Old folks’ outing

Bréau has a good local club for pensioners, le Club Lou Roussignol, organises outings or events through the year. The club is not really my thing (translating the useful: “ce n’est pas mon truc”) but I try to take part, to support the organisers (who include my friend Margaret) and to integrate with the village.

Yesterday about 40 pensioners drove up to the village of Blandas, high up on the Causses, the lime plateau to the south of us, for what turned out to be an excellent lunch.

I’m a fan of the restaurant – one of the few places round here where one eats well – and they did us proud: a huge plate of charcuterie, then chicken with purée of potimarron (pumpkin), cheese of course, and then a really yummy pudding (saying it included ice cream and lightly cooked egg whites does not do it justice).

But it was the ambience that was special: a roomful of people enjoying the food – and wine – and talking away with the animation I associate with French meals. And all joined in to sing Happy Birthday to Annie Vacquier, a very nice woman who lives in Serres and who was 80 a little while ago.

Claude is the youngest brother of Lulu (Annie Vacquier’s husband) who used to be the star turn at events like this, singing and reciting in Occitan. But Lulu was 90 last year and people accept that entertainment has passed to his brother and to his musician sons.

But no, Lulu got up and sang Les Quatre Vingt Chasseurs, which is basically the story of a Marquise who took part in the hunt and then entertained her 80 huntsmen in her chateau – and nine months later gave birth to a son, “the child of the 80 hunters”. Everyone joined in, as they have on frequent occasions over the 20 years I have lived here, happy also to see Lulu still on his feet, despite his age.

For those with a reasonable internet speed, here is an excerpt from the singing.

Harcèlement sexuel

On Saturday I heard the harrowing story of sexual harassment told by a good friend of mine here, a woman in her sixties. I knew she had been suffering from stress this year. Now I know why.

For years she has lived amicably alongside her neighbours, a couple the same age as her. Then a few months ago she became aware that whenever she went into town she was bumping into the husband. Wherever she turned, he seemed to be there.

At some point he made it clear that he was in love with her, tried to embrace her, but was rejected. He continued to stake her, sent her endless, often explicit, text messages and cut down a tree so he could see into her house more clearly. The neighbours had exchanged keys so they could feed cats and water plants when the other was absent, and my friend then became aware that her neighbour had been looking at emails on her computer.

As time progressed he became more aggressive: he attempted to rubbish my friend, and told people that she had slept with him. Why did she not go to the gendarmes, I asked. She replied that at that point she did not have confidence that they would intervene.

Then things got nastier. My friend is proud of having a large, organic garden, untouched by pesticides for over 50 years. She became aware that everything in her garden was dying – trees, bushes, flowers and vegetables. He had poisoned her land. Worse to follow: she found that the long pipe bringing water from her source in the hills above her house had been broken in several places, and the joints and taps seized up with cement or glue.

This is what broke her spirit: she is a woman of the land. At last her daughter persuaded her to go to the gendarmes and went with her, first printing out the long list of text messages. The gendarmes also asked her why she had not come earlier and were faintly hurt when she expressed her scepticism that they would do anything about this.

There was no proof that the poisoning of the land and destruction of her water system was done by the neighbour. But the text messages – which at first he denied sending – were proof of his nasty harassment. My friend didn’t really go into what happened to the neighbour other than that he had to go before an investigating judge – juge d’instruction. I think he was admonished, warned to stop his behaviour and to keep away from my friend. I was taken aback that he was not punished further. I think that in the UK now he could have faced a fine at the very least.

For her the most important outcome was that he has put his house on the market and he and his wife are renting somewhere in town. It will take her some time to recover from this trauma.


On one of the hottest days of July, Sara and I visited Le Jardin des Sambucs, not far from la Corconne, where our family spent 14 summer holidays

It turned out to be a wonderful escape from the blazing sun: most of the walk is through lush greenery – bamboo, tropical like plants, often surrounding green ponds and waterfalls

Amazingly I had never been before  somebody had advised me the walk would be too tricky, but in fact there were handrails at tricky moments.

There is a certain amount of kitsch and whimsy, but much to love and appreciate about this garden, created 25 years ago by its owners, Nicholas, who works with stones, and Agnès, a landscape gardener.

I took home two of their messages, repeated with much passion: the value of wandering slowly through a garden, and the fact that a garden is constantly evolving, with the gardener gently adjusting what nature has determined .

There were frequent places to sit, to drink in the green, smile at the stone columns and structures, listen the sound of water, or catch the odd glimpse of the magnificent Hérault valley, outside this enchanted world .

Les saints de glace

We have just come to the end (hopefully) of a dreadful few days of wind, rain and cold.  As a result I have learnt some new French: “Les saints de glace sont passés”.

First on Monday my lovely cleaning lady, Edith, explained the awful weather was due to these saints, though then I thought she was pronouncing just one new noun that I did not know, something like singdeglas.  Then this afternoon, when walking Poppy, I met a woman who repeated the phrase and I asked her to explain.

Apparently there are a bunch of saints days just about now and this can often mark the last patch of cold weather before the summer – though she added there is another saint’s day near the end of May which can also give a brief cold spell.

Anyhow, now that the saints de glace period is over, one can apparently start planting. What’s more, the woman added, today is the last day of la lune rousse – the lunar month after Easter.  Tonight we have the new moon, and that is important for growing also. She also said something about the importance of it being a year with thirteen lunar months, but by then I was beginning to lose the astrological plot.

I ventured to suggest that climatic change meant the old sayings about what weather to expect on certain dates were less reliable.  For example, when we first came to France we were told that the 15th August invariably brought a weather change with thunderstorms.

Ah yes, she agreed, we no longer have thunderstorms as violent as those of her youth. But for her the importance of the saints de glace seemed unaffected by climate change.

I know she is not the only person to adhere to a strict May growing timetable.  I expect to see the tomato plants being staked up everywhere over the coming weeks.


Olive trees and sangliers

Every winter I have a modest crop of olives, mainly on the three more mature trees.  This winter, they yielded much less, but surprisingly some of the 20 plus trees planted three years ago have started to produce a tiny crop.

In the past I have invited Jacky to pick my olives and add them to his.  This year, Odile and a friend picked them.  The olives all go to the press in Aulas, restored a few years ago by Jacky and some friends.

Last week Jacky called by with a present of a bottle of the new olive oil.  I was very touched, particularly as he did not get my olives this time.  I will open the bottle shortly and compare its taste with the commercial ones.




Jacky and I then reviewed the extensive upheaval caused by the nightly rampages of the sangliers (wild boars).

Plants round pool gone

Ground round olive trees churned over





Every terrace is affected, every olive tree has earth dug up round it, and many of the plants surrounding the pool will need replacing,

Jacky and Marthe leave today for their annual Asian walking holiday, this time in Thailand.  When he returns there is no choice but to instal an electric fence (posts with two or three cables) surrounding the terraces with the olive trees and the pool – with ‘gates’ to allow us access between the two houses, the pool and the children’s cabin below it.

Jacky says I am not the first to react with dismay at this idea – not just because of the cost, but visually and mentally fencing in is not what we would like to have.  But with the growing numbers of sangliers invading these valleys, there is no alternative.

C’est la France

Today was a wonderful warm, sunny day. As there is no physio on Wednesday afternoons, I went for a walk. I decided to track down the site proposed for the hapless hardware store, Monsieur Bricolage, burnt down by vandals a year ago.

Last month I recounted the tortuous and unjust story of their abortive attempts to rebuild on the existing site. Today I thought I would go and look at the alternative site suggested by the mayor of Molières Cavaillac, not far from my centre.

Walking along a  narrow lane, I asked a man passing by with his dog which was the field for the new M Bricolage. He pointed it out and then implied that the question was very much if rather than when the store would be built.  I said knew  that they have to raise 200,000 € to buy the land.

Ah, added the man, but then to build they will have to have the agreement of  the commune, the communautë de communes, the département, le sous préfet … He shrugged his shoulders and said, with an air of resignation: “C’est la France”.

And what a shame that the convoluted laws and devious local practises might mean that either the cash can’t be raised and a dozen people will lose their jobs, or that another pastoral enclave will disappear, rather than rebuild on the old site next to the supermarket.


Cévenol views

My friend Dessa lives in a magnificent old stone house with stunning views, looking over the Hérault valley and le Vigan-Ganges road far below to the hills to the south.

On Sunday Sara and I took the scenic route, winding through Mandagout and then towards St André de Majencoules – with frequent contretemps on narrow hill roads with hunters returning home, high with the adrenalin of a day out with the lads and their guns and their dogs.

Dessa’s house is in a solitary hamlet strung along the side of a grand randonnée – one of France’s splendid walking routes. She has a lovely internal courtyard – currently sticky with the leaves of the old lime tree – and her little lemon trees tempt me to get some too.

The colours are now distinctly autumnal and the worrying brown landscape, with trees which look as if they may not survive this drought, is somewhat masked by the reassuring rusts, yellows and reds.

In our valley too there has been a sudden change in colours.  Here is one of my favourite views, of le Bruel, the hamlet opposite the village of Bréau.

The weather has been perfect all Sara’s visit.  Dressed in little more than tee shirts or blouses we have usually had breakfast outside and basked in the sun during the day – knowing this was great for us but not so great for   nature.

It is extraordinary how many overheard conversations have been about the weather and now, with mounting anticipation, the news that we might have two days rain this week. The first proper rain for four and a half months.


Here is a story which could have come out of Manon des Sources.  Only in the country could there be such a drama centred on rabbits.

Last winter, Alain Bourrié, a well established character in the life of Serres (our local village- smaller than Bréau) died.  His carefully cultivated rabbits have unfortunately gone wild.  They have discovered there is wonderful juicy food to be had in the middle of the village: flowers, in particular the ones planted by our friend, Margaret, along the path in front of their house.  Last week she planted pansies everywhere, by the morning they were all gone.  Other neighbours are equally incensed – apart from the couple who feed the rabbits.

Poppy simply loves chasing the rabbits they run faster than the village cats and don’t turn round and attack her.  She nearly came to a sticky end last week when I was away in London.  She chased a rabbit into the drain beside Hans and Margaret’s entrance and with head and front legs stuck into the hole had to be forcibly pulled out by Hans before she disappeared forever.  To stop Poppy returning into this hole Hans stuck a big rock into the entrance.

This is where the story becomes more convoluted.  A couple of decades ago the house further up the path belonged to a couple – old village inhabitants – who were good friends with Hans and Margaret.  So when they said they suffered from flooding in their cave after heavy rain, Hans suggested they build a drain which would come out down beside his front door, and the neighbours amicably built this drain together.

Fast forward, the house was sold to a couple from Marseille who use it as a second home. For some reason they have never been friendly with Hans and Margaret and the wife even walks past Margaret without even saying ‘Bonjour’.

So we giggled when we realised that a rabbit was trapped behind the rock, in the drain leading up to the Marseilles couple’s cave, where we think they store their apples and onions. Poppy realised this too and now alternates between sniffing at the rock and sniffing at the neighbours’ cave door, or sitting guard outside it.

Yesterday the Marseilles couple arrived.  We waited hoping to hear cries of horror. Sadly none of those, but later Margaret saw them talking animatedly with their friend, Serge, who lives further up the path, clearly discussing the cave. Since Serge, who is on the council, was approached by  others in the village about the rabbit problem, his response was simply that his plants (behind a wall) had not been eaten.  Maybe now he will have to act.

Road up – again

On Thursday I got back from a lengthy medical session to a very local drama: no water, the road blocked and a few metres up from my house the road up.

My English friends and neighbours, on holiday for a week, were very excited and concerned about what to do in the unknown length of time without water.  I have to say I was a bit more phlegmatic; this is after all the second time this summer when we have no water.

Apparently water suddenly spouted out of the road and when I arrived they were still searching for exactly where the pipe had broken.  Our road is the boundary between the communes of Mars and Bréau and hence a shared responsibility.  So, as well as the four or five workers, the two mayors were there. Plus, of course, the usual round of locals come to give them advice.

I asked the mayor of Mars, whom I like, how this joint effort was organised.  He replied that Mars had the men and Bréau the equipment (well actually Fred, who drives the bulldozer, lives in Mars but works for Bréau…).  I made some guarded comment about how it might be easier if these two little communes were merged (knowing the complex reasons it had not happened, including that the two secretaries don’t get on). He agreed, but said it will take a little while for these ideas to get accepted……

They eventually found the break (caused by stones piercing an elderly pipe which at that time had not been insulated with a layer of sand).  Drama over.  We have our water back.  The road, on the other hand is an ongoing mess.


Les ainés

Somehow I find the phrase “les ainés” less depressing than les personnes agées, or the old folk.  But that was what we all were at lunch today.

We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of Lou Rossignol, the local old folks club. All the usual suspects were there, music provided by two of the sons of Lulu Vaquier, a delightful old man who now he is in his mid-eighties, has sadly decided to no longer sing in public. He did however stand up to explain how the club got its name (I was not paying enough attention to follow him) and then Christine Capieu led the singing of a song about rossignols (nightingales) which everybody seemed to know.

Low-key but aimable.  I was sitting next to my friends, Charles and Pierre, so at least Pierre and I were able to have a – mutually agreeing – conversion about the lunacy of Brexit, our mistrust of Mélenchon, and our hope that Macron and Merkel might succeed in reforming the EU.