All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Snowy scenes

Having just acquired an external hard drive I have been busy loading photographs onto it from the computer...I have lost the contents of too many computers in the past to risk it again and am inordinately pleased with myself for getting the thing to work.

Again, as with anything computer related which works, I am always grateful to Ayak, thanks to whose encouragement -  and instructions written so as to be understood rather than to totally mystify - I have now left behind the days of boiling my head and throwing heavy objects when faced with anything more complex than the capitals key.

Encouraged by my success with the photographs from the computer, I started to look through the boxes and envelopes of 'proper' photographs with a view to putting these too on the computer and then off to the hard drive, in case the tropical humidity gets to them one day and they turn into a mass of mouldy cardboard.

What a difference progress has made from the days of the Brownie and the snaps of people who seem to be either headless or legless....the costs of developing films of stuff out of focus...the light at the wrong angle...
Now I can see what I want to keep or discard on the digital camera and make a second choice when it gets to the computer and while I drooled at the possibilities opened up by the camera of one of our Belgian visitors, Anne-Mie - a Nikon D5000 which could zoom in and out and perform more tricks than a circus dog I think I'll stick to my little's about at my level of sophistication.
Press button ...take picture.  I can manage that.

Among the photographs were a few of my very first house in France.....some taken in summer with the swathe of  Monsieur Untel's larkspur running from the gates to the house and a couple taken in the winter against a looming sky...with snow on the ground.

Now, before moving to France I had never visited it in the dead of winter. Belgium, yes, in Ghent, freezing my feet to the ground while eating  frites with mayonnaise from a stand from which the ice had not melted despite the heat from the fryers, but not France.

As my first autumn ended, I was quite pleased with myself.
The house was reasonably draught-free, I had a woodburning stove and an open fireplace both with working chimneys and Jules had put me in the way of a trailer load of old barrel staves as well as the load of wood Monsieur Untel had negociated for me, so I was set.

I asked Papy about the winter.

Oh, nothing for you to worry're from England.

Wondering about the inchoate mass of supposition underlying that remark, but lacking the conversational capacity in Papy's patois to enquire further I carried on sawing up the barrel staves and putting off lighting the fire.

The autumn was golden and mild, ideal for beating the wilderness behind the house into a vegetable garden and it was not until just before Christmas that the evenings were chilly enough to make it desirable to have lit the stove in the afternoon for overall warmth with a burst in the open fire in the evening to make things cosy.
I found the remaining draughts, shut up the back door for the winter and stuffed fire retardant fibre round the edges of the register plates.
Things were going well.

Papy stopped on the crossroads and I remarked on the mildness of the climate for the time of year.

Oh, yes, always like that...haven't had snow for over ten years now...and then it was only for a day...

I remember thinking that all the stuff I had read about the mild climate of the Loire Valley - Atlantic weather pouring into it along the river to preserve it from the dreaded Continental climate - must have been true....which was about when, in early January, I woke in the dark hours of the early morning feeling like a leftover frite on the frozen cobbles of Ghent.

Never in all my puff had I been so cold.

It lasted for days...days when I realised that putting off insulating the roof until spring had been an error close to that of Hitler in not providing winter clothing for his troops invading Russia.

I moved my bed downstairs and blocked off the staircase.

I put pillows and duvets against the shuttered windows and boarded them in with packing cases.

I hung blankets against the doors.

I put more packing cases over the floors, where the chill was striking up through the tommettes.

I stuffed yet more cardboard round the water meter outside.

I moved a week's supply of wood inside to keep it warm and dry.

It felt like living in a dugout in Flanders...but without the whizzbangs.

Nothing moved post van, not even a tractor. Rural France had battened down the hatches.

I had started to worry about the wood supplies when one morning it felt milder and pulling back the blankets from the front door I stepped outside into a white world.
Snow had fallen, a heavy fall and I shot back inside for the camera.

It was while I was taking shots of the house that Papy passed again on the crossroads, his ancient Ami towing his granddaughter behind on skis which she was trying to keep inside one of his tyre tracks to maintain movement.

It was while trying to turn in time to take a photograph of such a sight that I tripped on the edge of the stone covering the water meter and measured my length in the snow, so that I have only memory to depend upon for the moment when winter sports came to St. Supplice.

Some days later, when the snow had melted, I met Papy again on the crossroads.

I thought you said it was always mild here.....!

Oh yes, it just get a cold snap now and again. Good for the crops...kills of all sorts of bugs and such.

Where did you get those skis from?

Up in the chateau, before he...with jerk of chin towards the chateau...took over. The six fesses used to go to the Alps every winter when they were young...I remember them driving to the station with the skis tied alongside the car.

You don't mean to say the six fesses (renowned for being as tight as a duck's arse) actually gave you them?

Well, no, of course not...but I knew they'd have no use for them...they were too poor to go to the Alps anymore..and it only snows here every ten years or so.


  1. Does this guy provide information to the British Met Office?

  2. Steve, I can imagine him at the time of the great storm...the Michael Fish of the Loire Valley....

  3. I have given up with forecasters: According to Jane I am pretty miserable all winter, regardless.

  4. Mark, I have never enjoyed winter...years of struggling on two buses to school, then commuting into central London rather put the kibosh on the beauties of the season!

  5. As I write this, the temperature is supposed to dip to 32 degrees, the high today was between 44 and 50 and the wind was so chilly that my hands and feel were ice blocks. I hied off to the discounter for a cap, scarf and gloves, while wearing three layers of clothes and a long coat.

    It does not generally snow here, but the cold is deceptively damp and clings to a person. I no longer share the view that the temperature is the thing. More to the point is the level of insulation in the home and office...the so-called all-purpose coat just does not suffice.

  6. Having recently been in England for the first of this year's snow I realise how much I dislike winter. Snow is very pretty in pictures but I hate the real thing!

    Oh and get you with your external hard drive...I am're way ahead of me ;-)

  7. We're having a cold spell now. Woke up to -7°C. Thank goodness for having a modern house with modern insulation.

  8. e, those winds which bite to the bone were what got to me in the U.K. but in France I found that, in the early years, cold snaps were never long enough to get through stone walls one metre thick and after that first experience I was always quick to block up windows and doorways....and then things started to change about eight years ago.
    The house had been completely insulated when we renovated...but a fortnight of minus eighteen one winter managed to overcome even did three weeks of over forty one summer...

    Ayak I am very thankful to have left snow behind me!

    As to the hard drive...I was astonished that I managed to make it work, but it's all down to you! Thanks to you I've realised that I can do less damage to the computer than a professional so I'm not so frightened to try something as I used to be..but don't breathe a sigh of relief...there's bound to be something for which I'll be squawking for help....!

    Sarah, yes, olde worlde charm is one thing...warmth can be another!

  9. One day, Fly, one day I will live in a lovely house, with heating that works and no draughts, nor mould-stained walls. One day, yes. But that day is not yet here.

    We'll have more snow tonight and over the next few days. Yes, it's cold, however, I'd rather be cold than hot. I'll moan about the freezing temperatures a bit, but nothing, in my mind, is worse than being too hot. I grew up in the Mojave desert, without air-conditioning, my dreams centred around relief from the relentless heat. So, I guess I got my wish.

    It's very pretty to look AT, all the snow, as long as one can do it from the comfort of a warm room with chocolat chaud à la ancienne to hand, preferably. Or possibly just the merest suggestion of some hot mulled wine. And a good book. I'd be set until Spring, methinks.

  10. Kitty, that sounds like the houses Mr. Fly has renovated over the years!

  11. Congrats on getting the external hard-drive. I too had lost many photos and documents due to various PC’s crashing and have had my trusty hard drive for 4 years now. I am delighted with it and hope you will be with yours.

    Winter always seems mild until it hits and boy has it hit this year! I can’t even go outside any more as my coats no longer cover my bump and I’m scared to get a bump chill. Your story makes me wonder how I will survive in the country, do you know how cold it was? Was it windy?

  12. PigletinFrance, I was quite pleased with myself for being able to do it...but without the confidence Ayak gave me I'm not sure I'd have even attempted it in the past.

    Horrid to be shut in by the cold weather.
    That was my first winter and they were mostly mild after that...but always one sharp cold spell. Then about eight year ago things seemed to change and the winters became distinctly nastier.

    You'll be fine in the country if you make sure you always have twice as much fuel of whatever sort you're using as you think you need...keep said fuel under lock and key as otherwise it grows little legs and hops away in other people's trailers..and make sure that the house is well insulated.

    Oh..and have a freezer.
    Have you found what you want yet? The last one looked promising.

  13. What an evocative reminiscence. You captured that kind of chill brilliantly. It reminded me of the time in February 1981 when my wife of the day stayed in an 18th Century guest house in Appledore, Devon. Now, Devon isn't normally inordinately cold. When we were there it was brutal. I recall I couldn't read in bed because I couldn't keep my hands out from under the duvet. And, when I awakend at 4 a.m. with a dire need to pee I seriously weighed the consequences of not going across to the loo. But, thought I couldn't take the risk and forced myself to endure the trek.

  14. mrwriteon, oh the horrors of the need to pee in the early hours when you are convinced that any brass mnonkey rash enough to venture out has been castrated by the prevailing temperature.
    Almost enough to make you bring back the guzzunder.

  15. It's pretty frigging cold here right now!
    Funny funny!

  16. Dedene, but at least you can wash your smalls without freezing your hands!