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Category Archives: Provence

A British Shrug And Drug-dealers In Provence!

It was the end of October 2011, and we were rather wearily heading for Provence, but our spirits slowly lifted as we headed south once again. We were looking forward to yet another birthday within our small family group, the birthday of our youngest member! Having already bought the two-wheeler with stabilisers that was tightly strapped and secured to the back of our ‘old girl’, our long-suffering Citroen, we anticipated much use being made of the bike in the ample grounds of a Provence gites complex.

My menfolk were all suffering in the aftermath of a particularly virulent gastric bug, so there were many pit-stops en route, and we arrived a little later than we had agreed with the owners of the gites complex. However, that didn’t appear to be a problem, a lovely pot of tea appeared within minutes of our arrival.

As we sat and talked about ‘roles, responsibilities, expectations’, I noticed Madame B was not as visibly jovial as her husband; in fact, she looked distinctly nervous! Just as I was beginning to wonder when we would be taken or directed to the cottage for our ‘sole family use’, Monsieur B suddenly told us that he and his wife had heard about our ‘dreadful ordeal’ from friends who live further north. Without further ado, he proceeded to clarify a new agreement that he and Madame B felt would be in our ‘better interests’. Based on his understanding that we are pensioners with little to no chance of securing paid work, the new deal was that we should rent the cottage for €460 per calendar month, pay for our own utilities, and gas for cooking, carry out the full list of ‘jobs as previously agreed, in return for the low rent’, and consider it a ‘long term arrangement’.

By the time Monsieur B finished with, “Now, how does that sound?” Tom and I were virtually slumped in our chairs, we knew we could not afford to go with what the guy was suggesting. It was as simple as that! Furthermore, despite the €50 worth of fuel we had put in the car that morning, and the €50 worth of fuel it would take to get us back up-country to friendly faces, we were not prepared to be taken advantage of in that way.

I pulled myself together and politely asked Monsieur B if we could please revert to Plan A, as Plan B didn’t suit, and it certainly didn’t equate with his advertisement in a particular forum’s Classifieds section. Madame B swiftly agreed with my request, but Monsieur B just shrugged (had obviously lived in France for a long time) as he uttered the immortal words, “Well, I don’t believe you have much choice, Chrissie, your only alternative is to spend another winter in a tent.”

Family and I still have something left that is of immense value to us, our dignity. I thanked Madame B for the tea, and I saw honest tears in that woman’s eyes as she caught hold of my hand and gently squeezed it, mouthing one word, “Sorry.” We quietly headed up the drive, back to our ‘old girl’, and the sun was dropping beyond a beautiful blood-red horizon as we drove off to find the nearest, open camping site.

Provence in late October – an open camping site is a tall order! That night, we slept in the car, behind evergreen shrubbery that divides most French lay-bys from motorways. Just after 3am, the menfolk and I were wide awake and fascinated as we watched the drug-dealers at work. My word, there are certainly some busy night owls in the south of France! But, in reality, that was the lull before the storm!

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Snakes Alive!

During our many journeys around France, we have seen some truly beautiful sights, eg majestic Golden Eagles hunting over the vast, volcanic contours of the Auvergne; we had never seen a Golden Eagle before we moved to France. Short-toed Eagles, Eagle Owls with their huge, brilliant orange eyes, red and black Kites, and a host of other birds of prey that are generally only seen in television documentaries in the UK.

We once heard the low growl of a bear when we were camping overnight in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were thrilled, not at all frightened or concerned for our personal safety. Brown bears in the Pyrenees are an extremely threatened species, quite simply, they kill sheep and are killed in return.

In Brittany, snakes were our constant companions! During the 2011 summer, a Western Whip fell from a skylight onto the bed in which Tom was sleeping. Considering that Tom had never been quite that close to a snake before, his reaction was extremely laid-back, he calmly called me! Western Whips are not venomous, but they can be rather feisty if they feel threatened, and they will strike and bite with speed if pushed into a corner! The snake slithered into a hole in the wall of the bedroom, shimmied its way down inside the wall, and popped out through another hole in the dining-room! We decided to open the patio doors that exited the dining-room into the tiny front garden of Nikki’s house, and we evacuated for a few hours! It seems that the snake took the hint, we didn’t see it again!

A few days later, whilst strimming a path through the meadow to Jerry the pony’s summer pasture, we came across a specific species of grass-snake, a Couleuvre vipérine, slowly guzzling a large frog for its lunch! At first, we thought it might be an adder, but swift identification via the forum on which I was a Moderator settled our nerves, although, not without some hilarity! Advice given included the instruction to ‘find out if the snake’s eyes are round or slanted like a cat’s eyes’! Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Who wants to get that close to a potentially venomous snake! However, at the end of the day, the frog had a lucky day, the snake was as startled as we were and released the frog before slipping away into the long grass. Somewhere in my on-line storage file, I have a photograph of that snake.

Just after my 62nd birthday in October, Nikki returned from the UK, and we returned to the wonderful Limousin lake environment where our friends had kept the caravan aired and open for another visit. It was during the following few days that we secured a long-term stay at a gites complex in Provence, to start at the end of October. The deal was this, we were required to clean and maintain the three gites and the gardens, swimming-pool and grounds, take bookings and sort out the changeovers, in return for sole family use of a two-bedroomed cottage in the grounds. We were also required to pay €100 per month towards electricity and water, buy our own gas for cooking and our own logs for heating. Now, some might consider that to be on a par with slave labour, but we welcomed the opportunity for stability.

The day before we were due to leave our friends and their cosy caravan, yet another snake was dragged into our lives by one of our friends’ cats! Another grass-snake, the very pretty, less than a metre long reptile was playing dead as the cat patted and toyed with it on the lawn. Fortunately, the cat was denied the chance of a coup de grace, and the snake was released into a safer environment out of the confused cat’s range of vision!

During the course of that day, one by one, all the menfolk were struck down by a bug that turned out to be a 24 hours vicious gastric virus! So, we were a very tired, drained and motley family group as we left our friends in the Limousin and headed for Provence. Little were we to know that, once again, as has happened several times during the past 4+ years, our homelessness would prove to be a wonderful opportunity for another British human being to kick us when we were down, and put us back in the tent!

 

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