I have just signed up to the Guardian 10/10 campaign – to personally reduce my carbon footprint by 10% by next September. I felt pretty smug about rarely using a tumble drier – in the country we just hang our clothes outside, or throw them on top of the AGA, right? Yes I know my AGA needs a bit of justification – but it is an electric one, and I am on the green tariff – and I have given up my Porsche – well, OK, it blew up in Burford, but anyway, there is much to said for a clothes line, even though when I go and stay with my friend Ruth Rendell in Suffolk, I have to bring my own line (anybody would think I was talking about cocaine) and stash it in my luggage and string it up while she is out, and get rid of it before she comes home. I met her this week in our usual place in London, the Wolesley, and I had to confess that my holier-than–thou washing line has taken on a new meaning. Gales blew my clothes onto the ground, and slugs ate two of my green shirts.
I am not making this up; I think the slugs thought my shirts were giant cabbage leaves. Whatever they thought, I caught them in the very act of gnawing through my sleeves (do slugs have teeth?). I wonder if any readers are having similar problems?
Reducing our carbon footprint is a good challenge and utterly worthwhile. Earth scientist James Lovelock years ago predicted that the UK would get wetter as a result of global warming, and if you, like me this summer, have had tomato blight, potato blight and an invasion of slugs the size of rolling pins, then that’s a god enough incentive to do something. One thing I can say is that the geo-thermal heating system I installed two years ago really works, and is cheap to run. For the ruin next door to my house that I am converting I am going to try a bio-mass boiler. But meanwhile the AGA is doing her duty helping me to bottle pears and late plums.
And what other oven can simultaneously cook your casserole, rise your bread dough, dry you, your knickers and your dog after a soaking walk, and gently set a papier- mache dinosaur for the kids? The carbon count is never a straight sum.
Off up to Manchester to open an amazing exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. Angels of Anarchy is a show that focuses on women and Surrealism, and includes works by Frida Carlo, Lee Miller and Leonara Carrington, as well as the title work by Eileen Agar. This is just the kind of vigorous radical exhibition that suits a city such as Manchester, home of the Pankhurts and Suffragism, crucible of Quakerism and the anti-slavery movement, where Engels and Marx observed factory conditions, and where the Trades Union movement began. How on earth did we end up with footballers’ wives?
Once I have cut the tape and made a speech I shall go across to Accrington and plant bulbs on my father’s grave. I love the dark landscape of the Pennines; its wildness, its brooding power, ribbed with dry stone walls long ago turned black by the factory chimneys that used to dominate this place – the mills, looms and engines of a lost England. A working landscape – not pretty, but to me, entirely beautiful.
At the weekend I am cooking one of my favourite meals – Navarin of lamb. The cusp of the seasons is the perfect time for those dishes that prepare us for the cold weather but still hold a hint of summer. The first of the little rosy turnips and the last of the runner beans – now getting stringy, melt in with any carrots you have, and whatever lamb you want to use – don’t be a recipe purist. And for pudding? Stewed apples and plums and homemade custard made with eggs from the horror hens – as kkmy godchildren call them, because what the lovely country free range organic hens REALLY like to eat is catfood. Fortunately Susie Orbach is coming to have supper with us, so I am hoping that as the therapist who was able to help the Princess of Wales with her eating issues, she might be able to talk to the hens about their craving for unsuitable food.
And it’s time to start feeding the birds again – all the proper wild grains and nuts – and what do they prefer? Catfood….