Back in French Mode

Nick returned from Sardinia late on Sunday.  I’d had a Janthina of a weekend drifting from a night babysitting Ted on Friday to a day at the Natural History Museum for the Conch. Soc. AGM on Saturday, and overnighter at Hackney for some Granny time with Lola and Ruby.  On Sunday I train it back to west London to pick up my car, thence to Godalming.  I’ve more hours at my disposal than I’d reckoned on but can make good use of them sorting Conch. Soc. business and starting to assemble the carload for France.

Nick is thoroughly glad to be home and gladder still to be packing for France.  Great to see Barney who came over on Monday night for supper and got a late train back to Reading, leaving us to round up last minute things.  I’d made a list of last minute tasks, even so I managed to leave milk and soya in the fridge and the home baked loaf in the bin.

Sitting on the ferry an hour and a half into our crossing and feeling like it is wine time I look at my watch to see it is only 9.30.  But then I have been awake since half past 4!  On arrival in St Vaast we unloaded the car quickly then made our way down to La Marina for their Plat du Jour.

We’ve got friends arriving on Wednesday afternoon for 5 days: Rob and Rosie from southwest England.  The interim is taken up with preparations for guests indoors and out but mainly this involves a rapid garden-tidying exercise.  A cut of the grass and clip of the edges brings about a transformation.  The daffodils all need dead-heading except the late variety Narcissus poeticus recurvus – which has dainty white petals with short trumpet with a dark orange centre and a lovely scent.  I’m glad to see that this year I will enjoy the Camassia which are almost out.

I have just planted the blue Clematis macropetala I bought with my mother at Abbotsbury Gardens in Dorset, and Nick and I have moved to the front to have a de-weeding session of the gravels when our guests pull into the drive in their VW Golf convertible with the top down.

We last met up at their son’s wedding in December, but spent 3 happy days at their hill-top home in the heartlands of Devon at the end of July.  We go back a long way, Rosie and I having met up as mothers of children attending the same nursery.  There have been longish intervals when we have not seen each other but it is a friendship that has stood the test of time.

Gardening is abandoned in favour of tea on the lawn and a catch-up on family news: all our children are now married and we are grandparents.  We make a short walk into the port to buy a baguette and call in at the bar for an apero.  Nick negotiates the purchase of a box of scallops with a fisherman who identifies himself as Roger Osmont, cousin of Daniel.  We suspect we paid more than we should for the scallops – and Daniel subsequently confirms this!  One learns……..  Over dinner (a house special of Aile de Raie with Capers and Black Butter) we talk on but before we go to bed I demonstrate how to shuck king scallops and trim them for cooking.

The next morning it is warm enough to have breakfast outside.  I make a meal of this, everything laid formally (I am conscious our friends do occasional 5 star B&B from the cottage in their garden) and I manage to time our Oeufs a la Coque just right.  To my delight R & R are only too happy to put some time into the garden, so Rob helps Nick overhaul the compost heaps, sieve out some fines, and reinstate the remainder to continue ‘cooking’ .  Rosie sets about weeding the strawberry patch.  I potter inside and out and then after lunch – another meal in the sunshine – we do the ‘house’ walk round the Hougue.  The tide is out and we are on springs so there is plenty to see and explain on the shore.

Daniel appears early evening just as we are opening a bottle of wine.  He joins us for an apero and is invited back for pool at 9.30.  This gives me plenty of time to serve one of the easiest meals to prepare, Scallops seared in Garlic, Ginger and Butter sitting on top of a simple Pea Risotto.   With cheese and a green salad to follow.

Pool never seems to be anything other than convivial, the session has its share of lucky shots and comic moments.  Franglais is our common language – Daniel does not speak English but I think he must be picking up some useful words as he is beginning to understand some of the backchat.

There’ll be more opportunity for everyone to improve their second language when Francois and Anne join us for supper on Saturday night.

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