Thursday, May 15, 2014


A small encounter with the flu has me being gentle with the day, and instead of cleaning out the fridge I have taken pencil in hand and spent the morning on the sofa with Chris Arthur's Irish Nocturnes, - reading and re-reading, and pondering the human condition.

It is the type of book that can be read in spurts and starts, picking up at any chapter that tweaks your fancy, or that you have marked to read again and note the wise words and the elegant way they are intertwined.  I read somewhere how fitting the genre (essay) is to the development of a subject or an idea, and I have to say it is my favourite way to stimulate a little thought, a little learning.....

Professor Graham Good, Professor of English at UBC, says ...."[Chris] Arthur's aim in his essays is to move from immediacy to immensity, from the vivid concrete particulars of an incident, an object, or a sight, to the most universal ideas; the human condition, the infinity of space and time,
 the complexity and connexity of the world"

This morning I read the essay on Linen.  And not for the first time.  I am particularly interested in linen, having woven tablecloths and a pair of  pillow slips with this fine thread, although Charles found them to be not as soft as he would like to lay his sweet head upon until they had been washed innumerable times and polished with a hard iron. And even going so far in my young and curious and uber-enthusiastic days to growing flax, retting it in a little stream and eventually trying to spin with it, but my curiousity was larger than my skills and the venture was not a great success.  Chris Arthur points out that the water the flax is to be retted in must be waist deep and stagnant, so perhaps that is where I went wrong...  I am content now to have the beautiful sky blue flax growing in my garden along with the poppies and the iris.

In his essay on linen Arthur extracts first the story of his blue-eyed great-grandmother and the piece of linen, drawn worked and meant to sit under the platter of meat to save the tablecloth from being soiled during the carving - called a 'carver'.  

He expands his essay to follow another thread, another story of the hardships endured by those who worked in the production of linen in Ireland, and further into the source of the flax seed and the extreme dependency the evolution of man has had on the plant world....."in a sense we start below the ground with plants (and will return there again).  We are as dependent on them as we are on our mother's milk.  As we sit in our cars or at our computers, apes far removed from the trees that gave them sanctuary, lost in illusions of power and independence, it's worth reflecting that for all the might of our industry, for all the sophistication of our technology, we are still in thrall to plants.  If, one year, the movement of pollen should somehow be embargoed, if the wind didn't blow or the insects didn't come, or the plants withheld their bounty, the outlook for us would be bleak".pg 15

He goes on to describe the way in which linen is produced, in Ireland and elsewhere, in the old, laborious way and in the new technological way.  He describes the way the plant has 'woven important concepts into our vocabulary' - spinster, distaff, retting, scutching, rippling, and not least "line" , which connotation has had such an influence on our notions of straightness.  He asks if nature had not provided anything to spin thread from, would we have understood 'lines' the way we do now?  Despite our alienation from the earth much of our vocabulary has its roots sunk deep in nature, and sometimes it is good to recall such origins.....

I put down the book and think about the things that Arthur has said,
 and the long, long line of linen history.
I have an especial fondness for the flax plant and for linen.  
While I was still young and working in the City 
at lunch time we used to haunt The Irish Linen Shop, 
although we didn't have the money to buy, - just admire.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


ABC Wednesday
May 14th, 2014
The letter is R, for Rhubarb

I wake early and lie in bed, waiting for the pale blue sky to brighten with the rising sun, thinking lazily of today's agenda - of ABC Wednesday and the letter R.

And then I think of Rhubarb and the splendid great plant that lived at the edge of the farm garden, next to the water tap, and I immediately think of

Spring    Spring    Spring

From the first search for tiny crimson stubs, pushing through the chilly March soil.
the retrieval of the rhubarb forcing barrel with small holes in the top
to tease the long, slender stalks upward toward the sunlight.

(My youngest son tells me that this year on the Meadow where he lives a
chipmunk has taken up residence under the barrel
and gets most perturbed when the occasional
examination to scan progress is made, and the barrel is lifted).

There comes a day when all is good and the first gathering occurs.
That faint pop as the stalk is pulled away from the root, and we carry the first pale stalks into the kitchen. What the children don't break off and dip in sugar for a crunchy treat
is made into a delectable pie or crumble.

Sometimes there is only enough left to chop the stalks and stew them -
is there anything else that is that beautiful delicate pink
that tastes so much of spring and freshness
and hope and anticipation!!!

THE PLANT immediately gets busy to replace what it has offered us.
This is a busy and productive Rhubarb that thrives on the compost
of the leaves we stuff around its roots when gathering.
It's leaves are spectacular!
Large enough to provide cover for a least seven small fan dancers!!!

Eventually a wonderful flowering stalk shoots up from the middle,
but if we foil the plant in its reproductive stage it starts all over again, and we have
rhubarb all summer long.  Not as tender as at first
and we don't get quite as obsessive over it,
but still......

Here is a nice basic recipe for Rhubarb Crumble.
It can be fancied up with strawberries, or ginger, or orange juice
but whatever, it is wonderfully juicy, tart and sweet at the same time
and it speaks to us of spring, summer,all those warm and precious days
and even of winter when it provides summery memories
if one has been wise enough to pop a few bags in the freezer.

Rhubarb Crumble

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon

combine in a bowl and mix until crumbly.
Press half of this mixture into a buttered 8 inch baking dish
top with 4 cups of chopped rhubarb

In a saucepan cook until clear
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

Pour over the rhubarb and covered with the remaining crumb mixture.
Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.

And for your entertainment while you are enjoying it

Visit here at ABC Wednesday for more takes on the letter R
with thanks to Denise and Roger and any
Rowdy helpers who assist them.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Morning - May 12th, 1945

Can this person be re-captured???