Friday 30 March 2012

The silence of the skies

The enormous red and blue balloon bulged off the ground, swirling slightly with the breeze. The wicker basket started to tilt upright. Swelled to its full size, the balloon sat there, wanting to rise into the summer blue above. As it strained against the ropes, we clambered in. But our weight wasn’t enough. It wanted to fly. With one last shot of hot air, unhooked, we were free, climbing above the playing field.
The silence was incredible. I was expecting winds and noise up there, but as we floated over the Essex countryside, I got a true taste of a bird’s paradise. Gliding with the wind, we breezed over fields, farms, houses, lakes and rivers. We were a whisper from above, waving down on those below, excited to see us flying over them.
The sun was out in full force, the sky perfectly blue, shining light down on the greens and browns of the English countryside. Swooping over prickly forests and patchwork fields we were both greeted and feared by horses, cows, sheep, chickens and dogs. As we passed silently, they ran towards us, curious and brave; or they veered away, keeping their eyes on the bright coloured bubble in the sky.
It was a magical flight. At times I felt famous, waving at children from the special ship. At other times, we simply enjoyed our view over the country spreading out towards London in the distance. The peaks of London landmarks crept over our hazy horizon as we sailed further, until we turned away again and we were left with simple greenery. Lone trees in fields became my favourite thing to spot and capture: little worlds unto themselves, grand and separate.
Breaking the silence was the sudden cracking sounds of snapping branches –creatures moving swiftly through the forest below. Two large wild boars had spotted us and were pelting it at breakneck speed, twisting and turning through the trees. I never knew there were wild boars in Essex. But there are. And they can run fast for some big bellied beasts.
While our take-off had been all plain sailing, and our flight a wonderfully smooth ride, our landing was not. Our pilot chose the bumpiest field of all we had flown over, full of streams, prickly trees and fires. Still, we got into our landing positions and it was fun to land like that – just short of the fire, and on our sides like a drunken dustbin. Its contents fell out the side, laughing, delighted.
In the excitement of our landing, the silence had disappeared. We were back on land, two legged animals with voices. For an hour we had been sky travellers, enchanted by our bird’s eye view on the world below, silent and happy.
And that silence and beauty now rests in our memories. Here we are, back on earth, brought down with a bang.

Monday 19 March 2012

Eating by numbers

Living with Martín is a bit like living with your maths teacher. Every story gets turned into sums and numbers. Instead of talking about the wonder of skiing down a mountain, Martín might work out the time ratio of how long it takes to go down on skis compared to the time spent on lifts. While others might marvel at a full-bodied red wine, Martín would do the sums to tell us the profit made on each grape squeezed into it.

His brain simply works a lot differently from mine. Sometimes this is a pain in the arse and sometimes it is endearing. But at least a few times a week, you're going to hear me saying to him: "Can we stop reducing everything to numbers?"

(A quick aside here. I truly understand the value of numbers. Especially those involved in my bank statements and wedding budget.)

Anyway, this weekend we decided that instead of going out for dinner we would roll our sleeves up and bring the restaurant to our place. It would be good bonding time in the kitchen, as we hadn't seen each other to speak to during a demanding week. We chose two new dishes to make which tickled our taste buds: Greek greens followed by a Spanish mixed paella. We headed out into the drizzle of Ealing on Saturday afternoon to search for the ingredients.

After a trip to the fishmongers and Tesco we had bags full of king prawns, mussels, pork belly, parsley, spinach and sourdough bread, plus much, much more.

"This is a great idea of mine, isn't it?" he kept saying, as if it was the first idea he had ever had. I wondered where all this enthusiasm for fresh ingredients and home cooking was coming from and going.

Then I saw the Look of Numbers. "Well, we have all this food and have spent less already than we would going out for dinner," he remarked.

That was true. I couldn't argue with that. And the wine had been a bargain, which is what always kills us when we go out. But it didn't stop there.

Anyway, onto the starter. This was a delightfully fresh tasting spinach, and red onion combination on warm bread flavoured with crushed cherry tomatoes. Simple and divine. Topped off with Greek oil and some Greek music, we imagined ourselves on a balcony in Santorini.

"And all for just £4" he delights in sharing.

Now, I have to point out, Martín is no penny pincher. He's not tight. He's very generous. It's just his obsession with numbers.

Onto the paella. This was real teamwork and it tasted amazing. Which is a good job as it was full of flavours and food. So much food! I thought my wok would explode with all we kept adding to it and as we tenderly nurtured every paella rice grain, turning and turning them. But it worked. Credit to us.

But there was a lot of it. Piles of paella. Mountains to munch on. It was inevitable that those words would come out of his mouth again:

"We've made so much here. How long is this going to feed us for?"

Three days.

"And all the other ingredients we bought, how many meals is that?"

Well, at least another five of these and then some.

He leaned back, full of paella and economic pride. When food at home tastes this good, the numbers really do add up.

Monday 12 March 2012

Winter has left the building

Spring is here and I, for one, am very excited and happy about it. Mother's Day is around the corner, Easter egg hunts are being planned (or, in London, are already underway) and there are brushes of colour along each pavement. Daffodils have sprouted in the middle of my lawn, crocuses are poking their purple and yellow heads out from all manner of places and the blossom on the trees is getting ready to party. Our heating times have already been shortened, the bbq has been cleaned and the patio furniture is ready.

Yesterday after I had done some gardening, planted some flowers, sowed some seeds and cut the lawn we had our first bbq of 2012. What a heavenly moment: sitting in the garden in the sun, reading the Sunday newspapers with the smell of meat cooking over coals.

Welcome Spring! It reminded me of this poem by Sidney Lanier.

Spring Greeting

All faintly through my soul to-day,
As from a bell that far away
Is tinkled by some frolic fay,
Floateth a lovely chiming.
Thou magic bell, to many a fell
And many a winter-saddened dell
Thy tongue a tale of Spring doth tell,
Too passionate-sweet for rhyming.

Chime out, thou little song of Spring,
Float in the blue skies ravishing.
Thy song-of-life a joy doth bring
That's sweet, albeit fleeting.
Float on the Spring-winds e'en to my home:
And when thou to a rose shalt come
That hath begun to show her bloom,
Say, I send her greeting!