22 December 2009


On Boxing Day 2007 we were surprised to find everything pretty much back to normal. In France, that is. In England we would have been into round two of the Christmas eating marathon, with visits to relatives and an attempt to wade through the mountain of food purchased for the two-day holiday.

In Le Grand-Pressigny all the shops seemed to be open as usual, as if nothing had happened. It just seemed to be a normal Wednesday. This was lucky for us. We had plenty to do and were keen to make a start. So we set off on one of many pilgrimages to Leroy Merlin at Tours. For those who don't know, Leroy Merlin is a cross between a DIY shop, builder's merchant and interior design shop all rolled into one. Like a mixture of B&Q, Wickes and John Lewis all under one roof. They sell everything for the home from cushions to drainpipes.

Lots of people had told us that French paint was rubbish. But I was getting really fed up with the colour of the doors and desperately wanted to paint some. They all seemed to have been painted in a thin, lifeless, matt brown or grey paint. They were horrible. On some the paint was wearing off to reveal bare and grubby wood underneath. There was nothing attractive or charming about the effect.  

In fact I got the impression the internal doors were probably secondhand when they were fitted, judging by their battle scars. They were all very dirty and scratched and looked as though they had only ever been painted once, long before they arrived in our house. The door you see here is to the bathroom - with clear glass panes in it ! This was fairly typical of the "make do and mend" approach to decor that we had seen so often when house-hunting in France. Why lash out on a proper door for the bathroom when a cheap secondhand one would do and modesty could be preserved by a piece of cheap cotton fabric hung inside the door ?

In Leroy Merlin we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of paint for sale. In fact the whole store was pretty amazing. We spent a small fortune on bits and pieces and I bought a tin of orange paint. I was desperate to cheer up at least one door. Painting it orange made me feel like a teenager again !

It had been many years since I had used runny gloss paint and I have to admit, the further down the door you look, the worse the finish. This could be because I started at the top in daylight and finished at the bottom after dinner in the evening when a couple of glasses of wine had been consumed !! Still, it was my door and I could paint it however I liked.

Over the next couple of days we had eliminated a lot of the grotty brown paint by undercoating much of it in white. That was already a great improvement. I also got the kitchen walls painted in an off-white. This brightened the place up no end and covered up many of the DIY bodging scars that were everywhere.

By the end of the week we definitley felt we were making progress. But in reality we had hardly scratched the surface - literally !

22 October 2009


Fresh walnuts are so sweet.

Last year (2008) we spent a week towards the end of October in Le Grand-Pressigny and although it was chilly it was sunny and we had a great time. Early in the week we returned from a day out to find a basket of walnuts on our doorstep - a gift (one of many) from our neighbour, Mme André.
We had never had walnuts this fresh before. They were so sweet and soft compared with the shop-bought ones we had had before which were often bitter and hard.

Nick and Lulu under one of the many walnut trees around the village.

This year we were in LGP a week earlier in the month and we were hoping we would not be too early for the walnuts. We were not disappointed. There were walnuts in abundance everywhere. We gathered some for ourselves and Mme André provided us with a little bagful most days. They were delicious, just like last year.

The walnut on the tree, about to fall, leaving the green bit behind.

The walnuts form in little fruits that look like small pears. Whilst on the tree the green outer shell splits to reveal the walnut as we know it inside. Usually the walnut then falls to the ground leaving the split casing on the tree. As we drove around the area in October this year, we would often see a car parked by the edge of a wood or field and nearby there would be a person with a basket or a bucket gathering fresh walnuts from the ground.


This picture shows the stages of the walnut from the green "fruit" stage to the final walnut, which then falls to the ground.

We brought a large quantity of walnuts home with us. Other than eating them as nuts for dessert or putting the odd few in a salad, we are short of ideas on how to use them. One can only eat so many coffee and walnut cakes !  Any suggestions ?

8 October 2009


We had owned the house for quite some time when Nick decided he couldn't stand the lights in the kitchen any longer.
The switches dangled in mid-air on the end of the trunking and were fastened to a cup hook on the wall.
The light bulb dangled from another cup hook in the ceiling.

It's funny but after we had been there for a while we had stopped noticing them but the time had come to do something about it.

It involved doing a bit of this.

And the end result was this !!

This had been kind of cute, though. I rather missed it for the first day or two!

3 October 2009


It's market day at Loches on Wednesdays and Saturdays so in the middle of the first week of our holiday we decided to go and have a look at it.

All the usual stuff was there, including the sausage man.

There was someone selling a sort of stew made out of "boudin noir", or black pudding.  We managed to resist!

This lady was selling cakes. We bought a chocolate one and it was expensive but absolutely delicious.

It was very like a dessert we often choose, "fondant au chocolat", which is chocolate cake with a hot runny chocolate sauce in the middle. Scrumptious.

On Thursday evening there was a market of artisans at La Roche-Posay. There was lots of interesting stuff for sale; the kind of things that are quite irresistable but that you really don't need. Wooden pens, leather jewellery boxes, basketware in all shapes and sizes, etc. We managed to resist most of it but I did buy some pretty hand-made beads.

On Sunday we went with Barrie to a brocante near Ligeuil. The shop, or rather, showroom is a permanent feature but every so often the owner puts a lot of stuff outside on tables, "vide-grenier" style. The things for sale were better than at most of the vide-greniers I have been to.

We bought a couple of interesting items for the terrace, perfect for displaying our geraniums. One of them was obviously meant to be used as a magazine rack.

There's something so enjoyable about browsing the markets and brocantes in the sunshine. The colours, the smells and the sounds are all a real treat for the senses. If you happen to get a good lunch and a bargain as well, it's just a perfect holiday activity.

28 September 2009


Lulu enjoying a walk in the cool of the morning.
Before we set off for France we had checked the weather forcast periodically and it looked like we were in for a good couple of weeks. When we arrived I was surprised to see how parched everything was. Our little lawn was quite brown, in spite of the TLC lavished on it by Nicole (in her Chez ANIA Jardinage capacity). In actual fact for the whole two weeks it was really hot and we had mostly brilliant sunshine. By Wednesday of week one we were getting temperatures of 38° C in the mid-afternoon.
Breakfast on the terrace every morning was one of our favourite times.

We had to plan our trips out very carefully. Lulu could not be left in the car for even two minutes at these temperatures. Sometimes we would take her with us if there were likely to be places we could let her have a run around. Mostly we would leave her at home, with access to the garden, and she seemed quite happy with this.

The Abbey at St-Savin-sur-Gartempe.

On one of our days out we stopped at St-Savin-sur-Gartempe. We had passed through the town a few times before but on this day, we stopped, had a drink in the square in the shade and a walk around.

The Gartempe is the river at St-Savin

It is a lovely place. Down by the river it had a very tranquil feel, apart from the enormous lorries that occasionally thundered over the nearest bridge in the picture. So many pretty towns in France have to endure the heavy lorries that rather spoil things. We didn't fancy going into the museum but were content with a stroll along the river under the shady trees. The sun was quite fierce and it was awkward getting good photos in the dazzle of the afternoon.

The old mediaeval bridge over the Gartempe, just by the Abbey.

The whole place was generally very quiet. I found it difficult to grasp the fact that most of France had gone back to work and almost back to school by the time we had arrived for our major summer holiday.

This is our favourite time of year for a holiday. The crowds have usually gone but most places are still in full swing and the weather is often superb. The fabulous blue skies in our photos reminds me of how lucky we were with the weather this year.

We thought we seemed to see fewer British cars than on previous years - the last fortnight at the end of the school holidays is usually such a popular time for the English to take their holiday in France. Maybe the poor exchange rate and the "credit crunch" had put a lot of them off.

The war memorial at St-Savin.

If I remember correctly it is for the soldiers of the Crimean war - but I could be wrong.

We ended most of our trips out with a drink in the village square in Le Grand-Pressigny, usually at the PreHisto but often at the Jean-Bart, depending which had the shade or the empty tables.

"Just another day in Paradise" is what we would say each morning as we awoke to blue skies and sunshine, day after day.

22 September 2009


We have developed a mode of travelling that works very well although it can be a bit gruelling. We leave home in Derbyshire mid-evening to drive to Folkestone, where we board a train at midnight, or a bit before if we arrive in good time. This makes for a less unpleasant journey south. Trying to get down the M1 for an earlier train (or ferry) is stressful and extremely hard work due to the horrendous traffic, which gets progressively worse the further south you get. Leaving home that bit later means we miss the worst of the traffic. It's roughly 12 hours door-to-door in total.

The péage at Tours at 7.00 am, the first day of our holiday.

We get to France in the early hours and press on. It's around six hours' driving to Le Grand-Pressigny so we take turns to drive or snooze, sometimes actually stopping in a rest area to sleep for a while if we are both too tired. The roads are usually pretty deserted in the early morning.


In August we arrived at our little cottage at about 8.15 am. Nick and Lulu went straight to bed. I was too thrilled to have come "home" again to sleep, so walked down to the village to get some shopping, stopping at the butcher, baker and little supermarket. I felt rather out of place in my denim jeans, shirt and cardigan. I noticed that even at that hour everyone else was wearing shorts and t-shirts and I then noticed it was actually rather warm. Little did I know exactly how warm it was going to get.

As I came out of the boulangerie, Henri, the patron and chef at Grand Ma's called to me and told me about the special musical evening they were having. A special menu and 3-piece jazz group. We had actually planned on an early pizza from the van in the village square and an early night but I thought this sounded like fun and we could always have a lie-in tomorrow.

When I got back to the house Lulu was out in the garden running around excitedly. Wondering what was going on, I looked up and saw a hot air balloon drifting over the house towards the château. I wrestled my camera out of my bag and dashed up the hill just in time to see it land behind the château.

The château was looking gorgeous that first morning.

After a customary picnic-style lunch we wandered down to the village to the Association Rétro-Mécanique's annual event taking place down by the river. It was incredibly hot. People were shade-hopping from one canopy to another but Nick and I just wandered "mad dogs and Englishmen" fashion around the field, determined not to miss anything.

The usual display of ancient and very colourful tractors.

A rather unusual selection of spare parts were for sale.

This bunch of old Citroens looked rather cute.

Move over, Célestine, what I really want is one of these.
(Any suggestions for a name on a postcard, please.)

I the evening we went to Grand Ma's and enjoyed a lovely dinner and excellent music from Callie, Nev and their French keyboard player whose name I didn't catch. I didn't quite catch the name of their band either but I would go and see them again. We tried really hard to stay awake long enough for the dancing but at 10.30pm gave up and went home to bed.

Callie is the one playing the double bass. She was great.
She didn't stand on it to play, though. Pity.
We had only been in Le Grand-Pressigny for a single day but we were having a great time. It was wonderful to be back and we had two whole weeks to enjoy. Heaven.

16 September 2009


In 2007 we spent Wednesday 14th November familiarising ourselves with ALL the DIY shops in the locality. We visited Leroy Merlin (a sort of cross between B&Q and John Lewis), Bricomarché, Monsieur Bricolage and the major supermarkets which also have DIY sections. Our first week in our little cottage was half over and we had a lot to do yet.

We bought light fittings, electrical bits and pieces, a ladder, a grille for the bedroom window, a regulation yellow post box and more draught excluders. We bought a standard lamp for the one room downstairs and of course the parafin heater. One of the shops we visited was the Godin showroom at Tours where the assistant told us there was a three-month waiting list for them. Depressing news.

Later that afternoon we spotted Pascal the Plumber's van in the village. Just as he was getting in to drive off, we chased after him and did our best to explain our problem with the fire. That the chimney was too big and that we thought the only solution was to have a wood-burning stove (poêle). He said he would come to measure up the next day at 11 am.

On Thursday he turned up bang on time and presented us with his well-thumbed catalogue which fell open at the page illustrating a fairly business-like looking stove that looked a lot like Barrie's. Sure enough, having measured up, and scratched his head over the size of the room and the fireplace, he recommended exactly this one. We decided to go with his suggestion. Barrie's seemed to work extremely well so one like that would no doubt do us fine. 

We pointed out that we were only around for another few days but would be back just before Christmas. We thought he said it could be installed by then - but we were not too sure. We already had a large and very neat pile of logs in the cave so a wood-burner would be just perfect.

On Thursday afternoon we started our search for furniture; dining table and chairs, sofas and wardrobes. We rapidly came to the conclusion that this was not going to be easy. Having looked in every furniture shop we came across, we drew a blank and found nothing we liked at a price we could afford - this was a holiday home after all.  At that time the nearest Ikea was at Paris - not that we are huge fans of Ikea but some of their stuff would have been ideal for us.

On Thursday evening we had the luxury of our newly acquired parafin heater to comfort us. It was wonderful. We perched it in the fireplace and after dinner, relaxed in Barrie's director chairs and gazed at its blue and yellow flames in absolute wonder. For the first time in our little house we were beginning to feel comfortably warm.

On Friday morning the white goods arrived as promised. The delivery van was parked in the street, entirely blocking the road for over an hour. Much to our amazement, nobody seemed to mind. We now had a fridge, washing machine, dishwasher and cooker. The cooker had an electric oven and 3 gas rings. The fourth ring was electric so that if your gas bottle ran out you would still be able to eat. Clever.

In the afternoon, Nick chopped down all the hugely overgrown hydrangeas at the front. They put up quite a fight. We also planted a few pansies in an attempt to cheer the front up a bit. Mme André was thrilled. She had lived next door to two properties that had looked unloved and unlived-in for a long time and she seemed to be delighted that at last someone was taking an interest in one of them. Her helpful suggestions tested our French to the limit but I could see that we were getting on well and could become good friends.

We also had a visit from the Pompiers. Jean-Paul, sporting a magnificent handle-bar moustache, and one of his colleagues, had obviously heard we were not there for much longer so took the opportunity to combine a nosey round with the sale of their calendar for next year. They were asking for donations rather than a fixed price. Luckily, Nicole and Alex turned up for a nosey at the same time and came to my rescue as I was dithering. Ten euros seemed to be the going rate this year.

On Saturday evening, we invited Barrie and Lucie round for apéros. We thought our little home looked lovely and cosy. With candles glowing, we all sat round our parafin heater, admiring the little pink and blue flames and luxuriating in the warmth, enjoying a glass of Loire Valley sparkling wine.

So the end of our first week came. We had spent the whole time wearing umpteen layers of clothes to keep warm. We had become experts at minor electrical installations and regulars at the DIY shops. We had found that French tradespeople are very friendly, helpful and just as reliable as in the UK, if not more so. Not only that, some of them didn't want payment either - they were happy to send us the bill later. All in all we had had a wonderful week.

On Sunday morning before we set off for home, we took some pictures of the deep frost in the fields with the château in the distance. It looked beautiful but my goodness, it was cold. As we made our way through France we were looking forward to our next visit which would be in only five weeks' time - for Christmas.
On the way home, it snowed. And I was missing the place already.

13 September 2009


On Monday, 12th November 2007 we moved into our little cottage properly. In other words, we spent our first night there.

We had intended to use the larger of the two bedrooms as our room and the smaller one as the guest room. However, unfortunately, one of the things we didn't appreciated when we saw the house in August was that neither the window or the skylight closed properly, meaning a freezing draught was coming through now. Also the horrid shag-pile carpet, foam-backed and laid onto concrete, was in awful condition. It was frayed badly in a patch just in front of the window. As the window sill was at ankle-height and there was no grille at the window to prevent anyone falling out, I could see a potential trip-hazard. So we decided to use the smaller room. It was darker but much more cosy, if it were possible to apply such a word to a room where the paper is falling off the panelling and there is no heating.

Today would be the day of the big shop. All we had so far was a bed, our two small camping chairs, two garden director chairs that Barrie had lent us to use as easy chairs and the broken clothes rail left behind by Mme. Barrie had also given us two small electric heaters that he didn't need any more.

We went to Descartes and bought a round metal garden table which would do nicely indoors for now. We ordered all the white goods for the kitchen which would be delivered on Friday. We bought a shower rail and curtain and bedside lamps. (We were told to just take them off the display stand so we took the ones with the bulbs in.) We bought saucepans and a coffee machine; we had already brought a kettle with us from home. We stocked up on draught excluders and bought a fire dog for the fireplace in prepartation for our first fire. We had no idea when that would be as we had no logs yet.

So we were all set up to be comfortable for our first night. The heaters had been on all day so the temperature inside the house was lifting slightly. Those thick old walls were taking a lot of warming up. Alas, none of the doors or windows fitted and you could see daylight through the roof on one side, so the whole house was extremely draughty.

We had checked that there was some gas in the gas bottle and that the hob seemed to work.

That evening we had our first meal in our little house. It was nothing adventurous, just standard camp-cooking as the oven had disappeared with the rest of the contents of the house. Something with pasta and coffee afterwards. We did celebrate though, with a bottle of bubbly.

After dinner we settled down to read our books before bed. We were frozen. We hadn't got around to fitting all the draught excluders and even with all four heaters on in the room downstairs and with several layers of clothes on, it was very chilly compared to how we live at home. No wandering comfortably from one centrally-heated room to another, leaving doors open. We had towels stuffed along the bottoms of all the doors and were paranoid about going out of the room for fear of losing some precious heat. And it was only early November !!

We did not sleep well. The coffee didn't help but we drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the house's little noises and the thermostat on the electric heater in the bedroom clicking in and out.

Next morning, Nick had just gone downstairs to put the kettle on when there was a bit of a commotion outside. Opening the front door, he was accosted by the post lady, wearing her helmet as she had ridden up on her moped. A fearsome sight - she was a large woman to be on such a small moped. We were in trouble already for not having a proper, regulation post box. One of those big yellow metal ones. POST ALREADY ?? It was a "welcome to your new home" card from some friends in the UK. We put a post box on our shopping list.

Kettle boiling, Nick had just gone out to fetch some bread when there was another knock on the door. Michel, the wood man, asking if it was us that needed the wood. I had no idea how he knew but I was very pleased - we would be able to have a fire soon. He stepped inside and measured the fireplace and said he would deliver a "stair" of logs in the afternoon. I had no idea what that meant but it sounded good to me. It transpired that he is the nephew of our neighbour, Mme André - that's how he knew we needed some logs.

The next visitor was Pascal the plumber, come to sweep the chimney. Things were definitely looking up. When we had seen him on Sunday at the vide grenier he said he would come in the week, but we had no idea when that would be. He chose the perfect day. In the afternoon Michel turned up with his van and dumped a pile of logs in the courtyard. HOORAY !!

Minutes later, we had the fire going, we were so desperate for the heat. All looked well at first. Soon we realised we had a problem. No matter what we did, we could not get the fire to stop filling the whole room with smoke. Nick tinkered around with it all afternoon and all evening but it was a disaster. We tried a big pile of logs, a small pile of logs, every combination of doors closed and open and even blocking off part of the fireplace, but it was awful. By the time we went to bed you could hardly see across the room through the smokey haze and the whole house reeked of woodsmoke. A certain amount of woodsmoke is very pleasant to the nose but this was horrible.

We had a second night of poor sleep, choking on the smoke in the bedroom and worrying about what we could do about the fire. By morning we had made our minds up and resolved to ask Pascal to fit us a log-burning stove, a poêle.

In the meantime, we had to abandon the open fire we had looked forward to so much. The next day we went on one of our many visits to Leroy Merlin at Tours and bought a parafin heater. It worked extremely well, chucked out a lot of heat and looked rather cute sitting in the fireplace. We could have had it for days, warming the house nicely, if only we had known. C'est la vie.

10 September 2009


We got the keys to our liitle French cottage on Friday, 9th November 2007 at 5 pm. Having spent our first night in the hotel in the village, the next morning we wandered up the hill towards the château and our new home after breakfast. It was a bright but chilly morning and the house felt extremely cold.


Barrie and Lucie had suggested we went to a vide grenier which was taking place at Beaulieu-lès-Loches, to look for any bits and pieces that might come in useful. We had brought with us a basic set of crockery and cooking utensils, also some camping chairs. Obviously, as all the furniture was unexpectedly (but thankfully) gone, we needed a lot of stuff. One thing we wanted to buy was a doorbell as Mme had taken the original, along with everything else.

Whilst we were there, we bumped into and were introduced to Pascal, the plumber in our village. This was lucky as we needed to engage his services to get the chimney swept. This would have to be done ASAP to comply with our insurance policy so that we could light our fire. (We also needed to order some logs from Michel, the log merchant.)


Our next stop was the bed shop in Loches and somehow between us we managed to get a king-size bed into our VW Golf - the base was in two pieces with wooden slats and the mattress folded in half to stuff into the car. Barrie and Lucie helped us to winkle it back out of the car and into the house. That was one hurdle over.

In the afternoon we started the clean-up. To be fair, it was not very dirty at all. There were certainly a few cobwebs and some dust but otherwise nothing too gruesome. Barrie and Lucie had loaned us their vacuum cleaner for the weekend and, with the few cleaning materials we had brought with us from home, we soon had the downstairs clean enough. So far, so good.

We spent a second night in the warmth and comfort of the hotel and the next day was Sunday. It was also Nick's birthday and Armistice Day. We watched the parade through the village in the morning and followed the procession into the little square behind the church where speeches were made and ALL the names of villagers who had lost their lives in the two wars were read out. It was very moving and this was our first taste of village life in rural France. We were somewhat overwhelmed to think we had just become part of this village and I would go as far as to say we felt rather humble, too.

Afterwards huge numbers of people wandered up to the Salle des Fêtes where there was wine and nibbles for everyone, including us. Barrie and Lucie introduced us to the Maire and one or two other people. We met a few of the English residents, too, including Alex and Nicole, who had almost finished renovating their first gite and who Barrie thought might be interested in doing some gardening and handywork for us. In the afternoon we pressed on with the cleaning, making notes of shopping we would need to do pretty soon; light fittings, loo roll holder, blind for the bathroom, table, saucepans.... the list was endless. With all our available electric heaters going full blast, the house was just beginning to feel slightly warmer than freezing. We were very much looking forward to getting some logs organised so that we could light a fire in our magnificent fireplace.

We retired to the hotel for our third and last night. We were the only guests and ate alone in the dining room that evening as we celebrated Nick's birthday and our first days of French village life. Tomorrow night would be the first in our own little house and we were looking forward to it very much. Neither of us mentioned it to the other but we were also very nervous, too.