To all my Romanian followers of this blog, to all my Romanian friends in Bucovina (Petronela and I hope to join you soon – we’re working on it) and anywhere else in your beautiful country, and to all other Romanians wherever you might be, on your national day:

img_5139

snowflakeShe’s done it again: our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) ‘leader’ has set us up to do another performance – spoken short stories or poetry and music. Even more ‘intimate’ than last time, in Ilkley library on 10 December afternoon – no stage, no microphones, no projector, no technology whatsoever. She set us the task of writing something original with a ‘winter’ theme. I’ve offered a tanka, rather than my more usual haiku, and a short story.


snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair


Don’t touch

“Don’t touch me, please”.

Alicia snatched her finger back just before it touched the window, taking a few quick steps backwards and turning her head to see who had spoken. She had thought she was alone in the room but, where were they? She could see no-one. It must be that younger brother of hers, Ewan, she thought, but where on earth was he, and how did he speak with that delicate voice?

Was it someone outside? It didn’t seem likely as snow was falling fast and it was very cold, so cold that large snowflakes landing on the window did not melt but kept their beautiful, delicately intricate form. It was these that Alicia had approached the window to see more clearly.

“Don’t be frightened, come closer, but please don’t touch me”. The window itself seemed to be speaking. Alicia moved cautiously forward, a tentative step, then another.

“Oh, you can come closer than that”.

Where was that voice coming from? Alicia was a little frighted, but more curious so she shuffled half a step towards the window.

“Come on, just one more step, but be careful, don’t touch the window, not even with your nose”.

Alicia moved forward another step, now so close that she could see little more than one much larger than usual snowflake on the outside of the window glass.

“That’s better, now we can have a chat”.

Alicia’s eyes snapped into focus on the centre of the snowflake, amazed to see two bright eyes and a pretty rosebud mouth and realised that the speech was coming from that mouth, now smiling.

“You do look surprised”, the snowflake continued. “Can you hear me alright? I’d like to come inside for a chat but that’s not possible, it’s too warm”.

Alicia fought with the jumble of thoughts tumbling about in her head. Is she dreaming? Is she crazy? Finally she stuttered some words:

“Oh you are so pretty, a bit like some lace on my mum’s nighty, or some doilies at my gran’s, but I never knew snowflakes could speak”, said Alicia finally, struggling over her surprise. “And you have such beautiful eyes; I didn’t know snowflakes had eyes, or a mouth for that matter”.

“Oh, we can speak but we can choose whether a human can hear us. We only choose children, they seem much nicer than adults. Mind you, there are some pretty horrible children too. I was lucky enough to land on the window and saw you. You looked nice so I chose you. The double glazing is good as we don’t get warmed up so quickly unless you touch right where I am, but it does make it a bit more difficult to chat with you.”

“Do you chat to other snowflakes too”, Alicia asked.

“Oh yes. We chatter quite a bit when we are growing up, up in the clouds. Then we have some serious conversations on our way down because we know that usually when we land we are so packed together and there is so much noise we can’t hear anything. I was lucky today, landing on your window”.

“It must be lovely floating down as you large ones do”, Alicia said. “I just love to watch you”.

“Yes it is good, a wonderful feeling, and we get more time to chat, or sing. But it’s good to land on something like your window because when it eventually warms up, slowly, we quickly go back up again and, if we are lucky, rapidly grow up as snowflakes all over again. I hate it when I land in the sea; I can be there for thousands and thousands of years and it’s really boring. So I’d like to stay here as long as possible, please”.

“Oh yes, I’d like you to stay there forever”, said Alicia, “but anyway, for a long time”.

A noise behind made Alicia turn round to see Ewan had come into the room. “Who are you talking to, yourself? That’s crazy you know, my crazy sister”.

“I’m not crazy, I’m talking to a snowflake. It’s very interesting”.

“Now that’s really crazy” said Ewan, breaking into a sing song chant “My crazy sister, my crazy sister” as he came up beside her.

“I’m not crazy, look there it is and if you talk to it maybe it will talk to you. Come closer and see, but whatever you do don’t touch the window”.

The boy moved forward till finally he was standing right beside Alicia, looking suspiciously at the large snowflake now right in front of his face.

“Say something to it, but don’t touch … Don’t touch. Don’t touch the window Ewan”.

Alicia’s voice rose to a scream as he approached the window, adding a final despairing shout, “Don’t touch” as Ewan purposefully put a chubby warm finger on precisely where the snowflake rested, watching fascinated as its beautiful filigree blurred and a single tear fell, to disappear in the packed snow on the windowsill.

cohen
Fulham rooms filled with the lazy smoke of marijuana, hash as we called it then. Chocolate cake which had the bride’s grandma dancing in a fountain at someone’s wedding. Girls without panties in the King’s Road. Charlie coming to work in his pyjamas, reluctantly leaving his one room abode in which all six walls were sky blue, broken only by billowing white clouds, created in an acid frenzy, and a mattress in the centre of the lowest – “if I stand on my tiptoes I can touch the ceiling”, he said, assuring us that the little pills opened the way to the secrets of life. Ruggiero Ricci playing Paganini, Maria Callas and Giuseppe de Stefano in Tosca, spilling through the haze from the slowly spinning vinyl on the Dansette to the entangled forms on the accommodating communal bed. All paused for …


Songs of Leonard Cohen

in 1967.


The world was never the same again.
It’s ended with a string quartet and a heart-rending plea for a treaty.

Picture of the goat's milk and geranium soap in its cellophane packaging

Pure soap from Gosia’s Soaps in Poland

My experiences with hospitals over the past couple of years (mostly good) would make several episodes for a hospital ‘soap’ tv series but it’s the pre-tv soap I’m referring to here: pure soap from my internet friend in Poland, which arrived yesterday – goat’s milk and geranium. The physiotherapy and my ‘organic foods’ soapbox come later.

I’ve become good internet friends with Eddy though we’ve never met despite two abortive attempts. It began a few years ago when I had dreams of building a strawbale house in Romania and found his site ‘Winkos: a strawbale building adventure in Poland‘ and found he was from Yorkshire. His wife, Gosia, makes a range of pure soaps and I’ve been waiting for about a week for one to arrive. This morning I washed my face with it – wonderfully creamy with lots of long-lasting colourful bubbles reminding me of soaps in my childhood. Whatever has been done to them? Well now Gosia is making a range of them; you can see the range (20 in all I think, including a shaving bar) and order them – for great Christmas presents? Details of the range, prices, etc are on the above site under the ‘Soaps for autumn 2016‘ menu.

Pumpkin seeds and ‘organic’ foods

Accompanying the soap were pumpkin seeds from what Eddy says has been a bumper crop. Some will be going into the bread I’ll be making later today as they are of course truly ‘organic’. You know what I mean despite the stupidity of the term – they’re hardly mineral or abstract.

One of the things urging me to return to Romania, to live, is that such food is still the norm in the countryside there and I am sure this was a big factor in feeling better than for years after six weeks there this summer. Add to that the taste and living amid extraordinary natural beauty and I might even desert the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales if I can.

Though I have my suspicions about much labelled ‘organic’ here in UK supermarkets, and the higher prices, I was fascinated by a video clip shared by Eddy on Facebook showing a study of a Swedish family, members of which were full of insecticides, fungicides and plant growth inhibitors on their normal diet. After two weeks eating only ‘organic’ food, these had almost completely disappeared. Worth watching.

Physiotherapy

Right leg with 1.5kg weight strapped on with a scarf One of the most frustrating aspects of my recent ailments is the inability to walk any distance. I used to walk 25 – 30 miles in a day without a problem, the only ‘sport’ I’ve ever indulged in. In fact the inability to do this was a major factor in electing to have two hernias fixed last year. I was just getting into my stride, managing eg 6 miles, when after a relatively short walk in May something happened with my right knee and apart from hobbling about the house, with some pain, I rarely managed a mile. I managed at last to see a physiotherapist on Monday and was given a series of twice daily exercises which I began on Tuesday. I managed most in the morning but they triggered another problem so I passed on the second set. However, feeling good this morning I managed almost all and now, several hours later, I’m not having the bad effects of yesterday so reckon I’ll do the second session this evening.

1.5kg 'dumbell' weight

The only one I haven’t done properly is one with one of Petronela’s 1.5kg weights tied to my leg, ie I did only one or two lifts before giving up. But I’m confident I’ll soon be able to do the full set and that I’ll be able to say I’ve been doing that when I next see the physio in a couple of weeks. He did seem to me to know his stuff and made someone who has never done exercises as such in their life before, reckoning I was active enough, optimistic that I’ll be out again on Ilkla’ Moor, wi’ or bah’t ‘at, before long.

 

A couple of posts ago I said that we had been set the theme ‘Halloween‘ to write a short story or poem for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. Here’s my offering:

∞ ∞ ∞

The story text as a picture

I think my fellow members were surprised. I don’t usually write so long, or dark.

For anyone who has difficulty reading the story as an image, it is available as black text on a white background on this page.

'Slices' of parkin on a plate

Cut but to be wrapped in foil for several days before eating

It’s a bit late for me to make Yorkshire parkin for 5th November, the traditional ‘cake’ to eat on ‘plot’, or ‘bonfire’ night as it improves if left to mature, to get the vital moist stickiness. The eight days left now is less than I would usually leave but it’s enough.

I couldn’t remember the quantities of each ingredient but having gone onto internet and seen recipes from various ‘celebrity’ chefs, I didn’t find one who truly understood what makes a ‘proper’ (thus the word in the title of this post) Yorkshire parkin. There are three essential ingredients: oatmeal (not porridge, or rolled, oats); ginger (not mixed spice) and bicarbonate of soda (not baking powder). These three ingredients, including the bicarbonate, are what gives Yorkshire parkin its unique taste and texture. I think also you should use dark brown sugar, not light brown as suggested in several recipes.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

I took the quantities for a 9 inch (22.5cm) square tin from a BBC recipe, doubled them as I was using a much larger tin (a roasting pan, as used by my grandmother), and where necessary changed the ingredients to bring into line with the comments above.

Recipe (for 9 inch square tin)

200g butter, plus extra for greasing
1 large egg
4 tbsp milk
200g golden syrup
85g black treacle (molasses)
85g dark brown sugar
100g medium oatmeal (I substituted a little pinhead oatmeal to make even ‘nuttier’)
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tbsp ground ginger

Method

Butter a 9 inch cake tin (or line with baking parchment).
Set oven to 140degC fan (160degC/gas 3)
Gently warm the butter, sugar, golden syrup and black treacle in a pan until the sugar is dissolved.
Mix together very well the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the melted ingredients and mix again very well. Add the milk, mixing well again, and finally add the lightly beaten egg and mix till very well combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven until firm (about 50-60 minutes – it was longer from my larger parkin).
When cool turn out, cut into squares and wrap in nonstick paper then foil (or put in an airtight tin). Try not to eat it for a few days; I prefer a couple of weeks.

By the way, it makes a great pudding; just warm it and pour over a generous helping of custard.

Other parkins

I should say that there are other parkins, notably from over the Pennines in Lancashire. I’ll leave it to others to argue about where it originated.

Other traditional foods for plot night are baked potatoes (in the bonfire, not the oven – taste quite different), and plot toffee (basically parkin without the dry ingredients, boiled till it will set hard).

I was horrified to hear an advertisement for Heinz mustard claiming that hot dogs are traditional bonfire night food. Bull****.

Another 'health' item added to my diet

Another ‘health’ item added to my diet

Fortunately I live in a flat so generally can avoid the horrible little trick or treaters and, worse, their parents. This Halloween money-making scam for the supermarkets, imported in its present form from the USA, is gradually usurping the traditional UK event on 5th November, leaving that to the big boys competing to see who can spend the most money to make the largest explosion.

Short story or poem?

However, this year I cannot ignore Halloween completely as this is the theme given for our short story/poem task in our local writers’ club ‘Writing on the Wharfe‘, to be read at the meeting on 29 October. You’d think it would be easy but I’m struggling, not having the recently discovered short-story-a-day talent of Jenny Malloney or the poetic talent of one of my longest standing ‘followed’, another Jenny – the optimistic pessimist. I wonder if I’ll manage a haiku. If I do manage something I guess it will make next week’s post here.

One good thing about Halloween is that pumpkins abound. Having been advised by my good internet friend Eddy Winko to eat pumpkin seeds, following my most recent post, a good source has suddenly appeared at a price much lower than the exhorbitant health food shop offerings. I’ve acquired pumpkin seed oil for salads but the seeds will readily replace the sunflower seeds I would usually put in the bread I bake.