A Full House of Siblings

During the week after celebrations in Godalming we needed to get our act together with regard to a Christmas Tree and decorations at home in Winterborne Kingston.  With a party planned for Friday evening our priority was to buy our tree.  This was achieved with the help of Andrew and his trailer.  We found a really nicely-shaped tree at the suppliers in Toller Porcorum; tall enough to reach the gallery and with a girth that gave the tree gravitas.  It took a good while and a lot of our tree decorations to dress it.  Then the rest of Christmas decking fell into place with the help of small potted cyclamens and plenty of greetings cards.  My little white twig tree found its place at the end of the island unit in the kitchen.

I had been planning the party for some weeks so canapes had been made and frozen.  I just needed to make a venison and red wine casserole in the slow cooker, a tray of chicken joints with cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans, and a vegetarian tagine.  With lots of rice.  I ordered two of Helen’s cakes: a carrot one and a chocolate.  With a cheese board and French bread it really was very straightforward.  All Nick’s siblings and two cousins came as did my two sisters.  Then we had invited Dorset friends of long-standing and our good neighbours Cybs and Eamonn.  Guests brought gifts and I think Nick’s highlight must have been the home made Pork and Egg raised pie with a birthday inscription that Terry made for him.  The party went with a swing and we managed to clear up before we went to bed, with the help of Joy, Trish, Wig and Ian who were staying overnight.

The following morning our guests dispersed and after a quick bite of lunch we joined Maddy, Jenny and Lis for a brisk walk on the beach at Charmouth where we found the residues of the Velella which were being stranded two weeks earlier.  On Sunday we took a bit of time out before bracing ourselves for the impending festivities with the family.

These are the Festive Days of Family and Friends

We return to Dorset with a busy and exciting schedule to meet.  On Saturday I go into Dorset to round up a range of items: presents, requisites for our French Christmas feasting and shopping for assorted French friends including White Stuff goods for Anne.  On Sunday I get to grips with wrapping up Christmas gifts for the forthcoming weekend and in the evening the Dukes come to supper.  We enjoy a poached bass which was excavated from our French freezer.  Thankfully it is still tender and tasty.

Early in the week I have a hair appointment, my Yoga lunch, lunch with my mother and sisters at the Sun Inn, followed by a bridge evening.  I am relieved that my fellow players are still bidding on open hands and that some at least are still in the foothills, like me.

To Godalming on Thursday evening.  I visit the amazing Mary Wondrausch for coffee on Friday, have lunch with my friend Vikky from Uni days at The Withies then Nick and I enjoy a dinner party chez Upcott to which mutual friends have been invited too.

We are Diana and William’s overnight guests and in the morning Nick and I drive to the Natural History Museum for a Conch. Soc. meeting.  I give a 20-minute presentation on Otina ovata thus crossing the final frontier of activities which at my lowest ebb I felt incapable of fulfilling.  There is a new dinosaur on the block at the Museum, the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton in the world.


Returning to Godalming early evening we are plunged into a weekend of feasting and jollification at the old homestead.  This is to be our Christmas moment with the young who arrive in stages, culminating in a full house in the middle of the day on Sunday.  The Perrymans cook us a fabulous meal on their all singing dancing BBQ, really an outdoor kitchen.  Sadly, with journeys to make and school to prepare for on the morrow our loved ones must start to depart at the end of the afternoon.  But we have had an amazing fun time.

Nick and I stay put and on Monday I go to Ted’s Carol Service before driving back to Winterborne K.  On Tuesday we have our Book Group lunch at The Greyhound, later on fitting in an evening of bridge for me before I leave Dorset later in the week.   On Wednesday I pop down to see Mum for a coffee moment, then back home where things must be assembled, the car packed ready for the following morning.  We cross the Channel in a gale but these days I find that the size and stability of the large ferries and the confidence I have in my sea legs carry me through.  Armed with The Independent Codeword, a good book and the comfort of a recliner in the quiet lounge, I allow myself to be rocked gently as we draw ever closer to the French coast.

The Duke gets his Duchess

Exactly a week after Tom and Delphine’s wedding we find ourselves attending the marriage of Henry and Rebecca.  The venue, St Audries Park Manor House, concentrates exclusively on weddings and it is a beautiful setting for a gathering of family and friends.  There is plenty of accommodation both in the manor itself and in the various outbuildings, such as the stables (nicely converted!) and a cottage, house, lodge and rectory in the grounds of the Estate.  This set up seems to be more popular these days, for those who do not require a religious marriage ceremony.  Guests may arrive the night before the Big Day, stay on site for the entire proceedings, and fall into bed when they are footsore from dancing into the small hours.

How lovely it was to catch up with Lis, Siobhan, Caitlin as well as the Duke clan.  Lis and her friend Susan had organised all the floral decorations which were amazing.  They have stumbled upon this task late in life, taken on as favours to Helenour and Henry, and by combining cut and potted flowers and plants they set up themed decorations in the various rooms and most notably in the Orangery where the marriage ceremony was held.

This was a perfect setting for a shades of Jane Austen ceremony and the bride and groom were dressed for the part.  Lis had introduced lots of potted Agapanthus and matching blue scabious which she and Susan would keep afterwards.  On the morning of departure it was quite a task to dismantle and load up the decorations ready for a prompt departure.   Some four vehicles were pressed into service.   It is a requirement of the venue that breakfast be taken between 9 and 9.30 a.m. with check out before 10.  In this way the conveyor belt process which enables a daily succession of weddings to take place is achieved!


A Very Franglais Wedding

On Friday morning Paul, Viv and Hilary bade us a brief farewell and set off for Brittany.  Nephew Tom is to marry Delphine on Monday and P and V have rented a gite for a week in the area.  Nick and I tidied up and readied the house for Marian, Katharine and David who are to spend a week in St Vaast from Saturday.

At the end of the afternoon we left St V and drove south and west to a small hamlet called St Meloir des Bois.  There we found the others installed in a house in the centre of ‘town’ next to the church and Creperie Sucre Sale.  We settled in and over the successive couple of days our nieces and their families duly arrived.  On Saturday afternoon we drove north to St Jacut de la Mer, a sprawl of bays and sands centred around a peninsula.

Hilary was very take with the regimental configuration of the mussel farm on the shore there and immediately pulled out her sketch book and found a suitable bench from which she could work.  The rest of us descended the much-trodden steps to the shore at the north end of the peninsula.  The huge sand flats exposed when the tide is out, and the offshore islets which dry out at low tide are magnet for the French peche a pied public – just look at the images from the internet via this link.  I have worked this shore a good few years ago along with a group of Conchological Society members when we were surveying honeypot shores along the Brittany coast.

We took supper at the Creperie that evening, enjoying Breton galettes made with buckwheat flour and containing a range of delicious fillings.  I chose Noix de St Jacques et Poireaux fondues.  For dessert we chose, unwittingly, monstrous and totally sumptuous Crepes Gariquettes.  I would have been happy to share mine with the other four adults.

Sunday was a busy day for the family and they decamped from the gite at 5pm to move into La Malouiniere de la Ville Gilles, at which mansion the evening reception would take place on Monday evening.  After a calm and quiet evening with Hilary and a meal at the Creperie, I slept for only a few hours before I woke at 4.30 and after trying to resleep I rose and went downstairs to sort out my photos from my iPad.  If I allow too much of a backlog to accrue the memory fails and prevents me from taking as many photos as I would like.

At the appropriate time we dressed ourselves in our wedding finery and set off for St Lunaire Mairie where the first of four events in our day as guests would take place.  Family and friends arrived, many of us on foot having parked at Delphine’s family home.  The little folk were the object of much attention, not least the youngest at two months!!  And already smiling 🙂  The civil ceremony was conducted by a rotund and twinkly affable mayor who added personal touches to the occasion.  Delphine’s parents had generously included Nick, Hilary and I on their guest list for lunch at their home.  We were regaled with a lovely selection of quiches and salads.

At 2p.m. we presented ourselves on the quai at Dinard to board a pleasure boat for a trip across St Malo bay.  It is a bit of a bumpy and windy trip but the skipper manages to find a lighthouse behind which we can tuck in, whilst we drink a champagne cocktail and Tom and Delphine exchange rings and tie a fisherman’s knot.  Once ashore we drive to our Chambres d’Hote at les Chesnais and this is a stone’s throw from the venue for the evening reception.  A champagne reception on the lawn with croquet, boules and mölkky, is a delight with beautiful canapés, then we sit for a two course dinner which incorporates games and later dancing.  Towards the end of the evening a selection of French gateaux and plates macarons are served with yet more champagne.

This has been a wonderful day with a mix of French and English language and custom.  How lucky Nick and I are to be part of this blend of the best of each nation.  At 2 a.m. Nick and I fall thankfully into bed.