Missing hens

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“The China Cock” 1929 Georgia O’Keeffe

We let the hens go when we put the house up for sale.  I’m regretting that decision now.  In a time of #Lockdown I quite like the idea that you can have a constant supply of fresh eggs for very little work.

The Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is encouraging everyone to try their hand at planting salads to supplement the food supply.  That might not be such a bad idea if supply chains from Spain become disrupted.

The last time we faced a situation like this was during “The Emergency”.  This is the name that was given by the Neutral Irish Government to the events that most people refer to as World War 2.  Food supply was a key issue for the young Irish Nation.  Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Éamon de Valera lamented in 1940: “No country had ever been more effectively blockaded because of the activities of belligerents and our lack of ships…”

Ireland was a net food exporter and it was vital for our economy that food exports reach our largest market in Britain.  But we relied heavily on imports for Coal, Fuel Oil, Bread Wheat, Citric Fruits, Tea, Coffee and luxuries such as chocolate.

Irish sailors of the mercantile marine referred to those years as “The long watch”.  Twenty percent of our merchant mariners perished in those years.  Initially the Irish ships joined in with the convoys organised by the British to protect their fleets.  But Irish losses led to a change in strategy.  The Irish vessels were painted large and gaudy with neutral markings and  sailed alone.  The strategy had mixed results.  Many German Captians respected the Neutral position of Ireland, but a few took a different view.  As Britain was the major beneficiary of Irish food exports many Germans viewed Irish shipping as a valid target.

My father was born in 1927.  He had vivid memories of working alongside his father in a rented allotment to supply the family with fresh vegetables during the war years.  He paid for his school books by bundling and selling onion thinnings (scallions) door to door.  Mature onions were dried on a flat roof, accessed by climbing out the window of their quarters in McKee Barracks.

To put in perspective how valuable food was they used to have a dish for breakfast called “Mock Tripe”.  Basically this is a dish of onions boiled in milk with salt and pepper.  What I find funny about this is that when you make “mock” dishes it is usually replacing a luxury dish with a cheap one.  The classic “Mock Turtle Soup” is a dish which replaces expensive turtle with the meat from the head of a calf.  But tripe is not and has never been luxury food.  It was not even on the ration book during the Emergency.  Why call a dish “mock tripe”?

Every time we visited my Grandmother we were treated to her speciality:  bread pudding.  A habit begun of necessity in the war years that she maintained all her life.  Stale bread was stored in a special enamel pail, soaked in water until she had enough for a pudding.  It was mixed with dried fruit, sugar and spices and baked in the oven.  Served with hot custard.

Mock Turtle, Gryphon, and Alice, Sir John Tenniel 1, colourised, public domain

The Mock Turtle from “Alice in Wonderland” with a distinctively calf looking head and hooves.

Truth or Fiction?

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Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay.  The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area.  In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world.  Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy.  Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.

In the mid 19th Century  a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat.  He invented the OXO cube.  His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product.  Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.

When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name.  The company flourished during WW2.  After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above.  As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.

In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro.  The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement.  Since then the brand has gone largely downhill.  It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats.  The products have traded between food companies ever since.

Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene.  G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths.  There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus.  It is related as true history.

King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.

Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.

Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.

Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding.  It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.

FreyPie

Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname.  The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus.  Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons.  You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.

Truly there is nothing new under the sun!

Game of Thrones: Why Book Fans Love Wyman Manderly - IGN

Non!

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Charles De Gaulle, born Nov 22nd 1890.

A career soldier nicknamed the Big Asparagus by his classmates because he was so tall.  A veteran of two world wars he was frustrated at the British describing them as too slow.  Undoubtedly brave he was wounded a number of times and at Verdun in WW1 he was bayonetted in the leg whilst reeling from a shell blast and was captured by the Germans, the only member of his unit to survive.  He spent the latter half of the war as a prisoner despite 5 attempts to escape.

He rose into the world of politics by WW2 and as leader of the Free French he was sentenced as a criminal by the Vichy French Government.  He held a difficult position in London.  The French offices were filled with British spies, the phones were tapped.  When his aircraft was sabotaged and he almost died the British blamed the Germans.  De Gaulle blamed the British.

When the European Community was founded in 1957 the UK elected to go their own way.  They joined the EFTA instead.  As the 1950’s progressed and the Continental Europeans experienced economic expansion the British regretted their mistake.  They applied to join in 1963.

Famously and very publicly De Gaulle said “Non!”

It was a field day for cartoonists!

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Happy Birthday A.R. Ammons

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Award winning American poet Archie Ammons was born this day in 1926.  He served in the navy during WW2 aboard a battleship escort.  He was a member of the generation who benefited from US government support for education.

He attended University after the war to study biology, becoming a teacher.  He then pursued an M.A. in English and became a life long academic, teacher, writer in residence and award winning poet.

So I guess he qualifies as a “warrior poet”.

 

Eyesight; by Archie Randolph Ammons

It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

The Seed Potatoes of Leningrad

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There are few stories so hear wrenching they will make me cry, but his is one of them.

I am not going to re-tell it, I will direct you to John Green’s excellent podcast here:

—–>Tetris and Seed Potatoes

During the winter of 1941/42 as many residents of Leningrad were dying EVERY MONTH as the total Americans who ever died in all wars ever.  Mostly they died of starvation.  Amongst this carnage a small and dedicated group of scientists protected a seedbank which has benefited humanity ever since.

In our world today do we find any sense of such self-sacrifice for the higher goals of humanity?

What can I do today to reverse the damage mankind has inflicted on the Earth?

 

Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

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Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

Growth and Death

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Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.