Saturday, 2 February 2008

2008 begins as busy as ever!

The year begins as busy as ever!
French Time is absorbed with what others think is "taking life easy" and "pottering about" and enjoying French life. On many occasions it has been physically demanding especially for building the verandah, keeping the woodburner alight and tidying our constant mess from cooking and just living! How do people manage to keep a "showhouse"?

Epiphany continues and even our walking group have a splendid ending to the 13 km walk as we sit down to Epiphany cakes, warm cider or red wine, tea or coffee!

It's a pre-birthday treat for Captain Sensible.
Mention Leigné-les-Bois to locals who enquire where we live and they all wax lyrical about Chez Gautier. When we decided to treat ourselves to a meal at this restaurant we had forgotten that it is four years since we arrived at this hameau and therefore four years since we came to this restaurant! Now the language barrier is less of a problem. In the past one of the "gaffes" was to refer to the below zero temperature as "trois froid" meaning "trés froid" very cold!
This year the mild weather enabled Sweetpea to wear a long black dress with a small black cardigan and heeled shoes! These she changed into from her flat walking shoes! The pink scarf was unnecessary for the chic, classique restaurant which was warm and ambient. Captain Sensible decided to wear his courting tie and a shirt. Getting dressed up was fun!
We were late on account of Sweetpea not being ready. She was still deciding which coloured scarf to wear! More importantly the car would not start. So, we walked the mile into the village with a slipper of a moon hanging in the sky awash with bright shining stars. A tawny owl screeched from afar. Monsieur et Madame Gautier greeted us surprised at our nocturnal promenade! He had misunderstood the telephone message thinking that we were waiting for the breakdown vehicle to repair our car!
First an aperitif - white wine with mango juice accompanied by six "mise en bouches". The first was a miniature onion tart, the second a smoked salmon spiral sandwiched with creamy cheese, the third a tuna stuffed choux pastry. After this was a small choufleur soup avec oeufs d'harengs to whet the appetite. This does not appear on the menu. We like to smell the foods as well as the wine. We want to know what it is called and what the ingredients are and how it is made and observe how the foods are presented. We ask questions and make favourable comments. There are the standard plates with tortoiseshell coloured borders and rectangular wavy glass plates for the fish entrée or white square plates for the sandre fish main course. An assiette with a coloured border showing game of deer and pheasants carry the pigeon main course in it's deglacé sauce. Pretty plates for des fromages - a spoonful of Gorgonzola resting on the plate like a little mouse served with an onion marmalade and apricot bread. Pretty plates also for the desserts entremet des poires pour David et flambéed cerises with vanilla ice cream pour moi! The salt is held in a tiny wooden basket with handle. The butter is hidden in a tiny terrine pot. All sophisticatedly simple. We listen to Bach, Beethoven, "True Love" and "A Whiter Shade of Pale"whilst we finished our meal with coffee and pralines and after four hours enjoying a magnificent menu the sommelier, a lovely young man, taxied us to our door. "Eat your heart out!" - we say to the likes of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingsall!
We are interested to see that the cheese waiter tries to cut and serve cheeses with two knives in one hand whilst carrying the tray with his other hand!! Precarious moment indeed! He assures other guests that M. Gautier is indeed using Italian cheeses such as Parmesan, Dolcelatte, Gorgonzola and Pecorino in his restuarant.

A few days later and the weather had changed so dramatically that it was too cold and wet to set off on any Magical Mystery Tour. Also many of the places identified as potential visits were closed on a Tuesday! However, we put on a brave face, but not the waterproof walking gear, and set off on a 7km walk. It was muddy and fun. The heavens opened and we got soaking wet!

The actual birthday meal was celebrated with a soup of St Jacques Scallops in a Saffron Cream Sauce followed by Baked Red Mullet marinated in Sage and Rosemary served with Purèed Potatoes and Broccoli . We then had St Maure goat cheese, renowned in this area. Then the birthday boy blew out candles on a chocolate birthday gateau!

It had been fun to travel to London and briefly see the new developments of 21st century architecture and design at the transformed Spitalfields Market. Travelling on the underground and overground trains between London Stansted and Epsom was also exciting! The commonly heard phrase "Mind the Gap" held particular significance when I battled to get off the crowded train onto a platform of passengers waiting to squeeze into the little space that I had created! "Excuse me, I wish to get off this train." People parted as I lifted the suitcase onto the platform. One foot managed to follow it and land on the platform but the other leg disappeared down the gap! The nearest people helped me to stand up and checked I was OK. Looking down I could see that someone else had lost a shoe but thankfully I was still wearing mine! Laughing I mentioned the need to "Mind the gap" and took stock of my faculties before moving with the flow of people!
I enjoyed myself in various ways:-
1. I went to The France Show at Kensington Olympia .
Q . Why did I go when I live in France?
A. I went on a fact finding, inspiration seeking mission. In reality, once the queue had surged through the doors, I wanted to avoid most of the folk and even be back in real France. However good an exhibition of this kind is, it cannot represent or reflect the true heart of a country and that is the fraternity within the hearts of the French people! The British are not the same!
2. I stayed with my son and Becky who work their socks off! I watched her achieve success jumping hurdles in her riding lesson. I also spent several hours sweeping dust and rust from the newly painted surfaces on Wendy Ann 2 and particularly from the floor around the tug. At the stern there is no steel to keep out the sea!! (See
3. The roads were more of a challenge. I hired a car to avoid the National Express bus service which I actually enjoy if I am not pressed for time.
4. I demonstrated the method of marmalade-making to my daughter and with 6 weeks to the birth of her baby it reminded me of how thirty years ago whilst in labour I was determined to finish the labour of love I had started and jar the marmalade before she was born on 28-01-78. Happy Birthday Felicity!
5. Having swum more than 20 lengths of the pool, I also independently tried the aerobic exercises as my daughter participated in the ante-natal natation class.
6. At the homes of my son and my daughter I enjoyed some excellent cuisine. Fish pie, roast chicken, butter beans, kidney beans, vegetable soup, apple crumble, beef stir fry, chicken in a seville orange sauce, lamb also in a seville orange sauce and chocolate torte.

Returning to France requires a small re-adjustment to a rural lifestyle.
Getting back to reality meant catching up on sleep but within a day or two I was re-accustomed having walked along the roads and disused railway of La Roche Posay. Feeling invigorated, the French sunshine then invited the pruning of the laurel bush by at least a metre! I had just finished wielding the electric saw having been successful in keeping my balance on the tall ladder when I asked for "just a little help from my friend" as I had broken the blade! Lo, down the lane here come our neighbours on their tractor who stop and offer to cut in half the one metre logs which they delivered last week. We offer coffee or afternoon tea and receive facial grimaces. One of the brothers suggests a "coupe de rouge". Ah, the red wine! After all they HAVE finished logging and the sun is still in the sky as the afternoon proceeds towards the early evening. We discuss the construction of the verandah and how "le pat-ron" (her) is not letting her friend (him) take any more rest. It's part of the humour understood between our two cultures! We also discuss our requirement for assistance in ploughing and rotavating an extra vegetable plot! After much frowning, umming and sighing it is agreed that despite being a small plot demanding "beaucoup"of effort to get the machinery into our field they are prepared to do the work before May. We agreed to allow a passageway through our field for the sheep to pass from one grazing pasture to another, allowing us the opportunity to plant trees or wild flowers, if we wish, in our field, knowing that in future the sheep will not eat them!!! Then having discussed our role to remove the piles of a) good soil, already acquired from the same neighbour, b) decent sized and useful stones / rocks, c) gravel , and d) sand, I wander down the lane to collect the empty wheelie bin and by chance meet the relative of Marguerite, our former neighbour, who at the age of 95, sadly died last Easter. Bernadette arrives everyday to feed the numerous chickens and cats. She wishes us Bonne Santé et Bonne Année and we discuss her health and that of her husband and cousin whilst behind her the triplet of lambs leap in unison amusing me! Before I extract myself she rummages in the back of her car and produces a "cadeau - un petit cocotte pour vous". I am humbled and kiss her on both cheeks. Such a kind gesture. Smiling and chuckling, I return home to tell a story and reveal the gift concealed under my jacket - a box of chocolates gift-wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper!
Within a few hours much had happened in our little hameau to confirm that we live on "La Balade des Plaisirs"!

This month the doctor has confirmed that Captain Sensible has osteoarthritis in the vertebrae as well as wear and tear in the spine. This diagnosis accounts for the increased pain he has been experiencing and will significantly affect any further building projects. It is time for more re-adjustment.


The skies are full of mist, cloud and torrential rain as we end the month. the monthly temperatures have included minus 5°C yet when the sun shone it had been sufficiently warm to discard coats and jackets.

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