“Hello, how are you? I’ve seen you out walking. Are you new?
Yes. My name is Judy. We have just moved here to be near our daughter. I try walk each day.”
This is the conversation I practised on my early walks in the countryside around our new home. I didn’t use it often because around here there is a lot of land between any individual I meet. I’ve also learned to respect the fact that the long term residents are reluctant to share their name,. Using the normal New Yorker’s phrase, “Hi! I’m Judy — where are you from?” would, I think, seem rudely invasive. I’ve lived here in the UK so long that even when people ask me that question I find it startling. The Brits, I notice, are just as eager to know where I’m from, but their questioning slides in sideways, with a faint turn of the head as if they’re aiming their good ear at me, and their eyes go into an upwards corner as they ask: “Er do I detect a slight mid Atlantic accent?” or, even more courageously, “you’re not originally from these parts, are you?” It takes longer to get the answer they’re looking for, far longer than a New Yorker would be able to bear. A name takes even longer.
“The people are there, and they do care. But you won’t see them,” says Maggie, a relative newcomer herself (only been here 20 years).
That is why, as I puffed up to the summit of a hill, gasping for air in my overworked lungs, I was surprised to see an old Landrover rattle towards me and stop.
“I’m putting the cows in the field up therr.” “You should be all right, though,” he added. The voice came from a half opened mud-splattered window, and belonged, obviously, to the farmer whose land I was trespassing over – middle aged, any ounce of fat on him had been worked off years ago in the tough tough life of sheep and cattle farming.
“Oh, I didn’t know cows were dangerous.”
“The mums are, from April to August – I’ve been kicked down more than once – and I’m the one feeding them!”
The conversation continued as he talked through the many public rights of way across his territory. “Want to see it from the top? Get in and I’ll show you.
[I thought I WAS at the top having panted up a mountain so steep I could only take steps half a hiking boot long.] The ride in his beat-up seatbelt-less vehicle lurched over roadless fields, hurtled full speed at a fence (his sister’s boundary) and braked in time, as the running commentary never stopped: “yer not allowed on this road, but there’s a road marker down this hill – see him? Follow the furry trees to the bottom and you’ll end up at the fire station.” He continued showing paths where there were no paths – “straight ahead therr and go down into the forest on steps cut into the earth or……” he jerked the car around and sped to a gate lurching to stop just in time. “There are two ways down from yerr” he said. But I wasn’t listening. I was just gasping at the breath-taking view all around me, every direction. When he noticed, he rolled the car forward more precariously than ever so that I could see an even wider view. “We’re on top of the world yerr,” he said. Thirty seconds later he was off again, and as he talked I learned more about what a farmer needs to know to run singlehandedly the acres of land criss-crossed with public rights of way. Farming and animal husbandry, yes, but also a midwife, plumber, builder, chemist, soil expert, market awareness, electrician, mechanic, environmentalist, legally alert to whatever the National Farmers’ Union commanded, crime prevention, and much more, as well as reacting to all at the whims of the weather (last winter one of his barns collapsed under six feet of snow, followed by a drought in the spring.) Nursery songs about “High Ho the derry oh” farmers had nothing to do with Reality Farmers. So by the time he left me on the path exactly where he’d picked me up, I thanked him warmly in jaw-dropping awe, overwhelmed by his generosity of spirit. “My name is Judy”, I said. “Urrrr” he replied and dashed off down the hill in a scurry of dust and leaves.
My Favourite Cookies
Basically from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, well over 50 years old.
Have seen these called Mexican Wedding Cakes, or Russian Teacakes, and my friend from Czech Republic sent these to me one Christmas, so call them anything you’d like. I tried “Snow Cookies” but that wouldn’t be very appropriate for Blog Readers south of the Equator, in blazing hot drought. I gave some to Nick the Postman. Some will go to the garage when I take the car in for a check up. And of course, a box of them will go to the farmer at the top of the hill.
In your favourite mixer, add 8 ozs ( 230 gms, 1 cup) butter, 4 tablespoons ( 50 gms, 1/2 cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 9 ¼ oz ( 270 gms. 2 ½ cups) plain flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 4 ozs 105 gms (3/4 cups) finely chopped nuts. [If you don’t feel like chopping them, just put them in your food processor before adding other ingredients.]
Chill dough, even for 20 minutes. Roll in balls about the size of a large grape. [This is a good time to open freeze them if you don’t have time for baking.]
Moderately hot oven (200 C, or 400F ). Bake 10 minutes or so. They don’t spread, but are very delicate when hot. You may have to eat the broken ones (what a shame!).
Tip gently into a roasting tin full of icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar) and roll them until completely covered. Carefully place them on a rack to cool.
Then roll them again in the sugar when they are completely cold. .