Travels in the Somme with my father’s father

An unexpected detour during a six month stay in France links three generations of my family to a village in the Somme.

A version of this post first appeared on RMIT’s creativehiveblog in May 2017.

On Anzac Day 2015, I left Australian shores for six months travelling solo in France. Unlike my grandfather a century before, I wasn’t destined for the muddy fields of the Somme. My destination was another part of rural France altogether – Cinais in the Loire – the first of a series of housesits courtesy of a housesitting website called MindMyHouse.

First World War Australian soldiers bound for the Somme | more on
Syd Barker (second from left) and his brothers

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Food and philosophy the French way

Confiture aux abricots is apricot jam in FrenchDearest Darlings,

How goes it in cold wet old Melbourne? Truth be told it’s a bit like that in my French hideaway today. I had plans of dusting off the bike and riding into Chinon for the English conversation and afternoon tea but it’s not looking likely at the moment. Maybe I’ll just stay inside and eat. I’m waiting for our bakery van to pull in so I can buy a baguette and a croissant – a very rare treat but it will taste delicious with my HOME MADE apricot jam. No your eyes do not deceive you – my cooking mojo has returned. It went walkabout after 25 years of doing it for a living. Now I can cook for the sheer joy of it – another reason to love my new French home.

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Settling into la vie ligérienne

Chèr Édouard,

My morning coffee
My morning coffee

Took the van for a spin yesterday pour faire des courses. My need for fresh milk to make myself a coffee outweighed my terror at having to drive a manual car on the wrong side of the road, so that will give you an idea of my desperate need for a decent coffee. To my surprise and disappointment the French don’t do a weak flat white extra-hot. You can tell Alice I have not only given up on asking for my ridiculous, adjective laden, politically-incorrect coffee, I’ve actually given up buying coffee at a cafe altogether unless I’m prepared to drink a heart starter sans lait. And occasionally I am, for the sake of good Franco-Ausso relations. You just say “un café” – that’s pretty much it for choice. I made the mistake in Paris of asking for some hot milk. It’s all UHT here! Dégoutant! So the plunger chez nous is working overtime.

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Touchdown in the Loire

Dear Mum and Dad,

The view from chez nous
The view from chez nous

It’s 10.30am Wednesday morning and the sun is shining, the birds are singing (even a cuckoo I’m pretty sure) and all’s right with the world. I have found my spiritual home there’s no doubt about that.

My hosts left yesterday for Budapest and a river cruise for 3 weeks. I needed every bit of the 2 days with them to learn the ropes of caring for my menagerie. Toby is my faithful companion, and even Bijou the cat seems fond of me but they DESPISE each other. They’re like cartoon characters. Each has his own half of the house and never the twain shall meet. Continue reading

10 Things I’ve Learned About France in No Particular Order

OK – DIY Woman has only been in France for a month but she’s already made a list. Here are 10 things she’s learned so far:

DIY and BYO - the hardware place at Chinon
DIY and BYO – the hardware place at Chinon

1. France and wine go together like drill bits and champagne. In rural France you can buy local wine at the hardware place. A marriage made in heaven for your average DIY Woman. Continue reading