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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 168: April 2009

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolent News]

Billy King gives us his monthly thoughts–

Having bottle
I think the term ‘having bottle’ (a certain kind of courage, perhaps verging on foolhardiness) is an English English term rather than an Irish English (Hiberno-English) one and I’m not sure the extent to which it is still current in England. However, the bottle I was going to talk about is the milk bottle, an endangered species, already extinct for years in the Republic where cartons and plastic bottles have ruled the roost of the dairy market for years.

We have a milk bottle holder, fitting 8 pint bottles, much as you might see in a picture of a milkman from the 1950s. It is made of galvanised iron and still in good enough shape despite our children having stood on it frequently. When I hear the distinctive glass-on-metal clink as I put the milk bottles out on our open porch, on the steps, it instantly takes me back to being a child again as I did the same task after the washing up, into the same milk bottle holder in fact. Certain sounds and smells can transport us back decades and this is one which frequently takes me back to my childhood home.

But friends who live quite nearby are no longer on a milk round – it looks like their milkman and ours has given up the unequal struggle a month ago to make a living from this task. Who is currently delivering our milk we will discover when we get the monthly bill (weekly and then monthly cash collections disappeared before now). Like us, our friends largely kept milk delivery because it was the only way to get milk in bottles, and now they can no longer do so.

A number of things strike me. Yes, the days of any milk delivery are probably numbered but why can we not have milk, and other beverages, available in returnable bottles, as they do in some parts of Europe? It seems grossly inefficient to be using glass for road building and such purposes after only one trip to the consumer – and still wholly inefficient to be using throwaway cartons and plastic bottles. Surely the lorries which take the full glass bottles to the shop or supermarket can take the empties back to the factory again. If there is a reasonable deposit on each bottle then that should be sufficient incentive, along with people’s green-spiritedness, to ensure that each bottle does, on average, a considerable number of round trips. I have already quoted the practice in parts of Europe, e.g. the Netherlands, and it should be simple enough to have an automated credit system in supermarkets for returned bottles. Screw top litre bottles might make more sense for general family use than the old imperial measurement pint.

Personally I favour all glass bottles and jars having a deposit. Apart from anything else, as a cyclist this might mean fewer are broken to puncture my speeding velocipede. Some drunk individuals may still choose to launch glass missiles but others will realise that where there’s glass there’s money, and that could be a useful contribution towards the next drink.

Some years ago there was a correspondence in the Irish Times, currently (2009) celebrating 150 years, on the difficulties of opening cartons and plastic bottles. One correspondent described a glass bottle with an easy opening lid which would be a green option – their letter ended the description by saying “I call it a ‘milk bottle’ “(which had already become extinct in the Republic).

Bring back the deposit. If organised sensibly, which would require government intervention, bottles for beverages could be interchangeable between manufacturers, as well as common bottles for jams and other substances, such as ready made sauces.

Lean but keen recession cuisine
It’s very different times but as the current economic recession rolls on, you can begin to get an inkling of what it might have been like for our forefathers and foremothers (in particular) at the time of the Second World War. No, there is no rationing and food is available freely but I am thinking of the ubiquitous developing sense of battening down the hatches to see through a period of relative austerity. We remain light years away from the shortages of the 1940s.

Even recipes are starting to take the recession into account. So I will do my bit by giving too very easy recipes, one time-consuming but very economic for an old Irish standby, potato bread, and the other for an instant snack – popcorn – which can be a relatively healthy, and very economic snack. The potato bread would probably cost a couple of pence or cents (I use the plural, I can’t make sense of ‘cent’ as plural) a slice, and making it yourself you can also do so with no salt.

Potato bread is great, it also freezes very well, and making it yourself is far superior, with fresh mashed potato compared to the bought stuff (sic) which is made with dried, reconstituted potato. It does take a bit of time and if you have two heavy frying pans or skillets, rather than one, that will cut your cooking time in half.

Potato bread
First, peel and cook your potatoes. I use a pressure cooker and cook as much as I can, perhaps a kilo and a half, but you can use any amount. When the potatoes are well cooked, strain or drain and mash them very thoroughly, you can, if you wish, mash in a small amount of margarine or butter but this is not necessary. If you do decide to use salt, which I think is unnecessary, this is your opportunity to add it. Then allow the mashed potato to cool thoroughly.

Weigh the mash and then weigh one quarter of the weight of mashed potato in plain white flour (you can use brown or wholemeal flour but the potato bread will discolour quite fast). Once you add in the flour to the potato you have half an hour or so to cook it into potato bread before it all goes doughy. I usually mix the flour in with a knife first, adding it into the mashed potato in a big bowl, and then use a fork before kneading it with my hands. Get it all mixed and consistent – beware unmixed parts in the bottom of the bowl so turn it all over once or twice.

Now, heat your heavy pan(s) on a medium heat. I usually use a small amount of oil to start things off but again this is not essential. Take a fistful size of your potato and flour mix and roll it out on a floured surface or table until it is, well, potato bread thickness (this is up to you – perhaps 4 or 5 mms – whatever you find manageable). I would roll the fistful into enough for about 8 pieces, typically 8 x 10 cms, but you can do it any shape and size you like, cutting it with a blunt knife. I would then cook 4 or so pieces on the one pan simultaneously, on a medium heat; even if I start the first ones in oil, I would dry fry the rest. Use a kitchen slice to turn the potato bread when you think it may be cooked on one side, when it is firm and golden brown (it will probably be quite mottled in colour), once it firms up in cooking you should be able to turn it several times without it falling apart It sometimes (not always) puffs up when it is cooked. Remove when cooked and leave to cool on a wire tray. Wipe your pan clean as needed if it gets burnt bits or flour on it before cooking the next batch.

When your potato bread is cool, store in a bag or container in the fridge, or freeze any you’re not going to use within a few days. When using it, toast or grill until hot (it can also be fried or heated in the oven, in the latter case cover it) and it can be served with a wide range of foods and is very handy for speedily prepared meals – in this case you have done the work beforehand. From my full pressure cooker load of mashed potato I might get around fifty pieces of potato bread – the taste is rather superior to the shop variety.

Popcorn, sickly sweet, is usually identified with cinemas but it can be an easily made, economical, low calorie and tasty snack at home – without any sugar. Freshly made it is tasty enough without anything added but I would typically add a very small amount of salt and some grated dried cheese. You can experiment with flavourings of dried herbs and other condiments – pepper, dried yeast extract, dried basil etc.

Firstly you need to buy your popping corn in a wholefood shop or perhaps supermarket; popping corn is simply suitable varieties of dried whole kernels of maize. Then take a pot with a lid, preferably not a lightweight one, that you want to have full of popcorn. Almost cover the base of the pot in popcorn (I nearly said ‘the pop in potcorn’), only one kernel deep and not quite all over (put in too much and it will lift the lid and may go over the cooker or around the kitchen!). Then add a small amount of vegetable oil and mix so that all the corn is well covered in oil – the less oil you use, the less calories in your final snack. Put on the lid and place on a high heat but keep shaking the pot so the popcorn doesn’t burn. It will take some minutes for the first ‘pop’ of popcorn to explode against the lid, it will then build up to a crescendo before gradually dying back down again as most of the popcorn has already popped. All the time keep the pot shaken regularly and when it hits a crescendo you can turn the heat down somewhat to avoid burning the contents.

When there is only the very odd pop, or silence, turn off the heat and/or remove the pot. Lift the lid, and, hey presto, there’s your popcorn. Even if you’re an expert at popcorning there is certain to be some popcorn which has refused to explode, and this is more likely to be at the bottom of the pot. So carefully turn and spoon out your popcorn into a bowl trying to avoid getting the bits that remain hard and unpopped. Add whatever flavourings you wish and enjoy as soon as possible; flavourings added dry will tend to drift to the bottom so you need to stir the bowl regularly. Easy, delicious, low calorie and economical – what more could you ask for in a snack? You can learn more about good and bad uses of popcorn from the likes of Wikipedia.

Photographic memories
I am here talking about photographic memories, memories brought forward by photographs, rather than having a ‘photographic memory’ in being able to remember a scene exactly as it was. In particular, in trying to build up the INNATE photo site (accessible through the INNATE website home page), manys the memory has come streaming back, and manys also the anachronisms and telescoping of events that have had to be revisited and revised. It is strange how telescoped things get and how events which may have happened almost simultaneously, well, in the same year, seem far apart in our recollections. [It’s called ‘getting old’ – Ed] Photographic evidence requires, in some instances, a revision of memory; as time has gone on, my mind has remembered one particular aspect of certain events at the cost of others, which may be more prominently featured, and important, in the photos concerned.

Of course if I were starting out today [that would be just too much – Ed] I would take more photos than I did. Who would have known that through the internet sharing photos would become so easy? No one did. In the era of the film camera, except for those who saw themselves, or indeed worked, as photographers and clicked away to their hearts content, the rest of us only did so on occasions. So some parts of our photographic archive or library is very haphazard. Now, today, in the digital era, ‘cameras’ in the shape of mobile phones are carried by most younger people, and many not so young, almost all of the time.

We’d be delighted if you have any photos you think we might be able to use – you can even be credited as the craftsperson concerned (we can scan prints and return them to you). Please get in touch. Just make it snappy (that’s a joke). [You can also pic it up as you go along – Ed] [Or change your foe to a friend? – Billy] [Though looking about some tourist destinations, I think we have entered the cam era rather than the camera era – Ed] [If your photos for developing aren’t ready, try kissing a frog – Billy] [This is getting somewhat surreal – I think we should photo stop rather than PhotoShop – Ed]

Ine-quality of life
Interesting studies out recently, from at least two different sources, clearly identify inequality in society as the cause of many social ills in western societies. One was a World Health Organisation report on mental health for the British Mental Health Foundation. The other is a book, ”The Spirit Level” (pub. Allen Lane) by British academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Allen Lane, hardback, UK recommended price £20). There are those in Ireland who, particularly in the boom years, would have had us believe that a rising tide lifts all boats; these studies show that a rising tide is no good if there is a hole in your boat, it is in poor repair to begin with, or a storm blows and you’re in a little boat. And now that the tide is going out, are we going to get a more equitable distribution of boats?

The author of the WHO/Mental Health Foundation report on ‘Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities’ Lynne Friedli states that “We have to face up to the fact that individual and collective mental health and well-being depends on reducing the gap between rich and poor. A large divide leads to a mentally unhealthy society, and many associated social problems. In the UK in particular, we’ve failed to acknowledge this link, preferring instead to blame the health and social conditions of those living on or near the poverty line on their own lifestyle choices. This in turn further stigmatises poverty, making disadvantage even harder to overcome.” While countries getting richer may have a positive impact on some aspects of physical health, the converse is true of mental health. The report states that there is overwhelming evidence to show that inequality is a key cause of stress. The adverse impact of stress is greater in societies where greater inequalities exist.

This report can be accessed as above or by doing a word search for author Dr Lynne Friedli and paper “Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities”. It quotes Richard Layard as saying “… a country will have a higher level of average happiness the more equally its income is distributed.” and J Rutherford (2008) “Consumption offers the pleasurable pursuit of desire, but it is also a mass symbolic struggle for individual social recognition, which distributes shame and humiliation to those lower down the hierarchy. The pain of failure, of being a loser, of being invisible to those above, cuts a deep wound in the psyche.“

Wilkinson and Pickett’s book correlates social inequality with various social ills including mental illness, percentage in prison, teenage pregnancies, obesity, illiteracy, murder rates etc. The UK was 40% more unequal in 2006 (Gini coefficient) than in 1974 – so much for progress (the great leap in inequality was during Thatcher – Blair’s years caused a bit of a dip before going up again to almost the peak of inequality). In Ireland the gap may have widened even more in this period with gombeen men making hey hey hey while the Celtic Tiger shone. To this untutored eye the correlation looks pretty impressive but the statistician in the family reminds me that correlating statistics cannot prove anything in terms of cause and effect.

Richard Wilkinson was interviewed in the Guardian (12th March 2009) and asked what is it about unequal societies causes the damage; “Wilkinson believes the answer lies in the psycho-social areas of hierarchy and status. The greater the difference between the haves and the have nots, the greater importance everyone places on the material aspects of consumption….It’s the knock-on effects of this status anxiety that finds socially corrosive expression in crime, ill-health and mistrust.” He favours governments limiting pay at the top end. That gets my vote.

- - - - -

Well, here we are really in the spring now even if in Northern Ireland shades of autumn and winter remain. A bit like winter in the giant’s garden. May we all help to make a thousand flowers blossom, and as Larry Speight says in his Colm this issue, it’s the time of year time to get sowing (for quilt makers it’s time to get sewing). Yours until more flowery language the next time, 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).

Copyright INNATE 2021