Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween

Halloween costumes are so easy when your mom is an avid sewist and loves making costumes. 
That face paint never stayed put for long!


The first year she had a step-grandson, she made Three Bears costumes. This year (1981) we were clowns.

Wearing bells is so fun!


Never mind that they were only worn twice, she loved making these outfits.  If I'd been smart, I would have passed them on or sold them the next year, but by then Mom was gone and I wasn't thinking very straight about anything, much less things she'd made.
Edited to exclude that other clown...

What are you going to be this year?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Indian Cooking Lesson

I can't believe the Women's Institute meetings only roll around once a month.  Shows how time is rushing past these last few months of 2012.  I'd have sworn we were just there a fortnight ago. 

Our scheduled speaker, from a local restaurant, hadn't been able to make it but he found a brilliant substitute.  Jackie is the head chef of the local posh school, King's.  It's about to change into a completely different animal, amidst loads of uproar and confusion, but in this post we don't care about that.  

She said naan bread is made for special occasions; chapatis are for every day.
She also pointed out that the traditional tear-shape is similar to the shape
of India itself, which I thought was fascinating.

Jackie was brilliant, she made everything look incredibly easy. She had made the naan dough ahead of time.  She started the soup, shaped the bread pieces and put them in the oven, worked a bit more on the soup, pulled out the naan bread and tore it into pieces, finished the soup and poured it into cups for us to taste.  I think they must teach juggling in chef school. 

Brits seem to prefer their soup pureed.  At first I thought it resembled baby
food, but I've got used to it.

Recipe for Spicy Lentil and Carrot Soup

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp curry paste or mild curry powder
2 TBSP olive oil
600g carrots, washed and coarsely chopped (no need to peel)
140g split red lentils
1 litre hot vegetable stock (from a cube is fine)
125ml milk
plain yogurt and naan bread, to serve

Heat large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds for 1 minute, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas.  Scoop out about half of the seeds with a spoon and set aside.
Add the oil and carrot and cook gently until the carrots begin to soften (with a lid is good).
Add lentils, stock and milk to the pan and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have swollen and softened.
Whizz the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer).  Season to taste and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a springling of the reserved toasted spices.  Serve with warmed naan breads.

Make it Moroccan:  substitute the curry and cumin seeds for a few teaspoons of harissa paste.  You could add cooked shredded chicken at the end of the cooking, too.
Make it dairy-free:  For a richer but dairy-free alternative, use a can of reduced-fat coconut milk instead of the milk. 

238 calories, protein 11g, carbohydrate 34g, fat 7g, saturated fat 1 g, fibre 5g, salt 0.25g.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, October 2005.

Naan Bread

60 ml milk
200g strong flour
1 x 5 ml sppon baking powder
1/2 sachet instant yeast (about 3.5 g)
1 x 15 ml sppon plain yoghurt
1 x 15 ml spoon oil

Baking tray, measuring jug, saucepan, mixing bowl, sieve, wooden spoon.

Preheat the oven to 250C or gas mark 8.  Put the baking tray in the oven
Warm the milk (either in a saucepan or microwave)
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.  Stir in the yeast
Add the yoghurt, oil and warm milk
Mix into a soft dough
Knead for 10 minutes
Leave the dough to prove (rise) for around 30-60 minutes
Kead the dough and divide into 4
Roll out each piece of dough into a 'tear' shape (oval)
Cook the naans ion the heated tray for 3-4 minutes until puffed up and brown

To make them extra special, brush thenaans with melted butter and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds before baking.  Flaked almonds, dried fruit, coconut and spices could be added to the naan mix before baking.  Make a meal out of your naan.  Once baked, stuff with your favourite curry.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Part XI – On Wives and Servants

This is part of a series  The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen.  His third chapter is on Conspicuous Leisure. 

In an earlier post I explained Veblen’s belief that the development of a leisure class and of individual ownership of property went hand in hand; also the capture of women from an enemy tribe was the beginnings of acquiring trophies for man’s exploit.   Thus, the institution of ownership began with the ownership of persons, primarily of women. 

The incentives for acquiring women as property were several: a) a natural propensity for dominance; b) evidence of prowess in war; and c) perhaps most importantly, the personal services they provided.  Veblen makes no particular reference to sexual services, he’s just talking about servants generally providing service.  Like cattle, slaves are an investment and in spite of moving into the quasi-peaceable stage (still within the barbarian culture) women still serve as a unit of value.  Accepted evidence of wealth is the possession of many women and other slaves engaged in attendance on their master’s person and in producing goods for him.

A division of labor develops where personal service and attendance on the master becomes a more prestigious level of service than those who are engaged in industrial occupations and distanced from him.  At some point those servants involved in personal service come to be increasingly exempt from productive industry carried out for gain.  This exemption generally begins with the wife, or the chief wife.

Once the habit of capturing a wife from an enemy tribe is no longer the done thing, the chief wife is usually ‘of gentle blood’:  ‘ennobled by protracted contact with accumulated wealth or unbroken prerogative’.  This further promotes her exemption from vulgar employment.  The wife, chosen to gain alliance with her powerful relatives,  is her husband’s property as she was her father’s.  Although her gentle birth removes her from the ‘debasing employments of her fellow-servants’, she is still inferior to the male members of the social stratum of her birth.  Veblen says as a wife, the scope of her leisure is limited only by her owner’s wealth, though her leisure is not the same as that of her master. 

As the social development continues and property becomes massed in relatively fewer hands, the standard of wealth of the upper class rises. The same exemption from menial employments granted the chief wife will follow on to other wives and servants in the immediate attendance upon the master.   Thus we see the development of a special class of personal or body servants at the master’s call.  Their attention cannot be diverted by any other regular occupation and so their usefulness is actually more for show than for service performed.  The duties of a footman (in extravagant uniform called livery), a butler or a valet would fall into this category.

Male servants come to be preferred over females for roles in the public view.  Male servants are ‘obviously’ more expensive than women.  Another book I read on holiday said taller men were paid better.  In a recent TV programme about the lives of servants, it was said that a special license was required to employ a male servant.  This license served as a sort of luxury tax.  No such license was required for female servants.   According to Veblen, men are also “better fitted for showing a larger waste of time and of human energy”.  See why I enjoyed this book so?

Should one ever envy the ‘trophy wife’ Veblen points out that
“In all … walks of life [or] stage of economic development, the leisure of the lady and of the lackey differs from the leisure of the gentleman in his own right…[theirs] is an occupation of an ostensibly laborious kind. It takes the form…of a painstaking attention to the service of the master, or to the maintenance … of the household paraphernalia…[their efforts are] … frequently directed to ends … necessary to household comfort … [and thus] they are to be accounted productive work. Only the residue of employment left after deduction of this effective work is to be classed as a performance of leisure.”

However, it's not leisure as I would call it, wherein I can do as I wish when and where I wish.  Veblen goes on to say that
“The labor spent in these services is to be classed as leisure; and when performed by others than the economically free and self-directed head of the establishment, they are to be classed as vicarious leisure.” 

I'm thinking that except for 'trophy wives', the concept of vicarious leisure is increasingly remote and I didn't initially grasp the idea.  It seems to come down to the idea of having people at your 'beck and call'.  Those holding themselves at the ready to serve have a waiting function that could look to some as a form of leisure.  However, theirs is not true leisure.  There is also the matter of status attached to serving positions; the butler stands around a lot more than say the laundry maid.  A butler to a duke would likely feel he could look down his nose at his counterpart serving only a viscount.  One can imagine that the upper levels of servants did take some satisfaction in their status and did live a bit vicariously through the lives of their masters. 

In the next post on this topic, we’ll explore more about vicarious leisure and the importance of training.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Festival of Theatre

As I mentioned before, Avignon in July is host to a Theatre Festival. 

This theatre is situation on the Rue Moliere.   I can't say I'm familiar with his work, but even I know the name.

I loved these trompe l'oeil paintings on the outside. 

We guessed a few of the plays they depicted,

 but some were too tough for us.

Actually, Bill guessed most of them.  My education was less classical than his (I can diagram a sentence, he can quote poetry).

The festival meant that not only was practically every venue in the city presenting some play or other, every student in the city appeared to be pressed into the advertising scheme.

Or perhaps they were the actors, working by day delivering leaflets and by night playing on the boards.

This also meant one could not sit in a street cafe without being accosted.  However, the show was so fun, I didn't mind too much.

Spot the "tree" on the right?

I didn't manage to capture many of the processions at all. Perhaps I need a quicker camera?

New way to deliver leaflets: lie in the street!

I sort of felt for the usual street performers now having competition from the play adverts.


Zorro gets help cleaning the streets.

Street performance has to be one of the toughest jobs around.

Oops, almost missed one!

I normally don't cope well with crowded conditions, but Avignon was so exciting I mostly managed to ignore the inconveniences and get on with enjoyment.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Thursday Craft Group

My friend Lucy has returned to work and has been busy moving house. 

I've already forgotten whose birthday it was, but the cake was delish -
full of fruit!

If I want to see her, I have to go to the Thursday night craft group or wait until the next WI meeting. 

I'm lucky to be in the craft group as they've stopped taking new members; they've run out of space around the tables. 

Sorry about the fuzzy photo. 
I knitted this brooch in about an hour from scrap yarn..

We each pay £3 and a handful of the ladies lead sessions on how to do a particular project.  If there are specialist materials needed, they come out of the fund left after paying the rent.  When the money runs low we just bring whatever we're working on. 

We swap patterns and materials and the rule seems to be that when you finish a project you bring it to put out for others to see.  These ladies are good 'finishers'.  I'm hoping they'll rub off on me!

It's an amazingly creative group and I sometimes find it tough to keep up; my skills have a long way to develop. 

Hand-made 'chenille'

I have a rule not to spend a lot of money for new materials when I have so much that needs used up. 

So I didn't go buy wool to knit up ENORMOUS house shoes to felt and shrink, even though I thought the finished product quite neat (most of my stash is inexpensive acrylic).

These size 10 shoes started out about 2' long!

There are loads of brilliant ideas everywhere I look and they all seem to bring these horribly tempting books, which I try to ignore. 

These are 'bit-bags'; the top is weighted with sand and
it's meant to put beside the sewing machine to catch threads, etc.

My crafting / sewing library is plenty big already and I've yet to use even a fraction of the ideas already in my possession.


Christmas mice!

Still, these are really friendly ladies and I think the £3 sessions are extremely good value!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Part X - On Bearing

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen.  His third chapter is on Conspicuous Leisure. 

In this day and age, Veblen’s use of the term ‘bearing’ seems out of date.  We talk about manners, and perhaps posture and poise (for women) or presence (usually for men).  One also reads about having the ‘the right attitude'.  Veblen's use of 'bearing' seems to encompass all of these and a bit more:  it's about 'knowing ones place' but also making sure others know theirs.  

I tend to think that Veblen's concept of ‘bearing’ is alive and well here in Britain and it’s not my favourite aspect of the culture.  I’ve whinged before about snooty shop (un-) assistants who frustrate me no end.  Instead of being annoyed with their social aspirations and ostensible refinements, I suppose I should just learn to laugh at it.  It is very often much like the caricatures seen in films, particularly British films.   The ones I occasionally encounter don't quite go the length of the exaggerated posh accent, however; that part of the charade has passed out of style.  On the other hand, I have seen customers so arrogant I'd not like to help them either.  I hope I'm more polite. 

Veblen says that one’s bearing towards menials and other ‘dependent inferiors’ is the bearing of the superior member in a relation of status, though its manifestation is greatly softened from the original expression of crude dominance.  In this book the inferior category includes all women.  I believe I experienced this attitude from most men when I lived in the US.  This might explain why I’m so sensitive when I meet it again here in Britain, though strangely I usually see it in women here.  The men don’t seem to need it, not the ones I know anyhow.   

“Similarly, our bearing towards superiors, and in great measure towards equals, expresses a more or less conventionalised attitude of subservience.  Witness the masterful presence of the high-minded gentleman or lady, which testifies to so much of dominance and independence of economic circumstances, and which at the same time appeals with such convincing force to our sense of what is right and gracious.”

I've seen Bill doff his imaginary cap and do a Cockney rendition of 'Bless you, govna' as a backwards form of 'kiss my XXX' (because he would never say the latter words).  Strange to think that the working classes felt they needed to use similar saluations because of their 'sense of what is right and gracious'.  I wonder if they were thinking more like Bill than Veblen back then? 

Veblen says it is the highest leisure class, with no superiors and few peers, that ‘decorum’ finds its fullest expression.  More applicable, it is the behaviour of this highest class which serves as a canon of conduct for the classes beneath.

“A divine assurance and an imperious complaisance, as of one habituated to require subservience and to take no thought for the morrow, is the birthright and the criterion of the gentleman at his best."   

This demeanour is accepted as in intrinsic attribute of superior worth.  I wonder if this might explain in part why people live far beyond their means in order to convince others they have more money than they have:  to feel they have superior worth.   

In the next post I’ll relate some of Veblen’s ideas about well bred wives and servants.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Walking around Avignon

Never mind the broken bridge, Avignon is a fascinating city. 

We were camped on a rather large island in the Rhone River and it was a short walk across a (complete) bridge, around the corner and into the city centre.

It was busy, as I suspect Avignon generally is. 

The city was in the throes of a Theatre Festival that lasted for most of July. 

I was fascinated by the contrast between the old buildings and
modern Ferris wheel (is this the Avignon Eye?)

We weren't in the least tempted to attend, since we wouldn't have understood the plays.

Well, I wouldn't anyhow. 

But it was clearly a big deal for those who could.  More about the Festival in another post.

We identified several museums that looked interesting. 

More about those later, too.

We considered a day trip from Avignon to Marseilles but decided against paying 100 Euros each for only a few hours.

I just thought Avignon was an amazing place to look at.


I've never seen a double-decker carousel before.  Have you?

All I can say is thank goodness for digital photography!

People threw themselves down under the tree while the dog went swimming.

It's funny what grabbed our attention. 

A new name for a dog grooming salon!

These are only a small fraction of the sights.

The restaurant 'name' in cutlery...ingenious!

As I've said before, I don't consider myself particularly a Francophile, but I must admit that the French have a real talent for good design. 

I'm quite enamoured with shutters and balconies...

I suspect that if one grows up around some of these amazing buildings, it educates the eye and enables further development of more good design. 

Bill was also shooting pictures of the wrought iron; it's not just me!

That's my guess anyhow.

They also, I noticed, have a sense of humour.

I just loved this cat 'flap'!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Barn Dance

So what else have we done lately in real life?  We attended a 'barn dance' (that's what they called it) in support of Seaton Sluice Community Centre.  Bill's friends in the Long Distance Walkers' Association were selling tickets.

I've written about this sort of event before, only they called it a ceilidh (KAY-lee).  That's an Irish word used to describe this sort of dance, only it originally meant any social gathering.  The old Irish céle meant 'companion'.  Americans would call this a square dance; the music is about the same and you have a caller who walks you through each dance first without the music.  Your job is to remember the sequence of steps!  Given the origins I feel fairly certain that my Irish-Scots ancestors will have skipped about like this occasionally. 

We sat with the few people Bill knew; they greeted us warmly and before I knew it I was chatting to people around me. 

The tickets included the dance and food:  hot dogs, corn on the cob and a mix of cold salads.  People brought their own drinks. 

I forget how much fun these are until we go to one.  I was a little reticent about going, thinking we wouldn't know anyone, but at these fund raising functions it doesn't really matter about knowing people.  Folks are friendly and inclusive and the evening flies past. 

I don't remember much of any community centres like these in the States.  You could get involved with school functions or at church.  There was the YMCA for kids.  I know in the 40s there were dance halls, but my Dad was never much of a dancer.  The local bar was a place Mom and Daddy went to hang out and play shuffle board with friends.  Community centres are sometimes attached to local churches and perhaps called the Parish Hall.  They are used to play bingo, to put on children's activities, for various groups to rent for meetings, as a general place for people to gather.  They are an important part of British social life and we were glad to support one.  And even gladder to get to dance. 

Are there community centres where you live?