Sunday, January 15, 2017

This is NOT what it's all about!

OK, so I just wrote about Canadian chocolate bars, and one of my favourites is Cadbury Crunchy. This has a very nice, thick layer of milk chocolate enrobing a crispy sponge toffee centre. Oh my! As a kid, I used to be able to buy the stuff in great cellophane-wrapped chunks in a candy store called May's in Chatham. I remember the atmosphere in there, sugary, fudgy, heavenly.

But over the years, sponge toffee became increasingly hard to find. Now the ONLY place that has it is the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and it's about $9.00 a bag. And it isn't even that good, too spongey, not crisp enough.

I had a dim memory of making this as a child (boiling up hot syrup. . . oh yeah, a great recipe for a kid!), but I don't know how it turned out. I swear I have this memory of running out into the back yard at night and sticking the pot into a snow drift so it would harden quickly, but now I think this must be wrong.

So I got this idea. Surely there would be a good recipe for sponge toffee (hokey pokey, cinder toffee, sea foam, yellow man, and about seven other names, unusual for a candy with three or four ingredients). There were DOZENS of them, but the one that interested me most was this effusive rendering by Nigella Lawson. She could make coffee grounds sound rhapsodic, I think, and her description of what she calls hokey pokey builds it up as some sort of heavenly concoction that practically makes itself.

Light. Crisp. Golden. So airy it almost disappears in your mouth. She even makes it for formal dinner parties, which to ME seems about as logical as bringing marshmallow Krispie squares. 

But in my case, hokey pokey/sponge toffee turned out to be a heavenly concoction that ended up in the garbage. THREE times.

It seemed easy, like all the recipes said, or at least simple. I was to find out, once again, that those two things are not the same at all.  All the recipes were similar - almost identical, in fact - white sugar, water, corn syrup, a little vanilla, then - at the end - "bicarb", as Nigella says in the video. Sounds like dumping bismuth in it, but what it is, is plain-ordinary baking soda. 

So I did that. It required an alarming amount, a whole tablespoonful, but I did it, I followed the recipe exactly.

I must've undercooked the syrup or something, because the first time it just didn't look like anything. It didn't foam way up as it was supposed to. It just lay there inert, and it never hardened. It was like a vast melted piece of toffee, a sugary glacier slowly making its way across the counter. Into the garbage it went.

Try #2 seemed more hopeful, it really did. I cooked it a little longer, just a little, mind. It turned the colour of all the sponge toffee syrup in all the recipes (in fact, quite a bit lighter than what is pictured above), and foamed way up when I added the bicarb, exactly the way it was supposed to. But there was this disturbing smell. Quite awful, really. Then I tasted it, and it was HORRIBLE. Scorched and inedible. Cinder toffee, indeed! It tasted like it had been scraped out of the fireplace, or something worse.

Once more, into the garbage.

The third time was going to be the charm. (This was all in one evening, by the way. I hate to lose.) And it did indeed seem perfect, with the syrup boiling up perfectly. It didn't foam up as much, but none of the recipes showed that anyway. It looked like the melted marshmallow you use for Rice Krispie squares. But I was afraid to stir it much and deflate it. I poured it out, it went sort of flat, but every other recipe showed it going flat.

Then - 

Finally it cooled and set. It was rock-hard, but that was the way it was supposed to be. I broke it up into pieces, and it had that honeycomb centre. I was truly anticipating a good result. But I got that sinking feeling once again. 

It tasted just awful, bitter and metallic, like a mouthful of baking soda. No one would want to eat this stuff! It's true that I do not own a candy thermometer, but that's for amateurs. Since the age of ten I have been making fudge from scratch, not that horrible condensed milk non-version, but the boiled-syrup kind that you beat with a spoon until it sets. I've had virtually no failures, so it's not as if I can't make candy. 

Every video I've seen - and it looks like there are a hundred of them - uses the same steps I used, same ingredients and method. Was the "bicarb" bad, somehow? CAN it go bad? Sugar can't go bad, can it? I'd had the syrup for a while. I don't know. 

Nigella, come to my house and make this heavenly stuff and wrap it up in cellophane and tie it with a ribbon. And DON'T charge $9.00 for it. My hankering for a candy from my past is still unsatisfied. And I'm tired of throwing out all those ingredients.

POST-TRAUMA. I feel bad. Just - chintzy bad. Not end-of-the-word bad, just - shabby. I feel as if I am a failure at something I thought I was good at, and I do NOT need one of those few, scant things taken away from me, thank you very much. I have scoured the internet, and I don't think anyone anywhere has had the same problems with this, a task I should be able to ace since I've made candy for I-don't-want-to-say-how-many years. Certainly no one has failed at it three times. 

And I still don't really know what the problem is. My impression is that there is about a five-second window for the syrup to be ready, and if you go over or under, you're screwed.

Either that, or other people enjoy a candy that has a bitter, metallic taste. A taste of cinders.

Please, someone tell me this is NOT "what it's all about".

POST-POST: I kept looking until I found something that made me feel better. It is my personal method for warding off depression.

There weren't that many, but I found a few tweets on the Nigella Twitter page, plus something that might be a partial explanation.

how do you judge when hokey pokey right. Too chewy too burnt prob

I tried making this quite a few times years ago from your recipe but never succeeded

thank you for tweeting this! I have had nothing but disaster trying to make it. Will buy new bicarb... :)

what's the best way to tackle it if the weather is damp?!

aha! The only recipe of yours that I have not managed to make work yet.

i have hokey pokey video on my pc and i watched this video more than 3oo hundred times does not taste good as it looks

I’ve missed something important here

The kitchen goddess speaks: "Generally if Hokey Pokey not working, it's because bicarbonate too old or weather is too damp!"

Hmmm. My "bicarbonate" (baking soda) is upwards of ten years old, but why should it matter? Why should that affect how cooked/uncooked the syrup is, or why it turns brown and tastes scorched? It has nothing to do with it. And the weather? Fair and cold. I really don't understand.

Post-script. Looking at Nigella without the sound on (as in the four-second gif, above) is a revelation. She constantly tosses and shakes her head (with its chestnut mane), her facial expressions are intense, even extreme, and she eyeballs and flirts incessantly with the camera, generally behaving in a way that wouldn't go over well at a dinner party, at all. I am sure she is not that effusive when she actually goes out - such exaggerated head motions and rolling-eyes glances are simply too much. She also does this I'm-an-attractive-woman-and-I-know-it thing that I find a little offputting. On the other side, my husband is in love with her.

POST-POST! This is one of those things that goes on forever. I did make a fourth attempt, which I was SURE was the charm. I bought new ingredients, new baking soda, even new SUGAR. I slavishly followed Nigella's stylish, effortless method. It went really well, actually! It looked good, boiled up nicely. Foamed up fairly violently when I added the reduced amount of "bicarb", but I whacked it out on the silicone platter and waited. Eating around the edges, it actually tasted good, crunchy, sweet. . . though there was that little aftertaste, bitter and metallic, that I tried to ignore. . .  

Then as it cooled and I broke it apart, my heart sank. It had that industrial smell to it, the scorched-earth quality that told me it had been ruined. And it had.

The above video - well, I don't want to laugh at it, but it makes me feel somewhat better, and I am VERY glad she posted it. I don't suppose anyone will take this as a warning about how dangerous this could be for children to try to make. The way it surges over the sides of the springform pan like a living thing, spurting jets of steam, an actual molten substance that could give you third-degree burns in less than a second - why does no one else warn you about this? It wouldn't even be like boiling water, as the liquid sugar lava would glue itself to your skin as it hardened.

I've made a couple of gifs of her result. And this is WITH a candy thermometer, set to the correct number of degrees:

In the second one, she's warning everyone to keep away from this thing, which does look like a science experiment gone wrong. I think the oozing and spurts of steam went on for several hours.

Nigella. Has this ever happened to you?

Post-POST-post: Now that I'm looking around on the topic, I am finding more and more admissions that this stuff is fiendishly hard to make. I suspect that at least one of my four attempts turned out the way it was supposed to: it just tasted like shit. Cinder toffee, indeed! They got the scorched, gritty part right. The husband of the poor woman who created the terrifying volcano in the above gifs said, "Get this out of the house. It smells like burnt carbon." 

I found this quote on a site called Life is a Party. She tried this recipe over and over again, but kept getting that horrible taste of scorched sugar. Finally she came out with a non-burnt batch, but it was flat and nearly devoid of bubbles. The result looked more like peanut brittle than sponge toffee, but her friends (no doubt not wanting to hurt her feelings) effused over it anyway: 

"After attempt number four I was starting to doubt myself. In fact I was thinking that after one full bottle of corn syrup and a bag of sugar that I should really be writing to you to save your time, and effort and invest the money for my four batches into a few Crunchie chocolate bars from the store -and if necessary rough them up a little, break them into pieces, tuck them into a cello bag with some ribbon and try to pass them off as your own to your friends and family."

ave tried to make this recipe twice. The first time it did not harden. Instead, it solidified into more of a "taffy" consistency. However, at least it tasted okay the first time. I was so determined to get it right that I bought a candy thermometer to ensure I reached the correct temperature. Then when I added the baking soda, the entire mixture nearly exploded into an unruly foam that almost burnt my hand!!! Luckily I was wearing The 'Ove' Glove (c) and I had my parchment paper right next to the stove ready-to-go. I didn't even get a chance to mix most of the baking soda in before it exploded. It smelled and tasted like a burnt marshmallow. Even worse, the baking soda had an aftertaste that made my mouth tingle for the next 20 min. It was disgusting and tasted like PURE CARBON! Believe me, I am very forgiving with new recipes but this was really, really bad. Btw, if anyone has children that like to help out in the kitchen, DO NOT COOK THIS RECIPE WITH THEM. IT COULD BE DANGEROUS!!! But don't worry, Food Network, I still love to watch Nigella Express.
But my favorite comment of all came from Nigella's page on the Food Network:

"I have tried to make this recipe twice. The first time it did not harden. Instead, it solidified into more of a "taffy" consistency. However, at least it tasted okay the first time. I was so determined to get it right that I bought a candy thermometer to ensure I reached the correct temperature. Then when I added the baking soda, the entire mixture nearly exploded into an unruly foam that almost burnt my hand!!! Luckily I was wearing The 'Ove' Glove (c) and I had my parchment paper right next to the stove ready-to-go. I didn't even get a chance to mix most of the baking soda in before it exploded. It smelled and tasted like a burnt marshmallow. Even worse, the baking soda had an aftertaste that made my mouth tingle for the next 20 min. It was disgusting and tasted like PURE CARBON! Believe me, I am very forgiving with new recipes but this was really, really bad. Btw, if anyone has children that like to help out in the kitchen, DO NOT COOK THIS RECIPE WITH THEM. IT COULD BE DANGEROUS!!! But don't worry, Food Network, I still love to watch Nigella Express."

Final Curtain:

Oh how I wish you could just go down to your corner store and buy a chunk of this, perfectly-made in big industrial batches, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon. I think it cost ten cents.

Hilda in the waterfall

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Is this my profile?

Yes, we ARE Canadian!

In these times of divisive political strife, resentment against the Machiavellian machinations of the monster soon to become U. S. President, and other things that are just a plain drag, man, my mind attempts to turn to other things.

Like chocolate bars.

The kind YOU guys don't have.

Never has it been more important for Canadians to cleave to a national identity. Almost by definition, a Canadian is "not an American": Robertson Davies once famously wrote, "Historically, a Canadian is an American who rejected the Revolution."

This either makes us a bunch of lily-livered cowards who don't know how to blow a redcoat's head off with a big musket, or - different.

We didn't so much run away from the Revolution as get up and walk until we found a good place to settle. No bloodshed, no battles or wars. Boring as hell, is Canadian history, but I'm proud of it.

"They think we live in a bunch of igloos," my husband rather bitterly said the other day, speaking of the genius executives who tried to make a go of Target stores across this country and failed utterly. Meaning, they had no idea at all of the spending habits of Canadians, and decided they would just take American spending habits (or what they saw as American spending habits) and ram them down our throats.

No thanks. Store by store, the Targets fell down (like. . . targets?), and, shockingly quickly, the company had to admit defeat and withdraw at a gigantic loss. They had misfired because they had misread the habits of the Canadian population so drastically.

Americans think we're funny, with moose wandering down the street (actually, that DOES happen sometimes), winter all year long, beavers in the back yard, saying "eh?" and "aboot" all the time (which, yes, does happen a lot). They think that instead of policemen, we have Mounties in red coats who ride horses. Well. . . sometimes they do, on ceremonial occasions, but the rest of the time they just look like cops.

But there are a few central facts Americans don't know, very simple ones that might help them understand what we are about.

Canada is only 150 years old. It's a young country, much younger than yours, Bucko! So it has had way less time to establish an identity. It has approximately 1/10 the population of the States, spread out over the second-largest land mass of any country in the world. (Only Russia is larger.) Meaning, there are concentrated blobs of population in a few key areas, with almost nothing in between.

This, too, affects our identity. 

We don't have states. We have ten provinces, plus the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut. That all sounds very Northern, doesn't it. Plus our flag has a leaf on it and has only two colours. (And by the way, we only got our flag in 1965! Before that we used the British Union Jack and the hideous Red Ensign.) 

Our history is incredibly dull. Virtually no bloodshed, except that Quebecois stuff which has now died down to a dull roar. Quebec hasn't separated officially, but emotionally and spiritually it's a nation unto itself. So within our Little Big Country, we have ANOTHER Little Big Country with a culture all its own.

One thing, a party trick I like to do with Americans (after I've shown them our loonies and toonies and see-through plastic money) is tell them, "You know, I've never seen a gun."

"What? You mean you don't own any."

"No. I've never seen one. Ever. In my life. In fact, I don't know anyone - have never known anyone who has. Oh, except one. A cop."

Does that sound lame, America? Does that sound un-colourful? (Note the "u" which lingers in colourful, along with certain other words which have retained their British spelling.) Don't underestimate us.

You've never had our chocolate bars. 

And they are the finest in all the world.

We don't have "candy bars", by the way, just like we don't have "soda". It's POP, for your information. These things matter to us.

The chart at the beginning of this post pictures OUR chocolate bars, proudly Canadian, and many of which are now "vintage" (no longer made). Seeing this was like Proust's madeleine moment, when biting into a tiny cake released a flood of memory:

"But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

(Caption: How do you like your coffee? 


You like your coffee crisp? 

I like my Coffee Crisp!)

I was going to do a roundup or review of all these chocolate bars, one at a time, but there are so many of them. When I look at them now I feel simply overwhelmed. When you see or hear something you haven't even thought about for decades, it gives you a weird feeling. This is a phenomenon closely tied to the internet, social media, and nostalgia sites, which I haunt, dredging for meaning in the past and present.

Somebody will post a picture of something, and I'll think, my God, my God. . .I didn't think anybody else in the world remembered that! 

The most unusual of these was Neilson Treasures, which was really a mini-box of chocolates within a bar. No kidding, all sorts of different centres (note the spelling!): Turkish delight, bordeaux, chocolate, caramel, strawberry cream, and nougat. We had Sweet Marie, which was - well - yes, sort of like O Henry, but different somehow. Nicer name, for one thing. And Smarties: DON'T compare these to those waxy, tasteless M & Ms, please, because they are totally different, with a crunchy sugar shell and a milk chocolate melt factor that makes them ultra-superior.

Mackintosh's Toffee (good Canadian name, with a plaid wrapper) came in a bar, but you whacked it on something, kind of like Bonomo's Turkish Taffy, and it fractured into little pieces that warmed in your mouth, becoming deliciously chewy. I still buy this, but in wrapped kisses that have to be kept in the fridge. These have enough real butter in them that they won't keep for very long.

It's hard for me to believe that Americans don't have Aero and Caramilk and Coffee Crisp, but who knows? (The spelling of Aero might be changed to Arrow.) Crunchie has sponge toffee in it, but do Americans know what that is? Do they have it? The original recipe calls for boiling up a sugar syrup, throwing in some baking soda, running out in the back yard and jamming the pot into a snowdrift. Sounds like a Canadian thing to me.

Only some of these treats are obsolete. I had half a Crunchie with my coffee tonight. Half, because the bar is just too whacking BIG to eat in one sitting. Did the taste of it make me go all Proustian and madeleine-ish?

Not really, but I felt a certain melancholy. I keep thinking of that Joni Mitchell song about the fiddle and the drum, and the way she refers to "America, my friend". I don't hate Americans, but I am NOT friends with what is happening, because it seems evil. And I don't see how anyone can call that stupid, misogynistic jackass they elected "the answer" to anything. 

I just hope you guys, you know, survive the next four years, and for God's sake DON'T re-elect him. And don't try to come to Canada. You won't be able to. We have a strict immigration policy, you know?

I'll bet you didn't. 

50 gifts Canadians gave to the world!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blow me down (please)!

Old, brown, crumbling things always interest me. (Don't take that too literally.) I am a great Popeye fan, I mean the original grotty old Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s. By wartime, it had all started to fall apart as Popeye (along with Donald Duck and most other well-known animated characters) began to spew propaganda for Our Side. But I had always had some dim awareness that he was based on a real person.

The cartoon Popeye, the comic strip I mean, was created by someone named Segar, and it had vastly more characters and was far weirder than the cartoon. The Sea Hag and Alice the Goon come to mind, as does someone named Ham Gravy. But when it came to the screen, the character was subtly altered. Ugly as Popeye was in the cartoons, he was uglier in the comic strip.

THIS Popeye does resemble that fellow, Frank Fiegel of Chester, though I haven't been able to find out much about him. (Stay tuned.)

Meantime, here are two early Popeye moments that stick in my head:

From that ultimate authority on everything, Wikipedia:

"Local folklore in Chester, Illinois, Segar's hometown, claims that Popeye is based on Frank "Rocky" Fiegel, a man who was handy with his fists. Fiegel was born on January 27, 1868. He lived as a bachelor his entire life. According to local Popeye historian Michael Brooks, Segar regularly sent money to Fiegel."

From that other site bearing Ultimate Knowledge, Cracked:

Find-a-Grave "A stone for me bones, heh-heh, a post for me ghost."

Fiegel was something of a local legend in Chester while Segar was growing up: He was known for always being prepared to dish out an ass whooping and taking on several opponents at the same time. He even acted exactly like Popeye -- locals claim that children would startle him while he napped and he would "jump out of his chair, arms flailing, ready for a fight." His official cause of death was "warships grew out of his biceps."

POST-POP. I just had one of those wretched experiences where most of my post just disappeared. I clicked on Revert to Draft and everything. But it's gone now, a few hundred words at least, and photographs and gifs.

Not sure whether it's worth trying to piece it back together, but I'd rather not lose a couple of hours like that. But do I want to lose ANOTHER couple of hours doing a salvage job?

But I must carry on.

As a kid, I particularly loved this Paramount logo at the end. It only appeared in the first half-dozen or so Popeyes, so it was something of a collector's item. (That desk calendar in the background - I still use those, though it is getting harder and harder to find refills. At Staples, they looked at me like I was crazy. I finally had to break down and order one online from Acco, and it still isn't here. Canada Post is extremely slow.)

When my own kids were pre-teens, they loved the old Popeyes (for some reason). They came on every day at 5:30 a.m., and I taped them. I even edited them so there were no repeats. The game we played was this: to try to freeze the tape on the inkwell, but I don't know if any of us did it. Or maybe once.

Those were rare times, maybe the best times of my life, though of course I didn't realize it until much later. Until, maybe, now. We were all so crazy about Popeye that we once acted out all the parts in Beware of Barnacle Bill. I had transcribed the entire libretto from the cartoon and made it into a script.

Is this dull? Sorry. It's dull for me, too. Have you ever had to piece together a whole post that disappeared? I'm so angry my hands are shaking, and at the same time I am extremely bored. 

Anyway, what's next in this now-pretty-dull story? At this point I had six hours of Popeye on a single videotape. But DVDs were just coming in, and I so wanted my precious cartoons in a more convenient format. So I mailed the tape off to one of those places that claimed to transcribe VHS to DVD for a very modest price.

I never saw the tape again. I felt bad about this for years.

Fast-forward, or maybe slow-forward, to 2007, when I was meandering around the Zellers store. The late, lost, lamented Zellers. And I saw something I could hardly believe:

YES! It was a DVD boxed set of SIXTY Popeye cartoons, in chronological order from the first one in 1933. They were in amazing condition, remastered and all that stuff, but not mucked-with. Much of it, particularly the beautifully-drawn silver-grey backgrounds, I was seeing for the first time. Then there was the amazing Fleischer technique of using a miniature set on a turntable to create a 3D effect. I've had this explained to me several times, but I still don't get it techically. To my understanding, the moving animation cels were filmed superimposed over the live-action background set, which was turning. Beats me how they did it.

I soon got my hands on the next two collections, but I noticed all the cartoons were in black and white. I was sure the ones I'd watched with my kids had been in colour. (The childhood ones, who knew - everything was in black and white back then.)

It took me a while to untwist this story. It turns out Ted Turner did it. He ruined these things, or almost did, by changing them into sickly pastel colours, pink and yellow and minty-green. I wonder whatever happened to the "colorization" movement, and why Ted Turner now heads up that so-called bunch of film purists, Turner Classic Movies. Why was he forgiven? Money talks, I guess. What a thug the man is. Anyway, this mistake was undone at some point. 

Probably lots of intrigue here, but I don't care about it because I have somehow managed to retrieve MOST of my lost post, if in flat, dull form. I hate blogging sometimes, but I hate losing posts even more.

I've been goosed!

I don't know why I've had this rather inane nursery rhyme repeating in my head lately. I don't know how it got started. I'm aware that most of these childish things have dark or even sinister origins, buried in antiquity somewhere.

I wondered if this one wasn't just a piece of nonsense, incongruous, like the wacky poems of Edward Lear or even Lewis Carroll. But no. The merest probing into Wikipedia brought up this:

Most historians believe that this rhyme refers to priest holes—hiding places for itinerant Catholic priests during the persecutions under King Henry VIII and later under Oliver Cromwell. Once discovered the priest would be forcibly taken from the house ('thrown down the stairs') and treated badly. Amateur historian Chris Roberts suggests further that the rhyme is linked to the propaganda campaign against the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII.

Other interpretations exist. Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey note in Birds Britannica that the greylag goose has for millennia been associated with fertility, that "goose" still has a sexual meaning in British culture, and that the nursery rhyme preserves these sexual overtones ("In my lady's chamber").

Priest holes! Sexual connotations! It doesn't quite hang together for me, but these things can evolve over time, or exist in layers. The original version didn't even have the throwing-down-the-stairs bit:

Goose-a goose-a gander,
Where shall I wander?
Up stairs and down stairs,
In my lady's chamber;
There you'll find a cup of sack
And a race of ginger.

We won't even ask what a "race of ginger" is. It's just one of these obscure things. Some older versions include these even-sillier lines:

The stairs went crack,
He nearly broke his back.
And all the little ducks went,
'Quack, quack, quack'.

All that strange left-leg stuff ("so I took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs") didn't seem to add up for me, until I suddenly remembered hearing the expression, "He kicks with his left foot." Just recalling that phrase jarred awake a synapse that hadn't fired since I was six and listening to my Grandmother quietly, politely eviscerate every Catholic in the neighborhood. The left foot is like the left leg or the left hand - sinister, half a bubble off plumb, "not the thing". In other words, to an observant Protestant - Catholic.

You have to ask yourself, however, why anyone would invent a children's rhyme about priest holes and the persecution of Catholics, those nasty old left-foot-kickers. Why would anyone throw in references to geese (ladies of the night) and ladies' chambers (implying high-status quarters not normally open to the goose trade)? There is Mother Goose, of course, just to complicate things. But if you really look at the structure of the rhyme, which absolutely no one does, you see that it can be interpreted entirely another way.

The narrator, the "I" who is reciting the rhyme, is actually addressing it to the goose character - asking it, in essence, "where should I go? It's kind of like "hey, you over there - yes, I mean YOU, Goosey Goosey Gander - what's a-happenin'?" But it's definitely not "Here I am, Goosey Goosey Gander, Esquire, and let me tell you all about my lady's chamber." This is in spite of the fact that every illustration I've ever seen for this thing includes a big, nasty goose, usually throwing a man down the stairs.

 In fact, "Goosey Goosey Gander" might just be a collection of nonsense syllables, a blithery-blathery-tra-la-lee sort of thing.

If you take the goose right out of the equation (and that's no fun, because I love these depictions of savage geese throwing terrified men down the stairs), then you have something like this:

Dinder, dander, donder
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs, downstairs,
In my lady's chamber.

When you look at it this way, it can and does have erotic possibilities. Hmmm, let's see, where am I going to wander? (wandering being a sort of aimless idling, or even a poking-around-in-none-of-your-business thing). Maybe up here, maybe down there (whew - now that has some sexual meaning behind it!), or maybe in my lady's chamber, where I certainly do NOT belong. It has a sort of subtext of invaded intimacy.

The old man who wouldn't say his prayers kind of reminds me of the old rhyme about "I met a man who wasn't there". In any case, is it really the goose who does the "throwing down the stairs" bit? Of course not; it's the narrator of the poem. So maybe it's really by that notorious old Catholic-hater, Henry VIII. Who knows, he wrote a lot of songs, such as Greensleeves. Or maybe Anne Boleyn wrote it for something to do in the Tower before she got chopped.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"I tawt I taw a Bentley cat!"

It might be food: Director's Cut

Why Toto is the star of The Wizard of Oz

White peacock dancing

Hey, Xenu! Scientology and you

The hardest thing you will ever have to do

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Breathtaking: fireworks over the Eiffel Tower

The best cat, I mean, the BEST

Here kitty, here kitty
Here little kitty, here little kitty
Here kitty, here kitty 
Here little kitty cat

Look at the little kitty cat
A-walkin' down the street
I bet he's got no place to go, 
or nothin' good to eat
Look at the little kitty cat
With tiny tired feet
He ought to have a place to go, 
'Cause he's so very sweet!

Here kitty, here kitty,
Here little kitty, here little kitty
Here kitty, here kitty,
Here little kitty cat

I’m gonna ask my mama 
if she’ll let me take him home
Where I can hold him close to me 
so he won’t have to roam
He oughta have a lot of milk, 
and lots of fish and meat
Instead of finding what he can 
in the alley and the street

Here kitty, here kitty,
Here little kitty, here little kitty
Here kitty, here kitty,
Here little kitty cat

Now look at the little kitty cat
A-sleepin' in his bed
He’s got a place to rest his feet 
and lay his weary head
I’m going to see that he will stay

as happy as can be

And now when he goes walking 
he’ll go walking next to me

Oh, kitty, 
Oh, kitty,
Oh how I love my sweet little kitty!
Oh kitty, oh kitty,
Sweet little kitty cat!

Cat lover's note. This song, beloved in my childhood, is somewhat biographical. Bentley came to us from the SPCA, designated as a "stray". These were once called "alley cats", though the term "stray" was floating around to describe missing dogs. I knew very little about Bentley's history. Nobody did. He was about a year old, brought in by someone who found him badly injured, likely mauled by a dog or coyote. We had to piece together his story after the fact: perhaps he had wandered off from somewhere, gone on a little adventure, and become lost. There was nothing remotely feral about him, though - his gentleness and sweetness was immediately apparent, even from his picture.

When I first saw him in his little SPCA cubicle by himself, he jumped down from his high place and ran up to me, looking up at me expectantly. I picked him up, he relaxed in my arms, and it was instant love. When I opened the door to the cat-carrier, he went in there like a shot.

I had my cat. He didn't have any fur on his shoulders, but I could see the healed puncture-marks where he had been so badly bitten. My daughter-in-law looked at him and said, "That's where his wings broke off."

The thing is, we had not even planned to have a cat. At all. The "cat-riarch", Murphy, had lived to be 17, and at that point we said "no more cats". I was into birds then, kept one for eleven years, and when Jasper died I got a new lovebird named Paco, a gorgeous, sweet little lavender-colored thing that I immediately became deeply attached to. The grandkids loved her immensely. When she was only about eight weeks old, I found her dead on the floor of the cage. I never found out what went wrong.

Why a cat? It was unlikely. My daughter had just gotten a new kitten, adorable. She kept saying, oh, c'mon you guys, you're pensioners, you need a cat. One day when I was feeling particularly ripped up about Paco, I said to Bill, "Jesus, we might as well just get a bloody cat."

Bill said, "We could get a cat." He said it hopefully. He said it with a sense of possibility. Perhaps we needed to revisit that "no more cats" decision of years ago.

It didn't take long. The fund of adoptable kittens was small, but Bentley was a year old and home-ready. His manners were impeccable, and my feeling is that he had a good home, but they didn't neuter him, and one day he followed the siren call. A bad thing, or a good thing? It was good for us. 

Here is his SPCA mug shot. At this point he was named Theo, so he has had at least three names in his lifetime:

He has been the best cat, I mean, the best. Gentlemanly, self-possessed, even classy, like his name. Yet just as off-kilter and unpredictable as any feline. He is the master of the soft-paw stealth attack. Though the fur grew back on his shoulders where he had been picked up and thrashed, when he leans forward I can see little gaps underneath where the skin was too damaged. I call these his "duelling scars". 

Why is Bentley on this blog so much? Hell, I'm getting views for the first time in seven years! But it's more than that. He changed my life. I never expected that, at all. 

It takes a cat like Bentley to do that.