The calm before the storm

June is always a bit of an odd month here in France. Everyone is getting ready for “les grandes vacances” although I suspect not so many people are actually going away for these grandes vacances these days judging from our bookings (& those of friends with gites)for the summer this year :( However most French people are still in “wind down” mode with the older school children having taken their Bac & the younger children doing all their end of term “spectacles”. We went up to watch the village school perform their little show last Friday. This year it was a very short show followed by a demonstration of some traditional folk dances outside in the courtyard, where the parents were all gleefully grabbed by the children & made to participate! Great idea :) Some summer events have started this month but the vast majority of the tourist attractions here don’t really get into full swing until July. It makes it a bit difficult for any intrepid holidaymakers who dare to take their trips out of the traditional July & August period. As a lot of these folk come from other countries, they are always a bit amazed by how many places do not regard June as being summer! We have had a few B&B visitors this month including two couples who stayed with us specifically as they had reservations to dine at our local Michelin *ed restaurant, La Bergerie at Sarpoil. Its owner, Cyril Zen, is now a celebrity chef in France & Belgium & he is very good for our business too! Needless to say that since he became so famous & got his *, we haven’t been able to eat there…it is too expensive & always full!

One of the benefits of not being so busy this month has been the ability to do other things without always being tied to the house waiting for visitors to arrive. We have had a few lunches out & done some catching up with friends. We know that all this will stop now for the next couple of months so it is good to be sociable while we can. I had a great meet up with my”ladies wot lunch” friends at Muta`s house near Vichy. This house has just been put up for sale as Muta is finding it & the garden a bit too big for her now. It is a beautiful house so if anyone is thinking of a move to the Auvergne I would recommend having a look at it. We took a trip across the valley one Sunday to have lunch with anther English couple, Sue & Kevin who live high up in the hills above Ardes sur Couze. Their instructions as to how to get to their house included the strange phrase…”watch out for the giraffes” which we thought was a joke until we actually saw two giraffes watching us drive by! We had forgotten that there is an animal park over there! You see all sorts of things here in the Auvergne I can tell you! It was also very strange being able to look over the valley in the opposite direction to our view here! We could pick out roughly where our house was & have promised to wave from time to time! Yesterday saw us invited to lunch at Annie & Christian’s house to celebrate some birthdays with our good friends Julie & Jean Luc. This was a typical French lunch…we stared eating at 1pm & finished at 6pm! Very nice it was too :)

This week Geoff took a couple of days “off” to go to a conference on E-Learning in Lyon. He decided, partly because the SNCF are in strike mode yet again, & partly because he didn't want to take his car & have parking problems to try the experience of co-voiturage for the first time. He arranged via an internet site (Blablacars) to be picked up in Issoire & dropped off in Lyon by a lady going & a bloke coming back. He was totally impressed by the experience as it cost him very little (always a plus where Geoff is concerned!)- there is a charge which goes towards the drivers petrol & car usage costs, he had nice travel companions which made the journey pass very quickly & he got picked up & dropped at convenient places. He is a total convert for this scheme now! He also enjoyed the conference- it does him good to exercise his brain from time to time! He was not so thrilled with all the “celebrations” which took place in Lyon, when the Algerian football team played a match in the World cup though! He said it was all a bit scary…lots of scuffles with police & burning of cars I understand. Just as well he didn't take his car then eh?

Midsummer’s Day (or rather the evening of MD) saw us as per usual in Issoire for the Fete de Musique. It was a fabulous warm, summery evening & we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves eating pizza on the restaurant terrace watching the world go by & then just wandering around the boulevard listening to all the very different bands that play for free outside most of the bars. It is one of our favourite evenings of the year as the atmosphere is always really good – lots of people who just want to enjoy the music.

The weather this month has been really good. We managed to get our first swim in the lake last week. The water was...very refreshing! There weren't a lot of folk brave enough to try it needless to say, but we enjoyed it! We have had lots of lovely warm (even some very hot) days & a few storms in the evenings which have just supplied enough rain to keep the garden looking good. All of the plants we put into the potager are looking really strong & healthy & we have already started picking what is think is going to be a bumper crop this year of raspberries. The courgette plants are in full flower now which means that courgette dishes will soon be served chez nous… & probably for all of the summer as my love/hate relationship with this veg begins!

Our quest to get my UK state pension continues. We have now completed all the forms (we hope!) & have taken them up to the RSI office in Clermont Ferrand & so we are now just waiting for the money to come through! That is a joke btw as I suspect it won’t be that simple…anything which involves any form of bureaucracy in France is never simple!

On the family front we have been delighted to watch the progress of our grandson Ethan, thanks to the lovely photos his parents send us & the wonders of Skype. He is really growing & changing so much. We are looking forward to see him in the flesh in September when Susie & Matthew bring him over for a visit. Lots of plotting & planning is going on just now to get this sorted :) We have also been amused this last couple of weeks by our daughters house buying stories. She & her boyfriend have found a lovely house in Carlisle, which they seem (much to their surprise)to be in the process of buying, in spite of it needing a lot of work done on it! I hasten to add here that neither of them are DIY people, so now that the reality of what they are about to take on is hitting them, panic is setting in a bit! I think that this could be a story which might run & run over the next few months…or years!

Most of the last few weeks have been taken up with getting myself organised for this upcoming summer art exhibition I am doing at Le Vernet la Varenne. I think I am more or less ready now…which is just as well as the vernissage is on Saturday! During the last week I have managed to finish two more paintings, framed all the pictures which are going into the exhibition, given them all names & now all that is left to do is to hang them on Thursday & cross my fingers that they look OK! Oh & try to make a speech (in French) at the vernissage! I’m not panicking…well not much!

So, onwards & upwards, as the saying goes. We are now all ready for the true summer months. The gite is still looking very quiet for July but as a lot of our bookings are coming in at the last minute this year, I am still hopeful. We have nearly every weekend, & lots of weekdays booked for the B&B in July though so that will put an end to our gallivanting won’t it? I will be spending a lot of time communing with my ironing board instead, methinks!