Sunday, June 26, 2016

My obituary, the end of an era

This short message that will appear in the next edition of our village magazine, something I have helped to produce for over ten years, is probably the closest I will ever get to reading my own obituary:

“We would simply like to say publicly to Jacqui Brown, whose deep involvement in the village council, and more generally in our community, is known by us all, our regret that she will not be able to stand for election in 2020 (if she wished).”

This makes me sad. The French have been very proactive in encouraging communities with English immigrants to have a voice by electing someone to stand on their local council. They want us to do our bit, get involved, have our say, help out in our French community, but also to have a representative on hand to help out our fellow immigrants. I have been called down to the Mairie many times since the 2014 elections to help someone newer to the village who has a problem and may not have the language skills to understand what to do now.

The EU referendum vote in the UK will not mean that my village will chuck me out or stop me from volunteering or helping in the local community, but it will take away my voice. Immigrants are often criticised for arriving and not integrating in their new communities. My right to integrate as I am doing now, as a village councillor, is in jeopardy and once the UK has exited the EU, will be lost.

Democracy exists to enable change to happen and that must be viewed as a good thing. At present no one can be certain what these changes will mean for the future of the UK or Europe and I only hope that positive things emerge. The only certain is that things will not remain the same and my daily rights to live my life as I am doing now will be effected.

There will be challenging and worrying times ahead, but whatever happens and wherever I end up living, I know that this quirky little village in the middle of rural France has felt more like home to me than anywhere else I have ever lived.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

#Blogival Book Tour A Clean Pair of Hands by Oscar Raynard

French Village Diaries Clink Street Publishing #Blogival A Clean Pair of Hands Oscar Raynard

Today I am taking part in the Clink Street Publishing #Blogival Book Tour with a review of A Clean Pair of Hands by Oscar Raynard.

French Village Diaries Clink Street Publishing #Blogival A Clean Pair of Hands Oscar Raynard

This book starts with a mysterious break-in at a wealthy residence in the outskirts of Paris. The motive seems odd, what is reported to the police doesn’t seem to fit the evidence found and I really wanted to know what had happened and why.

The back-story then begins, introducing the victims, their lives and their business dealings. So far, so good and I was looking forward to revelations, skeletons and possible deceit. However, it then became rather political, which I was expecting to a certain degree for a novel claiming to highlight the corruption of the French system, but when the main character Michel, who I was hoping to be an exciting rogue, began droning on and on and self-analysing, I soon lost interest and found some sections quite slow to read.

Thankfully the story unravels in a very roundabout way, replaying conversations, business meetings and family gatherings from the past, all with an undercurrent of distrust in Michel, that I was drawn in, especially by the snippets of family life. This ensured I was keen to continue reading and discover just what had gone on. Michel is certainly a man who seeks pleasure, but as his need for thrills increases so does the risks he has to take and although he is clear in his mind about his methods, the author doesn’t forget that in life there are always consequences that must be faced too.

A Clean Pair of Hands is published by Clink Street Publishing and is available in paperback and ebook versions. Links to Amazon can be found below.

To see other stops on the tour, check out the calendar below.

French Village Diaries Clink Street Publishing #Blogival A Clean Pair of Hands Oscar Raynard

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Destination Ardeche

Picnic lunch

The first day of our Ardeche adventure began with a 5.30am alarm, just as dawn was breaking and by 6.30am we were on the road. Unlike the steely grey sky of the day before, with downpours that flooded the terrace, the wispy clouds looked far more promising for some better weather. As our journey east progressed, the sun made an appearance and slowly but surely the temperature crept up from 14 degrees to 20. We passed a fox tucking into a breakfast of fresh roadkill, then drove through lamb country in the Haute Vienne and cow country in the Allier department of the Auvergne before stopping for a morning coffee, in the sun, in Montluçon.

Before lunch we were on the A71 heading south and the countryside was suddenly much hillier with the volcanos of the Auvergne and Puy du Dôme looming on the horizon. By lunchtime the temperature had reached an almost tropical 22 degrees, not usually something to shout about in France in June, but this year any day with patches of blue sky and a temperature over 20 is worth an outdoor apero in celebration. We picnicked at a roadside aire where the toilets were clean and there were lots of tables, all thoughtfully placed in the shade of the trees, although it would have been lovely to have sat in the sun. At 12.00 on the dot, most tables had been snapped up and were laid with tablecloths and napkins and groaning under the weight of cool boxes and large food hampers. The French know how to picnic, even if it is just a roadside lunch. Our slice of homemade quiche (that I had got up at 6.30 on Thursday morning to make) followed by a natural yoghurt each, looked out of place and rather inadequate, yet again.

The road from St Etienne was a slow and steady climb with hairpin bends and feathered pine trees towering above us. When the road became a col (mountain pass) and the houses had steep pitched roofs, the temperature dropped to 15 degrees, but the scenery was beautiful. The traffic was busy, going the other way thankfully, as St Etienne was hosting a Euro2016 football game between Croatia and the Czech Republic later in the day. We weren't tempted to hang around as we had a Vélo village in the Ardeche waiting for us to visit.

We slowly descended to the Rhône and soon found ourselves driving through cherry and apricot orchards, laden with ripening fruit and vineyards scaling the steep embankments. We seemed to have left behind the rain we found in the hills, for a while at least and the warmth of the sun felt very welcome. The Rhône in Tournon is very wide,  fast flowing and full of logs and other dark, unknown debris rushing downstream. It isn't a friendly meandering river here and from the flat road at the bottom of the valley, the steep hills on either side also looked quite scary and rather menacing. We will be cycling in these hills very soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The cardiology clinic

The cardiology clinic

We arrived at the cardiology clinic, a clean and bright ground floor unit in a residential part of town, to be greeted by Sophie, a chatty nurse with a lovely smile. There was no need to sit in the waiting room, she took us directly through to a consulting room and wasted no time in getting Adrian onto the bed and hooked up to the first set of machines. With clips on his ankles, wrists and wires on his chest he was told to lie back and not move, even his head. The doctor arrived, introduced himself, looked at Adrian’s notes and quietly watched the test results on his computer screen. This test was followed by an ultrasound scan of his heart and arteries while I watched on as images were frozen on screen and measurements were taken, and none of it made any sense to me.

It could have been very scary, seeing Adrian hooked up to machines and hearing his heartbeat amplified on the scanner. However it was just another example of French health efficiency and after twenty minutes we were on our way with a clean bill of health for Adrian’s heart.

To do any sport in France it is normal to need a medical certificate from your doctor, so with Adrian’s Ardechoise sportive and his Ride London Surrey 100 coming up we thought we ought to see our doctor, even though we discovered afterwards that the option he has chosen to ride in the Ardechoise isn’t classified as an event needing a cycling licence or medical certificate to take part. Our doctor, delighted to have a rare visit from Adrian, went to town checking him over and ordered a complete set of glucose and cholesterol bloods, that all came back normal. However, as his Dad has had heart issues and his Grandfather died in his forties, from a heart attack, our doctor wanted him to see a cardiologist, just to be safe.

It is certainly nice to know that everything is working as it should and the cardiologist has no worries about him pedalling away on his bike. To celebrate he achieved his first Strava King of the Mountains listing on a short hill section in the Charente Maritime – Go Adrian!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book review of Isabella of Angouleme by Erica Laine

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Isabella of Angoulême

Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: October 2015
Publisher:  SilverWood Books

Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France are struggling over territory as the powerful Angevins threaten the French king. In regions far from Paris local fiefdoms disregard all authority.
The Tangled Queen is the story of the little known and very young Isabella of Angoulême who was abducted by King John in 1200. She became his second wife and queen consort, aged 12. He was the most reviled king in English history and his lust for her led to the loss of Normandy and the destruction of the Plantagenet Empire, which then brought about the Magna Carta.
Isabella came of age in England, but was denied her place in court. Her story is full of thwarted ambition, passion, pride and cruelty. She longed for power of her own and returned to France after the death of John to live a life of treachery and intrigue…

An excerpt from Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 1 can be found at the end of this post.

This novel is set in the early 1200’s when power, corruption and the need to marry well, to ensure the continued allegiances between powerful and corrupt families, were commonplace. It was not unusual for brides to be children, often promised to much older men from a very young age. Isabella was one such bride, promised to Hugh Le Brun, Count of Lusignan, and she was sent with her maid to live with the Lusignan family and await her marriage. Here she met the notorious King John, who wanted her for his bride and her father, being more concerned with the family name than his daughter, helped to abduct her and had no qualms at marrying her and sending her off to England at 12 years of age. The demands made on her by her husband meant her life, as Queen of England was often lonely, frustrating and difficult. She provided John with five children before his death in 1216, when she had little option than to return to France as Countess of Angoulême.

Despite never having heard of Isabella, I was intrigued by this book as not only is Angoulême about half an hour from where I live, but a recent holiday to Le Mans had sown a seed of interest in the Plantagenet history period and I was keen to learn more about the this royal family, whose kingdoms crossed borders between England and France for many generations.

Many places mentioned in England were recognisable to me from my childhood and I even remembered learning about some of the events that appeared in the book, like the signing of the Magna Carta in Runneymede. I have also visited many of the places mentioned in France (usually on my bike rather than on horseback like in the book), including Angoulême, Lusignan in the Vienne and L’Abbaye de l’Epau in Le Mans. They all played their part in Isabella’s story and this book helped me to piece together the shared English and French history. Having only recently become interested in this period, I was a little concerned that I might find it to be too much like a school history lesson, but I need not have worried as from the beginning Erica easily kept my interest by adding personality to the characters while retaining the historical facts.

As a British immigrant holding court in France (well I’m on the village council) at a time when Europe is going through turbulent times, this book has made me realise this is nothing new; similar problems have been happening for centuries and will likely continue to do so.

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Erica Laine
I was born in 1943 in Southampton and originally studied for the theatre. I moved with my family to Hong Kong in 1977 and worked and lived there for 20 years, writing English language textbooks for Chinese primary schools and managing large educational projects for the British Council.
Since living in S W France I have been very involved with a local history society and have researched many topics, the history of gardens and fashion being favourites.
Isabella of Angoulême began in 2011 at a writing workshop run by Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor. The story of this young queen was fascinating and although she appears as a character in some other historical novels I wanted to concentrate on her entire life and her importance to the English and the French and the role she played in the politics of power. Part Two is being written now and my head is more or less permanently in the thirteenth century.

French Village Diaries book review Isabella of Angouleme Erica Laine Brook Cottage Books
Brook Cottage Blog Tour Isabella of Angoulême

Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway where two ebook copies of Isabella of Angouleme can be won. Good luck!

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Isabella smiled and yawned – it was time these chattering girls left. She dismissed them, haughty and impatient. Away they sped, some calling back to Isabella, jokes and remarks full of innuendo for her future. She frowned; this was not the way to treat a future queen.
‘Agnes, help prepare me for bed.’
Agnes closed the chamber door, unlacing the back of Isabella’s dress, folding the glorious red and gold silk into the large chest. Tomorrow Isabella would wear the blue gown, the splendid blue and silver fabric showing wealth and also loyalty. If red and gold had shown the power and wealth of the Taillefers, then the blue would mark their obedience and fealty.
Early the next morning Agnes was busy preparing a scented bath. Precious rose oil, drop by drop, turned the hot water cloudy. And then she was busy mixing the rosemary wash for Isabella’s hair. She would wear her hair loose today, and her small gold guirland.
Isabella woke up and saw Agnes looking at her, long and thoughtful, ready to make her stir, but she was already throwing back the covers and standing and stretching. Agnes nodded and together they moved to the bath, and Isabella slipped into the milky, perfumed water and rubbed the rosemary wash into her hair. She felt the water running down her back and shivered. Then she was being briskly dried by Agnes, who was determined to treat Isabella to the most thorough of preparations.
Her mother Alice entered the room and the three of them unfolded the wedding gown and dressed Isabella. Her chemise was soft and light, the dress heavy and cumbersome. Arranged within it, held within it as if caged, her face pale but proud, she moved to the window and looked down onto a courtyard full of people, horses, carts and wagons. A procession was moving through the crowd, with a stately canon and an even more stately bishop in the centre. The clergy were intent on their walk to the cathedral. Isabella clutched Agnes in a sudden fear. Then she rested her head on the window and took a deep breath. It was her wedding day.