Calamari at Chapman’s Peak

Driving broadly southwest out of Cape Town we are heading for Hout Bay.  We are booked into the Chapman’s Peak Hotel, which will prove to be ideal on many fronts.   capetown_map

Our route will take us along the coast road, along frontages with some very smart properties at Bantry Bay and Camps Bay.  I notice that there are extensive kelp beds and it seems that, unlike native shores in the UK, the kelp is visible throughout the tidal cycle.  We arrive at the hotel and check into our rooms.  We have views from the balcony into Hout Bay.  The restaurant is well-known for its Calamari, and has a large terrace with  views across the bay, beach and valley. Calamari at The Chapmans Peak Hotel was voted “one of top 20 things to do in Cape Town”. Seafood platters and steaks are also popular items.  We ordered Calamari for dinner that first night; it was the best we had ever eaten.

The following morning Charlotte and Teddy knocked on our door and suggested we pull our curtains.  Behold a sandy bay, with a few walkers enjoying the early morning tranquility of a sparsely populated beach.  CJ, Ted and I went down to the coffee shop, bought a carry-out drink and walked the sands as a pre-breakfast treat.  There was an isolated rock just offshore, with large blue sea anemones attached but which was encircled by a potentially treacherous moat, masked as it was by the turbid water.  Too deep to approach that morning I intended to investigate on another occasion.  Were the anemones this species?7108177501_dd402cf00d_zblueanemone

Ted and I walked barefoot at the water’s edge, watching the wavelets as they came, gobbling up the sand grains, and scrabbling up the beach.  I am minded now of John Betjeman’s poem ‘Beside the Seaside’:

And all the time the waves, the waves, the waves
Chase, intersect and flatten on the sand
As they have done for centuries, as they will …
When England is not England, when mankind
Has blown himself to pieces. Still the sea,
Consolingly disastrous, will return
While the strange starfish, hugely magnified,
Waits in the jewelled basin of a pool.”

Nick watched us with his camera from the balcony of our room ……..DSC01241 (2)resize

At breakfast we were greeted by the owner of the hotel, Carlos, who has been in business here for fifty years.  He tells us that his calamari is world-renowned, that the Clintons visited the hotel specifically to dine on it some years previously.  The roads round about had to be closed off during their visit, apparently. 17554087_10154263567936126_3834364302247283591_nHoutBay

Before we head off for the day some of us check out the outdoor pool, it’s a bit chilly!

A Bookish Lunch then Off we Hop

During the week after my birthday Nick and I enjoyed a Bookish Lunch chez Shaxson.  This was an event which had been much juggled in terms of format.  Celia wished to return hospitality and in the end a pub lunch was rejected in favour of the Shaxson venue at which Celia would play hostess.  Annabel made us a delicious vegetable soup which we followed with cheeses and raspberries.  It was a cabbages and kings occasion with a smattering of bookery.

A couple of days later we were on the ferry bound for Normandy.  Our lovely friends the Tailles had invited us to Sunday lunch, the following day would be Francois’ birthday.  I spent a week reconnecting with la vie francaise then we returned to Dorset for my mother’s birthday and a visit to see the ‘Prof’ to have some minor skin treatment.  On Friday we travelled back, me and my very sore back, to join the Poulets as guests of Daniel and Christine.  Daniel cooked his incomparable Encornets farcis.  encornets farcisWe ate at the Chasse Maree the following evening with Francois and Anne, and their friends Odile and Philippe.  During the ensuing days Nick spent much time with Dede and also Francois when he was not consulting, playing at lumberjacks with the large Beech tree that was felled in a field on the road to Valognes.  The tree is even larger than that which the guys felled last year and will yield rather more cords.  A cord is approximately 2.5 cubic metres but his depends on the size of the logs and the amount of air spaces in the stack.  We estimate we may have about 10 cords to share between participants.  At the end of our stay and once all the wood is logged and stacked we have a bit of a BBQ on the bonfire of brushwood that remains to be burned.

Meanwhile I worked on the final edits of three chapters I am contributing to a book on molluscs in archaeology.  One of the chapters has been particularly tricky and has necessitated the redrafting and relabelling of some line drawings which help to standardise the measurements that archaeologists should take when analysing shell assemblages for environmental assessments and reporting.  In the end I decided the easiest thing was to go to the shore to collect a few limpets so that I could send images to Mike, my editor, for the avoidance of doubt.  It would not pay for a self-respecting archaeomalacologist to get her limpets arse about face!

 

 

I did lots of cinema trips with Anne, also with Francoise and Fefe.  On one fine day I walked a stretch of the coast between Bibi’s home just outside Montfarville and Gatteville-Phare.  A good 10 clicks.  We chatted pretty much the whole way.  Bibi’s Jack Russell, ‘Chispa’ was a cute and biddable companion.  IMG_5518 (2)

On the first Saturday in March Nick and I threw a dinner party.  I got my knickers in somewhat of a twist deciding what to do and in the end I made a Pot au Feu with a Bourgignon twist.  Francois recognised this and complimented me.

Our wonderful month in France is drawing to a close.  We take Francois and Fefe to the Fuchsias for lunch – an extravagance they do not allow themselves although, also, they are part of that community in St Vaast who see Hotel Les Fuchsias as a mecca for the English.  To complete our cycle of entertaining we receive Jean-Pierre and Tanou on the Sunday before we cross La Manche.  They arrive at 6, we play Barbu and we eat something simple.  Hooray for Fish Pie.

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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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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.

 

 

 

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’

August Antics

A couple of days after I wave my French visitors off, Claire arrives with the Crazy Gang of Four.  We are all going to travel over to France together for a week of familial fun and frolics.  blogimg_4707-3In fact Nick and I face a month playing host to assorted familial configurations.  Once arrived we already have an appointment for a Tuttle BBQ, before then a seashore safari organised by Claire and me which involves cartwheels in bathing suits. blogimg_4709-3blogimg_4710-3

Joel and I slope off to Paris for his jolly, then we come back to find the Perrymans have arrived for their long weekend during which we will celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with a return BBQ with the Tuttles chez nous.  blogimg_4756-3With CJ and Ry in charge it will be good.  The sands of time are rushing through the Cholsey holiday hour-glass. They have had quality time with cousins, aunts, uncles:blogimg_6183-2blogimg_6174-2 But before they return to the UK Joel and Claire cook us a fabulous evening meal which is a dummy run (but nothing dummy about what we are offered!) for Joel’s forthcoming Charity French Lunch.  blogimg_4759-2We enjoy his own brand of French Onion Soup, with a choice of Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourgignon as the main dish.  And then there is Crème Brulee 🙂

After the Gang of Four return to Oxfordshire Ted stays on with Nick and I.  He gets some fishing in.  blogimg_6237-2In fact we have a fabulous day which Ted thoroughly enjoys at all stages.  He is very willing to help take the fish off their lines and into the bucket, and to help Nick process the gutting of our catch and the distribution of heads and guts to a horde of seagulls.  It is a spectacular sight. blogimg_6254-2 Nick takes Ted to the small Zoo at Montaigue la Brisette whilst I have a very long overdue appointment with Manu. Bar  And so Ted’s departure day rolls round and he and I board the good ship ‘Barfleur’ bound for Poole where his mother will pick us up.  We stay overnight at TOW and the following day drive to Weymouth to have lunch with Ted’s Great Granny.  This is a happy visit and after they must drive to Godalming and I stay on at TOW another night before going back to France to await the next visitors…….

……….who arrive the next day.  Marian, Katharine and David come to us every year and it is a welcome week in which to catch up with them.  We can always count on David to tweak our computer systems, although Nick seems to take the lion’s share of this.  After his sessions with David I have not the heart to burden David further, even though he is more than willing.  By way of a small thank you Nick does give the Bradleys a master class in crab dressing.  blogimg_6293-2The week slips by and Katharine and I get some night-time bathing off the white wooden steps near La Chapelle des Marins at the town end of La Hougue.  lachapellebathingWe join Dede and his granddaughter Oranne at 10 o’clock and on the first evening the water feels even tepid.  As the spring tides approach there is a greater mixing of the waters and the temperature drops somewhat.  But I retain the physical memory of that first night-time plunge.  Above all my aging self appreciates the stable wooden steps with handrail.  What an elegant way to enter the sea!

After they leave we have a couple of days in which to prepare for my sister and her family and that is a whole other post…………..

Joel the Foodie gets his Fix

Since Nick and I to stay for a weekend, during which we gave him all manner of vehicular treats, I have been looking for opportunities to treat his siblings the same.  So my second opportunity involves a special something for Joel.  Joel is an easy recipient – he is fascinated by food and cooking.  blogtagineLuckily for me my neighbour Claire, a Parisienne who has a second home in St Vaast, has stumbled on a website which offers Secret Food Tours.  They run them in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona.  When I make further enquiries I find that the Paris tours take place around Montmartre which is on the doorstep of our friends’ apartment off Pigalle and the meeting point will turn out to be at the Anvers Metro which is just round the corner.

So Joel and I board a train at Valognes and travel for three hours to Paris St Lazare.  From the station it is a fifteen minute walk to rue Victor Massy.  We offload our bags then head into the centre of Paris for an afternoon activity.  There are so many possibilities and I had planned to take the Metro to Jardin des Tuileries and perhaps slip over to the Musee d’Orsay.  But Joel mentions that he would love to see the glass pyramid above the entrance to the Louvre since it features in the novel and film of the Da Vinci Code.  editimg_4727-2So it is that we spend a couple of hours at the Louvre and this is thoroughly enjoyable as we take in some French and Italian Renaissance art, we talk about the pictures and those that we like in particular and of course we gaze upon the loveliness that is the Mona Lisa.  Personally I have never thought that she is that lovely.   As Joel and I stand and regard La Gioconda, we are very much in an ethnic minority.

editimg_4729-3I would say that 90% of the ‘audience’ consists of far Eastern tourists armed with their mobile phones and selfie sticks.  I noticed this before when I came to see the Mona Lisa and also when visiting other parts of the exhibitions.  Many people view the museum through their devices.  They arrive in front of a work of art, capture the image on their device and move on without stopping to consider the painting they have just photographed.   As we continue our exploration we find ourselves at the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.  We both really enjoy looking at the sculptures, artefacts and face masks.  blogimg_4730-2 blogimg_4731-2 blogimg_4732-2  We round a corner and are confronted with a huge stone head and neck carving.  “Gosh” I say, “that looks just like one of the Easter Island statues!” Well, of course, it is one.

By now it is almost time for the museum to close so we make our way to the nearest Metro and back to Pigalle.  We are going to eat at one of the local restaurants and I have chosen the one that offers north African fare.  We choose tagine and Joel and I tuck in heartily.  After we have paid the bill the owner regales us with anecdote and advice for the budding chef.  The advice is well meant but not entirely appropriate and I should have kept my mouth shut!

Next morning we are up early and clear up the flat of such untidiness as we have made, which is negligible, and head out for breakfast at a local café before meeting up with our tour guide at Anvers Metro.  blogimg_4736-2 blogimg_4738-2 blogimg_4739-2Her name is Solene, a lively young woman who steers her motley group around the set course with skill and humour.  We are an American family of three, an Oriental family of three, an American librarian who lives in Dubai and Joel and me.  We sally forth.  Our first port of call is the Chocolaterie Maison Georges Larnicol.  This establishment carries the award Meilleur Ouvriers de France, something to look out for when choosing where to buy goods.  We are shown fabulous sculptures in chocolate, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame……  And we get to choose two handmade chocolates each.editimg_4745-2

Our morning progresses; we are taken to a Patisserie whose speciality is Macarons, thence to a Fromagerie, a Boulangerie and a Boucherie where Solene makes various purchases.  Slightly uncharitably I think she is doing her personal shopping.  However, we fetch up in a small café bar where we then proceed to have a tasting of bread, cheese, charcuterie, washed down with red and white wines and our Degustation is wound up with eclairs and coffee.  During this delightful interlude we hear some wonderful food-related anecdotes, most notably an explanation as to why French bread comes in a stick shape.  And why we chink glasses when we toast each other.  blogimg_4724-2Eaten over a couple of hours the little nibbles amount to a good meal and Joel and I merely need to buy a sandwich at Gare St Lazare whilst we wait for our train that will carry us back to Valognes.

Outdoor Lights

Five days after returning from France there is a treat in store.  Fortuitously the family finds itself in the same country with a weekend to spare.  Not always easy to engineer with the diversity of activities in which we, and particularly the youngest generation, are becoming involved.  Climbing, singing, music gigs…… we pack our lives.

Happily Barns and Lukie live in a cottage on a farming estate in Oxfordshire, an easy destination at which all of us can converge.  The cottage is small and we are fifteen souls.  Because Barns is involved in the Scouting movement, our weekend will be focused on the great outdoors.  When we arrive a fire is already alight, fuelled by logs from the adjacent woodland, wherein rootle the pigs from which source comes the giant joint of meet pot-roasting in an extra large saucepan.  The fireplace is neatly constructed from bricks, a few courses forming a horse-shoe into whose opening logs are steadily fed as the fire burns.

Before we can eat this meat there is lunch; a cauldron of sweet corn soup is followed by cheese and pate with a fruit platter to finish.  Our afternoon passes very amiably, the children range around………… rehearsing and filming dramatic antics,  scampering around the environs of the cottage, dancing.  The adults catch up with each other and amongst diverse topics the conversation reverts time and again to the unending pantomime of events that the Brexit vote engendered.  At one point Lola comes up to me and says that as well as young people having the vote, she hopes I won’t be offended if she suggests that old people should be stripped of theirs; presumably at the point at which their selfish desires override the best interests of the population at large!

When we eat the evening meal it is a triumph of deliciousness.  The slow-cooked pork is tasty and succulent, the large pan of dauphinoise potatoes cooked on the open fire yummy, and for good measure Lukie has made a spinach and mushroom niceness cooked in filo pastry.  With crunchy bar ice-cream and berries for afters.  We had hoped to have an outdoor viewing of The Martian before bed but suddenly it is all very late.  A quorum of us have a hasty game of Perudo before people melt away to their beds under canvas, leaving Nick and I the luxury of a real bed and some of the others squeezed into bunk beds in the cottage.

Sunday brings a lovely surprise when, just as we are about to eat our brunch cooked on the open fire, whose embers were successfully rekindled by Joel, Barney’s schoolfriend Andy Doran arrives with Paul Cutler.  Andy is over from Berkeley for the purposes of a conference but has used the opportunity to tarry a while in Europe.  Andy holds a special place in Nick’s and my affections: he masterminded and helped to execute the Hanging Gardens of Peperharow Road back in the 90s. For which we will be ever grateful.  After our hearty brunch comes riverside time, kayaks are retrieved from the barn and transported to the bank of the Thames by Shillingford Bridge.  There the young paddle up and down a stretch of water, and Nick has his first shot at paddling his own canoe for real.  Back at the cottage there is another round of feasting before we come to a parting of the ways……… until the next time.

As a nice little goody bag, Lukie hands me a plastic carrier full of their homegrown spinach and coriander.  I make a delicious pesto with the latter the following day: to the cups of coriander I add garlic, walnuts, olive oil and a little salt.  Over successive days we eat it with steamed carrots, tomato and courgette tart, fish pie.  It is a delicious alternative to the more conventional basil pesto and the little jars of it will be great to pull out of the freezer from time to time.  I must try and grow my own coriander next year.

 

Fishing off St Tropez: Oblade, Sar et Saupe

So………. to use common parlance, we arrive back at Frejus.  We have had a three and a half hour sail to the straits between Les Iles Lerins where we swam and ate bavettes before making a run for our home port.  We have a drink at La Terrasse before eating a light supper around avocadoes and a handful of prawns.  Before I go to bed I surf the internet and find various articles and commentaries amongst which is this piece in the Guardian regarding Boris Johnson and whether he has been outmanoeuvred:  if he runs for Tory leadership and fails to trigger Article 50 he is finished, if he does not run and abandons the field then he is finished, if he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will be over.  Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession, broken trade agreements.  Then he is also finished…………..  In actual fact things play out rather differently over the immediately succeeding days which just goes to prove that in politics you cannot predict anything.  And as I and others are prompted to say several times as events unfold in a way beyond the most fanciful of fiction “You couldn’t make it up…..”

On the morrow we have arrived at the penultimate day of our holiday with the Tailles.  Nick and I plan to take them out to lunch in one of the nicer restaurants in the marina.  After lunch we have some quiet time on the boat then Olivier turns up to help Francois and Nick install the new batteries.  Finally.  We give Olivier a thank you apero at La Terrasse before returning to the boat for supper.  I log on to read my messages and download thirty including one from Liz with a photo of Mum and the legend “She’s been all smiles since she got here!”  I know what this means 🙂

Next day we take the boat along to St Tropez.  Asked where I would like to go I make this suggestion which does not immediately find favour but this is because our hosts think I want to land and explore.  No thanks, I am happy if we anchor offshore and chill out.  As we are leaving the marina someone asks where Rachel is.  ??!!!  Well she is certainly not on the boat so we motor back to the pontoon and spend about twenty minutes searching for the errant cat who has hidden herself behind the console on a neighbouring boat.

Once anchored off St Trop in the Baie de Canebiers Francois and Nick try a bit of fishing both before and after lunch (Christine Street’s chicken curry) and are successful in landing enough for supper.  They catch three species: oblade, sar and saupe which are all bream-like fish which fillet nicely and give us a delicious supper.   Then there is the Joy of Packing.

A Change of Scene

It is not until 20th June, twelve days into our three-week sojourn with Francois and Fefe, that we are able to set off with a new battery charger fitted and some confidence that we can depend on ‘Till’.  We are going to head east as far as the Italian coast and our first stage will be Iles Lerins, one of Fefe’s haunts.  It is well into the afternoon when we pick up mooring ropes and leave Frejus marina.  The sea conditions are rather choppy so I settle down to listen to my current read on Audible and also play a few hands of BridgeBaron.

As we enter the strait between the two islands we phone Catamaran Pizza to order our supper.  The pizzas are large so Nick and I share a smoked salmon, spinach and crème fraiche one.  The young man who delivers our pizza is full of charm and effuses over our vintage wooden vessel.  It is true that when I look around at the other boats that have chosen this spot to moor for the night there are few such characterful boats as our own.  With our pizzas we also eat some of the succulent white asparagus that Fefe buys at the market and prepares for steaming.  With cheese and the gorgeous plump cherries that Francois loves so much we really have eaten well.

The next morning, before we head eastwards Francois and Nick plan a run ashore in the inflatable to dump our dechets.  They attach the outboard to the tender and pull the starter cord.  It starts but clearly is going nowhere under power.  blogIMG_4490 (3)They drift down tide and have to row back to investigate the problem.  The propeller is broken so Francois carries out a running repair with a split pin.  Back in the water they try again but the engine is having none of it.  Francois investigates its bowels with a screwdriver, probing underneath and “merde, alors” he manages to break a spark plug.  So, OK, the rubbish will travel with us to Villefranche-sur-mer.

I enquire and am told that our motor to Villefranche will take four hours.  We are going to sail past a string of nice resorts with popular and attractive beaches although we will be too far offshore to appreciate the topography of the various bays, promontories and small headlands.  Fefe has given me the book she keeps onboard which is full of colour photographs of the beaches of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var.  Entitled ‘Plages vues du ciel’ the book opens with a photo of Menton in the east and you page forwards (but are travelling back westwards) to Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer.  I keep getting muddled with this counter-intuitive layout!

Leaving Lesrins we look across to Cannes and we are sailing into the realm of the defaced Red Ensigns.  Such flags are sported by British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies: Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man.  Cue tax shenanigans.  And the boats which show these flags are flashy vessels and as they ply these waters they often pass us at stupid speeds whose wakes our stalwart little boat must ride.  It makes Francois furious.

Beyond Cannes we will go past Golfe Juan, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes and a long coastal sprawl emanating from Nice.   Stark and highly visible to us at some distance offshore is a complex of hugely ugly (to my mind) apartment blocks, the Marina-Baie des Anges.  Constructed between 1969 and 1993 it consists of a marina with the four blocks named Amiral, Barronet, Commodore and Ducal.  The style of architecture is meant to suggest waves.  Pressing on I notice aircraft flying in from the west and seeming to land on the beach.  Nice Airport is indeed very close to the coast and is a busy airport and in passing I see at least twenty aircraft landing, following each other at varying intervals from two to ten minutes.  I watch nearly as many take off, gain height and fly east or southeast, their silhouettes passing briefly over the dark flanks of the snow-capped Alps.

We are booked into the marina at Villefranche for five o’clock and slightly ahead of ourselves so we motor a bit further and drop anchor in the adjacent cove at Cap Ferrat.  It is tranquil with only one other boat there and so it is a treat to have a swim in the clear water.  As I lower myself into the water off the ladder I notice that my body is getting used to the first encounter with the water and within a minute I feel at one with the element and, particularly when the sun is shining on my face or back, it is joyful.

After a swim like that it is particularly good to have a warm meal, even on a hot sunny day, so the bavettes that Francois cooks for us go down a treat.  There is just time for a little rest before we lift the anchor and motor round a small headland and into Villefranche marina.  We have been allotted a numbered space on the pontoon which is just inside the entrance and could not be further from the Capitainerie.  Nick does his bit with a boathook and muscle power in fending off contact with the adjacent vessels but Francois’ feat of parking his boat is an amazing bit of manoeuvring.  The helm of a boat is slow to react to steering and I know from the few occasions I have taken over ‘Verity’ in Croatia that it is so easy to over-compensate.  Granted Francois has had his boat for twenty years but Fefe says she knows it is not an easy handle and when you are trying to squeeze into a place with very little wriggle-room fore and aft it is all the more amazing to watch. blogIMG_4521 (2)blogIMG_4523 (2)

Villefranche is very beautiful to my eyes, its buildings clinging to the steep sides of the hill and cliffs that descend to the harbour.  There are some very prestigious-looking residences and the houses go right to the top.  It reminds me a bit of the Amalfi coast.  Fefe has talked of finding a restaurant where she remembers they serve good tapas.  She has warned us several times that is is “tres cher”.

So we walk into town along the Cliffside path of worn limestone cobbles with the sea and a narrow rocky foreshore to our right.  It is a pleasant stretch with some vegetation types including an ancient cactus that has initials and hearts scored into its ‘trunk’.  blogIMG_4527 (2) We find the tapas place that Fefe remembers but when we are show the tapas options on the menu the meat and fish choices are very lack-lustre so we end up ordering a ‘plat’.   blogIMG_4528 (2)I choose steamed cod with a lovely selection of vegetables, mussels, whelks and a hard-boiled egg.  What makes the dish fab is the lovely pot of aioli that goes with it.  It is very pleasant sitting right on the quay where there is an arc of tables with each restaurant having its allotted harbour frontage to colonise.

I take in the ambiance and enjoy.  We are going to spend two nights here.