30 October, 2008

a day at Kew


























My God, first, though I must offload about my day yesterday. Rain? Check. Sleet? Check. HAIL? In abundance. Child dragged to orthodontist who outlined a course of action that left both of us drained of color and slightly panicked. Child then dragged to stable and left there to work off her anxiety by leading crying children around the park on horses who kicked and spat. I walked home and got completely soaked for my pains.

Sigh.

But we accomplished, gradually, all that was needed: a long walk to East Chiswick or West Shepherd's Bush or wherever you'd officially place the post offices where parcels go to die if you're not home to receive them, to find the feathered wings and halo that will transform my daughter from a pre-teen bundle of nerves into an angel this evening. Then we went to the chemist for the perfect pink lipstick and nail varnish, and to make me happy, stopped at the Lyric Square farmer's market for about a hundred samples of the Giggly Pig's many sausages, finally to choose one modest package of spicy garlic. The man ahead of us bought five packages of EVERYTHING. I couldn't believe my ears, but the Giggle Pig Lady kept her cool and just said, "Yes, sir," to all his requests. When he handed her the 75 pounds, though, she cracked and said, "That's been a pleasure, sir." To fill his deep freeze! I adore Tracy Mackness, whose brainchild the Giggly Pig is: formulated during her prison sentence for supplying cannabis. Better than graffiti or tattoos, I feel. Anyway, that cheered us up, and now with John bringing home pumpkins to carve, Halloween can arrive.

And at the post office, a bronze plaque bearing names in that curly script so peculiar to the Edwardian age: the names of the dozen or so postmen of Hammersmith who died in World War I. Topped with a bronze red-painted poppy and bearing a poem that began "To those whom age will never diminish..." it brought tears to my eyes. I have just finished reading Birdsong, a novel that I'm apparently the last person to discover. Once my friend Edward told me to read it, everyone I know said, "Oh, I gave that book to everyone I knew, the Christmas it came out, except you because I thought it was too scary for you." In any case, it is a story of one British World War I soldier, told through a complex series of time shift and points of view, his love affair with a married French woman, and then the life of his granddaughter in the 1970s. Now, before I read this heartbreaking novel, I don't know that I would have particularly noticed the plaque in the post office, but suddenly I thought, "Twelve POSTMEN, just in Hammersmith?" I explained a bit to Avery who was politely interested, but not really moved. The sheer numbers. Read Birdsong, and wear your poppy.

Avery will be twelve on Monday. As usual during the few days before her birthday, I spend a lot of time inadvertently reliving the days before her birth, remembering the absolute unreality of what her arrival would mean. It was like waiting to get a kitten. No more significant than that, really: something new to play with, wondering if it would be a nice kitten or one that we'd sort of end up ignoring after a time. Not reckoning with the reality of an actual person, who would be here forever. Sometimes lately she feels very adult, sharing my sense of humor precisely and finding the same things touching, having complex conversations about school, philosophical discussions about her world. Other times, though, as last week when I was walking home with her and Elsa from swimming, the two of them raced ahead on the leafy, wet, dark sidewalk saying, "How do you skip? This is my skip," showing a particular way of lifting feet. "Well, I like your skip, but here's my skip..." and then they feel like little girls again.

Let's see, our last adventure of half-term (has it really been only two weeks? a lot of togetherness for mother and daughter) was to take the tube to Kew Gardens to meet up with my writing week friend Louise and her daughter Lara. Of course it's never a guarantee that two children will take to each other just because their mothers do, or because they're the same age, but they did! "She reminds me of Meta," Avery said in a whisper, referring to her Iowa friend, granddaughter of my inlaws' best friends. A sporty, easygoing, energetic girl, ready to run along the path carrying the completely incomprehensible map, very authoritative about which direction to take. Louise and I were content to follow slowly behind (one of those moments when you realize you've become your mothers, gossiping and trailing slowly while your children climb all over everything and get progressively muddier).

We climbed a hideously high structure called the Xstrata Treetop Walkway, suspended MUCH too high above the ground and swaying, I swear, slightly in the wind. "Is this thing moving?" I asked and both girls screamed and clung to each other. We were brave and walked all the way around, but honestly between the height and the constant air traffic over our heads as VERY low planes made their way to Heathrow... I felt quite ill by the time it was finished! "I think that was quite enough, maybe too much," Louise said as we reached the ground and dealt with our vertigo. "Let's find a place to sit down." We repaired to the conservatory and sat admiring lemon and lime plants and chatting while the girls explored. It's a very satisfying place to take children and watch them wear themselves out.

Just as nice as the Gardens was the tiny village of Kew itself, at the train station. The girls dived into the Kew Bookshop, small but very extensive in its choices, while Louise and I went to the very charming butcher, Pethers, where an apple-cheeked young man addressed us as "Young Lady," and made us laugh. "How long will your goose fat keep?" I asked, buying a rather large tub, and he said, "Well, health and safety makes us say three to six months, but really almost indefinitely, and we know it's good because it's from our geese," gesturing to the birds in the fridge! That's true provenance. I bought a gorgeous pork fillet which proved extremely tender, grilled to perfection the next night.

Then we ended up at a neat as a pin food and organic body products shop called Oliver's, which for some reason smelled exactly like the kitchen at the French home where I lived in high school: a combination of herbs, onions and apples, potato dirt, I don't know what else. Possibly some hand-milled soap. Anyway, I stood with my eyes closed for a second, looking like a complete fool, no doubt, living in the past. The prepared meats looked lovely, and I saw the largest beetroot ever in captivity I think, but all I bought was a tin or two of le Puy lentils, hard to find in my very not-posh neighborhood in London.

And that was our day. We're planning something like an ice-skating venture next, or a trip to a London museum. It's funny how our Totleigh Barton friendships are playing out in the real world: how we have chosen who to stay in touch with. It's added a spicy dimension to that real world, which can sometimes feel rather relentlessly DAILY.

I don't have a new recipe for you, for which I'm really sorry. But tonight, since Avery's away at a Halloween party, I've bought veal scallopine, and I feel an Orlando mushroom sauce coming on. I'll report.

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