Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

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At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

Outdoor Lights

Five days after returning from France there is a treat in store.  Fortuitously the family finds itself in the same country with a weekend to spare.  Not always easy to engineer with the diversity of activities in which we, and particularly the youngest generation, are becoming involved.  Climbing, singing, music gigs…… we pack our lives.

Happily Barns and Lukie live in a cottage on a farming estate in Oxfordshire, an easy destination at which all of us can converge.  The cottage is small and we are fifteen souls.  Because Barns is involved in the Scouting movement, our weekend will be focused on the great outdoors.  When we arrive a fire is already alight, fuelled by logs from the adjacent woodland, wherein rootle the pigs from which source comes the giant joint of meet pot-roasting in an extra large saucepan.  The fireplace is neatly constructed from bricks, a few courses forming a horse-shoe into whose opening logs are steadily fed as the fire burns.

Before we can eat this meat there is lunch; a cauldron of sweet corn soup is followed by cheese and pate with a fruit platter to finish.  Our afternoon passes very amiably, the children range around………… rehearsing and filming dramatic antics,  scampering around the environs of the cottage, dancing.  The adults catch up with each other and amongst diverse topics the conversation reverts time and again to the unending pantomime of events that the Brexit vote engendered.  At one point Lola comes up to me and says that as well as young people having the vote, she hopes I won’t be offended if she suggests that old people should be stripped of theirs; presumably at the point at which their selfish desires override the best interests of the population at large!

When we eat the evening meal it is a triumph of deliciousness.  The slow-cooked pork is tasty and succulent, the large pan of dauphinoise potatoes cooked on the open fire yummy, and for good measure Lukie has made a spinach and mushroom niceness cooked in filo pastry.  With crunchy bar ice-cream and berries for afters.  We had hoped to have an outdoor viewing of The Martian before bed but suddenly it is all very late.  A quorum of us have a hasty game of Perudo before people melt away to their beds under canvas, leaving Nick and I the luxury of a real bed and some of the others squeezed into bunk beds in the cottage.

Sunday brings a lovely surprise when, just as we are about to eat our brunch cooked on the open fire, whose embers were successfully rekindled by Joel, Barney’s schoolfriend Andy Doran arrives with Paul Cutler.  Andy is over from Berkeley for the purposes of a conference but has used the opportunity to tarry a while in Europe.  Andy holds a special place in Nick’s and my affections: he masterminded and helped to execute the Hanging Gardens of Peperharow Road back in the 90s. For which we will be ever grateful.  After our hearty brunch comes riverside time, kayaks are retrieved from the barn and transported to the bank of the Thames by Shillingford Bridge.  There the young paddle up and down a stretch of water, and Nick has his first shot at paddling his own canoe for real.  Back at the cottage there is another round of feasting before we come to a parting of the ways……… until the next time.

As a nice little goody bag, Lukie hands me a plastic carrier full of their homegrown spinach and coriander.  I make a delicious pesto with the latter the following day: to the cups of coriander I add garlic, walnuts, olive oil and a little salt.  Over successive days we eat it with steamed carrots, tomato and courgette tart, fish pie.  It is a delicious alternative to the more conventional basil pesto and the little jars of it will be great to pull out of the freezer from time to time.  I must try and grow my own coriander next year.

 

Beating a Retreat

Some time before 9 a.m. we loose off our mooring ropes and head for the open sea.  We have a long passage ahead; our aim is to tie up at Villefranche-sur-mer by 5 p.m.

This time we decide not to risk cutting the engine whilst at sea for lunch.  In any event the sea is not inviting us to swim and it is overcast.  Fefe and I sit at the little tables in the cockpit as the men monitor the boat’s progress on autopilot.

Passing Monaco some time around lunch time we have a bread, butter and ham moment.  Occasionally speed boats race past us much to quickly throwing up a bow wave which causes ‘Till’ to lurch violently.  The Tailles do not have a Derrick-style procedure for readying the vessel for sea by battening down hatches and securing or stowing loose items in the galley so stuff clatters around.

The journey passes for me with a combination of audio-book, paperback and BridgeBaron.  Without an internet connection I can only wonder what is unfolding after the Leave vote.

Once at Villefranche Nick and I go to the cobbly beach nearby for a swim.  Then, connected to the Marina WiFi we check our mail, Facebook and look at the BBC news.  Francois has gone up to the shopping centre to get some supplies and when we meet up with Fefe she tells us Francois is angry. ??!!!  Actually she means hungry and it is proposed to eat at the little restaurant in the marina.  A good move as I am able to order beignets of calamari – a real comfort food.

The following day I am still brooding over the Referendum results.  Nick and I take a swim at the cobbly beach, followed by a good shower in the Marina’s facilities.  Afterwards the men make another victualing sortie and Fefe invites me to join her for a little walk into town to look at the Chapelle Saint-Pierre Villefranche-sur-mer which is tucked down near the quay frontage where all the little bars and restaurants are.

The chapel was probably built not long after Villefranche was founded, in 1295.  It is famous now for its association with Jean Cocteau who took part in a renovation project which started on June 5th 1956.  Inside the walls are decorated with frescoes, two series of panels depicting some episodes from the life of St Peter and the whole vault represents a homage to the fishermen of Villefranche.

Cocteau made the drawings and these were projected onto the walls and vault with transmitted light.  Cocteau decided on the design and his assistants fixed the lines with paints and colour.  The overall effect is monochrome embellished with washed-out dawn-like colours.  Cocteau wanted no vulgarity in his colour scheme.  I really loved this little chapel and took Nick back to see it later on in the afternoon.

In the evening we are delighted to meet up with Nick’s long-standing friend, John, who is a resident in Monaco.  John drives over in his vintage Aston Martin and he is a welcome contribution to our hitherto somewhat cloistered life on ‘Till’.  We meet at the little restaurant in the marina, Le Cockpit, and the mealtime chat takes us beyond the immediate aspects of shared living on a small boat.  It is characteristic of John that he does not immediately plunge into a discussion of the EU vote and the fall-out.  But we turn to it half way through the evening.  He can be fairly detached from it, as a Brit without a vote, but I wonder if he has a sense of how it might affect his two children.

Fefe is animated by the evening but on several occasions I catch Francois looking somewhat reserved when Nick and John chat to each other in English.  But it is really good to catch up with John and when the evening comes to an end Nick and I walk him back to his car to view his wheels and Nick earns himself a short spin back to the marina and I walk the little path back and enjoy the stillness of the calm night and the view across the bay.

 

 

A Very Black Day

Sleeping fitfully I wake and check my iPad.  By about 4 a.m. it is clear to me that things have gone badly and we will end up with a vote to leave the EU.  When the last votes are in there is something north of 1 million votes in it.  It feels like a catastrophe and a very deep sadness for so much that could be lost.  I monitor Facebook, I post and I comment.  It allows me to share my feelings and deep regret.

The day must be got on with.  The Tailles go into Loano with shopping bags.  They bring back some prawns which Francois tosses into a pan with garlic and oil, then we cook hard-boiled eggs and make a salad.  Sleep-deprived I am falling asleep over my coffee so I retreat to my bunk and, bathed in sweat, I sleep for three and a half hours.  Waking, the heat is still intense and I wonder why we sailed all those miles to suffer………… for Fefe does not enjoy this heat either.  But then, today I am feeling very negative.

A drink in the Capitainerie is proposed and this is a good move.  There is air-conditioning – why we were not alerted before?!  There we have an Aperol Spritz and, as is the custom here, a plate of canapes is included in the price.  After we walk into Loano and make a little circuit of the town closest to the marina.  I spent a minute or two in a round church whose opulence is distasteful to me and the small Oratorio is even more vulgar in its ornate, heavily gilded decorations and artefacts.  My jaded mood seems to colour everything.  I am aware that I am bad company but am so preoccupied with the shock and pessimism that have followed the vote to Leave.

We find ourselves at Vittorino’s again and order our supper.  Back at the boat Fefe and I sit down with her book and pen and she writes up her vocabulary and idioms from recent days.   And then to bed.

A Passage to Loano

It is EU referendum day and ‘Till’ is going to make a long passage east into Italian waters.    I am unsure whether I will have an internet connection so I email the kids and ask them to text me key bits of information as the results come through, some time after midnight.

After a provisioning dash ashore we set sail.  Once ‘au large’ the sea presents its beautiful ‘oily’ surface and the heat will build up during the day. blogIMG_4585 (2) blogIMG_4587 (2) We are sailing parallel to the Alpes Maritimes coast and it is not long before we reach Monaco.  blogIMG_4576 (2)Called by some ‘the most luxurious prison in the world’ it is 150Ha (≡ Hyde Park) of large apartment blocks, tunnels and underground parking, little squares with 3 or 4 olive trees, a stadium, an impressive Oceanographic Museum, a heliport on the coast and the Palace on the Hill.  Called also Little Manhattan because the dominating apartment blocks resemble skyscrapers, this whole nestles between the two ports of Fontvieille and Cap d’Ail.  There are beaches protected by netting to keep the jellyfish out.

After being underway for the morning our thoughts turn to lunch.  blogIMG_4592 (2)We will need to stop the engine and drift gently.  We do this off the coast of Menton.  Cue a swim – which is wonderfully refreshing and after we have a second go of my spaghetti Bolognese to stoke our own engines.  Unfortunately when we flick the switch to start the boat’s engine nothing happens 😦  There follows ten anxious minutes whilst the captain and his crew stare into the boat’s bowels.  They cannot find anything wrong so they replace the deck and try again.  The engine sparks into life and I stop wondering which nation’s coastguard will be summoned to our rescue!

We are now looking landwards to a change in the urbanscape.  It is Ligurian and the buildings are plainer and there are complexes of greenhouses amidst the coastal settlements.  I imagine tomatoes.  Beyond San Remo which is a bit like Cannes to my eyes, we pass a beautiful city on a hill, Imperia.  It is early evening when we tip up at the marina in Loano.  The marina complex is lavish and Fefe says she is sure it was built with Mafia money.  However funded the facilities are excellent and I take a very welcome shower before we go ashore to eat.

We fetch up at Vittorino’s, a restaurant Francois and Fefe remember from previous visits.  We eat a delicious meal then wander back to the boat.  I turn on my iPad as the polls will shortly be closing in the UK.  I stay up long enough to be rattled by the first results from Newcastle and Sunderland.  The ghastliness of it all will unfold overnight.

Le Parfum de la Ville

It is clear when I wake up the next day that it is going to be a hot one.  After a couple of Ryvita and a super shower I have been kick-started for the day.  We need to do a quick shopping foray for ship’s stores.  It is swelteringly hot as we set off from the boat and have to toil uphill to the shopping area which is set above the restaurants and the tourist area.  Walking downhill I am knocked back by swathes of Morning Glory cloaking people’s frontage walls and railings as Fefe and I walk past.

Much later, after a light supper, Francois encourages Nick and I to go back into the town to explore its hinterland, la Vieille Ville.  We climb up flights of stone steps and reach the church with the lovely clocktower and the Magnolia grandiflora in the adjacent courtyard.  The cool stillness of the church interior is striking and so restful.  We linger a while, each in our own reflection, then come out and track east towards the old town.  We walk along dark, vaulted lanes, alleys, impasses.  Deserted and hushed – there is little sign of life.  Looking up I see the occasional open-ended pipe projecting fromt he floor of an overhanging wooden privy.  Probably not in use these days!!  Some of the heavy arched wooden doors are perforated by a circle of holes at eye level.  Well that is tempting 😉  The couple that I peer through give into what looks like a fairly basis kitchen.blogIMG_4545 (2)

We come to the end of one of these ‘ruelles voutees’ and stumble on some small bistrots which straddle the narrow stairways that lead down to the area which is dominated by restaurants, cafes and bars.  As we meander past the various establishments we can see that several are showing football matches on the big screens: Sweden v. Belgium, Italy v. Ireland.  We settle at a table and order a drink as our payment for a ‘ticket’.  Belgium and Ireland are the victors.

We walk back along the Cliffside passage and notice the large moon across the harbour.  I try to photograph it but moons are fickle when cooperating with a mobile phone camera.  In fact any but the most sophisticated cameras in my limited experience.  Earlier I did manage a photo of a horizon sporting lovely pink and mauve stripes running along where the sky meets the sea.  Francois says this phenomenon gives rise to ‘Cote d’Azur’.

 

A Change of Scene

It is not until 20th June, twelve days into our three-week sojourn with Francois and Fefe, that we are able to set off with a new battery charger fitted and some confidence that we can depend on ‘Till’.  We are going to head east as far as the Italian coast and our first stage will be Iles Lerins, one of Fefe’s haunts.  It is well into the afternoon when we pick up mooring ropes and leave Frejus marina.  The sea conditions are rather choppy so I settle down to listen to my current read on Audible and also play a few hands of BridgeBaron.

As we enter the strait between the two islands we phone Catamaran Pizza to order our supper.  The pizzas are large so Nick and I share a smoked salmon, spinach and crème fraiche one.  The young man who delivers our pizza is full of charm and effuses over our vintage wooden vessel.  It is true that when I look around at the other boats that have chosen this spot to moor for the night there are few such characterful boats as our own.  With our pizzas we also eat some of the succulent white asparagus that Fefe buys at the market and prepares for steaming.  With cheese and the gorgeous plump cherries that Francois loves so much we really have eaten well.

The next morning, before we head eastwards Francois and Nick plan a run ashore in the inflatable to dump our dechets.  They attach the outboard to the tender and pull the starter cord.  It starts but clearly is going nowhere under power.  blogIMG_4490 (3)They drift down tide and have to row back to investigate the problem.  The propeller is broken so Francois carries out a running repair with a split pin.  Back in the water they try again but the engine is having none of it.  Francois investigates its bowels with a screwdriver, probing underneath and “merde, alors” he manages to break a spark plug.  So, OK, the rubbish will travel with us to Villefranche-sur-mer.

I enquire and am told that our motor to Villefranche will take four hours.  We are going to sail past a string of nice resorts with popular and attractive beaches although we will be too far offshore to appreciate the topography of the various bays, promontories and small headlands.  Fefe has given me the book she keeps onboard which is full of colour photographs of the beaches of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var.  Entitled ‘Plages vues du ciel’ the book opens with a photo of Menton in the east and you page forwards (but are travelling back westwards) to Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer.  I keep getting muddled with this counter-intuitive layout!

Leaving Lesrins we look across to Cannes and we are sailing into the realm of the defaced Red Ensigns.  Such flags are sported by British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies: Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man.  Cue tax shenanigans.  And the boats which show these flags are flashy vessels and as they ply these waters they often pass us at stupid speeds whose wakes our stalwart little boat must ride.  It makes Francois furious.

Beyond Cannes we will go past Golfe Juan, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes and a long coastal sprawl emanating from Nice.   Stark and highly visible to us at some distance offshore is a complex of hugely ugly (to my mind) apartment blocks, the Marina-Baie des Anges.  Constructed between 1969 and 1993 it consists of a marina with the four blocks named Amiral, Barronet, Commodore and Ducal.  The style of architecture is meant to suggest waves.  Pressing on I notice aircraft flying in from the west and seeming to land on the beach.  Nice Airport is indeed very close to the coast and is a busy airport and in passing I see at least twenty aircraft landing, following each other at varying intervals from two to ten minutes.  I watch nearly as many take off, gain height and fly east or southeast, their silhouettes passing briefly over the dark flanks of the snow-capped Alps.

We are booked into the marina at Villefranche for five o’clock and slightly ahead of ourselves so we motor a bit further and drop anchor in the adjacent cove at Cap Ferrat.  It is tranquil with only one other boat there and so it is a treat to have a swim in the clear water.  As I lower myself into the water off the ladder I notice that my body is getting used to the first encounter with the water and within a minute I feel at one with the element and, particularly when the sun is shining on my face or back, it is joyful.

After a swim like that it is particularly good to have a warm meal, even on a hot sunny day, so the bavettes that Francois cooks for us go down a treat.  There is just time for a little rest before we lift the anchor and motor round a small headland and into Villefranche marina.  We have been allotted a numbered space on the pontoon which is just inside the entrance and could not be further from the Capitainerie.  Nick does his bit with a boathook and muscle power in fending off contact with the adjacent vessels but Francois’ feat of parking his boat is an amazing bit of manoeuvring.  The helm of a boat is slow to react to steering and I know from the few occasions I have taken over ‘Verity’ in Croatia that it is so easy to over-compensate.  Granted Francois has had his boat for twenty years but Fefe says she knows it is not an easy handle and when you are trying to squeeze into a place with very little wriggle-room fore and aft it is all the more amazing to watch. blogIMG_4521 (2)blogIMG_4523 (2)

Villefranche is very beautiful to my eyes, its buildings clinging to the steep sides of the hill and cliffs that descend to the harbour.  There are some very prestigious-looking residences and the houses go right to the top.  It reminds me a bit of the Amalfi coast.  Fefe has talked of finding a restaurant where she remembers they serve good tapas.  She has warned us several times that is is “tres cher”.

So we walk into town along the Cliffside path of worn limestone cobbles with the sea and a narrow rocky foreshore to our right.  It is a pleasant stretch with some vegetation types including an ancient cactus that has initials and hearts scored into its ‘trunk’.  blogIMG_4527 (2) We find the tapas place that Fefe remembers but when we are show the tapas options on the menu the meat and fish choices are very lack-lustre so we end up ordering a ‘plat’.   blogIMG_4528 (2)I choose steamed cod with a lovely selection of vegetables, mussels, whelks and a hard-boiled egg.  What makes the dish fab is the lovely pot of aioli that goes with it.  It is very pleasant sitting right on the quay where there is an arc of tables with each restaurant having its allotted harbour frontage to colonise.

I take in the ambiance and enjoy.  We are going to spend two nights here.

 

Little Red Fishes

I wake to bright sunshine and after munching on a mini pain au raisin I hop round to the beach for a swim.  I am loving these swims more and more.  After the shock of immersion, particularly when the body has been warmed by the sun, within a minute I am warmed up and then swim gently, sometimes on the spot just enjoying the pull on my arms as I breaststroke in the lovely water.  My glass of rose at La Terrasse afterwards is refreshing and we sit and watch the passers-by.  I experience a momentary flush of holiday well-being.

Back onboard Francois is busying patiently in the kitchen.  blogIMG_6060 (2)He has bought some pretty red mullet which he is gutting and he is cutting up some cute little squid.   blogIMG_6061 (2)These morsels will be lightly fried and then eaten with a crust or two of bread.  The French don’t bother very much with vegetables.  This tasty lunch is followed by the customary siesta then I must shop at the supermarket for my Bolognese sauce ingredients.  I’ve decided to offer a Spaghetti Bolognese meal after walking past an Italian restaurant in the marina every day.  It’s a long time since I enjoyed this classic Italian dish.

The following day we head out to sea after a lunch of Choucroute with petit sale, frankfurters and Strasbourg and Alsace sausage.  Francois has decided to take us west along the coast towards St Tropez.  This stretch of coast does not look so intensively developed as the coast running out from Cannes.  The village and port are very picturesque from the sea with the bell tower and the round tower of Portalet.  On our way back to Frejus we turn inland and find ourselves at the entrance to the lacustrine settlement of Port Grimaud, known locally as Venise Provencale.  It is a canal town which looks as if it has been established longer than its 50-year history.  It was a marshland swamp until a young architect, Francois Spoerry developed the area using local materials and architectural styles traditionally used in the region in order to achieve a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.  The canals splaying out from the port host 2,400 dwellings and 2000 moorings distributed over twelve islands connected by fourteen bridges, 7km of canals and 14 km of piers.  In many instances you can moor your boat in front of your living room! blogIMG_4483 (3)

Many photos and one video later Francois skilfully negotiates a passage out of the canal network with its fringe of bankside residences.  I have been fascinated by his ability to steer his boat to very precise requirements: the canals are narrow and most of the housing, built as terraces of dwellings have small gardens giving onto a narrow strip functioning as a pontoon along which boats are moored.  Room for manoeuvre is in places very tight indeed.

Towards the end of our run back to Frejus I start to make my Bolognese for the following day.  It is simmering nicely as we tie up to our pontoon.  Our light supper is distinctly molluscan: Murex and Octopus.  Eaten with Pave and some of Nick’s mayonnaise it is all I need to round off the day.

 

White Knuckle Ride in a Biscuit Tin

The Mistral has blown up again and we must wait for Olivier to come and advise on the matter of the boat batteries.  I have rounded up some small viennoiseries from the boulangerie by the marina for breakfast.   The morning will be spent working round the three men who have the deck in the cabin up and are poking around in the boat’s bowels.  It is established that the problem is not with the batteries but with the charger and a new one must be ordered with minimum delay.  blogIMG_6064 (2)Cue leafing through catalogues.

Today Nick and I are invited to share a celebratory lunch with Francois and Fefe to mark their 47th wedding anniversary.  The chosen venue is a Vietnamese restaurant called Chez Diem in the centre of Frejus.  Francois has borrowed Olivier’s wife’s car in order to drive us there.  It is a small, squarish model into which we squeeze for what will be a sometimes hair-raising trip.  Francois is already a bit stressed by the matter of trying to find a mail order outlet that will enable him to order a charger and have it delivered to the marina.  This has involved attempting to place an order with an English supplier which has a depot nearby.

We set off a bit uncertainly, lurching between lanes whilst making last minute decisions according to traffic flow.  It’s a bit like dodgems and it doesn’t help when Francois takes a call from England on his mobile.  We drive a circuit of Centre Ville, rattling around in our biscuit tin, searching in vain for a parking space.  As the car stalls at each junction there are muttered curses of “merde” and “putain” from the driver’s seat and “Poulet, Poulet fait attention” from the seat behind him.

The rain begins to fall and when we finally find a parking space and spill out the Tailles then decide that we don’t really have time to do the market before lunch so we get back into the car to try and find a ‘parking’ nearer the restaurant.  Nick and I exchange conspiratorial glances.  Rarely is Nick fazed although he has never found it easy to be a passenger.  In the event we now find ourselves in the queues of traffic we were trying to avoid in order to gain the centre of Frejus.  Eventually we find the carpark which is adjacent to ‘Chez Diem’.

All is made thoroughly worthwhile by a superb Vietnamese lunch where Fefe and I start with crispy Beignets of Crevettes,  and some shared Nems.  We call these latter Spring Rolls in the UK.  I choose Squid Hong Kong style, spicy and tender.  As we eat and drink we become increasingly mellow.  blogIMG_5349 (2)This meal carries me right through the afternoon and into the evening.  At supper-time a hard-boiled egg, some tomato and leaf salad is all that I need.

Whilst we have been with the Tailles at Frejus I have been following the news from England and in particular the progress of the campaigning for the forthcoming EU Referendum.  The most recent polls are showing a tilt towards the Leave campaign which I find sad and depressing.  I am feeling a real sense of displacement here in the south of France.  With the electrical glitsches that have arisen on the boat we are pretty much grounded.  Nevertheless we are able to get to sea for a limited run because Olivier has lent us a charger to boost the batteries and give us enough juice for a few hours at sea.  We don’t plan to venture far afield but sail east towards Agay where we find a sheltered anchorage.  Francois cooks us delicious bavettes for lunch which we eat with boiled potatoes in their skins and one of my basil and tomato salads.  Crashing out on my bunk, the next thing I know we are moored back in the marina and there are gales of laughter emanating from the cockpit.

Sitting in the cockpit at the end of the afternoon I happen to glance up at the small screen where French news is being broadcast.  We learn that Jo Cox, an English MP and rising star in the Labour Party, and who is very pro EU, has been shot and killed.  This is a tragedy that has far-reaching implications.  There are many moving tributes including a tear-jerking item by her husband Brendan.  She was evidently a truly good person and was murdered because of what she believed in and worked for.  This makes me very sad and I have already been feeling unsettled and somewhat pessimistic as we approach voting day.  It is the most important vote that I am likely to make in my lifetime and perhaps the most significant historical moment for my country too.

Supper on the boat is a muted affair and before I retire to my bunk with my current read, a Mo Hayder thriller, I mix up the marinade for the chicken joints we bought at the supermarket for tomorrow’s lunch which will be Jamie Oliver’s Gurkha Chicken.

 

 

Juicy White Asparagus and Marmalade Cocktails

There is an issue with the outboard motor and Francois and Nick need to give it some attention.  This is a protracted business and involves consultation with Olivier the marina mechanic who advises various measures.  The problem stems from the fact that the motor was dropped into the sea 😦 and although it has since been serviced it still does not work properly.  The various adjustments are made and the motor is once more in working order.

Lunch today is simple.  Fefe has carefully peeled some fat white asparagus spears.  They have the girth and length of those little wooden rolling pins you get in kids’ pastry sets!  Poached to perfection they are then ready for dipping into a homemade mousseline (a mayonnaise made with egg white).  To follow we have a few slices of boiled saussison and some boiled Rouge Cherie potatoes.  My afternoon slips away on my bunk and it is late afternoon when I wake.  The Mistral, which has been promised these past few days, is rising.  I first notice then we go round to our bit of beach for a swim.  The water is unpleasantly choppy and there is detritus floating close to the shoreline.  IMG_4416After our swim we rejoin the others and have an Aperol Spritz – a cocktail of slightly bitter orange liqueur, Prosecco, tonic water and slices of orange and I love its marmaladey taste.  Supper on board will be easy, gravadlax, salads from yesterday, this preceded by air dried ham and melon.  This day has followed a very Mediterranean diet and I am beginning to feel that I am shedding an ounce or two 🙂

During the night the wind moans like the rush that precedes an underground train before it clears the tunnel and pulls alongside the platform.  And there are some intermittent gusts which wake me but I read myself back to sleep.  There are mini-croissants for breakfast and passion fruit.  These days I skip my cup of Red Bush tea.  Without china cups it is a bit of a hardship!  I go straight into the coffee and I like the brand we are using very much: Velour Noir.

This day is mini-market day and we are after some fish.  There has been some discussion between Francois and Fefe about ‘os de seiche’ which I understand to be cuttlebones.  I am wondering where this fits into our provisioning until I suddenly understand that these are in face cloud formations, ‘nuages lenticulaires’ which are typical of Mistral skies.  blogIMG_6055 (2)

At the little market by the post office we buy some tuna steaks and some large prawns, olives, pickled garlic cloves, fruit and saladstuffs.  Thus provided for we wend our way back to ‘Till’ via the bar.  I suddenly think how good it would be to have a tomato juice for a change and this becomes the first of many that I will drink during our sojourn in the south of France.

A swim before lunch is required and the sea has calmed down and the water is surprisingly clear and clean but the temperature strikes chilly.  blogIMG_6049 (2)Yet another good Mediterranean lunch is consumed with the tuna steaks being cooked to the barest minimum.

When we start to prepare our supper later on, we make the first of a number of unwelcome discoveries.  The ice box that we are using to chill wine and surplus supplies has stopped working.  blogIMG_6051 (2)It is apparently ten years old so Francois is minded to buy another.  However when we discover later in the evening that the fridge is not working either this requires some deductive thought and eventually we notice that the boat lights are somewhat dim which leads to an inspection of the boat’s batteries.  Putting this information together it appears that the batteries are not charging sufficiently to meet the electrical demands being made on the boat.  Some more fixes will be necessary.  Olivier will have to be consulted again and probably some parts will have to be ordered.  This will involve changes of plan with regard to our sailing activities.  We have already lost time for our departure from Frejus to make the crossing to Corsica, the prime objective of our three-week stay with the Tailles on their boat.  But we remain optimistic that we can cut and run and make the 18-hour crossing leaving enough time to explore Corsica, maybe even drop down to the island of Elba and still be back in Frejus by 30th June, the date for which our train tickets have been booked.  So in the meantime there is nothing for it but to clink glasses and enjoy the good food Francois has prepared for us.