02 September 2014

home and away: berries, birds, sun, cloud

This is how it goes in our house at the weekend: "The weather forecast says sunny intervals. There's a bit of a breeze, but it's not from the north east so it won't be cold. Where shall we go?" Our options are the tedium of the A12, or the chanciness of the Blackwall Tunnel. The latter normally wins out. Schlepping across London to go westward is not even under consideration. So within the hour, sensibly shod, and with a bottle of water, a bag of bananas, a cardi and an ordnance survey map on the back seat, we turned off onto the road to the Isle of Grain. But much as I'm drawn to Egypt Bay and Yantlet Creek, not least for the romance of the names, the lure of berries and raptors wins out and we turn off towards Cooling and Northward Hill. I know there will be berries there and this year more berries than I have ever seen. Plenty for the birds, plenty for us, even if it means more work on top of all those courgettes. It's greed that drives me on and after picking away, wandering randomly from patch to patch, there is something of Lady Macbeth about my stained hands. Not a good look.

It was one of those perfectly English days - warm enough to go sleeveless, cloudy enough not to get hot. We sat in a hide and look out across the marshes watching a small group of godwits, climbed the hills towards the woods, stopped to look out across the Thames towards the shiny industrial sites at the river's edge and, in the distant haze, the skyscrapers of London.

We walked through the woods and saw an oak and ash intertwined, a perfect union. Out in the open again, still high up, we spotted a pair of marsh harriers high in the sky, then another and two more - five in the sky together, then a sparrowhawk sped across a little lower. Back on the marshland trail we passed a planting of sunflowers left to dry, smaller birds were singing, warblers perhaps, and there were scatterings of small puffballs on the paths, and on the edge of paths giant brown (unidentified) funghi.

Back on the road, we stopped in Rochester for a cup of tea and a scone, bought a workshirt in a charity shop waiting to close, briefly enjoyed the architectural charms of the high street. Nearly home, we  squeezed in a visit to the allotment. The sun was lower but warm and we cropped sweetcorn, a late rush of runner beans, some half ripe tomatoes to add to the pile, a couple of cucumbers, and mercifully few courgettes.  Supper was sorted.

Officially it was the last day of summer. Unofficially it was a most  perfect day and I need to remember it.

01 September 2014

home and away: the kitchen table

Any allotment holder will know that as little as a week away from your plot in the summer months can cause havoc. Given the right conditions those female courgette flowers metamorphose into giant fruits that exhaust the plant and leave it barren for the rest of the season. It happened to us while we were away and we're still playing catch-up. As I sat at the free corner of the kitchen table I surveyed the bounty amid the ephemera of everyday life:

- the radio and lamp
- two glass bowls of ripened and ripening plum tomatoes, variety unknown as they were bought from a market stall, the slugs having eaten all of my plantlets
- four fat cucumbers
- a heap of giant courgettes, only slightly diminished in size by their inclusion in the four jars of plum chutney sitting in another corner of the table, and immobilised by the engineering efforts of a spider that comes out at night to examine the contents of the enormous web that stretches from table to chair to window frame to a short rope hanging from the kitchen cupboard (don't ask)
- a bowl of defrosted Seville oranges, evicted from the freezer that really must be defrosted to make space for an epic bakeathon coming up at the end of the month
- a glass jar, flowerless
- a sad looking bowl of fruit
- two teapot stands and one teapot
- two jars of sourdough starter, a flour shaker, and a very decent home made loaf
- a small pile of fluorescent post-it notes, some scribbled dates on the top one to transfer to my diary
- a pile of unread Guardian reviews, copies of the Cook supplement, Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet and my cookery scrap books. My intentions are good at least.
- a paper bag that contained some fat quarters of fabric, now washed, and destined for another quilt that will come in second place to the baby it's destined for; plus a rag of fabric that has to go into the cupboard with the rest of the shoe cleaning cloths
- two mortars containing pepper and sea salt

Surrounded by all this stuff, I resolve to tidy up, well at least enough to make some more space for for us to sit and eat. But the big clear-up has to wait until I've managed to squeeze in a few more outings to make the most of these last, lovely days of warmth and sunshine...before I go on holiday again.

The spider doesn't seem to mind.