The rhythm of summer
June and July turned out to be months of magical chords, from dance and drum to bright echoes of much loved history.
I say that with all relief, for they began with panic, partings and nagging doubts about what suddenly seemed like loopy ambitions on top of the essential summer toils of guesthouse, writing and farm.
Panic because our June oil shipment arrived in Norfolk damaged. Two containers at the top of the 700kg pallet had been crushed, the oil had soaked through the rest of the boxes and for days we could not be sure of the degree of loss.
I was in Norfolk at the end of June, for a week that should have been devoted to my Dad’s needs, but I had to spend a great lump of that time checking, cleaning and repacking bottles before spinning to London, Hampshire and Oxfordshire with delayed deliveries.
Home at Mother’s Garden the school term fizzled out and the children danced with glee. In Ella and Joe’s case it was choreographed, with their troupe delighting a happy crowd with a market square performance in the almond light of dusk.
I missed it, annoyingly, but the photographs were waiting for me, of girls in summer fruit dresses and a cheeky chap in a red sash, of Ella weaving ribbons around a “Maypole”.
A few days later and Maggie and Ella were gone, flying away for a London, Hertfordshire and Norfolk trip into the past and possibly the future.
Fourteen is the age of wondering, isn’t it? I vaguely remember those first serious ponderings beyond the range of vision to the peripheries of heart and soul; of self-consciousness to the point that walking into a room of unfamiliar company is the greatest of challenges; of mirrors and imaginings; the uncertain destiny of a fledgling edging along the branch.
Quite how you can handle this as a parent is an eternal question. You have to play the grown-up I suppose (even if there isn’t such a thing), shape your sentences, try not to take all things personally, and to accept your fading light. Perhaps not fading, just diminished in the growing company of flares and flames that illuminate a young life.
The hope is you have done enough to make yours the constant, certain light. Someone said just the other day, when Ella was but our baby in arms, that if you have not instilled core values, love and trust in offspring by the time they are rising to teens then you never will. We are at the point of finding out.
So good, then, to wave Maggie and Ella off at Barcelona Airport, knowing they were going to share some time and unforgettable experiences.
They were treated by Royal Opera House friends to a backstage tour and dress rehearsal of the Barber of Seville. Maggie showed Ella her old college, Froebel, and the Wigmore Hall where she worked, while riding on red buses and photographing telephone boxes.
Beyond the creative inspiration for a young person very much drawn to the arts, it was also a journey of identity. There were visits to the old family farms, homes and graves in Hertfordshire, and to familiar faces in Norfolk. Ella is English, yet home is somewhere else. Through our unusual life choices we have presented her with something else to get her head around.
Back on the farm, Joe and I muddled through. We taught the puppies – Tilly and Ted – to sit on command. We watered to the point of vegetables, chrysanthemums and herbs drowning rather than dying of thirst. We tended to our holiday cottage guests, picked fruits, cleaned the corral and managed to get the house back to some semblance of normality on the cusp of the women’s return.
We even managed a musical diversion of our own.
Sitges fizzes. It’s a large seaside town of some beauty, just south of Barcelona, with a warren of narrow streets and the chemistry of contrast. There is always something happening and on July 11 it was an evening drum festival featuring, among 600 others, Joe and his fellow Marçà tambors.
Through the streets they processed, rattling dentures and dislodging toupées – hip-swinging samba groups and our distinctly less animated but no less rhythmic village band with almost as many proud family members swirling about.
They thundered away for nearly two hours, from the seafront crush with its colourful characters (man in leather, studded dog collar and goat on lead) to under the railway arch where everything amplified to fingers-in-ears intensity.
There was just one log jam, outside a shop called Love, Sex and Diamonds when a few of our entourage were lured in, which was no bad thing because it gave the grandmother off our bus more time to press on with her vital work. As we marched she busied herself with wonderful country care draining bottles of water left for thirsty drummers into the dry flower tubs decorating the route.
I flopped on the coach and I’d merely been walking not wielding sticks, but the adrenalin continued to flow among the others on the journey home where, once again, the drum leader charged up and asked me about the chances of organising a Norfolk appearance for the band. Interesting idea, but not without its challenges.
So, what do you think? Could we start talking about a group of Catalan mountain villagers flying in to beat their drums in something like the 2010 Sheringham Carnival procession in my old home town?
It is the punishingly hot season, but flakes fell on July 18.
At the first scent of fire earlier that afternoon we were on the telephone to friends asking how close the danger was. Everyone was anxious but could only bounce the question back. All we had to go on were the contrasts of the dense smoke borne on the high wind that said it had to be nearby, while the absence of all but the occasional fire helicopter suggested a more distant disaster.
I drove up to the high road and there could see the sickening brown pall tumbling upwards from the horizon, its fringes cast nicotine-yellow by the sun. The crisis was more than 40 miles away, just into Aragon, yet serious enough to smudge the sky all the way to the Mediterranean.
Then, as the wind abated, the ash fluttered down and reminded every head on which it fell how careful we all must be in these tinder months. I really must do some more strimming near the house.
As for all of you fruity Norfolk gardeners dreaming of ample bunches of grapes, it seems our names have popped up on BBC local radio regarding the pruning of vines. Growing a vine or two is very feasible in these increasingly warmer English summers, as well as quite fashionable and certainly fun, although turning growth into fruit can be tricky.
We supply fresh olive oil to the delicious boutique hotel Strattons of Swaffham, and co-owner and award-winning chef Vanessa Scott mentioned Mother’s Garden vine pruning while on air fielding food and gardening questions.
You would think we would know, given that we have about 1000 vines, but we had to stop and think because this is a world away. How we prune in the vineyards is different, of course, to how we train the muscat vines that clamber over the front of the farmhouse and cottage.
“I don’t suppose,” I asked Maggie, “You can remember anything about the vine we planted on the cottage pergola in Aldborough back in the early nineties?”
She raised her finger and eyebrows and with the wry smile of vindication dived into the kitchen bookshelves, before surfacing not only with the handy pamphlet given out by Read’s Nursery at Hales Hall, Loddon, but also the tag from the plant. What it is to live with a squirrel.
That first vine was “Miller’s Burgundy”, by the way, and it did reasonably well, in so much as it survived and offered a few bunches. Very gracious of it given that we then didn’t have either clue or confidence and so failed to pay it sufficient attention.