Tag Archives: Life in France

The delights of Charente and Charente Limousin

I’ve been trying to give my little helpxrs a taste of life in France. I figured it was the least I could do in return for their hard work and them putting up with my peculiar house and my peculiar ways. I always go to a place thinking that I should make the most of it, since I never know when I will be back that way again. This is why I went to a kabuki show in Japan (I just can’t explain the craziness that is kabuki) and it’s why I got up at 3 am in Brazil so that I could see the sun rise over the Amazon. So I try to help people as much as I can when they might not ever be back here again.

And it’s easy to miss the beauty of the region, since it’s a little sleepy backwater trapped between some of the poorest parts of France and some of the richest.

Not only that, I’ve been kind of sad that I’m not French and I can’t offer an authentic French experience. I need to get a tabard in nylon and put my hair in rollers. I already wear men’s shoes from time to time, so I’ve got that covered. So I am trying to up the Frenchness and we have had nights of Jean-Jacques Goldman and Jacques Brel (Belgian, but claimed by the French) and I have been plying them with French wine and French cheeses, baguette and French pâtés.

We’ve had a few trips around the area. I took them to the chateau at Rochechouart. My love for Rochechouart is undisguised and unmitigated. It’s my favourite, except where I live.

DSCF3285The castle kind of perches over the edge of an ancient meteor crater. Sometimes, I think I would like to live in a castle, but it must be terribly lonely.

We took a detour by St Mathieu and Piégut Pluviers – though Piégut always amuses me. I call it Pie-gut, not Pee-ay-goo. I think it should be proud of its pie-eating ways. Maybe someone could twin it with Wigan? I know Wigan is twinned with Angers, but honestly, Piégut makes more sense.

I was just headed up through Rochechouart and I was explaining about Oradour-sur-Vayres and Oradour-sur-Glane. We stopped for a little at Oradour, since they told me that it’s just an abstract concept to Americans – it must be weird NOT to be surrounded by history. I always felt for the people who lived just outside Passchendaele. How could you ever forget the blood shed under your feet? It must haunt your days.

Oradour itself is a nice little town, and it feels quite lively as towns go. How, though, could you live there and not remember the 642 people who were executed by frustrated Waffen SS troops?

As my Nana says, it’s not really a place to take tourists.

At the same time, though, I do think it’s important to remember that World War II was not just about the Holocaust, as it seems to be for most Americans, but it was something that affected just about everybody in Western Europe. It’s easy to get all political and preachy, so I will keep it free from comment.

Anyway, we have been doing more cheerful things, like going for bike rides around the area and we’ve been down to Angoulême. It’s not very exciting, for those not in the know. I think they looked at the cathedral and the museum and then headed off down the hill towards the bande dessinée museum. I’m trying to restore their faith in the place by sending them out with Madame V’s daughter. They found a goat and some chickens last time they went. I know there’s more to life in Angoulême than that.

It must be very sad to be stuck in the countryside when you haven’t seen anything of the cities around. I guess there aren’t so many people with big places in the cities, though. It strikes me that you could stay in a country and be entirely oblivious to the fact that it has any cities at all.

It’s also sad because France just doesn’t have the landscape that America does, though it is achingly pretty round here, so what it has to offer is its history. That is enough in itself, of course. I’ve decided that no vision of France is complete without a trip to a vide-grenier, a trip to a market and a genuine encounter with a man in bleus de travail.

I think overalls and jackets in blue are compulsory wear for most men in rural France. I’d be alarmed if I saw a man who didn’t have big pockets. If he isn’t in blue and he doesn’t have big pockets, he has no business in the countryside. No business at all.

Yesterday, I realised I was wearing a fetching combination of fleecy welly socks, my crocs, bare legs (splattered with mud), winter-white legs, shorts, a paint-splattered tee-shirt and I hadn’t combed my hair. That’s how we roll, country-style. I just need a tabard.

Do you think it would be a step too far to take them to Emmaüs?

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Fessing Up…

It’s time I confess…

The place I live is so bloody gorgeous I don’t want to share these photos with you because I’m a little ashamed of just how gorgeous it is. It’s like having admired pictures of other children only then to reveal that you’ve got the Gerber baby at home. And the worst part is that I get to see this practically every day. Sorry! You’re going to hate me by the end of this post if you don’t know La Rochefoucauld at all. If you like, feel free to press play on the video – it’s the Amelie soundtrack, certified to put you in French spirit. You can imagine me riding down through the town on an old bicycle if you like.

Firstly, I must confess, it’s not so much of a Blois or a Chenonceau of a castle. We’re not talking UNESCO castles here. But that makes it even better, because, most days, we don’t have to share this town with every one else.

So… let me take you on a guided tour of my local town and introduce you to the wonderful La Rochefoucauld…

This is our high street. Pretty much everything you might need in life is on this street. There are two bakers, two chocolate shops, two pharmacies, three charcuteries, a pizza restaurant, several dress shops and clothes shops and shoe shops. My two favourite shops are the sewing shop and the Phildar wool shop. There are of course the usual array of banks, tabacs and estate agents. There’s a dusty old book shop that has nothing you need and everything you don’t, with lovely hand-made cards. There’s a toy shop complete with wooden toys, and there’s even a little fruit and veg market.

This corner is just by the Phildar wool shop. I love the Phildar wool shop and I love the Phildar wool lady. You can see the sign for one of the two local restaurants. There’s the much more popular Chez Steph’s further down by the river. The restaurant advertised on the sign was part of a recent scandal – the former manager murdered someone apparently – we may only have 2,000 inhabitants, but it’s still the real world filled with petty jealousies and drunk men in charge of rifles.

All year round, the town is remarkably well-dressed, florally speaking. I love the floral displays around the town. They just make it look so much nicer. Not that these beautiful shops and buildings aren’t enough on their own. This is heading down the high street towards the focus of the town: the chateau.

You can just see the turret of the castle in the distance above the trees. I love this street. I could hang about on this street all day long. The thing that amazed me first about it is that parking is free. In the UK, you’d have to pay about £2.00 for a 30 minute stop here. The first time we arrived, I looked for the pay and display machines, and I’ve been stopped twice by English tourists who can’t believe parking here is free. Most people on the high street don’t stop long though. You pick up your bread, your tomatoes, your charcuterie, your prescription and then you zip off again.

At the bottom of the road, it opens up into a square. It’s got a little café on it, and a boulangerie all of its own as well as the tabac. This square is right in front of the La Rochefoucauld cinema – a small little theatre with about 20 seats – and the library. Also, on the right is the convent and the day hospital. I love this hospital. At first glance, there’s no way you would think it was a hospital.

 

The gardens have all been put into place this year and they go a long way to making the building look even more beautiful. They’ve put the huge pots along the front, filled with gorgeous flowers. There are some very clever gardeners at work in our town.

Finally, you walk down the tail end of the high street and get to Chez Steph’s – the local restaurant. It’s always busy and does a great menu for 15€ at lunch time.

 

You can sit and eat on the patio over the zebra crossing – and the waiters and waitresses scoot over the road with plates of food, occasionally pushing the cheese cart in front of bemused tourists who’ve stopped to let pedestrians cross.

And then… there it is… the pearl of the Angoumois region. The chateau de La Rochefoucauld, sitting on a promontory overlooking the Tardoire.

And if you want to see inside the castle, as I did today for the very first time, you’ll have to pop over to my blog at Anglo-Info where I’ve put my photos from inside. It’s open to the public, but I’ve always been too mean to pay the entrance price. Today it was 2€ because it was the national heritage day. I’ll say nothing about it other than it’s completely gorgeous and splendid. I felt like a total peasant. If my life were a Monty Python film (and it sometimes feels like it is) I’d be Terry Jones at the bottom of the hill saying ‘Ooooh Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down ‘ere!’ and prattling on about being an autonomous collective. Of course, it would be lovely to be Miss Chatelaine.

Anyway, I rummaged through the castle, gawped at the stair cases, gawked at the library, thought about how hard it would be to heat and then went back out into the bright sunshine.

Back down in town, I decided to make the most of the day – and even though the convent is always open, I popped in to take a photograph of the cloistered square too…

So now I’ve exposed my town as a potential tourist trap – if this town were in England, it would be over-run by tea-shops and antiques shops (well, we’ve got two) and tourists and old people on coach trips – I hope you don’t feel too jealous. It’s hard to live in a place like this. For one thing, I’m not sure it can cope with a scruffy little urchin like me.

Much Love Monday will be with you tomorrow, if I’m not overwhelmed by people who want to give me a piece of their mind for keeping La Rochefoucauld to myself all this time.

 

 

 

 

Harvest festival…

… was surely invented by someone who was bloody glad everything was in. I think it was just a good excuse to have a day off and a rest.

I’ve been picking all the crops from the back two patches, which looked like this first:

Just before it got really wet, it looked a bit like this:

 

I’m not going to embarrass myself by showing you what it ended up looking like, but I think there were more crops than weeds. Just. The weeds might have been higher, but I think there were fewer of them. Anyway, I’ve had about 6 kg of beetroot so far, and yesterday, I started on the carrots and onions.

Last year and the year before, carrots were a real no-go. They just wouldn’t grow. I don’t know why not. Maybe the seed was old, maybe the ground wasn’t just right, or the temperatures, or maybe a load of ants ran off with the seed. Anyhow, this was the first year of carrots.

I planted two rows of 5m. To be honest, I was a little gung-ho with the seed. I think I thought it’d just evaporate. And then I planted everything too close so I couldn’t go and thin it all out. And the carrots were plentiful but small. Lesson learned. I can grow carrots, but maybe fewer and further between!

And what started as this:

(weed included…)

ended as this:

That’s about 2/3 of one row. I got 2.5 kg of chopped, blanched carrots from them, which I’ve frozen.

I’ve also started to pull up the onions. To be honest, the onions have been temperamental. The white onions are tiny – more for pickling, I guess. The red onions went to seed. However, those that didn’t are pretty big. I’m going to make red onion marmalade today and get all of that clear before doing another run of pickled beetroot and beetroot chutney.

It’s worked well to plant the three together – they were very healthy crops and have really kept the insects away from each other. However, next year, they’ll be further apart and I’ll be able to thin out and weed between them!

I’d also planted some radish for Steve, but it never got eaten, so radish is off the list for next year, despite being so easy to grow. I don’t like it and I don’t eat it, so it’s not a hard choice. I’d planted some pak choi which got very confused about the weather, grew hardly at all, then bolted.

And despite all day of picking, digging up, washing, cooking, bottling, freezing, I needed to get the dogs out for a walk. I went a new route yesterday and it was a very good walk for blackberrying. Where I might not have plums or cherries, I have hedgerows full of blackberries. Swings and roundabouts.

I think you have to be philosophical about these things. It’s not been a brilliant year for some things, but then I’ve hardly had to water anything and I have a freezer full of broad beans, peas, borlotti beans, carrots and beetroot where last year I didn’t have much of any of these.

Today will be about clearing the decks before the pears get picked. Might leave the quince a little longer. They’re small this year, which is weird given how much rain we had. I thought rain would make them massive! Clearly not!

I’m hoping for 6 kg of carrots, another batch of beetroot chutney and pickled beetroot, a few jars of red onion marmalade, a couple of jars of pickled onions and a few borlotti beans today.

Still, despite the fact it’s been long days of preparation for the future, walking the dogs is always such a simple pleasure. Tilly is fab on walks, despite the barking. Heston is great too, though he gets nervous. He needs some walks without Tilly barking at every dog, or else he’s going to bark at every dog and be a pain.

The fields are mostly empty now, but for maize and sunflowers. Most of the sunflowers are past their prime, but I came across these few still holding their heads up for more sunshine

 

What’s not to love about sunflowers? They surely are the smiliest flowers of all.

And a shot of Tilly Wiggle’s bum heading off up the lane, and Heston. You can see how tall Heston is now. He’s going to be a big boy!

He’s all legs at the moment. At least now his tail isn’t longer than his legs and body! He was all tail a couple of weeks ago. He can now hop up onto the couch and the chair and sits there looking proud and naughty at the same time. I don’t know why he looks naughty. Tilly sits wherever she likes and often sits at the table outside with us as we eat lunch. I know it’s not a good habit to have, but she’s so goddamn cute. She’s snoring like mad today. She’s already had a good play with Heston, playing which is becoming more and more boisterous. I think a little boy dog somewhere in my house needs to learn some play restraint, otherwise there will be tears before bedtime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing so nice…

… as messing about on the river. Especially when you do it with friends and family.

Yesterday, seven of us went canoeing down the Charente. The Charente isn’t a well-known river, like the Loire or the Seine or the Rhone. It’s got a quiet beauty and it is such a very leisurely river, meandering this way and that through the local area. It’s not the jaw-dropping Amazon, which so amazed me in Brazil that I must have stood for a good half hour wondering just exactly how anyone might get across it. The Amazon is a nation in itself.

I spent a bit of time destroying the silence in the Pantanal on a boat. We went fishing for piranhas. I flung my piranhas about like you wouldn’t believe. You’d have thought I’d have caught Jaws and that he had the power to move and chomp me at random. Still, it was quite lovely.

In the Pantanal

I managed to catch a few, and it was definitely one of my highlights of Brazil.

Heading in towards Iguzu Falls

^ This picture is one of my favourites from Brazil. We were heading up into the biggest waterfalls in the world (widest? longest? Definitely not the highest!) and it is one of my all-time favourites of me full stop. Nothing beats exhilaration like the kind of exhilaration Mother Nature gives you. You can keep your theme park rides. Nothing is as fun as taking on a big river. I wonder what ever happened to that corduroy hat though. It was one of my favourites. I’ve not seen it for ages.

But the Amazon is just in a world of its own. It’s magnificent. Nothing compares to it in terms of jaw-dropping wonder.

This is not the sea… it’s the River Sea

And so the rivers of France, by comparison, are less dramatic maybe, though perhaps a little less wild and frightening, and a little more refined. So it feels to me, anyway. And you don’t have caiman sitting on the banks waiting for a snack, or a river filled with piranhas who’d like some lunch.

In many ways, the Charente is my first real experience of the area in which I now live. We’d stayed at the Beau Rivage in Mansle, which is, as its name suggests (Beautiful Shore) on the bank of the river. And it is beautiful. Whether it’s riverside castles…

Verteuil

Or quiet days alongside the river at Jarnac

Jarnac

… the Charente is a gorgeous river.

Yesterday, though, it was nearly the scene of me almost wetting my pants.

Opposite the Beau Rivage is a canoe and bike hire place where from time to time I think ‘it would be quite nice to potter about on the river with a little canoe’ and so I find some people to go down the river with. It’s quite lovely. Usually.

Canoeing

So yesterday, my sister, Madame V, Mme V’s daughters, Mme V’s friend and son, we all went down the river. Firstly, it was much more successful than any canoeing I’ve ever done. I’d say  this is because it was 6:1 female:male ratio. Secondly, Mme V’s friend seems to have been a gold medallist in some Olympic rowing or other. Third, we’d done the sensible thing and all children were in with an adult, and we didn’t bring argumentative people with us, like I did when I took Jake and Steve and the three of us blamed each other for why we zig-zagged all over the river. Mostly, we went in straight lines on the easy bit.

Then we got to a weir.

“Oh, we can go down this,” said Mme V’s middling daughter. “We’ve done it in school. You just pull yourself back up by pushing along with your hands. It’s very easy.”

So we went down it. Cue some merriment. It was as sprightly as the Charente gets. Then we seemed to get bogged down in a lot of reeds and duckweed, which reminded Abi of rivers in Southern Africa, and me of rivers in the Pantanal. And plus, it twisted. A lot. We ended up in a lot of trees.

And whilst boys might have got frustrated by this, we laughed and laughed. Mostly because every single one of us ended up in duckweed, or in a bend we couldn’t get out of.

And, in a very beautiful spot at St Groux, we stopped. There was a low-low bridge and we had a little paddle. The kids splashed about.

Steven said “See ya, suckers!” and tried to dive in to swim off, only to be held in position by the current. Cue more laughter.

Then some other people came along. Some went under the bridge, by lying back in a kind of limbo position. I think some of us thought we could do that.

“No.” said I. “My boobs would get in the way.” And I’m sure they would. I’d be stuck there, pinioned by my life jacket and my boobs. And to be fair, most people in the canoes got out, lifted the canoe over the bridge and then carried on.

We decided to paddle back. It was harder going than it was coming. Especially when we got to the weir.

“Well, this isn’t like the weir we went over with school.” said middling daughter. After discussion, it was a ‘get out and pull it up’ decision. Only that was fine on the weir itself. It even had little inverted Vs so you didn’t slip back.

Not so fine on the drop on the other side, where middling daughter went in up to her shorts, then Mme V seemed to drop down about three feet further, above her chest. I nearly died laughing. I know it’s not kind to laugh when your friend drops three feet down into fast-flowing water, but it was funny. What was more funny is that it’s the closest I’ve come to wetting myself laughing in all 40 years of my existence. I had crossed legs and everything.

It was as much her expression of astonishment at where the river bed had gone than anything else. And the fact we’d struggled to get the canoes back up the weir in the first place.

Next time, we’re going down to the nearest town and getting a minibus back. Forget any turning around to paddle back upstream. It wasn’t that it was hard going, more that going up a weir, well, it’s not the way you’re intended to go over it.

But it was a lovely, lovely day and except for the bit where I nearly wet myself, we didn’t run into much trouble at all. Plus, we went twice as far as I ever went with moaning men. Not only is Abi an instinctively good navigator, she’s also pretty good at steering when we’re heading towards trees. But even if you’ve had a twenty year hiatus between going in a canoe, the Charente is a very easy place to do it. Just don’t go down the weir.

 

 

 

Productive Days

I spent a good three hours outside yesterday, followed by a good couple of hours peeling and chopping. Mostly, I was sorting out the beetroot and blanching carrots. I planted a couple of rows of beetroot (about 5 m length between the two) and I’ve got more than enough for all my needs. Last year, I got a few, and they were delicious. They went entirely on pickles, as I love pickled beetroot – it appeals to my love of sweet and sour.

I planted two rows – one of a standard ‘cheap’ pack from Wilkinson’s, and one of a bolt-hardy organic T&M version. I’ve only started digging up the Wilkinson’s ones because they’re nearest and that ground is HARD!  I managed to unearth some onions which were disappointingly small. Some had gone to seed. I don’t feel so bad because there’s a whole field of onions near Taponnat that have gone to seed, and unless he wanted seed, he’s going to be very cross, I imagine. They’ll do for pickling, too. It’s a good job I love pickles. One or two have grown to full size, but they’re disappointing, given how wet it’s been.

The beetroot, on the other hand, are perfect. I’ve already done two large jars of pickles and the rest will go for proper cooking. I’m going to do some roasted, possibly with mackerel, as recommended by Nigel Slater. I’m also going to make some beetroot relish – another love of mine. It’s that earthy sweetness that gets me. I profess, too, I love the pink-red blood stains. I love the leaves. I love everything about this vegetable. I’m also planning on making a beetroot seed cake – another Nigel Slater recipe. He’s obviously a fan of beetroot too.

I planted the beetroot on February 29th, and the first greenness appeared just as the land flooded at the beginning of May.

 

So from seed to shoot was about 4 weeks, then about another 4 to get to this size. And another three months to get to harvest size. To be honest, I could have pulled them out earlier. I also planted them fairly closely and didn’t thin out, which has kept them plentiful and of a good size. Last year, they were far too big – bigger than a cricket ball. This year, they’re between golf ball size and tennis ball size – so I’ve got a range for pickling and a range for roasting and salads. Yes, I end up with red fingers, but to be honest, that’s part of the pleasure.

Whilst I know I’m not of the same calibre as the wonderful Mavis of 100$ a month (although I aspire to be!) I had 4 kg of beetroot yesterday. Yes, I know. 4kg. And that’s about an 1/8th of it. Oh well. It’s all good. Plus, they store well, freeze well and make excellent pickles and chutneys and cakes.

 

Boris bit me

I’m tired of nature now, I think. I’ve had enough.

First it was a wasp that flew under my sunglasses and stung me repeatedly in its efforts to get away. Stung me repeatedly around the eye. Now that’s just mean. It’s not my fault he’s a dodgy driver. If I drive into a pedestrian zone, I don’t start mowing people down in my effort to get out.

Then it was the gastroenteritis. Viral or bacterial, it’s still nature at its worst. That’s just a mean little bug waiting to kill you. It has no purpose other than to go around causing upset tummies. I lost three days for that and I didn’t even get to kiss the boys and their mum goodbye properly because I was so ill and I didn’t want to give them germs, plus I had puke breath.

Then on Tuesday, I was sleeping. Fairly peacefully, I’d guess. No complaints from me or the dogs or Noireau. But then I was woken from whatever dream it was I was having by a very vicious sting. It felt like a sting. It felt like a wasp again. And then again. It hit my eyebrow and then it hit my hand when I went to feel my eyebrow. I got up, put on the light to find the beast, and there it was, sitting bold as brass on my pillow.

Not only that, it had huge red fangs and a huge red belly and then a black and white bum bit. And hairy legs. Evil personified.

I had a conversation last week with Madame V. She said she’d been bitten by a spider. I pooh-poohed her. I admit it. I was skeptical. I never had a spider bite me. For quite a spiritual girl, willing to put her faith in all manner of things like universal harmony and balance, I’m actually a doubting Thomas. I reckon the spider was proving a point.

I captured it to take it to the pharmacist. She pooh-poohed my bite, which was giving me hell by that point. My hand had swollen a bit and it felt like a bad burn. She didn’t care to look at and didn’t care to give me any number for disease control or bites or whatever. She just gave me some lidocaine and told me to go away.

That evil spider is still under lock and key in a tupperware jar.

So, essentially, I’ve wasted the best part of Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday being ill due to nature.

That’s quite enough.

Today, I’m trying to catch up. I’ve mowing to do, potatoes to unearth, dogs to walk, sun to catch and strimming to do. I’m trying to get it all in before the sun comes out in force, since here’s today’s weather prediction:

I’ve done an hour already and come in to cool off a little. I’ve kind of begun to find potatoes. It’s a start. Next it’s mowing and strimming and turd picking. The life of a dog owner is so very glamorous. Heston is huge now, but he’s still a baby. We were out playing in the potato patch. He was supposed to be helping me dig. Useless. He pranced around all giddy, tearing through the long grass collecting seeds, and when I came to look for him at the end, he’d taken himself back inside to bed.

Lazy dog. Obviously takes after the Molly dog.

Tilly just sits by my side all day. She still keeps hurrying out to the car every time I go near it. I think she’s telling me she wants a trip somewhere. Now she’s lying like a little froggie at my side.

Off out to do deliveries again later… beautiful, beautiful day to do it!

New front cover looks stunning… can’t wait to get my copy!

 

I try to be like Grace Kelly…

…but her looks were too sad.

Today’s Much Love Monday’s soundtrack is Mika with Grace Kelly.

Sometimes a little Freddie (Mercury) makes everyone feel a little better.

So… here’s Monday once again

What do I have Much Love for this sunny Monday?

  • the sun returning and finally being able to get in the garden to sort it out
  • being able to start the strimmer myself. You may think this is a paltry achievement, but petrol tools with a pull start always freak me out
  • the firework show at Exideuil and the very lovely company
  • doggie play dates
  • the spaniel romance between Dillon and Tilly. It’s one-sided as yet, but as soon as she realises Dillon is going to leave her alone and they can grumble about pups in peace, things will be fabulous
  • Heston who is as smart as a whip and can now also sit and wait for a treat. Ten days, two tricks. Clever boy
  • Tilly who has also learned to wait for a treat – who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? It must really irritate her that a puppy can do it. I think she could have, all along, if she’d wanted to, and maybe she feels a bit shown up by the puppy
  • Noireau – mauser general who can catch on command, even though he’s partially sighted
  • Summer pudding. Ah, fruit. How I’ve missed you
  • Grand garden plans
  • My new garden patch, which has grown from nothing to something beginning to be marvellous:

I’m also coming towards the end of the work year… whilst I have some clients over the summer, many are on holiday or take a break, so I finally have some time to catch up with people who I’ve not spoken to or seen for a while. I’ve finished the script I was translating, and it’s excellent. I can’t claim any credit for it of course, but it was really pleasurable work. The GCSE papers are almost finished. The writing questions have been really nice to mark  – there’s been a lot of variety in what they’ve written and the candidates seem to have written really well, compared to last year. They had to write a script for a radio show, and it’s really been good to mark. They’ve written in interesting ways and it’s been a nice format for them. The other piece was a letter to a celebrity persuading them to come to school – and it’s nice to have a variation from Steven Gerrard and Katie Price in a similar vein on a previous question. Jamie Oliver gets lots of mentions, as does David Beckham. It seems an awful lot of English school children are bothered about healthy meals, not just one little girl in Scotland. Several politicians have had a look-in as well, which is good.

The system might still be as frustrating, but it’s reminded me why I do it – so English children get the mark they deserve. I enjoy reading what they have to say. It’s like having 1000 teenagers telling you what they think. Nobody gets that experience and it’s interesting to see, from my perspective, how many children have switched from ‘fame’ being a shallow concept to ‘fame’ being something of note because you have achieved something. The Queen, Alan Sugar, various football managers, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Boris Johnson and even David Cameron have had a look in, and there are far fewer names I don’t know. It’s a little sad to me how many of them are men. Is this a reflection on the percentage of boys taking foundation tier, or on the fact that many women in the public eye are famous for nothing, or for having big boobs, rather than for having any actual talent? I think their responses are a whole lot less shallow and more thoughtful than they were in 2007 or 2008. Perhaps austerity, recession and positive national pride for the Diamond Jubilee and for the Olympics have brought out more thoughtful responses. Or perhaps the public is just tired of plastic people who have nothing to offer. Either way, it makes for good reading!

The summer holidays are also bringing several very exciting summer guests and people I’ve not seen for a couple of years. I will be very, very glad to see them, let me tell you!

Pictures of beans…

Exciting I know.

It’s still so wet that the weeds have taken over and there’s little point digging since it’s three times the effort for a quarter of the result. The tomato patch that I hoed last of all is almost completely weeds. Oh well.

So, no cherries to speak of, and it looks like being a poor year for red onions (gone to seed) and ratatouille veg, but a brilliant year for potatoes, peas, beans, carrots and cabbages. Oh well to that as well.

I like to take photos of the season as it unravels and I’ve been using picmonkey for that… I have ‘plot-to-almost=pot’ photos. It’s been the broad beans today. I’ve picked about 4 kg of broad beans so far. Of course, most is pod, so in terms of actual weight, I’ve got about 2 kg of broad beans blanched and frozen.

I think this is my favourite app. So quick! Upload the photos you want in it and the layout and boom – a collage. No photoshop messing.

I planted these on the fourth of January. It then snowed and flooded and rained and was cold – so it’s been one hundred and sixty five days from bean to bean. Not bad though. I’m quite amazed by how quickly they come on. It never fails to amaze me that something can be a seed one day and a plant the next. The first leaves came up two months after planting – most of that time was very cold indeed. Two months after that, we had flowers. That’s 4th January planting, 4th March first leaves, 4th May flowers, then a month later, we had a huge crop. To be honest, I could have planted them a whole lot later, I think. Trouble is, you can’t predict having a month of bitterly cold temperatures.

Speaking of things that are seeds one day and plants the next, I planted a lemon pip (well, four, but only one has come to anything) which is now bursting with life. As to whether it will have lemons ever, I don’t know. It’s got lovely foliage though, so I won’t be upset if it doesn’t.

And because I have no cherries, but because I love this picmonkey app (and you can have it pretty much any which way you want it) I thought I’d do a cherry-inspired one from last year.

I was saying yesterday I felt a bit like I should just write the year off and go back to bed until next summer. Of course, I won’t. There are far too many things in the garden to enjoy quand-même. 

Vide greniers

A vide grenier is a peculiarly French thing where you think you might find a Lalique vase for 50 centimes or a piece of Murano glass. You don’t. This is a small sample of some of the things I saw on Sunday.

  • a dismembered deer’s leg on a shield
  • weird old broken dolls
  • a tapestry doll
  • a ‘head’ statue that had been hand-painted by someone who either sees the world through Picasso’s eyes or was a little drunk
  • old tyres on sale for more than a new, fitted tyre
  • a broken bike tyre for 10 euros
  • a plastic chamber pot
  • one of those seats you can use with a plastic chamber pot inserted into it
  • broken wheelbarrows
  • Nazi memorabilia – still not REALLY a good look on a person
  • a broom handle
  • a dusty old computer monitor from somebody’s loft
  • old jars of half-eaten jam
  • broken flip-flops
  • more naff pottery than you could believe
  • dirty cups on sale for more than they cost
  • mismatched cutlery
  • dirty lampshades
  • old LPs for bands you never heard of from the 60s and 70s
  • loads and loads of mass-produced tourist stuff from Spain – especially ‘souvenir’ plates a bit like this one that we found in our cabin:

I’d have taken photographs but I’d probably have fallen out of favour with many of the stall holders who probably do not think that their ‘treasures’ are humorous. One day I will bravely snap away and capture all of the bizarre sights I see, but until then, you’ll have to take my word for the fact that a French vide grenier might be the only place in the whole world where you could attempt to sell a used battery for more than you bought it for. Notice I say ‘attempts’. You probably will end up taking everything home again with you. Needless to say, when a stall is set up of people genuinely trying to clear out recent additions, it’s mobbed. Book stalls also do well, for children’s books, because books are still so unreasonably expensive in France. I saw lots of children’s books for sale that were worthwhile, as well as a few stalls of mums who were selling on baby clothes and toys in excellent condition. I think, though, if you go looking for a treasure, you are only going to come home disappointed!

I also stand by the fact that young or old, vide greniers have more people with walking problems than anywhere else. A walking stick stall would make a mint!

However, what is always good at these places are the plant sales. One or two stalls had plants for sale and were doing a happy business. I’d have bought more myself but I was on a quest for perennials and most are still annuals. I don’t know about you, but if we’re half way through June, my annuals are already bought and in, otherwise there’s no point in them.

There was also a fabulous ice-cream cart with lots of lovely hand-made ice creams including my favourite caramel beurre salé – a salted caramel ice-cream. Jake had his usual mint choc chip. That boy does love mint choc chip!

 

Still waiting…

… seriously, it seems like summer is never going to arrive. I keep having a couple of days of mad activity in the garden and then it rains. The grass is epic. We can’t strim. We can’t mow. I keep hoeing back the weeds. I know we need the rain, but the cold is getting to my bones. I’m still in two jumpers and I’ve not had my shorts on for more than two days so far this year. It’s tiresome.

In actual fact, the temperatures aren’t that much different than last year, but it just seems so cold because we’ve had such little sunshine. It’s almost June and it feels like we’re way behind. Plus, our cherry tree has very few cherries – will be surprised if we get a kilo from all of them. Steve’s just informed me that the tree up the road is heavy with them – but I can only assume ours were having a bad year because of the weather when it blossomed. On the other hand, we’ve got hundreds of peaches this year – and we did last year too. Apples also seem thin on the ground. Bloody weather!

Beans… we have.

Broad beans

Peas, we have as well.

You’ll also remember a little planter I made?

Welcome to March

which was based on this:

From Diggerslist

But ended up being my own ‘Welcome’ twist… now I realise I need huge pots – or bigger ones at least! and that I need very low growing plants – because these calendula are far too big and it now looks like this:

So next year, I will separate these pots up and maybe do them in another way. The beauty of recyclable products! However, I am going to do one near the entrance gate because I think it’s cute.

I’ve also done my planters, too. I love verbena, so there’s lots of that:

Verbena

I’ve also painted some 50c pots with gloss paint and put in succulent cuttings from our overgrown succulent can:

Sempervivum in an old rusty tin can

The sempervivum is very easy to propagate – you just separate the hen from the chicks! I’ve potted these up in white painted terracotta pots:

Sempervivum

There are two final touches. One is a vamped up decoupage pot (Verity – I promise I’ll do yours! I do!)

Decoupage on plant pots

And the other touch is the painted tins. I sprayed these with primer then sprayed them green. Some have holes punched in the back so they can hang, like this:

Cheap and easy

And the best thing about these? They cost buttons. I can spray about 30 cans with a can of 4€ spray paint and a 3€ can of primer. A bit of wire and I’ve got a hanging garden. It’s not exactly Babylon, but then who wants that? We all know what happened to Babylon!

My little garden, still with its knickers, grows on apace:

Steve hammered up a ‘Noireau-proof’ fence, since Noireau seemed to think it was his own personal toilet. Poor boy – but I don’t want him digging up my babies! And, for the meanwhile, the knickers are staying.

Meanwhile, the red onions have gone to seed. Nothing to be done about that. That damned warm spell then the cold weather has fair tricked my onions – so I shall now enjoy their flowers and then save the seed. Only one problem in saving the seed of things that bolt – you get other stuff that bolts too.

Oh well.

You have to make the most of what you have, even if that means bolting onions…