During the week after my birthday Nick and I enjoyed a Bookish Lunch chez Shaxson. This was an event which had been much juggled in terms of format. Celia wished to return hospitality and in the end a pub lunch was rejected in favour of the Shaxson venue at which Celia would play hostess. Annabel made us a delicious vegetable soup which we followed with cheeses and raspberries. It was a cabbages and kings occasion with a smattering of bookery.
A couple of days later we were on the ferry bound for Normandy. Our lovely friends the Tailles had invited us to Sunday lunch, the following day would be Francois’ birthday. I spent a week reconnecting with la vie francaise then we returned to Dorset for my mother’s birthday and a visit to see the ‘Prof’ to have some minor skin treatment. On Friday we travelled back, me and my very sore back, to join the Poulets as guests of Daniel and Christine. Daniel cooked his incomparable Encornets farcis. We ate at the Chasse Maree the following evening with Francois and Anne, and their friends Odile and Philippe. During the ensuing days Nick spent much time with Dede and also Francois when he was not consulting, playing at lumberjacks with the large Beech tree that was felled in a field on the road to Valognes. The tree is even larger than that which the guys felled last year and will yield rather more cords. A cord is approximately 2.5 cubic metres but his depends on the size of the logs and the amount of air spaces in the stack. We estimate we may have about 10 cords to share between participants. At the end of our stay and once all the wood is logged and stacked we have a bit of a BBQ on the bonfire of brushwood that remains to be burned.
Meanwhile I worked on the final edits of three chapters I am contributing to a book on molluscs in archaeology. One of the chapters has been particularly tricky and has necessitated the redrafting and relabelling of some line drawings which help to standardise the measurements that archaeologists should take when analysing shell assemblages for environmental assessments and reporting. In the end I decided the easiest thing was to go to the shore to collect a few limpets so that I could send images to Mike, my editor, for the avoidance of doubt. It would not pay for a self-respecting archaeomalacologist to get her limpets arse about face!
I did lots of cinema trips with Anne, also with Francoise and Fefe. On one fine day I walked a stretch of the coast between Bibi’s home just outside Montfarville and Gatteville-Phare. A good 10 clicks. We chatted pretty much the whole way. Bibi’s Jack Russell, ‘Chispa’ was a cute and biddable companion.
On the first Saturday in March Nick and I threw a dinner party. I got my knickers in somewhat of a twist deciding what to do and in the end I made a Pot au Feu with a Bourgignon twist. Francois recognised this and complimented me.
Our wonderful month in France is drawing to a close. We take Francois and Fefe to the Fuchsias for lunch – an extravagance they do not allow themselves although, also, they are part of that community in St Vaast who see Hotel Les Fuchsias as a mecca for the English. To complete our cycle of entertaining we receive Jean-Pierre and Tanou on the Sunday before we cross La Manche. They arrive at 6, we play Barbu and we eat something simple. Hooray for Fish Pie.
After successful workshops run by Kim Cresswell in which I have crafted a badger (which looks more like a hog) and a Goose (which does look like a goose) I am challenging myself because I have signed up for a weekend at the end of which I will hope to have woven a willow Roe Deer. By way of preparation I need to supply some photos of the deer species, and the posture, I am hoping to achieve.
As with the other two workshops I try to imagine how we will get started, and fail. The secret with this particular animal, given that is larger and will need to be more sturdy on long legs, is to build a wooden frame. But even that I stumble over. I succeed in constructing my frame arse about face. That is the horizontal struts destined to form the basis for the neck construction end up at the rear end on my frame. But never mind, Kim says that I can work round this. At the end of the first day I have built the bare bones of my animal with a primitive neck and head framework in place. Kim ensures that, with timely and expert intervention to make sure we do not lose sight of the animal we are trying to create, we all reach the same point of completion before we go home. The second day will be taken up with fleshing out my animal, creating density, muscular definition and a recognisable head. At the end of the afternoon it is time to pack up and load our animals into their transport. My roe deer, the smallest of the animals just fits into my estate car. Kim provides me with a bundle of sticks and a few canes of stripped willow to complete the finishing touches. On the journey home I wonder where my roe deer is going to live. Once unloaded Nick places the deer under the porch, facing the front door. This seems ideal because it is dry and this will preserve the willow until I am able to treat it.
Later that evening Dan arrives with Lola and Ruby. The Hackney duo are going to spend half term with us. During the week we will do some collage using my cache of greetings cards, we will make pom poms, they will collect pebbles at Lulworth Cove and I will enjoy a trip with them to the cinema to see Dr Strange. The film comes out of the Marvel Studios stables, and is in a genre with which Lola is very familiar. She gives an occasional and informed whispered commentary on the background to films based on Marvel Comics.
On the last day in Dorset we plan to go and see the Floodlit Gardens at Abbotsbury, as we did last year. They enjoyed it very much then. The plan is to go to Weymouth for Fish and Chips at the Marlboro (this was a disappointment and we won’t go there again) but it all unfolds somewhat when we get there and find we have to wait for a table and then with the realisation that 8.30 p.m. closing time means the gardens must be vacated at that time, rather than the entrance gates closing at that hour, we have little more than an hour to enjoy the activities on offer. The girls spend an extended time in the Bugfest tent which barely leaves us time to make a quick tour of the gardens to enjoy being scared. The scary features are, I think, a bit better i.e. scarier than last year but we barely get our money’s worth. If we do this event next year we will plan things differently and either do the gardens first and go for F and C after, or perhaps better take a superior picnic to eat under the marquee provided.
One afternoon Anne and I decide to go to the cinema in Cherbourg. There are two films we really want to see but cannot decide which to choose. As the timetabling would enable us to watch first one then the other, we choose The Danish Girl in Version francaise which means it is dubbed, then Carol in Version originale which means we watch the English language version with French subtitles. Both films are exceptional, very different but they have a theme of troubled sexuality which links them.
I wake in the early hours of Saturday and feel too wide awake to get back to sleep. Not wanting to disturb Nick I get up, make a cup of redbush tea to have with a couple of Biscotti then take these, my thriller and two hotwater bottles into the mauve bedroom where I plunge yet more deeply into the quagmire of horror on offer from Mo Hayder and eventually nod off.
Nick wakes me at 8.30 with another cup of tea and tells me he is going out for a spin and a fish just outside the harbour. It is drizzly, a bit windy and foggy and not ideal conditions to go to sea, especially as a lone fisherman but he assures me he has all the things he should take with him and will wear his lifejacket. Meanwhile I go to market for a few provisions and when he returns after midday he has a beautiful mackerel and some whiting. We eat a grilled mackerel fillet for lunch with a little coquille de crabe prepared by Villeneuve butchers, and some salad. Il est trop bon!
During the afternoon I take my iPad outside to listen to an audio book whilst I weed pots and gravels on our frontage. The book in question is The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith and it is brilliantly read by Robert Glenister. Later on we will be eating chez Poulet and I plan to take some of my little whiting beignets to nibble before the meal. Just before I start to cook them Daniel arrives with a generous bowl of freshly cooked boulots so Nick and I have to sit down and eat a few of them and, my word, they are the best whelks I have ever eaten. I must find out what Daniel adds to the water in which the whelks are boiled. Shellfish heaven.
Anne cooks a fabulous joint of pork and Francois carves it French style which means he cuts it up into large irregular chunks. I can’t manage cheese or dessert after but I am allowed to bring ‘my share’ of the Tarte aux Pommes which Bri has made back to the house to enjoy the following day.
During the ensuing week we share meals with several sets of friends. Daniel and Christine invite us and the Poulets over for Coucous which is yummy. On Friday I cook a hearty Jamie Oliver lasagne for Bri and Georgy and Martine and Alain, after a great middle of the day interlude at the swimming pool in Equeurdreville-Hainneville where you get inclusive use of all the associated amenities: un espace détente (spa, hammam, sauna) et un solarium. Tanou and Jean-Pierre give us lunch after which it’s gallop back home to fling a supper together which was majorly prepped during the preceding days.
The pinnacle of entertaining pleasure takes place at lunchtime on Sunday when the Tailles and Burnoufs are due to join us for Chicken Tikka Masala. Unfortunately Andre’s cold prevents him from joining us but I send a ‘take-away’ version back with Francoise after the meal. The following day we pack up the house and board the ferry with a long weekend break with some of our young in Iceland planned in view.
During the last days of March and tipping into April Nick and I enjoy a highly sociable time at 104. Thanks to yoga I have met an English woman whose husband has a boat and likes to fish and it seems sensible to introduce these men in hopes they may get on well and fish together. Before we leave for England we lunch a quatre with Lorraine and Stephen in La Marina.
Francois and Fefe who have just returned from Cape Verde issue an invitation to lunch chez eux, a delightful occasion when we meet their neighbours and Francois cooks us a fab meal. At the end of most afternoons Anne and Nick get together to practice their bodhrans.
We spend quite a bit of time with Bri and Georgy and the Poulets. With the latter we combine a cinema trip to see Les Garcons et Guillaume, a table with supper afterwards at L’Armoire a Delices, and at home we spend an evening playing cards with Bri and Geo. Best of all we get together on our last evening before departure to eat supper chez Poulet with them all.
During the week after our family jamboree I caught up with several friends before our departure for France at the beginning of March. Nick and I ate supper with Stuart and Angela, a delicious curry evening catered for by Stuart. Midweek found me driving to Surrey where I had a dentist appointment (Bo and Ben are sort of friends!), a lunch date with my ‘twin’ Charles at The Squirrel and an afternoon tea session with my long-standing Book Group friends. Based at Pep Road I was also able to catch up with some of my very important people 🙂
On Friday I picked Mum up from Weymouth and we drove out to Maddy’s for a cup of tea. There Mum was able to meet Bertie for the first time and she thoroughly enjoyed making a fuss of Flossie, Teddy, the guinea pigs and hens and also Jiminy, the tiny South American rainforest owl, whose thinly disguised tolerance and disdain at being stroked were evident!
On Saturday evening I went to see Monument Men with Celia C. Despite favourable comments from some, I found the film something of a disappointment because in my opinion the subject of the film had been treated with far too light a touch. Coming out of the weekend we readied the house and ourselves for a bumpy crossing to la belle France.
At the end of October Nick and I attended a very special birthday and wedding anniversary party. Our niece and her husband threw a wonderful bash at Maunsel House in Somerset – hailed ‘the most magnificent wedding venue in Somerset’; based on our experience this could well be true. Guest were treated to a champagne reception with wonderful bites, a supper of four hot dishes and a hog roast all served in buffet style, a great disco with music reflecting the wide age spectrum of guests and to my husband’s great delight, an ‘all you can eat’ Dodgem Cars set up in the grounds! Nick and Andrew spent hours in total showing off their superior driving expertise to the youngsters. The opportunity for a family portrait was too good to miss.
A few days after saw us making the Channel crossing to France, happily after the seas had calmed after the storm. We arrived in the afternoon with the prospect of an evening treat: a soiree with supper and Spite and Malice chez Tuttle. A couple of days later saw the arrival of our friends the Derricks and Squire Palmer for a weekend of laughter, and improvised and cavalier swine-tasting. We did the Saturday market and met Brigitte and Georgy for a lunch-time apero in the bar afterwards. Surely a future fixture in our weekly schedule.
In the week that ensued I shopped in Cherbourg and bought two new pairs of boots, and Nick and I set to and made grape jelly with the remainder of our crop. With Brigitte’s birthday celebration at the weekend in view, Anne and I set about buying some white tea plates and some porcelain paints in order to decorate the former with the latter as a personalised present. With much trial and error over four hours one afternoon, we eventually produced a dozen plates with a single design of either a butterfly or dragonfly. We anticipated this gift would be appreciated and were somewhat nonplussed to discover their recipient pronounce them too large as bread plates, and I don’t think the simple stencilled designs pleased either. Tant pis – we tried!
Brigitte’s party was held on Daniel’s birthday so a double celebration took place. The following day we assembled in the bar at midday and Martine and I arranged to go to the cinema in the afternoon to see Majordome, the French dubbed version of The Butler with Forest Whittaker. What a masterly performance. That little Cinema Richelieu at Reville is such a perk on our doorstep – it has the most comfortable armchair seating that I know. During the evening we reassembled chez Poulet where the men played pool. We ate an improvised supper of pizza with little tasters of the two lobsters which the Poulets had lined up for their supper. It was a convivial finale to a very sociable weekend.
Within 24 hours of our return to WK, we had supper with Maddy and Andrew. We had missed them whilst we were away. We ate a delicious lasagne made by Elisabeth and finished up the various chocolate brownies and crunches that Rollo and Terry brought to St Vaast. Later that night and into the morning it snowed and we woke on Friday morning to a fresh blanket of snow. We fared well in Dorset for no further snow fell and after a few days it started to melt. During the snowy days we were visited by a large cock pheasant who settled into regular visits once he discovered he would be fed.
After our supper with the Dukes we made trips to the cinema on three consecutive evenings. We saw Quartet, Les Miserables and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I had already seen the latter film but it was showing at the Athelhampton Cinema and Nick was keen to see it too. These wintry days are perfect cinema weather.
A quick midweek-overnighter in Godalming saw my teeth and hair sorted. The latter appointment was a blessing as Dorset hairdressers have struggled to understand my requirements, or in one case, think they know what I would like better than I do. At the end of the week I went to visit Mum after a lengthy absence. It is a blessing that she does not feel the passage of time. We sat and looked at photos on my iPad, played a few games and she enjoyed looking at the Facebook pages of some family members.
Celia and I went over to Rollo’s to celebrate her birthday. We all prepared something for our lunch which we ate in leisurely fashion. Afterwards we drank wine and compared notes on teeth and hair……………
After a year’s absence from meetings, Nick and I drove to the Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road on the last Saturday in January to attend the first indoor meeting of the Conchological Society in 2013. I took up some shells to exhibit and spent the day looking at other exhibits and catching up with the fraternity. The speaker failed to show, having found the weather conditions in northern England somewhat daunting. Nevertheless there was never a lull moment and I left at the end of the afternoon with a list of tasks and follow-up items to get my conchological year rolling. As I left the museum I was much taken with the frontage which is illuminated by divine blue lighting. London can be rightly proud of this institution for which admission is free.