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Sad News.

Hannah came home early from work yesterday. Deeply upset, she called home to ask one of us to go and collect her. Normally, that’s not a problem, but yesterday was Saturday, and therefore changeover day. We’ve still had quite a busy autumn guest wise, and still have people renting the large gite, the one with the woodburner in. So, Syb went off to collect Hannah leaving me to continue with preparing the gite for occupation. When she returned, she and Hannah were in tears. One of Hannah’s friends and work colleagues has been in an accident and has sadly died of her injuries. So, Hannah’s in shock and has had to work (as has everyone else) knowing that their friend and colleague has lost her life on the roads here. Unfortunately, the road death statistics here are still pretty high, and there are various reminders of that by the roadsides as you travel the lanes and byways. Many times there’s been a newly planted shrine to another unfortunate soul. The papers are always reporting either a serious accident or a death of a ‘jeune’ on a moto, or a scooter. It’s a worry for all parents, and I don’t know what the answers are. At age 14 here in France, it’s legal to jump on a 50cc moped/moto/scooter and shoot off with little or no training whatsoever. Actually, they do have to take a test, and part of that test is mandatory within the school curriculum. At age 16, they’re free to ride off on what can be quite fast scooters. It’s scary. If you’ve ever driven in a French town, you’ll know from experience that you’re constantly watching your retro viseurs for the young invincibles looming close to your bumper before accelerating past you, hunched down at a stupidly low, wind-resisting angle as they crawl past you. It’s not just France, in the UK too they’re becoming more prevalent. London was always a terrifying experience for me because of these road users, and their own seeming disregard for other traffic.

This isn’t to pass judgement on who was to blame in our friend’s case, but simply to try to warn you, as a driver to keep a very careful eye on the roads all around you. That motorcyclist in your rear view mirror is always going to be someone’s son, or daughter.

Take care out there.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

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

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I was saying just a couple of posts ago about how we love this time of year? Well yesterday (dimanche) had to be just one of the last best days of the summer for a variety of reasons. Not just because the skies were blue and the sun was hot on your face, but also because it was one of those rare occasions when we decided to go out and support a local event.

A lovely setting for a car boot sale!

Usually, we’re flying around the place doing what we do here, or we’re just too tired to bother. This time though, we thought we’d have a wander into Vernoil to help support the village’s inaugural vide grenier. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the French and their passion for these things? A vide grenier simply translates as ’empty loft’. It’s a way of life for many French and it’s a great day to add to any holiday itinerary too. Catch one if you can when you come to France next, you’ll find them great fun. If it’s anything like the one we visited yesterday, then you’ll be able to buy all manner of things from copper pans, to old newspapers, to very old farm implements among the usual baby clothes, cuddly toys and paperback books. There’s usually a few old Johnny Halliday LP’s going spare too…

Our one yesterday also had quite a few old cars on display from the earliest Peugeot’s to late 50’s Citroens and even a cute little Vespa! Niall’s currently looking for his first Moto. Shame it wasn’t for sale!

We bought all manner of things yesterday including an old tin, an ancient (but fully working) enamel inhaler, some books on the WW2, a beautiful (but heavy) copper jam pot, a couple of woven baskets for the fresh eggs and a half a garden bench(!) Don’t worry, I know where I’m going to put it. The lady we bought it from had the same idea – to ‘sink’ it into a wall on one half. All the transactions were extremely good natured, as is the way at these sorts of village gatherings. It was nice too to be greeted by friends with a cheery ‘bonjour’, and to feel like we belong in the community.

There were the usual crowd of people gathered around the bar there and parked right next to it was the fouée stall!

How could I resist a lunch of two of my most favourite things? Ice cold lager and a couple of hot fouée?

This is the rusty old (but perfectly serviceable) portable bread oven they used. I’ve seen a few of these wheeled out for country fairs etc. Although this one looked in need of a bit of TLC! Along with the old bbq parked right next to it, the comité des fetes managed to keep quite a few hundred folks well fed throughout the day. A four a pain was a way of life for many country folks living far from a village with a dedicated bakery. These days, although some remain, far more fall ravage to weeds and the elements. Some are kept as interesting curio’s – a memento of a bygone age. Ours was lost in the 1950’s. I’ve been sorely tempted to begin work on building my own bread oven here at Le Chant d’Oiseau so we can bake fouée for guests here during the summer, and pizza too. But now I’ve seen these portable ones at work, they seem more appealing! Once back home, I actually scoured the Internet looking for just such a beast. There are quite a few of them around, it has to be said. Unfortunately too far away in both distance and cash!

Anyway, here’s what the fouée looked like once out of the oven.

And well tasty they were too!

It seemed that the whole of the village had turned out to have a stall here, and some from quite a way away too. There weren’t that many tourists around, well not English anyway. But, we did bump into one or two friends and acquaintances all looking for a bargain or two as well.

Now, if only there’d been a bread oven for sale….

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

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

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Bonjour!

It feels like ages since I last apologised for not updating the ‘blog! Indeed it is, June 23rd was the last time. Apologies then, but we really have had a very, very busy summer. It still is busy, but with the regulars having left Le Chant d’Oiseau on Saturday the dynamics have changed slightly. We still have some lovely guests here, but the ones we know well have left until next year, but the e-mails and ‘phone calls telling us how much they’ve enjoyed yet another holiday here are still coming in, and they’re keeping us fueled with enthusiasm for now!

Our anniversary party is fast becoming a social ‘must’, with more & more of our French friends joining in the fun & games as well as English ex-pat friends and guests too. We now have a throng of returning guests who make a point of ensuring their holidays span over the 5th August – our ‘official’ birthday. Our summer holidays are usually excellent, but made even more so by the fact that we ourselves now haunt the gate, and the driveway for signs of our friends arriving to spend yet another two (or even three) weeks in the sun with us. It’s still full-on hard work for Syb & I, but it’s made fun because we’re surrounded by guests who’ve become good friends over the past three years. So, it was with a heavy heart, and a tear in the eye that we said ‘au revoir’ to our lovely ‘Boomerang Gang’ this year as we set off early on Saturday morning to drive to Chartres, where I’d been asked to be the official photographer at a wedding at the Chateau d’Esclimont! Sounds grand, eh? Well – it is! The wedding went well, the weather was stunning, the setting was breathtaking and the guests were all up for the occasion! It seemed strange in a way that it was us leaving our guests behind. Normally, we open the gates for them and wave them off back to blighty. This time, we were on the receiving end of the waves and cries of ‘see you next year’ instead. It served as a reminder of why we don’t leave this place very often at all!

Anyway, our party was a great success with all our guests mingling and attempting communication. One highlight was Syb being driven around the campsite on the pillion of Bruno’s (our boulanger friend) quadbike! I managed not to get a picture, but did manage to get a couple of Hannah having a go after! I made what has become a customary speech to the assembled throng in French first, then reverted to English to say the same to our English guests. There was much hilarity when I finished my French speech and begun in English…Apparently, many of our guests were mesmerised by my command of this beautiful language, and they were struck by the stark differences in ‘accents’. You see, my French accent is, well…French I suppose, but my English one is true Yorkshire! A bit of a culture shock for many! Still, at least our lovely French friends and neighbours appreciated my efforts. They understood most of it too!

The evening progressed well into the wee hours, and the last guests to arrive – after the party had finished and we were in the kitchen tidying up, were Isabel & Arnaud, our other boulanger friends. They’d been out for a family meal that evening, and were due to leave the next morning for a well-deserved holiday, but still thought to come & say hello, and bring us a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a great bottle of red! They stayed chatting with us for an hour in the kitchen, sat around the table, until the kids started yawning. So, we polished off the cognac, bade farewell and went to bed, happy at being here for another year, with the prospect of another year to come. We’re already making plans for the 4th Anniversary Party. If you want to come & see for yourself what we have lined up, you’d better book early as spaces are going fast!

We had some friends over from the UK during that same period of time and they came to each and every meal we cooked. You may know that during the season, Syb cooks for everyone on site twice weekly. Gite guests and campers alike sit around, eat good home-cooked food, drink good wine and have a laugh and a chat with their fellow holidaymakers. This year’s been no exception, and many friendships have been forged under the canvas of our two gazebo’s erected in the old barn for this purpose. Well, the barn’s undergone several transformations in this past year. Firstly, the gazebo’s went up. They looked lovely. Then this spring, after the ravages of the busy summer last year, I decided to lay a permanent tiled floor using the tommettes we salvaged from our loft when we converted it into our bedrooms. That made everything so much easier, and fitted right in with the look & feel of the place. We had some fairly strong winds last year, ripping the canvas roofs of the gazebo’s. I’ve repaired them a few times quite successfully, but the gales we had a few weeks ago put paid to any further repair work – they were completely shredded! So, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make a new roof from materials easily bought from Bricoman! I was gobsmacked to say the least at the offers of help coming in from our campers left & right. Everyone got stuck in, building, cutting, sawing, hammering and drilling. In just two days – or 13 hours, we created a fully waterproof, solid continuous roof which looks absolutely perfect. Not only that but also a lean-to for to cover our two barbeques too! So – in the face of such generosity, what can be done? A barn-raising party perhaps? This has been a fortnight to end all fortnights. So much laughter, cameraderie and generosity of spirit has rarely been seen. Despite the heat, our friends and guests were happy to contribute as much or as little as they felt comfortable with and the result is an area we’re proud to have here at Le Chant!

In fact, this ‘blog should be dedicated to the following people, without whom Le Chant d’Oiseau wouldn’t be quite the place it is now. So, in no particular order – a BIG shout of thanks goes to:

Joe, David, Andy, Jon, Doc, Tony, Dan & Marquey. Our sincere thanks to all of you for your friendship and your effort!

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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