Friday, 20 July 2012

Dorset - Tess of the d'Urbervilles On Chowpatty Beach with the Spice Girls

I guess it's testament to his brilliant story-telling that the novels of Thomas Hardy are still incredibly popular more than a hundred years after he wrote them.  His more famous novels, like Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd, have been interpreted dozens of times on stage and in film. In the latter period of his life, Hardy stopped writing novels altogether and concentrated on poetry, which he believed to be his true vocation. 

The tradition of lending libraries

I was a huge fan of Hardy when I was a teenager - devouring his novels, which I borrowed from my local public library, just as Hardy's readers borrowed from private lending libraries!  It's funny how I feel the need to explain that now, as if the idea of public libraries in the late 20th century is as obscure as the idea of private lending libraries in the late 19th century.  I guess, one of the great advances of the digital age is that books by writers such as Hardy are easily accessible and downloadable for free. 

Whether it's in paper format or digitally, I still get a lot of pleasure from reading Hardy - his prose is poetry and it's easy to lose yourself in his descriptions of life in 19th century Dorset (or Wessex to us Hardy fans!), far away from the complications of 21st century life!

On Chesil Beach

View of Chesil Beach by me
But, of course, I like to discover new things when I'm researching for this blog, so I saw this as my opportunity to read Ian McEwan's novella, also set in Dorset, On Chesil Beach.  As I've been re-reading a lot of Hardy and watching film adaptations, I couldn't help drawing a comparison between Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and McEwan's novella. 

There is a famous scene in Tess on their wedding night, when they both confess all of their secrets to each other and it's as though McEwan has taken this scene and turned it into a novella.  Despite having very different lives than the characters of Hardy's time, McEwan's characters are equally bound by the oppressive mores of early 1960's England.  If you haven't already read it, please do, it's a beautiful and tragic story. 

Naive Spice

In the words of The Spice Girls; If you want my future, forget my past.  Tess could certainly have done with a bit of 'girl power'.  But, if she'd been a Spice girl, I'm afraid she would have been Naive Spice.  It's the great tragedy of Hardy's novel that Tess's new husband, Angel Clare, allowed her past to get in the way of their future together. 

Hardy was brilliant at developing female characters and quite a lot of the novel deals with Tess's bitterness when she realises that different rules apply to men and women.  Men can have a past but women, when it boils down to it, really can't. 

Stag or Slut?

Although the moral context of Hardy's novel was quite different to the moral context of life in England today, the way that women behave in the 21st century is still perceived differently than the way men behave.  If a man sleeps around, he's a 'stud' - but if a woman sleeps around then she's branded a 'slut'. 

Perhaps, in his own way, Hardy was trying to further the cause of women, like Tess, who found themselves in trouble at an early age, often through no fault of their own, or because of their good looks.  I wonder what Hardy would have made of the Slut Walks of the modern age?

Florence and Edward

Chesil beach in the evening by me
McEwan's interpretation of this gender imbalance is even more complex.  Florence is the one who storms out on the wedding night, leaving Edward reeling at how badly things have gone wrong (in Hardy's novel, it is Angel who storms out and Tess who stays behind, in shock). 

Like Tess, Edward eventually follows his partner and they confront each other during a really beautiful sequence set on Chesil Beach.  Also like Tess, Edward is essentially innocent and it's Florence's hang-ups that prevent them from having a future together.  But like Tess, it's hinted that Florence has been abused at some time in the past, which explains why she is frigid.  Both of McEwan's characters have elements of Tess, which is what makes the situation even more beautiful and tragic. 

Tess on Chowpatty Beach

As part of my research I watched Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Tess which is set in modern-day India and renamed Trishna.  I really enjoyed this movie and the sense of tragedy that might be missing from a woman's position in 21st century Dorset, is still very tangible in 21st-century Rajasthan.  Part of the movie is set in Bombay and was filmed on Chowpatty beach, a nice contrast with Chesil Beach in Dorset (I've been on both!)

Winterbottom combines the two main male characters into one, Jay Singh.  The change in Jay's attitude towards Trishna, when he finds out the truth about her, makes it seem as though he's become a different person.  Trishna's story is interesting in its own right and I'd definitely recommend the movie.  I'm posting a trailer to entice you . . . oh, and it has a wicked soundtrack - enjoy!

Image credits:

Both photos of Chesil Beach were taken by me, please feel free to reuse under the Creative Commons license:

- Attribution (especially to this blog post)
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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dorset - How I made Dorset Tea Bread and Lyme Bay Fish Pie

In my search for a recipe to represent Dorset, I found myself ordering a copy of Favourite Dorset Recipes: Traditional Country Fare by Amanda Persey.  The book is part of a series of Favourite recipes and I already have copies of the Favourite Devonshire, Cornish and Irish recipes, having bought copies of the first two when I was hiking the South West Coastal path and being given the Irish recipe book by my friend's daughter, who knows how much I enjoy cooking!

I like these little books, as the recipes are fairly straight-forward without too many fancy or unattainable ingredients - I'd definitely recommend them, if you're interested in learning about English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh cuisine.

I want to cook everything in Favourite Dorset Recipes but, for the purposes of this blog, I decided to limit myself to just two things.

How I made Dorset Tea Bread

It's more of a heavy, rich cake really than a bread - I can see myself making this one again in future.

The ingredients

Ingredients for Dorset Tea Bread
180g butter
1 cup of tea (without milk)
3 medium sized eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g soft brown sugar
350g mixed dried fruit
350g self-raising flour (the book advised self-raising wheatmeal flour, but I couldn't find this, so settled for self-raising plain white flour and it worked fine!)


First I melted the butter in a saucepan, then added the brown sugar, dried fruit and black tea.  I let this simmer gently until the fruit had expanded a bit.

Melt the butter
Add the brown sugar, black tea and dried fruit

Whilst the mixture was simmering, I sieved the flour into a bowl, then added the cinnamon and mixed spice, before adding the beaten eggs.

Sieve the flour into a bowl

Add the ground spices and beaten egg

After this, I slowly stirred the tea, sugar and fruit mixture into the flour and poured the entire mixture into a cake tin, which I had already greased with butter. 

Mix everything together and put in a cake tin

I'd preheated the oven to 170 - the recipe recommended leaving the cake there for 2 hours, but I thought this was a bit excessive, so I left it for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  In retrospect, even this was too long and the 'crust' of the Tea Bread was a bit hard, as a result.  Perhaps this is the desired effect though, as the bread preserves well.  I can vouch for its tastiness after a few days in an airtight container!

Dorset Tea Bread

How I made Lyme Bay Fish Pie

After reading Remarkable Creatures - I couldn't resist cooking a dish from Lyme Bay!  In comparison to the Tea Bread, this dish was really easy to make.  I got my hands on some really nice white fish and seafood, which makes all the difference with a dish like this.


The Ingredients for Lyme Bay Fish Pie
A bunch of scallions (spring onions)
120g white mushrooms, wiped and sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped into thin slices and with the seeds discarded
2 fillets of white fish
500g of assorted seafood (I used scallops, prawns and mussels)
1/2 pint of fish stock
30g plain flour
1/4 pint of white wine
60g butter
250g filo pastry


First I fried the scallions and mushrooms, until they'd gone fairly soft. Then I stirred in the flour, before adding the fish stock and white wine, allowing the pot to come to the boil before reducing the heat slightly.

Chopping the scallions

Cooking the mushrooms and scallions

Next I added the fish, seafood and tomato slices, again allowing the pot to boil before reducing the heat.  I allowed it to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the fish and seafood was cooked.

Add the fish, seafood and tomato slices

Whilst I was simmering the ingredients in the pot, I prepared the filo pastry.  I've never used filo pastry before, so I was surprised to see how paper-thin the sheets of filo are.  They also seemed quite large, so I decided to cut them in half. 

Experimenting with filo pastry

When the fish and seafood had cooked, I poured the mixture into an oven-proof dish and started putting the strips of filo pastry on top.  Following the recipe in the book, I melted the butter in a small pan, so I could use the melted butter to glaze the strips of filo pastry. 

Put the cooked ingredients in an ovenproof dish

Cover with sheets of filo pastry

Glaze with melted butter and cut triangular shapes into the pastry

Basing my knowledge of pastry on previous experience with puff pastry, I allowed the slices of filo to hang over the edge of the dish, but I wonder now if it isn't better to keep them inside the dish, on top of the pie mixture.

Anyway - I popped the dish into the oven with the Tea Bread and left it for about 30 minutes.  I had pierced the pastry and tried to cut triangular shapes in it, to make it look good.  The end result looked fine and tasted amazing! 

Lyme Bay Fish Pie (closed)

Lyme Bay Fish Pie (open)

Image credits:

All photos in this blog post were taken by me.  Please feel free to re-use then with the following Creative Commons license:

Attribution (especially to this blog)
Share Alike

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Dorset - the Wizards of Wimborne

Wimborne Minster seems to be the musical capital of Dorset.  Last month saw the Wimborne Folk Festival take place - folk music, ceilidhs and morris dancers.  It's been going for 33 years and attracts thousands of people from all over Dorset, England and (indeed) the world!  I'm totally down with Morris dancing (skipping around waving handkerchiefs, how hard can it be?), so I decided to challenge myself a little bit by concentrating on Wimborne's other famous musical export, Doom Metal band Electric Wizard.

So what is Doom Metal?

Doom Metal is a sub-genre of Heavy Metal.  It's more extreme or 'heavier' than Heavy Metal, with a slower tempo and a lot of electric guitar, bass guitar and drums.  I must admit, I'm no great fan of Heavy Metal (or Doom Metal!) - I find it repetitive and depressing - but this blog is all about challenging myself to learn new things, so I downloaded the album Electric Wizard and I've been listening to it over the past few weeks.

Stoner Doom

I've learned that within Doom Metal, there are more sub-genres, depending on the kind of Doom Metal a group plays.  Electric Wizard are considered to be a 'Stoner Doom' band, as many of their lyrics refer to drug-taking, especially marijuana or hashish, leading to hallucinations.  Something I like about Electric Wizard is that their lyrics are quite interesting. 

Stone Magnet

Electric Wizard album cover
The first track on the album Electric Wizard is called Stone Magnet - which is a reference to 'getting stoned', but also, I think, doubles up as a reference to the ancient stones that dot the English countryside (Stonehenge being the most famous) and their supposed magnetic qualities.  The lyrics include images like 'the ultraviolet sun' and 'Spinning eye of the Lord' and the hallucinatory effect of smoking dope is described in the line '[I] can see a thousand worlds, right here in my bed'

I'm also including a video from YouTube, so you can listen for yourself.

Other forms of Doom

Other sub-genres of Doom Metal include; Epic Doom (which uses elements of classical music), Sludge Doom (influenced by Punk), Funeral Doom (which uses funeral dirges), Drone Doom and Death Doom.  It's a whole world of Doom that I didn't even know existed!

Religion and Black Sabbath

One of the original 'doom' bands was Black Sabbath and, indeed, Electric Wizard takes their name from a combination of two well-known Black Sabbath songs, The Wizard and Electric Funeral.  I also listened to a bit of Black Sabbath, as I was researching this blog post and, I must admit, I quite liked their first album and I can see it was a very original concept, when it was released in the early 1970's.

One theme across the Doom genres, is the pagan element of the music.  This often comes through as satanism, but I can't help wondering if it's merely an expression of something in English (and Northern European) culture that is pre-Christian?

Evil woman

Metal music, in general, is incredibly male-dominated.  It's all about men dealing with their fear and anxiety and there is hardly any place for a woman to get involved.  Women are either portrayed as being evil witches, who trick men and break their hearts (like Black Sabbath's song, Evil Woman) or helpless virgins whose only purpose in life is to be sacrificed to dark powers, as with Electric Wizard's songs, Devil's Bride and Black Butterfly.

Memories of Ancestral trauma?

It's interesting that Heavy Metal also tends to be dominated by white, 'Anglo-Saxons' or Northern Europeans.  It's been incredibly popular in countries like England, Germany, Sweden, but also amongst descendents of northern Europeans in the United States and Canada. 

Cover of Come my Fanatics
In my first blog post about Dorset, I talked a lot about the 'Celtic Heritage' of England and, listening to the death and destruction of Doom Metal, I can't help but speculate on the ancestral memories of a people who have suffered invasion after invasion - perhaps, musical genres like Heavy Metal have inherited some of that 'ancestral trauma'?  When I listen to the songs of bands like Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath, I hear the voices of pre-Christian paganism, but Anglo-Saxon paganism rather than Celtic paganism. 

English folk songs are often quite violent in their underlying meaning, I'm thinking of songs like John Barleycorn and I wonder if Heavy Metal has inherited an angst and despair that is particularly Germannic?

Environmental Destruction and the Apocalypse

I've learned that Doom Metal is quite Apocalyptic which, in the late 20th-century world of Electric Wizard, has translated into anxiety about environmental destruction.  You just have to listen to songs like Mourning Prayer with its lyrics about 'poison clouds in the sky/Acid rain in my eyes' to see what I mean.  I'm pasting in a video from YouTube below, so you can listen for yourself.

The political side of Doom Metal

At first, it might not seem as though Doom Metal is overtly political, but some of Electric Wizard's lyrics in songs like Mourning Prayer and Stone Magnet deal with the corruption of the political systems 'Politicians, can't they see/Their greed is destroying me' and the despair of young men living in a society where the economic future is bleak 'No hope, no future, no fuckin' job'

Even after listening to Doom Metal for a couple of weeks and trying to understand the concepts behind the music and lyrics, I can't say that I've grown to like it, but I can see how appeals to young, especially teenage, men who are full of anxiety about their place in an increasingly alienated society.

Doom Metal today

Electric Wizard are still recording and touring, in fact, not long before the Wimborne Folk Festival, Doom Metal bands from all over the world, including Electric Wizard, gathered to play at the Maryland Deathfest.  Featuring bands with names like Dying Fetus and Church of Misery - I couldn't think of a worse way to spend my weekend - give me skipping and hankie-waving any day!