Saturday, 22 November 2014


Autumn has arrived
Autumn is well and truly upon us, finally all the leaves are falling and we have been bathed in fog for weeks. Today however, the sun has come out at last, to match my mood, you see yesterday I received a phone call I have been waiting for, for months.

Just as a glimmer of hope started to peak through the fog, I received the news that my Christmas present had arrived! Since last Christmas I have been searching for something to spend my Christmas money on and I finally found just what I wanted late in September. I have been searching all year, but the models available were too small or too big or not the right shape or, or, or, the list goes on, but at the end of September a leaflet dropped into our letterbox with just the thing I wanted. We rushed straight round to the shop in question to view what they had, only to find that, even though they were supposed to be on offer that week, there were none in the shop. One could be ordered for me and it would be in next week “normalement”.

Christmas present still wrapped
Anyone who has ever had dealings with the French and their “normalement” will know what that means. Next week came and went as did the following week. I chased them up after a month and they said, “oh do you still want one, we thought as the order had taken so long you might not be interested anymore” . Why not ask in future - I mumbled under my breath as I ensured them I was very interested. It will be in next week “normalement”.

Two weeks ago I phoned again and was told that it would be in mid-November. “Normallement?” I asked, yes normalement. I went in to the shop on the 14th and was told that it would arrive mid-November (they know me and my order by now without having to look up the paperwork) I suggested that it was now mid-November what with it being the 14th and all, to which they agreed with a look of surprise, but still no item to be collected. So you can imagine my excitement when I received “The Call”. I was in the car and round to the shop before they could say “normalement”.

We paid at the till with the crisp notes that had been in my Christmas envelop since last year and were told to collect my present at the big gate. Along came a forklift truck with a pallet and more than 100kg of Christmas present. We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. Firstly, we hadn’t realised it would be that big and secondly, even if this burly chap could get it in the car, how the heck would we get it out at the other end? Never mind, we’re intelligent enough creatures, we will find a way.

Using our combined engineering skill base, we did manage to get it out of the car without either of us slipping a disk and there we had it - 100kg of log splitter, in a box, in our vide.

In action..
Now what? Open the top of the box to read the instructions. The first instruction is how to get it out of the box, which should have been done before putting it upright. How do you find that out, without the instructions which you can’t access until it is upright? We ad-libbed. The assembly went smoothly until I had two pieces left over which did not appear anywhere in the instructions - fortunately their website shed some light those and within a jiffy it was ready to roll.

So now to try it out, I dusted off my steel toe-capped boots and found my face protector and heavy gloves and set to. Dah dah, I managed to split a log and here’s the photo to prove it.

Now I have a couple more logs to sort out….

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wine tasting in the Beaujolais?

Vineyards in summer
I have been told off by a number of friends for never having been wine tasting in the Beaujolais. We have been into the vineyards a number of times and have seen numerous villages and some lovely sites, but have never tasted a drop in situ.

On 1st November we headed off yet again into the Beaujolais because there was an exhibition of jazz paintings - no I didn’t know what that would mean either. The reason being that Cees is a jazz fan and the icing on the cake was that the exhibition was in an ex-Romanesque church, what better combination could he dream of? For me the bigger reason was that this ex-church had been turned into a wine cellar. Ah ha, at last a drop of Beaujolais!

Door firmly shut
We arrived at the cellar in Julienas after lunch (because everything round here shuts for lunch) only to find the door firmly locked. The poster on the door (that I was too annoyed at to take a photograph of) said clearly that the exhibition started on 1st November and ran every day except Tuesdays until the 30th December. It wasn’t a Tuesday, but it was a bank holiday, which obviously they had forgotten when they made the poster and sent round all their advertising material. It was very clear that they had no intention of opening, much to the disappointment of a number of other people who were standing there shaking all the doors to this ex-church, turned wine cellar and exhibition room. At about an hour’s drive away I was not impressed at this bad organisation and I would have happily given it a miss, but Cees talked me into going on another day, not a Tuesday, not a bank holiday, this Saturday morning.

Non-jazz wall painting
Low and behold (and to my relief and surprise) the door of the ex-church was open and in we went. The huddle of old men around the bar didn’t even grunt a reply to my “Bonjour!” - obviously they don’t use words like that round there. And there they were, the paintings. Let’s put this in perspective, by the time we had driven home, we would have driven a total of four hours to see these things (2 trips of 1 hour back and 1 hour forth) and if I had known beforehand, I wouldn’t have driven into Cormatin for them. We did our bit however and stood and looked at them, but they weren't worth a photo.

Quick exit
The whole ambiance was unwelcoming, despite the cheerful painting on the wall, so we said “au revoir” to the huddle of old men and left. They grunted something back, so they obviously spoke some form of French.

To get a photo of the offending poster for this blog, I have been looking on the internet and can’t find one, but I did find the website for the cellar in question and I found out that you have to pay to have a tasting. Thank goodness I hadn’t asked for one while I was there or I would have been more than a tad upset. Obviously they are not confident enough in their product, to allow you to taste it for free.

So wine tasting in the Beaujolais was not a great success and we won’t be trying it again and we also won’t be trying this year’s over-hyped Beaujolais Nouveau when it comes out on Thursday, although I must give it to them, they certainly know how to maximise their financial return.

Henri Lafarge - he'll make you welcome!
I am so glad that our local wine producers are confident enough in their product to know that it will sell without hype and without charging their customers to taste. We are very lucky to live where we do, very close to some of the best wine producers around, Henri Lafarge, Peter Gierszewski and Christophe Perrin - why not have a tasting when you visit the area, free of charge and you won’t be disappointed. They know that anyone who comes in to taste can not possibly leave without a couple of cases of their nectar, it is far too good.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


Cows everywhere
This Saturday, ie the Saturday nearest to the 11th of November, Cluny becomes one great big party zone. It is the feast of Saint Martin. Quite why there is are a lot of cows involved is a mystery to me, but there are.

This year we decided to visit a different cow before heading into Cluny. We have found an electronic cow, or mechanical cow, I am not sure quite how I should describe it, but in any case, it is a brilliant invention.

Electronic cow
A few weeks ago, we spotted a machine outside a supermarket in Prissé (not far from Macon) which dispenses milk. Not just any milk, but local, fresh, non-pasteurised, non-sterilised milk - real milk straight from the cow. Being a huge milk drinker and being very particular about the type of milk he drinks, Cees was very excited and so we decided to take a bottle and try it out. Here is the video to prove it. The sound effects were a delightful bonus…

Just what you need on a cold winter's evening
According to our aficionado, the milk is absolutely delicious, not tampered with, the way mother nature intended us to have it. Me, I am more excited about the price, at 1 Euro a litre it is by far the cheapest milk for miles around. A win/win in our household!

Following all that excitement we headed back to Cluny where the town was one great big chaotic party. All the tourists are gone, the holiday season is over and the party is just for the locals. The weather usually turns on about the 15th of November, so everyone comes out to celebrate what is normally the last weekend before the winter sets in. At least I know now where to get some good milk to make that late night cocoa to keep me warm in the months to come.

For information on holiday accommodation near a real milk machine click here.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

My very own saint.

This is not Saint George despite the dragon
As most people probably know, every saint has his or her own domain and responsibilities. For instance good old George looks after us English as well as those from Barcelona, not to mention 20 other countries, 22 other cities, as well as of the Scouting Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations, and disease sufferers including leprosy, plague, herpes and syphilis.

But apart from being English, I don’t feel a particular link to him. In fact when I started visiting local churches, it surprised me to find out that the chap I had been identifying as St George all this time, was in fact Saint Michael.

Sain Curé
I can now admit that the only saint that I recognised correctly when we started visiting catholic churches, was Joan of Arc, the rest I have had to learn over time. For instance the weird looking priest whose head leans forward a bit like Scrooge is the Saint Curé d’Ars who is the patron saint of priests and who comes from a small town not far from here, the monk dressed in brown with a small child on his shoulder is Saint Anthony patron the saint who helps you find lost items, not to be confused with the Saint Anthony with the pig who it seems you take your pig to, to be blessed or so I was told the other day by someone showing us around his church.

In the sculptures or images, each saint is depicted in the same way every time, with the same features, so that you can easily identify him or her. I have slowly learned their names, some but not all have plaques, sometimes there are helpful old ladies in the churches to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, sometimes I can find the name by looking in the handy brochures left in the church or sometimes they take a lot of research on the internet when I get home. There are however a small cluster of saints who remain in my photo collection as still unnamed.

Who is he?
Let’s go back to my faux-pas with George to show how this works. He is usually depicted killing a dragon. Inside churches he is normally without a horse, but outside he tends to be sitting on a horse. In my ignorance I assumed that all dragon killers were George, but that is not the case, it appears that Michael killed a dragon or two as well, hence my confusion. So how do you tell the difference? If there is a horse, then it is obviously George, but without one you have to look further. I’ll put you out of your misery - Michael is the one with wings because not only is he a saint but he is an angel as well.

It certainly makes visiting churches an interesting puzzle at times. Now when I enter a church, I scan the saints for unknown ones, I photograph them for my collection and then try and find out who they are. Surprisingly even after all these years, we still run across a saint I do not know the name of. My latest unknown saint is this chappy. When I Googled “saint with watering can and shovel” I ended up with pictures of garden gnomes, which made me smile, but did not send me in the right direction as it could have done - I was stumped actually.

Google option
Then I thought to ask Cees the name of the church and all was revealed, the church was Saint Fiacre. When I looked him up it appears that he is normally pictured holding a shovel. Problem solved. So what is he responsible for? Well he is the patron saint of “those who grow vegetables and medicinal plants, and of gardening in general” (a Wikipedia quote) a saint after my own heart.

So when I am next out tending my garden, I will be thinking of my very own patron saint and I must say I prefer the idea of him looking over me than that of a dragon killer who I can’t always identify.

For information on our holiday accommodation surrounded by a lovely garden click here.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Changes on the Campsite

Since we started the campsite, 8 years ago, we have been constantly changing things in response to comments from the campers and changing things as we saw opportunities to improve the campsite, its facilities and the whole camping experience. It has always been our aim is to create a campsite that we would want to stay on. We wanted a simple campsite, with no frills, but one or two extra comforts. Hence the generous toilet facilities, the fridge, the freezer and telephone loading points, but no electricity on the site itself.

Originally we allowed caravans and campervans as we thought that if those campers were prepared to accept the lack of electricity, they were the type of people who would appreciate what we are offering, simplicity in peaceful surroundings. Sadly we discovered that the weight of caravans and campervans is such that we can’t permit them on the site, so we have been a tent only campsite now for a few years. It raised a few eyebrows when said we were not going to have any electricity on the site and it raised a few more eyebrows when we made the change to no caravans, but both ideas have have been sucessful and have been appreciated by the campers who come here.

Now it is time for the next big change.

Car park for the campsite
Our favourite campsite in The Netherlands in Loenen, was the model for what we wanted to create in France. We have followed most of their principles, but for whatever reason, we didn’t think that their policy of no cars on the site was a goer here in France. Having said that some damp summers have shown us that we can run the campsite successfully in this way and so from next year we are not only an electricity-free zone, but a car-free zone as well.

The car park has been spruced up since the summer, with measured and marked spaces and we have been looking round for the best way to help the campers transport their belongings from this new car park to their chosen camping spot. Thanks to Cees’ daughter and son-in-law, we have now come up with a brilliant solution.

New Brouettes
So here is a photo of Cees and me modelling the “his and hers” brouettes, just waiting for the first campers of our next season to use them to transport their camping gear.

I am sure our new policy will raise a few eyebrows yet again, but I am equally sure that our campers will appreciate what this will bring. Peace, quiet, your own tent and nature - what more could you ask of a campsite?

For more information see our website by clicking here.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Picnics, Buddhists and Magnificent Churches

When we have visitors to stay we always try and take them to places they have never been to do and do things they don’t normally do. When Cees’ daughter arrived with her partner, we had to think up a nice day out with something for everyone.

In my opinion, a day out wouldn’t be a day out without a picnic, so off we went to get to Digoin in time for lunch at one of our favourite picnic spots, the Pont-canal. This is where the Canal Lateral à la Loire crosses the Loire to enable the canal network to be connect through to the Canal du Centre. There are some nice benches there and a lovely view of the bridge and the fast flowing waters of the Loire. An excellent place to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

After lunch we headed to another of our favourites, the Temple of the Thousand Buddhas at La Boulaye. Maybe it is not the first place you would take visitors to give them a sample of Burgundian life and culture, but it is such a special place, it is well worth the trip.

Finally on the return leg of our journey, we were passing close by Perrecy les Forges and since that church has been reopened, after a five year closure for refurbishment, I can’t tire of making a quick visit. We are not the only ones either. Every time we visit, there are always one or two locals who pop in for a few minutes, possibly like us to enjoy the majesty of the place, but also to take a look to make sure that it hasn’t been closed again. This time Cees’ daughter got chatting to an old lady who was more than keen to tell her all about the place.

After a successful day out., we headed home to have one final dinner en famille before they headed home.

For information about holiday accommodation near all of these places click here.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dirty Deeds?

Cluny cinema provides us with at least one outing a month, if not more. It has a great selection of interesting films, not your usual Hollywood pap, but lots of English films and the more arty American films. We have also seen less popular, but nonetheless very interesting, French films and even a Tibetan film once.

In February every year they dedicate a week to Chinese films and they have a smattering of other interesting films from around the globe, most often in the original version (ie not dubbed which I despise) with French subtitles. In short we look forward to our monthly email from the cinema. Well actually we look forward to our monthly letter from one person, Anne Krief, the mythical woman who sends out the emails. We had no idea who she was, or even if she existed, until quite recently, but her mails were awaited with eager anticipation, along with the weekly updates to remind us of the films we might just have forgotten about.

Comfortable cinema
Anne has worked for the cinema as a volunteer for the best part of 10 years I think. She chooses and organises the delivery of the films and makes sure that we, the viewing public, have an interesting selection of good films to see. At the beginning of September, after all those years of doing this work for nothing, she was offered a contract to be paid part-time for the work. Finally a small reward for all her years of dedication, or was it a poisoned chalice?

housed in the histroic St Hugues stables
Last night we received an email from her which saddened me immensely and made me very cross. Her contract to work for the cinema was being cancelled after the one month trial period. So as from 1st October she no longer works for the cinema for free or paid. This all smacks of nasty work to me, how can someone who works for free, for so long and provides an excellent service to the likes of us, someone we appreciate and admire for their efforts, suddenly be no longer required after one month of being paid?

All I can say is beware of Greeks bearing gifts, or should I say Algerians. Enough said. We will miss Anne very much.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

As You Like It

One of the best albums ever made - but is it suitable for mass?
I have had a pet theory for a while - that the priests round here seem to make things up as they go along during a service. Being an English Anglican - where things are well organised - you get a book when you enter the church and you just follow the instructions. Sometimes there is an either/or option and depending on the church you go to, they may take a course you are not used to, but, if you remain on the ball, you can follow things.

The church services I have been since we moved to France (excluding Taizé which is extremely well organised) you get given what could loosely be called an order-of-service sheet when you enter. This piece of paper serves to give you the songs to be sung (I refuse to call many of the offerings put before me, hymns) and a rough guide as to what might or might not happen. Then it appears that the priest does and says what the heck he likes. The songs are not necessarily sung in the order given on the sheet and as to the instructions, well forget it. The one Protestant church service I went to, I failed to spot the God link at all. Don’t get me wrong I am a great fan of Pink Floyd and Shine On You Crazy Diamond is my all time favourite, but how that fits into a religious service is slightly lost on me.

Whilst I have shared my theory with our church-going French neighbours, I have tended to get blank looks, as though it is obviously me that doesn’t get it. Well this is France and things are different, so I suppose it is just me and I certainly don’t get it. But now I know I am right and I have the proof!

We spent a few days in Provence and we visited the Basilica of St Maxime la Sainte Baume, reputedly the last resting place of Saint Mary-Magdalene. The church itself was not that spectacular and I am not a great fan of looking at caskets full of bones no matter who they reputedly belong to, but there was a notice in the church that I just have to share with you.

Proof !
Rather freely translated it welcomes visiting priests to the church to pray and to say mass if they like. However there is a condition, that they stick to the words given in “the book”. Ah ha, so there is a book, there are proper words and priests must be commonly making it up as they go along otherwise there would be no need to politely remind them to do things according to the liturgy or to not to do them at all.

So bravo to St Maxime la Sainte Baume for sticking to your guns and demanding that things are done properly. Sadly there was no mass said the day we were there so I couldn’t experience a French service along official lines. Next time we are near there, I will make sure I go on a Sunday.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Away for a couple of days and look what happens

Much loved logo of our favourite supermarket
We went off to Provence for a short break (don’t worry I’ll bore you with the details in a later blog) and we have come back to a very unwelcome surprise. They have changed our supermarket. I don't mean just reorganised it a bit, I mean totally changed it. The Intermarché we have loved and been loyal to for the last nine years is no more and Carrefour have invaded its hallowed space. No warning, no thought for the trauma it could inflict upon returning holidaymakers who just want to buy some oranges, milk and eggs for their first breakfast at home – oh no, they couldn’t care less.

It had been a difficult journey home in horrendous weather conditions and arriving, as we did, when the Friday afternoon rush started in the supermarket, with staff and shoppers alike looking bemused at what was going on, probably wasn’t maybe the best of times to be trying out the place

Temporary banner proclaiming the change - nice trolley though
We bumped into a friend in the supermarket who was equally lost, in fact she had returned from her holiday on Wednesday to find the shop totally shut and today she, like us, was struggling to find the simplest of things. The poor woman at the till, was battling with the new computer system trying to find the price for our oranges, or even to find the right button to get the fruit price-list. Did the staff know in advance I wonder? Or was it just as much of a surprise to them as it was to us?

Carrefour is not my favourite supermarket, they are expensive and the quality is not always what it should be, so the Tuilerie jury is out on this one. I hate to change my habits, but I can feel a change of supermarket coming on. Even though I detest the Atac car park, the aisles are far too narrow and the floor looks like it hasn't been changed since the place was built in the sixties, they have always had much nicer cheese and their grattons are the best in the region, so they will possibly be getting my custom from now on, I'll give the new shop one last chance then.....

Sunday, 7 September 2014

La Renetrée

Look no wobble
After three weeks of family staying with us and with closing the campsite for the season, we have all too quickly arrived at La Rentrée – return to school. When the kids go back to school for the autumn term, it is a big “thing” in France. You see “rentrée” everywhere, it is as if the country is reawakening itself after the soporific summer months. Strangely enough the rentrée this year has seen a return to some summer weather - sunny and hot - after a miserable and cold August. The hottest day so far this year was Saturday, when the local clubs and associations were having their annual membership drive in Cluny and we were called into action to do some Tai Chi demos.

What better way to spend a Saturday than gentle exercise on a sunny grass verge with the towers of Cluny in the background.
Tai Chi on a sunny lawn

Moments before impact
Unfortunately it was hot and I mean HOT, so we retreated further into the shade of a tree. That however, brought certain hazards with it. Even with my somewhat diminished height, twirling your stick under a tree means that it will eventually bump into some branches and if that doesn’t put you off your stride, I don’t know what will. The second stick demo and I made sure I was in the sun!

It was the first public set of demos we had done as a group and I thought we coped very well, the 24 of Beijing went well, no one fell over or even wobbled on the leg kicks and apart from my argument with the tree and Christophe’s fan flying off into the blue yonder at an inappropriate moment, we did rather well and at least the audience applauded, which made it all worth while.

Maybe next year
So it is back to school for us all, this time next year maybe I will be able to join in the fan demo as well – we’ll see.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Stolen goods or just recycled?

Please put your reclable stuff in the crates provided!
We are fanatical recyclers. It helps if you have to pay for all the rubbish that is not recycled of course, but I have always been a recycler. Ask the poor people I have shared houses with in the past, about the stacks of old newspapers and boxes full of bottles and cans if you don’t believe me. I even used to recycle the aluminium cans from work many years ago, you could get 1p a can from the scrap man. It was a pity I didn’t realise that half of the cans sold in those days were steel, which meant I had to spend a whole afternoon checking which ones stuck to the fridge doorpost (did you know there is a magnet in the fridge doorpost?) to split the recyclable aluminium from the non-recyclable (in those days) steel cans.

So it is no surprise that we provide the people who stay in our gîtes and on the campsite with recycling boxes. Most (but not all) people use them and we then make sure that the waste is sorted and gets to the right place. Often there are interesting magazines or useful jam pots put into these boxes and then I truly re-cycle them by using again.

But just the other day we found something which might have been stolen. So what do you do? Do you go to the police? Do you contact the owner and return the goods (we knew where it had come from), do you turn a blind eye because this is after all a rubbish bin and are we our campers’ keepers? Or lastly do you assume that the person who put the item in the bin had in fact bought it and after use, decided to throw it away?

Hanging out to dry

I’ll clarify things a little. The afore-mentioned item was in fact soaking wet, it had either been left out in the rain or dropped in a puddle, but even so it was worth saving. Cees brought it indoors and asked if I wanted it.

Having never owned one of these things, the answer was yes of course, so he carefully removed the centre staples and I peeled it apart sheet by sheet and set it out to dry. After a few hours on my wash rack all was dry and reconstructed and now I am the owner of a Taizé song book.

There still rests the tricky question of whether I will be arrested for handling stolen goods or not... so please don’t tell anyone.

For information on holiday accommodation near the shop in Taizé where you can buy a Taizé song book click here.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


A "real" key
I love keys, I always have. Even before I was old enough to have a my own key to the front door, I had a collection of keys. Over the years I have owned many keys, some opened locks that I also owned, but some were just keys, another little piece of engineering to add to the long chain that my collection had become. For whatever reason, that huge collection has gone missing. Maybe one day I will find it at the bottom of a long unopened box and I will be able to finger those lovely keys again, remembering some of the locks they belonged to or some of the people who gave them to me.

Even though that collection is no longer around. It doesn’t mean I don’t still love keys and every time I have the pleasure of having a new one in my hand, I still wonder at what might have happened to it during it’s long or short life. Modern keys are real masters of security engineering, but to be honest, give me a big, old-fashioned key any day.

Funnily enough, I’ve never been interested in locks. As an engineer maybe I should have been more interested in how a keys turns the relevant part of a lock to magically open the door, but it has always been the keys for me. Just like the story of the Secret Garden really starts when Mary Lennox finds the lost key which opens up her life and shows her new horizons, I am more interested in the thought of what that key will reveal, than the lock itself.

A "normal" bunch of church keys
Round here locks still have “real” keys, great big chunky metal things that have lived a long life and been well used, particularly church keys which we have had a lot to do with in recent weeks. We are currently trying to see inside all of the locked Romanesque churches we have come across. A visit to a church therefore now starts with a visit to the Mairie to ask if they know where to get hold of the key. That in itself can be a journey of discovery.

Sometimes we are set away, sometimes we are told who has the key, sometimes we are given a telephone number to make an appointment and sometimes we are actually given the key. Mostly we are looked at as though we are bonkers and sometimes the look suggests that we should be certified. The other day was such a moment. The look was between, “don’t mess up my day” and “I’m going to phone the men in white coats”. But the lady concerned did eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, telephone a mystery person to try and ascertain where the key might be. The hushed conversation ended with, “so I just give them our key then?” Obviously the response was in the affirmative and the already irritated secretary went off to search for the required church key.

Which one opens the door?
Normally when we receive a church key, it is one large church key and one or samller keys, but this day’s haul was impressive. The receptionist returned with a fist-full of keys, dumped them on the counter and said “it should be one of them”. So off we went with the bundle to try and get into the church. We were lucky and we got in at the 4th attempt, but we might have been there all afternoon! Was the church worth the visit? To be honest I can’t remember, that church will always be remembered just as the one with the huge bunch of keys.

For information on holiday accommodation near some beautiful Romanesque churches of which some are locked with beautiful keys click here.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A visit to the Post Office

Anyone who ever went to the Post Office in Cormatin when it was a “real” Post Office will shudder at the thought of ever going there again, but nowadays Frédérique runs the show and she is wonderful. She smiles, she is helpful, she is efficient and to be honest she is more than any citizen of Cormatin could have ever dreamed of when that dreadful Post Office lady tyrannized our village.

All that said, we went to the Post Office the other day to buy some stamps, straightforward enough, but not so this time. Frédérique, taking serious advantage of her niceness, wouldn't let us leave until we had bought some tickets for the raffle to help fund the school kids’ day out (or something like that, I didn’t really pay attention) and the prize was... I can’t remember, it seemed like a good cause and well it was for the kids, so we coughed up. Two tickets please.

A few weeks later and I was in the garden on a Friday morning, desperately trying to get the overgrown grass out of the area that had been flooded, hot sweaty and not in a good mood when Cees rushed out shouting “We’ve won!” I assumed he had just received one of those endless emails we get from Nigeria or Ivory Coast, but no, we had won the school kids’ day out raffle. Wow! I never win anything. What have we won? He didn’t know, but we had to collect it the next day at the Post Office. Rather naively I assumed maybe that the local paper were coming to see us presented with our prize, which was why our collection day had to be agreed in advance. Maybe it was a dozen bottles of crément or a holiday in Greece! So off we went Saturday morning, dressed in our best bib and tucker.

The prize
We had either missed the crowds or we were too early, because when we arrived we were the only people in the Post Office. Frédérique came out from behind the security screen to present us with our winnings. Kiss, kiss, congratulations and she handed over the booty. No photo for the paper, no presentation from the mayor, no crowds of well-wishers, just us.

So it was not quite as exciting as we had imagined, but even so, we received two very nice bottles of nectar from Parfums du Terroire in Taizé (cassis and recurrent), a bag of fruit jellies also from Parfums du Terroire, a goats’ cheese (we assume from Bernadette in La Bergerie) and a sweet little candle made by the kids themselves. Not a bad haul for a book of stamps.

It seems that the proceeds have more than met the target and it looks like the kids will enjoy their day out - we certainly enjoyed eating our winnings.

For information on holiday accommodation near some delicious goats’ cheese farms and fruit juice makers click here.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sleeping Barrels

Cutting the ribbon
There are some advantages to being a volunteer for the Office de Tourisme in St Gengoux-le-National, I get invitations to things I wouldn’t otherwise see. The other day was just one example. The president of the OT rang up and asked if I would like to join him to the official opening of the “tonneaux couchant” (literally translated as sleeping barrels) at a prestigious viticulturist near Lugny - a very good white wine and crément area. I jumped at the chance, I thought it would be very interesting to see the new barrels in place, in time for this year’s harvest. and I am not adverse to a couple of glasses of Lugny wine. I tentatively asked if Cees could come, but that was gently rebuffed explaining that it was because I was the head of the committee for holiday accommodation, he was inviting me. Tough luck, Cees will just have to miss out on the wine.

So on a blisteringly hot afternoon we headed off into the countryside for the opening. The president of the OT is himself a viticulturist and produces some very nice bottles too. So the conversation was easy in the car all about how you make wine and why the barrels are horizontal not vertical, how big they are and so on. Many of my questions were (as usual) met with a slightly confused look, a bit like the time I asked him for a good variety of vine to plant in my garden for big leaves, he couldn’t grasp the concept that I wanted to use the leaves in cooking to make dolmades and I was not interested in either eating the grapes or making wine – ah well cultural differences are the spice of life round here.

New barrels?
When we finally arrived, I noticed that they had used the old wooden barrels to make little houses just outside the winery buildings. I thought that was a clever idea, so while we waited for the official opening and tour, I took a few photos. I seem to remember have a confusing conversation about whether it might be a bit smelly inside, but I’m not too sure about that one.

Finally the big-wigs arrived and the ribbon was cut so that we could go through to the winery itself and we all oohed and aahhed at what he had done with the old barrels as we passed them on the way to the wine making area. The wine making area was not very big. Not many people seemed to be interested in that area and what intrigued me was that I couldn’t spot any new horizontal barrels. Now I am confused.

On to the speeches – lots and lots of them, the local MP, the chief man in our département (the Prefect), our Senator, you name it they were all there and they gave a speech. The owner told us how much it had all cost and thanked every man and his dog for helping him and he was convinced that it would increase tourism in the area etc etc etc.

As it all went on, I was beginning to suspect that I was not exactly on the same wavelength as everyone else. And then it dawned on me…. The “tonneaux couchants” were barrels to sleep in and we were at the opening of these brand new wooden barrels imported from Norway. These barrels have never, and will never, see a drop of wine in their lives unless the occupants spill some in a late night binge.

After the speeches were over, I tucked into the very nice wine and yummy snacks in a quiet corner of the courtyard, trying to be inconspicuous and I sincerely hoped that everyone would put the drivel I had been coming out with for the last hour or so, down to me being a foreigner and that they would forgive and forget. As I left I congratulated the owner on his ingenious accommodation that will be an asset to the region, in a vain attempt to make it look like I had known all the time what was going on.
New barrels in situ

For non-barrel accommodation, near some barrels that people and not wine actually sleep in click here.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

July 14th

July the 14th is a national holiday and it is always a busy day. The party tends to start on the evening of the 13th with fireworks and goes on into the next day. This year, our evening of the 13th was marked not by fireworks but by a different and very special event. I actually watched a football match, or more amazingly, Cees actually watched a football match. It wasn’t the most exciting World Cup final ever, but it was worth it for one glorious moment. No, not the goal that Germany scored, even though I wanted them to beat Argentina, it was the shots they showed of Christ the Redeemer seemingly holding on to the setting sun. Absolutely stunning.

July 14th itself started off early, with us doing our shift on the entry of the Cormatin Brocante de Qualité. We were stationed at the new back gate, that lead up from the car park. We sat there doing nothing for the first hour and a half and then the first few people trickled in from the car park. I am glad we didn’t have too many entries because all, bar one nice French couple, felt the need to make a sarcastic remark about how far they had had to walk - all off 100 meters poor loves. I was glad when we were replaced. The final score was a record 1,300 entries but I do hope for our replacements’ sake they didn’t have such a grumpy bunch !

We then went on to the July 14th wreath laying with a twist this year - no music. Monsieur P announced before we started, that he was proposing the we should sing the Marseillaise. A number of people looked a bit panicked, but to his word, when we arrived at the war memorial Monsieur P stood firm and said we would all sing. If we didn’t know the words we should just mouth something! I wasn’t sure if that remark was aimed at the kids or us foreigners.

I started off well:

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Then I was on tricky ground and so decided to pretend, I managed to pick it up again at

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

The Mayor looked very pleased with all our efforts and said that that must be a first for Cormatin, but I know for a fact that Monsieur P had done it at least one time before, when he was a young teenager. He and his friends were even arrested by the Germans for doing it, so bravo for reintroducing a real version of a very stirring National Anthem. I’ll definitely have to practise before the next session on November 11th.

After a quick lunch we headed off for a day out to see some Romanesque buildings that have been closed on our last attempts to visit them. One of those was the museum of the Priory in Charolles and this time we managed to get in. As we had only gone to see the inside of the building, I was a bit disappointed by what we could actually see until we went into the temporary exhibition of sculptures by René Davoine.

The first sculpture I saw a beautiful young girl and something about it reminded me of the image I had seen the evening before. The second large piece was of Christ also giving off the same vibes. Having been carved in 1932, the similarity could not have been a coincidence. Both were very serene and quite mesmerising and the trip was worth it just for that.

To comeplete our holiday, we had a celebratory BBQ of chicken tikka and freshly picked salade. La vie est belle!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Culinary Trail

On Sunday we went on the culinary walk in Ladoix-Serrigny. It is an annual event and about 3 – 4 thousand people take part each year. There are six food and drink stations, aperitif, starter, fish course, main course, cheese, and dessert. Not only do you receive your meal elements when you arrive at each station, but you have the choice of a number of the excellent wines from the area. In Burgundy, I think this area must have the most Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels of land, so you can imagine the wine is quite superb.

The grapes were damaged in the last storm we had
In the last week, we have had some spectacular thunderstorms and lots of rain and the weather for Sunday was predicted to be rain all day with more thunderstorms in the afternoon - just what you need when you are walking through the vineyards. Although the total length of the walk is only about 5 kilometres, as you meander through the vines, you are very exposed to the elements and even the feeding stations are only partly covered.

Heading off and the sun comes out
The bus left - in the rain - at 11 o’clock and we arrived - in the rain - in time for our start time of ten to one. As we waited for our hats, wine glasses and cards (which would give us access to the food and wine en-route) it drizzled and I had a sinking feeling about the whole walk.

As we headed off into the vines, the sun peaked out from behind a cloud, then the clouds parted and who would have believed it, we had a glorious day walking though the vines and sampling the wine and food along the way. The weather could not have been better for us, not too hot, a gentle breeze, clear blue sky and sun. It was if it had been laid on to order.

Eating bouef bourgignon in the sun

After the coffee post, we moved to the dancing area and then the heavens opened for those much promised thunderstorms. It poured with rain all the way home and as we gazed out through the dripping windows, we all realised just how lucky we had been.

For information on holiday accommodation where you can find some truly superb wine click here.

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