So… why Treacle?

Treacle  ˈtriːk(ə)l

noun: treacle; plural noun: treacles

  1. a. British: a thick, sticky dark syrup made from partly refined sugar; molasses.

         b. syrup of a golden-yellow colour; golden syrup.

  1.  cloying sentimentality or flattery.

“enough of this treacle—let’s get back to business”

Origin: Middle English (originally denoting an antidote against venom): from Old French triacle, via Latin from Greek thēriakē ‘antidote against venom’, feminine of thēriakos (adjective), from thērion ‘wild beast’. Current senses date from the late 17th century.

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According to various online sources, the word treacle goes back to a borrowing from Old French triacle, a word referring to the sugar-syrup base into which apothecaries would decant whatever nasty-tasting cures they wished their patient to take. The word derives ultimately from a Greek word thēriakē, meaning an antidote against venom, which suggests that its early applications were topical (i.e. slather it on the outside, rather than apply it to the inside).

This dark, viscous product of sugar refining thus gained its name due to its association with apothecaries and their products. All the syrupy by-products of sugar refinement were known as treacle, but later the British firm Lyle perfected the refining process to produce that other, more popular, sugar syrup known as golden syrup. You can still buy treacle – these days it’s often called black treacle (or, in the US, molasses), to distinguish it from its golden cousin.

While sugar can be produced from beets as well as sugar cane, only the latter produces a pleasant tasting treacle.

The 17th century seems to mark the time when treacle made the jump from a medicine to a foodstuff. https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/tag/treacle/ suggests ‘bread tart’ and ‘sweetmeat cake’ as early recipes using treacle, and the earliest recipes for ‘treacle tart’ in the 1870s precede Lyle’s development of golden syrup, even though most modern recipes call for golden syrup rather than black treacle. Gingerbread, which has been around at least since the 1400s, switched to using treacle as an ingredient during the 18th century. But the popularity of ‘Mary Poppins’ suggests that the association of sugar syrup with medicines remains as strong as ever.

I’m rather drawn to the idea that a substance famed for being sickly sweet (as in the famous treacle tart of my story – the favourite dessert of Harry Potter – and the treacle wells mentioned by the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland) ultimately derives its name from medicines which were so bitter that they required a sweet coating. That seems a good metaphor for this story collection.

In Treacle and Other Twisted Tales I take some well-known tales and retell them with a twist, a difference, or a wee flicker of darkness. There are new stories, too, some drawn from imagination and others from experience. There are no entirely happy endings – I don’t really believe in them – but some at least come to satisfactory conclusions. If there’s a moral in the story, it’s that beneath sweetness there is always a small, sharp tang of bitterness, and sometimes the sugar coating is very thin indeed. Life isn’t fair, and nothing ever turns out exactly the way we want it to. These aren’t fairy stories, you know.

As for the second meaning – sentimentality or flattery – isn’t that the business of we fiction writers? I employ my words as the appetising coating to encourage some unpalatable suggestions to go down. Did I sweeten the mixture enough?

And am I genuinely channelling my East End ancestors, or merely mocking Eastenders the soap, when I say to you, “Don’t worry, treacle* – if you don’t like this story, maybe the next one’ll suit you better”?

*Treacle (tart) = sweetheart

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The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet

TKCC cover Feb 2014

Sonnets for the Sea

                Inspired by the exhibition of paintings by Bruce Killeen

                (Sonnets of  the Sea)

 I: Metaphorical Distance

Out at farthest focus, drifting, peaceful:

Green ladled with mauve like a healing bruise.

Light lies heavy on the horizon; chooses

To lean its languid body westward. The pull

Of the rolling planet quickens, and the full,

Swelling, murmurous mass of the tide looses

The bonds of gravity, dropping the deep, pellucid,

Purpleness of light gracefully into the ocean’s well.

Dipping my toe into the water, gasping

At the cold, desiring to go deeper and far,

I stare outward along the long divide

Of the horizon; the waves on the sand rasping

At the edge of the land, my feet, my heart:

Like this sea-coloured bruise I am trying to hide.


II: Formalising the Atlantic

Where will you go from here? You’ve measured exactly

The angle of sunlight that, striking the cloud layer,

Refracts through the prism of the horizon, neat and square,

A thousand shades of aquamarine; laying them delicately

End to end along the proper horizontal, modestly

Masked with shadow. With dividers and set square

You’ve drawn the perfect perpendicular, straight and set fair

To indicate the strict statistical limits of visual accuracy.

But how can you calculate clearly, precisely,

The creeping numbness of toes, cormorants, the stark

Face-slap of salt, the way the selkies sing?

Or the kick of the tiller against your wrist, turning nicely

Into the wind? Formal analysis misses the mark:

The poet is in this landscape. That changes everything.

 

III: Like the Sea

Why is a sonnet like the sea? For one,

When you start to search it recedes from you,

Seeping away towards the distant, blue

Hazy hover of light on the horizon.

Its going reveals deep clefts, exposed to the sun:

Vulnerable. Laid open to the view

Of the inner eye: arid fields of conflict; overdue

Reminders of other projects, left undone.

On a moment, while your back is turned: the change.

Moving effortlessly with the moon’s quiet pull,

Thought washes back, inescapable.

The mind’s tide rises. Words rearrange

Themselves. The ocean inspires: limpid, brimful

Of creativity. Not to write would be intolerable.

 

Harbour

Sunlight on the bay:

Golden promise of summer

Holds rain in its lap.

 

Clematis

Flower essences

Flow from the midnight pen of

My garden poet.

 

Feeling bookish

Jo Bell’s a poet I admire. I may have more to say on this subject in future, but this reblog is really about Gilbert White. White’s Natural History of Selborne is one of those magical books whose mundane title conceals wonders. It sits on my shelf alongside Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (and would probably be quite comfortable with Thoreau, if I could stand him). White’s gift was to observe with care, and to make us care when we read his words; his world was quite small, and parochial, but he gave us all of it. Here, in Jo’s poem, she gives me the cockiness of rooks, and makes me regret that I’ve still never heard the nightingale sing. She’s made me want to read old Gilbert again, and that’s all to the good. (Scroll down to go straight to the poem.)

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

This Spring, I will mostly be plugging my own book. Forgive me. If you follow me for more general poetry news, there will still be plenty of that. The stream of ME ME ME announcements will soon dwindle but for now, here’s a short summary of both title and book.

It’s a plain-speaking book but not, I hope, a simple or crude one. By my reckoning a poet should be in the business of windows, not chandeliers. I want to look through a poem, not at it, to see the world more clearly.

My world may be different than yours. Mine probably has more boats in it, for a start. If Kith revisits the themes of my last book Navigation, that’s inevitable. I still live on a narrowboat, making my England both smaller and larger than that of the average bank dweller. My love life still mimics John Arnold’s description of war – “long periods…

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Review of Parallax by Sinead Morrissey

the StAnza Blog

sinead-morrissey-parallaxAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.

Parallax (Winner of the 2014 TS Eliot Poetry Prize)

Sinéad Morrissey
(Carcanet, 2013); pbk, £9.95

Parallax is an astronomical term for the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in the point of observation. In this wide-ranging collection of the same name, short-listed for the 2013 Forward Prize, Morrissey considers from different angles how our position affects what and how we see.

In several poems, Morrissey’s lens is taken from the visual arts. She writes about…

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RESULTS & READINGS OF THE PROSE COMPETITION WINNERS!!