Sunday, 30 June 2013

Joanne's Strawberry Pie

Today is my friend Joanne's birthday.  She would have been 69 years old.  I still think of Joanne sometimes when I'm sewing or blogging about something I wish I could share with her. I last saw her in June 2011, a few months before she died; I didn't know she was ill.  I'm not exactly sure of the chronology, but it's possible she didn't know either.

Anyhow, she fed us lunch at her house and there was this incredibly wonderful pie.  I asked for the recipe and she sent it, along with some others.  I've not pursued making any of these because (a) I'm not much on sweets.  We tend to have sliced fruit for dessert; (b) this is full of American brands not available here in Britain.  I think I know most of the substitutes, but it's not a sure thing.

Strawberry Pie

Graham cracker crust Pie shell (Digestive biscuits are the closest thing I've found to Graham crackers here in Britain)
4 cup sliced strawberries
4 oz Jello Cook and Serve Vanilla pudding (I think the closest thing to this is called Angel Delight)
4oz strawberry Jello (and this would just be called jelly?  I believe it comes already partially constituted so you just add boiling water)
2 cups water

Clean and slice strawberries. Arrange in pie crust.  Cook pudding with WATER (it is generally made with milk). When it comes to a rolling boil, add strawberry Jello to dissolve.  Allow to cool some, then pour over strawberries. Place in refrigerator overnight, all day or at least 4 hours.  Can be served with whipping cream or Cool Whip.  (I think the substitute is Dream Whip, but it comes in powdered form and has to be made up to serve).

So maybe I should add (c) it's more trouble here in Britain...then again, it was delicious.  

Friday, 28 June 2013

Part XLV - Gambling, Sports and Religion

This is a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, written by American economist Thorstein Veblen and published in 1899.   Chapter Twelve is titled Devout Observances.

I think I'm likely to repeat myself in explaining this chapter because Veblen repeats himself a lot.  I think we could both benefit from the red pen of a tough editor, but that's not going to happen.  

In the last post, I think we covered these ideas:  

X - Gambling is related to sports
X - Gambling is related to devout observances
X - Sports is related to devout observances

In addition to the YMCA, Veblen has concerns about other boys’ organisations of his day, which relate sports and religion.  He sees participation in sports by new, young members as a means of induction into the ‘life of spiritual status which is the privilege of the full communicant along’ and ‘acting to develop the emulative proclivity and the sense of status in the youthful members of the congregation’.  He calls them pseudo-military organizations and says they tend to 
‘accentuate the proclivity to emulation and invidious comparison, and so strengthen the native facility for discerning and approving the relation of personal mastery and subservience.’ 

There is something inherently accurate about his statement that ‘…a believer is eminently a person who knows how to obey and accept chastisement with good grace….’  This all does go hand in hand with the idea of knowing one’s place in a hierarchy. I can see how sport or religion relates to ‘a sense of personal dignity and relative standing of individuals’.  

Veblen says that the 
‘The spiritual attitude and the aptitudes imputed to the preternatural agent are still such as belong under the regime of status, but they now assume the patriarchal cast characteristic of the quasi-peaceable stage of culture.’  

I agree that most modern religions are patriarchal.  It would seem that with the ordination of women as vicars that this might change, but things don’t always work out in obvious ways, do they?

Another example of how gambling and religion are related for Veblen is in the ‘gambling practices of which the church bazaar or raffle may be taken as the type.’  He says that raffles seem to appeal more to members of religious organisations than to persons of a less devout habit of mind, being trivial opportunities for gambling.  I find this hilarious, as I’ve been asked to staff a table at the upcoming WI fair which will be a tombola (a form of raffle popular here in Britain), the prizes for which will be jam jars filled with candy.   This will all take place in the parish hall.  I do love Veblen, in spite of his writing style.  (Did I mention we have to wear 1950's outfits, the theme of the fair being 'a 1950's tea'?).

Friday, 21 June 2013

Part XLIV - Relating to Religion

This is a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, written by American economist Thorstein Veblen and published in 1899.   Chapter Twelve is titled Devout Observances.

This is a much tougher chapter than the last one, in part because I expect some people of faith would be rather insulted by Veblen’s views.  He says he has no intention to ‘commend or to deprecate the practices to be spoken of under the head of devout observances’ but rather to talk about the ‘tangible, external features’ of such observances as they relate to his field of economics.  Neither does he wish to pass any moral judgement on the value of a life of faith or to comment on the truth or beauty of any creed.  

Also, he makes some sweeping generalisations that I’m not sure about.  Not that I mind his generalisations; in many cases they are an interpretation of his dense verbage that I can understand.  It is often through one of these gross generalisations that I can see his concepts exemplified in present time and they make his book seem almost current.  I’m not so sure about some of the examples in this chapter, but we’ll see how that works out.  This is also a chapter in which he seems to tie together many of this theories, not so much in a linear chain as in a mesh, with many ideas connecting to each other:  economics, psychology, sports, religion, class, gambling; all are interwoven.

Veblen seems to lump all religions together.  He makes no differentiation between druids, medicine men, followers of Thor, Catholic priests, Methodist ministers, they all serve under the umbrella of ‘devout observances’ and ‘anthropomorphic cults’.   I think this is how he tries to show that his theories apply across the board.  Veblen says religion is linked with the institution of the leisure class.

He reminds us of his premise in an earlier chapter about how the material standards of the leisure class influence the value we place on things, what we perceive as beautiful or desirable.  We are conditioned to believe that only things rare and expensive are worthwhile.  Another idea previously presented is that psychologically, '…the gambling spirit which pervades the sporting element shades off by insensible gradations into that frame of mind which finds gratification in devout observances.'

The animistic outlook leads to 
“a perceptible inclination to make terms with the preternatural agency by some approved method of approach and conciliation. This element of propitiation and cajoling has much in common with the crasser forms of worship —if not in historical derivation, at least in actual psychological content. It obviously shades off in unbroken continuity into what is recognized as superstitious practice and belief, and so asserts its claim to kinship with the grosser anthropomorphic cults.”

We need to remember that ‘the sporting temperament’ is also  associated with the leisure class, as is leading in devout observances.  

Generalisation:  A betting man is frequently both a naïve believer in luck and also a staunch adherent of some form of accepted creed.  His belief in one makes him more open to the other and so he is ‘possessed of two, or sometimes more than two, distinguishable phases of animism.’  Veblen says this ‘series of successive phases of animistic belief is to be found unbroken in the spiritual furniture of any sporting community.’  

I mentioned last week that many sports celebrities have their talismans and rituals.  A ritual warm up before a race makes a certain amount of sense, mind, just as any set routine requires less thought or effort and can form the basis of a good habit.   Veblen, however, says that the belief in preternatural agency goes along with the ‘instinctive shaping of conduct to conform with the surmised requirements of the lucky chance’.

Now, apparently this sporting temperament is a feature of the ‘delinquent classes’ as well as the leisure class.  We’ve already seen other traits they supposedly share, such as conservatism and fighting.

Another generalisation:  ‘It is also noticeable that unbelieving members of these classes show more of a proclivity to become proselytes to some accredited faith than the average of unbelievers.’  Furthermore, ‘it is somewhat insistently claimed as a meritorious feature of sporting life that the habitual participants in athletic games are in some degree peculiarly given to devout practices.’  This sounds ridiculous, except that I remember growing up going to the YMCA to learn to swim and later hitting the gym at  lunch time at the downtown Y.

I’m going to stop here.  With all the interwoven ideas, it’s hard to find a logical break, but this is where it will happen.  I must admit I had Veblen’s ideas about gambling at the back of my mind when I went to the horse races at Hexham last weekend, my first experience of British racing.  It was a beautiful, if windy, day.  Our friend Terry, from the running club, is a great one for betting on the horses and is part of a syndicate that owns a horse.  His love of horse racing is one of the lynch pins of his retirement and he travels around the country to see his horse run; other weekends he’s running himself.  Terry was well impressed that in spite of not understanding the odds, knowing nothing about horses or their jockies, I won on 4 of the 7 races I bet (£2 a go).  I took home £10 after paying the entry fee, which was a nice surprise.  As little as I believe in ‘luck’, it was hard not to formulate some sort of theory about how to win…  Better to just enjoy the beauty of the horses and of the countryside, the courage of the jockies and the devotion of the stable lads and leave it as a good day out. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Part XLIII - The Belief in Luck

This is a series about the book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen, published in 1899.  Chapter Eleven is titled The Belief in Luck.

Veblen says the propensity to gamble is another trait of the barbarian temperament and is common among sporting types and those given to warlike and emulative activities.  He claims this archaic trait serves no purpose in the modern society.  It relates to his economic ideas in a negative way because it hinders the ‘highest industrial efficiency’ of a community where ‘it prevails in any appreciable degree’.

The chief factor in gambling as a habit is the belief in luck, which he says is traceable to a stage of human development prior to the predatory culture.  He says this belief is ‘one form of the artistic apprehension of things.’  

Let's consider an example where there is a contest of strength and wagers are taken.  He describes the outlook of the person betting on the outcome as not just about winning the wager and coming away richer.  It is predatory because of the belief that the psychological weight of the wager enhances the victory for the winner and makes the losing side more humiliated and defeated.  The belief in luck makes the person placing the bet feel as though he has enhanced the chances of success for his contestant by putting the force of his will behind them.

Veblen explains this as going back to when men held animistic beliefs, when they felt that objects had a ‘quasi-personal individuality’ and were ‘possessed of volition…or of propensities’.  I remember as a very small child believing that the flat stones that formed the paving on the side of our house had feelings.  Their familiarity as a place for pretend tea parties with my friends was a source of comfort to me.  Because the stones evoked emotions in me, it seemed logical to assume they had emotions as well.  I suppose with this as a starting point, it is only a short journey to believing that one can propitiate or cajole them to bring you luck.  From there, it makes sense to hold these objects as talismans of good luck.

“There are few sporting men who are not in the habit of wearing charms or talismans to which more or less of efficacy is felt to belong.”

I don’t know about the statistics, but I remember Paula Radcliffe had a lucky necklace.  Clothing, objects, mascots, foods and ritualpreparations are all among the animistic aids to winning at various sports.

Veblen seems to say in so many words that anyone who has this sort of wacky view of things can have limited reliability in the modern world.  In order to be useful, people need to have the aptitude and habit of relating facts in terms of cause and effect, physical laws of nature, take personal responsibility, etc.

Further more, he contrasts the outlook of a primarily agricultural society to that of an industrial community. 
“Under a system of handicraft an advantage in dexterity, diligence, muscular force, or endurance may, in a very large measure, offset such a bias in the habits of thought of the workmen. Similarly in agricultural industry of the traditional kind, which closely resembles handicraft in the nature of the demands made upon the workman. In both, the workman is himself the prime mover chiefly depended upon, and the natural forces engaged are in large part apprehended as inscrutable and fortuitous agencies, whose working lies beyond the workman’s control or discretion.
 As industrial methods develop, the virtues of the handicraftsman count for less and less as an offset to scanty intelligence or a halting acceptance of the sequence of cause and effect. The industrial organization assumes more and more of the character of a mechanism, in which it is man’s office to discriminate and select what natural forces shall work out their effects in his service. The workman’s part in industry changes from that of a prime mover to that of discrimination and valuation of quantitative sequences and mechanical facts.”

Veblen refers to the term ‘ignava ratio’ (Latin for ‘idle argument’) which is a philosophical idea ‘If it’s meant to be, it will happen.’  He discusses this alongside of ‘anthropomorphic divinity’, which he says is a higher development following on from the animistic belief.  I don’t think Veblen holds religion in high esteem.  He sees it as upholding a sense of status, which of course it does in that people are understood to have lower status than the deity they worship. 

And that, is my précis of the ideas in Chapter Eleven.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Part XLII - Walking Sticks

This is a series about Theory of the Leisure Class, a book by American Economist Thorstein Veblen.  This post ends the discussion of Chapter 10, Modern Survivals of Prowess.  Only four more chapters to go!

By this point you’ll think Veblen has some sort of malicious obsession with the leisure class and you might be right.  I think it’s more likely that he wants to make his point, sell his book, build his career, to still be quoted over 80 years after his death.  One of the small asides he makes in this chapter is about the walking stick.  I’m not certain why this grabbed me, unless it was because of the other book I was reading at the time, Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, published between 1855 and 1856.  I’m fairly certain that English gentlemen will have carried walking sticks in this time and perhaps there was a reference I didn’t note at the time.

In any case, Veblen makes the point that walking-sticks are generally recognised as being carried by ‘...the men of the leisure class proper, sporting men, and the lower-class delinquents…[also] men engaged in the pecuniary employments’.  I’m sure Mr Banks in Mary Poppins carried such a thing (or perhaps it was an umbrella). 
“The walking-stick serves the purpose of an advertisement that the bearer’s hands are employed otherwise than in useful effort, and it therefore has utility as an evidence of leisure. But it is also a weapon, and it meets a felt need of barbarian man on that ground. The handling of so tangible and primitive a means of offense is very comforting to anyone who is gifted with even a moderate share of ferocity.”
If you could ask Senator Charles Sumner about his experience with Representative Preston Brooks in 1856 following a speech Sumner gave about admitting Kansas to the union as a free state, I'm sure he would confirm Veblen's views about walking sticks as weapons.

At some point walking sticks were no longer de rigueur but umbrellas were more useful.  Women carried parasols for a while as well.  However, Veblen is certain that neither your usual men engaged in industry nor most women would carry walking sticks, unless in the case of infirmity which is a different matter.  A while back Bill shared a  Youtube video in which an old woman used her walking cane to beat a young man attempting a 'happy slap'.  I'm sure the video is a fake, but there are some tough old women up here in the North of England, no question about that.  I wouldn't mess with anyone carrying a stick!  Would you?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Dozen Ways to Kill an Institute

The first night Vivien came to the WI with me, she won a jar of jam in the raffle.  A few months later at the Christmas party, she won dinner for two (with wine) at a posh restaurant.  She won a bottle of champers at the next Christmas party.  More recently, she won first place in the bake off for her Victoria Sponge cake.  Lucy won second prize.  I felt myself in wonderful company; shame I'm not a bigger cake fan, but there you are.  Vivien's prize for the cake was another bottle of champagne.  She insisted we get together and share it.

The 'Champagne Sub-group', as Julia has dubbed us, met the other night and discussed this and that (mostly all things crafty) over snacks and champagne.  It was great fun.  Bill took Lucy, Julia and I to Vivien's house.  Vivien's husband, Steve, brought us home.  

I was saying that I'd not got much further with this book, but the inside cover had a list of 'sins' and I could already claim a few.  I said I'd share the list, so this is it.  I suspect these concepts could be applied to many groups or gatherings.

1.  Don't come to the meetings, but if you do, come late, and if the weather doesn't suit you, don't think of coming.

2.  If you do attend the meetings, find fault with the work of the officers and other members.

3.  Never accept office, as it is easier to grouse than to do things.

4.  Nevertheless, get cross if you are not elected to the Committee: but if you are, do not attend the Committee meetings.

5. If asked by the President to give your opinion on some important matter, tell her you have nothing to say.

6.  After the meeting, tell everyone how things ought to be done.

7.  Do nothing more than is absolutely necessary, but when other members willingly use their ability to help things along, say that the Institute is run by a clique.

8.  Sit at the back and chat throughout the business, then ask to have various items repeated.

9.  Don't bother about getting new members - let the secretary do that.

10.  When you have anything to say, address your remarks to your neighbour instead of the chair.

11.  Chain smoke and bring your knitting.

12.  If you fail to carry out your obligations, blame the Committee and say the Institute is no good.

Adapted from a similar feature in "The Ulster Countryman"

Monday, 3 June 2013


Sometimes it is the clicking together of two ideas that takes me down a new path.  Like having a curiosity about something together with meeting someone with a passion for it; a divorce coming about the same time as a job offer in another country; 

recognising the vast number of hours I spend writing each post and stumbling across this post

Today I have errands to run to do with a crafting project, obligations to the running club's race sub-committee, a WI meeting to attend and we're launching a craft group.

Bill and I have been away from home for weeks at a time since his birthday trip to Cockermouth: to France; to the Making of Harry Potter museum near London; to Devon and Cornwall to support a 100-mile walk and to find the homes of his ancestors; to Manchester to visit granddaughter Charlotte, to Allendale fair with the running club.  I'd love to tell you all about all that.  However, the house and gardens are desperate for some TLC.  I need to remember how to exercise.  There are craft and sewing projects no longer willing to be put off.

Initially I blogged five days a week, then three.  I've blogged ahead for the weeks we would be away in order to keep that commitment.  Last Friday's absence was accidental.  I had written Veblen posts ahead but left that Friday open as it was my birthday.  I thought I might post something about that, but then forgot all about it in the mad rush of just returning home and having other places to go.  I hope to finish the last chapters of Veblen, just to have the satisfaction of completing something I started.  However, I am now releasing myself from regular posting.

I'm not planning to quit altogether, just to make it a less onerous job.  I've really loved 'meeting' the people who have commented here and whose blogs I have visited over the years.  I notice that most folks seem to run out eventually.  I don't think we run out of ideas (and I certainly haven't run out of photos) but for many of us real life has a way of taking over, of reminding us of our actual priorities.  I'm fortunate in that it's not any difficult circumstance that has forced me to change.  It's not turning 57 that has suddenly altered my outlook.  I've known for some time that I was going to have to make some choices, to act on the knowledge that I can do just about anything I want, but not everything I want.

So, you'll be figuring out what you want to do with that time you normally spent here, eh?