Thursday, 28 April 2011

10 things

  • Thank you all very much for your kind comments about our engagement.  We've read them so many times and really appreciate them all.
  • I've dug out my French dictionary so that I can start translating all the mountain of legal paperwork that needs to be prepared for our marriage.  By the time I'd found my dictionary, I'd also found one Latin dictionary, two French grammars and a disturbing FOUR baby name dictionaries.
  • I've sewn a school dress for one of O's friends who loves her handmade ones.  I used the Oliver + S Ice Cream Dress pattern again, and put in several tiny contrasting details.
  • Flower detail on Alana's school dress
    An Oliver + S ice cream school dress for Alana
  • O and her friends - like me - love secret fabrics (facings made of something very different to the main fabric).  I've used small pieces of a Cath Kidston favourite here.
  • Hidden pocket trim linings on Alana's school dress
    Contrasting facings from Cath Kidston fabric
  • I always like making yogurt - my special milk thermometer makes me feel like a geeky scientist.
  • Making yogurt
  • Our Olympic tickets have been ordered and we wait to see with bated breath which, if any, we'll get.
  • C and O unaccountably wanted to see the fencing.  I think we're in with a good chance of getting the first round fencing tickets we applied for. 
  • I'm not sure O even knows what fencing is.
  • I'm planning to make the Colette crepe wrap dress for my wedding dress.  The pattern has arrived, and I am rummaging through my pile of fabrics to see what might work.  I love the idea of a contrasting sash.
  • Colette wrap dress pattern for my wedding dress
  • I'm off to make some red velvet cupcakes in union jack paper cases now, for consumption in front of the tele tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A venue

This is the Mairie, or Town Hall, for the local district where my parents live.
The Mairie

The Mairie

It is a very old, and beautiful, castle with tall windows, a jumble of old roof lines and a smart french tricolore hanging outside.
The Mairie

This morning Graham and I walked up the narrow, spiral stone staircase - rather nervously - and asked the mayor if we could get married here this summer.  He sucked in his cheeks, gave a very gallic shrug, and then said yes, we could.
The Mairie

We are very, very happy.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

French spring walk #5

We started in the local town of St Antonin Noble-Val and strolled up into the foothills behind the town.  We saw two pigeonniers - the pigeon towers that are scattered throughout this region of France.  One was circular and one was square..


We saw glimpses through the trees of a magical, turreted, country house.  It reminded me of the house in the classic French novel Le Grand Meaulnes, which I read for my French A-Level.
French hideaway

We saw a few more orchids in the woods, and a long row of lombardy poplar trees, marking out the route of the river.
Poplars along the river

We finished up sitting outside our favourite cafe in St Antonin, having lunch and watching the world go by.  I was startled by how French my English boyfriend looked, sitting in the sun and shrugging like a pro.

Graham looking French
Another espresso at Gazpacho's

Monday, 18 April 2011


There was no proper walk for me today, but on the way back from the shops Mum suddenly pulled the car in by the side of the road because she'd spotted some orchids, popping up from the leaf litter at the side of the road.  We jumped out to explore more closely on foot and take some photos.
Beautiful purple orchid

The problem we have is that our orchid book is really rather rubbish, and we are having problems identifying which orchids we've found.  The one above looks like it could be a lady orchid, but I'm not entirely sure.
And this one, below, looks like mauve asparagus before it blooms, but then light blue flowers appear.
Orchid in bud

The purple asparagus one, in flower
All the photos I took are in this set on Flickr.  Does anyone know how to identify orchids?  Could you put names to any of the ones I've seen?  Do you have any really good orchid field guides? (I don't rate this one, which we have already, and has very poor photos).
The more I see these extraordinary (and often very ugly) flowers, the more I want to find out about them.  They need certain fungal conditions to grow, and often don't appear in the same place two years in a row.  Here in France they are partial to scrubland around oak trees, and the sides of roads or paths.
They are, frankly, bizarre.  I want to know more.
Two lady orchids

Sunday, 17 April 2011

You probably heard the screams in England

I was going to tell you about the charming medieval city of St Antonin Noble-Val, and its madly busy Sunday market.

And I thought I might share with you how delicious the mid morning espresso and chocolatine, drunk on the terrace at the local cafe, were.
Morning espresso & patisserie

After the market, I walked the seven miles home along the Aveyron gorge, and I could describe in great detail how heartbreakingly beautiful the walk along the river is.
River Aveyron

Dappled shade
Rocks above the Aveyron

But actually, the only thing I can think of is this MASSIVE snake, which was sunbathing across a farm track, and which I nearly stepped on as I admired some nearby buttercups.
Whopping great grass snake

But you might have guessed that I saw a snake because I imagine you would have heard the screams back in England.  It was the length of my arm span, from fingertip to fingertip, and despite being a perfectly harmless grass snake, it still made my heart pound and my blood race.  I am not a fan of snakes.

Massive grass snake

Saturday, 16 April 2011

French spring walk #4

Despite the children not being remotely in the mood for a walk this afternoon, I still set out with them and my parents for a walk of a few miles along the floor of the lush Vallée de Bonnan.
Vallee de Bonnan

We saw so many flowers that I couldn't quite take them all in.  Daisies, buttercups, vetch, periwinkles, wild strawberries, violets, cowslips and aquilegia.  Bursting out of the hedgerows, spreading across the meadows, winding their way up through box hedges and around the base of oak trees.

Violet in the hedgerow

Small white flowers


Wild aquilegia

But what really stopped us in our tracks were the wild orchids.  Teeny, tiny purple and blue ones, and then some large, dramatic, asparagus-like, pink ones just as we finished our walk.
Tiny purple wild orchid

Monkey orchid

There were also some truly enormous, and very ugly, ones which were not quite in bloom.  We're going to have to come back and check on their progress next week.  I find orchids fascinating, although I couldn't say that I really like them.  They spook me for some reason - they are so mysterious in the way that they come and go from a patch of land between one year and the next, and their way of clustering as they grow and then suddenly unfurling is a little sinister.
Family walk

I found out today that it is not a good idea to walk with children who don't want to be walking with you, because the complaining and sighing can diminish the charm of even the most beautiful of surroundings.  I've learnt my lesson, however.  Tomorrow I will be doing my longest walk yet - and my first walk of this holiday by myself.  We're all heading into town early in the morning, to go shopping at the market, and I shall be fortifying myself with an espresso and a croissant at the cafe before I set off alone on foot for the long walk back home.

Friday, 15 April 2011

10 things


  • Time goes slowly here
  • I've been preparing broad beans for supper - a slow, leisurely task. Pod, boil, cool, pod again, pile into pretty bowl.
  • I don't know where the children are or what they're doing. Which is just what you want on holiday.  They ran in asking for iPod speakers, toothpicks and handcream earlier.  Maybe I don't want to know any more.
  • We had an onion baguette with cheese for lunch.  It was as delicious as it sounds.
  • Mum & Dad have been clearing out their shed.  They have their own hard hats, for when they cut down trees.  I didn't know this about them
  • The nights are very cold - we sleep under very thick duvets and quilts, and wear woolen socks - but the days are hot and saturated with sunshine.
  • I have a new tube of French handcream, and Marie Claire Idees - these things make me very happy.
  • The wisteria smells heady and sweet.  There are enormous jet-black bees humming around it.
  • The children tell me that only by consuming Orangina and Nutella, are they having the full French cultural experience.
  • We close the shutters at night and sleep in darkness that is so black and velvety you can't see your hand in front of your face.  I'm a little freaked out by this, and miss my street lamp.
Hard hats

Broad beans

Marie Claire Idees

Wisteria falling

Thursday, 14 April 2011

French spring walk #3

This is the Abbaye de Beaulieu.

The Abbaye de Beaulieu

I came here this morning, for a walk with G and O.  Now the abbey is an art gallery, but today we came not for the paintings, but for a walk around the grounds.  We strolled amongst the trees that lined the banks of the river around the abbey.  Hundreds of years ago, the monks used to farm trout in these waters.  We wandered through more lush meadows full of spring flowers and blooming grasses, and marvelled at the vivid blue skies and warm sunshine.
Livvy leads the way

Big, fat snail shell


Delicate purple

Spring growth

River Seye at Beaulieu
G and O picked bunches of flowers from the meadow, which we brought home and put in glasses to decorate the table.
Graham and Livvy picking flowers

Livvy with her bunch of flowers

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

French spring walk #2

Today's walk was in the hot afternoon sunshine.  Just Graham and me this time.  We walked to the neighbouring village, not taking the usual route by road, along the bottom of the valley, but walking right up and over the very steep - almost precipitous - hill which separates the two villages.

Graham by the meadow and flowers
We started off by meadows strewn with wildflowers - buttercups, daisies and so many other pretty ones I don't know the names for.  By the time we reached the top of the hill we were hot, sweaty, panting with exhaustion and not caring so much about the flowers.
Forest path

The hill is covered with a dense oak forest, teeming with plants and wildlife.  We saw thousands of beetles, ants, bees, spiders and butterflies.  Twice we heard thundering hooves and saw a flash of white bambi tail disappearing off through the trees.  And as we reached the village on the other side we saw a really big, fat green-blue lizard sunbathing greedily in the middle of a patch of buttercups.
The wildlife was too quick and shy for me to photograph, but the flowers made up for it.
Lilac blossom
lilac blossom
Wild quince blossom
pink blossom on the quince trees that grow wild in the hedgerow - which reminded me of Sue
Lichen twig
lichen on a twig
Small blue flowers
 pretty small blue flowers
Teeny, tiny speedwell flower
miniscule blue speedwell
Cowslips - almost gone
cowslips - almost over

At the village we stopped for a very welcome cold glass of beer at the bar, and then headed back up and over the ludicrously steep hill, slightly wobblier than when we walked down it.  The whole walk took us three hours, and at times we felt like explorers stumbling across a precious and unexpected abundance of flora and fauna, which had to be inspected and catalogued.  If I could draw I'd be heading back up there tomorrow with a sketchpad and coloured pencils to document it all like the early explorers did - with watercolours, charcoal pencils and paper.

But perhaps I've had enough of steep hills for a little while - there are rivers here too, and river walks are always flat.  My legs would thank me for a river walk next I think.
PR1 walk sign