Saturday, 7 July 2018

....Like a newt needs a bicycle

I love my bike now.
I have pimped it with fake sunflowers and a large yellow Van Gogh bike bell. My kids bought me a bike helmet a bit like the cool gold one Mary Beard wears, but bronze.
The only bit I don't like is when I arrive back at my bike having bought a large bunch of lilies or a dozen eggs and think "Now how am I going to get THIS home?"
And that's exactly what happened last week when I ended up pedalling across town with two young newts in my bike basket.
Having lunch by Carole's pond, she confided that she had almost too many newts. Apparently they were annoying the frogs.
"How? Blowing tiny amphibian raspberries? Calling them slimy names?"
"No Clare. Eating the frogspawn."
Not put off by their uncouth behaviour, I mentioned that our brand new garden pond lacked newts.
Together we squatted down and set about pond-dabbing like six-year-olds.  At first we gathered only a bunch of slime.  But then two baby newts for me to take home.
Then I remembered I was on my bike.
I would like to report that the newts sat up  straight, peering alertly through the bars of the bike basket and enjoying the wind in their crests.
However Carole kindly provided a yoghurt tub to give them a safe journey home.
They  seemed none the worse for it as they swam off into our pond. However I think it's likely that the only cycle they'll be interested in in future is the newt life cycle.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

New Frock

It’s one of my rules – if there’s an event coming up, don’t go out shopping for The Frock.
The Frock is something you never find when you’re actually looking.

But unfortunately, I sometimes have giddy moments and break my own rules.
I had a few occasions to go to this summer and I thought maybe a new dress…
I prowled the internet.  Hopefully it’s the closest I’ll come to internet dating.  Many handsome frocks, but none of them looked like The Frock. 
Plus, I was pretty sure that when I tried them on, they wouldn’t look as thin and gorgeous as they did in their profile pictures.

A quick sweep of Monsoon (accomplished at a moment when Nigel was texting me ‘Where are you?’) had left me with a fleeting impression of a lace dress in flaming orange and hot pink.  It was the kind of dress that already seemed to have a red rose gripped between its teeth.
I didn’t have time to try it on.

On holiday, Carenza encouraged me to buy it. 
It looked good on.
And that should have been the happy ending.

But then I needed a jacket – it had to match either the hot pink or the orange – I found one in orange.
Then a clutch bag.  Hot pink!
Then shoes – something neutral.  But no, the ones that fitted best were rose gold.

I became afraid to look in the mirror – scared that peering back at me, I would see Grayson Perry.

I wore it all to Hannah & Joel’s wedding.  It certainly ensured that nobody could miss me -  the brightly-coloured woman three rows back who was trying to stifle a coughing fit during the vows.

But after all, at least when the dancing started, it made me feel young.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Military Might and Orchids

We thought we should learn more aboutWWII The twins still have nightmares from an earlier visit to La Vallee Museum, based in a German Underground Hospital excavated by slave labour. So instead we cycled the German Occupation Museum and then to Pleinmont Observation Tower.

The man who admitted us to Pleinmont Observation Tower was the same person who had taken our money only hours earlier at the German Occupation Museum so I imagine WWII heritage is preserved by a small and dedicated band of people.  Locally this man was a star having produced the introduction to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie film which was out this year.  However, he did admit that it was only the Channel Islands version of the film which had his introduction.   

The tower itself had the purpose of monitoring plane and ship movements out to sea, although thrown up in a matter of months by the Germans and with an emphasis on being secure, even against gas attack, it was still an elegant example of brutalist architecture.  However, whether this souvenir of the Nazi occupation will ever be admired more than it is hated is hard to imagine.

In complete contrast to all this history of ruthless military aggression, there was something else I very much wanted to see.  Googling, Pascoe and I had discovered by chance that 1)There was a spectacular wild Guernsey orchid.  2) It was in bloom now, 3) There were some fields near the coast where it thrived.
It sounded like a potential wild goose chase to Nigel but I was determined, and we pedalled to the right area.
I eventually spotted the exotic purple flowers over a hedge and slammed my brakes on to much swearing behind me.  
The loveliness of these lush, flower-tapestry water meadows  was beyond me to describe.  Suffice it to say that there were four types of orchid including the loose-flowered Guernsey orchid, and also delicate ragged robin, yellow bartsia and yellow flag irises.  It is not promoted to tourists so, apart from one other equally astounded couple, we had the meadows to ourselves. Maybe Heaven will be a bit like that.

We ended the day by playing Frisbee on the beach then had a glass of Prosecco while the sun sank behind a rocky island.

At sunset, the tide had dropped enough to allow us to clamber across to the island, just in time to see the sea flush rose.


Saturday, 16 June 2018

Dolphins and Sea shells

We cycled to St Peter Port and caught the ferry to Herm.  Many people are drawn to Herm because it is the picture postcard ideal of an island.  Above the white sand beaches, brightly coloured flowers and tall New Zealand flax make it look tropical.  But I had another goal in mind. 
On the ferry trip over, more gleeful dolphins accompanied us, although Perran and Carenza and Will, sitting inside the boat, missed them.  Once on Herm, there was little consultation as to what we should do.  I set off marching purposefully and the others fell in line behind me. We were heading to the north east of the island, to Shell Bay where there was rumoured to be an extraordinary and compulsive array of shells.  
When we got there, we did indeed find everything from massive common "otters" through to the tiniest cowries.  Plus many shells which I had not seen before. Ever since childhood, I have had a weird compulsion to collect shells, without any thought of how to make use of them.  They seem to me exquisitely beautiful and I derive visual pleasure from picking them out, then enjoy sorting and categorising them.  
I have a tradition with Carenza that the first one of us to find a cowry on holiday gives it as a gift to the other.  Today, our hands were overflowing with them.
Too soon, it was time for the last ferry and home.  On the way back, Perran and Carenza who had previously missed the dolphins sat on the top deck in order to be sure of not missing them.  Naturally, there were no dolphins this time.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Chapel & Chips - Family Holiday, Guernsey

Cycled to the charming Little Chapel, hand mosaicked in multi-coloured china and tile by a monk about 100 years ago.  Nigel remembered visiting here on a childhood holiday.  We came again when our own children were tiny and I remembered accidentally leaving my copy of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth here.  I had a quick look round but it seemed to have vanished during the intervening eighteen years. 

The ceramic decoration was mesmerising - themes and patterns would emerge over certain sections, but would then meld into the general melee of varied fragments.  There was a pattern of ormer shells on the vaulting above the Virgin Mary.  And what I didn’t expect, the Chapel took the visitor on a journey through to a further two tiny chapels at lower levels.  

Nearby were Guernsey clockmakers, inventive and imaginative yet tacky at the same time – segments of each clockface split, unfurled and twirled in time to Swan Lake or The Waltz of the Flowers, accompanied by motifs of tutu-ed ballet dancers or tulips, and regrettably studded with Swarovski.
Then north west on our bikes again, along lanes lined with a braid of red campion and wild sorrel.

We visited the tiny ancient chapel of St Apolline, the patron saint of toothache (following a  gruesome martyrdom which I'll leave to your imagination), and appreciated the exquisite mediaeval wall-painting of the Last Supper.

Then back in time for the Fleetwood Mac Tribute balcony concert at Cobo Bay Hotel.  Thousands of people thronged the coast road and beach to chill out  to the music, but I had something else on my mind: there was a chippie very close to the concert.
So last time we went on holiday en famille, I had brought with us salt, white pepper, malt vinegar and ketchup, all in anticipation of fish and chips.  However, Nigel had discovered that the chips that time were fried in beef dripping, thus putting them off-limits to four family members.  I had sadly taken home my condiments unused. 
This time however, Nigel solved the problem by not asking what their chips were fried in and I colluded by not questioning him.  Instead, I opened the fragrant paper parcel he had purchased, pulled the Sarsons malt vinegar from my ruck sack and drenched the delicious fish and chips.  They were so good that I barely remembered to feel guilty.  And as if fish and chips were not enough to make the Halleluiah Chorus play spontaneously in my head, we were eating them perched on a sea wall, my favourite spot for making any food taste twice as good.  Plus, the Fleetwood Mac Tribute was playing in the background.
After the chips, we lolled on the beach like seals, happy in our own blubber and decided we would wait on the beach for the sunset, even in spite of the fact that some local twenty-somethings came and began to hurl a rugby ball around far too close to us. 
One dropped the ball:  “You’re so gay!”  “I may be gay, but at least my dick’s bigger than yours.”  An object lesson in witty banter to be treasured by each one of us.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Family Holiday - Guernsey - Day 1

In the morning, mist and “why didn’t I bring a jumper” were the order of the day.
We cycled over to St Peter Port, along narrow, high-hedged lanes bright with red campions, three cornered leek and pennywort.

In the town, Carenza and I spied beautiful shops and became unpleasant and haughty until the guys eventually shouldered the massive hint and left us alone to browse and drool.  Although, as Nigel said,
“You’ll want us again when there’s shopping to carry.”

Carenza bought a gold and green necklace and I bought a pink and orange dress.  She carried them.

We went en famille and explored the Castle (Castle Cornet) with an amazing tour from the Norm, an islander who recalled the WWII occupation and disliked anybody from Germany.  But not as much as he disliked anybody from Jersey.

After he finished, we enjoyed a scented garden with a chamomile lawn, followed by a dressing up room.  However, some of the historic costumes were too small.  It was almost as if they had been made for children.

By the time we pedalled for home, the sun had finally broken through.
That evening we set off south along the coast beside the drifts of wild gladioli, pink thrift and yellow mustard and dined at the Rocks Restaurant overlooking Cobo Bay, its picturesque rocks and romantic sunset.  The restaurant coped well with both vegetarians and vegans, although they did accidentally serve Nigel The Wrong Pie.

Best of all though was the thunderstorm that broke on our way home in the dark.  We were arrested by the spectacle out to sea and stood watching from the dunes near our house.  Sheets flashed and forks writhed across the sky, turning the whole sea into a mirror.  We oohed and aahed as if it were November 5th.  
In the electrified blackness, plastic glowed weirdly.  Nigel scooped up in his palms what he thought was a glow worm but turned out to be a plastic sweet wrapper.  Hahaha.

Nazi graffiti, Castle Cornet

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Family Holiday - Guernsey - setting off

We never know when it'll be the last holiday when we succeed in enticing all the children with us, but we managed it this year.
Got up at 5.15am, rolled out of the house into the heavily laden car.
There were the usual holiday happenings – Five of us had to fit in the car so I  had weighed up carefully my choice of clothes and laid out my outfit so I didn’t have to take any decisions while befuddled in the early morning.  I got dressed but left my jumper, intending to put it on just as I exited the house.  At the point of departure, it was nowhere to be found.  Five adults searched every room.  Clearly aliens had abducted my pullover.
Nigel had allowed loads of time for the drive and we arrived in plenty of time. But parked tightly on the ferry we had the usual scramble to prize ourselves out of the car with our bulky daysacks, plus phones, books, computers and not quite enough hands.  It was as if, even after queuing on the tarmac for half an hour, we had never guessed this moment would come.  We Hobbas are also the people in supermarket queues who look surprised when asked to pay for our goods and spend a long time looking for our wallets.
As we boarded, I said to Perran, “Really feels like we’re on holiday now.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we saw dolphins?”
On the ferry, mist closed in and there was an announcement not to worry as the ferry foghorn sounded.  I began to hum the Titanic theme.  Hackneyed, I know but worth it for a view of the occasional truly worried rolling-eyed passenger.
But then, a miracle, on the way into St Peterport harbour.
Six to eight dolphins accompanied the ferry in, riding in the bow wave and the wake, leaping completely out of the water.
This was going to be a great holiday. 
Later, from our holiday cottage, we wandered along the sand of Cobo Bay.  West-facing, the sunsets are legendary, but not when the sea mist rolls in.
But that didn’t stop the beach art.  Nigel and Pascoe made a henge.  Perran inscribed a huge organic pattern in the sand with his feet.  I made a watercolour of Cobo Bay in the mist and Carenza took photos.