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.

Hooray! The light returns.

Winter light - Alison

The winter solstice happened just under an hour ago as I write this. Henceforth (until June) it all gets better, the days get longer.

This beautiful photo, taken by my cousin Alison, conjures up for me the thrill of light emerging from the dark and seems just right for this moment of the year.

It’s a wild and windy night outside, with nothing about it of summer days to come. But as I raced back from a North Manchester park on darkening streets with my granddaughter, I suddenly remembered that the solstice was about to happen and was so excited. I don’t know why it takes me this way, like a child about Christmas, but it does. I am tired and feel I have a cold coming on, but am nevertheless absurdly happy just in this moment. I think for me the lengthening days and returning light are a promise that life goes on, a reminder of all that it means to me: all that light and warmth and love.

This is what I wrote on this day last year, in more solemn mood.

And now I must go and cook some sausages and peel some potatoes. Life goes on…

After the party, reprise

Dishes

So the Spiced Salt Beef (Sugar, spice, memory) made its appearance yesterday, along with other dishes not as long in the making. It was our first party here in Heckington and, unlike at my London party in March, the guests were (almost all) people we have only met very recently. It was very nice to have the house full of people and we enjoyed ourselves.

This sort of cooking takes me back to parties in times gone by. I think of the first party we gave in Manchester, in a terrace house which seemed huge compared to partner’s flat we had just moved out of. Like yesterday it was in dead of winter and we didn’t know anyone very well. It was also rather quiet, which yesterday wasn’t.

Yesterday we ate a chicken and celery salad which reminded me of the coronation chicken I made a lot in the late 70s and early 80s. We also had Tourteau Fromage (see photo below) which is a bit like a cheesecake and a bit like a custard tart. It comes from Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking, her first book, published in 1951, nine years before my birth, and a seminal influence on my life even when I was too young to know it. Tourteau Fromage is the sort of pastry I always hope to find when peering through the bakery window in some small French town.

I went out in the dark to the shops this afternoon, with a sense of winter gloom. But I counted less than four weeks to the solstice, felt the triumph of the light to come, felt excited like a child, as though I could see the sun shine again and the trumpets sounding. There is a miracle in the inexorable rhythm of the seasons, the certainty of change.

And what better way to cheer ourselves in winter than by having parties? We can’t see to tend the land but we can see our friends.

Tourteau Fromage

Yet another sunset sky

Sky 1

This was taken from our bedroom window at about 9.30 pm. We have just moved from the back of the house to the front, seeing if early morning traffic noise (yes, there is some) disturbs us less than the noisy dawn chorus. The front of the house faces almost north, just a little west, so at this point in the year the sun goes down behind the houses across the road. Earlier in the year it was setting in the west, behind the church (see Moonrise and This too shall pass).

Picture below was an attempt to catch the very last little bit of light, at coming up to 11 at night. Looking forward to the longest day/shortest night, though with it comes the sadness of the days slowly beginning to shorten again.

Sky 2

Turning world, returning light…

Tis the year’s midnight and it is the day’s (John Donne)**

I love this moment in the year; when we journey into the darkness of the longest night and wake to the promise of returning light and new life. The world ends and is reborn.

I love the deadness of the winter garden, its life hidden from us, mysteries waiting to unfold.

It seems a powerful time to be starting a new life in a new home. And amazingly, at last, today the rain has stopped. None too soon for some houses I saw today, with the river Slea running just inches from their doorsteps.

Another mystery – the charger for my iPad has disappeared somewhere in the packing. Will we find another in our nearest town, Sleaford? We’ll make our first foray there the afternoon. If no more posts for a few days, you’ll know our charger mission was unsuccessful.

** from A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day. St Lucy’s Day is the 13th of December, which was once thought to be the shortest day, rather than today, the 21st.