Never having tasted it before, I bought some sauerkraut from Waitrose the other day. Incidentally, I heard a very amusing story about an immensely wealthy sheikh who asked a lady acquaintance where she went for her groceries. She recommended Waitrose. She chanced to meet the sheikh a little later and asked him if he had favoured the store with his patronage. “Oh yes. Very good indeed, but my goodness, terribly expensive!”
I didn’t care for the sauerkraut. Unusual for me – I’m not picky, I can eat almost anything. Naturally fermented, live cultured, it belongs to a range of “versatile super condiments that will elevate your sandwich…” I should think it would levitate the Palace of Westminster. I was describing my sauerkraut experience to somebody yesterday who said, “What is sauerkraut?” and, thumbing through the Oxford Dictionary of English, as will happen, got side-tracked.
“Do you know what Erik Satie’s middle names were?”
I did not.
“Alfred Leslie. Scottish mother, you see. Where were we? Sauerkraut. A German dish of chopped pickled cabbage, from German sauer, sour, and Kraut, vegetable. I suppose that’s the origin of the derogatory term for a German.”
Anyway, what am I to do with this tub of sauerkraut, “live cultured,” it says, “for tasty Gutness.”? Gutness? I checked the Oxford again, and got side-tracked. Gutbucket – a glutton. Also, of jazz or blues, raw and spirited in style: his gutbucket guitar solos. And gutta-percha – a kind of rubber, from Malay getah perca. I knew about gutta-percha because my Ayrshire grannie used to sing The Drunkard’s Ragged Wean to me:
He stands at Jimmy’s corner
Till Jimmy cries him in
To see if he’s got oany bits
Or gutta-percha shin…
Where were we? An Oxford entry for gutless, but not for gutness. I presume this is a kind of clumsy German pun on goodness. If it’s doing my gut any good maybe I should persevere. I hate to throw food out. Besides, the brown bucket isn’t due for uplift for another three weeks and meantime it will be like having a nuclear fission reactor on the back patio. And with a looming world food crisis maybe I’ll be glad to have fermented cabbage. No need to rush into anything. It’s good in the fridge until August 27th, by which time I’ll gratefully intone the Selkirk Grace over it. Apparently Burns delivered it, extempore, before the Earl of Selkirk.
Some hae meat, and canna eat
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat
And we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
How would that go in German?
Manche Leute haben Fleisch,
Und können nicht ja essen…
The thing about Burns is, he packs a lot of meaning into just a few words. We could translate the Selkirk Grace into modern management-speak:
Despite the ready availability of low hanging fruit, and perhaps because of a significant digestive malfunction going forward…
I wonder if, post-Brexit, there is an enormous backlog of sauerkraut at Dover, awaiting customs checks. We could ask the pretenders to the apex of Westminster’s “slipper slope” and greasy pole if they have a sauerkraut policy. When the runners and riders for the race for PM became rather numerous, the paddock overcrowded, I was reminded of an ancient Hollywood “Sword and Sandals” movie in which the position of Caesar comes up for grabs during the last decadent days of the Roman Empire, and as the unseemly struggle for power commences, the film’s hero and his love interest leave Rome to live happily ever after in deepest rural Tuscany. They already knew the game was up for the Empire, when Caligula made his horse a senator.
Elections to the Conservative leadership are notoriously unpredictable. The stalking horse who kicks off procedures doesn’t usually get it, and neither does the front runner. No, the race falls to the dark horse. Think of 1963. Quintin Hogg? Rab Butler? No. Alec Douglas-Home. Once the 22 sets the rules, we can expect a media feeding-frenzy. I heard a political reporter on the BBC describing the life of a journalist covering the Lobby. Wear flat shoes, she said, keep a phone charger in your bag, carry snacks, and keep abreast of the goings-on on Twitter and WhatsApp. It sounded like an absolute nightmare to me. My favourite Prime Minister of the 20th Century is Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905 – 08). Glasgow Boy. Glasgow High School educated, but we won’t hold that against him. His period of tenure was notably un-tumultuous. Every September, he went off on holiday for six weeks to Marienbad. He didn’t keep in touch by Facebook. Rather he spent his time reading German literature. I don’t suppose the Prime Minister-apparent, whoever he or she may be, would risk letting the charge on the mobile run down. What a life to strive for. But them’s the breaks.