You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 16, 2012.

Yes, I shall be milking the Great British year that is 2012. Remember, this is our year and, even better, our Olympics and Paralympics medals are also ours for another four years.

Bragging? I doubt it. God in His infinite mercy granted us this blessing. It will probably come only once in a lifetime for most of us. Therefore, for those of us living on this sceptred isle, send a prayer of thanksgiving and enjoy this fresh air wafting over a foetid wasteland of negativism.

Our Jubilee bunting and flags came down locally only a few weeks ago. Wonderful! They were a delight to see every day for so many months!

I have yet to hear any words from overseas about our successful Games (near silence) or our preliminary celebration of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee (Americans blogged about the ‘lizard woman’). Envy!

The Americans haven’t had a year like this since their Bicentennial in 1976. I remember it; I was there.

The French? Hmm. They do seem to be looking towards their British chums with bemusement and envy. It seems the best comeback they can come up with are intrusive photos of a certain Duchess. However, the lefty RMC’s Grandes Gueules have praised our Olympics and Paralympics, our gracious manners, our style, our loyalty to the England football team (the French have turned against theirs) and our courtesy behind the wheel — or handlebars (problems with speeding scooters surfaced near Cannes this past summer).

No one has commented on this blog (or in my emails) about our stellar year. I suspect that even Australians are crying in their Foster’s. ‘Whingeing Poms’? Ha. As the saying goes, ‘Every dog has his day’. Even my readers Down Under have to admit that Great Britain was long overdue.

Okay, enough of that. Where was I?

Oh, yes. Clarissa Dickson Wright, the former barrister who tumbled into alcoholism and survived as a television cook, hunt supporter and grateful Roman Catholic, has a new book out about British food.

Anyone who remembers Two Fat Ladies, co-starring the late Jennifer Paterson, will know who Dickson Wright is — the blonde.

The Telegraph recently interviewed her in a thinly-disguised plug for her new book and television programme, in which she offers a variety of potted perspectives.

On food in general:

“I’m not necessarily talking about lifting the hunting ban. It could be to do with the importation of food, European regulations, anything. People accept that the Conservatives are hindered by the Liberal Democrats, so they are waiting. But how long will they wait? I don’t know.”

There are good reasons for the Prime Minister to take this warning seriously, and not just because she has a licence for a shotgun. Clarissa is a tough, bluntly funny 65-year-old who would happily kill a rabbit and skin it before cooking up a gorgeous stew. She is also, crucially, enormously popular in the hills and vales.

Living in Scotland, her home country, she avers a minority political interest, represented more widely south of the border:

“I am a Tory,” she says, and there is no doubt that she speaks for a body of opinion within the party.

Adding, of her return to television:

I always said that if we had a change of government I would be back on television, because we wouldn’t have Alastair Campbell [Tony Blair’s PR — advance — man] blocking it.

Remember that Campbell edited or ghost wrote pornographic ‘Readers’ Wives’ letters for a top-shelf magazine before entering the hallowed realm of politics. He also told then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, ‘We don’t do God’.

About Mr Blair, who seems to be making a comeback just as Ms Dickson Wright is, she says:

He has psychopath eyes. You know those dead eyes that look at you and try to work out what you want to hear?

I don’t recognise the young man that I knew. He was this rather wet, long-haired law student and barrister who nobody expected to succeed. One thought he would disappear without trace, or become a clerk at a London court.

They were young barristers together. Theirs is a small, tightly-knit world.

However, I digress. On to food:

Dickson Wright has just finished filming a new three-part series for BBC Four on breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus an episode of the Great British Food Revival, celebrating rabbits, both to be shown later in the autumn. “Did you know that Yorkshire pudding used to be served without meat, but with rabbit gravy? I could eat that now. Send for the chef!”

And, of her new book:

If you want to know why Boudicca was the original Essex girl, Lincolnshire has a coriander crop second only to India, and a Cornish past[y] should never contain carrots, this is the place to look. “It is a personal journey through my England, the parts I have known and loved throughout my life,” she says.

Of her alcoholism and early family life:

She was born into wealth and privilege as the daughter of a surgeon to the Royal Family, but her father was a drunk who beat her up. Clarissa became the youngest woman ever called to the Bar. But she hit the bottle herself on the day her mother died, and the despair she felt led to alcoholism.

Dickson Wright describes her personal brand of Catholicism:

I’m not a very good or compliant Catholic. I reserve my right to disagree. On the other side, I come from a long line of Nonconformists. My ancestors fought with Cromwell. Other ancestors went with Guy Fawkes. So we’re bolshy on both sides.

And the role it played in her recovery:

I couldn’t get oblivion. I would have gone to the Embankment and jumped into the river, except that somewhere at the back of my head was the possibility that there was a Christian heaven …

My God is not that of the Church, but I go to Mass because I like to have somewhere formal to say thank you. I think that’s appropriate, don’t you?

Meanwhile, down South — or up North — depending on where you are, the battle of the tearooms goes on. 

I’ve never been to Northallerton or to Harrogate. I know the latter only through an Alan Bennett teleplay which mentioned Betty’s tearooms in Harrogate. Ever since, I’ve connected the three: Bennett, Betty’s and Harrogate.

What, you mean there are other tearooms? Really?

Woman on a Raft (WoR), from The Raft Journal, prefers Lewis & Cooper.  Say it ain’t so. A place as good as, if not better, than … Betty’s?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not endorsing either. However, WoR points us to a Lewis & Cooper ad for a cook:

Note the second paragraph:

We are looking for someone who enjoys cooking and baking, a good home cook rather than a chef.

When was the last time you saw that in an advert?

In the comments, WoR explains:

The founder, Fredrick Belmont, was a Swiss confectioner.

It would be reasonable to say that Belmont found a market which enthusiastically embraced his vision from the land of precision watch movements and cuckoo clocks, all the more remarkable since he began in 1919 in the shattered aftermath of WW[I].

British baking always has a substantial and wild feel to it. Compare the Bettys famous product “Fat Rascals” which is a rich bun which requires the almonds and cherries to be precisely placed.

A Brit would never think to do that, but Belmont was creating edible jewellery which looks glittering and tempting on the plate. His background as a confectioner taught him how important it is that food should look like treasure, which is after all, what it is – an item of real worth, not to be treated casually.

She makes a rather historical — and welcome — comparison with yet another tearoom:

Don’t forget to visit the Edwardian splendour of Botham’s tearoom in Whitby … Make sure you have a look round the bakery below; there are two distinct styles of baking. The dependable bracks and plumbreads represent speak of solid men in dark suits while the extravagant buns and themed fancies are like the flighty girlfriends your mother warned you about.

So, there you have it.  Gosh, any of us who haven’t visited Yorkshire will have plenty to see and taste when we go for tea, won’t we?

Such are the hidden secrets of England.

Lie back and think upon them.

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