There’s no situation that’s not redeemed by a slice of cake

I know that’s a bold claim to make, but time without number I’ve found that baking cakes beats any antidepressant on the market. Yesterday was a total bummer, what with the shed and the greenhouse being vandalized; and it went on getting worse when the lights all failed, and then Madame came out of the bathroom with wet feet and we discovered that for the second time we were being inundated with water from the flat above. Actually after some frantic messaging on the house Whatsapp group, we discovered that the water was coming from two floors above us and filtering merrily down through the electricity conduits and out through a light fitting! – it was the result of a botched attempt to remove a blockage from a bath that somehow disconnected the whole pipe. Luckily we caught it in time and after a couple of hours dripping into a bowl, we ran the dehumidifier flat out for a couple of hours. Living in a concrete building means that the winter is a constant battle against black mould and so we circulate the dehumidifier around the flat to keep it under control. Profuse apologies from our upstairs neighbour gave us the chance of a first conversation, although I’m not sure what he made of us.

Of course the night before last was pretty much taken up with lying in bed staring at the ceiling and trying to manage my anger. I think I got about four hours sleep in the end; my placid and saintly response yesterday was only possible after an exhausting inner battle. Then very early today – just to compound our joy – there was a burglary next door at four thirty a.m. with a good deal of shouting and revving of engines none of which I heard because I was sleeping with my deaf side uppermost. Helpfully, Madame soon woke me and obliged me with a running commentary. The police turned up mid morning and gave the owners a crime number, which will be the last time that anyone hears anything.

If there’s a lesson in all this it’s simply that sometimes I find I have to manage my anger intellectually and then allow the resolution to percolate through to my unconscious for a couple of days to mature into acceptance. The shed and the greenhouse were our Christmas presents to one another five years ago when we took on the second half-plot on the allotment. But there – we can walk away from any unforgiving, angry feelings because we are free to be free of negative thoughts. The people who did the damage may not have mastered that gift yet and more likely than not, their lives are completely impoverished and blighted by destructive instincts . I wish them no harm other than the harm they bring on themselves which, if they choose, can become the motivation for change.

Anyway, an early grocery delivery had me out of bed soon after six, and I decided that the only way forward was to bake a cake, make some bread and go up to the allotment to finish the running repairs – which is what we did. I think we both came to the conclusion that rather than spending a great deal of money on replacing the toughened glass, we could substitute polycarbonate sheets that, ‘though they wouldn’t be quite as good, are at least much harder to smash. When we first took on the allotments we wanted everything to be as perfect as possible but the thieving and vandalism are so prolific we just can’t risk the expenditure – and so just as we did when the cold frames were stolen – we look for a route around the mountain rather than over it. The shed window is now covered with an old compost bag, and the greenhouse is swaddled with some left over pond liner held in place with posts, staples, and gaffer tape. It’s not pretty but it keeps the wind and rain out. We’ll never let the darkness win.

When I started this blog I put in a category called “Uncle Jim” which I don’t think I’ve ever tagged a post with. For a long time I considered removing it from the list of categories. In the HG Wells Story “A history of Mr Polly” – which gave me the name for the blog – there’s a drunken and violent character known as Uncle Jim, the landlady’s nephew, who remains a constant threat to the hero until one day, he returns to the Potwell Inn breathing fire and revenge. After a series of epic battles and in the course of the ninth chapter he manages to steal Mr Polly’s coat and an old rifle and then disappears altogether only to be found washed up on a beach wearing Polly’s coat. He is then misidentified as Polly which frees our hero (and his wife) from a suffocating marriage. She claims the insurance and finds happiness running a cafe in Canterbury, and he returns to the generously proportioned landlady of the Potwell Inn – a sort of Ma Larkin – in a setting suspiciously familiar to me. And so, today, I’m tagging this post as the first and possibly the only time I’ll use the category Uncle Jim.

Tomorrow we shall have tea and cake and do the seed order. I can almost taste those Minnesota Midget melons already!

Delicious!!

Rainy day – I hate rainy days!

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_1080345“Hello” – I say, as I shuffle up the garden in my baggy corduroy trousers with my two ancient laboradors following – “I’m worrying about my hyacinth.”

I daydream in bed, listening to the wind and rain buffeting the windows and knowing from the outset that this is it for the day.  All there is to do is to watch the hyacinth growing in its special pot and know in the depths of my heart that it will flower sooner or later and I shall have to paint it, or rather finish painting it. Madame is peacefully asleep but I make tea anyway open the shutters and muse aloud about the weather. More tea, then strong coffee – why on earth do I drink stimulants when what I need is something to send me to sleep until the sun shines? Back in bed I read fitfully and take a wild and fruitless leap at a conversation.  “It’s like living with a tornado when you’re in one of these moods”, she says.

Every rainy day needs a plan. The campervan battery needs replacing but I can’t do that in the wet. We need to go to the garden centre to get more seed sowing compost and some extra modules but the Christmas bonanza has started in earnest and you have to fight your way past Father Christmas and the intoxicating smell of cinnamon candles to get to the gardening bit – bah humbug! Finally the idea of baking the Christmas cake floats into my mind.  Up again, I discover a huge cache of half-full packets of dried fruit none of which is full enough to make a Christmas cake and much of which is beginning to crystallise – this is what happens every year and instead of throwing the old ones away and buying new, I will get lumbered with another stash exactly the same size next year. Wouldn’t it be good to buy them loose?

And then in a typical bit of mission creep, I decide to make a Dundee cake as well and so it goes …..

Sainsbury’s, it’s clear, is suffering from brexit already. Things are unexpectedly missing and there are notices appearing about supply interruptions. Barring the possibility that the identical aspiration to make Christmas cakes today has struck half the population simultaneously, I’d say that some shelves were suspiciously empty. I set out in search of dried porcini mushrooms.  They were missing from their usual spot and even the customary label was missing. I asked one of the assistants who did a search for me on her handset – “They’re on hold” – she blurted out; not “sold out” or “impounded by customs” but “on hold”.  Which sounds suspiciously like one of those sharp suited London types is frantically trying to renegotiate a post-brexit supply from the porcini groves of Putney.  This will end in tears. 

And so, for a breath of reality to the Farmers Market in Green Park Station.  We like going there because it’s a good place to get some sense of what our vegetables are worth – quite a bit is the answer – although one farmer is still selling sweetcorn on the cob – probably not very sweet today, more like fodder maize.  Farmers markets aren’t the complete answer to all our woes, but they’re certainly a step in the right direction. We’ve three independent bakers, two really good butchers, a man who sells game, a fishmonger, artisan cheesemongers and any number of value added food stalls.  You can even buy cannabis oil products but I hate queuing. Today there was a newcomer with a fabulous display of fungi. It was like being in France again, and he had dried porcini mushrooms.

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The dreadlocked couple on one of the bread stalls had obviously struggled with the effect of the wind on their wood fired oven because all their loaves were baked several steps beyond perfection, but it didn’t seem to matter to the crust loving customers.

Farmers markets are a bit more expensive than supermarkets, but the upside is that you can talk to the producers and get the measure of them before you buy, and the difference in the price could probably be expressed in animal welfare and/or organic standards. But the biggest advantage is that they’re local – I think the furthest travelled food on sale today was the kimchi – up from Salisbury.  What it all boils down to is a personal choice, would I prefer to eat organic free range beef maybe a couple or three times a year, accepting it as an occasional luxury? or carry on as usual turning a blind eye to the abuse of animals, the environmental impact of intensive food production and the terrible quality of mass produced food.  Local and small scale food production creates many more real skills and jobs for local people who spend their money locally. And I’m not away with the fairies imagining that we can change the world by thinking nice thoughts – we must make the polluters pay for their mess and pay their taxes like the rest of us.  We will have to legislate too, if it’s going to work, and of course the industrial farmers and their chemical industry supporters won’t be very happy about it – tough!

Without wanting to pick a fight, the choice isn’t binary – either vegan or feedlots, but exploring the possibility of less impactful lives and engaging with (willing) food producers to discover what we can jointly do as producers and consumers. The face to face interaction of a farmers market is exactly the right place for this to happen and I would dearly love to see the whole of the undercover part of Green Park Station turned into a giant continental style food market. But for now, there’s no choice but to go to a supermarket for some more currants and sultanas because I didn’t get enough.  The Dundee cake is just out of the oven and smells fantastic, and when we get back we can put the rest of the fruit into a bowl to soak with some brandy until I make the Christmas cake tomorrow, when the clocks go back and it gets dark at lunchtime but at least the sun’s going to shine.

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