Notes from Town and Country
From Hazel, Highbury, 10 April 2020
The room where I work – to call it ‘my study’ sounds too grand somehow and ‘my office’ feels too businesslike – is almost at the top of the house and faces on to the garden. Sitting at my desk I look out into the branches of a giant sycamore where grey squirrels race up and down, but if I stand up I can look down into our own small garden, and the others in the terrace stretching away in a sort of wedge shape, getting longer as they go. In some of them the flowering cherry trees are out (‘loveliest of trees’ as Housman called the woodland cherries), and the big hawthorn at the bottom of our garden, which hides the worst of the red-brick care home over the wall, is just coming into bud. Through the arch in the entrance to the care home I can usually see cars moving along Highbury New Park, but there are almost none today. The schools are open only to the children of front-line workers now, and I can hear the little girls next door calling to one another in the garden.
Early this morning I saw one of the hooligan gang of urban foxes that live in a den under the old garages further up the road and carry on appallingly at night with their hoarse, staccato barking. As usual he was casing the joint for anything interesting in the way of household waste and finally, disappointed, mounted the garden seat and jumped lithely over the wall. He’s one of the hundreds, or probably thousands of foxes roaming the streets of London, some looking quite sleek and some distinctly mangy. I loved Oliver Pritchett’s fantasy in his introduction to Slightly Famous People’s Foxes, the little book of foxy drawings we published in aid of the school at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, that there is now a group of suave urban foxes, the ones who have ‘ripped open the plastic bags outside publishers’ offices and in the early hours strewn literary agents’ rubbish across the pavement’, and as a result have become quite bookish.
I’m deeply attached to this little room, with its womblike deep terracotta walls, but it’s becoming very overcrowded. Even before we started Slightly Foxed the shelves were filled with a somewhat random selection of books from various periods of my life, and as we publish more and more the situation is becoming critical. There is of course a universal law that as soon as you get rid of a book you will urgently need it, but yesterday I decided to do some weeding and my husband came to help. Progress was slow and went something like this.
Me: (leafing through a dusty copy of the little paperback Penguin Atlas of Medieval History) That can definitely go. Oh, but hang on, look, there’s a map of all the European trade routes and what travelled on them in 1487. It’s fascinating. And it did belong to Uncle Russell.
He: Well what about Early English Stages? It’s awfully big. You don’t need that anymore do you?
Me: But Glynne Wickham taught me, and I missed a lot of his lectures. I’d give anything to hear them now. I’ve always been meaning to read it properly . . .
You can probably fill in the rest. Enough to say that I finally braced up and there’s a quite substantial box ready for the charity shop. But there are a lot more shelves in the house that need sorting and I don’t think this will be the end of the story.
From Gail, Manaton, 10 April 2020
Our roof (a grass one) is suddenly covered with snakeshead fritillaries – a real sign that spring is almost here. So it was time for a walk with a purpose (other than simply exercise) this week – to the banks of the river in search of wild garlic. A couple of years ago Anna, Hattie and Jennie came to stay with us in April and on an afternoon walk we collected several bags of the stuff by the banks of the Teign. An hour or so in the kitchen and they each had a pot of wild garlic pesto to take back to London. This year of course we’re on our own, and on a river closer to home, but still we managed to pick a bag’s worth before aching backs and impatient spaniels intervened.
In her Garden Cookbook (2007) Sarah Raven has a wonderful recipe for wild garlic pesto, and it freezes brilliantly:
Wild garlic pesto
About 100g wild garlic leaves with flowers
200ml extra virgin olive oil
50g pine nuts or walnuts
50g grated Parmesan
Salt and black pepper
Blanch the wild garlic leaves in boiling water for 10 seconds. Refresh in cold water and pat dry. Put the wild garlic, olive oil and nuts in a food processor and blend to a purée. Pour the purée into a bowl and mix in the grated Parmesan. Season, transfer to a container and freeze.
I had a long chat on the phone with David Eccles this week. A brilliant illustrator, he has enlivened lots of SF articles over the years, and every issue since the very first one in 2004 has borne his little fox with a book on the title page and spine, and a tailpiece fox at the end. I wondered whether he could do something similar to cheer up the rather dismal notice that we’ve had to put up on the website and in newsletters, advising you all that we’ve had to close the office temporarily. As usual he said he wasn’t sure if he could come up with anything very much, and as usual (and within a day), he had emailed me the wonderful little drawing that sums up our current predicament.