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Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King

Issue 148: April 2007

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Well, I did it, which unfortunately does not augur well for global warming. I live in an old house which has a couple of outside taps, and they are not ones where the pipe just comes out from the house so the only exposed part is the tap; I would usually need to keep pipes and taps well insulated in the winter. At times they have frozen, and once one of the pipes burst despite being insulated. With milder weather, rather than insulating around the taps the last couple of years. I have left them uncovered, saying to myself “If the weather forecast is very cold I’ll insulate them straight away then”. The winter of 2005-6 I did need to insulate them at one point but this last winter, no, I got away with it. One night it did go down to -4° C, and the taps themselves froze up briefly but they were fine later. Another sign that things are a-changin’. Mind you, in the damp winter of Ireland it still feels cold but the actual temperature is certainly milder overall.

The weighty matter of gram flour – none batter
It may not be the answer to everything but for coeliacs (those with an intolerance for gluten from wheat and some other grains) and for vegans, as for those who like Indian cooking in general, gram flour is a must. Gram flour is made from a particular variety of chick peas and is very fine and a yellowish off-white in colour (it goes darker when wet) – it would usually need sieved before using to prevent lumps forming. But the magical quality is that to make it into a batter all you need is – water. Obviously you need to add spices for flavouring but in making a batter, for bhajis, felafel or pakoras, it has no better. It should be available in Asian and other food shops.

I struggled to make falafel until we were given a copy of Denis Cotter’s book “The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook” (Atrium, 1999, ISBN 0 9535353 0 4) which is a really superb vegetarian cookbook, he from the renowned Cork restaurant of the same name. One recipe I had used from elsewhere suggested the main ingredient as chick peas, cooked and finely mashed, but when I got to deep fry the falafel it falafel apart. In Denis Cotter’s book I learnt to put half mashed chick peas and half gram flour, and that worked perfectly. Incidentally, and it’s not in his recipe for falafel, I add a fair whack of chopped parsley which I find complements the taste well. But that’s the point of recipes – you take them and personalise them if you fancy. I would guess that you could try gram flour for savoury pancakes too.

Anyway, here’s my own recipe for onion bhajis which you can have fun adopting and adapting to your own taste [so now we’re in the cookery recipe business! – Ed] [a nonviolent activist activates on his stomach – Billy]: This is my take on putting together two different recipes although the originals didn't have peas and mushrooms which I feel make them into a ‘complete meal’ by themselves You could alter the spices above significantly to suit your taste.

You may also need to scale this recipe down; depending on what you’re serving with it; it could be for 6 - 10 people, i.e. make up to 30 bhajis depending on the size you make them.  Ingredients in terms of onions, peas, mushrooms (or anything else) are flexible in contents and amounts; ‘onion’ bhajis strictly speaking only have onion as a vegetable in them. My suppliers have gram flour at about £1.20 (€1.80) for 1kg, and I buy spices in packets and put them into jars myself; so the bhajis are actually very economical to make.
.
400g Gram flour (sieved as it tends to be a bit lumpy) (no, I don’t measure gram flour in ounces but in grams!) [Next you’re going to tell us this is a recipe from your Grammy – Ed] [No, but it makes a gramd meal – Billy]
4t Ground cumin
4t Tumeric
½t Cayenne pepper
1t Garam masala
4t Ground coriander
1 (or more) chilli(s) according to how hot you like it, chopped finely
Salt optional (with the other spices I feel you can get away without adding salt)
3 - 4 medium to large Onions, chopped fairly small (you could use more if only using onions)
Peas - Maybe 200g - 300g
Mushooms chopped fairly small, maybe 200 - 250g

Method: Sieve gram flour (it saves work getting lumps out of the batter when wet) and add spices, and mix.  Add sufficient cold water, stirring well, to form a thick batter. So long as it is reasonably thick and the oil is very hot the bhajis will cook fine, commercial bhajis are 'shaped' better than mine which may mean a) they use a much drier mixture, or b) they use baking soda, e.g. ½ - 1t for the above - I don't know.. When the batter is made, add in the chillis, onions and any other ingredients.

Heat oil in pan (maybe 7 - 10 cms deep) until very hot (not hot enough and the mixture may fall into soggy bits) and put in a serving spoon full at a time, carefully so you don’t splash yourself with hot oil. Cook as many together as will easily fit in the pan, turning over after a few minutes when the bhajis will stand being turned without falling apart. I use a slotted spoon to shift the bhajis though a fork may be handy as well. Test one when golden to see if it is cooked through (e.g. with fork) which might take 6 - 8 minutes or even longer. Drain on kitchen paper before keeping hot in oven before serving.

Bon appetit, and I’m afraid I don’t know a phrase equivalent in Hindi or other Indian languages. I would often serve bhajis with a sweet and sour sauce, or a salsa sauce made with liquidised onion, red pepper and chilli which have been sautéed.

Who fares to spake of ’98?
The 1798 rebellion is an interesting event in Irish history in a variety of ways, it’s long enough ago (two centuries) for it to be distant and misunderstood but also unquestionably part of the ‘modern world’, being in the period following the French revolution. It‘s also often not thought of as a ‘serious’ rebellion against the Crown when in fact probably 30,000 people died in a couple of months. Republicans are keen to claim 1798 because it is the last time a considerable mass of Prods were republican and fought the Crown; Northern Irish Protestants are often not quite sure what to do with it because while the Northern end of the rebellion was undoubtedly primarily ‘their’ ancestors, republicanism is generally not their cup of tea today. Anyway, when the opportunity came up to go on a tour with Coiste na nIarchimí of 1798 sites in Antrim and Down I jumped at the chance.

We did a fair bit around Antrim and Down, with much more that could have been seen if there was time. Starting at Clifton Street Cemetery in Belfast we saw the grave of Rev William Steele Dickson, whose publication “Scripture Politics” was the liberation theology of its times (see for example HYPERLINK "http://www.linc-ncm.org/CTP_6.PDF page 26" http://www.linc-ncm.org/CTP_6.PDF page 26, ed. Billy Mitchell), and the grave of Mary Ann McCracken where her brother, Henry Joy McCracken, may also be interred. On then to Mallusk for the grave of Jemmy Hope, Craigaragon Hill where we saw what might be a ‘Liberty Tree’ (planted to symbolise liberty) from the period, or was it a libertree. Thence to William Orr’s grave (‘Remember Orr’ was a 1798 rallying cry), and on to Antrim town where the Battle of Antrim took part near the centre. After lunch we went Down south to Saintfield to look at the site of the battle there, the mass graves, and finished with McKee’s cottage where an Orange family was massacred.

One aspect that I find particularly interesting in all this is how the revolutionary fervour among many Northern Prods had dissipated within a year of two – when Thomas Russell tried to foment revolution again in 1803 there was no chance and it was disastrous for him and he was executed. Political opinion had moved radically within a few of years. I don’t want to extrapolate from that too far, and I don’t know how far the DUP will take being born-again powersharers, but if political opinion could shift that radically and rapidly following 1798, perhaps there is hope? What goes around, comes around, and what goes up usually comes down. I obviously don’t want for everyone to become more conservative overnight as Protestants did after 1798! Nor do I want for violent political action to return. And I do feel people’s expressed political opinions at any time need to be what are ascribed to them, and what are taken into account, rather than some analysis of false consciousness. I don’t imagine Northern Prods are suddenly going to opt for a radical united Ireland, or start voting en masse for the PUP or a NI labour party though a few more such voters would certainly be good and could alter Northern ‘Protestant’ politics from being overwhelmingly right of centre, if sometimes populist – why do I suddenly think of Fianna Fail?. So maybe Ian and Bertie meeting in Dublin is really quite appropriate.

‘Arsehole’
I don’t normally use ‘bad language’ or swear words in this Colm for a variety of reasons, one being it’s not necessary and two being I try not to give offence gratuitously (a letter in the Irish Times recently castigated it for permitting the use of, what is in this neck of the woods, the slightly weaker and USAmerican term ‘asshole’). I am known to omit the odd swear word verbally but again I would try to watch it. So what’s this ‘Arsehole’ business? It’s what was shouted both forcefully and loudly at me by a male adult who was young but not that young, 21 or 22 I’d say, in broad daylight as he passed in the passenger side of a full car (all males) which may have been going to a rugby match - the latter is a suspicion rather than a fact based on the time and place this event happened. There was no ‘cause’ for this; the car was on the main road, I was on a bicycle track separated from the road so it wasn’t even a case that my bicycle was ‘getting in the way’ of the car or anything like that. Perhaps there had been a problem with yer man’s psychomotor development and the psychomotor he was travelling in influenced him to become a psychopassenger.

I happened to be able to catch up with the car at the lights, and knocked on the driver’s window. The driver rolled the window down a bit and I asked if it was normal to be abusive to people. With a slightly smirking grin he said it wasn’t him that shouted at me, the lights changed, and as the car sped on I could see his front passenger grinning and thinking it was all good fun. I wondered how I could have had an effect on this guy. As a cyclist I’m relatively used to being shouted at (a week later another young male in a front passenger seat advised me to “Get a fucking car!” when the way the world is going he and we would all have been better off for him to get a fantastic bike).

Should I have done the following when I was shouted at as an ‘arsehole’?

What I did do, asked if it was normal to be abusive to people.
Ignored it all as reacting only encourages this behaviour
Turned his own language against him and said “I may be an arsehole but I think there’s a bigger arsehole in the car who shouts abuse at people”.
Reported the car to the police (there were a couple of motorcycle cops on duty near the lights where I caught up with the car)
Blocked the car with my bike and refused to move until I got an apology (this would be somewhat OTT I think but it would certainly have concentrated their minds).
Some other action?

I’m not that easily shook but I found the incident related above left me somewhat discommoded for an hour or two until it passed from my mind; it was not just the insult but more the force with which it was expressed that took me unawares (the more recent abuse I record above did not phase me at all). Gratuitous insults are an unimaginative way of demonstrating, in this case, supposed superiority while actually demonstrating immature behaviour. How to show someone in this kind of situation that their behaviour is unpleasant to others is difficult. I wonder if the driver of the car or the other passengers thought twice about the front seat passenger’s action, or told him he was an eejit who should grow up.

- - - - - -

Anyway, that’s me finished for now, great to see the long evenings, currently the sunshine and summer beckoning - which, being Ireland, must mean back to colder wet weather soon… I always try to remind you to cast not a clout before May is out, indeed not to cast any clouts at anyone else at all. So, May see you soon, Billy.

 

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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