Meet The Ancestors

I took JACS to Monkey World on Friday.  One Granny ‘against’ four very lively children isn’t the ideal ratio to work with.  Apprehensive about the possibility of mislaying a child, I dressed in a cherry red fleece and took my mauve Van Gogh Irises umbrella which I said I would put up if a child went missing and needed to find its way back to its social group.  Luckily the umbrella only went up twice; the first occasion was to humour a hiding child, the second occasion was at the end of the afternoon when we lingered a bit too long over a board telling us about the histories of the individual chimpanzees, and Charlie decided to climb to the top of one of the conical structures close by.

Monkey World is an Ape Rescue Centre.  Their mission is to work with governments around the world to stop the smuggling of primates from the wild.  At the Centre refugees of this illegal trade, as well as those that have suffered abuse or neglect, are rehabilitated into natural living groups.   They have a choice of indoor or outdoor areas in which to play and explore.  And this excellent child entertainment resource is only a ten minute drive from our house.

The children enjoyed watching the various animals at close quarters and were very amused at the antics of a young (3-year old) chimpanzee and the way that its mother and other adults tried to manage the wild child, and also play with him.  As ‘Bart’, the young chimp, swung from limb to limb, and scampered round the indoor quarters picking up bundles of wood shavings and throwing it up into the air, my charges laughed to see such mischief.  This was a perfect cue for a discussion about our human origins.

Amelie is very keen to check out the extra large climbing frame of which I have heard tell.  It’s a super structure, built tall but safe with high-sided robust netting along walkways which link the ‘lookout’ towers.  JACS love playing in this ‘Great Ape’ play area with its variety of swings, slides and sprawling framework to clamber over.

We took the woodland walk back up to the main concourse and finished our visit at the chimpanzee pavilions.  We arrived in time to see the animals come out into their compound, and chase around screeching at each other before they raced to the upper level of their high frame.  From here they would have had a view out across the 65 acre site, just as we had had from the human Great Ape recreation area on the other side of the park.

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A Conchological Dish – Conchiglione al Abalone

A year ago icy north winds were lashing our beaches on the eastern Cotentin.  Nick and I, wrapped up in many layers, walked those shores and found quite a few sacks of oysters, wrenched from the trestles in the local oyster parks.  Some of the plastic net sacks had ripped and spilled their contents, which the sea scattered along the driftlines.  One or two sacks were undamaged with live oysters inside.  These were treasure trove.  We ate our fill and froze yet more.

I also found a moribund ormer (abalone) which caused excitement and speculation in equal measure.  This year, on the occasion of an exceptional low tide, I resolved to search neighbouring rocky coast to look for living ormers in their rocky habitat on the shore.

I planned to search the rock outcrop around Gatteville lighthouse at low water.  But after chatting with Francois Nick told me about another bit of shore, known by a patient, where ormers were being found by locals.  So we drove to the site, near a windmill and caravan park.  There were a few people making their way to the lower shore when we arrived with an hour to go before low tide.

When you arrive at a rocky shore where the receding tide reveals ever more potential habitat, and the area and shape of the shore are ‘morphing’ before your very eyes, the trick is to pick the right spot.  On many shores some areas are more productive than others and shelter is often a strong factor.  Nick and I selected our route across the rocks and sand and started rolling rocks.

It was interesting to watch searching techniques employed by others in our vicinity.  Nick and I were togged in waterproof neoprene chest waders but others appeared to have full dry suits and they could wade out to waist or chest height then grope around under the water, finding the largest boulders they could roll.  I assume they then felt and peered through the water to look for the ormers.  Adult ormers are large enough to see, unlike many molluscs which inhabit the undersides of rocks on a shore.

When I am working on a shore, I wish I was bold enough to go and peer quite blatently into my fellow collectors’ receptacles.  Pecheurs a pied often use open wicker or wire baskets,  and it wouldn’t be difficult, but I rarely have the nerve.  I might steal a glance as I casually walk past a busy fisher but that is far as it goes.  So Nick and I have no idea how many ormers, or other trophies such as brown crabs or lobsters were found that afternoon.

Nick had wandered away to a bit of shore rather distant from the shallow lagoon I was favouring.  In the end he came back to work with me and it was cooperation that won through.  We were standing in a sheltered low point on the rock platform  when I announced the place looked possible, likely even, with its stable but rollable boulders.  Nick turned a rock over and said “Like this?”  A sizeable adult on the underside was the unmistakeable proof that ormers do extend onto the eastern coasts of the Cotentin.

We continued to search until time (I needed time to get ready for my homeward crossing later in the evening) and tide, brought our search to an end.  One specimen is good enough for a record in biological recording, so the second specimen Nick spotted in a crevice near the top of the shore was a bonus.  We managed to pry it out of its niche.  I chilled both ormers in the fridge back home until it was time to catch my ferry for England.   They travelled safely in my cabin bag and were deposited in the fridge at Winterborne.  Later that day I prepared them for the pot.

You remove the ormers from the shell using a desert spoon to release the muscle from the shell.  Then you cut away all viscera until you have a white oval piece of meat with a moss green-coloured border.  This is a coating of algae which you remove with a small stiff brush.  Then you take a wooden tenderizing mallet and beat the meat until its surface area has doubled.  I then shave slivers off the flesh and sizzle them in a pan with olive oil, chopped shallot, ginger and a touch of chilli.  Or none of the above, just butter, garlic and parsley.  They don’t take long to cook and can then be stirred into a risotto or cooked pasta with a light sauce – what could be more appropriate than the pasta shells known as Conchiglione?

Birthday High Jinks

The Poulets’ departure from England coincided with my birthday.  So we found ourselves in the city of my birth when it was time to deliver them to their ferry.  During their short stay, we had tried to give them a variety of outings and visual treats at a time of the year when many attractions are closed and gardens are still in winter mode.

We did visit Corfe and scrambled up to the castle where we had good, if slightly misty, views of surrounding Dorset countryside.  It was a bitingly cold day so we did not linger long, and as we were leaving we heard a sound reminiscent of an old creaking door.  Looking up we saw ravens sitting on their large twiggy nest in one of the highest recesses in the battlements.

We were not overly impressed with lunch at the Bankes Arms in the village.  We took a circuitous route back to Winterborne K.  At some point I shut my eyes for a while and when I woke we were driving into the car park at Kingston Lacy.  Why had we come here?  Francois had left his credit card on the first day, apparently, and although it crossed my mind that I was sure he had used it subsequently, I let that thought go.  Only on my birthday morning did it become clear that subterfuge had been employed in order that Anne and Francois could return to the National Trust shop there to buy me the beautiful pottery bowl with the peacock feather pattern.

It was a happy birthday morning with cards, thoughtful gifts and a bouquet which was delivered as we were leaving the house to drive to Portsmouth.

Nick took us through the New Forest where we stopped to walk a while, enjoying the forest ponies and sightings of roe deer which Francois successfully photographed.  Then on to Portsmouth where we parked at Gunwharf Quays with easy access to the Spinnaker Tower.

The tower soars 170 metres above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent; it is taller than the London Eye, Blackpool Tower and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon for Britain.  Situated on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, it offers amazing 350º panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour, the South coast and the Isle of Wight, with views stretching out for up to 23 miles.

View Deck 1 boasts Europe’s largest glass floor, where visitors of all ages can dare to ‘walk on air’! This was a very weird experience but I managed it and took a photo too.  View Deck 2 has self-contained multimedia ‘Time Telescope’ stations showing the history of the harbour and View Deck 3 – The Crow’s Nest – is open to the elements, enabling visitors to feel the wind in their hair.

We took all of that in and lingered in the cafe over a coffee.  Anne and Francois had hoped to see over the Victory but you needed to buy a ticket for all that the Old Dockyard has to offer, and with barely an hour to spare the expense was not worthwhile.  We walked round the old ship and it was then time to take our visitors to the terminal.

Returning home we made a much needed cuppa, cut ourselves slabs of bread and toppings.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  Early evening found us in the Rajpoot in Dorchester, enjoying their delicious Indian food, and tricks performed by a very talented young magician who we might book for the family party in May.

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Leisure at Kingston Lacy

Early on Monday morning at the close of January, the Poulets came to Winterborne Kingston.  Nick collected from the overnight ferry.  Their arrival has been anticipated with pleasure.  We drank coffee, ate toast and the first excursion was mooted.

And so we drove the short route to the National Trust property, Kingston Lacy.  The way takes us along the splendid mile-long avenue of beech trees which was planted in 1835 as an anniversary present for Lady Bankes.  Some present!!

Many National Trust houses are closed until March, but there are grounds to wander round and we found plenty to enjoy on the cold, bright day.  Anne and I clicked away on our digital cameras and she donated some of her more superior shots to my Kingston Lacy portfolio.  The guy at the ticket office had told us we were a bit early for the snowdrops – by 8 or 9 days 🙂 – but there were plenty enough to make a good show, and Anne and I were particularly taken by the marriage of bamboo and snowdrops.  A multicultural coupling.

You could spot the winter aconites from some good distance, their garish yellow colour being rather singular in the winter landscape.  I never managed to establish them at 88 but given the mammalian predations we endured I wonder if they were rooted out.  I think a subtle space at Winterborne K must be found to try again.

Nick and Francois share a love of working with wood so the ‘Venerables’ – thus named by Francois – the ancient trees in the grounds, were the focus of their attention and discussion.  We walked a circular route, until a troublesome ankle and the chill factor drove us into the shop where a few purchases were made.  Marmalade, cards, a small book on bird song, bargain gloves and Christmas decs ….. Anne was pleased with her finds.  National Trust gift shops sell a rather desirable range of goods and I was very taken with a range of pottery on sale, particularly a large bowl with a peacock feather design.

The restaurant had little to offer for lunch so we drove on, and found a farm shop with a rustic restaurant attached.  Being just a short distance from the centre of Wimborne we then took the Poulets to Waitrose where they topped up on some of their favoured ‘English’ products: horseradish sauce, pickled walnuts, salt and vinegar crisps, gravy products, Chivers jellies, and Naan breads 🙂

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