Monday, September 29, 2008

... for better, for worse ...

I was going to talk about les coulemelles (parasol mushrooms) ten inches in diameter that Nainbo gave me yesterday (which you cook like big fat steaks) and the bolet the size of a football that Roquin's sister was proudly showing off at the vendange, but I've been on about mushrooms rather a lot recently so I won't.

The vendange has left us with a few aches and pains. To think that I wanted to spend my summer holidays picking grapes in my youth! I'd had enough after half an hour yesterday but at least I didn't have to carry the plastic barrels full of grapes (weighing 50 kilos) on my shoulder down a steep goat track like BB.

He went off to look at a sidecar today after the deal on the one he'd ordered fell through. I was sure this latest obsession would pass - like the unimog and the lada (!?) and the bevel edged swan necked paring chisel - but tonight he suggested we re-new our wedding vows: "... for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for two wheels or three."

He spends all his internet time looking at sidecars - which I told him was unhealthy - so this morning when I found him glued to his computer I asked him, accusingly, if he was looking at them again and he said: "No, I promise I'm looking at naked ladies."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

BB's little helper

I ended up going mushroom picking yesterday after all but with Mini-B and at a much more civilized time - in the afternoon. I could hardly get into the passenger seat of his C15 for all the empty pastis bottles, packets of syringes (for injecting his cows), spanners and bits of old rope in the footwell. Quel bordel! On the way up to the forest we passed lots of parked cars - mostly Italian, who flock over the border to pillage our superior mushrooms.

When you come across a petit coin carpeted in yellow (chanterelles) or black (trompettes-de-mort) it's like finding treasure. The down side is that it takes ages to clean them and remove all the beasties.

BB ventured back up onto the roof today but he had a little helper, our friend Top Modèl. Top Modèl basically did all the work while BB handed him tools and as a result nearly all the old tin has been removed. If we had him helping every day the house would be finished in a jiffy. Tant pis!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

game over

There's been a bit of a setback on the building front. BB was up on the roof this morning when he became paralysed with fear and couldn't move for 20 minutes. When he eventually managed to wrench his hands off the rungs of the roof ladder and get down, he said there was no way he could possibly go back up again - ever. So, not a major setback then. Given that BB's doing all the work himself, he's about as much use as a one-legged man in a butt kicking competition!

Roquin came round this evening with another kilo of mushrooms and to remind us about the vendange (grape harvest) - which we help him with every year - on Monday. There's no hunting tomorrow so he asked if I fancied going mushrooming with him in the morning (at 6 o'clock !!) but why have a dog and bark?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

trumpets of death

The hunting season began last Sunday and there's a cornucopia of mushrooms in the forest at the moment (trompettes-de-mort, bolets and chanterelles) so as a result I spent nearly all weekend in the kitchen pickling and bottling and making terrines and sauces. Mini-B and Roquin gave me half a kilo of trompettes-de-mort and 8 kilos of sanglier (wild boar) and the Combets brought a crate of ripe tomatoes with them on Friday. I also had to do something with the last of my green tomatoes (chutney), my walnuts (Katie Bear's mum sent me an excellent recipe for English walnut cake - thanks Maman Bear!) and finish bottling my vin de noix. It will probably be the last year for our walnuts because the tree is leaning at a precarious angle after the roots were disturbed putting in the new lamp post and will have to be cut down before it falls on top of the house.

You won't catch me out mushrooming during the hunting season. The first husband of Poire's wife was killed by a stray bullet while out hunting and one of Mini-B's horses was shot when a hunter mistook it for a deer!?!? You're not even safe in your own home. Last year a family was sitting having lunch at the kitchen table (a medley of wild mushrooms as it happens) when a bullet came flying past them through the (closed!) front door and lodged itself in the kitchen wall.

BB was removing the last of the old slates on the right-hand side of the roof today when a little visitor joined him up on the ridge - my cat Rhuma. It took him all day to do the final section because it's the highest part of the roof from the ridge to where you would hit the ground if you fell off. He's actually afraid of heights (as am I) so I don't know how he manages to go up there. I couldn't even bring myself to get out of the lift at the top of the Empire State Building.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

le moulin - a history

I did a bit of swotting up before the Combets' visit on Friday evening and searched the archives départementales to see what I could find out about la famille Viard.

The mill was built in 1892 by the maternal grandfather of Leon and his brother Elie as a sawmill which was operated by a single wooden wheel measuring 5.85 metres in diameter. The mill also ground nuts (it took 8 kilos of nuts to make one litre of oil), wheat, maize, clover and hemp using a large millstone (weighing three tonnes, which is still in situ in the basement) and several salvaged components from an old disused mill further upstream. The working part of the mill comprised nearly the whole of the left-hand side while the family lived in three rooms on the right-hand side.

M. Combet told me that when the father of Leon and Elie died, the brothers inherited the mill and the living quarters were divided into two - a ground floor room and first floor bedroom above the working part of the mill (accessed externally) at the front, and two ground floor rooms and a first floor bedroom (above the working part of the mill again accessed externally) at the back. Leon, a bachelor, lived in the front with his mother, and Elie in the back with his wife and four children. (French succession law provides that children automatically inherit part of their parents' estate and the surviving spouse, if there's no Will, is only entitled to a life interest in the property.)

The brothers continued to work the mill together, making windows and doors and even coffins and must have been quite wealthy since Leon was the first person in the village to own a car. After Elie died in 1982 (aged 87) Leon lived here alone until two years before his death in 1998 (at 93) when he went into a retirement home and the individual parts of the mill were bought up and reverted to one owner.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

pucker up

BB was working on the middle section of the roof today where there had previously been a fire - which was a bit scary. Or as he put it, "I did a lot of puckering" - and he wasn't talking about his lips! The last owner but one, Leon Viard, who was the grandson of the man who built the mill, went off to the pub one night after stoking his wood-burning stove and came back to find the building alight. This was about 15 years ago and as a result the front right-hand section of the mill was tarted up internally and had a new roof put on but the middle section - which was badly burnt - remained untouched.

I'm interested to know a bit more about the history of the mill so I've invited la famille Combet round for apéros tomorrow night. Grandfather Combet used to work with Leon here in the mill. I had to check the TV schedule first to make sure the apéro hour didn't clash with "Plus Belle La Vie" (the popular French soap) because the last time we were invited to theirs for a drink, the telly (which I was sitting directly in front of) came on promptly at 7 pm and the three women nearly broke their necks straining to see past me to watch the latest episode. I've also had to stock up on apéricubes (those disgusting artificially flavoured Dairylea cheese cubes) and mini hotdogs (which contain 90% turkey skin and beaks). For all the talk about the French eating well, they don't half like their junk food with the apéro.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

spot the difference

There's been a lot of rain lately so nothing much has been happening on the building front. The crane passed its MOT. The guy was here for ten minutes, ticked a few boxes and charged €300, thank you very much. On closer inspection of the paper work, "don't know" has been ticked for "operator qualifications" and "geotechnical study of the groundbearing capacity carried out" and BB is being very coy about whether these are legal requirements. I hope not for insurance purposes.

BB has started taking off the old roof, so now that work has finally commenced, I shall start posting photos of the progress. It may be a bit like a challenging "spot the difference" competition!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

the morning after

I nearly broke my neck this morning when I got out of bed and slipped on a boule. Then I noticed half a dozen of them scattered all over the bedroom floor. BB's side of the bed hadn't been slept in but as I made my way downstairs with a growing sense of unease, he walked in the front door - which appeared to be hanging off its hinges.

We left the salle des fêtes separately last night to go to a party just as a huge thunder storm broke. When BB didn't turn up I assumed he'd changed his mind and gone home, so when I was eventually dropped off a couple of hours later and found the front door locked, I banged on the door to be let in. When I got no answer after fifteen minutes, I started throwing boules at the bedroom window (which, thankfully, was open) to wake him up, and when that failed, I resorted to - ahem - kicking the door down. Once inside, there was no sign of BB and I fell asleep.

What had happened was that BB had left the salle des fêtes on his way to the parking when he'd discovered he'd lost his car keys. Not wanting to walk home in the rain, he'd decided to sleep in the car (but only after sitting in the wrong car first - with the owner in it - before realising his mistake).

The comité des fêtes arrived at 7 o' clock this morning to remove the bunting and clean up the field around BB's vibrating car while he lay snoozing in the back.

When all the clearing up was finished BB woke up and went over to the salle des fêtes to see if his keys had been handed in - which miraculously they had. After some saucisse and a coup de blanc he came home to find the front door half-off its hinges, swinging in the breeze.

The worst thing is that the house keys were where they always are - under a plant pot at the front door!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


BB was helping Nainbo fix his chainsaw this morning and when he came back at lunch-time he reported that Mini-B had just been on a helicopter ride over the village. "I'd love to do that", I said, until it dawned on me that Mini-B has neither the money nor the inclination to go on a commercial helicopter jolly. Then he explained that Mini-B had been high up in the mountains where he keeps some cattle during the summer, when he'd passed out cold and had had to be air-lifted to hospital! Something to do with his blood pressure, which is too high then too low!? Anyway - he's fine now.

It's the highlight of our social calendar tomorrow - the annual village fête and boules competition. We've been practising with some ancient wooden boules which were here when we moved in (along with another ten tonnes of merde!). There's always some idiot making a fool of themselves at these things - so there should be plenty to write about on Monday.