Author Topic: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry  (Read 7892 times)

Offline Lingua Pura

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The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« on: January 13, 2006, 06:08:45 PM »
Latterly, I have taken to believing I am Ronnie Corbett - not the actual Ronnie Corbett of course - not the flesh and blood version. That would be absurd. After all, he is Scottish, diminutive and a television comic, with a predilection for V-necked sweaters. I, on the other hand, am Anglo-Irish, long of limb, have never appeared on television and, being a straightforward, simple and friendly soul, if a little overeducated, haven’t a comic cell in my body, except perhaps despite myself. Mind you, I have been told I have a glint in my eye - a definite glint. I have looked in the mirror to try and find it, only to establish a complete absence of glints. As for sweaters, especially V-necked, I have never worn any, except under duress when obliged to do so at an early age by my parents.

You may of course be wondering by now, why I am telling you all this. I accept that is a perfectly reasonable thing for you to be doing at this juncture - yes entirely appropriate. Here was I settling myself down to tell you about an afternoon I spent at home, sitting in the garden and watching the world go by and I start talking about Ronnie Corbett. But you see there is a point to this. It’s really by way of a gentle warning before we go any further. I do not believe it is fair to act in any other way - not at all, if we are to be friends. You see, Ronnie has this tendency to start a story, leaning forward in his armchair, about such and such a topic and before you know it, he has gone off at a tangent, in fact several tangents before he eventually gets back to the subject matter in hand. I suppose it must be contrived. On my part, although I do try to hold it in check, this tendency has increasingly become as indigenous to my personality as my hatred of V-necked sweaters.

You might also be wondering why I plan to tell you about my garden. Well, to tell you the truth – you may have gathered by now I am big on honesty – I have been a bit restricted in my travels recently. I haven’t been that well and have consequently been confined to quarters. Nothing life threatening or contagious and an uncommon occurrence for me – I wouldn’t want you to worry. I know friends do. Sorry, there I go being assumptive again when we haven’t even been formally introduced. People tell me I can be like that, in much the same way as they talk about glints. It might even be the same people.

For someone who is normally very busy, it has been strange to have so much time on my hands. So, I read a lot, scribble a bit, sit or work in the garden and watch more television than I used to or is entirely necessary as part of a daily regime. That is of course how I became reacquainted latterly with Ronnie and why he came to mind. I would have said ‘sprang to mind’ but that has a metallic suddenness about it and this is more a case of insidious mental slithering.

I don’t know if you know but Charles Baudelaire wrote about mental slithering in a piece he called ‘Correspondances’. According to him, he would sit down and catch a whiff of any old garden plant and end up being transported mentally to some other place and from there to some other location by a series of stimuli and then end up forgetting how he had got there, where he had embarked and presumably what he had done with his passport and luggage. If you haven’t met Charles don’t worry, nor have I. Anyway we are both out of luck. He’s dead. Like many a French poet, I think it was syphilis that got him in the end. He had a bit of a fixation about sin and wrote a lot about it as well as mental slithering, but was otherwise a regular chap.

Charles is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. I would have put him down as a Père-Lachaise man myself, the premier Parisian cemetery and final resting place of the famous French. I say famous, but that is not entirely true. There are plenty of parvenus who have taken up permanent residence there. Nor in fact are all those buried in Père-Lachaise all that French either. Take Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Frankly I don’t know how they ended up doing their bit for final resting in Paris never mind Père-Lachaise, besides popping their clogs on French soil.

Mostly when I visit Père-Lachaise and stroll past the final perch of the now permanently young Jim, I nearly always find that it is surrounded by cohorts of youth of all nationalities on a pilgrimage to worship at the feet, or in this case upturned toes, of their pop idol. If you haven’t been and choose to visit, I should point out that his tomb is often daubed with graffiti and lacking the odd lapidary adornment. I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed. His fans presumably consider his tomb a free souvenir shop and generally aren’t - disappointed, I mean.

When it comes to choosing their final resting place, I have found that your actual, famous French are a bit random, not to say whimsical. In Père-Lachaise, you have obvious qualifiers, such as Honoré de Balzac and Edith Piaf. On the other hand, joining Charles in Montparnasse, you have Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In fact those two were so chummy, they share the same tomb. Jean-Paul and Simone must have made squillions writing books with obscure titles, wrapping up the perfectly obvious in a veil of mystery, possibly as a sort of marketing ploy. Their particular philosophy - ‘Existentialism’ - meant no more than giving your life a meaning by taking responsibility for your actions and getting involved in something worthwhile. See what I mean?

Consider Milan Kundera. He’s a Czech, who happens to have adopted France as his home – though not yet forced to flip a coin in choosing where to repose – and writes books such as ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. I mean, really! I like cream-cakes, but I do not go around trying to make a few euros forcing patisserie into a philosophy with a fancy title and down the throats of the reading public. If I had the time or inclination, I am sure I could trot out a story on ‘The Lightness of Choux Pastry’, but I have too much respect for myself and others, even if the title makes more apparent sense than Milan’s.

The thing about The U.L. of B. is that Milan starts with an essay on Nietzsche, Robespierre, Hitler, Jesus and Parmenides (in that order), then completely changes shirt and trousers, promptly dropping the latter in a three hundred page bedroom romp, only to end up with moths circling light bulbs and the weak strains of violins rising from below. The story is so stiff with metaphors for the human condition, you can’t help but trip over them on the race to the final line.

While on the topic, don’t miss Albert Camus, especially if you are aiming - he was a buddy of Sartre and for those still interested, yes he is already dead and no he is not buried in Paris. He liked nothing more than writing a metaphorical ditty on life’s futility. You only have to read Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ to get a flavour. Camus starts with a chap unsure whether his mother died today or yesterday, has him shoot someone by mistake, gets him condemned to death partly because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral and leaves him in prison looking forward to a large crowd shaking their fists at him on his way to the guillotine. All in all, it’s a bit light on jokes.

I wonder what would have happened if P.G. Wodehouse had slipped a copy to Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle on a slow Sunday afternoon at one of the aunts. I can’t help thinking that by the time it got to donning the nose-bag for dinner, Gussie would have started writing on his napkin to clarify his final wishes regarding the disposition of his newt collection. And between the canapés and the port, Bertie would have been passing notes to Jeeves, asking him to apply his enlarged brain to the res, so as to prevent Gussie from prematurely sloughing off the mortal coil.

If a fellow feels he has no choice but to write about the human condition, he really ought to stop himself before addressing his first metaphor and try a bit of Q and A-ing. Q - What is it that distinguishes homo sap. from the other fauna on the blue planet? A - His ability to smile at others and laugh even more heartily at himself.

Anyway, where was I? ... Tombs!

In Le Panthéon, in Paris – an ex- Church, with tombs inside – lie sequestered other famous French intellectuals and writers, such as Victor Hugo and Voltaire, presumably because they preferred permanent digs under-cover to the outdoor life or rather death, in this instance, afforded by either the Montparnasse or Père-Lachaise Cemeteries. Their choice is particularly odd given their obvious interest in open spaces and rural scenes portrayed in some of their writings. After all it was Voltaire, who said ‘il faut cultiver notre jardin’ – we must cultivate our garden – perhaps meaning we should lead a simple, active and therefore happy life. Garden? Garden, garden, garden! Oh I cannot apologise enough. Are we still friends? Let me take you to my afternoon in the garden and to the job in hand.
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Saturday 2 July, 4.16pm. North Warwickshire, England
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I escaped from the drawing room, across the hall, through the kitchen and out the back door. I needed fresh air. The tension indoors had been building all afternoon. Plonking myself into a patio chair, I settled my gaze on the open spaces of the garden beyond the weathered flagstones.

From the house wafted the strangulated grunts of Venus Williams followed by the thrum of R.E.M. singing ‘Everybody hurts’ as the TV channel changed from the ladies’ finals at Wimbledon to Live 8 in Hyde Park. I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon thinking ‘At least Lindsay Davenport is not a grunter’. Venus’s solo performance had been bad enough. A duet would have been torture for our already tennis-taut nerves. Thankfully Michael Stipe now brought relief with his plaintive vocals. Still inside, my wife, unable to bear the grunt enhanced tension of the pressure points in the final set had obviously resorted to using the remote as an alternative to closing her eyes, placing her fingers in her ears and tunelessly la-la-laing. I had sought refuge in the garden.

Although the day had started hot, an inevitable patchwork of English summer clouds had insinuated itself across the sky, so that the sunshine was now fitful and shadows came and went on a light breeze. My mood was equally mixed. The pace of my life had changed from a hectic dash, where time was a scarce commodity to be managed, to a languorous stroll, during which weekends merged indistinguishably with the other days of the week. My enforced absence from work and confinement at home had unsettled me – I was rarely ill and even when I was, I rarely had to take time off work. But I had also been surprised by how much I liked the taste of freedom, as if I were sampling a different way of being. Musing on whether I should start eating the chocolate éclair I had brought with me, I decided to save it for later. Rising to close the back door, I returned to the patio chair soothed by the sudden silence and resumed my survey of our country garden.

‘Two acres?’ I had repeated to my wife, when she had told me eighteen months ago about the size of the garden in advance of a viewing. Six months later, the house and its two acres had been ours.

My eyes followed the perimeter of the enclosed land, glancing first to the left at the fifty foot poplars on its northern boundary, past the mix of firs and
hawthorn, down to the abrupt wall of conifer hedging facing me in the distance at its eastern and furthest edge. The boundary then dog-legged its way back to the south, through a tangle of tall shrubs and nettles, broken only by a corner of the partially obscured polytunnel in need of repair, until it merged with the neatness of the wooden lattice fence on my right. Beyond the boundary, endless fields stretched unseen.

The interior was laid to lawn and swept through a light planting of arching apple trees, down a gentle but deceptive incline to the wall of leylandii, so that I could not see, from my vantage point, the ground in which they rooted. In the foreground, the willow rose thirty feet in the air, its branches swaying idly in the breeze.

For a moment the sun re-appeared from behind a cloud, changing the colour of every green to a lighter hue, casting shadows where previously there had been none and spangling the limpid waters of the pond, at whose southern edge the willow wept.

I sat watching for a long while. A male chaffinch washed its rosy coloured plumage in a pool at the base of the waterfall, which gurgled through ten feet of rock from the covered pagoda above and into the pond. A golden koi leapt, catching the sunlight and splashed back beneath the surface. The hens in their run, near the northern boundary, pecked at the grass and squawked to each other.

‘This is heaven’, I whispered to myself. Maybe Voltaire was right about simple things bringing most happiness – ‘il faut cultiver notre jardin’. Maybe that wasn’t true either. In the end it didn’t really matter. I felt somehow lighter and less confused as if I had just made a decision about something, without knowing what it was.

It was getting noticeably cooler. I rose from the chair and the patio light came on, startling a moth. It started circling, burning its wings. I gently wafted it away and watched it head towards the dying sun as it sank lower on the western horizon.

I walked back to the house, humming a line from ‘The Life of Brian’ and sank my teeth into the chocolate éclair I had been saving. I went back in, clicking the door behind me with renewed purpose.

Offline Rodders

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2006, 03:45:10 PM »
 ;D Smilled the whole way through. Found it almost impossible to eat my eight o'clock yoghurt.
 You may have well had a slight personality swop for the afternoon in which case you were Mr. C.
Keep it up.

Offline Lingua Pura

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2006, 05:44:17 PM »
Rodders

I am really pleased it made you smile.

Many thanks for taking the time to read it.

Kind regards

Stephen

Jayel

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2006, 06:25:50 PM »
Stephen, it is a delightful piece.  I got lots of giggles and grins while reading it and particularly enjoyed the phrase "insidious mental slithering." 

Offline Lingua Pura

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2006, 06:53:05 PM »
Javel

Thank you very much for reading 'Choux Pastry'. I am pleased that you enjoyed it and smiled.

Best wishes

Stephen

P.S. I hope to get round to reading some of your writing (and others) very shortly...and this applies to you and others commenting...feel free to post a link to anything you might like me to review in here.

Offline caswrites

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2006, 08:18:27 AM »
This is great.   What a clever way to title it.   I found it enjoyably descriptive and indeed found myself 'being mentally transported to some other place'.   My dad tells a story just like Ronnie so I sat reading this with an innane grin thank you so much for the entertainment!

I shall most likely have another read.   I look forward to seeing more

Cas

Offline Lingua Pura

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2006, 10:44:43 AM »
Cas

Thank you for your kind comments. I must get round to writing more with this 'voice'. Next on the list!

I look forward to reading some of your stuff, chatting about writing (and its endless problems) and seeing you around on the site.

Warm regards

Stephen  ;D

Offline Nick

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2006, 12:53:29 PM »
Hi Stephen

I've just read this and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a shame The Two Ronnies isn't still being made, or you could apply for a job as Mr C's scriptwriter. (Sorry this won't mean much to non-UK readers, by the way - The Two Ronnies was a highly successful BBC comedy show of the 1970s and 80s).

I agree with everything said by other forum members above. The whole piece flows extremely well, and carries the reader along with it. It's gentle humour, not laugh-out-loud stuff, but no worse for that. I get the feeling you have a natural ear for the rhythm of language - maybe in part down to your Irish blood?

I'm not entirely sure what you could do with a piece of this nature, but if you can work it up to book length and give it some kind of over-arching theme or storyline, I think it could become a cult classic. Anyway, good luck with it!

Nick
Check out my writing blog at www.entrepreneurwriter.net. I also have a new UK personal finance blog called Pounds and Sense.

Offline Lingua Pura

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Re: The Lightness Of Choux Pastry
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2006, 02:55:55 PM »
Nick

Thank you very much for taking time out to read this. Much appreciated.

I am pleased you like it and who knows whether my Irish upbringing has anything to do with it, though I have observed that Wilde, Beckett and a couple of other Irish miscreants (I jest) did have an affinity with France / the French and wrote the odd worthy piece. Pity I haven't yet reached the standard of what they would have normally consigned to the wastepaper basket.

As you will have noted, it is a little genre-less. However, I do like this 'voice' amongst others I have experimented with adopting, as it seems to come naturally.

As to whether I can / will work it up into a novel (cult-classic or not) we'll see. I think I still need to put in a bit of practice as an apprentice before I can even aspire to being a journeyman. But I seem to be both emotionally and intellectually committed to writing now, so I think it is time to pull my finger out...

All in all I suppose it's not a bad effort for a 46 year old FD who hasn't until recently written a 'story' in 30 years.

Thank you again for taking the time and thanks too to WCCL and the moderators here for a great site.

I look forward to spending some valuable time here.


Best wishes


Stephen