written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Petrichor - The Lost Fragrance of Rain

16:27:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , , , , No comments

Yesterday I walked home from my hospital appointment. It felt so good to be out in the fresh air of tree-lined East Park Drive. I had reached the zoo before I dared to remove my face mask and take deep breaths. This was only my second outside venture on foot since I began to emerge from lockdown and my self-isolating. I was enjoying the freedom.

Being inside the hospital made me feel anxious and uncomfortable, and present circumstances of pandemic meant I had to go it alone. It began on Thursday night when a recurring eye problem, which had troubled me for a few days, took a turn for the worst, completely out of my control and I had no choice but to seek proper help. The 111 helpline referred me to A&E. I was scared, it was the last place I wanted to be. I was in pain from my eye. I felt sick, unsure if it was the pain or anxiety of where I was and not being able to see properly. Blood tests showed my blood sugar was all over the place, my potassium level too low and I was a bit dehydrated. Well, it was after midnight, I was scared, tired, should have been in bed, so I’m not surprised.  I wasn’t offered a drink of water or a banana, but I was looked after very well and as always, I have lots of praise for our NHS. They gave me medication and wanted me back the next morning, Friday, in the eye clinic. On Friday they nodded approval, changed the meds and wanted me back in clinic on Monday afternoon, yesterday. Now they’ve got me, they won’t let me go. I’m on follow-up now for August.

I think it had rained during the morning. I couldn’t really remember. I was concerned about returning to clinic, being there on my own, but I had things to do before two of my grandchildren arrived. Busy Monday, but everything fell into place. My husband dropped me at Outpatients, kids in tow, and returned home to await my call.

I was so glad to be out, reasonably unscathed, and the outside air was very welcoming. I phoned to say I would walk. I only live about twenty minutes brisk walk, or half an hour stroll away. Apart from the noisy traffic, it is an enjoyable path, even more so when you can see where you’re going properly. I’d been administered eye drops and was still under the influence of them. My only problem was overhanging plants along the side of the golf course which I mainly managed to dodge, but didn’t see some of the thin stalks until it was too late. No harm done.

 Everywhere was green and lush. I tried to remember or imagine what it all smelt like. I decided it was fresh and clean, earthy with a hint of pine. I don’t know if my sense of smell will ever return. We’ll see. That’s chemo for you. If it does come back, I hope I will experience petrichor and recognise it.

My poem is a memory of the rain-soaked garden at a relative's home.

I remember when life had fragrance,
Everything from a distinctive scent
To a subtle hint of a substance,
Breathing through, delicate, transient.

The warm sweetness after summer rain
Drenched the rose garden and swamped the lawn.
Leaves and petals floated to the drain,
Sweet peas, bedraggled, soggy, forlorn.

Drips from the sycamore and the beech
Splashing puddles on the patio.
Drooping honeysuckle, out of reach.
Sodden wisteria hanging low.

I remember the heady perfume
Of old-fashioned roses in full bloom.
The smell of rain I knew before,
But not the proper name, petrichor.

Pamela Winning 2020


Thanks for reading, keep safe, Pam x

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Who Let The Louts Out?

If you live by the sea as I do, with golden sands on your doorstep, you've probably marvelled through the months of lockdown at how clear the sea had become and how beautiful the beaches have looked with hardly a soul astir. It's almost as though the natural world has been enjoying three well-earned months of recuperation. All that changed on the recent bank holiday week-end.

Of course lockdown had been difficult. Of course people would feel a sense of  release  at its grip being loosened (release being the given theme of this week's blog, by the way) and naturally they would want to get outdoors in large numbers to celebrate their freedom.

Perhaps it was  inevitable that they would drive for hours in their tens of thousands to their nearest beach, cars loaded up with picnics and booze; inevitable that they'd congregate looking like bandits in Bermuda shorts or sporting the season's must-have three-piece-bikinis, with kids, babies, dogs in tow; hardly surprising that social distancing guidelines went out the window and barely a patch of sand remained unoccupied.

Fair play to all of that behaviour (providing a second coronavirus spike doesn't result). But did they have to leave such an utterly disgusting mess on our beaches in their wake?

At the end of a day on the beach.
On the sandy stretches of the south coast - where one local council declared a major incident as a result of the over-crowding - those released day-trippers left behind them thirty tons of rubbish - just dumped it and left as though it was now suddenly acceptable behaviour in a beautiful public place. Hence the only slightly tongue-in-cheek title of this post. What made them think that somehow they've been released from all responsibility to clear up after themselves, to leave the scene as clean as they'd found it?

The same was true on many beaches around the country, Blackpool's included, and it was left to council workers and bands of community-minded volunteers to clear the whole lot away in the days that followed - minus the large quantities that had already washed away to pollute our coastal waters. The news footage was truly shocking; the irresponsible behaviour of so many people even more so.

Freddie Barnard is credited with the phrase 'a picture is worth a thousand words' and the one above certainly does speak volumes, but I'm a writer and poet so I must do it my way. Billy Collins said 'a poem doesn't have to tell a story', but I'm afraid this one has to. You've perhaps guessed it's going to be another oblique polemic on the selfish society. I don't name-check the Dominator (aka Dominic Cummings) specifically, but many of those thousands mentioned above have used his actions as an excuse for their short-sighted own. Poor show. Release the rant and let it roll...

Never Mind The Three-Piece Bikini
They came, they sprawled, they concurred
that a beautiful beach was the perfect place
to cast off the shackles of lockdown, called
each to each with scant regard for any rules
of social distancing how great it was to be
free, in the sun, having some overdue fun,
counting on economic sense for clemency.

Hours of alcohol later, picnics gorged and
masks discarded long since in the sand,
they went. Some crawled, all concurred
that it didn't matter a shit-in-a-burger-box
if they just left their trash on the strand,
bottles, bags, plastic, glass, nappies, the lot,
flouting every sense of common decency.

When did they learn to be such utter louts?
Clapping for key workers didn't absolve
their leaving behind their toxic calling card.
Is taking your crap home with you so hard?
Just look at the afterwards. Mother nature
loves her children, but at times like this
she could happily strangle the bastards.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share. Please take your rubbish home, S ;-)

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Release

Helen McCourt  was a 22-year-old British insurance clerk who disappeared on 9 February 1988 in the village of Billinge near St Helens, Merseyside, shortly after getting off a bus less than five hundred yards from her home. Her body has never been found. Ian Simms, a local pub landlord was charged with and convicted of her murder.
The case is a rare example where a murder conviction has been obtained without the presence of a body, and was one of the first in the UK to use DNA fingerprinting. In 2015, Helen McCourt's mother, Marie, began a campaign to change the law regarding the conviction of killers such as Simms, requiring them to reveal the whereabouts of their victim's remains before being considered for parole. The campaign led to the announcement of plans to introduce a "Helen's Law" in May 2019. On 5 July 2019, David Gauke, the Secretary of State for Justice confirmed the law would be adopted in England and Wales. A Parole Board hearing on 8 November recommended Simms for release, the decision coming before the legislation could be introduced. The McCourt family launched a bid to keep Simms in jail but it was rejected by the High Court in February 2020, and Simms was subsequently released on licence.
Helen's Law is now embedded in statute and will bring at least some consolation to other families cruelly denied closure following the murder of a loved one  whose body has yet to be discovered. 




Monster

He killed my Helen,
far worse a crime
his refusal to reveal
her final resting place.

The monster is free
to torture me.
Release for him.
But none for me.



Thanks for reading. Adele

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Families

Grandparents figure large in many people's lives. Not mine, sadly. My paternal grandparents were dead before ever I was conceived and my maternal grandmother died while I was still a babe in arms; and so I only have a memory of my other grandfather, my Mum's Dad - a tattooed and cheery old white-haired fellow. But he was gone before my fifth birthday arrived and neither of my younger brothers has even that little shred of a memory of him. Grandparents have been conspicuous by their absence, one might say, in our lives, and possibly to our detriment as a balanced and rounded family.

We had aunts and uncles, because my mother had four siblings and my father one. My mother's brothers and sisters all married and so there were cousins as well; my father's brother Norman never did.

Mum died way back in 1989 and Dad just over a decade ago. Most of the aunts and uncles have gone the way of all flesh as well. Only Norman survives from that generation, now in his nineties and with full-blown dementia, in a residential care home in Blackpool where I can keep a watchful eye on his well-being. This blog is going to be about my uncle. He's pictured here in his twenties, thirties and forties in passport photo form. Strangely, I know more about him now than he knows about himself.

For the most part, my Mum and Dad were straight-laced and overly serious. There was never a lot of fun in the Rowland  household. We'd observe other families having fun, joking and teasing each other, parents and children alike. It didn't happen in our home as a rule, more's the pity. Consequently the occasional arrival of our favourite Uncle Norman was greeted by us children as light relief. He was witty and unconventional, enjoyed joking and teasing, and had a certain flair about him, though he was never flamboyant.  In marked contrast to Mum and Dad, we figured Norman knew how to have fun!

Of course we questioned our parents about why Norman was always on his own when he visited us or we visited him, and why he didn't have a wife and kids like all of our other relations. My parents gave two stock responses. One was that Norman hadn't met the right woman yet, the other was that he preferred his own company, liked being a bachelor (as it was termed). I think we found the 'prefers his own company' line a bit disingenuous, given that the only time our house felt like party central was when Norman was visiting.

He studied French and Russian at university after the war and then became a schoolmaster teaching French, once he'd completed national service. He was also keen on art, ballroom dancing and interior design. I believe my Dad thought Norman was frivolous and Mum labelled him fanciful. He liked musicals and theatre and wine and French cars. He would tell us of how he tried to grow purple daffodils by encasing the bulbs in beetroots before planting them and he always professed his favourite colour to be 'sky blue pink'.


I think we realised what the score was by the time we kids were in our mid-teens, not that it made any difference to us or our relationship with Norman. In hindsight, life must have been difficult for him in those years, given that homosexuality was illegal until 1967. We never talked about it with our parents or with Norman. The whole subject was left unspoken and that's the way it has stayed.

Norman gave up his teaching career at the end of the 1960s, though he is fondly remembered half a century on by some ex-pupils who still write to him (even though he can no longer remember them). His second, and longer career was in the art world.  He opened an art gallery, selling original works by contemporary British artists - paintings, lithographs, ceramics, jewellery and sculpture. I bought several paintings from him. His business did very well, he made a good living from it and enjoyed life to the full. He was particularly fond of throwing tea parties. My wife, daughters and I used to get invited to fancy teas. I wondered sometimes if he missed having children of his own and we became something of an extended family for him.

He certainly had boyfriends, though he kept his personal life discreet, never referred to it, and we never met any of them. There was even a lady friend at one point who we did meet (to our surprise), but she made demands on him that he was unable or unwilling to fulfil. So it goes.

After he sold his business and retired, I think he was preyed on by men who were happy to take advantage of his inclinations and his good nature. He became a victim of conmen and scams and eventually turned to us, his nephews, to help sort the mess out. We have had power of attorney on his behalf for several years and as I said above, he is now in a residential care home because of his advanced dementia. At least he is safe there. Although I've not been able to see him for several months because of Covid-19, on the plus side he's been totally oblivious to all that has been going on.

I thought I'd try and capture the essence of that unspokenness in a poem this week. I'd call it a work-in-progress, so subject to revision if I figure out how to improve upon it.

Left Unspoken
When we were young, we wondered
why doesn't Uncle Norman have a wife?
All our other aunts and uncles came
as pairs, with kids in tow for us to play
football or walk the plank with. Not him.

Not that he wasn't fun.
Just different and always alone.

Whenever we asked our parents, they said
he hasn't met the right woman for him yet.
And though the clues were there to see,
his favourite colour was 'sky blue pink',
it never occurred to us to think that through.

Of course he was still fun.
Just different and always alone.

And even when we knew for sure, still
nothing was ever said or acknowledged,
as though for my parents the fact was
far too indelicate to admit. I don't know
that they ever accepted it. Tough for him.

Just different and always alone.

Thanks for reading. Be broad-minded, be caring, be kind. S ;-)

Friday, 3 July 2020

Family

During lockdown we all missed the close company of people. Perhaps it brought us together and made us realise our dependency on each other. Perhaps it brought out emotions and ideas we didn't know we had. Perhaps we reassessed ourselves.

If we go deep enough for long enough, I believe we find something good.



My Family Is Myself

My family is myself.

I am my own mother;
I feed myself.

I am my own father;
I instruct myself.

I am my own sister;
I confide in myself.

I am my own brother;
I defend myself.

I am my own aunt;
I am kind to myself.

I am my own uncle;
I advise myself.

I am my own cousin;
I am friendly to myself.

I am my own grandmother;
I watch over myself.

I am my own grandfather;
I am proud of myself.

I am my own family.

I share my family.

I am loved.


Thanks for reading, Laura.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Family

20:20:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , 3 comments
I was born in 1952, 21 months after my brother, and not long after the end of WW2, although I don’t think that registered till I was at least in my teens, probably later, knowing my poor grasp of historical facts. I’ve learnt since that rationing remained for certain items but I don’t remember it  - why would I? There was always food on the table, and if we didn’t have bananas or oranges one week I certainly didn’t notice. I do remember sugar bring sprinkled liberally on cereal - and even on fresh fruit and in sandwiches so that was obviously one item that had returned to the shelves. Sadly for my brothers and me, as it turned out: we had years of return visits to the school dentist, and numerous fillings and extractions. 

In my parents’ defence they had gone without luxuries, and even basics, for so long that I’m guessing they thought sugar was a treat. After all, this was the generation that was daily subjected to advertisements and billboards encouraging smoking to cure all manner of ills.

For the first ten or eleven months of my life we lived in a couple of rooms in my grandparents house, which was a common arrangement in those days. Money was scarce, as it was for many people after the war, my dad was a student, working part time, and, of course, my mum had to leave her job as soon as she married.



By the time I started school, aged four, our family had surpassed the average number of 2.4 children.  The birth of my brother a few weeks previously had put paid to anything average. Whereas my elder brother and I had been planned and welcomed I believe my younger brother came as a bit of a shock, albeit, as it turned out, a happy one. I still remember being called to see him in his cot the morning after the home birth, standing on tiptoe and leaning in to kiss him.  This was possibly the best present a nearly four year old could have - a real life, living, breathing doll.  I’m not saying our childhoods were all smooth sailing, we had the usual arguments and fights, and John still reminds me that I used to tell him he was adopted, which was certainly a bit strange, considering I’d been to at least one ante natal visit with my mum, the abiding memory being not the sight of her rounded belly but my shock at the flesh coloured suspenders hanging from a huge corset.  We children might have bickered and argued but if any other child dared to cross one of us we were in there defending each other like wild tigers.  I once embarrassed my younger brother by coming across him, mid argument with a group of kids and wading in feet first to back him up, despite the fact I had no idea what the row was about. 

I’ve seen this, too, in my own children.  My daughter once practically leapt over the bar of the pub she was working in when someone threatened her younger brother.  She soon saw the aggressor out of the door.  I do love this loyalty within families.  I can moan all I want about the husband or kids but woe betide anyone else who criticises them.  This is the strength of family: not just the love that binds us, but the shared experiences and the loyalty we have for each other.



I learnt to read with Janet and John, who had the perfect family: Mummy, daddy and not quite two point four children.  Daddy had an important job (I can’t remember now what it was) and mummy, of course, was ‘just a housewife.’ Janet stayed with mummy and baked cakes, and John went out with Daddy and did exciting things like flying toy aeroplanes and riding his bike.  I didn’t think there was anything odd about this when I was four.  It was pretty similar to our own family lifestyle, although it didn’t take long for my quiet, shy mother to start coming out of her shell and insisting boys and girls were treated equally, at least in our house.  I realised, years later, that this was pretty revolutionary in the fifties.  But then my mum was - and still is - quite a force to be reckoned with. When my brother was in sixth form at a pretty prestigious school in the early seventies he was warned that if he didn’t have his shoulder length hair cut he would be expelled.  My mum took herself straight up to the school and put her son’s case to the headmaster.  I think her main argument was that the length of his hair had no impact on his ability to learn. The head stuck to his guns, there was probably a bit of a stand off, and my brother got expelled. I’ve always admired my mum for taking a stand and backing my brother.  Personally, I still think it’s a ridiculous rule and the argument continues within schools to this day.  Incidentally, John went on to do great things, kept his long hair for a while and then chopped it off.  I don’t think anybody in our family likes being told what to do when there’s a good argument against it. And we do all love a good argument.

My dad had been brought up in a patriarchal household.  His dad, my granddad, like most men of his generation - born in the late 1800s, was at the head, and his wife and three children did as he said. Except my dad didn’t. He was extremely naughty by all accounts, not only constantly teasing his sister and making her cry but also getting into fights and scrapes with other boys. As a child I loved to hear these tales but, as an adult, I had huge sympathy for his parents, who despaired at his behaviour.  My Gran spent more time up at the school than she did in the kitchen, and that was saying something.  From what I’ve heard, my granddad sat with a cane, if not in his hand, at least by his side, most of the time, which seems totally alien these days. With the benefit of hindsight I’m guessing that my dad managed to alienate both teachers and children by being extremely clever but also extremely annoying. He once got a report from school stating, ‘must try harder.’  He had achieved 100% in the subject, so it wasn’t surprising that the comment left him rather puzzled.  



My mum’s family was quite different. My grandma was a fierce matriarch and my granddad, although smarter, would do anything for a quiet life, which generally meant agreeing with his wife. He was the calming influence. My mum had two brothers, one two years older and one nine years younger - another surprise, apparently. My grandma, was, unintentionally, quite ahead of the times. She would take herself off to visit her spinster sisters in Yarmouth - sometimes with her youngest son - for weeks at a time, leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves. This was certainly unusual in those days and I think my mum made the decision that when she married, she and her husband would be equals and her children, whatever their gender, would also be treated equally.  It might have taken her a few weeks to convince my dad, but knowing my mum, she didn’t give up, and we siblings grew up in the knowledge that Geoff and John were just as likely to be seen wielding an iron or a saucepan as I would be changing a wheel on a bike or some amateur DIY.  I’m glad that we got those opportunities, especially as schools at that time were strictly segregated by gender.  No woodwork or metalwork for me, and no domestic science for my brothers. 

Not a day goes by when I don’t think how lucky I am to have been born into this family.  The morning after my dad died we gathered from all across the country, not just family but partners and spouses.  We spent the day hugging, crying, chatting and laughing, and I’m sure the love and strength that we shared between us got us all through that day - and the next when we did it all again.  This joint, unplanned act was somehow primal.  Like animals we converged at the family home to surround the person who overnight had become the oldest, weakest, most vulnerable member, my mum, suddenly a widow.  



THIS. 

THIS is the strength of the family.




How to Make a Family* by Jill Reidy

Take two people, 
Any colour, any gender
Stir together gently
Till they blend 
Check for sense of humour 
Add more if necessary
(This part is very important)
Whisk in as much love as you can find
Fold in kindness
Sensitivity
And respect
Check again
Remove any meanness 
And replace with generosity
Add babies and pets if required
(But not essential)
The mixture will expand 
Watch quietly 
As it grows
Do not stir or whisk
It will now begin to gain its own momentum
Your result should look like nobody else’s
Don’t compare
It’s unique

You have made a family 



* Level of difficulty - beginner (if instructions are followed)

Thanks for reading, 

Jill
  
  




Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Family - Ties That Bind Us


I am fortunate to have been born into a medium-sized, close-knit family. My early childhood was filled with love and joy. For seven years I was the only grandchild to two sets of doting grandparents and my great-grandmother. I wasn’t spoilt in a materialistic way but I knew I was wanted, always welcome everywhere and people had time for me. By seven or eight, I had been taught how to knit, how to sew on buttons and sew a line of neat, tiny stitches. I wasn’t allowed near the dangers of a hot, steamy kitchen but I could prick my fingers to death with a sharp needle – not too many times before I got the hang of it. I gave everyone’s coal fire a wide berth, too. It is basic, the security of a loving family. I hope I’ve provided the same for my children and grandchildren.

I would like to nurture the same close relationship with my grandchildren as I had with my grandparents and I hope I’m doing it right. I have been home-schooling my eldest grandson a couple of afternoons a week since lockdown rules eased enough for me to see him. Home-schooling sounds very grand, but he only started school last September, just getting into the swing of it, which he loves, then along came ‘the germs’ and shut down. We play games, do lots of painting, drawing, colouring – this includes chalk, wax crayon, pencils, felt tips and anything else I can lay my hands on. I’ve recently introduced him to ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, excellent for practising phonics. He’s quite happy doing number work, he doesn’t like writing much but we do a little bit. He enjoys being here, having me and Grandad all to himself with no distractions from his siblings. It helps my daughter out, as well. Families help each other, as it always was with our lot.

Now and again I dip into my family history. I’ve been doing my ‘tree’ for years. It can be hard work sometimes, going round in circles or literally barking up the wrong tree. So many generations with the same first name passed down. Children named after a dead older sibling. I’d never do that, but it was quite common in the mid-eighteen hundreds. People had lots of children, but so many of them died in infancy. Such losses in my ancestry have saddened me. My grandparents were made of strong stuff. They lost a child at three years old, before my mother was born. I was full of my own heartache when they lost another daughter, my mother. Our family clung to each other and tried to weather the storm.

It was hard when my mother died so young. It got harder still when my father remarried to the point of being impossible, but I had a close relationship with my maternal grandmother until she passed away, and my god-mother, who is my rock to this day.

I lost a lot of people over a period of about ten years. It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve made it, so far. I suppose I'm the matriarch of my family now, with hidden strength and non-judgemental advice when required.

                                                                           My babes

My poem,  Family

There's cooking and cleaning and
The sound of children at play.
Infants having a squabble,
It's an ordinary day.

The strength of our family
Continues here, in our home,
A warm hub of love and care
Where everyone is welcome.

Everyone is important,
All are equal in our throng.
We look after each other,
Fam'ly is where we belong.

Somewhere to share a problem,
Always a listening ear
And a few words of wisdom
Help the worries disappear.

Family ties that bind us
Are stronger than any twine.
United in trust we stand,
I'm proud this fam'ly is mine.

PMW 2020


Thanks for reading, stay safe, Pam x

                                              

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Know Your Onions

This might turn out to be more interesting than I first thought. To know your onions is an idiom which means to be knowledgeable about a subject (not necessarily onion-related). As it happens, there is an almost exact equivalent in French, occupez-vous de vos oignons, which means something entirely different, namely 'mind your own business'. Curious, n'est ce pas? We shall return to things French later.

What do we know about onions - apart from the fact they have many layers, can make your eyes water and smell great when being fried? Well, they are bulbs of the lily family (allium cepa to be precise); their cultivation as an edible vegetable probably started in Asia Minor about 7,000 years ago; and there are now many varieties of the mighty onion being grown and enjoyed around the world: red, white, yellow, Bermuda, Cipollini, Egyptian, Maui, Spanish, Vidalia, Walla Walla, as well as chives, garlic, leeks, scallions and shallots.  The biggest producer (by tonnage) of onions is China, followed more surprisingly by Mali, Niger, Japan and Tunisia.

The mighty onion
The onion was revered by the ancient Egyptians who saw its construction, those concentric layers within layers, as being symbolic of eternal life and onions have been found in many Egyptian burial sites. The Greeks and then the Romans believed strongly in the homeopathic qualities of the onion. Its shape has been incorporated into the domes found gracing both Orthodox and Islamic architecture across eastern Europe and the middle east. And its efficacy (in the form of garlic) against the powers of darkness - aka vampires - is well documented (LOL).

Most varieties of onion are 90% water, have an intense flavour and are very low in calories, making them ideal constituents of many dishes including salads, sauces and stews. Dopiaza, famous from curry-house menus (and originating from Afghanistan before finding lasting favour in Indian and Persian cooking), means literally twice onions and can be interpreted either as onions cooked two ways or onions used 2:1 in ratio to any other component of the dish (be that meat or potatoes).

Onions also have interesting phytochemical properties, enzymes which act as a defence if the bulb is damaged. The most commonly observed is the onion's ability to reduce the peeler to tears. When onion cells are damaged, they produce alliinases which generate sulfenic acid that in turn oxidises to release a gas irritating to the eyes. One tip to reduce the effect is to peel and slice onions under cold water. Another is to wear goggles. Mess tent troops in the second world war whose task it was to peel hundreds of onions on a regular basis used to do so wearing gas masks!
Allied troops peeling onions the painless way, Tobruk 1941
Raw onions have also been known to cause asthma, dermatitis, conjunctivitis and anaphylactic shock. The little fellas really don't want to be eaten! However, the cooking process denatures those allergic properties so that very few people ever suffer an adverse reaction to cooked onions, which both smell and taste wonderful.

Digressing ever so slightly, my parents gave me for my 7th birthday a hardback copy of Kenneth Graham's The Wind In The Willows, with colour-plate illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Of course the book is a classic and the illustrations are superb (though sadly Rackham died before its publication). One plate that greatly impressed me as a 7 year old was that of Mole taunting the rabbits in their burrows as he sauntered past.
To the best of my knowledge I've never tasted onion sauce, even though as you may have gathered I am very fond of onions. Therefore, I have made it my duty to discover what onion sauce is and how to make it. This is what I've learned. There appear to be two main ways to make onion sauce, a bland and simple three-step English method and a complex, sexy eight-step French method.

For bland onion sauce proceed as follows. 1) Peel a large onion and chop it into pieces before boiling in water for 15 minutes until slightly soft. 2) Melt butter in a pan and add cornflour before stirring milk into the paste to make a white sauce. 3) Drain the onions and add them to the sauce, mixing well over a medium heat along with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over rabbit! Marks: 5 out of 10.

For sexy onion sauce proceed as follows: 1) Peel a large onion and chop into pieces and boil for 2 minutes until blanched. 2) Make a roux by melting butter in a pan and adding plain flour. 3) Warm milk in a pan containing a whole peeled onion studded with cloves until nearly boiling. 4) Drain the onions and cook in a pan of butter with a spoonful of sugar added until they are glazed but not caramelized. 5) Pour the milk through a sieve into the roux to make a béchamel sauce. 6) Add the glazed onions and cook until the sauce starts to thicken. 7) Puree the entire contents by forcing through a sieve into a clean pan. 8) Add two spoonfuls of crème fraiche and heat again until all the cream is emulsified and the sauce is reduced to a silky but pourable texture. Serve with grilled poultry and mangetout.  Marks: 10 out of 10.

The French version is also known as Sauce Soubise after the man credited with devising it in the 18th century, one Charles de Rohan, Marshall of France and Prince of Soubise.

I like to keep challenging myself and so this week, armed with that wealth of culinary research, I'm going to attempt a first for me - the writing of a 'recipe' poem... or is it?

Onion Sauce
Take one bronzed and burnished cupola
and with a sharp blade undress it thus:
slit longitudinally through the outer husk
unlayering dry case within papery case
until tears sting your eyes at the reveal,
a bulbous near-luminescent pearl.

With the same sharp blade, deft strokes
should slice and dice the pungent flesh,
then work the whole mess into a sweat
with a little olive oil over a medium heat.
A wok serves best, no corner left to hide in.
When all is lightly glazed, set it to rest.

Melt butter in a pan, mix flour to paste
and flood it with the right amount of milk
of bovine kindness to constitute the base.
Fold in the onions, stir with flair and think
on gourmandising aristocrats all unaware
of revolution by the people drawing near.

Sieve to a puree, add fresh cream, then heat
and whisk this sauce Soubise to a silken gleam.
Although no citizens' consistory shadows
your door to drag you to the guillotine,
on impulse, plate up a symbolic extra portion,
a serving to appease the appetite of history.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S ;-)

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Summer Solstice

It falls to me to blog about superstitions on this, the longest day of the year, so what else would I regale you with but tales of summer solstice folklore and ritual?

Solstice derives from the Latin sol stitium, literally sun stopped (or stilled), and represents that point in the seasonal rounds when the earth's changing inclination means the sun is at an extreme (either southerly or northerly). For inhabitants of the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice, (as the inclination reaches 23 degrees north) is when we celebrate our longest day/shortest night - which this year happens to fall today, 20th June. The further north one travels, the lighter it remains for longer and there are places (for instance in Canada, Russia and Scandinavia) where the sun never dips below the horizon.

It has always been regarded as a magical event since pre-historic times. Not only was it a signal that the next phase in the agrarian cycle was commencing, it also became the catalyst for many religious celebrations to do with sun-worship, and appeasing or celebrating the gods and goddesses of fertility and the harvest. It was also thought that devils and evil spirits were particularly active. As a result lots of customs and superstitions grew up which - despite the most repressive efforts of the Christian church - still survive into the 21st century.


It has long been a custom to light bonfires on Midsummer's Night, even though it's the lightest and often the warmest time of the year. It is the practice in some places to leap over the flames of the bonfire as this is thought to bring good luck. Furthermore, folklore has it that the ash of Midsummer bonfires, if sprinkled afterwards on the farm or garden, will ensure bountiful growth for the coming year.

In some places, the summer solstice was counted as the start of a new year and in many cultures the day was celebrated with feasting, music and dancing.

More than that, the summer solstice has long been associated with fertility cults and the getting of wives or husbands. There was much collecting of herbs and wild-flowers, weaving of good-luck charms and attempts at divination. St. John's Wort (also known as chase devil) would be worn to ward off evil. Orpine (also known as live-forever and midsummer-men) when cut and planted in clay, was meant to foretell good or bad luck in bed depending on whether it leaned to left or right as it wilted! If a maiden were to walk three times round the holy place at midnight sprinkling Hempseed and then look over her left shoulder, the first man she set eyes on would be her likely husband. If a man wanted to make himself irresistible, he needed to pluck Fernweed at midnight. I suppose some of this is echoed in the love-potion plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Still today, people in northern territories celebrate the solstice by lighting bonfires, holding midnight feasts, making love garlands, playing music and dancing for joy of the magic of a special event in our annual round, even if the original motivations for doing so are somewhat anachronistic or shrouded in mystery.


To celebrate this summer solstice, tonight I'm feasting on chips with egg, washed down by a few glasses of Chianti; my bonfire is a bergamot-scented candle and my music is Neil Young's newly released 'Homegrown' album. When it finishes, I'll watch the light dim and listen to garden birds proclaim the defeat of darkness.

Sun Stopped
No sousing this Midsummer's Eve
for our solstice sun, afloat defiant
upon burnished waves. Well passed
our ritual retiring time, we gaze
in wonder once again at such a sight
as heaven aglow like day with light.

Pale fires along the beach lend
pine-tinged fragrance to the breeze.
Birds choir incessant in the trees.
There must be happy magic in the air.
Hopeful lovers pluck at Fernweed,
wistful maidens scatter Hempseed.

Tomorrow all might seem a dream -
the way a sprig of Orpine leaned,
that leftward glance to one's intended;
but until this not-quite-night is ended
let's leap the flames and chase the devil
joyous in our sun stopped revels.

Thanks for reading, S🌞

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Superstition - Good Afternoon, Mr Magpie



It was here again the other day. I heard it before I saw it, that horrible noise, like a distorted football rattle, then it swooped down from next door’s tree to strut around my garden like it owns the place. The magpie. Hopefully, there’s another one coming along. Not that I’m superstitious. After a muttering of “Good afternoon, Mr Magpie, pass my best wishes to your good lady wife” I forget all about him and carry on wiping down the kitchen. I notice him fly away with a companion, “One for sorrow, two for joy”, that’s good.

It is just as well that I’m not bothered by cracks in the footpath. I can’t avoid them when I’m pegging out washing and so far, I haven’t come to any harm. They give the courtyard character and somewhere to brush away the shattered shell of the snail I didn’t mean to tread on.

I’m not worried by the number thirteen, but I wouldn’t want to have thirteen people round a dinner table or gathering. That’s the one thing I share with the queen. Actually, I don’t think I know twelve people who would join me for dinner. Well, after lockdown, maybe.

There are superstitious rules concerning cutlery which have existed from my childhood and probably made up by my grandmothers and other ladies of their generation in my family to encourage good table manners. Dropped cutlery meant unexpected visitors and if it was a knife, the visitor would be a man. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed this. I wonder what we’d get if I dropped a handful of teaspoons? No, I’m not experimenting. Anyway, it’s got to be accidental. There is a correct way to leave cutlery on a finished plate. Deviate from the acceptable and we’re inviting the devil, apparently. The devil doesn’t like salt. Spilling salt causes bad luck. Quickly remedy the situation by throwing a pinch over your left shoulder into the eyes of the waiting devil. To spill salt was considered to be wasting money, dating back to ‘salary’ times.

I once broke the mirror on a handbag compact. I still use it, very carefully because it has a sharp bit and I’ve had the odd nick. I should really buy a new one. I’m not aware of any bad luck as a result, certainly not seven years’ worth. When it comes to personal care, no nail trimming on Sundays, but I’ve no idea why not.

Is it just me with pillowcases? The open ends must always face the same way, usually towards a window and I won’t change bed linen on a Friday. Superstition or not?

Here is my haiku for that pesky bird,

Strutting so aloof
As if it owns my garden.
Arrogant magpie.


Thanks for reading, stay safe and well. Back soon, fingers crossed. Pam x