Friday, 11 April 2014

End of an Era

John Blatchford, the Head Gardener, died on 13 March 2014.

John and Annabel, his daughter, bought the house in Villeneuve de Duras some 25 years ago.  At that time, there were few foreigners in the village.  John vowed to try to integrate - he learned French, he spoke to people.   He was often to be seen sitting outside his house, reading a book and having his morning coffee.  An excellent time to see and be seen, as folk went to the boulangerie for their morning baguette.

John always said that I  was welcome in Villeneuve any time and for as long as I wanted to stay.  However, there was a condition - only one - that I did the cooking.

Our wives, separately and together, asked us what we talked about and what we did.

What did we talk about?    

Sometimes something and lots of times nothing at all.  I have always thought that being truly comfortable in someone's company requires no conversation, no inanities to fill the silence.  John and I could do silence - we could also do inanities.

What did we do?

Life had a routine.  Up early, coffee and cigarettes.    Apero after 6pm - never before - with only one exception.  In between.......there was no routine.

John acquired a garden from Mamie.  She and her husband fed their family from the garden.   I don't know her real name.  She was always Mamie, or more formally La Mamie, to everyone.  She played petanque - god, she played petanque!  It is one of my proudest moments - to beat an 80 year old granny at petanque.

John and Mamie in the garden.....

So, what did we do?  We did a lot of this......

and lots of this....

in order to turn this.....

into this..........

We also did a bit of this......

and some of this.....

The entire week was not without structure.

Mondays and Saturdays were market days - Monday Duras, Saturday Ste Foy La Grande.  We rarely bought anything.  We did buy vegetable plants at Ste Foy, oh and some chickens.   We would wander round, then go for a beer and watch the world go by.  Regine's in Duras was our favoured haunt.  If we went anywhere near Duras, we went to Regine's.  A bit like Where's Wally - spot John.

Apparently, legend has it, it used to be a brothel.  Lovely circular staircase (he says waving his finger in a circular motion, as if circular staircases could otherwise be described) and good pression.  We knew we'd arrived, or were going too often, when Regine started giving us kisses.

Villeneuve de Duras will be the poorer without John.  I'll miss him too.

Où sont les neiges d'antan?  (Francois Villon)

Photographs courtesy of Graham B Edwards and/or Marcel Du Marché to whom the copyright belongs.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Death

'If you have animals, you'll have dead animals.'

The cou nu has died.  It has been very hot today, but the chickens have shade, water and food, so what killed her?  I found her in the corner of the chicken-shed - quite dead - stiffly so.  Charlemagne was most agitated when I removed her.  Maybe he thought she was just asleep.  Charlemagne - no she wasn't.

We need help - now!

When I was here in May, I bought 4 courgette plants.  They all came from the same stall at the market, they all went in the ground at the same time, and they have all been watered etc at the same time.  The only difference is that 3 of them were put into the area where the chickens used to be, the fourth was used to fill a gap in the vegetable plot.

Spot which is which.  John is used only to provide some scale.

We gathered the crop on Friday, and took a box of them to Le Jardin, the local restaurant (  We ate some on Friday night and the leftovers yesterday.  I gathered as much again today.

We need new and exciting courgette recipes NOW!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

French Markets

Despite the best efforts of supermarkets, the French market continues to flourish.

Is it because prices are cheaper - probably not. It's just a lovely exerience. You stroll around, generally in the sunshine. You may meet people you know - and because of the throng, you can avoid people you know and don't want to meet (or is that just me) - and you soak up the ambience. You can buy most everything you'd want:-

Ste Foy la Grande, the nearest big(ish) place to Villeneuve has a Saturday morning market:-

You can even buy livestock:-

You can have a meal with friends, whilst watching the traffic go by:-

And you can buy things you never knew you wanted:-

Oh, and here's a picture of my dog, Molly the Collie.

Friday, 21 May 2010

I'm Moving to France

I've decided to take 'le plonge' and move to France.

Clearly, there are one or two things to sort out before that can happen. For example, I still work, so securing my retirement may take a little time to organise.

As a first step, I thought I needed to get a car and I've found one. It needs one or two things doing to it, but I should manage to get those done by the time I've retired. Here she is. Isn't she a beauty?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Visit to Maumulon

On Tuesday, I went to visit John Marshall near Charroux in the Charente.

As John had arrived only the Friday before, and was still getting the house 'opened up' for the summer, I borrowed John B's strimmer and we set to work on the garden.

Having done that, we then got out the big boy's toy and did a supply of logs for the fire.

Remarkably, we finished both jobs without either of us bleeding. That probably means we didn't do it properly. Mind you, with a chainsaw I don't think you just bleed, I think you end up with a Long John Silver wooden leg.

Monday, 10 May 2010


I am reading a book by Peter Mayle, Provence A-Z, which gives a version of the origin of to fanny. To fanny someone in petanques is, as I said, to beat someone 13-0. A kiss from the waitress of the local cafe was the consolation prize for the unfortunate loser of the game. The original site of the kiss was the cheek, but the target changed to altogether different cheeks. A similar version appears on the attached web site.

Not many people know that. Probably not many people want to know that.

I must get one of those plaques.