Sunday, 27 March 2016

Me and My Shadow

Children the world over are familiar with the story of Peter Pan. At the beginning of the story Peter pan is looking for his shadow and asks Wendy to sew it back on. Well children also know that they can't lose their shadow, it follows them everywhere, sometimes it is in front, then at the side and then behind, depending on the time of day and the position of the sun.

The fascination that small children have with their shadows is the subject of this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894)

My Shadow

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see,
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me when I jump into my bed.

the funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow -
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow, -
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an indiarubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way;
He stays so close beside me, he's a coward you can see,
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy head,
Has stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

In 'Room with a view' by E.M.Forster he says
'We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand...... choose a place ... and stand in it for all your are worth, facing the sunshine.'

Friday, 25 March 2016

Italian Violets, spreading eternal love

My teenage heart beat fast reading 'Room with a view' by E.M Forster (1908) and in particular the scene where Lucy and George share a passionate kiss in a field of violets.
E.M.Forster convinces your thirteen year old self that everlasting love exists.

'It isn't possible to love and part....... poets are right: love is eternal.'

The descriptions in the book make you smell the violets, feel the violets.

Lucy is standing on a hillside covered with violets and they run up and down the hillside like rivers of flowers..

In the 1986 film version of 'Room with a view'  by James Ivory, George kisses Lucy in a field of poppies. Violets wouldn't have been able to make such a vivid splash of colour on screen., but poppies don't have the same scent or spectacular end of winter appearance as the violets.

I've always loved violets, and primroses and snowdrops. they arrive at the end of winter, heralding the spring, scenting the air and colouring the earth.
In Italy violets lay like thick carpets among the winter leaves that haven't been blown away. You want lie down in them, rub your face against them, but are also aware that they look fragile  and could be easily crushed.

Violets are special no doubt about it. I also like this quote from Mark Twain, the author of Huckleberry Finn

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.'

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Hold out an Olive Branch for Peace

Olive branches have been a symbol for peace since the Romans. They saw war and peace as closely linked. Mars, the god of war was also known as Mars the pacifier.

Virgil the Roman poet used the olive branch as a symbol of peace in Aenied.

High on the stern Aeneas his stand
And held a branch of olive in his hand,
While thus he spoke 'The Phyrygians' arms you see
Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy
By Latian foes, with war unjustly made
At first affianced, and at last betrayed.
This message bear the Trojans and their chief
Bring holy peace, and beg the king's relief.

We all need an olive branch at some time or other, to offer one or be offered one. How healing are the words ' I'm sorry' when someone has hurt you?  How good it feels to be given another chance or for someone to mend your wounds.

Today I found some pasta shaped like olive leaves and coloured green with spinach.
I added green beans and chopped potato Ligurian style and added grated cheese. the result was a very peaceful looking dish, I hope you like it too.

Olive Branch Pasta Ligurian style.

200g green beans, washed and chopped
1 potato peeled and cubed
200g spinach flavoured pasta
grated cheese

Boil a large saucepan of water.
Add 1 tbsp. salt.
Add the chopped potato and green beans and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Drain into a colander and then return to the saucepan.
Add a knob of butter and some grated cheese and stir gently.

If liked you can add a teaspoon of pesto and mix gently.

Pace, Pax, Paix, Peace

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Hooray for the First Day of Spring

It's the first day of spring and the sun is shining, it's Sunday and the words 'With a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no' are on my lips!!

If they are on yours too you will know they come from Shakespeare's As You Like it, Act 5 Scene 3

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, the only pretty ring time
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding ding
Sweet lovers love the spring.

We all love the spring. The warmth in the sun and the blossom brightening up the countryside.
Here in the northern hemisphere it's spring and easy to think about re-birth and starting anew and freshening up your life.
In the southern hemisphere it is the first day of Autumn and so the weather will be colder and the days shorter. If you think about it though every day is like spring, the sun rises every morning and gives us a chance to start afresh, make amends, make more of an effort.

Traditionally spring was a time to have a good clean and clear the clutter. Our homes are easier to keep clean all year round though now, with electricity and washing machines. It's still a time to freshen up your home though, a coat of paint and a thorough clean of heavy carpets and curtains.
I always love being part of getting everything ready for summer. The opening up of a beach bar, the preparation of boats for the tourists. We are at the beginning of the season, the whole spring and summer in front of us, so it's time to invest in preparations.
Mother Nature doesn't need a lick of paint though, every year she brings out the blossom, dazzling white and tender pink. Butterflies and garden birds stand out against the blossom. The new shoots are a brilliant shade of green. Oh yes, with a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no. I haven't a clue what Shakespeare meant but it sure sounds happy and puts a spring in your step.

As does this song from the Beatles

Boats are freshly painted to greet the spring

Hawthorn decks the countryside

Butterflies wings stand out against the blossom

Magnolia, the princess of the blossom

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

In a Garden full of Blossom, poem for the day

Many trees are still bare and stark against the sky but blossom is everywhere now. The marvel of spring time is that it never ceases to amaze and delight, year after year. Just a breath of blossom and memories of past Springs will come flooding back.

My poem for the day is about a garden of memories  inspired by a garden full of blossom.

Garden of Memory

I know a beautiful garden
That blossoms for you and for me,
Where the loveliest flowers
Are love's golden hours,
It's the garden of sweet memory,
Each wonderful hour
Is a beautiful flower
That only two lovers can share,
Each lingering kiss,
Every moment of bliss
Is a blossom that we planted there;
There's a garden I know
Where the flowers that grow
Only blossom for you and for me,
Every joy that we share
Will be blossoming there,
In the Garden of Sweet Memory.
Princess Magnolia

Princess Peach

Princess Magnolia and Princess Cherry

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Looking at the World through an Artist's eyes

At an exhibition the other day I was taken by a quote by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944)

Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and colour and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture.

His paintings certainly seemed to be all about lines and colour and relationships to them.
The countryside is changing colour daily now as the sun warms the earth and flowers are bringing colour to the landscape. Nature is painting beautiful pictures.

My poem for the day is by the poet from Taunton Samuel Daniel (1562 - 1619) and is just right for a spring day.

Now each creature joys the other
Passing happy days and hours:
One bird reports unto another,
By the fall of silver showers;
Whilst the earth, our common mother,
Hath her bosom decked with flowers.

A painting by Piet Mondrian

Primroses deck the banks

Violets add colour to the earth

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Birds Singing through the years

Regular readers of my blog might remember my Auntie Joan and how she always cut out articles from newspapers that she thought might interest us.
 My cousin does the same it's hereditary.
 In this age of technology when information is there at the touch of a fingertip it is still a wonderful feeling to receive an envelope through the post that contains snippets of information selected especially for you.
My cousin carefully cuts out articles from newspapers that she knows I will enjoy. It's marvellous to sit with my morning coffee and read these articles and know that she also has read them and that we are bound by not only our immense affection for each other but also our interests and passion.
Now this is cousin is the one that can glance out of the window and casually and confidently say 'oh look there's a Golden-crested wren and a Firecrest,' and I gape at her in awe.

Of the three articles that arrived yesterday, one was about some oak trees at Blenheim Palace. one was about Darwin and St.Paul's cathedral and one was an extract from a journal written during the first World War about the birdsong in France.
In these days of early spring it is such a joy to hear the birds melodic singing in the evening, the rousing trills of the dawn and the happy busy tunes as they dance about during the day.
On this day March 2 in 1916 a soldier at the front was listening to the bird song. One hundred years ago in a dark period of history the birds were still singing.

The article starts like this:-

' A summer and winter spent at the front have proved to me that the north of France is no birdless region. The noise and bustle of war even from the trenches....'

The author of the article goes on to talk about the variety of birds he sees in France and ends by saying

'Great, blue, marsh and long-tail tits are extremely common, and coal tits where there are fir trees, look exactly the same in France as they do in England, they speak exactly the same language including the same bad language. A naturalist who keeps his eyes and ears open will see on the Western Front practically all the birds he would expect in a southern English county.'

Very moving isn't ?


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Perfect Girls ' Night In

Most of us probably have moments when we have a longing to have something that helps
re-live the flavours of your childhood, something your mum made in her own special way and no-one else has ever been able to rival it, ever. I might get a craving for egg and chips, cauliflower cheese or plain mince and onions, just like my mum made it and I know I'm not alone here. So in honour of British mothers day I made Spaghetti Bolognese just like my mum taught me.
It seemed really exotic and a bit daring. She would get out the ingredients from the store cupboard, really long spaghetti wrapped in blue paper that had to be broken so it would fit in our saucepan, tomato pureè in a tube like toothpaste, dried basil that only got used when we made spaghetti Bolognese.
My dad had an aversion to mince meat, he couldn't stand the smell and he wasn't very confident at twirling spaghetti so we used to make it when he was out at one of his evening functions.

Every evening at 7.30pm there was a comedy programme on the BBC. There were only two channels then, ITV and BBC.
 My mum and I would eagerly wait for whatever comedy show was on and eat our spaghetti Bolognese watching it, giggling away between forkfuls, because you were guaranteed a laugh always while watching 'The Lucille Ball Show', 'Bewitched', ' Hancock's Half hour', or whatever!

If you ask for Spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne in an Italian restaurant, trattoria or osteria you might be surprised to find that the waiter looks rather puzzled. What we call spaghetti Bolognese in Britain is known as spaghetti al ragu and lasagne would be pasticcio. It's a starter in Italy whereas for us it was a main course.

Here is my Mum's version of Spaghetti Bolognese. Just one more thing, we used to serve spaghetti on a plate, pasta bowls hadn't arrived in Britain then.  Now I was making the supper and my mum was already sat in front of the television, laughing. I was in such a rush to join her that I shot round the corner and the spaghetti slid gracefully onto the floor. She then started laughing at me and for years said it was the funniest thing she'd seen.
I hope you like it as much as me and maybe watch some comedy and have a laugh while enjoying it, but don't let it slide on the floor.

Sixties Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves 4

For the sauce

250g mince meat
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 tin of tomatoes
1 glass of red or white wine
1 pack of mushrooms
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

500g spaghetti
knob of butter

grated cheese to serve

Gently cook the onion and carrots in a small amount of olive oil until soft.
In a non stick pan fry the mince meat until lightly brown and the fat begins to run then drain on kitchen paper, this removes all the grease that made the smell that my dad didn't like.
Add the mince meat to the carrot and onion mixture and stir.
Pour over the glass of wine and let it evaporate then add the tomatoes and stir well.
Season with the basil, salt and pepper and simmer gently for half an hour.
Meanwhile cook the mushrooms gently in the non stick pan for about 10 minutes and add them to the sauce, stir and let the sauce simmer for another ten minutes or so while you cook the pasta, lay the table, grate the cheese and pour the wine.

Vegetarians can replace the meat with a can of chickpeas or lentils.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Learning Life skills with Board games

One of the first board games I remember playing was called ' Ludo' which means to play in Latin, closely followed by 'Snakes and Ladders.'

These two games go a long way to teach you to patiently wait your turn then show good humour when you lose and modesty when you win.
They also teach you that success in board games is only determined by the roll of the dice, no skill involved. So your brainy auntie with the PhD is just as likely to slide down the snake to square one as your four year old cousin.
 From here on the sound of 'It's only a game, only a bit of fun' will echo through your childhood.
This is what I mean by learning life skills. We only have control over so much of our lives, there is a lot of luck involved too. For example you can't choose your family, your looks, your talents, your nationality, your nature.

After playing these two games so much they started to fall apart we progressed to Monopoly and Buccaneer. All I can remember about Buccaneer is the treasure chest that contained rubies, emeralds and gold, and it was about pirates. Monopoly though was another story, it got played and played and played, we never got fed up with it. It was exciting, we got to know London, the Old Kent Road, Park Lane and Mayfair were familiar before we'd even been there. The stations and the shopping streets, all seemed exotic and thrilling places to go. We handled what looked like proper money, had little wooden houses and interesting counter, like a boot and a racing car made out of metal.

Older and wiser now we were able to choose our favourite counter and think about what we were doing. Some skill was involved but it was still only a game influenced by the roll of the dice.
In Monopoly you could land in jail and ruin everything, mortgage all your properties and end up with nothing, but you had more influence on the outcome of the game than in Ludo or Snakes and Ladders.

You might be interested to know  that the Italian version of Snakes and Ladders is called 'Non ti arrabbiare', which means don't get angry and is known as the 'gioco del buon umore' the game of a good mood ! That says it all really, playing well together is one of life's skills.
 On the side of the board game box it says  'the family that plays together, stays together.'
Life seems to be more like Monopoly than Snakes and Ladders. You do have some control, you can decide certain things, but ultimately the roll of the dice can change things at random. What do you think?

What has made me remember all these board games today is the March topic for my Creative Writing group. It is about the game of Cluedo.
We can write any story we like about the characters in the game of Cluedo.
So I had to do a bit of research because I haven't played Cluedo for a long time.
It has an interesting story, so much so, that someone has even written a book about the history of Cluedo!

Cluedo which comes from clue and ludo is called simply Clue in the U.S:A.
It was designed by  Anthony E.Pratt (1904 - 1994) a musician from Birmingham who retired to Bournemouth.
Apparently together with his wife he thought about the game as a way of distracting people during the bombing of Britain, to keep them occupied in the shelters.

Mr and Mrs Pratt took their game to Waddington's . They were accompanied by their friends Mr and Mrs Bull who had already successfully created and marketed the game
'Buccaneer', see above!

It is easy to see how the game could have been inspired by Agatha Christie. The scene takes place in Tudor Hall. There are six players, six weapons and nine rooms.
Sir Hugh Black the owner of Tudor Hall has been done away with by one of the six characters using one of the six weapons and in one of the nine rooms. The object of the game is to find out which.

The characters are.

 Mrs White, governess of Mr Black,
Revd Green, wanted for fraud
Mrs Peacock, a friend of Dr Black's mother who has spent all her husband's money
Colonel Jack Mustard, a retired colonel who owes a lot of money
Professor Victor Plum, a history professor already suspected of misdeeds
Miss Kassandra Scarlet, Patricia Peacock's daughter.

The nine rooms are, kitchen , ballroom, dining room, hall, lounge, study, billiard room, library, conservatory.

My story is going to be a love story or a romance but definitely with a happy ending so no weapons will be needed.
There doesn't seem to be much scope for romance though with that lot, so watch out on my Story Blog for the story and I hope you'll enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

March , a chance to celebrate women of the world

There are lots of nice things to look forward to in March, lots of chances to celebrate.
March 8th is woman's day and March 6th is Mother's day in Britain, and this year Easter is in March, so get cracking making cards, cakes, and gifts for the women in your life and letting them know you care. Most people have a mother, sister, daughter, wife, auntie, sister-in-law, girlfriend, cat, dog or something, someone female to love.

The first Sunday in March was chosen as mother's day in Britain because apparently that was the only time girl's in domestic service could go home and visit their mothers.
Women's day, il giorno della donna in Italy has darker origins.
The shops are already full of mimosa and events are being organized to celebrate women.

The Italian singer Fiorella Mannoia sings just the perfect song for women and here it is, for women everywhere, and their men.

Carpaccio di Courgettes

Carpaccio was originally only used to refer to a dish of thinly sliced red beef, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, capers and onions. It was first served at Harry's bar in Venice and named after the  16th century venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio  who loved painting with red pigments.
Now you will often see a dish described as Carpaccio on a menu in Italy and it might not be meat, it could be anything that is served raw and thinly sliced then dressed with seasoning.
If you are lucky enough to have a friend who grows their own courgettes then make a refreshing Carpaccio di Courgettes. You can serve it as a main course salad or just a side dish.

Carpaccio di Zucchini, courgettes

Serves 4 as a side dish

4 courgettes, preferably organic, washed well and dried
juice of one lemon
olive oil
pine nuts, very lightly browned in a non-stick pan
slices of parmesan cheese, optional

Slice the courgettes as thinly as you can and arrange them on a pretty dish

Drizzle over some lemon juice, then the olive oil
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Scatter over the pine nuts and thinly sliced parmesan if using.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

March is a special month, it leads to Spring. At the beginning of the month we can still feel winter lingering in the air but by the end Spring has taken over and we know we are out of the tunnel that is Winter.

Don't get me wrong, I love Winter. Hot chocolate, log fires, mulled wine, snow flakes, frosty mornings, wearing boots, frozen ponds the list goes on. It's just that after awhile that's enough.

 Like going through a tunnel. as a child I loved going through tunnels so much that on the way back from London my dad would make a detour to go through the tunnel that leads to Heathrow airport.
It was wonderful, we would get all excited about going through the tunnel, come out the other end then turn round and go back. I loved it.

A tunnel serves a great purpose, it gets you somewhere quicker and safer. It doesn't expose you to dangers, like steep mountains or runways! It can take you to the other side of a mountain instead of climbing over lots of passes,or along the coast so you don't have to detour a long way. Just like Winter. The earth needs a rest, so in November we enter the tunnel and then at the beginning of March we can see the light at the end. The midday sun is warmer, the birds sing in the early evening light, the mornings are brighter and there are flowers everywhere.

Life can be like that sometimes too. you can go through a dark patch, a cloud over your head, you might be frightened by challenges thrown your way, hurt by people you thought cared about you, undecided about career paths, worried about your situation, but then when you least expect it you will see a chink of light in front of you and as you move towards it you will feel hope in your heart again and when you are out in the open you might just see that the tunnel was there to protect you.


Pussy Willow

Infinity pool for ducks