My mother and I didn’t agree about much but, the one thing that was never a source of contention was her cooking – she was a genius. I have never tasted better and she remains the culinary benchmark. There was nothing flash about her repertoire, it was plain English cuisine – roasts, Yorkshire puds, Cornish pasties, liver and bacon, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart and lemon meringue pie to die for – to name but a few. She dismissed all “foreign food” which loosely translates as anything containing garlic.
Her pièce de résistance was chocolate cream biscuits. Time consuming and fiddly to make, they were a rare treat, consumed with dog-like enthusiasm by my sister and me as soon as they emerged from the oven. Garrison Keillor’s aunt Myrna and her Chocolate Angel Food Cake was surely nothing by comparison. For years we tried to extract a recipe but my mum, like all good cooks, worked intuitively in the kitchen. Nothing was ever written down because, pressed to define precise quantities and ingredients, she would probably struggle.
And then last week, I was hovering around the reduced cakes and pastries counter in Waitrose and there I spotted an individual, over-sized,store-baked, broken bourbon biscuit. I sneaked it into the trolley, away from the prying eyes of my trainer/dietitian. When I eventually bit into this large confection, I could not believe it. In more than fifty years, it is the closest approximation to the original chocolate cream biscuit I have ever found. My immediate thought was ‘I must ring my sister and tell her – go buy some immediately!’
My big sister: 1944-2019.
In an overwhelming moment, I remembered. The good news had come too late.
… and what a time it was …
… a time of innocence
It has been a tough week, saying a last goodbye to my big sister. The service was held in the small church at The Lee, near Great Missenden. A lovely place but, it came as some relief to return to the peace and quiet of deepest Northumberland. There is always hope to be found in the wild places.
And so, the night falls …
It all started so well. The photo-book I ordered for my big sister’s birthday arrived just as we were setting off on a 600 mile round trip to her party. We arrived in good time for the big event at Waddesdon Manor and the slideshow ran faultlessly until the screensaver kicked-in due to lack of any keyboard depressions – the Rothschilds obviously don’t do PowerPoint. It was strange because I was mostly surrounded by people I had either never met or had not seen in over thirty years – “should I know you” is not a good opening gambit.
Then about ten minutes before ‘carriages’ (up t’north, we call it the last bus home) it got stranger still – I took a very unpleasant turn for the worse – not through over-indulgence I hasten to add. This was the start of something that continued for the next seven hours – I was then semi-comatose for the next twenty-four. My stomach muscles still ache.
Big sister had a great time though which was entirely the point of the exercise. I take no credit for any of the photos in the slideshow only the many hours spent re-editing in Photoshop CC, OnOne and PowerPoint – a labour of love. The edits were not always strictly necessary, it is just one of my compulsive habits. I trust Ray Davies, Guy Garvey et al will forgive me for ‘borrowing’ their music – the second track demands a decent sound system to get the full effect of Elbow’s magical production – something else the Rothschilds don’t do.
This is my favourite image from the slideshow – my sister is about three or four years old which makes it 1947-1948. A friend of the family is on the left, my mum is in the centre and my dad to the right is acting-up in front of the camera – it’s not just me, it’s in my genes. I’m Not There – not even thought about at this stage I imagine.
Act III, Scene 13
Alexandria. CLEOPATRA’s palace.
Come, Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let’s mock the midnight bell.
It is my birth-day: I had thought to have held it poor: but, since my lord
Is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra.