Letter From The Président

I’ve been rather neglecting politics lately, having been preoccupied with anglers and sheep. (Still no lamb or lambs from No. 27. No. 28 is a little less splotchy now. We’re still giving her a dietary supplement on her granules twice a day – easy peasy – and that penicillin injection every night – not so easy, but once you’ve got a good grip on her wool she goes quiet. And I haven’t gone into anaphylactic shock through a misadministered jab yet either – so far.)

But back to the forthcoming elections. They’re starting to loom menacingly on the horizon. The Mairie at Nouzerines has erected extra wood panelling for a concerted postering campaign. This morning one of the commune’s employees was carefully measuring up and marking lines on the boards, making sure that each of the ten of the them was exactly the same size! I held the end of the tape measure for her while we were waiting for Ruadhri’s school bus to arrive. I’ve told you before how good I am at holding things when I’m helping Chris.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande have sent me long letters. Sarko’s first. This is a LONG letter. It opens with the first couple of sentences in handwriting. I think we’re meant to think that he handwrote the whole thing. It would have taken him about a week if he had. However, it’s a nice touch and encouraging to see that the Président has worse handwriting than I do. So what does he say? He’s glad to be contacting me directly without  going through an intermediary. Well, who wouldn’t be! He talks about the new world that’s being born – one with financial crises and strong non-Western powers emerging in the world, i.e. China. He goes onto security, mentioning the recent events in Montauban and Toulouse and emphasising that France must be well armed and strong. Ideologies of hatred and delinquence won’t be tolerated. Europe is a good thing and France will remain an open country where other people of other nationalities can come and live, but they must be prepared to embrace the French way of life and contribute to it. But he’s not prepared to go as far as giving us the vote, tant pis. Responsibility, professional training, young people, nurturing rural areas – he talks about it all. I lost interest by page 27 of the 39 of the document, I confess. But it’s impressive to get something like that. I never had anything similar in the UK or Ireland.

Hollande’s ‘letter’ is actually the talk he gave on 4 April at Rennes. There are an awful lot of exclamation marks. Should I take him less seriously than Sarkozy? It’s very rousing with paragraphs such as this: Mon message est simple ce soir, et je le répéterai autant de jours qu’il conviendra. Il faut changer : changer d’avenir, changer de politique, changer de président ! Je veux être le président du redressement, le président de la justice, le président du rassemblement, le président de la jeunesse de France ! (My message tonight is simple and I’ll repeat every day between now and the election. We need change: we must change the future, change politics, change the President! I want to be the president of putting things right, the president of justice, the president of gatherings, the president of the young people of France!)

And so on and so forth. It’s not as meaty as Sarko’s missive and again, my eyes glazed over before I got to the end. But that’s me and politics. However, I did try to read it all!

The current favourite is Sarko by a whisker. Since he’s the only pro-Auto-entrepreneur candidate out there as far as I can make out, I’ll be happy enough if he gets in, although I hope he will make more of an effort to curb the spending excesses and be more in touch with the majority of French people i.e. hard working, non-wealthy people. But we’ll see.

La Présidentielle – A Family Affair

La Présidentielle is quite a family affair. Not only do we have Marine Le Pen, daughter of a former presidential candidate, running this year, plus François ‘give me a fiver’ Hollande, whose former partner Ségolene Royal ran in 2007, but it now turns out that the two favourites, the afore mentioned Hollande and Nicolas Sarozy, are distantly related.

According to Jean-Louis Beaucarnot, author of Le Tout-politique, the pair of them share a common ancestor, a Savoyard peasant from the 17th century. This person is Claude Labully-Burty from Saint-Maurice-de-Rotherens, a little village 20 kms from Chambéry.

Don't think I could eat one of these now ...

Claude’s family included two sons – another Claude, who was Hollande’s ancestor, and Pierre, who was Sarkozy’s. These two settled in the neighbouring commune of Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers during Louis XIII’s reign. Labully is a famous name in the area since it’s associated with a rather grisly cake. A pastry-making ancestor of our two presidential hopefuls, invented a fake breast gateau. Seriously. It’s an appropriately shaped brioche decorated with praline which was originally created to celebrate the fête of poor Saint Agatha (5th February) who was martyred unpleasantly (weren’t they all) by having, amongst other things, her breasts severed. I hope you weren’t eating while you were reading this.

Let’s have a quick, closer at our two cousins. Nicolas Sarkozy was born on 28 January 1955 in Paris. His father was a Hungarian immigrant, and his mother was of French and Greek descent. (And Sarko wants to cut down on immigrants!) He’s on his third marriage and has three sons and one daughter. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, he’s an extremely wealthy man. He’s also an author and his better known works are these three books – Libre, Témoignage and Ensemble.

François Hollande was born on 12 August 1954 at Rouen and is as French as he can be. He lived for a long time with Ségolene Royal and they have four children. His new partner is Valérie Trierweiler. Like Sarkozy, he’s also not short of a bob or two. He’s written books as well, including Le Rêve Français and the forthcoming Un Destin pour la France which has an unnervingly smiley-faced Mr H on the cover!

I can only think this common ancestor, Claude Labully-Burty, maybe wasn’t so good at the marriage thing but excellent with money, had a strong political (i.e. ruthless) streak and a love of expressing his opinions (orally most likely, since the chances are he probably couldn’t read or write) which he has passed on down the generations. It’s not quite the family feud of the Milliband brothers recently in the UK, but I think this ancestral connection adds a little bit of extra excitement to the contest.


Food Self-Sufficiency, Here We Come!

It may be hard to believe given my well-known dislike of cooking, but this morning saw me voluntarily in the kitchen. And I’ll be back again later making pancakes. Using flour, which leads me to this photo which I just have to include. (OK, I have it in for M Hollande at the moment, but he started it by asking me for a donation!)

A bad flour moment!

We usually start off with cheese and ham pancakes and I have some topically named cheese to use today!

After the savoury first course of pancakes, we hit the sweet fillings with a vengeance.

So why was I cooking this morning? Well, we’re taking our drive for self-sufficiency in meat and veg seriously. Chris has been busy butchering over the last few days and I had a liver to use, so I had my first stab at homemade liver paté. I chose an ultra simple recipe. It involved frying a chopped onion in butter, adding the chopped liver, pepper, nutmeg and herbs, and I threw in some walnuts for luck. Once the liver was cooked I added some cream and whizzed everything in the food blender and voilà, suprisingly good paté. In future I’ll store up all the livers from the poultry. We’d previously been giving them to the cats. No longer!

First attempt at paté

Monsieur le Président of the local hunting club turned up yesterday with three large lumps of venison for us, so we now have a very well-stocked freezer meat wise. Our supply of frozen pumpkins never seems to get any less, so today I was trying out apple and pumpkin crumble. It’s interesting, shall we say. I don’t think it will catch on. Actually, I think the problem may be that I used raw pumpkin with stewed apple. I vaguely remember reaching the ‘s*d-it, I-hate-pumpkin’ stage when I was processing the citrouilles last year, and lobbing a few bags of uncooked chunks into the freezer instead of cooking them first. I’m not a high ranking domestic goddess. And my laziness has caught up with me.

We still have loads of frozen eggs. The girls were laying right up until le grand froid hit so it’s only now that I’m starting to use my stash from the freezer.

The cold killed off all my seedlings in the polytunnel sadly, but we’ll start again. We’re in the process of preparing a raised bed in there. We put the wooden frame in place yesterday and put down a layer of geotex (our builder got the wrong stuff in for our fosse septique, which was responsible for it being failed the first time – it took five goes to get it approved.) On top of that we’ve put cardboard as an extra weed suppressing barrier.

Raised bed in progress

Today we’ve been transporting lots of compost in my brand new wheelbarrow (an early 50th birthday present I’ve been told!) to the bed. It will take several more sessions to fill it, but we’re on the way. The plan is to grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, radishes, cucumbers and other salad and delicate veg in there and keep ourselves fully provided for. We have a kiwi tree in there too.

We’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first lambs and we’re in the process of tracking down some pigs, preferably Gloucester Old Spots or Berkshires. We also have our eye on some Limousin Cul-Noirs (black-bottomed pigs). They’re very slow growing so they’ll be a long term project. We need some other weaners to fatten up quickly for this autumn. However, there seem to be a lot of time wasters out there who advertise pigs for sale, but when you make contact, it turns out they haven’t actually got any. A few people have also told us we need to be registered to keep pigs before they can sell us any. That’s nonsense, and all the pig-keeping forums say as much. Anyone can buy a few pigs to fatten up and eat. It’s only if you start supplying meat into the food chain that any sort of agricultural rules and regulations have to be obeyed.

Chris fell in love with pigs on his pig experience course so we’re very frustrated at finding it so hard to get our hands on some. But we’ll keep trying.

And to finish with, as a follow up from my last post, here’s a list of the Twitter accounts for the gallant round-the-world cyclists so you can follow them if you’re interested. Stephen Phillips @globecycleracer   Sean Conway: @Conway_Sean   Stuart Lansdale: @StuJLans   Simons Hutchinson: @SimonsEpicCycle   Richard Dunnett: @Onebigpedal   Paul Ashley-Unett: @paulcyclesworld   Mike Hall: @Normally_Human   Martin Walker: @Cycle_Around   Kyle B Hewitt: @KBH_WCR   Jason Woodhouse: @boyonhisbike



World Cycle Racing Grand Tour – Currently in France

Simon Hutchinson, one of the riders

As I write this, late afternoon on 20th February, six of the ten participants in the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour are in France. One passed fairly close to here earlier today but I had no idea the race was going on until five minutes ago. It would have been nice to have cheered him on! (Of the remaining four riders, one is in the UK, one is in Spain and two are in Belgium.) These crazy/dedicated indivdiuals are taking on a race that is five times longer than the Tour de France, as if that wasn’t long enough! They will be aiming to cover at least 190 miles a day. Actually, I think we need to know the names of these courageous souls: Jason Woodhouse, Kyle Hewitt, Martin Walker, Mike Hall, Richard Dunnett, Simon Hutchinson, Stephen Phillips, Stuart Lansdale and Sean Conway. Not only are they pushing themselves to their physical limits, but they’re raising money for thirteen different deserving charities.

These guys are aiming to beat Alan Bate’s global circumnavigation bike record of 18,310.47 miles (29,467.91 km) covered in 96 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes in 2010. Isn’t that fast enough? They’re being tracked by satellite and the data are updated every ten minutes. Log on here to see where they all are at any time.

In France their main challenge will be to cycle past boulangeries without being tempted to stop and indulge in viennoiseries by that almost irresistible smell of fresh croissants and baguettes that wafts out, and to avoid Francois Hollande and his begging tin.

Sean Conway

Further along the route it’ll be a tiny bit tougher with the Rocky Mountains, the Australian outback and the Gobi desert to contend with.

It’s too late to join in this attempt, which will bring the riders home just before the Olympic games, but should you be tempted for the future, and I’m thinking Gerry Patterson here, the guy who cycles up mountains for fun, then here are the rules.

Should you happen across a particularly weary looking cyclist that isn’t me out for a short spin, then it might well be one of these ten athletes. Give them a cheer and a surreptitious push!