Of Cookers and Kings

It was a coincidence, that the cooker we want is made in the county that is revealing itself to be the locale of my next novel. It’s not any old cooker but one so eye-wateringly expensive that we felt we must go and see it before buying. A day out on location, then, and fully justified.

I can’t remember how we came across Everhot. I think I was googling for range cookers. Our old – in fact, not so old – Cannon – is the most hated object in the house with an ‘eye-level’ grill so low you can’t stir any pot beneath it. That was one reason; the other was that our savings are turning to dust in the bank and we thought we should turn them to things while we still can, things to make the future a little bit cheaper.

The Everhot is on all the time, like an Aga, but runs off a 13 amp plug and costs £10 a week. That means I can have loaves rising when I want, whistling kettles coming slowly to the boil for the next cup of tea, a casserole simmering all day and a potato baking, and whether or not I do these things, the running cost doesn’t change.

The cooker was invented by the owner of a water mill generating power that needed only to be harnessed. The company is still at the mill. The first cooker is still in use.

The directions to find the place assumed anyone with half a brain would be approaching via the M5. Naturally we came across country via the Bronze and Iron ages. The Cotswolds run from where we live in Oxfordshire to the Vale of Gloucester, ending with a high and dramatic escarpment with stunning views over the Severn valley.

Cam Long Down and site of Battle of Camlan?

It’s been a sacred place from the beginning and all along its length overlooking the Vale are barrows of high-borns, great Bronze and Iron Age chieftans and princesses buried in places that stood out on the skyline for the people living in the valley farms and villages. The mound in the picture is called Cam Long Down. There is a river Cam here, hence a nearby village called Cambridge (!); local legend, though, has it as the Cam, the Cam of Camelot and Camlan. According to the locals, this is where King Arthur fought his last battle with Mordred. I found this out whilst studying the panorama board at Coaley Peak. A man also studying it said, ‘This was the scene of the last battle of wozzisname, that king…’ ‘Alfred?’ ‘No, no,’ he pushed and pulled his right arm like a piston, ‘the one with the stone.’ Arthur!

You come shopping for cookers and bump into Arthur!

We came off the escarpment at Uley and crossed the battlefield to find Coaley Mill. The stream that runs beneath it and turns its wheels is the Cam (did the blood of Arthur’s knights flow past here once?).

Coaley Mill

Very shortly thereafter, we had put our name to a discounted demonstration model of the Everhot 60, the smallest in the series, but enough for us and our little kitchen.

The next stop was Gloucester. We began at the Cathedral and a Pilgrim’s Pie in the coffee shop and then went off to find the city museum where they have some interesting stuff bang in my period (first century AD). I asked several people the way; they all looked at me as if I were mugging them, said ‘Dunno!’ and hurried on. A plaque on the wall of the museum is a dedication by a wife to the memory of her husband, bestowing this grand hall on the people of Gloucester to inspire them with a sense of God, who ‘meditates in beauty and speaks in law’. Dear God, I hope she can’t see from heaven what’s become of her people. Gloucester is a depressed place, its high street thronged with introverts who don’t know where the museum is and don’t care. I was surprised that tumbleweed didn’t tumble past us on that windy street where the shops are beginning to be abandoned.

Reconstructed head of Celtic princess

Back to the Cathedral. You don’t get a visitor’s leaflet here about the history, or an audio guide, just numbers to phone on your mobile at each item and place of interest. Alas, we carry no mobile, so we did our best with what captions there were. And so I came face to face with the tomb of poor old King Edward II (who may not have died with a poker up his bum after all – if only I’d had a mobile, I could have found out) and next to him, Osric, King of the Hwicce (Anglo-Saxon name for  Gloucestershire) who founded the first abbey here in the 7th century. That’s two hundred years before Alfred and contemporary with the birth of Bede.

Alfred’s battles were not only against Vikings but against ignorance. The England he’d inherited was reduced to a bump in the Somerset levels. There were bishops but they were illiterate. The grand age of Bede, Cuthbert and pious kings like Osric was long gone and must have seemed to Alfred to have been an age of sweet but futile optimism, much as the Victorian plaque on the city museum did to me.

We wended our weary way home, back over the Cotswolds along the high ridge above the Windrush Valley, now called the A40. Some years ago, someone began a development of new-builds in old stone next to the road a few miles west of Burford. As we approached, I thought they looked deserted. When we passed them, we saw all windows smashed and roofs robbed of their tiles. As I keep muttering to myself more and more these days, here begins the new Dark Age.

Gloucester was a frontier post for the Roman Empire. Artist's reconstruction, Gloucester City Museum.

By the time we got home, my imagination was so stimulated that I was itching to write, only too tired for it. And now, faced with the prospect of completely revamping the kitchen to accommodate the Everhot, and doing it quickly, I’m wondering when I’ll ever get the time to write in the foreseeable future. Lots of early rising on dark mornings ahead, if there’s any chance in getting the current book finished and off to press.

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