On Monday, I turned 23.
Having had my proper celebrations during the preceding weekend, I spent the day doing things I would normally do. I ate porridge for breakfast (with chopped pear, dried cranberries, sultanas and maple syrup). I went for a swim. I bought a huge amount of fruit from the supermarket. I went for a walk. I read a bit of my book and looked at food-related things on the internet. I watched TV. I went to bed not particularly late.
There were, however, some indications that this was not an entirely normal day for me.
Thirdly, I was followed by a creepy man who accosted me by the self-service checkout in Asda and then stalked me to my bike where this brief exchange ensued:
Creepy man: Excuse me - did you know your bag is open?
Me: Yes. But thanks.
Creepy man: It's a lovely day, isn't it?
Creepy man: Wow, those flowers you've got there are nice. What are they?
Me: Um, it's a mint plant.
Creepy man: Oh right. You're very attractive you know, what's your name?
Me: [Nothing was said at this point as I got on my bike and pedalled away]
Fourthly, as if this wasn't enough stranger-related weirdness for one day, I was later shouted at by a man on a bike as I was walking by the river. It was a footpath. I was walking on the right hand side. Said man cycled along, I did not move out of his way, as there was an entire free pavement for him to cycle on, and he shouted at me "WE WALK ON THE LEFT IN THIS COUNTRY, LOVE."
There were a few things wrong with this incident.
Firstly, I am not foreign. I am, in fact, from 'this country'. Despite my rather European-chic new glasses and tourist-esque new puffa jacket, and the fact that I was wearing sheepskin earmuffs suggestive of an origin in warmer climes and a disposition unable to tolerate our bleak English winter, I am not from abroad. The sad irony of this whole situation is that the man who shouted at me had a distinctive Liverpool accent, and I was happily strolling along by the river approximately two miles away from where I was born. So actually he is more foreign than I am.
Secondly, since when do 'we walk on the left in this country'? I believe he may have been getting legs confused with wheels.
Thirdly, what a moron. I hope he had a near-fatal bike accident on the way home involving someone walking on the left.
So those were unusual and interesting episodes designed, I am sure, by some higher power in order to add a frisson of excitement to an otherwise very ordinary day.
I also made scones.
I could have made some kind of fancy cake or tart to celebrate. But to be honest, I think it is hard to beat the simple pleasure of a light, fluffy scone, fresh from the oven, crunchy on the outside, soft and steaming in the middle. I'd been craving scones for ages, and my birthday seemed the perfect chance to not worry about the rather negligible nutritional benefit of what is, essentially, flour butter and sugar, and just eat them, smothered in jam and cream.
I'd also saved some blueberries in the freezer to add to the mixture, because I thought a fluffy scone bursting with juicy blueberries would be just wonderful (freezing them first makes them easier to stir into the rather thick scone dough). I added some almond extract to the milk before mixing it into the scone dough, which gave the scones a gorgeous marzipan-like flavour that went so well with the slightly tart berries. I could have used vanilla, which would also have been tasty, but I think almond and berries is a match made in heaven. I also added a little wholemeal flour to give a delicious nutty flavour that was the perfect vehicle for the almonds and berries.
These were just wonderful, fresh from the oven with a little butter or cream. No need for jam, as the berries burst in the dough and keep it sweet and juicy. And, surprisingly, these are really good a couple of days later. Usually scones are almost inedible after the 30-minute window where they are warm from the oven, but these taste like a lovely cakey biscuit after a couple of days in a tin. The almond flavour becomes more pronounced, and they're lovely either on their own or spread with butter.
The humble scone is the epitome of a simple pleasure. These were the perfect end to what had been a weekend of such pleasures - returning to my beloved Oxford, wandering around the city in the sunshine, seeing most of my friends all in one place at my birthday party, eating The Anchor's sublime treacle tart, and generally just having a lovely birthday weekend.
And as long as you have scones, even a creepy pervert and a unnecessarily vicious Liverpudlian-on-wheels can't ruin your birthday for you.
Blueberry and almond scones (makes 10):
200g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
40g caster sugar
50g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp almond extract
A handful of blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 beaten egg, to glaze
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan oven). Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Sift the flours and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, then rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the middle and add the beaten egg, almond extract and milk along with the blueberries. Mix together until you have a rough dough, then roll out about 1.5 inches thick onto a floured work surface.
Use a cookie cutter to cut the dough into rounds, then place on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden on top. Remove, place on a cooling rack and devour instantly.