I like the way the parchment paper is hugging the loaf and how it has moulded to its shape during baking. This is a sourdough boule. I decided to embrace all the cliches and start my own starter and once I got going, it’s hard to resist the jiggly, bubbly mass of it and the pub-like aroma. I have welts and fissures on my hands to show for the effort and the heat from the pot it cooks in is as ferocious as anything on bonfire night.
What I enjoyed is that it tied in well with my evening walk. After the folding, the dough needs to fill the bowl quietly and this takes a while, so I would take myself off, do a circle, look into people’s living rooms as the dusk crept in and overtook the day, and the lights went on. It was intoxicating, seeing people. They became seductive, instructive, and if a window was filled with a rainbow, then it was a family house, and sometimes the family would advertise itself more thoroughly; with cuddly toys stacked up, or a notice pleading for me not to eat beef.
On one there is a notice on the gate with the sharp instruction to “please DO add a ribbon to our rainbow fence”. The fence is festooned with ribbons tied into bows, and the tree towering over it is trailing them, long and glossy and just at head height. Each time I approach I try to pull a ribbon off a branch, so I can tie it to the fence, and am left standing there, yanking at a ribbon that refuses to come loose. Is this what I am supposed to be doing? I walk on.
As it is a suburban street in a quiet, residential area on the outskirts of a Greater London suburb, the changes have been so subtle as to be almost non-existent. Slowly, by stealth, it has become slightly louder recently, inching its way back to normality. Which is not very loud. I have longed sometimes for the quiet of an urban street, to luxuriate in the silence, the shock of its stillness. To walk for miles during the night through empty streets and stand in front of St. Paul’s. Or go back to a time when I used to walk home at night because I needed to remember all the details of an evening in a way that only feet can do.
So when I let myself in, at 10 sometimes 10.30, my skin flushed from night summer air, and begin to dust a surface with flour, I am carrying with me all the remnants of those walks I have taken and forgotten about. Evening walks with my dad in West Somerset, with views of the brown Bristol sea. Night walks I took in Sydney as a teenager, chatting and walking into spiders’ webs, these massive things like gossamer trampolines. Walking along the promenade in Sitges after a long day’s teaching, my friend Jonny carrying my bags, watching the ink-black sea crawl up the sand and talking about nothing, too late even to eat. My mum and I on the beach in Seaford, watching the ferry leave for France without us on it.
The quiet brings it up, loud and insistent, it tells me what I care about and what I miss. I then have to shape the boule, which is my favourite part, dragging the dough closer to me, over and over, creating surface tension, the dome of it tight and jiggly and ready for the fridge.