Thursday 29 January 2009

A Big Wind. Part Three

And oh my but the wind did blow. For hours and hours. We could hear it in the distance coming towards us. Like a train at full steam. In between the gusts it was dead quiet. 'Have you had enough yet?' it seemed to be saying. Teasing us. Playing with our nerves. At 5pm it finally decided that it was too tired to play with us any longer but we stayed on edge for several days waiting for it to return. It was a very big wind.

The gazebo became mortally wounded at 07.30pm. For hours it had been punched in its sides by the big wind. For hours that brave piece of plastic fought the good fight. We all fought the good fight. Lester: outside for most of the time despite heaving winds, pelting rain, flying roof tiles and rocks which wouldn't stay where he put them (they were supposed to be anchoring the tarpaulins down on the gazebo but the big wind kept flipping them off the tarps as if they were marbles). Me: Inside the gazebo hanging on to it without letting go. Each time I tried to have a rest, the big wind would do a lunge and I had to grab hold again. Boolie: Sitting watching the proceedings, sometimes in the middle of the gazebo, sometimes under the caravan, and then inside the caravan when things got a bit hot in the gazebo. From 4am to 07.30am we fought the fight.

First light: Me, still holding on. Lester, now in the tent holding on mid-way along its length. Boolie, don't know but probably inside caravan. Big, big, gust. No! Big, big, BLAST of a wind hit us. On the left side the brave gazebo was punched. On the right side it took another punch. Then another left. Then another right. Lester holding on, now three feet up in the air. Me holding on, refusing to let my feet lift off the ground but at full arm and body stretch. Then we took a hit from above. It felt as if we were being stamped on by a giant foot. Right in the middle it punched down and the gazebo's back became broken. We wrestled our way out of the debris, rain and wind still beating into us. Grabbing some wooden beams we threw them onto the broken body of the gazebo to hold her down. We would not let the big wind take her away, but even in the moment of her death she still protected our home. Nothing was damaged or broken, except for a bowl of jam jars which were to be recycled for fig-jam-making-time next September.

We stood in the half barn. drenched, and relieved almost, not to have to keep fighting for the life of the gazebo. Valiantly she had battled her way through many other storms, but now she was done. We were done. Nothing we could do but retreat. We laid on the bed for nine hours as the big wind tried to take our gazebo away, tried to get the caravan to rearrange itself, and tried to remove all the tarps from the roofs of the tall barn, the house, and the half barn. It won the tall barn and the house, but the half barn managed to keep its tarps although they became tired and damaged in their struggle.

Shivering, wet, cold, we all three sat and waited for the big wind to go away. I must say that it is true about tough times being character building. I don't think we will ever be quite the same again and that includes the gazebo, who is now minus half of herself, but the other half is so very badly damaged that she is going to be laid to rest tomorrow. Le Gazebo est mort. But we are not! All three of us dried out, had a sleep, and are ready to keep fighting on. May I say that perhaps there are days when camping is not quite such a good thing to be doing, but it still beats sitting in a centrally heated house and spending hours telly-watching. Mmmm. May I rephrase that? Maybe, just maybe, for the odd day or two it might be quite nice to do that - for instance, when another big wind is on its way!

If any of you would like an 'in memorium' piece of Le Gazebo, let me know and I will send you a piece of her in the post. Maybe her courage will attach itself to you and inspire you to hang on when varying sorts of big winds blow through your life and threaten to cut you down as well.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

A Big Wind. Part Two

Dear friend, it was a very, very big wind. Force 12. Still picking up the pieces four days later. Heyho! Camping is, well, sometimes tiring! But we survive to fight on.

We remain undiminished by the blast of an experience, and I will tell you all about it in the Part Three blog.

Saturday 24 January 2009

A Big Wind. Part One

Cherry, our English neighbour, burst into the courtyard yelling, "There's a big wind coming".
"Cup of tea then?" I offered, disregarding her noisy entrance. She has a tendency to speak loudly. Best to quieten her enthusiasm for drama. "I'll put the kettle on".
"Yes, but there is a BIG WIND on the way, Sue (down the road) says there is." Ah, Sue.
"Two sugars is it?"

Feeling a tad concerned. Perhaps better to put the tarpaulin over the furniture in the tall barn. The tarpulin on the roof is getting a bit tatty. Might leak. "
Lester, might be a good idea to put the tarp on the stuff on the barn." He puts wellies on, grumbling. It's wet outside.

Tarp done.

Time for Cherry to leave. Out at car. Nattering.

Sarah of the Camels stops her car. "There's a BIG WIND coming. Red alert. Farmers have been round to warn me. Been on news. Gets here at 4 tomorrow morning."
"I'll leave my front door open, in case you need shelter" Cherry says in her loud, parade-ground voice.
"I've got a double bed in case, do come along if you need it" adds Sarah, sweetly, but just as distinctly.
Swap phone numbers. We are standing in wellies. Muddied. "Bye" I say, warmed by the care in them, but knowing that we wouldn't be taking them up on their offers.

Walking back to the house, paddling my way through puds, holding my skirt up to avoid splash, I smile. Nice girls the pair of them. None of us with much money. All on the front-line. Sarah's husband back in the UK working, leaving her to run their children's farm on her own but with voluntary help - its tough for them, Cherry - retired, loud, 'in your face', UK government pension to live on only, kindly nevertheless. My heart warms as I think of their efforts at survival here. I think I must warm theirs too as we battle on in our gazebo and caravan.

Off to sleep. Wake up. Ominous quiet all around. Loo. No sound. Must have been a false warning. Look at clock. 3am. Drat! It's too early. Back to bed. To sleep it through is best.
2 mins later: Hear the tarps rustle as a breeze moves over them. Ah, it is come. Hear the wind in the tree tops. This is a different wind. This one means business. An hour early, it has an energy. A great gust shakes the caravan. Lester springs out of bed. "I don't think we're going to make this one" he says, meaning 'will the gazebo stand this battering'. Like a ship it has sailed through many other winds. This one feels more fearsome. This is indeed a BIG WIND! So I am going to close off now, go get some spare clothes to put in the caravan just in case the gazebo dies on us, and will let you know how we get on shortly.

03.50. Lester out in the gazebo tying the side poles to the tarpaulin on the ground. Weighting the gazebo down more than it is already. "It's amazing what you do with sticky tape and a bit of sting, my girl" he says. True. Sticky brown packing tape has kept the gazebo going for months now.
A cow moos. No, don't be silly. Must be the one door left on the gatehouse entrance swinging. Cows don't come out at night. There! It sounds again. My spine prickles. A cow-ghost? The wind is moaning through the treetops, really moaning. But in this space there is a curious calmness, a quietness. The wind seems to be blowing round us. "Cup of tea?" I say to Lester. I am getting spooked. Do something positive. Keep busy.

Silence. Suddenly there is silence. This is a weird wind. It feels all around us. It sounds all around us. The half barn tarp keeps throbbing with noise as if the wind is making drum beats on it. Doesn't normally do that. Lester reading book about gardening, I am writing this to you, then will do some editing on book. "I think tomorrow, I will dig up those two trees by the wall and make a flower bed on that corner. There's not much we can do in this weather" he says. It is 04.20.

Take a sip of tea. Everything's OK. After all, we are camping and we are being enriched by all the experiences that are coming our way. Repeating this over and over to myself, I bid you goodnight.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Roofers, Rain, & Matches

It came to me today that caravan living is not such a good place to be when the heavens decide to empty out their water reservoirs. Puddles abound. Here, there and everywhere. In the gazebo are mini ones. Outside larger ones. Did you know water and earth make mud? Squelching to the water tap for refills of the water bottles certifies this to be a true fact.

Oh so our roofer, Danny, finally turns up on Tuesday, with his assorted crew of French helpers. Great! Our hearts lift. It's looking good for our roof to be done sometime soon. Already snow, ice, and cold have made delays. But sunny weather, quite warm too, had prevailed for several days, drying everything out, making one feel that perhaps camping was a good thing to do. And bonus time! Our absentee roofer turns up, .....with scaffolding and planks...not many, but at least a few bits of roofing-stuff to make us think that it was finally going to happen!!!! Roof-time!

Enthusiasm is ignited, off I go with trusty wheelbarrow to do bramble-root-kill-time. Seriously, earnestly, I put my back into it. A spit. A plop. A drizzle. Some spits. More plops. No drizzle but downpour! With my trusty wheelbarrow I hurry to make a return to the tall barn, only getting marginally wet. Off come my gloves. Down comes the rain. In torrents does it fall. Where does all this rain come from? Surely a tap gets turned off in Heaven at some point, but apparently not at the moment. I can't leave the tall barn. I will get soaked if I do. So I do what any sensible person would do - I sit myself down, and me and Boolie watch the splashing of the rainwater in the puddles.

A face peeps through the half barn door. Ah! One of the roofers! Still here then. But not on the roof: taking shelter like I am. Mmmmmm. "Let's go" I say to Bools, and we splash our way through the quagmire that has become our courtyard. Wrestling with the zip on the gazebo I hear footsteps splashing in the mud behind me, opposite to the direction I have come in. Ah! The roofers! Evacuating the mud bath. Going home in other words. Not to be seen since! But there are a couple of scaffolding poles sticking up through the inside of the house, so I think it safe to say that our roof might possibly have been started. Providing, that is, that the taps get turned off sometime soon, and we get some dry weather.

But, then, what is camping without the experience of The Mud and The Rain? Camping is good: it maketh the feet damp but the spirits healthy, it keepeth at bay all thoughts of boredom, it giveth the opportunity for puddle-watching, and it doeth good for the soul.

A word about French matches. They are best lit with a cigarette lighter first. It is best not to light the gas with the cigarette lighter, if that is your intention for needing a flame, because you will, quite frankly, burn yourself. No, be sensible. First get your match out of the box. Do not attempt to ignite match on the side of the box which is usual practice, but these are French matches, so don't work. Oh but that's not fair! You can get a light but only after loads of tries, which produces a pile of broken and unlit matches, and to save your carbon footprint therefore ( a theme you will notice is occasionally mentioned here) it is best to use only ONE match, lighting it with a lighter first. In left hand the lighter. In right hand the match. Ignite lighter (can be tricky and you might singe your finger first, but practice will win the day), then unite match and lit lighter. Et Voila! A lit match.

Now all you have to do is turn the gas nob on, and approach the match to the gas jet. But be careful, because this could create another singeful moment. It is my privelege to pass this info on to you, in case you are camping in France, just like us! I will let you know when the roofers return. I expect you will be watching this space for when they do! So will we!

Sunday 18 January 2009

The Motoculture arrivee

Ah, so there it was. Hidden away amongst stuff. Rusty. Mucky. Forlorn. Lester's dream! Well not quite, because it wasn't a lovely shiny red Kubota tractor which he has been lusting after since Labartere came into our lives. It is his intention to go onto the fields and till the soil, preferably with something which makes a noise and needs fuel.

Myself, I have a trusty wheelbarrow, a spade, a rake, and a three pronged thingy which I don't know the name of, but which is probably French because it doesn't have a handle. English garden tools have handles at the top of them, but the French ones are one very long straight pole minus the handle at the top. Don't know why this should be. It just is!

Anyway, I make do with hand tools. Lester will use a fork, but mumbles for most of the time he is using it: "I need a tractor" being his most used form of mumble. Of late that has changed. Due to the need to sometime soon put a roof on our house, financial need dictates that he changes his requirements for motorized help with his digging. I meanwhile plod on with my barrow, and three digging implements, the only fuel they use being the calories which are being burnt up from my body!

So, Cherry, our English neighbour, pops in for a chat. "Can you come and help me..." she said.

So off we went to do our neighbourly duty, and she opens up her barn which is full of stuff, and hidden away in the corner is this contraption which Lester immediately hurries towards, stumbling over this and that to get to it in his haste. He lets out a yelp of joy! His hands leap all over the contraption, fiddling about with this nob and that nob, meanwhile enthusing his delight at this treasure which has come his way.

It is a rotovator, or in French: 'motoculture' which is a far posher word. And I kid you not, it was in a hell of a state. Why do men enthuse over oily, mucky engines? Must be a man-thing!

Anyway, after a battle over price, Cherry wanting less that Lester was offering (Isn't it the other way round normally when one is purchasing something?) with pride he gently placed it in the car, with a beam on his face a mile wide! This was made wider still when he spotted an old set of concrete rabbit hutches. It is another one of his intentions to get us totally self sufficient, and that includes meat.

A few days later, and we are the proud owners of a rusty old rotovator and a pile of rabbit-hutch pieces.

The rototovator needs sorting out, the rabbit hutches need assembling, I, meanwhile, carry on with my wheelbarrow, spade, rake and other thingy! And my weight keeps dropping off. Hooray!!!

Friday 16 January 2009

The joys of brown sauce

I have sinned! Yes, I have! Only a small bit, mind you, but yes, I have faltered! Are you interested in knowing what I've got up to? Well, let me tell you:

Now I am in living in France, I have made up my mind to eat French food. Now this is really hard when everything is in French. All my previous food-eating habits are non-do-able here because the French produce is different to the UK. Even veggies are different. Confronted with a black parsnip / carrot type thingy, what am I supposed to do with it? "Cook it", you might say! "But how?" I will yell back at you. Frustration often rules the day in the supermarket!

Now there is an English section at our local Intermarche, but I have avoided making a purchase of anything on the shelf. I am in France, so I will continue to try and get to grips with French food.

As an aside here: can anyone tell me why French cheese smells like smelly old feet? It's not too bad when first purchased, but after a day in our caravan fridge it smells really dreadful. Anyway, I digress. I love the way that France grow all their own produce, even though they are an 'in season' country. What I mean is; that you can get loads of a produce when it is in season, and then you can't get it again until it is in season and plentiful again.

Unlike the UK supermarkets where you get the same veggies all year round. No glut. No seasonality. No having to wait for it to become available again many months hence. Sameness. And easiness. One can whip round the UK supermarket, just buying the same things week in and week out.

Not so here. You eat it in glut, then you don't see it again for months. Makes life, eating, and cooking interesting to the say the least. Always I seem to be racking my brains as to what to do with certain types of veggies and fruit I have never seen before.

So, yesterday I was taken by a friend to Marciac market. Lovely place. Browsing round the hats. MMMmmmm "Not today thank you" (said in French, which went something like "non!") On to the home-made cardi stall. Had to move on swiftly from that one as the stall holder quickly dropped her knitting needles and made ready to pounce on us.

And Lo! There! Before my eyes! Brown Sauce. Yes!!! BROWN SAUCE! English Brown Sauce. HP no less. 'Twas on an English produce stall. And, oh dear me, oh, oh, oh! Just along from the sauce was....wait for it.......Cadbury's Fruit and Nut bars. Oh joyous day! How could I not have know how starved I have been for English chocco!

And so I sinned and bought a bottle of sauce and a chocci bar. Only small ones, mind you. But I am ashamed to say that they were purchased.

To sweep away my sinfulness, we sat in the local church, had a quiet thought, and shared the bar of chocco.

Not the bottle of brown sauce though! That stayed safely in my shopping bag, to be relished this Sunday on my 'egg and chips Sunday dinner.' (I don't do cooking on Sundays).

And the choc bar remains a delightful, if rather brief, memory.

I may sin again. I may not. But I am of a certain age when sinfulness is allowable. Something to do with the scrambled neuronal pathways in one's head!

Waving gleefully from a not-too-cold France. Bye for now. Oh and the Pyrenees were showing off today. We could see them quite clearly and they were gorgeous. Which means it will rain tomorrow, but heyho. I had my chocco and still have my brown sauce! Singing "I CAN do French supermarket shopping, I Can, I CAN, I
can!" I flit off to my bed.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Misty Morning Thinking

Today I was fortunate to have a trip out.

And as I stood waiting for my friend, I watched the mists rolling along the side of the hill and thought about how fortunate I am to be travelling on this particular life-pathway.

And it came to me that we can miss so much of the good in life by being too focussed on the difficulties and problems that beleaguer every one of us. That if we stop for a minute and actually think about the good things we have, then perhaps the sense of being 'beleaguered' would lift and we would actually start enjoying life.

Anyway, that is what I was thinking as I stood and watched the drifting mists.

And then the sun shone through, and it was like an omen that all would be well. I send out those rays of sunshine to you as well. It turned out to be a grand day.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Shall we get up, or not, today?

With earnest enthusiasm I woke at 5am this morning, determined to get a couple of hours on my PC doing some writing.

One toe went out of the bed, exploring where best to put the rest of its family of toes. This is not an easy thing to do in the small space of our caravan. To get out of the bed-area, one has to wiggle oneself sideways, then gently put one's foot on the floor, hopefully not using Bools, our Springer dog, as a mat.

He sleeps on his bed in the gap between cooker and chair. It is a small gap. There is not much space for feet and dog. Sometimes there is a bit of a tangle, normally good humoured.

Anyway, this morning out from the bedcovers my toe did go. To promptly reverse its direction. The reason? It was FREEZING cold! All thoughts of writing disappeared. Staying in a warm bed became paramount.

Now I think that it is good to make comparisons with other people worse of than oneself. It has a cheering up effect, like sitting infront of a warm fire.

Now I know that most people think that they are better off than us. Not many people would entertain the thought of living in a caravan during the winter, especially down near the Pyrenees where the drop in temperature can be severe.

So I know that we cheer other people up because not many people are doing what we are doing.

To cheer me up, who is worse off than us? Well, I have just heard of a couple who are living in a shepherd's hut in the mountains, with no connected running water, no electricity, and no roof. Apparently they get through half dozen or so tarpaulins per winter, which they use to cover the roof of the hut.

At least we have running water, when it doesn't freeze. And we do have electricity, although we can't have the fire and the kettle on at the same time. We either have a hot drink and get cold for a bit while the kettle boils. Or we stay thirsty but warm. However, we do have electricity.

Ah, but we are living under tarpaulins as well.

BUT we have a caravan roof in between us and the tarp. So, on balance, we are fractionally better off!

The spirit of endurance runs high between us and those brave folk in their mountain home!

As for this morning, we all stayed snuggly wrapped up for three more hours. I thought about my writing, but didn't do any.

At least I thought about it, which is better than going back off to sleep!

Monday 12 January 2009

Ode to woes

I have been indulgent with woefulness today. It might be something to do with having to get up out of a toasty warm bed, and into the freezer-type temperature of the caravan in the mornings.

One of the first questions we ask of each other is: has the water frozen, has the gas frozen, is the gazebo still standing, are our fingers and toes still attached to relevant bits of our bods, do you want some toast and jam? - oops sorry can't do that this morning - no gas! Oh, so porridge cooked in the microwave then? We used to look upon porridge as a treat. For some reason it feels like doing penance now.

Not sure why.

Perhaps it is the fig jam we put with it. We like fig jam. I made thirty pots of it in the late summer, some of which was donated to neighbours, most of it was put in our first store-cupboard. But now, in January, and after having waded our way through loads of pots already, that too seems like a penance. I counted five pots left.

And I am wondering if other smallholder-self-sufficient-types also have this trouble: of doing the seriously earnest bit of jamming, freezing, etc, when the produce is plentiful, and then at some point during the following months thinking: 'oh dear, how much more is there to go!' I fantasize about having a humungous store-cupboard. Having to use up the produce in those 'humungous store-cupboard' shelves seems to require a different mind-set, or so it would appear.

Or perhaps all I need to do is buy a pot of supermarket jam, and then go back to the fig jam when it is finished so I can feel virtuous all over again. The long trail of actually eating the fig jam seems to have faded away my 'self-sufficiency halo'! The trick to keeping that halo bright and shiny would appear to be; to buy supermarket produce from time-to-time, just to remind oneself how super-duper efficient it is to grow one's own food!

It is also super-duper to be living in real fresh air rather than in the dry environment of a centrally heated house, and not keeping the caravan warm overnight is preserving our carbon footprint.

And what tosh that is! We don't leave the fire on because it makes a noise and keeps us awake!

But the 'carbon footprint' comment is guaranteed to give another shine to our self-sufficiency halo!

PS. I am fiddling about with fonts and stuff, so please excuse the bitty look to this blog. And I can't seem to get back to the first blog to alter it so everything looks neat and tidy. A thought: am I undoing my carbon-footprint investment by using up extra electricity to tinker about with the blog! With that thought, I will say bye for now!

Sunday 11 January 2009


So I have think I have finally managed to create a blog-spot after having been tangled up with France Google which was all in French (of course!) so I didn't have the foggiest idea of what it was saying.

Now I have been living in France for all of nearly 7 months, and although I can manage the odd word or two, for techno-French it is still no go for my head. Then Voila! just as I was going to give up, there...up the top of the page was a box to choose another language. After considering Chinese as an interesting second choice, I opted for good old English, et voici! Don't know if this will upload so if you are reading this it has. If you haven't then it hasn't! As you can see, living in the caravan has not improved my capacity to think nonsense. It must be the fresh air!

Just to let you know that I have fallen in love. Or been fallen in love with. By Fleur. Who loves my leg. And also Pot Belly Lady. She loves my skirt! Ah the joys of rural France.

But before you think that I am going even further off the planet than is usual for my 60 plus years: Fleur is a white thingummy dog, or chienne; Small, wiry of coat, completely herself, and a free spirit. She was our first visitor when we arrived, and pops in nearly every day to come play with Boolie, our Springer chien, and my leg if she gets a chance.

Of late she has also tried having a practice on the back end of Boolie, who would oblige by practicing on her back end but she has the unfortunate habit of sitting down so he can't.

But that doesn't stop him from trying.

Or her from having a go up my leg if given half the chance. I think she must be cross-wired or something!

As for the Pot Belly Lady, well she lives down the road at the House of the Camels and is the house pig of Sara and Paul. She, too, has a fascination for my legs, and also my shoe laces. It is quite a hoot for her to also grab a mouthful of my skirt.

Since we are camping, this does not improve the general muddy appearance of my mode of dress. Due to camping conditions, the clothes have to be recycled more than would ordinarily be necessary. It does not help if a skirt which is due to be worn for a few days has muddy mouth marks on it on day one.

But heyho! We are camping!