A Tiger Moth displaying resting on a cucumber plant leaf displaying its red and black underwing.

A Month of Many Moths

Three weeks or so ago an unusual looking moth arrived in our village. The moths arrived en masse and everyone noticed them. We talked with M, our neighbour, who wasn’t sure what they were and seemed to be suggesting, at least from the way she kept gesturing towards our Morning Glory flowers and the straw bale vegetable patch, that their appearance for the first time was somehow connected with our presence and our strange new ways.

A picture of the Box Tree Moth on a piece of wooden board
One of the thousands (millions?) of Box Tree Moths that have taken over the village

I searched online and didn’t find anything. The next day M told us that she’d heard about them on the news as their arrival was something of a local phenomenon. The species was the Pyral de Buis (Box Tree Moth or Cydalima perspectalis), an invasive species that arrived in Europe via Germany in 2006, reaching France in 2009. Originally from China, it’s preferred food is box wood, on which it lays its eggs before the caterpillars hatch and duly decimate it.

For the first few days we enjoyed the spectacle, especially when, on about day three, an enormous flock of swallows also arrived, eating them on the wing. We would stand on the balcony and give the fence a shake, which would cause a huge cloud of them to take to the air, at which point the swallows would move in, chasing and swooping, picking the out of the air. Here’s a short video I shot on my phone.

​But the novelty has worn off. They are everywhere: in the house, on virtually every leaf, and busy on the figs. They seem to be here for the fruit, with the moths gathering to feed on the figs to the extent that they are crowding out the wasps who usually feast on them! Having read up a bit about them online there’s not much that can be done. There’s a pheromone trap that attracts the males but they’re expensive to buy. Our other neighbour, P, is so sick of them he’s been setting a light trap at night, content simply to reduce their numbers by a few hundred at a time. Not that it makes any difference because they’re everywhere, dead and alive; in the car, the house, in the plants, the washing – basically anything outside. The moths have basically taken over the place! Even the birds can’t keep up, visiting every three days or so, taking their fill then disappearing for a while, possibly to sleep off their feast!

While having a little potter round the village with DS I noticed they were also eating the grapes and asked another neighbour about their impact on the wine harvest, but he said something about pesticides and suggested they weren’t a problem! There isn’t any box wood in the immediate vicinity of here but there is a lot of it around so I would imagine it was being decimated as the only way to rid the plant of the caterpillars is to drench the plant repeatedly with pesticide and no-ones going to be doing that on the necessary scale anytime soon. Nice.

So there’s that.

Another new (to me) moth is this one, which I found sitting on the road.

A picture of a tiger moth, with white and brown wings, on grey concrete.

A Garden (or Great) Tiger Moth, resting on the road

When I moved it to a safer place it opened its wings slightly to reveal the stunning red hindwings. I’ve not seen one before or since so I am glad I got to photograph and identify it. It’s a tiger moth (Arctia caja)! I do think the name is a bit weird because it’s markings are more giraffe-like than tiger-like but hey. I can’t believe I’ve never seen one before, even though they’re listed as common in the UK. Beautiful!

A Tiger Moth displaying resting on a cucumber plant leaf displaying its red and black underwing.

A tiger moth showing it’s red and black spotted hindwings.

There are other creatures I’ve not seen before around but my phone keeps running out of memory so I’ve not managed to get photos, which make identification after the fact a bit difficult. The only other one I can definitely remember is the Slender Scotch Burnet (Zygaena loti), which some of the kids at the school were “playing” with when we were there the other evening. Unfortunately, one of its hindwings was broken and kids being kids they weren’t all that gentle with it. What was nice was that they were really examining it closely, as well as having made a “home” for it out of sticks, twigs, leaves and petals. In the UK this is a priority species listed in the Red Book. I hope they don’t have the same status here in France because the kids really weren’t interested in its conservation value!

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One Year On

Yesterday marked 12 months since we left the UK and started our adventure on the continent. We weren’t sure where we’d be a year from now – whether we’d be back in the UK or staying put in France, but here we are.

On the day we arrived, driving from the north to the south of the country, it was 37 degrees and perfect clear blue sky. Today the blue sky is back, for the most part, but the temperature, at 17 degrees C is more reminiscent of the Manchester weather we gladly left behind.

I should really be marking this anniversary with a recap post, looking back to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished in those last 12 months but we’re having one of Those weeks. You know, the ones where things happen and it seems it impossible to get anything done. This week we’re dealing with overdue health checks for me (just routine stuff but nonetheless a challenge in a non-native language), an injured cat (our gentle-giant was bitten badly in the throat by a long-term resident male who spends his days beating up the other cats in the village), an extra day with DD off school as the teachers are all striking today (Macron is threatening to cut the funding to village schools, which will force many of them to close), and a broken car (who knew that moving firewood could do so much damage!). I’ve also been busy back and forward to the creche as we try to settle DS in after our pretty futile attempt before the holiday. So the recap post will have to wait along with a bunch of other things on my to-do list (like getting my business website and CV set up!)

What we have managed to do today is some fabulous painting. Both DD and DS had a great time and I used photos of their paintings to make birthday cards for my nephew and brother-in-law, who both have birthdays next week. That’s one thing ticked off my list – success! Right now I have enough breathing space to rattle this out while DD and DS sleep (jackpot!!) and James it out with the car at the garage. I have the kettle on. Time to relax and soak up the silence.

 

A picture of a kid's painting table

My Little Artists’ Workspace

A child's painting

One of DS’s Creations (c) 2017 🙂

A child's painting

One of DD’s Creations (c) 2017 🙂

 

Family Rides around Lac de Montbel (Part 1)

With the end of the grandes vacances rapidly approaching, I realised I had utterly failed in all of my cycling missions, namely to tick off a few sections (at least) of the Mirepoix-Lavelanet voie verte and also to ride around Lac de Montbel. Both routes are pretty local to me so with a few not-so-hot weather days showing on the forecast I decided to go for it, with Montbel top of my tick-list.

The VTT Pyrenees website lists two main routes around the lake that I figured could be tweaked then reccied for their trailer-friendliness.

  • Route 14, from Chalabre, following the voie verte north then taking a track down to the lake via the village of Montbel – 17km in total, classed as Circuit Familial, graded blue.
  • Route 16, which could also be started from Chalabre, which more or less follows the shore of the lake – 32km in total and classed as Circuit Sportif, graded red.

Since I wasn’t in the mood for tackling a major trailer ride on my own (James was having back trouble and didn’t want to ride and I hadn’t had chance to arrange anything with anyone else) we hatched a plan whereby he would drop me off on the eastern shore of the lake, by the village of Montbel, then drive over to the western shore to wait for us. We would picnic together once we arrived and, in the meantime, I’d get my ride and James would get some peace and quiet. James liked the idea, so that’s what we did. I also decided to strap DD’s balance bike to the back of the trailer as I thought it would be nice for her to have the option of riding too, if she felt like it.


I didn’t bother plotting anything beforehand, no GPS tracks or anything, as it was going to pretty simple, at least that’s how it looked from various maps, so I just set off with the plan to keep the lake on my right and ask for help/directions along the way whenever I wasn’t sure! One of the things I had no idea about was whether the route would be trailer friendly. There was no indication of such online so I was going to have to ride it to find out.

I started to have my first doubts about this within a few minutes of James pulling off in the car when confronted with a steep and sandy bank with a gap only just large enough to fit the trailer. Thanks to the timely arrival of some helpful (and somewhat skeptical) walkers we made it up and over and were on our way. Only a few minutes in and I was already starting to wonder whether this route would be good with the trailer. The path the other side was narrow, not something I’d have worried about usually but given I’d only managed to get a few hundred metres from the start thanks to assistance I was really hoping it would get better. The narrow path was nice for me to ride on but it meant the trailer wheels were dragging a bit on the grass either side and my two passengers were getting bumped around a fair bit. I wasn’t sure they’d tolerate that over 7 miles. Luckily, the first of four dams quickly came into view and the path opened out. So far so good.

The next section of the route was pretty nice to ride, wider for a short while and then into some woods, following the bank of the water. Lovely!


I was just starting to relax when a bloke came hurtling out of the woods and, after a quick exchange of bonjours, started gesturing and saying, “attention!” (which the French say in the same way we would say, “be careful!” Hmm… I flagged him down and asked him what the problem was and he said to be careful because there was a difficult section coming up. Difficult how, I wondered. Then I spotted it. It was one of those fabulous dirt drop ins, a bit like a half-pipe, great fun to ride but not so great with a trailer in tow! I stopped, took a picture (which really doesn’t do the depth of it justice) then backtracked to look for a path that would take me round it. Of course, I wasn’t the first person to pass that way and not like the look of that drop, so there was a path, which I duly pushed the trailer round until I was back on the trail. First hurdle overcome. Yay, onwards!


After that it was pretty easy going again. The track was nice and it was generally wide enough for the trailer to pass easily with the odd tree root to avoid, so it was a case of picking the most suitable line for the trailer so that the littles didn’t get bumped around too much. It was good fun!

About half way to our destination a wrong turn delivered us to a section of the lake where the water was so low I ended up riding beyond the end of a track onto the hard-baked clay, which was interesting! The littlies weren’t too happy about it as it was very bumpy. I was keen to get off it in case there were any soft patches and I ended up stuck and dragging bike and trailer out of the mud. As soon as I was closer to where the shore would usually be I made for the obvious path.

At this point, on a nice flat, wide track, it seemed a good point for DD to have a go on her balance bike. She had a short scoot then assured me that she was worn out and needed a rest – convenient because there also appeared to be some dinosaur-like tree stumps sticking out of the mud that were calling out for exploration. I’m fairly sure she’d have stayed on her bike for longer if curiosity hadn’t got the better of her.


She really wanted to go down and take a closer look so we parked up, liberated DS, and wandered down to check them out. DD was playing with her new dinosaur friends while DS was more interested in the white cranes that we’d disturbed when we rode across the clay and were now coming back down to land near the water’s edge. With the water well out of easy reach to either of them it was a nice place to relax and take a break.


After both passengers had had a reasonable run around and we were all topped up around for a few minutes, I bundled them both in the trailer so we could get on. We’d been gone about an hour and I didn’t want to be out all day in case the sun defied the forecast and came out in full force. Plus, James was waiting for us and I wasn’t sure how easy or hard the rest of the ride would be. I rode back towards where I thought the start of the trail was, had a moment of indecision, turned back the way I’d come, which turned out to be the wrong way (had there been more water it would have been an island), so turned tail again. At this point a small group on mountain bikes were heading my way, making me doubt my indecision! Had I’d missed a part of the trail? Was I in fact going the wrong way again? I stopped to ask if they knew the way, which they didn’t, told them I thought that was the wrong way, then showed them the map on my phone. They seemed quite convinced that I was going the right way, which I was relieved about. After a quick chat with them – about the trailer, the kids, the cycling, the low level of the water, and why I was in France – they set off again, back the way they’d just come, and I followed along. “Have we got some new friends now, Mummy?” DD asked. That’s my girl.

The next section, which I’d been dubious about taking when I first saw it, looked like it was single-track going into the woods. I knew from the map it had been made into a Strava segment so art of me was definitely a bit worried that it might not be good with the trailer. When I ride solo with the trailer I’m pretty good about asking for advice – generally I want to avoid getting lost or running into problems and, as a crowd was forming around the junction of this latest section of trail, I asked a few people whether it would be okay with the trailer. A few said, sure. One woman said that it was narrow in places and maybe the trailer wouldn’t fit. I didn’t understand everything she said but look on her face suggested she really didn’t think it was a good idea. Another was keen to convey that it was bumpy and not flat. Obviously, I’m the wrong person to tell that too! One of the men in the group  I’d just met asked whether I was going to ride it. I shrugged and said I’d try – and we both laughed.

With that my new group of friends set off and I followed. It didn’t take long for them to leave me behind but I found it reassuring that they were in front somewhere and also knowing that there were quite a few people out. The trail was nice to ride, having opened out a bit again, and tt was all going well. Then I reached a point where the trail split into two levels, running side by side, too narrow for the trailer meaning I had to keep one wheel on the higher track and another on the lower one. With the trailer at 45 degrees it was something of a challenge and it was at that point that almost resigned myself to ending my ride. I say almost. After checking the map, I decided to continue on until the next bend, pushing the bike, pulling the trailer (while also putting my weight on it to stop it tipping down the bank). If it had been hard beyond there I think I would probably have turned round but it turned out to be only a short section and we made it. DD was a little upset by it (she was on the side facing down the bank when it nearly tipped over) and DS, the trooper, slept through the whole thing!

After that I was starting to wonder whether the next section would be too much but really didn’t want to have to turn back so asked a few people I came across what was up ahead and no-one pulled any faces or expressed any concern so I carried on. The trail opened up again. Nice. Time to relax and just ride.

A fallen tree later, with help from another couple of cyclists, I was asking another walker for advice. How was the trail up ahead? “Fine”, said the woman (a mother who was with her young son who was riding his bike alongside). “Just watch out for the steep part.” Her husband was there wearing a black t-shirt and he would help, she said.

Onwards, over some roots, riding through the woods, wondering when this next obstacle would present itself, I suddenly found myself grinding to a halt on a steep bank that seemed to come out of nowhere! Thanks to my mountain bike shoes and cleats I had enough grip to drag myself and the trailer up there in one go. Just. Once at the top, I found the couple that had helped me over the tree. We all exchanged “phews!” over the steepness of the trail then I looked in dismay at the descent – a steep, lovely, rideable drop on the mountain bike that was completely inappropriate for a trailer carrying my two most precious possessions. Luckily the guy, who must have seen the look on my face, pointed round to the left where there was another path, which although still quite definitely down was not anywhere near vertical. I thanked him then set off that way  – on foot. It was a bit rocky but the rocks were wide and smooth and it was easy enough to get the trailer over. Once the other side the trail continued as it had before. If the woman I’d spoken to before was right, that was the only bit to watch out for. Good – and according to the map, nearly at our destination.


By now we’d been out for getting on for two hours including stops. As with all activities involving small people there’s a limit to how much can be done, so now I was keen to get back to base and have lunch before anyone started getting stressed or upset. A few more bends later and the final dam came into site. We made it – phew!! I called James, who was having a coffee at the restaurant, and headed down to meet him. He’d had a coffee and went off to get me one, then I suggested take out pizza. The restaurant on the Leran side of the lake does excellent pizza and I felt we’d earned it.

After a very fine picnic – complete with fresh, hot, homemade pizza – we walked down to the water’s edge with our swimming gear. Sadly though it was not to be. The water level is very low this year – hence my being able to ride on what should have been the bottom of the lake rather than the shore – which meant anyone wanting to swim would be standing on clay and rock with the bottom dropping away very fast. It wouldn’t be nice underfoot and isn’t safe for the little ones. We decided we’d had a good enough day out already and headed home.

Thinking about the route afterwards, would I do it again? Would I recommend it as a trailer ride? Well, yes, I definitely plan to do it again. But only if there’s another adult with me. I needed quite alot of help, compared to other rides I’ve done with the trailer, and might have had to turn round or run into trouble if there hadn’t been so many people around. I was fine because it was a busy Sunday in August. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon at another time of year, I might not have been so lucky. Lucky for me I have some other bike-mad parent friends with a trailer and I’m pretty sure they’ll like the sound of it. I’ll recommend it to them, definitely and suggests they come with me next time! But that’s them. Anyone who isn’t excited by the idea of rooty paths and isn’t up for an offroad adventure would be better off sticking to flat or more sanitized routes, like the voie verte or one of the road-based easy routes around Puivert. That’s one of the things I love about the cycling here: there really is something for everyone!

Read all about my second ride to Lac de Montbel in Part 2 (coming soon).

(Copied from my other blog, One Woman Two Wheels, posted on 31/08/17.)

 

Busy in the garden

Over the last few days we’ve been busy in the garden setting up a new project, which is to grow veg in straw bales. This is a tried and tested method that is growing in popularity owing to it’s simplicity as well as the fact that you can get quite high yields from a small space using less water than in a conventional garden. They’re no good for annual crops, like strawberries or asparagus, as new bales are needed each year, but they’re great for pretty much everything else.

As we are short on space and on water, we decided to give it a go. It’s essentially a hydroponics system using straw as the growing medium. As the plants are watered, the straw retains the water as well as releasing nitrogen and generating heat as it decomposes. As well as being super-efficient the method also claims to extend the growing season. Obviously, James is very excited about our gardening experiment and has been initiating DD in the ways of the straw bale. We hope to build our house with these some day (soon?) and, if this all goes well, we’ll be building our veggie patch with them too!

And today I grabbed a few minutes, while DS was pottering around kicking fallen figs down the road, to sort out the seed box (bagging seeds packets by planting month) and sewing some spinach, lamb’s lettuce, radishes and lettuces seeds in the conventional patch, which is now covered up with the netting to try and keep both the cats and birds off. I’m interested to see how these will grow alongside our straw-bale-grown veg, which we can plant in a few days, once the bales have been conditioned, which involves watering them daily and applying a high-nitrogen fertiliser every-other day.

All good fun! All we need now are a few rainy days to break up the sunny ones and everything should grow nicely. What I really don’t need are any more days where the temperature is pushing 30, as that’s what did for my last crop of leafy veg, which we eat a lot of.

One thing we planned to do but didn’t get around to was sorting out the worm bin, which we’ve been happily chucking our waste into. They seem happy enough but James observed that it’s getting a bit soggy in there so we’ve decided to tip it all out and get the worms set up with some new bedding. That will also give us chance to find out whether our worm community has grown since we last freshened it up. If they’re happy they should have multiplied. If not, well, we’re obviously not doing so well at it and need to try harder. Lots to do!

AShortListOfFrenchVerbs

Becoming Fluent in French – Progress So Far

I’ve got another post in draft about how much energy it takes to try and live in a new country and also learn the language of that country at the same time. It’ll be finished soon. For now though I wanted to write a quick post about where I am with my language learning journey, keeping in mind that when I first came here I really only had a few basics under my belt. I could ask for coffee, say please, thank you, and see you later – and that was just about it! So where am I now and what do I need to learn next?

Well, one of the things James did to try and help me when we first got here was to write out a list of the main verbs he said he knew and used regularly. To me he sounded really competent but he assured me he was just muddling along phrasing comments and questions around a small bunch of verbs he knew well. The list was pretty intimidating at the time. I found it really hard to translate learning into usage. At first I was focussed on putting my 1,000 most commonly used French words into Anki, which meant the infinitive form of some verbs but mostly nouns and adjectives. I really struggled to see how this base would ever get me to the point where I might actually have a conversation with someone. The list got lost, we moved house, bed times got more chaotic, and I generally had more to do, which meant Anki got lost by the way side. But I also started trying to speak more, gaining confidence in a two steps forward, one back kind of way.

So to my surprise, when I found the original list James wrote for me, I was so happy to look down and realise I now now and regularly use all of those and a few more besides. Some I have a better grasp of than others mostly because I am using them more often, but on the whole I am pretty nifty in the present tense with all of them.

Here’s the list, in no particular order.

pouvoir to can
vouloir to want
donner to give
aller to go
faire to make/to do
écouter to hear
penser to think
espérer to hope
être to be
avoir to have
changer to change
acheter to buy
vendre to sell
venir to come
apprendre to learn
comprendre to understand
arranger to arrange
demander to ask
attendre to wait
essayer to try

That’s not bad at all and that’s just the list of the top of my tired head. There are others I use (demanager, partager, ecrirer, to name a few) but these are my go-tos and, miraculously, as James said, they do seem to enable me to muddle along in a basic conversation.

It’s a start. But there are so many more. We really take for granted how much language we acquire in our native tongue.

Now I can muddle by I’ve hit the point where I’m getting frustrated again. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do with what I know and need to know more – I love to chat! – so it’s time to progress again. For this I need a bunch of new verbs, of course. Every day there’s a conversation running in my head which involves updating a mental list of verbs I don’t currently know but wanted to use at some point during the day. Then there’s the verb tenses. If I’m to have any kind of meaningful discussion with anyone then I need to move out of the present tense and be able to say useful, normal things – which involves past and future tenses too.

While I’m definitely way ahead of where I started I’m really struggling to say what I want to because obviously this list is only scratching the surface. Baby steps though, and patience. If anyone had told me one year ago that today I’d be marching into the building supplies shop and asking – in French – for a plug and a breeze block (random, I know) or taking DS to creche and spending an hour there, talking (not quite chatting, but close) with his new nursery worker, I would have been very sceptical. But here I am. It’s wonderful!

It’s the Grand Vacances!

Our first summer in France and also, because DD is at the maternelle rather than at nursery, our first year without any childcare all summer meaning we have a full 8 weeks to occupy DD. Eight whole weeks? Yikes! It’s exciting yes, but daunting too. I doubt I’d be nearly so daunted if we were still at our old place near Manchester. There was sooooo much to do there. We were close to so many places running child-friendly activities – whether they were small business, community run projects – and of course I also had all my friends around me, many of whom had children of a similar age and would also be swashing around at a loose end for the entirety of the summer holiday.

There’s plenty to do here you could say and you’d be right but we’re on a tight budget now and many of the places to visit –  castles, animal parks, and the like – are aimed at tourists and are expensive – which makes them out of reach except for maybe one or two days of the holiday. There’s plenty to do outdoors here, yes: the usual, walking, cycling, etc. plus water sports, etc. But my children are 3.5 and 1.5 years old. They can’t do the same things. They don’t have any sense when it comes to being in the sun. They can’t swim. Or ride bikes. They prefer to run in opposite directions, especially where water’s involved. They play together, just, but not for long. More often than not there’s screaming, given that the DD is at an age where she’s starting to create things that are meaningful, develop stories, be interested in projects, while the younger one is now totally mobile and is happiest when taking things apart and chucking them either down the stairs or over his shoulder. You can see how these two interests aren’t mutually compatible.

And there’s no backup. The grandparents are staying firmly put in the UK this summer. We don’t have any visitors, as we hadn’t moved into a proper rental house when people were starting to make summer holiday plans. So no friends are visiting, which is a shame. I was thinking to go back to the UK for a week (or more) but it’s high season so prices are high and after last time (I went on my own with the two smalls) the idea of it made me want to lie down! which means I’ve decided to put that off until later in the year.

What, then, is the plan? I need one, so I asked my friends on Facebook for tips on surviving the summer and got a few good suggestions including:

  • divide the day into three segments – morning, lunch, afternoon – and have an activity for each
  • make sure you get out the house every day (amen to that one!)
  • plan activities like messy play, crafts, etc.

And a few not so helpful ones, like:

  • Enjoy them, they’re only young for a short time.

Yeah, yeah. Something to remember when DS has just destroyed the train track that DD has spent the last 20 minutes constructing and they’re locked into a scream-in-your-face battle. Practical advice this is not!

Feeling at a loss I made a timetable and printed it out – thinking I could work with that three blocks every day thing.  It looked like this. When I started splitting the columns into three it became a tangled mess of boxes – all empty. I was starting to panic just looking at it.

2017 Summer Holiday Calendar

The blank and rather daunting calendar page

I tried to allocate activities to days with the day-into-thirds rule in mind but kept coming back to the fact that planning anything with a one-year-old and a three-year-old is as good as impossible, especially weeks in advance. The idea of having a timetable was itself stressing me out. The whole idea of having a holiday is to relax and not be rushing around or overcommitting to things. Plus it’s impossible to buy anything you actually need in France, so that ruled out pretty much any activity that needed supplies. Pinterest-inspired mummy I am not! So the calendar had to go.

Still on the search and a bit anxious about the long weeks ahead I took another friend’s advice and did some mummying homework (which also gave me the opportunity to reunite with Kindle), quickly reading these two books:

Both those reads helped to put me at ease. With those principles in mind I could handle it, for sure!

This all means that as far as holiday planning goes, the plan is to play it by ear depending on how well we’ve all slept, what sort of mood we’re all in (not always sleep dependent!) and the weather, of course.

My loose “schedule” – which is really just a bunch of things we might want to do – looks like this.

holiday planning page

My Holiday Planning Bullet Journal Page

New ideas are popping up all the time so it’s already grown since I took this pic. And the calendar is being used as a log of things we actually did so we can look back at the end of the holiday and think, “Wow! Look all the fun things we did!”

Holidays, here we come!!


Note: This post contains affiliate links. These are to books I’ve read that I recommend. I hope you don’t mind me including them. 

Making Compote, Making Friends

The day after the incident with the text message and shortly after DS was stung by a hornet, I was chatting to our neighbour (voisine) – “M” – who kindly invited us to join her the next afternoon when she was expecting a visit from a friend. Together they were going pick the pears that had ripened and make them into compote. Would we like to help? Yes, lovely!

During this same conversation she’d been trying to tell me something (in French, of course, as  M doesn’t know English) about a congélateur. I was tired. She was saying something about putting pears in the congélateur for 12 hours then they would keep. Eh? I envisaged her friend coming down from Paris with some fancy processing machine I’d never heard of.

The next day, when James had to pop out on an errand leaving me with the two smalls who were keen to play outside, I saw M was busy preparing the pears with her friend so popped over to ask her about her congélateur and to help. What is it? Could she show me? She led me through to the kitchen to… the freezer, of course! Feeling a bit daft and with that cleared up we headed to the terrace to join her friend who was still busy chopping pears ready to cook down on the stove into compote. My French was sadly lacking that afternoon (it was about 5 o’clock already and it had been a looonng day after another not so great night) and while usually M and I can muddle along, I was really struggling to either hear or speak – but luckily her friend spoke enough English that between us we could manage a conversation. It didn’t take long before I was seated at the table chopping pears while the kids picked out and ate the juiciest ones in between bashing rocks with sticks. We’re quite easy to please really.

James arrived back just as the pear preparations were complete and bubbling away on the stove. By now it was 6pm, so what else to do but pop open a bottle of vin de noix and rest before continuing with our evenings. I think I’ve discovered a new favourite tipple. Maybe it was the booze, but somehow my French came back and I managed to join in the conversation with M, her friend and James. Since her friend is here to buy a house and has a similar remit to us we talked house prices, the English invasion (they’ve pushed up the prices here and aren’t popular for it) and how there isn’t any work locally to justify the high prices and then what can be done about all that. It was really lovely and just what I needed after the unpleasant encounter with Mr. Front National two days previously. Because M doesn’t speak English it forces me to speak French and she is so patient with me, as I try to wrestle words from the back of my tired brain, always telling me to take my time when she sees I am getting frustrated. I think she likes us and we all really like having her over the road, sharing her knowledge of the place, the people and the land. Even though sometimes I can barely understand half of what she’s saying we get the idea muddling along together, or we just give up with a shrug and a laugh and go on our way. Other times it all just flows and then magic happens – along with compote.