The fishmonger calls on a Monday and I usually get fish for a couple of nights. For today, I bought two trout. I asked the Sage to pick up some vegetables to go with them when he was in Yagnub. He came home looking happy. The first asparagus of the season was in – we only ever buy English asparagus and it’s only in season from the end of April or early May, depending on the weather, until the longest day, 21st June, when the growers stop cutting to let the crowns build up strength for the rest of the summer. He had bought a bunch of ten spears. He had also bought six Jersey Royal potatoes, again newly in season. He said he wasn’t going to tell me how much they had cost, but to relish every mouthful.
So, in keen and happy anticipation this evening, I put the fish in a roasting tin, each in its own square of greaseproof paper, with slices of lemon and a sprinkling of salt, a smear of butter and a shake of white wine, and wrapped them up to bake in their juices. I trimmed the asparagus, frugally cooking the ends in with the potato water – soup will be made tomorrow from the ends and the cooking water – and scrubbed the potatoes. I poured a glass of wine for myself while the meal was cooking, and remembered.
What I was remembering was an occasion, eight years ago and a few weeks after my mother had died. One day, I bought a whole fish to bake, I can’t remember what it was. I picked broad beans and asparagus and dug new potatoes from the garden. Two of the three were the first of the season, probably the beans and potatoes. It was, to me, the perfect meal – not only because it would be simple, delicious and fresh but because the first of each seasonal vegetable is a celebration, and the lovely fish complemented them perfectly. And, in the precise sense that I enjoyed it, my mother did too, we completely understood how each other felt, and no one else would in just that way. And I felt such a pang of loss. Today was the first time that I really felt that the Sage got it too.
After dinner, he wanted to go for a walk to investigate the boathouse, so I went with him. The boathouse has been neglected for at least forty years. We did have a boat, a dinghy, but the hut was already tumbledown so we kept it on the river bank. The Sage has had a wish to get the boathouse back into use for a long time, but it’s going to be a big job, largely because it’s so awkward to get at. However, he feels that it would be possible now, with Jamie’s help. I’ve stipulated that there are several more important things here to do first. However, I do agree, it would be great. The river is quite silted up in places, so we’d need something flat-bottomed. It’s a really quiet, tranquil place and I would love to have a little boat. I grew up by the river and like nothing better. He stayed on the path while I (who was wearing wellies) trod down the nettles and scrambled up onto the river bank. I found the boathouse, but it was too dark to take a picture by then. However, I had taken a couple of snaps of the river a little earlier. It was dusk, but you can see the tranquillity.