OCHLOCRATIC GOOIER SLOES: August 2020
Fresh blackberries were aplenty (try saying that five times very quickly) in the fields around the house; sweet and edible at least three weeks earlier in the month in mid-Sussex than I recall even thirty years ago in Oxfordshire. The best flavoured blackberries are nudged, not pushed nor pulled, off their stalks. Our tomatoes have stubbornly refused to redden in a month marked by clouds and rain, although the zebra-greens are ripening well. This was the period that I had planned to be away in our long-neglected house, La Hune, in south west France. But I had to postpone the trip to October because of the quatorzaine restrictions imposed by our ochlocratic government. A silver lining of this postponement was that quick-thinking Jessie and Jurrat spent an epicurean week in Denmark as guests of their Uncle Ant, Aunt Susanne and cousins Oliver and Sophie and during which Danish and Bangla delicacies were cooked and eaten (on different nights).
Alli and I have managed to eat out twice this month, at the White Horse in Ditchling and at the Oak Barn in Burgess Hill. I am proud to say that we ignored the voucher scheme. We also drove to Surrey to see Fionnuala, Andrew, daughter Evelyn and dog Orla to stay overnight in their manor near Godalming. It was an evening of good cheer, including pre-prandial exercise on the terrace in the form of an entertaining Finnish skittles game called Molki. The next morning we went on an invigorating walk around fields in the vicinity with our dogs. Orla was delighted to host her new pals, and was apparently disappointed after we left, missing the dogship already. On the way back we bought some local gin, Sandhills, which is very good. We are late recruits to the profound cultural change that is the indie gin revolution. Years ago I expected to undergo a lifetime of dull infusions of Gordons gin, in the most lifelessly mature of all consumer markets. I will never knowingly drink it again, a tenet reinforced by Jessie’s colourful Instagram blog: www.instagram.com/ginandhome/
Jessie and Jurrat came to stay overnight twice: once to host a lunch with friends; and once to attend her friend Jenny’s 30th birthday party in the next village. I came as well but returned earlier than they did and brought back their overnight bags. We went early to bed and I awoke the next morning to a text from Jessie sent at 11.29 pm the previous night: “Where are our bags?” It transpired that on arriving home, I forgot (a) that the bags were in the car; (b) to take the bags out of the car; and (c) crucially, to lock the car. At 7.00 am I read the text, checked in the car to find the bags gone and learned that Jessie and Jurrat had gone to bed as planned. Unknown to me, my triple forgetfulness had both caused and resolved the situation as the bags were still in the car outside the house when Jessie and Jurrat arrived back home. Following her text they had found the car open and had retrieved their bags. So, erm, all’s well that ends well.
Ella and Sam have confirmed the sensational news that they are buying a newly built house in Burgess Hill just over a mile from us and will be moving there in late September. Now returned with Sam from Spain and subject to the quatorzaine, Ella uncovered a new word: gooier. It’s got a clear right to exist. And there’s no other way to spell it given the primary adjective: gooey. She was noting that Gwen’s chocolate brownies, available to order online and receive by UK post, are even ‘gooier’ after being in the fridge. https://gwensbrownieboxes.bigcartel.com/
I have discovered new routes for my afternoon duty walking with the dogs. They have ranged from forest trails to blasted heaths, mediaeval meadows, ghylls, gullies and ravines, rich green fields, ancient and modern burial grounds, hollow ways, lakesides and sacred landscapes, including the numinous Devil’s Dyke, scooped out by Old Nick himself before he was scared off by an old lady lighting a candle in the window of her hovel on the South Downs before dawn lit the scene.
One afternoon I went down Wellhouse Lane, an old footpath reminiscent of a ley running south east along the side of the house in the direction of Ditchling. I was searching for sloes as I fancied making sloe gin for Christmas. The path was more overgrown and the bushes thicker and bigger than when I had last walked it in mid-July. After turning into an old orchard, I tramped around in a minefield of menacing claggy thickets with my flappy clothes snagging on everything I passed. I plunged ever deeper into the blackthorn and blackberry as I tried to clear a path but gradually became overwhelmed by the barbs. My uncovered skin was scratched and cut by long and sharp thorns as I struggled to reach a large bough heavily laden with sloes. My legs, arms and head had been scratched red and raw. My hands looked like I had eviscerated a small animal. Mild panic set in as I decided to reverse and get back to the path. When I turned around, I saw only impenetrable bushes with sharp knives, prickly barbs and hostile hooks waiting to spider-bind me tighter, a fly in a web. Bonnie and Max, padding behind me carefully but more easily from lower down, looked up at me with long-suffering patience and pity. I emerged looking like I had been strafed by a random rustic Rambo. But I now have two kilos of sloes and can make the gin.