Friday, 30 September 2011
Thursday, 29 September 2011
In the Christian world, today is Michaelmas, feast day of the archangel Michael, which was a very important day in times past, falling near the equinox and so marking the fast darkening of the days in the northern world, the boundary of what was and what is to be. Today was the end of the harvest and the time for farm folk to calculate how many animals they could afford to feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered. It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.
Today was a day for settling rents and accounts, which farmers often paid for with a brace of birds from the flocks hatched that spring. Geese were given to the poor and their plucked down sold for the filling of mattresses and pillows.
Michaelmas was the time of the traditional printer's celebration, the wayzgoose, the day on which printers broke from their work to form the last of their pulp into paper with which to cover their open windows against the coming cold -- the original solution for those who could not afford glass yet had more than nothing -- and the advent of days spent working by candlelight.
In the past, the traditional Michaelmas meal would have been a roast stubble goose -- the large gray geese that many of us only get to admire at our local state and county fairs. Today, when most poultry comes from the grocery store in parts and wrapped in plastic, a roast goose can be a difficult luxury to obtain, but any homey, unfussy meal is a fine substitute -- especially with a posy of Michaelmas daisies or purple asters on the table.
In folklore, it is said that when Michael cast the Devil from Heaven, the fallen angel landed on a patch of blackberry brambles and so returns this day every year to spit upon the plant that tortured him. For this reason, blackberries would not be eaten after today, and so folks would gather them in masses on Michaelmas to put into pies and crumbles and preserves. And they would bake St. Michael's bannocks, a large, flat scone of oats and barley and rye, baked on a hot griddle and then eaten with butter or honey or a pot of blackberry preserves.
Whether you recognize Michaelmas or not, you can still greet what comes with the symbols of today: gloves, for open-handedness and generosity; and ginger to keep you warm and well in the coming cold.
And lastly: Happy Birthday to Miguel de Cervantes, baptised Miguel (the Spanish for Michael), author of Don Quixote.
Smoked salmon sandwiches & Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
Scone with cream and raspberry jam
Apple & cinnamon cake
Raspberry cream mille feuille
Lemon meringue tart
Unlimited refills of best Scottish tea
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Monday, 26 September 2011
Sunday, 25 September 2011
Saturday, 24 September 2011
- 1 small fillet smoked haddock
- Semi-skimmed milk
- 5 hard boiled eggs
- 1 pack Uncle Ben's pilau rice
- Freshly ground black pepper
There was far too much for one person, so after I had had what I needed for supper (lots of freshly ground black pepper because it was tasty but quite bland), I put the remainder into a plastic box in the fridge. Today, I plan to fry an onion, sliced, and some mushrooms with grated nutmeg which I will add to the kedgeree mixture for Meal Two.
*I had a pack of six fresh eggs that I hard boiled before I went down to Kent last week to visit my mother aged 94. One of the eggs went on the train with me for my picnic: a roll cut in half and spread with mayo, garnished with sliced tomato.
Friday, 23 September 2011
The really magical thing about porridge is that if you make it to a satisfactory consistency (say) on a Thursday and eat a helping, and leave the rest in the pot, by the following morning you will be able to add enough more water to the original batch to more than double the quantity without in any way detracting from the quality of the dish. A small enamel mugful of oats will last you for four or five days.
- (in my case)go to the dentist in Lanark because the shop for oxtail is right next door. Or go to the excellent butcher in Moffat
- Hugh Black & Sons in Lanark also sells fish, soup and other things. Buy a carton of their homemade lentil soup - a smooth yellow cream.
- 2 large Spanish mild onions
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
- sunflower oil
- large heavy casserole dish
- bay leaf
Now: what carbs are you going to eat with this? May I suggest you take a pack of mixed microwaveable vegetables past their sell by date, brought from a fridge 300 miles away. Steam these forgetting that this will release the two pats of flavoured butter through the holes into the steaming water. Drain into a frying pan to conserve this savoury liquor, some of which you can add to the oxtail if it needs topping up. Now: put the cooked shredded mixed veg into their flavoured buttery cooking liquor and use the rest of the cous cous from the packet opened on Sept 13. Stir well and leave covered for a few minutes until ready to eat.
For your fresh green veg you will find two rather limp courgettes, homegrown by someone in Moffat bought from the greengrocers next to the butcher. Boil them, drain and serve.
Our Moffat Book Event on Oct 15 deals with lineage via our DNA (Alistair Moffat's talk at noon) and Moira Cox will help us dress to impress, making the most of ourselves. Carolyn Yates will lead the children's storytelling session on who am I? who are we? who are you? Identity was famously once said to be established by which side you cheered for at cricket (or football). Work defines us, too. It doesn't have to be paid work - although Dr Johnson said that only a fool writes but for money. More fool me then. But a book is definitely on the cards. It may be along the lines of Roger Lewis's gripping Suicide Notes,one of my favourite funny books. Or The Tap Dancer, a fictionalised story about a real family, brilliantly observed by Andrew Barrow, author also of Gossip which derives its power from selection and focus (it is compiled from items taken from the gossip columns of the newspapers in the 1950's). Look out today for wry comments on things that travel faster than light. My candidate: interest charges on tax demands I was never sent in the first place; time, when you're due at a meeting and still holding while a bank employee 'asks the technical department' for a way through the bank's new token system for online banking.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
A propos our next book event on Oct 15 on the theme of identity: here is an excerpt from an item by Eileen Reid from today's Scottish Review, an excellent online magazine supported by donations.
...the question of who we are is fraught with confusion. That part of our identity is tied up with various groups is undoubtedly the case: family, club, workplace, city, the nation. Problems, however, seem to emerge with over-identification with a group. For example, I have noticed that people of the far left and certain nationalists often absorb ideological or political criticism as deeply personal. When this identification is excessive, problems arise.
In the case of the Old Firm rivalry, Rangers and Celtic fans have come to identify their own wellbeing with the fortunes of their respective club. When Rangers lose, the Rangers fans have been harmed. When Celtic loses, the well-being of Celtic fans is compromised. When they lose to each other, each has been harmed by their greatest enemy. This causes extreme anxiety and frustration. Unable to assuage anxiety on the park, the desire for revenge on the aggressor is impossible to satisfy immediately, so they resort to violence at the first available opportunity – often in the safety of the home.
This kind of analysis of post-Old Firm match violence is commonplace. But I do think it is largely right. If so, solutions must focus on the mechanisms and triggers of Old Firm violence. The solution proposed by the Ancient Greeks is clear enough. Each individual has to re-assess their beliefs about their self-identity, and develop a rational detachment from their tribe. But this solution requires of fans a degree of self-awareness and moral seriousness that is not to be expected. We're not dealing with ordinary decent rational people who accept there is a problem. We are dealing with profoundly ignorant, drunk men. So Scottish society needs to think of alternatives. It must make it more difficult for people to self-identify with the Old Firm in the first place, and, failing that, reduce the number of encounters - although in the latter case vicarious rivalry would likely emerge.
If you think about it, what use is Old Firm tribalism to contemporary Scottish society? What good is the Old Firm to Scottish football? What would Glasgow lose without Rangers and Celtic? What about a truly revolutionary solution to a smelly conservative tradition: a merger of the two clubs? We are merging universities and colleges, why not football clubs? Glasgow United – now wouldn't that be something to be proud of?
Frankly, measures short of this rather drastic proposal will not address the problem. Clubs issuing anti-sectarian bromides are doomed to fail, and are too complacent because they do not distinguish aggressive tradition from destructive hatred. Mary Midgely in her book 'Wickedness' claims that there is a strong tendency for social scientists to hold that hatred and violence is not innate but a result of external forces. Well, if true, good: presumably then, these forces can be removed. But they won't be removed. Scotland will have to tolerate this tradition for another few centuries. Hold your nose.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
I am reading Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx. So many coincidences with my own experience: the book is about building a house in the wilderness; there is a water quality problem; the house is in conifer country (in Annie's case, lodgepole pine; in mine, Sitka spruce); the birds and animals are comparable except for elk; the flora ditto; there are access road issues; an architect named Teague (a family name). There is a need for a big room with long tables to put papers for various pieces of writing work on; the discovery that the road to get to the property is problematic in winter months; recurrent trouble with straying cattle . I decide to write to Annie Proulx.
I am spending a long weekend with a friend in South Wales, in Penarth. Penarth is a delightful Victorian/Edwardian seaside resort just west of Cardiff. Wonderful big houses built when Cardiff was the biggest exporter of coal in the world, with incomes to match. There is a promenade with the famous view painted by Sisley west to Cardiff Harbour, and east across the water to Weston super Mare on the Somerset coast. Sun is sparkling on the water. A good time of year to visit – still plenty of foliage on the trees laden with fruit, and colour in the gardens. It is so pretty that planning crimes and misdemeanours stick out: the new over-big ‘garage’ at the end of a plot with the little conservatory on the east facing back to the house – thereby betraying itself as not an outbuilding so much as another house, or guest cottage. A little further down, there is another suspicious bit of development: a ‘garage’ with velux windows in the roof, bolted on to another pitched roof structure; you cannot see more over the fence because it has been heightened by a two- planks- width extension.
My journey down by train was increasingly pleasurable: squashed like a sardine from Lockerbie to Carlisle across green rolling countryside. Then from Carlisle to Crewe, through Cheshire - places such as Nantwich near Alsager, where I started married life. The sun came out as the train wound south, and stayed all the way to Cardiff, increasingly stunning countryside, Ludlow, Abergavenny.. The train arrives on time, and Y is on the platform to meet me. I shout as I spot her. She continues to walk towards me, preoccupied,no sign of recognition on her face. Again: ‘Y!' We are face to face. ‘Y! It’s me!!’
The train on the first leg from Lockerbie to Carlisle, which goes on to Manchester airport, was packed with holidaymakers. I had a seat reservation somewhere on the train, which I had forgotten about. A kind man travelling with his wife and young son moved across to share a seat so that I could sit down. For the leg from Carlisle to Crewe, the train was also packed. I had to ask a woman to move out of my booked table seat by a window. For two hours we sat in uneasy proximity, and I waited in vain for a ticket inspection so that I could ask if I had to change platforms when I next changed trains. Eventually, the two other passengers sharing the table got up and left the train, and my neighbour moved to the other side of the table to give us both more room. As we approached Crewe, it turned out that we were both changing trains there for Cardiff, and we became allies; she turned out to be friendly. The train was running late, so we only had six minutes to find the platform or the Cardiff train, sprint up a steep flight of stairs, along and down another to just catch the train, the Arriva 14.08. What a contrast. There was practically no-one else on the train. A grandfatherly Welsh Indian with a grey moustache strolled up and down in a proprietorial way, checking tickets, quiet, calm and kindly. The elderly Fat Controller look-alike wheeling the trolley, was also inclined to be chatty and sat down in the seat across from me to gossip as if we were in a pub. Other, younger railway personnel got on at Newport, where my father was born in 1905; a new trolley was loaded – the ‘set’ goes as far west as Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire.
Y and I walked with my wheely case from Cardiff station to the site where the old Mail and Echo office, where we had both worked in the 1960's, had been – her car was parked in an alley just behind it. She showed me the new offices of what is now called ‘Media Group’ which we were invited to visit if we felt like it (in the event, we didn't). Her house in Penarth 20 minutes drive from Cardiff along the coast is in a pretty terrace of late nineteenth century brick houses with tiny front gardens and ornamental wooden porches on the street side, and gardens leading to an alleyway behind. Into a narrow hallway; up steep stairs: straight ahead is the bathroom, and round a turn in the stair two bedrooms back to back. Downstairs, to the right, off the narrow hallway is a through parlour with fireplace at one end and windows facing east to the garden and west, and beyond, a step down to a kitchen, with one window by the sink and another in the small dining extension overlooking a narrow garden full of mature fig trees, vines, jasmine, honeysuckle, a tamarisk and pink cottage flowers. A blue door leads from the end of the garden into the lane running along the back of the terrace, and beyond that are the back gardens of the larger houses beyond. Everything in the house is picturesque, second hand, unmatching, rickety but pretty and clean. The wallpapers and curtains are Colefax and Fowler, frayed. Carpets are threadbare, the furniture tilts and wobbles. The view from the bath is unrivalled, looking east across the garden to trees and sky beyond. The weather is autumnal, bright warm sunshine interspersed with heavy showers. Enormous white clouds scud across the western horizon over the blue grey and sandy coloured water. If only I had ever come to Penarth to look for digs in 1965 when I came to work on the South Wales Echo, instead of Splott. There has been a mining accident: four men killed and one critically injured following a botched operation to open up a new seam, releasing flood water from an earlier tunnel.
The first morning, after an excellent night’s sleep, I got up and decided to stretch my legs and get some fresh air by walking to the nearest paper shop. I forget to take my umbrella, and half way there I was caught in a such a heavy shower that I had to shelter under a tree until the worst had passed. The café/ shop is on the headland, warm and inviting, with big picture windows overlooking the sea. Two elderly men are sitting at tables far apart, one with his dog, both with their newspapers. A young woman serves me – no FT so I buy the Guardian for Y and the Daily Telegraph for myself. After breakfast, we decide to go for a walk during a break in the showers. We walk along past the big house where her partner of 20 years lived with his mother, until she died. Two weeks after he and Y moved in to their own terrace house, and shortly before he was due to retire, aged 65, he died in the newspaper office where had worked all his life. We turn down a steep path onto the promenade, past a smart modern looking café set in an old seaside building with a lovely Victorian wrought iron verandah, and wicker chairs set out on the sun-filled terrace with sea view. We sit and talk on a bench for a bit. A light shower, so we put up our umbrellas. Two or three couples or families pass us. Then we decide to walk on, up the hill and past the same café where I had bought the papers, back to the house. By now it is one o clock and Y cooks a fry-up of bacon eggs mushrooms and laver bread – my first ever experience of this uncategorisable green Welsh staple. It is nothing like bread. It is a thick paste or slimy sludge with claims to nutritional iodine and a taste which might be the famous Japanese fifth one, neither sour, sweet, salt or bitter but savoury. A slice of beetroot goes well with it, as does bacon, because it is on the sweet even sickly side, and needs to be cut with a sharper flavor. It is after half past three by the time we have finished lunch and I take the papers up for a couple of hours kip. Emerging at 6pm, we sit chatting by the west window until 8pm then have roasted vegetables and shoulder of lamb – Y is a wonderful cook - , starting off with avocado and my four cherry tomatoes left over from my picnic on the train, laced with excellent vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar. We talk on until after midnight about this and that, roaming far and wide, from contemporary politics and the looming financial crisis to language, aviation (Y learned to fly a plane and belongs to a local aero club), old times on the newspapers we both worked for, research for features on hermits , shoes, ships, sealing wax and string. Much laughter and many reminiscences continued on Sunday when two more former colleagues with their wives come round for a long Sunday lunch. Then, impulsively - it is a beautiful warm sunny afternoon - we set off to walk to the headland where Marconi sent his first signals across the Atlantic. Three hours later, exhausted, we flop down for a cup of tea and a slice of Bara Brith fruit loaf and by 8.30pm I am fast asleep.
I was glad to be going to London for a night on my way home, to savour this experience, allow it to mellow in my mind. We were nearly at Paddington when the train stopped. Someone had thrown themselves in front of the train at Southall. The emergency services were called - we saw them walking past our carriage: ambulance, police, a man in a suit (a doctor?). I am thinking: 'This is the way the novel by Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago, begins, with a body on the line'. The train stands for two hours, thoughts for the deceased in all our minds, practical calls being made: 'I'm stuck on the train' 'I'm sorry, I'm not going to make the meeting'... Free tea and coffee was dispensed. A middle aged woman said 'Well, that's the end of my jolly' - she had had a full programme in London planned, perhaps a theatre matinee. At Paddington, two hours later, the staff were ready to allow us all through the barriers without showing our tickets.
I had a chance to touch base with my daughter and her husband, heading home to Durham after a busy week in London with agents and bookers for appearances and compering comedy nights round the country, planning a new show - writing starts next month for 2012 - , then supper with the Admiral - of which more in my next.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Monday, 12 September 2011
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Saturday, 10 September 2011
Friday, 9 September 2011
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Monday, 5 September 2011
There was no mention of the translators of Dr Zhivago in the Writer's Almanac's otherwise praiseworthy original account posted online today - I added their names. Quite coincidentally, yesterday evening I received the following round robin from Robert Chandler:
'Many of you will know that the BBC is about to do a long dramatisation of Vasily Grossman's LIFE AND FATE. This is based on my translation of the novel. This is a dramatization, not a reading, and therefore it does not use only the words of my translation. Nevertheless, most episodes use a large number of my words, and at least one - The Last Letter - uses few, if any, words indeed that are not mine. If you read through this press release, you will find credit duly given to directors, producers, dramatizers, actors, composers and players of music. There are no prizes for guessing who is not mentioned: the invisible translator.http://tennantnews.blogspot.com/2011/09/life-and-fate-press-release.html
Some of you will have noticed that this seemingly wilful ignoring of the role of translators is a part of the culture of the BBC. If you listen to a translated novel on the programme "Book at Bedtime", the translator is usually credited after, on average, one in five episodes - whereas both reader and adaptor will be mentioned after each episode. And it is the same with all too many programmes. Nowadays no respectable newspaper or journal treats translators in such a cavalier manner. Why the BBC behaves in this way I do not know - but I think it is important that we do what we can to change things. I'll be very grateful to everyone who can write a brief letter of complaint. Here is an email address:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/ ' (message from Robert Chandler ends)
If you visit the Boris Pasternak entry on Wikipedia you will see that Pasternak himself was a translator, and cared passionately about this highly skilled art. Having translated and co-translated several non-fiction books myself from Russian, I know how hard it is. Incidentally, the English subtitles in the film The Hedgehog (Le Herisson) that I reviewed in my blog yesterday were a laughably inaccurate rendition of what was being said in French in the movie.