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Thursday, 24 September 2020

Ethel's Edible Undergarments


I was reminded today of an episode in the Forsyte Saga, which, fifty years ago attracted audiences of 18 million in a series that played for six months. The episode in question showed crusty, inhibited old Soames at the end of his tether with his erring and flirtatious wife, played by the beautiful Nyree Dawn Porter. On discovering his wife has just ‘been in heaven’ with the architect, Bossiny he assaults her and, though nothing is shown, rapes her behind a closed door. 


What’s instructive was the public reaction the following day.


A current affairs programme, Late Night Line-up,  asked a hundred Londoners who they supported, the rapist, Soames or the erring wife, Irene. 54% supported Soames, 39% supported Irene, and 7% were indifferent.

Gender didn’t come into it, men and women equally split  Several women thought Soames was the ideal husband, one pointing out that he had given Irene a comfortable life. One of the panellists discussing it afterwards was of the opinion that Irene ‘would be best buried at the Kingston by-pass roundabout with a stake driven through her heart.’ 


How times have changed, but what a perfect example of the past being a different country, where people do things differently. Now, if there were only a statue of Soames knocking around.


On a lighter, perhaps less controversial note, here are some more examples of the past being a different country. Enjoy.


This is just delightfully cookie. Only in America, as they say.



But what follows is unrelenting, though in future years historians may well highlight what we take for granted as pretty unrelenting. 
















Men had less pressing problems


Now it's more a case of waxing and six-packs


Friday, 18 September 2020

The Devil's Dribble


I’m very partial to English mustard whether in powder form or already mixed in a jar. When you consider all the possible Covid related shortages in-store or on-line, you’d reckon Mustard would be fairly safe. English mustard in England, especially so.


When the Tesco online shop came the man apologised with a grimace. “No English mustard, mate. Substitute?” I nodded it through without looking, and only later, to my horror, discovered it to be American Mustard.



Has anything more diabolical been created? I checked the ingredients: Spirit vinegar, water, mustard seed—almost an afterthought. 




American mustard. I remember being fascinated by its colour – a virulent yellow – in Popeye cartoons, where Wimpy would lather it over his hot dog. And when I first went to America, I bit into my first technicolour hot dog with its bright pink sausage and glistening yellow streak. 

And recoiled. 


Never before had I tasted such foulness, the Devil’s dribble, paint thinner on steroids, but yellow. Maybe I’d been expecting too much. 


After all these years the old tastebuds might have mellowed, become more tolerant of the obscene. I tried it in a ham sandwich. 


Now, with Coleman’s English mustard, the ham comes alive, the ham fights back against the heat. With American mustard the ham wilts, it gives up the ghost along with the bread. Your mouth is left with the residue of spirit vinegar and water.


What happened to American mustard? Mustard's been used since the ancient Egyptians, it's been found in burial chambers. The Romans ground it down to a paste and mixed it with wine. French monks, with nothing better to do, mixed it with ‘must’ – the unfermented wine—and thus gave it its name – mustum ardens or ‘burning wine’. You can call American mustard many things, but not that.


In fact, what use is American mustard? Pythagoras recommended a poultice of mustard seeds as a cure for scorpion stings, it’s been used to soothe aches and pains, and Roman doctors used it for toothaches. Since then it's been used to clear sinuses, prevent frostbite, and as a cure for baldness. American mustard might, at a pinch, keep mosquitos at bay. 


Has any American president endorsed mustard? King Louis XI travelled nowhere without his own supply of mustard. There are many things American presidents have insisted upon as they travelled from city to city; President Kennedy was partial to women, but not American mustard.


So, there it is, at the back of our fridge, waiting for the undiscerning visitor or a less than choosy food bank. 

 

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Phage

 

I enjoy horror and science fiction, more so if it's grounded in the human experience, more specifically the human experience of the ordinary Joe.  H G Wells hit upon the secret with War of the Worlds. I mean, the Martians appeared just outside Woking, for goodness sake, no doubt in search of Prince Andrew skulking in Pizza Hut.


John Wyndham followed along similar lines, writing the most extraordinary stories set within the ordinary: small towns or villages and involving ordinary people. Ramsey Campbell and Stephen King continue the tradition – because it’s a winning tradition. The unbelievable becomes more real when Mr and Mrs Brown are involved.


It’s why I enjoyed writing Phage. You can’t get much more ordinary than two Newport teachers and a self-confessed loser like Sam; you can’t get much more ordinary than the scruffy, down-at-heel but always magical Newport. Those living in Newport will recognise roads, perhaps even the house where one of the heroes lives. They’ll certainly recognise the Murenger pub; the school close to Tredegar House, but not, I hasten to add, the teachers. The teachers in the book are entirely generic, possibly to the disappointment of any hoping to spot Mr P or Mrs Y—or to the relief of Mr P or Mrs Y.

The story takes us from Newport, to China, Scotland, and Phoenix Arizona as a virus more sinister than Covid takes hold. It begins with Sam Weston:

 

 ‘Sam Weston spat in the sink, rinsed out his toothbrush and scraped at the pink crust on the stem before giving up. If there were germs there like that BBC woman said, they hadn’t bothered him yet. Nor had the million or so particles of faeces released on flushing the toilet. Sam did, however, have doubts on the safety of toothpaste. Fluoride was bad enough, but he’d long held the view that when the inevitable population cull became an imperative, it would be through dental hygiene.

A door slammed from the bedsit next to his. Footsteps clattered on threadbare stairs. Another door slammed. Moira McKnight, too beautiful for a teacher, too beautiful for him. He wondered how long she would last and then inspected his eye.’

 

From toothpaste to an ancient horror and all by Chapter 4.

 

‘Sam felt the gaze before he saw anything, a cold, incurious stare. The darkness shifted, but still he saw nothing even when it was upon him. Sam froze, unable to see or hear . . . or smell. He cringed at the thought of its touch. He closed and opened his eyes again and again until he no longer knew whether they were open or not; and his mind sought patterns where there were none.

The blackness was in his mind, its tendrils probing, seeking his fear . . . Images flickered like cards rapidly shuffled; cockroaches scuttled. . . spiders ...rats. A rat, its tail and haunch caught between tongue and teeth. Sam heaved and choked, both hands clawing—wrenching it from his mouth—another one taking its place as he hurled it away. He screamed, and darkness swallowed it whole.’


The challenge was to discover how Sam, Moira and John Grote defeat something ageless . . . or at least think they do.


I hope you enjoy the book.

 

Friday, 4 September 2020

Geraniums, the gateway drug to Heaven.

 

The first time I went to France was on a cycling holiday in Brittany where I saw geraniums for the first time. They hung from white-washed cottages and gleamed like rubies and I had seen nothing like them. In Liverpool we lived in terraced streets, my paper-round sometimes taking me to more affluent roads where I’d see a few bedraggled nasturtiums, the occasional marigold, and small, trimmed privet hedges.

When I bought my first house, I bought my first geraniums and thought I was living the dream. Geraniums and vol-au-vents, did life get any better?  

Rather fortunately, it did.



Hampton Court gardens, colour drenched in sun and plants without names, for which I now beg for help. I want a small cottage garden – rogue damson trees permitting. We'll approach the garden slowly.



Those cheerful looking gargoyles told me there might be magic here.


And there was



Looks peaceful enough but then . . .



Man turned into tree - see the horror on that face?



Surely there's a secret door behind all that foliage and small gnomish burrows beneath

  



Aha!  A real secret door and a small girl sensing adventure


And at last, the garden and the game of  'Name that flower' 







I call  these blue spikies - no idea what they are


These, though, I think are Delphiniums





But the rest are a mystery, though roses may be somewhere amongst them

















And at last it's time go 



Last glimpse of Hampton Court Castle, a gem in the Herefordshire countryside, and a passing thought. I still like geraniums - the gateway drug to heaven.