Round the Kitchen Table

With an Aga at its heart, the kitchen at Inshriach is where it’s at.  Much time is spent there, adults and children eating together daily.  But here scripts are written, props for Dan’s filming exploits are contrived (viz balloon Zombie heads), cookery from first principles is a collective activity.  We make bread, pizza, pasta and curries.  Nick and Dan conduct an omelette competition and fortunately voting results in a draw.  The children are keen to participate in food preparation and also the drying up.

Over a glass or two of wine there is discourse over a spectrum of topics around our immediate personal concerns and more global matters.  Periodically we must evacuate the kitchen and leave Dan with members of his cast to shoot a scene.  Filming seems to be going well.  Thanks to Sue Ryder various garments have been acquired, including items that can be worn by forgetful guests for the Saturday night dinner 😉 !!

From time to time the children ask to have a turn with my camera which results in shots with a particular slant.

On the evening that we eat the melt-in-the-mouth lasagne made by Lukie and Barns, the adults linger around the table and the children variously bath, read each other stories and make tracks for bed, whilst we enjoy some random dance music courtesy of Spotify.  Joel brings the house down when he gives us his own Travolta-style rendition of Saturday Night Fever.

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Gnome Sweet Gnome

Four adults and five very excited children arrive at Inshriach just after one o’clock on Sunday.  We are the advance guard.  The weather is unbelievably warm, sunny, still.  Unloading the two cars takes little time and I set to and heat up some soup, toast which we eat outside on the verandah.  A jug of pink tulips and daffodils and a large bowl of fruit adorn the wooden table.  Lucy and Walter stop by to greet us.  Dan and Walter discuss props that will be needed for this year’s ‘swede’ and there is mention of a gig at Nethy Bridge later on.

Everyone is full of joie de vivre and adults are persuaded to join in a game of Forty Forty for which a garden gnome is pressed into service as ‘home’.  With a short break for tea and flapjack mid-afternoon, the rest of the time is spent cavorting around the garden.  There are so many places to hide and a mix of children and grown-ups is perfect to maintain momentum, fairness and good humour.

At 7 o’clock we all sit round the kitchen table to eat supper together.  Dan applies for a late pass to join Walter at Nethy Bridge. He’ll be back just after breakfast.  The children go to bed in relay and we hope they will sleep in a bit after all that running around – but I somehow doubt it…..

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Garden Update

On the eve of our Scottish adventure, work to our frontage is completed by the landscape gardeners.  It only remains for the tarmac people to move in and lay a surface across the ramp between the road and our drive.  We are really pleased with the result, the brainchild of Nick who conveyed his ideas to Original Landscapes of Sturminster Newton.

The pleasingly curved wall round the garage which has created a proper bed to plant up is much admired by passing villagers.  Nick is delighted with the purpose-built brick and flint planter for his father’s Pieris.  This shrub has languished rather, in recent years, and we thought it was pot-bound in its wooden tub.  In the event the root ball was pronounced to be healthy and already, after only a couple of weeks in its new home, the Pieris is shooting vigorously.

I’ve given a fair bit of attention to the garden, emptying pots of plants imported from 88 and St V.  Some new plants have been bought, a frame for the sweet peas constructed.  With the short wave of very hot weather it was very tempting to plant out more than I should at this time of year but common sense prevailed.  Fortunately I can leave tomato, Morning Glory and ornamental grass seedlings to be watered by Rooney’s carers.  For now, gaps in the border have been filled with a mix of perennials overwintered in pots and recently taken rooted bits of 88 stock.

How will it all look in ten days’ time?

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Snakeshead Fritillaries

Driving back from Surrey on Sunday I happened to tune in to ‘Lost Voices’ on Radio 4.  Juliet Stephenson was reading selected poetry by Anne Ridler.  In this series Brian Patten explores the life and work of little-known or forgotten poets.  I loved the poems as they were thoughtful, lyrical, beautifying the common-place.  I liked this poem best.  There are ten days left to Listen Again….

‘Snakeshead Fritillaries’ Anne Ridler (1994)

Some seedlings shoulder the earth away
Like Milton’s lion plunging to get free,
Demanding notice. Delicate rare fritillary,
You enter creeping, like the snake
You’re named for, and lay your ear to the ground.
The soundless signal comes, to arch the neck –
Losing the trampled look –
Follow the code for colour, whether
White or freckled with purple and pale,
A chequered dice-box tilted over the soil,
The yellow dice held at the base.

When light slants before the sunset, this is
The proper time to watch the fritillaries.
They enter creeping; you go on your knees,
The flowers level with your eyes,
And catch the dapple of sunlight through the petals.


In mid-March, fritillaries I planted in a glazed pot last year, rebloomed. They’ve survived the rigours of  winter and their delicate bells are an early joy, foreshadowing more familiar dainty Spring blooms.

Barrows and Bluebells

Maddy and I went walking last week.  Armed with my Explorer Map sheet 117 and an AA book of Dorset walks, which effectively provides 50 crib sheets for walks of 2 – 10 miles in length, we set off to walk the route Nick and I intend to take the Winterborne Walkers in May.

We parked at the picnic area just north of Turnworth and walked east then south to the woodland at Bonsley Common.  The bluebells are just beginning and I think they will be in full flower on May 7th.  The information board at the picnic area tells us later that these are some of the finest bluebell coppice in Dorset.  There are barrows in this landscape and also wood anemones, a sure sign of the longevity of this woodland.

We turn down across some farmland to gain the road into the ancient hamlet of Turnworth.  There are a few houses, all brick and flint and of the same vintage.  The church of St Mary’s is bijou with some interesting features including a lovely owl corbel which my niece would love.  In the graveyard there are Andrew’s family ancestors.

We press on through the village and strike off west along a bridle path.  This takes us past Turnworth Farm with a view of Turnworth House as we descend to a track which takes us past Okeden House, a rather attractive, beautifully proportioned building with a portico in attractive fretwork giving a slightly oriental feel.  As we turn up a steep track which sets us on the final leg of our course, we turn to face downhill and walk backwards, which makes the going easier and perpetuates the view.

Crossing a rape field we cut through to an area known as Ringmoor.  Here, to the trained eye, is the ground plan of a Celtic farmstead and field system; a barrow with banks and ditches  It’s an important Dorset site, and as you take in the 360 degree view from this high topographical point, you can see why it would have represented sanctuary.  In additon to depressions which represent ancient ponds, there is a natural pond nearby, an indispensable amenity for a Celtic community.

We now join the Wessex Ridgeway path for the descent to the picnic area.  The views continue to impress whilst in nearer view there are Buckthorn shrubs in full flower and stylishly carved fingerposts.

During the walk we probably took a couple of wrong turns but nothing to deflect us from the prescribed route.  I’ll need to rewalk the second half to make sure there is no dithering on the day.

Back home we have a bowl of soup then Maddy is off to do her Census work and I go to Homebase for sweet pea canes, thence to the quaintest plant shop/nursery called Digwells at Red Lion Cottage in Blandford.  It hides along one of the coaching alleys that leads off Market Square.  They have such a lovely selection of unusual plants, things you won’t find in Homebase.  I buy two little Acer and a couple of Auricula in colours I do not have.  Digwells is a find.

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A Secret Stash of Teeth

JACS came to see us at the end of March.  They had an extra swimming lesson on Saturday afternoon then were driven straight down with Barney and Lukie for a foreshortened weekend.  But what fun we had.  The children tucked into a deluxe fish pie, laced generously with hard-boiled eggs and French crevettes roses.  Each helping had to have at least one prawn in it, one child (was it Sam?) had four helpings.  Joel, not a fish fan, tasted some and came back for more.  Result! (Punch fist in the air!!)

Later, four adults sat down to supper whilst the two older boys floated round the table.  We ate oysters (Sam almost tried one :D), our own prawns, whelk bread (now there’s a culinary dark horse if ever there was one), scalloped pollack roe, what was left of a fish pied, green salad.  Leftover strawberries

On Sunday the main contingent went off to Monkey World and I put a golden corn-fed chicken, brought back from my nice French egg lady, into the Aga and drove to Weymouth to pick up Mum.  We progressed lunch, then the front door was flung open and four excited children greeted my mother enthusiastically.  With assistance from Mum, Amelie spread fruity goodies over the surface of a sheet of feuillete pastry to create a unique tarte.

The day was beautifully warm, sufficient to warrant a roast lunch on the terrace, under the garden umbrella stuck into am improvised stand of a bucket of our surplus flints.  After lunch Mum gave the children Easter eggs.  With no sense of fun diminished, she played ‘which hand?’, and tricked them, causing great merriment.

During their visit both Sam and Joel lost milk teeth.  Joel kept his tooth loss quiet, put his tooth under the pillow without telling anyone, then announced in the morning that he had disproved the tooth fairy myth.  The tooth, he said, would go into his “secret stash of teeth”.

Too soon, it was time for them all to head back to Oxfordshire.  Whilst Nick cleared the kitchen, his forte, Mum and I took naps.  She on the sofa, whilst I floated upstairs with my book.

We ate supper in the kitchen then Nick took Mum back to Weymouth.  It was only after they had left that I discovered she had cleared up all the Lego pieces from the living room floor, no light undertaking as the floor is wooden and the pieces are myriad.  We had brought the Lego back from France, where it has languished pending building works, to keep the boys occupied during lulls in activity.

Thank you Ole Kirk Christensen, master carpenter and joiner, manufacturer of stepladders, ironing boards and wooden toys.  In the year that I was born, you, by now owner of a company called LEGO,  were the first to buy the plastic-moulding machine that was to give rise to the best toy ever!

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One Spring Day….

….. we went to Abbotsbury Gardens which are a delight to visit at any time of year.  Just now it is Camellia and Magnolia time.  On a beautifully warm, cardigan’s-enough, Spring Day I took Mum out to lunch there.  We ate on the verandah of the colonial style restaurant.  Mum had a Brie salad and I had a baguette with a small pot of chips which Mum shared.  As she dipped her chips and slices of her pickled onion into her small pot of Branston Pickle I thought, give me such zest for life if I make old bones!!

I borrowed a carriage so Mum did a mix of walking and riding round the gardens.  They were established in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle. The building is no more but since then they have developed into a magnificent 20-acre garden filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Many of these plants were first introductions to this country, discovered by the plant-hunting descendants of the Countess.  Alan Titchmarsh says of Abbotsbury “One of the finest gardens I have ever visited”.  I feel fortunate to have this haven so close by.

Not all the tracks are vehicle-friendly but we managed up and down the minor slopes, and Mum and I were charmed.  With the occasional glimpses of colourful birdlife and the intermittent loud and piercing call of the male peacock we certainly had a sense of the exotic.

Inevitably we end up in the Plant Sales section where I buy a pink Magnolia stellata Leonard Messel for WK and some other perennials.  The Magnolia variety is said to be one of the prettiest and can be grown as a shrub or small tree.

A pot of tea for two and a shared slice of Carrot Cake rounded the afternoon off nicely.

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