Monday, 23 April 2012

Spring greens

Soggy geraniums

It is raining outside.  A constant drip-drip-drip for pretty much the past ten days.  Living in East London this is a novelty because we haven't had any significant rainfall all winter, and we are now officially in drought.  I am rather excited about the rain, because I haven't seen it for so long.

Dripping lilac

The garden is green and lush - I'm not allowed to use a hosepipe any more because of the water shortage, but I don't need to at the moment.  I've been buying geraniums, herbs and lavenders for the garden, and potting them up a few at a time, when the rain eases to a drizzle.  The vivid pinks of the geranium flowers, mixed in with the bright, wet greens of all the grass and shrubbery, is very pleasing to the eye.

Soggy patio plants, waiting for planting

And when the rain gets too heavy, I come back inside and pick up my knitting, which is in the same shade of vivid spring green. 

French spring green shawl
French spring green shawl

I am knitting myself another shawl from this pattern, but instead of the multicoloured sock yarn version I did last time, I am making this one from a green linen and wool handspun yarn that I bought with Mum in France over Easter. 

Walking through Bruniquel
Walking through Bruniquel to the castle.  We filled Mum's basket with yarn.
A French textile fair - excitement!
A poster for Bruniquel's textile fair
We heard that there was a textile fair at a local castle, and went along on a cool, wet day much like today, not really knowing what to expect.  What we found was the most amazing selection of hand spun and hand dyed yarns and knitted and felted garments from right across the South of France.  Mum dived in to the mohairs, alpacas and angoras, and I was captivated by the linen blends and the bright colours.  We filled Mum's basket with yarn - a modest three skeins each - and came home with hastily scribbled notes about needle size and yarn blends stuffed into our pockets.

The colour of this green yarn was exactly the same shade as the new oak leaves bursting forth in the French forests while we were there, and now it is the exact same shade as the geranium leaves in London.  Perfect.
French spring green shawl

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Municipal planting

I drove O to school this morning, and although Epping Forest was bursting into green leaf all around me, I still thought wistfully of the banks of wild cowslips and orchids which ran alongside almost all the roads in France this Easter.  Green and lush is lovely, but spring flowers lift my spirit in a way that no amount of oak foliage can.

Then at lunchtime, while I was walking through Walthamstow, out of the corner of my eye I spotted something very startling.

Municipal fritillary in Walthamstow

A snake's head fritillary sunning itself calmly in a corner of a municipal flowerbed.

Walthamstow snake's head fritillary

For a moment I thought I might have made the urban wildflower discovery of the decade, but then I remembered that you can actually buy cultivated snake's head bulbs these days.  I still crouched down to take photos and admire it though, and the mad, purple checked petals were a delight.  Sometime in my life I want to own a pair of trousers made from fabric just like this - they would be fabulous. 

It turns out that London has spring flowers at the side of the road after all - I just had to spot them.  They may not often be wild, but they still make me smile.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Seen on the ferry

P&O, Calais to Dover

Arriving back at Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover, seen from the ferry
  • A tired Dad making a cosy nest on the floor for his wriggly toddler, out of coats and a beloved blanket.
  • Two teenage French girls tucking into a breakfast feast of ham baguettes, boxes of salad, cheese and crackers, pains au chocolats and Evian water.
  • A middle-aged man with a sun tan, sitting next to the window and working his way steadily through a wordsearch book.
  • An extremely pregnant Dutch lady buying five different bottles of perfune in Duty Free.
  • A rather harassed looking school teacher trying (and failing) to round up a class of Year 7s wearing matching purple hoodies with Ski Trip Austria emblazoned across the back.
  • A woman in pyjamas and a slouchy woolly hat telling everyone how seasick she felt.
  • A grandfather saying to his grandson, "Everything's all right now I've got my Sunday Times."
Waiting to disembark at Dover
Waiting to drive off the ferry and back into England

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dix choses

  • C's favourite French pudding is Iles Flottantes, but he also enjoys a caramel ice cream.
  • Glace au caramel
  • Mum and I found orchids in the village after all - they are sneaky, and like to hide down steep banks and amongst the other undergrowth.  They have just come into flower this week.
  • Little orchid
  • I love orchids - they are just too weird for words.
  • The cowslips are still out, and I love them too.  Rural France is full of flowers at the moment.
  • We have bought some local Gaillac wine to bring home.  When I say 'some', I actually mean 'quite a bit'.  The children will be more cramped in the back of the car on the journey home than they were on the journey down.
  • I found some lichen which matches my hat.  It is now known as The Lichen Hat, rather than The Mustard Hat.
  • Yellows and greys - lichen, twigs and hat
  • France has Presidential elections coming up in a couple of weeks.  The boards for political posters have been erected in the village, but so far only one candidate has put up a poster.
  • Election boards
  • It has been a wet and blustery couple of weeks, but we haven't cared at all.  This is still a wonderful part of the world to be in - perhaps especially when there is thunder and heavy rain in the sky.  Even the clouds are gorgeous here.
  • Evening walkSt Antonin, from Roc d'Anglars
  • G and I have done some good long hikes together, and we love going for a stroll around the village before supper, with Mum and Dad.  The children prefer to stay at home with a glass of orangina and the tele.
  • Dad and Graham look at the views
    Graham waits for me
  • I love France.  I'm not ready to come home.

Monday, 9 April 2012

For my friend

Because I know Alice likes her French patisserie, I went to the boulangerie this morning.

I wasn't sure if she would prefer a croissant, a toursade au chocolat or a pain au raisin.

So I bought all three, and made the family wait while I photographed them.

From the boulangerie

Bon appetit!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

All things old

Some buildings here are very old and in ruins.

Ruin in the forest
A ruined house at La Garouillade

Ruin, on the mountain top above Varen
Ruins at La Garouillade

Other buildings are very old, but still inhabited and used.

Old houses in Varen
Old houses in Varen

The Mairie at Varen
The 14thC Mairie at Varen

Walking through Bruniquel
Walking through the cobbled streets of Bruniquel

A corner of Bruniquel Castle
Bruniquel Castle

There are ancient walking signs, and very old cauldrons recycled as plant pots.

Old walking sign in the middle of the forest
Ancient walking sign

Cauldron planter
Plant pot in Varen

Everything here is aged - and after a walk up and down one of the mountains, my legs feel pretty ancient as well.

Hot and tired, on the plateau above Varen


Last year I was obsessing about all the orchids in South-West France, but this year we are here a couple of weeks earlier, and this part of France has had a very harsh winter, so there are no orchids about yet.

Instead, I am obsessing about cowslips.  These beautiful spring flowers are endangered in the wild in the UK nowadays, because of the loss of their habitat.  I don't know if they are officially endangered in France too, but they are certainly thriving right here in Tarn-et-Garonne.  Along all the verges, and in all the fields up the sides of the mountains, there are big patches of these acid yellow-green flowers.

Cowslips along the verge


They look shy, and bashful, as they raise their little flowers just ever so slightly towards the sun.


They are bright, jolly, sweet little flowers - the essence of springtime.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Spring jobs

South-West France in springtime is lush and rampant. 

New growth

Plum blossom

Field of dandelions

Moss on the roof

We have been helping my parents clear up the dead autumn leaves and stalks, and get everything neat and tidy for spring.

Graham and Mum loading the bonfire

Mum sweeping leaves

Dad sorting out the wisteria

We raked, swept, tidied, lifted, wheeled barrows, dug, sorted and carried.  We burnt probably 40 barrow loads of leaves on a big bonfire.

Graham raking leaves

Meanwhile, C has been baking again - he made us an enormous black forest gateau from the Hairy Bikers Bakeation book, which was just the thing to put back some of the calories we had worked off in the garden.

Cam's Black Forest Gateau