It’s a long time since I wrote something on this blog, one reason being that the blog/site I created and maintain for the village in which I live has taken up much of my spare time. However, I have often written on this blog of my admiration of Romania and Romanians so thought I would re-blog the latest post on my village website here as Farage’s comments about Romanians just lost him a vote, albeit an ‘anti-Cameron’ rather than pro-UKIP vote, in the European elections. Grumpytyke

Originally posted on menstonvillagewharfedale:

In the week of the local and European elections, our columnist ‘grumpytyke’ faces a dilemma:

“In my opinion Menston has an excellent local MP in Philip Davies, the current Wharfedale Ward Councillor Dale Smith seems to have worked for the people of Menston, and the candidate Gerry Barker says he will do so if elected. So what is the over-riding reason that I cannot vote for the last named this week and the first named next year?

“It’s very simple: a vote for them is effectively a vote for David Cameron and ‘Concrete’ Boles. These two (ironically assisted by Labour Councillors in Bradford), despite their protestations to the contrary, are clearly intent on destroying for ever – for short-term gain – much of not only what makes the Yorkshire Dales loved by all of us who are fortunate enough to live here but many areas of beauty elsewhere in this green and pleasant…

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The reaction to my most recent haiku – the most ‘likes’ on any post of mine since I began blogging some 16 months ago – has really inspired me to stop and try to express my thoughts in 17 syllables more often. Of course, over the months I’ve learned that there are many other formats for a haiku, but the rigid discipline of 5-7-5 really appeals to me. In some ways this has similarities to the discipline of writing headlines and advertising copy – part of my professional activity for over 50 years – conveying a thought in very few words. I’ve also learned the importance of that change of thought in the last five syllables.

It all began with a box of photos and a regular blogger of haiku who has since, sadly, disappeared – fivereflections. At the time I came across his haiku below I was sorting through photographs found in a box at my recently deceased mother’s home. Here it is:

from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

I found a photograph of a Coronation street party in 1953, and felt ‘my eyes become yours’ – I saw through my mother’s eyes – as the photo showed myself and siblings together with neighbouring children in a play I wrote – it wasn’t my first piece of fiction but it was my first play … and my last.

Picture haiku

The 5-7-5 pattern appealed to me and I constructed a ‘haiku’ with just pictures from the box, though I did feel obliged to pen some lines with it.

However, having a passion for photography, some of my own photographs, and eventually those of others, prompted a haiku as soon as I saw them.

Then it occurred to me that maybe a picture and a haiku could be conceived together, the words and the envisaged image being formed in the mind at the same time. A walk in a church graveyard inspired two.

The ‘rowan tree’ haiku was like this: the tree immediately formed as a picture and haiku together in my mind. However, there was something missing and I had to go back with a camera later to realise what had been missing – sun.

Looking back through my ‘haiku’ posts I thought it would be a good idea to put them all under a ‘haiku’ menu heading, so that is what I have done, but … wait for it …

… I discovered that the rowan tree was the seventeenth haiku I had published, the first from ‘fivereflections’, followed by sixteen of my own.

Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela.

I first went to St Stephen’s church for the wonderful choir; there are no instruments in the Orthodox church other than the human voice and perhaps for that reason choral singing in church is often magical. However, I met Vasile when he was a mathematics teacher in a high school in which I was teaching English; we became friends and he introduced me to understanding of the Orthodox church service, so eventually to my name.

Saint Dimitrie

Saint Dimitrios was a Thessalonian, of noble parents, an important soldier but also a teacher of Christianity. This is a story associated with him:

When Maximian (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Herculius Augustus, Roman Emperor from 286 to 305) first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly.

However, at a later date it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian and he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house.

While the games were underway in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A friend of his, Lyaeus, a ‘barbarian’ who was a notable wrestler, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. Everyone who fought him was defeated.

Seeing this, a youth named Nestor, an acquaintance of Dimitrios, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and saying “O God of Dimitrios, help me!” he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless.

Maximian was very upset by this and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he ordered Dimitrios to be pierced with lances and killed while in the bath-house. Nestor, as Maximian commanded, was killed with his own sword.


Green satiated

Winter songsters’ sanguine store

Shiver prophesy

Rowan tree in berry

I haven’t been motivated to try a haiku for some time. As often happens, a ‘like’ – on my previous post – took me to a new world. Not geographically – Marsden village is bounded by scenery as beautiful as anywhere in Yorkshire though not as well known as the dales in which I live, so I have visited and walked there often. David Coldwell’s ‘like’ took me to The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society. And motivation.

It’s a while since I managed to write a post here, and even longer (about a month) since I was able to pay close attention to the many excellent blogs I follow. The same has been true of my other (photo) blog, grumpytykepix. It’s been due to a combination of diversions:

  • getting a new website/blog ‘live’ for my employer;
  • getting embroiled in a campaign fighting inappropriate development in the village in which I live, which has revealed at best incompetence in the local (Bradford) council, at worst possible corruption – all this as part of authoring a WordPress blog for my village;
  • being commissioned to author a column in a local weekly newspaper covering forthcoming events in my village and a nearby small town, Otley (yesterday was the fifth appearance);
  • being diverted by a wonderful 88 year old lady who telephoned me to ask whether her family history might be interesting for an article in the paper (it’s fascinating!).

Fewston (Washburn Valley, Yorkshire) Marriages

I’m not ready yet to reveal the identity of my octogenarian or say much about her but so far the story has taken me to a local museum, a local cemetery and consumed hours of searching archives, such as the one pictured, on internet. As a result I’ve managed to identify some of her ancestors back to 1829, which has been a delight to her. But I still have many leads to follow up.

She is concerned that her memory is failing and as she is ‘last of the line’ the family history will die with her unless it is set down. Being last of the line and living alone she is also rather lonely, so an excuse to visit her once a week with the latest ‘tidbit’ is just what was needed, not to mention the glass (or more) of ‘Croft’s Original’ she insists on plying me with; fortunately she lives only a few minutes walk from me, so no driving.

Eventually her story will certainly make a post, or more, on this blog; a page, or more, on the village blog; possibly a feature in a local paper or magazine; and even maybe a book which I’ll gladly ‘ghost’ for her.

Gambling is taking over late night TV and the high street here in the UK. The amount of money being ploughed into the betting shops and TV advertising indicates very clearly that more and more money is being taken from the punters, and of course a large number of them tend be people who are not well off and even in financial difficulties.

What’s more disgusting is that the UK’s National Lottery has jumped on the band wagon, doubling the ticket price and hanging out more and bigger prizes to entice the suckers. I have had a line on the National Lottery on each of the two gambles a week for several years now. The odds are greatly against winning much of course, but at £1 a time it seemed worth a go. Now it’s been put up to £2; I’ve reduced my submission to once a week. Addiction to gambling is something I’ve never been able to understand, but if anyone had an experience likely to get them hooked it was me. It’s a good story so I thought I’d set it down.

A champagne moment

Ayala (left) winning the Grand National on 31 March 1963

Gambler’s dream? No, it happened

Ayala Champagne; an advertisement from when it was a small, independent house

Ayala Champagne past advertising

In March 1963 I had just begun to work, in a lowly position, as a journalist. Money was extremely tight but there was a very beautiful young lady who had agreed to go out for dinner with me. We went to a central London restaurant – somewhere near Leicester Square. I can’t remember what we ate, but I shall never forget what we drank: Ayala champagne.

In those days Ayala was a small, independent champagne house growing its own grapes on 40 hectares near the towns of Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Although not considered one of the greatest houses, it had a reputation for a particularly dry champagne (‘goüt anglais’), my taste, and had been favoured by Kings Edward VII and George VI. In 2005 the ‘chateau’ was bought by the Bollinger champagne house, without the vinyards, and is now made from grapes acquired through the massive grape purchasing power of Bollinger. According to Tim Hall in his blog Scalawine, to which I am grateful for the historical information, it is a “Champagne Phoenix indeed” and his tasting notes for the bruts assure me that I’ll like it a lot if I take a bottle now (maybe for Christmas – maybe I’ll win the Lottery :-) !).

What has all this got to do with gambling?

Having taken the young lady home, and subsequently arrived home myself, I woke the next morning, 31 March, to find I had just one £5 note (no credit cards then) to last until the end of April (having gone on the spree with my March salary).

Now, horse racing has never interested me, but the name ‘Ayala‘ jumped off the newspaper page on the day of the Grand National. I read that this horse was an outsider, with odds of 66:1. I also read that it was owned (or rather part-owned) by the celebrity hairdresser of the time (the first real ‘celebrity hairdresser’ who subsequently trained Vidal Sassoon), Teasy-Weasy, real name Peter Carlo Bessone Raymond.

I went into a betting shop for the first time in my life. I put my £5 note on the counter and, no messing, “Put it all on Ayala to win”, I said.

Ayala powered through in the last few moments to just be first to the winning post (left horse in the picture above) and I collected £330 – that’s about £5,500 in today’s money by the most conservative estimate.

But it didn’t change my view of gambling; I’ve never been in a betting shop since and, apart from my minimal weekly Lottery flutter, have never gambled in any other way since either.

When I asked for suggestions for a cake to enter in the village show I commented that my favourite cake, Reine de Saba, would not likely be a good choice as it has an unusual texture. The same is true of the two suggestions I chose to make so it was no surprise to me that neither got into the prizes, but it was fun to ‘compete’.

I made the ‘Beetroot cake with mascarpone and raspberries’, suggested by blogger Georgina at The Fresh Princess of Bel Air, original recipe by Lily Vanilli, a couple of days before. The chocolate cake, suggested by Tracey at ‘foodandforagehebrides‘, original recipe from Delia Smith, was made on the morning of the show. I won’t give the recipes here; just follow the previous links to go to them.

However, my experience may be of interest as I’d say don’t make either of them for an important occasion before doing a trial run or you may not get what you expect.

Beetroot cake

Georgina suggested using a processor to grate the beetroot. Personally I have an aversion to machines in the kitchen (I’ve never come across a machine which can compete with a big hand balloon whisk and a copper bowl for beating egg whites) and grating the 500g of beetroot was quick and easy – I just put a polythene bag over each hand, secured with elastic bands around the wrist, grating them into a stainless steel colander over a stainless steel bowl to catch the juice. It took a few minutes then seconds to rinse them out; I hate to think how long it would have taken to clean my wife’s food processor had I used that.

Georgina commented that the unbaked mix was very liquid and needed far longer in the oven than the recipe for a test probe to come out clean. With that in mind I pressed out some of the juice when in the colander. I think it was a mistake as the end result indicated to me it should have been wetter. I baked it for the recommended 35 mins but I think it should have been quite a lot longer. However, the short cooking meant the top of the cake still had a wonderful beetroot colour so I decided not to cover it completely with mascarpone, leaving a rim of cake showing. I didn’t like the idea of chives on top so did a bit more decoration with the raspberries and some mint leaves. I’m sure when the show judges took the tiny slice and found a very strange texture that put paid to any prize; they’d been sampling some good but conventional sponges! It really does taste great though.

Chocolate cake

I followed Delia Smith’s original recipe almost exactly but it did not ‘work’ as suggested. Perhaps it was my ingredients.

The two halves of the cake came out of the oven just as intended – perhaps because I’m used to making the Reine de Saba which is similar though it does have a little flour. However, although I soaked the stated amount of prunes in the correct amount of armagnac for three days, the puree (here I did use an electric liquidiser) came out far too thick and stiff to spread on the very delicate cake so I had to ‘water’ it down, first with more armagnac but, when that began to get too expensive, with water until it became spreadable. The same happened with the melted chocolate (don’t know why as I’m quite used to doing this for souffles) and again I had to dilute it to be able to spread it on the cake ( I couldn’t find 75% cocoa solids chocolate so used half 70% and half 90%).  Again, the show judges probably wrote it off for not having the texture of the sponge cakes they had been ‘tasting’. Yet again, however, I can tell you the cake is delicious.

I also had a suggestion from my Canadian/Romanian blogger at ‘fotogfoodie’ for what sounds like a super cheese cake, but as it is not cooked I decided it was probably not appropriate for a ‘baking’ competition. I’ll be making it for some guests in the future though.

PS. Something crazy has been going on in the email linked to this blog and I just found 137 ‘valid’ notification messages in ‘spam’, dating back to mid August. This is alongside the reader going awry from time to time, not just for me I understand. So one or two of my recent comments about ‘missing’ bloggers may have sounded odd. 


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