I haven’t posted anything for over two weeks because I have been on a cruise around the Baltic and had very limited internet connection – far too expensive on the ship and too little time to find an internet cafe on shore. We visited Copenhagen for an afternoon in the pouring rain, Rostock and Warnemunde on the German Coast with a watery sunshine, Tallin, where it rained again. The furthest destination was St Petersburgh where the temperature dropped and there was a smattering of snow. We spent two days there before returning to Tilbury calling at Helsinki where the temperature dropped to minus 5 and then Klapedia in Lithuania – never heard of it, neither had I- but it was sunny and the band played in the town square.
St Petersburgh was the highlight of the trip. Two days in not enough to see the city, its churches and palaces but we did our best.
We liked these beach chairs we saw in Warnemunde and thought we might like one for our garden.
Tallin is like a film set from Walt Disney, but we found a great restaurant and sat watching other tourists scuttle around the Town Hall Square whilst we enjoyed beautifully cooked rabbit followed by a raspberry parfait.
In St Petersburgh, I was reminded of the novel ‘The Seige’ by Helen Dunmore – chillingly graphic description of the days the city was surrounded by the Nazi’s during the WW2. Catherine’s Summer Palace was trashed by the German Army but has been restored to it’s former glory.
As the experts on the Antiques Road Show examine an item they always ask what the owner knows about the piece. I have a print I acquired some years ago whose provenance is a little risqué. It’s a lithograph by the artist John Ward and I bought it from the manageress of the club where I played squash. She was a dark haired, dark eyed woman who not only managed all the bookings at the club, but also ran the bar. It was a very social place and I often stayed on after a game to gossip with the staff and other players. It was also a favourite watering hole for police officers from the local CID.
The manageress produced the picture and asked me if I was interested in purchasing it for quite a modest sum. I recognised it as one of the Inns of Court and asked her how she had come by it. I was particularly concerned because the price she was asking was very low and I thought it might have been stolen. There were some shady characters drinking in the club. She reassured me that it was not stolen with the riposte that she wouldn’t have produced in front of a group of detectives who were drinking in the bar that night.. I could see the logic of her comment. ‘So’, I said, ‘How did you come by it?’
She told me that her then boyfriend was the manager of an ‘adult only’ club in Soho and some months before, there had been a police raid when the club was full. The clients had all made a hasty exit through the fire doors without stopping to collect any of the items they had left in the cloakroom. Over time most of the property had been collected, but the club had been left with a collection of umbrellas and this print. When the boyfriend was given the task of disposing of the picture he thought I might like it, as he knew I was a barrister.
I decided in the circumstances it was not the proceeds of a theft and I would not be charged with handling stolen property. so I purchased the print.
For many years it hung in my office in Chambers and now is in my home; it continues to give me great pleasure. It shows the hall of Grays Inn, the Inn of which I am a member, as incidentally is the protagonist in my novel Crucial Evidence. The lithograph also makes me smile as I think it was left in that Soho club by some eminent judge too embarrassed to reclaim his piece of art.
In 1984 Elizabeth David added a postscript to her book ‘Eating Out in Provincial France.’ I haven’t read that particular book although I have devoured her cookery books, both metaphorically and literally, reading and following her recipes. I suspect that most of the restaurants she mentions in the book have long since disappeared and certainly eating out in France can be as disappointing as in the UK. But even now you can still buy wonderful food in the small city of Uzes.
She writes of the Casino on the Boulevard Gambetta, where one can buy the essentials and then the wonderful butchers shop; one needs to remember the cuts of meat are different, less fat but more expensive. There are some wonderful bakeries too. My favourite is the one under the arches on the Place aux Herbes, where in addition to the standard baguette they sell a variety of different breads. The shop assistant weighs the loaf one picks, a Campagne or Rustique for example and one pays by weight. There is nothing more delicious than fresh bread with a great cheese. In this part of France it has to be goats cheese. The pelardons as they are called are made locally and can be bought in various stages of maturity, fresh soft and creamy for eating immediately, or harder for grilling or toasting.
The fruit and vegetables are wonderful as well. Elizabeth David was there in February so not as much choice but as she went round the stalls of the Saturday morning market, she found creamy fleshed potatoes, crisp bronzed-flecked, frilly lettuces, bunches of chard, leaf artichokes, pumpkins and read peppers, new-laid eggs, nine or so varieties of olives and golden coloured honey. They are still available in winter.
Through the summer local producers bring their products to the Market on both Saturday and Wednesday. The season begins with a small sweet strawberry called Garrigette, then the apricots in large boxes. The same grower sells green asparagus in large bunches-it’s delicious fried with a fresh egg on top. Later on as summer creeps towards autumn, the peaches, white or yellow appear on the stalls; they have an intoxicating smell and are so luscious. Finally figs become available, eaten raw with some of that lovely bread and a runny unpasturised Brie.
Just thinking about it makes my mouth water particularly now that summers over.
As this is Poetry Day I want to share my favourite poem. When I was a small child I had freckles scattered across my nose and on my cheeks above the bones. I hated them, but my Dad called them sun-kisses, and tried to reassure me by reading this poem by Gerard Manley-Hopkins. It’s called Pied Beauty.
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon, trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet. sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;