Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Eminently quotable: my Princess Bride story

Every now and then, I’ll be having a conversation and someone will, by chance, give me just the right opening to share a favourite anecdote. I try not to trot the old stories out too often (it wouldn’t do to look rehearsed, after all) but there are certain stories that are worth repeating. Virgil knew what he was talking about when he came up with the phrase mirabile dictu.
The conversations will go something like this:
Friend: I was watching a re-run of ‘Minder’ on TV last night.
Me: I had drinks with Dennis Waterman once. That was an interesting evening.
Friend: Did you see that Martha Wainwright is touring Australia?
Me: I kissed her father once at a folk club in Fremantle. Oh, and I stabbed him in the face with a biro at the same time…
Friend: I was watching ‘The Princess Bride’ last weekend.
Me: I LOVE that movie. And I was there to see part of it being filmed.
Now, if you want to know about my encounters with Dennis Waterman or Loudon Wainwright III, (both perfectly innocent, I assure you) you’ll have to ask me in person.  Someone did once point out that kissing a guy and stabbing him with a pen was sending mixed signals but I generally prefer to debate that offline as famous people usually have lawyers and, in this litigious age, one can’t be too careful. However, this post is about my ‘Princess Bride’ encounter which I am happy to share with the world because it is one of my favourites and as far as I can tell, there is nothing in it for which I could be sued.
It started like this. I was watching the Adam Hills show last week and for some reason, they were all dressed as characters out of The Princess Bride. 12 year old walked into the room and fell right into the trap.
12 year old: They’re all dressed as people from The Princess Bride.
Me: I LOVE that movie. Have I told you about the time I was there to see part of it being filmed?
12 year old: Several times. (flees room)
Frustrated with my need to tell the story, I decided to blog it instead. You, dear reader, can then decide whether you need to flee or not and I will never know.
Grayshott is the charming English village in Surrey where I lived from the ages of nine to eighteen. It isn’t well-known for anything in particular. Flora Thompson of ‘Lark Rise’ fame once worked at the local post-office and, apparently, Colin “Mr Darcy” Firth was born there, but that is really all that it has to recommend it.
It was a nice place to grow up though. As a child, I had an acre of garden to play in, most of which was wild, and, if you left the garden and walked through the public National Trust woodland for about a mile, this led to a series of man-made lakes called Waggoners Wells. It was a picturesque place and popular with walkers.
Photo credit: National Trust Images
On a family walk one day, we chanced across some people dressed in mediaeval costume on horses. There was also a film crew. We stopped to watch them for quite some time as film crews are rare in rural Surrey. Then we walked home and I forgot all about it.
Fast forward a few years, and a friend of mine recommends a movie – The Princess Bride. She says that I will enjoy it and she is right. It was destined to become a cult movie from the very first. Then about a quarter of the way in, I give a little yelp, pause the video (yes, video – showing my age) and there it is: Waggoners Wells and the people in costumes on horses plus the pleasure of realising that I was there, just out of shot, while the filming took place.
You can't see me, but I was there - just off to the right.
You can watch the scene here. I did have a look on Wikipedia to see if Waggoners Wells was listed as a location for the film, but they have missed it out. I suppose they can’t list every location that they use.
Of course, the film went on to become very well-known. Wikipedia attributes this to it being 'eminently quotable'.
Certainly, someone only needed to quote a line and I was there with my story:
Friend: Inconceivable!
Me: Ooh, the Princess Bride! I LOVE that movie. And I was there to see part of it being filmed.
Friend: You killed my father! Prepare to die.
Me: Ooh, the Princess Bride etc. etc. etc.
You can see how much currency I have managed to get out of that long-ago incident, especially when I was able to buy the DVD for myself and inflict it upon show it to my own son.
Actually, he doesn’t mind it as a movie. But, just like the kid in the movie, he objects to any kissing scenes.  The fans among us know that “Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure,” and we know that the kiss at the end of the movie “left them all behind.”
And I think I know what puts that final Princess Bride kiss above these Top 5 kisses.
Look, no pens.
Buttercup didn’t stab Westley in the face with a biro.
Photo credit: National Trust Images

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cold comfort: suji halwa.

One of those 'ugly' desserts - if you can get past the way it looks, it's really quite nice.

The first time that I tried suji halwa was at a music festival. Back then, I didn’t know it was called suji halwa, I called it ‘that yummy pudding stuff that they serve at the Hare Krishna stand’. Whenever I go to Fairbridge Festival, the Hare Krishna food stand is my preferred place to eat. Not through any particular religious connection, you understand, (religion is not something that I do) but because it serves filling and tasty curry for a low, low price and in amongst the curry, they will dollop a lump of tasty beige pudding stuff that makes you forget that you have just spent a rather cold and miserable night trying to get comfortable in a tent.

(People say it is possible to get comfortable in a tent but I just don't believe it. The air-mattress always deflates. My nose always gets cold and I can't sleep if my nose is cold. Then there are the other campers who stumble back to their own tents in the early morning, drunk, stoned or drunk and stoned, and always loud. Them's the breaks at music festivals, I guess.)
When not at music festivals, and it has been a while since I've been to one, there is a Hare Krishna restaurant in Perth where you can get the same deal. When I worked in the city centre, I was often at Govinda’s because, hey, teachers’ salaries. I liked that restaurant. Curry, rice, and extra dollop of pudding stuff if you asked really nicely, and still there was change out of a $10 note. I haven’t been back since it moved to its new premises in William St in 2011 but as I will soon be working in the city centre once more and as teachers’ salaries haven’t changed that much in the last few years, I’ll have to check it out.
I was prompted to make some halwa because I recently made a lemon cake that called for semolina. It was a great cake, but it only used 1 & 1/4 cups of semolina, and I had no idea how to use up the rest in a way that wasn’t reminiscent of the worst of English school lunches (where the semolina dessert with the glob of industrial ‘raspberry’ jam in the middle went by the rather unappetising nickname of ‘nosebleed pudding’).
Happily, the idea that the Hare Krishna pudding might be semolina-based occurred to me, and entering ‘Hare Krishna pudding’ into a search engine not only proved me correct but yielded recipes and the correct name, suji halwa - suji being the word for 'semolina' in several Indian languages.

I’ve used this recipe because it is the simplest and because the ingredients are readily available from any supermarket (as opposed to a specialist Indian or Asian supermarket). Also because, a long time ago, I used to enjoy the Kurma Das cooking show on television and this is his recipe.

It's a warm, stodgy, buttery pudding, fragrant with cardamom and saffron. I didn't use the recommended sultanas in my version, but I did sprinkle some extra almond slivers on top before serving. It's a great dessert for a cold winter night.

And I ate it in bed. My nice cosy bed with extra pillows all around me, a minky blanket and a wheat-pack to warm my feet - infinitely more civilised and more comfortable than a tent.