Sunday, 5 December 2004
An Alternative to Christmas Pudding
Topic: Recipes and Food
Does your family find conventional Christmas pudding too rich? Well, mine did. So, years ago, I tried this recipe. The first time, I actually cooked it on Christmas morning but you can easily do it a couple of days in advance and steam it again when required. The second steaming does make it a little bit darker and ever so slightly richer - probably better. Well, the pudding was such a success that I had to make another one a couple of days later - and every year since - and everyone I have served it to absolutely adores it! I used to make the breadcrumbs the old fashioned way with a grater until my children clubbed together one Christmas and gave me a Braun Multipractic Plus electronic mixer!
New England Plum Pudding
4 ounces butter (or margarine, if you prefer)
8 ounces sugar (I always use dark brown soft sugar)
1 egg, unbeaten (medium to large)
4 ounces sifted flour (plain plus tiny pinch of salt)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
? teaspoon ground cloves
1? teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 ounces sifted breadcrumbs (fresh - not dried and brown bread makes a darker pudding)
4 ounces broken walnuts
7? ounces raisins
6 fluid ounces hot water
Cream butter; add sugar gradually, creaming continually. Beat in egg. Sift dry ingredients over breadcrumbs, walnuts and raisins; mix well. (N.B. if you are using an electric mixer, add the nuts at the last moment and whizz briefly and just fold in the raisins). Add to first mixture alternatively with hot water. Turn (or pour, the mixture will be quite runny) into a greased 3? pint pudding basin and cover tightly.
My recipe says to put on rack in a very slow oven (250?F 120?C Mark ? and oven steam for 2? to 3 hours) but, I have always used a conventional steamer on the top of the oven.
Serve with anything you like. Cream, brandy butter, brandy sauce, custard or ice cream.
Friday, 3 December 2004
The Language of the Future
Do you know how many languages are spoken on Earth? No, neither did I until I found out yesterday that it is around 6,800. Sadly, a great number of these languages are dying out and some will be forgotten completely in twenty more years. Apparantly, linguists believe that as many as 90% could be gone by the year 2100. I wonder how many more languages there were in the past? How many in the whole of human history? Millions possibly. I suppose that, as early peoples gradually spread around the globe, the common 'Mother Tongue' diversified. Dialects appeared. People did not always live very long so isolated family groups of hunter/gatherers may have been very young and the young invent new words. In New Guinea, for instance, each tribe in each valley has its own separate language.
It is interesting that the rules for language and grammar appear to be fixed deep within our brains and that they follow the same set of rules for all of humanity. I remember seeing a programme on television some years ago about Nicaraguan children in a home for the deaf. They were fed and looked after but not taught language. Perhaps you remember seeing it? Well, like children everywhere, they wanted to communicate their feelings and they began to use a crude form of sign language. It was very basic to start with but as younger children learnt from the older children, they started to use more elaborate signs and, as more youngsters learnt, they eventually created a really sophisticated sign language with its own grammar. The process evolved over some thirty years and this facility for true language only developed in the very young children - the older children never progressed beyond their basic signing. The same happens to hearing children who are deprived of real human contact when they are young - they can never learn to speak fluently - and so-called 'wild or feral children' manage no more than a one or two words or sounds. It seems that the speech pathways in the brain have to form very early or it is too late. It is very important, therefore, to talk to our babies from the moment of their birth.
So what is happening to the world's languages? To our shame, some indigenous languages were repressed. Australian Aboriginal and Native American children were sent to schools in the 19th century and forbidden to speak their native tongues. Empire builders colonised the Americas, then Africa and India and forced the diverse people there to speak English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch or whatever. Other languages have died or are about to die with the last member of their tribal group.
In the Western World in the early 20th century, the crystal set radio was invented. The BBC was born in 1920 and early broadcasters in the United Kingdom spoke the 'King's English', with the perfect enunciation of the upper-class, lah-di-dah, we used to call it! (Did you know that in the early days of radio, the BBC News Reader's had to wear Evening Dress to read the News Bulletin!). Nowadays television reaches even more people and, although the variation of language and pronunciation that you hear is wide-ranging, the result is that many English dialects, such as the old Sussex dialect, have completely died out. The same has probably happened in other countries, too. Then, as technology advances and new inventions appear, new words are invented. How many languages use the word 'Computer' for instance?
What will be the prevalent language in 2100, I wonder? I suspect most people will speak English as a second language. But it could just as easily be Chinese or even Klingon! Now that's a thought. Qapla'! Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!
P.S. Did you know that you can GOOGLE
Monday, 29 November 2004
An Old Lady's Poem
Topic: Poetry and Poets
Well, the comment I made at the end of yesterday's entry about having three different ages, our chronological age, our biological age and our mental age (the age we feel we are), reminded me of something I heard on the radio quite a few years back. The subject was Geriatric Wards in hospitals and I heard this doctor say that there had been an old lady in one of the beds on his ward. He had not taken much notice of her, she had seemed unimportant. Perhaps she had had a stroke and couldn't communicate very well. She died and the nurses found a poem in the drawer of her bedside cabinet. In it she said how she was still a young girl inside and how she felt. It changed the doctor's view of all his patients, he now saw them as people with feelings, not just old bodies waiting to die. I couldn't remember the poem so I searched the internet. I found it. I cried a little when I read it. My husband came downstairs, I read it out to him, with some difficulty because my voice was quivering. He had a little tear in his eyes to. It is sad and uplifting at the same time. Here it is.
This information was also given:
When an old lady died in the geriatrics ward of a small hospital near Dundee, Scotland, it was felt that she had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through her meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to Ireland. The old lady's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on her simple, but eloquent, poem. ...And this little old Scottish lady, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the authoress of this "anonymous" poem winging across the Internet. Goes to show that we all leave "some footprints in time."
May She Rest In Peace
What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten ...with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty-my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more, babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old woman ...and nature is cruel;
'Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years ...all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses open and see,
Not a crabby old woman; look closer ... see ME!!
Sunday, 28 November 2004
Hi Everyone! I've just moved to the neighbourhood
Topic: Blog Moved
Well, I finally decided to move my informal, static blog from its home on my website to the Tripod Blog, just like moving next door, really. However, it has taken me quite a few days to move all my bits and pieces, phew! Nearly eleven months of prattle! And then there was that extra bit about 'Topics' and 'Titles' to think about and add in.
I started off writing entries as an experiment - and kept everything on my computer for quite a while before I dared to upload it to my site for all and sundry to see at the end of August. I would probably have published my blog much sooner if I had not had a few setbacks earlier in the year. Also, I have been trying to redesign my web site at the same time to make it more accessible and that is still ongoing. I'm very slow because I started off hand-coding everything and now I'm so set in my ways I don't think I want to change because it's so easy to add something or change a background or alter the layout that way. Anyway, it keeps my brain active or so I like to think.
I have been finding it quite therapeutic to chat about all sorts of things - much better than keeping a journal. You can write about anything and everything you want to and you feel as if you are chatting to an old friend, (even if you do wonder sometimes if anyone out there is actually reading your entries). I suppose it's a form of psychological purging or an emotional catharsis. You certainly feel better for getting things off your chest, sharing your worries and your joys or just having a little chuckle.
I know I am not alone in this cyberworld of computers and the internet - I have been reading other Blogs and some of them are very good - I have even added a comment or two. After all, that is what we all want, isn't it? We want to know that someone, somewhere, is actually listening! So, if you can put up with a senior citizen's ramblings, you are all very welcome to drop in as often as you like. By the way, I've put myself in the 'Seniors' category in the Blog Directory because in England we all refer to people who have reached retirement age as "Senior Citizens" but I see it can also apply to Seniors at College in the States. Oh, well, never mind - you're as young or as old as you feel. We all have three different ages, our chronological age, from the date we were born; our biological age, our bodies do not all age at the same rate; and the age we feel we are, our mental age. My chronological age is 62 years and eleven months, my biological age is probably a bit younger (although it is catching up fast) and the less said about my mental age, the better!
Wednesday, 24 November 2004
Christmastide is Nigh
Topic: Festive Season
Just over four weeks to go until Christmas and I got my first Christmas Card yesterday! It is probably sensible to start writing cards as early as possible, especially if you write more than just 'Best Wishes' and have a lot to send but, please, please, don't post them so early.
Commemorating the birth of Christ on the 25th December probably dates back to 354 AD when it was celebrated on this day in Rome. [See update below
]. Originally, Christmas was not among the early festivals of the church and is first mentioned around AD 200, when it was commemorated in Egypt on the 20th May. Others celebrated it on the 19th or 20th April. Some believe that the 25th December was chosen to celebrate the Nativity as that date coincided with existing pagan rituals which the Church wished to absorb. The 19th December was the start of the Roman 'Saturnalia, a festival honouring the god of the harvest, Saturn, and was marked by seven days of continuous feasting and merrymaking. Elsewhere in Europe, there was a similar festival known as 'Yule', when huge logs were burnt in honour of the gods. In 1644, Christmas was 'banned' in Britain by Act of Parliament as the Puritan 'Long Parliament' believed that it should be kept as a day of fasting and seeking the Lord. It returned when Charles II took the throne in 1660 but all the rituals had virtually died out. It was the Victorians who revived them. Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree. Carol singing was revived. Christmas cards, the first one produced in London in 1846, became commonplace by the 1870's. Christmas crackers were invented at the turn of the century. Father Christmas himself is a mixture of St Nicholas and the medieval 'spirit of Christmas' but the modern Santa Claus, with sledge, reindeers and a sack of toys, was invented by America in 1868.
So, Christmas as we know it today is mainly a 19th century invention wrapped around a Christian Religious Festival which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in England, it seems that Christmas has become so commercialised and so stressful, as people exchange cards and gifts with everybody they know, that it has completely lost its true meaning. To keep up their 'status' frantic shoppers use their credit cards to buy ever more expensive presents for all their work mates and friends and then spend the rest of the year paying interest on what they spent. And how many people receive expensive presents they just do not want and never use and then feel obliged to fork out to buy another unwanted gift in return?
In Spain, and probably in other Spanish speaking countries, Christmas is more peaceful. The commercialisation revolves around the 6th January, Epiphany Day or Reyes. That is the day when the Three Kings arrive with all the presents for the children.
Well, Christmas should be for the children but too much emphasis on Father Christmas can also be bad. When my husband was a child he was told that Father Christmas might bring him what he asked for IF he was VERY good. He tried his hardest and was very, very good but Father Christmas hardly brought anything. When he went back to school after the holidays, boys he knew had been quite naughty had superb presents. He was convinced that he must have been so bad somehow and it spoilt his childhood. If only someone had explained that Mum and Dad couldn't afford big presents, he would have understood.
Well, I suppose I had better start sorting out those cards.......... Update
I visited ClipArt.com today for some Christmas pictures and saw that they mentioned that Pope Julius I
had declared that Christmas be celebrated on 25th December. Hang on - my version of Encarta said it was Pope Gregory
in 354! Who was right? I searched the web. Pope Saint Julius I
died in 352, Pope Saint Gregory I
was born circa 540. So, it seems that Pope Julius
did assign that date before his death. Furthermore, 25th December is mentioned in Rome in the Philocalian Calendar which was compiled in 354, as the day "..natus Christus in Betleem Iudae". So, in Rome, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354. However, it seems that this date was not accepted immediately by the Churches in the East until 379 and that it wasn't until the fourth century that every Western calendar assigned the Nativity to 25 December.
I never realised that the history of Christmas was so complex and I have removed the reference to Pope Gregory from my original entry. I will be wary of trusting Encarta again.
Further Reading: Christmas
The origin of the Word and Early Celebration - a page on the New Advent Website.Christmas Abolished
A page on the Oliver Cromwell website.
Monday, 22 November 2004
On This Day
Can you remember what you were doing and where you were forty-one years ago on this date? I can.
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train.
If you are old enough, you will probably remember where you were too. The 22nd November 1963 was a Friday and the special news bulletin that evening was patched through the station's loud speaker system... Have you remembered yet? The words I heard struck me with horror and disbelief. If I had been near a telephone, I would have rung home to tell them to listen to the news... You have remembered! The announcement I heard was grim: "The President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, has been shot and seriously wounded as he was riding in an open limousine through the streets of Dallas, Texas." Everyone on the station stopped in their tracks, we looked at each other, not quite comprehending what we were hearing. I had a lump in my throat. He had seemed such a good man. The journey home seemed to take for ever and when I arrived at last, I rushed to hear the Evening News Bulletin. The President was dead. Our hearts went out to his wife, who had cradled her husband's blood-smeared head in her arms, and to his young children. Why had something so awful and so tragic happened?
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train....
Thursday, 18 November 2004
The brain is an amazingly complex organ which controls everything our body does from breathing and walking to seeing and hearing. We like to think that our consciousness is always in control but sometimes the brain foils us. Take this silly exercise which arrived in my Inbox last night:
How smart is your right foot?
This will boggle your mind. And you will keep trying at least 50 more times to see if you can outsmart your foot, but you can't.
While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.
Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.
Your foot will change direction.
Well, I couldn't do it. I thought my husband might be able to because he can do that other trick of patting your head with one hand whilst the other hand rubs your stomach in circles - but he couldn't either. Can you do it? Perhaps a Jazz Drummer could do it? Or an Organist? I wonder...
Sunday, 14 November 2004
"The Glorious Dead"
I feel sad today. There is something so nostalgic and poignant about watching old soldiers and members of the armed forces marching past our Cenotaph, in London's Whitehall, in remembrance of their fallen comrades. The Cenotaph (an 'empty tomb') was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected in 1920. It bears the words, "The Glorious Dead", and commemorates the many whose lives were lost in two World Wars and other conficts. In the case of the First World War, the decimation of a whole generation of young men.
The first time I began to realise just how many young men never came home from the Great War was when I was twelve or thirteen. Two spinster sisters lived together just down the road, the Misses C------. They seemed old to me but they were very kind. They invited my sister, Pauline, and myself to tea and plied us with scones and home made quince jam. I saw a photograph of a handsome young man and, being curious, I asked, "Who is that in the photograph?" One sister, immediately looked very sad and said softly, "That is my Fiancé. He never came home after the Great War." Her eyes glistened. My sister frowned at me. That was when I realised how cruel war is. Not only were so many soldiers killed in the Great War, so many mothers and wives bereaved, but a whole generation of young girls never had the chance to marry. Miss C, not a spinster by choice, had remained true to her lost love but so many other young girls, like her sister, never had the chance to meet anyone - there just weren't enough young men left to go round.
The Thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.
.... last verse of "Into Battle" by Julian Grenfell - killen in action 1915.
"Selections from Modern Poets" made by J.C. Squire. Published 1934 - London: Martin Secker
I feel sad today....
Thursday, 11 November 2004
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
....... Fourth stanza of 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Did you know that today, the anniversary of Armistice Day on 11th November 1918, is a public holiday in Belgium? They always hold a Service of Remembrance in Ypres and a special Last Post ceremony at The Menin Gate Memorial. Belgium has never forgotten the sacrifices made by so many young soldiers - some of them just boys who pretended they were older. Now on Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th November, we honour and remember the dead of all wars and conflicts.
Did you know that an American Lady called Moina Bell Michael, from Georgia, was the person responsible for the poppy emblem? She was inspired by John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" - especially the last verse, "To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields." She made a personal pledge to 'keep the faith' and always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance.
In the United Kingdom, we hold a two minute silence at 11 am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Sadly, not everyone remembers or cares. I can recall a time shortly after the end of World War II when everybody did care. I was in the car with my Dad, I think we were in the Finchley Road going towards Golders Green. ALL the cars came to a standstill - ALL the drivers and passengers got out and stood to attention, stiff and silent, for two minutes. Not a sound could be heard anywhere in London. It made a huge impression on me.
Do you wear a poppy?
Tuesday, 9 November 2004
My Early Childhood
I read somewhere very recently (and I can't remember where!) that most people's earliest memories don't go back further than age three or four. The trouble with most early memories is that you don't always know exactly how old you were when something happened. Also, you may think you 'remember' something because you were told about it so many times or because you saw a photograph. Anyway, it got me thinking about my earliest memories and I thought I'd share some with you.
- Tasting salt! I was being carried and I know I was keeping my eyes shut and salt was put on my tongue. The only thing this could have been was my baptism and I was four weeks old. So, is this a real memory?
- I can definitely remember standing up in my cot. It was against the wall just to the right of the door inside our 'Drawing Room'. The door opened and my sister, Maud, stuck her head round and called out, "She's been sick" and disappeared.
- I think I can remember having a bath in the wash basin but I am not sure because there is a photograph of my eldest sister, Marie-Claire, sitting in the wash basin.
- I was in a long corridor with my mother and there was a nurse and a large pair of scales. My mother had to remove my clothes so that I could be weighed and I felt very indignant because strangers were walking along the corridor and I was naked!
- Further forward in time, I can remember being in a bed which was at the bottom end of my parent's bed. Again, Maud came in and this time she put bitter aloes on my thumb to stop me sucking it. It tasted AWFUL! I sucked my finger instead.
- Having whooping cough. I was sitting on a fluffy green rug in front of the fireplace in our front room, coughing away. My mother had just opened the door to someone who was in the hall looking in and who commented, "She is still whooping a lot".
- The sound of the Air Raid Siren. Standing under the stairwell and wondering why my sister Marie-Claire was rubbing and rubbing a plate with a tea towel (she had been helping with the washing up when the siren went).
- The droning sound of a doodle bug, the German V-1 unmanned rocket bombs in 1944, (I was 2?) - I told my mother "C'est un mechant avion" (a naughty plane) - she ran to the window to listen and I can remember her fear.
- Eating red berries growing on a bush outside the window and being given lots of milk to drink.
- Going to hospital to have my tonsils out, the sweet smell of chloroform on a mask a man in white put on my face, the nurse sitting me on a potty inside my cot and my upsetting it, my sore throat, my parents bringing me ice cream, the boy in the bed in the same room.
- A summer's day, Marie-Claire pushing me in my pushchair and I was urging her to run faster.
- Looking behind the garden shed and seeing several little spitting kittens. My mother didn't believe me at first but yes, there they were, as wild as anything. Later on, we saw the mother cat carrying her babies away one by one. A day or so later, my sister noticed our cat, Tibby, sitting staring at something in the garden. Every now and then, his paw shot out and patted something. It was one of the wild little kittens. The convent school gave it a home. It was a hot summer's day (probably July 1945) and I was playing in the front garden with the boy next door. He was called in and I thought of the kitten. So, off I went down the road. It was a nearly a mile to the school but I knew the way. I left my cardigans on garden walls. (My mother called the police). I remember being at the school - a summer fete was going on, someone gave me a glass of lemonade, I was having a great time. Then, I saw my sister Pauline coming across the lawn and telling me I was a very naughty girl. I remember going home with her on the bus.
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