Diary: Catherine Fox

14 February 2020

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Brexit bangers

WHERE has the year gone? It barely seems a moment since we were all getting hot under the collar about Marks & Spencer’s “Love Sausage” — that racy culinary delight launched in time for Valentine’s Day 2019. Nothing similar has come along to cause a flutter this year. Perhaps the nation is still having a little lie-down?

We do enjoy our sausage-related outrage, here in the UK. Supermarkets’ selling-out of pigs-in-blankets in the run-up to Christmas — and let’s not forget the now famous Greggs vegan sausage-roll brouhaha, which provoked such intemperate rants from our full-time professional rant-mongers. Is there another nation on earth so emotionally invested in its sausages? Why, we even have a British Sausage Week.

The creators of Yes Minister had their finger on the national pulse when they gave us Jim Hacker campaigning to save the British sausage from the villains in Brussels, who were threatening to rename it “the emulsified high-fat offal tube”.

 

Offally alarming

WHEN I was growing up, we bought our sausages from the local butcher, because they were reckoned to be nicer than factory ones. In family lore, it went without saying that, however good the local sausages were, they weren’t a patch on the ones that my granddad made for his butcher’s shop. I have the secret “Boy Wood” seasoning recipe. Occasionally, my sisters ask for a copy, but I never give it to them.

I can make the sausage meat, but I have no idea how put it into sausage skin. My granddad had what I’d describe as a sausage-extruding machine, which fed the meat into the casing. I can still remember the smell of that skin, coiled in a saucer of water, and my gran twisting up the sausage strings into links, faster than the eye could follow.

Can you still buy sausage skin? The answer, of course, is a Google search away. Autofill springs immediately to life with “Sausage skin near me”. Frankly, that sounds like the stuff of horror movies: the novelist, typing at her desk, unaware that under the study door is stealthily oozing five metres of the Highest Quality Natural Hog Casing. . .

 

Free-range frolics

SO THERE we were, back in the olden days of my childhood, choosing between local sausages and Wall’s. (I’m discounting tinned frankfurters, naturally.) These days, there’s a bewildering array of sausage types to navigate. Personally, I plump for “outdoor-reared” sausages. Nobody likes to think of sausages spending their brief lives penned up in vast windowless factory sheds rather than frolicking in the sunshine.

 

Chip on each shoulder

BY NOW, you may be wondering how I’m going to bring this train of thought round to the Lord Jesus. I have no idea. I’m just following the line of words to see where it ends up. This is how writers write, half the time. As Paul Klee said of drawing, we “take a line for a walk”. My experience is that, however meandering the route, I will always end up thinking about Jesus. I may have been riffing on sausages, but another parallel thought-train has been chuntering along beside it: Why do we get outraged, and what should we do with that feeling?

My own capacity for outrage is severely stunted. This is for two reasons. The first is that I’m highly skilled at reasoning myself out of being outraged. It’s been a lifetime’s study. I achieve it by a rapidly deployed combination of seeing the other person’s point of view, followed by listing my own personal failings (which disqualify me from the right to be indignant), before nobly getting a sense of proportion.

The second reason is that, as a straight, white, middle-class, professional woman in good health, I seldom bump up against serious causes for personal outrage. By and large, the hoops of life are the right shape for me, and lined up at a pretty convenient height. The exception is the man hoop, obviously. In order to get through that one, I need to become (see above) highly skilled at reasoning myself out of being outraged, because nobody likes a gobby woman with a chip on her shoulder.

It’s possible that you felt a prickle of outrage, reading that. You might be bored with the whole narrative of discrimination against women, the way posh white actors can apparently be bored with racism. Aha, now I feel outrage of my own, and on behalf of others. Interesting. It’s a slow-burn outrage, not a shouty Tweet outrage; the kind that requires a novel to explore.

 

Life lessons

AS I sit typing this, I glance up and stare at one of the few photos that exists of my granddad. He had cause enough for outrage in his life. He was a talented footballer in his youth, and was scouted by Nottingham Forest. But his father needed him in the family business. Couldn’t guarantee there’d be a job waiting for him to come back to in the summer, when there were no football matches to play. So my granddad had to turn the place down.

He was also cheated twice in business matters by close family members. I’m still indignant at the injustice, but he had an extraordinary capacity to let it go. “They’ll ne’er prosper,” was his comment.

Outrage is a powerful feeling. It tells us many things, if we manage to listen to it. It can shine a light on our own spiky self-interest. Outraged people in the Gospels generally got short shrift from Jesus. (“Tell my brother to share the property with me!” “Tell my sister to help me!” “We caught this woman in the very act of adultery!”) On other occasions, outrage eventually requires action: the deliberate plaiting of whips and overturning of tables.

But how are we to distinguish this from the times when we need to let it go — to absorb the outrage into ourselves, and put an end to it that way? Tricky. It’s only by keeping company with Jesus that we begin to sense the answer. This, too, is a lifetime’s work.

 

Catherine Fox is a writer, and a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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