Festive Season

At the Arras Winter Market Ooh! Beads ! Just need a mulled wine now Carousel Hilary Debs of course Looks like a brickies tip The fish
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture And now the fun part Hit it with a hammer The frame built Jim Beard at Fromelles JJ and friends

Digging in for winter

November 2008

So what do I do when not in the trenches - dig them of course. Peter's dream is to have a large greenhouse in the garden (replete with TV and radio for Gardeners' World) and so once the grass cutting season has finished he can begin work at home.

The first task was to finish the trenching around the new garden fence and get it lined - so that we could fill it back in again. This smacks a bit of army life but it had to be done because if not we would have had nowhere to put all the soil for the flower borders.

The greenhouse is going to be situated along the top hedge and we therefore had to dig out the bank. We aren't certain but we think that we moved about four or five cubic metres of soil over two days. Apart from the borders the areas between the fish ponds have been built up ready for the cascades and other innovative features that Peter may be allowed to install.

Whilst we shovelled and carted the soil Sandra raked and tidied and pulled out the remaining bits of chalk. Thankfully they do not have the huge chunks of flint in this garden that they had at Avondance, but up against the hedge there were enough roots and the ground is laced with chalk.

With the ground cleared we started the trenches for the foundations. There had been some rain but not a great deal. Enough though to ensure that the mud we were working in was extremely sticky. Now and again you would try and push down on the spade with one foot only to find that the other was stuck to the ground and you couldn't transfer your weight onto the spade !

The rear and side walls have gone up and as soon as we get some dry weather we will be able to prepare where the front of the greenhouse is going in. Watch this space.


5 December 2008

It has been almost two years since the last time my parents were over visiting and I laughed with the lady at Carrefour on the Thursday when she was talking about the foul weather we were having. Ah but my brother is arriving tomorrow - that explains it, it always rains when he visits.

Anton brought his car over and took some of our back roads to arrive. I was so pleased to see his car as filthy as mine for once. At least the cows are back in their barns, but the beet lorries are throwing mud everywhere along the narrower lanes.

Anton and Debs had arrived carrying the biscuits, mango chutney and bacon whilst mum and dad had the Christmas puddings and the cake. The festive season just wouldn't be the same without a mother's special made with two measures of whiskey (The measure I believe being a quart).

We pottered about a bit getting fed and watered before setting off for our magical mystery tour. First stop was Doullens where we popped into the Hôtel de Ville to see where Maréchal Foch had been made Commander in Chief in 1918. Enough history, the real reason we were in Doullens was to visit the bakers to get the buns in. They make fabulous coconut and chocolate slices. Mother paid so we had the expensive slices of chocolate layered on chocolate with a topping of chocolate.

So that dad could see the results of all our digging we stopped off at Magnicourt on the way over to Arras. The gateaux were placed in the fridge and on we went.

The Marché de Noël at Arras is quite pretty and has a wonderful setting on the Grand' place. This year they have added a small skating rink as well. It is very much a tradition in France for the major towns and villages to have at least a couple of days of a market.

We tried the hot cider and the mulled wine and made a few purchases from some of the forty or so cabins which provide a good selection of things to buy : from winter woolies to spicy additions for mulled wine; from decorations to scented bars of soap.

Back to Magnicourt for an evening sat around a raclette. Melted cheese over lots of things and Anton was well impressed by the idea of grilling eggs.

Last year Anton had demonstrated his ability to fit maltesers across his mouth, Debs showed in true competitive style that an entire chocolate fudge meringue takes greater skill. Heaven knows where mother put the coffee square she had for afters because the rest of us struggled for space. The winter ales flowed and the bottles of rosé emptied. As always a good night out.


Jim Beard

9 June 1931 - 7 November 2008

In July 2006 I was contacted by Jim's family asking about visiting the battlefields. The days he wanted coincided with my birthday so I said that I would agree but a present was in order !

He arrived armed with Aussie beer towels, a book and two bottles of Boag's Honey Porter which is one of the world's great beers. For Jean-Jacques he had a roo and a koala - which remain on his shelves even today.

Over the next couple of days we toured the Somme and out onto the Cambrai battlefield whilst Jim researched family members who had died during the war. For something out of the way I took him out to the forgotten battlefield of Fromelles where Australians had been committed to the Western Front for the first time 90 years before hand.

I am sure that he must have been interested when earlier this year archaeologists confirmed finding a burial plot which has lain forgotten since the war.

Throughout the two days Jim proved that not only had he deserved his silver medal for swimming at the 1950 Empire Games but that he could have talked for Australia as well.

His swimming brought him into contact with an unknown struggling artist by the name of Rolf Harris who swam for Western Australia. Following a move to England, Jim and friends travelled through Europe in an old 1929 London Taxi, decorated by Rolf. If only they had known then that the artwork would nowadays be worth more than the vehicle.

Jim had been just about everywhere within the Commonwealth and could indeed talk with experienced justice about innumerable topics. Then as we came out of the German Military Cemetery at Neuville St Vaast with its 45 000 burials he looked at me and very quietly said that I deserved a note in the family record books - for once in his life he was speechless. He remained lost in thought all the way back into town.

We got into Arras, had a last beer and picked up sandwiches before heading to the station and his train back to Paris. Halfway across the car park I noticed that he had left his food in the car so I sent him on ahead and ran back for his bag of goodies.

Back in the station there was no sign of Jim and his train was pulling into the station. Not in the foyer, not on the platform, where had he got to. I was just about to go back down to the platform when Jim sauntered out of the booking office: it's OK, the ticket's fine.

It wasn't fine at all and I grabbed his bags and rushed him down the stairs, along the tunnel and up the otherside with about sixty seconds to spare before the doors closed and the train pulled out.

I wonder what the French thought as this poor old seventy year old was hassled all the way to his train. Jim just smiled and I would think he just put it down to one of life's experiences.

We remained in touch but sadly he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer in July and treatment caused him more anguish than the cause. His wife Heidi had died in 2004 and he missed her greatly, so with the help of his family and his faith he prepared to be reunited.

I never got round to drinking the second bottle of beer that he gave me so now I will have a chance to raise a glass to one of the world's characters.


See also

The gardening continues

The cold snap 2009

Hilary spins and knits a Tommy

Heritage Weekend 2008

Deb's Birthday