Thursday 26 October 2006

10 Things I think I have learned so far

This buying a house in another language lark has thrown up some interesting issues:

1 The French don't appear to have a word for surveyor. They have "le géomètre", but he is one who does the surveys for lead and asbestos when you buy a house, not a general survey.

2 Ikea Furniture is cheaper by about 10% than it is in the UK. This doesn't mean we will be buying any, but it is interesting.

3 A light switch is an "interrupteur", and they come in better styles than the standard UK light switch. Some of them are even quite attractive.

4 Having a road accident in France can be less traumatic than in the UK, because there isn't a statutory requirement to leave the cars in the middle of the road and have a shouting match.

5 The French talk about the weather as much as the English or Australians do.

6 French Bureaucracy is apparently not a lot worse than any other kind, just different and done in a different language. Watch this space, however, things may change.

7 You can never have enough hairdressers. One hairdresser for every 300 head of population is about right.

8 The French YellowPages is available in English here. How good and useful is that?

9 Second hand cars are more expensive in France than the UK, because the French dont sell on after 3 years. They also do a lot more miles than in the UK. The price of fuel isn't a lot different. This is contrary to what the "Rip Off Britain" people would have you believe.

10 I thought context might have improved him, but even when you are in France, Johnny Halliday..............


Wednesday 11 October 2006

A week where everything got going

This week has been really exciting

We received an email from the Notaire telling us that they have arranged completion of the sale for the 20th November. We have a quote for insurance, and we have set up the currency transfer accounts.

We have also started writing to builders to see if we can meet while we are signing for the house.

Very exciting - and everything is organised (more or less) 6 weeks in advance.



Sunday Sunday...................

Sunday 17 September

Part 3 of our trip with Pat and Geoff - part 2 here

Sunday morning, and the church bells called the faithful to breakfast. Things were looking slightly brighter weather wise, so during breakfast we made plans as to what we were going to do. Sunday had been set aside as a day to do some sightseeing, and we wanted to visit a chateau or two.

We hadn't reached a decision by the time we got to the car, but on the way out of Grand Pressigny we decided to go to la Guerche (mainly because we saw a sign pointing there). After a short drive through the countryside (and passing a hunter complete with shotgun and horn) we parked in la Guerche and had a walk through town. While we were standing on the bridge Susan pointed and said “look!” and we saw the unmistakable flash of blue that can only be a kingfisher. It settled on a branch on the other side of the river, far enough away that we couldn't take a proper photo, but near enough so that the spot of blue you can see in the photo is obviously a kingfisher.

When we returned to the car we noticed that the Chateau gates were open, and it dawned upon us it was the Europe wide “Open Weekend”. After a pleasant wander through the grounds of the chateau we reached the stable block to find they were giving guided tours of the chateau in French and broken English – the perfect combination for improving our language skills. More about the chateau in another post.
The rooftops of la Guerche
After leaving la Guerche we took a drive through the countryside alongside the Gartempe,driving through la Roche Posay and Vicq to Angles sur l'Anglin. There we had lunch sitting in the village square, before wandering off to the castle above the river. I think Angles sur l'Anglin may be a place that we visit many times.

Town Square, Angles sur l'Anglin
As we were near we thought we would visit the Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe to see it's much vaunted wall and ceiling paintings. They are truly spectacular, even though at the moment you can only see about 30% of them because of building works, The murals were painted in the 11th and 12th century and almost totally cover the walls and ceilings. Another place we will be visiting again.

The ceiling of St Savin
We arrived at Poitiers airport in plenty of time, checked in, got through passport control, and sat in the single lounge, with everyone vying for position so that when the gates open they could sprint for the plane.

When the gates opened, Geoff and I took of like the rabbit at a greyhound race. We were going to get two pairs of seats over the wings and stretch out. When I reached my chosen seat I realised Geoff was no longer with me. He was standing discussing something with the hostess at the rear of the plane. I was torn – should leave my hard gained seats to go and help, or should I wait? Luckily Susan wasn't far behind, so she was left to guard the two seats while I went to the back of the plane (against the tide of people all fighting for places) to see what was up.

Geoff didn't have his boarding pass, but rather he had the pass from his flight the previous Friday. Even though you need a pass to get through passport control that wasn't good enough for Ryanair, and Geoff (who had now been joined by Pat) was being made to wait. This was causing a blockage, which was making people being delayed irate. Add to this the fact that even though the flight was fully booked people were not being allowed to use the last 10 rows of seats, and the temperature was rising.

Pat and Geoff were really worried by this stage, Geoff being convinced he was going to be left behind. People from Ryanair were rushing up and down the steps, having to force their way past the now stalled line of passengers waiting to board, checking their clipboards and then disappearing. I looked down...and there on the floor were Pat and Geoff's boarding passes...............

After that the simple matter of spending ten minutes looking for the car in the Stansted carpark was nothing!


Sunday 8 October 2006

Lunch by the River

The day we signed the compromis de vente (the pre-contract, when you pay the deposit) was an absolutely beautiful day in August with warm sunshine and blue sky. We bought some air dried ham, some carrotte rapee, some celeri remoulade and a baguette at the charcuterie in la grande rue and headed down to the river to sit in the open air and eat our lunch. We chose a spot that had some stone benches at the edge of a small carpark. The blocks of stone were probably really intended just to prevent people accidentally driving into the river, but the view from them was charming. There was a plum tree with many windfalls right next to us and the combination of the endless stream of insects coming to feed on the plums and the restless damselflies in the vegetation along the bank made for a fascinating lunchtime.

The star attraction at the plum tree was a beautiful big Horsefly. This turned out to be Tabanus eggeri, a species that was new for me, and one we don't get in the UK. They are easily identified because the first posterior cell on the wing is closed. Flies are often identified to family level by the pattern of veins on their wings. It is more unusual to get an easy ID like this to species level with wing venation, but other clues are her very black antennae and very orange abdomen. Also, unlike many horseflies, she does not have any obvious pattern of red and green stripes across her eyes. This particular fly had partaken of the fermenting plum juice a bit more than was prudent. She was so inebriated she kept falling over - an utterly shameful exhibition. And yes, I can tell she is a she (because her eyes are separated across the top of her head. Males' eyes touch at the top - seriously!).

Visiting the plums along with her was a hornet Vespa crabro, Red Admiral butterfly Vanessa atalanta and the inevitable social wasps Vespula sp.

Snooping about in the grass, irises and flowering umbels Apiaceae were various small blue damselflies and dashing about above them the bigger and more powerful darter (aka Meadowhawk) dragonflies Sympetrum sp.

We photographed Variable Bluet (aka Variable Damselfly) Coenagrion pulchellum, Common Bluetail (aka Blue-tailed Damselfly) Ischnura elegans, Large Redeye (aka Red-eyed Damselfly) Erythromma najas, and, by far the most common species that day, Blue Featherleg (aka White-legged Damselfly) Platycnemis pennipes. These last are rather strange faded creatures with, as their name suggests, legs that appear to be feathered. All other genera of blue damselflies are almost neon blue and black, at least in the males, so the Featherlegs are really easy to distinguish. And yes, the Redeyes really do have red eyes (all the others have blue).

Monday 2 October 2006

Postscript to Demoiselles

I have just taken delivery of my copy of the new Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe by KD Dijkstra and Richard Lewington. Even with the brief flicking through that I have had time for I have learnt stuff.

I see I will have to keep my eyes peeled for Calopteryx splendens hybrids. Apparently I could get hybrids with C xanthostoma and at least one subspecies. That should keep me on my toes. Image below left is C splendens male, taken in our Essex garden July 2002.

Sadly, the authors do not rate la Brenne particularly highly - their beef is that too many of the ponds are privately owned, so although there are interesting species, you cannot necessarily get to see them, and the future of their habitat is not assured. Clearly my networking skills are going to have to go into overdrive to get the best sightings possible - I hope my French is up to the task! On the other hand, the Loire Valley is very highly rated, and there is an interesting section on speciation (the Loire Valley is important because species from the south-east, the north and the west meet or overlap here).

Not only is this book informative, but it is beautiful - mainly due to Richard Lewington's illustrations - he is a national treasure I think. As a result of his beautiful illustrations I have been able to identify the teneral damselfly I found in the bramble patch that will become our garden - very definitely a male Lestes viridis Western Willow Spreadwing (aka Willow Emerald Damselfly). No surprise really to get this species in the garden, as they are common in the area and often seen in gardens. (Teneral means newly emerged and not yet fully coloured and therefore difficult to identify.)

The book also has photographs - one of which possibly demonstrates why C splendens are 'eclatant' in French. Males have a creamy white 'tail light', and in that rather dark tubular abdomen it is rather reminiscent of cream oozing out of an eclair. The photo shows one displaying his tail light to another male - it had never occurred to me that eclairs were in any way threatening, but perhaps if you are a demoiselle you have to be more careful.

My only regret with this book is that it does not include the vernacular names in French. This is purely selfish, as it would help me quickly and easily learn the French names. I can quite understand that for space reasons the hundreds of European common names are not included.