How to raise wild girls and how to build a mud kitchenRead More...
There is something about glitter on home made Christmas cards that makes me feel safe and warm. Trying to describe it to you now, it feels like this: I catch a half glimpse of a half-memory; the contents of small tubes of brightly coloured glitter – silver, red, green and gold – pouring out onto a blank piece of paper, to be made into a card, possibly to be given to my Mum and Dad.
I have also woven other elements into this vignette. A window, outside of which leaves of gold swirl in the mist. A warm radiator. An anticipated thought that I will be wearing a woollen scarf later when I go outside. There is also a larger sense of family somewhere. Belonging to people. Home. Whispered children’s breath misting up a window pane. Fingertips making steamy circles on the warmed up glass.
This particular memory comes back to me every year in early Autumn. Its arrival feels like welcoming an old friend, ‘Ah, there you are, come and have a seat at my table.’ I am aware it is nostalgia but it doesn’t really matter. It is a memory. Through memory and imagining, Autumn has become a falling cascade of glitter and leaves. Who wouldn’t want to remember that?
But It isn’t just the glitter and the leaves that make me feel this way. As I grow older, memories of warmth and safety become infused with ideas of love and morality, decency and goodness. All these truths inform my world, by wrapping themselves around it like a cloak made of velvet. At times when you are faced with uncertainty and unpredictability, these are the beacons that can guide you home to your soul.
So what exactly are these truths? For me, like those small tubes of glitter, they are often little things and in themselves, perhaps nothing much at all. A line from a book. A poem. A letter weathered from being unfolded and read many times over. Music. A kind gesture from someone that you return to again and again, possibly only realising its significance to you much later on. Kindness. Kindness. Kindness. These all contribute towards a much greater picture, a living memory that chimes by your side, as a kind of compass reminding you of who you are, or even a guide back towards the person who you want to be.
And perhaps after all – the lessons we should learn about memories and love are really quite simple after all. If we think of them as touchstones and totems by which we can measure our present and future selves. By being grateful for the things that have touched us and by what we choose to remember with love.
What does an ordinary day look like? The sun rises, the sun sets and a there is a day’s worth of living in-between. And the living in-between is the thing. Sometimes, a day can feel like a lifetime, and others go by so quickly that you barely have chance to look around you, before it has all passed you by, and you are saying goodnight to the moon.
Since becoming a Mum, one of the many, unexpected, things that I have learnt is the way that a day will tumble into the next, and that there is never any time in-between to absorb and reflect on any of the amazing things that you see, feel and experience along the way. Your heart can swell with love one moment, then tears spring to your eyes the next. The smallest thing, like her first teeth showing in a cheeky smile, or a chubby hand clutching at a flower – and suddenly that deep unfathomable well of love, and pride and disbelief at the total amazing beauty if it all, comes rushing to the surface.
Yet, as my friend told me the other day, these deep feelings can arise out of a day that can be sometimes so unremarkable in its banality and ordinariness. Days where its all about the continuing cycle of breakfast and dish washing, clothes washing and drying, vacuuming, more tidying, more cooking, washing and ……
But it is within those routines and inevitabilities that the beauty comes through. in the knowledge that you are doing what you are doing for your family, that the sacred moments of heart stopping love sustain you like nothing else on earth, and that the routine, ordinariness, and rituals you create, are what gives your family shape and cohesion. The act of doing all that, however dreary, tiring and repetitive is ultimately that which creates security and safety.
You do what you do, for them, and you do what you do for them out of love.
If you asked me some of the things I remember most from my childhood, scones would be one of them. It seems a strange thing to remember so well. They seem very different to English scones, especially those summery indulgent cream tea one’s you have down in Devon and Cornwall. Those soft and cloud-like mounds of whipped cream, or scarlet jam on fluffy white scones, ate in a café garden by the sea.
No, these Welsh scones were much smaller, less bouncy, Welsh scones with a lick of butter, accompanied by that scalding hot dry tea. They came from a tin, the lid prised off and the small side plates, fine delicate white china decorated with the smallest of dainty red roses, laid on the table as the kettle boiled, ready for the tea. It was a different sort of eating and I loved it very much.
Everyone seemed to have scones when you went to visit. Often my Dad would take me to the nearby farms when he was helping them out, or returning a favour from having been helped on his farm. Dad would be outside talking to the other farmers, all of them dressed in their blue thick cotton workwear overalls, a narrow wisp of a roll-up, often unlit, just resting at the side of their mouths. I would be invited to go into the farm kitchen to talk in nervous welsh to the Farmer’s wives, who would welcome me in and sit me at their tables.
Perhaps it is because of the homeliness of it all, which makes me rememeber so fondly. For years after I grew up, I have had an almost obsessive love of kitchens and the life I imagined that went on within them. More than any room in the house, this is the space I space I craved to have for my own, and to fill it with the family life I experienced back then. All the conversations, meals, laughter, tears and arguments ebbing and flowing, with the kitchen table centre stage. A place to rest your elbows, your heart and your dreams.
My Step-Grandmother at the age of 80 something, herself a farmers wife, still makes these scones today. Her son and Grandson’s, who work on the family farm, still come to her home to collect their scones. I am not allowed to use her particular recipe on my blog, as it is something of a secret family one – but doing a little reading around, here is a version, close to Elinor’s, but different enough that I am not betraying a family code in any way.
225g self raising flour
A pinch of salt
55g unsalted butter (some recipes here use half butter half lard)
150ml of milk
In a bowl sieve the flour and add the salt. Add the butter and begin to rub the mixture together with the tips of your fingers. It helps to raise your hands above the bowl when you are doing this, to bring some air in to the mixture. When combined it should resemble damp breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and combine with a knife. Add the milk and lightly mix in the milk into the mixture. Mixing together should be done as quickly and as lightly as possible.
Cover your hands in flour and also flour the surface you will be rolling on. Aim for a mixture just over an inch thick (it won’t rise so it needs to be chunky). Use the cutter quickly and put on a floured baking tray. Brush the tops with milk and bake for 13-15 minutes until golden.
Serve with piping hot tea, preferably drunk from china cups with roses on them, mist beyond the window outside, and a sense of Hiraeth in your soul.