from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: what makes a ‘good’ day?

South African Rusks

July 19. I have had a good day. Maybe, we each have to define in our terms what a good day entails.

Some simple things. We stayed at home all day – with no committments and no energy to rush out. It was chilly and misty at first so I made a wood fire to take the edge off the cold . Later, we took our slow-walking, one-eyed dog for a walk up the road. The birds were out by then: little red-browed finches, the Adelaide rosellas, the wattlebirds busy making nests. Sometimes, we count the number of species that we see on our walk. Usually, it is not much short of 10.

Then, after a little prompting plea from my husband, I did some cooking: I made rusks. These are South African biscuits that are first cooked in a block, like a cake, then cut up and returned to the oven to dry for eight hours. They are delicious: the tradition is to dunk one (or two) in your early morning coffee – at the risk of crumbs falling into your coffee. I have been experimenting with the recipe – adding all sorts of nuts and raisins. Today, the result was spectacular. (I recommend you try the following recipe from Drizzel and Dip. All day the house smelt marvellous.

My son, David, phoned from Cape Town to tell us about their two-week-old baby girl. She has now been named. It took a little while for them to make that decision. Her name is Chloe Anne … it is charming and most popular in that both grannies are “Annes”. Both grannies have an ‘E’ at the end of Anne as well. Good choice. Chloe is a very pretty little thing. I cannot remember babies being so cute. Or so tiny.

Mid-afternoon, after a little prompting, our grandson in Seattle phoned. It is Frost’s 19th birthday (and yes, he is named after the poet). I remember him well as a cute baby and that does not seem very long ago!!

Late afternoon, I took Roy for another walk: this time through our bush. I noticed that the spring native flowers are starting to appear. It has taken many years for the native understory to re-establish itself after we cut out the feral olive trees. On the way home I harvested some of our spinach, parsley and coriander.

Dinner this evening was another success. Two in one day! And here I must be honest – I’m NOT a good cook. Honest friends will confirm that! I made a mushroom risotto and included the spinach and parsley from the garden. I love mushrooms and having grown up in Zanzibar, I love rice. Even creamy Arborio rice.

Perhaps another one of the reasons why I feel happier today is that I have not listened to the news much, nor read any online papers like the Washington Post. It is frustrating to continually read depressing news when there’s nothing you can do about it.

It is enough to bake some biscuits, take a one-eyed dog for a walk and to hear from your family.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: follow the tortoise …

a tortoise walk

April 28.  Casual walking out of a house, down the street, into a park or out to the countryside, has long-been the most practised and least studied form of recreation.

For most people in most times, it was the basic form of relaxation.  Until the twentieth century, domestic over-crowding meant that it was often the only means of escaping the press of people and finding some privacy.  Because it was essentially unstructured and unrecorded, it has rarely received the attention of historians.  Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, to which I referred on April 24, is, like a handful of other such books, essentially an account of literary walkers, from Rousseau and Wordsworth onwards.  The one exception is the now elderly account by Maurice Marples, Shank’s Pony (1959).

In Britain, however, one of its most common forms, walking the dog, has long been counted.   During the nineteenth century an increasingly firm distinction was drawn between walking with a dog, and dog-walking.  Next to the immobile pedestrian, the greatest fear of polite town dwellers was the uncontrolled dog.  It was at best a source of noise, pollution, and unwanted physical contact for other pedestrians, and at worst a threat to life through the widely-feared disease of hydrophobia, or rabies. Taxing dogs, which began in 1796, was a means of policing their mainly urban owners.  Rural working dogs were exempt.  Following reforms to the cost and efficiency of taxation in 1867, reliable records were kept.  By 1877, there were nearly 1.4 million licensed dogs in Britain, mostly in towns and cities. At least as many owners again were believed to be avoiding the tax.  By the second half of the twentieth century the figure had reached four million, doubling again before the licence fee was finally abolished in 1987.

In most countries in the coronavirus lockdown, some kind of exemption has been allowed for exercising a pet.  Last week a story went viral of an Italian woman who had been fined for exceeding the time limit for this activity.  Her excuse was that the pet was not a dog, but a tortoise, and there was a photograph to prove it.

Initially I had much sympathy for the woman.  In my adult life the only pet that I have owned myself, as distinct from the family cat, was a tortoise, named Herodotus, or Hod for short, after the first historian.  It always seemed an appropriate companion for an historian, or indeed anyone engaged in the slow business of writing a full-length book. At this time of the year Hod would be trundling about the garden, eating buttercups and clover as he recovered his strength after the winter’s hibernation.

But then again, a tortoise really does, in Kipling’s terms, walk by itself.  Cats are in fact always aware of human company and generally seek to be close to it.  But a tortoise is entirely indifferent.  That is what makes it so relaxing a pet.  No complex emotional interactions.  Our cat would walk surprisingly long distances with us when we were out on an expedition.  Not Hod.  It is not so much about mobility.  On a hot day, especially if there is a tortoise maid in the offing, a tortoise can manage a turn of speed.  Rather it is a matter of independence.  There is just no way in the world you can get such an animal to follow you down the street.

I am afraid the Italian police had the right of it.