Yes, it’s none other than The Bard himself who’s supplying this blog post’s title! My readers are a cultured lot, so it makes sense… I know you get the reference, so no caption is necessary here, except to say that this rose, which grows in our courtyard, is John’s favourite plant in the world, ever! (And he never used to like roses! By any name!)
So, what IS in a name? Well, quite a lot if you’re a wee girl growing up in a small town in Scotland in the 1950s and, among a sea of Margarets, Isobels, Marys and Doreens, your name is Penelope! Oh, I got so fed up with hearing my name pronounced to rhyme with ‘antelope’! And since I was brought up to be polite to older people, it was very difficult to keep smiling when old men invariably called me ‘Tuppence’ because ‘you’re too wee to be a penny.’ Though of course, dear readers, to understand this witty remark, you have to realise that this was pre-decimalisation and a penny was the largest coin…
(Please ignore my hair! It’s naturally straight, so my mother decided to give me a home perm. As you can see, she wasn’t very good at it…)
But now I’m an ‘older’ person myself and, with the memory not being what it was, I decided, a couple of years ago, to try to learn the Latin names of some plants. Don’t you admire all those people in gardening programmes who can just rattle them off? Or maybe you can, too? Well, I managed a few, amongst them aquilegia; alchemilla mollis and pulmonaria. The family all give me an affectionate and highly amused hug whenever I say, ‘Oh, look! Alchemilla mollis!’ I don’t know why…
I love aquilegia, which is also known as Columbine and Granny’s Bonnet.
And Foxglove. Isn’t that a great name? Can’t you see all the foxes wearing the petals of these on their paws? Well, maybe not, and there is a theory that it might be derived from folks (as in fairies) glove. Which is sweet…
This foxglove has been at the receiving end of some pretty fierce winds and has grown up rather twisted by the experience, I’m afraid. But the flowers are still lovely. Apparently in the south of Scotland it’s called ‘bloody fingers’ and, further north in Scotland, ‘deadman’s bells’! I’ll stick with the fairies’ gloves!
This is quite a pretty wee flower, isn’t it? With an interesting wee butterfly perched on it.
But have a look at those leaves. This plant is pulmonaria, or lungwort, so called because the mottled leaves look like a diseased lung… Hmm… I’m beginning to come round to old Will’s thinking, after all…
In the foreground of this photo is a lovely little gentian (I ADORE blue flowers and you don’t get much more blue-flowery than a gentian.)
Gentian… Now there’s a name with unpleasant connotations for me, despite the prettiness of the flower. Come back with me to the 50s again (it’s almost like time travel, isn’t it?) Lots of children then (including, I’m afraid, your humble blogger) were plagued by a horrible skin infection called impetigo. The treatment was to coat the offending eruptions with gentian violet, a purple (as the name implies) powder that proclaimed to all the world that you had… a horrible skin infection! Ah, those were the days…
In the background (the soft focus is deliberate. I like a narrow depth of field in my flower photos…), what can that plant be? Why, it’s an alchemilla mollis! (Jane always reads my blog over my shoulder. I know she’ll laugh and give me a big hug when she reads this! (She did!) Some people call it Lady’s Mantle, but I know the Latin name!
Yes, what’s in a name? Take this pooch for example. (No, you can’t really take him. We dote on him too much!) When we were looking for a dog to share our lives, John and I decided that we wanted one who looked as if his name was Bobby. He couldn’t really be called anything else, could he? (For any new readers, he’s the bristly brown chap on John’s right and your left…) I have to say that he also answers to the name of Bobster MacLobster…
And could Mimi really be called anything but Mimi? I don’t think so!
Like her operatic namesake, she is often to be found in a garret (snoozing on the bed in our attic bedroom) and she has a lovely voice. She’s also looking very soulful in this photo, but I think she was watching a spider, with a view to snacking…
Now, what about Frankie and Stankie?
What can I say? How un-appealing a name for a book is that? I only picked it up because it was by Barbara Trapido and I’d read good things about her. I’m glad I did! Frankie and Stankie are the nicknames two wee girls, Dinah and Lisa, give to each other and the book tells of their growing up in South Africa in the dark days of apartheid. Now, before I began F&S I knew as much as most people about apartheid. But, interspersed with episodes in the girls’ lives is a history of what was going on in South Africa at the time and it’s fascinating, though obviously depressing, reading. And the lives of the girls, though taking place so far away from Scotland, mirrored so many of my own experiences, fashions and foods!
Despite my own trials with the name, Penelope Lively is an author who was obviously going to appeal to me! But it’s not just for her name that I love her books (I’ll probably write one of my brief reviews in a later blog post…) If you don’t already know her, have a look. She writes well and engrossingly. I’ve read several and have a few more in the TBR bookcase.
When I was growing up, the small bookcase in the hall cupboard, where all my mother’s book were kept, contained one called Penny Plain. This fascinated me, of course, but, since it was a ‘grown-up’ book, I never investigated. Many years later I came across the title in a second-hand book shop and decided to have a look. Interestingly, the fly-leaf shows that it was present ‘To Auntie Jan with love from Fiona and Patricia, Christmas 1947’ – my own first Christmas! How appropriate! I read it and was hooked and have since collected all O. Douglas’s books. Some can be obtained online and deserve, in my opinion, to be much better known.
O. Douglas was the pen-name of Anna Buchan. Her big brother, John, was what she considered a ‘serious writer’ of imperialistic adventure yarns and she felt it wasn’t fair to use the same surname. Her own stories deal with daily life, mainly in Scotland, and include details and conversations she observed taking place around her. They don’t shy away from sadness, and the part in Penny Plain where the family’s beloved terrier is lost is clearly written by someone who has loved a dog. But the truly tragic aspect of them is that the wee boy who is an important character, under different names, in many of the books, is based on her own, adored, youngest brother, Alastair, who was killed in the First World War, leading his men ‘over the top’.
I admit I often cry about fictional characters in books, but knowing that in real life this bright, funny, mischievous wee character will die tragically young is heartbreaking.
Unforgettable, Unforgotten is her autobiography and is well worth reading, if you can get hold of it (my own copy was also a Christmas 1947 present to someone!) as is Farewell to Priorsford, ‘a book by and about Anna Buchan’. ‘Priorsford’ is Anna’s fictional town, based on Peebles.
And now on to soup… What else? Today I made Jenny’s favourite: Silione. ‘Silione?’ I can hear your puzzled voices as you leaf through the indexes of your recipe books. Wait! Look no further! It’s actually minestrone soup, but when Jen was wee, she couldn’t pronounce it properly and the name has stuck. (And don’t bother looking up a recipe. I’m about to give you one.)
Here’s how I make silione soup:
A few onions, chopped up nice and small
Some vegetables (I like to use sweet red pepper with courgettes in season, or green beans when not), chopped
2 cartons chopped tomatoes
2 ½ litres water
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
A couple of bay leaves
1 tin baked beans
A fistful of spaghetti broken up small
Salt, to taste
I normally chuck everything apart from the beans and spaghetti into the pressure cooker and cook for about 20 minutes. Then I add the baked beans and spaghetti and simmer, off pressure, until the spaghetti is cooked. I serve it with home-made focaccia or, as we did today, with toasted paninis and marg.
Today, however, my pressure cooker lid gave up the ghost! Horrors! So I boiled everything up for about an hour and it tasted just fine. No fat (except on the paninis) either!
This is even better when left for a day, but we didn’t… Also, John and I love potatoes in silione, but the offspring don’t share our taste for potatoes in soup. (I know! Where did we go wrong?) So I boiled up a wee pot of potatoes and John and I had them in the bottom of our bowls with the soup on top. Mmmmm!
And why am I showing you a photo of my desk? Just so you can see where I spent a very happy time responding to all the lovely comments my wonderful readers left for my last blog post. Please don’t stop! I loved hearing from you and now the newbies among you know how easy* it is, I hope you’ll keep commenting! And come back soon after, as I always reply!
*For those of you who haven’t yet dipped a toe into the warm, limpid pool that is ‘commenting on my blog’, just click on ’Comments’, below and, as if by magic, a box will appear, all ready for you. If you don’t have a blog yourself don’t worry! Just type in your name and your e-mail address (the latter won’t appear; it’s just a security thingy, I think) and type away. Then click ‘Send’. What could be easier? Not even falling off a log.
From a favourite soup to my favourite cat! If you’ve read my blog before, you won’t need me to tell you Tom’s name! Here he is, looking up at Jenny and smiling at her. (You know that when a cat squeezes his eyes at you, he’s smiling? Squeeze your eyes back!) Isn’t he a sweet chap!
Today’s title: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Today’s breakfast: porage made with water and salt, with, on top, a mixture of freshly ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts, a banana and some maple syrup. Mmmmm…..
Some of the stuff I’m reading at the moment: Penny Plain by O. Douglas (for the nth time!); The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson; Behold, Here’s Poison by Georgette Heyer (again…); Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard…