January. A stormy start to the year. A month of highs and lows, building and scotching of plans, exhilarating and deflating in equal measure. I remain cryptic so as not to bore you to tears with the details. Suffice to say a lot of ground was covered and my tyres need pumping.
Last week we made a bride an entirely dried bouquet. It wasn’t remotely bridal, aside from the silk streamer. I like un-bridal wedding flowers. Which is not to say that I don't love pastels and peonies and frou frou, because I do. But there’s a lot of matchy-matchy in wedding world; you’ve really got to be a brave lady to choose brown. Over all those fluttering, flattering ivories and creamy pinks, choosing a tangle of twigs and feathers shows character. I respect that. You’ve got to have balls; balls and a red lip. On the other hand it’s perfectly reflective of the season - January is unsheltered, leafless. The gardens are windswept, a desolate landscape of mud and seed husks. For Emma’s bouquet we used the most beautiful dried hydrangea, a pale watery green blushed with pink, mottled and speckled, sprigs of dried gyp, cotton flowers, pine cones, nigella pods, alder, magnolia and striped pheasant feathers. For the buttonholes we found some exquisite smoky taupe diamond feathers, which we layered with golden wood oats, small cones and dried ammobium tied with a metallic copper twine.
I'm writing now at the cottage, sitting at the dining table over a packet of old Italian breadsticks and a cup of miso soup, which is all I could find on my last scavenging expedition through the kitchen cupboards. We got back late Sunday night (screeching in just in time for War & Peace, I had no intention of missing my sacrosanct 9pm dose of Prince Andrei) after a weekend away with friends to celebrate my husband’s birthday and the hall is still strewn with bags and wellies and coats and tools and computer cables and crates of beer.
A few days deep in the Welsh hinterlands turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Remote from emails and estate agents, far from anything pressing, anything more demanding than deciding when to eat the next meal. Wales is worlds away from our regular lives and hosting a group of our close friends was a welcome distraction. We slept in late, had long breakfasts, grey, winding drives, we scoured antique shops in Hay-on-Wye, took hot baths, snoozed, grazed on cheese and wobbling creamy bowlfuls of my mother-in-law’s transportive brioche and butter pudding. I found my dream coat, a 1940s black tailored number that I have been fantasising about for so long that I had begun to think it existed only in my imagination. Not so. And, of course, we drank lots of wine. The weather was abysmal. It was heaven.
At the moment, faced with the prospect of moving full-time into the city, I seem to be craving the freedom and animal solitude of rural life. Insomniac, neurotic, whatever, here I can walk out into the silence and the rain and take deep lungfuls of loamy air and watch the top of the conifers bending in the wind and all is right with the world. I’ve talked about my erratic emotional compass a lot on the blog, you could say it’s a recurring ‘theme’. The eternal toss-up between the city and the country. One which quenches my thirst for inspiration, drive, ideas (not to mention good coffee and infinitely more sartorial eye candy) and one where I feel at peace, where I can walk out of the house and see no-one but a herd of deer in the woods. The space of the country gives me optimism, it allows me to roam and calm my head. I can feel you imagining that I am some Topaz-like creature who communes with nature in the nude, has a mania for dyeing, and consequently wears a lot of green (name that film). But it isn't quite that dire yet.
And then there is the road between the two. In this particular case the M40, but it could be any road for the purposes of this conversation. I like to be driving. I like to be in a perpetual state of leaving and arriving; my life in a bag. A good pair of boots, a sturdy jacket, a tankful of fuel. Being permanently on safari, sleeping, acquiring provisions, moving on. For now, the cottage is my outpost. My life is a series of short, prudent expeditions that circuitously lead me back to my kitchen, my washing machine, my Pelargoniums. I am at any one time figuratively half-packed/ half-unpacked.
Perhaps choosing isn’t the point. Perhaps the point is that my mercurial heart feels an expatriate in both worlds and neither is home. Occasional navel gazing tells me that I'm impatient to a fault, intent on fulfilling the next target, on reaching the next destination, on the other it is precisely the not knowing that keeps driving me forward, the anxiety of where/when/how that holds so much promise, the magic of possibility. Anything could happen. There is no final destination. Geographically my emotional line of demarcation is where the city ends and the fields begin; where the fields end and the city begins. So, whatever. Maybe home is the road.
In order to keep busy, in the hours when I am not flowering or writing proposals or driving and when village life makes me stir-crazy (and sometimes it does make me nuts), I bake. Baking - cakes, breakfast bars, sponge-y delights - is an absorbing ritual that I’ve only really developed since I’ve been living in the country. Cannelles and Madeleines are my favourites depending on how much time I have – the latter are quick and easy and perfect for popping in the oven whenever I have someone over for coffee. I’ve been experimenting with an orange glaze, lately, though its still a bit granular; it needs work. I am a devoted rather than a talented home cook; I’m a devoted eater. I like to play with taste and colour and texture, and I never stick to a recipe however honest my intentions. My baking habit takes the form of fervent bursts of well-meaning enthusiasm. Clouds of flour, misted windows, butter smeared where it oughtn’t to be. This is not in any way meant to be sexually metaphorical; I'm no Nigella.
I’ve developed a bit of a penchant lately for very, very slow beauty-saturated films where nothing at all happens besides pregnant pauses and bottling up and a lot of weather/internal strife symbolism. Luca Guadagnino’s latest movie A Bigger Splash is released here next week. I'm very partial to a bit of Tilda. I have actually marked it in my diary. Recent favourites have included The Great Beauty (ace soundtrack), Clouds of Sils Maria, A Thousand Times Good Night, all recommended. And Archipelago. Jesse tipped me off about the last one. "Tom Hiddleston, overcast skies, contempt, restraint. You’ll love it." She knows me so well.
We are seeing some really beautiful ranunculus lately. Many layered, petals like crepe. I love the 'picotee' variety that are misted with pale freckles. As any of you who frequent this blog will know, my feelings for granny-bedjacket shades, particularly salmon, are positively volcanic. Do not get in my way at the wholesaler when I am bearing down on those babies. I'm enjoying pairing the hottest pink ranunculus with the glossy, waxy leaves from my Dad's camellia which are still in bud, waiting their turn on the seasonal carousel.