I guess there's really no need to discuss the weather as we're slap-bang in the middle of the English autumn - but, as a friend of mine commented on my Soutpiel blog, once you've lived in England, you automatically contract, like a flu, the British habit of constantly discussing the weather as though they'd sneezed on you! In all the years I've been keeping a handwritten journal, almost every single entry begins with a line or two dedicated to The Weather.
Wobbly and thick, the glass in the big bay windows of our bedroom is the original glass from when the house was built! Thick, gooey layers of white, gloss enamel painted reverently again and again over the years have permanently sealed the other two sash windows shut - but today its warm enough to not have the central heating on -- one window invitingly open to the fresh countryside air. The sweetest birdsong floats in to me through this gap reminding me of how lucky I am to have landed with my bum in the butter: this gorgeous, spacious old house that somehow feels like it is happy! And the views from our windows of the natural, seasonal rhythms of the farms rolling through their cycles of harvest, planting, toil and rest. Also - our landlord: one Julian Davies who struggles to keep his eyes off my chest but has the most robustly generous heart of gold! In the first few months, while Craig was on his starting salary, we were struggling a little to make ends meet but said nothing to anyone about it; so how dear Julian knew, is STILL a mystery, but he paid our 124GBP council tax for us that one month! We've also been to a delicious braai at his house -- with so much red wine that he fell asleep at the table despite my low-cut, figure hugging blouse! I also sing with his partner, Katie, in the village choir. (Gosh! By no means did I set out to write about these two - but they really are quite an interesting bunch - so shall I just go with the flow then?)
Julian called a few minutes ago to ask if it was ok if he were to pop round this evening to retrieve a few fishing rods from the loft. (His voice always makes me feel warm inside, like I'm sitting next to a gentle, crackling fire in an old little village pub! And then I wonder how my voice makes him feel? Like standing next to a foghorn-tooting tug in the harbour? When I called his shop the other day to say we'd be coming by, he knew immediately it was me! My South African accent? I'd like to say it simply must be the undeniable sweetness and sincerity that sing from my vocal chords - but in all probability, I'm sure it's just my South African twang.) He and his boet own two fishing and hunting shops -- one in Kettering, one in Northampton (http://www.gilderscountrysports.co.uk/)
On weekends and holidays, I moan at Craig as he hovers, ants in his pants, between Facebook on the laptop or something random on TV, about not having a healthy, constructive hobby. His constant rebuttal is : " I do! I love fishing!" (his face a mirror of his wounded, insulted heart!) Alas, with not having that much spare cash ever floating around for expensive hobbies as these, his weekends were declared a fishing-free zone - until a month or so ago when he spent a very macho weekend of fishing and shooting-anything-that-moved-with-a-little-beebee-gun in the forest with his brother: and he finally splashed out and purchased a very fine rod and reel for pike fishing. The ugliest freshwater fish on the planet, rivaling only the nightmarish barbel, Craig and Gary caught some quite easily, throwing them, very sportingly, back (with hooks and lures left, not quite so sportingly, twisted in their guts!) Apparently it is only the French who appreciate the finer, muddier culinary perfection of pike flesh - no surprise there what with their predilection for frog's legs etcetera!
A little bored, I think, with the lack of challenge presented by pike fishing, Craig and Gary's next step was to attempt the fine (and expensive) art of flyfishing! A couple of miles down the road, nestled between the farms and little villages, lies Pitsford Reservoir where sailing and fishing are as popular as the walking and cycling routes around its perimeter. And so the boys hired a small engined boat for the day from the Pitsford Fishing Lodge, as well as flyfishing rods which, by the end of the day, were blamed for their rudimentary quality (i.e. not a single trout was caught between the two of them!) However (and here I heave a big sigh of feminine confusion and mild annoyance) this gave them both the perfect excuse to spend exhorbitant amounts of money on buying 'the right equipment'. Hence our abovementioned visit to Julian's shop in Northampton!
The shopfront stands out from all the other high-street signage by being magnificently classy and old-school. Deep forest green overlain with gold lettering in the kind of style that just oozes sophistication and, well - expensive taste. A dark, quaint little doorway opens up into a posh and cosy, oh-so-English-dear cave of camouflage and tweed, rows of bottle-green rubber boots and all sorts of hats that are not meant to make one look like a fashion victim - i.e. the elephant-like ear flaps keep your ears either warm or sun-free! A chatty little mouse of a woman, Jill, helps a customer with obvious knowledge and natural enthusiasm - and I later learn her and her husband have been friends with Julian for more than thirty years! She, a retired primary school teacher, and Graham - an ex-headmaster, met Julian he attended Graham's ceramic workshop early in the 1970s! Graham, balding and kindly, manned the glittering glass cases of 'flies' -- somewhat amused by my excited announcement I wanted to turn them into earrings and brooches because of their exquisite, colourful and intricate beauty. (Oh yes, I forgot to mention that upon our arrival, Julian wandered in from the store-house section at the back of the shop with his steaming cup of tea only because he heard me all the way back there behind the closed doors! Embarrassing? Nah --- I'm used to it! A lifetime of incurring this sort of reaction and my father affectionately calling me 'Hoeterbek' has somewhat numbed my levels of sensitivity.)
The expert deftly set Craig up with all the right kit, gear and tackle while I daydreamed how I'd keep the look of the hook on the flies while removing the sharp danger of it - my jeweller sister would know! Julian gave Craig a whopping great big discount that left me looking like a gaping barbel at the till - throwing in some of the most popular flies for free and lending him a brand-new, unopened dvd to watch! He is one of those people who you just can't help but feel proud to know - and pleased for their success in life because they deserve it so completely! (This is Julian on one of his many fishing adventures to all sorts of exotic places - this time in Cuba.)
Back to Katie now. Her and Julian were both married before. Julian is divorced, while Katie was prematurely widowed -- and though Julian is like a lovestruck boy with wanting to marry her, she's one of these superbly independent but still wonderfully feminine women: she has a timeless sense of graceful beauty I know I shall one day envy. The first time we met was on paper - a gorgeously scribbled note torn from her diary, welcoming us into the house her and Julian had renovated in a mad hurry for us! Mysteriously and for quite a few weeks, she was adventuring in Peru, until at last we met in the car when she picked me up for my first night of choir. Petite and just curvy enough, she'd recently cut her long, long hair into a sleek bob - but what you notice most about Katie are her eyes and her smile: they both seem magically connected like the moon and the stars in the night sky of her face. Originally a doctor, Katie then specialised in opthamology - but is now retired and organises all sorts of village gatherings in between gardening and travelling to obscure countries!
Well. Phew! I didn't get even within a million miles of what I was originally going to write about - but I hope this sated your appetite?
PS. Craig's fancy flyfishing equipment and perhaps his natural affinity for the sport, landed him the biggest trout of the month! Gary also caught one (he, too, succumbed to the lure (no pun intended) of purchasing more sophisticated equipment) which they gutted and cooked - though the look on Gary's face when I asked him how it tasted needed no extra words: his face crumpled into "yech", "muddy", "dirty" and "I'm so disappointed!" Craig's prize trout languishes in the bottom of our freezer while he hunts for the elusive cookie tin big enough so he can smoke it a la Jamie Oliver...