Sunday, 12 May 2013

War horse.

It's the name of a film I'm watching right now on Star World, about a boy and his horse, and a war. The horse goes to war, and the boy follows. It's a lovely film, but it's also disturbing and sad, and its terribly brutal depictions of what war is sadden and sicken me.

I never cease to be surprised and disturbed at the glory so many people associate with war. The crowds cheering on the soldiers who are heading out to slaughter and be slaughtered. The triumph of the victors. To me, there is nothing glorious or noble in a victory of violence, no matter what the cause, no matter what the end.

Wars have kept some of us safe, and turned the lives of others into days and nights of terror and uncertainty. They have driven back dictators and castrated the power-hungry. They have killed far too many innocents, and seen power snatched from one greedy fist by another. They have defeated "the enemy" and given many people more freedoms, perhaps. They have defeated many others' faith in humanity, and crippled many bodies and souls. They have been the catalyst for many medical and technological advances. But not all of them.

War is here, part of humanity as much as weddings and birthdays, it seems. It's not necessary, but it's here. There will always be proponents of non-violence, but there will always be violence. Maybe one invites the other. It seems to be part of us, just as this human capacity for both deep love and trust as well as deep hatred and suspicion, for courage and sacrifice and nobility alongside fear and pettiness and greed.

Perhaps that is where the glory and nobility come into war, when individuals find room alongside their hate or anger or orders or desires, which are only human, for their humaneness, which is also only human, but harder to maintain under stress. That's where it is, I think. Not in the army, nor the nation, nor the cause. It's in the individual soldier who stands to fight, and somehow comes through the horror of war still able to feel love. I'm not sure if I'm right or wrong, but this is what I feel. The glories of war are not because of the violence, but in spite of it.


One thing struck me in this film - actually it is what made me decide to write this post in the first place, although I've moved the first paragraphs I wrote down here, to end the post:

Every so often, there's a scene in which a soldier happens to be smoking a cigarette. Big white sub-titles appear over the picture:  SMOKING CAUSES CANCER. SMOKING KILLS.

Yes it does. But we are a funny world, aren't we? I'd like to live in one where the big white sub-titles stay on all through the picture, and they say:


War won't be going anywhere soon, I suppose. But I can always hope that we would at least look at it with truthful eyes, and maybe that would be the beginning of its end.

Monday, 6 May 2013

How to bake a chicken in 5 easy steps! Or not.

Disclaimer:  I am not a food writer. Nor am I a chef. But today I felt the need to pretend to be both. You have been warned. Proceed with some caution, as well as a teaspoon of relief for my deep sense of aesthetics that prevented me from making this an illustrated post.

STAGE ONE ~ in which the chicken comes home ~
Step 1:  Run out of cigarettes.
Step 2:  Go to the store with more money than you need.
Step 3:  Use keen eye to notice someone buying 3 out of 4 packets of Godrej's Real Good Chicken.
Step 4:  Use survival instinct to quickly lay hands on the last packet.
Step 5:  Make quick getaway (after paying for chicken and cigarettes) because time is of the essence.

STAGE TWO ~ in which the chicken waits ~
Step 1:  Arrive home, musing upon exactly what essence it is of which time is made.
Step 2:  Dump chicken next to sink.
Step 3:  Have cigarette and use ciggie time to pop into Facebook for a few minutes.
Step 4:  Use keen eye again, to look at tiny little clock on bottom right corner of screen.
Step 5:  Pause to wonder at how an hour can seem like a few minutes when you're farming, and if it has something to do with the chemistry of that mysterious essence of which time is made.

STAGE THREE ~ in which the chicken does terrible dirty things to your hands ~
Step 1:  Remove chicken from packet, but leave it in its tray with all the blood and stuff.
Step 2:  Take a moment to think about salmonella and cholesterol.
Step 3:  Use kitchen scissors to trim away fat from drumsticks and about 4 or 5 other pieces that you suspect might be chicken breasts or parts thereof, or thereabout.
Step 4:  Wash selected pieces and place in prized Le Creuset baking dish that you do not use too often because it is extremely heavy, even though it is a lovely bright orange.
Step 5:  Take another moment to feel pleased with yourself, and light a cigarette while doing so.

STAGE FOUR ~ in which the chicken gets bathed with good things, but not all of them ~
Step 1:  Dump a cup of yoghurt over the chicken in the baking dish (not the chicken in the tray).
Step 2:  Chop (or cut with kitchen scissors, which is more fun, provided you are careful not to chop own fingertips) a few pods of garlic over the bowl, and throw in some salt, paprika, mother's garam masala powder that you found in the freezer, and coriander powder.
Step 4:  Intend to add pepper and chopped ginger, but forget.
Step 5:  Mix it all up nicely, and leave to marinate.

STAGE FIVE ~ in which the chicken feeds the cats ~
Step 1:  Place all the fatty dribbly bits that you cut off, into the empty chicken packet, to be later donated to the neighbour with five-or-is-it-more-now cats.
Step 2:  Do not even think of opening the smaller packet of gizzards and things, merely place this gently and generously into the cat pack.
Step 3:  Trim and wash clean the remaining pieces, except the wings.
Step 4:  Stuff the cleaned pieces into freezable tupperware a bit too small, and freeze chicken for another day.
Step 5:  Hope chicken freezes before tupperware lid decides to obey the laws of physics and pop off, and ignore niggling thoughts about ice and expansion.

STAGE SIX ~ in which the chicken does not fly ~
Step 1:  Stare at chicken wings.
Step 2:  Try to trim fat and skin off chicken wings.
Step 3:  Fail.
Step 4:  Consider putting chicken wings into cat pack.
Step 5:  Put chicken wings in empty yoghurt carton and freeze until you can ask mother what to do.

STAGE SEVEN ~ in which the chicken does not feature ~
Step 1:  Peel the three least squishy potatoes, and dice - but big dice not those piddly tiny dice you get in Indian board games.
Step 2:  Ditto for carrots.
Step 3:  Place carrots and potatoes in amazing and amazingly expensive German AMC dish which does not make loud scary whooshes and whistles like a pressure cooker and is easier to clean, and also easier to open and close.
Step 4:  Sprinkle more salt than you need so that you can later say to yourself knowingly, "Ah .. next time, less salt, I think," and a generous measure of dried oregano, because it smells nice and looks like something a chef would do, and a capful of water, and cook.
Step 5:  Recall that oven underneath needs to be pre-heated and put the oven on.

STAGE EIGHT ~ in which the chicken returns, briefly ~
Step 1:  Snap off tips of snow peas and pull down along the shorter side.
Step 2:  Admire interesting little spirals of snow pea peelings. Play with them for a few moments to nurture your inner child.
Step 3:  Think about how good it is you forgot to put a lid on the tinned mushrooms you opened and poured into tupperware yesterday because otherwise you would not have noticed them in the fridge today, and decide to add mushrooms to your dish.
Step 4:  Pour olive oil in skillet for onions that you have not chopped yet.
Step 5:  Brown chicken instead.

STAGE NINE ~ in which the chicken goes to hell ~
Step 1:  Brown chicken until brown, and little hot dots of oil come popping up out of the skillet to land on your forearms.
Step 2:  Remove chicken from fire, and place in baking dish.
Step 3:  Bend from the waist because knees hurt even more than back and place chicken in hot fiery oven.
Step 4:  Feel a great sense of accomplishment, in advance.
Step 5:  Return to jobs yet to be accomplished.

STAGE TEN ~ in which the chicken has visitors ~
Step 1:  Peel and chop onions. Cry a little.
Step 2:  Ignore strange bubbly chicken fat things in oil, and fry onions in same skillet to save the environment.
Step 3:  Cook onions on low fire till pinkish, then add snow peas and mushrooms.
Step 4:  Tell yourself that you did not need to add garlic anyway.
Step 5:  Stir for random amount of time, then add to baking chicken. (Remove chicken from oven for this. Do not forget to put back in. Also see Stage Eleven, Step 5)

STAGE ELEVEN ~ in which we wait for the chicken to cross the road of rawness ~
Step 1:  Have another cigarette to mark completion of Stages One to Ten.
Step 2:  Put vegetable peelings into compost bin, wash dishes and clear kitchen counter
Step 3:  Open oven door at least twice to stare deeply into eyes of chicken (figurative eyes not actual ones which were not included unless they were in the horrible little packet of gizzards and things) to see if chicken is ready to come out.
Step 4:  Make it an hour since the chicken went in, and remove from oven.
Step 5:  Vow to always use irksome padded kitchen gloves regardless of kitchen towels being much easier to find. And thinner.

STAGE TWELVE ~ in which the chicken arrives, and departs ~
Step 1:  Worry. The moment of truth is near.
Step 2:  Serve yourself a plateful and eat.
Step 3:  Have a second helping and a third, even though the chicken is drier than you'd like it to be.
Step 4:  Finish all the mushrooms and wish you had added more.
Step 5:  Share your wonderful experience with the world by blogging about it.

CONCLUSION ~ in which the chicken's tale concludes ~
Step 1:  Resist temptation to visit Farmville. Keep blogging.
Step 2:  Have one or many cigarettes while you write.
Step 3:  Hate your mobile phone for ringing and delivering text messages.
Step 4:  Spend some moments thinking about if it would be safe to cook the minced lamb that you left overnight on the back seat of your car.
Step 5:  Take the cat's pack upstairs to your neighbour. Ask her about the mince.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lost and found.

Sometimes, I feel lost.
Now is one of those times.
I look at the vacant spaces and have to accept
that nothing has stopped me from living but me.

Sometimes, I look for inspiration.
Nowadays, it only makes me feel
weaker, sadder, handicapped, fruitless and scared.
What ought to inspire me pulls me down.

Sometimes, I want to escape
to another city, to a farm or another country.
But I know that there is no escape
from what I carry in my head.

Sometimes, I want to die
and that tells me I forgot to take a pill,
the little blue one
that makes me like everyone else.

Sometimes, I sit down to write.
And I find myself.
And people tell me I inspire them.
And I am content in my head, and alive.

(1:20 pm, Friday 3rd May. No edits.)

Just shut up and listen.

A lot of people don't know how to listen. When they're family, you can't do much about it. If they're friends, well, you know you won't be calling them back any time soon! There is an art to conversation, and if listening is not a part of it, then there's nothing beautiful about it, nothing to make you want to return for more.

So why do we do it? Because,  life, and everything that goes with it, starts in my head and expands around me. And because life, and everything that goes with it, starts in your head and expands around you. And because life, and everything that goes with it, starts in his or her head and expands around him or her.

What it boils down to is this:  at the centre of the universe is me. But what it REALLY boils down to is this:  at the centre of MY universe is me. At the centre of YOUR universe - well, it's not me. It's you.

We forget this, especially when in a conversation. So we do it all the time. Talking, I mean. Replying, answering, commenting, advising, informing, sharing outwards from our universe to yours.

None of these are bad things, except that a conversation is a shared process. In between all the talk, replies, answers, comments, advice, information and shares, there need to be spaces. These spaces are quiet spaces. They are not there for us to plan our next words. They are meant to be listening time.

It is not necessary to fill in all the blanks. The more attention we pay to our listening time, the easier this is to see. When someone tells us they are sad, sick or grieving, they do not always need an answer. They do not need to hear that your problems are worse than theirs. They do not need to know what they "should" do. They do not need reassurance that things are not as bad as they seem. Unless they have asked. Have they asked? If you don't know the answer to this, then perhaps you weren't listening.