The suffix (3) in the title is because it’s the third time I’ve used the same title although the content is different as you’ll see if you click here. If you read the piece in the link you’ll also notice – apart from the photo of elderflowers – a useful description of the archaic tobacco enema should that be of any interest.
Anyway the three pieces were written at very roughly this time of year in 2019, 2021 and today and they share the sense of liberation that comes with late spring and early summer made especially poignant by the fact that the earlier two postings book-ended the COVID epidemic. We thought it was all over then, but it wasn’t and it still haunts our politics, memories and dreams today. Without wanting for a moment to parallel the trauma of war with the pandemic, I remember my Father and his contemporaries with renewed respect when I try to imagine the thoughts and memories they carried and the impact it had on on our whole family.
Anyway, we treasure our slow emergence from COVID with each moment of joy, and today, making the first batch of elderflower cordial I realized how much it celebrates and marks the early summer for me. We’re lucky to be living on the edge of a patch of public green space that has many Elders amongst the other riverside trees and so yesterday we harvested about 100 flower heads and soaked them overnight with lemon and orange zest. Last year we had a problem with some of the seals on the flip top bottles and about half of one batch went mouldy, so this year we’ve bought all new rubber seals and scrupulously scrubbed and sterilized the bottles before refilling them. Up at the allotment there’s a marvellous purple variety so we’ll harvest another load of flowers from there and make pink cordial. We don’t bother to filter out all the pollen because it takes forever to drip through a jelly bag – and of course the longer it’s exposed to the air the more likely it is to pick up airborne moulds. I hate the taste of sulphite, so we combine a little extra citric acid before simmering it and bottling it. Somehow – in spite of the cost of fruit and sugar – it seems that we’ve received a free gift from nature before the allotment starts properly yielding crops.
On the other hand we’ve been eating rhubarb and digging the volunteer potatoes that were missed when we dug the crop. Miraculously we’ve even eaten a few maincrop potatoes which survived the winter and the slugs unscathed. We’ve had plentiful spinach and swiss chard so although we’re a million miles from self-sufficient, we still have the benefit of fresh veg during the hungry gap.
Yesterday, with watering out of the way, we sat out on the green reading when we heard a loud crash and looked up to see that one of our elderly neighbours had taken a tumble. Within seconds three of us sprinted to help and a passer by stopped as well. Within the constant churn of just passing through residents, there is a core of neighbours who’ve been here for many decades, and we often have impromptu parties on the pavement when the sun shines. It just happened that the first aiders were two nurses, a retired vicar and a retired post office worker – so we were fully equipped for any eventuality! In the end our neighbour suffered nothing worse than a cut on his head and another on his finger, but it underlines the great benefits of a functioning community. On the other hand the constantly changing tides of students, Airbnb’s and just passing through’s can feel a bit alienating at times. Often they do a moonlight flit and leave their rubbish in the basement for someone else to clear up.
The other problem we have is with aggressive dogs and their owners being let loose on the green to crap, bark and intimidate the rest of us. We still have a massive problem with drug dealing, and yesterday I was greatly amused to overhear a conversation between a customer on the street and the dealer in a car. The dealer was protesting that if the customer wanted whatever it was, he’d have to order it and he’d get it in for Saturday. Life’s rich tapestry, I suppose. Enduring over a decade of incompetent, corrupt and greedy government leaves its mark on the communities that we live in and which they rarely see. On the other hand we’ve had to become adept and resourceful; mastering the kind of skills that the clowns in charge will neither possess nor enjoy.