Fifty shades of ……Autumn

Fifty shades of…………Autumn

Everywhere I look at the moment there is colour! Stunning, beautiful shades of green, yellow, rust, ruby….and it seems that every time I open my mouth to speak, I am saying “isn’t it beautiful”, “look at those colours”, “aren’t we lucky to live here”. And we are…. very blessed. It is a truly beautiful time of the year in rural South West France. The leaves are still on the trees – just, and they have changed in to a wonderful carpet of muted shades of autumn…simply stunning.

I’ve always loved Autumn – it is my favourite time of the year. I like the way that the earth is getting back what it needs to regenerate itself – a bit like Doctor Who!! Some people see it as a sad time of year as nature is dying, but no, I see it as the necessary process required for rebirth. It’s a great time for us humans to hunker down, snuggle up during the darker, colder evenings…and give ourselves whatever it is we need. Whether that be a good rest after the craziness of the summer, or simply just time to take stock and work out what it is we need…not want, but truly need.

For me and Martin the colder evenings have been spent poring over house plans – tweaking ideas from draft plans 2 and 3, and having video calls with our architect, Rob, and now at last we have reached final draft stage and have the layout of our dream home. Side elevationFinally, we can begin to dream about where next year will take us, and the life we will be able to live in our new home.

The colder evenings have also brought lots of concern about our well-being in our life in the motorhome and we have had lots of kind offers of hot showers, a place to sit and do some work, the use of a washing machine, and invitations round to dinner. We are truly blessed with some lovely friends here. We were even offered the use of a house to stay in over Christmas by our neighbours but we are actually going to be back in the UK for Christmas – but even so – it was very kind of them to offer. It reminded me actually of when we first arrived here in our February trip and put up an event shelter in the snow. They had thought that we were camping and would freeze to death so they had discussed amongst their selves and decided that we could have Alice’s pigeonnierre to sleep in and she would move in to the main house. So kind, and yet at that stage we had not done one single little favour for them. We have been really moved by the kindness of people who are not returning favours that have been done for them – these are genuine acts of kindness – and we honestly cannot wait until the time when we can return those offers of dinner, and when people’s showers blow up, we will be the first to invite them over to use ours. Such a lovely sense of community there is over here. Our neighbours have an abundance of rocket and chard at the moment, so last night’s dinner for us was a rocket salad with calendula petals from the bounty we came away with when we nipped over, and tonight’s dinner was sweet potato, peanut and chard stew made with the chard she gave us. Rocket and calendula salad with goats cheese toastsThat’s another aspect of life over here that I really love – the eating of fresh, seasonal veggies. Essentially if you cannot get it in the local shops, its not in season so you cannot have it. This is making us much more in tune with the seasons, with nature and more in touch with where our food is coming from. For us, being veggies, we no longer really think about the food chain as such, but it does still apply to us in that we are not only reducing our carbon foot print by eating seasonal stuff – it must be so much better for us – it’s not travelled far – literally only a few metres in the case of the rocket and chard, and often no chemicals and no crappy processing methods.

So, all in all the Autumn is proving to be a happy time for me!! I’ve been feeling much more upbeat and it has really helped that I’ve been able to get out doing some decent walks again.

Sharon and doggos by lake.jpg

I now have a couple of ladies who I have been walking with and it’s good to have a chat, put the world to rights, and generally enjoy this beautiful weather and scenery we have been getting. I had to giggle one morning last week, when my friend was making drinks for the two of us, and also her hubby who was outside working. She got a large silver whistle and gave a very loud and shrill blast on it to call him in!! He obediently came in for his tea, and I laughed with them about what I good idea that was and how well trained he is. My friend explained it stops the need for shouting out. Great idea I thought…. I’m always shrieking for Martin when he is busy down past the stone wall on our land.

When I got back home to Martin later on, I put the kettle on and when the drinks were ready, I spotted the dog whistles hanging by the door. Giggling I gave a large, long blast on one. And, sure enough – ten seconds later, a bemused looking Martin popped his head up from over the wall. I congratulated him on coming when called and joked he would make a good slave for me, and maybe I should now consider myself to be a dominatrix. To which he told me to get stuffed in no uncertain terms. Boring……..after all there are all these long evenings in the motorhome!!!

We were doing a house sit for a few days this week, and I spotted in the pile of books in the bedroom that infamous grey cover…Yes!! Fifty Shades of Grey….”Martin! Maybe we could get the dog whistle out again??” “What do you mean no chance ha ha” …oh well, we’ll just have to settle on the hot tub again!!

Fifty shades of grey maybe not….but the view from that hot tub was certainly Fifty Shades of Autumn!!

View from hot tub

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Vive La Difference! But….we have more in common than that divides us

Vive La Difference….but, we have far more in common than that divides us

100 years ago, the guns silenced, marking the end of the First World War. Today, in a sleepy little village in South West Rural France about 150 people from various countries marked that occasion in a manner not dissimilar to other events held elsewhere in Europe.Memorial procession

Confusingly for me, although the church bells rang out #ATouteVolee at 1100the chatter did not stop, and the hustle and bustle of the Autumn Fayre continued. As Martin and I walked up the high street he persisted in talking about something until I snapped “are you NOT going to observe a minute’s silence?”. He hadn’t realised it was 1100. We both noted that it was strange, but we figured the silence would take place at the start of the memorial event at 1130. But it did bother me….all my life I have stopped and taken that minute’s silence at 1100. So, I asked people “why not silence at 1100” and the answer was simply that, typically in France the memorial services are at 1100 but here in rural South West France there are other events going on so people are needed at more than one event, so the events are sometimes staggered. Notably, the Bastille Celebrations that should be on 14th July take place in Villefranche du Perigord on 13th July so as to not compete with the larger, neighbouring events.

Ah, so that answered my nagging question. Another difference was the lack of poppies, which of course are a Royal British Legion thing -intended to raise money for that particular cause. So the poppies were few and far between, and none to be sold in the preceding weeks of course. I did spot a few blue poppy shape stickers, which on research afterwards I realised are Bleuet de France – the French version of Poppies.Bleuet de France

I still wore my perpetual bling crystal poppy brooch that I bought years ago – considering at the time that the cost of this would be my donation to the RBL for many, many years, but now actually in hindsight it is a good thing to have so I can mark 11th November in the way that I like to.

The memorial service was lovely – all in French of course, and I listened intently to see if I could pick up more of what was said that I had been able to during the one in May….a little bit more I think. Most poignant was the reading of the names of “Nos Morts” by a couple of young children – who proudly read aloud the names of those who had given their lives in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. I had a few tears with the emotion of it – just as I always have done on previous occasions. We are always reminded of the sacrifices made – no matter where we are in the world – on days like this.Nos Morts

After the main service we went over to “La Salle de Reunion” where the choir sang a song in French – it may have been a popular song – I do not know, it was not familiar, but it was lovely to listen to. Then the choir sang the British National Anthem – which made me stand tall and proud and I sang, albeit very quietly and awkwardly under my breath, feeling a bit out of place. Then, this was followed by La Marseillaise – the French National Anthem which then made me feel a little embarrassed that I do not know as single word of this iconic song!! So, I vowed to learn it by the next memorial event. In saying this to my friend who is in the choir, a conversation then arose by the end of which I had agreed to give the choir a go!! Oh dear – what have they let themselves in for? Still, this will be a good opportunity to learn some French, and integrate with some new people which is so important in such a small community.

What really struck me with this event is that there was maybe 150 people there – which represents quite a significant proportion of the local population. All those people turning out to show respect to the people who laid down their lives so we could stand here today. By comparison, the last Armistice Day I attended was in 2016, in Southampton – a huge city with a population of 254,000, and yet there were only about 20 people turned out at 1100 to stand in the rain and mark their respects. Admittedly, that was during a week day and not all employers would allow staff to just take their tea break outside – but at the time I was a bit of a rebel and just done my own thing anyway!!

I may have been feeling a particular need to show respect that year as it was the year that I finally went to visit the grave of my Great Grandad Hubert Doe in his final resting place at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery near Arras. His death in the 1st World War was what I now believe to be the trigger point for a whole load of weird family dynamics that subsequently occurred in our family. His death broke my Great Nan Louisa’s heart, and of course my Nan Winifred lost her dad as a young girl. Louisa then went on to marry a friend of his – Alfred Coggin. He had lots of issues from the war – probably shell shock, and became a not-so-nice step dad to Winifred and then later a dad to Stanley. We don’t think that he was much missed after he died in the 1930’s. Then Stanley grew up and joined the Royal Air Force and within a few flights was lost on a bombing raid to Mannheim May 19th 1942. StanleyThe loss of first Hubert, then Alfred and then Stanley to Louisa and Winifred caused them to view boys as more precious than girls, which then in turn led to my own mum Patricia feeling less important than her brother as they grew up. Then even me as I grew up wondering why my brother could get away with so much more than I could. Of course, back in those days with the great British stiff upper lip, neither my Great Nan, or my Nan spoke about feelings which would have meant that all this strange stuff was never interpreted for what it was, just feelings of inadequacy were felt with no associated rationale. It’s only in recent years when me and Martin with our curiosity in war time history and my need to unpick and understand every complex reasoning behind behaviour, that we have perhaps unravelled the root cause of our own rich tapestry of crazy family life! We also came across this very poignant audio clip  when digging up wartime history – it’s the sound of the bomber that Great Uncle Stanley made his last flight in – leaving the UK. It’s hard to not wonder what our family would have been like had that plane not been shot down that night. But we ALL have this shared history – every single one of us has someone in our past who was affected by those wars – and that has shaped who we are – whether for good or bad, and whether we like it or not.

It’s things like this that make me truly believe that we should not live our lives from behind a filter and we should open up and share our vulnerabilities and ask for help when needed – after all we are all human, and surely none of us sail through life without any assistance at all – even if that help is just the occasional wind behind our sails – encouraging us to continue forward – or maybe choose another course.

And that’s why I found myself doing something that I rarely do these days – sticking up for someone I don’t even know in real life on Facebook. This lady blogs about life as a mum, but unlike some of the perfect air-brushed yummy mummy bloggers, she tells it how it really is. And one of her posts had been a hilarious account of how she tried to get her boobs to fit in to a backless bra. A very unkind other mummy had really had a go at her for doing this, and in reading the resulting onslaught I felt compelled to express my own opinion which was quite simply “she is writing about HER life! And if you don’t like it then unfollow her blog, don’t read it”. And that is exactly how I feel. We all only have one life, and the way we life it will determine lots of things, including our own happiness, and if people don’t like us for living our “real, unfiltered life” what should we do? Pretend that our life is different, and more appealing to the people who don’t like us for our “real life”. Or, find people that do like us for living our own “real, unfiltered life”. For me it’s got to be the latter – I would get totally exhausted if I were to be living two life’s – it’s hard enough living one. And the people that like the way I live my life will enjoy being with me and want to spend time with me, and the people that don’t like it will drift away from my life. But, my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – will be lived – true to myself, real, and unfiltered. ( if you fancy following her she is blogging on Facebook as – Knee Deep in Life )

So, our new life in France is sometimes challenging, and sometimes in finding our way we express frustrations, and I suppose sometimes that might seem as if we might prefer to be living our old lives in the UK. But, that’s not the case – we love our lives in France – we love the simplicity of life – although sometimes it is that simplicity that drives us crazy, we love the natural beauty of the countryside – although the extremes of weather that allow that beauty are sometimes worth grumbling about in a typically British fashion, and we love the slow little village that we have chosen as home, that gets so sleepy in Winter that we have to resort to playing scrabble!! And the people that are all co-existing around us – many of them have been on the same journey, some of them are still wondering why they made that jump across the channel 11 years ago, some will feel that their lives are now truly French, and some will be one foot in the tunnel ready to hop back if Brexit hits the fan.

All of us humans are unique, but as the late, great Jo Cox (murdered MP) once said – “We have far more in common than that divides us” so I think we owe it to each other to embrace our differences and allow each other to be ourselves.

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Ghosts and ghouls, three legged beasties and things that go bump in the night

Ghosts and ghouls, and three-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night

There’s spooky stuff going on around here this week. Squash’s of all shapes and sizes are appearing everywhere Squash on chair and despite me always thinking the French didn’t really celebrate Halloween much there are definitely creepy things lurking in the shadows.

Even in the Boulangerie window there is a sweet little display of carved pumpkins Cute pumpkin display although this was not as sinister as the display in our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Monpazier – who knows what you can eat at the Blood Café sign but I doubt very much it was vegetarian.Blood Cafe Halloween is definitely not as big in France as in the UK or the states, but you can find trick and treat sweets in the shops. But….we did not actually see any trick or treating children on the evening itself so just as well that we didn’t stock up on sweets.

Halloween falls right in the middle of La Toussaint which is widely celebrated in France and is actually a public holiday! Yes, another day with the shops shut – but we are getting used to it. La Toussaint is celebrated on 1st November – it is Two Saints Day – a Christian celebration which remembers the dead. Traditionally chrysanthemums are taken to cemeteries to place on graves of loved ones, and these flowers are only associated with death in France – so not the best choice to take around to a neighbour!! Which luckily I didn’t but I did wonder why there were so many in the shops.Chrysanthemums

So, you can see why Halloween has not been too popular in France – for many people it seems as if it is overshadowing long standing traditions. And the French definitely do not like their traditions coming under threat – which is fair enough!!

Another tradition is of course the hunting season – or the Chasse as it is known. This is more of an institution than tradition and very much part of life in rural France. It’s a dilemma for me, as on the one hand I can see that it is very much part of French life. Also the wild boar (Sanglier) which are hunted would otherwise over-run the countryside. But on the other hand, I just hate anything to do with violence towards any living creature. So, it is fair to say that it is a part of life in France that I do my best to avoid. I’m actually really quite scared to go out walking in the country lanes – so I have taken to wearing neon orange walking top, socks and cap in the hope that if there are any hunters out on the prowl they will see me before they shoot!! Neon Orange Gear 2

This week we did actually see some hunters whilst out driving – two of them with one dog – and as we drove past I urged Martin to slow down “don’t hit the dog” then we saw a wild boar run across the road! Then it was “slow down there might be another” and quickly followed by “shit go faster they might be following with guns”. It’s all a bit too much for my nerves. Then I felt really sad for the Wild Boar and got a bit tearful. Then told myself “C’est la vie”. But I still wish it wasn’t. It’s not always easy being vegetarian and very sensitive in France, but “Je suis comme ca” – that’s the way I am. Wild Boar

 

We have seen lots of different wildlife over the last few weeks as well as that wild boar. Dead snakeWe saw a dead snake – well it might have been a snake skin – but definitely dead (I know that for sure as Lillie decided to roll in it – disgusting little dog that she is).

We also saw a fire salamander who has decided to make its home in our water supply box. Fire Salamander

Maybe it’s because of being spooked by Halloween and Toussaints, or maybe I’m just a bit jumpy because of the Chasse – but I’m also seeing things that are not actually there – for example this giant frog sitting on the edge of road suddenly appeared,Giant frog 2 And I’m certain that this Troll has been following me home from my walks.TrollAnd the other night I heard some banging outside the motor home but luckily when I looked out it was just Martin going “bump in the night”. Martin going bump in the night

And then finally….our second Bar Crawl took place this weekend. Great fun was had by all, but look at us!! You would not want to bump into us down a dark alley would you!! Bar Crawl

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

 

There’s not Mush Room in here!

There’s not “Mush Room” in here!

October is quite exciting in Villefranche-du-Perigord as it is Cepes season!! Cepes are a regional speciality and are a type of mushroom which only grows here, and only for a few weeks in October. A while back Martin and I were talking to our friend about what Cepes were like, and he told us that there was a lot of hype about them as they were so unique to the area, but that they were actually quite slimy and not really very nice. A bit like eating slugs. Nether the less we still fancied trying them when the time came around.

One of the lovely things about this village is that the high street often has banners high up above the houses and shops which mark various fetes and festivities. In the summer there were lots of bright yellow and orange flowers which were put up when the festivals were taking place, and then at the beginning of October we noticed that all of a sudden there were lots of pink umbrellas high up in the sky. Pink UmbrellasWhen we asked we found out that this is to mark “International Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. One of the boulangeries were also selling ribbon shaped baguettes last Saturday to raise money for charity – but sadly we missed out on buying one as we had got distracted by pain au raisins in the other boulangerie (our Saturday morning ritual took over our minds and we forgot to buy one). But it is nice to feel the familiarity of the marking of these important and significant events – very much the same as in the UK. Funnily enough the demi baguette that I had got the week before did make me wonder if it had been baked to mark Men’s Health Week – but I was too shy to ask. Strange shaped baguette

The evening I had bought that baguette was Tuesday – our weekly night out to Café de La Poste to play pool with some other English (and Scottish) people. That night I played so badly I pondered on whether it would have been better to use the baguette instead of the cue. Bernard then decided that it was about time I had my own cue! And when we visited him later that week he presented me with his very own old cue – an honour indeed!! So, I now have by very own cue – for the first time in my life!! The next week I couldn’t wait to try it out when we took my visiting Mum and her friend Kay in to the pub!! Sadly, no games won that week – but I do think I am improving and it was good for trick shots!! Sharon's Trick Shots

So, Mum and Kay have been over to visit for a week. They were our first visitors from the UK. I really wanted Mum to see the land we have bought in its current state so she gets the full picture of our journey – where it has started, and where it will finish in ???? who knows how many months’ time. Mummy and Daughter

Mum loved it here – she loves the land, loves the village, and all the places we took her to visit. They both did. And we really enjoyed playing at being tourists as well and saw some places that we had not been too as well as taking them to places we had previously been to and really liked. Mum happy in France

Sarlat was one of the places we went to – and it was here that we all got to try Cepes for the first time – and perhaps the last. Mum was the first of us to declare that she REALLY didn’t like them – and in fact, refused to even try to eat them based on their appearance – which she said looked like a breast complete with nipple (maybe it was to mark the previously mentioned Breast Cancer Awareness Month – who knows). But we all admitted to not really enjoying them, but the other three of us managed to get them down the hatch – me with lots of tomato ketchup. They clearly are acquired taste – and as our friend told us before – they are quite slug like!! But….when in Rome….

The next day when we took Mum and Kay next door for coffee with Alice we were talking about the Cepes – and Mum told her all about how much she had disliked them, and asked Alice if she liked them. Alice told Mum that it is all in the way they are cooked, and they can be very nice if cooked well. However, Alice told us of the time a friend of hers cooked a giant Cepe that filled a pan. Apparently, you should never wash mushrooms to get the full flavour when cooking, so this friend (who was an excellent cook) did this, and cooked the giant Cepe to perfection….but when she turned in over in the pan the two of them could then see – horror of horror – WORMS crawling out of the giant mushroom! Alice rather fortuitously being a vegetarian had the excuse to not partake but the others…well, when in Rome…..Collage of Cepes

There clearly are some benefits to being vegetarian in France after all!! Not just having the ready-made excuse to not try certain things – but also to take full advantage of the abundance of vegetables that are now being harvested.

Our friend Steve gave us a melange (1) of squashes from his garden – including butternut squash and marrows which we are already familiar with, and also some beautiful orange/red Pottimaron which is a new one to us. A Melange of Squash

So, Mum and Kay chopped up three whole Pottimarons and then I made a HUGE pot of Pottimaron and Red Pepper soup for our friends, family and neighbours’ lunch which was the first time we had invited a large number of people over to “the land” for a meal – which went really well and was great fun to have 12 people over an “al fresco” lunch of soup, bread, wine and desert! This I hope will be the first of many to be enjoyed.Friends, Neighbours and Family Lunch

Mum’s back in the UK now enjoying her own bed and not enjoying the cooler weather. Here is it still a pleasant 24 degrees – hot enough to be enjoying our meals “al fresco” still – but no Cepes thank you very much!

(1) Melange is the French word for assortment. It is one of my favourite French words and I use it frequently.

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.