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Murmurs From The Morvan

I have almost finished compiling Murmurs from the Morvan, a miscellany of articles about our life in this beautiful corner of Burgundy. I have drawn on my Expat Focus pieces and my articles in the Daily Telegraph Expat section, and added a wealth of new material. I hope to publish this book in aid of Combat Stress, the charity which helps combat veterans whose battle wounds are not visible. My ‘regulars’ will know all about Charity Cottage, and new readers can read the blurb at the end of this piece. Incidentally, we recently had our first visitors since the Christmas period, when friends and neighbours borrowed Charity Cottage as overflow accommodation for their guests. On 11 April nine young people were in the area for the Rallye de l’Anguison. Five stayed in the cottage, four in the guest suite in the main house, and Combat Stress is £100 richer.Serendipity is a wonderful thing. In an early chapter of my book I mentioned Burgundy4U, the estate agents who sold us this house. I approached them for confirmation that my edit was correct – and made the acquaintance of their big boss, Benjamin Haas. To my delight he offered a 50 euro donation to Combat Stress in respect of a mention of his firm France4U in one of my articles. And that’s not all. I approached Gwénola Champlaune of the Journal du Centre, who wrote about Charity Cottage last year. I asked if she knew of a reliable local printer, as I had been unsuccessful with online outfits and needed to talk to a human being. Gwénola suggested an outfit in nearby Clamecy, where – coincidentally – Le Fisc has its Hôtel des Impôts and the people who help us to make sense of French tax.

And so I have, advised by the nice lady at the printer’s, been putting my doc files into pdf. As I learned the art of copy editing in the days of scissors and Cow Gum, I have had a lot to learn. John, who used to edit the parish magazine back in Suffolk, has been endlessly patient; and soon we shall have 100 lavishly illustrated pages of A4 to show the printer.

Now here is a sneak preview of a By the Way from my book, in whose Foreword I say:

Digressions From time to time I pause to explain, amplify, speculate or simply show off: there is, for example, no excuse for my quoting from Pope’s Essay on Man. Think of the digressions (each helpfully labelled Digression) as aires along an autoroute, which invite tired motorists to stop for a pee or a picnic along the way. Click on www.abelard.org/france/motorway
which says:

In France, you pay through the nose for most motorways [autoroutes] (there are a few free motorways, around large cities and in Northern France) but there is one great joy and luxury that comes with this cost – an immense variety of aires. Government regulations demand that aires are placed at a maximum of 20 km intervals, so there is one without fail every twelve miles or so.

You will also find the occasional By the Way item in a separate box. For example, there is a By The Way on wells, public wash-houses, parish pumps and drinking troughs. Such features are a cherished part of le patrimoine, local heritage. You might enjoy finding out more, and I have added links to enable you to do so; but as is the case of the Digressions you can skip them without, I hope, spoiling your enjoyment of the main text. Think of By the Way items as invitations to leave the main road and go exploring.

This particular By the Way concerns English words which have found their way into French.

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I thought my French was OK until we emigrated in 2005. My first misunderstanding came when a neighbour announced he was pleased with his new baskets. Here was a perfectly good English word in what was to me an unfamiliar context. His baskets were trainers, or what in my day we called plimsolls or gym shoes. The Académie Française has blessed les baskets. My wonderful Harraps Unabridged Pro includes it, adding être bien dans ses baskets, translated as ‘sorted’ or ‘very together’. I like it, I really do.

However, I receive emails almost daily from an outfit called Excédence, which offers amazing bargains. In my search for summer clothes for John, I came across le boardshort on their website, and was baffled. I know un short, and so does Harraps Unabridged Pro, but HUP rejected boardshort and suggested boxer short and bobard (raconter des bobards is to tell porky-pies).

Here is the full entry.

Boardshort avec print glam
Les photoprints sexy sont pile dans l'air du temps: on aime avoir une dégaine unique sur la plage! Avec ce boardshort GLOBE impossible de passer inaperçu, c'est LE boardshort qu'il nous faut!

As Mr Spock might have said, ‘It’s French, Jim, but not as we know it’.
Excédence also offer le pantalon battle. HUP shudders and offers le battle-dress. In my day battledress came in khaki or camouflage; the trousers on offer on the Excédence site are not remotely warlike – there is even a version for babies.

When we needed a dry cleaner’s in Avallon, we were directed to un pressing. To my delight it bore the name Pressing Vauban, in memory of local hero the Marquis de Vauban. I don’t suppose Vauban ever had his clothes dry-cleaned. I am reminded of Haworth, one of my favourite places, which offered a Brontë Tandoori restaurant.

Un pressing belongs to the same family as un smoking, a dinner jacket (or tuxedo for our friends in the US). To my delight, when I clicked on pictures of un smoking I found Kim-Jong-Un puffing away among the DJs.

Occasionally, however, they get things right. For many years un muffin has meant a cupcake; but last week Aldi offered proper muffins, the kind you toast at teatime. The label said

4 Muffins
Petits pains à l’Anglaise


Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas. Rosy runs Charity Cottage in aid of Combat Stress. The cottage has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk , which has links to Combat Stress.

The Rabsons are taking bookings for 2015.

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.