Monday, 28 February 2011

"La Chataigne" and a "Tale of Two Chestnuts"

Chapter One – ‘That Old Chestnut’.  

Every October as autumn descends into fall, just be careful not to walk barefoot in the park, else you might end up with painful and prickly feet.

Image courtesy of ‘Swamibu’ at
It’s the chestnut season and in the Mid Pyrenees, within the communes of Quercy and Rouergue, on the borders of ‘Tarn & Garonne’ and the ‘Aveyron’ – at the confluence of the Viaur river where it flows into the Aveyron river, is a small but lively town called ‘Laguepie’.

Nestling snugly on an island between two rivers, at the foot of the lush green hills and cliffs that have dominated this region since well before chestnuts became prickly - once a year, at the end of October, the good and proud citizens’ of Laguepie hold a festival called “La Chataigne” – “ The Chestnut”.

St Martin Laguepie France
The view south to 'St Martin Laguepie', the sister village to Laguepie itself.
Image courtesy of 'Big Al Innellan' at
Back in late October 2008 I was out alone, exploring this ruggedly beautiful region sitting north of Albi and east of Cahors, under the bright blue skies of a warm autumnal afternoon. I crossed the southerly river bridge that feeds straight into the narrow streets of Laguepie, rolled gently to a standstill in my English registration car, completely hemmed in by crowds of carefree happily ambling visitors, dropped down the window to try and gauge where all the live jazz music was coming from and was promptly pounced upon by the largest drunken French fireman I’d ever seen.

Chapter Two –  ‘Obelix Baby - The Biggest Prickly Totally Bladdered Chestnut of them all...’

He was as big as a barn door this Garcon, a real modern day Goliath and had to pretty much bend over double just to peer into my side window and start “Haw He Haw He Hawing” at me in his great rough booming baritone slur of a voice.

Clearly well and truly lubed up on a few vats of the old vin rouge since half past yesterday lunch time, he immediately began pointing to the great big metal fireman’s bucket swinging persuasively from his right ham of a fist and jinking away noisily to the sound of much French coin, indicating in his own lazy eyed but jovial sort of manner, that if I wanted to proceed any further into Laguepie this day, I would first have to ‘Pay the Fieryman’ so to speak.

Bellowing over to all his equally inebriated 'Pompiere' pals sat round the table out front of their bar, who were now themselves rolling about with great cackles of laughter at his merciless remarks, clearly very much at my expense, I had to come up with a plan, before he got any further carried away and tossed me and my car into the Aveyron river below...just for a laugh.

A 'Brisoloir-ierre' carefully and sensitively tending to his chestnuts.
Image courtesy of 'Guilsurf83' at
Problem was, I really didn’t have any loose change and the only paper currency I had was a few big denomination Euro notes – so I thought “what the hell…he’s not actually going to kill me…there are lots of people around…and even out here in deepest Quercy, killing people in public is still mostly illegal…isn’t it?

So I resorted to disarm Goliath Garcon here with the only weapon I had at my disposal at that moment – ‘An Englishman’s sense of humour’.

Leaning out the car window, looking him straight in his vacant eye and wearing my best ever ‘Remember Agincourt?’ grin…I said:

Désolé, mais non je n'ai pas d'argent Monsieur Obelix!”

‘Sorry, but no, I don’t have any money Obelix Sir!’

Then clenched my buttocks as tightly as I could during the long and ominous delay that duly followed.

The 'Bluff' part.

A slow … "Da – Da - Da …Dongggggg..."  went through my mind.       D-Day. The Longest D(el)ay.

Game time ?? - or Game over ?!

Chapter Three – ‘Two Hairy Chestnuts and an impressive Andouilette?’  (!!)

A kind of bemused ‘do not compute’ expression swept down over Obelix’s reddening face as he tried in vain to decipher precisely what I had just said. But he was struggling, and still very much 'out to lunch'. That much was clear to see. Trouble was, his pals heard me perfectly and were now on their knees in various states of catatonic seizure, before bursting with unrestrained howls and screeches of manic inebriated laughter at Obelix’s sudden turn of fate and thus demise.

As only a man's most true and trusted friends would do of course.

Obelix was not the type of man who experienced the ‘Non’ word very often, although he had a lot of heart, but now, on this warm and festive Sunday afternoon, his very 'Homo Neanderthal  Testosterone' worth, and lifelong unchallenged reputation as the big daddy bear of Laguepie, was actually under attack, as well as public scrutiny…and from little more than an English-Irish-Huguenot squirt like ‘moi’, to boot.   Hmmm.
Talking about a ripe sweet pair of chestnuts - best keep it hushed a bit, in case Jean the Rod here gets a tad prickly at the intonation...
That’s about the moment when he returned my half hearted volley.

There…in full view of one and all Laguepies, he unleashed his heaviest cannon of all.

Turning his face partly to one side so his pals could see the slow and sly like grin which he now wore a little too triumphantly for my own comfort, he put down his money bucket, unfastened his belt and just like Napoleons fearless and redoubtable ‘Old Guard’,

…unleashed his proud and all conquering ‘Andouilette’

’His Great Big Praetorian...Todger’.

Match Pwoint.
"Ooooh...look at all that smoke"

I’d met my Waterloo.  

It was a ‘biggy’.

A very big wiggy indeed, so it was, and I just couldn’t rise to that. No way. This was one large piece of fireman’s hose and I was well and truly outgunned. No contest. Game over. Job done.

Chapter Four – ‘The Fall of the other Chestnuts’

Suddenly, there was a humongous crash as the fully loaded pavement bar table went over, with at least three of the firemen fumbling about in dire, drunken mirth amongst the wreckage, as all their fellow inebriated drinking pals promptly stumbled back over the curb together in completely hopeless avoidance, and nearby, intently on-looking wives wrestled with their husbands hands as husband's vainly battled to shield their respective partners blatantly unobstructed view of Obelix’s impressively eye watering, swinging appendage.

Two, thirty something women cyclists became completely entangled with each other and went sprawling across the boot of the car right in front of me, whilst amazingly never once taking their eyes off his exposed 'trunk', and a very coiffure'd looking gentleman wearing tight fitting pale pink slacks, dropped his ice cream cornet all over his chest coddled pet Chihuahua.

Then, as his jaw fell wide open and a curiously dazed and vacant expression clouded his face...he simply dropped his now vanilla flavoured Chihuahua, all the way to the street, and just stood there, rooted to the spot, gazing in a trance, and without even so much as a flinch.

And all this while, Obelix was just standing there, mocking me, with one hand on his hip and the other hand beckoning me to ‘join the good cause and bear my best bowmans arm’.

It's an 'Agincourt' thing.

Thinking on my chestnuts, my own honour and flag at stake I made a snap decision…

Un Obelix moment, je pense avoir une meilleure solution ‘’  -  ‘’One moment Obelix, I think I have a better solution ‘’

“Je vois que vous et je vais vous faire, avec...cette!”  -  “I see you - and I’ll raise you with…..…this !  As I reached down below my car window cill and fumbled about searchingly with my left arm.

Well that made him shrivel back a few inches.

But where was it? Why wasn’t it at hand? I was sure it was there earlier, why had it abandoned me at this moment of international crisis and critical need. Groping around desperately now with my left hand, I finally struck contact with my own artillery shell.


Back in business. Battle honours not yet lost. Time to pull Obelix down off his own mast with one final phallic gesture – I now had his full and serious Gallic attention as I slowly and tantalizingly raised my left hand and brought into view for all to witness…one wide necked bottle of…. Château Eugénie!!’.


'Boulègues Boulègues'
Image courtesy of 'A vos marques'/Daniel B - at

Chapter Five – ‘Chestnut Détente in a Bottle’

Like all good partisan Frenchmen, he knew his regional wine stars, and this wide bottled red plonk of local note had his full and reverent attention. As I reached out and carefully dropped it into his charity money bucket, his eyes grew wider and wider with a growing look of complete and utter sublime resignation.

I’d got him beat. The coup de grace. Game over. Honour still preserved. Hornblower would have been proud of me.

I would live to grapple with another 'Chataignes Festival'.

He gently bent over to more closely scrutinize the label on my unusual donation, plucking the bouteille from the bucket to hold it up high for all to see while mumbling the words “Chateau Eugine, Chateau Eugine..!” with a look of sincere approval to all his floundering, side split Pompiere pals on the pavement nearby.

Then to a growing chorus of cheers and applause, Obelix looked back in my direction, brought his legs together while clutching the wine bottle to his left temple and nodded me a respectful grinning ‘salut’…with his great big Gallic Todger still swaying impressively and quite conspicuously in the Quercy-Rouergue breeze.

           *Blog Authors Note*: If the 'Play' functions for the above music video, featuring Audrey Tautou
                    and Charlie Winston, fail to appear on the screen - just press the 'refresh' icon at the top of your
                    PC screen, and this should fully restore the video playback options. It's a great music video too!

The cacophony of cat calls and clapping from the now sizable crowd were epic, especially when a smiling waitress trotted over and tried to discretely place a fireman’s helmet over his…fireman’s helmet. Funny thing was, he didn’t even notice, he was too busy trying to suck the cork out of the bottle.

“Vive La France et Vive les Pompiers” – and - “Don’t drop your chestnuts in the ‘Brisoloir’ in a hurry Obelix chap”.

All I could do was sit there in my car and chuckle as Obelix tottered off towards the bar clutching his bottle of prize vino, while the grinning waitress struggled to shield his pompiers hose pipe from increasing public inspection.

A lifelong stalwart of the 'Bugs in Chestnut' association
To nods and winks of approval from his fellow fire crew members I cockily yelled over to them..”Maintenant où puis-je garer ma voiture ? -

’Now where can I park my car ?’’

Where upon they collectively rose, signaled me to follow and marched a mere dozen paces to an adjacent side street, removing the metal barriers and guided me through to my own protected parking place, right in the center of this packed and festive town.

Released safely from my voiture and alot of handshakes and back slapping later, I bade them all polite farewell for now, but mainly to avoid being dragged into their continuing boozathon, and discretely slid off in the direction of the sounds of jazz music and the intoxicating smell of those roasting chestnuts.

What a place. What an event. What an atmosphere and What a lucky find to trip over on a Sunday afternoon in late October…

Chapter Six – ‘La Chataigne – The Chestnut Festival’

The annual chestnut festival in Laguepie is organised by an enthusiastic and loyal association called ‘Bugs in Chestnut’. The ‘Bugs’ part refers to the outer prickly casing that surrounds the chestnut fruit itself, and yes it is a fruit and not a nut – and thus probably the only fruit that is always harvested in its own wild and natural surroundings on the planet.

The French term ‘Castagnade Time’ refers to the act of ‘Picking up the chestnuts’, and the chestnut tree itself is sometimes referred to as ‘the sausage tree’ because chestnuts are used to feed pigs.

Hot Work
As I ambled up toward the town square I was almost overwhelmed by the delicious fragrances of roasting chestnuts, bar-be-queuing pork and freshly baked bread wafting along beside me. Sheer nasal bliss. While in the ear department I indulged in a confused melee of marching bands, French jazz, folk music and animated rural French chatter.

Arriving in the ‘centre ville’ market place and épicentre of the whole festival, I was instantly drawn to the smoke and the bustle of the crowds laying virtual siege to the lines of ‘Brisoloir’s’ which are the cylinder contraptions used to roast and toss the chestnuts.

Two well spent euros later and I’d happily perched my petit derriere and my camera on a high wall to scoff a huge stash of freshly roasted Laguepie chataigne’s for the next couple of hours, while soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of French country festival life at its very, very best.

Parfait !

les Pompiers
Les Pompieres!
Image by courtesy of 'daveleb' at    
Chapter Seven – ‘Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree’.

In 1841, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called ‘’The Village Blacksmith’’ which opens with the line ‘’Under a spreading chestnut tree…’’. The character of the village blacksmith in the poem is used to demonstrate the fine values of deeply rooted moral fibre, strength of purpose as well as hand, and inspiration by every day hardworking example within his village community at large.

Longfellow chose the chestnut tree as the subject of his opening verse to further symbolise the strength, moral depth and spread of influence represented by the village blacksmith’s character in his poem.

Gazing down at the numerous characters and faces working the brisoloirs and artisan stalls below me, it was easy to appreciate Henry Longfellow’s musings when he penned out the lyrical metaphors to his rhyming stanza.

And to think I’d just stumbled into this place by complete accident.

Time out for a proper 'Crepe'

Chapter Eight – ‘The Horse Chestnut and a Short Piece of String’

There is one particular global tournament which has for some years enjoyed International status and recognition, and was often embattled by schoolboys everywhere around playgrounds and street corners from September through to October.

The game of ‘Conkers’.

Part skill, part technical development & part sadistic enjoyment for your opponent. Ever more so when your hands are blue with cold on a frosty autumn’s morning. I can still feel the sharp and painful ‘Thwack’ as my adversary would put all his might into swinging his vinegar case hardened conker ‘sixer’ through 180 degrees of vicious radius, with the soul and only intention of missing my lonely dangling conker altogether, and cracking his armoured nut on my frozen finger knuckles, as hard as he possible could.

Ultimately, a brutal game of chicken for pubescent boys showing early psychotic tendencies and their less fortunate, masochistically challenged victims.

Talking a load of pc/health & safety chestnuts for a moment - In 2004 a headmaster bought goggles for pupils to wear while playing the game of conkers in the playground, and in the same year, several schools banned the game of Conkers due to fear of causing anaphylactic shock in pupils with nut allergies. Yeah...really!

La clède
'La Clede' - courtesy of Aeiia at
The following is an extract from Wikipedia concerning the history of ‘Conkers’…

The first recorded game of Conkers using horse chestnuts was on the Isle of Wight in 1848. Just across the water from where I live.

The horse chestnut tree is not native to Britain, but was introduced from the Balkans in the late 16th century; it was not widely planted until the early 19th century. Previously, children played with snail shells or hazelnuts.

In 1965 the World Conker Championships were set up in Ashton (near Oundle) Northamptonshire, England, and still take place on the second Sunday of October every year. In 2004, an audience of 5,000 turned up to watch more than 500 competitors from all over the world.

1976 was the first time that a non-British contestant won the Men's World Conker Championship. The Mexican Jorge Ramirez Carrillo took the place of a contestant who was unable to arrive on time at Ashton, and defeated the 1975 champion at the finals. The Men's champion has been British in every other year except 1998, when Helmut Kern from Nauort, Germany, won.

Oh No!...Beaten by a German ‘Kernel !’…Gotten Himmel !!!

"Les Brisoloir's"

Being a bit of a foodie as well as a ‘chow hound’, I couldn’t leave this little Blogopic without a reference to one of my favourite recipes for Chestnut Soup here.

And a tasty little chestnut of a tip for improving the flavour of your pastry pie lids prior to baking:  Just crumble up some pre cooked or roasted chestnuts and a handful of chopped fresh sage, and sprinkle it over one half of your rolled out pie pastry lid. Then fold the clean half over on top and carefully roll out to your required pie dish size. Makes a hell of tasty difference to home made chicken, bacon, leek and white wine pie, I can tell you. Truly epic. 

“And finally... 'Now for something completely different'…”

 In 1993, Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, was disqualified from a conker competition in the United Kingdom for baking his conker and soaking it in vinegar !!  That’s ‘ex Cambridge’ for you – Sneaky’s Best.

                                                 Trust that old chestnut.                                                 

Okay…You can go now.

Monday, 14 February 2011

"Happy Boggatine's Day!!"

On a day which often showcases the most original and romantically creative efforts by some of us, I thought this was a pretty original piece of creative short filming...

And the next video made me chuckle, not least because I'm a long term fan and collector of this series of greetings cards, so this is one I posted to 'me' earlier...

For those who can - and choose to - "Have a warm and pleasurable evening together".

For those that can't - "Enjoy the 'footy match'.."

And...for those who cocked up and forgot altogether - "Get well soon!"

Friday, 11 February 2011

Fille's, Femmes and an Embarrassing Faux Pas...

Okay - this is not Blois, but Toulouse, just off
' Place Wilson' behind my camera.
Taken about midnight from my bedroom balcony. 
 I originally called this shot - 'Chef's Break'.
This is a true story.

Just a few dodgy years ago, I unknowingly made a right royal 'faux pas' while booking a room by phone, with a Hotel in France.

Determined to make the effort and complete the task in my best tourist French, in the vain hope that I might even secure some extra special brownie points with the Hotel’s owners – who spoke very little English – I impressed myself by faultlessly saying... “Je voudrais réserver une chambre lit double pour moi et ma fille…s'il vous plaît.”

There followed a long silence... punctuated by a lot of nervous "Ooh’s & Aahs" coming back down the phone line.

Then...a fairly peeved man's voice came on the line and a mix of broken English and French... “Are you sure vous desir un chambre 'double' for you et votre fille…Monsieur?

To which I responded - albeit a little irritatedly now – “Ouiiiiieeee!!...s’il vous plait!”

Well, there followed an awful lot more frantically, whispered interchange between at least three or more people on the other end of the phone, and I couldn’t begin to understand a single word they were collectively jabbering.  Then...oooh!... the battered sounding Garçon came back on and said “Okay Monsieur – we do ziss for you”.  Although, in truth, he didn’t sound the least bit convincing or happy about it, ... at all.
‘Nul brownie points’ pour moi so far then. Hmm.
A week later we duly arrived at the hotel in Blois, approached the reception desk, and introduced ourselves. The friendly smiling girl at reception duly scanned her reservation book, only to suddenly glance straight back up at me with a look of clearly undisguised alarm, bordering on horror...and then bolted off out the back, leaving us both standing there feeling completely and utterly perplexed.

A few moments later there was a whole new commotion, as five very straight faced manager and manageress types filed back into reception and started glancing back and forth very severely between us, but mostly at my wife. All very startling and confusing for both of us. Then the oldest and most senior looking man stepped forward and said in very good English, but with a distinctly clipped and edgy tone to his voice…”Forgive me Monsieur, but is this lady your, errr,…daughter, may I ask?” Completely and hopelessly baffled now, I just dumbly replied “No. This lady…is my wife”.

I should point out here that my wife does actually look a few years younger than me, even though she is older than me by a full, four, years. But not young enough to be 'my daughter'. Surely!? I mean - Sacre Rouge!!

More frantic verbal interchange followed between all of them, before the man turned back to me and said “Pardon Monsieur, but when you telephoned earlier, you specifically asked for a double bedded room for you and 'your daughter' – ‘votre fille’?!” - “Oh,” I said, feeling a sudden upward surge of body heat accompanied by a rising chorus of distant alarm bells. “What's the French for 'wife' then?”...and with a look of calm resignation and understanding, he politely looked down, slowly shook his head and said “It’s ‘Femme’ Monsieur – not ‘Fille’ - but ‘Femme.’”

Oh...Fwoops!”..was all I could manage to say.

Grinning hugely now, Head Garcon turned to his team and promptly gushed out a rapid torrent of French, to be joined by a lot of highly animated gesticulating and jaw opening from his colleagues – as their own expressions quickly changed to manic howls of laughter and even more waving of arms and slapping of hands on thighs together - - this also included a very large and fearsome looking chef, who had worryingly appeared at my side, to scowl at me just a few moments earlier.

The centime now ‘dropped’ – my wife then gently touched the senior managers arm and said to him quite charmingly - “Merci beaucoup Monsignor pour la compliment as ma ‘fille’ a 21 ans!...and now - how ‘peut-être’ may I learn how to call 'ma usband eere'…a complete and utter ‘di**head' en Francais?”, to which the manager gave her just the briefest flicker of a smile, bowed his head politely and replied… “Madame, there are a great many ways we can help you do this…and It will be my great and personal pleasure to write 'all' of them down for you…forthwith. In the meanwhile, bienvenue Madame! Then, glancing slightly sadly in my direction - and welcome to our ...umble otel -  Monsieur.”

It's fair to say that we shared much humour with them all for the duration of our short stay, during which the manager confided to us that they had planned to decline me the use of the double room with my ‘daughter’, on my arrival, and either robustly insist on me taking a second bedroom...or throwing me out altogether on my pervy petite derriere! 

For the remainder of our trip - and even after returning home - my wife took great delight in addressing me as “Ma tête petite bite” to just about every Frenchman, Frenchwoman, Frenchdog, cat and croissant we bumped into.

And every single time, they would glance briefly at me, look back at her, and smile with a nod of blatant and knowing approval.

Understood 'Herrr!' perfectly then.

As for the ‘F’ words…well, we’re ‘Damned if we do’ and we’re ‘Damned if we don’t’ Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum! and 'I !'... smell the bum of an Inglishmum.

Good job ma 'Femme' doesn't read ma Blog isn't it...

Doona teller though - else I'll probably be in 'biiiiig biiiiiig twubble'.

Grande Tète Bite    xx

And if you enjoyed a bit of a chuckle at this little French tale, let alone a much deserved laugh at my complete and utter ineptitude and expense here, then you might also want to take a gaze at yet another perfectly true tale of 'Gallic Phallic' misadventure I managed to stumble into, during a chestnut festival down in deepest Quercy one fine autumnal day - here then is the link. 

Bon appetite, and hang on to your chestnuts...

     Let me know if you too have made some dodgy 'faux pas's' your self's, by getting things unwittingly wrong in a foreign lingo. Answers preferred in English please. Ta.
Blois sur Loire

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Best Blogger TipsBest Blogger Tips