I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Who and where I am

Much as I'd like to be gritty working-class, given to brawling in pubs, I know I’m middle-class, defined by what I do and what I avoid doing.

I avoid package holidays, Bargain Booze shops, displays of sentimentality, pizza, Sloanes, the whole of the Iberian peninsula bar Portugal, playing competitive games, seaside resorts, small cars, steak dinners, many forms of youth, front lawns, ash-trays and Huw Edwards.

I bang the drum for Lyse Doucet (BBC’s Canadian correspondent in Gaza), John Lodwick novels, non-patronising explanations of quantum theory, the sign Dégustation gratuite, Richard Strauss orchestral songs, Helmut Schmidt, blanquette de veau, Alastair Sim, BBC4, the role of the short-stop, the Diafani - Vananda - Diafani swim, zinfandel and the Marais area in Paris.

Very occasionally these boundaries are crossed. In the UK fish-and-chips is, or should be, classless yet VR and I knew we weren’t getting the best out of this delicious meal. VR tracked down the reason. We were using namby-pamby, utterly middle-class white wine vinegar on the chips instead of robust, even vulgar malt vinegar, Hence the Sarson’s, our gesture towards a fairer society. In a plastic bottle, naturally.

First verse of two:

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears;
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

Reasons why. Are we able to judge this (as poetry) without the second  - obviously resolving – verse? Rhythm impeccable, the imaginative use of “seal”, the enticing emergence of “she”, and of course the conciseness of “earthly years”. I say a resounding yes but I’m merely your mediator.



  1. You have stunned your readership into silence! If we didn't already think of you as superior, the list is proof! The only remark I am qualified to make is this one: If you ever find yourself on a stopover en route to Disneyland I will make for you a thin-crust, zucchini (courgette) and Gruyere pizza which will have you swooning and regretting ever disdaining this heavenly food. Cross it off, in faith.

  2. I like thin pizzas with a raw egg in the middle, and bavette steak dinners. The latter would probably have immeasurable cachet, though lack precision, when translated as beef skirt, but I doubt you find them at many Berni Inns. Hampe, flanchet and onglet - the latter according to Larousse being in the near vicinity of your plat de côtes, can also be good but harder to come by. It's all in the cut.

    I'm totally with you on Huw Edwards, but you knew that anyway. And competitive sport. Not sure how many people younger than myself would even know what a Sloane was, or indeed if they exist as a demographic any more.

    And indeed I agree on the malt vinegar, we are never without a bottle though it lasts us many years. In truth it really only comes into its own on proper British fish-and-chip shop chips, I can't think of much else you'd want it on, though Tom likes it on kippers, and one of my brothers-in-law weirdly used to put it on his Brussels sprouts, but he is Welsh. I am surely to be diagnosed as hopelessly, predictably post-everything (-war, -modern,-Terence Conran,-Elizabeth David, the list is endless...)supermarket-bred, and indulge in all kinds of grubby fusions, enjoying balsamic vinegar on my kippers and garlic on my Brussels sprouts.

    The Wordsworth is unbeatable, not sure he ever did better, certainly not in that cycle (under the shadow of which mossy stone I have sometimes chafed a bit). Spare and unlaboured, yes to 'seal', I think it can stand alone;'she' is only ever 'she' in this one, even with the second verse it is elliptical and immediate , no context developed. Proof that sometimes the stripping of apparent comfort can be the most comforting thing.

  3. Stella: Alas, we must remain ever divided. Sad really, up til now it's been links across the tundra.

    My absolutely, inarguably, most extreme gustatory antipathy is the cucumber, closely followed by its siblings: zucchini, squash, vegetable marrow and the aubergine. The only reason none of these figured in my list of avoidances is because I've ranted about them to excess in the past and no reader enjoys a monotone. This won't stop me calling in, of course, but it will be a very formal occasion; we'll exchange national flags like soccer teams and I'll hand over a frozen toad-in-the-hole which you may feed to your dog when I'm gone. The upside is neither of us will have to look far for a post subject.

    No, this is too brutal. Why not try me on samphire?

    Lucy: In fact I quite like pizza but it depresses me acutely. It represents the heart of the menu in so many modest French restaurants, simply because it's cheap and quick to make and is nearly always over-priced.

    I dislike steak dinners (by which I mean grilled rump or sirloin with chips) for another, quite different reason. They lack culinary invention yet many Americans seem to regard them as the greatest treat on earth. In restaurants I usually look for dishes which would be a fuss to make at home. Anyone can grill or fry a steak - there's so little added value. In my experience bavettes are usually a step up, often accompanied by a special sauce.

    Are you really guilty of "grubby fusions" or are you merely tempted by the phrase - as, I must confess, I am. It isn't the impression I've gained from Box Elder. Your only sin in the kitchen is a tendency towards the throwaway reference: characterised by such phrases as "chucked it together" and "a scratch meal from yesterday's leftovers" when neither is really true. I really think vinegar on a kipper deserves a field trial, especially since VR can now cook 'em with no post-cooking stench.

    I was terribly careful not to go overboard with the Wordsworth even though I wanted to. In any case I didn't want to cheat, having read the second verse. Now I've had your reassurances I've read it again and realise I missed its greatest quality: its apparent simplicity. Artlessness with profoundly added art.

    I suppose my methods with The Poet's Tongue wouldn't be open to you; you'd recognise all the poets straight off. I'm finding it a very useful - and occasionally uplifting - exercise. I think Joe would approve of the effect it's having on me. When he asked me if I liked poetry back in 1963 I said I didn't read it because it was too private. He seemed to accept that. As he would the fact that it's starting - very slowly - to become more familiar.

  4. By some slip of the finger I appear to have hit the follow-up comments by e-mail here, this is very civilised, though I'm not sure I'd want to do it everywhere.
    Mainly I want to know how VR does kippers without the stench, jugging is supposed to work but I've never been very confident of the method, and wet kippers seem rather unappetising. In fact they aren't really my favourite thing partly because of the smelliness; we used to get boil-in-the-bag ones from a man who came round in Dorset and they were good.

    True about the pizza really, but I've grown more fond because of our local place which is a genuinely nice and imaginative restaurant with lovely owners, and the ease of preparation does at least mean they are fresh from scratch and entail little or no waste.

    I wouldn't and don't recognise many of your Poet's Tongue contributors, you have come up with many agreeable novelties and surprises.

  5. Does a cucumber never grace your Hendricks?

  6. Lucy: I'll get back to you about kippers. It is 06.42 and VR sleepeth.

    Pizza. Perhaps it's pure prejudice. Pizza comes under the umbrella of fast food and the French really aren't very good at fast food - mainly because most FF dishes are foreign and the French feel they must Frenchify the dish in some way. In fact we had pizza during this last holiday and I suppose it was OK. But disappointment is my predominant reaction: is that it? I ask myself. In eating a pizza I find myself eating a symbol. The symbol of under-achievement,

    Stella: I've never had Hendricks, I'm not sure it's available. I'd certainly try it if I saw it. For me the perfect Martini is based on Tanqueray.

    Cucumber. Contrary to the opinion of many cucumberphiles this phallic veg has a very strong taste and, in wine-tasting terms, it has legs (ie, the taste perists). When I eat salad in France I order it sans concombre. In scruffier caffs they simply remove the slices but I can still taste where it has lain on the lettuce. It's hard to characterise unbearable tastes and analogies are unsatisfactory; I don't care for the gamay grape on which Beaujolais is based and the best I can come up with is "tending towards mouldiness." With cucumber the phrase is "pungent menace".

    Interestingly both my daughters loathe cucumber but their children love it. VR loves it too. Obviously there's a genetic link.

    As to courgettes, etc, it's mainly the consistency I can't get on with. Water in vegetable form. I pay a heavy price for my antipathy. Ratatouille is of course out as are many dishes labelled mediterranée. On the other hand I'm an enthusiast for broad beans even though I can immediately understand why some people (eg, VR) detest them. As my grandson, Ian, once said: "Lumps of dry."

  7. Oh, the Wordsworth verse is a fine one. I'm holding off on looking for the second to read it until I have this one memorized so that I can taste the words. I really should read more poetry.

    Instead of a vacation this summer, I've gone gritty here in the city (no brawling, but plenty of pool games with ex-brawlers). There are a number of local gins I've been trying (one is called 'At Death's Door' I kid you not), but I seem to be gravitating back towards Bombay Sapphire for my GT's, even though in my Japan days, Gordon's London Dry was the only one for me. The Duchess has accompanied me on many an adventure this summer, and she is a steak woman originally from the Rockies. I don't understand it. A slab of beef with little flavour as I see it. I only learned to enjoy beef in Japan, where as you know, it is sliced and cut and prepared in delightful ways.
    Nice to see Helmut on your drum-banging list.

  8. I agree completely about the vinegar. Don't ever try the balsamic variety on your paper wrapped meal, we did once and it rendered the chips a soggy brownish mess.