Summer and a Day That Could Change Our Lives

 

IMG_7515As I sit here writing this post gazing down our long garden, it’s a scene that probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. Yet so much could alter today, the day Britain votes to either remain or leave the EU. In London it’s pouring with rain, there are lightning strikes, and storms and flooding have caused travel chaos. Here in the Charente Maritime the hot sun continues to shine, the skies remain resolutely blue, and life continues as normal.

A couple of days ago it was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, meaning ‘sun standing still’. Some prefer the more teutonic term ‘sunturn’ to descibe the event. Astrologers say the sun seems to ‘stand still’ at the point on the horizon where it appears to rise and set, before moving off in the reverse direction.

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The day marks the ancient middle of summer. It has significance for pagans who have always believed that midsummer day holds a special power. Midsummer’s eve was believed to be a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, and when fairies were though to be at their most powerful. With the heat the midsummer sun gave us yesterday, the thermometer rose to 35C (95F) the streets here were near deserted; it was way too hot for walking.

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Over the centuries, the June solstice has inspired many festivals and midsummer celebrations involving bonfires, picnics, singing, watching the sun rise and Maypole dancing. In France we celebrate with the Fête de la Musique (Festival of Music) or World Music Day, the concept of an all-day musical celebration on the days of the solstice, which was originated by a French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang. The festival later became celebrated in 120 countries around the world.

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Summer arrived bang on time, as if it were watching the calendar and noting the date. Everywhere surfaces sizzled in the baking sun; wandering through the village yesterday evening the smell of smoke from barbecues filled the air, deck chairs had been hurriedly scrambled from barns, and swimming pools were in constant use. Everyone was making the most of the weather, since it’s been a long time coming this year.

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Hollyhocks (Alcea Rosea) grow like weeds in the Charente Maritime, you will see them everywhere you turn, in the middle of towns, growing beside walls, wherever they can find a small patch of soil to take root. They are both rustic and refined and come in an array of colours lasting all summer long.

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Finally the garden is in full blossom, and even the wisteria is having a second flush of blooms.

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We have our first flower from the lilies in the pond, too, the arrival of which caused an enormous amount of excitement for one small flower! I happily say this because a couple of weeks ago we had seen some plastic ones that looked pretty lifelike in a garden-centre and the children wanted me to buy them; resolutely I said “No, ours will come” and I promised they would – and they have!

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There is always somewhere to find some shade and respite from the heat in our garden and we value enormously our old native trees.

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We are eating our own produce at last from the vegetable garden and gorging on red currants from the abundance of bushes we found when we bought the house amongst the roses and day lillies in the flower beds.

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The chicks are three weeks old, still too early to tell if they are girls or boys, but one thing is for sure they are frizzled. More scruffy little beggars, as Roddy likes to call them! You can see how their feathers curl out, I have never seen Frizzle chicks before and they make me giggle whenever I look at them.

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Tomorrow everything could be different, as British citizens living in France we could suddenly find we require visas to live here. It could be another historic day in the history of Europe. But wherever I drive and walk, whenever I see one of the ancient local churches, most of them from the 12th century, I feel a great sense of calm. Step inside and one is immediately put at ease, both mentally, for they are a world away from these troubled times, and also physically, for they offer a great respite from the heat within the thick cool walls. No matter what happens today, the result of the referendum will be but another raindrop on their time scarred walls.IMG_7429

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75 thoughts on “Summer and a Day That Could Change Our Lives

    • We registered online and got someone in the UK to vote for us. The online registration was a nightmare, as all the sites crashed, but we persevered! Our eldest daughter is in London and says the travel is a nightmare today with the storms!

      • That was a great idea to get someone to vote for you. We registered for the general election for an overseas vote, and the papers never arrived in time. I’ve heard that is common and one wonders on the deliberacy (if there is such a word) of ballot papers not arriving for those who have emigrated! The garden looks wonderful. How has your weather been generally. It rains everyday here and is totally unlike previous summers.

      • Hi Miranda, that is awful, it was Izzi that suggested we register online and she read up on all the information and found out we could get someone to vote for us on our behalf so long as we registered their name. However, it was a nightmare as all the site’s crashed on the final night anyone could sign up, much talked about on the news, this was then extended for a few more days which enabled us to finally complete the registration. The weather has been up and down, we get some fabulous weather and then it slides back to not so good, but not too much rain, mostly just grey skies. We have not faired nearly as badly as a vast amount of the country, our little microclimate has kept us fairly dry, we have just lacked heat. Today is gorgeous again and the pool (with solar heating is 35C!) it’s time you came down here!!! Susan x

      • I have been hard at work trying to find a gite to stay in but so far without success. Normally I book early, but because of the three B’s, Brevet, Baccalaureat and Brexit, I have been too side-tracked to get myself together and the boat has sailed without us on it, as far as the holiday bookings are concerned. I did so want to stay a week on ile de ré but all the houses were in the region of 3K per week, which is laughable considering the need to pay two kids through uni next year. If I do find somewhere, I shall call you up and see if you are in for a cup of tea!

      • Ile de Ré is always super expensive, better to try the Ile d’Oleron or go really casual and camp on the Ile d’Aix (great atmosphere) or failing the islands, stay within a 20 minute to half hour drive and visit all of them in turn during a week. We are within half an hour of all of them so we kind of get the best of both worlds! I can look for gites around here if you want me to, but it might be hard to find something unless you go even further inland. It would be great to meet you though, and certainly BBQ and wine, not just tea or coffee!!! Xx

      • Yes do, camping on the Ile d’Aix would be great fun, the beaches are small but gorgeous! and you can always come here for a shower if it all gets too much!!!

    • Thank you Marilyn, I thought we should have some sunny, peaceful and happy photos on this rather worrying day. But as you say, life evolves and moves forwards, what will be will be. Susan x

  • Dear, dear lady,

    I pray the best decision is made so that all may enjoy the freedoms of living where one wishes, where equality is practiced, where democracy is strong. Your photos are elegant, and in my little part of the USA (Minneapolis, Minnesota), I am loving and living my own French style life. OH THE FUN. I set out this morning to take photos in the cloudy haze of the morning only to find beauty AND a two gorgeous, old and French looking brocante style chairs in the rubbish. Now, a passing of white paint and I will complete my dining room!

    Wishing you all, both British and French citizens, a lovely day, free of worries. Anita Pelayo Rivera

    • Hi Anita, thank you so very much, worrying times indeed in a very troubled world. Like you, I take great solace in the garden, in the natural beauty that surrounds us, in a simple butterfly or a chick or a lizard scampering down a hot sun baked wall, oh and isn’t it just the best time to wander out early in the morning, when everything is quiet to take photos, I can lose myself with my camera for hours! Now please post some photos of your chairs, they sound incredible and what a find, one persons trash is another’s treasure! Susan x

  • A lovely post at a worrying time. (BTW, beautiful blue sky and sunshine in Devon these past few days!) Take care

    • Hi Adam, thank you so much. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to spend in the garden, but it is so good for us mentally that I force myself to go out and let other things wait. The laundry won’t come to any harm if it’s not put away for an extra day, odd jobs can wait, but summer doesn’t wait, it keeps marching on, so I urge you and your wife to find the time to get out and enjoy it! Speech over!!! Susan x

  • A lovely post with heartfelt feelings for the life you have chosen here in France. We were’t able to vote we have lived here too long. But how true, a day that could change all our lives whether we still lived in the UK or here in France. Border control for the many Brits that just pop over to France on their wine run, after listening to so many discussions on tv programs and reading the facts whether they are true or not it’s what is given to British public. Hoping for an IN vote result. It doesn’t bare thinking about what the changes could bring. Anyway on a lighter note, enjoy your summer days with your family, eating your home grown vegs.

    • Hi Barbara, I can’t even begin to imagine all of the changes if a leave vote wins. I understand that all reporting on how the vote is going is illegal today and therefore we all know nothing. It’s almost surreal, the sun is beating down here, the children are swimming, everything is completely normal, yet our eldest daughter who is in London this week says it is very tense there and feelings are running high. On a lighter note too, hope you are having some summer weather, it’s been a bit hit and miss all over the country. Susan x

  • The changes must be scary as you are unsure what the future will bring, but the solidness of the history around you must be reassuring — life goes on and things that seem so important in the end are just a memory.
    I love that hollyhocks grow like weeds there. One of my favorite flowers and so full of memories from my mother’s and grandmother’s garden.
    Good luck today with the voting.

    • So true Paulita, there is nothing we can do, we have voted and now we will just have to wait and see what the future brings, in the fullness of time no doubt it will be just another date and memory in history. Aren’t Hollyhocks gorgeous, we have so many in our garden, incredible splashes of colour that survive pretty much anything! Susan x

    • Thank you so very much, I really appreciate your kind words, this is what makes it all so worthwhile, as you know I just love sharing our life here and the French lifestyle we are so lucky to be able to experience. Hope you have a wonderful end to the week, Susan x

  • I LOVE those hollyhocks, those French buildings and your blog…..one of my very favorites. Thank you and best wishes for good results in the voting today.

    • Thank you so very much. The voting is strange, because it is not an election of government but a referendum the journalists are forbidden to comment on the way the voting is going, it is illegal to publish any results until the end, so there are no polls showing how the vote is going. It’s a slightly surreal feeling, being here in France involved and yet removed. Whatever will be will be and time will move forward. In the meantime have a lovely end to the week, Susan x

  • I’ll leave it to the Brits to decide for themselves; the details of it all are beyond me. I just want things a bit less worrisome over there so I won’t feel so apprehensive about making a return visit on my own. Gotta go back at least one more time.
    Just love that wine-colored hollyhock. I might just have to see if I can find a small corner on my patio to grow one next year.
    Always enjoy your lovely posts and reading about life in the Charente Maritime.

    • Yes, you have to come back at least one more time, it’s a sad troubled world in which we live that is for sure, but there is also much beauty and there are so many good people and so many great places, please don’t be put off. Now, regarding the hollyhocks, do find some and grow some, they grow well from seed by you may not get flowers for a couple of years. We have just had friends staying and they loved them so much they have ordered some young hollyhock plants to see if they can grow them in the north of England. They are everywhere here, literally on every corner and I just love them so much! Susan x

  • It is so tense here in the UK today that I enjoyed losing myself in all your photos, some pleasant relief. I hope the British public see sense and I hope we get to remain a part of the EU, I love coming across to France, I feel as if our countries are sisters and I fear for the worst if we leave and change things.

    • I feel for you Lisa, here we are so far removed from it all in some ways. I like to think of France and the UK rather like siblings, we are forever joined in some way, we argue a lot but underneath we love each other dearly! Susan x

  • A worrying day indeed. But I think we must remember that as you rightly say, France and UK have been somewhat like siblings, arguing but needing each other as well! I don’t think that will change if a leave vote wins. People have travelled to Europe for centuries (the Grand Tour in the 1800’s) and will continue to do so. If we left, it’s the EU system and bureaucracy that would be left, not Europe or its people. But maybe England, or the UK whichever you prefer, is also wanting to hold onto the things you mention in your reply – the quintessential English garden, wandering around at dawn or dusk to smell the roses, the peace and tranquility of our ancient churches, the beautiful countryside and the joy of living in a village community. Maybe it is just a little afraid that our small island is being swamped and that these small joys are gradually being eroded by distant powers? Who knows? Living in a vast country like France, with lots of space and the freedom that goes with it, you are right to say that you are maybe a bit removed from what it’s like to be living on our small island. But one thing’s for sure, whatever the outcome, you are you and I am me, you will write your blog and I will love reading it, you will live in your lovely Charente Maritime and I will live in my lovely Wiltshire, you will visit England and I will visit France – the French and English people will still welcome each other – all will be well. Thank you for your post – a difficult task for you today and one you got exactly right!

    • Thank you Marian, this time tomorrow we will of course all know the outcome. But there is absolutely nothing we can do about it now. We will all move forward, for better or for worse. I think France and England will always be friends, there are over a million French living in the UK and over a million British living in France, I don’t think that will change. Far more important is trying to find some way towards peace in this world, some way to end terrorism, of course we won’t and we can’t, but we can but hope, so that our children and their children might also enjoy our gardens and our ancient churches and all that is good in the world. Susan x

  • Like ma grandmaman would say “quelle affaire!”. but you are right, it is out of your control. France24 news will keep me up to date. All we can do is live in the here and now, in the present as we can’t control the future.

    Love all your photos, it is a pleasure to see all the beauty with green and flowers. Hot hot hot here in the desert of Arizona, already up to 40C, i still venture out in mornings and evenings for my walks with our dog. I think I need to get my knitting out. 🙂 Our winters are fabulous here when we spend so much time outdoors. A bientot!

    • Hi Carmen, that is really really hot, here it is still possible to do things outside during the day, although last night we all ate outside and then sat and chatted under the stars until late, I love that summer warmth when it is possible to do just this. However, your winters sound fantastic, we can’t have it all! I agree we should live for the future and make the most of every moment we have. Susan x

    • The hollyhocks are always incredible. They flower from May through to October in so many differing colours on every corner. I have never seen them grow in the way they do here either, definitely the flower of the region! Susan x

  • We both voted to stay in Susan!
    Lovely sunny weather up here in Bonnie Scotland too, no sign of storms up here (yet)!
    Fingers crossed for us ALL!
    X

    • Fingers crossed for us all indeed, we will know soon enough now, strange feeling not having any idea how it has gone. So glad you have some nice weather. So looking forward to seeing you both again. Susan x

  • It is the same temperature here at there. I wonder if our humidity is the same. Ours is high this week which makes it too hot to be out for long. Beautiful shots and I hope the vote goes in your favor.

    • Quite often we are the same temperature as Florida, sometimes hotter Kim, but the thing is it’s a dry heat. Our humidity is really low always, so even when it’s 95F, we are still eating outside in the shade and loving it! Susan x

  • Quelle journée ! Comme chez vous en Charente-Maritime, aujourd’ hui, comme hier, dans le Rhône ( le département de LYON ), c’ était tempête de ciel bleu, magnifique soleil et chaleur…mais sans votre splendide jardin et son chêne centenaire, aussi grand et aussi beau qu’ une cathédrale, apportant son ombre rafraîchissante autour de votre cuisine d’ été. Je suis jaloux ! Mais aussi , quelle journée historique pour l’ Europe et le Royaume-Uni ! En France nous souhaitons , pour la plupart, que nos amis d’ outre-manche reste dans l’ Union Européenne. Même en cas de vote négatif, l’ amitié franco-britannique restera la même. L’ Entente Cordiale continuera pour défendre nos valeurs communes. Concernant les visas, peut-être que comme avec la Suisse ( non membre de l’ UE ) un accord franco-britannique permettra de les éviter.En ce jour important d’ élection, je crois, nous croyons que la sagesse britannique fera gagner le vote ” REMAIN “. Merci Susan pour vos photos qui semblent de plus belles ( new camera ? ) . Like you in Charente-Maritime,today as yesterday, in Rhône ( the LYON ‘ s department ), it was blue sky storm, magnificent sunshine and heatwave….but without your gorgeous garden and its centenial oak tree, as tall and beautiful as a cathedral providing cooling shadow around your summer kitchen. I am jealous! Then, what an historical day for both Great-Britain and Europe. In France we wish, for the most of us, that our friends across the Channel will stay in Europe Union. In case of negative vote, the French- British friendship will remain identical. L’ Entente Cordiale will continue to defend our common values.Regarding visas issue, may be like Switzerland ( not member of EU ) a french-british agreement could avoid them. On this important day of voting, I believe, we believe that british wisdom will win the ” REMAIN ” vote. Thanks Susan for your pictures that seem more and more beautiful ( new camera ? ). Have a good and sunny end of week. Philippe

    • Hi Philippe, I too strongly believe that the French/British friendship will remain the same no matter what the result. What worries me most is that if Britain does vote to leave then it will stir so much feeling in other countries that they may too have referendums, it could be the start of the fall of Europe, I for one am very proud to be European. On a happier note, the weather is gorgeous, long may it last and so happy you have sunshine too! Susan x

  • Greetings from Colorado Susan! Those adorable little chicks are almost enough to make you forget what’s happening with the vote. I hope it turns out good for you. I enjoy your blog so much as it makes me feel connected to a country I love and try to emulate in many ways. Learning to slow down and appreciate each day whether it’s raining, snowing, or blistering hot. Yesterday, we went to Frisco, CO and rode our bikes around the lake. We enjoyed the cooler temps that the mountains bring. I hope you’re enjoying your summer days.

    • Hi Pat, thank you so much, so happy you are feeling a connection with France. I too am loving your blog, we both share a passion for our gardens. I envy you being able to drive to the mountains for some cooler air. When we lived near the Pyrennes a few years ago we often used to drive to the mountains on hot summer days, it was always several degrees cooler an personally I love the mountains in the summer just as much as when they are snow covered in the winter. Susan x

  • So hope the vote goes the right way. Will be watching closely.
    Beautiful pictures, the sun did it’s job for your garden. Beautiful water lily. Miss the peacefulness of your garden, back to crazy Florida life.

    • Hi Debra, and back to the humidity! Scorching here, but not humid so still able to do things, almost, but gosh it’s hot, the children were still swimming at 8.30pm this evening! It’s very quiet without you two. Susan x

  • Let’s hope tomorrow brings equal amounts of sunshine after the result! Such beautiful flowers and happy faces!

  • Heartfelt thoughts on the referendum outcome – I was visiting London last month and things were ramping up between the groups (my driver from the airport and l discussed it at length – he was Bulgarian). Then the terrible tragedy of losing Jo Cox…because in the end, rhetoric has the power to destroy us all. Certainly we are seeing it in the US where fear and hatred seem to be winning–meanwhile, we all lose. I wish your family the best whatever the outcome–though I can’t even imagine the paperwork that would be necessary to apply for a long-term visa—the French do love their paperwork.

    Thinking of back in the day when every time I crossed a border in Europe I had to show my passport…not a fun memory, though I did have a colorful passport from all the stamps.

    • Hi Mary, it is indeed a very scary troubled world we are living in. So I am intrigued it sounds as if you traveled extensively in Europe in the past and indeed you still do, what brings you over here so often and where did/do you go? I love hearing people’s stories of travels over here, which country do you love visiting the most and which city is your favourite. If you have the time I would love to hear more, either in a comment or by email. Susan xx

  • I shall be watching closely and hoping for the right result for Europe. As always a beautifully written blogpost Susan, you touched on a delicate subject and handled beautifully, I might add as one of your previous readers commented. Bravo

  • My parents fought in the war. They fought against an evil that wanted to conquer the world, and the Allies achieved a result that led to a unified Europe, one into which almost anyone is welcome to join, including those countries with whom we have been at war in times gone by. Allies are a powerful and necessary facet of the modern world. My parents liked being part of Europe. They felt the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages, and the main criteria was being one of big group of mates who you could rely on the next time something sordid happened in world history. They’d been there, seen the Blitz, lived through the deaths of 60 million people on all sides, and wanted none of that to happen again. A united Europe was good.

    My parents loved England too; they loved those English things that made us English, be it cricket, cucumber sandwiches, Big Ben, Marimite or ice-creams on the pier. They understood the quintessential patchwork of traditions that make up our country’s soul.

    But they were intelligent enough to realise that you couldn’t have one without the other – and that you can, and should, be able live with each, hand in hand with the other. If my dad was alive today he’d be pointing his finger at the politicians, not the immigrants, or the people, or much else. The idea of a unified Europe is good, it is just that this current implementation of that ideal is fractured and divisive. It needs a good shakeup and restructuring to take into account how times have changed in the past 50 years. We don’t need to change the idea, just the people who are happy to sit on their gravy train and watch the world go by. As my mum loved to say, “Something stinks in Denmark, and it ain’t the fish.”

    • I wish half of Britain had read this comment yesterday! So much is fractured and so much needs repairing but I still think Europeans should stick together. In too much shock to reply to this at length this morning. Now France and the Netherlands are calling for a referendum, oh England, what have we done?

    • Phil, what a tremendously poignant and true comment – I’ve lived in Devon for 8 yrs and as Swiss nationals, my husband – at that time – needed a work visa and before we got married I had to pass through the ‘special examination customs’ cabin’ every time I went to see him – we now discussed often inthe past weeks how the Britswould love to go on hols and ask for visas, how they wd have to apply for working visas and how much of the job market and jobs/work/development etc would get lost if laws would change…. Switzerland took 10 years to recover of their 1992’s decision.
      All my friends in ‘my second home’ (we LOVED it and were sad to leave when the job ended in 2005) are heartbroken too and it will take a VERY long time to get off your knees.

      • I had to reply as well Kiki, where did you live in Devon? We also lived there for several years, two of our children were born in Exeter, one of my favourite counties. Heartbroken too, words fail me. Susan x

    • I worry about it often too, what a terrible troubled world we live in and now I fear it may have just got a whole lot worse, unrest and fear will now spread across Europe, what scary times. Susan x

  • The hollyhocks are glorious.
    Am up late, have been reading news stories on your vote. I hope the world can find peace and harmony in coming days, instead of more dissension.
    Oh, and Badword.

    • Hi Emm, what a troubled world we live in and scary times for us all. Already The French National Party and the Netherlands are now calling for a referendum, Oh England, what have we done? Susan x

  • The votes are cast and even though I’m not British, I’m totally devasted by the results. Yesterday I wondered if REALLY this historically important vote could go down the drain because of the terribly bad weather in the London region…. And I thought: NO, it can’t be; people will know how important it is that they go and place their vote…. hélas….. 😦
    Your post has SO much to comment on – I love hollyhocks and bought seeds many times but here in Ile de France on my great soil and in my large garden there is NO WAY they grow! I’m insanely jealous 🙂
    Those chicks…. ha ha ha – are they real? They look a bit like my English friends’ AFTER the fox got in their ‘living space’ – they would make me laugh out loud every time I lay eyes on them!
    Summer – yes…. didn’t know that la fête de la musique was related to the longest day of the year; but having read this I thought YES OF COURSE…. And here, just outside of Paris, it was very hard raining in the evening after a horribly hot day (I’m tempted to say as most of the past years….).
    Must stop here, I’m taking a bit too much space, sorry. Love
    Kiki

    • Hi Kiki, today has come as such a shock, I never thought it would happen and I am at once at a loss for words, ‘what have we done?’ keeps going around my head. Aren’t the chicks gorgeous, I am quite addicted to them as I have never seen anything like them before! and of course I just love the hollyhocks. We have lots in our garden but when I see them growing wild as weeds everywhere we walk they look incredible. Have a lovely weekend and hope Paris manages to see some sun, despite the forecast for storms it’s a beautiful day here today! Susan x

  • Just to keep it light………….on such a heavy day………
    Your water lilly, the Hollyhocks (always a favorite since childhood, as the word “hock” was involved), and the baby chicks………
    You help to keep us all grounded to the earth.
    Thank you, as always

    • Thank you so much, we have to be optimistic and remember all of the good things and keep focusing on all that is good. There will be a way forward from this because there has to be. Susan x

    • Hi Heather, thank you so much, what a day it was, so now we must move on with optimism and a positive attitude. The sun is shining and we have much to be grateful for. Have a wonderful weekend, Susan xx

  • Hope you all find positive result from Bretish situation. As usual your words are summer solstice lovely. Thank S

  • A very beautifully written post! I’m was so saddened to hear the news that the UK decided to leave the EU. Hopefully life won’t be too complicated for expat families already living in Europe. PS- The pictures of the fuzzy little chicks made me smile! Adorable.

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