Saturday, 25 October 2014

T is for Treacle Toffee

Dear Nigel,

Was it only just over a week ago that we watched the last of Summer's footprints evaporate leaving no trace? There we were, cycling along one of the many old railway tracks that serve as cycle paths here in the Peak District, weaving themselves over and through the hills; coats left in Archie because an unseasonal warm wind was fanning our path, and the sun glowing that Autumn gold that colours the landscape sometimes like a badly-exposed print at this time of year.

We took the Monsal trail which goes through the side of a hill in two places. Coming out of the soot-lined tunnel we blink in multicolour and stop on top of the viaduct to gaze at the tranquil ribbon of water beneath. Sophie whizzes past on a bike that is much too small for her now. She is enjoying the freedom that comes from suddenly being able to take off and go. There was no teeth-pulling endless learning to ride with her - wobbling and grazed knees each day. She simply decided one day she could do it, borrowed someone else's bike and rode off. That's the sort of laborious parenting I like.

The warm currents of air have also brought the butterflies out in force. A cloud of Red Admirals enter the cottage and take residence along the beams of the living room ceiling. They come probably from the Buddleia just outside the window, but show no signs of wanting to leave. Each day they sleep and in the evening when the cottage warms up they wake up and fly around the room as we eat our supper. One lands on the back of Sophie's hand and stays there, happy to bask in the warmth of her skin for a while. It is most odd. Sometimes, the sun wakes them during the day and I open the window and chivvy them on their way. But, by night time they have all flown back in again and are perched in exactly the same individual spots as the day before. If I were so inclined I could find myself believing that there is a message there in all this. Instead, I simply marvel at this peculiar thing and pick up my knife and fork and tuck into my supper as our resident friends dance at face height over the table and settle over by the window.

The supper I am making tonight for my guest is 'Sweetcorn Crumb-crust Pie' (page 333). It is the sort of easy family meal that I know my kids will like too, with nothing they can complain about (except, perhaps, the odd bit of green parsley - but let them complain). As a huge fan of all shallow oven-baked dishes involving potatoes and cream I am looking forward to this one warming up a dismal day outside. The weather has changed radically here and so suddenly and the summer is all but instantly forgotten. How short our memories are as we battle through driving rain,doing battle with our swords of flimsy metal spokes and nylon against mother nature's outrage.

Each year the pile of old coats gets larger and tattier, threatening to pull the coat hooks off the wall. Each year I promise to send them all winging their way to the clothing bank. And each year they get a sudden last reprieve, like condemned prisoners on death row, and I feel comfortable once again walking the dog in an old favourite battered and faded jacket that has become my friend over the years. Both of us have seen better days, I think.

There is another convict on death row whose fate is the talk of the pub as I go to play my fiddle. Many of the regulars actually come from the neighbouring village of Eyam (famous for being the village that cut itself off during the Plague). Where Andy lives, his neighbour has a now rather famous Welsummer Cockerel called William the Conqueror, who is known to have an exceptionally loud crow in the mornings.

Now, I'd always rather assumed that if you chose to live in the country, then you accepted cockerels crowing and birds singing the dawn chorus as part of life - even welcomed it? Apparently not. Someone in Eyam has made a complaint to the district council about William and a man from the council has been sent out to investigate. Poor William was clocked and registered (and an ASBO tag fitted to his leg perhaps?) and deemed to be above the required decibels that is allowable for Cockerels. (If only we could do that for there's a thought...)

The outcome is that poor William either has to be dispatched or sent away from home, as he apparently refuses to sleep in his new modified coop. Poor eighty year old Mr Sutcliffe, William's owner, has found no takers for the bird and so it seems William's days are numbered.

However, a backlash is afoot. William apparently has his own facebook page with over two thousand supporters from all over the world, and Mr Sutcliffe has written to his Derbyshire Dales MP Patrick McLoughlin to complain that you can't stop a Cockerel from crowing. Meanwhile, district councillors have given William a few more days reprieve.

Ahhh... such is village life.


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