Bastille Day

Yesterday, 14th July, was a public holiday in France – or at least, it would have been, had it not been a Sunday. I do think the British bank holiday system is better: fixed days, usually on a Monday. And if it’s a moveable feast (for example, Christmas Day & Boxing Day) and it falls on a weekend, days get added after the weekend. Splendid! Here in France if the bank holiday falls on the weekend, well, tant pis!, you lose it!

Anyway, there were celebrations going on all over France, to commemorate the storming of the Bastille in 1789. which is recognised as the beginning of the French Revolution. Wikipedia gives you more information about this, should you be interested.

We did no storming of anything however. Our friends who own a restaurant in the next village were having a Mechoui (a spit roast). I had a photo of their poster to put here, but the picture of a spit-roast pig was a bit graphic, and I’m aware that there are some vegetarians who read this, and may not appreciate such photos. Here, however, is a cropped picture of people tucking into the meat

We met up with someone we’ve not seen for ages, and caught up with news on her and her daughters – they came to France 12 years ago, speaking no French at all, and now one of the girls is working in a help-centre for UK customers in France, after 3 years doing languages at University, and the other (who struggled at school) is working as a chef in a hotel kitchen – both loving it! It’s always good to hear about young people doing well.

We had our meal – which was enjoyable, and quite filling – while chatting to a Dutch couple. They had cycled over from St Just, having seen the graphic poster for the meal. They were having a rest day on their epic ride from Holland to Spain! The woman had left her job, and the guy was self employed so had stopped working; they had taken 4 months out to ride to Barcelona (I think) from their home in the Netherlands. It was interesting talking to them & finding out more about their trip.

Then,  Jean-Luc (the owner-chef) and his band played into the afternoon…

…the music was good, but the lyrics (all in English) were mangled. If you didn’t know what they were supposed to be singing you wouldn’t know what they were singing! If you see what I mean.

!

We sat in the sunshine, drinking our Perrier and enjoying the sounds of the 70s and 80s!

Take it away, Jean-Luc! Guitar solo time! (J-L is on the right)

Dire Straits, Beatles, Status Quo, Rolling Stones…all the oldies were there!!

We left about 5.00, but I’m sure folk were there well into the evening, but Mr FD wanted to get home to watch the end of the cricket world cup final, which England won after what I was assured was a nail-bitingly exciting ending.

An enjoyable, relaxed day.

We had had to choose, unfortunately, between this event and the Fete des Voisins meal, which was happening on the same day. We went to this event last year, and it was good fun, but this year we chose to go to Jean-Luc and Traudel’s event. And next year, who knows…

 

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This is not just tat…

…it’s M&S tat.

I’m not joining in with no-plastic July, although I am starting to try to introduce small changes into our shopping habits, such as reusing plastic bags for fruit & veg, or using other plastic bags (like bread bags) or – when I remember them! – using muslin bags. But when I do have plastic I try to

1) recognise that it’s necessary

2) try to reuse in some way. (Though it was depressing when I asked the café to remove the straw from my drink – and they did. And put it straight in the bin! I hadn’t realised they would give me a straw (in a glass of iced water) so I didn’t think to say “No straw, thank you”)

When I read Ang’s blog post about Marks & Spencer introducing a promotion called “Little Shop”, I was more than a bit ticked off. Ang’s post explains it better than I can.

So I went onto their website, and after trying to find a comment form (they don’t make it very easy!) I finally found where I could email them. So I did:

Dear M&S
I would like to join in the chorus of voices that condemn your promotion “Little Shop…” In the midst of No-plastic July (when it is proving difficult to find things that don’t involve plastic in its packaging!) you start a promotion that introduces yet more unwanted and unnecessary plastic into the environment!

It doesn’t matter if this is proving to be a popular poromotion in-store – at some point, these plastic items will be thrown away. You say that they can be returned to be recycled – that’s something, but, realistically, how many people will bother to do this? When children have finished playing with these bits of plastic, they will – for the most part – just get dumped into landfill.

It doesn’t matter that those toys that are returned will get recycled into benches – it’s still plastic. Plastic that doesn’t decompose for hundreds of years. The plastic bench will, eventually, get thrown away, and won’t decompose…Just because it’s recycled plastic doesn’t mean that it magically decomposes when finished with!
This is an UNNECESSARY promotion – it does nothing (despite your claims) that those parents who care about such things can’t do already. It won’t encourage other parents to teach their children about sustainibility; it will just teach children to want more unnecessary tat.

I fear that, despite your claims about sustainibility and care for the environment, you are just doing your bit to add to the problem of the human race using and discarding our natural resources as if they were never-ending. I, for one, will not be buying from M&S until this horrid, unnecessary promotion is finished. And even then, I will be reconsidering whether M&S values are my values, and whether I wish to continue supporting your company.

They needn’t know that, as I live in France, I don’t shop in M&S very often anyway, and won’t be buying anything there before the promotion is finished! But even oif I did live in the UK, I would be thinking hard about supporting them.

How do you feel about this promotion? If you think it’s a poor idea I encourage you to contact M&S head office. When I get a reply I’ll update this post.

 

UPDATE: I received an email from M&S yesterday (Tuesday). Disappointingly bland, it must be said:

Hi Alison

I’m sorry to hear you are disappointed with the way we are branching the Little Shop Promotion. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention, thank you for letting us know.

We want as many of our customers as possible to collect all 25 Little Shop collectables and we’ll be running additional promotions and events to help them along the way. For example, we’re hosting over 70 swap events at our M&S Cafés across the country for customers who have duplicates or certain collectables missing.

At M&S, we’re committed to reducing our use of plastic packaging and reusing or recycling any we do use. Our Little Shop collectables have all been designed to last and we’ve worked hard to ensure around a quarter of them are made from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified card where possible. We’ve also ensured all single-use packaging is made from paper instead of plastic.

Little Shop is a free promotion for every £20 spent on food and drink in our stores. It’s designed to create excitement for families during the summer and helps children to learn a little bit more about food and where it comes from. However, there is no obligation for customers to collect Little Shop or take their redeemed collectable if they don’t wish to do so.

We really do monitor any feedback we receive very closely with the aim of improving, so thank you for sharing this with us.

Kind Regards

A. C.

Retail Customer Services

Quite frankly this response does not answer my questions, but what I dislike more is that it was so obviously a cut-and-paste job, with the first part (shown in italics) in a completely different font to the rest of the email! I don’t want to have more promotional bumpf thrown at me about swaps and so on. I don’t believe their promise that they moniotor all feedback, and I don’t like the construction of the first sentence. “to branch” is not a verb, and so M&S can’t be branching the promotion. Grrr.

 

Away with the Cyclos – Day 3

Actually, today was a day  away but NOT with the Cyclos… It was forecast to be hotter than yesterday, so, although the plan was that those who wished to could visit a market in the morning, lunch at the holiday village, then a visit to a gardens and a boat ride on the river, before setting off for home, Mr FD wanted to visit the gardens in the morning – cooler – and then head for home. Although I’d like to have visited the market I could see his logic, so we decided to cut loose and go to the gardens by ourselves. I’m glad we did. It was cooler, but also, as the visit was only by guided tour, and we were on the first tour at 10.00, with only two other people, our visit was much calmer, and cooler, than it would have been with twenty nine other people at 3.00 in the afternoon!…

The gardens were called Les Jardins de l’Imaginaire (the Gardens of the Imagination) and they were really lovely. Our guide was informative, but not intrusive, allowing us to ask questions and to discover the gardens ourselves.

 

It was lovely and there were lots of different areas to see. The rose garden was a little past its best, because of the heat, but the fountain garden was a delight to walk through in the sunshine.

and there were banks of flowers to pose against

As we left the garden, the 11.30 tour was starting – about twenty people, with children and pushchairs, all chattering, laughing and making a lot of noise: we were glad we’d taken the early tour, which gave us the silence to enjoy the sound of the water (as you can see there was lots of it) and the birdsong.

We left Terrasson to head in the direction of home, thinking we’d easily find a restaurant for lunch. Hah! No such luck! We did finally (at 1.30) find a roadside auberge, which looked rather unprepossessing. More in hope than expectation, we asked if they could serve us, and without batting an eyelid, the waitress led us to a table. There I chose a local paté (which was a bit too “agricultural” for my taste, but was edible with lots of chutney!) followed by a lovely piece of beef with bearnaise sauce. I chose cheese as dessert, as I still had wine to finish up, and Mr FD had ice cream (I think) allowing me a spoonful in return for the blue cheese on my plate.

We then took the road for home – I fell asleep to the dulcet tones of Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s film reveiw programme, which Mr FD had downloaded, and woke up as we left the motorway 10 minutes from home! That wine had a lot to answer for!!

We got back by 17.00 – which was probably when the rest of the group would have been just thinking about starting off. With work the next day, we were glad that we’d taken the choice we had. The cats were happy to see us too.

Away with the Cyclos – Day 2

Today dawned clear and bright – not! As the holiday village was on the top of a hill, the views should have been magnificent. Instead all we could see was cloud. Although the set off date for the Cyclos was 8.00 there was much hanging about and discussing whether it was safe to cycle. As visibility was about 300 m Mr FD was sure it was, but others (including our dear, but extremely cautious, friend Louis) weren’t so sure. Mr FD got more and more frustrated as they vasillated between going and not going, but finally they left.

The non-cyclists were tasked with carrying the picnic, and meeting the cyclists in Uzerche, a pretty town. So we set off to wend our way there, stopping in picturesque villages on the way. First stop, Saint Robert:

It was a charming village, but sadly, so many of the shops were boarded up or “A vendre” (for sale). With the place still wrapped in cloud, what few sounds there were were muted and almost ghostly. We spoke to an old guy who bemoaned the fact that the young people had moved out to go to the big cities, while the older folk were slowly dying away.

There were a few cats to be seen, including this one

who appeared to be directing us to the Boulangerie where there was a very old bread oven, still being used to bake the bread

  

Old bread oven, & bread baked in said oven

 

We then meandered on our way to Ségur-le-Chateau, one of Les Plus Belles Villages de France – villages designated as being particularly attractive.

Set on the banks of the river it was indeed very lovely, so we wandered around, admiring the views, and the old stone houses.

   

After this we drove onto Pompadour, where there was a chateau to be admired, from the outside…

…before we headed on to the designated meeting place – which was at the highest point in Uzerche – fine for us in cars, buit a bit unfair on the cyclists!

 

But they all made it! (Some people were on electric bikes, so it was easier for them!)

By now the weather had cleared, and it was getting quite warm. We were glad of the shade of the trees in the garden where we could have lunch. Odette &Louis had arranged with the Mairie to have the school opened so we could use their toilet facilities as well. Which we were grateful for! We had our picnics and spent a bit of time relaxing, which included having a coffee in a café that had agreed to recharge the batteries for those people who had electric bikes.

There was then much faffing as group photographs were taken, which annoyed Mr FD greatly. Once he starts cycling he wants to carry on, and while stopping for lunch was acceptable, enforced hanging around while we waited for this person to arrive, or that person to stop tinkering with his/her bike, was not.

Mr FD in a sulk (not really. Just a bit fed up)

They finally set off again, so we moved on to our afternoon port-of-call, which was the Chateau de HautefortThis link gives you much more information than I could, about the place (& better photos!)

 

   

We visited the interior first, and then the “French garden” – with its manicured and trimmed box hedges, and very orgaznised planting.

We didn’t have time to go to the “English garden”, which is much more landscaping, in the Capability Brown style.

We got back to the holiday village about 5.30, where I found Mr FD stretched out, wearing not a huge amount, drinking copious amounts of tea, exhausted after the second part of the ride in what had become hotter-than-one-would-wish-for-when-cycling conditions. We went to Yves and Brigitte’s chalet to have an apero to celebrate the birth of their first grandchild, and then wended our way up to the dining room for dinner.

This was a salad with gésiers – pleasant enough, but a bit small on portions – followed by cuisses de canard (duck legs) and green beans. There was also pasta. There was cheese and salad, and then a tiny portion of a walnutty kind of pastry with crème anglaise (thin custard) Another organisational meeting then off to bed!

Away with the Cyclos Day 1

A couple of weekends ago Mr FD and I went away with the Cyclos de St Just (the local Cycle Club, of which Mr FD is the treasurer). We stayed in a VVF Holiday Village in Ayen, not far from Brive, in the SW of France. The Holiday Village is a little dated now, but each couple had a chalet each – there was even a bedroom for the bike! – and the food was good school dinner / canteen standard.

We arrived at lunchtime on Friday, and had our picnic in the dining room of the village. We had all brought our own picnics, but after we’d eaten, Yves produced a huge box of cherries from his garden, Marie-Claude had made an enormous box of  bugnesand someone else had made a nutty-crunchy-biscuity thing, all of which were passed around the table for us all to eat. The plan was for the cyclists to ride on Friday afternoon, but it was pouring with rain, so we decided to go to Lascaux 4.

If you don’t know much about the history of Lascaux, this site tells the story of the discovery of the caves, and what happened afterwards.

It was amazing! Although it’s not the “real” Lascaux caves, it is as near as dammit. Everything was really well laid out, and the guide was knowledgable. We had visited way-back-when, about twenty five years ago, but now the Visitors’ Centre has been expanded. It’s fascinating, with lots of interactive displays that even I, a complete techno-idiot, could manage!

While you can’t take photos in the caves, you can take photos in the exhibition hall.

 

I particularly liked the “fat ponies” as I called them. The markings on this one remind me of the markings on Przewalski ponies, the prehistoric breed of pony that can still be found on the Causses of France and in Mongolia too.

This poor pony appears to be falling to his death. It is a remarkable painting, as it is painted “around the curve” of the rock, so the painter couldn’t see the whole picture as he/she was painting it.

Here are some more paintings of bulls and cattle.

I really enjoyed my visit, and found the exhibition to be really well put together. It wasn’t cheap, but you could easily spend a good half day there. We didn’t see all the exhibitions. If you are in the area I’d definitely recommend it – but remember, you need to book your place on the tour! There’s no “free” visits, they’re all guided tours.

Mr FD fully focussed on his interactive tablet

When we left, it had stopped raining, and the sun was starting to come out, which gave me the chance to take a couple of pictures of the outside of the Visitors’ Centre

     

We got back quite late, so dinner took until about 9.30 to eat. We started with a rather thin, watery soup and then had magret de canard with peaches, together with sautéed potatoes. There was cheese and salad, and then a rather miserly slice of raspberry bavaroise. For Louis, one of the cyclists who usually has 3 or 4 desserts, this was a bit of a disaster!

A short organisational meeting over coffee in the bar, and we felt it was time for bed. Cycling tomorrow! (for Mr FD…)

You can have the next installment soon…What did we do on Saturday?!

The end of an era

When we moved here in 2005, I started off not working. That was nice. I found ways of filling my time, including writing a novel (which hasn’t been published) but after a while – although Mr FD was working in London, (communting back and forth, one week in London, one week in France) and earning a good salary – I thought I should try to find work.

The Chambre de Commerce et Industrie (CCI) in Roanne had an education department, where workers could apply to take language classes, and so I contacted them to see if there was any work. I was interviewed, and told that there wasn’t much work, but they would let me know. A few months later I was contacted by a family who wanted English lessons for their 10 year old son, and 8 year old daughter. They’d asked at the CCI if they gave English lessons to young people, and, although the answer to that was no, the Director remembered that I had experience with young people so put the family in touch with me.

From that one family, I gained other students ( de la bouche à l’oreille, as they say in France – word of mouth) as friends of the Verchere family mentioned that Pierre Damien, or Emeline, was speaking good English in school.

Well, on Wednesday, I had my last lesson with Clément, the youngest child in the family. He is taking his Bac next week, and then planning on training to be an air steward. The family gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers:

It is absolutely gorgeous, with roses and peonies and other lovely blooms. Unfortunately our cats have a nasty habit of eating plants, and despite keeping it in its cellophane, the leaves were getting nibbled. So we passed it on to Louis and Odette to enjoy.

However, more precious than the flowers is the card that they gave me. With a photo of the three of them on the front:

they wrote a lovely message (I shall ignore the English faults!)

Dear Alison,

14 years! 14 years that every Wednesday afternoons, a lovely English woman visits us with her big bag full of papers, books and notebooks of all kinds. From the first day we met you, we believed in you, and in the progress we could make. We immediately develop a special feeling for you, for your adorable accent and your contagious good mood.

We talked, we laughed, we confided in you and we learned by your side, that’s why you’re now part of our family.

Thanks to you, we speak English well, and so we are very proud! We will miss you a lot, we thank you very much for everything you have given us and for your devotion.

We love you, we wish you all the best and we look forward to seeing you one day.

All the best,

Pierre-Damien, Emeline and Clément Verchere.

When I read it I cried! I shall certainly miss teaching them, as all three were serious and motivated students. Pierre-Damien is heading into his 4th year of medical studies, Emeline into her second year focussing on tourism, and, as I said, Clément plans on becoming an air steward.

I still have three young men to teach who are going into their last year at Lycée in September, plus another who will be going to Lycée next year – so next June I’ll be losing THREE students!!!!! I hope that there’ll be a bit of de la bouch à l’oreille-ing going on, as otherwise I’ll have practically no-one to teach in September 2020!

A year ago today…

It’s just popped up on my FB page that a year ago today was my last chemo session.

This was the photo I took before I set off to the hospital. Do you know, I think I quite suit a turban! After this, I still had 6 weeks of radiotherapy to get through, but that wasn’t quite so tiring or debilitating. If you would like to read more about my cancer “journey” just click on the “tag link” below labelled “Bastardcancer” That should take you to most of the posts I made during the treatment..

It was a difficult year, last year, but I can say that I am (almost) grateful I had cancer: I learned a lot about myself, I grew closer to God, I made a new friend, and I learned how valuable my other friends are – as well as how much of a rock Mr FD can be, and how much I love him. Unfortunately for him, he is still having to show rock-like qualities, as I am suffering from mood swings and depression, thanks to the hormone therapy, but he’s managing to do it.

I keep in my prayers Charlotte, Ana, Emma, Ross, Susan, G. – all people I’ve met or become closer to through my encounter with breast cancer. And of course, I remember too those who have lost their lives to this bastard disease.

This wasn’t the post I thopught I’d be writing today, but there you go!