The weather did not improve much over that of March generally although we had some nice days. Fortunately the 5th was glorious as we shut for the day. Jo, Nick’s sister is 50 this year and is therefore ‘conscrit’ in the village. In France you were normally called up for National Service in the military at 20 years old. Therefore in a tradition that goes back to the First World War that is called ‘La F’te des Conscrits’ (The Conscription Festival) everybody in your village who was born in your year (ie this year ending in an 8) organised a meal to send off the 20 year olds to National Service.
Nowadays it’s just a very good reason for everyone to get together and have a good time. For this year Chardonnay, Uchizy and Farges got together and the celebration had forty plus ‘conscrits’ aged from ten years old up to one lady celebrating her 100th birthday. With invited friends and family 126 people sat down to eat (and drink, of course). It was a terrific do that went on to the early hours of the morning which was quite something as the photo-call was at 11.30 am followed by drinks at 12.30 pm!!! For those who stayed the course it was a do lasting some sixteen hours.
Brian and Sue arrived on the 8th for a fortnight and on the 10th Sue celebrated her birthday with us. We had 17 people coming to eat at 7.30 but the one thing we were not prepared for was the weather. At 5.15 the sky went black and following a tremendous crash of thunder the skies opened with a mixture of torrential rain and hail. Within minutes the water was pouring into village from the vines carrying the hail with it. These hailstones were the size of pea-shingle and very quickly blocked all the drains.
The water had nowhere to go but down the road and through the village. Our sign was almost washed away but a neighbour with tractor and trailer arrived, and Becca climbed into the back, he reversed across the road and the sign was rescued. We’d disconnected the TVs but didn’t give a thought to our ‘Livebox’ which got fried along with about fifty others in the area as I found out when I went to pick up the replacement. The storm passed quite quickly but the road was still a torrent for forty eight hours. The most incredible thing was that 2 kms away in Uchizy they had a few spots of rain and heard the thunderstorm. Our guests that evening had to park on our terrace as it was impossible to cross the road. Our well in the rear courtyard was also overflowing for the next three days. In days gone by, this water used to pass through the bar to the front but our storm drain put in when we renovated the place coped admirably. Sophie did a grand job in the kitchen with the paella and we had a great evening.
Karen and James managed to grab a couple of days to visit us and James was rapidly put to work building a deck outside the back door to cover our storm drain that the dogs managed to fill with gravel every day in their attempts to tunnel under the house. We also constructed a herb garden in the rear courtyard very cheaply using old beams.
The dogs decided it was more fun to dig up soil than gravel because they got dirtier so the cheap garden became an expensive one with the purchase of an electric fence to keep them out. One belt from that and we haven’t had to plug it in since!! We pruned and re-trained the wisteria on the top terrace (with Chanel & Chablis watching) and within half an hour they had pruned it again leaving two small twigs sticking out of the ground. Happily it re-grew and with a little electric fence wire round it the dogs won’t go near it!
One morning, just before 11 am, a woman arrived. She flashed her card and said she had come to inspect us. She was from the DDCCRF, who control all the bars, restaurants, and hotels in respect of hygiene, customer information and food quality. She first went through our menus and wine list. She wanted to know what two desserts were, Eton Mess and Typsy Laird. I explained. She said that the contents must be noted on the menu. Also our menu, wine list and bar tariffs must be displayed on the windows, visible from the outside, and on the tables so that people arriving know what we do and charge without having to ask. But only in French – the fact we have to explain everything to the rest of the EC is irrelevant. Baked beans came next. ‘I want to see a tin’, she said. She was concerned that the label wasn’t translated into French and said she would have to check to see if we could use them!! Her worry was that a french cook wouldn’t understand how to prepare them and might poison somebody!! Next came the goats cheese. We buy them in the market in Tournus and Bernard, the maker, gives us a receipt written on the back of his business card. Not good enough. We have to have a proper invoice with his company registration details on it for traceability purposes. Our own freezer in the garage where we keep our own bits must be labelled ‘PERSONAL’ in 5cm high letters, We also have to keep for two years a copy of every bill we do for a customer who eats or stays with us. Apart from that we passed with flying colours.
The 19th was the second largest ‘concours’ of wine in France (after Paris) and Nick is now a fully qualified wine taster. This year’s challenge was Provence red wines, a bit of a change from last year’s Bordeaux rosé and Bourgogne Aligoté the year before that. There were 12,000 bottles of wine and 500 juries and it was a morning well spent!!
The second largest car rally in France came our way this year and one of the star attractions was Daniel Elena, the co-driver of the current rally world champion, Sebastien Loeb. Daniel comes from Burgy, a village not far away, and drove his first event in a factory backed Citroen C2 prototype. I missed getting a picture as he passed Le Chardon but he did wave!!
On a business level we are very happy. We nearly doubled the target set by our accountant and although the end of the week and weekends are very busy we do get the chance to recuperate a bit Monday and Tuesday. We even found time on our day off on Tuesday 27th May to invite friends and family to celebrate our first anniversary of opening and our 25th Wedding Anniversary.
We just did drinks and nibbles for seventy people so it was quite easy. We got rid of our guests by 8.45 and the family sat down to eat, Jo and the girls, Nick’s parents and us.
By the way, this month’s recipe is ‘Tipsy Laird’.