Saturday 28 November 2009

Lights On

Yesterday was the switching-on ceremony for the Christmas lights in Laval. This always includes a big firework display, so we went with friends to see the show and have a meal afterwards.

It rained hard all evening. We parked a short distance away, and made our way down the wet and shining street to join the crowd on one of the bridges over the river, below the castle, to get a good view.

The show was great, as we expected, and lasted about 20 minutes. I was surprised that the downpour didn't seem to dampen the fireworks, which were most impressive.

After the fireworks, we all bundled into a local restaurant for steak and chips, and on the way back we passed under the bridge, now proudly displaying its lights. But the brightest part of the evening was these enthusiastic buskers sheltering in a shopfront, whose spirits defied the damp and cold, playing "Mon Amant de St Jean" to anyone who would listen.

Tuesday 24 November 2009


I can well remember the last time I got flu. I was on a skiing holiday. We all arrived in our catered chalet and all the staff were down with it. Great. I lasted until Wednesday.

It's the only illness I can remember catching, where my temperature went to 105 and I had hallucinations. Well, more like an inability to separate my dreaming from wakefulness, with the result that I ended up patiently explaining to the wife that I didn't need any aspirin, thank you, because the monks were now looking after me just fine. You really don't want to catch flu.

The French government has bought enough H1N1 vaccine for two shots for the entire population, and has been rolling out a campaign of vaccination. It started with health-care workers, then extended to children, and elderly and vulnerable people. Since I am diabetic, I am classed as vulnerable.

As a target for the early roll-out, I should have received a voucher for my jab in the post. I have not. When the wife explained this to the doctor he got quite upset and scribbled a letter that I was to take to the vaccination centre. There, I was expecting some jobsworth behind a desk to tell me "no voucher, no jab", but having explained my situation and shown them the doctor's letter (they couldn't read his writing) they printed me out a voucher, and I got my vaccination right away. Apparently about 40% of people who turn up at the vaccination centre do so without a voucher, and if they're not busy they will cater for you whether you are classed as vulnerable or not.

Today I feel a bit under the weather. My left shoulder hurts, I was a bit shivery this morning, and my eyes are sore. But I'd much rather be being looked after by a vaccine than my monks.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Strange Light

Storm clouds and low bright sunshine illuminate the trees in my garden

Thursday 19 November 2009


I've been busy in the garden these last few days. The last of the Dahlia tubers have been dug up and put into storage to save them from the frosts. And this pheasant has been strutting round the garden recently. He is spared from being shot, at least for the time being, because there is a hunters' amnesty to allow stocks to recover.

Sunday 15 November 2009


There is a grand chateau at Chenonceau in the Loire valley (actually it's built on the river Cher) and the wife has been itching to visit for ages. So this Sunday morning with nothing on the agenda and a sunny start to the day, we decided to go. This being a famous tourist attraction, you can find out most of what you want to know from their website. (Click here) So, some impressions just for you, my avid reader, and perhaps some pictures you won't find in the guide books.

I am always intrigued by the effects of time and wear in old buildings like these, so I was pleased to spot some floor tiles in unfrequented corners that showed their original patterns.

This gallery is the part of the chateau that spans the river - not nearly as broad as you might think but quite long. The black and white floor tiles are of different stone (slate and tuffeau respectively), and the white is less durable than the black. So the white ones are worn concave, and the black ones convex. Walking on them feels odd.

The chateau has an extensive and well-kept garden and plant nursery, and they use these to provide spectacular "daily" flower displays in the chateau rooms. Here are some.

And, well, you've just got to have some views of the gardens, haven't you?

Finally, this cheeky chappie was looking down on us in the gift shop. I thought it was a beaver but the label told me it is a ragondin, or coypu. Farmers where I live hate coypus because they are big (shaped like a rat, about 2ft long in the body and with a tail equally long) and they eat crops. I came across a cage on one of my walks by the river not so long ago, and as I was inspecting it, a guy appeared from in the bushes and told me it was a ragondin trap. Why the long chain I asked, attaching it to a metal spike driven into the ground? That's so that once you've caught the ragondin and drowned it, you can pull the trap back out of the river.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Journée Calendrier

During my first year here in France, some time before Christmas, the postman turned up in the afternoon, not his usual time. He had no letters with him, but was carrying a calendar that he gave to me. I thanked him and he went away. I was a bit puzzled, but, there you go, sometimes French habits seem a bit strange.

I learnt later that handing out calendars in exchange for a voluntary donation is a time-honoured way of raising money for charitable purposes; it is the equivalent of the Christmas tip. I made up for my mistake the following year, of course.

Having joined the Harmonie of St Suzanne more recently, I discovered that we have a calendar sale, and today was the day. We split up into teams, and three of us, Aurélie, Nico and I covered an estate not far from the St Suzanne castle.

Impressions first of the friendliness. A person will either buy a calendar or not, and if they do, they will invite you inside for a chat, and to complete the transaction. Vegetable plots almost everywhere, and the occasional old farm tool, many if not most speaking of a farmer in retirement who can't break the habit.

And sarcastic somments from my team-mates who observed that there is no single word in English that means éclaircie (in the context of weather, that is: sunny interval) but plenty of words for awful weather. We were caught in a shower at the time.....

After the sales campaign, a great communal lunch, then back home to find that lightning or a power surge had fried my router, so this post is courtesy of my ancient emergency back-up. I need the internet to order a new one, of course. If the backup fries, I'm stuffed.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Nothing Much Happened Today

When I was a lad, I got given a diary for Christmas. Not my favourite present, and I even think this happened more than once. I was encouraged to "keep a diary" and to "write something in it every day". I started dutifully on Jan 1st, and vowed to keep it up. Things get difficult of course when you're back at school, since, as we all know, nothing happens at school:

- "What did you do at school today?"
- "Nothing."

After a few weeks I was struggling, but managed to write something every day. So I never really understood why my Dad wet himself laughing when he observed my entry for the day (probably some time in February) "Nothing much happened today".

So today being an ordinary day, nothing much happened. I woke, did my flute scales, the went with the wife into the village to pick up our laundered bed linens (for the gîte) from the village hall where they get delivered by the laundry, except they weren't there. She sent them an email.

Then I went down the the bar-restaurant down the road for a morning coffee with Marie, who doesn't charge me, and to try to find Jean-Claude so that I can invite him and his wife to dinner. I have been trying to phone Jean-Claude for a couple of days and he hasn't been answering his phone, but I have seen his car about.

Marie doesn't know where Jean-Claude is, but Karine in the tourist office tells me he's somewhere along the river clearing the banks. So I go in search, chatting to a couple of fishermen on the way who are fishing, I think, for Perch:
- Catch anything?
- Nope
- What you fishing for?
- Perch
- Are there many in this river?
- Dunno
- We'll find out

I find Jean-Claude upstream, he is with a co-worker, cutting brushwood, and has a big trailer-load of it ready to burn. Brushwood is ideal for shredding; I use the shreddings to cover my flower beds to keep the weeds down, and I persuade him to deliver this and subsequent loads to my car park, to save him having to burn it.

We decide Thursday evening for dinner, but he has to check with his wife first.

We discover that when I phoned him, his phone rang but didn't connect, so I make a mental note to do a test to see if it's his phone or mine has the problem. Back home a simple trial reveals that it must be his phone with the problem, so I must remember to tell him.

In the afternoon, I dig up my gladioli. They're not frost-hardy so the Winter is likely to kill them if I don't find somewhere cool, dry and frost-free to store them.

I am sure that every year I have fewer and fewer Glads. Apart from the obvious conclusion that some die, I have no idea why.

Canna Lillies are also supposed to be killed by frost, but since I have had almost no success keeping them alive in storage overwinter, I have decided, by contrast, to try to overwinter these plants in the ground this year. I will cover them with a thick insulating layer of the wood shreddings I make from the brushwood pile, and see if they have any better luck getting through the Winter this way. It can't be worse than trying to store them.

And oh yes, the chimney sweep came. You're in trouble in France if your house burns down and you haven't had the chimney swept for more than a year. You're probably in a spot of bother anyway, but without the certificate from the sweep, your insurance company will add to your woes, and claim the French equivalent of "contributory negligence", contesting your claim.

So not much happened really. What shall I do this evening?

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Memorial at Torcé Viviers

The commune of Torcé Viviers en Charnie used to be two separate villages, Torcé and Viviers, but they were small, and so close together as to be almost connected. So they became one, at some time in the past.

Normally, 11th November is the traditional date for memorial service for the great war 1914 - 1918. The monuments to the war dead at Torcé Viviers have been renovated over recent months, and so today, since all the memorials are being re-dedicated, this war, plus the war of 1938 - 1945, and other conflicts are being remembered. The Harmonie of St Suzanne came along to play the fanfares and marches.

It was cold, and drizzly. We stood around trying to keep warm so that our fingers would move on our instruments at the required time.

The service was long. Mostly because they read out the name, age and place of death, of everyone whose name was carved into the monuments. Torcé Viviers between them lost 8 people during the second world war, and eighty-four in the first. I find it hard to get my head round that number, from such a small village. And today, there are services like that everywhere in France.

Here are the monuments. I have posted the pictures in high enough resolution that if you click on them you can read the names.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Cooking Experience

The Relais Gué de Selle is is a hotel about 40 minutes drive from us, that has a good restaurant. The chef there gives practical cooking workshops, and the wife and I went along to suss the place out.

The theme for the morning was volaille (poultry), which to my surprise included rabbit. So the 7 of us on the workshop learned cooking techniques and stuffing methods for chicken, guinea fowl, rabbit and duck. All good fun, and it was interesting to try some new techniques.

The hard part was eating it all at lunch. Yep, starter, 4 main courses, and dessert. Bang goes my weight-reduction programme, at least for a few days while I reset.

The hotel's lakeside location is an asset, and that and the gardens form a pleasant backdrop to any meal. The treehouse is guest accommodation too, and has been finished for over a year but not used. Why not? It's 0.6 square metres too large in area to avoid the need for planning permission, and this has not been granted. Moral? Stay the right side of the mayor.

Friday 6 November 2009

Rising sun

I couldn't really call this post "Sunrise" because I got up far too late. But on my way down the road to the café for my morning coffee, this cliff face was catching the early morning sun, and caught my eye also.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Dona Nobis Pacem

Today is the blogblast for peace, and here is my peace globe. I'm flying this in solidarity with the other bloggers around the world, trying to get a message of peace across to anyone who will listen.

Lots of people will tell you that they desire peace and that they are fundamentally pacifist. Fine. But most will also admit that they would take up arms on the side of Good to oppose the forces of Evil. So be careful, it's amazing what can be done with propaganda.
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