Tuesday, 5 April 2011
For Clara - Happy 30th birthday!
Quite a very long time ago, as my mother used to say, there was a woman who fell in love with a man. Nothing unusual there. They married and moved into a lovely house with a small garden full of flowers and were very happy. Now it happens, as these things do that their next door neighbour was a witch and also a very keen gardener. But this witch, Madam Saxifrage by name did not bother her head with frivolous flowers. She had Nature's forests and meadows for that, no, she grew vegetables and the finest of her garden was the patch of fabulous red cabbages. Silvery-green of leaf with the finest purple-red veins and thick juicy leaves these cabbages grew very well. No slugs disturbed them, nor caterpillars dared to bite them for nobody and I do mean Nobody messes with a witch. It is indeed very unwise to do so, as my mother used to say.
After a little while, the married woman in this story who was most definitely NOT Madam Saxifrage who did not hold with such things as marriage, became pregnant. It was one might say quite a normal pregnancy what with swollen ankles and sickness and much sighing and of course the almost primal cravings. At first it was easy enough. There are few people who do not crave chocolates even if they are not especially fond of Raspberry creams like me. This woman got cravings for specific types of chocolate and then for salted custard. After a little while it was pilchards with apples but soon enough it was for red cabbage. She must have the best of course. Well the man knew that the witch had red cabbages so he went next door and explained his wife's craving and said that he would be happy to pay for all the red cabbage Madam Saxifrage would give him.
I must explain at this point that Madam Saxifrage was not a particularly nice witch. Which is not to say that she was a wicked witch or even a downright evil witch, but she loved her garden and her cabbages and devoted her time to them when she was not sewing for silly things like money. So she politely refused and recommended a supermarket locally that she was assured sold very fine red cabbages. Then she shut the door and went back to her garden and thought no more of the matter.
Well the man was glad at least for the recommendation so off he went to the supermarket, but he had little luck for the red cabbages were all sold out. He bought pickled red cabbage but it wasn't the same. He became desperate and went back to Madam Saxifrage. Again he explained the situation and Madam Saxifrage distinctly harrumphed. She did not approve of marriage, love or babies. Truth be told there was not a lot she did approve of.
"She can have all the cabbages she wants if she will give me the most precious thing she has at the time I ask for it," Madam Saxifrage told the man.
He could not quite think what that would be, but he was desperate for cabbages so he agreed. All the cabbages were given to the woman and she too freely agreed to the conditions. Right up to the point when the baby was born and Madam Saxifrage turned up on the doorstep and demanded the most precious thing she had. At first the woman offered her wedding ring. Well that was certainly precious, but not the most precious. Then she offered her house, which was also very precious but still not the most precious. Madam Saxifrage had noticed that throughout all this offering and refusal the woman had held onto the baby and suggested,
"What about the baby?"
The woman went pale with shock and had to sit down. Then she began to weep and moan and beg and cajole and plead, but it did no good. The baby right then was the most precious thing she had so she must give it up to Madam Saxifrage. The witch returned home slightly put out, for she would have preferred something else to be so precious, but even she must keep to the conditions set. She allowed the woman to come around and breast-feed the babe until it was ready to be weaned. Then the woman was turned away and could only watch when the witch took the little girl, for so she was, into the garden.
For someone who disapproved of babies, Madam Saxifrage was a remarkably good parent. She called the girl Clara which was her mother's name and taught her all that a young girl should know. How to manage a garden, how to paint and sew and repair a car or a train or a plane (she was extremely thorough in her notion of education for she thought the young people of today badly educated). She taught Clara to read and write and to argue with a judge, a police officer and always to question everything.
At the age of 18, she taught Clara something new. How to understand wines in depth and detail so that she might challenge the finest sommeliers in the world. Strangely among all the things that she learned, Clara was particularly receptive to this. She did not care to merely get drunk and fall over a lot, but she loved the textures and scents and colours of wines. For my part a 1982 Snorkhampton red will do, but Clara learned way beyond a mere amateur such as me. She would prefer a Chateauneuf du Pape and was not so naive as to ask if there was a white Chateauneuf du Pape either. She insisted on drinking it young, for it did not cellar well. She never drank it with dessert for it was too robust. Champagne she learned well too, going for Prestige Cuvee's only and those of the Grande Marques.
At the age of 20, Madam Saxifrage with some pride returned Clara to her parents as one would hand over the finest rose of a garden. Clara's mother was delighted to have her daughter back and shed many tears, which made Madam Saxifrage harrumph for she did not approve of sentiment. Clara went off to university soon after and distinguished herself both as an artist and as a sommelier. She travelled, revelling in her freedom until Love saw fit to remember that the girl exchanged for red cabbages well deserved his golden arrow. In a distant land from her dear old Sussex she met a man and like her mother fell in love. Madam Saxifrage would not I'm afraid to say have approved, but Love never paid much attention to the approval of witches. For Clara, Love and Life were as important as wines and art... or as red cabbages to Madam Saxifrage.
Happy Birthday Clara, may all the good things come to you and all the bad things be eaten by slugs and caterpillars before they get to you!