Wednesday 31 December 2008

Highlights of 2008


For me, many of the highlights of 2008 occured in July. Tour de France day, Bastille Day and moving the bath all occurred in a 10 day period, and I imagine that at least two of these events will remain with me as long as I have memories.
Adrian contemplating the task at hand
Another highlight was being able to spend so much time in our house. With a few exceptions I was in Preuilly from April to October this year, which allowed me plenty of time for thinking and then doing stuff. All that thinking time and practice obviously paid off, because I am getting better at doing the doing. Getting the car registered and completely legal was pretty good too.

Walking around Preuilly with flaming torches
Bastille Day 2008
But as usual, the people we met and the visitors we had during the year were the real highlights. Most of them we met through this blog - and those we didn't meet through the blog had certainly heard of it. To those who invited us for drinks and/or meals (or even transported me to the optometrists when I broke my glasses) and made us feel so welcome in France, a million thanks.


For me the highlights were having my parents over to visit as well as our first real guests. We met lots of new people: Roger Lezeau (and a mention in les Cahiers de la Poterne); more fellow Loire Valley bloggers Ken and Walt, and their friend CHM; my entomology online forum buddies Pierre, and Edith and her wonderfully hospitable Gascon husband Christian.

I was thrilled that we were contacted by Mike and Cally Vaile and that we were able to help rehome their watercolours of Preuilly by mid-19th century artist John Louis Petit.

A Konik Polski mare
I fell in love with the little herd of Konik Polskis (Polish Ponies) at la Réserve naturelle de la Chérine, who took a strong interest in my project there surveying the species of diptera (flies) on the reserve. They were not always helpful though, as my bag of equipment held a fascination for them, and one did eventually manage to chew a hole in it while I wasn't looking.

An Early Spider Orchid (taken by my mum)
Another ongoing highlight throughout the summer was the many orchid species we saw and I look forward to repeating the experience next year.

What were your favourite posts from the blog in 2008? We'd love to know what you particularly enjoyed.

Tuesday 30 December 2008


At this time of year in the Southern Touraine (Touraine cote sud in French) any reasonably open field that still has some greenery in it will also have a number of lapwing feeding during the day.

The lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) is a member of the plover family (it says here) and it feeds on worms and insects. They are difficult birds to get a photo of (or at least they are around our area) because they fly away if you get too close, and we only ever seem to see them on dull grey days. This means the photos are taken at long distance in poor light - not perfect for clean, sharp photos.
This photo was taken on the edge of
the Foret de Preuilly
This year it is an ambition to take a good photo of a Lapwing. It was also an ambition last year - when I took the above photo.


Monday 29 December 2008

Dragonflies in the Southern Touraine and Berry 2008

2008 wasn't a fantastic year for dragonfly watching. I don't think numbers were particularly down, but there was a dearth of the fairly still warm weather that gets them up in the air and visible. Nevertheless, we still managed a few more species to add to the personal checklist for the area, and here is a selection of what we saw:

Common Bluetail
The females of this very common damselfly come in several attractive soft colour combinations. I wrote about them in last year's account of our dragonflies and damselflies, with two more photos.

Banded Demoiselle
Another lovely I wrote about last year. Although this species is apparently common in the Southern Touraine and Berry, the truth is that populations on a local level can be easily eradicated by pollution, overly interventionist management of watercourses eg canalisation, cutting streams off from their exits into bigger streams, over-exploitation by irrigation causing a drop in water levels or flow, drainage schemes to create more land for crops, even inappropriate mowing regimens undertaken at the wrong time of year or too close to banks and shorelines, or allowing too dense a growth of trees to spring up too close to the water's edge.

Azure Bluet
One of the commonest damselflies in Europe, I wrote about this pretty little species here.

Western Clubtail
This female Western Clubtail Gomphus pulchellus was not very co-operative about getting her portrait done. This is as close as we could get. The species is called le Gomphe joli in French, and is endemic to (ie occuring only in) south-western Europe, France being its stronghold. They like very slow or still water, such as the gravel pit that this one was photographed near. There are half a dozen lookalike species, three of which occur locally, but all rarer than this species. The flight season is rather short, May to July.

Small Spreadwing
Lestes virens vestalis is the third of a possible five species of Spreadwing that we can see in the Southern Touraine and Berry. This one, le Leste verdoyant in French, is the smallest and plainest. It was photographed in a hurry on an extremely windy day in September in the Bois de Las (a part of the Réserve naturelle de la Chérine, not accessible to the public) where I was surveying for Diptera (flies). Like most Spreadwings, it is very much a species of wet grasslands, and so is common in the Brenne. I wrote about its bigger, more showy cousins, the Migrant Spreadwing and the Western Willow Spreadwing last year.

Ruddy Darter
This young lady got accidently swept up from the long grass where she was resting into my net when I was surveying for Diptera (flies) at la Rondières, an area (no public access) managed by la Réserve naturelle de la Chérine in la Brenne. She would have been sitting completely still, hanging on to a grass stalk below the seedhead and completely invisible to me, so well does her colouration camouflage her presence. She is a teneral (juvenile, not fully coloured) female Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum, and although she sat for quite a while on the net, eventually flew off none the worse for the experience. I thought originally that she was a Common Darter, because she does have very fine yellow stripes on her legs, but Eric Mâle-Malherbe, the local expert, assures me she is a Ruddy Darter. It takes a lot of experience to identify these yellow darters – there are several very similar species and they all fly together. This species is very common from June to October anywhere there is still water with lush marshy vegetation all through France and much of England. In French, the name is le sympétrum rouge sang. The reason for all this emphasis on redness is that the males are a quite bright orangey red. They are strong migrants, and some of the French population ends up in Britain every year.

Moustached Darter
This is a young male, and again I had to ask Eric his opinion. This time he agreed with my identification of it as a Moustached Darter Sympetrum vulgatum, although it is nigh on impossible to be absolutely certain of these yellowy teneral darters from photos. This species is known as le sympétrum vulgaire in French, and is another one that is easy to mistake for a Common Darter. It is a localised species, to be seen around standing water and the surrounding grassland in the Brenne from June to October. The moustache in question can be seen better in this picture, as well as the secondary genitalia which told me which sex and species this was. He will get redder with time.

Hawker larval skins
Dragonfly larval skins are called exuviae. The species that emerged can be identified from these remains as each have exuviae with unique characters, just as the larvae (or nymphs) and the adults do. Unfortunately I couldn't identify these, as not enough detail is visible in the photo. Eric says he thinks they are some Aeshna sp (called Mosaic Hawkers in English, or les Aeschnes in French), some of the largest of the European dragonflies. My mother took this photo in the Brenne.

Broad Scarlet
This battered old lady posed for us on the edge of a field near a gravel pit just outside of Yzeures sur Creuse. I struggled to identify her, because she has grown so dark with age, but as soon as Eric said she looked like a Crocothemis erythraea I realised he was exactly right. The combination of the patch of yellow on the base of the lower wings, the white stripe between the wings and legs that are not black could only add up to a Broad Scarlet (la libellule écarlate in French), and according to one of my references, their favoured habitat is gravel pits. The females, who start out a sort of mustard yellow, not the scarlet of their male counterparts, often darken to this rather odd charcoal colour. We would have liked to get closer to this one for better photographs, but although she obliging sat in the sun on this stick, making short flights and returning again and again, there was a deep roadside ditch and an impressive band of stinging nettles between her and us, so this is the best photo we could manage. The Broad Scarlet is really an African species that is common around the mediterranean and for the last 30 years has been heading north, like so many dragonfly species. It is common in the southern Touraine and Berry from May to September.

Blue Emperor
This female Blue Emperor Anax imperator, the largest dragonfly species in the Southern Touraine and Berry, was photographed in a wheatfield near Preuilly at 9pm one evening in late May. Simon and I had gone for a post-dinner walk and encountered her 'hawking' up and down the track through the wheat. Eventually she caught a Flesh Fly Sarcophaga sp and settled down to eat it. We were so close to her we could hear her crunching as she munched. L'Anax empereur, as they are known in French, is common in most of France and southern England and Wales. It is easily identified by its large size, apple green thorax and downcurving abdomen in flight. They are most often seen patrolling up and down a linear territory like a track, hedgerow or ditch, and will come up to you to inspect you when you first enter their territory. After they have seen you once, they will ignore you on subsequent passes through their territory – indicating that they have a visual memory.


Sunday 28 December 2008

The Roofs of Preuilly sur Claise

Usually when I post a photo looking across Preuilly it is taken from near the Chateau.

This photo was taken in September from the new improved photo spot mentioned in a previous post. The big advantage of the new spot is that there is no garden wall immediately in front of you. The disadvantage is that one false step could have you rolling down a steep bank and through someone's cabbages. Still - if they can't cope with plunging Anglos, they shouldn't have a vegetable garden at the foot of a cliff...

One of the things I like about the location is that it gives a new and different view across Preuilly, including a previously unseen view of the Mairie roof.

We have commented before how close Roux is to Preuilly. Roux is the hamlet visible just above the Mairie spire (most visible is a range of slight off-white farm sheds). If you know where to look, you can even see the gite we rent when we don't stay in our own indoor camping site.

Today we are visiting the Marché aux truffes de Marigny-Marmande. We went last year with M. & Mme Proust, but this year we are visiting on our own and intend buying an ungraded truffle for home consumption. No doubt we will be buying other gourmet foodstuffs as well, so hopefully this will provide Susan with lots of really tasty and interesting blog posts, and as a side effect (purely coincidental, of course) a plate or two of food I will have to eat.

Details of the Truffle Market are here


Saturday 27 December 2008

Soufflés aux poires

This really is the simplest and quickest of desserts, and ideal for someone like me who seems to always have leftover eggwhites hanging about in the freezer after making custard (crème anglaise).

Soufflé aux poires, ready to serve

First, butter some individual soufflé dishes, then coat the inside of the dish with sugar. Set these aside and turn on the oven to heat to 180°C.

Pears for soufflé don't have to be beautiful

Now prepare the soufflé. You will need eggwhites, sugar (use some of your vanilla sugar that you made after using the vanilla pods for cannelés), some fruit (I've used pears here, but I also make this recipe with oranges, raspberries or blackberries) and a liqueur that goes with the fruit (for pears I use Poire William, for oranges Grand Marnier, and for red berries, cassis). The proportions for each serving are: 1 eggwhite, 1 rounded tablespoon of sugar, half a pear, 0-1 teaspoon of liqueur (depending on personal preferences).

Be generous with the sugar coating on the soufflé dish

Peel and core the pear and chop into small dice (1cm or less). Beat the eggwhites until stiff, add the sugar, then fold in the fruit and liqueur. Spoon into the sugar coated soufflé dishes and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, set the hot soufflé dishes on side plates and rush to the table so everyone can be amazed at how high they rose.


Friday 26 December 2008

Fun with French: bonjour

Arriving at Poitiers airport

Your regular polite greeting in France, being literally 'good day'. In rural areas you use it on everyone you encounter in the street, in the shops and when out for a walk, whether you know them or not. None of this citified pretending the other person doesn't exist – in rural France everyone greets everyone else politely with bonjour or m'sieu, dame or possibly both. Some text books will tell you that if you don't add monsieur or madame to your greeting you are actually delivering a subtle French insult by being so disrespectful. I would say though that tone of voice and body language play a much bigger part in this game. If you say bonjour in a clearly friendly manner no one seems to notice or care if there is a monsieur or madame attached. It might be different if I was actually French though.

Once a week un petit troupeau of about a dozen school kids clatters down our street. I've never worked out quite where they are coming from, or indeed, to whence they are going (although I assume the gymnasium or swimming pool). Although they hardly give one a second glance as they bound along, many of them will call out bonjour as they pass.

One day I was standing in the street chatting with our 80+ year old neighbour (elle est d'un âge certain) as the skittering human avalanche approached. Our neighbour looked after them sourly, shook her head and tutted that les jeunes never say bonjour any more. I didn't like to point out that, in fact, several of them had quite clearly greeted us, and perhaps she is un peu sourd.

If the person you encounter and greet is also someone you know then the ritual is extended to shaking hands, or if you are particularly friendly, exchanging bises (pronounced 'beez'), those quintessentially French air kisses. (Aim for right cheek to right cheek first and in the Touraine it is two kisses, four if you are very pleased to see one another. In Paris four is standard, so goodness knows how they indicate an extra level of fondness – or perhaps one doesn't – too unspeakably beauf ?)

If everyone is feeling casual and relaxed and the greeting exchange is between friends, you can ring in a Salut ! , which is the equivalent of 'Hi!'.

If you run into someone for a second time in the same day, you can apparently greet them with rebonjour. I don't think I have ever heard a French person using it, but I have tried it out a couple of times on our nice friendly neighbour Monsieur M. who I generally see in the street at least two or three times a day. He hasn't reacted as if I've said anything odd, but there is always the question of whether he has understood anything I've said to him. His wife occasionally stops to enquire about progress on the house, but when I get in too much of a tangle she will stop me with [we will continue this conversation] 'when you are more fluent'.


Thursday 25 December 2008

Joyeux Noel

To All Our Friends
Merry Christmas

Simon & Susan

Four years ago we spent Christmas in Paris. On the afternoon of Christmas Day it seems that the whole of Paris descended on the Champs Élysées, and those who can find somewhere to park - or come by metro - walk up and down the street. The less fortunate seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in their cars going nowhere much at all.

We hesitate to point out that Preuilly-sur-Claise never gets this busy, but it's true. Maybe that is one of the reasons we like the place so much.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

The Roman Ruins at Sanxay

When Susan's parents were with us in France we took a trip to the Vendee, near Niort. On the way, we visited the ruins of a Romano-Gallic town near Sanxay, southwest of Poitiers.

The big three attractions here are the amphitheatre, a huge bathhouse, and a temple. Like many big things photographing them doesn't do justice to just how enormous they are.

The amphitheatre used to seat 8,000 people: that's about the size of the Albert Hall in London and all the auditoriums in the Sydney Opera House - combined! It is built into the hillside, so unlike the Colosseum in Rome it has no towering outside walls - and it is round as opposed to elliptical. Another difference to the Colosseum is that it was buried in a field in France for over 1500 years, rather than being in the centre of a living city in Italy. Every year in August there is a music festival held in the amphitheatre, the highlight of this year's being a performance of Verdi's requiem. That one is going into the diary...

From the amphitheatre you follow a path beside the Vonne river, then cross a little bridge to the baths.

The bathhouse is enormous - and apparently even bigger once than what can be seen now. It has recently been roofed over, much in the style which it would originally have been done. Of course, the new work is beautifully done, although in oak posts and beams where originally it would have been done in brick and stone, but the tiles are the Roman style still used in the area.

From the bathhouse you walk up a slight hill through what would have been the centre of town to the Temple. It is difficult to imagine this bucolic spot as a thriving town, because none of the houses are visible. Only a small portion the site has been excavated, but even this has been re-covered. I know why this is done (conservation and all that) but seeing just one house would have made a difference to me

The temple is in the shape of a Greek Cross and was built in the second century over a spring dedicated to a Gallic deity . The Romans often did this, deciding that a local god was the same chap (or chapess) as a Roman one, and dedicating a temple to both. (One example is in Bath in England).

There is a great aerial photo of the temple here.

Sanxay is a really interesting place, and even has a guidebook in English for the non-francophones amongst us as well as a decent book/gift shop. When we there there, even though it was a lovely early summer's day, we were the only visitors on the site for most of the time. Sometimes for non-french speakers it is difficult to find out what tourist attractions are around,and as is often the way with a lot of our "discoveries" in France, I found out about Sanxay by browsing the Survol de France website.


Tuesday 23 December 2008

La vraie crême anglaise

C'est-à-dire, custard.

Custard is quite easy to make, except for the tricky bit at the end where you have to watch it like a hawk and stir continuously to prevent it curdling. I make custard frequently, as Simon is very keen on good stodgy British puddings*, washed down with rather more custard than is an elegant sufficiency.

Splitting the vanilla pod
First, slice a vanilla pod open and scrape out the seeds. Put the seeds and the pod in to infuse in a pint of milk, by bringing it to the boil then setting it aside for 20 minutes.

Next, mix together 4 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of sugar (vanilla flavoured if you've been reusing your vanilla pods frugally) and 2 teaspoons of cornflour. I most definitely stir these ingredients together, never whisk – the added air with whisking changes the flavour and mouthfeel of the custard. You may like the more moussy effect, but I find it a bit weird. The addition of cornflour is a cheat, by the way. It acts to help stabilise the mixture and give you more leeway before it curdles. I can make beautiful custard without the cornflour, but it takes a little bit longer and I have to be more careful about the temperature. Our stove has solid plates which heat up and cool down slowly, so I don't have the control I would like over the temperature and have to use a work around. I could use a bain marie, but that's a bit more trouble and the thickening takes even longer.

Pear and walnut cake, taking a custard bath
Bring the milk back to the boil, then strain into the egg mixture. Give it a quick stir and clean the saucepan, which may have a bit of caramelised milk stuck to the bottom. Put the custard mixture back in the clean saucepan and set on a medium-low heat. Stir constantly, making sure it stays just under boiling point, until it is thickened. This will make a pouring sauce. If you want thick gloopy custard, just double the quantity of cornflour.


*Actually, Simon is keen on most puddings - and the true meaning of "elegant sufficiency" is "not enough". Simon

Monday 22 December 2008

Butterflies in the Southern Touraine, 2008

(Better late than never!)

Although 2008 was an appalling year for butterflies, with numbers drastically down even from the quite poor year before, we still managed to add some new species for us for the area. The weather really conspired against butterflies this year, being wet and not terribly warm for much of the spring and summer.

Here is a selection of what we saw:

Small Heath
Small Heaths are absolutely everywhere all summer long in France wherever there is the unimproved grassland that their caterpillars require. Their scientific name is Coenonympha pamphilus and their French name is le Procris or le Fadet commun. As yet, their population is unaffected by modern changes to agricultural practices in France, but this is not the case in Britain, where they remain widespread, but subject to sudden local declines.

One of my field guides describes the Peacock Inachis io as 'a handsome and familiar butterfly'. It is widespread, common and thriving, and extending its range northward in Britain (although conversely rare around the Mediterranean). It is not picky about habitat, although likes to have handy nectar plants available for the adults, and the caterpillars feed on nettles. In French called le Paon-du-jour, not to be confused with le Paon-du-nuit, which is a moth.

What a peculiar name for a butterfly, you might think, but the underside does look remarkably like a detailed map. The other peculiar thing about this butterfly is that it has two broods, one in spring and one in summer and they look so different you would assume they are different species. This one is the summer version, and is quite abundant in June along the riverbanks of central France – they like damp sunny woodland edges and linear territories, again with nettles for the caterpillars. The link to the underside mentioned above is to the other colouration, seen in the spring. The spring generation is less common. The Map Araschinia levana is called, surprise, surprise, la Carte géographique in French. This is a quite small butterfly (3-4cm across as compared to its most common lookalike in the area, the Southern White Admiral, which is 4.5-5.5cm from wingtip to wingtip), but very watchable and appealing.

Essex Skipper
What's an Essex Skipper doing in central France you ask? Well, in France Thymelicus lineola is called l'Hespérie du dactyle, and it is quite common in central France in open mixed grasslands. It is called the Essex Skipper because that is where it was first discovered, as recently as 1889, to be a separate species with a quite different lifecycle to the very, very similar looking Small Skipper, which also occurs quite commonly in the Touraine, Berry and most of the rest of France. It continues to thrive in Essex, and indeed is extending its range. How do I know this is an Essex Skipper? It has black tips to the antennae (Small Skippers have orange) and you will be amazed how easy that difference is to spot in the field once you know what to look for.

Dingy Skipper
Oh dear...the English name for Erynnis tages is rather unflattering compared to the French le Point-de-Hongrie. Point de Hongrie is a style of chevron patterned parquetry flooring, very fashionable in France in the 19th century, and I think more likely to be the derivation of the name than the more colourful bargello embroidery also known as Hungarian Point/Point de Hongrie. The butterfly is exactly the colour of a richly patinated hardwood floor, and not easy to spot if sunning itself on a bare piece of earth. The species is quite abundant in most of France where there is dry flowery grassland, heathland, chalk downland, disused railway lines and quarries or waste ground with a mixture of taller vegetation and bare patches, but in serious decline in Britain due to habitat loss. Because of its dull colouration and habit of sitting with its wings folded down around its body, most people probably never even notice this butterfly, or if they do, think it is a moth.

Checkered Skipper
This Checkered Skipper Carterocephalus palaemon was photographed by my mother in the Fôret de Preuilly in late May (its peak flight period). In French they are called l'Hespérie du brome (brome being the type of grass the caterpillars eat) or l'Echiquier. In the past a widespread but localised species, they can be seen in damp forest clearings and the edges of peaty bogs in Indre et Loire, but throughout France are becoming increasingly scarce, and went extinct in England in 1976. One of my field guides says that that the only species you are likely to mistake the Chequered Skipper for is the Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina. Not very much chance of that in the Touraine and Berry. We arrived one day at the Maison de Nature in the Brenne, and the warden I was meeting rushed up, apologising that he was a little late, but there had been a Duke of Burgundy seen about half an hour earlier, only the second record ever for the Réserve de la Chérine.

Camberwell Beauty
The Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa is le Morio in French. Even though my parents and I only got this brief and rather distant glimpse, the species is so distinctive as to be unmistakable – velvety chocolate brown with a broad cream border and a row of blue spots. My mother snapped this shot in the Fôret de Preuilly in late May. The distribution of this butterfly throughout France is rather patchy, and its numbers vary greatly from year to year. They are creatures of woods and woodland edges, and often migrate quite long distances, with a few making it to Britain every year, ending up rather tattered as this one is. The adult butterflies feed on the oozing sap of birch trees.

The Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni (le Citron) is quite common throughout France and England, and appears in early spring through to late autumn. This female was photographed in Chanceaux près Loches in early May. The unusual outline and greeny-yellow colouring allows it to almost disappear in the spring foliage. They can be seen on the edges of forests, clearings and rides, open woodland, open grassland with or without trees and scrub. It is generally believed that this species is the original 'butter (coloured) fly'.

Black Veined White
I found this one dead in early June in the garden of the gîte we stayed in with my parents in Roux, so we took the opportunity to photograph it. We did see a few in the long grass round the back of the gîte, but never managed to get a good photo. The simply but elegantly attired Black Veined White Aporia crataegi is called le Gazé or la Piéride de l'aubepine in French. This one is a male, as the white scales on the wings have good coverage – in females the scales are more patchy, often leaving areas translucent. The population of this species varies greatly from year to year. Although I saw more this year than last, that may be because we were on their migratory route this year for some reason, and not last year. They can be abundant, but are retreating against the tide of intensive agriculture, with its wholesale destruction of hedgerows to make bigger and bigger fields. Also, the caterpillars are particularly sensitive to herbicides. Numbers are down year on year in western and south-western France, and in the north they have virtually disappeared. They went extinct in England in the 1920s. They can be seen in hedges, rose bushes, wooded natural or improved grasslands and forest edges.

Adonis Blue
I wrote about the beautiful Adonis Blue last year, along with some of the other species we saw in 2007, but I thought I would include this one here anyway. It was photographed while we were orchid spotting at Chaumussay in late May.


Sunday 21 December 2008

The Shortest Day

This time last year we were on a ferry, leaving Dover for France. This is sunrise over the inner harbour, Dover, taken from the deck of SpeedFerry One.

This will probably be the last post we ever make with the label "SpeedFerry"

Saturday 20 December 2008

It's Holiday Time

Last year on Christmas Day we took a drive through the area around Preuilly, and later posted some of the photos, including this one of ice under the bridge at Humeau on the road to Chaumussay.

Looking at the photos almost a year later, we like the look of them so much we have decided to use one of them for our blog's extra special Christmas Holiday/New Year party dress.

This year we are going to be staying in our own house in Preuilly rather than renting the gite in Roux as we have done the last two years. I expect we could end up with a lot of winter photos of the area, because the heating in the house is insufficient whereas the heater in the car works - if only on the"melt ankles" setting.

The hamlet of Humeau, looking across the bridge over the River Claise

Susan and Simon

Friday 19 December 2008

A Roof in Need of Loving

I think the house under this roof is currently for sale. Not for a lot of money, but I would hazard a guess that the roof might need some work.

Talking of roofs, I mentioned in a previous post about aggrandising your house by replacing terracotta tiles with slate as and when you can afford it. In the above photo you will notice a roof where the some of the terracotta tiles have been replaced with modern tiles. At first glance, they could be modern concrete tiles - not usually a good idea, because concrete tiles are heavy, and the roof needs a lot more structure to it - but there are a number of places nearby where tiles this shape are made in terracotta. I don't know if these are the terracotta tiles, but I hope so...

There is a fine example of the "replacing tiles with slate because tiles are for poor people" syndrome at the bottom of the rue des Pavillons. Facing the Abbaye it's all tiles slate, but the back of the building is relatively untouched. You might also notice the small area of lead roofing on the Abbaye itself.

This is an interesting example of conspicuous consumption - The slate on roofs last 100 years at most, whereas terracotta roofs seem to go on forever.


ps The blog will be offline for about 5 minutes tomorrow morning.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Un p’tit beurre, des touyous


You will no doubt be as relieved as I was that the car started OK yesterday, and I was able to get to Kwikfit for a battery test. Interestingly, the machine showed nothing wrong with the battery or the alternator, so it must just have been the fact we don't use the car in London and it's been cold. Sometimes this can make a battery discharge. Because the battery is nowhere near dead yet but needed charging, I did a bit of a drive around and went to Comet (the electrical people) and bought a 500GB hard drive to store our photos.

So now I have somewhere to keep my photos, and (hopefully) a car that's all topped up with electricity.


Wednesday 17 December 2008

Packing for Winter

Our car is currently in London, while I load it up with stuff to take to Preuilly for Christmas.

Unlike the load of stuff I packed in April, this is mainly concerned with keeping us warm: Susan scoured the City of London and bought the last 5 hot water bottles existing in the civilised world, a couple of pairs of gloves each - waterproof ones for outdoors stuff and fingerless ones for inside wear, and thick socks (Brashers 4 seasons) to go with the waterproof après-ski boots we bought last year. Add to this our woolly slippers, hats, thermal underwear, wrist warmers (yes, really) and I begin to wonder how I will pack the most important item of all - the Christmas cake!

I mentioned the car being in London because when here it has to sit out in the weather, rather than being in a nice warm garage. It doesn't like this overly much, especially as we have had some pretty icy weather of late. It has been churning a bit before starting, and then yesterday - it didn't start at all. The battery was as flat as a flat thing being sat on by an elephant.

Luckily our car insurance comes with inbuilt roadside assistance. A quick call to the delightful Marie-Hélène at Thelem in Preuilly to make sure we are covered outside France, then I rang the assistance number and spoke French to them! I dislike calling France on the phone, my already sparse language skills tend to completely desert me when I can't use sign language. I did manage to communicate my needs after a few false starts, and they said someone would call me.

A couple of hours later I received a call from a local company (about 5 miles down the road) to check my address and soon after a whacking great truck rolled up to take my car to the mechanic's. Our driveway, however, isn't meant for whacking great trucks, and there was no way he was going to get anywhere near the car. The mechanic does, however, have a couple of Ford Transit vans, and he arranged for one of them to come out instead.

Imagine my surprise then, when an hour later TWO whacking great trucks rolled up. The vans were all busy, so the driver of the first truck had grabbed a mate and they came down (each in his own whacking great truck) to push my car down the driveway, whence they could hook it up to the battery in the truck and jump start me.

Now all I have to do is buy a new battery (I'm doing that today, assuming the car will start) and we should be all ready for the trip to our first Christmas in our new home.


Tuesday 16 December 2008

The Hole in the Door

This door is in the rue de la Treille, Preuilly sur Claise. If you look carefully, you can see a prototype cat flap - the kind without a flap. Either that, or it's a newspaper delivery slot for a midget paperboy.

Do you think they get a draught?

This house has featured in the blog before - it also possesses the window at the top of this post.


Monday 15 December 2008

The Bad Neighbours

Malvoisine is the name of a very small hamlet just outside Preuilly. The Chateau de Malvoisine was built in 1909 on land which had been cultivated since the middle ages, but interestingly appears never to have had a chateau until this late date. The house has now taken the name of the area as its own.

The word "malvoisine" is an interesting one. I am sure we are not the only people to have wondered why you would blatantly (nay, proudly) advertise yourself as "the bad neighbour", but this could be yet another a dastardly linguistic trick; Malvasia is a grape variety grown around the Mediterranean region and Malvoisie is the Old (medieval) French for both the grape and the wine made from it - known in English as Malmsey.

English readers - and lovers of Shakespeare everywhere - will instantly recognise the name Malmsey.

George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, was the son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and brother of Edward IV and Richard III. The Plantagenet Dynasty started in Angers in 870 and became the Kings of England when Henry II ascended the throne in 1154. The line lasted almost unbroken (but a little bent) until Richard III was defeated at Bosworth in 1485. The current Monarch of England (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and 14 other countries) and her successors are distant descendants of the Plantagenet line. (If you want more on the Plantagenets, look here. It's complicated - don't say you weren't warned!)

Anyhow, back to Malmsey...

George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (remember him?) is traditionally said to have been executed for treason (he plotted against his brother Edward IV) by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey Wine*. This is also the story Shakespeare used in the play Richard III, but it is possible that it originated as a wry comment on the fact that George Plantagenet was pretty useful with a wine glass. Another theory is that George's body was transported to Tewkesbury Abbey for burial from the Tower of London (the scene of the execution) in a barrel of wine, much in the same way Nelson's body was returned to England from Trafalgar in a cask of brandy.

Then again, the Malvoisine could just have been bad neighbours...


*The story was first reported by Dominic Mancini in his book De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium (The Occupation of the Throne of England by Richard III).