April Sayings and Easter Traditions

Here are some old country sayings for April, taken from the 1932 and 1933 editions of La Prosperité à la Campagne.

Avril froid donne pain et vin – April doux est le pire de tous.

A cold April gives bread and wine – Mild April is the curse of all.

Si St Marc n’est pas beau, Pas de fruits à noyaux.

If St Mark’s day (25th) isn’t nice, there will be no stone fruits (i.e. fruit with stones in e.g. plums, peaches etc).

S’il pleut en avril, il pleut sans arrêt en mai.

If it rains at all in April, it will rain non-stop in May.

En avril nuée – en mai rosée.

Cloudy in April, dewy in May.

Vent qui souffle aux Rameaux – Ne change pas de sitôt.

The wind that blows on Palm Sunday, won’t change any time soon.

I can vouch for that last one. Palm Sunday (Rameaux) was freezing here in Creuse. My son’s school had organised a Chasse d’Oeufs (Easter egg hunt) and we all got soaked and frozen. And we’re still getting soaked and frozen three days later!

Ruadhri's poissons d'avril - some look quite fierce!

There are a busy few days ahead. The first of April is poisson d’avril time. Children will be sticking paper fish on the back of every unsuspecting person they come across. Ruadhri has made a nice big shoal of them. This year we’re employing a secret weapon – Velcro! It’s much better than sticky tape.

That day is also Maundy Thursday, the day when, according to tradition, the church bells (or at the very least their chimes) fly off to the Pope in Rome to take everyone’s sadness at Christ’s suffering and crucifixion with them. They come back, all happy again, on Easter morning, bringing pretty decorated egss with them which they hide in children’s gardens. Sound like a tall story? Well, you won’t hear a bell chiming between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday so it could just be they’re not there!

Easter (Pâques) is all about chocolate here in France, as are so many things in this chocoholics’ heaven. But you won’t see many large Easter eggs, although there are plenty of small ones to be had. Thanks to the bell legend, you’ll find flocks of cloches volants (chocolate bells with wings). You’ll also come across vast quantities of chocolate rabbits and hens, and shoals of chocolate fish. These are chocolate poissons d’avril. They range from tiny friture (fish fry) to enormous multicoloured specimens. Yum.

Bantam, chicken and turkey eggs, left to right

I mentioned Ruadhri’s chilly Easter egg hunt. They’re huge over here. Many schools and organisations hold them. It’s lovely to see a field-full of happy children with bags and baskets scampering around searching for eggs. Actually, that’s what happens here regularly, but with just one child, as Ruadhri searches out our hens’ latest favourite laying spot. And he has an extra job at the moment. Our turkey has started laying eggs too, alternating between a nesting box and the middle of nowhere. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. They are magnificent affairs, elegantly tall and slim, with pretty red speckling on them. They taste just like chicken eggs but have a much tougher shell.

Have a great, chocolately Easter!

Polytunnel Update

Look at my polytunnel now! It wasn’t even that windy! And we positioned the tunnel next to the barn for extra protection. We wired the tunnel framework to two very heavy iron bars. They held it down fine, but the flimsy metal framework sheared or bent at all the joints. Very disappointing indeed.

If you were thinking of buying  a polytunnel, then do go for a good, sturdy one. We got ours through ebay. We’ve started a dispute since clearly the thing isn’t fit for purpose. The vendor has replied saying that he never said it was windproof! He never said it wasn’t either. If he had, we wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole.

Maybe we should have erected it indoors…

A Collective Noun for Bloggers

A lot of people blog in France. Blogs are brilliant – each on a is a unique slice of life, and each one is fascnating. If it’s particularly slices of French life you’re after, then start your search for more blogs to enjoy – apart from this one of course! – at the wonderful A Taste of Garlic website (www.atasteofgarlic.com). Keith Eckstein has put together a comprehensive list of French bloggers. He’s added a useful search feature – Articles by Category – which allows you to hone in on the area of France you’re  most interested in reading blogs about. Click on it, and you’ll find Keith’s reviews of blogs based in that area. The website also has a recommended reading section which is excellent.

Anyway, thinking about all these bloggers,  I wondered what a good collective noun would be for us. I love collective nouns – a murder of crows, a charm of goldfinches, a labour of moles, and a pace of donkeys are just a few great examples.  Now, for bloggers? A creativity of bloggers? An originality of bloggers? Most definitely a brilliance of bloggers! But there’s a sense of comaraderie amongst bloggers. We comment thoughtfully on each others’ blogs because we genuinely enjoy reading what fellow bloggers are writing about. So, an encouragement of bloggers? A friendship of bloggers? Maybe we should reflect the French element – an amitié of bloggers, an inventivité of bloggers? But what about the bad times, when we can’t think of anything to write (a slog of bloggers), when we’re getting behind with our blog (a backlog of bloggers), or we want to let off steam about something annoying us (a grump of bloggers) or we’ve had a bad ‘too-much-bureaucracy’ sort of day (a depression of bloggers)?

Let me have your suggestions please!

Polytunnels and potatoes

We put our polytunnel up Monday afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, we did it surprisingly quickly. We’ve chosen a south-facing spot behind the barn. It’s in the girls’ field (the ‘girls’ being our female llamas). They’re delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. They seem very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspect it every now and again. We’ll have to make sure we keep it closed, or they’ll be in like a shot.

We’ve started to organise the inside. I put some plants in straight away to benefit from this wonderful sunny weather we’re having at the moment, but they were just plonked on the floor. So yesterday we got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials. I’ve had a potting session this afternoon – it’s starting to look a very purposeful polytunnel. We’ve taken the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that came with the farm. We have no idea what their original purpose was, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and they have. It was worth falling over them for three years!

I put a thermometer in the tunnel. Yesterday it registered 35 degrees! Today, a cloudy, breezy day, it got up to a toasty 20 degrees, and already some long-dormant seeds Ruadhri and I planted ages ago are showing signs of life.

Our friends Corinne and Christophe promised us some bamboo cuttings a while ago. They were ready to pick up a few days’ ago. The ‘cuttings’ turned out to be large clumps of 7-foot-tall bamboo in about a dozen different varieties. Fantastic! We’ll be busy digging holes for a while. We’re watering them frantically as apparently bamboo needs a lot of water, about 20 litres a day, when it is first transplanted. I’m rather hoping it will rain soon.

The next gardening project will be raised beds. The vegetable patch has struggled the last couple of years. The soil is remarkably poor, except for where we’ve been putting llama manure. That’s good stuff! So raised beds seem the best way to go. We have plenty of wood, lots of space and a bottomless supply of manure – we just need to find the time and energy to get building!

Next Monday to Wednesday are root days in the lunar gardening calendar, so we’ll be getting the spuds in. Chris is wondering if it’s worth it since potatoes are 23 cents a kilo in the supermarket at the moment, but we’ve brought the seed potatoes so we might as well get them planted. And they do make nice chips!

Marching On

It looks like winter might finally be over. It’s been another long one, and our coldest and snowiest to date. We pretty much exhausted our wood supplies so it’s time to start building up a store for next year.

However, a few more things to do first. We’re almost there on the gite renovation. That’s been a huge task but it’s looking brilliant. A final dust and polish, some gardening work outside and Notaire’s House is ready for visitors.

The pool is coming along well too. Despite a ten-day break because it was too cold to made concrete, even with antifreeze in, Bruce is back on the blockwork. That’s almost finished so there’s just the lining and pump to sort out – but we’ll need much warmer weather before it’s ready for being swum in.

Gabby and Katrina the llamas grow steadily rounder by the day. Katrina’s cria could be due as early as next week, so we’re all getting excited. All except Katrina, that is, who just gets grumpier. The other llamas give her a very wide berth. It was the same with Windermere in her last few weeks. Gabby doesn’t seem to prone to the mood swings. She concentrates on seeing how close to exploding point she can expand. She really is enormous and she has until early May to go.

The daffodils have decided to go for it this time. They were about to burst into flower a fortnight ago but then the arctic conditions set in so they stayed firmly shut. But a few days of warm sunshine is tempting them to open now. At last!

Everything’s getting going. There are meetings and fetes and exhibitions. People are dragging themselves away from the fire and back into the world. There’s a near hibernation experience in Creuse in winter! For our part, we have a German exchange student, Florian, coming very soon. He gets to Benj’s lycée today where he’ll be staying till the weekend when he’ll come here. Then we have an alpaga show at the end of the month. I’ll be returning from that with two new additions to our herd, Acoria the Suri and her son Ghost. And the next day, Ruadhri has his chasse d’oeufs with the school and a vintage car club are coming here to Les Fragnes as part of their ralley. Then it’s Easter, then Caiti and I are going on a spinning course, and then, there’s the Creuse on Famille open day, and then the kids go to Germany … suddenly we can make plans again. We have our polytunnel to erect, together with lots of fencing, and the potager needs attention. Plenty to do, and finally the weather to do it all. We’ll forget all about the winter struggles … until next winter, of course. But who cares when there’s a glorious Creuse summer in between!

The Free Press – French and English

We’re lucky in Creuse in that we have not one, but two free English language papers to read each month.

The first is Creuse News (www.creuse-news.eu), which is an A4 size magazine, printed in black and white. It’s the brainchild of Julia Dunbar and began in October 2007. It’s going great guns and is well known and respected now. It has news items, generally local in nature, chatty observations, a language corner, a spot of history in most issues, gardening advice, letters (often with hints and advice from readers) and short, interesting factual snippets. At the moment the magazine is running a photo competition, and is trying to get a jogging team together, so you can see that it’s  active and community-building. Its particular strength is the adverts. Many British businesses in the area, and some French ones, too advertise in it – digger hire, woodland management, supermarkets, estate agents … you’ll find pretty much every profession going.

The new kid on the block is The Bugle (www.thebugle.eu) which first appeared in 2009. This is an attractive,  full-colour, tabloid size newspaper with lots of photos. It covers Haute-Vienne as well as Creuse, plus the surrounding areas. It’s edited by Steve Martindale. This is more news-based than Creuse News and includes a sizeable national news section as well as local news, but also has a rapidly growing business directory. It has a very comprehensive events round-up, useful list of when local markets and foires are taking place and a zappy entertainments page. There are general interest articles, recipes, puzzles, features, letters and a French culture section. It’s very well designed and produced.

Both are excellent reads and I really admire the gutsy determination of the editors who have created these publications from scratch and are fully self-financing. Both have an excellent distribution system and can be found in many shops, tourist offices and cafés in the area. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s impressive. I thoroughly recommend both local papers and hope they’re here to stay.

We get two free French language magazines in Creuse too. One is the monthly La Lettre du Limousin, published by the Conseil Régional du Limousin. This is in colour, tabloid size and varies in interest. There is always a brief events listing, but this is limited to major dos only, a look at local politics, several self-congratulatory articles about local projects that the region has funded in full or part, and interesting articles about local entrepreneurs. It’s not a must-read in our household, like the English papers, but I always flick through and have picked up a few useful bits of information from it.

Every quarter Le Magazine la Creuse arrives in the postbox. This is published by the Conseil Général de la Creuse and is more relevant and interesting than its Limousin counterpart. It’s in full colour and is A4 size. It has features on Creuse people and businesses, looks at the various works it is funding in the area (road improvements, renovations, clean-up schemes and has short, newsy columns about upcoming events. There are book reviews, an entertainments round-up and always a page of fiches about la patromonie de la Creuse. Each is a quarter-page fiche which you can cut out and stick in your tourist info file for your gite or BandB. The current issue is more heated than many as it is concerned with decentralisation issues. The recent suppression of the taxe professionale is a real bone of contention.

Finally, a few sad words about another freebie we get, the yearly ‘newsletter’ of the local Chamber of Commerce and Industrie. This is an obviously expensive,  hugely glossy but, in my view, very disappointing publication that I have yet to find anything interesting in. It doesn’t even give a nod in the direction of the sizeable English element of the local business community. A real wasted opportunity by the CCI to engender good PR and to inform and inspire the very people who keep it going.

Wise Words for March

Here are some traditional French sayings from the 1932 and 1933 copies of La Prosperité à la Campagne magazine.

Autant de brouillard en mars – autant de gel en avril

There’ll be as much frost in April as there is fog in March.

(A saying from the South-West)

Autant de brouillard en mars – autant d’orages en été

There’ll be as many thunderstorms in summer as fog in March.

(A saying from Haut-Rhin)

Une Hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps

One swallow doesn’t make spring. This is followed by an extra note that usually swallows don’t arrive before 20th March in Rousillon, the 1st April in Gascony and 15th-20th April in the rest of France. I shall be watching out this year.

Quand en mars il tonne – l’année est bonne.

When it thunders in March it will be a good year.

Quand il gèle le 25 mars – les prés diminuent du quart.

When it freezes on the 25 March – the meadows will be a quarter less productive.


Quand mars entre en mouton, il sort en lion.

When March comes in like a lamb, it goes out like a lion.

Quand il pleut à St Aubin – il n’y aura ni lin ni foin.

When it rains on St Aubin’s Day [1st March] – there will be neither flax to make linen nor hay.

Well, it certainly rained yesterday, 1st March, so not looking good for the hay. We’ll just have to wait and see if they sayings prove to be true.

How did February’s rustic predictions turn out? (These were in my blog for the beginning of February.) We had sun at Candlemas (2 Feb) and by golly did it turn wintry just after that. We’d have been better off with a ‘chandeleur noire’ which would have meant better weather by now. There was running water in the streams on 5th February, and there wasn’t a frost on 27th February, so those augur well for the summer. But there was a tempête on 27/28 February as I expect you’re aware. There was a red alert, a rare event, over part of France and sadly it was accurate, with a great deal of damage and lives lost in that area. We were braced for strong winds, and they’ve taken some tiles off the barn and blown some fencing down, but fortunately weren’t as bad as we’d been expecting. February is proving to be the worst month weather-wise here in Creuse.

March came in like a lamb, with warm sunshine yesterday in the morning, although it didn’t last that long. So I hope the leonine weather that’s coming at the end of the month won’t be as bad as the end of February’s …