smoked mackerel and fennel pate

This is a theoretical recipe. I made some mackerel pate and was eating it with raw fennel salad. I think it would be worth actually incorporating them into one dish, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The normal mackerel pate recipe is just smoked mackerel blended with enough creme fraiche to make a pate consistency, and lemon juice and parsley for flavour. Because it’s such a strong flavour, you could probably add really quite a lot of raw fennel. Quite coarsely chopped, I think, for a bit of crunch and a rustic quality.

  • Post category:Other

George Szirtes

In one of the Forward poetry books, possibly the ‘best of the first ten years’ one, I found a poem by George Szirtes called Backwaters: Norfolk Fields. When I read it I had a strong reaction of ‘this is how I would like to write’.

That was a little while ago, and I don’t think that I would still single out Szirtes as a model. But the reaction is still worth recording. I really like metrical, rhyming poetry, and the excitement was reading fresh, contemporary language in a metrical framework – Backwaters is a poem made up of twelve sonnet-stanzas, but the language didn’t have the stilted, backward-looking quality I associated with a lot of contemporary formal verse. Looking at it now, the use of language seems less radical than it seemed at the time, but I still think this is a fabulous poem. I might give a fuller response to Szirtes’s work later, but for now, here’s S1, 4 & 5 of that first poem I encountered:


Backwaters. Long grass. Slow speech. Far off
a truck heaves its load of rust into a yard
next to a warehouse full of office furniture
no one will ever use, unless to stuff
some temporary room when times are hard.
Across the fields the sweet smell of manure.

We’re years behind. Even our vowels sag
in the cold wind. We have our beauty spots
that people visit and leave alone, down main
arterials and side roads. A paper bag
floats along the beach. Clouds drift in clots
of grey and eventually down comes the rain.

We’re at the end. It might simply be of weather
or empire or of something else altogether.

[… two stanzas omitted here …]


The WI stall. Jams, flowers. White
hair scraped back in the draught of an open door.
The butcher’s. He knows you by name. He calls
your name out. His chopping block is washed bright
by the morning sun. The solicitor
down the street. His nameplate. War memorials

with more names. Rows of Standleys, Bunns,
Myhills, Kerridges. Names on shopfronts: bold
reds, whites and blues in stock typography.
Names on labels tied with strings to shotguns.
Names on electoral registers. Names in gold
in the children’s section of the cemetery

by the railway cuttings. Willows, faint blue
in the afternoon, light gently whistles through.


Too easy all this, like a fatal charm
intended to lull you into acquiescence.
think karaoke. Sky. The video shop.
Broken windows. The sheer boredom. The alarm
wailing at two am. The police presence.
Pastoral graffiti on the bus stop.

Think back of the back of beyond “beyond”. End
of a line. The sheer ravishing beauty
of it as it runs into the cold swell
of the North Sea, impossible to comprehend.
The harsh home truisms of geometry
that flatten to a simple parallel.

This is your otherness where the exotic
appears by a kind of homely conjuring trick.

[… another seven stanzas omitted here …]

  • Post category:Culture

arts vs. crafts

Rebecca Loudon said, in a post which Bloglines picked up but has since been deleted:

“And I hate writing and I hate writers, too. Seriously, it all pretty much sucks. Can’t we just get together and drink and do crafts? I’m sure I can find some ribbon and rubber stamps at the dollar store. And some glitter. And some glue. Lots and and lots of glue. The kind you have to squeeze into a sock and inhale in order for it to work.”

It really annoys me when people imply that crafts are somehow lightweight, frippery slapdash pursuits, compared to arts. Tell that to Chippendale. Or Lalique.

Or that the thumbprints on a handmade pot make it somehow more authentic. Rubbish. The best handmade pottery (and furniture, and glass, and clothing) has a superb finish, better than anything a machine can do. The idea that ‘crafts’ are amateurish is a sad side-effect of the Industrial Revolution. William Morris, although he has to take some of the blame, must be spinning in his grave.

It saddens me when quilters feel the need to describe themselves as ‘quilt artists’. Or when a fine piece of pottery is described as ‘art pottery’. I understand why people do it – ‘artist’ is a word with a lot of cachet, whereas ‘craftman’ has very little – but I’d rather see people make the case for crafts, rather than trying to hang on the coat-tails of so-called ‘fine art’.

Chippendale was a craftsman. But he was surely more talented and more influential than any British artist of the period. He probably doesn’t get the respect he deserves, as one of the greatest creative talents of the C18th – but Chippendale is no more an artist than Pope is an architect.

BTW – Rebecca just happened to wake one of the bees in my bonnet. I’m not suggesting she holds the any of the annoying opinions that I’ve mentioned.

  • Post category:Other


I’m re-reading ‘In Search of Lost Time’. I read it through once and have made various abortive attempts to re-read since; this time I’ve got most of the way through the first volume (of three) so hopefully I’ll finish.

I still think Proust is a joy to read. Sometimes. The passages describing places, people and social situations are fabulous – vivid, atmospheric, barbed. But the endless philosophopsychologipontificating is bugging me a bit this time. When you’re reading the third page of a discursus about the narrator’s developing love-interest in Gilberte, framed in terms of the particularity of individual experience and the distorting effects of emotion and memory on our perceptions, and the content is remarkably similar to a similar discursus about ten pages ago, and another five pages before that, and several dealing with Swann’s love for Odette; and you know that in the next volume you’re going to go through the whole thing again with the narrator and Albertine – well, chewing your own arm off becomes a tempting option.

Proust’s musings are a key part of the book, of course. I just think an occasional intervention from a strong-minded editor might have tightened the whole thing up a bit.

  • Post category:Culture