Pigeon Pout

I am having to force myself to go out for walks. It’s for my health. More of this in a mo, no doubt. Who knows what I am going to write?

I dislike going out for walks. Partly this is because there’s nowhere to walk round here – I mean, it’s a mini-bungalow-grid attached to civilisation by means of one very, very long road lined with holiday camps. The very-very-long-road is very weedy, in between the holiday camps. More kinds of weeds than you could shake a stick at. To mitigate the utter boredom of either walking round the bungalow grid three times in succession, possibly reversing polarity midway, or walking from one end of the very-very-long road to the other, turn left and sit on a damp bench for five minutes before heading back, I listen to music. Even with the sound up it is difficult to hear the music over the passing traffic. Yesterday the left ear of my headset packed up. It was chewed by a cat, some five years ago, and held together with sticky tape.

I also dislike going for walks because walks mean going Out There, and Out There is full of Them. By Them I mean both Locals, who stare at you slack-jawed and drooling as you pass by their front gardens (possibly an exaggeration) and the Holidaymakers, who are here ten months of the year. Holidaymakers are more or less normal to look at but they wear funny clothes; shorts and strange shirts over big hairy bellies, or, in the case of women, sundresses over big but less hairy bellies, and sandals.

Some of them are rather sweet, though, in a city sort of way. Yesterday I passed two ladies in sundresses, with the usual huge, toddler-filled stroller each. They had stopped, fascinated by a couple of pigeons having a bath in a puddle. Apparently London pigeons don’t ‘do’ washing in puddles. I was tempted to stop and point out that there probably aren’t as many giant pavement-craters in London as there are round here, for the rainwater to collect in. I’m sure a London pigeon would be pleased to splash around and get the dust off its feathers, if only it had the facilities.

The walking boots are rather heavy: it’s like gravity increases as soon as you put them on. If only I could turn the world upside down like a piggy bank, I think, clumping womanfully along to the suicidal maunderings of Sarah McLachlan. Then all the people would fall out… somewhere… and I could go for my walk in peace.

So, it’s the cholesterol. I don’t know the reading yet but some pharmacist is threatening to phone from the doctor’s surgery on Monday morning. I am guessing it’s not too bad because last time they tested it it was under the safe limit, but the wretched girl was so mysterious about it over the phone.

‘Why is the pharmacist going to ring me?’ I asked.

‘Um, about cholesterol.’

‘So, is my cholesterol too high?’

‘Um…’

‘Could you give me my results, please?’

‘Ummmm…’ It’s as if I have asked something really embarrassing. But I mean, it’s cholesterol, not gonorrhoea.

‘The pharmacist will discuss it with you on Monday.’

I was so cross that I looked up the legal situation on the internet. Bad news: apparently one’s blood test results are not one’s own property in this country. They belong to the National Health Service, or more specifically to the Secretary of State for Health. So if this pharmacist chooses, he or she could simply say: ‘Your actual cholesterol score is confidential and none of your business, but I recommend you take statins until you rattle, for the rest of your life.’ Hopefully, he or she will be more helpful than that or I will be forced to go private, or buy one of those expensive self-testing kits and puncture one of my own fingers with a nasty sharp piece of metal. I just have to stew about it all weekend.

However, I have already made a start on my not-taking-statins-under-any-circumstances campaign. I have started on the daily walking and am gradually feeding the birds the large store of cakes, biscuits, sugary pies and so forth I happened to have in stock. The bird are dining like Henry VIII at the moment, off the fat of the land.

I have swapped butter for that yellow substance that looks like margarine but is advertised as hoovering up cholesterol. I have exchanged hard cheese for cottage cheese. I have exchanged ordinary pasta and bread for wholemeal pasta and bread. I am reading a book about it. I suspect I’m even going to have to cook again: no more cheese-and-pickle sandwiches and hastily microwaved soup; no more late-night bowls of cereal slathered in sugar; no more Mars Bars.

Hard cheese – it is indeed. Forced to eat stuff I don’t like. Forced to not eat stuff I do like. Forced to go out for walks. Outside. With people.

Flavorful? Eeeeeeeugh!

There is no such word as flavorful – or if there is there jolly well oughtn’t to be. What’s wrong with flavoursome (or flavorsome, if you’re American and determined to leave out the ‘u’)?

Or tasty? or piquant? or delicious? or savoury for that matter? Or scrumptious or yummy if you feel like going downmarket?

Flavorful?

What a truly horrible word that is! Just seeing it in print has ruined what’s left of my day.

I refuse to write a post about it.

From my bookcase: R K Narayan: The Painter of Signs

Sort of visual pun, tee hee!

A few days ago I said I would select books from my bookcases at random, but at that point my bookcases were in total disarray so I couldn’t have found a book on purpose if I’d set out to. Since then you will be pleased to hear that I have re-alphabetised my library and you know, I feel so much better for it.

I have also found my Sisters By Chance, Friends By Choice wooden coaster. I foolishly made mention of this coaster in an old post (Being a Beastly Sister) stating that it was one of my most treasured possessions. On re-reading the post for some reason I realised – it’s a sinking feeling that becomes more and more familiar as you get older – that actually I had no idea where this treasured possession was. Then I felt like an Even Beastlier Sister.

I had to find it. I can’t not look for things once I realise they are lost, and since I have a tendency to ‘file’ small objects I don’t want to lose but don’t quite know what to do with – such as bookmarks, letters and coasters – between books in my bookcase, I decided to spend an afternoon playing a simultaneous game of ‘sort the books’ and ‘hunt the special coaster’.

Now that the books are in alpha order, it’s difficult to avoid an element of selection, so I’ve decided to just hop about a bit, from one writer-nationality and writing style to another. They say variety is the spice of life and I suppose it might be true. My life has been quite varied, I suppose, but I seem to have missed out on the spice.

So, R K Narayan: The Painter of Signs (1977). Quoting from the back cover again:

Raman is considering giving up sign painting when he meets Daisy of the Family Planning Centre. Slender, high-minded, thrillingly independent, Daisy has made up her mind to be modern and is now dedicated to bringing birth control to the people.

In such circumstances Raman’s mounting, insistent passion, coupled with Daisy’s determination to disregard the messy, wayward concerns of the heart, can lead only to conflict. R K Narayan’s magical creation, the city of Malgudi, provides the setting for this comic, bittersweet story of love getting in the way of progress.

R K Narayan (1906 – 2001) whose full name was (cut-and-paste here) Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami, was an Indian writer known for his stories set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. He was born in Madras (now Chennai) and was a leading author of early Indian literature in English. He lived till he was 94.

I think I probably started collecting R K Narayan novels and short stories out of a fascination with language in general. It may have been around the time I was working through an Open University linguistics unit. Until then it had not really dawned on me that my own beloved English language was metamorphosing into series of entirely new languages in many parts of the world. To begin with there is English as she is spoken in England, and a slightly different version in America, say, or India.

But at some point in the future the all these new ‘Englishes’ may become as hard for a speaker of the original language to understand as Dutch or Old English are today. The inexorable passing of time, and the distance of people from one another… everything changes, nothing stays the same. One day Shakespeare will have become genuinely incomprehensible, not merely to English schoolchildren but to English professors of English Literature too, unless they have a translation.

Although, of course, the internet may now be acting as a force in the opposite direction, with a tendency to steer all the Englishes back to a shared centre ground. Anyway, most of us have not travelled that far from each other, linguistically, yet. We can still revel in Indian English as spoken and written on the Subcontinent, it’s intricacy, its formality, its musicality, its subtle differences and its joyful quirkiness:

‘The very man I was looking for,’ said the lawyer, holding him up. He had undergone a correspondence course in law. ‘I must give you the happy news just received: I have passed the law, and I want your help to get my nameboard done immediately.’

‘Certainly, I’m at your service,’ said Raman.

‘I knew you would help me,’ said the lawyer. ‘I want it before eleven a.m. on Thursday.’

‘Impossible,’ said Raman. ‘I want at least five days – drying takes time…’. He felt desperate, having to explain to man after man how one had to allow time for paint to dry. No one understood the importance of this.

I won’t go on. Coffee and biscuits beckon, and the washing machine has finished its chunterings and started to whistle from the kitchen. So far we have roamed from a bleak 1950s vision of a futuristic America, to a little novel of 1950s academic England, to a fictional city in southern India in the 1970s.

Where might our bookcase time- and space-travellings take us next?

IMG_20170814_080144_kindlephoto-768197

The tiger’s name is Kevin, by the way. He has lived with me for a long time

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Mincemeat Bakewell

For the avoidance of doubt (as I often used to type in my legal days):

The kind of mincemeat to which this recipe refers comes in a jar, or it’s easy enough to home make. Although back in the 15th, 16th or 17th centuries the mincemeat that went into pies would have contained real meat – often venison – nowadays it is sweet, and does not.

According to Wikipedia, variants of mincemeat are found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, Ireland, South Africa, the UK and the US but in other parts of world it could be taken to mean minced or ground meat.

Eugh! please do not use minced meat.

For the avoidance of even more doubt:

This does not automatically mean it’s vegetarian. The suet used in the product’s manufacture could either be beef suet or some vegetarian alternative. You would need to check the label.

If that hasn’t put you off, here is the recipe for Mincemeat Bakewell:

Pastry

6 oz (ounces) plain flour

2 oz caster sugar

3 oz butter or marge (margarine)

2-3 tablespoons milk

Filling

12 oz mincemeat

4 oz butter or marge

4 oz caster sugar

2 medium eggs, beaten

2 oz self-raising flour

4 oz ground almonds

1 tablespoon milk

2-3 drops almond essence

1 oz flaked almonds

Little icing sugar for sifting, optional

9 inch fluted tin, lightly greased

Oven: moderate – Gas Mark 5 or 375ºF/190ºC

Pastry:

Sift together the flour and sugar. Rub in butter or marge until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface, knead gently then roll out and line the tin. Chill for 15 mins (the pastry, that is).

Filling:

Spread the mincemeat over the pastry base.

Cream the butter, marge and sugar together. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, milk and almond essence. Spread this over the mincemeat. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

Bake in centre oven about 50 mins or until firm. Sift with icing sugar if liked.

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Welsh Cakes

This one’s actually an English Sister (my youngest sister) recipe which Mum had filed in her recipe book along with her own. I won’t give away English Sister’s age (can never exactly remember it to be honest) but she must have been at school when she wrote it out as it’s dated 1st March 1969. I remember a phase of her locking herself in the kitchen whilst she practised again the recipes she had just learned at school. How everyone’s handwriting changes as they grow up!

English Sister no longer emails/texts me (I mean, I suppose one day she might, still) but at one point soon after she retired she rediscovered the cake-making bug – a bit like me rediscovering far-out hippiedom etc – and a particular obsession with perfecting the Lemon Drizzle Cake. I did get rather tired of messages with no information just hundreds of pictures of the latest magnificent Lemon Drizzle, and always sideways or upside down. Is there something about Lemon Drizzle that it can’t appear in electronic form the right way up?

I was gratified to discover a spelling mistake, if only one. I have left it in – see if you can spot it.

WELSH CAKES – 1.3.69

Costs about 3s 4d (three old shillings and four old pence)

Approximate preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking Time: 24 minutes

Makes 24 cakes

 

1 lb (pound) self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

3 oz (ounces) of lard

3 oz butter

4 oz caster sugar

2 oz stoned raisins cleaned (Mum’s note here: I use mixed fruit)

2 oz currants, cleaned

1 large egg

A little milk

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in lard and butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in caster sugar, raisins and currants. Mix well. Beat the egg. Add to boal with a little milk to give a stiff mixture. It should not be too sticky.

Roll out onto a floured board to 1/2 in (inch) thickness and using a 2 1/2 in fluted cutter or tumbler cut 24 rounds.

Grease a heavy-based frying pan or girdle with lard. When really hot cook 6 cakes for 3 mins on each side or until cooked through and golden brown.

Cook remainder in 3 batches. Serve cold, sprinkled with caster sugar, if liked.

Short Little Span Of Attention

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

I feel as if I should be riding round in circles on a bicycle, typing this. Alas, my bicycle-riding days are over.

This one is about how to keep dry at bus stops. Since being forced into the realms of Public Transport I have only been drenched at a bus stop once, but that was enough. The thing with bus stops is that you may have to wait up to an hour at one, and that’s an awful lot of getting wet to endure when all you want is to be already at home with your lunchtime sandwich, swilling back cups of tea.

I thought I had made provision for this by including in my bag the light duty green festival rain cape. Remember, in a previous post I mentioned a heavy duty green festival rain cape? This is now permanently installed on my bed to protect it from senile cats wanting to wee on it.

The light duty green festival rain cape was no good at all. I wrestled it over my head, spectacles and pony-tail, and the head tore off. I deposited the head in the bus-stop-side refuse bin in disgust and sat for the next half an hour in the remaining three-quarters of the rain cape. It seemed not quite long enough to cover the sit-upon problem either, and the bench was damp.

I have been stewing on this problem ever since. I mean, in the middle of summer you don’t always want to be carting around your winter coat just in case. Bulk and weight are the enemy of the traveller on Public Transport – or any traveller. On the other hand, in Britain you can never say it isn’t going to rain. It nearly always is going to, and if you fail one day to take a rainwear of some sort with you, it’s definitely going to.

This morning whilst washing up in my dressing gown the solution came to me – clear plastic bin bags. Our local Council insists on these for excess recyclable waste, because they suspect that we will otherwise be attempting to sneak out our excess vegetable peelings and general filth. They don’t provide them, of course, you have to buy them.

So, what you do: you take two of the clear plastic bin sacks and just leave them folded exactly as they are. This saves having to squeeze the air out, which is a pain. Then you take another two and slit them up one side, and you nest one of the slit-up-the-side bags inside the other. You fold them up like this and squeeze out the air. The whole lot fits inside something the size of a pencil case.

The idea is this. You arrive at the bus stop just as it starts to rain. You observe the bus you ought to have caught disappearing into the distance, so you’ve got an hour to wait. Black clouds loom overhead, the rain is going to get heavier and you do not have a mac. So, you whip out your clear plastic bags. You fold one into four and place it on the damp bench, to sit on. You take the two operated on bags and place them over your head like a monk’s cowl. This will keep you dry(ish) from head to hip, and the bags are light enough that you can push them out of the way to check if the bus is coming, even if you can’t see through them. You sit down on your folded bin sack and place the remaining sack over your knees like an invalid rug.

I haven’t tried this yet, but promise I will as soon as it rains. I imagine it won’t work well in a gale, in which case I suppose the answer is to find a shop doorway or walk to the nearest bus stop with a shelter. Amazing how many bus stops do not have shelter, or only overhanging trees to drip down your neck or expose you to lightning-strike.

One of the few benefits of having a creative turn of mind plus a short little span of attention.

Mote-Mote, Montreal and Marmalade Bread Pudding…Mountains of Things

Well, little mote-mote has had to be sold because I could not afford to drive her any more – for a sum equivalent to the Biblical thirty pieces of silver. By a kind of divine retribution for my Betrayal of my Beloved she has been bought by the Brother-in-Law of the man over the road who, for some reason that he did explain but I was too upset to understand, is keeping her on the driveway of the man over the road and seems in no hurry to take her away. So – there sits my little blue car for an unknown, indefinite spell, no longer mine and not even invisible.

In the odd, sinuous way my mind works, particularly when in distress, this reminds me of Canada and some lines from a famous poem:

My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr Spurgeon

O God! O Montreal!

Of course there is plenty to be getting on with, to take my mind off it. There are cats to be fed, there’s divan beds to be manoeuvred downstairs, there are bathroom sinks to be cleaned, there are two lawns to be mown, there’s an empty bird table, there’s a monster pile of ironing. Stuff to do, people to see…

The world is full of stuff, isn’t it? There’s no getting away from what singer Tracy Chapman once referred to, tunefully but irritatingly, as Mountains O’ Thangs and which Zen Buddhists tend to refer to as ‘The Ten Thousand Things’:

“All things are one and have no life apart from it; the One is all things and is incomplete without the least of them. Yet the parts are parts within the whole, not merged in it; they are interfused with Reality while retaining the full identity of the part, and the One is no less One for the fact that it is a million-million parts.”

(Yes, I read D T Suzuki too; and no, I didn’t understand most of it either.)

This, owing to the aforementioned sinuous way my mind works, reminds me of a little motto my sister once recited to me over the phone: Your in-tray will never be empty, which was the single most depressing piece of advice anyone ever gave me. The thought of an endless in-tray, endlessly refilled… O God! (O Montreal!) it’s like that bloke having to push the boulder up the mountain day after day and it rolling down again at night, or Penelope at her loom, weaving her husband’s burial shroud by day, unweaving it by night…

Canadians seem to be fond of little mottoes, or maybe it’s just my sister: mottoes, ice hockey, children and crafts. Innocent, homely, Little House on the Prairie type things. I rather wish I was there now: how much nicer to be collecting little mottoes and entranced by the manufacture of braided coasters and the knitting of dishcloths than a barrage of Brexit, Bombs and Burning Buildings. O God! O British Isles!

But this reminds me – homely things – I promised to share with you one or two of Mum’s recipes from the recipe book I rescued the other day. Here is the first one. I’m afraid I don’t know what the equivalent quantities are in other systems, but I have put the abbreviations in full in brackets, to assist:

MARMALADE BREAD PUDDING

Makes 16 slices

1 lb (pound) stale bread, with crusts removed

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

½ pint milk

8 oz (ounces) mixed dried fruit

4 oz dark brown sugar

3 oz soft magarine

2 level tsp (teaspoons) mixed spice

4 level tbsp (tablespoons) marmalade

1 level tbsp granulated sugar

7 x 11 x 1-inch tin, greased

Set oven to moderately hot, Gas Mark 5 or 375F/190C

Cut the bread into small pieces, place in a large bowl with the orange rind and juice and milk. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Mash with a fork and break up the pieces.

Add the dried fruit, brown sugar, margarine, mixed spice and marmalade to the soaked bread. Mix well together.

Turn into the tin, level out the surface and bake for 1 ¼ hours until firm. Leave in the tin to cool, turn out on to a wire rack and dredge (dredge? does that mean dust?) the top with sugar. Cut into 16 slices.

To freeze: Wrap in foil or polythene bags. Will keep well for 3 months.