Four cherries in Garsington
Our Garsington cello section has, from the first day of rehearsal, been described as an orchestral version of Sex in the City – albeit a middle-aged one. We four women have played together for many years and share an enjoyment and appreciation not only of our similarities but also our differences. I love these girls. In fact I cherish them so much that Julian and I spent my two days at home picking cherries in an abandoned orchard and making cherry jam so I could show my appreciation on my return.
Oxford, June 2009.
A singer maps out the trajectory of a difficult scene on stage, operatic flourishes ride on the breeze from the Jacobean manor house, over the gardens and in under the flap of the tarpaulin that protects this opera house from the English June, and a blackbird practices for his imminent solo. It is an hour before the performance is due to start and Samantha is the only musician seated in the pit. Her antique watch is laid perilously at the back of her chair, a screen is in place to protect her ears from the screaming piccolo, and her iphone, switched to vibrate, touches her left buttock. She goes through the score slowly, breaking phrases down into exercises, playing with different finger groupings on the bow to retrain her lazy digits, trying to figure out why she is shortening and pulling up in her right hip, feeling her big toe alive in her right shoe, making her knuckles as supple as possible. She has failed (or has she refused?) to pack thermal underwear. She has no stockings and is décolletée. She is never going to get warm. And she is never going to learn. Charlotte arrives at the half hour call, wearing silk undergarments and black boots. She wraps a cashmere blanket around her waist, shares a thermos of tea with her lover in the violin section and warms her hands on the pink hot water bottle in her lap before commencing her elegant scales. At the quarter hour Miranda makes her way almost imperceptibly in to the pit, dodging tubas, cables and bows with her slim frame. She places a handkerchief sized bag under the chair, smoothes back her hair, plants her feet in their flat shoes firmly on the floor and starts to play very slowly on the C string. Her sound is rich and deep, full of tannin. All is calm. The orchestra pit fills up. The conductor arrives and tells us a cute story about his six year old son’s reaction to the dress rehearsal (‘Daddy does that mean Fidelio is gay? Daddy can I be gay? Daddy I want to be gay because when I grow up I want to marry a footballer’). We are about to tune. The red light is on. The conductor touches his baton. There is a rustle and a flurry and Carrie arrives. She is wearing a selection of furry items of clothing over her thermals and her insulated sports slacks, has a cello in a soft case flung over one arm and is carrying a pair of satin winkle picker shoes with diamantes across them. She sits down, kicks off her platformed sandals, shoves the dainty shoes on to her feet, hauls the cello out of its case, drops the case on to the floor, gives the instrument a quick tune, checks her blackberry for any mails that may have come in whilst she was crossing the formal gardens, turns it on to silent, and we are off. And we are one.
The cherry jam never made it past the Ryanair check in but when we get to the cello solo in the quartet our colours blend, our gestures are stilled into a single gesture and the vibrations we create rise up from the pit and make many weep. The sound is as sweet and plump and tasty as any confiture.
Meanwhile, in France, Julian has been practicing his clafoutis recipe. Here is is:
JULIAN'S CLAFOUTIS with Chauvet's Cherries.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Take a pound of un-stoned ripe black cherries (preferably straight from the tree:-)) and fill the base of a 12 inch non-stick flan tin in one layer . Whisk together (or put in a food processor) three eggs and three tablespoons of castor sugar (2oz) until smooth. Add a pinch of a salt and a drop of vanilla extract and a half pint of milk. Optionally a dob (tablespoon) of cream (creme fraiche) can be added at this point if you feel you need the calories. Whisk again and then incorporate 2oz/three tbs of flour and half tsp of baking powder. Whisk for 30 seconds. Pour enough batter into the flan tin so the cherries are still on the bottom and the tops are visible. Place in oven for 45 minutes. When colored and slightly risen, remove and dust with icing sugar. Ideally serve warm and it will keep for a day (not in our house).