Sam and Joel have been signed up for a beginners’ course in sailing. This is quite an adventure as it will be their first time afloat in a wind-driven vessel and they will also be learning alongside a group of children whose native language is French. We take them down to the sailing school on their first morning and they are kitted out with wetsuits, life jackets and before they know it they are afloat, two to a boat. Sam is old enough to learn in a small catamaran, a Hobie Cat, and Joel has a dinghy, an Optimiste. Meanwhile back at the house Nick hauls out the inflatable yellow submarine paddling pool for Amelie and Charlie to enjoy.
After sailing on the second day Barney takes the children clamming at Le Dranguet. They come back with lots of Dosinia and an assortment of other bivalve species. Nick also takes Barney and the two younger children fishing whilst Sam and Joel sail. They catch lots of mackerel and some pout whiting. The latter, together with crevettes roses and hard-boiled eggs, go into a fish crumble and the mackerel are either smoked over apple wood on our barbecue and made into pate, or filleted and grilled. The smoked mackerel are served, together with pasta and clams for supper that night. Fresh from the sea grilled mackerel with lemon juice are a delicacy and perfect at lunchtime the next day.
A couple of days later, because the time and tide are favourable Nick decides to take the two younger children fishing again whilst Sam and Joel are sailing. Francois has stuck his head round the door and told us where there are bream to be fished. Lukie accompanies Nick and the children, and what a time they have! They try Francois’ place but have no luck so they try another fishing ground further offshore.
Only when they move onto a third site, an area of open seabed between rock outcrops do they succeed in hooking their catch. Nick has taken some cockles out to use as bait, cockles which Joel had picked up by chance from the sands off La Hougue the previous day. Cockles ought to be perfect for catching bottom-dwellers, although websites suggest that baiting the hook with worm is better. However, the fishing trio are rewarded with a trio of fish, a bream, a red gurnard and a very fine plaice. The latter two species are firsts for the boat. Having hooked the plaice Lukie handed the rod over to Charlie to reel in. I would love to have seen his face when he saw his prize. (As the week progresses the sailing lessons fall later in the day (to conform with the times of high tide) and there is an opportunity to go cockling on the sandflats close to the house beforehand. Cockles are easily raked from the surface sands and the fishers return to the house with hundreds.)
We ate the trio of fish the following evening, and there was enough for everyone to taste each fish (although we did cook a batch of sausages as an alternative for the children) and we voted on favourites at the end of the meal.
Having spent a couple of days preparing the house for family arrivals, on Saturday we head south to visit the parents of Tom’s girlfriend, Delphine. We eat an extended lunch on their garden terrace under a shade consisting of a highly mobile garden umbrella, which in the breeze behaves more like a sail.
After lunch, we take a Walk round St Lunaire which is a commune in the Ille-et-Vilaine department in Brittany in northwestern France. It has the charm of an old-style seaside resort with four so-called family beaches. The old colour schemes have been retained including the red and pink Grand Hotel around which the resort developed at the end of the 19th century. We stop at various points to enjoy the view, including panorama from the Pointe du Decolle. We walk in sunny, hot conditions and once back at the house drink copious amounts of water before driving back to St Vaast.
We have been invited for aperos with the Poulets and arrive later than intended, which leads them to invite us to eat too. Francois barbecues a cote de boeuf which is delicious in its rarity. Dessert is a very light merinquey praline confection: a birthday cake for Chloe.
On Sunday we rise to prepare for the arrival of Barney and crew. They are on the 7 am ferry and arrive at the house at 11.30, hungry, so we go straight into a lunch of eggs, charcuterie etc. Nick and I are due to go to the Traversees de Tatihou with our neighbours Claire and Ty, with a cold dinner to be eaten chez eux afterwards. This involves a Walk across the causeway to reach the large marquee where, in intense heat, we are entertained by a very accomplised group I Muvrani.
The return crossing is quite an experience, a stream of people returning to the mainland, like a procession of pilgrims, slopping through very shallow water at the midway point. We ate delicious cold roast chicken and a salad selection at the Tuttles, and the raspberry and dark chocolate tart I chose to take went down very well.
Returning to the house we turn in for a good night’s sleep before what promises to be an action-packed week with the grandchildren.
I think it would not be too grandiose to suggest that Nick and I are at the beginning of a new era. Our French house has finally come through the mill and is ready to be re-ordered and occupied. We crossed in windy conditions but slept on the Condor ferry after rising at 5 a.m. We arrived at St V and unloaded the car, then set to work. We moved the sofas back to their places beside the new wood-burning stove with its limestone fireplace. Whilst I made up beds to await family arrivals, Nick replaced the curtain poles and curtains in the salon-sejour. Bit by bit, bits of furniture were sited. I cut flowers from the garden and filled two vases – a very pleasurable task. We shared three fruits at lunch-time; the first off the fig, Victoria plum and peach trees.
During the next couple of days we will slowly dust off belongings and arrange them. Nick is after a more restrained approach to surface-covering. I’ll do my best. I have a useful outlet for unwanted objects which makes decluttering less difficult. Remaking our French home is a task to be savoured.
My cheeky monkey grandson Ted came to visit us this weekend. He arrived with his mother and we went to Monkey World near Wool. (His father had something more pressing in his diary- he was lucky enough to have a front row seat at the Olympic Stadium where he watched Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah win their Golds. He will join us on Sunday and BBQ Blesbok, Bison, Springbok and Elk sausages from our local farm shop). Ted knows his way around Monkey World well now and has his clear favourites. He loves the Chimpanzees and the Orang Utans (including some very young ones) and the Great Ape Area where he clambered around the structures with his mother. Ted had pocket money to spend in the gift shop after which we drove the short run home. Nick and Charlotte chilled out in the kitchen and I made a beef, carrot and dumpling casserole. We all ate it in front of the telly. We watched !!Extraordinary athletics!!. It has been a Special Day.
Back in Normandy for the final push on house restoration. We left rain-swept England just before the Jet Stream started to move north to its rightful place. In this final 2 weeks of July we are basking in sunshine, it is an instant summer. There is much to do indoors in terms of reinstating furniture in the bedrooms and unpacking boxes. But we also spend some time outside in the garden, pulling the largest weeds, clearing round some of the orchid seedheads and Nick mows wherever he can. We just need the seedheads to ripen brown and split, then Nick can give the lawn a complete mowing and he will gain much satisfaction from that.
A quick tour of the garden captures some of the form and colour of our flowers. In the last week of July the weather becomes less clement and Nick and I are taut with anticipation as to whether the builders will complete the work before they break up for August. We have booked to return to WK on the 1st August in expectation that work will cease on the 31st. It is a relief to find that work will continue until Friday.
We leave with some painting to be done and the wood burning stove awaiting installation. It is with great delight that Nick finds a message on his smart phone as we drive home from Maiden Newton on the evening of the 2nd. Francois has sent us a picture of the fireplace with stove in situ. The house restoration is finally complete after two and half wearing years during which Nick and I have felt adrift, as if at the mercy of wind, tide and current, like pelagic marine life forms, Janthina for example. Whilst the forces of the big cheese builder, insurance companies, adjudicating experts and dry rot treatment operatives have progressed (actually, you could hardly call it that :() the builder’s claim for all the work involved in uncovering and treating affected areas,under his 10-year guarantee. Happy are we that Nick found the tell-tale mushrooms 9 and a half years into that guarantee period which we acquired when we bought the house.