I have 24 hours in Shandy Hall, Coxwold England, to write something. I have been invited to play in this place where Sterne played with pages, wit and judgement. How will I build on that legacy of sly smiles and clever repartee? What should I write?
I should tell you, narrative scholar searching for non-narrative, of the blackcurrants. I told someone of that affair already--was it you? It may have been. Well, you may listen again, and it may again prove instructive. Of course, if it didn't the first time, then it is highly unlikely to do so the second. So in that case, you had best clear off to something else, hadn't you? Now I pray, you mesdames, who are left, we can talk in secret. It is so like those scholars to not know the secrets of black currents when they stumble across them. But you and I, we can keep better counsels.
But of blackcurrants. I love them. Have ever since my first foray into England, which was a much more comfortable journey than Sterne every conceived of. I flew in coach, in the middle of the plane, with a screaming child at my back, a reclining chair into my neck in front, and a seat that would not retaliate and recline into the next person, an old bald guy whose paunch slipped into my seat on my left, and a nervous thin woman who pinched my arm each time we shook a little from the turbulance on my right. As we shook up quite a bit, both my seat and my arm were black and blue. This was, of course, the easy portion of the journey, after the long lines and strikes and security taxes which you all know quite well. I cannot make an amusing tale out of these.
But of blackcurrants. Unlike Sterne, you may well imagine, I can keep my end of the story up. They are jewels beyond compare. The stories, rather. Ambrosiac riches. The currents, rather. Ribena. The name just trips off the tongue. I drank it, sweet. I drank it deep. I purchased a tiny litle pack of them in the open market behind Trafalgar Square and savoured every little black drop. I have been under their power ever since, and my heart surges when I think of them. They didn't cost as much as other drugs, but still, they were dear, about 5$, and even though my tailor bills are no where near as steep as Sternes, I count that dear. I could no more afford to eat these and keep my internet (which seems a comparable necessity as turning breeches inside out to save the wear).
But of black currents. These are an unknown in the States, they somehow didn't make it into the colonies, and marketing experts have never cottoned on to their existence. Beware of the man, says the Motley Fool. The one who tries to sell you everything. Beware of the man, says the Sweet Ass makers, the one who oppresses. Beware of the man, say I, the one who has no concept of the glories of black currents.
So what do I want in England, the country of origin, the fount of all that is right with tea and the known empire? Nothing but black currents. And here is my first opportunity in a shop. Unfortunately, I find out later that it is the American equivalent of Walmart, the store that takes over tiny country towns and muscles out the independents, and one of course any red-blooded liberal should blackball, but there it is for you. So Patrick, the caretaker, who unlike Trim does not tear down the house for fortifications but rather builds it up ) and I shop. And I buy my black current squash (not the vegetable, I am careful to ask, and someone is careful to explain, but squashed juice as in those new plastic luggage bags that you just squash your shirts into and make sure that they are completely unwearable afterwards. Squashed juice becomes drinkable with water, pity it isn't the same with the shirts). Black current jam (in a jar, which if I am careful, I can keep unbroken and probably get through customs, which may not be said for the hemp tea I purchased, but that is a different story and does not belong here). Black current tea. With ginger and jasmine and vanilla. A tisane Poirot would disdain. And here we come tromping back to the Shandy Hall, and what do I find shambling all over the back steps? Black currents. But you knew where this was going all the time. Reader, I swear, I did not. Click here if you do not believe me. (link to 9)
I interrupt my story now for checking on the boiling blackcurrants, and look out upon where Sterne took his rubbish from the garden. Is it any wonder that I stay in the kitchen here, dashing back and forth from pot to computer, rather than in the study dashing from quill to rubbish? No, for had I been in the novel, I would have been upstairs holding poor Mrs. Shandy's hand. Poor Mrs. Shandy, who for the first 270 pages or so lies upstairs hard at her sentenced labor, panting in pain, forgotten by the fancy accoucher below. Funny, how my french still is poor--I read that and only heard voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir... and the cadence quite drove the innocent meanings from the page.
Speaking of stains how shall I strain my boiling blackcurrants? I'll stain any strainer a deep translucent red, the red of a higher clarity than rubies or wine or anything Omar Khyamm (CHECK) ever dreamed of. While I love the color, the others who follow in this cottage kitchen may not...and those who have gone before despair of my ignorance.
I shall use the white colander, and as the note instructs, I'll report any breakages before vacating.
And how long am I to keep boiling these? and boiling these? and boiling these? As long as you are to keep reading this, a story without end. Are you as tired as I am reader? And our time has scarcely started. Who will wind the clock after we leave?
And I have no sugar, no honey for Sterne to lap up, or to sweeten these bitter black currents. Help me search. No. That little canister of a promising white powder turns out to be dishwashing soap, I find after I have injudiciously taken a rather large taste. And I find that I must wash my mouth out with soap even before I've properly begun this Shandean shamble. Washing my mouth out with soap is a bit unfair at this juncture. After reading Tristam's words, I suppose I could have washed my eyes out with soap, or my mind, but then, I am more the innocent Madam he suggests than the racy Madames that populated my west. Not by my own choice, but by the time passing. Words that were a catch phrase then catch other meanings now.
I am moved to try typing on the top of the stove, on the cool part removed from the constant aga heat ardour. I am still watching my black currents rise.
Currently speaking, this pot is a shambles. My sauce, as well as my plot, never thickens.