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I wanted to be a botanist when I was ten. My father loved plants, though ignorantly, and we looked at many things together. I wonder what I would have done with my life if I had not been theatre-mad? Walking back I looked into my various pools. What a remarkable amount of beautiful and curious life they contain. I must buy some books about these matters if I am to become, even to my own modest satisfaction, the Gilbert White of this area. I also picked up a number of pretty stones and carried them to my other lawn. They are smooth, elliptical, lovely to handle.

One, a mottled pink, elaborately crossed with white lines, lies before me as I write. My father would have loved this place-I still think of him and miss him. It is after lunch and I shall now describe the house. For lunch, I may say, I ate and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil.

Really good olive oil is essential, the kind with a taste, I have brought a supply from London. Green peppers would have been a happy addition only the village shop about two miles pleasant walk could not provide them. No one delivers to far-off Shruff End, so I fetch everything, including milk, from the village.

Then bananas and cream with white sugar. Bananas should be cut, never mashed, and the cream should be thin. Then hard water-biscuits with New Zealand butter and Wensleydale cheese. Of course I never touch foreign cheeses. Our cheeses are the best in the world.

I ate and drank slowly as one should cook fast, eat slowly and without distractions such as thank heavens conversation or reading. Indeed eating is so pleasant one should even try to suppress thought. Of course reading and thinking are important but, my God, food is important too. How fortunate we are to be food-consuming animals. Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.

The sturdy honest persons to whom my book would be addressed would not necessarily be able to make a light batter or even to know what it was. But they would be hedonists. In food and drink, as in many not all other matters, simple joys are best, as any intelligent self-lover knows. Sidney Ashe once offered to initiate me into the pleasures of vintage wine. I refused with scorn. Sidney hates ordinary wine and is unhappy unless he is drinking some expensive stuff with a date on it.

And by that I do not of course mean the brew that tastes of bananas. One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better. Life in the theatre often precluded serious meals and I have not always in the past been able to eat slowly, but I have certainly learnt how to cook quickly.

Of course my methods especially a liberal use of the tin opener may scandalize fools, and the various people mainly the girls: Jeanne, Doris, Rosemary, Lizzie who urged me to publish my recipes did so with an air of amused condescension. Your name will sell the book, they tactlessly insisted. Yes, good, even great, picnics.

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And let me say here that of course my guests always sit squarely at tables, never balance plates on their knees, and always have proper table napkins, never paper ones. Food is a profound subject and one, incidentally, about which no writer lies. I wonder whence I derived my felicitous gastronomic intelligence? A thrifty childhood gave me a horror of wasted food. I thoroughly enjoyed the modest fare we had at home.


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I think my illumination came, like that of Saint Augustine, from a disgust with excesses. When I was a young director I was idiotic and conventional enough to think that I had to entertain people at well-known restaurants. It gradually became clear to me that guzzling large quantities of expensive, pretentious, often mediocre food in public places was not only immoral, unhealthy and unaesthetic, but also unpleasurable.

Later my guests were offered simple joys chez moi. What is more delicious than fresh hot buttered toast, with or without the addition of bloater paste? Or plain boiled onions with a little cold corned beef if desired?

And well-made porridge with brown sugar and cream is a dish fit for a king. Even then some people, so sadly corrupt was their taste, took my intelligent hedonism for an affected eccentricity, a mere gimmick.

Wind in the Willows food a journalist called it. And some were actually offended. However, it may be that what really made me see through the false mythology of haute cuisine was not so much restaurants as dinner parties. I have long, and usually vainly, tried to persuade my friends not to cook grandly. The waste of time alone is an absurdity; though I suppose it is true that some unfortunate women have nothing to do but cook.

Of course let me make it clear I am not a barbarian. French country food, such as one can still occasionally find in that blessed land, is very good; but its goodness belongs to a tradition and an instinct which cannot be aped. The pretentious English hostess not only mistakes elaboration and ritual for virtue; she is also very often exercising her deluded art for the benefit of those who, though they would certainly not admit it, do not really enjoy food at all.

Most of my friends in the theatre were usually so sozzled when they came to eat a serious meal that they had no appetite and in any case scarcely knew what was set before them. Why spend nearly all day preparing food for people who eat it or rather toy with it and leave it in this condition? A serious eater is a moderate drinker.

Food is also spoilt at dinner parties by enforced conversation. Haute cuisine even inhibits hospitality, since those who cannot or will not practise it hesitate to invite its devotees for fear of seeming rude or a failure. After this tirade it looks as if the description of the house will have to wait until another day.

I might add here that as will already be evident I am not a vegetarian. But there are certain items such as anchovy paste, liver, sausages, fish which hold as it were strategic positions in my diet, and which I should be sorry to do without; here hedonism triumphs over a peevish baffled moral sense. Perhaps I ought to give up eating meat, but by now, when the argument has gone on so long, I doubt if I ever will. I will now describe the house. It is called Shruff End. End, yes: it is perched upon a small promontory, not exactly a peninsula, and stands indeed upon the very rocks themselves.

What madman built it? The date would be perhaps nineteen ten. Shruff: schwarz? I cannot yet discover anything about the history of the house. I never met the person, described as an old lady, a Mrs Chorney, from whom I bought it. The price was not low, and I was also compelled to purchase the almost worthless furniture and fittings.

Considered as a house Shruff End has obvious disadvantages which I was not slow to point out to the house agent. It is mysteriously damp and the situation is exposed and isolated. There is running water and main drainage, thank God I have lived without these in America , but no electricity and no heating system. Cooking is by calor gas.

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There are also some oddities of construction which I will describe in due course. The agent, smiling, could see I loved the place and the disadvantages meant nothing. Yes it is. Little do they realise how ardently I look forward to those storms, when the wild waves will beat at my very door!


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  6. Since I have been here now a matter of a few weeks the weather has been quite distressingly calm. Yesterday the sea was so motionlessly smooth that it supported a whole flotilla of blue flies which seemed actually to crawl upon the surface tension. From the upper seaward windows where I am sitting at this moment the view is total sea, unless one peers down to glimpse the rocks below.

    From the lower windows, however, the sea is invisible and one sees only the coastal rocks, elephantine in size and shape, which surround the house. This I shall leave to nature. I am in any case no gardener.