Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Summons Comes For Mr Standfast


     They took Peter from the wreckage with scarcely a scar except his twisted leg.  Death had smoothed out some of the age in him, and had left his face much as I remembered it long ago in the Mashonaland hills.  In his pocket was his old battered Pilgrim’s Progress.  It lies before me as I write, as beside it, for I was his only legatee – the little case which came to him weeks later, containing the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a soldier of Britain.



        It was from the Pilgrim’s Progress that I read next morning, when in the lee of an apple orchard Mary and Blenkiron and I stood in the soft spring rain beside his grave.  And what I read was the tale of the end, not of Mr Standfast who he had singled out for his counterpart, but of Mr Valiant-for-Truth whom he had not hoped to emulate.  I set down the words as a salute and a farewell:


         “Then said he, ‘I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.  My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.’


        “So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.” 

John Buchan, Mr Standfast (Chapter 54).  London, Hodder & Stoughton (1919) 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Treacle, Thunder and Lightning



        A term which in Britain may be correctly applied to various SUGAR syrups including GOLDEN SYRUP obtained during the process of sugar-refining, ranging in colour from just about black to pale golden, is in practice used mainly of the darker syrups, brown or black, which are called molasses elsewhere.

        TREACLE TART is a favourite dessert in England.  Treacle, of the dark sort, also appears in THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

From:  Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion To Food.  Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.


Thunder and Lightning -- 
Clotted Cream with Black Treacle
(from The Old Foodie -- a fabulous blog)

        As a little variation from the topic of old food-words, today I want to briefly revisit an English dialect phrase which I have touched on previously, in one of my posts on ‘The Naming of Dishes.’ ‘Thunder and Lightning’, as far as I understood it, refers to clotted cream and treacle, or bread or scones served with the same, in a regional variation of the standard English afternoon ‘cream tea’ concept. 

        I came across another reference to Thunder and Lightning the other day, as indicating a beverage, so I went in brief pursuit of the phrase. It apparently also sometimes refers to gin & bitters (an Irish usage), or (less commonly), shrub & whiskey (Anglo-Indian.)  Finally, it may mean ‘brandy sauce ignited’ - so think on that next time you inflame your Christmas pudding.

        ‘Shrub’ deserves its own post tomorrow, so the recipe for the day, inspired by today’s topic, is for Treacle scones. These are a wonderful northern English and Scottish variation on the inexhaustible topic of scones (note link) in general, and are particularly associated with Halloween. The recipes are taken from Daily Cookery from Breakfast to Supper, by Eleanor Sproat, 1923

Oven Treacle Scones

1 lb. flour, 1 teacupful of milk, 1 tablespoonful of treacle, 3 ozs. lard or margarine, ½ teaspoonful of baking soda, ½ teaspoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt.

Rub lard into flour and sugar, then add baking soda and salt. Have the egg [not listed in the ingredients] well beaten with a teacupful of milk into which the treacle has been mixed. Stir all into the flour and mix altogether with a knife into a fairly stiff dough. Roll out into the thickness of an inch, cut into four and put into a floured baking tin and bake in a quick oven from ten to fifteen minutes. A teaspoonful of cinnamon or ginger may be added, according to taste.

Treacle Scones

¼ lb flour, ½ tablespoonful sugar, ¼ teaspoonful ground ginger, ½ tablespoonful melted treacle, ¼ oz. butter, ¼ teaspoonful baking soda, a good pinch of salt, a little buttermilk.

Method: Mix [dry] ingredients. Rub in butter. Milk to make a softish dough. Finish like ordinary scones. Bake on hot girdle or oven.

Golden treacle

Lyle's Black Treacle

Treacle Tarts

Nigel Slater's Treacle Sponge

The caption read:  "A gratuitous shot of Clotted Cream.  One glance is worth one million calories."


Friday, July 29, 2011

To Know Him Is To Love Him

To know, know, know him
Is to love, love, love him
Just to see him smile 
Makes my life worthwhile
To know, know, know him 
Is to love, love, love him
And I do

Audio Link: Mick Farren:  To Know Him Is To Love Him (wr. Phil Spector), From Bionic Gold (Big Sound Records, 1978)


I was so pleased finally to locate a copy of Mick Farren's punk version of Phil Spector's/The Teddy Bears' tune To Know Him Is To Love Him the other day on Youtube.  I hadn't heard it since I misplaced my copy of Bionic Gold years ago and I'm very grateful to the person who posted it because it suits my ragged, up all night, trying desperately to keep a sense of humor mood.  

For those who don't remember the Bionic Gold lp, it was a collection of highly original takes on Phil Spector material recorded by the various artists and bands on Jon Tiven and Peter Lubin's short-lived Big Sound record label.  I liked the album a lot, especially this song (the noise and chaos of which apparently followed Mick Farren around like night follows day at the time of its recording) and ex-Winkie Philip Rambow's utterly charming version of All Grown Up. I have yet to locate that track, but have carried Rambow's vocal performance around in my head since 1978.   

I hope you enjoy this.  Waking up today (to the extent I slept at all last night) following the extra-terrestrial (in the worst, scariest possible way) sights and sounds of the South Carolina and Texas Tea Party congressmen first adjourning for prayer and then deserting their party leadership and scuttling the debt ceiling vote last night, it's difficult for me to like very much at all.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kosmikophobia (Trojan Asteroid Tags Along On Earth's Orbit)

        Turns out the moon's not the Earth's only traveling companion. Space scientists have discovered an asteroid that's been following our fair planet for thousands of years, at least — and there may be many more where it came from, according to a recent study.

                If other so-called Trojan asteroids are found, they could turn out to be ideal candidates for a visit from astronauts, something NASA hopes will be possible within the next 15 years.

               Most of the asteroids in the solar system populate the belt of rocky debris between Mars and Jupiter. But planets can pull asteroids into their orbits, too. More than 4,000 Trojan asteroids have been discovered around the gas giant Jupiter, along with a few around Neptune and Mars.

        But no such asteroid had ever been found near Earth. That led some scientists to believe that our planet lacked an entourage.

        But others proposed a different explanation: Perhaps there were Trojan asteroids in Earth's orbit around the sun, but they were simply hidden from view.

        The problem was this: In order for an asteroid to attain a stable position in a planet's orbit, it must find the spot where the gravitational pull of the planet and that of the sun cancel each other out. Two of these spots, called Lagrangian points, lie along a planet's orbit — one ahead of the planet and one behind it. Drawing straight lines between the Earth, the sun and a Lagrangian point produces a triangle whose sides are equal in length. An asteroid there would hover in the sky at a 60-degree angle from the sun.

         Any object that close to the sun would be difficult to see from Earth because it would be overhead mostly during broad daylight, as invisible as the stars.

          But Martin Connors, a space scientist at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada, had an idea. Maybe NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, which aims its lens 90 degrees away from the sun, would be able to pick up an oddball Trojan with an eccentric orbit.

           Indeed it did. Connors found one candidate whose strange path over six days in late 2010 seemed to match the unevenly elongated orbit typical of Trojans. His team confirmed the Trojan's identity by spotting it a few months later with another telescope in Hawaii.

        "This is pretty cool," said Amy Mainzer, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who wasn't involved in the study, which was published online Wednesday by the journal Nature. "It's a new class of near-Earth object that's been hypothesized to exist."

       And if more Trojan asteroids can be found, researchers said, they could be ideal for astronaut visits and the mining of precious resources. (This particular asteroid is too tilted with respect to the solar system to make a good candidate, Mainzer said.)

        Stuffed into a forgotten closet in the sky, such relics could also give scientists a fresh glimpse into the early formation of the solar system.

NOTE:  This LA Times article caught me by unpleasant surprise today.  As a child, I suffered from a genuine fear of asteroids (kosmikophobia) that persisted for some time.  I had been given a children's book about astronomy and the heavens by my parents, which I believe was written by H.A. Rey, the man who also wrote the Curious George series.  The book included a vivid grisaille illustration, which I can remember perfectly, showing an asteroid placed behind and adjacent to the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey.  Why the artist chose to depict the asteroid in this way, I have no idea, but I seem to recall the caption saying something about the asteroid's size and scale relative to the bridge. Since asteroids can be both very large and quite small, I don't really see the point of the artist's exercise, but the picture drilled into my consciousness, and for quite a while I believed that clouds -- delightful, puffy, white cumulus clouds -- were asteroids that were likely to fall from the sky at any moment.  For a number of months I refused to leave the house, except to go to school by car and I was perpetually worried.  Eventually, I guess, the specific fear passed, but even today I'm a "worrier."    

I think landing a spaceship on an asteroid is a terrible idea, by the way.

Amy Winehouse/Three Ibizan Recipes

I. Rape a la Casolana
An Ibizan recipe for John Dory 

Lightly fry a small quantity of onion, tomato, garlic and parsley.  Add sufficient water to cook in it a pound of John Dory fish, cut into slices.  When cooked, drain and put to one side the broth, and let the  fish go cold.  Then lightly fry it and season with garlic and finely chopped parsley, some drops of lemon juice and a dash of olive oil.

Separately in a stewing-pan, lightly fry in a little oil a good-sized onion cut up fine, a whole clove of garlic, a bay leaf and a spoonful of red pepper.  Let fry for a little while, then add the pulp of two tomatoes and three spoonsful of flour.  Stir for a moment and then put this fry into the fish broth to cook, and when boiling, add the slices of John Dory and let cook for half an hour.

II. Cacoleta de Patates.  
 Ibizan Potato Stew.

This is one of the most unpretentious dishes of Ibizan cuisine, and very popular among country people.

In a stewing-pan with some olive oil lightly fry together onion, tomato, a clove of garlic, and parsley.  Add potatoes in the required quantity, whole if they are small and cut in half if they are of larger size.  Turn them over with the fry, season with salt, ordinary pepper, red pepper and powdered cinnamon.  Then add enough water to cover them, bring up to the boil and incorporate some beaten up eggs.  Remove as soon as the potatoes are cooked. 

 III.  Flao.   
An Ibizan Cheese Tart.

Take a pound of flour and knead with a mixture half of water and half of oil, adding a small glass of anis liquor, and a few grams of aniseed.  Knead until a firm dough is achieved, and then spread it on a flat round mold.   

Make a fancy pattern all around the edge.

Separately beat up four eggs and mix them with a pound (450 grs) of sugar, adding a few leaves of mint.  When well mixed and beaten, spread the mixture over the aforesaid dough.  Put it at once into the oven, and let it cook for half an hour in the moderate heat.

When cooked and cooled down, sprinkle with ground sugar.

Note:  We learned the sad, predictable, but still crazy-sounding news of Amy Winehouse's death last Saturday when we stopped for gas somewhere on the Mass Pike on the way home from Maine.  As is so often the case, what eventually emerges from the original fog of no details is the fog of details.  All one can say is "what a waste."  Learning that Carole King's very sad song "You're So Far Away" was Amy Winehouse's favorite was very sad.  Reading about her cremation at Golder's Green Crematorium reminded me of a Graham Greene short story I read once whose name I can't recall.  A climactic scene of regret and non-resolution occurred there also.  Thinking about Amy Winehouse, an artist I didn't really follow (except in lurid news reports), but kind of admired, made me think of Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan) -- its lively music and rave party scene, of course, which I associate with her, but mostly because it lies in the extraordinary, wild and romantic Balaeric island chain, where I used to visit a friend a long time ago, and which seems to suit her music's mood.  To celebrate her life, I thought it would be appropriate to post several  "tipico" Ibizan recipes.  I hope you enjoy them.  They're included in Luis Ripoll's 125 Cookery Recipes of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza, a real "find" if you can find it.  Another Ripoll entry is found HERE.   The John Dory illustration in second position above  is by William MacGillivray (1796-1852), dates from 1831-41, and is part of the Natural History Museum collections in London.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Time Between

Don't say you love me , Don't say you care
You're so far away
Telephone communication, Only a three minute elation
When I hear your voice

Through love and trust it's gonna work out fine
The only pain I feel is all this time between
You and Me


All the days have turned to years 
Only emphasize my fears
Since you said goodbye
I can hear your voice at night 
I can read the words you write
It's only love

Through love and trust it's gonna work out fine
The only pain I feel is all this time between
You and Me

Now, Don't say you love me , Don't say you care
You're so far away
I can hear your voice at night 
I can read the words you write
It's only love

Through love and trust it's gonna work out fine
The only pain I feel is all this time between
You and Me

2.  Byrds, Time Between (from Live At The Fillmore, 1969) -- Roger McGuinn vocal

3.  Time Between, from the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday lp, was Chris Hillman's first song.  Can you imagine?  As the French say, "Formidable." 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rare Gold Bell Discovered by Archaeologists from Israel in Excavations in Jerusalem (From


A gold bell is displayed at the offices of Israel's Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner.


        A rare gold bell with a small loop at its end was discovered during an archaeological excavation in the drainage channel that begins in the Shiloah Pool and continues from the City of David to the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, near the Western Wall. The excavations are being conducted at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and underwritten by Ir David Foundation.

          According to the excavation directors, archaeologists Eli Shukron and Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, "It seems the bell was sewn on the garment worn by a high official in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period (first century CE). The bell was exposed inside Jerusalem's main drainage channel at that time, among the layers of earth that had accumulated along the bottom of it. This drainage channel was built and hewn the length of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, on the bottom of the slope descending to the Tyropoeon Valley. This drainage channel conveyed rainwater from different parts of the city, by way of the City of David and the Shiloah Pool, to Nahal Kidron.

           The main street of the Jerusalem is in the region of the excavation, above the drainage channel. This road ascended from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David and an interchange, known today as 'Robinson's Arch', was built in it, by way of which people entered the Temple Mount. Apparently, the high official was walking in the Jerusalem street in the vicinity of Robinson's Arch and lost the gold bell that fell from his garment into the drainage channel beneath the road.

           We know from sources that the high priests, who served in the Temple, used to hang a gold bell from the fringes of their robe. Thus, for example, in the 'Tetzaveh' Torah portion, in the Book of Exodus, there is a description of the high priest Aaron's robe: "All of blue... it shall have a binding of woven work... And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about." It is impossible to know for certain if the bell did indeed belong to one of the high priests; however, the possibility should not be entirely discounted. 

Note:  Caroline mentioned this discovery to me yesterday.  I believe CNN ran a story on it and I was delighted to find it and to be able to share the news and photo for others who might have missed it.  An uplifting item in a benighted and troubled time, I think. 

Please: Click on photos for Delightful Enlargements.

God Particle Redux (From The Telegraph)

Existence of God particle to be decided by next year

It has been speculated upon for decades and at the weekend there were hints that the existence of the highly sought-after “God particle” had finally been confirmed. 


It has been speculated upon for decades and at the weekend there were hints that the existence of the highly sought-after God particle had finally been confirmed.

The Large Hadron Collider is a 17-mile ring of superconducting magnets Photo: AP

        But at a press conference on Monday, the physicists in charge of the Large Hadron Collider said that they had only established where the Higgs boson was not to be found, and that its location continues to elude them. 

        However they added that as the amount of data created by the atom-smashing experiments increases, they now expect to know whether or not the most-wanted particle exists within 18 months.
If it is tracked down, it will explain how particles come to have mass and provide the final piece in the Standard Model of physics that was first set out in the 1970s, while if it turns out not to exist then the textbooks could be ripped up.

        Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern), told reporters: “I would say we can settle the question of the Higgs boson, the Shakespearean question ‘to be or not to be’ at the end of next year.”

        Buried 300ft below the border between France and Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider is a 17-mile ring of superconducting magnets around which two beams of particles are sent at close to the speed of light, then smashed into each other. 
        Scientists working on several experiments then study the wreckage of the high-energy collisions in the hope of spotting particles that explain how the universe works, as well as answering questions about possible extra dimensions and the mysterious dark matter.

        The £6billion LHC – which features in a book written by The Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown – suffered several early setbacks after its launch in September 2008, with a helium leak caused by a faulty electrical connection leading to more than a year of repairs.

        But on Friday researchers suggested they were close to achieving one of their main aims – catching sight of the elusive Higgs boson.

        It was first postulated by the Scottish physicist Peter Higgs in 1964 as part of the Standard Model of physics, as an invisible field that gives mass to particles, but remains theoretical.

        Results from two of the collider’s detectors, called Atlas and CMS, suggested “bumps” in their data that might prove first glimpse of the Higgs.

        It had previously been thought to have a mass between 114 and 185GeV (gigaelectronvolts), as theories and models mean “we know everything about it, except if it exists”.

     Prof Heuer said recent experiments meant the range from 150 to 200GeV has now been ruled out as a possible “hiding place” for the Higgs.

        It narrows down the search, probably to within the 115 to 140GeV range.

        “If we find this Higgs then this thing holds together and the Standard Model is valid. If we do not find this low-mass Higgs, that means the Standard Model is no longer valid as we know it today.”

        However Prof Heuer said even disproving the Higgs’s existence would be a “breakthrough”, as the question would still be settled and a new search would be on to explain the fundamentals of the physical world. 


Past Is Prologue/Expletive Deleted

    Watching the president's intensely partisan, disturbing political speech last night concerning the "debt ceiling crisis" he has recklessly precipitated, I was sadly reminded of the shocking passage in Robert Woodward's 2010 book, "Obama's Wars", where he revealed so much about himself by saying (in response to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had asked him whether his Afghanistan "withdrawal timetable" was "firm":

"I have to say that," Mr. Obama replied. "I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party." (Emphasis mine.)

    I had never previously imagined that a person who chose to run for president and lead our nation (especially one who had previously expressed strong, passionate support for the Afghanistan engagement -- aka the "good war" -- as part of his daily campaign rhetoric) could possibly speak like this -- could possibly continue to send men and women into deadly battle if he did firmly not believe in the justness of a cause, if all of his actions were just political play-acting.

       The president's statement did occasion some shock and revulsion at the time of publication (the White House never denied its accuracy), but nothing like the outrage that would have obtained if: (a) we still raised an army by conscription; and/or (b) if we had an honest, non-supine media.

    A number of years ago, during the "LewinskyVision" days of President Clinton's second term, I heard a television pundit define immorality as "seeing people as a means to an end, rather than as ends in and of themselves."

    I think that's what we have here.  I do not care for politicians generally and I am not saying that this president has a monopoly on immorality;  I do think he's firmly planted his flag in that territory, however.

    According to Woodward, Sen. Graham's response to the president was:

    “Mr. President, let’s just don’t let that statement get so much attention.”

Expletive Deleted. 

Mr Standfast (John Buchan, 1919)

I took the train three days later from King’s Cross to Edinburgh. I went to the Pentland Hotel in Princes Street and left there a suit-case containing some clean linen and a change of clothes.  I had been thinking the thing out, and had come to the conclusion that I must have a base somewhere and a fresh outfit.  Then, in well-worn tweeds and with no more luggage than a small trench kit-bag, I descended upon the city of Glasgow.


        I walked to the station which Blenkiron had given me.  It was a hot summer evening, and the streets were filled with bareheaded women and weary-looking artisans.  As I made my way down the Dumbarton Road I was amazed at the number of able-bodied fellows about, considering that you couldn’t stir a mile on any British front without bumping up against a Glasgow battalion.  Then I realized that there were such things as munitions and ships, and I wondered no more.

John Buchan:  Chapter 36 ("Andrew Amos").  
Excerpt from Mr Standfast.  London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1919

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sick, Weird Science (From The Telegraph -- Not A Murdoch Newspaper -- 4-21-09)


How about that?

Fish get seasick, scientist 'proves'

It has long been wondered whether fish get seasick but now a German scientist has claimed he has proved that in fact they do.



The eight seasick fish were later culled and their brains examined to try to determine the exact cause of their sickness Photo: PA


        Dr Reinhold Hilbig, a zoologist from Stutgart, studied the effects of weightlessness in water as part of research into how humans are affected in space.

        Forty-nine fish in a mini aquarium were sent up in a plane that went into a steep dive, simulating the loss of gravity astronauts encounter in space flight.

        He said eight of the fish began turning around and around in circles.

       "They completely lost their sense of balance, behaving like humans who get seasick," said Dr. Hilbig.

        "The fish lost their orientation, they became completely confused and looked as if they were about to vomit. In the wild such a "seasick" fish would become prey for others because they are incapable of fleeing from danger."

         The eight seasick fish were later culled and their brains examined to try to determine the exact cause of their sickness.

        "It would seem the loss of eye contact with water movement and vibrations plays a large part in their disorientation," Dr Hilbig said.


Note:  "Culled".  Close to "killed", but somehow acceptable.  Hideous.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Baptism of Solitude (Sahara Dancing with Paul Bowles)

        In the Sahara as elsewhere in North Africa, popular religious observances often include elements of pre-Islamic faiths in their ritual;  the most salient example is the institution of religious dancing, which persists despite long-continued discouragement of the custom by educated Moslems.  Even in the highly religious settlement of the M'Zab, where the puritanism is carried to excessive lengths, the holding of dances is not unknown.

        At the time I lived there children were not allowed to laugh in public, yet I spent an entire night watching a dozen men dance themselves into unconsciousness beside a bonfire of palm branches.  Two burly guards were necessary to prevent them from throwing themselves into the flames.  After each man had been pulled back from the fire several times, he finally ceased making his fantastic skyward leaps, staggered and sank to the ground.  He was immediately carried outside the circle and covered with blankets, his place being taken by a fresh adept. 

        There was no music or singing, but there were eight drummers, each one playing an instrument of different size.

From Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue: Scenes From The Non-Christian World..  New York, Random House, 1963.