Thursday, December 14, 2023


 Yes, the leaves are falling fast....this year, probably for the first time, I have noticed that the biggest leaves fall first.  I leave it to those much clever than me to make deductions based on this observation.

However I did not realise one of his reasons...just look at this picture of the Virginia Tulip Tree this autumn.....soon there will be leaves, leaves everywhere.

Fortunately Stephanie - la gardienne - is very pleased with the leaf blower and works it hard.  Imagine her surprise when I told of gardening advice I had heard from the BBC...Apparently one should NOT blow the leaves away for they are protecting the grass - and other things - from winter frosts.  The leaves become mulch.

Friday, November 10, 2023

It has been a wonderful year for figs - if you like figs obviously

We have three fig trees at La Chaise, two either side of the entrance into the Farmhouse barn and a third that just reached over the railing to the terrace alongside my bedroom.  That one had to be severely pruned because it suffered from a classic fig tree pest - of which more later.

The two fig trees you see here are either side of the barn entrance.  One bears black figs, the other has the classic 'white' figs which are actually green. As well as eating them I made some jam - a new recipe which uses red wine - and I also filled two litre glass preserving jars with whole figs in red wine.

The figuiers are the result of two fig sticks that we were given several years ago with the instruction - 'just stick them in the ground' - because they would just grow roots and get on with it.  However, I will admit I did look carefully to see which end was best to shove in the ground.   I judged that fig leaves would grow pushed the other end into the ground.   

BUT it is not only humans who like figs - small birds do as well but one can frighten them away.   The real pest that dissuades human visitors is the hornet and the hornet is very territorial about its figs.  This means no getting figs when the sun light is directly on the trees - the hornets will go for humans even dressed in full protective gear - face mask and helmet, gloves and boots...Finding figs by torchlight is difficult..

This is how the fig trees looked after it was decided no longer toput up with the nuisance of hornets...they had started to come far too close to the main house terrace - a dedicated human space.  One early evening a brave human with a handy chain saw reduced the fig trees to ground level.  But we hope for a more moderate size tree to appear next summer.

And now for why we cut down the fig tree that looked over the terrace of the main house - and looked right into my bedroom.

The great leaves of the untamed fig tree,
Benevolent hands that spread shade
Over the old wooden rocking chair,
Hide the small furry animal beneath.
Immobile it could be a much loved soft toy,
Dark brown with rounded ears,
A small pointy face, shining birght currant eyes,
A yellow bib under its chin.
It looks at me, in bed with tea and a book,
Annoying human in his place....
The sharp teeth bite into the fig
Held between two clawed, destructive paws,
Duck killer, egg stealer, the wild pine-marten.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The unprintable, the unseen, usually rare ...except at La Chaise!

 As I was strolling up to the road, hoping for post in the post box...something strange in the grass caught my eye but not strange enough to stop me in my tracks.   There were several of these strange least ten on the short way to the gate.   See below....pretend to hold your nose because it really is very smelly - unless it is raining.

So I decided to look it up in one of my specialist mushroom luck.   Aaach!   I knew what it was because I have seen it every year in the driveway of La Chaise.  

So, take a deep is the 'phallus impudicus' - and a more descriptive name one cannot imagine. But I was puzzed - not just because this time there were so many - but because none of my specialist mushroom books - all two of them in English - )listed it.  I put the question to Stephanie - (resident expert in all matters plant related) and she came up with the idea that a) it was so rare it would only be in very academic books....and b) its name was too rude to be conveyed to the general, possibly underage, public..  I laughed.
When I went to my local bakery/wine/ etc general store and showed the picture to my friend who has worked there for years - is in fact part owner - her first reaction was:
Oh! a 'morille'...a very prized mushroom indeed (except by me) and I had to disillusion her - but we both laughed...

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Desperately searching for the flea...

 The other morning I woke up - irritable and irritated - even though it had seemed an ordinary night. My restless hands then found the problem - something had bitten me during the night, there were large, red, itchy patches on the front of my thighs.  Adult discipline stopped me scratching them raw but it took me a while to remember that - hopefuly - I had a child's remedy in the bathroom cupboard.   I did, Apaiysil Baby soothed the redness. 

Despite an excellent yesterday's egg from the chickens, even a reasonable cup of (decaf - sigh) coffee and proper toast, I did not recover my good  humour and rather hid from people - not that there were any around.

           Eventually I overcame my shame and asked Stephanie what could possibly have                     inflicted such  horridness on me.   She looked and very kindly did not laugh.

          A flea, she said - it was a flea.  Then she told me what I had to do....

         First I had to wash the sheets at 60 C for a long cycle...OK but the sheets were large and           the washer could not cope efficiently with more that one sheet at a time......

        So one sheet duly went into the washer at full strength for over an hour.   The other I                 decided to put into the dryer for a long cycle with the pillow cases. The blankets, heavy             duty wollen, posed more of a problem.   The answer was the washing line and a child's             tennis raquet and my strong (huh) right arm.

        The spots are still there but no longer itch - nor have they increased in number - but I am         still embarassed... still wondering where the flea came indoor domestic animals.



e dryer           





Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Waiting for rain - again

So here we are again - waiting for the rain which will just not come.  We have restrained ourselves from using mains water for the essential plants - not by virtue but because the old wine vat in the woodshed has long been converted into a water source.  Accessing the outlet is rather tiresome as it is very low down but we soon learned to leave a bit of hose attached...

The plants are also quite confused and some are  into a second flowering - witness the buddleia -known as the 'arbuste a papillons' in French - but there are no papillons until next year....

France's most popular TV weather announcer - a glamorous blonde - was busy last night announcing the advent of rain from the north - the storm known as 'Babet' about to sweep over France quite soon.  Only on my tablet's version of the weather this storm was firmly fixed to the very northern tip of Scotland...

Ah well!   At least I can go back to my warm terrace with a cold beer and see how the 'chrysanthems' are doing...these are the flowers that celebrate the dead - they are well in bud that significant?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

A tree dies.....


This is is a dying Cox's Orange apple tree.....we brought it with us probably some forty years ago when we first came to La Chaise.   To be honest, we probably smuggled it in because countries are not keen on private individuals bringing in plants...But John did so want an English apple tree in our putative orchard...

We have cared for it with fertiliser, patching the holes in its bark, deterring greedy birds, pruning its excess growth.   But nothing helped - I do not remember ever having a fruit from that tree.  

Almost every year we removed the moss from its bark, patched the holes in its trunk, packed damp straw round the roots, added fertiliser  but nary a fruit was seen.

The butter coloured toadstools at its root must now have the final word. We shall have to dig it out and burn it - or we should burn it but burning is forbidden at present because of the lack of rain....

Sadly it will have an unceremonious removal - nothing like the drama that accompanied the descent of the great oak whose remains can just be seen behind the apple tree.

But perhaps, just perhaps....when it is gone some shoots will come up in the place where it was...Look at the remains of the great oak - there is a young oak growing there...We can - and shall - hope.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Passing life comes back to one pond.

A week or so ago, Stephanie spotted that we had an otter in the Black Pond in the woods. It was busy eating the dead carp, one by one.  Where the otter came from I do not know, nor where he has now gone...

The two carp that I bought all those years ago - in the hope that they would keep the pond at the Farmhouse buildings clear of weeds and other growth - were struggling when Stephanie first arrived.   The water was more like mud and not very deep mud at that. Stephanie announced that they had to be removed and put into the larger pond - the Black Pond in the Woods - that ran along the main roadside. 

 In knee high wellie boots, with a laundry basket as a tool,(see pic) she fished the carp out, one by one, and carried them in a wheelbarrow to the upper pond.

                                                  This is the Black Pond in the Woods

The carp took well to the transfer but promptly slid down into the mud so that we could not really see them.The occasional piece of stale bread would bring them to the surface but not much else did.

Sadly Stefanie did not manage to get a picture of the otter that was - so helpfully -  tidying up the Black Pond.  We do not know from where he came - or why, perhaps he could smell dead fish?  Nor do we know to where he - sorry, perhaps 'she' - has gone.

I have always been curious - and never got a good reason - why the buildings of La Chaise were built  nowhere near any fresh water springs.   Once I did employ a 'diviner' to look for springs at La Chaise - we had hopes of one in the ravine - but he dashed our hopes.

There were wells near the buildings, one largish one for the Farmhouse complex and a smaller one near the main house. One of my first actions at La Chaise was to get the well walls built up, above small child height, and lids put on. The main house well was soon filled in as a sycamore tree had decided to grow next to it, roots happily in the mud. It now has roses in it.

The Farmhouse well was next to its pond - it was one of those low entrance wells, the housewife would kneel in front of it, lower her bucket and pull it back up.   Obviously that had to go when our 20th century tourists came to stay. But the pond is still there.

And now I have a modern solution to keeping the Farmhous pond fresh!   The  Farmhouse has just been (expensively) re-roofed and I have added gutttering with a down pipe whose water will be led to the pond...

Who knows?   After a winter perhaps the wild ducks or the cranes will come back and refresh themselves on their long treks between Morroco and the Netherlands.


Monday, October 9, 2023

Some joys in old age...

 Failing memory is said to be one of the 'afflications' of old age.   Now that I acknowledge that I am officially 'old' - I succumbed to this definition also.  When I am in my usual cafe in St Astier quite often elderly women come and join me in my solitude - and they start chattering...

I know I know them because the faces are familiar.  But I do not know who they are or why/how I know them.    So I mostly just listen to their outpourings and interject - where I can - polite questions or comments but I never accept a drink...

But when at home my failing memory has had a positive result.    I do not remember where I have put things, sometimes I do not even know specifically what I am missing.   The positive side of all this is the amount of exercise I get walking round the house, going up the stairs, even sometimes to the garage or the vegetable garden, all in search of whatever it was.    Sometimes I even find things I did not know I had lost....

My new motto:   be positive

Friday, October 6, 2023

Same old, same old.....mushroom madness.

 Yes, once again it is mushroom madness in the Dordogne!   The only difference this year is that the sun is shining and no one is getting wet...There are cars parked dangerously behind trees, there are elderly people in rubber boots in ditches....And for why?   Because there has been an exceptional emergence of BOLETUS EDULIS...

Stephanie - with the aid of TDH* Martin - managed to collect 20 kg just from the La Chaise fields and woodland fringes.  It took only a little persuasion on her part for me to acquire an electric vegetable dryer....a very elegant, transparent device that now lurks on a shelf in the barn...It has been working night and day - I have been assured that its electricity consumption is very light.

Now - while no-body is really listening - I will confess that I dislike the boletus, it is spongy in consistency and very strongly flavoured, even in an omelette I find it disagreeable...Now for the big BUT...the reason for drying it.  Slivers of the dried mushroom give a most wonderful flavour to red meat stews - beef or game - obviously long term stewing with the appropriate strong local red wines.

But I must be patient....although the formal hunt season has started my hunters have not yet come up with their usual tribute of haunch of venison or wild will happen.

*TDH = Tall, Dark,Handsome

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

An informal community...

It has just occurred to me that - although I am the legal owner of the property known as 'La Chaise' - it seems to have developed into a sort of commune where various outsiders' skills and needs meet my lack of skill though much in need.

The fields are an example: grassland needs mowing or pasturing otherwise it just rots.   Since I gave up sheep-keeping because of age - (mine, not the sheeps')  I have had to find well equipped strangers to do the mowing - largish mowing equipment is needed, proper hay making machines. The deal here is that the person + machine who does the mowing and gets to keep the hay and I get clean fields, hopefully in time for the mushrooms to show their caps...

The individual trees are an even better example...I forget how many walnut trees are planted but I have not forgotten the chore of picking up the individual nuts...assuming the wild boar has not ploughed through them...Since my time some clever person has created a gadget for collecting the nuts.  This looks rather like a football made with metal fencing on a long stick,  The gather strolls to and fro, rolling his gadget into which the nuts neatly fall.

But it is the surrounding woodland that has produced the best partnership of all - between this land and woodland owner and the local 'chasseurs'  - the 'hunters' who want to stalk and shoot the wild life in both field and woodland.  It is in their interest that the wild game stays localised in my woods and fields.  So I have had much help with fencing - I buy the material, they install it.   There is 


Friday, September 1, 2023

1001 ways with a home grown courgette

1001 ways with a home grown courgette

Fatly sliced, or in chunks, to be stewed or pan fried

With onions, garlic, tomatoes, herb bouquet all tied;

Or grated into spiced flour and dropped in hot oil

To emerge as that gourmet delight, zucchini fritti;

Or hand cut, lightly battered to make vegetable chips

Whose deep fried nature on children plays tricks

Or layered with potatoes, topped with strong cheese

Baked over lamb mince, moussaka will usually please;

Or if too big, stuffed with plain rice and poor meat,

An old English Fifties country house watery treat;

Or if very young, finely sliced, dressed oil, first pressee

Expected by the modern, advanced diner as salad entree.

The Great Green Marrow is Vegetable-in-Chief,

Bullies cooks all summer till winter breaks, oh blessed relief.

Monday, July 3, 2023

La Chaise's strangest pest?

 This is a slug - anyone can see that it is a slug.....but Stephanie knew its proper name - it is a 'Leopard Slug'  and she said it is cannibal - somewhere there is a picture of one slug eating another - but I think that is too horrible to publish

Pine trees - the new crop for savy landowners...

 When called to attend an Annual General Meeting most people, I suspect will think various thoughts - starting with 'Oh Gawd, no' then conscience kicking in and saying ' you really should attend..after all, who knows what stupidities might be decided/executed that affect you..??

My decision to attend the AGM of  the Syndicat des Proprietaires Forestiers Sylviculteurs de la Dordogne was rather more I dignified I like to think.  There is a new inhabitant at La Chaise, one who is beginning to be particularly interested in wood, woodlands and woodland management generally.  Martin had just recently cut down an oak much higher than the house because I wanted to decide where it should come to land rather than wait for a random wind to drop it just anywhere...

In order to encourage his interest I had entered him for a course run by the SPFS especially for young woodmen.  It pleased him and furthered his interest - he also met other youngsters looking for these skills. The Dordogne is one of the most densely forest covered of the French provinces, mostly oak and chestnut according to local information.

Also I have vague ideas about tidying some scrubby woodlands on the edges of my valley and replanting with oak and chestnut - and perhaps some other species - I was thinking of elms in particular. (As a Dutchwoman I feel somehow responsible for 'Dutch Elm Disease' but why, i do not know). There is a France wide national plan for re-wooding and some 800 hectares could possibly be involved in the Dordogne.  Doubtless there will be some form of financial aid.

In the very beginning of our ownership of La Chaise , well over 40 years ago, we cleared a scruffy valley and planted all pines - which particular type of pine I cannot remember, there are, after all, over 170 different types of pine.    These pines had to be kept standing for 30 years according to some agreement details of which I do not remember - but some costs were tax deductible. They were duly cut and sold to a wood mill to be turned into paper or slats for crates.

In the years we had to keep this pinery, it had to be kept clear of invader greenery especially whilst it was still short.  There are quite a few wild animals that like pines - rabbits will eat the new growth, deer will feast on the higher, tougher branches, wild boar will trample them and turn them into mush....This is where the local 'chasse' comes in and we make a bargain.   The chasseurs will keep the destructive wild animals and so keep the woodland clear and they will be allowed to keep the game.  I do occasionally get a sizeable joint of wild boar but it is not easy to cook - in fact is probably an acquired taste.

The meeting was quite well attended with quite a noticeable number of women - so I did not feel conspicuous.  There was the usual interchange of opinions - during which neither speaker listened to what the other had said - and the solitary voice of a 'chasseur' drew attention to their contribution to woodland management.

Somehow the general tone began to unsettle me, nobody said anything disagreable but the general attitude to tree planting seemed somehow wrong.    It was the discussion as to when best to cut down the pines and how to market them - I heard that the cut could be done as early as 14 years after plantation.....

Only last year we were obliged to cut down a centennial oak because of a malady that made it unstable and likely to fall - some of the smaller branches had already fallen.  I organised an evening farewell party for the tree to which our closest friends had been invited.   The following day the professionals would come - the elegantly named 'elageurs-grimpeurs'...who with terrifying skill took the tree down bit by bit as you can see below...

All right, I am being overly sentimental....I remember as a very young girl putting a long veil on my head and, leaning out of my bedroom window, giving an emotional speech to an enormous Lebanon Cedar, subject not remembered...but there was quite an audiance of red squirrels...

But I cannot get my head round the idea of getting trees to grow - then cutting them down before their maturity - to me they are not like vegetables, not maize or sweet corn - there is still a link to the gods of old.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The joys - and annoyances - of a Dordogne spring...

 Oh, joy!   It is well into Spring here in the Dordogne - in fact we have just left May but the wild orchids are still flourishing.    Or so I am told because I (poor me) suffer from 'hay fever' which should perhaps be more correctly described as 'pollen fever'.   Not only am I alergic to the grass pollen but also to that of the pines of which we have a great number....I had better stop here or I shall be accused of boasting...

Wild orchids seem to be great individualists...they come up where they like which is not necessarily the best place for people or other co-users of the property.   It complicates Stephanie's gardening life because she will not  mow in order to save the orchids but is very disapproving of uncontrolled grass.   We shall skip over the feelings of 'Kevin' who is supposed to take the hay off my fields but has been told to delay - like last year.   However, he should console himself with the possible fact that the grass might possibly be very nearly hay dry by the time he gets to cut it.

And here you have three of the best:   from the top..'orchis jaune', followed by 'orchis hybride = because combines two types of orchid, the insect and the spider,  lastly is the 'orchis troll'....

which should please all Nordic readers as well as readers of Nordic myths.

Curiously enough this year the 'orchis bouc' - the one that smells of billy goat - has not come back to protect my front gate from unwanted intruders - in fact it does not seem to be appearing anywhere.

Monday, May 22, 2023

notes from the La Chaise bedroom

OK - so originally these two rooms had a floor to ceiling wall between them and were part of the addition to the main house when the then proprietor added them in order to house his mother in law - including the barn and wine cellar and the two small rooms that housed wine barrels  and the present day woodshed - 

The room that is now - as I write 17/04/23 - my bedroom was originally the main living/sleeping room for the in-laws, there was a wood fired stove where there is now my wash-basin... and the downstairs room was the kitchen/dining sitting room..there was a glass panelled door between the two...Cooking was done in the open fireplace next to which was a cupboard for crockery and other useful stuff.

When Harry was born the upper room became his bedroom and I had added a washbasin, we (the parents) slept in the room down a short flight of stairs - the room that is now ((april 23) set up as a dining room - and Clea later joined him there.  So they had a sleeping room and, down the short   of steps - a playroom with all their toys.  There was a memorable incident:   Clea could not yet walk, so slithered down the steps to get to the toy area....she fell and let out a tremendous yell, Harry came rushing to find me, was reassured to see her sitting up....'I thought she was broken' he said.

Some years later - when Harry had graduated to an extended 'lit bateau' upstairs in the attic and Clea had the whole front room to herself, with a very posh desk, lots of dolls and soft architect cousin Tom from the Netherlands came to stay.   The good thing about architects is that they can always see improvements, the bad thing is that it often costs money...

John and I used the upstairs room as our bedroom - pat self on back for useful washbasin - and John used the downstairs room as his office.   We had installed my Dutch grandfather's imposing oak desk - the one he used when he was chief of police in Rotteram - and John added an expensive leather desk chair that swivels. A Jotul cast iron stove warmed the room - Clea had once managed to set fire to its flue, at least then we did not have to have it swept...

Tom came, sort of approved but pointed out that the wall between the two rooms was not only useless but also ugly - it had to come down. The damp walls could be hidden, according to him, by elegant oak panelling and, indeed, in the place of the demolished wall clothes hanging cupboards could be installed. The proportions of the panelling were directly linked to the panels of the half glass door to the garden....

Monday, April 17, 2023

Mores notes about 'Stuff' in the house....


but this is going to be a bit of a ramble, like the previous one....

All the 'blue' glass stuff in the house - whether bowls or other form of containers - is Jordanian glass - we bought in in Bahrain no doubt...all hand shaped and blown - and tougher than it looks..

Also the hall cupboard which also has brass inlay probably also came from Bahrain...

When your father decided to set up his freight agency in Bahrain - I forget the year but there had just been a huge upsurge in the price of oil and the Arabs were feeling rich and hugely buying 'stuff' - causing much shortage of cargo space, hence the freight agency - he rented an unfurnished house and imported a 'package' of house furniture from a London retailer (Conran or Habitat) which comprised beds, tables, chairs, probably a sofa...

Communication was by telephone and telex machines which were operated by punched tape produced by a form of typewriter which I had to use....fortunately having done a typing course many years before...Unfortunately the climate of Bahrain was very humid which meant the tape was often damp and could I had to iron it before processing it..

The brass table in the sitting room dates back to this period too - it probably was imported from nearby India...

The screens upstairs decidedly came from India, sadly I no longer remember what tropical hardwood was used...

Sunday, January 8, 2023

As I was having a conversation with Clea in the sitting room, she raised a question about a conple of paintings....and I asked her if she was curious about all the things, would she like some background? Answer yes...

But first I should answer the question: why elesphants and bears?  When the war ended in the Netherlands, roughly in 1944 - I was only just born.   My mother, an excellent scrounger and finder of impossible things during the war, found me a bear, a very big bear.   Bear and I shared a cot for many years.

My maternal grandfather, Brigadier Coloneil Wilhem van der Vlerk, when courting my future maternal grandmother, was posted to what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).  Every year he was away he posted her an elephant, large black with ivory tusks.  Eventually there were four - of whom I now have three ....on the lintel of the kitchen doorway.

When my mother took me to England - she had married an English soldier - Bear came with me and also my new ability to read - in Dutch of course.    Somewhere in the boxes there is a picture of me sitting at a child's desk, reading a book - it was Barbar the Elephant - I assume it is in Dutch.   I use the present tense because it is somewhere in La Chaise, in fact there are several Barbar the Elephant books upstairs - the large foolscape sized, hard backed ones. She and her new husband moved frequently - almost every five years - my main security was Bear and my Barbar the Elephant books

But now, into the sitting room ....where I see a child's chair with a pink padded seat - that is MY chair that came with me from the Netherlands - in the picture it was painted blue and yellow...There is a second child's chair, more in the English style with rounded back...possibly Regency period.   It came from Kimsbury, the Percival house in Gloucestershire - which will crop up from time to time...and was probably used by your father..John.

The large gilt framed pictures over the radiator (bad positioning!!) are of the River Spey in Scotland - a precise point which John used to fish for salmon every July, a passion he learned from his father, Alexander Hope Percival.  I cannot remember why or when we acquired these paintings - including the little one over the CD shelvwes - but I do know that the River Spey was usually running through muddy,mossy, weed-full GREEN stuff.

Somewhere there is a photo of John fishing under the bridge in the picture...and I have very clear memories of the fight with winds to cross that bridge, even when in a car...    

John's mother had bought a house at Nethybridge, just outside of Grantown on Spey, for herself as a rival interest to Kimbsbury, and for her fishing mad hushand, Alexander, and son John. They spent most of the summer there when Alexander retired and before John had to take a job..

The sitting room furniture came mostly from Kimsbury ( a fairly hideous Victorian country house) when John's father decided to sell the property - my favourite piece is the rocking chair   I did not chose the colours - as far as I can remember - Catherine, John's mother was very fond of pink and blue for decorating..

The very large bird tapestry is one that I bought - I think - in Fulham (London) way back when, probably 50 years...probably for my house which I had just bought in Clapham (south London)...but I cannot swear to this...hanging next to it is a fly whisk with ivory handle and horsehair, it would have been used by the elephant mahoots...

The two framed embroideries have different histories: Clea thinks I did the one on the terrace wall but I doubt this, too perfect, too long to create. The other is one I definitely had framed, it was part of a fire guard that had got damaged.  Below it is the most interestting piece of furniture in the room - a corner cupboard probably of the Georgian period - probably the most valuable as well.

The three white board shelves holding all the DVD's are the only sign of DIY by John - but then the disc collection was his...the two metal birds on the bottom shelf are Persian oil lamps; the gilt and orange drum on the shelf above is a Chinese 'biscuit' container, on the topmost shelf there is an ostrich egg and what I think is a South Korean tea-pot that John back from a trip there...

(The sofa is of no interest whatsoever except that it is covered by an old pink kelim in need of repair)

There are two pieces of furniture which I believe we brought back from our time in Bahrain - the rectangular brass table and the two tier brass inlaid trolley which has been so wonderfully restored by Eric le Belge..

The floor carpet is definitely an Afghan which John probably bought in a London sale...all I can remember about it is that he said its colour was due to being soaked in camel pee...actually I think I might have bought it at Peter Jones, Sloan Square....