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.
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……..
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.
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.
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 ……….
Leaving Cornwall I have another visit to pay before I return to Dorset. My sister is to have a small procedure for which I can be a helpful driver and overnight companion. Her home nestles in a lovely little corner on the east side of Devon. She is a very private person and her home is a sanctuary upon which I do not encroach with my camera. She is a fabulous needlewoman , a talented watercolourist and an extremely knowledgeable mycologist. She is probably as near as dammit a national expert although she would deny this to be the case. Back in the autumn she took me for a walk along her special lane and we saw chanterelles. She crops her small supply from time to time. Amazingly there are still plenty tucked into the bank but she says they will be water-logged and not worth collecting 😦 They make an attractive sight all the same.
Before I head for home she takes me to a farm shop nearby. Miller’s Farm Shop is an Aladdin’s Cave of wonderful food. Some of the vegetables are grown on the farm, the rest are provided by local suppliers passionate about good quality food. Fresh fruit and vegetables are locally sourced and colourful arrays of seasonal plants are available. You can find Lyme Bay fresh fish, beef, pork and lamb from local farms, local milk and cream, cider from Lyme Bay Winery and Perry’s Cider Mill and sample a variety of local cheeses. Malcolm and Angela travel to France once a week to scour markets in different regions for quality produce for the shop.
On top of all this they have a seductive section where they sell artefacts with a marine theme. Here we spy a range of ornamental table glassware where scallop shells and octopus form the dominant design. There are also sea-themed ‘kissing rings’ decorated with shells, driftwood, other marine invertebrate remains. Liz and I admire the goods and on the spur of the moment Liz asks if I would like the glass bowl clasped by an octopus as my 70th birthday gift. Would I?!!
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.
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.
Coloured fairy lights, and twinkly bits and pieces are finding their place in the house. By the time the Perrymans arrive the only task remaining will be to decorate the Christmas Tree. During this week Nick will celebrate his birthday and we are invited to supper that evening by Soizic and Pierrick. Coincidentally Soisiz celebrates her birthday the day after Nick. We are taken by the Poulets through whom we know S and P, and another couple who are mutual sailing friends of the quartet, join us too. The house has been decorated and it is a festive evening.
One lunch-time we are invited to eat escargots chez Taille. They have a neighbour, Jean-Claude, who collects them and his wife prepares them. Mimi has worked her way most recently through seven hundred snails and has declared she is not going to do any more! These are all the so-called Petit Gris, that is Cornu aspersum, the common garden snail. We love eating them and so does Francois, Fefe on the other hand prefers to eat some squid prepared ‘a la Francois’.
Nick goes fishing a couple of times and brings home some useful catch. He fishes for squid on one day and manages to catch three modestly sized ones. I have picked up a different way of cooking squid from Francois Taille, which involves soaking them in boiled and cooled milk spiced with star anise. You then toss the squid pieces in a frying pan with a bit of garlic butter. As long as you don’t overdo it the squid is wonderfully tender. A couple of days later Nick goes fishing a second time with Stephen and they have a rewarding day, catching five species which includes four Red Gurnard, Pout Whiting, a Red Mullet, a Mackerel and a Bream.
On Saturday evening we have a date at the Daniell house for Carol Singing and Mince Pies. To my shame I get the timing wrong and we arrive and hour and a half late and there is no way out other than to confess. Yes, we could blame it on a number of things not least the very nasty blanket of fog which has enveloped our bit of Normandy but honesty wins over. It is a very pleasant, and distinctly English, occasion with the majority of the guests being ex-pats including two Americans. I start to chat to American Gerry, who we met last time, and am completely mystified and shocked when she tells me that although she could not vote she would surely have voted for Trump because she did not like or trust Hillary. She feels we should wait and see because it won’t all be bad and in any event, she tells me and I don’t know if this is true or not, Trump is currently touring the States, talking to voters, telling them he didn’t mean everything he said, he wanted to get elected. I feel a wave of dislike and anger rise up and fortunately Lorraine calls us to order for the singing of more carols.
Fortunately we know some thoroughly interesting and thoughtful Americans who have real political integrity and as it happens are great friends. They come to supper on Sunday to celebrate their arrival in St Vaast that afternoon and I make Rick Stein’s seafood tourte and we play a hand of Spite and Malice. The fog, which has been hanging around, continues to come and go and Ty later sends me a photo of our house.
On Monday I start to make my curries. The Tenorios, the Daniells and the da Costas are coming to us for a curry evening. They will Christine Street’s Chicken curry and our own Pollack Goa Fish Curry, with a Daal and some Naan breads. Our own house Lemon Pickle is hugely appreciated. Which reminds me that I must make some more.
This soiree brings our pre-Christmas social activity to a close and we then prepare for the arrival of the Perrymans. When they arrive the adults are ready to switch off. They work long and hard hours. Teddy is full of excitement and we will spend the next few days doing Christmas, tout tranquille a la maison, just us and some presents and some good things to eat. Charlotte starts a Christmas jigsaw and I work on finishing my jigsaw in progress. Our differing approach to tackling our puzzles, and how we arrange our pieces, is quite amusing. The Hackneys send us some lovely family photos including one of Ruby who has excelled at gymnastics! We learn that the new best friend she made that day is standing on the podium numbered 1.
The Perrymans head for home after Boxing Day, in time for their New Year celebrations with their usual suspects. We had a similar thing going with the Pitts, Leathers and another couple when we decamped to the Pitt family holiday home at West Wittering during the afternoon of the 31st. Unlike the Perryman cohort who do fancy dress which they order off the Internet, we used to wheel out our black tie and ballgowns. These were special occasions and they make for good memories and it was a tradition which endured a good while. On New Year’s Day we would walk the shoreline around West Wittering, returning for lunch before driving back to Surrey. And then things started to unravel, but it was fun whilst it lasted and all these things are of their moment. “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” In St Vaast we celebrated New Year with the Poulets, who are the best of neighbours, and a day or two after we undressed the house and would be heading for Dorset and 2017.
……………… is all you need for breakfast in the Christmas aftermath. Weeks behind with my blog, I now settle to a morning at my screen with a mug to my right and my diary to my left. I must go back to November 28th.
With my Christmas willow tree worked and sitting in the hall awaiting shipment, I now turn to the task of sorting things that will need to travel to France, wrapping a few presents and writing my remaining share of Christmas cards, assisting Gill with the cleaning and turning out things that she can usefully take for her car boot enterprises. I slip down to Weymouth to visit Mum. Also I have managed to persuade Nick to come back from France a day earlier than he had planned so we can spend a day with the Dukes.
We meet at the car park by Thorncombe Wood near Bockhampton. Hardy’s Cottage is nearby, it is a popular spot for visitors and walkers. We make a short circuit through the woodland and heath and end up at the dog-friendly café where we have a light lunch. Initially Maddy had proposed a walk but I tacked on the idea that we go to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in Dorchester. Written in 2001 by J K Rowling under the pen name of Newt Scamander it is about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe. This would be my second viewing of the film at a cinema, a rare occurrence in my film-going experience. Rather like books, I only do works of fiction once. My favourite beast is this fellow:
After the film we went back to Maiden Newton for tea then drove ourselves back into Dorchester for dinner at the Cote Brasserie. A restaurant which is not expensive and manages reasonably authentic French cuisine.
Cut to Thursday morning and we must be on the ferry ready for departure at 08.30h. The car is packed full. Our departure is delayed after a minor medical emergency for which the lack-lustre ambulance service manages to delay us by a couple of hours. Happily I am always content to be on the Barfleur.
The weekend is spent quietly and I start to think about decorating the house. I go up to the top floor to investigate the walk-in cupboard where I keep Christmas decorations. I am somewhat nonplussed to find very few boxes and certainly none of the old familiars. I realise in that moment that they are sitting in our garage in Dorset, stacked where they were stacked last January ready for transport to France. In my mind this task had been completed but in reality the boxes have been moved and re-arranged during the year by Nick without him realising what they contained. At least the wooden reindeer made it across the Channel. Once I look at the contents of the boxes and bags which are there I realise I will have enough baubles and tree ornaments for the fresh green tree, as well as the new willow one. This will be a year for holly and ivy over the pictures, and candles, lots of them.
We will gradually start to pick up with our friends. Martine and Alain come from Paris at the beginning of the week and we meet them that evening for a meal at Le Chasse Maree. This restaurant has recently changed ownership and the new management are more agreeable than the former. We enjoy our food there. The Tailles invite us to eat native oysters at midday.
That is a real treat, they are more favoured than the locally farmed non-native ‘huitre creuse’ but I would be hard pushed to distinguish the two were I to subject myself to a blind tasting.
Friday is a very special day in that I go to have coffee with my talented friend Bibi who I haven’t seen since April. This seems incredible but she spent two months in Mexico painting a stunning mural in a friend’s house and then we were away in June, then summer intervened and a busy autumn and that’s how it went. She makes lovely things. Her current theme is to create puzzles, wooden shapes which form her special brand of jigsaw puzzle and each puzzle comes in its own box which is a work of art.
I love them all but cannot resist the Picasso one which I buy then give to Nick on his birthday! He likes it too. In the evening we have been invited to eat chez Burnouf, and Dede serves a delicious ‘couscous’. The Poulets are there, also the Tailles, wonderfully convivial.
Over the weekend Bibi and three other friends hold a Christmas ‘Expo’ and sale of their work. I am able to properly meet Charlotte Franklin who I spoke to briefly in the summer at the Daniell event. She is a talented painter and sculptor and a friend of La Poulette. I buy some of her lovely cards. Then it’s also good to meet up with Pink Sarah, she who made the tartan replica of my favourite pinafore dress. I decide to take a couple of ‘off-the-pegs’ into my wardrobe. There is a charming Frenchwoman, Florence Renault, who makes beautiful jewellery in glass. Some Euros are parted with. Having been in the morning, I later accompany la Poulette and Fefe who both expressed an interest in going to the sale. As it happens they each buy a version of the striped ponchos that Sarah has made. I think they suit their respective new owners well although later I gather from Fefe that she has gone off the boil with hers as she feels as if she has a rug slung about her shoulders. I think she may be missing the point!
By Sunday evening that’s a diverse week wrapped up, another one is in view.
At the end of half term week we take the girls back to Hackney. Emsie cooks us a delicious roast chicken dinner then we head back to Winterborne Kingston. A sustained interval of visitors and visiting has drawn to a close. We face a month in our Dorset home before we repair to St Vaast at the beginning of December to prepare for Christmas. I have many tasks I would like to tackle, some are long-standing and involve rooting out cupboards, weeding out drawers, organising and arranging the trappings of my life. Above all I want my garden back. I began to lose it in April and May. By the end of June when we returned from France after our three week sojourn in the south of France I had acquired a wildflower meadow. The borders had run rampage. Fortunately I had made the decision back in May to vacate many of my pots and leave them with montages so I did not have many dried out and shrivelled plants to dispose of once autumn arrived. There is a resident in the village who is a keen gardener and grows an assortment of plants which he sells and gives the proceeds to charity. I walk round to Broad Close to see what he has to offer and buy small Viola, Primula, Wallflowers and small Cyclamen. I spend £40 and get all the plants I need to populate the pots I have waiting in the wings, some of which, with bulbs, will be overplanted.
Out of the blue I get a message from Barns enquiring whether we will be about over the weekend of the 12th. Fortunately we will although I have committed the Saturday morning to a pro-EU group who are running an Outreach stall in Bournemouth. This will be my first experience of lobbying, in a minor way, out on the streets. Meanwhile Barney and the children will join Nick for the village walk during the morning. After my ‘reaching out’ I get home before the others return after their pub lunch. The rest of the weekend is spent playing games, eating good food and on Sunday we do a walk in the morning which does push me to my limits. Barns proposes we drive to Worth Matravers, walk to St Alban’s Head, along the coast to the cliffs above Chapman’s Pool and back to the car. This entails those nightmare steps which need to be negotiated in order to cross the deep valley running down towards the coast. We count 217 down and about 180 up the other side but there is a stretch of unstepped slope on the up side. I complete the ‘crossing’ having found it extremely taxing. (My leg muscles will ache for at least four days afterwards). After a delicious slow-roasted shoulder of lamb Barns loads the kids into the car with all their clean laundry and drives the back to Oxfordshire ready for school the next day.
A relatively uneventful week ensues, culminating in a pleasant inaugural lunch at The Old Workshop to launch Splinter, a somewhat conspiratorial group of erstwhile village book group members. Four of us eat my quick version Paella followed by Lemon mousse, choose our first joint title to read for discussion and decide on other titles that we have variously either read, or intend to read and which we will talk about as and when. The following day I am going to drive to Sandford Orcas to forage for a basket with Kim.
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.
Our week in Devon draws to a close so Nick and I must head north and west. We call in at our home at Winterborne K to deposit field gear, laundry, foodstuffs that we will not need for our onward journey. We are due in Godalming late afternoon to collect young Ted from school to take him home. His parents are abroad for a spell and Nick and I are in charge. We have fixed a supper party at our old house for close and dear friends from our early days in Godalming. Fortunately COOK is able to supply all the necessaries for a meal and there is a lively exchange of views on our current reading matter and of course, even livelier debate over the fiasco, furore and utter confusion that surrounds what will happen next after the disastrous Leave vote in June. It is a bit sad that some of our number who were Remainers are now becoming the Resigned. Not me though.
Saturday arrives and Ted wakes us early. Today we are going to go to Portsmouth to climb the Spinnaker Tower and visit the Victory. We finally get away late morning, drive to Gunwharf Quay and park. I had forgotten how compact and comprehensive the shopping complex there is. Everything cheek by jowl and I think it would make a great destination for our future French guests as an alternative to London. The Spinnaker Tower is not busy so we work our way up through the floors. Once again I teeter across the glass floor, the conflict in my mind being rampant. A bit of my brain tells me that the glass is strong and will surely hold, but the other bit of my brain looks down to ground level and freaks. In the end I make my way across looking straight ahead with my arms outstretched as if I am on a tightrope. At ground level we repair to Giraffe and have a lunch.
After we head for the Historic Dockyard and after a bit of reluctance on Nick’s part to pay for the full monty, we buy tickets to cover all attractions and then discover that this ticket is actually a one year season ticket which makes it very good value. We walk on down to the Victory and tour over it. So much more of the vessel has been restored since I last visited it, I think with Sam and Joel when they were smaller. In addition to walking round the decks where the action took place, you can now go down to the lower levels where the crew, ate, relaxed, slept. A guide answered some of our questions. He said the ship had to be provisioned to allow for six months at sea. Supplies might be brought to the ship whilst she was at sea in service, but you could not count on it. In fact Victory’s longest spell at sea was more than two years.
Adjacent to the Victory is the Mary Rose Museum. The ship captured the world’s imagination when she was raised from the Solent in 1982. Her dramatic story is revealed in full inside the purpose-built, award-winning £27million Museum, which opened its doors to visitors in May 2013. It certainly captured my imagination. One of the new things that was introduced to the Museum when it was reopened in July 2016 after additional work was a series of tableaux of life-sized projections of the crew, populating the ship so that visitors can see what life was like on board a busy Tudor Warship. We were all much taken by the museum and the story it tells.
We wrapped up Ted’s visit with a pootle round the pool in front of the Action Stations complex. There Ted steered a small boat with an electric motor round a course of floating obstacles with aplomb.
Refinding the car we then drove to Winterborne K where we supped and watched the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. In the morning we finished the video and then spent four good hours ranging around Monkey World which Ted knows well. He loves wildlife and is knowledgeable. He speaks with great pleasure about his experiences on safari at the Madikwe Game Park, the animals he sees, the twice-daily drives with his friend Michael the Ranger. He has a particular fondness for primates and Orang Utans in particular. He takes us round the complex, he knows about individual animals and I get a chance to revisit my friend Jethro the White-faced Saki Monkey. I saw him not long ago when I visited Monkey World with Anne and Noe. There is something about his features and they way they are set within a face of white fur that gives him a thoroughly worried expression. It verges on sad and as I stare at his face I find myself wondering just what emotions he might be experiencing as he returns my stare, often with his pink tongue hanging out 🙂 . He is definitely my favourite primate.
On Sunday evening I must drive back to Godalming ready for a school week where I will be helping out to give ‘nanny’ care since the departure of Demi. I manage to fit in lunch with Lis and Charles at their home. On Friday I drop Ted at school then head down to Dorset where I will sleep in my own bed for one night before flying up to Hackney to see Lola and Ruby perform in a Variety show.
If only packing clothes, assembling collecting kit, provisions, wine and all the other preparations needed to close down one’s base in order to establish another temporary one could be seamless. And without contretemps. It seems that even after 48 years of marriage it is not to be.
So we get up on Friday morning early and stow the car, lock our front door and set off. At least the morning has gone smoothly. Five minutes into our journey I realise I have not brought quite enough of my current medicaments. If that is the only oversight I will be pleased indeed.
Before we fetch up at our holiday house at Bantham we are calling in to see my sister who has a consultant coming to advise on the installation of a borehole and Nick is going to help Liz with her decisions. It is a big step but a necessary one since the fouling of her water supply by a local farmer with his accidental polluting spillage on his land. After the meeting Nick and I have some spare hours so we drive into Lyme Regis where we have to call in at a shop to change a tee-shirt. Lyme is very busy, lively, with tourists, and the sun is shining. We think it would be a great place to bring Martine and Alain when they come to see us. We did indeed come here with Claire and Ty earlier in the year, on a wet May afternoon and the place was still steeped in atmosphere. I discover a second hand bookshop down by the Cobb and whilst Nick plods up the hill to collect our car I indulge myself for half an hour and find four additional Booker nominee titles to add to my collection. Turns out that the book shop, called The Sanctuary, is also a B&B.
We hope to call in and see Paul and Viv but they are not at home so we drive back to Hawkchurch where Liz will cook us an amazing supper of Escargots aux Cepes. It is a confection of snails and wild mushrooms and consists of garlic and parsley buttered escargots removed from their shells which are lightly stewed with a tasty melange of fungi. Liz has gathered Chanterelles from her private source, up her lane, which it seems no-one else has noticed. Together with her own dried Cepes the fricassee is then placed in a flaky pastry base and topped with a coil of pastry to form a cap. Well it is beyond just tasty.
In the morning Nick and I must rise and shine and head for Bantham to open up the house for the others. Our task this week, inter alia, will be to ignore the elephant in the room as far as is possible.