Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Charles Dickens, (1812-1870)

I enjoyed several glasses of champagne yesterday as it was not only my birthday, but much more importantly, the first anniversary of this blog. I can hardly believe a year has passed since I began. I've learned so much and yet I still have such a lot to learn. Thanks to all my friends for their comments and encouragement.


Burning Bright is the fifth book by Tracey Chevalier whose first novel ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ became an international bestseller.

The title is taken from the second line of the poem “TheTyger” by the 18th century poet and artist William Blake, and Blake features as one of the characters in the book.
Set in 1792, this is the story of two youngsters,
Jem Kellaway a country lad from Dorset whose family move to London following the sudden death of Jem’s older brother; and Maggie Butterfield a feisty 12 year old from a wheeler-dealer family of Londoners who live in Lambeth. The two meet when the Kellaways arrive in Lambeth and settle into a couple of rented rooms where Jem’s father hopes to continue his trade as a cair-maker. William Blake and his wife live in the next-door house, and Jem, his sister Maisie and Maggie get to know them. Blake has just finished printing the 27 plates for his book of poems “Songs of Innocence” and is working on the companion piece “Songs of Experience” and at the end of the book Maggie and Jem are given copies. He and his wife live an unconventional life by the standards of the time, across the Channel France is in the throes of its bloody and violent revolution, and Blake supports many of the ideals of the revolutionaries; there is a high level of confusion and anxiety in London, with the authorities fearful that these radical ideas may spread to England and threaten the monarchy.
Meanwhile Jem’s family gets drawn into the world of Astley's Circus, one of the great entertainments of the time, and based on a permanent site in Lambeth, just across the river from Westminster.

Jem and Maggie are on the cusp of adolescence and are finding themselves attracted to one another, however Maggie is hiding a dark secret and when Jem finds out what it is, it drives them apart.

Chevalier has evoked the sights and sounds of 18th century London, and how huge, noisy and frightening it must have been for country folk, and she recreates Astley’s Circus brilliantly; however I did find the story somewhat disjointed and Blake, whom I had expected to be the main character after reading the pre-publication press, has little more than a walk-on part. Of course Blake was a very complex and subtle poet and much of his work is not easy for the un-tutored reader to comprehend, so I think it was a good idea to concentrate solely on his Songs of Innocence and Experience. But then I felt she made a meal of the metaphor that Jem, when he first arrives in London, is Innocence, and that Maggie is Experience; a metaphor which she extends to country-life versus city-life; and it is emphasised that Maggie and Jem together are moving from childhood innocence towards adult experience. Okay, okay, I get the message.

I could see this book being turned into a BBC costume drama, and almost felt it was written with such an outcome in mind. It lacked the fresh immediacy of Girl With a Pearl Earring which I like thousands of others really enjoyed, and from which I gained a real sense of who Vermeer was, whereas after reading Burning Bright I still had no real image of William Blake in my mind.

Rated 3*


If you are determined to stay a virgin until you marry, well bully for you.... if that is what rocks your boat; but is it necessary to have a special ring to wear, and to make a fuss about it? Is it really of any interest to anyone else? is it the business of anyone else? No, no, and no.

Just DO it, just stay a virgin, don't make a bloody great song and dance about it.

And please don't waste court time and public money by bringing a case that your human rights are being violated. Saying a purity ring is a sign of Christianity and you must be allowed to wear it as a religious symbol is a load of poppycock. Thank goodness the High Court has given a clear judgement in the case brought by Lydia Playfoot who insisted that her school had no right to stop her wearing a purity ring and that it interfered with her fundamental right to practice her religion. I thought it was quite interesting that her father, a Christian minister is one of the directors of the company The Silver Ring Thing (UK), and her mother is the company secretary. Hmm, both parents on the payroll. Quite a lot of merchandise on their website. This is religious crap at its worst.


I thought we might have a quick window of sunshine today and be able to have lunch outside in the garden, no such luck unfortunately so we ended up eating inside again. This is one of my summer staples, so easy, so colourful and so adaptable. I got a little worried that I was mucking about with a classic recipe and foodies would tell me off, so I did some research, and finally the sainted Jane Grigson's words convinced me that there are no hard and fast rules for making


4 large free-range eggs
6-8 small new potatoes
3 large ripe but firm tomatoes
6-8 anchovies
12 black olives
1 tin tuna
3 small crisp lettuces such as Little Gem, Cos or Romaine
Parsley, roughly chopped
French dressing

Optional extras:

Tablespoonful of capers
Handful of fine green beans,
3-4 spring onions, sliced up

Put the eggs into cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain and peel. Boil or steam the new potatoes until just cooked through and cut into quarters. If using green beans, blanch them in boiling water so they are cooked, but still al dente.
Core and chop the tomatoes into chunks, drain the tuna and the anchovies.
Tear the lettuce into manageable bits and put into a large shallow bowl, scatter with half the tomato, the potatoes, spring onion and beans. Flake the tuna over everything , cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise, and scatter them over the salad, followed by the anchovies, olives and capers together with the remaining tomato and scatter the parsley over everything. Toss with the dressing immediately prior to serving.

All you need with this is some crusty French bread, and a glass of either rosé or red wine.


Charlotte said...

Happy Birthday to you and your blog! Wishing you both a successful and happy year.

Having seen your salad, I've just decided what I would like for lunch.

MOTB said...

Congratulations - and here's to many more years of blogging and enjoying life

Teuchter said...

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary too. Here's to many more of both.

The news that chastity child's parents have a financial interest in those rings adds an interesting dimension to the story. Who's meeting the costs of bringing that case to court?

I heard said child interviewed on R5 a few weeks ago and felt at the time that she was following a script.

Bybee said...

Happy birthday to you and The 3Rs!

Thanks for the review of Burning Bright.

Those purity rings are pretty high on my ick-o-meter. If I were a teenager, I wouldn't want anyone speculating on if I was doing THAT or not! Nacho business! I was thinking that she was a dope -- she could just wear it on a chain inside her shirt, but then when you mentioned that her folks merchandised the stupid things, it all made sense.

Salad Nicoise -- how delicious, and how strange! This was the featured recipe at Yahoo Food a few days ago, and yes, I copied it. I'm glad to have yours as well.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and am always checking to see if you have a new read, rant or recipe! Keep it up - I don't know how you fit it into your hectic life! Capetonian

Anonymous Bosch said...

Thanks for visiting my blog
and bringing yours into my world .
I have to agree with your Rant =)

Around My Kitchen Table said...

Happy birthday to you, squashed tomatoes and stew (oh God, I'm eight again!). As for your rant, I so agree. This obnoxious family is just trying to get publicity for its business, Silver Ring Thing. I expect you've read today all about the shady lives of some of the organisation's members - one is a lingerie model who is 'living in sin' - the ring obviously didn't keep her pure until marriage! And the live-in boyfriend of SRT co-founder Denise Pfeiffer is a leading British National Party activist. Lovely bunch.