Monday, 28 November 2011

Friday farce

actors take a bow
Well, we promised to let you know how Maurice the protagonist in Friday night's farce got on. And the news is that he got on very well indeed. Ably hampered by his good friends at the bar/auberge "Chez Pauline" he managed to impress his very shrewish wife. Firstly by playing the hero during a hold up by some nasty masked men and secondly by becoming embroiled in foiling the smuggling of several suitaces of dope. Chaos was nicely resolved by the two madcap undercover police agents.  All in all it was a enjoyable Friday night out in the village. 

Charnizay church at night
The only thing which marred the whole was the heating! The radiators were on red hot and it was stifling. In fact, at the end, there was a slight stampede for the door. Not because the acting had been poor -- it was of a good standard, but because people were keen to get some fresh air!

Afterwards there was cider and medeira cake courtesy of the mairie and the 'actors' joined the audience. 

We'd parked near the church and took a quick snap of it looking lovely in the floodlights before driving home. On the way back we noticed that the temperature had gone up. In the morning it had been a chilly 4C with fog; in afternoon it had even dropped slightly,  but at 11pm it was a comparatively balmy 7C and the fog had thinned to wisps.

There was a good turnout on Friday and we hope they had as good an audience at Saturday's performance.

Friday, 25 November 2011

little cat feet

murky mist towards Eric's field
The weather has reminded me of Carl Sandberg's poem. This morning when I looked out the window it was all murky and foggy. In other words, proper November weather, the thermometer outside the kitchen door read 4C at about 8:30am. Quickly going out to take some photographs you could hear the drip, drip, drip of moisture falling from the branches and leaves.


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandberg, Chicago Poems (1916)

fog droplets
Hopefully it will lift a little as tonight we're out on the town --- well the village more like. A local theatre company, La Répet' d'Abilly is touring the villages and playing at Charnizay's salle de fete tonight and tomorrow night. Earlier in the week Niall saw a collection of theatre flats being delivered. 9pm will see us taking our seats for 'Larguez les Amarres' a comedy about Maurice, a down-trodden husband, his mates in the local bar and their madcap plans to help him. We'll let you know how Maurice got on.
Shadow mooching, woodburner ablaze
What a difference a week has made! Last Saturday the lizards were basking in the sunshine. Now the woodburner is on and the cats are seeking out the warmest nooks in the house.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


our house
Exactly a year ago today we stood and nervously pressed the 'publish post' button on the blogger 'new post' facility and watched with some trepidation as our first post appeared.

We'd never paid too much attention to blogs. Having weathered the first few frantic months that are part of any move to a new place we found that we were boring some of our friends/relations with repetition and failing to keep others abreast of the news. After the third email which kindly pointed out that: 'yes, we'd told them that already' we knew we had to find another solution!
Touraine Primeur

We'd found Simon & Susan's blog while searching for some information on wildlife.  As an extension of their blog they have an extremely useful site on flora & fauna in the area. We'd wanted to check if it was remotely possible to have spotted an otter along the Aigronne river [the jury is still out, but at best it is an 'unlikely to just maybe']. Reading their blog was -- and still is -- fun and informative. It also gave us the idea to try writing one ourselves as a solution to letting people know what we were up to.

So after some hesitant messing around with the Blogger design pages we put up our 1st post on 20 November 2010.

Now a year later we can honestly say that we remain touched and humbled by the number of people who visit our blog. For our part we thoroughly enjoy writing posts and have relished the comments that people have left behind. We've made many good friends along the way. Some remain 'blog friends' [maybe that will change in the future], others we have been lucky enough to also get to know in person. 

1st banner photo: Autumn 2010
To all of you a heartfelt THANK-YOU! We hope you continue to enjoy reading our adventures. We certainly enjoy sharing them :-). So we'll raise a glass of Touraine Primeur to our 1st 'blog-a-versay'.


Saturday, 19 November 2011

A close shave

all cut back
The weather here continues to be exceptionally mild. For the last week or more we've had partly cloudy or brilliantly sunny days. Temperatures have hovered around 17C and on the south side of the house the chaux has been warm to the touch from the sun. Before that we had days and days of grisaille colored skies. No sun, very dull and faintly depressing, but not cold or even really chilly. We've even had the sun roof open on the odd occasion! 

Not so when we went out to do some grocery shopping yesterday afternoon. Turning into the left-hand fork of the chemin which leads to our lieu-dit when we came home we ran into one of the chaps from the village who does greenery & maintenance around the village. The guys do a great job with the flowerbeds and planters as well as keeping the streets tidy. Earlier in this week they'd changed the all the bedding plants and the village now has a nice display of winter pansies. 

wall clearly visible again
Yesterday, the chemin which leads to our lieu-dit, as well as 2 others, was obviously on the 'to do' list. The chap was manning the tractor with the claw-like arm which does the fauchage [verging & hedging]. It's done twice a year to keep the ditches and hedges along the public roads in order. Now it may be hard to believe, given the state of the track [to be resurfaced in the spring we've been told] but our chemin is actually a public road - right up until the point where it dead ends and our drive starts.

fauchage scarring on oak tree
Anyway he'd done most of the chemin and bits and pieces of wood littered the road and the verges. All the vegetation at the sides had been given a very rigorous "shave". Last year and this spring they had only cut the grass verges. This time they chopped back the hedges and trees too. Just compare with last month's walkies. Right now it looks ugly and you can clearly see the marks of where the bushes and trees have been cut.  However, nature is very persistent and tough; soon the scars will fade.

lizard enjoying the November sun
While out taking some snaps of the "close shave" the foliage had received we enjoyed the warmth of the sun. The little drystone wall along the chemin faces south and, like the wall of our house, was warm. We even saw a lizard basking on an oak tree at the point where the wall ends. 
What a contrast with last year! Then we'd already had the heating on for several weeks. The weather was cold, the soil claggy underfoot and frost glittered in the mornings.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

unexpected visitor

Yesterday was another lovely été de St Martin's day [indian summer]. Sunny with a bit of veiled cloud but certainly not cold.

the escapee
Niall went for a walk down into the village and to post some letters. I pottered around at home. I was making a cup to coffee when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Investigating I found an unknown black & tan beagle busily sniffing amongst the leaves and then setting off purposely towards the eastern edge of our land and away down towards the tiny stream at the bottom of the field adjoining us on the right. A classic French chien de chasse.

I walked over towards the woods on the right to see if I could see any chaps in their high-viz jackets standing at the woodland edges which means they're hunting in that particular copse, but saw no one.  Nor over to the left. Couldn't hear any guns going off either. After a while you get so used to them that you don't really 'hear' them anymore unless you actively listen.

While I was walking back to the front door the better half appeared at the start of the drive and began to tell me about the dog who'd followed him most of the way into the village. With perfect timing the beagle re-appeared and Niall stated: 'That's the dog that was following me most of the way into the village!'. Bon. We called and whistled to said dog who came over tail wagging and sat leaning against my shins, drenching my jeans. He was a very wet and friendly chappie who looked pleased with life. Around his neck was a very luminous yellow-green plastic collar with a cell phone number written on it. 

Cue comedy sketch of two humans having a mildly warm discussion whether or not to get pen and paper to write the number down with a view to phoning the owner or just letting dog go on his doggie way. There are a number of farms near us and French hunting dogs do have a habit of wandering off on their own business. They only return to their heated owners who have been shouting for them for ages at a much later stage. Needless to say the dog got bored with our debate and was off before we could grab his collar!

cat on a lead....
We got on with other things but kept an eye out for the beagle and dug out Katinka's lead--yes, she will go for walkies on a lead--she is NOT a normal cat. We figured that if he came back again, and would come to us, we'd give the number a call. Over the next hr we had 2 more sightings out the window of him happily charging off in an easterly or north easterly direction. He was obviously having an excellent outing. Occasionally there'd be volleys of barking as he got within range of the 2 farms close by us to the NE. Then he re-appeared on our drive feeling the need for another quick social call to these humans who spoke in such a funny way. Again we had the wagging-tailed approach and the drenching of the jeans but he was a sweetie. He was quite happy to be put on a leash and we gave the number a call. 

Flambard on his way home
It turned out to be a neighbour who lives about 1/2 a km away. He wasn't at home, but was able to run over in his car and collect the dog. We decided to walk the dog down the lane to meet him half-way. The cats hadn't taken too much notice of the palaver, but they did come and investigate when we began to walk down the lane. They often come with us on this walk

The owner, when he dashed up in his little white van, was greeted by the sight of us with his dog and a flanking escort of 2 cats. Shadow and Katinka obviously had to make sure that Flambard --  as we found out the dog was called -- was properly escorted OFF the premises!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Le Poilu

Flanders poppy from our garden
One of the wonderful things about moving to France is the fact that we are living in a property which has at least two centuries of history. The graffiti we found on the rafters and in the barn [see here] led us to wonder about previous residents. Our neighbour, Alexandra kindly gave us a collection of past copies of 'Charnizay: A travers les Siecles' the publication of the local historical society: Liaison et d'Amitié de Charnizay, son passé et la Nouvelle-France. Not only were these good for our French, but they provided loads of historical information.

One of the articles recounted the effect 'La Grande Guerre' [World War I] had on our village.

French flower of remembrance
The war memorial in the centre of the village cemetery lists 57 men who died in the 1914 – 1918 war. At first we thought this was rather a high number for such a small rural community; especially as the parish population in 1914 was just over 1,000. However, compulsory military service was used in all European countries pre-1914; with the exception of the United Kingdom. In France those men who had completed their compulsory military service in the years 1912/1913 [class of '12 and '13 as it were] as well as those recently trained in the first half of 1914 were called up at the outbreak of war on the 2nd of August, 1914. This meant that even in a small community like Charnizay quite a number of men were called up. Among these was Firmin Georges Chilloux, who listed as his place of residence one of the four houses in our tiny lieu-dit.

On that morning, those called up were ordered to assemble in front of the Mairie. Here they listened to a speech by th Mayor about the peril to 'La France' following the German invasion and the patriotic duty of all Frenchmen to defend their homeland. They then marched to Preuilly-sur-Claise – as agricultural workers 10 kilometres would not have been a problem – where they entrained for their respective barracks. Chilloux, as a soldier in the 113th 'Regiment d'Infanterie', went to Le Blanc. Issued with their tradtional infantry uniforms of blue jacket and red trousers [these 'please shoot me' uniforms weren't modernised until 1915] they were dispatched off to the front. Many had probably never travelled this far from the Aigronne Valley in their lives.

At this point, with the paucity of records due to the frenetic pace of invasion and mobilisation, the sequence of events is hard to follow. Those called up first were initially sent to attack the 'lost provinces' of 1871: Alsace and Lorraine. However, when the true nature of the German's 'Schlieffen Plan' became clear there was a rapid re-deployment along the Marne to protect Paris. 
Chilloux remembered on the Charnizay memorial
The records show that 3 out of the 18 soldiers from Charnizay who were killed in September 1914 died in the region of the Meuse. Among them was Firmin Georges Chilloux. According to the documentation we have he is recorded as being killed on the 30th of September at 'la Haute-Chevauchee' in the commune of Chalade.

Firmin Georges Chilloux was 21 years of age.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Headin' South

We just heard them and dashed out armed with the camera but were too late. A small group of maybe 20 Grues Cendrées [Common Crane, Grus grus] must have stopped for a quick snack not too far away as the first thing we heard was a cacophany of sound as the birds circled up and then arranged themselves in their V formation and headed off south. They were already below our hedge line when we got back outside armed with camera. Hopefully we will hear/see more. They can fly over during the night which is an even more effective way of foiling our attempts to get a photo of them in their V formation -- however poor. Hence the photo from the excellent website which is run by the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux Champagne Ardenne.

Migration paths of the Grue Cendrée. From LPO website

We are just on the western edge of the migration route. The main 'corridor' proper lies to the east of us but the neighbouring department 36: Indre has regular sightings and we're just about 5km into Indre et Loire [37].  We are lucky, therefore, if we get a sighting. If we do see them it is in smallish groups and wind is from a North/North-Easterly direction which means they veer over towards us slightly when heading south.

Mind you on a day like today--grey, murky with a north wind and misting rain who can blame them?! Right now autumn is doing a great impersonation of winter. Just take a look at the change of view from A's study.
30 October

4 November


Friday, 4 November 2011

Adding a little colour

Since we've come back from Scotland and our quick tour of a bit of Somerset and Dorset we've been busy tidying up outside and getting things ready for winter. 

floral selection
Now before you start imagining all sort of Herculean labours, let me disabuse you: our house sits in just a tad more than 2 1/2 acres but this is rough grass with an abundance of trees. A quick, and by no means exhaustive, count gave us 17 different species. All of this means that with a regular application of the sit-on lawn mower things can look nicely maintained. Even the rough grass [aka weeds] looks good newly shorn. Flowers are represented by some pots and what blooms on the trees and bushes. Slowly we are adding to that, as splashes of colour are always welcome!

chrysanths all in a row
You have only to take a look at any cemetery in France right now and you'll see what we mean about colour. The vast majority of the graves will have large pots of brightly flowering chrysanthemums. At Toussaint & Defuncts [All Saints & All Souls] people remember their dead and visit their graves bringing flowers; the flower of choice being chrysanths. As they are associated with Toussaint one doesn't take them along as a gift when visitng French friends!  Without wanting to sound trite our local cemetery here in Charnizay looks postiviely cheerful - especially when the sun's out! Naturally the dead also have the best view of the Aigronne valley.
best view of the valley
Back to our patch. It isn't a garden in the traditional sense but we have been adding to the flower and colour content. Regluar readers will know that we've just had the terrace sorted and it's now all ready for tiling come spring. As a transition to the semi-wooded 'beyond' we've decided to edge the terrace area with something called 'Gazon Japonais'. Mixed grass/wild flower seed to us. We hope that this will make a nice swathe of easy maitainance colour--you can tell we're not the sort of people to be out morning, noon and night digging, mulching and generally pestering everything green into perfection. In addtion we've also planted bulbs along the path leading to the kitchen door and the terrace. Two types of tulips: a pink double and a red flamed variety as well as blue iris and white narcissi. Lastly we've also put in some alliums 'Sphaerocephalon'. 

Tres Riches Heures: November
While we were planting along the path it sounded as if some giant grinder was dogging our footfall but it was only the millions of walnuts crunching underfoot. The tree next to the kitchen path has been especially productive. As have our oak trees-- loads of acorns in contrast to last year. Any medieval swineherd would have been very happy - as would have been his pigs!

It has been very mild so far this year -- hardly a log burnt in the woodburner -- so the grass continued to grow. Don't think we've ever cut grass in the 1st week of November before, but we did this week. We'd tidied away the graden furniture just before we went to Edinburgh. Typically it is still so mild that on sunny days like today we could easily sit out. Cue a rootle round in the barn for the camping chairs -- you've got to enjoy every bit of sunshine you can! Especially as we are getting, as is normal now that we're into November, ever more gloomy days of rain. However, there is still the odd sunworshipper about...

late butterfly on warm soil
All we have to do now is wait to see what happens in the spring and buy a new trowel. The old one died planting the bulbs in our claggy soil.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

5 Puddles!

Looking back towards Lyme Regis
Once we left Wells we drove south via Glastonbury and then Somerton, important in the old Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex and headed towards the coast at Bridport. The weather had become much gloomier and we were treated to some spectacular purple clouds which duly dumped substantial quantities of rain. A bit of shame as we were hoping to briefly stop at Chesil Beach. 

Weymouth in summer glory;
In the event, the afternoon was also drawing on so we contented ourselves with driving along the coast to Weymouth. This part of the south coast of England is a World Heritage site and is known as the 'Jurassic Coast' on account of its fossils.  Weymouth is an elegant seaside town which boasts seafront buildings with delicate wrought iron balconies. Sadly it was pouring with rain so we weren't able to take any photos. Just along the coast from Weymouth we branched inland at Overcombe and headed towards the "Puddles".

There are five "Puddles": Puddletown, Affpuddle, Turnerspuddle, Briantspuddle and Tolpuddle. The last is the famous one and where we were headed. 

Niall in Tolpuddle
In the 1832 a group of farm labourers decided to to form a local branch of the 'Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers' to improve their poor and insecure working conditions. They swore an oath to support each other, which at the time was illegal. These early versions of trade unionism made the government of the time extremely uneasy and they didn't hesitate to prosecute even such 'small fry' as the 6 farm labourers from Tolpuddle. 

The 6 men were tried and sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. The sentence caused huge public outcry and the 'Martyrs' as they became known were pardoned 2 years later; but not before they had served some time in Australia. 4 chose to come back to England immediately once they were pardoned and later on emigrated to Canada. A 5th was released late [due to a previous criminal conviction]. Hence 5 figures on the information board, not 6.

Information on the 'martyrs'
The story of the 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' is one of the earliest events of the Trades Union movement for better working conditions.

After visiting Tolpuddle we drove over to Lyndhurst in the New Forest where we found a nice pub, The Waterloo Arms, for dinner.  Afterwards it was only a shortish drive on the M27 to Portsmouth and the ferry to Caen/Ouistreham.