Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006

Monday, July 31, 2006


Gradually, back on her island, Granny's life returns to normal. The fig tree continues to produce over-abundantly, she continues to process its produce as best she can. She's trying to dry some of her figs this year, as the locals do, but the results so far have not been good. (Except for the fruit flies which love them. Geneticists may be fond of fruit flies - they make good experiments; granny is not a geneticist. She does not.) Apart from that - fig jam with cardomom and rosewater anyone? - or with balsamic vinegar? - or with thyme, honey and lavender? (this one was not a great success). Alternatively fig compote with star anis and bay? or with lemon and almonds? So on and so forth. Her labours are somewhat erratic this year as her Beloved succeeded in catching her jam thermometer in the drawer and breaking it ("Why did you put it there?" Where else do you put your jam thermometer? asks she.) As such things are not obtainable here, she has to guess at the temperature. She has several lots of undercooked jam in consequence and one that burnt and had to be thrown away.

Granny feels like her much more domestic mother. What has brought her to this pass, making jam, bottling fruit? No desire to join the WI for sure. (Not that her mother did either; she was not a joiner, any more than granny is) Anyway there are no such things here, as far as Granny knows; not for the likes of her at least. There are no jam-makers either, judging by the lack of available equipment. Short of a preserving pan, Granny is forced to use her Beloved's milking pail - designed for the goats which she is glad to say have not yet arrived. It serves well enough except it has a hump in the middle of its bottom and a groove all round the edge. This may be good for the milkman, but is less so for the jam-maker. The jam burns in the groove all too easily. (Hence her burnt batch.)

One good thing has happened. Years ago, as in Spain, Italy, France, there were markets here for local produce. With the arrival of the supermarkets all closed down. The markets left were for tourists, selling local handicrafts (not much cop, unless you want a local hat, a lace collar, a doll dressed in local costume) and any amount of tat brought in from everywhere. Granny and Beloved patronise one only, much smaller than the others and mostly without the tat. It has more upmarket jewelry, clothes etc made mostly by expat hippies, German, British, Canadian whatever. It also - and this is/was the chief reason for their interest - has a wonderful organic vegetable stall, the queues stretching from end of the market to the other, most weeks. It turned into a free for all at one point. "A battlefield" the dismayed stallholders complained. They've got a system now; you have take a number and wait your turn, sometimes for a long time. You are no longer allowed to fight with the mostly German punters behind and ahead of you for the last remaining strawberries, rocket, broadbeans or whatever, most of it picked that very morning. You have to wait for the stallholders to serve you.

Granny doesn't know whether it is the success of this stall that has led to further developments. A year ago the island was promised that the vegetable market in the main town was to re-open shortly. Typically here it didn't; the island is still waiting. (Where was it to be, the administrators asked themselves? The old market? Yes, they said; and then again, no. Then where? or where? or where where? As far as Granny knows the functionaries, the politicians are still busy arguing.) Meantime Granny's own municipality has seized its chance. Little stone alcoves were built opposite the local pilgrimage church, which has the widest and biggest tarmac space on the island. (As it's also in the windiest part of the island, the usual flimsy wooden stalls would not do.) Yesterday was the grand opening featuring above all the producers with their stalls full of home-grown vegetables and fruit - and - yippee, it's good here, every household with any land plants grapes and makes it - their own wine. And lots of the local cheese, which is good. There was odd lace-collar too, and hat and basket and kitschy doll but never mind that. There were also speeches from local worthies, patting themselves on the back ('we're offering the only non-tourist market on the island"..) free food, folk song and dancing in local costume. The songs and dances? - well - as with all Canarian songs and dances, once you've heard/seen one, you've heard/seen the lot; a bit like Scottish dancing really; does Granny dare say that? She does! (If not in her Scottish Beloved's hearing.) As for the local costume - it's thick and heavy up here and designed to protect its wearers from the cold and wind, appropriately so for the highest coldest borough in the island; the men in particular wear a rather fetching dark blue pixyish hat. But then everyone's ears, male or female, are covered up, possibly to the detriment of their hearing; which may indicate why this is also considered one of the least friendly towns on the island.

There was a demonstration of traditional threshing; consisting of about five mules tied together and turning in a circle on a pile of unthreshed grain; mostly willingly, except for the middle mule which having to turn on its own axis was not a happy mule and had to be dragged, head up, protesting jaw open, teeth rampant. When the grain was sufficiently trampled, the men with flails came out. Etc etc. All very picturesque, and only recently redundent. Such work was still done like this for real up till last year by an old man who lived next door to the friends whom Granny and Beloved had invited up for the occasion. When they first arrived on the island twenty years ago, the locals used camels as well as mules and donkeys on their village threshing floor. No longer in use, it has been turned, very conveniently, into the village car park. Pity. Except for the in-the-centre mule, perhaps.

Granny wonders how they thresh now - where they still grow grain. Some farmers still do, the bags of their grain sit, alongside the bags of locally grown beans and lentils in the supermarkets as well as here on the market stalls. Many more though grow the fruits and vegetables which will be on offer now every Sunday, just ten minutes walk away. Good good good.

She and Beloved and their friends did not stay for more dancing/singing, for the free food or the demonstration of Canarian wrestling, but went home with laden bags. They hope the market will be successful - it was yesterday, but then it would have been, what with all that free food, drink and entertainment, and that many more will follow. And even that, given better prices, more profit, people will be encouraged to come back into agriculture, just a bit. One reason for this market, she knows, is that the prices offered to the farmers by the local supermarkets were/are derisory, even if they don't, like English supermarkets, demand that each carrot, papaya, tomato, is the same size and shape as its fellows. Granny would much rather pay her money to the farmers than to the supermarkets. And it all still works out much cheaper for her and the other punters. So everyone is happy. Except the supermarkets possibly. But who cares about them.

Meantime, back home on the ranch, the female bantam, Amina is broody. The only way Rocky, her poor cockerel, gets to express his masculinity is by crowing, which he does, all the time, loudly. If he tries to fly up into the nest box to get at his sitting mate, she sees him off smartly; as she also sees off any (unamorous, naturally) intrusion by Beloved. Granny can understand now why men are less interested in the results of breeding - if not the process itself. The hen has two of her own eggs under her and two hens' eggs. In ten days or so the virility of the three cockerels will be demonstrated. Or not, as the case may be: in which case, coq au vin anyone? Everyone is invited.

Oh and this: a small addition. Her friend Clare has a new website. She is a very good writer. Do visit. When Granny gets round to a long overdue edit of her blogroll, you will find her there, too.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

dignity for women in Zimbabwe

A brief post, to explain the new addition to Grannyp's blog. (You will find it on the right hand side below her blogroll, and Amnesty's 'Irrepresible Info.') If you click on it, you will find out what it's about....briefly, another side-effect of Robert Mugabe's madness; which some men (notably Zimbabwean MP's) have found funny. It isn't funny. Granny thanks Dotty Nana (see blogroll) for putting her - and now you, she hopes - onto this.

Friday, July 21, 2006

moving furniture

One Sunday, not quite two weeks ago, Granny and Beloved Son took apart a chest of drawers and loaded it, with difficulty, into her car (actually Beloved's car; a substantial vehicle, no, not a Chelsea tractor, more modest than that, bought originally to transport such things as wheelchairs, and very useful for as long as it lasts - it's getting old - when moving house). She drove the assorted drawers, the wooden frame, from Kew to the Goldhawk Road and still with the help of Beloved Son took it up two flights in the rather basic lift of her block of still mostly council flats. Then they put it together again in a room in her new flat (which is not basic at all; with its two balconies and view of sky and trees, one minute away from busy streets, it was well worth the weeks of hassle to get it; worth all the packing, unpacking of boxes, tears dropping onto her possessions the while.)

This mahogany, elegant, almost certainly eighteenth century chest of drawers holds much emotional significance. She first encountered it in the early days of her ecstatic love-affair with her first true love, her first lover, her first husband, in the days of their ridiculous youth. It stood in his little room up a flight of very narrow stairs in the house on Richmond Green lived in by his parents. He had found it ruined in a junk shop, bought it for almost nothing and lovingly done it up; stripping it, re-polishing it, replacing its handles with authentic brass ones, finally cutting it neatly, beautifully, in half, because it could not, otherwise, be manoeuvred up the attic stairs to his room. It accompanied him and Granny throughout the days of their married life and stayed with her - she was glad about this - when that marriage fell apart. To this day she is grateful for its neat division; it has spared her removal men, men with vans, whatever, as on this so recent Sunday, making it light enough for her to manage herself, with a little help.

Granny’s son had a cup of tea and left. In the afternoon, Granny filled the chest with her clothes, crying a little with grief for the boy who rescued it fifty years or more ago. It has changed very little since those early, ecstatic days. There are a few more stains on top. A brass handle fell off, years ago, got lost in one move or another. Granny being less practical herself and surrounded by less practical people has replaced it with a scarf tied in a knot. Maybe in honour of her dead ex-husband, her long ago lost love, she will one day soon trek round the street in London – Percy Street is it? – where such things are still sold and get another authentic-looking brass handle and screw it on.

The chest brings back everything she ever loved about the father of her children and loves now in memory, in her grief at his sudden death. His weird and wild sense of humour; his love of birds - if she can distinguish the song of a blackbird from a thrush, if the swoopings and shrill callings of a flight of swifts turns her heart over to this day, she owes all that to him, who communicated his passion to her. She thinks with pleasure of his love of music, a love she did share from the start; but there are still pieces he introduced her to that she associates with him. Throughout the last few weeks there has run through her head an exquisite song asking the wistful question 'Bist Du Bei Mir?' which one summer afternoon, not long after they met, he played to her in his room at Oxford. Above all, perhaps, she loved his wonderful competence at such things as restoring chests of drawers, at carpentry of any kind, at all kinds of practical matters. Though his working-class mother had run off from his printer father long before, with a mad Catholic lawyer, though the family on Richmond Green lived an anything but working-class life, he had spent a lot of time as a child round uncles who earned their living with their hands and bodies and taught him how to use his too. In the world Granny grew up in boys didn't learn carpentry or even gardening. They learned Latin and how to play cricket. In the good days of her marriage, watching her husband tackle his garden, she contrasted the easy movements of his well-trained body with the awkward way the stockbrokers, accountants, lawyers in neighbouring gardens jabbed at their soil and loved him for it all the more. As she loved too the fact that unlike her, unlike any other men she has ever met, he taught himself as a teenager to operate a sewing-machine and make dolls’ clothes for his little sisters, without any of the ridiculous sense prevailing round the boys Granny knew before him that such activities would be shaming, to be left wholly to women.

The marriage couldn't last, despite the early passion, despite the children they had together that both Granny and their father loved. Granny and her husband were much too different to remain together permanently; as the years went on they made each other very unhappy. It was Granny, though, always the noisy one, the one who in her misery sometimes publicly disgraced herself, decided it could not go on; it was she who decided to leave, knowing as she did so that she would be the one therefore to take the flak. Though in the end they both found people more suited to them, who could make them truly happy, she still sometimes finds herself taking the flak: just a little; or feeling that she is, maybe not quite the same thing. But she can't complain really. Sigh as she might, she knows it was the price of things, the bargain she settled for. She knows that despite everything her decision was the right one.

The breakup happened more than thirty years ago now. But in the aftermath of his death it seemed like yesterday. She was taken aback by how raw and immediate both the good and the bad still felt; the love, the anger - the guilt – came up as powerful as ever. This was all the more so because, inevitably, the main family business, took place, had to take place elsewhere, round his new family. Granny felt deeply for his wife, his young daughter, theirs the true, the most awful kind of loss. She felt deeply for her children’s loss of their dad, a deep, unique grief of saying the last goodbye – so unexpected this time - to a parent. At the same time because the solace of the communal, shared, domestic grief was necessarily denied her, she was mostly thrown back on, left to centre too much on, her own pain, something not helpful to her or anyone else. It was another price she was bound to have to pay. From the support she has had from friends, acquaintances who've been through the same thing, she knows now how common such experiences are when a family has been divided in this way. ‘A pain like no other,' Pat of Past Imperfect called such deaths, in a comment on Granny's last post. Yes. But then major decisions, even the right ones, have their downside- go on having a downside – for all those involved for the rest of their lives. To resent, that, to continue wailing 'if only', is a waste of time. Years ago, after Granny's twin sister died, a friend said to her, 'When someone dies there is always unfinished business.' Yes. And the older you get, as more friends and family disappear, whatever the circumstances, the more you have to accept the truth of that. If with the odd, regretful, sigh.

This: on the other hand. What is it about Granny’s generation of women, many of them still her friends, mostly her oldest friends? None of the women are that old yet, none have reached their threescore and ten. Their husbands too, though older, have not, had not, attained the average age which men can now now hope to attain before they die. But of all those once golden lads, whether left long ago or more recently, or whether still married to their wives, all but one - and he is ill - are dead, leaving their no longer golden girls behind. What can Granny say about that? Not much. But it makes her mournful.

She is back on her island at the moment; it is its usual charmless summer self; windy, cloudy, up where she lives, dry, dry, dry, everywhere. At the same time it is very humid - just imagine this! - a place where, simultaneously, your garden dries up and your kitchen walls grow mould. She is harvesting her figs and making jam. For the moment that will do. As this piece will also have to do. Having posted it, she intends remaining silent for a little longer. Bear with her.


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