Cooking up a future, carefully
A national newspaper commissioned a piece from me at high speed, part of a larger spread on how writers planned to spend their holidays this year. Then, as is the way with such things, they spiked the whole feature. I'm posting my contribution here because, although Primadonna Festival is now (beautifully) past, the challenge of cooking in an actual cafe looms rather large, and who knows but that some of you may be interested in coming along.
Andy is lounging in a strip of sunlight, leaving room on the window seat for two. I stretch beside him and rest my head on his chest.
There are many forms of happiness, but contentment—the feeling that there is nowhere else in the whole wide world you would rather be—is the emotion I most closely associate with holidays. Long before the pandemic forced a fresh appreciation of English destinations, Andy and I often vacationed in Fairlight, outside Hastings.
We did so as guests of our friend Sara, at her cliff-top house. Look beyond the crashing breakers to the horizon and, on a clear day, you can see France. To left and right, Hastings Country Park undulates. Turn your gaze into the house and many times you’d have found Andy and me blissfully alone or in uproarious company with Sara and others.
After Sara’s death, her children encouraged us to continue to treat the place as our holiday home, and we did, though it was bittersweet to feel so close to her and so distant. Andy and I last visited two summers ago, first for the wedding of our friends Lulie and Ray, who own a Hastings cafe, Sugarpie Honeybuns, then to celebrate the marriage of Laura and John, last and beloved singer in Andy’s band, Gang of Four. Thomas, Gang of Four's bass player, joined us in Fairlight for a few days. No point being somewhere so beautiful and not making a proper holiday of it.
When Andy died six months later, I lost not only the love of my life but any expectation of quiet time as a release. Widowhood and lockdown entombed me in silence. Anyway, what use a holiday, even if travel restrictions were to ease? Wherever I was, I'd take the desolate weather with me.
This year I do have plans, and they are full of light and sound and activity. Unstructured hours could quickly fill with ghosts. Instead, from Friday I’ll be in Suffolk at the exhilarating Primadonna Festival. Then, in August, I return to Fairlight.
In a moment of madness, I agreed to a “takeover” of Lulie and Ray’s cafe. For one day only, on 15 August, you’ll find me co-creating a four-course menu there with Rafe Jennings. His family, in allowing me to "bubble" with them, supported me through some of the bleakest times. During successive lockdowns, Rafe and I toured Central and South American cuisine from the Jennings kitchen and inflicted the results on his parents and siblings.
Now we'll be doing the same to up to sixty people at Sugarpie Honeybuns. I'm not sure what possessed us to say yes to this plan. Whatever happens, it will hardly be a restorative break.
And yet and yet. If all goes well, in the afterglow and exhaustion, I’ll retreat to Fairlight, stretch out on the window seat, and risk, finally, the joys of solitude. Not that I'm ever alone. Andy and Sara are gorgeous presences. Together we will watch the changing skies.
For inquiries about the Sugarpie Takeover, contact the cafe by direct message on their socials:
All photos and words ©Catherine Mayer 2021 except for picture of Rafe Jennings which is his copyright