I am child-less, for the first time in weeks, and I can walk at the pace I choose, and think the thoughts I choose. I can decide what to serve for dinner (that marrow that keeps looking at me, balefully, from the dresser). I can examine any plant or insect that catches my eye, and I can stand stock-still in the middle of a field for five minutes, listening to ripe corn. I can then take a further ten minutes thinking of how to describe it. Not as plastic-beadily rattling as oats, is my conclusion so far.
The dogs and I are heading to the covert across the valley from the cricket pitch – through the corn fields that catch the very last of the evening sun. It’s mid-afternoon now, though, and the glorious morning has clouded to a featureless dirty-white, like grubby bed-sheets.
We walk down the Banbury Road, and I notice the stems of the elder berries are stained purplish-red, although the berries themselves stay green. They remind me of the neck-flush of an older woman with a crush, and decide that when the time comes, I shall wear a silk scarf.
We turn past Jamie’s Mum’s stables, and walk up the grassy ride alongside the wheat. I think about something I recently learnt – what I thought was some sort of long-whispery type of wheat is actually barley, and what I thought was barley was just a longer-stemmed type of wheat. And corn can mean any cereal crop at all. The bit I don’t understand was how I mixed it all up in the first place – I grew up on a small-holding in the middle of fields. You’d have thought I could tell the difference.
There’s a path cut through the wheat and I follow it, stooping to admire the tiny love-hearts of Shepherd’s Purse. The red-brown soil of the path has been compacted by walkers – this route leads to Ratley, and the National Herb Centre. There’s another plant here, sprawling rudely, holding its pink fingers up in defiance to passing boots. My Collins guide tells me it’s ‘Red Shank’, or Persicaria. Apparently, we used to eat it.
This thought occupies me all the way to the covert. How did we eat it? In salads? The guide says ‘the starch-rich fruits were formerly gathered and used as grain.’ Red Shank soup? Bread? I kick at a thistle, frustrated that ancient hedge-row knowledge is missing from my brain.
I reach the stile at the covert: my turning point. Not wanting to go home just yet, I perch on the stile like a silly fat pigeon, looking across the valley to Horley. I can see our house, the inexhaustible To-Do List scrawling out of our chimneys.
I turn my attention back to the Red Shank, and wish I were brave enough to serve it for dinner, mixed with pasta, some marrow (which I’d chop and oven-bake, with salt and rosemary and olive oil). Topped with pecorino and a few splinters of smoked streaky bacon.
‘Oh yes,’ I’d say. ‘Red shank. Or Lady’s Thumb. Delicious, don’t you think? Yes, of course…grown locally.’