Saturday, January 9, 2010

Genetic Goulash

The title? It’s hardly relevant to the first part of this blog but it’s such an irresistibly rich word combination that I felt I must use it.

Today, a morning’s pleasure! Anne drove me to the botanic garden for morning tea under green-leaved grape-vines with a view over the rose beds - still in ample flower - to Tinakori Hill. A big adventure for me nowadays. Leisurely groups of Wellingtonians of mixed ages mingled with grey-haired tour groups.

She bought rocket seedlings on the way home - a role change. She is now the gardener. Once here, out came the gone-to-seed parsley and coriander in a pot and in went the rocket. Beware of white butterflies I warn.

Her pride and joy at present is a hanging basket of small tomatoes. It’s full of flowers and the promise of fruit but needs watering three times a week. Being a gardener means extra responsibilities. Anne’s a quick learner. The Lebanese cucumber she planted has already yielded two for our table and today she picked the first of the yellow courgettes. She’s marinating it in an Italian way we’ve done for years – with salt, pepper, olive oil, a dash of vinegar and finely cut garlic and mint. She’s muttering about trying lemon juice instead of the vinegar.

For years I alternated those two large pots, tulips in winter and spring, courgettes in the summer. I’m pleased Anne’s continuing the tradition and am delighted she’s planted a cucumber in one of the pots. You’ve arrived as a cook or gardener when you start experimenting.

Great! Geoff fixed up the date on my blog. Instead of showing American time it is now on New Zealand time. Automatically every date adjusted, Christmas Day is now on Christmas Day. Not those, however, on the few occasions I’ve typed one into the text. We couldn’t solve the automatic shift of lines to the left margin. This means it’s difficult to put up free verse in that the look of the page on the blog is not as the poet has presented it.

I’m reading Ranulph Fiennes’ ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen; An Expedition Around My Family’, a book lent by Oliver. The second paragraph describes the English as a genetic goulash; a choice of words which tickles my fancy. It knocks for six any concept of the master race. It’s a rollicking romp through English history told through the lens of a family tree.

Fiennes can trace his ancestry back to Charlemagne, the Frank ruler crowned Holy Roma Emperor on Christmas Day 800. What a lineage to possess. His ancestors fought on both sides at the battle of Hastings and have been part and parcel of the English ruling class ever since. And for that matter, for while the French nobility.

The book’s more than a history of the family. It’s a potted history of England, William 11 mysteriously killed by an arrow in the New Forest, John being forced to sign the Magna Carta and Edward 11 losing the battle of Bannockburn. Fiennes likes heroic deeds and aggressive men. Medieval history as taught for decades was dominated by bloody battles with to us now a strange set of rules of chivalry. It was not a pleasant age if you were caught amidst the machinations of the mighty.

I did not know the story of the six burghers of Calais though I have seen replicas of Rodin’s famous statue. After slaughtering the French at Crecy, Edward 111 laid seige to Calais. Medieval custom was that if a town did not capitulate early the victorious troops could sack it. The governor of Calais hung on for a year believing the French King would come to his rescue. That gentlemen licking his wounds in Paris did not want to chance his arm against the English again so soon.

So the governor had to surrender. To save his townsfolk from massacre, rape and pillage he pleaded with English king. Edward agreed to waver the customary right on a condition – he would put six prominent burghers to death. To Edward’s surprise, indeed chagrin, six burghers volunteered – to save their fellow citizens they were prepared to sacrifice their own lives. But, when the burghers appeared before him as instructed nearly naked and ready for execution the queen interceded pleading for their lives. The king angrily told her he wished she had not been present but reluctantly acceded to her request,

I give an example of Fiennes' style. 'Prince Hal, the grandson of Maud Fiennes, was crowned in the midst of a snowstorm, as king Henry V.'

I wonder if England’s present snowstorm heralds another ara of greatness?

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