Tuesday 31 May 2011

A White Flag

Last Friday I decided to run the white flag up the pole and GTMI. This particular white flag concerns the ceiling of the kitchen, which I prepared well and painted, but we ended up with roller marks in the satin paint which really shows up.

Yesterday morning our neighbours, Patrice (who just happens to be a painter and decorator) arrived with one of his painters, Bruno.

A man who knows what he is doing.
In way of these things in small villages Bruno lived in this house when he was a child and was amazed to see what we have done with it, and thoroughly approved of the way the house is heading - which is nice.

And so is the ceiling of the kitchen!


Monday 30 May 2011

Grape Flowers

Grape flowers are not unattractive looked at up close, but they are not exactly spectacular. Sadly, neither is the fruit that this particular grape produces, although we were assured when we bought the orchard that this rampant grape vine that had climbed up into the paulownia gave wonderfully sweet and delicious red grapes. Unfortunately the payoff with muscat grapes is that they are small, squishy and full of seeds. Give me a nice medium sized Australian sultana grape any day, seedless and firm fleshed that goes 'pop!' in the mouth.

On the other hand, this grape vine has given me many young leaves which I have preserved in brine, ready to make dolmades, and one day we hope to convince it to come out of the paulownia and across our pergola to enhance our barbecue and picnic area. And one of our readers very kindly sent instructions for making grape jelly and some ideas for using it, so maybe the grapes won't just be bird food this year.


Sunday 29 May 2011

Five Years On Too

13h45, 29 May 2011


Five Years On

It is five years today since we first saw our house.

Looking back, I think we were suffering wide eyed naivity. It isnt usual to quote oneself, but we (OK - Susan) did say "Thus, once the roof is done, the rest is just decorating!" (She claims the following "hmmm" indicates she didn't believe herself at the time).

14h33 on the 29th May 2006. If we had known
we were buying we would have taken more photos
This afternoon at about 14.33 we will stand in the garden and open a bottle of something cold, refreshing and bubbly to mark 5 years on from that moment.


Saturday 28 May 2011

Close Encounters of the Nut Kin'd

I am often in the orchard in the morning before it gets too hot, and most mornings lately I have seen the squirrel legging it across the grass when I arrive, to the safety of the neighbouring orchard. Yesterday however, it allowed me within about 5m for some minutes, and even posed for photographs! I assume it's become habituated and my presence, so long as I am quiet and move gently, is tolerated. It was unworried enough to eat and groom when it knew I was there, so hopefully I am just part of the landscape now.

Wot you lookin' at!

How about my cute and cheeky look?

Betcha can't see me now!

Friday 27 May 2011

Knapweed or Glanville?

This year seems to have been the year of the Knapweed Fritillary butterfly Melitaea phoebe or le Grand Damier in French ('the large checkerboard'). I've hardly seen their cousin the Glanville Fritillary M. cinxia (le Mélitée du plantain), despite good numbers of their caterpillars surviving over winter. For some reason the dry weather seems to have affected the Glanvilles far more than the Knapweeds. Last year the situation was reversed, with high numbers of Glanvilles and nary a Knapweed to be seen.

Knapweed Fritillary.
Glanville Fritillary.
They are not easy for beginners to tell apart, but with a little practice and knowing what to look for, you can do it.

Knapweed Fritillary.
Glanville Fritillary.
Knapweeds are bigger and the orange (fauve) of their uppersides tends to be in alternating bands of strong brick red and then a more yellowy band. The Glanville's fauve is evenly coloured. Crucially, Glanvilles have a row of black spots on their bottom wings and Knapweeds do not.


Thursday 26 May 2011

Stop the Slosh

A week ago I mentioned our new régime for watering the garden. This is working really quite well, but as I said at the time, driving a car with two 80litre bins full of water does require smooth driving. This isn't an issue for me, but with the best will in the world driving up a rutted dirt track is never going to be as smooth as the situation requires. The main problem is that the lids don't seal: these are, after all, garbage bins.

This led me to some wonder if there was something I could do so that I can take the bins more than 1/3 full without filling the car with water.

The answer is "yes".

The problem is that water slops around - as you go over a bump is creates a wave, which pushes the lid up, and water gets spilled. What is needed is a baffle, so that the waves don't develop peaks. The solution is plastic bags - just lay a thick plastic bag on top of the water, with the ends of the bag going up the side of the bin and caught under the lid.

One bin with the lid on, one bin with
plastic bag awaiting lid
All of a sudden I can carry the bins more than 3/4 full. It still requires smooth driving, but I haven't spilled a drop the past two days.


Wednesday 25 May 2011

Not My Egg

... that would be mon oeuf. What we are talking about here is manœuvre. When you don't know what word you are listening out for, these things sometimes get confusing.

This morning the pompiers were on manoeuvre, having a training exercise in our neighbour's barn. First a pompiers' car arrived, then there was a sound like a shotgun being fired - this, I assume was a smoke bomb being let off. A couple of mintes later a van arrived followed by a firetruck. There was a bit of milling around for 45 minutes or so, then they all packed up and went away.

Next time we see these blokes, they will
be selling Chinese lanterns for Bastille day
About an hour later, the pompiers' car was back, this time in the painter's workshop we can see from our upstairs window. This time I think they were dealing with "hazardous fumes", because they were all in breathing equipment.

Doing hazmat stuff. I think the man in the mask
has just rescued a colleague overcome by fumes
We could possibly have got closer for our photos, but one doesn't like to get in the way. I like the idea that they get a good practice in - just in case...


Tuesday 24 May 2011

So What are we Up To?

A good question, and one I am glad you asked.

Simon is struggling with putting satin paint on the kitchen ceiling. The ceiling is plaster, and for some reason although we primed/undercoated properly, the satin paint won't go on evenly. Even the application of plumbing/tiling language didn't help.

The expensive washable paint only goes where it can
be washed, so you can see where the kitchen units will go
In the new bathroom, the tiling is approaching being finished. We have ordered the plinthe (skirting) tiles and hope for them to arrive by Friday lunchtime. This means we can finish the tiling this coming weekend.

Susan, meanwhile, is chopping thistles out of the potager and watering, providing sustinance and magically appearing in the doorway when the paint causes a sudden increase in blood pressure.

Our whitegoods have started arriving, as well. The new 219 litre eco fridge was delivered yesterday, and the stylish sink and integrated dishwasher are also on their way. We order and collect the kitchen units some time this week (maybe Thursday, if all the deliveries have happened before then). The carrelage des terre cuite should arrive tomorrow, and then we will just about have all we need to complete the kitchen and bathroom - or at least get them to a usable state.


Monday 23 May 2011

Integrating with the Field Nats

Dry chalk slope with juniper, oak and
Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid.
On Saturday I indulged in a bit more integrating (as it is apparently known) going on my first outing with the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. The Sainte Maure de Touraine Botany and Mycology Club may have started off as its title indicates, but these days it is really the Touraine Field Naturalists Club. The focus on Saturday was orchids in the Chaumussay area, so it was a great one for me to start with. I was the only non-French person attending, although that may have been influenced by the fact that Marc Fleury, the club's orchid expert, was also leading a walk from Ligueil on Sunday which had received quite wide publicity due to the switched-on Ligueil Tourist Office.

The nearly invisible Small-leaved Helleborine
growing in the leaf litter.
I enjoyed the afternoon immensely, getting two new orchid species and several new plants from other families on my personal checklist, as well as some good photos of a butterfly and a dragonfly I have been chasing for a couple of weeks. However, it was quite hard work on the language front, and just keeping up with the discussion amongst some nicely nerdy naturalists was fairly taxing. As I didn't know anyone else present, Marc took me under his wing, in the way that personable Frenchmen of a certain age do. Somewhat embarrassingly he introduced me as 'his colleague from Australia who is interested in the dipteran pollinators of orchids'. Perfectly true, except that as yet I know very little about what flies pollinate which orchids, but Marc several times asked me to confirm information or if I had anything to add to what he was saying. Yikes!

Long-leaved Crimson Clover, growing in the woods.
I was also put on my mettle by Jean, who showed me a series of fantastically good photos taken with a microscope and stored on his camera. He was curious to know if I knew what the creatures were. He, of course, knew exactly what species they were. Since the photos were of mites, ticks, fleas, pseudoscorpions and strange flat wingless flies that parasitise bats - all tiny, ugly and brown - I think I did OK by being able to identify them at least to family level. Theoretically, we had a language in common - scientific Latin - but I found it quite tricky to remember to pronounce scientific names with a French accent. A simple example is 'pseudoscorpion'. In French, you pronounce the 'p' in words like 'psychiatrist', 'pneumatic' and 'pseudoscorpion'.

Violet Limodore, fully open for once, because it is hot.
We visited three sites over the course of the afternoon. All three were excellent examples of the flora rich limestone spurs that run along the Claise Valley around Preuilly. The first I was already very familiar with, as it is one of my butterfly survey transects. Marc was a bit disappointed that he wasn't able to show me an orchid I hadn't already seen there. The second site was near La Forge, where we scrambled up the dry chalky slope to see Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia odoratissima (Gymnadène odorante) in considerable numbers amongst the very prickly Juniper Juniperus communis (Genièvre) bushes (I am now covered in little scratches). Then it was off to a site the other side of Chaumussay, on a road that I have used as a shortcut many times without realising what treasure the woodland it cuts through holds. Here we found two rare orchids - Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum (Limodore à feuilles avortées) in good numbers and the impossibly discreet Small-leaved Helleborine Epipactis microphylla (Epipactis à petites feuilles), as well as Moïse Aristobile's Black Pea Lathyrus niger (Gesse noire) and its pretty cousin, the garden worthy Long-leaved Crimson Clover Trifolium rubens (Trèfle rouge). All special plants associated with this special warm limestone habitat. In total we saw 16 species of orchids and a couple of hybrids for the afternoon.

The day ended with us all standing in the middle of
the road drinking Marc's homemade cider.
Note that the experienced French botanist carries a trowel.
The next outing near Preuilly is in June, to look at plants of damp places in the Forêt de Preuilly, and I will definitely be going.


Sunday 22 May 2011

Preuilly on Google Earth

The aerial photos of Preuilly on Google Earth/Maps have just been updated. The new photos give a date of 19th August 2010 which may actually be correct, as that date was a Thursday and the photo shows the Thursday market.

Preuilly from the air
If you know where to look, you can tell it was 2010, as well - you can see our garden improvements and the Velux that isn't, as well as the plots on the potager. It appears that being a Thursday Susan is just leaving to go to the supermarket, as the car is half in the courtyard and half on the road.

The Market - the fishmonger's trailer is the smaller white
roof on the right, the vegetable man's trailer is on the left
The only quibble I have is that it seems awfully green to be August. Last year was a dry year, so much so that we harvested very little in the way of vegetables.

Talking of dry years: we had a thunderstorm last night. Lots of thunder, some lightning, and not enough rain to make the dust wet. In fact I was standing outside the whole time it was "raining" and didn't actually get damp - which is disappointing, as Meteo France had issued a weather warning for us, and had predicted it was going to rain all afternoon evening and night.

I am sure their inaccurcy isn't wilful, but some days it sure does feel like it.


Saturday 21 May 2011

Glimpses 18

Until we were standing in front of the Mairie on 8 Mai, it hadn't occurred to me how well carved the column capitals are.

You can read about the Mairie here.


Friday 20 May 2011

Watering the Garden

As it appears it will never ever rain again we have had to devise a strategy for water the potager.

The latest wheeze involves two 80 litre poubelles, a hose, an electric drill, and a mini pump. Driving the car down to the potager with two 80 litre poubells sloshing around calls for extreme smoothness (it's me we're talking about, after all...), but if we don't want to see the veggies fried before they grow, it's essential.

Yes, the strut for the back of the car has failed,
hence the hi-tech wooden post.
Pump it!
In other news: Susan has finished sanding plaster (hoo-bally-ray!) and I have finished ridding tiles of excess glue. The question now is do I pose the tile plinthe before grouting or after?


Thursday 19 May 2011

Excitement for Bricoleurs

At about this time last year we wrote how M.Bricolage in Chatellerault had turned into Brico Chatellerault. Three month later the shop had closed down, but at about the same time, we noticed that in one of the industrial areas (Z.I Nord Varennes) a new brico shop was being fitted out.

We hadn't been there until yesterday, but it appears to be a really good brico shop - larger than Bricomarché, and with lots of things. Things are good, and the lifeblood of any restoration project, so I have no doubt we will be returning again soon.

Talking of house restoration, Susan continued sanding the kitchen ceiling yesterday, whilst I continued playing with tiles.


PS - yes, there are clouds in the photo, no, it didn't rain.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

A Hateful Task

Sanding plaster, that is.

It makes the finest white powder which floats in the air, eventually settling on your clothing, on your skin, in your hair, in your eyes, in your lungs.

Shame I'm wearing pale clothes, as you are not getting the
full benefit of the all over dusted with talc look.
Stéphane sanded our spare bedroom and both bathrooms, Simon did the office, so now it's my turn in the kitchen. Stéphane is busy working for a stonemason, Simon is allergic to the dust now, so if we want to paint the kitchen anytime soon, I have to sand the plaster smooth.

I dutifully wore the protective gear - a proper thick mask with a vent and safety goggles. These come in 'one size fits nobody'. In order to get the mask to seal adequately and prevent the goggles fogging up when I breathed out I had to tighten it so much the metal nose band hurt. I could move it down a bit, but that just squashed my nose and made breathing difficult. If I loosened it up my breath leaked out the top and under the safety goggles. What with moisture on the inside and plaster dust on the outside, I was removing them every few minutes to wipe them off.

Louisa's idea of an impromptu lunch -
and this was just the first of 4 courses!
On Monday I was rescued at midday by my friend Louisa, who came round to invite me to lunch as she had someone she wanted me to meet turn up. Yesterday I ran out of sandpaper by lunchtime. Today, having finished the walls despite having dodged the job two afternoons in a row I am working on the ceiling. Extra double yuk!


Tuesday 17 May 2011

The Drought

Indre et Loire is drought declared and water restrictions have been imposed. At first the restrictions just applied to farmers extracting water for irrigation from certain small watercourses such as the Claise and the Aigronne. No one has been able to irrigate crops from the beginning of the year from these rivers. This is referred to as an 'automatic' restriction, which means that once the water levels in reservoirs reach a certain point, irrigation is forbidden.

The worst hit area is the south-east of the department (where we are) and especially the Indrois valley (just to our north-east). Along the Indrois, you are now only allowed to water your lawn, wash your car or flush out your gutters on odd days if you live on the south bank and even days if you live on the north. These restrictions have come into force about 2 months earlier than the previous few years. This is a 'level 1' set of restrictions, imposed by the prefect as he/she feels is appropriate. These restrictions can be ramped up to 'level 3' which includes not being able to water lawns, fill swimming pools and only being allowed to water your vegetable garden at night.

The pawlonia at our orchard this time last year, in full bloom.
This year it didn't flower at all - I assume a response to the drought.
Also currently affected is any work on canals and ponds that connect to the Indrois or its tributaries. Maintenance work on sluices and weirs means that water is inevitably lost, so it is forbidden.

The departement has received nearly 50% less rain than normal since the beginning of the year. Whilst the warm dry weather has been a joy for holidaymakers, farmers are worried. It is being compared to the drought of 1976, a benchmark year of unprecedented drought throughout Europe. Now European meteorologists are predicting an even worse year. On the upside though, archaeologists are looking forward to a year of unusually clear parchmarks, with the potential for aerial photography to reveal interesting historic sites. Those who don't live here are probably not noticing anything but the extraordinarily good weather. This is gentle countryside, with deciduous broadleaf forests that are green no matter what the rainfall at this time of year. The wheat crops look lush and even, just like normal. Clover, lucerne and dandelions all look green even when there's been no rain. It's only when you look closer, at individual plants, that the problems are apparent. Plants survive, they look green, but they don't grow and they don't produce fruit.

An organic walnut grove. The owner has put off mowing this year, I assume
because it keeps the soil cooler and provides wildflowers for insects.
Since February the rainfall in Indre-et-Loire has been between 30 and 50 mm. To bring it up to a normal amount, we need another 80mm. To deliver this effectively it would have to rain for a month virtually every day. We should get about 120mm during spring and 250mm in the first half of the year, but around Preuilly the spring rainfall has been at most 30mm. Some places in the area have had literally no spring rain.

Farmers are finding their hay yields are down by about half. Likewise the wheat crop is producing only 2-3 ears per plant, instead of the normal 5-6, and the quality is poor - lightweight and grey, but the crop is maturing 10-15 days ahead of schedule. The damage to the winter crops is now irreversible, the farmers say. The summer crops of maize and sunflowers have been planted, and miraculously are coming up. Some of them look a bit patchy, especially where the soil has a bit more sand. It's too early to say how they will perform come harvest time, but if we do get a repeat of 76, it won't be good.

Most dairy farmers here expect to produce enough hay every year for their goats or cows, but this year, not only is the quantity lower than expected, they are having to feed this year's hay to the stock already because there isn't enough pasture. The price is clearly going to increase and wise farmers have already bought hay.

The whole situation is compounded by this being a particularly dry year following 2 consecutive dry summers for many farmers around Preuilly, completely wiping out stores made in the preceeding rather wet year.

Even for those farmers in a position to irrigate, the increase in the price of diesel to run the pumps is another worry. The only positive thing they have to say is that with the lack of moisture comes a corresponding lack of disease, although some farmers are noticing an increase in the numbers of insect pests.

Last year the drought and fires in Russia caused an increase in cereal prices which European farmers benefitted from. This year it is going to be the reverse situation.


Monday 16 May 2011

Hooray for Strawberries!

I am delighted to recommend strawberries as thoroughly drought proof. We have never watered our strawberries, and although we have had virtually no spring rain (2mm on Saturday is the first measurable rain for 2 months) I picked a kilogram of strawberries yesterday.

Some were washed, halved and sprinkled with a little sugar and the merest soupçon of home made cherry liqueur. Left to macerate, they were served with vanilla icecream for dessert last night. The rest have been made into gelato (the icecream maker is churning as I write, so no pics).

Strawberry dessert.
The strawberries may be the best fruit crop we get for a while. We are not going to get many cherries. The first ones are ripe, but there is a total of about 20 on the tree and they are all too high for me to bother with. The other 3 sweet cherries and 4 sour have similar numbers of fruit, still green. I guess after two bumper years and dry summers the trees are stressed and the dry spring was the last straw. They need a rest year to recover. We are not going to get many peaches or red plums either. Pears look as though they may be better than last year, with the nashi having set some fruit too, and the apples are loaded with clusters of tiny fruit.

Strawberries, vine leaves and coriander
- the stars of the drought stricken potager.
In the autumn I suppose I will have to dig up the strawberries and plant out new runners to ensure continued production, as the current plants are now two years old. Such drought hardy plants are worth maintaining, and we don't seem to get much pest or disease damage. They compensate a bit for the many vegetables that are not coping with the dry.


Sunday 15 May 2011

In the Footsteps of Moïse Aristobile

On Easter Sunday I joined a group of botany enthusiasts for a walk to honour the memory of Moïse Aristobile. The walk was organised by Eric Morin, a professional photographer who lives at La Forge, just outside Preuilly. Eric had been commissioned to do the photographs for a booklet to accompany an exhibition about the botanist-pharmacist Tourlet, curated by University of François Rabelais Tours botanist Marc Rideau.

Eric Morin, Micheline Papon and Jean Pelle.
To do the photographs Eric was given access to Tourlet's herbarium collection and he realised that not only were the specimens in the collection from around Preuilly collected by Aristobile, but that many of them were collected from the hill in front of La Forge. He invited Jean Pelle, a botanist and retired agricultural college lecturer to lead a walk in honour of a now almost forgotten 19th century Preuilly plantsman. Moïse Aristobile's grand-daughter, Micheline Papon, who is now in her 80's I think, and lives in the next street to us, also attended and greatly enjoyed the focus on her grandfather.

La Bois de la Forge is a well managed mixed broadleaf forest,
here dominated by Box, Hornbeam and Oak.
Moïse Aristobile was born in 1864 at Vernou. He was orphaned and grew up in a convent, where he was apprenticed to the gardener. When he turned 18 he was placed in a chateau near Blois, and later in Tours, where he began to get serious about the science of botany and the need to know more about plants. He spent every spare cent on botany books and the Botanical Gardens in Tours supported him. After his military service he went to the chateau de la Brèche at Hommes, where he married, and after a spell at Pleumartin, came to Preuilly and set up his own gardening business.

Dog's Mercury Mercurialis perennis (la mercuriale vivace in French)
one of the species collected here by Aristobile.
His botanical knowledge was now well established, and his extraordinary physical stamina meant that he travelled all over the Touraine du Sud and the Brenne on his bicycle, collecting specimens and discovering new plants for the area. He amassed a herbarium collection of 1000 specimens and at the same time sent 300 duplicates to the French Central Western Botanical Society and the Museum of Natural History in Tours. In 1906 he gave his whole collection to the the City of Tours.

A hybrid Lady x Monkey Orchid growing in the forest.
He died in 1937 and is buried in Preuilly. Nowadays, his name is known only to his descendents and to local botanists. I had read his name in one or two local botanical field guides, but otherwise knew nothing about him until this walk. Now I am keen to find some of the special plants, such as Black Pea Lathyrus niger, that he discovered in the calcareous grassy slopes and woodland above La Forge.


Saturday 14 May 2011

The Redstarts Return

Last year we had Black Redstarts nesting in the graineterie (pics here and here), and this year they have returned.

The chicks are so focused on food they don't seem to be worried by us walking in and out to get tools and the like, so I set up the camera and took some footage of then in action.

I think only the female was feeding them while I was filming, but the male has been hard at work too. All five babies look well fed, so we are hoping for a sucessful fledging and a new generation of black redstarts around the house. They appear to be about a month earlier than last year's brood, so maybe the parents are aiming for a second batch.

Some time during yesterday we passed 250,000 visitors to the blog, and received emails from people who were concerned that we hadn't posted anything*. Thank you for all being so interested!


*The problem was Google, not us.

Friday 13 May 2011

Glimpses 17

I like this photo - from the little carved detail to the dinky roof over the window, to the town's public adress system, it's all here.


Because of problems on the Google side of things, this blog post comes under the heading of "better late than never". We really did mean to have it online at 9.00 today, but blogger was having a sulk.

Thursday 12 May 2011

An Anniversay

For us, May is a month of annversaries.

It is two years today since we arrived to live in France. Almost everything we owned arrived in the back of a truck after being bought here from London, and as well as trying to fit everything into the house we started the process of trying fit in to life in a small French town.

Both processes are going variously well: we join in many of the things that happen (even if we aren't sure what's happening some of the time) and with the kitchen properly underway we will soon be unpacking some of the boxes.

Looking at the photos taken at the time has really bought home to me how much we have achieved so far. We may not have many photos of the day, but the memories are crystal clear.


PS This is the second time we have posted this. Blogger has had serious problems for a couple of days, and all comments have been lost.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Crossbill Guide to the Loire Valley

There is a new English language nature guide published for the Loire Valley, Brenne and Sologne. It's published by Crossbill, a Dutch not-for-profit organisation who specialises in regional nature guides designed to encourage the public's involvement with nature conservation. The authors of this guide are Dirk Hilbers, the founder of Crossbill, and our friend Tony Williams, who works for the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux in the Brenne. The guides are distributed by WILDGuides in the UK, but as yet there is no French distributor.

Tony very kindly gave me a complimentary copy. I didn't have anything to do with the production of the guide, but I had done some work for the LPO a while ago, and it was a nice thank you present.

I haven't read it from cover to cover yet, but so far I am very impressed. There is a good clear description of the different types of habitat (small lakes, forests, heathlands, riversides, cultivation, calcareous grassland) you might encounter, and which form a mosaic of small scale farming and related activities. They stress the importance of the Loire's geographic position, straddling as it does the Atlantic coastal region and the Continental region, whilst being close enough for Mediterranean species to turn up regularly, and even the occasional Alpine. They've chosen to illustrate the book with many of my favourite special species - Snakeshead Fritillary flowers, Early Spider Orchids, Adonis Blue and Sooty Copper butterflies, Western Spectre and Orange-spotted Emerald dragonflies. It's not all about birds, and they recognise it as an all-round destination. As they say - 'in between birdwatching and orchid-spotting, why not visit a chateau or enjoy some of the excellent wine'.

My only disappointment is that they have not included us i.e. the Val de la Claise Tourangelle or the Touraine du Sud, in the area they chose to specifically cover. It's a shame, because Preuilly and its surrounds shares the same patchwork of habitats and deserves to be included this otherwise enlightened guide.

However, so I am not ending on a sour note, here are their list of highlights, which I heartily endorse*:
  1. Birdwatching in the Brenne or Sologne and 'experience the stunning diversity'.
  2. Explore the many quiet roads and tracks by bicycle. 'This area is made to be discovered by bicycle'.
  3. Canoe down one of the many slow moving rivers.
  4. Observe raptors in the Forêt d'Orléans.
  5. Admire the many roadside orchids and other wildflowers.
  6. Search the riverbanks and lake edges for the many rare species of dragonflies. 'This region is amongst France's finest for this group of insects.'
  7. Visit an impressive chateau or enjoy some local wine.
  8. Look for European Pond Terrapins and other reptiles which occur in large numbers in the Brenne.

*Sorry - can't resist -
9. Go botanising and butterfly photographing on the limestone spurs along the Val de la Claise Tourangelle and discover their combination of flower rich forests and calcareous grassy slopes. Many rarities and specialist species.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

It Feels like Something is Changing

I don't know why, but this feels really significant. Yesterday we cleared out the old (soon to be new) kitchen in readiness for Patrick to "make the joints" in the plasterboard. This is the first time we have ever seen the whole kitchen empty - so seeing it empty and plasterboarded is a bit of a shock. In addition to doing the joints Patrick will be plastering the ceiling, so in about a week's time cue ranting from Simon about stupid kitchen ceiling paint.

It has taken us a while to get to this stage - we kept on running out of stuff just before we finished. This includes placo glue (we ran out twice, the second time falling two dollops short...) electrical boxes (you can see how many prises we have) and energy.

From the laundry door, looking towards
where the main worktop will be

From what will be the dining room towards
the laundry and where the cooker will be

The kitchen, end to end. Sink and
dishwasher will be on the left
You may notice in the last of the photos that the window is very low. This has caused a problem with the kitchen design: we lose a lot of wall space and can't have a bench (or the traditional "sink in front of the window") there, so instead we will have a bookcase for all those cookery books.


Monday 9 May 2011

Two Geeses

We went to the Martizay Goose Fair last monday. Although we have been to previous goose fairs, we are always slightly surprised to see yer actual geese. Douadic managed to have no tomatoes at their Tomato Fair one year, so you can't assume anything.

We noticed two distinct breeds of goose:

Touraine Geese

Toulouse Geese
We didn't buy geese, we bought tomato plants, so assuming the drought doesn't get them we could take tomatoes to the tomato fair in Douadic.

Just in case, like...


Sunday 8 May 2011

8 Mai

As it is 8 Mai we will be attending the Ceremony at the War Memorial. Today has many names: Fête de la Libération, Armistice de 1945 and Victoire de 1945, but is usually just called Huit Mai.

In Paris the president will be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and in Preuilly sur Claise the Maire will be reading the president's official 8 Mai speech.

Storm clouds gathering over Preuilly yesterday evening
They missed again.
Last year I complained about the weather on 8 Mai - it rained. Tomorrow I may well complain about the weather if it doesn't rain. We have once again been promised rain, so that's every day for two weeks we have been promised rain "tomorrow".


Saturday 7 May 2011

Steve Settles Down

Steve flowering with a friendly foxglove.
Regular readers will recall the sorry tale of Son of Steve, the Siberian Iris, one of the very few plants from our shady London courtyard that, unaccountably, didn't cope with the move to our sunny Preuilly cour. Son of Steve was sadly consigned to the Great Compost Heap last year, reduced to a bunch of dessicated shreds.

With a bit of jiggery pokery, Steve's true colours are revealed.
Luckily, the original Steve, arrived in the second tranche of plants, brought by my hero van man husband a few weeks after the main move. Steve is doing fine and currently has two flowers with more to come. Once again, the camera has failed to capture the true depth of colour, but Simon has fiddled in PhotoShop to be able to reproduce it.


Friday 6 May 2011

La Maloterie

La Maloterie is a farm in the Brenne owned by Nick and Claire Freeman. They are in the process of doing up each of the buildings in turn and creating various holiday accommodation choices. At the moment only the chambres d'hôte (bed and breakfast) section is complete, but in time there will be gîtes (self-catering) and even a campground.

Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe
(le Grand Damier in French)
The Brenne is an area dominated by small scale agriculture, especially fish ponds (étangs), just to the east of us. It has become a very well known destination for nature tourism. During the summer the carparks of the many birdwatching hides will be heaving with British, Dutch and French birdwatchers and their vehicles. There are many beautiful walks through woodland and along the edges of the étangs.

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa females.
(La Libellule déprimée)
Birds are not the only thing to look out for in the Brenne though. There are many species of orchids, butterflies and dragonflies and more and more people who have a wider and more rounded interest in nature are coming to see what the place has to offer.

This super camouflaged Wall Brown Lasiommata megera
female was resting where some Wild Boar had been rooting.
(La Mégère in French.)
Nick and I have been working on developing a nature walk for La Maloterie, and so once a month I go over there and do an afternoon's surveying. The property is primarily small lush fields of damp improved pasture used for cutting hay in the spring and summer and grazing in the autumn and winter. It's all very low intensity, and because each field is surrounded by hedges, and native wildflowers are allowed to thrive in amongst the pasture, you can have some wonderful wildlife encounters. I am mainly surveying for insects, but Nick often sees Roe Deer and Wild Boar in the fields.

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata female.
(La libellule à quatre taches).
They get two species of Oil Beetle and Green Tiger Beetles - all becoming rare and declining in the UK. On our round earlier this week we saw two species of Fritillary butterfly, Scarce Swallowtails and Southern White Admiral. Like the beetles, these species either don't occur at all in Britain, or are extremely rare. Because it was a rather overcast day (it was the day it rained!) we were also treated to some fantastically close views of resting dragonflies.

Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta
(Le Sylvain azuré).
I'm going to enjoy my regular visits to this peaceful and beautiful farm and hope they get lots of nature loving visitors staying there. I've created a Flickr set to show people what they might get to see.