I’ve left it late, but today marked the beginning of my New Year healthy-eating campaign severely delayed because I’m way too fond of my lunchtime pasty. Not only that, but cooking in a less-than-optimally-lit caravan in a dark and windy field invariably involves balancing ingredients, pots and pans, and chopping boards on the bed, over the sink, and, most controversially, on top of the wood burner. Accidents are messy and I’m often late back from the workshop where I’ve been busy making things for my Etsy shop – Cornwall Art and Crafts. When I’m starving hungry, takeaway food or ready meals from the supermarket are easy, if not always that tasty when the only way to heat them up is to chuck them in a sauce pan, add water, and boil them until they look like soup. Also, I just can’t be arsed. But it’s not good enough, is it?
The other day I was lambasting myself for getting chips and curry sauce for the second time in a week, when I remembered the slow cooker buried at the back of a shelf in my workshop. Get that bugger out, I thought. Fill it with tasty veg and meat and eat stew all day long.
A stew is much needed on windy days and, of late, days have been windier than average. When people ask me how I manage, living in a small tin box on top of hill in Cornwall in the teeth of a gale like Eunice, I usually tell them that once you’ve experienced a storm in the Southern Ocean, other gales pale by comparison. That’s partially true I suppose – a more direct answer might be to pose another question: what choice do I have? The answer to that one would be long and probably confusing. Then again, there have been times when I’ve enjoyed the drama and excitement of a good buffeting – but not lately. One can have too much of a good thing.
I remember another winter about eight years ago when storm after storm ravaged the field I live in. That was a hellish experience – the sheer volume of noise and the constant shaking drive you mad in the end. My sister had got a job down here and was looking for a house to buy. I went with her to look at a tiny, overpriced cottage in St Agnes. While she was upstairs, poking around the pokey bedrooms, I sunk onto the sofa and tried, partially successfully, not to weep with sheer relief at the sudden silence and that sense of solidity that four stone walls and a slate roof bring.
Another unintended display of emotion almost overcame me another time too. I’d discovered via the inadequately-homed grapevine that the refectory at Falmouth University had started opening for evening meals. What a Godsend that was. Hot food and electric light do have a lot going for them. Back then, before I had electric, I used to store my ham under the duvet to keep it cool – it could be disconcerting when, having slipped into bed at the end of a long day, I’d roll over and feel clammy flesh against my thigh. Never forget where you put your cooked meats, that’s my advice.
I decided to head for Sainsbury’s for my inaugural slow cooker stew ingredients. I’d thought, if you’re not buying pasties anymore, you can afford decent veg and a nice bit of fish to make that recipe – ‘Mediterranean fish stew’. Why not make an outing of it and treat yourself to a coffee and a croissant and read The Times? It only ever seems fitting to read The Times in Sainsbury’s. The server at the cafe counter wasn’t fooled by the right wing broadsheet lying on my tray – he must have noticed my muddy wellies and two holey jumpers. When I told him I hadn’t paid for my paper yet, he said, “Don’t fill in the crossword then, ‘cus if it’s a crap paper, you can just put it back.” How true.
I finished my coffee and decided to press on with my mission. Red pepper, onions, mushrooms, sweet potato, green beans, a tin of tomatoes – not all these ingredients were those listed in the recipe but, what the heck? A vegetable is a vegetable and once it’s slow cooked to slurry, it all tastes the same doesn’t it? As I wandered the aisles, I overheard a bloke in pink trousers asking an assistant if they had his favourite Guatemalan coffee; another lady was laughing with someone about Brie – what’s so bloody funny about brie? Two old ladies blocked the aisle for a discussion about a recent trip to Tuscany. It all began to make me feel a bit panicky. I would have been more at ease scrapping with the other customers at the reduced cooler at ‘Azders’. Actually, last time I lost a fight over the 11p grapes, the guy who’d scooped all eight punnets in his spade-like farmer’s hands, handed me one as a magnanimous gesture, which I thought was a nice touch.
Back home, I rested my ingredients on the bed, the slow cooker teetered on top of the gas hob; I chopped and sliced at my desk; I tried not to get juice on the woodcarving book I got from the charity shop. As I cut veg, I thought about houses or even a flat. But I don’t know. After so long not in a house, things that never would have seemed an issue, somehow now are – affordability is the obvious stumbling block, but lots of other things too. Would it be claustrophobic after being outside for so long? Would I worry about the mechanics of doing the utilities and stuff, because hasn’t it all changed by now? Most of all – oddly – would there be ghosts? I wouldn’t want to be in haunted house – well I never said I was sane did I?
Then again, the way the light catches the gorse outside my window is lovely, and so’s the fresh air, and the feeling of space. Songbirds, owls, badgers, foxes – I’ve even seen deer up here from time to time. Then again, again over a decade of harsh living takes its toll. It never used to bother me to wake up in the morning to find the thermometer reading 5C; I used to sleep through storms at least some of the time; I could cope with the heat of summer and, in the winter, the lashing rain and the constant mud, and the sheer effort it takes to stay warm and dry.
“Get your stuff in the stew pot – a good meal inside you and you’ll perk up,” I told myself. “Then think of a way to get rich.”
I’ve had some tremendous get rich schemes float past me at times, some of which I’ve grasped, others I’ve let float by, and others still, I’ve relished watching friends latch on to. I think my favourite was when some mates floated a derelict wooden yacht down the Helford around Pendennis Point and up Carrick Roads into the Penryn River where they beached it and, over the course of a weekend, burned the entire thing on the beach, returning to dig up all the copper and bronze fastenings for scrap. Hats off to those geniuses, who will remain nameless, but they know who they are!
Money making schemes seem a bit thin on the ground lately, but you never know what might turn up. In the end, I expect I’ll just stay where I am for as long as I can and then panic, and then, hopefully, land somewhere else. Or, sell about 250,000 greeting cards and buy a new build house with no ghosts in it. It could be done – but only if people buy stuff. Do have a browse of my greeting cards, Penryn Peace Pilchards, lovely seahorse shelves, and more. Alternatively, for a ray of sunshine in the gloom of late February, why not download my awesome beach read, Fulmar, a book guaranteed to cheer you up? When you buy stuff, it’s much appreciated and great for morale here in the field – it also buys veg for slow cookers.
Speaking of slow cookers, mine is now bubbling away and filling the air with the aroma of mixed veg and a stock cube.
But what, I hear you ask, of the fish in the ‘fish’ stew? A slight miscalculation I’m afraid. Once I’d cut and chopped and slid the whole pile of veg into the pot, there wasn’t any room for the line caught – hand petted –haddock. As I write, the ‘veg’ stew is actually bubbling over and dribbling fluid over the work top, and then running along the slanted surface and dripping onto the floor. Why’s it doing that? You might ask. Because, dear reader, as I sink ever deeper into the mud, I’m slowly listing to starboard.