Sunday, 31 July 2011

A lot of bull!

We've been walking almost every day we've been here, but now the days have turned sunny and hot, we've been doing it early in the morning, before the heat begins to bite. Yesterday we passed the Chateau Maurice at the end of a long walk over towards the holiday village of Constant, and today we went in the opposite direction and found ourselves deep in the woods.
Not a problem, even though imagination suggested that if I were walking on the north American continent, I wouldn't have been so happy, knowing that a bear might appear around the next corner, or a cougar be lying in wait along some branch. But I prefer my forest trails with vistas, and this one was simply flat walking along a muddy trail with scrub and trees either side. Nothing to look at until eventually we struck out into rolling hills and fields again.

Admiring a vast field of grass sprinkled with blue flowers, I got down on my knees to take a photograph and heard dh shushing me and pointing to something in the bushes behind him. Not five feet away lay a huge white bull, no doubt rudely awoken from his night's rest (by us). His back end, facing us, looked as big as a house and since I have little faith at the best of times that the single strand electric fences the French use would keep an animal of his size away from us if he chose to disregard it, we hurriedly tiptoed away down the track.
The blackberries are out here, and are ripening fast. We've collected a few and plan to make a blackberry crumble, maybe with some of the plums growing in the field mixed in. Right now as I sit by the open window with the sun pouring in, I hear the rustle among the hazel trees and catch a glimpse of a red squirrel scampering through the branches.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Some of the buildings in the Dordogne are old, and look it.

I don't mean the famous chateaux,
or abbeys, but the smaller buildings where the non-rich people live. These two shots were taken on our visit to Lou Peyrol, and the big church with the roof garden (!) is right opposite the restaurant. The stone of the private buildings is soft and crumbly, so maybe it makes the buildings look older than they actually are, but then the alterations, visible in the structures, suggest otherwise. The church is either much more modern, or built of a different stone. I suspect it is a more recent structure.

We have discovered something called a Plan des circuits pedestres & VTT in our local mairie. The gentleman behind the counter and I conducted a most pleasant conversation in which I spoke English and he spoke French - and we understood each other perfectly. Anyway, it has taken us about three years to discover that the green VTT sign we see about the countryside translates as velo tout-terrain - or mountain bike trails, which we are not about to try.

But now we know about the pedestres or petite randonnee, loosely translated as a short hikes. So we tried one the other day, with map in hand and much arguing between us about when we should turn left or right. Dh does not wish to be caught out by an irate French farmer, but I thought if we took a wrong turn the worst we would face would be an irate French chien barking excessively. And since some of the French chiens are large Alsations, often in pairs, or farmyard mastiff types, that wasn't exactly as comforting as it might sound.

Anyway, we completed our walk, with about as much much good-natured argument as you might expect between husband and wife, and navigated our way exactly as le petite randonnee map suggested. Fields by the monastery, well-tended orchards, a short time in the cool green forests, winding trails, we experienced them all, and on the way passed this very good looking farm house. All in all, a satisfying day.

(PS no barking chien, I'm glad to report)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Eating out

Yesterday we had three hours of sunshine, which saved my sanity. We also went to a local restaurant avec chambres, called Auberge Lou Peyrol, for a meal.

It is in the small village of St Marcel du Perigord and it's run by Guy and Fiona, who met in Zermatt when working at one of the big hotels there.

Fiona is English and Guy, French, so we're not afraid to try out our poor French, knowing that there is a menu Anglais if we need it.

The terrace has been closed for three weeks due to the constant rain, which means a big difference in income for them. Eating on terraces or the street in towns is so common in France, and usually adds hugely to the covers. We see folorn tables and chairs outside eateries in England now - but it is only because smokers have to be accommodated somewhere!

Our meal was lovely, as expected, full of small surprises. A frothy something or other in a small glass to tease the appetite, then foie gras for dh and saumon d'Ecosse pour moi, followed by cochon for him and chicken for me. Creme brulee with strawberries for dessert, and a small glass with strawberry liquer beneath yogurt with the coffee.

We didn't want expresso, nor a double expresso, so I asked for cafe Americano, which brought recognition. Here it is a cafe d'onger, I was told. (That is how it sounded, so I hope it is not spelled so very differently.) The name of the auberge translates as the cauldron or cooking pot. It's not in my French/English dictionary, just as I never found the word bolly, which is what the people of this region call a roofed terrace. Evidently lou is their equivalent of the definite article le or la.

So, with wine, l'addition was 102 euros.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

House of Wine and wildlife

We must have missed the House of Wine in Bergerac on other trips, or else it has opened up this year. We didn't bother going down into the caves or view the art exhibition. The courtyard was more than enough for me, with its wooden gallery on two sides and old, ivy-covered stone and brick walls completing the square. Beneath the gallery a series of posters details the history of wine in the area from Stone Age times, with lots of info on which wines grew where and why. Philistine that I am, I just like drinking it!

Still the rain continues. It's like being at home, except that it's still warmer here most of the time. The clouds are hanging low over the tree tops and the air is thick and heavy - 94% humidity. We may have to go looking for a lavarie soon - we can wash clothes at the mill no problem, but drying them in this weather is an issue.

There is a field surrounded by trees next to the mill, and we've found that deer come down at night and eat the plums off the tree. They regularly trek through in both directions, going down to drink at the river, or just passing through. We've put up our wildlife camera overnight, and caught one picture where the deer certainly saw or heard something from the camera as it took his picture. He stared right at it, and then vanished into the darkness. The camera caught a few other pictures, sometimes a stag, sometimes a doe. We saw a doe while we were eating breakfast on the bolly one morning, and yesterday around sixish, still daylight, I looked up just at the right moment to see a doe and faun sprinting for the cover of the trees.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A French lunch

There was a hint of sunshine yesterday so we shot off into Bergerac hoping to catch it. We needed to replenish the store cupboard (for that, read fridge) but we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the old town before we hit the new Carrefour.
We've had too much rain lately - the first pic is typical of the last fortnight.

What we'd rather have is the second pic!

We've found the food prices high this year, and it's all because of the exchange rate. A couple of years ago, there were almost two euros to the pound sterling. Now, a euro equals 94pence or very nearly 100p (a pound sterling). You can imagine that makes a difference to the food bill. There's little on the supermarche shelves less than a euro. Now a bottle of French wine at five euros is not about £2.50, but almost £5. Petrol is about the same as back home - around £1.35 - £1.39 a litre when we left. Let's hope it's not gone up again when we get back. Bearing that in mind, we find 11 euros x 2 just a little much for lunch every day when we're out and about, so we seek out a boulangerie that provides those wonderful baguettes filled with chicken and ham, cheese and salad. Poulet complet, nine inches long, in a fresh baguette at 3.50 euros - what could be better? We found ours, a seat in the thin sunshine, and ate it across the square from the restaurant advertising moules frites for seven euros. Two old Frenchmen walked by, nodded approvingly and bade us 'Bon appetit.'

Having said that, every restaurant was packed with people lunching in true French style.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Rain, rain and an interview

The farmers must be delighted with all the rain we having here in the Dordogne, but I'm tired of it now. I came to France for sunshine ...

We've had a little sunshine this morning, but as I look out of the window I see dark grey clouds drifting in from the west. The rain comes from the Bay of Biscay, drifts east, dumps the lot exactly where we are, and drifts on east. The next day, you can almost bet on it that those self same clouds will halt, drift west and dump again, exactly where we are.

Perhaps I'm getting cynical about the weather! There has been one good thing to cheer me up this morning - my interview is up on the RNA Blog.
Here's the link -

I tried really hard to make it interesting, so let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Book trailers

You can probably tell that the weather here is not as good as it should be by the amount of time I'm spending writing for my blog! We've got wind and rain showers and it is definitely c-o-o-o-l.

I checked my You Tube trailers last night to see how they're doing. If you're interested here are the links -


The two later ones are definitely better than the one I did for Dark Pool - whatever possessed me to use pink font over a scene of Viking raiders? Sigh. One lives and learns...

A minute and a half seems to be a good length of time to get across a simple message. There's a difference in amateur trailers and those produced by professionals, but we do what we can with the limited resources we have. It is something I enjoy. Maybe if I was twenty and looking for a career, it might have appealed. The young people of today have so many opportunities for fascinating careers ~ things that were only to be found in science fiction sixty years ago!

The pics are from the batch taken in Perigeueux yesterday.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Dodging the rain

We drove to Perigueux today. We parked on the Quay de l'Isle beside the river, right below the Cathedral St Front. We'd barely got twenty yards along the Cours Fenelon before it began to rain, so we ducked under the shelter of a garage forecourt until the dark clouds passed over.

From there we went up the Rue des Farges in the old town and up to the cathedral. The building is full of domes and minarets, and inside it was very dim. Lots of people wandering around taking photographs, which to me always seems not the right thing to do. Outside, the streets were still wet and grey looking.
From there we walked through the old streets and the indoor market which was closing down (and it was only just after twelve o'clock) and onto the more modern Bd Michel Montaigne where we bough a Poulet Complet baguette and ate it sitting on the open square where the new underground car park has gone in in the last couple of years.

Rain clouds threatened once more - its been doing this for the past two or three days - so we moved on. As luck would have it, we struck a narrow alley down to the river, walked tghrough a car park and looked straight up at the cathedral with a blue sky behind it . Wonderful. Ten minutes later it was raining again.
If you wish for bigger pictures, remember you can always click on the pic, and it will open in a new and bigger format.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

So where did we eat last night? We drove cautiously down the six foot wide road to the bottom of the hill without meeting anything coming up the other way (relief all round!) and drove to a restaurant in St Georges de Montclard. Studied the menu, looked at the empty tables and decided it wasn't open until 7pm or later.

Drove on in a big circle and passed the house we almost bought three or four years ago, noted that the owners had added a pool since last year, and that another old house was in the process of being renovated. Looked at each other, and shook our heads. Not even if we win the lottery? No, said dh. We'll stay in hotels for a month at a time if we win £162 million on the European lottery as some lucky people did this week. Three or four skiing holidays a year? Right! Pay for the kids to come over from Oz and join us, too!

We went into the restaurant run by the commune, and it too was empty but for a couple of locals at the bar. But they were happy to serve a meal, and I ate salade de chevre chaud for starters, which was very tasty, and papillote de poisson en parchment au Provencal as my main course. It wasn't very good. I expected the parchment to be that very thin crinkly pastry whose name I cannot remember, and it wasn't. More like brown paper, which went soggy as the tomatoes covering the white fish inside drained into it.

Now I like both white fish and tomatoes, but together they do not go. I was disappointed. I had a glass of red wine, and dh had two beers with his starter and canard du maison, which he enjoyed, and it cost us 44 euros. Since the euro=94pence right now, it wasn't a cheap meal. Perhaps next Saturday we'll go to Lou Peyrol, which we know has a brilliant chef. We'll pay a little more, but it will be worth it.

I've remembered the name of the pastry - filo!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

We should have booked

Today we walked here. Set off in the cool, and aimed to eat lunch in the creparie. Unfortunately it only opens in the evenings during the month of July and August, which makes it pretty exclusive. Still, Clermont de Beauregard is fascinating and we spent time following the road that encircles it. In the centre of the tiny village is the church and a chateau, which the French call a castle, and a ruined tower stands alone mid-way between the two. Obviously once it was attached to other buildings, but they have long since gone. The village is on a hill to begin with, and the church and tower are visible for miles around. The view over the surrounding countryside is not to be sniffed at, either.

Walking back, we surprised a heron fishing below the bridge, and he took off only three feet away from me.

We drove back to the creparie about 6pm and the appetising smells told us tghe place was open. We walked up the steps and into a dim, low-ceilinged and empty room with five or six tables covered in the classic red and white checked tablecloths - but each and every one held a reserve sign. A lady thudded up some internal stairs hidden behind the reception desk in the corner by the door and greeted us politely. In French, of course. By this time I'd checked every table. 'Tout reservee?' I asked.

'Oui', said the lady and picked up a small notebook to consult a list. Fearing a conversation neither dh nor I would understand, we smiled, and said 'Ne problem pas. Une autre jour.'

'Ah, oui.' She smiled and gave us a sheet bearing the telephone number and times of opening. After all, it was Saturday night, and we ought to have known better. But I think we both secretly thought it might not be open at all, so we went away quite happy. We will go back another day.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Women at war

I've almost finished reading the third book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I discovered them here at the mill the first night we arrived, and grabbed the chance to read them all. I tried the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, some time ago, bogged down a third of the way through and returned it to the library unfinished. Then Lorna, at my local writers's group, shook her head and said I'd stopped reading just before the girl did something really terrible and the story took off.
How right she was!

I put aside Jilly Cooper's Jump in favour of Larsson, picked up where I left off the first time, and haven't stopped reading since. They really are good, and it's such a shame he didn't live to see the success of his books.

My crit groups recently seem full of writers who have a heroine masquerade, for various reasons, as a man. I always find this a trifle doubtful as women are basically so different, in so many ways, to men. However, the third book in the Larsson trilogy carries this homage on page 3:

"It is estimated that some six hundred women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men....

But from antiquity to modern times, there are many stories of female warrior Amazons. The best known find their way into the history books as warrior queens, rulers as well as leaders....

On the other hand, history is quite reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and played their part in battle on the same terms as men. Hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks."

It isn't a new concept in fiction, but I hadn't thought it was backed up so emphatically in fact. I applaud the courage of those women, certainly, but I'm not sure I understand why they wanted to go to war. Larsson scatters other references throughout the book, and uses it as a theme of women battling against men, this time in the modern day battlefield of the courtroom. I don't doubt his sources, either.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

You can't trust the weather

Yesterday we sweltered in 31 degrees, so hot that the slightest exertion had us sweating, and walking any distance was very tiring. Then about 8.30pm last night it began to rain, the temperature dropped and it stayed cold today. We went for a brisk walk uphill wearing anoraks - and were glad of them.
We passed this building on our ramble. A rural gite - soft gee sound - so no doubt we could stay there if we wished. No need - we're very happy in the mill and there seems little or no sign of mice this year. Last year, as readers of this blog will remember, we had mice popping into and out of sofas, through cracks we couldn't find, eating crumbs off the breakfast bar and one unfortunate little creature got trapped in the toaster.
The stream at the bottom of the field was very low yesterday, almost dry in places, with only the thinnest trickle still running. Today it is almost back to normal levels, so the fish may survive. I can hear the wild ducks quacking as I type, but it's no good going to see what's up. They're so wild they take off when we're twenty yards away - and give us a fright. Tomorrow we'll have to go and seek more food. Maybe a trip into Bergerac. At least the weather forecast is good.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Is nothing sacred?

The lavender is in full scented bloom here, and walking in the meadows around the mill frequently brings up a smell of mint. Walnuts are fully formed on the trees, and this morning a red squirrel raced down the walnut tree near the bolly, bounced across a patch of tall grass and disappeared onto the lower patio only three yards from me. (A bolly, in case you are wondering, is the local word for a covered patio at the side of the house.)

The sun is blazing down from a blue sky, but tomorrow rain is forecast. We can't complain; evidently the Dordogne region has been suffering from a severe water shortage.

Back home, the row goes on about journalists hacking peoples' phones, a crime the profession seem to consider unimportant when in pursuit of a story. The News of the World, a salacious rag I remember from the days of my childhood, has bitten the dust as a result, and hopefully all Murdoch's papers will have to change their ways if they wish to survive. If a person cannot be sure of having a private phone call, what use are phones?

I read in the Daily Telegraph over the weekend that the Oxford or serial comma 'is entering that zombie half-life where all dying grammatical rules survive for a while - appreciated only by the prissy and the fussy. It's better to kill off the poor, awkward thing, rather than let it linger on, unhappily, between the covers of books published by Oxford University Press.' (In case you are curious, the Oxford or serial comma is the one inserted just before the "and" or "or" in the last item of a list of three or more items, as in the sentence 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.' Without the Oxford comma, Churchill would have offered the British people just 'blood, toil, tears and sweat.')

Harry Mount, the Telegraph journalist, goes on to say that the Oxford comma is fiddly, correct but followed only by a clever minority and smacks of smug pedantry. he quotes H W Fowler, who said in 1926: "Pride of knowledge is a very unamiable characteristic, and the display of it should be sedously avoided."

So there we are. Note to self: check and see how many newspapers Rupert Murdoch actually owns. He might actually own the Daily Telegraph for all I know.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Away we go

Leaving home at a few minutes to six am is a rare experience, but it got us clear of the rush hour traffic and well on our way to Folkestone. (roughly 350 miles travelled). Then through the Channel tunnel and into France via Calais and on to Abbeville, where we had booked an overnight stop.

We didn't make it quite so early next morning, and reached Rouen in the middle of the rush hour. Predictably, we took a wrong turn where the road suddenly branched into three lanes with traffic hurling onwards at a rate of knots and it was too late to take evasive action. The sat nav man took over - I think he sounds just like Daniel Craig, but dh thinks it's a computer voice, which doesn't say much for Daniel Craig - and took us on our way south, always south to Evreux, Dreux, Chartres, Orleans.

After having the peage to ourselves, after Orlean, the traffic was heavy, and the inevitable pile-up occurred - you can just see one of the crashed cars in the picture. A car and caravan had overturned and crashed into the barrier, and taken a second car with them. Though their holiday was probably shot, no one seemed hurt. Imagine trying to phone on a mobile, in French, with cars piling up around ...shivers.

Vierzon and Chateauroux. Limoges and Brive, and we're starting to get tired of the endless rolling vistas of trees and hillsides. By the 400 mile mark, we're near our destination and stop at the Intermarche for a few basic supplies to see us over the weekend. We end up spending around 60 euros and plod on. The sky is blue, the sun is hot - around 25 degrees, and we get to the mill, step inside and switch on the lights. Nothing. A power cut. No doubt some thunderstorm has flipped the power supply. Then we remember the freezer...disaster. A vomit-inducing swill of de-frosted ice and hints of what was once a tune pizza and various other things swirling in the bottom of the old chest freezer. Ah, the joys of vacations...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Will it last?

Starting to get excited about going on holiday. Thinking about it, we're very lucky. Those born pre-1950-ish didn't have holidays unless the family was pretty well-to do. On this website, we're told that holidays began in the sixteenth century with royal progresses around the country. I think that's stretching the idea just a tad.

The Grand Tour is quoted, and I have no doubts the nobility enjoyed them, but I'm sure there are many working class families who never got their annual trip to the sea or the mountains, much less packed a suitcase and set off for Paris for le weekend, or a sunny fortnight in the Mediterranean as we do today. I remember one holiday in my childhood - a week at Lytham St. Annes, near Blackpool. Evidently there had been an earlier one, but I contracted mumps, so Father and brother went off on the planned week on the farm near Carlisle and mother stayed at home with me.
But these days we all expect a holiday as a right, and usually its a holiday abroad. How long will it last, this jetting off on pleasure trips across the globe, when the world is in recession, oil is running out and pollutants mess everything up? Maybe not as long as we hope.

On a more upbeat note, I enjoyed the last of Scott & Bailey on ITV last night. As a female crime show, it hits all the right notes for me, and I hope they begin a new series right away. Intelligent women, who can do a difficult job and still get caught out by men promising the earth and producing nothing. The interrelationships are beautifully done, especially between the women.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Blyth Writers and me

In the midst of all the Wimbledon frenzy I went out to meet Blyth Writers group on Thursday afternoon. They had invited me to speak to their group - to talk about me, and e-publishing. I know writers do this sort of thing, and I had done something like it before, but only as part of a team of six authors all speaking on the same evening. Consequently I had to admit to some nervousness as I drove to Blyth on the east coast. This time I was on my own.

The writers welcomed me beautifully. After a hesitant start with my little story of not being able to say, as most authors do, that I wrote stories from six years old, everything seemed to go smoothly. Instead I revealed that I had kept a tiny notebook in which I recorded the titles of all the stories I read. I told them I kept it alphabetically, which was incorrect. Memory has clicked back in since Thursday, and reminded me that I didn't keep the list alphabetically, and soon couldn't find anything on the list, thus rendering it useless. Which is no doubt the real reason why I went into librarianship.

They asked lots of questions, fed me tea and a chocolate biscuit, and I recounted everything I'd learned about e-publishing. One lady said she'd found my trailer for Shadows, and liked it very much. I was amazed, and delighted to hear that. It is their practice to read out some of their own writing to the group, and allowed me to hear several pieces. They all wrote to a high standard, and I'm sure they could soon find a place in the e-publishing world - if they choose to do so.
The port of Blyth dates back to the twelfth century, and I remember reading that Richard Crawford unloaded Joleta Mallet at Blyth and took her to Flaw Valley at Hexham when she was ill on her trip from Malta. Amazing how Dunnett references still creep up on me after all these years.
There is little to see of a historic port these days. It all looked smart, clean and very 21st century. The picture of the laburnum walk at Seaton Delavell seemed appropriate, since it's quite near Blyth.

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...