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Onion-skin May 11, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…or BiB’s domestic bliss tips, Part I.

But I don’t mean anything to do with onion-skin used for dyeing. In fact, growing up in the least artistic household in the UK and going to Catholic schools where creativity was considered a sin, I didn’t even know that onion-skin was used for dyeing until well into my teenage years. It’s my Swedish penpal wot told me.

Did other folk have penpals when they were teenagers? I had a bazillion. All girls, of course, as I assumed writing to a boy would make me gay. Yes, all us pre-blogging autists would find each other on the back pages of Smash Hits and then write each other utterly asinine, banal letters on a frantic basis. (Still, mustn’t knock it. I’m still in touch with one of them 20-something years later. Proper pals now.) The ads would read along the lines of, ‘Lomppi Lomppilainen, 15, likes Duran Duran, U2 and robotic jazz. Write to: P.O. Box 27772, Turku, Finland’ or ‘Johanna Johansson, 9, likes Europe, Cher and eating solids. Write to: P.O. Box 27772, Uppsala, Sweden’. It was wall-to-wall Nordics. Eva R_ from Denmark used to cover her stamps in Sellotape when she wrote to me so that I could peel them off and send them back to her with my next thrilling letter. Although as I became more expert at never leaving my bedroom and scribbling away frenetically and asking my mother for money for stamps, I did manage to spread out to cover most of the rest of the world too. Nor O_ from Malaysia told me about her Proton Saga. Megan B_ from New Zealand told me she and her friends ran around drinking milk from people’s doorsteps – Christ, New Zealand hooligans must be early-risers – and then Ronald v_D_ from Holland somehow found my address and instantly made me gay. (Still in touch with him too, vaguely.)

So Ingela J_ taught me about onion-skins. We took a break in our riveting correspondence from writing about what we were doing at school – “Oh, you’ve dropped Geography? Really? My French teacher had a baby” – to her telling me about her holiday. To London. With her family. Don’t know why we didn’t meet. Maybe I wasn’t allowed out. She saw a real punk somewhere or other and he’d even asked them the time and they were very surprised that he didn’t steal their watches. The Tube was dirty. And in Harrods she bought an onion-skin…

An onion-skin?

Yes, an onion-skin.

My pre-googling research suggested it was used for dyeing. Buggered if I knew. School only taught us about god and sin and Bunsen burners. I didn’t even know it was something I didn’t know about. An unknown unknown, if you will.

Anyway, forget all that. I mean onion-skin. As in the skin on an onion. That which you remove in order to get to the delicious lachrymator beneath.

Now here’s my hint for domestic bliss. Say there are two of you in a kitchen. A couple, say. One is chopping onions. The other is standing guard, surveying the scene with a beady eye looking out for the onset of mess. The chopper may be a hopeless and unskilled cook (although a real French person taught this particular chopper the topography of the onion and the chopper can now chop with the best of ’em). And may need to interrupt his chopping, mid-chop, deciding that he desperately needs to check some blogs, check his e-mail or go to buy some fags. In the flurry of excitement, a wisp of onion-skin gently floats down to the floor.

The guard’s Soviet-manufactured mess-alarm goes berserk. If you’re not careful, the alarm can lead to the very rapid deployment of mop, rolled-up sleeves and talk of ‘mikroby’. The Soviet-manufactured guard would like this mess cleared up with record speed. To have his wishes carried out, while maintaining the all-pervasive aura of domestic bliss, should the mess-guard…

a) Say, “Ooh, chopper, it looks, in your insouciance, that you’ve caused a microscopic particle of onion-skin to land on the gleaming, microbe-free kitchen-floor…”


b) Sigh loudly and holler, “What are you bloody doing? Can’t you be more careful? Now there’s onion-skin and microbes on the kitchen-floor! For god’s sake. When did you last get out the hoover? It’s not as if you ever do the hoovering. And why does the flat stink of smoke? And you haven’t hung the washing out yet. And have you sorted out my visa? Oh god. Can’t you be more serious? Have you replied to that job application yet? What? You’re going out AGAIN this evening? But you had fun last year. Uh-huh, blogging. Is that my shirt you’re wearing?


For god’s sake. It’s only onion-skin. Biodegradable anyway.



1. leon - May 11, 2007

I know you can leave an unskinned onion in the pot when you’re making stock in order to give it a nice dark colour, but that’s about as far as my knowledge goes.

2. marshaklein - May 11, 2007

Ha,ha,ha! Absolutely hilarious post. Also “Oh dear, I think the Russian and I may have OCD-ness in common” Not that you’d know it from the state of the house. I’m being watched as I type this and every typo is being laughed at. No. 1 daughter and friend have some serious Bebo action in mind, I think.

What were the chopped onions for?

3. pleite - May 11, 2007

Leon, I’ve just tried to refresh my knowledge – now 20 years out-of-date – of onion-skins with recourse to my trusty dic. It says onion-skin – the dyeing variety – is a type of paper. Is there any onion in it at all? If there is, I call it another string to the humble onion’s bow. When my pal and I lived majorly frugally in Paris, we lived on onions and christened them, “the magic ingredient”.

4. pleite - May 11, 2007

Marsha, aber was ist Bebo? You’re very lucky having young people traipsing noisily round the house. One thing missing from my Berlin life is that I don’t know any young people at all. A pal has just had a baby, but it’ll be years before she can keep me up with the latest trends.

The Russian is, in true Russian style, obsessed with cleanliness. Which is an OK think to be obsessed about, I suppose. Keep your shoes on when next entering a Russian flat to feel the full force of the horror at germs.

(Can’t even remember what the onions were for. I’ve had this onion-skin thing germinating for a few days now.)

5. marshaklein - May 11, 2007

Bebo is a social networking site – very popular with Daughter No.1 and her crowd. It’s a bit like blogging without the effort of having to come up with witty new posts all the time. Daughter No.1 very much enjoyed your post, btw. She says you sound like Mr Klein and I sound like the Russian.

Mr K. was also educated in Catholic establishments and art and craft didn’t feature majorly on his curriculum either. He had woodwork and art lessons at school in the USA*, though.

* I should perhaps mention that his parents weren’t so disaffected with the English/Catholic education system that they left the country! his father was in the airforce, so they were going anyway.

Onion skins are great for dyeing boiled eggs at Easter time – they come out all marbled and golden.

6. pleite - May 11, 2007

Darling, doesn’t the word ‘dyeing’ look ugly? ‘yei’ as a run of letters is just all wrong. And I’m chuffed to bollocks that the Russian and I are you and Mr. K. Is Mr. K. ever tempted to go and burn down any of his old schools? The ex and I – same school – once very unseriously contemplated razing ours to the ground. My nephew’s at it now and loves it, though, so I suppose it could just be me. And my ex. And his brother.

I might go Bebo. Although I’m very lazy at blogging these days. I’m still trying to think of something clever enough to say in response to your Scottish election post.

7. marshaklein - May 11, 2007

Mr K never wanted/tried to burn down his school, that I’m aware off, although he and his best friend did once try (unsuccessfully) to hotwire a car.

I don’t think my last post requires a clever response – just something along the lines of “Stop being such a pompous twat and write something amusing, for God’s sake!” I think I’m better at commenting than I am at posting. Hey ho! I love your posts though.

8. Blonde at Heart - May 12, 2007

I guess that the correct answer is B, right?

When the Canadian and I are cooking I try to avoid the onion chopping. It reduces me to tears, literally.

Marsha, this is so cool you and your daughter read the same blogs. This is the new type of quality time.

9. Ed Ward - May 12, 2007

Good lord, you young people today! Everyone knows that onionskin is typing paper, the kind you use for airmail letters to keep them light so you don’t spend a fortune on postage.

And yes, both yellow and red onion skins can be made to dye Easter eggs, although it’s a while until the next Easter.

10. Daggi - May 12, 2007

In my youth “onion skin” was also a US brand of carbon paper.

11. pleite - May 12, 2007

Daggi, Ed, just look at all the uses for the stuff! I’m now having flashbacks to thoughts of tracing paper – do children still trace today? Why did we do it, actually? To think we were artists ourselves or as an exercise in concentration? – and airmail letters. Ed, the last person I still had a paper correspondence with – she’s gone e-mail now – used an airmail thing where the envelope and the writing bit are all one cleverly foldable bit of paper. Don’t know if there’s any onion in it. Light as a feather, of course, but the folding’s so complicated you normally find you’ve written half the letter on the outside of the envelope.

BaH, don’t be afraid to let the Canadian see you cry. Practise for any future potentialities by DELIBERATELY chopping onions in front of each other. Then burst into desperate tears, clasp each other tightly and say, in a brief moment of chest-heaving misery, that life is too hard and everything is horrible, then gently release each other, straighten your clothes again, wipe away the tears, cough and get on with something non-tearful… And yes, the Russian certainly thought b was the right solution. Funnily enough, it temporarily made me the most unlikely onion-skin-picker-upper in the world.

Marsha, BaH is right. It is a novel way of spending time with your children. And I’m thrilled that I can be of assistance. Might I suggest you somehow wire my blog up to your TV? It could be like the test-card. And once a week, it would update. I’d magnanimously allow you time away from my-blog TV to eat, sleap and ablute. And, darling, write about EVERYTHING. Funny. Gloomy. And Scottish politics. All ideas are good ideas. (Apart from bad ones, of course.)

12. Daggi - May 12, 2007

“an airmail thing where the envelope and the writing bit are all one cleverly foldable bit of paper.” – an aerogramme. lovely things.

13. MountPenguin - May 12, 2007

Yes, I still have a few dating from that strange era where not everyone had an Internet. (In fact the only person who doesn’t have an Internet, and still sends me actual letters, is my granny – although she’s cottoned on to the fact that my uncle has an Internet and can use it to send me photos’n’stuff).

14. Daggi - May 12, 2007

I want to abolish my internet in advance of the day when it collapses. I will be therefore well prepared, still know how to write with a pen and know the postage rates of the Deutsche Post (and where their few letterboxes are).

15. pleite - May 13, 2007

Daggi, I almost can’t write any more. The only time I use pen and paper is to sign my signature, which always makes me worry I’m going to get it wrong. And such a letter-writer in my day. Don’t know why I never got muscular from it actually.

Penguin, I like having an Internet, I must say. Awfully handy. Naturally I go cold turkey at my mother’s internet-free zone, but I managed to steal some of the neighbour’s Internet last time, and that made everything much more bearable.

16. narrowback - May 13, 2007

aerogrammes & onion skin paper… as if i hadn’t already been cast back a century by visiting the ancestral estate for the mutterstag holiday. maybe i’ll complete the process by handwriting a letter to one of my pals from parochial school days.

i actually just returned from doing a photo shoot of said school and church. the town’s changing so fast that i fear that the last of the landmarks of my youth will disappear like the others so i went to capture a few snaps.

and yes, my catholic schools (both grade and high school) were fairly light on the arts and other creative pursuits. tho’ not nearly as bad as the local public school where “back in the day” males were automatically consigned to auto shop, wood shop and metal shop classes. us catholic school boys were actually considered quite effete by the rest of the locals…we wore jackets and ties to school for christsakes.

17. pleite - May 14, 2007

Narrowback, I had to wear a suit and tie to school too, though that’s pretty standard in the UK, though there were cases of some of our nuttier teachers pulling up in their cars as you wandered home and had daringly loosened your tie and they’d tell you to do it back up properly as you were still ambassadors for the school. I’m trying to work out if such lessons have served me well in later life. I’ve never worn jeans so low that they expose my arse, so perhaps so…

We got a smattering of art and music, but once the school had decided you were going to be a Greek and Latin nerd – their pride and joy. They had visions of their admission figures for Oxford/Cambridge going up – even sport was sacrificed (by a priestess on the altar) (oddly, I can still remember the Greek words for priestess and altar) for the sake of the aorist and beloved ablative absolute. I was doomed to sportlessness, artlessness and musiclessness but I’ll come in very handy if friends and I ever got lost somewhere where the ancients hang out.

18. narrowback - May 14, 2007

not my school but the ICB one that my friends attended…we’ve discussed previously the horrors of an ICB education… the brothers would loiter around the train and bus stops to catch students who were not appropriately representing the school…we on the other hand could loosen the tie and doff the jacket as soon as we were a block away. our faculty were thankfully of a more liberal perspective and by my 12th school year had become fairly radical – for nuns and brothers

Some lessons have served me well at least once later in life… when I was a conscript i discovered that some of the less cultured squaddies did not know how to tie a tie…I quickly started a side business of tieing ties for the weekly parade at $1 a pop. the U.S. Army did not believe in clip ons at that point in time (gawd knows what is in use these days) I also neglected to inform my customers that one could simply lossen the tied tie and slip it over your head for re-use next week. Consequently, I had more repeat business than one would have expected

generally I hate any dress code and my catholic school days have left me with a vehement distaste for jackets and ties

19. pleite - May 14, 2007

My god, that was resourceful. Tie-tying money? I still do the Russian’s tie, but I can only do it standing behind him in front of a mirror and it’s quite tricky getting my hands round his much-larger-than-mine frame. I’ll suggest charging him and see what he says.

Yes, shirts/ties/suits. All rather a pain. Mind you, I mostly only need to don that garb about once every two years, so I’m not TOO badly off. My current office-uniform is yesterday’s shirt (inside out) and boxer-shorts. Very professional. I think it’s why I’m such a successful businessman.

20. GreatSheElephant - May 14, 2007

my mother used to use onion skins to dye Easter eggs. You can make interesting patterns by tying flowers, leaves etc under the skins. Trouble is, that however beautiful they were, it was still a hard boiled egg underneath. Blech.

I had a German penpal whose name I forget. I found her very boring but persisted nonetheless for a year or so.

21. pleite - May 14, 2007

My ex corresponded with a German lesbian for a while. The correspondence was deep and intimate and riveting. And then they met. And he couldn’t stand her and thought it was mutual. But the intimate, riveting letters began again as soon as she returned home. He gave up at that point!

Various house-moves and the increasing number of boxes full of letters eventually made me decide to destroy a massive chunk of all the letters I’d received. (I’d been keeping them all.) I’m sure I’ll regret that at some point. I had some first-issue (or whatever it’s called) Belarusian stamps – that is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written – but they were fucking impressive and all idealistic and flaggy. Shredded or burnt on a bonfire in my sister’s garden. No sense of momentousness, me.

22. annie - May 14, 2007

‘pre-blogging autists’ Ha! In fact, ha! to all of this post, it brought me much joy. How fabulous that you keep in touch. And how did Ronald V_D_ make you gay – just with his seductive letter-writing skills? That’s some writing talent.

Must try onion skin dyeing with the kids. We must not allow tie-dying to die out at any cost, it’s an important rite of passage.

23. Sylvia - May 14, 2007

yes, I thought onion skin was a type of paper too….. I recently got rid of a batch of letters sent to me by kind people when I was exiled to Deepest Normandy in the early 1980s for my Year Abroad (biggest waste of time ever!) I asked those I was still in touch with if they wanted them back for a laugh, and some did. Others just said for God’s sake just get rid of the stuff, which I did. I only hope that no-one has kept any of the letters I sent them.

24. Taiga the Fox - May 15, 2007

I’ve done some onion skin Easter egg dyeing and confess I’ve been a pre-blogging autist with over 30 foreign pen-pals. (I’m still in touch with four of them.) I hope no-one has saved any evidence of my hopelessly boring blathering. Although I’ve saved every letter I got. Tremble, Sharon of Southampton (if you read this).

25. Arabella - May 16, 2007

I have a memory of using tracing paper in geography class. I hated that lesson; we measured things all the time. Yuc. Enjoyed tracing maps though.
I had a pen-pal from Germany (we were both about twelve) – Badensomewhere. Once she sent me a photgraph of herself wearing a bikini! So shocked. My mother would hardly allow me to wear a bra.

26. pleite - May 18, 2007

Arabella, once I’d already been made gay and started corresponding with other gents, an Algerian boy used to send me pornographic images of his own confection. Quite educational for someone like me, batting for the wrong team. “Do they really do it like THAT?” I wondered. Of course, as he was about 14, he probably wasn’t doing IT at all, but he had a vivid imagination. And was quite good at drawing…

Taiga, ha! Sharon of Southampton should indeed be quaking in her boots. I went to a wedding once where the bride’s best pal gave a speech. She’d kept a letter from the bride written after the first date with her husband, sections of which she read out at the wedding! Very funny indeed (and not embarrassing, except in a humorous way).

Sylvia, one pal of mine – we corresponded furiously – would sit and read the letters she’d written me when she came to visit. Of course she’d cringe, but mostly chortled (even if she did say so herself). I dread to think of the pus I used to write.

Annie, don’t know how he did it. I eventually told him there was a gent in my life, and he told me he was gay in his very next letter. So it must have rubbed off somehow. But those Dutch folk have strange powers. The narcotics, no doubt.

27. marshaklein - May 23, 2007

Hello? Where ARE you?

28. pleite - May 23, 2007

Here, here, watching football and smoking and all out of blog-juice. Bugger.

29. MountPenguin - May 23, 2007

Thank heavens for that. I was thinking about getting round sending a search party up into the far north, but haven’t yet been able to get a husky team together.

30. pleite - May 24, 2007

Do get round to it, though. Come and drag me south a bit.

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