I came to England a lot as a child; and I have fled to England as temporary refuge as an adult. The England I visit is not the England of the film This is England or Coronation Street. The England I visit is of my past and my imagination - what would it be like to grow up with family close by? to travel roads that are tunnels of green daily, to have milk delivered in bottles, to make jam from fruit gathered from hedgerows and never be far from a castle? I have an unearned nostalgia for these things.
On my most recent visit my niece-lets (cousins once removed takes too long both to write and to say) and I went for a four mile ride. More accurately, I walked along side trying to look like a responsible adult should such a creature be required. The horse clearly thought not.
We walked up lanes shouldered by hedges jewelled with blackberries (fruit not PDA’s I hasten to add in advance of wiseacres). We climbed a hill past an abandoned orchard to views of the North and South Downs and quilts of fields of varied green. We passed a cottage where a brown lab sprang as if by magic from a large dog flap, ran to his gate tail wagging furiously but didn’t bark. We scared up a brace or two of pheasant as we passed through a quiet farm.
There are two pheasants to a brace, one male, one female, if anyone cares. Thomas Hardy has a poem, Afterwards in which he wonders if he'll be remembered as a "man who used to notice such things". I like to be a woman learns such things.The Paston Letters are a medieval collection valued by scholars for their insights into family life and manor management of the period. This trip I learned that just above a horse’s hoof is the paston joint. I have also learned how to prune roses, how to roll pastry properly and discovered slipcote, a mild sheep’s milk cheese.
I first had it in a quiche at Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West’s famous garden, and then bought some at a farmers’ market. I used it in a salad of rocket (aka arugula), cress and lettuce which I dressed with vinaigrette and topped with the cheese, sliced beets and walnuts, and served with thinly cut slices of my aunt’s homemade bread buttered. Madam, lunch is served. Thank you, Jeeves.
I have been to a pub where they offer a platter of three different kinds of chips (French fries) as an appetizer. I have also been to a pub, The Red Lion in Horsted Keynes where I had roasted pork belly with a cider sauce, served with a salty wafer of crackling, gently wilted spinach and a timbale of potatoes. Pudding (dessert) was a champagne jelly encasing summer berries.
The first day of my trip we had lunch in the garden to the sound of sheep bleating in the next field. My last day came quickly. Hope is an act of imagination, someone, a poet or philosopher once said. I hope to have more weeks of summer in England.
Five for the Road
The best argument I have heard for the Kindle, Kobo or any other electronic reader is that it means you can take more books with you on a trip than you would normally carry. I am more afraid of finding myself without engaging reading material than being without suitable clothing, as proven by this trip, when in a fit of uncharacteristic optimism, I packed almost nothing warm. But I had five books on board and another three waiting for me (free shipping within the UK? Why not?).
This trip I read three novels set in my other favourite country to visit, Italy. Inspector Montalbano frequently breaks the rules in pursuing the truth of his cases, but wait, this is Sicily and there are no rules, except perhaps that of the nobleman in di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, who insisted everything must change in order to remain the same. Montalbano knows he wins battles, but never the war and consoles himself with wonderful meals, especially local seafood.
Italophile mystery lovers will probably already know Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series set in Venice and Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen, but perhaps you haven’t read Peter Elbing’s The Food Taster. Starving to death in the late medieval countryside, Ugo is a widowed peasant with a lovely daughter when he lands a new job. Tasting the delicacies prepared for his local lord is part dream come true, part potentially a fatal nightmare.
There are several givens in the mystery genre. We are often served red herrings for instance. In the mystery set in Italy, we are also served superb food.