From time to time village life, just like family life, gets a little overheated and one needs to take refuge in one’s shed.
Too Much Salad
I suppose the weather has a lot to do with it and in Scotland we long for the heat and hot sunny days and then when they come we are unable to deal with them. Personally I blame a lot of rather sharp tempers on too much salad. Now if there is one thing guaranteed to lower one’s mood then it the nightly confrontation with a plate of lettuce during the months of July and August.
One’s well meaning neighbours, here in the Rural Bolthole, are constantly leaving little gifts of lettuce at the back door with notes attached, often by pins which are easy to swallow. For example this morning’s earwig covered offering from Young Old Jock which read, “Cannot possibly eat anymore, thought you and Her Majesty (the words Her Majesty, then being crossed out and replaced with Mrs Wylie) might find a use in some o’ they posh pieces yous have wi’ yer 3 o’clocks.” Muriel, who does sometimes look a gift horse in the mouth, suggested this was yet more evidence of the lack of sophistication on the part of the rustics as everyone knows afternoon tea is at 4 pm.
I would merely add if there is such a glut of lettuce annually, why grow so many in the first place?
A Class of Its Own – Naturally
As you might have anticipated the lettuce grown in our own small walled garden are not of the type one grows in chaotic abundance in some council allotment. As Muriel tells the gardener “lettuce should be well considered.” To this end we have a fine crop of Blonde de Paris dating from before the French Revolution, which as the packet says has “leaves which undulate on the margin and are tinged with reddish brown on the outside. The heads are quite large, moderately firm and of very good quality if not checked by drought”.
It might have been useful if they had added, “And your garden is not overrun by rabbits.” Our rabbits are currently so plentiful and so cheeky that I found one in the morning room yesterday listening to The Home Service while having a go at Muriel’s Peace Lily which is in front of the fire place for the summer months.
I imagine Muriel must have found a substitute for our decimated Blonde de Paris as she managed to pass something off to Mrs Macaulay yesterday with the words, “of course I always eat the same lettuce as Marie Antoinette.” Mrs Macaulay said she thought the ill fated Queen only ate cake, but as Muriel corrected her, “savoury first, sweet bites to follow, even the French have grasped that.”
Retreat to the Shed after a Successful Fête
I am hopeful that this evening’s salad offerings might be offset by something more substantial by way of accompaniment as I have just seen Mrs Travers put a ham on to boil and place a heavier weight on the saucer covering the summer pudding made from our raspberries.
Muriel, in case you are looking for her, has gone into the county town to the hairdresser’s and Hairy Mary, our nursery nurse, has taken young Gayle to a children’s party in the village. Mrs Travers as I mentioned is busy preparing supper while dancing around the kitchen to “When” by the Kalin Brothers. It is not really my sort of thing so I have withdrawn to the shed for a bit of a tidy up.
Things have got a bit out of hand since last weekend’s village fête at which we all did our bit. I ran the History Society’s stall with a display of recent finds. It was a great success. We had the most marvellous panorama created by yours truly of Loch Ugg one of our principle landscape features. It is surrounded by marsh, has no known depth and is the graveyard of several boats, an aircraft brought down during the last Unpleasantness, numerous cows who have perished in the marsh and more than one stockman, who failed to pull either himself or the cow to safety with a rope. Added to which the loch has a mysterious island which only appears every 7 years or when touristically speaking – necessary.
The Village Summer Fête
Muriel ran the tea tent, in opposition to Cousin Lulubelle (or was it the other way round, I forget) who had persuaded the committee to “dare to be different.” The different being a rather space age van with kitchen and sleeping quarters from which she sold her famous rissoles in a bun with onions and pickles and various other American foodstuffs such as popcorn and doughnuts. Muriel was furious as the “burger van” seemed to be somewhat more popular than a range of lettuce sandwiches and seedcake.
Lady Pentland-Firth was a gypsy fortune teller and has succeeded in terrifying most of the village population who have either short lifelines on their palms or have drawn some sort of disastrous card at Tarot. Thank goodness no one could find the crystal ball.
In the evening the dance was the usual focus for score settling as accordions got underway and too many refreshments were consumed on stomachs full of little, but lettuce. The walk of shame was a busy highway that Sunday morning after the dance. A week later there are still repercussions.
I can tell you one thing they are exhausting, all that putting up and taking down of canvas and dashing white sergeants until dawn. It is no wonder we are all in what my Granny Wylie called “cupboarding mood”. In other words, find somewhere quiet to lick your wounds, take that Askit pooder and nurse that headache, or as she could put it more cruelly “die quiet”.
Fortunately I have a magazine to peruse of the original type with a storehouse or arsenal of interesting and occasionally explosive ideas and topics. A good friend of mine in the neighbouring village has lent me a copy of one of the first men’s magazines or rather more correctly The Gentleman’s Magazine, “a record of a higher class and subjects of universal utility.” So Muriel should approve of that if I am discovered not dead heading the roses as per instruction.
Let me see, this is the 1745 edition when things north of the border were full of undercurrents rather like our fête dance after midnight.
Fun Activities for the Common People
This is probably why there are recipes for concoctions for “dressing ships” to prevent them from getting woodworm. Wish I’d known about that you should see the state of my garden fork, but I have neither charcoal nor “grossly bruised brimstone” to hand, or for that matter 35lbs of brick dust. In the same vein The Magazine goes on to say that every good government depends on its military strength and therefore its good soldiers. Apparently a nation unskilled in war might as well be a flock of sheep. I think Winston Churchill must have read this. It seems military exercises are graceful and manly and the common people should all do militarily service on a Sunday.
It is not all warmongering. There are more peaceful occupations suggested for the common people such as digging pits near dunghills to collect the brown water which runs off. This is apparently the most perfect and nutritious juice for vegetables. It does not say but I bet it was for lettuce.
The Eighteenth Century Equivalent of the Recipe Page
The Gentleman’s Magazine lists judicial cases and punishments much as modern magazines provide recipes. A Court Martial at Spithead resulted in two sailors being keel-hauled. At Tyburn on March 15 1745, James Stansburg, the keeper of the famous ‘Blood Bowl House’ in Hanging Sword Alley, off Fleet Street, was executed for felony and burglary along with Martha Stacey for a crime committed the previous January. Luckier perhaps was a William Joyce who was reprieved with 14 years transportation.
In the following month at the Old Bailey, the following received the sentence of death: Mary “Cut and Come Again” for street robbery, Hester Fowler for felony, Stephen Parsons footman to Sir Simeon Stuart, for stealing his silver chocolate pot and Edward Ryan for stealing a silver tankard and finally “Toss Off Dick” for burglary.
The Judiciary was also greatly concerned with the activities of smugglers who were “becoming a terror to Customs House officials”. Smugglers in Kent wounded 3 Customs House officials in a barbarous manner and robbed them of their watches. There was general agreement that at a time of war, smugglers were a monstrous evil and just not enough were being hanged. Tea was generally thought to be to blame.
The Abuse of Petticoats and Flounders
However the editors of The Gentleman’s Magazine were not immune to noticing the lighter things of life. They advised going to Cambridge to see a son of a Thomas Hall who, “but three years old is 4 foot tall with limbs near as long and as strong as a man’s and his voice deeper than that of most men.” They should meet Lady-Pentland Firth.
I am not sure if it was intended to be rather tongue-in-cheek, but in June the fashion news seemed to be confined to a review of a publication entitled “The enormous abuse of the hooped petticoat”. Someone who would not be seeing anymore petticoats was a young man from the village of Lee in Essex who “diverting himself with some flounders”, put one alive into his mouth – it slipped down his throat and tho’ all endeavours were used to force it up again, he died soon after. I wonder if it was Lee’s summer fête?
New Age Cures?
It is encouraging to see that The Magazine was interested in new things and new possibilities. There was much discussion on the question of giving tar water as a remedy for fever. Some physicians clearly believed it to be “hurtful” for inflammatory cases and those with “sanguine constitutions.” Others including a bishop believed that 5 quarts of tar water would do the trick. Tar water was recommended by others for Smallpox. Perhaps it was the Askit pooder of its day?
On the dreaded disease of cholera, The Gentleman’s Magazine was equally forward in presenting new cures. For example an Edinburgh medical man, Dr Ayton Douglas, recommended first a hearty application of warm water over a three hour period followed by a “decoction of oat bread baked without leaven or yeast, carefully toasted as brown as coffee but not burnt.” Apparently this helps with the “upwards and downwards evacuations”. When things have “subsided”, a wee touch of opium can be administered or in extreme cases liquid laudanum which works quicker than opium particularly if mixed with cinnamon water and wine.
It seems he tried this to great effect in Scotland which has lots of oats and found it very effective when a patient was “in the jaws of death”. Clearly none of these concoctions could save Sir Robert Walpole whose death was reported on 18th March.
Beware of the Prince from Over the Water
Summer festivities were not exactly on the mind of the government when on 1st August The Gentleman’s Magazine learned that “The Pretender’s Son” had set sail “in order to land in Scotland, where he would find 20,000 men and 40 transport ships to help him take the crown of Great Britain. No prizes for guessing which tricky nation, not a million miles across La Manche, put that one about .
By the 17th August The Magazine had reason to believe that he had landed between the islands of Mull and Skye. This was confirmed on the 22nd when it was reported that “the young chevalier is certainly in the Highlands”.
The Gentleman’s Magazine carefully followed the progress of Bonnie Prince Charlie throughout the autumn and gradually what was regarded as a trivial nuisance, becomes a real threat. Towns were taken, and money extorted from them. The Duke of Cumberland was recalled from Holland to deal with the situation which was so serious even someone in Dumfries writes to a friend about the dangers of the cut throat Highlanders and the rash adventurer.
Trouble Above and Below
Really there is a lot of very good stuff in this publication I am quite sure I might have the basis of a lecture, perhaps for our A.G.M., let me see here is a second volume, full of stuff about the death of Nelson.
“Mr Wylie! Mr Wylie!”
“What is it Mrs Travers is there something wrong, is there some emergency such as a nuclear war or Mrs Wylie telephoning to say the hairdresser’s is closed and that Helena Rubinstein have run out of her shade of lipstick?”
“No Mr Wylie nothing as serious as that, it’s just that with all that lettuce I decided to see if it might make a light summer soup and I had a wee bowl to test it and now I have evacuations upwards and downwards, and I really think I should have a wee lie down.”
“Mrs Travers have, you per chance, considered Tar Water or oat bread?”