Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Spring seems to have arrived early in the Gers. It’s as though someone turned on a massive switch on 1st February as from the beginning of the month we have had a virtually unbroken run of warm sunny days, with temperatures often nudging the mid 60s. We’ve still had a few frosts first thing, or the odd bit of mist or fog, but by 10 the sun has burned through and we are all enjoying basking in the warmth.

As a result, the farm is slowly waking up from its winter slumbers

There is a photographic display in the mayor’s office of all the different varieties of orchid that have been recorded in Beaumarches – I think there are about 16 altogether. We have quite a few on the farm, though which variety they are remains to be seen.

I’m hoping the goats will leave them alone – the sheep haven’t touched them throughout the winter, but then I did have a single solitary daffodil I was planning to photograph but one of the sheep ate it!

Even the house is starting to warm up. It’s amazing the difference a few days of warm weather have made. I’ve even reached the stage where I no longer need to keep the electric blanket on all night! I’m hoping that the warmer weather might encourage our winter tenants (field mice) to move out. We’ve learned to live alongside them over the last few months (they moved in in November when it turned cold), but I’ll be glad to see the back of them. Sometimes I can’t believe the things I put up with here!

I'm sure we're not quite out of the woods yet (it snowed in March last year) but I do think the worst of the winter might be behind us and we can look forward to longer and warmer days in the weeks ahead.

Life has been a bit of a social whirl this month. A couple of weekends ago there was a meeting in the village hall attended by a number of minor dignitaries from our region (fonctionnaires – the French equivalent of civil servants, only more so). This was to inaugurate the awarding to the village of its official status as a SOHO Solo village; to officially record the fact that the village has access to ADSL for all; and the official opening of the first stage of the after school club. The mayor gave a very stirring speech about the need for villages like ours to move with the times and ensure that Beaumarches had a healthy future ahead. He’s absolutely right – so many rural villages in France have become virtual ghost towns, populated by the elderly and second home owners. No chance of that happening here I don’t think! The official bits and pieces were followed by aperitifs, and a light lunch. Lots of villagers turned out for the occasion, and we were amazed how many came over to us to say hello – going on the Saturday morning walks has really helped us to get to know a lot of faces – and there was much shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks.

Last Saturday evening was the annual meal for the walkers. The hard core group who turn up every week (which includes us!) turned up at the village hall early to put out and set the tables and prepare the food (the mayor cooked the chips) before everyone else arrived. About 50 people turned up and it was a great evening. I finally now feel confident enough to spend the evening chatting (after a fashion) in French, and I had great fun chatting with one of the walkers, Raymond, a retired chap who loves walking, playing the trumpet, hunting with his dogs, and gardening.

This Saturday is the annual village pig killing. Yes, a real live pig gets brought to the village, is killed, then butchered and eaten in the evening. Not for the faint hearted.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Playing catch up

After a hectic week back in the UK last week (my first trip back since mid December), I took this week as holiday to try and catch up with things here.

The move here, and particularly registering the farm, has seemed to involve a continuous steady supply of paperwork to complete. As the only French speaker in the family it falls to me to deal with all this stuff, and it’s hard to find the time when I’m here and working. France, or at least the Gers, still closes down between midday and 2 pm (our local supermarket shuts at 12.15 and doesn’t open again until 3.15!). Shops tend to stay open longer after lunch (normally until 7 pm) but offices don’t, which means anything that needs doing that involves one or other of the numerous government departments can only be done between 9.00 – 12.00 or 2.00 – 5.00. It’s sometimes a bit of a pain, but overall I like the fact that the Gascons take their precious lunchtime so seriously.

Anyway, we are now all caught up. Until the next wave of paperwork arrives!

Jean Claude is doing fine. He was joined by twins (one boy, one girl) the following day – also doing fine – but that seems to be it. It’s good that the twins have arrived as it means Jean Claude will have some playmates. It would have been a bit lonely for him otherwise!

On the knitting front, I have a couple of things on the go but not interesting enough at this stage to photograph. After having hours of knitting time over Christmas and New Year I have done very little over the past month – there always seem to be a thousand and one other things that eat into my knitting time. I sometimes wonder how it was that I had so much time to knit when we were in the UK, and I haven’t yet figured out quite what’s changed.

I said last time that I would tell you about New Year’s Eve, Beaumarches style.

Every year a party is held in the Salle de Fêtes (village hall), which is decorated by the Comité de Fêtes. This year’s theme was Asterix the Gaul (I have no idea why) and the room was wonderfully kitted out with models of Asterix and his chums, and numerous “trees” to create a woodland feel.

The evening kicked off at 8 pm with the local aperitif “pousse rapière” – an evil liqueur which has been known to bring seasoned drinkers to their knees. About 250 villagers were in attendance, ranging in age from just a few months to well over 90 (at a guess). We sat down to eat at about 9, at long tables amply supplied with bottles of local wine. There then followed eight courses of local specialities, which included young wild boar, scallops, duck, and another evil liqueur “Trou Gascon” with a dollop of lemon sorbet in it. Pud was eventually served at about 1.30. Throughout the meal we were entertained by a disco playing mostly French techno-pop (can you imagine?) which went down a storm as the dance floor was always heaving, with both young and old.

Wine flowed throughout – we never seemed to have anything other than full bottles on the table. Champagne was served at midnight, and Armagnac with the coffee and petits fours. Yet, even though there was enough booze to sink a ship, not one person became any the worse for wear, and I think this was perhaps the most startling difference between this evening and a similar one in the UK – no slurring drunks, no fights, no vomit. I do have to say though that I did miss singing Auld Lang Syne!

The people of Beaumarches certainly love to party. It was still going strong when we left at 4 am (we thought the dogs would have their legs crossed by then!) – in fact the soup was just being put on the stove for the remaining revellers. All in all it was a thoroughly wonderful evening, and we can’t wait for next New Year!

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