Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sugar Blues

Something for those of you who, like me, will consume far too many Easter eggs tomorrow.

Anon, and a goode Easter to you all.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Oh England, My England

Before this clip turns me into a quivering mass of nostalgic jelly I must remind myself that it is an advertisement for tea. But what an advertisement for tea it is! 
"Calm down, bruised and battered soul," it comforts, "there is always routine and pretty things and tea." "England hasn't changed so much. Your life hasn't changed so much. Establish the rhythms and rules you draw comfort from and all will be well, all manner of things will be well."

And that, gentle reader, is definitely a way to happiness. And, it is a particularly English way to happiness. The ability to re-establish something of yourself, your rhythms and routines, when life has given you a jolly good pummelling. However, I don't think this is something you can do quickly and easily if you have been through the mill. Something which is nigh on impossible if life has been pummelling you since birth. Which is why I'm feeling a little jaded about UN's International day of Happiness. 

Now, this is a bit of a political turn around for me. I've been a long term fan of NEF and they were one of the first think tanks to posit the idea that a country should be judged by the well-being, or happiness, of its citizens rather than the GDP.  However, the happiness movement is wrong. If you take a look at Action for Happiness's  Ten Keys To Happier Living you will see that their suggestions are practical, sensible and workable for those of us who may be feeling a little social angst (or in other words the slightly over stretched middle classes) but entirely impractical for those people who really need a good dose of happiness. Namely, the people who have no idea what happiness, or contentment, really is. The underclass. We in Britain have a massive underclass. A simmering group of young people who no nothing of the very excellent ten keys to happiness, nothing of work, nothing of education, nothing of good nutrition and health, nothing of healthy relationships. There is no place of safety to retreat to and no rhythms and routines to draw comfort from.  The poor in this country are poor in every conceivable way. 

The trouble with the happiness movement is the word "happiness." Despite the fact that altruism is key to the movement "happiness" is not an altruistic word. It is a personal word. I have no doubt that the happiests are very altruistic people and deeply concerned with the well-being of others. I do not doubt it and I admire them. But if I asked one of the 14 year old kids I used to teach if they were happy they would say, "yes." Particularly if they have new shoes, some dope and an older boy/man to pay "attention" to them.  They would say they were happy if they had got to batter someone before they were battered themselves. One or two of them would say they were happy if they had a place to sleep. Happiness is a subjective word.  And you know some of these "happy" kids because they live on the rough estate in your town.

The thing is, hell is other people.  Many unhappy people can track their unhappiness down the anti-social actions of others. Whether it is the personal - a manipulative, or bullying, friend or family member acting selfishly. Or political, - a few bankers in the USA selling sub-prime mortgages to the very poor knowing that whilst they would earn millions, economies could fail and jobs will be lost. The reason why the "happiness" level of UK citizens has plummeted over the past thirty years is because we think we have the right to personal happiness. I'm sure the bullying friend feels that they have the right to manipulate because they have the right to be happy...the bankers felt that the millions would make them happy. When one of the lads I used to teach went on a bit of a mugging spree, he felt pretty happy. However the old ladies he stole from were very miserable and desperate.

The bottom line is that you and I and Oprah Winfrey have no right to happiness. Happiness is the fluctuating reward we receive when we have behaved like good citizens, but this reward is at the mercy of others and can be snatched away from us by those who grasp and grab and misbehave because they have been taught by an uncaring world that they can do whatever they like if it makes them happy. That is why the semantics of the happiness movement needs to change. If we are going to be a happier country we need to be good citizens. We need to be taught how to be good citizens, we need to be taught how to be good friends, neighbours, employers, employees, husbands, wives, children.  The happiness movement tells us we should be these things, but we need to be taught, quite explicitly, how to be these things. The happiness movement needs to be the citizenship movement because without good citizenship hell will continue to be other people - when other people could so easily be heaven. 

I'll leave you with an Edwardian poem about citizenship from E. Nesbitt's The Story of the Amulet.

I must not steal and I must learn,
Nothing is mine that I do not earn.
I must try in work and play
To make things beautiful every day.
I must be kind to everyone,
And never let cruel things be done.
I must be brave, and I must try
When I am hurt never to cry
And always laugh as much as I can,
And be glad that I'm going to be a man
To work for my living and help the rest
And never do less than my very best.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

I am Resolved to Blog Again

I know that you've heard this all before but this time I really mean it. I am resolved to blog again. I should be running a business which puts bread on the table, I should be mopping my floors, I should be cleaning the toilets but instead I am going to blog. I hereby swear that I shall blog twice a week.
Anon, gentle reader (and I really mean anon).

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A London Childhood of the 1930s

Or, something perfect to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Look into the Pewter Pot

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
-Benjamin Franklin

Just when the rest of the world is pondering knocking off the beer for a whole month, I'm pondering dipping my toe into the world of home brewing. I'm quite keen on making sloe gin and cherry brandy but I'm well aware that these tipples, delicious as they are, are just infusions. I have the urge to make like Tom and Barbara and get cracking with the peapod Burgundy. I actually bought wine making equipment a few years ago but chickened out of making wine because my family of naysayers thought the enterprise to be extremely dumb assed.

Of course, back when a weak an feeble woman could fight off the Spanish Armada whilst looking like a sexy, windswept Cate Blanchett all women brewed - from the lowest peasant to the high born lady in her still room, in fact I read that many working class women built up very profitable brewing businesses during the sixteenth century. Anyway, I digress. I want to brew and I have historical precedent, therefore I must brew. 

Before I yadda yadda ad infinitum, here's a lovely poem by Yeats which I could put on the labels of wine my bottles...

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth

And love comes in at the eye;

That’s all we shall know for truth

Before we grow old and die.

I lift the glass to my mouth,

I look at you, and I sigh.

And for the beer bottles, well Houseman of course.

Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.

And here are a few good recipes from vintage cookbooks for the kind of home brew a lady could make  between finishing her plain sewing and doing the flowers at church. First, a seasonal receipt from the wonderful Gleanings from Gloucestershire Housewives.

The second is from The Country Housewife's Book, which you can find re-issued through Persephone Books.

For the time being I'm using my plethora of pewter pots (a by product of the antiques business seems to a be having a small collection of weird and wonderful odds and sods) as impromptu vases, but it won't be long before I shall be looking into the "pewter pot to see the world as the world's not."

Monday, 15 October 2012

Listen to me and I will tell you the story of the Kitchen Wall, as it was told in the days of old.

So, here's the story of my kitchen wall. No! Do not click on to another more interesting blog, stay with me and listen to the story as it was told in the days of old. You may want to get yourself another coffee at this point. In some ways the story of the kitchen wall is a story of romance and folly, a story of family, loyalty and growing maturity. In other ways it is just a story about a woman who paints her kitchen wall. I'll let you decide.
So it all starts twelve years ago when we first move into our house. We strip the wallpaper off the kitchen wall, remove the dado, line the walls with lining paper and paint them cream. Oh, but the folly of youth will out - we decide that we cannot bear (yes, gentle reader, cannot bear) the look of normal kitchen paint with its practical wipeable sheen. Normal kitchen paint is too Daily Mail, Fosse Park at the weekend and Early Bird and the Harvester. The general consensus between myself and the DH is that if we cannot paint our kitchen in ultra matte, chalky, Farrow and Ball then we might as well never bothered getting a degree, buying the Guardian and reading books about the Fabian Society.

So we slap the Farrow and Ball on the kitchen wall, then we slap it on again, then once more because it doesn't cover very well and stand back and admire our work...and we are very careful with the kitchen, very neat and tidy, for all of say ten whole days. Then things start to get bad. The DH has a terrible habit of not looking at the bin when he's getting ridding of the scraps before he does his nightly stint of washing up and soon there are splatters of gravy and tea on the cream Farrow and Ball framing the bin like a Jackson Pollock or an IRA dirty protest. But never fear - I get out the remains of the paint and go over the splatters with a spot of paint ... on a weekly basis for...eleven years. However eventually the DIY shop in my town closes down and I don't think the accursed Farrow and Ball do the colour of my paint any more and the kitchen wall gets dirtier and dirtier until I am thoroughly ashamed.

My mother begins to question me about the kitchen wall - why is it so dirty? Why can't the DH manage to get anything in the bin? Why haven't I cleaned the kitchen wall? And then, when I'm ill in bed, she decides to clean it for me and sprays the whole wall with kitchen cleaner which simply gets absorbed into the uber middle class chalky finish, leaving little permanent spray splatters to join the chicken fat, gravy and jam already adorning my kitchen. My mum is furious, "why didn't you paint your kitchen in kitchen paint? Are you a mental person? I thought I'd brought you up better than that! Why has it been so clean all these years if the paint isn't wipeable?"

I explain to her gently that I've been quietly painting over the DH's splatters for eleven years, but now I've run out of paint. I think she is going to kill me but instead she just calls me a "bloody fool" and I agree with her.

So out I go and purchase a large tin of cream kitchen paint from Homebase. I paint the whole of the kitchen on a Monday when the DH is at work and the kids are at school and nobody notices my handy work, except my mother.  She comes in all smiles and we sit at the kitchen table and have a coffee. She is very pleased with me and I am very pleased because I have pleased my mummy. I then say to her, "you know, I'm thinking of painting a motto or quotation on the wall - like they did in gastropubs ten years ago." She thinks this is a splendid idea and looks over to the line of bookshelves on the other kitchen wall and says I should find something from Shakespeare and I say that I shall think about it.

Later on that evening I confess to the family that I have painted the kitchen. They all troop in and say, "ooh, yes, I can tell now - it looks cleaner," and, again, I am very pleased. I then say that I want to paint a motto on the wall like they did in gastropubs ten years ago. The conversation goes thus:
Me: I want to paint a motto on the kitchen wall, like they did in gastropubs ten years ago.
DH: Like what?
Me: Some Americans put quotations from the Bible on their walls.
DH: Like a Victorian Methodist Sunday School?
Me: That wasn't what I had in mind. Do you have any suggestions?
DH: How about "Strength Through Joy" or, "Two Legs Good, Four Legs Bad"?
Big Girl: I know, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirke."
Me: Although I think that "Kinder, Kuche, Kirke" may be scarily apt, I don't think Nazi slogans will create the appropriate warm and convivial atmosphere I require in my kitchen diner.

So I make a unilateral decision and paint a C.S. Lewis quotation on the wall.

The little one is thrilled and as soon as I'm finished grabs the family copy of Narnia and orders me to take a photo of her underneath the quote. She makes her big sister do the same with Mere Christianity. It is not until I download the photos of the kids onto my laptop that I realise I have painted the quotation slightly on the wonk. Somehow this represents the story of my family life, so I leave it as it is and smile.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

...I can only assume this appalling outcome was God's wish.

Nobody can beat Shuttleworth. Nobody. He speaks to the English soul like no-one else. He is the Shakespeare of suburbia, an incomparable poet who captures the exquisite pathos of everyday existence. Listen and be amazed.