Christmas Eve in Beaulieu

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

apart from those buggers with tippex on their tail
to show that Pat in his mouse clearing was doomed to fail

Those who had come back after being dumped in the nearby (too near it turns out) field. Actually it’s been quiet of late mouse-wise (cue biblical plague in the basement, thinks Pat magically), just the occasional whisker twitching visitor.

It’s just growing dark here, the Christmas icicle lights are on and our Christmas tree illuminating the front window glows merrily with its gaily wrapped presents underneath. Our super efficient Pere Noël has already been and filled our Christmas stockings. We two sit festively in the kitchen with cups of tea, Delia on her Nintendo and me on my laptop!

This morning we had taken part in the local ex-pat tradition of a mass dog walk. About 20 by my count, Siena had a great time! A lovely social event around a lake and finished off with mulled wine and mince pies. Delia is revelling in her second day of genuine holiday, so much so that we slept in this morning and nearly missed getting out in time for the dog walk.  The afternoon was spent filling in the gaps in our Christmas card list with e-Cards.

Last Sunday I went to the Marché de Noël in Chassenon. After a foggy start for the morning dog walk, it had cleared to the extent that I needed sunglasses on the start of the drive. At the market however, the fog stuck all morning and it sucked all the warmth out of me. We had a “photo assignment” of “All that glitters” but the cold made many of the stall holders grumpily complain about us snapping their wares, as if we were going to scamper off and maliciously reproduce their artisan creations in competition at the next market (at which mostly the same people attend – behind and in front of the stalls). I still managed a few shiny shots.

New Year’s resolutions?
More of the same I guess:
-Continue to slowly build Bell-Computing business,
-Keep improving my French,
-Make more of the social stuff started off this year
-More specifics ie plans rather than hopes
-Redo the bathroom (lino, paint, new sink base, tidy up around the shower)
-Redo the living room (paint, floor, wall bookcase…)
-Finish the repointing!
So on that note, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Ryanair and a roadtrip

A delayed blog but this time of year is busy. I spent some wonderful days with Lily, my new granddaughter and Dexter, my (nearly 2 year old) grandson. 

As well as visiting Wales I also managed friends in Nottingham and Leicester, my brother and sister-in-law in Princes Risborough and especially my daughter and partner in Tooting. With an extra gift of time to visit with another friend and his wife and baby whom I hadn’t seen for some time. A total of 800 or so miles driven in that grand tour.

Delia is still in the UK recovering from her work’s Xmas dinner and, a ghost walk in York. I got back on Thursday night whilst she flew on Thursday afternoon. A difficult crossover but I still managed to get home (without the unlocked car being stolen!). Why didn’t we plan better? Well, we did, my flight back was Tuesday. The gate had been announced and as we were all sitting waiting to board, “Go to Gate” changed to cancelled. Fog. So all duty free had to be returned and we all got on a bus to go back through immigration. Then the entire plane-ful of passengers queued up at the Ryanair desk. The initial announcement was  “go to the Ryanair website” which I did and managed to book the next flight two days later. There were only 3 left and there were some in the queue who were having to wait until Saturday. Some were being bussed to Birmingham for the flight to Poitiers but that too filled up quickly. I was sitting with some poor bloke who had left the army after 18 years to move to France for a quieter life and all this was just too much for him. Talking to me seemed to help him. I went to the Ryanair desk saying about this man having a panic attack and was told by the others in the queue that he should come up here and sort it out himself. It was chaotic and people were being dealt with one by one, so very difficult for him! Anyway I had to leave him after some hours but RyanAir said they’d go over to him. I had managed to arrange for a pick up by friends back in Leicester and they had some unexpected quality Pat-time for another two days. Fortunately working mostly on-line meant I could get some work done.

Anyway, I got back to Chez moi at  about 10.30, enough time to make a quick cake (I had a bring and share dinner the next day – Friday – and I had promised a Sacher torte!). Next morning I picked up a happy bouncy Siena from friends. Siena’s first act was to rush out the door to the car looking for Delia, eventually she decided to bounce all over me though so I didn’t feel too deprived J

Sacher Torte in hand I went to the Rendezvous Franco-Brittanique  repas de Noel. I had only seen 12 at most at each of the previous 3 meetings  I had been to (monthly, so since September), turned out there were about 25, speaking mostly French but some English when talking to other ex-pats when things got complicated. Good fun, wish Delia could have been there.

Winter here, especially on days like this Saturday can be good, when the leaves drop the views open out and you can see further. The whole landscape changes. It was a lovely day and a long walk with Siena was an experience.

Lily

I now have my second grandchild, a beautiful little Welsh girl called Lily. She was born on 7th Nov and I will be meeting her in only 11 days. Her brother, Dexter just less than 2 years her senior has a King Charles puppy to distract him from the fact that Mummy is a bit busy but I am sure the two of them will have a lot of fun in the coming times.  lilydexter-and-puppy

I have started a couple of new language classes, one over in St Yrieix la Perche. It’s about 40 mins drive but has the advantage of a Lidl I can pop into after class. This is a more formal one than I have been to in the past (Open University notwithstanding). Its advantage is that it has 5 levels and the 5th level stretches me – there is a teacher at the front and for two hours each week we read through newspaper articles etc mostly about politics at the moment, because the French right wing primaries are happening here soon. It seems that there are 5 centre right candidates to pare down for selection before the actual elections next year. I gather that there are no left candidates at all. That being said, France is pretty socialist so even the centre right are left of the most liberal conservatives in the UK. The frightening thing is that Marine Le Penn (extreme right) is running next year and has gained a lot more kudos in the wake of the Trump disaster. It looks like similar stuff is going on in other parts of Europe too, well, if Trump can be elected then anything could happen!

Anyway there is also an Anglo-Francais group of English and French who meet each month and take afternoon tea (if you can count weak black tea or coffee as that, albeit with some homemade cakes plus chocolate truffles and biscuits). We all rattle away, mostly in French and it is a lot of fun.

Autumn has hit with a vengeance, piles of dead leaves to wade through on the morning walk. The hillsides are patchy with yellow and reds as well as dark evergreen. Delia says it’s a false memory but I sure I remember that this time last year I was wearing t-shirts but not now, it’s pretty chilly. With the season comes the pre-christmas markets. They seem to be called marches des cadeaux (or at least the Gift fair we went to today in Piegut was). Lots of artisan crafts, often pricey but mostly unique. We got some gifts to give at Christmas and now I’m trying to see if I have room in my hand baggage for when I fly over to the UK in a week or so.

My facial hair grows the wrong way

I remember when it was the TV that told us the “truth” not the interweb. Back then, before superfoods, probiotics and faster broadband; Marlboro promised to make men into real men, albeit apparently as characters from Brokeback mountain….( cowboys will never be the same…) real men that is with black tar-filled lungs and lives truncated by the rot of cancer but they didn’t mention that because I am sure they thought it only affected beagles. Adverts even promised to keep my nose wet and fur glossy.

But I have always been puzzled why adverts for  razors always show men shaving their face downwards. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work, it just flattens the fur (perhaps its all that winalot/good o).  Google talk about shaving “against the grain” so perhaps I should look for a crosscut blade.

This fortnight in France has been fairly quiet. Although it is fête season. We had the Fête des Ânes (donkeys) last blog I think,  I missed the Fête des Pommes et Porc (apples and pork) but this last weekend was La journée des châtaignes (day of the chestnuts… not as spine tingling as day of the dead but as French as day of the jackal without the guns, well even actually, its hunting season and wild boar like chestnuts, so… with the guns).

This festival is at the peak of the chestnut harvest; though our neighbour with his 8 hectares of chestnut trees seems late and has only just started harvesting… albeit starting every morning at about 6am, that chestnut harvester sounds like a tank (it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Somme either, but I guess, with fewer chestnuts).

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The chestnut harvester

Anyway its one of the last fêtes of the year (until les fêtes de noël of course). Its packed with hundreds of stalls, many of which sell chestnuts, raw, blanched, peeled, packed, bottled and  even in sausages. There also a stall selling Peruvian hats and pan pipe cds as well as Peruvians playing their pipes too (I suspect there’s a bit of miming going on,  but I haven’t caught them out yet, still there’s only so much one can stand). Nougat stands (yes some with chestnuts), fudge (no chestnut fudge, shock horror). One of our photo club loves the apple beignet – more or less an apple doughnut but bigger, flatter and oilier.

Our repointing is progressing, slowly.  I have a website to do so the weekdays are not spent outside, though Delia was out one morning despite (or perhaps because) she is very busy too. I managed a further 2 or 3 square metres yesterday and (if it stops raining I’ll brush it down in a mo. Brushing down isn’t like flicking with feather duster either, its one of the dirtiest jobs of scouring the mortar with a wire brush to remove trowel marks and clean up the stones) Ah well, better go get mucky!

Deep thought

42? Well perhaps not, not that deep but thought at least. Delia’s 46 today and she’s been contemplating her life and career path. She’s good at what she does, which may be the problem since what she does isn’t necessarily what she wants. But I’ll let her explore that if she wants in her own blog.  It did make me wonder about my own path.

When I was a kid I wanted many random careers; an atomic scientist (nuclear power was big in the sixties) an Antarctic explorer (I read a lot about Scott and Shackleton), then, once I started French and German… air steward (though not realising I wasn’t pretty enough, this was before RyanAir and EasyJet lowered the standards J ). None of these came to much when, like many, perhaps most, I had no idea what to do when I left school. I ended up at the BBC Record library (yes pre-cd’s) then Video library (pre dvd and even pre computer). A degree hadn’t been common but after contemplating town planning and landscape architecture (did I mention random?) I decided to stop the bitty Open University route and do a full time degree in something I had come to love, Geology. I little planned that it would actually lead to a career and even a book (Rocks and Minerals, not Fly Fishing by J RR Hartley – you probably have to be English to get that reference).

The 1980’s oil price crash meant a rethink since I had somehow become a carbonate sedimentologist specialising in oil exploration. Computers had long been a tool, if not only to create legible reports but to analyse statistics too. Now this led to an MSc in Information Systems engineering and various jobs in computing as my employers changed direction and I stayed on the same one. That path led to Bell Computing, self-employed, freelance for a time, then several jobs back in employment.

So 5 years at the BBC, 10 years a geologist, 25 years in computers. So was there a direction? My middle son, Adam decided on his gap year to be a doctor and nearly 10 years later he is an intern in Brisbane. Focussed or what?  I never felt in that much control, perhaps positioning myself so that when a choice came it was always obvious which choice to make.

So the “choice” to move to France? It seemed to be the best choice at the time, at least it might stop Delia’s constant emails with French properties. As a career move? Perhaps not but now here in France, back doing what I probably most enjoy, creating stuff for clients.  It is easier to create beautiful web sites that do what you want rather than with the limitations of a decade or so ago.

I don’t think there’s much I can give Delia by way of example and, as ever, I am dealing with the now, rather than the future and heaven knows where Brexit might take that. But I plan to make the best of it!

Here’s a nice picture from our Bordeaux trip

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Fête des Ânes – donkeys and junk

First frost of the autumn, chilly for the early morning dog walk but it warms up during the day. It’s been around 20° most of the past week. The colder nights does mean that the mice come in from the fields looking for warmer places for the night. We heard them in the walls, Delia is a bit grossed out (as she says) but it’s the country and we have an old house. The age of the house is significant because they were built with 50-100cm thick double walls with a gap that things seem to live in. Fewer I think as we move forward with the repointing of the bad wall, which is blocking holes here and there. Wallis the cat keeps them out of the main house (only passively, he keeps his hunting outside mostly). We do get the occasional gift left outside for us.

I finally went to the Fête des Ânes last week. The “festival of the donkeys” has been on every year but this is the first time we’ve been either here or remembered it. It was a photoclub trip so I have a quite a few pictures. It’s a kind of “Vide Greniers” gathering too (it means ‘empty lofts’ so it’s more like a boot sale), it was bigger than others I’d been to and as such it was the largest collection of useless junk I’ve seen. There are some very few bargains but mostly overpriced (and hence constantly reappearing at the next vide greniers) and/or “characterful”, such as vintage biscuit tins and the like for adding “charm” to holiday homes. I am surprised that even though many are English, few actually bargain. We’ve gone to a few vide greniers when looking for some specific items but, at least as far as I am concerned, they mostly have overpriced junk. There are the scattered “artisan” stalls, local produce and crafts that are often interesting though.

Anyway, I know you are dying to hear about the donkeys. Who’d have thought there were so many kinds, I mean, a donkey is a donkey, right? It would seem not, and after 3 or 4 hours watching and photographing hundreds of every size shade and hair length, I should know.
So as I type this, Delia is hammering away removing the old mortar from the stone wall, I’m feeling a bit guilty so I will get out now and mix up the cement before the traditional “ban” on noisy stuff during the 2 hours of lunchtime. She’ll be able to relax whilst I’m doing that… only room for one on the scaffold!

Giverny at Summer’s end.

It all happened so quickly, sandals and shorts to jackets and wellies. At least that’s how it seemed. Weeks of enjoying the baking sunshine and in a day, to be suddenly aware of the morning chill. The days are still warming up, into the mid-twenties for the most part. It’s the morning dogwalk that makes it feel so Autumnal though – out at just an hour after sunrise – 8 am but equivalent to 5 am only a few weeks back (I’ll leave you to look up actual sunrise times, I’ll leave this blog subjective). The chestnuts are just starting to fall, blackberries ready to gather for my morning porridge and hazelnuts at last left over after being squirrel-snaffled. The leaves just showing a hint of turning, especially where the dry summer is having an effect.

ivyDelia’s mum (Fran) arrived at Summer’s height and is now leaving just as it cools, back to the beginnings of the Australian spring. We all enjoyed a visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny. Being in the southern edges of Normandy this was farther enough north that the ivy is reddening well.

Delia and I had visited here last May and the differences made it well worth repeating. Though we had missed the wisteria that was in full bloom in our own garden last May and, during this visit, long gone, the water lilies were blooming in the pond. We still didn’t get to see the bridge as its immortalised with its swathes of wisteria blooms the gardens were still beautiful. Fewer people too, as well as being dry helped.

 

This visit I focused on close-ups, if you’ll allow the pun. Delia helped Fran with her new camera (since she has the same model) and between them they took some great shots. Below I’ve montaged the close-ups I’ve worked on so far. A journey home through lovely open countryside and into the Limousin woodland. 5 hours is a long drive!

 

After having previously burnt her chips, undercooked her steak and served cold green beans, I think I was able to salvage some of my culinary reputation with a Moroccan rice-stuffed shoulder of lamb as the parting meal with Fran. We skipped the opportunity for her to trounce us yet again at a game of sevens for an early night to prepare for the early start to get Fran to the station in time. It’s hard to remember how we used to get up at 6am every morning for our commute and 12 hours out of the house, as we were doing the last time Fran visited us. This time I feel we were much more able to make her a part of our much more enjoyable daily routine.

Bordeaux and St Emilion

We’re tourists again! Its good to have visitors because we get to visit places, new and old (to us that is). The highlight had to be Bordeaux, and our first time too. What a lovely city. Delia thinks it’s about the size of Nottingham, about right except the wine is better.  The old centre is a good size to walk around and one is spoilt for choice.  The Chambre d’hote we stayed at was a lovely old Bordeaux building that had one been a blacksmith.It is difficult to say how the upper floors related to the ground floor, to me it seemed that they might have been individual apartments since we climbed what would have been an outside staircase to get to “front” doors that let you into a narrow corridor with of which doors led to the individual bedrooms. "Outside" in the sense that there was an atrium alongside the stairs, the roof of which had been covered in recent history.

On our first evening we ate in one of the many squares, I decided to try what I had always avoided in the past, salade de gesiers (gizzard salad). Although I had seen it presented to other diners in the past this was my first taste. Very tasty pieces of extremely tender meat, probably liver, kidney and who know what but it was delicious. Unfortunately the steak that followed for myself and Delia (who, unlike me, had skipped the menu du jour and gone straight for the main) was a bit tough.  Our second (and for us,final) evening we lashed out and went to a gourmet restaurant (well, the bistro part of a one Michelin star place anyway). The melon soup was totally unexpected for B and myself. "Melon smoothie" doesn’t do it justice, and my mignons de porc were delicious. My dessert was lots of little bite sized tastes not really big enough to fully savour. The wine though was one of the most expensive I’ve ever drunk, courtesy of my mother in law!

The next day before we left, we enjoyed a journey on the tram to venture a bit further afield to the north to see la cite du vins – a beautiful artful building supposed to reflect the swirl of wine in a glass and its bouquet. Dunno about that faff but I got a couple of good photos inside.

F & B had an extra day in Bordeaux before flying off to Seville for a week, during which Delia an I caught up on our work. After collecting them from the shed in Bordeaux Airport that Ryanair flies into, we went to St Emilion. Beautiful manicured fields of vines and Tuscan styled villas and chateaux dotted the hillsides. The town itself is heavily touristic but nevertherless beautiful, with its church and tower perched on their hill surrounded by traditional south west French rooftops. We treated ourselves to a box of three bottles of wine and were disappointed to find that they weren’t actually St Emilion, but just from nearby Bordeaux chateaux. The one we’ve tasted so far was damn good though.

Whoops this is late or ‘Throat support and human evolution’

Fortunately, we have Delia’s mum (F) visiting; it was her who has reminded me to write this blog. Or perhaps its because she’s here that I forgot. Who knows? If Delia hadn’t left Australia, I wouldn’t have met her and I wouldn’t be in France to write my blog anyway. But then if Ugg hadn’t hit that rock against the other to make that first axe head, civilisation would perhaps never have arisen, and don’t get me started on those proto-chimps wondering if coming down out of the trees was a good idea…

Back to today; we three are to do the other end of the walk that we overdid with K&S the week before last (see Delia’s blog).  With K&S we walked about 12kms from Chateau de Montbron to the La Grande Puyconnieux viewpoint and back in nearly 40°c heat. Today it is much cooler and we are to walk from Chateau de Brie to the viewpoint, probably about 5kms and much cooler today. When I had walked from Chateau de Brie to Chateau de Montbron with Delia’s dad and another time with her Aunt (B -who arrives this weekend too) it seemed that the viewpoint  was about half way but I now reckon that the first ‘half’ is much shorter than the second ‘half’ so the plan is to walk the shorter half this afternoon – Delia will let you know next week if her mum survives intact.

So visitor time has arrived, giving us the excuse to halt the repointing for a time! Phew no more dusty dog; Siena revelled in rolling in the piles of brick dust, and in fact loved to sit directly under where Delia would be chiselling away at the old mortar – daft dusty dog aside, the dust got everywhere, its still in the floor tile gaps despite several floor moppings. We restart in October 🙁

The highlight so far I guess is our lunch in Chateau Jumilhac la Grande courtesy of F. But we also have shown F the delights of Intermarché in both Cussac and Chalus. Covered some favourite spots such as Rochechouart (lake and chateau), Lac St Mathieu (now refilling) and the Voie Verte. Tomorrow apparently we are visiting a bra shop in Nontron.  You’d think  ‘brassiere’ was a French word but no, the French for it is soutien-gorge  or ‘throat support’.  Nontron is a town set in a deep valley that we’ve not visited before (though passed through numerous times) so I am hoping for something a little more tourist-orientated (though I believe we will also be visiting a fabric shop!).

 

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Olympian antidote and a LEMP stack

So here is an antidote to the Olympics. It’s been a very sporty year what with the Euros and now the Olympics with Wimbledon in between (I think). However my ignorance of all three knows no bounds, if I cared I could find out who won but I don’t. Its is hard to avoid the Olympics though and Delia looks at the medal tables occasionally. I did catch a few minutes of synchronised diving but otherwise this (non) sporting life continues.

I have (more or less) finished creating an interesting web site recently. I got the opportunity to design logos and add photography with an almost open brief. The main business focus was a Chambre d’Hote just across the border in the Dordogne. I visited to take some interior shots and some of the local scenery. The actual room they are renting out is more like a small gite, a very compact room with a bath and a minstrels gallery. A perfect little honeymoon retreat. I had planned to take some shots of villages and houses but got lost in the views of sunflowers, vineyards and fields. The views there are more open than here. The Perigord Vert, where we live, is a fairly heavily wooded region, there are fields of crops and pasture but somehow the Charente and Dordogne to the west of us is more open rolling countryside, perhaps slightly flatter so the views are more distant. Have a look below and here.

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Yesterday we collected our two friends returning from Massachusetts (her parents’ home and whilst they live and work in Aberdeen, we actually know them from Leicester…). Picking them up from Angouleme station (where the relaxed coffee plans failed – “closed due to refurbishment”). The station patisserie plans (ditto) also failed. We did however manage to get some elaborate patisseries on the drive home, l’éclair de caramel du sel, le trio des chocolats, la passione and l’Italien were all eaten before we even thought to take a photograph so you’ll just have to imagine them. They were fabulous.

Jet lag and a bit of catch-up work online for them means a slow start to their week here. I am looking forward to some technical help from him with my new vps droplet with wordpress installation on a LEMP stack (that’s Linux Ubuntu, nginx, mysql and php) or blah blah blah blah,blah blah…

It’s a glorious 30°c outside, and our house with its metre thick walls stays nice and cool. Siena alternates between basking and cooling sprawled out on the tiles. We are all looking forward to a nice walk around a lake somewhere this afternoon – in this ‘land of a thousand lakes’ we have a lot to choose from.