Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Village people

An acquaintance in Mumbai writes, "Swaminath Yadav is the person who drives me to office every morning. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that the commission for sending money to his family living in a village in Uttar Pradesh is 5% (Rs5 per Rs100 is how he put it). He uses an informal network run by a "panditji" from his viilage. The advantage is that the money is delivered to his wife at her doorstep within a couple of hours. Why doesn't he use a bank? Because the nearest bank is 10kms away and his wife with a small child cannot do the trek every month. Even the Post Office, I was surprised to know, charges 5% commission on Money Orders and many a time the postman also asks for his "cut" when delivering the money." The hope is that the ability to transfer cash via a mobile phone will revolutionise this system.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Plum pudding

Blessed with a surfeit of plums in the garden, I've been giving them away, making crumble and even a couple of jars of plum chutney (now maturing in the dark for two months). Here's my latest plum recipe:

1 1/2 lb plums, stoned and halved
6oz caster sugar
2oz butter
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 tablespoon golden syrup
6 tablespoons milk
1 egg
4oz plain flour
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Mix the plums with the caster sugar and put into a buttered ovenproof dish. Put the butter and both syrups into a saucepan and melt over a low heat. Add the milk and beaten egg and leave to cool. Combine the flour, granulated sugar, spices and baking powder. Add the cooled syrup and milk mixture and blend well together.Spoon evenly over the plums. Bake at 160 degrees C for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

(I can't see that Mrs Beeton used plums in her plum pudding recipes...)

Monday, September 27, 2010

William of Wykeham

William of Wykeham died on this day in 1404, having been Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England and having founded Winchester College and New College, Oxford. "Manners makyth man" was his motto which reminds me of this old joke:

"A lady walked into a room where an Etonian, a Harrovian and a Wykehamist were sitting. The Etonian suggested they fetch a chair for her. The Wykehamist went to find it and the Harrovian sat in it."

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Gracchi?

"The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, were Roman noblemen who both served as tribunes in 2nd century BC. They attempted to pass land reform legislation that would redistribute the major patrician landholdings among the plebeians. For this legislation and their membership in the Populares party they have been considered the founding fathers of both socialism and populism. After achieving some early success, both were assassinated for their efforts. "

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Moon festival

Today is the beginning of the Moon Festival in China. Mooncakes are the traditional delicacy but their red or black bean or egg yolk fillings have never appealed to me. One legend associated with them is as follows:

During the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368), China was ruled by Mongolians. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty, unhappy at submitting to foreign rulers, organised a coup. It was just before the Moon Festival and they ordered special cakes to be made. Baked into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels attacked and overthrew the government.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ode to an autumn frog

Demon of cysts and yellow brute coolness

Gross fulsome end to our maturing fun

... Anybody on for supplying the next 2 lines?

Monday, September 20, 2010

England in September

It was such a beautiful day on Saturday that I took my colleague's advice and went on a stunning walk along the cliffs near Studland. The Jurassic Coast is crying out for further exploration.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Defensive propaganda

A poll in South Korea found that 65% of respondents in their 20s didn't believe the Ministry of National Defence report that North Korea sank one of its patrol boats in March. To combat this scepticism, the Ministry is distributing a 32 page cartoon strip to schools, libraries and government offices which depicts a journalist investigating the sinking as its hero. "Why do you think North Korea did it?" he asks. "To divide public opinion in our country by instigating conflict between the Left and the Right." A survivor of the sinking says in the comic, "When it comes to security issues, I wish all people would speak with one voice. The people should love and trust us in the military."

Monday, September 13, 2010


I visited Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire, erstwhile summer home of William Morris. There are many wonderful textiles and tapestries there and it is easy to see the source of some of his inspiration from the beautiful fruit trees in the garden. It contains some fine drawings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and some stunning portraits of Jane Morris and her two daughters by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, although the one I've attached is in the gallery at Dulwich.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Who'll drive whom to madness?

Who drove whom to madness?