No Method in my Madness

This blog was supposed to be about a City Girl discovering Country Life, shattering all illusions of Ambridge-like agriculture and Downton-esque dress codes. And it was going well. I had down-graded from Capital City to City, from City to Town; I’d learned where my full-beam headlights were, and the various types of farming and various names for a cow; and I was spending more time with rurally-minded friends willing to welcome me into their country lives without holding me accountable for either my giggle-inducing naivety or gawping stares (and verbal equivalents) at their odd habits.

Then misfortune struck and I found myself being rescued by Maman et Papa and thus back in London. Don’t worry, I thought/wrote. It’s only temporary.

Seven months after I started documenting my muddy discoveries, I’ve ended up not only living in the Big Smoke, but joining the Rat Race of commuters each morning. I’m up stupidly early, not to walk dogs or muck out horses, but to chase the bumper in front of me at a snail’s pace around the M25 every morning as the sun makes up its mind whether to battle the city smog, or to give in and force us mere mortals to accept that England is known as grey and drizzly for a reason. While I stubbornly refuse to hear my alarm clock, Mr Sun is enjoying longer and longer lie-ins, and rarely has the energy when he does wake to fight off the blanket of grey.

As previously mentioned, I’ve recently started a new job. This is partly (wholly) to blame for the lack of words on this blog in recent weeks. It’s actually really rather wonderful, and not at all as dismal a picture as I’ve painted above (except for the traffic jams. They really are dismal.) I’ve mentioned before that my new position is as Category Insight Executive at a wine agent. What I didn’t tell you is what exactly that means, for the very good reason that I didn’t know. But now I can! Sort of at least. My job is in effect studying future trends by means of data analysis. It could be a terribly boring job I’m sure, but actually even in under a fortnight I’ve discovered it’s not only a romantic product to be working around but an interesting one, and I’ve been given projects to sink my teeth into, even if they are the wine industry’s equivalent to a baby’s teething ring. I’ve had my first wine tasting, and I’ve learned just how much I didn’t know I didn’t know about wine. For now it’s only the commercial wine knowledge that’s essential – and bits of it are sinking in already; I just hope they stick. But one lovely thing about the company, aside from the chef who makes us lunch every day, is that they like every member of staff to have at least a very basic knowledge of wine itself. This means that at some point in the not too distance future, I’ll be studying for my first wine qualification. I’m rather excited.

Most of my friends will know that I’m more of a gin girl – Hendricks with cucumber, or a delicious fruit gin if I can get it. My interaction with wine has been extremely limited, predominantly because I discovered at university that cheap wines (or at least the ones I’d tasted) are really rather unpleasant. Cheap gin on the other hand is drinkable, as is cheap cider. Which means if one wants to actually enjoy the liquids passing one’s lips as an impoverished student on a tight budget, one would choose either of these two over wine – at least if one is a one with preferences similar to my own. The other contributing factor is that I Like Food. I like cooking, and I love a home-cooked meal. So even if I did ever find myself with a few pence to spare – which was increasingly rarely once I started shooting – I’d be more likely to be found down the butcher’s choosing some lovely fresh sausages for dinner than in the nearest off-licence.

Nonetheless, I’m rather excited about discovering wine. I hope I won’t evolve into a dreadful wine-snob, and if in a year’s time I’m writing about the delicately fragrant nose of a particular Sauvingon Blanc or Pinot Gris, with delicate hints of asparagus and grass, a full green flavour with toasty smoked caramelly undertones or some such; if this turns into a wannabe’s wine blog, I can only apologise. I am as I type (with my left hand only) saluting with three fingers straight, my pinky held tight by my thumb and in doing so I hereby promise to do my best[i] to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground, where possible in some muddy country undergrowth; to keep my head below the level of the clouds, even if that involves ducking come the Winter; and to ensure that all and any of my vacillations documented here are themed strictly in accordance with the theme of the this blog (however much I am failing at present.) Or I promise to try at any rate. Unless I have nothing more interesting to write about, because surely even wine-snobbery has to be better than empty space.

With respect to this blog, my lovely new job does have some points in its favour, and may yet produce more tales of rural enlightenment for your amusement. Only time will tell. They are as follows.

  1. It is not in London. It is in fact in the beautiful county of West Sussex, near plenty of shooting grounds and even some shoots, or so I have been led to believe. In actual fact my petrol-fuelled commute only skirts the dirty frayed hem of the capital city. I’m not actually in The City itself.
  2. I work opposite a gun shop! Just imagine my amazement – and delight – as I popped out during my lunch-break last Thursday, resigned to my sinking back into country life, only to discover a homeware/baking shop, farmers’ market and gun shop all within a 1cm radius of work. Please forgive the hyperbole but I promise you, they’re close. It seems all is not lost. Hurrah!
  3. I work with at least two self-confessed country bumpkins. I am not closeted with suited and booted city-folk working till midnight and drinking until 4am only to hit the glamorous shiny gym at 5am after 30 seconds shuteye. I work with people who like their home time, who like their evenings in, and at least one girl (and she promises me there are more) who shoots and even owns her own gun! A second Hurrah is called for.
  4. I work not far from a) some lovely countryside and b) a clay shoot or two (or more). I’ve been reliably informed by the very nice John and Irving in the gun shop that should I move to the area in the future, I would be able to find myself some clays to smash without travelling too far. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for my shooting aspirations (which are to one day own a gun and be able to shoot it more than twice a year.)
  5. I get to taste wine, and occasionally to bring the majority of a bottle home after a tasting. With regard to the blog, this is more exciting from the baking point of view than the country one, but it’s exciting nonetheless.In the back of my head is a box[ii], and in this box are little elves. I picture these elves sat on those high wooden stools we had in the old fashioned science labs before the melamine surfaces conquered all, in a room dusty with icing sugar and full of the sound of ticking clocks and the gentle hissing of egg-timers and hour-glasses (probably filled with ground almonds instead of sand, but that may be the macarons I made recently talking). The elves are scribbling away on rolls of parchment with Davinci-esque scribbles of cake and fairy cake ideas. For the last week and two days, the elves have been busy embarking on the idea of an alliance between the Realm of Wine and Empire of Cake… [iii]

Here my words have all but run out, I’m running on fumes as they say. I’ll try not to leave it another three weeks before posting, but please be forgiving with your expectations. I hope I haven’t left you despairing of anything vaguely muddy ever appearing on this blog again. The mud will be back, I promise. To give you hope: I have my first game shoot this coming season and at least two more Chelsea Bun Shoots before the year is out, not to mention another farm visit. To make amends for fooling you into reading this post when there has been no shooting or baking of any sort, here are some pictures of my recent bakes, as a shrug towards a baking theme.

White chocolate and pecan ‘blondies’ with a crab apple glaze
Ready for the last night of the BBC Proms

Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls with Sage and Chili
Also for the Proms Picnic

Amaretto Macarons – The First Attempt

St Clement’s Cupcakes
For the Monday Morning Meeting

I can only apologise for the lack of accompanying words. If the elves are successful, hopefully there will be more bakes to come for which I can provide some wordy descriptions to complement any photographic evidence. Right now, the elves asleep on their parchment, snoring softly onto the sketches, and as for me, my duvet is beckoning. Good night.

[i] …to love my God, to serve my Queen and country, to help other people, and to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

[ii] If you don’t have an in-head filing system, I highly recommend it. It helps keep what I call creativity but what others call madness at bay, particularly around the latter types that might be inclined to call for Professional Help. Of course it’s only effective up to a point…

[iii] If you’re not one of these people, and are inclined to accept my madness, you should definitely read a) The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley, if just for some of the most imaginative names you have ever laid eyes on, and b) The Phantom Tolbooth by Norman Juster, for the relief of knowing you’re not alone and giving you the (perhaps-false) confidence to make public your madness by posting it on the World Wide Web. These 6am starts are not good for me.

Bewitched by the Bubbles

The Fabulous Fortnight Part 2

Until recently, I’d only ever attended weddings as a child, running around with sticky handfuls of confetti. But all that changed last weekend at the Jeavons-Prinsloo wedding. I mentioned the bride’s hen party briefly a while back, after I managed to spike the mother-of-the-bride’s drink – entirely by accident I hasten to add. (I brought along a bottle of homemade elderflower, but failed to mention early on that it was elderflower champagne rather than cordial. In retrospect, possibly a mistake.)

The wedding took place in a picturesque village church, satisfyingly authentic as we could see the bride’s primary school from the churchyard – or at least the building that used to be it. The groom is in the army, and looked fantastic standing at the alter in his Number One dress, complete with red stripe down the trousers, silky gold curtain tassels and his medal shining brightly on his chest. He was I’m sure relieved to be joined after not too long a wait by the bride in her white dress, silky swathes flowing in a train behind her[i], adorable flower girls in pretty champagne and gold dresses, and bridesmaids also in champagne, with navy satin sashes; all complimenting the groom’s delicious uniform perfectly. Satin roses trailed over the bride’s shoulder and a cascade of golden curls down her back. And she had two shoes. Cinderella eat your heart out.

One of my favourite points of the wedding was the final hymn – the bride, chief bridesmaid, mother of the bride and many of her friends work in primary schools, either as teachers or in admin. The last hymn chosen was one I remember singing as an enthusiastic eleven year old – One More Step Along The World I Go. Wonderfully cheerful, rather fitting given the calling of the bride and her friends and family, and so perfect for the occasion.

After squishing as many people as possible into as few cars – meaning as few designated drivers as possible – we all headed to the reception in the village town hall. Strangely none of us thought to ask if there was a spare seat in the new couple’s chauffer-driven, open-topped Bentley. Everything was simply beautiful – we were greeted with flutes of gently sparkling champagne and a coordinated navy and cream table plan – and the tables had been creatively named after the couples favourite drinks from England (home of the bride) and South Africa (home of the groom). I was irrationally delighted to find out I was on the table christened ‘Gin and Tonic’, and almost as dismayed to see that I wasn’t on the table ‘Earl Grey’. But I’m sure if I had been I would have been just as disappointed not to be a Ginandtonicer – Mary Mary Quite Contrary has nothing on me.

The bride and groom arrived and were snapped and papped as enthusiastically as any celebrity couple. There were amusing speeches, romantic and much photographed kisses (evidence below), a scrummy BBQ, huge chocolate fountain with strawberries, marshmallows and heavenly Turkish Delight so good I didn’t even dip it in the chocolate. There were bubbles to drink and yet more bubbles to blow, or attempt to blow as was the case for some guests at our table. There were army men with stereotypically girly nicknames (the groom is apparently ‘Princess’ – the anonymous source of this information was suspiciously cagey when I asked why…) and plenty of dancing, flowing conversation and much merriment. The traditions were stuck to with relish, including the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the bride’s bouquet, and a South African tradition of the groom removing the bride’s garter (something blue) with his teeth while blindfolded and bound with the groomsmen’s cravats. The audaciously-removed garter is then flung out to the men in the wedding party, and as with the more Britishly-prudish bouquet toss, the man to catch it will be the next to find himself at the alter.

I’m delighted that my first grown up wedding experience was of such a lovely country village wedding, and I don’t think the bride or groom could have wished for anything more. It was perfect, and a wonderful omen for their life together – I wish them all the luck in the world and more.

As if being invited to a proper wedding in my own right wasn’t enough to prove that I am officially now an adult, four days later I went and got myself a job. A Proper Job. I have now officially got my foot on the first rung of the career ladder – so watch out Glass Ceiling, I’m coming for you. Since being back in London with my parents, my friends and family have been aware that I was hoping to find myself a graduate position in a company where I can focus on personal development as much as on the job in hand, and ideally to do so in a role that will challenge me intellectually – at least after an initial period of the donkey work that gives you a chance to prove yourself. I received a phone call out of the blue asking if I would be interested in a role with a company my friend had worked for, a role she would have been interested in if only it had been in a location a little more convenient; she’s engaged to a Yorkshireman with a deposit on a house in York; the job is in West Sussex. Go figure. After a telephone conversation with the manager and a first interview, I was invited to a second interview less than a week later, with the shock of a presentation to prepare in and around the steak, cake, wedding present and outfits.

As I accepted my degree from the chancellor of my university, I assumed that I would never again need to remember anything about my final essays on whether 16th Century Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus thought war was inherently evil, or on David Hume’s view that we have no personal identity (a true mind-boggle). And yet I found mself preparing a presentation on my final essays – admittedly on my insanely colour-coordinated planning processes and time management more than the content, but in order to remember one you have to remember elements of the other. A big mug of tea and a quick refresher course on Erasmus’ views on the behaviour of mercenary soldiers in war was all I had to ease my post-wedding hangover. Despite the cooking- and wedding-fun of the weekend before my interview, it seemed to go well. I got on with my interviewers, one of the ladies announced that she was in possession of as colour-coded a brain as me (thank God) and if I needed any more confirmation that it wasn’t an utter catastrophe, I got a phone call just a few hours later from one of the ladies, offering me the job. Smug much? Moi? Never!

The role is Category Insight Executive for a wine supplier/agent/company. I’m going to be analysing data and pulling out stories telling the journey of the wine. Anyone who knows me will know that I spend my life analysing and over-analysing. And now I have landed myself a role where I might be able to use that skill/flaw to actually make a living. Other exciting news is that it is slightly less city-based, and so I might be able to increase the frequency of my shooting, and apparently cakes are welcome in the office so my baking is safe too. Phew. A glass of bubbly with my parents to celebrate? Why not?![ii]

Within a week of my chip-based success and genetic-diagnosis, I had as a fully-fledged adult experienced a real wedding, complete with bubbles for both drinking and blowing. Days later I landed a Proper Professional Position working for a company that deals with more bubbles (definitely of the drinking persuasion) tucked in amongst all the wine. And had celebrated that with yet more bubbles! I start my new role next month; no doubt there’ll be some amusing misdemeanours to regale you with as I start another job – sorry, career – out-of-the-city, not to mention plenty of wine-based blunders to boot. But at the very least I promise you there will still be plenty of shooting and baking anecdotes. Wedding-fun and interview-success was only the second step of three making up the Fabulous Fortnight – there is nothing less than a Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club finale still to come, complete with both guns and cake.

[i] Just so you can picture it accurately, there was enough luscious material in the train to cause the bride to later announce:

“This is not a dress made for reversing.”

[ii] Thank you Dad Xx