Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pills, Potions And Piety

The Guardian
The remnants of Gonzalo landed on these shores last night and today. It had long blown out its destructive fury across the other side of the world and the gales and rain storms it brought our way were unpleasant but not deadly, although a woman was killed when a tree fell on her.

Sitting in the conservatory this morning,  looking out at the high winds playing with trees and shrubs and listening to small twigs, beech mast and leaves cluttering on the glass roof, I felt snug and warm and safe. Breakfast over, but the day not fully begun I was counting out pills and capsules - all supplementary vitamins, minerals, fish oils, plant sterols, glucosamine and chondroitin, etc. etc. for the next twenty days, thinking how soon daylight will end at four pm again and I will once again struggle to cope with SAD.


It’s my name day today, Oct 21. I don’t celebrate it as I would in Germany, in fact, I usually forget it. Ursula was adopted as a Christian saint and a great embroidery of innocence, piety and sacrifice was stitched around her in a long, involved and frequently changing legend, (depending on who is telling the story).

A more interesting story can be read in a 6000 year old script, 'Old Europe Script’,  symbols invented by ancestors of the Celts,  seen by some as the earliest proto-language. which refers to the ‘Bear Goddess’ : The Bear Goddess and the Bird Goddess are the Bear Goddess indeed. It could mean that the bear goddess and bird goddess merged into a single goddess.  Some archaeologists have claimed that the bear is the oldest European deity. I like this historically equally unproven story better than the legend of the holy maiden who was martyred for her piety.


Looking into the Perpetual Almanack for inspiration I found this short entry for Oct 22:

**By Tradition, the anniversary of Creation:

“In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth. Which beginning of time, according to our Chronology, fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October, in the year 4004 before Christ.”

James Ussher  -  The Annals of the World 1658**


I thought that William Blake’s work “Europe a Prophecy"
The Ancient of Days, copy K from the Fitzwilliam Museum, would be a fitting end to Ussher’s pronouncement and to this rather cobbled together blog post.

It’s been one of those days.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Vox Populi

Kelly stopped vacuuming and poked her head through the living room door on her way to doing the stairs.

“So, what about this Ebola then.”

"It’s scary.”

“Yeah, it is. Very. Have you heard? They’re looking for a whole planeload of people. One of them nurses went on a plane to a party, a wedding or something, and she was already sick. Had a fever, which is when you’re most contagious.”

“Really? No I hadn’t heard.”

“They’re saying it was a real cock-up, the hospital not noticing and letting her go when she was already sick. It could be all over the place by now."

“Hm, that sounds extremely careless. And dangerous."

“It’s criminal. I’m going to start stockpiling. I don’t want to get it.”

She laughed, but I could tell she was at least half serious. She patted the wooden cupboard just inside the door with the flat of her hand for luck.

“I don’t want to get it,” still laughing nervously and patting the cupboard again, “not me and my kids anyway. Everyone else will have to look after theirselves. It could be like the pest again. They say it could have been Ebola that time when all them people died of the black pest and that it could spread like that again. It was all over the news.”

Kelly was by no means finished. Breathlessly, she continued. "It always happens when there’s too many people. Diseases and wars, I mean. And what they’re really worried about is that the virus mutates and becomes airborne. I’m getting prepared, at least with getting a few things in stock. You never know.”

No, you never know.

I don’t know Kelly’s source of information but it must be popular mass media, what else could it be. She withdrew her head and turned her attention back to the vacuum cleaner. Kelly is by no means a callous, uncaring person with an eye to the main chance. She is a professional carer (as well as a cleaner for a few select clients)  and the way she speaks about her charges gives me the impression that she genuinely cares about the aged and frail. There are many around like Kelly in the West, ordinary, decent, hard working people who worry about many things; could this be the beginning of world wide panic? I hope not. I hope that those 'who know', in other words ‘They’, know what they’re doing. Does that sound at all likely to you? After all, had they woken up sooner to the disaster unfolding in West Africa, the outbreak might still have been containable. But that was West Africa, a long way away from our hygienically safe world.

o-o-o


PS:  Her morning’s job done and making ready to leave, Kelly shouted up the stairs: “See you next week. Unless I’ve got Ebola by then. Byyyyeeee!"




Wednesday, 15 October 2014

SHORTS: False Assumptions

The party was huge, with people crowding everywhere; a Brazilian friend of the hosts was singing Latin American popular songs and guests stood around in knots, craning their necks to see the singer. The overflow was in the hall, and others, who had no interest in the music, were talking in subdued voices, either in the rooms nearer the front of the house or blocking the entrance door.

She left halfway through the concert, having to go to her own house to see to some dishes of party food  she’d left to finish cooking, before taking them back to the hosts’; a neighbour had promised to help her carry the two large, heavy dishes. She’d asked him to follow her home in about fifteen minutes.

When he arrived he said the concert hadn’t finished and they decided to have a glass of wine while waiting for the food to continue browning. They also assumed  that they would find it impossible to push through the crowds and force their way into the kitchen. Ten minutes later they checked the food and it was fine. Taking the dishes out of the oven they realised that they were far too hot to carry, even wearing oven gloves. They decided to have another glass of wine while waiting for the dishes to cool a little. They took the bottle into the living room, sat down and started a conversation.

When they returned to the party they found they had been missed. They were greeted with cries of “where have you been?” The concert had ended just a few minutes after the neighbour had followed her to fetch the dishes and food was to be served immediately. Various assumptions had been made as to the reason for their delayed arrival. 'Had she suddenly fallen ill - she was usually so very reliable - had the food been spoiled, had they slipped on wet grass, had one of them tripped over the bars of the cattle grid in the dark, had they dropped the dishes . . . . . .'

Not aware of having done anything wrong, they didn’t apologise. Her food was gone within minutes.


Monday, 13 October 2014

SHORTS: Revenge

Both of them were guests at the same party; she’d seen the lady with the I-don’t-want-to-speak-to-you face on several occasions before, here and there; once, sitting on adjacent chairs, she’d even smiled and tried to engage her in small-talk but had met with nothing more than a desinterested grunt.

They walked towards each other in the hall of their host’s house. She’d seen the lady's approach and, fearing that they might have to touch elbows in the crowded, narrow corridor, she composed her features to give the impression of absent-minded preoccupation. From the corner of her eye, she saw a half-hearted twitch on the lady’s face, possibly the beginnings of a smile, which she succeeded in missing completely.

Afterwards, she had a vague feeling of having been mean, but it had felt good at the time.




Friday, 10 October 2014

In The Kitchen and Elsewhere

The weather is changing, high winds and squally showers, a lot of them quite heavy, make being outside unpleasant. I’ve said it before: I am strictly a fair weather gardener. Perhaps I’ll take to tending my rather neglected blog again, now that autumn’s here. But for today I had other duties.


My friend Sally asked me to make a culinary contribution to her big birthday party tomorrow, so that’s what I started on this morning: the bottom half of a cottage pie to feed about ten people. I’ll do the top half tomorrow, as well as a pudding of similar dimensions.  As I was in the kitchen anyway, I decided to prepare a mackerel pate as a starter for our own Sunday lunch - pate does better when the flavours have had time to blend.

Doing the vegetables for the meat layer of the cottage pie, I thought I might as well do the vegetables for our Friday lunch, which was to be baked chicken, rice, carrots, sweetcorn and leek, saving me having to start all over again later.



By now I was resigned to finding no time for anything else, so I did a couple of loads of laundry while waiting for the various constituents of the meals to cook. Beloved came in now and again, asking “can I do something, like peel a grain of rice maybe?” but when he got round to it, I was usually at the stage where you do not want 'outside interference’ and I shoo’d him out again.

Things brightened up a bit in the afternoon and Millie and I rushed out for a very short walk once round the castle and a sniff of the breeze up on the bailey. Millie has been back at the Vet’s for another minor operation, this time an exploration of her ears. She was most unhappy when I took her into the back rooms at the surgery and she was, again, very unwilling to allow herself to be shoved into a small cage prior to being sedated for her examination. I bet she rues the day when she was adopted by her new, unfeeling family, who seem to be doing nothing but letting her in for all sorts of indignities. Poor sweetie. The cause of her facial lesions has still not been determined.  I am hoping that autumn will bring relief, what with the impact of both seeds and insects lessening. Either could be causing the allergy.


In the short spell of brilliant sunshine the freshly washed hills looked welcoming but we decided not to risk a longer walk. We found a small tortoiseshell sunning itself on the path. There was a whole flutter of half a dozen or so of them, probably the new generation hatched in August/September, which will live through the winter,  often hibernating in garages and sheds, or even inside houses in the corners of ceilings and under curtains and pelmets.



Friday, 3 October 2014

Beechnuts


That crackle and crunch underfoot is beech mast.
The big beech is aiming missiles at me from a great height,
and when her aim is true, I feel it.
Ouch!

Once in every five to ten years, they say, can we expect such bounty.
Last year was a good one too, so either they are wrong,
or nature is changing her rhythm.
A hot, dry summer helps.

I have need of a pig.
Could you lend me a pig?
Free of charge to both of us?
I have no acorns but plenty of beechnuts.
But do remember to ring the pig’s nose, I don’t want it rooting up my garden.

There was a time, a long-ago time,
when they gave you a voucher for a litre of oil,
in exchange for six kilos of beechnuts.

Diligence can do it,
they said.
All it takes is three days of back breaking work in the forest.
If you have little ones,
and maybe sing a happy song,
collecting six kilos of beechnuts
is child’s play.

Collect more and keep them to enhance your diet.
You want bread?
Cracked and ground into flour,
beechnuts are very tasty, make excellent bread.
But remember,
oxalic acid is harmful,
so roast these pretty little delicacies first
to avoid bad pain in the gut.
And warn the little ones.

A pig, on the other hand,
enjoys a forest meal, no ill-effects at all.
No need for roasting.
Yet.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

For The Love Of Autumn

Every year round about this time, in common with many other bloggers, I post pictures of autumn colours. Trying to ring the changes, I’ve given the posts various titles, ‘Autumn Cheer’, Autumn Leaves’, 'Autumn Tints’ etc., but basically they are a celebration of this most spectacular season of the year. I don’t get bored setting out and admiring the splendour all over again; after all, this kind of beauty remains inspirational, and repetition does nothing to diminish it. Not as far as I am concerned, anyway.



This is the view from an upstairs window of the cherry tree and the sun-kissed stems of a rowan, with the wooden bridge over the river visible through the trees.


Another perennial favourite is this Virginia creeper on a neighbour’s house which is only just beginning to turn. My own is a little later in the season and burgundy-coloured.



Even the very ordinary and utterly humble ground cover workhorse, the prostrate juniper, useful as weed suppressor and for winter colour, becomes attractive when brown leaves nestle in its folds.


Nothing humble about this spectacular variety of spirea! Golden in spring, it really comes into its own this time of year. I have two bushes growing side by side. When I look out of the window during late afternoon, when the sun streaks into the garden from much lower down on the horizon than it does in high summer, they positively glow. I took this photo after an overnight shower. 


Viburnum opulus is another common or garden tree/small shrub (cut it to whichever size you want) which shows its true colours in September. The leaves will turn yellow before they fall and the fire-engine red berries hang in generous clusters; birds gorge on them until none are left.
(btw, although viburnum opulus has been adopted under the name ‘European cranberry in the US, 
it is absolutely nothing to do with the fruit) 



Two very common wildflowers brighten disturbed verges and open grassland in September. 

Pink rosebay willowherb has lost the fluffy seed heads, exposing the bottle brush like flower stems.
Willowherb is such a pest, self-seeding everywhere, but I have to admit that it is really quite spectacular and I am willing to admire its architectural qualities when situated nowhere near my garden.


Another familiar sight in waste places, roadsides and hedgebanks is yellow tansy, with its 'gentleman’s buttons' bundles of flowers. Once upon a time tansy was a culinary herb, French chefs used it when preparing omelettes in much the same way as we use fines herbes today. Our palates have become less sturdy than those of our ancestors, the rather spicy savour is too overwhelming for modern tastes.


I’ll leave you with the wise words of a gardener in charge at Kew Gardens Arboretum. On the news today, he was asked by a reporter if we should get worried about the extremely dry September we have just experienced.

“Oh no”, he said, stretching each word with his flat Yorkshire vowels.  “No need to panic. Nature’s great. It’ll all work out in the end.”

He also promised us a very colourful autumn. Bliss.