With my trusty yet-to-be-named badger tucked under my arm I walk through the front door to be greeted by the Cholseys. Yaay! A thoroughly wet camping experience has caused them to strike their camp early and seek sanctuary at TOW. We have three days to spend before I board my ferry on Thursday morning to head back to France. We potter about quite a bit and Joel and I cook together. We make the Basic Indian Curry from my cookery book ’50 Great Curries of India’ by Camellia Panjabi. It really is easy yet tastes authentic. We also have a jam-making session with some of my French and English rhubarb and our own strawberries. I had booked Joel and I onto a DWT Kayak Safari at Kimmeridge but wind and rain forced cancellation which was a shame.
Surfing the internet for outing ideas that are not grandiose, I find there is a Teddy Bear Museum in Dorchester. This will do nicely so we drive into the town, find a place to park for an hour free of charge and duly pay our entry fee to gain access to the wacky world of bears. Here is the home of Mr Edward Bear and his large family of human-size bears distributed about the Edwardian period-style rooms which make up this bijou museum. Vintage household articles are on display and available for children to explore. Like the old portably typewriter which Charlie homes in upon. Children romp around on the large brass bedstead and play ‘Ten in the Bed’. The owners of this museum are not at all precious about children playing with the objects on display. There are examples of all the famous bears in the world of children’s books and tv series. There is a ‘Collectors’ Corner’ and a ‘Collectors’ Shop’. We spend our hour’s worth of parking happily. And as we come out into the broad light of day the aroma wafting from the neighbouring Fish and Chip Shop is irresistible.
On Wednesday there is a Bridge evening. Arriving I am disappointed to find that we will be 5 (there had been a possibility that one of our number would not be coming) so we play the usual rather bitty game where the person who plays a hand then defers to the sitter-out. I play a very bad hand and go home feeling disgruntled. It just does not feel like a proper evening of cards.
Some months ago I booked myself onto a willow craft workshop to be run at the Kingcombe Field Centre of the Dorset Wildlife Trust. I have often been tempted to sign up for a basket-making course but seldom has the date been suitable. This time I was seduced by the image of a life-size badger, woven in willow, on the DWT website. And so it was that I boarded a ferry at Cherbourg for a 5 day sojourn in WK.
The workshop was due to take place on Sunday but I woke on Saturday and it being a fine day I phoned Maddy to see if she would join me in a walk. As it happened she already planned to walk with her neighbour Gaise, a tall, elegant woman with amazing bone structure, a former model and the owner of a quietly presented Georgian house within whose walls grows the most amazing Stephanotis that I have ever seen. In the conservatory there are 4 small holes in the floor which give directly to the ground. From each arises a Stephanotis which climbs the walls and clambers across the ceiling. It is covered in blossom and the perfume, on entering the house, filled my nasal passages with the aroma of furniture polish.
Maddy has offered me supper and bed which is brilliant because on the morrow I will be driving up to Kingcombe for my willow course. And what fun that was. Over coffee I chatted to my fellow students and we all voiced the same sentiment: the hope (but doubt) that we would be able to produce something resemble the model Kim Cresswell has put on display. It looks so complex so where to begin……..
Well you start by forming 3 tear-drop shaped hoops which, together with 3 circular hoops to hold them together with form the basis of the body. Around this inner structure you weave lengths of the dark Somerset willow, feeding the ends round to create a cylinder with a pleasing curvature at the rear end and a domed end onto which the head will be attached. Before you do that you insert sticks to form the legs and feet. The head structure is formed by the attachment of 3 smaller tear-drop shaped hoops to the neck end. These are whipped together to create the snout and then a similar technique of weaving willow sticks to bulk out the head is used. Sticks of stripped Dorset willow introduce the white colouration of a badger head and it’s a technique of trial and error until it looks right. The ears are attached during this process. The tailpiece to complete the sculpture is the addition of the tail.
Completing the sculpture in our allotted 5 hours is something of a scramble and Kim offers us sticks of both willow types to take home to finish the sculpture at leisure. I leave the sticks soaking in the bath overnight and then work on the badger intermittently. One of the last things is the addition of some curvy dark willow sticks to create my badger’s ‘hams’. I am finally happy with my result.
These St Vaast days are measured and pleasurable. On Monday we are invited to lunch chez Taille. I take some of my Ceviche de Dorade which we nibble before soused mackerel facon Francois (he uses white wine and vinegar), the warmed langue de boeuf with a Sauce Gribiche which is similar to an aioli or a mayonnaise sauce with chopped hard boiled eggs, capers, pickles and herbs. Francois uses only the egg white. The tongue is served with little new potatoes ‘en robe de champs’. There are grilled red peppers which I love. A slice from a pretty tart with fresh fruit on top of a creamy crème anglaise and almond meringue is accepted to be polite……….. although it is delicious for sure. And too much champagne and white winecannot be resisted. But the price of two hours of siesta is paid.
On Tuesday morning I return to the Taille establishment to spend a couple of hours with Fefe on English tuition. We leaf through a book of Michael Payton sailing cartoons and I give her the best translations I can. But first I needs must find out what words like reefing, dodgers, dead reckoning mean to old salts. Then I search for ‘a load of old balls’ and end up with ‘Tout ca c’est des conneries’. I’m learning too!
Wednesday afternoon is spent at the beach with Anne, Chloe and Noe, later joined by Christine and Lena. I am now putting in two swims per afternoon, fuelled by coffee and perhaps one or two of Anne’s tiny pistachio and raspberry mini-muffins. With a novel to dip into and a few stretches of legs to look for driftwood and threadable artefacts this is the epitome of a summer afternoon.
Summer is upon me, that is to say that for the time being I can remain put and concentrate of summery things like going to the beach and gardening. I have looked forward to a lengthy interval in France for numerous reasons but one of which is that I hope, during the 6-weeks planned, to lick the garden into shape.
It is a huge treat that our lovely Tuttles invite us to supper the day we arrive. Claire cooks something called Company Casserole which is divinely comfort food and I must try this on the family. She serves a dark rich chocolate and red berry torte for pudding, laced with chilli. An interesting experience!
On Bastille Day, La Fete Nationale, we potter around at home during the day then go down to the port at 11p.m. for the fireworks. Claire posts an enchanting drawing that her granddaughter has made to mark the coup d’état which took place on July 14th 1789. The following day brings a phone call from Francois Taille inviting us to drinks at midday. We have Anne’s nephew Lucas with us during the day, working for some spending money for his forthcoming trip to London. He comes in the morning. Lunchtime drinks roll into a fest of crab claws and grilled lobster and we roll home afterwards for a bit of kip.
Thursday brings a day of mixed weather when a swim at Le Dranguet with Anne is off, then on, then off and in the end I take myself to Pointe de Saire at the end of the afternoon to rummage in the beach pockets for holed shells and wentletraps and I find one of the latter. There is always one! Meanwhile Nick has been fishing and brings home raw material for smokerel pate and ceviche of sea bream.
Friday arrives and I have still not achieved much in the garden. Nothing immediately evident that is, although I have started to work on a long and varied list of tasks that will need to be completed to lick it into shape by the end of August. We are eating globe artichokes, rhubarb and sorrel – useful ingredients which are able to wait until I get round to picking them. I make a fabulous seafood bisque that I am unlikely to be able to recreate: it has Pollack stock, crab and lobster stock with bits, mussels in their juice, crab eggs, female Pollack roe pieces. Thickened with a bit of flour and some cream and soya yogurt. Trop bon! In the evening Nick goes fishing with Georgy off Utah Beach and I settle down to my Oxbow paper.
On Saturday I spend more time in the kitchen than I had reckoned but ceviche of bream, lentil, butter bean and sorrel salad and rhubarb jam roll off the production line. In the evening we have an apero soiree with the Poulets and the Bougouins and munch fish contributions from the Light household, Thai and Indian snacks and pate crostinis from the Poulet kitchen. With champagne and an Irish Coffee to wind it up, it is enough. I hope the bathroom scales will tell a good story tomorrow.
I’ve started waking at 4.30 a.m. If I have a busy day ahead, or a list of must-dos buzzing around in my head it is pointless to try and sleep more. Best to get up and get going. Today we board a ferry for France. We’ve only been back in Winterborne K for a couple of weeks but we have packed it in. Our principal purpose was to be in England for two parties; a 50th Wedding Anniversary and an annual Summer BBQ hosted by friends in Wiltshire. Then again my village quintet of Bridge learners were to receive their next lesson from Mr Kitchenbridge. Barry came down for the day and introduced Doubling. And we consolidated our learning so far, and I played reasonably well given my shortfall of practice with Cybs and co. If only I could improve my ability to remember the cards as they are played. I face a summer of isolation from my fellow players but will try and compensate with theory learning and Bridge Baron. The first party we go to is at Clifford Bridge. It starts at midday and continues into the evening. In the lovely garden setting that our friends are creating we sat and chatted to friends in archaeology and ate delicious food. Meats from the BBQ at midday were followed by a Hog Roast later. To accompany all this meatiness a fabulous array of salads had been prepared, and then there were strawberries…………… We stayed at a nearby cottage with the O’Connors which was within walking distance. On the Sunday we ate more delicious food in the form of party leftovers then Nick drove to Greylake to see his friend John W and I drove west to visit Cornish Stella and Rose. Driving back on the Monday I stop at the farm shop at Morcombelake to buy another willow butterfly scarer. One that I bought earlier didn’t exactly keep the blackbird off my strawberries but it looks graceful in its rustic willowness. All things willow get a big tick from me. Mind you a more effective bird scarer might be something like this…….. During my English fortnight I make another batch of apricot jam and harvest a lot of strawberries. We eat plenty of these fresh from the plot but there are still plenty to freeze for future desserts and I also plan to make some rhubarb and strawberry jam with Joel.
The garden receives attention and when we come to leave it looks well enough although there are weeds at the back of the main border which have escaped but will be attacked when I get back soon. After the earlier showing of cranesbills, Centaurea, Jacob’s Ladder, Iris, Verbascum, Papaver orientale, Dicentra, Solomon’s Seal, Pulmonaria…… there is a bit of an hiatus until the Delphinium and other later flowering plants come on stage. The lacunae in the main border are now filled by Papaver somniferum. I have weeded out many young plants so those that remain to flower are very random. Happily I have an array of colours including doubles and ‘carnation-like’ flower heads. I plant out the contents of various pots that have been waiting in the wings. My last task is to thin out plants in the bed on the shady side of the garage and put remaining pots in shelter from intense sunlight. There has been rain so I am spared the chore of watering. We put the mouse and hare garden forks in a safe place and bid our evolving garden farewell.
Cybs and Eamonn spend three full days and a bit with us. We spend much time relaxing meals and Cybs and I play cards. She teaches me Bezique which I am immediately enamoured by. We also play Barbu as a foursome. Eamonn is a willing candidate for fishing and more mackerel, whiting and Pollack come to the kitchen. We all get involved in making further batches of smoked mackerel pate. Cybs and I make jam with a €4.50 box of apricots from Intermarche. We use a Delia Smith recipe which involves layering the halved fruits with the sugar and leaving them overnight to firm up, and also adding some of the blanched kernels to the finished jam. On Sunday we take a turn round the perimeter wall of La Hougue and then have a salmon and courgette quiche salad at La Hougette which is excellent value. In the afternoon as a last minute idea we decide to visit the British and Commonwealth Cemetery at Bayeux (which Nick and I have not visited before), stopping first at La Cambe to see the German one. How very different in style and mood are these two memorial sites for the WWII fallen. Our hosting role is uncomplicated and a great pleasure. Whilst Cybs and I know each other well through our bridge, Eamonn and Nick have hitherto had a largely peripheral friendship but they got on extremely well. On the final day it is all hands on deck readying the house for a late afternoon departure. A spanner (but a welcome one) is thrown into the works when Daniel arrives with 3 live lobsters, 2 tourteaux and a spider crab. These are gifts from Fabrice to thank Nick for a large pack of fishing lures surplus to Nick’s requirements. Without ado I have to cook all these crustaceans and chill them readying for packing. With the garden bedded down as best I can manage and the house closed up we drive to Cherbourg and cross the Channel on a ‘Fast Cat’ bound for Portsmouth.
Somewhere in the middle of June we cross to St Vaast to prepare for the visit of village neighbours, Cybs and Eamonn. Before they arrive we enjoy a series of social events which involve food – this is, after all, gastronomic France. La Marina restaurant hosts a Beatles tribute band which is surprisingly good. We eat steak and chips with Daniel and sing along between mouthfuls. Tanou and Jean Pierre invite us to supper and we meet Antoinette who is going to open La Hougette which is a snackery bar close to the Vauban tower at La Hougue and serves residents, tourists and the adjacent tennis club. She is a vivacious character and we decide to call in at lunchtime on the following Sunday when she opens up for the 2-month season. We owe Bri and Georgy a meal so they come round for supper and cards.
On June 21st it is International Yoga Day and Tina Foley has organised a ‘stage’ based at le Manoir du Houguet. It is owned by the Cottebrune family and Patricia attends the same yoga class as I do. There are morning and afternoon sessions with a bring and eat picnic lunch we share. There are some delicious salads including at least four different coucous ones which must all be tried.
Tina has been extending her learning in England and bringing back some new tricks, taking me and I think some others well outside our comfort zone! One of the nicest interludes of the day is a post-prandial walk to the beach, undertaken in silence. We hear the birds, listen to the waves lapping on the shore…….. When I get back home I find Claude Osmont has invited us to eat dinner chez Genevieve. So my gluttonous lunch is topped by too many tempting and irresistible yumminesses
Before our guests arrive for their long weekend Nick fits in a fishing trip and catches mackerel, whiting and Pollack. He fishes with Stephen and Georgy and they are lucky enough to see dolphins. We make smoked mackerel pate, I keep some for house fish and chips and make a fish pie. Christine and I make two swimming excursions. Yes the cold is a shock (14 degrees) but I have learned that I will always warm up and it feels so good in my head to be back in the sea. Interspersed is gardening.
On Thursday morning I have an appointment with the charming Manu who fixes my hair, giving me a great cut. The Tuttles arrive in the afternoon and in the evening we give them supper in exchange for a hand of Spite and Malice. The following day the McGoverns are due to arrive…………