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Christmas in the Morvan

Christmas is coming, and Le Criquet is bursting with publicity for Christmas markets, Christmas concerts and festive food and wine. Corbigny’s Christmas market opens on 9th December (a memorable date for the Rabsons – see below). It was held in the Abbey until the Elves declared the building a health and safety risk for large crowds. Now it occupies the entire main street, and features musicians, dancers and Father Christmas himself.Now is the time for me to dig out last year’s Christmas cards, my trusty guillotine and my smug little labels to create my recycled cards. 25p per card is donated to Combat Stress. ‘Paper’ greetings cards are becoming an endangered species, but John and I post about 50 every Christmas, together with our Christmas letter and my annual short story, as well as sending the same package online. I write a story every Christmas. Some are more Christmassy than others. There was a link to my 2017 story in my November article.

Here in the Morvan the big Christmas dinner – the Réveillon – takes place on Christmas Eve after Mass. This monstrous late-night blowout often begins with oysters, goes on to foie gras and goose, capon or turkey, and ends with bûche de Noël, a Christmas log featuring chocolate, cream and sometimes chestnuts. There are countless recipes online, none of which I have ever tried, as John is allergic to chocolate.

For me Bûche de Noël will always be Chocklit Log. I wondered why our little son’s teacher gave me such pitying looks until I read his essay about Christmas dinner in the Rabson family. Hugo wrote, ‘For pooding we have chocklit log. My mother bis a swis roll and cuvers it with chocklit.’

Hugo admitted later that he had seen one made on Blue Peter and wished we’d served that instead of my granny’s Guinness Christmas pudding. Here is a recipe which looks OK, except that it uses vegetable suet. My grandmother had never heard of vegetable suet. She bought a lump of beef suet from the butcher and I had the job of mincing it.

Our local shops are heaving with Christmas stuff, from luminous Christmas tree decorations, through foie gras to chocolate novelties. My favourite sweets are papillottes, gaudily wrapped chocolates with a joke or riddle on the inner wrapper. They do to some extent replace Christmas cracker mottoes to make the party go with a swing. Proper Christmas crackers are a rarity here The big Harraps dictionary offers an explanation:

Papillotte contenant un pétard, une blague,un chapeau en papier et une surprise, traditionnelle en Grande- Bretagne au moment des fêtes.

Un pétard is a firecracker (péter is to fart), une blague is a joke and un chapeau en papier is of course a paper hat. Our crackers, bought online from the British Corner shop, are rapturously received by our friends.

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A Date to Remember

The precise date of Jesus’s birth is not known for certain. See here, for example.

One date which is easily verified is December 9 1972, when John Rabson and Rosemary Border were married in Wivenhoe parish church. Here in the Morvan 45 years of marriage (sapphire, apparently) is nowt special. At the Cheveux Blancs pre-Christmas party we all cheered and clapped the couples who had celebrated 50, 60 and even 65 years of marriage. Here in the Morvan people tend to marry young (we, by contrast, were 30 and 29) and live a long time. Clean air, together with good food and wine and beautiful surroundings, certainly help.

John and Rosemary on their wedding day

At the Cheveux Blancs shindig various people performed their party pieces.

The Morvan has its own patois, Morvandiau. Think of Geordie or Lowland Scots songs and poems and you won’t go far wrong.

Digression: Robert Burns is a household name, but not everyone knows about Geordie Ridley, who is a hero of mine. His most famous song is Blaydon Races because it is the Newcastle United anthem; but my favourite is Cushie Butterfield. There are many versions of Geordie Ridley’s songs on YouTube.

We Love Excédence

Do you remember We Hate La Redoute in my October effusion? Well, they still have not replied to my letter about the bed kit that arrived without a sommier. The local reporter to whom I entrusted my file to enable him to practise his investigative journalism, has done nothing – and seems to have lost the file, which I shall have to reconstruct in order to pursue La Redoute further.

Meanwhile, however, Excédence, who are active online, have just reminded me how La Redoute ought to have handled my complaint.

Digression: Click here for amazing bargains: 50% reductions are commonplace. Some people play solitaire while awaiting a call or email; I browse Excédence, who major in ends of line from reputable outfits and even La Redoute. As I type I am enjoying their Tout à 2€ page.

Well, I ordered a set of glasses from Excédence for our anniversary drinks (see above), but one of the glasses was broken in transit. I telephoned their helpline and, in contrast with La Redoute, who keep customers dangling and then say they are too busy to reply – got an immediate response: ‘Take a picture of the broken glass. Here is the email address to send it to, together with your order number, and we’ll sort it. Happy anniversary.’

Mug Shot

The new picture, taken at the Cheveux Blancs party, includes John; and rightly so, because it is John who goes through the procedure of submitting my monthly effusion to Expat Focus. He is my IT guru as well as the love of my life, and if he ever swapped me for a younger model I’d go back to pencil and paper.

Rosemary Border Rabson

In 2005 Rosemary Border Rabson and husband John Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy, where few other Brits have ventured. Their chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas which they run in aid of Combat Stress (money donations) and Help for Heroes (free accommodation). Since 2012, when Charity Cottage won the Daily Telegraph’s Best British Charity award, the total amount raised for Combat Stress, comprising UK royalties and donations from visitors to Charity Cottage, is nudging £10,000.