One from the vaults: Bitter sweet

This is from June 2014 and it feels appropriate to revisit as it’s Father’s Day this Sunday in UK and France.

I feel as if I’ve been bombarded for the last few weeks with suggestions for this weekend’s, Father’s Day? I can’t say that I’d ever really noticed the saturation before but perhaps it’s because this year, for the first time ever, I have no need of anything for Father’s Day.

In a family of three Daddy’s girls, Father’s Day was always more special than Mother’s Day. Sorry Mum! We’d always meet up en famille for Father’s Day lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. There’s nothing my Dad liked better than spending the day with his girls – all four of us. The tradition lapsed somewhat once we’d moved to France and it progressively became more difficult to eat out with my mother as her Alzheimers advanced.

Then, this time last year, we had an unexpected treat. My brother-in-law, as a surprise, organised for my youngest sister and my father to fly out and visit my younger sister and me. Purely, coincidentally, the same week-end as Father’s Day. Like most women, we don’t really enjoy surprises. I’d have liked my Father to stay with us largely because our flat is all on one level and the walk-in shower is easier to for him to use, but I’d already got guests for the week-end. So he stayed at my sister’s holiday apartment. In truth, I think my brother-in-law had flown my Dad out so that he’d have company once his wife, (my sister) had gone back home mid-week. In any event, it meant that I cooked and all three Daddy’s girls spent a very enjoyable Father’s Day luncheon together for the first time in many years.

In truth I was pleased that my Dad had come to visit. His last visit had been back in 2010 and the trip with my mother had been something of a nightmare for him. One he wasn’t keen to repeat even after her death. I’d been over in the UK in the Spring and we’d spoken about him coming to visit but he’d wanted to get my mother’s affairs settled, the garden sorted and her memorial organised before doing any travelling. First up was a much longed for trip to St Petersberg with friends in August. We’d tentatively arranged that he would come visit us in October and my beloved would travel with him, both ways.

Faced with the unexpected prospect of spending time with him, I hastily shuffled my agenda and we spent a couple of lovely days together. It was a bit like the old days when Mum would get lumbered with my two younger sisters and Dad and I would spend the day exploring, watching sport together and investigating new restaurants. We went for a road trip on the Friday and I drove along the coast to visit the location of our very first family holiday abroad. The one and only time my parents had ever camped. They’d travelled with friends who enjoyed sleeping under canvas – we hadn’t. We all regard TENT as a four-letter word!

I found a delightful hotel, overlooking the sea, where we ate lunch to the sound of lapping waves. A light, unhurried lunch where we chatted about Dad’s plans. He was obviously keen to make best use of whatever time he had left and we spoke at length about some of the things he wanted to see and do. My beloved and I also took him out for lunch on Sunday to one of our favourite restaurants. Again, we spent time enjoying a delightful meal, with great views and a lovely ambience. My Dad told me that the three meals he’d eaten with me had been the highlight of his trip.

At the time none of us appreciated the toll that looking after my mother had taken on his health. When I visited him in the UK in late October, he was clearly very unwell but the doctors, despite a battery of tests, had been unable to identify the problem. Bizarrely, when we described his symptoms to a friend who’s a leading dental professor, he immediately told us what was wrong and, sure enough, he was right. The symptoms were unpleasant, the treatment even more so and the outlook had a very short time horizon.

Mum Statues

My father’s now reunited with my mother in the plinth of the statue he bought in her memory, placed within easy sight of the family home. There they’ll remain because my middle-sister and brother-in-law have bought and remodelled the house. With any luck, they might even have another 66 years together!

Particularly poignant

Today is Father’s Day in France, and probably a few other places too. Coincidentally, it’s also the outlaw’s (my mother-in-law) birthday today. It’ll be her 93rd and her younger brother is travelling from Chippenham to visit her, which will be a lovely surprise. But this post isn’t about her, it’s about my late Father.

Obviously, no need to buy him a gift but I do like to commemorate him in some way on Father’s Day. Now, that might be with a special meal (that I know he’d enjoy) or it might be just spending time rememberng all the lovely Father’s Days we spent together. My Father’s choice of gift was always Sunday lunch with the family and we’ve certainly had some memorable ones over the years; not least the one at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons.

This year, since we’ve recently been back to Lake Konstanz (see next week-end’s posts), I’m going to remember all the wonderful time we spent together in Konstanz. My parents much enjoyed visiting us when we lived there and continued to visit the town and lake long after we’d left. They would go with their friends (pictured below), book the two suites overlooking the lake in the Insel Hotel and take daily trips around the lake to the various towns. The islands of Mainau and Lindau were always some of their favourite destinations.

They’d have a gentle stroll around their destination town in either Germany, Switzerland or Austria and, after eating a light lunch, they’d aim to be back at the hotel by mid-to-late afternoon to recharge their batteries before dinner in the hotel. While my beloved was working in Biberach-an-der-Riss we’d drive down to see them at the week-end and  enjoy Sunday lunch together at the Hotel Siber – oh happy days!

As well as thinking about the wonderful times we spent together, a part of me regrets the things we didn’t get to do. This was largely due to my mother’s Alzheimers. My Father wouldn’t have had it any other way but, in looking after her so wonderfully well, he neglected his own health until it was too late. There are so many places we wanted to take him but never had the chance.

My beloved, who was very close to his father-in-law, and I often look at one another and say; “You know who’d have liked/enjoyed this?” We’re both thinking of my father and, quite often, my mother too. Which was why our recent trip to Konstanz was a particularly poignant trip down memory lane for both of us.


40 Years of Memorable Moments: Le Manoir

Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons featured recently in the semi-finals of British Masterchef: The Professionals. It was once our “go to” place for celebratory occasions, particularly at lunch-time which, as at many fine dining establishments, is particularly good value. But the sight of those ivy clad walls and wonderful gardens didn’t evoke memories of when we’d stayed or dined there on our own. No, it evoked memories of the first time we ate there en famille for Fathers’ Day.

We’re going back over 30 years, not long after it first opened in 1984, when the executive chef was none other than Raymond Blanc. My parents had recently spent a long week-end there and, consequently, suggested we meet up to celebrate Fathers’ Day where we could enjoy their set Sunday luncheon. My beloved and I were the first to arrive and over a plateful of nibbles, gave the extensive menu the once over. My menu didn’t have any prices, but my beloved’s did and the colour had drained from his face. Typically, in those days, we’d pay around £150.00 for Sunday lunch for seven of us. The set Sunday luncheon was £32.95 a head, or £80.00 over our budget without a drop of alcohol!

The rest of the family arrived and everyone, except my youngest sister and I, plumped for the set menu. She wanted something simpler, opting for steak and chips – she’s never been a respecter of Michelin stars! I was going through my vegetarian phase and had fresh asparagus, followed by stuffed courgette flowers, finished with a truly sublime coffee mouse in an edible chocolate cup and saucer. We sat at a large table in the window and took our time, enjoying every wondrous mouthful. One of the first tables to be seated, we were among the last to leave. Even then we walked around the hotel’s magnificent gardens, not wanting to put an end to such a splendid day.

I’ve long-held that pre-dinner (or lunch) nibbles and petit fours say so much about the calibre of a restaurant and these were top-notch. The meal had been delicious. I doubt the kitchen had needed to wash our plates, they looked as if they’d been licked clean. We’d opted for the cheapest wine on the menu, a white Sancerre, but the bill still came in at a whopping, budget busting  £400. My mother was so cross with my Father for suggesting such an expensive venue (for us), while my beloved and my brother-in-law were praying that they had enough credit on their cards to pay the bill. In the end, Mother settled the bill with a flourish, while my beloved and brother-in-law heaved a sigh of relief.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. When she got home, Mother demanded Father reimburse her! Tough when you have to pay for your own present but I know he didn’t mind. We’d had a truly enjoyable day out, all together, which had been the real point of the exercise. That was the first of many meals and visits to Le Manoir, a truly relaxing place to stay. It’s about time we revisited!

All images courtesy of the hotel website 

Happy Father’s Day

Just because my Dad’s no longer with us doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Father’s Day.

Like most of you, I’ve been bombarded with gift ideas for today. None of which my Dad would have wanted. While he was a very thoughtful and generous gift giver, he was a nightmare to buy for. Probably because if he needed or wanted something, he’d just go out and buy it!  It used to drive me and my two sisters wild with frustration particularly when he’d show us things he’d bought just before his birthday, or Christmas.

After a while, I gave up buying him and my mother gifts for specific events and would just buy them things they liked, as and when I saw them. Gifts of hankerchiefs were always welcome. My Dad liked his to be made of Swiss lawn, hand rolled and in pale colours. I tended to buy these as small mementoes of my trips or holidays abroad.

You could buy Dad a tie, but only if he was there with you to choose it. The last tie I bought him was a blue and brown one from French brand Façonnable, from their shop in Aix-en-Provence, on my parents’ last trip together to visit us in October 2010.

His favourite present, particularly for Father’s Day, was a meal out with all the family. So, today, my beloved and I will be raising a glass to him – obviously one of his favourite wines – and I’ll be whipping up a Sunday luncheon fit for a king, in his memory. I know he’d approve.


Daddy’s girls

You have to feel for my late mother – three daughters and we were all Daddy’s Girls! So I could appreciate why her first words to me were always: “How’s my son-in-law?” She doted on my beloved and the feelings were reciprocated. But to return to the point of today’s post, Father’s Day. A day which always conjures up fond memories of my wonderfully kind father, our happy times together and, more importantly, his many pearls of wisdom.

My two sisters and I spent an unexpectedly lovely Father’s Day with him in 2013. We didn’t realise it was to be our last. My youngest sister had made an unexpected trip to France with him to join my other sister and us for a week in the sunshine.  Unlike many of our previous Father’s Day lunches, this was decidedly low-key. My Dad and his three girls ate a light lunch I’d prepared and discussed what he was now going to do with his time. My mother had died in early January and, after getting her affairs in order, my dad was looking forward to what he hoped might be a few years of doing all the things he’d put on hold to care for her. He had already planned a cruise to St Petersburg and the Baltic States with dear friends (pictured above on the right) in August, while I was hoping he’d come and spend the more inclement British months with us on the Cote d’Azur.

Over lunch, we also reflected on earlier Father’s Days when we’d gathered together for a celebratory lunch, often at a hotel in the Cotswolds, Oxford or at Le Manoir. Luncheon out en famille and not a gift was always my father’s preference. Something we’d been denied in recent years as my mother’s condition (Alzheimers) had worsened, so it was a real treat to have this unexpected opportunity to share Father’s Day with him.

Mid-week I drove him down the coast past Saint Tropez, to Cavaliere-sur-Mer,  where we’d spent our first foreign family holiday when I was only four years old. Unsurprisingly, given it was so long ago, the place was unrecognisable but we found a lovely Relais & Chateau, Tuscan-style hotel on the seafront where we enjoyed a light, leisurely lunch watching the sunshine dance on the water and chatting about anything and everything.

Sunday we enjoyed lunch together with my beloved, a cosy threesome at our favourite local restaurant which has breathtaking views of the countryside, a neighbouring walled village and the sea. Whenever we eat at that restaurant, we think back on that lovely light-filled luncheon which seemed so full of promise.

My father (far left) holding FA Cup in 1957, the last time Villa won it.
My father (far left) holding FA Cup in 1957, the last time Villa won it.

Often when we eat at a new restaurant, we’ll say to one another “You know who’d have liked this…..” We are of course referring to my father who also instilled in me his love of dining out. But he wasn’t just my father. My beloved lost his father when he was 22 years old and he’d become very close to mine, after all he’d been his father-in-law for over 35 years. So we both miss him and never more on Father’s Day.

Header image taken in Mougins in 2009 with my late parents on the left and dear family friends on the right.