Wednesday, 23 March 2011

In which I am grateful for modern medicine

The Inexhaustible Baby has spent much of the winter in a state of copious mucus. I do apologise for my lack of delicacy but really, when one spends appreciable portions of every morning trying to clear his little countenance of the truly revolting bits left from the night and his nose of hideous blockages, one rather loses one's daintiness on the subject. It really has been very difficult for him, the poor mite has just gone from one horrid cold to another and he always struggles to get rid of them. One can hear his breathing and he develops a chesty cough each time.

What I find somewhat puzzling is that in spite of his being such a sturdy little ruffian, who eats as though there is an interval of days between each meal, he succumbs to every cold that comes along. This is in sharp distinction to his sister, who eats but poorly and looks so dainty and fragile that she might float away in a light breeze. She has the constitution of an ox and never seems to suffer from more than a mild cold. Certainly she has avoided the procession of phlegm that has afflicted her brother.

The Inexhaustible now seems to be recovering from his most recent bout and I am in hopes that the milder weather may give him some respite. I must confess though, that on this occasion, I was actually relieved that he had a cold - because the alternative was infinitely worse.

Some two weeks ago, my heart sank when on arrival at nursery, a new notice was to be seen on the front door advising parents that one of the children had contracted scarlet fever. The next day, the notice had been changed from one to three and the Inexhaustible seemed to be sickening with something. I was, I will admit, pessimistic. It seemed to me that with his tendency to absorb every form of bacteria within his orbit, his chances of escaping this were slim. On the day when he developed a temperature and sore throat, as well as displaying a most uncharacteristic lethargy, my misgivings were grave.

In retrospect, my reactions were probably somewhat extreme, because I remembered how many characters in novels that I have read have died of scarlet fever and similar illnesses. I couldn't help think with nervousness of Beth in Miss Alcott's Little Women who never really recovers her health and strength. Interestingly the grandmamma of one of the Infant Phenomenon's companions at ballet said that her own mamma was horrified at the mention of scarlet fever and earnestly advocated the incineration of all bedclothes, clothing and soft toys once the infection has reared its ugly head in any well-ordered nursery.

However, thanks indeed to modern medicine, this one-time killer has become a very treatable and relatively unimportant illness for the few who catch it. With that panacea for every childish fever, Calpol, to lower the temperature and antibiotics to kill the infection, the scarlet fever of our nightmares, does truly belong in the 19th century. And I, for one, am most content that it should so remain.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

In which I suffer a culinary mishap

I have great pleasure in cooking. One could call it an inherited passion as my Mamma is a superb cook. She is entirely self-taught as in her childhood home, the 'Missy Sahibs' were not permitted to enter the kitchen. Rather like the Misses Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, the young ladies 'had nothing to do in the kitchen'. On the other side, Papa's family - most notably in the persons of my dearest cousin and my aunt, Miss and Mrs F - are also well versed in all the culinary arts. Indeed Papa himself, while not terribly at home amidst the onions and garlic, excels in his appreciation of Mamma's many works of art and may be considered a devoted worshipper at the shrine of which Mamma is the high priestess. In my own abode, I gladly share mastery of the kitchen with Mr B, himself no mean exponent of the hospitable art of cooking. Anyone who has eaten his cakes or his roast dinners will, I am sure, agree with me.

Mr B and I are both keen eaters as well as cooks (hence my earlier wails about my embonpoint) and enjoy experimenting with new recipes. Our greatest challenge in this wise is finding sufficient time. As a general rule, we eschew excessively faddy 'gadgets' about the kitchen and embrace only those which will stand a severely utilitarian test of  appreciably saving us time or labour. Thus the Magimix is a beloved replacement for a kitchenmaid, the dishwasher for the scullerymaid and thanks to the refrigerator, it is no longer necessary for the butcher to call daily at the area steps with the day's meat order. However, my electrical sauce maker, the juicer and the bread maker see the light of day no more.

The purchase of any new piece of culinary equipment is thus rather an enjoyable and absorbing pastime in our household and when the fiat goes forth in favour of buying something, there is usually a great deal of pleasant discussion and light-hearted debate. This was exactly the case with the slow cooker. One of Mr B's cousins, dear Miss I, was visiting and was eloquent in her praise of this particular piece of equipment. In view of the extreme utility of being able to prepare a meal first thing in the morning which will be ready to eat at the end of the day without further supervision, we agreed up on the purchase.

The device soon arrived by the medium of the post and eager was the desire of myself, Mr B and the Infant Phenomenon to sample the delights of this method of cooking. My first attempt I would call a qualified success. Using the receipt which came with book of instruction, I made what they called Hungarian Goulash. It was tasty and both the Infant Phenomenon and the Inexhaustible Baby ate to repletion, as did their parents. My only qualms were that my Hungarian sister-in-law Miss K might not recognise the dish as anything remotely resembling Hungarian Goulash. Nonetheless, leaving aside all such fussing over authenticity, it could be called a success.

My next attempt involved using a receipt from a new publication, especially written and bought for this device, by Mr Worrall Thompson. The book had been well- although not numerously reviewed and at first glance appeared to be the very thing I needed. Figure to yourself my distress and disappointment then, when I found that the end result of this receipt was foul-smelling and completely inedible. Mr B and I both had the fortitude to taste a sip of the sauce, but to no avail. Nothing would have induced us to sit down and actually eat the dish. Fortunately for myself, I had not used any ludicrously expensive ingredients, but the best part of a bottle of wine was wasted. It ended up as a very costly meal indeed, as we were obliged to send out for our dinner to the Indian eating house at the end of the road, which is pleasant but hardly economical.

I attempted to overcome this reversal by making another recipe from the book of instruction. This turned out tolerably well, but I am now plagued with the following question: Do I give Mr Worrall Thompson a second chance or should I simply forget all about him?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

In which I am dashing away with a smoothing iron

I must confess that ironing is not one of my preferred tasks around the home. In fact, I don't think any particular task around the home could ever be described as a preference for me. Had I followed my preferences, I should have been curled up in the armchair with my nose in my latest Trollope trouvaille (Ralph the Heir, should anyone be remotely interested). But duty is duty and a woman's work is never done (nor is a man's, as Mr B is still beavering away at something for his interminable office while I have finished the ironing and am simply enjoying this mild cyber gossip).

There I was, then, dashing away with my smoothing iron and to beguile the tedium, I was listening to Mr Bach's Motets. And with ironing, one's mind does wander - that is both its advantage and disadvantage, an idle mind and busy hands. And I got to thinking about that wonderful composer Mr Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and the rather staggering piece of biographical information that he had 20 (yes, twenty) children by his two wives. Of course any reputable source will inform you that only ten of these survived to adulthood, but still TWENTY CHILDREN! I struggle to keep pace with but two!

I will mention immediately that my knowledge of the domestic style of living of such a man is small, as I have not read any of the biographies, nor am I overly familiar with the period; but I am aware that at this point in time, such a man, genius as he was, was simply regarded as an upper level servant of whichever court or church happened to be his employer. I do not believe he would have been particularly wealthy, though I expect he earned respectably. And my mind wandered into wondering how many woman hours went into the laundering of nappies for 20 children and who on earth actually did it? Someone in the Bach household must have spent years of her life simply laundering nappies.

It puts my current worries as to my temporary career lull somewhat into perspective...