Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas Day Picnic 2007

Christmas Eve
In early afternoon sunlight, a huge hare loped across to the woodland from the edge of the lake. It seemed strange that the approaching vehicle had not disturbed it, but that it only moved because we had climbed out of our car. We were investigating a site for our Christmas Day picnic. Despite the symbolism that I have now read about hares and their association with disappointments and disaster, I sennsed that the site had been hallowed by the hare! Hares are also a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The symbol of The Three Chasing Hares has been used from East to West of the World and the Three Hares Project offers very interesting reading material.

On Christmas Day the freezing fog was lifted by the warm sharp sunshine, creating crisp, clean, breathless blue skies. The ice on the lake was several inches thick.

Our picnic menu consisted of
Crevettes with Mayonnaise Sauce
Beetroots with a Vinaigrette dressing and Watercress
Pot-Roasted Biche and Roasted Potatoes
M&S Luxury Christmas pudding flambéed with Armagnac with Crème Anglaise Sauce
Chocolates, Clementines and Armagnac

With the starter and dessert we enjoyed a chilled white wine
Muscat Domaine de Grand Crès Pays d' Oc purchased from La Caviste à Loches.
and with the main course we enjoyed a glass of red Chateauneuf du Pape 2005 kept warm by the hot water bottles and our cauldron fire!

The deer had been studded with garlic, and marinated overnight in flavoured oils, lemon juice, a little red wine, salt, pepper and Herbes du Provence. It had been wrapped in cling film with the juices and refrigerated. Then it was seared on all sides for several minutes. The carrots and shallots (sliced lengthwise) had been sautéed in the juices of the meat. The vegetables were arranged in the braising pan with the meat on top and a little more red wine and any remaining juices from the marinade and pot- braised (with lid) in the oven at180°C for about an hour; It was sliced thinly, served with vegetables and roast potatoes.

Normally we have an alternative festive pudding but this year M& S luxury won the day. It was an excellent pudding and I could not have made a better one!

We took all the hot dishes in their pans inside a haybox! When we arrived at the site we made a barbecue fire and a cauldron fire to keep the food and ourselves warm. The table was laid with festive decorations. We toasted our absent friends and family and thanked France for the glorious lakeside view in front of us. It was as if we were in a film! There was no one but ourselves. Magic!

Moorhens waddled. Robins and wrens tucked themselves between the bulrushes. A coypu shuffled across the ice. Two buzzards mewled and quartered the field, woods and lake for their prey. The donkey brayed. On our journey home Mr Reynard with his blackened brown brush sped across the lane. However, as we completed our Christmas meal, the beating wings of two swans attracted our attention as they flew westwards into the setting sun. Around the lake, the yellow, orange and red hues of the willow and dogwood were in contrast to the bare branches of the trees. All were reflected in the steel blue muted shades of the ice and water.

However, the same hare or another was a corpse on the ice not far from our picnic place. We had not known this. She did not stir. Her vibrant, magical life had been mysteriously abandoned. Death had come and we imagined how her soul mate had sat by her side trying to awake her, nipping at her fur and sprinkling the hairs around her like white petals of a Christmas rose or like a dusting of snowflakes. Hare had mourned beauty and magic. Hare had disappointment, death and yet we hoped rebirth and renewal.
For us, we were strengthened by yet another winter Christmas day picnic. The proximity of the elements makes one realise the fragility of life and that it must be enjoyed whilst we are here. The water's edge was solid and so we bravely slid!

The Shortest Day

We approached the shortest day and longest night with sleepless nights and have taken to drinking Hawthorn berry tea! It works!
Christmas Spectacular in Chatellerault
For the third year we watched a spectacular street parade. A group called "Oposito" presented a stunning Transhumance Parade. Transhumance is when the dairy animals are taken to the higher pastures in the Spring and stay there until the Autumn. In this journey, the mechanical animals, went two by two, as in Noah's Ark. Rhythmic drumming, clashing cymbals, shawms and fire displays encouraged the public to also travel like nomads. Hundreds made this voyage!
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Thursday, 20 December 2007


Where does all the time go ... long time passing?
Living in France just flies by!
We hope 2008 brings happiness for everyone and solutions to the problems of 2007.
Thankyou to all those who sent us "fat round robins" and news of how you have fared in the last year. Sit yourself down with a winter warming drink and fine food and read all about
our French way of Life .
In case you are wondering.... Captain Sensible was named in the days of the Barsham Fairs and the like, because he could always solve problems! Sweet Pea was possibly named, because it rhymes with her initials! When she acquired her little accordion we called our singing duo
"Captain Sensible and his Sweet Pea"! We use these aliases as a form of anonymity for the blogsite:

Christmas Eve 2006 We wined and dined with our French neighbour eating" fruits de mer" and other delicious delights for 9 hours. Therefore on Christmas Day not hungry and with foggily inclement weather we skipped the outdoor picnic! To our surprise whilst wondering what to do for the day, we were invited to a Christmas Day evening meal with other friends so we stayed the night in their gîte with a Champagne brunch the next day! On our return home we stopped to see yet more friends and had St Stephen's day festivities with them! Evidently, they were expecting us having sent us an email that very morning but we were unaware of that! This family also had a New Years Eve dinner in their workshop. We made a savoury spinach and pear roulade for the entrée . Lucy, Tom and Sweetpea played trumpet, guitar and accordion, respectively for a midnight cabaret.That night we slept on airbeds in the workshop not quite under the stars nor workbench! It was cosy next to the woodburner with the gale blowing outside. New Years Day was 14°C so we ate brunch outdoors! On Epiphany, a Swiss-French lady interrupted our private ceremony of singing "We Three Kings" as we cut into the traditional French Pithiviers Gateau (whoever receives the hidden token is King for the day!) and invited us to join a new activity group of creative artistes.
January Bal Folk dancing, a visit to Fontevraud Abbey for Captain's birthday, a visit to scrapyards at Villeperdu, Art Exhibitions and Bird Watching kept us occupied. The temperature plummetted to minus 7 and snow fell.
February Captain Sensible had the flu but recovered sufficiently for a week's holiday in warm and sunny Spain where peace and beauty reigned in the mountains. The views of the terraced almond, olive, orange and lemon trees were stunning. We clambered around the high rocks of abandoned Moorish castles and discovered that the magic of the fortress of Guadalest was lost to modern tourism. Passing through the Pyrenees and seeing the snow on their peaks was unbelievably beautiful.. Back in France walking, dancing and a village repas of Cassoulet were enjoyed. The Activity Group prepared for a Mardi Gras Carnival Parade. Sweetpea played her accordion whilst the children danced in the streets. Then real 'flu' returned with a vengeance for Captain Sensible and he had to be hospitalised overnight as his temperature was exceptionally high! He never really shrugged off the after effects until well into the Summer.
March The rains continued and some rivers flooded more than once. Springtime flowers and insects were flourishing. Summer seemed to arrive at the lunar eclipse. The tractor and manitou removed the lawn in front of the house and in April more machinery dug the trenches and prepared the footings for a garden room and porch. Walking, dancing, gardening, socialising and helping various friends kept us active. Throughout the Winter we helped Sue to develop her stamina to walk the Great Wall of China to raise funds for a Cancer charity. She did it in May, by which time we also could walk a half marathon!
April What is it about French plumbing? Mr and Mrs Mop came to the rescue for the very minor flooding problems when the toilet cisterns overflowed and the fosse-septique played up! Spring had officially arrived but thunderstorms and cold winds indicated otherwise!! We were still burning logs!! We organised Easter egg treasure hunts and sports day races for the children, made Simnel Cakes and Hot Cross Buns. We were delighted to spend Easter weekend with Jennie and Dave and their family who were on holiday in a large gîte in the Vendée. Their son Tom and Sweetpea's son Seb were very good primary school friends. It's very quiet here but just listen to the frogs, crickets, dogs, donkeys, sheep and lambs, flies, bees, hornets, herons and other birds. The cuckoos and exquisite nightingales sang their opera night and day.through until August. Sweetpea saw a trail of 49 pine processionary caterpillars, minding their own business, nose to tail, marching in single file down the road!! They are very dangerous. An animal will die of asphyxiation if it ingests their hairs!! Big Feet became unpopular because she captured and killed three grey-long-eared bats! Sweetpea's daughter and her partner stayed for 7 days. It was a wonderfully warm week. The garden ran amok without a mower for two weeks, so we were pleased when they helped us strim, mow and weed the neglected vegetation. The 2nd annual Onion Launch took place and the boys won first prize!
May Spring and Summer disappeared. Cold winds blew. It was dull grey and inclement! Our winter wood arrived. We started to give TEFL assistance to the children of my piano teacher, who wishes them to copy our English accents! She says it will be Sweetpea's turn to perform in the annual music concert next May!! Our neighbours helped to mix concrete for the foundations of the veranda. The cement mixer was fixed onto the tractor’s trailer and driven back and forth from one site to another minimising the hefty work. We went to cookery lessons where we watched international chefs prepare our four course lunch! It was a very unique experience. We listened to Titi Robins Trio perform at Fontevraud the long barrel vaulted hall which had been a gaol and before that a nunnery. Above and below each window there would have been one cell room and one nun. Then, the stone vaulted ceiling, stone walls and wooden floor would have experienced silence. Now the one long room was filled with sound. The ceiling was covered in wooden marquetry, held aloft by oak beams and pillars. The walls were still stone but the floor was carpeted. The acoustics were excellent. The accordion breathed and at times sounded vocal in a jazzy, bluesy, fashion, sometimes almost mute and sometimes roaring into elaborate syncopated sessions supporting the oud, the guitar, and the many different drums. Feet and hands could not be stilled. The music oscillated between India, Africa, Spain and the World in a complex fusion of rhythm, melody and harmony.
June Winter in Summer. Picking juicy, red, sweet-sour cherries where the cherry trees were laden with red jewels, was ridiculous wearing a winter coat and hat. At least 5 hours picking and more hours stoning were slow before the relatively quick process of making confiture and clafoutis! Rain rain and more rain hampered the laying of concrete and progress of the verandah. Last year we watered plants but this year the local pond is the fullest we have ever seen it! The fields are lush green. In some fields the hay harvest appeared to be ruined . The cereal harvest has started. Midsummer and the longest day have passed. We went to various places in search of old oak for the verandah. Before a 12th century ruined tower a local told us that we were "never lost" in France because one can always find one's way! Nearby was the "Saut de la Brame" where we descended through damp and dripping trees, downhill to the river rushing and leaping across huge, stone boulders. In the winter the river must be even more reckless but in a hot, dry summer, I expect it is a fun place to swim or bathe. The French Heritage weekend coincided with the Feast of St Jean. We were invited to organise another games and sports event for the children. This time we included an egg and spoon race for Mamas and Papas and another treasure hunt with sweets and drinks from the Mayor. In the evening, after a free cold buffet we listened to a Spanish music group. Later, Sweetpea played her accordion whilst people walked sedately around the "feu de joie" holding the lampions. Captain S said it was a cleansing and spiritual experience. We were home at about 2am. Through woodland and alongside ancient dry stone walls we investigated "loges", small conical constructions built as shelters for the vineyard workers, now fallen into disuse. The terrain now covered with trees, wild hellebore and ferns reaching towards the sun.
At the " Guingette sous les Peupliers" by the river, we ate moules et frites, cheeses and fruit tarts and danced waltzes and polkas. The marquees were decorated with leafy branches and brightly coloured lampions. It had been a clear night with all the stars quite evident. Another time, by the same river, we ate our picnic laying out a cloth on the bench table for our still warm quiche. A pastry brisée tart shell was filled with pre-sautéed leeks, sliced mushrooms, and garlic, on top of which sliced raw onions and a large handful of rocket leaves were scattered. Our very first cougettte had been sliced and arranged in a circular design. Four eggs, seasoned and whisked with a little milk was poured over the vegetables and baked at 200°C at the top of a pre-heated oven until golden and firm. We ate this with our first crop of cherry tomatoes. We followed up with a slice of home-made chocolate roulade and fresh fruit accompanied by mint tea from our flasks. A Competition of Decorated Bicycles awarded Arthur the Pirate a first and Pink Papillon a second in the children's section. Lavender Girl won first adult prize followed by The Fisherman's Picnic. It is now official that June is the wettest month, as April was the driest month since records started. On the very last evening of the month, the skies clear and we see the full moon on a Nocturnal month. At midnight after a 15 km two hour walk we drank Sangria outside the mairie. In the morning we had a Bucks Fizz brunch with our friends. Perfectly boiled eggs,baguette, croissants, cherries, marmalade, fruit salad, cheeses, chocolate and strawberry gateau. We left over full in a deluge of pouring rain.
July Captain S battled further with the construction of the verandah and garden because of the rain and high humidity levels! The torrential rain fell for the wine degustation, and on the marquee under which we ate rabbit paté, faux filet served 'bleu' with the famous "Jacky Dallais" mashed potatoes, cheeses, and crème caramel. The "four" (outdoor bread oven) of our neighbour was lit for the first time in 60 years and Captain Sensible sampled the roast cochon. We were able to bake bread and pizzas in the beautiful round warm oven. We saw our first Fire Salmander and various green lizards. We heard the "Desert Rebels" and watched folklorique dancing from Daghestan. We have written about the events of August September October November and December on the blogsite. The first weekend of August had been the hottest and the most humid weekend of the year! We entertained friends and family, visited local towns, villages and events including firework and music spectaculars.
In September we participated in a Moroccan dinner soirée, spa therapy and folk dancing, joined new walking groups, visited local chateaux, and indulged in the local Monsieur Haydn Festival of Chamber music. The Captain's daughter visited but it was too short to show her all that we enjoy. Friends moved to other countries and parts of France. Captain Sensible worked almost non stop on the verandah and became frazzled and frayed around the edges with the frustrations of constructing in old oak, green oak, and old materials to produce in as far as possible an authentic looking front structure for the house. It already looks beautiful and one can begin to appreciate the benefits for when it is complete. There are complimentary comments from visitors and neighbours but the task has been overwhelmingly challenging. Sweetpea feels next to useless because she has not been able to discuss the technical difficulties and can only really be a skivvy. In October we collected several trailers full of roof tiles and ascended and descended the ladders until "voila" the roof was tiled. Now there are other problems of penetrating wind and rain had to be solved. At the Garlic Fête we purchased onions, garlic bulbs, apples and saucissons from the market stalls. We also discovered a very pretty blue woodburner in excellent condition for only 35 euros! It is heavy, but we hope to install it somewhere near the verandah for evening warmth!
In November Captain Sensible tries to continue but the wind and rain arrive and good days are fewer and shorter. At the Fête des Vendange we enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon watching the finals of the running races. We were impressed to see so many runners of all ages! We missed the Chestnut Fair but were invited to an Art Exhibition where Guests of Honour displayed their paintings and sculpture. Captain Sensible and I voted for an extremely detailed fantasy of village life as the winner! It reminded us of The Alhambra in Spain. In fact we were invited to go the artists' studio but we declined! The paintings were valued at 6000 euros minimum! Sweetpea caught the Speedferry and enjoyed independently travelling to England to see family and friends and to stomp on the beaches of East Anglia. It was both stimulating and exhausting during the two weeks, with a day on Seb's boat and a day at the Tate Modern , London. She was sorry not to see everyone! The weather turned very cold with minus 5 temperatures and severe frosts. This made a two hour walk particularly beautiful. We danced for 6 hours the following day!
It is December and we lurch towards the end of the year! Some good friends that we had not really seen since August came for lunch and tea. They too had been busy with renovations.
Generally our language skills have improved, but it is still difficult to understand others and frustrating to feel understood. Captain Sensible has achieved the impossible with old oak. It has been a formidable task but he is a perfectionist and is known for his perseverance. The challenge of the construction has to be seen to be believed and understood.Well done to him.
The saddest part of December and of our lives together has been that Little Feat has died. I have already written about this on our blog site but we are very sad and so is Big Feet. There is a BIG HOLE - no “thump” as she descends from the mantelpiece—no “meep” as she asks for food! - no heavy immovable lump on as she sometimes slept on our beds!
We prepare for winter hibernation and some free spectaculars in the coming festive week.

to all our friends and family in England, France and around the world.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Goodbye Little Feat 07-12-07

Yesterday we travelled south to purchase more oak beams for the verandah project. We had left the cats not realising that one was really not so very well. She had been looking poorly and not eaten but we thought it was because she had indigestion from eating vermin. Little Feat was not at home when we returned at about 6pm. She never goes far from home and the wind and rain were wild. It was too dark to search for her and although we called frequently she did not return until 4am the next morning, wet, bedraggled and very tired. She had difficulty lapping water. It was in answer to a prayer that she returned home. It was nicer than dying without us, in some cold outdoor nowhere. We wrapped her in a towel and placed her in front of the woodburner. Sadly, the vet identified that she had kidney failure and the blood results showed that her kidneys were only functioning at 10% of a normal level. Therefore, to be cruel to be kind we agreed to enable her to die with dignity. Whilst stroking her and looking into her sorrowful dark eyes we thanked her for her life with us and for her friendship. In tears and sorrow, we buried her near the gates where once she sat sentry on the stone pillar observing all that happened in the lane. We placed her cardboard coffin near the rose bush, scattered ashes from the woodburner amongst the earth and planted pansies and "purple princess" tulips on her mound. Despite her quirky character when often she would resist the cooching that we tried to give her, never wanting to be carried, we remember her life within ours. Such is life and death.We are heartbroken. a>Little Feat arrived with her sister in August 2002. Yvonne assured us that the two tortoiseshell "calico cat" kittens were twins but how could we choose? We became their adoptive parents. At first they were given the highly prententious names of Shiraz and Syrah but in telling them apart we described Shiraz as the one with the big feet and Syrah as the one with the little feet. Big Feet has genetically mutant feet. Her front paws have seven claws and her back paws have six. She became known as "The Mutant Killer" because of her genetically modified "pattes" and because of her ability to kill moles, baby rabbits and birds! Her sister, thus became known as "Little Feat" because we also named her after the group from the 70's. Her paws were normal. Little Feat was also the runt of the litter. She always continued to have her meepy, rejected, "I am unloved", look. However, she was sometimes dominant and her greed made her obese. We affectionately named her the "The Fat One".Her presence in our lives will be remembered and she will be sadly missed. We could tell the weather and the seasons by her behaviour. When the weather was cold she would take up her place centrally positioned on a towel on the stone mantelpiece above the woodburner, hanging her tail or paws just over the edge to catch the heat. She would only move when it became too hot or because she was hungry! When the weather became warm she would patrol the lane immediately outside our house, watching the stone walls for signs of potential titbits! In her younger life she would sit sentry on the gate pillars of this garden and of our former garden in England. From this vantage point she could watch the "neighbours". She was always affeared of George the ginger tom and of Merlin the dark, menacing incomer who had designs on her maiden form! She always escaped to the high wall surrounding our courtyard garden or to the total safety of the kitchen where she could look disdainfully down from the windows upon such hoi polloi.
Little Feat loved leather and the smell of shoes. As a kitten she especially loved shoes and would try to bury herself in a shoe, tumbling all the while. She Her leather fetish extended to the leather coats of François and Pierre. She appeared to prefer men, but especially loved the author Neil, greeting him with her tail in the air and making somersaluts of affection over his smartly polished brown shiny shoes.
Remarkably , we were once astounded to see her walking on the ridge of the roof and along the guttering of an 18th century house belonging to the author Elizabeth Jane Howard. Little Feat was a predator on the birds that were nesting below the eaves.She was like a trapeze artiste as she pawed unsuccessfully to reach the baby blackbirds.
Little Feat liked to stay at home whilst Big Feet like to travel.
Big Feet would trot through the courtyard to the shared alley, and to the busy road. She would listen and watch for traffic and when confident that it was safe would cross the road at a diagonal towards the bridge spanning the River Waveney. Along the pavement or on the bridge parapet she would pass strangers and those who knew her. On the other side she would descend into the garden of the man whose moles she had kindly removed. Then she re-negotiated the traffic to again cross the road. Here she may have had to take shelter under parked vehicles from dogs with their owners who also enjoyed walking on the common ground. Before passing along the footpath to the common gates she would check out the safety factors. Then quickly she would make a sprint under the gate to go-a-hunting or walk in the long grass and say hello to the two cows that used to pasture there until only a few years ago. Sometimes she would complete this journey with us. We would encourage her to keep safe on the journey and she would walk with us as far as the weir and return. She wanted to walk on the wild side of the river with us, her servants. Sometimes we would have to carry her in order to protect her from dogs or other danger.

We gave Little Feat and Big Feet a home, with warmth, shelter, and our love. We did our best to protect them from feline diseases and rabies and brought them to France. In France they have walked faithfully with us for at least an hour at a time. Though lately Little Feat would wait at home! They have loved the freedom of the countryside and have appeared to be happier here than in the confined courtyard where town cats predated. We were never their owners, only their staff.

Big Feet has also looked unwell, but after a blood analysis the vet has confirmed that her kidneys are healthy.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Woolly Jumper revisited

A sheep has strayed out from our field and arrived by the front gate.... yet again, wishing to return to it's flock. We opened the gate and herded it up the garden to the next gate, but no,it preferred to push / pull herself through the fence!! Would you believe it? It is Number 5041, the woolly jumper has become a pullover.... as she pushes and pulls herself through our fence!!