Saturday, 29 November 2008

Vestal Virgins and Moles

Lighting the fire in the drawing room was a chore this morning - for some reason it took forever to take hold. In Roman times the Vestal Virgins kept the sacred fire burning all year round in the brazier at the centre of the Temple of Vesta on the Via Sacra . In the era of safety matches keeping a fire lit would be an easy accomplishment but two thousand years ago a sudden rainstorm, damp wood or simply dozing off on the job could have doused the flame. Every Vestal wore a diadem like band of wool known as a fillet as a headress and as a sign of her virginity. Vestals who were tempted by matters of the flesh were buried alive in a tiny crypt as a deterent for others who might be tempted from their celibate fire tending condition. The crypt was equipped with a bed,an oil lamp, and enough oil,bread,water and milk for one meal. The poor woman was brought to the Crypt ( thought to be located under the steps of today's Ministry of Finance ) in a closed hearse with her mouth gagged with leather straps so that her cries could not be heard by the vast crowds that gathered on these occasions. She was then forced down a ladder into the crypt which was sealed and ten metres of sound deadening earth piled on top of it. Not surprisingly in eleven centuries there were less than twenty infractions reported.

The boyz who have never shown any interest in chasing wild animals ( after a rather traumatic encounter with a seal on the beach at Lunan Bay when they were puppies ) have taken to digging for moles. The combination of frenzied digging, freshly sown grass, a heavy clay soil, torrential rain, and white long haired dogs is not conducive to a relaxed lifestyle. Wilf, who is the major culprit in this new pastime of mole hunting , arrived at the door at ten last night caked solidly from nose to ears in thick , impenetrable mud. It took twenty minutes of washing and scrubbing in warm soapy water to get his fur clean - a process that he considered quite unnecessary and which he did his very best to resist. Naturally,despite the expenditure of huge amounts of canine energy in digging out the mole hills and replacing them with a series of waterlogged holes , neither of them gets anywhere near a mole. The unholy cacophony of howls, snorts and grunts that mark a sheepdog at work just seem to drive the moles deeper underground where they sit and plan what section of the lawn to visit next.

At the BA lounge at Gatwick I picked up a complimentary copy of the popular current affairs magazine ' Hello' with the intention of reading it on the two and a half hour journey back to Rome. On board my eye was drawn to an 'exclusive' interview with one Ms.Terry Seymour who was 'setting the record straight about her split with Simon Cowell ' ( a popular entertainment impressario). Amid various pictures of a perfectly coiffed Ms.Seymour emerging from the sea or posing langorously on various chaises longues one learns that Mr.Cowell touched her heart by presenting her with a toothbrush after a visit to the dentist and that she would have to think about making him godfather to any children she might have in the future.I must admit to finding this highly edited confection to be quite addictive.
Could it be that Chicken Maryland involved a fried banana fritter ? Surely I would have remembered something as saccharine as that - there again when you are eight years old likes and dislikes are very different from those formed
at a more advanced age. My elder brother claims that he had fled the nest before Chicken Maryland was added to the family repertoire but he does however remember the arrival of Coronation Chicken . This sophisticted concoction arrived on Bute in the early 1960's and involved chicken,mayonnaise, somethihn mildly curry like ( unheard of exoticism for the west coast at that time ) and possibly ( and here the memory falters ) pieces of apple. The curry powder arrived on the ferry from Glasgow being quite unavailable anywhere further west. At the time olive oil was only sold in small jars in the local chemist. Its sole use was for cleaning ears and any suggestion that it might be used for cooking would have been met with singular disbelief.

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