Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas is approaching fast.

Just nine days to Christmas 2011. I have to admit to been a little lazy recently about updating my blog  I suppose although we have been busy with lots of activities I haven't considered them really newsworthy.  

We did spend about 10 days in France at the end of November. There we spent time tidying up the garden in readiness for the winter. Several branches of the 'Calville' apple tree had broken under the weight of the fruit in the summer and they needed to be cut back to prevent the tree from rotting. The poly tunnel needed to be taken down as it is a simple improvised construction which had worked really well. We will certainly put it up again next year, but will try and get it into production earlier in the year and hope that we can get some melons ripened before the end of the summer. At first glance I thought we only had a harvest of weeds but on closer inspection found that we had lots of vegetables ready to eat. The only disappointment were the brussel sprouts which although they looked healthy the actual sprouts hadn't formed a nice firm heart. We have left them in the hope they will improve - if not they will be shredded for a stir fry. 

Several wheelbarrow loads of farmyard manure have been put on the garden and all bare areas have been covered with black plastic. Hopefully the worms will work the manure into the soil and it will be nice and fertile for next spring.


We managed to get out and do some foraging for mushrooms. We found plenty to eat and many more which we couldn't identify, but that's the way it goes.  It is always satisfying to comeback from a walk in the woods with enough fungi to make a meal and even better when there is enough to dry for another day.  

Magical Woodland Scene (not edible)

We even found quite a few mushrooms along the lane where we live including a beautiful Wood Blewit.  

For the past few years we have been using the SeaFrance ferries to cross from Dover to Calais. The company has been in financial difficulties for some time now but has survived as it is part of the French railway company, the EU has now ruled that the state support that SeaFrance has been receiving is not legal so the company has been put  'up for sale'.  When we travelled a few weeks ago their ferry boats were tied up in the port of Calais as the company was fearful of a walk out by staff as discussions on a take over were taking place.  It now appears that the take over offer has been withdrawn and the company could fold as soon as next week. SeaFrance arranged for us to travel with DFDS via Dunkirk, but that added an extra 30 minutes to the crossing and another 20 minutes of travel on the French side.  With the number of ferry companies dwindling and with the increase cost of fuel  the ticket prices are rising rapidly. We will have to study the various options that the ferry companies offer before we go again in January. There are definitely less people travelling across the channel - the boats are never full, so perhaps there may be some good deals to be negotiated.

 December is the month of Christmas parties. I started with our Moreton Hall WI party. A really good evening with good food, craft (OK, not my forté) limerick writing which was fun and lots of chatter and laughter, in all a good event.

Then we had the Bury Heritage Guides Party, again lots of good food and good company and a chance to inspect  our hosts vintage cars and drool over the more modern ones, in particular a beautiful 1956 Mercedes similar to the one in this photo.

The WI held its annual carol concert at St Mary's Church, this last Monday evening, which as usual was well attended.  At this time of year  I bring out my red 'fur' coat which I wear to parties and, what has become a tradition, to the Carol Concert. I think if I turned up in another coat there would be complaints from my friends.  Also this week we had the flower club Christmas meeting which again saw us tackling a craft project. This time angels to hang in the Christmas tree which will be decorated as part of a tree festival.  I was quite impressed by the results this time.

This year I have been a little late in getting the Christmas cake made, but finally this week I set aside a baking day, I got the cake was baked and the  Christmas pudding mixed. This has now been steamed and is ready for the final steam on the day.  Alexander helped me make lots  of mince pies which are now in the freezer ready to dip into as needed.  

In the operating theater, sewing up the duck

Last week while I was watching Michel Roux Jr give a masterclass I was inspired to copy his 'dodine de canard'. Basically a duck filled with a meat farce to make a duck paté which you can slice when cold.  I have to say it looks beautiful, just like the one Michel Roux made. Just hope it tastes as good as it looks. 

I also have a piece of beef marinating in spices which will be lightly cooked after another 4 days of curing and a piece of salmon in a gravadlax cure.  Definitely feel good about these dishes, they should be tasty without being too filling.  Just in case my sister is reading this - it's OK I will get a turkey for Christmas day!

So much about food - well it is a time of year to cook both traditional dishes and to try something new. All that's left to do is get a tree, that is easy here as they grow locally, just a couple of kilometres up the road and buy a couple of small gift items. 

Happy Christmas to you all.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Where has the time gone

I don't know where the last few weeks have gone. We have been busy with meetings and trips out. I have done some dress making.   We spent a day in Colchester visiting the new Firstsite Art Gallery. Rob had a day in London. I visited the Budhist centre in Norwich with a group from the WI, and yesterday I went to a conference in London of which much more below.

After an early start Jill Newell and I arrived at Victoria Coach Station London, where we immediately sought out a small cafe for a much needed coffee and toilet stop, before heading off the the Home Office.

Airport style security is the order of the day to get into government buildings these days. Jackets off, all bags and small items removed from pockets and placed into plastic trays ready for screening and then through the security arch. All OK so far, given a ticket to indicate we had passed security and then on to the reception desk where we were given visitors passes for the conference facilities.

We joined about 50 women for a preparatory meeting ahead of the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which will be focusing on ‘What are the priorities for women in rural communities?’. 

The meeting was opened by Helene Reardon-Bond OBE, Head of Gender Equality Policy and Inclusion at Government Equalities Office. She then quickly handed over to Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities who spoke about the importance of hearing from rural women themselves about the issues that concern them. She said she could not promise to make any decisions based on what was said at the meeting but she would try and bear our points in mind when dealing with issues that concerned us. She explained that she did understand what it was to be a working, single parent and that life is a juggling act. She told us that said had arrived home at 11 p.m. the previous evening to find her daughter not well and the dog sick and in need of the vet. So arranged an out of hours vet for the dog and picked up some medication from an all night chemist for her daughter on the way back from the vets. She does live in London, not sure how easy it would have been in rural Suffolk. She stayed for just a short while before dashing off back to the House of Commons.

Helene Reardon-Bond then went on to introduce the CSW to the group and explain the role of the UK Government Delegation. Each area of the world has a number of delegates, Africa, Asia, Southern America, etc and explained that the UK is in a group with Europe She explained the procedure for the conference in New York and how we fitted into the picture.  We will be asked to put forward points to be taken into consideration and a small work group will discuss these points further before presenting them to the delegation from our area. 

Sarah MacAdam the Head of Policy at Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) gave a very interesting presentation. The main topics which she thought were of concern to rural women, matched those that had been presented to me when I had canvassed opinion prior to the meeting. It was reassuring to know that we were all thinking along the same lines.   Of course she discussed the statistics  of the rural communities, but one statistic stuck out for me. Women in rural communities are more likely to be better educated than those living in towns, and have higher qualifications that men living in rural areas - I knew we were a clever bunch, and statistics prove it!
Leo Thomas,  Inclusive Growth Advisor, with the Department for International Development (DfID) then spoke about the priorities for women in particular with reference to the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. He spoke about his four main priorities: Delaying first pregnancies, tackling violence against women, and girls,  working towards all girls/women receiving a full primary education. the economic empowerment of women, ensuring that they have rights to land ownership, and access to their own money and bank accounts.  He had been working in Afghanistan for two years prior to taking up his present position and had seen how when women where in control of projects and cash that the money was always well used and projects succeeded.

We then broke off into groups where we gathered around flip charts and threw ideas at each other. Lots of noise and banter, but Jill and I did make sure the “WI” kept being mentioned. Reporting  back to the meeting we were pleased that our note taker mentioned the WI three times in her report. We were the only organization to get mentioned.

Before the close of the meeting we had another presentation, this time by Polly Gibb, the Director of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE). She explained the work of WiRE, how it supports rural women, through mentoring and peer support groups, who are setting up and running rural businesses.

Helene Reardon-Bond had to leave before the end of the meeting as she was expected to be at an event in Downing Street with the Prime Minister so her colleague Celia Reed closed the meeting.

Reflecting on the meeting it was clear that many attending were not from rural communities and had no idea of rural life. One women remarked that rural women didn’t have access to democracy, had no idea how to access resources and basically wanted to say that they were a little ‘backward’. A couple of women of African origin and a women from the Indian subcontinent kept returning to the problems faced by women in Africa and Asia, which although important was not the focus  of this particular meeting  and did not really warm us to their plight.

Those women we did meet who had come from more rural areas had similar concerns to us and we were all similarly motived to get things done. As one farmer from Essex who was representing farming women said we, all women's groups must   work more closely together to prevent repetition and be stronger as a group.

It was a very interesting meeting and as the only two representatives from the WI we felt we had made a significant contribution. Whether we will be asked to be on the small working party - probably not as there was a small group from UN Women who regularly attend the CSW in New York and all know one another. In any case watch this space as we may get feed back about the issues we raised. I don't think we will be going to New York though for the conference.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Maastricht, Strépy-Thieu, Saint Fraimbault and more

As it pours with rain outside and thunder can be heard all around - it is time to catch up with my blog. It has been one of those unsettled summers, rain one day - hot dry sunshine another. It has just been so unpredictable it has been impossible to plan ahead. The thunderstorm seems to be getting nearer which will probably mean the internet connection will go down and possibly also the electricity. 

We are just back from a short trip to the Netherlands. Setting off from here in warm sunny weather which stayed with us all the way to Maastricht. Here in our region of France there is very little traffic and it is only when you get onto the Paris - Calais motorway that the traffic becomes busier. We were driving across Belgium towards the southeast of the Netherlands so were lucky to avoid any really heavy traffic till we came to a stop at the end of the motorway on the outskirts of Maastricht. There the motorway ends and becomes a dual carriageway with traffic lights as the road passes through the town. Preparations are underway to build a tunnel to take the motorway underground, but it will be many years before the road is completed.  Luckily for us we were leaving the road at the first junction but still had to wait sometime just to get to the slip road.
By the time we arrived at out destination the temperature had risen to 28C and it was very humid and muggy. After taking a walk along the river bank it grew very dark and we could hear thunder approaching in the distance. Luckily for us we were indoors when the storm broke, but a pop festival in nearby Belgium was hit by the storm, the podium was destroyed and tents flattened by the rain and wind. Several people lost their lives. Some of the staff from our niece's restaurant were attending the festival but were  lucky to escape  unhurt.

Silkie chicken drinking water. 
Saturday we enjoyed a walk in the area around Teuven, Belgium. The area is very similar to Suffolk with soft undulating hills. We walked through farmland, woodland and through orchard lined lanes in the warm sunshine, before enjoying a meal and a drink on the terrace at Moeder de Gans. Teuven is close to both the Dutch and German boarders so the clientele tends to be multi national.  In addition to the humans enjoying the sun on the terrace there are  chickens roaming freely around the premises.

 On the way home yesterday we stopped off to visit the boat lift at Strépy-Thieu. This lift was opened in 2002 enabling large 1300 tonnes barges to be raised 73 m.  The construction is amazingly large. We visited the visitors area above the machine room at the top of the building. Again - worth a detour if you are in the area. There are also four more boat lifts in the area, which were built in the early 20th century but are much smaller and can only take small barges of maximum of 300 tonnes.épy-Thieu_boat_lift

BMW Frazer Nash
Every year France closes down on the 15th August for the Feast of the Assumption. Our neighbouring village of Saint Fraimbault holds its annual 'event' on this day. There was a display  of old agricultural equipment and there was the usual vintage car rally.  This particular car was interesting, a BMW Frazer Nash.

Almost finished - the highest point

After many weeks of very hard work, Rob has almost finished the re-pointing of the building in the centre of the yard.  It has taken much longer than he had anticipated when he started.  The result is really good. The new lime mortar really shows off the colour and shape of the stones - a real work of art!
A while ago we visited Forges de Varenne. One of the  iron ore sites which we have here in the area.  Last year we visited a village which had been set up specially for the industry. This site is much older, 17th century. The furnaces are in the grounds of a small chateau which is now used as a family home for handicapped young people.  It is a site well worth visiting if you are in the area.,orne&hl=en&ll=48.630966,-0.59426&spn=0.004219,0.008926&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=41.275297,73.125&vpsrc=6&t=h&z=17

It is still raining and the temperature is falling. Hopefully this is not the end of 'summer' but one does have the feeling that a real Autumn may be a better option than this type of weather.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Rainy August in France

Who ever started the discussion on Global Warming, needs to have another look at their data. I am not saying that I want to stop recycling or being more careful about the amount of fossil fuels I consume, but really...... when I was younger, much younger than today.... August was a summer month. Warm days, even warm nights, pleasant weather for camping and being outdoors. I remember cycling in the heat of the summer in the Loire department when visiting our French friends. Then August afternoons were for spending indoors in the shade and cool of their old house, before emerging later in the afternoon to sit in the shade. Now, August seems to mean spending time indoors to avoid the rain, and when you can venture out it is cool and grey. Luckily  this morning remained dry and  was also very windy which meant the clouds were wizzing by overhead and although some of them have been  dropping the wet stuff from time to time it looks as though it may stay dry all day. Oh no... it rained heavily but only while we were eating lunch. Now the sun is shining again. Rob is taking every opportunity to continue his outdoor work as he has had so many interruptions it seems that the task will never be finished. 

The Bardsey Apple Tree laden with fruit.

By now we should be enjoying the tomatoes we have growing in the garden but, they have enough water and there are plenty of tomatoes on the vines, they are just not ripening. Two plants out the front of the house, which in previous years would have produced ripe fruits a couple of weeks ahead of those in the garden now have some reddening tomatoes, but they are still not ripe enough to eat. Even those in the poly tunnel aren't ripening. Warmth is obviously not enough. Despite this the cucumbers which are also growing in the poly tunnel are very prolific, at least one cucumber per day - today I picked 2 large ones. We even have a melon, but it is still the  golf ball size it was last week, still there is still hope we might get one to eat this summer, which is one more than last year. Sun please come back and warm things up.

Wall paintings - 'Hell"?

Yesterday we visited Lassay le Chateau with my father. There is a building currently being used as an exhibition space which has these very old wall paingings. From the shape of the windows and the topic of the paintings we assume it must be a chapel and the young lady on reception also called it a chapel, but when I tried to discover more about it on the internet I only came accoss mention of it being a jail. Of course it has probably had many uses over the years.

Detail of same wall painting

Another interestign fact I discovered was that Camille Pissarro, one of the impressionist painters visited his friend and fellow painter Ludovic Piette in the area between Lassay le Chateau and Ceauce.

If you have been watching the BBC series on the impressionists you will have heard about him. 

Sculpture on view in gallery!

Raining again!
This last weekend was the  15th 'Les Médiévales de Domfront'.

This event is held bi annually and the old part of the town is filled with stalls selling locally produced craft and food items. There is also typical medieval entertainment. A couple of weeks before the event  a shop opens in town where you can go to be measured for a costume. Not everyone dresses up but many do. Some interesting combinations - modern shoes and specs often accessorising the outfits.

We have been there when it was warm and those wearing heavy costumes where suffering in the heat, however on Saturday when we were there it was a question of avoiding the rain showers. 


One really interesting display was a man and his geese which he controled with a 'sheep' dog and a whistle. The geese were amazingly responsive to the dog and moved a one body when the dog moved around them.

Man on right with stick the 'Goose Herder'
We did make a few purchases from a sculputer, one piece of a women balancing a ball on her ankle, I bought some wooden ear rings and we bought my sister a birthday present, which will for the moment remain a secret as although it is her birthday we haven't been able to send it to her as yet.

With the 'Goose Herder'

I don't know how succesful the event was, a lot of time and effort goes into organising these events and it will be a shame if the stall holders were out of pocket at the end of the weekend. I will ask our neighbours who have a shop in the town selling replica mediaeval items and local crafts.
Please can I have one too, but more sun too?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bagnoles de l'Orne

Picnic lunch in Bagnoles de l'Orne

Having our picnic lunch on the job.

Sunday saw us at the Vide Greniers in Bagnoles de l'Orne, a spa town close to us. It is a huge two day event and for the second year running we had a stall on the Sunday.  I had made a large batch of Lemon Curd to sell on the stall as we had run out of stock at the last sale.  Sales were steady throughout the day and even as I was packing up I sold a few more jars of chutney to a lady who is based in Paris and is setting up a course for school children - teaching them about the different tastes of France. She thought my lemon curd and chutneys were an interesting addition to the Tastes of the Orne.  We also met up with several of our neighbours who were enjoying a Sunday out in the sunshine, a rare sight these days - the sun that is not the neighbours.  

Jaipur Maharaja BrassBand from Rajasthan
Each Sunday afternoon in July and August concerts are held in the park of the chateau. They vary considerably in style - last Sunday it was a brass band from Jaipur. They played music and there was a female dancer. One of the troop also did circus style acts balancing a pot on his head while dancing to the music and walking bare foot on a bed of nails.  These events are always well attended, it may be because they are free and in the open air.  After packing up our stall we spent some time watching the band.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Rob happened to be walking outside the house one lunchtime and found a cow had escaped from the field opposite and was wondering along the road. Just as we were looking up the phone number to call the farmer he came along with assistance and they quickly rounded up the cow and fixed the fence. No doubt she thought the grass was greener on the otherside and pushed her way through the barbed wire to get to it.

We are still waiting for summer to return. The only plus side of the weather is that the mushrooms are flourishing. Yesterday evening while strolling up the lane to visit a friend we found 7 parasol mushrooms just in the grass at the side of the road.  We quickly harvested them for our dinner this evening. Luckily I don't think anyone else had noticed them as they were well hidden in the long grass.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Chutneys, Marmalade and Lemon Curd

Selling Chutney
Last Thursday, 14th July, I had a stall at the 'braderie' in Domfront. It is a large event with both commercial and private individuals selling their wares. Most people are selling 'car boot' type items but I was there with my chutneys and marmalade. We also have a selection of English language paperbacks, books which we have read and then sell on to other local English speaking people.

I had booked a place in advance, and when I queried the 7am start I was told it was imperative that I arrived then and no later as the roads in the town would all be closed off later. Of course with hind sight I realise I should have tried to find out where I was being placed, so when we arrived just after 7 on Thursday morning, I found that my spot was along the main road running through the town and we could have arrived at any time as it is the main road from Alençon to the coast and would remain open all day. For the first couple of hours it was very quiet and very chilly. Then about 9 am people started to arrive and within a short while I had sold all the Lemon Curd. Throughout the morning I had a steady stream of customers, some new and some I had met before. One older gentleman explained that he had left his wife at home while he was looking around the stalls. He asked where we lived and then explained he knew our house and our neighbours and that he lives in the village next to the Marie, small world!

Eventually about 1pm the sun came out and it warmed up - and the afternoon was pleasantly warm. In the morning the people milling around were mainly older couples and many expats, but plenty of them  were out to buy. In the afternoon the crowds changed to families with children who were there  to enjoy the sun, but not much business was being done.   Eventually around 5 pm we packed up and went home. I was very satisfied with my sales. Next week we will be at the Vide Greniers in Bagnoles de l'Orne. I have already made another batch of Lemon Curd as many people asked for it last week.

This last week has been particuarily wet in fact last Tuesday we had 30ml of rain and over the last week we have had about 50 ml. The garden is really wet. The potatoes seem to be happy with this rain, as are the asparagus plants, they continue to send up small spears. The plants are now two years old so we still have a few years to wait before we can eat it. 

George sleeping under the hedge.
George, our cat, often sleeps outside, even in the rain, so long has he has a relatively dry spot to sleep, in England he sleeps under the garden table, here he sleeps under the hedge.

Smoking some mackerel.
For many years now we have been smoking our own fish. We have struggled to make a contraption that will produce cold smoke rather than hot smoke. Finally we have almost got there. See the contraption left. Still the smoke is a bit too warm, so we need to find some more piping. But we are pleased with the design so far. From left to right, our old barbeque, two pieces of piping linked at both ends with curved pipes all found in the metal container at the déchtèterie (recycling centre). The piping is still not long enough to cool the smoke sufficiently so we need to find a couple more pieces. As it was raining when we were preparing supper we set it up under the chimney in the barn.  The mackerel was really delicious a good smoky flavour and just very gently cooked in the warm smoke.

Rob has continued with his re-pointing of the walls of the outbuilding, while I have continued with the redecoration of one of the bedrooms. 

This morning while painting the ceiling I listened to Women's Hour on Radio 4 and there was a very interesting piece on the WI focusing on the Shoreditch Sisterhood WI in East London. They are a new WI and are keen on crafts but are also very interested in the campaigns of the WI and are linking these interests in a 'Vulva Quilt' which they will use to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation.  

See these websites for more information. or where there is a link to BBC iplayer.  Great to hear that they have a campaigns officer on their committee, just wish a few more WIs were so interested in Public Affairs.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Tour de France 2011

Rob and I spent Thursday along side the road waiting and then briefly watching the Tour de France. Had to come home to follow it later on television. The majority of photos are of the caravanne which precedes the tour by about an hour. Hats, tooters, cakes, crisps,newspapers, key rings etc were thrown from the passing vehicules at fairly high speeds.

No not a real rider!

Rather large dog?

Yes he was real!

After the caravanne, waiting for the tour

Is there anything coming?

The front runners.

Then a gap - filled with support cars

Board has numbers of those in the breakaway group, looking up to the helicopter above.

The Peleton

 As they pass by.

This video gives an impression of the caravanne racing by. It was very windy and the background noise is the wind not my breathing. You will see why you need to look at the photos - it is almost impossible to see what is wizzing by.

Video of the event, terrible pictures but an idea of what it was like to be there.