In the times between our trips away in Benny, we have been pleased and excited to be able to host a procession of visitors from the UK. The first overseas guests of the year were friends from Northampton, Cathy and Graham. They arrived to stay for a relaxing week in May, with some gentle exploring punctuated with tasty meals and long bouts of relaxing. Unfortunately their visit coincided with the worst weather of the season. We had to deal with a cold snap and a biting wind that forced us to retreat indoors for every meal and wrap up in coats for local walks. It’s wasn’t totally unseasonal, just not filled with the delightful spring-time sunshine and blue skies we had all hoped for.
This drop in temperature didn’t stop us too much, but lazy days by the pool were swapped out for more local sight-seeing, market visits and long countryside walks. Graham, although their visit was billed as time away from work (for all of us), was keen to assist with a couple of on-going projects around our grounds. So, whilst the girls relaxed or pottered in the garden, we took a few hours each day to mix concrete and build stone walls. The first project was a low-level corner to level off the area around our pool so that we could add a paved surround at a later date. The second, a multi-day affair, was to rebuild a collapsed wall in one of our stone out-buildings, rebuilding the reveals and adding a chunky oak lintel above an existing window opening before closing in the stonework above. Both of these were of immense help as they would have taken me months to get to and Graham enjoyed the change and the challenge. They also made our evening beers taste that little bit better for the satisfaction of a job well done.
We browsed several vide greniers ( literally ‘empty attics’, or as we would call them car-boot sales) in local villages. We inspected the vast array of colourful porcelain items available in one nearby specialist store. Three of us went out for a couple of hilly rural runs. We visited a Fête du Pain (festival of Bread) in another village, located on an old farm with a wonderful display of ancient tools and implements. They had stalls selling everything from cheeses to cockerels, hunting dogs to hats, but we came away with huge loaves of bread and a fantastic strawberry tart. We visited Limoges on a clear, bright but still chilly day, walking miles around the central streets. We solemnly walked through the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, learning about the atrocity. We baked, we cooked, we ate, we drank. We even swam once, in our still cold pool (17 degs at the time), but for the refreshing shock rather than the exercise.
Less than a week later, Nicky’s mum and dad arrived. This was a more sedate and shorter visit, and the weather was kinder. We did much of the same things as before, only with more emphasis on the relaxing downtime. Nicky’s dad, being very handy, was keen to assist with a few small technical jobs around the house, including repairing the belt chain mechanism that now allows our pool cover to be retracted by winding the handle. We strolled around a local lake and along a voie verte, mixing exercise and fresh air with time resting in the sun. We sipped gin and tonic by the pool, played bat and ball games on the lawn and held an overly-competitive game of pétanque one sunny evening.
One Wednesday, Nicky’s mum had organised to play bridge with a club in the nearby town of St Junien, an impressively gutsy decision to meet strangers and play such a complicated, subtle game all in French. During her game, we returned to nearby Oradour-sur-Glane with Nicky’s dad. This visit took on a more poignant feel as we realised that he was the exact age now as many of the 205 murdered children would have been if they had lived. We looked at their photos, only 10 years old, and thought about what kind of lives they could have led, what they could have achieved, and how the future was cruelly taken from them all. It underlined our privileged existence.
We had exactly two weeks until our next visitors arrived. We used these days to complete a few more jobs and tidy up a few more corners of our home. A few days before their planned arrival a strange package arrived with us from Amazon. Neither of us could remember ordering anything, so our interest was firmly piqued. On examination, we realised it had been sent to us from our soon-to-arrive guests. On opening it, we found it was a 8-person raclette set and grill, perfect for interactive fun meals with friends. I later remembered a subtle text a few days earlier enquiring as to whether we had one, under the guise of reminiscing about a meal we’d had when skiing in Serre Chevalier, but I hadn’t considered the enquiry as anything more than happy French memories. Very naughty of them to be buying gifts.
We drove to the airport to pick up the gang. Jon & Fiona and Ollie & Karen, more Northampton friends and ex-work colleagues of mine. This time the weather was firmly on our side. A solid week of grey-skies sodden with rain broke the day before their arrival and bright clear, sunny skies held until the day after they left. They should visit more often. It was a balmy 20 degs first thing in the morning, climbing to 31 degs in the shade at its daily peak. The nights dropped to no less than 14 degs, but often held higher. Our time together was focused on long tasty meals, local walks and lazy days around the pool.
The guys wanted to help with a few jobs, and chose to assist with adding timber battens to our blockwork pool shed. I had started this, but was unsatisfied with the colour and spacing of the battens I’d fitted so far. Together we decided a tighter spacing was required and no stain, that letting the battens grey naturally was best. Bringing out all their mathematical and architectural skills, the guys got down to work. Ollie manned the tape-measure and chop-saw, providing Jon (and I) with correctly sawn lengths of batten to nail carefully into position. Together we slowly progressed along the elevation, hiding the black waterproofing membrane below and bringing order and life to the once dull façade. Another huge thanks to for a job well done, and for the delivery of beers to site by the ladies.
We ate every meal, breakfast lunch and dinner, in the breezy shade of our veranda. We spent long lazy evenings chatting, eating and drinking, catching up with our varied lives. A favourite meal was when we agreed to a first use of our new raclette. We all ate far too much, covering mountains of potatoes with self-melted cheese and various charcuterie slices, chunks of baguette, roasted tomatoes, buttered courgettes, leafy salads, mushrooms, fried eggs and much more. We ate until full, paused for a drink and a chat, then ate more. This was what days in France were made for; warm nights, fine food, great friends. We hope to be able to welcome everyone back again very soon.
We said our goodbyes as clouds began to slowly gather, our hosting now complete, for a while at least. We will take a few days to gather and organise ourselves and then we will head off for a month in Benny, to experience Provence and the Cote d’Azur. We have entered a few 10km races to add a skeleton of structure to our travel plans, but beyond those fixed dates our days are open, free and easy, so we will see where the winds and our whims take us.