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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Wednesday 30th July 2014: Fête de la Crêpe

Had a great time at the Pancake Festival. When Paul came over from the gite and asked if I wanted to go with them I wasn't sure at first as I have such a lot of work to get on with. He'd spent the whole morning practising some pieces by Poulenc. He makes a strange clicking sound with his mouth when he concentrates! He's on holiday from the college until September. He told me that Paris is virtually deserted in August, so he, Isabelle and Mathilde, decided to stay on here for another week.
When we arrived at Gourin there was plenty going on and the place was crowded. I was interested in the live music, particularly the Celtic bands; Tan De'i, a group of women playing accordion, violin and flute and Sonesien du, a band with flute, guitar, drums and traditional Breton bagpipes. Shame we got there too late to see the dance group.
Isabelle was amazed to see her old history tutor, Celine, from college. She hadn't seen her for a few years and had no idea she had moved down here. Thank goodness they can all speak fairly good English. We all went for a coffee and Celine told us how she's moved to Brittany from Paris and is writing a book about local folklore and customs. She was very interested in my writing and wanted to know all about my book.
As we were looking around the craft stalls, I decided to get a thank-you present for Laura for all the editing she's done for me. I asked Celine and Isabelle for help and we chose a pair of blue moon-shaped earrings. There were some very good artists exhibiting their work and Celine bought a small oil painting depicting a group of traditional Breton cottages. She told me she's a bit of a hoarder, her place is filled with stuff. She also bought two brightly hand painted plates from one of the stalls, and a blue and white striped handwoven rug (must have a thing about the colour blue). She mentioned her interest in philately so I told her about my collection of Victorian stamps (didn't mention my 2d blues though). There were a few stalls where you could sample different crêpes. We tasted quite a few! Laura would have loved it there.
Mathilde was very excited about entering the children's pancake competition. We watched her with the other children all wearing their aprons and hats. It was funny to see the concentration on her face. Paul and Isabelle said she's been practising in the gite, so for the past two days they've eaten nothing but galettes! Mathilde didn't win the competition but got some sweets for taking part. The winning pancake in the adult section was 70cm in diameter! The crowd went crazy when the results were announced with loud clapping and cheering. As soon as the judging was over and the photos taken all the entrants began eating their pancakes, inviting the crowd to join in.
Celine gave me her phone number, must get in touch soon.
(photos to follow)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sunday 27th July: Birthday Gig‏

So hot yesterday, thank goodness there's a slight breeze today.
Pleased with the gig last night. Such a beautiful house when we eventually found it. Rodrigo had given me and Alexander directions on a scrap of paper which were impossible to follow. After driving in circles in the direction of Quimper we stopped in a village. The place was deserted and Rodrigo wasn't answering his phone. Luckily a man walking his dog pointed us in the right direction, We found the place with ten minutes to spare.
Rodrigo and Ines were already in the Marquee setting up. The owners Henri and Mercedes came over and introduced themselves. It was Mercedes' fiftieth birthday and her husband had booked us as a surprise.
They must have had at least fifty guests. Most of them got up to dance to our livelier pieces; La Bamba, Mas Que Nada and Bamboleo seemed to go down well. We finished the evening with a couple of slow pieces, Los Aretes de la Luna and Besame Mucho.
I noticed Rodrigo seemed to be attracting a lot of attention from a couple of girls at one of the tables. They came over in the break and asked for his autogaph! Alexander had instructed him not to smoke any weed before the gig (but we were sure he'd ignored this). The girls certainly found him amusing!
The grounds of the manoir were beautiful. During our break, Ines, Alexander and myself walked around the courtyard and came across a herb garden. Very impressed by the variety: #. Behind the garden was a lawn with a lake beyond. I would have liked to explore further but we had to get back to play.
After we packed up Ines wanted to stay and talk to Mercedes (I don't think she knows many Spanish people here in Brittany).
Spent this morning searching for sites which review e-books. Not as easy as it sounds; there's a lot to wade through. Need to discuss this with Laura. Will send her a long e-mail later.  
Off to Gourin this afternoon for the pancake festival. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Thursday July 24th 2014: Rehearsal

Was disappointed that Ines couldn't make the practice at Alexander's last night. Would have been useful to run through her pieces for the birthday gig on Saturday. Makes me wonder just how committed she is.
After practising in the summerhouse we sat out in the garden and Rodrigo told us about a few of the characters on the campsite. He's very good at doing impressions, imitating voices and accents; his description of the man who spent all his time in a tiny coffin shaped tent was hilarious. He also told us about a family, two parents and a young son who seem to do nothing but sit outside their tent all day. He said they go everywhere together and claims he'd never heard them speak. We sobered up when Simone came out into the garden and asked us all to be quiet, complaining that she had to get up early for work tomorrow. Alex affectionately calls her the Dragon, but he's besotted with her really.
Very lethargic today. Julien has been coming into the cottage today, peering around the door and then running away. He posts me presents of flower petals through my letter box. Pepin followed him in today, tail wagging. Solange came looking for them. She was very apologetic and told Julien off for bothering me. But he's very sweet and not a nuisance (well, not unless I'm trying to work). He'll soon get to an age when he won't want to know adults.

A strange thing happened this afternoon. I walked to the village and stopped off for a coffee. Pascal asked if I was good friends with Jean-Luc. I told him he's a neighbour and that I didn't know him very well. Pascal rolled his eyes and exclaimed "Il est fou, fou!" (He's mad, mad!). His daughter and several of the other drinkers at the bar seemed to find this very amusing. Wonder what Jean-Luc has done to make them say this? 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Monday 21st July 2014: Trouble at Restaurant

Had a long chat with Laura this morning (the wonders of Skype) about different ways of marketing my books; particularly Amatore's Restaurant. She wants everything to happen instantly but the internet has so much conflicting advice it's going to take a while to wade through it all. It's a matter of knowing who my market is and connecting with potential readers.
Thinking about what happened yesterday at the restaurant. Hope Philippe is okay. I've never known him to close the place up before. I was a bit annoyed after driving all that way and finding the entrance locked. Don't think he wanted to see anyone but after I stood there banging on the door for several minutes it was clear I wasn't going away. I could see he was upset when he finally appeared.
After I made us coffee he told me that Jose had stayed out and only turned up about an hour ago. While wasn't the first time, he's never stayed out the whole night before. He was supposed to start work at eight, but when he got back, he went straight to bed and wouldn't say where he's been. Philippe cancelled all his lunch time bookings as he was too upset to open up. He was very apologetic about my wasted journey and ended up paying my fee in cash from the till.
It seems things got a bit heated. There were some broken wine glasses and a few overturned chairs lying around. Before I left I helped clear up I told him not to worry as it'll probably all blow over. I feel like an Agony Aunt! I think Philippe going to have to accept this is how it's going to be, otherwise I can see him driving Jose away. Must remember to tell Laura all about it.
Pepin's made friends and not barking at me any more; I guess he must be used to me now.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Friday 18th July‏: Pepin

Solange came over this morning to tell me about her new dog, a little poodle called Pepin. He was running around her ankles barking. She explained he used to belong to an elderly lady with dementia who could no longer take care of him. Solange said the children really like him but he cried last night and she had to sleep on the sofa with him. Shame Laura isn't still here; she would have loved him.
I managed to run through several pieces this morning for the wedding gig in September. I really like Corcovado by Antonio Carlos Jobim. (Rodrigo told me last week how the song is about a guitarist and his girlfriend who are looking out of their window towards the view of the mountain in Rio and thinking how beautiful it is). Also ran through The Girl from Ipanema; everyone seems to know this one. Another favourite of mine is Quando, Quando, Quando (the original Tony Renis version, that is). I really like the arrangement of Cumparsita which Grace Jones sings (I've Seen That Face Before). Alexander's not too sure of this one, but I think it sounds great.
Walked to the village and had a beer in Pascal's bar. Not many people out drinking tonight. Chatted to him about football (his favourite subject). I'm sure he believed France would win.
Got back and gave the garden a good watering.  

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Tuesday 15th‏ July 2014

Disappointed at the lack of Bastille Day celebrations yesterday; seem to be mainly centred on Paris. The nearest firework display was in Callac in the North of Brittany; too far away for my old car.
Had to leave at 8.30 this morning in order to get to St Malo in time for the ferry. Laura took loads of photos on her phone before we left. Mainly Coco and the garden, with a few of me and Karl who arrived at 7.00 to give us a lift. Stopped at Dinan and had a coffee. Laura told me she'd swallowed almost a whole packet of sealegs (she's somewhat prone to exaggeration), moaned about the ferry not arriving back in the U.K until six thirty this evening and about having to get two trains from Portsmouth back to Tunbridge Wells. I think she was probably just anxious about the journey.
Karl said he's only been to England once, several years ago. Laura asked him about Berlin but he didn't say much about that; only that he hasn't been back there for years. He did tell us about his life on a kibbutz in Israel and how he's been married several times (to a Japanese woman, to a Portuguese woman, et all). I didn't know that he'd lived in the Algarve. Laura was very interested in this as she taught English at a language school in Faro, but only for a short time, saying she was hopeless at it. The school had asked her to stand in for a teacher who had mysteriously disappeared. Laura said she had no experience or training and was thrown in at the deep end to a class of children who went out of their way to disrupt the lessons (probably the reason for the previous teacher's disappearance).
Made it to St Malo in good time and after a quick goodbye started the journey back. Stopped on the way to look at a house sale but nothing interesting. Karl dismissed the furniture as cheap tat and after after a few minutes we left.
Quiet without Laura. Hope she wasn't too sick on the journey.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Saturday 12th‏ July: Dinner Party

Last night's dinner went very well.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the starter; Breton pancakes. Rodrigo, fork waving, talked all the way through. He had everyone laughing at his impressions of the characters living on the campsite. Tatiana chatted to Laura about different places in Portugal, they get on very well. Ines wanted to discuss some new pieces with myself and Alexander. I asked Simone to explain to Jean-Luc that I'd given Gertrude to Karl. I thought it best to keep to the truth. Jean-Luc seemed puzzled by this whilst Marie shook her head in disapproval. They were very quiet throughout the dinner. Karl showed them a picture of Gertrude on his phone but they remained unimpressed.
Tatiana passed round photos of their house which Rodrigo is building. She's desperate to be out of the campsite. She and Laura shared a common interest in the horrors of campsite showers.
I was pleased with the main course, Poulet au Cidre. Laura thought I might have put too many onions in but everyone seemed to enjoy it. Laura played hostess; filling up everyone's wine glasses.
Simone was complimenting me on my Far cake when Marie interrupted, advising in very slow and over pronounced French, that it needed more prunes.
After a few puffs in the garden, Karl launched into a speech extolling the virtues of Schubert whilst Laura seemed to be fascinated by the size of the moon. It was only when we went back inside that I noticed Jean-luc and Marie had disappeared; don't remember them saying goodbye.

Alexander had brought his guitar and Karl started off by singing his version of JJ Cale's Cocaine. We carried on jamming until the early hours with Ines leading the singing. Have to admit she has a good voice and I'm looking forward to working with her again. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thursday 10th July 2014

Accidentally woke Laura up at 5.30. She then spent five minutes explaining that she's not a morning person. Tried to be as quiet as possible but the slightest sound wakes her. Yesterday it was me filling up the kettle, today it's me stirring my coffee. 
Set off for Carnac for a practise at Alexander's. On the way we stopped and walked around the Alignements de Keriescon an area of over 240 prehistoric standing stones. Laura was interested in knowing the history behind them. Brittany has over three thousand but no one seems to know their significance. 
Had a quick look at Carnac beach and then stopped at St Colomban, a little fishing village where oysters are farmed. Laura reminded me she hates shellfish. I showed her the 16th century fountain with two troughs, one for the washer women and one for the animals to drink from. She took several pictures of this, also some of the Gothic chapel. 

When we reached Alexander and Simone's bungalow Rodrigo was already there and had brought Tatiana and their little boy, Paulo, along. Ines turned up fifteen minutes later with a pile of music under her arm (what is it about singers and timekeeping?). She wanted to run through Sin Ti and told me about a version by Ikira Baru she likes; must admit I do like that version but hope she's not expecting me to sort out the arrangements this time. Also went through some of the songs we rehearsed earlier this year: nice to get back to those bossas again (Agua de Beber, So Danco Samba and Desafinado)
Whilst we practised in the summerhouse, Laura sat in the garden with Tatiana and Paulo. She told me on the way home that Tatiana had been complaining about life on the campsite and how crowded it's becoming. Not sure why they're living on the campsite or why they left Brazil. Laura said she had lived on a campsite in Portugal. 
Alexander is stressed about work and wondering yet again whether to resign. He also agreed to organise the band this year, but I think he's taking on too much; I can't see Rodrigo doing it (and I certainly don't want to).
On the way back we called in at Karl's . We sat outside with our coffees and watched Gertrude swimming on the lake with her new friends. Laura said she reminded her of Jemima Puddle Duck. 
Ran through our plans for promoting the books. Maybe I'll have to go over to Brighton for a few days.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wednesday 9th‏ July 2014 - Vannes

Took about one and half hours to get to Vannes this morning, should only take about forty minutes. Had to keep stopping because of the car overheating. Laura kept telling me she could smell burning. I think she probably wonders why I don't buy a new car!
Laura decided we should look inside the Cathedrale St Pierre. The doorway is interesting, built in the 16th century in the Gothic style, it's lined with niches containing statues of the apostles which, apparently, is a Breton tradition. The interior of the Cathedral is also in a Gothic style. 

Walked around Place Henri IV, a square in the centre of the old town surrounded by 15th and 16th century half-timbered houses. 

Laura wanted to find a particular house covered with animal carvings. I had to ask a couple of people before we finally discovered it in the next street, Rue Salomon

I suggested walking the city ramparts but first Laura wanted to look for a skirt. She seemed disappointed at the lack of large clothes stores and kept asking if there were any like Next or Monsoon (I said I didn't think so, but really didn't have a clue what she meant). She followed me into one shop. Four women were standing at the counter talking. They stared at Laura blankly as she attempted a few words of French. She then she gave up and asked if they spoke English. They exchanged smug glances before the youngest one sauntered idly over to a rail and pointed. Laura smiled gratefully, grabbed several skirts and fled into the changing room. (Her French is worse than mine! It's just her pronunciation. But, of course, she doesn't live here). She emerged wearing one of the skirts and I assured her she looked nice in it. However, the assistants smirked. Laura retreated back to the changing room and we finally escaped the shop ten minutes later.
When she mentioned looking for fridge magnets I suggested it might be better to wait until we visit Carnac where there are plenty of souvenir shops. However she seemed determined to carry on searching, so we arranged to meet outside the Cathedral an hour later.
I enjoyed sitting outside in the old part of the town watching all the tourists go by. Got to the Cathedrale to meet Laura five minutes early. After fifteen minutes with no sign of her I phoned her mobile. She said she was lost and didn't have a clue where she was. I asked her to find out the name of the street but she couldn't see it nor any landmarks. I was still talking to her on the phone when I glanced behind and there she was, coming towards me. She had got completely lost.
She said she was in desperate need of a coffee. (It was another twenty minutes before we finally made it to the ramparts). 

Vannes was once totally surrounded by these walls, two thirds of which remain intact today.
Part of our walk overlooked the gardens, laid out in what used to be the moat, and a group of old wash-houses which were still in use after WWII. We passed several towers, including the Tour de Connetable, built in the 16th century, which is the highest in Vannes. 

This evening we went through more of our interview. Laura told me about some of the authors who send her manuscripts, one who always writes the same stories and gives her characters ridiculous names like Teddy Faunterleroy-Huntingdon Frobisher for example.

Gave the garden a good watering. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Tuesday 8th July 2014 Trip to Belle Île

My legs are still aching from today's cycling in Belle Île. Bit disappointed with the island to be honest although Laura seemed to like it. Karl was keen to come along as he was interested in the wildlife on the island (eco system).
Thank God it wasn't raining like yesterday. 

Our bikes cost 15 Euros to hire for the day, not too bad especially as Laura paid! Went to Bangor to see the lighthouse but didn't spend too long there as Laura wanted to go to the Citadelle at Vauban. This was very interesting, full of old dungeons, passageways and underground tunnels and cells where revolutionaries were once imprisoned. Had to laugh at Karl attempts to freak out Laura during the tour. (I think he's taken with her).
Enjoyed lunch in Le Palais; galettes tasted very good. 
Karl wanted to explore the South West coast (Cote Sauvage). After wandering around for ages he called us over to some scrub where he was sure he'd spotted a rare vole. (We couldn't see anything but he was convinced). After hanging around for about fifteen minutes, I could see Laura was getting impatient. So we left Karl scrabbling around in the bushes having arranged to meet him at the café near the dock. 

Managed to fit in a quick look at Aguiles de Port Coton, a group of strange shaped rocks which featured in one of Monet's paintings (see blog) then headed back to town to get a coffee before catching the ferry back to Vannes. 
We had left Karl with strict instructions to be back at the harbour by quarter to four at the latest. At ten to four there was still no sign of him. As he'd left his mobile at home there was nothing we could do except wait. It was Laura who spotted him as we stood on the deck of the ferry. First time I've ever seen him run anywhere and, even then, he only just made it in time. 

Back home; sat in the garden with a ham salad washed and a glass of white wine. So good to relax! 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sunday 6th July 2014

Early start this morning to get to St Malo in time. Karl turned up at 5.30 to pick me up. We both seem to be early risers.
Karl whizzes along - pushes his old van to the limit. He talks constantly (wonder if he's a bit lonely in that huge house?). He also has his CD player turned right up (nice sounds - JJ Cale, Ry Cooder, MuddyWaters, etc). We still had time to stop off for a coffee on the way and got to the port at St Malo to watch the ferry come in.
Laura didn't look as if she had a wonderful journey; said she'd been sick a few times and hadn't been able to eat anything. Karl suggested stopping off in Dinan for something to eat before picking up his furniture. The old town centre is full of historical buildings and Laura seemed to really like it. 

She cheered up once we found a café and had baguettes and coffee. It only took ten minutes from Dinan to Karl's pick up place; a beautiful manoir where a bureau and chest of drawers was ready to be collected. Laura said the manoir was how she imagined Monsieur Henri's house to be (Amatore's Restaurant - chapter 23).
When we arrived back Laura wanted to take a look around, so the three of us went for a walk down the lane. Met Jean-Luc who was pottering around in his yard (wonder if he and his wife ever talk to each other). I introduced him to the others. Karl thinks the whole Gertrude saga is hilarious - says I should tell Jean-Luc the truth, but I'm not so sure; I don't think it would go down too well.

Once Karl had left, Laura and I sat out in the garden and discussed promotion for my books. She has lots of useful suggestions. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Saturday 5th July 2014

After I finished playing last night at the restaurant a couple came up and asked about Guantanamera (not exactly a patriotic USA piece). The couple were French, from Marseilles. They recognised the piece but didn't know much about it. Philippe mentioned he will have more work for me during the summer. He was in a good mood, seems very optimistic about the restaurant now that he's found a new chef. He introduced Jose to me. (I'd say there's more than a professional relationship between them).
Laura's arriving tomorrow morning at eight o' clock, sailing overnight. She mentioned in her e-mail she hates travelling by boat and gets sick. Oh dear, hope she's up for a long car journey! 
Jean-Luc came round and mentioned l'oie but I just pretended not to understand. He's going to be disappointed when he's served chicken (and not Gertrude) at the dinner next week.
Thought I'd better stock up on basic supplies, so spent nearly an hour at Intermarche. Packed out, probably because it's a Saturday. 

Garden's looking good: found Coco asleep in the middle of the daisies. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Friday 4th July 2014

This morning sold my first book on Kindle! So pleased! Wonder if they'll enjoy it?
I've been thinking about Karl's plan to rescue some of the baby boar from the woods around here. (I knew there were wild boar in France but didn't realise they had them around here). He says the locals hunt them and sometimes leave the piglets abandoned. He plans find the piglets and rear them on his land. Must remind him that I'm up for going along and giving him a hand with his search.
Spent all morning practising for the gig tonight. Added some new American standards in view of the occasion (US Independence Day); BlueMoon, Ain't Misbehavin' and Lullabyof Birdland.
I was sitting at the piano running through some technical exercises when a fly came and settled on the music stand. It remained very still as I played, as if it was listening. But whenever I paused, it flew off, returning to the same spot when I started up again. Very strange!

Something similar happened a couple of weeks ago. A greenfinch flew straight into the window pane and dropped onto the sill, stunned, so I picked him up and brought him in. I was practising the piano at the time and, when the bird came round, he perched at the edge of the basket as if in a trance. As soon as I stopped playing, he started to fly around the room. I was sorry to let him go. 

Didn't take a photo of the Greenfinch but here's one of a thrush which also happened to crash land into the window. (Thought he had a broken wing, but he was also okay after a while). 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Poulet au Cidre: Recipe and Video

Recipe for  6 people                                                          /                         2 people

6 chicken breasts (approx 110 grms each )                                        (3 x 93gms)
2 apples   (preferably golden type )                                                     (1 apple)
3 large onions                                                                                                (1 onion)
4 tablespoons butter ( 2 oz )                                                                   (1/2 oz )
2 cups of Brut cider from Brittany                                                         (2 thirds cup)
2 tablespoons Cognac ( optional )
half a cup of cream                                                                                     (1/4 cup)
2 pinches ground nutmeg                                                                        (1 pinch)
salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oven to 150 Centigrade / 300 Fahrenheit / gas mark 2 
Cut onions into fine strips and crunch up. 
Cut apples into small cubes. 
Add apples to a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of butter. 
Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. 
Add onion and cook for about further 5 minutes (until golden)  
In another pan, brown the chicken breasts (3 minutes). 
Add the cooked onions and apples to the chicken and cover with the cider. 
Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
Transfer all to a casserole and place in oven for about 30 minutes 
Remove casserole from oven and place on the hob to simmer for approx 30 mins 
or until the cider has reduced to about a quarter of the original amount. 
Remove the chicken breasts from the casserole and set aside (keeping them warm). 
Pour the cream into the cider sauce and stir for a few minutes. If necessary, to thicken sauce, add a teaspoon of flour. 
Plate up and serve with potatoes and vegetables 
Coat the chicken with the sauce.
Bon Appétit! 

Thursday 3rd July 2014

Went to the market at Hennebont this morning. Found some really fresh quality fruit and vegetables. 

I've planned out a Breton menu for the dinner party when Laura's over but, after reading her e-mail this morning (not liking shellfish), I'm going to have to change the starter... Have now decided to keep the moules mariniere and Laura can have crepes. For the main course I'm going to try the poulet au cidre Breton (better do a trial run) and I'll make a Breton far cake for the dessert. A lot of people are put off by prunes in cake, but I love it (really is delicious!).
Must remember to ask Laura to bring over some Marmite, baked beans and teabags when she comes.
Best get the dinner all sorted in advance. Everyone says I get stressed when I'm cooking (I don't believe it). Quite a few said they're coming; Rodrigo and Tatiana, Ines, Alexander and Simone, and now Karl said he'll come. Everyone's bringing some drink (cider and wine). I'm looking forward to it. 

Decided to video my trial run for the Breton cider chicken. Weird how the camera is okay taking videos and not with photos (see blog) 

Pieter came over to offer to help with my laptop this evening. He remembered me saying about the problems I've been having uploading my files to Kindle. He's a manager of an IT company in Rennes and even he couldn't see how it could be uploaded with OpenOffice. In the end, he installed Microsoft Office on my computer and now it works like a dream - Brilliant!

Just published Amatore's Restaurant on Amazon Kindle this evening. So relieved to get it up there at last.