Lazy Sundays

twin-peaks-coffee

 

Eadmund’s room had french windows at the end of it that lead onto a small balcony on which he had huge terracotta pots full of plants.  In nearly all weathers, we left a window open to let in the cool and surprisingly fresh air from outside, as we slept at night.

Beyond the balcony was one of those hidden gardens like a secret courtyard, that Victorian areas of London reveal only to local residents.  The outsiders see immense white, ornate and elegant homes rising up from the pavement in squares and don’t realise that, behind the stucco facades, lies a tranquil oasis of green grass and trees.  A piece of calm amidst the bustle of the city.

Weekdays were heralded with the ringing of the alarm clock, putting on the radio to let the Today programme slowly seep into our consciousness before it was time to shower, dress and get to work.  Saturdays too were busy.  There was shopping to do, lunch to cook for the kids, errands to run and housework to do.  Cloe worked six days a week.  We tried to make sure that she would come home to a tidy house, a delicious meal and a well-stocked larder and fridge.

Sundays, on the other hand, were a day on which everyone could rest.  Always the early riser, Eadmund would wake first.  We slept touching each other, even if, on the hottest summer days it was only my leg draped over his.  As he woke, he would move closer to me, even half asleep, I moved in to put my arms around him.  Inevitably we would touch, stroke, hold, kiss and make love.  Then he would get up, make cups of tea for everyone in the house and come back to bed to bring me tea and toast.

Tea would be drunk in the quiet of the sleeping house, half asleep myself and nuzzled in his arms as we listened to the radio or music and he made more progress on completing a crossword puzzle.  Dozing though I was, I would still attempt to answer the clues.  Then it would be time to get up, shower and greet the day.  Often the first to come downstairs, we began the ritual of preparing breakfast.  Cutting bananas, mangoes and papaya into chunks, squeezing lime juice over them fruit as it was arranged on an oval platter, skewering the odd piece of fruit with bamboo satay sticks and placing it in pride of place on the table, was the first job.

Next it was time to make toast and plenty of it.  Some would be buttered hot and garnished with Marmite, other pieces in their butter drenched glory would form the base on which the cooked breakfast was served.  Bacon sizzled gently in a cast iron frying pan, slowly caramelising as its fat rendered down and became crisp and golden.  Eggs were beaten with knobs of cold butter which later melted to make the scrambled eggs we made, yieldingly creamy and gloriously rich.  Cherry tomatoes, almost confit-cooked in olive oil, garlic, ginger or galangal and coriander slowly heating to soft, aromatic sweetness.

Orange juice was freshly squeezed and, when she came downstairs, enticed by the smells of cooking and refreshed from a good night’s sleep following a gruelling week at work, Cloe set to making filter coffees for us all.  Sometimes she had brought home ready ground coffee from work.  At other times she ground the beans from scratch.  She filled the filter cones generously with coffee following the advice she gave to staff and customers alike daily which was that you can always dilute strong coffee with water, but if you make coffee too weak and watery there’s no way to make it right again.  The kettle just off the boil and allowed to cool slightly, she poured a little water over the grains to let them moisten and swell and then, before they could cool down or dry out, she filled the entire cone with water and let it drain through, taking the aromatic rich and eye-opening coffee goodness with it.  With an expert eye, she added just the right amount of milk for each person, remembering their preferences perfectly. It was, as Agent Cooper used to say in Twin Peaks a damned fine cup of coffee.

Breakfast served, we added condiments; chinese chilli and garlic sauce, indian green coriander chutney (both of which were a revelation with scrambled eggs) and tucked in.

With no sense of rush we carried on about the rest of our day’s business.  Watering plants, perhaps walking along Regents canal, a trip to Portobello Market or to some local shops.  Cloe revelled in her day off, sometimes luxuriating in being able to have a long and relaxing bath and not feeling the need to get changed out of her nightgown and dressing gown until the middle of the afternoon and yet as was her wont, carrying the look off with her usual aplomb.  Eadmund often had to travel out of London to visit farms and select cheese the following day so he would prepare for the busy week, packing his case, perhaps doing a bit of meditation or Tai Chi, pottering around the house, putting his things in order.  The kids had friends to meet up with or homework to do.  During the afternoon we all did separate things returning together for the evening when a proper, unhurried family meal would be prepared.  This might be a gloriously roasted rib of beef, chicken cooked in the French style (Cloe’s influence naturally) with lashings of butter and its cavity stuffed with whole lemons and a bunch of thyme.  Or it might be oven baked fish or gloriously enormous prawns bought the day before at the market near both Cloe & Eadmund’s shops.  Or dived scallops with a sweet chilli sauce that used to be a signature dish at Peter Gordon’s Sugar Club Restaurant.  The latter was a particular treat as it was one of Cloe’s favourite dishes.  Friends might be invited round or might not.

The sun set.  The air from the garden cooled.  Aperitifs were prepared: chilled Cremant de Bourogne or expertly mixed Gin and Tonics (the secret was a splash of fizzy mineral water at the end and lemon, never lime).  Wine uncorked.  The table set.  Eadmund would get one of the kids, but usually his daughter, to choose appropriate music.  ‘Something mellow but not too spacey.’

Rupert might join us, or again he might not.  We could be a group of five, six or up to sixteen depending on how many people had been invited over.  The meal, conversation around the table and a sense of relaxation at the end of a productive but peaceful day coming to a close, we might all retire upstairs with bowls of ice cream or whatever delicious pudding Cloe had concocted for us all to watch a film.

Eventually those who rose early would head to bed.  As the film finished, the others would follow, chorusing good nights if it wasn’t too late.

Night fell.  The house slept.

Christmas

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In the cheese retail world, Christmas is a big deal.

‘We will take more money in the week before Christmas’ Eadmund told the assembled new mongers as part of a special Christmas training session, ‘Than in the whole of July and August put together.’

We’d be asked to work longer hours and more shifts than usual and we would be depended on.  We were to look after ourselves and be on time because with the extra pressure it would be easy to get ill.

What were we about to go through?

‘Christmas is fun too though,’ I was told, ‘People who normally work in the office like Eadmund and Catherine and Jacob are on the shop all the time which makes it a bit of a party atmosphere.’

‘We have a competition about who can sell the most sides of smoked salmon.  Oh yes, we sell smoked salmon and it is the best smoked salmon you will ever have in your life.’

It actually is, incidentally.

Turns out they weren’t exaggerating.  It was as full on, intense, exhausting and exhilarating as they said.  I had never seen so many people queuing up just to buy cheese.  In the rain even.  They waited from twenty minutes to half an hour and the queue stretched all the way past the clothes shop next door and further down the street.  They clothes shop even had to put out an A board to remind our queue to leave their doorway accessible for their own customers.

It was a baptism of fire but addictively enjoyable too.

After waiting patiently for half an hour, we had to give our customers the very best service of our lives; be more welcoming, friendly and helpful than ever.  In the pursuit of being ever better, it generated energy.  There were eight of us packed behind the tiny counter – you couldn’t afford to be shy as arms, legs and torsos jostled past you on all sides.  It was like a complicated dance to keep out of each other’s way but somehow it worked.

It was also my first experience of working with Eadmund.  He was positive, joking, encouraging.  He made everyone up their game.  We worked non-stop and he made it fun.  He created systems where we were too tired and busy to know how to make order out of chaos.  He looked out for us, making each person take 5 minutes for a coffee and a sit down when we looked like we were flagging or getting stressed out.  At the end of the week, he bought everyone champagne because we’d smashed sales targets.  In the tactile atmosphere, with so many people squeezed into a small space, he gave bear hugs that seemed entirely natural, lifted your exhausted spirits and made you feel like trying even harder.  And most importantly he said a heartfelt, genuine thank you for all our hard work.  I felt valued and important.  I learned so much, I had just packed a lifetime’s experience into one week.

Oh yes, and I won the smoked salmon challenge.  It might have been cheating that I also bought one myself.  My prize?  Another side of salmon.  Get in!

At home, my friends and boyfriend hardly saw me.  It was as if I’d disappeared for a month.  I got in late, ate and slept but otherwise I was at work.  It meant that January was an odd month.  Last thing Christmas Eve I’d headed back to Marple for rest, recovery and roast goose.  After Christmas, I headed back to London, reflecting a little ruefully that a 4 weeks per year holiday allowance is a shock to the system when you’ve been used to school and university holidays.  I was still tired.  I missed the energy and the fun of the pre-Christmas work.  I missed the extra boost and special feeling of having Eadmund and the gang on the shop floor with us.  At home, with little energy and coming down from my Christmas adrenaline high, I had to re-build a relationship with my rather shell-shocked boyfriend who was feeling severely neglected.  It was hard work.

The following Christmas, was even more intense.  By this time, I’d decided to take on a bit of administrative responsibility.  Catherine had left the company.  Eadmund was more present in the business and as ever, life seemed more fun when he was around.  He was around a lot more, in fact, because Erin, the retail manager, had also left and before her replacement, Isla could start work.  Consequently it was left to Eadmund among others to instil in her the ethos of the company: honesty at all times with customers and the mission and vocation to preserve, encourage and develop what was left of Britain’s artisan, farmhouse cheese industry.

As autumn rolled around , I was entrusted with the staff rota.  It was not a natural fit.  Trying to make the Christmas shift patterns requested by the department managers fit to the number of staff available was impossible and I was sinking under the weight of it.  I had already put myself down for so many shifts to fill the gaps that I was working 6 and 7 day weeks and it was only the end of October.  I was spending 12 hours a day on my rota admin days trying my best to make it fit.

Isla, as shop manager, refused to accept my compromises.  It was her first Christmas and the pressure was on her to deliver an organised shop that was well staffed enough to get the sales.

She, Eadmund and I sat down and thrashed it out together.  He and I had worked on it for a day beforehand and where I felt like an abject failure, he was kind and helpful and most importantly, with the benefit of many years’ experience, he knew we’d find a way to compromise.  He managed to find solutions where I hadn’t been able to and supported some of the ones I had found.  He didn’t think I’d been a failure; just that it was a damn difficult job.  I almost wept with relief.

The three of us then worked at it solidly, well into the night.  At about 9pm after 12 hours we hit the single malt whisky Eadmund kept by his desk, a present from a Scottish cheesemonger.  We didn’t hit it hard but just enough to give the evening a slightly warm glow.  Later, we tottered off into the night, not reeling from alcohol but from yet another mind bending 14 hour day with the satisfaction of knowing we’d finally sorted it.

That year I disappeared from my boyfriend for 2 months.