Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sunday Poem 24

I came across this gorgeous poem quite accidentally whilst looking for a poem about drinking.  The Wartime House is so hungover she could cry and I wanted to share every moment of queasiness, head thumping and protein craving with you all.  I didn’t know that Noel Coward wrote poetry and this one is an atmospheric delight.  It’s also quite an interesting rhyme scheme.

Lie in the Dark and Listen – by Noel Coward (1899-1973)

Lie in the dark and listen
It’s clear tonight so they’re flying high
Hundreds of them, thousands perhaps
Riding the icy, moonlit sky
Men, machinery, bombs and maps
Altimeters and guns and charts
Coffee, sandwiches, fleece-lined boots
Bones and muscles and minds and hearts
English saplings with English roots
Deep in the earth they’ve left below
Lie in the dark and let them go
Lie in the dark and listen.

Lie in the dark and listen
They’re going over in waves and waves
High above villages, hills and streams
Country churches and little graves
And little citizens’ worried dreams
Very soon they’ll have reached the sea
And far below them will lie the bays
And cliffs and sands where they used to be
Taken for summer holidays
Lie in the dark and let them go
Theirs is a world we’ll never know
Lie in the dark and listen.

Lie in the dark and listen
City magnates and steel contractors
Factory workers and politicians
Soft hysterical little actors
Ballet dancers, reserved musicians
Safe in your warm civilian beds
Count your profits and count your sheep
Life is passing over your heads
Just turn over and try to sleep
Lie in the dark and let them go
There’s one debt you’ll forever owe
Lie in the dark and listen.

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Volunteers are the backbone of communities

Join the Neighbourhood WatchAs I mentioned on Thursday, in my article about Baking Cakes for Fetes, I was asked to bake for a table top sale to raise money for Haiti. The sale had been organised in a great hurry by some members of the church, who desperately wanted to do something to help. When I walked in with my tray of cakes at 9.45 this morning, I was astonished at what they had been able to achieve in such a short space of time. The donations were incredible and the tables were groaning with cakes, clothes, china, giftware and toys. I hope they raised a decent amount of money, but what was really good to see was how many people had got behind it and had worked together to make it happenVolunteering at your local hospital

This is what communities are best at.  There was an experiment done a couple of years ago in a small town in Sussex, I think, where all the volunteers, in every aspect of community life, went on strike for day to draw attention to the contribution that they made.  This meant the school, hospital, care of the elderly & handicapped, meals on wheels, drivers, community groups; all stopped.  The result made the national newspapers.  Communities need volunteers and there are so many things that one can do.

In our parents (and certainly grand-parents’) day, if a woman stopped work because she got married, as the middle classes invariably did, she didn’t just spend her day cleaning the house and baking fancies.  There seemed to be an understanding that she would get involved in some sort of community activity.  It might have been the WI, the church, the local school or hospital, and it also had a social dimension as well.  Men would have their own social activities that would often have a charitable dimension or at least the odd fundraising jaunt.

Helping out at School

I’m not suggesting that everyone should be hot-footing it down to the WI or the Rotary Club – these organisations are not for everyone – but there is usually something we can do, even if it’s only a couple of times a year.

Most of us actually have very comfortable lives.  We may not be rolling in asses milk, bathing in caviar or eating Lamborghinis, but we can be pretty sure that we have a lot more than many.  At Boy the Younger’s school, parents (mothers and fathers incidentally) go in to hear children read, help out in cookery or art classes, or accompany the children on school trips.  Because lots of people do it, one is not asked that often and it’s therefore not too onerous.  The Scouts are always asking for help on an ad hoc basis as well as needing leaders and this can be really good fun as well as supporting an organisation which gives so much experience and confidence to young people. 

The point I’m making is that you don’t have to be turning up at some draughty village hall, full of 90-year olds talking about broccoli and cardigans every week in order to ‘do your bit’.  A lot of people, myself included, work long hours and have many responsibilities, but we also have plenty of opportunity to cast a glance outside our own lives from time to time.  Several friends sponsor children in poor countries.  The Aged Parent gives £2 a month to The Lifeboats. Another friend plays the piano at a music group in a prison.

Have a look at the link to The Lunchbreak Philanthropist.  She is going to do a piece each week on what people can do in their lunchbreak at work.  What a brilliant idea!  I shall be very interested to see what she comes up with.

All I ask is that you think about it, it doesn’t have to be massive.  And just because you’ve done something once, it doesn’t mean that you have to get sucked in to doing more and more, you have a perfect right to say no in a clear, steady voice.  But just occasionally your presence could be very welcome indeed.

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The Two Minute Review – 2: The Catcher in the Rye

Book:   The Catcher in the Rye
By:       J.D. Salinger – RIP

I read this book when I was an angst-ridden, disaffected teenager with no positive adult role models and it made no impression on me whatsoever.  The language was irritating and the anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, unlovely but not in a good way. I remember being  quite cross that I had spent a week reading it when I could have been reading something else.
Maybe it’s a man thing.

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Baking for Fetes made Easy: sponge cake, Flapjacks, Brownies, Eccles Cakes, Cherry & Coconut Cake

I am constantly being asked to bake cakes for fundraising events, and in the last couple of weeks the requests have been coming thick and fast because of the Haiti relief appeals.  I am normally only too happy to contribute to the various cakes stalls, but I have to confess that today, I had reached my compassionate limit.  I marched into school with my head held high, handed over a crisp fiver at the gate and went home to do one of the thousand other jobs waiting to be done. 

However, there are lots cakes which can be made which don’t require too much effort and taste delicious. It might be worth making several of one cake so double or triple the ingredients accordingly.  Most of these can be made using storecupboard ingredients.  Sorry, no pictures; like I said, I haven’t baked (I will at the weekend though)

VARIATIONS
Use my Basic Sponge mix to make a Victoria Sandwich or bake in little paper cases and get your children to decorate them with glace icing and sweets. Click on the link for the recipe.

FLAPJACKS
Very quick, very easy, vaguely healthy – click on the link for the recipe.

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Really easy and everyone loves them.

CHERRY AND COCONUT CAKE

Utensils:
1 x large mixing bowl
1 x small bowl
1 x measuring jug
1 x metal tablespoon
1 x 1lb loaf tin or an 8″ cake tin

Ingredients:
5oz / 150g self raising flour
¼ tsp salt
4oz / 120g white sugar
3oz / 90g butter – cut into small pieces
1 egg
4 floz milk
6oz / 180g glace cherries,washed, drained and cut in half
2oz / 60g dessicated coconut

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 180 / 350 / 4
Grease and flour the cake tin ( or use a liner for speed)
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl and stir in the sugar
Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
Beat the egg and milk together in a jug
Mix the cherries and coconut together (important as the coconut coating stops the cherries sinking)
Add everything to the flour mixture and fold in gently with the spoon
Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm or until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.


ECCLES CAKES

Utensils:
1 x rolling pin
1 x pastry brush
Something about 6″ / 15cm diameter to cut round
1 x baking tray
1 x medium mixing bowl
small bowls for water and sugar

Ingredients:
1 pack of puff pastry
1oz white sugar (you may need a little more) for dipping
water for brushing
4oz / 120g currants or raisins
1oz / 30g dark brown sugar
1oz / 30g butter – melted

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 220 / 425 / 7
Grease and flour the baking tray
Roll out the pastry to about 1/8″ / 3mm thick and cut out as many rounds as possible
Mix the dried fruit, brown sugar and butter together
Place a dessertspoonful of mixture in the centre of each round
Brush a little water round the edges of the pastry rounds and fold into the middle, pinching slightly to seal
Make a couple of slits in the top with a knife
Brush each cake with water and dip the wet side into the sugar
Place on the baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown
Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool

This lot should get you some Brownie points. (chocolate variety obviously).

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This article is not witty and contains no recipes: The Edlington attack

On the radio yesterday morning, I heard a hateful thing.  The newsreader was reporting on the terrible and sickening case involving the vicious attack by two young boys on two other young boys in Edlington, Doncaster.  He said that members of the public thought it was wrong for the boys to be granted anonymity and that they should be “named and shamed” for their wickedness. 

This attack was wicked indeed and the boys upon whom it was vented will carry the experience with them for the rest of their lives, and many of the details of the attack will never be made public as it was too sadistic to be deemed in the public interest.  It has been reported that the boys gave up the attack, not because of remorse or pity at the injuries they inflicted, but because their arms were tired and they were worn out with doing it.

However, there is one fundamental difference between the two pairs of boys.  The children who survived the attack came from loving families in which it is reasonable to assume that they are nurtured, protected, educated and guided in a way which any child in this country has a right to expect.  They will be given help to overcome the physical and psychological damage resulting from their hideous ordeal and, in time, they stand every chance of playing valuable roles in society as they grow up.  I pray that they will mend.

The two little boys who perpetrated this attack were born into an environment of violence, hatred, horror, neglect, abuse, drugs, alcohol and misery.  They were beaten by their parents and witnessed their father beating their mother.  They watched disgusting, pornographic horror films from toddlerhood, including one in which people were forced to mutilate themselves or face death at the hands of their tormentors.  Their mother used to lace their tea with cannabis so that she could have ‘a quiet night’. 

Their home life was described by psychologists are ‘chaotic’.  That’s not chaotic.  Chaotic is when everyone’s late and getting cross.  Chaotic is when the grown-ups are getting stressed because they haven’t done the washing or made the lunch-boxes.  Chaotic is untidy bedrooms and too many after school clubs.  Their home life was terrifying. Sadistic. Hateful. Horrific.  There was no-one to love, nurture, protect, educate or guide them.  Their parents probably came from the same sort of background; abusers have nearly always been abused.

The boys were in foster care (only a mile from their home) at the time the attacks took place and during this time they had been reported to the police on several occasions for threatening children.  Social services had visited many times, as they had been on the At Risk register virtually since birth, and these children were undoubtedly failed by everyone with whom they came into contact. 

But the sad fact is, that Social Services are absolutely overwhelmed with child protection problems and, in Doncaster, they admitted that cases are being overlooked because of the workload.  Social workers also face the same problem as the police in that there are some houses, some streets, some estates where they are afraid to go.

I feel guilty if I feed my children chips too often, or fail to read them a bedtime story or help them with their homework.  I won’t let them watch Tracy Beaker because I feel that the messages in it are chaotic and negative.  I worry that sometimes I raise my voice too much or that I don’t set them a good enough example of what sort of men they will need to be.  I worry that I don’t play with them enough.  And sometimes I put my arms round them and give thanks that we have so much, that we are surrounded by people who love, nurture, protect, educate and guide us.  If  I, or their father, should ever not be there, there is a long line of people who would step up to the mark. 

No-one stepped up to the mark for those boys and now it’s too late.  Their lives were blighted the moment they were born and it is highly unlikely that they can ever be ‘normalised’ sufficiently to be returned to society.  In the past, children were hanged for stealing bread and the ‘namers and shamer’s brigade are exhibiting that same vengeful and neglectful mentality.  Every time a child dies of, or is subjected to, neglect or cruelty, we are the ones who are shamed. And that is all I have to say.

Events described in this article have been gleaned from radio, television and newspaper articles.

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Are you my Mummy? The Wartime Housewife buys a gas mask

After a long lie-in listening to The Archer’s Omnibus (remind me to ask you all a question about that), we set off for our regular Sunday jaunt to the Market Harborough Antiques Fair.  After a mug of coffee and a slice of superior cherry cake in the café, we had a good haul.  A couple of 70’s Rupert Bear annuals, a Junior Science Ladybird book, a brass dressing table mirror plus a few other vital bits and bobs.

I always do a final sweep before leaving and thank goodness I did.  For there, on a table of militaria, was a 1940 gas mask.  15th March 1940 to be precise, N.B.R. 466 0.  Now tell me.  Was there any way that The Wartime Housewife was going to leave without that?  After all, one can never be too careful, Kibby Tip gives off a frightful stink to say nothing of the bone factory near Gallow, and as we know, there’s always a war on somewhere.

Dr Who toy

Better still,  I can use it to frighten The Boys by re-enacting the episode of Dr Who in which a small boy is contaminated by nanogenes during an air raid and wanders about in a gas mask (which is fused to his face) asking pitifully “Are you my Mummy?”. 

Yes darling, I am your Mummy.  And if your mates think I’m cool for shouting at bus drivers, you wait till I turn up at the school gates wearing this.

Why do you make me do this Mummy?

PS.  Re  The Archers, is Helen getting unhealthy notions about Annette?  She’s never had any luck with the boys of the 1st XI and I suspect she may be about to switch teams and head for the crease.  What do you reckon?

PPS: 31.01.10.  My Aunt in Canada has just e-mailed this photo to me of my father taken in 1940 and I just had to show it to you.

My Dad in 1940 aged 12

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Sunday Poem 23

I’m a big fan of the Metaphysicals and I’m always pleased to see a bit of Marvell because he doesn’t seem to get the exposure of, say, Mr Donne.  I was reminded of this one because I am currently reading an unexpectedly serious book about swearing called  ‘Filthy English: The How, Why , When and What of Everyday Swearing’ by Peter Silverton.  He mentions this poem, mainly because of the use of the word “quaint”, which over time has evolved into our modern slang word for vagina.

This is a dirty poem.  Marvell is saying to his girlfriend “Look, if we had time, of course I would woo you, be romantic, love you forever because that is absolutely what you’re worth.  But right now, if we don’t get a move on, I will lose my erection, you will die a virgin and I will be forced into onanism upon the dusty ground.  I know you’re up for it.  Oh go on”.  I think I have created a very beautiful précis there.

To his coy mistress by Andrew Marvell 1621-78

Had we but world enough, and time.
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Should’st rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain.  I would
Love you ten years before the Flood.
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze:
Two hundred to adore each breast.
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An age at least to every part.
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state.
Nor would I love at lower rate.

   But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity.
And your quaint honour turned to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think, do there embrace.

   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like mourning dew,
and while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may.
And now, like amorous birds of prey.
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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