Monday, June 25, 2012

Black redstarts

It's difficult to use the terrace for a couple of weeks, because the black redstart family is in their summer residence at the top of a column under the roof. The chicks grow very fast, and the parents have to feed them frequently; when anyone goes out on the terrace they stop the feeding process and click shrill warnings to the chicks to stay still. I worry that if we disturb them too often or for too long the chicks will starve.

Black redstarts are called rougequeue noir (black red-tail) in French, but here they are known as rossignol des murailles (nightingale of the outside walls). Pretty!

The camera needs replacing, so there are no photos of Musatelier's rossignols des murailles, but you can see what they look like on

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Greens of the fields

This morning I went to the new library in St Dizant to change my books, and as it's actually summer now, went on Broomstick.

It's such fun at the moment, before it gets too high on the UV index or too mosquito-infested to enjoy a saunter around the countryside. Every time I go out, the fields have changed. The wheat is various shades of yellow, some looking close to harvest-time; the maize and sunflowers contrast with their different takes on what is an appropriate green for a fast-growing plant (sunflower leaves are a deep yellowish green, while maize leaves have a blue tinge). The vines have all their new growth in a light green. They practise rotation of crops here, so the big field to the left which was sunflowers last year is wheat this year; one would think that wheat would look less interesting, but a wide strip next to the lane has been left unsown, and it's full of wild flowers. And, of course, butterflies; butterflies were hard-hit by the repeated winter and not many survived in Europe, so each sighting is a joy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roundabout at Mirambeau

Roundabouts are taken seriously here in France. Not so much as traffic measures (though it has been known for people to be cautioned by the local gendarmes for not signalling when leaving a roundabout, and quite rightly too), but as places to ornament.

A couple of years ago the roundabout at the edge of  Mirambeau had a make-over which included an ironwork arch and a carrelet (fishing hut on stilts). Now it has a miniature vineyard as well, and roses and other plants for which this area is known.

Need a passenger to take photo!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Doves and pigeons aren't very bright, are they? A pair of woodpigeons has made a nest in my garden - in the honeysuckle which grows up the side of a wooden arch. It's a frail plant, and the birds are fat and hefty. If they manage to incubate the eggs at all, the added weight of growing chicks is likely to send their ramshackle home to the ground. That's if a cat doesn't casually reach in to the low-hanging nest and remove the chicks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn begins on the Gironde estuary

Last week I set off for rehearsal a little early because the sunset was beautiful and I wanted to drive through the rose and mauve air (it really does that on the estuary!). This week there was rain. it hasn't rained for ages, and the frogs have been waiting a long time to get out: there were hundreds of them, ecstatically leaping all over the little roads. Fortunately there wasn't much other traffic, so I could drive very slowly and swerve.

Last night we had thunderstorms, or one thunderstorm passing here three times. After the rain, the air is clear, the grass and small herbiage are green again, and wildflowers have blossomed. The sky is almost clear to the east; in the west lush multi-grey clouds are heaped like silk cushions against which the red, orange, and gold autumn trees glow so brightly they sound like a symphonic tone poem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Low as a kite

The Association Culturelle Dizannaise planned the second Sortie Nature (nature trail) of the year for yesterday; this time it was an evening outing. The weather had become strangely unpleasant, but it went ahead anyway. Unfortunately my winter clothes were put into storage in preparation for holiday-rental, so it took me much of the afternoon to excavate a fleece, warm socks, and waterproofs.

It was very windy out on the marshes, so windy that the dark clouds hurtling overhead had no time to lose any of their water-load, except for a brief drizzle. One person had brought an umbrella which promptly turned inside-out on opening. Swallows gave amusing displays of flying sideways and backwards; the funniest moment was when one of them, flapping madly, managed to turn, and suddenly found itself whizzing away on the wind with its little wings still whirring as it disappeared in the direction of St Fort with frantic squeaks.

Most of the smaller birds were in hiding or only visible if their nests were in clear patches, but the storks seemed unworried and there were herons and egrets and curlews and falcons aplenty, plus a busard cendré and a bird with pink markings whose name I missed. At one point I was a little ahead of the group and noticed a huge dark bird of prey: it came towards me, so close I could no longer focus on it with the binoculars, and just over my head it veered off along the estuary embankment. A black kite!

As usual there was a meal after the sortie, with much merriment and conversation (topics at our end of the table: education, nutrition, nuclear power, power outages, alternative energy, international finance, and of course politics). I was the only anglo present this time so there was no English, and I was pleased at how much I could take part in the discussion even when it all got rather noisy.

Between the second and third course the wind dropped and so did the rain. It pounded down for a few minutes. Before dessert I realised it was time to leave because Broomstick had no lights (I couldn't remember which box they were packed in); just as well, as the diet had already suffered. A little way down the road the rain started again, the road flooded, and Broomstick experienced surfing. My waterproofs gave up.

I was very wet and rather cold, but replete with good food and good company; and I'd been only a couple of metres from a black kite!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

La Roue Tourne

A new commercial centre has opened on this side of Jonzac; Intermarché and Bricomarché have moved into large shiny buildings there. I don't usually shop in Intermarché, but the new and bigger shop looked interesting and I needed some things from Bricomarché so I went to try it out. It's not bad, and has one advantage over Leclerc: the bags in the fruit-n-veg section are reachable.

As I left, I glanced into the brasserie at the entrance, and saw an amazing sight. A Victoria, parked among the tables! Of course, I had to go in.

The place is clearly owned by a fan of old vehicles. It's called La Roue Tourne (the turning wheel), and even the windows have been decorated with a horse and carriage motif. The coffee was very good, quite cheap, and served in attractive crockery; the warmed and slightly frothy milk came in a jug. It was empty, being in the lull between lunch and well, anything else; the bartender/chef/probably owner was outside chatting to friends but kept careful watch in case I needed something. He was very friendly, and amused by my reaction to the Victoria.

On the first Friday of the month they host a meet of vintage vehicle enthusiasts, who proudly display their cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and presumably carriages. I'm looking forward to taking visitors to see it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We may not have a bus service, but...

The postie brought a parcel into the house (the delivery required a signature) and I forgot to give her the letter that needs posting. Such a bother: I shall have to peg the letter onto the mailbox for her to collect. ;) I do love the local postal service.

As for bus services: there is only the school bus which picks up from St Dizant and Ste Ramée, is also used by the public and runs in the holidays too, but of course it's only once a day (Jonzac and back).

However, there is now a communal taxi, collecting from and delivering to one's home and running to Jonzac on Tuesdays and St Genis on Thursdays and Saturdays, with two or three hours in the town. It's a shame that the Jonzac service doesn't go early enough to connect with the railbus to Angoulême.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Birding on the marsh

The Association Culturelle Dizannaise organises local events, including two summer walks on the marshes guided by Fabien and assistants from the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (the French equivalent of the RSPB). This year the first walk was earlier than usual, so that we could hear the late spring sounds and see the storks nesting. There are plenty of chicks this year - one nest had four!

About 20 of us set off from La Grange de Marais, the nature site near St Dizant. We watched various harriers, bluethroats, egrets, falcon, many bright small finches... and other birds whose names I don't know in English. Fabien is amazing at picking out birds in the distance; there were telescopes and plenty of binoculars for us to look at what he'd sighted.

It was a very social walk. I'm not familiar with birdwatching, it not being a generally wheelchair-friendly activity, but I used to go out with a twitcher so I have a little experience. This was the first time I've ever been birding with people who chatter. I was on Broomstick, and at one point I decided to go on ahead as we neared a small copse. The birdsong coming from the trees and shrubs was fantastic, but as soon as the merry throng of humans arrived the birds shut up and there was sadly no opportunity to ask Fabien what birds were making which sounds.

After the walk, M le Maire and his wife provided a lunch under the trees at the camping/picnic site next to 1000 Frais et 1 Fred (he explained carefully that he was paying for it personally, not out of public funds). It was a simple but plentiful spread, and he must have spent a lot on the drinks because the apéro was pineau from the Château de Beaulon, and that stuff is not cheap. I can report that the orange juice was good. Towards the end of the meal Madame drove off, to return a little while later with flasks of coffee freshly brewed in her kitchen. So sweet :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Journey back to Charente Maritime

It was far too early to be up, but at least it was warm and dry when I crept quietly out of $Friend's house and set off up the hill, wheeling all the way and allowing time for rest-stops. I travel light when not going by car, but even the few clothes and laptop, and a few books, weighed enough to tip Chariot over backwards if I wasn't sitting in it. I had to be at the station early in case the train didn't come in on the nearest platform, as the lift to the new bridge over the lines still isn't open; wheelchairs have to be checked in 30 minutes before the train arrives, anyway.

I'd allowed too much time and could have caught the previous train, but it's not easy to change a wheelchair booking. Anyway, the hour passed happily in greeting old BT colleagues who were dashing to commute, chatting to station staff (in French!), and drinking coffee for breakfast.

At Liverpool Street the station-staffperson who got me off the train showed me where to catch the bus for St Pancras. However, the bus-stop wasn't there: roadworks had closed the street. Heading back towards the station and taxis, I saw the right number bus turning down a nearby street, and chased after it. Right number, wrong direction. The driver suggested I ask at the information place a few yards away; there, the information person came out to give me directions to the next bus-stop (the booth was, as usual, not accessible). I was bewildered and worried about getting around the roadworks, and his English wasn't perfectly understandable. He looked at me, locked the door, and said he would take me there. And he did!

The bus was quick and trouble-free, and I arrived at St Pancras in time for my ticket to be changed to an earlier train. Eurostar people are very good about changing tickets, even though it's a bit complicated with there being so few wheelchair spaces. The journey was comfortable, as it always is, though I wished the meal hadn't been breakfast. None of it was on the diet, it was all tasty and I was hungry.

In Paris it was very warm and sunny. The buses provide good views when they aren't too full, and this time they both had plenty of room. Having so much time to spare, I decided to wheel for a while, doing a bit of window-shopping and wandering through a park before picking up the 92. At Montparnasse there was still time for another drink in a café and a happy half-hour in a bookshop.

There were no problems at the Gare de Montparnasse, for which I was grateful because I was tired; I spent most of the three hours' journey half-asleep. From Angoulême to Jonzac there is a railbus, a beautifully plush coach (with motorised lifting-platform) which always has very few passengers. Leaving was slightly delayed by the intricacies of fastening-down the wheelchair, as this driver hadn't done it before. The straps for the wheelchair were fairly straightforward, but he confused the various parts of the seatbelt and had to unfasten it all and start again, apologising for having to put his arms round me to get it done. I offered to do it myself, but he wouldn't hear of it.

Finally, the taxi to home and the welcome sight of my house and garden. But what had happened to the garden? The grass was three feet high and all the summer flowers were out!