Sunday, 26 December 2010

Cold and Icy England

A view of the bar and terrace taken this morning

cold overnight but a beautiful day today

Friday, 24 December 2010

To answer your concerns

a couple of our kind readers have suggested that J and I are much more amateurish in our approach to business than we were in our previous roles.
I want to take this opportunity to assure you that this is not the case. In fact J and I have just held our
We discussed our strategic position, how we could get a win win from our unique service proposition in our exclusive location. We looked at how best to harvest the low hanging fruit, how to be more customer centric, the introduction of focus groups for feedback, innovations for value added perceptions all to be available in real time.
We have a state of the art, best in class set up and need to be proactive to get consumer buy in to best sweat the assets.
Our customers are offered a well positioned, value proposition that will make our business more sustainable. By being customer focused, putting ourselves in the customer's shoes, and being individually empowered and by using scalable best practices, constantly monitoring the business dashboard will enable us to be market leaders.

At this point we realised that we were talking absolute bollocks and ordered another bottle of red

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

France Life Pushing Papers

I thought it time to update you all on another aspect of french life, red tape.
For those that are UK based, be thankful. France has layers upon layer of paper shufflers in just about everything you can think of. It is said that 50% of the people here work for the government and I can believe it. Well, I can believe the 50% but not too sure about the "work".
We have just applied to accept the french equivalent of luncheon vouchers. The procedure is that you collate 5 pieces of paper and send them to a centre who check them, authorise them and as a result give you permission to apply to another department. The papers all have to be dated within the last 30 days , so you can never use the same ones, each time you have to apply for a copy which of course costs.
The most ludicrous is the birth certificate. Whenever J has to produce a birth certificate it has to be dated within the previous month. Mine was given to me in 19** and has sufficed ever since. But for J it means she has to ring the Marie of her home village and request a copy which is then sent through.
Our insurance company send us at least one letter a week, changing something, asking for extra information, updating this or that. we have a yearly health contract but they send us each a monthly authorisation.
Likewise no utility like water, electricity etc uses one office so one department will write to you asking you to send something to their company but at a different address. You do as required but they don't then communicate with each other so they ask again or assume you haven't sent it

I once visited China and was amazed to see about 100 men with wheelbarrows moving a pile of coal from one side of a piece of land to another. My thoughts at the time were " why use 100 men when a couple of JCBs would be much more efficient?" The answer of course was that China had 100 men to keep busy and better that 100 earn from working than 2 work and 98 go on benefits. I suppose the same applies in France so whilst people push papers around we will just have to grin and bear it

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cold beer

We have been told that the Vienne is cold in winter and they were right!!. We have had two days of snow and minus temperatures and whilst it isnt that cold, warming a house with big rooms and stone walls with no insulation is a big task.
As you can imagine the snow and temperatures don't help trade but we still get a few hardy people in for a cold beer.
The bar is decorated for Christmas and hopefully looks inviting.

we have an Xmas dinner planned, together with our caterer partner (called Tickle your Taste Buds) on the 12th December. This will consist of a Kir, a starter, Christmas dinner, dessert, mince pies and coffee all for only €27.50. We hope to get 50 people and this should create quite a party atmosphere. We have chosen the 12th as it is early enough before people return to the UK and guests arrive for those staying here.

Whilst it is quiet we have been concentrating on our lunchtime menu. we offer a 3 course plus a glass of wine for only 9,90. This gives us a chance to try out new things and a typical menu is

Entrees choice of
Potage maison (home made soup)
Nems ( spring rolls)
Salade au Surimi ( salad with crabsticks)

Plats choice of
Coq au vin Riz ( chicken in a red wine sauce with rice)
Saucisse Fume frites ( smoked sausages with chips)
Ravioli jambon cru, sauce tomat, salade ( Pasta filled with parma ham in a sauce with side salad)

Dessert choice of
Crepe au pomme ( apple pancake)
Batonnette au choix ( Magnum style ice cream or ice cream tub)
Supreme au fruit rouge ( mousse style cake with red fruits)

it's a long way from allocating stock and processing orders for print ribbons and only a few months

Monday, 8 November 2010


Autumn has arrived. Yesterday was the first day since we opened that we were unable to use the terrace. The wind blew and it rained for most of the day, a great contrast to last week when you didn't even need a jumper in the evenings.
The bar is warm and hopefully inviting. We are settling into the expected winter trade, few people, mainly meals and plenty of spare time albeit tied to the bar.
On Saturday we had an unexpected suprise. Hunting here is a big thing and it is rare to drive for more than a few miles without seeing men, normally with a shotgun over their shoulder, walking through the fields on the lookout for anything that moves.
Saturday afternoon we were sitting in the bar when two hunters came in and presented us with a small forequarter of bambi, as a gift from the hunters of the village. Remembering my butchery courses from my Tesco days, the meat is now boned and maturing ready for cooking in a few days, and no, it is not going on the menu!!
We have just agreed with a couple of dancing instructors that we are going to host once a month, an evening of social dancing, both tuition and practise. We will soon be rocking to the tune of the samba, the rumba and the tango.
We have also now become a drop off point for a company called Dont forget your These guys, based in Rochester, deliver food purchased over the internet in the UK from Tesco and Asda to expats in France. Food is cheaper in the UK and many people here get their income from UK pensions so in some ways it makes sense to buy in England and pay the delivery premium. I was completly dumbfounded however, when they opened the van and I saw that people were buying fresh milk and sliced bread and having it sent 400 plus miles but it works as every delivery slot they have is filled until the new year. For us, it's about people seeing the bar, getting to know what we do and perhaps even having a lunch out whilst they wait for the van to turn up.

Last but not least, we have just put Raviolis au chocolat on the menu. It may seem strange but if you get the chance give them a try, they are excellent

Monday, 18 October 2010

Where are the people?

Four good friends have just left us after a weekend visit. Their initial comment on seeing the bar and the village was " it's lovely but where are the people?
Champniers is very quiet, to see a person walking in the village is rare, to be walking and meet other walkers is most probably commemorated with a statue.
But the ex pats do come just like a french version of the end of field of dreams. Our first quiz was a great night, we had over 50 people sitting down answering questions and we think and hope a good time was had by all.

However our big event was Saturday just gone. (of course it was complete chance that this should coincide with a visit from four workers (sorry I mean friends)

This weekend was the Soiree Musical avec tourne-broche or in english, music night with hog roast. Eileen,our outside caterer, was in charge of HOG and the pictures below tell the story

I must mention Pete here, who helped with the pig, including hammering large spikes into it, even though he is a committed vegetarian.
I must also publicly condemn the other male visitor. His comments about his wife and her nightdress as the muslin was removed from the pig were not appropriate. Nor was calling for the KY as the skewer was inserted

Anyway, 8 hours later, the pig had roasted nicely and was ready to greet the 100 people who had booked for the evening. He was served with salads and potatoes, followed by Mars Bar Cake all washed down with loads of beer and wine.
The music was provided by a local duo who were very good.

Our thanks go to our vistors, Sarah and Julie for sterling work on the bar, and making the bacardi and red wine bottles much lighter for us to carry around.
For Peter for endless washing up and for being masterful in quickly learning and then
using the can crusher.
And also to Jim, for beer pouring, coffee making and for driving the troops!

We hope they come again and that Peter quickly recovers from being bitten by a monkey .
Our only regret from the weekend was that we couldn't attend the local festival in the village hall, It was a meal based on black pudding and chestnuts!!
We did go along after we had closed but they seemed somewhat suprised to be visited by 6 people at a quarter to one on sunday morning. They were clearing up so we missed out on the boudin noir (although one person did tread on one on the grass)

Au revoir

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Just so you know!!

Day off today.

Lunch in the sun

went out for a bike ride, 25 degrees, not a cloud in the sky

had to have a pint and a magnum !!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Two months on

Today is the 1st October so we have been open two full months. In that two months we have grown up, we are now confident in what we do, we have learned, in some cases the hard way, better ways of working and how to work together for the first time.
We now know what a diablo is, lemonade and syrup (squash), a monaco, a shandy with grenadine syrup, and even a baby, a small whisky.
We have met many interesting and friendly people, some who live here permanently, some who split their time between the UK and France and many holidaymakers. Our clients are a good mix of French and British but we have served Dutch, Kiwis, Aussies,Germans and belgiums. ( we have also met a couple of right miserable fatherless people but that's for another day)

We have hosted our first wedding reception, had a line dancing group practice in the function room, had the local hunters use the bar as an office for distributing permits,had our first function meal and in three weeks had over 100 people eating fish and chips in the bar on a Monday night.

We have more to come. Next Friday sees the first of our monthly Quiz and Curry night, hosted by an external company and on the 16th we have a free music night, featuring a guitar and keyboard playing duo and at the same time a Hog Roast

What else have we learned?
Nobody coming to visit gets away without helping!!!
That you can wear shorts every day until October (and beyond we hope)
That cash and carry's are more expensive than supermarkets
You never close on time.
The drink drive limit here seems to be a litre of wine (please don't try this)
That sometimes when the phone rings the caller can speak English
Who we kiss, who we shake hands with and who we just say hello to when they enter the bar
That Gilbert thinks our house wine is "too good" so we must buy him plonk instead for his daily 4 glasses
That we have made the right decision both in buying a cafe and in particular buying the Bar Les Tilleuls
That a good business is not built on focus groups, customer surveys, bullshit, lowest prices, or 50% plus 20%, or taking people out of the marketplace. Business is about making your customers welcome, having a smile, having time for them and making them feel at home and comfortable.

A few thank you's if I may indulge

J for putting up with me and "the lists"
Laurie for 5 weeks of decorating and general help to make the house a home
Moira for her help pre opening, thinking of many things that we hadn't
Jan and Terry for their help on opening night, the brocante and the wedding
Terry and Pat for their ten day " working holiday"
Our guest bloggers, Laurie, Moira and Pat
Cliff Brenda and Samantha for being our first customers (thanks for the postcard, I will send an email soon!)and becoming our first cafe friends
Gary, Chris and Richard and the senior team at MFI. Thanks again for your ineptitude. If you hadn't screwed the business I would still be there and would never have found out just what a great time you can have running a cafe in rural France

And onward we go, today as every day except Thursday, we are open from 11am until 10pm
Every day is different, every day we meet new people and learn new things

PS new menu available as of today!!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

guest blog 3 Bikes and Bruises (Pat Cook)

It has taking over half a century but I have finally done it, I have moved round the car park on two wheels. It couldn't be called cycling as on the first turn I managed to fall off, good job I thought it was better to be safe and wear J,s helmet as with the momentum of hitting the ground I managed to hit my head on a tree! Many moons ago I was told by my Nan if at first you don't succeed try try again, so I got back on adjusting the saddle as low as possible I had another go. I was going great guns and even thought I may venture out of the car park,however the confidence was short lived when I realised that i couldn't brake steer and peddle all at the same time (like when you first learn to drive and think I will never be able to mirror signal manoeuvre all at once )although I have to say I have found driving considerably easier than riding a bike .The next fall was even more spectacular as I wasn't riding at the time but trying to dismount and got caught up with the crossbar J,s trainers that I was wearing as all my own footwear was totally unsuitable (another lifetime habit).
Giving up on the physical stuff, we reverted to eating and drinking! Terry and I managed to masquerade as Miss Marple and Poirot trying lunch at a nearby bar. Not normally one to strike up a lengthy conversation with complete strangers we managed to find out why this bars trade was on the decline without being found out as snoopers from the Bar Des Tilleuls. Of course the reason had nothing to do with the fact that if I hadn't spoken to the owner he had no intention of passing the time of day with the clientele he was running a French bar English style and the TV probably came from his lounge back home.
its amazing the number of people who don't try to learn the language but still get by with Bonjour Bonsoir.Still we met some real characters of both nationalities especially the two guys last Saturday who were dropped of for the footie by their wives who uttered the words we can score another couple of goals in extra time( Man U ) only for the other team to then do just that Oh they wont live that one down for a while, but they were great fun.
We met some lovely people, all without exception love the Bar Des Tilleuls the warm welcome,the food and the house speciality the waffle is to die for (sorry cant spell the french word for waffle) (it's Gaufre ) I am still not sure how I gets away with the claim that the waffles are all only one calorie though!
.Finally the wedding reception last saturday what a great night. We had a buffet by Dawn from the cafe in Civray mentioned in Toute Allure, carrot cake her speciality although the Irish band wasn't Irish they were nevertheless very good .I suppose I would have liked to have Karen Wheeler sign my copy of her book however after my cycling attempt the thought of my two left feet line dancing is just a step to far. Well until our next trip to Champniers under the guise of a little support for J and I , we had great fun.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How Sad

Sorry to be serious for once but we had an incident here worth reporting.
Two british couples came to dine early one evening bringing with them two children, a toddler and a baby in a pram
J served them their meals on the terrace but one of the mothers wasn't at the table. She was pushing the pram around the car park, trying to get the baby to sleep. A few minutes later with her dinner getting cold, she was still walking round. J went across to her and offered to take over whilst the lady ate.
She walked the baby for a couple of minutes and then decided to take the pram onto a different surface so went out of the car park round the corner.
At this one of the gents jumped up and looked over, started across the car park and then returned. A lively discussion was going on and the second gent then got up and ran across the car park, and up the road to where J was with the pram. J had turned round and was heading back when she was met by the gent who announced that " we were very worried when we couldn't see the baby"

What have we done to our society where we have got to the point we have so little trust or so much mistrust. They were sitting on our terrace, outside our home and panicked when the baby was out of their sight for no more than 5 minutes and I was in the bar.
What will become of those kids if the are so protected as they grow up? They will never learn to fend for themselves if the parents are forever looking out for them. I agree there are dangers in this world but what chance have we got if we trust nobody.
Surely we should consider the "dangers" on their merits, a granny who offers baby pushing services whilst a mother eats, seems to be a fairly low risk.

And the worst thing, no other customer is likley to get asked if we can help them in the same way

Monday, 13 September 2010

Poisson Frites

Our joint venture with David and Suzanne of "Fish and Chips" started last night. They run a mobile chippie six nights a week normally parking up in town centre car parks for the Brits to come and get their fix. This is fine on a nice warm evening but on a cold or damp night the option of standing out eating your chips, or taking them home in the car with the resultant smell, means that customers stay away.

We offer the best of both worlds, fresh fish and chips and a place to eat them. The chippie sells take away as before but if a customer wishes to eat here, their meal is served on a plate and they take a seat in the bar or on the terrace. There is no extra charge for the plate or the seat but they feel obliged to buy a drink or three.

First night, with little advertising was very pleasing.

Maggie, with the first portion of Champniers fish and chips

Our challenge now is to get the French eating Ce plat traditionnel britannique sera disponible à la vente à emporter ou à consommer au Bar les Tilleuls tous les lundi de 19h30 à 20h.30 sur le parking municipal.

The chippie will now be here every Monday evening from February to December

Friday, 3 September 2010

Toute Allure They're Back

The Civray Stetsons are back together. Each and every Friday, they and Biff the dog don their boots and hats for some yee ha.......

more later


We had a "visit" from James(son no 2) and 7 of his mates. They were "road tripping" travelling from the UK to the Tomato festival nr Valencia in a couple of old decorated cars.

I suppose it would come as no suprise that they wanted to come and stay over for a night en route. The chance to stay with Dad, who has a pub looked like too good an opportunity to miss.
However miss it they nearly did as James, highly organised, very intelligent, plans to the nth degree, was found to be taking the convoy to the other Champniers 100kms away!!

The evening was very warm,the terrace was full and the atmosphere was great. We cooked them a dinner (hopefully to remember)together with a rather large bottle each of Desperados. They were introduced to "Barry the Brit" who was eating here that night and offered autographs. ( He had intended eating in Civray but had got lost)

We must also thank them for their help in the kitchen, washing up and clearing away.

They all slept around the house and were treated to, in most cases their first taste of, a french country thunder storm. The thunder was very loud and like storms do here, went round in circles, just when you think it's finished, it comes rolling back.

Breakfast was fresh croissants from the boulanger, eggs from a customer and off.
They travelled from us to Biarritz, then to San Sebastian, across Spain to valencia where they threw the tomatoes. then to Alicante where they had arranged to scrap the cars and fly home.

An Invite from The Mayor

Today was a big day. We have had an invitation from the mayor proudly sitting on our notice board for a couple of weeks.
Regretfully I cant go as I have to man the bar. J went,dressed up accordingly, together with the President of the General Council, the Prefect of Poitio Charente, the Deputy of the Vienne.
The highly distinguished meeting was for the inauguration of the village waste water works!! I sent my apologies and a double flush

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A wedding in town

Our village has two tourist attractions locally, apart from our bar. There is the Valley du Singe already blogged about and Le Vieux Cormenier which is a museum of life in the early 1900's in rural France.
Visitors to the museum are shown among other things, films of life in those times and this weekend a new film was being filmed in the church. This was a wedding scene.
We first found about it when the car park filled up with what looked like a coach load of Amish followed by a cart horse and old style cart.
The filming took place in and around the church and then the "bride and groom" were filmed riding through the village in the cart whilst the extras cheered and waved them on.

Following their exertions all of the cast and film crew came to the bar for the traditional wedding toast. It must have been a strange sight for passers by seeing a couple of dozen throwbacks from the 1900s sitting on the terrace drinking cold Kro.

They say that women love weddings and there was a crowd of onlookers as the filming went ahead, but not J, she wasnt interested, You may spot the reason from the photo

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Michael the Aussie and Barry the Brit

Champniers is sleepy. Tres tres calme. Life moves slowly. But yesterday we had two events worth a mention.

Michael the Aussie
Michael came in at lunchtme yesterday for a couple of beers together with one of our regulars. Michael, it turned out is from Sydney and is over here on holiday visiting friends and relatives. The conversation got to music and Michael said he was a very keen guitarist, and had just treated himself to a new acoustic guitar. I am not sure how it happened, if he offered or was invited but when he said he was coming back to eat with us in the evening, talk of a "concert" started. No sooner said than done and J was telling people, music on the terrace tonight and gratuit.

Michael duly arrived back about 7pm, complete with guitar. Having settled his kids on the pool table he set about the free concert.
He sang for about an hour and a half, a variety of songs which all went down well and by the time he had finished the terrace was just about full, not what we expected on a Tuesday evening.

Barry The Brit

So there we were, busy cooking and serving, young boys showing spurs how to play football on the tele, a full terrace outside and then Barry showed up.
We didnt know him as Barry then, he was just an english guy that walked into the bar mid evening, sweating profusely, dressed in jogging gear asking for some water. J duly obliged, waved away his offer of euros and off he went.
An hour later he was back but this time he stopped and told us his story. Barry and his wife are staying with some friends nearby. He had left them at about 7.30 for a jog, straight up the road to the village and back. But, he had tried a circuit and was lost. In his attempt to find home he had run to Civray and back, about 10kms, only to find himself back at the bar. He had asked directions of a couple of people en route but this had been slightly flawed, he speaks no french and didnt know where he wanted to be directed to. His "knowledge" amounted to his hosts first names, the fact they drive a freelander and live in a hamlet to the east of the D1. He had no phone and didnt know a number to ring anyway.
I offered to drive him home, a task easier said than done. He recalled the road he had taken, or thought he did. In reality he had run down so many roads looking for the right one, he remembered them all but not which one he should be on. He said he had run past sunflower fields but that hardly narrows it down in this land of yellow. So we went driving, here there and everywhere. By now it was 11pm and dark, and we were trying to find lamdmarks easily visible in the daylight but somewhat different in the glow of xenons. "it's near the big haybales" "the house across the road has a chain across the entrace" "there's a sign nearby but it's in French so I dont know what it says"
Poor Barry was embarrassed, recalling that the last thing his friends had said to him was "enjoy your run, don't get lost"
On and on we drove, exploring every road big enough for the car to go down and a few that really weren't. Our hope was that we would see the house he was staying in and spot his transit and caravan in the garden

after an hour I had to give up and return to base, it was nearly midnight and we were looking for a needle in a haystack. We sat Barry down and eventually persuaded him to have a drink and a sandwich whilst J rang the police.

Half an hour later the Gendarmes arrived. It transpired that they knew there was an homme perdu somewhere as his wife had reported him missing. They had the address we wanted and the last we saw of Barry was him climbing into the back of a police van to be taken back to his, I guess, frantic wife and friends.
The moral of the story is dont go jogging, stay in the bar with a nice glass of red or three, it's better for your mental health if not the physical.

As I said at the start the village is tres tres calme, on the surface anyway!!

An update

in answer to the comment left by PQ, I can report as yet we have killed nobody!!
the local french have been visiting our bar for the odd galopin ( 15ml of beer one mouthful), a glass or two of wine or a ricard. The british locals come for a coffee creme, a croque monsieur and a chat. we have traded six days a week so far from 10am until about 8pm, so days are long and its so tiring sitting in the sun on the terrace chatting you wouldn't believe. (in reality we trade until there are no more customers so it's often 10-11pm)
we are both getting into the swing of the job. I is cooking, a major change from the UK J is bar and french co=ordinator.
we offer an all day menu which can be seen at ( very good value, worth a detour if you happen to be passing)
Business wise we have spoken to an outside caterer so we can now look at using the large room for events (its 100 sq meters and seats 80 we have our first wedding reception booked complete with 4 piece Irish band and have just agreed with a local fish and chip van for them to be based in our car park one night a week from september

All in all, for early days we are very pleased with both our and the bar's progress

Thanks for asking

Sunday, 8 August 2010

French Life The Village Brocante

Yesterday was Champnier's brocante day. Each village has one "boot fair" per year and this is used as a fundraiser for the various village associations.
My brocante started on Saturday when I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss and so armed with A3 laminated ads, extolling the virtues of our new venture, went to strap them to posts and trees around the brocante site.
I had only put one up when I was stopped by two gents ( one the assistant mayor) telling me that this was a no no and that I was taking money from their buvette ( a stand selling drinks and food on the day) In a conversation in two languages, neither really understanding the other, I explained I was looking to grow the business of their village for the next year, not to take their beer sales on the day. A compromise was reached ( I think!!) I was allowed a sign stating Bar Ouvert for cars to see but no posters that could be read on foot.
J. concerned that I had blown the goodwill of the village went to see the gents as soon as I arrived back and the compromise was agreed with no harm done. I can do marketing but I dont think I will ever be a candidate for a CD number plate

Sunday was a hot sunny day (as most are!!) and the field starting filling at 7am with people selling their wares. Moira has already described a brocante so I wont repeat.
The brocante lasts all day with stalls closing down about 5pm. The village was very busy and our cafe had a great day (first wine sold at 10am, first cognac at half past)
The evening highlighted a huge difference in the culture of our two countries. The village had arranged a Moule Frite evening in the school playground. Ten euros a person including an aperitif, cake and coffee. The moules werent great, we all sat on benches drinking beer that was more expensive than we sell and in plastic cups but the place was packed. Old and young, rich and poor were there. Lots of noise, lots of kissing and handshaking, lots of beer and no trouble. No sign of any gendarme or officious prats in yellow jackets. It was just a great night of community.

As the stunning sunset disappeared, the village walk started, a tour of the village (this takes 10 minutes at a slow pace) behind children carrying lanterns and flaming torches.

It was great except for one thing. I hadnt realised where the walk went and as we passed the bar all I could think of was " why hadnt I left the outside lights on?
The walk to us to the petanque pitch where we were treated to a firework display of high quality and then it was back to the bar, more hand shaking before retiring just before midnight.

we look forward to next year's

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Laurie's Blog with comments from the editor in brackets
(the views of this blogger may not be the views of the editor )

It was the 4th of July when my journey begun; although I have driven in France before this would be the first time that I had been on my own. Understandable nobody wanted to spend 8 hours with me in a car,(or not with the windows closed anyway). It was just me and Henry the hoover. After arriving in Calais my journey starts, having brought a map of France just in case "I's" directions got me lost (as if!!!). I was feeling pretty confident that it would be a nice smooth trip down. It wasn't until 380 miles and with only 40 to go did it all goes wrong; no clear sign of the direction I'm meant to be heading, I drive round Poitiers for twenty minutes before giving up and calling for better directions.( try following the direction!!) You might think it ends there but no another 30 miles and one final call. As I arrive into Champniers village there looks to be a farmer strolling along with his herd of cows, no actually its "I" come to meet me (looking tanned , fit and french) .

As we arrive at the bar I realise the size of the property is much bigger than I imagined from the pictures I had seen. They dont do it justice.
A beer in hand, we're off on a quick tour of the place and a description in each room of what needs to be done. A big list and EVERY room.

Over the next few weeks one room is transformed. Tea breaks come at regular intervals, "J" and "I" both come to inspect with smiles and praises, conformation that they should have gone to specsavers before leaving. The decorating goes on

I coped at first but after a few days the flies start to really get on your nerves, trying to cut into a ceiling whilst several flies are tickling the backs of your legs, honestly the most frustrating thing ever. Not to worry this wouldn't last long as my next task would be to get the fly swatter and go on a killing spree.( see earlier blog)

After finding the dart board that has been hidden in the main room and after a few days of hinting, well moaning, the board is erected and the competions begin.
( he plays frequently, I play almost never so I let him win rather than upset him)

"I" and "J" took early leads in the evening boules competitions but after a few games and a change of luck, thanks "J", the wins just kept coming. With the arrival of Moira, the game changes to teams, new rules, different tactics same results, and "J" and myself take a healthy lead. Athough I may suggest it was due to his patner; i think we would all agree "I" just didn't turn up. ( again,you have to let the kids win or they sulk!!) With each nights series of games ending as the sun falls, every walk home brings a new route and a little nature hunt, but you'll have to go to find out what for.

As the days tick by it seems like everyone is working as hard as they can but things just dont seem to be pushing on. The volume of the tasks ahead begins to hit home. So a few ideas and lists are made, each person has allocate jobs and a day when they have to to done. One by one jobs are crossed off, but with every ten that come off, five more are added. Will we ever finish the list?

Five days to go before opening and we have all called some time out; a day to chill out have some fun and enjoy just one of the attractions that the area has to offer. It is decided to go to the Vallee of the Singe. (valley of the monkeys )

you walk in not really knowing what to expect and then see the first group of monkeys three foot away from you, no cages, and free to do as the please. Just three rules, no feeding, no touching and funny enough no grabbing their tails. Well of course if an opportunity arises of course I would have to touch one and after four different area's finally a lemur that likes people. :-). For all those people that have been called a little monkey or have called someone a little monkey; please have a look and the french version, ouistiti pygmee, it will give you a new meaning to "a little monkey".

It was Thursday before opening arrives and it's time to lose one member of staff, time for "M" to go home for a holiday. Left on my own, my list is smashed to bist as one job after the other is completed. After a late arrival home from "I" and "J", my list consisting now of only one item soon grows, ten new things to do. Funny enough "I's" list seems to be going down at a rapid rate and he's not even here, ummmmmm ??????.

Saturday morning and the previous days worries are clear to see, to be honest none of us are sure what the day will bring, one smart arse (Laurie), predicting a busy afternoon. The official event goes smoothly; I could hear lots of noise, just the forty french people talking and every so often an english word, then all of a sudden quiet, and it's empty. Over the next cople of hours the first customers arrive and with that, the first food order. I have been the taste dummy for I's cooking, and not always very good ! This order was a selection of lunches and suprisingly they were easily, calmly cooked, plated and served. The intial orders completed with sucess. With every new arrival a twenty minute chat it's not long till "I" and "J"realise that there is no way that they can talk to everyone, as customers flood into the bar. Before they realise there were easily fifty poeple out the front. Panic as there are no tables and chairs left. Luckily the had little helpers on hand (laurie, jan terry) to retrieve the tables and chairs that we thought would never be needed again and a few days before had been stored away, little did we know.

The till was in full action and "J" has been kept busy but with every demi and now the introduction of spirts and liquors. The fear and frowns that once was on the face of "J" had turned into a smile. "I" has had a steady cooking schedule with odd meal orders arriving. Then suddendly an order of seven meals and five different dishes. From once, a stoned faced man with no emotion, a moment to remeber as his eyes widen and his jaw dropped. (WTF) The intial panic sets in, it doesn't last long as I'm sure the days at MFI come flooding back;

Step one : Inital Contact, find out what the custmer wants and how they would like each of they products.
StepTwo : Anaylise the informaiton you have been given to achieve the necessary requirements of the customer.
Step Three : Plan and Presentation.
Step Four : Delivery your product to the customer and await response.

Well the seven plates arrived back empty, the customers order more drinks and smiles all round, who says MFI training was a waste of time. ( if it had been MFI, jeanne would most probably have given then 50% off plus an extra 20% plus a deal. We wouldnt have made any money but would have "taken them out of the market" and the salesperson would still have been paid)

On That note I will say good bye from France and wish "I" and "J" the best of luck in the future and will look forward to seeing them later in the year.

Monday, 2 August 2010


we had a call from the local cattery. They have had a sign in their barn for 3 years advertising the Bar, we went and looked and found a sign about 3ft high, 4ft wide on a pole 8/9 ft high. seemed too good to waste,
found a long stretch of road with a sign on , seemed too good to waste
so later that evening, armed with cleaning materials and a piece of rope we went to work.
as you can see Laurie was somewhat pleased with the outcome

The Opening

J and Laurie with the very first customer "un demi sil vous plait"

The terrace early evening

The opening
The mayor is the one in white in the foreground. He kept looking round, we think he was trying to find where Moira had gone!!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

La premiere ouverture

A nervous night. can we do this? have we made the right decision? But we wake to a beautiful sunny day, forecast says it will be 29-30c, emphasising one of the other reasons we came to France.
Official opening is at 12 with the mayor but we put our sign out and dress the terrace early. just on ten a van pulls up, a delivery?, no just an elderly French gent wanting his first beer of the day. ( assumption here, it may not have been his first)
The opening goes well, 40 people here for a free drink and free canapes, so it would. The mayor speak about the up and coming village, what they have achieved, what they will achieve and why this means that "commerceants" like ourselves want to come here.
This took me back, we take the risks, we pay the money, we put in the hours of sweat and toil and a person in higher authority takes the credit.
J said a few words and people clapped so it was either very good or they felt sorry for her (not true, i know it was very good)
By 1pm they were all gone, 200 euro of drink and food gone,nothing in the till and nobody in the bar. We sat outside wondering.
But our wondering was short lived, a party of five turned up a velo, for lunch. This put my "cooking" to its first test, five orders, 3 different items, plus chips, me who hardly knows how to use a microwave yet alone a cooker.
The afternoon progressed slowly but surely, a beer here, a wine there, a couple of ices, the odd coke. Arsenal on the tele, all was well.
And then came the evening!!.
all of a sudden we didnt have enough chairs on the terrace. ( we have 24) and Laurie was moving tables and chairs from inside, outside. A table of seven ordered meals, an even bigger test. They wanted proper meals, duck, steak, brochettes not snacks. I thought we had only written them on the menu for authenticity, I didnt realise people would order. And, they all ordered different dishes. Dont they know that I have practised that!. Hasnt J told them we have only practised on all having the same dish.


An English couple we have met out here, helped us out, clearing tables, cutting bread etc and we made it through. The beer keg ran out mid evening and we thought the machinery had gone wrong, we just didnt believe we had sold the 30 litres so quickly.

We officially closed at 10pm but a table of 9 French people were still eating at 11 and J was still serving drinks. We eventually ate ourselves at 11.30, on the terrace outside our bar.
And at 1am we called a halt to a very busy and fulfilling first day. We started taking money rather than spending it and we open again at 10 am this morning.

We hope our customers enjoyed their time at Bar des Tilleuls, I am sure we are going to.

Friday, 30 July 2010

nearly there

in 14 hours the mayor will open our cafe. The Is have been dotted and the Ts crossed (in some cases very crossed!!!) we took delivery today of the pool table, the darts machine and the last of the alcohol.
Are we ready? who knows? We have no idea what to expect, would 50 euro be good for a first day or 100 or 200 or 500? Do we buy 1 bag of salad or 5 or 10 or the whole of Netto's stock?

we will find out soon

one or two differences of opinion have "helped" us on our way. Long days, little sleep and a few added extras. we found out how the burglar alarm worked at 3am this morning, when Laurie went to the WC !!!

must go, more to do

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A double helping of Shit (sorry Mum)

As I am officially the first guest of I+J (sorry Laurie but you don't count)I am also the first official guest blogger. Here goes!!

For anyone who doesn't know I am I's sister. I offered to come and help them get ready for the grand opening which is now extremely close. Having been here for a week there are many things I could write about;the Mayor with the hair and Mutton- The sexy Baker - The Champion fly swatter - The night nature trails - Kissing strange men - Father Christmas who invited us all to a BBQ at his Grotty (slip of the tongue or should I say fingers it should be Grotto) Laurie and I decided that we should let I+J build international relations without us - a decision that we don't regret in the slightest.Picking them up p***** was enough. I could also write about J getting her fanny out every night - but have decided to let you ponder that one. I am sure all will be revealed at a later date...

I have chosen to blog about one of my favourite pastimes Shopping.

Sunday afternoon after a delicious lunch of moules frites in St Romain J+I took me to a BROCANTE. For anyone who doesn't know this is a car boot,French style. I as always saw the business potential and spent his time leafleting every car within a mile radius of the area. J and I set off in search of bargains. I haven't been to many car boot sales in England but I would say that at home 75% of the items are saleable and 25% should go straight in the bin. Well at a BROCANTE its reversed with 75% only fit for the Dechetterie (dump) and I must say these figures are generous! The French don't seem to be at all embarrassed about selling - cracked pottery, chipped glasses,bottle tops,rusty old tools, books that disintegrate if you breath near them,broken jewellery and my favourite item of the day a bargin at 50 cents a rusty nail file. Despite having to search through all this crap J and I soldiered on determined to find a bargin. As we wondered past the last few stalls I returned (perfect timing) and pointed out a familiar face The sexy baker's girlfriend.

There is an uncanny resemblance

Let me paint the picture the baker's girlfriend is a mature woman who clearly enjoys the bakers buns. She was dressed in a chic scarecrow style outfit topped off with a large, slightly squashed straw hat.Her only accessory a small grey poodle who is obviously greatly loved. We stop and say bonjour and J+I have a friendly chat (bonjour is my limit I am afraid). As they are chatting the little poodle is happy to try and trip us up by wandering round and round on it's expendable lead. After a short while we say au revoir as we turn to go we cannot help but notice the poodle having a grande poo in the middle of the walk way between the stands. Six eyes are focused on the steaming pile wondering what she will do. Amazingly she dips a hand into her pocket and walks over to the spot, we all breathe a sigh of relief and J and I are happy that she will scoop the poop. Slowly she bends over lowers her hand and wipes the dogs backside.The poo is left for an unsuspecting foot.UNBELIEVABLE!!

On a final note it's nearly time for me to go home. Its hard to believe that in such a quiet place there is so much to talk about. I+J have worked really hard and I have had a great week here. I look forward to returning when they are ouvert.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Getting Closer

10 days left to opening. There is no way we realised just what we had let ourselves in for and the amount of work involved. We have been here 5 weeks and every day has been 12 hours plus, with just two or three half days for "leisure".
We are now clean, The living accommodation is nearly fully redecorated and the bar painting is complete.
The diary is full of promised delivery dates for equipment needed by next Friday. We hope it arrives as promised!! These include the coffee mill, the pool table, darts machine, the patio furniture, new tables for the bar, a changed sign outside, getting the terrace cleaned, bar accessories, new cups and saucers, new glasses and THE BEER.
J has the list of the local "important and / or good" to invite for the opening. The Mayor, who is performing the opening. gave her the list and he had written his name at the top of the list. The quandry now is do do we ring him to remind him,

I am into menus. setting prices, ordering stock. Where do you get prices from for drinks? I was lost. The brasserie suggest a stock list and beer is price controlled so that's easy but what price should 4cl of Suze be or 2cl of Eau de Vivre Poire? I am off today to have a drink in a couple of local bars, not that I want a drink, I am going to steal their price lists.

Laurie is still with us, decorating and perfecting Gaufre making . Sister Moira arrives today for a week to help. ( not that type of Sister, no habits or hymn books)
I am going to ask her to be the first guest blogger so look out next week.
She brings with her the Zoller ice cream scoops. These are apparently the best in the world, they have a liquid in the handle which warms when you hold it and makes the ice cream boule slip out easier and be perfectly shaped.
I know this as I spent hours on the internet looking into ice cream. Two boules of ice ceam sell for €2 but what size is the boule supposed to be. Zoller make six sizes of scoop from 1oz to 4oz and tell you the number of boules you get from a gallon of ice cream. They dont say if thats an american gallon or an imperial gallon and it doesnt help anyway as I have just order my ten flavours of ice cream in litres!!!

Our friendly flies are still with us, perhaps in slightly less numbers but as annoying as ever. My fault, i didnt see the placards the little buggers were waving at me "kill me and a thousand will come to my funeral"

must go, work to do

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Uninvited Guests

we have guests and they are here in their hundreds. Flies. I dont know where they came from but they seem to like me. They land on my head, on the laptop, they walk up my legs and arms. One even came in the shower cubicle with me to have a bath

Yesterday Laurie (son and currently house painter) spent breakfast time with a swatter and had managed to create a pile big enough that when I saw it I thought he had reverted back to childhood and had removed all the currants and sultanas from the fruit and fibre pack.
we dont have a cows eye, a horses backside or a pile of dung to distract them so we have to fight back another way.
we have a couple of those 50p swatters, brightly coloured plastic with a mesh on the end with a smiley face. I thought the smiley face was there to lull the fly into a sense of security as they go to their death but it isnt, it's a reflection of my smile as another one bites the dust
we are fighting back electronically as well. Excuse me a minute, I have one trying to do an internal examination of my ear. I'm back, that's better. I swatted him on the third attempt. I may not be able to out for a while whilst the red mark on the side of my face calms down but it was worth it.
Back to electronics. We have taken delivery of two new ECOZAP fly killers. They are shining brightly, their light blue light offering us hope from the enemy. Every so often they emit a crackle and then you get the smell!!!, It's like the smell you get when your teeth are being drilled

how satisfying!!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Temperature is rising

wow! it's been over 30 degrees now for the past two weeks with one day the car showing over 40. The locals all mutter to me "c'est tres chaud c'est tres chaud" I am not sure if they actually think it's unseasonally warm or they believe that that is the only thing in French that I understand.
The cafe is moving on a pace. The web site is up and running, although only in a basic format as yet ( We have a beer supplier, food suppliers, and an "official" opening date and guest of honour. This is of course the mayor, king of all they survey in France. We had a meeting with him, we met by chance crossing the road and stopped mid way to chat for ten minutes. It seems so strange, 3 months ago when we left England, we would run across the road in fear of our lives, here we have a meeting in the middle of the road and it seems normal!
The pool table is on order as are the terrace tables and chairs, the bar is being decorated next week and we have decided on a menu. We are most probably down to under a 1000 spiders now and we have been pleasantly suprised to find that a number of darkened windows were actually transparent once the dirt was removed.

And we are practising!!! we made gaufre yesterday. Mixture in, turn it over, Nutella ready ( have you noticed how when you have something like nutella you just have to have a rather large taster first to make sure its still ok?)
Four minutes, we open the machine and our first slides out in liquid form. Not what we had anticipated. Another 4 minutes and the next one also has the viscosity of a thick olive oil. " Of course the machine is faulty. It will have to go back"
And then the moment of realisation, as it is noticed that the knob has two ends, and the one that should be pointing to setting six is actually pointing to number 2
Everything in France is hot except our gaufre machine.

we have a lot to learn and less than 3 weeks to opening and c'est tres chaud

A quick update on my previous ramblings.

Alliance and Leicester answered my letter. I dont think they had actually read it but they answered it anyway, with the normal cut and pasted bullshit. "We love our customers, and will do everything for you as long as its not what you think we should do" They gave me £25 compensation and kindly gave me instructions on how to log on to their internet site. Patronising bastards, they now have another letter and another claim to deal with.
BT they gave in on the friends and family contract and gave me back my money
Saga No more post, no more claims.

Monday, 28 June 2010

One week on

A week has passed since I wrote we were fighting our way through forests of cobwebs. We have moved on, we are now on grease. Not the screwed up economy type, or the arms flailing, white suited type but the two year old chip cooking type. It's everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, in the ovens, on the plates and in the cooking utensils. If you had seen the deep fat fryer, you would never eat chips again. ( I lie, I have, I will) I remember from reading my old Austin 1100 Haynes Manual, it used to say grease liberally. I am sure the book is here somewhere having been used as a cleaning manual

The village, we are pleasantly suprised, shows some signs of life. It is a very small village, approx 400 people and one shop, the baker. This shop is however worth a visit. It is run by the baker, who must be sixty, together with his "girlfriend" and his mum and dad. He sells a bit of everything from the papers to gas bottles but most importantly he makes superb bread. We were a little concerned about the size of the village when the Mayor when asked the number of inhabitants told us approx 400 and then stressed "but there are another 676 in the cemetery" I don't think they will be buying much coffee and beer but if the business needs a boost perhaps I could start selling flowers at the gate

There is an interest in the cafe from the locals which is encouraging. We had only been here a couple of days when the Keep Fit group came to ask if they could book their end of season meal with us. They must have been all over 60, in fact they could have come from the 676!
We have had enquiries from the local expats, There are a good number of Les Anglais around and there is a very good communication network, telling people what is on which we will make use of when we open.

The new equipment is starting to arrive, the ice maker, the gaufrier ( waffle maker) the panini cooker and of course the big plasma. We have had to watch the world cup on the internet but on Saturday we got the two dishes put up and now have TV. I am so glad that I was able to watch the Germany game in luxury! Like Frankie I hit the bar in the second half but maybe not for the same reason. At least we lasted longer than Les Bleus!

One thing I have noticed is how the people here are so helpful. The tradesmen turn up every day!.The plumber noticing I was attempting to remove some bushes told me to stop and that afternoon returned with a chain saw for me to use, saving me no end of work. Another day I was on my hands and knees cleaning, lost in a blast of Pink Floyd when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I jumped, not expecting anyone to be around, to find the postman had found his way to the kitchen to tell me he had a parcel for me. My recollection from the UK was that when you were expecting a parcel you would get a leaflet through the door and have to go and collect it yourself, not postie making an effort! The dechetterie ( tip) is another example. The first time I went there I parked and thought that my trailer was being stolen. It wasn't, the assistant had unhooked it to take it to the skip and unload it for me. Wednesday night we had a visit from the Gendarmes, about 10.30. they had seen a light on and come to make sure everything was OK. They stayed for an hour, talking about the community, the English / French mix, the best beer to sell, the French football team and just about everything else.

The more we see of life in the village, the more pleased we are with our decision. All we have to do now is get the cafe open and see if they like us as much as we like them

Saturday, 19 June 2010

We're IN

Ten months ago we had an idea that we could run a French cafe, and now we are here. Early start on Wednesday found us in the Notaire's office at 9am for the signing. He likes to speak English even to J and everything is "No probs". He has a Chelsea pennant on the office wall so he cant be a bad person, even if he does act as a a tax collector.
So keys in hand we go to OUR CAFE. It is almost habitable as the majority of the drainage work has been done that needed to be done although everywhere is filthy and there are thousands of cobwebs and spiders in every possible space. The plumbers fitting the pump outside have kindly ploughed the whole area for us. It looks like a field. I could have asked if I knew the French for " In England we dig trenches with spades, so as to allow you to lean on them and look in wonder at the hole. Why are you so efficient that you had to use a JCB?" But I dont know the French so we have a big area of mud. At least he buried all the weeds.

Thursday we moved. Reasonably uneventful, except for me flooding the kitchen removing the washing machine in St Michel and numerous arguments in the road outside as we loaded a car and a van. This was because it was changeover day from right to left side of the road, and some did and some didnt, so the traffic chicaned all day. Add to this the fact that the water board were resurfacing the road with three lorries and a digger at one end of the road, and telling people verbally the road was "route barre" whilst the council resurfaced the road at the other end with four lorries and a digger and they also manually told people the road was "route barre". Our car and van were in the middle and tempers were frayed, a lot of anglo saxon language was used and a number of shoulder shrugs were seen. I could tell it was bad, no-one was kissing.

Thursday night we slept under a blanket of cobwebs and left footprints in the dust as we walked around the hastily made up bed. I was not flavour of the month, especially as there is a chambre d'hote next door which is clean and spider free. Still, you dont always think of these things and midnight is a bit late to change your mind. Added to the dirt and dust, and perhaps more influential on J's demeanour was the fact that we had just watched an abject French display on the internet that had seen Les Blues all but eliminated from the world cup with a display that was to be almost equalled by England the following day.

Friday we cleaned
Saturday we cleaned

Sunday we will clean

There isn't anything else to do, we cant cook, no bottles of gas. We cant go out, dont know where any clothes are and have nowhere to put them yet even if we did know.

But it's great and we don't regret the move one bit

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Vendee

We leave the Vendee on Thursday and we will miss it. We have only lived here for 8 weeks but have had a holiday home in St Michel en l'herm for 5 years. The Vendee for those who don't know is one of France's 96 departments (counties) and is the area of coast between Brittany and La Rochelle, the most southerly part being approximately on the half way point of the country running North to South. The area is mainly farmland, little industry with a number of tourist towns along the coast capitalising on the almost unbroken sandy beaches that run along the Atlantic coast often behind a thin barricade of pine trees. This is the campsite centre of France and for a very good reason. The weather is on average about 4 degrees warmer throughout the year than London. If you haven't ever visited, do so.

In my previous writing on cycling, I talked about the area around St Michel. This is very fertile land, having been reclaimed from the sea 500 or so years ago. The area is very flat as you would expect and is criss crossed with canals, both large and small draining the land. There is an abundance of bird life, especially noticable are the huge buzzards, the hawks that are forever circling the fields waiting to pounce and the herons. There are herons aplenty, both the white and large grey varieties. The dykes are also the home to Ragondin, an otter like pest that has populated this area.

The people are friendly, the life style relaxed and the road are quiet. In the evening in the village often there is almost silence except for the birds, the owls that live by the church and the ringing of the church bell. The bell here chimes twice every hour at five to and on the hour. This was done so that workers in the fields would be alerted by the first set of chimes and could then count the second set

The one dampner on our time here is that the area is recovering from Xnythia a storm that hit the area on the night of 28th Feb this year. You may recall that the UK was due to be hit by a storm of high intensity and weather warnings were issued for a number of days beforehand. As it was it missed the UK but having crossed the Atlantic hit the French coast with 100mph winds and an 8ft sea swell at the twin towns of La Faute sur Mer and L'Aguillon sur mer breaking through the sea wall in a number of places. These are twin towns either side of the River Lay estuary and are only 5 kms from St Michel. The storm hit at night with a much greater severity than was expected. More than 50 people were killed in France, the majority drowned in their beds in La Faute.

The area is recovering, although the road to Aiguillon point is still closed. Houses are being demolished both because they are unsafe and also because Sarkosy demanded that houses built in unsafe areas be demolished.
Declaring it a “national catastrophe”, Mr Sarkozy also ordered an inquiry to establish how sea levees broke as the storms battered western coastal regions.

“We have to find out how families in France in the 21st century can be surprised in their sleep and drowned in their own houses,” he said at a meeting with local authorities

“We have to shed light as urgently as possible on this unacceptable and incomprehensible drama.”

The picture below shows the extent of the flooding. Thousands of acres were underwater and it is not yet apparent if this year's crop will be usable. Hundreds of animals were drowned. Farmers could not use their milk as it tasted of salt where the fields were flooded

We have attended a number of charity events for the victims of Xynthia. For a large number of the people of the Vendee the events of 28th Feb will never leave them. To all of us it is a reminder that nature is much more powerful than we will ever be. And last and not least perhaps we should reflect on how we view world events as the bare breasted SAM from Evesham said in the Sun " oh what a good job the storm didn't hit the UK. I had forgotten to take my knickers off the line and who knows where they would have ended up"

Monday, 7 June 2010


You will know I have an understanding for Call Centres. Having worked in Sunderland Contact Centre for MFI I would have, but BT.... WTF!!! They have no idea. I am trying to close my account and they want to charge me for a further 11 months of some hidden contract or other. This is because I didn't cancel the contract when they wrote to me in February and therefore must pay for another year. But I didn't cancel because I didn't get the letter. I have spoken to Tendulker, to Vijay Singh,to Ben Kingsley, to the laddie from Slumdog, to half of bloody Calcutta and they all say the same thing " If Bt said they would send you a letter, they would have sent it" and worse they believe it. This isn't a call centre I am talking to, it's a centre for brainwashing.BT are creating robots They have promised to find a copy of the letter they sent and ring me. They wont. If I owed them the money I wouldn't care and just walk away but I was in credit and they have cancelled my refund
I mustn't use my blog as a personal moaning board but just a couple of instances to tell you about. Alliance and Leicester I was told by one of their agents that I should just pop back to the UK to one of their branches so I can prove my identification. This was after they had rung me on my mobile to tell me that they couldn't use my mobile number to contact me about security checks as they didn't trust the number as I had only registered it 10 weeks before and they don't trust any number unless they have had it logged for 12 weeks
Saga insurance....I cancelled a policy and they have charged me a cancellation fee which of course I disputed, not because it was wrong but because I didn't want to pay it. I told them I wasn't told about it but they found the transcripts of the calls and said I was. They wouldn't however send me an mp3 of the call so I continued arguing. In the end, I had a call from their complaints department. She explained that I owed them the money and I had to pay. I asked what happened if I dont to which I was told they send three letters the last of which is recorded and then they write the debt off. I suggested that for Saga they should write the debt off now as I have no intention of paying and that would save them the costs of continuing their actions ( I only owe about £30) I was told that her job was to ensure that I had been contacted about the complaint and not to take any decisions. So they have now sent me the three letters, I havent paid and have no intention of doing so but they have followed procedure so I guess they can sleep easy. And as for me, Saga must still love me, they sent me three letters last week asking if I wanted life insurance, a holiday and in their quest to be all things to the over 50's, some of those little blue sweeties for keeping the sheets off you when it's warm at night.

Cafe update

Our "holiday" is coming to an end. We have just a week left before we move from the Vendee the 100 miles or so to Champniers Vienne to our new venture. So for the second time in 10 weeks we are packing up, sorting out what we take and what we don't and selling, giving away or dumping the rest. Prior to our move, there is work going on in the bar. The village has had main drainage installed during the time the bar has been closed and there is a legal obligation to use it. Therefore all of the drainage from the house has to be rerouted and must now run left to right to the main drainage in the road, instead of right to left to the fosse septique in the field. This requires a complete rerun of pipes, channels being dug through the concrete floor of the barn and right through the garden and the introduction of a pump in the cellar to help it on its way. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be spending thousands of euros to pump shit uphill, although many a time at work I felt that I was doing work of a similar nature. The work also means that the bathroom in the apartment has to be moved from the front of the house to the back, solely to allow the plumbing to work.We have been told that we will be functioning by the time we move in. I sincerely hope so, the local conveniences are those of the "need to squat" type. So what else is happening, the web site is being worked on as are the flyers we will use locally. J has a five day business course set up and a 3 day course enabling her to be the licencee. (Typical of France, you pay your €700 fee for the course, go on it and then they check your suitability to hold the licence) I have been involved in a lot of the key decisions, which model of TV for the bar and organising the satellite dishes installation for as soon as we move in, working out what the bar will stock. We have an accountant, a bank, we have talked to suppliers for beer, coffee and frozen foods and have spoken to the cash and carry.
All I have to do now is learn to cook, learn to run a bar and perhaps learn some French. I know all these are important but I am so involved in what is obviously the absolute key decision that I just haven't had time. You just would not believe how difficult it is to work our way through all the options of what the house wine will be !!!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

France life Health

The french health system is said to be the best in the world but you pay!
If we set up a company and pay ourselves a salary the contribution from the company is over 40% to the health and social security and we would have to pay 11% of our salary as well. As a self employed person the contributions start at approx €3500 pa for the first year and then €4500 in the second. On top of this there is the TOP UP. The health service only pay a percentage of the cost of each visit or medicine. It ranges from 70% for the majority and for some key illnesses and conditions they cover 100% ( diabetes, heart attack etc)
So when you go to your GP he charges you €23. you get 15 refunded from the state and the top up pays another 7 leaving the customer to always pay the last euro.
Assuarnce as insurance is called here, is a different set up to the UK. No talking dogs who ski, no meerkats and no discounts. You sign up with a major company or the bank and it is assummed that you will carry on with them If you want to leave at the end of a years contract, you need to give them 2 months notice in writing, if not they carry on at their new rate.
The health top up itself offers 6 or 7 different levels plus add ons. This is because the base figure paid by the state for treatment stays the same even if the doctor or consultant charges more. An example a specialist charges €70 rather than the standard 23. the state refund 15 and then depending which top up level you have elected for you get the relevant return. 100% tariff returns €5 leaving you to pay the other €50 whereas the top level 300% pays the standard €23 three times over minus 1 so you get €68 and only have to pay €2. But at what cost? A mid range policy is approx €120 a month for the top up for J and I. So that's a starting figure from the business of €3500 per annum plus a top up of approx €1500 so €100 euros a week. We hope we dont have to use it but if we do it had better be good

Friday, 28 May 2010

Football's coming home

We still believe
We still believe
We still believe
It's coming home
It's coming home
It's coming
Football's coming home

France has been selected to host Euro 2016. I don't think it will have a huge effect on Champniers but who knows?
Pity we had to move to France to get the tournament at "home" but then Platini is French isnt he

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Paris in the Springtime

Paris was superb last weekend. J's team lost the rugby but the game was ok, The Stade de France is everything that you would expect from a national stadium including good transport links. Wembley take note.
The temperature was up in the thirties, so a bit hot and sweaty and unfortunatly whilst the majority of Paris was it's beautiful self, there was an outbreak of "youth summer". This manifests itself to me in two ways, depending on the sex. For the ladies we have the DIRTY BRA STRAP. It must be on show, it must be a completely different colour to all other clothing and it must partly cover a tattoo. And for the men we have the NO WAIST JEANS. Call me a prude, call me old fashioned but why do they call the thing at the top of a pair of jeans a waist if you are supposed to wear it round your bollocks. Why does the crutch have to touch the floor? These guys look like they have put on their little brothers jeans by mistake or they leave their Granny to buy their clothes for them
So I guess my message to the young is simple, girls don't make a tit of yourself and boys don't be an arse. Never mind the rugby hey...

Monday, 17 May 2010

Choosing the Cafe

We visited France in August 09 and saw a cafe for sale. It was perfect, beautiful position, good business but unfortunatly wasn't for us, not enough space. It was enough though to make us realise that running a cafe was an option and so when we got back home we started to plan. We put the house on the market and our decisions became based on when and not if. The house was sold stc in late Jan 2010. We took a week off work and travelled to France to view 7 cafes, all different but all within a 50km radius. We had done our homework on the internet, using various websites including streetwise, to see the villages, the locations and get a feel for each.
Of the seven. We eventually viewed six as one sold two days before we got there. All different and very difficult to compare. One had letting rooms, one had a gite, one had a huge garden, another had none.
We were fairly specific in what we wanted, a cafe/bar with a bit of character, decent private accomodation with space for friends and family to stay,a private garden, something we could put our mark on ( whatever our mark turns out to be!) and finally it had to be capable of taking some money. The last point is important but was not the deciding factor. Our plan is for this to be a lifestyle job. We dont plan to employ anybody so it's got to be what we can manange and no more. If it's too big it was out

A busy week seeing six cafes. We were welcomed in all and all had good points but we had to make a choice. The first looked as though it could only operate in one way and we would have just been the new owners with no other changes. The second was a restaurant rather than a cafe. The fourth was just rubbish accomodation. The fifth nearly got us going but the bar was too small, it felt like the customers were sitting in your lounge. The sixth was a disgrace and the owner should be prosecuted under each and every advertising law.

This left number 3. The cafe bar is in a small village called Champniers about 30 miles south of Poitier in the Vienne department. It has been closed for just over two years so has no "business" but everything else looked good. It has three public rooms, a bar which holds maybe 20 seats, a small restaurant which holds another 20 and a large function room which can seat up to 100 and opens up many possibilities.

This was the one for us. An opportunity to start from scratch in a small village.
There is a fairly large english population in the area so we can appeeal to both nationalities. We negotiated the price, worked out what needs doing before we start( more of that later as we go through it) and last Wednesday finally put pen to paper. we take possession on June 16th 2010 and hope to serve our first drinks at the beginning of August.
The dream is turning to reality and the todo list is getting longer and longer.
But the consulation, little traffic, lovely surroundings, it wasnt dark until 10pm last night, the sun is already shining today and I can smell the fresh bread from the bakery.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Cycling the Vendee

J's bike was buckled beyond repair so we bought her another on Saturday. It was "occasion" which is French for second hand. I thought it was a description of how often it would get used so it seemed perfect. This meant that on Sunday we were going for a bike ride no matter what. I agreed as long as we were back indoors for the 20/20 final.
So we got ready. For me that means find a pair of sunglasses. For J, suncream, gloves, change clothes, change shoes, "just put the handlebars up a couple of inches" an extra fleece on the bike rack and water. I managed to convince her we most probably wouldn't need the sat nav.
We have new bike hats. I have never worn one before, I thought they were poncy and unneccessary but a good friend of ours, a very keen cyclist, in Paris is in hospital and has been for 6 months after being knocked off his bike on a cycle track. Get well soon Thierry!
So hats, it is.
Preperation took a good half hour but success we are off. Tour de France or the Vendee at least. We got as far as the village square, which must be 200 metres at least and J loses a chain and we dont even have one of those Skodas behind us with a new bike on top to swap to. Chain repaired, a quick lesson on changing gear one at a time so the chain stays in place and off we go.
This area of the Vendee is very flat, most of it was marshland reclaimed from the sea by monks a few hundred years ago. It is very fertile for the farmers but also has a large variety of wildlife especially birds. The whole area is split with canals and drainage ditches and the cycle tracks mostly follow the canals rather than the roads.
Just cycling along you see herons and other wading birds in the ditches, there are plenty of birds of prey including large buzzards above and the whole time you ride to the tune of countless cuckoos and frogs.
It's funny how when you ride you dont notice the wind when it's helping you but when you turn round, wow, where did that come from. I quickly realised that I am not very aerodynamic whilst sitting perched. I cheated, I tried to slipstream J but that didnt work, the middle half of me was ok but the exposed outside took even more of a battering.
We made it back in time and was it worth it! Great to see England beat the Aussies so convincingly even if we are only just more english than Arsenal. Let's hope this is an omen for a similar result on July 11th.

We are off to Paris this week, we have tickets to the Heineken cup final. We are going to see Toulouse V BO but i think we will be ok. Our seats are downwind.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The mysteries of the French way of life (Bank Holidays)

Just a quickie. Yesterday was the third Bank Holiday so far this month. The first two fell on a Saturday, the third on a Thursday. Today is "le pont" which basically means that as yesterday was a day off and tomorrow is a Saturday we will bridge it and take a day off so no post, no school etc. Remembering back to MFI days, bank holidays we opened. Here the local supermarket plays a guessing game, on the first they closed, on the eigth they opened and on the 13th they opened a half day. We have one more bank holiday to come this month on the 24th, I have a €10 bet that they will open and close alternate hours

The mysteries of the French way of life (Parking)

sorry to write about a subject so boring but on our road in St Michel we have the sign you see in our picture. There is of course only one sign because there are four entrances to the road. It means that you may park in the road but on the side and dates as indicated by the sign. What a good idea you say. This means that each side of houses gets a fair share of people parking outside their doors which is quite correct. Except of course that you don't actually follow the instruction, that would be far to easy. On the 16th we arrived back to an empty road so parked on the side of the road as indicated on the sign. An hour later there was a knock at the door to tell us we were causing a blockage and lo and behold, there were 5 other cars parked on the alternate side of the road and the traffic chicaning around our car. But why? we asked, only to be told that there had been some road works and no parking was allowed so we were making up days!!!
We relented and moved. We parked on that side until the first of May. On May the first, which was a bank holidy even though it was a Saturday, we decided to keep an eye out and move the car when the majority parked on the other side. They didn't.
Sunday morning came and bedlam. The parking fairy had moved all the cars overnight except the white mondeo estate with english plates which was now parked on the wrong side and causing a jam of M25 proportions. I would point out that we are in an area of France where a traffic jam of any sort is likely to be reported on the local TV news and will certainly make the local press. There is a bakery opposite and you may well know that parking rules do not apply around bakeries. It does not matter how you park your car if you need bread. Whilst a quick run in to the bakers perhaps wouldnt cause too much upheaval, you have to remember that every driver has to stop and either shake hands or kiss all of the other drivers. passers by, people that are now hooting them and anybody else that happens to be within 100 metres.
But back to my photo, taken today the 14th. I don't know if the fairies have told people to move early, if we are still making up time owed to our neigbours "en face" or if the sign was placed in the wrong street all those years ago. I do know we are all parked on the wrong side and that come the 16th we will move again---or will we?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sunday May 9th

I am breaking off from my history of the cafe to give an insight into French life. On Sunday we were invited to join the Rural Families St Michel Branch day out. It proved to be a great day but also reconfirmed a couple of things I associate with France
Distance....For those of you who have driven in France, you frequently see signs to places such as Macdonalds, the local supermarket etc by the side of the road. These show directions and normally a time. "Macdonalds a 2mn" The first few times you believe them, telling the kids, " only a couple of minutes" and then you learn the truth. These signs are only relevant if you happen to be passing in a jet fighter, if not 2mn means 20,so you need to "hold it" just a little longer.
The relevance to our day out, the invite said bike ride of 15kms with "plus le reste", the reality 31kms with a quick turn around at half way. Mind you,having not ridden a bike for a while, I couldn't have walked around or perhaps even have got off the bike even had there been "plus de reste"
Food and Drink...The invite said bring a picnic for lunch and also a meal in the evening. J an I not realising that a pique nique had an entirely different meaning to picnic, took what we would normally take, a few sandwiches, a bottle of water and some fruit all nicely wrapped in a small rucksack.
We knew we had got it wrong when the car boots were opened and people started to take out what looked like treasure chests. These were somewhat large and had, in the main to be carried by two people. When opened, they included, tablecloths, pastis, pineau, three of four baguettes a couple, red and white wine, meats, the dinner set and I am sure I saw a set of cut glasses somewhere.
By the time we had eaten our meagre lunch no other couple had even unpacked. So we joined the PICK NICK, we picked at everybody else's food and nicked what we liked the look of. That was until J was kindly offered some andouille by a local farmer. this is a delicacy apparently and is the pig equivelent of tripe. Tripe it was!
The evening meal back in St Michel was enjoyable and also gave me an opportunity to speak English to more than just J for the first time in the day. When we were on about the third or fourth glass of wine and toast, I was asked what the english equivelent of "sante" was. Having had a quick look at the internet when we had popped home to change, I had no hesitation in standing up raising my glass and getting 25 french people to toast "CHELSEA".

The day also involved a trip to the National Stud Farm in La Roche. I mention this as it ruined some of my illusions. I am sure that like me when you hear that a champion horse has been put out to stud, you imagine him having the time of his life with any number of female horses and then relaxing afterwards with a beer and a cigar. I thought that a stud farm would be the equivelent of a hotel bedroom at a premiership clubs christmas do. Well its not quite like that. I may not be exactly right as the explanation was all in French but basically its like this. Mr horse is taken to a room where there is a pretend horse, full size and with a bit of cat fur in the relevant place. Inside the cat fur is a downpipe as used on guttering and at the end is a large bucket. Mr horse is then introduced to Mrs horse, who is there to tease. ( you know the type!!!) Mrs horse teases Mr horse until he can fill the drainpipe so to speak. Mrs horse is then led away , mr horse is shown the cat fur and the bucket collects.

I came away ( maybe not the right choice of word there) thanking my lucky stars nobody has ever referred to me a a stud. I dont even have a bucket.