Friday, June 27, 2014

Goodbye tree

One of the garden jobs we completed this winter was one that had been on the list since we moved in almost ten years ago (we never rush important decisions). Our garden was home to a huge pine tree that our neighbour told us was a Christmas tree planted out about 45 years ago, an event she remembers by thinking back to how old the young children who lived in the house were. The gardens either side of ours had done the same thing in similar years and there was a line of trees stretching across four back gardens. I say was, as ours is no longer.

We love trees and having an orchard full of fruit and nut trees was a major plus for us when we bought the house, but this pine tree was not a pretty tree, it blocked a lot of light to the house, especially in winter when the kitchen is at it's gloomiest. It’s size was also now worrying us in terms of the damage it could do in a storm as high wind storms seem to be more frequent in summer and winter than when we first moved here. It had to go before the birds started making their nests.

French Village Diaries pine tree removal
Goodbye tree
On the day of the felling I was riddled with guilt. I’m sure the tree surgeons thought I was barking mad as I stood looking up into it’s branches and apologised to the pair of collared doves who were sitting in it and looking down on us. I refrained from giving it one last hug, but I did collect some pinecones to keep as a memento and even took a last photo of the shadow it cast on the house. It was the right decision, but it wasn’t an easy one.

French Village Diaries pine tree removal
The final shadow

I’m happy to report that the garden birds seem to have adapted very well to it’s absence and the difference it has made to our use of the garden is amazing. The garden seems so much bigger, we can now see the beauty of the old ginkgo biloba tree that was hidden behind the pine and have added a bistro table that enjoys the shade for morning coffee and also the last rays of evening sun for an apero. The self-seeded fig tree has had an enormous growth spurt now it sees the light, but so far there are no signs of fruit. I love it for it’s striking leaves, but if anyone knows how I can encourage it to fruit I would love to know.

French Village Diaries pine tree removal fig tree
The happy fig tree

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book review and giveaway of From Here to Paris by Cris Hammond

Today I am taking part in a virtual book tour via France Book tours for From Here To Paris - Get laid off. Buy a barge in France. Take it to Paris by Cris Hammond. I also have one ebook copy to giveaway, just email with From Here to Paris as the email subject to be in with a chance of winning. This giveaway is open to everyone the world over. The winner will be the first name picked out on Wednesday 2nd July 2014.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review From Here To Paris Cris Hammond
This is the story of becoming suddenly unemployed, nearing 60 and being forced to face up to the fact that life is about to change drastically. It’s about discovering that your life can fall apart just enough to allow you to put it back together again in a whole new way.

This is the story of tossing the briefcase, cutting up the credit cards, selling the house and buying an 80-year-old Dutch barge in France, then setting sail for Paris.

It’s a joyful and funny tale of stepping off the beaten path to live a dream that you’d thought you’d forgotten: Living on a barge in the middle of Paris.

My Review:
From the beginning I very much enjoyed this book, the scene was succinctly set, I liked the writing style and it moved at a good pace. When life presents obstacles some people see it as a sign and have the courage to change direction and grasp something completely different. Cris and Linda are two such people and their something different is an old, forgotten Dutch barge in a boatyard in Burgundy that they plan to take to Paris.

This book glides effortlessly along, just like their barge on the Burgundian canals, pausing every so often for snippets of their life back in the US. There is a good mix of croissants, idyllic vineyards, pretty towns and markets plus the many hiccups and woes that no matter where you live will dampen the spirits. Cris’s good humour helps bring in the smiles even when their plans go a little off course and his description of their waterside community often had me laughing. There are times when the dream of living in Paris seems a long way off, but they are not the giving up types. This book has everything I'm looking for in a good memoir set in France.

Don’t miss the little language extras at the end of the book – Cris is a funny man! I have also signed up to his weekly cartoon emails, which contain illustrated updates of his life on the barge when he is back in France.

French Village Diaries France Book Tours review From Here To Paris Cris Hammond
Cris Hammond
About the author: 
Cris Hammond is a (US) nationally known artist, cartoonist, and entrepreneur. His comic strip, Speed Walker, Private Eye, was seen daily in over 150 newspapers across the country, from The Miami Herald to The Seattle Sun Times, The San Diego Union, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. His paintings of ships and the sea have appeared in galleries in Sausalito, San Francisco, Tiburon, and Carmel, California. He led special effects teams to Academy Awards for Special Effects in motion pictures including Star Trek IV, Innerspace, and The Abyss, among others. In 1994, facing penury, he left his artistic pursuits, bought a briefcase and a couple ties, and went out and got a real corporate job. Eight years and four more neckties later, he walked into his office one morning and was ambushed by the waiting Exit Interview Team, which informed him that he was, as of that moment, “out on his ear.”
After a suitable period of bi-polar careening between panic and reflection, he realized that he was too young to retire and too old to go looking for another corporate job. So, he sold the house, bought a barge in France and started painting again.
Now he and his wife, Linda, spend half the year in California living and working in their tiny art studio near San Francisco, and the other half doing the same thing on the barge in France. Piloting their 1925 Dutch barge Phaedra, they’ve meandered through more than 1200 kilometers of canals and rivers and negotiated more than 850 locks in their travels from the Rhone wine region, through Burgundy to Chablis and down the Seine into Paris.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dog walking delights

French Village Diaries dog walking delights ragondan deer fields countryside France
The ragondan stream

This afternoon we took a warm and sunny wander along the lanes, the birds were singing, the butterflies were busy in the flowering hedgerows and when we stopped for Mini to have a paddle in the stream, a ragondan ducked underwater and out of sight.

Back on the track, with Mini hugging the shade from the trees, a rustle in the ripened wheat field alerted her, and with ears pricked up she turned toward the noise.

We stood and watched as the head of a deer appeared from the wheat, hoping to dart unnoticed across the path, but startled as he saw us, he spun and disappeared. 

French Village Diaries dog walking delights ragondan deer fields countryside France
A deer in the wheat

Mini could resist no longer and with all her 24kgs of muscle, she charged towards the field until she reached the end of her lead. My shoulders were strained in their sockets, my feet were dragged along the ground, but the deer was safe and very soon, peace and calm returned to our walk.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book review of Opposites Attack by Jo Maeder

My review today is for Opposites Attack: A Novel with Recipes Provencal by Jo Maeder. This book is a tasty summer treat that will whisk you all the way to Provence where you will want to stay forever.

French Village Diaries book review Opposites Attack Jo Maeder Provence France
American Alyce is searching for change in her life. She takes herself to Provence and enrolls in an intensive language course to immerse herself in French culture and more importantly, she hopes her absence from his life will be enough to have her boyfriend Nelson crossing the Atlantic with a huge ring for her finger. In her mind she will have gained that mystical French ‘je ne sais quo’ and they will live happily ever after.

However, Alyce has problems. French isn’t as easy to learn as she first thought. She has hilarious issues with her host families and boyfriend Nelson, when he does make an appearance, has quite a bit of baggage. Alyce finds herself living in the guest cottage of troubled, sultry author Jean-Luc – American hater, in debt, suffering from writer’s block and with an inability to rid himself of elegant hanger-ons. They are an unlikely pairing but Alyce and her antics awaken something in him. He finds himself duty bound to educate her American palate in the delights of French cuisine. Each dish he illustrates is deliciously described within the novel and in more detail (with added spice) at the end of the book.

I thought it was good fun, with good food and good company. It was a quick and easy read that had me putty in Jean-Luc’s hands and missing the antics of Alyce once I’d finished the book.

Opposites Attack: A Novel with Recipes Provencal is available in ebook and paperback and links to Amazon are below.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Club Ambassadeur 79

I apologise in advance to those readers who do not live in the Deux Sevres department, but for those who do I have to share this fantastic scheme from the tourist office. If you live elsewhere in France I would check with your local tourist office as a similar scheme may be offered in your department.

If you are over 18 and resident in Deux Sevres you can apply for a FREE card that offers you a variety of discounts when you are out and about sightseeing and discovering the department. Being a member of the club will give you promotional offers throughout the year and also invitations to VIP club events.

A full list of special offers can be found here, but they include a 50% reduction on the entry to some museums (when accompanied by a person paying the full adult tariff), a 25% reduction on a number of leisure facilities including boat hire in the Marais Poitevin, a 10% discount in the tourist office boutiques and aperitifs will be offered in many restaurants when you have a meal. I was advised to regularly check the current offers online as they are being added to all the time.

You can apply online here or in person at an office de tourism. I struggled with the online application but it took less than five minutes to complete in the office de tourism in Melle. Representatives have also been visiting local markets to promote the scheme and complete the application forms and you can find them on Facebook.

Here’s to a summer of discovering more of the delights of Deux Sevres.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Flan aux Cerises

French Village Diaries recipes cherry flan aux cerises homegrown homemade
Flan aux cerises - Cherry flan

I'm always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes using our homegrown fruit and eggs. This cherry flan, that I tried for the first time this week, fit the bill perfectly as we've got a glut of eggs and cherries at the moment. I will definitely be making it again, especially as it passed Ed's taste test - probably because it isn't too sweet or too rich.

2 eggs lightly beaten
250g plain flour
100g caster sugar
2 sachets of vanilla sugar. These are readily available in France, but a vanilla pod stored in a jar of sugar will give the same effect. Use 2 tablespoons.
500ml of semi-skimmed milk
1 tablespoon of Pineau (our local aperitif but Cherry liqueur or Cognac will work)
500g stoned cherries (I'm sure raspberries will be delicious as well)

Butter a large ovenproof dish (I used two medium ones) and preheat the oven to Gas mark 6.
Gently warm the milk and Pineau to tepid and remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl add the flour, sugars and eggs and combine well. Slowly pour in the milk, mixing well and then add the cherries. Using a ladle pour the wet batter into the oven dish and bake for 45mins, or until set, but with a wobble.

Leave to cool before slicing and eating.

By far the easiest way to stone cherries is to invest in one of these. I've had one for years and although the plastic is showing signs of wear and tear I wouldn't want to be without it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

No Way BA v We Care Ryanair

French Village Diaries Ryanain British Airways customer service issues France
Customer service issues with British Airways

Blog update - I am delighted to report that following this blog post we were asked to contact Customer Services at BA again and they have now issued Ade with an evoucher for the full amount of the booking. Thank you BA.

This is a travel rant inspired by watching a TV documentary this week about British Airways #AVeryBritishAirline which started off with them wondering how to retain customers as many of their routes are now matched by the budget airlines. Well, two words BA – Customer Service and here is why we will always choose Ryanair or EasyJet over British Airways for our travel requirements.

On a recent work trip to the UK Ade experienced a travel nightmare when Ryanair were forced to make a last minute flight cancellation due to circumstances beyond their control (a light aircraft in flames on the runway prevented them landing in Poitiers). Despite the bad press Ryanair often get, I’m happy to report that a full refund on his return ticket was paid into our bank account within 24hrs, which was two days before the date of travel on the return part of his ticket. Thank you Ryanair.

However, when British Airways’ booking system lets their customer down we have found them to be generous with their excuses but not so generous with their refunds.

Ade is a seasoned pro when it comes to hopping on and off flights around Europe. With approximately sixty flights a year over the last ten years he has plenty of experience on many different airlines booking systems and knows the layout of many airport arrival and departure halls. But even for an experienced pro, if the travel gods and online booking systems conspire against you it is all too easy to make a costly mistake in a stressful situation.

When a client is expecting him to be in a location to run a course we will do everything possible to get him there. When the Ryanair flight from Poitiers to Stansted was cancelled we were desperate to get him back to London and spent a frantic hour on the Internet (me at home with our slow connection and Ade in a hypermarket in Poitiers) with many phone calls to-ing and fro-ing between us. I found a BA flight from Bordeaux to Gatwick at 22h15 giving him plenty of time to make the three-hour trip from Poitiers. However, when he tried to book it on the mobile app the BA site advised him the transaction could not be completed and no booking reference was given. We were back to searching again and I found an EasyJet flight from Bordeaux at 21h40 – tight, but still doable. I bought it, checked him in, printed off the boarding pass and jumped in the car to meet him halfway with the documents, a banana, a muesli bar and a bottle of water. It was stressful, but he made it and didn’t have to let down our client.

It was only when I was back home over an hour later I found a sly email from BA showing him his booking reservation number! I forwarded all the details to his Mum as phoning an 0844 number from France doesn’t work and my tired brain was no longer up to attempting to phone the French speaking call centre.

Excuse number one
The person Sandra spoke to (a few hours before the flight departure time) was friendly enough, assured her it was a fully flexible ticket that could be refunded, however, nothing could be done there and then as she was not the person who booked the ticket. She was assured that so long as Ade called within 24hrs of the booking the ticket would be refunded. It was looking good so far.

Excuse number two
Despite not reaching his bed in UK until 1.00am after over 12 hours travelling and being on the 6.30am train that morning to run a course in London, Ade phoned back within the 24hrs. Another operative for BA said that unfortunately the ticket was purchased too close to the departure time, so despite the assurances of the previous day, no refund could be made. Great!

Excuse number three
Not happy with this response Ade logged a complaint online. An email informed us they would be happy to make a refund, however, regrettably the service fee BA applies for processing a refund application was more than the refund due. Seriously, you couldn’t make it up!

Excuse number four
Ade then logged a complaint about the mobile app that had failed by incorrectly informing him that the transaction had not been completed. Another email response informed us that they were sorry, appreciated our frustration but unfortunately as we didn’t contact them before the flight departure time BA could do no more. Er, hello – please see excuse number one. I think we are going around in circles here.

We do not expect to see our hard earned 338.69€ ever again, but we would like to make other travellers aware that BA customer service is really lacking in comparison to Ryanair. One problem, four excuses, no solution. We tried to do our best for our client, Ryanair did their best for us but BA’s customer service has left us disappointed. Since this incident Ade has flown to Leeds, London and Belfast and funnily enough none of these flights were with BA.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book review of The Resistance Man by Martin Walker

French Village Diaries book review The Resistance Man by Martin Walker Dordogne FranceMy review for today is for The Resistance Man, book six in the Bruno Chef de Police series by Martin Walker. You can read my review of book five The Devil's Cave here.

Set in the Dordogne town of St Denis, Bruno the chief of police spends his days solving crimes, keeping the streets safe, enjoying fine food, wine and female company. With his comforting and homely descriptions of simple country life in the Dordogne I have developed a soft spot for Martin’s writing and for Bruno. I easily slip back into his life in St Denis whenever I pick up one of his books.

In The Resistance Man Bruno finds himself having to piece together the links between the past and present in an investigation with many twists and turns. By the time we get to the end of chapter three (and in the space of one day) we have the natural death of an old farmer, the mystery of stolen money from a train robbery in 1944, a cleverly planned burglary and a murder. Bruno is busy trying to piece together the evidence but still has time to lunch with a lady friend, take coffee with another, speak on the phone to a third and is due to meet a fourth from the airport. Life is never dull for Bruno and this is certainly an exciting start for a book set in sleepy rural France. I enjoyed every page and twist in the plot and was slightly sad to reach the end of the book.

If you are looking for a distraction this summer I can think of nothing better than a trip to the Dordogne to delve into the delicious world of Bruno and read all seven books (Children of War, book seven will be published in hardback by Quercus Books this month). I have now read two of the novels and the short story, but the more I read the more I want to read, so I will be playing catch up this summer. You can also read more about Bruno at his website here

All of Martin’s books are available in paperback and ebook format and a great place to start would be the free ebook Bruno and le Père Noel: A Christmas Short Story . Links to Amazon are below. Many thanks to Quercus Books for my review copy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday travel blues

Poppy says 'pack me too'
It was a busy weekend and a short one too for Ade. He arrived home from a week in London on Saturday afternoon and was off again to Belfast this morning. It is something we were used to even before we moved to France as his work regularly takes him away from home, and obviously work means money, but there are times when he is away a lot and (like Poppy) I wish I could curl up in his suitcase and go along too.

This morning's departure was a little stressed as due to the ongoing SNCF rail strike his train from Poitiers to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was cancelled and rather than a relaxing train journey where he could work on his course notes he had to battle the Peripherique in Paris and a six hour drive. Merci beaucoup SNCF workers. Thankfully he made it safely to Belfast, but I'm not sure the weather there is quite as nice as here.

Vide grenier at the chateau

Sunday morning was spent wandering around a vide grenier (literally empty loft) held at a local chateau. We made a few purchases, but the scary looking flat, dead fox peering into the box of cuddly toys was not one of them. Some of the things you see for sale never ceases to amaze us.

Vide grenier dead fox

Vide grenier delights
Sunday afternoon was the perfect weather for a bike ride and despite getting a puncture less than two kilometres from home we did a 40km circuit that included getting up close to some wind turbines, cycling past vineyards, fields of sunflowers where we saw the first cheery yellow head of the year, wheat, maize, pea crops and even flowering onion fields. I don't think I will ever tire of slowly wandering the back roads by bike as every trip out highlights the beauty of the countryside we are lucky enough to live in. It is a real recharge for the batteries

Cycling the back roads
The house seemed very quiet this morning, but I've picked some cherries, made some jam, baked a cake and a quiche, walked the dog and even dabbled in a spot of housework.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book review of Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer by Vicki Lesage

French Village Diaries book review Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer Vicki LesageMy review today is for Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer by Vicki Lesage. This book continues on from her first memoir about her life in Paris, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl . Vicki is just an ordinary woman writing about her life in Paris, but her writing is engaging and entertaining and I recommend you start at the beginning. You can read my review of book one here.

This book shows the same sharp sense of humour and fun outlook on life that I enjoyed in the first book, but gone are her party days and hilarious look at some of the frustrations of French life. Instead she ‘tastefully’ turns her attention to describing with wit the various occasions when she’s to be found naked, with her legs in stirrups on an examination table and how to cope becoming a parent in France. She still has plenty to say about (and to) commuters on the Metro and travellers at the airport, but when it comes to talking about her husband and babies her soft side comes out. Paris life, including moving apartments, getting a place in a crèche, becoming part of a local community and registering her son at the US Embassy (where he was given his own flag) are described in just the right amount of detail to keep the story moving nicely along.

Despite the fun and engaging way she writes about her life, on a serious note I know that giving birth isn’t easy, so to do so abroad, with complications, must be scary. This book should reassure those in a similar situation that even when things aren’t textbook perfect, with a positive attitude they will get through it. I am sure many of the experiences she writes about must have been very emotional and painful at the time and the fact that she can recount them with such honesty and make them entertaining enough to raise a smile is quite incredible - more so, when many of these events only happened earlier on this year.

This is a self-published book, but Vicki has sensibly got a great cover designed for her, a keen eyed editor and an author friend to help, all of which ensures it is a book worth reading. Having now read and enjoyed both of her memoirs and her blog, she comes across as hyper organised and always in control, so I can’t imagine her ever settling for anything other than total perfection. This shows in the quality of the book. It has been a privilege to read about the first years of their Franco/American family life and I wish them all the best for the future.

Both of Vicki’s books are available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon are below.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The good, the bad and the ugly of our long weekend

Thanks to Pentecost Monday we have just had a lovely three-day family weekend with no school or work interruptions and during the days at least, wall-to-wall sunshine. Here is a little of what we have been up to - the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good
Saturday afternoon started with a picnic before a wander around a garden show at a local chateau, Fete des Plantes et du Jardin au Domaine de Péré. It has been a regular early summer event for us for the last few years and this year it was better than ever. Loads of lovely plants, ideas galore and the cutest garden ornaments ever. We even watched a demonstration of a truffle hunting dog put on by the Association des Trufficultures des Deux Sevres and we didn’t realise we lived in a truffle producing area. We came home with some new pots and lots of goodies to plant up, which is what we spent the pre-apero hour doing. Tidying up the terrace and pottering with the pots before relaxing with a glass of chilled rosé, it doesn’t get much better than that.

French Village Diaries Fete des Plantes et Jardin au Domaine de Péré Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes France
Truffle dog demonstration

French Village Diaries Fete des Plantes et Jardin au Domaine de Péré Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes France
Garden ornaments at Domaine de Péré

French Village Diaries Fete des Plantes et Jardin au Domaine de Péré Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes France
Fete des Plantes et du Jardin au Domaine de Péré

With the warm temperatures and sunshine we also managed to get out on our bikes three times over the weekend. We plotted our routes to take in different sections of the Boutonne river valley that gave us gentle, shady cycling. The source of this river is in our local town of Chef Boutonne and it then winds it’s way through the south Deux Sevres and into the Charente Maritime before joining the River Charente near to Rochefort.

French Village Diaries river Boutonne Poitou Charentes France
The River Boutonne

The Bad
Despite the sunshine, it has been quite a wild weather weekend with storms every night, however we were very lucky to miss the really nasty ones. I usually wake at the first rumble of thunder and then worry myself into a sleepless state while the rest of the house continues to snore peacefully. After the third night of storm warnings, despite us having nothing more than distant rumbles of thunder during the previous nights I was a little too wound up to sleep properly last night. The window rattling thunder we had during the evening didn’t help and neither did the local paper reporting pictures of tennis ball sized hailstones. Yes – tennis ball sized! I was speaking to our insurance agent this afternoon and she has had a busy morning dealing with damage from fallen trees, hail damage to property, vignerons who have lost their entire grape harvest for the year and farmers who have lost fields of cereal crops. I am feeling very relieved and grateful today.

I had a bit of a shock when I opened the shutters at the lounge doors on Saturday morning as this poor fellow had taken refuge from the overnight storm. He wasn’t very big, so I managed to persuade him into our spider catcher gadget, which also allowed us to have a good look at him and try to identify him. We think he is a harmless smooth snake or courleuve lisse and as their population is in decline we set him free in a shady spot by our compost heap. It wasn’t the best start to my day I have to admit.

French Village Diaries smooth snake Deux Sevres Poitou Charentes France
Smooth snake

The Ugly
If storms and snakes weren’t enough to dampen our spirits we also found a tick on the dog. If you thought getting a cat to take a tablet was a high risk, stressful event you have never tried to ‘do’ something to our dog. Having discovered it we had to persuade her into her muzzle (to ensure our safety – see here) and then Ade held her down while I bravely went in with the alcohol and tweezers. Thankfully all Mini did was shake like a leaf and then spend the rest of the day hiding under the stairs and I’m pleased to report the tick was successfully removed.

Today we are back to a normal routine, Ade left for an early morning flight to London and Ed is back at school, although not for long as we only have four weeks until the big summer holidays – yippee!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

World Cup 2014 Exclusion Zone

French Village Diaries World Cup 2014 Exclusion Zone France Food Books Sport
This is what we think of football
Like a contagious virus, World Cup fever is contaminating our TV ads, Internet news feeds, radio stations, supermarket shelves and TV cookery programmes, and it's not even kicked off yet. But do not despair, I'm here to help. Join me on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter for all things fun, French and football free.

I appreciate how lucky I am to have a husband and teenage son, and neither of them have any interest in football at all. I did have a boyfriend many years ago who was so obsessed with all things football, it was a contributing factor to our splitting up. I upgraded to the superior football-free model and since then I don't think I've seen a match. So I am opening my doors and inviting you in, if you are in need of a place to escape to. I will have recipes to busy yourself with in the kitchen, books to lose yourself in, photos to amuse and more.

I can't promise a totally sport free zone as I'm looking forward to The Tour de France in July. I am hoping to catch some of the action live and my author friend Julia Stagg has kindly agreed to a Tour de France guest post to coincide with the start in Yorkshire, close to where she lives. My first top tip to escape football fever is to get yourself a set of Julia's books set in the Pyrenees. With a humourous look at French village life, fresh mountain air, lots of laughs, passion, suspense and no mention of football, these four books should keep you entertained for plenty of matches.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Remembered

French Village Diaries D-Day Remembered 2014 Normandy France
Cyril from the front page of the Telegraph 6th June 2014
Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or D-Day, a massive seaborne invasion by the Allied Forces on the beaches of Normandy that marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

Over 150,000 British, American and Canadian troops landed on Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach with bicycles, bulldozers, tanks, jeeps and trucks, plus there were over 11,000 aircraft to support them. By 11th June over 300,000 troops and 54,000 vehicles had landed in France. Even today these are huge numbers to comprehend as are the number of lives lost.

French Village Diaries D-Day Remembered 2014 Normandy France Mulberry Harbour
Mulberry Harbour Gold Beach

I am not the first in our family to have links with France. My Granddad, although not part of the D-Day landings was in France for about three years during the Second World War where he served in the Royal Artillery. He would have been 36 years old at the time of the landings and had a wife and young family at home. Details about his time in the War are sketchy, but he was certainly part of the liberation and repatriation teams working in France, Belgium and Germany.

French Village Diaries D-Day Remembered 2014 Normandy France
Cyril in Normandy 2004
My Dad’s cousin Cyril, aged just 19 was one of the first to land on Gold Beach on D-Day. He was driving a bulldozer that was used to search for mines and then to help push the landing craft back into the sea, living on the beach for around eight weeks. Miraculously he survived and spent the rest of the War in France, Belgium and Holland. This year he will be celebrating his 90th birthday and despite having had a rough few years he is with his two sons in Normandy today and even made the front page of the Telegraph newspaper this morning. He has returned many times over the years and I’m pleased to report that a big fuss is being made of him and the other veterans.

I cannot imagine the horrific sights he must have seen that day and during his time serving during the War, and at such a young age.

19, is only two years older than my nephew Alex who is studying for his A-Levels and due to take his driving test next week.

19, is only four years older than my nephew Ben who is currently sitting his GCSE’s.

19, is only six years older than Ed, my baby!

I will be taking the time to think about all our heros today. 

We will remember them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book review of Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane

French Village Diaries book review Hotel Zenith Oscar Coop-PhaneMy review today is for Zenith Hotel by French author Oscar Coop-Phane, translated from French by Ros Schwartz.

This is a short, easy to read account of a day in the life of Nanou, a Parisian street prostitute who lives in a grotty room at the run down Zenith Hotel. Despite the subject matter this isn’t an explicit book, but does contain some references to sexual acts.

We follow Nanou’s musings as she writes about her day and thoughts on her life, but with cleverly inserted detailed snippets of the lives of those she encounters - her clients. The men who lead her off the cold street into a warm room for ten minutes are all different, but their lives are going nowhere fast. They have issues, problems and worries and for different reasons take comfort in her arms.

This a very descriptive book where life is presented with harsh, grimy reality and not at all sugar coated. I felt a lot of sadness too, Paris is the city of love, but this shows another side of real life, the loneliness of those who exist without the world really noticing. Nanou notices and is there for them, but who is there at the end of her day when she is back in her tired room, smoking a cigarette in silence.

Zenith Hotel , published by Arcadia books is available in hardback and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. I was sent a copy of this book to read and review by Trip Fiction - whatever your location, they can take you there in the pages of a great read.