Friday 27 February 2009

Life Travelling

My commute to work this morning went as follows: Up at 4 for loo. Oooh, a bit chilly. Pop back into bed for another stretch of sleep. Nope. Not happening. Lay snuggled up to Lester with a head full of drifting thoughts, then up at 5.30. Oooh, still chilly. Kettle on for hot water so I can wash my bod. Shiver a bit but put cardi on to keep top half warm, and tuck my feet under Boolie still lying in his bed on the floor beside me to keep them warm. The rest of me has to put up with the chill. Why don't I put the fire on? Because we can't have two electrical units going at the same time. If we do then the electric switches itself off in total. Ah! Water boiled. Fire on. Now excuse me for a min while I give myself a sluice down.

Here I am again! Fully dressed and wrapped up with all layers being worn. Yesterday I actually got down to only three layers up top (thermal vest, 2 T-shirts) because it was so warm here, but this morning I also have on a fleece, a hand knitted cardi, a huge wrap-round scarf, and a poncho thing covering the lot. So, out of the bedroom caravan me and Bools go. It is dark, the stars are still out giving sufficient light to see frost twinkling on the tarps. Gripping the keys in one hand, I step down carefully onto the pallet which is our step up to and down from the caravan, and start the daily commute.

With iced up fingers I fiddle with the zip on the awning. Through it I go. Bools now off doing his doggy activities: peeing, pooing and patrolling. I fiddle in the darkness with getting the kitchen caravan door unlocked. It is a bit of a b*****er this lock. Never seems to want to open easily. Then I have to try and actually get the door open. Fingers and toes now telling me they are cold. Inserting my fingers under the door handle - will I chip another finger nail in my efforts to get this damned door open. Yes! I mean no! Door open. Nails intact.

Switch light on. Head towards fire. But no. Can't be put that on because two electrical things can't be switched on at once. So kettle put on, and stand and shiver for another few minutes while the kettle boils. Grabbing a piece of homemade cake (Lemon), a bowl of dog biscuits for Bools, the keys, and my cup of tea, I head off for the next loop but carefully to avoid tripping over Boolie's old puppy kennel which was used a couple of days ago to house a rabbit which had been donated to us for the pot only it had two broken legs and we couldn't re-cycle it for cook-pot use because the rabbit was too traumatised so we kept it in the kennel over night and then took it to the vet who put it to sleep with dignity - you can't eat an animal who is not happy at its moment of deceasement - anyway, with tea,cake, etc all balanced in my hand, I feel my way round the puppy kennel, round the big stones which are keeping the tarp on the ground anchored to the ground (you know how tarps have a mission to metamorphosize into kites) and onto the pallet which is the step up into the computer room / once upon a time pigchick hut. It is still dark.

Fiddle about with the keys. Bools appears. Cake slides off plate. Bools does a runner away into the dark. Presumably he has found the cake and made off with his prize. Can't feel fingers and toes. Nose dripping. Padlock undone. Wrestle with getting the door handle to slide open, then inside. The room is bathed in starlight. It looks magical. And in comparison to the outside temperature it is warmer in here.

But will my computer switch on this morning? Yesterday it gave me a fright when it bombed out on me but my tech-team guy saved the day, and my good humour, by fixing it up with the comment "You'll be needing a new computer - this one's had it". Crikey more expense. And yes! It looks like I have another day with this old one. It is now first light. Still can't feel toes, but fingers warmed up. No fire on though. I can have one on in here, but prefer not to unless absolutely necessary. We have become quite robust, me and Lester, in regards to putting up with feeling chilly. In the UK we would, without thought, have put the fires and left them on even when we started to feel warmed up. Here we don't. Apart from the problem with overloading the electrical circuits, we are finding that we prefer fresh air and are growing a dislike for heated up air and are healthier as a result: we don't get snuffles and blocked up sinuses and haven't had any colds so far. However, we do like to be warm at the end of the day: going to sleep warm seems to make the chilliness through the day do-able.

Anyway, so this is my commute. And as I weaved my way around the stones and puppy kennel, I thought what a lucky girl I am. It seemed such a silly thing to be carrying tea, cake, dog biscuits and keys, wrapped up in six layers of clothing, with the air not much off freezing in the pre-dawn darkness, and I couldn't have been happier. Nothing would I change.

The owl flew again yesterday, this time in the bright warm sunshine of early afternoon. I feel even more aware that something is on its way. (re blog: An Owl flew today) I suppose I am a little bit worried about what it might be. But in all of my life I have taken up opportunities which have come my way, giving me a life full of ups and downs. And all the opportunities have been good opportunities, even if I haven't been able to understand it at the time. Because I am a Life Traveller, which is someone who doesn't necessarily travel the World, but someone who is continually travelling within themself therefore uncovering different parts of their character which they never knew existed. I could have stayed safe in the UK, but I accepted the challenge of trying something new at an age when most wouldn't. I am learning to cope in a new environment and a new lifestyle. And I couldn't be happier.

Accept your challenges, and then you, too, will become a Life Traveller, and your life will become all the better for it. Staying safe in your personal comfort zone will always make you feel limited in yourself. Do it! Be a Life Traveller as well! When I breath my last pouff of air before I evacuate this life, I think it would be a good thing to think to myself 'I did the best I could, I made the most of the chances that came my way and I have no regrets.' This I pass on to you.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Shadows and trees

In my hand you can see a tree, an apricot. I am holding it in the hole so Lester can fill up the hole with a mix of soil and donkey manure, which can be a tedious occupation for one such as I who likes to be always doing something, but not for Lester who is doing the activity. So, in my pocket I put my camera and while I do non-activity activities I have a play. I am in two minds about the outcome on this occasion. Either you can take it as evidence of our tree planting activities - after all there is the shovel and spade on the soil as well. OR you can say it looks like some hellish, dark, and not-quite-right activity I am dabbling in! The tree does look like a trident, doesn't it!

Ah so what am I up to here? Irritating Lester
actually. I kept telling him to stop and let me do a shadow-photo of us two, but he refused to play! He has a spade in his hand, by the way: He is digging a hole. I am behind him trying to organise him into posing.

And here is the evidence that he is doing the digging and I'm not!

And Boolie getting in the way during the photo-shoot! Fleur has been grounded for being a demon on four legs with Claudine of the Chambre d'Hote's live-stock. Apparently she availed herself of a duck recently. Without a playmate to amuse himself with, he keeps finding bits of wood to drop on my boots so I can play 'fetch' with him. Bless.

And here is Bruno and Jade come along for a visit. Fleur lives at their house. Its on the left behind him. Claudine and Daniel live in the house behind him to the right. We live in the house on the right! By they way, the lines you see in the air are the phone and electricity cables: I still find it a marvel that our electricity swings through the air rather than coming into the house by magic like it does in the UK where one just switches on a switch and voila! Here, if the poles are upright you get electricity, if they have fallen over, you don't!

The evidence that we did plant trees today! Nine. 2 Peach, 2 Pears, 2 Plums, and 3 others which Lester can't remember at the moment because he is busy playing chess on his PC!

An owl flew today

From out of the tall barn it came. Dusk was settling on the land. I was making a last minute effort to plant a clump of grass I had 'borrowed' from our woods. It was a nice clump. "If you're going to plant weeds" Lester had said "that's as good a clump of weeds as any!" He is at a loss as to know why I plant things which are supposedly 'weeds'. But I like the shape and form of things and will plant a 'weed'. And, anyway, weeds are only plants which are not growing in the right place. So I was turning my clump of 'weedy' grass into an 'arrangement' beneath the oak tree out front.

Coming from direct left the owl came. A brown coloured owl. Quite small. Out onto the back field it flew, then landed. The up again, turning to the right and going out of sight.

A few years ago I had to do something which was hard for me. It involved the sending of a letter and a postbox. In front of several postboxes I had argued that this letter should not be sent. So I was route-marching myself, arguing all the way about why it would not be a good idea to send this letter. And then I came to a tiny hedgerow-postbox....a little red thing it was, almost hidden
from view. And a voice in my ear said "Send it", and so my hand shot forward and the letter became posted.

And my heart hung heavy within me, for it was quite a thing for me to send that letter, and I leaned on the gate of a field and looked at the landscape ahead. It was getting dark. Time to be on my way home. Then over my shoulder, straight and true, flew a large white owl. At the same time, a voice in my head said "It will be alright", and I knew that it would be. My life didn't turn out as I expected it too: it turned out better. And every time something big and surprising is about to happen, I have seen an owl. And I have come to understand that the owl is not an omen of bad things to come, but of good things if I can have the courage to take up what is on its way.

An owl flew today: it disappeared from view and I thought it gone. But it had flown round my wounded house, and came back again from behind me, passing at head height and almost within touching distance, and as it flew past it turned its head and looked at me. And now I look forward to whatever is on its way. I know something is on its way, because an owl flew tonight.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Why Boots?

There was a time, long ago, when upon my feet were shoes of a different type. Not six inch high heels: they were left behind as the years rippled past. But I mean shoes more condusive to a UK-lifestyle woman. Flatties they were, but with buckles or narrow laces, looking lightweight and feminine. But there has been a metamorphosis, as you can see. Into boots I have permanently gone because:

1) They are warm. Thick soles mean distance between my toes and the cold earth. My toes were complaining so much about being cold that I had to listen to them in the end. Otherwise, I fear, they would have gone on strike.

2) The bigger the foot area the less likely it is to trip up or fall into potholes, molehills, builder's stuff, and everything else that lays in wait for the inappropriately shod feet.

3) The possibility of slipping over diminishes, although does not abate entirely. The daily commute involves travelling over tarps laid on the ground in an attempt to keep the floors of our living and working accommodation mud-free. It sort of works, providing it is dry. Rain and earth makes mud which sticks to everything. The tarps don't work so well then: the mud makes the surface of them slippery, and they tend to retain puddles where the ground is uneven. Hence the urgent need for boots. The wearing of them helps me to scamper nimbly (?) over the tarps, skithering over this bit of mud, sploshing through that mighty puddle so I don't slip and end up on my bottomly end.

4) They keep me walking upright. Now this might seem a strange comment to make, after all if I am awake and out of bed then I should be walking upright. Yes, but, there is no clear, uncluttered ground to walk on here. Oh there is the hard surface of the lane, but I have to walk across muddy ridges of ground to get to it. It is rough underfoot here, that is what I mean. So I found myself walking with a permanent stoop, always keeping an eye out for what my feet would be walking into. Round shoulders became my mode of carriage. I was becoming bent over. But with boots on my feet I can boldly stride out, disregarding all that gets in the way. My head can be held high now, and my shoulders have straightened. I also can hold my stomach in, which helps combat its tendency to flop forward, by bosom also tends not to look so floppy, and I can focus properly on convincing myself that I do not have a double chin because I can hold my head higher.

I was managing with other shoes until recently, then NO MORE! My feet finally said, "BOOTS! WE NEED BOOTS!" And so hence my metamorphosis from dainty, elegant female (?) into striding, hell-for-leather, female which is probably who I was meant to be anyway!

Not only that, but you also have a glimpse of my legs. Yes! I am bold today! For once where there was unclad skin, there is now........wait for it...............THERMALs............long johns!!!!! Mostly permanently worn and sometimes feeling glued on when the night is cold and there is a need for them not to be removed.

There once was a time when stockings and other stuff was the mode of undergarment and shoewear. But, as you can see, it is now very thick socks, very white longjohns, ....and BOOTS!

Tuesday 17 February 2009

ISBN's, Roof string, and moos doings

Big steps forward today: The end gable of our house is now no longer a space of empty air, but has a pole and a string artfully arranged to suggest the apex of the gable. Now all that needs to happen is for the bricks to be put into the apex shape, rather like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together from the bottom up. I have even introduced our Frenchmen workers to English tea, my "voulez-vous un tasse de thé Anglais" being met with grins and smiles and general bon homie. They work different to the English: quieter, more 'artisan'. It feels right, them being here. It is a French house after all.

AND we have decided to push forward with setting up our own publishing company: Labartere Publishing. After yards and yards of thinking, and being oh so often tempted to send the first book off to a publishers so they can sort it out - sort of handing the responsibility of the work over to them, I have decided to stay responsible for the content and keep control of it by setting up a publishing company. So ISBN numbers to be bought first - just over £100 for a block of ten. That should keep me busy for while: writing ten books so I can use up those numbers! But it feels right to go that way, although more complicated and harder work.

However: Lester caught sight of, with horror, the mouse scampering out and about in the awning. I keep hoping that one of the feral cats will recyle it. He is hotly in favour of other methods. This is an openly debated subject in the Coe household at the moment. But it would seem that we took a couple of good steps forward today: the laying down of the shape of our gable and the laying down of the publishing company.

And hopefully the mouse will leave soon.

Monday 16 February 2009

Rotovators and donkey-dung

"It's time to play with boy's toys" said Lester as he wrestles the rotovator out from the campervan where it has been basking in laziness since being fetched from the rotovator-mending place several days ago. With great pride Lester manoeuvres it out into the front 'orchard'. With great effort as well, judging by the huffing and puffing that goes on as he tries to push it along. To be quite honest, they are not the most easiest things to move: one has to be bent over at a most awkward angle to keep the back bit (apparently called the 'stabiliser') from grinding itself into the ground and acting like a brake, not only that it leaves a nasty gash in the ground where perhaps one doesn't want a nasty gash. But a problem: one has to tilt the machine backwards to keep the front bits (apparently called the 'tines') from pushing themselves into the ground as well. And it all becomes a bit of a juggle: keep the machine from tilting backwards to avoid digging its backside into the ground, but not tilting so far forward that the front bits dig in as well.

The air is quite blue by the time it gets in position for its test run, which is on a bit of ground I have been digging up by the only tree left out front, which is a young oak. So time to start. A little bit of fiddling here, and a little bit of fiddling there, and off we go! We have action! And a swirly bit is done near where I have been digging. With face lit with joy, my man heads off towards an undug patch: up and down he goes, enthusing endlessly about how he almost feels like he is driving a horse and plough. The noise is humungous. Bools sits looking away in the other direction, not interested. I watch with interest, more so because the rotovator seems to be sliding over the surface rather than getting to grips with any deeper digging. Those wretched bramble roots are going to stay intactus, if the rotovator was going to have its way.

Silence. Bools looks round in surprise. I try to stifle a giggle. The rotovator has stopped. Lester is not pleased. Muttering words which are not for your ears, he slouches off to try and find something to mend it with. It is difficult to stay calm when under such conditions. When your man is having a bit of a moment because his equipment is not up to par – well it does make them a weeny bit tetchy and one must endeavour to remain calm and not collapse into heaps of laughter: it does not help the situation at all. It's hard though.

So it is back to fork and spade for the time being and the bramble roots are being done war with again. Lester meanwhile has a project, which is to start his Tree Planting Programme. To date he has sorted out his tree seeds, and planted 2 avocado in jam jars. Plus he spent the afternoon having an adventure with Bruno, the two of them being of the opinion that they needed manure. And where better to get it from, that at Ju Belloc village’s donkey farm. I kid you not, the two of them couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about a pile of donkey manure. I meanwhile carried on digging until I was required to suitably enthuse about the pile of manure now sitting beside the roof tiles and builder’s stuff. Bruno was glowing with pride about the quality of the dung, and Lester was the same. I excused myself and did a bit more digging. Hopefully there will be things to be planted soon. I will leave Lester to sort out the dung. And the seeds. He is good at that. And the avo kernels will grow because he has the patience of a saint. But not with rotovators that don't go. Methinks that it will be taken off to the menders again, or else 'forgotten' about and put on the list of 'things to do when I have time'. We all have such lists, do we not?

Meanwhile, out front, we have planted eight tiny silver birch tree grown from seed in our last house, and about thirty hibuscus bare root plants donated by our neighbour Daniel. They will have to do battle with the remaining blackberry roots if they are to survive. Now the rotovator is out of commission for the time being, and my fork and spade are actively engaged in the bramble-root war, they might stand a chance. Plus Lester might share some of the donkey-dung. And you know what? There was absolutely NO wiff of anything unsavoury about that heap of dung. I guess after all, it might be as good as the two men say it is - apparently as Bruno was digging up the dung he was enthusing about the buttery-ness of it. I'll take his word for that.

Friday 13 February 2009

Ma Moos's hole

Found it! Ma moos's hole! With great trepidation I have been going into the bags of dog biscuits: will there be a mouse in them or not? And adopting a preliminary test of thumping the bags with a wooden spoon in case there is, so it can get out of the bag before my fingers engage upon its body thereby giving me cause to emit yet again a series of high pitched squeals.

So when I am feeding Bools, Lester is normally sitting at the table also waiting to be fed. Trying to make discrete bangs on the bags without him knowing what I am doing has been difficult. I mean, I'm not lying to him about the mouse: I'm just not telling him we have one.

Now I am very aware that camping and food-hygiene are not particularly twin partners. Many are the times when I have to swot off a nesting slug or snail, and I am alert therefore to trails which give evidence of any visitors which are not particularly healthy if bits are eaten. This includes mice. I KNOW we are not infested because I would have SEEN the evidence, even if my eyesight is not what it used to be. So I feel SAFE that we are not being attacked by mice-infections. However, Lester has a tendency to go freaky about mice: in one of our previous houses I argued for holistic trapping of the moos in the hoos, which unfortunately ended up with us being a hotel for loads of them. We had to put traps down. For several nights the traps would go off with alarming regularity. I think we must have lethally caught a couple of dozen: not holistically. Holistic mouse traps don't seem to work. The real ones do though. So 'see' one mouse, and he 'sees' the breeding capacity of it. I just do a squeal, thinking it will run up my leg.

Oh so anyway: lovely morning. Lester standing beside me, enjoying the sunshine. Me pegging out the washing. All very chummy. And now the sheets.
"Hold that end" I says to Lester, handing him a corner of the duvet. Up it goes. Onto the line. No probs.
So now the sheet, the same, handing him a corner.
"What's that?" he says pointing to an empty piece of sheet.
"Oh blast" I says, "must have got ripped in the washing machine".
"No it didn't - those are TEETH marks -"......

Et voila! The mouse hole has been found! At this moment it is hanging up in the air with the remainder of the sheet surrounding it. Not sure what the mouse is going to do about this minor inconvenience. Probably go make another one somewhere else, preferably not in the washing pile, in particular anything belonging to Lester, bless him!

Thursday 12 February 2009

There's a roofer in our courtyard!

Actually, no, there's not! But we keep our spirits up by vizualizing them being here soon. We riseth late this morning. Our commute to the kitchen caravan being at 09.30. Then Lester dons his wellies for the commute to the office / computer room. I don wellies for laundry duties. Mmmm "Oh Lester...." I call, "there seems to be some water out on the fields". And my comment yesterday about possibly floating away down the Adour is a closer reality today as the rainwater of the last two days starts recycling itself by heading off towards the Atlantic, some of it via our fields.

Sara at the House of the Camels, is flooded but in good spirits. House OK. We are OK. God bless wellies and a sense of humour.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

There's a moos in ma hoos!

Ah, so Cherry, bless her, popped her head round the corner of the gatehouse at the same time as I came out of our new computer room en route to the kitchen caravan for drinks. In wellies, rainmack, dripping wet and carrying a box of gooey cakes. "For you" she said, "to cheer you up." But we were OK. We had survived yet another blast of wind, which had decapitated Val-up-in-the-Charente's car hangar and replanted it several yards up aways, plus had literally blown apart her stout chicken shed, and laid waste to loads of her barn roof. No, we were doing OK. No mischief done here by the weather. Apart from feeling that we might float away down the Adour, such was the amount of rain which has fallen. But we haven't.

Munching away, nattering on. A movement. Out of the corner of my eye. A squeal mid-stride erupts from my throat. A cough and a choke. Cherry saying "I didn't think the cakes were that bad" just as a bouncy little mouse sits itself up on the back of the settee. Not three feet away. Plump and round it was. Probably from raiding Boolie's dog dish which he never quite cleans up after his supper. I think he feels the need to leave a couple of mouthfulls in his dish in case he never gets fed again. Oh and so what the hell are the cats doing around here, the cats which are half-wild so presumably have to eat off the fat of the land, which would also include, I presume, plump little mice filled up with dog biscuit. Oh and so what the hell has the cat been doing which has been hanging out amongst the boxes and stuff in the bedroom attachment of the awning attached to the kitchen-caravan? Not eating mice obviously.

And so life continues on its quiet way down here in the south west of France. We are gathering to ourselves live-stock of various types. All is well. I won't mention the snakey-thingy I dug up the other day from a pile of stones out front. Over a metre long, with green chevrons down its back. Apparently an OK snake. Didn't stay too long to find out. If it wiggles and its long, head somewhere else tout suite is what I do. And I did. Another squeal only of slightly less volume was delivered on sight of the mouse. As I say, we are gathering unto ourselves a menagerie, none of which is anything to do with self-sufficiency but all is well.

Monday 9 February 2009

There's a bone in my wall

There was once a hut. Inside the hut pigs did snort and chickens did roost above their heads clambering up to their roosts via a conveniently placed chicken ladder. The evidence of this could quite clearly be seen by the chicken poo sticking to the beams and walls, the bits of straw sticking out of the crevasses in said wall, and also in the several inches thick 'bedding' on the floor, plus a couple of dehydrated chicken carcasses and one dehydrated chicken head. These last found in the 'bedding'. There was also a very dried up rat in one of the holes in the wall - can't make any comment about that!

And then we arrived. By then the hut was festooned with copious amounts of spiders webs which were home to huge black spiders. It was a hell-hole. To be left alone and forgotten about, being my way of thinking. Not so, said Lester. Lets make it into an office. 'Twas one of those occasions when my heart sank into my boots. I thought it would be a megga task, and it was.

And as I survey our handiwork, and let my eyes rove over the landscape of the up and down stone wall, the previous inhabitants are not forgotten. There are still little hidey-holes in the wall which never quite got filled up, and from out of these little spaces are coming gnats. Sleepy for the moment. But soon, yes soon, they will be getting hungry and wanting to have a feast. "Not on me you won't", I said to one just a minute ago as I swatted it. I await with some trepidation the spiders.

And then there is the bone in the wall. It is just above my PC. It is an inch long. And sticks out. I wonder why I didn't notice it as I worked on the wall. It's quite obvious now. I think the bone is from a chicken's leg. I regard it as an 'in memorium' epitaph to those who have gone before. As I write away on my PC I feel a friendliness for that little creature whose presence on Earth cannot be forgotten all the while I sit here at my PC, and it's bit of a leg sits there in the wall. As for the holes in which other beings may be lurking: I am minus any friendliness for anything which might bite me, or crawl up me, or make me jump. But for my little bit of a chicken: bless you!

PS. We have got a bit of a sun tan. Lester had a shower in 'Ron's shower'. Crocuses are in bloom out the front. I did a bit of a dig. Took Claudine of the Chambre d'hote for a tour of notre maison. Bruno came over for conflab with Lester about the 'project'. I walked into Prechac along the banks of the Adour to the post office. Back along the road, 'borrowing' the seeds from a plant along the way. More rocks to hold tarps down: warned of another big wind tonight. Investigated bee hives. Investigated where to get them on Internet. Got a headache - all info in French! Moon huge. Almost daylight outside. Spooky sky. Could imagine the Ride of the Valkyries charging through it. Roofers somewhere else today, not here.

...................and what's that! Another blasted gnat waking up and buzzing me! So off swotting I go!

Sunday 8 February 2009

Oh, just about things in general!

We can't have pigs yet because we don't know how much of our woodland will be flooded as the Spring melt water comes down off the snow in the Pyrenees. We can't do ducks yet for the same reason. We can't do chickens for the same reason, although we were going to put a little family in beside the bedroom caravan only that area has now become a dump ground for grotty and torn tarpaulins and the roofers stuff is in the way as well. The only other place is out on the front field, but that is planted with crops at the moment. Oil Seed Rape actually. Just found that out. Farmer Foch popped in to ask us if he could plant grass on the back field which has been left unplanted after the harvest last year. In other words, we took back control of it after he finished harvesting.

So nothing has been done and it is full of weeds apart from a small plot which Lester has dug for veg. At the moment it is full of onions. It did have cabbages, some of which we ate, most of which the deer took a mouthful out of and leaving the insect population to finish off the rest. In percentage terms we had about 25% of the crop: well, it was our first planting experience.

Anyway, Farmer Foch mentioned that he could grass it over, but we are not sure about whether it was a neighbourly gesture to help us, or he was looking to take back the field for making hay and / or silage. Lester is up in arms about that. He defends the right to his land with vigour. Another farmer has been making pushy comments about buying a strip off the side field so he can sell a chicken shed-cum-gite which is at the end of it. Possibly to one of our English friends. Lester looked like he was going to chin him the last time he came calling. Lester is smaller than he is, but will fiercely defend every inch of Labartere. After all, he says, he slaved away for years in the UK to buy the farm and no-one is going to have an inch of it. I am sometimes surprised at how he is so fiercely protective of his home. I could see him in days of long ago, standing in the gateway with a blunderbuss on his shoulder to ward off all wrong-doers! Which is a fanciful notion, but then you haven't seen him patrolling the perimeter of his fields, bless him.

As for les animaux: they will have to wait. I am still trying to become a purveyor of goods and a published writer and with a roof to pay for, Lester has to carry the financial burden for the time being. Farmer Foch is being paid for the grass seed so it is our crop rather than his, and in two years time the fields should be ready for the cows and sheep. Meanwhile, I will keep battling with the brambles in Duck Pond Wood so hopefully we might at least get chickens this year, but the ducks and pigs will also have to wait. That leaves the bees: we might manage to get them.

And one of the ironies of living here is that we have the land, but we neither have the time or finances to invest in self-sufficiency properly. Lester has a large number of various seeds sourced globally, most of which probably won't be planted this year because we haven't had time to do a proper dig, and we can't afford a tractor to get it ploughed to make that job easier. But we do have the rotovator - Hooray! It has been to the rotovator-doctor and been duly checked out, but is still in the car because the weather has been too wet to use it, and Lester has had to work on the computer so he wouldn't have the time anyway. We need duplicate copies of ourselves; one set to work, the other set to get out onto the land.

So: Plan A. Do A Bit Each Day.Focus on little steps forward, then hopefully the bigger picture will fall into place. Thirteen acres is an awfully big chunk of land, and even the little bit we can get on to seems daunting, the tendency being to panic and not do anything at all. So: Late New Years Resolution: Put Plan A into force.

This week's tasks: Look at finding some bees who would like to come and live with us, listen patiently to Lester when he does his daily enthusing about his plans for the farm, look for a source of bee-houses, be patient with Fleur when she tries to elope Boolie away, find time to read up on what to do with a load of newly-arrived bees, try to learn at least one more word in French, try not to burn myself on the gas cooker, try to be patient when I explain to Lester for the umpteenth ime that the reason why he is running out of clothes to wear is because the washing machine needs the hosepipe connected to it after the roofers used it last week, look in the mirror and say to myself: I CAN DO THIS. Oh, and I must keep slogging away with learning how to self-publish, and how to set up an internet shop.... and mmmmmm, what was Plan B? Maybe that one is less intimidating!

Friday 6 February 2009

Builders Perks

The cheek of it. There they were, standing infront of a blazing fire, warming themselves up,
I must just tell you..... went across to take a photo of our roofers, and there they were, standing in my 'kitchen' having made a fire to keep themselves warm. Wow. This is the first piece of heat Labartere would have felt for many a year. And the roofers had a rosy glow as well. They asked for a grill, cooked themselved up a BBQ for lunch, complete with wine drunk from mugs which had previously introduced them to English tea -without doubt they would have preferred the vino! For ourselves, it was omelette and coffee which seemed tame by comparison. Wafts of the cooking meat kept drifting into the caravan. The omelette definitely seemed second best.

So my kitchen has been cooked in. But not by me. Ah well....maybe sometime this year I might get to use the gas cooker donated by Val in my kitchen which by then might be roofed. That is, unless the roofers haven't burnt the house down first. The fire did get to quite an alarming size during the meat-cook. But I mustn't get grouchy, after all I have upgraded to two caravan gas cookers, a proper gas cooker, one gas caravan fridge, one electric caravan fridge and three porta-potties. Oh and a shower for when it doesn't rain and isn't too cold.

Doggy romps and French recipes

Its hooligan time here at Labartere as Boolie, Fleur and new Lady Dog charge about amongst the stuff in the courtyard playing chase with each other. Round and round they go. In here, round there, through there, oops didn't mean to barge into those legs nor tip over that ladder or make a mess of the once neat pile of ballast. Snap! someone upsets someone else, which sends Bools heading in my direction with his 'It wasn't me, Mum' expression on his face. B

ut two girl-dogs, wow! How his life has pepped up. Including the offer of having a go at fatherhood with Val's lady Springer-girl early next year to make Springer babies. Also possibility of Fleur getting her way as well. She's trying hard enough. Still visiting. But banned from tarpaulin-adventures. The new Lady Dog, belonging to the roofer? Well, Bool's would have to have a ladder to make her pregnant. She is quite a tall dog. As for Fleur - he can kneel down to oblige her, but of late she has been taken to rolling around underneath him, possibly to show him that there are other ways to get the job done. This is a very willing little lady dog.

I have mentioned before about French supermarket shopping - everything is written in French for a start, and the French people don't eat like the English do either. For instance, their view of cream is that it is hot milk with an egg yolk mixed in and then left to go cold. It's quite nice. In its own way.

I came here with a head full of known and tried recipes, plus a tattered old notebook of valued dishes, most of which have had to be dumped because for one: I can't translate the ingredients into French, and for two: I can't find the ingredients when I do manage to do the odd conversion. So I can either hunt down English suppliers, which most of the English seem to do here, which seems to me an intolerable waste of time, or I can go au naturelle and do French cooking. And joy of joys: looking at recipes in a French maggie, and actually recognising the ingredients by name. OK, so don't know where to find them yet. But I have seen them somewhere. So now I have to go on a hunt to find them, but at least I can ask someone the whereabouts of a missing ingredient.

Ah. A Thought. That would require, would it not, some French words? MMmmmm. Perhaps a stumbling block to my intended cooking project. Perhaps, maybe, ummm, .... now where did I put that old recipe notebook....

Updates: Builders rolling along. Rhubarb sprouting. Dreadful blackness over the Pyrenees. Bools slept on bed last night because he was cold which left us all squashed up like the contents of a tin of sardines - will have to stop him from doing that as Lester spent most of the night crammed up against the window, I had minimal space in the middle while Bools, bless him, took up nearly half of the bed and would not move AT ALL. But it was a cold night. So we were probably all the warmer for being in a huddle. Mud is slightly moister today, sun is asleep, methinks the Pyrenees are posting up to us some of their dark weather, et au revoir pour ce moment.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

It was a heavenly day.

It was a heavenly day today. For once we were tidy. The caravans were polished and vacuumed, bed made, washing up done, awning not too bad, PC room OK, courtyard devoid of any detritus left over from the tempest ten days ago, including miles of tarpaulins and our stuff underneath them. The sky was magnificent, the sun warm, the Pyrenees were twinkling in the distance. 'Twas a peaceful day. I felt organised. 'I'm going to take it easy for a couple of days, perhaps do some hobby-stuff, do a bit of pampering,' I thought to myself.
"You can't do that" the Universe said, "that's wasting time."

It is Wednesday today. And yes, the roofers turn up. With a huge CAT machine which rolls heavily over our once-upon-a-time front lawn, and deliver into the tidy courtyard piles and piles of bricks, sand, wood, and general buildery things. Upon instructions from Roofer Man, everything has to come out of the half-barn, and so another pile of stuff is dumped into the courtyard including the tattered and torn tarpaulins. The percentage of grass to mud is now vastly diminished, but the bright blue skies overhead give a cheerfulness to the picture and makes the green tarps all shiney and bright giving the false impression that there is more green around than what there is actually is. But at least the roofers are here.

I survey the chaos, and the Universe smiles at me. "Ah ha!" it seems to be saying, "You can't waste time sitting around, you've got work to do!"
"Yes" I reply, "but when am I going to get to do something other than mess about with boxes and tarpaulins?" There is no answer to that, so I take myself off for a walk, for once minus Fleur. She set up two large roe deer the other day who were sheltering in our woods. I would have preferred that they stay there. She thought otherwise. She is the chief mischief-maker of the neighbourhood. Today she was elsewhere. It was therefore a quiet and gentle walk.

Val's sheep has had two babies, the fig tree is sprouting the fruit which we will be harvesting in late summer, the chicken project has had to be shelved yet again because there is no room in the courtyard now the roofers are sharing our residence, the floor of caravan number one is still pot-holey but not so much so - a few more bricks should sort that out, Bruno has invited us to a party on Saturday and is involving Lester in a 'project' which may or may not be a good thing, we decided not to join the two caravans together under one tarp after a gust of wind lifted the tarp up into the air like a balloon - have made a joint decision that it is better to get a little wet when commuting between the various living spaces rather than keep battling with tarps preferring to behave like kites. Our only escapee so far was one which went AWOL during the tempest, the rest we have managed to tame - for the moment.

But over all, it was a heavenly day. Repeating that to myself as I toddle off to bed via the kitchen caravan for a snack, and then off to the bedroom caravan for a sleep, I bid you goodbye for now. And may the sun shine brightly on your corner of the world.

And our roof has been started. Yippeeeeee!

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Help Arrives!

"It's here!" I yelled at Lester, grabbing the torch, scrabbling into wellies, shrugging on a cardi and hurtling across the courtyard with Bools racing ahead to see what all the fuss was about.

And there, in the nearly-midnight darkness, she stood. Squat, elderly, plump: our new home brought to us by angels in the form of Val and Ron, who were at that very minute getting out of their 4x4, and putting their feet straight into muddy puddles because they had parked up on the mudbath which is supposed to be our drive.

And sitting behind the car was our 'new' caravan, towed down to us by our friends who had rang us the day before to say, "We are coming down to help you tomorrow." With the gazebo no more, and a large mound of stuff sitting in the middle of the courtyard covered by a tarp, and no dry space other than the caravan and the tiny 'office', because the tempest (which is what the French are calling the big wind of last weekend) ripped all the roof tarps off the house and barns, things were getting a bit dire. Not to worry, though, we were cheerful but flat.

And then the phone call came in, and help was on the way.An Internet search had put up an elderly caravan for sale which they could pick up on the way down from the Charente, which was all of a six hour drive away. It was nearly midnight. They were here!

Inspection-time. Caravan looked pristine inside and out. For all of five seconds, that is, which was the time it took Ron to open the caravan door, and for their two soaked-in-mud dogs to barge past him and romp round the beige carpeted floor. It was very wet outside on the drive. It became quite wet on the floor of the caravan. Not to worry, though. Stoically Val and Ron spudged through the mud to our tiny office, and we all squeezed in for a warm-up and a slice of Val's homemade quiche.

Then all off to bed: us to caravan number 1, and Val and Ron to caravan number 2, plus assorted four footed friends.

Fleur was sent home. She had also decided to romp around in the mud. She has also taken to romping around underneath the tarpaulin covering our furniture in the tall barn. If the furniture rots, which it is likely to do now it is no longer in a dry space, I don't mind. At least we have done our best to save it.

But Fleur has a passion, apart from promising sexual favours to Bools, and that is to hunt down cats, and the tarp-covered pile of furniture makes an ideal hidey-hole for cats. Or so Fleur thinks. I make battle with her over this. Rotting furniture is OK. Saved furniture covered in muddy scratches is not. So off home she is being sent until the roof is done.

By the way, on that front - roofer-man came last Friday "Bonjour ....noos seimn s proshen mercredi niosrions ...." which is interpreted as "We will be here next Wednesay" we think. Well, we understood 'Mercredi' which is Wednesday, so are presuming the rest meant that they were going to make a start. It has been dry of late. Good roofing weather. Last night it rained. Like my washing - whenever I do the washing it rains. I suspect that rain will show up again tomorrow, just as the roofer-men start work. But at least we have another pile of building materials stacked up out front to show that things are happening.
Sooner or later this year it should end up on the roof.

Meanwhile, Val, bless her, cooks a humungous UK-style breakfast with provisions supplied entirely by herself, announces that she has brought down a freezer bag full of meat from her recycled animals (leg of lamb, lamb chops, duck) and a joint of pork from the half pig a local farmer sold her - apparently he plays his pigs music to them and massages them with lavender water: "A happy pig is a tasty pig" being his method of animal raising. Lester is enthused about the music. I ask if Queen would be appropriate. A good dose of 'We are the Champions' or "We will rock you" should get them frisking about. But no. Classical music is favourite apparently, preferably Mozart. I don't think Lester will do lavender massage, might do music though.

So on happy tums, Val and me battle with getting the awning up on caravan number 2, which has by now been moved into the courtyard and sits at right angles to caravan number 1. Ron decided that he was going to provide us with hot water, and that it ought to go in the house. "Where in the house?" I ask curiously, seeing as how the sky is the roof, and there is no enclosed space. "Where the sink is" he says. Silly me! Of course! But can't stand in the sink, can I, to have shower, I think to myself. Pre-empting me, Ron says "You can stand on a pallet and let the water drain onto the floor. It will just mix with the rain water already there. Won't do any harm" Silly me for not thinking of that! End of day: Awning up, dinner cooked, hot water in house, Ron had a test shower to see if it worked. I didn't look! I took his word for it that everything worked!

Sunday: Another full tum, and we wave our two angels off. Spent the day heaving the stuff under the tarp into the awning of caravan number 2. Lester has a try of shower. Didn't use pallet to stand on, might get splinters in his feet. Stood in orange Halfords box instead. We have loads of those boxes, donated by our UK removal man. Good for storage and keep things excellently dry. Also good for shower tray if you get stuck! Lester can vouch for that!

So: We have a bedroom and clothes-storage which is caravan number 1. I have a kitchen and dining room, which is caravan number 2. The awning provides more storage. The PC's are now in the PigChick Hut which is our tiny office. Gosh! Aren't we doing well! The roofers may or may not be up on our roof tomorrow depending on the weather, and Lester said the trees in our wood are starting to show signs of waking up. The year is on the move and so are we!