Charlie’s Great Fat Vehicle Weekend

Over the last weekend in February Charlie came to stay.  This was to be his special weekend; as the youngest of four he so often goes with the flow.  We planned some events which featured vehicles; from his youngest days he has showed a great liking for cars.

Day 1.  A meeting of the Conchological Society at NHM in Cromwell Road summons me to London.  Nick and Andrew have colluded to give Charlie his own offroading experience in Andrew’s field by the Hardy Monument.  What better treat could a 9-year old boy have than to drive a Hi-Lux truck round a large field?

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Whilst they are there they have some nice wildlife encounters including the sighting of a barn owl abroad in full daylight and some Sika deer which are disturbed by the dogs Teddy and Flossie.

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The morning’s activities are rounded off with fish and chips out of the paper in Maddy’s kitchen at The Old Schoolhouse.  Afterwards Andrew chauffeured Charlie on a circuitous route back to TOW in his Mercedes convertible.

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Day 2.  On Sunday we piled into the car and drove to Norden Station near Corfe Castle to take a 12 mile round trip on Swanage Steam Railway.

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This is probably one of the most expensive railway journeys you can make in this country!  We installed ourselves in the refreshment car and settled down to enjoy a ride at a stately pace down to Swanage.  Upon arrival we did not leave the station because we planned to have our lunch at The Greyhound in our village.  Instead we bought some postcards and a treat for Charlie in the gift shop and boarded the train for the return.  Back in WK we ate our lunch, packed Charlie’s bag and drove to Cholsey where he rejoined his siblings who had had a North Farm weekend, and Claire and Carl who had just got back from a week in Portugal.  Nick and I will now have to put our thinking caps on for themed weekends to suit each of JAS.

Helicopters in the Snow and Entrails in the Larder

I drift up the foothills of awareness to dozy wakefulness.  Nick and I exchange a few words then I poke my nose above the coverlet and from my vantage point I can see out of the window and spy a winter wonderland.  It is a beautifully still view of trees laden with snow and the wispiest of flakes drifting down.  Leaping out of bed (relatively speaking) I can peer down onto the pristine whiteness carpeting the ground around the house and into the wooded slopes beyond the lawn and immediate confines of the house grounds.

Everyone is really excited.   There’s lots of looking out of windows and enjoyment of good fortune.  Last year we arrived to week-old snow which only allowed us a couple of days of winter sports before a thaw really set in.  We had resigned ourselves to a snow-less holiday this year.  Instead we have a fresh consignment of top grade snow delivered to our door.  Various children drift in and out of my room as I gaze in wonder.

To cap it all I am offered the ultimate treat: a breakfast in bed cooked by Daniel.  A boiled egg with a side order of bacon and grilled tomato on toast is presented to me by Sam.  Above-mentioned smalls get tastes before they are encouraged to leave Granny in peace.

Nick has dressed quickly and is outside shovelling snow from around the cars, and clearing a way down the drive.  We will need to go into Aviemore for supplies.  The cleared snow later serves to enable the creation of a snowlady whose head is topped with the blonde curly wig I tucked in my bag for Maria.  Before the children get togged up to go outside, I step out of the front door and teeter about in my fake Ugg slippers to take a few photos of snow, whose surface is pockmarked only by pheasant footprints.

The children spend the rest of the morning doing fun in the snow. Emma and I take Ruby in the backpack for a walk down to the river and along the bend where the rapids are.  The toboggans are again pressed into service until bit by bit cold wet children come indoors holding out hands on the margins of frostbite!  Good job there is a huge vat of spicy parsnip soup made by Emma and my homemade soda bread rolls at lunchtime.

As for the swede, clearly the snow has put the kibbosh on Star Wars, unless we take one snowy scene from the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.  Thoughts are pooled and eventually it is decided to swede The Thing. This 1982 John Carpenter cult movie is highly regarded by Dan and his contemporaries.  It was my late nephew Max’s favourite movie.  In it, scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.  The beauty of the movie is the suspenseful power of the unseen horror.  Dan seems to think he can film a series of sequences which will engage the children without exposing them to the stuff of nightmares.  Filming has begun in earnest.

By coincidence we have brought an upmarket remote-controlled toy helicopter with us.  This was given to Dan for Christmas, got broken a few hours later and has been repaired by Nick and brought to Inshriach to hand over.  It is probably the one requirement for filming that we could not have improvised or found at Inshriach.  Amazingly, Walter produces just about every other prop that is needed, or the materials to manufacture what we need.  We only need to buy a few things in Aviemore, the Sue Ryder charity shop provides for the wardrobe mistress, and Tesco has a variety of jellies and sweets to make the entrails.  Let the fun begin…….

Stories at Seven

Nick and I have been given one of the bedrooms that contains a four-poster bed.  It’s very high and we find it easiest to clamber up using the wooden storage chest at the bottom of the bed.

In the morning Nick and I are broached, bit by bit, in our bed in the sky.  At some point Nick voyages to the kitchen below to fetch a mug of tea and I am left with 4 children and some story books.  This is a cherishable moment.

We variously have cereal breakfasts and when all are set for a walk round the estate and down to the river, I am left with the house to myself.  I hug the Aga, watch the red squirrels eating peanuts from the birdfeeder by the window and think I had better get on and trim the sprouts.  But I have to judge when it is time to put sausages in the Aga to cook and get all the other brunch ingredients ready to cook for hungry walkers.  Everyone tucks in and Lucy’s hens’ eggs are wonderfully yellow and tasty.  Amelie says ‘This is egg is so nice, I’m going to die!’

There is rugby on in the afternoon, and assorted activities take place whilst the pork is readied for roasting and Lukie and Barney prep a root vegetable mountain.  Somewhere around six o’clock we sit down to dinner, making sure to save plenty for the Sunburys.  They eventually arrive about 7.45.  It has been a long drive from Sheffield, longer in distance and time than they had reckoned.  I am sitting on the sofa reading bedtime stories when Ted slides into place, on my lap, cocooned by cousins.

The following morning we get more stories in bed then it’s cereal breakfasts all round.  Nick is away to Inverness airport to meet the Hackneys whose arrival has been delayed by snowstorms in New York, and the consequent cancellation of many flights.  Dan was due back on Thursday but finally got his flight out on Saturday. When they arrive all fifteen of us sit down to jacket potatoes with various toppings, Nick’s bread, pates and pickles.

In the afternoon there is a walk round Loch an Eilein for most of our party.  Ems and Charlotte go shopping in Aviemore and I opt to stay with the two girls.  After a spell of colouring Lola and Amelie accompany me on a walk.  We cross the lawn and walk up through the lightly wooded area and down the slopes to the river.  We eventually reach a bend in the river where there are eddies and rapids.  We ‘pooh’ a few sticks, then lob in a largish branch and watch it travel – crocodile-like – close to the bank, round the tight bend, pick up a drift of spume on its ‘head’ then spiral into one of the eddies.  On the way back we chant ‘We’re following the leader’, scramble back up slopes and clamber over barbed stiles, with the promise of chocolate biscuits at the house to spur tired young legs on.

The others are ferried back from their loch-side walk and already the family Swede is at an early formative stage.  We all came up here on the premise that we would be sweding The Sound of Music.  But it’s clear that some of the potential cast think it would be much more fun to swede Star Wars.  There is already thought about costume and props:   I have some earmuffs which will provide Princess Leia with her distinctive hairstyle.  A certain amount of brainstorming and internet surfing is set in motion.

We’ve made three fish pies with the fillet of Norwegian cod Nick brought back from his fishing holiday.  After the children are fed from one, and then bedded, we eat ours.  Weary ones (Ems and I) troop off to bed but the others burn some midnight oil on a Great Debate over the impact of the likes of Google, the i-Phone and just how far technology of this kind has gone, and might yet go.

But one thing had been decided.  We are going to swede Star Wars.

Transition

We’ve seen a barn.  It might do.  But the thought of marketing our home of 30 years is terrifying.  Mainly because it means a huge life laundry is on the cards.  If I’m not careful.  Parting will be no sweet sorrow but of tragedic proportions.  In my mind……….  I’ll put this thought aside for the moment……

Nick came back from Norway after a week of fjordic fishing.  It had been quite an experience being above the Arctic Circle with a 6-man fishing group – all rather younger than Nick.  They were fishing from “large aluminium bath tubs” with an outboard engine in water up to 500m deep.  This is particularly difficult when you only have 300m of fishing line – but “great fun”.  Nick’s leg rather restricted his fishing ability as it mostly had to be done sitting down whilst all the others stood up.  As a result he saw lots of lovely fish being caught but was not so successful himself.  The best fish seen on the trip was a 51lb cod caught by Pug.  A share of this fish is now in our English freezer as Nick was given the job of filleting it.

We had been planning to cross to St Vaast on the 5th, but we needed a day in Dorset to look at the house I had seen advertised on the internet.  It is far too soon to be thinking about moving……….. in my mind.  We met Stuart and Angela for lunch in the village pub after we had viewed the barn.   Stuart is very clued up about property in Dorset and his input was much appreciated.

We drove back to Godalming and it was all systems go to get our things assembled, the car packed, and various neighbourly matters dealt with.  We are getting good at this necessary preamble to a Channel crossing but when it is an early start it is always stressful squeezing in the last minute bags and other items.  Not to mention the cat who must not be allowed to escape, having been kept in overnight.  It was raining as we trudged up and down the front steps.  When we got away Nick was under a storm cloud all of his very own.

The crossing was a bit rocky but I know I have a good pair of sealegs now so I don’t get sick.  We were greeted at 104 by Marian, Katharine and David who have been staying here this past week.  We sat down to a bread, cheese and pate lunch in the kitchen.  Shame it was not fair enough to sit outside so Marian and I lingered at the kitchen table and caught up on news.

Nick and David disappeared and spent the afternoon dealing with all sorts of ‘hardware’ matters.  Such as our TV.  We can now watch television, dvds and recorded films and use our computer without having to tinker with leads and sockets.  David is an ICT technician and works in Tyneside servicing all the hardware in the local primary schools, which means he is VERY CLEVER with computers.  Every family should have one, in fact we are lucky because we have several in our clan.

Katharine is a zoologist, fluent in French (which proves useful when she later accompanies Nick to the doctor because he is worried about his swollen foot and she can report back to me exactly what the doctor said!) and is currently working as a research assistant on an oak tree project further south in France.  It’s good to catch up with these young and I am able to unite Katharine with my truly home-spun, hand-knitted chunky cream woolly jacket which I can safely say is unique.  That, and the set of Dickens which belonged to my father and his brothers.

Before he leaves David asks us ‘Are we sure we are happy for him to simplify our codes and passwords on our Orange Livebox and wiring etc etc’.  I mean, is Bill Gates a wealthy man?!

We are taking this particular satellite of Planet Bradley out to supper and we opt for Au Moyne de Saire as they always treat us well.  This is a happy choice on all fronts, not least because we find the butcher opposite open so we can buy the breakfast black pudding and eggs to scramble, which we had given up on as St Vaast butchers evidently close earlier.

Before I go to bed I have to try and unscramble the curry soiree I have planned for Friday evening.  I have been trying to introduce the Poulets and the Tuttles chez nous.  Anne has sent me an email asking if we can schedule the following week as she has family staying.  I phone Claire and discover her life is a house of cards, with visitors almost wall to wall and then she has to go back to Paris, and I am planning to go to Jersey for three days.  In the end we abandon an attempt to get together this time as the Tuttles and Lights will have guests in the forthcoming two weeks.  Claire and I settle on a plan to walk together on Monday.

In good B&B style I get up in good time to cook breakfast.  We wave Marian and co off earlyish Friday.  It’s been good to spend time with them.

Nick has a very quiet day on the sofa with his foot elevated.  In fact he sleeps most of the day.  He is catching up on so much lost sleep whilst he was in Norway.  It was almost always daytime.  Katharine has told me that Francois had said Nick must stay indoors for the next two days.

I make the huge chicken curry with the ingredients brought from England.  This will now be frozen and wait in the wings for the postponed soiree.

There are some gardening tasks…..  in fact lots to get through in the next fortnight.  Whilst staying with Charlotte I bought 5 plants for a fiver.  Two pots contained 3 butterfly delphiniums between them and the other 3 pots were stuffed full of Primula denticulata.  When I have divided all the plantlets and potted them up I find I have 18 new plants which cost me £3.

I also find time to test out the hammock, which Barney and Nick have strung underneath and within the Mimosa.  It is a truly shady nook and not only comfortable to read in, but also to doze……….. perchance to wake and watch butterflies flitting round the shrub in my view.  Oh the humble buddleia: it seeds itself in the most barren of sites and is not highly regarded but it is a honey pot for butterflies.  I watch Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks.  It is a long time since I have seen this quartet of beauties together.  I know them well because my father used to take me butterflying in Hadley Woods when I was young, as his father had in turn taken him as a boy.  We’d no more dream of taking children butterflying now than fly…………..

In the evening Nick and I sit outside and share the lobster Daniel has obtained for us.  It is a fitting start to our August in St Vaast.

Jurassic Hike

I broke my left wrist just over a year ago.  I skidded on scree on the Dorset Coast Path and put my hands down to break the fall.  Snap!  Only minutes before, Rollo and I had been discussing the merits of buying walking poles like the ones wielded by walkers we had passed that day.

We have our walking poles now but we have only just managed to book time to resume where we left off.  We have been partly constrained by a) the fact that our next stretch takes us over the Army Ranges at Lulworth and access to this land is restricted at times other than weekends and the summer holiday period, and b) we are set on walking the route in its correct sequence.

I’ve driven to East Chaldon to stay overnight.  By the time Rollo and I are ready for delivery to Kimmeridge the following morning it is 10 o’clock.  Terry is driving us to the cliff top and on the way we pick up two hitch-hikers who are going to walk the same stretch.  And by the time Rollo and I have got our act together and are posing by the signpost ready for the off,  this couple has already reached the first crest as you start to leave the wide sweep of cliff top that arcs round Kimmeridge Bay.

As we trek round towards the lower slope of Tyneham Cap we can look back and see Broad Bench and Long Ebb rock platforms slightly exposed by the tide.  We probably take a wrong turn here because the track we choose takes us very close indeed to the cliff edge, but the yellow posts which mark out the coast path were not clearly placed.  We’ve actually avoided a short steep climb but there is more to come……

The track along Gad Cliff is easy, with views of the village of Tyneham to our right, and we soon come to a steep descent into Worbarrow Bay, passing a pretty bay (Pondfield) east of the headland known as Worbarrow Tout.  I eat one of my hard-boiled eggs with a white bread roll.  (I am getting over a minor gastric upset so walking on a minimal plain diet).  Rollo tucks into her “delicious” smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber roll.

Climbing out of Worbarrow Bay means the first of two killer ascents.  But first we have a short discourse over a large toadstool which might be a Horse Mushroom or a Yellowstainer.  We have bitten off – not the mushroom but the hill – and it is a long hard chew to struggle to the top.  Fortunately it is not hot, though windy, but it is tiring work for us both.  Once at the top we draw breath in Flowers Barrow and enjoy the views north to Lulworth Castle.  A large blue marquee is still visible, a remnant of Camp Bestival which took place at the weekend.

We make our way along the cliff and reach Halcombe Vale which will take us down to the small beach at Arish Mell.  It is worth stopping to enjoy the views across Bindon Range.  Lulworth Camp lies at the western edge of the army land.  It is tough on the leg calves as you descend to Arish Mell; sadly we cannot explore this small beach because the army restrict access at all times.  There is a small slipway and Terry tells us later that the army uses this beach for joint exercises with the American military.

Now we have a slog ahead of us.  Rollo is not even sure she wants to take the coastal climb up to Bindon Hill.  There is a slightly inland option to Lulworth Cove which, for coastal walkers, probably ‘counts’. But I point to a place on the lower slopes and suggest we get to this point and review our options.

We never have this debate but each retreat into ourselves, draw on inner resources and, not wishing to sound too much of a drama queen but sounding like one anyway, we battle to the top.   I flop down in a grassy knoll, strip some layers off and eat my second egg and roll.  I was not so blinkered that I had not noticed a clump of dainty harebells, like so many dancing fairies, on the track as I reached the summit.  I go back to capture this image.

The coast path now traces the Chalk scarp as it arcs south towards Mupe Bay.  There is a steep, treacherous clamber down a track, partially stepped.  But the steps are more hindrance than help as many of them are falling away.  A descent ought to be lighter on the legs but it is steep and unstable underfoot.  Oh to be like the kids who, earlier, had dashed past us on the track down to Worbarrow, like so many young mountain goats.

Once on the flat we have reached Mupe Bay which is a sheltered embayment facing east.  On the descent we had wonderful views of the beach with its classic beach cusps.  The strip of limestone ledges which projects eastwards at the southern margin must add to the shelter.  The water is so clear you can sea the cloak of brown Fucus seaweed fronds afloat on the tide.  This would be a great little rock platform to work on a low spring tide.

As we start the final stretch Rollo notices a large mushroom in the long grass.  It is a fine Parasol Mushroom although a bit beyond its sell-by date.  The path now takes us due west across more or less even ground for another kilometre.  I truly sense the meaning of being on one’s ‘last legs’.  I have said to Rollo that the stretch we have walked today is one that I would not walk again for pleasure.  The book of words states that the 7-mile tract from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove is the most demanding section of all.  ‘All the hills are extremely steep and the path is often narrow and difficult to negotiate.  It is a remote and very beautiful area and limited access has created a natural haven for nature.’

Yes, all of the above.  It is a walk that should have lasted about 4 hours and we have taken 6 to complete it.  The view of Lulworth Cove from the cliff top is welcome but we still need to trudge through the shingle of the horseshoe cove.  There are plenty of folk about; late afternoon strollers, families who have spent beach-time here.

There is just a short walk up the narrow lane from the foreshore to the carpark where Terry is waiting for us.  I think he is a bit shocked to see me in such a wilted condition.  But I’ve been short on fuel, short on sleep and worst of all, caffeine-deprived all day!  After a pot of coffee, a bath and later a curry, I’m sorted.

Squirrel Nutkin pays a Visit

We started feeding the birds last autumn after we spotted a jumbo tub of fat balls at the local garden centre for a knock-down price.  Amazing what bargains do to one’s way of thinking.  As owners of cats over the years we have felt slightly guilty about their proclivity to hunt birds and mice of which we have plenty in our immediate vicinity, so have not gone out of our way to invite our feathered friends to feed on our door step.  But apart from the bargain aspect of the offer we felt our current feline incarnation is so grossly overweight (but adorable) we tend to think the birds have an advantage.

So we’ve also added nut cages which initially we suspended from the jasmine arch outside the French doors.  The speed with which they were being emptied, not to mention the consumption of a fat ball in 24 hours,  was explained one morning when we observed a grey squirrel, suspended from the jasmine branch, nibbling at the peanuts through the close-weave wire mesh.

The woods are full of oak, and some chestnut.  We frequently find oak seedlings in the garden and I have unearthed both sweet and horse chestnuts buried in my plant pots.  The squirrels in our woodland are not on the margin.

We moved the nut cage to the courtyard outside the kitchen.  We hung it from the washing-line, well away from a squirrel-supporting infrastructure.   We suspended a couple of fat balls too.  And we were perplexed when both fat balls and nuts continued to disappear at an alarming rate – bird food isn’t cheep!

During the past couple of weeks I’ve been at home and indoors rather more.  Laying up a lunch tray for a recuperating Nick one day, I looked out of the kitchen window and saw the squirrel suspended from the washing line by his hind feet and clasping the nut cage with his ‘hands’.  How did the blighter get there?

Thinking, ‘He’s got to retreat the way he came’, I tapped the window whereupon the squirrel dropped to the ground and scampered up the steps.  He sat there for a few seconds then climbed onto the railings, ran along them onto the fence and disappeared from view.  However, almost immediately after, I was aware of agitated movement in the Wisteria, which frames the kitchen window,  in my peripheral vision.  Quick as you like the squirrel reached the washing line and half ran, half swung his way along to reach the nuts.  Got to hand it to him.

I’ve also been indoors more because I’ve been sorting a large archive of papers: reports, folders, correspondence which relate to a job I do on a voluntary basis for the Conchological Society.  This archive was in a bit of disarray which had got to the point where I could not bear the thought of someone else having to pick up the pieces.  Well it’s sorted now, a lot is packed up for onward transmission to a facility in Leeds, other research stuff of mine is boxed – could be extracted if needed – but will eventually go the way of all things.

Of late, the garden here has received less attention than it needs and deserves.  I’m going to turn my attention to that next………..