Wig and Ian

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. DSC00128 (2)

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.  DSC05248 (2)From my kitchen I offered them seafood bisque, fish pie, scallops en croute and oysters.  We spent a happy time.WigIanNickblog

PastryStJacques (2) Prawns2

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!

Of Cycads and Cyclamen and an evening with Cybs.

I make a flying trip to Dorset to fulfil a few engagements.  Firstly my crown needs some attention and Mrs Ilankovan does the honours with minimum intervention and I hope it will hold.  There is a gathering of Book Group to discuss The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver about which I feel a bit ambivalent but am willing to, in a sense, give her the benefit of my doubt because it is a first novel and this novelist has gone on to write some storming stuff.  I manage a short visit to Chestnuts to see Mum and am a bit dismayed to find her off kilter, an angry personage and so I bundle us both into the car and we drive to Swyre to gaze at the boisterous sea, to watch a fisherman togged for cold and wet weather trudge back to his car with a codling on a string and to simply enjoy the greenness of winter fields full of sheep and the rolling slopes of Dorset countryside as we drive the coastal road between Weymouth and Bridport.  That evening there is a gathering of my bridge coterie at the Workshop.   On Thursday I give my sisters a lamb curry and we have a board meeting.  The following morning I am expecting a lift with Eamonn to catch my ferry from Poole but am nonplussed to arrive at the cottage to find he has already left for work.  Fortunately Cybs is able to put things right with a phonecall and he turns around to come back and fetch me.

Back in France I now have a good two weeks in view with the prospect of time to choose, and one choice is to catch up with our entertaining schedule.  We have been on the receiving end of delicious hospitality in recent weeks and it is payback time.

A particularly enjoyable lunch has been eaten chez Taille.  Francois seemingly lives to cook.  Along with fellow guests Andre and Francoise Burnouf we are regaled with escargots (‘les petits gris’ = Cornu aspersum) prepared by Taille neighbours, followed by Francois’ signature dish of Coquille St Jacques en croute – we’ve had these before chez Taille.  The meal is wrapped up with a Galette des Roi.

As it happens I have recently taken a Jamie Oliver recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala on board.  Cooking curries for our French friends works well generally speaking, with the exception of certain people who should most appropriately eat at the fussy boys’ table.  In particular my dear friend Fefe has expressed a liking for this dish so I am going to master it and cook it at least three times before the end of the month.  My guinea pigs are F. and la Poulette, hotfoot from Burma where they have spent two weeks travelling under their own steam and look very well on the experience.  It goes down well and even better three evenings later when I regale the Daniells and the Tenorios with the same recipe.  All bodes well for the Sunday lunch we will offer the Tailles and the Andres.

Meanwhile in the garden there is enough of break in the seemingly endless cold, wet and windy weather to enable me to get outside and achieve.  I remove the dead Cycad from a large terra cotta pot which frees it up for a SkimmiaMelianthusResizeThe little red cyclamen which gave good decorative service for our Christmas in Winterborne K can be pot-planted as companions to larger shrubs.  There is plenty of cutting back and dead-stemming to do and in the process I find nice Echium plants to fulfil orders from Liz, along with young Acanthus and Geranium madarense which will also find favour at Hawkchurch.  There are scattered flowerings around the garden, plants which have refused to go to bed seemingly and some which have woken up far to early.  I am thrilled to see that the Melianthus major which Paul gave us has continued to grow and is sporting three flower heads.  Its potential is significant and I begin to have a vision of a garden which is evolving to feature fewer, but choice, plants in the future.

Hallelujah

At the end of November we have a very special date in London.  We board the ferry for a long weekend in the UK, getting back in time for me to catch a bridge date with my fellow Winterborne debutantes, dinner with Maddy and Andrew and on Sunday morning Nick and I pile into our car and drive to South Kensington.  We park at Imperial College and walk through to the Royal Albert Hall.

Our granddaughters Lola and Ruby are going to join a choir of some 1400 schoolchildren from schools scattered around the country to sing The Scratch Youth Messiah. I have sung in a Scratch Messiah myself, many years ago at Guildford Town Hall.  It is a wonderful experience to join a large chorus to sing inspirational works.  You need no religious belief to, nevertheless, find yourself uplifted and spiritually moved.  We have seats in the circle and are able to move to a spot where we can gaze down on our two young singers and are able to attract their attention in the interval.  Emma’s father has joined us and I like that, although the five of us are culturally from different faiths, we are joined in the exhilaration of the occasion.

We celebrate the special moment with dinner at a restaurant before Nick and I return to Winterborne K to spend a day at the Old Workshop before boarding a ferry for Cherbourg

Grande Dame goes to York

When the car pulls out of the drive at 6 a.m. I have my two young passengers in the back with their breakfast jam sandwich.  We are bound for Ouistreham, Caen, a journey that will take us about one hour twenty minutes.  They chatter away and occasionally engage me in conversation.  Ruby out of the blue tells me that sometimes she tries to imagine what nothing would be like if the universe were not there.  Wow!!

We park up outside the ferry terminal and check in and wait to board the Normandie.  This is a larger vessel than the Barfleur having two small cinemas and a small stage in the bar where entertainments are staged during the passage.  On this day there will be a quiz, a magic show, face-painting and pumpkin-carving.  It is, after all, October 31st.

Arriving in Portsmouth and disembarking we come through passport control to find waiting parents.  It has to be a quick handover as I will need to check right back in for the return crossing during which I am able to sleep in the very comfortable recliners.  We are half an hour late docking and I am a bit apprehensive about the drive back to St Vaast, not being a great night driver.  But it’s fine as I tune into a French radio station and try to follow rugby final babble.  It is 11.30 p.m. when I pull back into the drive.

We are only going to have 4 days in St Vaast before it is time to travel back to the UK for a couple of fixtures.  I am booked for an AEA conference at York University, an archaeology meeting to mark the retirement of Terry O’Connor.  And in the week that follows there will be meetings of my bridge group in preparation for our class with Barry on the Friday.  For the time being however there is a yoga class in Quettehou on Monday morning, a brief visit to see Fefe who faces a hip operation in the next couple of weeks and a brief catch-up with la Poulette.  My friend Bibi delivers the galet which I have commissioned her to paint using a photo of Fefe’s Siamese cat, Rachel.  It has turned out really well and I hope she will like it.  The tulip, daffodil and iris bulbs left over from my Winterborne K planting are potted up and I plant the Fritillary corms deeply around the bee orchid plants which have re-appeared, leaving just a few of these to plant with the ‘bees’ in our Dorset garden.  I take a few photos of the colour we are still enjoying, including the raspberries which continue to ripen and sprays of the fragrant lemon blossom.

We are weary peeps when we board the ferry on Thursday.  I face a day of scurrying before I must board an early train at Wool bound for York.  I enjoy the meeting very much and renew some connections with former ‘clients’ and associates.  Despite my hang ups over bridge, when the class with Barry is over I don’t feel too wrung out although I cannot stop yawning my head off.  On Saturday Nick and I join the village walk followed by a pub lunch.  After a very long nap I make a batch of Indian pickle and start to think about readying ourselves and the house for our departure for France, storm Abigail permitting, on Monday morning.

Some Bridge and over a Bridge to the Golden Party.

I’ve started waking at 4.30 a.m.  If I have a busy day ahead, or a list of must-dos buzzing around in my head it is pointless to try and sleep more.  Best to get up and get going.  Today we board a ferry for France.  We’ve only been back in Winterborne K for a couple of weeks but we have packed it in.  Our principal purpose was to be in England for two parties; a 50th Wedding Anniversary and an annual Summer BBQ hosted by friends in Wiltshire.  Then again my village quintet of Bridge learners were to receive their next lesson from Mr Kitchenbridge.  Barry came down for the day and introduced Doubling.  And we consolidated our learning so far, and I played reasonably well given my shortfall of practice with Cybs and co.  If only I could improve my ability to remember the cards as they are played.  I face a summer of isolation from my fellow players but will try and compensate with theory learning and Bridge Baron. The first party we go to is at Clifford Bridge.  It starts at midday and continues into the evening.  In the lovely garden setting that our friends are creating we sat and chatted to friends in archaeology and ate delicious food.  Meats from the BBQ at midday were followed by a Hog Roast later.  To accompany all this meatiness a fabulous array of salads had been prepared, and then there were strawberries……………  We stayed at a nearby cottage with the O’Connors which was within walking distance.  On the Sunday we ate more delicious food in the form of party leftovers then Nick drove to Greylake to see his friend John W and I drove west to visit Cornish Stella and Rose.  Driving back on the Monday I stop at the farm shop at Morcombelake to buy another willow butterfly scarer.  One that I bought earlier didn’t exactly keep the blackbird off my strawberries but it looks graceful in its rustic willowness.  All things willow get a big tick from me.  Mind you a more effective bird scarer might be something like this…….. During my English fortnight I make another batch of apricot jam and harvest a lot of strawberries.  We eat plenty of these fresh from the plot but there are still plenty to freeze for future desserts and I also plan to make some rhubarb and strawberry jam with Joel.

The garden receives attention and when we come to leave it looks well enough although there are weeds at the back of the main border which have escaped but will be attacked when I get back soon.  After the earlier showing of cranesbills, Centaurea, Jacob’s Ladder, Iris, Verbascum, Papaver orientale, Dicentra, Solomon’s Seal, Pulmonaria……  there is a bit of an hiatus until the Delphinium and other later flowering plants come on stage.  The lacunae in the main border are now filled by Papaver somniferum.  I have weeded out many young plants so those that remain to flower are very random.  Happily I have an array of colours including doubles and ‘carnation-like’ flower heads.  I plant out the contents of various pots that have been waiting in the wings.   My last task is to thin out plants in the bed on the shady side of the garage and put remaining pots in shelter from intense sunlight.  There has been rain so I am spared the chore of watering.  We put the mouse and hare garden forks in a safe place and bid our evolving garden farewell.

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!

 

January Jokers

If there is one adjective I would use to describe January then it is unpredictable.  And I’m not talking weather as that has shown no surprises.  It is the diversity of activities and the occasional jokers which life brandishes which have served to make the opening weeks of 2015 interesting, and yes enjoyable.

Setting foot outside The Old Workshop late on Thursday night we proceeded to empty the car, boil the kettle for tea and then set about opening the accumulated mail.  So many cards, past their sell-by-date, but reading the greetings was a heart-warming experience nonetheless.  We know some nice people.

On Friday I visited Mum at Chestnuts then boarded a train for Hackney.  I got a cheap ticket with an upgrade to First Class and arrived at tea-time.  I spent the weekend getting involved in the family activities which culminated in a Karate birthday party for Ruby on Sunday afternoon.  That evening an exhausted Ems took an early night and Dan and I occupied a sofa each and watched The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies.  How I love these films.  I am not normally ‘into’ fantasy literature or film but Tolkien stole my heart in my 20s and forever has held onto it.  On Monday morning I escaped to Dorset;)

And then there was a week of catching up with my anchors: dentist, hairdresser, book group, bridge, a WK day for Mum, supper with the lovely Dukes.  Those fixtures which are the framework around which I hang the extras, life’s baubles.

Talking of baubles, on the morning after big storms and high seas Nick walks Chesil Beach and brings me one home.  After a heavy dose of meteo this bit of coast is a magnet for Nick.   He hopes for fish boxes, the lost tackle of other fishermen anything useful really.  What he brings back for me is hardly useful but a delight.

Blog-Seafan

In amongst a tangle of seaweed, fishing line and other detritus he spies a sea fan.  Sea fans, more properly known as Gorgonians, or indeed sessile colonial cnidarians (same family as sea anemones) are closely related to corals. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whiplike, bushy, or even encrusting.  A colony can be several feet high and across but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly coloured, often purple, red, or yellow.  My fan is about 20cm wide and is still quite pinky when Nick brings it back.  Drying sea fans bleaches the colour, sadly, as all the fleshy polyps die.  There is nothing to be done, once a sea fan has been uprooted from the sea floor in deepish water, you cannot replant it!

A soiree chez Hunter is another bauble, arriving at 7 in the evening we drink their wine libations, ad lib, nibble some savoury fancies and eventually tuck into supper at 11.  Along the way we have had quality time with the Upcotts, the Hammersleys who are always good value.  On Sunday we pub lunch with Ry and Ted, CJ having flown to OZ for a week’s work.

This the week in which we will bid farewell to the mortal remains of cousin Miles, one of 31 Edwards first cousins of which my husband is one.  All the Light siblings converge for this event, enjoying a birthday tea for Jenny at Maiden Newton a couple of days before.  This is also the week in which the charming Barry Farncombe will travel from Battersea to TOW for a day’s bridge tuition.   At the end of this day, if we thought Bridge was just a bit tricky to learn beforehand, we now know there is a way to go before we can consider ourselves licensed to play.  In the evening cousin Joy arrived to stay overnight and we hosted supper for my bridge partners and their other halves.

After the funeral I need to drive to Godalming for two days of Ted-care.  (Whilst I am Godalming I receive an email from Jenny with a magic bit of writing, her thoughts on the funeral )  Ted is a very easy child to care for and feed.  He is organised and loving…………….  On the morning of the mother’s return I leave Ry and Ted to welcome her and pile into my trusty vehicle and head for Oxfordshire.

A Gallery of Curiosities

Sunday morning, bright as buttons we leave The Old Workshop with packed breakfasts, girly cabin bags and the week’s trophies.  Hackney-bound, we make very good time arriving late morning.  We deposit two very excited girls with their equally excited parents and walk down to London Fields to visit Tom, Delphine and Juliette.  We have a mission to fulfil; as part of Jeu de Douze Mois we are delivering a consignment of ‘shopping’ as a wedding gift.  It includes a bottle of Bolly, some cheese, packets of bickies and jars of toothsome condiments.  We enjoy a late brunch with them at The Laundry, a eating establishment which offers better than average brunching options.  We take a little walk afterwards, down towards Columbia Road Market and buy cakes at a newly opened shop to drink with tea before we head back to Downs Park Road.  Back with Dan & Co we bid a fond farewell to the Hackneys and drive back to Winterborne K.

We are returning to a mixed week of fixtures: visiting conchologists, a luncheon treat at Clos du Marquis at The Leckford Hutt with the Palmers, the village walk and a Wildlife Trust fungus foray for Nick over the weekend.  Nick learns about some different edible fungi to look out for.  He now knows a Parasol when he meets one, and we have jars of dried ones for winter stews.  For me the week culminates in two days of Bridge tuition with my neighbours Sally, Celia, Chris and Helen, hosted at The Old Workshop and taught by Barry Farncombe of Kitchenbridge.  I’ve tried to learn Bridge several times and although I understand the essential principles of the game, I have failed to retain the rules and protocol of bidding to play the game,  with a bit of insight.  As adjacent neighbours we women are well placed to consolidate what we learn although the other 4 will be at an advantage as they do not spend half their year outside the UK.

One of my conchological visitors comes to collect the shell collection of a mutual friend who has shifted his enthusiasm from shells to a detailed research project on Churches in NorthWales.  The thing that marks this collection out as exceptional is the meticulously curated assemblage of shipworm shells and samples of the wood into which they bore in life, and from which they were extracted once the wood had been cast up on the shore.  Shipworms are thoroughly idiosyncratic molluscs, having the ability to colonise a habitat which is rarely utilised by marine molluscs.  My other visitor has to come to browbeat me into taking up my scientific pen to write a couple of chapters for a specialist book on molluscs in archaeology.  Notwithstanding this we take him and his wife round to the Greyhound for an excellent lunch.

Amongst all our hosting activities we find time to do some stuff in the garden, including the planting of two new trees.  It has taken me 18 months to make a choice!  Finally after consulting knowledgeable friends and surfing the net a bit I have selected Prunus subhirtellus autumnalis for January flowers and Parrotia persica for a good canopy and autumn colour.

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The latter is strategically placed to obscure the house on the far side of our neighbour’s garden, which separates us.  Nick continues to dig round the L-shaped border on the east side of the garden.  Into the shorter limb I move one of the Crinodendron hookerianum from the front garden, and a small Pittosporum which experience tells me will grow fast to add to the screening we are looking for.

Before we board the ferry on Wednesday I have also managed to make a whirlwind visit to Hilary Goddard.  It is really good to catch up with her since the occasion of Tom’s wedding and I looked through her portfolios of sketches, some of which will be worked on to produce her lovely oil paintings.  We are hoping for an oil of the French house based on the sketches and studies she made whilst she was our guest.  I am going to buy a gouache study of Canterton Pond, something she had decided should be NFS.  But for our shared love of mauve she agrees that I may buy it once it is framed.  We lunched at  The Jack in the Green at Rockbeare.

To round off our eventful pre-France interlude there is Book Group at the Greyhound, followed by a spot of Bridge revision at Celia’s on Tuesday.  On Wednesday we board the ferry in heavy rain for a windy crossing, and arrive in sunny Cherbourg four hours later.