The Bake Cake Saga

I just fancy some fruit cake like we used to make it years ago – a Cranks boiled fruit cake. I reject the obvious strategy, which is a campaign of hints to She Who Knows All in the Kitchen (SWKAK). I can do it myself! After all, I’ve done it before, many years ago.

First, find that old Cranks recipe book, in the pile of forty-year-old recipe books in a cupboard. Browning pages, broken seams… A diversionary thought, as I realise that the last time I saw old battered heirlooms like this was when clearing out the cupboards of various deceased relatives. Oh dear!

At last, here it is: Cranks Boiled Fruit Cake. Let’s set to.

First, to boil up the dried fruit in ‘butter’. There’s not enough mixed fruit, so throw in sultanas and raisins. No dates or dried apricots – more sultanas and raisins. No brown sugar – granulated will do. No orange to grate – a lemon will do. No apricot jam – how about strawberry and rhubarb! And there must be minimal butter – some old rejected Trex, some veggie spread and a bit of butter make up the amount. There we go – boil it up.

In the meantime, beat the eggs and add some brandy. Now, where is the brandy – last used on last year’s Christmas pudding. A long search eventually finds it in stored away in the garage. Then, shock horror! The boiled fruit needs to cool down before the eggs are added. Cake availability time is now well past the intended lunchtime.

Prepare the dry ingredients – flour and spices, all of which are in stock, but I do wonder how many decades ground spices are supposed to last…

The fruit mixture is still pretty warm, when impatience forces the issue and the egg mixture is slipped into the fruit. Fortunately, it doesn’t result in sultana and raisin scrambled eggs. The dry ingredients are ‘folded in'(?) Now, where’s the cake tin? There’s the 6-inch tin for little cakes but this needs the 8 inch. After a long search I ask SWKAK. “I told you I threw that rusty thing away years ago.” Then she comes up with a suggestion – “why don’t you use this baking dish.” I’ve never heard of baking a cake in a pot dish before, but there we go – line it with greaseproof paper, tip the mixture in and off we go.

It’s supposed to take 90-120 minutes. At 85 minutes I check and it seems to be ready – the inserted knife comes out clean. Apparently, I didn’t allow for it being on fan, but my theory is that a flatter cake cooks more quickly. Now we have to wait for it to cool.

According to SWKAK, I did it all wrong. Should have lined up all the utensils and ingredients before starting, then it would have gone like clockwork. NOT. It was far more fun my way – a voyage of exploration!

And the cake is delicious!

Creativity and Humour

One of my themes in this blog has been the over-dominance of left brain as against right brain in current Western societies. This was the subject of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary, reviewed here in 2016. So I was delighted to come across this video of McGilchrist in conversation with John Cleese (of Fawlty Towers fame) on the subject of Creativity, Humour and The Meaning of Life, and their essential relationship with the right brain.

To pick just two points that it inspired for me:

  • Comedy is essentially ‘right brain’, and is not ‘politically correct’ or ‘woke’. Comedy depends on irreverence, and being able to laugh at things that are potentially forbidden subjects. Just think of those TV images of masses of men leading the Soviet Politburo or the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Not much comedy in those solemn faces.
  • Meaning, imagination and inspiration are very much related to right brain. Have you noticed just how boring politicians are on the media when they are in the process of spouting some ‘party line’ that the left brain is following? The only interesting speakers on programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time are those with the freedom to speak out from their own life experience.

You will have your own takeaways from listening to this fascinating conversation between an outstanding academic/psychiatrist and a top class comedian. The video is in 3 parts of around 20 minutes each. The first part follows, and will naturally lead you on to the others..

Beyond the Robot

beyond-the-robotBeyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson by Gary Lachman.

I remember being totally inspired when I came across Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider while at university in the early 1960s. It gave an introduction to philosophy/psychology and literature that had been much neglected in my early education. It was very readable and even had sexy bits to titillate one of such an age. And it was on a theme related to those who felt a bit outside the norms of conventional society, who were a bit different because not just preoccupied with the daily grind of the material world. It also had the intriguing backstory of Wilson’s having lived rough on Hampstead Heath for a period while researching and writing it in the British Museum, of his subsequent popularity as one of the ‘angry young men’ of the 1950s, and how he had fallen out of favour with the literary establishment.

Over the years I have dipped into quite a lot of the books of Wilson’s prolific work, both fiction and non-fiction. He seemed to move from philosophy/literature into more specific fields such as criminality and the occult, but always related to similar themes on the potential development of the individual human being. Generally what he wrote was very readable and seemed to make sense, but making it a reality in one’s own daily life was quite a different matter. So this was but one thread on my own extensive explorations of other authors and systems.

It was a delight to recently discover that Gary Lachman had written this biography of Wilson, which enables the books and their ideas to be put into context with each other and with the realities of Wilson’s life as an author earning a living through his writing. To my mind, Lachman has done a great job, and the clarity of his writing bears comparison with that of Wilson himself. He demonstrates clearly the development of Wilson’s ideas and suggests he should be regarded as a leading thinker of his time, notably playing a part in the development of a modern positive version of the existentialism that reached a negative cul-de-sac with Sartre and Camus. (After The Outsider I read Sartre’s Nausea and hated it.)

The robot of the title refers to our capacity to hand over parts of our lives to an inner ‘robot’ that handles things for us, filtering out parts of our experience of the ‘outside world’. Wilson’s aim is always to help us to move beyond the robot and reclaim meaning in our lives, but at the same time recognising the valuable functions that the robot does perform. It won’t help if I try to explain this much further in a few paragraphs. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. It will repay the effort.

This book will be a valuable reference to Wilson’s oeuvre, and will particularly give an insight into which of his books to begin with if you wish to delve further into his world.

What is it all about?

“I woke up early morning with this strange feeling.
I got up, walked over to the window, opened the curtains,
and looked out over the streets of Rochdale.
The sun was coming up over the hills, the sky ablaze with colour.
I was sort of entranced.
I thought: ‘What is it all about?’
Then I thought ‘It’s got bugger all to do with me!’
and I went back to bed.”

That’s my memory of a joke told in a gig by Lancashire comedian Mike Harding in the late 1970s or early 80s. It came to mind as I pondered on such things, as you do, while gardening – indeed as I have done from time to time since childhood.

It struck me that, even harder than imagining how the universe came about, which is guaranteed to give you brainache, is what it could have been like ‘before’, ie before space and time began in our universe, before the ‘big bang’.

How could the universe not exist? Methinks the answer does not lie in the realm of rational discourse.

Featured image shows sunrise over Failsworth, Oldham
courtesy of Martin Butler, via Wikimedia Commons