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Sue has just started blogging for The Local Buzz - a free magazine serving the English speaking population of SW France. We advertise in the magazine regularly as it is extremely popular with visitors to the region as well as locals who like to keep in touch with what is going on in their department. You will see regular blogs from Sue, some of which will be linked to Le Blog on our own website and also to our sister gardening blog "Le Jardin Paysan" . You can see more about the magazine here via its website
And start reading the blog here:
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Sterling weakened against many major currencies this week, including the euro, US dollar and New Zealand dollar. In part, this is because the financial markets aren’t so confident that the UK and the EU will agree a Brexit deal in the foreseeable future as they were last week.
This is even though the UK Supreme Court ruled that Parliament can reconvene, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue, or suspend, the legislative chamber was declared illegal.
Meanwhile, UK economic data this week was mixed, with the UK’s manufacturing sector slowing further in September, according to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), although the UK’s far larger retail sector exceeded forecasts.
However, although the Supreme Court’s decision perhaps makes a ‘No Deal’ Brexit less likely, it’s simultaneously stalled last week’s Brexit progress.
First, this is because, to attend the opening of Parliament, PM Johnson had to fly from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Here, Mr. Johnson was meeting EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. So, the PM has had to cancel or delay those meetings.
Second, what with Mr. Johnson the leader of a minority Conservative government, opposition MPs are in a strong position to control Parliament’s legislative agenda. For example, the opposition parties have refused to let Parliament go to recess, so that the Conservatives can hold their annual party conference, as is convention.
Moreover, opposition MPs continue to turn down Mr. Johnson’s calls for a general election, until a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is firmly off the table. So, it’s arguable that Mr. Johnson is being held hostage in No. 10 Downing Street, unable to govern, yet with limited powers to amend the situation. This adds to the lack of Brexit clarity.
In addition, if Mr. Johnson succeeds in negotiating a new Brexit deal, he’ll need to pass this through the House of Commons. However, as the PM is the leader of a minority government, he may struggle to do this.
The EU knows this, which could make Brussels less disposed to negotiate with Mr. Johnson in the first place, if they think he doesn’t have the Parliamentary support to pass the agreement. This seemingly leaves the UK’s Brexit situation in limbo this week, which has weakened the value of sterling.
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First we have the rentrée – throughout France the return to school at the beginning of September is almost as important a “new year” as January 1st. Once the August holidays are over and the children are back in school the autumn work begins.
The vendange, or wine harvest, which starts in August for some grapes, continues into the autumn when the leaves on the vines turn wonderful shades of red and gold before falling to leave a wintery spider’s web of tangled branches. As the vignerons begin to ferment their grapes you may be lucky enough to come across vin bourru in your local market or supermarket. This is a slightly sparkling acidic drink which is not high in alcohol content. It is taken from the wine vat at an early stage in the fermentation process and is traditonally drunk to accompany roast chestnuts. Too much can give you terrible indigestion. When we had first arrived in France I saw a board outside a local café exclaiming “Le Bourru est arrivé!”. In my ignorance I thought the owner was telling us that he had bought a donkey.
Food and seasonal produce continues to play an important part in the calendar and in the Pyrénéan village of Espelette, in the mountains behind Biarritz, the annual harvest of the Espelette pepper takes place. The peppers (chillies in reality) are hung across the fronts of the village houses to dry.
As a rule French food is not spicy and, in my experience, the Espelette pepper is as hot as it gets. Look out for little jars of powdered “Piment d’Espelette” in good food shops.
You can read more about the village here: https://www.espelette.fr/
France celebrates Halloween – but it is more about 101 ways to cook and eat a pumpkin than it is about Trick or Treat, while November 5th is non-existent. However, there are two public holidays. The first is November 1st, when families traditionally remember their dead. Graveyards look sensational as relatives bring flowers to decorate their family graves; some travelling across France to gather together as a mark of respect. Look out for pots of chrysanthemums on sale from early October – and don’t be tempted to buy one as a gift for a friend – they are the French equivalent of a funeral wreath.
On November 11th at 11 am (regardless of the day of the week) the French commemorate ’le jour de Souvenir’ – or Remembrance Day. In our village, which is tiny, the mayor invites us to the ceremony. Young children place a floral tribute against the village memorial, the Mayor reads out an address from the Prime Minister or other government minister, followed by the name of everyone in the village who has died fighting for their country. After each name is read out we all say “mort pour la France” and then we hold a minute’s silence. Afterwards we share a “vin d’amitie” in our salle de fete. The French wear a bleuet (or cornflower) rather than a poppy.
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Every autumn France hosts a weekend of heritage days - and this year they take place on 21st and 22nd September. Nationally there are concerts, talks, guided visits and properties exceptionally opened to the public. If you are holidaying here, house hunting or live here it is a rare opportunity to find out a little more about the area you are in. There is an excellent guide to 2019's event is you follow this link: https://www.journees-du-patrimoine.com which lists what is open by department and then commune.
The images shown are the Queen's garden in Montpellier and the facade of Bazas cathedral (in the Gironde) where there is going to be a night time promenade and opportunities to discover more about this beautiful little medieval city.
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The yellow flowers you will see popping up in dry sunny spots across France are not crocuses but are members of the daffodil family. They are called stenbergias, or, to be exact Stenbergia lutea – or the winter daffodil. Really easy to propagate by dividing clumps of bulbs when they get a bit crowded they are a cheerful addition to your French garden and add a bit of extra zing to the autumn colour scheme.
Sedum loves a dry, gravelly situation and you can propagate it easily
Other things which look great at the moment are Hylotelephium spectabile (most of us know them as Sedums; they were re-named botanically a few years ago). Like stenbergia, if you can find a spot they love (usually dry and sunny) they thrive and can easily be propagated by dividing the plants in the spring or even simply by poking a stem into the ground and making sure it gets a bit of water while it is establishing.
Gaura - next to the David Austin rose "Strawberry Hill" - which does well in SW France
Then you have beautiful white Gaura lindheimerai – the flowers floating like butterflies above stems which are rapidly turning autumnal red, and gorgeous grasses – such as Stipa gigantea or Miscanthus malepartus. Add the fabulous flask shaped rose hips of Rosa moysii (the one in the photograph is Highdownensis, but my favourite is Geranium) and the stark exploding firework heads of dried Allium schubertii and that is a fabulous collection for the dry autumn garden.
Stipa gigantea - the seedheads will remain intact all winter
Finally – in a shady corner under some trees, plant corms of Cyclamen hederifolium. The little flowers appear from August through the autumn followed by marbled green and white leaves in the winter.