Thursday, 18 February 2010

'Giving up' v 'Taking up' for Lent

It is the custom, and not just in religious circles, to 'give up' something for Lent. Based on Jesus' 40 day fast in the wilderness there is undoubtedly something to be said for foregoing the physical in pursuit of the spiritual. However it can be frustrating and often leaves you feeling smug, if you've managed, or disheartened, if you haven't.

The CSMV nuns who ran St Mary's School in Pune encouraged us to 'take up' something for Lent instead. I remember sewing a romper suit for a child in their orphanage. It required time and effort on my part and made a material difference to someone's life. Besides which, positive actions are always more satisfying than negative ones.

In previous years I have followed, albeit sporadically, the Love Life Live Lent booklets produced by the Church of England, which encouraged readers to engage in a variety of random acts of kindness etc. I couldn't find any sign of these booklets this year so I turned to Christian Aid, who have an excellent project entitled Count Your Blessings. Every day you are given a statistic relating to world poverty followed by an appropriate action to take. For example, today I have learned that wasted food costs the average family £420 a year. I have then been asked to give 42p for each type of food I bin this week. By the time I reach Easter Sunday I shall not only be more aware of the plight of those less fortunate than myself, but I shall also have a jarful of coins to put towards making our world a better place for everyone.

Old habits die hard though, and I have also pledged to give up biscuits and cakes between meals.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Happy Days!

This evening my elder daughter and I walked up the hill to Totterdown to have a thali with some friends. A thali is the Hindi word for the plate on which the meal is served. The number and type of component dishes vary, any combination of rice, flatbread, vegetable curry, dal, sambhar, raita and salad.

My vividest childhood memories of thalis are from the three and half day journey from Pune to Coonoor we made every summer. We would stop at one of our favourite restaurants and take a seat in a room thronged with noisy diners. There was no menu, there being little need for one. At lunchtime everyone ordered a thali. Service was swift and within minutes large stainless steel plates were placed before us, their edges rimmed with half a dozen or so smaller dishes (watis) each filled with delicious food. My favourites included potatoes flavoured with mustard seeds and stewed drumsticks! In the middle was a heap of flatbread (puris or chappatis). As we ate our watis were continually topped up by an army of waiters circulating with pots of steaming curry and mounds of steaming hot puris. After we'd had our fill of bread the rice would arrive and if we'd had the foresight to save some until now, we'd douse it with sambhar (thin lentil and vegetable soup) and finish it with a spoonful or so of dahi (yoghurt) to aid our digestion. There was sometimes, but not always an Indian sweatmeat, and the whole meal was washed down with glasses of water. Then, after the ridiculously cheap bill was paid we'd pile back into the car and continue on south.

The Thali Cafe's non-dairy thali wasn't in the same league but it was good enough for me this evening.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Letter to the Editor

For those of you who do not live in Bristol, the Evening Post is our local daily newspaper. I don't have time to read a daily paper and have only ever bought it when there's been a specific reason for doing so.

I have, however, recently begun to log on the the online version, This is Bristol. I wanted to keep up to date with the proposed Tesco development on the site of our local football stadium and decided that this would be the easiest way to do so. I was also interested in hearing other people's views on the matter.

Good idea? Well, yes and no. I was able to keep up with developments, albeit biased in favour of Tescos, but as for a rational debate on the pros and cons, forget it. Every article provoked a flurry of comments but the majority of them were irrelevant, prejudiced or downright offensive. Whenever anyone made a serious point they were met with ridicule and scorn. The comments section was dominated by a few individuals who appeared to have nothing better to do all day than to trade insults with each other. I was never brave enough to sacrifice my opinions to their ravaging.

Today I logged on to read Mike Ford's report on the 'Love Bemmy' meeting I attended on Monday evening. This was arranged to allow a group of Bedminster/Southville residents to hear from the woman who had been the inspiration and driving force behind last year's Love Easton campaign. I was impressed by what I heard and, given that it was our first meeting, the subsequent discussion had gone well. Nothing was decided but there was recognition of the value of such an enterprise and enthusiasm for the tasks ahead. Mike Ford wasn't as impressed, but once again it was the comments that caused me to despair. It would have been wonderful if contributors could have come up with suggestions as to how such a campaign might work, or even issues that might stand in its way, but instead it was the usual toxic blend of fear and prejudice that does nothing to foster a healthy community and everything to destroy it.

This time I did make my contribution, not in the comments section, but in an email to the editor suggesting that if the paper aspires to be the forum for discussion the city needs, then it must surely adopt some form of moderation.