Farewell Manchester

Flat Earth, Big Sky

Very soon now we will leave the South Manchester suburb where we have lived for over twenty years. We will put our two elderly lurchers into the equally elderly camper van and set off for south-ish Lincolnshire, to a village called Heckington where we will presumably rendezvous with the removal van and our worldly goods. Keep thinking of a scene in 1984 film, The Chain – people in car watching dodgy removal van drive off in wrong direction, with all their belongings, never to be seen again…

It’s proving hard to say goodbye, though I’m longing to be gone. I will miss kind, funny, clever, lefty friends and neighbours, good food shops, the allotments, nature reserve, lovely dogs and dog walkers, friends at the farmers’ markets and the brilliant tram. I won’t miss the noise and traffic, nor the grim, outrageous poverty that spreads over so much of the city…

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On the road

Bassingthorpe turn off

Another random landscape, this time taken from the car window when I was en route between home and my mother’s house near
Cambridge. Looking at it now, in some lights, some moments, it is nothing much; but I remember how it grabbed me as I turned off the road for a quick break from driving. Perhaps this year I am astonished less often by views of landscape, as my drives along certain routes become more familiar, but still there are times when some juxtaposition of field and sky shouts out at me as I come round a bend in the road to meet it; making me shout in turn. There is always so much sky and it is different every day. As I have said in other posts (this one or this one), I love the blocks and colours, lines and angles of this so-English landscape; nature and agriculture making art together under the light, wide sky.

Thanksgiving

photo

I had little time for cooking last night, after a long afternoon of weeding while partner struggled manfully with putting up a new chicken run.

But our soup and salad meal included celeriac, chard, carrots, lettuce, potatoes and apples, all from the garden, plus pears from a neighbour’s tree. There could have been cobnuts too, if I’d had time to shell them. And the basketful of peppers and tomatoes, pictured above, is still untouched, demanding my attention today.

I know, I know that all this bounty does not come by magic, but after weeks and months of sowing and tending by partner (mostly) and weeding by self (mostly). But at this point in the year, when there is just so much and it is so good, it seems like a miracle, like manna from heaven.

And when I look at the enormous tomato plants, the weighty fruit hanging from them, and remember the tiny seeds they came from, I am amazed, as every year, by the magic that turns one into the other; by nature’s conjuring trick that gives us all this food. It is one of those moments when this lifelong atheist craves religion; I would like there to be someone to thank for the magic and the bounty.

Well a blog is not church, but here I am saying thank you nevertheless. All this food is amazing and I love it. Below is a picture from three years ago, taken in our Manchester kitchen, with bounty from our allotment there. I’ve been looking at pictures (see the Facebook page) from past years, remembering friends and fellow plot-holders, loving it as the start of a journey which brought me here.

Manchester bounty

Coming home

Field and sky near Dembleby

I’m back, I think.

I’ve not finished my other writing yet; and I’m still musing on what this blog is about now that my Lincolnshire life is no longer shiny new, now that I’m seeing and doing things for the second not the first time.

But in recent days I have found myself thinking often of this, and you, my readers; and on Tuesday evening I had a moment, en route home from a visit to my mum’s near Cambridge, that felt a very blog moment.

After the M11, A14, A1 and A52 I turned at last onto the back roads for my last, cross-country half hour. Imagine yourself with me in the sudden peace as I stopped the car here: no more road noise, engine noise, the A52 only yards and another world away. I heard birdsong, breathed cool, sweet air and looked over golden fields and a limpid blue sky: just a small road on its way to a small village somewhere in England, and something like heaven.

And oh the irony that my first thought is to share this sense of peace with the world, when what I am loving is the emptiness and people being so beautifully not there!

The rest of the photos, as ever, on the Facebook page.

Midsummer greetings

The sun apparently set half an hour ago on this longest day of the year. I am sitting in my still-light garden, tired after a hard day’s weeding and getting cold but don’t want to go inside just yet.

I can hear a train going past in the distance – last one of the evening I think. The garden is full of birdsong, just amazing. There are blackbirds – one of my favourites – I think there are some nesting behind a huge honeysuckle by the pond – and there are the budgies in an aviary at the hairdressers round the corner, and the rooks still cawing now and then as they settle for the night (see Rooks at bedtime). Behind me, in the house, Italy are playing Ghana in Brazil.

Happy solstice and midsummer to you all. I hope there are birds singing where you are.

All getting quieter now, as the light fades. Bedtime for birds – maybe for me too.

A short break

River at Maintenon

After a ten-day holiday in France, during which we had no internet to speak of, I am writing today to announce another short break. For the next few weeks I am writing up my portfolio to get accreditation as a family mediator and am putting an embargo on blogging until I have broken the back of that writing task.

So I leave you with a couple of the few photos I took on our holiday, from the chateau that is famous for having belonged to Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV. I struggle to love French formal gardens, but this is a nice one, not too huge, with lots of water and a beautiful colour scheme in the planting of the beds (we saw even more beautiful plantings in the town of Chartres on another day). It was a nice day out.

The highlight of my visit however – apart from the general niceness of spending time with friends and catching up with family – was on a walk, when we came suddenly close to some deer hiding in a field of oil-seed rape. They turned to check us out, then ran off into the nearby woods, leaping high over the yellow rape so they looked like the model for those roadside signs (seen often in France) telling you there will be leaping deer for the next few miles. I have been as close to very tame deer at Dunham Massey in Cheshire, but these were not tame and they were wonderful.

Almost as wonderful was the cheese shop in the town of Rambouillet, a few miles from where we were staying.

If you are a regular reader you will have noticed that I have been posting less often in the past few months than I did last year. Over time the blog has been many things: a diary to keep friends in touch with our life in the new place; an introduction to rural Lincolnshire for those who don’t know it; a garden, food and cooking journal and a place to muse on connection to place and to people. In recent weeks I have been preoccupied with family issues, which I don’t write about here. And I have been turning over in my mind the question of what the blog is for and where it is going. No answers as yet, but watch this space (though it will just be space for a few weeks!).

p.s. And if you haven’t already visited the Facebook page, please do go and ‘like’ it. There are a few more photos there than appear on the blog posts, if you like that sort of thing.

p.p.s. I have this week been eating and loving the rose and rhubarb jam I wrote about in this post last year. Lovely stuff!

p.p.p.s. So exciting, the beginning of the long, light evenings. We ate out tonight, an unusual treat that was our Christmas present, and driving back after ten saw the last light in the sky – magical.

I shall return. Until then, go well.

Chateau at Maintenon

An Easter lunch

Eggs, hard-boiled

We don’t have any chickens yet but we know people who do. These eggs came from two different flocks of hens whose owners kindly donated them to us. Home-grown eggs are so much tastier – eating other people’s makes me all the more impatient to have chickens again.

We are off to France for a short holiday and so I have been trying to use up everything in the kitchen which won’t last until our return. Our very English picnic on the ferry will include these eggs, hard-boiled and an apple cake with allspice and ginger (very nice, though I say so myself).

Easter has been and gone, of course, but something about the pretty eggshell shades and being about to go on holiday makes me feel I am having my Easter celebration now. Spring is well and truly sprung and we will have a night’s camping on the way to Paris. Campsites always lift my spirits, as I wrote in this post last year.

Urban glories

Chorlton sunset 1

Bit of a cheat, this post, since the photos are not mine. A good friend took them in Chorlton, where we used to live in Manchester before moving here to the lovely flatlands. He kindly said I could use them here.

I loved them when I first saw them as they reminded me of sunsets here and sunsets back there. They made me think of moments on the street or at the allotments when I would see an expanse of sky or shining light after rain, when I would forget to be ground down by the traffic and the noise and remember instead to wonder at beauty.

They remind me that there are glories around us wherever we are.

Chorlton sunset 2

A nice day out

Maps for a day out

On Sunday we went out. We abandoned the weeding, watering, sowing and digging and instead had a happy series of visits around the Lincolnshire Fens and Wolds.

First a brief stop at Sibsey Trader Windmill, one of several working windmills in the area. I love them so much for so many reasons: old technology still working today, locally produced flour, handsome landmarks in this flat country. Our very own Heckington Windmill has been out of action for a couple of years, but the restored sails go back on this summer; I can’t wait.

We collected lunchtime sandwiches from the mill tea rooms, then we were off into the Wolds, to the village of Candlesby and a specialist herb nursery. We came away happy, with sage, lemon thyme, rosemary, black peppermint, sorrel and mace. A kind friend brought tarragon, fennel, hyssop, dill and lovage to my birthday last month and so the newly-built herb bed will soon be full.

Next stop, Strawberry Fields near Stickford in the fens where owner Pam kindly showed us around the fields of organic vegetables she supplies to retailers all over the country, including the lovely Unicorn Grocery, back where we used to live. So, any Manchester friends reading this, if you buy your veg from Unicorn, chances are you have eaten Strawberry Fields’ produce. On a quiet and sunny Sunday the scene was idyllic: acres of luscious green plants stretching away under a huge sky. A row of scarecrows, looking like workers busy hoeing, were a reminder of the hard slog that goes into growing this good food.

Our last visit of the day was in the fens still but with a view of hills, near the village of East Keal where the Wolds begin to rise out of the flatlands. We were meeting some piglets, one of whom we will eat later in the year when she has grown up. We talked to their owners about pig breeds* and pork and smallholding as we watched the piglets scoffing their dinner. They were cute and fun; and I am going to find it strange eating an animal that I have met in person, as it were. But if I eat meat, I’d rather know that the animals were well looked after while they were alive. And so it goes on, the debate between my vegetarian ‘good angel’ and my demon inner-carnivore.

Flour, herbs, lettuces, bacon: and all in the spring sunshine. What a nice day.

Piglets

* These are Oxford Sandy and Blacks. For more info see this Rare Breeds Survival Trust fact sheet.

Oh nettle, where is thy sting?

Nettles in field

I love the smell of nettles in the morning.

They smell of spring to me. I tried to think, yesterday, while playing in the field and kitchen, how to describe their scent. Are they lemony? Peppery? Soapy? None of these will do. They just smell, gloriously, like nettles.

Most of us, most of the time perhaps do not get so close to a nettle patch to catch their heady scent. But if, as I did, you go out with a pair of rubber gloves, nice and early while the sun is just beginning to drive off the dew, you can pick a bagful without getting stung and get a good whiff while you are picking.

Then back to the kitchen and a sinkful of scented green leaves (rubber gloves still on); blanch them and squeeze out the water (rubber gloves off at last), mix with cooked potatoes, semolina, flour and egg. This is the dough for potato and nettle gnocchi, which we ate in the evening with sage butter. I have made nettle pasta (brighter green than spinach pasta) before but it was my first time of making these delicious little dumplings.

Oh, and those nettles are very nutritious, and free, and you can make all sorts of things out of them. All very worthy, but I was just having fun.

Note:After reading the first version of this post, my friend pointed out (see comments below) that the nettles in the picture with the fetching white flowers are dead nettles, which look very similar to stinging nettles and grow in the same places but are unrelated and do not sting.

So I went back to the nettle patch for another look and indeed there is a fine mix of both urtica dioica (with stings) and lamium album (without). Luckily both are edible as I suspect both went into my cooking!

Nettles in kitchen

Making gnocchi