Monday, January 26, 2009's the letter K

Today, a la Sesame Street, my post is brought to you courtesy of the letter K.
From: The Dumb language, or the Art of talking with the fingers.'

I've been given this 'fun' task by Pam - who assigned me this letter because she thought 'K' will take some imagination and thinks I've got plenty. Well thanks Pam - we'll see about that.

There are of course some guidelines:
1. Write about ten things you love that begin with a given letter
2. Post the list on your blog.
3. When people comment on your list, you assign them a new letter and the game continues.
Right, I can cope with that. OK. Scratch head. Think.

First up we'll have a quick lesson about letter K - no pain without gain folks. It's the 11th letter of the Latin alphabet, Greek 'kappa' - from the Semitic 'kap' = open hand. (Imagine something hieroglyphic here.) Linguistically no one loved it and over the centuries poor ol' K has been sidelined in favour of 'c' but it still seems to hang on in spite of the fact that most things with a 'k' would be fine without. Think about it.

I've had to resort to the dictionary. Incidently there's a lot of stuff there beginning with 'K' that frankly should get the elbow: Karaoke, kippers, kissograms, the Klu Klux Klan and Kumquats...oh, and kohlrabi that most incomprehensible of cabbages.

So, 10 things I love - and in no particular order:

1. Ketchup - Heinz tomato sauce. The best. Bacon sandwiches. With ketchup. Drool.

2. Kindness- 'the state or quality of being kind.' There's nothing wrong with that is there?

3. Kites - what fun. Let's go fly a kite.

4. Knowledge - not just what London cab drivers must acquire - but knowing stuff - things that education instills. Little pub quiz snippets or big serious things. It's never too late. Go out and get it.

5. King James Bible - Listen to the poetry and power of the words. All these new-modern interpretations are a bit like vicars on motorcycles or stacking chairs instead of pews. 'Tis flying in the face of nature. Where's the mystery and magic?

6. Kimmax Kracking Shot: aka Chester. He can be hard to love at times but he has the silkiest ears and means well. Perhaps.7. David Kindersley - Lettercutter - he did it in stone. I quote:
'Letters make words. Words are one of the main ways we interpret and understand our world. We act on words. We find our way through words. We pass on knowledge through talking and writing with words. Literacy is a vital link in the web of humanity. Words can be spoken - existing for a moment; or written - so lasting for longer.'
Having served an apprenticeship under Eric Gill where he learned the disciplines of drawing and cutting letters from stone, Kindersley went on to found his own workshop.

His inscriptions are for me things of beauty and grace; elegance wrought in stone.

The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, run by his wife Lida, continues this tradition. I am saving up. I would like a sundial. (So far can probably just about afford one very short word.)

8. Kir - crisp white wine with a dash of cr
ème de cassis - or for high days and holidays make that Kir Royale by using champagne instead of wine. Accept no substitutes: crème de mûr or crème de pèche just Will Not Do.

9. Here I am c.1972. I am at 55 Piccadilly in Manchester which houses the Polytechnic's School of Graphic Design. I am posing for a photograph here to illustrate a fellow student's project about marital disharmony - hence the knife and the gun. (Come on - keep up.) I am wearing my kaftan.
I did love that kaftan. I bought it from the Kensington Superstore sometime the previous summer and wore it ad infinitum. It was of soft Indian cotton in oranges and browns - the colours de nos jours. It had a hood too.

I occasionally think a kaftan would be quite nice to throw on at the end of the day but I think I might end up looking like an overstuffed sofa now. Not a good look.

10. '....raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of etc. etc.'

That brown paper would be kraft paper - utilitarian, no nonsense wrapping paper for serious parcels. Crisp, rugged and just waiting to be folded round a box and put in the mail.

So there we have it - 10 'loved things'.

If you would like to have a go yourself I'll allocate a letter - I promise that x, y and z will stay in the box.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pasta supper

Right now if a recipe lists eggs I'm making it. That's eggs for breakfast, eggs for baking, eggs for supper, omelette, quiche and custards etc. etc. and weary etc. Please don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I'm delighted the hens are laying so well.

(If you look very carefully in the first picture you will see a tray of today's eggs which, as the eyechild observed, look very much like large Cadbury's mini-eggs; pale blue, pinkish beige and deep chocolate brown. Gorgeous yellow yolks too. So pretty.)

I bought a pasta machine yesterday - fresh pasta uses eggs - and have just run up my first ever batch of tagliatelle. I must thank my chums at purplecoo who've chipped in with their usual wit and wisdom for advice on flour and recipes. I have a big bag of 'Manitoba Flour', brilliant for breadmaking - I wasn't sure if it would be good for pasta too. I think it will be OK.

Next time milla, I shall use the quantities you recommend; I don't know what sort of eggs they use in Italy but to me 2 large eggs means 2 large hen's eggs not 2 of ostrich size. My 2 eggs were insufficient so I hoped wasn't a precise science and bunged in a couple more and all was well. It's a simple recipe of flour and eggs - just get the proportions right. Somewhere at the back of my mind I can hear the texture of pasta described as 'silken', so aiming for that I rolled, re-rolled and sliced my lumpen ball of 'dough' and behold - we had tagliatelli!

While it wasn't exactly the most fun you can have with your clothes on, it came a close second (well, probably more like 102nd actually - just after throwing pots but before making mud pies.) It looked pretty good and the texture was right. We will see.

Later: I've cooked it. Good bite - yes, good texture. We've eaten it with a prawn/chorizo/tomato sauce.

There's nothing left - it must have been OK.

Friday, January 16, 2009

London, 4 days and a million miles from home.

I seem to remember a playground rhyme which began:
'Nebuchadnezzar the King of the Jews
Sold his wife for a pair of shoes.....'
As any fule kno Nebuchadnezzar was a big cheese in Babylon and a visit to the British Museum's eponymous exhibition this morning jogged my memory. What a satisfying couplet it is (and now approaching 'ear worm' status unfortunately,) it baffled me as a child - and baffles me still - I've found no explanation for the curious verse. The exhibition was not much help either although it was historically interesting and a triumph of marketing - small but perfectly formed - drawing together artefacts from the Museums own collection and others from further afield. The exhibitions centrepiece's - fantastic glazed brick reliefs which once clad the Processional Way - came from the Louvre and the Staatliche Museum zu Berlin. (They reminded me, but only the teeniest bit, of something that one might have found in a Victorian swimming pool - but as I say only a bit.) A magnificent striding lion can be seen in the picture above. The mushhushshu - dragon - was particularly gorgeous.

This remarkable fortified city must have been a wonderful place some 2 millennia ago but little is now to be seen; it lies in ruins beneath the ground. The recent conflict in Iraq has further compounded its destruction - the building of a military base by coalition forces on the site has unforgivably caused further and irreparable damage. Sigh. Has the end justified the means?

So much to take in. So much to do. This was our last visit on a too brief visit to that latter day Babylon: London, for a spot of things cultural as opposed to agricultural.

We arrived on Tuesday, scrubbed up well, not a Wellington boot in sight. On time too - all trains running like clockwork, even our local one which had a reputation for running so late it was often cancelled. So, hurrah - we arrive at Euston unstressed. Onwards to Bloomsbury where we check in at our hotel which is just around the corner from the British Museum. It's the Montague on the Gardens - which I'll happily reccommend - v.v.comfy and the staff are so damned nice.

There's just enough time left for a quick mooch around Great Russell Street - a bit of fresh if slightly fumey air, dodging the cyclists, buses and gaggles of foreign students. It's a bit of a tourist trap but there are good bookshops here. We resist the lure of the BM.

Back at the hotel we receive a complimentary bottle of champagne - all chilled and bubbly, just begging to be sipped. Then it's off out to Clerkenwell and Moro restaurant where we meet the eyechild for dinner thus killing two birds with one stone - good company and good food. As a bonus I met Onion dog's master who was in the kitchen; we exchanged the human equivalent of 'big licks' - a handshake. Good to meet at last. Oh, the meal was fantastic by the way.

Wednesday sees us schlepping over to the Royal Academy and 'Byzantium', an exhibition chronicling 1,000 years of the Byzantine Empire. The rooms were packed with icons and exquisite treasures, both sacred objects and those from everyday life; packed too with visitors who made this particular exhibition torture for me. I wonder if the Royal Academy attracts a certain patron? Ancient and ill-mannered with a propensity for placing themselves directly infront of whatever I was quite obviously trying to read or look at - they definitely made better doors than windows. I'm not sure what I took in - mostly I got crosser and crosser with all the elbows and tweed suits that were in my way. Rant over?

Later we took our seats at the opera - Turandot - Puccini's final and unfinished work that's probably best known for Calaf's 'Nessum dorma' - an aria which will be forever football. It's an opera I'd not seen before, enjoyable but probably not one I'd hurry to see again. Another spectacular production with a huge chorus, dancing and fine individual roles. I still find those moments when the orchestra, in its dimly lit pit, tunes up before launching into the overture thrilling and filled with anticipation. But in Turandot we're launched straight into the first act - indeed the chorus has already quietly taken their places before the house lights have gone down. So suspend belief, sit back and enjoy. We did.

Thursday - another day another dose of 'culture' - hope you're keeping up. 'Rothko' at Tate Modern. A few swipes of the Oyster card and we're crossing the Thames keen to get inside and out of the biting wind. The Turbine Hall is a wonderful space, vast and empty, occupied at one end by an installation involving giant spiders and tubular bunk beds. What? Don't ask me. I know if I had taken our sons there as young children they would have whooped and roared in the emptiness. But we are now sober adults so we escalated up to the 4th floor and the galleries displaying Mark Rothko's painting. I quote: 'Rothko’s iconic paintings, composed of luminous, soft-edged rectangles saturated with colour, are among the most enduring and mysterious created by an artist in modern times. In the exhibition his paintings glow meditatively from the walls in deep dark reds, oranges, maroons, browns, blacks, and greys.' Hmm. That sentance is quite sensible but can't Art-speak be such pretentious twaddle?

Enduring and mysterious? Maybe they are, these great slabs of colour, which I was curious to learn was built up in layer after layer. Analysis, not unlike archaeology has revealed the artist's process in 'building' these works. There is more to them than simply meets the eye. It would be easy to dismiss the 'black on black' paintings as a waste of effort - to the casual viewer there is little to 'see'. Those works do ellicit a response though, there is a play of light, a serenity and, with my designer's hat on I can see, in the more colourful works in particular, a satisfying balance of form, pigment and texture. Interestingly Rothko resisted explaining the meaning of his work. So I'm not even going to try.

Out into the air again, ever onward and across Norman Foster's 'blade of light across the river' - the Millennium Bridge - perhaps most famous for an engineering blip which caused it to wobble alarmingly. (The problem was fixed but if you want a fuller explanation or for your brain to hurt check out this link.) It takes us over the flannel-grey waters of the swirling Thames; from the South Bank to the steps of St Pauls. Perhaps we'll make a short detour here and view Wren's masterpiece. However it comes at a price: £11.00. I know why they are charging - the upkeep must be staggering - but I am not inclined to dig that deep into my pockets. We trudge off, me to worship the great Gods of Retail and Alan to the National Gallery.

Now Oxford Street is indeed a modern Babylon, where the babble of different tongues is heard and the palaces of the Retail Gods rise up all around. It's crazy busy but a gal's got to do what a gal's got to do - and that's investigate the cheap cashmere at Uniqlo. It turns out that as it's mid-January winter stock has made way for lighter Spring wear. In other words cashmere has been side-lined for cotton. Do they not know it's cold outside? I anticipate warmer days and buy a sweater because of course in June when this will come in handy I imagine that it will be time for winter woollies to line the shelves again. £14.99 by the way. Bargain.

Time to go to Covent Garden where I have noticed that shoe shops are thick on the ground which I feel will satisfy my need for shoes. I pick up flowers at Liberty's en route. (They're for our friends who we will meet for dinner later on.) A bunch of flowers on a busy street is a Bad Idea and I spend much time keeping them from being squashed. I'm side-tracked by a music shop which sells sheet music. We'd failed previously to find a piece of music for the Young Farmers - and I fail to get it here too. But I am directed to Denmark Street where there's a chance that someone will download and print it out for me. I make my way to Soho, my feet wearier with each step. These pavements are hard.

There's not much point in buying shoes now I reflect - I've lost the will to shop and mainly want to sit down with a cup of tea and a hobnob. But hurrah and double hurrah - I am able to buy the music, and after a quick phone conversation with our producer at home in Shropshire, another piece as well. Perhaps because I am well out of striking distance M informs me that 'by the way - you'll be doing the lighting...hope that's OK?' Oh.

My flowers, shopping, music and I make it back to the hotel through the late afternoon rush. How busy it is. I guess right now at the top of the Long Mountain there will be just the rush of wind through the conifers of Badnage Wood and the roosting noises of pheasant, raven and buzzard eerie in the dying light.

Finally, off to dinner in Wandsworth - via Battersea. (And if flowers are a nuisance on the street then they are a greater pain on busy Tubes, what with all the pushing, shoving, jostling that a journey seems to involve.) We have drinks and nibbles in our friends' apartment which overlooks the river. There's a heliport a short distance away and the arrival and departure of helicopters provides brief diversions. How pretty London is lit up at night, all its blemishes lost under cover of darkness, lights reflected in the dappled water, nothing is still. Dinner is a delicious treat at Chez Bruce on Wandsworth Common.

By Friday morning we are flagging but find enough energy to get to the British Museum (which is where I started). Then Euston, Birmingham and on to home. The city and its suburbs slip away, we glimpse the countryside, dark and winter sombre, as we dash past. Stops at Wolverhampton, Telford, Wellington and Shrewsbury puncutate the journey till finally we see the low slopes of the Long Mountain and know that home is but minutes away.

And we are back - and it is as if we've never been away. There were moments when I thought that a sweet little apartment and access to London's Arts and opportunities would be quite a fine thing, but now I'm not so sure.

Could I get used to metropolitan life? 4 days without mud has been excellent - and all that 'culture' too has been marvelous of course - but what price can be put on the space, silence and skies that we are privileged to enjoy in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan? Or the wind in the trees and my lovely neighbours who have time to talk? The flowers, the birds and the small wild creatures that scuttle through the hedgerows? These things can't be bought. I've answered my own question and we'll just have to put up with the mud.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

'Oh No he isn't....'

'Oh Yes, he is.....'

Or more correctly - 'Oh Yes they are' and 'Oh Yes it is.' That time of the year has rolled around again - the Young Farmers' Drama competition is imminent. Eeek! The fun begins? Not.

This year the set piece is pantomime and our lot, Chirbury and Marton, have chosen 'The Cow that gave the Golden Milk' which can be given a suitable agricultural slant. They have given themselves barely a month to get from tonight's mumbled read-through to 'the' competition performance on stage in Whitchurch.

I'm there as a willing slave to our producer Maureen - to paint scenery and produce props - if asked nicely I'll help with sound and publicity too. Our cold old village hall will seem like a second home as days are taken up with building and painting and evenings with rehearsals. I'll be wishing the next month away just to put an end to the agony; pantomime is my least favourite form of theatre. On the plus side the young people are great fun and I know there will be some laughs and memorable moments along the way.

PS I don't expect to like it any more come the middle of February either.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Missing 'em already?

What's this bowling up the High Street?No - not that fat slag pushing a pushchair containing a peaky whingeing infant with one hand while clamping a mobile phone to her ear with the other. Not the 'Peruvian' pan-pipers optimistically hoping for our spare change either. (Fat chance they've got in these beleaguered times.) Nor the plaintively bleating Big Issue bloke......or those two Poles glumly regretting leaving Kraków to work in blighted Blighty.....

Nope - it's tumbleweed - that plant synonymous with the desolate spaces of the American West; see tumbleweed and think washed-up and run down. It's buffeting hither and thither in the thin January wind - fetching up alongside the other detritus of the townscape in the deserted doorways of once busy shops. Now ceased trading, their doors are shut tight; from their windows hang posters announcing massive Massive Closing Down Sales in which Everything Must Go. It's a miserable sight. The lights are going out in town centres the length and breadth of the land. This is not the High Street as we know it. It gets more desolate by the hour.

Some well known names have gone or are going - each day brings news of another casualty. MFI, Adams, Wittards, Zavvi, Viyella, Wedgewood and of course 'good old' Woolies - all saying a long and tortuous goodbye. Should mention all those independent traders who've thrown in the glove too. I feel desperately sorry for all the employees who, through no fault of their own, are facing their own personal and major credit crunch. Who will be next I wonder?

True, there are some I'll be sad to see go. I'm scratching my head here a bit to think - actually - which in particular...? Hmm - I'll nominate Woolworths in Welshpool - the biggest shop in town and the only supplier of childrens' clothes, DVDs, CDs and Pick 'n' Mix. (A personal note here - wanting a new glass for our one-cup cafetiere I went to the local hardware store for a replacement. They had none in stock and didn't know when more would be in. I tried Woolworths next door, where I could buy a complete cafetiere for £3.00 - cheaper than a replacement glass alone. I bought one, kept the glass and threw away the bits I didn't want. I now wish I'd bought two. Having said that it's about the only purchase I've made there in the 5 years we've lived around here.)

It looks (as they say) like the lights are on but there's no one home....

Perhaps a slimmed down High Street will be a good thing - the whole retail market seemed, to me at least, to have spiraled out of control and become a flabby behemoth filled with stuff we thought we might want but probably didn't need. Mountains of it - stuff, stuff and more stuff.

What's going to fill all that retail space now? Charity shops? Pound Stores? A complete re-think of what and how we buy? Shops but not as we know them. That's the option I'm hoping for. Or will we be left with empty spaces, like gaps in a row of teeth, to remind us of those far-gone, happy and profligate days?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I'm a Christmas Tree - get me outa here.

A Nordmann fir speaks:

'Not so pretty now am I? Lights out, stripped of all my twinkling finery; a dried husk of a thing. My once plump needles loosen and fall to the floor. So unwanted and unloved am I that tomorrow I'll get my ass hauled down the garden to feel the lick of flames. In 15 minutes consigned to memory. Ah, a Christmas tree's life is a short but merry one. One moment blown by the winds of Wales, then bought in, bedecked and worshipped by firelight. (My word, I was beautiful once.) But come twelfth night....cast out without so much as a word of thanks. Shudder. No one warned me it would end this way. Cards have gone too - but I notice the bunch of mistletoe has somehow escaped attention tacked up there on a beam amongst the cobwebs and the decoy duck collection. Will it still be there come July? Perhaps. Probably. But then I believe there is a superstition which says it should remain from one year's end to the next. Useful thing superstition, especially if good housekeeping is not one's forte. (Naming no names of course - but it would be the same person who left a frieze of santa's sleigh up in their children's bedroom for a mere 3 years. The excuse of the stopped clock being right twice a day is no good either.)

So that's it from me and for Christmas 2008. The baubles have gone back into the loft and I await my fate. Long live 2009.'

Now I feel mean - condemning a once beautiful thing to the fire. It's like making old teddies live in a box in the cellar and feeling reproached on catching their starey glassy eyes while having a tidy up.

Stop. No, No. No. Dead tree. New year. Time to move on. Christmas and New Year hype over and done with. Ditto Sales and 'Holiday' menus. It must almost be safe to venture out again. I'm putting my head up over the parapet (and that's a head sensibly be-hatted as it's so damned cold in these parts*) to see if the world has moved on. Here's hoping that whatever remains of the great British High Street is looking to the future because I certainly am.

* Haven't seen temperatures above zero for a week now; we reached -9C last night. Cold. Damned cold indeed.

The Blue Egg of the Little Brown Hen...

How cute is that?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Frosty New Year

Another frosty day in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. The ordinary becomes extraordinary indeed...