Tuesday is the New Sunday

Well, as Oscar didn’t say, sitting up once all night in a café in a deserted suburb to host a Fringe show on the other side of the Atlantic might be unfortunate, but sitting up the next night to do it all again was definitely erring on the side of carelessness. All the fun of jetlag without actually going anywhere.

No, way more fun than that: had a total blast rejoining my excellent poetry colleagues in Asheville, NC for the latest version of the Poetry Cabaret show on the Asheville Fringe this weekend, 3.30am show time notwithstanding: after a decent interval, we’ll be posting an edit of the two live shows, for details of which watch this space - and also for more on our next transAtlantic venture next month (Saturday 27th February), at the wildly more reasonable hour of 7pm GMT (2pm ET). . .

Churches of Gravesend: SS Peter & Paul, Milton Road

In response to a certain amount of incredulity from some of the American cousins about our eponymous patron, the Blue Porcupine of Gravesend (thalassohystrix caerulescens), here is the proof: one of the most iconic representations of the Porcupine, the centrepiece of an ornamental Victorian (?) gateway leading in to the churchyard of SS Peter & Paul. (Digitally enhanced to compensate for the fact that the gate, permanently opened inwards, is never exposed to direct sun.)

The town of Gravesend comprises two parishes: Gravesend itself (upstream of the Town Pier); and Milton (downstream to the east), with the High Street and Windmill Road leading directly inland and uphill from the Pier to mark the internal boundary. This, the parish church of Milton, is on a foundation attested in the Domesday Book, though the present building dates from the fifteenth century.

As with the churches in the City of London, buildings on the site have come and gone, but the parishioners kept being buried in the same patch of earth around it, resulting in a ground level considerably higher than the surroundings, as this ancient and bulging wall shows: it doesn’t mark a boundary around the churchyard, as one might assume from the road, but is a retaining wall, holding up and back the remains of at least a thousand years of Miltonians.

Cheerful, I know. I remember reading somewhere once that there comes a point in a poet’s career when they find that somewhere along the way without noticing it they’ve stopped writing about sex, and started writing about death instead. I can also attest to the fact there was another point further down the road where I realised it was the same thing all along. Lovely sundial here, getting in on the mood.

If you like this kind of thing, I recommend a look at this book of sundial mottoes available for free, like an awful lot else, at Openlibrary - I have a physical copy of this I got on a summer afternoon at Walden Books in Camden, a secret bookshop if ever there was one. When the days are longer and the world no longer closed I look so hugely forward to revisiting all these old haunts; in the meanwhile, these online repositories of old books (and other media - see on Public Domain Review further down) offer happy hours of browsing.

Mention of sundials leads me on to one of my own: short poems about death, in the East Asian fashion, may yet find themselves in unhappy demand. I would call this a haiku, not but what there’s plenty that wouldn’t (and plenty more to shout about “appropriation”, as if the Japanese didn’t nick all this kind of thing from the Chinese via the Koreans in the first place).

Morning sun in the
garden, melts all frost except
in the sundial's shade.

Culinary Gravesend: Gypsy Tart

As a relative newcomer to our little corner of the Thames Estuary, I was delighted to have come across what I take to be a local delicacy - the Gypsy Tart. I say “I take” because it is claimed in some quarters as belonging to the whole of Kent, though all sensible people of my acquaintance assure me it is specific to North Kent.

It’s a pastry shell, with a filling of tinned evaporated milk beaten to a cream with brown sugar, baked. I would have taken a picture of a real one but I ate it on the way home (it had been a long walk) and to be honest it’s not much to look at, these assorted cakes from an Edwardian Mrs Beeton much more cheerful

Now, Gravesend being a transport hub as ancient as any in these islands, and Kent as a whole constituting the main route to the European mainland, travelling communities must always have been prominent around here, and certainly crop up regularly in the talk of the town; but I think we can be confident that the name of this dish does not denote an origin in the cuisine of the Roma, or any other transEuropean nomadic peoples.

“Gypsy” here clearly stands instead for “bad housekeeper” - confections requiring perishable ingredients - fruit, cream, butter, eggs - also require advance planning and reliable fresh supplies: a sweet made out of tins and packets bespeaks an irregular life.

The boiling and beating up of tinned milk and sugar is the same as with the fudge recipe I inherit from my Shetland family (Bets, your legend lives on), which also bears witness to an uncertain availability of fresh produce, though not necessarily for the same reasons.

They do a not particularly impressive version at Morrison’s, and a distinctly tastier one Mears of Sidcup on Valley Drive (good independent bakery mini-chain, their Chelsea buns had a distinctly non-vegetarian look about them, promising) - but I am informed by every body I know that had school dinners around here that it can only really be appreciated when cooked in catering-size batches.

Can’t help thinking that in terms of grabbing a share of the new internal tourist trade that is going to start emerging in the archipelago this year, a Local Delicacy is a pretty good card to hold, especially if we can “add value”, as the jargon has it: we may have to call the ensuing quest “Pimp My Tart” (pace the howls of protest from some of the team here at Porcupine Towers).

Adrian at No.84 tells an exotic traveller’s tale of a gypsy tart with a crushed biscuit base, like a cheesecake. There is the possibility of puff pastry - like a kind of fudge Danish? Ready-made puff pastry from the supermarket is surely the 21st century’s gift to the lazy housekeeper. The sugar also probably bears elaboration - it’s always worth trying Indian gur or jaggery in place of more ordinary kinds of brown sugar, if only because both its names are so good: highly recommended in a crumble topping, so could work well here. Will report further.

More Free Stuff

If you’d like more even more bits of interesting things to look at in your email, I urge you to consider signing up to the Public Domain Review newsletter - so clever of them to know that I had been particularly missing, along with all the other pleasures that living close to London used to afford, my regular social calls on the Hogarths in the Sir John Soane House, and to send me this. Hadn’t seen it before: Hogarth does Escher, rather pleasing.

(Just went to check the link there and, now I’ve seen it, cannot not repost this fantastic page of Illustrations from the Logbooks of Nantucket Whaleships, happy hours of browsing indeed).

And here’s your gentle reminder about buying copies of my two poetry collections via my eBay, and keeping up (for free!) with the latest releases on Blue Porcupine Vintage Audio Books.

In any event though, keep it spiny.