I Dunno…

One of my favourite Georgia Satellite songs performed by my favourite Satellite, Dan Baird, with one of my favourite guitarists, Warner E Hodges (also in Jason and the Scorchers – another one of my favourite bands):

 

As Dan sings…

Good to see ya back again in the land of salvation and sin

…I’m reminded that we’ll be going back to our own land of ‘salvation and sin’ next week and catching up with the family before Christmas.

Lunch in Tahiti

A good morning’s digging has restored me to a far less jaded state than I’ve been in since yesterday.

The cause of this was yesterday’s visit to this area’s best-kept secret when it comes to restaurants – the ‘Tahiti’ at Renazé.

 

tahiti

 

It’s an unpreposessing place from the outside but it’s surprisingly pleasant and comfortable inside – which is what counts.

Diners can be directed to any of three dining areas, depending on how busy the Tahiti is or how many people are in your party. The big room is my favourite with its display of Mexican sombreros – supposedly fitting in with the South Sea Islands theme in some bizarre way (!) but I’ve never asked.

Yesterday, the five of us in our party were shown to a table in the front dining room near the bar so it was easy to see the customers arriving. Most were people taking their works lunch break and the mass of white vans outside attested to this. It filled up rapidly and – as you often read in guide books – the sign of a good restaurant is one that is very busy and full of locals. This is certainly the case all year round at the Tahiti.

The lunch time menu is a mere €10.70 per person, with 4 courses – buffet of hors d’oeuvres, main, cheese and dessert, with as much local cider, red or rosé wine as you like.

Fantastic value, bearing in mind the totally home-cooked and generous nature of the food and the drinks are included.

The service is excellent too – polite, prompt and friendly – which can make a good meal into a very good one, which the Tahiti does time after time.

The first buffet course meant that you could help yourself to terrine, various cooked meats, hard boiled eggs, diced beetroot, rice salad, pasta salad and green salad. If you’re not careful, you can spoil the rest of the meal if you go too mad…

The main course yesterday – it changes radically from day to day – offered several choices:

  • hake
  • roast pork
  • turkey milanese
  • black pudding
  • sausage
  • beef tongue
  • tête de veau (a sort of brawn using meat from the head of a veal calf)

This was the most ‘French’ menu I’d seen at the Tahiti, and as I usually avoid eating bits of animals that I’d normally see on an abbatoir floor, I opted for the pork – as did two more in our party, the remaining two having the hake. To accompany the meat or fish, you had a choice of creole rice, pasta, green beans or chips.

The chips at the Tahiti are one of the best things about the menu – hand-cut and then fried in some sort of fat as opposed to oil – they taste like real chips should and are a far cry from the anaemic frozen French fries that you often get.

The pork – two thick slices – was tender and subtly seasoned and, with my chips, made a simple but very satisfying main course.

I then followed with cheese – Camembert, Port Salut and Emmenthal – and some bread. I was too full to manage dessert, but I could have had ice cream, fresh fruit or a choice of whipped desserts; creamy or fruity.

Throughout the meal, I washed the food down with cider – a medium one made some 15 km north of where we were eating – and then rosé, a Loire one which was very smooth indeed.

I was very glad that Mrs Shark had agreed to drive us home…

I’m sure that some of the main courses I balked at were very good. It’s a slight problem I have, in that I was brought up in a home where my mother disliked the cheaper cuts of meat, even though I now realise that she didn’t have that much money to spend sometimes. Consequently, I dislike meat with bones in, and although I’ll quite happily eat liver and kidney, I avoid anything that might be brains, bollocks or other bits of an animal like that.

Anyway…the Tahiti.

Good surroundings, great service, unlimited cider or wine, copious amounts of good, fresh, home-style food and all for €10.70 a head. They don’t rush you, either, so the five of us spent a very pleasant couple of hours indeed.

I wholeheartedly recommend it – and don’t forget to leave a tip; the waitresses are worth it.

As for the digging, a couple of hours with the fork brought on a good sweat in the autumn sunshine and finally got yesterday’s lunch digested – as well as another vegetable patch ready for planting.

A bun in the oven?

Little did we know 10 months ago, that when we bought our house we also bought this:

 

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Although it doesn’t look much, this unprepossessing structure is actually a four à pain, or bread oven.

It stands on the end of the boundary between our neighbour’s sister’s land, on the left in the picture, and our other piece of land, with our barn, on the right.

We’d always assumed that it belonged to someone else and the estate agent we dealt with seemed to think it did, too. However, whilst we were clearing the area yesterday our neighbour passed by and we learned the truth about it.

Yes, we now have our very own four à pain.

It stands about 6 feet high and is circular with a diameter of about 10 feet.

Originally, we suspect that it looked something more like this:

 

four-a-pain-bannalec

However, the domed roof has collapsed and the front stonework forming the doorway has gone, assuming it was there, although there’s an outside chance that it may all have fallen inside.

We spent a while clearing the back of it this morning and revealed a wall made of thin stones, which makes sense as there are vast deposits of slate and other sedimentary rocks locally.

 

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Apart from the obvious differences in the building materials, it looks remarkably like the example shown above, with the remnants of a dome clearly visible, and the overall shape seeming to be a good match.

Date wise I’m assuming that it’s contemporary with our house, which predates 1840 at least – if the Napoleonic cadastral plans are any guide. Our neighbours informed us that a M. Boulaye who lived in our house used to bake bread for the local people and as our house was the main dwelling in our lieu-dit then I’m making a guess that the bread oven has been here for a long time. The shape of it certainly looks like other 19th century examples I’ve found online.

We plan to strip off all the brambles – evil, evil fuckers that’ll rip your arms to shreds – and the ivy and weeds and then have a dig about inside it. There may be some collapsed stones and who knows what else.

At the very least, it should make a nice feature along the communal road here and possibly get planted up with something colourful – Ipomoea is the current favourite, although I fancy growing strawberries in it.

Song of the day – Kevin Gilbert’s Toy Matinee with ‘Last Plane Out’. Great playing, vocals, composition, production…what’s not to like?

I’m now cooking dinner – baked smoked gammon, Noirmoutier potatoes and haricots verts from our neighbours’ garden; all washed down with cheap rose.

 

A lot of fosse about nothing

Today, I are mostly bin clearin’ ditches:

 

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Before we moved to France, drainage wasn’t something we’d had to bother about.

Rain water went off the roof and from elsewhere, then along pipes and into the sewage system…end of…

However, not being attached to any proper sewage system – it’s mostly a matter for the individual and his fosse septique – you have to make allowances for drainage if you want a dry house and dry land around it.

We had a storm of almost biblical proportions the other weekend, and only a quick drainage channel cutting exercise in the torrential rain averted a flooded dining room.

So, we’re putting drains in:

 

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However, it’s no use if the water from them doesn’t go anywhere – hence the ditch clearing that I did today. I thought I’d take advantage of the good weather, so girding some old clothes, wellies and gloves I cleared the ditch by hand and then used the brushcutter to tidy it up.

Hot, sweaty and smelly work  – it was 28 degrees and there was no shade – but it had to be done as there are more storms predicted for tomorrow.

However, every cloud, etc, because we should be able to see if the drainage all works before we order some gravel to cover the pipes over.

Should you want to find out more about drains like ours then Wikipedia has an article here.

18 months ago I’d have found it totally boring, but now I find it very interesting indeed…

A home studio at last!

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve now finally been able to unpack and semi-organize my ‘stuff’ – ‘stuff’ being the desktop PC, guitars, my music gear and all the associated bits and pieces.

I now have a studio cum office in what used to be a downstairs bedroom and which once looked like this:

 

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And here it is now:

 

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The guitar stash is a bit depleted – from 19 down to 9 – and now consists of my Taylor electro-acoustic, the Yamaha electro-acoustic, the blue Telecaster, the Gitane, the bling Tokai Les Paul, the old Precison bass, the Variax and the two Vintage resos. Bringing 19 guitars across to France wasn’t a serious option and I was thinking about pruning down the collection anyway.

I’m now starting to play guitar a lot more in an effort to ‘get fit’. I’m seriously rusty and as I’m getting a duo together with another English guy here, I need to get more fluent and build up the old stamina. I’d lost all the hard skin from my fingertips gradually, but now it’s coming back.

I also plan to write and record.

Quite what exactly I don’t know, but I have all the gear, lots of time and a lovely place to do it all in.

House update – 18 months in…

Well, we’re 18 months into ex-pat life here in France so, how’s it gone, Monsieur-dame?

Here’s a rough (very rough) timeline:

  • March 1st 2010 – we arrived in France to look for a house whilst renting. We were after a small house without any major work needing to be done
  • April – we found the house we wanted, (a large house with lots and lots of renovation needed!) put a silly offer in which was accepted and then signed the compromis (a legally binding contract of our intention to buy and the vendors to sell) with a view to completion on 31st July
  • July 31st – completion wasn’t happening due to one of the vendors being a total arsehole
  • November – we eventually completed and the house was ours. We set about clearing the house as lots of ‘stuff’ was left. Work on renovation started
  • February 28th 2011 – we moved into the house whilst work continued. We existed mainly in one room with a bed, a sofa and lots of boxes of our possessions
  • August 30th – today! – the inside is finished apart from a few odd bits (snagging as a builder would term it) and the outside is virtually done, with the drainage being sorted as I type this

So, what have we ended up with?

We now have a fully-renovated longere with two reception rooms, downstairs bathroom, massive kitchen diner, a studio/office and a utility room, two huge bedrooms upstairs and a large shower room leading off a large landing. The house stands in about a quarter of an acre of garden with orchard, and there’s a separate parcel of land of about the same area, with a barn, directly across from the house.

Here’s what the front of the house looked like in April 2010. It’s not the same camera angle and view and in the following ‘after’ picture, but it should serve to give some idea of what it was like. The roof wasn’t too clever, the render was crumbling and vines and creepers were all over the place.

 

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Here’s the house today:

 

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The exterior painting needs finishing and the large shutters still have to be put on, but the new roof is in place and it’s all looking much, much better.

The builders are away next week, but work won’t stop. We have the exterior woodwork – door and window frames – to buzz down and then lasure so that they’re all a uniform light oak colour.

Anyway, it’s been a very busy and sometimes strange 18 months, but we’ve ended up with a house that we absolutely love, in a setting that couldn’t be more perfect. It’s quiet, rural and private.

To come – some before and after photos of the interior…

Frites, fireworks and the French

Yesterday was the village bash:

  • A randonnee – a walk – at 9am
  • Concours de Peche – a fishing contest – at 3pm
  • A soiree with steak and chips, a bal (dance) and fireworks at 8pm

We passed on the walk as we had some work to do and also the fishing as my pole didn’t have a hook or line to attach to it, but we went to the evening do.

Out of about 200 people, we were the only English there but we vaguely knew a few people from the pique-nique in May, including a guy who was born in the house we bought here and his wife.

Robert and Jeanette are a delightful couple, in their 70s but as lively as they come and they made us feel very welcome – as did everyone else we met.

The meal was very good – a glass of kir, tuna salad, entrecote and chips, cheese and fruit tarte.

Excellent beef it was too – cooked to perfection and almost able to still go ‘moo’…

An ambulance arriving to treat someone for what was described to us as a ‘crise de tension’ broke the evening up a bit, but although they were taken off to hospital they weren’t desperately ill we were told.

Then it was firework time, with them being set off over the fishing lake which caught their reflections.

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I don’t think I’ve ever met a more friendly and hospitable crowd in my life. They were really, really welcoming and made us feel part of the event.

Off we went to walk home – about 10 minutes away – and just as we turned out of the road leading to the village hall, we were asked if we wanted a lift by two total strangers also leaving the soiree. They explained that walking might be dangerous.

The French stand offish?

I think not.

Lovely, lovely people!

Fuck You in the Super U

Living in France sometimes has its surreal side.

Take today, for example…

There I am in the Super U in Pouance buying bread and some pate for lunch. It’s fairly quiet although there’s piped musical pap playing in the background.

And then I hear something I actually like.

It’s a track by Cee Lo Green (who some joker once informed me is Hughie Green’s grandson) that was a hit a few months ago.

 

Cee-Lo-Green-006

 

I like it because it reminds me of some of the Philly stuff Ifrom the 1970s. It’s great, in fact – good arrangement, fantastic voice…

But the lyrics are somehow different.

He’s singing the ‘alternative’ version.

Here’s what I’ve heard before and was expecting to hear again:

 

 

And here’s what I actually heard:

 

Of course, as far as the French are concerned it’s just a song sung in a foreign language so it’s not at all offensive.

All the same, it amused me to see grannies and mums with kids shopping whilst old Cee Lo was singing ’Fuck you and fuck her too’…

Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:

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It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

DIY…demain

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As I’ve written here before, life in France is pretty idyllic, although it has its drawbacks.

I don’t mean to gripe, and I imagine that nowhere’s perfect, but when it comes to DIY stores then France certainly isn’t…

Commonly known as ‘bricos’, most DIY stores here – just as in the UK – exist as part of large national chains.

There’s Mr Brocolage, Bricoman, Bricodepot, Bricopro and Bricomarche, as well as Castorama and many others.

I reckon that we must have visited every brico within a 40km radius – and that’s a fuck of a lot of bricos – looking for everything from timber quadrant to tiles.

Shopping around doesn’t begin to describe this lengthy process and you have to if you want to find what you want at a reasonable price.

DIY supplies are pretty expensive compared to the UK and they also vary quite wildly in price and quality.

But there’s also another problem – availability.

Basically, if you see something you want, and it seems to be at a reasonable price, then grab the fucker!

Our local brico – Bricomarche in Renaze – has ‘supply problems’.

For example, I went in for some lasure – a type of varnish for floors. There were only two tins on the shelf, which I bought. I went in a week later and again there were only two tins on the shelf, which I also bought. This week I went in and there were none.

Strimmer line…I went in for a drum of it – the cheapest way of buying it and they had none. A week later they’d had a delivery – 3 drums, one of each of the common sizes: that’s all. Those three drums are still there two weeks later but there’d be only two gathering dust on the shelf if I hadn’t gone elsewhere in the end.

I went in today to buy finishing plaster for some plasterboarding and they had two bags left, so I snapped those babies up, I can tell you.

Light switches – two weeks ago they had about a dozen; today, two, which I snaffled.

Nobody seems too bothered, either…

But, you know what, I sort of like that.

In the grand scheme of things, if I have to go without a light switch or some strimmer line for a few extra days, it’s not really that serious, is it?

It’s just another reminder that life here is just that little bit more relaxed and, if the brico store manager gives me a Gallic shrug when I say that I need some 2.4mm strimmer line, then I can give one to Mrs Shark when I get a gentle reminder that the weeds in the corner of the garden are getting a bit out of control…