Wig and Ian

A few days after the Duke’s visit we were pleased to receive Wig and Ian.  Wig and I go back decades, five in fact.  We met when we signed up for a bi-lingual secretarial course which was being offered by a college in my home town at the time, Weymouth.  We have kept in touch over the years and last year we celebrated our fifty years of friendship at the home of another contemporary. DSC00128 (2)

Whilst they were with us we enjoyed a bit of walking and some good occasions around the dining table.  Sunshine allowed us to manage some meals out of doors.  As a thank you our guests treated us to an evening chez Fuchsias where we dined well, seated at the round table in the conservatory which looks out onto the gardens.  DSC05248 (2)From my kitchen I offered them seafood bisque, fish pie, scallops en croute and oysters.  We spent a happy time.WigIanNickblog

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Back in Winterborne K we enjoyed some quality time with villagers.  The Roses laid on a Bookish Lunch to which we, the Shaxsons, Sallie O and Jan D were invited.  Everyone enjoyed the occasion.  In the evening I joined my Bridge bunch then on Saturday evening we met Christine and Malcolm for a curry at Namaste Gurkha in Blandford.  The restaurant is bijou, the food was good and extremely good value.  We met ostensibly for Christine and I to talk Books but in the event Nick hijacked the evening and he and Christine talked politics and current affairs.  That was a turn up for the Books!

Flight from Orkney for Date with Fuchsias

After a stimulating week of shells in archaeology and shells on the seashore I was nevertheless ready to board my flight home.  Before we left Kirkwall for Sonia and Terry to drop me off at the airport I popped into the Tankerness House Gardens which houses the Orkney Museum, next door to our pad, to take some photos of the folly in the grounds.  The small folly with a strange pointy roof is decorated with shells and known as Groatie House, which has an interesting history. I transferred from my Kirkwall flight to one at Aberdeen that would drop me at Heathrow.  Nick met the flight and we drove home.

With just a day to prepare for a crossing to France I unpacked, put my conference papers and some of the shells that I collected to one side and started to think about putting a bag together for St Vaast.  This would contain a minimum of clothes since we are to travel on Monday with Maddy and Andrew and return to Dorset on Friday in order to take in the Conch. Soc. AGM.

Maddy and Andrew arrived at TOW on Sunday evening and first thing on Monday we boarded the good ship Barfleur bound for Cherbourg and our second home.  BarfleurJourneyDuring that week Nick and Andrew put in two good days of logging.  Nick and Francois have bought a second beech tree that had to be felled because it is now dangerously close to the main road between Quettehou and Valognes.  At the end of the week Nick and Andrew spent the morning at Le Vast helping Alain remove the cladding of ivy from a henhouse.  Meanwhile Maddy and I did a long walk from St Vaast to Pointe de Saire, via the village of Jonville and returning along the high water mark from the Pont de Saire and then retracing our steps along the beach wall all the way back to the town beach.  It is a good 12 km.

The visit highlight must be dinner at Fuchsias.  Andrew had kindly offered to treat us all, it being his birthday.  The new menus, at least new to Nick and I, are excellent and truly good value.  AndrewFuchsiasFuchsias meals are characterised, for me, by small quantities of a diverse array of ingredients which go to make up a beautiful plate of food.  Andrew pronounced the meal the best he had ever had!

We returned to WK on Friday night and as it turned out the day we drove to the Natural History Museum for the AGM was fraught, very stressful and resulted in Nick experiencing an alarming episode in the middle of the meeting.  Fearing a TIA I watched Nick’s contorting face whilst supporting him in his chair.  It can only have lasted a minute but it was a frightening one but I managed to extract a good even smile from Nick when he came to, which indicated that a stroke type seizure was unlikely.  Subsequently after hearing my description of what took place and what Nick remembered of the episode, both his French and English doctor diagnosed a vasovagal event, posh term for a fainting fit.

By Sunday afternoon we were back in St Vaast to await the arrival of Wig and Ian.

I Bump into Mme Belin

The latter half of November was spent in Normandy.  We enjoyed an evening meal with our English friends who live near Crasville and came away with the promise of a lamb for our freezer.  This, apparently, to be barter for the fishing expeditions that Stephen has enjoyed with Nick through the year.  Bri and Georgy came to us for supper and a game of cards but by the end of the evening my pack of cards remained unshuffled.

A highlight of our sojourn was to treat Fefe and Francois to lunch at les Fuchsias.  It was to celebrate Fefe’s birthday and the fact that she had undergone some surgery for a replacement hip.  Not a week later she took a tumble down the stairs and, remarkably, such remedial work as had been carried out by the surgeon remained intact.

They live in Rue Verrue and this was where the lowlight of our current stay occurred.  It was raining and I wanted to buy a couple of recipe requisities at Maison Gosselin.  I was in the car and the road was tightly packed with parked cards on both sides of the road.  I found a space in the narrowest part of the road, which would be a bit tight but with enough manoeuvring I knew my car would fit.  I successfully inserted the car into the available space managing to stay clear of the bumpers of the cars fore and aft.  Unfortunately I had not noticed that in the process of executing my positioning of the car I had repeatedly scraped the side of the car parked on the other side of the road. The driver in the car behind, who had patiently waited for me to clear the way drove ahead, stopped and got out of his car and came over to me and pointed out my carelessness.  He had apparently been tooting his horn to attract my attention but the music playing on the CD player had masked the noise of his horn.  When the owner of the car came out of the shop she was not best pleased but, in short, after exchange of names, addresses and later insurance company details Nick and I were invited for apero and parted friends with the promise of dinner when she and her husband return from a spell in Paris.

Rather than end on a lowlight I wrap this current blog post up with a gallery of pictures taken during the Cholsey interval at our house in August.

On Bricole avec les Bradleys

With the departure of the Cholseys we need to turn the house around for the arrival of Marian, Katharine and David.  Their stay at 104 is a more or less annual event and we look forward to welcoming them and we know that they enjoy their down time in St Vaast.  As in recent years we receive them and spend a night together, then Nick and I head for Paris where we can bed down in the apartment that belongs to our friends and good neighbours, the Tuttles.    We love their little basement flat which is hidden in a gated and wardened complex of apartments on the edge of Pigalle.  We have planned an itinerary which will take us north and south on train journeys to towns we do not know.

Meanwhile the Bradleys settle into their usual rooms and, I expect, look forward to some R and R since they are all working people.  During their sojourn in St Vaast they will take time out to make their own journey of discovery and drive themselves to Versailles where, after their visit, they will spend a night in a hotel nearby.  Towards the end of their holiday Nick and I return to St Vaast to spend a couple more days in their company.

On the day of our return we are treated to dinner at Au Moyne de Saire, the favoured restaurant of the Perrymans but which we have always placed second to dinner at Les Fuchsias.  But the Bradleys ate at Les Fuchsias to celebrate David’s birthday the evening before and from their account of their meal Nick and I get the impression that fings ain’t wot they used to be at this famous hotel restaurant which is so favoured by visiting yachties.  Its name travels before its reputation.  Many of our English friends have heard of it.   We will have to check it out when we return in October.  As it is we have a thoroughly good meal at Reville.

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On Monday, their last day we are going to have Anne and Francois over for a salad supper.  Katharine will be able to practice her excellent French and Marian and Anne swap notes on crafty interests that they have in common.  During the afternoon we decide to have an outing and visit the snail farm at Fermanville.  Called Le P’tit Gris des Moulins it consists of a very basic compound within which the common Garden Snail is contained and reared.  Apart from providing the snails with a bran mixture to add to their normal diet the ‘elevage’ is one of the most basic I have seen.  However, before the big reveal in the small compound, we make a circuit of the woodland and glades.  Painted boards carrying paintings and text expound the life history of the humble snail, its predators.  There are verses, facts and myth.    We end our visit in the small shop where assorted snaily preserves and condiments are sold.  Time is pressing so I forgo the pleasure of buying a pot of something to wow or horrify a future hapless visitor until another time.

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And so it is Tuesday and time to wrap it up.  Our computers have received the Bradley health cure, a spring clean of the innards and all manner of tweakings and downloadings have taken place.  Nick has probably learnt a new trick or two.  We have had some good eating together and a catch up on each other’s lives and I think we all hope it will not be another year before we find an opportunity to convene.

Six Go Summerly in St Vaast

Four very dear friends came to stay with us in St V.  We go back to the days of babysitting groups when we paid each other in plain postcards, each worth one hour.  In those days we stay-at-home mums would commit to sit for each other, counting on our husbands’ return from a day at the office in time to abandon our own children to their respective fathers.  We had our babies in our 20s and they are now in their 40s with their own offspring.  Now our daughters have their own careers and the couples engineer their own arrangements. Grandparents often feature………..

What we all did in St Vaast is we walked, we visited Chateau Toqueville, we bought a bit of wine, we read our books (4 of us are book groupies), we ate au bord de la mer and at Hotel Fuchsias and Nick and I feted our friends and their French opposite numbers with an evening of Entente Cordiale chez nous.  French and English banter circled the dining table and amongst memorable moments I treasure Georgy’s compliment to William when he said that William had something of Winston Churchill about him.  With his impeccable accent and affable gravitas William is a gift to Anglophiles like Georges.

On the day of departure we went to Le Dranguet where brave souls bathed after which we repaired to Le Debarcadere to complete the St Vaast experience.  Au revoir lovely people…..

Living a Discombobulation

When I first met the word discombobulation it was with mocking disbelief that such a motley and improbable collection of syllables could amount to a real word.  It means a confusion which is perhaps stretching a point as my life is rather more of a disarticulation but that don’t sound half so quirky.

We moved into Winterborne K on 10th September since when (it now being the 29th) I have slept 8 nights in our new home.  I’ve been see-sawing between the old homestead, France and the old homestead and with luck I will tip up in Dorset on Sunday and bed down for a few weeks during which I expect to cross the final frontier and unpack all that is necessary to commission my Shell – this being the work-room which is a separate annexe and to which all items conchological will be banished.

After my first spell back at 88, culminating in a Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration in Oxford we spent 4 days in France with Maddy and Andrew.  Long-planned, this trip took place and the house was still in good order, the dry rot treatment works as yet unstarted.  We managed a musical soiree with our neighbours for which Andrew had brought his squeezebox (accordion), a day visiting some of the D-Day Landing sites and dinner on the last evening at Hotel Fuchsias where the ‘plats’ were as beautiful and toothsome as ever.

Guests like Maddy and Andrew make you feel you have been on holiday and early on Friday morning Nick drove them to the west Cotentin whence they took a ferry to Sark, where their daughter is working.  We had had a fiasco with a mislaid pet passport which turned up before Nick got back, but too late to reinstate Plan A, so Rooney stayed in France where he will continue to be fattened up by our very caring neighbour 😦

On Saturday we are Dorset-bound to whisk the house into order before the Hackneys arrive after the journey from hell.  As Dan ruefully commented on Facebook that day, “London is broken.”  Katie and the boys came out on Sunday morning then after a very early lunch we drove out to Canford School to watch a rugby match played in memory of my nephew Max.

On Sunday evening the Hackneys had another protracted journey home and have resolved that future trips to Winterborne K and home again should take place very early in the morning.  I drove to Heathrow to pick up the new owners of 88, fresh from a week of sun and fun, and am staying with them now, till the weekend when I might just be able to escape to Winterborne K.  Not before time my spouse would say.

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The Eaters and the Eaten (or, Charles Behaving Madly!)

On 30th December Charlotte, Ryan and Ted moved into Hotel Les Fuchsias, the Hunters and Anthea arrived and the stage was being set for our New Year’s Feast, la Veille de Nouvel An.  It remained for Susie and Charles to join us, which they did during the afternoon of the 31st, Nick having picked them up from the Cherbourg ferry as foot passengers.

Our table at the restaurant was booked for 8.30 and we duly arrived, to find Charlotte and Ryan waiting for us in the bar.  This was a welcome sight.  Ted has been less than reliable about going to bed and staying asleep – he had already rotted up one of his parents’ proposed evenings out.

So nine guests were shown to a pretty oval table in the window of the conservatory.  Our set menus waiting.  The menu is termed un Menu Degustation which is not, as it sounds, Disgusting, but actually quite the reverse.  It is a Tasting meal so each course is small and beautiful.

We took lots of pictures, some of our food.  It was a happy occasion.  Sometime after midnight UK time we wended our way back to the house.  We were still fit to play some pool!

Days of Wine and Roasties

These clement November days are going to be a gift, when I can get round to them.  After our two weeks here in August, trips to Croatia, Skye, Dorset, Devon contrived to delay our return to St V until well into October.  Then I only had a week here before returning to cover half term.

Returning, then, in November we enjoyed a visit from the Palmers.  Stuart spent nearly all his time working with Nick in the workshop, for which I am truly grateful.  Angela and I filled some spare time with a bit of retail therapy.  In particular we had a wonderful couple of hours in the Jardiland near the Auchan shopping centre.

France doesn’t really do nursery and garden centres as well as England does, but this branch we visit is very close.  They have some lovely houseware, silk flowers, glass, basketry.  And the plant section is much the largest I have seen on this side of the Channel.  I find purple and cream pansies which will sit over the bulbs I plan to plant in the square planters by the front door.   And I’m taken with some miniature wooden window-box type containers with 3 hyacinths and the legend ‘Le Gourmet Bistrot’  lettered on the back face.  Sitting on the porch table it will amuse our French visitors who will find it ‘rigolo’.  Such audacity.  We drive back to meet the chaps in Le Debarcadere for plat du jour and a carafe of rose.

On Saturday we do the market.  I don’t need much, a fine specimen from the barrow of caulis outside Gosselin and a 3 Euro sack of vegetables will see us through.  Not forgetting a couple more bottles of that nice red we drank the other evening with roast pork.  I remember to collect the duck I’ve ordered from M. Lemonnier for Sunday lunch.  In the evening we find ourselves sitting round a table chez Fuchsias.  Works of art process and are consumed.  It’s bucketing down so Nick fetches a car.  We get inside and cascade into our respective beds.  On Sunday I roast the duck with plenty of taters, and its a quacker.  We take a drive out to Gatteville to gaze at high seas from the dry comfort of the car.  Very Sunday afternoon drivers.  Then Stuart and Angela are off to catch their ferry.

So now we are the two of us.  Nick is on the last stages of giving the workshop, which will be my space, coats of paint before boxing in the wiring.  Then it will be a case of fitting work surfaces, a desk, shelves.  I’m so looking forward to pressing this room into service.

But I have lost time in the garden to make up.

 

Et Maintenant La Vie Francaise

Mum and I arrive at the house to a warm welcome and a light supper.  It is good to be back after a longer than usual interlude.  The garden is looking verdant, the grass is cut and lush.  Yes there are far too many weeds but on the plus side there are lots of raspberries to pick.  A stand of Nicandra has set itself underneath the Yucca which I now acknowledge has rooted and looks set to thrive.  The seedling Echium I transplanted from the narrow bed by the gravels is huge and threatening to overwhelm the Dietes bicolor.  It looks as if it is the second species that grows on Tatihou; with luck I will have one plant of each.

Early days are spent making raspberry jam, and working on the curtains for the salon-sejour.  We arrange for Francois, Anne and Daniel to come and eat with us on Friday evening.  I’m going to give them a classic fish pie, make it with cod for a treat, and hope that Daniel, the fisherman who does not eat fish (there are a lot of his like), will at least try some and will be able to get the mash down if nothing else.  He agrees to give it a whirl.

In the event the pie is much enjoyed by the Poulets and Daniel nibbles at the edges but eats the puree (mash).  I serve roast parsnips (because I want them to try them; you never see parsnips in France) and peas with mint.  The latter causes merriment, apparently Francois thinks peas cooked with mint are VERY ENGLISH.  Daniel has brought a rhubarb tarte and I have made a damson crumble.  These are preceded by a large salade dressed with Anne’s ‘secret’ recipe vinaigrette (the secret is the addition of a teaspoon of good soya sauce to the usual ingredients) and cheeses including a piece of Partridge – a Devon blue I bought when chez Ingram.  In France they eat the cheese course before the pudding.

After we play Pool.  The men play a couple of games then Anne and I are encouraged to a match.  We make such another meal out of this game that at 1.30 there is considered no more time for Pool and it is time for bed.  Mum has truly entered into the spirit of  the whole evening.

On Saturday it is wet an’ ‘orrid so we skip the market as it is just the day to take Mum out for the lunch.  Originally it was going to be a Sunday event but we have been given another proposition for the weekend, which requires a fine day so juggling fixtures is good.  We are shown to a table in the main dining room of Hotel Fuchsias.

We are offered dainty crostini with tapenade with our aperitifs, and the amuse-bouche is a very small glass pot containing seafood soup with a rouille topped mini-toast and a tiny pot of grated Emmental and miniscule croutons.   I start with baby scallops floating in a watercress soup, followed by a small piece of pork filet mignon with assorted vegetable confections.  For pudding I have exotic fruits in a brandy-snap-like almond basket.  We get home, and the afternoon and evening are spent quietly.  We don’t want to eat again.

On Sunday we have an early lunch and by 1.30 we are ready for Anne to pick us up for our outing.  She is taking us to the Chateau de Crosville sur Douve, a privately-owned 16th century manor house with substantial gardens.  The current owners acquired the property in 1980 and in order to raise funds for upkeep they let the reception rooms of the Chateau as a venue for events.  They also host a few antiques fairs, and garden sales when plantsmen and nurseries (pepinieres) bring plants and garden tools, ornaments etc to sell.  This is the first year they have run one for autumn-flowering plants.

The circular lawn area in the front of the chateau is skirted by stalls which include a hydrangea specialist, a bulb-seller and other traders selling both familiar and unusual plants.  I spot some flashy Lewisia in flower.  I have tried these in the walls at Godalming in the past without success.  I discover that they like partial shade which is probably why mine failed in the full sun of the south-facing dry stone walls.

At Chateau de Crosville you can get through to the rear of the property up and over a wide flight of stone steps which passes through the body of the house (escalier de reception).  There are doors off either side of this covered passageway giving access to rooms which have been pressed into service for the day to serve as gift shop, tea-rooms.

Anne buys some unusual shrubs and climbers for her large garden; I restrict myself to two Lewisia (which I set in some of Nick’s latest ‘crop’ of compost in the chunky, beach-worn, hollow concrete blocks which I use as planters for geraniums and the like) and an additional variety each of Salvia and Echinacea.  We also buy Allium bulbs.  By the end of the afternoon Mum has been on her feet a long time but is still buoyant.  We eat simply in the evening and are not too late to bed.  Tomorrow we will have to have a grand tidying before we board our ferry for Poole.

Over the Blue to Tatihou

On Friday we crossed to the small island off St Vaast, known as Tatihou.  It is no more than 28 hectares in area and offers a sanctuary for birds, grazing for sheep whose meat is sold in local butchers, some restored historical buildings including one of the famous Vauban ‘pepperpot’ towers, and a maritime museum whose exhibitions change every 18 months or so.

The former ‘lazaret’ which was used as a quarantine during the plague of the 17th century is now a small field centre which runs week-end residential courses on intertidal biology, seafood cooking, astronomy.  The small subtropical botanical garden in the walled grounds of the buildings forming the field station and museum is only managed to a level which prevents wilderness taking over.  Before we crossed in the 54-seater amphibious boat for which we had prebooked tickets, we ate lunch in La Marina.  Rosie and I chose salads, hers was a pretty Salade Nordique.

We climbed the tower and enjoyed the view.  There are small exhibits in the chambers of the former subterranean powder magazine.  In the gardens the most spectacular botanical display was a large clump of Echium fastuosum. I have 2 single Echium growing in my garden and I’m not sure if they are pinnata or pininana.  They have survived the winter and I think they are going to be huge.

We decided to walk back home across the oyster park rather than take the boat, which overtook us as it trundled over the causeway which the low tide exposes.  The exercise allowed us to buy gateaux at the boulangerie with a bit of self-justification.  We sat in the sunshine on our terrace and shared a taste of each kind of French fancy with some good English tea.  Another marriage made in heaven.

In the evening I cooked another house special, fish pie and in view of a busy day planned for the morrow we were not late to bed.  The market was busy: Gosselin were offering a champagne tasting of Veuve Cliquot, we also tasted some local Cidre Bouché, a sparkling cider which is used for a local speciality, Kir Normande, where Crême de Cassis is added to it instead of the more usual wine or champagne.  We looked inside the Aladdin’s Cave which is Gosselin and bought some bits and pieces.  I never cease to be fascinated by the array of preserves: so many jars of fish and seafood soups, patés, terrines and every conceivable sweet conserve including a jelly with violet petals.

Back home we had lunch outside and the plan had been to visit the botanic garden in the grounds of the Chateau de Vauville.  But when I proposed we abandon this idea in favour of staying at home to prepare for supper guests, it was met with immediate agreement.  However Nick did do the Voie Vert walk with Rob and Rosie whilst I tidied up at the house.

Supper was a joint enterprise with Rosie piercing the leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic, Rob peeling the potatoes and making a mint sauce (which Anne later pronounced to be un délice) and I prepared the other vegetables and made a homegrown rhubarb, raspberry and lemon crumble.  Anne brought some home made mini goats cheese and cherry tartlets and some lengths of chorizo sausage roll which she snipped into bite size pieces.  They also brought a cast iron crêpe skillet like the ones Daniel uses for limpets as a bouquet for the hostess.  I had said I was looking out for a second hand one.  They are so kind.  I managed to cook the lamb without overdoing it, although I think some of the diners might have liked it pinker.  It was, as always with the Poulets, a convivial evening.

On Sunday Nick, François and Daniel took the boat Aroona out for a fish.  Rumours had it that there were cuttle to be fished just outside the harbour.  This expedition had been planned with some subterfuge around the coffee table before dinner.  François then announced during the meal that he needed to take Nick to the hospital to get his gout-ridden foot some proper attention amd the round trip would take two hours so he would surely be back by 11.30 am.

Something about the emphatic way François explained this rang bells of suspicion in my head, and when I glanced at the expectant expressions on Nick’s and Daniel’s faces, the Euro dropped.  In the event they were back the sooner as no cuttle were biting.  Rosie and I had been gardening.  We all changed quickly to walk down to Fuchsias for lunch.

We ate off a different set menu this time.  I chose a seafood gratin with a scoop of creamy oyster soup served in its shell on the side.  I followed this with sea bream fillet on a cake of soft, grated waxy potatoes (a sort of under-done rosti), broad beans and sautéed peas.  Nick and Rob chose stuffed mackerel to start and pork cooked en trois façons.   The meals were as beautiful as ever……….  During coffee Rosie and I walked through the garden towards the annex so she could see some of the exotic plants and the extent of the rooms available at the hotel.

There was a beautiful plant climbing up a sheltered wall which my knowledgeable friend Andy in California tells me is a Clianthus puniceus, native to New Zealand where they are endangered in the wild.    I am immediately reminded of parrots when I stop to photograph it, so am all the more amused to find it has three common names: Parrot’s Beak, Parrot’s Bill and Lobster Claw.  In view of the plant’s location I think the latter most appropriate.

Back at the house we all need some quiet time, and I sleep soundly for two hours.  After a reviving tea we find our way outside where Rosie sets to to weed the beds which form a boundary between the lawn and the gravels by the back gate.  She has now created a clear space for me to plant out annual poppies and empty some of the smaller pots of plants which will not survive if we get a dry spell during the remainder of May.  Meanwhile I tie up bunches of the thyme which I have cut off an old leggy plant which has to come out to clear the plot for fresh planting.

On our last day we had planned to walk between Gattefille and Barfleur but it is raining and in any event it takes us all morning to complete shopping and other tasks before going to get Plat du Jour at Cafe de France in Barfleur.  There is a Marmite de la Mer which contains a medley of seafood (oysters, mussels, cockles, squid, prawns) and fish (tuna, salmon, pollack, red gurnard) and dices of floury potates in a spicy Indian-style curry sauce.  Perfect for a cool, wet spring day.

Back at the house and there is easy time for Rob and Rosie to round up stuff, pack their car, and we sort loose ends like the visitors’ book, and surf the internet.  All too soon it is time for them to wend their way.  We have had a wonderful time with them, a perfect combination of outings and time spent at the house and in the garden.  What a joy to have visitors who like to work in other people’s gardens!

As they pull out of the drive I am already thinking about our next reunion to be spent with them in Devon ………. the last pages we had drawn up on my laptop were about Lundy, in order to lay first plans for a trip there with them in October.