I have just made some cheese puffs. I have no idea why. I have never made a cheese puff in my life.
I am practising for my mother’s wake, which is on Saturday. I am in charge of the food. I am doing some old favourites which I can cook in my sleep, but I suddenly wanted something a bit different. So I got the puff pastry and played around with it and filled it with cheese and rolled it and rolled it and cut out little disks using an Edwardian sherry glass (exactly the right size for the puff, it turns out) and presto! – a cheese puff.
I have no concept of why I suddenly decided these would be the very thing for my mother. She never made them when we were little. They were not a tea-time favourite or a Saturday treat. We did not sit around in a pleading chorus, our eyes as yearning as those of Dickensian orphans, shouting: please, please, THE CHEESE PUFFS. I don’t think I’ve ever knowing eaten a cheese puff. I’m not sure I could have told you what they looked like. But that is what we are having.
I find the whole thing most surprising.
Riding and cooking, I think; those are the places where I am all right. In the field and in the kitchen. Do some people get very stout when they lose their mothers? Cooking, cooking, cooking, like a demented Italian mamma (do Italian mothers still think that food is the cure for all ills?), making soup and taking it round in pots so that the dear stepfather can keep up his strength, making something, some good offering.
He said this morning: ‘I still have my appetite. Is that wrong?’
I said: ‘It’s marvellous. You must eat, because it’s so bloody tiring. If we did not eat we would fall over.’
My step-aunt, whom I adore, has arrived, and we all have breakfast together, and it’s all hysterically British. We make little stabs at irony and talk about the news and generally carry on. The said is all in the unsaid. Occasionally, our eyes slide towards each other, acknowledging all the things that are tacit. (These are: it’s bloody awful; the house is so empty without her; everywhere you look there are heart-breaking little reminders.)
Then I stomp off to the field and there are my dear mares, as still and centred and peaceful as two little Zen mistresses, and I mix up their feed and give them their hay and do a little work with them and feel the heavy ache lift. They are both very affectionate by nature. Not all horses are. Some are like cats, and don’t care much for human stroking. These ladies are also getting into their furry stage for winter, despite their aristocratic bloodlines, so they are like two beloved teddy bears. I hug them and rub them and talk to them and they blink their liquid eyes at me and whicker down their velvety noses.
I suddenly thought this morning: this is like being in a foreign country. It’s as if I’ve gone abroad, to somewhere not very nice, where I can’t quite remember the idioms and am not certain of the food and can’t read the road signs. I have been to this doleful country before, but the memory is not sharp. So I drove along the river to anchor myself in my own country and look at my favourite hill and watch the water go by.
And then I went and did some more cooking.
The teddy bear: