I was reminded of Wild West films from boyhood. Then, the beleaguered garrison scanned the horizon; would the US cavalry arrive in time to save them from being scalped? (John Wayne always did.) Now, one was hoping for relief, not from the Injuns, but in the form of an Indian summer. This is of especial interest to those who have a tendresse for Somerset cricket. Its paladins usually have a charmingly amateur quality. As Cardus wrote of an earlier cricketing vintage: ‘[They are] children of the sun and wind and grass. Nature fashioned them rather than artifice.’ Somerset needs a match or two in order to gain points and avoid relegation. That said, the way we were playing earlier in the season, being rained off was the best hope.
It would help if those in charge of schedules should remember three things. County cricket is a summer game. It is also one of the glories of English civilisation, almost entitled to rank with the cathedrals and the common law. As such, it must not be brushed aside in the interests of junk sport, or whatever they call 20/20. But an ungenerous climate can bring consolations. That prince of foragers, young Louis, deciding that these were the perfect conditions for mushrooms, set off into the wood with a bucket and brought it back, full of chanterelles.
Scoffing them, we also drew on the lingering fruits of summer. A summer pudding was to be garnished with some final wild strawberries. They always look delicious — and the name. Caviar apart, is there anything more alluring in the culinary vocabulary? That said, what about the taste? In that passage of Decline and Fall so aptly named ‘Pervigilium Veneris’, Margot and Paul saunter from bed to lunch. In Waugh, low-life deflation is never far away. They come across Philbrick, that master of multi-faceted fraudulence, who is eating some of those ‘bitter little strawberries which are so cheap in Provence and so very expensive in Dover Street.’ He warns Paul that the League of Nations is taking a beady-eyed interest in Margot’s business (the Mistress Quickly of 1920s Belgravia, she is the most elegant whore monger in all literature). ‘Bitter’ is surely an exaggeration, perhaps a deliberate one. Waugh may have intended to signal the bitter-sweet fate waiting in ambush for his principal characters. Yet he had a point. The tiny wild berries work as an heraldic escort to the taste-bud fireworks of British strawberries. On their own, they flatter to deceive.
In love and cookery, earthiness has an honoured place. The beef was roasting. To accompany it, Roland harvested some horse-radish, mired in mud. There was then a problem. Our table was to be graced by a much greater power than horseradish, and the two must never be allowed to mingle. In decanters, the grandeur of earlier autumns awaited us. We stopped to sniff and stayed to genuflect.
I had warned my friends that luncheon would not only be an occasion for indulgence. There was work to be done. We had two bottles to compare, a 1989 and a 2000, both from that superb house, Léoville-Barton. The debate was vigorous, and inconclusive. The memsahib thought the ’89 was just about the finest claret she had ever drunk, and one could taste why. A harmony of sun and nature and artifice, it was in a state of grace. So often when drinking such a wine, one wonders whether it would have benefited from another three years, or would have been even better three years earlier. This was perfect. The novice, the 2000, divided opinions. Still shy of 20, it was a young unbroken colt. Even so, I thought it deserved the blue riband.
What fun. Louis, his palate not yet trained to Bordeaux, but permitted a sip, began to understand why the grown-ups were so intent at the glass. The seasons, the generations, the wine: by the end, we could hear the music of the spheres.