Monday, 23 November 2009

Up, up and away

One of the many wonderful things about this place is the sky. When it is stormy the drama of the leaden sky and lightening against the silhouette of Mont St Cyr is pure spectacle. When it is clear, you can see forever. We have no street lights and no pollution and if the moon is less than half full the stars, planets and Milky Way come into their own. And last week, thanks to Roy one of our house guests, we were introduced to another nocturnal wonder – the international space station. Roy tracks this manned satelite (the size of a football pitch) that is clearly visible to the naked eye and thought that we may all enjoy sharing this wonder with him. What you have to do is follow this link enter the city nearest to where you are and then refer to a list telling you the time the station is due to appear and where in the sky to look. Simple. Last Thursday saw a crowd of us (word soon spreads here and space station spotting is something of an event) standing in the orchard, all eyes trained on 33 degrees to the north, north west. And lo, we saw a brilliant light moving steadily across the sky (no flashings) as we all stood slack jawed in awe. So, what else could we spot if we turned our attention skywards? Roy to the rescue once again but this time nearer to Earth. As I mentioned in an earlier blog Roy is a keen ornothologist and he has kindly provided a list of birds seen within a five mile radius of Les Cerisiers. So, in no particular order, I'd like to share Roys list with you (please bear in mind this is not a great time of year for birds so I think we've done pretty well with this lot): House Sparrow; Chaffinch; Robin; Jay; Crow; Jackdaw; Magpie; Kestrel; Buzzard; Coot; Mallard; Great Crested Grebe; Feral Pigeon; Little Egret; Blue Tit; Starling; Long Tailed Tit; Cormorant; Mute Swan; Heron; Black-headed Gull; Black bird; Missel thrush; Sparrowhawk; Black Redstart; Moorhen; Great White Egret; Goldfinch; Black Woodpecker; Marsh/Willow Tit; Wren; Great Tit. Unfortunately I don't have photos of either the ISS or any of the birds mentioned so I scrambled around for a bit thinking what photo would be appropriate to accompany todays offering. And then it dawned on me that we did have one more sky bound activity that I failed to mention thus far - archery. Mark is a keen archer and we offer archery lessons to our guests. So, please enjoy the picture of a bunch of happy holiday makers receiving archery instruction from mark in the November sunshine (Roy third from left in cap!-thanks).

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

We'll weather the weather whatever the weather

You can take the girl out of Britain but you can't take being British out of the girl and the weather remains an ongoing fascination. Like much of Europe it's been a bit blowy here over the past week or so and the winds have had quite an impact on both the scenery and cycle of life here. Having talked about my intention to sweep up the fallen leaves for a couple of weeks, I was thrilled to discover they had been lifted, whisked around and then deposited in neat little piles by the breezy gusts. I was even more impressed to discover that the size of each leaf pile was such that they fitted neatly into a bin liner - remarkable. We have a maple tree at the end of the garden (the most beautiful tree in the valley at this time of year to my mind) and I tirelessly watch it's fallen leaves frog hopping over each other as they chase around the lawn. What a show of colour and energy! The wind has shaken the remaining apples and quinces from our trees which were then washed by the rain before finding their way into a glut of pies and crumbles. The pods from the wisteria have shaken their black button seeds onto the ground (Warning: these closely resemble chocolate Minstrels and should not be eaten) some of which will find a suitable nook to start the process of becoming new plants. As the trees shake off their coats of leaves and prepare to face the winter months, previously shielded views open up around us, I can see the hedgerows dividing the fields, I see more cattle grazing, birds are more easy to spot (I have guests staying at the moment who are keen twitchers - I hope this is the right term, and they're preparing a list that I will share shortly) and sound travels unhindered. We hear our neighbours donkey, the cows calling to each other when the farmer deposits some hay or a salt block, the chug of tractors returning home at the end of the day and me letting Mark know that his tea is ready.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

taking it easy

I thought one of the advantages of living in the French countryside would be the more relaxed pace of life here: waking up naturally when the daylight finally managed to penetrate the thickly lined bedroom curtains; leisurely breakfasts as we discussed plans for the day; a saunter across the court yard to the barn (the nerve centre of our operations); long, drawn out lunches; maybe a nap in the early afternoon... you get the picture. Whilst my cats have made a seamless transition to this way of living (as demonstrated by Harry in the accompanying photo), I find with so much going on there is little time for slumping on the sofa, coffe mug in hand. Here there seems to be at least one festival every week, sometimes two or more. Take this coming weekend - I am torn between celebrating chestnuts in Tramayes, leeks in St Christophe en Brionnais or pears in La Clayette. How do you even begin to choose between them? This got me thinking as to whether things like this exist in the UK and I just missed them (the result of tunnel vision) or whether I am truly living in a unique environment. I can remember my mother mentioning a festival to celebrate some fruit or vegetable in the UK (I thought it may have been beetroots as I grow a lot of these) but when I phoned she had no recollection. I searched on google but short of a garlic fair on the Isle of Wight, nothing. Are the Brits reluctant to celebrate the ordinary and the small wonders? Next June celebrated poet (at least we can celebrate our creative stars) Valeria Melchioretto will be running a workshop here 'Inspired by the senses' where reality will be addressed through what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched. I have no doubts that this corner of France will afford plenty of raw material for her and her writers.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Remember, remember the 5th of November...

Bonfire night has long been one of my favourite festivals. Fire, loud bangs, hotdogs, wonder - brill, bring it on. If I ever decided to become a criminal (which is unlikely) I just know I'd want to be an arsonist. I just adore the drama of it all. Well, November 5th is with us again and we gathered for a spot of gunpowder, treason and plot at my friend Sallys house. The term 'changeable' hardly did justice to the weather during the day - blue skies, thick fog, torrential rain, light showers and high winds. But us Brits are made of stern stuff so we stiffened our upper lips and determined to have a good time. After a bit of friendly deliberation ('it's you turn', ' no I did it last year', 'but you'll enjoy it') it was democratically decided that Mark would be in charge of standing in the drizzle to light the touch papers. As the Brits danced around writing their names with sparklers and a rain sodden Mark battled with soaked fuses that fizzled and sputtered, our French friends looked on bemused. We'd tried to explain the background to Bonfire Night to them last year chez nous but it all got a bit tense - 'so, you are burning ze naughty catholics?' Things could have been worse, Marks sister had provided some childrens clothing so we could make 'little guys'. If our neighbours weren't impressed by our burning of catholics, they would have been outraged by throwing effigies of toddlers onto the blaze. As it was, the event (both last night and last year) went off well - no injuries, lots of laughter and wooly hats soon dry from being draped over radiators. Mulled wine anyone?