OK so it’s not the prettiest sight, a very dirty hand, but I’ve come to see that sometimes the best therapy for November is getting out on the ground. I remember one of my spiritual directors once saying to me (at about this time of year) “there’s nothing wrong with you that a bit of sunshine won’t put right” and today, after a very grey day yesterday, that’s exactly what did the trick.
Yesterday I didn’t post because we spent the day with my old friend Big Al, and his wife. I’ve known them both for 28 years. Al was the very first person I met when I took on my first parish. I was sent to placate him one night because the Acting Head of the school in which I’d automatically become Chair of Governors, had made a disastrously bad decision. I think I was thrown over the wall to take the flack. The monstrous parent I was sent to sort out had, I quickly realized, got a real case. We got along famously from that moment and we’ve shared some great adventures together. It was Al who took me to Compiegne where the armistice was signed on November 11th 1918. We stood quietly immersed in our own thoughts in front of the railway carriage deep in the woods where the war ended. We were delivering some furniture to a place in Belgium, and apart from having the scary experience of driving the Green Goddess, a borrowed veg lorry, around the Periferique in Paris, we managed to visit as many 1st World War cemeteries as he could fit in. In Arras I got really ill and Al looked after me, calling the doctor and dealing with Madame (basically by not telling her). We stood at Vimy Ridge together in awe at the monstrous craters and the sheer number of dead. He’s traced and visited every single war grave of every soldier who came from the parish and died in action. I’m proud to call him a friend.
With Armistice Day on Sunday (it’s all been on my mind this week), I had a curious experience in Bath a couple of days ago as I walked past the Post Office into Green Street. I turned the corner and I suddenly felt the presence of children there- but not there – if that’s not too strange. They seemed to be sad, fearful, suffering souls asking me to help them or perhaps just to remember them. It was such a powerful experience I had to struggle to deal with it. But it’s bearing down on me to say that just remembering alone isn’t enough if it doesn’t change our behaviour. Why are we celebrating the dead of 100 years ago when we’re still manufacturing and selling weapons that we know are being used to kill and maim civilians and above all children? Are the employment statistics so important that they’re worth killing children for? That’s why it was a grey day yesterday.
So I’ve said it and it feels good. Madame is very sensitive to my melancholic states and she knows what’s good for me. Yesterday I coped by cooking for Al and Helen. I made the very last fresh tomato soup of the year as the rotting remains of the tomatoes damaged by the recent frost went on to the compost heap. It was a recipe from the Leith Vegetable Bible, and we were really delighted with it. Making veg stock is such a good way of using up the inevitable scraps from cooking. I think I rate this new addition to the library – two recipes and two successes.
This morning, with a bit of prompting from Senior Management we went up and spent the day at the allotment once I’d made some bread, labelled all the blackcurrant cordial, whizzed up the chilli sauce and labelled the blackcurrant jam. I’m very adept at displacement activity. Interestingly, this years is so much more flavourful than the last year’s batch we just finished – at least according to my breakfast slice of toast, spread with samples of both. The chilli sauce is so fragrant I could eat it by the spoonful. Say what you will, home produced food tastes just so much better.
So now we’ve planted all the alliums – 5 sorts of garlic, 2 of shallots, onion sets, and prepped the spring bed for leeks. We’ve planted broad beans ( Aquadulce Claudia) and overwintering peas (Douce Provence) and last of all, as it was getting dark, I grease -banded all the trees. What a filthy job! It took 3 washes of surgical spirit to break down the sticky coating on my hands. But the allotment looks great and I felt a whole lot better. It’s a good reason for prescribing gardening as a treatment for modern life. Cheap, drug free and free exercise as well. Oh and the root veg are doing so well.