Razor-clamming Days

 

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast three weeks ago we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

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.

Here and There in the Fresh Sea Air

After Christmas excesses it is good to walk and with our lovely coast there is variety and interest always.  A walk round La Hougue is always a pleasure although I see that with the passing of years – we have been here for nearly twelve years – the most seaward stretches of that circuitous wall are narrow.  Time’s coming when I think it will be sensible to go with a companion.  I love going to Pointe de Saire because this is a honey-pot for shell collectors and it is rare that I do not find a wentletrap or two when I rake over the shell-rich deposits which get left in drifts against sand waves and banks.  The point is a place of high energy; the rise and fall of the tides, together with the rip currents which run round that headland and through the channel between raised areas of granite outcrop are continually lifting and redepositing the shelly sands and gravels.  Bedforms are reconfigured and new shapes are created and strandlines are recast in diverse patterns.  Garlands of shells lie in the narrow and shallow runnels between sand waves and ripples.  The sea is the ultimate sorter, it is a subtle process.

Just before New Year we shared a delightful interlude with Tanou and Jean-Pierre.    They are great gamers, of the Scrabble, Barbu and other card games ilk.  We were invited to late afternoon tea with goodies that they had bought at one of the excellent Christmas Markets that take place in Alsace.  In recent years similar events have started to take place in the UK.  The Natural History Museum hosts such a seasonal market and an ice rink is installed alongside and the sight of skaters as I hasten to catch an Underground train after an afternoon meeting of the Conchological Society is one of those key moments with which I associate the impending festival.  Walking home from their home, ‘La Bouillote’ :D, we pass a house whose front garden features small trees which have been garlanded with baubles and an engaging sign on the gatepost which reads: “Here lives a happy retired person”.

Walking back to my parked car after an expedition to Pointe de Saire I was looking for possible new sources of shell-rich strandline to browse.  There were certainly distinct drifts of seaweed, with the sea’s most recent delivery of shells, to scan for unusual species.  But what I noticed in particular were the right (i.e. convex, lower) and the left (i.e. flat, upper) valves of Pecten maximus scattered across the upper shore, like so many open fans.  Lovely.

Les Petits Gris a Midi and much more…..

 

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. resizeescargots-2Mimi 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. img_5236 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.

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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.spookyhouse

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.  jigsawCharlotte 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.  RubyGymnast.jpgThe 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.

 

 

 

A Pot of Coffee and a Mince Pie…..

……………… 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. mum1-2 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. img_5305-2 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: niffler%20fantastic%20beasts-png

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.  15380688_551366855059399_4150434975071553341_nI 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.

A Walk in the Woods

When Dédé and Françoise proposed a walk in the woods, little did I imagine what a unique moment this would be, for me.  Françoise’s email ran as follows “Mercredi,  à 14 heure veut tu venir avec André et moi aux champignons?   Nous serons de retour pour 17 hr.  On vient te chercher si tu peux ? Gros Bisous.   ‘Aux champignons?  In December?!!  I concluded that ‘aux champignons’ would be an expression, a watchword if you like, to denote a gentle ramble in the countryside.

Since Nick and I bought our French house eleven years ago we have never been for a walk in French woods!  IMG_5347 (2).JPG

When I think about that it is rather extraordinary.  We have walked often enough along the shores and coast of the Cotentin, round La Hougue many times, and less frequently inland within our neighbourhood.  But we have not experienced true French countryside at first hand.  One reason is that ‘the right to roam’ does not exist in France.  Much land is in private ownership and much of that is managed for hunting.  ‘Chasse garde’ or ‘Chasse prive’.

We were picked up at 2 o’clock and the first surprise was that we would be going by car.  Dédé drove us to a bit of well-established woodland that he has known since he was a boy.  Indeed as a boy he used to forage for mushrooms. I think it was a clandestine activity; I am not even sure we should be here today, there are wooden signs nailed to trees all around.  img_5333-2 It would not be giving too much away to say that the locality is called Montaigu, a sprawling area of woodland either side of the main road to Valognes.  Montaigu la Brisette covers an area of some 1500 sq. km.  We drove down a few lanes and then a track.  Dédé parked the car.  There was a very fine drizzle, at times more like a swirling mist, which persisted throughout the afternoon.  It was rather pleasant: humidity and fungi are happy companions.  We walked into the woodland with some purpose and before long our hosts were stopping and staring at the ground.  And there they were, small brown circular shapes with fluted edges, the caps of Chanterellesimg_5336-2Chanterelles, also known as Girolles, Cantharellus cibarius, are probably the best known species of the genus Cantharellus.  Wikipedia tells us that the mushroom is orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, it has gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It emits a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste and is considered an excellent edible mushroom.

Our mushrooms, my expert mycologist sister has since told me, were  Cantharellus infundibuliformis.  img_5339-2A common mushroom that grows in large groups in wooded areas and damp places. They are characterized by dark brown caps that measure up to two inches across and brownish-yellow stems. The underside of the cap features narrow veins rather than gills. They are known as Yellow Legs and have a pleasant aroma but are very bitter if eaten raw. They are best when added to dishes that are slow cooked which makes them tender and much more flavoursome. They will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week and they are very easy to dry.

We browsed our way through the woods, stooping to gather freely where the toadstools were fruiting.  img_5349-2Once you knew what you were looking for their congregations were not difficult to spot.  They appear, in pockets, in much the same places year after year.  We all gathered a magnificent haul of the dainty mushrooms.  Along the way we saw other fungus species.  Dede gave me their names and I later emailed Françoise: “J’ai trouvé les autres champignons dont nous avons parlé aujourd’hui, Peziza orangée, Clavaire choufleur, Pied de mouton.  Il y avait , je pense un autre quatrieme ‘quelquechose de bois’ que j’oublie?  Donc Peziza s’appelle Orange Peel fungus (zeste du orange), Clavaire choufleur s’appelle Coral fungus, Pied de mouton s’appelle ‘Wood Hedgehog fungus’ cela veut dire Herisson du bois!!  Ce nom-là est tres drôle.”img_5356-4

At the end of our walk Dédé stopped to take some small pine tree branches for Christmas decoration then we took a circuitous route back to the car.  img_5350-2As we swished our way through the thick and loosely packed leaf litter, with the starkness of the tall skinny pine trees and the prickly holly scrub all around, I was reminded of Middle Earth, and hobbits, and hidden places where secretive and unseen beings may be watching.  These woods are known to be home to wild boar; we saw plenty of evidence of scrapes in the rich, vegetative soil, especially beneath trees.  Wild boar root for acorns but there were few oak trees around.  I wondered if the animals had been searching for truffles.  Ever since I read Richard Fortey’s homage to woodlands  I have learnt that truffles might be more widespread than is believed.  The locations where you can find truffles are not often shared between fungi officinados.  They are expensive.  I checked one supplier’s prices: a smooth black truffle about the size of a conker would cost you £49.  There is so much mystique around the subject. img_5361-2

Delivered to our front door we thanked Dédé and Françoise as profusely as we could in flowery French, for such a wonderful and very special afternoon with them.  Fungi foragers do not easily share their haunts and expertise with others.  Once indoors I set to and sorted my haul into mushrooms that would be dried, others to cook within a few days and, following Dede’s advice, I removed all the stalks which would be used to make a veloute.

The following day I sautéed some in a pan with butter then folded them through some saffron tagliatelle with crème fraiche.  Another way to eat the fresh little mushrooms is to fry them in a pan until crispy and then make an omelette around them.img_5370-2

Drying mushrooms is a very straightforward process.  Various methods are suggested although I discovered that putting them in a very low temperature oven did not work as the mushrooms started to cook and yield their liquid.  Better was putting them on a wire rack on top of the wood-burning stove.  I have a proper food dryer and dehydrator but not where I need it!

Gathering wild mushrooms then taking them home to create tasty dishes; it doesn’t get much better.

 

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

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At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

Long Overdue Visitors

A few years ago our good friends Alain and Martine invited us to stay with them at their home on the outskirts of Paris.  Ostensibly it was an opportunity for the blokes (Alain, Francois, Daniel and Nick) to go and see a Six Nations match between France and England.  The womenfolk were treated to a trip into Paris for some shopping and I still really love the two swimming costumes and the Rocket Dog canvas boots I bought on that occasion.  After several attempts at an invitation we have finally fixed a week at the beginning of October when they will cross the Channel and spend just under a week with us.

They arrive as foot passengers on Sunday evening; Nick and I have lately arrived back from Hackney having stayed overnight after Lola and Ruby’s show.  We settle our visitors in and then after a night cap retire to bed.  Nick has been pretty much in charge of planning the itinerary as a joint effort seemed to end in dispute!  On Monday we are going to see a bit of Dorset.  We start by swinging by Dorchester to pick up a couple of things and Martine has a brief glimpse of what Dorch has to offer and we agree to return later in the week.  After Dorchester we head over to Lyme Regis for a walk along the prom and Martine and I peer into a few shops, buy stuff and end up with twenty minutes or so in my favoured bookshop whilst Nick and Alain walk up the hill to retrieve the car.

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Having sampled the flavour of Lyme (le parfum de la ville) we head back to West Bay where we have fish and chips at The George then spend a bit of time looking round the flea markets at the old Custom House and take a brief stroll beneath the cliffs of ‘Broadchurch’ . martinebroadchurch dsc00851-2blogBefore we head for home we swing by Portland for a stroll around the Portland Bill Lighthouse and our final stop before hitting The Old Workshop is to spill out at the viewpoint and admire the incomparable Chesil Bank and the Fleet.  You can look to the distance and see, beyond the new Marina in Portland Harbour, and the town of Weymouth, the hills on which, with the eye of faith you might discern the Chalk hill figure of King George III who was a regular visitor to Weymouth.

Back at the house we are eating in and I have made a hearty casserole which attempts to replicate in some part a ‘Pot au Feu’ which is a very traditional French dish of very slow-cooked large pieces of beef (usually three different cuts) with whole root vegetables and maybe leeks too.  My pieces of meat are smaller and the gravy is thickened but it seems to find favour with Alain who is very traditional 😉  I’ve made a rhubarb and plum crumble for dessert.  We go to bed not too late as we are going to drive to London the next day.

So the following morning we get our various acts together and leave the house with overnight bags.  Nick has booked us a Travelodge near Clapham railway station to make travelling easier.  But it has its drawbacks as we subsequently find out.  dsc00861-2blogOn the way we stop at the Bull Inn at Ovington just outside Alresford, and which is the most traditional of English pubs.  img_5182-2blogimg_5180-2We meet an elderly gent propping up the bar and we have a friendly conversation about Europe and the Referendum and he seems to imply he voted Remain but at the end I am not so sure.  I find I am so suspicious of people these days, the Leave vote has changed fundamentally my attitude to my fellow nationals, this country and its politics and sadly most of all my attitude towards my Leaver friends.  Much as a lunch would be great at this venue we press on to The Squirrel just outside Godalming where we have a lunch, and a pleasant exchange with a group of young people who wish us a good onward journey in French.

We hit London, and Nick who knows it so well after all the years he worked there and drove around in his series of BMWs, takes us on a tour pointing out the sights.  It seems a bit rushed to me but Alain and Martine cannot fail to have a flavour of the city and in their minds perhaps make comparisons with their home city.

We check into the hotel, take a breather then walk into Clapham to find an eatery.  Alain and Nick have already made a brief exploratory excursion but the restaurant they found is full.  Never mind, we find a large Italian establishment at which we eat, each of us, to our satisfaction.  We head back to the hotel and settle for the night.  For some it is to be very unsettled because in choosing this hotel Nick has failed to consider the effects of staying adjacent to the busiest railway in Europe for it is the transport hub that serves London Victoria and London Waterloo, and through which are funneled between 100 and 180 trains an hour, save for the five hours after midnight!  Nick and I are, by and large, sound sleepers, we did not think…………

The following morning we meet in the café below the hotel for a good breakfast, Eggs Florentine in my case.  Nick and Alain are going to head across to visit Dan in his new offices in Kingsland Road and Martine and I plan shopping.  We take the trains to Oxford Circus and in the space of 4-5 hours we barely manage to extend beyond the immediate periphery of that station.  We walk down Carnaby Street whose shops mean nothing to me, all brands for the trendy young, then into Liberty’s, the briefest of glances in Hamleys.  We probably spent best time in Anthropologie.  Then it’s on to Debenhams, Uniqlo.  A lunching moment, trying stuff on and queuing to pay, it all takes time.  We waste a ridiculous amount of time in Debenhams when I agree to sign up for a store card that will win us an extra 10% over and above the savings we have already made on our handbag purchases.  Before long we must get a train back to Clapham to be there for 5 so we can leave London in time to get home for supper.

On Thursday evening I have invited the McGoverns and my sister Liz, all of whom have met the Duponts, for supper.  Alain helps Nick peel the spuds!  img_6336-2blogFlora the chocolate labrador comes too and finds favour since all the guests are doggie people.  Martine makes us a tasty egg and cheese tart to start with then we move on to my chicken casserole.  Wine flows and it is convivial.  A miniscule European event.  Liz stays overnight.

On Friday this will be the last full day for the Duponts.  Nick and Alain join Cybs for a walk along the beach at Studland, and Martine and I go to Dorchester to shop and we both buy some clothing and some kitchen items. Lunch goes a bit skew whiff on timing but no matter because we are going to eat at The Blue Vinny at Puddletown for a farewell supper.  On Saturday morning we take our guests to Poole to catch their ferry, then we scoot back to get togged up for the village walk which will surely do us good after our week of eclectic activites but little real exercise.

 

A Week with Edward

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.

jethro

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.

 

A Day with Simon and the Pieman

And so it begins.  The annual jamboree with my clique of CS friends has come round all too quickly.  Which means in the blink of an eye, not that it is a chore.  At least I hope it will not be.  This September we might have to cope with an elephant in our midst.  Wait and see.

Saturday we converge on a very pleasant converted barn near Bantham.  Seven of us will share this abode for a week.  There is an adjacent building that goes with the property, a games room which will serve very nicely as a lab.  Nick and I arrive first to open up and bag a room.  We leave the lovely master suite for one couple on that basis that one of them is convalescent.  There are three other rooms with beds to sleep six people.  Although all rooms on a sharing basis are equal, clearly some rooms are more equal than others.  Nick and I have a couple of hours before anyone else arrives which allows me to make a start on the turrid material I have brought to curate.  These are from Stella Turk’s collection and will be useful, even though many of them have no locality data, because turrid specimens are few and far between.

Gradually the others arrive.  Hail fellow and well met.  We all move into our rooms and I serve the assembled a fish pie for supper followed by a plum tart.

On Sunday we are going to North Sands Bay, Salcombe which is the shore below the Winking Prawn café.  Once parked I need a comfort break so Nick and I repair to said Whistling Whelk so I can use the facilities and take in a flat white.  It is then time to hit the shore and I follow the cliffs on the left hand side of the bay and make for the lowest point on the shore.  There are a few shady recesses with weak crevice development which might be hopeful for the usual suspects but although there are plenty of winkles about it is not a propitious habitat.  cupcoralretracted  caryophyllia3By the time I reach the waters edge, if I look around towards the outcrop on top of which is perched the old Fort Charles, there is enough shore to start turning stones and rolling boulders.  Time flies when you are engrossed in staring at the undersides of rocks on a shore.  Together with the rest of the group which includes Simon the Marine Recorder we plodge around in the shallows and together manage to compile a respectable list of mollusc species.

Reaching the law of diminishing returns Nick and I eat our sandwich on the beach then repair to our car in the carpark of the Wisecracking Wentletrap.  After I process the small amount of rockscrubbings and weedwashings and sit down to compile the joint list on paper we have recorded 64 species of mollusc and one Devonshire cup coral……….. and still counting.  Whilst restricting myself to the amount of weed etc that I take back to the lab., I do collect some cushion stars (Asterina gibbosa) to see if by any chance they will be harbouring one of the tiny mollusc species.  When I get back to the house I put these little treasures into a shallow dish of seawater to see what if anything might crawl out.  After my picnic lunch on the beach Nick and I drive back to the house so that I can start to process my samples.

Peter the Pieman is in charge of supper.  That’s great, I can just get on with my stuff and after we have eaten I can barely stay awake and after a fruitless attempt to interact with the internet (it is suffering from too many residents and not enough go-go juice) I go to bed where I promptly fall asleep in front of the printed word with my glasses on my nose.