IT’S TIME TO GET SERIOUS

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It’s that terribly sad time of year when the children have returned to school and suddenly summer seems to be nearly over.   There was no gentle slide towards the impending autumn; rather it happened overnight in the blink of an eye. One day everyone was swimming, with long leisurely lunches outside, and everywhere one turned holiday-makers swarmed like wasps over hot pavements.  Then the next moment the children were back at school, slipping back into their routines as if the long summer-break had never  happened. Suddenly the traffic is a little lighter, and the tourists have halved in number; and quite co-incidentally the weather  has dropped by several degrees.  To be honest though, I don’t actually think it’s the slightly cooler days that have made it all feel somehow different, it’s the fact that in France La Rentrée doesn’t just apply to schools; it actually applies to almost everything – restaurants re-open for business lunches, businesses re-open, government offices that have run on a mere skeleton staff return to full capacity, and in short France goes back to work and gets serious again. It’s a system quite unlike anything you may be used to, but it seems to work.

The two youngest girls and Roddy walk to school on these lovely sunny mornings, gallantly trailing  their pull-along bags; nearly every French child at primary school uses a pull-along and it certainly makes a great deal more sense than carrying backpacks groaning with books which are almost the same size and weight as the child carrying them.  As a result each morning and afternoon the old narrow streets of the village reverberate to the unmistakable sound of school-bag wheels rolling along the pavements.

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I drive the older two children to their school some 8kms away.  Once again we’re back to our school routine and once again admiring all the area has to offer. I relish how lucky I am to have such a beautiful early morning drive each day following the church steeples from village to village.  On the way home yesterday I stopped and took some photos, trying to capture the very essence of what makes the school run so special and why I never tire of it.

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This morning it was such a beautiful day I took the time to dawdle again and take a few more photos.  It was one of those early mornings when you just want to be outside; the air had a definite coolness to it, and the sultry humid air of mid-summer is slowly waning; it’s being replaced by something just a little fresher.

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I noticed this new sign in a nearby village, Roule ma Poule, it’s a new Salon de Thé due to open this coming Saturday; Roule ma poule does not mean ‘roll my chicken’, which is the literal translation, but is rather more an expression similar to ‘Let’s go!’. It should’t be confused with ça roule ma poule which in total contrast means more “are you okay, little one ?” in a casual way, with perhaps a wink!  Roddy – who is pretty fluent in French – read an amusing expression last year which he had understood was just a local term for ‘bad weather’; he happily went around repeating it to all and sundry last winter, thinking he had a grasp of the local patois. Unfortunately, little did he realize that in fact what he was saying, was indeed very local, but also extremely rude (but that’s another story!).  In short beware of odd phrases, they don’t always mean what they say at all!

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Still, summer may be fading, the sun may be just a little weaker and the nights a little cooler, but the days are still beautiful; with solar-heating the pool is still around 30˚C and I am hoping there will be much splashing after school and at weekends for at least another month, if not two!  To confirm that the holiday season is not totally forgotten some of our favourite friends are coming over to visit from America at the beginning of October; yesterday they phoned to confirm they had booked their flights and we couldn’t be more excited – I cannot wait to share our little corner of France with them.

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Our vegetable garden is still producing wonderful food. We still have lots of carrots, plenty of melons, loads of peppers, an abundance of courgettes and aubergines, and a few lettuce.   The grapes are ripe and soon it will be the turn of the persimmons and olives. The tomatoes were hit by an end of season late blight which took hold in a matter of hours after one particularly strong storm accompanied by an overnight downpour.  But I can’t complain as the freezer is stocked with homemade tomato sauce and ratatouille,  it is Roddy who has labored over the tomatoes with some dedication at the stove and the freezer is looking very healthy.  The hedgerows are overflowing with blackberries and sloes and our fig tree is heaving with fruit – right now we’re getting a trug-ful a day !

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The rest of the garden is still looking relatively good despite a tough summer for plants with searing temperatures and very little or no water. The Japanese Anenome have come into their own and are flowering in all sorts of corners that otherwise lie forgotten.

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Last night for the very first time I made confiture de figues.  In Italy it is a firm favourite and I have eaten it several times before, but never made my own. It is delicious with cheese and I am going to try it out on several friends who are coming for a bbq on Sunday. My many little sous-chefs here confirmed that it tasted fab while warm, so it’s looking good !

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In other news, it’s been a difficult summer for the chickens that has seen us back and forth to the vet several times; I can almost hear the vet clap his hands together as he sees les fous Anglais (crazy English) arrive at the door for yet further medicine for their chickens; these are drugs that costs 20€ a go for a chicken that cost 11 euros!   However, suffice it to say that not all has been a success and there is sadly now more than one cross at the end of the garden.  But we have treated a respiratory virus that seemed to plague several of them with (fingers crossed) complete success.

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Out of the eggs that Rosie sat on so patiently and hatched we kept one faverolle chick who we really hoped would be a female; it was lighter than the rest of them which we had given away but alas, the remaining ‘she’ is very much a ‘he’, who we have named – and I have no idea quite how this came about – Falafel!  He is now thirteen weeks old and very cute; he has taken to following me around the garden cheeping wherever he goes and for some bizarre reason he thinks the two ducks are his parents.  For the time being there is no fighting between him and Fritz and so for now his home is assured with us. He does sleep separately from the others and much to his dismay, Evie still thinks he is there just to be chased, no matter what we do to stop the fun and games….

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Talking of ducks, Penny and Adrian are thriving, but – and it seems there is always a but – Penny is not a lady, alas, but a male!  We have two male ducks and not the couple that we thought we were given!  We didn’t have the heart to rename him so he is now a male duck called Penny!  The two of them went through their teenage stage of being a little standoffish and aggressive,  but they’ve now settled into a happy domestic partnership who once again eat out of our hands – tame and as gentle as can be.  I guess as there is no dominant male any longer life is easy!

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HEN-ZILLA AND THE MOLLYCODDLED DUCKS

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The children have just started two weeks of spring holidays, which makes me really happy.  Friends coming and going, sleepovers here and there; it’s like Picadilly Circus but I love it.  It also means there are a few extra pairs of hands to help in the garden; there is just so much to do at this time of year and weeds seem to grow overnight.  We have been working so hard in the newly formed vegetable garden, and we spent the afternoon on Sunday planting out tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and hot chillies which are Millie’s project.  We also put in some lettuce, salad greens, cucumbers, watermelons and courgettes.  The children planted because that’s the fun part while I hoed up weeds and raked!  Our beans we sowed a couple of weeks ago are now about 8″ high and the peas are shooting up.  There are rows of tiny carrot tops peeping through the soil, along with the spinach and potatoes – it’s all so exciting.  We have had to fence it to keep our dear feathered friends out, or else they would think we had planted a feast just for them, and we included the row of ten grape-vines inside the fencing because I read that chickens love grapes and we would not have a grape left if they were within their reach.  Next project to hand cut all the grass under the vines!

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Dear Rosie is being a very dutiful hen; she has less than a week to go now and we are all so hopeful we might get at least one chick.  She leaves her nest briefly around 11am each morning:  the routine is always the same as she wanders up the garden, stretches her legs and looks around.  The others are really quite nasty to her as she is no longer “one of them” and they peck at her and chase her away if she comes too close; it’s actually rather sad to watch.  After ten or fifteen minutes she swiftly heads back to her nest and carries on coddling her beloved eggs.

Eleanor is now also broody, sitting on two eggs and a ping-pong ball to make up the numbers!  Our sweet, lovely, docile Eleanor, she of the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party fame, has turned into Hen-Zilla.  Each morning when we open their door, she comes out straightaway clucking that special phrase of cluck we’re now getting used to; “Get out of my way, I’m an important broody hen with eggs to sit on; out of my way, out of my way, I need to eat, no time to waste!” and she is back inside and on her eggs within ten minutes, having made quite sure that we all know exactly how important she is!

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But the real time-wasters are Penny and Adrian, the pair of ducklings we were given at the Farmers Market nine days ago.  Most of the ducks sold that day no doubt were bought to be fattened and intended for the table.  They would have gone into a large sandy enclosure with an old pond in the corner, where the last blade of grass would have long since ceased to exist.  However, Penny and Adrian have entered a life of luxury, and are enjoying the pampered mollycoddled life of a pet duck!  When they arrived, a temporary run was made for them, along with an old paddling-pool filled with clean cool water.  The next day a new home arrived.  A brand new dog-kennel was put together and filled with straw.  Chairs were placed near the enclosure and the children would sit and watch them, chatting and laughing, the ducks getting used to people and their endless talking!  The chickens came and took a look, wondering what all the fuss was about and who the new arrivals were.  Penny and Adrian ate and swam and loved all the attention.  Then just when they really thought life couldn’t get much better, it did – in fact it got a whole lot better.   Yesterday the temporary fence was removed from around their paddling-pool and their deluxe house – they are free to wander in the garden along with the chickens.  Their permanent pond is under construction, yet another project!  The chickens take little notice of them and the cats have decided they are definitely too big to hunt and wander away.  Bentley, being Bentley, totally ignores them.  The ducks waddle around, they flap their tiny wings and run across the lawn – if this is what life is all about, it really is pretty good.

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The garden is changing on a daily basis; it’s like a video on permanent fast-forward and everything is growing so fast.  The first roses on a south-facing wall are blooming

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I love the Arum Lilies, simple perfection

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and the Tamarisk is never still, always moving in the breeze

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We’ve also been walking, lots and lots of walking; it’s such a perfect climate at the moment, not too hot and not too cold and everywhere is so stunning.  Hedgerows with sweet scented lilac,  tall grass waving in the breeze, waiting to be cut for hay.  The bright yellow of rapeseed cuts a colourful swathe across the landscape.  Blowing dandelion seeds and making wishes.  Childhood memories and carefree days.

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Whenever we come home and walk down the driveway I am greeted by the beautiful flowering horse-chestnut.  All the trees are incredible and in full leaf; one half of the garden is now a canopy of shade.  Sometimes I just stand and stare.  I call the children over to look at them as it’s all too easy to forget about the trees.  They are just there, a part of the garden, and we do take trees for granted.  But I like to draw attention to them as they are magnificent, hundreds of years old, and only then, standing looking up at the giant lime tree, do we all really see how huge it is.

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TO MARKET, TO MARKET…

“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety-jig” –  remember that old nursery rhyme?  It sprung to mind as the children and I headed off to a nearby farmers market last Sunday.  The girls were drawn like magnets to the baby chicks, the ducklings and rabbits; little did they know they were intended for the pot rather than as pets. I didn’t see any pigs for sale but I am sure, had I made enquiries, I could have bought one, but I really don’t want a pig! IMG_2556 This was a far cry from the usual weekly market where we buy our fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and cheese – the typical French market where the locals buy so much of their food every day.  No, this was, as the name suggests, a real ‘Farmers’ market, in every sense of the word. IMG_2573 The morning was neither sunny nor particularly warm but that had not deterred most of the locals who came from miles around.  A huge undercover area had been set up for lunch.  Two young lads were grilling vast slabs of meat on the barbecue and the tables were quickly filling up as lunchtime approached. IMG_2563 IMG_2562 We started at the plant stand where I bought lots of small geraniums for the garden before quickly moving on to local honey.  We were offered so many different varieties to taste – sunflower honey, wild-flower honey, honey of the forest; nothing is ever hurried, everything is considered and discussed before a decision is made and there is no pressure to buy which in a strange way makes me buy more!  Local organic strawberries were our next purchase, along with spring onions and asparagus; I was definitely getting hungry!  We passed on the cognac tasting (the girls are a little young!) but there were plenty of people sampling, drinking and buying; chatting and telling stories, it was all so convivial.IMG_2558 We had arranged to meet our good friends, Penny and Adrian, here at the market and they were quite adamant that we really needed a pair of ducks to add to our menagerie at home.  I couldn’t even imagine going home and telling Roddy that we had come back with two more feathered friends, but they just laughed and Adrian said he knew a good lawyer!  And so before I knew quite what was happening, two ducklings, not more than a few weeks old, were chosen and put into a cardboard box as a very belated house-warming present!

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Back home and the sun decided to make it’s first appearance of the day –  lunch on the terrace and a bottle of bubbly,  if we needed an excuse then it had to be celebrating that Roddy loved the ducklings and the divorce lawyer was not needed!  Adrian and Millie set about making a temporary outdoor run for our new acquisitions, complete with an old borrowed paddling-pool from our lovely neighbour.  The ducklings are still too young to roam free (which is the long term plan, of course) but for the time-being  I wouldn’t trust our dear nearly fully-grown kittens, Rory and Clara, until the birds are much bigger.  Surprisingly Clara, who is a real hunter, has no interest in them, but Rory is intrigued.  I don’t think he wants to hurt them, he just wants to play, but to him playing is all about teeth and claws; this is a great game with Bentley, but I’m not so sure it would be so good with two young ducklings, so we’re taking no chances.

So without further ado let me introduce you to the latest members of our family who Penny and Adrian baptized after themselves –  I give you Penny and Adrian!

p.s. do make sure you have your volume turned up, the sound of them drinking is adorable!

If I was to tell you that they are even worse for wasting time, would you believe me ?

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