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  • Martin Castle

"Trust in God but tie up your camel". - Arab proverb

Updated: May 20, 2020


I have a copy of this sketch by Augustus John in my study. I purchased it from the National Portrait Gallery in London many years ago on a visit with my class to a day of workshops. I knew of T E Lawrence from boys' books of heroes and, of course, the film about his time in the desert during the First World War. I was struck by its simplicity of line and of how few marks there are on the paper, and how much it conveys- a man of many talents but little understood and considered controversial then and now - that enigmatic look says it all ... and conversely nothing.


I have had a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for a number of years but it is a rather fat book and I was somewhat daunted by its sheer thickness. Instead I read The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers ( a good tale) and then was side-tracked into John Buchan of The Thirty-Nine Steps fame. Buchan's books are great rip-roarin' reads , especially Greenmantle and Mr. Standfast, which continue the adventures of Richard Hannay. I like to refer to this time as my Imperial Period.


Eventually I got back to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and what a wonderful adventure it was. Easier to read than I feared and full of history and insight with detail of a cast of hundreds written by a man with a passion for the people he found himself among who was ultimately to let them down. The Arab Revolt of 1916-18 is a key moment in the history of the Middle East - a case of what might have been. Having read his own words I tackled the equally voluminous biography by Michael Korda, entitled simply Hero.

In Hero, you learn of some of the moments and circumstances that made T E Lawrence the conundrum he was. Most interestingly, it tells of his life after Arabia and a mix of wishing for anonymity whilst maintaining links with the influential people he knew. In particular I was taken by his work on fast boats. In the inter-war period the RAF's Restored launch 102 at Portsmouth

Marine Craft Section began to commission

air-sea rescue launches and Lawrence was the driving force behind the Seaplane Tender Mk1 with a range of 140 miles when cruising at 24 knots and could achieve a top speed of 29 knots. During this time he was known as Aircraftman Ross. These boats were made famous in the Ealing Studios film For Those in Peril and went onto to form the basis of the Motor Torpedo boat (MTB)


The mention of film brings me back to Lawrence - I think David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema and the making of it is a story in itself. It focuses, quite narrowly, on the events of the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 and particularly the action - of which there was much. Where it differs from the book is that it does not include much of the everyday life and hospitality of the tribesmen. Food plays quite an important part and there are some lavish descriptions of meals:

"The bowl was now brim-full, ringed round its edge by white rice in an embankment a foot wide and six inches deep, filled with legs and ribs of mutton till they toppled over. It needed two or three victims to make in the centre a dressed pyramid of meat such as honour prescribed. The centre-pieces were the boiled, upturned heads, propped on their severed stumps of neck, so that the ears, brown like old leaves, flapped out on the rice surface. The jaws gaped emptily upward, pulled open to show the hollow throat with the tongue, still pink, clinging to the lower teeth; and the long incisors whiteley crowned the pile, very prominent above the nostrils’ pricking hair and the lips which sneered away blackly from them." The description goes on to explain the pouring of the boiling cooking fat that only stops when the excess starts to run into the sand of the tent floor.


Apologies to all who do not eat flesh so I thought I could balance it all up with a traditional Laventine dish served in many Arabic countries.


Recipe:

Fattoush

This delicious bread salad is traditional in many Arabic countries such as Lebanon and Syria. Fattoush is made with mixed greens and small pieces of fried Arabic bread, giving some crunchiness. It often also includes pomegranate. This is a great salad to share with others, (keeping 2 metres apart so you might have to dash in and out when it's your turn!).

Ingredients:

2 white pitta bread

Extra virgin olive oil

½tsp sumac, more for later

Salt and pepper

1 heart of Romaine lettuce, chopped

1 English cucumber, chopped & de-seeded

5 tomatoes, chopped

5 spring onions (both white and green parts), chopped

5 radishes, stems removed, thinly sliced

2 cups chopped fresh parsley leaves, stems removed

1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

For the lime-vinaigrette

1 ½lime, juice of

⅓cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 tsp ground sumac

¼tsp ground cinnamon

scant ¼tsp ground allspice

1tsp pomegranate molasses

To make the lime vinaigrette, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil and spices in a small bowl.

Method:

1. Toast the pita bread in your toaster oven until it is crisp but not browned.

2. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan. Break the pita bread into pieces, and place in the heated oil. Fry briefly until browned, tossing frequently. Add salt, pepper and ½tsp of sumac. Remove the pita chips from the heat and place on paper towels to drain.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, green onions with the sliced radish, mint and parsley

4. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and toss lightly. Finally, add the pitta chips, and more sumac if you like, and toss one more time.

Feel free to add more herbs or crushed garlic.


Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"stravaig– to wander without sure purpose, to walk or travel aimlessly, glad of the possibilities of moving freely on foot & of being–even temporarily–unconstrained"

In case of #homeschooling help, I've done a session for children on how to write spell-poems about animals, birds & plants. There are prompts for writing & art, spell-readings, advice. Might help shape a lesson. Broadcast 09.30am this Monday on http://RadioBlogging.net.


ps: The title of Lawrence's book comes from the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 9:1): "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars". Prior to the First World War, Lawrence had begun work on a scholarly book about seven great cities of the Middle East, to be titled Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He rewrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times, once "blind" after he lost the manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station.


pps: Michael Korda is the nephew of the film-maker Sir Alexander Korda and his other biographical subjects include, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert E Lee & Ulysses S Grant.


Quotes

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
"Cling tight to your sense of humour. You will need it every day." T E Lawrence
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