Monday, 10 December 2012

The Good Life

One of the things that Brits commonly  do on arriving in France is buy chickens.  Like Tom and Barbara in The Good Life, self sufficiency means your own eggs and as previously mentioned space in the garden is normally not an issue.
        Friends of ours in the village wanted to own chickens but also return fairly frequently to the UK. Whilst they have a pet passport for their dog ( and a facebook page, would you believe)  it was not felt it was viable to take 6 hens on holiday.  (Ken did say he would happily go on holiday with 6 chicks but was firmly overridden)
Their answer was to ask the owners of the local bar if they would be stand in keepers when they were away. This would mean opening the hen house at night, feeding them, watering them, locking them in at night and the occasional shovelling of  shite, in exchange for all the eggs during the time of surrogacy and surplus eggs for the rest of the year

So with their owners back in the UK for Christmas, we are currently on Chicken Duty.  The house is a couple of kilometers from the bar and J and I each take a turn. I do the morning opening ( for those of you that know us this is easily explained) and J does the locking up at nightfall.  The last couple of days have been cold but dry so I have walked  up to the house.  Their food is there in the barn but I have to carry a large bottle of water with me as the water is turned off at the house.
I arrive with one very cold hand from carrying the bottle, get their food and go to the pen which contains their locked hen house. You have to let them out of the house first, having made sure the pen is secure, extract the water container and food tray from the "aromatic" house, take them outside and fill them with the jug of food and the bottle of water.  Simple you say but the chickens want to get in on the act.

The first day I managed to lose half of the water as the container lid wasn't tight enough ( think tupperware, filled upside down, lid clipped on and then turned back the right way and the water drips down into a tray).
I realised this was my fault and so the next day I went through the same procedure, on the way collecting a couple of warm fresh laid eggs, which I put in my jacket pocket, but this time rested the water container in the wooden bedding area so that it was supported whilst I filled it and I could use two hands to ensure the top was securely clipped.
All was going well until the chickens decided they wanted a drink, all 6 came back into the house and 4 jumped onto the water container knocking it over and spilling the lot. Bloody things I thought, don't they know there is no other water!!.   Cursing I thought I would have to go home and get more water for the ungrateful buggers  but as I walked away I saw a water butt. That will do nicely, so I returned to the pen,got the water container, filled it from the butt soaking myself as I did so but saved having to return.
I triumphantly returned to the pen and as I went to put the water container down, the hens all jumped me again as they must have been thirsty. I overbalanced and whilst putting my arm down to stop me falling, smashed the eggs in my pocket!!

By this time I was cold from the walk, wet from the butt, my fleece was dripping yolk and my ipod, sharing the pocket was a sticky mess.

So chickens take this as a warning. Do not jump me again or I will change my menu. Instead of omelette it will say free range chicken!!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Customer Contact

In all my years in retail, I cannot remember a customer with the same "complaint" as we had this weekend
This is a copy of the email we received

Hi Jeanne and Ian, 
hanks for a good  lunch today, the cerf was great, very tender. 
However, we think you undercharged us, you gave us some change from 40€. (We had cerf, 2 desserts, a carafe of house wine and 2 petit cafe, )   
Think we didn't pay for pre lunch drinks, a double expresso and a small beer. 
Please let us know how much we owe you and we will give it to you next time we call.

Kind regards,  D************ and L*********.

(cerf is venison)
How honest can you be!!

Whilst it was a lovely email to receive it was even better to realise that actually we had charged the right amount and that they had nearly 10% change from their 40€

And to our customers, rest assured we will continue to offer great value

Friday, 16 November 2012

French Life The Supermarket

I am assuming when I write this that most of the readers ( if you are still reading) know the set up of the united kingdom's supermarkets.  Sweeping all before them, creating thousands of jobs, albeit 4 hours a week ones, killing high streets and choking all competition they control the UK retail sector.

They are however competitive, customer focused ( well they say they are) and you know that a Tesco in Inverness will be broadly similar to a Tesco in London.
They open often 24  hours a day, 7 days a week and to be fair are normally superbly efficient.

But France isn't the same, the majority of supermarkets are franchised and this leads to differences even from town to town.
In nearby Civray we have 5 supermarkets, Intermarche, Super U and three discounters Lidl, Leader Price and Netto.

They all open at 9am and, how quaint, three of.them shut for lunch at 12.30 for an hour and a half. All are closed by 19.30. Super U is open from 9 until 12.30 on a Sunday but the rest are shut.
Queueing at the tills is expected, don't be suprised if there are only two or three tills open and 8 or 10 people  in each queue. Don't be suprised if the cashier gets up and walks round the shop to get a barcode or a price if a product wont scan, or if another cashier comes along, float in hand but goes to each working cashier first to give them a kiss before starting work.
One of our customers, annoyed at being in the queue asked why there weren't more tills open. The reply was
"are you retired?" to which he said yes and the girl said, well in that case you have time to wait.

They all have promotional material delivered door to door by the postman every Monday. This is normally a booklet or a flyer with their offers for the week. They must have had lessons from the DFS or MFI marketing teams as they are often misleading. A page will be headed 50% off but actually only one of the products showing is half price.
Also half price doesn't normally mean that you pay half price at the till.  For those that shop occasionally in France  it must be confusing.
Intermarche have a fidelity card which is credited with the discount after you have paid full price. This discount can be spent on another day by telling the cashier you wish to spend your credit. ( Leclerc and Auchan also use this method)
Carrefour  have a fidelity card which money is added to and then a voucher is sent through the post at intervals so that you can spend in store.
Netto have different prices for the same product depending on how many you buy.
Leader Price send out a voucher each week which can be used for discount on a certain minimum purchase
Lidl have normal offers, plus offers specific to Saturdays, and other just for Monday and Tuesdays

The pitfalls are two fold, one, the product you buy must be the same as in the flyer. Just because the coffee you pick up is the same brand, same pack size etc etc , if it doesn't match the picture eg with Prix Choc printed in the corner, it may or may not be the same price.
Secondly the offers are normally limited so you can only buy 3 a day in Intermarche, 5 in a promotion in Auchan, 13 in Leclerc etc etc.  Customers do not always pick up on this as they are paying full price for their goods on the day and perhaps don't check the amount of credit added to their account. Buying a dozen bottles of half price wine isn't so good when only 3 go through at the discounted price.

Stores also use a Bon D'achat , where the discount is added to a voucher to be spent within a certain period of time.

So there are pitfalls to shopping in France and you have to be a bit of a mathematician to work out the best price and not be in a hurry, but they do have great range.
 The fish counter in Intermarche in Civray would put just about any fish display in a UK supermarket  to shame.

 The butcheries have a much wider choice, plenty of duck, horse and different poultry as well as beef, lamb pork and chicken.

Plus there is no internet shopping for food so the aisles are not full of staff shopping and no mobility scooters,

Got to go now, have to go shopping

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Ann Ray

I don't normally do requests but hello to Ann Ray!!

Ps how did you get such a fussy daughter?

see you when you are next in the pig sty

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Business Uniform

Regretfully on Monday 29th October, I had to revert from shorts to jeans

a sad, sad day

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Lunch Monday

Les the Fun Guy has been bringing us presents again. This time it was Laetiporus  or as it is commonly known, Chicken of the Woods.

we cut it up, and cooked it with garlic, white wine and a tomato sauce and it was superb, just like chicken!

Thanks Les, we look forward to your return to France next year with your book of edible fungi.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Inspired to write

Today we had a performing poet in the bar. He was here at the invite of Accents Bilingual Association to perform to English speaking children of all ages.
Dave Mason is a poet, author and specialist English teacher whose speciality is inspiring youngsters to have a go and write, to read and to enjoy words in all formats.

you can see  David in action here with his classic.  Poo on your shoes!!

The afternoon was a success, we had a few empty seats but with temperatures of 30 plus outside ,I guess some people had other things to do. Pity they missed a great afternoon

and the afternoon worked, as you can see I was "inspired to write"

Saturday, 25 August 2012

France Life. Annual Holidays

The French take their holidays in July and August, but imagine my suprise when I visited the local market on Tuesday to find that 2 of the three cafe bars in the centre of town were closed for annual holiday.
The market in Civray was buzzing, lots of thirsty people in 30 degree heat, especially the holidaymakers who flock to the town on market day.

Why would you run a business and close it down at the busiest time of year?  

just imagine if everybody did this!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


One of the joys of arriving in France was that my mobile phone could be placed in a drawer never to see the light again. This was after having spent years being permanently on call, thousands of miles spent on car journeys trying to concentrate on the road whilst engaged in conference calls or other business calls. I used to plan my journeys so that time wasn't wasted just driving and I would sit with  a list of calls to make on the passenger seat.
But that was "work" and perhaps a necessary evil. What I fail to understand is why mobiles and mobile computers / games stations have become a must have at all times accessory for those that are too young or too old to work, or whose work doesn't require contact when they are not there.
You have all seen it, the plane lands and the noise of the engines closing down is drowned by the sound of phones starting up, just in case!. Just in case of what?  Are these people so important that they cant spend an hour on a plane without being in contact with  ???
"we've just landed"    "just collecting our bags"   " off to the coach / car/ bus now"   If it is so important that someone somewhere knows all this shite, perhaps they should be there with you.
It may suprise you but if someone is waiting for you at an airport, there are screens that tell them the plane has landed, there is only ever one door out after customs and at some stage you and they will meet without a running commentary as to when this might be!

In the bar, telephone signals are sporadic to say the least but so what. People sit with mobiles on the table just in case, perhaps waiting for the text that tells them how much calls are in France?,
And if it rings, etiquette seems to be that the machine takes preference over food, over the conversation they were having or anything else.  " Somebody wants me!!!!!  I must be ever available!!"
Why?  You are on holiday, what is so important?

Last week I watched a young lad eat a complete meal without looking at the plate once. He was looking at his signal less phone, not a word to his parents or his grandparents that had treated him to the meal.
even small kids who are too young to have mobiles ( although I am sure in a couple of years kids will get a phone as soon as they can say a dozen word), have the portables DS machines to play with. Like a DVD they may keep kiddie quiet but at what future cost?

If we are not careful we will have a generation whose only communication is via text or phone. They are already showing signs of losing speech and returning to grunting

and of course there is no such thing as a mobile free zone!!!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

2 years and onwards

Yesterday was the anniversary of our opening in 2010.

We have now run the bar for 2 years and do not regret the decision at all.  It wont make us rich, it is often very hard work and long hours but it is very rewarding.
There are thousands of people sitting at their computers every night scanning property sites in France with a dream of living the quieter life in places like the Vienne. Whilst in our case, redundancy was the trigger, my advice to anybody thinking of a move such as ours would be, just do it.
Yes it's a risk, but so is crossing the road
You don't get a second chance but you do get lots of time to regret.

In honour of our anniversary, googlemaps changed their web site for us!

Coincidently the "velos", our first ever food customers are back in Brehus on holiday and they cycled over to the bar again yesterday to have a cool beer or two on the terrace. Thank you Velos and thanks to all our regular customers, albeit daily, weekly monthly or anually for your continued support.

We set out to have a community bar, where people can eat, drink, meet others and get information. We open 70 hours a week at least throughout the year. We believe we have added to the community in the village and for the local expats. We are open today 11-22. do call in!

Yesterday also was the first day in France for Rosie and Richard, who have left the UK full time to life in the metropolis that is Champniers. For readers of the "Tout" series, in the house that was owned by the Railway Girls.  Rosie has started a blog which can be read here

Friday, 6 July 2012

post no 100 !! La Fête de la Musique

Welcome to the 100th blog entry. 

La Fête de la Musique started in France back in 1982. Designed to be a day of culture and music it is celebrated on June 21st each year, the longest day.
Music events are held all over France and are normally free of charge.

Champniers has never had an event in the past as Civray the local "big" town has a large event in the town square. However this year, a new inhabitant M Belot requested of the mayor if he could hold an event in the village. This was agreed but was to take place on Friday 22nd rather than compete with Civray.
Whilst the intention was excellent, the marketing left a little to be desired as posters appeared saying there was an event but neglecting to say what type of music. We attempted to advertise the event in the bar and on our newsletter although we had to be vague as we we unsure suprise was in store for the evening.

It turned out to be a disco run by M Belot of Eve Animation, set up in the square which ran from 7pm until just before midnight

The music was enjoyed by the people who came to watch and our customers at the bar. We managed to borrow extra tables and were able to sit more than 60 people outside on the terrace

Amateurish, yes,  poorly marketed, yes,   but this is a village of 350 people and it was offered free of charge by Patrice Belot for the people of the village. Would it happen in the UK?  I don't think so.
So thank you Patrice, thanks to the village and thanks to the people who came and made it such an enjoyable night.
Next year we will be better prepared as we do La Fête de la Musique again in Champniers

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

"Manners Timothy"

One of the great benefits of our job is that our social life comes to us. We get to talk to people from many different backgrounds, with different views and ideas. We love just sitting outside with a group of customers, chewing the fat. The vast majority of people are well mannered, polite and very pleasant but occasionally just occasionally we get a customer that frustrates by their lack of manners, demands or attitude.

For example

Customer decides that they will remove chairs from the dining room and take them outside as the 50 outside are all full.  Doesn't bother to ask if it's ok.  What next,  "it's sunny I think we'll take the pool table outside"
The only extra chairs allowed outside are the high chairs, if they are no good I am afraid you will just have to get here earlier

Customer who asked for a drink in the normal way, " a biere sil vous plait" and was told by her friend that there is no need to say please to a barman.  Correct madam and there is no need for us to serve you. 

Customers that think we are Google.

People ask us questions all of the time, weather forecast, local houses for sale, what's what in the village etc etc and we are happy to oblige, but there a limit even to my knowledge 

Who won the election in Calais?
What's the weather in Italy? I am thinking of going there sometime
Do moles have sex during the day or at night?
Why don't you think I have seen my neighbour recently?
Can I book a room at Paris Hilton?
and the classic " can you recommend somewhere to eat?"

If we have time and if the customer actually wants an answer to the question they ask, we have a computer available but .............

And if you do ask a question, have the decency to listen to the answer!  You asked a question, a question demands an answer. If you wanted to talk at us rather than with us then just talk, that way we don't need to listen as we are not involved in a conversation. Also don't tell us something different one day than you did yesterday.......

A further annoyance is the " fill it up " " my glass isn't full"  or words to that effect.

The measure and the glass size are not necessarily  the same because if they were the liquid would spill when you carry the glass. We are of course willing to fill glasses to the top and charge accordingly......for a cognac that means €20 and for a Jack Daniels €50.

One last thing before you think that all of our customers are ill mannered louts (which they are not!!!)

There are often two ways of saying something and most  people learn through life that one way often has better results than the other

for example
"please may I have" works better than "I want"
"I love you" works better than "let's go shag"

"I have this letter and it's all in French"   doesn't work as well as " J, when you have a minute could you have a look at this letter for me and explain it please Thanks very much"

I will finish with two points:
  1. I don't think anyone reading this will recognise themselves but if you do, you just may be right
  2. We think we have solved all issues with our newest drink..

Sunday, 10 June 2012

They should have read the blog.....

About midnight the other evening as a group of us sat outside , a car passed the bar, (which is unusual in itself!!) and returned a few minutes later and stopped to ask for directions to a chambre d'hote ( guest house).
I had not heard of the name they were requesting so asked for the A4 sheet they were using for directions along with their sat nav.
As readers of previous blogs will guess they had directed themselves to the wrong Champniers. The 3 ladies and 2 children found themselves at midnight in the Vienne and not in Charente, some 80 kms away.
Surprisingly they found it quite amusing, more so I guess than the guest house owner when they finally turned up

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

It's a small world

I am constantly amazed as to the links that we find with other people
Considering the relatively small number of Brits in the area  it is incredible how closely some of them have in the past.
A few examples.

  • A couple who had never been the bar before walked in, and the lady recognised another diner. It seems that one worked in a small village store in Cornwall 20 odd years ago and the other used to be a customer.
  • Two people whose houses almost backed onto each other as youngsters recognised by an unusual surname.
  • Robert, who like me visited Stamford Bridge ( or should it be pilgimaged to) and used the same cafe in the Kings Road for a pre match meal.
  • A local couple and a holiday house owner who lived in the same road in Wales but never met there.
But then last week a couple came in, new to the bar. We got chatting, how long have you been in France? Where are you from in the UK?   Herne Bay was the answer. I said that I also came from Herne Bay and when we talked further we had once lived 10 doors apart. However their son, owns the very house that I lived in with my parents as a teenager.  

What next an old girlfriend turning up or someone arriving in one of my old cars?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Supporting The Hump

We had an email a few months back asking if we would be showing the Eurovision Song Contest in the bar. After checking that it didn't clash with anything important like football we said yes. It transpired that a group of friends from Scotland and England get together each year to watch the annual humiliation of the UK.
As you know we are a country that has produced the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Robbie Williams to name but a few but cannot find a "cracking tune"  to appeal to our European neighbours.
(this of course assumes that the voting isn't political because if it was the UK being everybodys friend would win easily, wouldn't it?)

So yesterday evening the five ladies arrived in time to see Botox man Englebert starting the show from the hub of European music Baku  Azerbaijan.

To say they were keen is an understatement. They arrived with a list of rules for their contest and each had a score sheet.
Each of the five had been allocated "events" such as key change, pyrotechnics, costume change, unnecessary people on stage, national costume, singing in English etc etc
As each of the 26 countries did their stuff, the girls were looking and listening out for their events. The bar was full of shouts of "key change"   "pyro" and the like as points were added to individual score sheets.

The ladies also felt it their duty to comment loudly on anything and everything and the air was full of shouts of 
"unnecessary people, unnecessary hair, unnecessary shoulder pads etc"

For those of you that didn't see the contest, here are the "highlights".
  • Englebert looked plastic 
  • Israel has joined Europe
  • A Swedish Kate Bush won
  • Spain entered but didn't want to win as they would have to host in 2013 and haven't the money
  • Russia had six grannies singing and baking biscuits
  • One country had a boat made out of people clothes
  • Jedwood need to be humanely put down for their own and the world's good
  • There was a little political voting but not much. For example Croatia gave its top 3 scores to Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia.
  • Graham Norton managed to predict most countries scoring
  • The winner got 372 points, England and France came fairly close with 12 and 21 respectively.

So the evening came and went, we enjoyed the company and would willingly do it next year  but overall the evening can be summed up in one overused word  UNNECESSARY 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Saturnia pyri

Just before we closed last night, about 11.30pm, we had a visit from a Giant Peacock Moth. This is the biggest moth found in Europe. We had never seen one before and this one came and settled on the bar door and then on the floor.
It was about 120mm (5inches) and the photo shows it next to J's hand

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Danny an occasional visitor to the bar passed away last week. He was 38.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Election

The Presidential Election in France is this Sunday with the second round in two weeks time. It is said that in the first round the french vote with their hearts and in the second round with their wallets.
I, being an etranger and not allowed to vote.

In every village there are the statutory 10 boards in place for each party to attach their quickly defaced posters.

Election cards have been sent to all voters. ( A note on this, the mayor's secretary posts her letters in the postbox on the front of the bar. In this she posted J's election card, which was collected, sent to the area sorting office, put in a postman's van and delivered back to where it was posted from!!)

As one of our regulars put it  "left or right---------------

---------it's all bollocks!"

So the choice is Sarkosy if Snow White will release him for another term in office

or Hollande

I can't believe that the french will vote for Hollande, they still haven't forgiven Germany for running their country in the 40's

Friday, 6 April 2012

French Life: Postcodes

In the UK postcodes are very specific. Our last house in Lower Stondon had a postcode that covered  40 houses, but in France it is not quite as easy.
We live in 86400, the postcode based around Civray. It is well over 100 sq kms and is 20km x 17kms at its peak. There are 11 towns and villages in 86400 and approx 9000 people.
This as you can imagine makes life a little difficult for posties and other delivery drivers.

But their headaches don't end there. There are the hamlets. (hameau) hamlet  is a group of dwellings in rural areas , generally too small to be considered a village , and with no church . The basic element is very often a farm .(

Our village of Champniers, population of 350 is made up of the main village and 21 hamlets. These range from two or three houses to maybe 25. They have no road names and normally no house names or numbers. Instead they use the generic address Lieu dit.   Lieu-dit (plurallieux-dits) (literally said-location) is a French toponymic term for a small geographical area bearing a traditional name. The name usually refers to some characteristic of the place, its former use, a past event, etc. (
So if a Jean Smeeth lived in  Somewhere a hamlet of Champniers, the address would be Lieu dit Somewhere,  86400 Champniers.   Good luck to the DHL man I say!!!  Where do they start?  

But postcodes are important as they identify the department of the town or village. France has many duplicated place names and the postcode will identify which department or county they are in. There are two Champniers approx 100kms apart. There is us in 86400 and also a suburb of Angouleme postcode 16430 

We have had a number of people turn up here, looking for the airport, hotels or the out of town shopping centre that the larger Champniers is known for.
Surprisingly, they don't always take their mistake in good heart normally blaming the Sat Nat rather than the person who programmed it.

When Bonnie Tyler sang about being Lost In France perhaps she was heading for Saint Savour. 
As can be seen below there are 12 places of that name plus another 3 that are very similar
But it's not all bad. French road signs are normally excellent and will help you find your destination