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.

To Market

I wake early and sneak ashore as noiselessly as I can to visit the showerblock.  Only Rachel opens one eye to acknowledge my presence.  She of the blue eyes and golden existence has a venerable 16 years under her belt and travels with her owners frequently.  She has various nests aboard and when the boat is under way she shares Fefe’s ‘fauteuil’, draping herself over the arm.  blogIMG_4379 (2).jpgI think she must find this most comfortable – I wonder if it stops her experiencing motion sickness.  Rejoining the boat I settle at the galley table to write and she joins me in a moment of acceptance.  As the others rise in their own time a cafetiere of coffee is made and we chew on a tartine of Pave with salty butter.

It is Market Day.  After a morning swim it is time to see what all the stalls have to offer.  Fefe has already gone ahead to buy fruit and salad-stuffs.  As you walk along the promenade the array of ‘marchandises’ is colourful and varied. blogIMG_4393 (2) In addition to the usual purveyors of produce,  charcuterie and clothing accessories, I am taken by the stall which sells only sun-dried tomatoes, the Paella stall and my favourite is the spice-seller.blogIMG_4404 (2)

 

blogIMG_4402 (2) You smell this stall long before you see it and here I find both black and yellow mustard seeds.

By the time we rejoin the boat it is time to think about lunch, which is the principal meal of the day.  Fefe cooks some rice and I warm the Vindaloo.  We eat it with a shallot and fresh mint chutney and a spicy aubergine confit that Fefe bought from a vendor of eastern European products at the small market in the marina.

After lunch Francois and Nick take ‘Till’ out of the marina and head east along the coast.  There is a fair chop and we run through a speedboat race taking place not far from the harbour entrance, past a small French warship of sorts and then out into open water and towards a yacht regatta which is taking place out of St Tropez.  The sails are put up and the boat dips and rises over the sea at a fair lick.  Fefe and I read, chat, nails are groomed.  Every now and then there is some activity when the rigging is adjusted.  Nick and Francois have in effect put each other through their paces.  They have shared several fishing expeditions out of our home port and they now understand each other’s competences when it comes to boating under sail.

Back at Frejus it is definitely wine time and we enjoy moules marinieres, prawns, celeri remoulade, grated carrot, tomato and cucumber salads……….. with a knob of cheese for those who are desirous.

Entre Deux Fleuves

We arrived at Gare de Lyon in very good time for our booking on the TGV train bound for Lyon Perrache.  We have booked ourselves (with help in the choosing thereof by Claire) into a small hotel for an overnighter on the Presqu’ile which passes between the Rivers Saone and Rhone.  Our seats are on the upper deck which gives us a great view over the countryside as it speeds past.  It has a maximum speed of ~350mph.

Arriving at Lyon it was a short walk to Hotel Vaubecour for which you gain entrance via a door off the street into a vestibule, through some double doors where you take the lift to the first floor.    Before showing us to our room the hotel proprietor spent a good 10 minutes marking routes and recommendations on a map and how helpful was that!  We at lunch at an excellent café-restau round the corner.  We walked north and crossed a bridge to find ourselves in the heart of the old town.  At the tourist centre we bought City Passes which would cover all our transport needs, including a guided river cruise and entrance to all the museums.

Without delay we took the funicular up the hill to visit the Basilica and then on to the Gallo-Roman museum which is stuff full of goodies including mosaics, statuary, glass, ceramics, artefacts, coins……….  You enter the museum at the upper level and spiral down through the collections to emerge at ground level into the amphitheatre.

We hoped to take in the Musee des Tissus/Musee des Arts Decoratifs  but we arrived at the end of the afternoon with the ticket office closed.  So we repaired to the hotel to get ready for dinner, at the famous Chez Georges Brasserie, recommended by Ty.  It feels like a restaurant laid out on a railway concourse,  rows and rows of tables cheek by jowl and it was filled with the world and his wife and intermittently the lights dimmed as birthday cakes were delivered to celebratory tables and much applause.  We are glad to be part of a tradition that has endured since 1836.  We wondered if there might be any chance of our making their duo centennial anniversary!

Although our hotel fitted the bill in many respects we would have loved a bit of air-conditioning.  The night was very warm and we slept poorly.  But it was only one night.  The following day we acquainted ourselves yet further with Lyon.  We stumbled upon the market and such fabulous produce, the vivid colours, and it does put our St Vaast market a bit in the shade.  But that’s the sunny south for you.  I bought a bargain batch of 8 fat garlic bulbs for 2 Euros.

At 10 a.m. we were waiting at the river cruise ticket office,  ready to book ourselves on the 11 o’clock when it opened.   The trip was excellent, taking in the old Lyon river frontages and hinterland motoring north and then we turned and cruised south towards the confluence which we had not anticipated seeing.  Much of the development there is situated on reclaimed land and the modern buildings though diverse, sit comfortably next to each  -the orange and the green!   There was definitely a joined-up feel to the concept and execution of that whole complex.

We ate lunch at Cafe Gadagne then visited the museum, taking a trip through Lyon history, glancing also at the temporary exhibitions on the Rose and world Marionnettes. We then took the Lyon metro out to Monplaisir-Lumiere and spent a good couple of hours at the Musée de l’Institut Lumière.   I knew nothing of the famous Lumière brothers Auguste and Louis and what remarkable men they were.  We owe them film, and the concept of commissioning film-makers to go abroad to make shorts, filming from a moving rickshaw for example as native children ran behind, laughing and careering from side to side in a tumble.  Early documentaries.  And we owe them colour photography – Autochrome preceded Kodachrome and the other processes that would follow.  The Institute is the former family home, with some lovely original wallpapers.  A gracious airy room with numerous windows and family portraits on the ground floor the family is called The Winter Garden.

So that was a hit, very much the best till last,  and feeling thoroughly cultured out we headed back to Bellecour for a stroll down rue Victor Hugo before we rounded up our bags, bought a sandwich and caught the train – very impressed with TGV, great views from the upper floor.

Invasion of the Little Folk

Hotfoot after the wedding we cross the Channel in the company of Christina, Katie and the young folk.  They have a week in view chez nous and I am very excited to be welcoming my sister to our French home.  We all settle in rapidly and the children quickly discover the selection of riding toys under the small lean-to on the terrace.  The soundtrack to the ensuing week is to be that of wheels, wheels and more wheels performing circuits of the terrace.  The children never tire of this activity and when they are not wheeling, they are climbing in the mimosa tree.

The evening after our day of arrival Claire and Ty invite us to an American-style family BBQ: home made hamburgers, salad and some of Claire’s special cakes.  Our young adapt very quickly to the challenge of communicating with Emma and Matteo who are Solange’s children.  La soirée est genial!

The week whizzes by.  Chrissie and Katie enjoying retail experiences and go home with ideas and trophies.  Katie is shortly to move to her new home and we buy various items to add a French flavour.  We lose nearly two hours in the Saturday market!  Nick sits the children one evening so the three ladies can eat at Le Débarcadère; we all go for an entrecote and frites and there is live music from Klez sur mer, it being Traversées de Tatihou week.

All too soon it is time to board the ferry bound for Poole.  We have all had a good time and they will surely return.

Paper Flower-makers under our Roof

Liz and Sue came to stay for a week.  They arrived on a fine Sunday and we ate lunch outside.  During their stay we did our regular walk round the perimeter wall of La Hougue.  In places it’s narrow and requires a bit of concentration but it makes a neat circuit and you end up in the town, if you are lucky, before Gosselin shuts for lunch.  On Tuesday they spent a long day visiting the tapestry at Bayeux and a tour of the D-Day sites and museums.  After lunch on Wednesday we took the amphibious boat over to Tatihou to climb the Vauban tower, walk round the gardens and visit the museum which is half through mounting its next exhibition.

A drive across the Cotentin peninsula to the west coast to see the gardens at Vauville is almost mandatory for our visitors.  The intermittent sprinkles held off and we were able to walk round enjoying the plants in flower and wonder at some of the more unusual ones.  Such an excursion is a brilliant exercise for the memory as you try to recall the Latin names before reading the markers.  The rhododendrons were in flower, shockingly gorgeous, but my camera battery exhausted itself before I could capture many of them.

The three of us went to Caen.  Francois had told us exactly where to park.  We emerged from underground and found ourselves at the foot of the castle ramparts within which precincts are housed various places of interest.  We visited the Abbaye des Femmes and the Abbaye des Hommes, utterly different buildings in form and atmosphere at either end of the city centre, and spent a short while looking around.  But we found the Museum de Normandie, by the castle,  fascinating and absorbing.

For 50 years, the Museum has been assembling the results of archaeological excavations carried out in Normandy. These excavations of castles, abbeys as well as more modest residences or rural churches, have yielded a variety of “finds” which illuminate aspects of daily life. Inevitably these objects give a partial view of the past, as in the main all that is preserved is what remains over time (metal, bone, ceramics…) while less persistent organic materials (leather, fabric, wood…) have generally disappeared.  But not always.  There are larger objects such as agricultural implements, a full-size loom, a beautiful lace-maker’s pillow from more recent times, complete with needles, threads and bobbins, in excellent condition.  There are also displays of coinage, and a number of scarce items saved in extremis from churches and the cathedral as well as a series of sculptures and architectural pieces.

On Friday night our male neighbours come in for pool, accompanied by Oncle Ives who is visiting his nephew Francois.  Liz, Sue and I join them in the rafters complete with pre-cut sections of coloured crepe paper and reels of fine wire.  We are making simple flowers to be strung in garlands throughout St Vaast for the Festival of the Sea on July 18th.  There are thousands to be made for 4 houses in our ‘coin’ and 2 boats, Aroona and La Marante, alone.  I had wondered how on earth I would find the time to make my share.  Generously Liz and Sue have had a flower-making session each day to help me get through the box of paper.  We are on the home stretch and they think they can finish them all before they leave on Sunday.

Saturday is market day and we are also racing for the finishing line on the flowers.  Liz and Sue put in hours whilst I start to ready the house and garden for our absence.  Sue takes us out to supper in the evening at La Marina and before we go we enjoy aperitif with Daniel who brings some of his amazing cuttlefish strips on sticks to enjoy with his homemade mayonnaise.  He tells me how he prepares this and I’ll have to blog the recipe another time, although I remember that the first part of the process involves a tenderising session before the pressure cooker is brought into service.

After the girls go on Sunday I put in as much time as I can outside.  Watering, weeding and ferrying the pots to sheltered places.  As always I am sorry to leave the plants which are just starting to perform, notably the delphiniums.  There are also globe artichokes to pick and the strawberries are waiting in the wings.  Fortunately our neighbours will not let them go to waste.


Istrian Interlude

We woke to heavy rain and motored from Losinj.  We are going to leave the north Croatian islands in the archipelago behind and cross some open water to reach the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula.  We sail past Porer Lighthouse which is off the southwest coast of the southern cape of Istria.  From here we trace the west coast northwards, eventually reaching Rovinj towards the end of the afternoon.  By now the weather has turned fine and we all go ashore to stretch our legs.

Rovinj is the second leading destination in Istria and is also unofficially considered one of the most beautiful towns on the Adriatic coast.  Hence it is both a popular tourist resort and an active fishing port.  A wide quayside around the waterfront is backed by bars, restaurants, a few civic buildings.  A large flower market is in full swing.

The Rovinj skyline is dominated by the tall campanile of the church high above the town with its floodlit statue at the highest point, which appears to guard the roofs below. Its long history would be very different without the traditional devotion to St. Euphemia.  Beneath the church, the roofscape descends to the water’s edge and one cannot fail to notice the rather obtrusive flock of satellite dishes perched on top of the buildings.

After a short walk we settle at a waterfront restaurant where tables and chairs have spilled onto the quay and order a bottle of white wine.  We plan to eat aboard and order no food until Mike and I confer and then order a platter of steamed mussels to share.  As he takes the order, our waiter is very amused when we refer to ourselves as ‘the last of the big spenders’.

Back onboard and Carolyn serves her chicken and mushroom dish with rice, a Verity standby.  We all repair to our bunks early as we have a long journey ahead of us on the morrow.

Of which Dreams or Nightmares are made

Accompanying me around the Parisian flea market is, potentially, an integral part of Nick’s worst nightmare.  Faced with the prospect of persuading me to weed out some of the objects, ornaments, artefacts and books with which I choose to cover shelves and surfaces at home – less dusting that way 😉 – why would he want to risk the prospect of acquiring more.  And why would I want to do that?……….. Because I am a collector, that’s why!

If I didn’t collect shells and marine invertebrate cast-offs, as well as other marine rejectamenta, from the beach, I might just have to collect Majolica pottery.

Originally, Maiolica referred to ceramics from Renaissance Italy with an opaque, white glaze containing carbon dioxide, usually painted in several colours and sometimes called majolica in English-speaking countries.  (The term may derive from the island of Majorca where the pottery was first designed, then imported to Italy).  The original tin glazes with their vivid colours were first developed by the Mesopotamian potters, during the 11th century.  Now the term majolica refers to Victorian ceramics made in 19th century Britain, Europe and the USA, with moulded surfaces and colourful lead glazes.

Majolica pieces reflected the Victorian interest in the natural sciences – botany, zoology, entomology. Items were modeled in high relief, featuring butterflies and other insects, flowers and leaves, fruit, shells, animals, and fish. Queen Victoria’s delight with the new pottery helped to seal its success with the general public and Victorians became avid admirers.

All through the Victorian era, Majolica kept pace with the other decorative arts. In the 1860s it reflected the new interest in Oriental-inspired design with pieces shaped like bamboo and featuring other Asian motifs. Then, Majolica picked up Art Nouveau’s love of sinuous vines and the calla lily.  But in time it began to fall from favour and came to be seen as rather vulgar. Overproduction had not only rendered it common, but there was a glut of poorly manufactured pieces on the market. Also, the use of lead glazes had resulted in an epidemic of lead poisoning among factory workers, causing outrage amongst early union leaders.

As a child I used to enjoy the pieces of Majolica and similar pottery items that I encountered in the homes of my grandmother and my great aunts.  I loved the little cottage butter dish, the dishes and pots shaped like lettuce leaves, heads of celery and other vegetables.  There was a biscuit barrel designed around the theme of a water-mill.  My grandmother had a pale green bowl, shaped like a tree trunk with woodland creatures nestled in recesses around the bole.  She used this piece as a cache-pot for a large clay pot of the tiny-leaved plant she called Mind-your-own Business.  Others may know this as Baby’s Tears, Angels’  Tears, Peace-in-the-Home, Pollyanna Vine, Mother of Thousands, or if you are Andy Doran you will settle for nothing less than Soleirolia soleirolii.

In Paris we found a small shop with Majolica piled high, but far from cheap.  Some of the sets of special plates for serving and eating asparagus, globe artichokes, oysters or the fish sets ran into four figure sums.  I particularly like the individual pieces designed around an iris flower theme.  Majolica ceramics are not to everyone’s taste but I love the colourful, fussiness of pottery with detail and relief in the design when it is expertly executed.

Parisian Interlude

Since we moved to St Vaast in October 2005 we have seldom strayed far from our coastal idyll.  Apart from two trips to Giverny to visit Monet’s famous garden, on both occasions with visitors – first the Millets, the second time with the Palmers – we have limited our excursions to the Cotentin peninsula, with Barneville Carteret on the west coast being a favoured destination.

So when Alain Dupont, who owns the farm at Le Vast, invited Nick, Daniel and Francois to see the England-France Rugby match as part of the 6 Nations Grand Slam in the Stade de Paris, the opportunity was seized upon by the trio.  Invited along for the ride, ex officio, Anne and I joined Alain’s partner Martine for a retail adventure in the 9th arondissement which boasts the famous Opera and major stores like Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

The former is very reminiscent of Oxford Street’s Selfridges and, somehow, the three of us managed to divide four hours between these two stores.  I came away with two swimsuits, a blue top for sailing days and a pair of springtime boots.  The Rugby kick-off was not until 9 p.m. so we ladies were back at the Dupont home and eating supper in front of the big screen in time to watch the match

On Sunday morning we drove into Paris to go to the Marche aux Puces de St Ouen.  The history of the famous Flea Markets dates back over two centuries, when rag and bone men scoured through the garbage of Paris at night to find valuable junk to sell on.  The flea market covers 7 hectares and is the largest antiques market in the world, receiving between 120,000 to 180,000 visitors each weekend.

With not much more than an hour and half to spend we can only explore a fraction of the sprawling complex of lanes and alleys which make up the market.  There are small shops and stalls selling bric-a-brac of every conceivable kind and there are specialist outlets for vintage clothes, genuine antique furniture, paintings, glassware, Art Nouveau jewellery and artefacts, postcards…..  But one small emporium has a fantastic array of rather special Victorian pottery and this collection merits its own next installment.

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.

 

Amelie wants a Badger

Saturday is fine, sunny…. and it’s market day.  ‘Youppy’ as the French say.  The market is seething with populace and you have to be really patient about making your way along the packed thoroughfare.  It’s August so there are lots of flowers to buy.  Fresh flowers, bouquets of flowers to dry, bunches of Hydrangea stems in a wonderful array of colours, also to dry.

The usual suspects are all present and correct and there are stalls selling painted tiles and pottery, remaindered books, bags, leather goods and a small stall displaying pictures of shell collages, watercolours of shells, and pieces of driftwood with a shell painting too.  I chat briefly to the stallholder and she tells me she has collected all her raw materials from local beaches.

I buy vegetables, saladstuffs including the biggest cucumber I have ever seen and some beautiful multi-coloured  peppers which I will eventually have to cook after we have enjoyed their still life in the fruit bowl.  I have taken my Hampton Court Flower Show foldy trolley to the market for the first time and it is a ‘boom’ as a cleaning lady once said.  I wheel it back laden with my goods.

In the afternoon Nick continues with his resting regime, I weed the two flowerbeds which bound the lawn area with the rear gravels.  I have brought plants over from England to plant up these beds.

For supper I cook a dish which has lain dormant in my repertoire for a very long time.  This will make quite a good counterpoint to the luxury-item lobster eaten the evening before.  We are still working through the lamb in our freezer.  The good thing about buying an animal is that you get all the different cuts of meat.  This has included the breasts of lamb, one of which I have defrosted and Nick has boned.  I make a garden herby sage and onion stuffing, spread this over the boned meat and roll and tie it.  Slow roasted we then enjoy it with mint sauce, potatoes, broad beans and peas, all from our garden.

On Sunday Nick is no longer in purdah.  This is lucky for him, and also for Francois, his doctor,  since Francois is keen to go fishing with Nick to chase some sea bream.  They leave at 10 a.m. and must be back before the harbour gates shut at 3.30 p.m.  When they do return the ‘dorade’ have been elusive but the men have some mackerel and whiting, and we get out the smoking box.

The imminent arrival of JACS notwithstanding, we are invited over the road for apero at 7.15 p.m. which is a welcome chance to touch base with the Poulets.  They are over-run with young people, friends of their sons.  Some of these young have competed in a local ’round the island race’ which involves running over the oyster park causeway to Ile Tatihou, round the island perimeter and back across the causeway during the low spring tide.  It is 8km and the winner has achieved it in a cracking time.

It’s difficult to tear ourselves away but we do so and are indoors no more than perhaps 5 minutes before we hear the familiar scrunch of tyres on our front gravels.  Barney, Lukie and JACS have arrived for their French fortnight.  The children spill out of the car, hugs all round and as I help a barefoot 3-year old Charlie across to the front step into the porch he looks up and says “I came to this house yesterday.”  What he is telling me is that he knows he has been here before – in fact his last visit was in October 2008.  That’s a child’s memory for you.

Through the house and Sam immediately homes in on the hammock.  With much excited shouting the children find the various mobile toys they remember: the red and yellow plastic car, the tractor, the bicycle with stabilisers, the child’s wheelbarrow.

Bags are unloaded, and after deliberations it is decided that the children will each have their own room.  Charlie goes in the child’s twin bedroom, Amelie in the mauve ‘princess’ room, Joel and Sam each have one of the bedrooms on the top floor.  Although it is 8.30 local time when I serve supper the children are able to eat their pasta with their favourite creamy red pesto sauce (Barilla) outside.  Getting the children to bed is a protracted affair but eventually the adults can sit down to a plate of risotto topped with crab.  We wash it down with some bubbly to celebrate the beginning of hols.

On Monday I have booked myself out between 10 and midday.  Claire and I are going to have our quality time and walk from Pont de Saire to Pointe de Saire via the beach and are going to return through the village to the car left at the bridge.  We are on a rising tide as we walk past the houses that front the beach.

Some have gardens running down to the shore.  We have visited one of these houses when the Newbys were staying a couple of summers ago.  It is owned by a Parisienne who holidays herself in the larger adjacent house, which is separated by a large lawn from the house she lets.  Some of the decor inside the rented house is nicely dated, shabby chic and tending to Art Nouveau.  I loved it although I could see that the very dated kitchen and bathroom fittings had their drawbacks from a holidaymaker’s point of view.

At the Point we sit on the rocks to eat our fruit.  I look down and notice some thin white ‘calcareous’ discs in the runnels between sand ripples. They are misshapen ovals with surface ornamentation.  I speculate that they are internal shells of seaslugs or pteropods otherwise known as sea butterflies and gather a sample in the pot I have in waiting.  They appear to be molluscan first for me.  I’ll need to go onto the internet to run them down.  I search for images but can find nothing like them.  It is only when I wake the next morning that it suddenly comes into my head that they were fish scales!

We walk back through Jonville to the parked car.  There are some lovely houses: we have already seen many of them facing the shore with a fantastic view of Ile Tatihou and La Hougue.  This will be an ever-changing vista with the seasons, overlaid by the day-to-day weather patterns and modified by the effects of the tides as they ritually conceal and reveal the familiar features of the shore bounded by Jonville, Ile Tatihou and St Vaast.  Then on larger timescales there are the changes to the shore configuration brought about by mass sediment movements caused by storms and currents.

Our conversation ranges over a wide range of topics and we are talking about the need to move house at some point later in life.  I mention the comment made to me by a friend, who observed that from his experience many older people leave it too late to make the necessary move in retirement years.  Too late to reap benefits and too late to start a new phase of life.

But it can be a wrench to leave a familiar home of decades.  Claire says that of course there is a sense of loss but whether we like it or not losing things, people we love is what we must expect in the coming years – especially for people of “our age”.  It is an insightful observation. Moving from a much-loved family home to something more practical is part of this separation/loss process.

There is a coastal route round the Cotentin peninsula. Claire has a publication about it.  She is keen to walk some more and so am I.  If  Ty and Nick will do the honours in terms of a walkers’ taxi service, I think we might be in business.

Our walk complete we come back to find Nick and Sam at the house.  Nick has made a swing for the children who are out walking with Barney and Lukie.  In the afternoon Nick takes Barns, Lukie, Sam and Joel fishing but it is lumpy and they do not catch anything.  I stay at the house with Amelie and Charlie and we have ‘3-in-a-hammock’ stories and play on the wheeled toys on the terrace.  Charlie is particularly taken with the child’s Triang replica metal “wigglebarrow”.

For supper we all have sausages and oven roasted vegetables together.  We sit round the table outside and suddenly Amelie says “I want a badger”.  Bemused, the adults look blankly at each other.  Then I notice that Amelie is looking at Joel and that he is wearing a small green metal disc, which tells us all that he is 6, pinned to his tee-shirt.