Thursday, July 31, 2008

sidecar bob

The crane platform is now finished but we can't find anyone to tow the crane down here. The driver of the concrete lorry declined so Mini-B agreed to try last week.

BB spent a whole morning threading bits of old fencing wire through very tight tunnels and pulleys on Mini-B's tractor so that he could pull the new handbrake cable through (which he suspected had previously been someone's washing line, judging by its thinness) so there would be at least one working brake.

But he needn't have bothered because the crane had bedded down in the mud after a couple of days of rain and wasn't going anywhere - not with Mini-B's tractor at any rate. A contact of Mini-B's with a bigger tractor managed to pull it out but his isn't powerful enough to tow it down the steep slope to the mill. It is now sitting in the front drive of another neighbour since BB said it would only be for three days. If we can't find someone to bring it down soon it could be sitting there for three months - which is stretching 'love thy neighbour' a tad! The crane erector was due to arrive on Wednesday but we've had to cancel him - and who knows when we'll manage to get him back.

What is BB doing at this critical planning stage - when he should be scouring the land trying to find a tow? He's off sunning himself in Provence - lying beside a pool as I write! He's down there doing a sidecar course (the latest toy on his wish list) and when he asked me to go with him I said there was no way I was going to be his sidecar Bob. He can stick a sack of cement in the sidecar for balast!


We went on our annual village rando last weekend - a hike from the village up through the forest to the top of the col (1188 m) - which is normally followed by lunch at the mountain chalet of one of the villagers.

The hike was due to start at 08.00 from the salle des fêtes but when I went two years ago there was a lot of faffing around before we set off so we decided to get there for 08.30 - by which time everyone had already left.

Nainbo appeared at his gate opposite with Mini-B's uncle Rouquin, and beckoned us in for a coup de blanc, after which BB and I set off with Rouquin to try and catch up with the others. Rouquin is 65 and knows the mountains round here like the back of his hand because he's spent his whole life working and hunting in them. He pointed out the ruined chalet where his mother brought him and his sisters to hide in 1944 when the Germans arrived in the village and burned down many of the houses. Before the forest was planted it was just meadows where Rouquin would spend summers cutting hay (and carrying it on his back down to the village) and looking after the goats and cows. Along the way we gathered wild chanterelle mushrooms and fraises des bois (tiny wild strawberries).

Due to the forecast of rain, it was decided that the lunch would be back in the village in the salle des fêtes - which meant that when we reached the col we had to walk straight back down again. Two years ago we all sat outside at tressle tables covered with white tablecloths with stunning views of Mont Blanc in the distance - so it wasn't quite the same.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

tour de france

We helped Mini-B pick his 20 tonnes of potatoes yesterday morning - starting at 7 o' clock. There were about 25 of us, mostly Mini-B's relatives, so it didn't take too long and his mum went up and down the row every time the tractor passed two or three times with a little wicker basket containing a choice of refreshing drinks - pastis or white wine! At 9 o'clock we all stopped for casse-croûte of sausages and lard (the fatty bits of bacon you'd cut off and discard) with bread and cheese and white wine followed by bugnes and red wine.

In the afternoon, BB and I and our pal the Duchess went off on the motorbikes to the Col du Glandon to watch the Tour de France riders as they passed over the Col de la Croix de Fer - their second major Alpine col of the day. It was sunny and warm with not a cloud in the sky, and sitting on the back of BB's bike wearing my iPod, it was like being in a road movie with my own personal soundtrack. When we got to the top of the col, the meadows were full of people picnic-ing while waiting for the riders to pass. Some people turn up hours before on the popular routes so that they can get parked and get a good spot, but we were able to park the bikes about 400 metres from the road and only had a 15 minute wait - which was just as well because when the riders did arrive it was all over in less than two minutes!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

wedding belles

We were at our friend Mimi's wedding last Saturday and boy was it a long day.

It began at 7 o'clock with BB dragging me out of bed to show me a stork fishing in the stream. As I stumbled downstairs half asleep with my hair all over the place, he looked at me critically and said: "Take the hair from behind your ears - you look like a biffer. Like one of those American things (sic) that have their children taken away." !

I had no idea what he was talking about and no inclination to ask at that time in the morning and promptly took myself back off to bed.

Half an hour later it was a neighbour's chainsaw that woke me up and after that it was impossible to get back to sleep.

The wedding celebrations began at 2 o'clock with a cérémonie civile in a mairie about 30 km away. We've been to one of these before and they last ten minutes max, which is about the limit of my attention span. This, however, was followed by a bénédiction nuptiale in the cathedral, which lasted a yawning one hour and 20 minutes - although it wasn't without its moments.

The priest had either been at the communion wine or it was his first wedding bénédiction because throughout the whole ceremony he spent agonising minutes flipping through his A4 binder searching for his next monologue (whilst forgetting to tell us to sit down) or coughing up phlegm. People were getting fidgety until we got to the exchange of rings part, which were presented to the couple (where they sat on red velvet chairs next to the alter table) by their 18-month old daughter. Next thing, the priest (still coughing up phlegm), the bride and groom were on all fours searching for the ring which the daughter had dropped. At least it gave the rest of us an excuse to sit down. I even saw a couple of guys taking out cigarettes and almost expected them to start smoking!

After the ceremony we were invited for a vin d'honneur at the salle des fêtes but then had a FOUR HOUR WAIT until the meal with no bar and no entertainment. At one point BB turned to me and said: "I need to go to the toilet but I think I'll hold off. Give me something to look forward to!" It was dire.

The meal, when it finally arrived, was excellent, if a bit unconventional. In between each of the six courses the lights were dimmed, the disco music came on and everyone got up and danced (including the groom's sister-in-law in a wheelchair!)

It was 3 o' clock in the morning when the bride and groom cut the croquembouche (the traditional French wedding cake, consisting of choux buns filled with crème patisserie, built into a pyramid and decorated with fine strands of caramel and served with champagne) after which our designated driver decided it was time to go. The other guests, however, carried on until 6 o'clock, when onion soup was served!

Saturday, July 5, 2008


The carrots were already chilling on ice when I got the call. Nainbo came downstairs this morning to find that Justine had given birth to a female, Zoé. He said he heard nothing during the night - no noise, no fuss - just a small pool of blood on the ground and a wet baby donkey. She's already skipping around - albeit a bit wobbly. Unbelievable!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

sinusoidal alternating bla bla bla

I went into town to do some shopping this afternoon and as I came out of the junction at the bottom of the valley I saw a truck coming straight at me and realised I was on the wrong side of the road. I got the fright of my life! That's the first time that's happened since we moved to France.

While I was out, EDF came and switched on the 3-phase electricity in the garage and a load of steel arrived for the crane platform. When I asked BB to explain to me in layman's terms what 3-phase is, he said: "You realise that monophase is a sinusoidal alternating current. If you have three monophases 120 degrees out of phase then ........" He carried on in this fashion for ten minutes until my eyes glazed over and I lost the will to live.

A horse breeder friend of Nainbo's has confirmed, once and for all, that Justine the donkey is pregnant - and it's not twins - and the birth could be very soon "depending on the moon". The locals make reference to the moon frequently, particularly where the potager is concerned. You're supposed to plant climbing vegetables, such as beans and peas, when the moon is in the ascent and root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips etc, when it's in the descent. You're also supposed to pick certain veg when the moon is full since they say it intensifies the flavour. According to Nainbo's horse buddy, donkeys are also more likely to give birth round about full moon - which is tonight. Watch this space.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

crétin des alpes

When I was down at the lake this afternoon for a run and a swim I bumped into Madame La Mairesse and her second-in-command in the car park. After the obligatory bisou (cheek kissing) and "oooh isn't it hot", I bade them bonne nage (have a good swim). They both looked at me like I was a cretin, which is exactly how I felt as soon as the words were out of my mouth. As if the mayor is going to go off swimming with her deputy (who looks like Fester from the Addams family) - at least in broad daylight anyway. Not to mention the fact that she has a swimming pool chez elle (the pool house for which is bigger than her house. That's like living in a council house and driving a porsche). I should have realised that they were down there on official mairie business since the main topic of discussion at the réunion d'information (public debate) last week was what can be done to improve the facilities down there.

Something has uprooted my basil plants and also left a large bottom-sized depression in the middle of my lavender bush. BB suspects our resident badger, which has a set at the bottom of the garden. A few years ago I found an injured badger in our wood shed (I assumed it was injured as it wasn't moving but I could see it was breathing) and phoned the animal rescue service. When I tried to explain about the badger they hung up on me, but knowing my French back then I probably said something like "show us your badger". My friend K Bear (who speaks fluent French) phoned them back and they said "laisse crever" - let it die. Charming! Anyway, it had gone the next day - so maybe it was just sleeping off a big lunch.