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.