In the spirit of lockdown, and by way of testament to enduring friendship, I've been growing potatoes on my roof garden in tubs given to me by my longest-serving friend last Christmas. Everything to do with this process has been slightly more complicated, but much more enriching, than pandemic shopping: taking compost out of storage in my attic, climbing out of the window to plant seed potatoes ordered online during the #th lockdown, working out how to water the tubs in the dry spells with arcs of water poured from a watering can from the same window.
After the problem-solving, and the anticipation, the harvest has been so satisfying - searching through soil to find, well, to find these:
I've staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I've served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage - the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She'd read I didn't have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance).
The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight ... but oh ... this is beginning to sound like it's heading in the direction of a sermon ...
You're right, dear reader: I'm going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I've been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I'd originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven's 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer's evening of extraordinary heat and calm.
Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.
And then, it did.
Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes ...
The following evening, in the house's beautiful enclosed courtyard, Carol's performance of Music for Dogs was wonderful as ever. I've seen the play six, maybe seven, times and it's just as well, as this time I was on sound desk duty. As she performed, in addition to the pre-recordings, extra barks floated across from the nearby lawns - Carol integrated these into the story like the pro that she is. She was amongst dog-lovers, and the audience loved her and the play, laughing and sighing in all the right places.
When it was my turn, I read, for the first time, the whole sequence of GREAT MASTER / small boy, finding inspiration from the company of Beethoven himself. Richard had placed a wonderful carving of the Master next to me on the stage, complete with a 250th birthday candle.
For the two days we were at Brushford Barton, the world felt complete - a place of kindness, of hospitality, of growth and creativity: a place in which it is safe to be an artist, to bring new things to the surface, and to enjoy them in company.