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Lime green buttons

Its so good to get away for a mini break and then so nice to be home. I use this word naturally now and consider this means I am settling my roots in deeper and deeper. I seem to use garden analogies much more than I ever did, because it and the countryside has become my favourite place now. I grew up in the countryside, in rural Norfolk and I remember vividly the open spaces, the smells, the peace. Ok, we lived next to a pig farm, but they were nice pigs and I seem to have forgotten any odeurs de cochon…

I see the Uk is shivering still, but here, despite the odd chill, Spring is very much with us. Our garden is ablaze with colour

This bad boy is a Euphorbia. Close up, its like little martian lime green buttons. Very strange and exotic (and pretty nasty if you get the juice on you). I love this collection of flowers under our plum tree

Here, dandelion flowers are very useful for the bees as they are quite often the first flowers for them to get pollen from. We have enough blossom to fill a bridal magazine

This is our peach tree. Because the pool is coming along nicely, we are at the stage of needing the garden to be rotavated and grass seed going down.

If possible, I would like some herbs such as thyme to come up with the grass?

I’ve been creating my own splash of colour by painting furniture for the area by the pool

As a friend said recently, its all part of getting ready for the Summer! I’ve also been putting pièges (traps for wasps etc) in the fruit trees on the recommendation of our french teacher and made them out of old jam jars I’ve been saving

We had an apero with one of our local farmers, who told us that there used to be a vineyard right next to us twenty years ago, which perhaps finally explains the name of our house? So far nothing has been planted yet in the field next to us, but we believe it will be maize again. We are not in a hurry for it to grow, because each inch of plant is an inch less of our view. This was the view this morning:

Everything is ticking along nicely really. Hope all is well for you too 😆


Madame Becs


Brunch and mint tea

Fun though last week was, I can only see Bordeaux shining in front of me like a technicolour dream, so I shall simply go with it and let the words and images pour out. I shan’t even mind if I get the order wrong; this is a happy glimpse of a buzzy and beautiful place that we already know we want to visit many times.

I Airbnbed us a flat near the University in Chartres. Initially we thought we were too far from Old Town, but we quickly realised that we were incredibly close to the river, which turned out to be a brilliant place to be. Bordeaux is made up of many districts and the easiest way to get around is to catch a tram, very much like Tallin. You do feel quite close to the trams at times and it is strange seeing the sinuous tracks embedded in the cobbles. We were worried about getting lost driving to our flat, but it proved to be as easy as following the river till we got to Marche des Quai, then turn left. Coming this way also meant we got a fantastic, fanfare eyeful of the gorgeous buildings and all the street lights.

We intended to have a gentle stroll around Old Town, perhaps have a bite to eat and then be box fresh for the Saturday. We did quite well, only getting moderately squiffy and we fell hard for this brilliant city.

Time for some pics, I think.

Again like Tallin, Old Town has these wonderful towers and cobbles and creamy stone. We hit the jackpot with our first cool bar. A creaky sign said Bookshop and the door opened into a dim entrance hall lined with old leather tomes. The bouncer showed us into a playground that looked like a cross between a Fin de Siecle boudoir and an apothecary shop

This doesn’t do it justice, but think of copper, crystal, bowls of dry rosebuds and a hypnotic trance beat being played by dj’s and you are close.

After this, we went to find La Comtesse, a quirky bar recommended by good friends from Bath. Jackpot again!

It was heaving in there! We were squished right next to three lads chatting charmingly to each other and sharing a bottle of red. We tried to talk to each other but it was very noisy, so we just drank cocktails instead!

Every sip was like drinking the summer 😍

After that, we trotted down yet another interesting side street and found a Fish and Chip shop Bordeaux style that was quite happy serving us at silly o’clock.

See what I mean about Bordeaux style?

We walked home in the rain, stopping to admire the reflections of the lights on the wet cobbles

and the street art

We headed for the river the next morning, which seemed to be what everyone else was doing to. You have never seen so many joggers, walkers, roller bladers, cyclists, dogs! We simply sat in the sun, drank coffee and let it all sink in

Actually I don’t know how I managed to avoid getting a single person in that photo considering the constant stream moving past us.🤔

We always pop in to see churches, like a Pevsner pilgrimage perhaps? Notre Dame is gorgeous

Have you ever seen graffiti in a church before? Me neither, but perhaps if its pious, its ok?

This flower shop facade looked like part of a film set

and we found my namesake bar!

Bordeaux is not a city of straight lines; out of the corner of your eye you will see a twisty side road or an archway that looks interesting. Follow it and you find squares lined with pavement cafes and chic boutiques. We came across a pretty square with magnolia trees and tables underneath and sat down to have lunch. If you’ve read my blogs for a while you might have noticed I am generally a champagne glass half full kind of a writer. However, I was pretty unimpressed with the service in this place. We had accidentally picked quite a touristy outfit and it seemed that we had to ask for everything and wait for an exceptionally long time when people near to us seemed to be served in half the time. We could have got up and left, but I was quite hangry ( you know that word? Hungry/angry) and also thirsty and hot ( thot??) . However, a glass of rosè and some beautifully cooked salmon a while later hit the spot and we didn’t even mind when it started to plop down with big raindrops on our lunch. It didn’t last and hey, rain is quite good at cooling hot coffee down.

Rugby was the order of the day after lunch. We found Le Charles Dickens pub which had been recommended to us the night before by a friendly Bordelaise as being a good sports bar. You probably know that England lost to France. We kept a fairly low profile, surrounded as we were by very enthusiastic French rugby fans. My ears were ringing as if we were standing by huge speakers! Le volume! Le drama! The excitement was immense and genuinely exhilarating and I would do it again just for the craic.

How do you follow that? You go for a wine flight of course! We stumbled across

which was an inviting, light and airy bar with the ambiance of being in a wine shop after hours. We were welcomed by a lovely chap who talked us through our wines

I’m afraid I am no more of an expert than I was before, but I could detect vanilla and spice and indeed, all things nice! It was a top find; worth a visit!

We had pizza in a hip eaterie that was so booked up we could only get a late table. It was a good meal. Not a great one, but that was maybe more because we were too full of wine. With hindsight, perhaps the limoncello and grappa with coffee was a step too far? We got chatting to a very nice couple on the table right next to us; it was that sort of place where you felt very at home. Actually, lets extend that whole sentiment to include all of Bordeaux. What I mean is, we saw lots of people sitting outside restaurants eating and drinking, or sitting around chatting, clearly inebriated, but on the air, you couldn’t detect a single note of anger or discord. People all around us were just getting on down having a good time. We staggered out of the restaurant with half a bottle of wine all corked for us, which I then straight away gave to some smily lads who looked delighted. No more wine for us for at least a week!! We need to recover first 😜

The shortest way back to the flat was through the funfair and we stood underneath this machine of torture listening to voices shouting ‘aidez’ swinging to and fro, dizzyingly high above us

I am so pleased I never have to go on a fairground ride again in my whole life, bleugh.

Despite having nearly drunk Bordeaux dry, we woke up fresh as daisies and went to check out the sunday food market which was, as luck would have it, pretty much on our doorsteps. It is the custom to eat oysters, whelks etc and have a bracing glass of wine

Tempting though this looked, we kept exploring. Its a huge market and seems to stretch all along the river front. There was everything from fresh bread, regional cheeses, meats, fruit and veg

but no breakfast for us weekenders ( pssst, because we woke up too late. The french have breakfast quite early). We headed inland, planning to find the flea market at Sainte Michel and stop off for brunch on the way. We did have to walk a fair way, but we ran across this cafe

and had the best brunch platter I have ever had, bar none!

It was exquisite! I will dream of this for years to come!

And to finish our trip to Bordeaux, we turned another twisty corner and found the flea market and everyone sitting around drinking mint tea

We bought these beauties for our house:

This one is Maud and the matching one, in the garden, is Mabel.

We passed a huge Greenpeace ship moored up on the river front, with a huge queue of people signing Greenpeace petitions and waiting to go on board

It struck me that this was the epitome of Bordeaux; colourful and engaged.

Thank you for reading this rather long entry; I hope I have managed to convey a sense of this vibrant and vivid city!

The days drift by…reader, its two weeks since I made my last confession…but, here I am again, just when you’d given me up for lost!

I am sitting by the woodburner in the kitchen, gently rocking on my green rocking chair which is carefully angled so I can see when our Airbnb guests arrive. We are not currently making much money, I fear, because we are constantly adding little touches here and there, like welcoming pots of daffodils and colour changing solar lights. At the moment I am still charmed by the Wendy House aspect of having a gite; long may this feeling last!

I have spent most of the last two weeks watching the Winter Olympics. I have enjoyed every second, apart from the Curling and Ice Hockey and can’t wait for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. New to this Olympics was Snowboard Cross/Ski Cross where in addition to having to stay upright, you need to slide down rails, go backwards, grab your board, jump…heart stopping stuff. And Norway got another Gold medal, thanks to Mr Moustache. I will miss the daily excitement, I can tell you.

St Valentine’s was lovely. We had a snuggly night in and I made a rather magnificent cheesecake:

Our French teacher did us a lesson on the origins of St Valentine’s; he reputedly cured a beautiful girl of blindness, was possibly invented by Geoffrey Chaucer, was martyred, was a Roman saint, might be buried in Dublin. Fascinating stuff.

We had two days of glorious sunshine last week:

and the blossom is coming out on the plum trees

And did I show you the mimosa?

Gorgeous. The cranes are returning, which is the sign to all us country folk that Spring is springing.

Occasionally we leave our idyll and seek out shops and traffic and people. We went to Tarbes. In the right hands this is a great place to visit, but we were rather underwhelmed. Perhaps we needed a destination, a plan. We did, however, see a Domino’s pizza parlour and had a slice for old times sake:

We called in a supermarket and came face to face with this sad fella in a tank

And passed fields full of fat white geese.

Here, having lunch is more of a thing than dinner, it seems. I went out with my lovely ladies-who-I-lunch- with and had a proper Gascoyne lunch. I was gone four hours! Its normal to have four courses and wine and be offered a digestif. These are very meaty affairs but luckily I was offered an omlette. Rural France is a couple of decades away from offering exciting meatfree options; that will happen in 2038.

I saw The Pentagon Papers at our local cinema. Again, it was shining a light on a dodgy corner of history and Nixon was played like a nefarious Richard111, viperously hissing into the phone. Powerful stuff, but not gripping enough that my friend and I could avoid nodding off a couple of times! I blame the comfy seats and the delicious temperature 🤗

The institution of aperitif hour is a wonderful french custom that we are happily adopting. Its basically cocktail hour, with a french twist of tasty nibbles and a clearly defined arrival and departure time. It means you can socialise, mix and match different people and you still have time for a bit of an evening to yourselves. We went to our friends up the road last night for apero’s and met a fabulous new family. It is a constant pleasure to meet so many brilliant people. I’ve mentioned before that we all have something of the buccaneer about us, we all have been driven to shed our old skins and the result is conversations that dart and shimmer like quicksilver and eyes that sparkle (that might be the fizz, to be fair). Either way, its a great place to be!

As part of explaining their reasons for blockading during the recent dispute, local farmers served apertifs on the roundabout near Auch (I think) so they could talk to the public. I think this is such a good way of trying to resolve a dispute!

Cripes, no sign of our guests. We are due to head out for dinner in 20 minutes. I have horrible visions of them being terribly lost, but they do have our phone number. I am no longer sitting comfortably, I am now anxiously pacing and writing my blog and chomping cheesy biscuits…see, women are brilliant at multitasking.

Must go, I think I’ll wave a torch up and down the road…

Till we meet again, in thunder, lightening and in rain (Macbeth was clearly set in SW France)

Madame Becs 😍

Ps: I got the wrong day. Our guests arrive tomorrow. 🤔

Flying Trapeze

When we were packing to come here, I looked at my snazzy pile of jumpers and I distinctly remember thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t need them. Ha! How little I knew! Life living in a French farmhouse is many things, charming, beautiful and damn cold at times. We are getting into the rhythm of life here though: Get up, put jumpers on, light the fire, go out and chop wood, load up the trolley, bring in logs, repeat, till finally warm!

The advent of the Winter Olympics has meant a shift from the big wood burning stove in the dining room to the slightly smaller fire in the sitting room. We have been avoiding this room, just because without a fire, its like walking into a fridge. However, since Friday, we have essentially moved in here,

,kept the fire going all day and we finally feel cosy. When the commentator says ‘the blizzard is intensifying’ and the snow is coming down so heavily that the floodlights are struggling to illuminate the mogul slope, I just snuggle back deeper into our red velvet sofas and pop another chocolate into my mouth! 😆

I love being an armchair snowboarder and speed skater. I adore the luge, cross country skiing and bob sleighing. I even find myself following curling. I do draw the line at ice hockey though, and nip out to make a cup of tea, put a load of washing on when this is on. But my especial favourite is ski jumping. Did you see the Norwegian ski jumper with the amazing waxed moustache?

He flew through the air with the greatest of ease and his moustache barely wobbled. Marvelous stuff!

We even had snow here! I woke up to see a delicate layer all over the garden and it pretty much snowed all day!

Luna the cat wasn’t too impressed:

But we loved it!

Because its been a bit chilly, I’ve not been out gardening so much. However, we had to don wellies and layers and go and put collars on our Douglas Firs because the processionary caterpillars are on the move. Grim, I know. And much earlier than I thought. I’m very grateful to have been tipped off by a friend about the chenilles and we hopefully are better protected and informed than we were last summer.

I went on another fabric sculpting workshop with Chris Matthews. She very kindly indulged my love of lizards and Phil, Pip Tanya and I made these sinuous lovelies:

I am going to varnish mine (dark green, on the right) and hang him on the wall by the gîte, I think.

We had another airbnb couple stay in the gîte for three nights. Its always interesting to speculate why someone fancies staying in the countryside in the middle of a soggy winter. Our French teacher thought that it could simply be that some people crave peace and quiet and we have that in spades here. We peeped out onto the terrace a couple of times and saw plumes of woodsmoke, which meant they managed to master Smokey, the irrascible wood burner and we could smell cooking; I guess its a big thumbs up judging by the big smiles when they left?

Talking of cooking smells, its Pancake Day on Tuesday. I was puzzled by seeing Mardi Gras on the calendar, which conjured up images of fiesta and carnival in New Orleans. Then a quick google revealed that Mardi Gras translates as Fat Tuesday and is indeed the same as Pancake Day in the UK. I am not sure if I will give anything up for Lent, seeing as booze and chocolate are a staple part of my new life in France! Speaking of which, I made gin and tonic jellies and was v impressed with how they turned out, though I say it myself. I thought you might like the recipe?

We really enjoyed going to see Blade Runner 2 this week. French cinema is great. This time we went to a cinema just outside Trie Sur Baise and it seemed like we were driving deeper and deeper into the countryside and I kept checking on google maps that she was taking us to a cinema, not an abandoned cow shed, when eh voila, the cinema appeared. Comfy seats are the norm and we had an added treat of cheesy ads for bathrooms, kitchens and cars, complete with organ music. I sound like I’m being a bit snippy here, but I genuinely love the sense that in some ways rural France is in a bit of a time warp. There are so many ways that the UK is over processed and its charming to be part of a slower pace of life. Btw, we are now watching televised boules, complete with ooh la la’s as ball crackers fly through the air. We plan to build a boules pitch; but first, it needs to stop raining!! Even the blue tits look a bit fed up as they perch on the dripping fat balls

Time to rustle up some homemade pizza to munch while the rugby is on.

Hope all is well with you and yours,

À bîentot,

Madame Rèbecca 😆

Steampunk Chic!

The French are known for many things, such as gastronomy, haute couture and bureaucracy…and blockades!

My friend took this photo of revolting farmers, who brought Auch to a standstill earlier today. The issue is loosely to do with subsidies and has clearly stirred up great passion and the need to burn tractor tires. Ignorant of this issue, I headed off myself to Auch this morning only managing to get to the outskirts before realising something was up and returning home. What tumultuous times we live in!

It wasn’t only tractor drivers that felt compelled to take to the streets. Whilst in Toulouse this weekend, we heard a tremendous cacophony of motor bikes crossing over a bridge on the river, sounding just like a scene from Mad Max and realised we were watching a protest against the speed limit being reduced to 80kms from 90kms. Feeling a bit like we were in Revolutionary Paris merely added an extra frisson to our Toulouse adventure!

Living where we do, right in the Boonies, there is a danger of seeing Toulouse merely as the gateway to Blagnac Airport, the place where we collect and drop off loved ones. Having ventured into the Rose City, we have discovered a place that beckons and charms, where the past nestles happily into the present. What do I mean? Look at this photo:

An incredible ancient doorway, juxtaposed with a modern car, or this one:

A stylish entrance to some flats, just tucked down a tiny sidestreet. I felt completely enamored, just like the feeling I had on my recent visit to Tallin, or Venice. You can lose yourself exploring and every road you turn down reveals a curiosity, such as a glorious church, or mural, graffiti or a view over the river:

And where we were staying was incredibly stylish too, in the chi chi Hotel des Beaux Arts, right next to the Pont Neuf. Each room was painted by a different artist. Here’s ours, clearly inspired by D’Stael:

I loved the foyer

We popped over to Les Abbatoirs, the city’s former slaughter house, which has become a huge sprawling gallery of eclectic art. Aware that what I was looking at looked subversive and groundbreaking, I tried really hard to reason it out, but in the end it was enough to absorb it without understanding it very much. Looking at art is thirsty work, so we headed back into Old Town for an Aperol spritz

in a really edgy, grungy bar we passed, where the staff looked like extras from the latest Mad Max film, then moved on towards a bar recommended by our french teacher, via another bar, where we spotted France v Ireland beating seven bells out of each other in the Six Nations. We perched on bar stools, drank pastis and glorious red wine and ate stinky cheese…staggered out of there towards the bar- recommended- by- our- french- teacher, hic, got lost, but nevermind, look at this night-time snap

and finally found the bar-recommended-by- our-french-teacher, called Au Père Louis. It dates back to pre the French Revolution and indeed transported us to another era (or was that the effect of our umpteenth glass of red??)

What a place! Steampunk chic! Service was fittingly odd. A bow backed waiter in a long sleeved stripy T shirt was talking animatedly to a beautiful lady at the bar, pouring her ice cold champagne in a steady stream, totally ignoring us and another touristy couple. But, when you are in a fabulous bar, what does it matter? Eventually wine arrived, was dispatched, dogs came in with their owners (I think) and then off we wandered again.

Our wine goggles slightly skew whiff by now, we nevertheless managed to find our way back to an Indian restaurant to have a curry, that totally resembled ones we have eaten and loved in the UK, but minus the poppadums

Yum! We drunkenly came up with an elaborate plan to hire a coach, come to Toulouse for a bit of culture and shopping with all our new friends, have a curry, then go home…then there was a power cut…all in all, a fabulous visit to a place that we both felt filled the Bristol shaped gap in our lives. Thank you Toulouse!! We’ll be back 😆😎


Madame Becs

Earlier today I looked like Jacob Marley:

I went to get my crown permanently fitted on my tooth and all went well but I was in pretty excruciating pain afterwards.I ended up cradling a hot water bottle next to my sore jaw, moaning occasionally. A stoic I am not! However, a few hours later, I feel much better and am wondering how big a gobstopper I can fit in my mouth…

Like the shiny new crown installed in my mouth, I am happily embedded back into my new life, here in France. The morning I was flying back, I woke with a great sense of well being, even though it was four am! I instantly settled back in and this was what I had wondered about. Having tasted urban life again, would I be content to live back in my field? Well, yes but with the added insight that its very important to escape occasionally. I feel recalibrated, energised and fully positive again after my brilliant trip. And we are nipping off to Toulouse on Saturday for a night out on the tiles, so I am feeling pretty tip top right now.

I used some of my new found energy and tackled the brambles in the garden. I’ve got Liam to pose next to one of the worst offenders, to give you an idea of the scale of the problem:

I reckon the brambles are 5 metres thick in places. Yes, its a mammoth task, but soooo satisfying when you pull a bramble up by the root system. I imagine they scream, like mandrake roots in Harry Potter

I’m back doing all my activities. Book group is going great guns; we now number 10 people, which is the optimum number. Choir has restarted, with lots of my favourite people taking part. Liam and I tried out the local salsa class. For a change, we were the only Anglais, but I’m not sure a bright red, puffing lady with two left feet is the best way to perceive a Brit at close quarters? Hmmm.

Out of the blue we got an airbnb booking! Frantic scrubbing, cleaning and tidying ensued and the Gite looks really nice now. We’ve just been out in the freezing night to put out lanterns to brighten the gloom and as I opened the door to the workshop, the owl clattered off. The couple staying seem really pleased with their quarters and they stayed jolly even when they came to say the bathroom tap was leaking all over the floor. Sigh. We can now add being plumbers to our ever expanding skill set. Crisis averted, but its a good lesson in thinking you have everything covered and then something blind sides you.

The swimming pool is coming along nicely. This photo, which looks a bit like a Louise Bourgeois installation, shows the concrete being poured into the walls:

I have to say that right now it feels unlikely that summer will ever come because its so dang cold and foggy, but sure as Easter eggs is Easter eggs, we’ll be in that pool, in the baking heat very soon.

Later than everyone I am watching Poldark. What a marvel, what a treat! And, drum roll please, the Winter Olympics are starting imminently. I’m the least sporty person I know, but I love watching all the crazy stuff like the skiing, shooting combo, double bob sleighing and the bulgy cross country skiers, not forgetting ski jumping! Wheeeeee!!

My tooth is aching a bit. I think a hot chocolate with a shot of brandy is required 🤗

Bon Nuit,

Bisous et câlins,

Madame Becs

Miss Becca’s Feeling For Snow

I’m still in transit and am currently residing in a Travel Lodge just outside Bishop’s Stortford. I fly back to France at 7.10 am, which translates to me needing to be at the airport for five in the morning! Not looking forwards to that, to be sure, but its a tiny price to pay for the wonderful visit I have just had to see Finn and Janne in Tallinn.

Finn had an orchestral piece that he has written played here, btw #proudmother

Both Eden and Liam have also visited, and loved their visits, but I am harder to please, being considerably high maintenance! Before I write my blogs, I tend to do a list, so I don’t forget anything. Just to warn you, this time, I have quite a long list, so make a cup of tea, get comfortable! Right, here goes.. 

I LOVED it!!! What an amazing, vibrant, cultured, beautiful city! Lets start with the glamour of it all. Because its so cold, (-7 c in the day), everyone is wearing fur and look so dressed up. Every face is hidden under furry hoods, buried under fur hats and totally rock the Dr Zhivago vibe. Everyone looked smiley and cool and young and buzzy, even the old lady baboushkas. Here is my version of this look

Finn and Janne took me on a wonderful 2 day tour of this dynamic city. We first headed to Old Town, with its snow covered cobbled streets and turrets and pretty wooden houses:

The dove road blocks are everywhere, in different poses and the boys told me that Helsinki has the same idea, but turtles.

We walked up the ramparts and looked down over the city, towards the sea, which you can just spot, on the horizon. 

Like France, Christmas hasn’t yet departed and the grey moroseness of the sky is cheered up by twinkly lights. You need this contrast to the gloom to lift your spirits. 

We got around everywhere by trams, which run continuously, frequently and cheaply. A three day travel card costs €5 and you can go for miles and miles. We did a fair bit of walking too and down by the abandoned Soviet prison was stunning. Right next to it was a maritime museum:

You can walk on one of the boats and feel like a salty sea dog! The prison is a prime piece of real estate, but is currently boarded up and is covered in seditious graffiti

I got to see the frozen Baltic sea, which is a sight to behold

We stopped for a bit to watch the ducks sliding around:

If you are not a duck, its vital that you have regular cafe/restaurant/bar stops, just to keep warm. I didn’t realise how much of a foodie paradise Tallinn is! I was so excited by the imaginativeness of the places we ate in and freshness and healthiness of the food. If you were imagining beetroots, herrings and pickles, you are kind of right, but its lightly done, beautifully presented. Veganism is mainstream here too and we ate out at V, in a gnarly, wooden beam chocolate box of a restaurant. As an example, here is my starter, of mushroom, bean and parsnip dips:

All the flavours were bold and punchy and made me realise that France isn’t yet delivering for me on the gastro front. When you close your eyes in a quiet food ectasy, then you know you are encountering something special. A trip to the local pancake house was also delicious; poached salmon and cheese sauce is a fantastic hangover cure! 

The bars are superb. Out of the corner of your eye you spot enticing, twinkly doorways leading to candle lit bars. Franks was a treat and had a gentle 50’s vibe, with cocktails to match, not a plastic giraffe to be seen anywhere:

We played cards in a club where you could only get in if you knew the code, hung out smolderingly in the Depeche Mode tribute bar and drank ice cold honey beer in a bar called Hell! 

Tallinn has many faces. Its quite common to have a fantastic interior to a club or flat, but the outside looks nearly derelict and grim. But this dichotomy works and whole districts are regenerating in parts of the city that could have entopied beyond recovery, giving it an edgy feel. Here’s some magnificent wall art in an area of railway carriages and shipping containers that house art galleries and eateries and shops:

And then, as a complete contrast, here is a Romanov Palace, just down the road!

Inside, there’s an exhibition of Dutch art, including paintings by 17th century female artists, Katharina Treu and Angelika Kauffman. I only mention this because its much more commonplace to see male artists in history. By funny coincidence, I have just started reading The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt and she was talking about how the Dutch invented telescopes and its very common to see beautifully observed insects in Dutch paintings of this period, partly as a momento mori, but also because they could see them really close up and were fascinated. I particularly loved this glorious still life, where even the lemons look gilded with silver:

Catherine the Great looked rather spiffing in this portrait, I thought

and these two buccolic, lugubrious rascals caught my eye, too:

The palace is gorgeous, as you would expect, with these stunning stoves in each room

and please admire this incredibly ornate ceiling:

I kept peeping outside to check the snow was still there:

It was. And it was still there when we crisply walked down to the sea again, right up to the water’s edge:

Yep, it makes you shiver, just looking at this photo ,😱 

I’ll end this special travel edition of my blog with a snow angel! Beer might have been involved.

Happily warming up in the TravelLodge,

Madame Becs 🤗

Excited Unicorns

Norfolk, which is where I am at the moment, has been otterly brilliant so far (I’ll explain that in a second).I’m here for another day and a half, then I carry on to Tallinn. 

I did wonder what my first visit back home would be like; would I be completely overwhelmed by all the swirling mass of people, deeply regretful about having left it all behind, or what? The answer is that I feel richer for having moved and am able to really enjoy being here and am happy to go home too; I now feel equal and happy in both places. I am so rich in friends and family; I am a fully evolved human being! Moving has made everything shift into focus and my friends and family, wherever they are, are incredibly important to me. 

Norfolk is a very special place. I went to the pub tonight with my mum to drink wine and play chess. On the way back, the sea was leaping over the wall like excited unicorns. I always try to visit the sea when I come back to Norfolk; I’m not all about the shopping you know! I went to Cromer, which is one of my favourite places in the world and had chips

We got loads of attention from the seagulls:

I’m trying to keep warm by huddling with my gorgeous nephews in this photo. Let me just show you some more Cromer:

No trip to the seaside is complete without a quick visit to the 2p machine in the arcades. Even my mum gets stuck in. We have very strict rules, along the lines of you can only spend £1 and you have to just walk away when you’ve spent all your money. My teeny nephew was so close to winning a giant jewel that I’m afraid we dug deep and spent more than our budget; we didn’t want to upset the little fella, after all. Here he is, a second after triumphantly scooping his prize. Perhaps spending £89 over budget was slightly over the top, but just look at his little face!

I wonder if there is an age limit for joining Gambling Anonymous??

North Norfolk is a right melting pot of salt of the earth types and those who have personalised number plates and families whose children have names like Otter and eat roadkill. I always feel properly refreshed after visiting here and getting in touch with my roots. It was a proper treat to pop into Waitrose and sniff the rarified air:

Even though I didn’t buy anything, I just felt I was touching base. The whole experience of being able to walk in and out of shops was almost sensory overload to my new Country Bumpkin persona, but I persevered. I am a fully fledged Retail Addict, after all! I am already wondering how many layers of clothing I need to wear on my flight to Tallin; my suitcase is positively rotund now and I don’t think I can squeeze anything else in it.  I love my birthday card from Mr Shields:

I did enjoy celebrating my birthday in two countries this year. I was taken out for a lucious meal back home ( Le Tiramisu, Lannemezan, v tasty)

then a fancy lunch at The Iron House, followed by waffles at The Waffle House in Norwich, complete with candles in my chocolate mousse

News from back in La Belle France. Liam and I were formally welcomed to Panassac by the Mayor, along with our friends Ian and Frances. They were toasted with pastis; I’m properly gutted I missed this event as Liam said everyone was really friendly and smiley! He met neighbours from down the road, the house with the buzz cut no 1 hedges. We had wondered if a retired mafia boss lived there…

I’ve had such a great visit. My neices have introduced me to ‘Say Yes To The Dress’, which is the best trash telly ever. I went girly shopping with my mum, drew on pebbles on the beach with my youngest nephew, cuddled Izzy the dog and right now I’m watching Norwich City v. Chelsea on telly. Being a champagne glass half full kind of a person, I think the half time score is pretty impressive…

À bientot,

Madame Becs 😍

What would a ferret do?

I had an Epiphany today….not really, but Liam’s work was celebrating Epiphany today by eating a special cake, that contains a paper crown. I bought one ages ago, not really getting the significance of what its for.

The story is that whoever finds the crown in their pie is King!

A quick Google reveals that this feast day is also called Three Kings Day or, in Ireland, its known as Little Christmas. This name is my favourite, I think, because women have the day off, are given gifts and thanked for all their hard work throughout the year. I like the thought that throughout Cork and Kerry, which is where Little Christmas is still strongly celebrated, sedate mothers and wives are having happy lunches with their friends; similar to what I did today with my new friends here. I did not know that a crown was in my immediate future though. A quick trip to the dentist has confirmed that my recent filling has made a run for it and I need a crown😓.

I was reading earlier about the ski resort of Zurmatt, in Switzerland, where 13,000 holiday makers are stranded. There is the most snow in 30 years and most pistes are shut, with the risk of avalanches being very high. Cripes! We went to La Mongie this weekend for some more Winter fun. Again, I was gobmacked by the amount of snow just up the road:

I had another lesson and have progressed a little bit, but am still pretty tense about the whole business. Eden and Liam really had fun though:

What cool dudes! Liam disappeared off with his snow board and ended up on slopes where the snow was so thick, he simply sank into it, like a submarine!

Its always funny to drive back to Cold Comfort Farm (we are extremely short on logs) and wave goodbye to the snow and instead, enjoy the flashes of colour provided by the blue tits and marigolds under the trees. Our life is pretty colourful too. The other day, a friendly French lady pulled up in her car and announced that she had a set of shelves that she was going to take to the dump, but she rather thought we might like them, for, €30 or €40,? We did go up to check the shelves out; seeing as she only lives up the road, it seemed politic. And, what a laugh! We said no to the shelves, yes to a sweet bedside table and yes to homemade aperitif and salted homegrown walnuts. We met her sons and partner too and chatted, in passable Franglais.

The Mayor of Panassac came by to say hello and to invite us to a Soirée at our salle de fête, down the road. Again, we managed a basic chat and it was a nice feeling to be asked to be part of the local community. Word is obviously spreading that we have arrived; two lovely chaps from the local football team dropped by, sold us a calendar and gave us a fixture list. Coming from Bath, we’ve been thinking that our village is a tiny dot in rural France, but it turns out that its considered quite a big little dot. For the record, we have 307 inhabitants, so we are no’s 308 and 309.

With the weather a bit hit and miss I’ve had loads of time to read.

I loved this book. Any novel that asks the question ‘what would a ferret do? How would a salamander behave?’ is a winner. I wholeheartedly recommend it to you! 

And, I’ve been given a brilliant birthday gift by my fabulous brother in New Jersey. Its a Google Home, which is like the Amazon Alexa. It, sorry, she, lives in the kitchen and chirrups from the mantlepiece. You can ask her anything and last night she was telling us jokes ( ‘what happened when James Blunt fell into a pencil sharpener? He became James Sharp) and making animal and bird noises. Her barn owl was particularly impressive. I asked her if she loved me today and she said I was the Bee’s Knee’s. The music playlists and recipes are good too and of course, she translates at the drop of a beret. Of course, the downside is that we have invited Big Sister into our house and we are no longer free to discuss scurrilous things –  the very walls now have ears. But…used wisely, she’ll be very useful. Thank you, dear Big Brother xxxx

I’ll be flying back to the Uk at the weekend. Norwich, brace yourself! I haven’t been near shops for six months! I am salivating at the thought of WHSmiths, Boots, M&S, Waitrose!!! I am going to surround myself with noise and chaos and traffic and people…I am also flying on to visit my eldest son in Tallinn 😆 Expect a bumper blog!

Au Reservoir,

Madame Becs 😍

Wearing socks to bed

You know the rushing, stomach churning whoosh of aeroplanes as they shoot overhead, or the approaching horizon of rumbles of thunder? That’s what its like here at the moment. We are as far as its possible to be from our vision of what it would be like to live in the South of France! For a moment, before we moved, I imagined sitting outside on our terrace in the mild winter, reaching idly for an olive, apero in hand as I pulled a light cardigan over my shoulders…when in actuality, its blooming freezing and blowing a gale!!!But out of the two of us, I mind the least. I’ve always liked the rugged jumper look and I still haven’t had to wear socks to bed. Adjustments continually are being made; we now live in a big, draughty space rather than a small one. Everything is bigger here, like storms, gusts of wind, life!! Its very exciting, once you get over the primal terror the noise of the wind induces. 

We thought we were simply slipping over the border to show Eden how close we are to Spain last week. I jokingly said we might see some snow and Liam and I chucked scarves in the car after our coats as an afterthought..we are such idiots. We got as far as the outskirts of St Lary’s and started to see cars laden down with snow. Eden’s eyes were out on stalks! The roads got more and more precarious and the penny dropped. The Bielsa tunnel is high in the mountains! Of course there would be snow!

This next pic is taken just before we went through the 3km long tunnel:

Yep,it was cold! I love this picture of the tunnel the other end. It makes me think of spies and intrigue!

It was hilarious how badly prepared we were for our day out. Thankfully our footwear was sturdy. We gingerly trotted around Bielsa, crunching on impacted snow and ice, shivering in our townie get ups and I narrowly escaped a huge clod of snow sliding down off a pointy roof, aiming straight for my head! It whooomphed down behind me on the ground, the size of a white whale!!

We saw people clomping around with walking gear on, snow shoes attached to their backpacks. The information boards pinpointed places of interest, our location and local wildlife and birdage. And joy of joys, some very serious person had taken the trouble to correct some bird info that was so wrong, they just had to take out their trusty biro:

I wondered if it was the Spanish cousin of that guy that went around sticking missing apostrophes on shop signs? 🤗 Now our youngest is a fully fledged birder, any car journey is punctuated by ‘quick look, its a falcon/red kite/hawk’. Ironically, on our way back from dropping him at the airport, we saw two spectacular owls, which swooped low in front of the car. You have to always be aware that creatures of the night can appear out of nowhere (and I don’t mean Michael Howard!!) when you are driving. We watched a whole family of sanglier trot accross the road the other night, their hairy backs reflecting in the moonlight. Even aunts and uncles were there. Amazing 😆 

We saw in the New Year at a fabulous party just up the road. Really interesting people, a huge pile of food, a magic, self filling glass of red, a quiz and dancing!!! Yes, it was brilliant. Since we’ve moved I’ve been forming a theory that everyone who has uprooted themselves to start a new life here has to have something slightly different about them, an element of being a risk taker, a pioneer perhaps. Consequently, every conversation is that bit more interesting than ‘Ah, er, and what do you do for a living…and have you had to travel far tonight?’. Everyone seems quite wide-awake and fully engaged with life. So, consequently, conversations are always animated and the stories are always interesting…makes for good parties.

But, oh, the hangover the next day. Not good. We did catch up with some good telly though. There’s a series on Netflix called Glacè in French, or The Frozen Dead and its very good. Based on a series by Bernard Minier, the grumpy yet vulnerable detective bares more than a passing resemblance to Wallander. Its set in the French Pyrenees, in the winter, so is perfect for our long, dark evenings.

We kept this snowy theme going with a trip to our local cinema last night to see Kenneth Branagh as Poirrot, in Murder on the Orient Express. It was a delight and was as packed with stars as the frozen night sky.. Dame Judy, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley…Michelle Pfeiffer!! It was a curious adaptation and I suspect it didn’t shie away from the original text and context of when it was written (1934), however uncomfortable that makes a modern audience. But whatever the film, its so great, going to the flicks here. It took five mins to drive down, we parked right outside and there were no ads. You could even hear some cats having a square off outside and a truck rumbling past. And when you step out, its a dark, rainy night in France!

Highlights of this week are that Eden is coming back for the rest of his holidays and we have another skiing lesson booked…yikes! In La Mongie this time, where there has been epic snow. And Finn has had a great time in the very snowy North. Here is a taster of his trip above the Arctic Circle:

I love this photo. It looks so still and unequivocal.

Unlike here, where its still blowing a gale. But, spookily, its turned warm and sunny. I think I might take a spin around the garden, uproot a bramble or two.. The cat is too busy nesting like a robin in the bread basket to step outside today

Ciao for now,

Madame Becs😆