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

Close to the edge

Road to nowhere

This is my 100th post. Nine months ago we moved ‘from the city to the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens,’ as it says in the strapline above.

Heckington is indeed a village on the edge. Sitting at a fine height of ten metres above sea level, it is one of a string of villages which mark the western border of the fens in these parts.

To the west of these villages is a very English farmland landscape: an undulating patchwork of fields and hedgerows in shades of green, brown, gold. But when you travel east you cross the 5 metre contour line and then, on the map, there are no more wavy contour lines, just the straight, blue lines of drainage ditches dividing the fields.

Each village has its own parcel of fenland: South Kyme (South Kyme by Ferry Lane), Howell (No longer the dog field..), Heckington, Great Hale, Little Hale and so on, along a roughly north-south line down to the town of Bourne, each with a fen named after it.

These are the real flatlands, a pancake-flat, sea-like expanse stretching from here to the Wash. Long, straight farm roads or ‘droves’ take you out onto the fen, often coming to an abrupt end at Car Dyke (A walk on Star Fen) or further south, at the larger, though less ancient South Forty Foot Drain.

Yesterday I walked at twilight down Howell Fen Drove, picking elderberries, meeting not one other single soul, hearing nothing but the wind and my own footsteps. Ahead of me hung a three-quarters moon in a limpid, china blue sky, behind me cloudy pink reflections of the setting sun; light fading with every yard.

The eerie, empty world excited, elated and then scared me as the darkness grew. I though of Robert Macfarlane walking a sea path in mist (in The Old Ways) and then I was on another ghostly walk, from Alan Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath (a childhood favourite), with padding footsteps of the Horned Hunter behind me on the road.

So that road’s end is to be seen another day. I turned back to my real-world, parked van and the dubious safety of driving home in darkness with my less than perfect eyesight. But I am glad for that hour out of time on a road to nowhere. Part of me is walking there still, weightless, breathing, free.

Field on Howell Fen

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

South Kyme via Ferry Lane

I took my bike out in brilliant sunshine yesterday, up to a village called South Kyme (see Monochrome post from back in the winter, one of our very first walks in the area).

I stopped for my first photos by the River Slea, on Ferry Lane, near Ferry Farm – maybe there was a ferry here once…

South Kyme church was once part of a large Augustinian priory founded in the twelfth century. Nearby is Kyme Tower (see link above for picture) which is all that is left of a fourteenth century castle.

The cows are Dexters, a small, slow-growing breed, rather shaggy and nice-looking; but these ones were too far away for me to talk to.

After cows and church, three miles on road shared with too many lorries, then home on the fen road, Littleworth Drove (see A walk on
Star Fen)
, glowing with exercise, virtue or both.

Not quite so crafty

Coil pot
… or rather, not so craftsmanlike as the lovely 14th century carving in my last post.

But dear to me nevertheless: my second pot, glazed and fired, brought home from my pottery class – see A lumpy thing but mine own.

This is a coil pot, slightly less lumpy than the first one (though still weighs a ton). As I mentioned in Scenes from a country churchyard, I’ve been playing on the wheel in recent weeks, which I have loved. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow, Friday, when I hope to bring home a collection of small bowls of different shapes but all with thick bottoms, that I saw going into the kiln last week.

Since the church visit last weekend, I’ve been thinking about what I get, what we get from looking at ancient art or artefacts. The Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year was awe-inspiring, including pieces thousands of years old, with that feel of great age and also complete modernity about them.

If we could meet the medieval stonemasons and stonecarvers who worked on St Andrews Church, we might struggle to understand their speech. But their hands and eyes would have been the same as ours today and we can feel connected to them when we look on the things they made.

I imagine what they were thinking when they were carving that sweet mermaid or grinning gargoyle. I think about feel of clay in my hands. I think how basic a part of being human it is to feel joy and satisfaction in making something.

Bring on pottery tomorrow – though today I am supposed to be reading and writing about family mediation! And the sun is shining and the garden beckons.

A host of golden daffodils; and other things

 

They are everywhere I look in the garden, the daffodils; gold, primrose and white, tossing their heads in the wind, as they do.

I’ve written more about the leylandii hedge than about the rest of the garden, which is lovely. It is a great treat to have inherited so many flowers: there have been snowdrops, hellebores and primroses, then the daffodils, and tulips on the way. And with the warmer weather, at last, there are all sorts of perennials starting to emerge from patches of dead stalks and bare earth; aquilegia and foxgloves, among my favourite flowers, are appearing in all sorts of unexpected places.

I have a few cut-and-come-again seedlings in the conservatory. They look so fresh and green that I want to eat them now, but they are still only babies. Meanwhile I try not to check the length of the rhubarb coming up outside more than every couple of days. Soon, soon it will be big enough to cut.

Yesterday I potted on all the soft fruit cuttings I took from the bushes at our Manchester allotment (a small act of faith, made long ago, before our move was really on the cards). I am pleased to have something here from that patch of ground that my partner put so much into over seven or eight years.

Today I am going to sow beetroot and carrots. And partner is thinking of putting early potatoes in some messy ground where the polytunnel will go later. Feels very daring to be doing such normal things for the time of year. More acts of faith and commitment to this, our new piece of earth.

Is spring sprung at last?

St Andrews Church, Heckington

A large town church in a village, in fact one of the dozen or so grandest churches in Lincolnshire.*

I’ve mentioned our village church in passing: the bell-ringing on a Tuesday night, a landmark to guide me home from a walk, the presence of the medieval world in our modern one, and so on. So yesterday, in the sunshine, I took a few photos of it to put up here.

St Andrews was built in the fourteenth century and I’d heard before arriving here that it is an important church (in this region of many fine churches). In particular people write about, and take pictures of the stone carvings both on the outside and inside the building.

If you like church architecture and decoration, there are many more images, by better photographers than I, to be found on the web. Have a look on the Geograph website, a fun place to visit if you don’t know it (search for Heckington or grid square TF1444).

I love living so close to this ancient building. I love it being open so much of the time and I love the second-hand bookstall inside.

And I’m glad I took the photos yesterday. Today there is no sun again, only the punishing, bitter cold.

* from Lincolnshire by Nikolaus Pevsner, John Harris, Nicholas Antram (2002)