Girl [and two boys] on a train. From miserable to mighty in 24 hours.

I’m reading a book – a real book – on a train. Serious stuff – Britain, 1974-1979. History.

Hell, that makes me feel old.

Three young people sit down, two opposite, one next to me.

My concentration is broken. Hidden sensors, honed by years in open plan offices, tell me something is going on.

I look up at the two people opposite, one girl (could be over 18, admittedly), one boy (ditto).

Both are holding up smartphones at the same sort of height and angle. And both look at me with that ‘ did you see me’ kind of look as they notice I’m looking.

I return to my book but am again aware that there is something going on. They’re disconcertingly quiet. While their friends down the carriage are boisterous, to say the least.

I turn to my right and look straight into my own image on a smartphone.

‘Sorry,’ says the boy, instantly.

‘So you should be,’ I snap back.

I don’t return to my reading, just sit and glare. One by one they slink off to join their friends.

They’re not aggressive, not rough. Plainly from decent homes, probably well-off – you can tell by the haircuts and clothes and accents.

The whole group is now looking furtively at me. One girl sniggers, then stops when she realises I’m looking directly at her. They turn their backs. The same girl peeps out and ducks back as she sees I’m still looking.

New people get on and obscure the view a bit. I move, shoehorning my way into the next seat, opposite the young man who now sits, legs inconveniently splayed, by the window.

I hope they can’t see me now, because I can’t see them.

I look out of the window, too spooked to return to my book.

At the next stop, two more young people get on – strong local accents, office-work clothes. Bubbly, fun and friendly. We chat and I end up laughing – but still trot off to the wine bar feeling grumpy – and a bit disturbed.

The evening is not a success. There’s still no table booked for my college reunion of 16 people after another ‘this one should be perfect’ meal out. Much more of this and we’ll be bankrupt.

And so to today. Which starts rainy. Again. And cold.

Colder than yesterday.

I sit at my desk, reluctant to do anything. Despondent.

Glued to Twitter for longer than’s good for me.

And then it begins to happen.

A petition is circulating – not from a campaigning organisation, a UK Government one. If you get over 100,000 signatures they have to do something about it. Read it, at least.

I sign. Watch as the numbers rise.

Turn my attention elsewhere then look back.

When I signed it was at least 20,000 off the 100,000 target. Now it’s over 192,000.

Then, still on Twitter (don’t worry I’d been wasting time on other social media too) I notice a writer has offered to match up to £10,000 if people donate to Save the Children.

I donate a small sum and watch, again, as the total rises and rises and rises. That sum is reached. £20,000 raised in a few hours.

Now others are following his lead. Two more men and a woman offer to match £10,000 worth of donations. Then more, then more.

In less than half a day one man has, with the help of countless small donations and some big ones, got over £100,000 raised. By people just feeling the need to do something – and Tweeting.

Then I notice someone local Tweeting about a Facebook group.

Good excuse for a Twitter break.

So, onto Facebook and I join the group. Check what’s most needed, find a local person willing to pick stuff up from me.

Abracadabra – and it’s gone. A tent, three coats, a water carrier and kettle.

Everything is connected.

It’s all about the refugee crisis taking place in Europe right now.

In case you don’t know, there’s a huge crisis here in Europe with refugees from Syria (yes, and other ‘migrants’ too).

Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said we are doing enough.

But the tent and coats, etc, are going to Calais in a couple of weeks’ time. Taken by a few people in the north west of England who believe that, despite what our government says, we don’t think we’re doing enough.

Social media at first reacted as usual. Charts. Statistics. Articles. Blogs (yes, mea culpa).

Righteous indignation.

But today it’s doing something amazing.

For the first time since I was involved with Facebook and Twitter I am witnessing their power in action for myself.

I am seeing people having ideas and running with them.

I am becoming involved, in a small way.

I’m meeting people I’ve never met before.

We are doing something, despite our government.

Posted in Britain now & then, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Do you like your shrimps shaken – or stirred?

DSCN0838James Bond likes his shrimps potted.

It’s the bizarre kind of fact a journalist finds useful for livening up a dull article.

I once worked on a magazine in Park Lane, London. At Christmas the printers used to take my boss to a well-known restaurant, Scott’s of Mayfair.

Ian Fleming ate potted shrimps there, often, apparently.

QED.

Anyway, as an erstwhile journalist of sorts, I was reminded this week of just how much more fun blogging is than – yawn, sorry, where was I?

Oh, yes. Writing for a magazine.

I no longer do freelance journalism – but – there is a slim chance, not one I’m relishing right now. Foolishly I offered a piece to a local magazine, a county magazine whose September issue runs to over 300 pages. Well over 300.**

You see, last Sunday we went shrimp fishing.

(I’m not typing shrimp- joined to -ing any more after entering it into Google and reading the result. Please don’t. Trust me on this.)

I wasn’t looking forward to it. A jaunt that required me to be at the beach before 9 am on a Sunday?

Madness.

Saturday night the storms our fisherman said were due for the morning rolled through early. Rain fell in that power-shower way it does after thunder.

I went to bed early, fearing the worst.

P1030310 (2) - CopyBut the Lord’s day was blessed with beaming sun, deep blue sky and freshly washed streaky white clouds.

By the time we reached the beach I was happy. The sun had got his hat on and we were both coming out to play.

Kevin, the fisherman, wasn’t hard to spot – the one with the tractor. A cheery, chatty chap, he took us up to look at the oddball vehicles parked in their ugly compound.

P1030314The vehicles are all used for shrimp fishing and some – another 007 connection? – are amphibious. But not sleek or shiny in any way at all. The reverse. And when Kevin said some of them have propellers but you can’t drive them like an amphibious vehicle – well, it all fell apart really.

We stood idly chatting while Christian, Kevin’s brother rolled a cigarette and mended his nets until Kevin deemed it was time to go.

Plans for the three of us to squeeze into the cab were abandoned – gleefully we grabbed a cushion each and sat on the tractors’ marine ply skirt, over the front wheels.*

P1030346Southport beach is long. In both directions – side to side and out to sea. Reaching the sea has always been a challenge, so on Sunday, at low tide, I was glad we were tractor-borne.

P1030367 (2)Eventually the brown waves (aftermath of all that rain) were nibbling at the wheels and we stopped while Kevin adjusted his nets.

As we rode into the sea it felt a bit weird, looking down and thinking – that’s the sea there – what if?

The water was only a few feet deep, judging by its distance up the big back wheels. But a memory floated to the surface that I’d rather had remained submerged.

When I was very little, we lived in a Lancashire town that still had annual Rose Queen processions. One year a girl fell off the float and under the wheels of the lorry. Gruesome.

Anyway, the first trawl was a little too fast to net us much, so we went a bit slower on the second.

P1030365It’s a wonderful feeling, sitting outside on a vehicle. We used to ride on Land Rover bonnets in Swaziland out in the bush, clinging onto the spare wheel for dear life, ducking to avoid thorny branches.

Sitting on Kevin Peet’s tractor chugging gently through the sea on a balmy August day is infinitely better, I can now report.

A murmuration made a magical sideshow (but a lousy picture) and as we came to a halt a flock of small birds with pale undersides flew into the air, creating an effect like a shattered windscreen. So pretty.P1030333 (2)

The two nets were disgorged into orange baskets, then into different mesh-sized sieves for sorting. It was sad to see the little flat fish puffing for breath as they landed the wrong side up (and sweet to see soft-hearted best beloved flipping them over as fast as he could).

Seagulls stood sentinel, waiting.DSCN0791 (2)

But there’s one fish even the seagulls won’t touch. The Weaver fish. A black spike protrudes from its back.

‘That’s where the poison is, says Kevin.

P1030391

The catch goes through two or three different sized meshes to winnow out the shrimps

It causes excruciating pain in your hand, or your whole arm and can even freeze your shoulder. One remedy, says Kevin, is to stick your hand In boiling water.

I hope he doesn’t mean that.

Don't feel sorry for it - it's a Weaver fish (tho I suppose its mum moved it)

Don’t feel sorry for it – it’s a Weaver fish (tho I suppose its mum loved it)

Anyway, it seems there isn’t enough for him to take back so we get a black bucket, three plaice and a huge pile of tiny shrimps to cook.

We rush back home and cook as instructed. Peel as instructed. Well, it works on a few.

There are too many. And many are too small, even for shrimps.

[Dear Americans: our shrimps are shrimps, your shrimps are prawns, they’re different. Shrimps are tiny. Prawns come in all sorts of bigger sizes.This is not scientific ;-) .]

P1030449We sit drinking English rose wine – a mere 10.5% alcohol and beautifully tasty (thank you big sis) and feeling guilty – a little – because we can’t eat all the shrimps.

Then the wind starts to rise. Oddly hot and humid. The trees shudder nervously and the clouds are coming in.

We adjourn inside.

And I think of the story of Kevin’s grandad’s brother who died when the fog rolled in as he fished from his horse and cart. Of the 2.30 mornings, out fishing for sea bass, grey mullet and Dover sole.

And resolve to buy more potted shrimps. And sea bass. And – now and again, maybe – a little Dover sole.


 

If you live anywhere near Southport, Peet’s Plaice in Churchtown has the freshest tastiest local fish, haddock smoked by Christian Peet over woodchips from barrels supplied by a Liverpool cooper (yes, there’s still a cooper in the docks) – and potted shrimps.

*(At our own choice and risk, I should stress, for Kevin’s insurance purposes!)

** Spurned! Because they didn’t like my pictures – and I sent them the better ones!

 

Posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. Two gold llamas. And, Chopin woz ‘ere

Do you think northern England's railway system need some investment?

Do you think northern England’s railway system need some investment?

We went by train – 35 miles or so as the crow flies. More than an hour and a half, on a Sunday.

An interesting journey, chugging past lonely chimneys, their factories long gone. Well, mostly.

‘Uncle Joe’s mint balls keep you all aglow,’ proclaims the slogan on one near Wigan station. Still hand-made, over gas fires, as they have been for over a century.

Still chimneys in Manchester - this one on the way to our hotel

Still chimneys in Manchester – this one on the way to our hotel

Eventually we’re in Manchester, checking in at a luxury hotel. The Radisson Blu Edwardian.

Ascending in the lift, serenaded by Pan Pipes, I’m half expecting jungle vines to start curling down around me.

The room’s serene and minimalist. Devoid of clutter such as printed matter. Except for door labels and laundry lists from The Radisson Edwardian London.

Yes, London.

Pity the disoriented international traveller. Well only if he has no idea where he is or how much breakfast round here costs.

£18.95 – for breakfast?

DSCN0714Anyway, as the red plaque on the outside of the building tells anyone who walks past and looks up, this is – was – the old Free Trade Hall. The hotel now rises like a tall, sharp, shiny alien behind its remnant facade.

The Hall, built between 1853 and 1856 in the ‘palazzo’ style, stood on the site of the Peterloo Massacre. Funded by public subscription, it celebrated the repeal of the Corn Laws which had caused such hardship to working people.

Facade of the old Free Trade Hall

Facade of the old Free Trade Hall after the sun went in!

It was damaged in World War II. Manchester, hub of the world cotton trade until the 1960s, suffered heavily. My mum and dad talked of standing on a hill in Blackburn (just over 20 miles away), watching, horrified, as Manchester burned.

Rebuilt in the early 1950s, the Hall’s civic life was terminated in 1997 when the city sold it to a developer.

In 2004 the hotel opened.

As well as the façade, they kept a series of stone statues that was added during the 1950s rebuilding – but they’re not anywhere obvious.

Obvious is left to the décor: two gold llamas, a giant oriental head, three wooden monkeys. Relevant and appropriate artefacts? Hmm.PicMonkey rdisson Collage

I ask the young woman behind reception about the statues.

Seems they’re in the stairwell down to the spa.

Right.

So we descend, only to find they’re in pairs going way, way up to the top of the building.

PicMonkey CollageAfter climbing three floors for three better views, it becomes more difficult. We give up and leave – because it’s time for our guided walk.

Down a side street the new British citizen reckons a crowd is gathering. I pooh-pooh that – obviously it’s a queue at a bus stop.

But some forty minutes later, our walk reaches the very same spot. And it’s a crowd.

A few men are wearing red bobble hats – ‘Liberty bonnets’.

Socialist banners lean against walls.

Spot the red 'liberty bonnets'

Spot the red ‘liberty bonnets’

Singers, guitars, dogs, people bask in the warm sunshine – or is it the celebrity afterglow?

We missed two well-known actors, orating.

Never mind.

We’re now standing on what was St Peter’s Field. I peer around seeking a memorial. In vain.

William Bradshaw was killed at Peterloo by a shot from a military musket

William Bradshaw was killed at Peterloo by a shot from a military musket

So far all we’ve seen is some small red stars commemorating victims’ names, in the floor linking the central library to its extension.

Next we reach the red plaque on the wall of our hotel and gather – uncomfortably – around a seated beggar who soon moves on. Us? Or the policeman heading our way?

In a smart shopping street tents are pitched. Demonstrating against homelessness. Or demonstrating homelessness? Whatever, demonstrating.

Protesting about homelessness in the heart of the smart shopping districts

Protesting about homelessness in the heart of the smart shopping districts

The guide points out the wall of the Friends’ Meeting House, there when Peterloo happened.

A few minutes later we reach a whole building that was there – now a pub, supposedly haunted by victims.

A developer wants to develop it.

Is the building protected?

No.

Is there any memorial on it?

No.

There’s a pattern developing here, Manchester.

Our guide recites the last few verses of Shelley’s poem, The Mask of Anarchy, as the Town Hall bells toll. Ending,

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number–
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you–
Ye are many — they are few.

The Sir Ralph Abercrombie pub, supposedly haunted & under threat from developers

The Sir Ralph Abercrombie pub, supposedly haunted & under threat from developers

And we adjourn to the pub.

Support it while we can.

Over a half of Cheshire pale ale our guide recommends the People’s History Museum – and we leave for an evening of Italian food and wine happy in the knowledge that Monday will bring another new experience.

Monday.

Sunshine.

Two rain-free days in Manchester.

The spirits of the radicals must be smiling on us.

For this is the rainy city where Marx and Engels met, the city of which de Toqueviille and Mrs Gaskell wrote.

We trudge the wrong way down a main street, past a statue of Chopin (he played here, once) then have to ask directions.

The People's History Museum, Manchester

The People’s History Museum, Manchester

Among the many signs directing tourists, it seems none point to the People’s History Museum.

Eventually we arrive. We’re given a map, told what’s on and – oh, by the way, one of the Labour leadership election hopefuls is talking right now.

We sneak in, stand at the back.

I can’t say the atmosphere’s electric, as it was in Liverpool for Jeremy Corbyn.

Andy Burnham seems smaller in real life. Gives the impression of being made-up (I mean with make-up, not imagined, or just chuffed).

Andy Burnham speaking in the People's Histoyr Museum

Andy Burnham speaking in the People’s History Museum

He tells us he agrees with Jeremy about lots of things – but would be better at uniting the party. And he gets a (mostly) standing ovation.

I sympathise, but don’t think he’s the man for the job.

Upstairs I peer into the gloom – created by sombre lighting – and suppress a groan.

Lots of text.

Lots of pictures.

Lots of ‘open this’ exhortations.

I’m not sure I can take it.

But, a considerable time later I’m sorry to reach the exit.

The tea room and a warm scone win out over an exhibition on the miner’s strike and we leave Manchester with minds and waistbands stretched.

And some puzzlement.

A sense that ‘the great and the good’ who run Manchester don’t think that their proud, long radical history is good for … well, business.

Never have, since Peterloo.

Chopin, however ….


Addenda:

Let’s hope the city produces a memorial before the 200th anniversary of Peterloo in 2019. There’s a campaign group you might want to support if you’re interested: 

http://peterloomassacre.org/campaign.html

I’ve also checked the Radisson Hotel website. After an exchange of emails with them I can see they have already added some historical details to their home page. Well done Radisson! A new leaflet next? 

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

“Fildes, – . Infant. Rode over by the cavalry.”

He was the first person to die. Knocked from his mother’s arms and trampled as the horsemen rode in, freshly-sharpened sabres slashing.

It was Monday, 16 August 1819. A sunny day in Manchester.

Why did a blameless young child die that day?

Well, it’s a long story, but I’ll try and condense it.

In 1815, victory at Waterloo ended the Napoleonic wars. For years they’d been a drain on the British economy. But when the war ended life didn’t become any easier for the poor.

The price of bread was often beyond them, kept high by the infamous Corn Laws. They’d been introduced to protect the income of farmers and landed gentry when, with the new-found peace, cheap imports threatened to flood in from abroad.

There was no-one to represent directly the interests of the poor, of the workers. Almost certainly not a Member of Parliament – even if they lived in a place that had one.

Manchester, already a booming city of new, industrial England, had not a single MP to represent it.

Yet, elsewhere in the country, a rich man might ‘own’ a ‘pocket borough’ that returned a man to parliament on his behalf.

A ‘rotten borough’ might return two MPs – the choice of the local landowner – for a mere handful of inhabitants.

Very few men and no women had the vote. There was no secret ballot – landowners and other manipulators of the system could easily impose their choices on voters.

The system was highly corrupt and far from democratic.

Henry Hunt was a campaigner for parliamentary reform and a popular orator. On 16 August he was to address the crowds gathered on St Peter’s Field, Manchester.

Banners flew. Red ‘Liberty Bonnets’ adorned tall staffs.

Picnics were brought.

Some of the women – members of the Manchester Female Reform Union – wore white dresses.

Some of the men wore top hats.

Later, a commentator remarked on the ‘impudence’ of the working men who wore top hats that day. But worse things happened than the uppity wearing of the wrong kind of hat.

Local magistrates were anxious. Despite the fact that the gathering was peaceful. Despite that fact that the field had been cleared of stones and sticks. Despite the families dressed in their Sunday best, hardly suggesting a rabble ready to be roused. And despite Henry Hunt’s exhortation to people to come,

“armed with no other weapon than that of a self-approving conscience”.

To be fair, it was a huge crowd.

An eye witness agreed with the Times reporter’s estimate that 80,000 men, women and children had assembled to hear Hunt speak. The Manchester Observer, more scientifically, worked out likely numbers per square yard – the field was 14,000 square yards (11,700 sq m) – to arrive at an estimate of 153,000.

And, it was a meeting about reform – a word guaranteed to strike terror into establishment hearts. It wasn’t long, after all, since the French Revolution had turned the tables on France’s established order. One banner in the crowd even read ‘Liberty and fraternity’.

But local officials had taken no chances – they’d prepared for the worst.

Several hundred infantrymen, 600 Hussars, an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables were on hand to keep the peace.

When Hunt arrived, to the crowd’s obvious delight, the chairman of the magistrates decided it was time to arrest him – and sent in the local yeomanry.

Mounted on horseback, armed with cutlasses and clubs, they rode into the crowd.

That’s when it all went horribly wrong.

The way through the crowd was narrow and the yeomen began hacking. Some said many yeomen were drunk.

The magistrates, reportedly under the impression the crowd was attacking the yeomen, sent in the Hussars.

As the horsemen slashed and hacked an officer of the 15th Hussars called out:

“For shame! For shame! Gentlemen: forbear, forbear!

The people cannot get away!”

The dead died of sabre wounds and of beatings with truncheons. One woman died when she was thrown into a cellar and suffocated, another ‘rode over’ by the cavalry.

One man was ‘inwardly crushed’. Another, struck by a sabre, owed his life to the bread and cheese he had tucked in his hat.

To modern ears a massacre is a thing of many deaths, we’ve become so blasé about mass killings. Only 15 – and I write that sadly – died on that day. Or so the best estimates have it.

But more than 600 were injured. It’s probable that many others hid their injuries to avoid losing their livelihood – or worse.

Some doctors refused to treat the victims.

Soon after the event the term ’Peterloo’ was coined. The reference was clear, an inglorious twin to the glorious victory of Wellington at Waterloo.

John Lees, who died of his wounds on 9th of September, had been at Waterloo. Before he died he said of Peterloo,

“At Waterloo there was man to man but thereit was downright murder”.

Henry Hunt was imprisoned. Next day he wrote, appealing against his arrest and defending the crowd:

‘”by far the greatest number I ever witnessed together, and the least disposed to commit any breach of the peace. “

He was not released. Three days later he wrote to the Manchester magistrates:

“ …  the real murderers are endeavouring to wipe the bloody stain from their remorseless, guilty souls, by casting imputations and suspicions upon others that they know had no hand, directly or indirectly, in the foul and cowardly deed …. The eye of the whole country will shortly be fixed with a scrutinizing penetration upon every step you take in this bloody affair. – I am, Gentlemen, your Prisoner, Henry Hunt.”

He was incarcerated for two more years, but he was right about the eye of the country.

Peterloo itself did not change anything immediately, except that most important thing – public opinion.

A crackdown on reform followed. By the end of the year the ‘Six Acts’ were passed, suppressing radical meetings and publications. Working class radicals were imprisoned. Journalists arrested. Newspapers went out of business.

But the wave of public opinion was rolling. And even kings, as Canute discovered centuries before, can’t stop the tide from coming in.

Posted in Britain now & then | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Nothing is perfect. There are lumps in it”

I was going to use the first bit of that quotation:

“Finality is death. Perfection is finality.”

but I thought it was a bit depressing.

It comes from, ‘The Crock of Gold’, written in 1912 by Irish poet, novelist and short-story writer, James Stephens. I admit, I don’t know his work at all. I found it in a dictionary of quotations when looking for something to express my views on perfection.

Nothing really did.

I could have said, perfection is dull. Or, perfection is unattainable. Or, perfection is worth pursuing as long as you know you won’t get there. But I wanted something – perfect.

I was thinking about this recently when we went to visit a potter in north Wales.

We like pots. We have some fine examples of what is known as ‘studio pottery’.  And lots of handmade plates and bowls, cups and saucers, jugs and mugs – vast quantities of mugs.

Two mugs, by David Leach

Two mugs, by David Leach

We’re mugs for mugs.

Some of my favourite pots, though, are ones that tried but failed.

Or did they? Is it all a bit subjective, this perfection thing?

Long ago (the 1990s) and far away – 300 miles down south, in Devon – we went to visit another potter, David Leach.

He was suffering from an affliction that, mercifully for him, was not permanent.

He had no feeling in his hands.

David Leach, son of that grand old man of British Studio Pottery, Bernard Leach, was then nearer to his ninetieth year than his eightieth. A lovely, unassuming, quiet man. At least, in our brief encounter he was – he might’ve been suppressing a rage that only surfaced at parties, but I doubt it.

He showed us his big, plain potter’s hands. Showed us his pale palms. His blunt, solid, digits and thumbs. Unable to feel the clay forming shapes beneath them.

Plainly unhappy and struggling to come to terms with it, he was hoping it would become better, one day. Worrying about the outcome an operation might have.

We looked at his pots and fell in love with a bowl with a celadon glaze – a beautiful, pale jade green (created by firing with a glaze containing iron).

A classic style and shape.DSCN0703 DSCN0706 (3)

And wonky.

Of course we bought it, at an ‘ouch’ of a price. David Leach’s work was by then commanding very high prices.

We felt like we’d bought a bit of the man himself. A deeply personal diary entry, written in a celadon bowl.

A piece that spoke of the man nearing his ninetieth year, whose expertise was oh-so-close to perfection, but betrayed by his own body. His oh-so-experienced hands.

Later,  we received an invitation in the post to a viewing in a gallery in London – but we couldn’t go.

And now Mr Leach is himself long gone.

 

Oldrich Asenbryl, however, remains. In north Wales. Which is where we went to see him just the other day.

In 1968 Oldrich came to Britain from Czechoslovakia.

1968. The year of the Prague Spring – and the Russian invasion that quashed it.

One of the effects of the liberalisation early in that year was more freedom for people to travel.

People like Oldrich.

He was here when the Russians marched in – and has been here ever since.

One side of Sarn Pottery's display

One side of Sarn Pottery’s display

For two years he worked in Aldermaston pottery (under well-known potter Alan Caiger-Smith), then set up on his own in Wiltshire before moving, in 1973, to Wales.

So far so good.

But then, in 1993, calamity.

A stroke deprived him of movement in his left arm.

His affliction is, barring miracles, permanent. He’s 72 now. Still a potter, with one fully-functioning arm.

Just imagine it.

Throwing a great slab of clay, plonking it on the wheel and bringing it up to create a thing of use or beauty. Or, preferably, both, fully satisfying William Morris:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

How could anyone make beautiful, useful pots with only one working arm?

It’s a mystery.

Anyway.

Oldrich asenbryl outside his shop in Sarn

Oldrich asenbryl outside his shop in Sarn

When we arrive he’s sitting in a deck chair in the rare north Wales sunshine.

I notice that the sign, ‘Parking for Czechs only’ is gone from the window. But don’t know what that absence portends.

The man’s struggle to rise has us worried, but not for long. Deck chairs are notoriously difficult to escape, even with two working arms.

Soon he’s on top form. Quipping . Relating stories. Telling us to look around then stopping us by telling another story. Like a dentist asking you questions mid-filling. Remembering us – well, remembering the man, but mis-remembering me.

I tell myself he’s confusing me with a rich woman, from a famous family, who used to buy his seconds. Though she also used to be a ballet dancer, so it’s rather unlikely.

Outside, we admire the bright new paint job. Inside the lighter, airier displays.

Then he points to the cuttings on the wall. The pictures of the aftermath of the fire. The fire that could have killed him had he and his grandchildren not been out for the night.

Uncle Sam's message has been a bit charred

Uncle Sam’s message has been a bit charred

The fire that destroyed all his stock – except for his ‘insurance policies’ in a separate building.

Will he make more pots. I ask?

A grimace is his reply. He hasn’t worked for ages.

Is this the end, I wonder? (To myself.)

Then he shrugs.

Seems the kiln’s broken, has been for months. He’s in a queue. It’s a rare thing, the skill needed to mend his kiln.

I shouldn’t be surprised at this man.

A wonky bowl

A wonky bowl for wonky fruit, perhaps?

 

This man who puts his faith in God. Who decorates his shop with handwritten extracts from the Bible.

Who despite a stroke can make beautiful, wonky pots with his one good arm.

This man perseveres. Or as ‘The Dude’ – The Big Lebowski – might say, abides.

Even if he’s ‘humbled’, as his handwritten sign proclaims.

Or, ‘humbeled’, actually.

Which proves perfection’s unnecessary.

We know exactly what he means.

A wonky platter with a beautiful glaze

A wonky platter (with a beautiful glaze) for asymmetric hors d’oeuvres?

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Llyn Peninsula | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Fairies and minnows, Codlins and scones

‘Did you wish?’ I say.

He didn’t. He caught the fairies, let them go – and didn’t even wish.

P1030060We’re walking along the canal near Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire. The clump of conjoined fairies – aka fuzzy, aerodynamically perfected seedheads – was floating towards the surface of the canal when it changed its collective mind and headed for the fields.

He who is with me caught them for a tantalisingly brief moment.

We will never know, now, what would have happened had he made that wish. Perhaps it’s for the best. Wishes granted can be disruptive, I suspect.

The day is what you might expect from summer but hasn’t actually happened so far this year.

A sky that if it were yellow would be buttery (but it’s blue), pasture just on the point of turning straw-coloured, fields of crops well into the golden stage – and sheep well beyond the lamb stage.

Plus cows, of course, lying lazy in the heat.

And a fickleness of fairies, flying.

P1030056 (2)And, just beneath the surface of the murky brown canal water, minnows darting.

Under the dappling shade of the trees lining each bank, owners of narrow green canal boats are hanging out their washing, mending their stove pipes, cleaning their decks or just sitting, mug of tea to one side, reading the latest issue of that most renowned newspaper, Towpath Talk.

Folk walk by and say hello, or hi – or even ‘ow do, in the old Lancashire way.P1030054

Across the water, the not quite stately home of Rufford Old Hall has a tent of reptiles to tempt the small people who are visiting with the big ones. And some big ones, too, of course. One six foot three, in fact, and Texan.

Rufford Old Hall

Rufford Old Hall

 

 

 

In the gardens, two sizeable birds of prey soar way above us, too high up for identification.

A couple is braving the croquet, despite our warnings of likely marital disharmony.

Pear trees, espaliered against walls are bursting with fruit.

Pears - the sun has gone behind a cloud

Pears – the sun has gone behind a cloud

The trees in the apple orchard, wizened with age, seem at first sight a little less fecund, but perhaps they’re just a bit slower, without the reassuring warmth of the old stone walls to lean on.

Little green apples with unusual names are ripening on many of the gnarled branches. I’ve never heard of Codlins, but there’s a version from Keswick, one from Carlisle. A pedigree northern apple, then, the Codlin?

Through the Carlisle Codlin tree towards the other side of the hall, just visible

Through the Carlisle Codlin tree towards the other side of the hall, just visible

It’s obligatory, for us, to have tea when we’re here. Lancashire tea – with cheese scones, fruit cake and Lancashire cheese.

The cheese is meant – in my opinion, being a Lancashire lass – for eating with the fruitcake, but my dearly beloved eats his with the scone. Ah well, it takes all sorts to make a world.

 

 

I notice a little girl eating a huge ham sandwich. Each time her mouth heads for the bread her little feet turn upwards where they dangle beneath the chair.

And I wonder.

I do, it must be admitted, have a tendency to wangle off my shoes when I start to eat. Could it be a girlie thing?

I know, a rather tenuous connection. But she does have pretty pink shoes.

The café’s run by the National Trust and we’ve been here several times.

A busy-busy woman scurries around, making sure all is well, wiping tables, taking orders – and calling most people, ‘lovely’. As in, ‘Is that all right for you, lovely?’

Ah.

It makes me smile, being called lovely. I hope it makes lots of other people smile.

In a world where so many people are impatient, stressed and just plain insensitive, how nice to be called lovely.No matter how rude or grumpy or demanding or just plain haughty we are.

Not us, I mean – that was a generic sort of ‘we’.

Because we’re lovelies. The nice woman says so.
P1030090 (2)

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Lancashire & the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Welsh North African Lamb

Aberdaron from the beach at sunset

How do I love north Wales? Let me count the ways …

Especially Aberdaron. And, yes, I’ve written about it before. Once or twice.

One end of the long beach in Aberdaron

One end of the long beach in Aberdaron

That endless sea, bound by a long bay that keeps it from being melancholy.

Swallows’ nests in the cliffs.

Seals that I’m certain pop out only when I’m not looking.

Memories of the poet-priest, RS Thomas, lingering in the wind-lashed chapel – and living in books on sale in the Post Office.

I love it for the peace that a visitor like me finds there, knowing I can’t go any further unless it’s by boat.

Bardsey Island, place of pilgrimage

Bardsey Island, place of pilgrimage

And taking that boat to Bardsey, to commune with its countless saints.

Oh, yes, I love Aberdaron.

So why did a post from Elladee on her needs-must, creative response to a kitchen equipment failure inspire me to write this post?

Well, we’ve had plenty of good things to eat in the village.

Half lobster (local) from Aberdaron

Half a local lobster

Gurnard goujons from Sblash! chippy in Aberdaron

Gurnard goujons from Sblash!

Lobster halves and gurnard goujons from the chippy.

Delicious, ever-reliable (in our experience) meals at the Ship Hotel.

Family enterprises, both.

If you’re self-catering, though, and imagine you’ll find a greengrocer and butcher, you’re going to be disappointed. The village food shops are not – last time we were there, anyway – a gourmet’s dream.

But the bakery’s always been worth a visit (their cakes are far too appetising).

And the bigger convenience shop in the village sells good quality meat and a decent range of fresh vegetables. Which is (ahem) convenient.

Because when we stay there, to keep costs down, we mostly cook for ourselves and try to buy our ingredients from the local shops. And that can require ingenuity. A needs-must approach.

On the penultimate night on one of our stays we felt the urge to eat Welsh lamb. The shop had chops. We bought four tiny ones. Each not more, really, than a chunky mouthful of meat and a slick of tasty lamb fat.

Yes, fat. I know, it’s bad for you.

But lamb fat tastes so good when it’s browned and sticky. Just nibble a teeny-weeny bit and you won’t go to hell for it, honest.

When I was little, as well as sneaking titbits of lamb fat, I used to stick my little finger into the lamb leg bone when no-one was looking and scoop out a morsel of marrow – mmm!

Anyway. So far so good. We had lamb. Now, what to eat with it?

We had a bag of couscous. That sounded like a good combination.

The shop had red onions and I bought two, plus a huge bunch of parsley and one of mint. It had tinned ratatouille, tinned chick peas, tinned peaches in juice – I bought one of each.

We’d brought ground coriander, hot smoked paprika and cinnamon with us.

Sorted.

It was quick to make and really delicious – I say this with an element of surprise as some of the things I make up on the hoof are interesting but not experiences I’d wish to repeat.

A year later the handwritten list of ingredients is one of the most food-stained recipes in my ring binder – I heartily recommend it. (It’s a casual recipe – interpret as you see fit.)

Simple foodAberdaron couscous serves 2
4 lamb chops
1 tin ratatouille
1 small tin chick peas or half a 400 g one
2 small-ish red onions either halved and sliced or chopped
Ground cinnamon, coriander, hot smoked paprika – or sweet smoked paprika & Tabasco
Chopped parsley (not essential)
Couscous (portion size up to you)
1 small tin of sliced peaches or halved apricots in juice
Small amount of chopped mint (not essential)

P1010236Fry the sliced/chopped red onions. Shove them off to the side of the pan or put them on a plate temporarily.

Fry the lamb chops for a minute or two either side to brown them then put the onions back in the pan, or stir them back into the mainstream, depending on what you did with them.

Add the ratatouille.

Add the drained and rinsed chick peas.

Add the seasonings, to taste (I use a teaspoon of coriander, half a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and sometimes a bit of Tabasco too). If you feel it’s necessary (I do) add boiling hot water to thin it out.

Cover the pan and simmer.

While the lamb cooks make up the couscous according to the instructions on the packet of the variety you buy. Chop some peach or apricot and a little fresh mint and stir into the couscous before you serve it.

Stir as much chopped parsley as you fancy (or none – it’s optional) into the lamb mix after about fifteen minutes, cook two or three minutes longer and then serve.


 

If you try this I hope you enjoy it – wherever you are. Here’s the view we love to see as we eat it, as night falls, in a rented cottage in Aberdaron:IMG_2389

Thanks to Elladee for reminding me that the joy (mostly) of cooking is a great thing to share.

 

Posted in Llyn Peninsula, Simple Food for Simple Folk (like me) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments