Monday

Saying goodbye.


Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to a friend I made while writing Real Port Talbot

Ray Davies Snr was a retired steelworker who painted as a hobby, recreating the town’s lost history in acrylic and canvas. Streets and seascapes, hotels and docklands, rivers, bridges and railways. I met Ray for the first time last year at the house in Port Talbot he used as his painting studio. He made me a frothy cappuccino sprinkled with chocolate and tucked a napkin onto the saucer that was printed with a Welsh red dragon and Bore Da! (Good morning.) 

As I sipped he placed painting after painting in front of me, each one a story, each one a piece of magic to conjure the town I remembered from my childhood. A week or so earlier he’d asked me, via Facebook, if he could use one of my photographs of old St Baglan Church to paint a picture. And suddenly there it was, so much more than its original self, layers of shadow and sunlight, all shades of green nudging the worn inscriptions on old stones.

Would you like it?’ he said.
‘I… you mean… but how can…’ The stuttering went on for some time.

An astonishing gift from someone I had only just met, a gift offered with such humility and generosity that I almost cried.

Ray died on 12th April. The last word he said to me was, ‘Thanks’. I’d asked him if I could use a photo of one of his paintings in Real Port Talbot and he thanked me. Thank you, Ray. For the cappuccino and our brief friendship. For the history and vibrancy and sensitivity in your paintings that will always remind me of you.



Tuesday

At Home with The Thoughts of Chairwoman Ffion, aged 8


The gap between my lukewarm lasagne going back to the kitchen at the Bagle Brook Beefeater, and a freshly prepared, hot one replacing it (with profuse apologies) is gratifyingly filled with the chatter of my great-niece, Ffion, each revelation prefaced by, ‘Lynne?’ ‘Ffion?’  ‘Can I tell you something?’:

Ffion and the £1 special: Chicken
Goujons, Chips and Garlic Bread

A woman on TV who was 101 remembered her little brother being born when she was three. This was her furthest [sic] memory.
When I was in school did other children pick me up? Hannah, her friend, keeps picking her up and she doesn’t like it.
She is four foot tall.
She didn’t really want to be eight but she didn’t really like being seven.
Mr Doyle, the headmaster, is retiring in July.
She has three money boxes: one Principality and two Hello Kitties.
She is upset with Mittens who scratched Tickles’ nose through the bars of his cage.
She scored the winning goal when Emma tripped.
Iwan doesn’t want to go to Bristol Zoo because of the peacocks.
A newt ran into Miss Trunchbull’s knickers.

All this and more for the bargain price of £1 – a Beefeater special for kids between 3pm and 5pm. And my lasagne was pretty good too.

Beefeater Beef Lasagne with rocket and cherry tomatoes
Now, in my childhood bedroom, I watch the mist push in from the sea, veiling the prom’s railings, the waste land in front of Tirmorfa Road, nudging the end of Mam and Dad’s garden. The cries of seagulls are muted, the sea is a soft rumble.

My ‘furthest’ memory? Either a yellow dress, bright sunlight and falling against the concrete step outside the back door and cutting open my chin, or sitting in a sandpit in the back garden, the sand damp against the back of my bare legs.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write a list of ten things you are thinking about now.
  • Write about a bargain.
  • Write about mist or fog.
  • Write about what you find at the bottom of a garden.
  • Write about your ‘furthest’ memory.

  

Monday

Here comes the sun. And bath-sharing. (Or not.)

Blush Apple Tart Tatin

Portuguese Custard Tarts
I'd like to think I've been channelling the sun through making these dishes but its arrival over the weekend is probably just a coincidence. Or the UK climate finally relinquishing its grip on the persistent Siberian front out of sheer exhaustion. It was like waking up in another country on Sunday morning: blue sky, 20 degrees, and one of the new cherry trees on the cusp of blossom. 

I've posted my recipe for the Blush Apple Tart Tatin elsewhere on the blog though I think that cramming as many apple quarters as you can (compare the two photos of the finished tarts) into the dish before plopping on the pastry is a massive improvement.

The attempt at making Portuguese Custard Tarts was a result of our trip to the Algarve last month, ostensibly to play golf. I am using the word 'play' in the loosest possible way - as a beginner I'd have had more success kicking the ball around the course on some days. But, fortunately, there were plenty of tarts to comfort me afterwards. And a big bath in the apartment to soak away the aches from muscles I didn't know I had.

'We could both fit in here,' I said to Tony, as the bath filled, the bubbles grew to a thick sparkling raft and I started to tug off my clothes.
'What are you doing?' he said.
'Getting in,' I said.
'There's not enough room,' he said, admitting later that he was desperately trying to think of any reason to keep me out of it.
'There's loads of room!' I said. 'What are you talking about?'
'Look, Blods [his nickname for me],' he said, frantically trying to dredge up another reason, 'I'm a big bloke and I just want to lie there with my legs open and relax.'

Three days later I was still laughing. And I suppose you could say that after 28 years romance hasn't just died: it's bloody fossilised!

We were more in tune when we made the Portuguese Custard Tarts. As lovely as they were I think filo pastry might be the way to go rather than puff, as the recipe suggests, but I've never used filo. For some reason it scares me. It might be the warnings of it drying out easily that accompany any recipe that recommends using it, of having to keep it between damp tea-towels. It sounds like high maintenance pastry. And this recipe is an easy version, relaxing you might even say (as relaxing as you can get outside of a bath and with your legs firmly together!) courtesy of allrecipes.co.uk.


Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about the sun.
Write about playing a game.
Write about comfort.
Write about the death of romance.
Write about someone who is high-maintenance.


Leftovers


A parsnip. A leek. Three sweet potatoes the size of a child’s fist. A sweetheart cabbage that was far too small to serve at Saturday's Easter family dinner for eight. Leftover chicken. I’m thinking soup. Grab the chicken stock, garlic, salt and pepper.



The trifling plate of cooked chicken was the only thing left over from lunch. Roast potatoes, roast parsnips, honeyed carrots, peas and leeks sauteed in butter, sausage-meat stuffing and gravy all disappeared within a crumb and a splash. I reckon that a video of the table, played back at high speed, might easily draw similarities to a shoal of pirhanas stripping the flesh from a cow pushed into a Brazilian river.

My 1912 doorstep size Ward Lock edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management expounds on soup – broth, clear and thick – for over 50 pages. It’s one of a handful of collectable books that I kept after I sold Foxed & Bound, the second-hand and antiquarian bookshop I ran for 10 years until the end of 1999. The recipes that catch my eye are Solferino Soup (with choux pastry), Prince’s Soup (with turnips) and Turtle Soup (barricade the terrapin tank).

When the delights of Mrs Beeton – Sweet potatoes deserve to receive more intelligent attention in the kitchen – completely distract me from writing this blog post I come across some other people’s leftovers flattened between the pages: a dried fern, the disintegrating flakes of azure blue silver paper that I imagine once sealed a cigarette packet although not a trace of dry tobacco scent remains, a fragment of old newspaper with a quote urging people to return any books they borrow, and one of Julian Barnes’ ‘Pedant in the Kitchen’ columns cut from The Guardian in 2003. By me. The paper’s name and date, 5.4.03, are scribbled in my handwriting on the yellowing newsprint. But I can’t remember doing it. 

I don’t even remember reading the column. But I feel as if I should. I recently bought Barnes’ book, The Pedant in the Kitchen, and this particular article, ‘Mrs Beeton to the rescue’, in which he talks about his mother’s hulking 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton, appears in it verbatim, albeit with the alternative title, ‘The Cactus and the Slipper’. But when I read it again I had no memory of the original article, or of ever having read the Guardian column, or of even having seen the phrase, The Pedant in the Kitchen, before.

How much of my life has been so easily forgotten? My guess would be: more than I’m comfortable with. Does it matter? Probably not. Memories associated with heightened emotional experiences tend to be the ones that persist.  Perhaps what matters more is that I pay attention in the moment. On this day in 2003 I bothered to cut out the article because I recognised and relished the link to something in my life. I acted to mark that connection without the slightest inkling that seven years later I’d be writing about food and writing and life myself.  Perhaps that’s all any of us can do: make some effort to mark our places in the world.



Hungry Writing Prompts
Write a list of ingredients - practical, imaginary or fantastic -  for Leftover Soup.
Write about a river.
Write about an old newspaper cutting.
Write a list of things you have forgotten.
Write about what connects you to the world.