A knock at the door is an occasion in our house. This time it is my nephew and niece, a dog apiece. Their message is an invite to Saturday Night is Pizza Night – an exclusive gathering around the chimnea at the allotment – an invite I graciously accept. They remain on the doorstep, smiling expectantly. The dogs sniff my knees and strain at the leash to cross the threshold; I don’t think so. I don’t do animals. For humans I will make odd attempts at sociability, anything below primate has my gorge rising. Misha is a rescue dog and whippet, eager and utterly beholden; Sofia is Anna Karenina in greyhound form. Yes, for dogs they’re ok. But still, they’re not coming in.
Nephew and niece are waiting. Should I tip? They’re nice kids, thoughts of financial gain wouldn’t have crossed them. If anything, they are too nice; not quite other-worldly but possibly meant for a different time, Charlie Bucket’s siblings or born to the bosom of the Cratchit family. Maybe that’s it; perhaps a word or two of Dickensian wisdom is their hope. A deep breath and I search for a favourite aphorism.
Luckily, I am saved by my daughter who squeezes into the doorway beside me; she raises her voice an octave to sweet-talk the dogs as she crouches to ruffle their ears, greets her cousins without looking up to see the contentment settle on their faces.
Saturday evening we arrive at the allotment. Word is, everything from scratch, so I’ve rustled up lavender and liquorice muffins to take along with bottles of lambrusco and frozen dough balls. I dump everything on the supplies wheelbarrow in the orchard and big sister takes me on a tour around our estate. Flower beds are looking good – she grumbles at the wanton calendula, I silently cheer them on – so we gather lilacs and ivory rosebuds for the passata jar, then sit to drink their health.
Meanwhile, pizza dough is kneaded, shaped, topped, slid onto the stone with Dad’s old spade – spit-and-polished to a pizza-shovel – and slid off again when everyone agrees the cheese is bubbling. I am on cutter duty. Niece offers to take over pizza production from her father, and calls Sofia and Misha to lick her hands clean.
The pizzas are delicious, the wine too easy. Sister and I sway and hum as we cut another handful of perfumed lilacs, which we clutch and sniff and exclaim over as we stumble home.