Les Petits Gris a Midi

 

Coloured fairy lights, and twinkly bits and pieces are finding their place in the house.  By the time the Perrymans arrive the only task remaining will be to decorate the Christmas Tree.  During this week Nick will celebrate his birthday and we are invited to supper that evening by Soizic and Pierrick.  Coincidentally Soisiz celebrates her birthday the day after Nick.  We are taken by the Poulets through whom we know S and P, and another couple who are mutual sailing friends of the quartet join us too.  The house has been decorated and it is a festive evening.

One lunch time we are invited to eat escargots chez Taille.   They have a neighbour, Jean-Claude, who collects them and his wife prepares them. resizeescargots-2Mimi has most recently worked her way through seven hundred snails and has declared she is not going to do any more!  These are all the so-called Petit Gris, that is Cornu aspersum, the common garden snail.  We love eating them and so does Francois, Fefe on the other hand prefers to eat some squid a la Francois.

Nick goes fishing a couple of times and brings home some useful catch.  He fishes for squid on one day and manages to catch three modestly sized ones. img_5236 I have picked up a different way of cooking squid which involves soaking them in boiled and cooled milk spiced with star anise.  You then toss the squid pieces in a frying pan with a bit of garlic butter.  As long as you don’t overdo it the squid is wonderfully tender.  A couple of days later Nick goes fishing a second time with Stephen and they have a rewarding day, catching five species which includes four Red Gurnard, Pout Whiting, a Red Mullet, a Mackerel and a Bream.

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On Saturday evening we have a date at the Daniell house for Carol Singing and Mince Pies. To my shame I get the timing wrong and we arrive and hour and a half late and there is no way out than to confess.  Yes we could blame it on a number of things not least the very nasty blanket of fog which has enveloped our bit of Normandy but honesty wins over.  It is a very pleasant, and distinctly English occasion with the majority of the guests being ex-pats including two Americans.  I start to chat to the woman who we met last time and am completely mystified and shocked when she tells me that although she could not vote she would surely have voted for Trump because she did not like or trust Hillary.  She feels we should wait and see because it won’t all be bad and in any event, she tells me and I don’t know if this is true or not, Trump is currently touring the States, talking to voters, telling them he didn’t mean everything he said, he wanted to get elected.  I feel a wave of dislike and anger rise up and fortunately Lorraine calls us to order for the singing of more carols.

Fortunately we know some thoroughly interesting and thoughtful Americans who have real political integrity and as it happens are great friends.  They come to supper on Sunday to celebrate their arrival in St Vaast that afternoon and I make Rick Stein’s seafood tourte and we play a hand of Spite and Malice.  The fog which has been hanging around continues to come and go and Ty later sends me a photo of our house.spookyhouse.JPG

On Monday I start to make my curries.  The Tenorios, the Daniells and the da Costas are coming to us for a curry evening.  They will Christine Street’s Chicken curry and my own Goa Fish Curry, with a Daal and some Naan breads.  Our own house Lemon Pickle is hugely appreciated.  Which reminds me that I must make some more.

This soiree brings our pre-Christmas social activity to a close and we then prepare for the arrival of the Perrymans.

 

 

 

 

A Pot of Coffee and a Mince Pie…..

……………… is all you need for breakfast in the Christmas aftermath.  Weeks behind with my blog, I now settle to a morning at my screen with a mug to my right and my diary to my left.  I must go back to November 28th.

With my Christmas willow tree worked and sitting in the hall awaiting shipment, I now turn to the task of sorting things that will need to travel to France,  wrapping a few presents and writing my remaining share of Christmas cards, assisting Gill with the cleaning and turning out things that she can usefully take for her car boot enterprises.  I slip down to Weymouth to visit Mum. mum1-2 Also I have managed to persuade Nick to come back from France a day earlier than he had planned so we can spend a day with the Dukes.

We meet at the car park by Thorncombe Wood near Bockhampton.  Hardy’s Cottage is nearby, it is a popular spot for visitors and walkers.  We make a short circuit through the woodland and heath and end up at the dog-friendly café where we have a light lunch. img_5305-2 Initially Maddy had proposed a walk but I tacked on the idea that we go to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  in Dorchester.  Written in 2001 by J K Rowling under the pen name of Newt Scamander it is about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe.  This would be my second viewing of the film at a cinema, a rare occurrence in my film-going experience.  Rather like books, I only do works of fiction once. My favourite beast is this fellow: niffler%20fantastic%20beasts-png

After the film we went back to Maiden Newton for tea then drove ourselves back into Dorchester for dinner at the Cote Brasserie.  A restaurant which is not expensive and manages reasonably authentic French cuisine.

Cut to Thursday morning and we must be on the ferry ready for departure at 08.30h.  The car is packed full.  Our departure is delayed after a minor medical emergency for which the lack-lustre ambulance service manages to delay us by a couple of hours.  Happily I am always content to be on the Barfleur.

The weekend is spent quietly and I start to think about decorating the house.  I go up to the top floor to investigate the walk-in cupboard where I keep Christmas decorations.  I am somewhat nonplussed to find very few boxes and certainly none of the old familiars.  I realise in that moment that they are sitting in our garage in Dorset, stacked where they were stacked last January ready for transport to France.  In my mind this task had been completed but in reality the boxes have been moved and re-arranged during the year by Nick without him realising what they contained.  At least the wooden reindeer made it across the Channel.  Once I look at the contents of the boxes and bags which are there I realise I will have enough baubles and tree ornaments for the fresh green tree, as well as the new willow one.  This will be a year for holly and ivy over the pictures, and candles, lots of them.

We will gradually start to pick up with our friends.  Martine and Alain come from Paris at the beginning of the week and we meet them that evening for a meal at Le Chasse Maree.  This restaurant has recently changed ownership and the new management are more agreeable than the former.  We enjoy our food there.  The Tailles invite us to eat native oysters at midday.

That is a real treat, they are more favoured than the locally farmed non-native ‘huitre creuse’ but I would be hard pushed to distinguish the two were I to subject myself to a blind tasting.

Friday is a very special day in that I go to have coffee with my talented friend Bibi who I haven’t seen since April.  This seems incredible but she spent two months in Mexico painting a stunning mural in a friend’s house and then we were away in June, then summer intervened and a busy autumn and that’s how it went.  She makes lovely things.  Her current theme is to create puzzles, wooden shapes which form her special brand of jigsaw puzzle and each puzzle comes in its own box which is a work of art.

I love them all but cannot resist the Picasso one which I buy then give to Nick on his birthday!  He likes it too. In the evening we have been invited to eat chez Burnouf, and Dede serves a delicious ‘couscous’.  The Poulets are there, also the Tailles, wonderfully convivial.

Over the weekend Bibi and three other friends hold a Christmas ‘Expo’ and sale of their work.  15380688_551366855059399_4150434975071553341_nI am able to properly meet Charlotte Franklin who I spoke to briefly in the summer at the Daniell event.  She is a talented painter and sculptor and a friend of La Poulette.  I buy some of her lovely cards.  Then it’s also good to meet up with Pink Sarah, she who made the tartan replica of my favourite pinafore dress.  I decide to take a couple of ‘off-the-pegs’ into my wardrobe.  There is a charming Frenchwoman, Florence Renault, who makes beautiful jewellery in glass.  Some Euros are parted with.   Having been in the morning, I later accompany la Poulette and Fefe who both expressed an interest in going to the sale.  As it happens they each buy a version of the striped ponchos that Sarah has made.  I think they suit their respective new owners well although later I gather from Fefe that she has gone off the boil with hers as she feels as if she has a rug slung about her shoulders.  I think she may be missing the point!

By Sunday evening that’s a diverse week wrapped up, another one is in view.

A Walk in the Woods

When Dédé and Françoise proposed a walk in the woods, little did I imagine what a unique moment this would be, for me.  Françoise’s email ran as follows “Mercredi,  à 14 heure veut tu venir avec André et moi aux champignons?   Nous serons de retour pour 17 hr.  On vient te chercher si tu peux ? Gros Bisous.   ‘Aux champignons?  In December?!!  I concluded that ‘aux champignons’ would be an expression, a watchword if you like, to denote a gentle ramble in the countryside.

Since Nick and I bought our French house eleven years ago we have never been for a walk in French woods!  IMG_5347 (2).JPG

When I think about that it is rather extraordinary.  We have walked often enough along the shores and coast of the Cotentin, round La Hougue many times, and less frequently inland within our neighbourhood.  But we have not experienced true French countryside at first hand.  One reason is that ‘the right to roam’ does not exist in France.  Much land is in private ownership and much of that is managed for hunting.  ‘Chasse garde’ or ‘Chasse prive’.

We were picked up at 2 o’clock and the first surprise was that we would be going by car.  Dédé drove us to a bit of well-established woodland that he has known since he was a boy.  Indeed as a boy he used to forage for mushrooms. I think it was a clandestine activity; I am not even sure we should be here today, there are wooden signs nailed to trees all around.  img_5333-2 It would not be giving too much away to say that the locality is called Montaigu, a sprawling area of woodland either side of the main road to Valognes.  Montaigu la Brisette covers an area of some 1500 sq. km.  We drove down a few lanes and then a track.  Dédé parked the car.  There was a very fine drizzle, at times more like a swirling mist, which persisted throughout the afternoon.  It was rather pleasant: humidity and fungi are happy companions.  We walked into the woodland with some purpose and before long our hosts were stopping and staring at the ground.  And there they were, small brown circular shapes with fluted edges, the caps of Chanterellesimg_5336-2Chanterelles, also known as Girolles, Cantharellus cibarius, are probably the best known species of the genus Cantharellus.  Wikipedia tells us that the mushroom is orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, it has gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It emits a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste and is considered an excellent edible mushroom.

Our mushrooms, my expert mycologist sister has since told me, were  Cantharellus infundibuliformis.  img_5339-2A common mushroom that grows in large groups in wooded areas and damp places. They are characterized by dark brown caps that measure up to two inches across and brownish-yellow stems. The underside of the cap features narrow veins rather than gills. They are known as Yellow Legs and have a pleasant aroma but are very bitter if eaten raw. They are best when added to dishes that are slow cooked which makes them tender and much more flavoursome. They will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week and they are very easy to dry.

We browsed our way through the woods, stooping to gather freely where the toadstools were fruiting.  img_5349-2Once you knew what you were looking for their congregations were not difficult to spot.  They appear, in pockets, in much the same places year after year.  We all gathered a magnificent haul of the dainty mushrooms.  Along the way we saw other fungus species.  Dede gave me their names and I later emailed Françoise: “J’ai trouvé les autres champignons dont nous avons parlé aujourd’hui, Peziza orangée, Clavaire choufleur, Pied de mouton.  Il y avait , je pense un autre quatrieme ‘quelquechose de bois’ que j’oublie?  Donc Peziza s’appelle Orange Peel fungus (zeste du orange), Clavaire choufleur s’appelle Coral fungus, Pied de mouton s’appelle ‘Wood Hedgehog fungus’ cela veut dire Herisson du bois!!  Ce nom-là est tres drôle.”img_5356-4

At the end of our walk Dédé stopped to take some small pine tree branches for Christmas decoration then we took a circuitous route back to the car.  img_5350-2As we swished our way through the thick and loosely packed leaf litter, with the starkness of the tall skinny pine trees and the prickly holly scrub all around, I was reminded of Middle Earth, and hobbits, and hidden places where secretive and unseen beings may be watching.  These woods are known to be home to wild boar; we saw plenty of evidence of scrapes in the rich, vegetative soil, especially beneath trees.  Wild boar root for acorns but there were few oak trees around.  I wondered if the animals had been searching for truffles.  Ever since I read Richard Fortey’s homage to woodlands  I have learnt that truffles might be more widespread than is believed.  The locations where you can find truffles are not often shared between fungi officinados.  They are expensive.  I checked one supplier’s prices: a smooth black truffle about the size of a conker would cost you £49.  There is so much mystique around the subject. img_5361-2

Delivered to our front door we thanked Dédé and Françoise as profusely as we could in flowery French, for such a wonderful and very special afternoon with them.  Fungi foragers do not easily share their haunts and expertise with others.  Once indoors I set to and sorted my haul into mushrooms that would be dried, others to cook within a few days and, following Dede’s advice, I removed all the stalks which would be used to make a veloute.

The following day I sautéed some in a pan with butter then folded them through some saffron tagliatelle with crème fraiche.  Another way to eat the fresh little mushrooms is to fry them in a pan until crispy and then make an omelette around them.img_5370-2

Drying mushrooms is a very straightforward process.  Various methods are suggested although I discovered that putting them in a very low temperature oven did not work as the mushrooms started to cook and yield their liquid.  Better was putting them on a wire rack on top of the wood-burning stove.  I have a proper food dryer and dehydrator but not where I need it!

Gathering wild mushrooms then taking them home to create tasty dishes; it doesn’t get much better.

 

A Basket Case

I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so.  One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell.  With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket.  Here was my mission:

Forage a Basket

Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.

This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well.  And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials.  img_6431-2blogWe gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow.  We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.  img_5231-2

Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers.  The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length.  We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove.  Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source.  We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants.  The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green.  Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising.  img_5235-2Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes.  It was lunchtime………

After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets.  Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone.  We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame.img_5239-2  All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.

We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone.  Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread.  Bimg_5237-2efore long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border.  I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles.  However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer.  I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. img_6497 Putting the handle on was a doddle.  All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others.  Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some.  What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping!  What a fun day!

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Not Exactly Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

At the end of half term week we take the girls back to Hackney.  Emsie cooks us a delicious roast chicken dinner then we head back to Winterborne Kingston.  A sustained interval of visitors and visiting has drawn to a close.  We face a month in our Dorset home before we repair to St Vaast at the beginning of December to prepare for Christmas.  I have many tasks I would like to tackle, some are long-standing and involve rooting out cupboards, weeding out drawers, organising and arranging the trappings of my life.  Above all I want my garden back.  I began to lose it in April and May.  By the end of June when we returned from France after our three week sojourn in the south of France I had acquired a wildflower meadow.  The borders had run rampage.  Fortunately I had made the decision back in May to vacate many of my pots and leave them with montages so I did not have many dried out and shrivelled plants to dispose of once autumn arrived.  There is a resident in the village who is a keen gardener and grows an assortment of plants which he sells and gives the proceeds to charity.  I walk round to Broad Close to see what he has to offer and buy small Viola, Primula, Wallflowers and small Cyclamen.  I spend £40 and get all the plants I need to populate the pots I have waiting in the wings, some of which, with bulbs, will be overplanted.

Out of the blue I get a message from Barns enquiring whether we will be about over the weekend of the 12th. img_6426 Fortunately we will although I have committed the Saturday morning to a pro-EU group who are running an Outreach stall in Bournemouth.  This will be my first experience of lobbying, in a minor way, out on the streets.  Meanwhile Barney and the children will join Nick for the village walk during the morning.  After my ‘reaching out’ I get home before the others return after their pub lunch.  The rest of the weekend is spent playing games, eating good food and on Sunday we do a walk in the morning which does push me to my limits.  Barns proposes we drive to Worth Matravers, walk to St Alban’s Head, along the coast to the cliffs above Chapman’s Pool and back to the car.  This entails those nightmare steps which need to be negotiated in order to cross the deep valley running down towards the coast.  We count 217 down and about 180 up the other side but there is a stretch of unstepped slope on the up side.  I complete the ‘crossing’ having found it extremely taxing.  (My leg muscles will ache for at least four days afterwards).  After a delicious slow-roasted shoulder of lamb Barns loads the kids into the car with all their clean laundry and drives the back to Oxfordshire ready for school the next day.

A relatively uneventful week ensues, culminating in a pleasant inaugural lunch at The Old Workshop to launch Splinter, a somewhat conspiratorial group of erstwhile village book group members.  Four of us eat my quick version Paella followed by Lemon mousse, choose our first joint title to read for discussion and decide on other titles that we have variously either read, or intend to read and which we will talk about as and when.  The following day I am going to drive to Sandford Orcas to forage for a basket with Kim.

A Willow Deer and Adventures with the Little Dears

After successful workshops run by Kim Cresswell in which I have crafted a badger (which looks more like a hog) and a Goose (which does look like a goose) I am challenging myself because I have signed up for a weekend at the end of which I will hope to have woven a willow Roe Deer.  By way of preparation I need to supply some photos of the deer species, and the posture, I am hoping to achieve.

As with the other two workshops I try to imagine how we will get started, and fail.  The secret with this particular animal, given that is larger and will need to be more sturdy on long legs, is to build a wooden frame.  But even that I stumble over.  I succeed in constructing my frame arse about face.  That is the horizontal struts destined to form the basis for the neck construction end up at the rear end on my frame.  But never mind, Kim says that I can work round this.  At the end of the first day I have built the bare bones of my animal with a primitive neck and head framework in place.  img_5205-2blogKim ensures that, with timely and expert intervention to make sure we do not lose sight of the animal we are trying to create, we all reach the same point of completion before we go home.  The second day will be taken up with fleshing out my animal, creating density, muscular definition and a recognisable head.  At the end of the afternoon it is time to pack up and load our animals into their transport.  My roe deer, the smallest of the animals just fits into my estate car.  Kim provides me with a bundle of sticks and a few canes of stripped willow to complete the finishing touches.  On the journey home I wonder where my roe deer is going to live.  Once unloaded Nick places the deer under the porch, facing the front door.  This seems ideal because it is dry and this will preserve the willow until I am able to treat it.

Later that evening Dan arrives with Lola and Ruby.  The Hackney duo are going to spend half term with us.  During the week we will do some collage using my cache of greetings cards, we will make pom poms, they will collect pebbles at Lulworth Cove and I will enjoy a trip with them to the cinema to see Dr Strange.  The film comes out of the Marvel Studios stables, and is in a genre with which Lola is very familiar.  She gives an occasional and informed whispered commentary on the background to films based on Marvel Comics.

On the last day in Dorset we plan to go and see the Floodlit Gardens at Abbotsbury, as we did last year.  They enjoyed it very much then.  The plan is to go to Weymouth for Fish and Chips at the Marlboro (this was a disappointment and we won’t go there again) but it all unfolds somewhat when we get there and find we have to wait for a table and then with the realisation that 8.30  p.m. closing time means the gardens must be vacated at that time, rather than the entrance gates closing at that hour, we have little more than an hour to enjoy the activities on offer.  The girls spend an extended time in the Bugfest tent which barely leaves us time to make a quick tour of the gardens to enjoy being scared.  The scary features are, I think, a bit better i.e. scarier than last year but we barely get our money’s worth.  If we do this event next year we will plan things differently and either do the gardens first and go for F and C after, or perhaps better take a superior picnic to eat under the marquee provided.

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

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At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

Long Overdue Visitors

A few years ago our good friends Alain and Martine invited us to stay with them at their home on the outskirts of Paris.  Ostensibly it was an opportunity for the blokes (Alain, Francois, Daniel and Nick) to go and see a Six Nations match between France and England.  The womenfolk were treated to a trip into Paris for some shopping and I still really love the two swimming costumes and the Rocket Dog canvas boots I bought on that occasion.  After several attempts at an invitation we have finally fixed a week at the beginning of October when they will cross the Channel and spend just under a week with us.

They arrive as foot passengers on Sunday evening; Nick and I have lately arrived back from Hackney having stayed overnight after Lola and Ruby’s show.  We settle our visitors in and then after a night cap retire to bed.  Nick has been pretty much in charge of planning the itinerary as a joint effort seemed to end in dispute!  On Monday we are going to see a bit of Dorset.  We start by swinging by Dorchester to pick up a couple of things and Martine has a brief glimpse of what Dorch has to offer and we agree to return later in the week.  After Dorchester we head over to Lyme Regis for a walk along the prom and Martine and I peer into a few shops, buy stuff and end up with twenty minutes or so in my favoured bookshop whilst Nick and Alain walk up the hill to retrieve the car.

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Having sampled the flavour of Lyme (le parfum de la ville) we head back to West Bay where we have fish and chips at The George then spend a bit of time looking round the flea markets at the old Custom House and take a brief stroll beneath the cliffs of ‘Broadchurch’ . martinebroadchurch dsc00851-2blogBefore we head for home we swing by Portland for a stroll around the Portland Bill Lighthouse and our final stop before hitting The Old Workshop is to spill out at the viewpoint and admire the incomparable Chesil Bank and the Fleet.  You can look to the distance and see, beyond the new Marina in Portland Harbour, and the town of Weymouth, the hills on which, with the eye of faith you might discern the Chalk hill figure of King George III who was a regular visitor to Weymouth.

Back at the house we are eating in and I have made a hearty casserole which attempts to replicate in some part a ‘Pot au Feu’ which is a very traditional French dish of very slow-cooked large pieces of beef (usually three different cuts) with whole root vegetables and maybe leeks too.  My pieces of meat are smaller and the gravy is thickened but it seems to find favour with Alain who is very traditional 😉  I’ve made a rhubarb and plum crumble for dessert.  We go to bed not too late as we are going to drive to London the next day.

So the following morning we get our various acts together and leave the house with overnight bags.  Nick has booked us a Travelodge near Clapham railway station to make travelling easier.  But it has its drawbacks as we subsequently find out.  dsc00861-2blogOn the way we stop at the Bull Inn at Ovington just outside Alresford, and which is the most traditional of English pubs.  img_5182-2blogimg_5180-2We meet an elderly gent propping up the bar and we have a friendly conversation about Europe and the Referendum and he seems to imply he voted Remain but at the end I am not so sure.  I find I am so suspicious of people these days, the Leave vote has changed fundamentally my attitude to my fellow nationals, this country and its politics and sadly most of all my attitude towards my Leaver friends.  Much as a lunch would be great at this venue we press on to The Squirrel just outside Godalming where we have a lunch, and a pleasant exchange with a group of young people who wish us a good onward journey in French.

We hit London, and Nick who knows it so well after all the years he worked there and drove around in his series of BMWs, takes us on a tour pointing out the sights.  It seems a bit rushed to me but Alain and Martine cannot fail to have a flavour of the city and in their minds perhaps make comparisons with their home city.

We check into the hotel, take a breather then walk into Clapham to find an eatery.  Alain and Nick have already made a brief exploratory excursion but the restaurant they found is full.  Never mind, we find a large Italian establishment at which we eat, each of us, to our satisfaction.  We head back to the hotel and settle for the night.  For some it is to be very unsettled because in choosing this hotel Nick has failed to consider the effects of staying adjacent to the busiest railway in Europe for it is the transport hub that serves London Victoria and London Waterloo, and through which are funneled between 100 and 180 trains an hour, save for the five hours after midnight!  Nick and I are, by and large, sound sleepers, we did not think…………

The following morning we meet in the café below the hotel for a good breakfast, Eggs Florentine in my case.  Nick and Alain are going to head across to visit Dan in his new offices in Kingsland Road and Martine and I plan shopping.  We take the trains to Oxford Circus and in the space of 4-5 hours we barely manage to extend beyond the immediate periphery of that station.  We walk down Carnaby Street whose shops mean nothing to me, all brands for the trendy young, then into Liberty’s, the briefest of glances in Hamleys.  We probably spent best time in Anthropologie.  Then it’s on to Debenhams, Uniqlo.  A lunching moment, trying stuff on and queuing to pay, it all takes time.  We waste a ridiculous amount of time in Debenhams when I agree to sign up for a store card that will win us an extra 10% over and above the savings we have already made on our handbag purchases.  Before long we must get a train back to Clapham to be there for 5 so we can leave London in time to get home for supper.

On Thursday evening I have invited the McGoverns and my sister Liz, all of whom have met the Duponts, for supper.  Alain helps Nick peel the spuds!  img_6336-2blogFlora the chocolate labrador comes too and finds favour since all the guests are doggie people.  Martine makes us a tasty egg and cheese tart to start with then we move on to my chicken casserole.  Wine flows and it is convivial.  A miniscule European event.  Liz stays overnight.

On Friday this will be the last full day for the Duponts.  Nick and Alain join Cybs for a walk along the beach at Studland, and Martine and I go to Dorchester to shop and we both buy some clothing and some kitchen items. Lunch goes a bit skew whiff on timing but no matter because we are going to eat at The Blue Vinny at Puddletown for a farewell supper.  On Saturday morning we take our guests to Poole to catch their ferry, then we scoot back to get togged up for the village walk which will surely do us good after our week of eclectic activites but little real exercise.

 

A Week with Edward

Our week in Devon draws to a close so Nick and I must head north and west.  We call in at our home at Winterborne  K to deposit field gear, laundry, foodstuffs that we will not need for our onward journey.  We are due in Godalming late afternoon to collect young Ted from school to take him home.  His parents are abroad for a spell and Nick and I are in charge.  We have fixed a supper party at our old house for close and dear friends from our early days in Godalming.  Fortunately COOK is able to supply all the necessaries for a meal and there is a lively exchange of views on our current reading matter and of course, even livelier debate over the fiasco, furore and utter confusion that surrounds what will happen next after the disastrous Leave vote in June.  It is a bit sad that some of our number who were Remainers are now becoming the Resigned.  Not me though.

Saturday arrives and Ted wakes us early.  Today we are going to go to Portsmouth to climb the Spinnaker Tower and visit the Victory.  We finally get away late morning, drive to Gunwharf Quay and park.  I had forgotten how compact and comprehensive the shopping complex there is.  Everything cheek by jowl and I think it would make a great destination for our future French guests as an alternative to London.  The Spinnaker Tower is not busy so we work our way up through the floors.  Once again I teeter across the glass floor, the conflict in my mind being rampant.   A bit of my brain tells me that the glass is strong and will surely hold, but the other bit of my brain looks down to ground level and freaks.  In the end I make my way across looking straight ahead with my arms outstretched as if I am on a tightrope.  At ground level we repair to Giraffe and have a lunch.

After we head for the Historic Dockyard and after a bit of reluctance on Nick’s part to pay for the full monty, we buy tickets to cover all attractions and then discover that this ticket is actually a one year season ticket which makes it very good value.  We walk on down to the Victory and tour over it.  So much more of the vessel has been restored since I last visited it, I think with Sam and Joel when they were smaller.  In addition to walking round the decks where the action took place, you can now go down to the lower levels where the crew, ate, relaxed, slept.  A guide answered some of our questions.  He said the ship had to be provisioned to allow for six months at sea.  Supplies might be brought to the ship whilst she was at sea in service, but you could not count on it.  In fact Victory’s longest spell at sea was more than two years.

Adjacent to the Victory is the Mary Rose Museum.  The ship captured the world’s imagination when she was raised from the Solent in 1982. Her dramatic story is revealed in full inside the purpose-built, award-winning £27million Museum, which opened its doors to visitors in May 2013.  It certainly captured my imagination.  One of the new things that was introduced to the Museum when it was reopened in July 2016 after additional work was a series of tableaux of life-sized projections of the crew, populating the ship so that visitors can see what life was like on board a busy Tudor Warship. We were all much taken by the museum and the story it tells.

We wrapped up Ted’s visit with a pootle round the pool in front of the Action Stations complex.  There Ted steered a small boat with an electric motor round a course of floating obstacles with aplomb.

Refinding the car we then drove to Winterborne K where we supped and watched the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring.  In the morning we finished the video and then spent four good hours ranging around Monkey World which Ted knows well.  He loves wildlife and is knowledgeable.  He speaks with great pleasure about his experiences on safari at the Madikwe Game Park, the animals he sees, the twice-daily drives with his friend Michael the Ranger.  He has a particular fondness for primates and Orang Utans in particular.  He takes us round the complex, he knows about individual animals and I get a chance to revisit my friend Jethro the White-faced Saki Monkey.  I saw him not long ago when I visited Monkey World with Anne and Noe.  There is something about his features and they way they are set within a face of white fur that gives him a thoroughly worried expression.  It verges on sad and as I stare at his face I find myself wondering just what emotions he might be experiencing as he returns my stare, often with his pink tongue hanging out 🙂 .  He is definitely my favourite primate.

jethro

On Sunday evening I must drive back to Godalming ready for a school week where I will be helping out to give ‘nanny’ care since the departure of Demi.  I manage to fit in lunch with Lis and Charles at their home.  On Friday I drop Ted at school then head down to Dorset where I will sleep in my own bed for one night before flying up to Hackney to see Lola and Ruby perform in a Variety show.

 

A Day with Simon and the Pieman

And so it begins.  The annual jamboree with my clique of CS friends has come round all too quickly.  Which means in the blink of an eye, not that it is a chore.  At least I hope it will not be.  This September we might have to cope with an elephant in our midst.  Wait and see.

Saturday we converge on a very pleasant converted barn near Bantham.  Seven of us will share this abode for a week.  There is an adjacent building that goes with the property, a games room which will serve very nicely as a lab.  Nick and I arrive first to open up and bag a room.  We leave the lovely master suite for one couple on that basis that one of them is convalescent.  There are three other rooms with beds to sleep six people.  Although all rooms on a sharing basis are equal, clearly some rooms are more equal than others.  Nick and I have a couple of hours before anyone else arrives which allows me to make a start on the turrid material I have brought to curate.  These are from Stella Turk’s collection and will be useful, even though many of them have no locality data, because turrid specimens are few and far between.

Gradually the others arrive.  Hail fellow and well met.  We all move into our rooms and I serve the assembled a fish pie for supper followed by a plum tart.

On Sunday we are going to North Sands Bay, Salcombe which is the shore below the Winking Prawn café.  Once parked I need a comfort break so Nick and I repair to said Whistling Whelk so I can use the facilities and take in a flat white.  It is then time to hit the shore and I follow the cliffs on the left hand side of the bay and make for the lowest point on the shore.  There are a few shady recesses with weak crevice development which might be hopeful for the usual suspects but although there are plenty of winkles about it is not a propitious habitat.  cupcoralretracted  caryophyllia3By the time I reach the waters edge, if I look around towards the outcrop on top of which is perched the old Fort Charles, there is enough shore to start turning stones and rolling boulders.  Time flies when you are engrossed in staring at the undersides of rocks on a shore.  Together with the rest of the group which includes Simon the Marine Recorder we plodge around in the shallows and together manage to compile a respectable list of mollusc species.

Reaching the law of diminishing returns Nick and I eat our sandwich on the beach then repair to our car in the carpark of the Wisecracking Wentletrap.  After I process the small amount of rockscrubbings and weedwashings and sit down to compile the joint list on paper we have recorded 64 species of mollusc and one Devonshire cup coral……….. and still counting.  Whilst restricting myself to the amount of weed etc that I take back to the lab., I do collect some cushion stars (Asterina gibbosa) to see if by any chance they will be harbouring one of the tiny mollusc species.  When I get back to the house I put these little treasures into a shallow dish of seawater to see what if anything might crawl out.  After my picnic lunch on the beach Nick and I drive back to the house so that I can start to process my samples.

Peter the Pieman is in charge of supper.  That’s great, I can just get on with my stuff and after we have eaten I can barely stay awake and after a fruitless attempt to interact with the internet (it is suffering from too many residents and not enough go-go juice) I go to bed where I promptly fall asleep in front of the printed word with my glasses on my nose.