Sunday, 30 November 2008

Drama in a Chateau

Yesterday we had a marvellous experience in a Chateau. We were privy to the first performance of a play in Franglais. It was a comedy. Artur met Jennifer, learned English, were married and lived seemingly happy ever after! Afterwards the guests shared a convivial evening meal. Although we paid for our tickets we also took a shared lunch. I made potato and salmon tart and Eliane made a Spinach tart. It was eaten in the dining room which had just been the theatre. We gathered around the food table, meeting new French friends, speaking in French or English or a mixage/ melange of the two! I was aware of being studied and to my surprise one dark haired beauty asked me was I "gitâne". Well..... that is a possibility as I explained. My mother often told us children that she was of Romany stock, but how she thinks this to be true is not clear!! She has however had the knack of knowing when something is wrong or when an untruth was said as I found out to my peril when I was a child!! I also explained that my ancestors on my father's side were founders of the Royal Scotts Equestrian Family Circus that travelled between Edinburgh and Walberswick every year. She thinks my roots are in Granada or Seville! Ha ... that is maybe why I LOVE making marmalade with Seville oranges!! Mmmm.Unfortunately no photos!


This web blog now features in a list of blogs about lifestyles in France on a new Forum web site called created by Carole and Tony Bayliss whom we met about three years ago. At that time we had been very isolated in our hameau and so advertised for like-minded people. C & T invited us and others to an afternoon buffet and this event was the start of a most amazing Summer of Fun. Sadly"The Group" has separated for all sorts of reasons. It is a shame because generosity, kindness, warmth, creativity, energy, and the sharing of quality food, wine and good company of adults and children bonded our disparate characters together. Life does not stand still. Check out this site if you are interested in living in France.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Verandah The 100th Posting

This post is the 100th posting since this site was started!

We (that is the royal we!!!) really need to write detailed and informative text about how we have renovated this cottage, which is at least 150 years old, and which we(he) purchased from une dame Hollandaise, five years ago. We should write a separate website about it! When we bought it, none of the grenier had been converted into bedrooms. Now we have two upstairs bedrooms and an upstairs wet-room as well as a down stairs bathroom. We also have the building potential for renovating a third bedroom. We ought to put our photographs in chronological order but somehow other life developments just take over!!! We are currently awaiting replacement windows on the newly finished(?) verandah because something has gone wrong with the sealants! So.....pause encore! The construction of the verandah has however achieved the aim of Captain Sensible which was to create winter warmth for our stone house and to create a room with daylight where we can eat and watch nature! The porch part has also not been finished on account of health problems but perhaps next year we can be optimistic that after initial teething problems it will be finished. Which is worse?.... Having a new baby or having a building project? As Huguette says "Captain Sensible has been very courageous". C'est vrai! But it has transformed winter living in our house and I am very, very grateful!!!!!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Champagne Cocktail Concert at Chateau d'Artigny

How wonderful it is to live in rural France becoming used to wellies in winter and then to get glammed-up with smart clothes and shoes with little raised heels to go to a concert in a grand hotel and listen to an American pianist Jay Gottlieb and a singer Alison England, both of whom live in Paris! I didn't expect to hear Cabaret music from Broadway but nonetheless it was very entertaining! The Chateau d'Artigny looked magnificent in the evening and as we approached the Chateau with it's glowingly-inviting lighted rooms we felt especially important in "our chauffered limousine" named Xsara! Inside we marvelled at the Art Nouveau trompe-l'œil painted, domed ceiling! It was once the home of the parfumier François Coty. I think my mother used to wear his perfume! I exclaimed to myself, as no one was with me, about the exquisite curved cloakroom doors. We'd seen them constructed like this at the Chateau des Ormes. The Champagne Lanson was served (or you could have a Dubonnet cocktail or orange juice) with trays of small "mise en bouches",some of which were on little spoons or in tiny glass jars with a doll's-house spoon. These delicacies just kept appearing, being placed on the copper coloured glass table and when I had thought I would go hungry as we'd left home at 17h I discovered that I'd eaten a fine and delicate feast! Eventually I plucked up courage to take a photo.
One doesn't get this for a treat in England! The music was familiar and being sung in English / American was easy for me to comprehend. The performers spoke excellent French and I discovered I could follow that too! I wonder how the French audience reconcile this language difference? Afterwards my piano teacher took us to the bar to met Jay. He'll be playing in Chatellerault March 2009. The armoires in the bar were stashed with Armagnac bottles - just choose which year you would like!!!!!!!! What a .....Beautiful, glorious, heavenly, marvellous, wonderful, wonderful evening!
Photos later _ if the camera survives!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Christmas Day Posh Picnics Past and Future

This post was blogged in November 2008 but published in February 2009 because I did not want to spoil our surprise of being featured in The Connexion newspaper.
Recently, that is, just after we returned from England, we were thrown down Memory Lane and prompted into thinking somewhat earlier than we would have liked about what we intend to do for Christmas! And it is only the start of November! We have already received one invitation to a lunch with a friend's family, and if I could I would escape to somewhere warm where I know no-one!

Here we reproduce some text scribed by us for a journalist, accompanied by some photos giving us this morning a hearty laugh about our previous picnics!

"In 1996 we met again having not seen each other for 25 years. At that time Edna's Uncle, (a former Mayor of Southwold) was still alive and living in the town. We went to visit him regularly and often walked around this beautiful seaside town. We had already discovered that we had many mutual interests one of which was the love of anything different and unusual. During our first year together we set up table and chairs in the middle of Southwold common and enjoyed a 4-course picnic which was equal to much that was on offer at the local restaurants. In December 2004 whilst walking the beaches of Southwold, we started to ponder what to do for Christmas. Remembering our picnic on the marshes, we decided to break with the English tradition of a "full roast" and instead come to Southwold for a posh picnic on the beach. The day was bright, sunny and very cold, but we decorated the table and chairs, set out our best cutlery and wine glasses, stuffed hot water bottles up our jumpers, and enjoyed splendid food much to the amusement of passers-by, many of whom asked to take pictures and lamented that they also would like to break away from tradition and "do something different" on this very traditional day.

When we moved to France in 2005, we decided to continue our tradition by a scenic lake near our home. We made a hay box to keep the food warm and at midday sat down with hot water bottles to a magnificent home-made 5-course spread. (You may have gathered that we are both devoted foodies!) The lake is at a hameau called St Sennery and it's history is quite fascinating because during WW2 it was on the line of demarcation and German soldiers, presumably bored with not much to do, painted two landscape pictures inside a small pagoda-like structure which sits on stilts in the middle of this lake. In 2007 when the lake was drained, David walked over the dried-out mud and took photos of these murals with their views of farmyards and fields which we guess reminded the soldiers of home.

We did not have a picnic in 2006 on account of already having eaten a traditional Christmas Eve Menu with our French neighbours which ended at 2.30 on Christmas Day morning, and also on account of freezing fog!

Read our previous entry for Christmas Day 2007 when we chose a different lake at Les Maillards. The water was frozen from a heavy frost the night before. Barbecue facilities enabled us to reheat courses. We were lucky with the weather and during the three hour feast we watched buzzards circling in the clear blue sky, and a coypu meandering across the lake.

Why do we do it?

a) our immediate family are in England
b) we don't have television preferring to make our own entertainment and fun
c) we prefer to avoid the razzamatazz of a commercial Christmas which suits our limited budget
d) we enjoy eating "al fresco" even in the depths of winter when the weather cannot be planned
e) we want to experience the unexpected and new challenges whilst we are still able to live life to the full and as "all the world is a stage" it allows our eccentricities to provide our play time.

So what do we intend to do this year?
We aim to have a Christmas Day Posh Picnic at Angles sur l'Anglin, one of Les plus beaux villages de France.

Our Christmas Day picnic lunch menu will be:

Apertifs with Crémant de Loire and home made canapés
Giant prawns with home made aioli with a home-made mousse de saumon
Gratin Dauphinois with seasonal vegetables
Strips of Fillet of beef laid over smouldering oak logs. (This will be an experiment adapted from a traditional Zimbabwe method!)
Brebis and Beaufort cheeses with a green salad
Christmas Pudding (I used to make my own but nothing can beat an M&S luxury vegetarian pudding )
Chocolates and Armagnac
Coffee followed by a very brisk walk!
Well when you read the report for Christmas Day 2008 you'll see we had some Menu changes just because we reckon the Beef needs a Sunny Day!

That's it! ça y est! The planning is done! Maybe at the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009 we might be able to escape to a warmer place!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Wizardry in the garden

After reading various conflicting opinions on pruning we realise we should prune the cherry and plum trees in Spring. I thought that lilac should be pruned in May after flowering. The internet says we can hard prune it now! We have substantially thinned the large lilac plantation which after perhaps 20 years of growth was more like trees than shrubs and far too tall, so maybe there will be fewer flowers next year! We've saved the thick trunks as thin logs and these have been stacked for use in three years time. We've added the branches to the growing bonfire. We rearranged the pots of plants and these will be surrounded with fleece to protect them against the winter frosts. We've already had a few frosty mornings at the end of October. We've gathered the dead leaves and dug them and the last of the compost into the veggie plot. Then we planted our "Wizard" winter field beans, Vicia faba, as green manure to fix nitrogen in the soil. It's better than leaving the ground fallow. The new potager area took 23 rows of 20 beans making 460 beans. We bought just over 2 1/2 kg so it looks like we'll have too many beans but it was the cheapest way to purchase them.
The moles have been extremely active in our absence and Captian Sensible has instructed Sweetpea to collect more combat material! Meanwhile he flattened their metre distanced hills with a spade!
Lunch was enjoyed in the sunshine on the porch but by early evening with muscles groaning it was time for a welcome aperitif of Guiness and Cheddar Cheese in front of the newly lit woodburner. Captain Sensible had swept the chimney yesterday. Now its time for supper! That was our day! Just pottering about!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Driving rain and home again

Isn't she lovely? My little darling Francesca! with self-inflicted nail damage! Cuckoo!

The journey was booked

a) to witness a tug launch now postponed until Spring

b) to see Francesca now 8 months old

c) to see family. Unfortunately other family members and friends could not be seen on this particular visit.

We journeyed on a Saturday stopping to marvel at the stunning stained glass windows and sculptural friezes of Chartres Cathedral.

An excellent Sunday lunch was enjoyed with Carol and her family. The two children were impeccably well behaved and a credit to their Mum and Dad. We enjoyed staying with Barbara and Terry for two days taking a walk through beech woods on Tuesday morning.

Having lost two hours sleep on Sunday with the fall back of the clocks, and an early morning alarm call for the ferry crossing, combined with a one hour time difference between UK and France, we lost sleep yet again with a Monday early morning journey to Southampton. Donning our overalls, we tried to "make a difference" with tug tasks. Captain Sensible was impressed with his first viewing of the tug in its steel flesh. So far he had only seen the photos on the weblog He assisted Seb with electrical and metal matters. I painted some of the anchor-chain winch but fear I was rather slow at this task! Lunch was shared and too quickly it was time to leave.

We took advantage of Wednesday's beautiful weather with a long walk across the common to Southwold harbour where we dined on fish and chips outdoors. Felicity was experiencing carrying Francesca in the new backpack who thought it was fun to be high up and "donkey riding". The new groins have created a sandy beach making it easy to stroll along the tidal edge of the shimmering sea. We arrived at the pier for a welcome cup of English Earl Grey tea. Sitting in the warm sunshine, watching the passers-by, it felt like a Sunday afternoon. All we needed was a cream tea but we were full! We wanted to explore more of my favourite place but the sun was sinking and the temperature was falling and babies do need to be in a warm place.
On Thursday Vicky arrived for morning coffee. Grace, now one year old is so sweet and very sociable. She smiles graciously at everyone and talked to Francesca, now 8 months old. We all played with the toys and the babies in between adult talk. Time passes too quickly.

In the afternoon Norwich car parks were full on account of the Beer Festival so we were forced to park on the outskirts of the city. Despite the crowds we took the opportunity for a brisk town walk to buy our favourite loose leaf teas and other English things. We also took Francesca to see the images at Sainsbury Centre for The Visual Arts - my favourite gallery designed by Norman Foster. Here she is aloft in her back pack on my daughter's back!

We met up with Tallulah who is achieving lots of success with developing Easy hotels. She has established very good contacts and has learned a tremendous amount since University. After dinner we each had quality daughter time. They went to the pub and we stayed at home with an over excited Francesca who thought it was much more fun to stay awake with Gran'mama!

On Friday zipping into the city for some last minute tasks I managed to find much needed stylish walking trousers and jacket and as they were reduced by 50% I felt very happy! Then a rendezvous with Mick's parents in The Fat Cat. It's so noisy in an English pub and drink seemeth to floweth over but at least bars are now non-smoking areas! Francesca slept whilst we chatted. The weekend came too soon and regretfully we say farewell!

En route to the ferry we spend over an hour shopping in Tesco for ourselves and friends. David takes action, putting in the trolley a pair of trousers, a packet of socks and a packet of pants! The following story makes this action significant and it is ironic that as a non-shopper, he takes the time to "shop" and his task is thwarted! As the last item is put into the trolley the fire alarm rings. Interestingly it does not sound very loud, nor does it appear real as no one is apparently moving! But then we are rounded-up and asked to leave the trolleys at the check out and we must leave the shop! As we near the main entrance door we are amazed at how calmly, nonchalantly and slowly everyone is shuffling towards this the only exit - with one half locked! We give older people the opportunity to go before us! The manager is shouting at the public. The public respond that "it is a shambles!" Outside the supermarket staff are standing clustered together, blocking the exit door and not directing us to any safe area! People are sitting on the window sills, near the half-opened exit/entrance door, eating the early lunch they had purchased, making it difficult for us to exit! It is 11 am. Meanwhile the evacuation procedure must have taken almost 10 minutes unlike the 2 minutes we used to achieve for a fire drill at school. We can't wait for the crisis to pass in order to pay for and collect our goods so we abandon all, including the carefully considered garments and leave the car park before chaos ensues and so we continue our journey. We have a ferry to catch! Rain and more rain falls during our two day journey but France, spacious and civilised, welcomes us home! We skip the auto routes for a slower passage in rural France, stopping at Blois! Very nice! In our absence about 50mm of rain has fallen!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Gîte Holidays for Families and Groups

Our latest website is for families and groups requiring gite accommodation for a walking, cycling, or wine tasting holiday in Loire Valley South, France.

La Chaise

La Picardie