Mother is now 89. She lives down the road from us very independently. She still drives, paints, gardens, knits, and passes judgement on talent show contestants, on which subject she takes no prisoners and is generally right. One of her finest critiques arose during the Andrew Lloyd Webber search for a “Nancy” some years back. She sat, like the Queen, in the large winged chair in our sitting room with an implacable expression, while a woman of ample hip and bosom belted out “Son of a Preacher Man.” When the agony was over, Mother declared that, aside from the ghastly shouty singing, this wannabe was far too comely to play the part of Nancy, adding “I’m not surprised that the only man who would ever reach her was the son of a pizza man!”
Now if Mother has her way, her latest hobby may well render us all the size of a pizza man’s lover, because this year she’s developed a big thing about jams and jellies. So far she’s treated us to some excellent marmalade, mint jelly, damson and plum jam and even a spot of greengage. Jam is very important here in the country. We talk of little else. And Mother’s jam and jelly thing has just made a bit of a dent in our Friday. Here’s how….
In conversation recently with Robin the milkman, Mother touched on the subject of Seville oranges and the usual energised “conserve” related chit chat ensued. Robin, it turned out, had a crab apple tree. Well this news sent mother into paroxysms of delight. Crab apple jelly! The best! Such a beautiful colour! Such a distinctive flavour! And it’s one of the few preserves you can seldom buy in a shop. Budgens, down the road, certainly don’t stock it. Not surprisingly, the next day, a huge bag of crab apples was left on the doorstep with the milk. Robin had been up the tree.
Well the success of the ensuing batch of crab apple jelly was stellar, so much so that it got Mother thinking quite a lot about crab apples. Then one day she announced that she thought she would buy a tree of her very own. Now she’s a bit of a dab hand on the old Ipad so she did some extensive research and, after several discussions with me, she hit on the tree she felt would be most suitable –Golden Hornet it is, and it promises to yield beautiful, golden crab apples – the best for jelly. It was duly ordered. And after months of anticipation, it arrived. Yesterday.
I undid the large cardboard box to reveal a tiny twiggy thing with its roots wrapped in a plastic bag. This is what’s known amongst horticulturalists as a “bare root tree.” Now I’ve had some experience with one of these. I killed it, in fact. I fear I may have left it in the porch a day too long. So I knew that this crab apple baby needed to get its feet in the ground as soon as possible if we were going to stand a hope in hell of getting jelly further down the line. The instructions bore this out, clearly stating that should be planted immediately in a hole “X” inches deep with a large dollop of well-rotted manure.
Well it was Thursday evening and dark. Martin, my old man, who was with me, was not about to go and dig a hole. You can’t dig a decent hole in the dark. He said he’d plant it on Saturday. But, given our previous bare root catastrophe, I wasn’t sold on this. Mother said she would phone Steve the Gardener and prey on his good nature. Perhaps Steve and his mate Pete would be able to do it tomorrow? (Friday) We thought there was a strong chance that they would because a) they are national treasures and b) they love Mother. Martin looked relieved. Understandably, coming from puritan stock, he has an aversion to do anything that isn’t “work” on a weekday. He did, however, volunteer, should Mother fail to procure the services of Steve. So if push had come to shove…. However we were still left with the problem of the well-rotted manure. We had less than twelve hours to lay our hands on some decent shit.
We’ve been in the country now for over twenty years but are not yet quite fully accepted on account of a few old townie give-aways. The bright pink Hunters wellies, for instance, are considered far too “Fulham” by proper country people. Proper country people wear old green boots or, if they’re super rich, they wear those boots everyone wears at Burghley <blank face.> But pink Wellies – no. Proper country people do not go a bundle on “camp.” Speaking of camp, we have two yappy Lhasa Apsos – (or Lager Asbos, as they’re known here.) One has a diamante collar and one had a squeaky George Bush toy. Both are allowed on the bed. Proper country people have labs or spaniels, who do not play with toys, but with the real thing – feathered or furred – and who stay downstairs or “live out.” Our dyed in the wool towniness also means that we struggle slightly with the idea of blowing the brains out of small birds for fun, even though we’re happy to eat (but not pluck) them. So yes – we are still urban hypocrites. However, our good friends up this way seem to tolerate us. So bless ‘em for that. But they were none of them around today in our hour of need. NONE OF THEM. NOT ONE.
It was the manure that did it. Early this morning, I rang my friend Jane Godfrey, who lives at Manor Farm and who has horses, to ask if Martin could nip down and help himself to some shit off her muck pile. He has done this before so he knows the way. Jane gave this plan her blessing but I could tell she was in a hurry. I could also tell that Martin was in a hurry. Shit shovelling hadn’t been a part of his Friday morning plan. After a brief exchange of well-chosen but slightly arch words re the necessity of the crab apple tree to be given the best possible start in life and the fact that he only needed to get a couple of spades worth, not a whole sack, he set off, in his boots, in what one could call a “bit of a huff.” Little did I know that the “bit of a huff” was about to escalate into a full blown sense of humour failure. And, in fairness, an understandable one.
You see, we have a new car. Well – new to us. Relatively. The old car was written off when stationery at a petrol pump. Mother was in the passenger seat and the white van missed her by a whisker. Somehow or other Martin managed to drive it home, with Mother in it and, when she entered my house her first words to me were “I think you should give your husband something stiff immediately.” Mother was not shaken by the near death experience. Months went by before we could be arsed to buy a new car and, on the advice of one Ivan Berg, a friend who doubles as a car aficionado, my old man sought out something that came as a bit of a surprise. I was at my computer one morning when the conversation went like this:
I’ve found a car. I’ve put down a deposit.
Well – aren’t you going to ask me what it is?
What is it?
It’s a jag.
Well aren’t you going to ask me what colour it is?
What colour is it?
Is this a returnable deposit, dear?
So we have a gold jag. She has been named Gloria. (N.B Proper country people don’t name their cars.) The first night we had Gloria she screamed all night long. Her sensors were too, er, sensitive. Then we discovered another quirk when it took us over six hours to drive to Salford because Gloria’s sat nav setting was on “DO NOT USE MAJOR ROADS.” She’s high maintenance, is Gloria. But she has now been accepted into the community, although it did take the neighbours a while to recover from the all night screaming session.
So Martin sets off this morning in a huff, in his boots, in Gloria. After about half an hour my phone rings.
Where are you?
I’m in the bloody field.
Have you got the shit?
No. Not yet.
What’s the matter?
The car’s stuck in the mud. I can’t get her out.
He’d tried everything. He’d got straw from the stable and stuffed it under her wheel. He’d dismantled half the barn to get at a wooden plank and used all his schoolboy knowledge of levers to try to dislodge her. No good. In view of the fact that Steve and Pete could turn up at Mother’s AT ANY SECOND, spades at the ready, the priority now was not to get Gloria out of the mud, but to get the shit to Mother. So the plan was that he was going to have a dig about in the muck heap and run round to Mother’s with the bag of manure, and I was going to ring round to see if we could find any friends to help with our little problem re Gloria.
Well Jane herself was not at home. I then tried Gillian and Philip Gregory. I wasn’t quite sure what Philip was going to do, short of die laughing, but maybe he’d come up with a plan. No answer. Then I tried Jane and Richard Marjason Stamp. Nothing. Then I tried Neil Farbon. Neil would be perfect. He has a four wheel drive and he is an absolute jam and jelly nut. His jams and jellies have actually won prizes at the Gransden show. Neil was my man. He would be “sympa” to the cause. But Neil was out. It occurred to us that they were probably all blowing the brains out of helpless birds in our hour of need. And it turns out that they were. Those who weren’t at pilates, that is. We rock round here.
In the end it was Gerry Pomfret who saved the day. You can’t go far in these parts without tripping over a Pomfret. And Gerry’s the one who owns the local garage. He kindly sent a Land Rover and some burly men to Godfrey’s farm. In the blink of an eye, Gloria was released. She was then driven straight to the carwash.
So I have to apologise to anyone who was expecting to hear from us today with anything appertaining to business. We have been too busy with the jam and jelly project. And shit. Happy Friday, people.
P.S Just had this e mail from Mother.
All is quiet and peaceful here this afternoon.
Another tree is in the garden in spite of the slight problem. I am keen to find another empty place where I could perhaps put another tree and cover the ugly fence.
I think we may have enough shit left over and the boys looked so enthusiastic when they arrived shouldering their spades and wearing their woolly hats.
What do you think?
I may come back to normal shortly and pop down to Budgens. Bit short on crisps.