Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck – #History – Tea, opium, and the East India Company (2018) by Ellen Hawley


This is the final post of author Ellen Hawley who has enjoyed a wonderfully varied career before leaving the United States to settle in Cornwall. The opioid crisis in the USA and increasingly in the UK and other countries is not the first time in history that an addictive substance has become concerning. In this post Ellen explores Tea and opium.. care of The East India Company.

History – Tea, opium, and the East India Company (2018) by Ellen Hawley

Is any drink more innocent than a nice cup of tea?

Almost any of them, and I say that having done no comparative research whatsoever. But forget the comparisons. Innocent tea is not. Its history is deeply interwoven with opium. Here’s how it worked:

In the seventeenth century, England began drinking serious amounts of tea, which it bought from China. China looked at what England offered to sell it in return and said, “Ho, hum,” and didn’t drink it / wear it / eat it / or more importantly, buy it. Which meant, since England wanted to keep drinking tea, that silver poured out of England and into China. And what with silver being heavy and all, the world was turning more slowly on its axis.

The world only turned properly when more silver flowed into England than out.

I shouldn’t say stuff like that or we’ll have another one of those incidents with the Druids worshiping the Great Brussels Sprout. (An explanation is hidden behind this link. You’ll find it a few paragraphs below the photograph. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, which is probably why I can’t help thinking it’s funny.) I could shorten my explanations by making a grain-of-salt logo and adding it when I say something ridiculous. We’ll all have hypertension by the time I’m done.

Irrelevant photo: begonia blossom

Anyway, with all that silver sitting in China instead of England, where nature had decreed that it belonged, the earth’s rotation was going out of sync with the standard twenty-four hour day and something had to be done.

Enter the East India Company, also called the English East India Company, or a bit later the British East India Company once Britain acquired a political existence, to distinguish it from assorted other countries’ East India companies, which it competed with.

The English East India Company got its charter in 1600 from Queen Elizabeth. A trade imbalance wasn’t the problem yet. What Liz wanted was to have it break the Portuguese and Spanish hold on trade from the Indian Ocean. Which the company did, in part by piracy.

Yeah, those were times to make the heart swell with pride. When we talk about making Britain great again…

No, that’s too far off topic.

A combination of a weakening government in India and competition with the company’s French counterpart (the French East India Company–no one involved had the least bit of imagination) ended up with the English company  taking direct control of  territory in India . And deciding that holding territory was such fun that it took more. And for a hundred years, starting in 1757, it was both a military and a political power, regulated by no government and answerable only to itself. And it ruled of India.

Yeah, that’s the point where I can’t help thinking I’ve misread something. This is a private business openly governing a country–and not even its own country. In 1803, it had a private army twice the size of Britain’s.

India didn’t grow tea yet. Its exports included silk, cotton, sugar, indigo dye, and (here we get to the point at last) opium. The East India company established a monopoly on opium in Bengal.

I couldn’t find much information about the impact this had on India, but its production relied on forced labor and the trade would, inevitably, have led to some addiction. The shift away from small farming also meant a shift away from food production, which kept people fed but wasn’t where the money could be made. Before the East India company took over, India’s ability to feed its people had been equal to or a bit better than Europe’s. (Europe’s wasn’t great at the time, but I’m not sure whose was.) What British did rule was to commercialize agriculture, after which the country experienced repeated famines. You can find a grim timeline of them here.

Now let’s go back to China for a minute. Opium reached China in the sixth or seventh century, and it was used (as it had been for centuries in India and the ancient Mediterranean) medicinally–to relieve pain, the help people sleep, and maybe for a bit of fun here and there. With the introduction of tobacco, though, came the idea of smoking the stuff, and in this form it became much more powerful and much more addictive.

China’s emperor banned recreational use. The edict was roughly as effective as the US war on drugs has been.

China banned imports in 1729. Which was a problem for the East India Company, because it had a lot of it and was £28 million in debt from its wars in India and from all the Chinese tea it had to pay for in that heavy, annoying metal.

So what’s a law-abiding company/government/army to do when a foreign government blocks its access to a market? The East India Company started smuggling the stuff, and by 1739 it had gotten Britain and China involved in the Opium Wars, which eventually, in the name of free trade, opened the Chinese market to opium imports. The balance of payments problem was–from Britain’s point of view–taken care of.

And from China’s point of view? When it banned imports, 200 chests were coming in a year. By 1858, 70,000 were coming in and addiction had become a massive problem. I’m not sure about its balance of payments but I’d bet a damn good chocolate cake that it Britain’s improved China’s got worse.

But Britain got more than tea in this exchange. It got opium as well.

In western Europe, medical opium had been recommended as early as 1527. Paracelsus called the opium mixture he used laudanum –Latin for “worthy of praise.” Or so one source says. The last time I tried to translate something into and out of Latin (it happened to be raisin), we ran into no end of odd translations, so this time I’m not even looking it up, I’m just pretending I know what I’m talking about. Who’ll notice if I’m wrong?

Laudanum was about 10% opium.

The more Europeans traded in opium, the more it made its way to their home countries. In the eighteenth century, doctors were both prescribing it and using it themselves.

As the nineteenth century creaked onward, opium escaped the tinctures it initially came in and was available to be smoked. The Victorian public could read and be horrified by tales of opium dens (which were dedicated to smoking opium), although not many dens seem to have existed outside of London. In a nice little irony, though, they were associated in the popular imagination with–shudder–foreigners, especially the Chinese. Who else would bring such a dangerous drug to someone else’s country?

Having read about the horrors of opium smoking, the Victorian public could then put down its newspapers and buy laudanum from the chemist (which if you’re American is a druggist) or at the market. No big deal. It was the aspirin of its day available everywhere and taken for just about everything: coughs, rheumatism, colicky babies, hiccups, and women’s troubles (no, that didn’t mean the social and economic condition of woman, although that was enough to drive anyone to opium; it also didn’t mean men; it meant anything associated with–I’m blushing just to think of it–the reproductive system).

It also mended broken chair legs, straightned curly hair, and curled straight.

Yes, yes: grain of salt.

People who used opium in its respectable forms included Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. And even though it was less addictive in this form than it was if you smoked it, it was still addictive enough to get you into trouble. The Brontes’ brother, Branwell, is said to have been an opium addict, not to mention an alcoholic and an all-around mess. I’m not sure what form he used. Probably anything he could get his hands on, which is most likely to have meant laudanum.

So predictably that they sound like a caricature of themselves, the guardians of public morality saw the use of opiates among the poor and working class as a problem and among their own class nothing worse than as a habit.

Now let’s go back to the medical uses of opium, because it was a useful painkiller. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a German scientist developed the even more effective morphine from an opium base. It was so effective that some 400,000 soldiers came out of the American Civil War addicted to it.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, scientists were looking for a less addictive painkiller. Working from a morphine base, they came up with heroin.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Anybody want a cup of tea and a dash of irony? I’ve got the kettle on. A nice cup of tea never hurt anyone.

@Ellen Hawley 2018

About the Divorce Diet

“Food and love and loss and resilience . . . are Hawley’s recipe for a slyly entertaining and heartening novel” (Daniel Menaker, author of The Treatment).

Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.

When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working (after commenting about how she’s turning into a bit of a pudge), a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house.

Thrown for a loop as a suddenly single new mom, she hunts for guidance in her latest weight-loss book, treating its author as her imaginary personal guru. But as Abigail follows the book’s advice, she begins to rediscover her love of cooking. Her diets have pushed her toward fat-free, joy-free foods, and her mother’s kitchen is filled with instant, frozen, and artificially flavored fare. It’s time for Abigail to indulge her own tastes—and write her own recipe for a good life . . .

Bitingly funny and wise, with bonus recipes included, this novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet—to find what true satisfaction is all about.

“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself . . . is even sweeter.” —Cathy Lamb, author of If You Could See What I See

One of the reviews for the book

The style of this book seems simple and repetitive at first glance, but I was never bored. The style put me into the reality of Abigail as she goes through having been rejected by her husband and dealing with her new situation. The humor sprinkled in liberally made me laugh out loud more than any book I can recall. I knew from the author’s blog that I enjoy her humor, and I was not let down with this book. The style is very different and very good for this story. It leads the reader through this time of change with the crazy thoughts, the fears and trials, and the tenderness of love that holds her together. I felt it along with her.

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LEU4QX2/

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Divorce-Diet-Ellen-Hawley-ebook/dp/B00LEU4QX2

Also by Ellen Hawley

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

Also available at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Ellen+Hawley

Read more reviews and follow Ellen on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/567079.Ellen_Hawley

About Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley has worked as an editor and copy editor, a talk-show host, a cab driver, a waitress, a janitor, an assembler, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours, a receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall, U.K.

Connect to Ellen

Blog: https://notesfromtheuk.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ellenhawleyfacepage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ellen_hawley

My thanks to Ellen for allowing me to access her archives and share with you. Many more posts to enjoy on her blog. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck #Recipe – Peach or blackberry cobbler: an American recipe by Ellen Hawley


This is the third post of author Ellen Hawley who has enjoyed a wonderfully varied career before leaving the United States to settle in Cornwall. We brought back several recipes from our time of living in Houston that we could not bear to leave behind. Desserts are an art in America.. and pumpkin pie is one that I have happy memories about. Here Ellen shares a recipe for another family favourite.

Recipe – Peach or blackberry cobbler: an American recipe by Ellen Hawley

One of the small joys of living in the U.K. is messing with British cooking. In the interest of which, I’d like to share an American recipe with you: peach (or blackberry if you prefer) cobbler. And if you live in the U.S., you’re still welcome to it.

I’m not actually from cobbler country. I’m a New Yorker by birth and a Minnesotan by I’m not sure what but whatever it was it lasted many long years. Wild Thing, however, is from Texas so over the years I’ve learned some Southern cooking. Not from her—the only things she likes to cook involve meat—but because it’s fun to feed her something she can get sentimental about.

cobbler, eddie 006

The recipe’s is adapted from Trilla Pando’s collection of recipes and interviews, Stirring up memories all the time, which I can’t find online anywhere, new or used, or I’d give you a link. I’d tell you how good the book is, but it would be cruel.

I am, as anyone who’s been reading Notes for a while knows, hopeless with numbers and thoroughly unsystematic, so you’ll find a certain, um, flexibility in some of the measurements. If that worries you, remember that the recipe has survived my numerical incompetence, so it should survive almost anything you can do to it. Except maybe tossing in a half pound of bacon, or some coffee grounds.

A warning: This cobbler (assuming you leave out the bacon and the coffee grounds) has a way of disappearing quickly—it really is good—and I’ve tried doubling the recipe and baking it in a larger dish, but the center never baked through. If you’re going to double it, use two smaller pans.

Peach or blackberry cobbler

  • 4 cups of fruit (or a bit more; I always add more; if you’re using peaches, it’s about 7)
  • 1 to 1½ cups sugar, divided
  • 2 to 4 ounces butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup milk (whole or 2%, which is called semi-skimmed in the U.K.)

Method

Heat the oven to 350 F. That’s more or less 175 c. Don’t worry about it–it’s close enough. Set a square baking dish (anywhere between 8” and 9” square will do) inside it to heat.

The original recipe has you sprinkle ½ a cup of sugar on the fruit and set it aside for half an hour or so. I don’t bother. It’s sweet enough already. So if you leave that out, you’ll only need a single cup of sugar. If you’re using peaches, slice or chop them. Melt the butter. Sift the dry ingredients together, or measure them out and use a whisk to mix them. As far as I can tell, the whisk works just as well as sifting.

Pour the butter into the baking dish once it’s hot, then convince the batter in on top of it. It’s thick, so this is awkward, but spread it around as best you can. Then spread the fruit on top of that. The batter will rise up through the fruit as if bakes.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the center’s set. Test it with a knife to make sure it’s fully set. If it isn’t, toss it back in the oven (okay, okay, slide it back in the oven) until it is.

Serve plain or with cream or yogurt.

Trilla, if you’re reading this, thanks.

@Ellen Hawley 2015

About the Divorce Diet

“Food and love and loss and resilience . . . are Hawley’s recipe for a slyly entertaining and heartening novel” (Daniel Menaker, author of The Treatment).

Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.

When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working (after commenting about how she’s turning into a bit of a pudge), a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house.

Thrown for a loop as a suddenly single new mom, she hunts for guidance in her latest weight-loss book, treating its author as her imaginary personal guru. But as Abigail follows the book’s advice, she begins to rediscover her love of cooking. Her diets have pushed her toward fat-free, joy-free foods, and her mother’s kitchen is filled with instant, frozen, and artificially flavored fare. It’s time for Abigail to indulge her own tastes—and write her own recipe for a good life . . .

Bitingly funny and wise, with bonus recipes included, this novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet—to find what true satisfaction is all about.

“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself . . . is even sweeter.” —Cathy Lamb, author of If You Could See What I See

One of the reviews for the book

The style of this book seems simple and repetitive at first glance, but I was never bored. The style put me into the reality of Abigail as she goes through having been rejected by her husband and dealing with her new situation. The humor sprinkled in liberally made me laugh out loud more than any book I can recall. I knew from the author’s blog that I enjoy her humor, and I was not let down with this book. The style is very different and very good for this story. It leads the reader through this time of change with the crazy thoughts, the fears and trials, and the tenderness of love that holds her together. I felt it along with her.

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LEU4QX2/

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Divorce-Diet-Ellen-Hawley-ebook/dp/B00LEU4QX2

Also by Ellen Hawley

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

Also available at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Ellen+Hawley

Read more reviews and follow Ellen on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/567079.Ellen_Hawley

About Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley has worked as an editor and copy editor, a talk-show host, a cab driver, a waitress, a janitor, an assembler, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours, a receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall, U.K.

Connect to Ellen

Blog: https://notesfromtheuk.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ellenhawleyfacepage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ellen_hawley

My thanks to Ellen for allowing me to access her archives and share with you. Many more posts to enjoy on her blog. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck – #Cornwall A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint (2016) by Ellen Hawley


This is the second post of author Ellen Hawley who has enjoyed a wonderfully varied career before leaving the United States to settle in Cornwall. I love Cornwall and its unique place in our history and also its determination to retain its language and customs. So I thought you would enjoy this post as much as I did.

A Cornish mile and a Cornish saint (2016) by Ellen Hawley

Chris White asked what a Cornish Mile is, and since I’d never heard of it, I turned to Google and then asked around.

Let’s start with the asking around bit: According to J., it’s one of those flexible distances people use when a car stops and the driver rolls down the window and asks how far it is to Saint Whoosit.

Cornwall has lots of towns named Saint Whoosit, and Saint Whoosit is always a mile from wherever that car stops. At least that’s what J. tells me. Or else the turn to Saint Whoosit is a mile away, right by the bent tree (we have even more of those than we do of St. Whoosits), and St. Whoosit itself is a mile after that.

And ten minutes later, when the car still hasn’t gotten to St. Whoosit, the turn, the tree, or another person to ask? It’s traveled a Cornish mile.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: Flower from our back yard. The bee's blurred, but if you look closely you'll see where the snails hide--something I didn't know until I looked at this on the screen.

Irrelevant (and out of season) photo: Flower from our back yard. The bee’s blurred, but if you look closely you’ll see where the snails hide–something I didn’t know until I looked at this on the screen.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia (never mind a link—the contents will have changed by now), the old Cornish mile measured 3.161etc. to nine decimal points miles. And in case you need to know this, a Cornish gallon was 10 pounds, but a Cornish apple gallon was 7 pounds.

How do you measure a gallon in pounds when you don’t know if it holds a gallon of water or a gallon of honey? It’s a unit of weight, not volume, that’s how. You have to admire the English language. It’s not only inventive, it’s downright hallucinatory. Maybe it was something in that honey they were weighing.

The entry also defines a Cornish lace, which is 18 square feet. Or 18 feet square. I can’t see why there’d be any difference between the two, but since I’m mathematically incompetent we shouldn’t trust me on the subject.

According to the Financial Dictionary, though, a Cornish mile is 1.5 miles. Why a financial dictionary’s defining an out-of-date measure of distance is beyond me, but it may tell us something about economists that its definition doesn’t match the other definitions. Not that everyone else’s agree, but they might want to report that other opinions exist. (I don’t seem to hold Wikipedia to that standard, which tells you something about my expectations.)

The two sources do agree on the Cornish gallon, in case that’s relevant.

The Cornish mile could also be (and sometimes is) taken to refer to any number of places in Cornwall where road signs tell you it’s, let’s say, 3.5 miles to Saint Whatsit and then a mile or so later you find another sign saying you have 3.5 miles left to go. Exactly what that tells us about the length of a Cornish mile isn’t clear, but it’s one of the things people talk about when the topic comes up. Some can even cite exact locations for the signs. I can’t, but I did find one when Wild Thing and I were on the way to Saint Whatsit last year.

On the VWT4 Forum (no, I have no idea), Lord of the T4s wrote, “At the junction at the top of Port Isaac, the village which is used for the Doc Martin TV series, there is a signpost on one side of the road which reads, “ ‘St. Teath 5 miles’ and ‘Wadebridge 9 miles.‘

“Don’t move from where you’re standing and look to the other side of the same junction, and another signpost indicates that it’s now 5 1/2 miles to St. Teath and 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge.”

Two comments down, Maude explains it all. “It’s basically 9 1/2 miles to Wadebridge from there—but if you hurry you can do it in 9.”

Maude, whoever you are, I love you.

St. Teath, by the way, is pronounced teth, not teeth. She lived in the fifth century (and once again I’m drawing from Wikipedia) and was recognized as a saint in Cornwall and Wales. She was also known as Saint Tecla and Saint Tetha, as well as by a variety of other names (Tethe, Thecla, and so on to another nine decimal points). She was a virgin (why anybody had any business asking I don’t know, but folks back then did seem to be obsessed with a small and useless bit of the female anatomy) and one of the missionary companions of Saint Breaca, who jointly brought Christianity to Cornwall. She may have been the daughter of a Welsh king, which also says that she may not have been. Unlike some of her companions, she wasn’t martyred, and according to one theory her name was inserted into the list of companions by accident.

Oops.

If you’re considered a saint but you got saintified by accident, are you still a saint?

Regardless, it’s still pronounced teth. And she got a town named after her. Take that, all you other companions of Saint Breaca.

What does this have to do with a Cornish mile? Not a thing, but I felt like I owed you a few more paragraphs.

@Ellen Hawley 2016

About the Divorce Diet

“Food and love and loss and resilience . . . are Hawley’s recipe for a slyly entertaining and heartening novel” (Daniel Menaker, author of The Treatment).

Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.

When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working (after commenting about how she’s turning into a bit of a pudge), a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house.

Thrown for a loop as a suddenly single new mom, she hunts for guidance in her latest weight-loss book, treating its author as her imaginary personal guru. But as Abigail follows the book’s advice, she begins to rediscover her love of cooking. Her diets have pushed her toward fat-free, joy-free foods, and her mother’s kitchen is filled with instant, frozen, and artificially flavored fare. It’s time for Abigail to indulge her own tastes—and write her own recipe for a good life . . .

Bitingly funny and wise, with bonus recipes included, this novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet—to find what true satisfaction is all about.

“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself . . . is even sweeter.” —Cathy Lamb, author of If You Could See What I See

One of the reviews for the book

The style of this book seems simple and repetitive at first glance, but I was never bored. The style put me into the reality of Abigail as she goes through having been rejected by her husband and dealing with her new situation. The humor sprinkled in liberally made me laugh out loud more than any book I can recall. I knew from the author’s blog that I enjoy her humor, and I was not let down with this book. The style is very different and very good for this story. It leads the reader through this time of change with the crazy thoughts, the fears and trials, and the tenderness of love that holds her together. I felt it along with her.

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LEU4QX2/

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Divorce-Diet-Ellen-Hawley-ebook/dp/B00LEU4QX2

Also by Ellen Hawley

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

Also available at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Ellen+Hawley

Read more reviews and follow Ellen on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/567079.Ellen_Hawley

About Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley has worked as an editor and copy editor, a talk-show host, a cab driver, a waitress, a janitor, an assembler, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours, a receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall, U.K.

Connect to Ellen

Blog: https://notesfromtheuk.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ellenhawleyfacepage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ellen_hawley

My thanks to Ellen for allowing me to access her archives and share with you. Many more posts to enjoy on her blog. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck – #Weather – The Beast from the East (2018) by Ellen Hawley


This is the first post of author Ellen Hawley who has enjoyed a wonderfully varied career before leaving the United States to settle in Cornwall. Here in Ireland the weather is considered to be a wonderful topic of conversation. When you are soaking wet in the supermarket queue, it is not comforting to be told ‘It is a grand soft day’. Ellen who spent winters in the cool climes of Minnesota shares her views on the kerfuffle that rages about inclement weather.

Weather – The Beast from the East (2018) by Ellen Hawley

Button up, kiddies, because we’re going to talk about Britain’s recent storm. I’m limping in well behind the event, but I usually do. It’s part of my charm, and you’re just going to have to take my word for that.

At the end of February, Britain got whacked with a snowstorm, called, since it came in on an east wind, the Beast from the East. It shut the country down.

How much snow does it take to do that?  Drumalbin, in Scotland, got 50 centiwhatsits. That’s in the neighborhood of 20 inches, which—Minnesotan that I am (or was; I could argue it either way)—even I will admit is enough to count as a legitimate snowstorm. Further south, Cambridgeshire got 26 centithings. Let’s call that a foot of the stuff. It blows around, so I don’t feel the need to be exact.

Relevant photo: Crocuses that survived the freeze.

Here in Cornwall, we got less. I’ll come back to that. In the meantime, let’s talk about the country shutting down: Cars got stuck, turning highways into parking lots, and drivers and passengers got stuck with them, waiting in their cars for I have no idea what. Rescue? Instructions? Warmer weather? Enlightenment? I understand why you wouldn’t want to walk away from your car in a snowstorm, but on the other hand, how long do you sit with it?

In one highway-slash-parking lot, the driver of a bakery truck gave up on the idea of delivering his goodies and passed them out to the folks he was stuck in the snow with. He was a hero, at least for a while, and got in all the papers. I’m not sure what happened when he got back to work—the papers haven’t covered that. If the bakery has any sense, they’ll give him a bonus, because they got great publicity, but I wouldn’t want to bet on that happening.

Someone I know of took in drivers who got stranded near her house. They were with her for a few days.

A woman was in the news because she left her car on the side of the road and walked to safety. She came back to find it had been towed and it was going to cost a shitload of money to get it back. And to make it worse, before she left it there she asked a cop if it was would be okay and he said sure, it would be fine.

Schools closed. Roads closed. Trains were canceled. Houses lost power. The supermarkets ran short of milk, bread, fruit, vegetables, and whatever else you happened to want. The Daily Mail wrote scary stories about sixteen-inch snowdrifts.

You Minnesotans, stop that. If you hardly ever see a snowdrift, sixteen inches is impressive.

British friends say two things to us in these conditions.

One: Isn’t it beautiful (or some variation on that)? It is and you can have my share. I’ve seen enough snow to last me several lifetimes. I don’t expect to get any extra lifetimes in which to spend my stockpile, but in case I do, I’m ready.

Two: How is it that we can’t handle this when Canada/Poland/Finland/wherever it is you told me you’re from don’t shut down every time they have a snowstorm.

It’s mostly true that they don’t, but any of those places can counts on having a fistful of snowstorms per year, so they invest in more than a fistful of snowplows, not to mention mountains of sand mixed with some strange chemical that melts ice and rusts cars. Their citizens are born clutching tiny snow shovels. It makes childbirth incredibly hard but once you get that out of the way, snowstorms are nothing.

On top of that, people in those places know how to drive in snow. And the ones who just can’t learn? They get Darwined out of the herd not long after they get their driving licenses.

Okay, now we can get to Cornwall: I can’t find a reliable source to tell you how much snow we got here, so let’s consult me. I’m anything but reliable, especially with numbers, but I am available. Where I live, in North Cornwall—which you can also call it East Cornwall if you’re in the mood; it’s not exactly the same, but it’ll do—we got an inch or two. South and west of us (that’s called down west), they got more. How much more? I wasn’t there, but it hit them earlier and seems to have caused them more trouble.

The last Cornish snow I saw was wet. It packed into ice almost immediately, so it was lethal. That was eight years ago, give or take a year or three, and I didn’t drive in it. Anything around here that isn’t a hill is a curve, so driving on ice? I’ll just do some baking, make a cup of tea, and stay home, thanks. That’s one of the best things about being retired. But this recent snow was powdery and dry and easy to drive in, and the temperature–unusually–was far enough below freezing to keep it from half-melting and then turning to ice.

Even I will admit that it was pretty. And as soon as a decent layer had fallen, the streets around us blossomed with parents pulling small kids on plastic sleds, which was also pretty.

Where did the sleds come from in this land of almost no snow? No idea. Fax, maybe. You order them online and the machine spits them out almost immediately.

I’ve heard that up on the moors the snow was heavier. Whatever weather the rest of Cornwall gets—wind, rain, heat, snow (you notice I haven’t mentioned sun)—the moors get more of it.

The county did some plowing and salting, but they start with the main roads and we’re on the way to nowhere, so they wouldn’t get to us before July, by which time its sort of beside the point. Around us, it was farmers who did the plowing with their tractors. Of course—and I say this for the benefit of people who’ve never lived with snow—when roads get plowed, snow gets pushed to the side, and if you have a driveway guess what happens to it? A lovely, dense layer of snow compacts across it and if you hope to get out you have to shovel your way through it. It’s heavy, heavy work. I did it a lot when I lived in Minnesota, sometimes breaking a (much too narrow) slot through the snowbank in front of the house so we could reach the street and sometimes to dig our cars out after the alley had been plowed.

Okay, I admit it: Some years we didn’t get that slot to the street cut after the first storm, and with each storm that followed it became harder to shovel through the snowbank. Getting from sidewalk to street involved mountaineering.

Our excuse was that it’s damn hard work. And in Cornwall almost nobody owns a snow shovel. We don’t even own a snow shovel, never mind a–oh, what are they called? Not icebreakers–those are ships. And not ice scrapers–those are for windshields. I have been gone a long time. One of those blades on a shovel-type handle that’s meant to deal with ice.

Anyway, for lack of the right tools, people end up trying to dig themselves out with soup spoons.

So that was the Beast from the East. Not at all bad where we were but tough further north and on the moors.

The next day, the Beast from the East met a wind from the west, a storm named Emma. (I’m not sure the Beast from the East didn’t get a formal name while Emma did. Weather people move in mysterious ways.) The combination brought freezing rain to Cornwall. Everything had a nice, slick layer of ice on it, and that stuff can kill you.

What did my partner and I do? Stayed the hell indoors. I may call her Wild Thing, but she’s not that wild.

With the ice, the village was cut off. Again,we’re on the way to exactly nowhere. It would take the county as long to get around to salting our road as it would take our current national government to locate both its brain and its heart. So when the driver who was supposed to deliver milk to the village store called to say he wasn’t coming because if he once got into the village he wouldn’t get back out, the store put out a call on Facebook, asking if anyone with a four-by-four could meet the truck.

The store got its milk. That’s life in a village.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never owned a four-by-four, but I’m pretty sure they’re no better on ice that a two-by-two. Never mind, though. They got through.

It wasn’t just the snow and ice that affected us, though. The houses around here are built—oddly enough—for Cornish weather, which rarely dips below zero and never stays there long. Except when it does. What I’m trying to say is that water pipes seem to be put in any which way.

Okay, I’m not a plumber. I’m sure a good bit of thought goes into them, but a friend’s water pipes turned out to be above ground. Insulated, but above ground. That looked like a sensible thing to do when the house was built.

Guess whose water pipes froze solid for a few days?

In northern Minnesota, the frost reaches five feet into the earth. In southern Minnesota—we’re soft down there—it only goes down 3 feet, six inches. Wild Thing and I were told once that footings had to go down either six or seven feet (I can’t remember which) to keep the frost from messing with them. Water pipes? They go through the center of the earth. Just to be safe.

Our friend wasn’t the only one whose pipes froze. So did an assortment of other people’s. So did water mains all around the country. Parts of London went without water for days—long after the temperatures rose.

The day after the freeze, as the temperatures rose and the ice started to melt, the delivery trucks reappeared and the store ran out of milk. The dairy’s pipes had frozen and it took them a day or so to recover. The supermarket’s shelves were still pretty bare days days after the thaw.

The thaw? It came the next day. The temperature got up into the forties–above zero for the metrically inclined–and the whole mess disappeared and we got back to normal. Even the daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses, and primroses that had frozen (see the rare relevant picture, above) recovered. When I lived in Minnesota, I longed for weather that behaved that way.

A week or so later, another storm system brought snow and ice warnings (and I think some actual snow and ice) to the north of us. It was called the Pest from the West.

This is what happens when a country starts naming its storms. People have way too much fun with it.

@Ellen Hawley 2018

About the Divorce Diet

“Food and love and loss and resilience . . . are Hawley’s recipe for a slyly entertaining and heartening novel” (Daniel Menaker, author of The Treatment).

Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.

When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working (after commenting about how she’s turning into a bit of a pudge), a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house.

Thrown for a loop as a suddenly single new mom, she hunts for guidance in her latest weight-loss book, treating its author as her imaginary personal guru. But as Abigail follows the book’s advice, she begins to rediscover her love of cooking. Her diets have pushed her toward fat-free, joy-free foods, and her mother’s kitchen is filled with instant, frozen, and artificially flavored fare. It’s time for Abigail to indulge her own tastes—and write her own recipe for a good life . . .

Bitingly funny and wise, with bonus recipes included, this novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet—to find what true satisfaction is all about.

“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself . . . is even sweeter.” —Cathy Lamb, author of If You Could See What I See

One of the reviews for the book

The style of this book seems simple and repetitive at first glance, but I was never bored. The style put me into the reality of Abigail as she goes through having been rejected by her husband and dealing with her new situation. The humor sprinkled in liberally made me laugh out loud more than any book I can recall. I knew from the author’s blog that I enjoy her humor, and I was not let down with this book. The style is very different and very good for this story. It leads the reader through this time of change with the crazy thoughts, the fears and trials, and the tenderness of love that holds her together. I felt it along with her.

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LEU4QX2/

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Divorce-Diet-Ellen-Hawley-ebook/dp/B00LEU4QX2

Also by Ellen Hawley

Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellen-Hawley/e/B001JRULZW

Also available at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Ellen+Hawley

Read more reviews and follow Ellen on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/567079.Ellen_Hawley

About Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley has worked as an editor and copy editor, a talk-show host, a cab driver, a waitress, a janitor, an assembler, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours, a receptionist. She has also taught creative writing. She was born and raised in New York, lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters, and now lives in Cornwall, U.K.

Connect to Ellen

Blog: https://notesfromtheuk.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ellenhawleyfacepage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ellen_hawley

My thanks to Ellen for allowing me to access her archives and share with you. Many more posts to enjoy on her blog. Thanks Sally.