It’s Saturday and the Hunters are coming. Friends from Godalming, they are one dedicated, gung-ho, loyal Irish Rugby fanatic and her husband Dick! There’ll not be a dull moment this weekend.
Nick and I had to get up early to get him underway for a day at sea with Francois. I packed his English bangers, a very ripe Camembert and a small pot of homemade Damson chutney into a bag with a flask of black coffee. I hope Francois has the sense to take his own coffee which will be far superior to mine! They bought baguettes at the boulangerie on the way to the marina. So they were away by 7.30 in order to get through the harbour gates before they close in advance of low water, when the marine empties to the point traffic in and out is impossible.
That left me with a day to get ready for our guests. Why do I get all the fun?! To market, to market to buy 2 fat cauliflowers for a Euro. And other vegetables, salad stuffs, a couple of fromages to top up our personal cheesery and an apricot tart for teatime. Eileen and Dick are due to arrive about 4p.m., an hour ahead of Nick’s eta after the harbour gates reopen. I also bought a slice of multi-crepes. This is a series of pancakes sandwiched together with layers of egg and tomato, smoked salmon, tuna mayonnaise, crab, prawns…. It is then cut like a cake and sold to hardworking housewives who need a lunch-time treat to spur them on with their chores.
I had opened the doors all the way through the house so I would hear the doorbell and was just sweeping the terrace at the back, the last task on the list, when Eileen walked through the house to greet me. They’d timed their arrival just right as the first of two important rugby matches was due to start in 20 minutes. They’d not eaten since their breakfast on the ferry and as we were booked to go out to dinner later on, settled for some bread and cheese, a glass or few of rose wine and a slice of tart with a cup of tea.
Dick and Eileen had just settled down in front of the first match (England v. Wales) when Nick drove into the drive. As I opened the front door he heaved a weighty sack out of the car – a dead body? Well lots actually and ready filleted which is always a bonus. It is a perfect task for the homeward run when you have been rather a lot of miles out to sea. All the waste sinks back whence it came, unless you are accompanied by a flock of hungry seagulls in which case the birds catch the innards before they hit the water.
In the kitchen he laid the pollack fillets out tenderly on a board and as the heap grew taller and wider it was evident that we would be in white fish for a good while. There were also some whiting fillets which were to come in very handy later in the weekend. Francois had also caught fish, though rather fewer, so he popped over to take some of the bounty back to his freezer. With Eileen’s extra pair of hands it did not take us long to bag up Nick’s bag of the day and stow the fish in the freezer.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening seeped away as we got drawn into the excitement on the TV screen. I am always struck by the aggressive drama of a pitched battle for a rugby ball when it is close the line. It is a dynamic spectacle, warfare. So I was very amused when at one point the French commentator said “C’est la guerre, c’est la guerre”. It is even funnier when there is a dodgy moment……… a dubious tackle, a dropped ball…. and the commentator comes out with a flouncy petticoat of an expression like “Ooh la la!”
With the English victory came a chance to rebrew tea, iron blouses and shirts, feed our 7 kilo cat who has been walking all over us in his ‘notice me’ fashion. The Ireland-Wales match will finish at 8.30 p.m. local time and we’ve booked dinner at the Fuchsias for 9. Dick and Eileen’s Little Green Mascot is allowed to watch the match too, see below. The match got off to a slow start but the final 30 minutes when there was only one point between the two sides made excellent viewing. The last 10 minutes were nail-biting for our Irish friends. An Irish win will give them their first Grand Slam since 1948. With a drop goal pulled out of the bag on both sides in the final 5 minutes, the Irish win the day. Despite time pressures we are obliged to open the bottle of champagne which has been chilling in the fridge. Just a taste Dick said, but the bottle is emptied in record time and we arrive at the restaurant promptly at 9……….
………….. to find we have been given the round table in the window of the conservatory which looks out over the very secluded sub-tropical (the brochure describes it as ‘English’) garden with its Echiums, Eucalyptus, Cordyline, Parrotia, Acanthus, Mimosa and mature Banana trees. The latter were bearing green fruits when I last saw them in the autumn. It’s too dark of course but it is rather pleasing that we have managed to have this table on the last 4 occasions we have eaten chez Fuchsias. The Hotel is renowned amongst the Brits who visit St Vaast as part of their sailing activities, and others who know this part of Normandy. It’s a 19th century coaching inn which has been run as a hotel by three generations of the Brix family since 1950. The entire facade is clad in a magnificent Fuchsia which scrambles vigorously across the masonry, benefitting from the sheltered aspect of the frontage. By some strange quirk of coincidence my friend Angela gave me a fuchsia in the summer of 2005, one of several cuttings she had taken from a, shhhh, certain plant. Two weeks earlier we had just found our St Vaast house and were in the process of negotiating a purchase!
The current Mme Brix is maitre d’ for the evening and takes our order. We are also given the news that Eileen’s sons have phoned the restaurant and organised a bottle of champagne to start our meal! We linger over the menu, finally making our choices and we relax, perhaps for the first time since the Hunters arrived and I hope we will stay awake. Dick and Eileen were up at 5. Dick thinks the chef may have changed since they last ate at Fuchsias. There are a number of changes I have noted in the past year: the plates of food are ever more works of art, there is less and less food on the plate, and much more of the fish and meat are offered either raw (I chose a delicious carpaccio of brill) or less than well done – check out the pic below of my duck main course! In an age when it is all to easy to eat too much I rather welcome the smaller portions of exquisitely prepared and presented food and I don’t mind paying for that.
Without really thinking we chose a white and a red wine and forgot to ask for water. At the end of the meal, the effects of a long day, red, pink and white wine, 2 bottles of fizz and not much to soak that lot up with, were catching up with me. Apparently I was funny on the way home, I do remember that I lost a shoe twice. It is a blessing the Fuchsias is only an 8 minute walk from the house. We walk in to find the cat cosying up to the Leprechaun (see below). I had the presence of mind to drink a glass of water before bed.
I took my time getting going in the morning. I woke quite early, drank more water and propped myself up with the Independent crossword which I had started on the trip over. I had only solved 3 clues during the crossing, but by the time I got up I had only 2 gaps to fill. This was the morning I came to experience the joy of our extension. It felt a bit like being in an hotel, but in the nicest sense. By the time I got downstairs I was fully laundered and ready to roll, all from behind closed doors. Dick and Eileen trickled downstairs at 11.15 and immediately dashed out to get some things before the shops shut at midday. Eventually we breakfasted on baguettes and melt in the mouth croissants just after 12.
It had always been the plan to walk some coast. It turned out that Eileen and I would be the walkers and Nick and Dick would drop us, explore some of the villages along the north coast and then pick us up at Rocher d’Angre. On the way we stopped at Barfleur and spotted a vessel in the mouth of the harbour. It was an hour shy of low water and the boat was obviously aground. More about this vessel, sporting the name Jolly, anon.
Eileen and I were deposited at our start point at Havre de Roubary. I’m a fast walker but Eileen’s pace is like a drill sergeant’s. We crunched our way across the pebbly, gravelly zones of the shore, searching out horizons where our walking boots would sink least in the damp sediments. We talked ten to the dozen and picked up some lovely worn seaglass along the way. We eventually spotted the car and then two figures walking towards us from Pointe de Neville. The tide is about 30 minutes into its flow and I can see that on a low spring tide you get across the short causeway onto the rocky headland and have a good poke around the waterline to look for interesting beasts. We had probably walked 4 km. Towards the end of our march I spotted a large, gnarled, sea-worn piece of tree – a great find which we picked up and handed over to the menfolk to take back to the car.
It was coming up to 3pm and we were all hungry, although had always reckoned on a late lunch. Nick could not resist making a detour via Barfleur to check on the marooned Jolly. She was still sat there, an hour after low tide and Nick said she would be afloat in less than an hour. We chose an outside table at the Cafe de France with a vantage point to watch for movement in the masts of the stranded boat, and ordered a drink. It turned out to be rather more than an hour before Jolly was capable of getting under way. By this time she was well and truly afloat and swinging broadside onto the harbour entrance. There was a bit of mystery about the boat, for which I will have to do a separate post. Suffice to say there is a story there and Dick is going to hunt it down and write an article for one of the Classic Boat magazines.
By the time we got back home we were more than a bit peckish. I quickly whipped up some batter and frittered the whiting which we ate with tartare sauce and French bread. We then all crashed. Later when we were reassembled I made a simple pea risotto on top of which I served some of the crab meat Nick and Dick had de-shelled. Daniel, ex-fisherman who knows a thing or two in matters of seafood, bought and cooked several kilos of crab craws, which they call ‘pattes de crabe’ in France and we bought a couple of kilos from him. Literally translated this means ‘crab paws’! Once the kitchen was clear Eileen and I sought our beds, the men played a few games of pool. Yet again I drift off to the sound of pool balls tumbling into the ball tray.