After our busy weekend Nick high tails it to St Vaast and I face a fortnight of life as a singleton. I plan to achieve a lot. Two forthcoming weekend activities have shaped my decision to stay put, even though I have not been to France since the end of August. I hope to make some progress with shell curation, and I have a backlog of blogs to write. I’m going to make Piccalilli, spiced pears for Christmas, pear chutney. I make two batches of fish cakes, green and red Thai, for forthcoming entertaining. On the first weekend I take in a Conch. Soc. meeting, staying at Godalming to have some Perryman time before they fly out to South Africa.
With the second weekend looming I finally manage to get outside to get through tasks I want completed before going out to France to join Nick. After the success of the parrot tulips I bought last autumn, I have ordered some more, also packs of mixed Iris reticulata. There are lots of lovely coloured cyclamen on sale at Homebase, so I buy some polystyrene trays of plants for the wooden plant troughs. They look really good along the side passage.
I end up working against the clock because early Friday afternoon I must lock up the house and make for Whitchurch Canonicorum where the Bonhays Meditation Retreat Centre is hidden away. I have booked a place on Pam Steele’s weekend retreat. It is going to be a time of yoga, meditation, calm and delicious vegetarian food. Evie the Cook provides such tasty food with her use of spices. There is a small swimming pool and I find the whole experience thoroughly restful and undemanding. If I don’t come home feeling entirely at one with everything then it is entirely my own fault 😉
When I leave Bonhays at 4 on Sunday I must drive back to the Old Workshop to prepare to receive my two sons, a friend and two grandaughters who have had a weekend of climbing. We share a large chicken hotpot before the men head off leaving a mountains of dirty dishes, and the girls and me to get our acts together so we can get up early on Monday ready for Eamonn who will drive us to Poole ferry terminal. We enjoy the ritual of Lucy Micklethwait’s art books on the waterbed. (We still have two of the original four left after Dan has reversed over a bag of uneaten picnic, a carton of orange juice and books for the girls to enjoy whilst they waited their turn at the rock-face!) I settle them then scuttle round so that all we need to do is get up and dressed for the off. It is the midnight hour before everything is done.
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.
So we found ourselves with yet another set of guests except the guys don’t really count as such. The happy choice of location that Nick and I made when we moved to Dorset has opened up a great amenity for those who climb. On Saturday the lads climbed at The Cuttings but on Sunday they broke new ground and climbed on the west coast of Portland, a platform known as The Veranda down Battleship. I think this must be near Mutton Cove. Nick and I parked at Southwell and scrambled down the cliff to join the climbing party. Whilst there we were lucky enough to see a Peregrine fly overhead. We spent a happy couple of hours there before clambering up and repairing to the Cove Inn at Chiswell for the traditional jar after a good day’s climbing. The weekend was all the more pleasant for the opportunity to dine at the Greyhound, with a recent new menu. What could have been more convivial?
Our French sojourn has ended and before we know it Half Term has arrived with a bang! Friday mid-afternoon Dan arrives at Winterborne K with Lola and Ruby, meanwhile Barns and Lukie are driving the tribe to rendez-vous with us a couple of hours later. It being Friday Nick’s priority is a couple of jars at Sunny Republic, Barns and Dan joining him. Meanwhile Maddy and Andrew arrives for their supper date with the clan.
Thirteen of us clustered round the kitchen table for a noisy and very good-humoured supper. We played Up Jenkins and we laughed long and loud at the jokes of the young reaching a crescendo over the notion of the ‘Princess and the Carrot’. Why could one not substitute a carrot for a pea wondered Amelie. ‘Because a carrot is orange’ responded the quick-witted father.
On Saturday we all went to Hedbury Quarry, just west of Dancing Ledge. It is a minor hike to reach the coast there and the old quarries offer wonderful climbing walls, including the only grade 1 and 2 climbs in the county – perfect for the youngest of the team. Each child managed at least one climb, topping out successfully. This is a sport which exacts trust in others and a bit of derring do, and is a great confidence-building exercise. Nick left after a picnic lunch, taking the 4 youngest children with him. I stayed with the adults, Sam and Joel. In the evening we reconvened around the table for Coq au Vin and Chocolate Fudge Cake.
On Sunday, Barns, Lukie and Dan took Joel to Winspit for more climbing. Nick and I fielded the other five at Winterborne K, being stranded by the lack of Dan’s car key to bring a second car into action. Escorted by Nick the smalls ran off steam at the recreation ground, Sam and I tackled the Great Bears circular jigsaw, and completed it :).
When the climbers had returned we sat down to supper; Roast Gammon, potatoes, parsnips. Chocolate profiteroles were served by Lola and Amelie. The children retired to the waterbed room for more play, the adults talked and gradually fell into their various comatose states. Weary people sought their beds, the following morning would be an early one for efficient departure. Part 2 of the school term awaits.