Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas !

For my Christmas Day blog what else could I write about other than Christmas cribs. I did the constantly changing Taizé Nativity Scene pretty much to death last year, so I thought I would give that one a miss this year.

Where I used to live in The Netherlands, in the Protestant north, Nativity scenes are not at all popular, but where we stayed at the beginning of December, in the Catholic south, they are Big Business. At the beginning of December, we stumbled across this amazing shop, completely dedicated to Nativity scenes. Now isn’t that worthy of a photo?

But the biggest and best was not to be seen by us this year, we were a week too early. The Saint Jan church in Den Bosch has reputedly the biggest Nativity scene in The Netherlands. My photo shows a tantalising glimpse of a star above the stable, but the other two (stolen from the internet) show it in all its full glory.

I must say though that I fail to understand why there is need for a lioness and a Chinese lady, but I am obviously missing the greater meaning behind it all.

That’s it for today it just rests for me to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and enjoy your turkey, I’ll certainly be tucking into mine pretty soon.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Run-Up to Christmas

Always a busy time of year, but this year seems to be more hectic than most. I don’t understand it, I have bought all my pressies and sent all my cards, so why, oh why is there so much to do?

Well the truth is that I didn’t realise that being the treasurer of the village committee was going to generate so much work, especially at this time of year. Whilst the village events usually last a day or part of a day, my work before and after each event comprises of ordering, buying and collecting items from local and some not so local suppliers, chasing up invoices, paying invoices, finding stock (where has the president put those 500 plastic cups I gave him for the last event?), counting stock (did we really drink that much wine??) and generally pulling my hair out (why won’t the figures balance?) and that all adds up to several days per event.

December is a heavy month for our little club, there was the Téléthon on 3rd December, the Christmas drinks and dinner for the volunteers on the 16th and the kids Christmas party on the 17th and I now have to get all the bingo cards distributed to the sales people before Tuesday. Making it almost a full-time occupation these last few weeks – good job we don’t have the gîtes up and running at this time of year.

All that doesn’t include the AGM of the Rendez-vous de Cormatin, the AGM for Guitares en Cormatinois and an insy-winsy bit of socialising that we have managed to fit in these last few days - where incidently I met up with someone who follows my blog which was a big wow for me, so here is a special hello to Ann(e) - sorry don't know your spelling.

Anyway, no wonder it feels so hectic !

Fortunately, most people will disappear out of sight by mid-next week, off to their little Christmassy nest to spend time at home with their families and I will sit back with my turkey and enjoy the peace and quiet !

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Light of Bethlehem

We heard last week that on Sunday afternoon the “Light of Bethlehem” would be arriving in Taizé. On further investigation it appeared that the Scouts and Guides of France, in cooperation with the Austrian Scouting movement, were bringing a flame from Bethlehem to France. This is the first time the flame has been brought to Taizé and the first time the flame has been in Saône-et-Loire. The flame was flown from Bethlehem to Vienna where it was distributed amongst various Scout and Guide movements in Europe. The French flame then went on to Paris and travelled by TGV to Le Creusot on Sunday afternoon and on by car to Taizé.

It was a chilly afternoon, but at least it didn’t rain while we waited, outside the church, for about an hour for the flame to arrive. While we were waiting we were able to look at the Nativity scene which has appeared again this year. It is a little less “flat” than last year and the wise men have moved out into the area in front of the church with their own little bit of desert,
just next to the live donkeys. Even the shepherds have their own space, appropriately near the live sheep pen.

Quite a crowd had turned up from all over the Département including as far afield as Autun and Paray le Monial, there were also some scouts from Nevers, but the scouts who had come all the way from Lebanon definitely had the longest journey. Before the flame finally arrived there was a little ceremony outside the church, then we followed the brothers in silence into the church itself to await the flame. A small group of young scouts came into the church with the flame and lit a lamp and two large candles at the front.

The little service that followed was a bit chaotic and lacked the slick organisation of the brothers, who I felt were left a little confused as to what was going on at times, but the scouts were very enthusiastic, which made up for it.

The young scouts with the flame then proceeded through the church lighting candles and lamps of the onlookers. Normally when candles are lit in the church, the congregation are given special Taizé self- extinguishing candles, but this time the vast majority of the candles were brought from home and quite frankly they were a bit dangerous to say the least. Can anyone explain to me why someone would get their baby, who can’t even sit up on its own yet, to hold a lit candle? Not to mention the father who had to hit the side of his toddler’s hair when the toddler set light to it with the candle he was wafting about? And why would you put a lit tea-light on the carpet in the church then walk away, leaving your crawling baby within inches of it? Good job someone else was on the ball to take the tea light away as the baby grabbed the side of the container. Do people lose their common sense on this type of occasion?

That aside, it was a nice idea, a sweet little ceremony and it was a different sort of afternoon out, but I don’t think I’ll risk it next time.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A New Career?

There is so much to tell about our week in The Netherlands I don’t know where to begin, so I will stick to the highlights. We stayed with Cees’ daughter on her ship in one of the old harbours in Den Bosch, we saw friends and family and we finally visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, something I have been meaning to do for years but never got around to and I must say it was well worth the visit; we did shopping to stock up on essential items impossible to find round here (chillies, sambal, brown beans) and we ate foods we crave when in France (kroketten, Surinaamse broodjes just to name two things); we tried to visit the Nativity Scene in the Saint Jan Church and failed but the highlight, the absolute highlight was something we had not planned at all.

Back in the summer Cluny had an exhibition of pottery in honour of Frère Daniel of Taizé who is 90 this year and those who read my blog will remember the afternoon we made a bowl. Well Cees’ daughter read the blog and she, being a very accomplished, amateur potter herself, decided that we should be shown how to really make a bowl. Saturday morning we were bundled into her car complete with overalls and a huge box of amazing looking tools and off we went through the rain to the pottery studio she goes to, where she had managed to convince them that we should be allowed to use their equipment, even though we were a pair of clay nincompoops.

First of all squeeze all the air out of your lump of clay, ummmm, not so easy as you would think and we haven’t got anywhere near the wheel yet.. I kept kneading it a bit like bread which seemed to be pumping more air in than out. Cees managed quite well but I was a lost cause, so Cees’ daughter did it for me, after all if she had had to wait for me, we would still be there.

Then on to the wheel. Throw your lovely ball of clay into the centre, splat! Wow, mine hit the centre, which anyone who has ever seen me try to throw anything will be amazed at. Then switch the thing on, fortunately it was an electric wheel so no confusion with the feet as well. Try and poke your thumb in the middle, NO, NOT THE SIDE - THE MIDDLE. OK I’ m doing my best, but it keeps wobbling all over the place, it's like trying to get a wiggling cat to swallow a tablet, it kept moving at random and it spat bits out of the side.

Finally I got the hang of it and I must say I am rather proud of my effort (pictured left). Not everyone’s creation was as successful though (someone else's attempt pictured right). I don’t think we will be trying to do this for a living so the local potters can rest easy, but we both had a great time, I can really recommend having a go.

Thanks Ljalja!

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Keep the Home-fires Burning

Chimneys and wood-burning stoves have been the bane of our lives since we first arrived here in France. Our first chimney needed to be lined prior to use, so we were told - I am not so convinced about that now, but that's a separate issue. Anyway we had it lined and that nearly caused our house to be burned down. The builders at the time who were doing the renovations in the stables laughed and said “Well if you must employ cowboys…” OK so it was done by a friend that was not a builder and didn’t know any better and neither did we, but of course the builders knew how it should be done didn't they.

So when it came to installing chimneys for the stoves we were going to buy for the gîtes and the stove we had bought for our new living room, we asked the builders to install proper chimneys and we would have no worries. The stove installers arrived with the stove and they refused to connect it up. They condemned the whole installation. Not only
was it not conform to standards but incorrect materials (designed for low temperature gas flues not wood burning stoves) had been used, insufficient distances between the chimneys and the woodwork in the roof, lack of or insufficient insulation in the chimneys, horizontal chimney sections that could block and well - it was just pain dangerous. Who’s the cowboy now?

The incorrect materials were exchanged and installed at the builder’s expense, but we have had endless leaks in the roof where the flashing was never quite right around those chimneys and even after that we had a chimney fire which made me always very cautious of using the stove in the living room not helped by the fact that the stove made the room and chimney wall so hot we had to open the windows even in the coldest months.

Last year we got someone to remove the two gite chimney tops on the roof – leaks solved and this year we have bitten the bullet and bought a smaller, less powerful stove and had the remaining problems with the chimney sorted out. We are now nice and snug and safe. So a big thank you to our lovely stove installer and his friend, pictured carrying our old stove out of the house for ever.

Moral of this story although a chimney looks like a simple thing, you have to know what you are doing, as they say: “if you play with fire….”

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Farewell to a Daughter of Cluny.

Today Cluny, along with hundreds of representatives from around the Socialist world, paid tribute to one of her greatest daughters. Danielle Mitterrand was laid to rest in Cluny cemetery this afternoon. Danielle spent her formative years in Cluny where she actively fought in the Résistance, alongside her parents and it was at her parental home that she met the young François Mitterrand, marrying him a couple of years later.

When we heard that the funeral was going to be in Cluny and that it was amazingly open to the public, we just had to go. Large chunks of town were blocked off to traffic from 6 o’clock last night and so we parked at the Intermarché at the top of town and walked down into the town centre past Mrs Mitterrand’s family home.

The funeral itself was held in the open air in the grounds of the ENSAM with the students forming a guard of honour along the long path from the entry to the back of the cloister. I was surprised at how few politicians came to pay their respects, I had expected Sarko or at the very least his wife to turn up, but Mitterrand was the wrong colour politics I suppose. There was talk that several ex-First Ladies would be there, but sadly not one was to be seen. Martine Aubry and François Holland turned up which was to expected and we managed to get a couple of snaps of them, not the best photos in the world, but when Hollande gets elected president next year I can at least say I have seen him in the flesh.

The service concentrated on Mrs Mitterrand’s achievements with France Libertés an organisation she set up 25 years ago. Her support the Kurds seems to have been her biggest achievements which explained the very large Kurdish presence and the singing of a beautiful Kurdish song written especially for the occasion.

After the coffin was carried back down the long path to the gates of the ENSAM, the hearse took over and made its way up the hill to the cemetery with everyone following on foot. At the cemetery only the invited were allowed in for the short service. Halfway up the hill I stopped and took a photo forwards and backwards of the crowds, I am sure the news will tell us how many walked behind the coffin, I have no idea how many were there, but it was a sea of people as far as the eye could see.

A great send-off for a great lady.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

New Red Chairs

We are big fans of Cluny Cinema, they show some really good films. They tend to show the sort of films you can’t see in run of the mill cinemas, films in original language with French sub-titles, which we find much more preferable to films dubbed into French and some old films that no one shows any more.

This summer the cinema came up for a face-lift and lovely new red chairs were installed, so this week when we went to see the 1950s film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, we took along a camera to make some photos and aren’t they really special and worthy of a blog? We arrived especially early to take this photo (5 mins before the film started), so you can see just how popular the film was. Eventually the audience totalled 8 paying viewers and 3 staff, which was a pity as it was rather good !

All regular Cluny cinema goers will know that there was a difference in the chairs in the two sections. The bottom section chairs used to be bigger and a lot more comfortable than the top section chairs. On one occasion when we actually went to a sell-out film (Le Grand Meaulnes) we had to sit in the top section and I can tell you the chairs were horrible. Ever since then we have arrived well in time, just in case. Having said that, our taste in films doesn’t seem to coincide with the rest of the population around here and it has never been necessary since. But following the renovations you don’t have to worry about the top section chairs any more because they are the same as the bottom section, lovely and big, seemingly comfortable and of course red !

We were rather surprised to see the top section cordoned off since the new chairs had been installed, but in never crossed our minds to even question why. But then we received email from Cluny cinema a couple of weeks ago explaining that there was a little (or big?) problem with these chairs and that they would be replaced soon.

So on our visit this week I decided to try and sit on one of the top chairs, to check them out before they disappeared. The seat was lovely and soft and big enough for my bottom, but I agree, the lack of leg room was a little disconcerting. Let’s hope they manage to find a happy medium with the next lot !

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 14 November 2011

How to Make Your Own Booze

No this is not a DIY blog about building your own still and making puchine at home, I can get my friend Richard to tell you to do that if you like, he had a cracking business going when we were at university, but I digress. No, this blog is about how to make your own booze legally.

First, get your fruit and put it in a plastic barrel and seal it allowing the fruit to ferment for several weeks or months. About this time of year your fruit should be well fermented and ready to turn it into alcohol. But doing that yourself is of course illegal so what do you do, well you call your local travelling still owner of course (have you no imagination?) He will tell you where and when he will be in a village near you and you turn up with your fruit and hey presto you leave with a few gallons of eau de vie.

This tradition stems from the fact that viticulturists have to pay their taxes in alcohol, yes alcohol. They used to have to go down to the local tax office with several gallons of booze and their taxes were paid. Now it is a little simpler, they just give the nearest distillery the required number of tonnes of grapes and he sorts things out with the tax office. But of course this is France and so the travelling distillery still comes to town tax man or no tax man. Up until 1960 everyone who owned a vineyard could get the distiller to make up to 1000 degrees of alcohol free of any excise duty, nowadays there are few people left with this privilege, but the distiller still comes and will distil your fruit and you just have to pay him for the effort and pay the tax on the booze he produces.

This is something we have been trying to see for a long time and finally this year we got wind that our local travelling distiller was in a village near us and so off we went. You could smell the fermenting fruit and eau de vie from more than 100 meters away, so we knew were in the right place even before we saw rather inauspicious the sign. Not quite as glamorous as I had imagined, a ramshackle concoction of vessels and pipework cobbled together on the back of a trailer, parked in a muddy farmyard surrounded by old codgers testing the produce, but it was enormous fun to watch.

At the end of each session in a village, the distiller uses his still to boil up vegetables (cabbage, whole potatoes in their skins, carrots, turnips you name it) along with huge chunks of bacon and various other pig parts to make what is called an “Assiette Alambic” this meal is then enjoyed by the villagers on the last evening of the still’s presence in their village. We ate Bray’s version at Le Grange Finot the other day for lunch with enough meat (on my plate alone) to feed an army, along with soup to start, cheese or dessert, ¼ litre wine and coffee all for the princely sum of 12.50 Euros, now that’s what I call a meal Burgundy style.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Saint Martin – Who was he?

The annual Saint Martin fayre took place today in Cluny. The whole town and half the population of Burgundy seems to turn out for this event judging by the crowds. Of course any Saturday in Cluny starts with the game of finding a parking space and as you can imagine it was even more of a nightmare than usual this morning, to add to the chaos the ENSAM had decided to have an open day as well, so it was difficult to find a square inch free let alone room for our car. But being the good girl I have become (since the parking ticket incident this summer) we decided to pay for a parking space. After waiting a while for a paid space to come free we parked and then went to pay. I put my 20 cent coin in the machine and the machine ate it and refused to give me a ticket. Being an engineer and being very au-fait with this type of delicate electronic equipment, I thumped the side of the machine and it gave me a 10 cent coin in return….. Back to the car and we put our pre-printed “the ticket machine is not working” sticker in the window of the car and went to join the fun anyway.

At the top of town there is an old animal market place which is used once in the year to display and trade in horses and some cattle. There were some beautiful carthorses on display when we got there and we enjoyed ourselves wandering around looking at the animals and sampling the local farmers’ produce on display everywhere. The whole main street is turned into one huge market, that combined with the weekly market in the market square and a “vide grenier” (car boot sale) at the other end of town, meant that Cluny was heaving with people.

Anyway, it got me to wondering who Saint Martin was. These things are usually not too difficult to find out, but it does appear that Martin is quite a popular name amongst the saintly community particularly in the month of November. I ruled out all non-November Saint Martins and I was left with, saint Martins for 3rd, 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 18th and 27th November. The most popular of these (ie the ones with Wikipedia articles) were for:

Saint St Martin de Porres 3rd November, patron saint of barbers, mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony (pictured on the left) and

St Martin of Tours 11th patron saint of soldiers (pictured on the right).

So you pays your money and you takes your choice, I haven’t a clue who’s day we were celebrating !

Monday, 31 October 2011

In Memory of Lost Friends

We were invited to a little remembrance service just the other day, when the ashes of a friend, who died a year ago, were to be scattered in Taizé. Our friend Chris passed away last year on 27th October and his wife Linda has made a journey over the last week visiting places they loved, making sure she was in Taizé for the anniversary of his death. After his ashes were scattered (with the brothers’ permission I might add) we had a little ceremony at one of the small shrines. Whilst Linda had said it should be a joyous not a sad occasion, I had my doubts, but it was a very joyous occasion, we were able to remember Chris and think about what he had brought to our lives and then, as I am sure he would have approved of, we went out for a superb lunch accompanied by local wine. Thank you Linda for inviting us and letting us say our last farewell. (BTW the photo has been blatantly stolen from her blog).

Coincidentally this week sees the Jour des Morts – All Souls’ Day (2nd November) which is the day the French remember their family and friends who have passed away, conveniently the day after Toussaint - All Saints Day which is a holiday in France, so that everyone can have the day off to get their chrysanthemums to their family graves in time. It is a lovely tradition as once a year everyone visits the graves of their family and friends giving themselves the time to think about those who have gone before. Graves all over France are decorated with chrysanthemums and other flowers which makes the graveyards a stunning site, not dissimilar to a garden show, at this time of year. Interestingly the tradition of honouring the dead started by St Odilio the abbot of Cluny in 998 and this spread to the rest of the western world yet another demonstration of the influence that the Cluny Abbey had in those days.

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 24 October 2011


It has been a beautiful autumn, which has allowed us to get some much needed maintenance done around the place. Well I say “us” quite loosely , let’s just say it has allowed some maintenance to be done. The front shutters were taken down more than a year ago by friends who can cope with ladders and have been waiting to be painted and returned to their rightful position and as has previously been blogged, we have had a TV aerial in our kitchen for a year waiting for someone to attach it to the wall or roof outside. That is not to mention the kitchen window shutters which were desperately in need of a lick of paint and a washing line that needed to be put up on the campsite. So how does on get all this done when you are a couple of weak wimps who can’t go further up a ladder than the second rung?

Well this is where children come in very handy. Not having any myself, it was down to Cees to supply the person-power. Cees’ daughter had said she was coming for a week one of the gites at the beginning of October with her partner who is not afraid of heights ! Now what better opportunity was there?

The last weeks in September were busy with painting shutters and organising a scaffold tower and we were all set for the work. And boy did they work. The shutters were up in a flash and then the TV aerial. Zip off to remove the kitchen shutters, felt the need to paint the window frame too while they were up there, shutters painted and replaced.

What more could one ask? Well…… maybe dig a couple of holes on the campsite for a washing line? Great here we go. The clay on the campsite was so hard and dry they had to use a drill to loosen the soil then dig it out using a trowel. Holiday over, no time to mix the concrete and put up the posts, oh well I suppose we ought to do something ourselves !

So a super big thank you to you two and I am glad you managed a couple of days of cycling, walking and sightseeing while you were here as well, next time……..

La Tuilerie Website

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cormatin Randonnée

Records have been broken at the Cormatin Randonnée (organised walk) last Sunday. Not records we wanted to be broken, but broken they were none the less.

I’ll just go back a couple of steps first, to explain what this is all about. The annual walks are organised by the Amicale de Cormatin of which we are both active members and this year it was decided that all the walks would be changed. Now that is one heck of a lot of work and we have been walking the highways and byways around here all of August, different groups of us, to sort out and agree on the four new walks, 7 km, 13 km, 20 km and 30 km. We spent all day Friday and Saturday marking the walks on the road with paint arrows (the way to go) and paint crosses (the way not to go) and we have been hammering in posts of coloured indicators and “watch out there are walkers about” signs at junctions, we have done shopping for food and wine to refresh our walkers and we have set up the feeding posts in suitable locations.

In an average year, the walks usually attract about 300 walkers, but we have been known to have more and it is one of the two big events that swell the coffers to pay for the annual pensioners’ lunch.

Sunday dawned and it was raining, well not raining actually, it was pouring down. Not a good start to a walking day after the hottest and most beautiful few weeks we have ever had in September. Off we set to do the final arrangements and then go to our feeding post at La Moutonnier. At eight o’clock on the dot the first walker arrived to sign up for the walk, he was actually going to run the 30 km and as we were feeding the 20 and 30km walkers, we headed off shortly after him to make sure we got there first. It was a bit of a slow cold start to the day, but at 10 o’clock our first mountain-bikers arrived, then our runner and then we waited. A little later two more mountain-bikers. We were expecting 50 people for the 30 km and 100 for the 20 km and had sandwiches and wine for them all, along with dried fruit, chocolate and cake. We waited and waited and it rained and rained and we got colder and colder. To cut a long story short, before we shut up shop, only 16 people had passed our post. It was a good job the farm cat
came to join us or we would have had nothing to do at all. We returned to base camp, a little despondent, to hear how the other walks had gone. The 13 km was as usual the most popular walk, in a normal year this walk would attract 150 walkers but this year only 23 hardy souls made it and the 5 km (very popular with after-lunch walkers) had the grand total of 0 people.

So this is a record year for the fewest walkers ever in the 33 year history of the club and our coffers have not only not been swollen, then have significantly shrunk. Not a good day in the life of our little club, looks like it will be leftover sandwiches for the pensioners' lunch this year...

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 26 September 2011


One way for us to integrate into our new community has been for us to volunteer to help out at the various events going on around here. This has not been as easy as we thought it would be, to say the least. There are different groups of volunteers involved in each event, each has their own clique and whilst they do need extra help from time to time, they are not screaming out for new regular people to join “their club”. Our attempts at volunteering have been hampered to some extent by our poor French (us misunderstanding what is being said and/or us failing to get our message across) by cultural differences in how things are done and organised in rural France compared to our previous manic Dutch world, but also by a natural suspicion within some in the organisations themselves. For instance when volunteering for one group we were told that we had to be paid-up members for at least a year before we could volunteer, the logic of that escaped me at the time, but the then president said “C’est normal”, well it may be normal in France but it comes across as pretty weird and unfriendly to two foreigners just trying to help. Not living inside the village of Chazelle itself and having no neighbours to
point the way and explain what’s going on, hasn’t helped either. So every two steps forward seemed to be met with one step backwards, but over the last 12-18 months all our chickens have come home to roost with a vengeance ! We now seem to have little time to ourselves as we have volunteered or been volunteered for everything going, from helping man the Office de Tourisme in St-Gengoux (OT) and being treasurer of the group that organises Cormatin events (the bingo, the old people’s meal etc) through to moving chairs and manning the entry at Guitar en Cormatinois concerts and building tents for any and every event in Cormatin that wants a 10m, a 12m or a 16m tent built (that one is Cees not me, when I helped out building the tents there was a tangible air of confusion – what is a girl doing this for, she should be preparing food). But now we are accepted into Cormatin life, when we walk down the main street we get stopped every couple of meters or so to kiss one or other acquaintance, complain about the weather (too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet) and talk about what’s going on (did you know a motorbike was clocked doing 140kmph down La Grande Rue in Cormatin yesterday at 5 in the evening and have you seen that ghastly pyramid [*] being built opposite Christophe’s house?) and I am happy to say I feel that at last we really belong here.

* That one is for another blog !

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Camping Season is Over

The season is over and so now all that rests is for me to announce the winners of the 2011 championship.

Before I do that, I must say what a successful season it has been this year, with summer starting early this year (at the beginning of April) we had a very long dry season, there was a little wet hiccup for two weeks in July but that didn’t dampen our campers’ spirits too much, which was good news.

For those new to this competition I will briefly recap the categories. Category 1 – the longest stay ever (longest number of consecutive nights); Category 2 – the most cumulative tent nights and Category 3 – the most number of single visits.

Category 1: We have a couple of cracking attempts at this awards in 2011. Sadly both attempts failed, but for different reasons, one misunderstood the difference between cumulative and consecutive and the other took one night out in a hotel just before reaching his target so his run of nights was broken (empty tents don’t count !) but even though both attempts were strategically flawed, it has shown us that with the right approach and with a lot of perseverance this record is definitely beatable. So Marilou and Niek have still managed to hang on to their lead at 25 nights and Cees and Bets remain second with 21 nights both attempts being in 2007 and third place is now shared by Coen and Marja (2009) and Thomas (this year) with 20 nights. Sadly Thomas could so easily could have had 25 or even 26 nights had he not made that serious error.

Category 2: We saw the return of Family H this year after one year’s absence and so in category 2 they are possibly becoming unbeatable, they work well as a team and they
all pull together to make sure that they clock up those nights in a most effective way. Hans and Joke do very well considering there are just two of them, but this year’s real surprise was Janine and Mijntje who charged ahead with great gusto at the beginning of May, they could have done a lot better, but they decided to spend their summer holiday somewhere else (how could they?). So the final score is Family H with a staggering 83 nights, Janine and Mijntje moved up into second place with 56 nights, just pushing Hans and Joke down into third place at 55 nights.

Category 3: Both Bert and Engelien and Kirsty and Angus returned after an absence of two years, so there has been some movement in this category as well. The placings are Hans and Joke at 7 visits remain the leaders, 2nd Janine and Mijnte at 6 visits and Dick and Marijke, Bert and Engelien, Kirsty and Angus share the third place at 5 visits each.

This year the first ever “Judges discretionary award for outstanding achievement in camping near Cormatin and Taizé” was awarded to Janine and Mijntje for their overall camping achievements, their valiant, if flawed, attempt at Category 1 this year and for their amazing leap from 8th place in Category 2 only two years ago right up to second place. So you see with the right effort these seemingly unassailable records can be broken.

The judges are looking for more categories to broaden the championships and to be more inclusive for newcomers, all suggestions are welcome.

Finally a big thank you to all campers past and present for your active participation and we wish you a good non-camping season and we look forward to seeing you again very soon.

For our website with more lovely pictures of the campsite and gites click here.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


It is quiet here, very quiet, yes we do have noises but they are of the birds in the trees, the frogs in the pond and leaves rustling in the wind. Everyone who visits is struck by the quietness of life here. I am woken up in the morning by the bells of Taizé at 08.15 when they start their 15 minute peel calling the faithful to the morning service. From my bed I look out at the forest of massive oaks and huge hornbeams. However, Saturday was
different. I was woken up at about 07.00 by the noise of mopeds and what seemed to be a dustbin lorry together with shouting Frenchmen clanging metal containers. Cees opened the shutters and I could see the trees and the blue sky, but they weren’t oaks, they were plane trees. Then I woke up enough to remember where I was, not at home at all, I was in Arles in Provence, one of my favourite French towns.

We had decided to go away for a few days and Provence seemed to be the logical place to go, not too far from here, good weather, excellent food and so much to see even if we have seen most of it before. So we went to Arles and from there we visited the Camargue, Avignon, Salon-de-Provence, Tarascon and Orange. We saw things we had never seen before (or couldn’t remember having seen before) and we saw some old favourites. It was nice to be back in that neck of the woods again and just enjoy being on holiday, something we rarely do.

I could never tire of the Roman ruins and beautiful cloisters, the wildness of the Camargue with flamingos and wild bulls or just sitting on a terrace in the Provencal sun soaking up the atmosphere. It was a great couple of days away from our surprisingly busy “real” lives and it recharged our batteries. But by the end of those few days, there was one thing I was longing for and that was - no noise. I had forgotten what life in a town was like and I now see that we sometimes take for granted what we have here. So last night I totally revelled in sitting in the garden, listening to “nothing”.

La Tuilerie Website

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Steam Trains

I love steam trains. As an engineer I love the sheer beauty and impressiveness of the engineering of the things, the power and the mechanics of it all. On a different level however, I love them because the are so “real”. With all their hissing and sissing and chunting and blowing they are like live animals and they are not “just” a piece of machinery. My last house in the UK was at Horsted Keynes Station on the Bluebell steam railway, every weekend throughout the year and every day in the summer, steam trains went past my front door. We got to recognise the sounds of each engine and when we heard a new engine go by, we would rush out to see what it was. Stepney was my favourite, he had such a friendly sound, “pip-pop, pip-pop” and the day he fell off the end of the line (OK the day he was driven off the end of the line by accident or by incompetence) we and the neighbours were out with Land Rovers and tractors helping him to be hoisted back on on to the rails again, and hoping he wasn’t too damaged to be up and running soon. The photo here is of him taken from the Bluebell line website and it is as I remember him. He was overhauled last year and I have seen that he has been repainted in a rather too sophisticated “black with red lines” which in no way matches his homely sound, so I didn't want to use that photo.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I moved to France, 20 years after leaving the UK, to discover that for the first time in years steam trains had started to run on the national railway lines not too far from here. Well to be honest just one train was running, the 241P-17 which is a huge monster of a steam train built in Le Creusot by Schneider and lovingly restored by volunteers based in and around that town. It was one of the most
prestigious locomotives of its day, capable of travelling at exceptionally high speeds - a running speed of 120 km/hr. When we heard about it, we headed to the nearest vantage point on top of a bridge and watched it rush underneath us, maybe slower than a TGV, but in my opinion much more impressive. This huge powerful engine was charging down the line, literally breathing fire on those standing above it on the bridge.

Today when doing our shopping in Cluny, I saw the headlines of the paper saying there had been a train accident and it was none other than the 241P-17. It appears that there was a sudden leak of steam into the driver’s cabin and 8 of the 10 crew members have been injured, 2 seriously. The locomotive generates steam at 290 psi which will be about 215 degrees Celsius and that is more than enough to kill. It isn’t exactly clear what has happened, one report says a “steam leak” another says a “steam leak caused by over pressure”. The whole story took me back to my time as a chief engineer in industry and to be honest I wouldn’t want to be the one who was responsible for this engine at this very moment - some serious questions will be asked about the weld quality and inspection procedures and rightly so.

In any case the most powerful steam locomotive still in use in Europe is now in dock and is waiting for inspection and repairs. Hopefully the injuries to the crew of volunteers is not too great and hopefully they will recover quickly, but it does bring home the power of these beasts and the might of engineering and to be honest it does slightly make me itch to get my hands on some machinery again. On the other hand , maybe I will just stick with repairs in the gîtes and on the campsite – a lot safer me thinks !

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 28 August 2011


My Mum has been with us for the last two weeks, she arrived during a thunder storm and left during a thunder storm with dry, dry days in-between with temperatures up to a suffocating 38 degrees in the shade. The first few days we managed some time in the garden, but then all we could do was find the coolest spot possible and sit and read.
What is better reading material for such hot, dry weather than Jean de Florette. The crux of the story is about water, our need for it, our battle to find it and control it and about the lengths some people will go to, to get hold of this life giving liquid. As the story tumbles to its inevitable conclusion where one man and his family is destroyed by the lack of water, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we are to live in a place and time where we really don’t have to worry about where the next drop will come from. Yes - water has been scarce this year, yes - we have been banned from washing cars and using hosepipes, but that doesn’t come anywhere near to the struggle some people suffer every day in their search for the stuff. So as I looked out of the train window on my way back from London, whilst passing the water tower in Ameugny and the tents of Taizé drenched by rain, the prospect of having to shut the campsite for a few days, due to it being too wet to drive on, didn’t seem like a hardship any more.

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 22 August 2011

Making Mandalas

Last week was the 17th celebration of Himalayan Buddhism in Burgundy. The Temple of a 1000 Buddhas - Dashang Kagyu Ling, just outside the village of La Boulaye, was hosting a visit of some monks from the monastery at Gyuto Tantric University in the Dharamsala home to His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. These monks had come to take part in the annual mandala making.

Every year we say we will go and see the making of the sand mandala and every year we miss the festival for one reason or another, but this year we were determined and so off we went on the last day of the festival to see the afternoon session. Apart from during the “services”, this is one of the few occasions that you can actually enter the temple itself, the gallery is always open to the public in the afternoons, but the temple remains firmly closed - another reason for getting our skates on and making the visit.

When the gong sounded to open the temple doors, we went in barefooted. Turning to the right we saw the part-made mandala on a slightly raised platform and there we waited for the monks to arrive. Two monks then sat on the platform and prepared to work. They filled long metal cone-like devices with coloured sand and then placed the tip on the mandala where they need that particular colour. Using a metal stick they then rubbed the side of the cone (which seemed to be ridged) to create just enough vibration to deliver grains of sand one by one to the right place. There is little room for error in this task and the concentration was obvious. A third monk chanted gently in the background, most probably blessing the work as it progressed.

The mandala was started on Tuesday morning and was scheduled to be finished in time for
the closing ceremony at 17.00 on Thursday. When the mandala was finished, it would be carried to the banks of the river Arroux and all the sand would be washed into the river. This ceremony is believed to promote happiness and peace in the world, however, I couldn’t help think of how heartbreaking it would be to see three days worth of concentrated work destroyed in minutes.

The temple is always interesting to visit, its incongruity with the Burgundian landscape is fascinating, but the rare opportunity to look around the temple itself and closely inspect the huge Buddhas and other statues, whilst watching the painstakingly detailed work of the monks, made this a very special visit.

La Tuilerie Website

Friday, 12 August 2011

Making Pottery Bowls in Cluny

In Cluny at the moment there is a pottery exhibition running entitled “A chacun sa créativité” - “To each his own creativity”. The exhibition has been set up by 66 potters to celebrate the 90th birthday of one of their own - Frère Daniel of Taizé. Frère Daniel is a very accomplished potter and led the way for the creation of the Taizé range of pottery as well as branching out and making some quite stunning individual pieces of his own. He is very well respected in the potters’ community round here as well as throughout Europe. Many individuals and groups come from far and wide to follow courses led by him.

The exhibition centres around the thing that all potters will have made at sometime in their life, the bowl. This exhibition is unique in that it shows the work of all 66 potters and their creative approach to making bowls. More than 1000 bowls are on display and are available for sale with each one being a unique piece and each one showing the individual creativity of its maker.

To compliment this exhibition three discussions groups have been organised (one for each month of the exhibition) on the subjects of creativity and the development of personal creativity with both Frère Daniel and Jean Cottraux (a psychiatrist and behavioural psychologist who’s book inspired the title of the exhibition) being present. Over and above the discussion groups, there is the opportunity for anyone to make a bowl themselves, in one of the makeshift potters’ studios.

Well I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make my own bowl. When talking to a friend the other day, I discovered that she had done it the week before and she was very enthusiastic about it. You can’t just walk in to the bowl-making sessions, you have to sign up for them (even though they are free) and after a wait of a couple of weeks, our day came yesterday.

So at five o’clock on the dot, there we were ready to make our bowls. Fully expecting to be shown to a potter’s wheel to throw a lump of clay on it and make a mess, we were to be disappointed - no potter’s wheel in sight. Our first task was to squeeze a lump of damp clay in one hand and a dry sponge in the other and when we released both hands, the sponge returned to its normal shape but the clay was squashed. We were told that this demonstrated the special properties of clay that will be used to create our bowl. Clay can be manipulated into a shape. Now this might go down well with a group of pre-school children but I found it a tad patronising and I will not repeat what Cees said to me in Dutch at that moment !

Sadly I think this kind of event is very dependant on the person guiding you through the process and our potter-guide was tired, bored and not very inspiring, leaving us wondering why we had missed “Question pour un Champion” to do this.

In any case, I made two round bowls one by sticking my thumb in the middle of a lump of clay then squidging the sides to make them grow upwards and one by winding a sausage of clay round in circles until the sides grew. I also made a small square-ish bowl and a butterfly as I too was drifting off into the same bored dream-like state as our “leader” and had totally lost interest in the finer points of clay sausages. My masterpieces have by now been recycled for the next group, but I do have the photos to show for it, which is just as well as I won’t bother to try my hand at pottery again.

Summary - excellent exhibition, some nice bowls on display, the bowl making session could be a lot of fun with the right person in charge, sadly we did not have that person.

La Tuilerie Website
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