This has always been one of my favourite times of year. I'm not sure why. There is an energy that whips through the branches and around the trunks, teasing the leaves only just tinged with umber and copper plate by some careless decorator. Summer is packing up its bags and heading South, leaving a last scattering of golden sugar cube hay bales on flat fields of golden stubble and lengthening shadows.
Sophie is heading off to Middle School in the nearby town of Leek nine miles away. Pencils are sharpened and endless name tags sewn into clothing. She seems so small to be heading off on the big bus, swamped by her over-stuffed back pack and shiny new shoes. The Honker bus comes a little while later for Molly so we are up and down the village twice in the morning; passing the goats waiting for their breakfast and stopping briefly to talk to the Indian runner ducks up by the pond. We get up at some ungodly hour just so we can enjoy the privilege of these few stolen moments. I wonder how much longer it will be before I am banned from accompanying them up the village and told to wait at some distance when coming to pick them up later.
The veg box in the porch is heaving. I come back loaded from the wholesalers where I get most of my fruit and veg, fired up to make more vegetarian meals in a bid to head off the over-indulgence of Summer from hanging around my waistline. It seems a good ploy to fill up on vegetables and juices. But I keep noting my skin. I have a (probably) quite irrational fear that the seemingly gallons of carrot juice which I'm imbibing - my current favourite juice being apple, carrot and red pepper - is turning me orange. OK, I'm sure this isn't probable or even possible....perhaps, but I'm not convinced that my fading suntan isn't without a hint of some dreadful San Tropez out-of-a-bottle look that I'm not over-endeared to. A quick glance on google and my niggling fears are confirmed. I am, in fact, turning orange and it has a name - it's called Carotenemia. Good old google - it can turn you into a hypochondriac in five minutes flat.
I am considering your Chickpea and nectarine couscous recipe in the Guardian. I am in a couscous mood and have inflicted it on various friends and family on several occasions this last fortnight or so, tweaking it in different ways with courgettes and feta with lemon myrtle salt (something I picked up with intrigue in Ottolenghi's wonderful deli in Notting Hill last year. I just want to be that child looking in through the window with my mouth hanging open).
So,here am I, experimenting with a little sumac on here, a scattering of za'atar on there - all very 'not allowed' in cooking circles, I'm sure, but I'm feeling with my tongue and the couscous is a fine blank canvas for all manner of lively spices. You are using this season's glut of nectarines which still seem to fill the shelves when I'm out shopping; spicing them up with ras el hanout and sweet paprika.
A few days catching the music in Dublin gave me a couple of new ideas to take to the pub in Foolow where I play my fiddle. A young red haired Irish girl was enlivening a well-worn classic with two-string melodies and a medley of more interesting bowing techniques.
'I can do that,' I thought, sinking in to my half of cider. And possibly I could; but good technique has a way of standing in your way. Time after time I come to the conclusion that a classical music education is a real hindrance to traditional fiddle playing. Whether it's holding the bow differently and building up speed or angling the neck with your other hand sliding the fingers over the strings, it could take a lifetime to undo a lifetime of good technique. So I do what I can with what I have, developing my own style. And sometimes, like the other night, the Season's energy whips through the pub and round the bar, picking up the fiddle and making it fly away with my fingers desperately trying to keep up with it.
I'm not aware what it is I'm playing - some sort of blues number I think - and time stands still as I watch from the side and someone is playing my fingers while my mind is elsewhere. The bow is bouncing and stopping, flying and returning to the heel, and the other hand is drifting over semitones, ad libbing wildly. But I'm not there. I'm standing next to me and these hands are no longer mine. The gap is longer than I expect it to be before we are reunited - hands, arms, fiddle and me. And I have no idea where I've been. The talking stops at times like these, and that is perhaps the thing that I like best of all: the ability to still a noisy pub for a moment in time. It is a real satisfying pleasure, better than the drink.