Monday, 5 November 2012

Jazz, Moules and Frites

We had a really lovely night out on Saturday going to what I think is a quite typical French "Do" It was held at a small village about 4-5 miles from where we live called Locmaria-Berrien in the local village hall.

For a very reasonable €12 a head we had a glass of Kir ( white wine and cassis ) to start with then followed by a huge amount of Moules (mussels) and frites. There was also a basket of French bread.

We bought a couple of bottles of Rose, again good value at €5 a bottle.

After the main course we had a cheese course of Brie and more French bread and butter. When that was over we had an ice cream for dessert.

However what really made the evening was the Jazz group that played all night from around 7pm to nearly midnight.
They were called the "Ragamuffins" who we have seen before. Here is a short "Youtube" clip that I took to give you an idea.

There was also a solo guitarist who's name I didn't catch who played during the interval that the group had a break. All in all a truly lovely evening, one of which I am sure we will have many more of!

Saturday, 3 November 2012


I've just had a very rewarding couple of afternoons down in the bit of woodland leading to our stream. There were a couple of large trees, probably Oaks, that had probably fallen down several years ago. You could see where the whole roots had pulled up from the ground but over the years the tree had been covered with a layer of thick moss and Ivy.

So I have been down with my chainsaw and have made a start cutting them into logs, not the easiest of jobs as it is on a fairly steep slope and several times the log that I sawed off rolled into the stream!

I have a very good quality splitting axe thanks to Avril, who insisted I get a good one rather than the cheaper one I was looking at! It has a carbon fibre handle and is very well balanced so made surprisingly quick work in splitting them up.

I now have quite a decent stack put aside for the coming winter for our wood burner which now goes on every night. We are just starting to collect chestnuts of decent size from our trees which cook nicely on top of it in a purpose built "Wok like" pan with holes in it that Steve bought as a present for us with exactly this in mind.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


We seem to have different types of Fungi and Mushrooms popping up all over the place right now. The small  one's I took a photo of in the last post have now grown to the size of a small plate. They are about 20cm
 ( 8" ) in diameter.
I love to eat mushrooms but although these look a lot like horse mushrooms I'm just not sure, and don't really want to chance it. Is there anyone on here who can positively identify them?

Here are some others which I know I will not be eating! Having looked at images on Google it appears to be an  amanita which is heavily psychedelic and has been reported to be fatal if eaten!   Certainly lovely to look at though.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


We seem to have been forever waiting for summer to arrive and all of a sudden we are well and truly into Autumn.
As you may have seen we have a lovely tree lined driveway to our house with mature lime trees that make a lovely setting to the house, however the downside is that at this time of the year all the leaves are starting to fall.
I jokingly said with slight "tongue in cheek" knowing that I was probably exaggerating, that there would probably be at least a hundred barrow loads of leaves to pick up and cart away. Wrong! I way underestimated, I have already cleared around 20 and the leaves have hardly started falling.

The leaves in the photo above are just what fell in the last day as I had totally cleared them yesterday. In addition we have two fully mature Acer trees probably around 70 feet tall with more leaves that all the lime trees combined. I'm not grumbling though as they look gorgeous.

All sorts of Fungi are appearing as well, Anyone know if these are edible?

Another sure sign that it is Autumn is the molehills that just suddenly spring up at this time of year, we have seen nothing of them since last Autumn and yet here they are again. What happens to them during the rest of the year is what i want to know?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Updated website

For some time now I've been meaning to do something with my original "Living in Brittany" website, I started if off with good intentions to provide both information and a running blog or diary, however after a while the blog became unwieldy because I was just basically adding to a text file rather than having a structured setup which is why I moved to here.

However, I have now given it a complete makeover and turned it into a strictly factual site. It is in it's early days yet but the way it is structured means that I can keep adding to it for as long as I like so should just get better and better.

 For anyone interested just click on to go straight to the site. Any comments or additions I would be pleased to add to it and attribute, there is a contact form within the site.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Long overdue update

I cannot believe that I have let the whole of the summer go by without an update, I think the only thing it implies is that I am enjoying my life here and have been busy with other things.

As some of you know I've taken up fishing during this year after a break of probably at least 40 years, it is very therapeutic to sit down by the water's edge on a nice day fishing and even better when I manage to take home something worthwhile like the 4.5lb rainbow trout here.

 I have a favourite spot at Saint Michel near Brennilis that I like to go to and even when I don't catch anything is it still enjoyable and something I shall probably do for the rest of my life.

Cooked in the oven in tinfoil with butter and black pepper it is beautiful.

The whole way of life and things that we do over here are so different than we used to do in the UK which gives a whole new slant on things. I think I've mentioned before that it is like going back 50 years in time.
This weekend has been a good example, on Friday we went to a small town called Commana. The whole town was closed off to traffic to allow an annual street market and horse fair. It is supposedly the oldest horse fair in France. There were street after street of stands set up selling pretty much anything you could name plus a "Vide Grenier" which actually means "Loft Sale" or a bit like the UKs car boot sale.
Apart from the horses that were being traded, sold and showed there was loads of small animals for sale, everything from ducks, chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits and ferrets.

We went to a local bar and had coffee part way though and all in all and a lovely few hours just wandering around taking in the sites, even the trip home was nice as we stopped off to look at some ducks on a lake.
On Saturday (yesterday) we went with some friends for an evening at Paule, a small  town/village around 30 mins drive away. This was what I would call a quite typical way the French people in this area enjoy having an evening out. It was held in the local "Salle Polyvalente" or multi-purpose hall.

The hall had a stage and was set out with long tables covered in white tables cloths, there was an entrance fee of 10 euros for which we had bread, Moules and frites  ( mussels and fries ) and a tarte tatin ( an upside down apple cake ) plus coffee. There must have been well over 100 people in there, I have a feeling we were the only English,although It didn't make any difference as we chatted in pidgeon French and sign language to the people sat on the table around us. A nice bottle of Rose wine at a very reasonable 5 euros helped it down very well.
While we were eating and afterwards we were entertained by a musical chorale group " Chantaccord " who sang sea shanties, I counted 27 of them on the stage, here is a short excerpt.

As you can guess all of this is completely different to our way of life when we lived in the UK, that is not to say It's better just different and certainly a whole chapter of our lives that would have passed us by If we hadn't taken the plunge and moved.

Who knows what will happen next week!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Garden update

I'm feeling a little bit better about our garden produce today. As I said in the previous post the potatoes are suffering from blight with the leaves starting to go black.
Although I would have liked to have left them in the ground longer to get a bit bigger I decided that I would be better off digging them up now on the assumption that If they have blight they are unlikely to grow anymore and perhaps it could affect the potatoes themselves.

As you can see I have a healthy amount of potatoes coming out and to the left the leeks and T
turnips are doing OK as well.
I shall learn from all of this and next year will perhaps stick to putting in crops that I know have done well this year plus I hope to get a load of horse manure onto the ground before winter.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Produce, or lack of it

I have to say I am somewhat disappointed in my gardening efforts this first year over here, we seem to have a whole host of things that are preventing us from being self sufficient. The one thing I am determined to do is to learn from it and try different things and ways next year.

First of all I got sucked in by the beautiful warm/hot weather we had in early March, around 22/23c some days. I started on the garden far too soon, I shall take more notice of my French neighbours next year and delay starting anything much before late April.

Our peas, broad beans, parsnips, garlic etc are not even Worth mentioning!

Another thing I have come to realise is that the row of big fir trees I am lopping off have sucked all the goodness out of the ground, I desperately need to get some manure on the ground in the Autumn and try and get some goodness into it.

A problem that I am going to have more difficulty with though is the deer, last night they grazed off the tops of nearly all of the strawberry plants and half of next year's growth of the raspberry's.

On the plus side, although I haven't got Mandy's  problem of trying to keep up with the harvest, we are at last starting to take produce from the garden most days. The turnips are doing very well and are being picked every day whilst young and lovely to eat, we have started to eat carrots and should have enough to keep us going throughout the summer and maybe the Autumn. Although the potatoes are now starting to be affected by blight, due to the lousy weather I suspect,  I dug the first of them today and they are looking not to bad.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Breath tests

As from today the 1st July it is now a requirement under French law that all drivers have to carry a single use breath test kit in their car at all times. Here is a short YouTube video showing it's use.

While it is law from today it appears that there will be a period of grace up to November the 1st until it will be enforced.
I cannot believe that these kits that only cost 2 or 3 euros can give an accurate reading and personally I think it could result in some people relying on them when in fact they shouldn't be driving.

I may be cynical  but it appears that  Mr. Daniel Orgeval, the president of the road safety lobby group that was responsible  for persuading persuaded the previous government to adopt the law is also a senior director of one of the only two companies licensed to produce the kits!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Gone fishing

After a break of at least 40 years I have now taken up coarse fishing again. Apart from the local lake here in Huelgoat which is within walking distance from my house there are 2 other lovely lakes, St Michel and Drennic, both of which are only about a half hour's drive away, in addition there are loads of rivers and canals so I will have no shortage of places to explore.
In total it cost about 200 euros to get started, I bought a carbon fibre rod plus reel, line, weights, hooks, floats etc

Included in the price was a yearly licence which covers the whole of Finistere apart from the Category 1 lake of St Michel and Drennic, There was an extra 20 euros to cover those which I bought at the same time. Apparently there are loads of good sized trout in both of those lake so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I did hear somewhere that there are carp up to 50lb in our local Huelgoat lake, I'm not so sure my first effort matches up to that!

This is adding a whole new dimension to my life, just sitting by the lake fishing on  a still peaceful evening with the ducks flying in to settle down and the swans coming by to take a look is a good enough reason in itself even If I never land a big one!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

An update at last!

It's been quite a while since I've updated on here so I'm busy looking for excuses, of course I could easily blame it it on a lovely 2 week visit by my brother Roger, and my sister in law Margaret, but as he will probably read this I shall blame it on the weather instead!

In addition I can blame the weather on the progress in the garden, in truth that is part of it coupled I think with the tall fir trees sucking all the goodness out of the ground for years. I have to say I am more than a little disappointed in it particually given the amount of effort I've put into it this year. I shall put it all down to experience though and will try to get some manure from somewhere in the Autumn to turn in to improve things for next year. The broad beans have been a total washout and the peas are not much better. Some of the root vegetables may come on but I'm not hoping for too much now.

I have made another start on cutting down some more of the fir trees, it is a bit of a long winded job as I have to move the scaffold pretty much every tree and the clearing away and cutting off all the branches and twigs etc takes the biggest amount of time.

It has been over a month now since I submitted French tax returns and I have had no communication from them, I would like to think that I have filled them all out correctly and the longer it goes without hearing the more chance there is I think. Wish me luck!

After waiting what seems an age, we had a phone call this week to say that the workmen would be arriving the next day to install the wood burner we ordered at the beginning of May. They arrived at 9am and were cleared up and gone 3 hours later, I was very impressed. During that time they had to sheet off the room for dust bore a hole through the concrete capping slab on top of the chimney, bore another hole through the ceiling in the lounge fit a chimney pot and cap install a flue liner assemble and install the wood-burner including fitting an internal flue to the ceiling height, fitting a collar at the top and plaster boarding and skimming where the flue went through the ceiling and clearing away all in 3 hours for 2 men. I was most impressed and can thoughrally recommend the company
Cheminees Lencot, 
ZA Du Launay,
 29600 St Martin Des Champs 
Tel 0298 620191

All I have to do now is to keep enough logs cut and split to see us through the winter!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Potager progress

I though I would share a few photos of the vegetable garden, things have been pretty slow getting going here in Brittany and I think in retrospect that I was far to keen to get stuff into the ground and growing. I have talked to a number of people in this area and it seems like It's not worth starting planting until late April. So next year I shall take notice.

However things are moving at last and the potatoes at least are looking pretty good, just had a few of them touched by the frost, I've planted 7 rows of them mostly Charlotte so I'm hopeful for a good crop.

The broad beans that we started off in pots indoors and planted out in March have been overtaken by the beans that I planted directly into the ground soon after so that's a mistake that I won't make again in the future.

In addition, I have also planted out turnips, peas, garlic, carrots, shallots and broccoli which are all up now and beetroot, parsnip and cabbage.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The joys of the French tax system

We have been living here in Brittany now for 9 Months and are really beginning to feel at home here and part of the place. We made the decision, early on, that if we were to live here we had to commit ourselves fully.

We know a few people here that have been here for years but are still running around in right hand drive  UK registered cars, seeing a UK Dr when needed and still on the UK tax system, by doing this I doubt that they have to get involved with the French authorities hardly at all but there are obvious downsides to this, for instance, insurance implications on running a car here, having to go back to the UK to see your Dr etc.

This is not for us, so we have come to that point in the year when we have to fill in our first French tax return, it is also in our own interests to do this as the tax thresholds are higher in France than the UK plus, being on a pension we should get our Tax d'habitation and TV license reduced to zero.

However this is not easy, apart from the fact that there are 2 forms each 4 pages long in French to fill out showing all worldwide income, the forms are not available until late April and have to be handed in by the 31st May.
We went to our local tax office the week before last to collect the forms only to be told that they didn't have them yet but would be available in a week. So this last Thursday a week later we went back only to be told, not yet come back next week or we could drive to the larger tax office 20 mins away to collect them now.
So we decided to drive into Carhaix yesterday to collect them only to be told not yet, next week!
So the time left to complete these is diminishing quickly.
Cest la Vie!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Our new neighbough

We had an unexpected arrival in the form of a  new neighbough arrive today, a lovely baby boy,
 say hello to Colombo.

This gorgeous foal is only a few hours old in this photo and is still a little unsteady on it's long gangly legs at times and certainly doesn't want to be more than a few feet from his mum.

I was in the garden when Robert, our farmer neighbough took them into the field next to us for half an hour to get some fresh air and sunshine. I spent a very nice hour chatting to him in my very inadequate French and him in his slightly better English followed by a few glasses of wine back at his farm after they were taken back to the stables.

Apparently another one of his mare's is due to  have a foal in the next couple of days and a third in a couple of weeks time, I am looking forward to all the new additions.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Decisions Decisions

Previous to our moving to Brittany last year we have, for at least the last 30 years had a wood burner. The house that we bought had/has electric panel heaters throughout so although we would have preferred it if there had been a wood burner we decided that we would give it a go and see how we got on with the electric heating through our first winter here.

Well, the decision has been made, although the electric will provide enough heat and is clean and easy to use it seems crazy not to use all the wood we have readily available on our own grounds and as far as costs are concerned, although not cheap to install the wood burner will probably pay for itself in about 5 years.

The main reason though is that there is nothing like sitting in front of a real log fire.

So yesterday was our day for hunting down wood burners, It didn't actually start to well, I planned the day so that we could visit showrooms in the morning ( before the normal French 2 hour lunch-break ) and the afternoon. Our first visit was to Carhaix-Plouguer which is about 20 mins from us. After tracking the shop down, a bit of a feat in itself we arrived with a good half hour to spare before lunchtime and in the opening time shown on the door, however there was also a written note on the door saying that there was no one the but If we really wanted to see someone to give a call on the telephone number.
Not a good start and not something that inspires confidence!

So time for some lunch, we headed off to Morlaix about an hours drive and had a very nice lunch in a pizzeria along with some local Breton "Cidre" we finished nicely just after 2 pm to get to the first of the showrooms we planned to visit only to find in the first yet another note saying they wouldn't be open until 3pm and here was me thinking everywhere was in a recession and struggling!

Off to the 3rd showroom of the day and success, they were open!

They did have a very large range of different wood burners set off with a fully working one of quite striking design in the middle of the showroom that looked really inviting, lots of heat coming out from just a couple of logs and perfectly clear glass with no sooting up at all. A quick look at the prices of similar models soon put a stop to looking at anything like that as they ranged from about 4-6000 euro's without installation.

I did take a bit of a fancy to a retro looking model but decided against it. It is much more difficult than it would first appear to sort out the type that suits you best. There are lots of things to weigh up not least of which is cost but that also has to be put against quality ( cast iron is certainly preferable to pressed steel in my mind ) and other things , like has it a side door ( for easier loading ) as well as a front door plus we do like to have room on the top for heating a coffee pot so a large flat surface is another consideration along with the position of the flue. Then of course some have different airflows that can help the glass be kept clean. In addition to all of this the output in KW is very important.

We saw a very nice looking traditional style wood burner that seemed to tick all the boxes with the exception of the output being a bit on the low side so off we went back to the shop that was shut to 3pm.

A different selection of makes and models here but with the same sort of problems in getting all the features we wanted along with an affordable price. We eventually settled on one that we thought was very good value even though not all the features stacked up and arranged for someone to come and give us a quote for installation next week.

Back home with armfuls of brochures, specifications and prices and we realised that there was a larger version with increased KW output of the one we had liked in the previous showroom and this is the one we are going to settle on. It is a Dovre 760CB.

Now all we have to do is to get quotes to install it, that should be easy shouldn't it??????????????

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Slow progress in the "Potager"

This is our first real planting season in the vegetable garden since we arrived last August and we are a little disappointed in that we seem to have what I call a cold garden. There are some tall trees in our neighbough's rear garden that restrict the sunshine for a few hours each day so consequently the frost that we have been having lately hangs around longer.
Of course this will change as we get further into Spring with the sun higher in the sky.

However, I have been busy and have put in loads of potatoes, onions, shallots, beetroot, turnip, parsnips, cabbage, carrots, asparagus, garlic and broad beans. At least the broad beans are starting to look OK

I have probably put in too many at one time ( 5 rows ) and will be putting more in later spaced out by a few weeks but I am sure if we have too many I can find some friends who would enjoy them.

I did get a head start with the fruit garden in the Autumn and the raspberries most of which were just sticks! are now coming on quite well and the rhubarb has got going at last.
It is also encouraging to see that all of the fruit trees we put in are starting to blossom.

I also got round to mowing the rear lawn for the first time this year, like everyone else in Brittany it seems we have a lot of moss in it! 

One job I have had to put on the "back burner" for a while is the cutting of my trees. There has been a pigeon building a nest in them for weeks and after watching it carefully selecting sticks and flying in and out hundreds of times I haven't the heart to disturb it . There will be plenty of time later on although I do what to get it all done this year as the difference in light and sunshine to the decking area is incredible.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Vide Grenier

Vide Grenier is France's equivalent to a car boot sale in the UK. These are held nearly every weekend throughout the year and are generally quite well attended. The actual translation is "Attic sale"

As like most aspects of French life these are very tightly regulated, it is unlikely that you will find "Fake" goods that seem to be all to common in the UK.

Everyone having a tables at these events have to give full details to the organisers  which are in turn made available to the authorities, tax inspectors etc and there is a limit to the amount that you can exhibit in one year.
If you take a table on a personal basis rather than a "trader" all items have to be owned by yourself ( no reselling ) also the maximum amount of times you can do this is two times a year! The penalties ( It is a criminal offense to exceed twice a year ) are severe with a maximum 30,000 euros fine and six Months in prison.

we visited quite a large one in the sports hall at Pleyber Christ which is about 30 min drive away from where we live on Sunday.

we came away with a nearly new expresso coffee machine for 5 euros, a bargain If ever I've seen one. At that price I didn't try to knock the price down.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Don't give up the day job!

Well I did promise to publish photos good or bad, let's just say that I haven't any good ones :) I can't say my first attempt at ploughing was a 100% and I certainly won't be entering ploughing competitions but I suppose it is all turned over, something I could never have done without it

My biggest problem was that the turned turf and soil quite often didn't turn completely over and fell back in the furrow. This had the result that when I ran down the furrow with the next pass the turf didn't have a furrow to fall into properly and it happened all aver again. Here is a video of my first attempt:

In hindsight this was probably because the field had never been ploughed before so I am not too disappointed, what I shall do is to wait a few days for it to dry a bit in the sun then flatten and break it down with the rotavator attachment, I may well plough it again then and I suspect that the second time I won't have the same problem.

The end result

Of course if anyone reading this can tel me why some of it was falling back into the furrow I would love to hear from them..

Friday, 23 March 2012

Ploughing a straight furrow!

Well after my purchase of the plough yesterday I decided to make it a bit more presentable before I used it for the first time. I got a wire brush on it and cleaned off all the rust especially from the blades, greased and oiled it and attached it to the tractor. I have now painted it with "Hammerite" which should stop it rusting again and oiled the blade. It sure looks different from yesterday.

I shall probably have a go with it tomorrow although I am a little apprehensive about it as I have never ploughed before in my life! I will post some photos though "Good or Bad"

My lovely French neighbough, who seems to have every known garden implement known to man, of course has already ploughed his garden perfectly, I am sure he has been doing it for years and years and I'm not really in competition but I do feel a little pressure all the same to make a half decent attempt.

I often have conversations with him over the fence, he speaks no English whatsoever and my French is pretty much non existent so he speaks in French and  I speak in English with the odd French word and we understand each other perfectly :)  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spring is here

I love this time of the year with all the Months of Spring and Summer ahead of us. The weather is still quite changeable with colder showery days but already there are some days when the sun is out and the temperature is beginning to reach the high teens.

We have birds busy building nests both at the front and rear of the house, at the back we have a pigeon who totally ignores me even at close quarters as she selects twigs for her nest and then has to make a complicated flying maneuver to get between the branches of a fir tree to build it in.
At the front we have a magpie building a huge nest right at the very top of a tall tree. It's fascinating to watch it carefully selecting the right twig then having to make it's way right up though the tree to the top without dropping it which it does often!

I finished off the final few bits to the decking area and formed a flower bed around it and put in some roses and also a black grapevine that I'm hoping to train up over the pergola.

I've now moved onto the garden in a serious way, I think we are in a bit of a cold spot so It's obviously not going to be an "early" garden but I'm getting excited about all the fruit and veg we are going to grow in the future.

Talking about getting excited, I really must be turning into a farmer, I never thought I'd get excited about buying a plough but I am! I put an advert on a local Brittany forum asking If anyone had one for sale and yesterday had a reply.
So today I am the proud owner of a plough.

"We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land"

I have quite a large area that I would like to extend the garden into but without ploughing it I really think it would have beyond me to do. I've never used a plough so If my furrows are not quite straight "cest la vie"!

I have already rotavated quite a large area of ground and have so far sown carrot seeds, put in a row of onion sets and yesterday put in the first row of early potatoes.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Busy Times but lazy BBQs to come

Well after our 25,000 mile trip round the world I thought it was time to start a job at home that I've had in mind for a while. At the rear of our house is a sort of patio area.
As you can see in the photo it is just plain concrete and not very attractive and it doesn't inspire you much to make use of it even though it gets all the sunshine in the afternoon and evening and an ideal place to sit outside.

I decided that I would make a larger decked area, but rather than just a boring rectangle I would be a bit adventurous and extend it with an octagonal seating area.

These two photos show the octagonal end set out and the decking started and were taken 7 days ago.

This one shows the seat construction started and more of the decking completed

Just two weeks to the day after starting it here is the completed area.
I am really pleased with the end result which came about all the quicker with the help of my son, Peter, who came over on Monday and helped for two and a half days.

If you look closely you can see I've also put in low level LED lighting under all the seats plus installed hidden speakers for a sound system under the seating.

In all I used about 250 metres of timber 400 metres of decking boards and well over 2000 screws.

Time now over the coming Months for long evenings by the Chimenea  and many BBQS.

Happy Days!