Food has a potent impact on our remembered experiences. Certain smells, tastes and visuals can take us back in an instant to events we thought we’d forgotten. The jelly mould your mother used for blancmange, when you came home from hospital after having your tonsils out. The gherkin on the side of a dish of pate that reminds you of a friend of a friend who came on to you in France, oh – eeek – 35 years ago!
Right now we’re remembering the partition of India and Pakistan, in 1947; there was a good account of it on BBC2 Scotland last night, hosted by Sanjeev Singh Kohli and Aasmah Mir, a Sikh and Muslim respectively, whose families came and settled in Scotland 70 years ago, after fleeing the riots. I had recently read a great book by Hardeep Singh Kohli, Sanjeev’s older brother: ‘Indian Takeaway: One man’s attempt to cook his way home.‘ In this he explained how he had travelled to India a number of times to visit relatives; but never been a ‘tourist’ in the way that many of his Scottish friends, without Indian connections, had been. They came home raving about India, its spirituality and beauty and he thought he should try to see it with different eyes. Essentially, he wanted to figure out his personal identity: was he more Scottish than Indian, or the other way round?
Being a big food lover, and coming from a strong Sikh food tradition, he hit on a novel way of exploring his roots: he would travel round India, cooking Scottish food for Indians! This is actually quite hilarious – you know from the start that he’s onto a loser – lack of equipment and ingredients being only the start of it. One of the running themes from a 1990s sitcom features an aspirational Indian family living in the UK, trying to cultivate a taste for ‘Bland’. So Hardeep’s attempts to ‘sell’ Scottish staples like Shepherd’s Pie and fish and chips to his Indian companions is full of pathos and self-deprecation. He’s a journalist, and writes like a stand-up comic; so there’s a steady stream of things to smile and laugh about.
With a wonderfully truthful sense of childhood influences, he recounts the evolution of his mother’s Glenryck Mackerel (tinned of course) Curry on white rice … a creative cook’s attempt to make the most of cheaply available foods to feed her ever-hungry family. Yes it sounds dire but he assures us it was devoured with delight; and he counterposes it with a poignant account of eating fish curry in a tsunami-ravaged beach café in Mamallapuram.
Hardeep Singh Kohli honours both his parents in their strenuous, determined efforts to survive and prosper as refugees in a strange land; it is especially lovely to see his mother’s sterling efforts so lovingly catalogued. This a great read; do try and get hold of it.
Ah! Epiphany! Find a star and follow it!
Am sitting in the pre-daylight pearly bubble, at the PC, trying to catch up with lots of little jobs that should have been done sometime during the past fortnight when I was off work. Off to Edinburgh shortly, to catch up with colleagues and friends, and get started again. Doing okay except in one respect: I said I’d make a cake for us to welcome the new year, and you know what? I couldn’t face it last night. I’m all caked out, and what I want to eat today is not more flippin’ cake thank you! Raw carrot and beansprouts seem more attractive, and that’s saying something.
Yesterday I visited friend Rose with broken arm, and took a quiche. Rose, poor soul, is not in a position to be critical but I doubt if Paul and Mary would have been impressed. Mega Soggy Bottom. Dreadful pastry. So, for a week or two at least, cake is not the star I’ll be following. Back to bread perhaps. I had a second go at bread rolls last weekend and they were a major improvement on my previous batch – you can compare the photos (previous post – Bread of Heaven) and see for yourself. I think this is partly because my kneading has improved and the dough rose better, and partly because I divided them up more evenly. The crumb was quite dense, but in a good way – not one of those full-of-nothing-but-air jobs.
However, back to Epiphany. Not necessarily the mythic journey of kings, or wise men, or astrologers, or whatever, following a literal star through the desert. But a bit of inspiration to reflect on the people and things that are important to you, and joy in finding them. Happy New Year, everybody, and wishing you unfailing hope for your travels.
I’ve just finished reading a fabulous book and am sure that everyone who reads this blog will have read it already, as it’s No. 1 bestseller on Amazon’s literary fiction list. I got it on Kindle so can’t share it round so you’ll just have to make do with a recommendation – not just mine but the thousands of others who got to it before I did.
So, it’s ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce. Harold receives a letter form a former work colleague to tell him she is dying and wish him well. He quickly writes a short, tight reply and sets out to post the letter. However as he lifts it to the letter box he realises it’s not much of a response to an old friend and sets out instead to walk from the south-west of England right to the Scottish border – over 600 miles – to deliver the letter in person. He leaves behind Maureen, his wife of 45 years, and the taut unhappiness of their marriage. That’s it. I won’t spoil it by telling you what he discovers along the way, but believe me, it’s beautiful.
My take-home message from the book is that you just have to trust in life, and the goodness to be found in other people, even if you haven’t a clue how things are going to work out. As Richard Holloway has said, ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.’ Or words to that effect.
Here’s to putting one foot in front of the other. And to joyful outcomes.
My first labyrinth was in my friend Harriet’s garden, near Beauly. Small, friendly, perched on a gentle hillside. Walking round it made me think how beautiful Scotland is.
My second labyrinth was at St James the Great in Dollar. This one is a nice two-circle design built between the trees in the church grounds. When we went there it was early summer and a calm, warm evening with the Ochils smiling gently in the background. Very peaceful. Walking round it made me think about how life throws up some unexpected turns; but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you eventually come home.
My third labyrinth hasn’t been built yet; but I believe it will be, because my friend Valerie has dreamed about it, and what she dreams about has a way of coming to be. She has two possible sites – neither of which she owns or has any control over. But she has found out who does. Then by apparent chance last month, she met a man who designs labyrinths, and has just moved into the village. She has an eye on the local quarry for stones which, she thinks, could be personalised by the builders – i.e. local men, women and children. She has been told that to get planning permission, she’ll need to appeal to some sense of heritage; and then today she found out, from a friend I took for tea, that the village has 6th century links to St Brigid and Iona, traces of which can be seen in the Abbey ruins. And when you walk along the river and pause by the site, its thinness palpably shimmers. Yes, it’s all coming together. The spirit is moving.
I’ve just entered a competition where the brief was to write 250 words on the theme ‘My Town’. Believe me, 250 words isn’t enough, even for a quiet wee place like Dunfermline. I kept it strictly 11th Century in tone and told the story of Malcolm and Margaret – how she wasn’t that keen on this rough, illiterate (albeit royal) boor, but he kept on at her and eventually she gave in; and civilised him. She also apparently brought European influences to Scottish church life – she’d been instructed by the Benedictines and believed ‘Laborare est Orare’ – work is the best form of prayer. I fondly remember pushing a pram up Monastery Street – maybe it was post-natal hormones but I could have sworn I heard the monks chanting and smelt their porridge! Anyway, today being such a lovely day I took a quick run up the town for some photos, and attach one here for you. I didn’t hear the monks today; my hormones must be all better now.
Somebody told me once about a ‘Society of Margarets’ – every Dunfermline woman called Margaret gets to join, in honour of QM/St M. But I can’t find anything about it on the Internet. Does anyone else know anything about this?