Saturday, 5 December 2009

S ave O ur S ausage

The French used to complain that Britain had twenty religions and one sauce. The reason the French had so many sauces was that their meat was never fresh. The food in France was so bad in the 16th century, and the likelihood of being poisoned, either deliberately or by accident, so high that Marie de Medici brought her own cooks from Florence when she went to France to marry Henry II. It was those pioneering Italian cooks who laid the foundation of French high cuisine. In cuisine, as in most things, I am chauvinist to a degree. I am devoted to the English sausage. Either when joined in a tasty trinity with egg and chips or in a nest of mash and cabbage. lapped by a small sea of white wine and suitably seasoned. On sausages I speak with the authority of the ages.
The Skidmore Sausage is obtainable in the Cotswold village of Sherston, made according to a recipe unchanged since 1660. Not always by the hand of a Skidmore born, it is true. But always by a Skidmore named. It being the pleasant custom of whoever takes over the shop as the generations float by to change his name to Skidmore.
I cannot find it in my heart to blame them. The specials board at a restaurant on Phila Street, SARTOGA, offers a whopping “Skiddie” - three pancakes, three eggs, bacon or ham or sausage, home fries, and toast - at $11.95. It is nice to think that my devotion to the sausage is celebrated worldwide.
Somewhere I hope a black pudding bears my name. In a perfect world there would be a black pudding on every breakfast table - or a Dracula Butty, as I have heard it unkindly called. Begin the day with a black pudding and you will be a stranger to the shiver. Summon up its sinew, let loose its blood of wrath, preferably with a back-up of fried bread, egg, sausage and bacon, and carrying riot shields of hot buttered toast, and you are as ten men. Every man-jack of them a 'flu-disperser, buttressed against the winter's blast.
You may judge from the foregoing my reaction to the infamous suggestion that we should cut a sausage a day from the average British diet. It is necessary to save the planet, scientists claim. The scientists called for a 30 per cent reduction in the number of farm animals bred for meat to prevent rising temperatures and rising sea levels. The average meat intake in men is 970g a week and in women 550g a week. A 30 per cent reduction in men's meat intake is equivalent to seven 40g sausages, two 130g chicken breasts, four 70g lamb chops or 12 bacon rashers of 25g. In my view that is a price too high merely to save a planet.
Their controversial report, which partly blames meat-eaters for climate change, was backed by Environment Secretary and vegetarian Hilary Benn's department.

Professor Ian Crute, chief scientist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board which advises the meat industry, will have none of it. He wisely points out: “A large fall in meat eating or turning vegetarian is not the solution to climate change - it would make only a marginal difference to greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge is to produce meat more sustainable.”
Foreign sausages have their sinister side, as you might expect. In 1997 German police arrested a man on suspicion of murdering a woman with a sausage.
They said she had choked on a Bockwurst, a popular large German sausage. The prosecutors said the man had given a patchy account of events, acknowledging that he may have "administered" a Bockwurst to the woman.

Adolph Louis Luetgert was a German immigrant who owned a Sausage & Packing Company in Chicago. In May 1897 his second wife disappeared. Luetgert said she had deserted him for a secret lover. The police began nosing around the sausage plant. The theory was that the missing Mrs Luetgert had been cooked down to something as easily disposed of as sausage meat. A strange odour emanating from one of the vats in the factory it was drained.The police found unidentifiable bones and a gold wedding ring. They also found bills for the arsenic and potash Luetgert had bought the day before his wife disappeared. Potash, when boiled with water, can do a thorough job on the human body. “I was working on a secret formula to develop a new soap,” Luetgert explained. And soap with a potash base would certainly remove dirt - but skin too. And maybe that was precisely what had happened.
Adolph Luetgert missed melting in the electric chair but he got life in Joliet Prison, where he babbled incoherently to the guards. Though he still insisted he was innocent of her murder, his dead wife was haunting him and seeking her revenge, he said. Meanwhile, the Murder in the Sausage Factory led to false rumours that Luetgert had turned his wife into sausages that were sold to an unsuspecting public.

None of that puts me off sausages but one obsession I am going to have to cure is reading the Daily Mail online when I wake at 4 am. On Tuesday the paper contained the following headlines:
“Businesswoman's Crusader Accused of Bullying Female Workers”, “Sacked for Fighting, the Expert in handling aggressive Children”, “Tiny Yorkshire Terrier Gets ASBO for Upsetting Postman”, “Hacker Arrested for Stealing Players' Virtual Identities in Online Computer Games”.
“Islamists Pelt Muslim Peer with Eggs”, “Head of State Funded Family and Parent Institute Says Day of Typical Family is Over”, “Children's Secretary Ed Balls (so aptly named, one always feels) says 'Marriage Is Not The Key of a Happy Family'”, “Swiss Ban Minarets”.
It was then that it finally hit me. Combine those aberrations with the corruption in the judiciary, parliament, top echelons of the forces, local government, the City and almost any institution; the unnecessary wars, the feral young, the shabby art world, the unmusical music. None of it is new. I have just been reading Robert Harris's fine novel “Lustrum” and the same thing happened in Rome, as it did in Egypt, the Venetian Empire, Greece and any of the more ancient civilisations. Gore Vidal's “Creation” illuminates the strange truth of an explosion of creativity in the 5th century BC, so soon to be mired. My chum the Earl of Norwich wrote the only rival to Gibbon, a three volume history of Byzantium which is both scholarly and wildly amusing . When the work was re-published as a single volume John Julius, reputed the most intelligent man in London, a sort of thinking man's Stephen Fry , publicly advised people not to buy it because the publishers had ” taken all the jokes out”.( Every year John Julius sends his friends a booklet "Christmas Crackers" a collection of poems, prose and eccentricities. It has just arrives so Xmas has begun.)
I ponder the sad truth that in the last days of Empires monsters rise. In Rome, it was Caesar; in Russia, Ivan the Terrible; in Italy, Mussolini; in France, Napoleon; and in Germany, Hitler. With us, it is the most terrible banshee of them all, Lord Meddlesome.
Thoughts like that kept me gloomily awake until the tea arrived.
Footnote: Odd paper, the Daily Mail. On Thursday the Mail headline screamed: “Oldest Cookbook in the World Found” over a story of how experts at John Rylands Library had discovered the cook book used by Richard II's chef, “The Forme of Cury”, and were busily deciphering the recipes. They should done what I did. Buy a copy of the paperback from Amazon.
I warn them not to try the recipes. I made a banquet from them for my friend John Charteris, a Times reporter and adjutant of the Duke of Lancaster's Yeomanry, my maternal family's regiment. It was virtually uneatable.

A new to me word game from Blog reader Judith Elliott called Tom Swifties. As in:

'I swear by Viagra,' Tom said forthcomingly.

'Oxford murders are solved by Lewis nowadays,' Tom said remorselessly.

'I've paid back the money for the duck house,' he exclaimed.

'You just can't get the staff these days,' she said helplessly.

'We're a republic nowadays,' he sighed achingly.

'Theseus has killed the Minotaur!' the messenger said amazingly.

"I'm a Black and Decker man myself,' Tom said boringly.

All these by her husband Don.

We decided to play it ourselves over lunch in our favourite Italian restaurant in Peterborough, Fratelli's. Here's a selection:

“I love the sound of church bells,” said Tom appealingly.

“People in glass houses should be more careful,” said Tom stonily.

“I believe in God,” said Tom trustingly.

“That's a sad symphony,” said Tom pathetically.

“I think my name is Thomas,” said Tom doubtingly.

“Ouch!” said Tom painfully.

“A glass of milk,” said Tom shakily.

But, beware, it's habit forming. My bifstek romana was distinctly chilly when I got round to it. And my favourite (“You're not hanging me up there,” said Jesus crossly.) was disallowed on grounds of blasphemy and being contrary to the rules.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


I deeply regret describing the Fens as a land without scape. It is true that the nearest we have to scenery is a cloud formation and our Far Horizons are further than anyone else's. But there is much to celebrate. The Fens have illustrious children. Oliver Cromwell who was so sensible about Christmas. He banned it; Tom Paine, the font of common sense; John Clare, my favourite poet, Dorothy L Sayers; Edward Fitzgerald of the Rubyiat; and W G Sebald, author of “Rings of Saturn"; John Coke, the father of modern farming, after whom a hat was named. He declined a peerage saying, “There are many peers but only one John Coke of Norfolk”. And Horatio Nelson and Hipkin. Nor must we forget Hereward the Wake, a name that is a poem in itself like the McGillycuddy of the Reeks, the Moncreife of that Ilk and my own late stepfather-in-law The Menzies of Pitfoddle.

The list of Fenland Festivities is endless. It is as if people were escaping from the drab anonymity of endless meadows.

In the Peterborough district alone there are nightly dancing classes in most villages. Nothing unusual? These are Molly, Morris, Appalachian, Scottish Country, Sir Harry's Sword, Clog, Longsword, Welsh and Scottish Border, English Rapper and French dancing.

More traditional festivities?
A blaze of Christmas lights went on here in March last night. To paraphrase an unhappy broadcast of pre-war days describing a Review of the Home Fleet, “The whole bloody town is lit up.”

Nor are we alone. Almost every town or large village in the Fens is ablaze with Christmas lights. Others may illuminate their houses, in the way that Al Gore is said to illuminate his mansion, but no village in the kingdom celebrates Christmas more than Thursford (pop. 400) across the border in Norfolk.

Forty coaches a night bring spectators from all over Fenland and beyond to a Christmas show in a giant converted barn which outdoes the West End. Choirs galore, tableaux vivants, comics and a line up of a hundred lissom show girls.

In Whittlesea, on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the first Monday after Twelfth Night), a farm labourer dressed as a 'Straw Bear' and danced for money or beer and food. In 1909, an over-zealous police inspector forbade 'Straw Bears' as a form of cadging but the custom was revived in 1980. Over 250 dancers and musicians perform 'Molly', 'Morris', 'Clog' and 'Sword' dances. There are American style 'Appalachian' dances, street performances and Mummers' plays and a decorated plough pulled by a local Morris side. On Saturday the 'Bear' makes an appearance before the 'Bear Burning' on Sunday.

On the Isle of Axholme (which isn't an isle), where little more than a century ago a sheep was hung for stealing milk, there is an even stranger custom. The Haxey Hood is a annual event held in the eponymous village in North Lincolnshire. A leather tube is fought over by a large unorganised rugby scrum and taken to one of four pubs. The official story is that in the 14th century when Lady de Mowbray, wife of landowner John De Mowbray, was riding, her hood was blown away. Thirteen farm workers chased it. The worker who caught it, being shy, gave it to another worker to hand back. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood. She said he had acted like a Lord. The worker who had caught the hood was a Fool. She donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.
In the weeks before the event the Fool and the attendant Boggins tour nearby villages. Traditionally, they sing a number of well-known folk songs, including John Barleycorn, Drink England Dry and The Farmer's Boy. All wear their full festival costumes, the only exception being that the Fool's face is not marked.

The Hood Game is played every Twelfth Night. The Lord opens the event. The Fool leads the procession to the Field where the game is played. He has the right to kiss any woman on the way. The Boggins grab anyone who tries to escape from the scrum and throw him back.

On the green in front of the Parish Church the Fool makes a speech of welcome, standing on an old mounting block known as the Mowbray Stone. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him. ‘Smoking the Fool’ is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a bonfire was lit beneath a tree. The Fool was suspended over it and swung back and forth. He was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could. The Fool finishes his speech with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are:
"Hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock 'im doon, but doan't 'ot 'im."
(This translates as: House against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him hurt him.) On the field four teams representing local pubs fight for possession of the leather log
That is The Sway and the winner is the team which gets the Hood back to its parent pub.

I have lingered lovingly over this because I covered the game as a young reporter and am the only Honorary Boggin. So I can tell you that the whole thing is a pagan fertility rite and the 'Hood' is a phallus. Though honoured to be a Boggin, I don't do the singing bit following a nasty experience. I sang with the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir for a TV programme. They begged me never to sing in public after my first notes threw the entire choir out of tune.


The University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit has been hacked and some embarrassing emails released. One of the most damning comes from Dr Jones, the Head of the Unit. Jones appears to discuss a method of overlaying data of temperature declines with repetitive, false data of higher temperatures.

An Earlier scandal in September cast a shadow over a number of peer-reviewed climate papers. At least eight, purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times, may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC’s assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the University of East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors.
The controversy surrounding the global warming e-mail scandal has deepened after a BBC correspondent admitted he was sent the leaked messages more than a month before they were made public.

Read more:


Can no one see why nondescripts have been chosen for the Top Jobs in Europe? Germany and France rule the EU and they ain't about to create their own opposition. They had to unite because they cannot afford a repeat of the mass destruction both countries suffered in WW2. Since Bismark created Germany and Napoleon put some backbone into France, both countries have strived and failed to conquer Europe. They think they will have a better chance conquering by stealth.

What started disguised as a Coal and Steel Federation has succeeded. Four out of every five laws are Made in Europe. Parliament exists to rubber stamp EU diktats. Indeed, we were only allowed into the Club when it became obvious Great Britain had died in two world wars on the battlefields of Europe and had demonstrated its ineffectuality afterwards. It is the dregs of that brave generation and its slimy progeny who have sold us into what will become slavery.

If I were forty yeas younger I would form a Maquis. As it is, I can only console myself with the knowledge that my Empire died in the noblest cause of all the empires in history. We may have lost the fight for freedom but at least our Empire died fighting for it.