Wednesday 4 December 2019

Stuff it

If you haven't read Cold Comfort Farm yet, you really need to get it out of the library before Chrimbo. Although published in 1932, as a parody of loam-and-lovechild rural romances, it is peculiarly up to date, not least because some elements and episodes [private planes etc.] in the story are clearly science fiction for the time. Cousin Amos is a worthy alternative to Ian Paisley Sr, or any tub-thumping evangelical in the US. Even if you read the story with care and attention you'll never fully understand the "something narrrsty in the woodshed" which so traumatised Ada Doom when she were a girl-child. For me, the most empathic character is the 90 y.o. slightly simple family retainer Adam Lambsbreath; and that really for iconic habit.

Adam is required to cletter the dishes after they have been used in gargantuan meals served to fuel the family and the hired men. Flora the heroine is a distant relative and city sophisticate who comes to stay in Cold Comfort Farm and she first encounters Adam when she rises, late, after everyone else has had breakfast and is back at work in the muck and sleet. "He was carrying a bunch of thorn twigs that he had just picked from one of the trees in the yard . . . 'Ay, them'll last me till Michaelmas to cletter the dishes wi', there's nothing like a thorn twig for cletterin' dishes. Ay, a rope's as good as a halter to a willing horse' ". Flora resolves to buy Adam a little mop to wash the dishes more effectively and efficiently. But when she gets round to the purchase and presenting of the little white-wood mop, Adam wilfully mistakes it's purpose. "His gnarled fingers folded round the handle 'Ay . . . 'tes mine. No house, nor kine, 'tes mine . . . My little mop. 'Tes too pretty to cletter those great old dirty dishes wi' I mun do that with the thorn twigs, they'll serve. I'll keep my liddle mop in the shed. Ay, 'tes prettier nor apple-blooth, my liddle mop".

I reflect on this image often: whenever I am expected to land-fill something that clearly is robust enough for re-use, never mind recycle. Take Cully & Sully soup tubs, f'instance [R]. There is no way I'd spend €2.50 of my own money on 400g of soup. in 15 minutes from a standing start, I can thrash up a great old dirty pot of soup from whatever I can find in, and behind, the fridge. It will almost always include onions and chopped spuds; cabbage if I can get it; a handful of lentils for thickening; some sort of a vehicle for fat: salami, bacon; chicken stock if the family have visited the previous weekend. That can be A Lot of soup but quantity don't worry me none. I'm quite happy to trencher through the stock-pot twice a day until the last gobbets can be lashed into a pasty for works-lunch on the Friday.

Other members of the family believe that soup is a chore and/or they like a bit of variety through the week and/or desire something that uses only a little of some key ingredient - a few clams for chowder; a tbs of chopped kidney for hunter's hot-pot; a handful of diced chicken meat for chicken-noodle soup. So someone nips up to Supervalu and, spoiled for choice, picks something tasty and nutritious from the extensive Cully&Sully range. The carton is robust poly-propylene PP which, because of its thermostability, is preferred for micro-wavable food. The tapered sides mean that they stack efficiently, which is good for C&S's warehousing, but also for storing in our kitchen cupboard. The family are chronic over-caterers - always ready for the unexpected guest - and these soup-pots are ideal for left-overs. Accordingly, often when I visit Pat the Salt, I come away with next day's dinner in another Cully&Sully soup container. I'm not a groupie or a purist, so some of these pots were filled by Tesco or Supervalu but they all stack together regardless. If I don't feel fat on my diet of home-made soup, at least I feel virtuous about the packaging. Why would you buy, even at knock-down ALDI-special prices, snap-lid, air-tight tupperware food-storage containers?

It is a running theme in my nocturnal tik-tiks to imagine Gdau.II's daughter wandering about a car-less, iPad-free, GPS-less planet and discovering a huge artificial hill close to the River Barrow. Catching a glint of light on the hillside where there has been a small land-slip, she pulls out a jam-jar half-filled with earthworms. Taking it down to the river, she cleans it out to reveal a thing of beauty and utility: crystal-clear, water-tight, reasonably robust - clearly useful for preserving berries through the winter; much better than the rabbit-skin the other people use. Being smart, determined and hard-working like her mother, the young woman starts mining the old landfill site for discarded treasure. It becomes the wonder of the age! All this wonderful, indestructable, stuff: glass, steel, aluminium, copper, ceramics with wonderful pictures, magazines and newspapers perfectly preserved in the anaerobic environment. The latter a catalogue of the things our generation was induced to buy, use once and throw in the bin.
Wot are we like?

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