Friday, 5 April 2013

two histories

When I came to carve the nameless joint of frozen half pig, I was disappointed that underneath the skin there seemed to be almost nothing except an enormous bone.  I needn't have been, since the small amount of meat there was tasted inedible, as did the sauce.  Sometimes you speculate to accumulate, and sometimes you waste a tin of tomatoes and three small red onions.

This morning's loaf of bread was back to one hundred per cent wholemeal, without any old dough.  It rose faster than all my previous efforts, for reasons unknown to me, as I didn't consciously deviate from the exact same method I followed before.  The wind is not quite so cold as it was, so perhaps the house is fractionally warmer.  When I got it out of the oven the top was not quite rounded and taut, but had fallen in very slightly at one end.  It tasted perfectly nice when we had some for lunch, and the crumb was acceptably open, so it hadn't collapsed to a degree that you'd notice while eating it.  I still want to know what happened, though, in the interests of learning by doing.

Aside from the experimental cookery I have been occupying myself in this interminable winter by reading.  I recently finished Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum.  You would expect any book subtitled The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944 to 1956 to make sombre reading, and so it does, but still gripping.  I don't know why I'd expected it to be organised on a country-by-country basis, with a chapter on East Germany, one on Hungary, and so on, but I did.  It isn't.  Instead each chapter covers a theme, Policemen, Youth, Ethnic Cleansing or Radio.  I had not realised how gradually the Soviet fist tightened around its Eastern bloc satellites after the end of the war, vaguely assuming that Communist power was total from 1945 onwards.  The mechanics of how Soviet influence established itself turned out to be more complex, and grimly fascinating.  You hold elections.  You are hurt and surprised when the people do not vote for Communist power.  You falsify the results of the elections, or take power anyway.

Practically nothing I do would have been allowed.  Never mind being a bourgeois capitalist and property owner, or being educated at an elite university.  The music society and the beekeepers association would not have been allowed, because forms of social organisation that existed independently of the Communist party were forbidden, in the end if not at the start.  Most of my tastes in music, art and literature would not have been tolerated.  In fact, I wouldn't rate my chances of survival at all highly.

Oh, and the command economies of Eastern Europe didn't work.  In 1950, Poland and Spain had similar sized economies.  By 1988, Poland's had increased by two and a half times, Spain's by thirteen.  Something to remember, the next time you hear any politician claiming that under their party's policies economic growth will suddenly resume.

After Anne Applebaum I moved on to the monarch unkindly referred to The Dead Queen Anne in 1066 and All That.  Anne Somerset has gone for the more neutral Queen Anne.  The publishers have hopefully added the subtitle The politics of passion, but that's misleading.  It's a very readable account of the events leading up to James II's departure from the throne, which is about where my knowledge of English political history takes a break for the next century and a bit, then covers the reign of William and Mary, and Anne's own reign following William's death in 1702.  Poor Queen Anne, she gave birth to 17 children, only three of which survived at all and they died in infancy.  The current medical theory is that she suffered from a form of lupus.  Her consort, the Danish prince George, emerges as one of English history's unsung noble figures, and Sarah Churchill, later Duchess of Marlborough, as a most spectacularly unpleasant woman.  Anne adored her, or still does so far, since I'm only up to about 1708.  I'll let you know how it ends.

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