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THIS AND THAT(Continued)

Country Life - - - Herbs

Today the weather was not good so it was an ideal time to undertake a task we usually reserve for a rainy day at this time of year.

Having trimmed back the rosemary, basil and thyme we buy two or more large bottles of olive oil and make our own flavoured oils for marinades and cooking.
It is best to chop and bruise the herbs before putting them into a smaller olive oil bottle, saved from the time when we bought the flavoured oils, and then topping them up with the unflavoured olive oil. A sprig of rosemary, thyme or a few whole leaves of basil being added to their appropriate bottle for decoration.
Quantities of the various flavourings are a matter of personal taste but it is as well to remember that more of the flavouring material can be added if the flavour is not strong enough and that unflavoured olive oil can be added if the flavour is too strong for a particular purpose.
I know olive oil is not exactly cheap but the price of the flavoured olive oils in the supermarkets are so high that it makes this well worth doing.

Similarly we dry our own herbs wherever we can rather than waste them, not I must admit very successfully with basil, but the chap up the lane who has let his bay tree grow over the top of his garden wall has unknowingly kept us in dried bay leaves for years.

Another crop we collect, although we have to share it with the ducks, is water cress from the river; just wish we could convince the ducks that it is not good for them, they do tend to eat more than their fair share.

Market Day

As I gazed out of the window I could see it promised to be that rarest of occasions a rain free market day. The air was still and the early morning sun was burning off the last of the low lying mist from the mill pond.
Orange juiced, coffeed and breakfasted I made my way along the bridle path to the Market Square. The early bird Stall holders had finished setting up and were gathered around the refreshment van outside Barclays Bank with their mugs of tea and bacon sarnies whilst the late comers desperately struggled to catch up. The regulars having claimed their pitches and the Market Superintendent, in reality the Town Clerk in another guise, quickly allocated the remaining pitches to ?casuals? and ?charities?.

Curtain up, let the action begin.

First to arrive in the still early morning are those people, mainly women, doing their shopping on their way to work. These gatherers of food, not at all interested in the wide diversity of the market, head straight for vegetables, fruit, meat and fish and finally to the bright yellow trailer of ?The Egg Lady?. None of the normal supermarket definitions here. This was the world of not only small, medium, large, barn and free range but of double yolkers and jumbos, of bantams, duck and quail.

Next to arrive are those who travel in by car and the walking distance locals determined to get the pick of the offerings. Later their numbers swell as the coaches and buses arrive in from the outlying villages. There is Josie getting off her bus, she must have a heavy shop otherwise she would have ridden the three miles in on her bicycle. Many villages have a Josie, she is the one who walks or cycles along the roads and lanes talking aloud to herself her solitary conversation full of ?I says? and ?she says?.
There is old Edna bashing everyone?s ankles with her carelessly pulled wicker basket on wheels with it?s walking stick handle. She must be the most cursed woman for miles around, not that she takes a blind bit of notice.
Swinging down Bridge Street with his shoulder length stave comes a man I call Bernie. His name changes frequently, altering with every different person you talk to. He has a straggly beard and small round glasses adorn his chubby, cheerful face. In spite of his sixty plus years he swings along with the easy gait of the experienced walker. He is resplendent in black soft leather boots and a French Foreign Legion uniform. Some say he served in the legion and earned the uniform the hard way, others that he bought it in Carnaby Street in his youth in the sixties.

There is now a constant ebb and flow of people as the locals head for the coffee shops and hostelries and their place is taken by the grockles and second home owners from Chelsea on Sea. These incomers, locally called half sixers, with their cottages in the coastal villages are easily identified by their dress. Quilted green or navy blue body warmers, green wellies and All Black rugby shirts. I don?t know why but whatever the nationality of the wearer the shirt must be the Black shirt with the white feathered emblem. They also head for the green grocery stalls but they are interested in the Asparagus, Ginger, lemon grass and the peculiarly shaped and named vegetables of oriental and more recently Thai cooking. We, I suppose, have to be grateful to these misplaced people for their presence has added to the diversity of fruit and vegetables on sale but it is still good to buy parsnips and bunches of carrots with the mud on them and potatoes which are not all identical as if they were made on a production line by robots.

No market day would be complete without a visit to the flea market with it?s rows and rows of Bric-a-brac stalls, and miscellaneous stalls where, if you have the time, you can find that must have item that was someone else?s clutter only last week. There are stalls selling DIY and garden tools, shoes, clothes and just about everything one could possibly need providing it doesn?t cost more than a few pounds. Another must is the Nurserymen's stalls with their rows of home grown plants. The regular locals soon get to know who sells well grown home produced plants and who the fly boys are who are out for a fast buck with their bought in seconds that are not noticeably cheaper than the Nurserymen?s ?proper? plants.

A walk through the flea market leads to the half sixer?s next port of call, the Auction Hall. Here local people snap up bargains whilst old kitchen dressers, which will need much love and money spent on their restoration, leave for coastal cottages yielding for their sellers the price of a brand new kitchen.
The auction is the only place that still attracts a few farmers to the market and this, I feel, is out of a habit that refuses to die. There is no reason for them to come other than to have a mardle with old friends. The livestock and dead stock markets finished many, many years ago. Another tradition dead and gone and the market town the poorer for it.

Shopping done, friends talked to, coffee or beer drunk and arrangements made the crowds start to thin as buses and coaches leave and stalls are packed away. The green grocery stall holders, always the last to go, begin to shout out reduced prices as they attempt to harvest the last few pounds for their wares. Soon the dustcarts will arrive to clear away the debris of the day. By early evening all evidence that there has been a market has gone and the town will once again fall back into it?s slumberous ways.

A Tale For Alisha

A beautiful afternoon as I sat and watched the everyday lives of the riverbank folk. Winifred and Wilfred Wagtail celebrating their umpteenth anniversary are busy in the drying summer sluice finding insects amongst the algae. They have moved from their home in the housing on the sluice mechanism away from the industrial area to a home under the brambles trailing into the river some ten yards away.

They seem to have sublet part of the bramble bush to Millicent Moorhen who has emigrated together with her partner Maurice from the reed bed on the far side of the river. They had little alternative as the reed bed had become a tip having been vandalised by Sid and Cynthia Swan and their band of thugs lead by Gordon Goose.

All the natural world seems to have but one thought in mind procreation and it seems as if it?s only humankind who takes the responsibility so lightly.

Colin and Chloe Collared-Dove come to dine regularly at the Old Willow Stump. They keep their home secret rather like lottery winners avoiding begging letters. Truth to tell they are a snooty pair.
Then there are the Mallards and other assorted ducks behaving in the manner of clubbers on a night out. Noisily squabbling with no thought for the future living for the pleasures of the moment our human equivalent in the feathered world.

Finally we see Compo and Nora the two scruffy, tatty muscovy (we think) ducks who squabble and go off in a huff for days on end but always come back. Trying to help but causing as many squabbles as they solve.

The following day as I sat on the bench on the riverbank drinking my lunch I became aware that there was a sense of anticipation along the Mill stretch of the river. Mind you it didn?t effect all the folk. That duck -you know -the one who is no better than she should be, always wagging her tail and bobbing her head at every passing drake, has just hatched out the river?s first brood of the year. She must be a first time mum and pretty useless to boot. Several times she took her ducklings too near the sluice. The little family of seven had reduced to five by the late afternoon.

But back to lunchtime. Suddenly there he was sitting on a branch high over his subjects; King Fisher resplendent in his iridescent blue plumage. Then in a flash his duty done he was gone, off to the next stop on his royal tour. Things gradually returned to normal. Nests being built and a pair of water rats sculling backward and forward across the river, the purpose of their journeys a complete mystery. Sid and Cynthia Swan having successfully trashed our nearby reed bed seem to have moved further up the river closer to the trout farm taking Gordon Goose and his gang with them.
Another development Millicent and Maurice Moorhen have got neighbours who are busily setting up house at a respectful distance. But this is only the beginning of the river folks? year there will be many upheavals and minor dramas and tragedies between now and the autumn.

Yes I know it?s pathetic but I enjoyed writing it OK and if Alisha and any other little?uns like it that?s good enough for me.

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