Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Seasonal food on the M1

We made it to Wrecsam and spent the evening with Nathan’s sister and family, playing board games and eating microwave meals.

I reckon I’m pretty much better now, although the last few days have exhausted me beyond words. Nathan has just handed me a Cadbury’s Cream Egg to celebrate the fact that I can now eat dairy again, although I'm not sure that a huge amount of actual dairy product gets inside one of those things. That said, they taste great and I’m excited to report it’s my first of the season. I’ve said this a few times recently, but it’s a rather damning indictment of British society that the only seasonable food we can buy in the shops nowadays is a chocolate Easter Egg. Whatever happened to delayed gratification? I remember the days when we’d wish on the first new potatoes of the year. When strawberries were a rarity outside of June. And we pay for this year-round convenience with bland flavours. I don’t think I’ve had a tasty tomato in this country for years!

We spent the day with Nathan’s Mum and her partner, Ron, in the middle of rural Shropshire. I slept comfortably on the sofa whilst snippets of conversation floated around in the air above me. We had a lovely pasta meal for lunch followed by butterfly cakes, which I don’t think I’ve eaten since I was a child. It’s felt like a glorious Sunday all day.

Pepys was up early on the 23rd of March 1660. He’d been given the important task of carrying Montagu’s will in a black box to the politician who’d agreed to be its executor. When he returned, he discovered that the moment had finally arrived. They were off to sea! From then on, everything seemed to speed up. Everywhere he went, people were exchanging little good-luck tokens including sugar-loafs (mounds of sugar, like giant sugar cubes), and ornate rapiers. Pepys bought Montagu a little “perspective glass” (an early form of binoculars, which cost him 8 shillings). A large group of Montagu’s people then took a flotilla of coaches and Hackney cabs to the Tower of London, where barges were waiting to take them to the Long Reach, an area of deep water around Purfleet, Essex on the Thames Estuary where a fleet of ships was waiting. En route they witnessed the shocking damage that the recent floods had caused to the areas around Limehouse. Pepys estimated the damage at many thousands of pounds.

Pepys and Montagu’s ship was called The Swiftsure and as soon as Montagu stepped on board, a rousing round of respectful gunfire echoed through the air from all the ships in the fleet. Pepys was shown to his cabin, which he described as a little short, but otherwise the “the best that any had that belonged to my Lord”. He immediately got papers out of his luggage and started doing work with the clerk he’d recently hired, one John Burr. He may have been on board ship, but he was there as Montagu’s secretary and there was much work to be done. He slept well, describing the weather as good, and was relieved to find he didn’t suffer from sea-sickness. At least not that first night...

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