I don’t know whether an interest in making preserves can be found in DNA, but I feel it’s in mine. Making jam was the closest I’d come to country life before the age of 19. To me, the idea of it used to lie somewhere between a Julian Fellowes novel and The Archers: wonderfully indulgent, hard-working and tiring, traumatic and tranquil, and always, always fictional. Real people lived in cities, worked from 9-5 in an office of some description, and sat in a lot of traffic jams. Jam making was a hobby introduced to me by my mother, best kept for a lazy Sunday in late Summer when we went picking the blackberries growing around our local playground. Taking them home, we’d boil up one, perhaps two jars of bramble jelly. Sometimes we didn’t even have enough for one jar (on those days, a yummy crumble invariably made an appearance on the evening’s menu). Keeping chickens and sheep and so on was a dream of my mother’s – “wouldn’t it be nice one day…” – along with living in a lighthouse on the coast. Country lanes were something to be driven along on the way to Grandma’s – but even she lived in a cul-de-sac of modern houses (though she does make marmalade; both my grandmothers do in fact – more evidence of the genetic nature of preserve-making). Bramble jelly aside, I was a (Greater) Londoner, through and through – though a suburban one I’ll admit. I didn’t realise how citified I was until approaching university, when I was talking to a friend about getting there:
– Why not get the train?
I wouldn’t know where to get off I said.
– In York!
I know in York, but which station? I said.
– York station.
But which station in York?
The idea of there being just one train station in a city hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I should explain that as we lived in a large, capital city, we rarely visited them as a family while I was growing up – part of the reason for my naivety. My parents were the proud owners of a VW camper and we ventured around the British Isles and west coasts of France and Spain for our summer holidays, or escaped to self-catering cottages to relax around Europe. We stringently and steadfastly avoided hustle and bustle of big cities, bar one trip to Paris, preferring to spend our time as a family (with my poor father every year re-teaching us of the rules of Whist). By the age of 19, the only cities I’d properly visited were London, Paris, San Jose in Costa Rica and Grenada in Nicaragua. Not entirely surprised by the lack of an underground railway or multiple train stations in Central America, my experience of cities had always included more than one railway station, and generally an underground. Paris had an underground; I knew Warsaw had one, and Vienna, so why wouldn’t York have multiple stations or an underground system? Unbelievable I know, but please try to think of my naivety with compassion and charity, and possibly amusement, but not disdain.
Step one of leaving the (outskirts of the) Big City complete, and though bemused by the general lack of public transport – buses stopped at 5pm and you couldn’t catch a train to the surrounding villages – and opening hours – closed on a Sunday? Closed at 5pm?? Why?! – I survived. I’m not claiming here that university was an immersion into country life, because I know it wasn’t. But it was where I started shooting.
Time for another bit of history… my wonderful mother had always had an idea that she might enjoy shooting – a notion brought on by reliably good performances on the shooting ranges at Thorpe Park and other theme parks, sending tin cans scattering, making buzzers ring and lights flash. When she discovered that the local gun club was hidden away down our road she wanted to try, and my brother and I went with her. For a few months, I shot air rifle pellets 10m down a covered alley into paper targets, and I loved it, though sadly not enough to put up with the slightly creepy (though I’m sure well-meaning) portly instructor with no notion of personal space. When Mum stopped going because of work, I stopped too. Years later, having recounted this story repeatedly to my poor boyfriend, who listened to my anecdotes told with the repetitiveness of Friends on Channel 4, he took me on a Day Experience clay pigeon shooting. I think it was a ‘reward’ for my A Level results, but in all honesty I can’t entirely remember. He could just have been being sweet and generous. I loved it, and though I’m sure we were set up with easy targets and our instructor effectively shooting on our behalf while we supported the weight of the guns, I came away with the idea that I was pretty good at it. At university I was confronted with the vast and terrifying pick’n’mix of societies, clubs and committees thrown at every Fresher, and the array included the University of York Clay Pigeon Shooting Society (UYCPSC for not-so-short).
To be continued…
 Instead of driving his toy cars around the living room, narrowly escaping fatal collisions with my parents’ ankles, my little brother used to arrange his toy cars into traffic jams, moving them around the car-mat inch by inch. Which tells you something about our area while I was growing up, and explains why I used public transport a lot.