Monthly Archive for September, 2007

Pastry News

Many thanks to OutaSpaceman for drawing to my attention this splendid dinner party suggestion, culled from Seven Centuries Of English Cooking by Maxime De La Falaise:

To delight and amaze your guests make the likeness of a ship from a coarse pastry. Add flags and streamers of marzipan with such holes and trains of gun powder that they may all take fire at once. Place your ship on a platter with salt all about it as if at sea. Upon the next platter have a stag made from coarse pastry with a long arrow out of the side of him and his body filled with red wine… In the last platter build a castle with battlements, gates and drawbridges made of pastry and cannons made of marzipan. Inside fill with gunpowder and also let trains of gun powder come out over its walls in all directions. Upon the moat place egg shells filled with rosewater. Place the castle at a distance to the ship so that each may fire upon the other with your guests at the dining table in between…

Next to the stag place a pie made of pastry in which there be live frogs and in another live birds. Make the pies thusly of a coarse pastry filled with bran. Bake them and decorate with gold-gilded bay leaves. The pies being baked, make a hole in the bottom and take out the bran. Put in living frogs and birds and close up again with pastry…

After your guests are seated, fire the trains of powder off the castle so all the pieces of its sides may go off. Now fire the powder trains about the ship so as to make a battle. To sweeten the stink of gun powder let the ladies take the eggshells full of rose water and throw them at each other. Your guests shall suppose all dangers are over by this time. Now order some of the ladies to pluck the arrow out of the stag so that the claret will flow like blood coming from a wound… Now let them see what is in the pies. Lift off the lid of one pie and out come the frogs which makes the ladies skip and shriek. Next open the other pie which frees the birds who by instinct shall fly at the light and will put out the candles. In total darkness with flying birds and skipping frogs the one above and the other beneath there will be much delight and pleasure to the company…

Child Of A Dentist

Today I learned, O Waly, Waly, that Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was the child of a dentist. Britten celebrated his fiftieth birthday on the same day that both Aldous Huxley and C S Lewis died, which – as all students of such matters are vibrantly aware – was the date of the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Incidentally, not long before his death, the spookily tall and almost blind Huxley answered the doorbell of his California home to a young vacuum cleaner salesman named Don Van Vliet, soon to be better known as Captain Beefheart. It would be fitting if I could end this squib with the observation that Van Vliet, too, was the child of a dentist, but his Pa was a van driver for a bakery, toting pastry-related items hither and yon, and I have no idea of his Ma’s occupation, alas.

Bolted Lobbies

I chanced upon a fascinating pamphlet the other day, and I think I ought to tell you all about it. How To Gain Ingress To Lobbies That Have Been Bolted Shut is a tatty forty-four page screed, unclogged by illustrative matter, and – maddeningly – gives no indication of its author or date of publication. I read it at one sitting while picnicking on a pier.

The first thing that struck me was that it is unusual to find a bolted lobby. Given the nature of lobbies, as antechambers to all sorts of premises, it is surely common to find them open and welcoming, drawing the visitor in. If you are shy of, or hostile to callers, you will not want a lobby, and if the building you take over has one in place, you are likely, as the new owner, to destroy the lobby or transform it into something else. I remember once going to a building that had been a hotel but was now the domain of a recluse, and what had in the past been the lobby was now a gated, unlit, forbidding hellhole stuffed with poisonous vegetation in pots. When I rapped upon the gate, an occult mechanism released a jet of gas that hit me full in the face, whereupon I fled, a napkin clutched to my nose and mouth, eyes streaming with tears. Perhaps it was the memory of that dismal morning that made me so intrigued by a pamphlet promising instructive tips on gaining access to lobbies bolted shut.

As I said, I read the pamphlet upon a pier, and I was surrounded by bolted booths. Many of these were shabby booths, so to find them bolted shut did not come as a surprise. I dare say there is not a seaside resort in the land that does not have its share of shabby bolted booths, either upon the pier or along the promenade. One ought not confuse booths with chalets, although it is true that many chalets too are shabby, and some may be bolted shut, but on average I would aver that bolted booths outnumber bolted chalets. For purposes of clarity, let us assume that there is no appreciable difference between a booth and a kiosk.

While I was reading the pamphlet perched on a bench on the pier lined with bolted booths and kiosks, the sea beneath me was roiling and churning. This was a wild coastline.

So you want to gain ingress to a lobby bolted shut? were the opening words of the pamphlet. I paused at this point, took a sausage on a stick and a pot of savoury paste out of my haversack, removed the lid from the pot and dipped the sausage in the paste, and chewed the sausage as I tried to think if there was any particular bolted lobby to which I wished to gain ingress. The lobby I just mentioned, the gated and unlit and forbidding hellhole, could no longer count as a lobby, all things considered. Munching another mouthful of paste-caked sausage, I looked around at the bolted booths as if in doing so I might summon to mind a bolted lobby I was keen to enter, for if I harboured no desire to gain ingress to a real lobby that was bolted shut it hardly seemed worth my while to read the pamphlet. I may as well toss it over the railings into the roiling sea.

Such a tossage was about to happen, for I had racked my puny brain as hard as ever a man did, when all of a sudden I was stopped in mid-toss. From an unbolted booth nearby I heard a voice. It was a wheezy and spittle-pipped voice, and I recognised it at once. “What in the name of heaven,” I remember thinking to myself, “is the poet Dennis Beerpint doing skulking in an unbolted booth on a pier in a semi-abandoned seaside resort?” I stuffed the pamphlet into my rucksack, took a glug from my flask, and peeked into the booth. I did not see Beerpint in the booth, but a man at a lathe, lathing and listening to the wireless, the source of the poet’s wheezing. To be fair, I think the faulty reception made him wheezier than he really was. I have been an enthusiast for the outpourings of the twee yet titanic versifier for more years than the lifespan of the average hamster, but until now it had escaped my notice that he hosted a regular weekly wireless programme entitled Dennis Beerpint On The Air. I leaned insouciantly against the door of the booth and listened. So enrapt was the seaside lathesmeister, lathing, that of me, he was oblivious.

I apologise. This is what happens to me with Beerpint, as soon as I think about him I start to write like him. I ought to have written “the person at the lathe was oblivious of me” or, better, “did not even notice me”.

So, I listened, and it became apparent soon enough that the great but neglected poet was reading from his Eclogues, or perhaps from his Pipistrelles. This latter, apart from being a type of bat, was a verse form devised by Beerpint, not dissimilar to an Eclogue, hence my uncertainty. I could make neither head nor tail of what he was wittering on about, of course, but I allowed the words to wash over me as I dug into my knapsack for another sausage on a stick. Alas, this second sausage was contaminated, and after swallowing a chunk I was forced to totter over to the side of the pier and vomit into the churning ocean. I glugged some more water-from-a-spigot from my flask to rinse out my mouth, and by the time I returned to the booth, it had been bolted shut. I lolloped over to a bench and sat.

Now it occurred to me that helpful tips on gaining ingress to a bolted lobby may well be equally useful for a reader keen to gain ingress to a bolted booth, so I took the pamphlet out of my haversack and continued to read past the first sentence.

First of all, it said, you need to weigh your desire to gain ingress to the lobby bolted shut against the reasons why the lobby has been bolted shut. You may be motivated by impure and fiendish urges which you barely, if at all, comprehend, and it may be that the bolting of the lobby was done as a means of protecting virtue. Conversely, you may well be close to sainthood and the bolting shut of the lobby an act of utmost wickedness. The crux of the matter is that you are diligent in your examination, and this will involve both rectitude and rigour.

I yawned and skipped the next few pages, until I hit upon a paragraph teeming with the names of exciting and dangerous explosives. Not for the anonymous author such workaday solutions as jemmying the lock of the bolt with a jemmy, or hacking the chains of the bolt with a razor-sharp titanium saw. No, the only decent way to gain ingress to a bolted lobby, it appeared, was to blast that bolt with an enormous explosive charge and enter the lobby in triumph, covered in dust and debris and shrouded in a pall of smoke.

Now I was in a quandary, and I do not like quandaries. I much prefer things to be simple. For example, if I eat a contaminated sausage, I would much rather be immediately sick over the side of a pier than to feel slightly off colour and be plagued for hours or days or weeks by waves of queasiness. I like big flat planes of colour rather than stippled dappled tincts. That is why I hold Dennis Beerpint in such esteem. You may not know what he is blathering on about, but more often than not his poems rhyme: cat, mat, hoist, joist, bank holiday, Special K, giddy, biddy. This is why he is so often dismissed as a versifier of twee pap. Well, as far as I am concerned, as Patrick Henry (1736-1799) so nearly said, “Give me pap or give me death!” My quandary was that if I followed the helpful tips in the pamphlet, the violence of the explosion would destroy not just the bolt with which the booth was bolted but the booth itself. As a general rule, lobbies are much bigger than booths or kiosks, and they are also mere parts of larger, more resilient structures. It dawned on me why the anonymous pamphleteer was so precise in titling his work. I sighed, and tossed the pamphlet over the side of the pier into the sea, and without even glancing back at the bolted booth wherein a man at a lathe listened to Dennis Beerpint On The Air on a bakelite wireless, I went on my merry way, back to the sausage shop to remonstrate with the sausage seller, on a wet and windy Wednesday afternoon.