Thankfully there are many, all year round, all ages, and from anywhere. When we bundled up our household and moved to St Remy au Bois, many predicted that our rich and complex social networks would be damaged beyond repair.In the desperate decade that followed our arrival here, it’s true that only the brave came knocking at the door of our dishevelled house and family.

Then our chaos began to give way to new structures, new contexts, new passions. Cinderella-like, the rickety house revealed itself to be rather more than the sum of all the handsome houses we had moved through in our previous lives, and the farm utility buildings lurching around the yard turned into graceful jam kitchens and, lately,a tea room.all set around an elegant courtyard of perfect proportions.


But the revelation has been that the old contacts have endured and become closer friends through the necessity of staying over rather than an evening shared, while an ever-expanding universe of new friends, both local and far-flung, seem always to be passing through. With them, our horizons expand, new visions open up, fresh ideas are seeded.  Last month, January, the new year was kick- started by two guests, both of them having put their money into their sustainable- energy commitments.

OWEN & DAMSON ONE KATHERINE& JUNE ONEOwen O’Neil, friend of our daughter Tilly. Owen created and manages Evolution Rickshaws, offering scenic and carbon-free transport around the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh.He has a special, joyful bond with the Dog Damson.



Katherine and June Tasker.

Katherine had one of the finest delis in London,The Lemon Monkey, but called it a day when two supermarkets moved in to the road.

Jam had brought us together, and Katherine fell deeply in love with the countryside here. She persuaded her sprightly mother of 90 to come back from Canada and join her in a new adventure: buying a field and commissioning an energy-passive house to put in it. Here they are in our kitchen, but a week back, they moved into their luminous house with a view.




Daughter Tilly is on another grand bicycle voyage of exploration, this time, in the deep
south of Mexico. Her art practice that splices together the technique of mould-making
ceramic with her great- uncles taxidermy is being fed by the powerful colours and 
graphics of the culture into which she's dived. She's volunteering at an extraordinary 
migrant centre,teaching English spiked with Yoga, and sends back notes and drawings 
from the front line.
WP_20151213_009WP_20151213_012WP_20151213_011WP_20151213_014WP_20151203_010pigs heads onegannet & hands two


diner des aines twoOnce a year, the State sets aside a budget for a Diner des Ainés to be hosted in every
village throughout France. Everyone over 60 years of age qualifies. The Mayor plays host
and it’s no buns and cuppa affair.
Far from it.
Deep thought is given to the choice of traiteur, whose skill is crucial to succeed. The guests have a profound knowledge of classic French cooking and expect something more than ‘correcte'; rather, ‘sérieux’ and a menu ‘confortable’, ie, no skimping.
At St Remy, Sebastien from the Café de France at Saulchoy was invited back for his second year as Chef, to communal approval.
The Apéro is the St. Rémy special, which kick-starts proceedings. And the Mayor sources the wines from his private cellar.
The whole affair is managed, served and put away by the two members of the Comité des Fêtes, Fanny and Elodie, and the Mayor serves the wines. You can see him bottle in hand,
in the photo.
The Menu this January – Crème de Choufleur,Cassolet de Poissons, Dos de Cabbilaud avec sa
croustillante de Parmesan, Salade et ses Fromages et comme dessert, le Plat des Farandoles.
White wine, then a vintage Bordeaux, and Champagne with ( and long after) the pud.

Nick and I left to collect hay at six o’clock and the champagne corks were fairly flying….


Le Chemin Blanc
chemin blanc four
A track atop a low ridge that takes off from behind the church of St. Remy and
connects to the hill up into Gouy St. André. A twenty minute hike that our children
and their friends used to take on the way home from the local night club. In the small
hours, lit only by the moon, the Chemin Blanc turned into a challenging series of hasards, a route bristling with ditches and brambles and wild life that could run to wild boar.
These days, Le Vinyl Disco, once a run-down farm, breeds whippets, and it’s laser beam no
longer rakes the weekend skies over Gouy. It’s a lovely artery, for rides on horseback
and walks with dogs and a grand way to work up an appetite for an afternoon tea if
you’re staying with chemin blanc one chemin blanc seven chemin blanc three MEMORIAL OCT 15 ONESebastien and Sandrine at Le Clos de la Prairie.

This morning, in bright high January light, I walked the track with Amy and Damson,
from the village war memorial.
We set off towards the tunnel of trees that marks the entrance ..  on either side,open country, with views over the landscape.

On our right hand down amongst the ancient trees go the terriers …
Half way along, the view glimpsed through tangled bushes and climbers …the stoic donkey, without his horse companion who’ll be back in Spring ….
Here are sloes, now only withered remains of the fruit we missed when picking
for this year’s Crab-Apple & Wild Sloe with Liquorice Jelly….
and here it ends, opening up before plunging past the water tower and down
onto the Gouy hill


MAUDE & PARAKEETSSquawks from behind the wood-burning stove in the Pink Room. A search with the
enthusiastic terriers drew a blank, but there was an unmissable urgency to the noise.
Then we opened the hinged iron doors of the fire and – a small, brisk parakeet fluttered forth. The noise, weirdly, continued. Now alert to all sorts of possibilities, we opened up the flue pipe on the stove in the next room that shares the same chimney.And Parakeet One was joined by Parakeet Two, this one dimmed by wood smoke.

 A dish of grains was improvised and set on the table. No hanging about, the pair tucked in, with no inhibitions about the presence of Maude the cat at the other end of the table.
After that we opened the windows and, in their own good time, they left us.parakeets


Our last Workaways of Summer – Laura and Crystal, chirpy neo-Goths from the USA.

A short interlude at St. Rémy between help on a camping site near Prague and the Notting Hill Festival. They were cheerfully competent in the jam kitchen, uncomplaining at the drudgery of topping and tailing 20 kilos gooseberries and springing lightly into action when the moment came to turn them into jam.

Not horsey but horse-friendly, they shared a joke with Henson Hackham.










And when we sogged out one night sighing for a glass of the Irish, magically, voilà Crystal with a bottle of Jamiesons tucked under her arm. There’s class for you …..


MILL OCT 15We are still making discoveries – landscapes, villages, buildings – within a thirty kilometre

circle of St Remy, always without trying. The most recent is the flour mill at Brimeux.

Over the railway tracks that divide the village, all the way down to the end of the main street,

you hang a right onto a muddy track that winds by the river , a track not only unsigned but,

for good measure, marked Prive. Follow the river past a vegetable garden studded with

dahlias and there’s the Mill. It.s worked by two young guys who worked there, then took it

over when the ancien patron retired. No longer powered by the mill race it stands on, but

producing a super fine, creamy coloured stone-ground flour. It comes only in one grade

and they supply a strictly local market. It makes scones with a terrific texture and the colour

of warm honey.









In his last year at boarding school in England,Nick bought what he thought was a 1926 Austin Seven saloon.It turned out to be 1929-30. He used it all the time over his four years as an art student and then sold it fifty years ago when he felt he should get serious about film.
The chap who bought it,- Ian Dunsford – then quit his job and set up an Austin Seven spares company. Twenty years ago the car had done 400,000 kilometres with him.His son now has it up in Scotland – and himself repairs Austin Sevens.


The next car I bought was in 1980 – a 1928 Morris Cowley Saloon.We had it for ten years and all the children grew up travelling in it.That went to help buy the French house.

I found the 1926 Citroen B12 Torpedo in 2006.I had to do a lot of work on the engine, but for nearly ninety years old, it’s a perfect car for around our village.Tearoom visitors are always fascinated.

citroen four


This is the Tearoom door. As of today, Thursday, it is sporting a sticker telling the world that we now have a coveted Licence 3. It s been many months in the coming.

licence le tearoom

 When I was young, I fancied myself as a bar person behind the zinc in a corner tabac of a busy French provincial town.

The fact I cannot count un deux trois did nothing to dilutethe dream. I had the black velvet ribbon round my neck and steamed up mirrors at my back and my front was all lace and bosom.

 Le Tearoom is a more sedate version of the above, without any of those essentials listed above, but rich in the most important ingredient of all : ambience. Then when our Brunches were added to our Gouters, our regulars started to ask for a little glass of something on the side. This we are forbidden to propose without a Licence to serve alcoholic drinks.

 There are four classes of Licence, the fourth being the onethat is difficult and expensive to obtain and empowers you to be, in effect, a bar selling any and all drinks includingthe hard stuff. The one we needed was Licence 3.

With that on the door, you can sell wine and that level of drink.

 To qualify, you have to find yourself a place on a Formation run by the Restaurant and Hotel union. Three mind boggling days of discovering how strong stuff used to be marketed –gorgeous posters proclaiming that trains run on time thanks to the snifter of Pernod that the driver runs on – how to handle the drunks and the drugged and the underage, how to ensure that it s the mandatory shelf of seven soft drinks that draw the eye and not the booze – climaxing in a sudden death exam marked by our fellow wannabee licencees.

 Then there’s the Declaration at the Mairie, followed by the blizzard of other documents and official stamps and then,at last, the autocollant itself : our very own Licence 3.

 We’re celebrating by adding an Apero to our Tearoom range – a glass of something cheerful to go with an assiette of home-cured with Scottish- tea salmon, or a brochette of coriander spiked poulet.



Aywiers autumn 2015

When we first came to Aywiers, fifteen years ago, we had a wobbly table on a wobbly hollow of the cow field. Our weather protection was a wobbly garden sunshade that was a pushover for anything stronger than a light breeze. Nowadays we have the grande luxe site under the awning, backs to the lovely brick wall of the old orchard. From here, we gaze out over the hortensias towards the pasture that plays host, for two weekends a year, to world-class specialized plant producers.

The Tearoom jams have gained an army of devotees who wheelbarrowed away their boxes of our autumn Jams – damsons and bullaces picked at Allans organic orchard in Plaxtol, crab apple jelly from our trees, with a slug of Pommeau to underline its appleiness, our blackberry. elderberry and fresh ginger; and an orange marmalade with Calvados.

And this Autumn, our neighbours are the team from Beagle and Brown, flinging wild designs and heady scents into the ancient apple trees.



Our other luxury on the field at Aywiers is that of being fed by the transcendental Claude Pohlig, a top chef of Belgium whose food tent is a fixture at the Journees de Plantes. His is a cuisine that features raw vegetables, unusual pulses, edible flowers, scented herbs,and a hamburger with real heft too, if that s your mood. Claude is part of a select small clutch of Belgian chefs who travel regularly to make contact with other chefs, other cultures, other cuisines. Last year, Japan, this year Chile.

But in three weeks time, Claude has elected to host his own Grande Soiree de Gibier, featuring wild meats, here at St. Remy au Bois.

Each course, from Entrée through to Plat and Dessert, will be supported by its own wine – and Claude promises wines that are unusual, exceptional, and interesting, The ticket for the evening, all inclusive, is 50 euros. It will be a modest thirty people or so who will be sat around our Emery tiled tables.

Anyone keen to share this experience can reserve their place by contacting us at the Tearoom. 00 33 3 21 86 19 40 or