You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘france’ tag.

Weddings, marriages, nuptials. Celebrations, festivities, partying. Three days of connubial revelry!

In France you’re required to be officially married in the Mairie (town hall) before the church ceremony. Benjamin and Berengere’s civil wedding was to take place in the Marseille Mairie at 2pm.  “Marseille” murmured Robert “Marseille!” he exclaimed. I could see him thinking…‘A convoy. Of cars. Of us. And young children. On an hour’s drive. Through Marseille! Oh god…’

Friday was hot. Very hot and humid. Even Madam de la bastide was ooh-la-la-ing and flicking her wrist at the heavy wilting heat of the morning. To add to the discomfort our apartment had become overrun by a million unwanted visitors. Flies. Circling, bizzing, fizzing, bumping, crawling and invading absolutely everything; eyes, ears, mouths, skin, all morsel of organic matter no matter how minute, any drink and every surface. Thwacking and flapping  ineffectually,  someone was eventually sent off to find citronella candles and fly traps as the rest set about trying to feed, dress and calm children, babies, fraught men and women (‘where’s my tie/cufflinks/pants/socks?’ ‘do these shorts pass for smart-casual?’ ‘oh no! my dress’s covered in fly crap!’ ‘it’s too damn hot for a jacket. what am I going to wear now?’ ‘I just want to wear flipflops. my feet won’t do shoes.’ ‘my make-up, my make-up…it’s all melted!’) all exhausted and sweaty (sorry, glowing), ready for the off.

That same evening we had arranged an impromptu get together for all visiting family, best men and close friends. The number was growing alarmingly. Coming up trumps, Janet and Chris, very good friends not attending the civil marriage, happily volunteered to collect and prepare provisions to feed the swelling hoards, so leaving us free to enjoy the hospitality of Martine and Roland, Berengere’s parents, after the ceremony.

1.30pm and we were miraculously ready! Will was the chosen one; he would head the convoy due to his intimate association with God (satnav). We thanked heaven, too, for car aircon. As the journey progress the cool calm of our insular interiors soothed and de-stressed us. We managed the alarmingly individual driving of Marseille with surprising aplomb, remarkably found enough parking spaces within 400metres of the Mairie, only receiving a jittery “Are you here yet?” call from the anxious bridegroom as we were decanting ourselves onto the pavement.

Ben, Beren and Camille during their Civil wedding

Ben, Beren and Camille during their Civil wedding

The two families gathered on the steps of the Mairie, which is set in serene green grounds of trees, shrubs and water, before being shown into a large airy room with french doors overlooking the gardens and lake. The ceremony was simple and informal; small children playing hide n’ seek amongst the guests or staring intrigued by the ritual questions and answers. It was soon over and we decamped into the grounds for photos before returning to the Ize family home where we’d been invited for champagne, tea, swimming and, of course, fiercely competitive matches of petanque (boules) between French and British.

On our return journey we negotiated the suburbs of Marseille without a hitch returning to Valbrillant by early evening. Benjamin was to follow with Camille a little later.

Janet and Chris had excelled themselves – the central pool table groaned with plates of food topped with makeshift paper hats against the unrelenting flies; cold rosti chicken and guinea fowl, bowls of mixed leaves, tomato, bean and carrot salads, new potatoes, pizzas, bruschettas and brochettes, cheeses, olives and bread. Folk soon started arriving.

Madam hurried towards me looking anxious and harried. Le monsieur de la bastide, she informed me, had decided to close the security gates. These did not work like clockwork. After the code had been punched in a little series of stops and starts were required before the gates would open fully. Proceeding too quickly would jam the mechanism….This is what I now understand…at the time I only got the gist of her explanations. She also asked if we could keep the noise down as the other guests were slightly ‘formidable’. I assured her I would do my best, we were after all quite a ‘grown-up’ gathering.

At 10.30pm all the lights went out. Will and I mistakenly thought there had been a power cut as thunderstorms had been rumbling about the area. We went to investigate and found the door to the main house locked and barred. Fiddling around with keys and chains we found a switch which turned the lighting on. As we returned the lights went off…we tried again with the same result. The message was clear and loud ‘end of party’.

Guests forced to leave, battled with the gates. It was not an easy departure and monsieur was not amused. As I made my way down from showing Benjamin and Camille the bedroom they was sharing with us in the main house I was met with the frightening spectre of a furious and threatening monsieur; half naked and towering above me he fumed, swore and gesticulated with throat cutting gestures at the inappropriateness of celebrating forthcoming marriages in his domaine, an unflattering caricature of Yul Brynner in the King and I and Telly Savalas from Kojak…shocked I apologised profusely to no avail.

Le monsieur’s aggressive attitude left me a bit shaken, nevertheless we eventually all settled down for the night and the big day tomorrow…

Until tomorrow!

Until tomorrow!

I’m back, I’m back! Well, actually I’ve been back since last Wednesday…but it’s been full on. We hit the ground running. So much has happened, with so much to tell that I’ve been stalling in the starting; consequently everything has backed-up into enormous unwieldy stacks. (I have a great analogy, but do forgive its bucolic nature. Sometimes when a freshly calved cow first comes into milk her udder becomes severely engorged.  The pressure is so great it prevents the milk from flowing through the teat freely; the newborn calf finds it difficult to get milk out so stops sucking, exacerbating the problem. One needs to completely strip the affected quarters out, release the pressure, relax the valves and start again…so, that’s where I am – just about to begin the stripping out and trying to establish a smooth seamless written flow!)

Leaving the farm at any time of year is difficult, but during the second half of June it’s particularly so as I’m generally gearing up for haylage and hay making.  Following the last two diabolical wet weather years I’m even more jittery than usual. Ideally I need to make enough good quality first-cut haylage before the end of June to allow sufficient growth for a second cut at the end of August.  So before we left I’d had long searching talks with my contractors, and it was decided that they would go ahead with haylaging if the weather set fair.

We left chaotically early in the morning. Matt and Clare, our friends, had kindly moved in to look after the farmhouse, dogs and stock.

The journey to France was as uneventful as any journey could be herding a large gaggle of adults and children.  Arrived at Avignon, we successfully sorted out hire cars and proceeded to our B & B (a large beautifully dishevelled bastide) with the aid of God (our purposely acquired satnav).  It was stunningly hot, 36C or so the car said, and humid…new babies, new mums and super-hyped three year olds were feeling the strain.

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

The Madam de la domaine could speak not a stitch of English but ‘understood’ my expressive gesticulating and stuttering franglaise. This prompted her to talk to me fast and in great depth about all things. I gathered we were short of a room…but she could possibly help out, otherwise we were going to have to double-up in the apartment. Swift instructions were given as to where the supermarche was, the boulangerie, the butcher, the gasoline, the candlestick maker; everything in fact we could wish for.

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

I returned to the family who were exploring our apartment.  From  the shady gravelled courtyard a pair of imposing french doors led into a large spacious living area where an enormous covered pool table acted as a multi-use surface for everything from cooking, eating, sorting, storing to baby changing…leading off this were the bedrooms, architecturally intriguing but unfortunately for us Anglo-Saxons completely dark and windowless! We came to the conclusion that this whole area under the main bastide must have once served as a store or kitchens. From the courtyard we looked down over lawns to an impressive soft-yellow sandstone surround swimming pool. The gardens were bordered by ripe barely fields bleached to wheaten paleness, with a small wooded hill beyond. To the left we had the most stunning views of St Victoire, Cezanne’s mountain, ever-changing from the softest dove grey through washed-out blues into rose quartz pink, magenta and deep palettes of purple.

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

Robert, Olly and I made our way to the shops indicated by Madame to find food for supper and stock up on basics. Still hot even though it was early evening, roads and buildings shimmered, the sound of cicadas swelled as we passed roadside trees and bushes, the smell of sun-baked earth and astringent herbs filled our nostrils. It was so different, so very different from the damp, tangled greenness of Locks Park.

I thought this might amuse you. Can you remember when I was having the dickens of a job finding out whether I could send my organic beef and lamb to my son and family in France?

I was sent spinning around every conceivable agency and organisation, embassy and Government department, both English and French; not one, it appeared, had the faintest clue as to any rules or regulations governing the export of meat from the UK to France.

Eventually I was told to contact Eblex (in England) by the French Department of Agriculture (in France). My luck changed as I was recommended to one importantly busy Jean-Pierre Garnier, the font of all knowledge surrounding matters such as the import of meat to the EU from the UK.  Jean-Pierre, jetting to Dubai (he’s very, very busy), was unable to speak to me personally, but his delightful PA contacted him mid-air and within minutes confirmed what she had thought to be the case. You do nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I was given the green light to stuff my case, pockets, shoes and bag with squishy lumps of meat. Or, of course, which was my preferred option, to send over my usual insulated, vac-packed and labelled boxes of the stuff.
“So it’s nothing, then? Rien?” I was slightly sceptical…

The piece I subsequently wrote was picked up and published in the Countryman magazine. Sam, a sheep farmer in the South East, mailed me. He thought it was a bit ironical considering.

“Considering what?”

“Considering the notice Johann Tasker saw a few weeks back.” (Johann Tasker is an editor on the Farmers’ Weekly)

“What notice?”

“The one at Paris Orly Airport.” Sam very kindly forwarded me a photo of said notice.

I was gob-smacked. Truly, yes. My jaw fell open, hit my boots and stayed there.

I just had to get hold of Johann to see if he would mind if I showed it to you. He said “Go ahead” (nice man) “though it’s not tip-top as it was taken on my phone.”

So here it is. Squint a bit, improvise. But you’ll get the gist. A Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) warning notice, prohibiting the import of any meat or dairy products into France from the UK.  And, please, do tell me what you think is going on…!

the notice at Paris Orley Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

the notice at Paris Orly Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

“Oh and one more thing. Do you have any information about sending organic meat to France?”

I was on the phone to the Soil Association (SA).

“No, it’s definitely dead.” I said “Yes, and butchered. The same I supply to customers in the UK. You know vac-packed, labelled, insulated boxes, ice packs, pretty paper, recipes…”

I listened.

“It’s not a great quantity. No. It’s for my son. Yes, he lives in France and he, his future wife and family want my meat.”

Ben and Berengere had asked if it was possible to send my beef and lamb down to them in Marseille.  As I was talking to the SA anyway I thought it  as good a place as any to start my enquiries.

But unfortunately they had no information on exporting organic meats, only importing. DEFRA, she thought, should be my next port of call.

I called DEFRA.  If I want information about FMD/Bluetongue: press 1. Avian flu: press 2. The whole farm approach: press 3. Helpline: press 4. I pressed… another list of options and choices – yes, helpline again: press 9.

A very helpful and efficient person answered. No, they didn’t have any information on the export of organic meat but they could give me the number of the department that did.

Animal Health – yup, if I called them they would have all the answers. I was given the local phone number and a call reference number too. Excellent, I thought.

I phoned Animal Health. Heavens no, they didn’t have any information about exporting meat to France. Yes, they used to but it had all be centralised. Did DEFRA really say they could help? Well, how out of date were they?

I was directed to call the centralised Animal Health Export Centre in Carlisle where they could definitely help me.

I called. Those options again…cats, dogs and ferrets to the EU. Cats, dogs and ferrets not to the EU. Livestock and germplasm (germplasm?). Live animals, dead animals, other animals, meat and dairy…that was it. I pressed.

“I wondered if you could help me with necessary licences and/or regulations needed for the export of a small quantity of organic beef and lamb to my son in France.”

“No, sorry, we don’t deal with exports of meat to the European Union. We only negotiate with third world countries. Actually, in reality, we work with the world. All of it. “

“France? It’s in the world.” I squeak

“No, we have nothing to do with the European Community. You need to talk to the French Embassy.”

“The French Embassy?” I’m amazed.

“Yes, google it.”

“Okaay. Google it?”

“Yes.”  She softened and giggled, warming in quite a conspirital way “Actually I go to France quite a bit for my holidays. You can find out all sorts of things from the Embassy site, about where to stay, what to eat and how to drive there. Really good maps and advice too.”

“As well as the export of meat?” I try to bring her back to the point in question.

“Oh yes, I should think so.” She replied, crisp and business like again “It’s them, after all, who look after their borders.”

I said a small thank you and did a search for the French Embassy. Loaded the English version and dialled the helpline number.

The options were spoken in French, which is much prettier, so I listened again, then again, and again…eventually someone picked up – they must have a signal for ‘imbecile-on-line’.

She spoke in French. I asked her politely if she wouldn’t mind talking to me in English as I wasn’t too sure of the correct way to ask about exporting meat. With a very French ‘Pooffe’ and a Gallic shrug reverberating down the phone, she replied in perfect English.

“Export of meat? You’re asking me?”

“Well yes, I was told you may be able to help?”

“No, this is London.” She replied with icy clarity “London.  You need the French Department of Agriculture. Possibly the science department.”

“Oh. Could you put me through to them please?”

Without any hesitation the phone was ringing again. Another list of fast spoken options, in French. Ah, but wait…if I didn’t understand, it said in English, hold and I would be answered! A very proficient woman answered and changed to English immediately she heard my voice.

I repeated my question.

“Why are you asking me?”

I gave her a potted history of the last two hours.

“How extraordinary” she said “You don’t need us. I can’t believe this. Someone in your country must know!”

I nodded franticly on the phone. “Yes. Yes. I agree. Completely.”

“Well, it’s very obvious. You need to contact the MLC or Eblex. In England!” she says…from France.

“Oh, that’s great. I’m a member of Eblex. Thank you. Thank you so much.” I gabble.

“No problem. They, of course, will know…and good luck.” she threw at me from across the Channel.

I phoned Eblex (in England). A lovely lady answered. I’d come through to the wrong department. But that was okay. She knew exactly the man I needed, one Jean-Pierre Garnier. She would give me his number, but as he’s very, very busy she’d also give me his email. Any problems I was to get back to her and she’d find someone else to help.

I phoned the number. Jean-Pierre’s PA answered. I asked my question.  Jean-Pierre was in Dubai, she said, he’s very, very busy. But she’d see if she could reach him and get back to me as soon as she had. The phone rang within ten minutes.

“I’ve just spoken with him. It’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make quite sure. You see I take meat back home with me to Spain. And yes, it is exactly as I thought…you do nothing.”

ARRGH!

ARRGH!

It was hot and windy and oh-so-bright. Friday, last week. The sea spangled and sparkled in ten million dazzling triangles momentarily blinding the eye with strings of black blots gliding across a backdrop of shimmering rainbows.

We strolled slowly through the crowds, contented cats full of tapenade (a paste of olives, tuna, anchovy and capers), anchoïade (crushed anchovies in oil, served with raw vegetables), grand aioli (poached salt cod, with vegetables and aioli sauce), farci (aubergine, courgette, tomato, onion stuffed with a delicately perfumed forcemeat on a rich tomato sauce) and tourte (a pie of potatoes, onion and garlic bound together with cream and eggs, wrapped in cured ham and crumbly pastry, served with crème fraiche and salad) washed down with glasses of ice cold rosé, the palest of pale pink. We watched in relaxed companionship the remains of the morning’s fish market being packed away and listened to the harsh nasal twang of swarthy Marseillais fisher-folk as they hollered and shouted to one another across the port above the impatient revving traffic and gush of their flushing hoses. Little Camille, entranced by twinkling rainbow prisms caught in the cascade of cleaning water, ran, arms outstretched, trying to catch the elusive crystal drops. And a seagull shat on Benjamin.

In all the clamour I almost didn’t hear it. Insistent, irritated it brring-brringed, bring-brringed, brrringed against my hip. My phone! I pressed it firmly against one ear but even with my hand clamped tightly over the other could barely make out the faint voice at the other end.

“Mum…..bluetongue…we’m….ade….Devon now’s….red could…tion zone!”

“What? What? Olly, can’t hear…shout. Very noisy. What’s that? What? Ohmygod did you say we’re now a protection zone. Oh shit, oh no! Where is it? When did it happen? Have you phoned the vet? What did they say? Oh heavens. You’ll have to vaccinate. Is there any vaccine? What did you say the vets say? What? When? Hang on. Hang on, I’ll just find a hiding place. You want me to come home? Hang on.”

Eventually I got the gist of Olly’s call. We didn’t have bluetongue disease in Devon. The vaccination programme had been going so well they had now advanced the protection zone to Devon. Vaccine should be made available from the 26 May. Hoorah! This was good news, not the catastrophe I originally thought. I asked Olly to call the vets, confirm our stock numbers and get an idea of when the vaccine would be released. A couple of frustrating shouted calls later and we had a clearer idea of timing. The vaccine most probably wouldn’t be available until I was back.

We arrived back last night. I phoned the vets first thing this morning. My vaccine would be ready for collection after four this afternoon. I’ve got it. It’s in my fridge…and tomorrow, first thing, we’ll start bringing the stock back to begin our vaccination programme. Soon, but not just yet, I’ll breath a little more freely!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been stretched, scrambled and thoroughly tangled in the sharply contrasting ribbons of my life.
It was the dreaded fashion show. The last thing on earth I feel like doing at the end of a long draining winter is modelling…especially alongside gloriously nubile exquisite eighteen year olds. I moaned, complained and protested; pleaded, implored and beseeched all to no avail. I was ‘in’ – part of the show and nothing short of dropping down dead was sufficient to winkle me out. There was the demanding, time-consuming merry-go-round of rehearsals, fittings, makeup and music to be juggled around the demanding, time-consuming merry-go-round of housed animals, mind-bending bawling cows, rush topping and field rolling. It happened; it was a glamorously glitzy fashionista extravaganza and I managed to avoid catching a glimpse of myself in any of the three hundred twinkling mirrors.

I mentioned backalong my son Ben was moving to France with his French partner Berengere and their little daughter Camille at the end of April. They were keen for us to visit them. They wanted to show us the wonders of Provence (Berengere is Marseillees), explore the area they’re hoping to live in, see where they are going to work, celebrate their choice of wedding venue and of course to meet the French contingent – the whole of the Ize family. With their and our busy schedule the end of May seemed the only opportunity. On impulse I arranged our visit for the late May bank holiday, relieved once the cows were out and relishing the quasi freedom that followed.

But there was shearing to take care of and the little matter of two late calving cows that looked imminent. Shearing was planned for last Sunday but as so often with these things the rain intervened and Simon re-booked for Tuesday evening – the night before we were due to leave. As sometimes happens when things are meant to be one of the cows conveniently calved on Tuesday just before shearing was executed with efficient speed.

Now I’m writing from Marseilles, outside on a warm evening with swifts screaming overhead, being entertained by Camille and getting to know my new, and very welcoming, French family.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

Archives

CPRE


CPRE Logo
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

follow me on twitter