Happy New Year
The Other Person: So it’s Christmas in Australia?
TOP: In December?
TOP: But it’s Summer?
TOP: So why don’t you call it July?
John and I celebrated New Year at Charles Grech wine bar on Triq Ir-Repubblika, Malta. A bottle of red, a Mediterranean platter, and as is required by my DNA on such a date, an outside – outside! – table. Beautifully groomed Maltese families, bundled up against the chill, promenaded along Valetta’s festooned boulevard. Groups of barely clad teenage girls tottering on hellish looking heels (it’s the same the world over isn’t it) fawned over bashful boys all sporting haircuts in the style of a certain North Korean dictator. (Our long haired waiter originally from Manchester said he daren’t get a haircut for fear of the same). The city’s multitude of church bells heralded the New Year, the fireworks crowned the harbour and John and I exchanged our wishes for the New Year. These are moments I feel I’m floating in an ephemeral wonderland and conversely, gratefully, solidly, anchored to a, my, life.
Happy Australia Day
Nadiya Hussein winner of the Great British Bake Off 2015 and now food columnist for The Times published a recipe for Lamingtons on the Australia Day weekend. Hurrah! This delicious morsel of moist yumminess, the omnipresent Brownie fundraiser, is unknown in here and deserves it’s tropical coconut coated day in British January. My enthusiasm however as I read through the piece waned and then plummeted. Ms Hussein wrote in the preamble that she wanted to reduce the amount of “faffing” required, so instead of baking a square cake and cutting it into “blocks” she made a loaf. I may have been able to bypass this minor (moderate?) gastronomic travesty (after all when one understands the rules and essence of any creative classic endeavour (cooking, frock construction, topiary) one can experiment with breaking them. And there are wonderful post-modern lamo recipes – the lamington roll for example, or lamos coated with mango jelly) but it was the final instructions that produced this unforgiving Aussie eye roll. Onto the cooled cake, before “pressing on the coconut”, Nadiya instructed bakers to cover the cake in …. jam. JAM! First a LOAF, and then JAM! On the outside! Now I’ll be defending / explaining this unrecognisable and frankly unappealing “version” the lamo to all my kind UK friends who in extending the hand of global kinship will say “Did you see the recipe for Australian lamingtons?!” And I can see I’ll have to faff about rectifying this cultural and culinary misrepresentation with correctly sized cake, chocolate and coconut. Me against The Times, for the rest of my Pommie days.
Happy Plough Day
Plough Sunday is the one day of the year John is forbidden to curse Farmer Worcestershire, trundling along the B424 on his vintage Massey Ferguson, taking the long way from one brassica field to another, top speed 10 miles/hour, the overtaking view completely obscured. It falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, marking the end of winter’s yuletide festivities and a return to the fields the following day. In times past, the usually communal plough is first brought to the church to be blessed, then followed around the village by dancing parishioners, who collected monies to maintain both the plough and the church. The next morning I imagine everyone heaved themselves away from the fireplace, into boots, trudging into the fog to produce food for market. At this year’s Plough blessing at Hanley William, not far from Foxtwist, the vintage tractor was blessed at the tiny church and then followed up the lane to the pub for Sunday lunch. Post Plough Monday is probably pretty much as was. Blessed be the plough. Blessed be the broccoli.
Happy Routine Renewal
It glimmers, my pre-broken shoulder life of stretch classes, running club, writing, volunteering, experienced with anticipation, curiosity, gusto, joy. Over the last couple of months, I have returned to each activity in fits and starts but it has seemed just that – an activity, sometimes a demand, missing the usual deeper connection and meaning, without the consistency and commitment I usually feel. My understandable but nevertheless consuming vigilance encompassing physiotherapy appointments, exercise regimes, poor sleep, days of discomfort has pushed my normal routine to the very background.
But there are signs, lovely signs. Last week I ran twice within a week, the first time since July (my thanks to Kim). And yesterday jogging in the Wyre Forest a couple of kilometres in, I spontaneously left the gravel road beckoned by a narrow, mucky track winding through the silver birch, oak and sweet chestnut woods. I slipped and stuttered into and out of the mud, ducking the brambles feeling adventurous, invigorated, renewed. And then I was additionally rewarded. A small herd of deer trotted out into a clearing, picking their way single file down the ridge. We all stopped. They were so close I could see their velvety antlers and dewy noses, their white tails flickering liked candles. And then they tiptoed on. As did I.
The first year as an expat is always defined by discovery, curiosity, the excitement of the new. The second is multi-colour-marked with the anticipation and a repeat of those first delightful discoveries. This winter is our third and in June we will enter our fourth year. Somewhere in the fourth year, our future as expats comes up for grabs and I have to work to resist the consuming and pointless speculation and uncertainty. Because in this period is also characterised by a greater and deeper sense of joyful knowing, a certainty and a gentler welcoming of the loveliness of the seasons and events.
In our 2017 calendar (Tiri Tiri Matangi, thank you Bob!) I have made a list of all the annual events that have become part of my routine and which I wish to savor, perhaps for the last time. Snowdrops in January, daffodils in April, bluebells in May. The Hay Festival in June, the scarecrow festival in Autumn. And perhaps, hopefully Plough Day 2018.
Travel Notes to Self
London midweek break with Sally – energetic, sumptuous, delicious, snowing! The Tudor portraits in the National Portrait Gallery; Bach concert at St Martins in the Field; Thirty beautiful paintings tour, National Gallery Trafalgar Square; Matilda the Musical; Borough Markets; The Rebels and Records Exhibition, V&A Museum. Lima Bar, Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Monmouth Café.
London for the weekend with John to fulfill a Christmas wish. Wooooohooo! Driving down The Strand, around Trafalgar Square, past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, Hyde Park, Marble Arch. It was like being Miss Moneypenny to James Bond. Vivaldi concert at ST M’s; Wallace Collection Museum (you must!), the London Canal Museum; China Town NY. London protest against Trump.