TITLE: Lock Keepers
NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 6
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: October 7, 1998
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?]
The upshot seems to be that the Canal runs along the Welsh border.
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.]
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.
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!”
(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].)
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!
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.
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.”
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.]
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
ON HEALTHY LIVING:
Clarissa smears her squabs with butter and wraps them in bacon.
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”?
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:
Clarissa: “Rum, sodomy and the lash.”
Jennifer: Well, no, that’s the Navy.
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.”
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.
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.
Clarissa uses orange-flower water in her dessert.
Jennifer: Very exotic, orange-flower water.
Jennifer: My father used to use it as an aftershave.
Clarissa: Yes, lovely smell.
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.
[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.)
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.]
[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]
When Mr. Gareth shows the ladies his homemade butter churn, Jennifer says, “You’re Heath Robinson.”
[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.
[“I’m Robert Burns.”
[“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”]
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.”
She says to “pretend you’re Vincent van Gogh” while brushing it with butter.
And Jennifer says “there she blows” at the steam rising from her black-eyed peas.
Clarissa wears a crazy blouse decorated with leaves. Her hair seems freshly styled, and she looks sunburned again.
The floor tile in the kitchen is rather interesting.
My girlfriend noted that Jennifer’s hair is not as tidily pulled back as usual.
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.
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.)
She also says the lock keepers’ “legging” “must have built up their calf muscles beautifully.”
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.