A plan for another place

At night after a long drive, I usually wake up with that am-I-going-to-stop-in-time-before-I-screech-into-the-back-of-that-car feeling. My body seems to take around the same time I was driving to realise and to stop 'driving'. After the journey to Portsmouth, the ferry, the drive from Caen to an hour south east of Bergerac, I was entitled to a few jolt-awake moments but they didn't come. I slept like I'd spent an afternoon watching the first day of Wimbledon with the TV just inside the house to keep the shade on the screen and with me and a couple of pints in the sun.



A few years ago Pat (who I'd landscape-assessed most of the southwest and Suffolk with) and Rob hopped the Channel. A few ties keeping them in England had loosened and they wasted no time. I've been a terrible arse, always too busy to have got over there to visit. I knew they had converted a barn into a house, refurbished the main house, put in a pool, created gardens, uncovered orchards, started running garden design courses and figured out what to do with the acres of chestnut woodland that came with the buildings. But I didn't know what it looked like, what it meant, what they'd actually created, and knowing the ingredients doesn't mean you can imagine the dish well.

I'm full of cliches so you'll have to excuse me if a few spill out. I'll remember those few days for the rest of my life. Although not necessarily my favourite films, Delicatessen, Radio Days, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters, Whiskey Galore, Von Ryans Express, A Matter of Life and Death, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and even the first while of War of the Roses drag me into another world, similar to those intense dreams you wake from feeling absolutely as though you were still submerged. Those few days at Pat and Rob's did just that.



I'm not sure why and I'm reasonably certain I haven't got the skill to convey in words quite why it was so special, so I'll just have to list the ingredients. It was warm, but not too warm, I saw my first ever hoopoe*, we ate the first Gariguette strawberries of the season after spending many minutes just smelling them, I drank a thimbleful of the awful local walnut wine moonshine, I ate (and have brought home) bags of prunes, I put on 6 pounds in 5 days, we walked around in chestnut woodland looking at the wild strawberries growing next to the hellobores, found the pond created by wallowing wild boars, drank chocolat chaud** while watching the hummingbird hawkmoths, lay around in fields full of cowslips, counted orchids and smelt the blossom on the wild peaches in the orchard, tried to keep up with the variety of bees, ate too much Reblochon, too much of the neighbours lamb, had a mildly frightening Gator ride through the steep woods, listened to cuckoos in the day and to my daughter mimicing the owls at night, the cathedral in Sarlat, and realising (when chased by farmer and crabby geese) that the 'road' to the boulangerie I'd been using for the first couple of mornings didn't include the track through a farm.

Find an excuse to go there if you can.



Those few days were a complete time-capsule of almost everything I enjoy most. It feels like the end of an affair, except I'm not unhappy, for I have prunes and last night I made the pudding I enjoyed most there - prune tart - from Goose Fat and Garlic.



And I have an idea for a kind of reverse Otter Farm: move there and try to grow things that grow well in England. Genius. Except tens of thousands of others thought of it first.


* Apart from the stuffed one that was kept in a Victorian bird cage at the historic house I worked*** as a guide in my teens

** I'm not sure there's ever been a better job in music than being the guitarist in Hot Chocolate

*** Work consisted mostly of eating cream teas, playing croquet, swapping C90s and hiding when anyone came to the house for a guided tour.

patientgardener said...

April 19, 2010 at 10:18 AM  

Looks fabulous and you do sound completely relaxed and chilled after your break

Lia Leendertz said...

April 19, 2010 at 10:22 AM  

Ah, the old 'eating grub from you hols to convince yourself you're still on your hols' trick, although more commonly carried with alcohol, of course. Hierbas from Majorca, Ouzo from Greece etc... I can though still convince myself I've just finished my A levels and am cavorting around Crete simply by eating a good Greek salad mopped with a hunk of crusty bread.
Gorgeous, gorgeous description of your holiday.

James A-S said...

April 19, 2010 at 11:24 AM  

Yeah,Yeah,Yeah
You've been on holiday...WE KNOW
It was all lovely and gorgeous...WE KNOW THAT TOO
Strawberries and prunes and cheese and all that stuff...YAWN,YAWN,YAWN
Hoopoes...WHATEVER
We didn't miss you one bit.
You don't look at all suntanned from here
Might as well have gone to Taunton.
or Sheffield.

Now get back to growing unsuitable plants. A few dead Olives will stop you getting uppity.

Stuart said...

April 19, 2010 at 6:31 PM  

The aforementioned historic house is no longer such a layabouts paradise but a respectable National Trust property.

I'll have you know that your stuffed Hoopoe is in capable hands, thanks to my mothers stewardship and you won't catch her hiding from the punters!!

Laetitia Maklouf said...

April 19, 2010 at 7:22 PM  

je suis RAVIS de ton tarte aux prunes...deeply jealous. I read this with a pug snoring on my knee and I went to heaven for a small moment...thanks

Gilly in Ari├Ęge said...

April 19, 2010 at 7:39 PM  

Nice to hear about your visit and to know you enjoyed it so much. Keep living your dream in Otter Farm and I'll continue living the other dream here in La Belle France.

Mark D said...

April 19, 2010 at 8:41 PM  

thank you all...and with fruit starting on the polytunnel apricots and peaches and outside on the blue honeysuckle, mignonette strawberries and rubus spectailis and all this sun it's not soooo bad being back

Claire Potter said...

April 19, 2010 at 10:10 PM  

wow, a hoopoe! I was excited when I spied your photo and probably would have wet myself had I seen it in person. I nearly fell of a chair lift in the alps because I thought I had seen one. It turned out to be a slightly discoloured and wafting Auchan bag. Quite apt I suppose.
The whole trip sounds like heaven. Not jealous at all you lucky b*****d. Ho hum - still coming up to Malvern???

hmmm - verification word stshy - sounds like my mood in the morning (although it is missing at least an i).

Lickedspoon said...

April 20, 2010 at 2:07 PM  

I'm so sick with jealousy I really can't think of anything to say. Apart from nice tart.

Simon S said...

April 21, 2010 at 6:48 AM  

If you have any left, try page 291 of Jeanne Strang's book - recipe for "La Glace aux Pruneaux et a l'Armagnac". For a local appley twist replace the armagnac with Somerset Brandy.

oh & the "potted rabbit with prunes" pg 288 is hard to beat

& the.....

wildelycreative said...

April 22, 2010 at 11:44 AM  

Don't listen to JAS, He's just jealous.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D