After months of dreary weather the sun arrived this week and eased us all into the long warm days we love here in France.
Two daughters, their husbands and the grandsons arrived to stay for a week to welcoming sunny days. My goodness what a change for Gachet, laughter, squeals, occasional tearful cries but above all the exploding presence of children. Between toys and the biggest amount of “special equipment” including high chairs, feeding utensils and changing mats the house and garden have been taken over. Thank goodness we have plenty of space to absorb the clutter. Our two cats disappeared, Molly to return when she knew these small dynamos were out of the way, Grey who is so timid anyway had to be fed on our bedroom balcony, was invisible the rest of the time. The dogs coped much better, Merry obviously thought the toys were for her and routinely pinched the smaller noisier toys only to find that the boys pinched her toys too, she ran rings around them in the enthusiasm only a puppy has. Echo on the other hand wandered warily around keeping out of the way where possible but quite happy to be pushed around and stroked when captured, she was of course always strangely on hand at meal times to help clear up!
It’s been a hectic week with the days starting at 06.30 or earlier but everybody crashing wearily by 22.00 at the latest. Visits out to La Rochelle and the aquarium, the local extended summer market, Niort for a little sales shopping and a walk to the little fishing lake with its rustic play area, have occupied our time when we needed a distraction or change from pool time. The days fly past.
Children bring so much joy, it’s very quiet now they’ve all gone home.
In like a lion, or at least like a very cross cat, March is high winds and thumping great showers, though at least it’s mild for the moment.
I’ve started work in the greenhouse, the bubble back plastic insulation has done its job and all the tender plants have survived so far. Though I did the foolish thing of putting my lemon tree outside so that’s coming back in before there are any random frosts. I’m planting in the greenhouse the first seeds for parsley, sweet peppers, chilli, aubergines, and the potatoes are chitting, on these wet days, it’s great doing something positive. As soon as the soil dries out a bit the red onions and celeriac will be planted out of doors.
The daffodils are coming through so for me spring is on it’s way.
Its a busy time here in rural France, socially there’s the monthly book club, supper club, dancing on Fridays followed by supper and often a band playing, meet ups with various friends, yoga and riding, so fitting in gardening means I don’t often sit down for a lazy day. Couldn’t be better.
It’s January and this year I welcomed in the new year with great friends at my house, everyone brought a dish and we had a huge buffet and plenty to drink. We played a game, each player shares 3 resolutions, one being a lie and everyone had to guess which was the lie, the one with the most correct guesses had a prize. We had a lot of laughs and discovered the best performers amongst ourselves. I count myself as very fortunate in having such good friends around me when family are further away.
I also had a birthday before Christmas and shared the party evening with a girlfriend who also had a birthday and who made an amazing cake for both of us…… good enough to eat, which we did.
There has been lots of work in the garden in the last few weeks, mainly cutting down the huge laurels which absorbed all the light, a fir tree has been trimmed and light now floods the garden so that grass can grow and some new planting can be done in the spring
To celebrate the European Heritage days a number of privately owned local chateaux, castles and fortresses are open for the weekend.
I went to visit Chateau de Tennessus which I have driven past many times and always wanted a look inside. It didn’t disappoint. The house has been restored over the past 30 years by an English family and is filled with old oak furniture, suits of armour, swords and the occasional arrow. The fabrics where used are also in keeping with the huge and beautiful rooms. The gardens have a formal design with lovely stone walls, mature trees, box beds and a peaceful ambiance, a restored courtyard where they can host weddings, all very easy on the eye.
A country fair in France is like going back in time, every year on August 15th, a bank holiday, in almost 30 degrees of glorious sunshine, there’s a fête du cheval in a local commune. Hundreds of people from the area flock to watch the programme of events, buy local produce and enjoy the atmosphere.
It’s an all day affair with a bit of a Horse sale in the morning followed by a vast communal lunch, moules frites this year which were surprising good considering the numbers catered for. The afternoon starts with donkey and pony races and donkey and cart races, there is a display of riding though rather more circus like than conventional. Camels, or rather dromedary giving small children rides and there were even wild boar performing!
There are local craft stalls with wood and leather sabots for sale which have probably been made here for hundreds of years, pottery, lace making, intricate agricultural machinery in miniature and the usual local honey, cheeses and saucisson all made at nearby farms. The traditions are so important here, they display an ancient machine that cuts trees into planks which looks very much like an accident waiting to happen but the audience loves it all.
It’s a glorious summer here in France, the temperatures are between 26° and 35° currently which on the hottest days actually means I get more jobs done indoors than out.
I have a lovely view across fields and woodland from this house so watch all the farming activities around me, maize fields surround the garden and the maize is now more than 2.5 metres high. The hay and straw are finally all baled and collected into nearby barns though my local farmer tells me that the yield is low this year because of the prolonged rainfall earlier and the delay of the summer sunshine. My little vegetable plot is thriving, with courgettes, salad leaves, tomatoes, French beans, mangetout, aubergines and potatoes. I’m having to freeze some produce but my menu is now full of fresh veg! Healthy eating at its best!
At the end of this month I will have been in this house for a year. What a year it has been, the sudden deterioration of my lovely dad and his sad death requiring many visits to the UK and the end of my many house improvement projects. I had much bureaucracy to wade through, especially ensuring that my mother is safe and happy on her own living independently at 94. It was all a frustrating minefield dealing with various authorities including banks which I’m sure will continue. On the bright side I now have a new kitchen, bathroom and a tiled terrace all looking fantastic.
Here are some summer photos, the tulip tree and roses on the garage walls.
They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you do in life, for me this is certainly true. Only in France can these strange things happen. I sold my house to Belgians who wanted to push the sale through as fast as possible, on the other side I was buying from a Portuguese lady who dragged her heels due apparently to inheritance issues. So, after completing on my house in June, I stayed there for three weeks as a tenant, no charge, whilst awaiting completion on the new place. I then moved all my belongings to the new house putting them in garage and bedrooms which had been cleared, this felt a very precarious arrangement but I was assured it is commonplace here in France. I on the other hand moved into a very kind friend’s gite with my dogs. I finalised the paperwork mid July but the vendor was not willing to move until the 1st August so I spent a full month at my friends gite until I was able at last to move in and start unpacking all my furniture. All was well but it was certainly stressful and the process would have been unheard of in the UK. I suppose it is all a matter of trust.
Now two months on I love my new house; I have painted walls and ceilings, put up some pictures, decided which bedroom to use myself, a tiler is coming tomorrow to retile the ground floor and I have ordered a new kitchen, its all very exciting and a great way of keeping occupied. The move seems like a long time ago thankfully and all the animals have settled, even Grey cat who spent the first two weeks here hiding in a wardrobe. There is plenty of space both in and out of doors and the garden is fully fenced which means I no longer have to keep an eagle eye on Merry the escape artist. Lots to do and lots to think about which means time flies and oh my goodness its October already.
The best thing at this time of year is the birdsong, the first to bring to me to consciousness as daylight approaches is next door’s cockerel, he is a young bird full of life and energy a Maran, a traditional French breed. Once he wakes me I hear all the others, blackbirds, robins, tits, woodpecker, the newly arrived cuckoo and many more. Strangely the only one obviously missing is the sparrow who has never lived in our garden, I’ve no idea why.
The hard work in the garden has also started as the grass grows visibly, the mowers seem to dislike giving up their long winter rest as first one refuses to work and then when it’s in the repair shop the other first refuses to move forward and then when persuaded to do so breaks its belt in a fit of fury. No matter, Masport is back home cleaned up, sharpened and ready to roll, the lawn will have its elegant stripes again. The daffodils are finished and there is a momentary pause in the flowering cycle, warm days and cold nights are delaying a few old favourites though the wisteria is almost ready to show off her stunning blooms.
I just realised I’m missing music, I hadn’t played any music at home for a long time, instead when eating or sitting quietly I watch the TV, a bad habit. So last night whilst cooking I played some songs and danced and sang around the kitchen, thank goodness no one was watching but it’s a great way to lift your spirits. Spring is such a wonderful season for renewing life.
Most of the time, life goes on as normal, then all of a sudden things change in a moment. The difficult changes are usually a loss of something, good health, money or even of people or animals. For us it’s been a loss of good health and the culprit is cancer. That cancer word is always scary, when your doctor is French it is more complicated, despite having a reasonable grasp of the French language, medical language is another mountain to climb. Thankfully the French health system is excellent, tests, scans, medication, doctors appointments all race past but then the waiting starts and every day feels like a week.
For me, thank goodness for the normality of routine chores, there’s nothing quite like cleaning out the poultry houses and checking the hens for parasites to keep your feet on the ground. The dogs need walking, the horse needs riding, though thankfully with him being in livery at least I don’t have to muck him out too. The household chores of fetching logs in for the burners each day and cleaning the floor in the kitchen every morning because the dogs or cats are moulting to say nothing of Mollys little dead mouse gifts are perhaps not a joy but at least a distraction.
So life goes on and our animals as always make us laugh, especially Merry who lives her little life at full speed, chasing the cats who don’t seem to mind even when she catches them, bullying poor Echo who is too kind to keep her in order and teasing us.
Christmas is rapidly approaching and I’m not sure we are up to celebrating it, though……..looking at the little face below maybe we can.
September brought our holiday time, almost three weeks, driving from France down into Spain, from Olite to Almagro to the south of Spain to stay in Ronda. I think was fair to say we were disappointed in Ronda, our villa was quiet and comfortable though a little further from town than we had anticipated. Ronda itself was too touristy with coach trips everywhere even in late September. There was an end of the season feel which we are used to in France but did not expect it in Spain.
From Ronda we took two nights to reach Barcelona via Elche and Tortosa. The parador at Tortosa is definitely worth a stay. It sits on the top of cliffs over looking the river Ebro and the town below a stunning vista, a great place to stay with lost of ancient places to visit.
Barcelona was interesting but generally seemed a bit tired, we stayed in a very central Appartment which was great for walking almost everywhere but were surprised that the main aroma in the city was that of drains! What would this city be without Gaudi.
The last leg was from Barcelona to Albi for a night, a brilliant drive where we saw the last glimpse of the sea and headed towards the hills and mountains of France. Albi is stunning with its handmade brick cathedral and the Toulouse Lautrec museum and gallery. Then to Cahors for another night, a visit to the bridge and a wander around the town.
The final overnight stop was Bergerac an old favourite for us where we were able to stay in our customary places, the Hotel de France and a meal at La Villa Laetitia which never disappoints.
A brilliant holiday but perhaps too much driving, we stayed in some beautiful places, ate and drank wonderfully well, it was definitely a holiday with friends to remember.