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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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