A few years ago our good friends Alain and Martine invited us to stay with them at their home on the outskirts of Paris. Ostensibly it was an opportunity for the blokes (Alain, Francois, Daniel and Nick) to go and see a Six Nations match between France and England. The womenfolk were treated to a trip into Paris for some shopping and I still really love the two swimming costumes and the Rocket Dog canvas boots I bought on that occasion. After several attempts at an invitation we have finally fixed a week at the beginning of October when they will cross the Channel and spend just under a week with us.
They arrive as foot passengers on Sunday evening; Nick and I have lately arrived back from Hackney having stayed overnight after Lola and Ruby’s show. We settle our visitors in and then after a night cap retire to bed. Nick has been pretty much in charge of planning the itinerary as a joint effort seemed to end in dispute! On Monday we are going to see a bit of Dorset. We start by swinging by Dorchester to pick up a couple of things and Martine has a brief glimpse of what Dorch has to offer and we agree to return later in the week. After Dorchester we head over to Lyme Regis for a walk along the prom and Martine and I peer into a few shops, buy stuff and end up with twenty minutes or so in my favoured bookshop whilst Nick and Alain walk up the hill to retrieve the car.
Having sampled the flavour of Lyme (le parfum de la ville) we head back to West Bay where we have fish and chips at The George then spend a bit of time looking round the flea markets at the old Custom House and take a brief stroll beneath the cliffs of ‘Broadchurch’ . Before we head for home we swing by Portland for a stroll around the Portland Bill Lighthouse and our final stop before hitting The Old Workshop is to spill out at the viewpoint and admire the incomparable Chesil Bank and the Fleet. You can look to the distance and see, beyond the new Marina in Portland Harbour, and the town of Weymouth, the hills on which, with the eye of faith you might discern the Chalk hill figure of King George III who was a regular visitor to Weymouth.
Back at the house we are eating in and I have made a hearty casserole which attempts to replicate in some part a ‘Pot au Feu’ which is a very traditional French dish of very slow-cooked large pieces of beef (usually three different cuts) with whole root vegetables and maybe leeks too. My pieces of meat are smaller and the gravy is thickened but it seems to find favour with Alain who is very traditional 😉 I’ve made a rhubarb and plum crumble for dessert. We go to bed not too late as we are going to drive to London the next day.
So the following morning we get our various acts together and leave the house with overnight bags. Nick has booked us a Travelodge near Clapham railway station to make travelling easier. But it has its drawbacks as we subsequently find out. On the way we stop at the Bull Inn at Ovington just outside Alresford, and which is the most traditional of English pubs. We meet an elderly gent propping up the bar and we have a friendly conversation about Europe and the Referendum and he seems to imply he voted Remain but at the end I am not so sure. I find I am so suspicious of people these days, the Leave vote has changed fundamentally my attitude to my fellow nationals, this country and its politics and sadly most of all my attitude towards my Leaver friends. Much as a lunch would be great at this venue we press on to The Squirrel just outside Godalming where we have a lunch, and a pleasant exchange with a group of young people who wish us a good onward journey in French.
We hit London, and Nick who knows it so well after all the years he worked there and drove around in his series of BMWs, takes us on a tour pointing out the sights. It seems a bit rushed to me but Alain and Martine cannot fail to have a flavour of the city and in their minds perhaps make comparisons with their home city.
We check into the hotel, take a breather then walk into Clapham to find an eatery. Alain and Nick have already made a brief exploratory excursion but the restaurant they found is full. Never mind, we find a large Italian establishment at which we eat, each of us, to our satisfaction. We head back to the hotel and settle for the night. For some it is to be very unsettled because in choosing this hotel Nick has failed to consider the effects of staying adjacent to the busiest railway in Europe for it is the transport hub that serves London Victoria and London Waterloo, and through which are funneled between 100 and 180 trains an hour, save for the five hours after midnight! Nick and I are, by and large, sound sleepers, we did not think…………
The following morning we meet in the café below the hotel for a good breakfast, Eggs Florentine in my case. Nick and Alain are going to head across to visit Dan in his new offices in Kingsland Road and Martine and I plan shopping. We take the trains to Oxford Circus and in the space of 4-5 hours we barely manage to extend beyond the immediate periphery of that station. We walk down Carnaby Street whose shops mean nothing to me, all brands for the trendy young, then into Liberty’s, the briefest of glances in Hamleys. We probably spent best time in Anthropologie. Then it’s on to Debenhams, Uniqlo. A lunching moment, trying stuff on and queuing to pay, it all takes time. We waste a ridiculous amount of time in Debenhams when I agree to sign up for a store card that will win us an extra 10% over and above the savings we have already made on our handbag purchases. Before long we must get a train back to Clapham to be there for 5 so we can leave London in time to get home for supper.
On Thursday evening I have invited the McGoverns and my sister Liz, all of whom have met the Duponts, for supper. Alain helps Nick peel the spuds! Flora the chocolate labrador comes too and finds favour since all the guests are doggie people. Martine makes us a tasty egg and cheese tart to start with then we move on to my chicken casserole. Wine flows and it is convivial. A miniscule European event. Liz stays overnight.
On Friday this will be the last full day for the Duponts. Nick and Alain join Cybs for a walk along the beach at Studland, and Martine and I go to Dorchester to shop and we both buy some clothing and some kitchen items. Lunch goes a bit skew whiff on timing but no matter because we are going to eat at The Blue Vinny at Puddletown for a farewell supper. On Saturday morning we take our guests to Poole to catch their ferry, then we scoot back to get togged up for the village walk which will surely do us good after our week of eclectic activites but little real exercise.