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Posts tagged ‘Beatrix Potter’

The minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight

As previously noted I am fresh and frisky from celebrating my first Thanksgiving.  To mark this momentous, and possibly newsworthy occasion I set about making a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.  I like the idea of Thanksgiving and would be very happy if more nations adopted the notion.  Pondering, however fleetingly to reflect on what one has to be thankful for can never be a bad thing, surely?   After one of the most epic Googlings of all time I concluded that this year I would be cooking two turkeys in the space of a month and a day because it is unforgiveable to not serve turkey for Thanksgiving and equally de trop to forsake the fowl for Christmas in  England where we will be celebrating this year.  Having settled on what I thought would be a good enough array of trimmings to sink a dry-docked battleship and simultaneously feed the navy on the leftovers I set about the bird.  The fact is that I have never ever been knowingly under-catered and being in this land of the copious plateful  it surely would be hugely rude to break my habit.

Turkey then.  The first challenge was to find one small enough for HB2 and I to eat on our own and not have the poor fellow (and The Bean who is NOT poor) gobbling nothing BUT Gobbler for the rest of November, the entire month of December and ad nauseum (potentially literally) beyond.  But find one I did and once I had apologised to it profusely and several times that it had not been pardoned by The President and instead had found itself in my poshed up paws, I brined it and roasted it exactly as I always do at Christmas. We don’t possess a roasting pan so we bought two disposable ones and cleverly fastened them together to form a sort of dutch oven with the aid of bulldog clips pinched from top secret paperwork Two Brains is working on.   The turkey was duly ready on time, The Bean had welded herself to the the oven door by the snout, intoxicated with the heady cooking aromas of a bird that weighed 1.5 times a Bean.  We lifted it onto its plate and one leg fell off. Fortunately my deft husband managed to snatch it in mid-air before it reached the shark-like jaws of the waiting Bean.  We managed to wedge the leg vaguely in it’s original position and if you didn’t look too closely it looked only slightly inebriated and wholly enticing.  I should own up that our own impending inebria helped this vision enormously.

Some while later and utterly turkey-comatose  we drowsily talked of Christmas.  For what sort of a Christmas would it be without a fine turkey bird bronzed and gleaming like a drumsticked Olympian God?  Well actually last year we were only three for the feast so we had guinea fowl and two years prior to that, our first married Christmas, and alone together in France, we  had a collective rush of blood to the head and opted for a fish.  A turbot in fact which we bore enthusiastically from the fish store on Christmas Eve, like Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria preparing to set about the unfortunate Tom Kitten with suet and string. On Christmas Day  it occurred to us that we had not asked the chirpy girl on the fish counter to faire vider le poisson (to wit, gut the beauty) which would not be a problem for either of us except neither had the teeniest clue where a flat fish stashes it’s innards.  Hallelujah and pass the tambourine for Google …. a swift search revealed that they are, indeed not remotely where one would expect them to be.   Standing majestic and mighty  over the fish like Christopher Lee in role as a High Priest preparing to slaughter a virgin Two Brains plunged our sharpest knife from on high with lethal accuracy and our sharpest knife rebounded like a comedy rubber blade off it’s innocuous lily white skin as though it were a trampolene.  After a short pause I rather tentatively suggested scissors.  I’m not too humble to share that this was, frankly, a moment of genius.  The fish didn’t stand a chance against my snippers and I rather smugly and, may I say, with positively surgical dexterity, cut it open and  emptied it’s vital workings.  That complete, we stuffed the neat little cavity with herbs and citrus and stood reverently surveying it’s  buttered and lemoned and parsleyed allure … it had the air of a slightly macabre still-life …. strangely attractive (something I was once called by a drunk in  a friend’s living room and which I embraced as a compliment – one must cherish such delights from wherever they stem, I have always felt).  So there’s one personal myth burst … I have merrily told everyone over the years that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a turkey bird but clearly my tongue is forked …the truth is that two out of three of our most recent Christmas meals have been devoid of the indispensible gigantic fowl.

You might ask what has prompted this little sojourn into my various kitchens and indeed what value you have gained (except to know who to call if you ever need to gut a turbot or stick a stray leg back on a turkey) …. the answer lies in this week’s weekly photo challenge titled ‘It’s Not This Time of Year Without ….’ of which a cornucopia of sparkling entries here.

What can I not do without as I join the merry carnage that constitutes the season of goodwill and until this year was all about Christmas but now includes Thanksgiving too in my half-baked paradise?

Snow.  I absolutely must have snow.  Or at least I must hope it will snow.  And that is really what it is all about for me.  The notion and hope of decency and delight.  The idea that people can be kind to one another.  The concept that sharing is the right thing to do.  I have always included waifs and strays at my table.  And I always will.  Maybe in the run up to Christmas I will include a few of their stories.  Not because I have a trumpet to toot but because humble stories can speak to good hearts.  And because a humble story is where it all started ….


PS:  The essential PS.  The title is from ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ by the masterly Dr Seuss.  My third daughter can still recite it word perfectly having done it as her School Christmas Play at the age of 9 and her younger sister can recite it word perfectly because she sat in on all the rehearsals waiting for this inevitably late mummy to pant up the school drive to pick them both up.  The very end goes like this:

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
And what happened then? Whoville they say,
That the Grinch's small heart Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light,
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he, HE HIMSELF! The Grinch carved the roast beast!

This perfectly Christmassy image of snow covered holly was taken in Cantal.  In February.  Holly is called ‘houx’ in French (pronounced oo) which I always take every opportunity to say because it amuses me.


He digs and he delves – you can see for yourselves

It’s been a while since I wrote anything more than a few lines to accompany a picture but – now there’s a thing … have I been away, or have I been home?  I think here is home so I must have been away but then again I was staying with my mother and spending Christmas with family so I must have been home because my definition of home was always where my family is.  And Two Brains made it by the skin of his teeth on Christmas Eve arriving 3 hours before we all sat down to Christmas Dinner which we do on Christmas Eve partly because we realised that one of our daughters was eating three Christmas dinners on Christmas Day and had to remain dry because she and her partner were driving to his mother, then his father and then me and then home (possibly to a turkey sandwich) and another has a fiance whose mother would fall on her own sword if her precious boy were not at her Christmas table (I say nothing) and partly because 25th December is Two Brains birthday.  So the simple solution is to follow the French lead and that is what we do leaving everyone, in theory, happy.    Anyway, enough familial bliss – I was in England.  Land of my birth.  And increasingly less familiar to me … I wonder if other ex-patriots experience this out of body-ness when visiting the old country, wherever that happens to be.


I lived for years close to various points on the Ridgeway and walked regularly on the section from Streatley-on-Thames to Uffington.  When my parents moved to the place my mother still lives, I walked sections of it each weekend with my father and our dogs.  I have walked it with children, with friends, with dogs.  It is a very familiar path.  Two Brains and I and two dogs, because The Bean’s best friend Brian who belongs to my eldest daughter was staying too, walked a bit each day.


Brian – a small dog with the sweetest heart


The Bean – a tiny dog with a big heart

We walked somewhere between 6 and 12 km each time (the distance being un aller-retour, a return, to allow for leaving the car).  I wanted to walk this path full of memories with my husband and it was happy – windy, rainy, bitterly cold, foggy, sunny we had all weathers which makes us both happy.  Two small dogs and then just one, after Brian returned home, snootling and rootling and sniffing the air and the ground which is generally what makes a dog happy.  We would return to my mothers house after an hour or three soaked and muddy some days but we had a very contented time.  Except ….

Somewhere between  Wantage, once called Wanating and birthplace of King Alfred (he of the frazzled cakes) and Sparsholt we spied something on the fence ahead.  Moles.  I am very wed to moles.  I grew up in the village in Berkshire in which Kenneth Grahame lived the last 8 years of his life and he died there in 1932.  He attended the same school as my father in Oxford.  I, like so many children, grew up knowing and loving the anthropamorphasised animals he created. ‘The Wind in The Willows’ was read to me when I couldn’t read, then read and read and read when I could, and then again read to my own.  And Mole was my particular favourite – so thrilled with the world outside his dark tunnels, his portly little velvety form was one I longed to hug. I do understand that many find moles a nuisance.  They dig and they create earthmounds with positively ruthless efficiency and ruin many a lawn (that overwhelming obsession of the English, let’s not forget) and they don’t give a damn about crops in a field.  So long as the earth is brim full of worms they are happy chappies and will keep diggering on.  Actually here in Cantal I am convinced the moles are genetically modified – or at the very least pumping steroids … their mounds are immense!  We have them all over the right side of the lawn though oddly never the left.  The Bean is very keen to find one and is often found standing four square with nose poking down a hole in the top of a mound where the mole has come up out of his laberynth of tunnels early in the morning or at dusk.

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The thing about these moles though, in case you thought that they were some sort of genetic mutation that dwells above ground, the thing is that they were dead.  Hanging on the fence, tied with yellow binding.  To say the sight was gruesome is an understatement.  It was a sharp and frosty morning and everything had that eery beauty that comes when the only movement is the twinkling of the ice particles in the hazy sun trying to break through a shroud of cloud.  The moles too were frozen, their little black coats glinting with freezing moisture.  Stiff.  Cold.  Dead.  Unfortunately our Opinel (the ubiquitous knife in a huge variety of sizes, ours with a 4″ blade, that no Frenchman would be without) was in the car about 2 miles back so we couldn’t follow our hearts and at least cut the little creatures down and lay them somewhere dignified.  Out of sight of, incidentally, the many walkers, riders and particularly families with children who frequent the path.  I was disgusted.  Choked.  Angry actually.  For heavens sakes what is the point?  And yes, I do know that in days of yore the mole catcher would hang the moles as proof to the landowner of what he had earned and to ensure that he didn’t try and bill for same mole twice.  But this is 2015 (I think it was January 2nd) and I do not believe for one moment that any landowner now uses such feudal methods in fact I’m not convinced that there even are travelling mole catchers these days.  No – this was just some foul blood lusting individual or group who thought it would be clever to hang their barbaric catch out for all to see.  Or perhaps they were crass enough to think that they would put other moles off digging there … not understanding that they are blind. Before you shout me down – I actually found a thread on the internet that had me quite helpless … a thread about this very practice in which one person states that it is to put other moles off and another points out that they are blind.  Person one says ‘what – every single mole?  I don’t think so’ and the other patiently points out that they live underground.  Person one says ‘why?’ patience says ‘Because. They. Are. MOLES!’  As I live and breath it is entirely unbelievable.


And now I am back home, because on reflection I know this is home and wherever my family are, they are always in my heart.  Here it is still hunting season – I have to be judicious when choosing my walks particularly at weekends because I don’t want to be shot.  And neither does The Bean.  The French have a reputation for shooting anything that moves but le chasse is strictly governed here.  And I live in an area far off the beaten track where undoubtedly folk could break the rules if they wanted to.  But they don’t.  The Ridgeway is a well walked path and I wish the Police success in catching the culprits of this heinous act if they so wish.  I know they try to stamp out illegal hare coursing but The Law says that you can only prosecute if you catch the perpetrators red handed.  Not for the first time in my life, I fear that The Law is an ass.


Presumably this was aimed at the moles ….

 PS:  The following day we walked from Sparsholt to Uffington.  The White Horse here is the oldest chalk horse carved into a hillside in Britain and there is Dragon Hill which, legend has it and I like to believe is actually the body of the dragon slain by George himself.  And there is Uffington Castle … an iron-age hillfort.  We walked around it and I was heartened to see that the moles had invaded and clearly conquered the castle.  Sweet victory to the little men in black velvet as they diggory diggory delvet according to Beatrix Potter in Apply Dapply’s nursery rhymes from whence the title comes.