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.

 

White Knuckle Ride in a Biscuit Tin

The Mistral has blown up again and we must wait for Olivier to come and advise on the matter of the boat batteries.  I have rounded up some small viennoiseries from the boulangerie by the marina for breakfast.   The morning will be spent working round the three men who have the deck in the cabin up and are poking around in the boat’s bowels.  It is established that the problem is not with the batteries but with the charger and a new one must be ordered with minimum delay.  blogIMG_6064 (2)Cue leafing through catalogues.

Today Nick and I are invited to share a celebratory lunch with Francois and Fefe to mark their 47th wedding anniversary.  The chosen venue is a Vietnamese restaurant called Chez Diem in the centre of Frejus.  Francois has borrowed Olivier’s wife’s car in order to drive us there.  It is a small, squarish model into which we squeeze for what will be a sometimes hair-raising trip.  Francois is already a bit stressed by the matter of trying to find a mail order outlet that will enable him to order a charger and have it delivered to the marina.  This has involved attempting to place an order with an English supplier which has a depot nearby.

We set off a bit uncertainly, lurching between lanes whilst making last minute decisions according to traffic flow.  It’s a bit like dodgems and it doesn’t help when Francois takes a call from England on his mobile.  We drive a circuit of Centre Ville, rattling around in our biscuit tin, searching in vain for a parking space.  As the car stalls at each junction there are muttered curses of “merde” and “putain” from the driver’s seat and “Poulet, Poulet fait attention” from the seat behind him.

The rain begins to fall and when we finally find a parking space and spill out the Tailles then decide that we don’t really have time to do the market before lunch so we get back into the car to try and find a ‘parking’ nearer the restaurant.  Nick and I exchange conspiratorial glances.  Rarely is Nick fazed although he has never found it easy to be a passenger.  In the event we now find ourselves in the queues of traffic we were trying to avoid in order to gain the centre of Frejus.  Eventually we find the carpark which is adjacent to ‘Chez Diem’.

All is made thoroughly worthwhile by a superb Vietnamese lunch where Fefe and I start with crispy Beignets of Crevettes,  and some shared Nems.  We call these latter Spring Rolls in the UK.  I choose Squid Hong Kong style, spicy and tender.  As we eat and drink we become increasingly mellow.  blogIMG_5349 (2)This meal carries me right through the afternoon and into the evening.  At supper-time a hard-boiled egg, some tomato and leaf salad is all that I need.

Whilst we have been with the Tailles at Frejus I have been following the news from England and in particular the progress of the campaigning for the forthcoming EU Referendum.  The most recent polls are showing a tilt towards the Leave campaign which I find sad and depressing.  I am feeling a real sense of displacement here in the south of France.  With the electrical glitsches that have arisen on the boat we are pretty much grounded.  Nevertheless we are able to get to sea for a limited run because Olivier has lent us a charger to boost the batteries and give us enough juice for a few hours at sea.  We don’t plan to venture far afield but sail east towards Agay where we find a sheltered anchorage.  Francois cooks us delicious bavettes for lunch which we eat with boiled potatoes in their skins and one of my basil and tomato salads.  Crashing out on my bunk, the next thing I know we are moored back in the marina and there are gales of laughter emanating from the cockpit.

Sitting in the cockpit at the end of the afternoon I happen to glance up at the small screen where French news is being broadcast.  We learn that Jo Cox, an English MP and rising star in the Labour Party, and who is very pro EU, has been shot and killed.  This is a tragedy that has far-reaching implications.  There are many moving tributes including a tear-jerking item by her husband Brendan.  She was evidently a truly good person and was murdered because of what she believed in and worked for.  This makes me very sad and I have already been feeling unsettled and somewhat pessimistic as we approach voting day.  It is the most important vote that I am likely to make in my lifetime and perhaps the most significant historical moment for my country too.

Supper on the boat is a muted affair and before I retire to my bunk with my current read, a Mo Hayder thriller, I mix up the marinade for the chicken joints we bought at the supermarket for tomorrow’s lunch which will be Jamie Oliver’s Gurkha Chicken.

 

 

Bass Notes

My husband is a fisherman.  He fishes mostly out of St Vaast where we live some of the time.  At the weekend he went fishing with friends, it was a long distance fishing trip, twenty miles to the northeast.  They were two boats.  There were four fishermen in total and they fished Pollack, mackerel, whiting and one enormous bass.  It measured 75 cms and weighed 4.5 kilos.  It was caught on an English rig using a mackerel bait.  Such a fish is a prize and an act of generosity is to share such bounty.

So we found ourselves chez Tailles on Tuesday lunchtime where Dede, having caught this splendid fish, had given Francois the responsibility and pleasure of cooking it for a gathering of friends.  This wonderful fish was filleted, descaled and then stuffed with lobster and crab and finally wrapped en croute before being baked in the oven.  Before we tucked into our share, we ate an entrée of pink grapefruit and crevette roses, this having been composed by Odette.  The combination of the grapefruit and the prawns was impeccably colour-coordinated but even more importantly, it tasted delicious.

It was a very convivial occasion and I was delighted to have an appropriate anecdote for the occasion.  Rather a letter to read out of Nick’s copy of The Week.  Translating as I went the letter (originally published in The Times, ran as follows:

‘You flagged up your complete seafood guide with the words: “Lovely lobster, but what can I do with it?!”  In the early 1970s, I was living in Dublin.  My neighbour was presented with a live lobster and had no idea how to prepare it.  He put it on the lawn and shot it’.

This would never happen in France, not then and not now!  The passion for seafood is deeply embedded in French culture.  I have never understood why we, across that narrow tract of water that separates the British Isles from its European neighbours on our shared continental shelf at the present day, have never come to espouse a tradition of eating all fruits from the sea, not just bony fish with a few members of the shark family thrown into the pot.

There we are.  Things are changing.  Oysters have always been available but for many have been just too yucky.  Until relatively recently they tended to be offered for sale in exclusive oyster bars in London and some further flung satellites, such as English’s  the restaurant and oyster bar nestled in Little London of Brighton.  Oysters are farmed more widely now and they feature on fish counters in supermarkets.  Similarly nets of mussels can be bought over the supermarket counter and their popularity gathered momentum, it seems to me, when pubs started putting moules marinieres on their menus.  So in my lifetime I have seen a resurgence in seafood eating in my native land.

I was fortunate to have a father who not only enjoyed fishing, and transferred this enthusiasm to my husband, but was exceedingly fond of cockles.  blogIMG_6278 (2)When he was moved to Portland Naval Base in the 1960s we, as a family, found ourselves adjacent to the sand flats at Smallmouth, Portland Harbour where we enjoyed the bonus of a double low tide.  blogIMG_6280 (3)On the occasions of the low spring tides, and for four hours, we could paddle across these sands gathering all manner of Venus bivalves, razor clams, and cockles.  My father had a childhood tradition for eating cockles and he would go and gather beauties from Smallmouth.  He had his own method for soaking the cockles in their shells, in fresh water with oatmeal to encourage the cockles to purge themselves.  Then they would be boiled until the shells snapped open, the little mollusc bodies would then be removed and popped into a jar with a little vinegar.

At that time I was in the salad days of my growing enthusiasm, and dare I say, talent for shelling.  In addition to the above species I was able to add some beautiful rarities to my collection, notably Tellina squalida and Pandora albidablogAngulusblog100112_pandora (2)Latin names are changed by taxonomists in time, but these are the names that resonate and transport me back to those heady days when you could wade through those shallow waters inside Portland Harbour  searching for the familiar outlines and colours of those lovely shells.

At the end of a special day I find myself enjoying a new experience.  Dede, he who caught the magnificent fish that we ate at lunchtime, has invited me to join him, his granddaughter Auranne and a few neighbours for a late night swim off La Chapelle near the St Vaast boatyard.  I have not swum at 10 o’clock in the evening before, nor from the promenade along there.  At high tide you can descend the white wooden staircase and lower yourself into the deep!  After a warm day and with a balmy evening, the sea felt positively tepid.  With quite a bit of undulating movement, the sea rocked us as we swam in a tight group, keeping an eye on our neighbours for their security and one’s own.

 

Juicy White Asparagus and Marmalade Cocktails

There is an issue with the outboard motor and Francois and Nick need to give it some attention.  This is a protracted business and involves consultation with Olivier the marina mechanic who advises various measures.  The problem stems from the fact that the motor was dropped into the sea 😦 and although it has since been serviced it still does not work properly.  The various adjustments are made and the motor is once more in working order.

Lunch today is simple.  Fefe has carefully peeled some fat white asparagus spears.  They have the girth and length of those little wooden rolling pins you get in kids’ pastry sets!  Poached to perfection they are then ready for dipping into a homemade mousseline (a mayonnaise made with egg white).  To follow we have a few slices of boiled saussison and some boiled Rouge Cherie potatoes.  My afternoon slips away on my bunk and it is late afternoon when I wake.  The Mistral, which has been promised these past few days, is rising.  I first notice then we go round to our bit of beach for a swim.  The water is unpleasantly choppy and there is detritus floating close to the shoreline.  IMG_4416After our swim we rejoin the others and have an Aperol Spritz – a cocktail of slightly bitter orange liqueur, Prosecco, tonic water and slices of orange and I love its marmaladey taste.  Supper on board will be easy, gravadlax, salads from yesterday, this preceded by air dried ham and melon.  This day has followed a very Mediterranean diet and I am beginning to feel that I am shedding an ounce or two 🙂

During the night the wind moans like the rush that precedes an underground train before it clears the tunnel and pulls alongside the platform.  And there are some intermittent gusts which wake me but I read myself back to sleep.  There are mini-croissants for breakfast and passion fruit.  These days I skip my cup of Red Bush tea.  Without china cups it is a bit of a hardship!  I go straight into the coffee and I like the brand we are using very much: Velour Noir.

This day is mini-market day and we are after some fish.  There has been some discussion between Francois and Fefe about ‘os de seiche’ which I understand to be cuttlebones.  I am wondering where this fits into our provisioning until I suddenly understand that these are in face cloud formations, ‘nuages lenticulaires’ which are typical of Mistral skies.  blogIMG_6055 (2)

At the little market by the post office we buy some tuna steaks and some large prawns, olives, pickled garlic cloves, fruit and saladstuffs.  Thus provided for we wend our way back to ‘Till’ via the bar.  I suddenly think how good it would be to have a tomato juice for a change and this becomes the first of many that I will drink during our sojourn in the south of France.

A swim before lunch is required and the sea has calmed down and the water is surprisingly clear and clean but the temperature strikes chilly.  blogIMG_6049 (2)Yet another good Mediterranean lunch is consumed with the tuna steaks being cooked to the barest minimum.

When we start to prepare our supper later on, we make the first of a number of unwelcome discoveries.  The ice box that we are using to chill wine and surplus supplies has stopped working.  blogIMG_6051 (2)It is apparently ten years old so Francois is minded to buy another.  However when we discover later in the evening that the fridge is not working either this requires some deductive thought and eventually we notice that the boat lights are somewhat dim which leads to an inspection of the boat’s batteries.  Putting this information together it appears that the batteries are not charging sufficiently to meet the electrical demands being made on the boat.  Some more fixes will be necessary.  Olivier will have to be consulted again and probably some parts will have to be ordered.  This will involve changes of plan with regard to our sailing activities.  We have already lost time for our departure from Frejus to make the crossing to Corsica, the prime objective of our three-week stay with the Tailles on their boat.  But we remain optimistic that we can cut and run and make the 18-hour crossing leaving enough time to explore Corsica, maybe even drop down to the island of Elba and still be back in Frejus by 30th June, the date for which our train tickets have been booked.  So in the meantime there is nothing for it but to clink glasses and enjoy the good food Francois has prepared for us.