Chickens, Piglets and Deer

It was with a great sense of relief that I found the passports tucked out of sight in my kitchen.  Apart from the gross inconvenience of having to get replacement passports for all four of us, being unable to travel (at least Nick and me, since the Tailles would be able to travel on their Identity cards), we would have missed the banquet planned for other Francois’ 60th.  Anne had planned a meal at home, to be cooked by a young friend of their son, who has trained as a chef and is about to open his own restaurant in Cherbourg.  In the event it was a truly delicious meal with turbot for the main course and two twists on an old theme which were inventions of Brice.  One was the mini Croque Monsieurs that Brice made in canapé form, the other was the fried potato cake that contained a raw oyster in the centre.  This accompanied the turbot and was possibly a bit rich, but then the whole meal was a gastronomic indulgence for which much dietary compensation would be required in the ensuing days.  Typically, the dessert course was not skimped.  There were two gateaux both heavenly.  The only ‘mouche dans la pommade’ was the apparent inability of Mr Picky to compromise his extreme pickiness to the extent that he would at least go through the motions of tasting food he never eats, whether on the basis of taste or principle.  Plates of good food were sniffed, grimaced at and went back to the kitchen virtually untouched.  He cooked his goose that night with his hostess and also with this one.

There followed some days of energetic gardening.  In my quest to shave a kilo or two before my walk with Lis in September I need to up my exercise.  Walking is good but I can find that boring unless I have a companion and a good route.  Active gardening gives the added advantage of bending and lifting which is good for my flexibility too.

At the end of the week Anne and I board a ferry for our appointment with Kim.  With Saturday to spare we drive down to Lyme Regis which Anne instantly likes and after to Hawkchurch where Liz is ringing for a wedding.  We watch the wedding party as they exit the church then repair to Parricks for a cream tea.  This is a bit of an indulgence because I am expecting Cybs and Jean for a curry supper at TOW after their willow day making obelisks and mini-hurdles.

And so we do our Piglet day and it is rewarding and quite intense.  I hesitate to say it is ‘fun’ because it is taxing but satisfying and there is always a sense of working against the clock.  At the end of the day we do end up with our individual and very respectable piglet.  I feel that now my first ever weaving, a badger, will be recognised as such when set aside his future garden companion.

On Monday I must put Anne on the ferry because I am staying for some Godalming days.  During this time I will have lunch with Vikky and with Sonia the following the day.    It is really good to meet up with Sonia after too long an interval and I am so surprised when she tells me, just before we part, that she has had a major illness to overcome.  Which she has, and courageous she has been.  My penultimate engagement is to attend Ted’s Sports’ Afternoon and this is followed with ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ at the Withies.

The timing of my spell with Ted has worked well.  I return to Winterborne ready to do the third day with Kim that will be required to put the finishing touches to my deer.  I stow the animal into my car and drive to Sandford Orcas.  I find I have arrived half an hour early so Kim takes me for a short walk further down her lane to show me some willow sculptures which she had started, but not quite finished, and which she has inserted into gaps in the hedge.    During the day I weave in extra sticks that add bulk to my animal, form to the legs and the distinctive features that will define my creation as a ‘Roe Doe’ 🙂

I had already earmarked the early days of June for some political activity and for a catch-up with bookish friends.  There is a Splinter lunch at Jan Drew’s and the Shaxsons come for coffee the following morning.  My principal mission though, is to do a bit of volunteer work for the Lib Dems ahead of the General Election on June 8th.  I deliver leaflets in my village and gain a huge respect for postmen who have to run the gamut of so many nasty letterboxes with stiff, tight-arsed, grabby brushes in the aperture which mean you end up scrumpling your stuffer as you shove it through.  On the two days before GE day I work out of the Lib Dem office in Yeovil and spend some of that time delivering leaflets with Paddy Ashdown and on the day I conduct some ‘knocking up’ over the ‘phone and this is my first experience of canvassing.

The following day I am sorry that the excellent candidate for Yeovil was not successful.  I did learn during the course of my phone calls that several staunch Lib Dem voters would be voting Tory in this instance in order to stop the Labour Party gaining ground.  In the event they, and people like them, were not successful because the Labour party made a surprise comeback, only just failing to obliterate the Tory overall majority and certainly wiping out their hopes of being returned with a bigger mandate.  Up yours Theresa May!

 

 

 

 

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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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.

 

 

 

Whose Birthday is it?

 

On Sunday my dear mother celebrates her 92nd birthday.  A goodly number of her descendants congregate at The Old Workshop for a family lunch which will be memorable for the panoply of desserts that are contributed by various members of the family.

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I roasted a Daniell leg of lamb, with spuds, parsnips and a bucket of gravy.  At the last minute I had decided that it might be wise to make a generous lasagne as well in case some children showed a preference.  Good thing I did, the hungry hordes cleaned up very efficiently.  1FBLunchBut a good thing too is that everyone was not so bouffed out with their main course that they could not do the puddings justice, and the two birthday cakes.  Mum’s candle moment was enjoyed by all, not least her!  After tea and cake the children roared round the garden playing Sharkie Sharkie and Mum sat in my granny chair, in the corner retreat by the big glass kitchen doors.

I put out some cheeses, French bread, oatcakes and piccalilli on the island unit. Meanwhile the children continued to play and formed a human pyramid 🙂  4FBPyramid The cheese and pickles (I topped up the piccalilli several times) disappeared as the adults topped themselves up and before too long it was time for those with longish journeys home to get underway.  We assembled in the hall for a group photo, something which I will treasure, as Mum is sat in the carver chair of her former dining suite and flanked by the youngest family members, and fanning out to the adults with Dan, Barns, Nick and Martin, guardians of the clan.

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At several moments during the day Mum needed to be reminded that it was a birthday party, and indeed it was her birthday!  As she left with Christina I helped her into the car and expressed the hope that she had enjoyed her birthday.  “Oh,” she said “was it my birthday, today?”  “Yes, Mum it was your 92nd birthday”.  “92?!” incredulously.  “Yes Mum, and I am now 69”.  Incredulous look.

 

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.

Pasties at Porthcurno………. and Other Indulgences

After our Oxfordshire weekend, I have a busy week which incorporates the usual suspects.  Bridge, lunch and supper dates, yet another spell in the dentist’s chair with a shell day with Harry and Anna thrown in.  I also dig out all the paperwork for the Purple Dye chapter which I need to write.  Talking of digging I put a few pots of things in the border where the Crinodendron is.  I decide to resurrect the Garden Journal which Anne made for me a couple of years ago and stick a few photos in as aides memoires.  We are coasting up to the weekend when my birthday celebration will start with a lunch for 10 at the Greyhound and this includes 2 immediate neighbours who share my birthday.

So the birthday week arrives and we leave WK and head for Whimple where we will visit our friend Hilary who paints.  There is a picture to collect, now framed and we are going to have delicious lunch at The Jack on the Green with her. After a warming meal we drop her back at her home and head for a northern passage across Dartmoor.  We are heading for Padstow and as the road climbs steadily to higher ground we are suddenly in a heavy flurry of snow, driving at the windscreen and settling soon on the road.  The snow is so persistent I make a hasty rollcall of possible sources of sustenance in the car – the answer is virtually nil!  As we continue on our way the weather subsides and we come to northern Cornwall, where, sure, there is snow on the ground but patchy.  This covering will persist, in some pockets, throughout our stay.

The Old Custom House Hotel in Padstow is much to our liking and after a fortuitous hiccup we are upgraded to one of their suites which does us nicely.

So on the morning of the 3rd I wake to the pleasure of being in Cornwall and with a collection of cards and gifts to open.  People are so kind and I feel spoilt.  We are going to go to Porthcurno today, via Hardy’s Exotic plants to pick up a plant or two.  We also pick up two warm pasties which we carry to Porthcurno and eat on the beach.  Later we are going to meet Richard and Anne, part of our extended family and eat supper at Trevaskis Farm.  We eat a magnificent three-course meal which I know will weigh heavily on the scales of reckoning when my extended birthday-fest comes to an end!

Thursday is Shang-ri La day where I find Stella, looking much much better and Rose who runs the show these days.  Lunch in the bijou dining room will always be a sociable treat of a ritual and after Pam and Andrew arrive and it’s tea and carrot and walnut cake.  I accompany Rose down the garden to see the snowdrops and have my breath taken away by the Hamamelis, chicly in flower.  Dinner in the Pescadou restaurant at hour hotel piles yet more on the scales of dietary wrath.

On Friday we are going to visit Lis at Taunton and she lunches us at Augustus, her friendly neighbourhood restaurant.  Here we talk more and eat less and it is good.  Our last port of call is Clifford Bridge, home of friends with whom we always feel delightfully entertained and imaginatively well fed.  A game of Spite and Malice with a glass of Amaretti on ice has me almost asleep over my playing cards.  On the morrow we walk in their woods, enjoy a concoction of soup with bread straight out of the breadmaker.  And then it is home James in our ‘new’ automatic Peugeot which has thoroughly won us over with its heated leather seats and satnav…………. yaaaay!

 

Who Ate All the Pancakes…….?

I arrive at the cottage at Shillingford just as brunch is about to be served.  Perfect timing, although there was no way I was going to surprise the grandkids or miss a chance to stoke up for a walk.  Today Barns and other cub leaders are taking the cubs and scouts on an 8-mile walk across Oxfordshire countryside which takes in a short bit of the Ridgeway.  Rendez-vous happens at a pub in the village of Compton then our way takes us north up onto the downland where we cross the Ridgeway at Lowbury Hill and continue north to Aston Tirrold and then turn east to Cholsey.  Eight-year old Charlie is my companion and he manfully completes the trek.  At the end of the afternoon we collect Nick from the station and all that exercise is rewarded with a hearty stew cooked by Lukie.

On Sunday morning Nick, Barns and I take a walk down from the cottage and along a stretch of the Thames which runs along the eastern boundary of the land owned by the Earth Trust.

But there is a surprise is in store for Sam who celebrates his 14th birthday.  He has chosen a Chinese Buffet lunch in Wallingford and the presence of Nick and me has been kept under wraps.  All his grandparents are present, as are aunts, uncles, Andrews cousins and siblings.  And all that exercise of mine will come to naught after I have self-indulgently tucked into fritters and spicy prawns, noodles and chicken curry and a sticky, sesame-seeded apple beignet!  But who ate 15 pancakes?!!

Birthday!

The morning of my birthday dawned.  This was to be our last full day in Connemara, however we picked up a message from Irish Ferries to say that our Tuesday crossing was cancelled owing to sea conditions that would be the same as those during which we travelled to Ireland.  We needed to stay two further days in Ireland.  Geraldine was happy for us to stay over, which would effectively complete the week and we searched for a destination with B&B midway across Ireland.  In the end we chose Cashel, which is actually much nearer Rosslare.

We ate a good Irish breakfast during which we were blessed with a view of a rainbow.

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After staring at the maps we decided to drive a bit further afield, so we headed southwest for Finish Island.  Here we found the extensive sands and rock outcrop in much the same state as the other beaches we have visited.  Some minor sea defences and the faces of turfed sand dunes which back the shore had been truncated by the waves.  Three men with an excavator  were replacing the large stone blocks.  Sand had been swept over beds of seaweed over the shore.  More floats were found.  After a good dose of wind and intermittent drizzle we retreated to our burrow and made a peat fire.  Champagne was served, together with crackers and foie gras and a handful of cockles we had collected at Finish.  Anne and Francois gave me a pretty jug that I had admired at the Roundstone pottery.

After, we drove into Roundstone to O’Dowds for a birthday supper.

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We were seated at the only small table in the cosy nook by the fire where we ate seafood with glasses of Guinness and afterwards I tried my first ever Irish coffee.  Special friends, happy memories 🙂

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