It’s been the one of those glorious days when ‘cherubim and seraphim are casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.’ Silence… a small white yacht gliding over the still shining water, scarcely leaving a wake, using the engine because there’s no wind for the sails… the islands we never normally see, floating on the horizon, palest purple against a lavender blue sky… an enchanted stillness, the only sound the cooing of the doves in the trees.
When I awoke this morning the sky was just turning pink, so early though it was, I jumped out of bed, dressed, and headed out to watch the rising sun across the sea. The dawn chorus was just beginning, so I turned around and walked by houses with curtains drawn and solitary gardens, thrush and blackbird seeming to pass me on from one song to the next.
Theirs was the longest and sweetest serenade, while the soft incessant cheeping of the sparrows filled the spaces, and the slow crescendo of the doves cooing began. As I retraced my footsteps back along a grassy track, I saw with pleasure that mine were the only footprints in the dewy grass. I never met another soul as I meandered around the sleeping village.
Back home I crossed into the cemetery and disturbed a couple of speckled hens who scurried fussily back into their own garden next door, clucking agitatedly. I walked across to the end of the peninsula to get my daily fix looking out to sea through the grey gnarled branches of the ancient pohutakawas.
Later, I sat on the veranda feasting my eyes on the glittering water, with breakfast of toast and a boiled egg from the errant chickens. When I had visited their owner Kate the day before, she had given me a handful of newly laid eggs, and the one I ate now was so beautiful I could hardly bear to break the shell. It came from her oldest hen, she said, a black Arakan, a breed which presumably comes from Arakan in Burma, and this little black hen lays eggs of the same pale blue as the sky today.
During the morning I went to the next village to buy a birthday card for a man. No flowers then, and since most men’s cards are covered with the inevitable cars or golf clubs, I did some lateral thinking and came away with a card with a message: “ If you resolve to give up drinking, smoking and loving, you don’t actually live longer: it just seems longer.” My son-in-law will be delighted with this encouragement to enjoy these permitted pleasures.
Stopping off at the garden cafe down a long avenue of poplars, the vivacious young Indonesian proprietor greeted me as usual with: ‘Ah Miss Valerie, are you ready for your coffee today?” Since she always jumps the queue for me, and makes piping hot coffee I can forgive her the spinsterly ‘Miss’. I sat in an ivy- covered alcove framed with late wisteria blossom and white jasmine, their scents wafting over the smell of coffee.
Before getting home, I called in on Friend, to collect various things from yesterday’s rollicking party for 45 oldies who came from far and wide. Others were there too to collect their vases, or napkins or fish slices. “The sun’s over the yard arm”, announced the man of the house, which though it was only lunch-time, gave us the excuse to finish off the champagne from the previous day.
Then, we had sat on the terrace in the sun, looking out over the turquoise sea, the lawn fringed with white iceberg roses in full bloom, and red roses lining the long white table cloths.
We’d enjoyed a four course lunch, starting with a terrine followed by freshly baked ham, salmon and asparagus, the cheese course – big rounds of fresh Brie, fresh strawberries and blueberry tarts – each course accompanied by different wines and champagne –French of course! And finally the birthday cake, a pyramid of moist chocolate brownies and truffles. In other words a feast! And all made by friends.
At the end of the afternoon someone brought out a guitar. We sang ‘Blowing in the wind,’ ‘Michael row the boat,’ ‘Kumbiya, ‘He‘s got the whole world in his hands’… all the old favourites. I sang my heart out, and had to restrain myself from dancing.
But as a somewhat acid -tongued acquaintance observed to me, all the men were glued to their seats – and they all look alike, she said. “They all have white hair, and are wearing the same sort of blue and white checked shirts, most of them have walking sticks and a lot of them have paunches!” The women on the other hand, were younger, sprightlier, beautifully dressed and immaculately groomed.
That evening several of the guests came to dinner, though we couldn’t eat much. We sat on the veranda in the dusk, by the loquat tree covered in golden fruit, with a fat green and white wood pigeon rustling around swallowing them whole. We had wine and laughter and fun, discussed everything irreverently, and enjoyed the party all over again.
Days of wine and roses and golden laughter …when I returned flushed with champagne from Friend today, I found another generous neighbour had called while I was out, and left a bag full of freshly picked broad beans hanging on the door handle.
They were so delicious that for supper, I simply ate a dish of the tender little green jewels glistening with hot butter, though the old chap had steak with his. And I’ve just returned from the field above the harbour where the two little white goats live. They feasted on the broad bean pods, and seemed to feel the way I do about them.
‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’, wrote the poet, ‘Old time is still a-flying’, and I’m dedicated to this advice…. my rosebuds may be different to other people’s ideas of rosebuds, but I’m picking them as fast as I may.
So I sit here on the veranda writing, watching the evening sky turn pink and lilac and pale turquoise over the still, silver water, the scent of sweet peas, a gift from a friend’s garden drifting through the house, and savour my blessings. I began with the words of a hymn, so I’ll end with some. These shining days are filled with rosebuds – moments of pleasure and goodness – friends and fun and flowers, chickens and birdsong and beans, ‘all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small’.
Food for threadbare gourmets
The strawberry season means Eton Mess for me! The first time I tasted it was just outside Eton, at a place called Datchett, at a rather grand dinner to entertain some visiting Argentinian polo players who’d been playing on Smith’s Lawn at Windsor. My best friend and I knew we were only there simply because they needed some girls to balance out the chaps. But we gave the food a lot of attention too.
The version I ate then was a variation, because the crushed strawberries and broken meringue were pressed into a big dish of ice-cream, and then re-frozen. Whipped cream was piled on when it was served, on a huge carving dish. I like doing it this way too, using freshly made local artisan ice-cream. Really, the amounts are up to you… you can’t go wrong. As an added touch I sometimes whizz up a punnet of the fresh strawberries with some sugar, and hand that round in a sauce bowl, to drench the already sumptuous mixture in it! Food for the gods….
Food for Thought
He had picked it up, he said, on a beach; it was a piece of sea-washed wood in the shape of a human head. It was made of hard wood, shaped by the waters of the sea, cleansed by many seasons. He had brought it home and put it on the mantelpiece; he looked at it from time to time and admired what he had done.
One day he put some flowers round it and then it happened every day; he felt uncomfortable if there were not fresh flowers every day and gradually that piece of shaped wood became very important to his life. He would allow no one to touch it except himself; they might desecrate it; he washed his hands before he touched it. It had become holy, sacred, and he alone was the high priest of it; he represented it; it told him of things he could never know by himself. His life was filled with it and he was, he said, unspeakably happy.
From Krishnamurti’s Journal