I live near the medieval market town of Josselin in the Morbihan region of South West Brittany.
I began mushrooming when I moved to Les Croix, just to the south of The Forest of Lanouee, in September 2003.
It quickly became part of my life and now has become a sort of touchstone – something that I do for relaxation, for inspiration and for the sense of calm that I receive from each visit to the forest.
Of course, having a source of great mushrooms to eat doesn’t hurt!
I moved to France in November of 2002. Before that, I lived and worked in London, originally as an IT contractor and then as a senior engineer and team leader for ICL. I finished my career as an IT Service Manager for ICL in March 2002.
In June of 2001, I realised that I had suddenly stopped enjoying my job – just like that, no warning, no hint – until then I was the typical Gung-Ho manager, prepared to live and die for the company. Even today, I find it hard not to answer the telephone with the words… “ICL, Eckstein.”
I spent a couple of months thinking about a move but I realised that to make a real change, the move would have to be quite drastic. I took the first three weeks of August 2001 as my summer holiday. I stayed at home. It was hot and for three weeks I got up, had my breakfast, walked to the shops, bought my bread, cheese, meat (or fish) and wine for lunch and the evening meal. The rest of the time, I sat in the garden reading books about chefs, books about people who had moved to Italy & France to buy olive groves and books about gardening.
My back garden was more of a back yard but, in pots and planters, I had about a dozen tomato plants (herbs, as well) and it was delightful to just sit in the sun, reading, watching the butterfiles and having the occasional sip of wine. For three weeks, my mobile phone was switched off (for the first time in many years).
That was it! I realised. I’d found the answer. For the next week I researched on the internal ICL intranet and discovered that there were opportunities for field service engineers in Brittany (my favourite part of France); we had UK based accounts in Brittany that I could possibly get involved with – in other words, there was way to live the sort of life that I now realised that I wanted to, without having to leave the company. Because of my previous success for ICL, I felt that I could probably persuade them to finance an intensive French course, as well.
I let my boss know what I was thinking, she was very supportive – I promised to keep her informed.
Unfortunately, that was Monday 3rd September. Just over a week later, everything changed.
My client at the time was based (in the States), on the sixth floor of the South Tower (the second building to be hit). They only suffered one casuality (a heart attack) but, of course, lost all their IT. I had an engineer over there at the time and he was unable to communicate with us for a few days – a worrying time.
My move to France would have to wait. The next six months were very stressfull but, eventually, in March 2002, my leaving party came round. It took me another 8 months to move to France and, after 9 months living in a delightful little village called Ruffiac I moved (in order to be nearer to work) to a small hamlet called Les Croix, just north of the medieval market town of Josselin.
Just before my first Christmas in France, I went to the local ManPower employment agency and got a temporary job. It was in a chicken abbatior – a bit of a change for me, to say the least. The job only lasted for a week but, in that time, my initial revulsion turned to enjoyment – mainly because of the kindness of my colleagues who took pity on the English Idiot who not only didn’t speak French but also, had no idea about working in an abbatoir. After Christmas, I went back to ManPower and got another job – this time in a pig abbatoir (the largest in Europe). I started out on a one week contract and now, three and a half years later, I am still there (albeit with a permanent contract, known as a CDI – very prized).
My first eight weeks were spent in La Laverie which is where the crates, pallets and other material is washed (to an incredibly high standard). I then moved to Conditionment which is where I am today. Here, I work with 22 beautiful girls who put cuts of pork into boxes – my job is to put the boxes onto pallets. I have a great time at work and, although I now earn about a sixth of what I used to earn in London, I believe that I am at least six times richer.
I have since changed to the department that makes cardboard boxes for the abattoir – I’d like to say that it’s an easier job but, that woulod be untrue!
Whilst I now realise that, as a reference, this isn’t so hot – as an inspirational book, it is wonderful. My first year at Les Croix, I went mushrooming at least once a week. I got to know the forest well.
At first I was very carefull and stuck to mushrooms of the Bolet family – I have since added many more books to my collection and have developed the confidence to branch out and try other mushrooms.
I find that I look forward to my visits to the forest perhaps even more than I look forward to payday (and that’s saying something)! I am constantly searching for new ways to cook my bounty (although I have found that the simpler the method, the better it tastes.) – I take an inordinate amount of pleasure in eating 1lb of Ceps, fried in butter with shallots and lardons (little pieces of slightly fatty belly pork) for breakfast at least twice a week during the Autum – how much would that have cost me in London?
As well as being a new (and non-technical) learning experience for me, I have made many, many friends through my new hobby. If I can share some of my enthusiasm with you and help you to make that decision to get up early on a cold Autumn Sunday morning, drive to the nearest forest and do what I am almost certainly doing, Chez Moi then I will be happy!
So, to sum up..
I wish you happy mushrooming, lots of luck and, oh, please be careful what you pick – there’s really no need to take any risks.