Thursday, 25 May 2017


Vide grenier
Lots of words all meaning that the village turns out and flogs off its junk. 

There is at least one brocante every Sunday morning, if you are prepared to drive.  You don't  usually have to drive far. 

Two or three weeks beforehand  a crop of little roadside signs go up.  Brocante.  Name of village.  Date.  Sometimes you have never heard of the village.   Where on earth is Yvrencheux?  Sailly-Flébeaucourt?  Vacqueriettes-Erquières?  Usually it is quite hard to make out the detail - when? where?   Occasionally the organisers are aware of this and put up three A4 signs - Brocante.  Fontaine-l'Étalon.  19 Juin.  But usually it is a single sign,  and driving by at a moderate 70kph it is impossible to read it all.  Pass by a few times and you might get it.  Or perhaps you are supposed to stop your 2CV and read it.

Assuming you find the village and get there on the right day, what will you find?  First sign is a row of cars parked up on the grass verge.  Both sides.  The French love this stuff, and frankly there isn't a lot on in rural France on a Sunday morning.  St Louis' church opens for mass maybe once every six Sundays.  There are probably no pavements so there will be families walking along the single lane between the cars.  You might as well park up somewhere half a mile away and walk in like them. 

Every house in the village, pretty much,  takes this opportunity.   They are decluttering.  You are collecting new clutter.  They put a trestle table outside the gate.  Sometimes just an old bedsheet on the ground.  Then spread out their stuff.  Grown out of kiddies clothes and toys.  Grown out of biker gear and helmets.  Scythes and similarly mediaeval agricultural implements.   Ornaments.  60s Johnny Halliday albums.  Videos, DVDs,  CDs.   Hand painted plates.  Tarnished cutlery.  Relics of ancient holidays in Morocco.   Outboard motors.  Beer glasses.  Books, many obviously never read. 

There are a few professionals here - people who are selling leather belts, sunglasses, heavy metal tee shirts - but it is mostly the neighbours.  There is a lot of strolling and chatting.  This is la France profonde.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Ramparts of Montreuil sur Mer

It isn't Sur Mer any more, but be careful to tell your satnav it is or you will get directed to the Montreuil in Paris or even Switzerland.  

The town is on a hilltop dominating the surrounding countryside.   And at some point they have been to a lot of trouble to make their hilltop hard to attack.  The walls rise up sheer from the low lying fields. 

The ramparts surrounding the town are almost perfect.  One breach allows traffic though into the town.  There is another access road which enters through a gateway.  

And those ramparts are scary.  No namby-pamby health and safety fencing.   You are 30 metres up.  Fall off and you die.  I stay as close to the inside edge of the path as I can.  I'm not particularly scared of heights you understand.   I just prefer not to fall to my death if it's all the same to you. 

There is a complex arrangement of ditches and outlying fortresses.  I think the idea is that if an invading army breaks through the walls, they find themselves trapped in a ditch with the Montreuillois pouring boiling oil over them. 

The town is on the inside of those mediaeval wall. And for the most part it's a higgledy piggledy mediaeval town of small houses and narrow streets.  There are a couple of more modern tenements which look like barrack blocks, and certainly out of place.  A place to wander.