Fated to fete

One of the many wonderful things about living in south west France is that you can immerse yourself into a full summer of fetes and other community events which happen in every village, no matter how small.  It would be possible to go to two or three a week for the whole summer if one wanted to – and why not?

Sometimes it is a fete, sometimes it is a Marché Nocture, and sometimes is is a festival of some sort.   I am going to describe one of each in this blog.   What they have in common makes it quite difficult to tell the difference – the difference is one of emphasis rather than substance.

There are always rows and rows of long trestle tables with families and people of all ages and types sitting side by side, normally there is a paper tablecloth and a black bin bag taped to the end of each table for you to put your rubbish in.   Here we are at the Blasimon Marché Nocturne.

A loud PA system with a band or singer setting up for the evening’s entertainment is usually derigueur, the singers in my experience are very good, and we always get a round of the Bayonne rugby song (don’t know why) which everyone sings and which we are learning to recognise but don’t know the words yet.

The point of the trestle tables is so that you can choose your food from the various stalls on offer.
Usually there is some initially mystifying system for getting a drink, which involves you buying a ‘glass’ often branded for the event which you reuse.  Here’s the glass from Ruch fete, printed with a picture of the Mairie we were married at.

Sitting at long trestle tables means you inevitably start chatting to neighbours who are without exception friendly and interested and welcoming.  The only time we have not got involved with those next door was when it was a British family who brought their own bottle of tomato ketchup (the shame) and never engaged with us at all.
So, the Ruch fete took place at the Stade Bonvoisin (named after a former Mayor and alleged lothario, but that is another story).  It lasted three days and nights, with 3 different suppers.  Everyone was asked to wear a blue neckerchief in the basque style for reasons that have escaped me but at least half the population did.  One night was a repas escargots – not for us I am afraid, but we went for the sunday night moules frites.  The system for purchase was fairly mystifying – but eventually we discovered you had to pay to get in (we walked across the vineyards and into the back field, so avoided the entrance fee to start with), then a series of tickets to get your glass and have it filled with wine (rose or red, no white as usual) and a queue (always fun – in this one John had a lengthy conversation with the man behind about whether M Macron would turn out to be any good – consensus was ‘non’) whereupon in a very lengthy process presided over by three nice ladies d’un certain age, we got four differently coloured slips of paper printed in turn with ‘melon’, ‘moules’, ‘frites’, and ‘fromage’.  These four tickets were then taken over to the kitchen tent and handed over en masse to the people running that (including Raymond who we bought our field from) where all four items were piled on a tray for you to take over to the trestle table.

 We had fireworks also at the Ruch festival – don’t come out that well on the photo unfortunately – but magical to sit at midnight with your neighbours watching a ‘disco’ firework display.
In between the moules and the frites we had ‘DJ Kevin’ a local man entertaining us – a great voice and actually a great selection of tunes – he is judged by how many people he can get up and dancing.

There he is in his hat and michael Jackson-esq jacket, getting them all on the dance floor.

Onwards to Sauveterre wine festival -here you pay 5 euros for a glass and have a little card which is marked so you can have six different wines to try and to buy.  The glass hangs by a string around your neck, freeing your hands up to go and collect whatever it is that you are going to eat – we had ham and chips this time.   The entertainment was a rather good Mariarchi band who were singing ‘The Lion Sleeps tonight’ and other classics.

Finally the Blasimon Marché Nocturne – held every Wednesday in august.  Similar drill but this time a rather good Edith Piaf singer ‘non, je ne regrette RIEN’ and so on.  We went to this one with my brother and his partner who were visiting and they got a good old dose of lovely frenchiness.   We bought bottles of wine this time which are uncorked by the producers – we bought from two sisters who are running a vineyard near sauveterre – very acceptable red – and steak and chips cooked by the butcher who supplies them – fantastic steak we are going to seek out the butchers near Branne.   On the table next to us was a whole extended family – grandma, grandad, mum, dad and kids who brought salami type sausage with them to eat with bread as an entree and then they moved onto the mains – salad with smoked duck and bacon mostly.   The grandad who we spoke to is a ‘traiteur’ near La Reole and he gave us all some of his home made rum cocktail which as far as I could tell was rum, orange, pineapple and some other stuff I didn’t recognise.  Hit the spot tho’.   We told him about our Ruchelaise gin, and we have promised to meet again this Wednesday at the last night market of the season and give him some of our gin in exchange.  A great night.  That is grandma squeezing past my rather bladdered husband and brother.

The butternut squash massacrée – with 4 part harmony

Some things grow slowly, in fact at the start of the year when the heat isn’t quite upto snuff ( or when we get the old twenty year frost occurence) everything grows slowly. Then one day you get up and everything has doubled in size. The next day they’ve doubled again and you go to bed with beads of perspiration on your forehead lest you get up on the third day and Lazarus like they’re all but wanting tea and discussing the weather with you.Our squash is a little like that.
I’ve no idea as to wether ours is winter or summer squash and looking at the dates of cropping it appears to me that you can harvest the winter squash in summer and vice versa, so for ease let’s just leave it at squash.
Last year, being our first year with any such crop we did OK, got things wrong but that’s to be expected, got pictures of Dave’s crop from the UK (cheers!) but all in all we were happy, great soups, some homemade pasta with filling – very tasty and the like.

So, this year we’ve gone again, this time with a different variety but we have elected to plant far too many again. The squash gods certainly like to have these things grow strongly and looking down on our patch they seem to raise their mighty sceptres and command ‘grow big’. So they do.

Having used the Dowding method on the potatoes resulting in no heaping up requirements – excellent (think Bill and Teds excellent adventure ). We elected to completely ignore the fact that you can do the same method with squash, it wouldn’t have mattered the jungle of foliage is enough to lose major nations in neverloan a few weeds.

In fact in terms of harmony the first thing to lose itself has been the melons. It’s our first attempt with melons and they seem to have grown faster than the squash if that’s possible. They form perfect parteners in the bed, lots of green leaves with yellow flowers added to incomprehensible instructions on growing tips or as we say in these parts ‘the pointy bits at the far end’.

And so for both it’s been time to cut back the leaves. Armed with pistols and shot, knives, swords, the kitchen scissors and our faithful hound we set sail to the veg beds …
… we had our trusty pirate map – obviously 🙄 


The Great Courgette glut of ‘17

It’s always difficult to remember the pain of disaster when things go right and so it was with us. When the three day late frost hit us in early May the game was up not only for the vineyards on the lower slopes around us – a lot of the vines shrivelled up and died, at least from the point of getting any grapes this year but also for the early planting. 
It was a roll call of misery. The Potatoes were all wilted and black, the tomato plants were gone, the courgettes threw in the towel, ‘damage’ as we say in these parts.

It was only after this once in twenty year frost ( at least so we have been subsequently told) that we started to hear all the old lore of planting vegetables in this area. Basically this boils down to don’t plant anything out until the second week of May, ‘damage’ again.

So it was that this year in the second week of May saw yours trully bending his back and picking every individual black leaf off the potatoes and Debs having to re-sow the Tomatoes and Courgettes. There was much harrumphing in the household I can tell you.

Now, in previous year the veg has been planted up in the raised beds but this year having moved the raised beds again after the purchase of the next door field ( it’s a bit like raised beds on tour – ‘that’s another story’ as they used to say on Hammy Hamsters adventure on the river bank) the new potager has been put into action and we’re planting into composted ground. The effect especially on the courgettes has been surprising. 

Last year in the old raised beds, small plants and some small fruits from the two plants. This years five plants all looking like green weeds separated by large seas of soil have gone berserk. So much so that one plant has had to be removed to preverse our own sanity and the remaining ones look like a scene from the ‘the day of the triffids’.

It has to be said that I am not a tech hound, IT literate maybe but IT lover, let’s just say the jury’s out. But thank god for the net, recepies for courgette chutney (10 jars on the shelf), courgette fritters – drain well before frying, swaps with friends, grilled courgette, barbecued courgette, ratatouille, in fact a thousand and one things to do with courgettes (!).
Safe to say we’ve a lot of courgettes, sometimes it feels like we should get a barra’ and go down some local market with the excess but let’s not baulk at what started out as a disaster.
Courgette sandwiches vicar?

Disc Days

When the temperature hits 37 degrees there’s only one thing to do – nothing. Strip off, as much as you dare, if you’ve got a swimming pool get in it ( sleep in it if you can, ‘cause the nights are going to be steamy). Drink lots of water, I’m afraid it’s the water you need, no white wine however well chilled is going to substitute for that rather plain, colourless, tasteless, un-inspiring glass of necessary fluid. 

Actually I think I’ll leave the drinks to your discretion.

You can read a book on the sunbed or at least you could if you’re not one of the fidgety types that needs to be up and down too regularY.  The main thing about the heat or I should say the days afterwards is that it leaves you feeling exhausted, or at least it has done for us. A week of temperatures in the mid to high 30s and we were ‘cooked’.

So what to do now that it’s cooled to the bearable mid 20s? Well besides wandering round the potager and seeing what’s not been burnt to a cinder it’s obvious : Disc Day.

If you are a person of a certain age ( and we are ) then it’s time to sit back with your old record player and enjoy the happening sounds of yesteryear, complete with clicks, whirls and bangs.


I always hated Sundays. I’ve hated Sundays for so long that you have to be a certain age to understand why I loath the day with such passion.

I’ve given it away abit really, the implication that my hatred stems from something to do with days gone by should be a significant clue but I’ll go right out and say it: The Swingle Singers. If this group were not enough to shake your resolve that life was worth living I’m not sure what would be. 

Happily the 70s are a distant memory but if you were growing up in those days, amidst the three day week (that was not a choice), power cuts which meant you really were on candle power, Sing something Simple (ask your parents then seek medical help), and the like, then you will know that Sundays were all of the above served to you with a double helping of boredom.

There were good things, everybody trying to tape (cassette tape for the youngsters can now be found explained in many museums) the chart show. Punk because let’s face it things got really bad in mainstream stuff. Nobody had invented the Premiership so football was played at 3pm on Saturday with few exceptions and at least you watched Chelsea vs Manchester Utd and not Russia vs America.

Many people look back with the old rose coloured specs on their youth, let’s not decry the game all adults play ‘ name that children’s program’ when they gaze wistfully back. But I say ‘bollocks’ it was mostly crap.

Nowadays I try to not do anything in the garden or house on a Sunday but that’s because we’ve been working on it all week, so if we want to drink by the pool whilst listening to anything we want and playing videos on tablets, well I think that’s a better day than sitting in the lounge with my Mum as we digest Sing something bloody simple.
Sorry about that but sometimes Sundays can bring me out in a rash. 

It’s been 34 degrees today and felt hotter, 36 due tomorrow and the gardens like a griddle, especially in the afternoon. 

On a good note we harvested garlic today and it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was going to be, Florence fennels was sowed directly back into the available space so we’re looking forward to seeing that come through. Winter veg sowing done, glass areas cut in the orchard and a discussion about what we might do next year which was really useful. 

Hang on, I thought I said Sundays was the rest day, damn.

One bed – in the making

It was only today that I got round to disassembeling the metal tube structure of our now defunct polytunnel, ( you may remember the polytunnel from my review of the year ). By the time I got round to it there were big blue skies and the temperature was around 31 degrees and as you might expect I didn’t really feel like it, add to that the help of Mr Cedric and the process was a little slower than I would have hoped. Still has to be done or we can’t cut the grass – tragedy.
Further tragedy strikes with the realisation that all this means the development of at the least one new bed and since we’re light on climbers it looks like peas or beans are calling. So with a song in my heart ( dirge) it’s socket set for the metal work, but here’s the question what do you do with all the parts? 

I mean I could throw them all away but it seems a waste so be prepared for allotment style reworking of miscellaneous steel tubes.

Meanwhile it’s break out the spade and the slightly eaten gloves and compost moving time is here. Now we’ve been adding to the compost bin with the veggie waste for a while and the weather being hot is moving it through but it’s still a bit ‘wet’ but it’s going to have to go as we’ve also got designs on the space where it currently stands – just why did we put it under the cherry tree, oh yes it was winter and we forgot that things grow.

Le Menu

Many people go out for lunch during the week, nothing odd there. Maybe they have an expensive repast like something that you’ve seen on masterchef or maybe it’s a burger from some well known outlet with the Golden Arches. 

Well here in France they do Le Menu. I’m sure I remember it in the past being ten francs now it’s risen to the dizzying heights of €13.50 and that seems to be a standard price wherever you go, but hang on €13.50 that’s about £11 and for that you can expect a three course meal with wine and sometimes coffee as well.

Let’s talk turkey here, we have recently been to the most extraordinary restaurant yet for Le Menu. Run by Methuselah’s dad and his wife at the standard speed of slow the whole thing seemed to carry on and on and …. you get the picture.

Being obviously not the French working man I think we were toward the rear of the service but we sat at one of the trestles and drank the red or rose depending on our whim whilst the soup turine arrived and from which we could help ourselves, that and the copious supplies of bread. Not bothered for seconds of the soup I opted for another glass or so of the wine ( don’t expect anything with a label) and very nice too.

We moved on, the charcuterie course rolled up – a big plate with pates and cured meats – help yourself so we did, but how much can you really get through, another glass and a beaker of water please.

Surely we should be onto the mains? Nope. Salad course next. A plethora of salad options arrives and to be honest it would be rude not to sample the delights although you might by now start to wonder how anything gets done in the afternoon, maybe it doesn’t, maybe the accident figures for the afternoons in rural France at least are awful?

The main course. Steak frites as much as you can get through, I think it’s steak but for anyone thinking they’re going to get an option on it’s cooking think again but once again it’s a platter and help yourself time. I have to say that this steak frites thing is quite common in Le Menu, although at our local restaurant I confess I saw our roofer start with the escargot with beer, move through the entire lunch with a bottle of red and as we left he was drinking crème de menthe at the bar.

Meanwhile back at Methuselah’s place we’re through the mains – oh my god there’s a cheese board, and I do like a nibble at the cheese. Looking round the hubbub has died down and a lot of the talk that was drowning out the TV news is now similarly drowned, not many left, presumably they’re back on tractors in the fields or the like.

Madame has arrived and we’re done with the cheese and the coffee orders are in but what’s this she’s back with a plastic tub – choose your ice cream time I’ve gone for the bounty option.

After the coffee and since we seem the only ones still here it’s time to pay and head off to find a settee and a darkened room.

We hadn’t got the right change so Methuselah got €15 from each of us and a conversation in a Girondese accent that was barely understandable, c’est la vie.
Long live Le Menu, long live methuselah and the art of ignoring EU regulations.

A year on


What is the lesson or insight … 
Well, nearly a year here and just a little over a year since we put a spade ‘ reluctantly’ into the field and felt the vibration of the baked hard soil shiver its way up my arm.
Number 1. Nothing that’s worth doing or perhaps you dream of, is going to be accomplished in an afternoon on your first day. Or even your second. In fact it’s been a year and there have been some false starts and failures.
Number 2. The false starts. We looked long and hard at poly tunnels and greenhouses and after looking at the priorities and all points west we bought a poly tunnel – hurrah. It was a terrible decision and its’ remains are now waiting for me to unscrew them – boo. It seems that while we were looking at all points west we should have been looking the other way and our research was to be brutal – crap.
Number 3. The Failures. This years Onions will not be a failure but it’s not looking good on the garlic front. Perhaps reading some of the extensive range of information available on growing these staples might have been better done earlier, ho hum.
Number 4. Not all that appears dead actually is. I’m also lumping into this one ‘ not everything that looks like a potato is a potato especially when you planted lots of different tomatoes’. It’s true that a lot of our plants look like dead sticks in the middle of winter even if you’re in the Gironde region. Spring and summer take time to work their magic and as we sit here now nearly all those sticks are doing nicely thankyou, and those that aren’t have been replaced, but wait for the fruits if you’re unsure about wether it really is a tomato in the tomato bead – dur!
Number 5. Do it right the first time. I and we and everybody should know this one by now. There is no point doing it badly. Last year we thought that a yew circle would be the very thing in the back of the garden and bought the plants – an excellent purchase that Deb found. Hoewever by the time we got round to planting it was blazing hot and the preparation was, how shall we say it – not perfect. Planting the once nearly killed me, planting them twice nearly killed us both.
Sometimes it’s easy to be negative about your achievements and it has to be said that I can be the glass half empty sort of chap, but it takes time to build a vegetable garden and even longer to do that and build another garden in which that will sit. 
It takes a long time and life can come along and get in the way as well. Yes you can have a plan but perhaps you also have to listen to what the land is telling you and by doing that plans and ideas change for the better. Leaving room for those serendipitous occasions is always a good but remembering that plans can change rather than sticking to something that’s obviously wrong is the best policy for everyone.


‘Every now and again you can be forced to take strong measures. It was the case when Masters and I had our disagreement over the dogs and it could be much more the case when you consider some of the provocations that living a life can foist upon a body of any good temperament, such as my own.
Now, here’s the thing, don’t be tempted to jump straight to the fists and the delicate footwork it’ll all be waisted on the foolish anyway. Wait awhile. The irritation might go away of it’s own accord, I remember my schooldays and some bruisers and difficult temprements were there to be seen but after several years of waiting we all went our separate ways with no great harm done. True at least one joined the local constabulary which to my mind didn’t say much for there intake policies but in life bazaar and ridiculous things happen – let them pass you by.
It’s true that manya youngster finds the transition to a more stable platform a trial, and I would like to think of the lad doing the owl impression at two in the morning in the tree branches outside the house had found a more ‘constructive’ use of the talents of mimicary that were so evident, if a little misplaced.
The nicest of lads, even though a traveller in illicit substances, once offered his services to me in the strong measures department and I confess I was tempted, but no, I think on that occasion the measures might have been to strong for the patient.

Are you following the boats wake here? 
There’s manya a head been broken to no great account, and where a sore lip will only stop you playing the trumpet for a few weeks the broken head could well stop any potential for a harmonious tune in the future, best be sure of your thoughts on trumpet playing before any actions besides who’s to say your own guitar playing days might not be curtailed’.
I paused for a restorative pull on the ale. Do you know there were a few glazed over eyes about the table. Flynn at the bar stood with a stare and a rotating glass in one hand and cloth in the other as if lost in the thought of it. The Youngster sat with a glare into the depths of his pint and O’Shaunessy himself sat back with the brooding menace of one of those monoliths you can see up in the fields around these parts.
Now I’m not saying the quiet was deathly or even profound but the breaking of it did seem to be something of a trial. 
‘Aye’ says the monolith.
‘Well spoken indeed’ says he
‘Will you be passing the dominoes now?’
I passed the old box over to himself and he slid the top to the open 
‘We’ll be playing with six’s wild as is the case on a Tuesday’ 
‘It’s a fine game the doms, great for the easing of tensions’ says I
‘Aye, that and the pint is the he way of it’ says O’Shaunessy’
 Wise words I thought, play on.