When the car pulls out of the drive at 6 a.m. I have my two young passengers in the back with their breakfast jam sandwich. We are bound for Ouistreham, Caen, a journey that will take us about one hour twenty minutes. They chatter away and occasionally engage me in conversation. Ruby out of the blue tells me that sometimes she tries to imagine what nothing would be like if the universe were not there. Wow!!
We park up outside the ferry terminal and check in and wait to board the Normandie. This is a larger vessel than the Barfleur having two small cinemas and a small stage in the bar where entertainments are staged during the passage. On this day there will be a quiz, a magic show, face-painting and pumpkin-carving. It is, after all, October 31st.
Arriving in Portsmouth and disembarking we come through passport control to find waiting parents. It has to be a quick handover as I will need to check right back in for the return crossing during which I am able to sleep in the very comfortable recliners. We are half an hour late docking and I am a bit apprehensive about the drive back to St Vaast, not being a great night driver. But it’s fine as I tune into a French radio station and try to follow rugby final babble. It is 11.30 p.m. when I pull back into the drive.
We are only going to have 4 days in St Vaast before it is time to travel back to the UK for a couple of fixtures. I am booked for an AEA conference at York University, an archaeology meeting to mark the retirement of Terry O’Connor. And in the week that follows there will be meetings of my bridge group in preparation for our class with Barry on the Friday. For the time being however there is a yoga class in Quettehou on Monday morning, a brief visit to see Fefe who faces a hip operation in the next couple of weeks and a brief catch-up with la Poulette. My friend Bibi delivers the galet which I have commissioned her to paint using a photo of Fefe’s Siamese cat, Rachel. It has turned out really well and I hope she will like it. The tulip, daffodil and iris bulbs left over from my Winterborne K planting are potted up and I plant the Fritillary corms deeply around the bee orchid plants which have re-appeared, leaving just a few of these to plant with the ‘bees’ in our Dorset garden. I take a few photos of the colour we are still enjoying, including the raspberries which continue to ripen and sprays of the fragrant lemon blossom.
We are weary peeps when we board the ferry on Thursday. I face a day of scurrying before I must board an early train at Wool bound for York. I enjoy the meeting very much and renew some connections with former ‘clients’ and associates. Despite my hang ups over bridge, when the class with Barry is over I don’t feel too wrung out although I cannot stop yawning my head off. On Saturday Nick and I join the village walk followed by a pub lunch. After a very long nap I make a batch of Indian pickle and start to think about readying ourselves and the house for our departure for France, storm Abigail permitting, on Monday morning.
Punctual and shrp at 7 a.m. the girls and I wheel our cabin bgs out of the house and across the road to Fernside Cottage. We are greeted by Angus the Scottie dog and Molly the Minx. (Molly is a hedgehog botherer, she often manages to nose one out late at night and one Bridge night I rescue a hapless individual and take it across the road to see if it will find our premises agreeable. But we never see it again. I think it may have found the escape hatch that we asked the builder to leave in the brickwork when he was building a new wall.)
So we pile into Eamonn’s car and he drives us to the ferry terminal where we will presently board the Barfleur. Once aboard we very soon spot Briony, Dan, Tobias and Agatha – our houseguests for the forthcoming half term week. Thanks to the little playroom and some pleasant other kids the 3 mobile children are happily entertained and Agatha sits on a parent’s lap taking it all in.
Lola and Ruby have several young Wosskow cousins so they are well versed in the ways of folk more wee than themselves. Ruby is a keen baby-feeder and both she and Lola spend time in the playroom with Tobias where he is delighted to find a Lego tray and a large, well-provisioned kiddie cooker and where he and the girls concoct strange platters of their own fusion cuisine with assorted faux foods.
On the first day I drive Briony and Agatha together with Lola to Bayeux where we view the Tapestry about which Lola has learned at school. Portable audioguides in several languages are provided as part of the entrance ticket and they have children’s versions of the narrative too. Meanwhile Nick takes Dan, Tobias and Ruby out on Aroona to see if they can catch a few mackerel, which they do not, but the children are allowed to motor round Tatihou at the wheel. Everyone is satisfied with their outing.
Mid-week sees yet another exceptionally low spring tide so whilst the Brickells take themselves off for a family day during which according to young Tobias they have ‘the time of their lives’, the girls and I converge on the St Vaast sand flats with Claire, Emma and Matteo. Very soon language barriers are overcome with Emma and Lola choosing to name films that they have enjoyed. But the best icebreaker takes place at the top of the shore where a crab hunt allows for some key lessons in beachcombing, how to pick crabs up so that they won’t nip, that the dead crabs they find scattered on the shore are really ‘outgrown overcoats’ and that you always reroll boulders doucement so that you don’t crush the beasties that live beneath. The afternoon passes very pleasantly with the children marvelling at the scraps of marine life that they notice. Squat lobsters for example.
AS with the Cholseys so with the Hackneys, friendships are established and the children want to meet up soon so we invite the Tuttles to 104 the following day. The Brickells have already left in the morning so the Tuttles come over for a soiree where a beef stew is preceded by a game or two of Sardines with counting to 50 in French and English.
On the last full day of Lola and Ruby’s visit the Tuttles must return to Paris and we drive to the lovely craft shop near Cherbourg to buy some creative materials for them to take home, then double back to the Piscine de Collignon for a couple of hours of aquatic frolics. Back at the house it is with a real sense of weary that I feed the girls, get them to bed and assemble their belongings to pack their cabin bags. I do not get to bed as early as I would have liked which is regrettable as the morrow will be a verrry loooong daaaaay.
After our busy weekend Nick high tails it to St Vaast and I face a fortnight of life as a singleton. I plan to achieve a lot. Two forthcoming weekend activities have shaped my decision to stay put, even though I have not been to France since the end of August. I hope to make some progress with shell curation, and I have a backlog of blogs to write. I’m going to make Piccalilli, spiced pears for Christmas, pear chutney. I make two batches of fish cakes, green and red Thai, for forthcoming entertaining. On the first weekend I take in a Conch. Soc. meeting, staying at Godalming to have some Perryman time before they fly out to South Africa.
With the second weekend looming I finally manage to get outside to get through tasks I want completed before going out to France to join Nick. After the success of the parrot tulips I bought last autumn, I have ordered some more, also packs of mixed Iris reticulata. There are lots of lovely coloured cyclamen on sale at Homebase, so I buy some polystyrene trays of plants for the wooden plant troughs. They look really good along the side passage.
I end up working against the clock because early Friday afternoon I must lock up the house and make for Whitchurch Canonicorum where the Bonhays Meditation Retreat Centre is hidden away. I have booked a place on Pam Steele’s weekend retreat. It is going to be a time of yoga, meditation, calm and delicious vegetarian food. Evie the Cook provides such tasty food with her use of spices. There is a small swimming pool and I find the whole experience thoroughly restful and undemanding. If I don’t come home feeling entirely at one with everything then it is entirely my own fault 😉
When I leave Bonhays at 4 on Sunday I must drive back to the Old Workshop to prepare to receive my two sons, a friend and two grandaughters who have had a weekend of climbing. We share a large chicken hotpot before the men head off leaving a mountains of dirty dishes, and the girls and me to get our acts together so we can get up early on Monday ready for Eamonn who will drive us to Poole ferry terminal. We enjoy the ritual of Lucy Micklethwait’s art books on the waterbed. (We still have two of the original four left after Dan has reversed over a bag of uneaten picnic, a carton of orange juice and books for the girls to enjoy whilst they waited their turn at the rock-face!) I settle them then scuttle round so that all we need to do is get up and dressed for the off. It is the midnight hour before everything is done.
With disarming rapidity a village walking year has turned and it is our turn to find ourselves converging on the Village Hall car park to assemble a small group of walkers. We scoped this walk a few weeks back in hot weather and found Hambledon Hill a trial. This second Saturday in October the weather is cooler and thankfully dry. On his occasion I enjoy the walk much more and the pub lunch we have organised goes down well with the group. After our meal I do a quick change as we are next on stage in Wallingford at the pub for The Little Green Chef’s inaugural charity dinner.
What a star Joel is, he is cooking a 3 course Italian meal for some 50 people in aid of the Children’s Ward at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. He has a chef from the pub’s kitchen to help him and an army of young helpers. The evening goes with a swing aided by the various friendly musicians who have been signed up for the gig. Joel makes an amazing sum of money and the feel good factor hits the ceiling.
The Lights repair to North Farm for the night, where 6 adults and 6 kids pack themselves in like sardines. On the morrow, after a logging session, an orchard raid and Sunday lunch Nick and I head for home.