Smoked Salmon in the time of Corona

Of course we saw the edict coming…but when the day came, and I drove home from our Harrogate office, the lock-downed world tilted and I felt bereft. That taken-for-granted pleasure of going into work with great colleagues, seeing clients and hoping to make a difference was gone. In its place stood uncertainty and a wish to be calm and stoic, punctured by occasional grips of panic about health and money.

My family – all three of us deemed vulnerable – has, I think, adjusted well. My husband (mostly retired) states that his life is much the same, apart from the pervasive whiff of Dettol and an unsolicited mud bath whilst attempting a new woodland walk with the dogs. My daughter appreciates the sudden lack of traffic on her country ride. No juggernauts hooting up her horse’s tail. Round here it is eerily quiet – truly silence of the lambs – and in extreme contrast to my London sister’s reports of persistent ambulance sirens, helicopters hovering over her local park in search of exercise cheaters and a distraught woman screaming in Marks and Spencer. A nearby baker was fined by a passing policeman just for spraying non permanent chalk on the pavement to delineate social distancing space. She was doing it, she said, to save lives and would defy him to do it again.

A world away in the Yorkshire Dales, we are relieved to find it quite ok living hugger mugger 24/7, not only in one house, but mostly, for no obvious reason, congregating in one room. Still, an argument struck up the other night about re-allocating household bill payments as work runs dry. Money has forever been our prime source of discord so no surprises there. Two voices out of three were raised. In the restored calm next morning I dared suggest that, as we were all well, and not actually staring into the abyss of absolute destitution (there have been times when this truly seemed possible) perhaps now was the time to grow up and manage money talks without getting angry and defensive. Did I really hear my husband say ‘I was thinking that too’? Reader, I did. Seems it took COVID-19 to teach us a truth we might well have learned decades ago. You could, on the one, attribute our wisdom to the realisation that nothing much matters now but love and survival. A former journalist colleague was reported dangerously ill on a ventilator one day, but expected to make a full recovery the next. That is the news, reverberating by email across the globe to workmates who have not caught up years, to warm us all.

On the other hand, there are still small matters that unsettle and disturb. In these globally dark times, should we savour together the small luxuries we can enjoy, or echo what our medics are enduring by stripping life down to bare essentials? I still spray on the last half bottle of scent I own, as a sweetener and small celebration of the here and now. However my friend (who has a whole unopened bottle of the self-same Route du The) says she’s putting it aside along with other small bijoux and baubles, with farewell notes for her three daughters, just in case. Our local online community group proposed we each put a lighted candle in the window at 8pm every night, for all those suffering. But what if the electricity fails, and you really need those candles, someone said. I’m not sure this is the time to go down those dark ‘what ifs’ we can not control.

On a very light note I swooped on a special offer at the local garage shop, not usually famed for its gourmet stock. Three small packs of smoked salmon for a tenner. A treat for all the family, who normally enjoy salmon and cream cheese bagels only on high days and birthdays! At the till I was rapped over my gloved knuckles: ‘You should know that you can only buy two of any one product.’ Shamed, I slunk away, remembering the post war ration books of my early childhood. I recognise that I am by nature a festive forager – it’s quite a part of my identity to put delicious food on the family table. But perhaps now is the time to do as the late great cookery writer Elizabeth David always said ‘Faites simple’. Be simple. I can do that. I haven’t eaten bread for 20 years, but the scent of our local bakery’s granary loaf now proves irresistible… when the world turns again, I hope I’ll remember the time when a super fresh slice spread with butter on a plate was all it took to gladden the day. ends
Madeleine Kingsley counsellor and GamCare practitioner