‘Mmmm, quince jelly,’ I said, opening the jar and adding some to my already laden plate.
There are lots of things that help me know I’m in Spain. Giggling with my dear friend Julie has to be top of that list.
‘You love me really,’ I remark cheekily, after a particularly bonkers action on my part.
‘I’m working on it,’ comes the retort from Julie, with a massive twinkle in her eye.
Laughing out loud is something that happens a lot here at El Palmeral. Julie and her husband Mike can have me in stitches with some of the things they say, but often also provoke deeper thought and conversation through remarks that get well beyond the trivial and frivolous.
They’re – frankly – most of the reason that I come here. Other things are the remarkably warm weather that means even in October on a day threatening rain, I can still be sat outside wearing just shorts and a t-shirt.
And also the friendliness of the other people staying here, and the myriad friends that Julie and Mike have, both English-speaking and those from the nearby village. It’s nice to be remembered and recognised.
One of the English-speaking friends is responsible for my happiness during my first lunchtime. Riekie makes quince jelly. Trust me, it’s amazing. And it reminds me of my childhood when my mother used to make it from the quinces grown in Wiltshire by one of her friends.
This morning Riekie has brought another three jars of freshly made quince. While I’m chatting with her, she explains that the fruit is ugly-looking and doesn’t merit a second glance. In fact, even when it’s turned into juice, it’s still not looking great.
It’s not until the juice has been boiled with the sugar that a spectacular change comes about. Suddenly this insipid looking juice turns into a beautifully warm russet colour, creating the flavour that makes my mouth water thinking about it.
It’s a rough old process boiling jam or jelly. It takes no prisoners and yet the result is worth the harsh treatment it gets in the preserving pan. Something beautiful comes from something unattractive, but it takes hard work and a hard process to make that happen.
It’s absolutely true to say that a desired result can take a lot of hard work and effort to make it happen. Getting fit requires a lot of commitment, sweat and – in my case – dogged determination in the face of mental tiredness to keep going. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be able to run 5k on a regular basis in a reasonable time, I’d have laughed at you.
Quince jelly takes effort but trust me it’s worth it. The transformation of this ugly fruit into something that brings a smile to all those who try it is something special. The quince has been through a rough old process to get there but something very beautiful comes out of it.
I’m hesitating over these next few sentences. I am aware that for anyone going through a challenging time or a terrible experience is not going to appreciate some woman currently having a lovely time in sunny Spain telling them it’s for their own good that they’re going through it. I’m not sure I would say that anyway even if I was sitting in my office in Southampton looking at a dreary grey English day.
What I would say, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, is that my Granma always said nothing was ever wasted. As someone who’s finally come out of their own difficult dark valley to stand, if not at the top of a mountain, at least halfway up it, enough to appreciate the view anyway, I struggled to see that for some time. That was until the day that someone said to me while talking about their own problems which were reflected in my experience, ‘You completely get it. You understand.’ Suddenly I could hear my Granma’s words again. Right again, Granma.
And then there’s the friend who’s been through a mental health breakdown is willing to share his experience because he hopes to be able to help others.
The quince that becomes the rather yummy jelly is an ugly old thing. The process it goes through to become that beautiful state is a harsh one. The result is something special.
I won’t labour the point. And I’d still hesitate to say something good will always come out of something awful. But I will stick my neck out and say that there are always a few tiny sparks of hope in the middle of terrible despair.
The lesson of the quince jelly reminds me that there is no avoiding the harshness in a life where things are often broken and rotten to the core. But it does give me hope that something special may be found in it. Even if it’s just the friend who makes you laugh, or gives you a hug or sits with you during the long dark nights. Or perhaps a jar of freshly made quince jelly…
(With thanks to Riekie for the photographs)