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It’s gone quiet!

Well, today the last of the guests left – I think it is the first time that all the gites have been unoccupied together since March. The last lot of guests were all French – the Armistice bank holiday fell handily on a Tuesday this year, so quite a few people also take the Monday off (faire le pont – make a bridge) to extend the weekend and go away for a short break). Although there are a lot more bank hoidays (jour feriés) in France, they aren’t always beneficial – whenever they fall on a Saturday or Sunday, there is no day in lieu given. Some of them always fall on the same day too – for example May 1st and May 8th, victory day, which is also the same day as Christmas and New Year. So some years when they all fall on a Saturday or Sunday, you feel a bit robbed.

Anyway, apart from a few weekend/short break bookings, that is it until Christmas and New Year. I quite miss not having people around – apart from the inevitable knock on the door as soon as you get in the shower or put on a facepack, it is very nice having extra neighbours to chat to. But it will be nice to have Saturdays off again, no cleaning or waiting in all afternoon/evening for people to arrive. Today’s departures left me a couple of bottles of wine from their region, which was very kind, and of course the usual beautifully written and phrased comments in the guest book. The French language is wonderful and some sentiments just can’t be translated to give the same effect. One of my favourites:

“Charmant accueil à la délicatesse anglaise, rien ne manquait, nous sommes ravis. Mille mercis!”

“Charming welcome with Engish grace, nothing was missing, we are delighted. Thankyou a thousand times.”

It just doesn’t have the same ring to it – and the words ‘grace’ and ‘English’ are rarely found together!

Don’t get me wrong, I love all reviews (touch wood they have all been good) but the French do have a wonderful way with words.

Birthday parties

My 7 year old daughter, Kristen, is off to yet another birthday party this afternoon. Children’s birthdays in France are not such big events as they are in the UK – well, at least here in the sticks, anyway. Instead of competing to ask the most number of other children possible, only a handful of friends are invited, usually about 8 maximum. Much easier to cope with (and cheaper!) for the parents. In many cases, it is just an opportunity for the kids to see each other and play together, party games are rarely organised. Food is usually just sweets, or sometimes crêpes. The first time I hosted my daughter’s party I made a real effort with sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes (I wasn’t stupid enough to inflict jelly on them) but hardly anything except the sweets and crisps were touched. It was almost as though I was offering them poison – I’m still not sure whether the kids were really not hungry, or they’d been forbidden by their parents from trying food chez les Anglais (English food still has an ill deserved reputation in France for being terrible). At least the party games I organised went down well – pass the parcel, musical chairs and statues – the children loved them, so at least I did something right!
Last year the trend seemed to for be having the parties in Mcdo’s – which is a pain for me as it is always on a Saturday (changeover day) and Mcdos is in Fougères, about 25kms away. By the time I’d dropped Kristen off and come home, it was nearly time to go and pick her up again. And of course, I can guarantee that any guests arriving will do so when I’m on the drop off or pick up journey.
This year, however, most of the parties have been at the house again, which is easier, although it isn’t always to find the houses when they are out in the countryside (like ours!). And during the last couple of parties, the parents have organised little activities for the children to do too – decorating pencil cases, making halloween outfits, etc. Still no food though, except sweets, thank goodness my daughter doesn’t have any E allergies.

5th party – lots of wasted food!
6th Birthday party – no nice food, lesson learnt!

They think it grows on trees…

I get my annual delivery of firewood about now and of course once delivered, it has to be stacked (neatly of course, we have to keep up with the standard of the French neighbours) to dry out for use the following year. I usually get through about 5 or 6 cordes of wood (depending on how cold/long the winter is) and that is quite a lot of wood! A corde is roughly 1 x 3m3, but this varies according to the type of wood, where you live and often who is supplying it. The locals around here are quite obsessed with wood – it is still one one of the more economic ways of heating, but wood prices are now increasing along with all the other fossil fuels as more people are using it to heat their houses instead of fuel, gas or electricity. Trying to explain that to gite guests isn’t always easy as there are so many trees around here I think everyone assumes it is free. In fact I pay more for wood here than my father does in the UK, 160€ per corde this year, for mainly oak (la chêne) with a little beech (du hêtre).

Anyway, the delivery fortunately ‘coincided’ with the visit of OH, who is an expert wood stacker (over 6 years experience now), so as a tribute to him, here are some photos showing How to Stack a Woodpile Properly:

A good base structure is important
The first few layers…
Getting there
5 hours later…finished

Of course you also have to be careful of the snakes – there are vipers about and they often hide in the woodpile. I’m not sure if they are protected in France as they are in the UK, but my old neighbour shoots them if he sees them, regardless of any legal protection the snakes have. He took great pleasure in showing us one of the dead ones he shot earlier this year – the trick is if you see one, look again the next day in the same place, at the same time and it will be there, and a sitting target, so to speak. Apparently snakes are creatures of habit, very much like my neighbour.




A rather lovely day

Not just for the wonderful weather we enjoyed here yesterday – 25°c and very sunny . The oldest resident of the hamlet came home today for the first time in 2 months. Maria Garner is 82 and had a second stroke in August. Since then she has been in a nursing home since then having also fallen and broken her leg. La Mancelière has been her home for over 50 years, she gave birth to 5 children here and it was very emotional for her and her familu when she came back for the day. We were invited over for an apéro and lunch and it was such a pleasure seeing her again. She has had a pretty tough life, married to a Breton paysan who is still incredibly chauvanistic, but she has never complained. She used to go on a bike ride every afternoon before her first stroke 5 years ago, then afterwards when the weather was OK she would go out for a walk every afternoon and I often met her on the road during my daily dog walk. Everyone here hopes that she gets well enough to live the rest of her life in her own home, enjoying the wonderful view over the valley that she has from her house.

The oldest and youngest resident in the village

Autumn in Brittany

The nights have been a lot colder this Autumn than in previous years. We’ve even had a couple of light frosts which is very unusual. September and October are lovely months to take a holiday in Brittany – the weather is usually quite good, not too much rain, the colours of the trees fantastic, and of course there are fewer other tourists around so that you can enjoy the attractions without having to endure the crowds. All the guests who are staying at the moment have even gone to the beach today! On all my local footpaths, the chestnuts are falling in enormous quantities everywhere.

Sweet chestnuts … Everywhere!

Not the horse chestnuts that are good for conker playing, but the sweet ones which are lovely to eat roasted on an open fire or cooked in the oven.

The maize harvest (encilage) is in full swing at the moment – tractors are everywhere  on the roads transporting the cut maize, stem, corn, everything to the various small farms everywhere. It is wise to add on a few minutes to all journeys at the moment as the chance of getting stuck behind one or several tractors is even higher than normal. The maize itself is grown widely here – not for Brittany the elegant refined vineyards! The maize is all used for cattle fodder in the winter. It’s amaizing (ha ha) that there is any nutritional value left in it at all, as by the time it is harvested, it is dead and brown and the corn itself has started to go black. Still, what do I know? This year’s harvest is quite good, I think, although the early frosts have meant that it is ready later than usual. There was an incident a few years ago following the heatwave (canicule) in 2003 – the harvested maize was so dry that a local farmer who fed it to his cows had the unfortunate experience of two of his cows exploding as soon as the maize reached their stomachs. Not a good year.

The maize is just about ready for harvesting

It’s cider time!

Cider is the local drink of Brittany. Many people who live in the countryside have apple trees and every year they pick their apples for the purpose of making their own cider. The apple trees are stripped in October and the apples laid out on black plastic sheets for 3 weeks or so in the open air to rot. The ‘pressoir’ is then booked for November/December – this is the mobile cider press on the back of a tractor, which presses the apples and the juice is then fed into large ‘barriques’  cider barrels, where the cider ferments. The cider is ready to drink in about 6 months time, and very good it is too! For breakfast, lunch, dinner – there is never a wrong time for the Bretons to drink cider.


Of course a beret and Breton moustache are essential for cider making;)

The older generation still have the right to produce ‘eau de vie’ – distilled cider, usually about 70% volume and a real throat burner. Traditionally added to a morning coffee (pre Sarkozy and his traffic contrôles, bien sûr!!). This right to distill used to be passed on to the children, but it is now illegal. Each cider producer had the right to produce up to 1000% per year, so around 13 litres. Another tradition that has now disappeared, although I’m sure there will be more healthy livers in Brittany as a result.