Tuesday, 25 September 2012

There are times;
when I sit on the balcony
watching the sun sink low,
in the warm clear dusk
the crickets singing,
and the bird song silent
when I want you here...

One of these days I'll swim to Lausanne... or maybe not that far.


Dr Alice Roberts, an 'ologist', that used to co-present a programme on BBC TV called 'Coast' made a film on the subject of wild swimming that was repeated during this past summer on BBC Four. Wild swimming ; the enjoyment, the freedom, the exhilaration and the exploration of it, and throughout the programme a voice over, as she swam, spoke the words of one Roger Deakin. I was also taken somewhat by the images of the young and beautiful Dr Roberts swimming in some of these places; and in particular a Lake District tarn.

I had never heard of Roger Deakin. But his poetic words and prose sparked something in me and I researched his name, and found amongst other things, the website Caught By The River. This website seemed to celebrate Deakin and his writings. Through links I bought Deakin's 'Waterlog' his book about wild swimming and a journey across and around Britain, its coastal waters, lidos, open pools, rivers, waterholes and the like.

This I should do, I thought.

And so this summer I made my way, not with any difficulty by any means, down to the water's edge of the vast lake over which I look from my living room windows and my balcony. I have swum in this lake before but not once did I venture in last summer. Was I too busy? If so doing what? How could I not have set aside an hour to drive down or even walk or cycle to? The thought of the murderous cycle or climb back up the mountain side was not too pleasant, but with a little effort and practice I could get used to it.

The more newsletters I received from Caught by the River, the more I read about Roger Deakin, the more I felt I should just dive in. And write about it. Just for fun.

This must have been in mid-August. I hadn't swum for ages. How long could I swim for; 5 or 10 minutes? Could I make it that long without passing out and sinking to the stones below? Only one way to find out.

The water was warm. The lake lapped but was mostly flat across only broken by the fishing boats and the motorboats some way out, roaring loudly past dragging someone on skis or a wake-board. Maybe that was the reason I hadn't bothered having anything other than a refreshing dip after a day strimming someone's mountain slope garden.

But as my wife sat upon the stones and read, or swum a few strokes to cool off in the heat of August I swam for about 12 minutes, and the next day 15 minutes. And then I managed 20. Each day a little more, each day just enjoying the feeling of flying as Deakin sometimes puts it, sensing the liberty of the movement. I could see the sunlight shining on my tanned skin and the sense of well being as the water gently broke over my shoulders as my breast stroking arms broke through the warm surface waters. Finally coming into the shore, and standing on the stones nearly two metres below the water remained cold.

And it was good.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Before making tomato sauce to preserve for the winter months ahead from 3 kilos of the Italian plum variety grown by friends we stayed with down in Lot-et-Garonne last week, I searched for a recipe in Elizabeth David's Italian Food written in 1954. As the pages flicked past, my eyes fell upon the following, which I repeat here with much respect to my teacher/cook;

"It will be seen that this dish is very different from the slice of nondescript  meat encased in a sodden jacket of bread and blotting paper and fried in synthetic lard which so frequently masquerades as a Milanese cutlet in this (Britain) country."

Wonderful. She told it like it was and so often, still is. I feel she needs to be put firmly before any budding cook, any lover of food, any European traveller who has not had the chance to read her work and find what an inspiration she was.

Here above, a couple of litres of really good tasty tomato sauce made with about 3 kilos of peeled tomatoes, several garlic cloves, which were added to sweated out & nicely softened chopped onions, a bunch of small basil leaves; the last on our balcony's plant, some origano, some thyme, some rough old sea salt from somewhere around this beautiful country's coast and some freshly ground pepper. Once that was cooked and tasting good it was given a quick blitz while I thought how best to proceed.

The problem was, that having got home from Périgord late Friday I went the following morning to a local agriculteur's business, which is like a cross between a small garden centre, an old fashioned ironmongers and in spring somewhere to collect the new season's hen chicks, to buy a rotavator,  answer an advert for one to hire, to find gardening services or a small flat to rent for a month in summer on the Côte d'Azur and somewhere to have the lawnmower repaired. There I found the shutters down and a small notice advising that, due to a death in the family; the matriarch at 95, the business was shut, I assumed, for a period of mourning.

So where else would I buy 'capsules' for my Le Parfait jars, donated for the job? There was nowhere else. Sunday morning and the business still shut I ventured to a few local supermarkets that open until midday only... sensible country France, and practical too but none had what I needed.

My trusty neighbour, he of the wisteria, didn't use that system and so now the sauce sits, chilling at the bottom of the 'frigidaire' until Friday morning next which is the earliest I can revisit this little problem.