Monday, 19 December 2011

See amid the winter snow...

Well, winter has finally got us and that is OK with me being as it's Christmas next weekend. I must admit though, it has rather caught us out. We've had the longest of summers and mildest of springs and autumns and I was beginning to forget what cold was. Then - wham, a dump of snow and we're plunged onto the set of a Christmas card.

Nature seems to have been a little taken by surprise as well. My roses, fuscias, lobellia and marigolds were all happily continuing to bloom. Time to make way for the holly and mistletoe - which, by the way, grows here in abundance and is free!

I love popping round to friends' houses to see their preparations in full swing. Lovely Linda is making chutneys and pie fillings (thanks for the mincemeat and apple and cranberry chutney): S has a half decorated tree as her children aren't as yet tall enough to decorate the top section and INSISTED they trimmed it alone; and B dried her marzipan with a hair dryer after her husband added too much egg!

We visited our local patisserie this week to order our yule log (buche) which is the French Christmas cake. We were assaulted by the smell of gingerbread as we entered the shop and left with a chocolate log, three ginger bread men, a chestnut macaron, chocolate fancy and a partridge in a pear tree.

So, Christmas tree up, presents wrapped, Eddie cat slumped in front of log fire, food bought. I think we're there!!

I never tire of walking the lanes close to my home and did so this afternoon to catch a bit of freshair whilst walking off fruit cake, mince pies and fudge picked up on a recent trip back to the UK. In all the excitement that is Christmas, it's nice to take a bit of a breather. My tip for staying calm is to find a lovely location, stop still, close your eyes and don't move again until you've identified ten sounds. In no particular order I heard cows mooing (this is the Charolles); Bon bon my neighbours (not so) baby donkey braying in anticipation of his first Christmas; something, probably a mouse or bird, scurrying around under the hedgerow; a car - yes, two or three do pass our house each day; a pigeon calling from the wood; children screaming (in a good way) as they came down a field slope on a sledge; a womans voice directing her husband as he strung fairy lights over an ancient barn; my neighbours dog, Vanille, barking as someone must have come up to the front door; the village church bell striking 20 minutes past the hour and the dripping of snow as it melted from the holly bush where I had stopped. Deep breath - aaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Hope you have a very merry, joy filled, fun and magical Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The joy of knitting

My capacity to continually surprise myself, well - quite simply, it surprises me. This week was no exception.  I admit it, I am now a knitter. I own three sets of knitting needles, have the first two pattern books in my knitting library and a bag dedicated to carrying my 'in progress' projects around with me just in case I find a spare minute or two to slip a couple of stitches in. What a fascinating world I have stumbled into. It all began after a friend who is keen on this art asked me whether I could take her to the Plassard factory shop. Plassard is one of the main knitting companies in France and they have their sheep, museum and factory just a few miles away. I was going to drop my friend at the door and pick her up later, not wanting anyone to spot me in an establishment reserved for old ladies and spinsters with cats. But curiosity got the better of me and I thought I'd just take a peek - just for information you understand, some of our guests may want to know about the place. Kid in a candy shop - the colours, textures, and funkiness of the place sucked me in and when we left over an hour later, I had balls of wool in my possession that I hadn't the faintest idea what I was going to do with. I found myself being drawn back to the place time and again over the next few months, each time leaving with another ball of glittery ribbonned wool, fleecy shaggy wool, bobbly mad wool.... and so it might have continued if my friend B hadn't stopped me in my tracks with a poignant and relevent question 'Can you knit'? No, I couldn't. 'Why don't you learn?'
Why don't I indeed. So, B and I signed up for an afternoon introduction to knitting. B drew up a list of vocabulary which we studied and tested each other on, we chose patterns for very simple jumpers (all knit no purl and created in one piece - no sleeves) and off we went. I loved it. I couldn't put my knitting down and took it to friends houses, on a plane ride to the UK, to visit relatives and even to bed with me! I tell myself that this is good finger exercise staving off arthritis, that having a wooly something on my knees will keep me warm in winter but the truth is I just enjoy the repetition, the watching something grow that will serve a purpose and make someone smile, the using my time creativley. The joy of spending the afternoon course with other women sharing time and stories whilst learning tips taught to them by their grandmothers. I'm now working on a jumper for Mark and looking forward to my next afternoon amongst the knits.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Literally Yours

This week saw us host the last of this years week long events and what a wonderful week it was! A group of writers, from six different countries, descended on Les Cerisiers to be guided through six days of embodied writing with the multi-talented Mandoline Whittlesey and poet-singer Sarah E Green. The event exceeded the expectations of all who attended and Mark and I were privileged to attend a beautiful evening of song and poetry. Mandoline kindly dedicated a poem to Les Cerisiers which I'd like to share with you here:
Les Cerisiers

five-leafed green
like an unsaying lip
the tip
of a horses' tail
courting flies under trees
the breeze
just touching
the water's skin
the soon-coming snow
it'll all rest in.

To keep with the literary theme I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Alastair Vere Nicoll, author of Riding the Ice Winds, earlier this year. Alastair truly exemplifies where following your dreams - in his case across Antartica with sledges and kites, can lead. His book is both adventure story and a more personal journey as he is driven to cross this vast continent in time to be present at the birth of his first child. Honest and moving, both Mark and I enjoyed the book for different reasons, read it and let us know your responses. Alastair kindly agreed to an interview which I hope you'll enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed conducting.
the really big dream company: At the beginning of ‘Riding the Ice Wind’ you quote George Bernard Shaw
‘Life is not about finding yourself: it is about creating yourself’ Who, as a result of this adventure, is AVN?

Alastair Vere Nicoll: I think and hope that I’m still in construction. One of themes of the book is that once an undertaking is accomplished, life continues and the same challenges are still faced - in different ways - and so you have to continue working at becoming the person that you want to be. In that sense life is a journey – a journey to becoming you (and sometimes in the other direction). The evolution is scary but it’s also exciting as it means there’s always something ahead.

trbdc: One of life’s eternal struggles, and one that you faced frequently throughout your book, seems to be between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘wants’. What words of wisdom would you offer to anyone who knew what they wanted to do but were constrained by doing what they felt they should do?

AVN: I always struggle to give advice. All I can say is what I experienced and allow people to decide if it resonates as everyone’s circumstances are different. I certainly don’t have it right.

The platitude is that you ‘should’ enact your dreams to make them real but the reality is much more complicated. Certain responsibilities can’t be shirked. We make promises in life and some of the richest decisions we make come from self-sacrifice and patience – particularly around rewarding relationships – and to do what you want without considering the consequences may actually be self-defeating. Having said that, to continually sublimate your deepest desires is a form of martyrdom that is equally unsatisfying. The best thing for me is to confront, articulate and share what I ‘want’ and then strategise to achieve it to try to have the minimum effect on the ‘shoulds’. I’m not afraid of a circuitous route. Long term goals and plans, provided they are being actioned a step at a time - and not held as a mere pipe dream – are ok. It sounds abit trite but I’m a fan of writing down and sharing your 5yr, 10yr and whole of life plans with the key impacted parties.

trbdc: There is a marvellous moment where you describe an ‘instant(s) of magical intensity that make life worthwhile (and) wondered if I’d invoke this memory to inspire me at times in the future when I needed to draw strength from the memory of an uplifting experience’. Have you recalled this moment since? Does it work?

AVN: You asking the question has made me recall it - which I’ve enjoyed.

I’m afraid the response is a little like a sequence of Russian dolls, as the key difficulty is having the mental dexterity and the space and time in your life to remember to remember those moments! I’m not a meditator but I suspect that some of the benefits derived from meditating is to give yourself space to focus and recall these incredible moments that life has to offer which can be too rare among the drudgery.

A legitimate goal is to seek to populate one’s life with as many of those uplifting moments as you can, however the irony is that when you look you don’t find – the moments just arrive unexpectedly, like a flower out of waste.

Trbdc: You talk about getting out of a rut by feeling ‘compelled to dangle every so often by a thin chord above a raging torrent – literally and metaphorically’.
Are you dangling by ‘a thin chord above any raging torrents – literally (or) metaphorically’ at the moment or do you plan to do so in the near future?

AVN: Yes! But not in a way that I had anticipated. I started a business nearly four years ago (and the last few years has been an interesting time for a start up....) building renewable energy plants in emerging markets (– including small run-of-river hydros in the Himalayas, so I guess you could say I’m literally chasing the raging torrent) but it has thrown up, and continues to throw up, some moments when I have to check the chord is properly fastened....

Trbdc: Through the book you explore notions of reality and finding our true selves rather than living in a world where ‘we are being increasingly alienated from our original selves’. Have you any tips for living a more authentic life?

AVN: I’m not there yet – I should be getting tips rather than giving.

I struggle with getting balance as I can get too tied up in new projects which means I’m living in the ‘never-never’, the ‘one-day-maybe’ world too much rather than actually living: another theme of my book. I think projects and plans are utterly essential and unless you really commit to them they don’t happen but John Lennon’s position on life and plans is wholly true and you have to remember to spare some time for just being and that generally means simplifying and deriving enjoyment from the little interactions. I remember recently being impressed by a Barista who served coffee with a huge smile on his face and it was infectious and it made me want to smile more. Doing anything calmly, with friendliness and stopping to engage and observe delivers an authentic life without being defined by physical achievement.

Trbdc: What does the phrase ‘follow your dream’ mean to you?

AVN: A dream needn’t be one thing, it can be just be being who and what you want to be rather than achieving a particular goal. Achieving a goal leaves an emptiness after it. You’re continually pursuing and never in possession. Even the phrase ‘follow your dream’ suggests perpetual unfulfillment, like a hare chasing a stuffed rabbit that it never catches. Perhaps it should be ‘leading your dream’: positively inventing what you want to do (and that’s yours not someone else’s for you), creating yourself in a way that means you can fulfil it and then actively taking it on and making it happen, like a leader not a passive follower. As I’m motivated by challenges, the truest challenge for me is enjoying the journey and all the little moments along the way not just the instant, the ‘orgasm’, of accomplishment.... and of course the dreaming itself can be fun.

Trbdc: What are the elements of your perfect day?

AVN: I could get truly absurd for the really perfect day so I’ll restrict to the perfect normal day; it would be made up of each of the following in no particular order. It all sounds a bit twee but I think right (for me)...;

• Some exercise – it makes me feel alive, healthy and unstressed and allows me to truly indulge the bullet below
• Incredible but simple food – I’m an unashamed glutton and love meal times both for the food for the conviviality and it’s a time I most associate with family
• A moment of nature – for me an incredible, sparse immense panorama is the most uplifting – but it could be as simple as five minutes in a nook in the garden with a coffee just seeing something beautiful
• A moment of love or fellowship – a greeting from a child that’s missed you, a hug, a shared moment
• Indulging the mind – reading a book, watching a good film, reading an interesting article, having an original thought that strikes a chord, accomplishing some difficult work satisfactorily.

If you would like to find out more, visit
Spurred on by Alastairs words, I think I'll take my coffee into the garden and immerse myself in the immense panorama of my setting.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Quilts, pots and funky nests

The summer holidays are over (boo) and we're now back into running creative holidays and retreats (hurray) here at les Cerisiers. We had a smashing group of ladies staying here last week who had come to celebrate 5 years of walking together. Before them, another group, tutored by the brilliant Christine Porter, came to quilt. From beginners to seasoned quilters, they all found something to inspire them and the skill and colour were simply amazing.

This week sees Malcolm Jarvis sharing his talents with enthusiastic pastel artists. We'll be out and about, weather permitting, taking in the views in this workshop entitled 'From Village to Vineyard'. I'll post some of the emerging art later in the week.

I actually had a weekend off last week so headed down to Lyon for the annual Potters Fair. 140 stalls displayed some quite extraordinary work mostly from France but also from further afield. I treated myself to a little crystal glazed piece and picked up a couple of early Christmas pressies. Thankfully I travelled by train and was restricted by what I could carry, otherwise I think the bank balance may have taken a real bashing.

On Sunday I was reminded (as if I could ever forget) how skilled and artistic nature can be too. Whilst hacking back one of our vines that threatened to completely engulf one of the out-buildings, I found a small birds nest that had incorporated a grape within its walls. Beautiful - or perhaps the birds were just hoping to have wine on tap!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Our feathered friends

Oh I've been waiting for this for such a long time - we've finally got chickens. We've read the books, surfed the net, visited chicken chat rooms (yes, they do exist), spoken to breeders, even made a film (see below) and collected birthday money to fund the project.

Thanks to my lovely niece Sophie, who is going to be an amazingly succesful film producer one day and to Adam, who plans to be a cameraman after being an olympic athlete, for this wonderful documentary.

The six new arrivals were bought at Marcigny market this morning and after much deliberation and debate we decided to name them Arizona, Zaphyra, Daisy, Plum, Maddie and Lou (don't ask!).

Although I'd promised Mark's son that there would be a fresh egg for his breakfast tomorrow, I also knew that it usually takes chickens a couple of days (or weeks) to settle into their new home and start laying. So, imagine my joy when one of the girls had laid an egg before they even got home.

Within an hour or two we had two more beautifully formed eggs waiting for collection. We introduced Eddie cat to our new familly members and everyone seemed to get along just fine. We sat, supping wine, as the sun melted into a sea of gold behind the chicken coop, and then, one by one with just a little jostling, the girls took themselves off to bed.

Yay, poached egg on toast for breakfast tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In the garden (and slightly beyond)

It's been quite a challenge trying to manage the garden this year. We had amazing hot weather from almost the end of february which resulted in a hose pipe ban. Whilst we ensured that every last drip from the washing up bowl was poured onto the veggie patch or garden pots, our normally green space started to look positively Mediteranean. Then - rain!! Tons of the stuff and our parched landscape turned into a water park. I'm happy to say that the garden is back under (loose) control and the plants are really thriving. Today I'd like to share some photos of our hanging baskets, flowers and fruit trees:

Our neighbour's donkey has just had a baby that they've named Bonbon. I went over to visit with my niece and Marks son.
At the end of the day we enjoy having supper al fresco. Eddie cat is never far away waiting for his share of tasty treats.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Heart Felt Fruits

I've been truly amazed and impressed by the amount of creative talent in this region and we've been fortunate to become friends with some of the most gifted (Jean-charles Doyen and his glass insects, Pascale Grissard and her farmyard paintings, author Corine Pourtau).

We're regular attendees at the craft fairs - which are frequent, well attended and of exceptionally high standards, and was surprised and delighted to discover a craftswoman I hadn't met before.

Cecile Kifee ( makes fruit, veg and other treats from felt.

These colourful creations were grouped beautifully on her stall and although I couldn't initially think of why I needed to buy her wares, I was drawn back time and time again.

Then it struck me, her Camemberts would make excellent pin cushions for all my sewing friends and guests attending one of our quilting or stitching events.

I have not as yet worked out a use for the felt fried egg I bought but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I'm open to suggestions!

Thanks to Naomi Haigh for the photos at Matour night market.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Our friends from across the pond (and those more local to us)

Every now and then you have a REALLY special week and last week was certainly one of those. We welcomed back Karen Ely from A Womans Way and 8 amazing women from North America who had ventured here for a spot of 'Joie de Vivre'.

The aim was to combine valuable 'me time' and reflection with a huge slice of French life. As always, the friends we have made here rallied to the call and we had some rather splendid moments. Mike H teamed up with Roger Bonjour to host an evening of wine enlightenment and tasting.
My yoga teacher Alexia Fachon, led a day of yoga and holistic massage whilst good friends Mike C and Roland created a magical evening of music.

In between times, the ladies visited Cluny and the beautiful Chateau de Dree and we all made lavender wands together!! (Yet another 'things I never thought I'd do' activity to add to the list). Time for a spot of R&R now before the courses kick off again in September.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Chickens, Harleys and Cherry Pips

How often do I stop and reflect and think to myself, 'well, that was a funny old week?'

We've just completed two back to back art courses here with amazing tutor Nicola Slattery (who will be back in 2012 so watch this space). What better way to unwind than to attend a bikers party at our new neighbours farm. Our neighbours love motor bikes and their friends seem to be, for the most part, Hell's Angels (or at least lookalikes) but we had our invitation and we wanted to welcome them properly to this special part of the world. We took along friends who are visiting from the UK (safety in numbers) and as we strolled the half mile down the road, bikes roared past reminiscent of early shots in The Rocky Horror Show.

A nicer bunch of people you couldn't hope to meet. As the evening wore on more and more people wanted to try out their English on us and we were soon making friends left, right and centre. Pit Bull, a 'non standard' Harley rider from the Alsace, regaled us with tales of derring do which often concluded with the phrase 'kiss my wheel'. As the hostess fretted about the lack of salad, Mark turned to me and whispered that everyone seemed to be doing very well thank you, on the great platters of meat that weighed down the trestle tables.

Then the gauntlet was thrown down, a challenge - England v France, cherry stone spitting. well, I know I shouldn't get involved but I find it almost impossible to resist a challenge. To the utter dismay of my friend we stepped up to the mark and popped the first of our cherries into our mouths. A platter had been set about 4ft away and the aim was to land your pip on target. The first round saw everyone spitting wide. Round three saw me hit my rhythm and my pip landed smack in the middle of the plate before bouncing out agai. Valerie, a petite biker from Alsace saw her chance and landed a pip on point. Pipped at the post, I felt gutted but offered my congratulations before heading for home.

We needed to be up early the next day to check out the chickens at louhans market. Mark has built the best chicken house in the world and now the search for it's lucky inhabitants begins. Confronted by thousands of feathered friends, hundreds of breeders and hoards of crowds, we felt quite overwhelmed. I was distracted by the rabbits and goats and by a stall with a variety of animals, all in miniature. We soon got into the swing of asking about egg production, laying life expectancy, food and preferred conditions and found we agreed on what makes a good looking chicken. we've narrowed our list of potential new family members down to 6 breeds and will make our final selection in August.

On our return home we were pleased to welcome a couple of the bikers from the night before who wanted to stop by to say hello before heading off, a great photo opportunity for our Burgundy Bike Breaks.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Elderflower Heaven

My kitchen smells glorious today! Next week sees the arrival of guests for two weeks of painting bliss with celebrated artist Nicola Slattery so I'm busy in the kitchen and garden preparing treats for their stay. I love foraging in the hedgerows around here, particularly the ones at 'Les Cerisiers' and right now they are dominated by the splendour of Elderflowers. I love the creamy mass of brightness, the sweet scent they produce and their promise of Elderflower cordial and, later on in the year, elderbery jam and wine. Today I thought I'd share my recipe for the cordial with you:

You will need-

1.5 litres water

1.5 kilos of white sugar

2 oranges thinly sliced

2 lemons thinly sliced

Thinly sliced ginger to taste

40 grammes citric acid (available from chemists)

20 Elderflower heads

What to do-

On a warm afternoon or evening (and we're having quite a few of these at the moment) harvest your flower heads. Just snip across the stalk to keep the flower heads whole. Fresh flower heads will be light and creamy with plenty of pollen and are heavily fragranced. If they smell like old socks or cats pee, they are passed their best (or your cat has widdled on them) so don't use them. As you harvest the flower heads, lie them flower down, stalk up, on a flat surface giving any unwanted visitors the opportunity to escape. There are no strict rules regarding numbers of flower heads, I was making a double batch and lost count after 27, it doesn't matter.

Warm the sugar and water in a large pan until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Add the flower heads and bring to the boil again then remove from the heat. Stir in your remaining ingredients and leave this mixture to steep for 24 hours in a cool place whilst you enjoy yourself doing something that makes you feel glad to be alive.

Strain the liquid into bottles or jars that can be well sealed. The cordial will keep for up to a year if placed in the freezer or 2 months in the fridge.
To serve, blend with mineral water or lemonde then share with a friend.

NB Harry Cat has agreed to his photo being published on the understanding that I point out he has in no way interfered with the Elderflowers featured in a negative way!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Catch up

Gosh! Where did March and April go? We've been having a lovely, albeit busy, time since I last blogged so I thought I'd better update with what we've been up to. This time of year is usually the calm before the (welcome) storm of guests who come to attend one of our courses, join one of our retreats, simply rent the space or pass through on motorbikes: details of all of these can be found

However, we've been fortunate to have our families and friends staying here on and off for several weeks (March, April) so have been dividing our time between catching up on all those out doors jobs (preparing the veggie patch, laying concrete, building a hen house, painting fences, harvesting nettles - more of this later) and having a thoroughly excellent time being site see-ers.
It's true of a lot of us that when you live somewhere amazing, you rarely actually go and visit all that the area has to offer. Two of our first time visits I'll share with you now. Not 15 minutes from our front door is the lovely Chateau de Dree. We pitched up on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and whilst the Mums sat in the rose garden soaking up the rays, Mark, his Dad, Adam and I explored the 17th century house. A picture of Queen victoria adorned the entrance hall so we felt right at home and we marvelled at the collection of chamber pots, bathroom (complete with six baths of varying size) and views from the windows.

A little further from home are the Cascades d'herrison, dramatic waterfalls during the winter and breathtaking iced stalagtites when it's really cold, we only got to see a trickle (we've had a heat wave for two months) so had to draw on our imaginations to fill in the gaps where the water should have been. The ride over, we took our motor bike, was great though and we will certainly go back after the rain.

The other event in April that made me smile was the royal wedding. The Brits do ceremony well and I say any excuse to have a party. There was one potential hitch, accoring to French law, the flying of any national flags other than the tricoleur is forbidden without permission from the mayor. Not wishing to miss out on flying some bunting, I hastily scrawled a note to our leader and received a charming responce not only giving permission for us to fly our Union Jacks with vigour, but also wishing Wills and Kate a long and happy life together - I'll pass the sentiments on.

Back to the nettle harvest, living in the country fills me with joy and discovering new recipes from the produce around the house gives me a great deal of fulfilment. Last years Lavender lemonade went down a storm and I hope to eclipse this with my Elderflower cordial. But the surprise for me was finding out just how tasty (and nutrious) nettles are. In my previous life as a city girl, I would have bet against the chances of me ever picking, cooking and eating nettles in this life time. Never say Never!

The last photo is of my irises - much more pretty than nettles (though not as flavoursome!)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Looks like Spring, smells like Spring...

Around about this time last year I boldly proclaimed that Spring had returned and then found myself, less than a week later, under a blanket of snow and ice in sub zero conditions. This year I shall be a little more cautious. That said, I have been able to spend a number of pleasant hours digging in my veggie patch and cutting back dead branches and the like.

I received a beautiful quote from my friend Bren ( that I'd like to share:

"my garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful"Abram L Urban

Gardening is an often used metaphor when carrying out projects or realising dreams and I don't want to live a cliched life, yet, when I am outside in this wonderful place, tending my garden and growing my business merge seemlessly into one another.
Recently I have got to know Mark Rendell who provides gardening and garden design services. What I love most are his designs for therapeutic gardens, often for hospitals but also for private gardens. Here is a man that truly understands the links between life and gardening. I'll give you two examples of his approach from his site

Winter is Wonderful – embrace this time of stillness in the garden. See the opportunity it gives for quiet reflection on the ‘bones’ of the garden – its shape, its size, its underlying structure.


The Sun and its life-giving trail – follow the shadows and plot the way the sunblazes a trail through your garden. This gives your garden its opportunities and also influences your behaviour.

As well as being a gardener, Mark is also a freelance project manager and trainer and uses the insights and inspirations from working outdoors in his training work. He'll be visiting us here next month and I'm hopeful we'll be setting up some exciting workshops soon.

Well, the sun is peeking from behind a cloud which is my cue to pull on my wellies and plant my first seeds. I hope to bring you photos of my produce fresh from the garden in a few months time.

Photos: Our first daffodils, we know Spring is around the corner when the violettes appear on the lawn, primroses poking through the fallen leaves

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Wants and don't wants

There is certainly balance in my life right now and this was demonstrated by two short episodes this week that I shall relay to you now. I contacted my dear neighbour earlier in the week to see if she was free for a coffee and a chat now that the hectic holiday season was over. It turned out that the only time I was free, she had already planned to go and give blood at the local community centre. She wondered whether I'd like to join her. To give a bit of personal background, I was born via caesarian section and my mum had a transfusion of 8 pints of blood to ensure we both made it through. I've always wanted to repay this amount (despite being incredibly squeamish) but have only managed to donate 5 pints to date. Having someone to go with and wanting to play my part, I decided to go along and duly turned up on the Friday morning. My neighbour handed over her donor card (32 donations so far!!) and then introduced her 'English neighbour' who had come along to give. There was a slightly awkward moment before I was asked whether I had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996, I had. In that case I couldn't give blood due to the risk of BSE, mad cow disease. I was shocked. By way of consolation I was invited to have lunch (the French receive a full meal after their donation, not just a couple of rich tea biscuits and a glass of squash) but I was too put out to eat. As soon as I got home I Googled UK blood donations to see if this was just some bizarre joke but no, it was for real. In fact there are some quite heated forums on the topic should you be interested in the politics, conspiracy theories and bloody (or not) mindedness of it all. I hoped for a dramatic blood red sun set to illustrate this ditty but the sun was golden that evening (see above) so I channeled the emotion into my entry for a competition my writing group are taking part in. The challenge is to write a story in exactly 100 words, here is my entry:

Blood Quest France

Fear gripped her, though she remained resolute. Premeditated blood letting was not her thing. The seed had been planted, had germinated over thirty six hours and the harvest was fast approaching.

Too late to back out. the door gaped open sucking her in.

'Master your breathing. Conquer your fear'.

Deliverance served up without ritual sacrifice- YOU CANNOT GIVE BLOOD IF YOU HAVE LIVED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM BETWEEN 1980 AND 1986.

Saved by the deathly shadow of mad cow disease.

(The cow pictured does not have, nor has she ever had, BSE).

Two days later though and now we're potentially in demand. I receive an email from someone claiming to be 'a film production designer' looking to shoot his graduation film in France.
The film was to be a wonderful coming of age story about an English kid spending a day with his chic and sexy teacher on a french exchange trip. He finds himself at a heated family lunch with helpings of comedy and tragedy and a need to impress. With his mum constantly phoning to check up, this is not going to be an easy day but he'll certainly learn a few things about life, love and language... To cut a long email short, the production team fancied the look of this place and wondered whether we'd be interested in being part of the operation. Call me suspicious but my initial reaction was 'you're not using my home to shoot soft porn movies!!' The more rational part of me then decided to do a spot of research and discovered that the whole thing was quite legitimate. The next day i received a phone call from the producer and then began my bid to create a thriving film industry here in Montmelard. Friends offered rooms to put up film crew and stars and I waxed lyrical about what this area has to offer. we waited on tenter hooks until yesterday when we were informed that financial constraints had knocked us out of the running. Dissapointed but not discouraged we took solace from the director's words - 'I will save your contact and maybe I'll call when the next film with a bigger budget comes around'. we'll be ready and waiting!!