Wednesday 20 December 2023

Mince Pies

It's mince pie time.    Not a tradition in France.   We make these delicacies every year, and one time we took a batch to our french guests in the gîte who were staying over Christmas.   We collected most of the pies back once they had left; not a mistake we will repeat.

We do share them with friends - we don't know if they really like them, or are just being polite, but it's nice to share anyway.

Sunday 17 December 2023

The Christmas spirit.....

 ....hits St Pierre sur Erve.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Like for like

I have been thinking that to help me keep my seed potatoes from sprouting over winter, a fridge might offer a good solution.  So, finding myself at a loose end in a supermarket recently, I was wandering around looking at the fridges.

I was intrigued the other day by a poor energy rating (F) given to a highly efficient light bulb (an LED), so I paid attention to the energy labels on the fridges.   I saw two apparently equal-sized fridges, one rated F, the other rated E.   According to the label, the E one consumed 141 KWh per year, that is more than the F one that consumed only 112.  They both appeared to be the same size.   What is going on?  

Aha!   The E one has a freezer compartment inside at the top, the F one does not.  The fridge compartment is therefore a bit smaller than the F one.  So, apparently, fridges with a freezer bit are assessed differently: they are allowed to consume more electricity and still get a better rating.   Not comparing like with like.

Wandering on, I found a tall fridge with no freezer compartment but a bigger capacity (263 litres instead of 127 litres - twice as much as the F one above.   It consumes 133KWh per year vs 112, that is 18% more.   Energy rating also F.

So a fridge with twice the capacity for only 18% more electricity consumption doesn't appear to be more efficient?  On marche sur la tête.

Beware simple labels.   I ignore "nutri-score" labels for much the same reason.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Walking on your head

In France, the phrase "on marche sur la tête" is used to indicate that something crazy or idiotic is going on.   The idea is currently being used by farmers to protest the increasing difficulty of growing or producing food, due to growing constraints and regulation by the state.   The method?   Turning village road signs on their heads.   Simple, non-destructive, easy to do, and it gets the point across.

Monday 20 November 2023

High energy

It so happened that I needed to replace a light bulb in one of the gîte toilets.   The old one had failed after about 15 years, so it was time.

LEDs are the technology of choice these days, since they are many times more efficient at converting electricity to light than the old incandescent bulbs.  So I was surprised to find that the LED bulbs that I had selected had an energy rating of F, that is the second-worst of all possibles.   

I checked, and yes, the LEDs had a power consuption of just 7.8 Watts, a bit more than 7 times more efficient than a 60W incandescent bulb.  7.8W hardly registers on the electricity meter.   Curious, I looked around, and the best energy rating I could find for a similar light bulb was C, on a 60W bulb that consumed only 5.9 W, and that, incidentally, cost twice as much.   A quick calculation tells me that perhaps, over the 15 year life of the bulb, the more expensive one would pay for itself, just about.   But hey, I'll take the saving now, thanks; I might not be around in 15 years.

You can still get incandescent halogen bulbs that are slightly more efficient (about 5% more) than the old standard incandescents.   They get an energy rating of G, presumably because the scale stops at G and doesn't go on to Z.   People could take that to mean that the halogens are only a bit worse than LEDs when in fact they consume 7 times as much electricity.    On the other hand, the change from energy rating D to F in this case indicates an increase in energy consumption of about one third.   Nuts.

(There are three bulbs in the €9.49 pack, one in the €6.59 pack)

Sunday 19 November 2023


There's a strong community spirit at St Pierre sur Erve, and one of the manifestations is the existance of a Whatsapp group for entraide.   Need help?   Got anything to offer?   Make it known on the group, and you have a good chance of getting or giving help.

My neighbour needed some work done on the gable ends of his roof.  A short message on Whatsapp, and 4 extras came on site to help.  The jobs were: breaking rocks, mixing the mortar, getting the stuff up onto the scaffolding, and finally putting it all into place.   Done in half a day.

Come the crash, St Pierre sur Erve is better placed than many.

Sunday 5 November 2023


I suppose that value, in the general sense, is a subjective thing.   I don't mean price, I mean the worth, the benefit that something offers, and what that represents to the individual.

My sister uses a lot of wine for cooking, and since we will be seeing her in England shortly, she asked us to bring from France all the wine that we are permitted, at no more than €2 a bottle.   It's getting harder to find drinkable wine at that price in France, but it can be done.

As it happened, we found ourselves in Laval recently, where there is a Noz, what the French would call a "hard discount" supermarket, that is, a cross between a low-end supermarket and a rummage sale.   We went in on a wine hunt.

One of the things about the French is that when it comes to wine, they tend not to drink "foreign rubbish".  This means that if you can find it, good quality non-french wine can be had at low prices.   So it turned out to be in our Noz, and we stocked up with 20 bottles of wine, portugese, italian, spanish, and some french, for about €37.50 in total.   There's a risk of some duds, of course, but it's good odds.

There was coincidentally, a wine tasting in our local bistrot the other day.   An independent producer, growing his own grapes (grenache) and making his own wine.   He told us about the different terroirs that he managed, and presented a bottle from each of three different areas, all growing the same grape variety.  The first we thought was a bit rough but as described; fruity with strong cherry notes.   The second was very pleasant, round and smooth, and the third was somewhere between the two.

Now any event in the bistrot tends to be a social affair, and after the first bottle was tasted, one of our locals decided that he wanted to buy a bottle and share it around.  Our vigneron refused to sell until he had finished his spiel and had everyone taste all three.   A small rebellion ensued and a bottle of supermarket bordeaux was opened and shared, stage left, while the tasting continued centre stage.   As you can imagine, there was an "atmosphere".

I have done some selling in a previous life, and I know that giving a spiel is easy, and closing a sale is difficult.  So when someone says, in effect, "shut up and take my money", that is exactly what you do.  Spieling can always continue later.

Anyway, the rougher wine turned out to be available at around €17 the bottle, while the stuff we liked was over €40.   I like to support the little guy and am prepared to pay a bit over the odds to help him along.  But there are limits, and I'm sure that the subtleties of a €44 bottle vs say, a €10 bottle are lost on me.   We didn't buy any.   And I'm sure my sister will get more pleasure out of 20 bottles from Noz that she would have from one bottle of grenache.

Sunday 22 October 2023

L'île Rousse, Corsica

Our second stop on the Club Med 2 cruise was on Ile Rousse in the North of Corsica.  Corsica is mountainous, and travel from valley to valley was difficult in the past, so villages in the same valley tended to form their own cultures.   Our tour guide told us (a few times) that she was from the micro-region of La Balagne, one of several throughout the island.

Politically, Corsica has been a football between France and Italy.   It had a short period of independence before France definitively took control of the island in 1793 and made it a Département 3 years later.

I was impressed by the little village of Pigna, where the locals have developed an annual music festival based around their own small auditorium.   I bought a couple of CDs that were on sale in the musical instrument museum; I figure I'm unlikely to get another opportunity to hear traditional corsican music.   Though maybe I could go to their festival when it comes around again.

A couple of other irrelevant observations.   Pigna is apprently free of carbon dioxide, so I'm not sure what the residents are breathing.   And their cats were cute.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

My WISE account update

Following the difficulties in getting Wise's AI software to recognise my perfectly good proof of ID, (see here) I sent them good copies with a mugshot via their website contact page.   I told them that they could accept this proof of ID or close my account; their call, and I drained my account.

Since then, the red flashes demanding proof of ID that appeared on my smartphone Wise app and on my Wise website login page have disappeared and I can still log in to my account.   I'm not sure what this means.

I haven't tried to use it (no need yet) and the deadline for my using their AI software for proof of ID isn't until a week or so, so I will see what happens.

As an aside, I have good anecdotal evidence that French banks are rejecting 94% of mortgage applications.   Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a doozy.


Trips from the boat to shore were made using a little tender.  The sea was calm throughout the whole cruise, and our first stop was at Portofino in Italy.   A prettly little fishing village in the past, now a tourist destination, with a row of quayside cafés and restaurants, and a castle and lighthouse to visit.   It's known for its colourful houses fronting the harbour.   No shortage of money there, either.

We sat outside enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, then I went up the long, steep and narrow stairs to the castle that's also a museum, at the top of the hill.   Fabulous views.   I came back down through the pretty museum gardens that offer different views over the countryside and town.

Saturday 14 October 2023

The good ship Club Med 2

We're just back from a short cruise on the sailing/motor cruiser Club Med 2.   A great experience, we can recommend.   The ship itself has 5 masts, and if I understood the captain correctly, has both electric and diesel engines.   And sails.   I am told that the sails, averaged over a year's cruising, save about 20% to 25% on the fuel.   Made in France.

The onboard facilities are excellent.  The cabin was spacious and comfortable.   The drinks are all included, even the very acceptable Champage that was served every evening after 6PM.  The food was as good as you might find in a very posh onshore restaurant, and available either as a buffet, or in the waiter-served restaurant.   Apéros were served from 7:30 PM.

The crew were efficient and friendly, and the systems and procedures onboard seemed to work like a charm.  Or clockwork.

We set off from Nice, stopped at Portofino in Italy, Ile Rousse in Corsica, and Saint-Tropez.  More later.

Tuesday 3 October 2023


My Box hedge is in a bad way.   Apparently, I'm not the only one with this problem; box hedges are dying across western Europe.   The attack comes in two waves.  There's a moth whose caterpillar eats the leaves, and there's a fungus that attacks the leaves but not the roots.   I sprayed with a biological weapon (bacillus thuringiensis) against the caterpillars, and I thought I'd done what was necessary, but no, the blight is coming for the second wave and this one I might not win.

I understand that there's a fungicide that can cure this, but it's hard to eradicate once established, and I think it can be said to be established in my hedge.   Anita and I have spent the last couple of days cutting the hedge back and taking the cuttings to the dump.  Fungicide is on order.   But I'm not hopeful.

I wouldn't mind so much, but the Box plants were about 6 inches high when planted some 17 years ago, and they have reached the height required just about now.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Harvest process

The fig tree has produced prolifically this year, so a fig pie is in order.   Fig slices on an almod paste base.   What's not to like?

And if there's nowhere to store the squash other than a kitchen shelf, might as make an artwork out of it.

Friday 29 September 2023

My WISE bank account

Well, this is interesting

My WISE bank account providers have asked me to prove my identity within a month. Fair enough; after all, we do have to confine money laundering to the élite, don't we? After uploading my ID three times using my phone, and crashing out at the photo stage (I must have tried 10 times to upload an acceptable photo), I tried using the PC webcam instead. The site told me at the time that this had worked, but today it tells me that, in fact, it didn't really. Perhaps it was just having a little joke. It told me that I have to try again and succeed within two days or they'll send me my money back.

Well, there ain't no-one going to give me a one month deadline and then change it to 2 days when I try to comply. I'm not doing anything more until I hear from them about how they're going to solve this problem; we'll see what happens. As an alternative, I could easily scan the necessary documents and mail them, and they can get a human to verify that I really do look like an older version of my ID photo.

This is a service industry?

I have communicated my thoughts to Wise via their website. I will keep you updated.

Update:  29/09  19h24   Email from Wise:  "The photos are too blurry."   Response: Yes I know but I have tried enough times, so tell me where to send scanned documents and a selfie (by email)

Also email from Wise "We have detected unusual activity on your account and logged you out of all devices"  Response:   Probably fair enough, I don't usually make 3 separate attempts to upload a carte d'identité and crash out on attempting to upload a selfie.  No email sent in response.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Winter squash

The hot dry spell has ended, and it's raining.   I have mature winter squash in the garden, and they risk splitting if the plant absorbs too much water, so I have to harvest them, at least the ripe ones.

I had quite given up on the possibility of getting any Butternut squash this year.   I thought that the mice had eaten all of the seeds I had planted.   But I stumbled across this enormous one today, and a couple more not yet ripe.   The orange Kuri squash plants are always very vigorous and productive, and I have left several more fruits in the garden to ripen.   The green and yellow striped ones are called "Honeyboat" and are quite sweet to eat.

I also have ripening some Musqé de Provence squash.   I never quite know how to look after those.  I have two enormous fruits ripening, (14 inches diameter) and some smaller unripe ones growing.   I find that the ripening fruits can wither and die, even when they are 6 inches across or bigger.  I am hoping that the big fruits have gone past that stage.

Monday 11 September 2023

La fête du four

We have a communal bread oven in the village.   It used to be used by all the villagers for baking bread, but now, even if the people wanted to bake their own bread, everyone has their own oven, so it has fallen into disuse.

But it still works, and it offers a good excuse for a shindig, and once a year it is fired up and is the focal point of a bring-and-share party for the locals.   People bring their domestic speciality dishes, wine, pizzas, wine, potatoes, wine, salads, wine, fruit and wine in an extravaganza of bonhomie and gourmandise.

I didn't realise, but there is no fire in the oven while it is doing the actual cooking.   It is heated by burning wood inside it, starting the day before, and on the day itself the burning wood is shuffled around the interior to heat it all evenly.   The burning wood and embers are then scraped out, and the cooking is done using the heat retained by the brick walls.  You can see the smoke coming out of the chmney from the fire the day before the fête.

To add to the fun, some coloured lights were hung up over the eating area, and since we were in the middle of a heat wave, all the tables and chairs were outside under the sky.   

Saturday 9 September 2023

I could give a fig

I'm proud of my fig tree.  After many attempts and failures, I got a cutting to root, kept it indoors for its first Winter, then planted it out by a wall in a sheltered place.   It has given a few figs before, but this year promises a bumper crop.

We have a "bring and share" meal in the village this evening, (more on this later) and these figs will be offered as a dessert for some lucky people.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Special offer

I got a seed/plant catalogue in the post today.   It features, amongst other things, a variety of onions.   As you can see from this page, you can buy a package of 250 grams each of red, white and brown onion sets for just under €15.   Or, for €20, you can get twice as much of each, exactly the same, if you buy them individually.

To be fair, they're not describing it as a special offer.   But I reckon it's pretty special, myself.

Fairy tales

I bought this book for next to nothing (troi fois rien) at a car boot sale recently.   I like books that have proper illustrations, and this one features reproductions of artwork that was published in different story books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I was reading the Cinderella story, it is well told in the book.  In english, Cinderella loses a slipper made of glass, a material not well suited for this purpose, it has always seemed to me.   In the french book, the slippers are described as being made of vair, which is pronounced the same as verre (glass) but is what was probably a highly luxurious leather made from squiirrel fur.   Makes sense.

Saturday 19 August 2023

Spiced plums in Armagnac

First picture is the plum tree heavy with plums.   The second is the spiced plums in Armagnac, a direct consequence of the first.   Good year for plums, 2023.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Selling crêpes

The 15th August is a public holiday in France, and our village fête is held on that day.  It's becoming quite famous.  There is a street painting competition, and from lunchtime, music, beer and wine, with food from food trucks, and all culminating in the illumination of the village with some 7,000 candles after dark.  The whole thing is run by volunteers from the village, and it makes an important contribution to the coffers of the committee that runs it.

The grandest entrance was from Stephan who drove in his rock band friends on a trailer behind his tractor.

Our contribution to the affair was selling crêpes.  We started at 4pm, taking over from the previous vendors,  and didn't stop until 9.   Crêpes offer an excellent profit margin, and are easy to make.  They were made by local village ladies who were given the ingredeients, the eggs being supplied by a local producer in exchange for publicity.

My french wasn't up to the equivalent of "Roll up, roll up, get your crêpes 'ere, only one euro-fifty each and I'm cutting me own throat", so we sat quietly and the queue formed anyway.  Anita spread the jam/chocolate sauce/sugar and I took the money.  In total, the crêpes contributed a bit over €800 to the revenues from the event.  Nay bad.

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Garlic spread

We still have garlic in the freezer from a bumper crop I grew a couple of years ago.   I got some garlic to plant as part of a job lot of onion sets and other root vegetables this springtime, so the question arose as to what to do with the harvest?

Anita found this fabulous recipe on facebook, and I can confirm that it works very well.   The resulting confit can be eaten on toast or used to season other dishes.   Highly recommended.

100 cloves of garlic, peeled
450 ml olive oil
5 sprigs of thym
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of chilli flakes

You can of course alter the seasoning to suit your taste.  Anita would have preferred a bit less chilli but I thought it was fine.

Basically you throw all the ingredients into a saucepan and cook for half an hour or so until the garlic is soft, let it cool a bit, then decant it into a (warm) sterile jar.   Normal hygiene practices apply.   We're keeping our spread in the fridge now that the jar has been opened.

Sunday 13 August 2023

August veg update

I had a small envelope of Zinnia seeds collected from the flowers last year, and nowhere to put them, so I made a line of them between the potatoes and leeks.   Here they are, just being pretty.   The wind blew down the climbing frame I made for beans, so now I have climbing beans as ground cover.

The aubergines in the makeshift cold frame have produced six decent fruits so far, with more to come, barring accidents.   I let the self-seeded melon in there do its thing; two melons are ripening.   And the squash have decided to invade.

Thursday 27 July 2023

The oriental garden at Maulevrier

We have been to this garden once before, and decided at the time that it was worth re-visiting.   We went to see it again on Wednesday, a one-night trip, back today.  It was once part of the grounds of a local château, now a hotel, where we stayed overnight.   

The planners have been creative in the use of the various slopes, and a water feature has been created by damming the small river that runs through the park.   Much of the colour is provided by azaleas and rhododendrons, so at this time of year the interest is in the forms of the trees and leaf colour.   Almost every vista offers something of interest: leaf shapes and colours, topiary, or just the natural shapes of the trees and bushes. 

We were lucky with the weather.  There was a light drizzle as we were leaving, but it seemed like we had the only rainless few hours in a wet week.  As an aside, the river did look like it could use a bit of rain.

It's hard to do justice to the park in just a few pics, but here's an idea.   The chateau you can see is the hotel where we stayed overnight.

A surprise!  Who should we bump into but Marie-Claude, our old French teacher, who eased us into the language during our first years here.   She was on a a holiday touring trip with her husband.  We chatted, swapped news and wished each other well.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Lake Pavin

The Auvergne is a volcanic, mountainous area, with steep-sided valleys and rocky peaks.  It includes the ski resort of  Super Besse.   The streams at the bottom of the valleys have a tendency to get dammed up, giving rise to deep lakes, and we went to see one: Lake Pavin.   It has a visitor centre with restaurant and bar (natch) and a track around the lake that you can walk. 

We had Wednesday afternoon off on our accordion course, so we went to see it and walked around it.

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