Friday, 31 October 2008

Scary Night!

A romantic dinner on our own for Richard and I tonight. Scary or what?!

LeeLee's boyfriend has invited her round for a Hallowe'en night of watching horror movies, with a large bowl of sweets. One slight problem....the boyfriend is scared of frightening films. But what the hey - that's love for you!

Nic is off to a double birthday party this afternoon, followed by a spooky Hallowe'en 'trick or treat' around to family/friends' houses in the village.

So what do Richard and I do?! Get ourselves the largest piece of steak you can imagine, open a bottle of red wine and make ourselves tournedos rossini (a meat-eaters heaven on a plate) plus potato cubes pan-fried with mixed wild mushrooms (Martine's speciality)! And a rich red wine and onion sauce! Yummy!OK. So the photo did not do it justice - but I had to be quick with the camera because we were VERY hungry!

***
Look what is coming our way! Getting seriously worried, Richard checks the Meteo France website and finds that we are on 'orange' alert for major storms. Rain, thunder and lightening plus the gale-force winds off the sea.

Oh, deep joy!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Snow !

Richard woke me up this morning to tell me that he had been right to light the fire last night - winter has arrived.

He went to get the bread this morning and there was snow on the Espinouse Mountains behind us!

Well that is me NOT getting out of bed today - it is lovely and warm under the duvet.

PS
Last night, Richard lit the fire at 18:00. Tonight it was 16:00. Any guesses how early it will be tomorrow?!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Winter ?!

The temperature is dropping this evening and Richard walked up to Robert's house to ask for a delivery of firewood.

On his return, whilst trying to get some blood flowing in his fingers, he decided that enough was enough and that he would light the fire.

You have never seen such contented pets. Xena refused to get off her bed to come upstairs at bedtime (but I am more stubborn than she is, and so she was booted up the backside!) and Smokey sat rather pointedly in front of the flames until a sucker moved a chair close to the warmth for her! Winter has arrived in the South of France according to the Upex household.

PS
Luckily, Richard noticed part way through the evening that the candles in the bottles on top of the fire were starting to get Brewer's Droop!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Clearance

The main road (and I use that term very loosely!) that passes our village wends and bends its way down the mountain passes from St Gervais-Sur-Mare to Hérépian.

The garrigue reaches right to the roadside and is a fascinating mixture of scrub, wild herbs, flowering bushes as well as stunted holme oaks and gorse.

We have watched in curiosity this week as a team of eight workman have been clearing the garrigue either side of the road past La Sesquière.

Using a chain cutting little bobcat they have cut swaithes into the scrub, sometimes on almost vertical slopes, whilst following on behind with hand-held chainsaws. Each tree/bush is cleared around and up their trunks to about three feet off the ground.
It is a feat similar to painting the Forth Road Bridge - never ending! Such massive amounts of manpower, working continually for months on end!

What was happening?! Why?!

If in doubt, we ask our friend and neighbour Robert.....

..... and now we know.

It is on the instruction of the Conceil General. Land must now be cleared to a distance of 18 metres either side of the road to protect against incendrie. People chucking lighted cigarettes out of vehicle windows and causing hectares of fires.

Robert owns much land around here, some along the roadside. It seems he received a letter from the CG telling him what would be happening, and giving him a month to clear any wood/timber off his land before the team of workmen would move in.

Being conscientious and not wishing to lose all his oak, he set aside a week to go to work.

Except that the workmen arrived within a couple of days of his letter - and cleared his land!

They did carefully cut any substantial oak tree offcuts into usable lengths and left them neatly stacked.

OK, thought Robert. I will forgive them and take my tractor up there this afternoon to pick the logs up.

Except that a voleur got there first, within an hour of the workmen leaving for lunch, and swiped the lot!!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Last of The Summer

We picked the last of our peppers today. That's it for another eight months.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Tip-toeing Through The Leaves

Sunshine, a clear blue sky and a younger daughter asking what shall we do today?!

So into the car, and off to the chestnut woods we go. It was glorious. The light filtering through the trees. The autumn colours. As we walked along, it was obvious that the chestnuts were over their best and no longer worth picking off the ground. They were small, wizened and dull.

Then we would come across an area of large, plump, glossy brown ones buried in the leaf mulch! You just needed to use your sticks to find them - and to ensure that you were not disturbing a snake!Seems that there are lots of different types of chestnut trees and they 'fruit' at slightly different times. So another bag load of chestnuts for us to roast!

Here you can see where a 'river' forms when it rains - flowing down off the slopes, across the path and on down into the valley. Where the best fungi is found. But not today. After the drizzle we have had, mushrooms were appearing. But nothing would convince me to eat these ones!!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Early Morning Sounds

We wake up to the sounds of hunting - dogs baying and gun shots.

It is the sound of the countryside here.

Our neighbour popped round this evening and gave us a share of the sanglier he shot. Learning (after 6 years!), we remembered to ask if it was a young one or not.

Oh yes, Eric said. It was a young one - so we knew we could barbeque rather than casserole!

When we asked whether it had been a successful mornings hunt, Eric did mention that he had shot at four but only hit the one.

No wonder there are plenty of wild boars around here!!!

Richard 'butchered' the sanglier in order to end up with several cutlets to go on the fire. All he had to say was - if this was a young one, I hate to think how difficult it would be to chop through the bones of an old one!! It was delicious.
***
Martine popped round and dropped off some cosmetic 'goodies' for the girls - her son works for a company at Avene les Bains. They were thrilled!

We are so lucky to have such generous friends and neighbours.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Bonne Vacance !

Yep, it's that time again. Holiday time. But surely we have only just sent the girls back to school after the long summer?!

They arrived home on the bus tonight and you could hear them all the way up the road to our house - happy, chatty and excited.

Over dinner we asked them what they would like to do over the hols - go to the beach, visit friends, go to Montpellier ?

Their answer - stay and home and lounge around doing nothing!

So there you go. Nothing exciting happening around here for the next 10 days!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Not Always A Happy Ending

Richard went to get the bread this morning.

As he left the village he came across the owner of the horses (see yesterdays post) in the field. And the body of the fourth horse.

Unfortunately, after all the trauma yesterday, it had not survived the night.

Everyone had tried their utmost, but sometimes that is not enough.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Nosiness

Living in the countryside where nothing much happens, you get to be nosy. Yes - even us!

On his way back from getting the bread this morning, Richard found a couple of Pompiers' vehicles at the entrance to our village.

By the time he came into the house, these had increased to four. Then a gendarme car arrived ...... and a vet.Something was obviously happening. And it looked serious.

As we watched, our neighbour arrived at the scene with his big JCB and the Pompiers got out some strops and it was obvious that they were trying to lift something heavy in the field.

Usually there are four horses there. But none were visible this morning and we feared the worst.

It is a very steep field and very precarious. It was a dangerous operation taking a heavy vehicle down such a slippery slope.

After half an hour, three horses came into sight running around the field, but not the fourth one.

Another 30 minutes and finally a very muddy and dishevelled horse came into view, and the experts packed up and went on their way.

They were cheered by all the onlookers who had gathered on the main road to watch. I did mention that nothing much happens round here didn't I?!

PS
In the afternoon, Nic was out in the village playing with friends and one of them mentioned that one of their horses had slipped in all the mud and ended up partly down a puit (well). It's position had trapped the other horses against the fence.
***
A long lie-in, a visit from her boyfriend and an afternoon snuggled up on the sofa watching old videos........LeeLee is feeling a lot better.

Hunger returned in time for dinner, so all is well!!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Comfort Required

LeeLee got up this morning and said she felt unwell.

Off she was sent to school on the bus - we have been parents too long to fall for that TOO easily!

Anyway, at 8:11am the phone rang and a very weak voice told us that she had been sick and could she come home.

OK. We gave in, went and picked her up and sent her straight to bed with a bucket and a glass of water.

I woke her up three hours later to see how she was. Still feeling grim and wanting to go back to sleep.

OK.

A further three hours later I woke LeeLee up, made her a hot water and lemon/honey drink (she was awash with cold water she said!) and asked her if there was anything we could do to help.

She asked if she could come downstairs and snuggle on the sofa in the sitting room with us......

....and could she watch one of her favourite old Disney cartoon films with us both.

Sometimes nothing but good old fashioned home comforts are needed!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Out Of Date ?!

We are watching the pennies. Along with just about everyone else we know.

At the supermarkets, we keep an eye out for reduced price stickers, particularly on meat - since we have a large chest freezer that can hold enough food for an army!

Today we were at the cheese counter deciding what to stock up on for the week, when I glanced over at the dairy shelves.

There I saw a whole pile of specialist gruyere suisse (extra strong, artisanal) at less than half price.

All the packets said it had been cut from the whole drum of cheese on the 2nd October and had to be consumed by the 20th, today.

For goodness sakes - cheese matures! It does not go off that quick!!!

Richard and I had a delicious lunch - fresh gros pain, homemade chutney and a wonderfully full flavoured, mature gruyere cheese! Absolutely delicious!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sunday, Sunday !

We LOVE sundays. Always have done. Always will.

It has always been a day that we have spent together as a family, lying in until late, eating a lazy and (usually) highly calorific brunch. Where the girls can lounge around not getting dressed, and generally we each do anything we want around the house. Like watching old videos/DVDs, reading in bed in the afternoon, etc.

Little has changed since we moved to France.

OK, the brunch has evolved away from the typically English 'fried-breakfast' towards slightly Franglaise adaptations. And one or other of the girls is usually rushing back from a saturday-night sleepover so as not to miss out on our sunday together.

But generally, heaven continues.

Today, Richard went and got a gros pain and 12 slices of bacon at the butchers.

(as he left the village he was flagged down and warned about les Flicks hiding in the bushes....so that was one less speeding ticket for him!)

1. Divide the bread into four portions and split......
2. Fry the bacon.......3. Quickly pan-fry the sliced brie along side......4. Pile the melted brie onto the bread, then the bacon on top.....OK - for those of you with smaller mouths, cut up the bacon into smaller chunks!Heaven on a plate in the Upex household.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Nature's Bounty

Today we went to pick up the keys for a new client who has asked us to look after his holiday home.

As we set off afterwards, I saw a bush on the roadside covered in fruit and shouted STOP THE CAR!

The first time I have ever seen a wild pomegranate bush! And it was covered in large fruit!I brought one home and cut into in. It immediately started 'bleeding' juice like I had never imagined. So much juice out of a hard skinned fruit.

Inside, the seeds were juicy if a little tart. Obviously I should have waited another week or so.....
***
As we were eating lunch together, one of the girls heard that the Jungle Book film was going to be on the TV that afternoon.

Amidst all their 'Ahs' and 'Oh goody, I LOVE that film, it was always my favourite' they started planning their afternoon snuggled up together on the sofa watching it.

(they are 12 and 18 years old for goodness sakes!)

Imagine their disappointment when the original black and white version with actors and real animals came on!

Then the frantic scrabble in all the storage boxes in our caves to find our own (albeit very worn out) copy of the original Disney cartoon version!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Falling Prices

One of the positive differences we enjoy here is the fact that the price of fuel is immediately reflected at the pumps - sometimes changing three times a day!

Over the past few weeks, as the price of diesel mounted, our use of our 'truck' has decreased. At its highest, we even resorted to NOT filling up the tank each time - there is something frightening about paying almost 140 euros in one transaction.

Earlier this week we saw the price drop to 1.21 euros per litre, and then the next morning to 1.19 euros.

Richard was there like a shot and managed to squeeze in as much as was possible.

What pissed him off?! At the end of the day, it had dropped again to 1.119 !!!!!! And he had no room in the tank!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Voice Of Doom

There is something heart-stopping when you hear the voice of your bank manager on the answer-machine, asking you to meet with him in his office.

When Richard phoned him back, he asked specifically for me to be there as well. Oh dear.

Richard and I duly presented ourselves, having no idea what it could be about. He formally shook our hands and started to explain.

The bank was offering (from 1st January 2009) a new type of account.

But we are happy with our current one! I explained. Richard in particular, because he can always remember the easy account number and does not want to change it!

We would of course get to keep the last 4 numbers/characters of our current account number - the ones that Monsieur has to remember.

But we do not want to wait for all the new cheque books and paying in books to arrive! I complained.

These would not need to be altered.

But why go to all the hassle of moving our standing orders! I queried.

That will not be necessary either.

So why change?! I questioned.

Because the bank will be paying 4% interest on anything you have in your current account.

But we never have any money worth mentioning in our French bank account! I reminded him.

But you will get 4% on the little you have.

But we do not want all the hassle of declaring minuscule amounts of interest to the Taxman! I exclaimed.

This interest is exempt from taxes.

What?! Good grief - I wish we had a million euros to put in!

So do I. He replied.


He explained further that up until now, only the Post Office could offer interest on current accounts, exempt from taxes.
And that this was a major change in the rules governing French banks.
And that he was required to have a meeting with all his clients to ensure they were fully aware of this new option.
And that we would have had to sign a paper confirming that he had done this, even if we did not infact change to the new account.

Seeing no reason not to change, we agreed and signed all the forms that put us on the waiting list for New Years Day. From that date, we will be the proud holders of a Livret A rather than a Livret B.

Mr Palumbo smiled at Richard - and said he knew Madame would ask all the questions!

They still look at me slightly bemused, because I know all about mortgages, loans, pensions, etc....and indeed used to work for their 'partner' HSBC.
***
Richard went to pay in a cheque, and as he was entering the bank, the usual man behind the counter shook his hand and recommended that Richard came back later. He then went across the road to the café to have his morning noisette.

Slightly unsure, Richard ignored his advice and went inside the bank....to find Mr Palumbo (the bank manager) the only one working behind the counter!

Ah. That explained why the queue was so long.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

New Plantings & Old

Driving back to the village along the back tracks, we saw this well established vine field in all its glory.As we drove on, in the middle of nowhere in particular, we came across this vaste field that had obviously recenty been planted with new vines.>
I do not think my photo is clear enough for you to see, but they are all meticulously tied to fine upright white sticks which are in turn tied to each other by another one lying horizentally!

It must have taken days to do!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Magical Colours Of Autumn

The girls both decided to take pack lunches to college today, and so Richard and I enjoyed a day together!

After lunch we jumped in the car and set off for the chestnut woods. To walk the dog.

Of course we remembered to chuck the dog in the car before we set off!!!!

The colours of the leaves were gorgeous. And Xena was in her element, looking like she was in her natural environment. The track through the woods was littered with chestnuts which have recently started dropping. You start by picking up every glossy, plump chestnut you see - until you realise that you already have 1 kilo before you have walked 10 yards from the car!
Of course our sack had the added taste of spaniel slobber...... Today reminded us why we came here - thousands (if not millions) of acres of woodland as far as the eye could see. Absolutely magical. Our knowledgeable friends and neighbours also come here to pick mushrooms. The best are found in chestnut mulch we are told! Especially up these almost-vertical slopes.Somehow, I do not think we shall be able to stop Richard from lighting the fire for much longer!And how old was this chestnut tree?!You imagine that it would be a haven of quiet tranquility. How wrong you would be.

There were rustles in the undergrowth all the time and constant 'bombs' dropping all around us as the chestnut trees jettisoned their spikey parcels.

Xena even got hit on the head by one! And I came close a few times.
***
As we drove out of the village, I was fascinated by the vines - turning from green, to yellow, orange, red and finally a deep purple colour. All in the same field.