Well June has certainly been a month of extremes in lots of ways. The weather for a start. We started June in the middle of what seemed to be monsoon season with the most violent & prolonged rain storms we have ever seen here. They went on for a couple of weeks sending gallons of water down on us…sometimes we had days on end of torrential rain. The ground quickly became saturated & our garden took on the look of a jungle swamp. All the plants I
d bought ready for the long hot summer days almost drowned & of course the grass & weeds thrived & grew rapidly. Geoff had to resort to whipping out the lawn mower in whatever short break in the rain we got to try & keep the grass under some kind of soggy control…not ideal at all. We also had a recurrence of our damp floor problem, as we suspect we have a source under the house which only ever gives us a problem when we have prolonged torrential rainfall like this. We just cant fully dry off the kitchen floor tiles at all. It doesn`t last long thankfully but is not exactly pleasant when it happens. Also, because the ground got so wet we lost our lovely plum tree which grew at the side of the house. It was absolutely laden with developing plums this year & looked the best we have seen it for a long time with lots of new leaves. All this top heaviness & soggy soil caused it to just completely topple over one day, much to our dismay. Fortunately, it managed to miss the house & the outbuilding & there was no-one under it at the time so no real damage was done. We have decided to leave it in situ for the time being to see if any of the plums will ripen & our neighbour will come & help us cut it up for firewood at a later date. It is a very sad sight though at the moment.
Happily, the rain did stop eventually & now we are experiencing much more summer-like conditions. Sometimes here we find it hard to cope with these extreme weather changes. We seemed to go from the kind of weather we get in November…damp, cold & misty – to high summer with temperatures in the high 20s in a matter of days with no real lead in. Consequently, having been deprived of sunshine for about 3 weeks we were in a great hurry to get some rays & so ended up a little burnt & regretting that decision! Things are beginning to settle down now though & we have managed to tame the garden a bit, so that we can all enjoy the sunshine as normal. Our vegetable garden is thriving & we are harvesting lettuce, spinach, radishes & raspberries already. I have made two batches of jam so far as the rasps are prolific this year.
The gite was occupied early in the month, for a long weekend, by a very happy group of ladies who were here to help one of them celebrate a significant birthday. Her friends had bought her a gift of a Ferrari drive at the circuit at Issoire & so they had all come to see this & support her. We nicknamed her Mme Ferrari (which she loved) & she thoroughly enjoyed the experience – once the collywobbles had worn off! They all had a great weekend…& happily the sun shone for her “big day”. We have had a few B&B guests including 2 couples, who were having an overnight break on their way south for their holiday. One of those couples is staying again tonight on the way home too. We also played host to our lovely neighbour Cindy`s mother in law as she stayed overnight after watching her grandson receive his first Tai Kwando belt. He is only 4 years old & he & Cindy came to join her for breakfast here….in their PJs of course!
My major preoccupation this month though has been to get my eyes & vision sorted out. The consultation with the ophthalmologist went well & he agreed that the cataracts were ready to be removed. After a bit of persuasion, he managed to give me an appointment for the left eye to be done mid July & we agreed to wait until after our holiday in September to do the other one. It was quite hard to get all the appointments (pre & post op) fitted into our schedules, as I needed to fit them around B&B bookings & Geoff (who needs to drive me to & from the appointments) around his teaching commitments. It is a bit of a bind having to go to Clermont Ferrand all the time for what sometimes turns out to be a 10 minute session but needs must. I am particularly intrigued by the need to see an anaesthetist as I know the op will be done under a local anaesthetic administered by drops in my eye. The French are always over cautious it seems…& of course it all generates money! However, although I am a bit anxious about it all, it will be great to have my vision improved again. I am finding it increasingly difficult to see clearly especially in the bright summer light now.
We have been having a few problems with bees in the last couple of weeks. We got a message from a holiday house friend saying that he had a swarm in one of his trees & did we know of any beekeepers (who spoke English!) who might help him out. We do & so we sent our friend Jose to collect the swarm. Jose has very happy to have them too. Then the same week we had loads of bees in & around our house obviously looking for a spot to swarm. I was a bit worried they would choose the chimney…& indeed several of them did end up flying around inside our stove, but happily they moved off thank goodness. We have just noticed that there are now bees going in & out of the hive our local bee man has left on our neighbour’s property to try & collect a swarm there, so we are hoping that he will succeed. In the past they have swarmed behind the closed shutters of our neighbour’s holiday house & caused a lot of problems…hence the empty hive being left there. Fingers crossed for a successful outcome this time.
Whilst on the subject of shutters we are having our usual discussions now that the weather has warmed up - Shutters…to shut or not to shut. Most French houses, especially in the countryside have shutters for every window. Our house is no exception & at the moment we are trying to get all ours repainted, which is always a mammoth task. Also, our shutters are way past their sell by date & really need replacing, but that is a costly exercise & so keeps being put on the back burner. When we were discussing this task yet again, I got to reflecting about their usage.
Personally, I hate having the shutters closed. I like light in the rooms, especially our bedroom. Our house is a traditional country abode, which was built to cope with very cold winters, so the windows are small & the combination of few & small windows & thick walls makes most of our rooms quite dark. In winter, we do close the shutters at night to try & keep the house warm, but I can
t wait to get them open during the day time. In summer Geoff & I are always at odds, as he adheres to the “shutting the shutters keeps the house cool “theory when it is hot, whilst I hate being in the (admittedly cooler, but much darker) rooms, & so go around opening them, & the windows, at every opportunity! I am also always highly amused by our B&B & gite visitors reactions to the shutters. We have no curtains at any of our windows but as we live in the middle of the countryside there is no-one to see into the rooms. It is also very dark at night…no light pollution here, only stars & the moon! Our French guests always shut the shutters tight & in the gite they have been known to drape spare blankets etc over the bedroom windows, just in case there is a stray chink of light which might penetrate. We have Velux windows in the roof of the main bedroom in the gite and they are very difficult to completely curtain off. Visitors do complain that they have had moonlight creeping into the room at times. Zut alors! I would love that, but hey, Im not French! So, are you a shutter shutter, or not? Do you, like me, hate being in the dark or are you someone who can
t sleep if there is a chink of light in your room? If ever we have to move back to the UK I am sure I will hate having street lights outside my bedroom window & will probably resort to curtains again, but here I just love my windows uncovered night & day. Light rules OK? We had a guy turn up in the garden clutching a camera the other day. He wanted to know if we minded him taking some photos of the house … which of course we didnt at all. He told us that he had spent the most miserable holiday of his life here back in the post war years when he was 6 years old! He had been sent to stay with an “aunt” by his mum & this was in the days when people took in children (usually from the social services or the DASS) to get some free labour on the farms. He said that this lady lived alone apart from the goats which she kept in what is now our gite. He had not enjoyed the experience at all, remembering how bored he was, how dark the house was (no electricity – just candles) & how smelly the living room was as the goats cheese was matured on wooden shelves in there! It was interesting to talk to him & even more interesting was the photograph he sent us when he got home, of our house as it was then. I posted this photo alongside a photo of the house as it is now on the Les Hirondelles, Chabanol Facebook page if anyone is interested in seeing the changes.
We have been out & about a bit this month. We went to the cinema in Clermont Ferrand one evening to see the VO screening of The Book Club which we both thoroughly enjoyed. We saw many comparisons in that film to the way we are getting & feeling older ourselves! We also made our annual trip to Issoire for the Fete de Musique on midsummer night & had a great time there as usual wandering around listening to all the bands & musicians who play outside the bars & restaurants there. Its all free too…a great evening always. This week we have also had a meal out in Issoire with Geoff`s Café Anglais conversation group. We ate at one of the most popular brasseries on the boulevard, outside as it was a lovely warm evening, & thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance as usual. Issoire started its summer Vendredi Soirees this week which is good. They really are very good evenings when they close the boulevard to traffic & everyone can enjoy a meal or drink at one of the cafes or bars there & often there are night markets or some kind of “spectacle” to entertain folk too. It’s a clear sign that summer has started for real now
So now its onward & upward into July…when we should be really busy here. However, our bookings are not that good this year -yet. Lots of our French friends say that it is the same all over France, as the French are not very optimistic this year about anything. It is our French bookings that we are missing so there could be some truth in that…we shall have to see if the “last minute” crowd come through in the end. Being quiet does mean though that we have been able to get up to the lake at Vernet la Varenne for the first swims of the summer this week…& very welcome they were too as its sizzling outside again. Hopefully this good weather will last as next week our son & his family are here for a few days & so I am going to make the most of a bit of free time with our grandchildren. Swings & roundabouts…literally!
A bientôt mes amis.