Sing loudly, cuckoo! – Well at least I heard one cuckoo on our friends’ smallholding in the Brecon Beacons a few weeks ago and I found it unbelievably moving, thinking that with the climate catastrophy upon us I might never hear it again.
But sumer most certainly is icumen in and so today we picked a load of elderflowers and started the first 3 litres of cordial. We felt almost secretive about picking it, hoping our neighbours wouldn’t spot us and join in – picking is best done in the sun for maximum flavour and there’s plenty for everyone but I fear very few people would go to the trouble any more even though the difference between our own home made cordial and the commercial stuff is striking.
Summer is as much a smell as anything more meteorological. Yesterday evening we were sitting in the living room when Madame said, “I can smell chewing gum”. I wrinkled my nose up in mimed solidarity and it was true but it wasn’t chewing gum it was cats’ pee. It was the smell of summer. There were the elderflowers infusing on the stove, and several different kinds of basil gently sunning itself in the propagator, along with a sink full of fresh spinach and a salad spinner loaded with newly picked lettuce. Oh yes summer is good.
We spent the morning at two exhibitions in Bath. The annual open exhibition of the Bath Society of Artists is always worth seeing several times. In some ways, although it’s a lot smaller, it’s better than the RWA open. Several friends and acquaintances had pictures in, and there’s less of the gulf between ‘high art’ and village show about it. Many of the artists necessarily earn their living from other things, but their work is really good – the product of a lifetime’s labour without the deadly grip of the Arts Council. As we left we hubristically resolved to submit some of our own work next year
Then we dropped in at BRLSI (Bath Royal LIterary and Scientific Institution) where there was an exhibition of artifacts and books from the permanent collection. The headline catcher was a small phial of liquid taken from the barrel in which the body of Lord Nelson was brought back from Trafalgar. Not terribly interesting really, the value was all in the caption. My own favourite things in the exhibition were the botanical books, pressed flowers and drawings which were all on the subject of medical herbs. But one exhibit was truly bizarre –
The other gadget, the tobacco smoke enema, has no modern parallel. At first an ordinary clay pipe was used and someone administered the smoke enema by poking the stem through the anus and blowing on the bowl. The risk of burns led to the invention of safer apparatus.
Well thank goodness for that! The afternoon was spent at the allotment as the flat is gradually emptied of plants. Much of my time was spent in energetic watering, but I did manage to find 20 minutes to sit with my back to a compost heap, measuring and inspecting our mystery fumitory with a copy of Rose at my side. Then in the evening we worked in tandem in the kitchen, prepping spinach, elderflowers and tomorrow’s family BBQ and cooking supper. We had inspected the peas earlier, hopng for a first taste, but they’re not quite ready. Next week maybe.
This last few days I’ve been tempted to say that I’ve been feeling the same kind of energy and excitement I had when we first went to art school, everything seems inflected with possibilities. But I’m a melancholic and I’ve read Tolstoy and Iris Murdoch so I won’t tempt fate by saying I’m happy. Maybe ‘pretty happy‘?