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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 The card was out of date, but luckily I found some cash in her purse too.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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Just a quick ‘blog, while waiting to receive our ‘grand-dog’, Bill. He’s being dropped off to stay here for the morning as Hannah & Steve have to pack up their stuff from the house to move back here for a while. It’s a long story, fit for a ‘blog in itself, but I can’t divulge too much yet. It’ll be nice to have them back, but their puppy is mad. Bill’s a spaniel. Unfortunately named too, as Bill is also the name of my dad – Hannah’s grandad! Don’t think he knows yet though. Bill, not Bill! Bill is also the name of a cartoon dog here in France, and Steve and Hannah thought Bill looked sufficiently similar to Bill (not Bill) to merit the name. So Bill it is.

Phew, I’m glad that’s sorted.

Anyway, Bill’s coming to play with Bracken. I say ‘play’, but invariably it boils down to a bit of a snarl and a snap on Bracken’s part as Bill has a penchant for biting her ears when she’s not looking. Plus, he pinches all Bracken’s toys and takes them to his basket. Bracken pinches them back, then jealously sits on them while Bill chews her ears, making her snarl and snap, and the whole merry-go-round begins again.

So. Because Hannah, Steve & Bill (and CoCo the hamster) are moving in with us for a few months, I’ve been busy bringing Chardonneret into line with our ‘vision’ for Le Chant d’Oiseau. The old kitchen was ripped out, and new, improved electric sockets were first to go in, chasing out deep gouges in the walls for cable runs. Then came the easy bit. Having someone else paint all the beams with Xylophene, a wood preservative and insect repellent. Then all the tiles came off from the walls, and the walls made good again with plaster. New lights went up in the kitchen area, ensuring plenty of light to see by in what was once quite a dark corner. I’ve left the softer lounge light in place as a contrast. There’s plenty of lamps around too, giving a lovely ‘glow’ to the place. The kitchen was a breeze to install, all white units with a rather sexy looking stainless steel sink unit and sexy new robinet. (French for ‘tap’, pronounced ‘rob-ee-nay).

La cuisine.

La cuisine.

The lounge area

The lounge area

Bedroom area.

Bedroom area.

I prefer the French words for some stuff, don’t you? I mean ‘tap’ is a tad, well – industrial, whereas ‘robinet’ (roll the rrrrrr when you say it) is more romantic somehow. Smoother, rounder. Robinet…..

I digress. The bathroom is the last job on the list. Bidet out (no more washing of feet in there, thankyou), tiles off the walls, pipework boxed in. Then a new bath panel to be made, small shelves and recesses to be created for candles (romantic getaway, you see?) and new taps, shower etc. Then it’s a case of repainting and decorating in there et voila (French for ‘there you have it’, or ‘look what I’ve done’).

But, the pressure’s on now as Hannah & Steve have been told by their landlord (after having given them due notice) that they’re needed out of their house sooner than they wanted to be, as new tenants are due in asap! So, while they have a lovely kitchen and lounge area to enjoy, with a freshly decorated bed too, the bathroom’s like a still from a documentary on Beirut in the 70’s! So, what to do in times of stress? Revert to typically English type and have a cuppa tea, and write a ‘blog!

Actually, that brings me back to why I started this ‘blog in the first place. Apples. We have four apple trees here. One’s mature, around six years old, we think, and the others were newly planted just last year. In previous years, the mature one’s given us fruit you could count the numbers of on two hands, and the odd foot thrown in. This year, it went mad! Hundreds of crisp, red, juicy apples.

Apples in the autumn sunlight.

Apples in the autumn sunlight.

So. Having so many leads to a problem. We couldn’t sell them as we live in a predominantly apple-growing area, so everyone has apples!

Thank goodness for t’interweb thingy. After searching, it appears there are a million and one things to do with your excess apples. Cider, obviously is a popular choice. As is apple juice. For that though, a press is essential. Actually, I have a press. Or rather, I did have a press. Syb decided it’d make a great planter for all things geranium. We argued, and even put it to the vote amongst guests. She won. The superb little press sits in our garden, stuffed full of nasturtiums at the moment. I’d even made new legs from an old oak beam to replace the rotted, worm-eaten old ones. I’d even made a handle for the press from a lump of seasoned pine! Why? Why did I grease the screw thread, and rub down all the pressing blocks? So that I could store them away somewhere while the thing was planted up and made to look ‘charming’, that’s why!

So, the choice is to either take out all the plants and use the thing as was intended, or forget the cider. Or the fresh apple juice. I’ll maybe take out the plants another time, eh? I have enough to do just now.

Jam’s a popular choice it seems, and it so happens that Steve’s grandma has a recipe that she’s passed on to Steve, and he in turn to Syb. We tasted a jar given to us by Steve’s grandma and it was delicious. After ‘Tweeting’ about said jam, I was asked by a few people for the recipe. Given that Twitter is restricted to just 140 characters, it would have taken a week to post it there, and been lost in amongst the Britney videos, ‘inspiring’ quotes for the day, and ways to make a million dollars in three minutes. So, I thought it’d be better placed here. That was the reason for this ‘blog. But, ‘comme d’habitude’, I seem to have been sidetracked. It happens in real life too. At the moment, I’m meant to be returning to Hannah’s place to pick up the next load of ‘stuff’ (she’s 20, Christ alone knows how she’s managed to collect so much crap) and to bring it back here, along with my grand-dog, Bill. So, here we are again. Bill’s a spaniel, named after a famous French cartoon dog…remember? Good. Here’s the jam recipe.

Please let me know if you do make it, and what you think.

With grateful thanks to Steve’s grand-mère.

Preparation: 20 mins (yeah right…)

Cooking time: 40 mins

Ingredients: (Makes 4 pots of 350g)

1.2kg peeled apples

Citron juice

1kg of sucre de confiture (jam sugar)

2 sachets of sucre de vanille (vanilla sugar)

2 BIG spoons of Calvados! (If you don’t know what this is, please leave the kitchen now!)

2 small spoons of cinnamon powder.

Preparation:

Peel apples and cut into very small cubes. Place in a bowl.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into the bowl of apple pieces.

Add the jam sugar and the vanilla sugar, mixing together with a wooden spoon.

Add the cinnamon and Calvados.

Place the mix in a pan, on a low light, bringing to the boil, and leave to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place the boiling jam into pots, place screw top lids on the pots, and turn upside down for 5 minutes. This sterilises the pots.

After 5 minutes of upside-down-ness, turn them back the right way up and leave to cool.

Can be eaten the next day, or placed in a cool, dark room (cave) for later!

Here’s some she made earlier…

Confiture pomme

Confiture pomme

Lovely autumn colours and flavour!

Lovely autumn colours and flavour!

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

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

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