When the Virginia Creeper turns this colour, there’s no more hiding from the truth – autumn is here. Then when the clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time and the evenings become darker and darker, the winter woollies come out. It has been such a beautiful summer that it’s hard to let go, but October has its compensations. For one thing, it’s my birthday month. Here are some birthday flowers, still going strong after three weeks – it’s very cold in our drawing room!
In fact the whole house is very cold, but I’m determined not to put on any heating until November. Our electricity and gas prices have gone up by 8-10 %, so bills will be crippling this winter.
My birthday always means lunch at the But ’n’ Ben in Auchmithie, a former fishing village up the coast from here, just north of Arbroath. Auchmithie actually invented smokies, which are now erroneously known as Arbroath smokies, a local delicacy of haddock smoked slowly over oak (or other hardwood) chips. I believe in Auchmithie they were originally smoked in pits or barrels sunk into the beach. Now they are produced in smokehouses in Arbroath, but it’s still more or less a cottage industry. When we go to the But ’n’ Ben I always have the smokie pancake, rich in cream, despite the temptations of crab, mussels, lobster… or what David declares are the best fish and chips to be found anywhere in the world.
The meal generally starts with melon balls in ginger wine and finishes with something from the stunning desert trolley – this time lime cheesecake. Afterwards, all one needs is a little lie-down and a few hours to digest. Of course I forgot my camera as usual, but one of these days I’ll remember it and share the glories of Auchmithie with you.
You may remember that a while ago I bought my first netsuke, shown here raised on a glass pot:
I’d wanted one for years and Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes spurred me on to find one for myself. Well, for my birthday I got another one, a rabbit climbing onto a mushroom, or rather trying to climb. It’s carved from box wood which has an extraordinary sheen, almost like copper. The thimble is there to give an idea of the size:
It’s not quite as old as the ivory lady, which is mid nineteenth century. It’s about fifty years later, but it is beautifully detailed, even down to the gills of the mushroom and the rabbit’s paws:
Perhaps I’ll now start a modest collection. There’s something very appealing about these miniature figures.
Season of mists and rather too much mellow fruitfulness…
You may remember that I brought the liquid from my elderberries back from Herefordshire frozen. Well, the next stage, in Scotland, was to heat it up with sugar and bring it to setting point:
And here is the resulting jelly. Delicious! We’ve had it on homemade scones with clotted cream:
Still struggling with the excessive apple harvest, I got David to give me a hand with making my favourite apple, date, ginger and sweet red pepper chutney, two batches. Here is batch one, ready to cook:
Ready to bottle:
And the yield, in outsize jars which hold about as much as two to three normal jars:
I’m still struggling, though. Two of the three apple trees here in Scotland have outstripped any previous harvest and the damson tree produced a good crop. The ornamental quince is covered with fruit, but (perhaps luckily) it’s tasteless and not worth eating. Oddly the main crop plum tree here did not do particularly well. This is about half the entire crop:
We had quite a few carrots, but they were rather small. This was the garlic crop, picked a while ago and very good:
Enough of harvest time!
On the writing front I feel that Flood is as polished as it is going to be, as is the first book in the planned series The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez. I am still trying to think of a unifying set of titles for the separate books, like the chess theme in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series. Something appropriate which also serves to link the different books together.
I am at the planning stage for the second Christoval book. I think I will try to write the first draft under the NaNoWriMo regime, as it’s good discipline. For those who aren’t familiar with this, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, when around half a million people around the world sit down in November to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days, which means around 1,667 words a day. As my first drafts generally run to around 100,000 words, I will need to write twice as much, but it can be done, provided one eschews all social life and simply writes. No editing. Eating and sleeping are allowed, but in moderate amounts.
This month I’m just going to mention a couple of books. One birthday present from a friend was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Apparently it was long-listed for the Booker last year, but somehow I missed it, though my friend in the States did not!
Harold is a rather dull, hen-pecked man, recently retired and living in Devon, who receives a letter from a former colleague to say she is dying and bidding him farewell. There is some past connection between them, but we are not told what it is. There is also unspoken tension between Harold and his wife about their absent son. Harold writes a reply to the letter and sets off to post it. Having reached the first post-box, he decides to walk a little further. And then a little further. And then…
As night draws in, he stays at a modest bed and breakfast. Fortunately, he has his credit card with him, but no equipment for walking, yet he keeps on walking. He phones the hospice where his friend is now living and leaves a message, telling her to hang on, he is coming. He has now decided to walk all the way, to Berwick-on-Tweed on the Scottish border, the whole length of England.
The novel is the story of Harold’s walk, his ‘pilgrimage’, the people he meets on the way and its effect on him. Some people are extraordinarily kind. Some callous or indifferent. When his story is taken up by the newspapers, a whole group of people decide to join his pilgrimage and one domineering man seizes control and pushes Harold aside. In the end he slips away so that he can continue on his own. What happens in the end, when the various mysteries of the past are explained, I won’t reveal. I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s an extraordinary book and one of those you just have to keep reading, willing Harold on his way.
A few weeks ago I bought the new Joanne Harris, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, but have only just had time to read it.
Remember Chocolat? I loved it, such an unusual book, with a distinctive atmosphere all its own. Although the film was a lovely film if you viewed it at something entirely separate from the book, it did annoy me intensely that the film-makers chose to make Vianne’s antagonist the mayor instead of the curé, thereby losing much of the depth and subtlety of the novel. I then read several more of Harris’s novels, enjoying them but not responding with quite the same warmth, except to Holy Fools, which I felt had the same compelling quality as Chocolat. I simply could not get into Coastliners. I think I started it three times, but it never came alive for me.
Then she wrote The Lollipop Shoes, the sequel to Chocolat, when Vianne, now very subdued, is living in Paris with her two daughters and is threatened by a woman who tries to take over her identity and steal her daughter Anouk. This is not identity theft as it is usually understood – bank details, name, date of birth. It is all those things, but it is also an attempt to steal Vianne’s very soul. I found it both riveting and distressing. In the end, Vianne survives, but only just. It is quite a harrowing read.
Now, in Peaches for Monsieur le Curé Harris returns Vianne to Lansquenet, after she receives a letter written by Armande before she died and just discovered by her grandson Luc who has inherited her property on his twenty-first birthday. Vianne finds the village radically changed in the eight years since she left, and something is terribly wrong. A Muslim settlement has sprung up along the river, a mosque confronts the church. Yet the tensions seem to arise from something else. Vianne’s old adversary, Father Francis Reynaud, is in danger and ironically it appears that only Vianne can help. It seems sad at first that the chocolate shop is gone and has suffered an arson attack. Some of Vianne’s old friends are wary. Even Joséphine has been hiding things from her. Yet there is a note of hope running through. The curé may feel that wherever Vianne goes, trouble follows, but it is life-affirming trouble. Even he is gradually transformed. If you loved Chocolat you will love this.
I’ve also just bought Simon Armitage’s Walking Home, the story of how he walked the Pennine Way without a penny in his pocket, giving poetry readings in exchange for a bed and a meal. I’d heard him talk about his experiences both on radio and on television, so I’m eager to read the detailed account.
On the craft front I’ve been making this extraordinary garment, called the Infinity Wrap, because of the infinity symbol ? on the back. Bet you can’t guess how that is done! I just have to finish the sleeves, which I’m redesigning because I want to wear it over other tops and the sleeve as given is very narrow. It’s another no-seam garment, my favourites!
Oh dear, Christmas is coming. I’ll need to think whether I should be making anything for presents. We have such a large family! I love them all dearly, but I really rack my brains at Christmas!
Till next time. Ann