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 3 November 2009

Whatever do you find to do in the country?

The question has been posed yet again by a visitor from the city, brought over for a drink by a friend. Over the years, non country dwellers have come up with this one time after time, probably deluded by the fact that we are all sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine, or by the fire with a glass of whisky, into believing that this is all we ever do. What bothers me is why they should think we would want to do anything other than sit quietly with the glass that cheers and also inebriates. Fat chance to do so in my experience, except when I drop everything when there are visitors.

For a start, there is the never ending house maintenance.....I firmly believe that the French have invented the world's only non stick paint....which in this house always seems to involve putting up a scaffold, or the highest ladder we possess and juggling with paint pot, brush and cloth at altitudes which would affect boiling a kettle. And I'm only just up there when a voice will be heard from the kitchen, or, worse, from outside, demanding my immediate presence to sign for a registered letter, look for a form for the taxman or accept a bucket of snails from my neighbour to pass on with my own collection of said to Didier when he comes later so that his wife can put them in the drum of the washing machine to start purging.

There is the garden....acres of it. Grass to cut with the ride on mower, teetering uneasily round the uneven lip of the pond, careering wildly down the slope to the bottom lawn, panicking at having to come out onto the road on a blind bend to get the thing back to the garage at the end of operations. Veg garden to weed, fruit trees to prune. Fruit and veg to harvest and process, asking oneself why malign fate always brings the strawberries on at the hottest moment of the year for making jam. Bringing the tender plants in at the onset of autumn.....instant hernia, given their size and the weight of the pots. Repeat instant hernia in spring, putting them all out again.

Housework.......pass. The annual balancing act on boards between the beams reminds me never again to have a cathedral ceiling and certainly no vantage point from which to see the dust and other objects on top of the bookcases. The hoover is a wonderful tool, but I would love to have one on each floor to avoid the mountaineering feats with the tube coiling round my legs like some degenerate depiction of the fate of Lacoon. If ever I am found at the foot of the stairs it will be no Amy Robsart was the hoover wot dun it!

Cooking, eating and washing up. The insistence on three cooked meals per day means that I am very glad to have a good view from my kitchen window, where the battery radio is installed on the sill, ready for Test Match Special, and also ready to be carried down to the freezer lair in the cave when the game reaches some intense moment.......'they're booing Ponting again'....which cannot be abandoned. Washing up can be a refuge when the house is full of guests.....the well trained ones know that I like a bit of peace and quiet and the sink and dishwasher provide just that while the maelstrom rolls over the rest of the house.

The seasonal occupations. Picking sloe shoots in the spring to make epine....making epine, buying wine in cubis and bottling up. Summer, endless jam and chutney, hunting out wild asparagus. Autumn, picking grapes, making pineau, fermenting the plums for eau de vie, going out to look for mushrooms, drying said on return, going to local mushroom exhibition and being convinced that have eaten all those marked with a skull and crossbones. Winter, sneaking out on the byways to distill the plums into eau de vie and bottling up on return, chopping wood and dicing death with the circular saw. Christmas, answering the door to and providing drinks for the postpersons, fire brigade volunteers, dustmen and sporting club presidents eager to present you with their calendars and accept your token of appreciation in return.

Social life. More restricted these days, thanks to age and health, but our circle is one where an invitation to lunch means that you cross out the whole day on the calendar and make a mental note to do nothing strenuous the day after. Weddings, likewise, especially if invited to the ceremony, the vin d'honneur, the meal and then the party in the evening. Nothing strenuous for a week after that. Baptisms likewise, but not quite so heavyweight. all depends. If it's in a church run by the black cassocked fanatic, then it's always worth annoying him by refusing to cense the coffin and just to touch it as a mark of respect together with all the other renegades gathered in the back of the church...if it's run by his colleague, he just beams beatifically whatever you choose to do. The walk to the cemetery following the coffin can be long..but there's always the gossip to catch up on, and the return walk is enlivened by the prospect of a quick one in the bar. Bal dansant.....too dangerous these days with all those whirling bodies. Couscous evening in aid of the local school.....lethal to any swift movement the day following. Fire brigade ball....for some reason, bacchanalia guaranteed, but at least you can lurk behind the tables while the mayhem takes place on the dance floor, and if you don't go they might not be in a hurry to come out to your house fire.

Participative democracy. Meetings in local village halls to tell us what higher authority has decided to do with our taxes. Start time variable, but they won't break up until everyone has had their say and higher authority has replied that it doesn't care what anyone has said, it has already made the decision.

Shopping. Grouping the trips to save petrol, parking in the supermarket car park which has been specially designed to make extracting your car something akin to the dodgems, discovering that what was advertised in the publicity delivered to your door isn't actually in the shop. Queuing behind the deafest pensioner in France in the post office. Braving the tax office only to find that my taxman is on holiday....again.

I've only touched the surface.....contemplating it in detail would be too much to ask...but I would like the visitor from the city to try it and a year later return to hear her answer to her own question...but I have a suspicion that she would have turned tail long before the year was up.


  1. My house is like that! This rings a lot of bells.. and you have to add the extra trips into town caused by failing domestic appliances, a burden that weighs heavily at the moment.

    Non-stick paint... yep, sometimes you hear a new term that nails a concept exactly, such a simple but profound joy. Thanks!

  2. So agree - city life is not for me; can't think of anything to do when I am there for more than a few days.

    Of course, by 'doing' people from the city often mean something different: they mean watching other people actually doing the doing, if you get my drift (theatre, sport, restaurants) as opposed to doing it for yourself.

    But I have to be careful here because DIY is a whole different thing, and is to be avoided where possible- or as the say Don't Involve Yourself!

  3. Your life in the country seems a lot busier than my life in the country at this point in time. However I'm relatively new to it and I already have a huge list of jobs to do, which is growing longer by the day. Friends ask me if I get bored...there's no time to be bored is there? And as for finding time to drink wine on the terrace...chance would be a fine thing!

  4. Cogitator, I find it depends where I've bought the offending failed domestic appliance....a supermarket, it's replaced or refunded, no problem. A family chance. You're lucky to get out without being accused of burning Joan of Arc.

    Mark, how often I wish I'd Never Involved Myself half way through a job that had looked so easy when I started on it...

    Ayak, I don't know how it is, but the list never seems to grow shorter....

  5. YES! This question always astounds me - it's in the city that I get bored and can find nothing to do (not being a shopping addict). In the country there's aways plenty to do, or not, if you feel like a lazy day.

  6. Pueblo girl, I'm soon bored in a city if I have to be there for long. No chance of that out in the sticks.

  7. I really enjoy your posts- you nail so many of the things my wife and I say about France.

    I could not help but smile at this article since we've moved to the country (in the Sarthe) almost 18 months ago. We are definitely busier than we ever were living in Paris for 10 years, but also could not be happier- there is something different about being busy with the madness that is city life.

    The activities of country living (minus the dealing with all of the various sleazeball merchants who think you work to earn money only to give to them) are so much more fulfilling.

    Keep up the great posts!

  8. T.W. M-J, I like being in the country, I like its' rythms....with you on the sleazeball merchants one hundred per cent however.

  9. Hello! I laughed at your descriptions of living in the country. Our countryside is so very similar.
    The only difference, I don't get accused of burning Jeanne d'Arc because I'm American.

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog, too.

  10. Sounds like my life, except I work too. And our paint sticks better.

  11. Dedene, I enjoy reading your blog...don't often comment as you say all there is to said!
    If it isn't Joan of Arc then it's Mers el Kebir...

  12. Zuleme, any paint sticks better than French paint....doesn't it make you wonder how these 'stressed' bankers would get on out in the sticks without a secretary, concierge...etc?

  13. By the way, please tell me how to use my excess plums to make eau de vie.....


  14. Cogitator, there's an earlier post...'the fruitful hedgerows of France', which I think explains...

  15. I felt a profound need for a nap after reading of the rigors of your 'country' life. Actually, your days sound enviable despite their challenges.

  16. mrwriteon, I like it, or I wouldn't be doing it...doesn't stop the odd moan or six, though.
    I would just like to be able to start and finish something without interruption - just once.

  17. Between laughing and nodding my head over your "typical" life and times (and everyone assuming you must be 'living the dream') I can top it with our latest experience: with the heavy rains (and this is only the beginning of the season, oh help!) the septic field (well one of them) collapsed on itself and now we have a giant sinkhole in the garden!

    Ah this is the life, isn't it??

  18. Truer than true! The next time someone says something like that to me, I'm going to send them to your blog. Although I think the best revenge/lesson would be to invite them to help me do all those things. LOL I bet most of those city folk wouldn't last a half hour!

  19. Love this post - there's always a billion things to do in the country, but it's a far nicer busy-ness than the city offers IMHO. I can learn a lot from your seasonal occupations section...I think I'll try and memorise it! :)

  20. truestarr...not the septic tank! That is the ultimate horror.....

    Mary Anne Gruen, I just have a feeling that they would be more trouble than they're worth.....don't like getting their hands dirty for the most part. Perhaps I can have a new career as a 'country living' consultant.

    Frances, there's lots more.....

  21. You need to get yourself some of those rural French fairy folk who come in to do all the chores while you slumber. You can find them within the minds of those English people who ask what you find to do with yourself, and whether you don't get bored living in the country with nothing to do.

  22. nodamnblog, what puzzles me is what these English dreamers do with their time in the christmas, easter and august. The rest of the year, they have minders.