Poppy is 9

Poppy greeted me with wild enthusiastic licking (why always the ears?).  She has clearly had a lovely holiday – as usual – with Hans and Margaret.  What’s more they have brought her back to normal behaviour after her somewhat stressed post-vaccine combined with new biscuits-only diet.

Yesterday was her birthday, and she punished me by refusing to eat anything.  A battle of wills is going on: the food bowl remains firmly untouched.  But I am not going to give in and return to her unhealthy diet of Pedigree Chum.

It is nearly nine years since I collected that little black bundle from Véronique at the trout farm and she frightened Margaret and me by nearly jumping into the deep hole under the house or hiding in an unstable woodpile.

She has become the ideal companion: happy, friendly (especially to humans)  and obedient (relatively).  Just a little blip while I try and get her back on course eating a healthier diet.

UK visit

Back home in France, I’m sitting at my desk, gazing out on a green, green landscape, and above it blue sky with the odd fleck of passing white cloud.  And it is warm – well, warmer than London.

This must have been the coldest and wettest UK trip in my memory, but despite this, I had some lovely moments.

I originally timed this trip to say goodbye to my dear friend, Graeme, but he died sadly ten days before. Coincidentally I bumped into his sister, Clare, when in Richmond, so I was able to say again how special Graeme was.  I won’t be able to go to his funeral, which is the day I take my next friend, Sally, to the airport.

I usually manage to see Sally or Christine – my two oldest school friends, who both still live in Richmond.  This time I had lunch with Christine and her husband, Roy (just recovered from emergency heart surgery at Easter!) at their perfect Richmond pad (ground floor, three bedrooms, spitting distance from the river).

I think it is 66 years since Christine and I found ourselves together in Class B at the Vineyard Primary School . Two years later we were both in Form 1B at Tiffin Girls School – and eight years later, both went to Oxford.  There were also games of tennis, picnics, cycle rides CND marches and trouble together when we arrived home too late.  When you grow up together like that, it creates a lifetime bond. It is great that the friendship with Christine, and indeed with Roy, goes on.

This was the only non-family event in my week (if you discount an abortive shoe hunt).  I spent the first three days with the Gillies (Kate and family). There were trips to Otto and Willow’s schools in Dulwich, some guitar strumming and with Otto, taking Willow to her gym class (a graceful natural – not Filson genes, I suspect) and reading them both books.  As they grow older I find it so much more satisfying to spend time with them.  I was not a natural toddler granny, I fear.

As usual, I respect the family wishes for lack of detail or photos of the children, but I cannot resist an attempt capture the absolutely stunning transformation of their ground floor, which now has a huge kitchen/dining/sitting space, with this panoramic photo:

Then I moved on to the BPs (Jude and family), where the three days were dominated by Maddie’s fifth birthday. We started with her actual birthday on Friday, when after school I took Maddie and three equally loud and excited five year olds to the local upmarket cafe, accompanied by a (slightly) more sedate Ella and her friend, Mae.

The long suffering nanny, Katie, then took the younger contingent home, still  in the pouring rain, of course, while I went with Ella and Mae (and her very nice dad) to their choir. This turned out to be an excellent, robust event with children from various schools, who sang with great gusto and lack of inhibition.  I was amazed to discover later that Ella and Mae only started the main song, which they sang with confidence, complete with dramatic hand gestures, last week.  And while I was there, they started another song, the old favourite ‘Scarborough Fair’. I wished the children here could have heard the enthusiasm and discipline of these young singers.

Sunday’s highlight was of course the Birthday Party, which Maddie shared with Sammy, the little boy with whom she shared nursery school and, initially, nanny.  Most of the children came from The Villa, Maddie’s old – private – nursery, although several have moved to the Belham, the primary school which Maddie finally got into a fortnight ago. She has yet to acquire Ella’s passion for Belham, with memories of the vary special Villa still too vivid.  But I think she is coping.

The party was a hoot – 20 very loud children running riot in a church hall, with an almost equal number of adults hovering nearer the Prosecco bottle. After tea there was a superb entertainer, Mark, and his sister, Kate, who come from an animal rescue centre which seems to combine entertaining children with educating them about caring for animals. The children adored all the animals, from the soft, plump rabbit, to the prickly but beautiful hedgehog and the grand finale, Henry the Python.

Everybody started with a go at holding the chameleon (which also tried its best to hide on a trainer), and most took on the snake (parents included).

I can’t resist finishing on a technical note.  Unlike France, England has embraced contactless payments with enthusiasm. My British bank, Nationwide, supports Apple Pay (unlike my French bank, Credit Agricole).  This means that instead of using cash or cards, I can use my phone to make payments – or better still, my Apple watch.  Travelling on trains or buses, paying for shoes or coffee or clothes, I kept my bag firmly zipped up and instead, double clicked on my watch and placed it over the payment screen. Apart from needing coins for Maddie’s birthday present, I think I may have opened my wallet twice in a week.