Of Cycads and Cyclamen and an evening with Cybs.

I make a flying trip to Dorset to fulfil a few engagements.  Firstly my crown needs some attention and Mrs Ilankovan does the honours with minimum intervention and I hope it will hold.  There is a gathering of Book Group to discuss The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver about which I feel a bit ambivalent but am willing to, in a sense, give her the benefit of my doubt because it is a first novel and this novelist has gone on to write some storming stuff.  I manage a short visit to Chestnuts to see Mum and am a bit dismayed to find her off kilter, an angry personage and so I bundle us both into the car and we drive to Swyre to gaze at the boisterous sea, to watch a fisherman togged for cold and wet weather trudge back to his car with a codling on a string and to simply enjoy the greenness of winter fields full of sheep and the rolling slopes of Dorset countryside as we drive the coastal road between Weymouth and Bridport.  That evening there is a gathering of my bridge coterie at the Workshop.   On Thursday I give my sisters a lamb curry and we have a board meeting.  The following morning I am expecting a lift with Eamonn to catch my ferry from Poole but am nonplussed to arrive at the cottage to find he has already left for work.  Fortunately Cybs is able to put things right with a phonecall and he turns around to come back and fetch me.

Back in France I now have a good two weeks in view with the prospect of time to choose, and one choice is to catch up with our entertaining schedule.  We have been on the receiving end of delicious hospitality in recent weeks and it is payback time.

A particularly enjoyable lunch has been eaten chez Taille.  Francois seemingly lives to cook.  Along with fellow guests Andre and Francoise Burnouf we are regaled with escargots (‘les petits gris’ = Cornu aspersum) prepared by Taille neighbours, followed by Francois’ signature dish of Coquille St Jacques en croute – we’ve had these before chez Taille.  The meal is wrapped up with a Galette des Roi.

As it happens I have recently taken a Jamie Oliver recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala on board.  Cooking curries for our French friends works well generally speaking, with the exception of certain people who should most appropriately eat at the fussy boys’ table.  In particular my dear friend Fefe has expressed a liking for this dish so I am going to master it and cook it at least three times before the end of the month.  My guinea pigs are F. and la Poulette, hotfoot from Burma where they have spent two weeks travelling under their own steam and look very well on the experience.  It goes down well and even better three evenings later when I regale the Daniells and the Tenorios with the same recipe.  All bodes well for the Sunday lunch we will offer the Tailles and the Andres.

Meanwhile in the garden there is enough of break in the seemingly endless cold, wet and windy weather to enable me to get outside and achieve.  I remove the dead Cycad from a large terra cotta pot which frees it up for a SkimmiaMelianthusResizeThe little red cyclamen which gave good decorative service for our Christmas in Winterborne K can be pot-planted as companions to larger shrubs.  There is plenty of cutting back and dead-stemming to do and in the process I find nice Echium plants to fulfil orders from Liz, along with young Acanthus and Geranium madarense which will also find favour at Hawkchurch.  There are scattered flowerings around the garden, plants which have refused to go to bed seemingly and some which have woken up far to early.  I am thrilled to see that the Melianthus major which Paul gave us has continued to grow and is sporting three flower heads.  Its potential is significant and I begin to have a vision of a garden which is evolving to feature fewer, but choice, plants in the future.

Splashes of Pink on a Grey Day

Six days into the New Year and still it rains.  The outlook from the house is a grey one but I must be undeterred to take myself out for fresh air and exercise.  So the day after our Baie d’Ecalgrain jaunt I make a short trip to the north coast of the Cotentin and park by the blockhaus site at Neville sur Mer.  I’m to see what sort of strandlines there might be there.Blog-NevilleHeadland2

The tide is coming in and washing before it tangles of fucoids and kelp.  Little else.  Even looking at the strandlines at the top of the beach they are remarkably clean of other detritus.  Which is a good thing, in a way.  So little in the way of plastic, decaying organic matter and nothing to excite the attentions of a hopeful beachcomber.  So I walk the waterline eastwards and the upper driftline back.  Two solitary fisherfolk and a walker or two are the only other human presences on that windswept beach.  Nearing the end of my walk I catch sight of a splash of pink.  Blog-NevilleScallopIt is a Pecten shell, chipped at the edge but a bright item to enliven an otherwise drab substrate.  The pink matches the other splash of pink that caught my eye this morning as I walked across to the storeroom to look for some ingredients.  The camellia which I potted last year, because it was clearly failing in the flowerbed where all the Hellebores are, has rallied: the leaves have re-greened and there are a few buds and some flowers already open.  I now think I will pot the other two camellias to keep on the terrace too.Pink-Camellia

The following day I choose to investigate my beach pockets at Pointe de Saire and Nick accompanies me.  The wind has come up but the rain holds off for the duration of our ‘balade’ across the middle of the day.  My so-called beach pockets appear to have been swamped by sand.  It is evident from the sweeps of sand creating irregular sand waves and ridges that large amounts of sediment are being moved around those rock outcrops where the beach pockets occur.  The fresh deposits of colourful shells are not where they ought to be, but I find them.Blog-PointeDeSaieShellline  At the foot of a slope before the shore flattens out to the area of gravels and shallow standing water there are two of three sweeps of shelly material containing lots of whole shells.  This is where I place my kneeler and look for all the usual suspects which are markers for the possibility of a wentletrap.Blog-PointeDeSaireWentletrap  I find the Calliostoma top shells first then Trivia and just as Nick strolls up I say to him that I am finding all the indicators that I am searching in the right place, sweeping my hand gently over the surface to turn up shells just below the top layer as I do so, and there lying on the surface is a large white wentletrap absolutely on cue.  I have written elsewhere on my blog about wentletraps, check out this post of June 2013.



Mermaid’s Purses, Egg Wrack Bladders and other Red Herrings

After a too long interval of activities which have kept me grounded in my houses, Nick and I took the opportunity to make a trip to the coast for some walking.   As we stepped out of the car near our chosen beach we were a bit non-plussed to see a view that suggested that it was already high tide.  However as we walked down some steps we could see that access to upper shore was still available and the morning’s strandlines were still in place.   We chose Baie d’Ecalgrain because it is on the West Cotentin and I was keen to see if there would be interesting material mixed in the strandlines of seaweed, driftwood and other detritus.  Blog-EcalgrainPebbles14The south and southwest coasts of England have been receiving assorted exotica and long haul drift items – like Velella, and plastic containers such as fish boxes and other substrates to which are attached several species of goose barnacle.  Columbus crabs, non-native to the northeast Atlantic, live in the goose barnacle colonies and in consequence sail the high seas.  The plastic items also have attached non-native bivalve species such as ChamaThree species of these ‘Jewel Box Clams’ (worth checking out this link to see variety of images) were found on one item which helpfully had the name of the Florida-based fishery to which the fish box had belonged!  Clearly a long haul stranding.

But there was none of that.  Instead along the strandline at the foot of the cliff I found the usual suspects: bottle corks and tops, pine cones, feathers, mermaid’s purses, cuttlebones, limpet shells, and bits of seaweed, particularly fucoids.  One species in this group of algae, Ascophyllum nodosum  carries particularly large air bladders and when these die and start to dry out they turn a kidney red colour.  Blog-EcalgrainPebbles12There is something that I have been searching for ever since I discovered the delights of beachcombing and that is a Sea BeanHow I would love to find one.  A friend in Dorset has found three on the beach at Kimmeridge in the past two weeks.  Rarely do they get carried so far up the Channel after they have survived an Atlantic crossing.  Sea Beans and Nickar Nuts do get stranded around the coast of Cornwall more frequently but they are still rare finds.  So when I spotted the Ascophyllum bladders my hopes soared for a fleeting moment before I realised that the shape was too oval for the bean. Blog-GouryColoursRedPebble I also had a moment or two of expectation when I spotted the occasional round and russetty red pebble lying in the weed and detritus tangles.  But as of the moment the search goes on.

What the shore at Baie d’Ecalgrain does have to offer is a wonderful colour range of stones in a wide range of lithologies.  I picked up one or two but there would be far too many eye-catching pebbles to weigh down my rucksack so I contented myself with some pebble photography of which a small selection are presented in the gallery below.

And So This Is Christmas……….

And we have a houseful of peeps at The Old Workshop.  Claire and the Gang of Four arrive a couple of days before Christmas Eve which puts everyone in good spirits.  Joel the Little Green Chef is an absolute gem in the kitchen and he makes a fantastic Yule Log using his Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook. IMG_5606

He also puts me in the shade when we go to collect the turkey from the Puddletown butchers.  I have already ordered a Bronze one, which is what he told me would be best.  Then I am floored when he says that the turkey should have been dry-plucked and hung.  ?!!!  Well I’m not going to ask the man!  Being someone who can easily be intimidated by shop assistants.  But not as bad as I was.  Joel asks the question, and yes it turns out both requirements had been fulfilled.

Barns and Lukie, as well as Carl, arrive on Christmas Eve and Claire cooks a wonderful gammon with comfort vegetables such as red cabbage, mashed swede and the last of my homegrown celeriac mash.  The children take ages to go to bed and even more ages to go to sleep.  This does mean that they do not wake up at the crack of dawn which is a plus.


On Christmas morning the children wake and find one present at the foot of their beds.  They open this on the waterbed with Claire and Carl then there are various hoops to jump through before we can all sit down to open the presents beneath the tree.

Joel is an absolute star in the matter of cooking Christmas lunch.  He helps me stuff the turkey, rub it with butter (which gives rise to a hilarious video sequence as Joel really gets down to this task) and tends to its needs during the roasting.  IMG_5629 (800x598)When I serve the meal there is only one minor glitsch as far as I am concerned and that is that the potatoes could have been a bit softer and crisper too.

After lunch we all settle to enjoy our Christmas presents, whether it be watching a video, playing a game, reading a book or getting a plastic sausage dog to poop real gunk complete with sound effects.  Chacun a son truque.  For myself I start to look at a book about Pigs, gifted by Lis, and fall into a shallow and short siesta.  With the main event in the bag the rest of Christmas Day passes gently but I am delighted to have a game of cards – Barbu – with the two older boys in the evening.

On Boxing Day Dan, Charlotte and their families arrive around lunch-time. IMG_5640 (800x598) Claire and Carl, as well as Lukie must leave for other commitments.  Around 3ish Christina comes bringing Cerys and my mother.  This is very special as Mum’s well-being is of concern and I had been hoping very much that she would be able to spend a couple of hours with us and all her Light family members.  1917011_10153182249921126_625731020119666110_nAlthough she remembers few by name these days.  Still it’s very convivial, she opens a few packages and has a plate of salad before Chrissie takes her back to her home.  As she is about to leave I suddenly think to organise a photo of her with her great grandchildren which turns out to be a lovely shot.

The following day there is an excursion to Portland for a bit of climbing and in the evening Maddy and Andrew come over to have supper with us all and we sit at the table taking it in turns to read Angloe-Saxon riddle songs from a book I have given the Dukes.  Fun.  All our young have to be on their way the day after but I do a walk with Barns and the four focused around Old Harry and Ballard Down, a windy and rather cold trek and I feel for Charlie who has not put on as many layers as he might have done.  The pub where we park is very busy when we arrive back there after our walk, with tables only available outside.  So we have a quick drink and Barns drives away with the last of my Christmas guests and I do feel rather sad as I drive back to The Old Workshop.IMG_5626 (598x800)  I should have liked to have something to eat with the gang before they started their journey home and especially as Nick and I will now have to start dismantling our lovely tree and put away the decorations before we cross the Channel to join our friends at Le Vast for New Year’s Eve. IMG_5651 (800x449)

A Full House of Siblings

During the week after celebrations in Godalming we needed to get our act together with regard to a Christmas Tree and decorations at home in Winterborne Kingston.  With a party planned for Friday evening our priority was to buy our tree.  This was achieved with the help of Andrew and his trailer.  We found a really nicely-shaped tree at the suppliers in Toller Porcorum; tall enough to reach the gallery and with a girth that gave the tree gravitas.  It took a good while and a lot of our tree decorations to dress it.  Then the rest of Christmas decking fell into place with the help of small potted cyclamens and plenty of greetings cards.  My little white twig tree found its place at the end of the island unit in the kitchen.

I had been planning the party for some weeks so canapes had been made and frozen.  I just needed to make a venison and red wine casserole in the slow cooker, a tray of chicken joints with cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans, and a vegetarian tagine.  With lots of rice.  I ordered two of Helen’s cakes: a carrot one and a chocolate.  With a cheese board and French bread it really was very straightforward.  All Nick’s siblings and two cousins came as did my two sisters.  Then we had invited Dorset friends of long-standing and our good neighbours Cybs and Eamonn.  Guests brought gifts and I think Nick’s highlight must have been the home made Pork and Egg raised pie with a birthday inscription that Terry made for him.  The party went with a swing and we managed to clear up before we went to bed, with the help of Joy, Trish, Wig and Ian who were staying overnight.

The following morning our guests dispersed and after a quick bite of lunch we joined Maddy, Jenny and Lis for a brisk walk on the beach at Charmouth where we found the residues of the Velella which were being stranded two weeks earlier.  On Sunday we took a bit of time out before bracing ourselves for the impending festivities with the family.

A Birthday Chair

When we were ordering a garden seat at the workshops of Simon Thomas Pirie in Bryantspuddle, my gaze fell upon a rather beautiful chair.  The particular feature which caught my eye was the parrot green leather seat.  The main frame of the chair is sycamore and the curved struts which form the back are burr walnut.OryxChairAlthough I understand that the chair monicker has nothing to do with the large antelope species of the same name, when I happen to see part of a TV programme about South African wildlife over Christmas, I am struck by the dark banded markings on the light-coloured animal, and how they reflect the striking contrast of the two woods in the chair. oryx oryx-dunes-namibia_61075_990x742As for the genesis of the Oryx Chair let Simon tell you in his own words in a blog post of March 23 2013:

“So after 20 years of designing and making furniture, 15 years of running my own business what’s my favourite piece? Well this was designed exactly 20 years ago, while I was at Hooke Park College and was the first chair I ever designed – the ‘Oryx’:SimonOriginalOryx

Perhaps I’ve never bettered it, there is a kind of naivety in doing something for the first time where you are not held back by the most efficient way of machining something or using timber most cost-effectively. As a result it’s a pig to make, taking twice as long as an ‘Impala’ chair, nevertheless we do still make slightly revised version, ‘Oryx2′ today. I’m still very found of it, it is beautifully, almost classically proportioned and supremely comfortable. When I sit in the armchair it’s like therapy, the arm detail lets my hands wrap around it, the curved slats support the back and that lovely top rail rail does the same with the shoulders. I’m not alone in thinking this, I have friends who make a bee-line for it as soon as they are through the door. I do have a really early version here at home and it’s still looking great. So while some of my other choices in the top 5 may be fluid, this chair would always be at no.1.

That first set in 1993 was designed for Bournemouth University, for their main lecture theatre furniture. It’s been used as the platform table for many debates over many years. These where all in sycamore, the idea being that they stood out and had a real presence in such a large auditorium. I took this shot soon after it was commissioned, it’s a rather poor shot taken before the room was renovated and the colour scheme matched the furniture, hence the black and white image. It’s in sharp contrast to the image above, which again is the first and still the best!

They have been made in many materials over the years, but I think they still look best in oak. The classic combination is oak and walnut, best seen in this fantastic 14 seat dining set for the Lulworth Estate completed in 2009. There are 2 armchairs, with the rest being the ‘Grand’ 8 slat version of the dining chair. We also do a smaller 6 slat version of the dining chair just in case you don’t have a castle! You can see one in the background of the main image above.”

So there you have it, a beautiful chair to sit and work from:   Happy Birthday, Nick x


Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a Cheese

The Big Cheese that I married in 1968 is approaching his 70th birthday.  He celebrated his 69th in style at our home in Normandy, which seemed appropriate, and now it is the turn of his family and English friends to help him achieve the transition to septuagenarianism.  That’s a lot of letters between s and m!

Charlotte and I have been plotting, resorting to subterfuge in the matter of making sure we have enough bubbles and wine on site at 88 Pep for the first phase of partying, not to mention food.  So I have come back to Winterborne K to settle with Simon Pirie for the birthday chair and arrange for its delivery to Nick’s office whilst he is away in Surrey.  I travel up to Godalming to find the Perryman hopes for a fully carpeted and furnished main floor in their house are being realised.  Charlotte just wants to hang the curtains so a very tired young lady attempts to hook them under pelmet in the big room and manages to over-balance, crash to the floor on the step-ladder and fracture her wrist.  This is a bit of a blow to say the least, however the glimmer of a silver lining is that she gains 2 days at home which she badly needs.  (Her wrist is x-rayed and set by a very capable doctor at Royal Surrey A&E as a good fit is achieved and she needs no surgery which is a big plus).

Before the weekend is upon us I meet Vikky for lunch at the Thai garden which is a lovely meeting after almost a year.  It is even longer since I saw my former PhD supervisor, Dan Bosence and his wife Alison Ellen.  Alison designs wonderful knitwear and I take the opportunity to add a couple of items to my wardrobe.  Nick has come back to England a couple of days after me, he drives to Godalming on Friday afternoon and together with Ryan it is all hands on deck to prepare for the arrival of the Light Clan.  This, Nick believes, is the Surrey phase of his celebration.  He does not know that four couples will be arriving for evening festivities, these being the Evans, Upcotts, Wattons and Thimonts.  These are very significant others.  Paul and Martine are the first to arrive and Nick is sent to answer the door.  Paul tells us he is gobsmacked.

The Perrymans produce some wonderful food, smoked brisket, pulled smoked pork and ribs.  Wine flows and Nick’s cup overflows.  Our friends and our young chat away and the thank you letters we receive after tell us that it was felt to be a specially convivial evening.  Throwing the party in our former family home, known to our guests, and which remains, in effect, the family home is something rather special.

The following day is Nick’s birthday.  Before we all troop off to Bel and the Dragon for Sunday lunch  we light and cut Lola’s birthday cake.  We have a long table in the upper gallery at the restaurant, a former church with many features intact. It’s time to leave the party, honey. All good things must end. We’ve had a lovely visit, but all good things must come to an end.”  And so they must.  Nick and I stay over to help the Perrymans right the house and prepare for Monday and everything the week will bring.

Scallops Galore and a Lamb

No sooner back in St Vaast than we find ourselves the beneficiaries of neighbourly goodwill.  We had forgotten that we had placed an order for scallops with Georgy.  So when he turned up on our doorstep on Wednesday morning with a 10 kilo sack of Coquilles St Jacques, it was a matter of laying the tasks that were in hand to one side, in order to shuck aromatically delicious contents of the classically famous and familiar fan-shaped shells.  That’s a lot of round white clammy muscles with the curved orange roes attached.  Stowed in the frozen food bank which is our freezer, they will be drawn down from time to time to be chased around the pan with various of garlic, ginger, chilli, lardons, white wine ….

The following day Nick drove out to the Daniell residence to assist in the butchery of our lamb.  He returned with a crate of meat which we also bagged up and laid down in the ice box.  We have enough protein for months…….

For me the current slot at St Vaast will necessarily be a short one but before I board my ferry we are invited to lunch chez Taille where Francois cooks his divine St Jacques en Croute.  As a special treat he seals two scallops with some shavings of truffle and shreds of carrot into a shell and encases the whole in flaky pastry.  Just leaving a window in the upper surface to allow you to view what you have in store and admire the shell.  At the end of the first week of December I must return to England because I have special birthday celebrations to prepare for.



At the end of November we have a very special date in London.  We board the ferry for a long weekend in the UK, getting back in time for me to catch a bridge date with my fellow Winterborne debutantes, dinner with Maddy and Andrew and on Sunday morning Nick and I pile into our car and drive to South Kensington.  We park at Imperial College and walk through to the Royal Albert Hall.

Our granddaughters Lola and Ruby are going to join a choir of some 1400 schoolchildren from schools scattered around the country to sing The Scratch Youth Messiah. I have sung in a Scratch Messiah myself, many years ago at Guildford Town Hall.  It is a wonderful experience to join a large chorus to sing inspirational works.  You need no religious belief to, nevertheless, find yourself uplifted and spiritually moved.  We have seats in the circle and are able to move to a spot where we can gaze down on our two young singers and are able to attract their attention in the interval.  Emma’s father has joined us and I like that, although the five of us are culturally from different faiths, we are joined in the exhilaration of the occasion.

We celebrate the special moment with dinner at a restaurant before Nick and I return to Winterborne K to spend a day at the Old Workshop before boarding a ferry for Cherbourg

I Bump into Mme Belin

The latter half of November was spent in Normandy.  We enjoyed an evening meal with our English friends who live near Crasville and came away with the promise of a lamb for our freezer.  This, apparently, to be barter for the fishing expeditions that Stephen has enjoyed with Nick through the year.  Bri and Georgy came to us for supper and a game of cards but by the end of the evening my pack of cards remained unshuffled.

A highlight of our sojourn was to treat Fefe and Francois to lunch at les Fuchsias.  It was to celebrate Fefe’s birthday and the fact that she had undergone some surgery for a replacement hip.  Not a week later she took a tumble down the stairs and, remarkably, such remedial work as had been carried out by the surgeon remained intact.

They live in Rue Verrue and this was where the lowlight of our current stay occurred.  It was raining and I wanted to buy a couple of recipe requisities at Maison Gosselin.  I was in the car and the road was tightly packed with parked cards on both sides of the road.  I found a space in the narrowest part of the road, which would be a bit tight but with enough manoeuvring I knew my car would fit.  I successfully inserted the car into the available space managing to stay clear of the bumpers of the cars fore and aft.  Unfortunately I had not noticed that in the process of executing my positioning of the car I had repeatedly scraped the side of the car parked on the other side of the road. The driver in the car behind, who had patiently waited for me to clear the way drove ahead, stopped and got out of his car and came over to me and pointed out my carelessness.  He had apparently been tooting his horn to attract my attention but the music playing on the CD player had masked the noise of his horn.  When the owner of the car came out of the shop she was not best pleased but, in short, after exchange of names, addresses and later insurance company details Nick and I were invited for apero and parted friends with the promise of dinner when she and her husband return from a spell in Paris.

Rather than end on a lowlight I wrap this current blog post up with a gallery of pictures taken during the Cholsey interval at our house in August.