Continuity, salad, and Brexit

ROBERT AND MARGARET, my PhD supervisor, and his wife, became my close friends during the execution of my doctorate and for many years afterwards. I had the feeling that they were not as keen as some about Britain joining what we now call the European Union (‘EU’). Today, the 31st of December 2020 at 11 pm, the UK will leave it. Thinking about this reminded me of my old, now sadly deceased, friends and how joining Europe almost wrecked one of their dietary habits.

Robert was an extremely keen and energetic gardener. His home had extensive grounds. Looking after these kept him blissfully busy. The tennis court was separated from the conservatory by a large lawn surrounded by bushes. This was the ornamental garden. It contained one or two benches and a table where tea could be enjoyed in hot weather.  A path led from this into an even larger kitchen garden that was lined on one side by a series of long low huts, known as the ‘goat sheds’. Although they did not contain any goats, they were filled to the brim with … well… maybe many people might have called it ‘junk’. My friends would have disagreed with this assessment. 

At one end of these sheds, Robert, who was a first-class handy man as well as a brilliant scientist, kept a wide selection of tools.  There were few repairs in and around his home for which Robert lacked the skills to perform competently. Once plastic piping became widely available, he carried out many successful plumbing repairs. More than once he said to me with great seriousness that it was senseless teaching children Latin or Greek; they should be taught something useful like plumbing. Amongst these tools, there was also a hand operated mill that he used to grind flour, which he used to bake his own bread.

Almost whenever I arrived at his home, I would find Robert somewhere in the garden. Often, he was hunched over a bed of seedlings, weeding. Sometimes, he would be looking after his crop of potato plants which grew in a field accessed by way of the path between the goat sheds and the stables. He liked this patch of ground because it bordered the large meadow where his horse, Hobo, grazed.  This horse enjoyed company and used to stand by the fence close to where Robert was toiling. Robert valued Hobo’s company as well as that of his Burmese cat, which followed him around the garden.

Beyond the goat sheds and separated from them by a pathway were two adjoining stables. One was occupied occasionally by the family’s pet horse; and the other was filled with the contents of a long-lost friend’s flat. Amongst the various plots for growing fruit and vegetables, there was a spacious elegant Victorian glasshouse. A rusty wide-bore pipe ran around the walls that made up the rectangular base of this. This pipe had once been connected by underground pipes to the house, which was about 70 yards away. In its heyday, the piping in the glasshouse had been part of the house’s central heating system circuit and served to keep the plants warm in winter. By the time that my friends had bought their home, it had been disconnected.

Robert grew a variety of edible plants in the greenhouse. The lettuce he grew there was some of the best that I have ever eaten. Freshly picked, it was so tasty that it required neither salad dressing nor salt nor any other additive. It was grown from seed of a strain of lettuce called ‘Continuity’.

When the UK joined the European Economic Community (‘EEC’) in 1973, something of which I doubt my friends fully approved, the days of Continuity were numbered. Amongst the many regulations that the EEC planned to impose on its members was the banning of the sale of some kinds of seeds including those of Continuity breed of lettuce. This annoyed Robert and Margaret, and it became yet one more reason for them to disapprove of joining the EEC. Not one to be defeated by authority, Robert made sure that he let some of his lettuce plants flower and he collected their seeds in anticipation of the ban. For long after the seeds were no longer on sale, Robert and Margaret and others who ate with them were able to enjoy Continuity lettuce.

Although many people, including my friends Robert and Margaret, benefitted greatly from joining the EEC, later the EU, their disquiet about European judgement about what they could grow in their own gardens was not entirely misplaced. For, over the years, what began as a primarily economic union gradually assumed an overarching political role. We wait with bated breath to see whether leaving the EU will allow Britain to truly ‘regain control’, as Boris Johnson hopes, or, as many people fear, to degenerate into an insignificant archipelago lying off the west coast of Europe.

Czech point

 

MUCH OF WHAT HAPPENED when we visited the Czech Republic in 1999 was our fault, but what followed left a bad taste in our mouths. We drove to Loket in the western part of the country, in what was once known as the ‘Sudetenland’ and stayed in a nice hotel, where we had stayed two years earlier, in the centre of the small town near to Karlovy Vary. Every day, we used our car to explore the country.

 

LOKET wiiki

LOKET in Czech Republic  (Source: wikipedia)

One day, we drove to Teplice (Teplitz in German). It was here that Beethoven met Goethe at the town’s well-known spa. On the way, we stopped in the square of a small town near to Teplice.  My wife and our small daughter were standing, waiting for me, when a car sped towards them and skidded to a halt about a foot away from them. Had it come any closer and they had not run, my family would have been badly injured or worse. Why had the Czech youths driving the car done this? Was it to scare them or even to hurt them because my Indian wife looked to them like a gypsy? The gypsies in many central and eastern European countries face much hatred and prejudice from those who regard themselves as true locals.

Somewhat shaken, we continued our journey to Teplice, where I parked in a spot (next to a police station) where one needed to purchase a parking ticket to display in the windscreen. Inadvertantly, I did not buy a ticket. We went off for a walk for an hour or so, and then headed back to the car. Before we reached it, I went into a music store to look at CDs and the others walked ahead to the car. A few minutes later, I reached our dark blue SAAB.

Our vehicle was surrounded by policemen. My wife was shouting at them in erratic German, accusing them and the Czechs of behaving like Nazis and trying to murder us. It was only after a couple of minutes that I noticed the clamp attached to one of our wheels. Blue in colour, it matched our car perfectly. It had been placed because of my not having bought a parking ticket. We were required to pay a fine.

“How much?” I asked.

“1500 Crowns”

“I don’t have that much cash.”

“How much do you have?”

“Five hundred,” I replied.

“Not enough. Go to that cash machine. Get more.”

We paid 1500 Crowns (about £25 in 1999) as required, and then asked for a receipt for what seemed like an excessive amount to pay for a parking infringement. One of the police officers brought a receipt book. He wrote something on one page, and then tore it and 14 other pages out of the receipt book. We looked at the fifteen receipts we had been given, each one to the value of 100 Crowns. Only one of them bore a date and our car’s registration number. The fine must have been 100 Crowns, and the rest a gift to the policemen of Teplice.

The following day, our penultimate in the Czech Republic, we ran out of cash. I suggested that as it was a Sunday and banks were closed, that we drove to a border crossing where we were likely to find a bureau de change. Why we did not look for a cash machine, I cannot remember. We drove along a road that led to a frontier post on a road into what had once been East Germany. On the way, we passed a road sign that I did not recognise but will now never forget. As soon as we drove into the Czech frontier post compound, our car was once again surrounded by uniformed men. They told us to drive into a small gravelly parking lot where I noticed an abandoned car with British registration plates. We were asked to disembark and hand over our passports. At this point, my wife, who was already fed up with the corruption of Czech officialdom, began banging her forehead against our car. Meanwhile, our passports were taken into a hut to be photocopied. Our crime was that we had driven to a frontier post that could only be used by local Czech and German pedestrians.

It transpired that the solution to our problem was to pay a fine.

“How much?” I asked, trying to explain that we had arrived at this post hoping to change some money.

“How much have you got?”

Having already learnt that 500 Crowns was likely to be insufficient, I said that I had enough Deutschmarks to pay up to 1000 Crowns.

“You will pay one thousand Crowns. You can change money there,” we were informed by one of the uniformed officers who pointed at a booth nearby.

Once the transaction was over, our passports were returned, and we headed back to our hotel in Loket, thoroughly disgusted by the corrupt behaviour of some Czech officials.

My wife and daughter went up to our attic bedroom to rest whilst I stayed at the reception to settle our bill.

“I have come to pay for our stay.”

“36,000 Crowns,” announced the receptionist in impeccable English.

“But,” I replied, “you agreed 18,000 in your confirmation email.”

“Your daughter has extra bed.”

“No, she did not. We brought her bed from London, as agreed in the email.”

“No, it is 36,000”

I took out my credit card. I knew that the hotel was trying to cheat us and that if I fell for their price, my wife would have found it hard to forgive me after what had happened to us already in the hands of the various officials we had met recently. Waving my card at the receptionist, I said:

“18,000 and no more.”

“We need 36,000”

“18,000, and no more,” I said more forcefully that I am usually and placing the credit card back into my wallet.

“Ok, 1800 will do.”

We left the Czech Republic the next day and have not yet felt the need to return. This is a pity because the country, which I have visited four times, does have a lot to offer the visitor.

Many years after our unfortunate trip to the Czech Republic, we were in Bangalore (India) when I learnt how to deal with corruptible policemen. Our driver, ‘R’, decided to take a short cut by driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction. A policeman stopped him. We said to R that we would pay the fine. Getting out of the car, he told us not to worry.

After a few minutes, R returned smiling. He told us:

“Fine is usually 300 rupees. I told him that if he accepted 100 rupees, it would save him the trouble of writing out all of that paperwork. He was happy with that.”

Clearly, a considerate crook can expect considerate behaviour from a crooked cop.

From Europe to Asia

I NEVER IMAGINED THAT I WOULD SEE THE VENETIAN WINGED LION of St Mark in Bhuj (Kutch, western India), but I did. A carving of this well known symbol of a once powerful European empire stands at the entrance to the Aina Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) in Bhuj, which was built during the reign of Maharao Lakhpatji that lasted from 1752 to 1761.

In 1742, Ram Singh Malam, aged about 16 left his native town of Okhi in Saurashtra (Kathiawad), now a part of Gujarat, and set out to sea. His boat was shipwrecked and he was rescued by passing Dutch vessel, which took him to Holland. Ram Singh remained in the Netherlands until about 1760.

During his stay in Holland, Ram Singh Malam learnt various skills including: clockmaking, mirror making, glass making, ship building, cannon manufacturing, tile making, enamelling, tool making, and more. When he returned to Saurashtra, he offered his skills to various local rulers, but to no avail. Then, he travelled to the Kingdom of Kutch, where his knowledge was recognised and employed by its ruler, Lakhpatji. The latter was so pleased with the technical advances that Ram Singh had imported from Holland that he was sent back to that country two more times. During his trips to Europe, Ram Singh also visited Austria and the Republic of Venice. No doubt the Lion of Venice sculpted in Kutch and placed at the Aina Mahal was designed after Ram Singh had been to Venice.

The Aina Mahal contains tiles and mirrors that were made using the knowledge acquired by Ram Singh. Statues that decorate both the inside and the outside of the Aina Mahal and the adjoining Rani Mahal depict men wearing European clothes, such as Ram Singh would have seen people wearing in 18th century Europe.

In 2001, Bhuj was struck by a huge earthquake, which caused much damage to both the Aina Mahal and the Rani Mahal. Their neighbour, the 19th century Victorian Gothic Prag Mahal, suffered considerably less damage.

The former curator and archivist at the Prag Mahal, a keen researcher of the history of Kutch, is Mr Pramod Jethi. He told us that after the earthquake the Dutch government were apparently considering assisting in the restoration of the damaged Aina Mahal palace, provided that documentary evidence was provided to prove that Ram Singh Malam had really been staying in Holland. Apparently, despite many accounts by various writers that he did spend years in Holland, this did not constitute evidence that would satisfy the Dutch.

Anyone, who arrived in Holland on a Dutch ship in the 18th century must surely be recorded in a ship’s records or registered in the books kept by Dutch port authorities. However, it is likely that quite a few ships arrived in Holland at the time that Ram Singh disembarked there. Dutch ships sailing in the vicinity of Gujarat were most probably connected with the Dutch East India Company. If someone has the enthusiasm and energy to search through the Company’s records, maybe the evidence that the Dutch government requires will be found. Regardless of whether or not the Dutch government can be satisfied, it is clear that Ram Singh was a very remarkable man who greatly advanced technology in Kutch and brought the winged lion of St Mark to India.

With a baby in Belgium

baby seat

 

Young parents sometimes ask my wife and I when it is safe to take their baby abroad for the first time. Why they ask us is a mystery. We are not experts on child care. Our experiences in this field are confined to our only child, our daughter.

We first took our daughter abroad when she was six weeks old. We went on a driving trip from London to Belgium and Holland. After about an hour driving through northern France, our daughter began crying plaintively and continuously. We stopped, removed her from the baby seat, fed her some milk, and that brought the complaints to an abrupt end. At that stop, both my wife and I had separately thought that  we were not too far from home to turn back and abandon our trip. Neither of us expressed this thought verbally when we stopped, but later we discovered that we had had the same idea.

Several hours later, we arrived at our destination, Damme, which is close to Brugge (Bruges). After settling in the hotel, we  found a restaurant nearby. It was Saturday night. The restaurant occupied a long room. There were tables on both sides of a corridor that ran the length of the room. Most of them were occupied by frumpy-looking, late middle-aged, middle class Belgian couples, none of whom seemed to be having fun.

Soon after we settled at our table, our daughter began crying. She was hungry and my wife wanted to breast-feed her. She asked the head waiter whether there ws somewhere secluded that she could breast-feed. The waiter pointed to a back room. When my wife stood up, the hitherto silent and rather glum Belgian diners became animated. They told us that they did not want the baby to leave them. From that moment onwards, all of the diners cheered up and became lively, firing us with questions and advice about our tiny daughter. It seemed that our arrival was the best thing that had happened to them for many a year.

A few months later, we took our child to India, and that was also a successful trip. So, if you are crazy enough to ask my advice (based on a sample of only one) about travelling with a baby, my answer would be “go for it.”

 

 

 

Picture from argos.co.uk

Common sense

Common sense is one of the least common traits found amongst human beings. It is uncommon to chance upon someone with common sense. There are plenty of intelligent and very bright people around, but most of them lack common sense and often wisdom also.

When I was a pupil at Highgate School in north London between 1965 and ’70, all of the teachers except one had degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge. The exception, Mr B, had been at a training college just east of the City of London. Mr B taught an unacademic but practical subject: woodwork. I was not any good at his craft and luckily I missed most of the classes on account of my having broken my arm during the woodwork term. Amongst all of the teachers at Highgate, Mr B had the most common sense, in fact more common sense than all of the rest of the staff combined.

Another person, who was brim-full of common sense, was one of my aunts. For various reasons, probably not completely unrelated to losing her father at a young age, she did not shine at school. Yet, throughout her long life she approached everything with straighforward down-to-earth common sense.

I am not sure whether the following anecdote was a manifestation of my aunt’s common sense, but I will relate it anyway. Once when she was at a party, a stranger introduced himself to my aunt as follows:

I am a neo-Platonist. What do you do?

Cool as a cucumber my aunt answered:

I am a cabbage.”

Thus, she put pay to her pretentious new acquaintance, and ended what might have become a tedious conversation.

My photograph (above) shows a well-known London landmark. For those who are unfamiliar with London, the picture depicts the Houses of Parliament, which contains the House of Commons. During the current discussions regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU, many intelligent Members of the House of Commons are demonstrating a worrying shortage of common sense.

Read this before travelling under the English Channel!

This is an excerpt from a book I wrote some years ago about travels with my late PhD supervisor, Robert, and his late wife Margaret. Every summer, they used to travel with their caravan to Northern Greece – a nine day journey, camping along the way. Here is what happened on the first night across the English Channel.

HARK 78 Ptit S Bernard RDH AY MH

L to R: Robert, Margaret, and Adam  

After docking at Calais, we drove a short distance southwards towards the village of Coquelles. Having driven right through the village, we stopped in a lay-by situated in the midst of ploughed fields. There was neither a house nor a person in sight at this isolated spot.

At this point, I should explain that Robert and Margaret preferred to camp ‘wild’. That is to say, they preferred not to camp in officially organised camp-sites. This preference was not based on financial considerations, but on a desire to spend time far from the madding or maddening crowd. Robert once told me that his idea of hell would be to be trapped forever in a bus full of passengers chattering incessantly. I trust that St Peter has sent him to a better place!  Robert told me that if were to be born again, he would like to be reincarnated in the form of his pet horse named ‘Hobo’. This pampered creature spent all day in a huge field in the open-air, and lived an ideal life, neither having to make or listen to small-talk nor to attend committee meetings…

HARK 78 Ptit S Bern Camping

 

…Soon after we parked at our first camping site in the northwest corner of France, I felt the need to pass motion. There was not a toilet to be seen where we stopped and there was none in the caravan. The compartment in the caravan that had been designed to be used as a toilet was being used instead as a wardrobe and general storage cupboard. I wondered what arrangements had been made for evacuating one’s bowels. I asked Robert. Before he replied, he handed me a spade and a pickaxe. When I had these heavy implements in my hands, he pointed at the ploughed field across the road from where we had parked. He told me that I was to dig a hole in the ground, do my ‘business’, and then cover it up, taking care not to leave any signs that the earth had been disturbed. Robert was a keen environmentalist, but definitely not a ‘tree hugger’.

Armed with my workman’s tools, I entered the field and hid behind one of the few small windswept bushes near one of its boundaries. This was the first time that I had ever used, or even held, a pick-axe. So, I raised it high above my head, and brought it down sharply towards the ground in front of me. As soon as the cutting point of the tool hit the hard earth, it bounced of it. The ground was as unyielding as concrete. I tried again, but with the same unproductive result. By now, I could feel that things were becoming urgent and if I persisted in trying to dig a hole, I would soon find myself in an embarrassing hole. Making sure that I was not observed, I voided on to the surface of the earth, rather than beneath it, and then I returned to the caravan.

rob map

Late in 1994, nineteen years after I defecated onto that field near Cocquelles rather than beneath it, the field no longer existed. It had been excavated and destroyed to become a part of the French terminal of the recently constructed Channel Tunnel.

 

Beneath where I had once squatted, thousands of passengers now stream daily on their way to and from France.

I have been one of them.

 

aegean

FOLLOW ADAM YAMEY’s ECCENTRIC ADVENTURES WITH HIS PROF  HERE