Weekend tales: Tom Paine, Stalin, why God loves vegans, gin, Breville joy, and birds

Last night was magic. Matt and I went to The Globe to catch the last night of A New World, Trevor Griffith’s play about Thomas Paine in America and in France. Paine, who suffered beatings and pariahdom for his beliefs and who, imprisoned without charge by fellow revolutionaries in France during The Terror, authored of The Rights of Man, the is one of my heroes. His pamphet of 1776, Common Sense, was instrumental in building support among ordinary Americans for the revolution which gained their independence from Britain. He was a man who fought for freedom when revolution lost its way, and for clemency – the life of the last Louis – against vengefulness. If he had lived today, he might well have been making common cause with Peter Tatchell, with cultural commons campaigners, and with the AWL.

It had rained quite hard all afternoon and I was going from work in rubber wellies with my ridiculous rubberised soldier’s poncho in my bag – but then it stopped. This was exceedingly fortunate because I’d got tickets for the Yard where you stand in the open to watch the play. The best seats in the house are in the Yard; the cast are in among you interacting with you – all the more incredible that tickets are £5 only. I stood looking up at slaves for sale on the platform next to where Matt and I were for most of the production, and stood at the feet – literally within spitting distance – of the man himself as he addressed the assembled crowd in favour of pensions and child allowance. Once a revolutionary whispered to be to be careful seconds before he and fellow cast members pushed the platform to the other side of the The Yard. The Yard was warm and full – in fact the whole theatre was full. This is the cult of the Last Night. Special things happen at Last Nights, as they did last night – the playwright was in the audience and there were speeches (I love speeches).

It was an excellent production – I’ll leave you to read the many positive reviews. One thing’s worth mentioning though. Watching, in this now-established English institution of The Globe, the Union Jack shot through by French Revolutionaries, defiant colonials railing against their English rulers, and the low evaluation of the English national character by Edmund Burke – watching all that, the morning’s news about Russia came to mind, where the Russian authorities have permitted a man called Yevgeny Dzhugashvili to sue the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, for libel against his murderous dead dictator grandfather, one Josef Stalin, for “calling into question his honour and dignity“. As historian Orlando Figes (whom I will hear speak later this month) observed on the Today Programme, it is valid to remember Stalin as a murderous dictator, and the Putin-Medvedev government of Russia is perpetrating revisionist historiography in the face of the law marks a turn for the worse. And I thought about what, by comparison, a solid, honest country I live in, and how good it is if your country’s national self-confidence doesn’t flinch from historical truth.

Meeting missionaries. I was out the front cutting the dead lavender to make lavender bags and talking to my neighbours, when two women walked by and exclaimed about the scent. I passed them some flowerheads and they took a few steps away before turning back. Because I had given them a present, said the more talkative of the two, she would give me a present. Out of her bag came a copy of Watchtower, the organ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I declined, citing environmental reasons – non-bait to most missionary minds, in my experience. Besides, my neighbours (still beside me) are Catholic and I don’t want to talk about God with them – for me God is a wedge which makes me feel far from believers. For example, my closest Catholic friends believe in flying monks which, to my mind, is entirely consistent with believing in God. But the missionaries wanted to talk more, so when my meat-eating neighbours had departed and I’d had enough, I swung the conversation round to an agenda of my own: veganism. This yielded a lesson in scripture – I hadn’t realised that we were vegans before the flood – and a fairly quick conclusion as I turned back to the lavender in silent frustration: how can you believe you are following God’s enjoinder to be kind to animals, and at the same time slaughter them for no reason? If there is a God, it wants those of us who can to be vegans.

Sloe gin. Pick and wash your ripe sloes. Get a large jar with a water-tight lid. Prick the sloes with a special technique so it doesn’t take you a year. Weigh them. Put them in the jar. Add half as much sugar. Pour in gin to the top. Agitate daily for a week and then occasionally after that. Drink no earlier than 3 months (and in my case make it three months before New Year).

Breville joy. Did I mention that my cousin mended my broken kettle, helping me keep faith with my 10:10 pledges? But that’s not what this is about. Since Redwood began to produce vegan melting mozzarella, I’ve been able to occasionally open the old Breville sandwich toaster. You have no idea how happy this makes me – I thought I’d never have a toasted sandwich again. So, I margarined one slice of the bread I’d made overnight in the breadmaker, then layered on thin slices of cheese, then tomatoes out of the garden, then shallot, then smeared egg-free Plamil mayo (which is blindingly good stuff) over the other slice to waterproof it, placed it on top, margarined it, then made another the same, then battened down the lid. It was so lovely. So, so, so lovely. Then you must scrupulously clean your Breville, not leave the fat to go rancid for next time.

Birds. My RSPB-approved cat deterrent/repellent (ha, Weggis, you must live in a district of hard-of-hearing cats) appears to work but I scan the rooftops in vain – not a birdy. Today Matt bought, from B&Q, one of those metal bird feeding stands with hooks for different types of feeder. I put it to the lee of the cat deterrent, between that and the house, in the middle of the lawn. There’s a grub tray which I’m reluctant to use, but when I searched for “vegan alternatives to grubs” that was kiboshed by the double meaning of ‘grub’, and when I searched for “vegan alternatives to maggots” I got a load of medical information. Do you think young blackbirds might make a go of Redwood melting mozzarella, perhaps grated?

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