I’m looking for lines. Most obviously, they call to mind buildings, railways, pavements, washing lines, power lines: man-made kinds of things. But Mother Nature does lines too, as we observed yesterday at Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate. Lines of still-summery oak leaves edged against the sky. Veins, dark against the now-glowing colours of the leaves. A tree trunk reflected into the water as one long sinuous line.
It was Apple Day at Ripon’s Walled Garden on Saturday. We went along.
For me, it was a chance to revisit my childhood. Every Saturday, I’d go shopping with my mother to the Tachbrook Street Market. My favourite stall was the greengrocer’s. I’d try to add to my collection of prettily-decorated tissues used by the citrus fruit growers to wrap their produce. I’d wonder at expensive exotica such as lychees or passion fruit. But really, we’d come to buy.
And my mother taught me that apples aren’t simply apples. There was something new to look forward to every month in autumn. The eagerly anticipated first apple of all – the bright red Discovery, quickly followed by Beauty of Bath. The Cox’s Orange Pippin of course, which we had to shake: it wasn’t ripe unless the pips rattled. Blenheim Orange. Laxton’s Supreme. Laxton’s Superb. Worcester Pearmain. Charles Ross. James Grieve. Egremont Russet, which I always associated with Bonfire Night, but which nowadays is already in the shops. Ribston Pippin. Ellison’s Orange. I learnt to love them all: some sharp and juicy; others more mellow, slightly less crisp; white-fleshed; creamy-fleshed; small; large; knobbly; oval; round – such variety.
Many of these have all but disappeared from the shops. It’s all about large, white-fleshed, crisp apples. Jazz, Pink Lady, Granny Smith – even Cox all seem much of a muchness. And half the time, when apple season is at its peak in England, they aren’t even from the UK. Cookers these days are Bramley Seedlings. Excellent of course, but where are the Lord Derbys, the Newton Wonders, the Grenadiers?
In places like Ripon’s Walled Garden, that’s where. Look at my Rogue’s Gallery of all the varieties they still grow.
This display below piqued my interest. I recently read Tracey Chevalier’s At the Edge of the Orchard, a partly-true story which begins in Ohio in Pioneering days. A bit-part in the tale is played by an apple variety, Pitmaston Pineapple, that had been carefully brought over from Herefordshire. I’d never preciously heard of them, but … they’re still grown in Ripon. I tasted one. The so-called pineapple taste eluded me … but I was still glad to have eaten a little bit of history.
Ripon Walled Garden is Ripon’s best kept secret. It’s a a charity supporting young people and adults with learning difficulties to learn horticultural and catering skills in a sheltered environment. Come here for a delectable tea-and-cake moment or a light meal, made using their fresh garden produce: sit at a table in the shade of the old apple trees in the well-tended and colourful garden. You’ll go home refreshed and happy.
Catching a baby in an unselfconscious moment is a bit of a cop out. Zoë doesn’t care. It’s far more important to squirrel away a few choice morsels in case she’s hungry later, rather than pose for the perfect shot.
Nearly forty years ago, we lived in Sheffield, next-door-but-one to Bryan. He was and is a carpenter. His wood never came from the woodyard though. It was always scavenged. You’d find him investigating skips or nosing through derelict buildings. Not for him IKEA generation pine and MDF. No, Bryan looked for weathered oak, warm-toned cedar, maple, cherry, iroko. He’d pick up a walnut floorboard or a broken mahogany cupboard door. He’d squirrel away a fragment of marquetry or a shard of polished ebony. Who knew when they’d come in handy? Everything was carefully organised next to his workshop: it might wait years and months for its moment of glory, but every piece of wood would find a use … one day.
He wanted projects he could put his personal stamp on – no identical sets of anything for him. And he liked to try things out and experiment. So he made a deal with us. We’d get the dining table we wanted if he could try a few techniques that might or might not work. No money would change hands. In exchange for being guinea pigs, we would get a table – for free – that might fall apart within the year.
Forty years on, we’re still using it. We still enjoy the almost-game-of-chess to be played on its surface. We fondle the dome of wood rising gently along one side. We smile as we remember the small marquetry lines that punctuate one of the legs: they show the knee heights of Thomas, then four, and Ellie, then two. We invent tales about the stick-man water carrier and enjoy the pretty mother-of-pearl buttons embossed into the surface. Look at the legs. Each is different – one made from pillars of the checker-board assembly scattered on the surface.
The stick man.
The exploded chess board.
That sensual polished nipple of wood along one side.
Tom’s leg height.
Another detail from the side.
… and another ….
… and another …
One of the table legs.
A small detail.
Crawl underneath. The table is dedicated to everyone in the family. There’s a further notice: this one.
We’ve called in one 10,000 meal service, as promised on the dedication notice. Sadly, Bryan now lives in Wales, and we have moved north from the Sheffield street where we once all lived. Bryan and I each have a different partner now, and we’ve rather lost touch. But that table ensures that he’s never forgotten. And when I go, will it have to be chopped in three? Each of my children wants it. Perhaps it’ll be a Judgement of Solomon moment for them.
Considering that reading is such an important part of my life, it’s perhaps strange that I rarely blog about books. Thanks to Sandra, writing from A Corner of Cornwall, I’m going to put that right this week. She in her turn responds to Sam, at Taking on a World of Words. Every week, she poses this question:
What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?
I can answer that.
I’m reading Benjamin Myers’ The Offing. I first met this writer Under the Rock, his poetically written book about his home patch in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, and which simply defies categorisation – autobiography, geology, true crime, edgelands, poetry … it’s all here.
The Offing though, is fiction. It tells the story of Robert, the sixteen year old son of a Durham coal miner, on the cusp of adulthood, as he foot-slogs slowly southwards just after the Second World War. His simple hand-to-mouth existence changes when he meets Dulcie, who’s older, eccentric, from a very different world, and who opens her home to him. I won’t tell you more, because you may like to join the long queue of would-be-borrowers at your local library. Here you will find an involving story, lyrically told, by an author who’s immersed in the sights, scents and images of the northern countryside he knows and loves, and who paints his characters well.
It follows on well from the book I’ve not long finished: Julian Hoffman’s Irreplaceable. I was led to this book by Bookish Beck. It’s her book of the year. It may be mine too. Its subject matter is urgent: the destruction of our planet. Hoffman visits marshland in Kent that’s been under frequent threat of becoming another London airport. He visits Indonesian islands whose unique coral habitats have been partially destroyed through mining. He visits allotments outside London; a Macedonian National Park; Kansas prairie land … and so many more. Such variety, and all so threatened in different ways. Some of these stories end well, others badly, and yet others … who knows? This is though, a call to arms. Hoffman makes it clear that our future lies not only in the hands of ‘experts’, but in indefatigable ordinary people battling for their own communities, their own treasured landscape. And it’s not simply a battle between Progress and Tradition. Life is more nuanced than that. Sometimes, compromises may be needed. But what kind of compromises?
Though a fairly long book, this is an accessible one. The prose is evocative and to be lingered over and savoured. It’s an excellent, beautiful read as well as an important one.
And the next one to read? This time, that’s easy. Book Group is coming up: best get this month’s choice under my belt. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. If Barak Obama describes it as ‘moving’, one of his favourite summer reads of 2018, that’s good enough for me. I wonder what Donald Trump’s favourite book is?