Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Look Out for Swallowtail Caterpillars

On Wild Carrot Daucus carotta in our vegetable garden October 2016.

On the roadside above the Claise near Chaumussay, on Wild Parsnip Pastinaca sativa, September 2013.

In our garden on Wild Carrot, September 2014.

On French Hog's-fennel Peucedanum gallica, on a forest ride near Luzé, September 2012.

On Wild Carrot in our orchard, September 2015.

Caterpillars of the Eurasian Swallowtail Papilio machaon (Fr. Machaon) can be observed on their food plants in September. They are busy fattening themselves up before winter, which they will spend as chrysalises, having wrapped themselves up before the cold weather hits.

They will leave their food plant and move to a sturdy upright stem where they will attach themselves and make a chrysalis. Depending on the surrounding vegetation the chrysalis could be green or brown, to blend in.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fun with Célestine

On Thursday Susan and I had dinner in Amboise, and then I drove Célestine home. It's the first time in almost two years I have driven Celestine in the dark, and boy, did she let me know who was boss....

The problem was electricity - with the headlights on she was drinking it like it was going out of style, and she wasn't recharging the battery. This means that by the time I got home 75 minutes later the headlights were little more than glow worms in a tin, and once the motor was off that was it - she wasn't going anywhere. Which was peeving, because I had plans.

Anyway - a day on the charger later (yesterday), Tim and Gaynor arrived to go to the Bouchonne de Ste Maure with us, and this time Celestine behaved impeccably. Yes, it rained, yes there were probably less cars than there could have been, and yes, many people didn't stay to picnic on the road (we did).

And yes, we had a great day. Here are some pics:

So now I have to sort out Célestine's electrics. I have a suspicion the battery isnt good.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

See Yesterday's Post

I know we have posted this photo before, but it still makes me laugh. It is also appropriate given that today I am taking part in a deliberate traffic jam.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Traffic Alert for Tomorrow

Tomorrow Célestine and I will be at Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine for the biennial bouchonne on the N10 for cars built before 1977. We went two years ago and had a great time. This year, Susan is working, so I will be going with TimB and Gaynor.

This year, once the traffic jam on the main road (10.30 - 12.30) is finished we will be parking wherever we find ourselves stopped, for a picnic on the old Route Nationale N10. It's on occasions like this I wish we had a roof rack and vintage deck chairs.

What to expect...

This means that if you're planning on travelling through Ste Maure you will be diverted all day until about 17.00. But that's just your bad luck - we like heritage traffic jams and this one is part of the European Patrimoine weekend, because automotive history is important here.

Friday, 15 September 2017

More Breezy Times

Last time it was breezy, (March) the front wall of the garage attached to ours was blown in.

Wednesday was a very breezy day too - with winds of about 80kmh (50mph). This time the damaged neighbour's garage wall was blown out - once again the Ford survived because it was parked elsewhere.

I will have to speak to the council, and find out the next step - no-one has heard from the owner since we contacted him about  the Damage in March.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Hotel Solar

When we were in Paris last weekend we stayed at the Solar Hotel, a very green establishment in the 14th. Everything is green and bio (organic) and ethical, and it is the headquarters of Sea Shepherd in Paris.

Although it is more expensive than the hotels we normally stay in outside Paris, the prices are very reasonable by Paris standards. It's also in a great part of town, in the 14th near the Catacombs. Not that it's the catacombs that make it a great area: rue Daguerre is just around the corner, an excellently typical pedestrianised Parisian shopping street with plenty of specialist food shops and restaurants of all ethnicity.

It is also very close to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro and RER station, which means direct RERB to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and direct Metro 6 to Montparnasse Station (from where the TGV departs to our neck of the woods). Very convenient.

I am sure Susan will have more to say about the hotel when she has a chance, and we will certainly be posting more about the area. Once again, we have a new favorite area of Paris

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Take the Slow Train

Susan and I spent the past couple of days in Paris. We went up by the "slow" train from Amboise - the ordinary Inter-City Express - rather than the TGV from Saint Pierre des Corps. The trip takes about 40 minutes longer, but is more scenic.

 The InterCity train pulls into Amboise station.

When we found our reserved seats we had a surprise - I had booked tickets in first class rather than cattle class and promptly forgot about it. I am not normally that extravagant, but the first class tickets were 20€ each, only 3€ each more than second. So why not. I know you don't get there any faster, but a little treat is a treat nonetheless.

First class seating - wider, plush seats, more legroom and 2 arm rests each

On the way back I thought I would confirm what we have suspected all along - we should be calling it "the slower train" rather that "the slow train".

200kmh aboard the slow train. The concrete structure you
can see out of the window is the Aérotrain track

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


You learn stuff, and after you learn it sometimes you want to do it too...

I was in the new and impressive car park at Villandry on Wednesday, and parked across from me were a pair of decidedly ropey 1970s looking cars, apparently out on a rally (or raid). The crews arrived just as I was leaving, so I gave them a friendly toot and wave and went on my way.

Złombol is a fundraising event for an orphanage in Poland, open to cars built behind the iron curtain before 1989 and bought for less than 1000zloty. That's about 230euros. The rally always starts in Katowice (Poland) and this year was heading to Noja, in the Basque region of Spain. This year there were 530 teams "competing" in what is now reputed to be the biggest event of its kind in the world. The official website is here (in Polish)

The news from Poland (in Polish)

Needless to say, now I know what it is about I am interested...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Shopping at Savebag

For years we have been driving in to Loches via Perrusson and so for years we have been driving past the Savebag factory. We didn't think much about the place. It's a not very prepossessing white building. We assumed they made plastic bags.

It turns out they make luggage! I discovered this when a Facebook friend made a comment about their biennial sale. The company was created in 1963 and is still family owned. They make leather goods, luggage, sports bags, satchels, school and laptop bags. There are 200 employees working at the factory.

In 2014 they were accredited as an entreprise du patrimoine vivant ('a living heritage business'), a label which recognises their knowledge and the excellence of their product. Due to their commitment to passing on the skills and to constant innovation, they are seen as a business that is continuing the tradition of French luxury goods. The products are all designed on the Perrusson premises, but not all manufactured there. The factory workshops tend to focus on the higher end goods. They manufacture bags under their own brand, and for big names like Louis Vuitton.

As well as the big sale the factory has a shop which is open Monday to Friday. Prices are 20 - 50% lower than retail. The staff are very happy to provide advice and after sales service.

We needed a new suitcase and after some research on the internet Simon decided that visiting the shop at Savebag would be worthwhile. I had to go to Loches for a mammogramme on Thursday. My appointment was at 9am and by 9.30am I was out again, with a clean bill of breast health. I went to Intersport to look at sports shoes on special. I didn't like any of them, so didn't purchase. So I had time to pop in to Savebag on the way home.

I parked in the visitor carpark and as requested on the sign on the door, buzzed and entered. I greeted the receptionist and asked about the factory shop. She rang someone called Sylvie upstairs, telling her 'there's someone for the shop'. I was told to go upstairs and wait at the top for Sylvie, who would take me to the shop.

Sylvie turned out to be a lovely and friendly blond woman who was happy to leave me to look around in the shop. I checked out all the suitcases in the size we wanted and chose a yellow rigid case. The price, for a 75 litre capacity, was €31 (retail price €48). When I'd chosen my suitcase Sylvie was nowhere to be seen so I ventured out into the corridor. I encountered a tall, dark and handsome youngish man heading for his office, but entirely prepared to be sidetracked and sell me a suitcase. At that moment Sylvie emerged from the big room at the other end of the corridor so he was saved the trouble, but my impression is that it is an extremely pleasant and friendly place where they care about their customers.

In 1951 Marcel Vignaud was a leatherworker in Tours, designing, making and selling leather goods and luggage. His success was such that he built a factory and registered the business name Savebag in 1962. In 1976 all his hard work really paid off, with a contract to work with the prestigious fashion house YSL. Once the east Asian factories began undercutting his business, Savebag had to regroup and reorganise. They concentrated their production at Perrusson and worked on gaining new markets. Nowadays they export and communicate directly with the public to better position themselves in the domestic market. They now have multiple sites and a total of 485 employees. The management concentrates on maintaining the quality of their manufacture, diversifying their market and ensuring the technical expertise of their staff. They've developed their own brand, built up their proportion of manufacture and distribution under licence and increased their role as sub-contractors.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Fungi in the Rainforest

Here is a selection of fungi that I photographed in Ravensbourne National Park, south-east Queensland.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

August Aperos

Left to right: Bertrand, Gaynor, Sweetpea, Dauphine, Adrian, Zita (with Brandy the dog), Alice, Géraldine, Tim and Dorothée.

Our monthly apéro party was very kindly hosted by Lisa in Boussay. About 25 people came, and the venue was just about perfect for the event. A big thank you to Lisa (and she will get to host again!)

Sandra playing the harp and singing a medieval song for everyone -- a surprise bonus.

Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, the September gathering has been cancelled. But you can all look forward to the October event which will be at Chris's place near Martizay.

Balthazar and Sixtine keeping themselves entertained by playing a board game.

 Clarisse and Zita dancing to Sandra's harp music.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Coconut Ice Time

It's that time of year where the grounds of the hotel "la Tortiniere" are full of cyclamen.

If you don't understand the title of this post, this may help.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Families of Anzeling

One day in May our walking club began their walk in Buxeuil and parked at the bakery there. On the wall of the building next to the bakery is a plaque which says 'The families from Anzeling were welcomed here on 7 September 1939'.

Anzeling is a town in Moselle and was right on the Maginot Line at the beginning of the Second World War. At the outbreak of war the inhabitants, fewer than 400 people, were evactuated to Buxeuil. One of the families seems to have been housed in one of the outbuildings of the Chateau de la Roche Amenon, 8km west of Buxeuil on the Creuse River. It is not clear if some of them stayed in the building in Buxeuil with the plaque, or whether they were simply welcomed to town here in the square.

Apart from that, there does not appear to be any further information online about what happened to these families. No doubt if I knew the right local person to ask the story is still known by a few, but with our existing resources we failed to discover whether these people ever went back to Anzeling after the war, what they did while they were in Buxeuil and where else besides the chateau they might have been housed. (Update: I asked the baker next door to the plaque and he says the families all went back to Anzeling after the war, but he doesn't know where exactly they were housed when they came to Buxeuil.)

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A Thing We Didn't Say

Last month the Comice was in Preuilly, and the town was decorated for all the visitors, and especially for the Grand Parade.

One thing we neglected to mention was the thousands of flowers, hand made by members of the Comite des Fetes, dozens of volunteers and I believe a smattering of retirement home residents and some students from the college. Here are some of them, adorning the hedge near the arboretum. The rest were woven into fences, bushed and lamposts all around town.

Congratulations to all involved - it looked like a massive undertaking. and really brightened the place up.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Another Sign Summer is Ending

Young House Martins Delichon urbica (Fr. Hirondelle de fenêtre) begin to gather into flocks after they have fledged. They are bonding in preparation for flying off to Africa for the winter. Dozens of them will perch on the electricity wires in our street at this time of year, and for a few days they took to perching on the string course just under the eaves of the house across the road. I wonder how many of them will make it back in the spring?

Monday, 4 September 2017


Looking for stuff on the internet over the years I had seen the 19th century photos showing a magnificent gatehouse for the Abby of Villeloin-Coulangé, but although we have driven through the village a number of times I had never actually seen the gatehouse. I just assumed it had fallen down in the meantime. Which was a pity.

But no - it still exists, and on Saturday we took clients to see it. We have decided that it's a perfect photo opportunity, because even if you park in the middle of the road for 15 minutes no-one much will be inconvenienced.

So now when we travel from Loches to Montresor we have another little surprise. Or maybe not so little!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sydney Silhouettes

This is the view you get from the Manly Ferry when you're heading back from the beach on a summer's evening. These days the ferry has free wifi, so I wonder how many people notice.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Scaffolding Goes Up

I ran into my friend Christine at the market on morning Thursday and she alerted me to the fact that Bernard was down at the chapel supervising the erection of the scaffolding. Yes, restoration work on the Chapelle de Tous les Saints has started! We've raised the money! 

When I got down there in the afternoon the masons were just packing up for the day, one level of scaffolding was up, the site taped off and the side road blocked. The masons, Jaillais, are a firm from Chinon. The young man I spoke to said he was a tailleur de pierre (stone cutter). I'm not quite sure what the difference between a maçon and a tailleur de pierre is, but I assume it's experience or qualifications.

For the back story to this restoration see our previous blog posts about the chapel.

Friday, 1 September 2017

At the Employment Office

On Tuesday I spent the afternoon at a session for people who are job seeking. The Maison d'Emploi in Beaulieu lès Loches where the workshop was held was still showing the scars of a drunken rampage that occured in mid-July. A young man had used an outdoor ashtray and a large rock to smash his way into the centre during the night and cause tens of thousands of euros of damage, breaking doors, windows, computers, photocopiers and a fridge. The event truly shocked the staff, who had never experienced anything like it. The newspaper report (with a photo of the mess) is here.

 A temporary grill and some plastic cover the broken windows at the front.

Anyway, six of us plus an employment councillor from the agency Aksis, which is contracted by Pôle Emploi in a private-public partnership, adjourned to the big meeting room with the smashed window in the middle of the building. Our councillor Peggy introduced herself (she is hearing impaired so we needed to speak directly to her, for example), then the group introduced themselves. There was a signwriter, the only man; a secretary who had left her last job due to health problems; someone who had recently retrained as a leatherworker (Fr. maroquiniste); a bookkeeper with no formal qualifications who was told in a recent interview that they were looking for someone younger; and a receptionist who had been working at a police station which had been merged with another. I was the only one there who was simply seeking to supplement my existing work. The rest were all unemployed and seeking full time work. I was also the only one who wasn't French, but despite a couple of minor language hiccoughs where I had to ask for something to be explained, I got on just as well as everyone else, contributing to the discussion and mostly keeping up.

Peggy gave us an overview of the employment scene in Indre et Loire, and it wasn't promising. The two biggest sectors are agriculture and tourism. The next biggest is pharmaceuticals, and there is quite a push by the authorities to create the 'Cosmetics Valley' along the Loire. The general opinion is that it will outstrip tourism in the not too distant future. But until it does, the bad news for my companions on the day was that 4 out of 5 jobs in the area are seasonal. Not a problem for me particularly, but a blow for those who want stable full time work. Peggy also pointed out that if you are an employer these days and recruting, you can count yourself lucky if 10% of applicants meet your criteria.

 The smashed window of the room in which we met.

She wasn't all doom and gloom though. In fact she was quite feisty and motivating (I guess that's her job, really). She encouraged us to send our CVs off speculatively and use our personal networks (often a job offer comes from someone who knows someone who knows you). Thanks to her I now know about a bunch of websites which tell me what industries are looking for workers (the Besoins de Mains d'Oeuvre report), how to tell what activities a business is engaged in by its APE code, how to find the contact details of managers (on the Observatoire de l'Economie et des Territoires de Touraine website), and how to identify key words relating to skills (using the Fiche ROME on the Informations Marché du Travail section of the Pôle Emploi website).

Most importantly of all, for me at any rate, she offered to cast a professional eye over my CV (it's not colourful enough and the nuances of my compétences need work apparently). She will also help me with writing lettres de motivation. I have access to her and the programme until 19 October, so I'd better get cracking.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Look at the Lady

Hollyhocks thrive in the Loire Valley, and often grow as pavement plants. As we walked through Parnay a client picked a flower and a bud and created a lady.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Character and Courage

 Lockers for cyclists at the artists colony, Turquant.
“In politics, one can learn some things from cycling, such as how to have character and courage. Sometimes in politics there isn’t enough of those things.”
Guy Verhofstadt

The cycling politician I've quoted above is the Belgian chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament. Frankly, it is him and his French counterpart for the European Commission, Michel Barnier, that we are relying on to protect us. The British government clearly doesn't give a toss about us, except where they can use us as bargaining chips to manoeuvre in terms of EU citizens living in Britain. 

My British member of parliament (a longstanding Labour member) no longer responds to my emails. In contrast, Elmar Brok, on Verhofstadt's steering committee sends personalised responses within 48 hours.

For an idea of how the British government is prepared to treat EU citizens in Britain, read this Guardian article.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Meeting Gandalf

This presumably custom bicycle belongs to Gandalf as far as I can tell. I encountered it whilst making a toilet stop at Turquant with a walking group. When we got there the men's toilet was locked. We assumed it was occupied and the men just waited a bit. The minutes went on and the door didn't open, so we assumed it was out of order and the men lined up to use the women's. Finally, to our surprise, the door of the men's toilet creaked open and this bike emerged, propelled by a rather extraordinary looking man with long white hair and beard, a slightly sheepish expression and dressed in what looked like handmedowns. We smiled and tried to look friendly, as did he, but no words were exchanged. We watched as he crossed the courtyard, parked the bike against the unmanned tourist office wall and went inside. He didn't emerge again. Our impression was that he had spent the night in the men's toilet. I would have loved to have taken his photo but felt it was a bit intrusive and didn't like to ask.

Monday, 28 August 2017

A Tale of Two Monuments

For many locals Léonard Perrault is just the name of a street in Amboise, leading down from Clos Lucé to the Porte des Lions at the Chateau Royal. But for anyone familiar with the cemetery in Amboise, they will know that there is a monument to the man right next to the Duc de Choiseul's, once Louis XV's chief minister.

The inscription on the Choiseul tomb to the Duchess.
 Although it begins 'here lies' the date has never been added at the end.

Perrault was a young man from Amboise of humble origins who rose to fame and fortune thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Choiseul. All his adult life he maintained his connection with them.

Born in 1750, his hard work on the Duc de Choiseul's chateau of Chanteloup was noticed. To encourage and reward him he was given a donkey and a cart. This was the beginning of his rise, enabling him to succeed in his trade as a mason. Ultimately he became an entrepreneur working for the King, responsible for building the levee banks along the Loire at Amboise. He spent ten years constructing the bridge over the Loire at Amboise but also operated a ferry to enable crossing in the meantime. Having a good head for business, he made a fortune. 

The Duc de Choiseul's tomb (centre), Léonard Perrault's tomb (left and slightly behind).

The histories of Perrault's and Choiseul's adjacent tombs are intimately linked. The Duke died in 1785. He had already bought some land for his last resting place in Amboise. He offered the site to the town and it is now the town cemetery. A mound and then a mausoleum was raised on his grave. During the Revolution his tomb was demolished to recover the lead.

The Duc de Choiseul's eulogy on his tomb.

In 1802 Léonard Perrault, who had saved some pieces of the tomb, sought the right to reconstruct it. He financed the rebuilding on condition that he could be buried next to the Duke. At the time, the Duchess, ruined by the debts her husband had left, lived in a small apartment in Paris. Perrault, who by this time was wealthy, did not forget her and supported her financially.

Léonard Perrault's tomb.

He died in 1815, leaving 18 children, who erected his tomb next to the man who had given him a leg up all those years ago. His tomb was listed as a historic monument in 1962, a few days before Choiseul's was also listed. The Choiseul monument has been restored several times, unlike Perrault's, which is now in a rather shabby state.

Many thanks to Pamela Shields for alerting me to this story and showing me the monuments.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Ferns in the Rainforest

A selection of native Australian ferns growing wild in the rainforest at Ravensbourne National Park on the Great Dividing Range in south-east Queensland.