Ten minutes before driving to the hospital yesterday for Mark’s second and bigger dose of chemotherapy he gets a phone call. The oncologist has forgotten to write the prescription and she is out of the country and can’t be contacted. Mark’s cancer nurse is not in today, and no, there is no-one else to speak to. Ring tomorrow and we may be able to update you. I wonder if these people have ever experienced the wait and hope for a chemo treatment, and the impact, when you prepare mentally for the challenge, to be told you are cancelled.
Torrential rain is falling which has washed off the seagull poo from our windows.
We have time for an outing but this part of Sussex is closed, unless you want to be blown off the cliff walks.
The one journey we do make is to St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne – this may seem a strange choice, but I wanted Mark to visit and see its modern design with its corridors filled with impressive artwork. At such a time, I love the peace, calm and kindness of staff. Unlike the hospital, people have time to talk and offer positive help but we need a doctor’s letter to be able to use the support when needed.
To avoid the storms blowing in from the sea, I drive back on the sheltered, picturesque side of the South Downs, past the road that runs below Folkington church where the food writer Elizabeth David is buried. We were so excited to discover her beautiful headstone which is carved with sprays of olives, figs, lemons, artichokes and aubergines, with a large marmite pot in the centre – the origin of the Marmite name and glass shape. On one of my birthdays, Mark and I toasted her there with champagne and canapes – I’m sure she would have approved.
Inscribed at the headstone base, ‘Her books on cookery brought joy and enlightenment to food lovers all over the world.’
I turn off the A27 and drive past the famous chalk figure of The Long Man of Wilmington cut into the steep slope of Windover Hill. He holds a stick in each hand as he gazes out over the ancient fields and downland. One year he was given a 20 foot large chalk penis, which was swiftly cleared to save his dignity.
Then on through rain soaked lanes, overlooking the flooded water meadows of Alfriston and past the signs for Toads on the Road at night.
‘What do I do if I suddenly run into them?’ ‘Squish’ says Mark.
On past Litlington Tea Gardens opened in 1870, which serves delicious Victoria sponge cake when the tourist season begins, then a glance right to the Litlington White Horse high on the escarpment with views over the sodden Cuckmere Valley and up the hill and home to Seaford for tea. Only Mark can’t taste it any more, so he has cold goat’s milk.
Cooking is my creative respite but Mark’s new diet puts restrictions on our usual meals. No brassicas, onions, seeds, nuts, high fibre ingredients like celery, oats or skins of fruit. The doctor has said to cut down on the meat as the chewy bits are so indigestible, but Mark’s iron count is down, and meat is an easy source. Our local Seaford butcher, C. Walbrin displays a pile of pigs’ trotters in the window and the man in front of me has bagged five of them. Never to be outdone, I choose 2 small ones. ‘What do you do with them?’ ‘Boil them for soup.’ ‘How long? ‘ Long as you want’ – he heaves his butcher’s knife to cleft each one in half.
I’ve just reread Animal Farm and as I gaze at the yellow-skinned trotters with their red horny toenails laid out on my chopping board I wonder if I could rewrite the ending. Imagine that now both of Napoleon’s front feet are boiling in my saucepan. It serves him right for walking on his hind legs and pretending to be human. I’ll doctor the famous phrase to ‘All NHS patients are equal but some are more equal than others – but only if they have private medical insurance.’
The trotters make the strangest grey liquor which cools to make a delicious savoury jelly, The man with the five big trotters might make some brawn but my little trotters have no muscle meat on them at all – poor little piggies.
Next on the butcher’s slab is a pile of lamb’s breasts and he’s busy removing the bones, then stuffing and rolling the meat to make a roast breast of lamb joint. He cuts his rolled breasts into tiny portions to sell to single pensioners for their roast dinner.
‘I thought thought breasts of lamb were sold to the doner kebab factories’ I ask the butcher.
‘Maybe, but we buy in whole animals like lamb so we get all the cuts and offal. And local Seaford people love it.’
A pile of white tripe that looks like the remnants of my grandmother’s crochet bag might be on my cook list for the future. But the shredded dried bits of pigs’ ears hanging in bags are strictly for for dog owners.
A whole breast with bones costs £3 and weighs in at 1.5 kilos – that’s £2 a kilo and mighty cheap. I’ll slow roast it with lots of rosemary and sea salt so that the meat is tender and soft to eat.
At home I look up a recipe for breast of lamb and discover that Matthew Fort has recreated Elizabeth David’s Breast of Lamb St Menehoulde’
Just as well she didn’t have little lambs carved into her headstone overlooking all the pregnant sheep on the South Downs.