Out Now!

Friday, 28 May 2021

Middlemarch and Cookery books

I remember reading Middlemarch as a seventeen year old, eager to impress my first girlfriend. I remember, too, being repelled and afterwards scared by Edward Casaubon, the pompous, withered middle-aged academic who married the idealistic heroine, Dorothea Brooke; she sees in him her idea of a real intellectual. Casaubon is currently amassing material for his masterwork the ‘Key to all Mythologies,’ his aim, to show that all the mythologies of the world are corrupt fragments of an ancient corpus of knowledge, something he will reveal in due time. Dorothea is enthralled to be his helper, compiling and editing, putting every scrap he's written in some kind of order. 

Too late, she realises she’s married a dud: ‘Somebody put a drop of his blood under a magnifying-glass, and it was all semicolons and parentheses.' It might be that there is/was no key to all mythologies and that the answer to everything is to be found in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ie 42. But poor Edward Casaubon never finds out. He dies having written nothing but leaving behind copious notes. 

It may be the fictional Casaubon and those of similar ilk derive comfort and purpose, a sense of security in the effort alone. Rather like the Hermit crab with its need for the shell of a dead mollusc to protect its vulnerable rear end. (I feel a joke coming on) The cannibalised shell serves as both home and protection. But at a cost. It’s something the crab has to drag along wherever it goes. And when it grows too large for the shell, it has to start all over —little different perhaps from those on the mortgage treadmill.  

So, what has all this to do with recipes and cookery books? I’m awash with recipes and books. It began at Catering College all those years ago. Little did I know then where it would end up. 

My first college cookery book.

The book has been thumbed, stained and used

Then the ‘Blessed Delia’ came along.

Since then there’s been no holding back. I have folders on my desk-top, folders in my email. I have all these and more. 

And like most people, I suspect, there are just two or three recipes in each book that have been actually used. The ‘Google’ cookbook has become the cuckoo in the nest. But, like the Hermit Crab, I cannot bear
parting with what I increasingly don’t use.

In theory, any recipe that ends up in here is a keeper.

In theory. The reality is that any recipe ending up in here is forgotten. Is the thing I'm after in one of my folders, or do I have to thumb through the sacred, sauce-spotted book?

The exception is Boboutie. 

 I keep promising myself I will—and here the ghost of Edward Casaubon looms over my shoulder— systemise my recipes in an all-encompassing computer program, one that will bring the exact recipe needed for any occasion at the tap of a key word on iPad or phone. 

It’s a nonsense of course. I’d be too busy doing it to do any actual cooking and, like Casaubon, be dead before the ‘key to all cooking’ was actually in place. Then again, there would be far less washing up to do.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Lunacy is addictive

I do most of my thinking somewhere between 6.40 and 8.00 along with strong tea and the news in the background telling me what I should be concerned about and what I should be thinking.

When the thinking stops, I browse social media and pick up every kind of rubbish like a downmarket magpie.

 Two days ago, I discovered there was some kind of mystery involving cats and squares of various sizes. I’ve seen countless pictures of cats in small boxes. Facebook is awash with them, but I was unaware of the experiments showing cats were equally attracted to one dimensional squares painted or chalked on the floor. I sat in silent wonder contemplating the mysteries of life and the nature of the experiment itself. 

Success was measured by the length of time a cat sat in the square, three seconds being the minimum to record a success. The cats were recorded via a camera or smartphone, and to ensure the chosen cat owners didn’t influence their pets in any way, they (the owners not the cats) were told to wear sunglasses so no eye contact was made. I’ve been told on good authority that cats read minds, so I’m not too sure how effective the sunglasses would prove apart from startling the various cats. 

The results, to my mind, were not that successful. Thirty cat owners conducted the experiment in full, which involved six days of trials. Only nine cats were cooperative (sunglasses, the reading of minds). These 9 cats were cooperative in that they sat in a square at least once during the trials. Squares apparently remind them of boxes, which in turn remind them of being squashed with mother and siblings in the days following birth. Squares relieve stress. The same supposedly holds true with big cats, pumas, tigers and lions, which must be a boon for trophy hunters. Draw a square in the jungle and wait.  

By this time, I was way down the rabbit hole, googling all kinds of animals—dogs and optical illusions for example. Nothing too definitive there either, though I’m guessing there must be some value in knowing whether dogs enjoy Rorschach patterns and are able to differentiate between bowls that look differently sized but are in fact the same. 

Near the bottom of the rabbit hole, where tunnels diverged and proliferated, I stopped by an article on pigeons, a church in Brazil, and a priest who preferred hypnosis to miracles. It was time to turn back before madness took over, though I suspected it was already too late? 

The memory came without warning: how to hypnotise chickens by gently pressing their beaks to the ground and chalking a line. I was transfixed, my nose far from the ground and without a square or straight line in sight. I’d once intended to test that experiment and discover whether it was applicable to other birds, pigeons, robins, plover or grouse—perhaps not ravens or crows—but then I wouldn’t know whether it applied to all birds.  Was it too late? Where chickens to be found in Osbaston. I sighed and made a fresh pot of tea, hoping the insanity would pass, knowing at least it was better than the news on the radio.

Friday, 14 May 2021


In theory, you are able to walk the entire coast of Wales, something I’m unlikely to try, though last week we managed an eight mile stretch along the Gwent levels ending our walk at Redwick.  When you look at these pictures, it’s hard to imagine that the earliest coastal defences built by the Romans and maintained and developed by the monks of Goldcliffe and Redwick extended farther into the sea. The present line of defence was built in the late middle ages but were allowed to fall into disrepair after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. 

This looks so peaceful. Hard to imagine anything bad could possibly happen. On the other side of the channel is Bristol and Somerset. 

A section of the modern sea defences stretching mile upon mile to Chepstow.
Courtesy of Bernadette..

Mind you, they probably would have made little impact on what occurred on the morning of Tuesday, 30th January 1607. A twenty-five foot wall of water sped up the Severn estuary at 38 miles an hour – faster than a man could run.  It crashed through the sea defences from Peterstone to Redwick and beyond, hurtling  up to four miles inland. 

In the words of William Jones of Usk: ‘huge and might hilles of water, tumbling over one another, in such sort as if the greatest mountains in the world’ overwhelmed the land. More than 2000 people drowned and 2000 square miles of farmland were destroyed along with much of their livestock. William Jones went on to describe the spectacle: ‘Sometimes it so dazled the eyes of many of the Spectators, that they immagined it had bin some fogge or miste, comming with great swiftness towards them: and with such smoke, as if mountaines were all on fire.’

Today, especially in light of William Jones’ description, academics argue as to whether it was a tsunami or merely a freak storm surge, though the day was sunny and bright. Jones had no such worries. The explanation was clear. It was God’s warning to his people…Many men that were rich in the morning when they rose out of their beds, were made poore before noone the same day: such are the judgements of the Almightie God, who is the geure of all good thinges, who can and will dispose of them . . . at all times, according to his good will and pleasure, whensoeuer it shall seeme best unto him.’

I confess, my auto spell is going berserk here, but William Jones’ account is so lively, I must give him free rein.

‘…as soone as the people of those Countries, perceived that it was the violence of the Waters of the raging Seas, and that they began to exceede the compasse of their accustomed boundes, and making so furiously towards them, happy were they that could make the best and most speed away, many of them, leaving all their goods and substance, to the merciles Waters, being glad to escape away with life themselues: But so violent and swift were the outragiouse waves, that pursued on an other, with such vehemencie, and the Waters multiplying so much in so short a time, that in lesse than five houres space most part of those cuntreys …were over flowen, and many hundreds of people both men women, and children were then quite devoured by these outrageous waters, such was the furie of the waves of the Seas . . . 

Many there were which fled into the tops of high trees, and there were inforced to abide some three daies . . .without any victuals at all, there suffering much colde besides many other calamities . . . beholding their wives, children, and servants swimming remediles of all succour in the Waters. Others some sitting in the top of Trees might behold their houses overflowne with the waters, some their houses caryed quite away: and no signe or token left there of them.’

‘Gods warning to his people of England By the great over-flowing of the waters. . .’ by William Jones 1607

Mind you, there is another explanation bypassing storm surges, tsunamis and God. Whatever the case, 

the immense waves would have badly damaged the complex pattern oreens draining the 1500 kilometres of wetlands, some of which are 2000 years old. This is a modern 'Stank' altering the level of a section of the reens.  

I love the optical illusion, but then I'm a simple soul.

This is St Thomas's Church, differently named in the C13th and with the tower, unusually in the centre of the nave. 

This is the porch from some distance away to allow perspective. Note the gargoyle to the right where the arch ends.

Now, look at the plaque marking the height of the flood. 

The Rose inn and a welcome pint of Marston's Pedigree. My first pub pint since lockdown began. 
If William Jones were alive, he would write about it. 

Friday, 7 May 2021

Radio Caroline

Little did I know that, in 1964, I was to become no. 21722 in a fragment of cultural history. Another snotty nosed adolescent had joined the revolution: The Radio Caroline club. This was a time when music was confined to the BBC with shows like 'Music While you Work'  ‘The Billy Cotton Bandshow'  and ‘Two Way Family Favourites.' Rock music could be heard on tinny Radio Luxembourg, but they were essentially a payola operation, playing 'paid for music' by the likes of EMI, Decca, and Pye.

And then Radio Caroline came along. In its original form it lasted a mere three years but its influence was profound

In the recent film, ‘The Boat that Rocked’ some of the spirit of pirate radio was captured. In the process, history was falsified. The film falls into the anti-Tory trope, ie the stuffy Conservatives were responsible for closing down pirate radio, whereas in fact the opposite was true. 

The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act became law in August 1967 and was introduced by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government. Its architect was the Postmaster General, one Anthony Wedgewood Benn. Tony Benn as he later preferred to be known. That very archaic title gives the game away. In those halcyon days, British Broadcasting was controlled by the GPO, the General Post Office, which had granted exclusive radio and Television broadcasting licenses to the BBC, and later, through gritted teeth, television licenses to 16 regional independent TV stations. It was in effect a state controlled closed shop. 

Then pirate radio came along, broadcasting from unseaworthy shops from outside British territorial waters and Harold Wilson personally authorised the use of the most powerful transmitter in Europe – a one megawatt facility reserved for a national emergency – to jam Radio Caroline’s signal. 

Why did Wilson use this sledgehammer to crack a nut? There were rumours that some pirate radio stations were intent on exposing his affair with his secretary, Marcia Falkender. Certainly, and now with good cause, pirate radio was instrumental in Wilson’s surprise 1970 election defeat. 

But there also other factors in play. Government action had European links even then. The 1967 Marine Broadcasting Act represented the UK’s ratification of the 1965 ‘European Agreement for the Prevention of Broadcasts Transmitted from Stations outside National Territories.’ A bit of a mouthful and for obvious reasons known or disguised as ‘The Strasbourg Treaty. 

Despite every effort to disrupt and destroy pirate radio, Caroline persisted in one form or other, its low point being 1980 when a storm sank the unseaworthy Mi Amigo. The DJs and their pet budgie, Wilson (named after the British PM) were evacuated. The ship sank leaving only the mast visible above the waves – and the memory fifty years later—along with my Radio Caroline membership package.

A little bit of history (but more in depth here) 

My membership package arrives.

And it it a small glossy booklet.

I immediately look at the back to see this, along with the legend 'From the centre of Mayfair'. Such sophistication. And the girl. The snotty-nosed adolescent knows he is part of something big 

And if there was any doubt, there is this!

Ronan O'Rahilly and Alan Crawford, the two founders

The booklet is a mine of information - history and DJ's one of whom was a friend of 'the popular Jimmy Savile' Ah, innocent days.

In these digital days of word processors and photocopiers, this seems from a different age - which of course it is.

As is this: The Radio Caroline T shirt. 

I also got three signed photographs of Radio Caroline's hottest D Js. Well, they no doubt thought they were

And my Radio Caroline club membership card with the knowledge that 21721 other people had been similarly seduced.  I was now an official member of the 'Swinging Sixties.'