I’m in Tuscany this week being given a timely reminder of reasons to be grateful.
At breakfast yesterday the talk, which had previously been dominated by my daughter’s misguided childhood belief that a small door into a garage next to the newsagent was, in fact, a nightclub for people with dwarfism, turned to death, as I’m sure is normal on family holidays.
My son is telling us about a friend of his who had a sudden heart attack and died. This was followed by my tale of a guy who was killed in an accident on a moped during a holiday I took to Corfu with my friend Adam and Tom’s similar story of a school friend killed on a Greek island after being hit by a bus. “It really makes you think”. he said.
It really did make me think, as I wondered how to get out of the hammock in which I was swinging lazily by the clear blue pool.
I’d just received a newsletter from Richard Whitley who taught me how to bake sourdough bread in the Scottish borders some years ago. I went and took the course at a point in my life where everything was beginning to unravel and the four days I spent on that idyllic farm proved to be more important than I could have realised in the years which followed.
In truth, it wasn’t unlike the setting I’m enjoying right now, but with a lot more rain and much less pasta. Tranquility, beautiful countryside and, most of all, a place in which to relax and move more slowly, experiencing my own emotions without the need to judge them or push them away.
That week I spent in Scotland learning an art form which relies entirely on patience, feel and instinct was to be something of a saving grace for me through all the time I couldn’t muster much interest in anything at all which took any effort. Making bread is cathartic.
Each day Richard’s lovely wife Veronica would provide us with the most wonderful lunch made from local ingredients and complemented by the bread we’d made the previous day. It was there that I started to learn about vegetable-based eating, first ate quinoa and learned how to say it. Middle class possibly but no less impactful to me.
In his newsletter, Richard is writing about how he is selling the farm and moving further north. He talks in it about his plans for the future and what will be happening to his baking courses, books, and online shop. But most of all he talks about the death of his wife Veronica to cancer at the beginning of 2018.
I start writing an email to Richard but I find it harder than I’d imagined conveying my condolences in the context of the remarkable impact he and his wife had on my life just by teaching me how to make bread and eat differently.
The reminder that certainty is always elusive pops up in increasingly random ways as I get older. Maybe I just notice them more but for now, surrounded by people I love, just having the opportunity to clumsily haul myself out of a hammock however I manage it feels like all the reason needed for very deep gratitude.