Week 21 (France 16)

Where were we?

Still here.  For our last full week.

Where should we have been?

Still in China.  We would have been wending our way North and East towards Shanghai.  Our boat from Shanghai to Osaka was planned for next Wednesday.

What did we actually do?

Ben’s birthday

It was Ben’s birthday on Thursday, the last of our three family Tweed to Tokyo birthdays, none of which has been quite as we expected.

Quite aside from the fact that we are not in Shanghai, Thursday was forecast to be rainy so we had abandoned the idea of a big walk, much to the children’s “disappointment”.

In the event it was gloriously sunny, but in order to keep the birthday peace Ben decided to go on a bike ride instead. It wasn’t too much of a hardship.

We had invited Debbie and Philippe for dinner and we had a fantastically convivial evening with them over three courses, a bit of wine, cake and even some Chartreuse.

Not all of this was drunk.

It possibly wasn’t the most exotic and well-planned birthday Ben had ever had but he says he enjoyed it.

And everything else

Last Sunday Ben and Aurora took advantage of the fact that borders are now open and drove back to Switzerland to see if they could find the long lost Duplo A, last seen at a motorway service station between Geneva and Bern.

Aurora had made a Duplo playlist, and agreed with Ben that this was at best a very long shot of recovery. There is a recurring joke in Asterix in Switzerland about Switzerland being very clean and tidy, so the chances of finding a teddy, from 15 weeks ago, still lying on the ground in a car park were vanishingly slim.

From “Asterix in Switzerland”

After 3 hours on the road, the sight of a man with a leaf blower clearing the car park on a Sunday morning was predictable. There was nothing at lost property either. We came home, knowing we had done all we could for the much-lamented Duplo A.

We started to really think think about packing up and leaving this lovely place. There are various jobs that need to be done to leave it in the best possible state.

We began by turning out the cupboard of old ski kit. A dormouse (of the large, Romans-used-to-eat-them variety) had clearly made a lovely home there over the winter so this wasn’t the nicest of jobs. It is however now done and all the ski kit has been claimed or chucked.

The after photo. Viewers of a sensitive nature might have found the before picture too distressing

Ben got to take his post birthday hangover to the tip as a reward….

The height of fashion and good taste in about 1989. These didn’t make it into the “save it” pile.

We weeded, tidied and swept the garden, cleaned all the kitchen drawers and delved so far down the back of the sofa that we found a pine cone and a very small lego superman watch. We have no idea who either of them belong to.

We also packaged up and posted (at an eye-watering cost) lots of the things we had been so kindly lent, and an even greater number of things that we don’t want to leave here or throw away but which we won’t have room for in the car.  Having arrived here with the bare minimum of winter clothes we have acquired a lot of necessary summer clothes and quite a bit of not-so-necessary stuff.  We will look forward to hopefully seeing it again in 5 weeks.

It turned out that Harriet should have been slightly more sympathetic (not one of her core skills) about the hangover as it wasn’t entirely self-inflicted.  A trip to the doctor for Ben on Saturday morning diagnosed an infection (not Covid for anyone who was wondering) and, this being France, necessitated a trip to Grenoble for blood and other tests.  It all felt a bit like overkill, but he came back with antibiotics and is beginning to get on the mend.

We had another long and fabulous walk up and round the Col de la Saulce.  Ben had cleverly planned this, which was mostly in the shade, for the hottest day we’ve had so far.  Once again we were privileged to be among extraordinary beauty, with woods and meadows and mountains.

Our wild flower stars of this week were the orchids.  We saw five different varieties, three of which were new to us on that one walk.

It is true to say that the orchids have done a great job with their branding. There a doubtless huge numbers of equally rare and wonderful flowers here, but we (aka Harriet) don’t get nearly as excited about them.

A leaky pipe about 100 metres away from the house needed fixing on Thursday (Ben’s birthday). This meant that we were without water for about six hours, although we could (and did) fill buckets from the basin of the fountain. This wasn’t hugely convenient when we were trying to prepare a birthday meal, but did mean that the children learned the important life skill of flushing a loo with a bucket.

Note the fountain itself isn’t running…

Harriet’s lovely pale blue shoes didn’t survive their first proper walk entirely intact. 

This made her unreasonably sad.

We did well on our foraging, collecting a large number of (admittedly very small) wild strawberries. We made good use of them in Ben’s birthday cake.

Harriet’s bank card has disappeared. This is irritating rather than anything more serious as we are certain it must be in the house somewhere (she gave it to Lucy to go to the boulangerie and it has clearly been abandoned somewhere Lucy-ish). It’s been temporarily frozen, so all we have to do now is find it…

The lavender is out in the garden and playing host to an array of butterflies, bees and beetles.

We have a new category: fungus of the week. The first winner is amazing, and, when you think about it, quite obviously named, yellow coral fungus.

Magnus and Harriet tackled a kit that he had been given for his birthday and made a Strandbeest.  So far we’ve only manage to make it work with the aid of a hairdryer, but we have high hopes for the Atlantic beaches.

Our best real beastie this week was a very large, very green, cricket.  Sadly he was missing a leg so we suspect he may not have been feeling his best.  It did mean he was pleasantly still for the photo though.

Harriet went out for a spontaneous (uncharacteristic), twenty minute, girly drink with friends Debbie and Carol mid-afternoon and mid-week. It was brilliant fun and she talked way too much.

Lovely friends (former colleagues of Ben’s) came up to visit on Saturday afternoon. They arrived while Ben was in Grenoble getting poked with needles but Harriet had a delightful time sitting in the sun and drinking elderflower cordial with them and their children. 

And later that day we had a party.  We realise that that seems an impossibility for anyone in the UK, but it is totally permissible here and although we did provide hand gel, we don’t think Covid was on anyone’s mind. 

The kids turned it into a pool party and the adults chatted as the sun set over the mountains.  Plentiful rosé was drunk (we will be bringing some back) and nibbles nibbled.  We have been very lucky to meet such lovely people during our time here and it was a delight to be able to spend time with them all.

How was it?

Good bits:

Sophie: I liked the tasty barbecue, and while we’re on the subject of food the naan breads and Daddy’s birthday cake. My favourite part was the party.

The teddies in the window at the tip made me smile.

Lucy: Daddy’s birthday obviously. It was very fun and I enjoyed the dinner. The party – I had some good chats and had lots of fun in the pool. The walk was nice. The strawberries were nicer. Sophie and Aurora were really kind on the day I didn’t have my phone. And I enjoyed today as well.

Magnus: The naans were really tasty and yummy. My Strandbeest was cool. I liked the walk to Perquelin with Sophie and Aurora.

Harriet: Apart from Ben being ill it has been a lovely week.  We really feel as though we have put roots down here and it is lovely feeling part of the village.  Our party was great fun and our little dinner for Ben’s birthday perhaps even better.  I feel (and those who know me will realise this is not always the case) very relaxed.  I am enjoying spending time with our children,  which also isn’t always so.  Perhaps the fact that I am writing this in the hammock and none of them is in earshot may have something to do with that…

Having an excuse to do lots of baking is always a good thing as well. It makes me very happy when people like the food I make.

I was very proud of myself for putting the Strandbeest together too.

Aurora: Going to Switzerland with Daddy was fun but we didn’t find Duplo. I enjoyed making flapjacks, brownies, popcorn and biscuits and helping Mummy make nibbles for the party. The PARTY!!! Athough I spent the whole time trying to get everyone go swimming and no one would come in. I liked going to Riis’s house and getting my new hat because I kept stealing Riis’s. Swimming was really fun and Daddy’s birthday was amazing. Fabulous, beautiful, marvellous, wonderful food. I am the best eater.

Ben: I had a lovely birthday, and am still loving being here and feeling very at home. We have made lovely friends here (whether now or my old colleagues from 20 years ago). It has been satisfying finally to do some of the tasks that I meant to do fairly early on in our stay.

I was quite proud of myself being a big brave boy during my blood test. I am never the best with needles, and I was feeling ropey too. But for goodness sake, I’m 48, and I perhaps I should grow up, and not be such a scaredy cat. Maybe all those injections against rabies and encephalitis weren’t a complete waste of time and money after all.

Bad bits:

Ben: I am rubbish at being ill, and would have liked to have been better company at our leaving party. I’m glad that as I write this (one day later) the antibiotics are having a positive effect, though the side effects of tendonitis (no running or big walks advised) and sun sensitivity, as we set off for the sunniest beachiest bit of our trip, are a bit foreboding.

Aurora: Not having Duplo. People being annoying (I can’t say who but you can probably guess).

Lucy: It all got a bit frantic before the party and there were some scratchy bits on our long walk.

Magnus: I got a massive headache at the party and went to bed in the middle of it.

Harriet: The ten minutes after Ben came back from the doctor and announced he needed to go to Grenoble when we had thirty-odd people arriving three hours later were perhaps not my finest and most supportively wifely moment.

I was disproportionately cross about getting my new shoes muddy, even though I knew it was inevitable.

Sophie: The long walk wasn’t bad if you know what I mean, but you know, it was a long walk.

What did we eat?

Snails. Ben’s birthday treat.

We also had an Eton mess birthday cake, with our foraged strawberries and redcurrants from our friends’ garden (ours aren’t ripe yet). Despite a lot of internet research Harriet yet again failed to identify a variety of French cream that will whip, so it was perhaps less stable than some cakes, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Our party required a lot of nibbles, which, with several sous-chefs (some more enthusiastic than others) and a maître pâtissier in the making (Aurora), were fun to make and even better to eat.

How are the tadpoles?

Not sure. The ones in the bird bath are being more elusive than ever. It has been hot and cloudless for much of the week and we don’t think they like that at all. We have barely seen them all week, and only when it is cloudy. The outside sink colony continue to do well but we still have no sign of legs from any of them.

The water really is that green.

On the upside the outside sink is also now home to a large number of other larval things. If these tadpoles do ever turn into frogs they won’t go hungry.

Probably baby crocodiles. Or unicorns.

What’s next?

This week will mostly be spent tidying, cleaning and packing up. We leave here next Friday.  We have planned and booked our route home and we now know where we will be every night until 6th August when we have a ferry crossing back to the UK. 

The children then go back to school on 11th.  What could possibly go wrong…?

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2 Comments

  1. MARIE-FRANCE FALK

    Hello Fab Campbell’s family,
    Nearly the end of your stay in the Chartreuse and all the beauty it offers, but no doubt you’ll be back for holidays.
    Some of the photos are gorgeous, especially one with some kind of water circling the head of one of the girls in the river and lately the reflection of a sunset in the pool. Un vrai chef d’oeuvre !
    You could have asked me about the right whipping cream : crème liquide légère minimum 33 % de matières grasses. Before you whisk the cream, it is important to put the salad bowl in the freezer as well as the beaters. It makes a lot of difference.
    I have to say the cake with the wild strawberries look scrumptious.
    Belated happy birthday Ben. I hope he feels better now.
    Wishing you a lovely time on the Atlantic coast. Don’t forget to climb la Dune du Pilat sur le Bassin d’Arcachon. The children will love it. Victor and I climbed it.
    Love to you all.

    • That’s what I had! But it would never have occurred to me too freeze everything first! Thanks for the tip.

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