Monday, November 30, 2009

Last day of November,

No more Nablopomo.  Thanks for sticking with me so faithfully, and for some wonderful comments; sorry if it's kept me away from yours.  I don't feel I've achieved anything exceptional except to keep the bet, but it has been an incentive to sort through the photos, and I have been more inclined simply to post without too much deliberation or fuss.  I've still a few more little heaps of croppings, so I'll post them from time to time.

Must fly...


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Deferred. Shine and glow.

I was led to ponder the matter of deferred gratification.  RB said, in the last post but one's comments, that her three children all have a different approach to their food, and always have done:  the youngest going straight for what he reckons are the tastiest bits, the oldest saving the best till last, while the middle one eats consistently of everything on his plate.  That reminded me of my niece, lovely sister's daughter, who was drawn to her current chap, my sparkly nephew-out-law, when she observed that, when eating Sunday dinner with his family, he did what she always did, which was to carefully eat everything down bit by bit, so that at the last mouthful, he was left with a perfect miniature dinner on his plate, a tiny portion of everything he started with.

Deferring our pleasures, saving the best till last, putting up with a degree of what is disagreeable the better to enjoy the good things later, is said to be a characteristic of the aspirant bourgeoisie, as against the feckless working class and the equally feckless uppers.  So we the middle classes, for such I am, endure student poverty and tiresome study and training, put off marriage - which at one time meant putting off sex - in order to achieve better worldly prospects, status and income in the longer term.  Then when we have all that, we  save and are thrifty in order to pay mortgages to assure ourselves of nice homes to come back to at the end of the day, and to put aside for our retirement so as to enjoy cruises and play golf, or at least avoid penury and humiliation, when we finish our days.

The workers and the poor, on the other hand, are not supposed to care too much, either because they don't have any pleasures to defer, or any income to save, or because they reckon that life's too short and too hard not to take what gratification you can when you can. The upper classes presumably don't give a monkey's, since they have loads of money and don't give much thought to anything, and in any case they might be called on to go and get killed fighting in wars, so eat, drink and be merry...

So go the received ideas, though I'm not quite sure where I received them from: somebody else's O level sociology perhaps (my mother would have sooner immolated herself on a burning pile of Post Office Savings Account books than see me take such a dubious lefty course of study...).  How much it resembles the reality is another matter.

But when it comes to food: I was never given the 'save the best till last' value at home.  I remember the idea being introduced to me at primary school by my best friend.  Her family were socialist pacifist Quaker teachers.  When I thought about them I fell to wondering what happened to them, and got distracted by trying to track them down on the internet, which is why I'm posting this today not yesterday and yesterday was only photos.  I only found her younger sister, generally reckoned to be the most promising of the family, who is looking very beautiful, has married someone with a Dutch name and is empowering women in Guatamala and occasionally writing articles about it.  I think of them often; as a family they introduced me to birdwatching, Marmite, the Norfolk Broads, Swallows and Amazons, to the idea that not everyone of a leftward persuasion was disreputable and hell-bent on revolution or holding the country to ransome, and to smoking.  Not all at the same time.

So they were quite high-minded people (which didn't preclude the juvenile smoking, partly because the wholesome, forward-thinking ethos encouraged free-ranging in the woods, building camps and being independent, so giving opportunities for such illicit activities, and partly because the children of the virtuous and high minded frequently do feel the need to kick against it and do naughty stuff).  When I first saw Ruthie carefully selecting a particularly succulent morsel and putting it on the side of her plate, I asked if she didn't like it, probably as a preliminary to saying if not then I'd have it.  On the contrary, she replied, it was the best bit, which was why she was going to eat it last.  An interesting idea, I thought, I shall try it, and so began to put the principle of deferred gratification into practice, or at least to try.

As well as signifying social aspiration, it is, I think, seen as a mark of maturity, of a more self-realised way of thinking.  A very small child, or a dog, will of course go straight for the thing they like most, perhaps because in evolutionary terms, in situations involving scarcity and survival, it makes sense: you don't leave the most nutritious bits hanging around for someone else to grab.  But deferring gives us a self-created incentive, it internalises our motivation, makes us more efficient in performing tasks because we are looking forward to the pleasure we will allow ourselves afterwards.

And yet I wonder.  I've never actually been very good at it.  I might have learned to apply it to my dinner, but
I wasn't one of those kids who could sit down and do their homework straight after school then relax and enjoy a sense of accomplishment and a free evening.  Now, though I might say I'm going to assiduously plan lessons/do the vacuuming/ take the dog out before I sit down at the computer, more often than not I find myself wandering over to the screen, just for a few minutes you understand, first.  And once there, I may say that I'm going to answer the less interesting e-mails, research the Chambre de Commerce website, or chase up that faulty ink cartridge to see if we can get it replaced,  but the chances are I'll be drifting blogwards.  The inner mentor who chides me to get the chores out of the way first can be as much of a killjoy as an outer parent or teacher, and I take equally shifty measures to get past her.

But also, I wonder about the nature of work and pleasure, and how we quantify them. I'm reminded of something  the character says in 'Miss Smilla's feeling for Snow' (which I didn't much rate by about two-thirds of the way through, as everyone predicted) says about how the imposition of formal education on the Greenlanders actually made them lazy.  Before that they didn't think about the nature of their activities; they mended nets, went fishing,  made things, simply because those things were there to do.  Once they were sent to school, and were given  the idea of fruitful work against leisure, they regarded useful activity as a chore and tried to avoid it.

I had a bachelor uncle on my mother's side, who at times I rather ruefully fear I resemble, I may write about him at more length another time.  He decided he would quit his employ and set up on his own as a photographer, follow his bliss, do the thing he loved.  He always said you should never make your hobby, your pleasure, into your job, because it would inevitably destroy all joy you took in it.  And it showed; his professional photography was frankly mediocre, while the landscapes and vignettes he had taken for love had had something. 

When I was studying, writing essays became a chore, something to worry about, to put off.  I would do housework, go out for walks, draw and paint, anything rather than knuckle down to the task. It hadn't always been so; when I was at school and having to apply myself to a range of subjects, I hungered to get back to my English, and loved to write, but when that was my sole occupation, it became an extrinsic pressure, and I shirked it. When I did knuckle down, I almost always found it satisfying.  Now writing is for pleasure, I use this as the displacement activity.  It's not the easiest thing I could be doing, so it's not procrastination through idleness exactly, but I've got it into my head it's what I'd rather do.  But why is it more pleasurable than walking the dog, (indeed it isn't), or housework, or carefully going through and making notes on the business English textbooks in my room?  None of them is downright disagreeable really, and some are potentially interesting.

I think I'm just bloody-minded to myself, though whether by nurture or nature I know not.  I sometimes try to trick myself, pretend that what's hanging over me as a task to be dreaded is the nice thing, and the fun activity is the chore, but it's rather like trying to play stone/paper/scissors between your left hand and your right (though I've heard there are some who can do that!).

In fact I think perhaps that really the most mature, happiest people, are the equivalent of those who eat consistently of everything on their plates, and are left with a satisfying little portion of everything to enjoy together.  The ones who know that, although the cabbage may or may not be quite as nice as the meat, and certainly isn't as good as the roast potatoes, in fact you need to taste them together to fully enjoy them all.

Some seem to be naturally this way.  I'm not, but I'm still working on it.  Molly doesn't have to.


Now, since you've eaten your meat, or even if you haven't, here's your pudding. Crops, shine and glow.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some gratuitous dogblogging, and patterns.

Dogs don't do deferred gratification.  Give them something they like and something they like even more and they'll go straight for the thing they like even more.  Saving the best till last just doesn't enter into their thinking.

I decided I'd try to change this, introduce the joy of waiting for one's pleasures, into Mol's life.  Instead of mashing the little bit of cooked potato and shredded meat she has with her dinner in with the boring dry biscuits as I usually do, so that she picks it all out first, only incidentally swallowing some of the croquettes while she's about it, I left it in one whole delicious mushy layer in the bottom of the bowl, and completely covered it with the hard tack, a kind of Dog's Dinner Surprise.

She stuck her nose in, and was indeed surprised, and paused for a moment.  Something funny going on here, she thought.  It smells like there's meat and potato in this, but where is it?  Then she dug straight through the biscuits until she found the surprise layer, and ate it first, as usual.

Her friend Moos, in the picture, doesn't get meat and potato in his dinner, but he's a happy enough fellow anyway.  It's unusual to see him running behind her, she's usually falling over her paws trying to catch up with him as he races away across the meadow.  She's not a great one for doggy friends, though she seems to look forward to seeing him, and Porridge too.


Today's croppings: Patterns.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black harp black wheat black beer for the Black Month

A quick break from croppings for beer. This is dedicated to Rouchswalwe, the expert. 

Telenn du is a beer dark in colour but light in texture, like a feathery Guinness.  It is made with organic buckwheat, known here as blé noir, black wheat, because it is much darker and coarser than ordinary wheat flour.  It's also called sarrasin, because originally it came from somewhere far away, they knew not where.  Sarrasin comes from Saracen; there are still myths that it was brought back to Brittany by the Crusaders, but really I think it came out of Central Europe.  It's just that the Saracens were the archetype of the foreign and mysterious, hence the sarsen stones at Stonehenge, the blue stones which form the central circle so much older than the rest, so no one could work out where they came from, therefore they must have been saracen.  In fact they came from Wales.  The words Guinea, Muscovy and Turkey also came to mean anywhere exotic and fabulous, and were applied vaguely to anything of uncertain non-indigenous origin, like turkeys, and guinea-fowl, and Muscovy ducks.  Funny it was always poultry.

I'm quite a fan of buckwheat.  It's full of goodness and free of gluten. I like it cooked as a grain like rice, and I also like galettes, buckwheat pancakes, wrapped round sausages, or filled with all kinds of stuff: ham, bacon, eggs, cheese, onions, mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, even trout or salmon and spinach and creme fraiche, though my neighbours have been known to pull faces at this idea.  You can make them as carnivorous or vegetarian or even vegan, since they're made without egg, as you choose.  We don't eat them often enough as Tom doesn't really like them.  One of my students makes them from scratch, most people buy them, and hers are like fairy food.  I have never eaten kig ar farz, the buckwheat dumpling cooked in a bag with what is pretty much a standard pot au feu of meat and veg.  It is so local to one area of western Finistere that it is unobtainable here, and I am told you really need exactly the right kind of bag to cook it in.  I can't find a decent link to it in English, of much in French either.  It is one of my ambitions, hopefully a more easily realisable one, to partake of it, either by travelling to the right neck of the woods or by cooking it myself, but I'd need to get a few people round to make it worthwhile.

Buckwheat has an earthy, slightly mushroomy flavour.  I imagine I can taste this in the beer, or perhaps I really can.
Telenn du means black harp in Breton.  I wonder if this is a reference to Guinness or just a coincidence.  The Breton for buckwheat is gwinizh du, apparently, black wheat again.  We are also in maes du, the Black Month, which is how November is regarded in Breton, it seems.

But where the grain and the beer is concerned, black is beautiful.  It's light silky bitterness would nicely offset the roasted turkey, and even candied sweet potatoes... 

Happy Thanksgiving !


Postscript - Please take the time to read Setu's wonderful crêpe lore and related matters in the comments.  Delicious!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More precious than rubies...

I am a little fed up with the anonymous spammers who have been scattering their noisome pellets at random in the comments of older posts here, and occasionally on my other blogs.  The whole matter puzzles me: who on earth would possibly buy on-line pharmaceuticals or DVDs, let alone take up loan, from a spam comment on an out of date post on an obscure blog?  Even I wouldn't know they were there if I didn't receive comments through on e-mail, but once I do I can't abide the thought of them there and have to go and scrub them off.  I suppose there's an outside chance that someone might decide to click on the invitation to see a teenage pop star without her habillements on, thereby allowing themselves to be jumped by a bit of malware, but it all seems so vague and unlikely.  I don't understand it and neither do I want to. 

I could of course put on the comment verification again, but it is a bit of a drag, and would put all the rest of you to trouble just because of a small amount of inconvenience, and I'm not sure some of these might not be activated by real people anyway.  I could not allow anonymous comments - if the spammer has a Blogger ID I always report them, but then just occasionally a real anonymous person drops in with something wonderful for me, like the person who sailed in the Aztec Lady in the Tall Ships race back in the 1970s and always wondered what happened to her, or a non-blogging friend or family member.  I know these people could do Open ID but even that might scare off a reluctant or non-savvy but genuine person.  I could perhaps close comments on older posts, but the same thing applies, I sometimes get something interesting left on a really old post, like the woman who had picked a load of horse chestnuts and was going to eat them until she read my post about how you shouldn't - OK, I know I'm probably exaggerating the importance of my role there, she'd have found out anyway, but it was fun getting the comment.

So I'll probably leave things as they are, and put up with the nasties, for the sake of my real commenters, because...

A couple of times lately, and before, visitors here have complimented me on their fellow visitors, on what a loyal readership I have, and one who is dear to me saying how happy she was to know that people like the rest of you existed.  I say 'complimented', and somehow hearing such words makes me feel pleased and proud beyond anything, but I don't exactly know whether this is right or not.

Some parents, my mother was one, and Tom another, have difficulty with the idea of pride in their children, are somewhat uncertain how to react when others say 'you must be proud of them'.  This is not because they don't take immense pride and joy in their offspring, that they don't love them without reservation and admire their achievements (I know this now), but that it feels like some kind of inappropriate arrogating of those achievements to be vicariously proud of them; or because, being uncertain or short of love and pride in themselves, they feel they have no right to express it about their children, not wanting to cast them as extensions of themselves.  Or perhaps they fear giving those children the impression that they are only loved when they are doing something worthy of pride, and mistakes and perceived failures will lead to a withdrawal of that love. 

Somewhat similarly, I wonder if I have the right to be proud of you all, as if your warmth, responsiveness, imagination, kindness, intelligence, generosity and marvellous variety was anything to do with me, rather than flowing entirely from yourselves as it does.  I have never been one of those collectors of people in the outward world, for a number of reasons, but I turn you over and over in my mind like a pile of wondrous, rare treasure.  Whether you come every time and bring a warm glow to my heart, or just drop in now and then as a lovely surprise, whether you're new on the block or have been around forever, whether you stay around or roll off eventually, whether I've beheld you face to face or never will, whether you respond best to pictures or poems or chatty ramblings, or all of the above, whether you leave a stone or a smile or long and discursive reflections then come back for more and a chat, I never cease to enjoy your company and your words, which, I fear, I never do justice to in response, either here or at your own places.  I know that you range in age from your mid-twenties to your mid-eighties, are of many faiths and none, and live on pretty much every continent, except, to my knowledge, South America and Antarctica (please, if someone is reading this at some base camp on the latter do just leave me a word, I'd love to know, and I've even left on 'allow anonymous comments'... Of course you might be fibbing but I'll take a chance.). 

You may not be legion compared with the readership of some blogs, but you couldn't be a better crowd for me.  And with all your diversity, you have always, always, behaved yourselves impeccably here, with courtesy and respect and tact and tolerance.  As if you'd do anything else.

So, whether or not I should, I am enormously, heart-swellingly proud of you, and grateful and delighted that you continue to come here.  And, in fact, it's totally right to be proud of other people, whether they're your kids or anyone else, and to let them know it.

So, rather loosely, here are some croppings which seemed to me to go nicely with the title of this post.

Thanks, all of you.