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.

No good deed goes unpunished

“Excuse me, can you tell me the way to the bus station?”

The old lady was sat on a low wall. Behind her some railings and a small private park like the one in Notting Hill that Hugh Grant and Whatsername climb into – Residents Only. It was autumn; I remember mounds of orange leaves on the pavement: papery, like her skin. Folkestone was not my hometown, but I had lived here once. Four years of a new but growing-old marriage. Four years of walking about in the rain asking God what exactly He had meant me to do with my life, if it wasn’t this, and could He please, please tell me now?

“It’s down this way,” I said. “Are you OK?” She didn’t look OK. Even sitting on the wall, she was wheezing.

“Just a bit puffed, dearie. If you can give me a moment…”

Give her a moment? I was on my way to the shops.

“I’m going that way,” I heard myself saying. “Would you like me to walk with you?”

“Yes, dearie.” She heaved herself up off the wall. I noticed she didn’t have a coat, just a dress and a pale blue cardigan. She did have shoes on, though. Very faintly, alarm bells started to ring.

Luckily it was downhill. We walked side by side, very, very slowly. There were several busy roads to cross. I began to wonder how she would have managed if muggins here hadn’t come along.

“Where are you going, on the bus?”

“Neasden,” she replied promptly. The alarm bells returned. I wasn’t an expert on public transport but it seemed to me that Folkestone to Neasden by bus, late on an autumn afternoon, was not a realistic prospect. I only happened to know where Neasden was by accident. When I was here, all those years ago, I worked with a hippie girl. She had crinkly hair which she said she got like that by plaiting it overnight, and wore those strange trousers with lace-up flies which were fashionable at the time. She told me she got men by jumping on them and announcing “You’re nice. Will you go to bed with me?” Things like that tend to stick in your mind.

Anyway, she had come from Neasden. That was where her family lived. “Where’s Neasden?” I asked her and she had given me that look like, what planet are you from? “It’s part of London,” she said. “But a nice part. Leafy.”

“You might be better off catching a train,” I said. The railway station is turn-left just down here. Do you want me to take you there?” Part of me was registering that she had no handbag either. She paused, looking irritated. My questions often seem to irritate people.

“No, the bus station.”

“Are you going to visit family?”

“I live there.” Obviously I should have known that.

By the time we got to the bus depot dusk was falling. We sat and waited for a while and I was thinking, why am I waiting here with an old lady for a bus that I know isn’t going to come along? But somehow I couldn’t not wait. I was trapped. I might as well go home after this is all over, I was thinking. There won’t be any time for shopping.

“Um, where did you come from?” I asked. I had a feeling I knew.

“Neasden!”

“No, I mean today – this afternoon.”

“Why do you want to know that?”

“Oh, just…wondering.” I’d never have made an interrogator.

“Running Waters”, she said. It sounded suspiciously like one of those old people places. There were a lot of those in Folkestone. But it was none of my business. If she wanted to go to Neasden, who was I to stop her?

I told her I had to go now and that my husband – what husband? – would be waiting for his tea. She’d understand that. A man must have his tea when he comes home from work, and his slippers put to warm in front of the fire. I wished her luck for the journey and she smiled and waved me goodbye.

I walked off up the road a bit, to the telephone box outside the Post Office. It wasn’t far enough away, really, but it would have to do; keeping an eye on her in the distance, a tiny figure on a bench, looking straight ahead, trusting that the bus would be along soon. I looked up Running Waters in the phone book. Running Waters Nursing Home. I called. I asked if they were missing an old lady, quite short, white hair, pale blue cardigan, print dress. Yes, they were. I was to stay right where I was and they would send someone.

Stay where I was? Why should I? I was an innocent shopper. Had I asked to get caught up in all this?

I stayed where I was. I hid behind the telephone box until the policemen arrived. I even pointed her out to them: Judas, without the bag of silver for consolation.

It has sometimes seemed to me that life on this plane is a process of being destroyed. You arrive with an ego the size of the planet; a boundless ignorance, an entire conceit. As the years go by some cosmic knife, in various human form, comes along and whittles bits and pieces off you. Rarely, a whole great chunk falls away, like land in an earthquake or an iceberg melting. The idea is, I suppose, that at death we are free and clean; prepared to move on, bodiless and ego-less, to our next assignment.

If so, that old lady did me a favour because at one slash, in a single word, she severed a great slice of my self-regard. I was humbled. I was grovelling on the floor of some cosmic court and begging for a forgiveness that did not come. God failed me again.

The policemen marched her straight past the telephone box where I had been hoping to remain concealed. She looked me in the eye and I got it all at once – the hurt, the disbelief, the anger.

“Traitor!” she hissed, as they carried her away.