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Happy New Year and hello to January of 2018.
I have been quiet for some time on my blog now. I have struggled these past two months or so, with a really difficult feeling of not knowing what to write, feeling awkward writing anything, and just experiencing a disquieting eerieness about the whole situation. I never usually have trouble writing, even if its just lines in my diary. I find the process soothing, and for me, a way of making sense of my days. So to be stuck in the middle of an unwelcome and bewildering silence has made me lose my confidence a little.
To be honest, writing now, feels like that first clumsy and stiff morning on your first day back at school from a long summer holiday; when you find yourself holding a new pencil in your hand, and it feels as though you are holding a plank of wood between your fingers.
The ideas and thoughts for this post, therefore, have come from that sense of alienation and worry I experienced, feeling a little lost without the words to express what I was thinking about, and in truth, not having any clarity of thought anyway. A combination of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year and the enevitable quietness of January have all given me some time for reflection. And perhaps, afterall, that is what I have needed. Perhaps I just need to start from the beginning again.
Coincidentally I have also spent most of this new year thinking and reflecting. I have been following a process called the January Book. Devised by the sylist and writer Hannah Bullivant (I found out about it via her amazing instagram account, and her beautiful website, which you can find at http://www.seedsandstitches.com), it is a way of outlining plans for your coming year by focusing on key areas of your life, dividing them into catergories such as family, career, finances and home, and by a process of reflecting on those areas, making a sustainable plan for the year ahead.
And in addition, we have been having a little more renovation to our home (from having a door made for the bathroom, where previously there was none) to having a partition wall put up between the living room and the sunroom (a rather grand term for what really is a little extension with a perspex roof) It has meant a lot of noise, a lot of mud and mess, and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed at having to tidy up ready for the next day, and not knowing where to begin.
But most of all I am really starting to notice a gathering change in my two little girls, as they are growing up from babies to little toddlers, and it is this realisation that has had the biggest emotional effect on me overall. I have loved every moment of them being babies – and the poignant reminder that if my IVF treatment hadn’t been succesful I would never have been able to experience any of it, has made it even more so.
And it is there I suspect all the answers to my wordless stories lie. Being quiet was neccesary for some thinking, and all my thinking was about change – and in reflecting on change, I began to see that it was all about letting go.
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.
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