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The ever enthusiastic, hard-working Romanian founder and leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe, Ruxandra, always pushing us into new ventures, recently agreed with a local free magazine, Suburban, that each month one of us would provide text for a page. This month I volunteered, mostly choosing the short short stories I favour, or haiku. Some of them you will have seen here before.

Although as a former journalist I’m used to seeing myself in print it’s still a bit of a thrill; I don’t think I’ll ever lose that. I love the blogosphere but that doesn’t give quite the kick that appearing in print does, especially when you know that your work will be dropping in 48,000 local mailboxes.

Here’s the page (some of the haiku were not formatted as written, three lines 5-7-5, but I’ll live with that):

Our writers's club page in the magazine 'Suburban' for June 2017

Suburban, June 2017

 

'Romanian hamburger' with baked potato and asparagus on a plate, before 'saucing'

‘Romanian hamburger’ with baked potato and asparagus, before ‘saucing’

Recently I haven’t posted much about cooking, once a mainstay of this blog. Resisting the temptation to comment on recent horrific events and the sad world we live in (later), I’ve decided to tell you about my ‘Romanian hamburgers’.

I don’t really do ‘recipes’ – there are few things for which I use exact quantities (English dumplings, some cakes and bread being examples). I just use recipes as a guide. My favourite cooking is just throwing something together with whatever is in the home at the time (see ‘Fast food’ under the Food menu above).

Romanian hamburgers are an invention of mine, you’ll find hamburgers in Romania are just like here, in McDonalds and the like. When I make ‘hamburgers’ I usually make ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise’, roughly following Julia Child’s recipe in ‘Mastering the art of French cooking’, volume 1 my cooking bible since the mid-1960s (first published in 1961) and joined by volume 2 when it was published in 1970. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past, a couple of times under the Food menu above.

Romanian hamburgers

Two 'Romanian hamburgers' before cooking.

Two ‘Romanian hamburgers’ before cooking.

As suggested by the name the meat in Julia Child’s recipe is beef and the principal ‘flavouring’ is thyme (and butter?). My ‘Romanian’ version substitutes pork for beef (Romanian pork is superb, beef not good), dill (mărar), one of the most encountered herbs in Romania, for thyme and smoked pork back fat (slănină afumată) for most of the butter in the ‘French’ recipe. In the UK you will find slănină afumată in a Romanian shop, perhaps in other east European shops.

For two of us I use about 300g of minced pork that has little fat.

Sweat a finely chopped onion and two chopped garlic cloves in a little butter till translucent. Tip it into a bowl containing the mince. Add finely chopped fresh dill – a lot! – and finely diced smoked fat (a bit like the fat in black pudding). You can use dried dill but if so leave the mixture for a few hours before cooking for the flavour to develop. Add salt and black pepper. Add a large free range egg and thoroughly mix (hand is best). Leave in the fridge for a while then form into into two fairly thick patties. Sear in a frying pan with a little butter (it’s hot enough when the foam subsides) then  lower the heat and fry till cooked through, turning when half done. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine opened to drink with the meal (I prefer Trei Hectare from the Murfatlar region of Romania but it’s not available in the UK; a good reason to drive to Romania – fill the boot!), and pour over the hamburgers. We like with chunky chips and a salad but a baked potato (or boiled Jersey Royal potatoes) and asparagus, as here, at this time of year is another good accompaniment), as is mashed potato.

Dusty with me in Harrogate today. Petronela was, of course, taking the picture

Meet the new member of our family; we’ve christened him Dusty. He is joining Mini, the classic mini, and temporarily Lofty the VW camper. Lofty, sadly, will be going to another family (ie, he is to be sold) as I can no longer look after him as he needs and certainly I am no longer able to drive him to and around Romania, and back, as I did two years ago. We’re hoping Dusty will be taking us on a similar trip this summer. He is, of course, a Dacia Duster, which is spacious enough for an overnight sleep if we don’t want to put a tent up. Despite the reputation for taking five elephants or, in my case, a piano (which she brought home from Newcastle a few years ago), Mini was not good for an overnight sleep though we did it in a awesome storm somewhere in Germany when she took us to Romania and back in 2006.

Monochrome summer

Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years will know that classic cars are not my only ‘classic’ loves; classic French cooking, classic(al) music and classic cameras are others. Although I have not posted on it for a long time, since health problems forced me to cut back on blogging, you can still visit it by clicking on my classic camera/film photography blog (link also at bottom right) and with easier driving I hope to take one or two classic film cameras, maybe one 35mm and one medium format (or more!) to Romania this year and make it a monochrome (my preferred film medium) summer, leaving Petronela (my wife) to capture the spectacular Romanian landscapes in colour.

Writers’ club theme

Coincidentally, in our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe we’ve been set ‘a monochrome summer day’ as a final theme before the summer break. Though I’ve said I’m not usually going to write to given themes in future, concentrating more on my ‘novella’ or trilogy of novellas when not ‘grabbed’ by an idea for a short story, haiku or tanka, I might be tempted by this one – dark rooms (and darkrooms), ’60s cameras and black and white images have so many possibilities.

Anyway, as you can see, Dusty is black and white!

 

 

I’ve been out of circulation in the blogosphere for a while, partly health (lost 6kg+ in five days) then catching up on life so writing as such has taken a bit of a back seat – more on that below. I did manage to get to the meeting I organised with leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, prior to the general election here. She was as impressive as I hoped she would be.

Making inroads into the second book in her ‘Alpha’ trilogy, fellow writer/blogger Kristina Steiner inspired me to look more closely at my ‘long short story’, which had reached novella length. I decided that perhaps I might achieve my aims by chopping off the current ‘ending/non-ending’ and attempt a trilogy. It’s early days but I’m working on it. A second factor was reading ‘The bestseller code‘ by Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers, lent to me by a member of our writers’ club, Kayla. I’ve often said I have no ambition to write a bestseller but this is such a fascinating read and has so much to point anyone towards writing something really good, which I do have the ambition to do.

About half the full complement of our writers’ club at the meeting today. Far left our founder, Ruxandra, then clockwise Marjorie, Helen, my empty seat, David, John, Kayla and Emma. Another two, Kelly and Becky, joined us later.

At the most recent meeting of our writers’ club I said that, for me, responding over two years to a theme set at each meeting with a poem or short story had exhausted its usefulness and in the future I was likely just to present whatever had come into my head. Then, on 23rd May I awoke to the news from Manchester. I had to write something and the theme we had been set for the meeting on 3rd June, ‘broken mirrors’, just happened to fit in with my thoughts. It turned out that another member, Helen, had had a similar reaction. So this is what I read to the club earlier today.

Shards

Shards of shattered mirrors in Manchester
Reflecting eyes of more millions of children
Blasted to hell by bombs rained upon them.
In Iraq by lies transformed to millions of dollars
Swelling the account of our very own war criminal.
In Syria the children pick among their own shards
Before in desperation leaving for another hell
While we eat cake and perhaps text £5 to feel better.
Thousands of eyes appeal from Mediterranian depths.
From Eritrea to Yemen the children cry bewildered,
Shattered by man’s greedy technology
Or simply left unnourished.
While we lust after the latest iPhone.

Should we not pray for our very own mighty Thor
To swing his hammer one last time
To scatter the shards of what we dare to call our civilisation
Beyond recall
And begin to build a kinder, caring, loving being to inhabit this universe?

You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

How to illustrate this post? The ‘ Happy Bunnies’, a special needs class I taught in Romania in 1994 made my heart bleed yet gave me so much joy every lesson. Here with me on a picnic, at the famous citadel of Stephen the Great in Suceava

My soul rarely bleeds out on my blog, more often in short pieces I write for relating in our writers’ club. Recently, however, as a result of an unexpected increased passion for ‘creative writing’, I’ve been exploring more writers’ blogs and have been staggered just how many blogger writers lay their souls bare – beautifully.

Many do it through poetry and what is really surprising is that many of these are not from bloggers in English speaking countries but nevertheless they are writing in English. The only language other than my native English I know reasonably well is Romanian so I can say some of the Romanian writers manage to overlay their English writings with the extraordinary beauty of the Romanian language. I suspect the same is true of some of the writing in English from India, which often also has an extraordinary beauty of its own. In both cases the English is frequently near perfect – better than many native English speakers!

I was particularly struck very recently by the final paragraph in a post from a Romanian blogger, Iulia Halatz, a teacher of English in Bucharest (moreover, she runs her own business – check her out at https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com). Here’s the final paragraph of her post ‘tyrannosaurus writing’:

“To write with the truth of pain in your mouth is gruesome poetry…You’ll have to cut out your heart with every word and show it to the world, then hope it will heal. This is how the light gets in, also the dark. To acknowledge fear, defeat, despair and pretend serenity of a lesson learned while patching up the wounds is…Life.”

As someone much influenced by Leonard Cohen in my younger days I found the bow (or curtsy) to him striking. It made me think maybe I should write posts now and then where I open a few cracks, to let the light in.


PS. If the picture of my ‘Happy Bunnies’ used to illustrate this post intrigues you, perhaps you’ll find a long post I wrote four years ago , which has quite a bit of information about experiences teaching English in Romania 1993-94 (and using internet before we had Windows), when my heart was bleeding almost every day, though often with joy, interesting. Be warned, I ramble on about other things though. 

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