Thursday, 12 May 2016

Declining to serve tea

We walk our tracks over mountains, through vast plains that extend to far horizons; in pastures green and beside still waters, through the rubble of valleys of Baca where we twist our ankles on loose stones and get scratched by the many thistles. The landscape varies, the journey continues; it’s all one, it’s all the way home, we take our way together.

This particular stretch of the journey is proving to be one of the more challenging miles to go. I am having to use all my strategies to calm anxiety, talk myself out of resentment and bitterness, disarm frustration and just darned well keep on going. A journey of a thousand miles is accomplished one step at a time. Peace is every step.

Sometimes in a particular prayer ritual I find a way through to the still small voice, and so I did this morning. I took into my prayer what the psalmist calls “the voice of my complaining”, and laid out my difficulties before almighty God.

Swift as an arrow came the response (as is so often the case, when I bother to ask).

“Let it be where it is,” he said. And I understood what he meant. The things that bother me – let them start where they start, stop where they stop, just don’t take them home, invite them in, feed them up and encourage them to bring their friends home too.

As Suzuki put it, “Let your thoughts come and let them go; just don’t serve them tea.”

This was the beginning to a new constructive strategy. Let’s see how it goes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Those of you who know and love Brother Conradus – who became the abbey cook in the course of my Hawk and the Dove series – may remember that he took the trouble to go out into the woods and gather ramsons for the abbey kitchens.

Some of you will know all about ramsons, others will not; so, as they are growing abundantly and in glorious bloom just now, I thought a few ramsons thoughts might interest you.

Otherwise known as Wild Garlic, ramsons emanate a wonderful aroma of garlic in the air all around. For flavor, they taste of garlic, but a far more delicate flavor than regular garlic.

Their Latin name is Allium Ursinum. The Ursinum part of course refers to bears, and that came about because brown bears like ramsons and dig up the bulbs to eat.

Ramsons are nice lightly steamed, added to salad – basically anywhere you might include chives or scallions, ramsons are a good alternative, with a garlic rather than onion flavor. Apparently cases of poisoning happen when people are looking for ramsons to add to their recipes – but I find this puzzling. I’ve read that it’s because people gather lily of the valley by mistake – but it would be a sadly impaired nose that could confuse lily of the valley with garlic, would it not? They are also sometimes confused with Autumn Crocus and Lords-and-Ladies. The crucial clue is – do they smell of garlic? If so, they are ramsons; if not, they aren’t.

You can also feed them to cows (and it’s said that makes the milk garlicky) or substitute them for basil in pesto (completely different taste results, obviously). Cornish Yarg cheese is sometimes made wrapped in ramsons rather than nettles, and in Turkey they chop it into the curds in cheese production.

There’s evidence that people have been eating ramsons as far back as the stone age – though the ones who ate lily of the valley by mistake expired.

Just now the woods are full of them. Our Hebe took these pictures on her walk today.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


At the end of the eighteenth century, an Italian rake by the name of Giacomo Casanova wrote his book Histoire de ma Vie. I have no idea why he wrote it in French if he was Italian, but apparently this is so.

Incarcerated for five years in a Venetian gaol on a charge of “foul atheism” and fornication, Casanova spends his time either dwelling upon his memories of past seductions or reminiscing about the same with a cell-mate. Eventually he escapes.

The English playwright Dennis Potter wrote a television drama series based on this story. Entitled Casanova, the BBC ran it in the November and December of 1971 with Frank Finlay in the title role.

I was fourteen years old at the time and my mother was forty-four. We are talking about the days when there were three channels on the telly, if you turned it on during the day you got the test card, and the night’s viewing ended by midnight with the National Anthem and then the moving pictures closed down into a white dot vanishing into blackness. The End.

My father was almost never there, but I remember he did come home for a brief interval from his global ramblings during the broadcasting of Dennis Potter’s Casanova series. I found this intensely frustrating. I was not close to my father in any respect. He was a nervous man, full of tics and twitches, and more likely than my mother to judge what was basically a well-written bodice-ripper unsuitable. Even if he had not, I’d have found it profoundly embarrassing to watch it with him in the room. Back in those days I was very close to my mother, and we had been enjoying watching the series together. The subject matter was not our usual choice of viewing, but Dennis Potter’s work is of the highest quality – ground-breaking, and unmissable given the lack of alternatives at the time.

Each episode opened with the chosen musical theme, played by a chamber orchestra in the appropriate eighteenth century costume.

The music in question was not widely played. Though we'd had a conscientious introduction to classical music at my junior school, I had never heard it before and my mother hadn’t either. Indeed until this point I think it would be fair to say it had escaped the attention of the (modern) general public. But it was captivating, haunting, lyrical, beautiful. Even though an LP (Long Play vinyl disc) cost ten shillings back then, we just had to have it. So it came about that my mother and I went 50-5o on the purchase from the music shop in Bishops Stortford of a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The movement called Autumn was the theme for Dennis Potter’s Casanova.

I think the BBC’s airing of that theme tune was like the casual and na├»ve act of a man who plants one small Japanese knotweed in his garden because it is so beautiful. Little does he know what it will lead to.

Now, I am fifty-eight and my mother is eighty-eight.  I have just come off the phone having made a call to the Department of Work and Pensions, whom I had to inform of her recent hospital stay. As is the case with many large organisations, it took the most interminable time for anybody to answer the call. As I waited, piped through to my patient ear, in between the robotic voice announcements about call volumes etc etc, came the by now all too familiar strains of Autumn from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s the music of choice for almost every answering service in the UK. And I think Dennis Potter’s responsible for that.