The last time we spoke, I was sitting in a bustling Starbucks in New York, watching the people and traffic out on the street fast forward into a blur of yellow taxis and expensive handbags. Right now, I’m back home on the family farm in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland – depending on how thorough an atlas you own. I’ve just spent some quality time catching up with Mum, and am taking the opportunity to add the finishing touches to veg. , the next in my series of cookbooks. It’s a pernickety process for sure – nothing boils the blood quite like fussing over apostrophes and commas – but I am dutifully dotting every I and crossing every T and trying not to fall asleep at the laptop.
The two worlds could not seem further apart. Whereas New York is constantly thrumming like a beehive with chatter, music and car horns, home feels eerily quiet. In New York it felt as if time was speeding up, but here it feels as if time has stood still. As I padded around the house late last night, I was overcome with childhood memories: the squeak of a floorboard, the curve of a banister, the grain of a tabletop… each one reminded me of being young and optimistic and wet behind the ears.
There was something about those memories that cut right to my core. Yes, they are fixed in time – like photographs, or perhaps those rulers you got in primary school where the pictures moved slightly when you tilted them – but as my life seems to be in perpetual motion, I have begun craving those fleeting moments when time halts. The American poet Jack Kerouac said that he was “always travelling, never arriving”, and I know just how that feels
Yes, I’m talking about travelling again. I know I run the risk of being more boring than a dead beetle on a lollipop stick, but I have recently done enough miles to notch up my own sizeable carbon footprint. Boo hoo, James, you might say. Oh, you’re so hard done by, having to fly to New York and drive to Miami (I always wanted to drive down the East Coast of the USA, 3 friends, one of which is a Home Economist joined me. fun fun fun!). My heart bleeds, I hear you cry.
But it was all for work. Honestly. Ahem.
After Miami, where I tried not to stick out like a sore thumb amongst the bronzed and beautiful people of Ocean Drive, I flew to Jamaica. And this really was for work. The International Federation of Home Economics (IFHE) holds their annual meeting in a different location every year, and on this occasion the destination was the Caribbean. Home economists from all over the world flock there to share ideas, listen to lectures and discuss pertinent issues in our profession. The general thinking is that the concepts of home and family might be different throughout the world, but we are united by our determination to improve the quality of life for all.
As in any other places I have been, I was once again bowled over by the hospitality and warmth of the people I met there. One fine evening, the President of the Federation kindly invited sixty representatives to her home for a traditional Jamaican meal. I was fortunate enough to be included in that number. I sampled dishes such as curried goat and jerk pork, I tasted a myriad of exotic fruits which I had never seen before, and I drank a little rum. Just a little, mind.
They say that food is a way of bringing strangers closer together – and they’re not wrong.
Any coffee fans amongst you would have loved sharing my excursion to the place where Blue Mountain is grown and harvested, but my most cherished experience took place at Mico teacher training college in Kingston. I was asked to address a group of home economics students, and when I finished they showed their appreciation by singing to me. Now, I have learnt to be thick-skinned and tough-skulled in business – and learnt the hard way – so few things are likely to bring a lump to my throat. I could put it down to the heat or the jetlag, but hearing that choir of beautiful voices reggae style… I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little teary. I don’t often look for affirmation in what I do, but sometimes it’s good to know that others appreciate it. That sound will stick with me until I am rocking in a creaky chair with my pipe and slippers.
But now I’m back in a currently bleak and rainy Northern Ireland. Those fruits, that , the sunshine and those voices seem very far away.
But let’s not end on a downer. At the weekend I’m off again, this time to the Algarve for more cooking demos, then the London Book Fair amongst other things…. Time flies, but then so does James. And it’s business class, darling…