“LEGGING!” – Lock Keepers

TITLE: Lock Keepers

NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 6

ORIGINAL AIRDATE: October 7, 1998

SETTINGS: Clarissa and Jennifer cook for workers who operate locks on the Llangollen Canal in Grindley Brook, Shropshire.

Llangollen Canal with TFL

Their dialogue from the bike in the opening is hard to decipher. It sounded like this to me:

Jennifer: Slow down, dear – our waiting in North Wales.

Clarissa: The bloody marshes – poised between the two.

[UPDATE: A helpful reader has deciphered Jennifer’s opening line. It should be:]

[Jennifer: Well, now, dear, are we in England or Wales?]

And in fact, it seems Clarissa says not “bloody marshes,” but “bloody Marches,” a reference to the violent struggles to control the Welsh border over the centuries.

Sixteenth-Century map of the Welsh Marches.

Sixteenth-Century map of the Welsh Marches.

A battle on the Welsh Marches.

A battle on the Welsh Marches.

The upshot seems to be that the Canal runs along the Welsh border.

Llangollen Canal

A fun-map of the Llangollen Canal, with Grindley Brook in the northeast corner. “Love from Shropshire!”

Specifically, the ladies are cooking a “celebration meal” for the Molyneux family, at least two of whom have worked as lock keepers. These are Les Molyneux, a friendly if rather tough-looking young man, and his father, [George].

[Molyneux Père and Fils  are something of a mystery to me. I would guess Les to be in his twenties, though I suppose he’s possibly a bit older. But his father appears to be somewhere between 85 and a hundred years old. The old man leans on a gate for support and speaks very slowly; the ladies talk to him as if he were a baby, as people tend to do with the very elderly. Such a wide age gap is obviously possible, but it’s striking.

[For the record, my girlfriend, ordinarily a good guesser of ages, said she thinks Les’s crow’s feet suggest he’s actually in his forties. (She also thinks George is “at least 89.”) My daughters, for their part, thought Les was about forty . . . until he spoke, and then revised their guess to “in his twenties.”

[The Internet hasn’t been very useful on the question, since apparently there are lots of Molyneuxes about. (Also this.) Molyneux the Elder says he “had 32 years on the waterways,” which isn’t all that helpful.]

I was going to call this picture

I was going to call this picture “Les Molyneux” (you know, like in French) but then I realized since the son’s name actually is Les Molyneux it would be confusing. Can’t be clever all the time.

Opening the lock

[Fun fact: There is a nice little tribute to Jennifer, along with a cute account of the ladies’ visit to the lock (“We’ve never seen [Les] look so tidy!”), on the Grindley Brook website.]

Mrs. Molyneux (Senior) is in Blackpool – Clarissa suggests she’s gone on a shopping spree.

For the field trip, the ladies go to a Welsh dairy – “the Village Dairy” in Llannefydd. They are welcomed with open arms by a “Mr. Gareth” [actually Gareth Roberts, who since has gone on to become prominent in the art of Welsh yogurt-making]. He is a largeish, roundish, bearded Welshman in a green coat with a personality to match his size. He addresses the ladies as “girls” [!] and shows them how to churn butter.

“Mr. Gareth.”

[I’m sure everyone’s sick of Doctor Who references on a non-Doctor Who blog, but I couldn’t help remembering the time the Third Doctor dressed up as a Welsh milkman himself.]

Good times.

Good times.

Jennifer and Clarissa take turns churning the butter, but Jennifer gets “milk-turn elbow” and says “quite enough of that, dear.” To Clarissa, Mr. Gareth says, “We might make a dairymaid of you in the end!”

Dairy maid

(Jennifer approves of Clarissa’s butter as well, saying, “It’s got that nice rugged look of the amateur.”)

Near the conclusion of the episode, Clarissa, Jennifer, and Les Molyneux all lie on their backs on a boat and move it through a canal tunnel [in Chirk?] by walking their legs along an inside wall. The process is called “legging.” (Les says, “That’s where the term come from – ‘leg it'” [though I can’t find any evidence of that].)

Legging.

Legging.

Afterglow

Afterglow.

And in a nice aerial shot at the very end, the ladies and their bike can be seen on a very high bridge along the Pontycysyllte Aqueduct. You can see the shadow of the helicopter!

Helicopter credits

DISHES:

Jennifer cooks “Hoppin’ John,” a dish of black-eyed peas, salt pork, tomatoes and rice. In the second segment, she does “soused herrings,” in which the fish are quasi-pickled in wine, Champagne vinegar and seasonings.

Pickled herring

“Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring,” by James Ensor.

Clarissa does a recipe she calls “Burnetts woodcock” [sic], though she notes “I’m doing it with pigeon on this occasion, because it’s the wrong time of the year for woodcock.”

A rather lifelike carving of a woodcock.

She does not mention what is the right time of year for woodcock.

The pigeons are wrapped in bacon and served with potato cakes and a sauce made from pigeons’ livers and juniper berries.

She also does a gigantic apple-filled pastry she calls a “Quercyan apple cake.”

FOOD TIPS AND LORE:

“Hoppin’ John” is “a dish that was invented for the slaves, I suppose, in the Deep South,” according to Jennifer. “I should think it was a great treat, to have a bit of pork,” she says. “I’m sure they didn’t give them much pork.” She puts parsley on it, though she says “I don’t suppose they did it really in U.S.A.”

Her rice is “ordinary long-grain, Patna – not the Arborio, not risotto rice.”

patna

Arborio
Squab should be cooked fairly rare.

Clarissa: Did you know that’s where “squabbling” comes from?

Jennifer: From squabs squabbling?

Clarissa: Yeah, all the little young pigeons in the nest go [squawks] at each other, you see, and so they were taken to squabble.

[Looks like most dictionaries disagree.]

Squabble

Squabs

The ladies recommend freezing game carcasses until one has enough to make a stock with them. Clarissa uses a ricer to mash her potatoes finely.

Mr. Gareth’s butter is made with milk that was “walking in the field this morning.” The milk has been fermented using leftover culture from the last batch of butter. (“I watch that culture better than the wife,” he says.)

He beats the moisture out of his butter with wooden paddles he calls “Scotch hands.”

“Mr. Gareth,” with Scotch hands.

For her dessert, Clarissa says to use “eating apples, not cooking apples, because cooking apples as we know fall to pieces.” She adds, “Although it’s a French cake, preferably not Golden Delicious.” [Not sure what she means by that last remark, as it appears Golden Delicious was first bred in America.] She spreads her dough out on a tablecloth until it’s “as thin as cigarette paper.”

Cigarette paper

“As thin as cigarette paper.”

Quercy, though not well known, is a good source of foie gras and truffles.

Quercy

And melons, apparently.

Jennifer says herring is an oily fish, “which is exceedingly good for your insides.” At the fish counter, freshness can be determined by the brightness of the eye.

She shows us how to clean a fish, saying, “Don’t say, ‘Ew, I can’t.’ You can.”

“Don’t say, ‘Ew, I can’t.'” . . .

. . . “You can.”

She says lemon juice will quickly remove any smell from one’s fingers. (“In case the telephone goes.”)

The spine of a fish looks “like a furry caterpillar” once removed.

“Like a furry caterpillar.”

spiny-caterpillar

ON HEALTHY LIVING:

Clarissa smears her squabs with butter and wraps them in bacon.

Bacon and butter

When pushing open the lock gate, she says it’s “so much easier than it was when I weighed nine stone.”

REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:

Clarissa: I’m going to make a Quercyan apple cake.

Jennifer: A what?

Clarissa: A Quercyan apple cake.

Jennifer: What is it? “Quercyan”?

Clarissa: Quercy is the southern part of Périgord. [Not exactly. – WK]

Jennifer: Oh, really? I never heard of it.

Clarissa: Well, no, most people haven’t, but I once spent a rather diverting part of my debauched existence down there.

Jennifer reflects on her own accountability for injustices of the past:

Jennifer: . . . I think my family on my mother’s side had something to do with it. They were Bristol merchants, you know; they dealt in rum and slaves, I have a horrible feeling.

Clarissa: “Rum, sodomy and the lash.”

Jennifer: Well, no, that’s the Navy.

Bristol was a slave-trading hub in the Eighteenth Century.

Bristol was a slave-trading hub in the Eighteenth Century.

Slavery

Churchill

Rum sodomy and the lash

Rum sodomy and the lash 2

“Rum, sodomy and the lash.”

Jennifer tells a story about a friend who kept pigeons adjacent to the lavatory, and how they’d startle the people using it. Clarissa says her father “used to have his pigeons flown from Cairo,” where “they breed them specially for the table.”

Pigeon breeder in Cairo.

Pigeon breeder in Cairo.

Jennifer: When your father’s pigeons came from Cairo, what did you do with them? Did you keep them somewhere?

Clarissa: No, they were dead!

Jennifer: Oh, they were dead! I thought they arrived, you know, like the quails in that wonderful film, Babette.

Clarissa: Babette’s Feast.

Hard to see, but she's carrying game birds in that cage.

Babette’s Feast. (Hard to see, but she’s carrying game birds in that cage.)

Clarissa hypothesizes the pigeons were smuggled into the country in a delivery of medical devices to her surgeon father.

Jennifer: I once had to bring back the ashes of a dead friend from Bahrain, because even though they were just ashes, because it was the remains, you had to buy, you had to pay an enormous sum of money to put them on an aeroplane. Quite ridiculous. So I wrapped them in a petticoat and brought them home.

flying cremated remains

Clarissa uses orange-flower water in her dessert.

Jennifer: Very exotic, orange-flower water.

Clarissa: Mmm.

Jennifer: My father used to use it as an aftershave.

Clarissa: Yes, lovely smell.

Jennifer's father, Robert Paterson.

Jennifer’s father, Robert Paterson.

STRONG OPINIONS:

Jennifer, on freshly churned butter:

It looks always so beautiful – how can people resist it? Idiots.

SONGS AND MUSIC:

Mr. Gareth, who says his father had a wonderful tenor voice, shows off his own WTV during the field trip. Saying it’s traditional to sing lullabies while churning butter, he sings a song he calls “Oes Gafr Eto?” [Apparently better known as “Cyfri’r Geifr.”] He says it translates as “Is there any goats in the hills again?” [sic]. The song is lovely, and it’s a very fun moment.

Mr. Gareth

[Here’s a crazy discussion of the song from a Welsh-language TV talk show. (Well, I suppose I don’t know if it’s actually crazy or not, but it sounds crazy to me.)]

While “legging” in the river tunnel, the ladies sing “She Had to Go and Lose it at the Astor.” (Clarissa takes the lead, unusually.)

LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES:

Clarissa mentions Thomas Telford, “who built all these waterways round here.” She says he “was completely illiterate, couldn’t read or write, and he used to go to bed with a piece of string and tie knots in it until he got his problems solved.” [Telford was involved with the creation of the Shropshire waterways, but she seems to be mistaken about his literacy, since Wikipedia says he wrote poetry. It may be that she confused him with James Brindley, another master lock builder who often is said to have been illiterate, even though I guess he wasn’t either.]

Thomas Telford.

Thomas Telford.

The discussion of squabs turns to pigeon racing. “The Queen is a very keen pigeon racer,” says Clarissa. “It’s always rather nice when I see her in her cloth cap out there racing her pigeons.”

A racing pigeon.

A racing pigeon.

[Not sure what she means about the cloth cap. It seems the Queen has been criticized by animal-rights activists for her interest in the sport. – WK]

The young Queen with a pigeon (carrier, not racing).

The young Queen with a pigeon (carrier, not racing).

Take Action For Pigeons Now

When Mr. Gareth shows the ladies his homemade butter churn, Jennifer says, “You’re Heath Robinson.”

An illustration by W. Heath Robinson.

An illustration by W. Heath Robinson.

Heath Robinson himself.

Heath Robinson himself.

[Another digression, but the whole “dairymaid” conversation also reminded me of a story (retold here by Lars Walker) about the poet Robert Burns, a notorious womanizer:

[As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.

[“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.

[“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.

[“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.

[“No sir.”

[“I’m Robert Burns.”

[“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”]

“I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”

Milkmaid gif

Be warned – there’s lots of raunch out there if you ever want to google the topic of milkmaids.

Clarissa says goodbye to Mr. Gareth in Welsh. (“Hwyl fawr,” maybe? It’s Greek to me, I’m afraid. – WK)

Clarissa says the texture of her pastry dough is “a bit like chamois leather.”

Chamois leather.

Chamois leather.

She says to “pretend you’re Vincent van Gogh” while brushing it with butter.

Van Gogh

When Clarissa’s dessert is finished, Jennifer says it “looks like something made in a grand convent . . . for high days and holidays“; also “like a giant tortellini.”

“Like a giant tortellini.”

Tortellini

And Jennifer says “there she blows” at the steam rising from her black-eyed peas.

Moby-Dick

“There she blows! – There she blows! A hump like a snow-hill!”

STYLE WATCH:

Clarissa wears a crazy blouse decorated with leaves. Her hair seems freshly styled, and she looks sunburned again.

Clarissa hair

The floor tile in the kitchen is rather interesting.

Floor tile

My girlfriend noted that Jennifer’s hair is not as tidily pulled back as usual.

Jennifer impersonating a pigeon.

Jennifer impersonating a pigeon.

XENOPHOBIA ALERT:

A lovely moment of ANTI-xenophobia when Jennifer roundly condemns slavery:

One has to be very ashamed about it. . . . Beastly so-called Christians, treating people unbelievably badly.

Beastly

“Beastly so-called Christians, treating people unbelievably badly.”

[I was reminded of Dr. Johnson’s famous quote criticizing the American Revolution: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” – WK]

Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Johnson.

SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:

Clarissa says the gentle hand technique required to roll her pastry dough is “one of the reasons Quercyan girls are in such demand as wives.”

Near the end of the episode, she whispers something to Molyneux the Younger, then says, “It’s all right, Jennifer, I’m not making indecent proposals to him.” (“You never know with her,” Jennifer says.)

Les Molyneux and Jennifer in an outtake.

Les Molyneux and Jennifer in an outtake.

She also says the lock keepers’ “legging” “must have built up their calf muscles beautifully.”

MEMORABLE MOMENTS:

Of the juniper berries in Clarissa’s pigeon sauce, Jennifer says, “Throw them in willy-nilly!” She also calls the dish “pidge-pidge.”

Clarissa gets excited about the word macerating.

Jennifer: . . . Place them nicely, or haphazardly . . .

Clarissa: Can’t you be nice and haphazard?

Jennifer: Story of my life.

Jennifer also says she’ll talk about “legging” when she’s at a Christmas party and someone asks her what she did this year.

MISTAKES: A bit of Jennifer’s instruction is dubbed over in each segment.

TRADEMARKS: The AGA is used and the split in Jennifer’s blouse is visible.Unusually, this time it’s Clarissa who mixes her pastry batter by hand.

TFL laughing

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2 thoughts on ““LEGGING!” – Lock Keepers

  1. Pretty sure Jennifer says: “Well now dear, are we in England or Wales?”

    I think Clarissa just means to not use American apples, since it’s a French cake.

    I always thought it was odd that we don’t see the final “assemblage” of Clarissa’s first dish, We only see the prep of the potato cakes and not how to cook them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, I noticed the potato moment too. I thought they probably gave it short shrift because it’s essentially just a side dish to accompany the “woodcock” – an afterthought. (Sort of like when Jennifer makes the “tart” fruit salad in “The Cambridge Eight.”)

      Like

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