Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
Between Christmas and New Year, getting out of the house and entertaining my two daughters was always the primary objective. Stuffed full of turkey, pudding, and an untold quantity of sweets, the best plan was to head out the front door, across the road, and into the surrounding fields.
“I’ll take Hollie and Robyn for a walk and go see Farmer John.” The girls put on their coats and Wellies, and their mother told them to wear gloves. And then we headed out.
An old dirt track led away from the winding road that divided the half dozen houses from the flat green fields. Cows had once grazed here and provided milk for the people of Norwich. Now the fields lay empty and fallow, providing a home for small rodents and a hunting ground for hawks and foxes. The barn and milking parlor sat abandoned partway between a group of wilting conifers and the farmhouse.
The smoke billowed white from the chimney as we crossed the road and started up the track. Hollie ran towards a puddle and jumped into the centre of it. Robyn held tightly onto my hand as a group of rooks flew up from a nearby field. A hare leapt from a clump of tall grass onto the track and stopped. It looked at us and pulled its ears back before jumping off the way it had come. A hawk screeched as it flew low over the field and landed on a gatepost. It sat and waited, perhaps hoping a mouse would wander from the grass and become its evening repast.
I knocked on the door of the farmhouse and waited. It was a heavy wooden door with large iron hinges that stretched halfway across its front. The knocker was round and heavy. The door opened and, taking his pipe from his mouth, Farmer John welcomed us in.
The first time I met him, I saw a mountain of sugar beets. Not being sure what they were, I asked if they were turnips. He smiled, probably thought here was another “city slicker” come to live “the good life”. We became friends and would often walk through the fields as he showed me the plants that grew there and the creatures that lived amongst them.
Later, I left Norfolk and moved to Guildford in Surrey. I would send him a postcard every now and then, asking how he was, and telling him of some adventure or amusing incident. Once after cooking a dinner for a group of bankers from London, I sent him a letter. Dear Farmer John, I hope that you are well and that all this rain is not playing havoc with the sugar beets. Last week, I cooked dinner for a group of well-heeled bankers from The City. They had recently joined The Curry Club and had acquired a copy of the cookbook. One of their number had suggested that they eat a curry at their next Backgammon evening and asked if I would cook it for them. It was a large house with a long drive and floodlights that came on as I arrived. They lit up not just the front of the house, but the lawns and nearby fields. I rang the bell and a whole series of chimes sounded which went on for ages. The lady of the house opened the door and showed me into the kitchen. Having opened the relevant cupboards and drawers to show me the whereabouts of things, she grabbed a bottle of wine, opened it, and said, “Enjoy”.
Having prepared the curry in advance, I took a pan from the shelf, put rice into it, and put some water from the tap over the rice. Next thing I knew, the good lady came rushing back into the kitchen, screaming at the top of her voice, “Stop!”
I stood holding the pan wondering what I was doing wrong. She walked over to the stove and took several bottles of sparkling mineral water out of a box on the floor.
“Use only this water for cooking, please”.
I am sure this will amuse you, Farmer John. I was annoyed at the absurdity of it at the time, but now, it only amuses me too. Here is the recipe for the curry.