Thursday, 30 July 2009

Flying granddaughter and daughter to France

What a week of energy! Phew!
The little one was a whirling dervish!
It's now September... so I am making a start with this posting!

The photos in random order demonstrate the activity!!!

THANKYOU FOR COMING TO FRANCE xxxxxx Thankyou for playing with us!! xxxxxxx

Sunday, 19 July 2009

All about 60, giving and receiving a birthday party

One week ago today there were 56 people sitting in the garden area at the front of our home underneath two Barnums, on account of the falling rain and driving wind outside.
In the French language, a ‘Barnum’ is a marquee. I heard the word and then spelling it in my head, I realised that the name originates from the circus. My grandmother ran away from her circus family! PT Barnum was an American showman from the 18th and 19th century. These Barnums were plastic, not the two-masted canvas tents including the sight of sawdust, buffoonery of clowns. There were no trapeze artistes, smell of caged lions, ballerinas on horseback, sound of a thrilling circus orchestra, nor the comic laughter of the audience!
Our guests mingled in the confined area, meeting and greeting others, laughing, smiling and choosing a place to sit, whilst I calmly, so I thought, tried to prepare the different parts of the menu ready for construction and serving. All the time I was welcoming new arrivals and being showered with gifts. Meanwhile, Captain Sensible was ensuring that everyone had a drink in hand. Friends were helping in so many different ways. It was such a happy occasion.
Our timetable was delayed on account of the forecast being accurate. We had hoped that the sunny day of 11th July could be repeated but weather cannot be ordered and besides which, the plants needed to be watered. The rain and wind won the day. I was a poor host and had not arranged my ‘self’ to be free. Captain Sensible thought it was my control streak and of course to some extent this was true. We had asked for help but we had not involved anyone beforehand with the planning. I was modest and unprepared for the arrival of birthday gifts and another table had to be quickly prepared. Some packages had no gift tags, and consequently later I was not entirely sure who they were from!!! I have been thoroughly spoilt and was completely overwhelmed with the French generosity, kindness and apparent liking of me. This came somewhat as a surprise because in my working life there were few people fond of me. You can't be liked, yet alone loved, in Management!
How did the idea for a party suggest itself?
For a year I had been indicating that I would prefer to be a long way away from any surprise 60th birthday parties, preferably in another warm country, but it didn't work out like that, as we found ourselves committed to helping friends in the weeks before my birthday. Then it was discovered that one of these friends wanted to organise a surprise party at her own home - Captain Sensible had the foresight to warn me. HELP! He then had the notion that IF WE organised the event it would force us into having the kind of gathering that for some months/years we had intended to give for the people of our hameau. The ideas grew!!! We would invite the villagers, as well as the Dancing Group and of course the people we voluntarily teach English to, and our English friends and acquaintances. Like Topsy the numbers expanded! We were approaching over 100 including the partners and children of those we wished to invite. My birthday was on a Saturday and that weekend is a highlight in the French calendar as it is always just before the Fête Nationale for Bastille day and it is also a popular date for weddings, baptisms, brocantes and medieval fêtes. Sadly, some friends who I especially wanted to invite could not come, but it made our numbers more manageable and the event more affordable.
We wanted to provide a sit-down menu, not a buffet. We started to plan and so delivered the invitations. Our anxiety and panic levels increased! How were we going to cater for so many when our refrigerator, freezer and 'cave' storage facilities were minimal? How were we going to provide food and drinks when we did not wish to ask anyone to bring anything? How were we going to have a set menu – and not an 'à la carte menu' here?
I started to make bread in large quantities in my antique English pottery bread bowl. It was enormous fun. I made about 14 loaves weighing 500g of uncooked dough. More than we required. At about the same time, I bought pork on promotion and made terrines for the starter. On the first day of a Leclerc promotion I purchased 80 salmon slices and kept them frozen in Huguette's freezer. Unbeknown to me each slice could have been halved but on the day we served the generous sized portions for the main course. I bought premium apricots in three boxes at a discounted cost. We bought wine from the recommended 'cave' and beer from the supermarket when it was on offer.
People kept insisting they should bring food and eventually we acquiesced suggesting that people bring savoury or sweet tarts for the evening. This meant we would not worry about having insufficient food. Ha … in this house? You must be joking!!!! However, this also meant that I could not make a pastry dessert when I had already made a huge quantity of shortcrust pastry for tarts and put it in the freezer. The pastry would keep. Eventually, I decided that a compôte is refreshing after any meal. It could be made the day before, covered and chilled on ice to be kept in the bath. This was also where we kept the wines that we had purchased from the cave. It is fragile and will not keep in high temperatures unless it is chilled. We made ice and covered the wine flagons and bowls of apricot compôte with a silver insulation foil blanket that we use for camping. It worked a treat and it was all hygienic!
Before the day Captain Sensible used the event as an incentive to complete the tiling and tuffeau on the porch and various other jobs. There are still a few more things to titivate but it now looks so wonderful. He was in charge of mowing the lawn, strimming the garden, making everything neat and tidy, even erecting a 30m wind shield in the plum tree area. We kept saying we will be fine unless it rains or is too hot!! He was in charge of the logistics and mathematics for how many tables and chairs we needed as well as helping me with catering requirements, of which we were over-bought in wines, cheeses, bread and lettuce!! Catering is a fine art!   Our menu for Village de Vaux Fête Conviviale:
Kir faire du Crême de Framboise servi avec les petits toasts d’Elizabeth
Ils sont 4 varietiés:
1. Petit pois,du menthe et de l’ail,
2. Aubergines et crevettes
3. Tomates
4. Paté du Porc et Cornichons
Terrine du Porc, Pistache et Pruneaux servi avec une salade de tomates jaunes et rouges varies et roquette
Saumon Grillé marinade avec du citron verte,l’huile d’olives, sauce de soja, gingembre, servi avec une salade de soja, poivrons rouges, concombre, basilica
Fromage de Chevre et de Coulommiers avec laitue
Compôte d’abricots avec les fleurs du lavande
Servi avec du crème légére.
Café ou du thé
Servi avec les gateau d’anniversaire fait a main par Sweetpea
All the while Roger, Garth’s father played jazz piano. It was such a wonderful ambience and I have been eternally grateful to him. He used to play with a band but hasn’t played piano for social entertainment for a long time and no one told me that he only drank tonic water, but evidently he thoroughly enjoyed himself. I know what it is like to play for several hours when everyone is eating. It is hard work, even if one enjoys playing.
I sat at the top table on the porch and I surveyed the scene before I ate each part of the meal. I was the last to sit down and eat. I wasn’t really hungry. But as I looked at everyone in the Barnum I thought how wonderful it was. I was calm and everyone was eating, drinking, discussing, listening. There was such a magnificent ‘bon homie’ everywhere. I listened to the music. I appreciated. I tried to converse in French with Marilyne, Aurore, Sandrine et Valérie, and Isabelle my immediate table companions. It was a moment to relish.
I had made my own birthday cake and arranged the 60 candles in their holders in a kind of Sweetpea signature swirl. Someone, recognizing the non-spoken dialogue made me sit down and wait for the cake to be brought out with candles alight! I expressed surprise though I was also clearly stunned and very impressed by my cake alight!
I had to blow them out and wish ‘for a rabbit’ as once upon a time Alexander had said. I wished for more than rabbits but not for me.
I then cut the cake, just as I imagined it would have been like at a wedding. Someone came with serviettes, the portions were divided and served to the guests.
My duty done, I could now relax. Someone else could clear up! But … oh … here I was in the spotlight again with all those presents. Of course they must be opened in front of everyone, especially the ladies, who wanted to see what was inside the coloured papers. I was overwhelmed. I could not believe my eyes. I could not believe the generosity and kindness of the French men and women. They say, “C’est normale” and of course to them it is, but if this is compared to UK then it is far from normal. IT IS VERY SPECIAL.
I love France and it’s culture. I love the lessons I have learned. I love some of the exceptional characters. The Swiss-Parisienne Huguette, helper of our integration, the petit Reine, the shy Muguette, the enthusiastic Martine, the theatrical vibrant, happy Chantal, notre voisin Jean-Louis un expert de champignons et sa soeur de Marseille, the very funny, strong, assertive, free, truly feminine women of the English group (Sandrine, Marilyne, Aurore, Valerie, Pierette, Francoise, Pascale, Isabel) , the talented famille de Laurie, the delightful Jeannine and the elegant Muriel, not forgetting the farmer brothers, Jean-Yves et Pascale who help us so much when a strong arm, logs and tractors are required.
Garth and Liz, Jilly and Nick, they were all here bringing their culinary, constructional and sociable strengths to a fête conviviale never to be forgot by Sweetpea and her Captain Sensible.  It would have been fun to play the accordion or the piano or to sing or to dance but it just did not happen. Another time and event I am sure.

An ode to 60 from my cousin Dot

Happy Birthday to Sweetpea who has reached her sixtieth year and with lots more ahead

A is for aphids, apples and action
B is for brightness, a little bling, bbqs, and bees
C is for climate change, corks and champagne
D is for David, dear, definitely and doing
E is for exercise, energy and eating
F is Felicity and Francescsa, friendship, fitness and fun
G is for going, growing and ‘go for it’ Mum
H is for climbing that hill, happies and harvesting
I is for inspiration from wherever that comes
J is for jumping for joy, and juggling the hours in the day
K is for kissing, you do lots of that
L is for learning, lemons, living and life
M is for mornings and mulling, mousing and mothers
N is for nothing to do – that’s unlikely
O is for order, off and octogenarians
P is for peanuts, pruning and popping
Q is for quiggling and those querulous quackers
R is for racing and running - and raising a glass to the year
S is for Sebastian, stories, seeing the world and for SIXTY
T is not for tears, but for teatime, tasting and treats
U is for unwinding and under, but never unfit
V is for victorious, viewing and vines
W is for whacky and words, weeding and winning
X Y Z is all of a jumble

but with much love for your SIXTIETH YEAR and for a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY - a very full and successful year ahead, full of new shoots, new ideas, the fulfilling of dreams. reaching for the stars and another chapter in life !
with lots and lots of love from your cousin Dot xx

Friday, 17 July 2009


Deleted post at the moment!

Lea Cottage, Low Street, Hoxne, Suffolk, IP215AR

This charming 17th century cottage is up for sale and it is the first property I have wanted to  buy in three long years of looking.  Alas it is not to be.  An initial survey by Architects and correspondence with the local Conservation Officer has revealed the inevitability of a concealed timber frame with the possibility of extensive rot and death watch beetle. A telephone conversation with a local building company specialising in this type of repair has produced a worst case scenario estimate of  25k. Unfortunately,  my budget won't stretch to cover this estimate as well as estimates for other necessary upgrades, all of which must comply with the Grade II listed buildings restrictions and recommendations,  so reluctantly it seems, I must move on to find a different house.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

July 14th in France

At midday we enjoyed 'Un aperitif sous les feuillages place de la mairie' drinking a rum punch! This was followed by 'Un banquet républicain'.

Melon jambon
Magret Flageolets
Dessert Glacé 

At 2pm the 'Concours de boules' commenced and we were enveigled into participating just for fun! We played three or four games in all but were I think the last in the concours!   Nevertheless we received our consolation prize - a bottle of Cote du Rhone. Very fine! There were games for the children.......
and pony rides.

In the evening we sat with our blanket in a field overlooking the River Vienne at La Roche Posay with a fine view of the island of the old windmill, the Dungeon, the church and the chateau, waiting for the 11th hour of the second part of the day.   The voice of Aristide amplified and poeticised French flora, fauna and food, whilst the grandeur and ecstacy of colour and sound from fireworks exploded in the night sky. All this was supported by classical and film music creating an emotive ambience. We were too tired to rest in town for the bal populaire .   It has been an exhausting but exciting few days and weeks.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Je suis une belle age

I would never have thought in MY LIFE that I could be 60 years of age on St Benedict's Feast day 1107, but in actual fact it has been quite easy, and not as traumatic as I feared, though the few weeks of preparation have been rather daunting, full of anxiety and fears and the aftermath has caused me and him (Captain Sensible) to be actually quite knackered.  Excuse the expletive but there is no other word.  Also, we have been caught up in the extraordinary French National celebrations of the reminders of the historical storming of the Bastille. This year it started at the weekend as the 13th was a Monday.  Many French towns and villagers celebrate this event at the weekend or definitely on the eve of Bastille day or on the actual day itself 14 July, with fireworks, brocantes, repas, bals.  Certainement les gens connaissez comment apprecier le bon vie. The problem for us is that we keep needing to say, "Nous avons besoin de revivre" !!!!!!!!

I want to write so much about the preparation for our party accompanied by the days of anxiety and fear, to describe the actual day with the rain falling out of the sky threatening to mar our day and the amount of food prepared, and to record everything we have now learned about how to organise and how not to organise a party in France for over 60 people including children.

I want to tell you about my presents, but more importantly about the people who gave these presents.   I want to tell you about being such a lucky girl, hearing comments about myself and wondering, "Is that really me?" 

I want to tell you about the man I love and how he and his friends and our friends helped us to create a  birthday success out of our planning which had gone awry because of our lack of experience and practice.  You see the French know team work. They have learned it since childhood. They know exactly what to do because it is THEIR culture.

I have only ever given three big parties. One was to about 20 people when I was 30 and I prepared raw foods!  The second was when I was 50 and I chartered  'The Girl Sybil' in Southwold for my immediate family whereupon once out of the harbour I became comatose with seasickness!  Marcus a great seafarer and RNLI member had never ever seen anyone quite so ill.  On terra firma I took a taxi alone along the coastal route whilst they sailed home!   I was so excited to see the joy I had given others sailing into the harbour. They surprised me with Champagne lunch and birthday cake! I know that I LOVE the sea but I learned that I prefer to walk alongside the place where water and earth meet! I can dream of sailing across the waters to be free but my crab sign likes me to scuttle at it's edge.  Three years ago we entertained THE GROUP enjoying our first long table of French dining with 12 people dans notre jardin.  Fish hung from the trees and salmon was grilled on the barbecue. Carole and Edna played their accordions. It was magic. 

Now this ......   I will start to write and capture the event with words and photos but you may have to wait a while for it all to come together as a story, an event never to be experienced ever again. I have come of age and am proud to receive my pension when the UK government concede to send it to me.  I had to complete a dossier in order to claim it!!! 

Friday, 10 July 2009


Today was my son's birthday. Happy Birthday my dearest son!

It is July and there are many friends and relations all with birthdays this month so Happy Birthday to you all. 

I am just letting you know I was born on St Benedicts Feast Day, 11 july 1949, about half past two in the morning, British time,  60 years ago!!!  

There, I have said it, "Je suis une belle age!!!" 

About 6 weeks ago, a very good friend wanted to give me a surprise party but Captain S knew that I would not handle that very well, so after a discussion, we decided, probably not very wisely,  that a party organised by us would allow us to invite the French people who have helped us, as immigrants, to integrate into the European culture which we love.  We have wanted to do something for them for some time. Here was an opportunity.

There will be the Villagers de Vaux, and also some of the friends "qui danse les dances anciennes", et puis il y a les personnes qui prends les cours anglais ou nous apprenons les cours francais! Also there will be some very good English people that we often meet.  There are many other English and French people who we would have liked to have invited, but when the numbers get to double figures we have to say STOP!!! As it is, there will be over 60 people.

We have created a set menu with aperos and aperitifs,  a first course, a main course,  fromage et dessert et puis cafe ou the. We are hoping that some people will stay for the evening. We are also hoping that the predicted rain will fall before or after Sunday, party day, and that it will be warm and wind free. 

It has been rather stressful, to say the least, and now I am calm before the storm. There is much to do and I should go to bed ready for an early morning start. 
Bon nuit.

PS... I ordered myself a camera but I don't think it will arrive tomorrow. Never mind!!!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Reflections of a Gite Cleaner

She tells me that it's quite hard work but good exercise.  So, when she's vacuuming she doesn't have to go to the gym!! It's one way to burn off the calories. She gets to swim in their pool when it has been cleaned if the other cleaner allows and she tells this story of how she persuaded him to go in the pool after he had cleaned it for the nth time.  Stones and cuttings land in the water, time and time again after mowing the lawn and strimming the grass that meets the paved area around the pool. She, having completed her tasks, sat in the sunshine warming her bra and naked midriff and had only just successfully persuaded him to strip off his shorts to plunge into the perfectly pristine pool.  At this crucial moment of relief and relish that work was over and wishing for the cocktail in hand,  the guests arrived.  They'd walked around instead of driving the car so had silently come upon their holiday environment and the cleaners having their "first moment of the day "relaxation".  How embarassing!  She steered them away from the pool so that he could climb out in privacy. Then they informed her they were awaiting two more adults... hmmmm... gulp ...yes ... do go to the supermarket and get your provisions ... and as quick as lightning she made up the second double bed.  Had she read the booking form? of course but the brain had not clicked that there were 4 adults with the three children. All was well. No harm done. They were happy guests.  Moral of the tale: "Enjoy privileges at a safe moment!"

Saturday, 4 July 2009

House Hunting Part One


I have spent a lot of time on the internet searching for a house to buy. I have been looking in Norfolk and Suffolk in England for 'a pied a terre',  as well as in various regions of France for a 'maison secondaire'.  Since I sold my property in England about four years ago we have been living very happily here with excellent friends, but I would like my own property.

Captain Sensible and I have thoroughly enjoyed renovating his French cottage whilst experiencing our new lifestyle with fascinating people, interesting places and a thousand and one things to do in Europe.

Many years ago Myalgic Encephamolitis, combined with severe long-term work-related issues (too much of a historical novel to bore you with the saga now!) created the consequence of a complete emotional breakdown making me too dysfunctional to continue in a career which I loved. A double prolapse and hysterectomy operation just three weeks before moving day resulted in a non-functioning bladder. On top of worry about offspring and a neighbour who wanted to claim some of my flying freehold (she knocked a hole-in-the-wall to prove her point) I know my experiences are nothing compared to others.  In between all that I broke some ribs from 'flying around' on anti-depressant medication, which I subsequently stopped (not a good idea to do this all in one go, but who needs drugs?).  More recently, a bunion op curtailed any opportunity to be physically and mentally active.  Time left for thinking about property purchase has been somewhat diminished but also I have not been decisive as to where to buy a house. My genealogical roots from both sets of grandparents have been from Sudbury, Southwold and Walberswick in Suffolk, and distant family comes from Nîmes et Nantes in France, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  I feel ever drawn to the Suffolk coastline. I feel I belong more in France than in England but I miss my family and particularly my new and only grand-child. But I do know that I want to travel around France and Europe.

I have asked myself so many questions about 
'What kind of house do I want to buy?' 
'Where do I want to buy a house?' 
'Why do I want to buy it?
'What shall I do with it?'
'Will I have enough money?'

Logic hasn't always prevailed  since being ill and although not a very brilliant home-maker, even though I am a Cancerian, I search for somewhere to feel content, somewhere that could be let out to earn an income, somewhere where it is MY home and not the home that I share with my partner and lover. 

Last November we found a renovation project in Saxtead and dashed over to UK, only to discover the noise and the speed of traffic on the road was worse than indicated. 

I went back to UK in March 2009 and after a week of looking at a variety of possibilities in Norwich, Norfolk and my beloved region of Suffolk to see what feels like a comfortable idea, I gave up!  I was on my return journey to my cousin's house in Southwold  about 6 o'clock  in the evening, when I decided and said to myself out loud in the car, "Ça y est'! That's it!  I will look for a house in France. I'm getting too stressed here in England and I can't find what I like at a price I can afford, so I'll go back and search again in France." 

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Un pique-nique extraordinaire

The French ladies (four are not in the phot0) who are learning English whilst we learn French, brought merriment and mirth to the lavoir, where we had an evening picnic which lasted about 4 hours.

The soirée began with individuals arriving with baskets of contributions. After some hilarity with preparing the table and chairs, twelve of us sat down for the end of term picnic.  First of all aperos with a "Marguerita" cocktail were enjoyed with a gateau salée made with olives, red peppers and feta cheese. This got everyone off to a good start and was followed  by a terrine of tuna served with tomatoes. Exquisite! The main course was wonderfully cooked "roti de boeuf" and roast pork ( I don't eat the latter!) The cheese course was served with Sweetpea's cherry cheese confit!  A red berry dessert in small verrines, evidently trés à la mode.

Just before the dessert we gave our small gifts of Earl Grey Tea with specific instructions in English on how to make a cup of English tea.  Everyone was happy.

We knew the end was nigh when the electric street lamps went ON  at 11 pm. We were not in the dark anymore, BUT, everyone  knew that "the economies" were in action and that in about 10 minutes the lamps would be turned OFF. We cleared up 'tout suite' and the local ladies were quite right, we were plunged into darkness. 

What a feast!