Updated: Mar 25
Loaf - simple crusty sourdough
Ingredients - sourdough starter
Wessex Millstrong flour (50%)
Wessex Mill half and half flour (50%)
Begun - Saturday 20th March 2021
Baked morning Sunday 21st March 2021
This is a good old fashioned bung it all together and stretch and fold it a few times before popping it into a banneton and leaving for a slow prove in the fridge overnight recipe. The first mix of this loaf proved too much for my trusty wooden spoon and it snapped in half ! I'm pushing all superstitious worries of "it's a portent of DOOOOOOM' away. Maybe it's like a bird crapping on you, one of those bad things that happen that somebody somewhere thought we should use to make ourselves feel better by pretending it's really good luck. Anyway, in preparation for this project I had, a while ago, begun listening to podcasts of people having a chat with other people, they are brilliantly fascinating. I've tuned in to Louis Theroux, Jon Ronson and I am currently ploughing my way through Sue Perkins. I recommend them all. As I was mixing this loaf I was listening to the latter talk to Ruby Wax. I had actually chosen this one deliberately. This loaf is for a strong , talented woman so it felt fitting. Forsook my Sunday morning lie in to get up at 7 and bake loaf. Despite this it was still warm when I set off on my bike to head for Port Meadow, a large area of common ground in the north of Oxford.
I guess that one of the most significant thing to say about this point in time was that on the day that I began this loaf I also had my first COVID 19 vaccination. I fall into the over 50's category. It was a bit of a shockingly emotional event. I'm sure I'm not alone in having had to shut the lid on my emotional responses to the pandemic and psychologists will have a field day with us all ("they were part of the lockdown era") in the future. It took me by surprise - as I walked out of the Jericho health centre something akin to a sob bubbled in my throat and my eyes definitely leaked. Luckily I was meeting a friend for a celebratory post jab walk - and I could see her at the other end of the vaccination production line. so I pulled myself tightly together and that was that.
I was slightly worried that I would have a reaction to the vaccination and feel too rubbish for the walk with Rowan. But I was ok. I had a brief awake spell in the night when I was very hot (I had been warned that I might get a fever) but actually as a woman in her 50's I think it may just have been a hot flush. By sunday morning my jabbed arm felt as though it had been in a 10 round boxing match but that was pretty much it.
Despite this being my usually quite crusty loaf - it was in fact quite soft this time.
Feeling ok, and with warm bread in my bike basket I peddled off like billy-oh. I've got a new bike - which I love. It feels like a true representation of me, it's small, chunky and light. Don't be picturing me cycling off on my 'sit up and beg' bike with bread in my basket , frock and hair trailing behind me. At 4" long my usually cropped close hair is in lockdown disarray! Anyway, I was late leaving, cutting it fine so the cycle through Oxford city centre wasn't a leisurely ride, it was a fast and furious dash. Late for my first loafer. I miraculously reached the meadow with two minutes to spare. The pedalling paid off. Oxford was pretty empty - unsurprisingly. And Rowan was a few minutes late - I didn't mind at all. I sat and watched the meadow for a moment and scribbled down the gems that the human race were presenting me with. A guy practicing his golf with an empty bucket being harassed by a small dog whose owner then called in an overly loud upper class voice " Don't let her get to your balls mate, if she does it'll be game over. Bad girl Lheila "
Rowan rocked up, on her bike looking infinitely cool in motor bike chic clobber. I do know Rowan, she is an amazing writer and performer I have had the pleasure to work with. It's not always easy working together because we are both quite determined that we know how things should be done. We touched on this right at the end of our walk. Rowan also works as an arts co-ordinator for Crisis.
"Sorry lost keys" was how we began - its usually me saying this. should I take notes or record our conversation on my phone? I asked. Rowan thought recording sounded like a good idea but I felt too self conscious getting my phone out to record us! Ridiculous.
I haven't seen Rowan during the year of lockdown, and our paths didn't cross as much as usual early last year because, just before Corona became a thing, Rowan was diagnosed with Cancer and underwent surgery for that. I realise as I write this that I didn't ask Rowan about her cancer 'wellness' during our chat and we passed over it quite quickly when it arose. Maybe I sensed that Rowan didn't really want to delve into that - or maybe I had a subconscious want to not pry/have to deal with what it might reveal.
Our chat began with tales of family. A we headed across the meadow towards the river, Rowan spoke about her trapeze teaching sister living in Spain and chatting about her made us ruminate on how our bodies are dealing with getting older. I commented on how disciplined Rowan is and how I'm envious of this commitment. Rowan runs or does yoga pretty much every day - it helps keep her sane apparently. I get it - it was my go to in
lockdown #1 when I suddenly had a good six months of planned work snatched away in the blink of an eye (turned out to be most of a years work -so far - but lets not let that muddy the waters of positivity). The difference is I'm not a sticker like Rowan. Once Michael Johnson had told me I had done really well to complete the couch 2 5K I was kind of done with it.
Thanks Michael. My body is paying for it, I'm currently struggling to fit into my trousers and have given up chocolate, cakes and biscuits for lent - mainly so that I don't have to replace my entire wardrobe. Rowan looked lean and wonderful.
Even though we haven't directly connected over lockdown I had been following Rowan's social media presence. Through this portal I had learnt that she was in a relationship, seen many pictures of her with her new family, (gorgeous to see her interacting with a younger child), I knew she moved to London to be with them, their relationship accelerated by the restrictions of lockdown. Understood that they were engaged, (callouts for ring makers!) And then, after Christmas, on new years eve, it ended. I had resolved not to ask incase it was too painful but Rowan led the way. As we crossed over the bridge to the Binsey side of the river Thames Rowan talked of living on her own again, how her and her ex had just seen the world from different perspectives. she spoke really respectfully about him for most of the walk, without remorse or anger. I wondered how. "I'm only just beginning to process it. Even though I wasn't in real danger it felt volatile and I needed to get out quite quickly.so in a few days I had packed up again and was pretty much homeless" We passed swimmers in various states of undress. Rowans bed had broken the day before. "It's ironic, she said, "My ex had only just rebuilt it. Maybe it's symbolic. Still you get what you pay for and beds are not really made to be put up and taken down so often are they?".Beds are made to be permanent fixtures. A symbol of stability. You make your bed....
Of course if we had not been in the middle of a pandemic and lockdown Rowan would not have found herself in such a tricky situation. The move to London may not have happened and leaving could've been greater supported by family and friends. But lockdowns are lockdowns and people are nervous and rules are rules and all that. So Rowan spent time here and there treading carefully.
At this point, as we passed Godstow Nunnery, I asked Rowan what makes her frazzled. This was something that Ruby Wax and Sue Perkins had been discussing and it seemed pertinent for this super dynamic, creative woman who endlessly has her fingers in many projects and schemes.
"Not having enough to do, or having too much to do" Rowan mused "If I haven't got enough to do there is too much headspace and if I've got too much to do I just worry that I'm not doing any of it brilliantly" This felt familiar "Screens make me frazzled, I've been doing a job that requires interacting with people, it normally takes place in a space , where people feel different, you can read them easier. I did a good job, at least I think I did, but it was harder. We stopped watching television. We would try but after fifteen minutes one or the other or both of us would have had enough. We tried to listen to music more than watch telly"
After Rowan had moved out she spent some time with a friend, an old male friend, gorgeous apparently, but who had always been single. Along the way girls had tried to be more than friends and he had always politely refused. People had wondered if he was gay , but it seemed bizarre that he didn't just say - in this day and age. But meeting up with him now, after not seeing him for a long time he told Rowan that he was and as they sat catching up on the sofa in his Manchester flat, his partner worked on his computer across the room, only he wasn't just working. He was editing a photo of Rowan and friend which he presented to her to remind her that there is always friendship.
I got overly sentimental at this point, it made me feel quite emotional. Right at the beginning of the walk we had spoken about not being very comfortable in social situations, and Rowan not feeling like her friendship group was really in Oxford. I'd commented that even though I've lived here most of my life I don't really have a solid friendship group. sometimes that is fine but I'm a sucker for welling up over other peoples long term friendship stories.
It was about now that Rowan and I found ourselves trapped in a quagmire. Having followed the Thames to Wolvercote we decided to walk back down the meadow on the other side of the river. but now, even though we were half way down the meadow we had to back track and head to the traps. We were using tufts of grass as stepping stones. Port Meadow often floods.
As we found a drier bit of land we also found a perfectly intact chair. In the middle of the meadow. It felt like a perfect time to capture a photo of Rowan with her loaf of bread. Regal. Her throne found.
Two and a half hours after we set off we were nearly back to our bikes. We talked about an upcoming project and how it'll be strange returning to normal.
"Whats normal?" asked Rowan, "Before lockdown #1 I had cancer. Normal will be a whole new thing for me" and while that might be true for all of us it is certainly more true for some.
What are you doing for the rest of the day? I asked Rowan - knowing that she had fitted this encounter between things.
"I'm doing a creativity workshop with Bryony Kimmings"
Of course she was.
If it were possible at the moment Rowan would most like to share her bread with her two grown up sons.
And if you want to dance like a wild thing - the track that Rowan gave me ( because it has food in the title and is on her running list is Chaka Khan - Like sugar.
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