How well do we know the ground beneath our feet? As a young child, I lived in Cornwall. I seemed to know every inch of the garden that surrounded our house, as well as the sloping path that led down the stony road to the river. I remember sitting under a bush at the end of the lane where it overlooked the main road and smelling the scent of the buddleia. In summer the shade was dappled and cool and the flowers were a haven for butterflies. My best friend lived just across the road and we used to spend hours playing together, dreaming up stories of dragons and princesses. Sadly she is no longer here, but I can still see her in my mind’s eye calling ‘see you later alligator’ over her shoulder as she walked home.
I can still remember so much about my early years; I can remember where the robin nested in the hedge just beyond my playhouse, the Christmas trees planted each year by my father, and I can remember seeing a slowworm laying motionless on the grass; dark and shocking to me as a child though quite harmless. I can remember having tea-parties with imaginary guests and making them perfume from fallen rose petals.
The busy world went on around me, but I was only concerned with the freedom of the outdoors. Perhaps as children, we had more time to discover the magic in our surroundings, the simple joy of collecting shiny pebbles or building camps. As adults, we tend to ‘fit in’ a daily walk as necessary exercise, something to add to our mandatory 10,000 daily steps, often forgetting to look around. Perhaps it is time to reconnect with our surroundings. The natural world has, since time began, been one of the most important ways of connecting with something greater than ourselves, with God, the Universe, or simply with all the amazing beings with whom we share this incredible world. There may be so much still to learn, but there is also so much healing coming from the atmosphere that we can absorb just by being a part of it.
This week, we have been beset with raging storms and unsettling news. The world can seem grim. But if we focus on the ground around us we will come to know that even when the storm IS raging, the summer flowers are only sleeping under our feet, and are waiting to bloom again.
My palate is jaded. I have had enough of Christmas fare, delicious though it is. As usual for this time of year, we are bombarded with instructions for healthy eating and ways of cleansing our systems. This is all well and good, but how long do healthy diets last? I think getting back to sensible eating is the key, without being too radical.
I like watching cookery programmes. It is very entertaining to watch professional chefs painstakingly preparing delicious delicacies on our screens (try saying that when you’ve had a few glasses of Prosecco) ! There is always a new and elaborate dish or recipe to try, and a new exotic vegetable that will soon sell out in the supermarket, once the word is out that no discerning foodie’s kitchen should be without it.
How do we manage to get a meal on the table without the use of a water baths I wonder? Can we find space in the kitchen for hayboxes, ice-cream churns and sorbet makers? Do we have a supply of pine oil or basil oil? Can we confit an egg? Do we have time to go foraging?
What can be more enjoyable than sitting at a well-laid table being served fancy food, but sometimes, do we not yearn for simple fare?
At lunch time today, we had a simple dish of tomato soup and some bread and butter. I started thinking back to the simple foods of my childhood, and the warm and happy kitchens.
A Devonshire Kitchen.
As a little girl, I often sat at my grandfather’s table and watched him as he prepared his version of afternoon tea. A large white loaf, fresh from the baker, was upended and buttered with rich, yellow, freshly churned Devonshire butter. Then, with the sharpest knife kept solely for this purpose, he sliced the bread so thinly that it looked like lace, when delicately laid on a china plate. Served with tea from a silver pot, this was a delicacy like no other. It needed no accompaniment. No matter how much I have tried over the years, I have never been able to replicate the dish in quite the same way.
I remember granny's kitchen
The cushioned window seat,
A pantry with its vat of cream,
The Aga's cosy heat.
Sitting down to breakfast
Was always a delight,
With bowls of creamy porridge
That had simmered overnight.
Pasties were for lunchtime,
Crimped and golden brown,
With chunks of homemade bread
And tea to wash it down.
At tea-time there were Cornish splits
And fragrant saffron cakes,
Bowls of jam and clotted cream
And fancy china plates.
On Sunday, there was Grandpa
Who took his rightful place,
And seated round the table
We bowed our heads for Grace.
Now I look back in time
And in an old book I see
A recipe, written in my granny's hand
That once she cooked for me.
Maybe it is time to embrace simple fare for a while!
Happy New Year.
Last Sunday morning I lay in bed listening to the morning service on the radio. It was celebrating the Harvest Festival. I heard a recording of a choir singing ‘We plough the Fields and Scatter’, and the years rolled back. I remember as a young child standing in Egloshayle church in Wadebridge, Cornwall, singing the same hymn and listening to my Father’s deep and harmonious voice singing along beside me. I remember that feeling of being in complete awe of my Dad – and the feeling of being in the presence of something far bigger than me. From the corners of the softly lit church came a feeling of unworldliness and reverence which was palpable even to me as a small child. The brass gleamed, and the soft light from the windows fell on the altar steps, where banks of fruits and vegetables were stacked. Every window ledge too, was covered with bounty so freely given. The air was full of the earthy smell of fresh produce and the sweetness of hay. Everything felt just as it should be.
There is something very comforting about familiarity – the festivals which come every year with the changing of the seasons, the pumpkins appearing in the shops and even the way we might complain about the first splashes of Christmas advertising; the way we sigh as we close the curtains a little earlier each evening, just as our mother’s did before us. Perhaps we need the comfort of this more than ever now. By focusing on the familiar , embracing the changing seasons and following the well-loved traditions, even on a smaller scale than we are used to, we can bask in some normality and forget about the Coronavirus for a while.
This year has been hard for us all in so many ways. And still we feel uncertainty lurking around every corner. We still have challenges to come. Yet in March, I remember us going for our daily walk during lockdown. It was so important to get outside and clear our minds. Walking the quiet, usually traffic- choked streets we could breathe the fresh, sweet air and embrace the silence around us. We could hear the birdsong – we could cling to the glimmer of new beginnings. Even as the traffic increases again, my attention is now sharpened to the complexity, diversity and sheer abundance of creation in this unruly, chaotic time.
No matter how we, on this planet, try and mess up the environment with our over consumerism, our over use and waste of resources , nature remains on our side. Nature is forgiving and we need to hold on to that , especially now. Walking out this morning, we picked a handful of blackberries from the hedgerow and collected some fallen apples to cook up for supper. Such a small example of how nature provides and shows us abundance and gives us simple delights and reasons to be grateful.
We all have different ways of coping and also not coping with the world – of dealing with worries and facing uncertain futures. I have had some days where worries about issues in my own world have chipped away at the strong exterior I try to present to the world and those I love and the defences crumble. But I have faith that those I love will understand. We all comfort each other at times like these.
So these are the days when memories evoked from past times – the robust singing of a well-loved hymn or the earthy scent of the harvest gathered in, remind us of our roots, of a permanency and the order of things. They remind us that the seasons will still come and go – and that the world keeps on turning. The familiar can anchor us when we need it, as can following the small daily routines – as I have said so many times, it is the small things that are really the big things.
Times may be so different now to those days long ago when I stood as a little girl next to my dad in church. Technology surrounds us, the media bombards us the television beams into our home 24/7. There is hardly anything we can’t look up, order or comment on in one way or another. So much has changed and many things have moved forward in beneficial ways. Attitudes have changed and become more liberal. Diversity is embraced although there is still a long way to go. But I can still look back and remember the inherently good feeling of the memory and the reassurance of my dad’s hand on my shoulder. These things make us who we are and are never lost.
A few weeks ago I was wandering through a churchyard in a pretty village in Dorset. In the silent surroundings I stopped and looked at a headstone that caught my eye – the inscription was this:
‘Let the winter come and go – all shall be well again I know’