April 29, 2012

DIFFERENCES

4. Flowers and litter.

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A walk in the park at Descartes on Good Friday.

On most of our travels in France we have seen lots of flowers and not much litter.  In our part of the UK it is the reverse.

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Where are the plastic bottles and beer cans?

In our little corner of France, public areas are a riot of flowers every summer.  Parks, roundabouts, roadsides and village squares are planted with beautiful flowers and they are cared for so that they are a joy to see all summer.

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Flowers in the village square in Ligueil last July – no McDonalds cartons here.

The effort that goes into keeping the towns and villages looking beautiful is well appreciated by people like us.  In our part of the UK, flowers may be planted but they are left to their own devices and shrivel up through lack of watering in dry weather.  The planters and flower beds become dumping grounds for rubbish of all kinds, some unspeakably disgusting (I won’t elaborate), and nobody clears it up.

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Flowers in a planter on some railings in Loches.

In the town where I work, the planters and flower beds were robbed of their plants or vandalised year after year.  Now they are abandoned and are unattractive receptacles for rubbish amongst a few overgrown shrubs. 

The only flowers we have these days are provided as advertising by a local garden centre, in hanging baskets, very high up the lampposts where nobody can get at them.  The trouble is you hardly notice them either, without craning your neck.

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A splash of colour in Loches.

In our part of France people mostly seem to take their rubbish home.  If you see anything more than the odd scrap of paper or discarded bottle it’s quite unusual.  The streets are largely clean and roadsides tidy and well looked after. 

This is such a contrast to Derbyshire where rubbish is dumped everywhere.  You have to get a long way from any civilisation to find yourself not shuffling through food packaging and empty beer cans.  The roadsides are awash with litter, even in the countryside, and any areas provided for leisure purposes are often just filthy dumping grounds.  Some of it is the kind of stuff that people just drop as they walk along but there are also piles of rubbish that someone has obviously driven miles to dump there.

Sept 10 009

Rubbish dumped at a Derbyshire “beauty spot”.

I have always found it baffling why anyone should drive miles to dump stuff in a pretty part of the countryside when it must be just as easy to take it to the local tip and dispose of it properly. 

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The village square in Ligueil.  No bags of rubbish here.

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A display by the roadside at Descartes.

All over France we have seen that people seem to respect their surroundings so that public areas are made to look attractive and are kept well.  In the UK, whilst some effort is made to make ordinary towns look nice, there are too many people who either don’t care or are determined to spoil things. 

When it comes to a balance between flowers and litter, we find France much easier on the eye !!

April 20, 2012

WHEN IN FRANCE

We love being in France, everything about it, especially the food.  But every so often we start to think longingly about the things you can’t get so easily on the French side of the channel.

A full English breakfast.  So we had one, with a French twist – a full Franglais breakfast perhaps.

full english2 full english1

Bacon – French, very thick and smoked from SuperU - “poitrine fumée”

Egg – free range, fried, from the village butcher

Tomatoes – tinned, French

Sausage – a chipolata also from the butcher

Baked beans – Heinz, brought from England

Potatoes – not a traditional element but they looked nice – pommes risolées, from the freezer cabinet in SuperU.

All dished up with fresh white bread from the boulangerie and real butter.

DELICIOUS !!

Of course, this was eaten before Nick became poorly with his tummy bug, so at least he enjoyed a few good meals on holiday !!

April 16, 2012

BAKING ALERT

We are just back from Le Grand-Pressigny where we had a slightly torrid time due to Nick being ill.

We thought it was food poisoning (a dodgy scallop perhaps) but it rumbled on for so long that we decided it must have been a bug of some kind.

prune cake1

Anyway, we rescheduled most of our socialising and I entertained myself, while Nick was in bed feeling sorry for himself, by doing some baking, as usual.

I baked the cake you see above which is, believe it or not, a chocolate prune cake.  You can read all about it here.  Needless to say, Nick did not eat a slice himself – life is an adventure or nothing, they say, but some things are just too dangerous !!

More about our holidays later.

April 10, 2012

DIFFERENCES

3.  The weather.

July 2010 111

In our travels through France over many years of holidaying, mostly camping, we have experienced all kinds of weather and we decided we like the climate in the Loire best of all.

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Perfect weather means different things to different people but for us the Loire comes closest to our ideal.  The summers are warmer and longer than in the UK but it rains often enough to keep things growing.   

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We decided to live somewhere south of Tours because north of Tours there is often a lot more rain.  We also chose not to go further south because we didn’t want to live somewhere where there is relentless baking heat for months on end.

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Mind you, the weather has been rather strange in France as well as England lately.  But, generally speaking, the weather in the Loire is much better than in the UK.  Mostly, whether it is perfect or not, it will be at least several degrees warmer, brighter and drier than it is in Derbyshire, whatever the time of year.

Knowing that we will be able to sit out and enjoy the warm evenings, that we can plan to go to events that will probably not be rained off, that the spring flowers will arrive sooner and the summer flowers will still be flowering for longer, makes us very happy. 

There will always be nasty surprises of course.  We had burst pipes in our little house last winter because it was unusually cold for a prolonged period.  In summer 2011 there was a drought causing huge problems for farmers and gardeners as a result. 

But we know we will probably be able to enjoy meals outdoors on our little terrace in France, while the crickets chirp away, for several months of the year.  So different to the very brief and often disappointing Derbyshire summers where, if it’s nice weather, we reorganise whole weekends to take advantage of it, because the chance of fine weather lasting from one weekend to the next is very slim.  Our garden furniture in Derbyshire spends more time under covers to keep it dry than actually being used and then we finally give up and stuff it back in the shed until next summer !!

April 3, 2012

DIFFERENCES

differences1

2.  Manners

in the UK we live in an ordinary town full of ordinary people.  I have lived in the ordinary part of ordinary towns all my life but gradually I am beginning to feel that the ordinary British people have forgotten their manners.

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A few weeks ago I was in an ordinary supermarket looking intently at something on the lower shelf when I felt a slight nudge against my leg.  Then another one.  I looked up to find a woman pushing her trolley against my leg to alert me to the fact that I was in her way.

She didn’t look like the kind of person I should argue with so I stepped aside to let her pass then stepped back again to continue looking at the lower shelf.  Not a word passed between us and I was amazed that this could happen and that I should not feel outraged.  It made me think what on earth have we come to in this country?  Manners don’t cost anything but they mean such a lot.

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As I walk along the pavements in my ordinary town, I find myself stepping off into the road to avoid having pushchairs being shoved at me.  If two or three teenagers are coming the other way, side by side, occupying the whole pavement, I will brace myself for the inevitable jousting – who will step aside to let the others pass and what kind of language will I overhear?  Will I be a target for sniggering or abuse if I proceed in such a fashion that suggests I expect them to show respect to an adult?  (I find having a large dog with me, even a ginger fluffy one, often helps.)

The other thing that makes me cringe is hearing the F-word in public. I am no saint when it comes to the use of swearwords but I just can’t get used to the fact that foul language can be heard as a normal part of conversation everywhere.  In private conversation it doesn’t bother me at all but I find it especially unsettling when it used between parents and children in public. 

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In our little corner of France, when I step out of the door and head into the village I will meet people who politely say “bonjour” to me even they may not know who I am.  They say “bonjour” to everyone in the shop as they enter, the same to the person serving before they ask for their shopping and they say “au revoir” to everyone as they leave.

If youngsters are coming the other way I don’t feel uncomfortable or threatened.  When they meet up with their friends they are likely to exchange bisous and handshakes and they seem to be polite to their elders.  Maybe I think they’re not using swearwords because I don’t know what they are in French but one thing’s for sure – I don’t mind whether or not all this apparent politeness and good manners is sincere and heartfelt because it’s so much nicer to be around.

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Writing now on the 4th April, they said yesterday it might snow, but I didn’t think it would amount to much.

snow in April

I was wrong !!  This is the view from our upstairs window at 7am and it’s still snowing.  On 28th March it was 14°C as I drove to work and it reached 22°C in the afternoon, better than it often is in the summer.

The weather could well be the next thing on my list of pro’s and con’s !!

April 1, 2012

DIFFERENCES

spring 1

We are so looking forward to our forthcoming trip to Le Grand-Pressigny and once more we find ourselves fantasising about the day that we might up sticks and move there for good.

It may never happen but just talking about it makes us happy.

July1

On of the things I always try to do when faced with a decision is to make a list of pro’s and con’s.  I write the positives on one side and the negatives on the other and see which list is longer.  So the next few posts will be about some of the things on my list.

In both France and the UK we live in a rural area not far from other small villages and larger towns.  Both are considered tourist areas to a degree.

spring 2

1.  Traffic.

In the UK the standard of driving has plummeted in recent years and the volume of traffic has rocketed.

In the UK people have excellent driving skills, they have to have them in order to avoid crashing into the people who drive deliberately badly in order to get in front of you, changing lanes without signalling or even looking, pushing and shoving past parked cars when they should wait or give way – the roads are full of very angry and aggressive people, determined to get there first.

In France the roads are infinitely less crowded than in the UK. If we drive from Le Grand-Pressigny to Descartes we will pass only a handful of other vehicles.  This makes driving around our little corner of France a joy rather than a chore.  Admittedly there are sloppy drivers around – a lot of dithering goes on and you do get people driving too close or in the middle of the road.  But the fact that the roads are much quieter means the impact of bad driving is very much diluted and we notice this especially when we are on the motorcycles.

spring 3

In the UK I have been making the same journey to work for the last 25 years and it used to be entirely uneventful.  There are now 5 sets of traffic lights that were not there even ten years ago and these days I can hardly get to the bottom of our road, which is half a mile away from home, without some potential accident or moment of aggravation.  I feel that English drivers lack manners and consideration for their fellow motorists and I definitely feel safer driving in France.

spring 4

As far as the motorways are concerned, our journey to France is just hell from leaving home as far as Dover.  When we get onto the motorway at Calais all the traffic melts away and from then on, usually, it’s so easy.  Above all, I find driving in France far less stressful than in the UK.

I wonder if other English people feel the same.