And what if eternity is nothing but spiders?
That’s the question I’ve been mulling over recently. As regular readers will know, I have a bit of a thing for the fiction of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I’ve been reading Crime and Punishment. One of the characters, a depraved, immoral landowner, who is also curiously (sym)pathetic, speculates about the afterlife, not as a traditional view of heaven, but as something much more mundane and limited:
“We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.”
I don’t know why I find this idea so disturbing. But I do. Perhaps because its very mundanity is sinister, like something out of a David Lynch movie, or the Red Room from Twin Peaks, where the evil Black Lodge was portrayed as a simple room with chairs and a red curtain, and the inhabitants just sit around, strangely disconnected (still makes me uneasy just thinking about it).
All in all, it’s been a strange sort of week. On Tuesday I met my business partner who has withdrawn from the business due to health reasons, which is a bit of a blow, though not unexpected. And on Wednesday I fulfilled a long-standing commitment by giving a talk to the archive students at Glasgow University on the state of archives in the UK (short version: “We’re doomed!”, preferably said in the voice of Pte. Frazer from Dad’s Army).
The talk went surprisingly well. Perhaps my happiest inspiration was ending with a slide from the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”, showing the super-villain in characteristic pose stroking a white Persian cat. Warming to my theme, I suggested that the villain represented local government (bear with me here) and the cat, archives – and when things are going well, the world is being held to ransom, etc., then we are cosseted and protected. But when things go wrong – the ninjas are abseiling into the volcano and the grenades are going off, and the villain is escaping in his personal monorail car – then the cat is nowhere to be seen, it’s been jettisoned. So, in the good times, archives – like the cat – are cosseted and fed titbits; but when the money runs out… Well, you get the picture. At least the students had the grace to laugh at the jokes.
I am suffering from the sin of pride, even now, in fact, because afterwards several of the students told me it was the best talk they’d ever witnessed, and asked me how I’d gotten so good at it. (Time for a new hat – my swollen head won’t fit in the old ones now.)
So, the social whirl – together with the constant migraines – have slowed my gansey progress down, but as you will see, perseverance is slowly paying off… I think. Sometimes it’s hard to tell!
Part of my trouble is that the operation has left me with a daily migraine, until the congestion clears, so it’s sometimes hard to focus on a complex pattern. (As my daily prayer goes, “Give us this day our daily headache, and forgive us our petulance, as we plan revenge against those who take our parking spaces…”)
Another sourdough success this week. This time it’s a pain de campagne, French country bread, made with plain flour and a higher ratio of wholemeal and rye than usual. (It’s usually made with 10-15% wholemeal/rye blend, but this time I made it with 25% for a slightly rougher texture.) And a stollen, made as a swiss roll for a change. (The bread tends to separate as it rises, but you do get a swirl of marzipan with each mouthful, it’s not just a lump in the middle.)
I’ve also been experimenting with the Piadini, the Italian flatbread I made last week. They take 500g flour, but as an experiment I tried them with 250g flour and 250g mashed potatoes, to see if I could replicate my father’s wonderful potato (“tattie”) scones in a yeasted bread. It’s not as potato-y as I’d hoped, though it’s pretty good, so I may up the potato quotient next time. Meanwhile, for those of you old enough to remember hit songs of the 60s, it’s also given me the phrase “Itsy bitsy teenie weenie mashed potato Piadini.”
And what if eternity isn’t spiders after all? What if it’s knitting, but the needles keep breaking and the yarn is full of knots? And no matter how much you knit you never seem to make any progress? Oh. Hang on. Wait a minute…