No good news: a villanelle

Oh my.. I decided to try writing a villanelle. It was very, very difficult. I spent more time trying to fit in rhyme, beat and pattern than I did in honing the content, so to me the effect is lacking in depth. I’m glad I tried it though!

(This is for peer assessment on an online course I’m taking)

No good news: a villanelle

No good news today, hang my head and cry,
Bitter war is raging, missiles flying,
Must be something good to help us get by.

Bush fires burn Australia, earth drought-dry,
Camels to be slaughtered ’cause they’re drinking,
No good news today, hang my head and cry.

Ice is melting, earth’s heating too quickly,
See the glaciers trickle, waters rising,
Must be something good to help us get by.

Forests falling, carbon oxides rise high,
Diversity ever-disappearing,
No good news today, hang my head and cry.

Plastics, toxins, acids: the end is nigh,
This world of ours won’t last, wonder fleeting,
Must be something good to help us get by.

Neighbours hating neighbours, no one asks why,
Rich, old blind men dictating everything,
No good news today, hang my head and cry,
Must be something good to help us get by.


Camembert de Normandie: wars of the cheeses


Will the real Camembert please stand up?
Exhibit A: creamy white rind, soft, creamy centre. Tastes like mushrooms and milk and smells like ripe socks.
Exhibit B: creamy white rind with brown mottles, oozing, unctuous centre. Tastes like truffles and butter and smells like boiled cabbage.
In a line-up, you might be tempted to go for exhibit A, a product made in Normandy and found in supermarkets around the world.
But that’s not the real deal.
Exhibit B: traditional Camembert hand-made with love from raw milk from Normandy cows living in the Normandy countryside, feasting on Normandy flora. Milk hand-ladled into hand-prepared moulds by the loving hands of farmer-producers who love Normandy.
Exhibit A is mass-produced in Normandy with pasteurised milk for the global market. It’s the export cheese, the half-the-price-of-traditional-Camembert cheese.
Exhibit B is locally produced and has export restrictions – some countries don’t allow the import of raw milk cheese with short ripening periods. But Exhibit B has got the glorious AOP award logo stamped on each hand-filled package.
AOP: appellation d’origine protégée which translates as protected designation of origin.
Exhibit B is the traditional, regional cheese that is easily verified and quality-protected.
Except it isn’t. A February 2018 ruling allowed for Camembert made with pasteurised milk to be stamped with the prestigious AOP assignation. By 2021, all cheese made in Normandy with 30% pasteurised milk from Normandy cows will share the same distinction as cheese made with +50% raw milk from Normandy cows. Raw milk Camembert and pasteurised milk Camembert will share the AOP label.
Traditional raw milk producers will be entitled to add a new descriptor of authentic (veritable) to their labels so long as they have used +70% milk from Normandy cows.
What to look for on the packet:

  • AOP (under the new ruling: either Exhibit A or Exhibit B cheese)
  • Au Lait Cru - Raw milk (Exhibit B cheese)
  • La production fermière - Farm production (Exhibit B cheese)
  • moulé à la louche - Hand-ladled (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Traditionnel à la louche - Traditional with ladle (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Camembert de Normandie - Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Camembert fabriqué en Normandie - Camembert made in Normandy (Exhibit A cheese)
  • Veritable Camembert de Normandie - Authentic Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Veritable Moulage - authentic molding (Exhibit B cheese)
  • Maître Fromager - Master Cheesemaker (Exhibit B cheese)
Big Industry producers v. traditional Normandy farmer-producers: The big guys win. They bring big euros and many jobs to the local economy. Traditional farmers fund themselves. Traditionally.

Where do local businesses fit into the global market? Is there space for both local and global economies to flourish in a single market?

Consumer choice counts. Next time you're standing at the cheese counter, spare a thought for the cows, the farmers and producers and the quality of the cheese. Spare a thought for tradition and artisan craftsmanship. Spare a couple more pounds/euros/dollars/whatevers and support traditional cheese makers.


Bayeux Tapestry: one King standing

The Tapestry is coming to England!

So what? That’s old news, we’ve got a copy and what a load of old fuss over an old piece of cloth, right?


We’re talking about a nearly 1000 year old anti-English and pro-French sensational propaganda story. Well, anti-Saxon and pro-Norman. Which is sort of anti-German/Celtic and pro-Norwegian/Danish/Frankish.

Let’s unravel this.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the fertile British lands were ripe for the plucking. Cue the Jutes, Saxons and Angles. Here they come, sailing in from Denmark and Germany. They settle down the east of England, leaving Wales, western Britain and Scotland to the Celtic Britons.

Meanwhile, over the channel in France, the Vikings conquer the Normandy lands (literally land of the North men/Norse men) and settle there amongst Danes, Franks and Norwegians.

Back in Britain, multiple Kings in multiple Kingdoms with multiple claimants have to deal with invasions and power struggles for the top seats while the ordinary folk get on with the business of farming and building and making and trading.

Eventually the English lands are united under King Egbert and they all live happily ever.. Except for having to fight off the Norwegian and Danish Vikings who want England for themselves.

And just as the Saxon v. Viking fight comes to an end, the Saxon v. Norman fight begins.

Here comes Harold Godwinson, he’s taken the earlship of Wessex from his dear-departed Dad and whoops, the crown of England falls on his head. Doesn’t the golden glow reflect radiantly in his eyes?

Oh no, the Vikings are raiding! Harald Sigurdsson, King of Norway is coming for your throne, Harold King of England. Quick Harold, take your men and March up north to Yorkshire and fight those dastardly invaders. That’s the spirit!

Uh oh. The Normans are invading down south? No! They’ll have your throne in no time, Harold. Quick, get back down there and repel the new invaders!

Exhausted and depleted, Harold’s Saxons arrive in Sussex (land of the South Saxons) and prepare to battle the Norman invaders. Go on boys, give it your best.

We remember it as the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Which wasn’t in Hastings but Battle. Or was it?

Those new invaders, led by Guillaume le Conquérant (William the Conqueror) have sailed over from Caen in Normandy and landed in Sussex at Pevensey, spoiling for a fight. William has been promised the English throne by the late King of England and he really wants to claim his prize.

So there are the players – Saxons and Normans – fighting for Kingship in battlefield format.


Harold goes down, William is triumphant and there begins the Norman reign in England.

  1. A group of lovely lady nuns with a bundle of cloth and a few needles and pins and lengths of thread start sewing the story for posterity. They’ve been commissioned by Bishop Odo. Odo of Bayeux. William’s brother. I wonder what story they’re going to tell? Ah yes – the story of conquest and triumph that shows just how wonderful William is and just how dead Harold is.
  2. Or they didn’t.. perhaps Matilda, wife of William made the tapestry out of affection for the fallen Harold.
  3. Or she didn’t.. perhaps Harold’s sister, the late King of England’s wife, made the tapestry in memory of her husband and brother. Isn’t it intriguing that we don’t quite know?!

That 70 metre long tapestry is currently on display in Bayeux.

The Tapestry travelled to Paris with Napoleon as he prepared to invade Britain (a conquerors talisman) but Emperor Bonaparte decided not to invade after all. The Tapestry was returned to Bayeux.

During the Second World War, the Tapestry was seized by Nazi Germans but incredibly returned to Bayeux after the war.

Despite several requests from England, the tapestry has never returned to grace our shores. Until now.. well until 2022.

  • Where will the tapestry be displayed?
  • How will it be packaged for the journey?
  • How will it be couriered?
  • Who will travel with it?
  • How long will the tapestry be in England?
  • What does the loan signify for Anglo-French relations?
  • What will the British people make of the UNESCO’s Memory of the World registered artefact?

In this divided world of hotly-contested political and national borders; in this current climate of division and separation, the significance of this loan has all the promise of a feudal handshake. Unity in common history.

As an 11th century historian declared in Miracles of Saint Wulfrum, the convergence of Norwegians, Danes and Franks in 10th century Normandy, marked “a shaping (of) all (the) races into one single people.”

Underneath our birth Nationalities, we’re all the same. Survivors of conquest.

Can a centuries-old comic strip of battle forge new relations in national friendship?


A A Milne and a glimpse of the Somme

I’ve been putting it off for a while – watching the Goodbye Christopher Robin film.  Grown-ups don’t need Winnie the Pooh in their lives, do they?

It’s the first day of the Summer hols and the children are exhausted.  The rain finally came after 52 dry days and a sweltering heatwave.  The end-of-term-pressure is easing and what better way to celebrate than plan some amazing holiday activities and watch a movie while the kids explore their out-of-school-freedom?  Exactly.

Goodbye Christopher Robin.

  • A telegram, terrible news and a flashback in time.
  • A uniformed A A Milne, muddy and bewildered on a battlefield.
  • A shell-shocked Milne back from the Somme and tortured by his experiences, haunted by the horrors of slaughter.
  • High society, a beautiful wife, a successful playwright.
  • Each flash of light and each sudden sound triggers flashbacks to battle.

This is not a pretty walking-carefree-through-the-woods story and I’m all in.  The birth of Christopher Robin petrifies his parents and they withhold their affections from him – until a chance set of circumstances pushes father and son AA and CR Milne (Billy Moon) together for a delightful fortnight in which they bond for the first time.  A fortnight that births Winnie-the-Pooh and his adventures in the hundred acre woods.  A fortnight that condemns a young boy to a life of fame and misery.

Any more plot-reveal would be pure spoiler-territory.  Suffice to say, this is a beautiful, heart-rending wake-up-call of a movie.

“The war-to-end-all-wars” they called that first war of the world.  But the generation of boys who survived that first world war, returned home to raise another generation who they’d send off to fight in the next “war-to-end-all-wars”.  All that horror, all that loss, all that heartache.  All those broken people.  And a tale of a bumbling bear, a piglet, a tigger, a sad donkey, a kanga and her roo in a hundred-acre wood.

A tale to lift the hearts of a wounded world and return innocence to life.

There’s more to Winnie-the-Pooh than I ever knew and perhaps I do need a little Milne magic in my life.