Clivehaddow's Blog



 Hi everybody, Simone has written another article and reflects on her life in France.

Simone Clark

The Move to France

 I think if packing were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medallist! We once flew to Nice for a short stay with carry on hand luggage only. After visiting the flower market, we tottered back to our hotel room with an olive tree (waist high) and a small lemon tree! When we left the following morning both were safely stowed in our bags and went on to live happy productive lives in England! I think the hotel staff are still puzzling where the trees disappeared to!

 However packing a small transit van with a lifetime’s possessions plus one lurcher dog and three cats (each in own cat box) was my major triumph! Thank heavens the customs people didn’t want to inspect as someone would probably have been killed in the avalanche! We trundled merrily across France with the cats taking it in turns to serenade to us through the 6 hour journey. Max, the dog had been sedated for the trip so snored lustily in accompaniment. We finally pulled up outside our gateway and Max staggered blearily out of the van only to be attacked by a spitting ball of white fluff – the cat across the road had taken possession of the mini jungle that was our garden and decided to set Max straight at the outset as to the pecking order in La Belle France!

 Hours later the inside of the van was empty and, by some miraculous inverse law of space and relativity, the inside of our house was now crammed with boxes and animals. At that time we had only the two downstairs rooms in which to live – the kitchen dining room (25ftx12ft) and the living /bedroom (25ft x 25ft). We had managed with our limited skills to build a shower room and WC in the old outside privy building (which was knocked down and rebuilt, and a doorway knocked into the kitchen)

Our bedroom was one corner of the living room – deluxe indeed as when we first started staying in the house for the holidays, in that same room we had a bedroom corner, a kitchen corner, a dining/living corner and a kiddies paddling pool as our bathing corner! 

 One year we were so over run with mice that we couldn’t sleep the whole of the holiday as they frolicked around us all night. There was a metal trunk in the corner and they used the hasp as a springboard making it clatter all night. One night, exhaustion sent us into a deep sleep until Jim was awoken by someone (something?) shaking his legs, and opened his eyes to see in the glow of the firelight the face of an old woman hovering over him. He swears to this day that it was old Mere Dupont come calling, but I think the mice must have been disporting themselves on the bed and shaken his legs, and the “face” was an illusion of the firelight or a dream. Certainly if it was her, she has not visited again. And as for the mice – well, thank goodness, the only ones we have now are brought in by the cats!!!!

 Life was quite difficult the first few months after moving, acclimatising ourselves to our new lives. We had met a few people when out on holiday but we didn’t want to rush headlong into things without knowing who was who, and what was what. I was at an advantage in speaking French but poor Jim was a bit intimidated. One morning I was busy indoors when he came running in saying “There’s a man asking me something !” I ran down to the gate and there was a stocky swarthy glowering man standing there – he looked really grouchy and my heart sank.

 “Hello, sorry,  my husband doesn’t speak French. We have just moved here – I am Simone and my husband is Jim” I was gushing and stammering

“Ah!” he said “You live here?”

“Yes” I gulped (oh boy, this was going to be one of those Anglophobes who would make our lives a misery)

“That’s good” He lifted his hat and  walked away! Appearances are deceptive – Jean is now our good friend and under his gruff exterior a real softie – he is the local woodman and (in his eyes) gardening expert. He rarely smiles – and when he does , you wish he hadn’t!  And he really loves a chat. When I am in my potager he likes to lean over the wall and tease me

“What are you doing now?” So I tell him and he shakes his head in wonder at the mad Anglaise.

“See those plants?” he says pointing at the thistles rampaging over the untidy veg beds “They are very nice to eat with vinaigrette!”

But this is now an old joke between Jean and I – and I know the response which I have been giving for many years now and still causes him to give his gruff bark of a laugh “Oh those – well, as you can see I have FAR too many  for my own use. I would be happy to give you some. Shall I gather them up for you to take home?”

 Homemade “aperitif” drinks are traditional around here, and none makes a more potent brew than Jean. The tradition of “aperos” is that of a “before dinner / lunch drink” One turns up at the appointed hour, and is served a selection of nibbles and killer drinks. Sometimes more serious kinds of nibbly food is brought forth, which is an indication that one is in for a long night, and if you have left your dinner warming in the oven it will be inedible by the time you get home (hopefully one of you will be sober enough to remember to turn the oven off before falling into bed.)

The magic ingredient in all the concoctions people make around here is “eau de vie” – water of life (perhaps called this because of the number of miraculous conceptions that have taken place after imbibing this liquid?) According to Wiki it is “a clear, colourless fruit brandy that is produced by means of fermentation and double distillation. The fruit flavour is typically very light.”

 In the past, people were granted licences for life to distil this for their own  and family usage – a possible explanation for the number of centenarians in France – the family have to keep Grandpere alive at all costs in order to preserve the continuation of supply of the eau de vie! The rules have changed recently and it is possible to buy it from the distiller if you fulfil certain criteria. A friend took me to a distillers a few years ago and it was like something from science fiction. The machine was in a vast barn and when the doors opened my head began to reel with the fumes that gushed out. The contraption itself was something to behold and seemed to be mainly held together by duct tape, but the crystal clear nectar flowed out and I soon was staggering away with 20 litres of the stuff.

 The most well known apero round here is Pineau de Charentes. I would tell you how I made mine but then I would have to kill you. Suffice it to say that a good quantity of my eau de vie was used in the manufacture and it is now maturing in bottles for 3 years (well to be honest we have had a few tastings along the way, but I am sure the remaining bottle(s) will be lovely!)

This is another apero I make (and one can use vodka or similar instead of eau de vie):

1ltr eau de vie

5ltrs rose wine (or white if preferred)

2 vanilla pods

5 oranges – roughly quartered, skin on so give them a wash

4 lemons ditto

1kg of sugar

a stick or two of cinnamon

Plonk everything in a sealable container (I use a brewing bucket) and after stirring well leave for 60 days (the occasional stir doesn’t hurt and giving the citrus a squeeze releases more of the flavour into the brew)). Sieve into another container and leave a day to settle, then siphon the drink off the sediment into bottles. Serve VERY cold as an aperitif before meals or use to make a type of kir with a third of a glass to two thirds very dry sparkling wine. Be warned this latter can be a lethal mixture. As I say, I have learnt that in France appearances can be deceptive!

Until next time,



August 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Ahh, the nectar of the gods.
    Living in France must be seriously detrimental with all that good food and wine around.
    Nice story Simone.

    Comment by Stuart | September 2, 2010 | Reply

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