I had this blog all ready to go and then the referendum happened. Overnight, the world had turned upside down. At least that’s what it felt like to me…that sense of vertigo…when you don’t quite know where you are any more. It took me a few days to get back some semblance of my bearings. Mainly, I feel sad for the country and the inevitable difficulties it will face. I feel particularly sad for the most disadvantaged people. What the whole thing has catalysed in me is a profound desire to do something for someone else. I was telling my trainer Lina about this as we were doing laps around the field at the Aberystwyth University Sports Centre and she told me they were in desperate need of of some assistance where she works. So I decided to volunteer for this local organization that works with learning disabled people. My application is in process. I will keep you posted.
Back before it all happened I was checking out one of my favourite websites: www.notsalmon.com and discovered this ‘grounding tool’. Look around you. Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. What a lovely, light -hearted approach to managing stress and anxiety.
Alternatively, you can move to rural Wales. The dormer window of the bedroom is fully open. I can hear a rustling in the hedge between the back garden and the field beyond. A loud rustling. Or is it munching? I spot the source behind the hedge. I can just see the white of their coats flashing through the bushes. A small herd of cows enjoying a mid-afternoon snack. I can smell a pot of Beef Bourguignon bubbling gently on the stove- wine, carrots, garlic, thyme. I can just about touch the soft elusive breeze that wafts through the cottage carrying with it the scent of fresh hay, grasses, earth.
Here is something I wrote when I first came.
Every time my car pulls into the back garden and I switch off the engine, the utter sense of peace, beyond silence descends. The absolute unchanging nature of life here from year to year, no new roads, no new developments brings a reassurance beyond words.
So now I am just starting down the hill from the cottage for my daily walk. My neighbour who owns the farm land around the cottage is sitting on his quad bike in the middle of the road. He is making some ju ju sounds and is shaking a plastic bag in the direction of the lane to the left. I can hear a few moos and sure enough as I move a few more steps down the hill, I can see a small herd of black cows and calves clustered in the lane-obviously unimpressed with his bidding. I stop for a quick chat. My neighbour is 88 years old and is now suffering from macular degeneration. This is on top of the Addison’s disease he has had since his 30’s, the heart condition that emerged later, and of course the inevitable hip replacements. So he apologises for not recognising me right away. However, he is going for shots on Friday at Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth or Aber as it is known around here. The shots may help.
I ask about his wife, who is 80 and had major heart surgery around Christmas. He asks after my dear husband. The requisite medical bulletins having been exchanged, we get down to business. Could I stand guard on the hill while he gets his bike up behind the cows and tries to herd them down the road? He doesn’t want them going up. So can I stand guard to make sure they go in the right direction? Ok… I wait a few minutes. No problem really as it is a glorious summer day, with just a slight breeze. There are no cars on the road. It’s silent. Then my neighbour is back. The cows have decided to go into an adjacent field. ‘Nice to see you.’
Walking a little further down the hill I reach a T junction. The little sign with the arrows points right to Llangeitho, straight ahead to Lampeter and backwards to Aberystwyth. My neighbour’s oldest son and his family live in the white house on the corner. A former school teacher, he and his wife have a building business which also allows them to help me out with various and sundry things around the cottage from time to time.
A few minutes later, having passed some of the most glorious scenery anywhere on the planet, I head down another hill.
This one is a 10% gradient and it feels like 45%. At the bottom sits the home of three brothers. There was an incident a few years ago when the county council sent an officer out to insist they move the fence adjacent to the road. One brother was having none of it. He got out his cross bow and the officer left in short order. I understand the brother spent some time away after one or two further incidents. Invariably one or other of them is out busying himself on a piece of machinery or in the shed. We always extend to each other very brief cordial greetings about the weather conditions as I continue without pause on the three mile trek.
The next leg involves the navigation of a very small, deeply rutted lane. Always the source of some seasonal harvest, branches for kindling in winter and early spring, wild roses in summer, rose hips in autumn. I pass the home of my artisan neighbour and her husband, the one who makes in felt the gorgeously whimsical local scenes. In spring, summer and autumn they are busy in their pristine garden, built on a slope, lavishly filled with every imaginable flower and shrub. Most of what I know about local floribunda, I have learned from their garden.
Then a right turn, and I am about to embark on the dreaded 11% incline-upwards. But not before I pass another neighbour’s dwelling. A retired policeman from the former Rhodesia, his ‘compound’ hosts a menagerie of the wild and wonderful- guinea fowl, runner ducks, geese, alpaca sheep, and a three legged dog. Many displaced and some thriving. Such is west Wales.
Right across the road from the house is a holly tree which partially overhangs the road and a field. It’s the only berried bush in the area that I have been able to find, so I always help myself to a few branches around Christmas. And, right in front of the house, is a lilac tree and again, my neighbour has graciously invited me to help myself ‘as long as I don’t load up the back of a pick- up truck as some have been known to do.’
Then….and there is no escaping it…The real work of the walk begins. I have tested out an infinite number of ways to ease the inevitable pain. Here are a few: stopping every few minutes to ‘admire the view’; focusing only on the next step; focusing only on the middle distance; weaving from right to left and left to right; following the curves. You get the picture. What seems to be most distracting from the anguish is if I am in the middle of resolving a particularly intense current or possibly even past issue, usually an interpersonal one. Then I have a tendency to keep going, resolutely straight ahead, perhaps even a bit too fast. Of course, being a consummate hypochondriac, I’ve been known to be so breathless as to become quite terrified that I am going to expire on this luscious but deserted hill top. So far- as you can see- it hasn’t happened. And there are absolutely incredible rewards. The banks in spring form a bluebell ‘carpet’, followed shortly thereafter by stalwart, upright foxgloves, lining up like lavender sentinels along the way, not to mention red campions, little yellow butter cups, white daisies, tiny violets.
And today has been a ‘mid -range’ day. I’ve been considering what finishing touches I might put on my latest painting. A ‘painting’ colleague found the picture in an art magazine and brought it into the studio where we paint a couple of times a month. We each did our own version. I find it really really helps to work alongside someone. I have learned a lot from her.
I have been thinking hard too about a book I’ve been reading -‘Capital’ by Thomas Piketty and wondering what, if anything, the individual can contribute to resolving the age old tendency that Piketty identifies: wealth accumulates wealth. ‘How can we reach a fairer distribution of resource?’ is the central focus of Piketty’s work.
I haven’t quite reached the solution when I am back at the T junction. I turn left, up what now feels like a very small hill, and, after about 5 minutes I arrive. There- silently, benignly waiting, sits the cottage. The Beef Bourguignon has bubbled its way to perfection. It’s time to taste! All is well in west Wales.
I am not going to keep you waiting another minute for the recipe:
This comes from one of my all time favourite cookbooks: Long Nights, Log Fires. Not just a whole range of terrific recipes but wonderfully evocative pictures that envelope you with warmth and welcome.
Boeuf Bourguignon (attributed to Fiona Beckett)
900 g braising beef or steak
3 tablespoons olive oil
130 g cubed pancetta (I use smoked back bacon)
3 white onions finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
450 ml full-bodied red wine
4 carrots chopped into one inch chunks (my addition)
1/2 cup beef broth (this is also my addition)
a bouquet garni made from a few sprigs of thyme,
parsley, and fresh or dried bay leaf
25 g butter
250 g chestnut mushrooms cleaned and halved or quartered if large.
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a large flameproof casserole
Pat beef dry. Trim off any excess fat and cut into large cubes. Put one tablespoon oil into the casserole, set over medium heat, fry pancetta or bacon until lightly browned. Remove from pan with slotted spoon. Add beef in 2 batches and brown in fat that remains in casserole. Remove. Add remaining oil to pan and fry onion gently for 25 minutes until caramelised. Add garlic at the end. Cook one minute then add flour and cook for another minute. Add wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Return the beef, pancetta, and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer over lowest heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is just tender. The instructions suggest leaving the casserole over night but I hardly ever do this.
Next saute the mushrooms in butter until lightly browned (about 5 minutes) Add to casserole and simmer another 10-15 minutes. Salt, pepper, chopped parsley. Served with mashed potatoes or boiled new potatoes.