Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Midsummer Madness

It had been a week of rain and riots and I’d found it hard not to watch the orgy of looting and violence played out on our TV screen each night. All of it appeared senseless so I can only pretend to make sense of what I saw:

Our Prime Minister tells us that there are “pockets of society,” which are “not just broken but frankly sick.” A charity worker reacts suggesting that those suffering the disease are the poor and abused: “1.4 million children are living below the poverty line and 1.1 million are living with substance-abusing parents.”  But the illness spreads and becomes endemic. It contaminates all sections of society.  I see a plague – an ant swarm. They flock like birds. A murder of crows hooded in black. I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Black Crow’ from her album Hejira:
And diving, diving, diving, diving.
Diving down to pick up on every shiny thing
Just like that black crow flying
In a blue sky
But what is this? A child in a bright turquoise track suit flits to the front line and kicks out at a shop window. Even a ‘bad’ birdwatcher would recognise the startling flash of a kingfisher’s plumage. Where are the parents of this child? They must be able to identify the boy that dressed this morning in shocking kingfisher blue. How are they feeling?
Devastated? Like the family whose home has been burned to cinders. Like the father who has lost his son. Like the shop owner who witnessed the destruction of all his worldly goods.
Another boy struts at the heels of the Mayor of London and motions toward his stomach. He says we have no food in our bellies. We are hungry. But we all know he has a blackberry in his pocket.
A learning and behaviour mentor adds to the discussion: “Whatever someone else has got, they have to have it.” And so it goes on. I can see the jubilance on the faces of those who come away with their boxes of something for nothing. They sicken me as much as I’m sickened by all the politicians who were involved in the expenses scandal last year. Those were not the poor and abused but the privileged and the wealthy; intelligent criminals making fraudulent claims just so they can get their bit of something for nothing.
I switch off the TV and stare out at the garden. The rain-tears on the window have become static, stilled into wet freckles. It has stopped raining. From where I sit I cannot see where the sun should be in the sky only the effect of it which makes the grey tiles on the school’s roof lighten. It’s as if someone is turning the brightness dial on an analogue TV set and knows exactly when to stop. The picture is so vivid and so real it makes me tighten my grip on summer.

But the garden is in chaos; it’s a hodgepodge of dying plants and full flower. The lobelia swarms out over its pot in a mass of vibrant blues. I clip off a few sprigs and bring them indoors. A little bowl of summer.

Outside again and against the wall the ox eye daisies are shedding their thick white lashes. They are left with amber pompons the same colour as my cats’ eyes.  

There are sun yellow poppies sprouting up between the flags.  The lettuce has been ransacked by slugs but the rosemary, along with the lavender, is thriving. I collect the sticky scent of rosemary on my fingers as I break off a few tips.

This is the good and bad of summer.
I open a bottle of wine and the kitchen window and start to cook.

It’s surprising how many meals you can produce from one big fish. I rub my salmon with olive oil and season it with salt and lemon juice. I then tuck parsley and fennel inside and outside its body and wrap it up in newspaper tying it neatly with string. I dampen the mummified fish under the tap and place the whole thing in an oven preheated to 180°C. It bakes for about 30 minutes and I leave it to rest while I shred cabbage, carrots and a red onion for coleslaw. I serve the plump pink flakes of salmon flesh with the freshly made coleslaw and little potatoes roasted with rosemary and sea salt.

It’s the day after and I tear off the rest of the salmon flesh from the carcase. I make a fish stock from the head and bones and freeze it. The rest of the salmon fills a pastry case and over that I pour an egg and cream mixture and bake a quiche which will feed us for two days.

What a week. I can’t make sense of the riots. I feed instead on the senses from my kitchen garden and my quiet cats and the discussions we share over wine and salmon and lobelia. There is little sense to this posting, I know this. But I want to send my thoughts to the man whose son was killed by wild men. His composed kindness is what I need to remember; he tells us all to “stay calm,” and “go home.” The violence and looting stops.