Slowly, mist dispersed from the garden as we drank our morning coffee.
Jackie drove us to The First gallery for midday where we joined the party celebrating the fortieth year of the artwork exhibitions at the home of Margery and Paul. This was a very happy occasion with friends gathered by this mother and son over a lifetime. We are pleased to be counted members of this honoured group.
In keeping with the theme there was a ruby coloured beetroot soup with a number of other ingredients. The ingenious Paul had devised a method of topping the soup with a creamy 40. This was done with sterilised garden wire dipped into the mixture and laid on rather like the shamrock sprayed onto the head of a pint of Guinness by dextrous bar staff. I was fortunate enough to be presented with a perfect specimen, but they didn’t all come out like that. One young woman decided that hers, also including a lentil version looked like the female symbol which she invited me to photograph.
We had all been invited to bring an inflated red balloon. On arrival we were informed that there would be a prize for the last person to hold an unburst one. The secret was to keep yours out of the way of broach pins and forks, toasting or otherwise. Leo, the youngest member of the group clung to his two until the very end.
Margery had made a splendid selection of small snacks and a superb chocolate sponge cake which formed the centrepiece of the desserts table which was soon emptied. She made the first half cut across and directed Paul to complete it. He was, after all, part of the partnership and moreover had decorated it. We toasted the pair with Champagne heavily laced with cranberry juice. One guest was keen to help our hostess protect her balloon. Elizabeth, in the foreground of this picture, didn’t have a red balloon, so she painted the legend: ‘I AM RED HONEST’ on hers.
Leo was very quiet throughout, but the conversation at one point did turn to methods of preventing small babies from disturbing parents’ slumber. When Jackie told us a story about one of the elderly ladies she had cared for thirty years ago, a tongue twister competition ensued. This client’s childhood would have gone back to the end of the nineteenth century when her mother had the perfect antidote to nighttime tears. She would make a ‘tea’ with a ‘penn’orth of poppy heads from the apothecary’. Quite a lot of spluttering accompanied somewhat inebriated efforts to repeat this.
It was quite close to sunset as the party broke up and we all went home. Driving due West into a magnificent sunset Jackie turned off the M27 taking the Fawley road, in an effort to get me into the forest before the sun disappeared. She didn’t quite manage that, but, as so often, the shots were more attractive with clouds lit from below. The pools on the heathland near Debden Purlieu, the Beaulieu River, and Hatchet Pond all added their reflective charm to the views. This was perhaps the perfect close to a ruby day.
By the time Jackie dropped me at Milford on Sea so that I could walk home via the cliff top and Shorefield, darkness had set in, but there was just enough light reflecting off The Solent for me to catch a bit more of sundown along the coast. As I walked up the dimly lit Downton Lane I removed my black waterproof coat and carried it so that the headlights of oncoming traffic could gleam on my buff sports jacket.
After the spread laid on at The First, a small bowl of Jackie’s chicken jalfrezi and egg fried rice accompanied by the last of the Cotes du Rhone Villages (red, of course) wine sufficed for our evening sustenance.