mon coeur de campagne

living a simpler, rural French life


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Looking After Lily

Beep! Beep! The school bus was honking it’s horn outside our neighbours house but there was no sign of anyone home. So I went over and collected a slightly bewildered 3 and a half year old little girl from the bus. I carried her back to our house and she soon relaxed once we got a box of toys out to play with.

A little girl who doesn’t know a word of English and me an “empty nester” with limited French. I found the box of J’s old cars and roadways. Lily got stuck into it straight away.

Lily’s mum and dad both work and her dad had got delayed. He was very grateful. Then when her mum got back from work she came over to say thank you as well and gave us a dozen fresh eggs. We have since shared several delicious meals with them.

Now we look after Lily whenever we can. Mr B and I think up different ideas to keep her amused. The forest has proved to be a great source of ideas. We found twisted sticks that looked like snakes and spent a happy afternoon painting les serpents for Maman and Papa. Another time we collected an assortment of leaves and Mr B drew a huge tree for Lily to stick the feuilles onto.

It reminded me of my 70’s childhood when we made “handicrafts” using old cereal boxes and loo rolls and when Blue Peter was must watch TV where you could make amazing things with an old coat hanger and sticky backed paper. The time before Ipods, Xboxes, Wii and even before the internet.

I’ve dug out the paperback Puffin book which was part of my childhood called “Something to Do” full of exciting ideas to do all year round. If it was a rainy day or we dared to say we were bored out came the “Something to Do” book. There was a different chapter for each month with a themed little poem, activities, nature, recipes and games. Pom-Pom making, how to make a dolls house out of shoe boxes and even conker toy furniture.

Something to Do (Young Puffin Books)

Just looking in the “Something to Do” book has unleashed lots of happy memories not only from my childhood but from the GG and BB’s too. We always had a box of “junk” on stand by to make castles and space ships from. The kitchen walls and fridge door proudly displayed the latest creations.

Kids don’t need the latest electronic toys to have fun. I am glad that we had lots of fun with the world around us and I can now share that with little Lily.

And it’s helping my French too!


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We’ve gone nuts

Podge the dog looking for a squirrel.
Our two beautiful walnut trees have provided shade for us to doze and laze in hammocks slung underneath their leafy boughs.  But most importantly of all lots and lots of walnuts…..
Here’s Jack and Milo harvesting the walnuts a couple of summers ago.  When we weren’t living here we had to harvest the walnuts a bit too early while they were still in their green skins. We roped in our friends and family who were staying with us to help.  The only problem was that peeling the walnuts left us with terrible dark stains on our fingers for weeks and weeks.  I think it took a bit of explaining for our friends when they went back to work with dyed hands looking like they had been in a bank raid.
But this year we were able to let the walnuts fall off the tree when they were ready resulting in a bumper crop of the sweetest, nuttiest walnuts ever. 
French walnuts are said to be the best in the world. 
Smooth and nutty walnut liquers, walnut oil for delicious salad dressings, walnuts sprinkled on a beetroot and goats cheese salad, added to walnut bread, mixed in a coffee and walnut cake, carrot and walnut cake, and, maybe, my favourite a few eaten with a creamy blue cheese such as Roquefort or St Agur.  
Do you have any other suggestions?


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Mistaken Identity

Learning to speak French can be fun, frustrating and sometimes just downright embarrassing.

Last summer I was coming back from a walk when I saw a group of my French neighbours looking very upset. I went over and asked ca va? I thought that they said that Didier had died. Didier is a neighbour and sheep farmer. He drives past our house 3 or 4 times a day, always with a cheery smile and a wave.

What a terrible shock! What had happened – an accident perhaps? I thought they replied that it was his heart. I then asked where was Didier’s wife? One of my friends looked puzzled and said with Didier of course. I then said what about the sheep? Who is going to look after the sheep? More puzzled looks accompanied by lots of shoulder shrugging. Well, after saying poor Didier, I then headed home and told my husband and my brother who was staying with us on holiday. They were both very shocked as Didier is around the same age and he had died so suddenly. So that evening my brother and my husband sat up late in the garden under the stars reflecting on how short life is and drinking to Didier.

The next morning, my husband with a throbbing head, pulled back the curtains and saw Didier driving past as usual going off to work. He did a double-take. Was he seeing another ghost? That’s nothing new for my husband! He shouted up the stairs “Didier is alive!” I woke up with a shock. Feelings of relief soon were replaced by confusion and dread. If it wasn’t Didier – who was it who had died in the village?

I later found out that it was the wife of one of the villagers who had been standing looking so upset. I used to regularly visit her because she was house bound, very kind and I enjoyed her company. I felt absolutely mortified as I had ignored the poor man with my ramblings about Didier and sheep. What was I to do? I had already made an awful mistake – I was worried that I would make the situation worse if I tried to apologise to him in French. So I decided to write a letter of sympathy and to apologise for my behaviour.

He took it very well, in fact, he laughed and said tell your husband to have another drink tonight for my wife this time. Needless to say we were honoured to be invited to the funeral.

The story has gone down in village history – for months afterwards at aperos and get-togethers it was the source of much amusement and even now the story of Didier le phantom is often resurrected!  


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Saturday Night Social

photo by Adrian Saker 

We live deep in the heart of Le Morvan, a national parc in Burgundy.  It is very rural and fairly unpopulated compared to where we lived in England.  Some visitors say that we live “in the middle of nowhere”  well that’s the way we like it!  

We have a fabulously eclectic circle of friends here including French, English, Dutch, Flemish, Corsican and Australians. We regularly socialise with our French neighbours, as well as an internationally famous artist, a handbag designer, a botanist, teacher, talented craftspeople, professional brocanters, IT gurus and many more. 

Recently we have enjoyed delicious Chinese (complete with chopsticks), Italian, Indian and, of course, French meals with friends.

Tonight we are hosting a meal for les anglais.  It’s going to be Italian meatballs with English mash followed by blackberry and apple pie and walnut cake.  The blackberries, apples and walnuts are all from our garden.

And other times it’s completely unplanned and impromptu, evenings that have started out as an Apero and finished many hours and many bottles of wine later. 

But that’s another story.


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Remembrance and the Resistance

Photographs by Adrian Saker

Today was Armistice Day in France, a time to commerate the signing of the Armistice agreement the end of the 1st World War, a time for remembering, proud banner bearing, marching and the partaking of le vin d’honneur.

As it was a Bank Holiday here we decided to take the afternoon off and go and visit the Musee de la Resistance en Morvan at Saint-Brisson. The Morvan suffered badly from the Nazi occupation, with arrests, deportation, execution, burnt farms and villages.

The Morvan Forest, a heavily wooded, quite isolated area in the Nievre, Burgundy proved an ideal place for the ‘maquis’, the underground movement to take hold. The deep wooded valleys of the Morvan countryside provided ideal hiding places near to hamlets or farms.

The role of women in the resistance has long been overshadowed. Mostly young girls, they showed as much courage as the men and were equally involved in dangerous and clandestine activities. Some fought alongside the men and others took dangerous risks such as Louise Aubin who was stopped at a German checkpoint outside Corbigny with a secret message from the Maquis Bernard hidden in her chignon. In return for a kiss the soldier let her go – literally a hair-raising moment. After that Louise always memorised all the messages by heart! Others were not so lucky, Henriette Marguerite ran the field hospital for Maquis Socrates and was shot and died alongside her Maquis leader.

The maquis were responsible for liberating most of Le Morvan.

The day finished with a stunning sunset on the way through the forest in the middle of November.