Umeboshi: two stars for what is usually a two star fruit. Umeboshi is a Japanese plum that has been pickled in salt. When I tried the umeboshi on its own, I was overwhelmed. Mixing it through a bowl of rice dulled the sourness and the saltiness, and allowed the flavour of the plum to permeate through the rice. After finishing the rice, the majority of the umeboshi remained. I put the rest in the bin. Next time, I will use more rice. I suspect that my opinion of umeboshi will become more favourable over time.

I awoke to a knocking sound coming from downstairs, followed by a wheezing, heavy breathing. We had found a barn in the middle of a salt marsh, and had decided to spend the night there. Inside, the floor of the barn was composed solely of anoxic muck, but the loft was quite well-kept. We found some barrels of pickled fruit, and straw aplenty. We threw down some straw for Blotch, before retiring in our own beds of straw. Either this barn had only been claimed by the sea very recently, or the barn was still in regular use. I had hoped it was the former. The wheezing persisted.

I groped for my curtain rod and crawled to the railing near the top of the ladder. Soon the wheezer would make his or her way to climb the ladder, and as he or she climbed I would be ready to pounce. The wheezing stopped, but I stayed completely still. I waited.

I woke my nephew as soon as dawn came, and we went downstairs together. There, we found that the lesser of the two orange juice barrels had been knocked over. Some of the juice had spilled onto the ground, while it appeared that the majority had spilled into Blotch’s mouth. I grabbed the bull’s pizzle and raised my hand to give Blotch a nasty proot, when I thought back to my own steed, Rubato. Rubato had been my friend for many years, and we had travelled the country together, clopping carefree at a pace dictated by our own whimsy. A few years into the great uncertainty, when food rations had been imposed, I would always sneak out to give him an extra carrot or other root vegetable. Then the crops failed. It did not take long for Rubato to become gaunt and frail. I recognised the same frailty in Blotch, and lowered the pizzle. I patted Blotch, and gave him a handful of pickled plums from the loft. He was well fed for now at least, and we would just have to find some more oranges for my eldest nephew.

We packed the remaining pickle barrels onto the produce cart, as well as whatever else we could fit: a hammer, some nails, a bucket of tar, and a pitchfork. We left the barn, trekking back across the marsh to dry land, before continuing south.