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Posts Tagged ‘camping’

We love this time of year. The light’s softer after the harshness of the midsummer sun, everything seems to come to life again after the ravages of the holidays. Our grass is greener already even though we haven’t had any real rain since I can’t remember when. It’s like each blade’s popping it’s head above the parapet, breathing a sigh of relief that it’s not going to be scrubbed out of existence by a tyre, or child’s foot as it chases a ball…The trees are losing their leaves though, and there’s a definite threat of autumn chills in the early morning. Because of the early morning chills we thought we’d better go and order our wood for the coming winter today. It seemed a bit incongruous, standing in the sunlight chatting to Franck about how many cords of wood we wanted delivering the weekend after next. His small daughter played with their two dogs in the dusty yard while we chatted about chainsaws! It’s still not cold enough to light fires indoors though, and each day dawns with the promise of some late summer sunshine. Great for the guests that we still have with us, great for us as it means we’re able to get ahead with the gardening chores and picking the blackberries! Syb picked a load of them this afternoon, and made the most delicious crumble with some apples given us by a friend! Everything’s being harvested lately, the apple picking season’s in full swing and the grapes won’t be so far behind if the samples on our own vines are anything to go by. I was sure that earlier in the year we had loads of bunches showing, and looked forward to perhaps having enough to crush underfoot to make a gallon of our own vintage. It wasn’t until the day before yesterday, stood chatting in the courtyard to guests that I noticed one of our hens, Dee Dee falling out of the ivy that covers the wall right by our vines. Our guest then told me that he’d seen her a few times pecking at something in there. So, upon closer inspection, and after examining Dee Dee a bit more up close & personal, I found that the bloody bird’s been merrily chomping her way through my grapes! She seems to be the only one that’s taken a liking to the fruit, the others seem more content to chase after the cats, scaring them away from the remains of bacon sarnies being offered them by campers!

The cats are thriving. I’m sat typing at the ‘mo with Wisp, our grey and white tom sat on my lap. He’s a scaredy cat in the truest fashion with anyone else but family, while Splodge has no fear, no scruples and an unerring instinct for the warmest places in newly arrived guest’s caravans. I’ve installed a gate at the rear of Le Chant this afternoon. It’s main purpose is two-fold. A) it’s there so that we can take the dog for a run out the back without disturbing anyone by opening our gates, and B) it allows the cats to come for a walk with us without having to brave the dangers of the road outside. They often follow us down to the river, and they’re more obedient than Bracken half the time.

Last week, Syb and I took the opportunity to have a few days break away from Le Chant to try and revitalise ourselves. It’s the first real break we’ve had since we’ve been here, and boy did we need it! But, as is usually the case with us and any plans that we make, things didn’t go at all as planned! I was in the shower, and Syb had gone to do some last minute shopping. The car was packed, and we were to set off immediately she returned. Imagine my dismay when Niall shouted up to me that Bernard was here! Not dismay that I didn’t want to spend time with him, but dismay that I knew that any chance we had of getting away at a reasonable time was now well and truly scuppered! The plan, you see, was to travel down to see a dear friend of ours who was celebrating her birthday with a bash for friends and family in her local salle des fetes. It’s quite a journey down to the Lot where she and her husband live, so I knew we’d have to allow a good 5 or 6 hours if we were to get there at around 8pm. Bernard had, as I discovered when I came downstairs, been busy harvesting mushrooms! Great big lovely, earthy aromatic champignons de paris. He had with him two large washing up bowls that were for us. Now, there’s no use in just saying ‘cheers, leave them with us and we’ll take care of them.’ Not with Bernard, as he takes great pride in the detail. How to chop, peel, prepare, cook and store. Not just mushrooms, but everything. Like most french men, he’s an expert on food. He’s also very patient with those of us that know nothing about how to cook, or at least – how to cook as a french man cooks.

So, our set-off time for our mini-vacance came and went. We were still washing, chopping and preparing mushrooms an hour later. Then they had to be boiled in water for 10 minutes, then left to cool before draining and then packaging for the freezer. Two huge bowls boiled down to just three hand sized freezer bags. The whole process took close on two hours. Two hours of chat, laughter and imparted wisdom. We were sorry not to be able to make the party, but we wouldn’t (nor couldn’t) have missed yet another example of our neighbour’s random acts of kindness.

We’d decided, well – I’d decided after reading Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, that we needed to visit Carcassonne. This jewel of the Pays d’Oc has been awarded the accolade of being a World Heritage site after the renovations during the late 19th century. It’s difficult to believe that close on 3’000 years of history narrowly escaped total demolition, save for the efforts of a small group of men. These men brought Carcassonne, a medieval walled citadel back to life, like a phoenix from the ashes. It stands on an escarpment overlooking the Sabarthes Mountains to one side, the Aude Valley to another, the plains of Narbonne to the south and the Spanish Pyrenees to the south west. It’s an incredible place without a doubt, and fully deserves its place as a ‘must see’. So why did I feel ever so slightly disappointed? I’ve explained it since as there being a lack of ‘respect’ for the history, and the heritage. Broken beer bottles were strewn around some of the cobbled pavements. The battlements had graffiti scrawled here and there, and the amount of ‘tat’ shops seemed at odds with the sense of what Carcassonne had survived. The masses of the French army, the persecutions of the Inquisition, the ravages of these ‘crusades’. The occupation by the German army during the second world war. As I said, so many thousand years of history, only to be invaded, and conquered by tee-shirt and tablecloth vendors. There are certainly aspects of it that still inspire, and hopefully, those are the things that continue to attract the dreamers, and the shameless romantics like me to its 52 towers. It was an experience, and one I’ll repeat again I’m sure, for to have visited this magical place was to witness a glimpse of history very rarely seen anywhere else in the world.

You’re all more than aware that we own a campsite here in France, and that we’re hardened campers ourselves? Well, this trip of ours involved the world’s smallest bloody tent. A scrap of nylon, sewn around a couple of carbon poles and laughingly called a ‘2-second tent’! They’re all the rage just now. Basically, you just take this disc out of its bag, undo the straps and throw it in the air. It floats softly down to earth in the shape of a ready-erected and ready to use tent! Just the job, eh? In a word – no! It bloody well isn’t. Oh, it went up in the designated timespan, but putting the thing away again is like an out take from the Krypton Factor. The instructions are sewn into the bag, and are in pictorial form only. It took me a half-hour of grunting, twisting almost to breaking point the carbon poles, head scratching and swearing to read the bit where it says there’s a video demo online. So, off to the office I marched to view the demo. This smug looking bird is stood atop a mountain somewhere with my very tent in her beautifully manicured hands. With a few deft flicks of her delicate wrists, she’s wrestled it to the ground, forced a half-nelson on it and it’s back in the bag! Four times I watched the stupid video. Four times I failed to understand it! The fifth time though, I got it, and went out to practice on the real thing. 2 minutes later and I was zipping up the bag with the same smug smile as displayed by the immaculately manicured video lady. Simple!

So, now we were off…Cognac was the first stop, and an overnight camping halt was found in St. Jean d’Angely. Now, when I’d laid in the tent, there was no problem. It looked small, sure, but I could lay out in it. However, once there was a full double airbed, a memory foam mattress topper (ok, we’re not so hardened campers anymore…) and a double quilt in there, the roof got an awful lot closer to my face! Still, this was just for the night, so after our ablutions, off to bed it was. My feet stuck out of the bottom of the tent and my head was twisted in a road accident kind of way at the opposite end! Uncomfortable is not descriptive enough to describe the night I had. Syb’s a dwarf by comparison, and slept the sleep of the just.
The next day being a Sunday, the Decathlon camping section was closed, so unfortunately, another night in the claustrophobic blue nylon hell was on the cards. But, on the Monday morning, we were up at the crack of the farting sparrow to form an orderly queue to replace this pathetic thing with a much bigger, palatial big sister! Oh, and we bought a new airbed too, as the one we brought had a leak and slowly brought you down to earth during the allotted 8 hours, leaving just the memory foam mattress topper between me and mother earth. A very hard-baked and lumpy mother earth!

Still, we survived the weekend and enjoyed our first camping trip in years, despite the altercations with the equipment. We’ll maybe do it again sometime. Maybe.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

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

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We had an e-mail from a young man recently, traveling through France to Spain. Hitchiking actually. He wanted a quiet spot to rest up for a few days or up to a week, and wanted to know the costs etc. So, I mailed him back with a proposition. Given that the cost of a tent per night in low season isn’t very much, why didn’t he think about perhaps giving us some of his time each day to help us out here with some chores in exchange for a pitch and a few meals? He readily agreed, and when the time came, we picked him up from Saumur and brought him to Le Chant. His degree course dictated that he made his way from Ambleside in the English Lake District (a place we know well) to the area of Bilbao in Northern Spain, for a fortnight of related coursework there from the 1st of May. They’d all been given a month to get there by whatever means. This course is under threat of being removed, along with the very small college/university in Ambleside where it’s taught. It’s a degree course in ‘Outdoor Philosophy’. I know, you’re thinking the same as I initially did when Harry (for that’s his name) told me all about it. “What kind of a bloody idiot course is that then?” Simply put, Harry’s ambition is to teach kids about their surroundings in as natural a way as possible. There are schools in Canada, and indeed in France as it happens where kids do their normal, boring curriculum based studies for say, three days per week. Then, for the remainder of the week, they’re taken to some place, be it a wood, clearing, riverside or lakeside situation to be taught their lessons but with particular relevance to their natural surroundings. By someone like Harry. This gives the kids an insight into how nature works, how it should have our respect, and how we should be protecting it. Now, the qualification Harry gains doesn’t mean he’s qualified ‘properly’ to teach in schools, he’d have to take a Teacher’s Qualification Course for that. But the more I thought about it, the more I think “What a brilliant idea!”

Shouldn’t there be something like this on the curriculum anyway? I’m sure there used to be in the days before Risk Assessments. I always remember our school nature walks down to a local meadow, perhaps 2 miles from the school gates. We’d all troop down there, two-by-two, holding hands, picking up buttercups and holding them under our hand-holding buddies’ chin to see if they liked butter! (The yellow of the flower reflected on the skin was a big yes!)

I’ve seen similar things here in the local villages. One particularly nice sight was a troupe of small children, all dressed up in costume as insects or small animals. They were being led around the village by a volunteer squad of protective teachers and parents. Lovely to see. The gendarmes were also there, to slow down the traffic, and make sure no-one got hurt. Would that happen in the UK? Would the school be charged for the police time? Our local policemen did this as a part of their daily work. De rien!

Anyway, Harry’s possibly now halfway up a mountain in Northern Spain, the second part of his seminar involved spending time alone up there, coming down at the close of play with something they’d made, wrote, painted to represent their time there. I don’t know why, possibly just to make them think about their surroundings, and possibly appreciate them a bit more. A brilliant idea, and one I wish more kids could have access to. So, Harry, if you read this when you return to the beautiful village of Ambleside in the English Lake District, we all hope it went well, good luck and please keep in touch!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

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

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The first time I met Bernard was round at my mate John’s place. He was there just on the off-chance that a bottle of decent red had been opened. Not much chance of that because John & Mary only drink rubbish…they’re from Bratferd y’see? Anyway, there was indeed a splash or two of passable vin rouge being drunk and I’d just called in to see how they were getting on with a couple of guests we’d sent their way for B&B as we were full. The two English guests were decidedly confused with the level of (loud) French being spoken by John, Mary, Bernard & myself. Bernard becomes very animated when drawn on a subject he knows lots about. Bernard is very knowledgeable about many things – hunting (naturally), local places (naturally), wine (naturally) food (naturally) and many, many other things (er, naturally). He used to be a stonemason, and a pretty good one by all accounts (naturally). I’ve seen the evidence of his work a few times and I have to say I’m extremely impressed. But, on this particular evening we were chatting about hunting. That’s Bernard’s passion in life. His home is one big trophy room with many species of stuffed animal both large and small decorating the walls and shelves wherever you look. The two English guests were fed a translation of the discussion and I knew that one of them owned a local property with a lake attached. The guy in question was stocking the lake with good quality fish and wanted measures in place to ‘detract’ the local heron population from abusing the hospitality of the English lake owners by eating the new arrivals! So, I offered Bernard’s services as their very own gamekeeper! Bernard was thrilled with the prospect of a new place to shoot and after the necessary permissions were set down in black & white, we drank to the success of the venture! (Naturally!)

Quite a few months later, and Bernard and his wife Mauricette, have become regular visitors here at Le Chant d’Oiseau, often bringing large wooden crates stuffed full of the most delicious tasting home-grown produce from their potager, a huge expanse of land behind their home given over to growing all sorts of market garden produce, and very good it is too. They take no money for their stuff, but we sit down instead, have a chat and drink some wine. We often dish up the contents of the gifts from Bernard among our guests.

The first time Bernard & Mauricette came bearing gifts was to present us with the very first duck shot on his new playground! It was beautifully presented fresh for the oven. We accepted this gorgeous gift with saliva glands on overtime. A few days later, while Syb & I were on our way back from an outing, we asked Niall (by telephone) to pop it into the oven for tea. When we arrived home the smell of freshly cooked duck emanating from the farmhouse was delicious! I carved and portioned it out. Niall declined, insisting he wasn’t that hungry. Now, that’s akin to asking what religion the Pope is, or where bears go to the toilet… Niall is ALWAYS hungry. He used to eat for England until we swopped shirts at half-time. He can now eat for France! His appetite is legendary among those that know us well. The lad can’t take a 5 minute car journey to the supermarket without taking along a snack for the journey! he’s always been the same, ever since he was small. He’s no longer small, he’s HUGE, which brings us back to the duck. After reminding him a few more times of the reputation as France’s answer to Desperate Dan, he finally came clean. He couldn’t eat it, as he’d seen the bullet hole when he put the duck in the oven! Bless! So, due homage was paid to Bernard, and his skill with his fusil, and we toasted the poor birds demise with a bottle of red. A fit and proper send off we thought.

We’ve made some good friends here. Both French & English. All of our near neighbours are French, and they’ve been nothing short of welcoming with us. We’ve already told you about the invitation last Easter round at Gérard & Sylviane’s? We’ve also made friends with David Chevallier, the vigneron (very handy, knowing a vigneron) and his brother, Pascal the roofer (not quite as handy as we drink more wine than we build roofs, but still handy all the same…). Nelly et Bruno from the village boulangerie also. They’re lovely, and we’ve looked forward to their visits each morning with the daily delivery of fresh bread. Not just because their bread and pastries are fantastic, but also because they have a real zest for life, they’re what we call ‘Super Sympa’ too. They like the English, especially those that make an effort to chat and build a life here, the same as they do. There’s a few characters that we’ve become friends with in the local bar too. Alain and his wife took over from Miriam at the Café de la Poste after she sold up. The name had to be changed of course as the Post Office moved to the other end of the village, and the old one’s now the creperie. Keep up….the post office isn’t a post office anymore, it’s a restaurant and they’re tired of being asked by little old ladies how much a parcel to Marcel will cost. So, the Café de la Poste is now ‘Le Manureva’. Alain has come to know John & I quite well, as we spend a bit of time in there lately, after working on some project or other. They have opened up a little restaurant to the rear and it’s brilliant! Alain is the most genial bar owner I’ve ever met, and we often can’t get away from the place because he’s insisting on buying another drink for us. I haven’t a clue how he manages to earn a living, because he loses count after a few beers…
I took my Dad, my eldest son and my two brothers in law there a few weeks back and they were stunned! Because Alain was very chatty (although they understood little), and because he kept sending his little son out with plates full of goodies for us. My family couldn’t believe this sort of kindness, so Alain & I explained ‘C’est normale’. When he bought us all a drink after we’d spent quite a few euro with him, my poor old Dad was almost moved to tears! He’d never been bought a pint by a landlord in the Uk in all his years of drinking!

The village has certainly been brought back to life since we’ve been here. The creperie, Alain’s bar, Nathalie & Gilles taking over the small village store have all helped. Even ‘Rocky’ at Le Bar Centrale has smartened up his act and has opened up a small ‘Bistro’ in the back room of his bar. We’re building up to trying it out one of these days. Rocky isn’t really his name, it’s just what we’ve christened him since we heard he was a rock star in a previous life! He’s taken on the role of village entertainments officer where live music’s concerned and he seems to know his stuff! It’s a strange little bar though, and Rocky’s usually to be found asleep in the back. We’ve had to wake him up to be served before. It’s still a fairly friendly place for a beer, even though he & his wife (we think, though no evidence of a ring) seem to be completely bemused by the English, but don’t mind pouring the 1664! There used to be a fairly large restaurant at the end of the village, opposite Rocky’s place called Le Cheval Blanc. It closed down shortly before we came here in August 2005. The good news is though that it’s now up for sale, hopefully with a view to turning it back into a working restaurant/bar again. There’s always room for one more eaterie, after all – this IS France!

Until next time,

Au Revoir.

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007

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Firstly, my sincerest apologies. It’s been far too long since I posted any updates. I know family & friends have been waiting with bated breath so I expect most of them are either dead by now or gotten bored and sauntered off to the bar.

Where to begin? It’s been so long, so much has happened and we’ve become so accustomed to life here now that it seems like I’m actually starting afresh with the Blog. From an entirely new perspective as it were. The last time we spoke, it was coming up to our second Christmas away from the UK, with all the heartaches that follow. Well, it didn’t go too badly as a matter of fact. Mainly due to the fantastic support of good mates who teamed up to come over for New Year and the brave souls who ventured south to the Loire as paying guests. Christmas & New Year came & went without too much ado and the New Year started off very promising, with guests calling in on their way south at a regular pace. Caravaner’s are a curious breed. Not strange, as there’s a part of the Nomad in most of us, just curious. They up sticks and leave loved ones behind at times like Christmas & New Year in search of fun, sea (sometimes), adventure (usually) and better weather….

Anyway, moving swiftly on….oh, ok. You want to know about the weather? Well this winter was one of the wettest here in France for a very long time. Rivers burst, lakes were overflowing and the fosses (roadside ditches) that hadn’t seen water in 15 years were actually flowing. With a current! In fact, if I still had my Action Man, he’d have been strapped into a canoe and force fed down said fosses being beaten with a stick to make him go faster.

Anyway, winter came & went and now the sun’s generally shining. March & April are cracking months here. The past few years we’ve either been here visiting Le Chant d’Oiseau or living here have given us brilliant weather in February, March & April, while May has brought wind and showers. Still, it’s twenty-to June now and the weather’s on the up. The pool’s been used already. We had some sturdy kids from the UK over camping at Easter and they begged me to get it ready for them. It was 20 degrees in there though which isn’t bad!

We’ve made some good friends over the period of time that we’ve been apart dear reader. We’re really fortunate to have John & Mary North as neighbours and we’ve become really good pals. They’re from Bratferd you see. That’s why they have the audacity to drive a blue van instead of French Standard Issue White…John & Mary also introduced us to Bernard and Mauricette Percevault who we’d like to think are good friends of ours. I’ll tell you all about Bernard, the duck and the bike in the fosse the next time we speak. Until then…

Au Revoir.

TBC.

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007.

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So sorry that we haven’t posted an update in such a long time, we’ve been busy you see? Syb & I finally moved into our new bedroom on the 14th May. It was a Sunday. The kids, (well Hannah & Niall) had been in theirs for a few weeks previous. We’d been determined to have just one last ‘push’, a combined effort on two fronts prior to the defence of the campsite and gites from the massed hordes of holidaymakers waiting just across the channel….sorry, that’s ‘The Longest Day’…wrong movie! Anyway, we got the kids’ rooms decorated and bedroom furniture erected and they were in there, revelling in their new surroundings, while Syb & I were feeling the pressure to move out of Goldfinch (our ‘baby gite, remember?), and into our new room before our next lot of guests arrived. After several long days spent plastering, sanding, painting, re-plastering, varnishing etc. at 11:30pm after just having finished making the bed, Syb & I sat with legs dangling from our dormer window drinking large G&T’s. Actually, when I said ‘making the bed’, I really did mean ‘making the bed’. One of those flat-pack things from Sesame. Great bed, comfy as hell! We’d passed the component parts and the mattress through the open dormer windows and built it up, made it with our fresh, new bedding and in we were. A triumph of mind over matter!

So, there we were with some semblance of normality as a family. For the first time in almost a year, we were all of us under the same roof. Er, except for Liam! Liam was largely out of the equation as he’d accepted a job with a well-known camping holiday provider on the west coast of France, and was living over at Les Sables d’Olonne. That gave us a bit of ‘grace’ as we knew that he wasn’t due back at Le Chant until the first week in September! We had loads of time to get his room finished!

Anyway, we were by this time fairly busy with guests, both in the gites and on the campsite. Things were indeed looking up.

Actually, we’d been reasonably busy for quite some time. We’d had a steady stream of guests stay with us all through winter, some who returned a few weeks or months later on their way back from the south just to see how we’d got on. All were surprised by the amount we’d managed to get done in the short time we’d been custodians of Le Chant. I say ‘custodians’ because with a house this old, that’s all you ever can be. No-one will ever own Le Chant truly, it’s something to be looked after, cherished and added to without detracting from its natural beauty in the lifetime that you share with it. It’s a home, sure. It’s a fantastic place to live, and we’re very proud of it, but I feel that we’re only ‘looking after it’. Anyway, I digress. Some of the guests we’ve had have been the most marvellous characters, full of stories of where they’d been, what they’d seen. It does actually make us quite envious sometimes of the way some folk can just ‘up & go’. Then again, we chat to them long enough and they in turn tell us of their envy that we live in such a beautiful place. So, it’s all swings & roundabouts really. Remind me to tell you next time of some of the delightful people we’ve had through the gates at Le Chant d’Oiseau, it has been a priviledge to meet them all.

Until then, au revoir.

TBC.

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