Friday, 21 May 2010

Two-pin plug

I know, I know. Ho hum, yawn, yawn. You've seen it already. Yes, this photo appeared last December 9th. That's my grandfather on the right, Vicus in the middle dropping off in the midst of his interminable discourse about the villainous Emmott - we'll come to him - and the young Dave all ears on the left.

Two things have brought my grandfather to mind lately. The first was a glorious essay in blue and pink a few days ago by I,LTV, who does these things so beautifully. It was her mention of litmus paper that was the catalyst, because little books of blue or pink litmus paper were an indispensable item in my grandfather's larder. With advancing age he lost his sense of taste. His diet consisted mainly of boiled mince and mashed potatoes, with bread and butter, and maybe a pastry or some custard to finish with. Rather than boil fresh mince every day, he would prepare several days' worth at a time. He had no fridge, so anything uneaten was kept in a perforated metal meat safe in his larder.

After the second or third day it was possible that the mince or the custard had gone off . He would be unable to taste it, of course, and in extreme cases - because his sight was failing - he might be unable to see the mould growing on it. But he wasn't beaten: a quick test to see if the mince turned the pink litmus paper blue, or the custard the blue paper pink, or vice versa, I can't remember. If all was well, he would settle down to his dinner. If not, he would boil up some fresh mince, glowing with the ingenuity of applied science.

The second reminder came in a back-to-front way from my grandfather's book Romantic Wycoller. Wycoller is a hamlet secluded in a deep valley not far from his home in Colne, in Lancashire. A keen Brontëan, he was convinced that the ruined Wycoller Hall was the original of Ferndean Manor, Mr Rochester's house in Jane Eyre. A certain Emmott, another Colneite, argued publicly to the contrary and earned my grandfather's undying anathema. Romantic Wycoller is a rather overwritten account of Wycoller, the Cunliffe lords of the manor and the possibility that the place might have inspired Charlotte Brontë.

But it was a book, and it counted for much in the family that a member of it had actually written one. His son, my uncle, wrote several, all manuals of the economics of fruit farming, probably with a readership as concentrated as Romantic Wycoller had attracted. Ditto my own books, whose combined weight hardly makes the bookshelves they rest on groan with discomfort. And now my son-in-law has made it into print with The Cabinet of Curiosities, for which my son Nibus (not his real name, in case you were wondering) has designed the cover. Not his first, by any means.

I find myself rubbing my tum (which despite all my efforts more and more resembles that of my grandfather) with a sort of family delight and satisfaction. In much the same way as my grandfather would have done on discovering that the mince had passed the litmus test, I expect.


Dave said...

For some reason, this post, although dated to last Friday, has only just appeared on my computer screen.

I am currently working on the second edition of my book (the first having had an even smaller readership than any you have mentioned, the revised edition [complete and enlarged] will consist of one copy, which I am planning to publish on Blurb).

Vicus Scurra said...

This is most heartening, as I had assumed that nothing that I learned at school would ever be useful. Your grandfather finding a use for chemistry in his latter years is an inspiration.
I will be sure that you are the first to hear when I find that my knowledge of the formation of oxbow lakes has proved a boon.

Christopher said...

Dave: I see - that must be because I started work on this post last Friday (it was to have been about the litmus paper alone) and then news of James' book came in so I modified it, but not until this morning. I hope this helps. (I write this, with humble duty, merely to introduce -)

Vicus: Could we have been to the same school? The ablative absolute? Quadratic equations? The pragmatic sanctions? The Elector Palatine? Parallel fifths?

Sarah said...

I'm not sure I understood all of that....probably not paying attention...ho hum I will have to read it again...

mig said...

I was going to investigate the mould revealing properties of litmus but I got completely involved with the Cabinet of Curiosities instead. I think I may have to get a copy for someone so I can finish it myself!

james henry said...

Hurrah, that's what I like to hear! Many thanks for link.

Christopher said...

mig: Litmus tests on The Cabinet of Curiosities would indicate its appetizing and satisfying qualities, its toothsome consistency and excellent taste. (I read an early draft, in case you were wondering how I know.)

James: So L T B A S C F Me.
(Dennis Bloodnok, ca. 1956)

I, Like The View said...


what an interesting, if rather unusual, use for litmus paper!

(unlike Vicus, I find very frequent ways to make excellent use of my understanding of the formation of oxbow lakes)

Christopher said...

I'm sure a firm grasp of the formation of oxbow lakes comes in useful in all manner of unexpected circumstances, from predicting the course of babies' dribble to pouring gravy.