A couple of days after our return from South Africa Nick and I drive to Bath to meet up with one of Nick’s long-standing and very good friends. He and Nick worked together, in the sense that John as a lawyer worked for companies that employed Nick over a period of years. Think the old Stalin and Genghis Khan joke and you have their political standpoints. The last time Stalin took on Genghis Khan was when we sailed with Nigel in Croatia………… Ostensibly we are meeting in Bath so that we can eat fish and chips at John’s favourite chippie. But first it seems right that we should sing for our supper so we meet at the gates of the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden with a view to walking. It is a beautiful 18th century landscape garden with one of only four Palladian bridges of the Prior Park design in the world. The garden was created by local entrepreneur Ralph Allen, with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and the poet Alexander Pope. The garden is set in a sweeping valley where visitors can enjoy magnificent views of Bath. Restoration of the ‘Wilderness’ has reinstated the Serpentine Lake, Cascade and Cabinet.
Afterwards we head back into the city for our date with Seafoods Traditional Fish and Chips. We are a bit early so we find a bar and order the cocktail of the day. It was over-priced and over the top and I cannot remember the ingredients although sitting here at the screen at something short of 5 p.m. I could really fancy one now. The fish and chips lives up to expectations and we drive home after a spell of quality time with good friends.
The ensuing week is social because we have been away and have friends to reconnect with. The day after our F&C moment we host a Bookish Lunch at TOW with the Shaxsons, Celia Cas and Jan D. At the end of the week we do a Jigsaw Evening in which the McGoverns participate. It’s the Bookish jigsaw, the fun bookshelves with Pun Titles.
There’s more Bookish stuff the following week when Chrissie hosts our soup lunch and chat. Fellow conchologist and garrulant (you read this word here first) comes to visit on Tuesday. We talk shells all day. He lives in Lancashire and seldom travels south and is staying with mutual friends near Wimborne. He invites us back for a curry at their home on Friday and we engineer that we can accept this on the basis that it will be an early meal and we will be done and dusted in time to pick up Anne P from Poole as she arrives from Cherbourg ready for our willow workshop with Kim.
The day after Ian’s visit I get up early to drive to Cornwall for the funeral of my dear friend Stella Turk. It is a humanist ceremony which I so connect with. No singing of hymns in thin reedy voices but readings and tributes from friends and family. The wicker casket sits before us in the airy chapel perched on a hill and I look through the windows out onto the landscape that Stella knew so well because her cottage is a stone’s throw from where we are sitting. There are many attendees and I meet up with some friends and associates from my marine biological recording days, Richard Warwick, Keith Hiscock, some great and good from the Cornish Wildlife Trust. They all look so much older, I suppose they think the same of me. Pam T finds me and points out Jayne Herbert, she who has compiled a selection of Stella’s verse and printed a few copies.
I am cornered several times and by the time I can escape so has Jayne. We later establish contact via email. We may collaborate on getting more of Stella’s verse into print. For the time being Jayne has a page devoted to Stella’s poetry on her website. At the end of a long day I drive back to Hawkchurch where I am fed and have a chance to catch up with my sister. Before I leave the next morning we walk a bit in the private woodlands owned by her neighbour.
At the end of half term week we take the girls back to Hackney. Emsie cooks us a delicious roast chicken dinner then we head back to Winterborne Kingston. A sustained interval of visitors and visiting has drawn to a close. We face a month in our Dorset home before we repair to St Vaast at the beginning of December to prepare for Christmas. I have many tasks I would like to tackle, some are long-standing and involve rooting out cupboards, weeding out drawers, organising and arranging the trappings of my life. Above all I want my garden back. I began to lose it in April and May. By the end of June when we returned from France after our three week sojourn in the south of France I had acquired a wildflower meadow. The borders had run rampage. Fortunately I had made the decision back in May to vacate many of my pots and leave them with montages so I did not have many dried out and shrivelled plants to dispose of once autumn arrived. There is a resident in the village who is a keen gardener and grows an assortment of plants which he sells and gives the proceeds to charity. I walk round to Broad Close to see what he has to offer and buy small Viola, Primula, Wallflowers and small Cyclamen. I spend £40 and get all the plants I need to populate the pots I have waiting in the wings, some of which, with bulbs, will be overplanted.
Out of the blue I get a message from Barns enquiring whether we will be about over the weekend of the 12th. Fortunately we will although I have committed the Saturday morning to a pro-EU group who are running an Outreach stall in Bournemouth. This will be my first experience of lobbying, in a minor way, out on the streets. Meanwhile Barney and the children will join Nick for the village walk during the morning. After my ‘reaching out’ I get home before the others return after their pub lunch. The rest of the weekend is spent playing games, eating good food and on Sunday we do a walk in the morning which does push me to my limits. Barns proposes we drive to Worth Matravers, walk to St Alban’s Head, along the coast to the cliffs above Chapman’s Pool and back to the car. This entails those nightmare steps which need to be negotiated in order to cross the deep valley running down towards the coast. We count 217 down and about 180 up the other side but there is a stretch of unstepped slope on the up side. I complete the ‘crossing’ having found it extremely taxing. (My leg muscles will ache for at least four days afterwards). After a delicious slow-roasted shoulder of lamb Barns loads the kids into the car with all their clean laundry and drives the back to Oxfordshire ready for school the next day.
A relatively uneventful week ensues, culminating in a pleasant inaugural lunch at The Old Workshop to launch Splinter, a somewhat conspiratorial group of erstwhile village book group members. Four of us eat my quick version Paella followed by Lemon mousse, choose our first joint title to read for discussion and decide on other titles that we have variously either read, or intend to read and which we will talk about as and when. The following day I am going to drive to Sandford Orcas to forage for a basket with Kim.
A few days after the Duke’s visit we were pleased to receive Wig and Ian. Wig and I go back decades, five in fact. We met when we signed up for a bi-lingual secretarial course which was being offered by a college in my home town at the time, Weymouth. We have kept in touch over the years and last year we celebrated our fifty years of friendship at the home of another contemporary.
Whilst they were with us we enjoyed a bit of walking and some good occasions around the dining table. Sunshine allowed us to manage some meals out of doors. As a thank you our guests treated us to an evening chez Fuchsias where we dined well, seated at the round table in the conservatory which looks out onto the gardens. From my kitchen I offered them seafood bisque, fish pie, scallops en croute and oysters. We spent a happy time.
Back in Winterborne K we enjoyed some quality time with villagers. The Roses laid on a Bookish Lunch to which we, the Shaxsons, Sallie O and Jan D were invited. Everyone enjoyed the occasion. In the evening I joined my Bridge bunch then on Saturday evening we met Christine and Malcolm for a curry at Namaste Gurkha in Blandford. The restaurant is bijou, the food was good and extremely good value. We met ostensibly for Christine and I to talk Books but in the event Nick hijacked the evening and he and Christine talked politics and current affairs. That was a turn up for the Books!
Back in Dorset now, until we cross the Channel to prepare for a Family Christmas, we are able to catch up with our fellow Winterborne Walkers over Christmas Dinner at the Countryman Inn in Wool. The following week it’s time to meet up with my fellow readers to discuss a book which has proved to be an unanimous hit, The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. The following evening we have our lovely friends Eamonn and Celia to supper. In amongst these Dorset days we make a weekend visit to Godalming so that I can go to Mary’s Private View.
With her 90th birthday just days away Mary is a marvel. She did not take up painting and potting until she reached 60 after which she developed her ranges of slipware which are well-known locally. Her work has its devotees amongst which I count myself, being particularly fond of her Quince plates and dishes. Sister-in-law Lis, nieces Harriet and Briony have all received a Wondrausch item from me and I have a some lovely pieces too. Her latest project has been to embark on a series of paintings which are a combination of watercolour, gouache and collage of snippets taken from magazines and other literature. These pictures have two themes. One set of pictures features still life compositions incorporating nature’s harvest: medlars, mushrooms, quinces, globe artichoke. The other range consists of portraits of Mary’s large collection of vases, jugs, pots and glassware embellished with floral arrangements. Five of Mary’s paintings have found their proper home on our walls in St Vaast 🙂