A pre-lockdown magazine feature
The Amazon delivery guy rang the bell, then scampered off to safety behind the garden gate, a good distance, but not so far that he couldn’t hear and acknowledge my “thank you.” My wife is so far coping with her duties as a Parish Counsellor by attending meetings online. I am writing, as usual – all too-regular obituaries, entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and occasional book reviews, or working on the book whose deadline my publishers have so kindly been ignoring for so long. My reviews of the performing and visual arts have been put on hold by the closing of the opera houses, theatres, museums and galleries.
Our two grown-up daughters have decided to “isolate” in the rural surroundings of the dusty 18th century farmhouse where they were born and educated, before being sent off to their boarding schools, gap years spent, respectively, in Chicago and London, their universities in Chicago and Leeds, their jobs in London and Brisbane, and ultimately their careers in Britain. During the current lockdown, our family’s fistful of UK, US and Australian passports won’t get us anywhere but here in the Oxfordshire foothills of the Cotswolds. Our British/Aussie son-in-law isn’t home with us. He has been designated a “key-worker’ and is on call to the Ministry of Transport in London.
His wife, Tatyana, is managing to work online, clocking in at the regular time for her admin job with the classical music agency, Harrison Parrott. Georgia, her younger sister, has been hit harder by the inevitable recession. One of her part-time gigs was developing and testing recipes for a couple of “celebrity cook” writers on British national newspapers. Her more steady job is as a restaurant consultant for a well-known food importing company, which also has a café; and devising takeaway and cook-at-home recipes for their several retail outlets. The firm’s chief customers are the chefs of London’s best restaurants. Georgia’s main work during the current crisis is to develop a daily recipe for Instagram and her own website, principally using her firm’s fruit and veg. Though she “tests” every recipe, I can’t think of one that has gone wrong; they all work, and can be reproduced in your own kitchen with ease (provided you’ve had the foresight, luck or nous to buy – or in the case of wild garlic, forage – the ingredients).
We know the recipes work, because our family of four sits down every evening to dine on the results (after they’ve been photographed, of course – Georgia is now sufficiently skilled at this that she’s started putting up videos on Instagram). We have had chicken Kiev with the wild garlic butter, kale and plum white haricot beans; a timbale of eggplant (aubergine), surrounding pearled spelt and spinach, flavoured with ’nduja, and a Napa cabbage salad; braised, tomato-y lamb shank with only the fragrance of chilli, and a sort of cole slaw with wisps of radish, fennel and cabbage; minestrone with carrot, potato, borlotti beans and wild-garlic infused oil; mild curried monkfish tails with french beans; cavatelli with shaved broccoli; banana and nut “bread” (cake by another name); and babka, marbled with deep, dark chocolate and walnuts.
Thank heavens the UK Wine Society (a cooperative, from which I try to buy most of our wine) was still delivering a week ago; and their last plague-time order, two mixed cases of alluring Austrian wine got here under the wire. I try to request my wine, as I do our prescription drugs from our local National Health Service Dispensary, at least two weeks before we run out. My wife now prefers her wine to be white and under 12% alcohol by volume. I’m not so fussy, but adore the three Austrian reds whose acquaintance I’m just making – and have a few dozen bottles of claret ageing quietly in the cellar if things really get rough.
Of course, the real problem is deciding what to watch on the television, a source of constant and genuine disagreement. As the news gets stranger, worse and more depressing, we feel compelled to watch it – and have discovered that the BBC rolling news network is the most reliable, and carries Trump’s rants live. Family dynamics are easy to predict, but hard to manage. Job tensions are difficult to forget; and there is rent and mortgage payments for the younger generation. After the glorious nightly meal, grumbling begins about the apportioning of the domestic tasks. Having put a token plate or two into the dishwasher, I slink out of our long kitchen/dining room to read in bed, not really complacent, but leaving my wife and daughters to make their own entertainment.