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.




August Antics

A couple of days after I wave my French visitors off, Claire arrives with the Crazy Gang of Four.  We are all going to travel over to France together for a week of familial fun and frolics.  blogimg_4707-3In fact Nick and I face a month playing host to assorted familial configurations.  Once arrived we already have an appointment for a Tuttle BBQ, before then a seashore safari organised by Claire and me which involves cartwheels in bathing suits. blogimg_4709-3blogimg_4710-3

Joel and I slope off to Paris for his jolly, then we come back to find the Perrymans have arrived for their long weekend during which we will celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with a return BBQ with the Tuttles chez nous.  blogimg_4756-3With CJ and Ry in charge it will be good.  The sands of time are rushing through the Cholsey holiday hour-glass. They have had quality time with cousins, aunts, uncles:blogimg_6183-2blogimg_6174-2 But before they return to the UK Joel and Claire cook us a fabulous evening meal which is a dummy run (but nothing dummy about what we are offered!) for Joel’s forthcoming Charity French Lunch.  blogimg_4759-2We enjoy his own brand of French Onion Soup, with a choice of Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourgignon as the main dish.  And then there is Crème Brulee 🙂

After the Gang of Four return to Oxfordshire Ted stays on with Nick and I.  He gets some fishing in.  blogimg_6237-2In fact we have a fabulous day which Ted thoroughly enjoys at all stages.  He is very willing to help take the fish off their lines and into the bucket, and to help Nick process the gutting of our catch and the distribution of heads and guts to a horde of seagulls.  It is a spectacular sight. blogimg_6254-2 Nick takes Ted to the small Zoo at Montaigue la Brisette whilst I have a very long overdue appointment with Manu. Bar  And so Ted’s departure day rolls round and he and I board the good ship ‘Barfleur’ bound for Poole where his mother will pick us up.  We stay overnight at TOW and the following day drive to Weymouth to have lunch with Ted’s Great Granny.  This is a happy visit and after they must drive to Godalming and I stay on at TOW another night before going back to France to await the next visitors…….

……….who arrive the next day.  Marian, Katharine and David come to us every year and it is a welcome week in which to catch up with them.  We can always count on David to tweak our computer systems, although Nick seems to take the lion’s share of this.  After his sessions with David I have not the heart to burden David further, even though he is more than willing.  By way of a small thank you Nick does give the Bradleys a master class in crab dressing.  blogimg_6293-2The week slips by and Katharine and I get some night-time bathing off the white wooden steps near La Chapelle des Marins at the town end of La Hougue.  lachapellebathingWe join Dede and his granddaughter Oranne at 10 o’clock and on the first evening the water feels even tepid.  As the spring tides approach there is a greater mixing of the waters and the temperature drops somewhat.  But I retain the physical memory of that first night-time plunge.  Above all my aging self appreciates the stable wooden steps with handrail.  What an elegant way to enter the sea!

After they leave we have a couple of days in which to prepare for my sister and her family and that is a whole other post…………..

Joel the Foodie gets his Fix

Since Nick and I to stay for a weekend, during which we gave him all manner of vehicular treats, I have been looking for opportunities to treat his siblings the same.  So my second opportunity involves a special something for Joel.  Joel is an easy recipient – he is fascinated by food and cooking.  blogtagineLuckily for me my neighbour Claire, a Parisienne who has a second home in St Vaast, has stumbled on a website which offers Secret Food Tours.  They run them in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona.  When I make further enquiries I find that the Paris tours take place around Montmartre which is on the doorstep of our friends’ apartment off Pigalle and the meeting point will turn out to be at the Anvers Metro which is just round the corner.

So Joel and I board a train at Valognes and travel for three hours to Paris St Lazare.  From the station it is a fifteen minute walk to rue Victor Massy.  We offload our bags then head into the centre of Paris for an afternoon activity.  There are so many possibilities and I had planned to take the Metro to Jardin des Tuileries and perhaps slip over to the Musee d’Orsay.  But Joel mentions that he would love to see the glass pyramid above the entrance to the Louvre since it features in the novel and film of the Da Vinci Code.  editimg_4727-2So it is that we spend a couple of hours at the Louvre and this is thoroughly enjoyable as we take in some French and Italian Renaissance art, we talk about the pictures and those that we like in particular and of course we gaze upon the loveliness that is the Mona Lisa.  Personally I have never thought that she is that lovely.   As Joel and I stand and regard La Gioconda, we are very much in an ethnic minority.

editimg_4729-3I would say that 90% of the ‘audience’ consists of far Eastern tourists armed with their mobile phones and selfie sticks.  I noticed this before when I came to see the Mona Lisa and also when visiting other parts of the exhibitions.  Many people view the museum through their devices.  They arrive in front of a work of art, capture the image on their device and move on without stopping to consider the painting they have just photographed.   As we continue our exploration we find ourselves at the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.  We both really enjoy looking at the sculptures, artefacts and face masks.  blogimg_4730-2 blogimg_4731-2 blogimg_4732-2  We round a corner and are confronted with a huge stone head and neck carving.  “Gosh” I say, “that looks just like one of the Easter Island statues!” Well, of course, it is one.

By now it is almost time for the museum to close so we make our way to the nearest Metro and back to Pigalle.  We are going to eat at one of the local restaurants and I have chosen the one that offers north African fare.  We choose tagine and Joel and I tuck in heartily.  After we have paid the bill the owner regales us with anecdote and advice for the budding chef.  The advice is well meant but not entirely appropriate and I should have kept my mouth shut!

Next morning we are up early and clear up the flat of such untidiness as we have made, which is negligible, and head out for breakfast at a local café before meeting up with our tour guide at Anvers Metro.  blogimg_4736-2 blogimg_4738-2 blogimg_4739-2Her name is Solene, a lively young woman who steers her motley group around the set course with skill and humour.  We are an American family of three, an Oriental family of three, an American librarian who lives in Dubai and Joel and me.  We sally forth.  Our first port of call is the Chocolaterie Maison Georges Larnicol.  This establishment carries the award Meilleur Ouvriers de France, something to look out for when choosing where to buy goods.  We are shown fabulous sculptures in chocolate, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame……  And we get to choose two handmade chocolates each.editimg_4745-2

Our morning progresses; we are taken to a Patisserie whose speciality is Macarons, thence to a Fromagerie, a Boulangerie and a Boucherie where Solene makes various purchases.  Slightly uncharitably I think she is doing her personal shopping.  However, we fetch up in a small café bar where we then proceed to have a tasting of bread, cheese, charcuterie, washed down with red and white wines and our Degustation is wound up with eclairs and coffee.  During this delightful interlude we hear some wonderful food-related anecdotes, most notably an explanation as to why French bread comes in a stick shape.  And why we chink glasses when we toast each other.  blogimg_4724-2Eaten over a couple of hours the little nibbles amount to a good meal and Joel and I merely need to buy a sandwich at Gare St Lazare whilst we wait for our train that will carry us back to Valognes.

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.


Winding down the Summer

The evening before we leave St Vaast our good neighbours welcome us for dinner.  We won’t be seeing them until mid-October so it is a good chance to set the seal on the summer of ’15 and tell them about our Parisian interlude.  A mixed bag of activities awaits us in Dorset; on Friday I play bridge, on Saturday evening the McGoverns take us out for a thank-you curry, on Sunday we drive to Godalming for Perryman time.  During the following week there is more bridge, there are mushrooms to be gathered with Rollo and I have a paper to finalise before submission to Mike Allen.  We enjoy a lovely lunch at Wrackleford with friends of one of Nick’s first cousins.  At the weekend we drive to Oxfordshire to scrump some apples from Barns’ orchard, help him round up logs and visit the Bunkfest at Wallingford, where Nick is fascinated to see his two eldest grandsons operating cameras for on-stage live music.    The clock is ticking and I must make a visit to Chestnuts on Monday to see a very special person, before heading off at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Gatwick-bound.

The JACS Experience

When I get back to the house after my walk there is no time for the luxury of a hot bath and feet up with a good book.  Oh no…. the Cholseys’ ferry will be docking at Cherbourg around 8 o’clock and there is a welcome to prepare.  All the beds are made and it will be a question of putting some kind of spread on the table for them to graze.  When they burst through the front door there are hugs and greetings and then they spill out of the back door and I hear the unmistakeable sound of the little red and yellow plastic car being ridden around the terrace.  The little vehicle is iconic, they have all been playing with it since the earliest St Vaast days………… 10 years ago………… when Sam was 4!  These days they squeeze into the driver’s seat and the older children push the younger ones around.  The little red car is intermittently whizzed around the terrace for the duration of their visit and sometimes we have to call a halt when we struggle to hold a conversation against a background of noisy trundle.

We have 10 days ahead of us.  In this time we will spend time at the beach, joined by the Tuttle children for water play and cricket.  The Tuttle children also join our lot chez eux; they have a great afternoon playing Mölkky, a Finnish throwing game which is a bit like skittles, and delving in Claire’s dressing up box.  The Tuttles entertain us to an evening BBQ where I get to have a go at dressing up too!  They love the game of Sardines and play this at both 104 and 125.

Barney takes the children climbing at La Glacerie.  We all chip in with inventive cookery; Joel and I make a squid curry for which the children come back for seconds and thirds (!) and Lukie makes a fab Beef Wellington.  Joel makes scotch eggs which are so yummy and he spends time with Nick preparing smoked mackerel for our famous pate.  One evening we have a Degustation of Fruits de Mer and the children gamefully try things they have not eaten before.  I have delved in the freezer and found a box of ready-prepared escargots which I grill and serve.  Amelie tries one and chews it thoughtfully.  She is rather inscrutable at the end of it, I am not sure if she liked it or not, but I think she is pleased to have tried.

All too soon their holiday is at an end.  They have been with us just over a week and it has whizzed by.

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Tanks, Scones, Cream Galore

Barney’s children are a delight to have in residence.  They entertain each other, and us and we do our best to do the good grandparently thing.  We offered them possible outings and in the end they chose the Tank Museum as the weather could not promise to stay dry.  They haven’t been for a while and there are new displays and a larger café has been opened.

Barney arrived on Sunday morning.  We were all due to drive up to Hardy’s Monument for a family picnic at John’s Stones.  As we were nearing the hill summit we picked up a phone call from Elisabeth D who told us that, in view of the misty and unpromising weather, the picnic would take place at The Old Schoolhouse after which we would adjourn to The Manor House pub/hotel for the cream tea which Lis treats us all to.  And so we all gathered in the big schoolroom at the Dukes and ate our various picnics then drove down to West Bexington for our tea.  As happened last year all the young children chased around the lawn and the Cholseys were driven down to that part of the Chesil beach below the hotel, there to frolic at the water’s edge and get thoroughly wet, especially Amelie and Joel. Back at the Old Workshop I made them sausage wraps before Barney drove them home ready for their school week.

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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?!!

Guests, Guinea Fowls and Giant’s Footsteps

During our week at Hutton Buschel we have enjoyed our time on the shore and in the lab.  We have also shared conviviality around the kitchen table, something that has featured in all the houses we have rented in this first week in September.  Mid-week we invite Simon, John and Ian to supper and our numbers swell to 11.  There is lots of conversation and mild debate.  Nick finds he has met his match in Ian when it comes to dialogue.

On Saturday morning we pack and vacate the house.  It has been an amenable base, despite a shortage of bathroom facilities for a group of 8 people.  But the chickens and guinea fowl have been fun to observe, all of these birds roosting in the apple tree just outside the front door.  Their low murmurings and purrings have been fun to listen to late in the evening.

We set off with some scrumped plums and some purloined martagon lily seed heads.  Before we start the haul south Nick and I swing into Market Weighton to pay homage.  This is the birthplace and home town of William Bradley, known as the Yorkshire Giant.  After some genealogical research which I have carried out with Maddy there is strong evidence, based on my grandfather’s line, that he is an ancestor.  But I have yet to confirm this.  However whilst in the area I cannot help checking him out: his wooden statue in the town, his former house which is now a gift shop, his place of burial under a section of the pews in the church, his footsteps.  At 7ft 9ins he was the tallest known Englishman until 1999.  The next step in my search for a definitive answer to my possible relatedness to this man is a trip to York to look up parish records.

After a quick café snack we resume our journey to Oxfordshire where we will catch up with the Cholseys.  They are all based at Shillingford for the weekend and we join in with some useful activities: a recently constructed wood store is filled by the collective efforts of menfolk of all ages.  Amelie introduces me to the piglets in the woods and Hug the horse.  Hug and Wolfie now live at North Farm and it must be a real plus for Lukie to have the horses on site.  Amelie helps with their care, mucking out, and is beginning to ride.  Petite, like Lukie, I imagine she has the ideal build to be a horsewoman.

With some apples and pears from the orchard in the boot, we set off for Winterborne Kingston late Sunday afternoon; soon we will be on the road again……


Christmas is Coming and we have People to See.

Back in England and I have a sense of acceleration towards our forthcoming festivities.  But first we have an important birthday to celebrate.  We drive up to Hackney on the 12th and collect Lola and Ruby from school.   It is wonderful to see them and a special treat when we take them to the Fish House at Hackney for supper.  There they have F and C whilst Nick and I have lobster and chips for the first time.  We have presents to leave, and my mysterious Christmas slippers.  Back at the house we chill out with Emma and Dan and drift into Nick’s birthday, the reaching of which is marked by a comfortable doze with Rooney sprawled across Nick’s chest. Blog-NickAndRooney

In the morning Emma is away early for her clients and the rest of us scrabble our way out of the house to drop the girls at school, Dan at his office and on to central London where we park the car.  We walk from Piccadilly to the V & A, which museum we have not visited for many a year.  They have a temporary exhibition on Pearls which I want to see and Nick prowls round the building taking in many of the permanent exhibits.  The museum café provides a very adequate salad mid-afternoon then we take a bus back to Piccadilly and check into the Thistle hotel to await the arrival of Charlotte and Ryan.

Earlier this year Charlotte proposed a surprise for Nick’s birthday: a theatre trip to see The Book of Mormon followed by dinner and an overnighter in London. The show is at one an ‘indecently funny and a brilliant musical’.  No-one of sensitive religious disposition should subject themselves to the experience but Charlotte, Ryan, Nick and I laughed our way through the show.  After we ate a wonderful dinner at Hawksmoor Restaurant in Soho, enjoying the best fillet steak we have ever eaten, cooked to our perfection.  The following morning after breakfast we beetled back to Godalming where we dropped CJ and Ry.  We caught up with Ted and after a short interval drove back up to London for the Conchological Society meeting at the Natural History Museum.  The Christmas meeting is always a convivial affair with many exhibits and short presentations.   We didn’t stay in London to eat with our friends, having a prior arrangement to sit Ted at Godalming.

After an excellent Perryman brunch on Sunday we drove across to Barns and Lukie’s cottage where we spent the day with the crew, ate a delicious late afternoon meal and drove back to Winterborne K in the evening.  We left presents and Christmas slippers for all the Oxford kin.  On Monday we were due to meet up with John and Gill for a walk at Lyme Regis before lunching together.  In the event the weather was too unpleasant to walk, but we met for lunch just the same at the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster.

On the day before we crossed the Channel for our appointment with Christmas we drove to visit Maddy and catch up with Lis who took the train from Taunton to Maiden Newton that morning.  If I’m honest I was more excited to meet up with Bertie.

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I enjoyed the treat of walking him to the station, in company with the dogs Flossie and Teddy.  Back home at WK for lunch, we then spent the afternoon and evening packing the car and settling the house before we decamped to France.