The Sound of a Cock Porping

These memorable words were uttered by me during the delicious dinner that our house guests had treated us to, on the last evening of their recent stay chez nous.  Rosemary and James had taken us to the Hotel Fuchsias, an establishment we are fortunate to have just five minutes along our road.  Screw-top wines are pretty much unheard of in France and the sound of a cork as it is drawn from a wine bottle is unmistakeable and presages the deeply satisfying experience of the first sip of good French wine.  Unless, of course, the wine is ‘cocked’.  Which it wasn’t 🙂

Our guests are on their way to Mayenne, an area we had not heard of, and after people make landfall at Cherbourg we at St Vaast La Hougue are ideally placed for friends and family who plan a stay further afield in France and would like to make a stopover to see us.  Our dinner had followed a very agreeable afternoon spent at le Jardin botanique du Chateau de Vauville. 452c52c6c31516534ac43ea259824176 The garden was begun in 1947 and wanders over four hectares on a windy site within 300 metres of the sea.  Wikipedia tells me that it contains more than 900 semi-tropical species of plants from the southern hemisphere set within windbreaks of diverse Eucalyptus and bamboo. Collections include Aloe, Phlomis, Euphorbia, Hemerocallis, Agapanthus, Gunnera, Echium pininana, and  palm trees.

The gardens are one of the first destinations we visited when we first moved to France.  On one occasion we went there with Pam and Andrew Tompsett and the impression we gained from Andrew was that here was a garden in need of rather better management.  This time it was rather sad to see that the owners appear to have decided, but perhaps by default, to run with all the plants that will grow like topsy, and diversity has dropped considerably.  They are also allowing space to adventives such as Iris foetidissima.  IMG_6471 (2)40 I still think that two of the most impressive ‘rooms’ are the Bamboo Theatre and the High Forest of Palms.  IMG_6466 (2)40Throughout there are still wonderful trees there, notably statuesque Eucalyptus and interesting conifers.  Earlier in the year you can enjoy the Camellia, Rhododendron and Azalea and now it is the turn of the Hydrangea which are just beginning to flower. IMG_6477 (2)40

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There are many unusual shrubs too but the under-storey is now very depleted.  There is just one tiny colourful corner where some unusual flowers abound. It was lovely to find Bletilla in flower. IMG_6497 (2)40 I should love to try this in my garden.   I doubt the garden still boasts 900 plant species.  Even the circular lawn which used to be ringed by Agapanthus and Hemerocallis has changed shape and character and there are rather too many spiky Cordyline.  And then there are the water bodies which have been completely taken over by Gunnera.  Happily one of the ponds at Le Jardin de la Sagesse had a population of cute little frogs whose colours were metallic in appearance.  I don’t think they are native species.IMG_6494 (3)40 There are stone seats and some sculptures.  My favourite stone feature is the Green Man who is carved into the wall by the Chemin des Fougeres and whose perimeter is clad by Trachelospermum jasminoidesIMG_6482 (2)40To the best of my belief the chateau itself has not been opened to the public and remains a private residence.  IMG_6488 (2)40You get glimpses of it above the high walls and there is a corner where you can peer over a picket fence which runs along a wall by a back gate.  We’ve been visiting Jardin du Chateau on and off since we came here in 2005 and it has been interesting to observe the ecological succession that has taken place.  Aided and abetted I think by a lack of resources, human and financial, on the part of the owners to stay on the case…………… But it still makes a good afternoon outing.

 

Two Good Walks and Parting Shots

It’s to be a weekend of exercise and as much restrained eating as I can manage.  It’s a simple equation: x calories in and y calories out.  My x and y values must be equal at the very least and preferably the value of y should exceed the value of x.

It’s the second Saturday in the month and with typical village rigour this means it’s a day for the Winterborne Walkers.  Sheila has planned us a route that starts from The Woodpecker pub in Charlton Marshall.  The walk makes a circuit back to the pub and will start with a bit of a climb to Spetisbury Rings then loops round taking in Crawford Bridge and a lovely little church with Medieval wall paintings,  tucked into a secluded corner of countryside.  The beautiful of Crawford Bridge (listed as a scheduled monument in 1955) gives us a wonderful view of clear water, swans including a family with five fluffy pale mink-coloured cygnets, and a heron.  IMG_6433 (2)40

Later we arrive at the St-Mary-the-Virgin Church at Tarrant Crawford.  This simple church dates back to the 12th century, and is all that remains of a wealthy Cistercian nunnery – the 13th century Tarrant Abbey – to which it may have been a lay chapel. Our way takes past several water bodies and across a raised path with railings which incline pleasantly outwards.  The environs appear to be part of a large landscaped garden but although we have passed several residential properties it is not clear to whom this garden might belong.IMG_6451 (2)40 As we continue we also get a second sighting of a swan family below a small bridge, Aand as we watch the birds it is fascinating to see that the young mimic the body posture of the adult who appears to be in charge.  Must be the mother……..IMG_6442 (2)40The walk route we have taken is very agreeable and later when I surf to look for a particular bit of information I come across this website, which describes several walks taking The Woodpecker as the starting point.

The following day we have planned to walk with Maddy and Andrew on Portland, at Church Ope.  As a spontaneous and last minute decision son Dan and Jake had booked into The Old Workshop overnight with a view to climbing at The Cuttings on Portland.  Unlike a lot of Portland, the limestone walls at The Cuttings are not natural; as the name suggests, they are the remains of an old railway cuttings. The railway itself, which serviced the island’s quarries, is now long gone, but it has left a crag with easy access.  Dan and Jake head off after breakfast to stake their claim and we rendez vous with M and A in the carpark opposite the Museum at 11.

We walk along the cliff top, following the track of the old railway until we can progress no further, our passage being prevented by The Verne.  Instead we clamber down onto the area known as Penn’s Weare, as described by the blogger on this website.  The topography is undulating but a bit craggy too and the area is popular for those who like to go bouldering.  This is a lovely area to walk, the flora is wonderful and diverse.  I see several spent ‘flowerheads’ of a Broomrape and eventually find one in perfect condition. There are 200 species of Orobanche so I feel I have little hope of identifying my specimens although there is one species O. hederae which parasitizes ivy exclusively and there was certainly some ivy around.  IMG_6464 (2)40 The tiny florets of Pyramidal orchids are just beginning to open. IMG_6457 (2)40 We continue until we come to the cliff top on the eastern margin of Church Ope Cove.  We scramble down a narrow steep track with my enemy ‘scree’ very much in evidence.  Thank goodness for my walking pole which gives me a third leg.  And for the hand of Nick.

The steps up from the cove are a bit taxing but welcome…………….. calories out.  The four of us head for the Cove Inn at Chesil where we order lunch (calories in and too many!) and are shortly joined by the climbers.  Dan treats us all to lunch.

The following day is a busy one, I must prepare the garden for our leave of absence (which means moving a number of pots to sites where they will not bake), drive into Dorchester to collect a couple of items, visit my mother.  Nick adds a bit more wood to the pergola he is constructing in the garden.  In the afternoon Joy and Tricia pay us a visit and I must abandon them to Nick.  We are getting dab hands at this commuting business.  Just before supper and with the early evening sun smiling down upon the garden, I take a few photos.

We go to bed not too late and rise an hour earlier than we normally do in order to leave the house feeling calm and collected.  We achieve this.

 

Chickens, Piglets and Deer

It was with a great sense of relief that I found the passports tucked out of sight in my kitchen.  Apart from the gross inconvenience of having to get replacement passports for all four of us, being unable to travel (at least Nick and me, since the Tailles would be able to travel on their Identity cards), we would have missed the banquet planned for other Francois’ 60th.  Anne had planned a meal at home, to be cooked by a young friend of their son, who has trained as a chef and is about to open his own restaurant in Cherbourg.  In the event it was a truly delicious meal with turbot for the main course and two twists on an old theme which were inventions of Brice.  One was the mini Croque Monsieurs that Brice made in canapé form, the other was the fried potato cake that contained a raw oyster in the centre.  This accompanied the turbot and was possibly a bit rich, but then the whole meal was a gastronomic indulgence for which much dietary compensation would be required in the ensuing days.  Typically, the dessert course was not skimped.  There were two gateaux both heavenly.  The only ‘mouche dans la pommade’ was the apparent inability of Mr Picky to compromise his extreme pickiness to the extent that he would at least go through the motions of tasting food he never eats, whether on the basis of taste or principle.  Plates of good food were sniffed, grimaced at and went back to the kitchen virtually untouched.  He cooked his goose that night with his hostess and also with this one.

There followed some days of energetic gardening.  In my quest to shave a kilo or two before my walk with Lis in September I need to up my exercise.  Walking is good but I can find that boring unless I have a companion and a good route.  Active gardening gives the added advantage of bending and lifting which is good for my flexibility too.

At the end of the week Anne and I board a ferry for our appointment with Kim.  With Saturday to spare we drive down to Lyme Regis which Anne instantly likes and after to Hawkchurch where Liz is ringing for a wedding.  We watch the wedding party as they exit the church then repair to Parricks for a cream tea.  This is a bit of an indulgence because I am expecting Cybs and Jean for a curry supper at TOW after their willow day making obelisks and mini-hurdles.

And so we do our Piglet day and it is rewarding and quite intense.  I hesitate to say it is ‘fun’ because it is taxing but satisfying and there is always a sense of working against the clock.  At the end of the day we do end up with our individual and very respectable piglet.  I feel that now my first ever weaving, a badger, will be recognised as such when set aside his future garden companion.

On Monday I must put Anne on the ferry because I am staying for some Godalming days.  During this time I will have lunch with Vikky and with Sonia the following the day.    It is really good to meet up with Sonia after too long an interval and I am so surprised when she tells me, just before we part, that she has had a major illness to overcome.  Which she has, and courageous she has been.  My penultimate engagement is to attend Ted’s Sports’ Afternoon and this is followed with ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ at the Withies.

The timing of my spell with Ted has worked well.  I return to Winterborne ready to do the third day with Kim that will be required to put the finishing touches to my deer.  I stow the animal into my car and drive to Sandford Orcas.  I find I have arrived half an hour early so Kim takes me for a short walk further down her lane to show me some willow sculptures which she had started, but not quite finished, and which she has inserted into gaps in the hedge.    During the day I weave in extra sticks that add bulk to my animal, form to the legs and the distinctive features that will define my creation as a ‘Roe Doe’ 🙂

I had already earmarked the early days of June for some political activity and for a catch-up with bookish friends.  There is a Splinter lunch at Jan Drew’s and the Shaxsons come for coffee the following morning.  My principal mission though, is to do a bit of volunteer work for the Lib Dems ahead of the General Election on June 8th.  I deliver leaflets in my village and gain a huge respect for postmen who have to run the gamut of so many nasty letterboxes with stiff, tight-arsed, grabby brushes in the aperture which mean you end up scrumpling your stuffer as you shove it through.  On the two days before GE day I work out of the Lib Dem office in Yeovil and spend some of that time delivering leaflets with Paddy Ashdown and on the day I conduct some ‘knocking up’ over the ‘phone and this is my first experience of canvassing.

The following day I am sorry that the excellent candidate for Yeovil was not successful.  I did learn during the course of my phone calls that several staunch Lib Dem voters would be voting Tory in this instance in order to stop the Labour Party gaining ground.  In the event they, and people like them, were not successful because the Labour party made a surprise comeback, only just failing to obliterate the Tory overall majority and certainly wiping out their hopes of being returned with a bigger mandate.  Up yours Theresa May!

 

 

 

 

Lightning trip to Lyme Regis

Back in the autumn of ’16 the Tailles suddenly announced that they would like to make a short trip to the UK.  We have been leaning on them for a good while to cross the Channel with us, so we jumped at the idea and immediately pencilled in a window.  As things then shaped up we ended up booking a trip of three days immediately after the second election for French president where, fortunately, the French demonstrated good sense and voted for Macron over Le Pen.  This would fit in just nicely before their trip to Frejus.

And so it was that we crossed the Channel, enjoying views of Old Harry rocks and Brownsea Island.IMG_6833 (2)40 IMG_6914 (2)40IMG_6917 (2)40IMG_6918 (2)40We would have two full days to give Francois and Fefe a flavour of our lovely county.  On the first day we were aiming for Lyme Regis via Milton Abbas and Cerne Abbas where, after the statutory viewing of the Giant, we went to the New Inn for lunch and were lucky to find that their fish and chips was a of a high standard. IMG_6846 (2)40 IMG_6860 (2)40

 

 

 

 

 

Nick chose a smoked fish platter.  After eating we sat outside whilst Fefe enjoyed a relaxing cigarette with her coffee and then it was time to head off for Lyme Regis.WP_20170509_14_34_58_Pro (2)40

Nick has the luck of the devil when it comes to parking and he managed to get us into the small carpark down by the frontage, next to the Museum.  We would then spend a very contented hour and a half enjoying the walk along past the Sundial house and the assorted shops and cafes along the stretch that allows the visitor to look out from the beach to the small harbour and on out into the expansive Lyme Bay.  IMG_6864 (2)40IMG_6867 (2)40IMG_6899 (2)40IMG_6902 (2)40

The following day I messed up in terms of losing some good sightseeing time.  In the process of shuffling handbags I mislaid the black wallet in which I was carrying all four passports.  I got as far as believing that it had fallen out of my bag on the previous day and tried to get in touch with the police to report the loss and see if the wallet had been handed in at any of the venues we visited.  I discovered that these days there is no real police ‘service’ anymore.  You speak to anonymous people who tell you that you must deal with the matter online.  That even if it had been handed in the police would not be at liberty to hand the lost item over in the event of fraud.  Not to mention that each passport would have our mugshots to validate our claim!!!  Not wanting to burn my bridges by invalidating our passports (which would happen once the loss is reported) I phoned all the venues we had visited the previous day.  It was whilst conversing with my last hope that I noticed the wallet hidden by some pots in the back kitchen.  When I saw it I knew instantly that I had been in the process of moving it when I suddenly remembered that I should light the oven to cook our breakfast rolls.

So after that debacle we were late setting off for the day.  We went to Dorchester to buy a couple of things for the Tailles and picked up some sandwiches at M&S. IMG_6881 (2)40 We had our statutory bottle of Rose in a cool box and we ate our small picnic on the grassy cliff top at Preston. IMG_6875 (2)40 We then drove over to Portland for a quick breezy walk around the lighthouse and Pulpit Rock,IMG_6901 (2)40

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then back to Winterborne K but not before we stopped to take in the view along Chesil Beach which never fails to please.  IMG_6895 (2)40

So ended two full and active days with the Tailles in Dorset.  Nick and I both felt that it was a major achievement to root F and FF out of their agreeable sanctuary on the quay at St V.   That evening we ate supper at The Greyhound.  The Tailles may well have eaten fish and chips again, I do not recall.  However Fefe’s ecstatic experience with the Rose wine on offer at our local pub is a whole other story which, however, must remain between Jackie who served Fefe and the Lights!

Phil’s Ashes

At the beginning of May, Nick and I made a visit to Kilve on the Somerset coast.  We were to rendez vous with Jenny and John, Liz, Charlie and Amy.  We had a task to perform, a ritual, the scattering of Phil’s ashes.  John and I enjoyed a friendship with Phil’ which extended over many years.  John first met Phil’ ‘behind the scenes at the Museum’.  I met Phil’ when I joined the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1981.

Liz is Phil’s daughter and she had planned the scattering, partly to involve people like me who were unable to be present at Phil’s funeral.  We met up at the Chantry Tea Gardens, tucked back in a secluded position not far from the beach at Kilve.  A path leads down from the chantry through fields now used as a car-park to the beach which William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who lived for a brief period with his sister Dorothy at Alfoxton House, described as “Kilve’s delightful shore”.  The beach is on the West Somerset Coast Path.  Kilve had special significance for Phil’ whose geological speciality was the Jurassic.  As we accessed the shore we walked over ammonite fossils embedded in the limestone pavement.  We picked our way over the mixed flag and boulder shore until we reached a point just short of the cliffs where we could descend to the water line.  The sea received the ashes and I read out some postcards, three of the many Phil’ had sent to me whilst he was conducting fieldwork along the Dorset coast.

Mission accomplished we drove back to Watchet and checked into our B&Bs.  We were booked into The Bell Inn to eat supper but made a detour to drink a jar or two of cider at The Old Cider House, Pebbles Tavern.  This was an enjoyable occasion, the pub we had chosen had given us a table in a cosy snug just off the main bar.  The meal was good and the conversation was lively and we ranged over many topics.  How Phil’ would have loved the banter.  The following morning we dispersed after a special, heart-warming experience.

Subsequently I would write my contribution to an Appreciation of Phil’ for our in-house magazine.  This runs as follows:

I met Phil’ Palmer when I attended my first Conchological Society (CS) meeting in October 1981.  That day is vivid in my memory as if it were yesterday; it has huge significance for me.  I had been joined to the Society during the summer and at that meeting, the first of the CS year, I met other elder statesmen of the conchological world, well known names in the annals of the Society’s history: Peter Oliver, Bob Scase, Fred Pinn, Dr Sandor (I never did know his first name), Tom Pain and Stella Turk.  It was her first council meeting since becoming elected President.  I would say that Stella and Phil’ are the two people to whom I have the greatest debt when it comes to the way the course of my life was changed forever on that October day.  Phil and Stella have died within six months of each other, both in their 90s and I feel the loss of them both.  It seems appropriate that I would take a ‘phonecall from Phil’s daughter, Caroline, with news of Phil’s passing, whilst I was working a shore in Salcombe during a CS field trip.

Phil’ was an intelligent and gifted scientist and modest with it.  He also had a wonderful sense of humour. He was hugely helpful to me with his advice and encouragement over the years, as I made the shift from a random collector of pretty shells to someone who needed to apply herself a bit more and would eventually ‘get science’.  Phil’ was good with beginners but they needed to demonstrate a willingness to learn.  He was a stickler for accuracy, a bit of a pedant (note the apostrophe after his name!) and did not suffer fools gladly.   At one meeting he once gave me a minor ticking off for using the word ‘creatures’ in the context of an animal or an organism.  Creatures he said were created, this did not apply to living things.  He was a natural teacher, with a great ability to share his knowledge and explain his reasoning.  He was meticulous in collecting and processing samples, both Recent and fossil.  He had a phenomenal ability to write well both scientifically but also in a more popular vein.   He sometimes had his own views on taxonomy even swimming against the tide: he tried to make a case for using the genus Littorivaga for the saxatilis complex (Palmer 1989).  My first insight into Phil’ the Stickler was on the subject of scaphopods, when I waved a ‘Dentalium’ under his nose (his chosen molluscan group).  He corrected me and delivered an explanation as to why Dentalium was incorrect and I should use the genus Antalis.  You never forget little lectures like that.  He wrote an article for the CS newsletter (Palmer 1983) ‘On referring to Scaphopods’  and was taken to task by Dennis Seaward in an edgy rejoinder (Seaward 1984), a correspondence I enjoyed.  Phil’ wrote prolifically and could be very witty.  The most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud piece written by Phil that I ever read appeared in CS newsletter in 1990, entitled ‘A Scurrilous Tale of a Conchological Term’.

Phil’ was part of the cohort of ‘British Marine’ in the Society which included Shelagh Smith, Julia Nunn, Celia Pain and others.  He once referred to the group as ‘The Marine Tendency’ (paraphrasing the Trotskyist ‘Militant Tendency’), which moniker appealed to the renegade in Phil’.  We formed a distinct minority group in a Society which, at that time, was dominated by the non-marine element of membership.  Non-marine molluscan collecting and mapping formed the original thrust of Society activity, marine recording coming later, and in some ways remained a poor relation for a good while after.  It would be Dennis Seaward who would be the person to lift the ‘British Marine’ game.  These days there is a more even distribution of spheres of interest in the Society, including molluscs in archaeology.

I am indebted to Phil’ for a valuable friendship that lasted from the moment we met.  He took an interest in my family and was later blessed with his own granddaughter, Amy.  Having a passion for photography he taught me how to use an SLR camera.  He taught several people over the years, I imagine Caroline was his first pupil.  But he disliked having his own photo taken, it reminded him that time did not stand still.  This is why my selection of photos for this article shows Phil’ typically engaging with colleagues in the field.

My greatest debt is that he is the person who nudged me into tackling a taxonomic project after I quizzed him about Chlamys nivea, after a field trip to the Isle of Skye.  He did not know the answer to my question, he said, I had better go and find it for myself.  With my background in modern languages and a modest little GCE in general science, I needed his guidance to conduct a biometric study on shells from several sources, including institutions.  I learnt to do standard deviations ‘by hand’!  The late Nora McMillan loaned me her holdings of what I refer to as the Orkney ‘Great White’, the large white Chlamys varia which can be found on Orkney beaches and, I believe, nowhere else in the British Isles.  These shells are a conundrum in themselves: a project waiting in the wings.  I wrote my paper on Chlamys nivea and it was accepted for the Journal.

Phil’ was at his best on a one to one basis, or with small groups.  Apart from an informal talk he gave at a British Marine workshop I organised, to the best of my knowledge, he never delivered a lecture because he was fundamentally a shy man.  But he was also a maverick and proud of it, and he enjoyed friendships across a spectrum of age groups.

In closing I can only reiterate the sentiments expressed above by John, Phil was indeed wise, meticulous and uncompromising in his principles.  And you could count yourself fortunate to be considered a friend.

References

Palmer, C.P.  1983.  On referring to Scaphopods. The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 87.  119-121

Palmer, C.P.  1984.  Pax Carthaginis – A Very Old Gamesmanship.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 89.  176-17

Palmer, C.P.  1989.  A Case for Littorivaga.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter No. 110.  200-202

Palmer, C.P.  1990.  A scurrilous tale of a conchological term.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 113.  285-286

Seaward, D.R. 1984.  The New Gamesmanship.  The Conchologists’ Newsletter no. 88.  157-158

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A Time for Reconnecting and Saying Goodbye

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. DSC00010 (2)40 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. StellaTurkCrem 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.

 

Close Encounters of the Elasmobranch Kind

We have to check out of the hotel in Hermanus very early.  We don’t even get breakfast because we are due to check in at 7 in the morning for our day with Shark Diving Unlimited run by Mike Rutzen who has spent more time free diving with Great White Sharks than any other person on the planet.  He is also one of only 3 people who are able to read and respond to Great White Shark body language.  It’s this respect and love he has for these animals, which he aims to share with his guests.

We arrive and find an array of good things to eat, such as mushroom and egg muffins,  before we embark.  We head out to sea; it is a 15-minute run out to the cage which will be attached to the side of the boat and which will accommodate 7 shark observers at a time.  The cage looks robust enough although the mesh seems quite large to me.  As I struggle into a wet suit for the first time in ages I am still allowing myself the option to duck out at the last minute!  DSC01348 (2)40The skipper explains the drill and I naturally step back when he calls for the first trippers to volunteer to enter one of the small compartments in the cage.  He says that if he observes anyone putting their hands outside the cage……… as if!…………. the boat will turn round and head straight back to the port.

The sharks – Great Whites of course – are drawn into the environs of the boat with tuna head baits.  These are attached to a rope and cast out then hauled towards the boat as the shark approaches.  DSC01350 (2)40 Fairly basic stuff.  A 3.5 metre female comes within our influence and stays with the boat for the duration of the trip.  All those who want to experience the thrills get two turns in the cage.  When the moment comes for me to take my turn it is easier to clamber into the cage than lose face and dip out.

The technique is simple enough and as the shark comes close to the cage and swims past it, the occupants of the cage are instructed to duck below the surface.  We hold our breath and sink down, viewing the shark through a mask as she passes along the cage.  She is very close. DSC01381 (3)40 Perhaps my best view and experience is when I am slow to duck, getting a chance to see the shark at the surface as she makes to grab the bait.  Exhilarating has to be the word!

Charlotte has opted not to dive on this trip and she sits up top with Ted, camera in hand and gets a bird’s eye view of the show.  The boat’s skipper is a competent man, he directs the proceedings and also records the experience as a video.  DSC01410 (2)40When we get back to the office there is coffee, and more of the food to be enjoyed and whilst we eat Mike processes and edits the video.  We then sit down, there and then, to relive our own close encounters.

After a super thrilling morning we pile into our vehicle and head for the Franschhoek area.  We will stay here for two nights before heading back to Cape Town to take a flight north.

Birthday

It was with pleasure and a sense of something different, new, momentous that I woke up on the morning of 3rd February, 70 years after I was born.  I had been promised a special breakfast by my lovely spouse; scrambled egg and smoked salmon, with bubbly.  I opened my cards and some gifts with a morning cup of tea, and was very struck by a sense of occasion.

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I have sailed through my 40th, 50th, 60th with a shrug of the shoulder and the thought that numerically I might be shifting along the timescale but in life I am still feeling up to the requirements of life.  Seventy is different if only because the perception of others is that one is, in fact, elderly!!

But not me.  I have a day, a weekend ahead of me in which I will be constantly surprised.  This is no small achievement on the part of Nick who has, in truth, enjoyed a lifetime of surprises for others and himself but has been rarely if ever involved in the planning of these events. In fact some of the things that unfold over the weekend are a surprise unto himself because our inimitable English weather has played a joker and some of Nick’s ideas were weather-dependent.  So I am told that I need to be ready for a 4p.m. departure with nothing much in the way of luggage.

In the three days prior to my Big Day I have enjoyed convivial occasions with friends and my sisters.  On the 31st Nick and I go to the village pub for supper with Eamonn and Cybs.  We have had a good meal and are taking a nightcap in the bar when in troop my Bridge ladies.  With some guilt I receive cards and a gift from them – I have not played this year for a number of piffling reasons.  On the spur of the moment Cybs asks if I will play the following week.  In a moment of weakness I say I will……..

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On the 1st Nick and I drive to Ringwood to join up with friends who go back a long way.  In Nick’s case the two guys date back to early schooldays, the very early 50s.  We all went to each other’s weddings.  Thus Mike, Stuart, Carolyn and Angela meet up with us for lunch.

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The following evening my sisters have invited us to Dorchester for a curry at the Rajpoot.  I receive my octopus glass bowl officially.  The curry was wonderful.

So at 4 we leave the house and turn in the opposite direction to that which I had imagined.  As it happens I do have the right destination in my mind, but Nick is clearly aiming to throw me off the scent.  We arrive in Maiden Newton, at the home of dear Maddy and Andrew.  We drink some champagne, we walk round the corner to Le Petit Canard.  Surprise no. 2.  We dine, very deliciously, a quatre.


 

The following morning the weather was still playing up but it became clear that a flight was on the cards.  Before that however, Andrew took me for a spell of offroading up on the land around the Hardy Monument.  At one point I notice that there was a single deer standing on the horizon.

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After a bit of lunch provided by Maddy I was whisked off to Bournemouth Airport for a rendez vous with our pilot Brad Element and his small aircraft.  We flew along the south coast of Dorset as far as Weymouth and back.  It was lovely to see so many familiar landmarks from the air.

Asked if we planned a celebration in the evening I said no, we would be having a quiet restful evening at home.  We drove back to The Old Workshop, we walked in the front door and I suggested Nick light the fire and I would make a pot of tea.  I opened the kitchen door ……….

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In an Artist’s Studio

When we got back to Dorset after spending Christmas and New Year in France we found a large Ikea sack, full of mail, to open.  Before our return my great niece had done an interim count before our final tally had accumulated and counted seventy items.  There are rather more when we pick up the envelopes and various items of bumph from the door mat and add that haul of paper to the bag Cerys has filled.   It is actually a great pleasure to sit down and open all your Christmas cards in one go.  Nick and I opened, read and then laid our cards aside, making one small pile of cards that would require action.  By and large these were cards from friends who we had not managed to see during the previous year, or who were friends to whom we owed a visit.  One such was our dear artist friend, H.  “Let’s drive down and see her” said Nick.  We ‘phoned her up and fixed a date.

H lives in a small house which is one of several self-contained residences derived from a larger outbuilding (stables?) on estate where there is a large manor-type house which was built at the beginning of the 19th century in Tudor-Gothic style.   img_6577-2

The extensive parkland boasts a magnificent Cupressus macrocarpa of which H has a wonderful view from her lounge.  She serves us good coffee and very superior biscuits and we catch up on our news.  We are booked to have lunch at The Jack in the Green which is just along the road.

Before we set off she allows us a glimpse of her studio with the two canvasses on easels which have some charcoaled outlines in readiness for the two paintings of our French house that she intends.

Lunch is very superior too.  We each choose a plate from their Pub Grub listing.  H goes for triple Bangers and Mash, Nick chooses a Mutton and Caper suet pudding and I go for Smoked Confit of Duck Leg.  It really has been good to catch up H again, she is a wonderful octogenarian companion.

A Basket Case

I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so.  One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell.  With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket.  Here was my mission:

Forage a Basket

Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.

This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well.  And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials.  img_6431-2blogWe gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow.  We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.  img_5231-2

Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers.  The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length.  We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove.  Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source.  We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants.  The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green.  Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising.  img_5235-2Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes.  It was lunchtime………

After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets.  Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone.  We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame.img_5239-2  All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.

We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone.  Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread.  Bimg_5237-2efore long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border.  I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles.  However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer.  I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. img_6497 Putting the handle on was a doddle.  All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others.  Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some.  What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping!  What a fun day!

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