What a difference it makes to have our family complete again! Since we are both working from home these days, John and I have become completely spoilt in the amount of time we spend together, nattering across the partner desk in the front study, sending each other emails as we speak, grocery shopping together, running Avery to and from her various activities, always both of us. Why? Because doing things with John elevates them from just tasks, just errands, to little special occasions, infused with his own special brand of good humor, his boundless energy, optimism, self-confidence and generosity of spirit. “Let me carry that for you,” or “Do you need any help with that?” are the sorts of things he says all day, because that is how he sees life. There must be something he can do to help.
So Avery and I returned to America without him with heavy hearts, a bit, but a little ashamed, because we used to do without him all the time, when he was on long business trips, or just long hours at the office. Why is it so much easier to get used to good things than to bad things? There is a philosophical dissertation in that. We have all got used to being together much easier than we learned to accept being apart. Of course, having the big kids around made everything a bit better… here they are, three Three Musketeers (Tacy refuses to join them, too princesslike is she).
And Avery and I did all right by ourselves! Even with my stomach bug, and jetlag and not being a morning person in any case, under the best of circumstances, we did just fine. It was actually kind of fun to get both the pre-school morning accounts of what was to come, and the post-game analysis at the end of the day. It was sort of sweet both to make the raspberry crumble for her breakfast late at night, and be up to warm it up for her the next day.
One day last week, I got more than a day’s worth of exercise in that most time-honored of all ways, which all parents will recognize… walking to and from school. Once to and from first thing in the morning (finding Avery’s PE shoe on the way home, so actually a little extra that trip), then back for Lost Property duty at noon, and home again. Back to pick Avery up at the end of the day, home with her. THEN back again for the Parents’ Guild meeting at 6. I say my piece at the meeting, vote on some things, listen to some debate, then sneak out to meet Orlando, my darling tutor from our Arvon writing class, for dinner. I dial his number to say I’m ready.
“This number is not in service. Please check your information and try again.”
Grrr. I try again. Same again.
I dial up Avery, at home, to get her to check my email to find the right number.
“You have reached Avery. Please leave a number at the beep, at least I think it’s a beep, I don’t really know.” Beep.
In frustration I leave my message but then realize I must go home AGAIN to get the proper phone number if I’m ever going to see Orlando, have a bite of supper, and get home AGAIN to get Avery to bed. I get home.
“Avery, why aren’t you answering your phone? I needed you to check my email so I didn’t have to come all the way back.”
“Uh… I think it doesn’t have any battery.” Grrr. I reprogramme the number, the phone rings, it’s Orlando already AT the restaurant, so I speed off again.
If you are a carnivore, and ONLY if, The Popeseye in Hammersmith is for you. To say the menu is limited is to utter an understatement. It’s steak. And chips. And salad. That’s ALL. Sirloin, rump, ribeye, fillet. All different sizes. But that is all. White paper tablecloths, lots of candles everywhere, a glorious wine list, apparently, and the best steak you could ever want, plus a charmingly enormous tray full of every condiment known to man and some unknown. Horseradish, mustard, ketchup, check. But the other six glass bowls? No idea.
Furious chatting. I love Orlando, and his lovely friend Susie, and the hour and a half at my disposal simply sped by. And ONE MORE walk home. I think five trips in one day is a record. I plan that it shall remain so.
And the next day I managed to get ready for the famed Lost Property luncheon all by myself, hauling extra chairs down from the top floor of the house, and the big ugly buffet table up from the cellar. Once I dragged the table out to the garden, however, and covered it with a thick old white linen cloth, it looked quite distinguished, and not at all as if it had a plastic top and folding metal legs.
But I was defeated by the kitchen island, made of a heavy Victorian wrought-iron base and an unattached 2-inch-thick slate top. I simply could not budge it, which John had warned me. “Get Selva to help you,” he advised. Well, getting Selva to help me do anything is a complete joy, not only because he is my dear neighbor and a really sweet man, but because he is drop-dead gorgeous. I have confessed my weakness to his beautiful wife Sara, who must hear such things every day, or at least witness them as the path before Selva is littered with the helpless bodies of females who cannot resist his urbane charms. He just can’t do anything about it.
So it was but the work of a moment to accost him with his family on the way to school and plead my case, and barely an hour later, there he was, ready to roll his sleeves up and drag that puppy across the kitchen floor. “How many people did you say were coming?” he asked, clearly thinking I had lost my tiny mind, looking around the kitchen at the neat piles of plates, glasses full of upended knives and forks, straight rows of champagne glasses. “Thirty,” I said, “and I know you won’t believe me when I say it’s the most relaxing afternoon of the year.”
But it is true! There are many reasons for this. I love to have a party, and this is the best kind: it’s filled with people who have great attitudes and charm and willingness to help. It’s in the afternoon so you can have a lovely time and then still be on time for pickup, and it’s potluck, which means the kitchen counter is filled to capacity with the generous and delicious donations of other people. All I contributed was stuffed mushrooms (they were very nice). Oh, and a gorgeous bowl of potato salad which… I forgot about, and found only after everyone had left. Rats!
The ladies arrived, some bringing little presents, some flowers, like this gorgeous display of very posh hydrangeas in dusty, muted tones of rosy gray. They brought salads of rocket and salmon, of beet and chard leaves with sunflower seeds, a huge platter of smoked haddock cakes with a tatziki dip, chicken with preserved lemons, olives and couscous, an enormous cheese plate, and a chocolate and raspberry Pavlova, decadent with both meringue AND whipped cream.
It’s one of the great pleasures of life, I think… time to talk with like-minded mothers about the things that matter to us: what books we read over the summer, how our girls are adjusting to the new school year, David Cameron’s new baby, and of course Lost Property itself. How to get the girls to stop leaving their housekeys, their bus passes, their asthma inhalers, their father’s cashmere sweaters, ALL over the school to be sorted through and reassigned?
Through it all the sun appeared and disappeared in a sky that threatened rain now and then. We sat on with our cheese plates and gossip, simply enjoying each other’s company.
And being the sort of ladies they are — problem solving LP ladies, that is — they left the kitchen in a state of absolute pristine perfection, dishtowels hung in front of the stove to dry, plates neatly stacked, glasses back in their cardboard boxes ready to be hauled down to the cellar again. My dear friend Sally even brought her own apron to wrap herself in as she washed countless plates and forks, chatting all the while, and giving me a ride to school afterward. How I love those ladies.
Avery and I more than ready to collapse that evening with a pizza, and spin out the hours till John came home, and before midnight, he did! Filling the house with his big presence, his jolly laugh, drawing the cats to him as they tried to remember who he was, devouring a piece or two of pizza while he filled us in with last details of the house, Connecticut life, his goodbyes to our friends. I laughed and told him that my friend Tricia had said on his last night there, “I think you left something behind in Connecticut, and it’s LONELY.”
We had all been a bit lonely!
So life took off again in its usual September fashion. Sadly, of course, one of the rituals included in this unfolding of the month is the awful anniversary of September 11. This year we went to the Memorial to British victims, in Grosvenor Square, where the American Embassy crouches heavily over all the green. We went, and remembered.
And that night we went to see the best play any of us can remember seeing! “Deathtrap”! An old classic, but well worth revisiting. Actual screaming from the audience, and TWICE, if you can believe it. We were all surprised out of skins TWICE. Go, do.
And on the Sunday we went to Hyde Park to try to rent bicycles in the new Bike Hire scheme, intent on getting some exercise. Alas, the scheme requires signing up ahead of time by computer, and although John whipped out his trusty iPhone, the website was down. But what a clever idea: once signed up, all you have to do is turn up at one of the hundreds of sites around the city, with bikes tethered electronically to stands, enter your information, and bob’s your uncle… you have a bike for as long as you want it! Then you return it to any of the sites, anywhere!
All we could do was to wander around in the blinky sunlight, and alight on some chairs by the Round Pond (guess why it’s called that) and read for a bit. A slow wander back home, and would you believe that during all this activity, dinner was cooking itself.
Slow-Cooked Shoulder of Pork with Beets and Butternut Squash
(serves at least 8, or 4 with leftovers for sandwiches)
1 shoulder of pork, boned and tied
handful each: fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh marjoram
3 large beets, peeled and halved
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
drizzle olive oil
2 tbsps butter
sea salt and pepper
Simply lay the herbs in a large baking dish and lay the pork on top. Arrange the beets, squash and garlic around the pork, drizzle olive oil on vegetables and smear butter over top of the pork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and wrap the whole dish in a piece of heavy foil, trying your best to seal it.
Roast at 110C/220F for six hours. Remove foil and lift vegetables onto a serving dish. Return pork to oven for one more hour. Fall down in heavenly happiness.
That’s autumn, on a plate. And next day, get yourself a nice floury ciabatta, slice the leftover pork, a little sharp Cheddar cheese. Spread some homemade salsa verde on one half of the bread and some mayo on the other half, then pile on some sliced red onion and a handful of rocket. There will be no better sandwich than that. Enjoy yours…Print This Post