Sunday, October 01, 2006

SQUIRRELS ARE GOING TO BE HUNGRY, at least they will be in much of southern England this autumn. The two giant Horse Chestnut trees at the end of our garden seem to be suffering badly, and according to everything I've read, this is because of a combination of drought and a moth called cameraria ohridella, or horse chestnut leaf miner which was first identified in Wimbledon in 2002 and is spreading rapidly. Apparently it won't necessarily kill the trees, but it does make their foliage turn horribly brown and crinkly and even worse, they don't develop conkers. No conkers ? what will small boys do in school playgrounds ? ( I don't really care about grey squirrels - as far as I am concerned they are rats with bushy tails.) Will this change the English landscape - we watch and wait.


The Awakening has been called the American Madame Bovary, and Kate Chopin certainly writes as beautifully as Flaubert. It paints a picture of the position of a married woman in Louisiana society at the end of the 19th Century, and how Edna Pontellier, mother of two little boys, a respectable, wealthy young protestant woman married to a Creole business man and living in New Orleans, falls in love with another man. This rush of feeling awakens in her her sense of self, her desire to be an independent individual, not anchored or defined by marriage and motherhood. Because this desire is impossible for her to achieve in her society the book ends with her swimming out to sea, and presumably drowning. This was Kate Chopin's 2nd novel, and when published it caused a terrific stir and damning reviews for its scandalous depiction of female marital infidelity, so much so that Chopin was unable to get anything else published. The book became forgotten, and was only re-discovered in the 1970s, when it was realised that here was a superb piece of American literature. Chopin anticipates the themes of Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" by at least 30 years, and her insight into the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship is both perceptive and honestly expressed. When reading it it seemed a very "modern" novel, and only details of the places and speech reminded me about the time it was written. The forward to this edition carries a warning sentence for politically correct readers "Sensitive readers should be forewarned that the text in places contains racial references characteristic of the era, which may be deemed offensive by modern standards."


Today I received an email (from some one I know reasonably well) requesting that I cut and paste the text of the message and send it on to others, an email chain letter in other words. It was about the two boys who killed the toddler Jamie Bulger back in 1993 when they were 10 years old. It struck me as a bit odd because some of the statements in the email didn’t match what little I remembered of the case and its aftermath. So I Googled it, and what do you know, this chain email was FOUR years old, and seems for some reason to have been revived and is doing the rounds again. The internet is able to keep the wheels of spite and vengeance turning.

Unlike most chain emails which promise wealth or happiness or some such (I delete them instantly) this email purported to be from outraged/concerned/anxious citizens who felt a great miscarriage of justice was occurring, which they help to put right by raising such a wave of public anger that the powers-that-be would change their plans. The email claimed that millions of pounds were being spent to give both boys new lives in Australia*, and that because the courts (in the person of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss) have granted them life-long anonymity, they would enjoy all the advantages of freedom and thus have profited from their ghastly crime.

I did not like the tone of the email at all, it implied that they should NEVER be released, and that despite their age and background history at the time when they committed this dreadful murder, they were irredeemably evil and almost that it was wrong that they should be alive and have grown up when Jamie was dead. These arguments sicken me. What happened to that poor little boy was horrible, and the pain and grief of his parents and his family can only be imagined.
However, 10 year old children can and do change, by the time I was 20 I would have had difficulty remembering my 10 year old self and my 10 year old thoughts and feelings, wouldn’t you?

Can’t the people who vent so much hatred and spleen on these two boys imagine that they will probably be very different now? For a start they are no longer children, they are now grown up. It would be wrong for society to be so punitive as to believe that there was never any hope of redemption or rehabilitation when children commit grievous crimes. This whole chain email smacks of an inchoate desire for vengeance and retribution – do they want the boys executed, or in chains in a dungeon for 70 years?

From my Googling I saw that over the past four years the red-top tabloids have been stirring it up like crazy about this case. One or two papers claim that one of the young men has applied to join the army and that this is a dreadful thing which should never ever be permitted. Why?
The Sun
claims that the other young man is gay, and lives with his gay lover , while the Sunday Mirror claims he has had at least two girlfriends and has fathered a child who he visits regularly. All these claims are consistent in referring to the two men as “monsters”, “evil”, “dangerous”. The truth is they know nothing substantive about either of them, and even if they did they are not legally allowed to print it. Thank goodness.

Please, please let common sense and decency prevail and let this whole matter drop from the prurient public arena.

And if YOU get this poisonous email , bin it, and refer the sender to this blog post.

*All untrue, and anyway the whole email is woefully out of date.


Oat crunchies are similar to a crispy flapjack, and are ubiquitous in South Africa, you can buy them in markets and at farm stalls, the supermarkets sell their own commercially made brands, but better still you can make them yourself. They are dead easy to make and keep well in an airtight container. There are many varieties of Oat Crunchies but this is the bog- standard recipe which you can easily change or modify according to your own personal preferences. Sometimes I add half a cup of raisins, or half a cup of chopped dried apricots. Or you could add a handful of sunflower seeds, or some chopped nuts - whatever takes your fancy. Ideal for lunch boxes and padkos (food for a journey), my family love them.


Pre-heat oven to 150°C Makes about 18 pieces

110g dessicated coconut
170g plain flour
220g oats
245g sugar
Half a teaspn salt.
5ml (1 tspn) ground cinnamon
180g butter

12.5 ml golden syrup
5ml (1 teaspn) bicarbonate of soda stirred into 25ml milk.

Line a large swiss-roll tin with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and syrup together (this is quickest in the microwave).

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Stir the bicarb of soda into the milk and then into the warm butter mixture, and when it foams up stir the whole lot into the dry ingredients. Flatten the mixture into the prepared tin, and use your hands to make sure it is evenly spread and well pressed in. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until pale golden brown.
Cut into squares whilst still hot and then allow to cool in the tin.

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