Friday, November 21, 2014

Catching Up In Chillaton

The house is huge, a great barn of a place, though it wasn't actually the barn before. It's the main farmhouse (now with additions), and there are two other stone buildings flanking it, separate properties that used to be barns, I think. Another smaller farmhouse complex is across the road, built by the original owner of this place back in the 17th century, if I remember what Chris told me correctly. It's two-thirds of the way up one of the many rolling hills in this part of southwest England, in Devon, where the fields are stitched together by hedgerows bordering narrow lanes, lanes that weren't designed for anything larger than a horse-drawn cart, which makes driving interesting, to say the least. And they're tall hedgerows, and often curvy lanes, so I keep one foot on the clutch as I edge forward, trying to peer around the corner, the more experienced locals piling up behind me impatiently. That doesn't happen often, however, as there's not a lot of traffic, or at least I'm able to time my driving into Kingsbridge and back when everyone else is at work or eating lunch at home. The nearest village is over two miles away, but I don't feel isolated. There are friendly neighbors in the home to the right, and more across the lane. But I have been working - and vegging out in front of the television in the evenings - and I haven't been missing company. Missing family, yes, but my weekly visits to Kingsbridge fulfill my people quota nicely.
Every morning, noon, and evening I take the two dogs up to the top of the hill, past the upper lawn (whose chair I haven't been relaxing on in the sunshine, as there has been very little of that lately) and into the field full of mouse runs and rabbit holes and multicolored mushrooms, where the dogs wander around and try to catch mice, and eat rabbit poop, and roll in the grass making funny noises, even when the grass is wet. Which it is, mostly, either from the dew in the morning or the daily drizzle (or torrential downpour) that keeps Devon green in November. I think the day I took these pictures two weeks ago was one of the last really nice days. Lately the cold wind has been rushing down from the moors and up and over the field.

I'm usually able to find a rain-free window to take the dogs up to the field, or even on a longer walk around the lanes. I don't take them on the long walks often because they both have arthritis. The younger dog, Hebe, is on a slimming regime that I should be following myself; I'm giving her grated raw carrots mixed with canned food in the evening, rather than the dry food/wet food mix that her mother Clover gets. The vet said that most of Hebe's joint problems come from the fact that she's overweight. Well, she's less so than she was, and is now bounding around the field each day instead of plodding and panting along. Hmmm ... where are the rest of the carrots?

I make sure the ducks and geese have fresh water, and feed them when I let them out of their house in the mornings. There's usually one duck egg waiting for me, and sometimes two. I'm living on duck eggs, what's left of the produce in the garden (not much now), and cheap things like oatmeal and beans and rice and past-its-sticker-date produce from Tesco. And the occasional treat of smoked mackerel from the fishmonger, or lamb neck filet from one of the butchers in town. England is expensive. I've been cooking a lot more, in the huge kitchen (everything in this house is huge). There are all sizes of Le Creuset ovenware, and decent knives, and a good spice rack. I've made lamb neck tagine, baked beans in tomato sauce, roasted root vegetables, squash and cauliflower stew, and lots of salads with the bitter greens from the garden mixed with romaine from the store.

For breakfast this morning I'm going to make kedgeree: curry-spiced basmati rice I'm going to bake in the oven to warm up the stone-floored kitchen, mixed with flaked smoked mackerel (scraps to the cat) and caramelized onions. Normally that's mixed in a creamy sauce with hard-boiled eggs, but I think I'll fry an egg instead to put on top, after I take the onions out of the skillet. Then it will be back into the study here, the little room off the huge dark-beamed wooden room that I never use, to do more paid writing. Unpaid blogging is done! For now, at least. I've finally caught up with myself in space and time.

Dog-walking and duck-watering and the odd garden job - I had to plant two beds of garlic and onion bulbs that arrived the week after Georgina and Chris left for Italy - plus keeping the cat happy and her litterbox clean (I've learned my lesson, believe me), and checking the dehumidifier in the shed, and watering the plants, and feeding the goldfish in the pond below the garden (I forgot to mention the pond) occupies about two hours a day, on average. But! I don't have to clean the house. There's a lovely woman who comes twice a week and does all that. As long as I keep the areas I use reasonably tidy - which is just the kitchen, the small toilet off the entryway, this study, and my rooms upstairs - she takes care of the rest.
Did I mention I have rooms, as well? I don't even go up to the top floor, a converted loft where Chris and Georgina have their desks, or the two-thirds of the second floor where their suite is, plus two other bedrooms. I'm in a bedroom with my own bathroom (and there is yet another bedroom on the other side), just off a large family room. When I was staying here the week before they left, I hung out in that family room to work and watch television, but now that I have the house to myself I spend most of my time in this study, where there's also a television, a good desk and chair to work at, and a poofy sofa that I can lounge on in the evenings, after bedding all the animals down for the night and building a nice fire in the wood stove.

Well, it's 8am now, and finally light outside. Time to take the dogs for their morning constitutional, feed the birds, and get the rice baking. Then it's back to work (I'm hoping I have the mental energy to write three articles today) until it gets dark at 4pm, when the ducks and geese go back inside, the dogs settle down in front of the heaters, and I stretch my shoulders out before tuning into "Pointless."

Life is good.

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