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Saturday, 7 February 2015


Strange things happen between couples who've been together for ages.

Here Friday is the best night of the week: the weekend still a leisured theory. Good wine and good convenience food. Last Friday (yesterday) Peking duck in pancakes, nothing demanding at the stove for VR.

A starter came: two perfectly eviscerated and beheaded sardines on slices of baguette, their cooking finished off in the Neff. I ate mine quickly then decorked the Cremant, thinking about the sardines.

VR asked: How did I enjoy the starter? In a neutral voice I said: not at all. She said oh.

I sat down hating myself for not liking the fish. When VR came in I asked, again in a neutral voice, how she liked the sardines. She made that balancing gesture with the flat of her hand. I said quite, quite truthfully I was glad she took the risk. She smiled and said she had to try different things from time to time.

Against the odds the England rugby team, much diminished by injury, beat Wales at Cardiff. VR watched too, asked questions. The clock struck thirteen.

Parenthetic note: Joe was romantically attached to sardines.

“Come little cottage girl, you seem
To want my cup of tea;
And will you take a little cream?
Now tell the truth to me.”

Part of a series The Poets At Tea, this one headlined: Wordsworth, Who Gave it Away.

An explanation? You’re joking! Parody can be poetry and should be fun. I suspect this is what the English are best at, to the point of baffling other nationalities. Sorry about that. But we never set out to be all things to all men. Ask the Welsh.

Barry Pain (1867 – 1928).


  1. You could have d├ęcorked them as soon as you smelled them coming. I enjoy them BBQed in someone else's backyard.

  2. Don't know Wordsworth much. The passage seems licentious, but there is biblical allusion in the second (and I think final)stanza. As tea is generally not sold to ones guests, I'm torn between metaphors. Wordy being generous with his swimmers, or unambiguous in poetic intent?

  3. dang....that last is me...bum click

  4. Here I imagined the poem about a cat, paws on the poet's knees, begging to see what was in the cup. "Cottage girl" is what made me think cat, the words suggesting one who spent her time in house, cottage making me think cat for some reason.

    Sardines are pretty fishes, and I love them, tinned, in mustard sauce especially. Bravo to both Rs for trying them fresh. I've never had them fresh, but I bet they'd be good stuffed with mushrooms and onions, wrapped in bacon then broiled.

    Or not. :)

  5. All: Perhaps VR dreamed up sardines as an exercise in nostalgia. As I mention, Joe was excitably attached to sardines and on the second occasion our families went on holiday together in Brittany Joe talked endlessly about doing them on the barbecue. Eventually he did so and I ate mine without comment, they were just about tolerable.

    Last Friday's fish were less tolerable. The flavour came in two "layers", an acceptable generalised fishy taste followed by a less pleasant heavy, oily aftermath. Perhaps this can be rectified but I for one am not interested - I am perfectly prepared to live the rest of my life without sardines.

    But this post was only incidentally about sardines and much more about two people living together. VR announces meals in advance but if there's some new twist she lets me recognise this on my own which I usually do. If, as happens infrequently, I don't care for the twist, announcing my response is a matter of some delicacy. I am all too conscious of the work VR puts in preparing our food (hence convenience meals on Friday) and am keen not to appear churlish. What was odd on this occasion was that it was an experiment that failed for both of us. By daring to ask about her reaction - and getting it - I accidentally engineered a moment when we both drew closer together. Let me say immediately for those who might feel tempted to say "Ahhh", this has nothing to do with that over-used and little-understood four-letter word, and everything to do with understanding each other, a vital element in any co-existence.

    Ellena: Good luck. I'll be the one standing away from the rest, chewing on a bagel. See my response under "All".

    MikeM: I am always entranced by your inclination to deconstruct but on this occasion it is, I think, misplaced. This verse is one of several in which Mr Paine sets out to parody the style of half a dozen well known poets and/or writers, taking tea as the common bond. Thus Macaulay ("Pour varlet, pour the water/The water steaming hot.") and Tennyson ("I think that I am drawing to an end:/For on a sudden came a gasp for breath,"). Without getting too analytical I suspect if you trawl WW assiduously, the good and the bad, you'll find references to the lines Paine uses. Your deconstruction may well apply to those original poems but not here. The final verse in the WW parody goes:

    "You call me pig-headed," she replied;
    "My proper name is Ruth.
    I call that milk" - she blushed with pride -
    "You bade me speak the truth."

    Of course, I could be wrong. WW may have actually written this tosh (during the bad period) and Paine has simply collected this and the others. In that case I've got egg on my face.

    If you'd like to read the whole thing Google Carolyn Wells' The Book Of Humorous Verse. The Macaulay line is the overall first.

    Crow: Sorry to offer short shrift but I think I've covered your points under my comments "All" and the one to MikeM.

  6. I had read the whole verse when I posted, but failed to understand why it was headed "For Wordsworth, who gave it away". I read further that he was fairly worshiped in his day, not least by women, and may have taken liberal advantage of the fact. One alternative might be that he was a prolific writer, another that there is yet another aspect of tea etiquette that is unknown by me.

  7. MikeM: Ten poets are parodied (or, if you like, satirised) according to style and in some cases according to their proclivities (eg, see Whitman's "What butter-coloured hair you've got"). Each parody has a rather dullish title.

    Barry Pain: The Poets At Tea. 1 Macaulay who made it, 2 Tennyson, who took it hot, 3 Swinburne, who let it get cold, 4 Cowper, who thoroughly enjoyed it, 5 Browning, who treated it allegorically, 6 Wordsworth, who gave it away, 7 Poe, who got excited over it, 8 Rossetti, who took six cups of it, 9 Burns, who liked it adulterated, 10 Walt Whitman, who didn't stay more than a minute.

    I'm not sure WW's proclivities are touched on. Several of his early poems were concerned with children, often as a means of expressing innocence, confusion or loss. The style is deliberately simple (see below)

    "We are seven" (Lyrical ballads with a few other poems 1798; ie, when WW was 28)

    She had a rustic, woodland air,
    And she was wildly clad;
    Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
    —Her beauty made me glad.

    "Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
    How many may you be?"
    How many? seven in all," she said,
    And wondering looked at me.

    Quite different from The Prelude, published posthumously

    My last and favourite aspiration, mounts
    With yearning toward some philosophic song
    Of Truth that cherishes our daily life;
    With meditations passionate from deep
    Recesses in man's heart, immortal verse
    Thoughtfully fitted to the Orphean lyre;

    Interesting, one of his poems is called Ruth but the subject is tragic.

    Tea? Why not? Pain's English so it's a recognisable activity to act as a base for his ten parodies. I don't see any double entendres other than the tortuous reference to the Ruth poem which I am reluctant to re-read..

  8. I didn't know sardines were naturally oily, having ever had only tinned ones. I presumed the oily mouthfeel came from the oil they were cooked in, not what was released from their bodies. Always have enjoyed the fishy taste, not so much the strong aroma.

    This new information makes the issue of sardines quite a different kettle of fish.

    As for the poem, I was relating to you the impressions the words created for me - the internal movie that reading often creates for me. Of course, the suggestion of one who spends her time in house could apply to a human as well as a cat.

    Pain's list of poets at tea was amusing - and telling.

  9. While googling for things about sardines, I found this amusing post.


  10. Crow: Gotta hold ma hand up - ah never see a Proust questionnaire before. But ah do know about that omega-3 stuff. It's quite wearisome.

    You could say English cuisine is based on two things: one is tea, and I've dealt with that in this post. The other is fish-and-chips, a dish that is misunderstood elsewhere in the world.

    I won't go into all the reasons for these misunderstandings but f&c, to my mind, demands cod, a fish that is gradually being fished out worldwide. Sad. As a result cod sold at Tesco now comes from unheard-of parts of the world (like the USA) and the price has gone up. Sad again.

    Well-meaning folk have urged us to eat substitute fish - these include herrings and, it seems, sardines. To tempt up they talk up all this stuff about omega-3 (I always thought an Omega was an expensive wristwatch) - rich in oils, they say, good for us. Strange how stuff that's good for us never tastes as good as the stuff that's bad for us. Rich in oils? So go down to the filling station.

    Look, just imagine the USA was running out of hamburgers and your government - that much hated FEDERAL government - recommended tofu. Think of the riots. Hamburgers are nothing like tofu and herrings/sardines are nothing like cod. Good for us? At my age that ceases to be a persuasive argument. On the subject of herrings/sardines I'm out of here.