Saturday, 31 July 2010

Castle for sale

Today the temperature is going up and up, so we stopped doing anything active by 10.30! 31 degrees is forecast by midday. Sheets are drying out in the sun, and the heat is bouncing off the roof tiles. For the next four or five hours we’ll do very little physically, but it’s an excellent time to think, read and add a little more to my new wip. We’ve had about ten days of cloudy weather – always warm, somewhere around 24 degrees, but little sun, so this makes a nice change.
It would be a good time to go through Matho’s story and take out all those unnecessary words…you know them, I’m sure:- that, a little, felt, seemed, very, began to, down. We all have those little ticks. I’ve developed a new one - a habit of announcing what my character is going to do or feel, and then having them do or feel it. It’s a warning for me to take note – our bad habits don’t necessarily die as we progress; (if I'm progressing, that is!) but they may change! Anyone else found that?

In case you were interested in buying a castle, I’ve added more pics. According to the short history posted outside, it has been around since Norman times, and I must admit it makes me picture a fair-haired damsel with a single long plait of hair down to her heels peering into the distance from the balcony, waiting for her lover whose ridden off to the wars...
It’s in an idyllic village called Montclard St Georges off the D21 north of Bergerac. Click here to look at a Google image of the countryside, but take no notice of the A blob supposed to pinpoint the castle. Look instead for the triangle of roads and the castle-like shadow to the east side of said triangle – that’s the castle.
I do wonder about the asking price…. but the A Vendre sign stuck on the castle wall doesn't give any clues. Perhaps a potential buyer is supposed to wander up to the door, should he be able to find it, and say, I'll give you ten grand for it, whaddyesay?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Is there hope?

Scouring the internet for news today, I saw this from Katie Price - and knew instantly where I was going wrong - here
Yes, the story is like her life, she says but its not true, though some bits are true. That’s what people like, people will all ways wonder which bits are true. The story covers a model who marries a thick footballer who cheats on her and she won’t leave him but won’t sleep with him….ring any bells? sounds very much like the story of a pop star and a footballer that's been in the headlines recently to me.

More this tells how Katie chooses the plots and Rebecca Farnworth writes them. The latest novel, her fifth, is due to hit the Times Best seller lists this weekend.

Here the low down on ghost writers from Tim Adams
in 2006. There are more of them about than I thought, and I should think they are very well paid. Random House seems to be the publisher for this sort of thing.

Lastly - Gabriel Josipovici, the former Weidenfeld professor of comparative literature at Oxford University, condemned the work of the giants of the modern English novel as hollow. a lot fo the big names come nder his eye, and they won't be pleased.
and just in case you are looking for a project in France, the castle pictured above is for sale.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A Blast from the Past

Yesterday I checked out the blog Belles and found a post asking which author had drawn you to historical romance. Lots of people cited Rogers and Woodiwiss, and I have no problem with that, except that to me, they came rather late to the scene. They first published in 1972 and 1974, their books were wildly popular and were known as the infamous "bodice rippers."

The author who first drew me to the genre was an odd duo of husband and wife who wrote, in English translation, as Sergeanne Golon. Their first title, The Marquise of the Angels, was published in 1956. I did not discover they were actually two people for such along time. And of course there was Forever Amber from Kathleen Winsor, published in 1944. I understand it was banned in several states of America as being too sexy. Gone with the Wind was published in 1936, and in Anya Seton began publishing in 1954, Jean Plaidy in 1951 so I think Woodiwiss and Rogers should thank the pioneers for paving the way and building up a core audience. Younger readers may want to go and seek out some of the older books, if they haven't already. They'll find them different, with certainly less sex, and violence presented less graphically, but that does not make them any less good. In many eyes, it may make them better!

Anne Golon is still alive and living in Paris not far from Versailles where she did all her research. The website below has been recently updated, and gives hope that the last three titles, only ever published in French, will now, after a long law suit, finally be published in English. It seems she is still writing. All the names I quoted, bar Rodgers who may/may not be still writing, are dead, so I think we should treasure this French writer of great historical fiction while we still can.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The old town

For two days there has been a nasty smell in the kitchen. I disinfected the sink, scrubbed the tiles of the surround, emptied all the rubbish into the outside bin, left doors and windows open and still the smell persisted. If anything, it grew stronger. This morning, we found out why. A small mouse had gnawed its way into the toaster and couldn’t get out. Its tail gave the game away. Since the outer casing is made of moulded plastic we have no way of opening it, so the whole toaster is, well – toast. We’ll buy a new one to replace it, but the dilemma is where shall we put it so the same thing doesn’t happen again?
That’s three things that have died on us, so I hope we’ll have no more .
I spent a couple of hours clearing out dead wood (sorry!) and brambles from the drive, and another hour or two sunbathing after four o’clock. Did a bit of editing but fell asleep over it. I keep telling myself that's not a bad sign; it simply means I was tired.
Picture of the old town in Bergerac.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

A death at the mill

The day began with a death. A mouse, a very small, baby mouse, lay down in the middle of the hallway and went to meet his maker. His little eyes were closed, and I could see his eyelashes. I took him out and laid him among the nettles and brambles.
It rained again. That’s the third day in a row. The grasshopper is still stuck to the window, and I suspect he may be dead as well. This afternoon I went out and hacked ivy off trees, and collected dead wood, nearly braining myself in the process as the twigs I was after brought down a twelve foot branch. The local farmer was tending his asparagus, and the first I knew of him was his four-month-old puppy Fifi racing over to meet me. She’ll probably be a big Alsation when she’s grown, but right now she’s a wriggling bundle of delight.
Conversation was difficult as he has Spanish but no English. We have un peu French but no Spanish.
The pic is the vieux ville of Bergerac.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Chateau de Lanquais

We’ve been out for most of the day since the day again began with rain, but it brightened (marginally) by eleven and we set off for the Chateau de Lanquais, billed as Le Louvre inacheve du Perigord, un retour dans la vie quotidienne du moyen-age a la Renaissance. (For those of you who resort to dictionaries (like me!) this translates as the Unfinished Louvre of Perigord, a return to everyday life from the middle ages to the Renaissance.
We found it easily enough three or four miles south of La Dordogne.

The track to the chateau was extremely bumpy, and its a good thing we were not driving the low slung roadster as we were last time in France, otherwise we would have grounded. We had to walk down a grassy track and up into a barn with a phenomenal roof with one end shaped like a wheel – the ticket office! In one door of the barn and out of another, and we had bypassed the big padlocked iron gates. Sadly no photographs are allowed inside the house, but I took lots outside.

Even dh was fascinated by the house, which is a building of two halves. It was a powerful fortress during the Hundred Years war with England, as you can possibly see from the pic of the older half of the chateau with its round tower. The story goes that in the mid-1500s Catholic Isabeau de Limeuil, cousin to Catherine de Medici, decide to add a wing to her castle and contracted the craftsmen who had built the Louvre in Paris. Before the new wing was completed, Protestant armies (it was a Proestant region of France) besieged it in 1577 and left the façade pitted by cannonballs. You can definitely see the two halves – the Renaissance wing with its dormer windows, and the original medieval fortress.

The fireplaces take up most of the walls in which they are set. In the blue salon, the fireplace does 3xactly that. Two bedrooms, (one for Madam, one for Monsieur, but interconnecting) the dining room, the salons - there are two - and both the medieval and Renaissance kitchen are furnished. The cellars, built entirely of stone, had curved roofs, vegetables stored in sand and meat in salt; and beneath them were the souterrains, or caves – to which thankfully, access was blocked. The cellars were bad enough. A family party with two small boys went around at the same time, and Dad jokingly put the light out for a second or two. Guess who squeaked? Yep, moi.

The chateau was built of limestone. The stairs had wide grooves indicating where people had walked over the centuries, and some steps had so worn that they were replaced with wood. The floors and ceilings of the upper stories were wood, and the wooden windows and shutters were all unpainted. In some cases the shutters were so old, the wood itself had flaked. The tootings - those stones sticking out of the gable wall - indicate where an additional wing had been planned but never completed.
Some of the furniture was sixteenth century; barley sugar legs, and sturdy dark tables with balls carved in decreasing size as the leg tapered to the floor, which was great for me and the latest wip, so I’ll be working that in somehow (without being obvious, of course!)
The same family has owned Lanquais since 1732, but I’m not sure they live in it, though lots of doors are marked Privee. But maybe they do. Very creepy, I would have thought.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Thunderstorms and rain

Editing makes me notice my bad habits. Sad but true. I know that one of the golden rules for good writing is to vary the sentence structure, and I love reading good writing. Dorothy Dunnett’s was always, and still is, pure pleasure. We all know that most English sentences start with a subject and a verb, in one form or another. I ran, for instance. She cried, Susan hurled, Bill heaved. This can leave you with a series of Susan doing all sorts of things in a page, and it soon becomes repetition with a big, capital R.

Easy to change, you think. So subordinate clauses come creeping out of the woodwork. Example: While waiting for Harry, Matho cleaned his nails. Or Smoothing down her brocade stomacher, Anne made a decision about Henry. And before you know it, subordinate clauses become a bad habit.

Someone pointed out the other day that I had a habit of threesomes. (No, not what you think!) I saw what Caroline meant, and I’m glad she told me. Used judiciously, they’re good, and they do seem to flow for me, but too many of them is bad, bad, bad. Meg peered in the mirror, tweaked her hat to a more becoming angle and kissed her own image.
When we start out writing, it’s usually adjectives and adverbs that bring grief. Characters always do things strongly, weakly or beautifully. (I’ve just stumbled into a threesome there!) But we soon learn that all we need do is select a stronger verb, one that describes the action without needing a prop. Henry sauntered into the room is much better than Henry walked slowly into the room.

As for France ~ we have a grasshopper clinging to the outside of the windowpane and so have a close up view of its nether regions. Mighty Mouse continues to zoom across the sink unit, leaving neat little turd pellets as he goes. He tried to get into the toaster tonight and was last seen disappearing behind the cooker. His sister peeked out from underneath the sofa this afternoon when we were both reading quietly (because it rained all day and we only managed one walk) but soon retreated on encountering dh's feet.
Last night we had the most horrendous thunderstorm . One thunder clap was so violent we thought a bomb had landed. The lights went out and the thingummy popped. Good thing I wasn’t using my laptop at the time. Then we remembered the fridge, and the freezer downstairs.

If we didn’t so something, all the food would spoil…so dh bravely got up in the pitch black, stumbled across the hall into the main room, found the torch and then went downstairs which is dark and cold even at midday though its not a cellar, you understand. Just the lower floor of the mill. There he did whatever it is you do to the fuses (popped them back in?) and came back to bed, where I had kept his side warm for him. My hero!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Cyrano and St Maurice

Vicky asked about Cyrano de Bergerac, and though everywhere you go in Bergerac you see the name, and there are at least two stautes, I’ve never taken much interest. He seems to have been more documented than Arthur, but still reads as a weird kind of fellow. Petri Liukkonen (author) claims:
“French soldier, satirist, and dramatist, whose life has been the basis of many romantic but unhistorical legends. The best-known of them is Edmond Rostand's verse drama Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). Bergerac's major works were two posthumously published accounts of fantastic voyages, VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (1657) and L'HISTOIRE DES ÉTATS ET EMPIRES DU SOLEIL (1662). According to Arhur C. Clarke, Cyrano must be credited both for first applying the rocket to space travel and, for inventing the ramjet.”

I understand the man wasn’t in Bergerac for more than a few nights in his life, so I don’t know why Bergerac has latched so deeply onto him. Even the name related back to a family estate. Petri explains, and if you want more detail, check out the website :
The weather continues at 30-31 degrees for the second day, so we’re confining our walks to early morning, before eight o’ clock. I sunbathed and edited my wip with a red pen on hard copy from 9am to 10am and then crept inside where it was cool. There I transcribed all the changes onto my lap top. So work is still being done. Honest.
You remember my walk with the alsation escort? Well, approached from another direction yesterday, I saw that a couple of conifers making up the screening hedge have died, and been felled, leaving a swift squint of the Chateau for nosy people like myself. So here it is. You can get married there if you wish. The church outside the chateau walls looks absolutely ancient, but it is literally only ten yards from the gates, perhaps a hundred yards from the house. So very romantic, neh?

Monday, 19 July 2010


This picture of Bergerac missed the cut last night because my electricity supply was playing tricks. It shows one of the things I love about France - the odd mixture of old and new side by side. And how the old buildings are maintained and renovated. These people have chosen to put modern windows in, but lots choose to get the old style made new; then it becomes hard to tell sometimes, how old a building really is. Fontevraud is a bit like that; so much renovation work has been done it difficult to see what's old and what's "new." Some critics say that renovation means renewal in France. I can't make up my mind , and sway one way one day and the other the next.

I didn't get to describe the meal we had, but rather than bore you, I'll just describe dessert. Imagine a ball of stewed rgubarb inside a blob of fresh cream surrounded by halved strawberries and topped with a ginger "lid" about three inches across, wafer thin and studded with chopped nuts. Yum. The house is typical of the region and sits near the river in St Marcel.

Our wildlife continues to impinge on our lives here at the mill. This morning over breakfast coffee at the table I looked up and saw a mouse, bold as brass, scouting for crumbs around the sink unit twenty feet away. We watched it for two or three minutes. Dh was all for rushing over and doing goodness knows what, but I restrained him. 'Let's see where it goes.' Another half minute and it vanished over the end of the worktop and into the bowels of the dishwasher. We don't use the dishwasher, and anyway the owners of the mill are coming down soon and the entire old kitchen is to be ripped out and replaced. They know the mice are there. When they told us of this plan we jovially said mice would run in all directions, but Sam the labrador would sort them out. 'Oh no he won't,' said his owner, with a rueful laugh. 'He'll go behind you when he sees them.'

Then later, doing what you do in bathrooms, I wondered if my eyes were deceiving me. Coming in from the 31 degree glare outside, the little brown lump in the corner behind the door looked rather like a frog. I waited; my vision sharpened, and it was a frog. Crouched in the corner between the wall and the door, its a wonder it hasn't been squashed when the door opened. So dh put on his gardening gloves, retrieved said frog and we took it down to the stream and set it away. We don't know how long it has been trapped in the bathroom, as we haven't used the downstairs loo for about three days.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Bergerac and Lou Peyrol

The English have long associations with Bergerac and Aquitaine in general. In 1370 the town was given to John of Gaunt by the Black Prince and proved an exceptional source of revenue for him.
While it is perhaps tactful not to speak to the French of such things these days, it is interesting to think of those ancient battles fought beside La Dordogne so long ago. (I love the way the French give their rivers a feminine persona!). The river was open to sea-going vessels right through medieval times, and there was much trade in Wine. There still is! But it doesn’t leave by river these days.

We drove in around five-thirty as we’ve learned by experience that most shops in France close around midday and re-open mid-afternoon and stay open until about seven o’clock. You know the old saying about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun? Well, it makes sense when you’re here. Walking around towns with the midday sun bouncing off the pale stone of the buildings is utter madness. The French certainly don’t do it, and so we don’t do it either. In the middle of a wet, rainy day in Newcastle, it seems peculiar, but here, when the temperature is 31 degrees, it all begins to make sense.

It was hot enough to make an hour and a half wandering around old haunts and sicovering new ones more than enough, and we headed back along the D32 towards St Marcel du Perigord with food in mind.
We were not disappointed. Imaginative, delicious food in a tranquil setting – who could ask for more? An amuse bouche, a pre-starter and then a salmon starter for me, followed by canard with green peas, beans and the tiniest mushrooms in a delicious sauce...m'mmm.
I drank the local wine sparingly because I had drawn the “drive back home” straw and I knew the roads home were one car width, twisty and hilly.
I saw one deer, which raced for cover before dh could get the camera out; he saw four more, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road to look. For us, seeing deer is rare. On our last trip to Scotland in February, we saw them
everywhere, and we know they exist around our home in the UK, but a sighting is rare, especially here, where there is so much land for them to hide in - and delightful.
Click for pictures and a link to Lou Peyrol

and here for pics provided by Bergerac Office de Tourisme.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Without power...

I love many things about France, but one thing I am learning to hate is the electricity supply. To be more precise, the supply in this house. Now, I know I should be tolerant and think about how old the mill is, and I do, I do! But … we bring adapters with us because the French use a totally different set of plugs etc etc to the UK, and some of said adapters work better than others.

Tonight I was merrily downloading today’s pics from my camera to my laptop when a message flashes up telling me the Power is Running Low. I look to my left where the laptop is plugged in to the mains supply, and the little green light that tells me the current is coming through is not there! I leap across the two yards to wiggle the adapter-plus-socket, and the green light reappears. I sigh with relief and sit down again just as the screen goes blank and the PC closes down.

Now I am wondering if I have a) lost all the pics on the camera b) lost anything on the pc c) and I’m cursing as I switch on again. It would be a pity if I lost the pics, because we’ve had a lovely day. Vergt market by nine o’clock and I’m sad to say it wasn’t as large as it used to be, and that is probably because the local Intermarche has upped its game. The vegetable and fruit prices in the market were higher than the supermarket, and there were more people buying in the latter than the former. Including me. I’m only a visitor; what I do is not going to change the habits of the French, but it seems as if they are voting with their purses.
Later in the day we drove in the opposite direction to Bergerac and walked around the town. It is old, and has un centre ville and un ville vieux down by the river. Naturally, I gravitate to the old town in whatever town or village I’m in. I love the mix of old and new. More detail on Bergerac tomorrow. We drove back to St Marcel and had dinner at Lou Peyrol and I’m sleepy now. Enjoy the pics of Vergt. (Remember, click to make them bigger) It is a small rural town with a population of 1, 614 people. That's small, and France is a big country. Well, it is if you are used to England.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Talk about encouragement

“What is it about writing that makes people put on the blinders and fail to recognize their limitations and makes the talented unable to recognize their own goodness?”
Nathan Bransford certainly puts a crimp in aspiring writers minds with his latest blog. Perhaps he’s just having a bad day. But perhaps he really means it. I have a sneaking suspicion he does. Check out the whole thing at

My preferred view is that those who read a lot divide into two camps: those who simply want to read, and those who read and long to write. Those who never read, or read rarely, probably never contemplate writing a book. Why would they, unless they think it will make money, and we all know most authors do not earn a living wage.

Those who read and long to write sub-divide into those who have a facility with the written words and those who don’t. Many confuse an ability to tell stories, ie to talk, with the ability to write, but the skills are very different and they usually indicate different personalities. This isn’t written in concrete, (apologies for the pun), but often the writer is not good at talking to more than one person at a time, whereas the raconteur, by definition, is.

And then the writers sub-divide again, into those who write well, and those who write but not well enough to sell. Or who write well but are not lucky enough to hit a bandwagon at the right time, who’ve never delivered a manuscript to an agent just as s/he is searching for that elusive something and opens the envelope and cries WOW! This is what I’ve been looking for!

Yesterday was a grey day. Even France has them. The temperature, I kid you not, fell to 23.5 degrees, but today the bright sunny days were back again. Washed a couple of sheets, such a mundane thing to do on holiday, but really, when the nights are so hot and we sweat as we sleep under only the sheet, it pays to wash them often. Otherwise, we don’t smell too sweet.

I keep falling over wildlife here. Small, but here in abundance all the same. The trout are copulating in the stream, tonight a frog leapt out in front of me and crickets and grasshoppers bounce out from under my feet as I walk through the meadow. One tiny grasshopper resided on the bedroom ceiling last night and I almost sat on him this morning when he joined me on the bed. It politely walked onto my hand and I placed it on the window ledge and shut the window so he couldn’t come back in. I'm sure he gave me a most reproachful glance, and he certainly stood there staring at the closed window for several minutes. Dh discovered his big brother in the living room this evening. That one evaded capture until we used the cup and flat sheet of paper method. Only a cup wasn't big enough so we utilised the thing you strain rice in once you've boiled it. Worked a treat.

Tomorrow we’re off to Vergt market for our fruit and vegetables, and then out to Bergerac for an evening meal. Expect some pictures of France rather than the wildlife!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A reviewer's thoughts

Till the Day Go Down
Jen Black, Quaestor2000, 2009. £9.99, pb, 203pp, 9781906836177 also LP

"The border country between England and Scotland is a lawless and dangerous place in the mid-sixteenth century, so when Harry Wharton, travelling through Northumberland on a secret mission to Edinburgh in the summer of 1543, encounters the alluring Alina Carnaby of Aydon Hall at Corbridge market, he gives a false name. The alias could not be worse chosen, for as Alina casually informs him, “my father hates every Scot ever born.”
Thus begins a lively adventure and a passionate romance, for who is to doubt that Harry and Alina are made for each other, if they can only overcome the plentiful obstacles thrown in their way.
I was slightly distracted by the odd quirky simile (our heroine’s thoughts bobbing about like rabbits in a field) and a couple of encounters between characters that seemed far too convenient. Alina’s tendency to “squawk” or “bleat” in moments of stress did no justice at all to this strong-willed, independent–minded young lady.
That said, Jen Black writes with great verve and gives us a vivid sense of time and place, with a hero and a heroine to cheer for and a grand cast of supporting characters, especially the loyal village lad Matho, Alina’s childhood friend.
(Aydon is a real village, and there is an Aydon Castle, which appears much as it does in this book – it dates from the 13th century and was renovated in the mid-16th century.)"

Mary Seeley, in
Historical Novels Review Issue 52, May 2010, p 26
The pic is a view of Aydon Castle.

Thoughts from a reviewer

Till the Day Go Down
Jen Black Quaestor2000. 2009. £9.99, pb, 203pp, 9781906836177 also LP

"The border country between England and Scotland is a lawless and dangerous place in the mid-sixteenth century, so when Harry Wharton, travelling through Northumberland on a secret mission to Edinburgh in the summer of 1543, encounters the alluring Alina Carnaby of Aydon Hall at Corbridge market, he gives a false name. The alias could not be worse chosen, for as Alina casually informs him, “my father hates every Scot ever born.”
Thus begins a lively adventure and a passionate romance, for who is to doubt that Harry and Alina are made for each other, if they can only overcome the plentiful obstacles thrown in their way.
I was slightly distracted by the odd quirky simile (our heroine’s thoughts bobbing about like rabbits in a field) and a couple of encounters between characters that seemed far too convenient. Alina’s tendency to “squawk” or “bleat” in moments of stress did no justice at all to this strong-willed, independent–minded young lady.
That said, Jen Black writes with great verve and gives us a vivid sense of time and place, with a hero and a heroine to cheer for and a grand cast of supporting characters, especially the loyal village lad Matho, Alina’s childhood friend.
(Aydon is a real village, and there is an Aydon Castle, which appears much as it does in this book – it dates from the 13th century and was renovated in the mid-16th century.)

Mary Seeley.
Historical Novels Review Issue 52, May 2010, p 26
I was pleased with this review but don't know how or where to reach Ms Seeley, so must tender my thanks here.
Last night I tried using the Options function in Blogger and entered this post to be "posted" at a little past midnight ready for the following day. I opened up my computer this morning, and see it hasn't appeared, so being of an impatient disposition, immediately did it the normal way. Sod's law suggests that at some point today, Blogger will swing into action and post it for a second time. If that happens, I can only apologise, and grit my teeth.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sunny days

It's 9am and 25 degrees already so I have the shutters
closed against the sun in the hope of keeping the
house cool.
I edited two more chapters on a hard copy while sunbathing yeserday afternoon, and I need to need to transcribe the changes very carefully to the Word document today. Then its back to reading the next chapters.
Amazingly, though this is perhaps the third if not the fourth full edit, I'm still making lots of improvements. The more experienced author will probably shake their heads at my naivety, but I am truly surprised at the amount of changes I still want to make.
They're not plot changes. More like tangled sentences to straighten, small repetitions to remove, and what SarahDuncan calls pzazz (on 12th July entry) to add in. I quite like adding pzazz. I already had some, but could do with a lot more.
As for France - all goes restfully well. An early morning walk brought me face to face with the yellow giant opposite - taller than me by a good eight inches, and just waking up to the rays of the sun. Walking to the old church of St Maurice, our quiet progress woke both alsation dogs that live in the chateau next to the church.
We've seen them on previous holidays - though seen is the wrong word - occasional glimpses through the hedge would be more appropriate -they "escort" you, barking constantly, along the road, and only a chicken-wire fence half-hidden in among the hedge keeps them in their manicured grounds. Their owners would be woken early, no doubt about it.

And just so that people don't scratch their heads over the word bolly, here's a picture of our particular bolly. You see them all over this area in varying sizes and states of repair, but always to the same design. They're made of green oak which turns silvery with age and our particular bolly has steps down the side nearest the camera leading to a lower, paved patio area where the tiny lizards love to sun bathe.

Monday, 12 July 2010

France is different

If this dragonfly was six foot long, I'd be scared.
Since it is only about four inches, I find it a delight to watch, especially when all four jewel-bright wings are whirring.

They abound in this part of rural France, along with the varicoloured butterflies and moths. Other insects, large-size and with stings, are less welcome. Some are downright terrifying. There's one in particular that whizzes in like a B47 bomber. Bouncing off walls doesn't stop it for long, but at least it doesn't seem interested in biting humans.

We're slowly conditioning ourselves to the heat. Today was relatively cool at 26 degrees in the shade, and believe me, it takes some getting used to. The first day we dodged the sun by keeping to the shadows around the house, but we're getting braver. It is very quiet here, and we have a stream at the bottom of the garden. Actually, its less a garden and more a meadow, as you'll see on the photograph. There are fish in the water and ducks sailing along it. Grasshoppers and frogs leap out of the way as you walk down to the stream. Birds sing in the trees all around us, and there are cows and calves one field over.
People? Can't see any at all. Yet in spite of all this empty countryside, two vehicles managed to scrape bits off each other the other night at the cross road half a mile away. The road just insn't wide enough for two vehicles at once, and it seems neither would give way. Addresses were being exchanged as we drove by.
So, we've had a busy day. Up at six and out for a walk before eight in the cool of the morning, then out to the local boulangerie to buy bread. He was closed, so that meant a 25 mile trip to the nearest supermarche. I've edited ny first chapter again, and dh has stripped and painted a door. (He stripped the door, not himself. Not that he's shy...) We've had our hors d'oeuvre of tuna and olive pate on hot toast with an aperitif, and we look forward to main course out on the bolly when I finish typing this. (We would call a bolly a verandah, or a covered terrace, but here it's a bolly.)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Romantic buildings

I blogged about Aydon Castle on Lindsay's blog yesterday, and found I wasn't the only person who loved Aydon. Encouraged by the response, I thought I'd add more pictures. This shot of the north facing corner looking out over the orchard shows the lovely old windows, and the more utilitarian 'new' windows added later - though still a long time ago as far as we're concerned!
The second picture shows the garderobe tower. This is perched about two feet from the ravine, and the garderobe shoot would jettison straight over the edge. When I looked up at the battlements, I saw a gargoyle run-off spout positioned right above. Clever, I thought. When it rained, the gargoyle would spout rainwater down onto whatever nasties had gathered below and wash it over into the ravine. Old-fashioned plumbing at it's best! Failing that, some unlucky fellow with a shovel would have to do the necessary.
Some experts think that the upper floor of the tower did duty as the bedchamber for the lord and lady. It had two windows, a garderobe and a spout for emptying washing water direct to the outside.
I suppose that would have been the height of luxury in 1400. Tapestires on the wall, a brazier with hot coals as well as a fireplace, and it would have been qute cosy on a summer's day. On a winter night, with the wind howling outside, I'm not so sure. Stone makes you feel cold, even if the weather is warm, and typical British weather does not usually warm stone as it does in France. I once sat on a stone wall after a long uphill drag to visit a castle in the blazing sunshine of the Dordogne and almost singed my nether regions. Luckily I have fast reflexes!
The other thing was that with a bed in the room, there would have been little room to move around. Either that, or they had very small beds. There would have been little privacy either; the bed could hardly have been more than a couple of feet from the garderobe! Let's hope they had nice thick bed curtains all round.
Makes me think that the ultra modern mode we've seen in the last year or two a la Grand Designs in which houses are built without internal doors, except on guest rooms, are not all that modern after all.
But I still wouldn't want the doorless toilet-cum-bathroom within a few feet of my bed!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Aydon Castle

The east face of Aydon Castle. I had my character
Alina sit at the window and look out on the orchard below when her father told her whom she was to marry. Not of course, the man with whom she had fallen in love.
The projections, they say, show where an extension was planned but never executed. I'm rather glad, since we would have lost the pretty window had the extension gone ahead.
The weather is so very hot...25, 26 degrees centgrade. Creeping up to 27 and 28 yesterday afternoon. Just sitting still brought a slight dew to the skin, and moving was unthinkable. I suppose if you live long enough in such heat, then the body becomes acclimatised.


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...