Blood on your Hands

The images have started pouring in on us again in news reports of the carnage being inflicted by Turkey on North Syrian Kurds and anyone else caught in the crossfire. In particular, the sight of the Syrian woman refugee in Akçakale whose baby son was killed by a mortar this week reminded me of this poem by Nelly Sachs, which I translated several years ago.

Those in power with blood on your hands, will you never stop?

Already wrapped in the arms of heavenly solace
stands the demented mother
with the rags
of her tattered mind,
with the cinders of her burnt brain,
laying her dead child in his coffin,
laying her lost light in his coffin,
bending her hands to bowls,
filling them from the air with the body of her child,
filling them from the air with his eyes, his hair,
and his fluttering heart –

then kisses the air-birthed babe
and dies!

German Original:

Schon vom Arm des himmlischen Trostes umfangen
Steht die wahnsinnige Mutter
Mit den Fetzten
ihres zerrissenen Verstandes,
Mit den Zundern ihres verbrannten Verstandes
Ihr totes Kind einsargend,
Ihr verlorenes Licht einsargend,
Ihre Hände zu Krügen biegend,
Aus der Luft füllend mit dem Leib ihres Kindes,
Aus der Luft füllend mit seinen Augen, seinen Haaren
Und seinem flatternden Herzen –

Dann küßt sie das Luftgeborene
Und stirbt!

Eating English

All home-grown local produce at David Austin Roses, Albrighton nr. Wolverhampton. Wholesome and delicious!

Gault Millau has awarded high scores to a fair number of restaurants within dining distance of my home here in Switzerland (some even within walking distance), and the new edition (2020) of their guide continues to affirm that – apart from finding the cash – there is no reason for me to worry about being disappointed when I’m eating out locally. https://www.tagblatt.ch/ostschweiz/gault-millaudas-sind-die-besten-restaurants-in-der-ostschweiz-ld.1157563

It’s a different matter when it comes to eating out in England, which can be very hit-and-miss. My recent trip to old and new haunts involved many meals out, from pubs to country inns and posh restaurants via a catering college, and I surprised my hosts and guests by privileging traditional dishes or those only found in the UK. On the whole, I was impressed by the quality of the food.

I wanted fish and chips, steak and ale pie (with Stilton cheese in it), a cream tea with real clotted cream, sticky toffee pudding and banoffee pie. With proper custard, not vanilla sauce. Okay, that’s a lot of calories and more than enough carbs, but with attention to the rest of my diet, I managed to include all of the above plus a very copious mixed grill (including black pudding), roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and a gorgeous lamb shank in my various outings without actually adding any more pounds to my (admittedly) already overweight frame. A tasty high tea – with pork pie, English cheeses and sausage rolls among other things – provided by a food loving cousin ticked many of my boxes!

I had, in fact, made a list of such delicacies, just for fun – it started with a decent cuppa and a nice G&T, but I had forgotten how trendy gin has become, so was slightly fazed when asked “What kind of gin would you like?” and saw the rainbow assortment on the shelf behind the bar. I’m an old fashioned girl: good old Gordon’s or Beefeater is fine by me – I want my gin to taste of gin and not of rhubarb, lavender or liquorice, no matter how much I enjoy those flavours by themselves.

There were some foods I had completely forgotten about that were an unexpected delight – malt loaf and Coronation chicken with a jacket potato spring to mind – and then I discovered some that were new to me, but which were delicious.

The first of these was the dessert served at the aforesaid catering college in Stafford. It was the first day for the new intake of students, who stood stiffly to attention in a well-scrubbed, shiny-faced line backed up against the counter looking as if they were facing a firing squad. Could they possibly be over 15? Some of them, including the minute maiden who served us, didn’t look more than ten or twelve. We were a party of three, alone in the large dining room, and outnumbered four to one by the potential staff, so we should have been the ones who were intimidated!

The starter and main course were good, but the dessert was delicious: a lemon posset with sugared almond shortbread. None of us knew what a posset was, but were very pleasantly surprised and even happier when the “manageress” gave me the recipe (from BBC Good Food). It’s a very light lemon cream, sweet but tart, and the shortbread was melt-in-the-mouth. Well done, you rookie cooks! https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3090678/lemon-posset-with-sugaredalmond-shortbread)

The second was a traditional local speciality from North Staffordshire, and I am totally flummoxed as to why I didn’t know it, and why it hasn’t become more wide-spread. Scottish oatcakes are famous, but Stoke oatcakes are an entirely different entity.

Traditionally made at home and sold from the windows of small terraced houses directly onto the street in the Potteries town of Stoke-on-Trent, they look like a thin pancake or crêpe with a savoury filling – mine had mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese and bacon. Nowadays, that tradition has died out (the sad march of progress) but I enjoyed my very first Stoke oatcake at the eatery in Trentham Gardens, so a beautiful setting as well as a very satisfying lunch. The recipe and some of the history can be found here and these definitely deserve to be better known. https://www.instructables.com/id/North-Staffordshire-Oatcakes/

And oh yes, just for those who are unfamiliar with the history of sticky toffee pudding and banoffee pie, which appear on the dessert menus of virtually every pub in the country (and can vary from divine to nauseating, so be warned!), here is some interesting information.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticky_toffee_pudding and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banoffee_pie

If you want to try them yourself, follow one of the good TV cooks’ recipes such as Mary Berry, James Martin or Nigella Lawson – and don’t overdo the sugar!

All Around The Wrekin …

 

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By Rhodian at English Wikipedia

Figuratively and literally, in the West Midlands and Shropshire if you take the long way around you are going all round the Wrekin. It had been a long time since I’d seen this peculiar hill rising out of the fairly flat landscape – legend claims it was originally a Welsh mountain picked up and dumped by a giant, a story which doesn’t seem too fanciful when you contemplate this mound.

Now here I was, back in the old country after a two-year absence, and there in the distance was the familiar hump of the Wrekin with its little sister the Ercall, visible from the ruined keep of Stafford Castle and from the wooded hillsides of Cannock Chase.

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The Wrekin, an old acquaintance from my childhood, our constant companion on fishing trips to the River Severn with my father, seemed to beckon me to come closer and say hello again.

One of the places I wanted to see on this visit to the UK was the village just over the border in Wales where Jeremiah and Sarah, my 5-times great-grandparents lived, and William, my 4-times great-grandfather, was born. To my childish delight this entailed driving past the Wrekin. It would have been nice to have taken the more scenic route and gone all round the Wrekin, but time was pressing so we returned the same way we had gone. Maybe next time!

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Once you reach the border, of course, there are hills galore. What has changed in the 200 years since my ancestors lived and worked in this rural setting?

If they came back now, could they find their way around? Actually, I think they probably could, Of course, they would be amazed at the business park, but they would only have to walk a few metres further and I’m sure they’d recognise the old bridge and wharf with its limestone kiln.

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Jeremiah and Sarah were married in Buttington parish church, the same building that stands at the entrance to the village opposite the coaching inn, which was surely also there in 1800. Inside the church, the font is most likely the one in which my 4x great-grandfather William was christened. There was nobody available to answer my questions, and not enough time to inspect all the ancient gravestones, but there was a list of names of some of the parishioners buried there. No Jeremiah Williams, but could John Williams (1830-1894) be his younger son?

In the 1841 census, Jeremiah is listed as an agricultural labourer and his son William as a male servant at the farm of Maurice Jones in the township of Hope. Nowadays, this seems to be just a country lane, with a few attractive houses in it – not what I would call a township, more a hamlet.

One of these houses is now the headquarters of a travel operating company, but it’s based in an original black and white half-timbered building so I marched in and enquired about its history. Yes, this had been Hope Farm, and it was there well before 1800. In fact, I was informed, it was probably the only one in Hope in 1841, as the next oldest was not built until 1850. I explained my interest and was allowed to take a photo of it.

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I felt connected to this place, and as the coaching inn opposite the church was open, we had lunch there – and I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending the Green Dragon to anyone with an appetite. Being in “traditional” mode, I ordered fish and chips and mushy peas, and wasn’t disappointed.

Did my 4th great-grandfather William start his journey to the coalfields of the Black Country on a coach from this inn? Why not? He wouldn’t recognise the modern road, of course, but I don’t think the scenery on either side would be totally unfamiliar. And he certainly must have gone past the Wrekin, if not all around it.

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Piano Keyboard Crochet

In May, Linda, a casual acquaintance in the swimming pool on Sanibel Island, mentioned that her hobby was crochet. Hundreds of iPhone photos later, I was left in no doubt that here was a highly accomplished crocheter, with plenty of family members and friends to enjoy and appreciate her craft. She’s a New Yorker, and her energy is palpable.

I shyly showed her one or two of my own products, and she instantly started enthusiastically encouraging me to develop my own patterns so I could make a fortune selling online. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it was a boost for my ego when she asked for details of how I’d done this or that, and would I airdrop her some of my photos so she could examine the items later. I’m a sucker for flattery, always have been!

One of her amazing projects was a baby blanket she had made for musician friends, with an edging like a keyboard and even a stave with a treble clef and some notes that spell out the baby’s initials (ABC or something). Very clever and effective, I bet there’s only one child trotting around New York with that blanket!

She gave me a complicated explanation of how she’d done the keyboard, commenting that she had adapted it from a scarf and I might find the original inspiration somewhere on the Internet. I googled successfully. The scarf looks fantastic, too.  If you want to attempt it, the instructions are here. https://www.crochetspot.com/crochet-pattern-piano-key-scarf/

I happened to have some black and white cotton yarn with me, and was working on a simple tote bag. I thought the keyboard effect would make an unusual edging around the top so I decided to have a go at it. It’s all single crochet, so easy enough stitchwise, but what makes it time-consuming and fussy is that you have to keep snipping off the ends and working them into the following rows. Not a relaxing pastime. After only two octaves, I was fed up of it and went back to making my tote bag with plain horizontal stripes but that was boring and after a while I abandoned that, too.

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Back home in Switzerland I showed my creative middle granddaughter what I had done and asked her for suggestions. “Why not use the keyboard strip as a handle?” she said. Brilliant! Yes, it was just the right length. I attacked my tote bag with renewed vigour, and this is the result. It is very useful for holding work-in-progress and spare skeins, but I am planning to give it a lining to prevent excess stretching.

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I sent a photo to my New York muse, thinking she’d be interested to see what I’d made of her pattern.

Her reply: “That would make a great child’s hat!”

I can see what she meant but it would have to be an enormous child!

 

Ignorance

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Photo by Aveline

Crammed in the confined cabin of our senses
How can we humans know infinity?
We move within our limited defences,
Attempt in vain to chart eternity.

What arrogance that claims to seek for knowledge
Or understanding of the vast beyond,
One tiny glimpse outside our goldfish bowl
Into the endless universal pond.

Our selfish drives determine and degrade us
And meanwhile conflict rules within our bounds.
The peace pervading heaven must evade us
Till altruism triumphs and abounds.

Escape the ego, silence inward chatter,
And focus on the things that really matter.

Remorse

Remorse is more than regret. Remorse is the wish to turn back the clock and do it right this time. One thing I might do differently if I had the chance would be to treat nature with a little more respect.

I came across an old photo this morning, and it triggered memories of the chalet we rented forty-odd years ago, primarily as a weekend getaway from Geneva and as an opportunity for some winter sports, chiefly cross-country skiing and a bit of sledging. Our first encounter with the place was in the summer.  It had lain empty for several years, and nature was in the process of reclaiming  the land around it. We were townies, insensitive and opposed to chaos. After our well-intentioned vandalism, we suddenly became aware of what we had destroyed. God’s gardens are the best!

I wrote this in 1977. (By the way, this is my 600th post!)

Tidying up

When we arrived
The chalet was asleep:
Had drawn a curtain of larches

Close around, closed tight
All windows, shutters, doors,
Pulled the meadow up over the garden,
Tucked itself into the long grass and yarrow,
And was settled deep in its summer slumber.

Peaceful and undisturbed
It lay in its innocent wilderness bed,
And we thought
It looked neglected, overgrown.
(Hyper-urbanization blinds us to the instinct
That recognises raw beauty

In a natural state
And murmurs: “Let it be.”)

Overcome by the urge to tidy things up
And suburbanize
We gustily set to
To wake it up out of its languor,
And jerk it out of its dream,
Flung open the shutters and windows and doors
Let in the air and the sun and the flies,
And laid into the overgrowth with sickle and scythe.

We slashed down the long grass,
Bay willow herb, cow parsley, buttercups,
Harebells, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace,
Forget-me-nots and all the other
Unwelcome weeds,
Ravaging the peace with sharp steel blades,
Frightening the frogs,
Dainty gold-green creatures that leapt in panic
Up the tree trunks
Into the stream
Anywhere
Away from the menacing swish of the blade.

We disturbed the lizards and voles,
Scared away the tom-tits and finches,
Besieged the snails
Taking refuge inside their eggshell forts,
Stepped unwittingly on slugs too slow to flee,
Destroyed all their little world
And let the sunshine strike
Onto the grass roots and the moss,
Drying the grass and flowers to hay
While the horseflies and mosquitoes
(An undisciplined but kamikaze airforce)
Bombarded us at our work.

Some battles they did win,
When the sun was on their side, at noon,
And we had scars to show
When we paused to rest,
But in the end the victory was ours
When we came back to the attack
With spray gun reinforcements.

So when we left
The chalet had been shaken from its torpor
The bewildered wilderness had vanished
Vanquished
Into a neat and tidy garden:
And not a creature stirred.

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With the relief of winter
The garden heaved a sigh
And slid back into sleep.

Swissification Step Two

 

One precious item awaiting me in the post on my return home last Friday was my new “original” birth certificate, which is a photocopy of the old one already in my possession with the addition of a stamp by Her Majesty’s Records Office authenticating it. As it was the weekend of Pentecost – what used to be called Whitsun in the UK – Monday was a holiday here, so I had to wait until Tuesday before I could set off with my batch of documents to the registry office (Zivilstandsamt) in the village of Wangs a few miles away.

I know that by car, it takes about 7 minutes from my house to Wangs. The registry office is in the town hall there, the Rathaus, right in the centre of the village.

I reported in full – maybe too full! – here in 2014 and 2015 on all I went through in trying to keep my driving licence. The upshot was, I lost the licence and have been using public transport every since I returned from looking after my mother in England. (If you are really at a loose end, just put “driving licence” into the Search box on the top right-hand corner of this page for the entire saga of how I achieved and was deprived of my licence.)

Swiss public transport is pretty good. I checked online for the bus route and was surprised to see that our two villages don’t have a direct bus connection. The first part of the trip has to be by train to the town of Sargans, then there’s a choice between two buses from the station that take a circular route through the countryside, one going clockwise and the other anticlockwise. As Wangs is about halfway around this circuit, it really doesn’t matter which direction you take.

I bought myself a day ticket, very conveniently on the Swissrail phone app, and set off on Tuesday morning at 8.15. I had to pop into the doctor’s first to leave them a couple of phials of blood before having breakfast, so I decided to combine the two outings.

The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm, which I much appreciate after the humidity of Florida. The fifteen minutes walk to the doctor’s and the station made me feel virtuous (getting exercise), my blood sample was quickly collected, and the 8.45 train was of course on time. Six minutes later I was at Sargans station, with time to get a coffee and a croissant which I consumed at the bus stop. The bus left promptly but the coffee obviously did not reach my brain because not only did I get off a stop too soon but I also walked about a mile too far, all steeply uphill, straight past the Rathaus and Post Office, and only realised my error when I arrived at the cable car station.

Ah well, the sun was still shining and the scenery really is beautiful, so I wasn’t too annoyed at myself. After all, retracing my steps took me downhill which was no effort and I’m pretty fit at present.

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The young lady in the registry office took all my documents and checked them against her list. Some consternation appeared on her face when she looked at my German passport, which expired in 2010. “You’ll have to get a new one,” she said.

I explained that this would entail an awful lot of fuss and bother as well as great expense because I would have to make an appointment at the Embassy in Bern which takes about 3 or 4 months, then go there in person for fingerprinting and photos of my irises etc. and it really wasn’t worth the hassle. “OK, then we’ll ignore it and treat you as just British,” she replied. I admit I was surprised at this rather unbureaucratic attitude, but as I said, she was young and not some miserable old dragon. (If that leads to any problems, she’s the one I’ll blame, though.)

Then she came to my divorce paper. It did say “divorce decree” on the original checklist, but that’s as long as my arm so I had concluded that the official notification sent by the court to the registry offices, embassies etc. where I and my ex-husband were registered would be sufficient. I was wrong. She wanted the original decree in full with all the gory details.

“That’s in a file buried in my basement,” I told her. Never mind, she answered: we were divorced in Switzerland so I can get a notarised copy from the court that issued it. Finally, she photocopied everything and gave me my papers back. It had taken about 20 minutes altogether. I trotted merrily across the road to the bus stop, and found I had 20 minutes to wait for the bus going clockwise (the way I had come) and 10 minutes for the anticlockwise route, so I crossed back to the stop where I should have got off in the first place. When it came, this very clean and comfortable bus actually had 3-point seatbelts like those in a car. I was impressed.

This ride took me through the second half of the circuit, so another pretty village and striking views on the way to Sargans station, and thence the train to Bad Ragaz and a short trek home. The clock was striking 11 as I turned the key in my door. Not a bad morning’s work, I thought. Distance covered: 17 km (about 10 miles).  A good thing I’m retired and time is no longer money!

A quick phone call to the divorce court, and yes, they would put the document in the post right away. No, it doesn’t cost anything. It arrived this morning: bless Swiss efficiency!

I hope my young lady in Wangs is equally efficient. She didn’t appear to be burdened with a heavy workload, so fingers crossed I’ll get my “attestation of registered personal status” next week. That will complete the little pile of papers needed for me to actually start the application process with the authorities here.

Oh, and by the way – although the young lady in Wangs gave me a very complicated explanation of why my birth certificate had to be less than 6 months old, I still don’t get it.