Next time…

We didn’t go to Marcilhac sur Cele the next time. We did something completely different.

When we first came to this area in the early 90s we discovered an unusual bar cum gallery in St Cere called Casino.


Unbeknown to us at the time the tiny elderly couple who came out from behind the scenes when we walked in, switched on lights and watched us suspiciously as we wandered around had opened the casino back in 1945 as a bar and music venue. It soon became famous and had been referred to as the Olympia of the Lot, as a comparison with the more well known concert hall in Paris.  We knew none of this and looked at the wierd and wonderful collection of art works by Jean Lurcat, a famous tapestry maker and resistance radio worker during the last war working out of his nearby chateau at St Laurent les tours and the modern, more gentle water colours of Gilles Sacksick.


The black and white photographs of a chap called Robert Doisneau took our eye, especially as it is Lou’s favourite medium.  We pondered the link with our local social centre called after him.  Over the years we have seen several exhibitions in St Cere and collected quite a few books of his work. Exploring the history of the owners of the casino they had been the centre of a coterie of artists, photographers and musicians who exhibited and played at the bar.  It was Jean Lurcat who encouraged them to include an art gallery (for his work, bien sur) in 1947 and after Doisneau interviewed Lurcat for the magazine le point, he too became part of the St Cere scene.

All of which brings me to our next destination.  Sadly the casino is no more. The elderly couple passed on, both surviving to a great age and, despite promises that the casino would continue albiet in a reduced form, not a lot has happened in recent years and it remains closed.

But, I discovered another place in the region connected to Doisneau.  Although not from this area he enjoyed taking his holidays here with his wife and friends.  A photograph of them waiting on the platform of the station at Carlux became an iconic image due to being taken in the early years of paid holidays and, more importantly, the last summer before world war two began.

I had googled earthed (my favourite form of stalking) a few years back and the station looked forlorn and as if it was about to be demolished.  Now, however, Google revealed it to be very smart and calling itself La gare Robert Doisneau, a complex of the tourist office, a gallery dedicated to Doisneau and a cafe which had opened in 2018.  Plenty of parking and only an hour from home. Bingo!


The railway track is now a voie verte, a mainly cycling route along part of the Dordogne valley.  We chose a sunny day and ‘only the chauffeur’ braved the twisty road to Souillac he doesn’t like to drive.  We were equipped with masks and took a picnic as I still didn’t (and don’t) feel safe eating out although bars and cafes are once again open.

The two galleries devoted to Doisneau were interesting for explaining about his life and connection with our region but the photos were mainly holiday snaps.  The girl on the tourist office/gallery desk seemed unaware that there is a big Doisneau exhibition down in Bram near Carcassonne at the moment.  It has been extended until September due to confinement so we still hope to get to it, fingers crossed.


There is a third gallery used for temporary exhibitions which we shuffled around but weren’t very impressed with.  Outside the sun shone down and although there was a grassy carpark beyond the tarmac one it didn’t offer any shade so we decided to go and look for some.

Malheursement, the spot I had picked because Google showed a sign saying aire de repos had been taken over by a private canoe company and the shady riverside was roped off.  So back to the main road to hunt for a picnic place. From my internet searching I knew it was going to be hard.  This road is busy in summer and is more about moving tourists from one destination to the next rather than letting them dally.  We saw one possibility and after a fruitless search further on turned back.  A camper was parked up under the trees but there were two picnic tables available. Ultimately we set up our own in the best shady position.


We found ourselves eating next to the voie verte where it crossed the main drag and I think there was more traffic along that than on the road.  All styles of bikes and riders.  It gave me a real sense of the holidays having started despite schools still theoretically being open.  We watched the world go by, on two wheels and four; enjoyed the butterflies and birdsong and the view of a village church spire.


There were even some poppies!





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On y va

Well, the weather cheered up and so did I.  It is the fourteenth of July and a diminished parade has taken place in Paris although the patrouille de France did its colourful flypast comme d’hab. We have been out for a picnic every week for the past five weeks and it is fast becoming an institution. Mr McGregor has taken to asking ‘and where are you taking us next week?’ I have purchased four new maps and discovered in the process that ign have started condensing two previous issues into one so I seem to have duplicates of some areas nearby. Tant pis, the cycling son always wants a map to take on his rides when here. So a run down on the visits so far..

Monteils (not to be confused with another bigger place further on)

I scanned the map of part of the Cele river, a valley we haven’t explored despite it being relatively close to home, and studied the fields etc bordering the river. I found a symbol I didn’t know and the legend stated it was an  ‘aire de repos’.


A squint at Google earth showed there was a track down to the river next to a bridge over it to monteils.  Fingers crossed there was enough room to park.  Picnic bag packed and telling myself if it proved a disaster we weren’t far from home, off we went.  I had picked a Tuesday as it seems a quiet day usually and the weather forecast was good. A pretty drive across the causse with poppies glowing on the verges.  The ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ groans every time I shout ‘poppies!’.  When we used to drive down to our holiday home here, the autoroute was being built, slowly, so we would drive past banks of newly turned earth where the poppies in May and June were stunning…and I would shout…!

As we left the main road to drop down to the Cele valley the grandeur of the scenery became apparent.  High cliffs of limestone on either side of the river with trees clutching any earth in the cracks and clefts.  This was looking promising.


We drove around Marcilhac sur Cele, a village whose name I knew but one we hadn’t been through before.  It looked promising too.   At last the turning for the bridge. Down the track on the right, I insisted.  Cautiously, himself drove down.  And there it was.  The aire de repos complete with an information board and picnic tables.  We parked up and I set up the table to make coffee.  Lou explored and came back to say the odd tepee thing was a BBQ.  I had thought it was kids’ play apparatus.  Further exploring revealed an embarkation point for canoes with a slipway provided. (checking the map later I saw the symbol for that too!)


There were trees along the riverbank which I hadn’t expected but I found a gap and moved the table and chairs to give our lunch a waterside view.  Lou asked for beer…oops!   Something to add to the list for future outings.   Someone wandered down the opposite bank and called ‘bonjour’.  ‘Checking us out’, I muttered.   After that it was just us, the birds, the butterflies, jumping fish and croaking frogs.


There was very light traffic on the main road and almost nothing over the bridge.  We snoozed in the sunshine until himself got bored and wanted to move on.   So we did.  Driving back to Marcilhac I asked if we could stop so I could do a quick recce of the ruined 9th century abbey, a possible next visit?  We turned into the tiny centre and there was a lovely ‘place’ under huge plane trees and a grassy bank down to the plan d’eau.


‘We could have picnicked here’, said Lou.  Next time? I replied



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what day is it? what month is it??

as a retired person i am used to asking my fellow retiree, aka mr mcgregor, what day it is as they all seem to blur together sometimes. especially in the school holidays when my various activities are on holiday too.  but since the arrival of doom virus and the following confinement all over europe i am having great difficulty not only with which day is it but which month it is.   yesterday i looked at the calendar and found myself disbelieving it was the eleventh day of june.  june? JUNE?   how can that be?

confinement hit us in mid march, the day before my birthday and on the day we should have left to go on a short break to a pretty town in provence.   since then we have had to come to terms with not making any trips, at first the permitted distance was a kilometre from home then one hundred kilometres and now as far as the french border….but no further.  we have had to carry pieces of paper to prove who we are, where we live and where we are going. Later more shops opened and we started going to them wearing our masks and now almost everywhere is open but we can’t assemble with more than nine other people.   while grappling with all that who had time to notice that er…time was passing.


we have had a beautiful spring which saved a lot of us from extreme depression but now the early summer is pretty wet and gloomy which is having an effect on my morale and, no doubt, on other peoples’ too.   a normal june  (will there ever be a normal june again?) would find me making sausage rolls as the various group activities drew to a summer closure.


the rock crowd would be having its annual ‘assemblee’ followed by a bbq and rock soiree.  later there would a pizza night up at hugo’s fabulous place in the hills with music and dancing into the early hours.


the homework club would be organising a meeting to ‘faire le point’ and a picnic on the banks of a local plan d’eau to round off the school year.


my monthly ‘ladies wot lunch’ would be meeting for the last time before september, sharing plans for the summer and family visits.   the weekly english/ french group would be trinque-ing a verre and wondering how to hang on to the vocabulary we had learned.   gym classes would draw to a close.   i don’t know how they celebrate the end of the year as it was my first year with this association and what a strange year.



only secours populaire would be soldiering on but they would be discussing the closure of the antenne in august although the weekly distribution alimentaire would go on just as it has done all through this awful time.


and we should have been doing a ‘collecte’ this month to replenish supplies!

the village fete committee would be selling tickets for the fete de la musique on midsummer’s day or the weekend closest when we would all convene for a meal in the ‘place’ for a catch up and ‘bopping’ to the accordian music provided. 


and our crazy kiwi friend up on the hill would be celebrating christmas in summer as she has done ever since landing in our lives, borrowing our elderly christmas tree in a pot!



that’s a normal june.  and normal june would have followed a normal may and a normal april.  we did do some of the usual things around easter which this year fell in april.  traditionally we always get out the garden furniture from the cave on the easter weekend and we did.


but it didn’t follow a week of cleaning and readying the gite for the hoped for summer clients.  with travel restrictions in place for the forseeable future there seemed no point. even when things eased up in may i replied to a tourist office enquiry that we would not be opening.


i really don’t feel like cleaning up after strangers and the cleaning has to be much deeper than usual and there are various procedures to be put in place.   i couldn’t face it.

in may we managed to get out and buy the veg and flower plants to keep us busy and to bring a little normality into our days.  but it was odd not to have any visitors.  may is often a month when family or friends choose to come and stay.


the weather is good, the countryside looks stunning and the children are in school so everywhere is reasonably calm and getting around is enjoyable.  we did catch up on jobs that needed attending to that we couldn’t do under the confinement but that was soon achieved.


and now here is june.   the bars and restaurants are open but as we are both in the susceptible over 70s group the advice for us is stay close to home as before with only occasional sorties!

we had talked back in the winter about maybe camping this month, the quiet but warm month, at a pretty spot below puy mary about ninety kilometres away from here.   we discovered it when playing broom waggon to gav on one of his long bike rides a few years ago.  we liked the village and went back to the campsite  later on the same summer.



but the last thing we want to do now is share a sanitary block with other people, something that we happily did before however antiquated the facilities.   the sale and rental of camper vans is going through the roof according to the news as people realise the efficacy of being able to take a holiday but remain in their own, hopefully, healthy bubble.  our tent couldn’t provide that and as far as i know campsites are only opening for camper vans.

and so it was a shock to realise that half the year has slipped away. and all i can remember doing with any regularity is the daily search of the news for the death rates and infection rates as we all yearn to see them diminish and bring an end to this fear that we are all living under.  plus my daily posting on facebook of my garden wander to keep my spirits up.


oh, and the weekly facetime homework club with a couple of eleven year olds plus instagram…plus…….  an interior and screen orientated life.

but…. this won’t do!  this way lies depression and a waste of days.  so i have decided that we need to get out.  safely,  of course, but out!  i announced this to mr mcgregor as we drove to a medical appointment the other day and enjoyed the scenery we hadn’t seen for three months.  how about a day out somewhere, taking a picnic to some tranquil spot in the countryside preferably near one of our many rivers where we can sit and stare and maybe find a quiet walk as well?  ‘not more than an hour’s drive’ demanded himself.   he knows how i can get carried away and we end up driving for ages.   so at last i can dig out the maps, play around on google earth to see if places match up to my imagination….like a ‘normal’ june….. now i just need the weather to cheer up….


then…on y va!!


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once around the block

we went for a walk the other afternoon.  so? i hear you thinking.  well, due to the confinement, or lockdown as english speakers call it,  going for a walk is not the simple or, dare i say it, enjoyable experience it once was.  before setting out you, or in this case both of us, have to fill out the attestation that must accompany an individual on every step beyond the perimeter of home.  exercise is allowed but cannot be undertaken for more than an hour and can’t be more than a kilometre from home.  lou has been around the block a few times and when i googled the furthest point it transpired it was 100 metres over the kilometre.  we hoped the gendarmes wouldn’t have google maps to hand if we were challenged.

identification has to be carried as well.  early on it was a subject of hot debate on various facebook groups as to whether brits needed to carry passports or if driving licences would do.  we take both as lou say our address is on our driving licence which seems a sensible precaution.  eventually we were ready to set off.

as we approached  the end of our drive the neighbours called a greeting.  we often chat over the fence and discuss various garden plants and sometimes even swap some.  it seemed odd keeping well back and shouting the length of their garden.  just then friends from further up the hill, a mother and daughter,  walked out from under the railway bridge and also called out a cheery bonjour.  they made to step towards us and we instinctively moved back.  this was all so unreal and so unlike our usual greeting which would have been kisses all round.

reassuring each other ‘tous va bien’ and a final shout of ‘seulement un heure’ from the neighbours we headed off.  turning round the first left we passed a neighbour’s barn.  this barn had been the venue for a repas de quartier, the first ever held since we moved here.  these repas are jolly affairs where the neighbours in a particular corner of the commune meet up for an evening of food, drink and chat.  ours was organised by a chap who is a chef by trade and lives opposite said barn.  he cooked up paella and the rest of us brought along the aperos, salads, desserts  and alcohol, of course.  it was a lovely evening and we got to know people we had previously only nodded to.  i pondered ruefully that it may be a long time before we can enjoy such a gathering again.


by now lou was pacing ahead, comme d’hab, while i stopped to take photos.  about now i began to feel very vulnerable.  all my previous lockdown excursions had been in the car and here i was maskless and not inside my metal bubble.   but around the next bend the beauty of a bank of iris made me forget those misgivings and begin to enjoy being outside and stretching my legs further than the limits of our garden.

walk3 - Copy

we had said to ourselves just a quick walk up to the ‘horse’ field, so named for our grandson because of the white horse that lives in it.  highly original!


by the time we got there, several photos later (butterflies, barn doors, arum lilies…) we decided to carry on around the block as we still had forty minutes in hand.  the road looked as if there had been a snowstorm.  thick white blossom from the nearby poplar trees carpeted it from side to side.


(i had read about a red alert for poplar allergy sufferers.)   just here we had a chat…at a safe social distance… with a gentlemen who was restoring the roof of the barn next to the house he had bought a couple of years ago.  once again, i thought about how we would have shaken hands, agreed we were anglais and spent some time in idle talk if the virus wasn’t hanging over us plus the time allocation of our jaunt.


along the ridge, under a fabulous oak just bursting into leaf, down the hill and a swing left over the railway line.  no trains for weeks now which we miss but the local cats are enjoying as they strut along the tracks as if they own them.


then we crossed the main road by the old farm house being restored.

about now i became aware of a bird singing away in the trees to our right.  i was convinced it was a nightingale but was waiting for its familiar ‘peeep, peeep, peeep’…and as we turned onto the track across the fields it came! so a nightingale to complete the feast of the senses.


all along the walk i had been excited by all the briar roses out in bloom.  i started off thinking they were a type of wild mock orange blossom but my new app on my phone identified them as roses.(thanks, bro)   whatever they were they were beautiful.


by now i had lost lou what with photos and identifying plants with the app.  checking my watch i began to hurry up.  an hour isn’t long enough to take in everything but it certainly concentrates the mind and senses.  this part of the walk takes you between fields that lead down to the river cere.  one was full  of buttercups while the one opposite give views across the river and up to the hills above the village




this path is often the start of my bike rides but those aren’t allowed at the moment unless the bike is being used to go shopping.   the river comes in sight briefly where it is joined by the mill race.


we have a mill at port de gagnac.  now it is a wood mill but our neighbour who lives to the east of paris remembers it being a flour mill in her childhood and the miller covered in flour looking like a ghost.   the millrace lives up to its name and rushes through its banks and after heavy rain will flood into the farmer’s field.


this one!

and we got back within the hour…just

yesterday our prime minister gave a speech outlining the new conditions for deconfinement.  we won’t need the attestation anymore after 11th may if we are designated as living in a green zone but if our area is designated red….it will just be around the block for the duration!







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centre of attention

when we bought our holiday home in gagnac in 1990, the nearest telephone box was down at the port de gagnac.  we had neither phone or television to begin with and certainly no internet connection.  I had a very basic computer in my classroom but we were at the very beginning of understanding how it was going to develop and take over our lives.  slowly we got more connected. lou had a mobile phone that he had to go out and wave around in the street outside to get a decent signal.  we bought a television and a French canal package so we could watch the bbc world service and, for a short time, became addicted to a French quiz show called ‘fa si la chanter’, a gallic version of ‘name that tune’.  by the time we retired here, fourteen years after discovering the village, the internet was a must have.  we lost no time in getting the phoneline (we had finally put one in) upgraded to carry the internet too.  meanwhile I discovered that the big building opposite the plumber in biars was not just a library and cinema but had a ‘cyberbase’ where we could use the computers with the first hour free as we lived here.  this proved very useful then and later when we moved on to our retirement house from the ‘gite’ and had to wait for internet connection.

this building, the ‘centre social and culteral – robert doisneau’ was going to figure quite a lot in my life from then on although i was unaware of it at the time.   after the cyberbase it was the cinema that caught my attention.   every so often there would a ‘vo’ film, version originale ie in a language other than french and, often English.  i soon became a member of a little band of  regular face, not all expats, who faithfully turned out for the english language offerings.  i noticed that ken loach seemed to be favoured and then discovered there was an earnest group dedicated to choosing films that appealed to them and asking for their showing.  it does mean that for the French cinema goers the uk is a rather forsaken land as portrayed by our ken. ‘i, daniel blake’ caused several french friends to speak to me in sorrowing tones about the land of my birth!

soon after moving to gagnac I was abducted one night by a young neighbour who wouldn’t take no for an answer and who whisked me off to ‘geem’.  I found myself part of a small group of local young mums who shared the driving and who helped improve my french slang as we sweated through our step classes.  later, I took a daytime pilates class with the same gym prof and that was held in the small ballet studio tucked away on the first floor behind the cinema screen.  here I met an older group of early retirees and the occasional brit.

wanting to improve my French, and thinking that reading books may be better than entirely relying on the sometimes purple prose of the local paper, led me a few years later to the french reading group run by the library.  this group took itself very seriously.  all the authors we read were acamedie francais members and i struggled to read them let alone discuss them with anything like fluency.  some other foreign members dropped out but, pigheadedly, I stuck at it.  after five years i decided enough was enough. i had found some french authors i enjoyed reading and took my leave of the group promising to continue reading french literature.  and i have.

around 2011 i heard from a dutch friend that the library ran a homework club for the college kids (college being the equivalent of uk secondary school but finishing at 15 years old) and they needed an english speaker.  i had regretted not being able to help out in primary school over here, problems with insurance etc so went along and offered myself.  marine, the lovely, smiley girl who was organinsing the ‘clas’ as it is referred to welcomed me, if not with open arms but a stream of rapid french.  she soon came to recognise my confused expression and does try hard to slow down for me.  mind you, i have become a better listemer!  so for several years now i have been part of the team of ‘benevoles’, volunteers, at the centre.   every Christmas we are given an apero evening as a thank you and presented with two cinema tickets and a card made by the ‘jeunes’.  at the end of the summer term we adjourn to a nearby ‘plan d’eau’,  a lake in a country park, with our individual offerings of picnic food, ‘boissons’ courtesy of the centre.  my offering is always sausage rolls, which rapidly get gobbled up.


alexia and marine cooling off in the plan d’eau.  it was a very hot summer.  marine now organises the primary school sessions and alexia organises us!

I have always been impressed with the range of activities the centre lays on for all age groups in the community which it announces via flyers and three monthly brochures.   as well as the cyberbase, library and cinema, there is a toy library with regular games evenings for families.    there are English classes for children once a week, cookery workshops, poetry sessions, arts and crafts and storytime for the toddlers, advice for parents. you name it, at some point it will be happening.

in the run up to the french lockdown it was a worrying time as it seemed sensible to avoid gatherings such as rock and gym but I felt guilty abandoning les jeunes.  then the announcement was made that schools would be closing on 13th march and immediately my phone and inbox was full of messages cancelling everything!  this was followed by the countrywide ‘confinement’ or lockdown, as we refer to it, on 17th march and everything went very quiet as we all adjusted to a new way of existing..

as lou was no longer popping out for the paper every day I began a subscription to the local paper to try and stay in touch. It was hard getting used to staying at home so I was very pleased when, after a week, i received a message from marine.  the ‘jeunes’ who were now supposed to be working from home (a lot aren’t!) still might need some support with their homework.  would i be interested in helping out? of course I would.  as an oldie which puts me in an at-risk group it is hard to not be able to volunteer to help someone somewhere.  so I said yes but, please, keep it simple as trying to do anything by skype or facetime would challenge my IT skills not just language ones.  i was reassurd that it probably wouldn’t be a problem as only about eight families had asked for help.  I didn’t hear anymore but the folk from the centre haven’t been inactive despite working from home.  as i followed the local news in biars the centre began to be featured quite a lot.  the writing group has put up some challenges for anyone interested in responding.  if i had more confidence in my french writing acumen i might be tempted as the proffered subjects are interesting.  then there was a reminder that the centre is there to help with working your way through french bureaucracy, a challenge for anyone.   then there were links to facebook where the librarians dedicated to the younger children have been sharing ideas for activities and reading stories.  origami anyone? accordion music?

a couple of days ago, i had another message from marine.  a collaegue, alice, is usually in charge of the cookery workshops.  ‘lots of people are cooking more during lockdown’, the message said, ‘do you have a recipe you could share to alice and thus to the community? maybe after all this is over we can have a get together with all our favourite foods?’  it is as my sister says, nothing happens in france without food and drink being involved, not even in this desperate times.

now, can i translate my sausage roll recipe into understandable french?






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masking? who’s asking?

when we went on our long overland trip to china we expected to see people wearing masks in the highly polluted cities there.  we hadn’t expected the same thing to apply to ulan bator, the capital of mongolia.   there, despite the crystal clear skies over the vast plains surrounding it, the city suffers from smoggy skies as do all the people living there.  in beijing although anticipated it was still a shock to see the sun shining through a sickly yellow murk and the taste of that murk in the back of your throat..  wearing a mask seemed so little to counteract the threat but most of the people we saw did and we were grateful to be only visiting rather than living in it full time.

since the covid-19 pandemic arrived the arguments have gone back and forth about the efficacy of wearing masks to protect ourselves as well as others..  do they make the wearer complacent, falsely assuming his or her immunity is guaranteed by one?  do they really work if not the same quality given to top ranking doctors and health workers?  whatever the right answer is a lot of people have taken it into their own hands, literally, and made masks for themselves while others have created mini enterprises making masks at home to offer to pompiers, gendarmes and anyone else who interacts with the public on a daily basis.

I was one of those people who tied a scarf around my face and hoped it was of some use.  when the ‘experts’ began to change their minds about masks a few days ago there was a rush of self help videos on facebook showing how you could make one either the no sew way or not.  I tried a no sew one which involved folding a scarf several times. it looked like a facemask but the thickness of the folded material threatened to suffocate me before I even left the house! then I found what looked like a fairly simple method based on just a few seams and basic materials I had kicking about the house.

now sewing and I do not have a good track record.  my maternal grandma taught me to knit but my tension was and is too slack so everything ends up big enough for two of me.  baby clothes knitted for my grandson probably would only fit the three year old he is now.  as for sewing I avoided it for years. until, that is, I hit the technical school at 13.  I was one of the last year group in kent to take the 13+.  I didn’t make the grammar school but scraped into the local technical school for girls.  there were two options, commercial – shorthand and typing or the o level stream.  that was my parents choice for me and part of that stream was domestic science ie cooking and sewing.  cooking started from our second year and we made our cookery aprons in our first year.  I wore an apron from home for the first six months of cookery classes as my apron took me a year and a half to finish.

however, as a mum of two boys i soon became adept at mending and even took up patchwork, briefly, after retirement.   sewing machine have i none and no desire to own one but a little light hand stitching wouldn’t faze me…i thought.  assembling my materials i watched and re-watched the video.  nailed it, i smugly told myself as i got out the iron to press in the pleats..  sewing the two rough edges i began to try and work out where these edges would ultimately be.   it became clear that i had turned the whole thing once too often and my carefully pressed pleats were, in fact, the wrong way round.  back to the drawing, or, in this case, ironing board.  next came the fixing in place of the the elastic loops that would attach the mask to my ears.   another video viewing and the loops were duly pinned into place.   i made a cup of tea and adjourned to the garden balancelle to do my ‘little light sewing’ in the sunshine.

realising the imprtance of the elastic loops and the rather powerful strength of the only elastic i could find in my sewing box (a present from my mother in law, a trained tailor, years ago) i decided they needed to be very firmly sewn in.  so i did just that.  but as i continued the seam i began to have some doubts.. reveiwing the shape under my hands i turned it right side out and realised i had succeeded in placing my loops so that they would be inside the mask rather than outside!


spot the mistake?

it was a standing joke when i was teaching that design tech and i were not good friends.  latent dyslexia was how i excused myself!   so i began the laborious task of unpicking all those savagely inserted stitches i had just done.  loops pinned in i turned the mask right side out several times to convince myself that i was finally getting there plus checking the video one last time.. the tinkly background music was really beginning to annoy….

our elderly cat wandered over, probably with the intention of joining me on the swing seat but after watching my stabbing at the material for a while he walked away to find a calmer spot..  but then it was done.  i turned it right side out, pulled down the pleats as shown and tried it on, pulling the loops behind each ear.   it worked and looked like a mask.   and no blood had been spilt.  with a natty pocket into which i attached a double sheet of plastic i was ready for my next outing.  would anyone spot i matched the gite curtains?





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freezer finds

in the days before lockdown the news was full of reports of panic buying in the uk and, to a lesser extent, here too.  loo rolls disappeared virtually overnight.  in a video call with our eldest son I talked about possible difficulties to come when food buying.  ‘don’t worry, mum,’ he replied, you’ve a freezer full of ratatouille!’ a bit of an exaggeration but yes, there are certainly several packages out in the cave freezer.

back in the 70s we lived on a small co-owned housing estate opposite the village church. we were all young families and one of the mums discovered that there were allotments behind the church with several free and only 50 pence yearly rent.  the domestic freezer was fast becoming the must have piece of kitchen equipment and we chatted about how lovely it would be to grow and freeze our own produce rather than haunt the new frozen food shops popping up on every shopping parade.  lou, my  husband, took some persuading that this was a good idea..all that digging he mutteered.  however, he finally gave in and once he became the renter of a large patch of weed covered ground his inner mr mcgregor burst through.  so much so that i had to beg to be allowed a small corner to plant herbs.  our first bumper crop was cabbages.  lots and lots of cabbages.  i remember days of chopping, blanching and bagging up cabbage.   i assume we ate some too.

from then on every garden we subsequently owned has had a vegetable plot plus various green houses, cold frames, soft fruit netting etc etc. our present garden is no different except it is the biggest so far and extends into an orchard with several elderly but still productive fruit trees.  so every summer lou is out there planning and planting, sowing and swearing over things that don’t grow and things that attack his precious produce.  i have learnt to say yes, when offered yet another lettuce.  refusal brings on a hurt look and a ‘shan’t bother growing any more’ retort.

gluts are an occupational hazard.. we live in a region of rain and strong sunshine so everything grows…a lot.  plant one courgette plant and it will behave as if it wants world domination.  turn your back and you will find a marrow-size fruit has bloomed overnight.  i have searched the internet for recipes and we have tried everything from courgette quiche through to spicy courgette chutney (not at all bad!).  when we had a small restaurant in the village we pressed our surplus onto the owner/chef.  this is usual in our countryside.  offers of fruit and vegetables reach their zenith in the autumn as everyone is inundated with potiron (pumpkin) and squashes.  the courgette syndrome all over again!  we once had a pumpkin plant that escaped onto the railway embankment where it festooned itself amongst the brambles and bushes hanging its yellow fruits like so many lanterns at Chinese new year.

but the ratatouille is a deliberate act of preserving for later by us.  lou grows onions, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines as well as the aforementioned courgettes so I have all the ingredients to hand.  I cook great vats of the stuff and use it later in a variety of different dishes. sometimes we even eat it straight.   ‘mush’ is how it is denigrated by ‘that’ son.  ‘waste not want not’ I return.  the ratatouille is joined by a lot of soup too.  those pesky pumpkins plus chicken, thickened with lentils and split peas, a favourite of mr McGregor.  every roast chicken dinner is followed by the boiling of bones and the making of soup!  and fruit.  lobbed into the freezer for making crumbles later.  much later.

so this enforced stay at home has meant I have been rummaging in the freezer to use up anything that could still be considered edible without bringing on a bout of food poisoning on top of our other worries.

and look what I found.  bought on our last trip to blighty (at christmas, go figure) just in time for good Friday…. result!


petit dej!!





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old dog, new tricks

as the enormity of the lockdown hit social media began to flood with encouraging homilies to comfort those stuck at home; those people working, home schooling or just stuck at home! then came jokes about how clean everyone’s homes would be.  well, if housework is the summit of your leisure time, maybe?  following that, exercise became the focus and joe jumped, and is still is, I imagine, around uk tv screens and youtube exhorting all ages to follow his moves.  more recently france3 has adopted the same idea but this chap is much beefier than joe and rarely cracks a smile. plus his moves are seriously difficult. lou said he could manage yesterday’s…until I challenged him and rolled out my yoga mat…getting down on the floor was a struggle let alone the move!

next came the virtual visits.  museums all over the world opened their doors to the captive audience.  hard on the heels of this sporting and cultural onslaught came the notion that we should all be using this time to learn a new skill.  hmmmm. after fifteen years living in france I feel I have never stopped learning new skills.  not just the language which is an ongoing challenge (more later) but learning to navigate french bureaucracy and the daily exercise of things that you knew by heart in the old country but that are done differently in this new one. personally i was quite happy to find i had more time for the garden and books. new skill? pah!

but thinking about it i have learnt a new skill, perforce one that has been forced on me by the new circumstances in which we find ourselves living.  shopping, especially food shopping has never held much appeal.  from the early years of our marriage it fell to me to shop for food as lou worked weird hours and continued to do so all our working lives.  i soon devised a method that suited us back then and which survived into retirement.  the big shop is once a week , on a thursday, fridays too manic, and, once here, undertaken during the French lunch hour. I hate crowded shops and will abandon shopping trips just to avoid them.

but as I have written before shopping is now a scary ordeal and one I will avoid if at all possible.  early on I idly googled ‘drive’ shops near here.  in the uk it is known as ‘click and collect’.  I knew there were no shops delivering so this would be the next best way to avoid going into supermarkets, a health hazard for all concerned.  I discovered that a supermarket in the other direction to the one I use every week had a drive facility.  so I set about learning how to use it.

firstly I had to register online. this necessitated formfilling.  I was reminded of the jokes about scrolling down forever to find your year of birth and the humbling experience of being told your chosen password is weak.  how ridiculous to feel proud when you stab away and get your password through!  once registered I was ready to create my first order.  with hindsight aka learning, I use the computer now but back then, all of two weeks, I used my phone from a supine position of the kitchen sofa.  a modest list was finally arrived at after a lot of cursing as I tried to figure out the organisation of the ‘rayons’.  compote with biscuits? pourquoi?  then to confirm the order and choose a slot.  I noted the first available one was almost a week away so future orders ought to be done well in advance – learning!  slot chosen it was smoothly moving to paying online, confirmed by the bank (natty sending of a code to confirm all is legit) and the arrival of the email to say I had an order to be picked up etc etc….

so a sigh of relief.  then the day arrived for collection and the self doubt began.  it said on the email present yourself at the acceuil, I didn’t want to go into the shop.  the cash hadn’t been taken from my bank account, why not?  would I need to swipe my card? touch buttons?  was this actually going to be any better than doing my usual supermarket shop?  in trepidation i filled out my attestation, checked i had my passport, tied the scarf around my face, dug out my gloves…..

a very quiet drive to the supermarket.  a lovely day that made me wish I could just keep driving to somewhere away from all this. but I was on a mission.  I swung into the car park and noticed a few cars around and one or two people about. I parked close to the entrance and reluctantly approached the doors.  straight away I saw several posters for drive customers. open your boot, stay in your car and ring into the shop.  slight flap as I tried to memorise the number but then sanity took over and made me look at the email that lou had printed off for me.  there was the phone number, bien sur.  first girl had a problem with my name, all French people do. why not an ‘i’, why ‘ea’?  the major embarrassment came with the second girl I was put through to.  she said something with what to me sounded like a question in her voice.  someone for the shopping?  yes, I replied, me, i’m here in my car.  as we struggled with my incomprehension, it dawned on me the poor girl was saying someone would be out with my order.   oh, the shame.   I wanted to call her back and apologize for being a stressed out old brit whose language skills were inadequate.

a few minutes passed and out came a girl pushing some grey boxes.  from these she loaded carrier bags and a box of beer into the boot and wished me a bon journee.  I wanted to fall on her neck with gratitude but confined myself to a merci bien and a bon courage….

since then I have collected a second order and have another lined up for a week’s time.  that last one was stressful as slots were disappearing fast as more people suss the excellent service.  one last bit of learning happened on my second visit.. the two red posts at the back of the car park that I was too stressed to notice properly are the designated place for ‘drive’ shoppers.   mind you, with another car already parked I still did my social distancing bit and parked a couple of spaces away. the learning goes on.  still old but still learning new tricks!




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a little kindness goes a long way

today is the three week anniversary of the first full day of lockdown which was, coincidentally, my birthday.  cards and parcels had arrived beforehand so I was able to start the day with some semblance of normality.  but later, I had to brave the pharmacy as both local ones had been ‘deborde’ the morning before as everyone tried to beat the midday crackdown, me included.  too frightened to join the lengthy queue I was obliged to go out again, attestation and passport in hand.


bretenoux was a ghost town.  the usually busy brasserie where, every Wednesday lunchtime, I thread my way through the diners outside to buy my loto tickets and wistfully wonder about stopping to eat, was shuttered with its tables and chairs stacked.  I decided to skip loto betting for the time being.  the pharmacy was almost empty but I still had to wait anxiously as only four customers at a time were allowed in.  I lurked outside but was waved in by the staff.  I still had to wait tho’, scarf around my face and keeping to the farthest corner.  finally served, I hurried to the little épicerie close by for a few last items, not wanting to brave the bigger and busier supermarket, collected a book put by for me at the presse and regained the comparative safety of the car.

but still not finished as we needed bread, the weekend loaves from the village baker always need boosting by midweek.  I pulled into the big boulangerie, noting I was the only car in the car park.  the girls inside, one a neighbour, were masked and gloved and there were stripes on the floor to help a potential queue keep its distance.  only baguettes and ‘peng’ were available but a pain would do.  I moved to gaze longingly at the patisserie display.  the girls smiled. ‘ well’, I said, ‘it IS my birthday, the most bizarre I have ever experienced.’  more smiles and ‘bon anniversaires’ as I chose two strawberry tarts.  one girl wrapped them while the other got my peng and I paid by sans contact card, a boon at the moment.

back to the car and a quiet drive home, uninterrupted by a stop by the gendamerie, to my great relief.  I had all the documents but even so….

later I got out the tarts for our 4pm gouter   as I lifted the paper packaging a rectangle of decorated icing revealed itself.


I hadn’t seen her slip it into the package.  I suddenly felt birthday-ish. I was so touched by such a sweet thought when so much else is occupying them.

now three weeks into lockdown I am remembering that gesture and am reminded that in difficult times like these despite all the stresses and strains we must remember to…

be kind.


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P1060986Nursing my morning mug of tea I hear a light aircraft beyond the bedroom window. Not an unusual sound you may think but these are unusual times and our skies have not been criss crossed by vapour trails for many days now. I get out of bed but can’t see a plane, light or otherwise. Yesterday there was a helicopter flying high and towards the north. Probably returning to the Paris area from Toulouse or Cahors having brought one or more seriously ill patients to a hospital there. We are in the grip of a worldwide health crisis with a virus that is decimating communities and bringing each affected country’s health service to its knees. Here in France we are on the twenty something day of lockdown, a restriction put in place on 17th March in a desperate effort to slow down the spread of the virus. To leave home we have to fill out a form stating our reason for going out which we choose from a list of permitted activities. So far we have used shopping for essentials and exercise.

Each outing is, for me, a time of stress, of held breath, of overwhelming feelings of vulnerability which hardly lessen when I return home as the rigmarole of cleansing everything I have bought, worn , touched, has to happen before I can begin to relax. There are bags of shopping waiting in the workshop for me to brave touching. My shoes sit on the doorstep after being sprayed with diluted bleach, the clothes  I wore in the washing machine…. This is our new reality but it doesn’t seem real. All around us the spring is happening, trees blossoming, birds singing, plants pushing up and the sun shining. This is a comfort but you find yourself wondering if you will see another one.

The internet is a godsend and a nightmare. Family keep in touch from their respective isolation points around the world but the screen can also tell of death rates, tragedies, new horrors to come…

Our horizon narrows as housework becomes the main activity of the day followed by a bit of gardening, some Pilates, a dance in the kitchen then some reading, not forgetting to check out with family and friends on WhatsApp, Facebook and email. Trying to do an online shop for collection becomes a major frustration as the alternative is physically frightening, shopping in a supermarket with other people, surfaces that may be trying to kill you..

Keep positive, you tell yourself.

It’s hard

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