Panic. “Oh no, here I go again!” I said as the heart pounded, fear gnawed my insides, hands perspired, and brain locked rigidly into Danger mode. Logic and clear thinking would now be suffocated by the black cloud of confusion and self-hatred. This is a lifelong experience. It always happens when I have to find a new place. My heart is racing right now, reminded of all the times – since I was very young – that I have lost my way. Even today I only take linear walks – there and back – because I am, as they say, geographically challenged. My family is used to this. “Couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag.” “Needs a map to exit a telephone booth.”
Looking for Mary. This time it was only an innocent trip to the next village to meet Mary. She advertised in the local newsletter, as someone who made and fixed jewellery. I had a locket that needed transferring to a new chain. When you move into a new area and don’t know anyone to ask, the local advertisers are the safest. The village newsletter had brought us a wealth of local suppliers, and we happily got our new house painted, repaired, un-glitched, settled, and all-in-all, us-ready by using tradespeople who advertised in it. Mary was no exception.
Acclamatising. My handicap is especially virulent in this new environment here. People have lived here so long they cannot remember ever NOT knowing where someone lived. And now I was trying to find Mary. On the phone she sounded confused. Giving directions was difficult. She was unsure how to describe where she lived. She got her Lefts and Rights mixed up. Said that the sign on her house was very small. None of the houses in this area had numbers, only names. She lived in Chapel House but it was not a chapel. I wondered if she had ever been required to give directions before.
The fear starts to build. As I drove back and forth on a road of unnumbered houses, without a soul to ask for directions, my brain was taunting, “Inadequacy- inadequacy- inadequacy” to the hum of the engine. The many times I had recently been lost piled mercilessly into self-recrimination: the 4 hours it took to take a 20 minute drive to the doctors in another village, because road signs were skewed; a woman I hardly knew was bewildered that I didn’t know where she lived. “Mine is the white house,” she said. When I eventually found the place, it turned out to be a red brick house. The only “white” parts were the window frames. Apparently, everyone knew where everyone else lived, because they had always lived there, hadn’t they, so why didn’t I know?
At last! These and other instances too humiliating to mention pumped up the anxiety as I drove, reversed, and zigzagged back and forth on a road called “Chapel Lane” with no chapel –according to my instructions – in sight. The only way I at last found Mary was because she said she’d be sweeping her driveway. By the time I saw a woman by the road with a broom, I was totally self-shredded. She directed me to park my Skoda on a four-by-four foot piece of gravel with a large tree at one end and a brick wall at the other. Hmmm: not only was she unused to giving directions to her house. She had probably never driven a car, either. I easily parked further up the road and went to meet her. Bliss! My heart slowed down, and the hard part of the journey was over. I never mind meeting people, it’s finding them that is the problem.
Mary herself. I could then take a look at Mary. Grey hair. . A long navy cardigan flapping open, drooping to the knees, its sleeves rolled up above the elbows,. Bare legs flashed between ankle socks and the hem of a long, faded dress.
“Let’s go to the shed,” she said. I followed her through a garden rampant in exuberantly coloured blooms.(“It has taken over. I can’t keep up with it,” she mentioned over her shoulder.)
The treasure shed. Mary opened a door to a double-length shed, and I gasped. Suddenly I was in an amazingly different world, a grotto of crafts and works of art and materials lined all the walls floor to ceiling. There were twenty or more beautifully decorated dollhouses all individually created out of cardboard boxes, each mini room intricately furnished. I stood stunned at the colour and the craft that beckoned to be examined and wowed over. But there was little time for awe. Mary had already sat down to a small table with tins crammed with upright paint brushes. “Let me see the chain,” she said.
Expert at work. I handed it to her and she suddenly became a different person. As if a light had turned on, the confused woman glowed into a brilliantly experienced craftsperson, her fingers deftly working the silver chain, her voice one of authority as the correct tools materialised from nowhere, and in twenty seconds she had transferred my pendant from the old to the new chain.
Who was she really? Our transaction was over. I’d paid the mere £2 she asked for. It was time to say goodby, but I just couldn’t leave. Maybe it was the tough journey getting here, maybe I only wanted more time to treasure someone so lovely and easy to be with. “I’ve lived here all my married life,” she said, “met my husband because we were both cyclists. He died 17 years ago. We were in cycling competitions – two different clubs. We don’t like flat. We like hills. After he won the hill race, I started talking to him, then got to know him. Eventually we married and moved here. One time we even cycled to Scotland – had a two-week holiday, packed camping equipment on the back of our tandem and off we went. We had just bought this house. When you have no money at all, and you want to see a place, you just do it. We were good cyclists. We were fit. And we were young. You do that sort of thing when you are young. I’ve been doing jewellery since my daughter was small. ” And the dollhouses? “Oh, those are just for me – not for sale,” she laughed.
Time to go. Now I knew I was wasting her time. I didn’t know what more I could ask, so reluctantly said goodby. As I walked back to my car, I noticed again the 4 foot square “parking space”. Yes, that would fit a couple of bikes easily, and probably had done for years. Then I looked up. There, right beside her house, was a chapel converted into a home. Mary never thought of it as a landmark. Probably because it had always been there.
I want to try an experiment. We are short of yeast in our area. Although our local shop is redolent in bread flour (unlike the supermarkets) there’s no yeast. Now, I thought, is a great time to get acquainted with quick breads – made in loaves with baking powder and/or bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) as raising agents. Here’s the most basic of Fanny Farmer’s* quick bread loaves, ingredients adjusted to make it more palatable to a Brit.
Grease a 2 lb bread loaf pan. In a largish bowl put in 2 cups (280 grams, 10 ozs) plain flour. I had to use strong bread flour because that’s all there was to buy. Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup (60 grams, 2 ozs) finely chopped nuts (optional). Mix well. In another bowl beat 1 egg thoroughly. Add 1 cup (200 ml. 8 ozs) milk, and 3 tablespoons (85 grams, 3 ozs) melted butter. Beat well, and stir into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly and spoon into the buttered loaf pan. Bake at 190 degrees C (375 F) for 45 minutes, or until a cocktail stick (toothpick) inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Put the bread on a rack to cool. Wrap well when cold, and wait a day for it to firm up.
OK. Here’s the experiment: Can we use quick bread in the same way we use yeast bread?
Welllll, you can. But nothing beats the scent of baking yeast bread for making a house into a home.
*The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, 12th Edition, Alfred A Knopf, Revised 1979.p 484 Additions and alterations can include dried fruit and nuts: apricots, cranberries, currants, almonds. Or to make it a “proper” tea bread, double the amount of sugar.
With thanks to daughter Joy and her oven, because at this moment I’m oven-less.