It Can’t Happen Here

Recently a book came into the shop which I hadn’t seen before and was called ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by John Sinclair originally published in 1935 and (smartly) re-issued this year by Penguin.

The blurb says:

‘A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fearmongering demagogue runs for President of the United States – and wins. Sinclair Lewis’s chilling 1935 bestseller is the story of Buzz Windrip, ‘Professional Common Man’, who promises poor, angry voters that he will make America proud and prosperous once more, but takes the country down a far darker path. As the new regime slides into authoritarianism, newspaper editor Doremus Jessup can’t believe it will last – but is he right? This cautionary tale of liberal complacency in the face of populist tyranny shows it really can happen here.’

The hero of the book is an editor of a local paper and there are all kinds of echoes about the president’s antipathy to mainstream media – or in the case of 1935, just the media.

The latter half of the book talks about camps – now this was 1935 so no Auschwitz in sight, and anyway, I thought/think that is just not going to happen in this day and age.

Mind you, I had not though a president would defend the Klu Klux Klan.

I think, for what it is worth, it was not a good idea to bring down the statue of Robert E Lee – you can’t re-write history and as Trump said, who is next? after all Thomas Jefferson was indeed a slave owner.

But the supremacists were there because for them, the statue was a symbol of what they stand for and that is not equality for all, whatever colour, sex or religion you are.

And, yes, I am sure there were leftist protestors who used violence and would do so again.

I am also sure there are those on the right, who went to that march to campaign for the right to keep the statue who were horrified at the sight of someone driving at full speed into a crowd of opponents.

But there is no excuse or defending of white supremacists, anyone nearing the racist or fascist.

So, here’s the deal:

Poor, white men ( and also some women) feel hard done by because they have lost out and in their view, women, black people, gays have had the attention of the establishment, too much support and have ‘gotten’ an unfair deal.

The point is that white men (poor and otherwise) have had to face attempts to equalise society with others creeping up on their supremacy and they want to revert to the status quo – white men in all shapes and sizes, in charge.

They have faith in a man who says he is working for them and against the liberal establishment and maybe he is.

Liberal complacency on my part? Hands up. I had hoped, even presumed, he would never win and that liberal, progressive views would win through. Easy for me, you might think.

Any change of heart? No. I am a liberal and I want equality for everyone.

A wish to get out of my bubble and listen to other views? Well, I’d like to say yes but really….

and that probably is part of the problem.

 

 

 

 

Events, Events Part 1

Never under-estimate how hard it is to be an event organiser.

You need to be able to see the big picture and the many, many, many tiny details which have to be got right. You need to be unflappable, patient, endlessly charming – quite often to people you don’t like – to be a leader and in the case of the event I work on, deal with the vagaries of the weather.

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I would be a hopeless event organiser – high on the list of reasons why not, is my lack of attention to detail  – see previous blog and relucant housewife listing error.

But I do get involved with events run by a woman with all the skills listed above.

For my sins and thanks to that extra glass of wine poured by a good friend some years ago, I agreed to be the Health and Safety person ( I do think you always need capitals for H&S.)

There is something childishly pleasing to me in being a behind the scenes person at an event – and I know it is not Glastonbury, but it is still a sneaky pleasure.

I like wearing a staff wristband, having a radio being able to go into areas where the public are not allowed, knowing many of the exhibitors – and doing a bit of shopping on the side.

The staff team are people who are either related to one another or have been involved for years – and in many cases both of the above.

Ask any new face how come they happen to be working and they will point to their mum, dad, aunt, cousin, son, daughter, brother-in-law, friend, and tell you they were roped in and now they plan on staying.

Quite a few of them have been working on the shows since they started more than 20 years ago.

I am a bit of a johnny-cum-lately with only 7 years under my belt and though I have always felt welcome, have made good friends and the great woman event-supremo is flatteringly nice about my uses – this year I went up a notch in acceptance.

So, there is a patriarchy of security and car parkers.

The patriarch comes from his day job in Leicester and his extended clan gather around him – there were three generations of them this year.

H&S in this context is a bit of a fluid brief and can range from helping to reorganise wind-battered gazebos to crawling along with sticky tape to secure a trip hazard, to assisting the cookery demonstrator, keeping the roadway clear to wait for the arrival of an ambulance for someone with a suspected heart attack, managing queues, sorting out squabbles about pitch size and so on.

I have got to know the patriarch through many shared adventures in H&S – security is a rather fluid brief too – but I think it is fair to say that at the beginning he viewed me with some scepticism suspecting I would be the Daily Mail’s definition of H&S gone mad.

This year he managed to get a quite bad cut on his head – and was off in hospital before I got back from whatever errand I was on. He did his own H&S jokes when he got back – I never would have dared…

Anyway, over the years I have felt that I have earned a little more of his acceptance and that he now finds me a bit more use, rather than ornament or obstruction.

This year at one point, I was garbling something about what we should do about some problem and he put his arm round me and told me to stop gibbering, start that sentence again and then we would get it sorted.

Dear reader, I was so pleased.

 

 

 

 

 

What I did on his holidays Part 2

So, this is indeed Part 2 of what I did in the two weeks the best beloved was digging up (very small) pieces of roman history.

And it is a litany of failure I’m afraid – there are by contrast just a couple of things which I can recount with an iota of pride.

But then, that is so often, my life – the 80/20 rule.

(I am going to keep the glimmers of self satisfaction until later as by then I might well need to boost a very flagging sense of self worth.

And if you are one of those people who believe wholeheartedly in being so very positive about yourself, you might want to look away now.)

Firstly, there were the crab apples.

You can’t buy crab apples in the shops, not even at organic, local, grocers.

So, given that we have a crab apple tree I do feel obliged to harvest them and make crab apple jelly – as far as I know there are no other recipes for crab apples.

Anyway, for the first couple of years we were here, it was an autumnal delight, but then became an obligatory chore. ( It is the business of having to get the ‘mush’ to drain through muslim bags overnight and then boil up and etc etc etc…)

So, last year, I gathered them up, simmered them into a mush and put them in the freezer, thinking that I would make the jelly sometime when I was not so busy – later in the autumn.

Yes, indeed dear reader, that overnight dripping day never quite arrived and two large bags of mushed crab apples filled up a goodly part of the freezer until last week.

So, I got them out, defrosted them, hung them to drip and felt a small amount of satisfaction that I had not succumbed to binning them and getting on with the rest of my life.

The next morning – and I would like to remind you that this dripping involves muslim bags hanging from broom handles wedged between chairs all over the kitchen – there was about an inch of crab apple syrup.

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Clearly, they do not take well to freezing for nearly a year.

Not enough to make a decent jar’s worth and I had, of course, steralized quite a lot of jars.

The mush went in the bin – which with the benefit of hindsight…..

At least I tried with the crab apples.

I like a pedometer, it makes me do my 10,000 steps. I am not interested in a Fitbit or similar, just want to know the steps.

The one I had got very, very wet at the outdoor event I did a couple of weeks ago and it really wasn’t up to the rain – so I ordered another one and it arrived. See below for how wet it was.

 

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Can I get it – something really quite simple – set up to my stride. Well of course I could if my brother-in-law who is techy and usually does it on an occasional trip from York, hadn’t been inconsiderately on holiday in Greece.

I have shoved it and its instructions into the back of a notebook. But I have a plan to go into the nice techy boys in Carphone Warehouse in town and claim I have forgotten my glasses so can’t see the instructions and could they just help me, even though it is not a phone, but I am a customer…

So, this week, my oldest friends came down to stay the night and I invited local good friends for supper.

The garden had had some attention on Sunday but it really needed the grass cut to look anywhere near tidy.

The best beloved has always cut the grass. I dimly recall in the early days of our relationship thinking that this was something I should fight and that it was utterly ridiculous to assume men had to cut the grass.

Indeed, telling this to a friend who would not call herself a feminist as I do, she said, ‘I’d never let my husband cut the grass, he’s rubbish at it.’

For the first 45 years of my life, I cut the grass. But somehow, over the last seven years, that has slipped into being something the man does.

‘What!’ I hear you cry, ‘Did you not remind yourself of your feminism and bloody well cut the grass – for heaven’s sake it is hardly brain surgery. You just get the mower out and get on with it.”

But no, I asked my oldest friend if she would ask her husband – I was too embarrassed to ask him directly – if he would do it.

And he did. And it looks great and yes, of course, I am grateful and ashamed.

I have a plan to cut it next week and restore my sense of grass-cutting self – but will I ?

But then, if that was not enough, the old friend came in from cutting the grass and asked why did my Twitter account direct everyone to another Reluctant Housewife, who lives in America and writes about Walmart?

‘No idea, ‘ I said, and indeed I didn’t.

He is also a techy person so I asked him to investigate.

After a while he said, ‘ I don’t understand why this would happen.’ Then after some more time, he said, ‘ You listed The Relucant Housewife.’

I was never one for details….

So, to boost my flagging ego, I will point out that I was, meanwhile, making a nice meal.

Get some nice brisket. It is a slow cooking meat and brown it. Then roll it in fennel seed and dried oregano.

‘What,’ I again hear you cry, ‘they are not herbs for beef.’

Live with me on that, and indeed I added bay leaves. You could do more traditional beef herbs if you liked.

Put the brisket back in a casserole  – mine is a Le Creuset given to me by my mother who first imported them when I went off to university and I have been using it ever since – and add the better part of a bottle of red wine and some decent bought beef stock.

Bring up to a simmer/near boil.

Leave to cook at a low oven for a long time – like five hours.

Meanwhile, slice up some really nice tomatoes. ( Actually some were from my garden thanks to good friends who suggested using a tin bath as a veg garden.)

Pulverise some anchovies, washed capers and black olives.

When the meat is cooked, and rested, put the sliced tomatoes on a large plate. Add anchovy stuff. Put slices of meat on top.

Oh, I should have said, cook some oven chips and have them ready.

I had also made a polenta and orange cake and served with marscapone… but hey you don’t want to hear about that.

And today, in Oxfam, I sorted out the DVDs.

Now I know that doesn’t sound much but it was  – and I could bore you with how much that matters in terms of getting our new ‘ film’ volunteer underway …. and how different there before photo would have looked.

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But this is already far too many words so I will leave that out of my list of things I am not ashamed of.

 

 

 

 

 

What I did on his holidays – Part 1

My best beloved is currently at Vindolanda digging up tranches and trenches of Roman history.

( If you are not sure, http://www.vindolanda.com )

This is the first time he has been away for two weeks on a stretch since we met, so about 15 years.

Now, I lived without a live-in partner from the age of about 25 until my 40s so it is not as if I am unused to being on my own – and indeed he has spent a lot of time travelling since we have been together – but two weeks solid, after all that time, feels different.

Before I met him, in fact the last time that there was just me and the dog (different dog), I lived in Peckham, worked to earn a living, had a social life which was not based on couples.

So, now, apart from the dog thing, all of the above are different.

I knew that what I should have planned was to go away for at least parts of the fortnight he was away or I would allow the time to be swallowed up with domestic stuff, day to day stuff, Oxfam, dog walking etc etc.

But I didn’t plan, so it has.

Dear reader this is a long list of what I have actually done, so, as usual, feel free to wander off to do something more interesting.

I have purged the pantry – finding stuff that had been there since we moved in and was probably not fit for human consumption.

(Admittedly, I did that before he went but I was getting in the mood.

So, he was lying on the sofa in the sitting room reading his Economist, and my visiting lovely niece was lying on the sofa in the kitchen busy with her phone, and the dog was lying on the niece….

I did make all three of them get up off their sofas, look at the pantry and make admiring noises.

The lovely niece was best at that, BB tried hard, dog was just interested in where the dog treats had been filed.)

I have also thrown out all spices and herbs that had gone past their sell-by date and of course discovered that I had half the world’s supply of cumin and a few more juniper berries than I will ever need short of setting up a gin distillery.

Also, there were spices I bought on some holiday and thought I would use to conjure more interesting food of an evening…

And, yes dear reader, they are now in alphabetical order.

(By the way, on the subject of interesting suppers, my BB is eating ‘good solid fare’ on his dig and, I understand, he is starting to understand that my efforts at an interesting supper are to be rather appreciated. I will of course be reminding him of that thought …)

My cookery books have been purged, my dresser has been purged, and the results are now for sale on the table at Oxfam.

Cookery books are lethal. There are so many that you use for one recipe and never use for anything else.

Then there are those that are stained and splashed and generally well used.

I have one that I have kept since I was a student.

There are also those I have kept to impress other cooks but actually I never use – a lot of Jane Grigson and Yottam Ottolenghi – yes I admit, I don’t cook Yottam because getting the ingredients in Deepest Sussex require you to drive for hundreds of miles and pay a fortune and then have a BB who will say,’ I love the Jerusalem flavours of this.’

But I have kept those books because you never know when another cook will come into your kitchen and you need them to think, ‘Oh, what an impressively and eclectic collection, how interesting this cook must be.’

The other advantage of being just me and the dog is that I can eat my fave food of the moment for days on end.

She and I have been eating Nigel Slater’s cauliflower puree with chives. And we have eaten a lot of it.

She likes vegetables and will say yes to a cauliflower puree night after night. The BB although easy to please and never one to complain, might draw the line after night three – the dog however, is up for it.

I also, in this period, have replaced our kitchen bin. Perfectly serviceable though the old one was, it did have a broken lid and that was broken on the day we moved in. That, dear reader, was seven years ago.

I don’t do a Which search in the best kitchen bin category, I look for a bargain.

So, now we have one with a sensor lid – it was on half price sale. If you waft a hand 10 cm ( more or less exactly), it will open its lid for (more or less exactly 10 seconds) and then after (more or less exactly) it will close.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the BB will find it irritating and the rising lid will knock stuff out of his hand and there will be a lot of swearing. But once the batteries die and we have to open it by hand it will be fine.

Apparently, the batteries in the sensor lid will last quite a long time based on you opening the lid 20 times a day. In the last two hours since I installed it, I would guess I have opened it quite a lot more than that…

And there is an admission.

So, feeling that I really should do something with my time, I decided the dog and I should go on a trip to some ancient history – communing as it were with the BB in the Roman north.

I found Cissbury Ring and thought that would do.

Indeed it would have. My oldest friend said,’ Isn’t that the near Steynning? ‘

‘No,’ I said confidently, with the National Trust directions in my mind I was pretty sure, ‘It is much nearer than that, near Slindon.’

I should have relied on her memory ( which I have had to do since we were 18 as my memory is useless and her’s is very good.)

The dog and I pitched up at Bignor Roman Villa asking for directions to the ‘nearby’ Cissbury Ring.

‘ Well,’ said the nice young woman, ‘It is a bit of a way from here’

‘That’s fine, I said, ‘ The dog and I are up for a walk.’

‘ Mmmm, it is two or three day’s walk to Steynning’ she said.

Maybe I will make it to Cissbury some other time when the BB is away.

 

 

Some books …

There are some books people should just not donate. Not in this day and, thankfully more politically correct, age.

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In fact, quite a lot of the time, there are lots of books people should just not donate.

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The donor told me she had taken the ‘unsuitable’ ones to the tip. I dread to think what state they were in, given the ones she gave us were quite unsaleable. So…..

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But then, as a regular reader will know there are the mysteries which make the endless sacking – and I did four solid hours of it the other day, whilst also ‘tending’ the till and yes I did polish my halo – worthwhile.

Back in February, we had a mystery Russian painting donated and try as I might, I could not find out anything about it and though I liked it and wanted to keep it, I could hardly give Oxfam a few quid to find out that it was the early work of a collectable ( no doubt by an oligarch) master.

But Deepest Sussex harbours more interesting types than you might think and our village produced a lovely man who is a Russian and East European art dealer.

He was very kind but basically told me the picture was a daub and if I liked it, I should hold on to it and wait – one day, you never know, the artist might be discovered….

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We have in the shop an Iranian book – large but slim – which is an illustrated version of Rumi’s poetry.

It is not old, in fact published in Teheran in the 1990s, but in a limited edition and I can’t find one for sale anywhere on the internet.

The illustrations are all paintings by well-known Iranian artists – I can find out that much – but that’s all.

So, if anyone knows an Iranian bookseller who knows his/her art and Rumi, do let me know.

As far as I am aware, there isn’t one of those in the village.

And then we had a book donated which was a kind of scrapbook of letters sent to a Mr Percy Wood.

A couple of the letters came from Osborne House and Buckingham Palace and turned out to be from Sir Henry Ponsonby who was Queen Vic’s private secretary.

This got me a bit excited but it turns out on closer examination that most of the letters were a polite declining of some invitation or another.

I found it very hard to track down what Mr Percy Wood was doing to get letters from Sir Henry.

Google was not helping – so he obviously wasn’t much in the news in his day – or any other for that matter.

Eventually, I found out he was a photographer and he went bankrupt in 1879 – so despite at least once taking pictures of Victoria, he is also still waiting to be discovered as an artistic genius.

 

Hardy Girls

Working at Oxfam is not always without its dangers and falling over a sack of books the other week, I failed to use my hand quick enough and it was my head that crunched against a wall.

Later I got a rather attractive, I may say, purple slash across my right eyelid and it looked a bit Egyptian and all that was fine but by the time we got to Liverpool for the weekend, it had gone rather brown and ugly.

So, not being one to use make-up in any expert fashion, I went into Debenhams and asked one of the nice make-up ladies to disguise me as someone who had not recently fallen into a wall.

She was great and fixed me up and what is more, she and I railed enjoyably for a while about the appalling mistake that is Brexit.

( My best beloved had been speaking at a conference on the issue so I could chat amiably about the issues around the international arrest warrant and so on…)

Tarted up, by my standards anyway, I went off in search of the Walker Art Gallery – if you ever make it to Liverpool, do go – it is a gem of a gallery and there are some quite posh pictures in it.

Not having been to Liverpool for many years, I was using a map. Every time I stopped to look at it, some friendly local would stop and say, ‘ You looking for the Cavern, love?’

I was caught in the dilemma of not wanting to sound ridiculously pretentious and say,’ Not at all, my good man! I am of course in search of artistic enlightenment not the dive once frequented by a group of popular musicians,’ and actually finding the Walker.

On my way I saw a great advert for the upcoming fashion week:

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Infact everyone in Liverpool seemed to be on their best friendly behaviour from the man who made great bacon sarnies, handily just around the corner from our hotel and thus providing a cheap and tasty breakfast, to, well everyone else I met.

As well as bacon sarnies, Liverpool does some great food and we went out of an ( early) evening to look for it ( of course, we had one night with a room service club sandwich in bed watching the telly) –  and marvelled at what we saw.

There was not a young woman to be seen in other than skimpy clothing for what felt to me like a rather chilly weekend – and what they lacked in fabric, they made up for in height.

No one seemed to have less than six inch heels – not just for standing about but for off, away and dancing on what was probably going to be a long night

It reminded me of when I first moved to London many years ago and was staying with a friend in Finsbury Park.

Arriving back late-ish from work one night in winter, I reported to her how the local young women were very hardy given they were standing around on the corner apparently waiting for friends, wearing hardly any clothes.

I’d led a sheltered life….

Clocks in Barcelona

Recently I was working with some PhDs near Barcelona. As you are not necessarily in my immediate social circle that might have been the first time you heard me say that.

But, if you know me on a person-to-person basis – at all – you will have heard me say that quite a lot recently.

And, you will have heard me mention that I was ‘running an interactive case study on the ethics of stem cell research, which, well yes, I wrote…’

Anyway, enough of that, I am not here to show off.

(Though if you want to know more about how good the case study is and how lovely the hotel in the mountains above the city was, or how charming and fun the 40 PhDs were, then do get in touch.)

The trip involved quite a lot of waiting around in Barcelona airport for one reason or another, and unlike the stuff above, I won’t bore you with the details.

Anyway, there is no clock in Barcelona airport.

Now an airport is somewhere where time matters, so you might think even in this day and age of watches and phones, you might have a clock that people could glance up at and be sure they hadn’t missed the time to go to the gate or missed their family’s flight arrival.

There is a fake clock in the cafe, where I spent some time waiting for a friend/colleague to arrive but, it being fake, is stuck on 9.40 – and attractive though it is, that doesn’t really cut it as a clock.

I can understand the toilets being far, far down the other end of the terminal. I can even understand that the mezzanine floor is still under construction and may have been/will be for some time.

I can even, just, understand that whilst one terminal has lots of shops and thus ways to kill time if you arrive very early for your flight, the terminal I was in has Desigual and bugger all else.

( We would not have arrived so early if the taxi driver had not decided that the half hour trip from the hotel should be done in record time of 15 minutes with near death experiences thrown in for good measure.)

But no clock?

So, I got to thinking about clocks. I had a lot of time to kill, one way or another.

Meeting under the clock at Waterloo station is one of those cliches now over-ridden with more practical solutions like meeting at a cafe on the mezzanine floor ( Barcelona airport authority please note, with no clock you should get your mezzanine floor sorted.)

And the grandfather clock belonging to our previous next door neighbours which chimed, quietly, through the walls during the night.

I have tried to get us a chiming clock for our mantlepiece, and bought two ( not the same as a grandfather clock, but nice all the same) but we can never make them work.

So, our siting room has two clocks which don’t work – though I am sure anyone with an ounce of clock experience could get them going in a minute.

But, glancing at my watch, it is now time to go and cook supper – and there are two clocks in the kitchen which work – one has bird song on the hour and an image of the bird which is singing but (please at this point see previous blog about not being a detail kind of a person) the images and song don’t quite match – we have an owl’s hoot at midday….

And for those of us of a like mind, there is the daily time keeping, just after 7pm, The Archers, after which supper will be served.