There comes a time when up with it one will put no more and that time has come….this time the socks are off. The temperature’s rising and it isn’t surprising, he certainly can …. not bear it any longer; more to the point he must bare it or, even more to the point, bare them: feet are out for summer even if they’re in for the next few weeks they are in fact out….they have burst forth, like pale madly unattractive wingless butterflies, from their socklike chrysalides ready for the gentle warmth of the sun rather than the cocoons of cashmere, wool, cotton, silk or nylon. Today is indeed a good Friday as that for which I have been impatiently waiting is here……..the sun of summer has risen.
Carrots are huge; they have always been huge but now, in our moment of need, they are humongous which is why I cannot find even a one of them for my cooking pot. The humongosity, however, does not relate to the carrot per se but to the appetite for them shown by our fellow on line or in line shoppers here, in La France Profonde. I cook quite a lot; for quite a lot read a lot. I cook every day and have done so for the last 20 years….before that I cooked quite a lot, and yet, when I would shop for ingredients I can rarely remember taking more that 1 or 2 or maybe 3 if a very carroty dish was in my mind which it wouldn’t have been save for a carrot soup with star anise that was served in small coffee cups, a weird taste surprise for those who weren’t prepared or hadn’t been listening, that would only take a couple of carrots for four small cups, as cream and stock are involved, and, as cooking for more that 4 people is my idea of mass catering, it wouldn’t, as I said earlier, have been the case. But the French hereabouts must fill their chariots ( supermarket trolley rather than Boadicea’s prototype Magimix…I refuse to say Boudicca as it’s like spelling my name Rodger) with them as is evinced by the immense spaces where, in infinite shape, tone and type, a seraglio of carrots would lay in a momentous phallic display but which now are void; they are carrotless as are the algorithmic spaces on computer screens. Here, in la belle France, in the month of April something is stirring and that something would appear to be carrots. Henri IV declared, according to legend, during an argument with the Duc de Savoie in the Jeu de Paume that every paysan should have a poule in his pot every Sunday. What he didn’t include was the vegetables that would also be in that pot amongst which are carrots and, with all France in lockdown, it would appear that every day is Sunday and after their poule au pot they are having carrot cake and after that …..carrot petits fours? As in remembering film names, actors’ names, my mobile phone number or any number of other things I cannot remember many carrot recipes beyond roasted, stewed or puréed, and it would be a sad, dull man who could: so I googled “carrot recipes” and came up with a 100 or so that were the ones I’ve just mentioned but with different names. And then…a eureka moment…carrotes rapées…..in my experience during the last 20 years in France it has become apparent that the salad of grated carrots is the fuel of the bourgeosie and/or every French person. There are very few things that I dislike about France, which is why we ( I have to admit Jenny is not completely of my opinion) have lived here for so long without the remotest desire ( pace Jenny ) to return to perfidious Albion but carrotes rapées is among that select band. It’s not that I dislike the taste it’s just the insane amount that is on offer and is offered and, even when well dressed, the endless orange tangle quickly becomes an obstacle, an unwanted challenge which I refuse to accept and in protest of its offensiveness I may well have to don a gilet orange and green hat and burn something which won’t be a carrot as there aren’t any.
Q.So why do you want a fucking carrot, Rodger?
A. Because, a carrot together with a stick celery and an onion, all finely chopped, slowly cooked down in a bath of butter and olive oil is base of all marvellous taste in savoury cooking but I only want one of the fuckers as they go limp and grey and horrible if they hang around in the kitchen and just don’t say look in a mirror, Rodger.
There is no question, if one is to make an omelette, that eggs must be broken but breaking all the eggs and leaving them to spoil and go bad whilst deciding what to make with them makes grandmothers, who apparently are masters of egg sucking, despair; as for us lesser mortals, to whom egg sucking is as familiar as staying hidden from an invisible killer virus, we are left to wonder why the chefs were such hopelessly unprepared amateurs who believed barefaced lies would stick Humpty together again.
This has been a bruising encounter in which the Plaintiff, Roger, believes he has been thoroughly rogered by the Respondent, Roget, in that the Respondent allowed his hard backed Thesaurus Rex, an unlicensed verbivore, to gobble up the text of the Plaintiff’s recent WordPress post entitled “We are not going out”.
The Respondent, Roget, denies the severe rogering and states that his Thesaurus Rex was quietly roaming the tomes, grazing on phrases, as was its wont, when it inadvertently consumed what it considered to be a pile of Reader’s Digest.
The case continues.
Rarely has a script writer, wittingly or unwittingly, so completely nailed the zeitgeist. As an adolescent I was told with monotonous regularity that actions had consequences to which I paid scant heed, but that same meme today has become an imperative as opposed to a caution. Corralled within the confines of our home, the action of going out advised against, we virgins, unwonted to the rituals of home delivery, have been rudely deflowered. Accustomed to jotting our shopping list on small pads of paper on the kitchen table, which each of us would add to or edit in passing, we now sit together, eyes glued to the screen, deprived of a virtual pencil to jot ” flour” or “jam”, condemned to scrolling through the 80 or so alternatives of each product as the bald simplicity of “flour” or “jam” would elicit a digital “you’re ‘avin a larf”; 2 x 1kg type 65 Farine tous usages “Francine” might be something that would whet the software’s appetite to chew over and digest before replying with a polite hand over mouth burped “NON”: The situation being as it is there are more “Non”‘s than “Oui”s which makes it extraordinarily difficult to reach the required minimum, for home delivery, of 50€, an amount which, in the real world, is impossible to stay below; which means one is soon ordering any old bollocks as we’ve long forgotten planned recipes and economies and are completely focused on reaching the 50€ summit by any means achievable or, more precisely, by any products available with a limit of 2 on any single product; this is the North Face without ropes or oxygen and….we’re there, flag planted….VALIDER…hurrah!
But we’re not…we are so fucking not. A sheet ice wall of unavailable delivery dates looms above us until, suffering now from acute repetition injury, we achieve a delivery slot for 7.00 am in 10 days time. We have no idea what will be contained in the bags that will make up this delivery, as the term SUBSTITUTION is one we have come to know and fear, so it will be more like a tombola with the traditional snake replaced by an equally poisonous zeitgeis
…because I’m daily becoming less and less likely to forgive those that trespass against us: us being all the people who have suddenly found ourselves trying to stay alive in a world that is following a frightening script, far more frightening than any of Stephen King & Co’s books mainly because the death toll by book is limited to being prosaically crushed by a falling bookcase or, in the spirit of the genre, tumbling forward, after being stunned by a falling hardback, on to a tall glass of champagne which, shattering on impact, leaves a sharpened shard of crystal in perfect place to silkily open the carotid like a knife through foie gras. That is the “us”: the “those that trespass against us” stand in groups and throngs of denial wittingly or unwittingly allowing an invisible and merciless enemy some unexpected and unnecessary advantage which will be illustrated in the headlines that number the fallen that are our unwelcome daily read.
As I settle into my indefinite retreat from society the minutiae of life and language begin to appear magnified. “I’m sorry, I just haven’t got time to do that” will become a meaningless phrase or, more succinctly, a porky pie because, as many times as we wash our hands, we will still have a surfeit of time left on them during which we must find things to do: pastime metamorphoses into challenge, into obstacle and there’s the problem. We’re doing time.
The cell wall graffiti calendar needs redefining and now, if ever there was a time, is the moment to do it. Carving galleons from bone was a favourite pastime for Napoleonic prisoners of war which art form may well regain its popularity but it will prove difficult for vegetarians: although, with empty shelf syndrome, endemame beans, calcots, kimchi and golden tofu may be liable to substitution. There is an esoteric pleasure in shopping on line ( I speak of France, where we are) in which everything seems to be available. Jenny and I tick this and that and that and this and feel a bit guilty …”Have we bought too much..? ,,,let’s cut something out…too late ….oh, fuck”: and I go to pick up what I’m sure will be a ziggurat of monumental proportions mounted on a metal shopping trolley surrounded by floor markings keeping the gawping crowd at bay. As it turns out the “oh, fuck” of greed was unnecessary and was substituted for an alternative “oh, fuck” as the trolley, with my name on it, contained one disposable brown paper carrier bag with a small and random selection of the order placed and poetic justice had been done. .
Just remember….Sic Transit Gloria…..keep a good 2 metres away from her.
I’m starting to sense the feeling of impotence suffered by the aliens in War of the Worlds as the giant metal legs of indestructible technology started to bend at the knee and the ground came rushing upwards. Invisible, deadly adversaries are incomprehensible outside of fiction and their sudden clear presence among us illuminates our fragile mortality and sends us into hiding . A generation unused to confinement and imminent threat is now reduced to listening to broadcasts, reading the news, twittering, tweeting, skyping, FBing, Fting, anyeffingthinging in an attempt to make sense of what is happening; why won’t “they” give us clarity, instructions, answers, help….., never has the analogy of the flock of sheep and shepherd been so apposite. Except there are no shepherds….just others of us that our voices and votes angrily or ecstatically elected and from whom we expected more than they have to give because the difference between them and us is so much less than we needed to believe . The purveyors of Populism have denied the worth of expert opinion and still, even in extremis, are biting their tongues rather than asking as many of them as is possible to come to our aid whilst simultaneously having the sense to firmly sweep the dark legion of their “advisers” out of the back door as so much dust and waste which is all they are.
….or Puddlemarch; the latter would be apposite for the conditions underfoot which stretch back to a point beyond memory; I say this with the confidence of one who has as much confidence in the stretching back ability of his short term memory as he has in the forecasts of the weather forecaster. I have a deep dislike for January and February; not liking particular months is as pointless an exercise as I can imagine but, as I currently find exercise pointless, I confess that I have always had a lasting and unreasonable dislike for the two of them. I have spent 70 years waiting hopefully ( I have omitted the first 6 years of my life as months didn’t mean much to me until I went to boarding school at 7 years old) and occasionally optimistically, for March which, in my earliest memories, heralded the end of the Easter Term and, in my early teens, the end of the freezing misery of rowing on the swirling, brown river Thames in training for the regattas of summer……my position in the boat was bow which means that my back faced the pointy end of the boat beyond which was nothing but cold water and there was a reason for placing me in this position which did not include careful team selection. My size predicated that I should be a cox and I had indeed been given that responsibility at the outset of my time rowing at school and it was a responsibility that was speedily removed from me subsequent to my steering the boat in my charge into the path of an oncoming motor launch which collision surgically removed the front part of the boat I was steering, instantly transforming 9 men in a boat to 9 men in the Thames ; after the sinking I was introduced to several painful traditions, that I’d rather forget, before I was given the bow seat in a new boat, not in the belief that I would add to the power of the boat but in the hope of a similar accident in which I would be the victim of poetic justice: and that does for the March of Time.
Quick March to the present; the waters are rising and a virus is spreading which leaves me little choice but to ignore everything and make meringues. Living in this tiny hamlet with a population of 10 people, and a great many more sheep and cows, we don’t do a great deal of hand shaking or mwah mwahing. Let me be clear, we could not choose to have better neighbours than those we have here as our ideal good neighbour is a kind and thoughtful person to whom we speak rarely yet trust completely and it would appear that our neighbours’ view of neighbourly behaviour is one and the same. Whatever disappointments that each March offers it cannot prevent the arrival of the light….the wondrous lengthening of the day which eventually culminates in those long, hot, sultry evenings which draw themselves out inexorably giving pleasures twelve months forgotten.
And there is Mad March with battling hares in the fields and memories of Masefield “butting down the Channel in the mad March days” along with a determination to avoid the Ides of March….the acronym IDE, Infectious Disease Epidemic, could not be more fitting to the zeitgeist. I was thinking to myself, as I brought in wood from the courtyard behind the house, how these things are suddenly upon us. The buildings around me, as I worked, had seen men in German uniforms who had the power to kill you at the drop of a hat; they would have seen Republican soldiers, as they swept through the Vendée killing everyone in their path, at the end of XVIII Century and still the buildings look down on me in a kindly way. As I worked my neighbour came out, chatted and then loaded his wheelbarrow with a box of apples to take to our neighbour on the other side of the lane. The day could not have been more normal but it’s not and it won’t be for a while; and then it will be.
Over the last few days I have been trying to remember a word that forever slips my mind. To suggest that it is but one word that forever slips my mind would be an…another word which jostles for space in the lexicon that balances delicately on the very tip of my tongue The irony is that, at the outset, I had, for once, remembered the forgotten word which was to be revealed to the reader in some amusing fashion; but it’s gone. To add a frisson of excitement, and indeed mystery, I had earlier noted down the just remembered word but where I noted it down has since become unclear so I shall move on to mashed potato in the hope that it may reveal itself along the way.
A bowl of lovingly made mashed potato is an iconic dish that, as is the way with icons, so often disappoints. The disappointment can usually be placed directly at the feet of that lack of love, which lack is the downfall of so much cooking, and the lack of a proper potato ricer which, on searching for a reference to illustrate this essential kitchen tool to you, dear reader, I have managed to acquire on line, but 5 real minutes past, a replacement for my old rusty one for the princely sum of 20€, reduced from 137€! I don’t like exclamation marks but I am fucking well exclaiming.* There’s nothing to see here…move along ….to boiling potatoes in chunks, in cold water, and with plenty of sea salt. Pass the cooked potatoes through the ricer and add lumps of unsalted butter, plenty of white pepper, big dollops of creme fraiche and the yoke of a fresh ( freshly laid is ideal ) egg and stir together with a wooden spoon. Such is the potato on top of the “Sheperds Pie” in the photograph which is also a vegetarian “Shepherd’s Pie” using a meat substitute which was as rich and deeply flavoured as any I have eaten and which allows me to look my local lambs in the face without shame ….although looking lambs lovingly in the face could suggest, to those who have spent lonely weeks on a mountain side with lambs’ mothers, something of the sort.
Sadly, that which was lost has not yet been found, although the tip of my tongue is atingle with possible candidates pushing themselves forward …enigma has just offered itself up and the “a” ending is definitely a clue….the search will go on as, like J. Marion Wayne, I set off into the snowy white pages of Roger’s ( as opposed to the mispelled bloke who has his own one) Thesaurus from which I will not return without my errant noun.
* I would mention the site from which I bought the ricer but I don’t want to be responsible for anything going wrong as I haven’t used the site before.