PC 263 Freedom

Josh looks up as I order a double espresso; Susie is on the late shift. “Hello! Richard, how are you doing?”  (Note 1)

“Oh! I’m fine. Need to gather my thoughts for this week’s postcard.”

What? The last one of the year? Why don’t you write something about freedom? Been in the news a bit recently!”

“But I limit my scribbles to about 1000 words, otherwise I think my readers will get bored! Freedom is potentially such a wide topic ……”

 “Just be succinct then!” Josh interupts, putting my coffee on the counter in front of me. I pick it up and head for a table; there are a number free, socially distanced of course!

For those of a certain age the word freedom instantly brings back a memory, the 1987 film ‘Cry Freedom’. Set in late 1970s apartheid-era South Africa, it was based on books written by the journalist Donald Woods about his black-activist friend Steve Biko. Woods attempts to uncover the reasons Biko dies in police custody. He is banned from leaving the country, decides he must expose the corrupt nature of South African politics and is forced to trek to neighbouring Lesotho disguised as a priest, before flying to London.

But here in Britain we don’t need to go back to the memory bank to read ‘freedom’, as our shores are a magnet today for migrants fleeing persecution in many countries, for instance Syria, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan. The UK is often chosen as the migrant not only has some knowledge of English but also believes our flexible black market economy will allow him or her to find a job quickly.

Matthew Parris, writing in The Times, rightly points out a couple of things; that ‘voters on an island will never soften towards settlers arriving uninvited in boats’ and that ‘persecution is most oppressive when the country is poor but individual rights are most respected in countries that our rich.’ Unless that changes, the poor will attempt to gravitate to where the rich live.

Migrants on an inflatable crossing the busy English Channel’s shipping lanes (Photo The Times)

On the news the other evening, a small malnourished 8 year old boy in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, close to the Turkish coast, turned to the camera and pleaded: ‘I just want to be free. I just want freedom.’ On the other side of the pond – “Freedom feels different to different people ….” So began an article in the Sunday Times magazine about 55 year old Jens Soering, who had just stepped outside an American prison for the first time in 33 years.

Whilst it came in for a great deal of criticism as the writer was not from Central America, so how could she write about the subject (?), Jeanine’s Cummins’ ‘American Dirt’ was an eye opener on the migrant struggles to cross from Mexico into the southern USA. I even Googled the train that carries this human cargo northwards and watched some documentary video – tragic of course, but fascinating if detached. All in the desperate search for freedom, real or imagined.

Freedom has been sought over the centuries by groups of people: for example the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in search of it, the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to North America to flee persecution and find freedom and Jews have been victimised until they were granted freedom in a homeland in 1948.  

Some might consider it wonderful to be ‘completely’ free, although as soon as you live with others, in some form of community or society, rules and laws are introduced to bring a sense of order to what would otherwise be chaos. Over hundreds of years these laws have been refined, or changed in response to altering views and values. Most of us in democratic countries believe in the rule of law and adhere to the restrictions, restrictions on our ‘personal freedom’. Some do so only when it suits! Nobody says it’s a perfect way to live but it reflects the variable nature of the human species; rules for the majority.

Here the anti-everything brigade cry about lost freedom, about government interference in their personal liberty, without realising how conforming they are. Societies mandate certain requirements. Currently if you want to work in a nursery you have to have a DBS (Note 2) check; certain countries require you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination if you want to visit them; to drive you need a licence. It’s your choice to accept the mandatory requirements or forgo the right to work in a nursery, travel or drive. That’s your free choice. It may be we will require a Vaccination Passport to go to certain events, eat in restaurants, work in certain sectors. To those who do not want to be vaccinated, you have a choice.

The antivaxers reject the wisdom of medical science one moment, in this case that the overwhelming scientific evidence says the Covid vaccine is statistically safe, but accept it the next as an infection puts them in hospital needing specialist care (Note 3) – that could have been avoided if they had been vaccinated. Carol Midgley, a Times columnist, repeated a joke doing the rounds: ‘A man who has refused to have a jab saying he’s concerned about the side effects, is challenged by a work colleague. “But they said masturbation made you blind, Gary, and yet here you are without a white stick.”’

I pay Josh, who asks: “How did it go, the scribbles about freedom?”

“Actually hardly touched the surface. No space to mention Chinese repression and re-education of the ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, no time to explore sexual freedom or modern-day slavery, or even mention Freddie Mercury’s ‘I want to break free’ (Note 4)!”

Ironically it’s the antivaxers who are potentially keeping everyone else under threat of restrictions to their liberty, to their freedom. A close friend just doesn’t believe in vaccinations. Normally I accept her decision, but not during a pandemic when there is a collective need for everyone to be protected. Of course our ‘loss of freedom’ pales into insignificance compared with the little refugee on Lesbos.

Richard 31st December 2021


Note 1 When you go regularly to a restaurant, café or even a shop, being on first-name terms with those who serve brings colour to the whole experience!

Note 2 DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) is an analysis and record of someone’s past, looking for criminal convictions, cautions etc, which might bar someone from employment in certain sectors.

Note 3 Recovering Covid patients need to stay in ICU three times longer than someone recovering from, say, a heart bypass.

Note 4 The 1984 song was actually about a failed relationship but it became an anthem against oppression and in support of freedom.

PC 262 Christmas Eve Post

I was all prepared to post some thoughts about freedom, as it’s a word often in the news at the moment; had even written 900 words. I paused, thought about the subject, one where the breadth of associated emotion runs from elation to abject misery, and decided it could wait until after the celebrations.

A distant cousin in Auckland sends me her seasonal newsletter by email; I don’t think I am the only recipient! In a wonderfully serendipitous way, somewhere embedded in it is an explanation of how the Maori understand the future. They feel that we walk backwards into the coming years, unable to view what that will bring, only able to look at our past years and what eventuates for us then. It’s good to take our blinkers off sometimes and understand how others see the world, for their view is not wrong and it can be challenging. Personally looking back I only see the experiences I have had, maybe make some judgement about how they have shaped me, but very firmly look forward into my future and all that it may or may not contain. Physically walking backwards without fear of falling over, without looking over my shoulder to see where I am going, is not natural to me.

          So …… enjoy your Christmas Eve ……. I hope you have a fun time …… thank you for reading my scribbles …….. and I promise my freedom thoughts are coming! Walk backwards into the coming year, or face it with energy and enthusiasm and embrace all it offers.

May 2022 be better

Richard 24th December 2021


PC 261 That Moment

Susie’s on her day off and Josh is making the coffee this morning. He is a very accomplished Barista and my double espresso with some hot water on-the-side is well-made. Don’t have long before I need to head down to the hot yoga studio in Middle Street but thought a shot of caffeine was needed. Caffeine is easily absorbed by the body within a few minutes and can increase one’s mental alertness and physical energy; for me very necessary! That very first sip, lips on the side of the cup, the hot liquid seeping into the mouth and down the throat – one of those ‘ah!’ moments.  

Last Sunday morning, head down into the biting north easterly wind, I passed a couple of rough-looking chaps outside the Smart Seaview Brighton Hotel. One of those delightful misnomers as it’s neither smart nor in Brighton, although to be fair you can see a patch of sea between some buildings!

They sat either side of a wooden table & bench combination, concentrating madly on rolling some tobacco or something stronger in some paper; a couple of stained mugs with steaming tea lay on the table.  I didn’t want to interrupt the process, as I was aware how important the first ‘something’ is, in this case the first inhale of smoke, in through the nose and down into the lungs and then the heady rush of nicotine. Being an ex-smoker I can well remember that first morning cigarette, the nicotine entering the blood stream, stimulating the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. God it felt good!!

Got me thinking of other times when we all experience ‘that moment’. Maybe we have hundreds, maybe even thousands but some are more instantly recallable than others, aren’t they?

A visual one comes to mind, prompted by a recent television programme, ‘Griff’s Great New Zealand Adventure’ (Note 1). Griff Rhys Jones was making his way down the South Island of NZ when he had to stop …. simply had to get out of his car …… and shouted ‘wow’, looking at the stunning scenery through which he was driving. I have had many such moments in New Zealand, such is its breath-taking landscape. My most recent one was in December 2019 (See PCs 169 & 170), driving away from Elmslie Bay where, in 1877, the girl who became my great grandmother came ashore from a shipwreck. It’s 100% pure New Zealand and around every bend there was another photo opportunity; the rolling landscape of this hill looks like a Pug puppy’s face! That is a moment to treasure.

Yachts have their own idiosyncrasies and it takes a while to get to know how to get the best performance out of them. Sailing in Uomie in the Fehmarn Light Race in Kieler Woche , the German equivalent of our Cowes Week, many years ago, the first leg of some 35 nm (6okms) was out to a lightship off the German island of Fehmarn.

We beat into a cold northerly; pointing the bow too much into the wind and the yacht slows, too far the other way and it heels over too much. On the tiller, I somehow managed to get Uomie sailing as best she could, thrashing into the night. In sailing parlance she “lifted her skirts”, like mums in the 50m dash at a school sports day  (Note 2) ; we rounded the light a few hours later, tacked and bore away towards Sønderborg and the second course mark about 80kms away ….. but that moment stays with me, that and the fact we won our class!

Nothing comes close to seeing something in real life; no matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of, for instance, the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal, you can still gawp and wonder either in the Louvre or in Agra. My first glimpse of Christ the Redeemer on the mountain overlooking Rio de Janiero is one.

And this reminds me of a sister-in-law’s children, in London for the first time, seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as we drove in from Heathrow one night. The excitement in their voices: “Look! Ah! Wow!”

Some of you will be parents and maybe grandparents. Whilst I acknowledge that the birth of a child is special, I think the birth of a first grandchild is extra special. The realisation that the little mite has some of your DNA in its cells is a moment like no other.

And there’s another moment, maybe more sombre than others, that I was reminded of recently. When your last surviving parent dies, there is this rather weird realisation that there is no one ‘above’ you in the family. We are so used to having our parents around ….. and then they aren’t!

At this time of year when alcohol is being advertised more than normal, I am reminded of the first whiff, and then the first taste, liquid on lips, into the mouth and eventually down the throat, of some Australian Grenache.

I asked a friend what “Ah!” moment immediately came to mind and she said: “Losing my virginity in a caravan”. She didn’t elaborate and I thought it would have been indelicate to ask whether the experience met her expectations!

When your body is hot from being in the sun, a dip into a cold sea is an absolute delight; that sense of being enveloped by water. Interestingly many more here in the UK are swimming in the sea all the year round – great for increasing one’s immunity from disease.

Josh came to collect my empty cup and asked what I was scribbling about this week. When I told him he immediately said: ‘First Love!’ Maybe that’s a topic that could fill a PC on its own?

Left the Hope Café in a hurry, off to yoga.

Richard 17th December 2021


Note 1 Griff Rhys Jones travels from Cape Reinga on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island to the bottom. Four episodes UK ITV.

Note 2. ‘Showing her underneath/keel’? Yachts are always female hence this expression – today I hope, sincerely hope, we don’t shy away from this tradition. “It lifted its unisex trousers ….” doesn’t create the same emotion.

PC 260 Bread

In my last postcard I highlighted toast, aided initially by a Tony Buzan mind map. Then I thought I was ahead of myself, as I should have started with ‘bread’!

Before we go any further can we define ‘bread’? It’s a staple food most commonly made from wheat flour and water and one of the oldest human-made foods. It can be made to rise with naturally occurring microbes as in Sourdough, with chemicals for example baking soda, with yeast or high-pressure aeration – all creating gas bubbles which fluff it up. Additives can be added (well, they would be, wouldn’t they, by definition additives are added?!!!) which improve shelf life, texture, colour, flavour, nutrition and ease of production.

If bread has been an absolute every day necessity of life for thousands of years, I wonder whether the Christian writers of the Lord’s Prayer: “……. give us this day our daily bread ……” were referring to the food or to their belief that Jesus was represented as bread in some metaphysical sense. Following this thread, in the Christian ritual of Communion the ‘body of Christ’ is represented by a piece of bread or wafer – so did Christ appropriate bread to be his own, as in essential for life?

Thinking of bread immediately brings Manna to my mind. According to the Christian bible it was ‘an edible substance that God provided for the Israelites during their 40 year wanderings in the desert. That figure ‘40’ keeps cropping up in the Christian story, for example Christ wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, but forty years, like from 1980-2020 surviving on manna ….. beggars belief …….. wandering the desert ……. sand and more sand ….??

Away from religious beliefs, to earn one’s living became synonymous with earning one’s bread, or even crust! Therefore bread, or even its uncooked name dough, became slang for money and the person bringing in the wages the breadwinner.

Here in the UK, with its history of Victorian religious piety, the examples of great stirring hymns, today so loved by Football and Rugby spectators, are numerous. ‘Jerusalem’ comes to mind, but scribbling about bread it must be ‘Bread of heaven’ as it’s become known. Written in 1762 by Welsh hymn writer William Williams, ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’ became a favourite for funerals; translated into English in 1772, it was set to the tune Cwm Rhondda in 1905 (Note 1) I am not sure many singing in the terraces understand the phrase ‘bread of heaven’, probably thinking of a sandwich (?), but hey! ho! good to open your vocal cords and SING.

My mother would have been astounded at the variety of breads available today, from an essential wholemeal sliced bread (Waitrose £0.60 for 800g) through to Sourdough for £3.50 and San Francisco (SF) Sourdough for £3.90. Celina and I have come to prefer sourdough and particularly the SF version – both available in our local Gail’s bakery (£4.00). SF sourdough has a somewhat sour taste, brought about by a longer proving time than ordinary sourdough and the specific lactobacillus in its yeast. Sourdough generally is a great alternative to conventional bread as its lower phytate levels make it more nutritious and easier to digest. It also is less likely to spike your blood sugar levels. However if you buy the SF you have to pay for the holes that are more numerous than in the ordinary version!!

SF Sourdough on the left

I was lucky enough, many years ago, to have a birthday treat making various types of bread and buns at The Lighthouse Bakery Workshop south of Bodiam in East Sussex.

Going into the oven


It was a fun day; the results were distributed to our neighbours in Battersea! These days you can you own bread very easily by investing in a bread maker. In the morning the smell of freshly baked bread will fill the kitchen. Buying freshly-baked bread, still warm, is a treat; the difficulty is getting it home in one piece, resisting the temptation to stick your fingers into the centre and pulling out a ball of gorgeousness!

Two bread recipes here in Britain come to mind, Bread & Butter Pudding and Summer Pudding. The former uses stale bread, as in Pain Perdu, raisins, and an egg custard which are baked in the oven. The crispy edges to the slices are particularly unctuous!

The latter uses plain white bread which is layered around the side of a bowl; the centre is then filled with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc and some sugar and placed in a fridge overnight. It holds its shape when turned out:

Murphy’s Law (circa 1949) states that if anything can go wrong, it will. It’s best demonstrated by a slice of buttered bread, which will always fall onto the dirty (?) floor butter-side down.

Being of a certain age I can remember an American band called ‘Bread’. The first of many hits was in 1970; some of you may recall ‘Make it with You’, ‘Everything I Own’ and ‘If’, as in “If a picture paints a thousand words, why can’t I paint you …..”. They called themselves ‘Bread’ after getting stuck in traffic behind a Wonder Bread truck!!

And no postcard about bread would be complete without a mention of the French baguette. Defined in law, they have to be sold on the premises where they are made and can only contain four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen or contain any additives or preservatives. Personally the best thing to do with a baguette is slice it, coat the slices with garlic butter, wrap it in tin foil and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes!

The Italian Ciabatta loaf is perfect for bruschetta – in its simplest form, lightly toast, rub with a little garlic, cover with sliced tomatoes and basil and drizzle with Olive Oil. Yum! If this Christmas you get offered some Bread Sauce to go with your slice of Turkey, you may not know that it’s made by infusing milk with an onion, some cloves, a Bay leaf, some black peppercorns and butter. The strained milk is then thickened with bread crumbs, commercial or homemade.

Must stop these scribbles to write a ‘bread & butter’ letter to Meryl, a dear friend, who took us to The Ivy last night.

Richard 10th December 2021


PS There is of course a fruit about the size of a melon whose whitish pulp looks like new bread; unsurprisingly it’s called Breadfruit!

Note 1 “Guide me oh thou great redeemer, Pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand; bread of heaven, bread of heaven Feed me till I want no more, feed me till I want no more.

PC 259 Toast

Back in The Hope Café just after 0830, Susie is preparing some buttered toast for a customer; the smell of bread colouring under the grill (note 1) drifted across the room and I could sense I wasn’t the only one whose nose was twitching. There is something about toasted bread which is very evocative; stirs the memory bank.

I think of Tony Buzan and scribble a mind map!

In the Officers’ Mess in Lippstadt, Germany, Moritz, a rather stooped civilian waiter with wispy white hair around his balding skull, scurried from the kitchen to the long dining table, bringing food or collecting plates. It was rumoured that he was a refugee from somewhere to the East, but we didn’t bother to find out. I came across him in the kitchen one Saturday afternoon, patiently making Melba toast to go with the paté for dinner that evening. It had never occurred to me that you simply took some white bread, toasted it, then sliced it in two with a sharp knife and toasted the un-browned sides. Moritz taught me something and the association with Melba toast remains. I regret we were young, boisterous and loud and probably rather dismissive of this gentle old man; shame on us!

Why Melba? The Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (neé Helen Mitchell 1861-1931) became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian and early C20th, performing in America, Europe and of course in Australia. She took the pseudonym Melba from her home city of Melbourne. Her name lives on in Melba toast, created for her by the French Chef Auguste Escoffier. These days you can of course, like most things, buy it commercially. There is however something very therapeutic about making it yourself. (Note 2)

Fortunately Susie’s toast didn’t burn and the fire alarm stayed silent! Incidentally when you burn any organic material chemicals called ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’ are produced. The smell of burnt toast is highly recognisable because it’s a dry food without any fat to trap the smoke particles. At home I find that trying to stop one’s own domestic fire alarm with a broom handle is a mixture of comedy and frustration!

If I ordered some toast from Susie it would probably come on a plate, but toast deserves to be elevated to something special. So we invented the toast rack; its object is to keep the toast from going soggy! These days they come in all shapes and sizes; if you need a new one remember your preferred thickness of the toast!

At school the prefects had a dingy room fitted out as a kitchen; a kettle, little ‘fridge, and a toaster. My memory is the plastic-wrapped white loaf being toasted and devoured in minutes during break time. I can picture the butter on its paper, covered in crumbs and bits of marmalade, knives left unwashed and mugs tea-stained and cracked!

I am a great fan of a soft-boiled egg, or three! In gentler times one took the trouble to toast some bread, white or brown, butter it, and cut each slice into four lengthways. In the UK we call these soldiers; it’s so much part of our traditional culture that a café on Northcote Road in Battersea, London called itself The Boiled Egg & Soldiers.

I seemed to have sailed a great deal in my life. In doing so I have found huge variations in the kit provided, some quite ingenious. Food is an essential element of sailing providing you don’t suffer from seasickness. A greasy fried breakfast might be frowned upon in the C21st but it was an absolute essential for providing energy and it needed toast. The best gadget was a trapezoid prism in skeleton, placed over a gas ring. This formed the frame against which you could prop the bread and brown one side. With skill you could create a recognisable piece of toast; a lack of concentration and the burnt bread went to feed Davy Jones.

Nigel Slater OBE is an English food writer, journalist and broadcaster. He wrote an autobiographical story of his childhood and called it ‘Toast’. Is there a double entendre here as toast can be used for something that is finished, as in ‘soon their relationship was toast? First appeared in English in the C15th. I have his ‘Appetite’ cookbook; maybe I should raise a glass to Nigel for the success of his recipes; a toast perhaps?

The British love affair with toasted bread has spanned the centuries. In her book The Art of Cookery, published in 1747, Hannah Glasse outlined the differences between Scottish, English and Welsh Rabbit. The Welsh version contained melted cheese and mustard (note 2), the Scottish one omitted the mustard, and the English one involved soaking the toast with a glass of red wine before covering it with cheese and toasting it again. Kitchen utensils were slightly different in the C18th and at some point you had ‘to brown the bread with a hot shovel’. (Note 4)

Whilst we Brits are content with cheese or beans (must be Heinz!) on toast, the French use stale bread, soak it with milk, sugar and cinnamon for a sweet version, or with salt, pepper and mayonnaise for a savoury one, and fry it. They call French Toast Pain Perdu, literally lost bread; love that! The Brazilian version, Rabanadas, is popular around Christmas time.

Toasting forks were made so you could brown your bread over an open fire, or toast your marshmallows as I was doing in Juneau Alaska in 2015.

Once upon a time there was sliced white bread and when it was toasted, lathered with butter, slightly salted and cut into fingers, it was the bee’s knees to tuck into after a winter walk, back home in the warm, with a mug of tea.

Enough! I hope you haven’t found these scribbles as dry as toast? Time for my own tea and toast.

Richard 3rd December 2021


Note 1 ‘Under the grill’ as opposed to in a toaster? If someone wants ‘cheese on toast’ it’s difficult to do in a toaster!

Note 2 Escoffier also created a dessert of peaches, a raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1892, in her honour: Peach Melba!

Note 3 A C21st Welsh Rarebit might include an egg, some Cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of beer.

Note 4 Its spelling was changed to Rarebit when someone pointed out it contained no rabbit!