Animal/Vegetable/Mineral Tag

In the garden studio where I am sitting in three dimensions, a squirrel grabs onto my trousers, and climbs up my leg. “You look like Snow White”, someone quips in the Zoom room, watching the wildlife come close in my screen. This squirrel has become bolder, in search of my stash of almonds. Papers scatter, when she eventually ventures onto my desk, locating my horde. She tries to open the glass jar, but it is resistant to her sharp teeth and dextrous paws.

Our lockdown guests made friends with this grey squirrel, naming her Squiffy. She also visits next door, where she is known as Clara. Easy to identify, with a cut-short tail, inquisitive expression and beguiling eyes, she has become a frequent diner at our bird table, and from my hand. She likes black sunflower seeds, almonds, is partial to acorns, loves to chew on a peach pit, but is mad for hazelnuts.

Squiffy’s presence adds delight to my day, and a bit of magic to the garden, but in my head, I hear the voice of the militant squirrels in Dom Jolly’s ‘Trigger Happy TV’ shouting, “Give us your nuts!”

We watch through June, and into July for the perfect moment. The cherries will be at their sweetest, most abundant and usually have dropped in price. Originally a friend with Polish heritage demonstrated how to make cherry vodka. It has become an annual tradition now in our house. We save jars with large openings, from passata or cloudy apple juice. It gives me satisfaction to peel, or scrub off the labels. I wash the cherries. Then, with each one, I make an incision from top to bottom. I winkle out each stone – not exactly keyhole surgery. Although you can just prick them. The pile in the colander diminishes, as the mound of wounded cherries increases. My thumb nail wears down until it feels bitten. My hands are drenched with red juice – like blood, sticky under my nails, staining my cuticles. Tony fills the bottles almost to the top with cherries, then pours vodka on top – making sure that every cherry is covered. Once the tops are screwed on tight, we put them away. They will reappear as Christmas gifts or treats. The alcoholic cherries will be eaten with ice-cream. I don’t drink alcohol, but cherries are one of my favourite fruits. I enjoy the seasonal ritual, gorge myself with cherries in the process. In the winter months I will remember the plump crimson tang of summer fruits.

Many things that are not essential have been foregone. Enough food is fundamental. Now each item on the shopping list must be considered and foraged for. I feel as though I am giving each provision due thought, attention and gratitude. A month ago, we had a surfeit of lemons. I froze a bag, and since then have been grating frozen lemon onto dishes and into mugs of hot water. Today we bought more lemons. Hygiene protocols mean that we wash each item that comes into the house. Tony efficiently presides over the sink as our ‘Supplies Operations Manager’. I admire the spectacle of sunlight playing on zest. Lemons, then broccoli and leeks jostle in soap suds. I cook supper. Ingredients are invited like favoured guests to join our culinary spread. Each flavour is a valued addition. Shades of green from roast fennel to avocado and spinach salad with pesto dressing decorate our plates. Mushroom and coconut sauce on pasta spirals completes the tableaux. ‘When life gives you lemons…’

Papaya, you deliver pleasure with your juicy flesh. Your perfectly ripe, too sweet-ness is matched with the tang of lime juice. Over-ripe, you become sickly. Under ripe, green and firm, I feel cheated. Unless you are shredded in sweet, spicy sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Behind your yellow unpromising skin lies your gorgeous flesh. Not pink, not orange, but on the cusp where salmon meets sunrise. Cut in two you make a six pointed star, bursting with black seeds. Or longways for vulval symbol of abundance. Any sense of not-enough is banished by the joy of your taste. I slurp and squelch into your intimate parts. Bowel mover, your casket of seeds eaten whole rid the gut of worms. You are ‘papaya’ to me now, but I still recall our first meeting. Nervous, shy 8 year old, I am presented with ‘paw paw’ by my parents’ old friend in the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in Tobago. Overwhelmed by the strangeness of everything, I discovered that fruit grows on trees in strange shapes and unfamiliar colours. Picky eater, even then it was love at first bite.

We stand in a South London garden, on this cold bright day. Back to back gardens are sandwiched between two terraces of houses. We burn sage and drink mulled cider and apple juice. We stand a little awkward at first, despite the warmth from the cider, but willing. Bunched together between raspberry bush, which is pinned to wall on the east, and the thin afternoon sunset, which leans over the wall on the west, we make shadows. To wassail means ‘to wish you health’. Wassailing is usually carried out on the new or old twelfth night (5th or 17th January). There are different traditions, sprung from Anglo Saxon ones. They involve cider and singing, with an exchange of blessings, walking either from orchard to orchard, or house to house. Today we have been invited to reclaim this old custom that connects us with the seasons. We offer our ‘wassail’ to the apple tree in this garden as a simple acknowledgement, in return for its benevolence later in the year. This is done by pouring a libation (drink poured as an offering) of cider, mulled with apples and spices at the base of the tree. Then we doff our hats and sing. We sing to the cherry and rowan trees too. It’s a short, rousing refrain and it feels good. The youngest member of the group is particularly delighted. We sing once more for good measure.

Oh little apple tree
We have come to wassail thee
Will you bear some fruit for me
When the season changes.


Post menopause I hear phrases like ‘bone density’ with alarm. In my head I play back my mother’s mobility story, the uneven steps from orthotics to stick, then sticks, to walker and eventually wheelchair. I try to remember when it began. Over the last few months I have been experimenting with elastic stockings, ice, turmeric, magnesium, ginger, needles, massage, supplements and exercise. The word ‘arthritis’ has become a spectre. I find I am ignorant of the facts, the differences between osteo arthritis and rheumatoid. I vow to experiment with leg weights. I groan as I stand up from the comfort of the sofa. I fantasize about putting my feet up. Tonight I steal the cabbage leaves from tomorrow’s menu to prepare a compress. It is elegant in its simplicity. It does make me feel better, not least because I am taking action that increases my hope. My moods run in tandem with pain’s visits. Tonight I shall wear the delicate light green of crinkled cellulose.

I am watching the aging process progress at a rapid rate for Pickle. He is sixteen, an octogenarian Jack Russell. Sometimes he stands looking bewildered and we wonder what is going on in his head. He is deaf enough to ignore the postie, the slam of the front door and fireworks. His sight is obscured by terrier whiskers and cataracts. He bumps into furniture, the glass partition at the vets, and occasional lamp posts. He is on his ‘last legs’. All four are stiff. He falls up steps and is grateful to be carried up full flights of stairs. I notice with anticipation the collection of memorial thank you cards on display at the vets for the animals who have recently expired. For me the death of a pet is painful because I load them with so much love. Each pet becomes a recipient of my boundless affection. In return they are loyal, generous, reciprocate in their own way, and accept the weight of my emotional projections. It is precisely because there is only body language between us that their death is for me so hard to bear. I can’t explain the process to them, we can only feel. For now, Pickle’s shiny black nose twitches at the smellorama of our daily outings, and he lifts his muzzle with joy to take the air on bright days.

In the winter, under pressure, feelig the undertow of the future it’s easy to forget to play. I swap my fun for serious, suppress the silly. Rubbing my feet brings me back. Playing a tune, letting my hips move, opening my jaw to let a laugh spring out gives me back the present. “What’s in the veg box this week?” I ask. “One organic cat,” I reply. She knows how to play. She loves to stretch out, to follow her pleasure. Shelly plays mouse. Box plays house. I follow Ginger Girl’s trigger happy paws. I marvel at the simple fun to be had with cat in pursuit of pretend mouse.

I have fallen in love with a rose quartz crystal bowl. It is the colour of strawberry lolly sucked to the thinnest diameter just before it splinters. Within its structure are bubbles and markings, part of the unique qualities that create its resonant sound. It is played with a suede striker once to initiate the sound. Then by winding the striker around its edge it brings a note forth. This particular bowl plays its very individual note just below F Sharp. I feel the sound knock against my chest. I catch my breath. It makes me want to cry. It costs far more than I can afford, but I am drawn in, captivated. I had not expected the different notes to be so particular. I had not expected each bowl to feel so individual. I had hoped to bring this element of expanding vibrations into the work we offer. Other bowls sit on the shelves with more flamboyant polychromatic sheens. I remain entranced by the deep rose bowl. I leave without it. Again I want to cry.

Visiting a friend, I see their garden gratefully swallows every morsel of food waste. Nature reappears inside the house as blousy perennials set on tables in vases. A bunch of celery sits on the kitchen table. Plants are revered inside and outside for taste and beauty. The allotment, tended regularly rewards the gardener with organic produce. This one small bowl of compost is the key to a whole set of domestic priorities and a productive eco system.