30 July 2009


The Petit Train in Loches

There are those who love this kind of thing and those who think they're really naff. I love 'em.

It might have something to do with having spent a large chunk of my childhood in a motorcycle sidecar and another large chunk in steam train carriages, miniature and full-sized. I like seeing the world from a box bumping along the road.

Many French towns have their Petit Train trundling around the old streets, dispensing commentary in various languages to the tourists on board. True, it's annoying when you have to keep leaping out of their way as they come around the corner in a far too narrow street. Or if you have to eat your lunch in front of an audience if one stops by your table on the pavement.

But, we think they're fun. A good way to get the basic information about any town in a short space of time and to see where to go back for a second look later. We've ridden loads of them; in Chinon, Nice, La Rochelle, Vannes, Avingon and many others. Maybe we'll do the Loches one this summer.

29 July 2009

CATCHING UP, part one.

During our week at our little maison, at the beginning of July, we had a few visitors. Some were more welcome than others.

We had just arrived, fresh from the SuperU at Descartes (our village shops close at lunchtime) and were having a late lunch on the terrace when there was a knock at the side gate and our neighbour, Mme André entered. She had half a clafoutis for us. She had made it herself and it was delicious. We think the other, probably main purpose to her visit was to be able to "oh lalalala" at the little flower garden that Nicole had made for us and was coming along nicely.

Mme is always interested in progress at the cottage. I can't blame her. She was obliged to live next to something that was gradually deteriorating and becoming overgrown with weeds for long enough.

On Monday we went to lunch at Chez Grand'Ma in the village to benefit from their 10 euro special and very good it was too. Buffet starter, choice of main course, cheese and choice of dessert. With coffee and a 50cl pichet of wine, all for less than 30 euros, a bargain.

When we got back this little chap was waiting for us in the big bedroom. We had been doing a spot of DIY and painting and had left the big window open. Getting him out was not so easy.

On Tuesday we had a visit from Alex, Nicole and the girls. They were on their way back from swimming, the girls having finished school already for the summer - incredible. Amelie somehow managed to chuck one of her shoes over the hedge into next door(below)'s garden. Fortunately she was not riding her bicycle by herself but was attached to Alex's, so having only one shoe to go home in didn't matter.

Later that evening, Barrie came round for aperos and dinner. We were sitting on the terrace, nattering, when he spotted a most unwelcome visitor - Roland the Rat. This creature was running to and fro along the back of our garden under the ivy "hedge" between one disused house and another. Rat poison was fetched and dispensed the next day.

Fortunately while Barrie was chez nous, the neighbours(below) appeared in their garden, which is a good ten feet below ours. Barrie is on good speaking terms with them so we were able to explain the shoe incident and Monsieur threw it back over the hedge to us. (We are on slightly less good terms with them ourselves since the tree-pruning incident of 2008. More of that in a later blog.)

28 July 2009


This is just a picture of a door.
It's in our street in Le Grand Pressigny.
The building is now occupied but you'd never know it.
The dirt was rubbed off the window by a friend
who was trying to peer inside.

26 July 2009


Yesterday we went to the wedding of Emily and Paul. Emily is the eldest daughter of our friends Pat and Andy. The wedding was at Bolsover Castle and we had a wonderful day.

We arrived just as the lovely old wedding car appeared.

Derbyshire is rich in castles, stately homes, country houses, archeological sites and industrial history. As I have lived here for most of my life I tend to take it all for granted, having visited most places once or twice in my lifetime. But things change. Bolsover was a scruffy mining town when I was a girl and, castle or not, I was not encouraged to go there. English Heritage have made a fabulous job of recently refurbishing the castle and it is now a great place to visit. There is lots to see and an excellent cafe too. It's hard to believe it's virtually on my doorstep and I see it from a distance most days.

The wedding ceremony was in the Star Chamber in the Little Castle.

Afterwards there was a champagne reception in the castle garden.

Whilst people were chatting, drinking, mingling and generally enjoying themselves, I was able to wander round the castle taking photos with the incredible luxury of having no other visitors around. The wedding party had the whole castle and grounds all to themselves.

From all around the castle there a lovely glimpses of the Derbyshire countryside.

The views can be quite breathtaking, even though this is mining country, not the prettier Peak District.

Inside, the castle has been restored beautifully by English Heritage.

In many rooms there are fabulous fireplaces.

Emily and Paul were extremely lucky with the weather. It has been very showery every day for the last week but for their wedding they had a blue skies and a good deal of sunshine.

At 6pm we all went into the Old Stables for a lovely meal and of course the speeches, the cutting of the (absolutley delicious) wedding cake and afterwards a spot of dancing to a very good jazz quartet.

We had a great time. It was a magical day.

We wish Emily and Paul every happiness in their life together.

Pat's brother Ray has an excellent website Derbyshire Heritage where lots of information can be found about this lovely county.

25 July 2009


The flowers that Nicole had left to welcome us to our little maison

The château at Le Louroux

The château at Montreuil-Bellay

Flowers on the bridge over the river at Loches

17 July 2009


When I haven't the time to make my own bread - only using a breadmaking machine, but nevertheless it requires a bit of organisation - our favourite bread is a "sunflower and pumpkin seed" loaf made by Morrisons. It's very tasty, a nice texture and a sensible price, too.

I work in what my mum would describe as a "rum area". I went to the nearby Morrisons on Tuesday for one of these loaves only to find the shelf bare. As I was weighing up the alternatives a voice behind me said, in very local dialect and vocabulary "tha's no f...kin sunflower bread left. Wot can I 'ave for me f...kin tea now." I turned to see the individual concerned and found a very large and fearsome looking bloke with an equally scary female in tow. I had to stifle a chuckle in order to avoid the risk of a punch on the nose and left the store with a random loaf grabbed in a hurry.
Did I miss something? Is the standard white sliced losing in the popularity stakes? Did that weird 'doctor' Gillian Whatsit on the telly finally convince the masses that brown bread, especially with bits in, is better for us?

I am looking forward to our girlie weekend in the Loire starting tomorrow and ending Tuesday. Our blokes are threatening a night on the town on Saturday, which actually means a beer and a curry in the little Derbyshire (ex)mining town where we live. They are making jokes about talent spotting. I told them to be careful as most talent will think they've come to collect the grandkids!

I wonder which of us will have the most fun, the girls or the boys. Us girls are really looking forward to another look at the fields of sunflowers surrounding Le Grand Pressigny.

13 July 2009


The view from the lane behind the château at Le Grand Pressigny.
So lovely to see the sunflowers in full bloom.

For most of my life I have found the concept of time puzzling. How come sometimes time would whiz by and other times it would drag ?

A view of the renovations, almost finished, due to reopen in September.

When I was a little girl a day lasted a very long time. Somehow we always managed to fit an awful lot of things into just one day. School holidays lasted forever (and the weather was always fantastic). Waiting five minutes for the bus to anywhere took ages, then suddenly the bus would arrive and a twenty minute ride would fly by. Christmas was always eons away but when it came, although it was gone in a flash, we always did loads of things and had a huge amount of fun. I can remember little details of almost every Christmas between the ages of about 6 and 16.

We visited the village of Bridoré, where a "brocante" was going on.

Now that I am no longer a spring chicken (to quote my mum) but something of an old boiler (to quote my dad, rather unkindly, I feel) time seems to be completely different. It stops and starts a lot, all the time.

The "Paysages Nocturnes" had just started in the village.

When I am at work time generally passes steadily and quickly enough. The evenings, however, hurtle by and with each year we manage to get less and less done after work. The knock-on effect of this is that by the weekend we have done fewer chores than we planned and still have things to get done before we feel we can relax and just enjoy the two days off as we should. Working alternate Saturday mornings doesn't help but even so, we are no sooner having the thank God it's Friday moment, than my dad is turning up for his dinner on Sunday evening. When I was younger, if we had guests for the weekend, it would last ages and we would manage to fit an awful lot of things in, including shopping, sight-seeing, cooking and generally having a great time.
These days, I sometimes can't remember doing anything useful all weekend, I just know I was busy and it whooshed by in a blur.

A lot of it seemed quite high brow but the brass band in front of the church on Saturday evening was fun. We listened while waiting for our pizza.

Now that we have our little place in France, time seems to have become even more peculiar. Our visits are spaced roughly 5 weeks apart. When we get home after a visit, such as now, I will feel at first that I have a huge amount of time in front of me to do the things I need to do. Such as, unpack and wash our luggage, tidy up the garden, tidy up the house, catch up on the jobs and chores we didn't complete before setting off for the last visit. As the weeks go by and the next visit approaches, time speeds up. Catching up on the left-over jobs means short-changing on the regular jobs and by the last week, with packing to do again, I am usually in headless chicken mode with no hope of having time to empty the fridge and reprogramme the heating. We usually leave in a whirl of chaos and resolve to sort it all out properly when we get back, never leaving in such a mess again. Of this there is no chance.

We played a game of "Championship du Monde".

Double points for words in French.

Before this last visit, things were even more chaotic than usual as the half-day I had taken off work to do stuff (hair appointment, ironing, etc.) had to be sacrificed to go to a funeral. This was for my dad's best friend and he was more of an uncle to me than some of my uncles so I was glad to be able to go and say goodbye to him. But it left our pre-holiday schedule a total shambles.

We had dinner at Chez Grand'Ma.

Then, when we get to Le Grand Pressigny, something very strange always happens. Time becomes normal. Days last a whole day. Even if we sleep in late we always have time to go for some croissants at the boulangerie and they are rarely sold out. After breakfast we have time to plan what we want to do for the day and enough time to actually do it. Afternoons seem to last forever. We can get huge amounts of things done, if we want to, or take an afternoon off to go fishing (Nick) or reading (me), which lasts hours and hours, leaving us refreshed and fulfilled. A welcome change from fraught and frazzled, our usual state when at home in UK.

Sunset behind the château

This return from holiday has not got off to a good start. We were enjoying ourselves so much just doing nothing that we decided to squeeze every last moment out of our stay and do the return journey all in one hit. That meant 8 hours and 465 miles on the motorcycles plus the ferry crossing. We left Le G P at 10.00 am French time on Sunday and got home at 1.30 am UK time on Monday morning, cold and completely exhausted. Bits of me ached that had never ached before. We needed hot water bottles to warm us up - but I was too tired to do them. Then, Nick had to be up early to pack a hasty suitcase and I had to drive him to the station at 7.00 am so he could be in London for an "important meeting" before lunchtime - something that came up after we set off on holiday.

A favourite walk down by the river.

The upshot of all this is that the concept of time now has me totally and utterly confused. Mostly I do not know what day it is, except that it's a work day or a weekend, before a holiday or after a holiday. Birthdays and appointments get completely forgotten - apologies to all - nothing personal. Comme d'habitude, I tend to start speaking in French to the first few people I meet when I get back.

There's no immediate solution. Life is just stop-start on the helter skelter at the moment. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Whilst sitting outside the PreHisto with our customary apéritif, I just realised we are very lucky people and this is what it is like to be happy.

12 July 2009


Street view, Le Grand Pressigny

10 July 2009


The château at Le Grand Pressigny, May 2009

8 July 2009


The pottery at Mozay, near Le Grand Pressigny

Flowers and a busy bee in the pottery's garden

6 July 2009


A Touraine château, can't remember where.
They were having a gourd festival on at the time of our visit.

4 July 2009


It's that pump again, Le Grand Pressigny

3 July 2009


The river and old mill at Angles sur Anglin in summer

The bridge over the Claise at Le Grand Pressigny in winter

2 July 2009


The wedding of the century at Langeais
6th December 1491

1 July 2009


Inside Langeais