Thursday, 30 December 2004
Topic: In the News
My husband heard the early news on Boxing Day and told me there had been an earthquake under the sea resulting in a huge tsunami wave. On Monday we had a family reunion to celebrate my birthday so I only caught up with the news again at 10:40 pm that evening when the enormity of the tragedy began to sink in. They say the tsunami death toll may eventually be more than 100,000 as the casualty figure keeps rising, although many bodies will never be found. One third of these victims were young children - a lost generation. Of the survivors, an estimated 5 million people have been affected by this terrible disaster. Countless homes, hotels, villages and whole towns have been destroyed; twisted timbers and bits of masonry litter the landscape. The foreign tourists, who have survived traumatised and battered, many mourning lost family members, will come home to rebuild their lives. For the people left behind, the cost in human suffering is incalculable and the days to come could see another human catastrophe unfold as disease takes hold. Many people have no fresh water to drink as sewage outlets have broken and all water is contaminated. People on remote islands have no water, no food, no shelter, and desperately need medical supplies. The small but vital fishing industry is lost together with the fishermen's smashed up boats. The impact of this disaster will be felt for many years as these decimated communities struggle to rebuild themselves and some villages are probably gone forever. And for those whose economy was based on the tourist industry - now washed away - how will they survive? How long will it take to rebuild not just the resorts but the confidence of foreign visitors?
This dreadful catastrophe is one of the worst in recent times. There have been tsunamis before. In Alaska in April 1946, an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami which killed a total of some 261 people and caused $52 million (much more in today's money) of damage. There was another tsunami in 1957 which caused less damage and no lives were lost. In 1960, there was one affecting Peru and Chile which caused widespread damage. In the 19th century, on 27 August 1883, Krakatau, an island volcano located on the island of Rakata along the Indonesian arc between Sumatra and Java, erupted with tremendous force sending dust 17 miles up into the atmosphere. Giant waves reached heights of 40 metres above sea level and devastated everything in their path. At least 36,417 lives were lost. The worst earthquake in living memory happened in Tangshan, China in 1976, when it was reported that 242,000 people died and over 600,000 were injured. However, in the decades since this earthquake, it is believed that the real figure was over half a million dead.
There are no volcanoes in England. We do not live in an earthquake zone where tectonic plates meet although we do have quite a few little earthquakes but hardly anyone notices - the worst measured 6.1 in 1931. There is an occasional severe gale and some miniature tornadoes have caused damage in some seaside towns but we never see the destructive hurricanes they suffer in the United States. Yes, of course we have had flood disasters and loss of life in recent memory and these will undoubtedly happen again. But we are lucky and privileged as a nation to live safe and comfortable lives.
These desperate human survivors in the devastated areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya (eleven nations in southeast Asia and Africa) need our help NOW. If every adult in the Western world gave something, even just £2 or $2 or €2 each, it would make a huge difference so please donate what you can afford to the disaster fund. It is easy. The telephone line for making donations from the UK is 0870 60 60 900 - you will be asked to enter your details via the telephone keypad.
Sunday, 26 December 2004
!Caramba! ?Que pasa?
Topic: Poetry and Poets
We have all heard that lovely Christmas poem, "Twas the Night before Christmas", (sometimes called, "A Visit from St Nicholas"), written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. Well, I hope he will forgive me for passing on this "Spanish/English" version, which I came across recently. It should amuse my Spanish relatives!
'Twas the Night before Christmas ("Spanglish" version)
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa,
Not a creature was stirring - !Caramba! ?Que pasa?
Los ni?os were tucked away in their camas,
Some in long underwear, some in pijamas,
While hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado,
In hopes that old Santa would feel obligado,
To bring all children, both buenos and malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.
Outside in the yard there arose un gran grito,
and I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think that it era?
Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero,
Came dashing along like a loco bombero.
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,
Were eight little burros approaching volando.
I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre,
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre:
"Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Cuco, ay Beto,
ay Chato, ay Chopo, Maruco, y Nieto!"
Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho,
He flew to the top of our very own techo,
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chiminea.
Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala,
He filled all the stockings with lively regalos,
None for the ni?os that had been very malos.
Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone como el viento,
And I heard him exclaim, y ¡esto es verdad!
Merry Christmas to all, ¡y Feliz Navidad!
- author unknown
Of course, most children in Spain receive their presents from the three Kings on 6th January, El Dia De Reyes
(Epiphany) and, instead of a stocking, they put their shoes out the night before by a door or a window to be filled with little presents.
Tuesday, 21 December 2004
A Philosophy for Life
Ponder on this.
A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began, and without saying a word, he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks right to the top, rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full and they agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full and they agreed that, yes, it was. The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed. The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent things like your job, house, or car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff."
"If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important."
Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities, the rest is just pebbles and sand.
Monday, 20 December 2004
Topic: Festive Season
Are You Ready for Christmas? Well, I'm not. There seems to be such a lot still to do! All the presents are waiting to be wrapped up and I still have one more to find - and no inspiration! Last year, I bought this person some toiletries, shower gel and bath stuff. Not very original and I would really like to find something inspirational for a change. I know that it is the thought that counts but I always try to put myself in a person's shoes and give a present I hope they will be happy to receive. That can be very difficult with adults whose tastes you are not particularly familiar with; I will have to seek some advice! Only five `shopping days' to go, including today.
It is so easy to find presents for small children, don't you think. Too easy really! Saturday, we went down the town and I came home with a little coat for Baby Andrew and Sunday, I come home with yet another toy for him. Well, it is his first birthday on the 1st January as well as his first Christmas. The twins are easy too. They like money, of course, which they get from my husband, but I like to give them presents as well. A pink velvet dress, a cycle helmet and gloves, four sets of Hama beads, a fairy calendar, squishy soaps, sweets and I don't remember what else! Well, what are Grandmothers for if not to spoil kids occasionally?
Shopping was so much easier when I was a child. I can remember the very first time I bought Christmas presents for my family. It would have been the year after an older child at school put me wise about Father Christmas so I was probably seven. My father encouraged me to save some of my pocket money well in advance and then, generously doubled it for me so that I could buy little gifts for everyone. One of my sisters took me down to Woolworth, which had a large selection of goods, and sent me in on my own. I remember choosing presents for everyone whilst my sister waited patiently outside so I probably did all my shopping in half an hour. I particularly remember the brooch I bought for my sister, Pauline. When she opened her present on Christmas Day and admired it, I just couldn't contain myself and proudly informed her that; "it cost two shillings and sixpence!". Probably my first `faux pas'!
Saturday, 18 December 2004
A Senior Moment
Well, I did a silly thing this evening. I know, we all do silly things from time to time but mine was really quite daft!
I was cooking our supper - baked haddock, broccoli and cheese sauce. I put the fish in the oven, grated the cheese, put the broccoli on to simmer, made the sauce. The timer went, I took the fish out of the oven and started putting it on our plates. Stopped dead in my tracks: "Oh, no!", I exclaimed. "What's happened?", called out my husband rushing to the kitchen. "I've forgotten to cook some potatoes!", I said dramatically, with an expression of stunned dismay.
What did he do? He just creased up and roared with laughter! Well, I had felt quite mortified at my lapse but I had to grin a little as well. Kept everything warm and flung a few potatoes in the microwave. Twelve minutes later, we were sitting down eating whilst a second small batch of potatoes was cooking. The broccoli was perhaps a little soft but nothing was really spoilt.
I must admit I've done worse. I can remember preparing a small Sunday roast many years ago. I always use the slow cooking method, so in it went into a cold oven. Switched the oven on and left it to cook. An hour or so later, I return to find a completely raw joint. I had put it into the small top oven alright but I had switched on the lower fan oven! We had a very
late dinner that day!
Thursday, 16 December 2004
"The Snow Queen"
Now Playing: Little Children
Last Monday afternoon we went to Aldingbourne County Primary School to see our grandchildren performing in the Infants' School play, "The Snow Queen". Stephanie had the star role as she was Gerda and Elliot played Gerda's brother, Kay. My daughter, Sarah, saved us some seats but the hall was already filling up when she arrived so we were back a little. She had made an effort to get there early but then so had everyone else!
All of the children had a part in the play, and they were all obviously enjoying themselves hugely performing for all the parents and grandparents who had come to see them! The teachers must have had to put in so much work to get everyone ready and all the children were absolutely fantastic. It was really heartwarming to watch. The costumes were superb, too - I particularly liked the little 'flowers'!
I thought the twins were incredibly good and my husband got a big tear in his eye (which rolled down his cheek) listening to Stephanie singing - he was so proud of her. Stephanie didn't falter with any of her lines and sang several songs all by herself. I certainly could never have done that when I was six years old!
I tried to take some photographs and Sarah tried to video the whole play but there were two rather large Dads in the two rows in front so it was a little difficult! Never mind. There were two more performances on Tuesday, one at 2pm (when my son-in-law, Adrian, took another video!) and one at 6pm. So my daughter and I went again to the evening show. Decided I would go really, really early this time and save her a seat! You guessed it..... so had lots of other doting mums, dads, grandpas and grandmas. Still, I did manage to get a seat on the aisle, so I had a much better view.
Stephanie had a little mishap - I saw her trip on the steps on the stage just when she was supposed to speak to the 'king' and 'queen'. She sat down for a moment and then carried on as if nothing had happened. I was a bit worried in case she had hurt herself. But, at the end of the play, the Headmistress asked her to stand up and told us that Stephanie had lost her shoe when she tripped and had stopped to put it back on and then had carried on like a real little trooper without batting an eyelid! Everyone applauded her and she looked really pleased.
There is something so uplifting watching little children putting on a show and seeing little faces light up when they spot you in the audience.
Saturday, 11 December 2004
Proof In The Pudding - Another Alternative for Christmas
Topic: Recipes and Food
This recipe for Brandy Pudding is absolutely delicious! It has to be cooked ahead of serving time, which makes it an ideal pudding when you have visitors. You can prepare it in the morning or even a day in advance.
My recipe says it will give 12 portions but don't count on it! When I first tried it out, I thought I would halve the mixture for six people. Well, I went wrong somewhere and ended up making the full amount. I needn't have worried. Everyone came back for large second helpings and I was left with two very small portions for another day.
Cook it in a five-pint, 2-3 inches deep earthenware or Pyrex dish, which has to be slightly greased with butter. If you only have a smaller, deeper dish the cooking time will have to be extended. Left-overs reheat beautifully in the microwave.Brandy Pudding
8oz (225g) stoneless dates, minced (or chopped)
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
½pt (300ml) boiling water
4oz (115g) soft butter
8oz (225g) soft brown sugar
2 medium-size fresh free-range eggs, beaten
5oz (140g) self-raising flour
4oz (115g) pecan nuts or walnuts, finely chopped
4oz (115g) glacé cherries or glaceé fruits, finely chopped
For the Soaking Sauce:
8oz (22g) soft brown sugar
¼pt (150ml) cold water
¼pt (150ml) cooking brandy
Pre-heat oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4). Place the prepared dates in a jug and add the bicarbonate of soda and the boiling water. Cream the butter and sugar and, little by little, add the beaten eggs. Fold in the self-raising flour, nuts and cherries. Stir in the sloppy dates. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes but, before removing from the oven, test that it is cooked through - a small sharp knife gently pushed through the middle should come out clean and dry. In a saucepan over low heat, bring together the sauce ingredients. When the pudding comes out of the oven, pour the sauce over it and leave, covered, until cold. Before serving, warm the dish through for 15 minutes at 180C (350F, gas mark 4). Serve with whipped double cream to which some caster sugar and a touch of ground nutmeg have been added or with my favourite, Cornish ice cream.
Thursday, 9 December 2004
Now Playing: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Topic: In the News
I saw a headline on Google News today - the latest news from news.scotsman.com - "Secret Santa 'Reveals Office Workers' True Feelings
". Well, my curiosity was aroused. What or who was 'Secret Santa'? Oh - I see, it's just an office game, which involves each member of staff picking a colleague's name from a hat and buying that person a gift.
I can remember doing something like that at school. We all brought a small gift at the end of the autumn term. Our teacher laid them out on her table and then our names were drawn and each person chose a gift from the assortment. I can't recall what I donated but I can remember what I chose. It was a little plant, a round spiky succulent, a present from Hilda. Amazingly, I still have descendants of that little plant on my window sill today. But I diverge, as usual!
Apparently, Woolworths (a well known British high street retailer) ran a survey about this 'game' and questioned 3,000 adults nationwide. Over half of them admitted that they used it to tell a work colleague that they fancied them! A total of 83% didn't want to buy a present for the boss and the 'horrid' manager was quite likely to receive a copy of the book "How to win friends and influence people" - poor man! (Now why did I assume it would be a man?). More than 45% reluctantly spent at least £5 although 25% spent double that amount and 5% admitted to recycling old unwanted gifts! However, 20% stated that it was a drain on their finances as they already had too many presents to buy. Overall, it seems they all thought it was an important part of celebrating Christmas in the office and the "perfect opportunity to send secret messages to the different characters you work with through your chosen gifts"! The mind boggles!
In my old office, we all used to donate a £1 or so towards mince pies and a glass of wine. ? Do you play 'Secret Santa' in your office?
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
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