Keep Calm And Carry On

This phrase – famous from mugs, biscuit tins tea towels and whatever – was invented by the British Government in 1939 just before the start of the Second World War. It was a motivational poster intended to carry the British populace through such horrors as the Blitz, and to remind them that the British were famous for their Stiff Upper Lip. I can’t imagine what a Stiff Upper Lip looks like, in practice, can you? How did they communicate, with all that stiffness going on?

For some reason, in spite of the Blitz actually Happening and turning out to be Even Worse than Anybody Could Have Imagined, the poster was hardly used.

I was thinking it’s a bit like that now. Still no motivational poster, while we wait, with a growing sense of Foreboding, for those superpower idiots to stumble into bombing and nuking – or maybe horribly gassing and poisoning – the hell out of one another, presumably in and around what’s left of Syria. And in the meantime a military grade nerve agent, apparently capable of wiping out the entire population of the UK, is used on a former Russian spy and his daughter on the quiet streets of – of all places – Salisbury. Until now, nothing of note ever happened in Salisbury. People who don’t live there are not even sure where it is. It was just getting on with things, minding its own business.

But we are the British. We possess Stiff Upper Lips. We Keep Calm and Carry On. Apparently. But it seems to me that that is what ordinary people, everywhere, tend to do. Mostly.

My Mum had what they then called a Nervous Breakdown, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I wasn’t aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and only aware of my Mum’s Nervous Breakdown because it involved what seemed to me like Years of lying on the sofa taking aspirins every four hours, and Nan coming along the road to do Mum’s housework after she had done her own, and me getting ignored and understanding that this was all My Fault. Indeed, my father told me it was My Fault. Mine and my sister’s, for fighting so much.

The thing Mum was most worried about, she told me later, was the Atomic Bomb. The Atomic Bomb was about to fall on all of us, any day now, and we would be just like the people in Hiroshima, reduced to piles of smoking ash, black shadows on walls or irradiated to death. Now we all live with that, don’t we? It’s got old and tired, and we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns over it. Indeed, we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns. We get Tired and Emotional, or we suffer from Exhaustion and have to book ourselves into some Clinic or other, for Cognitive Therapy.

All over the world, we carry on; we wash the dishes and put out the rubbish; we feed our pets and fill in our tax returns; we grumble because the bus hasn’t turned up – again; we wonder whether we should mow the lawn, or is it too wet still? There is nothing whatsoever we can do about the Bigger Picture: having no power to do anything else we focus on our postage-stamp lives and hope that somehow or other Armageddon will give us a miss.

Yesterday – apropos of nothing, or something, not sure – I took Fifi to the vet to get her claws clipped. For months she had been hooking up on one bit of furniture or another. It was time. But Fifi didn’t think so. Fifi is a tiny tabby, old and kind of frizzy looking, but on the nurse’s table she turned into a Wild Beast. It took two nurses to hold her, plus the application of a teensy-tiny muzzle that covered her whole face so she couldn’t see and being wrapped in a thick blanket. The nurses wrestled with poor Fifi, whose snarls and spitting could be clearly heard in the waiting room, and finally the claws were clipped. “If only you could have just Kept Calm, Fifi,” said one of the nurses, “it would all have been over with in a few seconds.”

But cats, unlike humans, are not programmed to Keep Calm And Carry On.

keep calm 2

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.