Saturday, September 11, 2004

It's a blustery, billowy day in Landshipping. I know that Autumn is peeking its head around the corner, but the place is still so green and alive, I want to keep believing its summer a little while longer. Today is wild, warm and not very welcoming. Neighbours' boats are rocking on their mooring chains in the metal-grey water. The tide is rushing in over the lovely, muddy riverbanks and into the pond. It's too rough to be out on the water, but that hasn't stopped an intrepid party of divers who set off on board the 'Cleddau King' with Alun at the helm early today. As I look out to my gentle trees, their muscular branches tipping in the wind and still laden with leaves, I feel a little sad because soon they will be bare and forlorn and the wind will whip past them silently when their summer lushness has passed. Wet windy days are tough when all the children are at home. The older ones want to watch MTV and sort out their school work and wardrobes, the little ones want to go out and spend their time plaguing the rest of us with demands for stories, toast and drinks, that are promptly discarded and spilled on the floor when something else catches their attention. One minute I'm reading aloud about 'Allie with an alligator in her attic', and my favourite - Unwin with an Umbrella bird in his Underwear, the next I'm discussing the properties of water and how nature has benefited from them. Yesterday I had a 'day off'. For the first time, probably since our son Geraint was born (over four years ago), Alun and I headed out of Pembrokeshire, just the two of us, for a pleasant day away. We were headed for Ludlow, for their famous Food Festival where we had been invited to give a talk and cookery demonstration. At 8am Alun drove our eldest up to her school life to Haverfordwest, at 8.50 our lovely little Geraint was collected for his 20 minute ride to Templeton to his school, and we then left with darling Freya, aged 2, and took her to her nursery in Tenby. With Grandad all set to gather our little brood back in the afternoon, Alun and I were let off parenting duties for the rest of the day. Ludlow is one of my favourite market towns. I had never visited until I was sent up to the town to interview a then not well known chef called Shaun Hill. My brief was to take a culinary tour of Ludlow, with the intention of highlighting to a then somewhat cynical audience, that real, local food, purchased from quality producers and cooked with flair and imagination, might just be an alternative to ready-made meals and supermarket fare. I was taken with the atmosphere of Ludlow, with its beautiful Tudor and Georgian houses, small, real butchers and food shops, with game and cheese and locally grown fruit and vegetables proudly on display. It was quite a revelation and made a change from the then belief that the only decent restaurants were in London and the rest of us were making do with substandard food prepared by poorly-trained chefs. It was therefore very satisfying to be going back to Ludlow, this time at the behest of the Food Festival committee, to talk about my love of real, slow, wild food and to give Alun a platform to publicize his activities, from the ancient and sadly nearly extinct art of compass net fishing, to running fishing and pleasure trips on the 'Cleddau King' to foraging for and hunting food from the wild. But more about that later. For now, I want to say that Alun and I have spent the last year running our little family, driving the children from one end of the county to make sure they all did exactly what they wanted to do, running our boat and welcoming many visitors and friends to landshipping for parties, boat trips and bbq's, and coping with the daily challenges of living in a temporary home while we find a way through the planning regulations which protect this ennchanting place and drive mere mortals mad. Since moving to this incredible waterside location, I have learned that only the very wealthy, the very childless or those willing to live in rented accommodation, can have access to an area which for generations supported ordinary folk doing ordinary jobs and raising their families. In living here with our family, Alun and I are determined to pursue a lifestyle not requiring a huge income or hours locked away in airless offices, but to find a way of living a low-mantenance life while enjoying, every day, the wonders that are on our doorstep. We were delighted with the response to our talk in Ludlow, and spent the rest of the dy being accosted by members of our audience, as we wandered, child-free through the marquees and tasted some fabulous produce along the way. Wild, smoked salmon, Indian lamb kebabs, real Somerset cheddar, perry, cider, goat's cheese, artichoke hearts - after all that we had no need for a meal, and instead adjourned to the Church Inn with fellow Pembrokeshire friends who were also flying the Welsh flag in the marches and our good friends and colleagues from Ludlow. When he finally headed west at dusk, it was great to be coming home. It's good to see home from a different perspective to remember what makes it so special. As we drove over the river Teme a heron swooped down in front of us, showing his undercarriage in all its glory and it reminded me of my river and why I needed to go home.