Some time in the last forty years, my family started a new tradition. Every Easter, we hard-boil and decorate eggs, then roll them down a steep hill, heading towards the sea. We didn’t invent it; people have been decorating eggs and chasing them down hills at Easter for a very long time. It was new, though, in the village to which we had recently moved. It hasn’t caught on. Local dog-walkers and holiday-makers are still amused (and sometimes puzzled) to see three young cousins, their parents and their grandparents hurling eggs down the hill and running after them.
We roll the eggs in a field that slopes down towards a Norman church, beyond which is the beach and the sea. It is steep enough for the eggs (and those chasing them) to build up a bit of momentum but not enough to be dangerous. If you want a really hazardous food-rolling tradition, look up the annual cheese rolling at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire. So far, no-one has been injured during our annual egg rolling.
That doesn’t mean it is free from tension. First comes the anxiety over how many of the eggs will crack as they are boiled. Then the search for inspiration and sometimes the tyranny of the unpainted egg. The children add their own layer of volatility, occasionally frustrated at the gap between their imaginative visions and their ability to translate them into ink or paint on an egg. I am well acquainted with that feeling but have reached an accommodation with it, usually sticking to geometric patterns or cartoonish images. Even once the decorating is done, dangers remain. Paint can be smudged and eggs can be dropped. It often feels as though we are “walking on egg-shells”.
Once we get our eggs safely to the field, none of that matters. They are thrown, rolled and bounced down the hill until they break, at which point they are usually eaten. I don’t have many pictures of eggs from the past, although I intend to ask around the family and collect some more for next year. Occasionally, an egg survives several trips down the hill and is kept as a trophy. I accidentally broke my 2018 egg a day or so ago. I had planned to photograph it but it had somehow stuck in the egg-cup and shattered as I tried to pull it out. I still have my 2017 egg, slightly grubby from its three years in our dusty old cottage. The design reflects a slightly dark time in my life. A cartoon sea monster swims under a stormy sky. But just behind it, the sun peeps out from behind a cloud, as it did in real life.
This year has been different. We are all in our own homes. We have decorated our eggs but since they are now rather scarce, they will all be eaten. For the first time, my husband blew our eggs and scrambled the contents, so we decorated empty shells and I felt I was decorating something even more fragile than usual. I used paint to evoke the colours I have been enjoying in my garden this month and experimented by sticking forget-me-not flowers to the shell with egg-white. This morning, we all displayed our eggs on our first ever family Zoom call. Next year, by the sea again.
As I was photographing this year’s eggs, I brought out some interesting egg cups. The blue and white Cornishware ones are my husband’s favourite. The Number 15 bus belongs to my son. My husband found the lion at his mum’s house and the delightful rabbit whistle in a charity shop. The whistle works well, although I can’t help wondering how many eggs have been tipped out of it by its young owners. It also has an amusingly blunt “FOREIGN” stamp on its base, presumably from a time when anywhere not England was simply “foreign”. From a similar period is my Robertson’s egg cup. I love its proportions and the picture of the shop but it is so much “of its time” that I don’t feel able to display all of it. The modern Smarties egg cup holds a ceramic decoy egg. My dad once used a similar one to catch me with an April Fool.
The jewelled egg-cosies came from the 2003 Gothic exhibition at the V&A. They seemed an extravagant purchase at the time but have been in regular use ever since. My son and my husband often round off breakfast with a puppet-show exchange between The King and The Bishop.