Wednesday, February 18, 2009

THE BUSH FIRES WHICH RAGED THROUGH SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA HAVE CLAIMED MANY LIVES, my heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones, friends and colleagues as well as their homes, pets, livestock and possessions. There is so little we in the UK can do to help, but this is a step in that direction: Victorian Bushfire Appeal


I am fascinated by local history and although I have never lived in the East End of London, for many years I sat as a magistrate in Bow, and like thousands of others I have flown in and out of London City Airport several times, so the area is not completely unfamiliar to me, but my knowledge was patchy to say the least.

Recently a friend recommended I read Silvertown: An East End Family Memoir by Melanie McGrath, and what a wonderful book it turned out to be.

Written almost as though it were a novel, the author documents the lives of her maternal grandparents, particularly her grandmother Jenny Page, who lived and worked in Poplar and Silvertown from the start of the 20th century. The reader is transported to a way of life now gone, to a part of London that has changed so much that it is virtually unrecognisable. That part of east London was dominated by the huge docks along the northern edge of the Thames. In those days London was one of the greatest shipping ports in the world. Cargoes and people arrived from every part of the British Empire and beyond; manufactured goods were sent down to London and exported to all points of the compass. The area was a hive of activity, with a vibrant cockney culture, and the story of Jenny and Len Page covers the heyday, decline and eventual extinction of the docklands community.

I became totally absorbed by their life and times: the horror of Jenny having all her teeth pulled out by a local butcher when she was 17 to avoid future dental expenses; the terror of the Blitz when night after night the East End was pounded with bombs and incendiaries, and thousands were killed; and the seemingly bizarre medical treatment of TB which was a common disease in those days. All the life of the East End flows through the pages of the book, the crime, the scams, the unthinking xenophobia and anti-semitism, nights out at the dog tracks, the hunger in childhood and during the two wars, and the struggle to keep up appearances.

Jenny Page’s life began when women wore corsets, horses pulled hackney carriages, and most streets were unlit. To be an East Ender then was to be among the lowest of London’s poor, and yet she never thought of herself as low. She died aged 91, a tiny woman with no teeth who had borne two children but had never seen a naked man; a woman who had been born in London but had never visited the Tower or St.Paul’s. An unlikely heroine, very ordinary and yet totally compelling. A true Londoner.

Rated 5*


Babies have been hitting the headlines in no uncertain terms just recently, and none of the headlines have been doing my blood pressure any good.
The photograph, prominently published in all the newspapers, of the 13 year old boy beside the baby he has apparently fathered (and I have my doubts about whether he is in fact the father and so have others) has triggered some very extreme reactions from the British Public. Some think that the lad should be arrested by the Police charged with statutory rape and severely punished (in Britain it is a criminal offence to have sex with a girl who is under sixteen), some feel that this proves that the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket, and others seem to think that with supporting parents' support it will all be okay in the end. I hope it is, but I am not holding my breath.
My first reaction when I saw the photographs was to feel very sad for the baby who may well end up in care, and sad for the boy and girl neither of whom seem to realise the magnitude of bringing a child into the world.
The sadness was then overwhelmed with anger; anger at the parents of both boy and girl - who had let this whole thing happen by not exercising proper parental care and control of their children and then sold the story to the tabloid press; anger at The Sun newspaper for cynically using two vulnerable youngsters in the most sensationalist way in order to boost circulation figures; anger at the wishy-washy attitude to proper and appropriate sex education in this country which could help prevent such situations, and finally, anger that yet again we taxpayers will have to pick up the costs.

How on earth do we start explaining to children why they should wait until they are grown up before they have children of their own? There is a wonderful children's book called Flour Babies by Anne Fine. It is about a class of 10 year old boys who take part in a science project. They are each given a 3Kg bag of flour and are told that for the next three weeks they must treat it exactly as if it were a real live baby. They are given a set of rules:

1) The flour babies must be kept clean and dry at all times. All fraying, staining and leakage of stuffing will be taken very seriously indeed.

2) Flour babies will be put on the official scales twice a week to check for any weight loss that might indicate casual neglect or maltreatment, or any weight gain that might indicate tampering or damp.

3) No flour baby may be left unattended at any time, night or day. If you must be out of sight of your flour baby, even for a short time, a responsible babysitter must be arranged.

4) You must keep a Baby Book, and write in it daily. Each entry should be no shorter than three full sentences, and no longer than five pages.

5) Certain persons (who shall not be named until the experiment is over) shall make it their business to check on the welfare of the flour babies and the keeping of the above rules. These people may be parents, other pupils, or members of the staff or the public.

The boys quickly learn just how much hard work it is looking after a baby, and how being responsible for one changes your life, you are no longer free to do as you please.

What a pity that coupled with some basic sex education, all children are not made to look after a flour baby.

And as for that woman in California who, with no income of her own and six children under the age of seven, deliberately goes and has eight embryos, conceived by IVF, implanted....don't get me started, I might explode.


Every year I make something edible to give people as a Christmas gift, and last year it was these crunchy cucumber pickles. They proved so popular I have had several requests for more, so yesterday I set about making another batch. In these financially straightened times, a simple Ploughman's Lunch is an inexpensive way of feeding guests on a Saturday, and these add a touch of class when served in place of the commercially produced brown pickles or dubious chutneys. For those who don't live in the UK, I should explain that a Ploughman's (as it is usually called) is a platter of fresh bread or a crusty roll, a lump of cheese - usually Stilton or Cheddar - some chutney or pickle, and an apple, washed down with a mug of beer. It is served in pubs up and down the land, and the quality is VERY variable They are also delicious in sandwiches and with hamburgers, and are simplicity itself to make.


This will make about 1.5kg

Prepare several glass jars by washing in hot soapy water, rinsing in hot water and drying in the oven at 100

900g small cucumbers

2 smallish onions
50g salt
350ml cider vinegar
350g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons celery seeds

teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon black peppercorns

Cut the cucumbers into 5mm slices.
Halve and finely slice the onions.
Place the cucumber slices and onion into a large bowl.
Add the salt and mix well so that all the vegetables are covered with salt.
Place a plate inside the bowl, pressing down on the cucumber mixture (I weigh the plate down with another bowl containing two or three tins of food) so that it is really compressed. Leave it for 3 hours.
After that time there will be a lot of liquid in the bowl. Drain it off, and rinse the cucumber and onions under cold running water, drain again.
Put the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric and peppercorns into a large saucepan or casserole (do not use aluminium or copper pans for this recipe).
Bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to help dissolve the sugar.
Add the drained cucumber and onions; as soon as the mixture comes to the boil again, r
remove the pan from the heat.
Spoon the pickle into the warm, prepared jars, making sure the vegetables are covered with the liquid.
Cover with airtight, vinegar-proof lids and store for at least 1 month before using.


Bybee said...

My head is still whirling from watching the OctoMom interview the other evening!

nick said...

I can't believe the mass hysteria that's erupted over the 13 year old father. So he's very young to be a father, but there are plenty more "accidental" fathers and plenty more who don't realise the magnitude of what they're doing, even in their twenties or thirties. Will he do any better or worse than the others? Who knows? If he gets plenty of help and support, he could be as a competent a parent as any other.

The parents who really concern me are the ones who're addicts of some kind and will not only fail to look after their children properly but probably pass on their addictions.

I like the idea of getting children to look after a flour baby though. That would be very instructive.

nick said...

I see the High Court has now banned any further media reporting on the family, as the intrusion is making their life impossible. A draconian decision, but necessary in the circumstances.

Jeanne said...

Hah - I knew you'd be ranting about the 13yo father this week :) I could hear your rant developing in my head as I read the stories!

I have to say that I fall firmly in the camp of those who say that this case demonstrates everything that is wrong in Britain today:
- kids growing up with absolutely no parental control or concept of what is appropriate behaviour
- as you say, wishy-washy attitudes to sex education leading to this. I see all the anti-sex-ed people are very quiet at this point, they who say that detailed sex education of young kids will lead to pregancies like this. These two seem to have managed it with no sex-ed at all!
- young girls who think nothing of sleeping with loads of boys (see the potential fathers crawling out of the woodwork!)
- the absolute obsession with the media and 15 minutes of fame and selling stories. I see there are now accusations being leveled that the girl in fact knew that an older boy was the father (as far as she could know!!) but was told to finger the younger boy as the father as it would make a bigger media splash and ensure that rags like The Sun would pay more for the story.

They think their biggest problem is uncontrolled immigration?? Hah. I feel dreadfully for mum, dad (whoever he may be) and baby - what sort of life can she look forward to??

I live very close to Silvertown in Beckton - in fact right across the dock from London City Airport! Definitely want to get hold of that book.

Teuchter said...

I hear that the 13 y/o father has joined Fathers4Justice.

He's not really old enough to go on the demonstrations - but at least he has the Spiderman suit