Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.
“So, talk me through the stand-by pasta recipe, then.”
When we get back to the cottage, I shall be giving the cooking another shot; under close supervision, as ever. (Health and safety, you know how it is these days.) For the past two Sundays, K has been drilling me to produce steak and chips. The steak, the chips and the accompanying vegetables have been perfect each time, matching K’s exacting standards to a tee – but somehow, we’ve been missing the point of the exercise. Namely, that I should be working towards producing unsupervised meals: a challenge which calls for a simpler recipe.
(Yes, even steak and chips is a bit advanced for someone like me, with minimal basic knowledge on which to build. Hell, it’s been a while since I even peeled a spud.)
K’s “stand-by pasta” is the simplest meal that we can think of. Pasta, tuna, tomatoes, olives, garlic, chillis. What could be more straightforward than that?
We stop to snap a small clump of steers, peacefully munching in the late afternoon light, in the gap between the stream and the hillside. As K composes his shot, the steers at the front of the clump obligingly arrange themselves into a neat line, fanning out from the centre with pleasing symmetry.
Just ahead of us, a lone walker in a bright red anorak is crouching in the undergrowth, by the right hand path which runs off into the bushes. Opting instead for the left hand path, we stride briskly by, not looking sideways.
A few minutes later, just after the paths have re-converged, we pause again to sample the view. K attempts another shot with his phone, but the light isn’t good enough. As he fiddles with the settings, the walker re-emerges. He is still a good few yards behind us, safely out of earshot for now.
“Come on, let’s move. She’ll think we’re waiting for her.”
“Who, her in the red?”
“Yes, her. Miss Scarlet…”
“The Scarlet Pumpernickel…”
“Scarlet O’ Hard On…”
Monsal Weir looks especially beautiful this afternoon, in its secluded clearing at the foot of the wooded slope. Mist is already beginning to form in the rapidly cooling air at the bottom, whilst sheltered patches at the top are still frozen from the night before. This place must look wonderful at daybreak, we agree. Perhaps we could come out for an early morning winter walk, some time next month?
This thought lasts for all of five seconds, before we concede that it will never happen. Besides, when would we find the time? It’s not as if I’ll be here over the Christmas holiday, after all. Perhaps K could make the trip without me, with friends from the village who keep earlier hours?
“I’m having a twinge.”
“What sort of twinge?”
“Oh, you know: wishing I was going to be here, rather than working out in China. Typical contrarianism, basically. You’re a Gemini, you should know all about that.”
K bats me a knowing smile.
“You are going to be OK without me, aren’t you? I know we’ve talked this through, but I still have to check.”
“Of course I will. Anyway, you know what I think about bloody Christmas. I’ll probably go and see my family on the day. It would be a good opportunity this year, especially with… you know. It’s a shame that I couldn’t arrange to be out there with you – after all, Ningbo’s practically up the road from Hangzhou – but it’s just not the right time, what with everything that’s scheduled for January.”
“I know. It’s going to be such an experience, though. I can’t wait to get over there. All that interviewing will be a challenge – imagine having to decide whether you’re going to employ someone, when you’re so unfamiliar with their whole culture and background – but I feel so ready for it. Especially with JP posting daily reports from the office in Hangzhou – I’m hanging on every word. Perfect timing in many ways, even if it is over Christmas and New Year. Anyway, what’s three weeks? We can save up the holidays and go somewhere nice in the spring.”
“And you’ll have time to do some writing.”
“Exactly – see whether I’m up to it, whether it’s any good or not, whether I can knuckle down to it. That middle week is going to be so quiet, on my own in the company apartment with the laptop. Perfect opportunity. Eyup, she’s coming. Onwards and upwards!”
By the time we emerge at Monsal Head, the sky has turned a glorious red, with dark clouds forming mountain ranges beyond the furthest hills. While K lines up some shots, I get myself an award-winning “99” from the Fredericks of Chesterfield ice cream van.
“I bet that’s delicious. Damn that dairy intolerance.”
“Poor you. I bet that’s torture. Go on, a couple of mouthfuls can’t do you any harm.”
“I guess not. OH GOD that’s wonderful.”
“Wow, look at that vapour trail, coming over to the left. It looks on fire, like a comet.”
We leave the empty car park and walk the short distance back to Little Longstone, pausing every now and again to gaze back in awe at the dying glow of the sunset. When we get back to the car, I’ll put the first half of the Madonna album on. The beatier, dancier half. Works best in the dark. He’ll be able to cope with it now.