Boat Journeys with Uncle Dudley
‘Happiness depends on ourselves’
I love to wake up very early in the summer months and walk out into the garden and watch the valley of Ohara grow light. Rays of light fall on the flowering herbs and flowers, while soft and warm winds blow their stems gently, so it as if the flowers in the garden are dancing in the breeze. Nothing seems hurried, everything is quiet except the sound of the gentle wind and the occasional love chant of a nightingale, that is hiding in the boughs of a maple tree. Today is Wednesday; the children have a special day off from school; I begin to plan what I would like to cook for lunch. Something nutritious and delicious! My thoughts go back to the time when I was eleven years old.
It was my first time to cook on my own. We were on our boat, the “Maudaldrich”, with Uncle Dudley, our step-father. We were going to go sailing down the Rhone River in France. I wanted to be the cook on that journey.
One morning in early summer, my stepfather, Dudley, came into the nursery. We were all playing with my lovely big dolls’ house on the cork floor. The room was large and airy with a huge window that overlooked the front garden. Dingding, our French governess, was ironing our clothes whilst watching us play. The dolls’ house was Victorian style and every Christmas I was given more pieces of furniture and miniature objects to put in each room. My younger sisters, Caroline and Dreamy, and I loved to rearrange the interiors while my younger brother would always play nearby with his train set. We all loved it when Dudley came to see us for he would always make us laugh, telling us funny stories and making wild animal noises! “Today we are all going on an adventure!” he announced. “Dingding could you please pack up some clothes - we are going to live on the boat for a few weeks.” “Hooray!” we all shouted. “What fun!”
“I’m going to take the three older children to be my crew. Dreamy will stay with you Dingding until we get back,” said Dudley. We all looked surprised, for Dreamy was his own daughter. We didn’t understand why she couldn’t come too. Dudley explained that she was still only four and that it was going to be very hard work. We would have to take the boat through the locks from Le Havre, along the River Seine, through Paris, down to Lyon and then along the River Rhone to Marseilles. He told us that he wanted Charles to learn how to navigate the boat; I was to be the Ship’s Cook and Caroline the Ship’s Mate. “Aye, Aye Captain?” we all said, and our journey began. The yacht, called The Maudaldrich, was an old sailing boat about twenty meters long. It had three cosy sleeping cabins, a small toilet, a shower and a very small kitchen. On the deck was another covered sitting area and there were two huge masts used for sailing when the wind was strong.
We left on a cold, cloudy day from St Helier Harbor, and started to sail up the coast north over the Cherbourg peninsula and then east towards Le Havre. The crossing from the island to the coast of France is pretty rough and I didn’t feel like cooking in a rolling kitchen so for the first few days we survived on bread, cheese and salads that we had brought with us. As we entered the Seine estuary, the sea calmed down and the wind dropped, so we took the sails down and used the ship’s motor, to slowly cruise down to the River Seine. After seeing nothing but the cold, dark sea, it was so lovely to watch the towns, villages and vivid green fields beyond the river bank.
Late that afternoon we arrived at the first lock. Dudley gave me a basket and a handful of French francs and sent me to buy fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, parsley and tarragon for he was going to teach me how to make a herb omelet. A little apprehensive, I walked into town to look for a greengrocer. The streets were cobbled and everything looked different. I was very nervous that people would not be able to follow my poor French. They were surprised to see me shopping on my own, but everyone was very helpful. This was my first time to buy the ingredients needed for a meal and checking to see if the fruit was ripe enough to eat. It was also my first experience of waking up early and following the wonderful smell of French bread that would lead me to the earliest bakery that was open. I began to enjoy going to the colorful open markets, to look for ripe cheeses and fresh salad vegetables. Every day I made the breakfast and lunch. In the evenings we usually went out to eat at a local café restaurant near the riverside.
It was a lovely slow journey sailing down to the Mediterranean Sea and a wonderful way to travel through France. I began to get more confident with my cooking and Dudley taught me how to cook lots of simple dishes. If I was too tired to cook, France has many fantastic delicatessens, where it is possible to buy different prepared dishes. My happiest experience was when Dudley complimented me on my cooking and I could make him smile. Even though he was not my father, I still loved him very much and really wanted to please him, so when the food I had made turned out to be delicious, I was very content and proud. At that time I only got to learn the basics of cooking but it ignited in me a curiosity and interest as to the many different possibilities that each fruit, vegetable and herb offered.
We reached Marseilles after a few weeks had passed and it was time to say goodbye. Dudley took us to the airport and put us on a plane back to Jersey. He told us that he would not be living with us anymore. I started to cry, afraid that I would never see him again. He gave us all a big hug and told us that we were always welcome at any house that he may end up living in. “Don’t forget how to cook,” he smiled at me “you’ll make someone a good wife one day”. We waved to him sadly as we boarded the plane, realizing, what a good father and friend he had been to us and that we would miss him very much.
After that wonderful summer, our life began to change again. ‘One should learn to sail in all waters!’ he had told us. Fortunately later on, we did get many chances to be on his boat with him. He continued to teach us that happiness really did depend on ourselves. I have always been grateful for the chance that I was given by him, to learn how to cook at such a young age. I still love to cook using the fresh herbs growing in my garden here in Ohara. These herbs and spices are filled with countless vitamins and minerals and add to the flavor and nutritional value of many everyday dishes. Every day we are given the opportunity to cook, either for ourself or for our family. Let us try to cook with a loving heart and then everything we make will be truly delicious………….