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
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 Canon.....it'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 about...you'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 outside...no 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 is...you 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.
Retired, I'd lived in France for about twenty years after leaving the U.K.
Tired of listening to the 'living the dream' nonsense, tired of people shooting my rooks, I thought it was time to spill some beans from the cassoulet.
And having spilled the beans, I'm starting on the rice...out here in Costa Rica.