Summer is big and blousey here; the flowers are all out - swathes of blue Geranium, pink Peonies and my favourite weed the deep pink Valerian. The roads are thick with tractors on their way to yet another field of hay and the whole countryside is busy at work. Young lads pulling balers have England flags jutting out of their John Deere's and the roofing next door has ground to a halt as it's all hands on deck to bring in the hay. Children are regularly pulled out of school (unofficially) to help, and the local schools turn a blind eye to it...though you didn't hear it here.
I am making a 'TV supper'. My guest is coming over to watch a DVD. Sometimes, for some people, the conversation flows easier when there is something to do or something to watch. My guest is one such person; and I am making 'Potato Wedges with Gorgonzola Sauce' ( pg 309) for the occasion. At first I baulk at the sheer amount of chilli flakes involved - in this case a whole tablespoonful - but I trust your judgement, and in hindsight have to agree.
These sort of suppers are vying against the heavily-seasoned tortilla chips, the mono sodium glutamate 'gimme-more' crisps, and over-sugared popcorn; and they have to hold their own. Also, I think there is something about eating mindlessly whilst watching the tele that calls for stronger flavours just to bring your mind back again and again to what you're actually doing. It would be an interesting experiment, I think, to link the heat of the chip/or crisp (in chilli terms) with the degree of action in a film. Perhaps a high action-packed, adrenalin-inducing film might be linked to a greater heat tolerance? What do you think?
My mum sends me a cutting out of the 'Northumberland Gazette'. It is an article about a house I used to live in that a TV company is making a programme about.
When my marriage ended in 1998 and I was left with five small children to bring up on my own, I did the only thing I felt I could at the time when paradise has just been bombed, and took my children somewhere to start a new life where there would be no painful memories holding us back. We moved from Cornwall to an old derelict railway station in the middle of nowhere in rural north Northumberland. The railway was like a time warp. There was a Victorian railway station complete with ticket office, an engine shed, a stationmaster's house (which we were to live in), and a tiny terrace of six cottages on the other side of the station.
The railway was part of Lord Ravensworth's estate in those days, set several miles deep in countryside away from the nearest towns, and remained virtually untouched by time. It was overgrown with weeds and long grasses with wild flowers all down the sides of the grassed-over trackbed and brambles around the coal shed. My parents, who lived not too far away, were absolutely horrified that I wanted to move my family to this desolate place in the middle of nowhere, and kept trying to show me more suitable properties in nice little villages nearby. But I was caught up in the romance of the whole place. In my mind I was Jenny Agutter waving her red knickers at the railway tunnel; and the extreme pain of that time made me feel as if I was living on someone else's film set. My fame went before me, it seemed, and all the locals seemed to know that a 'single mother with five children' was moving in. In one swift move I seemed to have gone from respectable Bank Manager's wife to social leper.
The day we looked round we had to tramp through two foot of snow to get to the house. There was no kitchen to speak of, no basin in the downstairs loo and the plaster bounced if you touched it. To my Dad it was a given conclusion but I was already thinking Farrow and Ball paint charts and planning a very special Birthday party on the station platform. The party was to be for my third son, William, who would be seven years old in the July. There would be a line of old school desks making up a long table and tiny chairs to sit at and lots of balloons strung up to the cast iron tracing.
It was this image that kept me going through some very tough times. And in the July we had the party. It was a beautiful sunny day. New school friends from the village primary school three miles away came and we played games and races on the old track bed. The tea was a fine success, punctuated by the constant sound of mini explosions as balloon after balloon popped against the jagged edges of the cast iron tracing. If you had been driving over the little bridge towards the Vale of Whittingham, you might have chanced to look down and see a line of happy faces waving and holding hands in a circle.
In many respects it was a happy time of renewal and healing. Three children went one way on a bus, two the other way in a taxi. I played piano at the village school, finished my degree and got a teacher training place, and gardened and walked the dog clockwise around the circular track. Archie the old shepherd who lived at the end cottage, would walk his old sheepdog anticlockwise, and we'd nod in passing. He'd had fourteen children, the youngest of whom, Angela, still lived at home and caught the bus with my lot. Archie had come down off 'the mountain' to retire and one of his sons, who worked on one of the farms on the estate, lived in the middle cottage. At the other end of the row of cottages was John the Gamekeeper - a kindly soul. It was community enough for me.
The producer wants to make a documentary for Channel 4's 'Restoration Man'. At long last someone has bought the place and has grand plans for a home. I often thought it could have been moved lock, stock and barrel to a living museum somewhere, it was so untouched. I am sure it will make a fascinating project and a lovely home. And yet, for every weed that is lifted, a little of the romance of the place is removed. It is somehow impossible to have both it seems.
And Jenny Agutter's red knickers will no longer be waving in the wind.