Richard the what?

I’ve just finished reading a book about the Plantagenets. For a couple of hundred years they ruled, more or less, over most of western France and England (occasionally Scotland, Wales and Ireland) You’ve heard of Richard the Lionheart no doubt, well he was mortally wounded from a tower he was besieging here in Chalûs and his entrails buried there. The rest of him was spread around a bit – his actual body taken to Poitiers apparently. He was Duke of Poitiers first and King of England somewhere down the list – he only spent 6 months in England and didn’t speak English. Its was his mother, Eleanor (of Aquitaine) who brought the bulk of western France under Plantagenet rule when she married Henry II. The rest of the Plantagenets spent much of their time trying to regain the parts of France lost by Richard’s successor – John. By the way, Richard the Lion Heart was not the Richard recently found under a car park in Leicester – that was Richard III. Following John was another Henry and three Edwards then another Richard and it gets messy after that ending with Richard III – he of the Car Park. Even though Richard of the Car Park is called the Last Plantagenet (after the Leicester Pub of that name) as far as I can see Richard II (grandson of Edward III) – was the last uncontested Plantagenet king (my book ends when Henry IV deposes Richard II and takes the crown). The next 85 years got a bit confusing and I haven’t got a book about that bit yet. One interesting aside is the Black Prince – hero of battles like Crécy and father of Richard II but never King himself _- he went a bit barmy and in a weakened state after not recovering fully from wounds apparently besieged and massacred many citizens of Limoges (our nearest airport – though Ryanair didn’t fly from there at the time). If all this seems confusing you want to try filling out a French tax return.

Its been a busy few weeks with a visit from Stephanie and Rob from Aus immediately followed by us travelling to the UK for a niece’s wedding (Suzannah and Eamon) and a visit to Phil, Becca and Dexter.

Before we went to the wedding we stayed at our friends’ Mike and Sandra who took us out to a wonderful burger place in Nottingham where we ate in very non-french style. I had a Johnny Vegas burger which included a Guinness doughnut. That day we had shopped for Susannah and Eamon’s wedding present – as Delia says in her blog, what she doesn’t say is that we bought the present at the furthest extent of our walk and I had to carry the 12 piece dinner set a mile and a bit back to the car! (me… complain?).

The wedding was a fantasy with an RAF uniformed “guard of honour” equipped with swords and the reception in a stately home.

guard of honour posies

 

dexter in jeanshalton house

Phil and Becca are getting married on 4 Sept and we got a chance to eat lunch at the reception venue. Dexter wowed in his high rise jeans!

IMG_3118

We got home to our house-sitter Kate who had walked Siena so efficiently she was tired for days after! We had warned Kate about Siena’s habit of stealing things and true to form she (Siena that is) ate Kate’s credit card. Any “I told you so moment” was lost for me when Sienna finished off my mobile, even to the extent of splitting the battery. She’s half whippet, half labrador and half monkey!

Old friends and new walks

These last few weeks have been hard for Siena. She’s come into season and we’ve had to be careful where (and if) we walk her and always on a lead. So it’s a new walk across the chestnut grove and around a field. Since Siena’s first walk, she’d seen a brown and white horse, sometimes very close up but always on a tight leash (Siena that is, not the horse). touching-00201So to my surprise one morning this last week, the self-same horse and her daughter(?) were in the very field we were walking past. The horse (let’s call her Dobbie) walked over to us obviously recognising me (I thought) but no, Dobbie was more interested in Sienna and bent low to touch noses as she often had on previous walks when Sienna was younger Siena was a bit timid the first time but the next day the same thing happened and she wanted to jump up and had to be restrained firmly. Since that first day Dobbie has come across to touch noses with Siena every morning (except one when the rain was so hard that she and her daughter Dobbie-ette stayed under a tree)

Tourist season has arrived and our third set of visitors the year – a real visit this time for 3 weeks. The first week included us meeting up with them at Giverny to enjoy Monet’s garden together. A rainy day but that was perhaps an advantage because it was possibly less crowded than it might have otherwise been. Unfortunately Monet’s trademark lilies were not yet in bloom and there were too many people for a good shot of the Wysteria bridge but still beautiful throughout. It’s hard to conjure up the peculiarity of the frog chorus at the lily pond (someone leaned in towards me asking if I could see the ducks). In his house the yellow dining room and the blue kitchen with the range of copper saucepans any chef would kill for are the most memorable experiences for me.

Even the main street is a glory of flowers and every garden vies for attention. Our Chambre d’hôte had a garden so glorious that the front gate had to be locked behind us to prevent tourists coming in to view it.

 

 

La Belle Hellene Chambre d Hote

Les Jardins d’Helene – Chambre d’hôte

 

J’ai mal au fesses – My bum hurts!

This time last year we were busy driving all over to get the car re-registered. Now…The car needed a service, so I booked it into a nearby Ford garage. Only 10 minutes away so I thought I’d leave the car and take my first cycle ride of the year. Firstly, it was 10 mins by road but an hour by bike – 10km each way. Secondly, the road and track are not as flat as I’d thought and thirdly I’m not as fit as I should be. One way, and lunchtime to recover but returning I must have looked pretty knackered since, on collecting the car, the first thing the receptionist did was offer me some water! In filling out the forms for the car she asked about the kilometres. “82 thousand” I said “Auhourd’hui?” she said with a laugh having meant how far had I cycled not the car mileage. Anyway, car all done and ready for our 5 hours drive this Tuesday to Giverny – Monet’s garden and to meet Delia’s long time best friend from Sydney, Stephanie and Rob, her husband. And my bum only hurt for the next day.

In the meantime, last week… Having paid our social security on-line for over a year, suddenly the computer says “No” – well it actually says that no declaration is currently outstanding In the UK one would usually say yippee and wait for them to sort things out but in France the next thing will be a letter (Avis Amiable – friendly advice) telling use the penalties we now owe for non-declaration. Anyway a bit of tippex on an old declaration (well, the computer equivalent) and sent off by registered post.. fingers crossed.

Also my income tax is due to be declared before 19th May or we will be fined. I have no communications at all for this, eventually I have found the forms online and am girding my loins in preparation for completing these before the deadline.

 

Foodbread and cheese-1
It being my birthday yesterday I got some presents – one arrived a bit early. It had to be opened because it was fresh cheese in reflective insulated box with an ice pack – very special – from Bill (Delia’s dad) and very tasty too – my favourite being a soft sheep’s cheese “Pérail de Brebis” from Midi-Pyrenees – well my favourite so far!

Also on the subject of food was a table for 10 and delightful meal out at “Le Soleil Couchant” – The Setting Sun ‘ a common English Pub name. This was very English with English signage and menus etc – fish and chips for me was lovely and live music was welcome too. I prefer something a bit more French, not trying so hard to appeal to the ex-pats. I live in France for the Frenchness and not for nostalgic aspects of missing England.

 

le soleil couchant-1

And here is a Delia original I received on a birthday card. I have called it Le Soleil Couchant

The oven is crap!

Delia finally agreed that the oven was crap. The oven is totally unpredictable – no idea what temperature it’s going to cook at except that, even on the top shelf, it burns the bottom and undercooks the top – almost as if its cooked on the hob. Speaking of the hob – no simmer unless carefully balanced between max and off. Anyway I’d postponed resolving the issue since it would involve worktops and stuff. But, Leroy Merlin (our favourite diy centre) had a special offer until the end of April on the worktops we thought we preferred. Now the logistics… 4 two and a half metre worktops – obviously we need a van… so what else do we need that requires a van… scaffolding for doing the repointing soon… plus the oven and the hob. Shopping around I got the same model of oven at two thirds of the Leroy price, likewise the hob. But all separate suppliers and here the idea is often to go to pickup points – the oven is now awaiting pickup a few hundred metres from Leroy. We visited Leroy to look at the worktops and… too thin! They have ideal ones a bit more expensive and not on special offer so no hurry getting them. I’m going to try to rearrange things; Our friends Steph and Rob arrive for a few weeks early May and I am sure Rob will enjoy being on the other end(s) of 2.5m of several worktops and scaffolding. So watch this space for ongoing photos (but don’t hold your breath).

The hob arrived and it needs a 32amp supply (thought I had one but no, only 16a) plus it will take us over the 6kva edf currently supply is with and we need to upgrade the ‘package’ – the electrician arrives on Tuesday! I tried out the new induction hob (just one hob so not overloading the fuse) – cool, literally it needs ferrous pans and only heats them not the plates, supposed to be the most efficient form of hob. I knew some our aluminium pans wouldn’t work but our stainless steel saucepans don’t either -they say inox but they aren’t magnetic so I think it’s a fib. Only our big Jamie Oliver pan and a cast iron griddle work. Some kitchen-ware needed, hey it’s my birthday soon!

Food
See above about the oven I guess. Not much new otherwise food-wise. I’m going to have to be pro-active and do stuf to write ebout rather than vice versa. Still Delia should be doing me a cake for my 60th next Saturday and we’re hoping for a restaurant/bar with jazz this Friday so I should be able to make up for my lack of inspiration this week.

 

Bluebell walk yesterday.

bluebells-1 spring walk-1

Stig of the Dump*

That was me this week – many trips to the déchetterie with various déchets (rubbish) that had bred in the garage and piles of turf and grass clippings for which there was no room in the compost bins. Those big ikea bags come in very handy since any bigger and I wouldn’t be able to lift them. The car’s a bit of a mess though! I think it’s the same in the UK now that most dumps operate a card system so only locals allowed. I think I’ve mentioned this but our garbage collection is now limited to a basic 12 collections per year (for 150€) and 2.50€ + 0.25c/kg for any more – so when I had some fertiliser bags I was disposing of, I used a partly filled kitchen rubbish sack – but the déchet police caught me and I was reprimanded with a “poubelle est interdit!(forbidden)”  I honestly didn’t know (guv) but I should have guessed from the close inspection some flytipped “poubelle” was receiving outside the dump’s gates by a council employee in a council van. Poubelle (beautiful poo?) is distinct from déchet, one man’s déchet is another man’s trésor but poubelle is poubelle.

I also extracted some mature compost from the compost bins and dug it into Delia’s potage. How is one supposed to get it out? I just managed the bottom front bit before less mature stuff collapsed on me. Oh well it probably saved us a couple of bags from the garden centre.

Food
My feta (see last week) turned out to be quite good despite its inauspicious beginnings of curdling before even adding rennet. But we’ve mostly been enjoying the tomme and the cantal we bought from our grocery van at our lunchtimes (with fresh baguette of course).

This morning out we couldn’t pass the patissier without buying some delicious millefeuilles – couldn’t stop Delia so the photo show a partly demolished one.

mille feuilles-1

Other news this week is that our darling dog has become a “woman” and so far we haven’t had to fend off amorous dogs from miles around but I’m carrying a stick just in case – and booked une ovariectomie at the vets.

*for you Aussies, just google”Stig of the Dump” for an explanation

Feta or not?

A quiet week for me but not for Delia. One of her associate virtual pa’s was out of circulation and had to pass her work across to Delia so I saw little of her during the day, working, as she was, at her desk. Only a little bit of marking for me so I was able to spend a bit more time walking the dog and taking some photos. Delia managed to join me a couple of times for Siena’s early afternoon long walk. On one of these Siena ran into the living room of one of the usually unoccupied houses. Fortunately the people staying there were friendly and weren’t bothered too much and we managed a chat about who we all were – interestingly two of the men were engineers for the Royal Opera and lived in Lille. Like many of the houses that aren’t lived in all year round this was a ‘maison secondaire’ and the owner lived in an apartment in the city. Here is a snap I took when composing a panorama of my favourite lakeside view to find our pretty dog had appeared in shot.

Siena and View

Siena and the lake

feta

Feta?

 

Food
An import from Tesco this week. Delia thinks we should stick to what we can get over here but some items are marked up so much whats wrong with importing more competitively. Quorn mince – a healthy alternative to real mince we cannot get at all here, low grade porridge oats are also not available over here just the good ones (I like my porridge stodgy) at more than 5 times the price, similar price difference with marmite, golden syrup (to go with the porridge) is not available. Skimmed milk at about 1€ a litre is comparable to UK prices unless there is a special on – and there was so I bought three 3 litre containers. Why? Well feta is rare over here and whilst I can make it at the usual price of milk it is hardly worth it… enter Tesco specials… so I made a batch of feta yesterday. The problem is that I put about 5 times too much calcium chloride (an “enricher” for non-farm fresh milk) and the milk actually clotted whilst heating up before I had even added the rennet. I proceeded doggedly with the recipe though and I have a wheel of white- something currently sitting in brine that might (or might not be) be feta.

Style over substance

Tax returns this month! I got “How to fill out your French Tax form 2015” which I hope will do exactly what it says on the label. I can’t download the form until 7th April because they are “updating after the January changes”. My cunning plan was to not earn enough to pay tax which since delia is now earning it looks like we might need another plan. 25% social charges feel enough to me but gouv.fr might disagree. We did manage to get our topup health cover added to the 70% we already have which I guess kind of brings us up to UK levels. But the food and wine isn’t as good in the UK of course (see below)

Food
Our ex-neighbours from Lindfield visited this weekend and guests usually mean that we eat out more. Eclairs to start off the experience and that evening I cooked a “traditional” leg of lamb, stuffed with ras al hanout spiced dried fruit, nuts and rice – I’d never be a butcher though, it took me nearly an hour to get the bones out of the leg to stuff it! Our first lunch out was our guests’ treat to us, in Brantôme where I indulged in a salmon fillet on creamy tagliatte, the others all had steak but I think I did better. My salmon had a nice brown crust yet was tender and moist inside. More éclairs. Then next off to Limoges for a moist day wandering through the medieval quarter and lunch in the library (well ex-bibliotheque) Crusty cod on lentils much much tastier than it sounds, poire de boeuf (rump/upper leg?) and a very well made hamburger.
On the way home we made another visit to a patissier and chose some easter patisseries The thing about most French patisseries seems to be that they look fantastic but the taste doesn’t always come up to scratch These easter cakes were essentially sponge rolls on their side covered in chocolate vermicelli, filled and topped with butter cream and a couple of sugar eggs Butter cream is never my favourite. Style over substance. Now on the other hand there’s the blueberry custard tart I am looking forward to for tonights dessert and lets not forget Delia’s lovely home-made hot cross buns at breakfast this morning.

blueberrytart

Vendeurs de double vitrage – double glazing salesmen

We get a lot of calls on our French phone line for solar panels and other “eco” installation including double glazing but to be honest I’ve just taken to hanging up if I hear nothing immediately after I’ve said “Hello”. Out of perhaps 10 calls a week less than one on average are actually for us.

So it was a novelty when there was a rap on the front door and I was being asked what my loft insulation was like. Then about my glazing – all very fast and in French but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t asking for an urgent lift to a hospital because the baby was coming. We had already had a quote from a local business that we had thought was pricey for three windows and a back door. Considering we had had a window put in a solid wall for less per window, I thought a second quote wouldn’t go amiss. When they calculated a quote of over three times the first quote though… I showed them that quote to which they gave a gallic shrug and said impossible for them to drop that far and that the quote I had was “correcte”. So, who knows perhaps the local business paid these guys to come and give me a ludicrous quote. Whatever – it worked, and if they are that clever then good luck to them. We called them in and signed the quote thinking maybe next week? But no, this is France so of course late May for installation perhaps…

 

Food
Sparkling wine – Delia’s favourite tipple, ok its actually champagne but even in France that’s still nearly 10 times the cost of a bouteille de vin rouge. As I am sure you know only champagne made in the champagne region using the champenois method can be called champagne. We have bought real champagne and its always enjoyable. So are many of the sparkling white wines too – you’ve probably heard of Cava (Spanish southern Pyrenees – we visited there with Bill – Delia’s dad, and its even nicer tasted locally) but there are so many ways of describing sparkling: petillant, cremant, mousseuse, gazeuse in French then into Italian with frizzante, spumanti. All more or less the same, petillante sometimes means slightly sparkling but not always. Anyway from the heights of anything above 16€ for “real” champagne down to 1.37€ for the cheapest sparkling blanc de blanc (white wine made from green grapes) – all pretty tasty I think. Delia says the 1.37€ isn’t worth drinking but she had some last night and thought it was ok (though she didn’t know it was that cheap). Food? Oh yeah, any cheese tastes pretty good with it. Delia says chocolate too.

 

Party Party, Crêpes and Gendarmes

So Delia’s just got back from her business trip to the UK and of course whilst she was away it was party party for me! Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration – at least I had custody of the tv remote in the evenings. Though to confess I mostly binge watched Breaking Bad – when I wasn’t doing the marking that crops up in bundles this time of year. Otherwise it was business as usual, walking the dog morning and afternoon. My fantasies of lying in bed until 8.30 were scotched by Siena howling and flinging herself at the kitchen door at 7.45, her usual getup time. I do think Wallace the cat winds her up through the glass door though. Party party? Well as an extra treat I did have fried onion with my steak. Oh and I did have some lemon sole too – all treats for me since Delia can’t eat fish or onions amongst other things.
This week I also had an extra language lesson – from the Gendarmes. I slowed but didn’t come to a complete halt at a stop sign. Ooops – Delia says that’s why she doesn’t let me drive (though we all know that I let her drive because she’s such a bad passenger of course). A dark green panier de salade (salad basket as the slang for their police vans goes – and no I didn’t say that to them) pulled me over chatted to me about perhaps not in the UK but in France Stop means Stop (smile nicely Pat) and how nice it is to live in lovely Limousin and a fine with possibly having to get a French driving licence so they can put points on it but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Food
On the subject of food – we have long enjoyed small pancakes made on a Tefal crêpe maker: a non-stick hotplate more or less. Not really French pancakes since we tried to make them as Canadian as possible (Delia has a good method from one of her Australian cookbooks that makes a nice thick pancake). So – it broke and our frequent Sunday pancake breakfasts stopped – until we got a replacement. The new one actually had detachable plates, one for our usual small pancakes and another for a single crêpe. So anyway, with Delia being away I decided to experiment and try French crêpes with ham and brie like one would buy at a crêpe stall (it’s even came with a wooden spreader). So lunch was a success and now Delia gets crêpe ham and brie for her dinner.

Life in France

France attracts the British like nowhere else, their nearest neighbour with whom we share quite a history! However it is the differences that probably attract us. These are subtle, such that tourists get just a hint of the foreign, sufficient to add an attractive mystery to the country and the people. I have made passing references to these differences in past blog entries and I will continue to do so as we encounter and savour new divergences from our own norms. The other evening we saw a BBC program by Robert Peston (This World, Quelle Catastrophe – France). He crystallised a lot of our own, largely British viewpoint. In Britain since Thatcher we have become accustomed to a more American attitude where consumer is (allegedly) king, where if you don’t like some product or service you can just switch and the marketplace and attitudes reflect that. Of course it is largely an illusion but I think it lies at the heart of the difference between British and French attitudes.

In the UK, unemployment is too high but in France it is sky high, in some places for the under 25’s it’s nearly 50%. France is a socialist state, worker’s rights are paramount possibly comparable to pre-Thatcher Britain. There is a tome of workplace regulations for France that measured in weight has doubled in the last 10 years (now 2kg). Apparently this unbearable weight of regulation is being lightened by reducing the font size – I kid you not! Lunchtime is a time when workers eat together and talk at a usual 2 to 2½ hours this is a big chunk from the day. A 35 hour week is enshrined by law. For a small to medium sized company to employ someone is like a marriage, a major commitment and as difficult to get out of; what’s more, only one third of the cost to employ someone goes on actual cash in their pocket, the rest goes to the state. Even the relatively new status of autoentrepeneur – the nearest to UK self-employed is simpler but with heavy regulation and taxation yet without the cushion of much of the social security employed workers enjoy. A public worker cannot be made redundant easily if at all, unemployed get up to 2 years full benefit.

All this reflects our experience here; it is refreshing (once you get used to the timing) for lunchtimes to be mostly just about lunch, rather than squeezing a quick weekly shop before dashing back to work as I often did in the UK. Sunday and Bank Holidays too are about the holiday rather than an opportunity to dash to a diy store (they’re closed). In many respects it feels like the something out of Enid Blyton except instead of lashings of lemonade its lashings of wine!

The cost of employing people is high, personal taxation is only second to Denmark but, like Denmark, that is what it takes to fund the expectations we have in France and most people accept it. The problem is that foreign companies like Amazon and even RyanAir can avoid many of the restrictions and compete unfairly. Unfortunately it is the ‘foreign’ aspect that encourages the far right and gives them a toehold. Just like in Britain, it is possible to latch onto the xenophobia that mostly stay buried but pops out in times of hardship.

The two of us can only hope the euro crisis etc settles down. The few French political conversations I have had revolve around the loss of past standards and as autoentrepeneurs we pay higher tax than we would in the UK but we get by comfortably and summer will soon be here. La vie est belle.

Food
After being recommended Aldi for shopping savings – I went shopping at Swansea’s Aldi and it seemed very good. So we tried the nearest equivalent here – a Lidl (they are brothers afaicr) but even though a local friend had recommended it we found little difference – in fact less choice. Regular discounts seem to be the rule in France so our policy of buying high price items like steak and chicken specifically when discounted helps a lot. I did some research and according to http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/personal-finance/how-french-stopped-aldi-lidl-4474233 brand prices are less than at Tesco’s – I have to say that I’ve found that not to be, very few things are cheaper, many perhaps more specifically British things are significantly more expensive. On the whole I’d say that with care we can spend slightly less than we would in the UK.

Now
I got a dose of RyanAir Rhume (cold) visiting my grandson last week, as far as I know I didn’t pass it on to them but unfortunately I did graciously donate it to my poor Delia who is currently snorting and sniffling in bed – as opposed to me down with the dog coughing up the final bits of cold. Unwatched Siena seems to be a thorough thief and has chewed my mobile phone, a computer mouse as well as stealing various gloves and hats. But she looks so cute sitting halfway down the garden with a purple felt hat hopefully looking at us to chase her. Yes we are hopeless…