We have just had a wonderful visit to the UK to catch up with the squidgy Teddy and his parents, who were making a visit from Qatar for his first birthday. I am biased but he is the most beautiful grandson I could wish for and makes me laugh when I have detailed puppet shows and raspberry blowing sessions with him on Skype. I am glad there are no secret cameras around!
This trip highlighted some small shortfalls about life in France, one of them being shopping. As we had driven to the UK it gave us an opportunity to stock up with goodies not available here, or if they are, sometimes at great expense. Marmite, Yorkshire tea bags, Oxo cubes, curry spices, pickled onions, English mustard, back bacon and English sausages were all packed up and suitably transported back across the channel. In order to obtain these items we could go to any supermarket, usually until 10pm in the evening or indeed, some for 24 hours a day (why would you want to???).
In France things differ somewhat. Everything shuts at midday except on a Monday when everything is shut, but some shut at 12.30pm. They then open at 2.00 pm unless they open at 2.30pm or 3.00pm during the summer months, the summer months being the ones the shopkeeper decides on. We have two bakers in the nearest town. One opens on Monday the other doesn’t unless the one that is usually open has had to take his mother to the doctor. The one that isn’t usually open bakes his bread on a wood fire and the shop recently burnt down, so the other shop took on more hours but was shut on Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday mornings, when the market was in town, when his mother was also ill and when they ran out of bread. Both bakeries take their annual holiday at the same time.
It has taken us a while to slot into the rural French way of life. When renovating the house we work hard during the day and get frustrated when we need to dash out to buy something we need, only to remember half way down the road that the shop is shut for lunch for the customary two hours. So we take a two hour lunch, have a glass of wine to accompany it and promptly fall asleep for a further two hours.
We went to one of our local auberges for lunch last week. For €13 the no choice menu was as follows:-
Large tureen of bouillon soup with bread, carrots and cabbage floating in it. More delicious than it sounds. A platter of crispy, sweet radishes to accompany a plate of local ham. Baskets of crusty bread. Toulouse sausage served with pea puree cooked with bacon pieces. Choice of five cheeses. Apricot pancake dusted in caster sugar. Included red wine. As we were in no hurry we noticed how the waitress (it is a husband and wife team – he cooks, she waits at table and manages to serve about 60 people on her own every lunchtime. She’s stick thin… served all the local tradesmen first so they could finish their lunch within an hour, down their wine and then sleep in their lorries or vans for an hour before going back to work.
One thing we experienced during our UK trip was the state of the roads at the moment. It was bumpy enough in the car but how cyclists and motorcyclists survive those cavernous trenches I am not sure. The roads in France are brilliant, even our small village side roads and the motorways are superb, the latter having a service station every 20 kilometres and a pee stop lay-by every 10 kilometres. And the motorways are empty unless you are near to a large city which make them a joy to drive on, despite the French way of driving! All our relatives and friends live in the south of England so driving was somewhat fraught at times with traffic jams on the M25, A303, and one day taking an hour to drive a mile from North Islington to South Islington while trying to get down to Surrey. One small word of advice, if you are coming to France this summer via Calais avoid Paris and go via Rouen, as sometimes Paris can be a little like Islington!
So we are back to a life of quiet rural idyll until July and August when the b&b business is at it’s peak. The only traffic jams here are the sheep passing the gate when they go from the bergerie to the top pasture (see photo on left). Manic, isn’t it?
A bientot, Louloulapomme.