February 28, 2010

A LESSON IN HISTORY

Another nearby château that we spotted when we watched the aerial view of the 2008 Tour de France on the TV in the PreHisto was at Azay-le-Ferron. We went there a few days later and it was a beautiful day again.



This photo of Azay-le-Ferron is courtesy of Google.


When we first started visiting French châteax in the 90's we would always dutifully buy the guided tour and often be bored to tears. We would be bundled in with lots of other mixed nationalities and had to endure the endless descriptions of every painting and piece of furniture as we trailed around the house, hardly understanding a single word and gradually losing the will to live.

I remember one in particular where we were the only English in a large group of French and Dutch that included screaming babies and naughty toddlers. We couldn't even slip to the back of the group and make our escape as we were locked in and out of each room by the guide as we progressed through the house. It was such a bad experience that I have wiped the recollection of where it was from my memory. However, I do remember that we attracted a few strange looks from the other people in our group as we perspired gently in our motorcycle leathers on a hot day. I love creating the impression that we might just be Hell's Angels so you'd better look out. On that day we obviously were very unappealing indeed and they all gave us a wide berth. This suited us fine and as we rode away afterwards we made as much noise as possible, just to get our own back for such an awful tour and dreadful company.



As time went by we became more adept at avoiding this kind of tour. Sometimes we would just hang back and sneak a look at the guide as they took a party around then wait for the next tour if we still fancied it. The best ones have been with small parties of visitors, sometimes just us and one or two other couples, in which case we had more chance of following what was said. Better still the ones where we were the only visitors and shown round by the owner or a relative. This happened once at a place near Fontevraud Abbey and we were very lucky as since then it has never been open to the public. What we like the most is the places where we can go around completely unaccompanied at our own pace.



We struck gold that day when we visited Azay-le-Ferron. There were two tour guides and the lady that took us around was an absolute star. We were the first to be gathered up for the 2 pm tour. Whilst we were waiting to see if any others turned up we got to know each other. She was witty, lively, and very entertaining. She could have been the history teacher of your dreams. As soon as she discovered we were English she asked us if we would like the tour in English, French or slow French. We opted for the latter. It was so good that afterwards even I remembered stuff about the house.



I remember that one lady of the house didn't think it was big enough and at some stage had it doubled in size. Good for her. Why compromise when one has standards to maintain ? That the name derives from the local ironworks and that when nobody wanted it in 1951 (the year of my birth) it was donated to the town of Tours. They were not too keen on having it either. Most of all I remember that in its heyday it had 76 servants, effectively one for every room. Sounds good to me.




At the end of the tour the guide tested us on what we remembered. Being a smarty-pants, Nick knew the answers to all her questions. The other members of the party (all French) were most impressed. This was a very good way of making some of the information stick, I thought. We had had a lovely time and thanked her warmly.

The next time we saw her was in October last year when we visited our own château in Le Grand-Pressigny. When we walked into the museum, there she was at the reception desk to welcome us. She greeted us as if she knew us and once we mentioned our visit to Azay-le Ferron, it was as if we were old friends. She even made a joke about the test. No doubt she does this for everyone but we were certainly very pleased to see her again.

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February 24, 2010

TIME OUT TO BE A TOURIST

During our two weeks in our little maison in July 2008 we did quite a bit of sight-seeing and château-stomping. (As well as a little DIY.)





One of the things we saw on the TV coverage of the Tour de France was a helicopters-eye view of a several nearby châteaux, some of which we had never seen before, so we decided to seek at least one of them out. To begin with we went to see the château at La Guerche, just down the road from Le Grand-Pressigny.



We drive over the bridge and past the château regularly and it is a very imposing sight. In fact we had viewed a house just over the bridge when we were house-hunting the previous year. It was the one where the ground floor was now below ground on account of the bridge having been rebuilt at some stage with the road half way up the windows. It was still for sale.





On 13th July we decided to stop and look around the village and if possible visit the château - it isn't open for visitors every day but we were in luck. The young lady who showed us round was a student who was very keen to practice her English. This resulted in one of those bizarre encounters where all of us would mix and match French and English often mid-sentence. Anything to be understood. It was very entertaining and great fun.






I have forgotten most of the facts and figures about the château that we found so enthralling on the day. I love the way a good guide can bring a place to life so much so that you could almost be back in times gone by, witnessing the to-ings and fro-ings of previous occupants. It doesn't bother me that I can't remember any of it later. But I do remember that it was buillt in the XIVth century, that it had underground rooms that were fascinating and that you could explore by yourself, and there was some sort of chute from outside to the cellars that the guide was very excited about. It might have been for grain, or people, or even weapons - I can't remember. Also that we were the only visitors, that we had a great time and that the sun shone beautifully all day.




We spent a happy hour or so there and then headed back home for tea on our little terrace.

A perfect day.

February 21, 2010

MORE WRETCHED SNOW

I don't write many posts about life in Derbyshire as it's humdrum compared to our adventures in France but today I felt the urge.

We awoke this morning to about 3" of snow. It wasn't there at 3am when Nick let Lulu out - she woke us up to ask to go out into the garden.


This photo was taken in the lane two days ago. It's grey and snowing today.


The forecast is for snow every day this week. The road outside our house is covered so Nick is unable to go to the local reservoir for the fishing club working party. He is required to do this once a year as a condition of his membership. He was unable to make the last one as he was working abroad and a phone call has confirmed that today's has been cancelled due to the snow. He wouldn't be able to get there anyway.

My dad will be unable to come round for his dinner and sometimes we take a plateful round for him if I think it's unsafe for him to leave the house- he lives a 5-minute drive away - meals on wheels. He has unrealistic ideas of his abilities and apart from driving in the bad conditions which is stressful, he could even fall on his sloping drive getting to the car. I have already phoned him to check he is ok and ban him from going out, also that he has enough food in the house to feed himself for a few days if we are all grounded. He lives on a road that is never cleared when it snows. We will have to see if it is fit to drive round with his dinner later this evening, otherwise he's got lots of tinned soup in, he says.

I will be unable to go to work this morning, which was my plan while Nick was out at the reservoir. The business isn't open on Sundays but it was my intention to go and sort out the mess left behind by people covering for me whilst I have been off for 6 weeks after the operation. I hate turning up for work on the first day back after a spell off (usually for a holiday) to find all my stuff moved and out of order. I usually go in and tidy up so that I can get on with the job properly straight away. Otherwise it's a bit like trying to bake a cake in someone else's kitchen.

As I don't work Mondays I had a dental appointment tomorrow which I will have to rearrange because my dentist is a 20-mile drive away. I have had to rearrange the last two appointments for various reasons.

I should be back to work on Tuesday. The place will be a tip because I haven't got in to clear up. I will have to leave much earlier than usual because even if the main roads are clear of snow, the country route that I usually take may be too difficult. Consequently everyone will be on the main roads and it will be very slow going. My work colleague who lives nearby will be phoning me early on, whilst I am in the thick of getting ready, sorting out the dog and clearing snow off the car, to ask for a lift. This means I will have to leave even earlier than the earlier I had planned.

Then there's the footwear issue. When it snowed before Christmas, I wore my ancient moon-boots dating back to the skiing holidays I used to take years ago. They look cute and have a fantastic grip in the snow. Now I can't get them on as one foot is still swollen. The only shoes I can wear at the moment are an old and loose pair of black trainers which would look ok for work but have no grip at all in the snow. I can also get Nick's wellington boots on, which I have been using to take the dog to the field each day, and his fishing boots which are waterproof and also have a fantastic grip. So it will have to be those then. I will take the trainers with me to change into at work. (I hope I remember that bit in the mayhem.)



The snow has stopped falling at about 11.30 and a few cars have ventured out. We're keeping our fingers crossed for my dad's dinner. It's boeuf bourguignon tonight.

So to all those people who sneer at us when we get a few inches of snow, usually because they are under several feet of it all winter, I would say - does it cause you this much trouble ? Reading Ken's blog this morning, my first words today were the same as his when he looked out yesterday morning, "merde !"

February 18, 2010

RAISON D'ÊTRE

In July 2008 we spent a fortnight in our little cottage in Le Grand-Pressigny. As it turned out, those two weeks started well, continued superbly and ended in a magnificent finale. We had fabulous weather, too. This was everything we had hoped for when we bought our holiday home.

On Thursday 9th July the Tour de France came through the village - stage 5, Cholet to Châteauroux. This only happens about every 10 years so we were thrilled to be able to see it and join in the fun.




What a day !! We walked down to the village square about 11.30 am to find the whole place buzzing. Paper cutouts of little t-shirts in all the colours of the teams had been strung as bunting from trees and lamposts. All our friends were already in position outside the PreHisto, enjoying the sunshine. Tables and chairs had been bagged early and there was barely a space left on the pavement from where we could get a view of the race. We found a place on the other side of the road and took it in turns to nip across to buy a drink or mingle with our friends, afraid of losing our excellent position, even though the competitors were not expected for two hours yet !!


The first sign of action was the arrival of a couple of police motorcyclists. The crowd cheered. Then the caravan started to come through. I had never seen anything quite like this in my life. It was an amazing spectacle and absolutely brilliant fun. For almost two hours one float after another came along Grande Rue (the wrong way) and threw sweets and gifts to the children as they went by.



After a short lull the next pair of police bikes indicated that the peloton was coming. At that point the windows opened in the Mairie above the Tourist Office and the Maire and his staff leaned out and waved and cheered along with everyone else. A press photographer was busy at an open second-floor window below the PreHisto and a helicopter circled above.

It was over in a flash !! It had taken two hours for the caravan to pass through and the peloton was gone in seconds. Or so it seemed anyway.



Of course, that was not it for the day. The TV coverage is slightly behind the actual race so people then piled into the PreHisto to watch the proceedings on the TV. There was much oohing and aahing at the sight of the château on the screen, and cheering at the cyclists. Then the street party lingered on, there was much debriefing to be done, with the aid of liquid refreshment and sandwiches from the PreHisto and the Jean Bart. As the afternoon wore on, people gradually drifted back home, the crowd that had turned up for the day disappeared and the village returned to normal.


We wandered up the hill to our little maison and settled on our terrace overlooking the rooftops of the village. As we sat enjoying the evening sunshine, we commented that the peace and quiet was amazing considering we are right in the middle of the village. We talked about the events of the day and could hardly believe our luck that we had found this place.

February 13, 2010

A BRUSH WITH THE NEIGHBOURS

During that spring week in 2008, on the day that Mike and Jackie were due to arrive, we had an interesting exchange with our neighbours below.

Nick had just gone to the boulangerie at about 8.30 when there was loud and urgent knocking at the door. Fearing some terrible disaster, I opened it to find a smartly dressed woman on the doorstep who introduced herself brielfly then proceeded to wave her arms about and speak in such a tone that I could only conclude she was annoyed with us for some reason.

She was pointing through the house towards our garden so I felt obliged to invite her in. I could barely understand a word she was saying. She marched through the house and leaned over the hedge at the back indicating some sort of trouble below. I could not think how a problem in the garden below ours could have anything at all to do with us and most of the time that she was jabbering away I just gawped at her. Not only did I have no idea what she was talking about, but I was dismayed to think that we might have somehow upset the locals already.


Just as Nick turned up with our breakfast I was beginning to latch on to some of her words - branches, tombé and haricots verts. Then it dawned on me. Some branches from the trees in our garden had fallen down into her potager and landed in her haricot verts! Quelle dommage! We assured her we were très désolé and a rendezvous was arranged at her house that evening at 6pm when her husband was home to look at the polémique from below.





The Judas trees in full leaf, August 2007.


Consequently, a couple of hours after Mike and Jackie arrived, all four of us trooped down the hill and presented ourselves at Mme's house. Safety in numbers, we thought. Especially as they were both taller than us and looked as though they meant business in their motorcycle leathers.

It was a very difficult hour. M. et Mme. made no allowances for the fact that we were obviously having trouble understanding them and persisted in talking at normal speed. When we didn't get it they repeated the same thing only louder. (So it's not just the Brits abroad that do this, then.) We could however, immediately see the problem. Their garden is about ten feet below ours and some overhanging branches from our trees had broken off, fallen down and damaged their haricots verts plants. We also grasped that not only could they not reach our trees from below, they had no way of removing rubbish from the garden other than by dragging it through their house. Their garden was landlocked and had no path to it from the road. The trees would have to be dealt with on our side and the waste taken away from there.

We promised to sort the problem out. We parted company reasonably amicably, we shook hands and M. offered us the customary drink. We declined on account of the fact that the barbecue we had lit earlier would now be just right for cooking with so we excused ourselves.


Tons of seed pods ready to fall into the garden in autumn.


The trees were "Judas trees". They produce lots of pretty pink flowers in the spring, but they also produce tons of large seed pods that accumulate in the garden, creating a horrible mess outside. The mess then ends up inside as we trample it in. We had already talked about cutting them back. We didn't want to get rid of them completely as they provided that all-important shade on the garden and terrace during the hottest part of the day.

There are pretty pink flowers on the trees in April.


We talked with Alex and he hired a tree surgeon for us. We assured Mme. that the problem would be dealt with as soon as possible (as soon as the tree surgeon turned up). It was obvious that she really wanted us to cut them down completely as the shade that we benefited from also deprived her potager of light.


I could understand her for treating us so roughly. The house had been effectively unoccupied for five or six years and even before that it was rarely used. So she would have had little opportunity to complain to the previous owner about the offending trees. Now we come along and POOF out she comes with all guns blazing to get the problem sorted out while she could. She was obviously worried and upset about the whole thing and I don't blame her.





L'arboriste at work.


The nice arboriste turned up two months later. He argued with Mme. on our behalf about what could and could not be done with the trees and explained the finer points of the law to her. So we got our trees trimmed and she got part of what she wanted. He then eventually sent us the bill - a whole year later !!




February 11, 2010

LES PAUVRES

THE 150th POST !

I thought I'd celebrate with some more gratuitous old vehicle pictures but soften the blow with one of a 2 CV for all its fans out there. (This one had go-faster stripes - I wonder if they worked.)




One of the reasons we chose to buy a holiday home in the Loire is the weather. It isn't baking hot for months on end like it is further south. It does get hot, as it did last summer, much hotter than it does in Derbyshire and for longer periods, but generally the weather is mixed.




For the last 17 years we have taken a holiday in France each spring for the Bank Holiday week, which is usually the very last week of May, edging into June. We have visited all parts of the country at this time of year and to say the weather is unreliable is rather an understatement.



We visited Pete & Cyn at their house near Perpignan at that time of year and it was hot. By the time we got back to the Loire in mid-June (2006) it was roasting hot. Equally we have stayed in a gite in Brittany when it rained heavily every day - most disappointing as we were on the motorcycles and my boots developed an unfortunate leak.




During that spring week in 2008 we had good weather to begin with, sunny and warmish - warm enough to enjoy lunch and apéros on the terrace each day. We were able to tick off a fair number of jobs on the DIY list including painting the well and the kitchen window.




When our friends and neighbours, Mike and Jackie, arrived on their motorcycles on Thursday the weather started to change. On their first evening it was warm and they were most impressed, sitting on the terrace in the late sunshine before dinner. The next day we enjoyed breakfast outdoors in sunshine but after that it clouded over then rained on and off. Being true Brits, this didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves - as Mike said, if you waited for the right weather in England you would never do anything. We did a little tour of some of our favourite places, including Angles-sur-Anglin, just to show off a bit and they were even more impressed.



The next day they were leaving to go to their gite in the Auvergne. As they were getting kitted up, it started to rain. By the time they were setting off it was chucking it down. There was already quite a river of water running down the hill past our house. Mme André had been watching the entertainment and as they pulled out into the road she asked how far they were going. When we told her it would take all day to get to their gite she looked horrified and said "Les pauvres!"




It continued to rain quite heavily for the rest of our stay and then for a few days after that. We were nervous about the amount of water running down the hill - worried that it might come into the courtyard and then straight into the house as the ground floor is below the level of the courtyard. Mme André reassured us that her house had never flooded in the 52 years that she had been there. However, later in the week, several properties lower down in the village were flooded because of the amount of water coming down the roads and not being taken away by the overfull drains.


Which just goes to prove that the price you pay for greenery is rain.
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February 8, 2010

A PASSION FOR OLD VEHICLES



I am happy being around old cars and motorcycles. This may be because I spent a large part of my childhood in a sidecar attached to an old BSA or Velocette. With my father riding, my mother on the pillion seat and me safely tucked away in my little metal box, we travelled hundreds, probably thousands of miles, bouncing along the roads of England and Northern Ireland.




Once my dad could afford a car, they were ancient old things that constantly needed tinkering with. Add to that his passion for steam engines of any kind - steam trains and steam rollers - noisy, smelly, oily engines have been such a big part of my life that I still enjoy them. (I did once drive a steam engine - but that's another story!)



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As a little girl we used to go to Derby on the steam trains for shopping trips (yes, I am old enough to remember that) and I loved it. Also, during the school holidays, I used to cycle to the station at Cromford with my male cousins for a spot of trainspotting and general messing about. Then I would get home all sooty and smelling of smoke from standing on the footbridge as the trains came in and out of the station. I was often in trouble for that.





So, when we discovered that there is a very active "Association Rétroméchanique" in Le Grand-Pressigny, we were very interested (I managed to stop short of saying excited, not wishing to sound too much like an anorak). At the end of May they have an annual run out and it happened just after we arrived in the village that week in 2008.




We were sitting on the terrace enjoying an aperitif with Barrie when we heard the unmistakable rumble of old vehicles coming into the village. We dashed down to the square to see the procession as it came up the road and turned into Grande Rue.


Dusty was with us on this holiday, the only time that we took her to France.


It then did another lap and ended up at the Salle des Fêtes. Whilst the public (us) could amble around all the lovely old cars, bikes and tractors, a certain amount of jolly chatter and clinking of glasses could be heard coming from inside and, all in all, everyone had a lovely time.



We have often come across gatherings and processions of old vehicles all over France and it's nice to know the French are just as barmy about them as we are in England. Just one more reason the love the place.


February 6, 2010

HOW LONG UNTIL SUMMER ?

In the middle of the February doldrums, what I really need is something to remind me of summer - to reassure me that - yes, summer does come every year, eventually. Looking at these pictures, all taken on very hot days last summer, I can almost feel the heat already.




The church in Le Grand-Pressigny






A watering-hole opposite the church - the PreHisto






The river at L'Isle Bouchard

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Descartes on the day of the Comice Agricole




Some flowers and our pond at home in Derbyshire.

(Yes, summer happens here as well !)

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February 2, 2010

EXTREME DIY

Now that we had a room full of lovely furniture, we couldn't wait to go back again and enjoy it at the end of May, the UK Spring bank holiday. We had a whole week off work and intended to spend most of it chilling out and enjoying ourselves, having a bit of a break from the DIY.


However, we were expecting visitors towards the end of the week - our neighbours from home were coming to stay for two nights on their way to the gite they had booked in the Auvergne. That meant we had to get the other bedroom tidied up to receive them and, if we had the time and inclination, we would try to get our new shower cubicle fitted in the "salle d'eau".


Towards midweek, Nick was beginning to get twitchy about fitting the new cubicle. We had considered leaving it until our friends arrived to give us a hand but he was keen to get on with it so it would be fitted and working for when they arrived.





When we saw the house in August 2007, there was a grotty little shower tray with a spectularly tasteless shower curtain - made of clear plastic with a pattern of pandas on it.




When we took possession of the house in November, the curtain and the rail for it had gone, along with everything else that was even vaguely useful. We replaced it temporarily with a new rail and slightly better curtain but there's something fundamentally unpleasant about shower curtains - it's the way that within moments of getting lathered up the thing gets sucked in towards you and clings to your anatomy. Horrible. Still, the shower itself worked extremely well - there was always plenty of lovely hot water and the water pressure in the area is phenomenal.





Nick had decided to buy the shower cubicle and tray in England and bring it over on the van with the furniture. That seemed sensible as he could be sure of what he was buying and following the instructions (perish the thought) if necessary. He had weighed up the compatibility of the UK fittings which would have to fit to the existing French pipework and was confident he could tackle it.


Things went well at first. The old shower tray came out easily and the new one went in without a hitch. The pipework matched up perfectly and Nick made a good job of replacing some tiles around the top of the tray. So far, so good.


Next we had to assemble the cubicle. This is where things went pear-shaped. He screwed the mounting framework to the walls and we tried to put the thing together. It just would not go. We had arranged to have lunch at the hotel in the village with Barrie and Lucie and when they turned up to walk down the hill with us, the cubicle was still in pieces, Nick was at the end of his tether and I had taken the dog for a walk to "get some air". When I got back, all three of them were pushing and shoving, turning it this way and that, balancing it on the furniture to get a different angle and a bit more purchase. I noticed that they had even opened and apparently consulted the instructions but to no avail. No amount of head-scratching, cursing or pleading would persuade it to go together and stay together.



We gave up and went to lunch. After an excellent and "bien arrosé" lunch we tottered back up the hill and, without even changing out of our good clothes, got stuck into the assembly problem again, determined that this thing was not going to beat us. Within five minutes it had gone together perfectly. There's a moral in this somewhere.



Nick fitted the assembled cubicle to the rails, sluthered plenty of sealer all over the important areas and we looked forward to our first shower in the morning, the day that our visitors would arrive. It looked magnificent.





Nick was first in. Happy sounds of suds and singing escaped from the bathroom. I was next. As I stepped into the shower I noticed a little puddle of water on the floor. Why are husbands so messy in the bathroom ? I showered in my usual neat and methodical fashion and as I stepped out there was an even bigger puddle. There was no escaping the fact - that our new shower cubicle leaked. Damn.



With every subsequent holiday we would spend ages trying to work out where the water was coming from. The pipework was fine. We had used masses of sealant to bung up every possible gap. We thought maybe it was the way we threw our elbows about inside the shower and water was getting out through the door. Even more puzzling, it didn't leak every time. Still, at least it worked and we could shower properly - we just had to do a bit of annoying mopping-up every time.


Eighteen months later, on New Year's Eve, we discovered the cause of the leak. Nick spent yet another ten minutes scrutinising the cubicle and emerged triumphantly from the bathroom to announce that he had the answer to the problem. "We" had put it in upside down. The panels had sealing strip right up to the very top where it was not needed but the sealing strip at the bottom appeared slightly too short leaving tiny gaps, therefore indicating that they were in the wrong way up.


I thought it diplomatic not to enquire whether there had been any clue in the instructions as to exactly which way was up !!

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