May 19 2010

Grey May

A warm wonderful week in France raised our hopes for a clement month of May at home. Alas we were mistaken. We sailed from Roscoff in sunshine and 26 degrees, passengers sunbathing on the deck. Then, as we approached English shores, a thick mist engulfed us, swirling, whirling, twirling, it wrapped itself around the ship. Plymouth took on an unearthly presence, floating greyly between sea and sky. We drove home in foggy drizzle.
Funny fortified St Malo had been bathed in sunshine. We walked warmly the C14th ramparts which surround this island town at the mouth of the Rance; a strange town with an embattled history going back to monastic roots in the C6th Famous for piracy in the sixteenth century, it even declared itself independent for four years from 1590. It was blown up by the English in 1693 and violently liberated from Second World War Nazi occupation in 1944.
Looking down from the battlements we watched children paddling n the sea, castles growing from the sand, dogs digging, bikini clad girls holding hands with their boys, old ladies wrapped warmly carry shopping home across the pebbles, this on all the tiny beaches beneath the great walls .
As we turned inwards towards the town we looked down on a criss-cross of tiny narrow streets, spreading like grey ribbons between huge sombre blackened buildings .We sat outside in the sun in street cafes eating moules and frites, oysters, spider crab, salad de gesiers, all the while drinking in the bustle, warmth and laughter all around us.
We sat eating oysters…….
……..and spider crabs
We looked at the great sailing ships restored and working again; we visited the rebuilt cathedral with its beautiful modern stained glass, a sharp reminder of the devastation of the town in 1944.
A wonderful sea trip in a boat run by the aptly named company, Corsaire, took us out to the ancient forts which surround the city promontory. They have been its brave defence since the Middle Ages. My French was so inadequate for the finer points of the commentary that I have already joined a French conversation class in preparation for a return visit!
Saturday morning and a quick ferry trip across the bay found us in the fabulous food market in Dinard.
Dinard market flowers
We had no idea where the market was held so just allowed the huge crowd to sweep us along. Bursting with people, stalls, produce of every sort, bustle, laughter, raised voices, dogs, children, balloons, flowers, music; it was quite magical and the hardest part of all was not being able to buy food to cook and eat myself! There was every sort of fruits de mer, saucisson, fromage, fruits, fleurs, vin , pain, biere, legume, patisserie……………….and much, much more.
and much, much more…..!
We left St Malo on Sunday and spent the rest of our week with dear friends further west in their beautiful restored medieval farm house in a tiny Brittany hamlet. We sat in sunshine in the garden marvelling at their extraordinary vision and skill. Over the last eight years an uninhabitable roofless wreck occupied by cows has become the most beautiful, rose clad, peaceful home. And they did it all themselves.
We feasted on Evelyne’s wonderful food. A local pig had been killed. We ate terrine made form all those bits of the pig disdained by us Brits, it was wonderful. We had slow cooked leg of pork with ceps marinaded in red wine. Fois gras, local cheese, salt cod baked in cream with parmesan, salad, beautiful preserved pears and, of course, all this with wonderful local wine.
We left early for the ferry not just in case of delays at the dock caused by that volcanic ash but to give us time to stock up at LeClerk on all those little things that our local supermarket seems to lack; local French wine, pate, local cheeses and that fantastic ready made pastry! Eat your heart out Mr Justroll!
Home now to a very cold May. A swingeing north-easterly wind, grey skies and no rain has had an extraordinary effect on the garden. Now in the middle of the month, fast approaching June and midsummer some trees still refuse to risk the chilling nights and open their leaves. “Don’t cut anything back” command my gardening guru’s, “just wait, things that appear dead may yet sprout” I’m waiting!
I planted out my beautiful little beans nurtured lovingly for weeks in the poly tunnel. I admired their perfect rows, boasted to my friends even: the next day they fell victim to a mid May frost unheard of here in mildest Devon. Geraniums are still imprisoned in their glass house as my anxiety level rises for the National Garden Scheme charity opening in just four weeks time. Seedlings pricked out in boxes refuse to grow; “too cold at night” they say “for us to move”. And the wind has caught my wonderful Seagull and Kifsgate roses. For years they dripped cascades of tiny flowers over the pond in June. Not this year. All branches have been flung backwards by the storm into a tangled mess. All I can do is let them flower then cut them down and hope for better things next year.
We long for rain not just for the garden but to give us much needed grass for our sheep. All across the valley the fields look sparse and dry and once more we farmers fret. We move mothers and children from field to field as a green haze appears across the hill. No danger of donkeys over indulging this year, in fact Fat Boy Luke has lost weight for the first time in sixteen years; not such a bad thing. Bunty and Nutmeg still look round and glossy, donkeys thrive on little so long as food is constant and they are dry and loved.
I gave friends some bantams last week. I felt I had far too many. Then, of course, a fox or maybe a badger made a night visit killing my poor broody girl and dining out on all her eggs! Toujours le meme chose!
Wide eyed and beautiful….!

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