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another.

While he is inside, he is safe from winter storms; but after a short space of fair weather, he vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he came. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before or what is to follow, we know nothing.

The Venerable Bede  AD 672/3 – 735   Monk, historian, teacher

61 Comments

Filed under books, cookery/recipes, great days, history, literature, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Carrying on with the army

100_0179

Nasturtiums in my garden

My brilliant career in the army, making unconscious mayhem as a recruit and scrambling through officer training, had not quite lived up to my expectations of discovering gorgeous young men, eager and willing to escort me into a glamorous high life of dancing and dates,  which was what women’s magazine of the fifties sold as the ideal preparation for marriage.

They also suggested that a touch of white around the neck, and spotless white gloves were the final touches needed for any ambitious girl to find her beau. So far the army had not given me much scope to achieve these dreams of social success. First recruit training in an all woman training depot, and then a year at an all woman officer training unit cut off from all other human contact in the middle of a bracken – covered heath dotted with silver birch woods.

Absolutely beautiful, but at nineteen I didn’t have the same thirst for nature and for beauty that I have fifty five years later. So it was a blow when I found myself back to the nunnery for my first posting, at my old stamping ground, (literally) the Depot. There were still people there who remembered me enraging the Colonel by marching around in a red coat because I’d arrived on the wrong day, and ingenuously behaving as though I was in Harrods when fitting my marching shoes at the Quartermaster’s store.

But they let this pass now that I sported one lonely little pip on my brand new officer’s uniform. They even saluted me, and I gingerly returned the courtesy knowing that I hadn’t actually earned the respect they were forced to give me.

The one bright spot was that I was simply one of half a dozen girls like me, even though I was the youngest, and some of them are still friends after a life-time. Our main ambition was to escape the depot and get a posting overseas, which was our idea of heaven. But we had to make the best of it in the mean-time, and an intermediate stage of paradise was to get oneself on a course – this could be anything from a pay course to a signals course.

The unspoken idea was that while we were escaping from our nunnery, we would meet some of these gorgeous young men we were sure were lurking in the rest of the army, and while they were there to learn about pay or signals and maybe further their careers, we went to enjoy ourselves.

I immediately put my name down for a religious leadership course – that seemed an easy one, and a fire-fighters course – this happened to be with the Maidstone Fire Brigade, and I was the envy of the other girls because I actually had a long distance boyfriend who was ADC to a general not far from Maidstone. I planned to see plenty of him during the course.

I was accepted for both courses, and accepted the congratulations of my friends. All I had to  do now was wait for the time to come round – they both were six months away. Anticipation kept me soldiering on through the regular rituals of documenting recruit intakes, inspecting said recruits and their barrack room floors and giving them boring lectures on pay scales, army routines and regulations; signing pay books on pay parade, and getting myself on parade  every day on time to march the recruits round the huge parade ground. Not exactly romantic, but you have to start somewhere.

December came at last, and all excitement I set off for the religious leadership course. It was set in a large country house, Bagshot Park. Then, it was the headquarters of the Royal Army Chaplain’s Department and sported a notice by the lake saying ‘Please do not walk on the water’. It had been a royal residence for hundreds of years, before being pulled down and rebuilt for Queen Victoria’s third son, the Duke of Connaught. He died in 1942 and the lease went to the padres. Today this Queen’s third son, Prince Edward, lives there with his wife and two children in the 120 room mansion.

I arrived on a cold foggy day, when the depressing rhododendrons were dripping damply around the red brick house. Inside it was swarming with young men – very heaven!!! There was one other girl on the course. We had this concourse of young men to ourselves! However, on closer inspection, few of them were up to scratch for the destiny we had in mind for them.

Not many of them were dashing, only one of two had glamorous little sports cars – and only some of them seemed interested in us. However, bearing up, we made the most of our opportunities, and I for one, enjoyed the luxury of a huge bedroom and bathroom which had once belonged to the dead Duchess of Connaught.

We now had ten days of getting up at dawn for Holy Communion, and attending various services like Matins and Evensong throughout the day in the chapel, ending with Complines (a lovely service) at ten o clock and lights out. In between all this church going we listened to unmemorable lectures, which never seemed to actually give any information on how to be a religious leader in one’s community (I am in still in the dark fifty five years later).

I nearly starved to death, the food was so awful. A handful of us were driven to bribe the cooks to leave  the side door unlocked, and we sneaked out in search of food, sometimes as far away as London … The only places open for a hearty meal at that time of night tended to be transport cafes, catering to long distance truck drivers. We pigged out gratefully on fried bacon, egg, chips, sausages and tomatoes, before tiptoeing back to the sleeping padres.

After two days of what felt like fasting, and churchgoing, we were called together for an announcement. The padres considered it unseemly that the two young maidens (us) should be using the same staircase up to our bedrooms as the young men. Forty of them and two of us. So the in-offensive young men were banished to the back stairs up which once valets and skivvies and ladies maids had toiled, while we used the grand heavily carved main staircase which led down into the great hall where we gathered before meals and lectures.

Josie and I sailed down this great staircase in our high heels and solitary state several times a day, the cynosure of all eyes. Head held high, straight spine, carefully nyloned legs, manicured hands sliding gracefully down the smooth stair-rail, we made the most of it, especially at night when we had to change for dinner.

What the prim padres, anxious to protect our virtue didn’t know, was that my soaring bathroom had a spiral staircase up to the maid’s room above. And in the maid’s bedroom were crammed five lusty young men. On the nights when we weren’t roaming the streets desperately looking for food, and sometimes on those nights too, the trapdoor would open. The chaps would all perch on the narrow steps of the spiral stairs, while Josie and I sat on the edge of the bath in our dressing gowns, and made ovaltine for us all with hot water from the tap, using our tooth-mugs.

We shuddered to think what the padres would think of this depravity. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

(The next instalment of this thriller/chick lit/ dubious autobiography will come when I can’t think of anything else to write. Previous instalments are under the headings of A Soldiers life is Terrible Hard..)

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Tomatoes are still cheap and plentiful, and when we had a celebration dinner for our national day, Waitangi Day this week, I used this tomato recipe with roast chicken legs tossed in flour and fried to make the skin crisp; plus roast potatoes parboiled and thrown around the saucepan in flour to give them a rough edge so that when they were cooked in hot oil they were crunchy and crisp, leeks and carrots. The tomatoes, which should have been a starter, lubricated the meal so we didn’t need any gravy. We followed this unusually elaborate meal for two with a left- over Christmas pudding – sweet, aromatic and enhanced with glorious brandy butter!

The tomato recipe comes from a French doctor and cookery writer Eduard de Pomiane. I’ve used it for the last fifty years or more, but he is now becoming a bit of a cult, and I saw this recipe re-produced recently in an article by English novelist Julian Barnes.

It’s simple as, and de Pomiane suggests it as a starter. Slice six tomatoes and put them cut side down in a frying pan with a knob of butter. Puncture the skin at intervals with a sharp knife. After five minutes turn them over and cook for five more minutes.  Then turn them back again for ten minutes, and finally turn them again, cut side up. The juices run out of the slits in the skin. When they are cut side up the last time, pour about three ounces of thick cream into the pan to merge with the juices. As soon as it bubbles, slide onto a dish and serve immediately. The taste is utterly unique.

Food for Thought

You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation … and that is called loving.        Herman Hesse 1877 -1962   German – Swiss writer and painter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

 

 

42 Comments

Filed under army, cookery/recipes, great days, humour, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized