Thursday, 11 November 2010

Rememberance Day

I have just read last year's blog about Rememberance Day and it made me think that perhaps we have progressed a little socially. In very small steps.

Just the sort of weather today that makes me think of The Somme and the trenches. Cold, wet and miserable. Went up to the memorial in the car although it is only a short walk up the hill. Lots more nods of welcome. The mayor was there in his sash and Bernard - his right hand man - was there in his kepi, (left over from military service he said later) holding the commune flag. There was another man who obviously owned the portable CD player and microphone - hastily covered in plastic bags - rather officiously checking stuff.

The ceremony set off after a wait - not for 11 o'clock ,or the bells from the town, or the man that everyone said 'here's someone else coming' - with the french equivalent of The Last Post on the CD player. Bernard duly lowered his flag. CD owner then grabbed the microphone and said that there would be a minute's silence............................. Shortly followed by the beginning of the Marseillaise - oops - panic stations.

Lots of fumbling and button pushing which took up most of the minute.

(Interruption for car that wanted to get by.)

Then a transfer of microphone to the lad that reads the names on the memorial. After momentary tangle of wire and flag, each name was announced with a murmur of 'mort pour la France' after each one as we all stood with umbrellas dripping and heads bowed.

Then a continuation of the Marseillaise, a few words from the mayor and off to the Mairie for an apero.

CD player man then stood up and told the gathering a story which I think was about the first and last french soldier killed in the first world war. Definitely something about a french soldier that died at a quarter to eleven on 11th November 1918. But, as usual, in full dramatic flow a lot of it went over my head.

Nice to see the old boy that does the potager up the road out and about (His potager has been uncultivated this year). Spoke to the skeletal guy who we haven't met but wave at most times we go to the shops, who had obviously heard that we had had the trailer stolen 2 years ago. At last managed to continue a conversation with a lady that had mentioned to me before that she wanted to learn English. Still not sure what has prompted this interest, something to do with a DVD she wants to understand. But hey. She also had her friend who is the lady from the place where Him Outdoors buys sand/cememt and between them they were brave enough to talk. The sand lady is used to all the guys coming in who can't speak french so we all managed very well. (Helped along by a couple of glasses of Sangria!)

We are gradually getting less scarey, more familiar...........................

Monday, 8 November 2010

Don't waste it

As children a large part of our play was with boxed games. As I remember it, we always had a new one at Christmas. Eldest brother would have the job of reading the instructions and then telling the rest of us how to play. There would often be a frantic search of the house for paper and pencils.
I could never bring myself to use the pads of paper that were provided with the game. My spirograph box still had all the paper that came with it when I retrieved it from my parents' house when we cleared it out! We have never used the Pictionary paper. Never written the answers on the Cluedo pads..................
I have noticed the same feeling today.
On Saturday we went to the twice yearly book fair. A sort of English Jumble Sale where every book is a euro. We took back the dregs of our last visit and some of the hospice shop trawl from England and brought home another 50.
I love the feeling of delving into the pile and sinking deep into a story. BUT I can't bear the feeling of 'oh no I'm halfway through and then it will be gone' Slow down, read more slowly, don't waste it. But I can't read slowly (or carefully, or remember it) just great gulps of words that transport me to wherever the author intends. And then it's gone and there is a huge feeling of regret that is bigger than satisfaction in the ending.
Still there are another 49 to go!

Friday, 5 November 2010

It's unsettling

As I've said before, we live a quite isolated life in rural France. One of my contacts with the world is through here and today I have realised that two bloggers that I read with interest have moved on from France to other things. Another returnee has stopped blogging. Our only near English neighbour is set to go back to England before Christmas.

All these people, subconciously or otherwise, are writing/talking of the negatives of France.

Now, I know, from experience, that this is what you do when you are set to leave somewhere for pastures new. We have done it ourselves - although not from England to here which was a happy adventure. On some level, you have to go on to a better place.

That's all ok, and I understand, but for the ones left behind it's unsettling.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Good news and bad news

Well, we've been to see a very sweet lady in the Tax Office. Nobody waiting, so almost straight in. Didn't make a fuss about English speaker so got a lady who started by saying that English people frightened her! But in a smiley way so all well so far.

And there was very little problem understanding face to face which restored my french speaking confidence somewhat.

But what was there to understand??

Our Taxe Fonciere has doubled (this is a tax related to the number of rooms/bathrooms). Between the period the last one covers (2009) and the one this one covers (2010) we have had the barn converted to become part of the house. We assumed that this was relevant to the increase - never assume!

It has doubled because, as part of the system, we told them what the original house we have extended, contained. Apparently they were still working on some ancient information from God knows when. So the increase has nothing to do with the barn, it's just to do with updating the information.

We also haven't told them that the work is finished. They don't include the barn rooms until we tell them we have finished the work. (Which will make our total bill 3 1/2 times what it is now!) But because we have changed an attached barn into accommodation we are exempt from tax on the barn for two years after the date we tell them it's finished. If we tell them before 1st January 2011 it will be exempt for 2011 and 2012 and if we tell them on the 2nd January it will be exempt for 2012 2013. (Sorry to get technical, just writing it down while I remember.)

So................................ we still have a balcony on the plans...........................I'll just have to go and look up how long we have to complete the work before some other bit of paper becomes invalid.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


I have just been talking to the French Tax Office. This was supposed to be just a check in to make sure that they had received a copy document that I had sent them so that our Taxe Foncieres would not be doubled for next year. Last time I got a nice man whose english was about as good as my french and we muddled along and he told me that if I sent the paper it wouldn't be doubled, or at least not for a couple of years.

This time, got the nice man again but he decided that he couldn't speak english and that he could only speak highspeed french. After to-ing and fro-ing with apologies and repetitions I gave in and we are going to meet his english speaking colleague on Friday when (I think) we don't need an appointment.

Face to face, with the wind behind me and with a starting sentence formed, (or after a large glass of red wine) I can do this french lark quite happily. It's not brilliant but I've been told it's good by kind french people and it seems to work. But every so often, and unfortunately several times recently, I have no idea at all what is going on.

And I can't see how it is going to get better which frustrates me.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Randonnée Châtaignes - or - Do they have garlic in England?

Surprises :
How many people were there. About 80 people turned up in the carpark outside the mairie. All french, mostly meeting into groups.
How they didn't stop talking the whole way.
How cold it was when not in the sun.
How promptly we set off.
That we stopped every half hour to let the slow coaches catch up.
That we stopped for chestnuts and coffee in front of a chestnut orchard but nobody said anything about the workings of the orchard - too busy munching chestnuts.

That rosé and grapefruit syrup makes an ok aperitif.
That you might need a soup bowl in a picnic set.
That if it says that all you are going to get is apero, soup, roasted chestnuts, cider, dessert, coffee and wine, that's what you get!

Sat for lunch with a lovely group who had also never been before and didn't know - as the others did - that you needed bread, pate, main course - and a soup bowl. Soup was fine in leftover apero plastic cups but the rest was a bit meagre. The soup was garlic soup and this made the sweet lady look worriedly at us asking if we liked it. (Real, you couldn't possibly, being English, bless her.) She then said in a genuine surprised voice 'il y a d'ail en Angleterre?' After being reassured that we cook very similar things and reeling off a few french dishes like coq au vin, boeuf bourgignon (I can cook it but not spell it!) she seemed reasonably happy but oviously didn't believe it.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Don't tempt the Gods

Absolutely perfect autumn day.

Bright blue sky.
Warm sunshine.
Chevrons of cranes flying overhead.
Leaves just turning.
Meandering down an empty lane.
Chickens gossiping.
Ponies munching.
A basket of walnuts.
A stolen handful of grapes from the empty house next door.
Mussels for lunch.
Fresh baguette.

Brilliant day............................................. and an overwhelming feeling of 'don't say it' 'don't tempt the Gods'.

I realise this is a recurring thought. We are very very lucky with our life (I can hardly type fact I shall have to stop.)

Monday, 11 October 2010


It's time for the harvesting of the walnuts and the chestnuts in this part of the world.

Him Outdoors has been wandering the roads around trying to find walnut trees that are not the special trees of the local overall clad ladies. Although we have about 6 acres of wood we only have one spindly walnut tree in the hedge between us and the neighbour. He only has one on the roadside which is very old and doesn't yield very much (he's no longer with us by the way, so I don't think he minds what we do!)

We do ,however, have some amazingly enormous sweet chestnut trees which seem to have marked the chemin rurale which disappears into the wood. It has been a lovely experience on this damp misty morning to go down to the very drippy ancient woods and scrabble amongst the wet leaves for a basket of chestnuts. Maybe it's that we have been to see the cave paintings at Lascaux this week but it is very easy to imagine that women have been gathering nuts from here for centuries.

I have just read that up to the 1914-18 war it was only during the chestnut season that some people managed to fill their bellies. It is hard to see how important this crop must have been so recently when you see how abandoned the chestnut woods are now. Apparently the trees were as well looked after as the walnut trees are today and chestnuts were as important as potatoes in some areas. The trees are still harvested for wood but there is little evidence of collecting for food on a more than individual basis although they are still sold on the markets.

It was lovely to gather a basket of chestnuts that you can eat. As a child my brothers and I would be taken to gather bags of beautiful glossy brown conkers. The family would all go to whatever was the local conker tree road and spend the afternoon kicking through fallen leaves finding these treasures. All the children had to have conkers that you would take home, pierce with a skewer and thread on a string. There were schemes afoot to soak them in vinegar or bake them in the oven to make them harder so that they would be harder than your opponent. That side of it never seemed that important, but I do remember loving stamping on the prickly shell to reveal the beautiful conkers inside. I would then be unable to resist gathering a bag full for no reason other than how beautiful they are. This bag would then be left in the bedroom to fester until Mum threw it out in disgust!

OK, I've picked them but what to do with them????? Back to the wondrous Google - don't know how I ever managed without it - and also to which is my first port of call for all things french and find that someone's french neighbour says that if you soak them in water for 8 days (not a week mind, 8 days) then dry them they will peel really easily. You then just grab a handful from your storecupboard, peel them and tumble them (sorry couldn't resist that from Nigella and her sooooooooooo irritating new series) in with roast potatoes or whatever you're roasting. This had better be right because I have now got two large buckets of soaking chestnuts!

An article in the supplement of the sunday paper says (in a somehow very French way) that apart from numerous minerals and protecting against pancreatic, oesophagus, rectal and prostrate cancer, they also lower cholesterol - who knew!

While we were at the animal market last week, we picked up this notice about a local walk. Him Outdoors decided that this would be an excellent way of getting exercise/meeting people/start getting into training for his new project which is to walk some of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella with his sister, for a month this time next year. Seems like more of an excuse for a blow out to me but who cares :-)

And while I'm posting - look how lovely my morning glory has become. Patience is definitely a virtue.

Friday, 24 September 2010

From one bar to the next

A Spanish holiday from one eating place to the next. Brilliant time wandering from bar to cafe to restaurant and back, interspersed with the odd 'sight'. (Have decided that we have been sight seeing not site seeing.)

Chose what turned out to be a lovely secluded hotel above the harbour in Cadaques on the coast between the border and Barcelona. After we'd booked it we read that the Chinese had been there measuring up the town to make a replica of it in China as a representative Mediterranean village! Actually managed to be sitting in the sun outside the perfect bar on the edge of the harbour as the sun set over the opposite hill. And eating fantastic fishy tapas.

As a holiday, we have never been to places that sooooo many people also want to see. We were told that Barcelona airport handled 30 million people last year.......

Stayed on a boat in the harbour. Brilliant choice for central staying in a great city. Lovely to be sitting on a boat in the sunshine watching the world go by again. Walked all afternoon around endless beautiful streets interrupted by sitting in the sun in bars. Odd venture on to the main drags that transport the tourists from one sight/site to another, then scurry back into the back streets feeling very country.

Had dinner in a tiny cafe filled with Spanish people. Laughed our way through another ordering adventure and ended up with six different wonderful dishes and as much beer and wine as we could comfortably consume bearing in mind the sloping gangplank to get home.

Overnight the weather changed. Rainstorms. Leaky boat. Mopping. Beautiful breakfast in the cabin. Then set off for a very wet day of viewing the things everyone else was seeing. Discovered that Barcelona was shut for repairs! Started at the Maritime Museum since that was where we were and it opened first. Showing an excellent display of Russian painting ?? but no boats. Walked up to the opera house to find a huge queue and a delay so gawped at the outside which is amazing and decided to come back later.

Set off again and had a coffee in a tiny wood panelled corridor of a bar in a passage through one of the buildings along the street. Walked to the Sagrada Familia where we joined the queue behind (and shared the umbrella of) a Chinese American who was in Barcelona lecturing at an international medical conference. Turns out most of the cathedral is shut, no tower visiting but a fascinating exhibition in the cellar that showed how Gaudi's inspiration came largely from nature and how the building was being repaired/renewed/built.

Map getting a bit soggy by now but have been inspired to find more of Gaudi's buildings. Unfortunately this means finding more of the tourists and since they are all soggy too and we are crap at doing the 'right' sights we found another bar!

Given that there are so many tourists we had a lovely time with all the waiters/waitresses/bar staff that we came across. This one had a sweet smiley girl behind the bar that we decided was one of the waiter's girlfriend/relation. Lovely girl but thick as sh*t. Knew no prices, couldn't add up, didn't know what was available but nobody minded and the 'dear God what has she done now' glances flashing around between two guys who were serving three course lunches to a tiny crowded restaurant were hilarious. Sitting at the bar munching our sandwiches we were amazed at how many of the suits lunching were drinking coffees that were half brandy!

Set off again in a vaguely harbourwards direction. Passing more enormous queues of pale, overweight tourists. Aimed at the 'best market in Europe' and couldn't get near the entrance for the hoards. But that meant we were meandering down the Ramblas watching the human statues frightening the children. Listened to street musicians in more beautiful squares.

Next day dawned sunny. Hooray. Leisurely breakfast on deck chatting to the owner then off to Monserrat. Amazing monastery nearly at the top of a mountain. Little train up to the monastery

then cable car up to the top of the mountain. Then walked down to the monastery again and little train back. Fantastic scenery and kind weather made for amazing views.

Great choice of hostal, cheap, clean, excellent food, lovely host, interesting fellow guests. Walked around the village which was bursting with small children playing, tiny shops selling tiny amounts of specialist things. Smiley people.

Homewards towards France. Spent the day driving along minor roads through the Pyrenees. Stunning scenery. Total silence apart from nature. No other people at all. Wonderful.

Last night in a very French hotel having a celebratory dinner -including dessert decorated with birthday candle, dipped lights, singing................. Happy Birthday Him Outdoors.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Last mention of cholesterol ............... I hope

At our third attempt we got to see the doctor.

In France, although you can make a private appointment with the doctor, the form is that you go to one of his open sessions and sit in the waiting room until it's your turn. As you enter you say hello to everyone there and sit down carefully noting who is there already. Actually you pay more attention to the ones that come in after you because that's easier to notice. You then sit carefully ignoring each other. Well, being English we do, the french all chat and catch up. (It always seems to me to be daft to ask someone how they are in a doctor's waiting room, obviously they aren't well!) The doctor will appear from his room to show the current patient off the premises (no receptionist, all notes on computer, any paperwork/results you get given to take away with you) and kiss/shake hands with the next one - eyeing up who is also in the waiting room as he does so.

The first time we went the door was very firmly shut with a sign that (after a visit to the dictionary) said that deliveries were round the back.

Then we had visitors that precluded disappearing at breakfast time and tried again on Monday. The doctor had obviously been away for the whole week because as we walked up the path there were half a dozen men chatting in the sun outside and the waiting room was full. Tomorrow will be fine.

So yesterday we get there to a full waiting room and one man waiting outside but have come equipped with books - the magazines, apart from the ones I dropped off yesterday, date from 1994! Last time we came there was a radio playing quietly in the waiting room, today the doctor has decided to educate us while we wait and there was a screen showing us how we were going to die of smoking and then die of a heart attack - it was a long wait. And then how, amazingly, you could cook lovely meals even with no saturated fat! Astounding.

After studying the people waiting and who they were whispering to, we discovered that they were actually, like us, in couples. So the queue moved along quite rapidly. And no one was dying of a really snotty cold so if we caught something it was silent and deadly.

Doctor looked at our results and said 'it's better'. Took Him Outdoors' blood pressure which was fine. No risk factors, it's improving, keep going. We discussed walking which he agreed would be a good thing 3 or 4 kms not particularly fast would be good -right again dear daughter x - and have another blood test in 3 months. We all agreed that before Christmas would be better than after and off we went.

Monday, 6 September 2010

New recipes

One of the things I have really enjoyed about our new diet is exploring recipes that use oil instead of butter. This time it was pastry. I have found a recipe for a really wholegrain oily one:

- 250 grams whole grain bread flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup cold water

which makes a lovely crust for a quiche (enough for two small ones) - although it does stick to the dish. But Him Outdoors was hankering for something less good for him!

Yesterday whilst wandering around the internet (thank you Joanna's Food) I found this one which is the weirdest way of making pastry I have come across but it is brilliant:

Butter-less pastry - & a fruit tart

This pastry is a revelation ... and, for those of you who think pastry can only be made with butter: this is a French recipe, a proper recipe. There are egg yolks and oil, so it's still not something to eat every day, but this is a real breakthrough for those who can no longer eat butter. And for those people who think that our low-cholesterol way of eating is somehow second best - this is really delicious and worth a try in its own right. Also, if you're not a natural pastry chef - and I never was - this is quick and easy, a definite improvement on bought shortcrust. All the virtues, then.

225g flour
1 tbsp caster sugar (leave it out if you're making something savoury)
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 tbsp mild salad oil
1/2 beaten egg
3 tbsp hot water

Put all the ingredients into a lidded plastic box and shake it for at least a minute. When you take off the lid, you will find a lumpy mixture; form it into a ball with your hands, and roll it out on a floured surface. Original writer says this is enough for a 24cm tin, but I have made this a number of times, and find that it is enough for a larger tin, and rather too much for a 24cm tin, because the pastry is better when it is very thin. You can use this straight away, no need to rest it.

Plum tart

If you are making a fruit tart, here's another trick: mix 20g flour with 20g sugar and sprinkle it over the pastry base. Then add the stoned fruit halves (raw). The flour and sugar mix will effortlessly thicken the fruit juices to make a delicious sauce. (I put some of our plums straight out of the freezer and had to pour off some of the liquid when it came out of the oven but it didn't seem to effect the finished product.)

This tart needs 30-35 minutes in a moderate oven, 190C.

And mine looked just like the original picture, yay and it was really crispy and delicious:

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Cholesterol levels

Well we've done 8 weeks of no saturated fats. Had the blood test and now the results. And they are, as we might have expected, inconclusive.

For those of you that know, we have managed to lower Him Outdoors' total cholesterol by nearly 1.00 mmol/L which is good but not as good as we had hoped. We have managed to lower his LDL (bad cholesterol) by 11% but because we have also lowered his HDL (good cholesterol) by 20%, the ratio of Total/HDL is actually worse than when we started.

Figures now Total Cholesterol is 6.42 (from 7.38) when it should be under 4.00
LDL is 4.5 (from 5.04) when it should be less than 2.00
HDL is 1.5 (from 1.88) which is good because it should be above 1.00
Triglycerides are 0.93 (from 1.00) which is good because it should be under 1.7
Ratio of Total/HDL is now 4.28 (from 3.92)

At the moment, studying these over a cup of tea at the kitchen table, we feel blinded by science and statistics. Him Outdoors is pissed off at the lack of clear and positive results and has had a rant about 'waste of f*ing time' and 'might have well not have bothered' and stomped off into the garden to take it out on a bit of wall.

Back to the doctor next week.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

How can they do it

Dear Daughter has just told me about one of the parents at the Montessori school where she teaches.

Because she was visiting us in deepest Dordogneshire it reminded her of one of her families. They had been holidaying somewhere here and driven back up France and as their arrival home pretty much coincided with the time when their little one should be in nursery they dropped him off for the afternoon.

So they are handed over a just woken up, completely disorentated, totally sodden, under 5 year old and went home. Leaving Dear Daughter to try and console this child that needed complete changing.

When rung a little while later because, not surprisingly, this child hadn't settled, they agreed that they might be able to come and fetch him a quarter of an hour early.

And then they wonder why their children find life difficult...........................................

Monday, 30 August 2010

Blackberry and Apple

I grew some Morning Glories this year from seed. One of them is small but perfectly formed :-)

And the other one is enormous with not a flower to be seen. I think I may be growing another noxious weed here!

But patience is a virtue and by the middle of October it's looking perfect.

Whilst putting these pictures up I have been cooking some blackberry and apple. Our apple crop is pathetic this year. My only excuse is that these ancient small trees were laden last year and are having a rest - there's always next year.

I gathered the tiny crop from one tree before they all fell off. Lovingly cored and peeled the tiny bullets and added sugar and a couple of handfuls of blackberries that Him Outdoors picked over the weekend. Simmering gently while waiting for the pictures to upload.

Done. Pour carefully into pretty glass bowl and stand back to admire.

Bowl cracks perfectly across the base. Sticky purple staining mess all down the side of the cooker, and the front and inside of the main cutlery and kitchen cutlery drawers. Grab cloths which are now beautifully stained, dump blackberry and apple because I can't believe that the crack was that perfect. Remove white top which has a splattering of purple - already second top because I spilt porridge down the first one.

And take my wrath out on the computer keys.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster

This morning I finished this book. I have been absorbed in it completely, discussing different parts with Him Outdoors and finding it fascinating.

Margaret Forster has written about her mother and grandmother which I had read and on the basis of this had been contacted by the niece of a 98 year old woman born in 1901 who had written a diary throughout her life. The diarist wanted someone to read/edit/publish these diaries and this book is the story of the contact, the chosen diary entries and some italicised joining up bits.

The diarist lives mostly in London, goes through WW1, college training, teaching, social work, WW2 WVS, driving an ambulance, becoming a WAAF, dropping it all to bring up her sister's children, lovers in the 1930s, living with a married man. Ending up with Greenham Common. A fascinating life in which I have been engrossed.

At the end of the book is this paragraph:

This book began as described in the first two pages of the introduction, but I never did meet the woman in question. She cancelled our meeting at the last minute because of some family objections. I was already so looking forward to her diaries that I decided to overcome my disappointment by pretending I had indeed obtained and read them. The result is fiction. The real 'Millicent' has since died, and though her diaries exist, I have never read them.

I feel ridiculously cheated.

Friday, 13 August 2010

What we're eating differently

Have just done some baking rather than the cleaning that needs doing and thought I would write what we have changed in our eating habits so that I remember. (Another procrastination)

Some of this is to cut out all the saturated fat and some of it is to increase the fibre and hydration and to eat the things that are supposed to lower cholesterol.

In baking I have changed every butter mention for olive oil and changed to multicereal flour. I make oatcakes with oats and olive oil, pastry with multicereal flour and olive oil. We are eating brown basmati rice instead of white. (Haven't found brown pasta anywhere local, you can get red/green but not complet.)

Changed every oil mention to olive with occasional other.

No cheese. We have some 0% cream cheese and Boursin type for when I need to sink my teeth into the creaminess before the smoked salmon in a sandwich but it doesn't work as a sauce for pasta, just disappears completely (so heaven knows what it is really).

No booze.

No meat except skinless chicken but lots of oily fish.

A 75cl (just checked, thought it was a litre) bottle of water between us with every meal.

Snacks are now oatcakes and home made hummous. Via a diversion through a red kidney bean spread and a red lentil spread which were not enthusiastically received. Fruit and walnuts.

We have swapped the daily baguette for wholemeal bread (made by Him Outdoors).

Have home made mayonnaise with olive oil/rapeseed oil.

We have either fruit juice or a lime cordial/lemonade/angostura bitters or an elderflower cordial with fizzy water aperatif.

No cake. Him Outdoors is used to cake for elevenses, pudding and afternoon tea. He works hard physically outside most of the day and gets hungry. We decided that if I didn't make it - even with no saturated fats which he has had before without noticing - he would eat more of the stuff that is recommended to lower cholesterol.

That is oats (muesli for breakfast/oatcakes/instead of breadcrumbs as stuffing for mackerel), avocado,walnuts (added to bread and munched by the handful/walnut and lentil salad), oily fish (tuna fresh and tinned,salmon smoked and fresh, mackerel, herring, trout).

Him Outdoors is a meat and two veg man really. Or definitely a meat man. We had a vegetarian chilli last night that he had made. He is thinking wistfully after the minced beef and the glass of red wine, I am missing the butter on the crunchy baguette.

We have done 5 weeks now and plan to keep it at this level until the next blood test. We have a plan to go out for lunch between that test and the results :-). After that (depending on the result I guess) we will bring back some wine though hopefully quality not quantity.

PS I'm not mentioning the yoga because I'm not doing it anymore - weird, I like doing it and felt better but still don't???? Him Outdoors is doing a long bike ride twice a week but not the extra walking he was partly because it has been hot but not really.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Gadding and learning a thing or two

On Monday night we went to see these guys in Sarlat. An amazing group of musicians from Bucharest. Brilliant.

And then on Tuesday we went to see a performance of The Importance of Being Ernest under La Halle in the square.


Jack. I am afraid I really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me… I don’t actually know who I am by birth. I was… well, I was found.

Lady Bracknell. Found!

Jack. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.

Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?

Jack. [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag—a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an ordinary hand-bag in fact.

Lady Bracknell. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?

Jack. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.


It's a shame that everything comes at once in August. But we had a really good time.

And thank you so much to Spit and Baling Wire for teaching me how to put the clips and paste things into the blog. It has taken me so long to work out how to do it that the words are somewhat lacking. But you can't have everything!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Yuck gross

It was a bit cooler this morning so I searched out a jacket that I haven't worn for some time. Walking from the car to the town looking for a hankie I found something that felt like some crumpled silver paper between the pocket and the lining.

We got to town, met the friends for coffee, and while we were chatting I was still vaguely trying to puzzle out how this rubbish had got between my pocket and the coat.

Eventually found another way in and pulled out the paper...................

It was a little dessicated mouse. Ohhhhhhh grooooooooooss.

Monday, 2 August 2010


Well what happened to July? Where did that go? Well what's occurring?

As usual, our life is ruled by the weather. We have had some really hot weather in July and it has now turned stormy and sultry. They do storms in a big way here and you have to unplug telephone/computer/television in a vain attempt to stop them being blown up by lightening. I really don't like the lightening. Our new bedroom is at the end of the house facing the direction from which most of the weather comes and although it's lovely to see the view I feel very vulnerable on stormy nights. Especially while Him Outdoors is snoring away beside me! We have an enormous linden tree just next to the house which is stunning and has been there for decades maybe centuries but I still think that the next lightening strike might be the last.........

The garden is loving the rain. You can feel the plants loving the cool and turning their faces up to the drops.

(Van just passing blasting music from loudspeakers. There's a circus in town and they drive round at lunch time - when everyone will be home - to tell everyone to 'roll up, roll up'.)

The regime is progressing well. We are not missing anything. We've both lost half a stone and what feels like more in bulgy bits. I have got into dresses that I have been busting out of for years so it must have gone from there! We still hear odd things about what we should be doing to lower the cholesterol. One friend swears by niacin, the man who sells jam on the market who wanted us to come to a meal that was all foie gras/duck swears by a tsp of cinammon every day, dear daughter has read that hydration was the key, another friend says it's all down to oats........
We will carry on as we are (with more attention to hydration x) until the next blood test and see where we get to.

Meanwhile we have planned a trip to Barcelona in September which is very exciting. Kids are coming out at the end of the month which we're really looking forward to. And more friends dropping in for a couple of days this month and next.

This morning started with killing the latest extra cockerel. Don't like it but we left the last one too long because he was too beautiful to kill (although why it should be easier to kill an ugly one raises moral issues!). We then returned from a lovely lunch to find the senior and junior cockerels covered in blood after what had obviously been a major set to. Fortunately or unfortunately some predator then took the junior cockerel. So hopefully this time we have managed to avoid that.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Bastille Day

Last night we went to the annual Bastille Day dinner under the Halle (a sort of covered market square). The maire hosts a dinner for about 500 people on long tables served by local people and there is a band for dancing. They manage to serve soup, melon, foie gras, confit de canard and peas, cheese, salad, ice cream and coffee with unlimited wine/water/bread with smiles and jokes.

(Him Outdoors was grumping because on the new regime he was paying 19 euros for soup, melon, peas, lettuce and coffee. Which as it turned out was quite right :-). But we had already bought the tickets and were going with friends. And we had a lovely time.)

You sit where you like and we chose a spot quite far from the music - for us deaf old gits - and quite near where they were serving so that we might get our dinner first. Didn't work out like that of course but hey. That left 12 places next to me which were filled by a group of lads. They were 18 year olds from Ruislip that were holidaying in the house of one of them having just finished their A levels. Oh bloody hell, here for the unlimited wine (and already well oiled by the glazed looks). Him Outdoors and I who were sitting next to them exchanged a look.

We couldn't have been more wrong. They were delightful. Yes they were drinking and yes they were noisy and singing. But they chatted to us happily. One was a trainer for Kangos? a sort of bouncy trainer and waxed lyrical about how wonderful they were and how 'even old people could enjoy them' :-). Another was enthusiastic about his future university plans. They happily ate all Him Outdoors' cast off food and were really upset for him that he couldn't eat it.

When the dancing started they all leapt up and were doing their best to follow the local line dancing and charming the nearest single older women to dance - which of course delighted them.
(One came back to us for the next course with fists raised shouting 'I win, I got 6 ladies to dance'.) Endless energy and enthusiasm. Lovely.

Monday, 12 July 2010

New regime

Sounds like something from Eastern Europe.

Him Outdoors has been told by the doctor that unless his cholesterol levels are reduced significantly within 8 weeks, he will need medication.

After an initial 'but we don't eat that badly do we?' and major Googling we are now on a concerted effort to get him (and hopefully me too) healthier.

No more saturated fats (olive oil only and less of that) and loads of oats/oilyfish/walnuts/avocados. The doctor mentioned drinking more water (which incidentally we haven't read anywhere else) and we might as well stop alcohol while we're at it.

He never stops doing stuff outside and is physically fit but not aerobically fit. As it's so hot he's up when he wakes up and walking briskly around the block which has enough steep hills to provide him with half an hour of out of breathness.

I have decided that rather than walk with him I would go back to yoga which I had a go at about 10 years ago. OMG how stiff am I. Shockingly, scarily, disappointingly unbendy. In theory yoga is a good way to start the day but there is a huge 'I am soooooo old'. It can only get easier.

And it is lovely to be so pleased to hear him crunch up the drive and be able to stop bending :-)

One week later (16 July)

Well, all good so far. We have done a week with no problem (except the Bastille Day meal). Not missing anything. Both lost 3 or 4 pounds (but not enough to be able to say for sure what the difference is on the scale dial - failing eyesight had us falling off the scales laughing trying to see the numbers).

Interesting how much alcohol/cake wanting is in your head. Done something exhausting in the garden....... lets sit in the shade with a beer. Been out in the morning........ lets have a nice cold glass of white wine under the tree. I've been busy this morning........ lets call in at the patisserie on the way home. We deserve it.

Exercised 6 days out of 7 and can now touch my toes- yay. Him Outdoors tried cycling this morning and was outraged at how wobbly his legs were, how he couldn't cycle up the hill, how much his arse hurt on the saddle..........

Not sure we feel healthier but certainly virtuous and proud of ourselves for cutting out so much crap.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


I am content.

It is a beautiful sunny evening, just beginning to cool off after a very hot day. We have had a very peaceful day after a sociable day yesterday entertaining people for lunch.

I was lying on the settee with a glass of cold white wine, gobbling a Rosamunde Pilcher novel that I haven't read. It is old enough to refer to a 40 minute taxi ride in London as being expensive when she had to give the driver a pound note. There is something very gentle about RP novels. Beautiful places, happy endings.

Our 8 month old delightful grandson is asleep upstairs whilst his parents are in the beautiful local town. There is a food court under the halle and hopefully they are finding tasty things to eat, somewhere to sit and enjoying the people watching. They will be back fairly soon because it is a semi final of the World Cup which Elder Son is keen to watch. I did notice that the last match was on in a bar in the square so maybe they will manage to find somewhere to watch it there.

Him Outdoors is stretched out on the hammock with his book. I think he is reading an ancient Bernard Cornwell. What a pleasure it is to visit old reliable authors.

Nobody needs supper, HO thought he might get himself a bacon and egg baguette later, it's too hot for me to be hungry and we had a good lunch of yesterday's leftovers.

Back to the story.......................

Friday, 2 July 2010


'Being twinnies' is a phrase that has surfaced from the deep this morning.

I have a twin brother and as small children we must sometimes have been dressed in matching clothes (I remember we each had a pair of black watch tartan trousers when we were about 8 or so). I'm sure that as babies we must have had matching stuff but I don't remember. There was no money and most of the clothes were hand me downs or home made. Twin brother got his two elder brothers' cast offs and I got some from a cousin but must have got a lot of new - did that cause resentment? Mum made all my dresses and a school blouse that was always slightly the wrong colour and shape but fortunately didn't venture into making coats or trousers.

At one house there was an old trunk full of shoes which had to be investigated whenever we had grown out of the current ones to make sure there wasn't something that would fit. Startrite clodhoppers - winter shoes with a horseshoe shaped raised seam on the front, or Clarks sandals with petals cut out of the front, seemed to be the only options. (A picture comes to mind of Mum's face in a shoe shop when we just had to have new shoes and where was the money coming from.)

This morning we were going shopping so had to put on something presentable rather than the same shorts and top as yesterday. I got dressed and went down to put the coffee on, only to find that Him Outdoors appears in the same colours. (Since I chose most of his clothes I guess this isn't as rare as it might be.)

I found I HAD to go back and change tops so that we wouldn't be twinnies.

PS I also have a huge aversion to older couples that appear in matching anoraks - usually beige - or matching wet weather gear in our sailing days. But I think that may be more normal! (What is it with older people - obviously much older than me :-) - and beige...................

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Changes with our third summer

We are now on our third summer ............... and we get more reclusive by the day :-)

Yesterday was market day in the local town. We were a bit later than usual and it was noticeable how many more large pale tourists there were about. We met the Nice American who flew in for the summer last week and spotted a couple of others that we had met through her.

It felt very much like an office party where you aren't the people that matter. Everyone we spoke to was looking over your shoulder to see who else was there. I hadn't felt like that for a long time. The sort of party where, as a stay-at-home wife, the person you're talking to switches off and starts scanning the room when they learn that you have nothing that they want.

On the other hand, the strawberry lady - that we have been to pretty much every week for three summers - was delightful. And the vegetable lady that we had given up going to because she never ever acknowledged that she had ever met us before is, for her, greeting us like long lost buddies. The husband of my old french teacher greeted me in passing as he did other local people. Maybe we are getting somewhere at last!

We went out to a restaurant last night with some other summer visitors and that too showed changes. We never now go out to a restaurant in the evening, certainly not to one that is a half hour drive away and costs 80 euro for two. We are much happier in the sort of restaurant that costs 12 euros for 5 courses with wine and coffee and is full of french workmen and french families having a treat. The restaurant we went to was in a fabulous setting in the middle of a pristine village (of second homes) and we sat outside on a wonderful balmy evening. The other people were English or we spotted a wealthy Parisian from our town. The food was beautifully presented with lots of white linen and polished glass and cutlery. We had a lovely time and the company was great but......................

We no longer want to eat duck and foie gras, we don't spend our time here visiting the range of good restaurants in the area, aren't fussed about where to buy the 'best' duck breasts or sausage, thought that spending 28 euros on a cake from the special shop was a ridiculous price.

We are happily settling into a very, very quiet life with lots of gardening and pottering - or hard graft building by Him Outdoors. And still loving it.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Today is being a lovely day. It is much cooler and damp with the threat of drizzle. This morning we went fairly early - before the tourists - to a local market and wandered along noting the ever increasing tourist tat and glad to see the all year rounders. Had a chat to the jam man. He is an Israeli who makes endless varieties of jams and chutneys. He used to give us a little pot and we used to buy occasionally but we have now all agreed that we really don't eat jam and chutney much but have a chat instead. He was bemoaning the fact that the french are so conservative about their eating and were very difficult to persuade to try things. He was hoping for more tourists who were wanting something french!

We then went to a local garden which was open at a cheaper rate this weekend to have a look. Parked at the bottom of a cliff where two large rivers meet and wandered slowly up the tiny village street to the chateau at the top where the garden is. A stunning village, immaculately kept probably by second home owners. On the way up it turned from nearly drizzle to rain for a few minutes so we popped in to a restaurant which was setting up and sheltered. Menu looked good and it has a lovely terrace under a vine - one to note for later.

We got to the garden at the top to discover a car park - wouldn't you know it. Went past the shut ticket kiosk into the shop and paid our money - after reminding the guy that it was supposed to be cheaper this weekend. He was about to start a guided tour so if we would care to wait a minute to see if anyone else turned up............ Nobody did so he started off.

It was a garden originally laid out by a french doctor to a sultan of Morocco on his retirement about 150 years ago. He wanted to make it as Moroccan as possible so he built himself a house in a Moroccan style and surrounded himself with plants. Unfortunately over the years it has been neglected and then bought 12 years ago by the commune and is now an educational garden in the french style. BUT the original trees are stunning. Huge palm trees, magnolia grandiflora and the star of the show is a giant sequoia straight from California! It is enormous and amazing. We were told when we visited them in California that they relied upon the fogs rolling in from the Pacific - obviously the damp air rising up the cliff from the two rivers will do.

The rest of the garden is a lesson for the french to try and get them to compost, mulch, leave wild flowers and show them what they might grow locally. Very unimaginative. There was a good water feature with interesting planting round a pool but since I could recognise everything it really isn't that innovative. There was another bit of a potager with plants to use as dye with labels with which bit you use and what colour and apparently the school kids come and look and then have a go at dying.

Given how useless gardens are usually in france it was lovely and much improved by a cool damp day and nobody else there. Ten out of ten for effort but the planting could have been sooooo much better.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Where did May go to? Aaaah visitors.................

We have just had another discussion - over coffee outside on a fabulous morning - about the supermarkets here. Him Outdoors spent his working life in retail and I've spent my life feeding him :-) so we have opinions about these things!

French supermarkets are just not up to the equivalent in England and I have at last decided that I shouldn't be comparing them to Tesco but to the Welcome supermarkets in Hong Kong where we lived for 2 years. Then they can just about manage to compete.

It isn't the fact that you can't get some things that are occasionally essential - we are having people round for supper tomorrow and I need cream, spring onions, a non bendy cucumber, and some black mustard seeds would be good but hey that's pushing it a bit. The local supermarket has recently changed from one where the vegetables were excellent and reliable to the same as the one down the road which I didn't use because they were rubbish. So have to plan in a trip to a market tomorrow morning. There is one today in another village but it's very small with only one fruit and veg stall. Tomorrow's will have lots of fruit and veg and possibly a spice stall. Not cream though that's from the supermarket where I have just been and bought the last pot not the 2 I was hoping for.

In Hong Kong it was usual to visit 2 or 3 supermarkets to get a range of ingredients. We were only one of a lot of different sorts of expats so you might go to the American Supermarket for one thing to the local market for another and to one of two other ones run by different countries so stocking different things. It was interesting, frustrating but expected. Somehow here I expected it to be nearer to Tesco.

Him Outdoors' boss for a time in HK was french. His grandfather was Mr Casino and he was making a living advising HK retailers on how to run supermarkets!! When we arrived in France his welcoming email was 'welcome to the country where nobody works'.

Now I've decided to compare them to HK, french supermarkets are really quite good. HK ones didn't have smiley assistants - or any assistants, they had very poor stock, they had no knowledge of their stock and no interest in you as a foreigner. They were always restocking at the busy times, never anyone on the checkouts (don't remember them having the main telephonist for the store on the checkout) very bad pricing on the shelves......... now the french ones look better!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Today's challenge.

I would like to order a reclining armchair from IKEA. Cost 329 euros.

Check on internet to see if it is available at Toulouse which is 2 1/2 hours' drive.

Only available to order, not available in shop.

BUT have to have home delivery which is another 175 euros.

Can I have it delivered to Toulouse store for collection?

Yes, but you have to go to the store and make the order.

Can't I do that over the phone? No have to go to the store.

So I can't order it on line or by phone to have it delivered to Toulouse. No.
So I have to drive 2 1/2 hours there to order, 2 1/2 hours back then 2 1/2 hours there to collect and 2 1/2 hours back??

Is there anyway round this problem (don't you want my bloody order)

And you can hear the gallic shrug down the phone line.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Not a very good day

Just come in from the garden and found an email from a dear friend who is living vicariously through me as I have stolen her life - well today you are welcome to it! I am not having a good day and no I am not going to be pleased that it is a gorgeous sunny day and the garden is looking beautiful and the asparagus is growing better than I have ever seen it!

Yesterday evening we discovered that, a generally below par Arthur, had nasty wiggly white worms. No problem, know very little about them but I've done them for children so how hard can it be. We can go and see the nice vet tomorrow. Called in to see her, got the pill at vast expense. Got pill home, mashed up in yoghurt for Arthur who always eats pills like that - but not this time - proceeded to try to bury it rather than eat it. Back to vet for another one which we eventually got down him I think though it may have dropped in the grass. Meanwhile found huge tick on him.

Got back from first trip to vet to find Him Outdoors down in the pump hole for the swimming pool swearing. Definitely broken. OK well if it needs a new seal then we have to drive 15 mins to the shop now because it will soon be noon and the shop will then be shut until Tuesday. Rush off to find that the shop was shut anyway. (Why would the pool shop be open on the first warm Saturday when the kids are starting Easter Holidays and the tourists have arrived?? The same reason as the DIY store had absolutely no stock of any swimming pool chemicals.)

Phone call from friends in Australia who were due to fly out today for a three week French holiday, 1 week in Paris and 2 weeks with us. They are stuck because of the Icelandic volcano which is stopping all flights into Paris. Soooooo disappointed for them. No one really knows when the airspace will be open, one rumour has 11 days but we're not going with that. They hope to fly to Malaysia tomorrow and then see.

Postman brings letter from the stairman's insurer saying that it is not an insurance problem so in order to get any money back we will have to take the stairman to court. Don't think we're going to do that.

Catalogue arrived from Landsend which is one of my favourite catalogues with long enough clothes. They are now delivering to France, Yippee. BUT they are using an exchange rate of at least 1.50 euros to a pound which makes everything VERY expensive.

Nothing like a good rant on a blog for making me feel better and wondering what all the fuss is about :-)

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The trials of Raymond Blanc's Apple Croustade

We had planned to have a leg of lamb for lunch on Easter Sunday. So was vaguely planning to make a bit of effort. Out of the blue we got an email from a cousin of Him Outdoors that we have seen only occasionally who is in the area and is now joining us for lunch. Co-incidentally we saw Raymond Blanc cooking Apple Croustade on the television and waxing lyrical about how you must try it (the best pudding ever), it only takes 2 days to cook! Well what else are we doing this horrible dull weather. Here goes.

First challenge is to find the recipe on line and print it off. Fight temperamental printer. Only one new printer cartridge to find.
Careful study of the recipe reveals that there are two occasions when you have to leave the pastry overnight so how does that make 2 days. But that's ok, we are ahead of ourselves.
Serve with honey and ginger icecream. Lets admit defeat here and serve with good vanilla. We could put some stem ginger in syrup on the top.
But we can make the apple sauce. Well, we could if we'd got the apples. M Blanc says Coxes Orange Pippins - bet votre mere didn't use them when she made it M Blanc. All going well until 'transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend'. Oh no it's all leaking out the bottom. Help........ Aaaaah so that new gasket wasn't entirely successful then. Hand held thingy will do. It's a bit runny and we haven't got one of those cheffy squirty bottles but never mind.
Its going to need clarified butter. Vaguely remember that but better check. Potter about melting. Umm muslin. Used to have some of that in the attic. Move box of photos and spend half an hour browsing. Find muslin but it's holes are too big, decide to use the kitchen roll I first thought of.
Day 2. Make the pastry.Two eggs umm but we only have bantams'. How many of those to a normal egg? Out with the scales. Then M Blanc does all the kneading in a Kenwood Chef with a dough hook. Have the Chef but not the dough hook. Diversion via ebay to put in a bid for a dough hook even though there is no chance that such a thing will be available by Day 3! Immediately outbid, don't really knead (!) one. Ten minutes kneading is fine. Quick check on iPlayer to check that I'd done it right. Only to find that the timings of kneading and leaving were different anyway. Oh well bung it in the fridge 'overnight' and think about it tomorrow.

Day 3. Oh no, it needs 4 hours to come to room temperature before we can stretch the dough. It's already ten o'clock and the room is freezing, I don't think that's 'room temperature'. OK light fire, put pastry near.

Him Outdoors has decided that making the apple rosace bit is his job. Must be the use of tools and the Calvados. (Need 1 1/2 tsps so have to have a bottle.) Where's the apple corer? What apple corer, we've got a thing that chops apples into segments will that do? Quick trip to the shed to find a tool to loosen the screws of the mandolin to make the slices thinner, and moan about the general state of the tool. After a fairly steep learning curve they are all beautifully aranged and in the oven. Bravo.

Oh no, it says 40 minutes at 200C and after 20 minutes they are soft but burning not 'caramelised'. Umm put them back at a lower temperature with some sugar sprinkled on and hope. All ok. Getting more like M Blanc's as they cool.

Now for the pastry. They did it over a cushion big enough to spread the pastry on. First find your cushion. After a lot of pulling and stretching and making holes we end up with a nearly big enough square. No way are they going to make crusty baskets. Leave to dry the butter/sugar misture you have to paint them with and manage to make some fairly lumpy baskets.

Leave to dry for another 24 hours. Then after an already boozey lunch, try and assemble calmly in our open plan kitchen, next to waiting guests.
Et voila!!

By the end of it, we were bored with the whole thing. It tasted ok and next time will be much better but not sure it's up there with 'best pudding ever times ten'. Ho hum, definitely not my sort of cooking. Much prefer 'mix together in ten minutes, bung in the fridge and serve as required'. Trouble is need more than chocolate brandy cake and lemon crunch which everyone seems to have had often!

Monday, 29 March 2010

More gardening

Much more mixed weather at the moment. Gorgeous for a bit then very wet and colder. Needed the rain though so mustn't grumble too much.

Been potting on some cucumber plants, tomato plants and some verbena bonariensis. All looking very hopeful at the moment. Have great difficulty throwing away the ones I don't need, but am trying to be more hard hearted.

Him Outdoors cut the grass a bit on the very longest cut that seems to leave the daisies - hooray. The grass in the vegetable garden is full of violets, periwinkles, cowslips, meadowsweet as well as dandelions and daisies. It's so lovely and sheltered, quite delightful. We cleared masses of deadwood/brambles/lilac out of the hedges when we arrived and this year it is really thickening up with the things we do want. Very satisfying.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Le Meteo

We have an Orange weather forecasting site on the computer that is set up to tell us in one click the weather for today here. Except:

they don't get up very early on this site. Today's weather is yesterday's until about mid morning.

the distance forecast changes daily. At the moment we are wanting rain. So the days with rain on them get one further away every day. Yesterday it was going to rain tomorrow, now not til Friday. And the same is true of the sunshine, if that's what you want, it's always tomorrow.

Wait for it.......................................

Monday, 22 March 2010

Imposter Syndrome

Just came across this in a novel I'm reading and it struck so true for Him Outdoors.

Imposter Syndrome - High achievers are convinced they're flying by the seat of their pants, about to be unmasked at any given moment and found wanting, not really worthy of their elevated positions or their impressive salaries. And the longer they stay away from the office the more likely it is that someone would realise they weren't needed at all.

However much external proof of their abilities they have - academic qualifications, job promotions, salary hikes - they put all their success down to luck or timing or contacts, anything, in fact, but their own abilities and perseverance.

from Fifty is not a Four Letter Word by Linda Kelsey

It is a very stressful way to live. After 20 years in Marketing, having reached the (literally) high levels of an office in Hong Kong, enough was enough and he downsized to working in a marina on the south coast of England. Now spends his time labouring, and loving it.

First cuckoo

What a beautiful morning. Daffodils, bees humming, first apricot and nectarine blossoms on new trees and now the first cuckoo. Spring is well and truly sprung.

Him Outdoors has gone off to Perigueux to buy some more slabs to finish off the second bit of terrace (so much more glamourous than patio!) This means he can have hours wandering round BricoDepot without me vaguely wishing he would hurry up and I can have a lovely peaceful morning. In some girlie shops in the Uk they have a space for boyfriends to hang out with football on the telly and comics. How about the same thing for girls in Brico sheds?

And first day for labouring in shorts by Him Outdoors - already had to wear the hat last week to keep the sun off his shiny head!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Yay, I won

The new Carrefour supermarket is inundating us with bits of paper. Some of which I sorted out today. In France, although they have offers in the supermarket, you don't seem to get them unless you have the loyalty card. (A fact I never noticed when we used to come here on holiday. And why would they tell you, because everyone knows that and that is why everyone has dozens of them on their key rings.)

You get occasional vouchers in the Publicite that comes in the letterbox with the postman every week, and since the Carrefour is new they are putting 10€ vouchers in. They also give you some bits of paper at the till which have the grand total of 20 cents discount per mega amount of shopping.

Today, the till girl looked kind and the queue wasn't long, so I gave her the handful of bits of paper I have acquired. One was for immediate discount, some came in a cheque at the end of the month (never seen that) and don't forget to show your carte to that cardboard machine over there to see if you have won.

Quoi?? Oh ok after some study of the cardboard box with flashing lights and the third time of scanning the carte, it said I HAD WON!!! (Much to the disgust of the french woman after me who couldn't get it to print anything because she hadn't won - ha ha.) A 'Panier Gourmand' value 20€. Yay - rush home to see what's in it!

What Carrefour considers a gourmand basket:

1 packet of aniseed cookies
1 packet hazelnut cookies
1 packet of madeleines cakes
2 litre box of orange juice
1 packet of four tiny tins of pate - qualite superieure (apologies for lack of accents)
1 dry pork sausage - recette traditionnelle
1 large tin cassoulet
1 jar fruits of the forest jam
2 packets of peanut Quaver lookalikes
1 packet ground coffee
and a large packet of 'Extra Sweet' jelly sweets that are at least half sugar and the rest E numbers
and a free heavy duty carrier bag to put it in

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Garden 4 - 18 march

Spent morning planting lavenders by the pool. Had to add some soil and a bit of muck to the gravel to give them something to get started in but hopefully they will like the baking.

Cleared one bed and planted onion sets and half cleared another one. Got another crop off the parsley which does really well here. Can get three or four cuttings chopped and in the freezer before it goes to seed.

Him Outdoors has been rejointing the walls at the back of the house which, weather permitting, means that I will be able to get the roses and jasmine that are waiting into the beds tomorrow in time for them to get a good start before the hot weather bakes them.

Got the pots of oleanders out of the shed and they seem to have survived the winter ok. The geraniums look very dead but maybe a bit of water and sunshine will perk them up.

Bought another water butt yesterday for the downpipe at the front. Another very french occasion. Card machine broke in the supermarket. Long wait while man wandered in to fix it and lots of consultation. Eventually went next door and got some cash and paid with that. They did very kindly let us try to see if it fitted in the boot before we bought it.

Les hirondelles

How lovely to see the first swallow today. It is promising to be much warmer this week and we can imagine that spring is on the way though I can't imagine that will be the last of the cold weather.

Thinking of Hirondelle reminded us that that was the name of the plonk that we used to take to parties in the 70s. Can't remember if there was a white one but certainly a cheap, and to our unknowing palettes, perfectly drinkable red wine. We felt very superior to the drinkers of Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch.

I wonder if it was some advertising man's pride and joy to call it 'swallow'!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Blimey it's cold - Gardening 7th March

Lovely bright blue cloudless skies but the wind is from the North East and straight off the Urals. As my mother used to say an East wind is a lazy wind, it blows straight through you.

Over the last couple of afternoons, I (with some welcome muscle from Him Outdoors) have turned a large expanse of weeds into a respectable flower bed. Last year it was the rubbish tip for the builders and the spoil pile for the drive digger man. Now it's a large flat flower bed with stepping stones and each plant that got put in last year surrounded with manure.

Yesterday I had a peaceful time handweeding and trudging backwards and forwards to the manure heap. Talking to the chickens and bonding with Mrs Wembley and her new chicks. At lunchtime today I made the mistake of asking Him Outdoors if he had any plans for this afternoon that might include doing the manure lugging. Ever one to oblige I had hardly got outside before he was there with his barrowload 'where do you want it?'. And what had been a peaceful afternoon turned into something from It's a Knockout with me vainly trying to clear weeds before another bucketload landed on top of them!

All done now. It looks lovely and will be much easier to see what's what. A little less icy wind would be good for everything but we have violets today that we didn't yesterday and they smell lovely so spring must be on the way.

And the man from It's a Knockout was Eddie Waring of 'up and under' fame :-)

Friday, 5 March 2010

French customer service

Maya Angelou : 'I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone, people love a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back'

Or maybe even a smile would be good.

Today was my first visit to our local supermarket which has this week changed from being an Intermarche to a Carrefour. (Without announcing it to anyone, just shut for the first three days of this week and then reopening as something else. It was only because I asked why the shelves were so empty last week that someone told me they would be shut.)

As you would expect, the shop was full of people wandering about being irritated that their usual purchases were no longer on the shelves and having to make new decisions for every single thing - or maybe that was just me :-)

But oh for a smiley face on the staff. Oh for a Sainsbury's suit who had been round telling the staff to be helpful and apologetic and smiley.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Garden 3 - 3rd March

Spring has sprung. Well today anyway. First day I've been looking for shade to garden in. Lovely.

Today's job was to protect the Purple Sprouting Broccoli from the deer and generally tidy it up and to move the irises from the end of the bed. They were rescued from various places in the garden during the first year and have sat there ever since. This year they were looking really well - so it must be time to move them and set them back again!

Rigged up a string and CD scarer thing. Don't know if it will work, maybe just attract them for lunch. Or it must be breakfast because I haven't seen any eating them. By cutting off all the dead leaves it looks more like they have been trimmed by me than eaten by the deer!!

Moved the irises to beside the drive where there is virtually no soil and it is very sunny. Gave them some soil and hope there'll be happy in front of what will be an eleagnus hedge.

The pile of stones used to be a very neat little building that Him Outdoors built to make the old pile of stones look pretty. Whole thing collapsed this week!

While I was doing the scarer, Him Outdoors made me a beautiful cold frame out of old stuff. I then spent the afternoon filling it. Repotted all the little cuttings that have been sheltering from the winter. It's full now, can I have another one please ;-) Hopefully they can move out before what are now seeds need to go in.

Also used the rest of the tar oil winter wash on a euonymous that gets devoured by caterpillars. It should be covered in beautiful pink and orange berries in the autumn but 100s of caterpillars eat all the leaves, it replaces them but it never puts out any berries. Must try harder to stop that this year.

First cut of the lawn. Well, bit of the lawn that will be too long to cut if Him Outdoors leaves it any longer. We got a new lawnmower this year as a replacement for the one that was so bad even the man who sold it to us agreed it needed replacing. It's an ugly orange beast that makes a huge noise but seems to do the job. After promising that he would only cut the long grass, next time I look he's 'trimmed' all the vegetable garden and cut the tops off all the primroses that I was planning to move. Ho hum.

PS Does can anyone please tell me how to copy and paste things into a blog?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Cranford Mitts

I am very proud of these.
I started knitting again with the arrival of our lovely new grandson. And have got mildly addicted. Some of the things went a bit odd. I knitted him a tiny hat and then knitted a bigger one that ended up fitting son number two. Have unravelled that - son number two decided that he didn't like it! - and made these lovely mittens.
The pattern said that these fingerless gloves were inspired by the mittens worn by the ladies on Cranford (a programme which I find delightful) and that somehow added to the knitting.
Slight problem in that they are obviously made for the tiny hands of Judi Dench not mine but I'm sure they'll fit somebody :-)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Garden 2 - 25th February

Decided that since the cranes are flying over on their way north that it must be spring. Erected the tiny plastic greenhouse and planted some seeds in it, indoors. Just a few of lots of things in modules to see if any germinate and if not I can have another go later. Tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn, sunflowers, aubergines, chillis, basil, courgettes, melons, cucumbers, sweet peas, morning glories, lupins, verbena bonariensis, cosmos and zinnias. Bon courage mes petits.

(03 03 10 peppers, lupins, morning glories, cosmos, zinnia, aquilegia, agapanthus and achillea germinated - yay am so proud of myself :-))

Weeded the broad beans. Now know why the man down the road only planted his about a month ago. I decided to be organised and plant them in the autumn so that they would get a good start. They got a good start and then got frosted! Most of them are now reshooting from the bottom and have filled in the gaps with new seeds. The man down the road has neat rows of tiny plants that don't seem to be bothered by the frost and snow. Reminder for next year - wait until you see him plant his.

Took cuttings from the weeping willow tree in the empty house next door. These may be a bit late but have done as instructed by Geoff Hamilton so fingers crossed.

Feeling grateful that we have dug lots of narrow beds that can be reached without having to get on them at all. The broad bean bed was way too wet to walk on but because you can kneel all round it is easy to weed. Lots of edging though.

Trimmed what will be the box cubes. When we came it was a huge mass of box at least waist high and about fifteen feet across. When we cut - and cut and cut and cut - found that it was actually four plants and with the courage of the RHS pruning guide cut it back to four stumps which are now shooting happily and turning into cubes! Box here grows happily to twenty feet or so. I think originally it must have been a neat hedge around a vegetable plot with orchard beyond but that was a long time ago. One day ......................

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Garden 1 - 20th/21st Feb

Lets see how well I can keep up a blog of what we are doing in the garden.

This morning started out bright and the meteo says sunny intervals, no rain. Felt the urge to 'get out there'.

Cleared the circle round each of the new fruit trees. Started by carefully putting the weeds on the bonfire and then thought that that was ridiculous because the trees are planted along the edge of a field of weeds so then threw them in the hedge where the soil on them might do some good! Then lugged some of M Mazet's cow muck to spread around each one. So they are now all clean and tidy and ready to start growing beautiful fruit. The apple trees show signs of life but the plums/apricot/nectarine/almond are still sticks. I did get them tar oil winter washed (or at least whatever English garden centres sell nowadays without the tar oil in it).

Edged and hand weeded the asparagus, and soft fruit beds. Put some general purpose fertilizer on them. Some raspberry shoots but not a lot else.

Him outdoors had an enormous bonfire yesterday with the branches that EDF cut down in the hedge and while he was playing with it, dug the two potato beds that are up in the top field.

Mid afternoon the sky went completely black and a cold north wind appeared and it is now raining/sleeting heavily. This morning in the two sunny intervals it was warm and birds sang but the rest of the day has been cold and grey and now wet.

Next day started sunny and turned very wintry again. Started weeding flower beds. Wish I could remember what was supposed to be in them! I bought a selection of cheap perennials from Lidl which have merged into the overwintering weeds. Some are obvious and it's a bit early for some so just basically clearing the obvious weeds. Too wet to get on to the beds so just edges.

Him outdoors finished pollarding the lime tree which I started but found too high. I think it's a disadvantage of trifocals that scrambling about in trees is very disorienting - or maybe it's an advantage! He also climbed up an apple tree that we had to cut most of the branches off to prune off some of the unwanted shoots.

An afternoon for reading in front of the fire I think.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Good job they make me smile

Our chickens are useless!!

Well, they make me smile every time I see them, but their egg laying is useless.

We have been discussing culling the extra cockerels for several days now. Deciding that we can't kill the ones that we've named but the three little ones would be possible. Can't do it today, it's raining, can't do it today, it's too cold, can't do it today.........................

Well we did it today. As usual in our life it was an, ok let's do it now sort of decision. Up, breakfast, out to the chicken run and grab them. Well, Him Outdoors grabbed them. Lots of fluttering around the run but once he'd grabbed them and put them in the box they just sat quietly. The others were a bit irritated at their breakfast being disturbed but didn't seem to bother. Then we followed the instructions given to us on our learning day (see first post) and we were fine.

Have to say, it's not something I want to do often and fortunately we won't have to. There are only two hens that lay any eggs and Mrs Wembley is sitting on three of hers so she won't be laying any more for months. Nina may well be laying but not anywhere that we can find them so she may well turn up with a load more babies (nine last time hence the name). None of her last lot of babies have laid anything yet.

As I said, it's a good job they make me smile.