Fete des Voisins, Sorrel Soup, Sole facon Taille

We’ve barely been back two days and already the tempo, colour, shape of our lives has changed.   We had decided to book ourselves onto an afternoon ferry to give a bit more time to ready the house and garden for an absence.  I had left the matter of moving pots to shelter until the morning which was, with the benefit of hindsight, an unwise decision.  It was extremely hot work and I had to keep breaking off to cool off indoors.  I did have another task which I should not have delayed and this was the matter of booking myself and sister Lis into the Autumn Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.  This would be the last day on which we could benefit from the Early Bird saving, a worthwhile £30.  So I settled to do this but was somewhat thrown when required to upload a mugshot, with some specific requirements regarding background etc., in order to process our bookings.  This took time and fortunately Nick was able to provide a photo of his sister taken at a family wedding and fortunately she carries her years very well.  I took a hasty selfie which was horrible but would do.

So we left the house and I sat, very overheated, in the front of the car with my legs wrapped round a large hanging basket which might as well travel with us, as languish at WK.  Many more containers were travelling with us in the back of the car.  Our crossing was uneventful and we arrived at 104 with just enough time to unload cold stuff into the freezer and fridge, and the rest of our cargo outside or in the house.

We were expected at Le Vast for an evening barbecue and French pool for the men.  We inspected Alain’s brood of hens, and his two lady turkeys in a small separate compound.  One for Christmas and one for New Year apparently 🙂  We also admired his polytunnel/greenhouse in which he was growing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.  All very fine plants.  We sat with our mutual friends the Poulets and Bougouins and ate whelks with mayonnaise, mini quiches and sausages and pork fillet chops.  Cheese and Brigitte’s fruit salad and finally we could rise from the table for some pool.  Noe had been ensconced on the sofa in front of the screen watching cartoons and I joined him and tried hard not to fall asleep.

Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours at Le Dranguet, took two dips and rounded up some terra cotta pieces with Noe for the construction I have planned to make with him.  Nick and I made a short excursion to the new Carrefour supermarket which has opened up since we were last in St V and then I cooked a stuffed half marrow, one of two from the garden at Le Vast.

On Sunday we were due at Fete des Voisins at midday.  We went last year and met many of the people along our stretch of road.  This year the format was changed to a daytime event involving a BBQ preceded by oysters, platters of tuna or cuttlefish tomato salad, couscous.  And several different cakes/desserts.  How the French love their puddings!  We sat with the Osmonts, Huguette, M. Dubois.  Nick produced his cork trick to entertain a youngster next to him who was there with his widower grandfather.  There was singing by the old-timers.  One of the attendees, noted for her cookery, asks me for a recipe for scones, in French.  At a suitable moment we headed for home but not before we had been exhorted to return in the evening for aperos and leftovers.  Wishing to be neighbourly we agreed.  I could not resist the cuttlefish, or the chips.

Monday and I start the day with a bit of gardening and I knock up a sorrel soup mix.  (I am somewhat surprised to see an unfamiliar plant in one of the troughs I have sown with tall annuals!)  We are due chez Taille for aperos at 11.30h.  I have a feeling where this will lead and sure enough we are invited to a very light lunch.  Having quaffed bubbly et avoir grignote sur des bouquets, grises et crevettes, Francois produced a fine sole prepared as lightly floured and fried goujonettes with fine green beans.  Just that.  As we leave I am surprised to hear Nick issue an invitation for Wednesday.  We decide to throw in the Tuttles for good measure.  I want to make it simple and light.  After a few appetisers I serve our guests my beignets de poisson, Pollack strips in a light beer batter and am over the moon when Francois tucks in with gusto and he is delighted because I have evidently found a way of serving this fish to Fefe which she will enjoy eating.

On Thursday, in the morning, Anne and I drive to Confort Pour Tous at Reville.  This is a point of accumulation of goods arising from house clearances and donated articles.  I am after some bowls and dishes to use as draining dishes under my garden pots.  I find a selection of dishes that will work and we have completed our mission when I just happen to spot a rather nice rocking chair.  It is cane and bamboo, evidently oldish and nice because it has a wide seat.  I’m inclined to sound Nick out and then I learn that the chair only came in that morning and is unlikely to survive Friday and the weekend.  I buy it.

I have invited Christine to come over  in the afternoon as she would like a lesson on making Thai Red Curry fish cakes.  We make up a batch each, cocktail-size, and whilst she runs her tray over the road to put the little appetisers in the freezer I set out cards for a hand of Spite and Malice.  It is fine enough to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy our pleasant interlude.  We make an arrangement to play another hand on Saturday, when Christine will give me her master class in making the mini savoury croissants she often brings as canapes.  But during the evening I receive a phone-call from England which will change all that.

 

The Sound of a Cock Porping

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

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

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

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

 

Chickens, Piglets and Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A Time for Reconnecting and Saying Goodbye

A couple of days after our return from South Africa Nick and I drive to Bath to meet up with one of Nick’s long-standing and very good friends.  He and Nick worked together, in the sense that John as a lawyer worked for companies that employed Nick over a period of years.  Think the old Stalin and Genghis Khan joke and you have their political standpoints.  The last time Stalin took on Genghis Khan was when we sailed with Nigel in Croatia…………  Ostensibly we are meeting in Bath so that we can eat fish and chips at John’s favourite chippie.  But first it seems right that we should sing for our supper so we meet at the gates of the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden with a view to walking. DSC00010 (2)40 It is a beautiful 18th century landscape garden with one of only four Palladian bridges of the Prior Park design in the world.   The garden was created by local entrepreneur Ralph Allen, with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and the poet Alexander Pope.  The garden is set in a sweeping valley where visitors can enjoy magnificent views of Bath. Restoration of the ‘Wilderness’ has reinstated the Serpentine Lake, Cascade and Cabinet.

Afterwards we head back into the city for our date with Seafoods Traditional Fish and Chips.  We are a bit early so we find a bar and order the cocktail of the day.  It was over-priced and over the top and I cannot remember the ingredients although sitting here at the screen at something short of 5 p.m. I could really fancy one now.  The fish and chips lives up to expectations and we drive home after a spell of quality time with good friends.

The ensuing week is social because we have been away and have friends to reconnect with.   The day after our F&C moment we host a Bookish Lunch at TOW with the Shaxsons, Celia Cas and Jan D.  At the end of the week we do a Jigsaw Evening in which the McGoverns participate.  It’s the Bookish jigsaw, the fun bookshelves with Pun Titles.

There’s more Bookish stuff the following week when Chrissie hosts our soup lunch and chat.  Fellow conchologist and garrulant (you read this word here first) comes to visit on Tuesday.  We talk shells all day.  He lives in Lancashire and seldom travels south and is staying with mutual friends near Wimborne.  He invites us back for a curry at their home on Friday and we engineer that we can accept this on the basis that it will be an early meal and we will be done and dusted in time to pick up Anne P from Poole as she arrives from Cherbourg ready for our willow workshop with Kim.

The day after Ian’s visit I get up early to drive to Cornwall for the funeral of my dear friend Stella Turk.  It is a humanist ceremony which I so connect with.  No singing of hymns in thin reedy voices but readings and tributes from friends and family.  The wicker casket sits before us in the airy chapel perched on a hill and I look through the windows out onto the landscape that Stella knew so well because her cottage is a stone’s throw from where we are sitting. StellaTurkCrem There are many attendees and I meet up with some friends and associates from my marine biological recording days, Richard Warwick, Keith Hiscock, some great and good from the Cornish Wildlife Trust.  They all look so much older, I suppose they think the same of me.  Pam T finds me and points out Jayne Herbert, she who has compiled a selection of Stella’s verse and printed a few copies.

I am cornered several times and by the time I can escape so has Jayne.  We later establish contact via email.  We may collaborate on getting more of Stella’s verse into print.  For the time being Jayne has a page devoted to Stella’s poetry on her website.  At the end of a long day I drive back to Hawkchurch where I am fed and have a chance to catch up with my sister.  Before I leave the next morning we walk a bit in the private woodlands owned by her neighbour.

 

Feast and Family

Tuesday morning finds us in the dining room of the main house at Val D’Or ordering our breakfast.  A tomato and mushroom omelette has become my standard fare.  All this gourmandise must come to an end when we get back to England.  I am already aware of an expanding waistline. 

With our bags packed and loaded into the vehicle we head back to Cape Town and to the airport.  We are going to take a flight to Johannesburg to meet up with Ryan’s family.  We are crossing the lunching hour so we settle in Soaring Hawk Spur Steak Ranch, a carnivore’s delight.  I have developed quite a taste for peri peri chicken livers so I take the opportunity to order it yet another time, only to have my head blown off.  I am very fond of chilli and have a high tolerance but there are limits.  I won’t be ordering it again in a hurry!  Ted chooses a florid dessert, which evidently is much to his liking!  IMG_6775 (2)40.jpg

It is a short flight and once arrived we pick up another hire vehicle and drive out to Ruimsig where we are booked into the Afrique Boutique Hotel .  A sloping driveway takes us to the entrance to the hotel and we enter a building whose décor, ambiance and views suits us very well.  Nick and I have a suite which incorporates a bathroom area, all laid out in open plan.  Privacy will have to be booked with each other in advance!  There is a bottle of fizz and Quality Street chocolates, IMG_5807 (2)40a lovely retro touch and it rings the changes from the nougat that we have often found on our pillows elsewhere during this stay.

The Perryman clan are going to come to the hotel for dinner and they duly arrive.  Nick and I are meeting up with Des and Ron and meet for the first time Ryan’s sister Belinda, his brother in law John and their son Aidan.  The buffet meal is excellent and I could drown myself in the large tureen of creamy mussels 

The following day we are invited chez Perryman, a short drive to their home at Witpoortjie near Roodepoort and where we are given the mother of all stomach-stretching braais.  

It is a very convivial occasion we eat far too much and I end up having to leave some of my meat which pains me to do so.  It is a good family occasion and we return to the hotel for another night and tomorrow the best part of my South African adventure will begin.  I already know in advance it will be the best bit, fulfilling as it will, one of the items right at the top of my bucket list.

 

 

 

An Oasis of Calm

Nestled between towering mountains in the beautiful Cape winelands lies the magnificent Franschhoek Valley. It is reputed to be the food and wine heartland of the country with its splendid wine estates and top chefs create world-class cuisine. The scenery is breath-taking on a grand scale.

Spectacular vineyards cover the mountain slopes and the valley, settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots, who brought with them their age-old French wine and food culture.

Arriving at Val d’Or Wine estate we are drawn into a beautiful and tranquil setting at the foot of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains.  The reception area of the main house is pleasantly cool as we check in.  IMG_5797 (2)40We are shown to the villa, a serene and spacious building looking out to the vista of Groot Drakenstein Mountains on the other side of the valley.DSC01417 (2)40 Nick and I have a calming green bedroom which acts as a conduit to the hues of the foliage of plants, shrubs and trees and to the lush lawns of the garden outside our French doors.  The grounds are laid out to lawn, flower borders, shrubberies with two ponds adjacent to a swimming pool.  We are going to ‘eat in’ so Charlotte and Ryan drive along to Franschhoek to buy meats for a braai and salads.  We have the bubbly that we bought at Vergenoegd.  In the mellow warmth of the early evening, we eat by the pool. DSC01419 (2)

We wake on our first morning in this idyll and since we are in wine country a winery visit or two must be made.  But first we walk up to the main house to eat omelettes.  DSC01449 (2)40Thence into Franschhoek town which strikes me as oh so French and I then learn that the town’s name means ‘French Corner’.  Here there are lovely shops including several art galleries.  Teddy poses with another outside one of them.  IMG_5756 (2)40

In one of these the Perrymans find a pair of pictures which are, in fact, photographs with much of the detail stripped out.  One is of elephants, the other is a hippo.  They will sit very happily alongside other Africana that they have in their home in England.  In the same shop I see a occasional table which I like very much, made as it is out of plate glass shelves and driftwood.IMG_5761 (2)40

We have a drink in the bar which is the old Railway Station then visit La Motte which is one of the wineries on the main road into the town.  IMG_5782 (2)40Seated at hand-made tasting tables, a welcoming tasting counter or on comfortable sofas, visitors have an unimpeded view of the working and maturation cellars through large glass panels.  We paid a sum to taste seven different wines, probably drank far too much of each and ended up ordering two of the whites and one of the reds.  IMG_5766 (2)40Forty-eight bottles between us.  A bonus was that we could pay in Euros, which gave us a cheaper price and the wines could be delivered from Germany to France.IMG_5778 (2)40

Back at the villa we rested and then spent some time around the pool, accompanied by the lovely dog, Bagel, who belongs to the owner of the estate.  In the evening we went to a restaurant in Franschhoek specialising in South African cuisine.  Aptly named Ryan’s Kitchen the establishment rates no. 2 out of 51 on Trip Advisor.  Ever intrigued by new dishes I chose the Prawn Tapioca “Pudding”, prawn crackers, chopped chives, charred lemon gel to start with.

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I think I am probably one of the easiest people to feed that I know, but I did have to admit to myself that I found the frog-spawn appearance and imagined consistency a bit unnerving!  I know I am on safe territory when I choose Roast Duck Breast, Honey and Dukkah glaze, spiced chocolate & cashew nut puree’s, roast Kohlrabi for my main course.

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The following morning we must check out and return to Cape Town to take a flight to Johannesburg.  IMG_5792 (2)40The next stage of our holiday is going to begin.  Before we leave Val D’Or I take a walk around the grounds and take some photos.  IMG_5748 (2)40The most appealing area is focussed around the pond where there are numerous weaver bird nests suspended in the trees.  DSC01427 (2)40

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With my passion for basketry in all possible materials I find the bird-made structures beautiful.  I’d willingly give one houseroom.

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It’s time to give thanks and move on………………

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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.