Every year at Halloween time Abbotsbury Sub-tropical Gardens floodlight the gardens for a period of about two weeks and put on three Halloween Fright Nights when witches lurk in the shrubbery or stir their cauldrons in the huts, and pumpkins glow along the paths.  During the second week Nick and I took Mum to the gardens for supper and a wheely ride round the gardens.  It is wonderful that the addition of coloured lighting placed strategically below statuesque trees,  beneath under-storey shrubs, around water bodies and along bamboo walkways can transform the night-time gardenscape into a magical fairyland.

Earlier in the day Nick and I lunched with friends who were spending a week in Dorset.  We met at Moonfleet Manor Hotel and afterwards we strolled along the landward side of the Fleet towards East Fleet.  It was just a brief leg-stretch but blew away a few cobwebs and afterwards we drove to Wyke to pick up Mum for her outing.  We left Pam and co at Moonfleet and met them later on at the gardens.

We were glad to walk the gardens when we did; subsequently a stormy event on 28th October caused the gardens to close temporarily, presumably whilst wind damage was dealt with.  Let’s hope none of the old trees suffered for they are the backbone of the gardens which were started in 1765.

Of Portesham and Parasols

On Oct 12 it was our turn to lead the Winterborne Walkers on their monthly ramble, on the day of our 45th wedding anniversary.  We had chosen a roughly figure of 8 walk around Portesham and the Hardy Monument.  Despite torrential rain the day before, and a bit on the morning we accomplished this walk in the dry and it was deemed a success.  I think the excellent lunch we enjoyed in the Kings Arms helped.

Descending the final hill down to Portesham Nick spied some field mushrooms nestling in isolated clumps of slightly higher turf than the rest of the sward.  He gathered these, enough for a helping on toast.  Earlier in the week, on a return journey from Poole, he had spotted some parasols growing beneath trees along the verge which bounds Wareham Forest.  These mushrooms are particularly tasty and found their way into a risotto.

Katharine was staying with us this weekend.  She comes to Dorset to visit her grandmother and I also think she likes to escape from London.  On Saturday night we went round to the Greyhound for supper and a family lunch was scheduled at Katie’s for Sunday.  During her visit we tempted Kat to try the waterbed, this proving to be a great success.  Another guest has been won over.

During the ensuing week Nick and I fulfilled various appointments and on Saturday drove to the Natural History Museum in London for the annual all-day Council meeting of the Conchological Society.  This was my first council meeting for some months and it was good to meet up with fellow officers and get back into the swing of things.  I am very glad to re-involve myself with matters relating to marine shells, their identification and recording………… and very content to give all matters electronic a wide berth.   Afterwards we drove across to Hackney to visit Lola, Ruby, their parents and our beloved Rooney.  We spent a very happy evening with them, enjoyed a delicious roast chicken supper and drove home later, arriving at WK at 1.15 a.m. after such a satisfying day.

The Adventures of Bertie the Piglet

Chapter 1….. Bertie lands on his trotters!

Bertie is a very special piglet.  From his early days it seemed likely that he would grow up to have a life that would be very different from that of most other pigs.  A few days after he was born his mother accidentally rolled on him when he was drinking her milk with his brothers and sisters.  He became poorly, could not feed well and lagged behind his siblings.  For a while it looked as if he might not live.  But Cousin Elisabeth who was working on the farm came to his rescue.  After Bertie’s accident she sat up with him all night, and did everything she could to make him better.  Once he was out of danger Elisabeth hand-reared him and he thrived – although he did not grow as fast as his siblings and probably, he would always be a small pig.  Eventually, as is the way if you are born a pig, the time came for his brothers to go to market, but Bertie was too small.  What would happen to him?  By now Elisabeth had taught Bertie to walk to halter and he was becoming quite tame.  Aunty Madeleine went to see Elisabeth at the farm one day and she fell in love with Bertie, so they hatched a plan.  Bertie would become a house pet!


They took him back to his new home at The Old Schoolhouse where he joined two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and one little owl.  From the moment he settled into his new home Bertie started to spread his magic.  Everyone, or nearly everyone who met him, thought he was so friendly and cute.  Look at his picture – what do you think?

Bertie2 Bertie4

Bertie is 9 weeks old now and has learnt to be clean in the house although when he gets excited he sometimes has a weeing accident!  He gets up from his straw bed in the shed in the morning at 9 a.m. and he goes to bed at 7 in the evening.  He spends time snuffling round the garden rooting around for food, and he has little rests in the house.  For breakfast he slurps his way through a bowl of porridge and makes satisfied little grunting noises.  He loves apples, figs and particularly raisins.  He trots around the house on his dainty little trotters, like a lady teetering around in high heels.  Many of Aunty Madeleine’s friends and family have come to the house to meet him.

No-one knows how big Bertie will grow but his future will take care of itself.  For the time being he is a very contented little pig.

Apples, Pears and Piglets

Arriving late on Thursday night we were due to leave early the next morning bound for Shillingford via Godalming.  Here I had an appointment with my dentist and my hairdresser.  We ate lunch at the Harrow at Compton where I found a less exciting menu than I remember from formerly.  In desperation I chose the scampi and chips, something I was to regret after as coupled with a rich chicken casserole for supper later I suffered for several days after with digestive discomfort!

Arriving at the cottage at North Farm we found Barns and Lukie and shortly after Barns and I drove over to Cholsey to pick up the gang of 4.  Fond greetings all round and then back to Shillingford where the children are to spend the weekend.

Our visit was nicely time in many ways.  We had been enlisted to keep the children after Barns and Lukie headed off on Saturday evening for their Cretan holiday with the Dorans.  We enjoyed a long walk on Satuday through and over the spectrum of green habitat, reaching the summit of Wittenham Clumps after a steep and breathless climb!  On the way Nick and Joel gathered wild damsons (which were so delicious when we stewed them subsequently and ate them stirred into stewed apple) and some sloes.  All the fruiting shrubs and trees were laden, reinforcing this most amazing ‘mast’ year.

Back at the cottage whilst the children rode their bikes and played with their devices Nick and Barney explored the slightly neglected orchard whose apple and pear trees were dripping with fruit.  We picked plenty of each and Nick enjoyed spacing them all out on pallets when we got back to Winteborne Kingston.

On Sunday we took the children for a Chinese buffet in Wallingford before Claire and Carl came to collect them to take them back to Cholsey.  We had a great time with them all and a highlight for me was the time spent in the farm sheds across the way watching the Gloucester Old Spot sows with their piglets of varying ages.  One litter was but a few days old.  This was very reminiscent of Bertie who lives at Maiden Newton, even more so because just before we left, we learned that the tiniest piglet of the youngest litter had suffered the same fate as that experienced by Bertie, but had unfortunately not lived to tell the tale.  Talking of tales, Bertie’s follows forthwith.


Une Semaine en France

We arrived to find the raspberries in full production mode.  In our absence Christine had been picking them, also the figs which were largely over by the time we arrived.  She has discovered a new pleasure in jam-making and she presented us with pots of both raspberry and fig jam.  The latter is absolutely delicious and a lovely deep red colour.  The grapes on the vine, which has fruited its best ever this year, were still unripe and remained so when we left.  Christine is going to try making conserves with them.

On the evening of our arrival we squeezed an evening of Spite and Malice in with the Tuttles.  I had offered to dig out the frozen ready-made curries sitting in France for just such an occasion and Claire and Ty brought other gastronomic delights.  Over some toothsome savouries we gave an account of our week in Paris staying at their apartment then we tucked into curry.  Much as we all enjoy S&M we have decided to branch out a little and try our hands at Canasta in the future.

Whilst in France I was able to catch up with some entertaining.  This gave me much pleasure as I now find the whole business less stressful, mainly by restricting myself to menus that do not require a lot of time and attention at the last minute.  We ate at the Tomahawk restaurant with the Poulets and Tatanne on Saturday then on Sunday Brigitte and Georgy came to eat my spicy mango chicken dish.

On Tuesday Anne, Brigitte and I made an excursion to Caen where we shopped the wonderful network of boutiques in the centre, ate Sushi lunch on the square with Tatanne and Lucas, then finished at Ikea.  A great day, if tiring, with my lovely duo of French friends.

Our final entertaining fixture was with Daniel and Christine where I cooked a Pot au Feu, in my slow cooker, and which was pronounced a success.  Another stress-free dish.  The meat course was preceded by some locally-caught prawns; Daniel nets them from the harbour walls at dead of night.

All too soon for Nick we were closing up the house, loading the car and heading back for Dorset.  We had an important fixture for the weekend.

A Time for Friends and Family

On the Saturday after our return from Devon we joined the Winterborne Walkers for a round trip along the Dorset coast taking in Ringstead Bay, led by Mike Griffin.  The evening before Katharine had arrived from London to spend the weekend with us.   This was a repeat of a weekend earlier in the year when she had come to spend some time with my mother and to see some of the family.  This is a very happy arrangement, particularly as Kat likes to escape London and I was delighted to find another guest who would happily sign up to sleeping in the waterbed.

Later in the week Nick and I enjoyed a gastronomic highlight, another Lobster evening at Le Petit Canard, a delightful restaurant in Maiden Newton.  This was a welcome opportunity to spend some time with Maddy and Andrew before they set off for their holiday in Canada.  We dropped them at Poole on Monday morning then drove up to Surrey for an important rendez-vous.  A few minutes out of Godalming Nick suddenly braked and pulled the car onto the verge.  He had spotted some mushrooms, field mushrooms as it turned out and which he picked.

Andy who prodded us, then helped us create our splendid tiered garden at Peperharow Road was over from California and spending a couple of days in Godalming on a bit of consultancy work for Charterhouse School, his alma mater.  This was a wonderful opportunity for him to see the garden and us, his alternative family.  Barney drove across from Oxfordshire and together with Charlotte and Ryan we walked down to the Charterhouse pub for a curry.  We had just been seated and ordered our drinks when a tall figure hove into view.  To everyone’s delight Dan had made the trip down from London to join the ‘family’ gathering.  We had an amazing time with so much laughter over tales retold, and some tales Nick and I had not heard before.  It was a one-in-a-long while memorable occasion.

The following day my friend Diana and I visited the Compton Pottery having made an appointment the previous day.  It is owned by an extraordinary lady, Mary Wondrausch, who at 89 continues to pot and paint.  I was searching for gifts for Harriet and Briony, which I found, but I also fell in love with a series of paintings Mary has recently been working on which combine watercolour, gouache and patches of printed media incorporated on the surface.  These give a texture to the paintings which is very pleasing.  I bought two of her pictures, ‘Field Mushrooms’ and ‘A Glass of Riesling’ as a gift to Nick for the French house.  He likes them very much indeed which is fortunate as the last picture I bought for him, an artist’s sketch by Peter Thursley, fell flat.

Back in Dorset it was time to wind TOW down and depart for a week in France.  On Thursday morning we boarded the morning ferry and settled in for the four and a half hour cruise across the Channel.