Since this blog bears a number of references to the delicious Miss Mapp-story by E F Benson involving iced redcurrant fool, we resolved to make use of the abundance of redcurrants in our garden. Now, I can proudly present our very own recipe for Grandmamma Mapp’s Redcurrant Fool.
There’s a most comical story behind this. Some day Miss Mapp, vicious heroine of the Mapp and Lucia novels, came up with the fool, and because she wanted it to cause a real stir, she claimed it to be an ancient family recipe by her ‘grandmamma’. When she was later invited to a friend’s house who served the fool herself, she was furious – theft, and right under her nose! But the delicious fool soon cooled her boiling blood. Everyone was very jolly indeed, and Miss Mapp started to talk about her ‘grandmamma Napp’… As it turned out, the inventive hostess had infused the non-alcoholic fool with a bottle and a half of champagne and half a pint of old of brandy. Miss Mapp didn’t care much in the end: ‘How pleasant it all was!’
Miss Mapp was for a moment mistaken in thinking that yolk of egg (apparently an ingredient of the fool) was stimulating her so much. Our fool is egg-free and non-alcoholic of course – we wouldn’t dare to cross Miss Mapp – with some spoonfuls of wonderfully aromatic honey from our bees. My family has been keeping bees for some years, and a lot of care is taken to ensure their wellbeing and a high quality of the honey they give us. So have fun recreating this refreshing dish and read a few pages of Benson – you won’t regret either!
300 g of fresh ripe redcurrants (if you have frozen fruit, make sure that they are thoroughly thawed before using them)
350 g of whipping cream
4 tbsp of honey (you can vary the amount depending on taste or substitute the honey with powdered sugar)
1 tbsp of lemon juice
Mix the redcurrants with the honey and lemon juice, then squash them with a masher (or a fork or whatever you have handy) until they are reduced to a juicy pulp. Then, take a sieve and with a spoon strain the redcurrant pulp. By doing so, you’ll get a thick juice and the currant pips and skins will be left in the sieve. But don’t worry if a few fall through – there’s nothing wrong with a crunchy little surprise.
Now, put the redcurrant juice into the fridge and take the whipping cream out. Whisk it with an electric hand whisk until you get soft peaks when pulling the whisk out. It doesn’t have to be super stiff. If you want a fresh twist, substitute half of the whipped cream with yoghurt. You might want to sweeten the yoghurt with a little honey or powdered sugar.
You can cool both the juice and the cream for a few hours, or just use them as soon as they’re finished, depending on how hellish the weather is. It was on a whole new level of hellishness when we made our fool, so we left the unmixed ingredients in the fridge for about an hour.
When your juice and cream are as cool as you want them, layer them in glasses, starting with cream. Just dribble a nice amount of juice on each layer of cream until the glass is full, juice being the last layer. You can garnish your fool with mint leaves, little biscuits, chocolate, sprinkles or whatever may take your fancy. And then, you need nothing more than a spoon and a shady spot in the garden to enjoy the fruit of your labour – literally!
As you might have observed, I’ve changed the design of my blog and also added a few details leading directly to my latest obsession: the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels by British writer E. F. Benson. They are brilliant, I love them and will shamelessly tell you all about them. So sit back, grab a glass a wine (or alternatively one of redcurrant fool) and enjoy.
The Novels There are six novels altogether:
Queen Lucia (1920): introducing us to the novels’ principal heroine who rules over the village of Riseholme
Miss Mapp (1922): a peep into the life of Miss Mapp, queen bee of the village of Tilling
Lucia in London (1927): no Mapp here, since they haven’t met yet, but Lucia has inherited a London house and spends the season there
Mapp and Lucia (1931): Lucia summers in Tilling and choses it as her new home and kingdom – Mapp begs to differ
Lucia’s Progress (1935): Lucia becomes the Queen of Tilling, Mapp fights her like a force of nature
Trouble for Lucia (1939): Lucia’s newly gained power goes to her head, but she doesn’t want to stop just there
There are also two short stories set in Tilling during the reign of Mapp: The Male Impersonator and Desirable Residences. I have yet to read the second, but I adored the first.
One (TV) review summarised ‘Mapp and Lucia’ as ‘beautifully tart one-upmanship’ and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a story about upper middle class women who have nothing much to do, but want to make sure they are busy at all times. So they spy on their neighbours, conjure up conspiracies and gossip as much as one possibly can. There’s always a gathering to organise, or a bridge party, or practically any event enabling the discussion of the latest news. Lucia gets bored of reigning Riseholme (pronounced ‘rizzum’), decides to take Mapp’s place as Queen of Tilling and finally succeeds since she is the cleverer bully of the two. Mapp is furious, rages, and loses everything. But she’s not the one to ever give up! Altogether, it’s a joy to read, since the plotlines following absurd trivialities are familiar to anyone who is or has been a member of any kind of small-scale community. The stories are a rich source of the juiciest sarcasm and do indeed tell the truth about people ‘making their lives’, as Miranda Richardson put it so fittingly.
Mrs Emmeline Lucas (known as Lucia, Italian for ‘the wife of Lucas’): A snob, a fraud and ravishingly brilliant. Tall and handsome, she’s a keen italophil, loves Beethoven (whose Moonlight Sonata – or rather the first movement thereof – she constantly plays on the piano) and effortlessly rules everyone around her. She doesn’t fear feigning interest in anything that’s new – as long as she can make sure to annex it and present it as her own discovery.
Miss Elizabeth Mapp: A ‘handsome hyena’ with impressive teeth and the nosiest, angriest neighbour ever imaginable. She always has her binoculars ready, is full of vigour and bile and will know things before anyone else even dreams of them. Mapp has a certain weakness for her neighbour, the retired Major Benjy, and is ready to do anything to secure him. Being more fallible than Lucia, one might at times side with her, but she is originally designed as Lucia’s nemesis – and doesn’t disappoint.
Georgie Pillson: Lucia’s right-hand man, occasionally bearing a streak of Bolshevism in his well-dressed breast, which he doesn’t usually allow to break through. He enjoys needlework and painting, sports an impressive collection of ‘bibelots’ and wears an auburn toupet (but please don’t tell!). Georgie is kind-hearted and polite, a loyal friend to Lucia, but certainly shouldn’t be underrated. If his queen does indeed fail, he’s the prince consort to make it alright again. And he wears a lovely little cape.
The minor characters (Riseholmites and Tillingites alike) are brilliantly written, with great detail and lots of wit.
In Riseholme, we have Daisy Quantock always following the latest fads – nothing from Christian Science to Ouija is safe from her insatiable appetite. There is talkative, red-faced Mrs Weston in her bath chair, Colonel Boucher who has his eye on her, deaf Mrs Antrobus, constantly carrying an ear-trumpet, and her skipping and gambolling daughters Piggy and Goosie, who are not (as one might assume) teenagers, but in their mid-thirties.
In Tilling, there’s wonderfully forthright Diva Plaistow with her ‘circular feet’, trundling along talking like a telegram, thoroughly modern ‘Quaint’ Irene Coles who wears slacks and paints pictures of naked men and women alike, the vicar (called ‘Padre‘) who comes from Birmingham but talks Scotch, his mouse-like ‘wee wifey’ Evie Bartlett, Susan Wyse wearing her fur coat throughout the year and driving a Royce to cross distances of just a few hundred yards – not to forget her husband Algernon, polite to the extreme and bowing to everyone (and everything). And, last but not least, the gallant, golf-playing, whiskey-drinking Major Benjy, Miss Mapp’s love interest.
Georgie and Quaint Irene are quite obviously homosexual, like Benson himself – a topic that is dealt with in a surprisingly progressive way. Georgie and Irene are respected members of their community (of course, no one openly addresses their sexuality, but it is reflected in their behaviour and pointed out by Benson), they are both likeable and strong, and although people are occasionally turning up their noses at their little quirks, they would never change their ways.
The TV Adaptations
Channel 4 TV Series, 2 Series, 10 Episodes (1985-86)
This classic adaptation is well beloved by fans and spans the last three novels. The wonderful Geraldine McEwan gave a brilliant Lucia, all airs and graces, untouchably haughty with a magnificent range of voice, but indeed adorable. Prunella Scales was Mapp, sweet, smiley and marvellously sickening, showing off a seemingly calm exterior, but certainly boiling inside. And of course, Nigel Hawthorne gave a lovely Georgie, polite, charming and very likable, but nobody’s fool.
BBC TV Series, 1 Series, 3 Episodes (2014)
The latest take on adapting Mapp and Lucia for the screen took its material mainly from the third novel, but borrowed plotlines from ‘Queen Lucia’, inserting them from Riseholme into Tilling, and ‘Miss Mapp’ (which worked very well). Anna Chancellor impressed as a slightly bohemian, incredibly snobbish but equally enchanting Lucia. Mapp was played by Miranda Richardson, whose achingly fixed smile, outrageous use of voice and relentless vigour certainly didn’t fail their purpose. Steve Pemberton’s (he also wrote the script) Georgie was very sweet, warm-hearted and clever, showing off his various interests and abilities.
I learned about M&L via the 2014 TV series. Judging by the first promotional photos on tumblr, I thought it was a detective story in the fashion of Agatha Christie’s Marple, with two lady sleuths and a colourfully dressed sidekick (forgive me, Georgie!). When I actually watched it, I quickly fell in love with the beautiful scenery of Rye. E. F. Benson lived there and was major for some years, modeling Tilling on the seaside village he knew so well. You can directly translate each and every street, even singular houses! I visited Rye in the summer of 2014, shortly after filming took place, but didn’t know anything about it then. Now I’m determined to go back and look at it in a completely new light. I usually don’t think it wise to start with watching an adaptation before reading the books. But they are fairly unknown to a younger readership, or any readership, for that, especially in Germany, so in this particular case, I was glad to get to know them at all.
Firstly, I didn’t watch the whole of the 80s series, which means that I won’t make any judgements about it. Secondly, I don’t believe in comparing two formats which do not only differ in length and concept, but have also been filmed almost 30 years apart. After all, there’s no accounting for taste. The 2014 version is made for a 21st century audience: it’s quickly paced, bright and colourful, presenting the characters in a sympathetic way. Steve Pemberton said in an interview that in the process of writing, his heart ‘went out to Mapp’ since Lucia is always two steps ahead, taking everything from her. This becomes obvious when looking at the depiction of the respective ladies. Mapp does have a few scenes where we are granted a look into her interior and see that in fact, she’s sad, lonely and afraid to lose everything she lives for. Then, there’s Major Benjy comforting her with a kind heart and honest affection.
The Channel 4 series lacks this kind of modern kindness towards the characters. Reading the books, you’ll also look for it in vain. The novels are very sharp and clever, but do not aim at describing the characters’ inmost feelings – we get to know their motivations and designs, but little about what’s in their hearts. It wouldn’t be as funny if we did. And although I admired the way in which Miranda Richardson gave Mapp personality, playing her very much like she’s been written by Benson, with an added touch of heart (that is very credible), it was not one of Benson’s original intentions. A book is, after all, a book, and a TV series something completely different. What was expected from TV in the 80s again differs from what is expected now, and I believe that both adaptations do credit to their purpose. I fell in love with Richardson’s Mapp, and I probably wouldn’t have by reading the books. This enables me to see Benson’s Mapp in a different light, to be critical, to reflect on the sympathy for characters like her that seems so essential in a contemporary discourse. It doesn’t suffice just to label the new series as a crowd-pleaser (since it couldn’t draw an audience great enough to be renewed for a second series). We should rather ask ourselves why it has been created in said way to meet with the expectations of the 21st century viewer.
As a little taster (and an explanation for the strange hints hidden all over my blog), here’s an excerpt from my favourite M&L novel, Miss Mapp (which else could it be?). There’s a bridge party and everybody is in quite a jolly mood, but the non-alcoholic redcurrant fool being served can hardly be the reason – or can it?
Even that one glass of redcurrant fool, though there was no champagne in it, had produced, together with the certainty that her opponent had overbidden his hand, a pleasant exhilaration in Miss Mapp; but yolk of egg, as everybody knew, was a strong stimulant.
Suddenly the name redcurrant fool seemed very amusing to her. ‘Redcurrant fool!’ she said. ‘What a quaint, old-fashioned name! I shall invent some others. I shall tell my cook to make some gooseberry idiot, or strawberry donkey… My play, I think. A ducky little ace of spades.’
‘Haw! Haw! Gooseberry idiot!’ said her partner. ‘Capital! You won’t beat that in a hurry! And a two of spades on the top of it.’
Do you want to read Mapp and Lucia straight away? They are on Project Gutenberg for free, just click on the links:
Deryck Solomon has a very clever blog, the Mapp & Lucia Glossary, explaining practically anything you might stumble upon when reading the novels. He also writes stories about Tilling’s senior police officer, Herbert Morrison.
For more info on the 2014 BBC series, click here. This page sports nice and short descriptions of the principal Tillingites as well as interviews with the actors.
And of course, there is a group of avid Mapp & Lucia admirers, The Friends of Tillingwho organise an annual gathering in Rye to honour E. F. Benson and his creation. They’re on Twitter, too!
Downton gets rolling again on September 21! I’m unusually excited, since Series 5 is promoted to be much more dramatic and packed with storylines than Series 4, which was – to tell the truth – rather disappointing. There’s nothing like promising promotion, eh? I’m writing about what I assembled from every little SPOILER I could get my hands on, so beware! Here we go, let’s see which of my predictions will prove to be true.
#1 Daring Dames
As it seems, there’s love in store for both the Dowager and Isobel! Violet’s heart could be stirred by the return of a love which she had already declared cold and forgotten. Of course she won’t throw herself into the arms of the handsome fellow arriving, but her feelings must tell her something about herself. That she’s still capable of something beyond ‘business as usual’. It will frighten her, inevitably. Oh, and she’ll grow fierce as she’s sensing her own fragility.
Isobel finds herself in something like a romance with Lord Merton. He’s rather keen, and I don’t think Dr Clarkson will play a great part – maybe shortly before it’s too late (could that wedding in the Christmas Episode or whenever not be Mary’s at all?!). But I’m smelling trouble here, as Lady Shackleton reappears. She might want to claim Lord Merton and try to crush Isobel by making her feel she’s not his equal. Of course nothing will break Isobel. What if she doesn’t love Merton after all? Ah, I’m so excited!
#2 Not Yet
Mrs Hughes and Carson might have had their lovely paddle, but I’m quite sure things between them won’t have changed too much – yet. Maybe we’ll see a couple of evening scenes with that occasional glass of sherry, perhaps even pointing to feelings growing stronger. Mrs Hughes would be the driving force, though Carson’s feelings shouldn’t differ too much from hers. But first there’s the struggle about the War memorial, in which the two will take opposite sides. This might benefit their relationship in the long term, so let’s see. But I’m convinced Julian Fellowes won’t let anything saucy happen in Series 5. Anyway, there’s always a Christmas Special, and since the last one this proves to be promising!
#3 Naughty Boy
Lady Anstruther seems to be quite taken with former employee Jimmy. What will Lord Grantham do, catching the two of them in bed? Sack Jimmy? Make her leave the house? Or quite the opposite, since she’s in fact just as blue-blooded as himself? Maybe it will even remind him of his own stroll beside the path, back then with Jane. I’m quite interested in how his reaction will turn out. If the trailer didn’t lie and maybe he won’t be the one discovering the couple’s secret rendezvous. Let’s see if Jimmy’s time at Downton comes to an end – or whether his smug smile will only grow wider.
‘Everything about Downton is beautiful’, says the art historian. Exchanging smiles with the lady of the house while he’s on a job? Maybe that’s Julian Fellowes’ revenge for Robert’s snogging Jane, however especially the historian seems keen to get something going. Let’s just hope Cora hasn’t too bad a conscience. But, regarding that she hadn’t had a storyline for ages, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Keep up the flirting! It would certainly challenge Robert to find out . We might see what stuff he’s made of – despising his wife for something he has done as well wouldn’t exactly benefit his reputation. By the way, I’m quite sure Cora won’t even allow a kiss that’s out of order. So there you go, I bet that’s just one big prank instead of a scandalous affair.
#5 Simply Edith
How grown-up she sounds! Edith looks very beautiful, yet stern. And she’ll be saved from a fire, by Thomas – as if that wasn’t enough already. Maybe that’s the point where she decides that every moment is precious. But if it happens in Episode 1, it won’t result in her telling the family of a little daughter staying nearby. What was it Robert said,’Our grandchild is about to be stolen from us forever’? Are they – at some point – taking little Marigold back, revealing it all? Or was Robert talking about Sybbie, who might be taken away when Tom decides to go all middle-class with Miss Bunting (see #6)?
Will Michael return? I’m not really able to see that happy family reunion, but Series 5 will definitely reveal her secret to the family. How might Mary react to the fact that she has a little niece? And how will they deal with Edith having lied to them all the time? Reflecting about their own actions would be nice for a change. But it will all start with Edith visiting her little Marigold at the Drews’, pining for the child to be with her and know her as a mother, yet unable to tell anyone, and waiting for a sign of the father who quarreled with a pack of nazis. She’ll be distressed, but not throughout the whole series. If Michael might be found to be dead, she’ll be devastated. If he returns – there’s a marriage awaiting, and nobody can be sure it will by Mary’s!
#6 Indigo Bunting
No applause for the heading? Shame on you. We did see that coming, didn’t we? Quirky teacher Sarah is invited to Downton – by Rose, of course. And Cora was the one allowing it, Robert doesn’t know a thing. Ah, I’m quite looking forward to the things the Dowager will say to Sarah, them sitting at the same dinner-table. I’m not terribly fond of that new character, but she might surprise me by showing the Crawleys that she can be a loving partner to Tom: caring for himself and his child, yet staying strong and somewhat independent. But I’m already annoyed by the speeches she’ll make in front of the family, telling them things they are thinking about all the time. They know best times are changing, and they’re afraid – so please, Sarah, don’t pretend you are that ignorant.
‘I can’t just stand here following orders for the rest of my life!’. Daisy is going to make Mrs Patmore proud. But first, she’ll drive her mad, reading books and neglecting her job. So maybe the Crawleys must do without their pudding once in a while, for Daisy’s getting herself educated! And since she starts being quite insecure, the newly acquired knowledge might make her a little big-headed. This (as well as the fear of losing Daisy as an assistant cook and, moreover, a surrogate daughter) will finally make Mrs Patmore furious. This relationship must be sorted out, and I’m convinced it will prove to be strong enough. However, I don’t believe Daisy will leave just now. Anyway, what does she plan? Making a fresh start and running the farm together with Mr Mason, ready to take over when he’ll be joining his son? Finding a job in a kitchen (or elsewhere) in some bigger city, leaving service for good? Or might she decide that Downton is the place where she is happiest, after a long struggle with herself? Mrs Patmore will be an inevitable party in this struggle, as she also fights her own battle about putting her nephew’s name on a War memorial. The poor boy was shot for cowardice. But isn’t that something the War stands for as well – forcing people to act inhumanly? Lest we forget.
#8 Teasing Thomas
From what I’ve heard, Baxter’s secret is one of the many to be revealed in Series 5 – but Molesley won’t let Thomas give his new sweetheart a bad time. Actually, he’s prepared to get quite nasty and I’m prepared to see Thomas react. I just hope they won’t drag it through too many episodes until they reveal what Baxter did wrong. Also, Molesley must be sticking with her although he comes to know it. If he doesn’t – well, I won’t admire him anymore. But he’ll provide comic relief with his newly dyed hair (what on earth did they think?!). I have to admit it, I completely love Baxter. So whatever she did, I’ll stand by her. I promise, no crossed fingers here. She is such a tranquil, lovely person, though she must suffer greatly. So what could it possibly be? It might sound totally awkward, but there was this talk Anna and Bates had at the table, about children, while Baxter was listening. Maybe the next shot would have shown her sad face? Did she have an illegitimate child, perhaps from a former employer, and abandoned it? Might it be Thomas? Alright, he could be too old. But it’s possible, isn’t it? I mean, what else could there be that’s so very horrible? Robbery, betrayal, murder? I just hope that, might Baxter be cast out, Molesley will be at her side. I’m not expecting too much, am I?
Ah, and Thomas gets another enemy, fierce new lady’s maid to the Dowager, Gladys Denker. I hope she totally finishes Spratt, that awful snob of a butler. The Dowager would have something to giggle about – in secret, that goes without saying.
Bates’ smile makes me feel like I’m watching Miss Marple’s main suspect. Did he, or didn’t he? Actor Brendan Coyle said he was shocked when reading the script and finding out about the circumstances of Green’s death. But he wants us to watch the show, right? Maybe Bates did it, but maybe he staged the ‘accident’ in some cruel way, being the criminal mastermind that he his (I mean, he forges letters in no time?!). However, the whole incident will put a further strain on his relationship with Anna, who will never fully recover. If he goes to jail, she might break, and who could blame her, after all that suffering? Or will they find out Bates was involved in Green’s death, but conceal the truth? Anna and Bates would have to live with it either way. So it looks pretty gloomy for the two of them. I hope their love is strong enough to make them go on.
Frankly, Mary, I don’t care whom of the lookalike admirers you will chose. It looks very much like Gillingham is the lucky chap, but be aware! Charles Blake might not have appeared in the spoiler material for a good reason. Or can there be a third party involved? I’m not too convinced, but I just don’t like Tony at all. Blake isn’t much better, but at least I can stand the sight of him, as he’s clever and charmingly ironic. Qualities Gillingham absolutely lacks. Additionally, none of the boys had had any chance to appeal to the audience as a complex character, someone you would worship as a person because of his actions and a kind-hearted behaviour. These guys are awfully flat, but maybe this was done on purpose and we’ll quickly find a man to favour. Just, please, make it happen really soon!
After telling you a lot about my four-times-great-grandmother, Fanny, I’d like to talk about her husband, Hugo, who was born in 1830. He remarried after his wife passed away, I don’t know the exact date, but he was probably in his early 50s. His second wife was called Christine, and with her he had another child, Fritz, 13 years after Fanny had given birth to the youngest of their six children. Though I wasn’t that fascinated with Hugo and Christine as I had been with Fanny, this has changed greatly since I poked around in an archive and got my hands on Hugo’s medical file. He was a patient in a psychiatric hospital for the last two years of his life until he passed away in 1896. Next to the clinical reports, I found items of persona correspondence, a letter from Christine to her husband and one he intended to send to her as well as letters the family wrote to the director of the hospital and Hugo’s doctor. To read about Hugo’s state of health was touching enough, but the personal writings revealed much about how my ancestors actually lived. Especially Christine tells a lot about her living conditions. I’ve grown to respect her greatly for all of the achievement she proved to be capable of. She was the person discovering, five years before she accompanied him to the hospital, that her husband’s character was changing. At times, Hugo cried or was agitated and became more and more unable to fullfil his work in a tax commissionership sufficiently – so he was retired. The file contained a great deal of information about Hugo’s state of health and his decline, but I especially remember one short, summarising passage, which I would like to share with you:
As far as known, no mental illness inherited. Developed normally, also was a good student. Married twice, happy marriage, economised. Approximately five years ago, the wife noticed the change of her husband’s character. He became snappish about trifles, upset, cried; headaches, insomnia occurred. He became more and more incapable of performing his tasks as an assistant in a tax commissionership leading to him having to retire in 1891. His condition worsened steadily. Currently, he is apathetic, occasionally aroused and then becomes violent; has in this condition repeatedly attempted suicide. Doesn’t get along with his toilette that well anymore. Coordination disorder, increased patellar reflex, slow reaction of the pupil, paralytic language disorder, facial nerve paralysis, twitching of facial musculature.
I’m not an expert on these sort of things, but to me it looks as if Hugo might have had a strokelet which went by unnoticed, but had sincere consequences. It affected his speaking abilities and restricted him physically, probably leading to the development of an depression as well. He couldn’t do his job the way he used to and maybe felt useless and disabled. Also, his wife and a child had died previously, which might have occured more often these days but must have been an utterly hurtful experience nevertheless. Physical and mental instability may have mutally influenced each other and therefore both increased towards Hugo’s final years. He sometimes had phases when he became aggressive, such a situation occured on January 18 in 1896. The supervisor wrote about his patient:
Was in a bad mood today and explained, crying, he’d hit his wife in the face when she would visit him, she had taken him here to get rid of him, he asks for a holiday of 3 days to visit his uncle in D., the latter should give her [the wife] a tongue-lashing.
Hugo himself had attempted to write a letter to his wife Christine on 2 January but it wasn’t sent to her. I don’t know if Hugo’s mood changed very quickly (which might have been likely) or if his behaviour was the reaction to the fact that the letter never reached his wife and she therefore couldn’t send him an answer. He wrote as follows:
[unreadable] … there is no news of you and I ask you for it! Uncle in D. doesn’t answer me as usual, so I’m left alone. […] Therefore be so kind and let me know something. I lack pen, ink, paper and everything one needs for writing. I don’t want to write too much. Yours, Hugo who wishes you all the best.
To me, these are lines written by an affectionate husband and father, but a broken man. He was ill and exhausted; often preferred it to stay in his room instead of taking the air. The uncle from D. is mentioned several times both by Christine and Hugo and the medical file also contained a letter he wrote. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but he probably supported the family financially and acted as a sort of warden for his older sister’s son, though it’s surely not the proper term. I did a bit of research and it turned out he was a director of forests, a wealthy man who wrote books and dressed very primly. In a letter Christine wrote to Hugo in 1895, she told a lot about her situation in life and the daily challenges she had to deal with. Reading this, I started to hold her in great esteem. There was love in this letter, love and distress.
My dear Hugo! Because I am unable to see you in person, I have to write to you. Fritz and me intended to visit you for Christmas, but God decided otherwise. Dear Hugo, you must not think we forgot you.
Then she described how their son, Fritz, a boy of about 13, hurt his eye when setting up a mouse trap. Because of the open wound the eye developed a cataract and he had to undergo surgery. What a terrible shock it must have been. She wrote: “Who counts the tears, who knows the pain of a mother!”. Christine hoped the doctor was right when telling her that the boy wouldn’t see that well in the beginning, but was very likely to regain proper sight. She went on as follows:
Just think what a Christmas the poor child has! Dear Hugo, be contented, all of us don’t have a proper Christmas, maybe better days will come […] I hope to be able to press Fritz close to my heart again in a fortnight, 3 weeks. You will get better as well and return to us, just be patient, put yourself in my place, I’m only writing to all the world and still have to sustain myself for my duties. We’ll visit you as soon as possible, write to me but let me write to you. Margarethe and Emil [one of his daughters from his first marriage] will come soon if they haven’t visited you yet. Uncle B. would have liked to come, but he’s too anxious to travel [he was 83 years of age]. The director and Doctor M. will expect him and I unfortunate woman am at my wit’s end about the bills. Please tell Doctur M. to approach Uncle B. and the authority. […] You only have one pair of trousers over there and here are a jacket and another pair, I don’t know what to do. Hopefully, you will be able to go out once in a while, just like you did here, and have a glass of beer. I end hoping that everything will end well. Fritz and me greet and kiss you warmly. Christine
I thought about the way Christine imagined her husband’s life to be like. She obviously was convinced that he could leave the institution to go to the pub and have a drink. From what I read, Hugo was only able to take the air in the yard and later he refused to do even that, because he got weaker and weaker. There were some violent outbreaks from time to time; once he kicked a fellow ward in the shin until he was seriously wounded. Hugo often cried, for example when he thought he had lost his glasses. He was confused and often asked the doctor to examine him, for example his tongue. There are many remarkable quotes, one of which I’d like to share. It’s an entry from 21 December 1895:
Said today, the doctor should examine him, he was ill. As the doctor, while he was telling him this, listened to another ward, he reluctantly walked away and said: “If you don’t want to attend to me, I can just kick the bucket anyway”. When the doctor examined him and didn’t find anything – he had complained about his tongue – he said: “Mr H. had told me that I was ill and when Mr H. sees it, you as a doctor have to see it, too!”.
Hugo didn’t give up on his tongue complaint and repeatedly asked the doctor about it. I’m not sure if there might have been a sort of neuralgia. Maybe, the paresis also affected his tongue. Otherwise, I was wondering if that Mr H. told Hugo about his mental illness and he simply tried to cope with it and somehow, probably even unconciously, wanted to reduce it to some physical defect. He could also have had phantom pain – sometimes patients of depression complain about causeless backache as well. When walking in the yard, he moved in circles, pulling his left leg behind. He had a severe coordination disorder and fell down at times. His paresis got worse and confined him to his bed. Being unable to eat, he was fed. On 28 September 1896, he passed away. Though I was shocked by the plain record in his file, I want to share it with you. These were different times. I just hope that dear Hugo wasn’t treated so very badly. After all, his wife enabled him to stay with his family as long as possible.
Died this morning at 6:45, after he had already not taken in anything yesterday, had stared constantly and his arms and legs had been completely cold.
There is such a lot of online hate going on, people bullying and insulting each other anonymously – as long as one doesn’t have to confront another person, it seems terribly easy to let it all out. Maybe that’s why real-life-complimenting, on the other hand, seems to be considered as somewhat outdated. And I don’t only talk about men flattering women they seek to impress (and win over). It’s the same with your average ‘Oh, mum, that was a lovely dish today!’. Maybe especially young people are just shy because they’re used to writing comments like ‘What a lovely dress, you look fab. xxx’ only in that safe and sound online community where they won’t ever get an irritated gaze. But true, sincere complimenting makes us happy – the ones who pay compliments as well as the ones receiving them. That’s why I intend to write an article for a local newspaper commenting on compliments, especially amongst younger people and between young and older ones. It’s a paper covering just a small area, but it matters to me nevertheless.
And here’s what I need your help for: I want to publish a collection of compliments.
I’m therefore asking you to submit a compliment you recently received or paid by commenting on this post. Feel free to submit more than one.
I declare to protect your anonymity. You can give your first name and home country, but if you don’t, I won’t spy on your ‘About’. It’s just about the variety of compliments and spreading a little bit of love, names don’t matter. Your first name won’t appear in the local newspaper if you don’t specifically submit it.
Thank all of you for taking part in something that means a lot to me.
Filo pastry baskets filled with Stilton, walnuts and pears.
I tried the recipe from Angel Adoree’s ‘Vintage Tea Party Book’, you can puchase it e.g. from Amazon. Also have a look at her and her team’s beautiful website. They’re called ‘Vintage Patisserie’ and organise lovely vintage tea parties.
Recipe for 12 baskets.
ready-rolled filo pastry (20cm x 40cm), 6 sheets
70g butter, melted
2 ripe pears
100g Stilton cheese (or any other firm blue cheese), crumbled
12 walnut halves (you don’t really have to count them), roughly chopped
Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.
Cut each of the unrolled filo pastry sheets into eight squares á 10×10. You will get 48 squares.
Use a pastry brush to cover one side of each square in a thin layer of melted butter.
Onto the pastry baskets: lay one square on top of another at a 45°-angle, so the points are offset. Add a third and fourth square, arranging the points to fall where those of the first two squares fell (3 like 1, 4 like 2). You’ll end up with a four-layered star shape. In the end you will get 12 of those stars aka filo baskets.
Take a tall 12-hole mini-muffin pan (a regular sized muffin pan will do as well, I used one myself) and push each layered star into one of the holes. Brush the edges with leftover melted butter.
Bake the pastry baskets for 7 minutes until they are golden. Then let them cool in the muffin pan.
Quarter the pears to remove their cores. Angel tells you to slice each quarter into three lenghtways, but I just chopped them into little cubes. Worked as well, just do it the way you prefer them. Put the pear slices/cubes into the pastry baskets and divide the Stilton evenly between the baskets, then do the same with the chopped walnuts. I gently mixed the three of them (pears, cheese, nuts) together in a bowl before I put them in, so it might look less aesthetic. Tasty nevertheless!
These ones are great for a buffet or as a starter, savoury yet lighter than they look. I’d say they’re a dish for every season, because the Stilton and nuts provide taste, the pears add some freshness and the filo pastry makes it all nice and crunchy. I made them for my birthday party and served them accompanied by peanuts and crips as a snack inbetween meals. Worked wonderfully.