Sunday 30 November 2008

The Street of Little Sunshine

This is the Rue du Petit Soleil in Preuilly sur Claise.

As you can see, during summer at least, the name isn't totally accurate for part of the street. However, the street does a dogleg in front of the blue gates and runs east-west towards the chateau. I imagine during winter that end of the street gets no sun at all, because not only is it in the shadow of the hill and chateau, but it's also in the shadow of eglise Notre Dame des Echelles.


Saturday 29 November 2008

Dolus le Sec

Yesterday I mentioned we visited the Éolienne Bollée at Dolus le Sec. It is conveniently located about 150 metres down rue de l'Éolienne, which should have been a clue the half dozen times we have driven through the village without seeing the main feature...

The éolienne in Dolus has been restored, and has been in working condition since 2002. In the photo below, not only can you see the éolienne, but also the lavoir (laundry - the low wooden building on the left) that it fed.

The Éolienne Bollée is an interesting creature. [alert: "windmill nerd!"]

Unlike most windmills, this is a true wind turbine - that is, not only does it have a turbine (the turny roundy bit that does the work) it has a stator - a set of stationary blades combined with a ring that directs the wind onto the rotating blades. This compresses the air and makes the turbine more efficient. On later models the ring around the blades was enlarged to make a slight funnel to increase the amount of wind collected.

The Éolienne from downwind.
You can see the funnel to the right of this picture

In addition, the whole ensemble has a little rotor (on the front) and counterweight (on the rear) arrangement that turns the turbine to face into the wind. The rotor is also connected to a latch that releases once the wind reaches a certain speed, turning the turbine edge-on into the wind. This stops the turbine spinning out of control in high winds and damaging itself.

The rotor arrangement on the front

There is a drive shaft inside the column that supports the turbine, and through a series of gears this drives the water pump. This is housed in a small stone building near the base of the column.

Reading what appears to be the definitive webpage on the Éolienne Bollée, I have discovered that when you bought one of M. Bollée's wondrous machines it was delivered in a kit of parts by rail to the nearest station, where the new owner had to collect it and take it to the site where it was to be erected. Then the factory would send someone out to actually piece the whole thing together. The Éolienne Bollée was modular, so to make it taller you just needed to order more of the column/spiral staircase pieces.

The maker's plate on the base of the column.

This is the second Éolienne Bollée we have seen, the first being at Confluent, near Yzeures sur Creuse. In the comments to the blog we wrote about it, Susan said:
"John Walter, who runs the Friends of the Eoliennes Bollée website with Régis Girard, tells me that our éolienne is one they thought had been dismantled, so I was pleased to be able to give him updated information."
Since then, however, I have noticed a photo in the book of old photos that there is a pic of the mill at Yzeures, showing an Éolienne Bollée by the Creuse River in Yzeures. This means either the éolienne at Confluent is a newly discovered, previously unknown one, or the éolienne at Yzeures was dismantled and moved to Confluent. It is certainly no longer in Yzeures - the factory/mill it was at burnt down in the 1960s.


Friday 28 November 2008


As you drive south from Loudon (usually we do this after visiting Fontevraud) there are a couple of windmills near the road.

The first is near the "Maison de Pays Loudanals" on the D347 near Puits d'Ardanne. There is a noticeboard in the carpark by the maison du pays which explains all, thus saving me some typing.

The second windmill is a couple of kilometres further south along the D347 and looks to be a lot older.

These are wind mills - used for milling grain, as opposed to wind pumps like the Éolienne Bollée.

Talking of which: when Susan's parents were with us, we visited the restored Éolienne Bollée at Dolus le Sec. It isn't nearly as obvious in the landscape as we thought it would be - as evidenced by the fact we had driven through Dolus le Sec a number of times before that visit.


Thursday 27 November 2008

The River Claise from the Footbridge

You might recognise this photo as being where our blog title picture comes from. It was taken on the evening of 15 February 2007.

This second photo was taken mid afternoon on the 22 April 2008 from exactly the same place. I wrote at the time how much it had rained.

The footbridge in the post title is the one near the swimming pool - here on Google maps*.


*This link may, or may not work. Google have recently changed the way that Maps is navigated. As usual with software, they have apparently changed the way you operate something without changing what it does. In future, I would like every car manufaturer to shuffle the pedals every time a programmer buys a car - and maybe hide the steering wheel while they are at it. If an Austin 7 from 1922 and a Bugatti Veyron from 2006 can have all the basic controls in the same place, why should the controls in version 3.1 be so different to version 3.0 when it comes to software?

Wednesday 26 November 2008

The Church in Fontevraud

This is not the abbey, but the parish church in the town of Fontevraud l'Abbaye.

The church of Saint Michel was built in about 1170 at the request of the abbess Audeburge of Fontevraud Abbey and built (or ar least paid for in part) by Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. There are two heads carved into the vault of the choir near a rib which could be their likenesses. We haven't noticed these, even though I have taken a photo of them, so next time (and there is sure to be a next time) we are there we will report back.

This photo has a couple of interesting features: the heads which are supposedly those of Henry and Eleanor; and the blocked windows over the altar, which have subsequently plastered over and the whole wall painted to look like cut stone.

The church was expanded in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the Romanesque core of the building is still evident - the blocked up rounded windows in the above photo, for instance, and the generally half rounded rather than pointed arches. I don't know if the low porch all around the building as shown in the top photo is unique (or even particularly romanesque), but I do really like it.

The gilded wooden altar and surrounds come from the abbey,
where they were erected in 1621.

I don't know where the altar in the side chapel comes from,
but I suspect it was also from the abbey.


Tuesday 25 November 2008

Psssst.... wanna buy a truck?

Taken near Argenton sur Creuse. That camouflage really doesn't work, does it?

Monday 24 November 2008

Pas folle, la guêpe !*

We came across these Common Wasps Vespula vulgaris (la guêpe commune) very purposefully flying in and out of a small tunnel in the bank on one side of the 'arboretum' in Preuilly. These photos were taken in September, on one of our 'tween courses dinnertime rambles. The behaviour enthralled us, and served as a reminder to look down as well as up sometimes.

I am always a little wary of social insects, but these were so occupied by whatever important wasp business they were engaged in that they took no notice of us peering down the hole (not too closely though) and taking photos.

These Common Wasps and their very close relative the German Wasps have been introduced to Australia, where they are considered a dangerous pest species. People are frightened of them because they are attracted to food and drink outdoors and can be accidentally swallowed, resulting in people being stung inside the throat, causing swelling that can be life threatening. Beekeepers don't like them much either, as they can invade hives to rob them.

I've noticed that Common Wasps seem to be particularly attracted to raw fish, and market fish stalls can be inundated during the late summer.

In their place social wasps provide a significant natural clean up service, eating dead insects and in their turn, the larvae are one of the favourite foods of Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus (Bondrée apivore).

For some hilarious wasp action from the French team at Miniscule TV, watch this (best with sound on).


*Pas folle, la guêpe, as I understand it, is a phrase used to describe a malicious person. It is literally 'not mad, the wasp', so I think the implication is that they are schemers, i.e. not mad, but bad.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Brocante and Vide Grenier

I realise that I am probably not the best person to be writing a post about this. Neither, for that matter, would Susan be. Really and truly, the person who needs to be writing this is Jill, who is a brocante fan - or John, who works very hard at giving the impression of being a brocante martyr.

Each year, just about every village in France holds a brocante/vide brenier: brocante is second hand stuff, and vide grenier is attic clearance. These happen all year round, but the pace seems to pick up around late summer and autumn. Preuilly's is in August, and in 2006 was the first vide grenier we ever went to. We weren't all that impressed, to be honest (we wrote about it here), and I think Susan is yet to find one that does impress her.

They are a real slice of French life, though. It is amazing what people have in their attics and try to sell. I am sure people never throw anything out, but keep it all for that one day of the year when they try to dispose of it for cash. Second (or third or fourth)-hand stereos, toys and free "gifts" from cereal packets, furniture that is more woodworm holes than wood, and old (but only just old enough not to be back in fashion) clothing seem to make up the majority of stalls, but there are always one or two items that you look at and consider.
It's not all junk for sale. These two were really tempting

I like the tables full of old tools. Of course, there are always plenty of second hand electric drills from the 1960s at a price higher than that of a new drill from M. Bricolage, but we have seen lots of really old hand tools, many of them apparently hand made as well. We may have to buy one or two of the more rustic looking as decorator items.

This year the only brocante Susan and I made it to together was at the Fête du Lait in Ligueil, where these photos were taken (I also managed to get to the Goose Fair in Martizay at Easter, and the Rotary Brocante in la Roche Posay in August). Most of the brocantes are ostensibly an addendum to a traditional fair, but in effect they have just about taken over most of them. At the Milk Fair in Ligueil the only evidence of the milk trade we saw was a dog drawn milk cart.

I always feel a little uncomfortable taking photos at these kinds of events, so photos are few and far between. I couldn't, however, resist taking a photo of the man we saw buying a pool cue before realising he had to get it home somehow. There was no way I was going to take a photo of him by the side of the road exploring his options whilst putting on his bike leathers, but once he was looking the other way...

Maybe in future we will have to post low quality photos taken with Susan's phone. For some reason, snapshots can be taken with phones when cameras make people feel uncomfortable.

For Brocante fans, there is a list of upcoming markets here


Saturday 22 November 2008

This Year's Cyclamen

Jill and John reminded us a couple of months ago that the cyclamen at the Château du Lion in Preuilly were out, so we dutifully trotted up there to take this year's batch of photos. Oh dear, what a chore...(not).

We thought they looked particularly good this year, but you do have to be a contortionist to get a good photo, as the Château is privately owned and the garden is walled and fenced all round.

Some of the cyclamens have made a break for it, and are now living wild and free on the outside of the wall in the defensive ditch.


Last year's cyclamen.

Friday 21 November 2008

Shaking Hands

This is a piece of advice for anyone contemplating a trip to France - especially country France.

The French shake hands. Even more so than the English or Australians, if you are introduced to someone, or even introduce yourself to someone, you must be ready to shake hands and be unfazed at the prospect.

This applies not only to social situations, but when taking your car in for a service, talking to the builder or plumber, or even walking into a bar. Take your lead from the other person, but be prepared. There is a lot of embarrassment potential in not being prepared to accept a handshake offered in politeness.

I used to shake hands with our roofers every day. It was expected that a cheery "bonjour" be accompanied by a handshake. If I wasn't at home when they arrived (or inside, busy), at the first opportunity we would call bonjour to each other. Quite often this would be accompanied by them climbing down the ladder to shake hands. If their hands were dirty, they would proffer a wrist to be shaken. (I have done this myself if I am working and my hands are dirty (HAH!) and someone calls to visit. Wait until they are within shake range, extend the arm, but with the wrist bent back so they can take the wrist and shake it).
Blokes you would shake wrists with.
The wrist shake can also be the proceedure when you are wearing work gloves, but it is better manners to remove the gloves and shake hands properly. If you are both wearing gloves, or both have dirty hands it is polite to wipe your hands on your dungarees and shake the other person's wrist.

There is a variation on the wrist shake, and that is the elbow shake. This is much practiced by car mechanics and plumbers when their hands are dirty beyond the wrist. The proceedure is similar, but with the elbow bent rather than the wrist. I have never seen a wrist to wrist shake, or an elbow to wrist shake. Someone has to use their hands. The only alternative, if you are both excessively dirty, is to look at your hands then at the other person and give a rueful grin. Even then, however, often hands are wiped and some variation of handshake performed.

French men see nothing strange in this. They would see it strange if you offered the Bises though...


(Photograph by Susan's mother.)

Thursday 20 November 2008

Hostage Crisis in la Roche-Posay

This is Susan's translation of an old article in la Nouvelle République (click on the link to see the article in French).
The Day the Town Trembled

On Sunday 27 August 1944, a German column [under Brigadier General Botho] Elster took sixty people hostage in La Roche-Posay.

Sixty years later, the municipality is to pay tribute to the heroic players from this day, including Mayor Robert Nonnet and Father Brand.

After the [Allied] landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, and following that, in Provence on 15 August, the German army pull back towards the East and cross the region, harassed by the French Resistance (maquis) and by Allied bombing. Indian* [troops] also pass through the villages and spread terror. On 27 August, at Bonneuil-Matour, "Sikhs were running after women, entering the houses and spreading terror," said the Director of the Girls School. At Bonnes, from Saturday 26 to Monday 28 August, Indians occupy all the houses in the village and a woman is raped by fifteen of them. At Archigny, Indians and Germans steal bicycles, carts and horses. Elsewhere, they burn some houses and shoot some men.

On Sunday 27 August 1944, everything is calm in La Roche-Posay but all too soon it was announced that a German column was coming towards the village. Jacques Nonnet, 14 years old at the time and the son of the mayor, recounts: "Everyone remembers the tragic events of Oradour. Some inhabitants leave, bundles in hand, probably to take refuge in neighbouring farms. With the approach of the column along the Pleumartin road, about 6 o'clock [in the evening], shutters slam, the doors are shut. My father made us go down to the cellar, me and my older brother. Some minutes later, we hear in the street: orders, rifle butts beating in the doors, windows broken. My father went back up immediately: two German soldiers with a hostage come seeking the 'Burgmeister'. My father immediately realised that they were there for him."

Hostages on the spot and the intervention of Father Brand
Shortly before La Roche-Posay, the German column was attacked by some French Forces of the Interior (FFI) Resistance fighters near la Cataudière. In revenge, the Germans burned Renouard's farm. They are very nervous, and fearing further attacks by the Resistance, make threats to the local populace. At the Hotel du Parc, where nearly 300 orphaned students from the Herriot School are refugees, the Germans have discovered about 25 men, who are military more or less disguised as school staff. The enemy soldiers only have one thought, to get across the Creuse then the bridge at Preuilly-sur-Claise, still intact. On the other hand, they fear that the Resistance may destroy it.

Then the Malagasy** Corporal Nahola was shot; a farmer from Bouchaud, Mr Poizay, was killed; and around sixty Rochelais taken hostage. Father Brand, chaplain of the Herriot School, intervened with the Germans. He clinches a deal with the German Commandant: to contact the Resistance and convince them not to attempt any action in the night and not to destroy the bridge at Preuilly, otherwise the hostages will be executed.

Father Brand then has a meeting with Georges Butruille, one of the leaders of local Resistance, who accepts the deal. He is next brought to an isolated farm where he remains hidden. At La Roche-Posay, the hostages, after questioning, are freed: the mayor saved their lives by vowing that there were no maquisard or FFI among them, which was untrue.

The soldiers of the Elster Column finally leave La Roche-Posay, not without looting houses and having killed a young Resistance fighter from Yzeures, Jacques Martin, who had come to convey a message to his friends. They were finally stopped not very far away. ***

Translator's notes
*Several thousand Indians enlisted in the German Armed Forces because of disaffection with the British.

**Madagascar was a French colony until 1960.

***General Elster and his troops surrendered to the US General Macon on 17 September at Beaugency Bridge. It was the largest mass surrender of the Second World War.

This is the grave of Jacques Martin on the edge of la Roche Posay just over the bridge on the road to Preuilly.

Susan and I were somewhat startled the first time we noticed it, just tucked by a letterbox against a barn wall on a perfectly ordinary road. It is seeing things like this that brings home to us the sacrifice made by otherwise ordinary people during the years of occupation.

The grave is not signposted - unless you actually see it when you are driving past you would have no idea it is there. Nonetheless, on 8 May a wreath was laid.


Wednesday 19 November 2008

Fun with French

I've decided to start an occasional series called 'Fun with French', to feature the curious and entertaining aspects of learning French. I haven't suddenly made a great leap to total fluency – indeed my ability to form a complete, grammatically correct sentence, hold a conversation or craft an email in French remains stubbornly and pathetically inadequate (mainly because I don't get the chance or don't make the time to practice – although I have just written my first report in French, of which no doubt heavily edited excerpts will appear in due course in the Réserve Naturelle de la Chérine's annual report, but my bit's about flies, so no one will read it anyway...).

I still translate everything from English into French to speak and from French into English to listen (making composing my responses even more challenging). However, I read in French nearly every day, and can now do so almost as quickly as in English (note I read quite slowly in English – it drives Simon to distraction that I read all the words. He is a superfast skim reader.) So, I am picking up snippets that engage or amuse me all the time, which I would like to pass on. Also, I am hoping that our French speaking readers will be moved to contribute via the comments section, and it could be quite a lively addition to the blog.

Today's word is queue. In English, of course, this is the word describing a great national sport, an activity with rules that are simply too subtle for the foreigner to pick up (read Kate Fox's 'Watching the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour' if you want some insight). In English it is pronounced 'kyew', and I had no reason to suspect it was any different in French, although I did know it meant 'tail' and I didn't think it was used to describe an orderly line of patiently waiting people. (Actually, I'm not quite sure what word the French use for this – probably just ligne or maybe file I suspect.)

[Simon's note: I believe the French for "a group of people waiting to do something" is "scrum". The French don't do lines, except at the base of the Eiffel Tower.]

One day Simon and I were sitting having a beer in their kitchen with Sylvie and Pierre-Yves, who are our neighbours across the road. Pierre-Yves is a pianist and Simon was telling him that we want to buy a grand piano. As Pierre-Yves speaks English, but Sylvie does not, I was quite pleased with myself that I knew the French for grand piano – piano à queue. (At this stage of the story, I imagine all you French speakers know what is coming...)

Sylvie's reaction to this piece of information was to nearly fall off her chair laughing and start slapping her rather shapely behind. Queue, in French, is apparently pronounced 'keh' – and, you guessed it – the word that is pronounced 'kyew' is cul, which means 'backside'. Fortunately for my self-esteem, Sylvie is such a nice person that I didn't have the least problem being the butt of the joke and there was a bonus – I immediately realised that the French drinking salute, cul sec, must mean 'dry bottom' i.e. the equivalent of 'bottoms up'.


Tuesday 18 November 2008

Driving to Tours

I am amazed!

Susan and I have driven to Tours many times. It takes about an hour 20 minutes, which, using the Australian rule of thumb must mean it is a distance of about 100km when you take into consideration all the villages you drive through.

I was playing around with Google Maps the other day, and just out of curiousity used the "directions" function to see how it would get us from home to Tours. For some reason it suggests an odd dog-leg through St Maure de Touraine for a trip of 1hour12 minutes. I then entered the route we take to Tours, only to find out it is only 70km. 43 miles (click here for our route) in 1hour 15 minutes!

I can't believe how slowly I obviously drive. I know I am the slowest car on the road (excluding tractors and self propelled sewing machines) because I obey the speed limits, but still...

Talking of Noddy cars, don't you like the way this Ligier has been customised with the application of 'leccy tape pinstripes? Classy! Note also the Hi-Vis jacket slung over the back of the seat. Carrying one of these inside the car is now compulsory - I assume people have them this way so that they aren't stopped to be asked if they are carrying.


Monday 17 November 2008

Feuilles Mortes

Fallen leaves make great arty shots, don't they?

Here (below) the London Planes were making a collage a few years ago on the road outside the V&A (which if you are ever in London, is always worth a visit, with delightful treasures too numerous to mention – it even holds a painting by John Petit).

Here in Preuilly, our own autumn leaves this year were just as stylish, with maple leaves on the grass by the plan d'eau (taken about 6 weeks ago).


This is Juliette Greco. Not a name I am familiar with, but it's interesting to hear the verse sung.


Sunday 16 November 2008

Boussay from the road

This is a view that anyone who drives along the road from la Roche Posay to Preuilly-sur-Claise will be familiar with.

Although it is a familiar view, it is one that is very difficult to photograph succesfully. There is nowhere to park, and for some reason no matter how far you walk up and down the road you can't recreate what you see from the car. After many attempts over the past 3 years this is my best effort


Saturday 15 November 2008

Jumping Cucumbers

In September Simon attended the 'open house' at the Pôterne, Preuilly's museum. He spent some time chatting on the terrace to our insurance agent, a lovely smiley lady called Marie-Hélène, who is very involved in the Comité des Fêtes and the Historical Society. She introduced him to another member of the Society as the person who had brought the exciting newly discovered Petit watercolours of Preuilly to their attention and they shook hands warmly. Chatting continued, and somehow the conversation turned to the plant at their feet that is clearly in danger of over-running the terrace.
Simon tells me that they called it cornichon sauter in French. When he asked why 'Fried Cucumber', Marie-Hélène, who speaks quite good English, laughed and said, 'no, no, like jumping' (the French word for 'grasshopper' is sauterelle, for instance). The man she had introduced him to obligingly, although rather gingerly, demonstrated (wiping his hands carefully on his trouser leg immediately afterwards). The merest touch sends the seeds and a caustic liquid shooting out of the pods.

Ecballium elaterium or Squirting Cucumber as it is usually known in English is a perennial, native to Southern Europe, appearing wherever there is sandy, stony or waste ground. The plant is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, so is genuinely a cucumber. The fruits are poisonous and were used medicinally in the past (as so often with poisonous plants, the right dose is actually beneficial, but it needs administering with a skilled and knowledgeable hand – something that is largely lost to us now). Apparently, the fruit is so strong a purgative that just absorbing the liquid from the seed capsule through the skin can have an effect. The liquid is also extremely irritating to the skin.

Because of its very effective seed distribution system, it can very easily take over an area like the terrace at the museum, and consequently, every now and then, brave souls covered from head to toe in protective gear get in there and remove as much as they can to keep it under control.

I see from looking it up on t'internet that it is usually called Concombre d'âne (literally 'donkey's cucumber' i.e. presumably meaning 'fool's cucumber') in French.

A rather stylish sauterelle, taken in the grounds of the Maison de retraite a couple of weeks earlier than the cucurbit encounter.


Friday 14 November 2008

Three Mairies

I wrote a couple of days ago about SpeedFerries. They have now been taken into administration. I hope they sort this out, because we still have 3 trips across the channel left on a 10 trip voucher.

Footnote (boring techie stuff)
Yes, I have re-done the appearance of the blog again. All that should have happened is that the panel that shows our posts has got wider so the posts don't look as long. Blog templates are all designed to cope with 800 x 600 screen resolution, and whilst we do still have some visitors who have monitors set that way, most people use at least 1024 x 768.

Interestingly, I looked at the blog using Internet Explorer for the first time the other night. Isn't it weird! In IE the font size is smaller, all the photos have a disconcerting electric blue border (even though the coding is '000000' for black), and the neat closely dotted lines turn into something that looks like it should be on the edge of your jeans pocket. It seems a shame to me that more than half our visitors use a browser that is badly non-internet compliant for looking at the blog and don't see the page it is meant to be. We use Firefox to look at the internet. (If you do use Firefox, it's time to update.)


Thursday 13 November 2008

A Picnic by the River

One day in September we decided that a picnic would be nice. We had some delicious food that needed eating – half a charantais melon, half a boule, half a bottle of white wine, three super ripe tomatoes and a few leaves of homegrown salad leaf.

Simon doesn't like this picture. He says it looks like I am sulking, but actually I am watching a robberfly which has landed on the bare earth just visible beyond the picnic table.

Our repast on this occasion was by the Creuse at a picnic spot called les Libellules. This is about 50m down the road from the mysterious abandoned industrial complex (the picture below is taken from les Libellules, looking down stream to la Gatineau and the weir at the derelict factory).

Below, looking straight across the river from les Libellules picnic spot.

We were not alone at the picnic spot. These two old companions (below) alternate between munching their way through a pile of hay and snoozing in the shade. I assume these are Percherons, like the handsome pair we are told operated from our graineterie. I thought Percherons were always black, but apparently some breed societies accept a few other colours such as the chestnut with cream mane and tail that is favoured around our area.

Further along this group of youngsters stared with slightly suspicious curiousity at us. I think they are Limousins, a popular beef breed. The herd was a mixture of heifers and steers.


Wednesday 12 November 2008

Why are There so Many Poplar Plantations in Central Lowland France?

This is a question that has long bedevilled us. No one seemed to know the answer. It seemed odd that there were so many small groves of these striking trees, made all the more striking by the strict regularity of their grid plan planting. What on earth were they used for?

Poplars on the river side (above) at Bossay-sur-Claise, one village upstream from Preuilly. Like many poplars these are heavily infested with mistletoe, quite noticeable in the winter when the trees have no leaves (this picture was taken in February).

I knew that poplars had traditionally been used to make matches, but surely, I thought, hardly anybody uses matches any more – they can't all be destined for Bryant and May's.

A stand of poplars near Champigny sur Veude, north of Richelieu.

I can now reveal to you the answer, thanks to a forum I belong to and a bit of online digging – hurrah for the internet !

Another stand north of Richelieu, this time near Coudray.

Rather charmingly, French fathers traditionally plant a grove of poplars when their daughters are born. The idea is that they will be mature and ready to fell just when the daughter gets married, and the proceeds from the sale of the poplar wood funds the wedding festivities. You can always tell a family with ugly daughters because their poplars are left to get old and gnarled.

This lovely scene is la Corroirie, once a monastery, at Liget near Montrésor.

But what is the wood actually used for, you are still wondering...

Well, apparently it is used for fruit boxes ! And cheese boxes ! No wonder there are so many groves – French cheesemakers would be devastated if the supply ran out. Looks like poplar may be 'the only wood that is food grade and pliable enough'.

Poplar is also widely used to make paper, and there is a long tradition of high quality paper manufacture in France (I notice my pad of Windsor and Newton cartridge paper, which I use for mounting botanical specimens, is made in France) .

Poplars are also used as flood mitigation in many places, planted alongside rivers because they are quite happy with 'wet feet' and they help to stabilise the soil so it doesn't wash away.