Last year I wrote about the rooks we see and hear from our garden. Their constant presence, and that of crows in the fields around us was probably what prompted me to read Crow Country by Mark Cocker. It is a fascinating book in many ways but today I have been thinking of what he writes about his connection to both the place where he lives now and where he lived as a child.
He talks of feeling a sense of possession, of ownership of a particular, familiar territory. He describes what I feel about this part of Lincolnshire where I have fetched up. It belongs to me and I belong to it; ever more so as I learn my way around the back roads and through tiny villages. The shape of the land, turns in the road, particular trees are become familiar, even as the views, the colours and the light still make me shout in surprise and joy.
I remember feeling this way about London when I was a teenager and later, in my twenties, when finally I lived there. I revelled in my growing knowledge of the city, each confident step a claiming of it as my own.
I wrote a while back of imagining coming back to this place where I live now at some time when I no longer lived here, sinking to my knees and plunging my hands into the earth like an exile returned. I go further; I imagine that I could, just now, walk out into the nearest ploughed field, lie on the rich, cold earth and disappear, merge, become a part of it. And in that imaginary desire to become one with the dense clay there is such a lightness and a freedom. This connection, this relationship requires nothing of me but love. I possess and am possessed: equilibrium.
I need a break from grinding all these spices. In the mortar are peppercorns, allspice and juniper, along with lots of salt and a little saltpetre or potassium nitrate (the stuff that keeps salted meat pink instead of grey and also makes gunpowder).
I am making Spiced Salt Beef for a lunch party at the end of the month (see After the party for its last appearance). The beef has been sitting quietly in brown sugar for two days while we were off gallivanting at a friend’s 60th birthday down south. Now it will sit ten days longer in the salt and spices before I cook it.
In Manchester days beef for this dish came from our friends at Savin Hill Farm who come all the way from Cumbria to the Farmers’ Markets in Manchester. Now the beef is from lovely Bassingthorpe Beef. Going to collect it is my favourite sort of journey, through little villages, on winding, muddy, country roads.
I bought this mortar, an old chemist’s one, more than thirty years ago when I was still a student, for £12 from a junk shop on Walton Street in Oxford. It was one of the first pieces of cooking equipment I bought for myself and I thought it was cool beyond belief. I still love it.
The pestle broke some years ago. This wooden replacement was made for me by a fellow plotholder at Southern Allotments, back in Manchester. I think all he asked in exchange was some eggs from the chickens we used to keep there. I was, and still am very grateful!
I also love the Elizabeth David cookery book propped up at the back of the picture (Spices, Salts & Aromatics in the English Kitchen). This copy is the one I had in the year I bought the mortar and pestle; the year when a friend scribbled ‘very excellent good times,’ in the margin, beside the recipe for pork baked with oranges. Not all my student days were good, but times in that year, that house, cooking and sharing food with friends, yes, excellent they were indeed.
I feel very lucky to have happened upon Newton Pottery where I go on Friday afternoons to play with clay. The class is friendly and laid back, each person making things in their own particular style, with help and guidance when needed. Nice chat, good coffee, a beautiful garden – what more could a girl want? Oh, and there’s the clay, wheel, kiln… magic.
I always manage to arrive late, as is my wont, and so a bit flustered; but while there, and as I drive home through pretty Lincolnshire villages, I always feel extraordinarily cheerful.
The dark pot at the back is my latest, brought home yesterday. It still has the weighty feel of a beginners’s pot, but not quite as much as the stripy one next to it. The smaller ones at the front are the least wonky of my efforts at throwing on the wheel.
More experienced hands than mine made the pots below, just some of those which fill our kitchen shelves. Some are gifts, others came from pottery studios, charity shops or French market stalls; some are old, some new, some cheap, others not so much. I love them all.
Use the tag ‘pottery’ at the end of this post to find earlier posts more or less about pottery or my visits to Newton.
Just another couple of pictures of a church and churchyard, this time from the small village of Walcot, taken last Friday when I took a scenic route home from my pottery class (see A lumpy thing but mine own about the pottery, or Landmarks in a flat country for a previous mention of Walcot).
I don’t know how to express why these scenes make my heart sing. They are ordinarily, quietly rural, but there is something wonderful to me in the way that you can just drive, or indeed walk or cycle, through village after village like this, with a church, a farm or two and a few other houses. They seem to me like a picture of an England that perhaps many of us, in most of the country, don’t believe exists any more. It is not an idyll of untouched natural beauty, but a working landscape, with people labouring hard behind the apparent peacefulness. And probably here, as elsewhere in the country, fewer and fewer people find it viable to make a living from the land.
So perhaps it can’t last, but I hope it can.
Friday was a great day all round because I had my first go on the potters wheel, something I haven’t tried for decades. I made four thick little pots and had a brilliant time – could have sat there at the wheel for hours.
This is here for no good reason other than to show you my first finished pot from my pottery class at The End Room, in the pretty village of Newton. It weighs a ton, as beginners’ pots tend to do; and it is rather lumpy. However, it is the first pot I have made since I left Brixton, twenty three years ago, and I am therefore ridiculously pleased to have done it and brought it home.
It is a coil pot – I never got very confident with coils in my earlier attempts at learning to make pottery – so decided I should try and get over my negative feelings about them. There is another one in the making – maybe a little less lumpy this time, but still pretty hefty.
I’m really enjoying playing with clay again – the feel of it is wonderful.
And I love the drive over to the pottery. Last week, before the class, I went to collect a piece of beef, to make Spiced Salt Beef, from a farm (Bassingthorpe Beef) over in the same direction, near Grantham. I had a wonderful adventure of a drive, through back roads and tiny villages, through a quietly beautiful landscape, so empty of people but full of human cultivation. It reminds me of drives in France on family holidays, when partner and I would sneak off to visit small wine producers, finding ourselves on rough tracks that seemed barely fit for cars, winding round mountains, finding amazing views, wild boar piglets and friendly winemakers. No wine or mountains here, no tourists, less money than in the south of France; but the same quietness, open fields, tiny settlements and people living on the land, getting on with the business of growing and making.
And though no wine, I feel drunk with the subtle beauties of this landscape.
On Friday I went to a pottery class at The End Room studio, about 20 minutes drive from Heckington. On the way, on a whim, I took a turning off the dull and dangerous A15 (Peterborough to Bourne, Sleaford, Lincoln and the Humber Bridge) and found myself in another world: the tiny village of Aswarby with its lovely church bathed in afternoon sun. But before I could get my camera out, the sun slipped behind a cloud – so you can’t see it in the picture.
I’m getting used to the contrast between A-roads busy with lorries trundling food to the rest of the country and quiet villages just round the corner. Very different from Heckington these, often with no shop, no community building except the church; but so beautiful. There are huge old trees in stretches of greensward, sheep or cattle quietly grazing and, if you’re lucky, golden sunlight over everything.
I left the pottery in the village of Newton after four in the afternoon when the last rays of sun lit up the village church like a spotlight. More beautiful still was the same light falling on grass through a thorn hedge- but I was too slow again, too late to capture it.
‘Too late,’ my mum used to say, throughout my childhood, ‘too late, saddest words in the English language.’ Seems to be a quote from a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, but don’t know if he had it from somewhere before that.
Why so sad? Why so hard to let go of what is past, of things over which we have no control – like the chancy fall of light from one moment to the next?
Was the light any the less because I couldn’t grab it, bring it here to show you? Ho hum, enough musing for a Monday morning!