Friday 27 March 2009

A bit of a thinking

The days are long here.

Plenty to do.

Makes one feel that one is getting value for money out of one’s life.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Roof tiles up: Yippee!

Well, maybe a little prematurely doth the word 'yippee' venture into this blog. Yes, the roof tiles are back on part of the house.

But: upside down!

Not to worry though. It is becoming a daily fascination as to what our French trio of roofers are going to be up to next, and today they came up with the answer to the problem of how they were going to get the cement ring beam across ropey old walls. Roof tiles! Inverted.

It is my intention to try and keep as much of the rebuild history available to our eyes once it is done. In other words, nothing is going to be covered up if I can help it. I think the artistry of the inverted roof tiles will be quite fetching in the future: a real talking point. "Atchoo" Oopps, sorry a sneeze. And another.

Et voila the culprit: these fields of gorgeous yellow oil seed rape plants which are now on two of our fields. Crikey, but the pollen count has been going up, because my nose and throat have been telling me so. And how can such a pretty looking plant smell so awful. My nose did a recoil this morning when it first hit the aroma which is similar to rotting cabbage.

No tree planting today, Head Gardener / Tech Team Guy has planted another seven over the last few days and is knackered. Only got another two to go, and then that is our tree planting over for this year. Thirty I think. And he has the callouses on his hands to prove it. Oh where are the lily white UK hands? And where are my pristine clean hands gone as well? All gone. I now have farm-girl hands, with permanently mucky nails, and Lester is getting farmer-hands.

And we have something coming up in our cold frame pots. A problem: do all seeds look the same when they first break through the soil? Or are we growing wild flowers: weeds, in other words. I still think the donkey dung manure is far too rich to get weeny little seeds to grow. And I am still thinking about making a sneaky purchase of a bag of potting compost and putting it away somewhere.

So maybe we are growing veggies or maybe we aren't. Some of the roof tiles are back on the roof although are upside down. Our fields are full of sunshine yellow even when the sun isn't shining. "Atchoo", "Atchoo".....sneezing myself merrily on my way. Cheerio for now.

Before you go, have a look at this. Looks like a spiral of energy over the house! "A..tishoo".

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Fuzzy head day

It was one of those fuzzy headed days. You know, when you have lots you want to do but there doesn't seem to be any energy to drive the engine. Or even get it started, come to that.

I think I have a bit of a bothered mind at the moment: I have finished the formatting on Psychic Virgin, now it is the book cover to do. And I keep going into avoidance mode every time I get near the computer to sort it out. Like all tasks one does this with, the more one pushes it away the more it refuses to budge. So it just stays on ones mind, nagging away. Anyway, have decided to get up early tomorrow and get it done but to write it off for today.

What was firmly stuck in my mind, as I sat at my PC waiting for inspiration, was a 'picture' for the garden out front. So strongly held was it, that when it stopped raining (gentle lets-give-the-plants-a-little-lick-round-type rain) I abandoned the PC and headed out.

Interrupted on the way by one of the young roofers saying he hadn't had his photo taken yet, we had a photo-shoot. I am proud that they are helping us with Labartere.

And here is Stephane (left) and Jean-Louis (right).

And Brandon, taken a few days ago.

The 'picture' in my head was of a little patio under the one remaining tree from the old orchard.

I hefted about a dozen concrete paving blocks to get it done.

And laid to rest a portion of old tarp under them.

The paving blocks wobble about a bit, but I don't think they will tip.

Dusk was gathering. Mists laced their way across the hill. When it does this it feels like olden times here, as in knights galloping out of the mists on their charging horses, reminscent of King Arthur's times. And as I stood on my new make-shift patio, leaning against the tree, I understood why I had that picture in my head.

It was so I could bring out a plastic camping chair, and sit under the tree, and have a little picnic spot.

The oak is just about to start leafing. It will be a delight to share it's energy this year. And I will think about the tarp under the stones and let it be significant for having survived our first winter here. One day this little patio will be done properly. But for now, Yippeeee, I have a litte spot where I can have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. I have my first piece of garden!

I still have a fuzzy head, but it is a happy fuzzy head! So, if you get a 'picture' in your head when you are in fuzzy-mode, follow it through. You might not get a mini-patio under a little oak tree, but you just might get something equally as good.

Monday 23 March 2009

There's a hole in my wall!

A bit of a bang and a crash. Normal now. Roofers here. Loud voices. A thud.

Over we go, me and Lester.

There was a wall, but then somehow something got knocked against it, probably a beam coming down, and now we have a hole in the wall. But it is no ordinary hole: it has shelves!

And a sink. With an outlet into the old stable beside it.

To us it is a real find, giving us an element of the history of the house, much of which we have lost.

And the hole is in the wall of what will be the lounge, the most unphotographed bit of Labartere because it has been dark, damp and 'orrible, being the only part to retain its ceiling: when the rain falls it comes in and stays in whereas all the rest of the house gets wet but dries out. But now the ceiling has been magicked away by the trio of roofers, and she can now dry out.

And the curious thing is, that after all the pulling about the house is enduring, it has the most peaceful of atmospheres in it nevertheless.

She is a stirling trooper. She still stands proud. And she still has little secrets she is letting us share. Now all we have to do is tidy up the hole, - somehow!

Sunday 22 March 2009

Comrades together

Passing the soft fruits early on today. Merdre!!! Surely there were more leaves on the bushes yesterday. But only two days ago I had twined yards and yards sewing cotton round and round the bushes to keep the birds off them. Apparently it wasn't working.

Dusk was starting to come down. Boing! Into my head came a 'borrowed' idea,from a friend I once knew. It involved recycling bendy-type tent poles.. However, I feel that a few Helpful Hints were left out.

You need:
Two long bendy-type tent poles, preferably of the same length.
Bird netting

1) Make bits of each pole stay together in their places. Before they come undone, with some force ram one end of one pole into the ground at one corner of area neding to be protected to the depth of about 3 inches, more if you can.
2) Before it pings undone, take other end and put it in the diagonally opposite corner. It will wobble but should stay in place.
3) Take other pole and do the same in the opposite corners. You should have all four corners with a pole-end in.

"That's a good idea" said Lester, "Now I wouldn't have thought of that at all, but you don't want to do it like that, you want to just move this here like this, and that in there. Where's the string?"

And so Head Gardener / Tech Team Guy, took over the project to show me how to do it properly. Bless.

Oh so how is one supposed to get this twirly tangly netting-stuff over that flippin frame.

But, you see, it stretches! Yes, it does! It is truly magical in its stretchiness.

"You have to stretch it really tightly, " I say to Lester, "so the birds can't get in."
"I've got to go and water the trees" he said, going off the boil noticeably.
"How are going to make it bird-proof on the ground?" he said over his shoulder as he walked off.
A few minutes later back he came, "Here, use these". Tent pegs! Bless again.

So pulling and stretching, the bird-keeper-outer takes shape.

Oops. Cut the netting too short.
"It doesn't matter" says Lester, "they are only birds".

But thinking of the craftiness of birds I cut some more netting and construct a sort of patchwork effect. It might not fool the cleverest of birds but it just might fool lesser birds.

Et voila!

Buried Treasure

As I dig I think about finding buried treasure. I don't know why I do, I just do. But only out in the front garden. Never anywhere else.

Is it the effort of digging and hauling out the bramble roots that is making me feel thus? Is it because I need to fanatasize about something pleasurable because it is back breaking work? Is it to stop myself from getting downhearted about the size of the project? Or is it because I am worried about the financial aspects of taking on a ruined house?

Everytime my spade or fork clunks on something metallic, I cannot but help wonder what I might be fetching up with. "Will this be the buried box of treasure" I think to myself.

Oh so WHY do I have these thoughts? When all I have dug up so far are some bits of railway sleepers.

And these things, whatever they are.

And then up came these three: a horseshoe, a clip, a key.

Walking back to the computer/old pigchick hut after this 'photo-shoot', and there bashing itself to pieces was a little bird. By the time I had found a suitable chair to stand on so I could retrieve him, he was laying on his side, panting heavily. I think he had given up.

So I took the little bird in my hand. In the sunshine I held him for a while, asking the Universe for a bit a blessing to be given to him as he needed some help. He stayed put. Didn't seem to want to go. Then he took a deep breath and off he rapidly flew.

He sat in the tree and became bullied by another. I stood beneath him, talking to him, guarding him from the other.

Eventually he began to sing. I looked around and thought what a magic moment it was.

And I thought of the 'treasure' I had already dug up. The horseshoe being significant for good luck, which I have in abundance, the clip which shone bright gold in the spring sunshine, and the key: old it might be, but maybe significant for doors opening in our lives.

We can all find treasure in articles which come our way, and they are without price if one looks at the significance of them, what they represent, rather than on the monetary value they have.

I shall continue to dig out front, and look forward to finding my next bit of 'treasure' which, if as rewarding as the pieces I have already found, will give me wealth indeed. Passing these thoughts on to you, with a blessing.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Donkey manure and yog pots.

"I need some potting compost" I said in a whingey voice, which is miles away from my usual chirpy voice. But I was UPSET. I have potted loads of yog-pots already with a mixture of donkey-dung and soil. It is heavy going. I have to keep picking out stones, twigs, straw, worms and other stuff including great chunks of not-quite-rotted-down donkey poo, and it takes AGES.

And I have a serious pining for a good old bag of potting compost: something I can plunge my hands into without fear of something not quite nice fetching up in the handful of stuff I am expecting a little seed to grow in. Something which will fit easily into the little yog-pot and fill it all up without leaving lumpy gaps.
I am yearning for a bag of potting compost.

So I made my request to Lester, which I thought was reasonable. Plus I added on a bit of female whinginess. No. It did not work. His face registered absolute astonishment that I should forsake his precious manure for shop-bought rubbish.

"Oh let me show you how you use it" he said. Oh so I can't get a shovel of manure myself? Apparently not. I was marched to the donkey manure pile.
"Look", he said "all you have to do is find a chunk which isn't wet. Here is a nice big piece. See! It's on the EDGE of the pile, NOT from the middle".

"All you do is crumble it up. Like this, see?"

"Then you are left with a nice pile of compost. You do not need compost from the shop, when you have this lovely stuff sitting here."

"Thankyou Lester", I said.

So I foraged for suitable lumps. Into the wheelbarrow they went. Gloves on. Hands in. Yuk. Either sticky or hard nuggets. Out to the front. Scooped up some soil from my recent dig. Mixed it in. Just like making a cake really. Back to potting table. Nope. Mixture still too lumpy. Despair oozes through me. Ahha! An idea. Into awning. Search for suitable instrument. Thwack. Down on those lumps I go with the sledge hammer (only a small one mind you) and down I go and more downs. The stuff is starting to look like the texture of pastry, although not of same hue. The sticky stuff starts sticking to the dry stuff.

It is done. I have in the barrow a pile of stuff which resembles what Lester had in his hand, what he had shown me as the appropriate mix for seed pots.
He passes by.
"See", he said, "I told you so. Easy isn't it. Better than that stuff you had".

"Yes,Lester", I said, "You were right".

Meanwhile my thoughts are racing away as to where I can hide a bag of potting compost, and would he realise that it was bought-in stuff, and how can I disguise it so it looks home-made....perhaps a sprinkling of little stones, twigs, an odd lump of two of donkey dung artfully arranged here and there on the surfaces, maybe a little bit of squashed worm...

A little bit of useful info about yog-pots:It is possible to hole twenty seven yog pots in the time it takes to boil a kettle! Yes it does! Here's how....

1) While heating holing appliance, in my case a screwdriver, on the gas ring (upper left) place eight yog pots upside down.
2) By the time you have arranged the last yog pot, the screwdriver will be hot enough to go jab, jab, jab, etc. in quick succession along the rows.
3) Screwdriver back on ring. Put yog pots away into a container of some sort. Put another lot of yog pots out ready for hole-making. By the time you have got them all ready, the screwdriver will be hot and ready to use.

Et voila! You 'ave your own pot-holing assembly-line operation!

And sending you a wave to say hi!

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Bangs and thumps abound

Yippee, the builders are back! And the sun is shining as well! Put the two together and we have ACTION!

Thump! Down comes another beam. And another! And....another. A..n..d! Crikey, how many thumps are there going to be before the house gives up and falls down in a faint. A crash! Something has crashed!

Waiting for voices raised in alarm. Has there been blood spilt, or a bone or two broken? We hold our breath and look at each other, the question resting unspoken between us: "Will we still have a house or a heap of rubble. Should we go and have a look, or pretend that nothing is happening and get on with our work."

A roar of the chain saw. Seems like everything is still proceeding.

I take a peek outside the door. One of the young roofers is up on the tallest part of the old eves, trying to get his chain saw to cut some timbers still left up there. I quickly retreat. I hear the chain saw, and all the while it keeps going I am reassured that he hasn't fallen off. It is very high. No scaffolding. Haven't a clue how he got up there.

'Health and Safety' doesn't seem to be relevant to this part of the world. The roofers walk along the tops of the wall with the same speed and dexterity as I do walking along on terra firma. They seemed to have very skilled feet.

An almighty crash! This can't be ignored. Out we go to 'just see how things are getting along'. The house is standing ever nuder. Only walls now. No timbers anywhere. All down on the floor. Cracked is my sink. I hoped to transfer it into the kitchen and use it. Now it is dead. As is also my tea-tray (to the right of the photo), and two cups. I don't say anything. C'est la vie!

And so work is carrying on at a pace. The weather is hot. The builders are here. Yippee!

(The young roofer was on top of the tall wall on the left. The upright plank in the middle is holding up a chunk of recent concrete mix which is supposed to be gluing the two walls together after they decided to stop being friends and parted company.)

The sink when it was alive.

Monday 16 March 2009

Wild eating

"Maddi (Bruno's wife) eats dandelion leaves. She went out on a dandelion hunt when we got back from getting the donkey manure. She says that they are one of their favourite foods. Has them in salads. Also makes jam with the flower heads", Lester said.
We looked at each for a moment, in silence. We were having our after lunch lie-down. Well, we are in France, and are trying to live according to the French way of life, and if one has to conform with certain behaviours the French have, then that is what one must do.

"Why do I feel uncomfortable with that?" I asked him.
"Doesn't feel right, does it", he replied "Don't know what's pee'd or s***t on it".
Oh so why do we have trouble with wild food. Apparently dandelion is considered a delicacy around here, so why do we feel squeamish about eating it. What is it that has distorted our perception of this plant? What training have we had in our past which has tainted our receptiveness towards using this plant for table food.

And why does this extend to other wild food as well? Why do we feel uncomfortable with eating anything that doesn't come off a supermarket shelf or market stall? Have we become so de-sensitized to real food?

Food for thought, heh?

This morning. The sun was just getting out of bed.
The photo at the top of the page is of the mist itself. It is, after all, made up of round droplets of water, which the flash on the camera has been reflected from. It is an intriguing world when one looks at it from different perspectives.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Potty pottings

Being the helpful person that I am, I thought I would pass on to you today's learning. And that is potting. Here are the tools you will need: yog pots, tray, pen, spade, manure+earth in bucket, spare container for bits not needed in the yog pots (worms, stones, twigs, etc). Oh and gloves to protect the manicured nails and for picking up worms. Plus a writing pad to write down what has been potted. And, of course, some seeds.

1) With gloves on, stir up bucket contents, removing any wrigglies and hard bits. You don't want those in the pot. They are small containers and there is hardly room for the plants let alone giving house room for worms, and other detritus.

2) With trowel, if you have one, or spade in my case, endeavour to fill the containers reasonably full. If the manure is lumpy, you may need to break it up, only a clod of manure can entirely fill a yog pot, which might overwhelm any little seedling which tries to grow. In our case, it was donkey manure, which still retains a degree of lumpiness. Pat contents down. Give yog pot a sip of water.

3) Remember to have made a hole in the bottom of the yog pot: to make hole, find useful sharp instrument. A screwdriver 'borrowed' from Lester's toolbox was found. Ignite a flame. I used the gas ring. Carefully hold instrument over the flame to heat up. Done when it glows. Thrust instrument through bottom of pot from the inside. The other direction crumples the pot. Wiggle instrument, maybe give a bit of a push. Hole done!

NB: Remember to have ventilation as melting plastic can get fumey, and if you are doing a hole after having filled the pot, well.... be warned! The contents are likely to spill out everywhere.

And here I must apologise to Lester: I thought I retrieved all the soil+manure. Honestly, I did. It wasn't my fault that you was late. And I wasn't being in huff mode because you went off on a hunt for more manure with Bruno, and I said it was nearly dinner time, but then it got later and later, so I went ahead and ate my dinner anyway, leaving yours on top of the cooker. I thought I managed to retrieve most of the yog pot contents when they accidently tipped over after I singed my fingers trying to make a hole and couldn't be bothered to empty the contents out first, but they emptied out anyway.

4) On site of potting activity proper: Oh, before I forget, best to have also marked on the pots what is going to be planted inside them before the soil-manure is put inside them. Otherwise, the same difficulties of scatterage might be experienced similar to certain episodes already experienced in the kitchen.
Ok, so get seed packet opened up. Put seeds in the palm of your hand. Let your fingers of that hand be closed together. Be careful to keep seeds craddled in the palm: it can be difficult to remove them from between the fingers if any get stuck there.

5) With thumb and forefinger of other hand, take up as few seeds as possible in a pinching motion. It might be useful to note here, that long fingernails are not helpful in this activity, this being a time when one can bless the shortness of one's nails if one has 'gardening-type' hands. Lester has just mentioned 'seed tweezers' are useful. Are they like eyebrow tweezers? I can't see them working if they are: I never seemed to be able to grab an eyebrow hair with my tweezers in the olden days of vain-ness, so how would I be able to grab hold of a few seeds. So, no, for me the 'pinch between thumb and forefinger' method is simpler.

6) If possible, using a rubbing motion betwixt thumb and forefinger, drop one or two seeds in the yog pots. A word of encouragement here: it does take a bit of practice to limit the number of seeds dropped into the pot, so if you find you have done too many in a pot, try not to retrieve them - it will only end in disaster, with the yog-pot contents tipped all over the place, leaving all the seeds unfound. Better to leave the pot alone: you can always thin out the seedlings later on.

7) Tap seeds lightly down.

8) Lightly dust over the seeds with a sprinkling of soil-manure. Another little drink. And well done! Potting exercise complete. Survey your handiwork with pride, being careful not to give in to the urge to fiddle about any more with your handiwork.

Now all you have to do is clean up the mess which has been made and try to get the fingers all spit-clean again. But be warned: Once you have embarked upon the gardening lark, then your hands will never look the same again. And neither will your spirit, which will be all shined up because you have made a positive move towards feeding yourself.

Our pussy willow: the light catches the gold of the pollen, giving it a life which is indicative of spring's onward surge.

Real-time gold dug out of the mines of the World, can never rival the real-time gold of a living plant.

Friday 13 March 2009

Drowning in words

Crikey, oh crumbs. Sorry to have abandoned my post at this blog-spot, but it became urgent to ship Psychic Virgin off to Lulu. Not the singer! No, the printer/publishing company.

So, good idea. I did. Mmm. "Let's have a check, give it the once over, shouldn't take long". Oh, merdre! (I love that word. It's better that the F word. F**k is short and succinct - crisp and quickly done. But merdre, said 'mayrdrer' can be rolled around and can be made to linger quite satisfactorily if there is a need to use an expletive urgently). On viewing the pdf download (pdf inspiring a dearth of 'merdre's) my heart sank into my boots (remember 'my boots' blog: Why Boots?) to lay puddled up and despondent. I had spent ages and ages making sure that ALL the pages, of which there are 300 in total, were tidy looking. Housekeeping a book, to make it look pristine, takes effort and stoicism. The same as keeping a house all tidied up, or caravans in my case. You go from top to bottom, or front to back, tidying up, rearranging, making pretty so things look 'just so', everything in its place, "must have another quick look round to make sure everything looks OK", and no....just need to do a little bit more tweeking, and done!

Thus it is with housekeeping a house / caravans. But it / they only stay pristine if left alone. Get one's husband and various menagerie invading said tidiness and chaos quickly ensues. Topsy turviness rules the day. Uploading Psychic Virgin up to Lulu so pdf formatting could be done (don't know what pdf is but something to do with converting words in Word to words in pdf). Ah so, tidy book. All housekeeping done. Off it goes on upload. Down again on pdf download .... merdre! And again, merdre!

It looks the equivalent to a house being partied in.

So, back to the drawing board, or rather the PC screen, where dedicated effort was required otherwise avoidance mode would have been gone into and the book would been left, probably for months. I have found that one has to get back in the saddle with some things otherwise one is likely to stay out of that particular saddle for ages, if not forever. Hence my week of earnest endeavour.

And I was still having probs. So the resident Tech Team Guy came to my rescue, and took me into the bowels of Word, after having shown considerable amusement at my over simplisitic efforts at formatting which were contributing to the untidy pdf format conversion. Apparently. Anyway, he said so, as he whizzed about in Word, showing me a thing or two.

But my head is fogged up with Word-stuff, and I feel as if I am drowning in a sea of words. Not creative ones, but ones which have to sit tidily on the page, don't go wandering off to other pages in mid sentence, do one-line line-breaks and not one and a half, remember to do exactly the right indents, to behave when one says that they are title words and remind them they are not allowed to frolic with all the others on the page, and to remind the top- of- the- page words that they must not convert themselves into anything else other than what they were they were first born: they are devils, these particular group of words, and love redesigning themselves. And there are the little figures at the bottom of the page, who like to pop up when they are supposed to be absent, and then not appear when they are supposed to. I keep telling them that they are important, that they help the reader to navigate their way through the book, but that they have special positions and please could they understand this and stop misbehaving!

It has been an upload / download week. Me head feels fogged. Tech Team Guy has saved the day, and I am going to go retrieve the chicken pie from out of the oven, which has also hopefully behaved itself and cooked the pie properly, to say thankyou for his efforts in trying to get Psychic Virgin out into the world.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Interred in the bowels

I have been interred in the bowels of Psychic Virgin, my first book for public viewing, for three solid days. Apart from domestic duties, which have not included vacuuming, washing or general camping duties (it has been raining anyway, which is not condusive weather for tidying up mostly due to the muddy feet which makes for wet and muddy floors, and the washing can't be dried so best not to do it even if one has a washing machine because hanging up washing to dry in the confines of a caravan makes one feel like one is living in a laundry) I have had my bottomly part firmly parked on my office chair, and my eyes firmly fixed on my PC screen. My bottom has now become unfetchingly distorted (pancaked is best to describe it) and my eyes have gone all cross eyed and gritty. My back is also making ' I'm going out on strike if you do not get me off this ******* chair'.

But I am writing my book. Is it worth it, I ask myself. I must be earning minus one euro per hour the time it has taken me to get it done: nearly three years in the brew. Frequently I have conveniently 'forgotten' about it, only to have it creep out of the cupboard, or rather out of the archives of my PC, saying "Oi! Don't forget about me..... you haven't finished me off yet! Don't leave me all undressed. Finish me off, for crikey's sake. I won't give you ANY peace until you do".

And so I have this slave driver of a book in my life, who will not let me rest until it is created. Over and over I have gone with it: first writing, deleting, writing some more, deleting even more, finally fetching up with more saved words rather than deleted ones. It totals just under 100,000 words.

I have decided to go down the self publishing route. I thought it a good idea until I looked at the Lulu web site, which is my preferred option for self publishing because of the excellence of their help files, and also because it doesn't cost anything to use their services if you do all the publishing formatting yourself. Anyway, full of confidence and in 'Yes, this is easy-peasy' after having spent the last three days doing the final formatting so Psychic Virgin can be uploaded to Lulu in preparation for printing, Lulu sent me a 'this is our monthly newsletter' email upon which there were loads of books all waiting for someone to buy them.

And I thought of my book sort of sinking out of sight once it got posted up on the Internet, and my spirits flagged. But I sat myself down on the PC this morning, told my rear end, eyes, and the rest of me to be patient, and I am now doing a PDF conversion, a re-read for paragraph contruction, page numbers, headers and footers, fonts, drop caps, chapter breaks, and all the other stuff one has to do to make a book look like a book, and then I am going to upload it to Lulu.

And because I have written it in this blog, I will have to do it now! So publishing this blog before I delete it and change my mind about posting up to Lulu, .....well , bye for now!

Sending you a smile!

PS. The 'double-chin' effect is only the camera angle! Yes, well, I am an erstwhile writer, and so I have the right to 'bend the truth' occassionally. Honestly, though, it really, really is only the camera angle!

Tuesday 3 March 2009

The rhubarb that refused to go to sleep

This brave little plant is a hero. It has refused to go to sleep at all. During the winter it has continued to keep growing, albeit slowly. And OK, so the recent frosts have singed its leaves, but it has refused to be made to go dormant. It wanted to see and experience its first winter here at Labartere, having been dragged here in the back of a removal van from the UK last June. And it was hard for this little plant. Sometimes it went thirsty, and it took to dropping its leaves in a sorry-looking wilt, saying, "Water me". Most times its pleas were heard.

And for all the rest of the summer months it had to stay in its pot, the pressures of moving diverting us away from its needs. But finally our resident plant-guru realised its needs, and into the ground it went but without any other nutrients being added other than what was in the soil itself which couldn't have been much: these are un-manured hard-farmed fields. The other rhubarbs weren't too pleased about their new residences, and two retired to sleep very early on in autumn, one stayed awake for a few weeks longer and then that went into dreamland as well. But this one didn't.

Deer came and went, but none munched on its leaves: I am sure it snuggled down so they couldn't get at it. Or perhaps the deer have not, as yet, tried le rhubarb Anglaise. They had a morsel of everything else around it, but then they were French plants and they are French deer. Still it stayed awake, experiencing frosts, tempests, a smattering of snow, and torrents of rain while its three other companions gave in to winter sleep.

But I think it was the sun which kept it awake: it must have developed a stoicism for weathering the not so good times knowing that all would be well when the sun came out to warm it up.

A bit like us really!

The planting of the brave rhubarb and its not so brave friends.

And part of Duck Pond Wood with its first smattering of Spring flowers.

Watering, logs and bees.

Upon his watering mission last night, Lester found the plod round the property just too much. Having planted seventeen fruit trees all about the place, I said he would have trouble keeping up with the watering. "Make an orchard" I said, "by putting them in a random clump as nature would have intented. That'll make the watering easier" which seemed a logical solution to where to plant our trees.
"I want them in straight lines...." he said in his 'I am the chief planter around here' voice which he is using a lot of late. "And I want them around the edge of the property" he added.
"Yes but it will make the watering harder. Can't you put them all together in a group?"

And thus was my prophecy proved correct last night as he trundled the water bucket from tree to tree. Out front there are nine edging the perimeter: 2 peach, 2 apricot, 2 Pear, 3 plum. By the oak out back: 2 peach, 2 apricot. By the bridge: 2 apple, 1 cherry, 1 unknown. It is quite a walk for him. But he found a solution for the furthest ones: he got the water from the Adour. "It's full of minerals and things" he said, "better than tap water. It comes down off the Pyrenees so it must be good". And yes, it is, only I know my husband well enough to expect the news that sometime soon that she has taken away the bucket and that she has made him have wet feet. Only I hope he is careful, I wouldn't like to see him floating off down the Adour. She is a fast and busy river, and would be eager to have a passenger.

Already he is eyeing up the pile of logs captured by the bridge support and is making plans as to how he can retrieve them, one of which is wading across to them and manhandling them back to dry land. I smile and say "What a good idea, but wouldn't it be better to get a blow-up boat or something so you can row across", not wanting to put him off his gung-ho, 'man-provider' mode while all the while secretly hoping that the French will come and tidy up the bridge themselves. Only Lester rarely does anything at Labartere without needing my help, so it is a distinct possibility that moi will be captured into a retrieval of logs adventure sometime during 2009, hopefully when the Adour is in her sleepy state of summertime laziness. Or perhaps he might drop the idea all together, which will be even better!

As for the trees: if we manage to get half of them to survive then we will consider it a bonus. We are organically minded. Unfortunately, this area is rife with humungous bugs. They are big. And voracious. I am not sure we can stay organic, this land may not let us, but we will wait and see on that.

On inspection of the trees, I find myself hugging them and telling them to "hang on in there, we will do our best to look after you". I may, or may not, be losing the plot! Our French neighbours might be thinking the same as they see me hugging, and talking to, our little trees.

But then they may become even more concerned when we get the bee keeping project under way. The beehives will be out by the woodland on the front field and there is no way that we are going to manage to look after them without all the neighbourhood knowing about it. Seeing us walking about in veiled white overalls might just push our neighbours over the edge with us! But the whole bee-keeping project might be put off until later on in the year: apparently bees don't like lawn mowers which I presume also includes tractors, and we don't want Monsieur Prunet-Foch to be stung to pieces while he is lifting off his harvest from our fields in June. Swatting away at the bees while they are telling him to "**** away from our flight paths" will possibly have him fetching up, tractor and all, in the Adour. Which will make her happy as she will then have a passenger to play with, plus a bit of mechanical equipment as well.

First gnat bite. First bramble scratch. First visit from the Gendarmerie. Ooh la la!

Sunday 1 March 2009

Worms, Clods, and Tech Team Man

The effort of digging has been thus rewarded by a crop of these little flowers, the name of which escapes me. And to one side of the flowers you can see my newly dug efforts of last night. Intent on my digging, I almost dug up this little flower in particular, so to make good the fright I must have given it as the prongs of my fork hovered millimetres away from it, I took this photo promising that it would be blogged today. That seemed to do the trick. It managed to sustain the shock of near death, and was still blossoming handsomely this morning.

But clods. All I seem to be doing is digging up clods. How are we supposed to grow anything in these glued-together lumps of soil? Lester tells me to break the lumps up, but goodness me, first of all I have to try to get the prongs of the fork into soil which is like iron because it is so compacted, then I have to bounce up and down on the handle of the fork to get it to go down low enough so I can lift the earth upwards. Managing to do this eventually, I then have to lean over (which is good for my waistline) and pick out all the little bits of root left behind by the bramble cull last autumn, throwing them carefully into the wheelbarrow so they can be incinerated on the bonfire at a later date. So that leaves the clod, hopefully without the reluctant-to-leave bramble roots. By this time I am knackered. To have to thump the clod into nothingness is not on. In my opinion it isn't. But Lester thinks differently. He says I am doing a 'half-job' but I say not. This does lead to minor altercations sometimes, but it is all done in fun. He knows that if he dictates to me too heavily then I will go on strike, which means I abandon the environments of the kitchen. He's pretty well trained with this now!

But worms. I have no worms in the ground I am digging. Only one fat one did I lift up recently, and with joy I welcomed the sighting of it. Never thought I would say that. But no. We have no worms. But we do have moles. Perhaps they are leading the way for the worms. 'Follow me, chaps' the moles might be saying, 'new territory ahead, but be careful of the fork descending from above. It is not the sign of an avenging angel, but someone who is trying to make life easier for us!'

With that thought, I go off to do some more digging. Oopps. Just remembered. Lester has gone off with Bruno to the donkey farm in Ju Beloc to get some more manure, and he has taken the fork and spade. Mmmm. Well..... since some of this manure might be destined for clod-land out front, and I will go cook his dinner instead! Methinks this is not a 'go on-strike moment' especially because he donned the hat of Tech-Team-Guy and sorted out my printer this morning.

Ooops, sorry, wrong photo!

Sharing a sunny dawn, poles, and other miscellenia

An early morning shot of our front field. I was having a wander around, having a look at this and that, and the morning was so lovely that I wanted to share it with you.

The dark green field belongs to us, the houses you can see are our nearest neighbours down the lane.

Same morning, and swinging right towards the house. This is the path between the field and the house.

And swinging right again towards the back field. In the background is the bridge over the Adour, and the road to Prechac and Plaisance.

Lester has been tree planting this week,(and here is one of them) having 'rescued' 6 fruit trees from a friends garden, bought several more from a man who was retiring from running his plant-selling business, and yet more from a nursery at Aire sur l'Adour. The donkey manure has come in very useful for this enterprise, and Lester is building muscles in abundance as he is also digging in loads of poles which resemble a mini-Colditz, but he assures me that it will look less like a prison when the wire is up (?), but I think it will look even better when the plants are growing on it and covering it up.

Five kiwi's are to be put there - we fell in love with kiwi fruit after having been given a bag full by Claudine of the Chambre d'hote (which you can see in the background. She had a load of them in the bottom of her fridge, which she had harvested in November last year. And they were gorgeous - nothing like the ones I've had from the UK supermarkets. Upon instruction from Claudine, we had to buy three females to one male kiwi plant, and much merriment was had by all as she tried to put across this message in her perfect-French and nil-English, to me and Lester who have partially-nil-French. In case we got it wrong we bought a mutli-sexed plant as well. So five in total are going in on the Colditz fence.

In the before-time of the Labartere experience, I had a garden which backed onto woods. For long summer days, through a time of water shortage, I had to water that garden by hand. Up and down those steps I went with my bucket, managing to survive the plants by my efforts.

Come the winter, on a garden reconnaisance trip, I noticed the plants eaten down, some almost to the ground. With horror I saw my efforts of the summer go down the drain, or rather down the throats of the muntjak deer who were jumping the low fence to partake of the nourishment that I had so kindly grown for them during the previous months. With hilarity did Lester enjoy my efforts at deer defence: recyled Christmas decorations, silver foil, knitting wool, old CDs. None worked, and since the new owners of the house thought it really cool that the garden was visited by deer, I gave up. There weren't that many plants left by the time we vacated the house.

Voila! Les Poles. And so I get my own back! Because we have deer here as well. HUGE deer, not little ones, who have eaten our cabbages already, which were the only crop we managed to get in last autumn.
But they didn't eat all of the plant, they just took a munch out of the top of it which is such a waste...after all, if one is hungry then one should take the lot, but they don't...just a mouthful of each one, that's all they take.

And Lester fumed with outrage at this theft, even threatening to join the chaisse (local hunting group) to kill them off. Only he won't do that, because I think he secretly enjoys having them around: on the first morning we arrived, after a humungous few days of effort, he saw a big male deer in the cornfield, and yesterday one bounded across our field into our woods. So I don't think he will shoot them, but he is becoming very guarded about our veggie plot: hence the Colditz fence. We also have wild boar around, although we haven't seen them on Labartere, but I did pass two road-killed boars the other day out on the D935, so they are definitely around. Normally the local people will retrieve the dead animal and cook it, but I suppose they couldn't do that with these two - they were splattered all over the road, so I presume the crows, magpies and eagles will have a feast. One had already tried and also ended up splattered.

So in this protected veggie plot we have onions already: loads of onions! Plus some soft fruit bushes which I keep meaning to put a net over to keep the birds off. Apparently they, too, like to partake of things we are growing, including the little buds on our fruit bushes. It would seem that being self-sufficient also means increasing the food table for the wild life. Ah well, c'est la vie!

Couldn't let you leave without showing you how we are getting on with the house. It has been a lovely week here, with the temperatures getting up to 25 degrees C here during the afternoons. So the builders are Somewhere Else. Being French, bless them, probably off somewhere enjoying the sun. But not to matter. With the roof project taking so long, it does give us a chance to consolidate our finances. If it had been done by now, which it was supposed to have been when we accepted the divi (quote) then we would be very near the margin financially. As it is, at least we have time for Lester to change course with work, and for me to get Labartere Publishing and the Holistic Therapy Shop going on my web site. So there is always a silver lining to be had when things don't progress at quite the pace one would like them to when they first start.

But at least the eaves are all up now, and my washing is getting dried - we did a swop recently: Lester's old computer for a French top loading washing machine. So the portable camp gadget which my Bruv kindly donated, and which has been used loads of times to get our washing done is now in partial retirement. It has done a grand job, but the plod of lugging buckets of water from the cold water tap to fill it up, and then warm water out onto the fields was getting a bit much in the really cold weather. Also standing outside to the washing was making bits of me go into complaining mode which even I could not eventually ignore! So, this load of drying washing is a bonus for me.

The mound of green tarp you see in the front is covering our leather settee, freezer and other stuff. When the builders started work everything had to come out of the half barn which was OK when the tarps were up on the tall barn. But along came that tempest in late January (re blog:A Big Wind) and off the tarps did come, so we have no dry space left in the house or barns. Does that matter? At first it did, and I doubt that any of our furniture will survive. But it doesn't matter. We can always replace what doesn't survive. But what we do have, which are more important, are the memories which we are laying down here, which are priceless.

And here is a sign of Spring, with frostiness icing this little plant which has decided it simply has to herald the arrival of warmer weather by putting on a growth spurt.

I think it is significant for us nearly having survived our first winter, camping out in our caravans, here at Labartere.