Monday, 1 July 2013

July 1st - You've been here before I think, and Sports injuries

Dear Nigel,

I think you've been here before - maybe in your dreamtime sleep or that half-remembered snatch as the sun caught you snoozing. I'm reading your entry for 27th June and it's painting an almost exact picture of the cottage:
'The only part of summer I truly enjoy is shade and shadow, and the notion of the mythical meadow with its buttercups, babbling brook and overhanging branches.'

You shall sit in the shade of the trees over there that overhang the little brook (Hoo brook) and look out into the blindingly bright sunshine as it bounces off the sea of yellow heads. When I first came here I felt certain that they must have named this village, Butterton, after the sloping buttercup meadows that completely surround it on every side. The flowers are going over slightly now - not the sheeny hue they once were - and the farmer has let the cows in so they will soon be trampled back into the earth and time. The little brook chatters and laughs as it winds its way down. At this time of year the water is low and the chatter is louder and more playful. When the winter rains make a second waterfall coming down from the high meadow the chatter becomes a constant stream and your ears turn off from the relentless scolding.

Some days are too hot to work. They sap your strength and sleep beckons and pressing tasks suddenly become much less important than a minute ago. I am caught between the sun and the shade, valuing each for its strength. The sun, so fleetingly remembered needs treasuring, and summer memories stored like a feast of hazelnuts in a pocket beneath the branches of a spreading tree.

In the kitchen you are playing with salmon. Today it is 'Salmon and dill patties' (page 264), yesterday a 'salmon and spinach tart' (pg 261). Some foods scream summer and salmon is one of them. Wimbledon is on the tele, strawberries are in the bowl and there is salmon basking in its firm and healthy goodness trying to restore and trim. They say salmon is a mood-enhancer and who can doubt it when the sun is out and there are cricket whites on village greens and an absence of lycra for once.

The patties are served with a simple cucumber and yoghurt sauce. The lift comes from the couple of teaspoons of capers added to the little cakes along with the dill. It is enough to wet the tongue.

There is something about a tart that gives great pleasure. Like you, sometimes it all just seems a little too much like hard work. But then you set to - 'the day when I remember the pleasure of rubbing butter into flour...and then peacefully pushing the pastry into the corners of the tin so it doesn't shrink'. Then there is the baking and the filling to come. But then, oh then, the pride of taking something so spectacular and lovingly made to the table.
'there is something deeply satisfying about taking a huge, golden tart to the table. A tart we have made ourselves. A tart we can give to others knowing it will give as much pleasure to them as making it did to us. Sometimes.'
And that is the point - sometimes. It is treat, a loving gift, and would lose all sense of value if it were a weekly  occurrence.

Last week was Sports Day at my children's school. The usual heats of egg and spoon and sack race, played out against a background of hills and fields as far as the eye will reach. And then the highlight of this annual occasion, the one event that every child will remember for ever more - the Mothers' race.

Not long ago when my older children were small there was a mild competitive streak in me egged on by my two over-competitive older sons and their younger siblings. I was young and fit and healthy and it was a breeze. Nothing changes as far as children are concerned and my younger ones accept no excuses. I am twenty years older than most of the other parents and not as fit as I once was. But who can refuse that look in their eye that is completely unforgiving. So I bust a gut to make my kids happy, and, just as I am reaching the finishing line (in surprisingly first place) I trip and fall. And, with all the gusto of a football player, I throw myself over the line to come in second. I land heavily on one hip bone and am hobbling for the rest of the week. But, as any child will tell you - despite school policy - it's not the taking part that counts, it's the winning. As one of the least competitive people I know these days, I hope my children appreciate the pain involved.


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