Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Christmas Escapade ~ By Shadow

While I was enjoying a quiet Christmas in India, my dog Shadow in India was having his own idea of a good time. He and Barney had been invited over to Cambridge for the evening meal. Not long after arrival, a small group took him out for a walk in the chilly streets and ice-packed frosty air. All went well Shadow was the much-loved darling, the centre of attention, luxuriating in the fuss that was made of him.
Back home, joints were rubbed and warmth crept into limbs as the fire of the Christmas spirit was kindled. Guests continued to arrive and as the merry throng chatted and greeted, the flames caught hold and started to blaze until the bell went.

One guest entered and this little blighter bolted out unto the dark frosty night. All rushed out onto their bikes calling his name while our host, who was right in the middle of cooking the meal, became frantic with worry, carefully tending the oven and wondering whether anyone would return to eat it.

Words fail me at this point, the point at which such behaviour in humans amounts to preposterous behaviour, our Shadow turned the situation round and will now relate his own version of the events, in the words of his Barney his amanuensis:

"I made 7 people unforgettable Christmas 2009 last night. When Les opened the door at 7.30pm to invite his guests I sneaked and rushed out like lighting on the streets of Cambridge even though they took me for 2 hour walk earlier in the afternoon. They all were worried and didn't know what to do. Barney was running around in his slippers and Les was looking for me in the bike even Phil who left the house in the middle of preparing food and was searching for me, including one of the guest. I know they were worried sick ;-) . At last Barney found me near a close after about half an hour and they were relieved. Even after this little naughty play (Don't tell to anybody but I did enjoy my run as I was off the lead and I don't get that many chances!) they all loved me to pieces nobody; was scolding and they were always cuddling me. So I had lot of fun. I even had a Christmas present of Pedigree Schmackos Limited Edition Turkey flavour which Les & Phil got for me. So I am happy here. You look after yourself."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scolding till the Mouth Hurts an ancient, almost fabled Tamil saying which, even in this day and age, carries the force of a dragon, when administered in carefully titrated doses. Too little, and it will have no effect and time is wasted; too much and wounding may occur, or else a cut-off which shuts the door to the ears and is equally ineffective. Such scolding can not, and should not, evolve into a rant. And above all, they work most effectively when there is little or no self-interest at the heart of the admonishment. They're when the recipient comes to see that prudent heeding of harshly delivered words serves their family and children best.

Take the case of little Sandhiya here:

Sandiya has became afflicted a couple of years ago with fevers and shaking, night-sweats, and been waking up in the night with shortness of breath. Her schooling has suffered and for a little girl of nine she has been right through the mill of suffering. We've had her in the CMC Hospital at Vellore more times than we can remember, and even after poring over the doctors' reports and prescriptions which have been sent to me over the seasons, it has been impossible to determine what the diagnosis of her ailment is. I've sent the mails with the scans to friends whose children are now doctors, and the same report has come back to me that, based on what they've seen, it's really not possible to say what the problem is. And so the situation goes on.

The other day she came into my room and stood by the bed. I took her hand and felt along her arm, noticing how cold it was. It's always like this, and I've taken to assuming that the chilly skin is wrapped up with the problem.

After some time she was joined by two her friends aged 5 and seven, and they climbed onto the mattrress (Sandhiya moving slowly and delicately) and we chatted together and played some songs. A cosy amtmosphere soon built up until after 25 minutes or so, Sandiya shifted, telling me that she needed to go home and study, for the following day she was sitting for an exam.

I took the opportunity of asking the other two little ones to return to their houses as we all had things to do, and it was at the point of coming up for a hug good-bye. I realised that she was now warm all over, and at that point the realisation hit me that she had on no more than a pair of boy's shorts and a thin short-sleeved shirt. No wonder she was so cold!

It took a few minutes for this to settle in, after which my tongue broke its chains and I began scolding those who are near-by. Hadn't we been sending her to hospital for tests for more than two years? Had we not passed her bulletins round amongst concerned friends in England and the UK? Had not those same friends tossed coins into the hat to enable her tests and procedures to be carried out? How can a reasonable parent expect their child to have any hope of getting better if she wanders around in this cool, rainy weather dressed little better than a street ragamuffin selling dusty sweets by the roadside?

Delivered in the form of a series of rhetorical questions, these 'scoldings', when delivered to the right people and in the correct dose, may have a deep-seated effect. And in this case it's not for me to deliver them directly to the parents: they are not the 'right people' for me. I reprimand the tea, the team, secure in the knowledge that the admonitions will be sifted, filtered and delivered in the way that they might understand.

Let's see what effect the ripples have as they radiate from this house to theirs. If we can't get to the bottom of her problem, we can and should be able to make her life more comfortable.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wondering About Ant-Lions

Outside my bedroom and study I've got a low dry wall which has become home to about twenty ant-lions, and I'm suddenly filled with a sense of zeal which makes me want to know all about these strange and wonderful animals, these animals which I know are there, within half a metre of where I'm typing this, and which I've never seen.

The wall is almost 12 foot long, 10” wide and two foot high: It's an ordinary wall up to 19”, but after that it stops being ordinary, for it splits into two miniature 1½ inch walls. No ordinary wall is this, for when it was made I had them build it hollow, for really it's two walls, each being 1½ inches thick, carefully built up with one-inch bricks and fine cement. It has fine metal bars running inside between the mini-bricks to prevent cracking, and the entire cage is encased in plaster.

To start with we filled the cavity with soil, and planted flowering plants in the trough, but in time we forgot to maintain them, or let them die back, and the dry wall went over to the hands of good healthy neglect. It was then that the ant-lions must have moved in, for one morning I saw a few shapes of inverted cones, smooth conical holes with very smooth sand up the sides. It reminded me of watching an egg-timer, or of seeing sand in an hour glass falling in, the soft sift moving down, to be swallowed away at the centre.

“If you get an ant or small bug to move over the edge, it will lose its foot-hold and the Creature will suddenly rise up, grab the ant and pull it down into the hole” said a child to me by way of explanation. I was glad to be told, glad to hear what I already knew.

Something within me wants to travel over to a net-point and Google all about these fascinating animals; and yet at a deeper level I want to do no such thing: I want to have the child's sense of wonder and find out for myself. And yet I'm reluctant to go dig it out and disturb the miniature Lion. How to proceed? Perhaps there is a way: I'll find some bugs and try to persuade them to walk over the precipice. I'll pass the Death Sentence on one and hand it over to the Executioner, then perhaps I'll catch a glimpse of the Creature. Playing the part of Judge is what I'll do next.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Carried by the One I used to Bear

I muse at all the little creatures I have held: tadpoles, hamsters, kittens, puppies and babies of the human kind. You hold them, feed them, love them, cherish them, rear them and scold them. Then the day comes when they seem a little bigger, and their bigness is at least as big as yours: You turn and look to see the little boy, once half a head lower but now exceeding the same as you did his. You scold him, and he holds his ground and challenges you. You fight him, but your power is spent and his is only scuffed in part..

So you surrender to him.

Next minute he tells you you are forgetting something; he has to help you out of your chair - just a little stiffness and he eases your socks on for you; cooks the dinner at the weekend, which soon extends to three days long.

And last not least he picks you up, you're feather light, and he's carrying you the way you once, in former days, would carry him aloft.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fluffy Cabbage Rice with Dahl

For the Rice you'll need:
1 cup basmati rice, washed and soaked for ½ hour.
Some cabbage cut up small (A savoy or pointy cabbage gives tasty results)
Mustard seeds, cumin seeds
Dried Mixed Herbs (optional)
A little salt
1 cup water or stock

Take some oil in a deep saucepan and heat it.
Add some mustard seeds and cumin seeds and wait for them to jump.

At this point at the cabbage and stir with the seeds using a wooden spoon.
Add a pinch of mixed herbs if required and Keep the heat to medium.

Drain the rice and add it to the hot cabbage mix.
(It will be quite wet but this is no problem)

Continue to stir in the heat.
After a few minutes it should 'feel ready' for you to add the water or stock.
Stir, and bring up the heat again, turn down to simmer and cover it.

Continue for 10 minutes, then open and give a quick stir.
Cover it, then turn up the heat again until it steams up.

Then turn the heat off and leave it to sweat.
The rice should be fluffy and ready to eat.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For the Dahl

A cup of yellow or red dahl, cooked earlier. A pressure cooker is ideal for this.
1 onion
Garlic cloves to taste (we use three or four)
Some ginger, chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
Madras Curry Powder (optional)


Again, heat some oil and put in mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
When they begin to jump, add the chopped onion, chilli and ginger and cook.


Madras Curry Powder may be added (or omitted) as desired.
When soft, pour in the cooked dahl - this one has some cooked carrot in it.

Stir and allow the sambhar to settle for a few minutes.
Just before serving, add fresh chopped coriander or mint leaves.

Serve with green vegetable of choice, or a salad.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Or The Murder at Road Hill House The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a lover of detective stories I was intrigued to hear a review of this book which tracks the Road Hill House murder which occurred in 1860. It happened at the time when Detectives as we now know them did not exist, so we see the budding of an embryonic enterprise which went on to blossom into the globally-interlinked agencies we have today. We bear in mind that there were no telephones, no motor cars and no media as we know them today; however the new medium of the Newspaper was causing great excitement. These were the sheets which everyone eagerly went out to buy, in order to find out what was going on in the wider world out there.

Ms Summerscale has included many intriguing events that were going on at the time the murder occurred, and I involved myself by scanning plans of the house, from the plans of the house and grounds provided in the book, which I then printed and folded up into a separate booklet which I read along with the main volume. I'd read a section and then cogitate the scenario, mapping out the rooms and trying to calculate who had the motive and the opportunity to commit the murder, and most importantly, why. Everything you need to know is included in the volume, although if you want to explore further, websites are provided which enable the reader to dig as deep as he desires.

As my reading continued I became sucked into the web of intrigue and frequently found myself scribbling on pieces of paper trying to puzzle out what had really happened, much as people must have done in 1860 when the murder occurred. All round the country folks were eagerly scanning through the broadsheets to see if new maps or clues had been discovered as to the perpetrator of this shocking murder. Small details such as what our detective hero Mr Whicher would typically eat for his breakfast (a chop, a potato and a cup of coffee), the moods of the servants and the spats which flew around in the family brought the story out of the book and into my sitting room. Background details such as the passing of the Factories Act 1933 explained the standing which the head of the household, Mr Kent, would have held in the local community: child labour in factories had become banned, and as Factories Inspector Kent had efficiently seen to compliance of the Law. However this had resulted in the loss of about £400 per annum to the village, so in real terms this increased the poverty of the villagers. This fermenting resentment against Kent adds spice for those who speculate which persons might harbour a motive to commit this horrible crime against a 12-year old boy.

I tended to give this book short readings which were interspersed with periods of cogitation and musing. I lived the story as if at first hand and sometimes when I woke up in the night I felt a tingle of fear in my spine; for although the episode had occurred in 1860, the tale reverberated in my ears with a curiously modern tone. I was fascinated to read which characters in the story had survived well into the twentieth century, one of them even dying within shouting distance of my birth. My mind was thick with intrigue and speculation when I tried to figure out 'who dun it', I marvelled at the secrets which siblings share with one another and hide from the world, and when I drew my own conclusions, my hand went to my mouth to prevent it shouting in alarm.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Canine Maturity

Last Shadow barked persistently in the kitchen, and pestered so much that he was allowed in the bedroom. He sounded so sad scratching away in the kitchen and scratching at the door, that we brought his ed through into the bedroom. He settles there well. However sometimes he sneaks in the night and curls himself around my feet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of a Sixties School Library

Selected POEMS T.S. ELIOT Selected POEMS T.S. ELIOT by Eliot, TS

My review

How very strict the school was that let me borrow it - quite against the spirit of what the heroic tome says.

But, as Orwell has written that the teachers who recommend the reading of Dickens to children tend to be the spitting image of the very masters whom Dickens detested.

Flashman wasn't in that school: He was busy beating my brother in a school at Liphook, Hants.

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