Hint of Mint and a Gin Clear Experience

CJ, Ted and I took our preprandial walk along the sands below our hotel.  We all love this early morning fixture.  I do reflect that notwithstanding the good fortune of having a home by the sea it is the moment of stepping out of the front door and onto the beach which makes the experience special.  Ted has been finding the occasional sea snail washed up on the sands.  It is the same species each time, I need to find out what it is.  He finds one this morning.  

After breakfast we are going to drive to Llandudno beach and spend the morning there before going to Cape Town to do Table Mountain.  First we must pass by the Pik and Pay to buy a bucket and spade.  It is a fabulous day and arriving at the beach we hire some umbrellas and beach chairs and set up our little camp fairly high up on the shore.

The rollers are tumbling in, there is surf.  We will be tempted to the shore a bit later.  There is a nice little splash pool and Nick and I fool around making a string of mini-castles with moats to be fed by overflow from the standing water nearby.DSC01064 (2)IMG_5674 (2)

We munch on Droewors and other South African dried meat delights, crisps.  An ice cream vendor passes with his freezer box from time to time and on one round we buy something.  I choose a mint chocolate icecream, something I have not eaten in decades.  In this fashion lunch time comes and goes.

Venturing to the shore I cannot resist the feel of the icy frothy water round my ankles and calves.  There is a very strong undertow and coupled with the vigorous waves and the swirling surf I need to brace myself to stay upright. IMG_5669 (2) Ted goes in further and is joined by his mother.  Ted finds a stipe of kelp which he enjoys waving around.  DSC01076 (2)The sea really does feel cold but the clarity of the water, gin-clear, like liquid glass overcomes the chill factor and the pair of water-babies that they are, spend some good time jumping the waves and trying to time it just right such that the whole body is not drenched each time.  IMG_5685 (2)One wave manages to trip Ted up and he goes under. DSC01096 (3) It is a shock but he recovers from the shock and indignity and it can be filed away as a useful experience.IMG_5690 (2)

If we are going to get to Cape Town in time to go up Table Mountain we must leave the beach, although we would have happily spent a day there doing beachy things. DSC01095 (2).JPG Piling into the car we head for Cape Town and the road that winds up to the point where we will take the Aerial Cableway. IMG_5693 (2) We do not have to queue for long and we are soon being borne aloft.  The ride only lasts five minutes and we reach the summit which is 1,089 metres above Cape Town.  TableMountainSummitWe are drawn up into the small atrium which serves as the station. IMG_5700 (2) Once you are up on top of the world you can sit and soak up the commanding 360-degree views of Cape Town, Table Bay, the nearby peaks of the surrounding mountains and the rest of the Table Mountain National Park, a World Heritage Site.IMG_5698 (2) It is renowned for its flora, said to be the single richest floristic area in the world. There is a lot of fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants. There are also plenty of Cape Hyrax (rock badgers), lizards, insects and birdlife.IMG_5720 (2)IMG_5711 (2)

The plan is to eat in the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.  We do a quick change in our capacious vehicle then head out into the network of malls and pedestrian precincts.  Charlotte and I seek out shops that might sell a scarf that I saw in one of the shops adjacent to the Table Mountain ticket office, but failed to buy because I did not have any rand on me at the time.  Ted is also due for a treat, a Lego one and he finds a kit he will go on to make single-handed.  After this little bit of retail activity we rejoin Ry and Nick in Quay 4 for a drink then go on to Karibu for dinner.

Swimming with a pair of Jackasses

IMG_5577 (2)resizeAfter our first night in South Africa we set off from the hotel with a full and varied day ahead; we will enjoy some wonderful experiences.  As we leave Hout Bay and start the drive southwest around the coast, with cliffs on our landward side, we can look back into Hout Bay.  IMG_5581 (2)resize

We follow the headland round until we are below Chapman’s Peak and have a clear view of a long stretch of pale sands on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula.  This is Noordhoek which means ‘north corner’.  Noordhoek itself is a small scattered community of nice houses, often with sea views and has a large horse population as riding on the long sandy beach is a great attraction. Many artists live in Noordhoek.  We stop here and walk across the sands to the shoreline.  Ted finds a wide shallow pool at midtide level.  IMG_5588 (2)resizeThe breakers are beautiful as they roll onto the fine sands to dissipate, sweep clean and level the pristine surface of the beach.  And we are the only people on this beach to enjoy the expansive sunlit sands. Ted and I find random ‘detritus’: small bleached bones, a bird beak, large mussel shell clackers.  IMG_5610 (2)resize

We bundle ourselves into the car and continue our route to Kalk Bay.  Here the Perrymans will refind a previous haunt, The Brass Bell, a lively restaurant with a sea frontage in this quirky, arty harbour village.  There is a plunge pool and a roof restaurant.  We install ourselves where we can look down into the transparent waters of the intertidal and have a good view of the trains as they roll past.  IMG_5623 (2)resizeWe have a drink and a lunchtime bite then CJ, Ted and I leave the men to start up a conversation with adjacent diners whilst we do a quick tour of certain art shops to scout for pictures.  The Perrymans have some wall space to fill and they like to buy African.  We do see a very beautiful canvas of a rocky, kelpy seascape close to Hout Bay but it is possibly just too large to go on the chimney breast which CJ has in mind.  I buy a few cards and a bracelet with bone pieces which I will go on to wear during the holiday.

We return to find the men being thoroughly chatted up, extract them and then take the car to a place called Simon’s Town where, at Boulders Beach, there is a wild penguin colony.  IMG_5645 (2)resizeIt is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders (540 million years old), from which the name originated. The penguins settled there in 1982. WP_20170328_16_23_43_Pro (2).jpgYou can observe these birds (Spheniscus demersus) at close range, as they wander freely.  IMG_5656 (2)resize From just two breeding pairs in 1982, the penguin colony has grown to about 3,000 birds in recent years. IMG_5651 (2)resizeThe penguins are best viewed from Foxy Beach, where newly constructed boardwalks take visitors to within a few meters of the birds.

At a small beach adjacent to the main penguin colony site we swam and were joined by a few penguins in the water!  WP_20170328_16_18_53_Pro (2)What an experience.

Calamari at Chapman’s Peak

Driving broadly southwest out of Cape Town we are heading for Hout Bay.  We are booked into the Chapman’s Peak Hotel, which will prove to be ideal on many fronts.   capetown_map

Our route will take us along the coast road, along frontages with some very smart properties at Bantry Bay and Camps Bay.  I notice that there are extensive kelp beds and it seems that, unlike native shores in the UK, the kelp is visible throughout the tidal cycle.  We arrive at the hotel and check into our rooms.  We have views from the balcony into Hout Bay.  The restaurant is well-known for its Calamari, and has a large terrace with  views across the bay, beach and valley. Calamari at The Chapmans Peak Hotel was voted “one of top 20 things to do in Cape Town”. Seafood platters and steaks are also popular items.  We ordered Calamari for dinner that first night; it was the best we had ever eaten.

The following morning Charlotte and Teddy knocked on our door and suggested we pull our curtains.  Behold a sandy bay, with a few walkers enjoying the early morning tranquility of a sparsely populated beach.  CJ, Ted and I went down to the coffee shop, bought a carry-out drink and walked the sands as a pre-breakfast treat.  There was an isolated rock just offshore, with large blue sea anemones attached but which was encircled by a potentially treacherous moat, masked as it was by the turbid water.  Too deep to approach that morning I intended to investigate on another occasion.  Were the anemones this species?7108177501_dd402cf00d_zblueanemone

Ted and I walked barefoot at the water’s edge, watching the wavelets as they came, gobbling up the sand grains, and scrabbling up the beach.  I am minded now of John Betjeman’s poem ‘Beside the Seaside’:

And all the time the waves, the waves, the waves
Chase, intersect and flatten on the sand
As they have done for centuries, as they will …
When England is not England, when mankind
Has blown himself to pieces. Still the sea,
Consolingly disastrous, will return
While the strange starfish, hugely magnified,
Waits in the jewelled basin of a pool.”

Nick watched us with his camera from the balcony of our room ……..DSC01241 (2)resize

At breakfast we were greeted by the owner of the hotel, Carlos, who has been in business here for fifty years.  He tells us that his calamari is world-renowned, that the Clintons visited the hotel specifically to dine on it some years previously.  The roads round about had to be closed off during their visit, apparently. 17554087_10154263567936126_3834364302247283591_nHoutBay

Before we head off for the day some of us check out the outdoor pool, it’s a bit chilly!

We’re in Business

Today is the first day of a life’s wish fulfilment.  I am going to South Africa with Nick and our daughter’s family.  We are going to fly comfortably with Emirates.  It will be a treat.  Picked up from the door we are driven to the airport where we check in and clear security without too much chagrin.  IMG_5563 (2)Soon we are waiting in the lounge where we can drink champagne and enjoy some of the hot and cold dishes at the buffet.  We have a glass too of Puligny Montrachet.  Nick and Ry compare notes on their tablets.  IMG_5565 (2)I eat a little bit of smoked salmon, a small plate of curry and some roasted vegetables.  Barns phones, we talk.  Charlotte and Ted chill out.  IMG_5568 (2)On the ‘plane we find our seats, cubicles really, with screens if we want to use them and the option to convert the seat into a bed for which a mattress and necessary comforts are provided.  I watch Bryan Cranston in The Infiltrator and eat game terrine, prawn makhanwala.  I’m still drinking.  There are macarons 🙂

We land in Dubai about 6 hours later and have a spell in the Emirates lounge.  More delicious bites to tempt, I really must pace my eating.  On the flight I accept wine I really do not want or need, there is a little snack of lamb pie.  This is the flight to sleep.  My bed is comfortable and the cabin crew are delightful and solicitous and it is all just luxurious.  I think I sleep about three hours.  When we land in Johannesburg we are going to take a connecting flight to Cape Town.  Passport control is a cold experience with complete lack of eye contact.  We have shenanigans over our luggage and the weight, we think we might be in the presence of ‘jobsworth’ but in the end it works out.  We find a place to get a snack and I try for the first time, Peri peri chicken livers.  I love it and will return to this dish again…..  Ted and I start one of the dot to dots in a book I have brought along but really it is no competition for a ‘device’!  The flight to Cape Town is shorter and we touch down at 5 p.m. local time  We’ve been travelling for over 24 hours.  Ryan is going to hire a people carrier so we load up our luggage and head out of Cape Town for Hout Bay where we are booked into Chapman’s Peak Hotel.  I get my first sight of a township and this will be in stark contrast to the centre of Cape Town and the waterside shopping centre when we head for the malls a day or two later.

My First Demonstration

I am not sure that it is to my credit that I have waited until my 70th year to take part in a rally.  This reflects though, the fact that I have been politically ignited by the vote to leave the EU last June.  I cannot begin to rehearse the emotions I have experienced since that tragic day.  How many hours have I got to spend at the screen writing about it?  It is only very recently that I have woken in the morning without the predicament that the UK finds itself in being the first thing on my mind.  So it is little surprise to me that I should feel compelled to join the Unite for Europe march in London on March 25th.  This is the day before Nick and I fly out to South Africa with our family to spend three weeks visiting the place of birth of our son-in-law.

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Armed with bunches of daffodils to lay in Parliament Square following the terrorist incident outside the Houses of Parliament a few days before, and sporting blue and yellow garments and beanie I have knitted specially for the occasion, Nick find ourselves on Godalming station platform waiting for a train.  There is one other group of four people who are evidently going to London for the same purpose.  During the journey by train and underground to Hyde Park I am not overwhelmed by evidence of many other people who have the same destination in mind.  Emerging at Green Park however, I immediately connect with some of my fellow Admins from the 48% Facebook page and it is good to flshe out the faces of those names with whom I have been working in the virtual world of social media these past months. IMG_6772 We make our way to a meeting point by one of the big London hotels in Park Lane.  Marc Davies is a marshall, EP has brought a huge banner which Nick ends up hefting with him.

We marched to Parliament Square and I will always remember the amazing atmosphere of the warm, friendly and determined solidarity of Remainers.  _95316662_mediaitem95316661And the charming policemen and women I stopped to thank for keeping a watchful eye over the assembled.

It is believed that in excess of 100,000 people took part that day.  By the time the first marchers had arrived at Parliament Square the back end of the march had not even left Park Lane.  IMG_5573We listened to impassioned speeches by such luminaries as David Lammy, Peter Tatchell, Alastair Campbell, Tim Farron, Nick Clegg…..

Such marches have several functions the principal one being to make a manifestation (to use the French word) to the powers that be.  Just important for me though is that such an occasion strengthens the resolve to fight Brexit all the way.

Emerging Spring Blooms

Before we close up the house I grab my iPad and make a quick tour of the garden.  In truth I have not carried out quite as much taming as I had hoped.  Where the time has gone, well it just has.  So how does our garden grow and what is showing its floral head?

We are coming to terms with the loss of the major part of our largest Mimosa tree.  When Nick ‘phoned me from France to tell me what had happened I imagined a yawning space on the lawn with a clear view from the house to the little wooden shed at the end of the ornamental area of our garden.  In truth, the small part of the trunk/branch which survived does offer some screening.  If it survives and flourishes, and this is not a given since some of the rootstock was wrenched to the surface where the tree listed to the point that it  hit the garden wall, then it will gradually expand to fill the gap.  And there are one or two Mimosa saplings who may have been given their chance too.  One determining factor will be the presence of the fungus that infested the fallen tree.  If the mycorrhizae are still in the ground……..

The other victim to that extreme bout of frosts and cold high winds was our much loved lemon tree.  Since we moved to the house in 2005 it has yielded lemons continuously.  The fruits mature over a longer interval than one year, it is not seasonal and at any one time we have buds, blossom, baby lemons, green bullets and mature yellow fruits.  We have to pick the lemons and keep them for at least 3 weeks before we could consider them ripe, that is when the skin is pliable and the flesh inside is juicy.  Only then are they user-friendly.

Two shrubs have given great cause for delight.  The Chaenomeles japonica which I planted in the early days has put on a reasonable display this year.  When I planted it I knew that it was going into very poor ground.  The soil was very rubbly and reflected the fact that much of the back garden was given over to carparking and general neglect when our house functioned as the premises for an insurance company.

The other shrub is a triumph however and I think that it has and will continue to benefit from the opening up of its local environment as a result of the tumbled tree.  I planted three Camellia bushes and they have had mixed fortunes.  Soil type is, of course, critical but I think I haven’t always kept the ground around the plants clear of encroaching ground cover which is one of my good friends, except when it does what is meant to, to excess!  I lifted one very sick, yellow-leaved plant and put it in a pot.  It has recovered well.  The raspberry ripple variety is covered in flowers and the red one which was completely overshadowed by the Mimosa has more flowers than I have ever seen.  I’ve still a way to go with my Camellia but I see they are cause worth fighting for.

Apart from these individuals whom I have singled out for mention all the usual suspects are doing well.  The daffodils, the Helleborus, my good friend Daphne odora, can be relied upon to give pleasure.

At the front of the house my various pots and containers are showing flashes of colour.  One little group of plants is doing particularly well.  Tucked behind the woodpile I have a pot with a rather spindly conifer.  I cannot bring myself to dispense with it because it brings a bit of height to my plantings and I am sentimental about plants and why put a living plant down unnecessarily?  So this small conifer with various sparse foliage lives on, a remnant of the plants we inherited when we bought the house in 2005.  At that time it was planted in the small, raised pie segment of a bed in the corner underneath the Trachelospermum which clads the southwest wall of our façade.  Beneath the naked stem of this conifer there is carpet of blue Chionodoxa and I love them. IMG_6762 (2)

 

 

A Bookish Lunch then Off we Hop

During the week after my birthday Nick and I enjoyed a Bookish Lunch chez Shaxson.  This was an event which had been much juggled in terms of format.  Celia wished to return hospitality and in the end a pub lunch was rejected in favour of the Shaxson venue at which Celia would play hostess.  Annabel made us a delicious vegetable soup which we followed with cheeses and raspberries.  It was a cabbages and kings occasion with a smattering of bookery.

A couple of days later we were on the ferry bound for Normandy.  Our lovely friends the Tailles had invited us to Sunday lunch, the following day would be Francois’ birthday.  I spent a week reconnecting with la vie francaise then we returned to Dorset for my mother’s birthday and a visit to see the ‘Prof’ to have some minor skin treatment.  On Friday we travelled back, me and my very sore back, to join the Poulets as guests of Daniel and Christine.  Daniel cooked his incomparable Encornets farcis.  encornets farcisWe ate at the Chasse Maree the following evening with Francois and Anne, and their friends Odile and Philippe.  During the ensuing days Nick spent much time with Dede and also Francois when he was not consulting, playing at lumberjacks with the large Beech tree that was felled in a field on the road to Valognes.  The tree is even larger than that which the guys felled last year and will yield rather more cords.  A cord is approximately 2.5 cubic metres but his depends on the size of the logs and the amount of air spaces in the stack.  We estimate we may have about 10 cords to share between participants.  At the end of our stay and once all the wood is logged and stacked we have a bit of a BBQ on the bonfire of brushwood that remains to be burned.

Meanwhile I worked on the final edits of three chapters I am contributing to a book on molluscs in archaeology.  One of the chapters has been particularly tricky and has necessitated the redrafting and relabelling of some line drawings which help to standardise the measurements that archaeologists should take when analysing shell assemblages for environmental assessments and reporting.  In the end I decided the easiest thing was to go to the shore to collect a few limpets so that I could send images to Mike, my editor, for the avoidance of doubt.  It would not pay for a self-respecting archaeomalacologist to get her limpets arse about face!

 

 

I did lots of cinema trips with Anne, also with Francoise and Fefe.  On one fine day I walked a stretch of the coast between Bibi’s home just outside Montfarville and Gatteville-Phare.  A good 10 clicks.  We chatted pretty much the whole way.  Bibi’s Jack Russell, ‘Chispa’ was a cute and biddable companion.  IMG_5518 (2)

On the first Saturday in March Nick and I threw a dinner party.  I got my knickers in somewhat of a twist deciding what to do and in the end I made a Pot au Feu with a Bourgignon twist.  Francois recognised this and complimented me.

Our wonderful month in France is drawing to a close.  We take Francois and Fefe to the Fuchsias for lunch – an extravagance they do not allow themselves although, also, they are part of that community in St Vaast who see Hotel Les Fuchsias as a mecca for the English.  To complete our cycle of entertaining we receive Jean-Pierre and Tanou on the Sunday before we cross La Manche.  They arrive at 6, we play Barbu and we eat something simple.  Hooray for Fish Pie.

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Razor-clamming Days

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

Birthday

It was with pleasure and a sense of something different, new, momentous that I woke up on the morning of 3rd February, 70 years after I was born.  I had been promised a special breakfast by my lovely spouse; scrambled egg and smoked salmon, with bubbly.  I opened my cards and some gifts with a morning cup of tea, and was very struck by a sense of occasion.

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I have sailed through my 40th, 50th, 60th with a shrug of the shoulder and the thought that numerically I might be shifting along the timescale but in life I am still feeling up to the requirements of life.  Seventy is different if only because the perception of others is that one is, in fact, elderly!!

But not me.  I have a day, a weekend ahead of me in which I will be constantly surprised.  This is no small achievement on the part of Nick who has, in truth, enjoyed a lifetime of surprises for others and himself but has been rarely if ever involved in the planning of these events. In fact some of the things that unfold over the weekend are a surprise unto himself because our inimitable English weather has played a joker and some of Nick’s ideas were weather-dependent.  So I am told that I need to be ready for a 4p.m. departure with nothing much in the way of luggage.

In the three days prior to my Big Day I have enjoyed convivial occasions with friends and my sisters.  On the 31st Nick and I go to the village pub for supper with Eamonn and Cybs.  We have had a good meal and are taking a nightcap in the bar when in troop my Bridge ladies.  With some guilt I receive cards and a gift from them – I have not played this year for a number of piffling reasons.  On the spur of the moment Cybs asks if I will play the following week.  In a moment of weakness I say I will……..

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On the 1st Nick and I drive to Ringwood to join up with friends who go back a long way.  In Nick’s case the two guys date back to early schooldays, the very early 50s.  We all went to each other’s weddings.  Thus Mike, Stuart, Carolyn and Angela meet up with us for lunch.

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The following evening my sisters have invited us to Dorchester for a curry at the Rajpoot.  I receive my octopus glass bowl officially.  The curry was wonderful.

So at 4 we leave the house and turn in the opposite direction to that which I had imagined.  As it happens I do have the right destination in my mind, but Nick is clearly aiming to throw me off the scent.  We arrive in Maiden Newton, at the home of dear Maddy and Andrew.  We drink some champagne, we walk round the corner to Le Petit Canard.  Surprise no. 2.  We dine, very deliciously, a quatre.


 

The following morning the weather was still playing up but it became clear that a flight was on the cards.  Before that however, Andrew took me for a spell of offroading up on the land around the Hardy Monument.  At one point I notice that there was a single deer standing on the horizon.

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After a bit of lunch provided by Maddy I was whisked off to Bournemouth Airport for a rendez vous with our pilot Brad Element and his small aircraft.  We flew along the south coast of Dorset as far as Weymouth and back.  It was lovely to see so many familiar landmarks from the air.

Asked if we planned a celebration in the evening I said no, we would be having a quiet restful evening at home.  We drove back to The Old Workshop, we walked in the front door and I suggested Nick light the fire and I would make a pot of tea.  I opened the kitchen door ……….

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