Gardening here, gardening there………

After the Hamiltons leave us it is time to get back to full-blown gardening.  We have finally decided to tackle areas of the flowerbeds where they have been pretty much undisturbed for some years.  This involves digging out the soil, wheelbarrowing it over to a ‘processing’ corner where Nick laboriously picks out all the weeds, grass and roots and then sieves the earth into tubs.  It will be mixed with our own compost to make serviceable soil to dig back in, and to use for potting up the seedlings and offsets that are being discovered.

After trying for about five years to sow seed from Mme Heurtevant’s Sweet Cicely, when I get in round the base of the parent plant I find about eight plants quietly getting on with life.  That particular flowerbed contains Yellow Flag, a large Euphorbia, a Daphne odora, an evergreen Honeysuckle, a large Alstroemeria, an Agapanthus, a Forsythia, and Centaurea dealbata.  This latter flower is a child of the plant which Andy planted at 88 Pep as part of his esteemed collection of species when he planted up the newly created garden he masterminded.  Lost within all this foliage is a ‘blue’ rose which, after Nick and I have drastically thinned out that particular border, may be able to thrive.

When I tackle the complementary bed on the other side of the path that leads from the terrace out onto the lawn I find a myriad tiny seedlings of Sarcococca hookeriana as well as about a dozen decent small plants.  This all has to be rooted out and then I am able to replant uprooted Schizostylis coccinea – the Kaffir Lily under the shrub.  Again much foliage is cut back.

I notice that in amongst the poppies and other wild flowers which are allowed to bloom around the Mimosa there are splashes of blue, and it means that at least some of the wild flower seed I cast in that area has germinated.  I hope the Cornflowers will now continue to flower there as long as we leave the wild unmown patch.  As the weather is dry I put out my willow goose and cockerel to add a bit of interest.

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The weather is very hot and although Nick and I are on a mission to ‘get back control’, get some exercise and lose weight (too much wonderful food in South Africa) I find I have to work for perhaps an hour then retreat indoors and find another task.  No shortage of those!  There are jobs to do all over the garden so it is a matter of chasing the shade as the sun traverses from east to west over our south-facing house.

After the weekend during which the Tuttles arrive, we then have them over for supper on Monday evening.  We socialise again on Wednesday when Dede and Francoise invite us for supper after the hottest day of the year so far, and according to BBC news, record highest temperatures in parts of the UK.  The following morning I cycle down to the slipway by the oyster park.  It is high tide and I meet up with the Burnoufs and their other guests of the previous evening for a swim.  The key factor is that is high tide, so the sands and the oyster tables are nowhere to be seen.  There are just some steps to descend and then Plouf, into the sea.  With the seawall and the side of the slipway it feels a bit like a seawater swimming pool.  The following morning I repeat the exercise with Anne, having sold the idea to her the previous evening when the Poulets came over for curry.  They brought Noe with them and I was all set to give him his spaghetti Bolognese when his mother arrived to take him home to bed.  Another time I will make sure his meal is ready when he arrives in order to avoid the sight of his sad little face as he wished me goodnight 😦

Late on Friday night Nick and I fetched up in Poole and we are almost the last to check through customs.  We have Cybs and Eamonn staying with us for the next two nights as they have a family event.  We have come back for Mark the Greyhound’s 50th.  I spend a good hour watering into the early hours of Saturday.  During the day we tackle garden no. 2 and Nick makes good headway with the pergola he is erecting.  Once plants have been rescued from the brink I can put it off no longer.  Strawberries must be harvested before too many more rot away.  I find fruit-picking such a chore, so boring.  Nick and I spend an hour picking about 12lb of fruit.  IMG_6949 40Then it has to be picked over, quality control……  I chuck out squishy fruit onto the lawn for the blackbirds to pick over…………..Cue jam, ice cream, freezing, feed supper guests on Wednesday.    As we eat home-grown globe artichokes, asparagus spears, new potatoes, rhubarb – some of this produce brought across from France – it does give us pleasure to feel that we provide a regular if small input into our diet.  The jury is out on the gooseberries we picked just before leaving.  Let’s hope these gooseberries don’t make fools out of us!

August Antics

A couple of days after I wave my French visitors off, Claire arrives with the Crazy Gang of Four.  We are all going to travel over to France together for a week of familial fun and frolics.  blogimg_4707-3In fact Nick and I face a month playing host to assorted familial configurations.  Once arrived we already have an appointment for a Tuttle BBQ, before then a seashore safari organised by Claire and me which involves cartwheels in bathing suits. blogimg_4709-3blogimg_4710-3

Joel and I slope off to Paris for his jolly, then we come back to find the Perrymans have arrived for their long weekend during which we will celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with a return BBQ with the Tuttles chez nous.  blogimg_4756-3With CJ and Ry in charge it will be good.  The sands of time are rushing through the Cholsey holiday hour-glass. They have had quality time with cousins, aunts, uncles:blogimg_6183-2blogimg_6174-2 But before they return to the UK Joel and Claire cook us a fabulous evening meal which is a dummy run (but nothing dummy about what we are offered!) for Joel’s forthcoming Charity French Lunch.  blogimg_4759-2We enjoy his own brand of French Onion Soup, with a choice of Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourgignon as the main dish.  And then there is Crème Brulee 🙂

After the Gang of Four return to Oxfordshire Ted stays on with Nick and I.  He gets some fishing in.  blogimg_6237-2In fact we have a fabulous day which Ted thoroughly enjoys at all stages.  He is very willing to help take the fish off their lines and into the bucket, and to help Nick process the gutting of our catch and the distribution of heads and guts to a horde of seagulls.  It is a spectacular sight. blogimg_6254-2 Nick takes Ted to the small Zoo at Montaigue la Brisette whilst I have a very long overdue appointment with Manu. Bar  And so Ted’s departure day rolls round and he and I board the good ship ‘Barfleur’ bound for Poole where his mother will pick us up.  We stay overnight at TOW and the following day drive to Weymouth to have lunch with Ted’s Great Granny.  This is a happy visit and after they must drive to Godalming and I stay on at TOW another night before going back to France to await the next visitors…….

……….who arrive the next day.  Marian, Katharine and David come to us every year and it is a welcome week in which to catch up with them.  We can always count on David to tweak our computer systems, although Nick seems to take the lion’s share of this.  After his sessions with David I have not the heart to burden David further, even though he is more than willing.  By way of a small thank you Nick does give the Bradleys a master class in crab dressing.  blogimg_6293-2The week slips by and Katharine and I get some night-time bathing off the white wooden steps near La Chapelle des Marins at the town end of La Hougue.  lachapellebathingWe join Dede and his granddaughter Oranne at 10 o’clock and on the first evening the water feels even tepid.  As the spring tides approach there is a greater mixing of the waters and the temperature drops somewhat.  But I retain the physical memory of that first night-time plunge.  Above all my aging self appreciates the stable wooden steps with handrail.  What an elegant way to enter the sea!

After they leave we have a couple of days in which to prepare for my sister and her family and that is a whole other post…………..

Bass Notes

My husband is a fisherman.  He fishes mostly out of St Vaast where we live some of the time.  At the weekend he went fishing with friends, it was a long distance fishing trip, twenty miles to the northeast.  They were two boats.  There were four fishermen in total and they fished Pollack, mackerel, whiting and one enormous bass.  It measured 75 cms and weighed 4.5 kilos.  It was caught on an English rig using a mackerel bait.  Such a fish is a prize and an act of generosity is to share such bounty.

So we found ourselves chez Tailles on Tuesday lunchtime where Dede, having caught this splendid fish, had given Francois the responsibility and pleasure of cooking it for a gathering of friends.  This wonderful fish was filleted, descaled and then stuffed with lobster and crab and finally wrapped en croute before being baked in the oven.  Before we tucked into our share, we ate an entrée of pink grapefruit and crevette roses, this having been composed by Odette.  The combination of the grapefruit and the prawns was impeccably colour-coordinated but even more importantly, it tasted delicious.

It was a very convivial occasion and I was delighted to have an appropriate anecdote for the occasion.  Rather a letter to read out of Nick’s copy of The Week.  Translating as I went the letter (originally published in The Times, ran as follows:

‘You flagged up your complete seafood guide with the words: “Lovely lobster, but what can I do with it?!”  In the early 1970s, I was living in Dublin.  My neighbour was presented with a live lobster and had no idea how to prepare it.  He put it on the lawn and shot it’.

This would never happen in France, not then and not now!  The passion for seafood is deeply embedded in French culture.  I have never understood why we, across that narrow tract of water that separates the British Isles from its European neighbours on our shared continental shelf at the present day, have never come to espouse a tradition of eating all fruits from the sea, not just bony fish with a few members of the shark family thrown into the pot.

There we are.  Things are changing.  Oysters have always been available but for many have been just too yucky.  Until relatively recently they tended to be offered for sale in exclusive oyster bars in London and some further flung satellites, such as English’s  the restaurant and oyster bar nestled in Little London of Brighton.  Oysters are farmed more widely now and they feature on fish counters in supermarkets.  Similarly nets of mussels can be bought over the supermarket counter and their popularity gathered momentum, it seems to me, when pubs started putting moules marinieres on their menus.  So in my lifetime I have seen a resurgence in seafood eating in my native land.

I was fortunate to have a father who not only enjoyed fishing, and transferred this enthusiasm to my husband, but was exceedingly fond of cockles.  blogIMG_6278 (2)When he was moved to Portland Naval Base in the 1960s we, as a family, found ourselves adjacent to the sand flats at Smallmouth, Portland Harbour where we enjoyed the bonus of a double low tide.  blogIMG_6280 (3)On the occasions of the low spring tides, and for four hours, we could paddle across these sands gathering all manner of Venus bivalves, razor clams, and cockles.  My father had a childhood tradition for eating cockles and he would go and gather beauties from Smallmouth.  He had his own method for soaking the cockles in their shells, in fresh water with oatmeal to encourage the cockles to purge themselves.  Then they would be boiled until the shells snapped open, the little mollusc bodies would then be removed and popped into a jar with a little vinegar.

At that time I was in the salad days of my growing enthusiasm, and dare I say, talent for shelling.  In addition to the above species I was able to add some beautiful rarities to my collection, notably Tellina squalida and Pandora albidablogAngulusblog100112_pandora (2)Latin names are changed by taxonomists in time, but these are the names that resonate and transport me back to those heady days when you could wade through those shallow waters inside Portland Harbour  searching for the familiar outlines and colours of those lovely shells.

At the end of a special day I find myself enjoying a new experience.  Dede, he who caught the magnificent fish that we ate at lunchtime, has invited me to join him, his granddaughter Auranne and a few neighbours for a late night swim off La Chapelle near the St Vaast boatyard.  I have not swum at 10 o’clock in the evening before, nor from the promenade along there.  At high tide you can descend the white wooden staircase and lower yourself into the deep!  After a warm day and with a balmy evening, the sea felt positively tepid.  With quite a bit of undulating movement, the sea rocked us as we swam in a tight group, keeping an eye on our neighbours for their security and one’s own.

 

Back in the Swim

Somewhere in the middle of June we cross to St Vaast to prepare for the visit of village neighbours, Cybs and Eamonn.  Before they arrive we enjoy a series of social events which involve food – this is, after all, gastronomic France.  La Marina restaurant hosts a Beatles tribute band which is surprisingly good.  We eat steak and chips with Daniel and sing along between mouthfuls.  Tanou and Jean Pierre invite us to supper and we meet Antoinette who is going to open La Hougette which is a snackery bar close to the Vauban tower at La Hougue and serves residents, tourists and the adjacent tennis club.  She is a vivacious character and we decide to call in at lunchtime on the following Sunday when she opens up for the 2-month season.  We owe Bri and Georgy a meal so they come round for supper and cards.

On June 21st it is International Yoga Day and Tina Foley has organised a ‘stage’ based at le Manoir du Houguet.  It is owned by the Cottebrune family and Patricia attends the same yoga class as I do.  There are morning and afternoon sessions with a bring and eat picnic lunch we share.  There are some delicious salads including at least four different coucous ones which must all be tried.

Tina has been extending her learning in England and bringing back some new tricks, taking me and I think some others well outside our comfort zone!  One of the nicest interludes of the day is a post-prandial walk to the beach, undertaken in silence.  We hear the birds, listen to the waves lapping on the shore……..  When I get back home I find Claude Osmont has invited us to eat dinner chez Genevieve.  So my gluttonous lunch is topped by too many tempting and irresistible yumminesses

Before our guests arrive for their long weekend Nick fits in a fishing trip and catches mackerel, whiting and Pollack.  He fishes with Stephen and Georgy and they are lucky enough to see dolphins.  We make smoked mackerel pate, I keep some for house fish and chips and make a fish pie.  Christine and I make two swimming excursions.  Yes the cold is a shock (14 degrees) but I have learned that I will always warm up and it feels so good in my head to be back in the sea.  Interspersed is gardening.

On Thursday morning I have an appointment with the charming Manu who fixes my hair, giving me a great cut.  The Tuttles arrive in the afternoon and in the evening we give them supper in exchange for a hand of Spite and Malice.  The following day the McGoverns are due to arrive…………

In at the Deep End

We crossed the Channel, arriving at 10 p.m. at Poole.  It takes only 20 minutes to reach home where we find the Cholseys are installed for what promises to be a fun weekend.  As I stand at the sink emptying stale water away, Sam appears noiselessly at my side and I jump out of my skin when he whispers “Hallo Granny”!

The next morning we have a gentle start because the four school-children are beginning to see the benefits of not leaping out of bed at crack of dawn to disturb sleeping adults.  I coast gently into the day, aided by a cup of tea and chill for a while in bed with Joel, Charlie and Dragonvale;)  After a breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolat a beach plan is proposed – we will drive to Ringstead Bay where there is easy parking and quick access to the beach.  There are lots of people already there when we arrive and for the next three hours we enjoy some boating in the stretch of water between the shore and the narrow reef which is exposed as the tide goes down.  I wade out with Charlie in the small inflatable to supervise and by the time I realise the water is beyond my midriff I feel very much like a swim.  How delightful it was – the first of the year.  I didn’t even manage a sea swim in 2012!

We have pastries and biscuits and flasks of hot tea and coffee to tide us over until we get back to WK.  There Claire cooks sausages and chicken on the BBQ and I prepare some salad and pull out a kilo of crevettes roses from the fridge.  We finish with a Tarte Normande.  In the evening I play Newmarket with the children.  I have developed a great fondness for playing cards and Newmarket is straightforward and fun with the ‘betting’ element for which we use little cowry shells.

On Sunday we are going to rendez-vous with Barns, Lukie and Wolfie in the New Forest for a 4pmish picnic.  So a late brunch is in order and before we know it, it is time to compile our picnic, load up and set out.  We find the horsebox without difficulty and Barns and co turn up a few minutes later, he on his bike and Lukie on Wolfie.  We picnic in a shady dell then wend our separate ways.

We love having the Cholseys – they are such good value – and we love them all.