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Notes from a quirky village in northern France

It snowed rather unexpectedly one day last week where I live in northern France. It meant Doris the rescue dove, who still can’t fly, is back in the house instead of her new home in the garden in the chicken pen. And Charlie the rescue hedgehog who woke up a few days before the snow and scoffed a load of food for three days, has gone back to sleep. That’s the thing with nearly spring, you never know what it might bring, a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.

The cold spell doesn’t stop the goings on in the village at this time of the year though. In a few weeks’ time it will be the annual car rally which winds its way round the narrow country lanes of the Seven Valleys where I live. And that means it’s time for the annual “Clean the Streets Campaign” to make sure each road looks its best for the TV coverage. To tell the truth, there’s not a lot to clean – there are very few roads, and it is pretty much always very clean. Nevertheless, nearly the entire village turns out for the occasion, dressed in hi-vis jackets (in case a car should pass) and carrying bin bags (in case there is a chance of finding a piece of rubbish).

We form into groups and roam the little rues and alleys to collect every shred of rubbish we can possibly find and afterwards head to the town hall where the Mayor rewards us with a glass of wine or a gut warming shot of genièvre to go with a fiendishly strong shot of coffee. Genièvre is a sort of gin, some call it Dutch gin as the recipe originated in the Netherlands. It’s made locally and flavoured with juniper berries and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. Years ago it was a favourite tipple of the working classes in northern France, especially those engaged in tough trades – miners and fishermen. It’s where we get the term Dutch courage from, the gin fortifed those who drank it. Allegedly.

I tried it the first year I joined in the clean streets campaign, it nearly blew my socks off. Never again. I don’t care how much courage it gives you or how much it warms the cockles of your heart!

Meanwhile, I wish you a very bon weekend from my chilly little corner of rural northern France. I’ll be back in two weeks time as I’m working on the final pages of the new spring magazine, and I can’t wait to share it with you – click here to subscribe for free

Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.

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