Wednesday 29 April 2009

Donations from the Universe

It is a very trying time for us at the moment. Having come through the winter intactus, apart from the gazebo being thumped into nothingness and the tarpaulins being shredded to pieces, by the Big Wind of January, we are still looking good.

However, we have a roof and lots of other stuff to be paid for, and we are winging it. What I mean is, that I know that we are meant to be here, because if we weren't we wouldn't be. Here, I mean. Which means that whatever is needed to be done in terms of making Labartere into our home, will be provided one way or another.

Simply put, I mean the finances. Lester is carrying the financial load at the moment, bless him, and is doing a stirling job. However, that does put loads of pressure on him. And I try to stay positive to help him, and keep saying over and over to myself, 'All good is coming to us' and 'Our way will be made straight' which are mantras of positiveness which I know will work because at other difficult times in my life I have said them over and over and over, and things have improved, far more than I ever thought they would. This was particularly relevant to just before we came here, during the selling of our UK house. Despite the worsening economic climate, we still sold.

But sometimes one needs a sign from the Universe that one has been heard. And here are ours.

Three lighters.

Now I don't blame you for wondering what these lighters have to do with signs from the Universe, but let me explain. A while ago I wrote a blog which included a piece on 'How to light French matches', passing on the helpful hint that a lighter is a must if one is going to succeed in getting a French match lit.

Following on from that blog, I continued to light the matches with lighters which came from our camping days in our motorhome. Then the lighters started getting tired out, refusing to help with the match-lighting anymore. Frustration was starting to nibble at me every time I tried to do the simple task of lighting the gas rings so I could cook dinner. It took so long to do such a simple task.

And then, out in the courtyard, there....right before my eyes.... was the pink lighter. And it worked! Enthusiastically! No one owned it, I did ask around, I promise you I did! But no. No-one did. Oh joy of joys! One less smidgeon of frustration to deal with!

But it didn't stop there! Because a couple of weeks later, out on the front drive was the white lighter. Meanwhile the green one had somehow appeared in the caravan kitchen.

And so, I must ask you to see my reasoning with this: does it, or does it not, look like the Universe is sorting out a problem, albeit a minor one when compared to everything else we have to sort out here. Not one, not two, but three lighters have magicked themselves here, and surely that means that the Universe is looking after us and I mustn't worry!

By such a signal I hope I am right in assuming that all the rest will drop into place when it is meant to.

Yippee! Dry Space!

Dry Space! We have dry space! The roofers, bless them, have put a spurt on this week, and from looking like it was going to be weeks before they got up to any part of the roof, it has happened! Et voila! The roof timbers have been repaired. The lining has been put on, and the battens nailed on to fix it down.
Their expertise was put to the test by a might big breeze of a wind, which did no damage apart from knocking over our one remaining cabbage-looking plant. Lester says it isn't a cabbage but something else, although he isn't clear what that 'something else' is! Anyway, I don't think we will have the opportunity to find out, judging by the sorry looking state the plant is now in.

And ........................ wait for it! Tumdetumderah! And again: Tumdetumderah!

And here be the very first new, brand-new, roof tile going onto Labartere.

And yet MORE tiles! Loads of them!

And I am going to close now, so you can have a pause to celebrate with us!

Monday 27 April 2009

Curry: Oops! Gate Post: Oops!

A bit of an 'oops' day today! Let me tell you about the curry first.

A good morning was had out in the front 'garden', bit of chatting with Sara of the camels, bit of digging (have forgone the spade and fork because they are hurting my knees, but now have become super efficient at another implement which I can throw over my shoulders similar to the action of a pick axe. Very good for the waistline and better for the back), a bit of grass clipping, a bit of stick-throw play with Boolie. All in all a good morning.

Lunch: curry today, it being the end of my shopping week. Started off OK. In went onions, end of bag carrots and potatoes, half a soft green pepper just on the turn, some old garlic bulbs which were sprouting, a few green lentils for bulk (makes it have a meaty texture), some grated ginger for a change, coconut milk, a little tin of tomato paste, chick peas,looking good. Now in 'lets throw all in' mode, in gungho fashion I grab a pot of 'curry' powder from my spices shelf.

And you know when you have a strong instinct that perhaps it is best to stop and have a pause before something dire happens? Well I had a moment like that just after unscrewing the lid off the jar and with great gusto emptying the whole lot into the curry now simmering away. I KNEW that something disastrous had occured. Yep. Mixed spice was what I had thrown in. Oh yuk! Merdre!

What to do! Didn't have the ingredients to start over. Nothing left in the cupboard really: best to try and repair the damage. So in went the curry powder, this time from the correct pot. A little sip. Yuk! Lemon Juice, a good squirt of (hopefully the couple of pips that fell into the curry will cook down and not end up breaking one of our teeth!). More water - 'lets water down the whole effect being my thinking'by now. Ah good idea - a stock cube perhaps. And inside my head a thought is saying 'no, no, don't do it'. But still I keep on going. Some salt. Some brown sugar. Another potato (don't know why I thought that would help!).

And as I was valiantly trying to save the curry, the curious thing is that I grew into an awareness that I was either making my best curry ever, or my worst!I thought about my writing, which is a bit like making that curry. Equipped with only an intent to write a book about a certain topic, like my original intent was to make a curry, how the book turns out once the ingredients have been mixed and mingled is the same as that pot of curry bubbling away on the stove.

If it is my worst curry, then fair enough, the others I make can only be better. But if it is my best - well, then it can never be repeated and all the rest will be less than this one. And I think this is the same as my writing. All the while I remain disastified and try to write better, then I can only become better. But if I regard my writing as the best I am ever likely to do, then I have peaked.

On reflection, I therefore hope the curry is edable. If not, then it will have to be cheese on toast. I also hope I never write my 'best ever book', because it would then become my last, because the subsequent ones would be second best. I hope I am able to maintain a 'let's try and do better' attitude for each book I write in the future, which means I have yards and yards of years ahead writing piles and piles of books!

And now to Gate Post: Ooops!
So I was on my way to the compost heap and "hello" I thinks to myself, "what's happened here?". For where there should have been a gate entrance there was now a pile of stone blocks obstructing my way. Being intent on the curry-project, it took a while to notice that where once there had been an old, tall, and quite imposing, gate post, now there was none. At all.

It was now undone. Dead. Mort. And lying in pieces down on the ground.

What had happened to have done this dastardly deed! What forces of nature had thrust the stones of this post apart!

But my head was full of the fumes of the curry, so I sort of 'saw' but 'didn't see' the rearrangement of the gatepost, and carried on with the day.

It transpired that one of the roofers had stood on it and knocked it over. And what a yarn-spin that was! It would have taken an elephant to have sat on that post to have got it to tip sideways. So I guess that we shall never really know how it got knocked down. Just another bit of Labartere's history dwindled away, like the sink which got cracked and my tea tray which got smashed. (my tea tray was a bit on the elderly side, the same as the sink and the post).

So, all in all, an 'Oops' day!

But we ate the curry, and the only comment which The Man made was 'interesting flavours in this one!'

The gatepost up!

The gatepost down!

Sunday 26 April 2009

Welcoming the rain

Sending you a picture of one of our trees in full seed production, unfortunately none of which are edable! But the seeds look nice when they lift away from the tree: they look like yellow snowflakes.

And what joy it was to hear the rain pattering on the caravan roof late last night. "Thank goodness", we both said in unison, "we can do more digging once the soil is wet".

And so it is that we are continuing to change from indoor UK-townie types, to outdoors, we-need-the-rain-so-things-can-grow people.

You see, once upon a time we would felt piddled off with wet weather. For Lester, it was either a wet cycle ride to work, or a very wet walk, or chancing going in the car which was a mini and didn't like wet weather at all, tending to stop if the puddles became too deep. Plus the on-going stress of whether to have the headlights on, or the windscreen wipers, or the heater because it fogged up inside like a sauna. He could never have all three switched at the same time, because then that perverse mini would go on strike and stop. For me, it was wet dog walks, bringing a very wet spaniel home and having to dry him off before he shook himself all over the carpet.

Now all has changed. The mini is still in the UK, minus us of course, Lester doesn't have to cycle the bike and only has a couple of yards to walk to get to work. The same for me. And we don't have to do wet dogs, because now Boolie doesn't like going out in the rain at all, whereas before, in the UK, he was always out of the door like a bullet every time it was opened, no matter what the state of the weather was. Not so here. Because he is outside all the time, he now likes to be inside during inclement weather. He will actually stand at the door and have a think about whether it is a good idea, or not, to go out.

And so the rain kept falling, all night did it fall. And when I woke up this morning, it was still raining, and with great relief I snuggled back down in my caravan bed, knowing that the rain was looking after our produce and that we could stand down from the task of watering it. I now find the rain a blessing rather than an irritation. It is, after all, part of the natural cycle of life. If it doesn't rain, nothing will grow.

I may need to be reminded of that when we hit the first of the summer storms in a couple of months time!

During a break in the weather, Lester headed off to the compost heap, and was brought to a standstill by the sight of a red deer standing under our oak tree eyeballing him. Another one came out of the woods and did the same. It would seem that they know us because they didn't scamper off with fright. I think they have been watching us. A part of us is troubled by this imminent threat to our food table. Another part of us is smiling at the thought of having deer so close by.

And arriving on Friday was the first of our roof-wood. Two huge beams, which were put in the same day by our stirling roofers.

The wood is now soaked. By the rain it has become soaked. The ground is now soaked. By the rain has it become soaked.

But we are looking good, because according to Meteo France, tomorrow we will have sun and clouds, which means we can get outside and do another couple of feet of digging. So..... although we got soaked today, it was all for a good cause. Because we might get to catch up with Denise over at Malarkey Manor's exhuberant growth rate for her produce. At the moment our tomato plants number five and they are a centimetre tall. The wild flower seeds are coming up, but are only showing two tiny leaves. The potatoes are doing well, numbering 50 plus, the kiwis are sprouting, and everything else is thinking about whether to wake up or not.

However, we do not have to water tomorrow, and we can go do a bit of digging because the rain, bless it, fell on us. Hopefully, some of our seeds will get going so we can get something planted in the open ground. And hopefully the deer will decide to be charitable and realise that perhaps they ought to eat other things, like the plentiful grass, or the ripening fields of oil seed rape.

Sending blessings out to you all, and hoping you have a good week....

PS. I haven't forgotten about telling you about the rotovator!

Thursday 23 April 2009

I didn't sleep very well last night...

Now I am supposed to be filling you in about the latest development with the rotovator. However, on a trip to the porta-potti, upon edging myself down on the low, open receptacle making sure I was aiming my posterior spot on ( there are no margins of error with a porta-potti. You are either on it, or off it and falling onto the floor), meanwhile trying to make the plastic lid stay up so it doesn't interefere with my landing, flashing into my head came this blog title.

Now this has happened to me before: for instance,a few days ago it was 'Pas Francais. Espagnol!' And the funny thing is, that they arrive in my head at exactly the same moment, which is like thus: Urge To Go To The Loo arrives. Hurry to the bedroom caravan hoping Lester hasn't locked the door. Things can get a bit desperate if I have to go hunt him down, and get the key off him to unlock the door. So, into caravan. Through washroom door. Into smaller space now. Bearing in mind that we are still in thermals and wearing layers, although not so many, it takes a while to get to the underwear. Time is pressing on. I am meanwhile turning myself round so I can position everything in readiness. To do this, I hold on the door frame of the washroom with my right hand, while the other hand tries to keep the lid of the porta potti up, and any item of clothing out of the way.

And Boing! THAT is when the ideas spring into my mind. Of all the moments when it would be best that they didn't, that is the moment they do! Why is that? Because it is such an awkward moment, there is no room to sit and write while performing the necessary ablutions, all I can do is ponder as to why I get inspiration at that particular moment. Yesterday, I distinctly got an idea about The Psychic Toolbox, which is my second book. It had been grumbling along, nearly done I thought, but then into my mind popped an idea about how to organise the early chapters which suddenly made the book come alive. I had, quite frankly, been getting bored with it and this would probably have reflected in the way in which someone read it.

And momentous life changes and decisions have also been sprung into my head when on the loo; proper loos, with proper toilet seats so I can lean my head against the wall and have a think, or write down my thoughts on the handily placed writing pad. (It is difficult to write on loo roll by the way, so don't try it. The loo paper goes all scrunchy and you can't read what you have written, this I found out after having been inspired to spill out a load of words early on morning, but used the loo roll because no writing pad was to hand. Also no pen, so used a lipstick. Not a good idea all round. The lipstick seemed to get everywhere, I couldn't read what I had written anyway because the paper went scrunchy and I would have been better off enjoying the physical moment of being on the loo rather than trying to write reams of words which were never going to be understood when I tried to read them later on!).

Ok, so I am receiving of inspiring thoughts on the loo. So WHY didn't I sleep very well last night?
Well, it had been a good day. Plenty of interesting things to do, and the sun shone until 8.30 which meant we were outside until 9. Then into the office to do some writing, then a bit of You-Tubing, then shut-down PC, time for bed.
"Have a look at this" says Happy Chappy Lester. "You will find this interesting....."
"Oh but Lester, it is nearly 11 and we need to get to bed." I say, trying to head towards the door.
"Just have a look at this before you go. It's about composting toilets."
My heart sinks. This one of his self sufficiency projects: having a compost toilet. Now I don't mind one outside, in the woods. And I don't mind wandering off down to the woods when I need to avail myself of the composting toilet facilities. But I have a problem with having one in the house. Apparently we could have a box downstairs, (a 'thunder box' is a term which is often used for these things) then use the loo upstairs. Down the chute into the box everything would go, there to sit for months, if not years, until it had composted down. The thing is, I DON'T want it in the house. Outside, yes. Inside, no. So my compromise is to have a composting toilet outside, down in the woods so no-one knows it is there, which we would use when it is sunny and warm, and then when the weather is otherwise, we would use the indoor toilet from which everything would go into the fosse septique, and disappear from view and my mind. Like what happens in the UK, with the normal sewerage system. You go. You flush. You shut the lid. Done. No worries. Off your contribution goes, into the sewerage system, without so much as a thought on your part as to where it is going to fetch up. That is not so here. What we recycle goes onto our land. Into the woods at the moment.

But Lester has been rigorously You-Tubing for compost toilets. And he had come up with " the best idea yet": Worm compost-toilet. What you have is a tub of worms in compost, into which one deposits ones doings, then the worms do the breaking down process, and hey presto, after a few months, wondrous compost to spread about the garden, as could be seen on the You-Tube video.

And the reason I didn't sleep very well last night was because the discussion about the viability of a worm compost toilet system carried on for ages afterwards, so that when I tried to finally go to sleep quite some time afterwards, all I could see was a pot of worms into which I was looing. It really does not work for me at all. I could do worm composting as Denise over at Much Malarkey Manor is doing. No problem with that.

But sitting on a tub of worms is absolutely not do-able. Lester said that they wouldn't get out because they would be busy eating things. Lester said that they don't bite, or want to eat me, because they just don't do such things. Lester said that we would be off-grid with the toilet, which we are anyway because there is no sewerage system here so he lost that argument. Lester said that John Seymour (we are fans of this wonderful man) would have had one. Lester said that I was being silly and squeamish. Lester said "ouch" when I rolled over to go to sleep and inadvertantly kneed him in a sensitive place. (Not meant, I assure you!)

And if you ever visited, how could I say to you, "There is the toilet. You have to put sawdust in when you have been. And don't mind the worms, they're friendly!"

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Hairwash day

And so it came to pass that it became the time of the Great Hair Wash. Not for all the many long months had this task been done. Inclement weather, loss of hairdryer (packed somewhere but know not where), and general lack of interest had put off this grand event.

But hang on a minute. That's not true about lack of interest. I WAS interested, only events kept conspiring against me. Like, boiling up several kettles of hot water was just not do-able when it came to hairwash time. It took too long. And anyway, I had read somewhere that if left long enough then one's hair would self clean. Well I did, and it didn't. But it looked OK, because I have had it up in a bun. But on catching sight of myself the other day, I was brought up short by the 'granniesh' look I seemed to have acquired. Now I know I AM a granny. But that does not mean to say I want to necessarily look like one. But then I don't want to do a 'mutton dressed as lamb' look either. Neither do I want to plaster myself in lipstick and filling.

So I have come to the conclusion, that Bohemian is good. Sort of ruffled. This was discussed before our move to France with Denise over at Much Marlarkey Manor, who also thought she could do Bohemian if I remember rightly. So what I do is, put hair in bun, but then ruffle it all up again so it looks like it hasn't been combed. Then I pull down some hair out of the bun again, so a little bit of it hangs either side of my face. When I get round to it I am going to make some dangly earings, which I think will look quite granny-bohemian. For the moment, my compromise towards this look is a scarf left floating rakishly round my neck.

It is an infernal nuisance really, as it dangles in all the food I cook and eat, and is involved in all my activities one way or another. Ah, but when I throw it round my neck, so it becomes artfully draped by default rather than be design, I feel me. You can see it hanging to one side of me in the photo.

The wetness of me is due to me trying to take a photo of me whilst applying shampoo and holding the shower head which kept spurting water all over the place. I seemed to be out of practice with shower heads. It has been a while.

So the day of the hairwash came. We now have a shower, which I haven't had the bottle to use yet but Lester uses frequently, and it was his inspiration that led to the Grand Event of the Hair Wash. When I was bewailing the fact that I couldn't wash my hair, he said 'I'll go heat the boiler up for the shower. You can use that'. It has only taken me three months to realise a solution to my hair wash problem. Sometimes I think I am a bit thick.

But yippeee! Hair done. All nice and clean. Sun was shining so it dried quickly, and I feel clean-granny-bohemian rather than camping-granny-bohemian, the flannel still working well for the washing of other places. All I need to do now is go sort out my ear-ring making equipment, and I shall be able to do Holay, Holay, Holay with our Spanish roofers. As you can see, I have not quite adjusted to them not being of the nationality that I thought they were.

I'll speak about the rotovator tomorrow.

Pas Francais. Espagnol!

I was going to tell you about the rotovator today, but first:

I have been so proud that 'French' roofers are repairing Labartere, and not anyone else of a 'foreign' nationality. It seemed to us important that since it is a French house, then it should be healed by French artisans. And I tell the French I speak to that this is so. 'Pas Anglais charpentiers. Les charpentiers est Francais' (not English carpenters, the carpenters are French).

We do not want to be seen as being English invaders. There are loads of English here, and most don't want to integrate with the French people. Yet in England it is frowned upon if people do not speak English and prefer to live in their national groups and maintain their homeland's cultural ways. The same here. There is a distinct sub-culture of English people, living as if they were in England, proud to own imposing houses which they wouldn't have been able to afford in the UK, which makes them pompous and arrogant. I don't think they mean to be, but most do not have respect for the country which is now housing them. They don't see the culture as being of any benefit to them: they are here for the sun (when it shines which it often does), the food (which is sometimes good sometimes not, as in all countries), and the way of life, which is laid back, and because they can get a big house for their money. They bring England here. They do not leave England where it is, and allow themselves to become gradually absorbed into France.

I think to come to live in a country and not want to integrate as much as one can by trying to communicate as often as one can to the people whose country it is, is insulting to those people. Rarely do I see any English person even make the effort to communicate with people like the lady on the till in the supermarket. These are the people I practice my French on

Most times they are terse, and quite rightly the French can be unhelpful back. We are immigrants, and I find that if one remains aware of this, and respectful to the fact that the French are having to tolerate a huge swathe of incomers most of whom can't be bothered, and do not want to, try and merge with them by making the effort at least to say 'Bonjour, ca va?' then the French are lovely. Yesterday a lady actually came up to me in the supermarket and initiated a conversation with me, because I had twice already commented on her garden as I passed it on by. My French is still minimal, but she was patient and we managed to communicate sufficiently enough to end up in guffaws of laughter. I try. I wish the other English would do the same. Because most times I tend to feel ashamed of the English here, especially the two-homers who gallop around the supermarket as if they own the place. Most of us genuine incomers tend to steer clear of being associated with them and never would I speak English in earshot of them.

And so, Lester was given a lift to the Galiax wood mill by Stephan. Now working on the half-barn roof, Dani had decided that two beams needed to be replaced. So off Stephan and Lester went, to purchase the replacement beams.

So on the way back, and Stephan puts some music on.
"That's not French music" Lester says.
"Non, je ne suis pas français, je suis espagnol! Il est la musique espagnol." says Stephan.
"Non, vous etes espagnol?"
"Oui. Et tous les charpentiers sont espagnols. Dani, et Jean-Michel aussi. Tous les charpentiers!"

Mmmmm. So let me explain! Apparently ALL the men working on our house are Spanish! Which is why we don't have the foggiest idea of what they are saying either to us, or when they are talking with each whilst working! But it isn't clearly Spanish they use, but is a curious mixture of Spanish and French.

Well, we don't have a pig's ear of a chance to get off the starting blocks with this one! They do, however, understand "voulez-vous une tasse de thé anglais?" (do you want a cup of English tea) and I understand "le gateaux. Vous faites? C'est bon" (the cake, you make? It is good). Somehow Lester manages to communcate better, I just smile. I can do French / English. I can't do Spanish-French / English!

I have blathered on for quite some time, so will let you know about the rotovator next time. But on a last note: When Lester almost had a fatal accident last December, and I was waiting for the ambulance to sort him out, I thought to myself "What would I do if he died?" And the answer I received back from myself was "I would stay here. I am here for the duration". It is with great pleasure that after ten months we know as many French people as we do English. And when out and about, I speak as much French as I do English, or try to. As I have said, it is a steep learning curve, but in my heart I have the deepest of respect for a nation with whom we hope to spend the rest of our lives.

And the roofers, albeit of Spanish nationality, have been hard at work on the half barn this week.

Holay! We are looking good!

Sunday 19 April 2009

And down the well we go

Actually, it was not we, it was Lester. I just clucked around him like one of Denise's chickens (over at Much Malarkey Manor).

The well is deep, you see, and Lester bless him, is gathering unto himself a number of scars from the bumps he keeps getting. Being at the bottom of a well is likely to produce quite a big bump.

But,"We need to get off-grid" is one of Lester's pet subjects. Off-grid for food, off-grid for electricity, off-grid for water, off-grid for fuel. So there I was, doing cookingy things in the kitchen caravan, Lester yells through the door as he passes on by "I'm off down the well. I've got an experiment to do with Bruno". Ah, Bruno. Whenever he appears there is normally some man-stuff going to be happening. Like disappearing down to the donkey farm, or clearing off into Plaisance for a boy's jolly round the market and the bar.
I was busy. Making bread. Hands sticky. Couldn't really interfere.

Clang. Oh-oh! Sounded like the ladders.

Bread slapped down into tin sharpish. I knew it was going to complain later because it hadn't been rolled around enough (bread does like to have a friendly romp around under the hands. If it doesn't get such nice treatment it tends to not bother rising properly, and fetches up less than lovely.) Out to the front I trotted, to see the ladders extending a couple of feet in the air, the rest being in the well. Lester's hat was disappering down the ladder, presumably still attached to Lester's head.

Bruno turned to me sweetly, and said 'Lester, he go down the well', which was obvious because now his voice was yelling out that he had reached the water, and could he have a bucket sent down so he could test the water and see how deep it was.

"eet ees exciting! Now you have water." Bruno says, full of boyish enthusiasm.
'No, eet eees not exciting' I am thinking to myself, my head full of worrying thoughts like 'what if he falls into the water, how deep is it? What if slips and hurts himself, how are we going to get him back up.' and "Lester, will you get yourself back up here" I find myself yelling.

"NO" he sends back up. "I want a bucket. Get me that red bucket". Oh, the red bucket which was originally purchased by myself for doing the floors with, or rather mopping the tarpaulins because we don't actually have a 'floor' in the normal sense. Not solid, indoor-type floors. We have caravan floors which are carpeted but covered over with towels and throws in an effort to keep them from getting too wet or too muddy, and they are getting bouncy, trampolin bouncy, the more we walk over them. One of these days we are going to step heavily and either end up going through the 'floor' or we will find ourselves hitting out heads on the ceiling by the bounce-effect.

I use the red bucket and mop to wash over the tarpaulins which lie outside around our living quarters. They don't look particularly attractive, but it is a case of either have wet caravan floors, or wet and muddy caravan floors, and the tarps cover the ground like an external carpet. Washing them over makes me feel that I am making an attempt at keeping the place clean. To be quite honest, it doesn't make any difference really, since we both wear boots which leave chunks of mud everywhere, except for Boolie but he has four furry feet which seem to gather as much wet mud as all our boots put together.

However, a while ago, the red bucket was found by The Man of the House, or rather The Man of the Roofless House, Two Caravans, and an Office. It is rarely seen. It is always Somewhere Else, being used for things it has no right to be used for. So now I am supposed to locate the red bucket and send it down the well to The Man so he can mess about in the water at the bottom of the well as an 'experiment'.

It was at this point I went off the boil with it all. I do that. Go off the boil. I happily go along with The Man's projects, and then I seem to reach a point when I rapidly lose interest, like a gas ring being switched off under a pan of boiling water.

So, I walked off, yelling back at him some excuse or other, leaving him and Bruno to sort out the experiment between them.

It went well, down the well. Bruno found a metal bucket which unfortunately had a hole in the bottom, tied it to a length of rope and sent it down to Lester. Apparently there was some altercation between them as to the angle of the hauling up of the bucket. Full of wet sludge, through the hole in the bottom of the bucket, much of the contents dripped back onto Lester as he stood up to his knees in the water. I know it was messy down at the bottom of the well, because I was handed a pile of very messy clothes to wash.

He was not best pleased that I lacked enthusiasm to join in the 'experiment' to get the well going. But I think that sometimes men are best left to get on with having their 'adventures', and him and Bruno enjoyed themselves more without a woman clucking around them, telling them to 'be careful', 'the bucket's got a hole in it, so it isn't going to be any good', 'you need a hard hat Lester', 'Bruno, be careful, that bucket's going to hit Lester on the head in a minute', and so on.

The upshot of the 'experiment' is that we can pump loads of water out of the well, which is running clear because it is being filtered through an ancient river bed system.

Bruno had just filled his swimming pool up with water from his well. We do not plan to have a swimming pool, we want a roof.

And Lester has come up with the stirling idea of building a water tower into which the well-water will be pumped, and from which all our water-needs can then be taken.
Unfortunately, a water tower is not something I can go along with. I think it will look 'orrible. So I have managed to get him to agree to a ground 'water tower'. What I mean is, a water tank at ground level, over which we will put a 'hat' of trellis and grow plants on it, so the tank will have a floral hat, which I think will look quite nice.

Pour ce momente, the well has been abandoned. The rotovator has been repaired and he is ploughing everything up. But I will tell you about that tomorrow. But the well-project has joined the queue for self-sufficiency-must-do. I await with interest Bruno and Lester's next experiment. Hopefully it will not involve buckets, ladders, and wells.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Sick trees & yogpots, rhubarb a go-go

Without wishing to pile a heap of 'I told you so's onto Head Gardener shoulders, with great dignity he agreed with me that donkey manure might not be quite such a good medium for starting little seedlings off. In my head, I think it is because donkey-wee is too strong. I don't know why I should think this, but I keep seeing a donkey weeing in my head when I think of the donkey compost. It may or may not be imagination, but it doesn't matter because my doubts have been realised. Despite instructions from Head Gardener as to how to prepare the manure, and his endeavours to plant a few pots out to show me how to do it, he met with a high failure rate as well. Actually not so much of a failure rate, more like zilch, zero, nil, not at all. This photo is of MY pots, and I did have a few brave seedlings come up.

Upon receiving new instructions from Head Gardener, I am to start all over again with purchased seed compost bought from a shop. It is hoped that sometime this year we will manage to produce something to put in our newly dug ground. It would be nice to get going with self sufficiency this side of Christmas.

And another thing. I had to do some strimming today, and felt miserable beyond belief that I had to cut down a very healthy swathe of nettles. For the duration of the cutting I could not get Andy's nettle beer (Denise's husband over at Malarkey Manor) out of my head. I felt as if I was letting the self sufficiency team down, and only managed to stem the building-up of guilt by telling myself that we will get to do recycling of nettles and other 'wild' produce in the fullness of time.

Like when we actually have a proper kitchen, like when we have a roof over our heads, like when we are in post-camping mode. It might take a long time. The roofers are managing about two days a week at the moment. We anticipate August, if we are lucky, for the roof to go on, and then we have to fit out the half barn to live in. Probably next year, then, for nettle recycling and dandelion jam, and the continuing retraining of ourselves to eat things from the natural world rather than from a supermarket shelf.

And then a walk round our front garden drenched us in a bucket of cold water figuratively speaking. For there, on one of our peach trees, instead of healthy green leaves, there were twisted up and gnarled ones. An Internet search came up with 'peach leaf curl' which 'cannot be done anything with once Spring arrives, and perhaps the tree will live, or maybe it won't.' I tell you, to actually get to eat your own food takes a heck of a lot of effort. As I have mentioned before, everything else is racing for the food table you have so graciously provided, and it would seem that all we will get at the end is what everything else doesn't want.

I have made a note in my diary to 'spray peaches in November, then again in January, and pick up all leaves in Autumn so the peach leaf curl culprits can't over-winter at the foot of the tree. I suspect my diary will get full of such instructions.

Head Gardener has a passion for figs. I don't. One huge tree is enough. I made thirty pots of jam last season, which was quite a feat on a caravan gas ring. But, HG thinks we should have more trees, so went on a raid for some fig cuttings (Black Fig) to supplement our two figs which are Turkey Browns. Unfortunately, No, No, don't be like that Vera!!! FORTUNATELY (that's more like it - a positive attitude is what is called for....after all, I might eventually get to like Black Figs, once I have got to like Turkey Browns. If one eats enough of them, surely they will grow on one!)it looks like most of his cuttings have taken, probably inspired to root by the Hormone Rooting Powder which was used on them.

And now, our FIRST MAJOR SUCCESS! Rhubarb!!!!! Brought from the UK last year, they survived in their pots somehow until they were planted out last October. And crikey but don't they like their new home. Galloping away with an enthusiasm which is astonishing, they are trying ever so hard to push out flowers, which I equally as diligently remove. But they don't seem to mind, even letting me have some of their stems to make our very first rhubarb and apple crumble, which was gorgeous.

We managed to enjoy the rhubarb before everything else woke up. Even the slugs and snails hadn't really had a go at it. And so this day draws to a close, and we feel suitable pleased with ourselves, because we are self sufficient in rhubarb at least. Hopefully the coming months will enlarge our self sufficient diet.


Oh, so, in early January a family visit was arranged for April. Gazebo was up. Plenty of space. No probs. Gite and chambre d'hote booked for family members, and looking good.

Late January, and the great wind killed the gazebo. Oh dear. What to do. No dry space anywhere except the original caravan. Would be a bit of a squeeze getting all of us in there. Visit would have to be cancelled. But it was booked. Didn't want to let the family down, so buried head in sand and hoped a solution would magic itself up. It did. Another caravan came onsite, together with an awning. Great! Could squeeze us all in there. Just about.

The family pow-wow. Missing some members, and me looking like Mrs Indiana Jones. I'm the one in white and wearing the hat.

This was on the one dry day. After that it was back-to-back days of rain. But our family rallied together, put their wellies on, and smiled their way through.

Not one word of complaint, not one word of moan. Soaked for a lot of the time, but stoical throughout.

And Labartere gathered to herself another little helper, by way of grandson Joshua, who absolutely loved the weather, preferring the wet to the sun I think.

More puddles, you see. More fun. The mud was an added bonus.

And a frazzled me, proud of the more stoical elements of the family, and glad that we all survived.

Everyone is back in their lives, and we are back in ours. But our visitors have left a bit of themselves here, and feel no distance at all away from us because of that.

Good memories are to be treasured. Not so good memories need to be evaporated away in the mists of time.

Monday 6 April 2009

Wild food revisited.

I am developing a passion I didn't know I had, and that is for herbs and 'wild' eating.
Following on from the blog 'Wild Eating' 16.03.09: I thought I sounded a real wooz about eating dandelions. Upon meeting Maddi (Bruno's wife) in the supermarket yesterday, I became enthused by her enthusiasm for the plant. Apparently it is good for all sorts of things including going to the loo (Number 1's). This was further inspired by Bruno popping along with Jade (his daughter) in tow, both on bikes, and carrying large baskets. They were off on a dandelion hunt.

And it occurred to me that looking for wild food in the wild itself might be fun. Ok, so I know that we aren't actually living in the 'wilds': two reasonably sized supermarkets are within half an hour drive of us, which isn't bad for France! But not to have in the larder, or awning in my case, food which has not been brought home in a bag is starting to grip my interest. Can I be bold enough to eat something which has not had a label on it? Can I have enough courage to go pick and eat wild plants, and make myself get past my reliance on supermarket 'fresh' produce?

Well, I am going to have a go! For today: Nettle tea. An Internet search has produced a recipe, which is really shoving some nettle leaves in a pot of hot water. Even I should be able to manage that. And in case you think I am avoiding dandelions, - I'm not. Only Maddi eats them as a salad, and trying to get Lester to eat a bowl of dandelion leaves is going to be an impossible task, so I thought I would be naughty and make a mixed salad and sort of hide a few dandelion leaves amongst the lettuce.

Mmmmmmm. Need to make a salad for lunch then. Better pop into the supermarket and buy a lettuce! It would seem that we are quite some way off self sufficiency at the moment!

Sunday 5 April 2009

We have been raided!

Oh, but we have! Over the last couple of weeks, I have done thrice daily trips down to the little cold frame out by the colditz poles / soft fruit plot. On hands and knees I have been observing life, or rather, lack of, in the yogpots I have planted out with various seeds, until yes! We have life!

Well, we did yesterday. On a 'put the babies to bed' trip last evening I peered, and I peered and I peered. Down on my knees I went to have a closer peer. SURELY there had been more little green sprouts sprouting up than were showing now.

"Lester" I called out, "Where have the seedlings gone!"
"Dunno" he said, a little tetchily as if I was accusing him of making away with them. Then in an 'I told you so' tone of voice he went on "I said it wasn't a good idea to put them in there. I said they wouldn't like it".
Oh so, they had cleared off now they were born? Decided that this hotel wasn't good enough, and taken a toddle off along the lane to a more preferable residence? "It must be slugs" I yelled back.
"There aren't any slugs in there, I would have seen the trail. They must have just died. I told you that they wouldn't do very well in there."
"They were alright at lunchtime..."
"Did you water them?"
"They were alright, I'm telling you." With that, I went into a huff, scooped up all the little yog pots and with a "It's probably that blasted donkey manure you made me use for compost. It's probably overwhelmed them and they've given up" flung over my should at him, I marched back to the kitchen caravan with my pots, leaving a scattering of slug pellets in the now defunct cold frame just for good measure.

And I was right! Because not only were there SLUG TRAILS in the yogpots which were there for all to see when we looked at the pots this morning, plus stumps where once there was a seedling which has now been sent heavenwards, or rather down the throats (if they have one) of the slug which has eaten it, BUT in the redundant cold frame there were loads of titchy slugs, all now lifeless. I stifled my immediate thoughts of 'oh, I've killed the babies', when I saw a huge 'mother' slug nearby who was also mort.

With great glee, I took Lester to show him the evidence. Since he knew he was treading on a fine edge, he aggreed that I was right about the slugs, and that I was 'doing a fine job' with raising the seedlings, and 'what are we having for dinner today, you are such a good cook' he said endeavouring to placate me knowing full well that often on Sunday I go on strike!

In the pots were aubergines, courgettes, broccoli, and others. But we have been raided by slugs using the contents of our yogpots as their table food, so we will have to start over again. The trials and errors of smallholding does keep one on ones toes, and it really is a battle to stop everything else from eating our food before we get the chance to do so.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Off to the flicks we go!

"Where have you been?" I said to Lester, after he disappeared for a couple of hours the other day. He had been last seen talking to Bruno, which does not always bode well. They are like a couple of lads when they get together, and tend to wander off to do boy-o things. Like going on the hunt for manure, or investigating the entrails of Bruno's ancient tractor, or discussing how to retrieve the wood from under the bridge out in the middle of the river, etc.
"We went into Plaisance", he said, "Bruno took me to the market and we had a coffee in the bar, then we went into the post office, then the bank, then we had a look at what's on at the cinema."
I frowned. "I thought you were over at Bruno's".
"Well, we were, then he said 'let's go and do some shopping for some more fruit trees in the market - it's on today' and you know I want some more fruit trees (do I? He's already planted 30) so I went with him. Did you listen out for the phone?" (I do secretarial duties when he isn't in the office in case the office in the UK call him.)
"No" I said, feeling left out of an adventure which I wouldn't have minded going on myself. " What's on at the cinema?"
"A sci-fi. We're going tomorrow night."
"Oh, are we!"

So we went, collected by Bruno who parked at the bar in Prechac on the way, so we could have a drink first. And a bag of French fries. Cooked in a van parked outside of the bar.
"It's really great, being able to eat like this" Bruno said, as he unwrapped the nicely wrapped parcel of fries onto the table. " You know, we only have restaurants here, or we have to cook ourselves. It is good that we can buy food like this. It's a new thing here. "
Lester and I looked at each other, remembering the fast food culture of the UK. Another reminder of how different the two cultures are. However, the fries were nothing like the chip-shop chips back in the UK; these were seasoned, and crisp and very more-ish.

Nous arrivons au cinèma: "Oh, an English film: Nicolas Cage, no less, in Prédictions" I said, thinking 'Great! French subtitles!' Oh but where is the queue? Perhaps everyone is already inside, time is getting on. Ooh, a bag of popcorn perhaps? Or some sweeties?

No. No people. No popcorn. No sweeties. The cinema would be the equivalent to an updated village hall, only better: more cinema-like, less Women's Institute. It was lick-spit clean, freshly painted, and cosy. Not like those huge cinema complexes of our pre-France days, where one was encouraged to gourge oneself senseless of loads of junk-type food while standing in the queue, or going straight inside if one was lucky, after first having found the correct screen out of several others. Straight in we went. No nibbles. Plenty of choice for seating: apart from one other, we were the only three. Oooh, the seats were soooo comfy. And clean. No litter anywhere. Around the walls were posters of coming films. No adverts. There were no adverts anywhere.

Film starts. Directly it starts. I nudge Lester "Where are the adverts!" I whisper in his ear, in a curious way missing the loss of the minutes of my life having to watch the pre-film stuff relevant to UK cinema showings which sort of prepare one for the film to come.

Nicolas Cage is on screen. Mmm. Subtitles? Mmmm. No! Looking forward to hearing his lovely deep drawling voice, I am momentarily thrown into confusion by the foreign language which is emitting from his mouth. It takes me but a few seconds to realise that he has been dubbed. I thought it was the influence of the French fries, it being a while since I last ate out of a chip packet.

Was the film good? Well, it was a fun evening. And the film had me rivetted, mostly because I was trying to make out the story line. It was one of those films with a lot of chases, crashes, spooky houses, and make-you-jump moments but not in a hairy-scary way.

However, I had to do a search on the Internet this morning to find out what it was really all about, and it is called 'Knowing' when spoken in English. Probably if I had heard it in English, I would most probably understood it more. But I am in France, and I will go to the cinema in Plaisance again, the main reason being that the evening was such a simple, pleasurable experience. No adverts, and no seduction for buying naughty foodies, seemed to strip away un-necessary excess. We went to see a film, and we saw a film, and we had no extra clutter to get in the way.

It was another grand evening in France.

Val's Duck

Back aways, after the great wind of late January, angels descended from the Vienne going by the name of Val and Ron. In tow behind them was the replacement caravan for the now-dead gazebo which had done us proud all through the winter, and in the back of their car: fodder. Val is an excellent cook, and came with provisions. PLUS, meat from her smallholding: leg of lamb, lamb chops, and pieces of stewing lamb. Plus some local pork. AND a duck. All frozen. We have no freezer. Down the road to Sara of the Camels the meat went, there to reside for a while.

And it came to the time of distribution. Along to Sara I went. On my bike. There to retrieve but only a portion of the meat, the donated pieces being bigger than I thought. A bike is not the easiest of vehicles to manage when the handle bars are festooned with plastic bags carrying chunks of frozen meat. Tends to make the bike feel unsafe as the wobble factor increases.

Met, at Sara's, a white camel who a Dutch girl had had shipped down from Russia or somewhere similar, so she could learn to ride it and then travel back to Holland via one of the pilgrim routes of which there are quite a few. However, the camel was too young, so she had bought a donkey from the Ju Beloc donkey farm which Lester and Bruno have raided for donkey manure, said manure being a subject I raise quite frequently in these blogs. Anyway, here she is, on a practice walk up by our bridge. At the time this was taken, the donkey was having a bad moment: he doesn't like dogs, and he doesn't like cars, and he doesn't like bridges. Put the three together, and on strike he goes. He is actually heading in the opposite direction to the one she wants him to go in and she is trying to pursuade him to turn around. It had already taken her ages. He is a stubborn fellow. She leaves today. I think 'all best wishes' are urgently needed for her.

So, duck and pork retrieved. Pork went into pot. Duck was donated to Claudine and Daniel over at the Chambre d'Hote to say 'thankyou' for all the help they have given us, and for the splendidly huge repast they invited us to on New Year's Eve. And it wouldn't have gone into the caravan oven anyway. It was well received.

An email arrived shortly afterwards. To dinner we were invited. Our hearts sank. They only speak French. It can be a long evening when one doesn't. We wrote back with a 'yes', there being no way we could do a tactical withdrawal.

Wednesday night: over the road we went. Starter: cochon noir pieces. Next: Cheese souffle. Followed by: Duck, quartered. With flagelout beans. Then: Hard goat's cheese, soft goat's cheese (from local goat farm - we are going to recce that out when we get the chance). Next: Cake made from Daniel's Mum's recipe. Then: prunes in almangnac. All interspersed with quantites of red wine, and white wine which is like nectar and nothing have I ever tasted which is as delicious as that wine.

So the duck was laid to rest. I was proud of the fact that it was my English friend who had provided it, - the French have a tendancy to make jokes about the English infront of us. Since we can't understand their language they think we don't know that they do. But they can never disguise the word 'Anglaise' sufficient for us to remain oblivious to their in-house jokes. Curiously, we don't mind. It is their country, after all, and the English do not always show themselves very well here. We feel as if we are good ambassadors for the England because at least we are trying to integrate with the French community, and Val's duck, that very kind donation, pushed us forward with this. Not one word of English was spoken, although there was another guest sharing the meal, who did. But he gave no quarter to us, which is another thing we are finding: that the French will not speak English until we have made the effort to speak French first. And I think this is quite right and I have much respect that they do this. As I say, this is their country after all.

We survived the evening. And felt all the stronger for doing so. We managed to hold our own with French conversation, Claudine has invited me along to the local swimming pool on Monday afternoons if I can find my swimming costume, and the Duck was great.

So thanks to Val and Ron, thanks to Claudine and Daniel, and thanks to the Universe for giving us an opportunity to partake of an evening of excellent French hospitality.

Now onto the leg of lamb.......

UPDATE ON THE DONKEY-GIRL: She is on her way, having just this minute passed by. A minor problem is that it has taken her nearly two hours to get to us from Sara's, which would normally take ten minutes walking time if without a donkey who is not enthused about embarking on this adventure.

And I think of the other people I know of, who are also embarking on 'mad-cap' ideas, who are having a go a doing something different, including us. And I think how safe the majority prefer to stay, and how few 'have a go'.

It is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all. As Dianne, a fellow English woman, said yesterday: "I don't want to be one of those people who say 'Oh I wish I had done this, or I wish I had done that, but now it's too late.' " I agree with her totally. So good luck to the madness of the Donkey-Girl, however far she manages to get towards her goal of Holland. Even if she decides to pack it in at four o'clock today, at least she gave it a try. But then, she might surprise herself, and get further than what she thought, and she might learn a lot about herself along the way.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Psychic Virgin

I have been deep in the bowels of Psychic Virgin for the last few days, and yippeee! Just one more quick once-over and then finito for this stage of the book's life. It has taken three years! Crikey, but I can't believe what I've got up to during those years! Anyway, it's done now. All I have got to do is sell it! Am now doing the sister book, which is The Psychic Toolbox, which is mostly written and just needs tidying up. Or so I thought, until I started working on it today. But, PV is now just about ready to venture out into the world. It is at this point that it is best not to look at the thousands, if not zillions, of other books all jostling for position in the sales lists. 'Grit your teeth' time now.

And here is a photo of the bookcover taken from Lulu, the printer/publisher. All designed by me, so has a kind of 'not quite right' look about it! But, it didn't cost me anything, and is original, and it will do.

Oh but it is my baby! And just like any baby in its infancy, it has been sometimes troublesome, given me acres of sleepless hours during the night, has often come perilously close to being thrown out of the window but wasn't, needed loads of fuss and attention, sometimes behaved and was a joy to have around, other times it was a case of 'what the hell am I doing' interspersed with 'well, I thought it a good idea when this got started'.

And now it is done. All I have got to do is press the 'Publish' button, and it will be off out into the world. Will it succeed? I haven't the faintest clue. But it will be a pleasure to say in the future 'I have written a book'!

Off we go now, over to Claudine's at the Chambre d'hote, for dinner. I think they said Wednesday when they invited us over.