A Pot of Coffee and a Mince Pie…..

……………… is all you need for breakfast in the Christmas aftermath.  Weeks behind with my blog, I now settle to a morning at my screen with a mug to my right and my diary to my left.  I must go back to November 28th.

With my Christmas willow tree worked and sitting in the hall awaiting shipment, I now turn to the task of sorting things that will need to travel to France,  wrapping a few presents and writing my remaining share of Christmas cards, assisting Gill with the cleaning and turning out things that she can usefully take for her car boot enterprises.  I slip down to Weymouth to visit Mum. mum1-2 Also I have managed to persuade Nick to come back from France a day earlier than he had planned so we can spend a day with the Dukes.

We meet at the car park by Thorncombe Wood near Bockhampton.  Hardy’s Cottage is nearby, it is a popular spot for visitors and walkers.  We make a short circuit through the woodland and heath and end up at the dog-friendly café where we have a light lunch. img_5305-2 Initially Maddy had proposed a walk but I tacked on the idea that we go to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  in Dorchester.  Written in 2001 by J K Rowling under the pen name of Newt Scamander it is about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe.  This would be my second viewing of the film at a cinema, a rare occurrence in my film-going experience.  Rather like books, I only do works of fiction once. My favourite beast is this fellow: niffler%20fantastic%20beasts-png

After the film we went back to Maiden Newton for tea then drove ourselves back into Dorchester for dinner at the Cote Brasserie.  A restaurant which is not expensive and manages reasonably authentic French cuisine.

Cut to Thursday morning and we must be on the ferry ready for departure at 08.30h.  The car is packed full.  Our departure is delayed after a minor medical emergency for which the lack-lustre ambulance service manages to delay us by a couple of hours.  Happily I am always content to be on the Barfleur.

The weekend is spent quietly and I start to think about decorating the house.  I go up to the top floor to investigate the walk-in cupboard where I keep Christmas decorations.  I am somewhat nonplussed to find very few boxes and certainly none of the old familiars.  I realise in that moment that they are sitting in our garage in Dorset, stacked where they were stacked last January ready for transport to France.  In my mind this task had been completed but in reality the boxes have been moved and re-arranged during the year by Nick without him realising what they contained.  At least the wooden reindeer made it across the Channel.  Once I look at the contents of the boxes and bags which are there I realise I will have enough baubles and tree ornaments for the fresh green tree, as well as the new willow one.  This will be a year for holly and ivy over the pictures, and candles, lots of them.

We will gradually start to pick up with our friends.  Martine and Alain come from Paris at the beginning of the week and we meet them that evening for a meal at Le Chasse Maree.  This restaurant has recently changed ownership and the new management are more agreeable than the former.  We enjoy our food there.  The Tailles invite us to eat native oysters at midday.

That is a real treat, they are more favoured than the locally farmed non-native ‘huitre creuse’ but I would be hard pushed to distinguish the two were I to subject myself to a blind tasting.

Friday is a very special day in that I go to have coffee with my talented friend Bibi who I haven’t seen since April.  This seems incredible but she spent two months in Mexico painting a stunning mural in a friend’s house and then we were away in June, then summer intervened and a busy autumn and that’s how it went.  She makes lovely things.  Her current theme is to create puzzles, wooden shapes which form her special brand of jigsaw puzzle and each puzzle comes in its own box which is a work of art.

I love them all but cannot resist the Picasso one which I buy then give to Nick on his birthday!  He likes it too. In the evening we have been invited to eat chez Burnouf, and Dede serves a delicious ‘couscous’.  The Poulets are there, also the Tailles, wonderfully convivial.

Over the weekend Bibi and three other friends hold a Christmas ‘Expo’ and sale of their work.  15380688_551366855059399_4150434975071553341_nI am able to properly meet Charlotte Franklin who I spoke to briefly in the summer at the Daniell event.  She is a talented painter and sculptor and a friend of La Poulette.  I buy some of her lovely cards.  Then it’s also good to meet up with Pink Sarah, she who made the tartan replica of my favourite pinafore dress.  I decide to take a couple of ‘off-the-pegs’ into my wardrobe.  There is a charming Frenchwoman, Florence Renault, who makes beautiful jewellery in glass.  Some Euros are parted with.   Having been in the morning, I later accompany la Poulette and Fefe who both expressed an interest in going to the sale.  As it happens they each buy a version of the striped ponchos that Sarah has made.  I think they suit their respective new owners well although later I gather from Fefe that she has gone off the boil with hers as she feels as if she has a rug slung about her shoulders.  I think she may be missing the point!

By Sunday evening that’s a diverse week wrapped up, another one is in view.

A Basket Case

I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so.  One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell.  With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket.  Here was my mission:

Forage a Basket

Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.

This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well.  And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials.  img_6431-2blogWe gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow.  We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.  img_5231-2

Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers.  The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length.  We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove.  Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source.  We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants.  The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green.  Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising.  img_5235-2Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes.  It was lunchtime………

After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets.  Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone.  We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame.img_5239-2  All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.

We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone.  Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread.  Bimg_5237-2efore long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border.  I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles.  However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer.  I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. img_6497 Putting the handle on was a doddle.  All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others.  Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some.  What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping!  What a fun day!

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A Willow Deer and Adventures with the Little Dears

After successful workshops run by Kim Cresswell in which I have crafted a badger (which looks more like a hog) and a Goose (which does look like a goose) I am challenging myself because I have signed up for a weekend at the end of which I will hope to have woven a willow Roe Deer.  By way of preparation I need to supply some photos of the deer species, and the posture, I am hoping to achieve.

As with the other two workshops I try to imagine how we will get started, and fail.  The secret with this particular animal, given that is larger and will need to be more sturdy on long legs, is to build a wooden frame.  But even that I stumble over.  I succeed in constructing my frame arse about face.  That is the horizontal struts destined to form the basis for the neck construction end up at the rear end on my frame.  But never mind, Kim says that I can work round this.  At the end of the first day I have built the bare bones of my animal with a primitive neck and head framework in place.  img_5205-2blogKim ensures that, with timely and expert intervention to make sure we do not lose sight of the animal we are trying to create, we all reach the same point of completion before we go home.  The second day will be taken up with fleshing out my animal, creating density, muscular definition and a recognisable head.  At the end of the afternoon it is time to pack up and load our animals into their transport.  My roe deer, the smallest of the animals just fits into my estate car.  Kim provides me with a bundle of sticks and a few canes of stripped willow to complete the finishing touches.  On the journey home I wonder where my roe deer is going to live.  Once unloaded Nick places the deer under the porch, facing the front door.  This seems ideal because it is dry and this will preserve the willow until I am able to treat it.

Later that evening Dan arrives with Lola and Ruby.  The Hackney duo are going to spend half term with us.  During the week we will do some collage using my cache of greetings cards, we will make pom poms, they will collect pebbles at Lulworth Cove and I will enjoy a trip with them to the cinema to see Dr Strange.  The film comes out of the Marvel Studios stables, and is in a genre with which Lola is very familiar.  She gives an occasional and informed whispered commentary on the background to films based on Marvel Comics.

On the last day in Dorset we plan to go and see the Floodlit Gardens at Abbotsbury, as we did last year.  They enjoyed it very much then.  The plan is to go to Weymouth for Fish and Chips at the Marlboro (this was a disappointment and we won’t go there again) but it all unfolds somewhat when we get there and find we have to wait for a table and then with the realisation that 8.30  p.m. closing time means the gardens must be vacated at that time, rather than the entrance gates closing at that hour, we have little more than an hour to enjoy the activities on offer.  The girls spend an extended time in the Bugfest tent which barely leaves us time to make a quick tour of the gardens to enjoy being scared.  The scary features are, I think, a bit better i.e. scarier than last year but we barely get our money’s worth.  If we do this event next year we will plan things differently and either do the gardens first and go for F and C after, or perhaps better take a superior picnic to eat under the marquee provided.

A Month in the Country

July slips by, days of bookish lunches (what a shock to discover we had a Leaver amongst our number), bridge, supper with local friends and Pims and Croquet one Saturday afternoon at Middlezoy.  Actually, forget the Croquet, or any garden game for that matter; it was an excuse to quaff some good drinks and eat some excellent barbecue food.

We have a long-standing agreement to receive Nick’s cousins at St Vaast towards the end of the month.  Nick goes back to play host for a couple of days leaving me to spend another week in England before making the crossing myself.  In that week there is a supper party at Canterton House where Paul, Viv, Maddy, Andrew, Lis, my sister Liz and I eat some of Viv’s delicious vegetarian food.  I cannot believe it when they tell me they may be on the move.  They have put in so much work on their house and the extensive hillside garden but they have always had itchy feet and another project awaits them on the other side of the valley.  We take a post-supper walk round the garden and admire the variety of hydrangeas that they have in flower.  My niece Lis takes a team photo.

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That night I am staying with Liz who lives on the east margin of Devon.  The next couple of days will be taken up with a visit to Reskadinnick to visit my dear friend Stella Maris.  She is very elderly now and is a fading star.  I find her comfortable in her life-long home, cared for by Rose and local support services.  I sit and read to her for a couple of hours whilst Rose is taken out for a break and to do shopping.  The book has been lent to me by Liz and is called ‘A Sting in the Tale’ by Dave Goulson and describes his ‘Adventures with Bumblebees’.  I find the low rhythm of my own voice very calming, the whole experience quietens the body.

I leave the Camborne area not long after 4p.m. and drive to Clifford Bridge where I have friends with whom I have stayed before, when breaking the journey between my Dorset village and Cornwall.  It is initially good to see them but since the Referendum things have changed, and when the conversation turns to how we all voted there is a divergence which is not easy to overcome.  I am keen to ditch the payneful discussion as soon as possible and would not want to return to the subject with them.

Leaving the next day I am planning to call in and see my mother before heading for Winterborne K.  I drive past the lovely farm shop at Morcombelake and notice that they have a display of willow contrivances on their forecourt. billandben I buy some of their snails, a couple of butterflies and a large flower thing that reminds me of ‘Weeeed’ from Bill and Ben.

 

Weaving a Willow Goose

After the excitement of Mum’s birthday, Monday dawned with a lunch party at The Old Workshop in view.  Annabel has been trying to schedule a lunch with some fellow villagers who are keen readers and it has been difficult for Nick and I to fit in.  Finally, I have picked a date and Annabel has liaised with the invitees and it is all systems go.  And it does go extremely well.  As a group of seven we gel and our chat ranges over various topics but lingers longest on the matter of the forthcoming Referendum.  Just before we disperse some books are shown and exchanged.  The seeds are sown.

Later on Anne Poulet is due to arrive at Poole ferry terminal.  She is coming over for the Willow Goose workshop which we have booked with Kim Creswell who lives just outside Sherborne.  Whilst she is with us we take in the Sculptures by the Lake, a curry at the Rajpoot in Dorchester and spend her final evening with us eating supper with Madeleine and Andrew after our willow day.  Six of us converge on Kim’s cabin and spend a rewarding day weaving a goose in white willow.  It is fascinating to see how the finished article evolves gradually as, bit by bit, sticks of willow are woven around the simple structure which shapes the frame.  My sister Liz has brought two of her friends along, and my guests are Anne and Andrew.  At the end of the afternoon we have a gaggle of respectable geese.