Archive for August, 2008


August 31, 2008

Our visitors were keen to look round a champagne vineyard and so I rang the two small producers I know only to find that the last two weeks in August were holiday time!

Nevertheless, I did find out that the big ‘houses’ were still open for tours.

We set off for Epernay as Reims is notoriously bad for traffic at present, due to roadworks in the centre.

The sat-nav worked pretty well until we arrived and then there were arguments. E had set it to find the church, thinking this would be pretty central but we were put off by detours – again due to roadworks – and everyone chipping in with directions.

We stopped by a church which happened to be in the grounds of a hospital so were able to ask directions from the man in reception.

“It’s just a kilometre that way”, he indicated, “Place de la Republique”.

Off we went, and sure enough, Moet et Chandon was open to visitors.

It was a very posh building and all the staff were dressed in uniform – reminiscent of waiters in a high class restaurant.

The ‘English Tour’ set off but included a group of Spanish tourists who were rather noisy and ill disciplined. The guide spoke English but very quietly and with a strong French accent so Bear and I gave up trying to hear what he said and just followed slowly behind.

Fortunately there was a break to sit down and watch a video but  it was not terribly informative being more like an advertisement for their chanpagne.

The descent to the cellars, 15 metres below ground, was mercifully gentle and there we were in the warren of 28 kilometres of champagne bottles.

Our guide was obviously explaining the process of making champagne but it was difficult to follow. In a nutshell it involves the following processes:

1: Fermentation alcoolique the sugar in the grapes becomes alcohol resulting in still wine. 
2: Assemblage du champagne: Various wines from different grapes and often different years are blended by the tasters.

3 : Mise en bouteille : The champagne is bottled with yeast and sugar

4: Fermentation malolactique : the yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gas can’t escape and so it dissolves into the wine, producing bubbles.

5: Maturation : The bottles are stored horizontally in a cool, dark, chalk cellar for between 1 and 3 years. Strangely, the chalk keeps the cellar damp and this is important.

6: Dégorgement : During this time the bottles are transferred to sloping racks and turned daily for a period of 5 weeks so that the lees collect in the neck. At Moet at Chandon they turn 80,000 bottles a day.

The bottles are dipped into a liquid which freezes them to -28 degrees. Then they are opened and the pressure blows out the lollipop containing the lees. The bottles are topped up with more wine and sugar. The amount of sugar added at this point makes the champagne brut, sec, or demi-sec.

Finally the proper corks are put in and held down with wire and the bottles are labelled.

The tour finished with a tasting (13 euros entitled you to one glass, 20euros would give you two and for 25 euros you would be allowed to try a vintage chanpagne.)

We were then directed to the exit which led to the boutique. The cheapest champagne on offer was a 37.5litre gift box for 29 euros so we decided not to indulge. There were even Dom Perignon vintage champagnes on display for several hundred euros a bottle!

For anyone interested in working out the bottle sizes above, here’s a clue:

  • Quart – 20 cl
  • Demie – 37.5 cl
  • Magnum – 1.5 l
  • Jéroboam – 3 l
  • Réhoboam – 4.5 l
  • Mathusalem – 6 l
  • Salmanazar – 9 l
  • Balthazar – 12 l
  • Nabuchodonosor – 15 l

But don’t expect me to know the answers as there are ten sizes here (if you include the bottle at 75cl) and only eight in the photo!


August 29, 2008

This was the annual visit one of our friends to see a lung specialist in Charleville. Last year she came with four others but this year there were only three of them so they shared the guest room instead of having to spill over into the local hotel.

They arrived on Sunday, too late for lunch so we just had a snack (with wine!) and I cooked an early dinner. Everyone was excitable and chatty but I knew the ‘holiday’ wouldn’t begin until the doctor’s appointment on Monday was over.

E was keen to release her nervous tension with a bit of retail therapy before seeing the doc so she whisked me off to the supermarket leaving her two friends in the care of Bear. He passed the time by telling them what a hard life he had here and how terribly everyone else behaved.

Although I went along as interpreter all I can tell you about the appointment was that the doctor was absolutely wonderful and reassuring: far more helpful in one hour than the specialist she sees during the whole year in England.

So, we came home about 3.30 to celebrate and let festivities commence.

Unfortunately they had brought a huge box of red wine and a bottle of whisky. We had eaten ‘brunch’ at about 10.30 but no-one had had lunch so the nibbles I put out were not sufficient to mop up the alcohol.

By the time dinner was on the table E was feeling somewhat queasy. She went up to bed early while the rest of us finished the meal.

Day Two (Tuesday) was a Bearfree day. His daughter and family were staying in Paris and that was the only day convenient for them to meet up with him. CC and Jay took him to the station on their way to pick up a friend before they went to Brussels.

This meant that I would have to stay at home to be with Whale while the ‘girls’ hit the shops. Not that I was sorry, as clothes shopping is not really my cup of tea and my knee would not have been too happy traipsing round for long.

They were still in town when I left to fetch Bear from the station at 18.15 but they were back before we returned. The evening meal was curry, cooled off with creme brulee and mainly washed down with soft drinks (although we had had an aperitif of champagne.)

On Wednesday we went to Epernay because they wanted to visit a champagne cellar – and this deserves a post of its own.

Thursday – the final day dawned. Bear had persuaded them to delay their departure until after lunch at the local eaterie.

“Alright, but we must be on the way by 12.30” said E, the driver.

At 10.30 I went up to find them all still in their nighties, even though they had been down for cups of tea since before 8 o’clock!

Loading the car was a nightmare with many cases to arrange and two conflicting packers (one of whom was Bear!). We also had to go to the chemist to collect the medication on order from her prescription.

Somehow we made it to the restaurant at midday and they set off just half an hour after their deadline.

As soon as we drove into the garage Bear exploded in a temper ( not too sure what set him off) and then sulked until halfway through the morning.
It’s nearing lunchtime and he’s started to be pleasant. Would that have something to do with the fact that he knows I’m cooking fish and chips for lunch?


August 28, 2008

In case anyone has missed me this week I’ve been pretty busy looking after three friends who came to stay. Even if I ‘d had time to get on the computer I would probably have found it was already occupied by one of them!

Anyway, we had a hectic but enjoyable few days (Sunday to Thursday) and I’ll tell you about it when i’ve got my breath back and caught up with the chores.


August 22, 2008

Yesterday morning a friend phoned.

“What are you doing this afternoon? How about coming to see Veronique’s new house?”

Of course, I jumped at the chance. Bear was likely to spend his time snoozing and CC and Jay would be around to look after Whale so I said


Elisabeth picked me up just after lunch and we set off. On the way she explained that Veronique and her husband had bought an enormous country mansion as a ‘bed and breakfast’ business.

It was sold as a ‘going concern’ with bookings until October. The problem was that the outgoing owners had left the place in a filthy state and the new management were supposed to be ready to welcome guests the day after they moved in.

“We can’t cancel” said Veronique’s husband.

“We have no choice” said Veronique.

So Elisabeth spent some time over there and they set to work scraping off grime and taking down cobwebs so that the place was fit to receive guests.

It is a top class establishment with rooms let at 110 euros a night but they had to get in plumbers to finish off the toilets, replace the terrible curtains and sort out the decor in general.

One big disadvantage is that visiors have to enter through the kitchen and also share their sitting room so the family can’t feel at home.

There is one dingy room with an appalling brown ‘en suite’ on the ground floor for Veronique and her husband (although he works in Paris for most of the week). The boys have a makeshift dormitory in an attic and their daughter sleeps on a mattress on the floor in the office.

They have plans for renovating the ‘dependences’ (outbuildings) to provide five new guestrooms and a sitting room with a different entrance so that the family can claim their own bedrooms and have some privacy. They are also gong to convert a barn into separate accommodation for their elder daughter.

The work is expected to take about two years in all.

The advantages are many. The setting is idyllic. The grounds are bordered by a stream which also flows under the sitting room (as it used to be a mill) and soundproof doors open to reveal the rushing water while you can watch it without the noise from inside through very thick glass.

In the outbuildings there is a ‘nightclub’ – two rather dark rooms with tables, chairs, a bar and a sound system – another bar which they intend to transform into a further guestroom and  a large room for functions which opens onto a decking terrace and the swimming pool.

In fact, the week after they took over there was a party for sixty people, with external caterer of course. However, Veronique’s plans include building a ‘proper’ kitchen next to the function room. Not that she wants to take on the cooking herself!

She is worn out already and feels that she is constantly in demand. One of the washing machines had broken down and the ironing was piling up but she shut the door on it and, after welcoming a new family, she found the time to sit down at the table under a tree and have some coffee, cake and a chat.

Despite being only an hour away from us, the climate was noticeably milder and she said they had been having meals outside ever since they moved. The children were still playing in the pool at six o’clock and didn’t come out freezing!

If I were twenty years younger (and rich enough to finance the renovations) I’d welcome the challenge, but I can’t say I envy her all the work involved in running a house like that. Not without quite a lot of help anyway.

We left a little after seven and drove to Reims station to meet Elisabeth’s elder son. It was beginning to get dark as we approached  Charleville but we were able to make the slight detour necessary to view Woinic the boar.

It is a monstrosity! When you think it took 20 years to make and cost 600,000 euros, it’s not surprising that some people are rather cross. There are those who approve wholeheartedly but Elisabeth and I are not among them.

As we went through the town we passed a new eating place “La Pataterie”.

“How are you for time?” asked Elisabeth. “Would you like to try it?”

It was getting on for half past nine but what the heck. I said yes and phoned home to let them know I’d be late.

We had to go and pick up her younger son from home and then drive back again. It was very full and we had to wait for a table but the service was quick and the food was good. The boys had jacket potatoes with chicken curry and salad, Elisabeth had jacket potato with smoked salmon and I opted for a salad Nicoise which turned out to be HUGE.

She brought me home near 11 o’clock and I expected Bear to be snoring but he was still up and watching television.

I told him briefly about the day.

“Huh. I’m glad I didn’t come. i wouldn’t have liked that.”

I was inclined to agree.


August 22, 2008

Pat from Past Imperfect has very kindly given me my first ever award!

Unfortunately I don’t know how to put it on my sidebar but there it is up at the top for all to see!!

In case you haven’t yet visited her blog she is writing a fascinating autobiography interspersed with ‘asides’ about the present day, and believe me, she certainly gets out and about.

She has shared her life story from training to be a children’s nurse, beoming a model, working in film and TV and running her own business, whilst also giving us an insight into her family life. Hopefully, it will soon appear in book form.

If I had to choose another blogger to pass this award it would be an impossible decision. Everyone on my sidebar is there because I enjoy reading what they have to say and I try to visit on an almost daily basis.

So, once again, many thanks to Pat and a huge thank you to all the virtual friends I’ve met through blogging. Consider yourselves well and truly awarded one and all.

Want a carpet?

August 18, 2008

The car pulled up beside us and a smiling  face said  “Ah, bonjour” as if we were old acquaintances. A hand was proferred through the window.

Trying to place the chap, I shook his hand and Bear did likewise. We both thought the other one knew him.

But then he started his patter. His story was that his friend had had an accident near Metz “You know where that is don’t you?” and he had been selling his carpets for him.

“I’ve just got one left. You can have it at a very good price.”

“No thank you.”

“But WHY don’t you want my carpet?”

“We have a person in a wheelchair at home. A carpet wouldn’t be practical.”

Fortunately he didn’t have an answer for this so wished us good day and drove on,  presumably in search of his next victim.

The Art of Conversation

August 15, 2008

My live-in pupil went home yesterday and I’m not sure who was more relieved – Quentin or me.

It’s not that he was any trouble to have around. He stayed in bed until almost lunchtime, refused anything to eat or drink for a ‘belated breakfast’  and, apart from  two sessions of English each day, spent most of his time playing Nintendo on the spare television or amusing himself on the computer.

In the evenings he prefered to cook his own meal of pasta and then went back to his games or watched a film on his ipod.

The only time we spent ‘en famille’ was at lunchtime, when I kind of insisted that we all eat together. Attempts to instigate a conversation were difficult, partly because his level of English wasn’t up to it and partly because no-one else in the household seemed prepared to make an effort.

It’s not easy to ascertain whether Quentin was bored or shy but he seemed very keen to disappear into his world of virtual games and often needed a gentle prod to come and ‘do some English’.

His parents had wanted him to go and stay with a family in England while they went on holiday to Honfleur, so I get the impression that this was his ‘punishment’ for refusing.

Anyway, two  daily ‘lessons’ of about an hour were enough for both of us as concentration lagged. I discovered that his routine at home during the holidays wasn’t much different from his life with us. He would stay in his room watching films until lunchtime then play Nintendo or ‘Chat’ online for most of the day. He might go out with his mates or play tennis though.

His parents were very grateful to us for taking him on but I fear their hopes that he would make up for two years of failed English at school in less than two weeks were rather optimistic.

The most depressing part of this last fortnight is that it suddenly struck me how little we, as a family, talk to each other.

Chez-nous, the art of conversation is in danger of dying.


August 9, 2008

Of course, eight is a lucky number for the Chinese and, no doubt, that accounts for the spectacularly successful opening to the Olympic Games but, here in the Ardennes this date also has special significance.

The Departments of France (counties only bigger) are numbered and we are 08,  so yesterday was celebrated in several ways.

A couple who had been living together for 28 years and raised three children decided, at last, to get hitched. They were aiming for August 9th but a friend at the Mairie persuaded them to make it 08.08 on 08-08-08. Despite the early hour over fifty guests were there to celebrate with them.

The local newspaper pictures a baby born at 8 o’clock. He weighed in at 3.4kg so I don’t think that’s quite enough to make 8lbs!

Several holiday clubs held special activities with the children to mark the day, the Post Office issued a stamp to mark the occasion and motorists travelled in a figure of eight for the hell of it.

But the ‘star’ of the day was Woinic. (I’m still out of action regarding photos, so you’ll have to follow the link – sorry).

This enormous statue of a boar, weighing 50 tonnes, has been paraded through the Ardennes for several days before being positioned beside the A34 motorway near Faissault between Reims and Rethel at 8 o’clock on the 8th August 2008, so if you’re passing one of these days, give it a wave.

Did we do anything? Well, not intentionally. We went for lunch at the local pizzeria and noticed it was particularly busy. Friends of ours were at the next table and Madame looked extra specially nice so we asked if they were celebrating something.

“Yes, 08-08-08, of course,” quipped Monsieur.

“No, it’s my birthday” said his wife. She is the doyenne of the local Club so I didn’t ask her age. We simply wished her Joyeuse Anniversaire.

Grrrr Bear (continued)

August 7, 2008

This morning Bear apologised for shouting at me and gave me this excuse:

“I really thought it would be helpful to set up the printer next to my computer to save you bending down to do it underneath yours.”

At first, I took it at face value and believed him.

Then I started thinking.

If that really had been his intention why didn’t he say something when he saw that it involved installing software on his computer?

OK, so he could say he didn’t understand the implications.

But, when I asked whether he had the disc to install his old one on mine, surely that would have rung alarm bells. Instead, he just asked why I couldn’t simply plug it in and use it.

So, Bear has his beautifully plausible explanation to excuse himself for pinching the present he’d just  “bought me” and I don’t have concrete proof that it was intentional – just a very strong suspicion.

Nevertheless, fate caught up with him today.

We walked down to the garage to collect the replacement for the broken lights (when he backed into the wood) and he had to pay 141 euros. This was because he didn’t notice that they had given him the whole fitting – not just the plastic cover. I mean, Sylvain took it out of the box to explain how to fix it and he didn’t notice, so, although I sympathise (to a certain extent) he’ll have to go and do his own complaining if he wants.

He’ll have to be quick, though. The garage closes for the holiday tomorrow.

Grrrr Bear!!!!!

August 6, 2008

It was too good to last.

Bear had been sooooo good since Friday when Sophie, Chris and Chaddy came to visit.

He was the epitome of charm the whole time they were here. Of course, it was very easy to take a liking to Sophie and Chris and we all felt very at home with one another.

Chaddy was lovely. He emerged from his cat carrier and immediately started to explore his new surroundings. Our cats were quite well behaved and there were  only a few hisses and spits. I think Chaddy would have been even more friendly if the residents had been a bit more welcoming but, at least, there weren’t any fights!

On Saturday, CC invited a friend to dinner as a belated 30th birthday celebration. Bear actually decided to join us at the table athough he wouldn’t eat the gaspacho and vegetable lasagne that Jay had cooked and had to have his own meal of melon and fish and chips. He was quite sociable and only made me wince when he greeted the young lady with the remark “Oh have you been sunbathing. You’re very tanned.” (as she is Sudanese).

He has kept a low profile since Sunday when our ‘pupil’ arrived but he has obviously been bottling up resentment because today it all came out.

He wanted to go shopping. On the way into town there was a police escort for a wide load approaching us. Bear kept to the middle of the road as usual. The policeman started to wave crossly. Bear didn’t move over so I shouted. He swerved out of the way at the last minute and then turned on me.

“What’s the matter with you? Oh, I know what it is. Whale is getting you down. You’re not being at all nice to me.”   etc. etc. etc.  “All your friends can see it. Why can’t you? Do you ever give a thought to how I feel?”

I decided to keep quiet because last time we argued while he was driving he went the wrong way down the bus lane.

By the time we got to the Citroen garage he had calmed down as he needed me to ask for the code to get his radio started.

Then it was on to the supermarket. My printer has packed up and he suggested looking at new ones. He offered to buy me a new one (as an apology?) and I readily accepted. He chose a new mouse for his own computer, we finished the shopping and came home.

As the boot was full he decided to reverse into the garage to facilitate unloading. This is always a dicey procedure and, sure enough, he was dangerously close to the wall whan I said gently,

“Careful. you haven’t enough room to get out and you’ll hit the wood.”

He muttered but drove out again and then reversed – at the same angle!

Of course, he hit the wood. And broke his rear light.

And it was everyone’s fault bar his.

“People leave things about and don’t tidy up after themselves.”

Who had stacked the remaining logs in that particular place? You’ve guessed it. He had. But I said nothing.

A while later I went into the bedroom to find the new printer attached to his computer. He even had the nerve to ask me how to install the software.

OK, so I put in the disc and then asked him if he still had the disc for his discarded printer so I could use that. I had given him the discs that went with his computer and asked him to take care of them but he hadn’t. He had no idea where they were. In fact it must have been me who had lost them.

“Anyway, you can just plug it in and it will work.” he announced.

“No it won’t. You have to install it. Like I’m installing this one for you.!”

He started swearing and shouting so I left him to it.

“Install your own printer  yourself then!”

Back to normal then.