schrodingers-cat 2

Another foggy Autumn morning in October . The leaves are curling and colouring red. The dew is sparkling across the lawn grass but the garden is cloaked in a smoky , wisping ,mist waiting for the sun to burn it off. These past days have arrived as bright luminescent periods with full blazing sunshine and clear crisp skies as soon as the fog dissipates.
While I wait for that , I thought I’d give that recipe I was thinking about , a try. Mexican black bean stew.It sounds like a hearty feast for a day like this. You know how you get into that kind of routine … cooking the same menu of dishes over and over as the days and weeks go by, like a sort of culinary tape -loop….A Groundhog Day of the kitchen stove…like the circular stew that passes for politics in Norneverland. I imagine we all do that, making our favourites and well-tried and tested recipes week after week.; the same breakfast every morning. Which literary or artistic character sat down to a single fig in a cafe every single morning? You know how it is …some fish on Friday when the Fishman comes to town with his little van of fresh catch…or spaghetti with some kind of ragu or maybe a chicken curry.
Then I saw something vegetarian that looked handily enough done . Stews and casseroles should be easy ; No meat involved even, just black beans , butternut squash , a few peppers, onions , garlic, aubergine or a bit of okra , some salt and pepper seasoning , pimenton and ground coriander. Well there’s some roasting in the oven to caramelise the vegetables and there’s a little balsamic vinegar , but it’s essentially a hearty beef stew …albeit , without the beef. The fatal mistake I made was not the fact that I added some aubergine to hopefully unctuously bind it all together , but that skinny vegetable I added instead of the lady-fingered okra , was a bit of a disaster. It’s called a “drumstick” but it looked very much like very long okra with the texture  all awry . I picked it up in an Indian supermarket and thought I’d give it a whirl. No matter the time and method of cooking , the plant remained fibrous as straw , remaining so until the end . Not having come across this one before ,I later discovered that the outer skin should have been peeled and discarded and only the interior mulch consumed. I had to remove it piece by piece in the end ,otherwise the stew would have been inedible. How can such a vegetable be sold at all? , I was asking myself while picking something akin to dry shredded wheat or fish-bones from between my teeth. I had to try a taste, after all, hadn’t I? ! Had I let this lot through quality control we’d not only be spitting feathers….. indeed we’d be spitting out shards of spiny ,undigested yard brush. How had this strange elongated vegetable ever become a staple in eastern cooking , I was thinking? It was virtually unpalatable and had to be removed piece by runty piece before the meal was eventually served. Hindsight is all revealing , of course and I’ll not repeat that mistake again .
While this was going on , in Norneverland ,in the background ,news cackling from the magical, talking- box over in the corner implies that, the Health Service appears to be in some disarray, with possibly the longest waiting list for treatment in the whole of something called “Western Europe”. While the ministers pretend to play at politics, people are waiting for sometimes three years to be treated …if they are still alive when their number comes up. .The Health Minister is being allowed to resign and re-sign on again on a rotating weekly basis, as though this is the most natural and normal thing in the world ,even though, in the “real” world the minister would be quickly dismissed immediately as being insane .Of course , in fabled Norneverland it actually is the most natural thing in the world to do . Ministers need only be able to stay awake , open their mouths and talk now and then, much as we have trained our magpies to talk and deliver our messages .They need do no more really. Talking is enough…and really, it is all that is expected of them . The minister keeps a straight face while being quizzed about his strangely errant behaviour and is allowed to continue playing in the political game .It is no easy task to keep a straight face and he deserves every penny earned, much as the actor , Brad Pitt can pretend to be a tank -commander or a jewel thief. They understand that they’ll never be any good at the game of real politics but they’re having a right old laugh and making the best of their limited talents while the wages keep rolling in. We are happy enough to comply with this and pay up so that we can appear to know what we are doing too. .It’s what we have come to expect in this land of absurdity.
Yes, Norneverland is not like other places. Some say that its very name is an oxymoron. That’s one opinion. Absurdities abound but are readily accepted as the normal run of things but that is not unusual in any fictitious realm. We are like Schrodinger’s cat in the box …..both dead and alive at the same time .We are not even sure who we are , whether or not we are alive or dead, or whether or not we actually exist. Such was the origin story of this strange land that most can rarely agree on what to call it .Is it even a country ?, some ask, while others maintain that it is reality only part of another mythical country beyond its magical borders . Huge forty-foot high walls have been erected along the entire length of the land-border just to maintain its integrity. They are manned day and night by soldiers bearing pikes and swords, in watchtowers in case of invasion by foreigners, refugees or anyone else who might appear from the wilderness and bring in any new diseases or ideas.
Some sit around campfires and call the land a “province” , while others tend more to the ancient legend that it is fact a part of another, even larger , mythical province called “Ulster” which existed not unlike Atlantis, many millions of years ago before the seventeenth Age of Ice and just after the Second Atomic War. No one knows for sure , but stories have been handed down around campfires from generation to generation. It took many thousands of years for life to fully re-appear after that last war. Life began again with small surviving groups referred to as hillbillies because they had taken refuge in deep hill caves with wild billy-goats. There they lived in darkness on white mosses for many huddled years. Recovery was deathly slow and in many parts, life all but died out. Some survived ….
For at least this past hundred years these stories have existed .There’s no historical record other than these spoken , mystical tales because writing became a lost art long ago , during what is referred to as the Age of Computers. No one knows much about these legendary machines anymore either , because there is now no understanding of electricity or how it worked. Most have now accepted that it was some natural magical substance that flew through the skies with the dragons but no one can really describe it or how it made things work. We do know that the art of writing was truly lost back then because only a few isolated priests in caves even now know what that art might possibly have been. Even then they are not very sure as there are only descriptions but no images of any kind. They call “writing”, magic lines, but they can’t agree on what or how any of the lines and symbols might be constructed or might even mean. Some say that it was done using the hands but nobody knows how that was possible either. Legends say it was used in something called ” books” long ago but then few know what they might have been either. They were made from something called paper but no one knows what they or it ,might have been either or how they were actually made. Someone else postulated that he’d heard that paper was made from trees and he was laughed out of the community , spending his remaining years living , with more of those billy goats in another cave banned from society. Paper apparently was already dying away during the Age of Computers too .
Who knows what to make of it?…The origin story of Norneverland, is that the place appeared out of nowhere specific ,in a mighty thunderclap of sound and energy, fully fledged , if you like, from somewhere beyond the natives’ understanding. There is a common understanding that at the very edge of the land, the roads run to sandy deserts with only reptilian beasts feeding on insects beyond that border.
Of course many living there do not accept the laws of nature, evolutionary changes or even the age of mankind ,or even the age of the planet . There is still much dispute about the actual shape of the planet so there may be some confusion as to its origin story. From what we can gather from these ancient legendary tales is that a giant of a man with long-ringleted , luxuriant black tresses , riding on a pure , milk white horse, a reddish- orange uniform coat and a black wide-brimmed hat adorned with a feather on his head , arrived from a land called Orange , waved a sword , smote a rock, cracking it open and behold Norneverland came into being. He scooped the huge rock up in his hands and with a mighty swing of his arms, hurled it across the heavens to its final resting place at the edge of the known universe at the very edge of the known world.All life on earth began here at the very edge of a huge ocean of salty water..
It’s a story not unlike the Arthurian legend of the wizard and the sword in the stone or Thor’s magical hammer “Mjolnir” which could level mountains, but as those stories of legend have long ago been proved to be fantasy , so Norneverland’s origin story has been officially declared to be very real and is celebrated with much ado annually .Huge bonfires are built in thanksgiving to the Creator , hence named Billy after those ancient, male cave goats and traditional, gaudily uniformed rituals are still witnessed every summertime with much gaiety and bunting flown. The Norneverlanders argue about many things but they are assured about the divine truth of their origin story .
There is no place quite like this land in the rest of the known world. Of that there is great assurance.
I awoke from my reverie just in time to rescue the stew as it began to stick to the bottom of the casserole dish .Thankfully the black bean, variated gumbo turned out to be very tasty in the end . It had to be because there was enough left over to freeze- up for several future prandial sessions. We could be eating this spicy brew all winter , methinks….. whilst our politicians stew in an unholy “burgoo” {as my dear mother used to say}…. of their own making.