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We get asked this all the time. Mostly from folks that appear to be teetering on the brink of doing exactly what we did – leave the UK. We’re pumped for any info, bled dry of anecdotes and squeezed of every last drop of advice about ‘the French’.

So, just what is it about France, then? What makes two perfectly normal, hard-working parents with decent jobs, nice house and great social scene in the UK swap for a life in the sticks in a country that refuses to drag itself into the 21st century?

Exactly that. For those of us that still cling to the romantic notion that good manners, respect for elders and having the time to chat are still more important than keeping up with the Joneses, France fits the bill perfectly.

Here’s an example. Yesterday was a bugger. Daughter called at early o’clock in a bit of a panic. She’d had a call from their landlord asking them to be out of their house by 3:30pm, as new folks were moving in. Steve, her boyfriend took the call so there was no mistake. They’ve been moving stuff piecemeal for a week, having given notice on the place to move back with us for a while. The 31st was their date, and this worked out fine. All I had to do was create a bathroom from the bombsite that should be a bathroom in Chardonneret! No worries. I work well under pressure.

Then the call!

Could we have Bill (the spaniel, not Bill the grandad, you remember?) for a few hours whilst they got rid of stuff and cleaned through? What actually happened was that everyone was pressed into service, including Sylvain, one of Hannah & Steve’s friends – on his only day off, without so much as a cough! No problem, he wasn’t up to much anyway. It was a long, long day – hard work, lots of shifting of ‘stuff’ from there to here, to Bocé, where Steve’s parents live, and back again. It was mad.

At one point, in SuperU when Hannah’s card refused to work while buying essential cleaning products, the queue just waited patiently, chatting amongst themselves while she tried the cashpoint around the corner to no avail, then again while we called her mum to get the code for her card which I’d found in her purse. The card was out of date, but luckily I found some cash in her purse too. Not enough, but there was no problem calling one of the girls over to take back some stuff. The young guy on the till said it wasn’t a problem, when I apologised for holding everyone up. He wished us both ‘bonne journée’ with a smile, and off we went.

Witness the guy at the dechetterie (dump) who helped us unload the trailer with all the rubbish, with a smile and a bit of friendly banter. No problem, bonne journée, au revoir!

The end of the day came, and as we were shifting the last few bits and pieces from the patio to the gite they now call home for a while, the bell rang on the gate, and our friend Bernard walked in, smiling and carrying a basket of fresh champignons for us, along with a bunch of fresh parsley. He had one of his sons, Nicholas and his grandson with him. Kisses all round, smiles and appreciative noises over the quality of the mushrooms and herbs. Stunning.

Now, a few years ago, back in the UK, I’d have probably visibly sagged at the thought of having to deal with visitors after a day like that, in French too. Not so now, it was a real pleasure to see Bernard and Nicholas, and to have a chat about stuff. A neighbour’s dog, Hannah and Steve, the dole, French private healthcare. A bottle of wine was opened, duly tasted first of all by Bernard, as he’s French and knows about wine, see? Whereas I’m English and know bugger all! But that’s ok. I know my place.

Time for our visitors to leave, after explaining how to prepare the mushrooms, cook and serve them. Bernard shook my hand again as I closed the gates behind him, saying that the next time we pass on our bikes (he’s seen us), we have to stop for a drink! He’s right, it’s been ages since we’ve stopped by, and they really are just fantastic people, he and Mauricette.

Then Steve and Sylvain returned from Saumur – 22kms away, with pizza, french fries (not chips) and ice cream just to say ‘thanks’ to Syb, myself and Sylvain for helping he and Hannah through the day. So, we ate, drank a couple of beers and laughed at the day, in both French & English, around our kitchen table.

It’s strange at times, exasperating lots of the time, but it’s mostly wonderful living here, and if you’d have told me how my life would be in 2009, just a little less than five years ago I’d have laughed at you.

But now I know different. Now I know my place. It’s here. In France. Home.

Champignons & parsley

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Sheila’s been feeling a bit unwell these past few weeks. Not quite herself. So, we arranged a trip to the doctor down in Mouliherne. Arranging a trip anywhere is like a military operation here. The back of the car has to be emptied of the EU shopping bag mountain, and all the car accessories before replacing them with the wheelchair. You see, I’m notorious for forgetting to take a bag into the supermarket when I go in. Well, it’s not that I forget, it’s just that the intention is only to buy one or two things, and carry them back to the car in my arms. But, French supermarkets being what they are, invariably I find I’ve over-stretched my resources, both fiscally and physically, and I need a bag (or three). So, I buy a bag (or three) and add them to the ever increasing pile in the boot! At the last count there were 29 in there! That’s not counting the ones we have dotted around the place – in the gites, in the shower block, in the lofts. We’ve even started giving them away to campers when we get their shopping in for them. “Do you want your bag back?” “Er, no – you keep it. Cadeau!”

Even Bernard now has a collection of our bags as we’ve donated kid’s cast off clothes to his ever increasing family and friends. There’s no ‘stigma’ attached to us giving our cast offs to a friend, rather than throwing them into the bowels of a skip destined for who-knows-where. Bernard’s grateful, as we once were as kids, when a distant relative came to our house with bags full of hardly worn clothes. And we’re happy in the knowledge that we’ve helped someone out. It’s cool.

So, once the boot was emptied and the wheelchair inserted where once had all been bags, it’s then time to get Sheila seated comfortably. She’s not walking too good these days, she’s 77 now, and 78 in a few months, so time’s beginning to take its toll on the old bones. So it’s less of a walk, and more of a studied ‘shuffle’ to the car. I have no idea how she manages to see anything out of the windows as she’s so tiny, she can barely see over the dashboard. Syb’s the same actually. It’s scary. You must have seen these tiny people get into cars, and drive them off, peering through the steering wheel, and then the windscreen? What amazes me more is that when Syb’s been driving, and I follow, is that I physically can’t get into the driving seat. She has the seat at its fullest extent forward, and I at its fullest extent backwards! The wing mirrors remain untouched, which I find bizzare, as I can’t see out of them if I crouch, and scrunch myself into Syb’s driving position! She does alter the rear-view mirror though. So, you have two dwarves driving along country lanes in rural France. Keep a look out for them.

The doctor’s has a few steps outside the bungalow leading into the surgery. So, it’s a bit difficult. The notice on the door says ‘Sans Réservation’ between the hours of 10 & 12, so it’s a given that the doctor will be there. Isn’t it? Ah, but this is France. And rural France to boot. The médécin is elsewhere today. The receptionist took Sheila’s details and promised she’d make a rendezvous for the day after. Then she offered to help Syb with Sheila getting her back down the steps and into the car. She was visibly shocked at the difficulty Sheila had, even with two helpers, negotiating the steps. So, very firmly, she insisted that the doctor would visit Sheila at home instead!

So, the following day, Dr. Annie Petit strolled into the grounds and proceeded to give Sheila a thorough going over. She took around half an hour, wrote out enough prescriptions to fill 29 carrier bags, explained that Sheila was troubled by aches and pains normal to her age and disability, and that it wasn’t too serious. The warmer weather will be arriving soon, and she’ll thrive a little more then!

The chemist happily dispensed various pills, potions and placebos into 29 carrier bags, we handed over the carte vitale and a small sum of cash, and all was well. Sheila’s had a visit this morning from the nurse to take a blood sample, bang on 9am as she said she would be on the ‘phone. That’s now gone off for testing, and the results will be sent here, to us. This is the most bizarre aspect though, as in the UK, the results would go to your GP? We’ll have to ask Annie to come out and explain to us!

Anyway, the costs? Well, for the nurse to visit this morning and take the sample was €10.30. The home visit by the doctor was €44.00, double what it costs for a consultation at the surgery. The 29 carrier bags of pills, potions and placebos came to around €15, after 70% or so had been reimbursed by the state via the carte vitale. The doctor gave us what’s known as a ‘fueille de soin’ to hand in at the CPAM office in Saumur. This details the care given, and the cost. There’ll be 70% or so of that reimbursed too. So, all in all we’re pretty impressed with the state of care over here. This isn’t the first time we’ve had need of the health service here in France, and I doubt it’ll be the last. But, what with so many forums decrying the state of the UK’s health service, and hearing about it on the news etc. I wanted to inject a little dose of reality about the healthcare system as we find it here. I’d say it’s probably different elsewhere in France, the big cities especially, but where we are, it’s a first-class service. Sheila even has a chiropodist make a home visit each six-weeks or so. That’s been going on almost since we arrived in France. marie is lovely, and looks after Sheila really well. Everyone is professional, and so very kind and gentle with Sheila. All she wants now is a bit of sunshine on the old bones. As do we all!

It IS coming – honest!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Well, it’s been a bit of a wildlife week here at Le Chant d’Oiseau!

Because the weather’s been nice & warm especially at dusk, we’ve been privileged to see the owls that live above ‘Hibou’ (aptly named, it means Owl in French) hunting in the fields to the rear of Le Chant. The first night it was just Syb & I watching them as they took it in turns to catch something and take it back to the nest to feed their young. We don’t know how many there are this time, but they don’t half make some noise when they’re expecting to be fed! We were surprised, after watching the smaller barn owls for a while to see a much larger bird – definitely an owl – fly just over our heads down by the pool. I thought immediately that it was an eagle owl, but further investigation suggests it’s a tawny variety! Five owls we saw that first night we took the time out to stand and watch. Then word got out and since then, we’ve been joined by other guests here, hoping for a glimpse of the owls. So far, they’ve not been disappointed. Sometimes they fly back to the house and just sit on the roof, or the dormers and look at us for a change! (The owls, not the guests!).

After chatting to a lovely couple we have on site here just now, I’m interested in getting a wireless webcam set up so’s that mum can see what they’re up to as well. Well, not just mum, but anyone who wants to see what beautiful creatures they are. Our guests you see, have a set up at home where they’ve placed a webcam in a nesting box used by bluetits. So, on this train of thought, I’m going to ask if anyone would want to ‘sponsor’ this? I’ll provide the website, (and the owls!), if someone else provides the hardware and the technical know-how! We could have our own ‘summer-watch’! If anyone’s reading this and would like to help, then please get in touch.

As well as the birdlife, we were amazed to see so many boar grazing across the back field the night before last too! There were at least a half-dozen youngsters, and 4 fully-grown adults. They provided the entertainment in the fading light in between owl sorties! The younger ones, have a curious zebra-like marking to them which they quickly lose as they get older.

As it’s been so nice and sunny, I decided to try again with the weedkiller behind Héron, our large gite. The nettles there have really taken hold. It’s best to try and get a few dry days together in order to let the desherbant do its stuff. So, round the back I went, spraying and whistling softly to myself. We have a chimney that is fed by the woodburner in Héron, it’s a breezeblock built affair which, it has to be said, has seen better days, having never been built correctly in the first place. It’s not ‘tied’ into the building at all, and over time it’s come away from the wall, leaving quite a gap behind it. I’m pulling it down soon and rebuilding it ready for the autumn/winter guests, who love the roaring fire in there of an evening when it’s wild outside. Imagine my shock when peeking round the corner of the chimney with the spray lance to see a huge bloody great snake inching into the crack! I do NOT like snakes. Not even small ones. Once, in the Dominican Republic, myself and a good mate were convinced by our other halves that to overcome our fear of these beautiful, cuddly critters, we should ‘wear’ one – a massive boa constrictor – around our necks and have our photos taken! We’d never have the same fear of these magnificent creatures again. Guaranteed! If fear is transferable to a photograph, then I have it. My mate Neil has the face of a truly terrified man on his, while I have my eyes closed pretending to be somewhere else on mine. The theory tested, the girls were happy that the moment had been caught on camera, but neither of us two victims were convinced of our being ‘cured’ of our fears. I know I wasn’t, because when confronted with this beastie in my chimney, the spray nozzle went flying, I dropped the bottle and legged it in reverse quicker than you could say ‘snake’ and it’s a quick word isn’t it?

Syb was called to verify that it was indeed a big bugger, which she duly did and then remembered that the adjacent bathroom window was open! She confirmed it was a big bugger from the safety of the bathroom window. Niall did the same. I had to ask what the difference was between our small (by comparison) snake and the mother of all monster snakes in the Dom Rep that had happily been worn like a woolly scarf, lovingly knitted by a doting grandma? I’m still waiting for the answer!

M. Bellanger’s been busy around our way too. Not only has he cut down the very tall grass in our spare acre, he’s prepared 15 hectares of the land we’re surrounded by for the planting of pines sometime very soon. It’s perturbed our cat Wisp no end, as he loved nothing more than to sit in the tall grass, waiting for the next tidy morsel to pass in front of him. Now, there’s lots of ‘lanes’ been ploughed up, ready to receive the pines, and Wisp’s hunting ground’s been truly messed up! While carrying out his work, M. Bellanger bellowed to me over our fence to come over for a word! So, I left the caravanners that had just arrived, and positioned themselves by the fence to get on and make themselves comfy, while I went to see what the problem was. Teasingly, one of the guys told me there was a big problem – a ‘catastrophe’, and pointed to where old man Bellanger was stomping over the field just behind our boundary fence with his ranging staff. When I got to him, he pointed down at the soil at what remained of a huge snake cut into at least a half dozen pieces by the rotavating action of the tractor. He told me it had popped out from the fence just where our guests were obliviously making home. He’d seen it, whipped it into the path of the tractor with his stick et voila! I didn’t tell our guests until we were watching the owls later that evening, having left them enough time to become used to the wildlife of Le Chant! Mysteriously, the snake from the chimney had disappeared around the same time as M. Bellanger was doing his work…

We called off the other day to see Bernard & Mauricette, on the way back from Longué. After a small while chatting, and stuff, we were asked if we’d like to come & have an evening meal with them one day soon to which we said we’d be delighted to. Bernard knows I’m not a fish lover – (if it’s not wrapped in batter and newspaper, and surrounded by chips, then it’s not fish) he constantly teased me with the potential menu of all things French! To start there’d be éscargot (snails) followed by anguille (eel) with various side dishes of haricot beans etc. I just laughed and told him yes, ok….then he took hold of my hand and led me to the bathroom. Pointing into the bath proudly he said ‘there’s dinner’. Two huge eels were in there, just covered by water and evidently very much alive judging by the reaction when Bernard dipped his hand in to disturb their slumber!

No, I’m definitely not a fish person!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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A Ghost In The Machine!

Bernard’s arms are healing – slowly. Yesterday, we called off there after visiting the déchetterie to get rid of a trailer load of rubbish. Bernard was busy placing seed potatoes in holes created by his wife Mauricette with a short pick axe affair! The way he was grumbling at Mauricette we thought he was lucky to escape a mis-timed blow with said blunt(ish) instrument. Luckily, we caught them at the end of the row, and they retired to the cool of the kitchen with us. Our daughter’s outgrown some nearly new clothes and we know that Mauricette’s sister has two teenaged daughters. So – waste not, want not as they say (but in French) around here….

I have a problem. We recently decided that our large family gite, Héron, needed the kitchen upgrading to reflect its family gite status. Previously, there’d been a kitchen of sorts in there, but very, very basic with mis-matched cupboards etc. So, we stood one day looking at this fairly large room with a view to simply re-arranging what was already there. As is usual with us, it turned into a full-scale revamp. New electrics, new kitchen, new tiles, new sink. New dishwasher and new washing machine…Which brings me to the problem. Guests had already used the dishwasher and it works great. No-one so far had used the washing machine. So, one fine and very sunny day, Syb decided to have all four washing machines here going at once! She duly loaded them all, including the new one and then came to help me cleaning the pool. After a while, I decided to get out and fetch us a cold beer! I was asked to check on the washing machine in Héron, and hang the washing out to dry. I always do as I’m told, so I went to check.

When I came back out to see Syb, I must have looked visibly shocked, because Syb asked me what was wrong! “This may sound like a stupid question” I said, “but when you loaded the washing machine, was the door facing outwards?”

You know those looks that women give you that need no words of explanation to suggest that you’re simply a stupid man who should never have left your mother? I got one of those. “Come and have a look”, I said….

When Syb turned the corner into the kitchen, she physically jumped, as I’d done when the scene met my eyes. Now it was my turn to offer a look that said “See? I’m not so stupid after all, am I?”

The washing machine somehow had walked out of position, nestled as it was quite tightly between the cupboard and the dishwasher. It had marched forthrightly in a forward manner, turned around by 180 degrees, and promptly marched back in again, the door now facing to the side, away from view. We were both speechless, and began immediately to look for the practical joker. After a fruitless search for our joking poltergeist, we decided that the thing must have done it all by itself. I then spent the best part of two hours leveling, testing, leveling and testing the machine until I was convinced that the thing indeed suffered a form of epilepsy, and needed an expert, or a hammer. Large, please. Washing machine for the destruction of.

Which brings us back to Bernard. Well, more specifically, his son Pascal – the plombier! Pascal returns from his vacances tomorrow, and will duly be despatched au Chant d’Oiseau to exorcise our washing machine.

Bernard meanwhile, has had three pins removed from each wrist, and is slowly (much to the apparent annoyance of his wife) recovering. Hunting, fishing and shooting are poor old Bernard’s passions in life and the prognosis for a full recovery in order to hold a rifle again, let alone shoot one is not good. So, in return for the clothes, we were offered pastis, and a dozen eggs. Both accepted gracefully, and we chatted for a while about this and that. I say ‘chatted’, what I mean to say is that we had a stilted discussion with my level of French getting in the way of any meaningful conversation, but we usually understand enough to be able to have a ‘chat’ of sorts, but Mauricette just seems unable to accept the fact that my comprehension skills are a couple of warp speeds behind where she personally sits as the driver of an incredibly fast tongue. Still, I must be getting better as she seems to be becoming less of a challenge to me. Or it could just be the pastis.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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A Broken Man.

The bell at the gates chimed the other day here at home while I was away in Paris, and the dog, as usual went ballistic, launching herself at the stable door, attempting to force her way out. Syb opened the top half, looking out whilst simultaneously trying to keep Bracken the ballistically inclined German Pointer from leaping over and hurtling gatewards. Syb noticed someone just, well…standing there, arms folded at the gates. No sign of a car, caravan (we often have guests turn up unannounced) or motorhome anywhere. Closing the door behind her, foiling the ballistically inclined one’s plans to do her unbidden duty, Syb advanced to ask the stranger at the gates what he wanted. Pretty quickly she realised it was Bernard, our friend from a mile or so up the lane. He’d walked down to see us (well, me actually) but couldn’t open the gates. He’s broken both his arms. Both in the one sling. One exposed hand wears a woolly hat and the other a sock to keep the cold at bay!

In he came, explaining that he’d walked down to see me; “Il est la?” He asked. “Non, il va Paris pour quelque jours.” replied Syb. “Awwww!” came the reply.

Inside the farmhouse, after being offered and accepting a cup of coffee, Bernard sat there disconsolately looking at the liquid. Our youngest, Niall, figured out what the problem was, and asked Bernard if he wanted a straw?

“Oui, merçi!” came the reply.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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