Friday, 30 October 2009


I was sorry to hear this morning of the death of Norman Painting, who played Phil in The Archers for 60 years. I'm an Archers junkie - for me, it's right up there with steamed puddings, and FairIsle sweaters for invoking a sense of nostalgia, albeit for a way of life I've never actually experienced.

My childhood home was a fifth floor flat in a mansion block off London's Edgware Road, and our only exposure to the wide open spaces of rural England were our yearly sojourns to the Suffolk coast. I do, however, vividly recall sitting at our sunny kitchen table while mum listened to The Archers as she did the ironing, and being admonished with a sharp 'Shhhh' if I tried to interrupt her.

My mother was a fabulous, funny woman with many talents, cooking absolutely not being one of them. I don't recall her ever baking - the closest thing to a dessert that she ever produced was an occasional Angel Delight. Which makes my love of the art all the more baffling. My favourite cakes also tend to be those that one can imagine being rustled up in batches in huge country kitchens - banana bread, tea cakes, fruit loafs, muffins - who's childhood these belong too, I don't know - certainly not mine, but nostalgia is as much about a kind of wistful imagining as bona-fide memory, I think.

The only time I remember a home-baked item being brought into our flat was when my sister returned from school one day with a cake that she had prepared during her Domestic Science class. I will never forget it. It was purple for a start, and the shape, size and weight of a brick, with mysterious craters all over its surface. The five of us - mum, dad, my sister, brother and I just stood in a semi-circle and stared at it silently, before mum produced a knife and started chipping away at it, like a sculptor about to start work on a new statue. It tasted of sugar and food colouring, but we ate it anyway - a culinary experience I'm definitely not nostalgic for, but a bona-fide memory for sure.

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