“Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” – Francis Bacon
Words by Kelsi Farrington Photographs by Finn Beales
Published on Frais Magazine
One of the greatest joys is finding a friend who comes into your life without force or preempted introduction and they’re at their best, like most things, when they just happen. Although they are most often formed around similarities, as in your age, your interests and your life experiences thus far, differences in all of those things can equally become the ingredients to a timeless friendship.
I’m not quite sure if it was the January sunshine cast over the Golden Valleys of Hereford, the reality of being sat in front of both a husband and a baby-blue aga that Suzanne Marley equally described with such loving detail or the butternut squash risotto that made this catch-up the most memorable; both a memory and a token to add to many. Suzanne is in her sixties and although that makes her forty years my senior, we have still managed to prove that as true friends go, age really is nothing but a number.
We met when we were both hired to become weekend shop assistants in a gift shop in the book-lovers’ town, Hay-on-Wye, just outside of Hereford. In our first few weekends in late 2009, we independently agreed that as coworkers, we formed the perfect balance of the old-age wisdom of a 61-year-old and the youthful energy of (myself), an 18-year-old, to effectively run a popular shop and have fun doing it.
After hours spent stood behind the counter, taking turns tidying or wrapping, we’d continuously chat about the dailies and slowly we built up something that made coming to work a joy. Even though I had the inability to know when to stop talking about my teenage dramas, Suzanne would always listen.
If I mentioned that I’d had a rough week on our Saturday, she’d come in to work on the Sunday with a Tupperware full of homemade brownies. There were never any spoken rules to exchanging things, just a token, an act of kindness and over the two years, books, lunches, recipes or fashion advice would be thrown in, too.
When I decided to start university, it was Suzanne who really pushed me to pursue what I loved, something she said she’d not done herself, and gave me the same advice she’d given her 30-something-year-old daughter: to go and find yourself. She said every time we worked together that she’d miss our chats and that I’d have to make time to come back and visit her. I kept that promise and we meet up in Hay at least twice a year.
Even though Suzanne and I no longer work together, we live over six hours apart and our catch-ups are restricted to two, half-hour lunches a year, we always pick up our old ways of sharing laughs and tokens. What we always seem to forget is our forty-year age difference. Suzanne is old enough to be my grandmother but in my eyes, she fluctuates between a mother-figure and a teenager’s best friend.
‘Suz,’ as she refers to herself as, is a wonderful woman; almost surreal in her calming demeanor. She stands almost level with me at about six feet tall. She drapes herself in green and blue linen sets with one of my tokens, a ceramic brooch from Cornwall, pinned to her jacket. She has short, naturally white-grey hair and an ever-present golden hue, earned from decades spent gardening. With every greeting between us, her blue eyes become even more accentuated by fine, laugh-incurred lines.
After promising to visit her home, something I’d heard so much about and pictured in my head like you do your favourite storyline, I was finally able to make the fifteen-minute drive with Suzanne to her and her husband’s picturesque, stone cottage in the centre of rolling farm fields; their home for the past forty years.
SUZANNE’S BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
Best served with hot, homemade bread in the small, quirky kitchen of a close friend.
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
olive oil 1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
75ml of dry white wine
300g of pearled spelt or absorbio rice
1.2 litres hot vegetable stock
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4. Place peeled and diced squash in a roasting tray with a tablespoon of oil and a little salt and pepper.
2. Place the tray in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Then remove the diced squash making sure the flesh is cooked and soft.
3. Fry the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, adding a pinch of salt to help them soften. Tip in the ‘rice’ and squash and cook for a further 5 minutes, making sure to stir regularly.
4. Pour in the white wine and allow to reduce down. Then, start adding stock a ladleful at a time allowing the rice to absorb the stock before pouring in the next ladleful. When the rice is just cooked through, finish with a knob of butter, a sprinkling of cheese and some salt and pepper. Leave the pan to sit with a lid on for a couple of minutes before serving to give it a silkier texture.