Planes and elderflowers

February 18, 2009

Is it just me, or are there a lot of planes falling out of the sky just now? Ever since that spectacular crash-land in the Hudson, a whole host of flying machines seem to have gone missing in the sky, only to be found on the ground. Presumably this is part of the ‘noticing’ problem wired into the psyche. Every time there is a spectacular instance of something, we notice it the next day and every day until something supplants it. Snow – whoa, snow. Fire – more fire.

This also takes place on the micro scale of things. If someone (say, me) makes elderflower jelly (I did) because they went somewhere and ate some (it was nice), they not only have a shot at making it (good fun) to see if they can replicate the taste (too strong, I must learn not to use half a bottle of elderflower cordial, but about 10%, it was shockingly sweet) – but I know what will happen next. Everyone, and not just in this village, will not only turn out to have been eating, making, selling, or nose-diving out of the sky into elderflower jelly. Shops I do not yet know that I will be passing will be advertising it. It is very easy to copycat an idea, as I said somewhere here a few months ago. What you don’t count on is everyone having the same idea, at the same time, and talking loudly about it.

Making jelly made me think back to the standard fall-back for all teachers of the under-10s, fifty years ago, if they had run out of stuff to teach (fitting your material to the time is not as easy as it looks). If they finished what they were doing with you or to you (from an academic point of view), they made a start on a brief but educative round of ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?’. This was a game which outraged any average child’s senses. There were some tricksters which made regular appearances: salt, paper, pepper, glass, soap, ink, leather, the whale (that was a very dirty trick, the whale: not a fish? not a fish? It caught us every time). And then there was jelly. Yes,  animal.

Not having made jelly for a very long time, and having only memories, really, of those solid Rowntree chunks (did you chew them ‘raw’ as well? I bet you did. And I bet you that someone else mentions this to you in the next month, just when you are distracted by the site of a plane hurtling overhead), I just went to the cake etc.- making counter in Tesco. I don’t make cakes. I don’t eat them any more either. But I suspected the stuff for making jelly – what was it, gelignite, gelatine – would be there. It was.

‘Gelatine?’ said my wife, inspecting the small print, print which I have long since been unable to read. ‘I’m not eating that. You need pectin.’

Pectin is – well you know what it is – and it isn’t animal and it certainly isn’t mineral, although my jelly did have a vaguely mineral air. It had no wobble. It had the consistency of dead tree (vegetable, although wait a minute, if tree decays and turns into carbon, and if carbon turns into coal, and if coal is what you made soap out of – that was the answer, as I recall – then isn’t there a bit of an vegetable/mineral issue here?)

Sometimes I just want to go back to school, dodging the doomed jets, treading on any elderflowers in my path, eating raw jelly, and say ‘Can we have a re-think on this, please?’ ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees? – oh yes it does.’

But plastic? What is plastic made of? I am not sure. I am so ashamed, I may have to look it up in Wikipedia, and change the entry, if it is not to my complete and utter satisfaction.