Friday, 27 March 2020

Lockdown Bulletin - Cooking Notes

Now that being anywhere near strangers feels as dangerous as hanging about beside a radioactive reactor rod, I'm being very careful with food, using every last scrap of even the most unappetising objects I find skulking in the refridgerator. I don't want to go to the shop again, unless I absolutely have to.

But I'm also trying to cook nice food.

Which calls for some adaptations and compromises.

To give an idea of what I'm talking about, last night I spotted some large, unprepossessing carrots hiding up the back of the vegetable drawer. I think at the time that I bought them the phrase 'social distancing' was one that I had not yet ever heard - yes, that old.

I took them out, remembering a recipe I'd seen in a weekend paper for carrots cooked in ginger. I hunted the recipe down. It called for finger thin baby carrots. Never mind, same diff. It called for ginger infused cider. Well I had some fresh ginger but cider ...

I crawled under the hall table where we keep wine and after a bit I found a small bottle of Tokaji somebody very kindly gave us in 2009 or '10. The cork had begun to crumble. Ideal.

I followed most of the rest of the recipe's instructions, (more or less, honouring it in spirit if not in whatever).  And believe it or not, they were the most delicious carrots either of us have ever eaten. And I'd never have cooked them, if I hadn't been in this peculiar, somewhat anxious situation. Which may mean there are if not silver linings at least shiny tin foil or copper bottomed ones?

The only problem is, having not actually followed a recipe and not having access to a constant supply of small bottles of Tokaji with rotting corks, will I ever be able to make them again?

Forget the honey, I’d say.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Holed Up in Hungary - Lockdown Bulletin No. 2

I woke early and thought it might be a good time to go down to the shop as nobody would be there. I was wrong and as I rushed about, heart pounding, fearful that the air was full of flying virus, grabbing paprika flavoured crisps, sour cream, a packet of tea and some eggs, forgetting what I really wanted - wine - all the people around me grew ever more sensationally dangerous, in my mind.

And all the time my face kept begging my hands to touch it. But I'm pleased to report that my hands steadfastly refused. My face was left disappointed. Why the hell is it so demanding?

Back at home, I continued to plough my way through my two Hungarian textbooks. I’ll describe them another day as they are quite amusing, each in their own way. For now, the interesting thing I've noticed is how even the vocabulary you look up while reading articles in other languages will inevitably reflect the nature of the times you’re in. Thus it is only now that I have discovered the words for sneeze; intensive care; and curfew in French, the word for corpse in Italian and the word for recuperation in German. Over the years until now, I've never felt the need for any of these and I'm extremely sorry I do now.

Some people are saying that our heightened awareness of death is giving us all a new pleasure in life. No. Wrong.

On the Twitter and poetry - well sort of poetry - front, here is a refashioned parody of Hungarian Rhapsody, a song by the band called Queen. You have to know the tune to read it with any pleasure. It has a rude bit in it (everything has a rude bit in it these days, sadly), but it is quite clever - and I'm definitely interested in creative things coming from this vile Chinese virus. The writer goes by the Twitter name of @danajaybein:

I've lost my mind.

I wrote Coronavirus Rhapsody:

Is this a sore throat?
Is this just allergies?
Caught in a lockdown
No escape from reality.
Don’t touch your eyes
Just hand sanitize quicklyyyyy

I’m just a poor boy, no job security
Because of easy spread, even though
washed your hands, laying low
I look out the window, the curve doesn’t look flatter to me, to me

mama, just killed a man
i didn’t stay inside in bed
I walked by him, now he’s dead
mama, life was so much fun
but now I’ve caught this unforgiving plague

mama, oooooh
didn’t mean to make them die
if I’m not back to work this time tomorrow
carry on, carry on as if people didn’t matter

too late, my time has come
sends shivers down my spine
body’s aching all the time
goodbye everybody, I’ve got the flu
gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

mama, oooooh
I don’t wanna die
I sometimes wish I never went out at all

I see a little silhouette of a man
what a douche, what a douche
did he even wash his hands though
security is tightening 
very very frightening me

Gotta lay low (gotta lay low)
Gotta lay low (gotta lay low)
Gotta lay low masturbate
Masturbate O O O O

I’m just a poor boy, facing mortality
spare him his life from this monstrosity
Touch your face, wash your hands, will you wash your hands?
WASH YOUR HANDS! (never, never, never wash your hands oh oh oh oh oh oh oh)
No no no no no
Oh mama mia, mia (mama mia wash your hands!)

COVID-19 has a sickness put aside for me, for me
So you think you can stop me and just shake my hand? 
So you think we can hang out and not break our plans? 
Oh baby, can’t do this with me, baby,
Just gotta stay home, just gotta stay home with my fever

Curving can get flatter
Anyone can see
Curving can get flatter
Curving can get flatter, you’ll see

Just look out your windows….


Friday, 20 March 2020

Holed Up in Hungary: Lockdown Bulletin No. 1

Well, despite what they’ve been trying to make us believe, this new COVID virus thingy has taught us the truth: sixty is not the new forty, after all. In fact, sixty is the new ninety-seven, for sixty is now the age beyond which you don’t get treated in hospitals - at least not if they are besieged by patients suffering from the effects of the latest iteration of coronavirus. Which they soon will be, everywhere in the Western world.

Thank you, Mr Xi, thank you WHO, run by a notable alumnus of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Good to have international health in the hands of an adherent of a Marxist Leninist organisation.

This pandemic couldn’t be some kind of a deliberate plot, could it?

We will never know. But never mind - as Psalm 39 says:

“Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.”

In Hungary, we’re in shutdown, or lockdown or self-isolation or whatever the new term is. As long as I don’t remember why I rarely go out, I don’t mind, as it’s extremely nice in our flat, but what if it wasn’t? How is it for people cooped up in places they don’t much like?

These are the things I’ve been doing while “social distancing” (so modern - I've always hated modern, except in dentistry):

1. Reading the book I’ve been reading since October, about the English Civil War:

I bought it because at school I was taught nothing about this period in English history and I wanted to understand it. I have by no means finished it but I already think I understand why they don’t teach it much to schoolchildren - the war itself was scrappy and confusing and for long periods inconclusive and the causes of the war were strange religious obsessions and the very poor leadership of King Charles I, who appears to have been pretty imperceptive and indecisive. Furthermore, when he did actually make a decision, he almost invariably made the wrong one. At least that’s my impression so far.

2. Sewing: I hated China’s regime long before this latest proof of what a horror show it is came along. Therefore, I have been making my own clothes for years to avoid supporting the Chinese regime's economy. I haven’t yet succeeded in making my own iPhone, mind you, but I have resisted replacing my super battered one with a shiny new version:

Now I think about it though, (lot of time for thinking these days), I’d be willing to bet that most of the materials I’m using to make my own clothes were woven in China, so I’m probably achieving nothing, other than having unique (slightly peculiar) garments (at least currently [forever?] seen by none).

3. trying to learn Hungarian (I can almost understand a newspaper headline now, sometimes)

4. obsessively checking Twitter, hoping against hope that it will be flooded with joyous Tweets linking to announcements that the whole virus  problem has suddenly been solved and entirely swept away.

On Twitter, (and off), I’ve been reading poetry. Today I came across this one from Cavafy (I chuck down his name here as if I have any real knowledge of who he was - Egyptian? Very actively gay? Enormously romantic view of young male beauty? Above all perceptive):


Deep in fear and in suspicion,
with flustered minds and terrified eyes,
we wear ourselves out figuring how
We might avoid the certain
danger that threatens us so terribly.
And yet we’re mistaken, that’s not it ahead:
the news was wrong
(or we didn’t hear it; or didn’t get it right).
But a disaster that we never imagined
suddenly, shatteringly, breaks upon us,
and unprepared - no time left now - we are swept away

A poem for our times or what?

I also read this story on Twitter. If laughter is the best medicine, I prescribe a read of it, as it made me laugh quite a lot: