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This week is Nettle Awareness Week in the UK.  Only in the UK could a week be devoted to the glory of the weed that has caused more children to cry than any other, that has caused more adults to curse.  I liked the darker side that celebrity cook and food writer and herb specialist, Sophie Grigson, gave to the celebration.  She sees it as a clarion call to take our revenge on the nettle by reducing it to soup and, as we sup, to cry “Got you, you bastard!”

So, here are three recipes for nettle soup that take the sting out of the weed.  The first is one for all those aristocratic nettles that refuse to be cowed.  The second is a common or garden recipe that will work for all nettles, and the third is the recipe that I concocted this morning out of ingredients in my store cupboard.  All recipes are gluten free, and mine is dairy free.

All recipes begin with the instruction “First pick your nettles” …  In my case this involved the poignant use of Twiglet’s basket, lined with a tea towel, and an odd pair of industrial gloves that had at various times been used whilst painting the fence and tending the bonfire if the residue on the gloves was anything to go by.  One is supposed to pick only the freshest, juiciest leaves from the top of the plant.  The aristocratic version of the nettle soup recipe requires you to remove the leaves from the stalk, but I did not do this and can vouch for it not being necessary.  I filled half a basket with the nettle tips, then rinsed them (having substituted my dirty gloves for a pair of plastic bags since I do not possess washing up gloves).  Now my nettles were ready to use.

To amuse you whilst you consider whether you wish to go and harvest your own nettles, I thought I would tell you some of the more positive attributes of the dastardly plants.

First, they are a haven for insects, and butterflies in particular.  It is the stinging hairs that account for the nettle’s attraction because these prevent almost all grazing animals from venturing to eat them and leaves the insect larvae safe from harm.  Small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies are some of its most ardent fans.  These butterflies belong to the Nymphalidae or Brush-footed group of butterflies whose shortened front pair of legs are covered in hairs like scales.  Aphids overwinter in the nettlepatch and provide springtime food for ladybirds.  Nettleseeds are late summer food for birds.  One gardening tip is to plant nettles in a tub or pot, much like mint, and to position it, or sink it, into your border.  That way the nettles do not spread, but they can attract to your garden the butterflies that love them.

Secondly, nettles are supposedly very good for you.  In particular research has shown them to have effective anti-rheumatic/arthritic properties.  Research carried out by the Plymouth Nettles Research Group (I joke not) of the University of Plymouth post-graduate Peninsula Medical School has shown that nettles can help relieve arthritis symptoms.  They contain silica, particularly in the stringy stems, and it is this element that apparently helps joints.  Research was reported in The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Association (vol 355 of 2000). Dr. Colin Randall, of Plymouth University, studied 27 patients who had osteoarthritis, none of whom had used nettles before. They applied stinging nettle leaf for one week, then white deadnettle (which doesn’t sting) as a placebo. They reported that pain and disability were significantly lower after one week of treatment with the stinging nettle, and there was a reduction in their use of drugs.

Other medicinal claims include treatment of internal kidney, liver and bladder problems and to treat diabetes.  Once you’ve read this you will never want to be without the nettle again:

Despite the unpleasantness of its sting, the nettle has been highly regarded in Europe since at least antiquity as both a food and a medicine, with both the Greeks and the Romans using it for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. In the first century, Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen reported the leaf of the nettle had diuretic and laxative properties and was useful for asthma, pleurisy and spleen illnesses. By medieval times the stinging nettle was in common use throughout the continent, being used for treating rheumatism, arthritis, allergies and eczema, baldness, bladder infections, cough, bronchitis, bursitis, anemia, gingivitis, hives, laryngitis, gout, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, premenstrual syndrome, prostate enlargement and sciatica. According to Nicolas Culpeper in the seventeenth century, the seeds of the nettle were thought to be beneficial in the treatment of bites from “mad dogs” or the stinging of “venomous creatures.”

Seeds were also used at that time as an antidote to poisonous herbs such as nightshade and henbane. In early American medicine, bandages soaked in a leaf and stem infusion were used to stop the bleeding of wounds. An account of this use was recorded by Dr. Francis P. Procher, a physician in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Nettle leaves were also recommended as a nutritious food and as a weight loss aid by the famous American plant forager and naturalist, Euell Gibbons.

For some purposes the leaf of the nettle was recommended, for some purposes the stem, for some purposes the seed, and for others the root, and accordingly the whole of the plant was utilised in traditional medicine and revered for its healing properties. It was also popular as a food in many countries and we know today that nettle is highly nutritive, being rich in chlorophyll, beta carotene, vitamins A, C, E and K, several of the B vitamins, tannins, volatile oils, flavonoids, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphates, and various other minerals, especially silica. The stinging nettle is a remarkable nutritional treasure and has often been compared very favourably to spinach.

Today nettle is recognised as having astringent, expectorant, galactagogue, tonic, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, and diuretic properties, and is recommended for treating bone and joint conditions, inflammation and irritation of the urinary tract and for preventing urinary system gravel, whilst the diuretic action of the plant has been shown to significantly increase urine volume and can help to alleviate bladder infections. However, the most popular application of stinging nettle today is the use of the root for treating the symptoms of prostate enlargement or benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). This condition is hormonal in nature, caused by testosterone and the conversion of testosterone to the extremely potent dihydrotestosterone, a conversion which increases as men age. An excess of dihydrotestosterone causes pathological prostate growth. Estrogens also play a part as they too increase as men age and also stimulate prostate growth. These hormones travel around the body in a free state, as well as bound to proteins. One such protein is called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and its role is to maintain a dynamic hormonal balance in the body. SHBG binds or attaches to hormones and carries them to different receptor sites on cell membranes throughout the body where they can be utilised in different ways. The effect it has depends on which hormone it binds to and which receptor site it is carried to. In the men estrogen and dihydrotestosterone bound to SHBG are usually carried to the receptor sites on the prostate gland and once there in excessive amounts it stimulates prostate tissue cells to divide and grow rapidly – resulting in BPH.

Some of the more recent research on BPH and stinging nettle indicates that the nettle root can interfere with or block a number these hormone-related chemical processes in the body that are implicated in the development of BPH. In clinical research, nettle has demonstrated the ability to stop the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (by inhibiting aromatase, an enzyme required for the conversion), as well as to directly bind to SHBG itself – thereby preventing SHBG from binding to other hormones. Other research also reveals that nettles can prevent SHBG that has already bound to a hormone from attaching to the receptor sites on the prostate, as well as to decrease the production of estrogens (estradiol and estrone) by inhibiting an enzyme required for their production. In summary, most of the intercellular processes required to trigger the prostate to grow new cells and enlarge seems to be inhibited by nettle root. Human and animal clinical studies have confirmed these effects and also demonstrated that nettle root works as well as the drug finasteride which is prescribed for BPH and is also better tolerated than the drug.

The effect of nettle root on dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels has also made it a treatment for hair loss, as male pattern balding has often been linked to an excess of DHT, as has hair loss in women too. In folklore it was always believed that nettles were an effective treatment for baldness and modern science appears to validate this belief. Nettle root is also valuable as a source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogens, which have become more and more valued in recent years, and which accounts for its galactogogue property. Nettle root also contains a number of chemical compounds which appear to significantly stimulate the immune system.

(from Vortex Health)

Finally, when you are the only family left on this planet, you can use nettles to produce fibres that you can weave for clothes.  The fibres are currently only used on a industrial scale in Japan, but they are capable of producing a linen-like fabric, albeit coarser.  Hans Andersen’s fairytale, The Wild Swans, tells of the mute princess, Elisa, knitting nettle shirts to help her eleven brothers regain their human form after they have been turned into swans by the evil stepmother. But apparently nettle fibres were used for centuries in Scotland to produce fabric for tablecloths, and nettle fibres were even woven in Germany to produce uniforms for the army during the Second World War when cotton was hard to come by.

Ingredients:

1 lb potatoes
½ lb young nettles
2 oz butter
1½ pts chicken or vegetable stock
sea salt & black pepper
4 tablespoons sour cream

Method:

Cook the peeled, chopped potatoes for 10 mins in salted water. Drain.

Wash & chop coarsely the nettles (Only pick the new, young tops,using gloves!)

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the nettles and stew gently for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and heated stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender.

When all is soft, cool slightly & purée in a blender, adding seasoning and the sour cream.

Ingredients


½ carrier bag full of nettles, tops or young leaves
55g butter
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely sliced
1 large carrot, chopped (optional)
2 celery sticks, chopped (optional)
1 large garlic clove, crushed (optional)
1 litre good chicken, fish or vegetable stock
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
3 tablespoons cooked rice or 3 rice cakes
2 tablespoons thick cream or crème fraiche
salt and freshly ground black pepperTo Garnish:
A little extra cream or crème fraiche
A small bunch of chives, chopped
A few sprigs of wild chervil or parsley, chopped 

Method

Pick over the nettles and wash them thoroughly. Discard only the tougher stalks, as the soup will be liquidised. Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, plus the carrot, celery and garlic if using, until soft but not brown. Add the stock and pile in the nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the nettles are tender. Season with salt and pepper, and with nutmeg if you wish. Puree the soup in a liquidiser with the cooked rice or rice cakes (you will probably have to do this in 2 batches). Return to a clean pan, stir in the cream and reheat, but do not let it boil. Check the seasoning, then serve, garnishing each bowl with a swirl of cream and a generous sprinkling of chopped herbs.

To serve cold:
An alternative is to serve this soup cold. After liquidising and adding the cream, pour the soup into a bowl and leave to cool, then transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. For accelerated cooling, fill a large basin or saucepan with ice cubes and water and place the bowl of soup in the iced water. Stir to chill, adding more ice cubes if the first batch melts. Stir well just before serving and ladle the soup out into bowls. Garnish each with a swirl of cream and a sprinkling of chopped chives and wild chervil.

Serves 6

Additional notes:
This is the basic recipe for nettle and other ‘wild greens’ soups, including fat hen and chickweed. It will also freeze extremely well. For a variation mix the nettle leaves with watercress or Cos lettuce. The carrot and celery are optional but make the soup more robust and full-flavoured. You can also add a few fresh or frozen peas, to give sweetness and improve the texture. Using fish stock will give a more unusual taste. If using a stock cube the best ones are monosodium glutamate free. If you prefer you can use a medium potato to thicken the soup instead of the cooked rice (or cakes) – peel and dice it fairly small and add it just before adding the stock.

Nettle Soup is featured in Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Cookbook’, published by Harper Collins, ISBN: 0002202042, price: 19.99
 

3. Nettle and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

A washing-up bowl of nettle tops
1 onion, chopped
250ml of orange juice
1 tin of coconut milk
1 tsp Marigold swiss vegetable bouillon powder (or clear vegetable or meat stock)
Olive oil for frying onion

Method

In a large deep saucepan, fry the chopped onion on a medium heat until transparent and just beginning to brown. Add the rinsed nettles and cover saucepan. Sweat the nettles and onions together until the nettles have wilted and started to give out their juices. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Add the orange juice and the bouillon powder and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and some water (about 1/2 litre) and continue simmering for a further 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Liquidize the soup and serve hot or chilled.

Xanthippa posted a comment on my piece about the Asperger’s Marriage, and I found her blog – Xanthippa’s Chamberpot.  I thought others might like to have a look at it.  Xanthippa, her husband, and her two sons all have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which (at least) means they all understand each other.  Xanthippa presents her view of the world, and, amongst other subjects, describes the difficulties that children with Asperger’s encounter.  I am hoping that one day she might write a post about friendship as she understands it, and whether – for those with Asperger’s – it ever goes beyond the “utility” type friendship that Aristotle described …

I love her very clever “About” page which includes this story of how her blog came to bear its name:

“Well, a while ago, there was this guy named Socrates. Very famous chap….ancient Greek city of Athens, the ‘father’ of the ‘Western moral philosophy’, died rather than compromise on his ideals…if you haven’t heard of him, curse your education system and Google him.

Socrates used to stroll about Athens, a clump of students/admirers/hangers-on following him like puppies, and he demonstrated his supreme cleverness by asking questions……well thought out questions, where everyone but his poor victim knew he was faking daftness in order to draw them into saying something that would prove to the audience the silliness and stupidity of the victim, and how clever and sophisticated Socrates really was. One
day, he began to question a pretty young girl….named Xanthippe.

Though never formally trained in this mega-smart field of philosophy, Xanthippe’s intelligence, ready wit and composure soon showed that she was neither silly, nor stupid… She is the only person ever known to have bested Socrates in a debate!

From here, the story takes a familiar turn: elderly respected man meets a hot, smart young woman….can’t dominate her intellectually, so he does the next best thing – he marries her! First, they are happy….but three kids later, he is still walking about Athens demonstrating how stupid everyone else is, while she starts asking him to actually do something to put food on the table. He may be wined and dined, but his kids were whiny and hungry. It is at this point that Socrates realizes that what he really can’t stand is an argumentative shrew of a wife!

So, theirs was not the most harmonious household. But, can you really blame Xanthippe (the name literally means ‘yellow horse’)? Her grandfather-of-a-husband was busy being admired by his groopies, making tons of ‘wild yellow horse’ jokes (some claim that Xanthippe was a natural blonde – and that Socrates was the originator of the ‘dumb blonde’ jokes, though I wouldn’t bet on it), and avoided all parental responsibilities…I’d be a tad miffed, too.

There is a story that one day, Socrates got up and prepared to abandon his family again, when Xanthippe had a few choice things to point out to him about the pragmatic considerations of physical existence….but could not engage her husband’s attention. To help him focus, she emptied the contents of a chamber pot over his head…. Rather an effective technique, I think (though some ‘cleaned up’ versions of the story report it was a ‘bucket of water’ rather than a ‘chamber pot’).

The moral of the story is that in ancient Greece, if you were intelligent, insightful, eloquent and male – you became a famous philosopher. If you were intelligent, insightful, eloquent and female – you became an archetype of the quarrelsome, unreasonable shrew of a wife!”

“A great and therefore violent wind is developed, which would naturally blow away from the earth: but the onrush of the sea in a great mass thrusts it back into the earth. The countries that are spongy below the surface are exposed to earthquakes because they have room for so much wind. […]  Again excessive rains causes more of the evaporation to form in the earth. Then this secretion is shut up in a narrow compass and forced into a smaller space by the water that fills the cavities. Thus a great wind is compressed into a smaller space and so gets the upper hand, and then breaks out and beats against the earth and shakes it violently.

We must suppose the action of the wind in the earth to be analogous to the tremors and throbbings caused in us by the force of the wind contained in our bodies. Thus some earthquakes are a sort of tremor, others a sort of throbbing. Again, we must think of an earthquake as something like the tremor that often runs through the body after passing water as the wind returns inwards from without in one volume.”

(Link to report repaired)

 If you’re older than 44, that is.

If not, skip the middle bit – it will only make you miserable.

For those older than 44, apparently things only get better.  This is exceptionally good news, because I am 45.  I am delighted that I can now rest assured that all of my miserable friends who are also 45 or older will only have increasing happiness, and I will console those of my younger miserable friends that it is not long until things improve for them too.  Good news all round …

Stephen Moss
Wednesday January 30, 2008
The Guardian 

‘The first 40 years of life is text, the rest is commentary,” wrote Schopenhauer. Setting the watershed as low as 40 is arguable, but Schopenhauer surely had a point, and it may help to explain the results of a new survey that puts our most depressed age at 44. This vast study, carried out jointly by researchers at Warwick University and Dartmouth College in the US, has concluded that happiness is U-shaped: it peaks when we are 20 and 70, but slumps in the middle. “You would expect people to get unhappier as they get closer to death,” says Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University, “but the opposite appears to be the case. It is a mystery why this happens

If we trust Schopenhauer, it is no mystery at all. Your 40s are the point at which the act of composition – climbing the career ladder, having affairs, believing you are the next Montaigne – is replaced by the art of reflection and perhaps regret. How did I fail to become prime minister? Why did I have those affairs? Where is my oeuvre? At 44, those thoughts – as I painfully recall – are uppermost in your mind, and sometimes you will blame anyone but yourself for your failures. But trust me, you will come through it. I reached 50 last year, and far from being distressed by that supposedly defining moment, I’ve never felt better. I now accept that I am deep into my commentary period, and am enjoying it hugely. In your 20s and 30s, you think there is some big secret that is being withheld from you. But there is no secret. No one has a clue what they’re doing or why. By 44 you are distressed to discover there is no secret and that life’s glittering prizes are made of tin. But then comes the getting of wisdom. As Oswald observes, “When you get older, you’ve learned to accept yourself.” You aren’t Montaigne, you aren’t going to be PM, you are just you. In Schopenhauerian terms, will is replaced by art, acceptance and a sense of the universal. You learn to enjoy the comedy of life’s struggle, and happily take your place in this huge and leaking lifeboat.”

You can read the full report of the research (much more interesting that the short taster) here.  Things can only get better.

The report intended to sort out the ceteris paribus correlation, that is whether well-being is U-shaped over a lifetime, or whether previous studies had produced skewed results because some generations, or some cohorts (such as those born in a particular decade) were happier or less happy than others.   Several data sources were used.  Initially data was sampled at random from the General Social Surveys of the United States and the Eurobarometer Surveys in Europe.  Analysis of these data sets showed that well-being amongst American men was lowest around 53 years of age, much later than for American women (around 38-40), and later also than the happiness minimum for European men and women who were both at their most unhappy at about 47. 

If women marry earlier than men, then perhaps the unhappiness peaks at the time that both have to contend with teenage children?  The authors of the report say not: “The well-being U shape in age is apparently not produced by the influence of children”.  They deduce from looking at different age cohorts, however, that while Europeans are about as happy or unhappy as they have always been since the 1950s at a particular age, successive American birth cohorts have – since the early 1900s – become progressively less happy.  This difference cannot, the authors say,  be explained away by a difference in use of language or perception of the meaning of words used to describe well-being in the surveys.

Within Europe there are substantial variations between countries, pooling male and female results.  People in the UK become unhappier earliest (35.8 ) and those in Portual latest (66.1) with most other countries hovering around 49.

Data from the UK Labour Force Survey was used to test the Eurobarometer findings.  Depression and anxiety figures taken from a sample from approximately one million observations shows that the measure of mental ill-health turns around at 46.

The authors cannot provide any answers as to why the graphs should, across 72 countries, take on such a U shape, nor why the troughs appear when they do in each country.  One suspects that the reasons are particular to each country and its culture, although some truths may cross national barriers.  Oswald and Blanchflower tentatively suggest three factors:

  • That individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and quell infeasible aspirations
  • That happy people live longer, so that those who survive to older age record higher levels of well-being
  • That schadenfreude or similar effectively prevents us from repeating the mistakes of our peers

These results may be amusing for us, but they are important for policy makers.  It should be possible from a careful analysis of individual country statistics to work out when men and women are least happy and why.  Unhappiness costs the state lots of money – in days off sick from work, in benefits paid to single parents as a result of divorces, in treating depression and anxiety in adults and in their children, in the criminal justice system.  I’d like to know more about the statistics for the UK, separating out men from women, and looking at the variables – number of children, employment or lack of it, socio-economic status, health and so on.

Which leads me on to a rare burst of cruel British humour from another Prime Minister in waiting.

I have to include this wonderful excerpt from a speech made by William Hague, in the House of Commons on 21st January.  The background is, of course, Gordon Brown’s long lived ambition to unseat Tony Blair and become Prime Minister, an ambition recently achieved without an election even.  Here – in the grand tradition of British Parliamentary oratory – William Hague warns him of what is still to come …

“To see how the post of a permanent President of the European Council could evolve is not difficult even for the humblest student of politics, and it is, of course, rumoured that one Tony Blair may be interested in the job. If that prospect makes us uncomfortable on the Conservative Benches, just imagine how it will be viewed in Downing street! I must warn Ministers that having tangled with Tony Blair across the Dispatch Box on hundreds of occasions, I know his mind almost as well as they do. I can tell them that when he goes off to a major political conference of a centre-right party and refers to himself as a socialist, he is on manoeuvres, and is busily building coalitions as only he can.

We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name “Blair” is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. And then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, “Mr President”, are forced from his mouth. And then, once in the Cabinet room, the melodrama of, “When will you hand over to me?” all over again.”

Just in case I was getting above myself.

An old friend sent me a link to this Harry Enfield YouTube clip which nicely ties together my previous post with the earlier “Dinner Party” post (here)  – in an inspired way.  I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

 

The Dinner Party is an exception to the British Mahram rules, sanctioned by society.  It is one of the rare occasions when intimate one-to-one conversations, between people of the opposite sex who are not married to each other and are outside the permitted degrees of relationship, are not only permitted but encouraged.

Although dinner parties are much less formal than they were, some of the old rules of etiquette still pertain.  This is all the more the case when some of the older guests remember well old rules that are now falling into disuse.

Etiquette demands that the most important female guest be seated on the right of the host, and the most important male guest on the right of the hostess.

This, in turn, determines the pattern of conversation.  It is good manners to talk to the guest on your right and on your left.  At more formal dinners it is usual for the ladies to talk first to the man on their left and, at a given point, to turn to speak to the man on their right.  The “turning” takes place often at the end of the first course – the starter or entrée – and often at the end of the main course guests will be asked to move around the table for pudding. 

  The turning of the table is accomplished by the hostess, who merely turns from the gentleman (on her left probably) with whom she has been talking through the soup and the fish course, to the one on her right. As she turns, the lady to whom the “right” gentleman has been talking, turns to the gentleman further on, and in a moment everyone at table is talking to a new neighbor. Sometimes a single couple who have become very much engrossed, refuse to change partners and the whole table is blocked; leaving one lady and one gentleman on either side of the block, staring alone at their plates. At this point the hostess has to come to the rescue by attracting the blocking lady’s attention and saying, “Sally, you cannot talk to Professor Bugge any longer! Mr. Smith has been trying his best to attract your attention.”

We attended a very enjoyable dinner party on Saturday evening, with fourteen guests, and I was fortunate to have rewarding conversations with three men, two of whom I had not met before, but was glad to have met. 

 There was, however, no starter.  Instead canapés were served to us as we stood with drinks before the meal.  I talked with a small group of people at this time, and one man in particular – a retired doctor – whom I found to be very kind.  I was seated next to him at the dinner table (he was on my left), so counted my conversation with him over drinks as the first course.  During the main course I enjoyed talking with the man on my right.  Before the pudding some of the men moved, and my right hand man was replaced by another, whilst my left hand man remained the same.  So I talked to the new man on my right, turning to the man on my left to finish the evening when coffee was served at the table.  There is a point to these old-fashioned rules.  Everyone knows how to behave and nobody is left out.

Our conversations were good humoured, light hearted, but informative.  I learnt about the difference between different types of nuclear reactor and how fuel arrives and leaves (or not) our local nuclear power station, about the new commissioning of hospital services by general practitioner doctors, I learnt about car dealerships from a man who ran ninety of them, and I learnt first, how school league tables can be manipulated by schools that value their students less than their outcomes, and, secondly, how some A levels (18+ exams) are graded higher than others and how university admissions tutors are never taken in.  We talked about sailing, rowing, mountain biking, being rooted in a community, being selfish and unselfish, taking time away from the family, the loss of status when you retire from work whether because of age or because you’ve had a baby.  Lots of things.  I really enjoyed myself.  I didn’t tell my canal boat stories once.

Often I suspect that the men round the table would wish to vary the rules so that they talked instead to other men.  At less formal dinners or if the dining table is sufficiently narrow, conversations between small groups of guests are possible as are conversations across the table.  Sometimes it is clear that the men seated on either side of me have no wish whatsoever to talk to me, which makes the evening a waste of time, though usually they can be persuaded to talk about themselves. 

 Dinner parties are not about food but about conversation.  They are small windows into a wider world.  For those who do not work, they are one of the few windows into a wider world.  How disappointing then, to waste an evening sat next to a guest who has no interest in you and whom you dislike after only a short encounter.

This is a video of a catchy song composed by Trevor, the Lock Keeper, and sung by his beautiful little daughter and others – to music played by him and others.  More from Trevor, and about his family, here and here.

 Most people I know are a) full of cold, b) exhausted and c) wondering how on earth they are supposed to do everything they have to do before Christmas.  Is this how it is supposed to be?

So this is for all those who are dragging themselves along – a bit of Christmas cheer.  It’s all over the internet already, but these are new versions :).  Moi et mon mari.

As Christmas Elves

After which you’ll get a chance to do the same thing yourself.

If the link doesn’t work first time, try again.  I think the site gets overloaded.

I hope we weren’t the only people glued to Love Trap, a Channel Four series which finished yesterday evening but which you can watch again on the internet in the UK on Four on Demand.  Five unsuspecting men thought they were all being filmed on a blind date with a gorgeous Swedish girl, Carolina.  What they didn’t know is that they were part of an “experiment” to determine whether men from different cultures did loving and wooing differently, and that the same Swedish girl was putting all five through the same tests.  She wanted them to be chivalrous, good cooks, polite to her parents, brave when her bag was attached, romantic in the park, trustworthy when she wouldn’t let them see risqué pictures of her and then left the room, game – when she took them to a nude mixed sauna or got them roller blading round Regents Park, caring and considerate  – when her heel broke, and so on. 

The Brit won – couldn’t put a foot wrong.  He was closely followed by the German.  The Ugandan came nowhere despite having carried her all the way home when her heel broke, possibly because she watched him on a secret camera talking on the phone to his girlfriend back home and using exactly the same language he had just used to her.  The Italian was a big disappointment all round until the bag was snatched and then he grew giant-like in stature and a white charger appeared out of nowhere. 

As for the Australian …  all the others had brought over a “love adviser” who was a best friend, and well versed in the ways of the fairer sex if not womanising.  The Australian brought his grandfather, and butchered Waltzing Matilda in front of her parents, thought wearing her pink tights on his head was a good fashion move, that “belly full of grub” was ripe for inclusion in a love sonnet, and got so excited about the thought of those risqué pictures that he will forever live in shame if he ever sees his performance. 

 The “experiment” proved nothing at all except that there are good men and bad men, funny men and stupid men, boring men, brave men and cowards, imaginative men and half-hearted men, but that – with the exception of Italians apparently, they all love Swedish blondes unconditionally.  

Love Trap

Carolina

Here’s my preferred version of Waltzing Matilda.  I still remember hearing Tom Waits’ growl for the first time almost thirty years ago … and I still can’t think of anybody I’d prefer to listen to late at night.

A friend sent me a link to this yesterday, knowing that I am a sucker for this left/right brain thang.  It’s everywhere on the web – a Google search of “revolving lady” will bring up a million different links.  Make of it what you will.

Are You Creative or Logical?

Which way is the woman revolving?

Try as I might, she’ll only go one way for me.

I’m also a sucker for on-line tests.  This one allows you to decide how much right brain and left brain you use.  

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