Thursday, 31 July 2008

In Praise of Bread

Bread - the one absolute staple of French cuisine.

Like most things French, bread is not just a simple matter of water, flour, yeast, and common salt - although by law these are the only ingredients allowed in the item labelled "pain".

The traditional french loaf is not the baguette, nor is it the croissant, or even the "pain a campagne", it is the boule. A round loaf, usually obtainable in two sizes, the petit boule and the boule, a good boule stays fresh a long time - essential back in the days when you made your own bread, because you don't want to have to bake every day. When bread started to be baked commercially, the shops you bought the bread in were called boulangerie. (The traditional boule was naturally levened in the fashion of a sourdough rather than the modern variety using baker's yeast. Interestingly it still stays frsh quite a long time..........)

It is, though, the baguette most people think of as being the archetypal French loaf. Indeed, in some places a baguette is called a "french stick" or "french loaf". This is ironic - the all pervasive baguette only came about as the result of a technological advance made in Vienna and a law passed in 1920. In some places in france, the baguette is still known as a "vienne" (In Preuilly a vienne is the sweetened version with sultanas).

The technological advance necessary was the invention of an oven with steam injectors, perfected (or at least made reliable) in Vienna in the mid 19th century. The law was one which stated that bakers couldn't start work before 4.00, thus making it impossible to get a traditional loaf made before opening the shop for trade at 6.00. I am not sure how it is possible to make and bake a baguette from scratch in this time, nor if the law was a labour law or a law passed for the convenience of those trying to sleep.

What I do know for sure is that is is extremely difficult to stop eating good pain, fresh from the boulangerie and still warm from the oven.

This is the wrapper one of our local bakers (the small boulangerie at 4 Rue Chaumont Patin) uses to wrap bread. I guess it is the equivalent of reading the Cornflakes box.


Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Pictures of Preuilly*

Thanks to one of Bengt and Suzanne's neighbours, I have found a new view over Preuilly. It is on a ridge that extends east from the chateau, and is quite possibly a ruined wall or the top of a defensive ditch. It gives the best views over Preuilly I have yet found. The view from the Chateau is possibly better, but I am quite sure I will never have a chance to find out.

It is interesting how different a place you know quite well can look when you change your viewpoint.

Preuilly sur Claise
The eastern end of the abbaye, and the "new" bridge over the Claise.
This house is for sale. Very cute, but I think it may be a money pit - even more so that our house!

*Whenever I type this, I sing The Who song of a similar name to myself. Yes, I know it is pronounced differently, but it amuses me...

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Change of Scenery

For the last 3 months I have been sleeping on a sofa-bed in our "small room", which Susan and I first equipped in February this year.

This has been pretty good to me - the room is cool during the evenings, is REALLY dark when I close the shutter, and because it is at the back of the house, is even more quiet than usual. (The only noise we get is the poubelle collection on Thursday morning at about 5.30).

Before we moved into the small room we had been camping in a tent in the front room.
Now I have done some work in the front room - I removed the panelling in September 2007 and the old wiring in may 2008, so last week I swept, re-swept, vacuum cleaned (6 bags worth in a room 5mx5m over the course of 2 days!), then hand washed the floor tile by tile with a soft sponge and very little water, followed by rinsing with an almost dry cloth with vinegar on it. I have also effected a temporary fix on the side door, which had a 2cm gap around it after I removed the panelling.

This has been so successful, I have decided to move back into the front room - now the room looks like this:

I have run an extension cable through the holes in the wall the permanent wiring will eventually go through, put a bed and a sofa in there with a couple of lights - and all of a sudden we have what almost looks like a studio apartment. Next move is to buy some cheap curtaining (and some nets for the front window) and I will have a home away from home, rather than what looks like a refugee camp. (The more observant of you will notice that I put the bed in there before I washed the floor, and that one section of dry lining remains. I am not sure why that panelling remains - but I probably had a good reason when I did it!)

This means that Susan's sister and brother-in-law can stay in the small room on an airbed when they visit at the end of the month - our first house guests. The fact they are staying means I have to sort out the bathing/washing thing soon, because we can't rely on invites from friends to use their bath if we have guests.


Monday, 28 July 2008

Yet more Tour photos

As if we hadn't already seen enough. Here, for instance, and even here.

Well - it isn't as if Preuilly is the centre of world attention all that often!

In a previous post I mentioned the man from Vittel spraying the crowd, but didn't post a photo. Here it is:

You can see Bengt taking evasive action ("proctecting my camera", apparently).


*EDIT* Talk about bad manners!! Ken has posted video of Preuilly from the air on his "Living the life in Saint-Aignan " blog, and I forgot to mention it. For the next 5 seconds I will sit myself on the naughty step.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


One of the many advantages of being in France is their fondness for "chocolat chaud'. There are quite a few different brands of drinking chocolate on the shelves (the most famous is probably Banania, which neither Susan or I particularly enjoy). Poulain is the chocolate you will find in our household for "everyday" use. I prefer it made at double strength, with a dash of creme leger (light creme) for that added hedonistic thrill.

You will notice, though, that this cup of chocolat is made with "Lait Cru Fermier" from a plastic bag. This is often the only fresh milk you can buy around here - for some reason the French seem to have a preference for UHT milk, even though most people now own refrigerators. Even when there is a choice of fresh milk we still prefer to buy the milk in a bag. "Lait Cru Fermier" is crude milk from the farm - unpasturised, un-homogenised, bagged on the farm and delivered by the farmer to the shop. Straight from the udder to your table - and as our milk comes from near le Grand Pressigny - with only 8 food kilometres in between. What's more, the farmer's wife probably delivers it when she drives into town to buy her daily bread. When the green revolution comes it won't be all "hair shirts and hemp knickers"*. It will be fresh milk daily with no mucking about.


*One of Dick Strawbridge's favorite sayings.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Front Door, sorted.

Regular readers may remember when our front door looked like this:

(it was about 2 weeks ago, actually).

Now it looks like this:

Yup, not only do I do plumbing and carpentry, I have added concreting (albeit rather bad concreting) to my list of skills. What I really need to do next is get good at them, rather than just scraping through with a pass mark. I figure that I will probably get plenty of practice, so it is still possible I may become an expert in something other than having good ideas.

I know concrete is Satan's building material, and the sworn enemy of limestone, but this is only a temporary fix. The door, and most likely the brickwork either side, will have to be replaced. The concrete part of the courtyard will be dug up, and the stones currently in the floor of the garage will be put in its place.

The more observant amongst you will have noticed the door is less flamboyant than it was. I found some brown paint.


Friday, 25 July 2008

Down the Drainpipe

As well as the problem with the front door, we have had an issue with the downpipe at the front of the house. We decided to have the downpipe where it is to simplify the guttering system. One of the downsides of this has been that when it rains heavily, the area in front of the front door floods. We attempted a quick fix, using the flue from the water heater in the kitchen. This has worked fairly well, but was by no means either aesthetically pleasing or totally effective. It also got in the way when using the front door.

I have finally decided on a fix. This takes the water well away from the front door and the wall, and places it in the gutter, where it belongs. (This will change eventually - we have a rainwater butt, and the plan is to put it under this downpipe.) There is a gap between the pipe and the wall, and we will be planting "stuff" (flowers, really) in pots to cover the pipe. Not only have I decided on a fix - I went to Bricomarche, spent 50 euros, and have put the fix in place.

For now, job done!


Thursday, 24 July 2008

A Barometer

A couple of days ago I made one of those little discoveries that delight more than they probably should.

I was walking to the bank, and for once the whole of the Grande Rue wasn't lined with parked cars. This gave me an opportunity to look at the facades of the empty shops (most now private residences) and I noticed that no.6 had a small feature at about chest height. (On the left of this photo.)

A closer look revealed that it was a public barometer, now not working (unless we were to get variable weather the next day, which we didnt).

The shop was once (in the late 19th century) a clock shop, but I can find no clear photo showing the shop as it was.

It is interesting that the barometer is at chest height - many items I would expect to be at eye level are at chest height. Along with the height of our doors, this is an indication of how short the people of Preuilly used to be.


Wednesday, 23 July 2008


On Sunday, while I made the bed, I listened to BBC Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent as Emma Jane Kirby talked to residents of Maillé. Once it had finished and I had wiped my eyes, I came downstairs to write this post.

They were remembering 25 August 1944, when 124 people in the village were massacred by German soldiers - ironically just as people in Paris were going mad for happiness at being liberated. (I note that the BBC report seems to have got the date wrong.) Those who survived are now talking - some for the first time - to a German prosecutor, who wants to uncover the truth of what happened here.

Nearly every house and farmyard was set alight and all the stock shot. Gilbert Chedozeau lost 37 members of his family. Children who survived grew up knowing they must never speak of their memories, but Gisele Bourgoing grows pansies (in French, pensées ie thoughts - for rememberance) on the site of one of the burned houses.

We have been through Maillé, which is only about 40km from Preuilly and in the same département of Indre et Loire. We stopped for Dad to photograph the new mural of metal panels outside the museum, but we were too early to go in, and had to push on to another destination.

You can read the transcript of the BBC item here, or listen again at any time this week if you are in the UK.

I mentioned Maillé briefly in a previous post about Oradour sur Glane and noted that there is a website which gives the testimony of some of the survivors.


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Garden Invasion

I don't know what is quite so special about these two stones in the "garden" border, but they are the only two rocks between which a mob of gendarme bug nymphs have settled.

All the other rocks remain insect free.


Monday, 21 July 2008

We've had a Letter

We've had a very nice letter from Roger Lezeau. Monsieur Lezeau was born in 1912, so he is now 96 years old and lives in a retirement home.

Translated into English his letter says:

'I understand that you are the owners of the old grain merchant's Poupineau Bardon.

This has a whole history that is generally ignored, but which I have had the happiness to discover with near certainty.

I would be happy to make contact with you and talk about this with you.

I have written, and am waiting to be printed, a booklet on the subject that I could lend to you long enough for you to take a photocopy.

I saw Bernard de la Motte yesterday. In any event, I would be happy to make your acquaintance.

I am available every morning between 8.30 and 11.00 o'clock maximum, in room No xx

A telephone call would be good, in order to make a suitable time.

Very sincerely and see you soon perhaps.'

Naturally, I have written back to him to let him know when we will next both be in town together and to that say I will telephone him for an appointment closer to that time. I can't wait to see what he reveals about our house!


Sunday, 20 July 2008

Our Door, Part 2

I may have made a mistake............

After undercoating the wedge on the door twice, I left it a couple of days. This was because it was a temporary fix, and I was hoping that the white wedge wouldn't look too wrong against the faded brown door.

I was wrong about that - it seemed to gleam during the day, and glow in the evening. This looked just plain wrong.

On my next foray to Bricomarche, I bought a can of very cheap paint with a dark brown lid. I decided on cheap paint because, remember, this is only a temporary fix. The plan was to add some white undercoat to lighten the brown, and hopefully almost match the colour of the door.

After adding the white paint to a small container into which I had poured the brown paint I was amazed. So amazed that I read the small print on the can.


Welcome to my new, fuchsia coloured wedge. On my next trip to Bricomarche, I may buy a can of brown paint. Until then, I will claim it is a new improved wood primer......


Note from Susan: Oh!...I thought you must have been colour matching to the blind on the door and had done it deliberately!

Saturday, 19 July 2008


I have found our first graffiti - apart from spray painted loading heights inside the granary, and some pencil drawing (circa 2007).

This happened when I was chipping cement off the walls.

I can read the letters ' hol ' quite clearly, followed by what looks like ' nsell'. The writing - well, carving - itself looks to me like 17th - 18th century (that may, however, be wishful thinking).

Now a decision has to be made as to what happens with it. The stone it is carved on is very soft, and some of the facing has already eroded from other parts of the stone.

It would be nice to preserve this little part of local history, but how do we do it?


Note from Susan: Looks like 'Rol' to me.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Picking off Render

One of the jobs I can do whenever I have some spare time is to pick concrete render off the walls.

This is essential, as the concrete stops the limestone breathing, and traps moisture inside the stone. This means any moisture in the stone has to escape inside the house, and eventually the stone could even dissolve if the moisture can't escape.

It isn't a job I feel totally confident in; in some places the concrete is firmly attached and often brings away a layer of stone when it comes off. This is always worrying. It can also be hard work in those places, and requires a fair amount of persuasion with a chisel or pick. In other places it has 'blown' - detatched itself from the wall so it comes crashing down in large sheets with very little encouragement.Today, (I am writing on Bastille day) being a quiet day, was a day where spending an hour or so chipping away at the walls seemed the most appropriate activity. It meant I could avoid painting windows, anyway.........


Thursday, 17 July 2008

Our Front Door

Our front door has always been a problem. The floor of the entrance hall is lower than the courtyard, and when rain is coming from the wrong direction we get a lot of water coming under the door. This is particularly annoying after having paid so much money on a roof to make the place watertight.

I have been reluctant to spend too much time or effort fixing this - the door will have to be replaced once we start work in earnest, because it has no insulation capacity at all. However, a couple of really heavy storms and resultant mopping has convinced me it's time to act.

I have long known what needs doing - I don't know exactly what the piece is called, but we need something to deflect the rain that runs down the door and into the house. The main difficulty is the fact the door is panelled, and anything done needs to take this into account.

I started by carving three pieces to fill in the panelling and bring it level with the rest of the door. This took a while because of my lack of ability at woodworking. However, after a couple of hours work I had this bit done.

I next cut my main piece of wood. Because I have a benchsaw, I can do straight cuts (if it wasn't for the benchsaw and its ability to do long straight cuts I wouldn't have considered starting this job). This meant that from one piece of wood I could cut two pieces with a 45 degree angle, which I glued and screwed together to make a solid block of wood.

Then I sanded the two pieces, applied some filler - and screwed it to the door.

Job almost done! All I need to do now is buy some cement and fill in the worn away step, and then apply a rubber tread. As I write this (lunchtime on Bastille Day) it looks like rain, so I think I am about to find out how good my work has been.


(This blog entry is written for my father, who will be delighted to see I have developed any sort of ability at woodworking. He has always been frustratingly clever at this sort of thing)

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Bastille Day, Preuilly Style.

Being pragmatists, and seeing as Bastille Day was a Monday this year, Preuilly held its Bastille Day celebration on Sunday evening.

And just as well!

The evening kicked off at 9.30 with a large number of the townfolks assembled in front of the Mairie and the pompiers selling paper lanterns to the kids. There is something amusing about seeing a pompier festooned with lanterns - usually they are so butch!

The local kids' circus school (I assume) then entertained us, with "Bandtastic", a brass ensemble (who were, incidentally, really good) from the Brenne providing the soundtrack. While this was happening the Pompiers were blocking traffic, lighting flaming torches and selling lanterns - all very convivial , and the kids getting more and more excited.

Then we were off!

Susan and I had decided that a Retraite aux Flambeaux meant we were going to be burning down the old people's home. Not to be...... Instead, we paraded behind the band and pompiers, via a circuitous route, to the chateau where the circus school put on another performance. (As everyone of importance was carrying flaming torches, there were resonances of the first Bastille Day. I wonder if this is symbolically important?)

We then paraded back to the Town Hall via both bridges, holding up all the traffic through town with the Pompiers out front, and the Gendarmes bringing up the rear. By this time we had picked up people as we passed their homes and most of the people in town capable of walking the route must have been walking, because it took about 10 minutes to pass the front of the Abbaye.

After another circus performance in front of the Mairie, we paraded to the plan d'eau, where a large marquee had been set up, as well as a bar and BBQ run by the pompiers.

There was then a spectacular firework display, which took me by surprise as I had heard talk about how dull the displays had been in years past. True, it wasn't "Rivers of Fire*", but either the display this year was a cut above the norm or I am less demanding than some, because I was well impressed.

The evening finished with dancing to a band in the marquee. I have read in books about the way the French dance, ie; you must do the right dance to the particular tune being played, especially the "rock and rolling". This appears to be not strictly true in Preuilly, but I was amused to see a dancefloor full of people doing the Madison (I think - it's been a long time) to "Just a Gigilo". It was really good seeing all generations on the dancefloor together, including some very tasty footwork by some of the town's more senior (and in Preuilly that means very senior indeed!) residents.

I left at 12.30 but the party was still going at 2.00am, and judging by how quiet the town was on Bastille Day itself, it must have been going really quite strong!

I don't know who organised the evening, but congratulations to whoever it was. I thought it was great.


*London, New Years Eve 2000, which failed to impress me anyway.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

L'Agrion jouvencelle - Azure Bluet Damselfly

I am astonished to discover that I have never featured one of the most common of the blue damselflies on the blog! This photo is from last year, but they should be out and about around Preuilly now. They can be distinguished from the Common Blue Damselfly by the characteristic 'U' shaped mark on their second abdominal segment.

They can be seen from May to August around well vegetated margins of ponds, lakes, ditches, canals and slow-moving rivers as well as sunlit hedge banks, field margins and woodland glades.

By the way, if you are interested in keeping up to date with French Odonata (Dragonflies), there is a very good (fairly new) blog called Chasseur de Dragons (thanks to its author, Geeko, for bringing it to my attention).


The Naming of Names:

Azure Bluet - known as the Azure Damselfly in the UK.

Coenagrion puella - 'coen' = 'common', 'agrion' = 'wild'; 'puella' = 'girl'

L'Agrion jouvencelle - 'jouvencelle' = 'adolescent'

Monday, 14 July 2008

Honorable Mention

We've had an honorable mention in the local Historical Society Journal - Les Cahiers de la Poterne. This excellent annual journal is edited by Bernard de la Motte, the President of the Society. We made his acquaintance at the Saffron Fair in February, and he came over to look at the property in May. He very reassuringly told us not to worry about the lean on the front wall of the barn, as, when we came to see his house, we would see much worse!

He has written a little paragraph about us in the back of the journal, in the section En Bref (Nouvelles diverses).

The paragraph in French is:

'Dans cette rue pittoresque, qui doit son nom à l'existence du puits du Sieur B, selon Audigé et Moisand, existaient les entrepôts de l'établissement de grains "Poupineau-Bardon". Les anciens de Preuilly se souviennent des chariots, tirés par deux beaux percherons et couverts d'une bâche comme au "Far West" transportant le blé de son grenier à la gare. Madame Susan W et Monsieur Simon B, respectivement australienne et anglais, nous ont appris qu'ils s'étaient rendus propriétaires de ce très bel et ancien bâtiment sans doute du 15ème siècle ou en deçà. Ils ont la sagesse de vouloir s'entourer de conseils, pour, dans la limite de leurs moyens, en assurer la préservation. Nous les en félicitons.'

I translate this as:

'In this picturesque street, which owes its name to the presence of the well of Squire B, according to Audigé and Moisand, there stand the former warehouses of the grain merchant 'Poupineau-Bardon'. The old people of Preuilly remember the wagons, pulled by two handsome Percherons and covered by a tarpaulin like in the 'Wild West' transporting the wheat from the granary to the station. We have learnt that Mrs Susan W and Mr Simon B, respectively Australian and English, have become the new owners of this very beautiful and ancient building - probably dating from the 15th century or thereabouts. They have the wisdom to look around for advice, so that, within the limit of their means, its preservation is assured. We wish them well.'

We were as chuffed as anything with this! (Merci Bernard, and thanks to Jill and John who alerted us to the entry in the magazine. Thanks also to Charles-Henri who checked my translation before I posted. C-H thought you might like to comment too, Ken, as we both felt there were a couple of ambiguities in the French.)

Also in the journal are articles on: an international archaeology conference held in Preuilly (written by my 'namesake' Bertrand W); Preuilly in 1920 (a delightful series of anecdotes by Monsieur Lezeau - more of him later); a private school in Boussay; saffron; a nearby hamlet called Les Grandes Goupillères; wells; and women's lace caps. Bernard also mentions in his Editorial that with this issue the Society is experimenting with distributing an English language supplement (but it was not included with the one we bought at the tabac, so I am not sure how one obtains this).


Sunday, 13 July 2008

Tour de France, More Photos

The day the Tourcame to town was so colourful and exciting that it seems a pity not to show more.

So here we go:

Bengt taking care of the mergeuz

The Caravanne

And some cyclists