March 31, 2010

À BIENTÔT


This was how we travelled to France last Easter. This year the space occupied by the chest of drawers will be taken up by Lulu. Somehow we have to get everything else onto the back seat. Luckily we don't have furniture to take this time.
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There will be some photos to keep you going until we are back. Happy Easter !!

March 28, 2010

ESSENTIAL SHOPPING

Prior to our forthcoming trip to our little maison we have been doing some essential shopping for those all-important items to take with us. We went to Ikea near Nottingham for some shelving to put in the cellar to replace the Fred Flintstone stuff made of breeze blocks that is already there. Also a few bits of extra cutlery to match the things we bought a couple of years ago.



We came away without either of these. We couldn't make our minds up about the shelving and they don't do that cutlery any more. But we did manage somehow to buy some stuff we really don't need but can't live without, including several candles, 3 orchids, some light bulbs, plant pot holders, two washing up brushes and an Arv Bröllop. (Don't you just love the names of their products - it makes checking your receipt afterwards a whole evening's entertainment. If you were short of something to do for the evening.)



Now the need for this wonderful item will be apparent when you read on and I let you know my guilty secret.


Which is ........we buy a lottery ticket most weeks.

I know, I know, it's a senseless and useless waste of money. But my theory is that someone wins a lot of money every week and if you don't have a ticket..........




Anyway, what would I do with the money ?



I would open a cake shop. Ever since my mother taught me to make pastry at the age of seven or eight, I have enjoyed baking. She would bake a whole lot of stuff on a Saturday afternoon and when it had all gone by Tuesday she would bake some more. I loved to help. Maybe it was the chance to lick the spoon afterwards.




Her standard recipe book was the Bero book. I still have one or two rather well-thumbed copies that belonged to her, plus a few others that I have collected. I also have a humungous collection of other recipe books, mostly baking books. (Its size almost rivals my collection of half-knitted jumpers.) Unfortunately, I don't bake so often these days because His Nibs doesn't like cake too much and all my colleagues are on a diet which would leave it to me to scoff the lot with the inevitable effect on the waistline. But I still love reading the books. Got to be prepared for the big day when I open my shop.


This is my very first recipe book. There is a coupon inside the back page where you can send off for more copies at 13s/6d each.

So, when I win the lottery, I will have a cakeshop / beadshop / giftshop / cafe / post office. (This last bit would satisfy my passion for stationery and stamp collecting, but that's another story.)

I would open 10 til 12 in the morning for coffee, cake and beads, then 3 til 5 in the afternoon for tea, cake and beads. That leaves a nice long break for lunch and plenty of time to bake the cakes and do the beads.



Now you know why I needed that Arv Bröllop. By the time I open my cake shop, they might not sell them any more so I got it now, just in case.



What would you do if you won the lottery?

The pictures of cakes are from various sites found via Google - I haven't baked them myself, sadly.

March 24, 2010

WHY BOTHER ?



I am fairly choosey about who I tell we have a holiday home in France. When I do I usually point out that it doesn't have a swimming pool, a vineyard, outbuildings or a boathouse. It cost us about as much as some people would spend on a sportscar.



Not that it is anyone else's business, but I find the pointing finger of the jealous types who think we must be very rich to own it, rather unpalatable. I hate trying to explain to people something they will never understand and don't really want to hear. Some of those people who would immediately brand us as wealthy, have actually spent more on their most recent caravan. It's all relative.




Then there is the other kind of person who just doesn't understand why. Why bother owning a piece of French history? Why commit yourself to taking holidays in the same place? Why take on all the work of doing it up and maintaining it, when you could be having a fortnight in Tenerife one year and a week in China the next? These people would never understand the fascination of owning somewhere that was first renovated in the year of the French revolution.




In a way I can see their point. There are always lots of other things we could be doing or places we could be going with our money. But for these people there is no satisfactory explanation. Some obviously thought I was completely barmy for going skiing. How can you explain to someone the feeling of being on top of a mountain, in brilliant sunshine, when all you can hear around you is the sound of skis scrunching on snow. They can't think beyond the idea that it is horribly cold. True, it was often uncomfortably cold but I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.



Some people would think I am mad for riding a motorcycle. Why put yourself at risk amongst the car drivers, especially when it is pouring with rain? I have to admit, riding in the rain is without doubt absolutely miserable. But the thrill of riding over the Alps on a crisp spring morning, or in a parade of 500 other Harleys, is something I will never forget.
Each to their own. Horses for courses. Whatever wrinkles your prune.




We are about to visit our little maison au pied du château after an absence of 12 weeks. That's an awfully long time to be away from something you really, really like. It isn't a villa with umpteen rooms and a swimming pool. It's a scruffy little cottage built of a mixture of rubble and flint, like most of the other older houses in the village. It has scary plumbing and dodgy wiring and zillions of spiders. But when I get settled on that little terrace, looking out over the rooftops of the village, with the Grand-Pressigny bat formation team swirling round me as the light fades, I might as well be in heaven.




All photos are from August 2008 when we spent virtually an entire week in the village because it was too hot to go anywhere on the motorcycles. In any case, we were so content and busy pottering about or relaxing in our own little place that we just didn't feel the need to do anything else. I did lots of reading and Nick did lots of fishing. We got all the shopping we needed in the village and it was absolute bliss.

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March 23, 2010

A BIRTHDAY POST



It is one year today since I started this blog. This is what has happened since.


It has taken up an enormous amount of my time. I have enjoyed every minute. (Apart from the many, many minutes spent trying to figure out what Blogger was doing with my text and pictures.)


I have made lots of new friends. Some I haven't met in person yet but I still think of them as friends. Others I have met, exchanged stories and eaten with them. How wonderful is that ?
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I have read dozens of other blogs and learned loads of stuff I didn't know before. I have a huge number of new recipes to try. I have tried other peoples' gardening tips and read books they recommended. I have had great fun visiting places I have seen in other blogs that I would never have thought of by myself.

I have written a story. Something I always wanted to do properly since I finished writing stories on leaving school.


I have had the need to trawl through hundreds of photos. This has been a complete joy, reminding me of how much we have crammed into our lives so far and how lucky we are.


I haven't run out of ideas yet but I haven't seen the bottom of my ironing basket since I started.

March 15, 2010

I THINK THEREFORE I AM

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Le Grand-Pressigny is a few kilometres away from the town of Descartes, the birthplace of René Descartes. We go there regularly each time we are chez nous as it has some shops and facilities that we don't have in our village. Including two large supermarkets, our Notaire (luckily we haven't needed him since we bought the house) a market on Sunday mornings, a nice creperie where we sometimes have lunch, a good DIY shop and a fabulous park. It also has a wool shop where I have been able to get knitting needles when I arrive on holiday to find I have brought the wrong size for the project I am starting. (I confess to having the world's largest collection of half-knitted jumpers.)




The Sunday market is a good size. Comme d'habitude, the main street is closed to accommodate all the stalls and finding a parking place can be a bit of a scramble. We usually park well away from the throng, avoiding the pushing and shoving and the lurching onto pavements. I have observed that parking in France is a specialist skill, one that I don't have. In summer when everyone is desperately searching for that illusive patch of shade, it becomes quite fraught. We would rather walk a few more yards than risk any confrontation.



There are all the stalls you would expect. The crimplene cardigans and elastic waisted skirts, the Moroccan leather belts and tapestry bags, the knee-length socks and cheap gaudy jewellery. On the positive side, there are also a good cheese stall, hot food stalls, excellent vegetable stalls, wine stalls, the sausage man and, very attractive to us now we have somewhere to put them, two plant sellers.




The whole place has the classic bustling atmosphere of the French market. The locals meet and exchange bisous and gossip whilst the tourists amble along and absorb the sights and smells. There are lots of English voices to be heard as Descartes is a popular place for UK tourists staying in an abundance of gites around the town and in nearby villages. It's the plant sales that differentiate the gite-renting visitor from the resident or maison secondaire-owner, like us. We all need to ponder over what to have for dinner but you can't take geraniums home on Ryanair. For so many years we hung our noses over plants, pots and pans at French markets, wishing we had somewhere to buy them for. Now we do.




Down by the river there is a beautiful park. We stumbled upon it one day when exploring the old part of town and looking for the Descartes museum (which is still on our to-do list). That was in July 2008. It was hot and sunny, the flower beds were glorious and apart from a young woman sitting on a bench in the shade reading a book, we were the only people there. We were amazed. It was so beautiful, so neat and tidy, the gravel paths freshly raked, no litter anywhere to be seen and so tranquil. What a great facility for the citizens of Descartes to have.




We have been back to the park several times, to see it in different seasons and admire the landscaping which seems to take on a new theme each year. We have never seen more than a handful of other people there.

March 13, 2010

AN EVENING AT THE THEATRE

Back in August 2007, when we bumped into Barrie and Lucie, they told us a lot about life in Le Grand-Pressigny, all of which helped to convince us it would be a perfect place to have our holiday home. We were fascinated by their tales of the "Paysages Nocturnes", which takes place in the village every July. We wished we had been there to see it that year.






Each year actors descend on the village for a week or so and perform little plays in various locations. Barrie described scenes performed in archways beneath the château and in residents' gardens. It sounded like great fun to us.

(The above two photos are courtesy of the Paysages Nocturnes website.)

When we planned our holidays for 2008 we made sure we would be chez nous for the Tour de France, the 14th July and also the Paysages Nocturnes. These would take place throughout the second week of our holiday and we thought it would be great to do something so memorable on our last evening before we came home.

That year, the format was changed for some reason - I seem to remember it having something to do with the ongoing building work at the château. Instead of the plays taking place all over the village, they were to be in the salle des fêtes. Nevertheless it sounded like a brilliant way to spend the last evening of our holiday.




What happened was this : the main event in the salle des fêtes was announced by loud and strange music being played through speakers in the street. The audience gathered behind the Mairie and the actors came along to mingle with them (and drink a glass of wine). Some of the actors were professionals and others were villagers dressed up and taking part in the play. We recognised the Maire, kitted out in a woman's dress, pearls, wellington boots and with pigtails in his hair.




THAT MUSIC


After a while, the actors gathered up their audience and everyone marched along the street to the salle des fêtes, passing through huge red curtains draped between the buildings. The same music played and everyone hummed along as they walked. The music was not a recognisable tune as such, just a few bars of plinkety-plonk music, but it was very infectious and for days I couldn't get it out of my head.


Along the entrance to the salle des fêtes stalls had been erected to form a narrow passage; there were little booths on either side representing various arts and activities. It was extremely well done. I apologise for the sad lack of photos but at that time I had never even heard of blogging so had no need to take my camera with me. I really wish I had as it was superb.


Once we got inside, however, things went pear-shaped. Seating was provided in ramps and rows along both sides of the floor with a stage at either end. We chose our seats badly. Nearer the door and a means of escape would have been much better. To say we found the performance difficult to fathom is rather an understatement.


Our French at that stage was not good enough to understand more than the occasional word. The cast were dressed to represent ordinary people in a dysfunctional family (or village possibly) and we think the whole thing was some sort of fable rehashed to represent modern family life. We think. There was a lot of singing and dancing and whole scenes seemed to be repeated over and over. It was all very peculiar.

We tried to keep up and enjoy it at first but it was hard work and we gave up. The French loved it. This was obvious as they hooted with laughter at things we didn't understand. We on the other hand, had to stifle chuckles at things that looked very funny to us but were obviously very serious. One outburst of laughter from us earned us a few black looks from other audience members so we decided to shut up. We had to sit through two and a half hours of totally incomprehensible dialogue but didn't want to be the only English to get up and leave, very publicly. We would have had to disturb a lot of people to make our escape and all the audience was in full view of everyone else, including the actors and of course, the Maire. In his wellington boots and pearls. We decided to stay put and put it down to experience.




Once it was over, we all filed out and marched back to the Mairie with the actors, through the curtains. It was still a very warm evening and we all clapped as the actors took their bows and made their speeches on the steps of the Mairie. It had been a very wierd evening but all in all we had enjoyed it. If it had been two hours shorter we would have enjoyed it even more. I know that's not fair. If our French had been better I'm sure we would have got more out of it.





Last year (2009) the format was changed again. Most of the proceedings happened in a marquee on the playing fields, well away from the centre of the village. This did not go down too well with some people who felt it should have been in locations around the village as before. There was also catering for visitors on site so this naturally annoyed the local restaurant and bar owners no end.

There was a little play taking place in a garden not far from us but the title suggested it would be completely beyond us so we gave it all a miss. Maybe we'll do the Paysages Nocturnes again this year.

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March 7, 2010

BASTILLE DAY

We have been in France on 14th July many times before and seen all sorts of things going on. There were often street parties, fireworks, special meals in the restaurants, huge barbecues and so on. So we were really looking forward to the celebrations in our village.





In the morning Nick finished the DIY in the kitchen - fitting a proper worktop either side of the cooker - and with that out of the way we decided to have a run out. We went to one of our favourite places, Anlges-sur-Anglin.






It was a bit crowded but we treated ourselves to an ice cream and ambled up to the old town. There was a general air of excitement and expectation about the place and we assumed it was because everywhere people were getting things ready for the big village party that evening. But we were wrong. We stumbled across a medieval market and a procession taking place.






There were musicians, jesters and clowns, also people on stilts. (I wonder if they really used those in medieval times.) A few people were dressed to represent how unpleasant and unwashed the average person might have been in those days. There was an ugly old crone tormenting children with a half-eaten apple that quite clearly had a (plastic) worm sticking out of it. The costumes were great and I admired those taking part because it can't have been too comfortable under all that clothing on such a warm day.





The market itself was fascinating, with lots of people browsing and enjoying the ambience. I couldn't say how good sales of medieval clothing were on such a hot day, but we did buy some lovely herbs and a very useful mortar and pestle from one stall holder.




We had a lovely afternoon but the best was yet to come. Back in Le Grand-Pressigny preparations were well under way for the 14th July street party. We had bought tickets for the "moules et frites" event being hosted by the PreHisto. Tables were put out on the pavement and a dance floor and stage were being erected in the square opposite.


People started gathering in the square for apéros and gradually the tables filled up and the whole place was buzzing. It was a beautiful warm evening. The crew at the PreHisto did a fantastic job of getting the three course meal out hot and fresh to everyone. Not all at the same time of course, but who could complain about waiting when we were having such a good time ?



After dinner the band started playing and we had lively dancing to an eclectic mix of music in typical French style. All age groups joined in and would be on the dance floor together. It was marvellous. We certainly don't get anything like this at home in England. Even if the weather was good enough, persuading anyone to do anything outdoors like this where we live would be a complete non-starter. Teenagers would NEVER be seen within a mile of a dancefloor that had "OLD PEOPLE" (like us) on it, not to mention toddlers. You might manage it at a private wedding but in public - not on your life ! Hanging out in the pub doorway with your pint and mobile phone is about all you could expect.

Much later, when we had all had an evening "bien arrosé", and worked off some of the frites on the dance floor, we all wandered down to the river to see the fireworks. By which I mean everyone, the whole village. Or at least it seemed like it. I was surprised to overhear one or two grumbles about how poor the fireworks were compared to previous years. To me they were fantastic. We oohed and aahed to our heart's content. Our only equivalent to this in England is on 5th November and for that you nearly always have to brave freezing rain and mud. And eat soggy hotdogs. Here we had had delicious moules and frites followed by lively dancing AND FIREWORKS. What more could anyone want ?


For the umpteenth time that holiday we wandered up the hill to our little cottage very happy indeed. We sat on our little terrace in the past-midnight warmth and listened to the last of the music and the happy chatter going on down in the village square. How lucky we were to have found this place. You can keep your swimming pools and fancy verandas, your acres of land, vineyards and orchards. With our tiny terrace overlooking the village, our scary plumbing and dodgy wiring, our scruffy bedrooms and crumbling paintwork, being in the thick of it all and knowing that fresh croissants were only a few steps away in the morning, we had the overwhelming feeling that it doesn't get much better than this.

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