Monday, January 20, 2020

Nuit de la lecture (reading night) 2020

French Village Diaries la Nuit de la lecture 2020
Nuit de la Lecture 2020 Sauzé-Vaussais

La Nuit de la Lecture

For the last few years I have been posting about La Nuit de la Lecture, the annual reading night event created by the French culture minister in 2017 to encourage more people to discover the fun to be had in books. The aim is to bring together readers and professionals, from authors, publishers, book shops and libraries, to share a love of books and reading. 

I usually use La Nuit de la Lecture to post my annual top ten of popular books shared on the blog, a post that will be coming later this week, because today I’d like to share some photos of our local event that took place in Sauzé-Vaussais on Saturday.

Five local libraries collaborated to put together an afternoon of cookery workshops followed by an evening of food, fun, music, poetry and readings.

French Village Diaries la Nuit de la lecture 2020
Preparing the Syrian samosas

The food was an international mix of Syrian, Vietnamese and French. During the workshops a Syrian family, recently arrived in the area, shared some of the flavours of their home and how to prepare them, alongside the French preparing a Vietnamese chicken and rice salad and a retired patisserie chef demonstrating chou buns and eclairs. This part of the day certainly highlighted the positive effect of immigration and integrating new cultures into the community.

French Village Diaries la Nuit de la lecture 2020
French patisserie classics

In the evening, the librarians, both salaried and volunteers, put on a show with the themes of food and sharing taking the spotlight. Before each course was served our appetites were whetted with a food-themed sketch. Readings about oysters and sushi, a humorous tale about couscous, a fable about camembert and a song about banana splits and fruit salad, were just a few of the things that entertained us as we ate the food prepared during the day.

French Village Diaries la Nuit de la lecture 2020
The librarians putting on a show, Nuit de la Lecture 2020

It was obvious to those of us in the audience that everyone involved was having as good a time as we were and proved that working together as a network of local libraries has a lot to offer. Friendships and links between the libraries have been forged and I’m delighted there are plans to continue events like this in the future. 

Maybe next time I will be brave enough to take part and read aloud, in French, in front of an audience. I know the support from my friends was there, but this time it proved a little too much outside of my comfort zone. The venue wasn’t our village library, the audience came from a wider area and the team was made up of lots of people with lots of ideas and opinions. I let myself slide into the shadows rather than seek the spotlight.

Today is Blue Monday, claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, but living in a community that can pull together and put on events like this, even in the depths of winter, certainly helps to cheer the soul and lift the spirit. If you are feeling down today, pick up a book, I’m sure it will help. Here are a few suggestions of books I’ve enjoyed that all have something to make you laugh or will leave you with a nice warm glow of happiness. 

A Springtime to Remember by Lucy Coleman

A fabulous read that takes you to the heart of the gardens at Versailles. There is history, family drama, romance and mystery with a great cast of characters and superbly described setting. I'm reading this at the moment and keep looking for excuses to pick it up and jump back in.


Playing the Martyr by Ian Moore

This book gives us a murder, an investigating judge with an interesting past and a great cast of rural French village characters, including the British expats, the Maire, the councilors, the political undercurrents, the village bar and someone with a score to settle. Ian kept me guessing as the plot evolved and we got some snippets of French history and an expert guide around the beautiful city of Tours.


Susie Kelly box set

It is so difficult to pick my favourite of Susie Kelly’s humorous books on life and travel in France, luckily with this box set, you can have them all.

For more reading ideas you might like my previous posts:

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Feeling awesome on my bike

French Village Diaries feeling awesome on my bike #KTTinyTourer Thames London cycling
Along the Thames with London skyline in the background

Hey Britain, you don’t need Brexit to distance yourself from the EU, take it from me, your overnight road closures for Smart Motorway upgrades are doing a pretty effective job of blocking the access to your major ports. After a return trip using Dover and Portsmouth, to say I’m sick of the sight of road cones is an understatement and the only journey I enjoyed in the ten days was our adventure into London; two days, one night and 107kms – by bike.

French Village Diaries feeling awesome on my bike #KTTinyTourer Thames London cycling
The safe cycle way over Blackfriars Bridge in London

With river towpaths, Quiet Ways and Cycle Super Highways, cycling in London is exhilarating, far easier than I expected and much cheaper than taking the train or the car. Having commuted the 50kms from Woking to London by train for many years, making the journey by bike was awesome. I saw places and buildings up close that I’d only ever seen whiz by through a train window, as well as discovering new corners of London and rediscovering old haunts from my working years there. Making the journey by bike was something I never dreamed I’d ever do but is now up there on my top bike experiences to date.

The irony is that after years of disruptions and millions of pounds invested in upgrading to Smart Motorways (that I’m sure by the time the last stretch is finished the first areas to be completed will be out of date) traffic congestion will still be an issue. The only way to relieve the roads of cars is to make the alternatives more appealing. While many cycleways are well marked and safe, many more are on narrow roads with huge potholes and dangerous drain covers that force the cyclist to weave around them. This is where the investment needs to happen, not on roads exclusively for cars and lorries.

French Village Diaries feeling awesome on my bike #KTTinyTourer Thames London cycling
Along the Thames in London

Sitting in my elevated window seat enjoying breakfast in London and keeping out of the way of the rush hour, it was obvious commuting by bike is popular for both men and women. As Adrian regularly commutes by bike all over the UK, I needed no convincing, but this is a fact that is worth sharing. You can be female, work in an office and arrive by bike.

With the catastrophic bush fires and soaring temperatures in Australia and the extreme rainfall and flooding in parts of France, climate change must now become something we all consider when making our daily choices. It must not just be an item on a political agenda, it is real life and we can all make a difference if we try.

I do appreciate cycling isn’t for everyone, but aiming to make less car journeys, by combining tasks in town with shopping, or car sharing with friends will also help. I’d also like to point out age shouldn’t be an issue as my neighbour Pierrette will soon celebrate her 80th birthday, had a hip replacement last year, but still rides her bike every week and Robert Marchand, who we met whilst cycling in the Ardeche a few years ago, is still riding his bike, and setting records, despite being a mere 108 years old. Awesome!

I’m making 2020 my year of being Awesome and I’d love you to join me. Take it from me, one journey by bike instead of by car will mean you are awesome too.

French Village Diaries feeling awesome on my bike #KTTinyTourer Bollocks to Brexit London cycling
Thanks to the Pimlico Plumbers for their Bollocks to Brexit slogan

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

French Public and School Holidays 2020

French Village Diaries School and Public Holiday Dates 2020
Holidays in France

Happy New Year. January is here once more and this year it is heralding the start of a new decade. As in previous years, here is my annual reminder of the public holidays, school holidays and other notable dates (and how they are celebrated) in France for 2020. 

Public Holidays in France 2020

1st January, New Years Day, jour de l’an
12th April, Easter Sunday, Pâques look out for flying bells (see here).
13th April, Easter Monday, lundi de Pâques (note there is no Good Friday holiday in France unless you live in the Alsace or Moselle areas)
1st May, Fête du Travail
8th May, Victory in Europe DayVictoire 1945
21st May, Ascension Day, Ascension (note in 2020 the schools will have an extra day off on Friday 22nd May for the bridge pont, giving them a nice long weekend) 
1st June, Pentecost Monday, lundi de Pentecôte
14th July, Fête Nationale 
15th August, Assumption Day, Assomption
1st November, All Saint's DayToussaint
11th November, Armistice DayArmistice 1918 
25th December, Christmas Day, Jour de Noël (note there is no Boxing Day holiday in France on 26th unless you live in the Alsace or Moselle areas)

With the exception of the holidays linked to Easter: Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday, the above dates are the same every year and the holiday is always observed on the actual date rather than being moved to the nearest Monday as the UK would do. Public holidays can therefore fall on weekends (Assumption Day 2020 is a Saturday and All Saint’s Day a Sunday); to make up for this it is not uncommon for people to faire le pont (make a bridge) if a holiday falls on a Thursday (Ascension Day) or a Tuesday (14th July Fête Nationale), by taking off the Friday or Monday giving themselves a four-day weekend. This will be part of their annual holiday entitlement, or the hours need to be made up, so while most businesses will be open on bridge days, some staff shortages can be expected. It is worth noting that in many areas of rural France, although opening for some hours on a public holiday is becoming more common, most shops are likely to be either closed or only open in the mornings.
French Village Diaries School and Public Holiday Dates 2020
Le Tour de France 27th June to 19th July 2020

Other dates to note:

6th January, Epiphany, celebrated in France with a Galette des Rois (see here)
8th January, winter sales begin, soldes d’hiver, sales dates are regulated in France and the winter sales this year run from 8th January to 4th February
18th January, Reading Night, Nuit de la lecture (see here)
2nd February Candlemas day, Chandeleur, celebrated in France with pancakes (see here)
25th February, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi-Gras when carnival time begins in France and pancakes and beignets (similar to doughnuts) are eaten.
15th March, round one of the local elections to decide the maire and council for the next six years.
22nd March, round two (and deciding round) of local elections.
29th March, clocks spring forward an hour to Central European Summertime
5th April, Palm Sunday, Rameaux a day where our local boulangeries bake something a little different (see here)
29th May, Neigbours’ Day, fêtes des voisins
7th June, Mother’s Day, fêtes des mères
21st June, Father’s Day, fêtes des pères
21st June, fête de la musique, world music day, celebrated here with free concerts in towns and villages all over France
24th June, summer sales begin, Soldes d’été, and will run until 21st July
27th June to 19th July, Le Tour de France. Le Grand Depart for 2020 will be in Nice
25th October, clocks fall back an hour to Central European Time (although this is currently up for debate)
French Village Diaries School and Public Holiday Dates 2020
French School Holiday Zones

School Holidays

In France the schools are split into three zones and most of the holidays are staggered so not everyone is trying to hit the ski slopes or beaches at the same time, although be prepared for extra traffic on the roads on all Saturdays during the school holidays, or better still avoid driving on these days. Live traffic updates can be found on the Bison-Futé website here

Here are the dates for 2020:

The winter holiday is from 8th February to 9th March. 
Zone C gets the first two weeks, Zone B the middle two and Zone A the last two.

The spring holiday is from 4th April to 4th May. 
Zone C gets the first two weeks, Zone B the middle two and Zone A the last two weeks.

The summer holiday for all zones is from 4th July until 1st September.

The October holiday for all zones is from 17th October to 2nd November.

The Christmas holiday for all zones is from 19th December to 4th January 2021.

Whether you are new to life in France, or just wanting to plan your holiday here in the quieter weeks outside of the French school holidays, I hope you find this blog useful. Please feel free to share this post with your French-loving friends and family. 

Wherever you visit in France this year, I hope you have a great holiday. If you are planning on driving, you might like to read my popular post that highlights the do’s and don’ts of driving in France (see here).

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Au revoir 2019

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
2019 cycling challenge with #KTTinyTourer

As 2019 draws to a close my word for the year is challenge.

This Christmas, likely our last as EU citizens and therefore not something we felt like celebrating, was a simple day and perfectly ‘us’. A 63km bike ride with a posh picnic and a bottle of fizzy, was timed to perfection for me to complete my 2019 cycling challenge and to benefit from a sunny afternoon.

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
Christmas Day picnic

Having smashed my original goal of 2019kms in August, I upped my game to 2019 miles (or 3230kms) and although the weather has been against me these last few months, the sun came out on Christmas Day to help me celebrate. 

Living with the uncertainty of Brexit for the last three and a half years has also been a challenge, especially on my mental health. Thankfully buying my Brompton bike, Katie #KTTinyTourer, last December and having the focus of working towards a goal has really helped, and I am proud of my achievement. There is nothing quite like a bike ride on the quiet back roads of France for clearing the mind and calming the body.

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
#KTTinyTourer in Bordeaux

With Adrian by my side (or more accurately out in front) I’ve used Katie locally instead of taking the car, but I’ve also had great fun further afield revisiting favourite places and discovering new parts of France. I’ve explored the lovely Ile de Ré and the cities of Limoges, La Rochelle, Poitiers, Bordeaux, Toulouse and London. 

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
Climbing mountains with #KTTinyTourer

I’ve climbed mountain cols and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain.

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
Sunset in France #KTTinyTourer

I’ve been out on the bike in the 40º heatwave of summer and the frosty mornings of winter. I’ve seen sunrises and sunsets and cycled into 40km headwinds as we reached the end of our Bordeaux to Toulouse adventure. 
For the 5th year running I’ve celebrated my birthday with my 100km in a day ride and I’m fitter than I’ve been in years. Without Katie things would look a lot gloomier.
I know there will be challenges ahead as the reality of Brexit works itself out. I know we will lose our right to vote in the March local elections in France and I will also lose my right to stand as a local councillor. I hope some agreement on cross border service provider work will be found, as currently this is not something included in the withdrawal agreement but is critical for Adrian to remain working.

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
A dry and sad looking potager

The weather has also thrown us a challenge or two this year, with a summer hotter and drier than we’ve ever experienced, followed by the wettest autumn in years, with more than our fair share of wild windy nights this winter too. The combination of which has challenged the waterproofness of our old roofs and then Big Bertha, the central heating boiler (and general prima donna), sprang an internal leak and died. Keeping warm while we waited for Tiny Tina, her replacement, to be installed was a challenge I could have done without, but onwards and upwards as a new year and a new decade await.

French Village Diaries au revoir 2019 a challenging year #KTTinyTourer
#KTTinyTourer at home in France

My new challenge with Katie is a 20 20 challenge split into parts, as I felt I needed more than just kilometres to focus on and tick off this year.

The first 20 is to cycle in twenty different departments (counties) in France, and with 96 to choose from, that will certainly give Adrian a challenge in terms of route planning.

The second 20 is split into four challenges of five:

5 consecutive days on the bike, cycling a minimum of 50kms each day. 

5 trips to the supermarket using the bike instead of the car. 

5 mountain cols or passes climbed by bike. 

5 days cycling 100kms in a day, as opposed to once a year for my birthday.

This might seem a lot, but I’m positive that tackled in small parts and with some careful planning (like most challenges in life) I can succeed. 

Whatever your goals or dreams are for the coming year, I wish you well and hope 2020 is good to you.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Book review of High Heels & Beetle Crushers by Jackie Skingley

French Village Diaries book review High Heels & Beetle Crusher Jackie Skingley
High Heels & Beetle Crushers by Jackie Skingley

High Heels & Beetle Crushers

A compelling memoir of post-war Britain. Jackie Skingley grew up with limited career choices but joining the Women’s Royal Army Corps offered her a different life, living and working in a military world, against the backdrop of the Cold War. Packed full of stories reflecting the changing sexual attitudes prior to the arrival of the pill and the sexual revolution of the mid 60s, Skingley’s memoir denotes a shift in the political and social fabric of the era. Follow her relationships with the men in her life from finding her first true love, which through a cruel act of fate was denied her, to embarking on a path of recovery.

French Village Diaries book review High Heels & Beetle Crusher Jackie Skingley
High Heels & Beetle Crushers by Jackie Skingley

My review 

Whilst this book is not set in France, the author is, and as well as sharing first names, we also live in the same part of France and have attended writing workshops and events together over the years. I was delighted to be asked if I’d like to review her first memoir and interestingly enough, as I read it, I discovered many of the places mentioned in the book, were places from my earlier years too. It is a small world!

This memoir takes us from Jackie’s early childhood recollections of the war, to happy times spent with her great aunt and uncle, not so happy times with her stepdad, and then onto her new life in the Womens Royal Army Corps in the 1960’s. Growing up surrounded by military towns, Jackie’s life had plenty of military connections before she decided that this direction might be her chance to gain independence and adventure. 

Jackie certainly has a story to tell of a fascinating era where women were making their mark, but as we follow her journey, this book becomes a heartfelt memoir of personal loss too. It was a privilege to witness the ups and downs of her time at officer cadet training, her visits to military bases in Germany and the roles she went on to have as an officer, even if some of the military terms and references were a little lost on me. She also shares her blossoming romances along the way and not surprisingly, her young men were all in the military too and her descriptions of the balls and her dresses, lovingly made by her mother, were vibrantly brought to life. She paints a great picture of the camaraderie of military life, the socialising and the rule breaking too, giving a great insight to what it felt like to belong to the extended military family.

This is a beautifully written, honest memoir, where hard work, heartache and happiness all play a part, and it left me keen to read more.

Purchase Links 

French Village Diaries book review High Heels & Beetle Crusher Jackie Skingley
Jackie Skingley

Author Bio 

For Jackie Skingley, adventure has been her quest since childhood. Life with the British army allowed Jackie to live all over the world and gain huge appreciation for different cultures and customs. Since 1999, Jackie and her husband have lived in the Charente region of South West France where Reiki, jewellery making, painting and mosaics, as well as writing keep her fully occupied. Member of the Charente Creative Writing Group, mother and grandmother.

Social Media Links 


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