Walking on and off a path, eating at the end, a recipe and eating notes
Hello! My name is Rebecca May Johnson, I am a writer and cook and this is my Substack. This week’s newsletter contains an account of a walk round Warrington with a meal at the end, a recipe from solstice 2019, and eating notes.
I’ve a few events for my book SMALL FIRES, AN EPIC IN THE KITCHEN coming up:
28 July | 19.00-21.00 | Libreria Bookshop, 65 Hanbury Street, London | Free, ticketed
I am reading from an extract of Small Fires published in Granta Magazine 160 at the issue launch, alongside Dizz Tate, Aidan Cottrell-Boyce, Sasha Dugdale and a presentation of photography by Thomas Duffield. There will be drinks and conversation, too. Sign up for a free ticket.
14 September | 18.30 | Burley Fisher Books, 400 Kingsland Road, London | £5
a few more to be announced soon!
In the carpark of the National Grid gas archive in Warrington on an industrial estate thirty minutes outside Manchester, I opened the Ordinance Survey Map on my phone. We came here on our drive back down from Scotland so that Sam could consult the archive. Although I was surrounded by light industrial buildings, when I zoomed to 1:25k* the map showed green footpath dashes and diamonds fifty meters from where I sat. With the car door open to let the air in, I plotted a circular route of 5.09 miles and named it ‘Warrington National Gas archive loop’. I set off, past a van where a man was talking to his dog, down a path in the gap between two warehouses, and was suddenly on a bridge amidst a sea of grass and wildflowers looking down at lime green strands of weed combed by moving water of the Sankey brook. I felt pleased with myself and powerful for finding a beautiful walk so easily, bending a new landscape to my will. As I continued along the marked tarmac path which took me away from the water, I kept seeing well-trodden desire lines disappear into the hedges and the tall grass back towards the water. I wanted to follow them, but also, clung onto my map, suddenly aware that I had not walked alone in an unfamiliar place in a long while. It was annoying to feel this way, but the spectre of anxiety stayed with me. I thought I could know everything through the map, but everything was overwhelmingly unknown in the flesh. Eventually, after passing by three or four paths, I followed one into some trees, which led to a clearing back at the water’s edge. And for a few seconds I appreciated it – birds, gentle insect sounds, water – but then, I became heavily aware that I could see nobody else at all and that someone might suddenly appear through the hedge as I had, and was nervous again.
Things continued this way: later there was a woodland that followed alongside a hot dusty track. I longed for the shade of the paths under the trees, but German fairy tales intruded into my thoughts. Again, after missing a few entries, I followed one into the woods and savoured the cooler air for a short while. But, already edgy, I got a fright when I turned a corner and almost collided with a tall man walking alone in the opposite direction. He looked visibly shocked too and made a comment about it. I ran to the next exit back onto the hot track, taking a look behind me as if I were in a horror film.
Other aspects of the walk that took on an exaggerated and nightmarish quality included: a track path under a motorway bridge that led through a car breakers yard; unseen dogs barking inside a shed near some horses; long tunnels of hedging; a lonely road with discarded car tyres dropped along it; and SWANS. I spent 15-20 minutes deciding how I would pass by a group of swans standing halfway across a footpath. There were two adults and five signets sitting down. Every time I approached, they all looked at me and began to move and I anticipated my own demise. I tried to look casually at the river and into the hedge, to show interest in other things that were not the swans so they would not think I had come to harm the signets – I was acting again. I contemplated turning round and cutting the walk short. I hoped for other braver walkers in whose wake I would follow. They did not come, though several bicycles swerved round them at speed. Finally, I followed after a cyclist, my heart beating fast, and the swans barely looked at me.
I did cut my walk short, though: some time after the swans, my plotted route led to what was supposed to be a footpath through a field, however the farmer had not acknowledged the path so I had to walk on crops and then uneven ground under trees along a ditch lined with discarded industrial plastics. When I emerged back onto a road the sun got hotter and hotter and I did not like the sense of building crescendo. Rather than face more fields managed by farmers with unknown feelings of hostility, I walked along a busy B road to re-join an earlier segment of the route. Back through the (now familiar) breakers’ yard, past the barking dogs, along the tarmac path and making no further diversions into the woods or bushes, I arrived back in the carpark.
After my Grimm-like games with straying and not straying from paths which were and then weren’t there, came the reward for my return. Two minutes from the archive carpark on the industrial estate, was an IKEA canteen. I ate a dish from the menu I had not tried and had several refills of cold drink and sat in the air-conditioned space. I ordered chicken schnitzel with sprouting broccoli asked for French fries instead of boiled potatoes. I also asked to have the gravy usually served with meatballs on top of the schnitzel and fries, which turned out to be essential for moisture, and several sachets of ketchup for piquancy. Sam had meatballs. The navigable novelty of the IKEA menu acted as a re-orientation exercise. In the canteen I was reminded of eating in a smoke filled tavern-like restaurant in Vienna a few years ago where I shared schnitzel and potatoes and a meat stew that came with a berry type condiment with Sam. Even though the schnitzel in Vienna was not served with the berry condiment they were brought together in that image, and I thought that next time I ordered schnitzel at IKEA, I would ask for the lingonberry jam that is usually served with the meatballs as well as the gravy, to see what it is like.
*(1cm on the map = 25 000 cm on the ground)
Recipes and eating notes below
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