Monday 31 January 2011

Emigrating to Australia, Part 3

Part three of my mother's diary from the days we emigrated to Australia in 1967 - here are parts one and two. This part of the diary deals with the first couple of days of living in a new country with 3 young children and a husband looking for work.

Sydney Airport in 1967
Got off 'plane - Simon sick. First time anybody felt unwell. Flying is good. You get a funny feeling on take off - not unpleasant though. Once you're up it's smoother than a car ride. If Ernie and I could have slept we would have enjoyed it even more. Not the airlines fault though. The 'plane was less than 1/2 full so we all had a blanket and three seats to stretch out on. Too much to think about I suppose.

Mr Mattison met us at airport and took us to our lodging. We are looking foward to bedtime to get some sleep.

Ernie out this afternoon for job so missed Clive Brown who called to see us. Elizabeth been asleep several hours so hope that she will sleep tonight.

Jonathan and Simon played with cars on floor. I fell asleep on chair. Got the children in bed when I woke up then Ernie and I had supper and went to bed. All three children woke up between 2 and 4 and refused to settle. We realised that it would take time for them to adjust to a different time and climate but when you are desperate for sleep and your children are wide awake - well!!!

Ernie fixed up with job. Plenty of work out here. About 10% moonlight and £60 is not unusual for a man to take home. Clive has a lad of 17 in his congregation started up his own cleaning business and is doing very well. Earns about $200 a week. You will all have to come here and we will start our own family business. All we need is hard work from everybody and we could do very well.

This country is booming and I hope that we can take part and share the rewards.

Lots and lots of love to all, glad you all came to the airport


Hope you received all the cards. We sent one from each stop but at Karachi-Calcutta and Darwin we wrote the cards, paid for the stamp and had to leave it with an official to post. The other places had letter boxes.

Still can't get over Karachi. It's like something out of a comic opera. Time seems to have passed it by for a long time then they suddenly woke up. Most of the labourers at the airport wore the baggiest of shorts (or loin cloths) and sandals about 4 sizes too big The soldiers were the funniest though. They also haven't very high standards of sanitation.

Last Page

Couldn't post this yesterday as I was unable to get a large envelope. Today is a public holiday (ANZAC Day) so will try tomorrow. Ernie fixed up with job at Commonwealth Savings Bank. Quite good wages $58 a week. That's A£29 or £22E.

It's amazing the number of men who wear shorts, to work and leisure. One fellow came down to breakfast today in yellow-orange-white and blue squared shorts and no-one (apart from us) batted an eyelid. When we have a bit more cash Ernie will have to get some. (Not y-o-w&b squares though). Jonathan is still refusing to walk anywhere. He is taking longer than the other two to get acclimatised. Elizabeth has made a conquest with several of the other guests. She was still asleep on Sunday morning at breakfast time so we let her sleep. Half way through I heard someone say, oh look, bless her. It was our daughter still in her pyjamas, hair everywhere and her cheeks all pink She looked a picture and everyone was saying - isn't she sweet, pretty etc. Trust Elizabeth to get everyone hooked.

I took this to the post office yesterday to be weighed and it will cost $1 that's 8/4d English money. Won't be able to do that very often, will I?

It's worth it though, because I find it interesting to read what happened on the journey and I hope that you do too. Please keep it so that I can read it when I come back for a holiday.

The Union Flag flies more here than it does in England, The Cof E churches fly the English flag as well.

I remember this photo as being taken fairly
soon after we arrived in Sydney
One or two notes: I have no recollection of having been sick. I remember the huge tin shed that was Mascot Airport in those days, I remember how blue the skies were, how hot the car was, and a man in uniform with shorts, but I do not remember being sick. I also remember going over the harbour bridge on our way to the boarding house which was our temporary accommodation.

I also remember going out in a car on a journey not mentioned here. I am sure it must have been Anzac day (but probably wasn't), and we went to the shops. When we got back to the car the plastic seats were hotter than the centre of the sun. Dad may not have had any shorts, but I certainly did.

And.. The boarding house we stayed in is the reason I do not eat (and indeed cannot eat anything that has been in contact with) pumpkin. On one of our first days they served mashed pumpkin (I assume cooked like mash potato) with an ice cream scoop - two perfectly formed balls of something radioactively orange that looked like it was yummy and exciting (i.e. a new ice cream flavour) that tasted like yuk. They also served curried sausages - fried sausages that had curry sauce (curry powder mix flavoured gravy) poured over them.

Luckily, it didn't put me off sausages.

The money thing is interesting: Australia had only just changed from £Sd to the Australian Dollar (14 February 1966), so money amounts can appear in any currency: Australian or British pounds or Australian dollars (but never all three).

We were sponsored immigrants to Australia as part of the "Bring out a Briton" campaign, and as such my parents had to pay £10 each towards their airfare - we three children flew for free. All Australian immigration records have been digitised and a searchable index put online and you can register an account and ask for a record to be made available to view online. My father did just that a couple of years ago for our family records and they make really interesting reading: when people comment about Susan and I moving, first to London then to France, and saying how brave we are, I look at what my parents managed, and think no... not really...


Sunday 30 January 2011

Some Australian Wildflowers

The aptly named Fringe Lily, which grows in open eucalyptus woodland.

The equally aptly named Flannel Flowers which look just
like they are cut from white felt.

Christmas Bells, behind the dunes at the coast.

One of the banksia species, also at the coast.
You have no doubt heard about the floods in Queensland and NSW in the middle of January. One of our bloggy friends Kirstie had such a time of January (their house was flooded once and isolated by floodwaters twice) she has decided to start the year all over again, having a New Years Eve party at 18.00 Queensland time. We have decided to join her, so we have invited some friends over and will be having a glass or two of something soothing at exactly the moment this is posted: 18.00 Queensland time, or as it is known around here, breakfast time. We will be asking for donations which we will give to the flood relief appeal.

We will be experimenting with streaming video and audio from the party so you can join in. It may be amazing, but if it isn't we may stop the stream and just let you imagine what japes we are up to. The stream will be here.


Saturday 29 January 2011

Emigrating to Australia, Part 2

Part two of the diary my mother kept on the days we emigrated to Australia in 1967. Part one is here.

Difficult to write - so tired. Still enjoying it though. Being in a large aeroplane like being in a self contained world. Only trouble is that you stay in the same clothes all the time and you can't wash properly - the toilets have a tiny basin in them but no room to turn round. Every few hours the Stewardess brings small towels soaked in cologne. We all liked that.

Coming into Hong Kong exciting. We left land for a while and went over water - lots of islands, mostly no bigger than 100 yds long and wide. Some were just rocks sticking out of the water. We could see one liner and lots of junks. We knew Hong Kong just as if we had been there before. Houses on the hillside. Shacks made of bits of wood and rags. The airport (Tai-Pak) juts out into the sea and on one side we were only a few yards from the edge. Don't envy the captain's job.

I bought some slides 2"x2" of Hong Kong but won't send them by post in case they get lost... You will need some sort of viewer to look at them but it will be worth it as we will send you more from time to time. Dark as we left Hong Kong and all the lights on the hillside were twinkling, just like the lamp Len has. Elizabeth woke up just after I left the plane with Simon and Jonathan, so Ernie was able to leave the plane after all.

One day I will go back to Hong Kong to have a good look around.

At Hong Kong new menu cards were distributed but I didn't get one.

Arrived at Darwin on time 3.10am temperature 84F. Children full of beans even at that unearthly hour. Ours chasing around but all the other kids looking travel weary. About 20 kids on plane and only 1 sick.

Saw Flying Doctor aircraft.

Two tiny babies so they have Carrie-cots on special table at front of plane near 1st class part. Children slept part of time from Darwin to Sydney. This adoptive country of ours sure is big. We have been over desert and scrubland - now we are over mountains and nearing Sydney. Simon still asleep.

Elizabeth asked if we could play with the snow when we got off. We were at 30,000 feet and the clouds looked like snow. Didn't see Sydney until we were almost at airport.

Time to Fasten Seatbelt - time to sign off.

To be continued - Mum continued writing her impresions and experiences for the first few days were were in Australia, and they make interesting reading. However, as usual, she managed to miss out all the most important bits:

We were flying in the days well before interactive maps in airplanes, so we really didn't have much to go on except the airline map book, which reduced everything to straight lines. This meant that between Calcutta and Hong Kong the map showed us flying over Vietnam. I was glued to the window, just in case I managed to see a warplane being shot down.

We were at Hong Kong airport for 70 billion lifetimes (or maybe an hour or two) waiting for the plane to Sydney. We arrived in daylight and left in darkness. The comments about "knowing" Hong Kong probably come from postcards my Uncle Frank (who had been at sea) had sent home.

Darwin airport was absolutely heaving with Australian soldiers on their way to/from Vietnam. I had a can of Coke, and sometimes even now if I have a can of coke the taste will be exactly the same as I remember and take me back to Darwin at 3.00am.


Friday 28 January 2011

The Devil's Marbles

One of the most dramatic and photogenic landscapes in Australia is the rock formation known as the Devil's Marbles is in the Northern Territory. I went there with my family in the (Australian) autumn of 2006.

Dusk, with Ghost Gum, and moon rising
above the Marbles.

My father's shadow falls on one of the Marbles
as he takes a photograph of the scene.

Marbles scattered about amongst the spinifex
(a type of very spiky grass).

PS I have added some more information to the post on l'Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Echelles.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Emigrating to Australia, Part 1

In March 1967 my parents emigrated from London to Sydney, Australia. My Father (Ernie) had applied for and received assisted passage as his was a trade that was in demand in Australia. With my Mum (Grace), myself, (age 6¾) my sister Elizabeth (4½) and brother Jonathan (almost 3) we flew on a BOAC 707 from Heathrow to Sydney, in a trip that lasted 3 days.

Leaving London - Me, Uncle Bob, my sister Elizabeth,
Dad, Mum carrying Jonathan, and Mum's sister Elsie.
Elsie came to Australia a couple of years later.
As we were the first of my Mother's family to fly, she kept a diary on the menu booklet that airlines used to supply in those long gone days and sent it to her parents soon after we arrived in Australia. I am not sure when it came into my posession but I am fascinated by it, and hope that you get something out of it too.

I have scanned the document as well as transcribing it, but the writing does rather scoot from one page to another then back again. To keep things authentic I haven't tried to reorganise the photos, but I have transcribed the writing into the order in which it occurred.

BOAC Menu from April 1967
Hope that you can understand my writing. it was written in unusual circumstances so couldn't worry too much about it, and part of the time I was almost writing in my sleep.

Tried to get over the upset of saying "goodbye" by opening presents. The children helped so we can't sort out who bought what but they are all wonderful presents.

Hope that you can understand all that I have written, I thought that if I wrote as it happened you would get a better idea of the journey etc. Elizabeth just found her slippers (from Elsie I think) so we are both wearing the same slippers with our shoes tucked under the seats. With all the books etc. that you gave the children plus those that we bought - plus those that the air hostess gave them we have ½ a ton of stuff but they don't seem to mind (the airline I mean).

Passed over Paris. No cloud - good view. Passed over River Rhine. Lovely

Went above cloud for about ½ minute. Snow capped mountains on right. Switzerland fab. Little villages at bottom of mountains on right. Lots of forests. Zurich airport - mountains and forests on two sides.

About 5 minutes out of Zurich airport passed over mountains. They were covered in snow and we couldn't see the base of them because of mist and cloud. The ground now looks as if it is covered in cotton wool. Can't see the ground at all now. Left side of aeroplane looks dark - sunset on right. Approaching Rome in ½ hour

Almost at Rome. Sun has nearly set. Lovely sight. Dark now. Rome is congested so we have to circle for about 10 minutes Funny sensation , we are talking normally but we can hardly hear ourselves think although it is fairly quiet in the aeroplane.

Passing over Naples - pitch dark. Just been served with drinks and peanuts again. They don’t let you get hungry. Elizabeth kicking up a fuss, because she changed places with Jonathan and he drank her 'coke' and left her with orange squash.

They said that Ernie could sit in front of me so that Simon had two seats to sleep on. The only trouble is that the children have decided not to sleep although it is past nine o'clock. Ernie reading the Riot Act to Elizabeth without much effect. All three asleep now. Blankets are provided so there are blanketed bodies every where.

Had the most exciting part of the flight when I should have been asleep. Too many thoughts chasing around so I sat up and looked through the window. The sky was pitch black and dotted with millions of stars. As we were above the clouds there was nothing to obscure them. Cassiopea was on a level with me instead of being above. There were star clusters and I saw a shooting star. The ground looked a dark grey with a large patch of light coming in to view. It got brighter and brighter until I realised it was an airport (Bahrain). The runways looked like narrow streaks of yellow and the buildings a misty orange. After that not much to be seen. Sunrise was amazing. The sun was enormous but not on the horizon. Suddenly I realised why - what I saw was a reflection (or something) and when the sun rose the sky was brilliant.

Karachi stifling and brown. They take themselves very seriously. Scruffy looking soldiers with guns guarding one aeroplane. Wonder why? Saw very little of India - too cloudy and Ernie and myself deperately tired. Jonathan wouldn't wake up so Ernie stayed on the plane at Karachi and I did at Calcutta.

Just as well, the temperature was 84°F.

Dinner just arriving.

To be continued

I remember parts of the trip:
Going to the airport with my grandparents, and my father buying me my first ever Toblerone at Zurich Airport. The soldiers at Karachi (and the impossible heat!) and a Crackerjack book (which I still have) with activities. I wore a woollen suit with shorts (and a cap), so no wonder I remember the heat in Karachi. Or was it Calcutta, which Mum doesn't mention?


Wednesday 26 January 2011

Australia Day 2011

Today is the national day in Australia, but for many it won't be much of a party atmosphere. The government is talking about introducing a very controversial one off tax to help pay for the flood clean up. Billions have been lost through crops being ruined and mines (particularly coal) being inundated. The money to restore buildings and livelihoods must come from somewhere, and diverting funds from other projects is inevitable.

A typical Australian beach with soft pale sand and no crowds.
Nevertheless, Australians have a reputation for knuckling down and getting on with it, especially in rural areas. Whilst there is a certain amount of blame flinging going on at present, I hear from several of my friends that they have been greatly moved by the willingness of volunteers from areas less affected to pitch in and clean up the stinking muddy residue. Of course, the people who will never recover entirely are those who have lost loved ones, and those whose houses were engulfed are fairly traumatised, whether they are showing it or not.

This scene was immortalised by the Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira
(the trees have seen better days).
I was particularly struck by the captions on some photos in The Sentinel, the newspaper that serves the town my parents live in, and where I spent my teenage years. Here is a selection - the article was headed 'Flood devastation after wettest year on record':

No mail today...snakes or ducks are about the only things Wendy Pfeffer is likely to find in her letterbox. (The picture shows Wendy at a roadside mailbox, up to her waist in water, which stretches for many metres all around her.)

Self-mulching...Kevin and Vicki Bond's prizewinning garden at Pampas was just one of many inundated after Christmas. Three months ago the garden won the small homestead section of the Carnival of Flowers competition. (The picture shows some attractive small green weeping trees standing in a pond of dirty water and surrounded by a slurry of mud covered loose plant material dumped by the flood.)

Road closed - Perrier's Gully became a raging torrent on December 27. Cattle from the high school's agricultural farm were seen swimming, along with foxes to the safety of higher ground earlier in the day. The unrelenting force of the water took fences out with it. (The photo shows fast flowing water perhaps 100m across a gully that is normally dry.)
I'm sorry I can't show you the pictures, but the Sentinel is so small a concern that it doesn't even have a website. The paper says that the winter grain crop losses in southern Queensland are estimated to be around $200 million and it is too early to assess the damage to the summer crops, but about 50% have been flooded. Local farmers also pointed out that equipment has been seriously damaged, as well as the transport infrastructure of roads and rail. The local council estimate the road repair bill will hit $10 millon and farmers report that items such as rollers, hay bales and fuel tanks have been carried up to 4 km by the floodwaters. The government is holding seminars throughout the flooded districts to advise people on available assistance, farm financial counselling and community services.

Introduced to Australia thousands of years ago by the Aboriginals,
dingoes are now completely naturalised wild dogs.
The total rainfall for the town was 1252 mm. That is 153 mm more than the previous wettest year and 434mm fell in December alone. Things were looking good until June - up till then they'd had just over the average rainfall with 430mm. The town has only had more than 1000mm five times in the past 124 years. The year before (2009) most dams and reservoirs in the area were perilously low - now every one is full to overflowing.

A different flood in a different Australian state.
The egrets are fishing on a flooded road.
Fortunately, the town itself is on higher ground on the edge of a vast floodplain of deep fertile aluvial soil given over mainly to broadacre farming and more recently, coal mining. The town was completely cut off, but my parents and other residents were in no danger at home. It was one of the few towns on the Darling Downs not to be completely inundated.

Most of the figures quoted above are for an area very similar to our own département of Indre et Loire. The main (only) city is Toowoomba, about the same population as Tours, the main occupations are rural, the town my parents live in is about the same population as Preuilly and situated about the same distance from the city. In the weeks just prior to this flood there was serious flooding further north and similtaneously the area to the east, including the state capital, Brisbane, flooded. The European news was reporting the event as covering the equivalent of France and Germany combined, but in Australian terms, it was at first a single state in the north, Queensland. Now the southern states are copping it. We thought the fires last year were bad, but this flood has turned into the worst natural disaster Australia has ever experienced (in economic terms if nothing else).

No swimming - if it's dry it's just sand,
if it's wet it's a raging torrent.
I am conscious though, that there are some small mercies. Floods occur in the summer in Queensland. It may not be the hottest summer but still warm enough for people to be out and about in shorts and tee-shirts. In Europe they occur in the middle of winter, like Xynthia. In Pakistan, 6 months after their devastion, many people are still living in refugee camps in the cold mountainous regions. It may be summer too in Brazil, but the mud in Queensland was nothing to the deluge they experienced. These events come so suddenly and so shockingly, disrupting our lives without warning, but at least in the wealthy nations we can provide the basics for all of our citizens given only a few weeks.

Our blogger friend Thirsty Kirstie, who has had rather an exciting time of it herself, is proposing that, since the year has begun so badly, we just ditch January 2011 and start again. She would like everyone to 'join' her at 18:00 on January 30, no matter where you are or what you are doing and have a drink to the new new year. Yippee - that means popping open a nice bottle of Vouvray at 9:00 on Sunday for us.


PS The Sentinel also had a small piece on my mother's 80th birthday party, brilliantly organised as a surprise by my father, who thought of everything. Except... perhaps they should have told my sister and I about their third daughter. It was in the paper, so it must be true.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

The Waterlily Man

Tomorrow is the centenary of the death of the French botanist Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac. In 1875 he founded a waterlily nursery, and his most celebrated customer was the Impressionist artist Claude Monet.

Native Yellow Waterlilies in the moat at Dissay.
Latour-Marliac and Monet met at the 1889 Paris World Fair, where, by happy chance, they were exhibiting in neighbouring pavillions. Four years later, when Monet purchased the meadow opposite his house at Giverny and built a water garden, Latour-Marliac was the man he turned to for a stock of waterlilies. Monet would spend the rest of his life painting them, and Latour-Marliac would ultimately breed 110 varieties.

The native White and Yellow Waterlilies growing together in the Brenne.
Latour-Marliac was born in the Aquitaine region in 1830, and originally studied law. The revolution of 1848 meant that he beat a prudent retreat to manage the family estate. Now he was free to indulge in botanical experimentation, and eventually set up the waterlily nursery on 4ha of land that included two wells, a stream and 14 springs. He brought together species from Sweden, France, America and China and cross pollinated using a method that is not entirely understood now. His cultivars are all sterile, presumably a deliberate ploy to ensure they could not themselves be bred from.

Waterlilies in a garden in the Northern Territory, Australia.
The resulting waterlilies, some tiny enough to be grown in a gold fish bowl, many reliably hardy, all in beautiful delicate tones, soon became famous, particularly after he began corresponding with William Robinson and contributing to Robinson's magazine, The Garden. By 1904, three-quarters of his trade was outside France, with British customers particularly. His customers included Leopold de Rothschild (Gunnersby Park), Gertrude Jekyll, Veitch's nursery, Tolstoy, the Olmsted brothers and the Vatican.

Waterlilies growing wild in Kakadu National Park, Australia
After his death his descendents continued the business until the 1980s. In the 1990s the owners of a British aquatic plant nursery saved Etablissements Latour-Marliac from closure, and the current owner acquired it in 2007. The nursery, situated about 100km south-east of Bordeaux, is now the third most visited tourist site in Lot-et-Garonne.


Monday 24 January 2011

Bisque de crevettes

Medium sized cooked prawns known as crevettes roses are cheap and good quality here. I buy them often from the fishmonger at the market, as do many people. I always save the heads and shells for making tasty fish stock, but I don't always get around to it and can build up a collection of little bags of prawn bits that sit in the freezer for quite a while. So I was glad to come across this super economical recipe for prawn chowder that uses them all up. The recipe is from a little book I received as a free gift from the supermarket. It's called Un dîner presque parfait ('Pretty Perfect Dinners') and has all sorts of advice for food shopping preparation and consumption.

Prawn heads and carrots boiled up in wine and stock.
Here is my translation:

It is rated as an easy, affordable entree for 4 people, taking 15 minutes to prepare and 50 minutes to cook.


500g prawn heads and shells
1 shallot*
1 carrot
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp brandy
150ml white wine
300ml fish stock
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1 bouquet garni
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

  1. Peel the shallot and garlic and take out the germ.
  2. Finely chop the shallot, garlic and carrot.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sweat the vegetables for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the prawn heads and shells and stir well.
  5. Add the brandy, then the wine and stock.
  6. Dilute the tomato concentrate in 400ml water.
  7. Add it to the saucepan with the bouquet garni.
  8. Season with pepper.
  9. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover and leave to cook for 30 minutes.
  10. Strain the mixture, pressing the prawn heads and vegetables well to extract every last bit of their flavour.
  11. Reheat the soup gently for a few minutes and add the cream.
  12. Taste to check the seasoning. You probably won't need to add salt.
The attractive and tasty finished soup.
*The original recipe calls for 1 belle échalote ('1 nice, good sized shallot'). No such specification is made for the carrot, so I assume any old carrot will do...


Sunday 23 January 2011

A Typical Saturday in Winter

Living in this part of France is great: the scenery is really pleasant, the people are friendly, we have good markets and shops, and all the history and glamour of the Loire Valley is right on our doorstep.

None of which is much use when the weather is dull, grey cold, wet and windy. It's on days like those that we should be painting, and will be eventually. At the moment there is still some plaster to be sanded off before we can start on the attic bathroom, and neither of us really feel like painting at the moment.

So instead Susan has been translating a document from French about the mills on the Claise (fascinating, and coming one day in to a blog near you), made rhubarb and custard, and done a couple of loads of washing.

A photo of summer in Azay le Rideau to cheer us up
I, meanwhile, have been indexing photos, and putting locations and captions on the photos we have loaded on the web. This is a tedious job, but as I have been putting links to the business on them, I hope it will pay off.

We have also been mulling over decisions about cookers and mixers, and not yet getting anywhere.

In between times we sit by the fire, which is really pleasant.


Saturday 22 January 2011

The Collegiate Church of Saint Mélaine

High above the town of Preuilly-sur-Claise, within the medieval chateau walls, and now the private property of the current chateau owners*, sits the ruined collegiate church of Saint Mélaine. Built of tuffeau (soft limestone) in the 12th century, it qualifies as a collegiate church thanks to the honorary and transferrable title of Canon accorded to the Barons of Preuilly.

Built to replace an earlier (9th century) chapel, at the time of its construction it was richly decorated, but has had rather a rollercoaster time of it subsequently. Partially destroyed in the 16th century by the Protestants, it was reconstructed by César de Vendôme. César, the son of the good king Henri IV and his great love, Gabrielle d'Estrées, was Baron of Preuilly. A couple of centuries later, the church was laid waste again, during the Revolution. The only existing part of the 12th century building is the bell porch sheltering the entrance. Until the early 20th century this porch also sheltered a collection of remarkable capitals, but they were sold in 1930 (we have heard it was to pay for the restoration of the chateau) and now reside in the Cleveland Museum of Art's archive store in the United States.

There is some graffiti which is probably the work of a cleric in the 12th century. It shows a bishop with an old fashioned mitre giving the benediction, the cross turned towards the interior of the church. The initial 'M' indicates that this represents Saint Mélaine himself. The tomb of Mélaine, who was Bishop of Rennes in Brittany at the time of Clovis, was brought to Preuilly for safekeeping at the time of the Norman invasions (the Normans appropriated territory in all directions, not just England). This holy tomb was made the object of important pilgrimages on the part of loyal Bretons for three and a half centuries.


*I have a suspicion it's their garage.

Friday 21 January 2011

More Old Film

In November we posted an old family film which had been digitised and loaded on to the "Mémoire, les images d’archives en région Centre" website.

This is another which shows Preuilly sur Claise, as well as some of the chateau of the area: Boussay, Le Grand Pressigny and Rouvray.

I would have edited the film to show only those places near to us, but I was defeated by technology. At 4.10 there is a rather nice Traction Avant, as well.


Thursday 20 January 2011

The American Camp

Visiting Ken and Walt on Tuesday reminded us that although we took a photograph a couple of years ago, we have never blogged about the memorial on the bridge between Noyers and Saint-Aignan.

During World War One there was a substantial American replacement troop camp in Noyers-sur-Cher. The memorial says:
Occupied by the 1st Div VSA 24 Jan 1918 - 27 Dec 1918 and by the first replacement depot 27 Dec 1918 - 10 July 1919. A half million American soldiers passed through this depot. Erected in memory of the 853 American soldiers who died in this area.
The camp, with its rows and rows of pyramid shaped tents, was like a town in its own right, with a cinema, shops and repair workshops, a dance hall, basketball court, hospital and cemetery. It was American policy not to send newly arrived troops straight to the front, so the Sammies, as they were known, were stationed here so they could aclimatise, then be quickly and easily moved up to the north-east of France to the front line as required. Likewise, when the War ended, the camp was used as a mustering point while troops waited to be repatriated to the USA.

One of the most important facilities on site was Camp Hospital 26, situated opposite the current cemetery. Its own cemetery was on one side of the hospital grounds. Officially, it could hold 1500 patients, but in times of emergency, took up to 2200, dealing with medical, surgical and dental cases. As such, it was an exceptionally large facility of its kind and had several specialist clinics (for those banes of military life, venereal disease and flat feet). The usual standard for a camp hospital was 300 beds.

At the beginning of American involvement in the War there were 73 000 American hospital beds in France, for a force of 300 000 men, provided by a combination of new build and annexation of existing French facilities, with the co-operation and agreement of the French government. Camp Hospital 26 seems to have been a mixture of new construction, annexed existing French hospitals and other existing buildings. Six months later there was a total of 238 917 hospital beds, of which 25 232 were in Camp Hospitals. Towards the end of the war, partly because of the outbreak of influenza, which caused the bed occupancy to nearly double, the Americans were negotiating for the provision of 600 000 beds.

Camp Hospitals were intermediate establishments, between Field Hospitals and Base Hospitals. They were usually associated with a Convalescent Camp. The one at Noyers-sur-Cher was also located in what was known as the Intermediate Zone, that is, between the Front Line Zone (north of Orléans) and the Base Zone (west of Tours).


Wednesday 19 January 2011

Ovens Part 2

Yesterday we visited Ken and Walt, taking with us a large steak and kidney pudding, something they had never eaten before.

While we were there we discussed ovens/cookers and what to look for. We also picked their brains as to the location of the oven shops in St Aignan, so we could go and look at the ovens we have to choose between. Although we have previously seen the Smeg and Sauter cookers (as discussed here), we hadn't seen the Hotpoint Ariston, which was now within our price range due to the soldes.

As we left Ken and Walt, Susan and I discussed if we would cross the river to visit the kitchen shop on the other side. Susan was disinclined to, wanting just to visit the kitchen shop we would be passing on the way home, but as I had the cars keys (and probably more importantly, control of the steering wheel) we did cross the river and locate the kitchen shop.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post:
Roofs in Chisseaux, one of which needs work.

Imagine our surprise when we walked into the shop only to see the exact cooker we were wanting to look at. This is a truly amazing thing, and may be a sign, although we will be buying the cooker online at a saving of almost 45% on the price displayed in the shop.

We also discussed Kitchenaid mixers, as Ken and Walt have one, and everyone who has ever used them raves about them. We would rather like one of these; Susan because they are stylish, solid and really useful, and me because Susan can make cakes and biscuits with them. In France these are incredibly expensive (almost as much as the cooker) and in the UK they are just plain old ordinary expensive. In the USA they are just about affordable but then you have shipping costs (you can buy 220-240v Kitchenaid stuff direct from the US). We will probably order one from John Lewis in the UK and either pick it up, or have someone bring it over on their next trip, thus saving us a couple of hundred euros (which staggers me - we are talking about saving that much on an item I would have been tempted to buy someone else's version of for 30 euros).

Either I am maturing, or I am losing my marbles. Answers on a postcard, please.


Tuesday 18 January 2011

This Week in the Garden

Not much is happening garden wise at the moment, which is actually quite surprising.

Normally you wouldn't expect anything at all to be happening, it is January, after all. However, the weather at the moment is incredibly mild, and has been for a couple of weeks. This has us slightly worried, as we have no doubt there is a frost to come (for instance, today's weather forecast shows snow next Wednesday) but it's possible that plants will start to think that spring is on its way.

However, the mild weather has allowed us to do some things in the orchard: I connected our rainwater tanks and have plans to buy and connect some more, whilst Susan has been surveying and plotting her orchids. We also have plans to build new compost bins (the old one is now full, but not matured).

In the potager our onions are doing quite well, but everything else (including, annoyingly and uncharacteristically, the cabbages and leeks) seem to have died off because of the mild but wet weather. We have not yet started planting seeds in our cold frames, that will probably be another 6 weeks yet.

In the back garden of our house the daffodils are starting to shoot and they will probably be flowering in late March. The orchids that Susan had to transplant when we built the grape vine trellis are showing signs of growth, and they should flower in late May.

Apart from that, it is all quiet in the gardens.


Monday 17 January 2011

Oeufs en meurette

This one's for CHM, as I believe that eggs in red wine sauce is one of his many favourite dishes. It's a French classic from Burgundy, but equally found in nice cafés in Paris. We had never had it before, so when I came across a recipe in a little French cookbook that came as a free gift from the supermarket I decided we should try it.

Here is my translation of the recipe:

It is rated as an economical entrée of moderate difficulty, serving 4 people and taking 15 minutes to prepare, 30 minutes to cook.


4 slices of white bread
4 eggs
8 slices of streaky bacon
1 onion
2 shallots
Some chives
50g butter
500ml red wine
2 tbsp white vinegar

  1. Bring the wine to a boil in a saucepan and reduce it by half.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion and shallots.
  3. Add them to the saucepan, then reduce the wine by half again.
  4. Whisk in the cold butter thoroughly.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Strain and keep warm.
  7. Grill the bacon and keep warm.
  8. Bring a saucepan of water to a strong simmer and add the vinegar.
  9. Poach the eggs.
  10. Drain them on kitchen paper.
  11. Put an egg on each slice of bread, share out the bacon and nap the dish generously with the sauce.
  12. Sprinkle with a few snipped chives and serve.
I let the wine reduce a bit far which meant the sauce wasn't as generous or as smooth and glossy as it should have been. Personally, I felt that whilst it is an interesting dish and I am glad I've tried it, it was really rather a palaver for something that seems so simple. It's the sort of dish I probably won't make again (unless CHM is coming to supper and I want to make something to impress him).


Sunday 16 January 2011

Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Echelles

The tuffeau (soft limestone) Church of Our Lady of the Stairs at 4 rue Notre-Dame in Preuilly-sur-Claise dates from the 9th, 12th and 13th centuries. A basilica style church has been on this site since the 9th century. In the 12th century the entrance and belltower were built and a large twin lancet window topped by a quatrefoil rose added in the 13th century.

The church bears the additional name of des Echelles ('of the stairs') because it is perched high above the street, and you need to access the entrance via some steps. The building must in fact have gained this 'nickname' in the 19th century, after it was no longer a church, because the stairs did not exist during the time it was a church. In the first quarter of the 19th century the street, the main road to Loches, was driven through at a lower level, effectively raising the level of the door. Apparently this caused quite a kerfuffle at the time. Where the old porch once stood it was necessary to create a balcony accessed by stairs to get to the original door. A new door at street level was created by punching a hole through the facade.

The gable end was restored in the 18th century, in the style of that time. Some masons symbols are carved on one of the stones and a Medusa head inserted (below).

Three curiously carved stones can be seen, two on the facade (below) and one inside. These are believed to have been salvaged from an earlier Carolingian building on the site. The low relief cartouches represent either lions or horses.

At the Revolution the priest of Notre-Dame-des-Echelles was the only one remaining in Preuilly. He was assigned to the Abbaye Saint-Pierre, which then became the sole parish church. Notre-Dame-des-Echelles was decommissioned and declared national property. It was sold to Maître Fossié, the notaire whose office was not far away in rue Saint-Melaine.

The belltower was demolished sometime in the late 19th century and the bell removed to the Hotel de Ville. Until recently, no image of the church with its bell tower intact was known, but thanks to Dr Mike Vaile, a 19th century watercolour by John Louis Petit has returned to Preuilly, clearly showing the bell tower in place.

In the 1920s the building was owned by a manufacturer of meat curing seasoning mixes and used as a venue for functions and events. It could be hired for wedding receptions or mobile cinema screenings showing films in episodes. According to Roger Lezeau, who was a small boy at the time, you could go in and see Tarzan, a documentary, a detective story and the life of Jesus, delicately hand coloured, all in the one session.

Later it held a library and the first floor was home to a local theatre troupe, which they shared with the last cinema operator. Its current owner has done a remarkable job of safeguarding and restoring the building.


Saturday 15 January 2011


The soldes are on.

These are the twice a year sales, which are held France wide on dates set by the government. Outside of the set dates, it is permitted to have soldes, but you need to apply for a licence from the préfecture to do so. You can give discounts, you can have special offers, but you can't call them soldes unless you have the permit.

We are currently looking for a cooker (stove, range, call it what you will) and thought the soldes might be a good time to buy. Imagine our surprise, then, when the particular items we have in mind are listed on websites as being part of the soldes and showing discounts of 30% or more, but 10 Euros more than the normal discounted price.

One day, we will have a stove where the freezer now is.
The dilemma is that items that were previously well out of our price range are suddenly only just more expensive than we are wanting to pay. Living where we do, this means we have to make a trip to either Tours or Poitiers to look at the newly almost affordable items to feel them over - see them in the flesh, work out why the oven capacity of some cookers is half the size of other cookers (even though the external dimensions are the same), and check how sturdy the knobs are. Once that is done we can make a decision about ordering online: in the local electrical stores these items are still in the "out of our range" range.

The choice looks like being narrowed to the following:
Of those, The Hotpoint and the Gorenje are the two new ones in the calculations. If anyone out there has any experience with these cookers (or their UK equivalents) we would love to hear from you. This decision has taken months, and is no closer to resolution.


Friday 14 January 2011

La Moutarde de Dijon

Recipe books often specify Dijon mustard in their list of ingredients. This iconic French product is made from vinegar, water, salt and mustard seeds, but mustard is hardly grown in France any more, much less in the Dijon area. The prepared mustard paste manufacturers of France source 90% of their mustard seed from Canada.

The reason for this seems to be that after the end of the Second World War, with the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers found mustard was no longer profitable. The crop did not receive an EU subsidy, and so they switched to growing other things.


Thursday 13 January 2011

A Flood Video

For those who have been following the events in Queensland, this was the view of the carpark we used to park in most days.

It was filmed from the office we would have been working in if we hadn't left in 1997.

If you would like to make a donation to help the many families who have been affected by these floods, the Queensland Government's own appeal site is here.

Glimpses 15

We have posted pictures of various windvanes before (and said "We have posted pictures of various windvanes before" as well).

This one is just around the corner from us, but only recently drew itself to our attention.


Wednesday 12 January 2011

Tourangeaux Births, Deaths and Marriages 2010

The population of Tours at the last census was 138 783, in a departmental population which has gone over the 600 000 mark.

In 2010 there were 3042 births - 506 fewer than in 2009, and for the second year in a row, boys exceeded girls (or as the Nouvelle République newspaper put it, les choux ont été plus florissants que les roses). Nine babies in ten in the department were born in the Bretonneau hospital, in the maternity unit named after the 18th century feminist Olympe de Gouges. Births can now be registered at the hospital, rather than having to make a separate trip to the town hall.

All marriage ceremonies take place in your local town hall.
Camille is the most popular name for new babies, followed by Arthur, Emma, Lucas and Nathan. First names are tending to be shorter and shorter, with parents often choosing names of one or two syllables e.g. Léo and Théo. Diminutives are also becoming more common, such as Sam, Tony or Tom. Old fashioned names are experiencing a bit of a revival, with plenty of little Basiles, Luciens and Josephs. American names are falling out of favour, with some exceptions (variations on Emy, Dylan and Joey, for instance). A few parents are inventing or choosing very unusual names for their little ones, like Gaucelme, Ephissème or Dragos. Quite a few get named after fruit or flowers: Cerise, Airelle, Capucine. Composite names are being modernised so that although Jean-Luc remains very popular, we now have Louisa-Mériem, Léo-Paul and Léo-Pahn. Often this is the result of the parents wanting to merge two cultural traditions. There is no 'presidential phenomenon', with only two Nicolas and a single Carla.

Deaths were also slightly down on last year, with 1443 people dying. Of those, 1139 were over sixty years old, 44 were killed on the roads and in addition, there were 95 still births. Very sadly, there seem to have been quite a few suicides. They are reported in the paper distressingly frequently, and Preuilly has not escaped, recently losing a respected and popular young man. Just as sadly, a neighbouring village lost one of their young men a couple of months ago serving in Afghanistan. Over all, more men than women died.

419 couples were married, with 19 June taking the prize as the most popular date (14 couples chose this particular Saturday). Weekday marriages are becoming more common, especially Friday evenings. Couples say it's calmer, there is less pressure and they can take more time for the photos. One couple apparently requested a webcam so they could broadcast the wedding in real time to their friends overseas, but sadly, it wasn't possible to set up.


Tuesday 11 January 2011

Reflections of Summer

The last week has been particularly mild down our way: for couple of days the temperature has been hovering around the 14°Celsius (57°F) mark, and overnight we have hit lows as high as 10°C and 11°C. This is about 20°C warmer than the same time last year, and the weather isn't expected to return to normal winter temperatures for at least the next week.

Meanwhile, in Toowoomba, which Susan wrote about yesterday, their problem has been rain. A huge amount of water fell on the city and the surrounding area, the official figure at the moment being "at least*" 100mm ( 3.937 ') of rain in three hours. The water arrived in the CBD of Toowoomba in a wall of water at least 2 metres high and is now working its way downstream, placing towns which have already been flooded this year back onto flood alert, as is Brisbane, where the river has already broken its banks.

The road from Toowoomba (where we used to work) to where Susan and I lived is cut again, and they have found a car washed into a (normally dry) creek from a flood proof 15 year old bridge. So far there is no sign of the driver. In the Lockyer Valley things are no better, with all the roads to where my house was completely cut, and with more run off to come. The death toll so far is 9 people, with another 66 missing. An up to date report and photos can be found here.

At this time, out thoughts go to family, friends, ex-work colleagues and other acquaintances in the area and hope they are safe, dry and warm. ThirstyKirstie hasn't blogged about it yet, but I know she has no electricity at the moment. We also know she is safe because her Facebook is being updated (I assume from a mobile phone), and she has been speaking to her mum.


*I assume the rain gauge filled up.

Finally, a photo to cheer us all up: a window in Tours

Monday 10 January 2011

News Flash

Actually that should be Flash Flood.

I received an email first thing this morning from my old friend and regular blog commentator Abbeysmum to tell me that the town in Australia that Simon and I used to work in, and live nearby, was dramatically flooded today. My parents, who live in a small town about 50km away are fine. Their garden is under about 5cm of water simply because the ground is saturated, but there is no danger there of real flooding. I know some of my friends are cut off by floodwaters and marooned in their house. I am sure that others will have had to evacuate. My father had organised a surprise 80th birthday party for my mother on Saturday and almost everyone was able to attend, but not everyone has been able to get home, and they are staying with my parents.

This is what Abbeysmum had to say:

The water from the creek at the back of the Library was up through the library carpark , across the road (covering the seats outside the library) and into Village Fair (Garden Town) to the extent that the whole building had to be evacuated,water was creeping up the escalators !!!!

The water at the corner of Margaret St near the coffee club was raging, I don't know how deep it was, maybe you could look on the Chronicle site, they may have had some Photographers out and about.I did get a few pics and when I get them on the computer I will send some, if you can't see it on the news.

I was on my way to pick up a book at the library and thought I would park on the roof of Village fair just in case the creek came up into the carpark of the library, when I went to walk across the bridge over the road all I could see was water everywhere.

Very scary.....I think we had 3 inches in 2 hours this afternoon and it is still raining and has been since yesterday lunch time, sometimes heavy sometimes light.Big land slide on the range today, closed coming up and down.
My father tells me that the library must now be under water. I watched some of the footage on SBS television. The force of the water flowing through the middle of town was very powerful, pushing a van into a tree which then went over. A 7m wall of water is coming down the creek where I went to college, and people are being told to evacuate. Two people have died and 6 people are trapped in buildings in the centre of town.


Photos are here

The Abbot's House

The 15th century tuffeau (soft limestone) building to the south of the Abbey, facing on to rue du Trottoir in Preuilly is known as la maison de l'Abbé (the abbot's house).

While the convent associated with the Abbey was rebuilt in the 15th century, the religious community was dispersed into various locations in town. At the time, the Abbey also owned this private house, which I suspect may originally have been an investment to earn them rental income. Its opulence was certainly a long way from the strict Cistercian rule practiced earlier, but the nuns moved in and by the 19th century it was a girls school. It narrowly avoided being destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War (the house across the road was hit and the abbey windows shattered).

At the back of the house there is a spiral staircase tower dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. It is unusual in that it has a stone vaulted ceiling constructed on wooden ribs. Mid way up the stairs there is a monk carved into the wall, depicted lighting the visitor's way.

At present there is a movement in town to have the building converted into sheltered housing for the elderly.

Amusingly, in Le Patrimoine des communes d'Indre-et-Loire, a composite photo has been used, giving the house an extra bay.