Sunday, November 29, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day thirty-one, a tricky tart

French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent cycling Charente
At church on the first Sunday in Advent


Day thirty-one, Sunday 29th November 2020

 

November is drawing to a close and today is the first Sunday of advent, although we are not peeking into our advent calendars just yet. Our thirty-two-kilometre bike ride today took us to a sweet little church in the Charente, where we stopped for our cake, perched in the sunshine on an ancient, lichen covered tomb stone. It was an invigorating ride as although the sun was out, there was a cold wind from the north, but I have now cycled over four thousand, eight hundred kilometres this year, so fingers crossed I’ll hit the five thousand.

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent onion tart
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's French Onion Tart

A tricky tart

I mentioned a few days ago that I’d set myself a December challenge; to follow a recipe from one of my many cookbooks at least once a week. Well, I have a cooking confession to make.

 

I was so excited at trying something new that even though it was still November, I found myself flicking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year, which is cleverly set out in months to help with ideas on seasonal produce. Tucked into the November section was a French onion tart, that looked just perfect. I may have cobbled together an onion tart of sorts before, but not following this (or any other) recipe, I love any dish with onions, and having made Adrian cycle home with a five-kilo bag recently, knew I had the ingredients to hand. I was also confident it was a recipe I could cope with. How difficult can an onion tart be?

 

Well, trickier than I thought. I was very good and followed the recipe to the letter and as Hugh has never let me down before, I even dropped my own pastry recipe for his, including the bit where you don't chill it or roll it, just finger-press it into the dish and blind bake. The kilo of onions that had to be peeled, sliced and gently softened took me way longer than he said, but I can forgive him that, it was a delicious mix. My usual standard quiche recipe turns out successful quiches with a variety of fillings, time and again, made in a rectangle tray bake tin, which I find easier to portion than a round one. As directed by Hugh, this time I used a 23cm round dish and carefully cooked it for his 'around 30mins', whereas I'd normally ignore the clock completely and do it by eye. I was a little concerned about it getting too brown on top, so whipped it out to serve, hot from the oven, as per the book.

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day thirty-one advent onion tart
My first attempt at French onion tart


I will admit that the flavour was good, and everyone ate it (although there were no alternatives offered), but I have to say it's my first experience of soggy bottoms and undercooked pastry. When Ed enquired as to what it was he could taste in the tart, I at first thought it was the nutmeg he was referring to, but when he clarified it as a funny texture he couldn’t identify, I realised he meant uncooked pastry. Adrian is not a fussy eater, in fact he’d eat anything I put in front of him, but when it comes to cooking, his idea of giving me a night off is when he’s in charge of the lasagne, and by that I mean warming up the one I’ve made earlier in the day. When even he suggested it might need a bit longer in the oven, maybe I should have listened. It definitely could have done with more cooking, as even the filling did its best to escape from its own pastry and flow over the plate.

 

I will not be defeated, however, but next time it will be Hugh’s filling and I’m going back to my pastry and my rectangle tin. Adrian says it just goes to show I don't actually need to follow a recipe to produce a tasty meal, bless him. 

 

With December only days away, my challenge may be more of a challenge than I at first thought and although in some ways this has spurred me on to do better next time, it has also given me a sinking feeling whenever I pick up a cookbook. Tonight it’s a family favourite, risotto, and no recipe required. 



Saturday, November 28, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day thirty, bells, beer and bike rides

French Village lockdown Diaries day thirty cycling patisserie
At the patisserie in Brioux-sur-Boutonne


Day thirty, Saturday 28th November 2020

 

French Village lockdown Diaries day thirty DIY decorating
Almost there Adrian


Between the bells

We were gently woken from our dreams by the eight o’clock morning angelus, and another day of clear skies revealed itself outside the shutters. By the time the village bells were ringing out the midday angelus I had the washing hung out, a batch of yoghurt in the maker, the soup ready for a late lunch, a cake cooling, the pork bones roasted and on their way to becoming a bone broth stock and we’d hung the wallpaper on the chimney breast and round into the nook where the shelf unit sits, leaving just a few over the door pieces, and the last bit of wall with three full drops to do. Fuelled by an extra, and somewhat late, morning coffee, these final bits were all finished before lunch. That’s how to rock your Saturday morning.

 

French Village lockdown Diaries day thirty cycling patisserie
Our celebratory flan and beer


A beer and bike ride to Brioux-sur-Boutonne

Following on from yesterday’s post about celebrating payday, someone on Facebook asked how we’d be celebrating our increased freedom that came in today, where we can now roam within a twenty-kilometre radius from home and be out for three whole hours. Well, the answer was simple, a bike ride to Brioux-sur-Boutonne, which comfortably sits right at the edge of our twenty-kilometre zone. It’s also home to an award-winning patisserie, who were open and had our favourite flan, just waiting to be boxed up for us. A bench in the sunshine, the two beers Adrian had packed, and our patisseries were the perfect way to toast the end of the current decorating project and our first day of almost-freedom. The ride home with the setting sun and the moon only a day away from full, was beautiful, if a little chilly on my ears. Our route took us up to the ridge that looks down onto Chef Boutonne and where we had 360º views of orange, pink and lilac skies.

 

By the time the angelus rang out at six o’clock this evening we were back from our thirty-eight-kilometre bike ride, the washing was in, the bread maker was happily preparing the dough for the pizzas this evening and the sounds of Ed’s guitar were filtering through the house. There was even enough time to finish off today’s diary and reassemble the shelf unit upstairs before our aperos. I’ll have more days like today please.



Friday, November 27, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-nine, payday celebrations

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-nine
Sunset bike ride and baguette


Day twenty-nine, Friday 27th November 2020

 

Payday

Whoop whoop! Adrian has been paid, for the first time since the end of April and if that isn’t something worth celebrating, or being grateful for, then I don’t know what is. We also got our first Christmas card in the post today too and all I can say is that I commend you organised people, kind of spirit and full of festive cheer, but I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to reciprocate, sorry.

 

The main task today was getting back to decorating and wallpaper hanging at the top of the stairs. This is now the third space we have hung paper in the last few months, but boy was it slow and tough going this morning. Pipes are not the friend of the wallpaper hanger, and why these walls seemed to drink the paste more than the others, meaning the paper wouldn’t slip into line, I have no idea. It was just as well I’d planned something out of the norm for our lunch today, as it felt like a necessary treat. I did make up a fresh batch of leek-top soup, but that will be for tomorrow, as today we enjoyed a goat cheese omelette and salad, with almost all the ingredients sourced locally, by bike. It was also warm enough to eat it in the garden. After getting just over halfway through the wallpaper hanging, the paste we’d made up ran out, which was all the excuse we needed to clear up for the day and pop out on the bikes. Can you believe it, we’re out of bananas, again.


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-nine  autumn bike ride
Late afternoon ride to Chef Boutonne

 

The cycle to Chef Boutonne was lovely in the golden afternoon light and although I’d dressed sensibly for a late November ride, knowing how quick the temperatures can drop as the sun goes down, I was surprised to find it was 17º and I probably didn’t need my five layers. With our panniers full, well a baguette in mine and a good few kilos of essentials in Adrian’s, we got a spectacular panorama on the way home; the sunset burning the sky to the right, an almost full moon rising to the left.

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-nine  autumn bike ride
Moon rising


As a mini celebration for being paid, we will be treating ourselves to a tasty apéro platter of pâtés this evening, with a glass of Pierrette’s cherry Pineau. Cheers, to your good health. 


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Lockdown Diaries, day twenty-eight, Giving thanks

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-eight giving thanks
Thankful for our moules frites


Day twenty-eight, Thursday 26th November 2020

 

Giving thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you celebrating today, even if your normal plans are out the window this year. I’m not American, have never celebrated Thanksgiving, or even eaten pumpkin pie, and it’s only thanks to blogs and social media that I’ve come to understand it a bit more. I think this year, more than any, we have a lot to be thankful for, even those of us whose families have lost loved ones. We won’t be tucking into a roast turkey and all the trimmings tonight, but we will certainly take a moment over our moules frites to give thanks for the good things in our life this year. 



French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-eight giving thanks cycling family
Thankful for the memories we've made on the bikes this year

 

I’m certainly thankful of having the bikes, the fitness and good health to be able to ride them, and the time available to get out on them. They have made such a difference to our lives this year and I can't imagine how we would have got through the last eight months without them. Not only have they given us access to the great outdoors and a way to exercise in the fresh air, they have also given us a focus and the means to set ourselves challenges too. Whether it’s been local rides with Ed and Pearl, restaurant rides with our friends, or holidays just the two of us further afield, we’ve certainly made some great memories. We lost our nephew Ben to suicide during the first lockdown and I’ve found there was something quite healing about pushing myself on the bike, as I climbed mountains I never realised I was capable of. When all I could hear was my breathing and I could feel my heart pounding, it reminded me how precious life and being alive really is. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-eight giving thanks cycling
The stunning scenery of the Pyrenees


Being surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery as I climbed was pretty special too.


 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-eight giving thanks friends
Thankful for great friends


I’m also thankful for the friends I’ve made here in France. The ones who are there no matter what the problem, the ones who’ve cycled with us, the ones I’ve sung my heart out alongside (usually after a wine or two) and the ones who have taken the time to help me improve my French. My eighty-year-old neighbour Pierrette certainly falls into the latter category, even if things are running a bit late here today thanks to a lengthy, gossipy phone call with her. It’s not quite the same as our early natters on Sunday mornings as we strolled to the boulangerie together pre-Covid-19, but it’s better than nothing.

 

I know it has been a tough year in many ways for a lot of people, but I hope you can think of something that you are thankful for too. 


Book review of Night Train to Paris by Fliss Chester

French Village Diaries book review Night Train to Paris Fliss Chester
Night Train to Paris by Fliss Chester


Night Train to Paris by Fliss Chester

Meet Fen Churche, as she steps off the night train with the sun rising over Paris. Cat whisperer, crossword puzzler... accidental detective?

Autumn, 1945. Fen cannot wait to see her beloved godmother Rose, who has invited Fen to stay with her in the city of lights. As she arrives, Fen is dreaming of strolls by the Seine, taking tea at the Eiffel Tower and above all French feasts with Rose where they can trade stories of how they survived the terrifying war years.

But Fen has barely made friends with Rose’s bad-tempered poodle when she returns to the apartment to find her godmother murdered, a paintbrush stuck in her neck. Suddenly Fen is thrown into the middle of a truly puzzling mystery. Who on earth would want to murder Rose, a gentle artist and generous friend?

A blackmail letter convinces Fen that the police have got everything wrong and Fen knows she has to solve the case just like one of her crosswords, one clue at a time. As she meets her godmother’s friends, she makes a surprising discovery: Rose was part of the Resistance during the war…

When a second body turns up, another of Rose’s wartime contacts, Fen must act fast. But as the killer turns their sights on Fen, does she have what it takes to solve this mysterious murder and get justice for her darling godmother?

You won’t be able to put down this utterly addictive historical cozy mystery! The absolutely perfect treat if you love Agatha Christie, Rhys Bowen and Jacqueline Winspear.  


 

French Village Diaries book review Night Train to Paris Fliss Chester
Night Train to Paris tour banner


My Review

Fen is independent, sensible and with her love of cryptic crosswords, enjoys working out clues that others may miss. Arriving on the night train from Burgundy, fresh from solving a murder there, she is looking forward to spending some time in Paris and rediscovering the people and places she knew when she grew up there before the war. 

 

Paris is slowly waking up now the Occupation is over, but things have changed, people are missing, shops and galleries boarded up and artwork has been stolen by the Germans. Her eccentric godmother Rose is a colourful character in more ways than one, with her vivid turbans, patchwork coats and art studio full of canvasses and paints. As she begins to let Fen and her travelling companion James know about her work during the war, and how she plans to return the stolen art to its rightful owners, Rose is murdered. 

 

Fen can’t accept the police view of burglary gone wrong, so begins looking for clues. As she tries to piece together what went on during the war, who else was involved, and why Rose was murdered, we get drawn into the Paris fashion and art world of the 1940s. Fen may know Paris and the Parisian ways, but when things don’t quite go to plan, she also knows only a fresh pot of tea will do. This book has a great cast of characters, all of whom raised my suspicions at times, and as the clues were dropped in, I really enjoyed trying to work things out with Fen and discover who the murderer was and why. 

 

Although I hadn’t read A Dangerous Goodbye, the first book in the Fen Churche series, I wish I had, so it’s now on my kindle, ready to go and I can’t wait to read more. If you enjoy cosy mysteries, a bit of Parisian chic and some good old British humour, I’m sure you’ll love this book.

 

Purchase Links 


Amazon 

Apple 

Kobo 

Google 


French Village Diaries book review Night Train to Paris Fliss Chester
Author Fliss Chester


Author Bio

 

Fliss Chester lives in Surrey with her husband and writes historical cozy crime. When she is not killing people off in her 1940s whodunnits, she helps her husband, who is a wine merchant, run their business. Never far from a decent glass of something, Fliss also loves cooking (and writing up her favourite recipes on her blog), enjoying the beautiful Surrey and West Sussex countryside and having a good natter. 

Twitter


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-seven, confinement update from M Macron

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-seven confinement update Christmas
Our 20km permitted radius for cycling and exercise


Day twenty-seven, Wednesday 25th November 2020

 

Time for a happy dance

President Macron spoke last night and from Saturday 28th November, we will be entering a three-phase plan of deconfinement. The most exciting thing for us is that from Saturday we will be able to get out on the bikes, for a maximum of three hours (it’s one hour at the moment) and roam within a twenty-kilometre radius from home (currently only a one-kilometre zone). This gives us ample opportunity for some real leg stretching bike rides as far away as Melle, Brioux-sur-Boutonne, Aigre, Ruffec and Sauze-Vaussais. I didn’t set myself a distance challenge on the bike this year, but as I’m only three hundred kilometres short of hitting five thousand, this has given me all the incentive I need to get out there and smash it. 

 

Our attestations will still need to be filled out before leaving home, but this should be lifted in phase two on 15th December, assuming the Covid-19 numbers are still heading in the right direction. France has passed the peak of this second wave and infection numbers are now less than a third of what they were before lockdown began. Many more shops and business will be able to open on Saturday, including hairdressers and treatment rooms, although bars and restaurants are not part of this phase. It looks like being a pretty grim Christmas for them as they won’t be able to open again as normal this year. The bar/restaurant in our village has already closed its doors for good, and I’m sure it won’t be the only one.

 

An overnight curfew throughout France, from nine o’clock in the evening until seven in the morning, will come into effect on 15th December until 20th January, but with two night’s grace for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. The good news for Ed is that from 15th December households can mix, sensibly, once more, so he can spend some time with Pearl again. His Christmas options are also looking more positive as he will be able to join Pearl and her family for a real French Christmas, so much more exciting than spending it here, just the three of us.

 

The really great news is that Ed won’t be going back to on-site university lectures until the middle of February at the earliest, so I get to keep him in my nest and use him for the weekly shop for a few more months, although I am happy to share him with Pearl.

 

President Macron has emphasised that we still need to do all we can to ensure we don’t get hit by a third wave and he hopes a vaccination programme will begin by the end of December, starting with those most vulnerable. 

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-seven confinement update Christmas
Homemade mincepies


One month to Christmas

With Christmas now only a month away, there is no doubt it will be different from normal for many families, especially those who cross borders. We certainly won’t be going mad this Christmas, but then we never do, although we have always tried to get back to the UK for either Christmas or New Year, to ensure Ed gets to be part of an extended family celebration. 

 

In a normal year I would already be feeling a sense of Christmas gloom by now. The days are shorter, the weather is often harsh, and I am usually home alone as it’s one of Adrian’s busiest times for work. It has sadly become quite normal to find myself stressing over everything from weather worries, airport runs, flight cancellations and strikes, plus the potential impact of letting clients down due to travel disruptions. I find myself putting off doing the Christmas cards for so long, that another year passes, and no cards are sent, and then there is the sense of panic about what to buy for gifts and coordinating getting back to the UK around Ed’s school holiday dates, Adrian’s work schedule and the weather. My enthusiasm for entering into the spirit of Christmas and putting up the decorations left a long time ago.

 

Things are certainly feeling better for me this year. The November weather has been kind, Adrian is working but without the stress of travelling and although we will miss seeing our families, we know there is little choice other than being in France over the Christmas period. 

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-seven confinement update Christmas
Christmas Day 2019, on the bikes


Last year we let Ed go back to the UK without us for Christmas, while we went over for New Year. For our Christmas Day celebrations we chose to go out on the bikes for a seventy-kilometre ride, taking with us a posh picnic and bubbles. It was simple, stress-free and just perfect. Now we have confirmation of the Covid-19 rules around Christmas, we are hoping the weather allows us to do the same this year. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-six a new challenge

French Village Lockdown Diaries day 23 a new challenge soup
Another day, another batch of soup


Day twenty-six, Tuesday 24th November 2020

 

Tuesday rolls around once more bringing with it my favourite yoga class of the week; Rise and Shine Yoga for Conditioning. Not being one to enjoy rushing my morning routine, the alarm goes off before the sun has risen, to ensure I’m relaxed and happy on my mat by 9 o’clock. There is just something about this class and its extra focus on the breathing and the body, that leaves me feeling strong and energised to face the day. 

 

We are now three and a half weeks into lockdown and President Macron will speak tonight about what to expect next. Adrian was working online all day and then set off on the turbo trainer to virtually cycle up Mont Ventoux (again) on Zwift. Ed (who conveniently has no lectures on Tuesdays) took himself off to Ruffec to do the weekly shop for us and returned home delighted he had done most of his Christmas shopping too. I think a DNA test might be necessary as I am never that organised or in control when it comes to Christmas. A good skill he is picking up from me during lockdown though, is learning to compare the prices per kilo when doing the shopping. 

 

I might not have had the most exciting of days, but I was happy in the kitchen. A batch of soup, another cake and a lasagne for dinner this evening, plus all the clearing up that goes with it, certainly kept me out of trouble. The soup might not look much, but I can assure you my frugal cauliflower soup, made from the leaves and stalk of a cauliflower, with lots of garlic, a green chilli and some crème fraiche, is delicious and creamy, with just a hint of heat.

 

With December getting closer, I need something to look forward to, and I’m not talking about Christmas. I realise I am becoming quite comfortable with life in lockdown, enjoying us all being at home together and things slipping into an easy routine. Since moving to France 16 years ago, I've often found myself out of my comfort zone and knowing how good this is for me, I always try to say yes to things, no matter how scary they may at first seem. Running an English language club at the local secondary school was one big gulp moment, as was agreeing to stand for election on the village council and accepting a part time job at a local library. This year, there have been very few opportunities to push myself or try something different, although I did set myself some cycling challenges and even climbed a mountain or two. 


 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day 23 a new recipe challenge
A small selection of my recipe books


Inspired by author Sophie Claire and her new Christmas book A Winter’s Dream (see my review here), I have decided I need a December challenge. Something to focus on, that gives me the opportunity try new things and break from routine. We are a little restricted with lockdown, but I think I’ve come up with a great idea; the December recipe challenge. It’s time to dig out a cookery book, or two, and do more than just flick through looking at the pictures. I am notoriously bad at following a recipe, always tweaking it to add or substitute something, so my weekly challenge will be to choose a dish I’ve never cooked before and stick to it, ingredient for ingredient. I might even let Adrian and Ed do the choosing. If nothing else, it should make mealtimes a little less routine. 


Monday, November 23, 2020

Lockdown Diaries, day twenty-five, espressos and armchair travel

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-five Espresso Day
Espresso Day, 23rd November


Day twenty-five, Monday 23rd November 2020

Espresso Day 

It’s Espresso Day today, but then isn’t every day, an espresso day? It certainly is chez-nous, although technically our morning coffees are probably allongés, as much as we love the hit of a decent strength black coffee, we do prefer it a bit longer than the traditional tiny shot favoured by the Italians. However, serve my daily fix in a ‘regular’ bucket (as most UK coffee shop chains seem to do) and I’ll run a mile. My perfect coffee would be served on a sunny terrace with a view, in an attractive little cup, with a sweet biscuit in the saucer. I’d also have to add a square of dark chocolate, minimum 74%, that I’d have packed in my bike bag. Once suitably caffeinated, we’d hop back on the bikes and spend the day cycling the back roads of France and enjoying the stunning scenery and sunshine.


Armchair travel 

As my face enjoyed the warmth of the sun in the garden today, the rest of me was miles away, lost in the pages of an adventure. In life there are those of us who dream and those who do. It has long been a dream for me to cross France, by bike, and La Rochelle to Geneva has been my favoured route, following in the footsteps of Susie Kelly’s solo walk Best Foot Forward. Adrian and I may seem the adventurous types and have tackled some pretty cool holidays by bike, even in this virus-challenged year, but the logistics of getting back again, means a truly epic ride across France is still only at the dream stage. 

 

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Paul and Diana in the planning stages of their Susie Kelly inspired La Rochelle to Lake Geneva charity bike ride. Online at first, we met in person at the end of their second day on the road and we’ve kept in touch since. They had more barriers to overcome than we would, including needing flights to get them and their bikes to La Rochelle and home from Geneva, Paul recovering from an horrific car accident and neither of them being seasoned cyclists. However, they are doers not dreamers and with grit, determination and emotion, made their adventure real. It was a pleasure to have played a small part in their journey and an absolute delight to spend today reading through the book Paul has put together during lockdown. I really hope Naked France will be available to share soon.

 

We did manage a little escape on our bikes this afternoon, combining an essentials shopping trip to Chef Boutonne with a Living Magazine drop at the supermarket. Leaving home once Adrian had finished work for the day, we pedalled furiously in the cold air, as the colours of the sunset rapidly gave way to night. It made me feel alive and for now, trips like this will have to do to satisfy my wanderlust, but it’s not really enough. Cycling might be the perfect post-Covid-19 social-distance-ensured method of travelling, but we have never camped, by bike. The risks to staying every night in a different hotel, without the luggage capacity to pack all our own bedding and towels on the bikes, makes me uneasy. It is sobering to think that we might never be in a position to roam carefree on long distance adventures, where the only risks are cycling safely and ensuring we remain well-fuelled. I guess now is the time to spend plotting routes and planning, as well as reading about the adventures of others. 


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-four, sunny Sunday

French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four sunny Sunday
Our village church in the winter sunshine


Day twenty-four, Sunday 22nd November 2020

Sunny Sunday 

Yesterday may have been a busy and productive day, but today was much more leisurely and even included the luxury of a lazy lie in. Watching the colours from the sunrise changing from orange to gold as they moved around the bedroom, gave a hint to the glorious weather we had to look forward to. Lunch was once again in the garden, and our little Robin was back to serenade us in the sun. I really don’t ever remember being aware of the Robin’s song before this week, despite how distinctive it is, and we’ve always had Robins visit the garden and potager. Lockdown and life will seem much brighter if the weather continues to let us eat outside and the Robin continues to sing.

 

What we did manage to achieve today was the fiddly little finishing touches to the rooms we’ve decorated. Washing the light fittings and rehanging them, putting the door handles back on and having a tidy up of all the bits and pieces. During the last lockdown we had a big clean-up of the spare bedroom, setting it aside for use as Covid-19 contamination suite. Thankfully it has so far not been needed, but what has happened is that it’s become a decorating storeroom. Rolls of wallpaper, tins of paint, sanding blocks, dust sheets and paintbrushes have spread themselves out all over the floor (out of sight, out of mind) and multiplied, I’m sure. Armed with some cardboard boxes, I sought to bring order to the chaos this morning and cleared enough floor space to store two of the bikes in there as well. It’s still not going to be much good if we do need to isolate one of us, but by moving the bikes, I’ve found a cosy indoor space for the fuchsias tonight. They are still in full bloom and look fabulous, but with overnight temperatures dropping to zero, they need a bit of protection.



French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four Living Magazine
Living Magazine, delivery by bike

Living Magazine 

This afternoon we set off for our hour of exercise on the bikes and combined it with delivering the latest edition of the local English language magazine to the Brits who live in the village. Most of the houses were within our one-kilometre radius, but some of the deliveries out to the hamlets stretched that a bit. I am not one to bend the rules, but as I have agreed with the Mairie to do the occasional lockdown check-in with some of the older residents, who just so happen to live at the further reaches of the village, we combined the two. Hopefully finding a new magazine in their postbox, and my little note letting them know I’m thinking of them, will put a smile on their faces. It was also nice to chat with all those we met, out enjoying their gardens or a local walk in the sunshine, too. It doesn’t get much more exciting than face to face chit chat, with six different people, all in the same day. 



Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-three, the Robin

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three Robin
If you look closely, you'll see our Robin


Day twenty-three, Saturday 21st November 2020

 

A visitor to the garden

A number of times today I was aware of hearing a really pretty birdsong coming from somewhere in the garden. We are lucky to hear lots of birds here and although I know the Blackbird, the Hoopoe, the Redstart, the Great Tit, the Swallow and the Sparrow, I couldn’t identify this one. As it was so persistent, and so beautiful, I took a moment and stood for a while trying to see who it was. High in the tree, right outside the kitchen door, singing its heart out for me, was a Robin. 

 

Robins have long been associated with lost loved ones and many believe they are a sign that loved ones are near and at peace. In spirituality the significance of seeing a Robin is all about renewal and new beginnings, a reminder to let go of the negatives and encourage us to move forward to a happier place. The older I get, the more I find myself drawn to spirituality, and as it was four years ago today that we lost Adrian’s Dad, I am sure that Robin wanted me to notice him in the garden today and take a moment to enjoy his song. I’m also ready to embrace a new and positive future.


 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Phase two of the hallway/landings project this morning


It was important for Adrian to feel that he had achieved something today, so we wasted no time in getting going on our latest project, phase two of the landings/hallways upstairs. We were up early and the first job of sanding the filled bits in the walls, and cleaning the dust this created, was all done before morning coffee. I started off with the final side of the door into our bedroom while Adrian opened the new paint and got going on the pipework, and then we both attacked the walls. 



French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Another project finished


At first, we thought our duck-egg blue paint looked a bit too blue, but as it’s dried it’s much more like we were hoping, and we even managed to get a second coat on late this afternoon. Add in a wash load, another cake baked, a bike ride just before sunset, time spent preparing his course for next week and a batch of pizza dough proving, and I think between the two of us we’ve had a pretty productive day.

 

World Television Day

Today is World Television Day, as decreed by the United Nations in 1996 to stand as a reminder of the power of visual media and how it can educate, but also shape public opinion and influence world politics. I might not have heard of it until this year, but I think this is certainly something that is very relevant to the world today. 

 

We are not a family who are big on televisions. In 1997, when World Television Day was in its infancy, Adrian and I bought a second hand television from friends for £50. We then upgraded (for free) when his aunt and uncle passed on their old one, and again, when his Mum and Dad did the same. Almost ten years ago, we got our first brand new television, a fortieth birthday gift to me from his Mum and Dad, and in all this time we have only ever had one television in the house. We have never had a television in our bedroom, ever, and Ed has also never had his own, until this autumn, when we bought him a second hand one for the flat in Poitiers. Now how is this for a weird coincidence, when we were in Niort yesterday, we picked up an early Christmas gift from Adrian’s mum; a new television. It is so big that until we can get back to the DIY store to collect the unit we can’t buy in store; it’s resting on a chipboard shelf, and while we try to get to grips with all it can do, Ed is over the moon. He is now the proud owner of two televisions, one in the flat and one, for the first time in his life, in his bedroom. 



Friday, November 20, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-two, there's no escaping Christmas

French Village Lockdown Diaries no espcaping Christmas
Christmas shopping at Jouet Club, Niort


Day twenty-two, Friday 20th November 2020

 

There is no escaping Christmas

Whether things are normally this regulated in France, or whether it is a Covid-19 thing, I’m not sure, but as of today it is legally ok to sell, and therefore buy, your Christmas tree. As we had the ‘pleasure’ of shopping in Niort this morning, I can confirm that not only are they on sale, they seemed to be selling like hot cakes too. It’s not something that is going to happen around here, in November, but our day did involve more than a nod to the festive season.

 

Santa’s little helper

In some ways, things felt almost normal today, out and about for our annual Christmas gift shopping day for the children in the village. I had the excitement of mixing with people, heading to big town, wearing real jeans rather than leggings and a whole hour and a half of talking in French. I also felt rather important as I had two attestations (the official paperwork for leaving home) on me today. My normal one for going shopping and one from the village Mairie stating I was on official business, as it doesn’t really get much more important than being one of Père Noel’s little helpers, ensuring the under elevens get their Christmas gifts this year.

 

It was a beautiful early morning drive, the colours of the sunrise melting into the swirling cloud formations above, and tops of trees and wind turbines rising out of the low-lying layers of mist over the fields. It is only the second time we have used the car since returning from the Lot at the beginning of lockdown, and we were surprised there seemed to be no less traffic than normal.

 

In previous years, three or four of us elves would bundle into a car, stop for a coffee on the way, go mad in the toy shop (after all, how often do you have free rein to spend around 750€ on toys) and then head off for lunch together. Today I met the other two there, so no unnecessary mixing of households in the small confines of a car, and then when we were done with the toys, Adrian and I ticked off the other bits of shopping we needed (and yes, advent calendars may have featured). Jouet Club, the toy shop, really do look after us as not only do we get the morning with the manager, advising us about what is on trend this year or a popular choice for a certain age group, they also take care of all the wrapping, labelling and delivery to Père Noel before he visits our village. This year there will be no party, no hot chocolate, no singing and no pastries from the boulangerie, but Père Noel will be there, making house calls to personally deliver the gifts on 20th December.

 

Shopping during lockdown was a bit of an unusual experience. The traffic might have been busier than we were expecting, but the car parks were pretty empty, and it was quite sad seeing so many places shuttered and closed. Our last stop was a DIY store where we successfully picked up the paint we needed to carry on with the decorating. What we couldn’t get though was the new shelf unit for the lounge. We could see it behind the tape but weren’t allowed to touch it. We weren’t allowed to place an order in-store, although doing exactly that sat outside in the car park would have been acceptable. However, we’d already been out for five hours, energy levels were running low and when it advised it would be two hours before it was ready to collect, we left it and headed for home. 

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries Beaujolais Nouveau 2020
Beaujolais Nouveau 2020

As per usual, no matter how exciting our purchases in Niort are, and today rated pretty high on the excitement scale, by the time we arrived home, all the energy and life had been sucked out of me. So far, all I’ve got planned for dinner is a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau and some goat cheese.
 Cheers!


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-one, benefits of shopping locally

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally
Mussels, eggs and honey


Day twenty-one, Thursday 19th November 2020

 

I thought as a family we had all embraced the mostly vegetarian way of eating that our diet has evolved into this year. It seems I may have misjudged things slightly. The frisson of excitement that passed around the dining table as Adrian and Ed tucked into their meatballs yesterday, was quite something. Maybe this winter I should relax the rules and add in a few more meaty treats for them.

 

Beaujolais Nouveau

There were quite a few firsts to celebrate today, including Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the day the first 2020 wines from the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy, are released for sale. We will be buying ourselves a bottle or two, as we do every year, usually by selecting the label we find the most appealing, but heading out to Chef Boutonne today, just to buy a bottle of wine, would that really be classed as essential shopping? This being France, probably yes, but we can wait until tomorrow.

 

First thing this morning we had our usual Thursday morning natter with the small group of seafood lovers who join us, whatever the weather, as we await the moules and oyster lady. Then it was off to the egg farm for our weekly dozen eggs and our first jar of local honey too. Here we bumped into another friend from the village and enjoyed a good old catch up with him. It is only when we see someone by chance, like this morning, that I realise how much I miss the conversations with my French friends. This time last year I was still on the village council, attending regular meetings, as well as involved in a number of associations who got together weekly. It’s sadly all a bit different now, but at least shopping close to home has provided the added and unexpected benefit of social encounters too. The first thing we did when we got home, even before the moules were put in the fridge, was open the honey and dip in a spoon. It is the colour of summer sunshine with a delicate floral taste and will help to brighten up our winter. 

 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally veggie box
My first local veggie box from Espoir Nature


This afternoon we were back out on the bikes to pick up our first veggie box from Espoir Nature, that I’d ordered online yesterday morning. My six choices this week were a kilo each of carrots, leeks and turnips, half a kilo of shallots, three heads of garlic and a local goat cheese. That will certainly keep my soup pot happy, and to celebrate reaching the end of another week, the goat cheese should go well with a glass or two of Beaujolais Nouveau tomorrow night.