Monthly Archives: April 2013

And then the rains came…

Or, at least I hope they do. It’s been dry around here and we are much in need of a few showers for the garden.

It’s beginning to look like a proper potager again – it always amazes me how it can go from weeds or bare soil to great big plants in such a short period of time. It’s really quite wonderful.  It’s amazing that it can look so empty and then be so full just a few short weeks later.

Things are beginning to move on into the garden. The kale, Brussels sprouts, leeks broccoli and cauliflower have all gone outside in the last week, waiting for a right good soaking I hope. The potatoes are beginning to appear, so I’ll be earthing them up soon, and my latest sowings of broad beans and peas are showing. Some lettuces have gone out already and I built a new bed for the clematis I picked up a few weeks ago. It’s going to be a really simple bed, and as the bottom is shady and the top is sunny (which I believe just might work for the clematis) I’m going to see if I can’t find some hostas.

Hosta

I had both a variegated and a simple hosta back in the UK, and they did really well considering they are possibly a slug’s favourite meal. I’m hoping it will be okay here for them too, tucked up against the wall. There are lots of maidenhair spleenwort ferns that have taken up residence in the wall – actually a very handsome wall, if I do say so myself. On the top, there are some sempervivum that have practically taken over an old oil can and a couple of dishes.

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So I dug about 50 cm down and put in a border, planted up the clematis and put in some lilies a friend gave me. I’d put in some pansies as well, but the chickens came and had a real scrape around with them before I could run back with the netting. I’ve also planted some Asclepias tuberosa, or butterfly milkweed. I might move that though, because it doesn’t really go with what I had in mind.

I’d figured I’d have a couple of hostas and some ox-eye daisies. I was quite looking forward to some subtlety, especially after yesterday’s post. And what have I gone and done? I’ve planted orange flowers. Not exactly subtle, now, is it?

Maybe it’ll end up a little show-off corner.

As to what else is in and what else is up…

  • Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
  • Super Marmande tomatoes
  • Alicante tomatoes
  • Super Roma tomatoes
  • cauliflower ‘merveille de quatre saisons’
  • musselburgh leeks
  • Autumn Giant leeks
  • kale
  • sweet banana pepper
  • Rachel’s cauliflower seeds that I can’t remember the name of
  • cheap aubergines
  • expensive aubergines
  • savoy cabbage
  • oak-leaf lettuce
  • red lettuce
  • brussels sprouts
  • basil
  • red cabbage
  • Webbs lettuce
  • tabasco pepper
  • poppies
  • broccoli
  • cucumber
  • more lettuce
  • pumpkins
  • courgettes
  • Reine Marguerite
  • sunflowers
  • soucis
  • cornichons
  • prairie fire pepper
  • more Gardeners World tomatoes
  • runner beans
  • normal courgettes
  • round courgettes
  • coriander
  • cosmos
  • scabiosa
  • broccoli Romanesco

I am very glad I didn’t plant out my tomatoes though – there was a frost this morning. That’s almost the end of April and there’s been a frost. It’s a good two weeks later than last year. All my ratatouille vegetables are still inside, keeping warm in the lean-to.

Once the rain has given my seedlings a good watering, I am going to plant out the rest of the cabbages and broccoli, and put in a line of turnips. Then, finally, I’ll be able to plant up the big patch. It feels like most things are in, or in a position to go in when the weather is right.

At the weekend, I went looking for two kiwi plants for my friend Rachel. It was her birthday. She is a keen gardener as I am, and she has very good taste. We tend to like the same kind of plants I think. I found a nursery in Montbron that is possibly just as good as some of the nurseries I went to back home. I used to drive out to Lady Green garden centre between Southport and Liverpool – I picked up a lot of great plants there, as I did at Crocus. I wish I knew if there was an equivalent of Crocus here. They do lots of specimin plants and perennials that are harder to find in your average garden centre (which is why I loved Lady Green) although the queen of garden centres was Bents, out off the East Lancs road.

I did kind of wonder if the pepinière in Montbron would have a website, and they do! I love this place. It’s small, but they have things I’ve never seen anywhere else in France, like witch hazel. Not only do they have a great website, especially for France, they also have a great English version too! Bonus. That is so infrequent. I write things sometimes that require research, and you wouldn’t believe the number of French websites aimed at tourists that have the worst Franglish. Including, I must add, some of the top-rated places in the region. If they don’t have Franglish, they have nothing at all. That made me even more impressed by the pepinière in Montbron. Not only did they have the best plants I’ve seen, but they have a great website that doesn’t make sounds when you press things and doesn’t rely on flash and has an excellent translation – not that they need to, or, indeed, should.

It also has little show gardens, a bit like Chelsea. I like the fact that the owner is obviously a real plant lover. It makes a change because most of the nurseries round here are chains and they really don’t seem to care much about their plants. It shows when a nursery really loves their plants. You can see it in everything they do.

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Ask me, I won’t say no, how could I?

Today’s MLM is brought to you by the final band in my Manchester Top Three. It’s The Smiths with ‘Ask’.

You might think The Smiths to be an inappropriate choice for Much Love Monday, given the general melancholia of their lyrics – Girlfriend in a Coma, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me – but with Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar, Morrissey could – and did – sing about the Moors Murders, making it sound as inoffensive as a bunny rabbit in ribbons.

I picked this one, though it was not my first choice. My first choice was “Girlfriend in a Coma” from “Strangeways, here we come” which shared rank in 1986 and 1987 with my Talking Heads obsession and my love of Depeche Mode. It will forever remind me of the old trains into Manchester and spending days roaming round Afflecks Palace looking at old Levi 501s and coveting old College Jackets à la Ferris Bueller.

Between Morrissey, Ferris Bueller and Duckie in Pretty in Pink, I had a serious quiff fetish.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved Ferris, Duckie and John Bender. I heard a rumour that Bender in Futurama got his name from John Bender in The Breakfast Club. John Bender, it must be said, did not have a quiff, but I liked him anyway.

I think these people all gave me a certain desire to be a little different from the usual crowd. Morrissey very rightly says that shyness is nice, but shyness will stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.

I love that I am not shy. If I were shy, I would never have done so very many things like…

1. Mooned 29,000,000 people from the top of Roppongi Hills Tower in Tokyo. 

Okay. I can’t be sure they were all looking. Or that they could see that far up.

2. Delivered training for 2,000 delegates in the Emirates stadium.

3. Wandered around Morocco on my own.

4. Had a drink bought for me by Seamus Heaney, Irish poet with twinkly eyes.

5. Patted Patrick Stewart’s head.

6. Offered to buy outrageous bass guitarist TM Stevens an iced tea.

7. Patted more authors than I can count.

8. Talked my way into more writing and teaching gigs than I can count.

9. Been told to be more humble on a performance review.

10. Aced the performance review anyway.

Some of these are kind of stupid, some of them are very stupid and others were just fun. But there’s not a one of them I regret. I often say to myself “I don’t want to be on my death bed thinking ‘I never did …'” and that’s my excuse for not being at all shy.

Sometimes, chatting to people gets you amazing things. A guy let me climb up a tower in Casablanca, even though it wasn’t open to the public, and I got the most amazing view ever. An old man in Japan took me to see his moss garden.

I also like to say “when will I ever see these people again?” as an excuse for doing crazy things and not caring for the consequences. Or, “It’d be rude not to!”

See… Morrissey was right.

I can’t think when this lack of shyness descended upon me. At 11, I was still shy. I didn’t backchat teachers; I was put in the wrong classroom on my first day of secondary school and I was MORTIFIED.

But, out of that tiny pre-teen, too scared to tell the teacher to to speak in class, well, THIS appeared.

024_24If you’ve never flashed an island by being carried off by an unfamiliar Greek man with a porno beard, I’d recommend it.

I would like to point out that I am TRYING to cover my modesty.

I would also like to point out that this particular bout of anti-shy came straight out of a glass.

Generally, I like to think my anti-shyness and my whole silliness has taken me to some amazing places I would never have been otherwise. Largely, it’s the people who I’ve met that are most of the reward. Secondly, it’s its own type of fame. One day, I hope to end up like Bob in the following joke…

A guy named Joe was in a bar drinking with another guy named Bob. Bob turns to Joe and tells him, “I am the most popular guy in the world. I bet you $100 that if you pick any person in the world they will know me.” Joe thinks this is a good bet and he accepts, picking the president. They go of to the White house and George opens the door and says, “Bob! How are ya Buddy!” and they play a couple of holes of golf.

After golf Joe turns to Bob and says, “Ok that was a fluke. Double or nothing- The Queen of England.” When they arrive, the Queen opens the door exclaiming “Bob! I haven’t see you in ages!” and they have tea and crumpets.

After crumpets, Joe says, “Ok Bob, I bet you don’t know this last guy; lets try the Pope.” They fly off to the Vatican but the Popes security won’t let Joe through to see the Pope. Bob tells him that its ok, he’ll go up on stage with the Pope when he makes his daily speech and then Joe will know that Bob knows the Pope.

Joe goes into the crowd and waits for the Pope to appear and he finally does- with Bob at his side! All of a sudden, there is a great commotion and Bob jumps off the stage and runs through the crowd to where apparently Joe had collapsed of shock! When he comes to Bob asks Joe what happened. And Joe said,

“Well, even after seeing you up there with the pope, I was still skeptical of you, but I just couldn’t take it any more when the guy next to me said, ‘Hey who’s that guy up there with Bob’!”

Anyway, enjoy The Smiths, remember to say yes as often as you can, never be shy and have a good Monday!

On Writing

There is not a day when I don’t write. So when my favourite minimalism blogger, Leo Babauta, wrote his latest post on writing, I thought I would share it with you.

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I simply cannot remember a time when I didn’t write. From my earliest endeavours right through to computer days, I’ve always written. It’s how I draw. It’s how I create. It’s how I capture the world and it’s how I remember things.

I should say now that I have an appalling memory for events and emotions. I have a great factual memory. If it’s a silly little fact, like the fact that the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland or that Jaco Pastorius’ birthday is December 1st, then it’s embedded in my brain til kingdom come. But as for events, they might as well not have happened to me if I don’t write or take photographs in connection to them.

This blog initially started simply as a way to keep in touch with relatives. Then it became an aide-memoire for me, so I can recall what I’ve done and where I’ve been. It’s nothing more than the outpourings of whatever is on my mind that day, be it Carson Daly or Michael Gove. Some days I record what I’ve planted – mainly because that’s a habit I’ve had for the last two years, so I can keep track of everything that I’ve done. It’s nice to see the journey of a thing, from seed to food.

As Leo says, writing is reflection. It may surprise you to know that when I’ve taken multiple intelligences tests to find out my strengths, they are not linguistic as you might expect, but intra- and inter-personal. I write to reflect and I write to share. I read for the same reasons. It’s a curiousity about myself and about others that is behind it all. Seamus Heaney wrote in Personal Helicon:

I rhyme

to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

I think that is the most powerful image I have of why I write too. To see myself. Narcissus-like, as Heaney says.

p.s. He was MOST impressed that I could recite this poem ad hoc in the bar at the Swan in Stratford. I’m sure he had no idea, when he went to see Julius Caesar, that some crazy woman would recite him his own poems. He liked that it was my favourite.

But I read to find connections, to see into others. To understand myself better. I never knew until I read A Suitable Boy, for example, that I was an incurable romantic.

I think it’s a common thing for many people who suffer from depression to feel, from time to time, a real sense of inwardly-directed hatred, frustration and anger. I know it was very hard for my CPN to get a grip on the fact that in actual fact, I quite like myself, despite myself, and enjoy watching myself grow and evolve as much as I do seeing it in other people. That sounds really conceited, but writing has always helped me be kind to myself, to be gentle, to be reflective and thoughtful. For a girl with a motormouth and motorfingers, you would think that I don’t listen much. Ironically, the reverse is true. I consume far more i a day than I could ever hope to produce in a year. Or even ten. I’ve always used writing as a way to slow down and to think. I like the way words spill out and take form, like making thoughts something permanent and corporeal rather than something fleeting and transient. It’s the slowness I like.

I believe in practice too. Shannon is quite amazed at what I write, indeed, that I write. Today, it was a couple of articles about the area, a translation of light fixtures, a blog or two, emails, an article for a teaching magazine and an article about Barcelona. I spend about two or three hours at least every day in writing. It’s how I find what I like and forge my own style. It’s as personal to me as my fingerprints, and it becomes more so as each day passes.

I like art, too, but I don’t practise as often as I should in order to develop and progress. Not only that, I am very narrow in my approach. I have my favourite things and I tend to do a lot of that. Writing is my creative outlet.

Believe it or not, I also have to spend time thinking of my audience and what they want to hear – and not just for the articles I write. I think blogs make you nicer as you try to avoid all the negativity and nastiness and bitchiness that can filter into your life, even if you try to keep it out. In the past few years, there have been times when I have wanted to name and shame all the villains in my life, but public writing is not a place for it. Not even if you are anonymous. There are people who my friends and I discuss, like a certain person I call Hatchet-Face, but blogs are by-and-large a much more pleasant, charming space.

The hardest thing is having content. That’s why this blog could never be a daily thing. I just don’t always have something to say. I know you probably think I’m the wordiest person on the planet, but some days I have nothing to say. Nothing at all. And so, I write nothing. It’s not a block of any kind, just a more kind of introspective day.

Leo gives advice for anyone starting off. I agree completely with his guidelines. Write as often as you can. Have a time for it. I have two times when I write – early mornings, when I’m fresh from sleep and the day is still quiet – or evenings, when I can reflect on things that happen during the day. I think it is the regularity that makes it a habit, as with all things.

Four cheeses and a sleepless night

I made a four-cheese quiche last night and I’m holding it responsible for my wacky night of sleep. Well, partly responsible. It was a good quiche, with blue cheese, goats’ cheese, mozzarella and Emmenthal. Much enjoyed.

But it troubled me later.

First I started with this dream where I was Carson Daly’s assistant. He tried it on with me and I let him. This gave me some trouble as he’s a bit of a man-child. Also, in my dream, he did a lot of lounging around in his underwear in undignified poses.

carson-daly

Then I was awake and could not get to sleep again. Something about that dream had disturbed me. I think it was Mr Daly himself, whom I have never found attractive. That and the lounging about in his underwear.

One of my chickens, Vera, had very purple wattle yesterday. They looked very swollen. I tried some internet research but as usual, I was informed that it could be anything from avian flu to a sting. The chicken could be dead by morning or might go on to live healthily. Who knows? I was so worried I almost got up in the middle of the night to check. I was wondering whether she would have died or if I’d have to put her out of her misery.

Then I was worrying about all the dead bees round my garden. There are a good few – maybe ten or so. I couldn’t work out what was killing them – pesticides in local fields maybe? – and I was worried about the poor bees.

Anyway, by the time I got back to sleep, it was time to wake up. So now I am tired and feel a bit hungover. I checked on Vera first thing – she was actually fine last night apart from her swollen purple wattle – and she was just as perky. I gave her a good feel-over and she seems fine. She ate her breakfast and hopped around the garden. Her wattle seemed less puffy and were red around the edges, but still the same.

Today, it is wet. Not as much as I’d like – the soil needs a really good soak – but better. It’s cooler too. That’s okay with me. It was 27°C here yesterday. Today we are pruning and maybe, if it rains enough, returning to weeding. I have resorted to plastic cups for things that need to go in. Definitely not enough plant pots! Still lots of things are inside as there are a couple of weather reports with low temperatures next week. I guess I could put them out if the soil gets damp enough, and put a cloche over them? I think I’d rather not risk it.

On the plus side, I’ve decided, in my late-night torment, where the clematis are going to go. Unfortunately, it will take some digging to get them in. It might even be a pick-axe job. We’ll see. Hopefully, I will get a better night’s sleep tonight.

Reader…

My garden is full.

Seriously.

I have 200 metres squared of vegetable garden and there is no room left for anything else. Although it’s not full yet, it will be in a couple of weeks, and I need more space.

So…

I’m torn between adding another vegetable plot or adding raised beds.

I quite like the idea of raised beds. Less bending. Also, less digging, less turning, less weeding. I can put down a layer of weed suppressant, some newspaper and some soil, and it is done.

If I dig, I have to clear turf first, then improve the soil, then weed.

And weed.

And weed.

Of course, there are some disadvantages. Raised beds can dry out more in the summer. I’d need to mulch like crazy. It’s been nine whole days of dry weather and the soil is already too dry to dig.

Normally, too, I leave quite a bit of space between rows and crops – rather than cramming them in. I suspect a raised bed might make me put more in and be more intensive. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Plus, I won’t be able to easily fork it over in the same way. It will be harder to clear and to do with big tools. I’ll not be able to rotavate, for example.

Not that I do a lot but I like the option.

I won’t have the usual problem that some of my plants will need a deep bed, because they will always be able to go in a deep bed, but that means I’m still going to have three or four raised beds, just so that I can rotate my crops.

The logistics are a little frightening. I need more helpXrs with power tools.

I think the garden last year was further on. By the end of April, virtually all my root crops were not only in but shooting. Here it will take a little time. Luckily, rain is forecast for the weekend, and lots of it, with fairly warm temperatures. This means I don’t have to worry about watering, and everything will grow like mental.

Yesterday was a busy day. Marcus put in a row of red onions, a row of leeks, and a couple of rows of kale that have been sitting about for a while. Shannon and I planted in a load of lettuces and I got busy with the mower again. I think I need a little tractor. I’m coveting a little tractor. The things I could do with a little tractor.

I introduced them to the delights of Pan’s Labyrinth and whilst they were watching that last night, I tidied up the pots outside. I bought a couple of penstemons a couple of weeks ago and put those into my perennial bed, as well as the gladioli and a pink cactus dahlia. I noticed the monarda is going crazy and the Grande Marguerites are huge as well.

Red & Frilly

 

I think this year there will be fewer annuals in my flowerbed. I’ve planted up some of last year’s scabiosa heads which are now seeding, as well as a couple of packets of zinnia and annual poppies. Most of the flowers go as companion plants for the vegetables… marigolds, zinnia, cosmos, sunflowers. I’ve not been so successful with delphiniums and tomorrow, I am going to stop off at the nursery in Montbron and see if I can find any.

Anyway, Mme V’s daughter is taking my guests to Angoulême today to see if they can find somewhere without a goat. Having heard that there are not one but two people who walk goats through Angoulême I think their chances of leaving Charente with a vision of a rustic citidel filled with eccentric animal-walking residents imprinted on their memories is pretty high.

I’m off to check my seedlings and see that they survived their first night in the wild outdoors.

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Where it’s at

With massive thanks to my lovely helpers, the garden is finally coming under control. We’ve dug, we’ve weeded, we’ve hoed, we’ve raked, we’ve forked, we’ve mowed, we’ve pruned and we’ve strimmed. We’ve planted and seeded and re-potted. Virtually everything that needs to blossom has blossomed.

Not only that, it’s been a good year for blossom. Let’s hope it’s a good year for fruit. I didn’t get a single cherry last year, or even a plum.

The apple trees have now blossomed too – so that’s it for this year, blossom-wise.

The soil is now too dry to dig well – no rain predicted until the weekend.

So, what is up and what is in?

  • Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
  • Super Marmande tomatoes
  • Alicante tomatoes
  • Super Roma tomatoes
  • cauliflower ‘merveille de quatre saisons’
  • musselburgh leeks
  • Autumn Giant leeks
  • kale
  • sweet banana pepper
  • Rachel’s cauliflower seeds that I can’t remember the name of
  • cheap aubergines
  • expensive aubergines
  • savoy cabbage
  • oak-leaf lettuce
  • red lettuce
  • brussels sprouts
  • basil
  • red cabbage
  • Webbs lettuce
  • tabasco pepper
  • poppies
  • broccoli
  • cucumber
  • more lettuce
  • pumpkins
  • courgettes
  • Reine Marguerite
  • sunflowers
  • soucis
  • cornichons
  • prairie fire pepper

We’ve also planted two rows of carrots, put the onions in, planted the leeks out, put in the organic beetroot. Today, we’ll be finishing off the big patch and planting in some more stuff. It’s a frenzy at the moment!

I’ve put in two different carrots so far, though I might plant another row as well because I have an abundance of carrot seed.

The first one to go in was a gift from my friend Rachel; She got me a packet of ‘atomic red’ carrots that look a little like this…

This is from a cute blog I just found and I’m now following… She says it was the largest carrot she got from her raised beds. It looks pretty damn fine to me. It does look like it’s been accidentally cross-processed in exposure, so I am looking forward to this one! They’ve gone in next to the onions, as the onions seem to keep carrot fly away. On the other side of it are my little baby leeks; they are tiny little strands of grass at the moment. The carrots should be ready by the end of July. I’d kind of liked to have planted them when it was cooler, but the weather put paid to that, with such a cold spring. Hard to believe that three weeks ago, it was 4°C all day.

That’s something I don’t know for sure, but it does seem that my carrots did remarkably well last year.

The other is just a straightforward row of carrots next to my beans. The seed is quite old though, so I don’t know if I’ll have any luck. In the past, the only carrots I’ve had that were viable were packets of seed that were less than a couple of years old. Nothing like this palm that sprouted from a 2,000 year old seed!

Today, I’m putting in my lettuces and putting sunflowers around the bean beds. I’m mostly impressed by my runner beans, as I repotted them on Sunday and they’ve already shot up even further. They are growing at least three or four inches a day. It’s overcast today, so it’s a good day for seedlings to go in and get bedded in.

Last week, I harvested 3kg of sprouting broccoli. I’m still laughing at those things that say it is a six-month crop, because it was a good 12-month crop.

That means, from my 250kg total target, I have only 247kg to go! Yay! You might laugh, but if I can’t get 10kg cherries, 10kg plums, 10kg apples, 10kg pears and 10kg quinces, I’ll be mad. I’ll shake my fist at that there garden and threaten to burn it. I should get a good 30kg of grapes as well.

Anyway, I better scoot. I’ve still got fifty million things to do out there, and school starts again next Monday…

Rainclouds… Oh they used to chase me…

Today, I am continuing with my Manchester love and I bring you a Monday sponsored by the Stone Roses, my favourite Manchester band.

I was sixteen when their eponymous first album came out, and The Stone Roses was constantly on my newly-acquired CD player. It was the second CD I ever bought. The first was a kind of post-Hanoi Rocks glam metal marriage with The Faces via Dogs D’Amour with A Graveyard Of Empty Bottles. It’s funny because I think of myself as a vinyl child, but I’d already started acquiring CDs by then.

I used to hang out at this little second-hand record stall on Bury’s flea market. The guy there used to let me browse through his vinyl for hours on a Saturday afternoon, even though I’d usually go home with one or two singles. The first I ever bought was David Bowie’s Life on Mars. I loved that place. I’m sure he thought it strange that a pre-teen girl was hanging around buying music, but he indulged me. In fact, he recommended a whole load of great stuff, like Buddy Holly, that I never would have listened to otherwise. By the time I was sixteen, I’d already worked my way through the Stones and the Who, the Beatles and lots of other 60s stuff right the way up to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I always think of myself as a bookish teenager, but in reality, it was music that ruled my life.

I consumed it compulsively and I could never get enough.

By the time I got to 16, I had something of a taste, but the Stone Roses were so far removed from the other stuff I was listening to that it felt a little uncool to like them. However, their music was SO cool, with Ian Brown’s dreamy voice and John Squires’ jangly guitar that it was just impossible not to fall in love with it all.

Not only that, they paved the way for that kind-of Mancunian braggadoccio that came to epitomise everything that was Manchester in the 90s. They were so effortlessly cool. They characterised the Manc swagger in ways that would become world-famous because of Oasis. They weren’t just crazy lads like the Happy Mondays were – they were serious musicians, but they were musicians who knew just how good they were. They were better than anybody else. So what if they only released two albums? So what if they never achieved global domination? The whole point of the Manc attitude is in believing that you could be better than everybody else, if only you could be bothered.

By the time it got to Oasis, it just all got a bit laddish and boorish and boring. But there was something kind of cool about a band who sing that they are the resurrection and the light and they just can’t bring themselves to hate you as they’d like.

I’ve been introducing the Americans to all things English and French, trying to make it count in equal measures. We’ve eaten sausage baguettes at the foot of the castle in Rochechouart. We’ve been to proper markets. We went to a vide grenier yesterday because I think this is the best – nay, the only – way to really experience French life. Marcus said he had never seen so many French people all together. It’s the ritual of Sunday life in the countryside. I have Much Love for old dolls, knackered shoes, broken tools, dusty books, tapestries, stuck-down jigsaws, coffee grinders and ashtrays. Shannon loved it. She thought that it was just vintage-tastic and loved all the old postcards and letters that may go on to have a new life as some treasure in some new owner’s hands.

We’ve also been trying to take in the greats of French cinema. I had to take a detour to Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources simply because it would be rude not to. For the first time, the accents really struck me in ways I’d never noticed before. I went to the Cornerhouse cinema to see these films right around the time I was listening to the Stone Roses. Ironically, we’re watching Pan’s Labyrinth (I know, not French, but rude not to following on from all our war talk) and I watched that at the Cornerhouse too.

As a teenager, the Cornerhouse was home to all that I loved. It was cool to discover things that were mostly not watched by a too-cool-for-school teenager, mostly the reserve of the Guardianistas and fashionable media types. I watched lots of French stuff here, and lots of very cool foreign films. It’s where I fell in love with Maurice and Merchant Ivory and EM Forster. It was kind of a guilty pleasure, because it wasn’t something my other friends did. I  think they would have considered me crazy.

Anyway, to up the English, we have been watching Bill Bailey, Peep Show, The League of Gentlemen, Gary – Tank Commander and Frank Spencer. It would be wrong if I didn’t share a little Frank, possibly the strangest English comedy show ever. We’ve also indulged in a little Cadbury’s Fudge and a Curly Wurly.

In response to what is Britain like, I would like to quote Bill Bailey.

“We’ve got Nectar Points… they’re quite handy. As a nation, we’re prone to mild eccentricities, binge drinking and casual violence. And, on the up side, we’ve got Little Chef.”

Oradour-sur-Glane

Here, on June 10th, 1944, 642 villagers were killed by Waffen SS troops. 205 children died in the attack. I think the worst bit for me is the fact that the Nazi officers rounded up the men, sending the women and children to the church, then shot the men. To have been a woman in the church on that day, to know what was inevitable, to have to wait for certain death, to be with your children. There can be nothing worse.

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DSCF3331Incendiary devices were set off in the church, and when the women and children tried to escape, they were shot by machine gunners. You can trace the bullet holes in the church stone with your fingers.

In truth, it is a very peaceful place, and it reminded me more of ancient ruins, like those at Volubilis, than it did a town that had been home to such a massacre. Had it not been for the signs, you would have no idea what happened here on that day in June 1944.

Sometimes it’s hard to recall exactly why you should get involved in someone else’s battle. This is why.

 

Piégut

I took my guests to Piégut market on Wednesday. I was hoping to take them to Rouillac, but it’s on Saturday this month and that’s a long day of work for me. Plus, I’d never been to Piégut market before as I usually work on Wednesdays, so it’s not somewhere I normally get to go.

I wanted them to experience the full-on French market. I don’t know why. Bury market is pretty similar. It seems to me that markets all over the world are kind of the same. French markets, though, give you a real view of French life. None of this Amélie and Chocolat business. You can get seduced by all the Chanel adverts and classy people and think that that is what French life is like, when really, it’s about aprons and bleus de travail.

Anyway, I was hoping it would not disappoint. I do drop-offs for the magazines at the Intermarché and Sausageland and I have to say it’s not exactly the highlight of my route (well, Sausageland is great – an English butcher’s) and I get the impression it’s for people who want to say they live in the Dordogne but don’t have the money to.

But… it did me proud.

Indeed, it even showed itself in fabulous colours.

I could kind of see why people might want to live there.

Sometimes, it must be said that ‘market’ in France can comprise five wagons. One will sell meat. One will sell vegetables and fruit. One will sell fish. One will sell flowers. The other will probably sell cheese. Some ‘markets’ are smaller than that.

However, I knew the lady from Chat Noir aprons does this market, so I expected it would be bigger and brighter than I anticipated.

And it was. By a long shot.

The remnants of last year’s festival still hang over some of the square. They look less weird now that winter has gone.

DSCF3312Luckily, right underneath, there was a guy selling French-style tabard aprons. Just like Mrs Overall.

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You can see them on the right.

There were also lots of very French-style stalls that I was glad not to have missed. There were the good things – the fruit stalls, the bakers’ stalls with their huge meringues, the butchers’ vans, the rotisserie, the plant stalls – the bad things – the huge knickers, the underpants stalls, the weird tartan slipper stalls, the old lady shoe stalls, the oilcloth stalls – and the ugly things.

I love French markets.

I’d spend all day, every day marvelling at their treasures.

DSCF3315As you can see, it was quite quiet. I like this. It was busy, but not too much so. Plenty of people were buying, and plenty were waiting, but there wasn’t that feeling of being cramped and unable to enjoy what there is to see.

We sat at a café and had a coffee with the rest of the English and Dutch tourists and I tried to explain how to spot English people. It was quite easy. Mostly, we talk loud, wear bad shoes and have terrible haircuts and bad teeth. Dutch people are often the tallest in the crowd. I was surprised that two elegant ladies next to us asked me to take a picture and told me they were Dutch – they had the French look down well. The non-granny look.

DSCF3314The rotisserie man does well – he usually had a queue of at least six people. The man with the tools got to demonstrate his arsenal at one point, complete with an oh-so-French cigarette dangling from his lips.

If I could ask for anything for American tourists to understand, it would be the French market. The towns can seem so quiet and deserted until market day. I’m not sure it was the best example, because there must have been at least two dozen Dutch and English stalls and I’m pretty sure you could get away with zero French.

Still, if anything makes France all French, it’s the fresh vegetables – all in season of course. One lady had a huge display of mandarin oranges. It’s these kind of displays that make France so very French, especially with the uber-French attachée handwriting.

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Pollarded trees are a source of intrigue to my guests. I confess, it was only in 2006 that I came across pollarded trees, in Japan. I thought they were suffering from some kind of disease. However, I did see, which I had never seen before, a pollarded magnolia.

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A lovely friend of mine shares my love of magnolias. In fact, she loves them more than I do, maybe. She has one in her garden that has flowered for the first time. I need a magnolia. I covet them. Mostly, I covet the old ones, but you plant magnolia for other people to enjoy. It’s kind of an altruistic plant. By the time it is magnificent, you are long dead.

It’s funny, too, because the houses seem very different than the houses around me. They are much narrower and higher, and many have the brick and stone combination. It’s very reminiscent of the houses in Royan, so I guess it’s a fashion thing.

Anyway, we stopped for a baguette and frites at a roadside truck – I was sad the market didn’t have one, and someone is obviously missing a trick – and then continued to Oradour. Honestly, it was unexpectedly hot and we were a little unprepared. Still, we lived. Though I drank a litre and a half of water in the car.

Photos of Oradour tomorrow, then.

Sunshine and hot days

These are some photos from Wednesday morning; it wasn’t so hot today, which I am glad about as I had about two hundred errands to run. Oradour was mighty hot, and I’ll post some photos tomorrow. We also went to Piégut market – I was very impressed, though it seemed to be mostly inhabited by English and Dutch people.

dawn in aprilThe walk up the road was almost blinding, it was so light.

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Heston loves to gallop up this part of the hill. There seems to be a lot of wheat this year. Last year, these fields were rapeseed.

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Heston does a lot of posing. He likes to stand on the ridge and survey the fields. He has recently discovered swallows and he will gladly spend a good ten minutes chasing them.

hestonaprilEverything is still very damp. Not only that, but I’ve still got water in my puits – it’s usually long since disappeared by now.

tillyaprilYou might be wondering where the little one is. She likes to ferret about. I know there are lots of rabbit holes and she likes to stick her head down every single one of them.

sloeblossomThe blackthorn bushes are in flower, and it seems like everything is desperate to make up for last year’s losses. I guess everything is well rested and well watered.