Friday, October 9, 2009

Flintshire Idyll

Even the prospect of going to stay at St Deiniols residential library, ten minutes beyond Chester as so just in Flintshire, focuses my mind and makes work more exciting. I'm coming to the end of five days here; I drove up before dawn even cracked on Monday morning, and leave around five this afternoon. It is a unique place: dedicated to devout learning, but happy to accept those who are devoted to learning - or writing - or simply shepherding their thoughts and spinning dreams. Much as I love - am addicted to - domesticity, it is wonderful to be looked after: a fresh, simply furnished room, meals at regular intervals, home-made rolls for breakfast and homemade cookies for elevenses and tea, early nights, early morning walks among the ancient trees of Gladstone's Park. Everyone respects each other's endeavours, gently encourages. We talk as warmly together at meal-times as strangers on trains once used to do, then leave each other to our own devices and desires. The galleried library, endowed by Gladstone because he had so many thousands of books that deserved readers, and knew his country was full of would-be readers who deserved access to books, is its especial treasure. Delving as I am into the minds of fifteenth century people, I find it endlessly useful, and you can go and get the books yourself within minutes. Peace is what it is renowned for, but to that I would add its capacity to inspire. Unhurried, we sit at our desks, flanked on all sides by books, entranced. Its red sandstone Victorian Gothic grandeur  is specially suited to Alice because after a few days I am so in character that I prowl around its passages peering out of the medieval-style casements imagining possible developments in Ewelme Palace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grandmaternal Cogitations and a Persian Feast

Well, I've done it. All grannies of my acquaintance advised against being in the Front Line of childcare, but it is only for one day a week and Sam and Olivia live only ten minutes walk away from me. They are also adorable, and adore me, and will soon morph into schoolchildren with preoccupations of their own and a slightly patronising attitude to doddery oldfolk. Moreover, my justification for this substantial establishment is that it will give the grands room to romp. And romp they did yesterday, day 1 of the new pattern.

Making Chocolate Mousse
It will in the end be a regular Thursday commitment - 8.30 to 5.30. am planning pattern to the day: first hour or two gardening [with the hens in interested attendance] or housework [am sure they will love learning to polish silver photo frames and brass furniture knobs] depending on the weather. then elevenses, then an excursion to shops or a friend. Lunch; hour's rest [ie me nodding off as they glue themselves to Rupert Bear or similar DVD]. Then a trip - probably on the S1 bus into the city to Explore things - dinosaurs at the university Museum; clocks and azimuths at the Museum of Science; Gamelan at the Bate collection of musical instruments. Then tea in a cafe; then bus home, supper, bath and bed. Will it work? Watch this space.
Work on Alice actually going the better for having a more circumscribed timetable - as when my four were small, I fill two hours very productively when I know that is all I have got, but can spend all morning padding round in circles if I have all day (as I am at the minute!). Also much helped by the serene autumnal weather - Dulcibella is a great place to work; if I pole upstream for a while, progress is utterly uninterruptable. OR so I thought. Out yesterday with Harriet, who is the best of companions as she gets deeply immersed in her books, when we were cheerily hailed by Peter Ledwith, of MSC.

He is doing for pleasure what I did for charity a couple of years ago [see Adventures link on my home page] and sailing down the Thames. But his mast is low enough to get through all the bridges except Godstow and Osney.  After he'd had a coffee and a slice of cake (we live well on Dulcie), Harriet chuckled. She was reading  The Shipping News and had just come to this chapter head quotation:

'The common eider is called "gammy" bird in Newfoundland for its habit of gathering in flocks for sociable quacking sessions. The name is related to the days of sail, when two ships falling in with each other at sea would back their yards and shout the news. The ship to windward would back her main yards and the one to leeward her foreyards for close maneuvering. This was gamming.'

As well as inventing a layout for Ewelme Palace, I was reading the wonderful Fred Thacker's The Stripling Thames, a guide to the Thames above Oxford which he published himself in 1909. The frontispiece is a picture of his camping skiff moored at Shiplake. He has high praise for my little poling ground:
'Two miles of winding water lie between Swinford Bridge and Pinkhill Lock, Pinkhill it is, officially, but Pinkle to all the workaday world. This little lock mound is the happy isle of the River country; a haven of dreams; the inner gate of a far off land whose elusive charm quickens the memory more frequently and tenderly than all the more obvious beauties of the middle River. The great Wytham and Beacon Hills exclude for ever the whole outer world. Beyond them lies - Oxford? even London, perhaps; all unlovely hustling and crowds. But the loud and brawling voices never surmount those sheltering heights; and on their hitherward side the deep meadows, emerald green beneath the purple woods, are broken only by the willowed banks of the immemorial stream.'

This is the sunset from my mooring at Oxford Cruisers Pinkhill boatyard.
But what of the Persian Feast? Adam, who I think I have said is my American nephew by marriage and is staying for two years while he does a PhD in Arabic at Balliol, cooked a wonderful saffron chicken dish for Susie, Joe and two friends of mine.  His mother is Iranian, so he knows about these things. It reminded me of the one that Farhang cooked long ago in Chalfont Road. Sharp deep red barberriestopping the saffron rice, and subtly spiced chicken thighs; delicious. Much better than  anything I ate during our Iran trip in 2007.  Finished off with the grands' chocolate mousse, it was a most congenial evening; warm feeling of family all around.