Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Opening a New Window

this image has become my consolation after a traumatic two months

For someone who was blogging sometimes twice a week, it begs the question as to why I hardly even read the posts of other bloggers at present, let alone write anything myself. There has been a reason, which though not a good excuse, has so sapped my energy and dulled my brain, that I have thought of little else but surviving.

It began the day we returned from the Malvern Spring Gardening Show (Tuesday 12th May), with an article to prepare and submit and 700 photos for my husband to process. I opened my emails to find that the magazine for which I was writing the Malvern Review (a publication for which I had worked for ten years) was to cease publication immediately. No warning. I was told I would be paid if I still wrote and submitted the article which was reassuring, but in no way could it compensate for the fact I had promised to write about some of the garden designers and new companies who featured at the Show. I felt I was letting down such lovely people, which was far worse for me than the loss of work. I know I am not alone in the work turmoil, but it does not lessen the shock and pain.

That was ten weeks ago, and although I have posted the occasional blog to keep my spirits up, most of my time has been spent updating my CV, writing promotional literature and letters and trying to canvas new work. It has been non-stop, without compromising other work already in hand. We seem to have pulled through and are enjoying working with new editors and new genres, though initially I was outside my normal comfort zone. One such was last week when we travelled to Shropshire to cover 'A Foody Retreat in the Shropshire Hills', to be published in due course. I was at last able to relax and for once actually feel as if I was on holiday, even though we were working.

I think the place I loved most was the magical Stokesay Castle and for a significant discovery I made whilst we were there.

peering through an unglazed window slit at the roofline below

That night, I wrote in my travel diary: "I stand high on the roof of the battlemented 'Keep', watching the Hereford to Shrewsbury train speed past far below me (no trains back in the 13th century. And then a sudden flashback: over 50 years ago, I stood at the top of another Keep, in a different castle, looking down on a steam-train chuffing its way through the Berkshire landscape. It was 1954, and I wrote a 'thankyou poem' for my great aunt, whose guest at Donnington I was.

I had to climb a narrow twisting stairway to reach the top of the Keep

but the view was worth it - if only the sun had shone

Margaret Wood, whose treatise on medieval domestic architecture is cited as 'further reading' in the English Heritage Guide to Stokesay Castle'. Dear Great Aunt Peggy, now long dead, who nurtured my teenage love of theatrical history. And what a moment, what a place, to re-discover you."

I loaned a copy of my Great Aunt's book to a friend, and never got it back

We have been back home now almost a week and the peace of the place has seeped into me, and the quiet of the high Long Mynd. Perhaps I can now put behind me the shock of the magazine closure and the trauma of seeking new work. Perhaps I can also begin to journal again. Open a new window, a new chapter, and move forward again. Meanwhile, I so look forward to catching up on other bloggers' posts; It feels as if I have been away for a long, long time.

part of the peaceful enclosed garden where Raymond and I sat quietly, drinking tea and eating scones with cream

I will not forget 'those blue remembered hills' (A.E. Houseman, from 'A Shropshire Lad') - I discovered that 2009 is the 150th anniversary of Houseman's birth; certainly this area is 'the land of lost content'. I must look out my college anthology and steep myself again in his verse, and climb the steep stairs to my roof-top work-room, and slather paint once more.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Summer Days and Good Eating

Each time that we pick the first results of what we have grown in our productive garden, I am amazed – even before we have tasted it – of the enormous difference between home-grown and shop-bought produce.

New potatoes whose skin falls away like silk at the touch of a knife. The coolness of broad (fava) bean pods as you pick and break them open, to reveal pearly beans the size of a little finger nail nestling in a bed of soft ‘fur’ – and oh, the taste! Melt-in-the-mouth, with no hint of the earthiness that comes when the beans are old and horny (though I have created a recipe to deal with those).

The crisp crunchiness of cos lettuce straight from plot to table; the tang of young rocket (arugula) leaves; juicy pink radishes that bite the tongue; the creamy flavour of baby spinach added to salad, or chopped and cooked as a hot vegetable, even as it runs to seed; finger-sized carrots cooked whole or eaten raw; a medley of shredded cabbage, bright green and steaming on the plate; luscious strawberries to follow – just enough to top baby meringues, slathered in cream. The seasonality of it all.

As one crop ends, another comes on stream; although this year, they are overlapping – we have such a choice. To be able to serve a miscellany of any three or four vegetables at any one meal makes hours or cultivation worthwhile. I become adept at pairing and mixing them; a taste of many rather than a dishful of one.

We pass the equinox, and midsummer’s day; suddenly July is upon us. The peas, runner (pole) and purple-podded beans are in flower; the smokey-blue ‘cavalo nero’ black tuscan kale will soon be cropping, as will beetroot, turnips, courgettes and marrows, garlic, onions, shallots and winter squash. The figs swell; apples, pears and plums announce a bounty-to-be come September; grapes hang in bunches as yet no more than pin-head size; hazel nuts are still encased in green frilly frocks.

We live in a vegetable and fruit heaven. No wonder I have no time to ‘make art’. There is always weeding, sowing, planting and picking, meals to prepare and surplus produce to preserve for use in the winter months ahead, But we eat well, and frugally, and for now, that is enough.