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.

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.  We 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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Hawkchurch Days

Leaving Cornwall I have another visit to pay before I return to Dorset.  My sister is to have a small procedure for which I can be a helpful driver and overnight companion. Her home nestles in a lovely little corner on the east side of Devon.  She is a very private person and her home is a sanctuary upon which I do not encroach with my camera.  She is a fabulous needlewoman , a talented watercolourist and an extremely knowledgeable mycologist.  She is probably as near as dammit a national expert although she would deny this to be the case.  Back in the autumn she took me for a walk along her  special lane and we saw chanterelles.  She crops her small supply from time to time.  Amazingly there are still plenty tucked into the bank but she says they will be water-logged and not worth collecting 😦  They make an attractive sight all the same.

Before I head for home she takes me to a farm shop nearby.  Miller’s Farm Shop  is an Aladdin’s Cave of wonderful food.  Some of the vegetables are grown on the farm, the rest are provided by local suppliers passionate about good quality food. Fresh fruit and vegetables are locally sourced and colourful arrays of seasonal plants are available. You can find Lyme Bay fresh fish, beef, pork and lamb from local farms, local milk and cream, cider from Lyme Bay Winery and Perry’s Cider Mill and sample a variety of local cheeses. Malcolm and Angela travel to France once a week to scour markets in different regions for quality produce for the shop.

On top of all this they have a seductive section where they sell artefacts with a marine theme.  Here we spy a range of ornamental table glassware where scallop shells and octopus form the dominant design.  There are also sea-themed ‘kissing rings’ decorated with shells, driftwood, other marine invertebrate remains.  Liz and I admire the goods and on the spur of the moment Liz asks if I would like the glass bowl clasped by an octopus as my 70th birthday gift.  Would I?!!

 

 

Twilight at Sunset and a Falling Star

The last full week of January would be busy.  On my list I wish to make a visit to Stella in Cornwall.  Wrapped into that journey will be an errand to be carried out on the beach at Fistral Bay, an overnight stay with a nephew by marriage who lives close by.  I will drive back to my home in Dorset via the village of Hawkchurch on the east margin of Devon to spend a couple of days with my sister.

So I sally forth, as I do, on Monday just before lunchtime.  I am rather later than I had intended as I wish to catch a falling tide at Fistral Bay at the end of the afternoon.  When I make the long drive to Cornwall on my own I like to take an easy-to-handle sandwich to eat as it helps to break up the monotony.  Unfortunately the bread makes me sleepy and I must pull over to rest my bleary eyes.  Just under half an hour later I resume the journey and drive to Atlantic Road, Newquay where I leave my car in the first carpark I see.  Unfortunately it is not the nearest in terms of access to the shore by a long chalk, and I needs must ask an itinerant who is sloping along the cliff path plugged into ear-phones and his rolling gait, and demeanour when I speak to him, tell me he is within a gnat’s whisker of being spaced out.  He is on the way to the Spa to buy some tinnies he tells me.  But he is amiable enough and helpful.  It takes me a good quarter of an hour to gain the sand dunes which back the wide sandy bay with its rock platform well exposed on the northeastern margin.

I’ve come to collect some Glycymeris shells, Dog Cockles, the large, showy white clam shells with a chestnut-coloured chevron pattern and which were so popular with the ancients.  They collected the pleasing round shells as talismans, as pendants to string and probably for a range of other purposes for which we can only guess.  In life the robust clams inhabit coarse sand and shelly gravel.  The species is edible and is offered for sale in France under the name ‘Amande de Mer’ meaning Sea Almond.  ese were not collected for food; their worn, beach-abraded condition sometimes with a natural hole worn at the umbo, as they are excavated at archaeological sites, testifies to the fact that they were picked up as dead shells.  Will I find any today?

Right at the top of the beach, in the upper shore sand churned by many footprints and not washed by the tide in recent days, the first shells I find are two Dog Cockles, each holed.  I am much relieved.  I need these shells to create a figure for one of the chapters I have contributed to a forthcoming box, Molluscs in Archaeology, to be published by Oxbow.  The sun has only just set and the light is fading.  I give the search a good half hour and collect x whole or nearly whole shells of which y bear a hole at the umbo.

I had arrived on the beach in the late afternoon as the sun was making hste to sink behind the distant Pentire headland.  In the twilight I allow myself time to look around and appreciate this place.  There are plenty of late afternoon walkers, many with dogs.  In the distance I can see lots of figures surfing.  A couple of youngsters catch my eye.  They are standing on the open wet sands, talking.  I love their stance, the body language I imply.  I hope they have not a care in the world.  The young are our investment for the future.  Luckily my mobile phone has charge; I take some photos, they turn out really well.IMG_5440 (3).JPG

Clutching my bag of shells I find the track down which I came to access the beach.  At the top I have two options.  I can retrace my steps across the golf course or I can hang a right and walk along a track at the top of the dunes towards the street-lit headland to the south west.  I’ve been walking a while and asked a couple of walkers if I am going the right way.  They seem to think I am.  Then I spot a chap in a hooded anorak sitting on a bench gazing out to sea.  I ask him the way and discover I have chosen to take myself well out of my way and it will be a longish walk back to my car.  It’s clear he is not entirely sure which carpark I used.  In the end he offers to give me a lift.  I don’t hesitate for long, he is pleasant and I see he is a decent and mature man when he takes down his hood and I am going to give good human nature the benefit of doubt.  We talk and it turns out he has a daughter in archaeology, he knows about Littorina, he is interested in landscape, the environment.

Gaining my car I phone Richard and Anne Oliver who live in Redruth and tell them I am on my way.  They are giving me B&B and I am going to take them to dinner at the Penventon Park Hotel which is some 200 metres from their house.  Anne greets me and we get to know more about each other over coffee.  I hear about the work she does in social services, she is a jigsaw fan  When Richard gets back we go to dinner and have a delicious meal in the spacious and slightly retro dining room of the grandiose hotel.  I have a jolt of uncertainty as we are shown to our table.  Piano music greets the ear and I see that our entertainer is a woman in a backless and flesh-coloured dress.  For a fleeting moment I think she is naked!

The following day I go to see my friend Stella Maris.  She lives in one of Cornwall’s Secret Places.  She is in her early 90s and her health started declining rapidly about three or four years ago.  These last years are years I don’t believe she would have wished for herself.  I feel this to be so because we talked often.  Now she is bedridden, has dementia and has all her personal needs met by carers who visit several times a day.  Her life-time companion, Rose, shares the cottage with Stella and is kind, solicitous and, with the help of carers and friends, keeps their boat afloat.  This seems fit because for the majority of their shared life it would be Stella who kept house for them both, who occupied herself with all their day to day routine as well as carrying on with her own work in biological recording.  Rose would spend hours in her ivory tower, working on her botanical books.  She has several to her credit.

Stella is a star whose light is dimming, slowly and inexorably.  Each time I see her she is diminished and I marvel that, given how little she eats, she yet has reserves to hang onto her life.  I have brought a book to read to her, Hare by Jim Crumley.   Stella says very little these days but I can tell that the reading gives her pleasure.  I guess this is the comfort of a human voice, and one, in truth, that she knows well.

 

 

Busy as We Like it

Over one busy weekend Nick and I spread ourselves about.  We attended a meeting of the Conchological Society at the Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road.  We heard an interesting talk on some work that is being carried out on the land snails of the Galapagos Islands.  At the end of the meeting we drove to Godalming to catch up with Ted and his parents.  We went to dinner at The Withies which still manages to please after all these forty years since we bought our house in Pep Road.  Nick and I would go there for a very occasional meal and blow the budget for an expensive treat.

On Sunday morning there was just time to eat a bacon sandwich with the Perrymans before it was necessary to load up and drive to Sutton, to the home of a former friend and colleague in conchology.  It was Phil’ Palmer who first drew me into science, causing me to shift from an enthusiastic dabbler in shell collecting  to an aspiring scientist with an every-growing passion for British marine shells.  I owe Phil’ much and encounters with his like surely altered the course of my life.16265715_1841127292832959_5561275612268152045_n

And after that we had an important date in Oxfordshire.  Our eldest grandchild is going to be sixteen, for goodness sake.  Where did that childhood go?!  He’s a star and we spent a very happy moment at the tea party his mother had arranged for the rellies.

And then it was time to drive home and prepare for my forthcoming week on the road.

 

 

 

In an Artist’s Studio

When we got back to Dorset after spending Christmas and New Year in France we found a large Ikea sack, full of mail, to open.  Before our return my great niece had done an interim count before our final tally had accumulated and counted seventy items.  There are rather more when we pick up the envelopes and various items of bumph from the door mat and add that haul of paper to the bag Cerys has filled.   It is actually a great pleasure to sit down and open all your Christmas cards in one go.  Nick and I opened, read and then laid our cards aside, making one small pile of cards that would require action.  By and large these were cards from friends who we had not managed to see during the previous year, or who were friends to whom we owed a visit.  One such was our dear artist friend, H.  “Let’s drive down and see her” said Nick.  We ‘phoned her up and fixed a date.

H lives in a small house which is one of several self-contained residences derived from a larger outbuilding (stables?) on estate where there is a large manor-type house which was built at the beginning of the 19th century in Tudor-Gothic style.   img_6577-2

The extensive parkland boasts a magnificent Cupressus macrocarpa of which H has a wonderful view from her lounge.  She serves us good coffee and very superior biscuits and we catch up on our news.  We are booked to have lunch at The Jack in the Green which is just along the road.

Before we set off she allows us a glimpse of her studio with the two canvasses on easels which have some charcoaled outlines in readiness for the two paintings of our French house that she intends.

Lunch is very superior too.  We each choose a plate from their Pub Grub listing.  H goes for triple Bangers and Mash, Nick chooses a Mutton and Caper suet pudding and I go for Smoked Confit of Duck Leg.  It really has been good to catch up H again, she is a wonderful octogenarian companion.