Tuesday 30 June 2009

How to keep cool

I wasn't going to pop a blog up today, then thought I would.

First of all, for all you UK people experiencing some hot weather, here are some helpful hints from down here in SW France where we are more experienced with dealing with the heat.
1) Keep your clothes on. If you don't, and you get hot, then rivers of perspiration will run down all the crevasses of your body and will make you feel jolly uncomfortable. OK, so your clothing might feel a tad on the damp side, but it is much better than being in a shower of your own making.

2) When the heat is making you feel cooked and tired, just say to yourself: at least it's not raining and it's not cold.

3) I find that jam making in the caravan kitchen is a great way to cool down. Since the task itself requires heat, then that, plus the environment of the caravan on a hot day, will inflate the air temperatures no end. Once the task is finished, when one goes outside into the heat of the day, by comparison the temperature will feel cooler. After all, one is not standing infront of a gas ring going at full pelt, stirring a large pot of sugar and fruit.
If you do not have a caravan so you can't avail yourself of this cool-down hint, then switch on your gas fire for a few minutes, roast yourself infront of it, get yourself to sweltering-temperature, then off outside into the sunshine. As I say, by comparison, you will feel automatically cooler.

4) The need to have a siesta will come upon you the more the temperatures go up. Do so. Your body is working very hard to keep you cool so it deserves a bit of time out, and would appreciate you getting off your feet so it can have a rest too.
This might be difficult if you are in an office environment however. Shutting the office door and having a five minute kip on the floor is perhaps not the best activity to be engaged in. Others might misconstrue your floor-pose, believing either that you have fainted and then try to rescucitate you, or that you have gone on strike, or that you would like some titillation. So, sorry, I am not sure how you would go about a siesta in these circumstance. Five minutes on the loo perhaps?

5) Drink plenty of water. Your body will moan at you if you don't. The first sign that it is unhappy is when you can't do number two's but feel you want. to This is because your bodily fluid is coming out through your skin and there isn't enough to sort out the plumbing system of your nether regions.

6) Don't mind if your partner doesn't want to do 'spoons' at night. This is when you tuck up with each other, one front against the other's back. It does not mean that they are going off you, just that they are too sweaty and don't want to soak you as well. If you do feel that there is a bit of a gap between you in the bed and you don't like it, you can always slide a foot across the gap, and park it up on your partners body somewhere. That will keep a contact between you. However, if your partner rolls over suddenly, you might find your foot trapped beneath their body, so be watchful with this.

7) I touched on this in a previous blog, but wearing a hat when doing tasks will sop up the moisture which will run down your face and into your eyes as you get hotter, and might cause difficulties at moments when it is important to have full vision. I suppose a headband would suffice if you haven't got a hat, but I like hats because you can play with them when talking to others.

8) Don't moan about the sun, and how hot it is. Go outside and enjoy. Sit under a tree and watch the shadows. Think about the coldest day you remember and feel blessed that it is warm and you don't have to wear thermal vests.

9) Hot weather will encourage the midges to bite. There are plenty of creams on the market to remove the itch, but putting a nice large nugget of spit on the tip of a finger and smearing it onto the bite should help, but if you simply have to itch, then here is how you do it: Put the tip of one finger onto the tip of the bite. Then use your other fingers to scratch round the bite, all the while keeping the original finger in place. This method gives you a hearty good scratch without interfering with the top of the bite which, if you do scratch the actual top, will make the entire bite worse. Scratch the surrounding environment of the bite, not the actual bite itself.

10) Abandon your car. Don't give in to the herd mentality of 'going out for a drive'. All you will do is probably end up in a traffic jam. If you feel the need to have some water to immerse yourself in, get a bowl of water and put bits of you in it. Or use the hose pipe on yourself. Or walk to the local swimming pool, lake, stream, river, or beach. It is better for your lungs and general health if you do partake of a huge intake of petrol or diesel fumes as you wait for the next car to move infront of you.

11) Ban TV. Take every opportunity to get out into the air, after all, in the UK, sun is not always in bountiful supply.

So, I hope these hints help you to also enjoy the warm days. Meanwhile, here at Labartere, no builders today, but Johnathen has been working in the half barn. I have been jam making, blogging, and doing some final editing on Psychic Virgin. Lester has been hard at work on his PC. Three more months before he finishes his present employment, he was told today. The company he is working for is folding, and being gobbled up by its parent company which is also probably going to fold. Not to worry though. He has managed to get over a year's salary from them, which has enabled us to push forward with the renovation work.

Things I have learnt today: That keeping in the saddle can be quite hard work, but it one does feel like one is going to take a tumble, just pick up the phone and have a girly chat with one's daughter or one's friends. This will help one keep astride the pony which is one's life.

Monday 29 June 2009

Team effort sites the beams

With a roar this machine turned up just before lunch. Quietly it snoozed in the baking hot sun. So did we. Well we tried to. Managed five minutes, then the machine was woken up and that was that.

Time for the poutres to go in! Yippee! Been waiting for this event for weeks, if not months. And now the time has come!
Up comes the poutre......(Danni is in charge of all of this)

Down into position it is guided......

To be tested by Lester when all nine were in place and Danni and company had left.

Phew! Everyone dripped, including me who was watching the proceedings from the only shaded area which was beneath the gate arch. Boy oh boy, it was a hot one today.

Things I have learnt today: That it is useful to wear one's cotton hat when cooking in the caravan on a seriously hot day, as then one's sweaty brow will be mopped up by the hat before rivers of sweat run down into the eyes which could cause an inconvenience if one needs to get things out of the oven or off the stove.
That it is useful to keep a glass of cold water in the fridge which will quickly cool down any little burns one acquires because one did not pay attention to the previous learning quick enough, and as a result ended up with eyes full of salty water at an inopportune moment.

Sunday 28 June 2009

The plant that came down the river

Last year, with the river starting to rise with the start of its winter waters, I took the last walk of 2008 upon our beach. And growing within the stones was a plant which said 'Save me. Don't let me drown.' I heard its request, and transplanted it into the front garden uncertain whether it was going to survive, but at least it had a better chance than being subjected to the flood waters of our river.

I don't know where it has come from. From upriver obviously. The Pyrenees? Possibly. But from somewhere it has come. And stopped. And grown.

Springtime saw it still with us. Late Spring, and it was being eaten to pieces by caterpillars. I dispatched the caterpillars to heaven, with an apology, but with firmness. And the plant grew up and up and up, until out of the top came this flower head.

Et voila! La plante. I said I would have a go at growing its babies on, if it would be so kind enough to set seed.

I like the thought that we have saved it. I like the thought that it has travelled from somewhere else up river. I like the thought that it has made its home with us.

By the way, the field you can see in the background is our side field, getting ready to recover its energy after being host to the oil seed rape, which has now been harvested.

And the oak tree beneath which I sit on hot summer afternoons. That, too, is taking off at a good gallop now it is no longer smothered by brambles. I had to ask its permission the other day to remove some lower branches which were threatening to thwack the flower head of the plant which came down the river and decapitate it.

And swinging to the left, here are the meadow flowers which are going to be growing in profusion everywhere on Labartere. We bought a huge bag of seeds in the spring, but only managed to plant a handful.
Next year all will go in. The bees love them. So do we.

And may I present to you the photo shooter. HG no less.

New camera finally unpacked, (bought from the UK before we emigrated), batteries put in, HG takes command of its first trial run, and here he is to prove that he did just that.

The camera is a special one, which must not be carried around in one's pocket in case a photo shoot opportunity arises, but must be kept safely on one's desk for special use. These are HG's instructions.

He is right. This camera is for my work. The other is for play.

Things I have learnt today. That messing about with cameras is fun. That one should not get so involved with the funning that one forgets to watch the cake in the oven or the bread which was put to rise and is now overflowing the tin and is making a mess, which serves one right for being so inattentive. One has already learnt how to deal with cake which is singed. A reminder? Oh just scrape off the carbonised bits.
That one must really try not to get irritated when one's neighbour (actually Sara) has tomato plants with huge trusses of tomatoes on, when one's own tomato plants are still thinking about whether to grow or not. The camel poo in which they are planted might be assisting in their growth. And since there is a handy pile of camel poo now out by the veg plot, one is going to pop out back while HG is elsewhere, and resite a bucket of said poo to see if the tomato plants here might wake up and start growing. Else they will be put in the river to go live elsewhere.

Have a happy day. Au revoir.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Wafts of pleasure

Johnathen has been here for most of the week, working on the ceiling in the half barn and patching in some rather large holes in the low side wall which is going to be covered with plasterboard as well.

This is the only place in the house which will have one of its walls covered over in this way. And the reason why we decided to do this is because the ceiling is going to be boarded between the beams to cover over the insulation which is going in, and we needed to put a match for the plasterboarding somewhere else in the space. Johnathen was keen to cover over all of the walls. We said NO. One wall only. And the electrics will be hidden as well behind the boarding on that wall.

And so he sanded down the beams, two new ones and two old ones, sprayed all the wood with anti-termite stuff. And then painted all the wood with this divine mixture which has linseed in it.

I have been informed by HG that since we will have a large amount of wood in the house eventually, to expect the smell of the linseed mixture to be more or less always present. Apparently all the wood has to be washed over with the mix once or twice a year. We are going to have wooden ceilings downstairs. Much wood. Loads of linseed. Wafts of pleasure. Because the smell is absolutely gorgeous.

I keep popping into the half barn just to have a sniff. But then I also have a huge liking for the smell of creosote. I am even getting to be more comfy with the wafts which are emanating from the two dustbins in which are cooking nettles to make a fertilizer for the plants. Take it from me, that it is an unbelievable odour, oops! I mean, aroma!

So here is the half barn, with all the wood pristine and perfumed.

Tasks for next week: Electician to put the spot lights and plugs in. Builders to continue to break up the old flooring in the house, and prepare for the new flooring to go in. Johnathen has laid the foundations in the roof for the plasterboard, so will presumably continue with that once the electician has been in.

I am proud of our progress here. On some things we are not as far forward as I thought we would be, but on others we have made good progress. I thought the house would not have her roof on for two or three years, but that is happening quicker. I thought we would be further forward with our animals, but lack of time and the fact that much of the home-farm land where the animals will be kept is being used for the building work does not make this a a do-able project at the moment.

However, Sara of the Camels often brings us eggs to trade for sundry bits, such as Lester's skill at PC repair, and of late has been swapping lettuce, onions, and plants. It is a good trade.

Otherwise, we are starting to become familiar with the ongoing task of rotational crop planting in our veg plots. The fig tree has gone bonkers this year, so will have to start accumulating jam jars now ready for the fig harvest later on. Sara donated us some paper sacks to keep our potatoes in, and they are being stored in the half barn which is the coolest place for them. My fingernails seem to have a permanent portion of earth in them, and I am always in trousers now because of the gnats flying up and settling themselves on my knicker line if I wear a skirt.

But I have a liking for the waft of linseed. It smells very homely. If you would like to have a waft as well, just let me know and I will send you a sample in the post. I won't, of course, send you one of our beams, but I will send you a dab on a piece of calico.

Meanwhile, bon weekend, and signing off from here down in the South West of France.

Friday 26 June 2009

On camels and poo

Lunch. Last mouthfuls being eaten. Car door slams shut. 'Oh who is that for Heaven's sake' we think to ourselves, seeing our after lunch half hour siesta disappear down the shute. It's Sara. But hooray! In the back of her car she has managed to jam in five black plastic rubbish bins and they are full of camel poo. NOT donkey poo, as has been already spoken about here, but nicely rotted down doings from her camels.

Wow, but wasn't Lester pleased, even though he was busy chewing the last mouthful of his lunch as he surveyed the aromatic bins. "Round the back" he said, and off they went to put their precious cargo on top of the severely depleted pile of donkey manure.

UG to the rescue. (A reminder that as helper to the Head Gardener known as HG, aka Lester, aka Hubs, I am sometimes designated with the title Under Gardener, aka UG) Into the motorhome I got, down the road I went, and an afternoon of camel poo shifting then transpired.

Thought you might like to see Sara's pad. The huge tree is a mulberry tree under which everyone sits and eats the mulberries as they fall onto the table. They are delish.

Oh now here is the white camel, busy chewing on a piece of grass. This is the one who has rickets, but is doing a whole lot better since it came to the farm.

And just to prove what a busy UG I have been today, here is the evidence of the new contribution to the poo-pile.

Things I have learnt today: That when a camel looks like it is going to charge you as you are carrying a bin full of its poo from its bed in the camel barn, across the camel paddock, under the electrically wired fence and then to the white van, that is really only trying to tease you into walking fast.

Best to walk slowly, as then the camel thinks that you are not fussed about playing with her. If you show any willingness to walk faster, then she thinks that yes, you do want to play and may then make a little charge at you.

Since camels are quite big, and we are quite small in comparison, this can make the whole experience of shifting the poo rather intimidating, especially because I had to make eleven trips across the enclosure for one van load of manure. We filled the van five times. 5 x 11 = 55. Fifty five trips through the paddock.

Not to worry though. Once you have bobbed under the electic fence then you are safe. Not that you are unsafe when you are with them but they look a tad on the big side when one is up close.

If the camel is bored it will hold herself aloof, and turn its head away. If she is willing to have a play, then she will look you straight in the eye and dare you to walk faster. She might even gang up with her mates along the fence so you have to either go round them all, or push through the middle of them, saying in a sing song voice "Coming through", meanwhile keeping a nice even rhythm to your stride. I erred on the sensible. I went round the long way.

I learnt that the electic fence doesn't actually pack too much of a wallop, but it is best to be careful especially if one is stroking the nose of a camel at the time. Only if one's elbow accidently touches the electric cable and that elbow is the same one which has the hand attached to it which is the same hand as is stroking the nose of the camel then the electrical charge will zoom up one's arm, through one's hand, and on into one's fingers. Unfortunately, when it has reached your outer limits it does not stop, but carries on. Right on into the nose of camel which one's fingers were gently caressing seconds before.

Not to worry though. The camel will only toss its head into the air with alarm, and will possibly do a couple of bucks and kicks in dislike of the transfer of the electrical shock into its body via its nose, but as long as one is one side of the fence and the camel is the other side of the fence then all will be well. The camel will soon forgive you. In time. Best to go have a glass of wine and wait a while though before going to get another load of manure from its house.

That it makes for a fun afternoon digging the poo with the camels keeping an interested eye on you just in case they can do a bit of mischief, and that the young man who was my assistant for the poo-dig was equally fun company and gave me a few hours of stimulating conversation ranging from space tourism (he was going to start saving up to buy a ticket for a trip into space) to Ibiza (he wanted to see the 'pretty ladies'), to driving with gears (they only do automatics in Canada, which is where he comes from), to 'how does it feel to have Chinese ancestry' (his parents are Chinese), to physics and the energy of life and the Open University learning I have done (wow, I could remember quite a lot of physics from my physics course sufficient to engage in quite an enjoyable discussion with him), to keeping chickens (we still don't), to keeping positive as best one can during the helter skelter ride that is one's life.

I felt I was making an difference to his outlook on life. And that, at the age of sixty plus, makes all the years I have travelled worthwhile.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Big harvesting

And with a huge bang and a clatter, and much largeness of noise this monster of a machine gingerly negotiated its way past the half barn and veg plot with hardly an inch to spare. On its way to the front field was.

Harvest time for the oil seed rape.

It just about got past the cement mixer and the lorry parked up loaded with wood for the house roof.

Then off down the field, chomping and cutting, filling its belly with seed, belching plumes of dust that would do justice to a mini sandstorm in the Sahara.

It was oh so hungry, that machine, and was ruthless in its eating of the rape.

And after its meal there wasn't much left, only stiff dry stalks.

So now the fields are back in our hands, and we can once again walk round them which was something we have been prevented from doing for the last three months due to the vigorous growth of the oil seed rape. We missed the daily walk around the permiter of our land, and although the stubble is unpleasant to walk over, at least we can now do that again.

It feels like we are being submerged with machinery at the moment, all doing Big Jobs.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Waiting for the bread to cook

So I was sitting in my rocking chair in the awning waiting for the bread to cook knowing that if I was to vacate this spot and go somewhere else that the bread would inevitably burn because time would pass and I would get interested in another occupation and it would slip my mind about the bread in the oven and the bread in the oven would therefore become singed. Maybe even burnt black. It has happened. Best to stay put, and wait.

And my eyes idly wandered over the scene infront of me and I thought you might like to share it with me.

Here is the view to the left.

And looking to the right.

Adding left and right together.....

The floors of the main house are still being dug out and the half barn had its beams sanded down and sprayed with anti-termite stuff today.

And I am still smiling, and hoping it will all come right in the end.

What I have learnt today. Actually not much really, only that wearing a hat is fun, mops up the perspiration when one is cooking in the sauna of a caravan, that it can be used as a extension for graphic descriptions when in conversation with Hubs and builders and friends, and that Sara wears one yellow shoe and one blue shoe because it makes her smile, and wearing my hat and playing around with its position on my head also makes me smile. It must be the open air life that gives us the predisposition towards eccentricity.

What I have learnt today: that it's lovely to be eccentric!

Monday 22 June 2009

A day in the life of...

Up with the lark this morning. Well, not quite. Sort of like a slow snail pace rather than a 'let's zip along into the day'. Thirty minute dig out front, one hour walk with Boolie but not jogging today - some power walking, some slowing-down walking, some 'let's stop and talk to the river, the cows, the trees, and anything else' type of walking, and one set of ten joggy-ish running steps followed by ten power-ish walking steps, after which I fell into 'amble-mode'.

Back at base camp, thirty minutes weeding of bed beyond the oak tree, then tea on, Lester roused, toast made, all is quietly on the move. But no builders. That's OK. All is peace.

Out front, armed with strimmer, do thirty minutes of grass cutting. Then thirty minutes of weeding again, apologising to the shrubs planted in early spring for my lack of care as I removed all manner of hangers on from around their feet.

Late morning, sun starting to turn up its heat, time to start lunch. Cold lamb left over from yesterday (donated by Val - thanks Val, it was a lovely bit of meat), lettuce and potatoes from garden. Other add-ons to the meal from the supermarket. Tea and cake into Lester in office, plus pat on the head to say he is being a good boy.

Johnathen calls round. Not starting work today. Will be here tomorrow. Discussion about where to put the lights in the ceiling of the half barn. J errs in favour of lighting it up like an airport runway. I think low lights, hardly visible. Discussion continuing. By the way J is putting the insulation and plasterboard on the ceiling.

Dinner. Done. Quick siesta, a few minutes longer than normal because Lester and myself both fell asleep.

Up and doing. Tea into office for Lester. Me out front, plus chair, plus tea, plus bag of crocheting, to sit under oak tree, wave to the neighbours driving past, watch the enormous range of visitors to the meadow flowers, listen to Bools gently snoring at my feet. A gorgeous summer afternoon. Meanwhile a clatter and a bang and a roar and general din signifies that the builders have turned up.

4pm. Time for coffee and cake. Sara calls in. She knows the format here. "It's 4 o'clock - time for cake" she says as she gets out of her car. In she brings two huge bowls of fruit. "You can make us some jam with these", she said. "Here's some sugar".
Swapping time: Lester offers her half of the bundle of baby leeks we bought on Saturday at the market. Unfortunately we have hit a snag - we can't get them all planted out because the rotovator has decided to die a death again. After spending hours fixing it on Saturday, which included danger of ignition of self during the welding stage of the mend, Lester had finally got it to work. Only it was getting dark, so a good project for the next morning: to get the vegplot newly made nude by the harvest of the previous day rotovated over ready to plant the leeks. But no. Said rotovator decided not to co-operate. It is a wonder he hasn't chucked it into the river out of sheer frustration. I'm sure I would have.

Sara had some bad news. She had been copped by the police this morning for not wearing a seat belt. Up at the school this was. She had been in a rush, and for only this morning had neglected to strap herself in. Screeching up to the school, she noticed loads of cars around, so had to park up aways. Leaning into her window peers the face of a policeman, to inform her that it was against the law to not wear a seat belt, and that the on-spot fine was 45 euros, but if she would like to come into the school playground she could go on a short course of road safety and avoid the fine. With thoughts of the zillion other things she ought to be getting on with, but also the thought of the fine, out she got to accompany the policeman. Loads of people in the playground, including all the children and all the children's mums and all the children's teachers.

Into a simulator of a car she had to get, hoisted up at an angle, there to be dropped backwards at 75 miles per hour to start of with, to nil, just to give her an idea of how it would feel like to be stopped suddenly. She said the feeling of whiplash didn't last for long.

She also told us of a friend of hers who drinks a lot. Got stopped by the police. Did breathalyser. Was positive. "Oh dear" said the policeman. "that can't be right, let's wait for a few minutes and try again". Which they did. She, meanwhile, is s**********ing herself with anxiety. "Have to come to the police station with me, to get another breathalyser done, they all seem to be faulty", he said as the next one also proved positive. So off to the police station she was taken, to be given yet another breathalyser, which also proved positive. "Oh dear, have a cup of coffee, perhaps that will make it work properly" the policemen said. This happened several times, and after being plied with loads of coffee, she was finally able to give a nearly clear breathalyser test and was allowed to leave, nervous and anxious because she expected to be booked at any moment. Clever policeman. Saved himself loads of paperwork, and hopefully taught her a lesson by the stress of having to give those numerous breathlysers.

Maddi arrives, Bruno's new wife. Brings with her three small tomato plants. Donations in. Girl chat. Lester gets to do two sets of cheek-kisses, bless him. I do to. It is all very friendly here in France. All leave, except me and Lester.

Out front again. Doing some re-reading on first book just back from printers. Not looking too bad. Just minor errors, no big re-writes. Am enjoying the read. Doesn't feel as if I have written it, more like I am reading someone else's writing. Strange that.

A movement catches my eye. Hurtling down the drive and disappearing round the side of the house, I momentarily catch a glimpse of a white car. Better go see what is happening. I follow the route of the car, expecting it to be parked by the truck, or the digger, or the lorry, or somewhere near the 'work-in-progress' area of the house. It wasn't. But I could just about see a man's head above the oil seed rape plants in the front field. He was on the overgrown path which is supposed to lead down to the river, but doesn't go anywhere at the moment because I have been banned from strimming down there in case of adders, (re:Lester's instructions of last weekend when he found an adder underfoot when mowing the back field)

I approach him. His car is stuck. Somehow he has managed to get it down to the end of the field where the tiles are stacked, made a sharp right and kept on going. He apparently was following my strimming trail right up to the point where I had stopped, but he didn't, he kept on going, and got tangled up in the undergrowth. Upon trying to disengage himself he had sort of slithered into the ruts at the side of the oil seed rape, and since it was only a little white Purgeot of a car, it couldn't get back out again.

The man was very dismissive of his plight. At least sixty plus, he epitomised all the characteristics of the 'elderly' here. Which is, that there is no such thing as being 'old'. He thought it quite a hoot that he had got stuck, and had apparently only wanted to see 'what was down there' when he drove his car at breakneck speed along the strimmed path. What spirit! Everywhere I go, I see people carrying a lot of years completely oblivious that they are doing so. I do not see dithery oldies anywhere.

"Lester" I call, "Can you give us a hand?". Out he comes, and with bon hommie all round, we push the little white car with the naughty spirited man inside out of the ruts, and off he goes after shaking our hands and thanking us. Bless.

Back out front for a spot of gardening, inside to catch up with stacks of washing up, finish up the lettuce left over from lunch by dipping it into the vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, salt, and olive oil mixture which I am addicted to, slice a melon up and take it out to Lester who is by now doing a spot of digging in the vegplot. Sit on some limestone blocks which are supposed to be standing on top of each other to make a gatepost but which were somehow knocked over by the builders, we eat the melon, enjoy the summer evening, and muse on our life in France. Never would we have done that in our old life.

And so, that was my day. A slow start, but a cracking good finish.

Things I have learnt today: That a day can seem double its hours in length if one keeps busy. That not to have a television gives back to one one's life.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Time for First Harvest

And so it became time. After days of deliberation, it was decided by Lester / Head Gardener that all the onions and potatoes had to come up.

Now I would have possibly left it for a while, just digging up an onion or two, or a potato plant now and again, as needs required.

But: a problem. Space. To keep the turnover of crops going, we can't leave things to potter on. And another problem: Time. HG has only the weekends to do Big Jobs. During the week his time is limited by having to put the hours into working to provide the finances to make us a home. So only the evenings really, and although it is light until 10.30, by the time he has watered, patrolled, inspected, and done other sundry occupations, there is not a lot of time left for Major Harvesting.

Oh and I must tell you - yesterday we went down to the Saturday market at Vic en Bigorre which is a typical French market, full of all types of food, most of which has been grown by the sellers. The smell is amazing. The multi-levels of aroma can quite knock one's head off one's shoulders if one has not been first fortied with breakfast. Anyway, HG's thanks to Sara for donating the camel manure for the vegplot was to try and track down some turkeys for her camel farm.

Did you know that chickens can be hypnotised? Well they can. And there they were in the small live-stock section, looking like they had had a good night out and were still hung over: all flopped over, spraddle-legged, and out for for the count. HG said it is better for them to be like that rather than being caged which makes them fretful. Upon asking how one woke up the chickens again, he said one had to snap one's fingers at them. I'm not sure about that, but didn't want to have a go infront of the row of chickens just in case mayhem was caused by them waking up.

But, I digress. HG is not good about weeding the vegplot. He doesn't have the time really, but I don't think he's fussed with doing the job anyway. And he likes long rows of produce, tidily kept in vegetable types. I am a tidier gardener, but like Jumbly Gardening whereby the beds are narrow and everything is jumbled together, so there is lettuce sheltering peppers, brussels, and basil beneath its leaves so that when the lettuce is pulled up voila! There is the other produce coming along. It also makes for easier weeding because one can lean over and pull the weeds up without having to walk up and down the rows. There is also less exposed soil so less weeds grow anyway, because all the produce is cosied up with each other.

So, getting to the point..... as I have said, HG is not a particular keen weeder. Neither am I really, but there are far less weeds out front because of Jumbly Gardening. Driving along to the market. Fields of maize, haricot beans, other stuff. Very Tidy Gardening. Not a weed in sight. Tractor. Man on tractor. Man going up and down between the rows of plants on tractor. "He's weeding. He's weeding his field" yells HG, "I've never seen that before. What a good idea! He's got a thing behind his tractor, and its doing the weeding for him!"

So that's that really. With diminished enthusiasm for weeding now that he can see that a tractor could do it for him, HG spent the evening shopping around for his tractor. Shame that we have the a list of things to do on the house first:
Roof on. Paid for. Floors dug out and relaid. Partly paid for. Ceiling of half barn and long wall plasterboarded and insulated. Partly paid for. Electrics in the half barn. Trunking laid, job incomplete, to be paid for. Top screed on floor of half barn. Not done, but paid for. Tiles onto floor in half barn. In limbo at moment waiting for rest of work to be done first. Doors to half barn. Quote in. To be ordered. Fosse (for loo), interior toilet, shower, possibly water into kitchen, so plumbing and electrics through to the downstairs bathroom to be thought about, quoted and paid for. Roof to tall barn to be quoted for and done. Possibly roof to antrim but that is negotiable at the moment.

Then stop. Brakes on. House will be dry on top and at bottom. Half barn will be our abode, leaving caravans to be used as guest accomodation and a studio for my craft work. Out on the land we will go. On will come the animals. Purchased will be the tractor.

Meanwhile, HG is out and doing the digging in the veg plot today. Because up came the first harvest of onions and potatoes yesterday.

Quite rightly he is proud of his endeavours. This time last year we had just arrived here. We couldn't get onto the land at all because it was full to the brim with ripening corn. Out front was a six foot high tangle of brambles. The courtyard was a jungle of tall weeds and grass. There was nowhere we could grow anything, although he did start a corner off in the courtyard but it was too late to produce a crop on, but at least HG got us started.

Once the corn had been harvested, out back we went and the veg plot was started. In went the onions and garlic, they being the only things we could find to plant. Also went in the rhubarb we brought from the UK, and some purchased cabbage plants all of which were eventually dispatched by insects, butterflies, and the deer although we did manage to retrieve a couple to eat for ourselves.

Come Spring, and in went the potatoes and all the other produce, mostly in the charge of HG because this is his patch of the farm. I keep us going with lettuce, and other bits and pieces out front. I am also growing our first garden, but more of that another time.

And here be our first potato harvest.

And here be our first onion harvest.

I think HG has done very well by us.

Now all I have to do is make the calico bags to store the potatoes in after they have been sorted. They will have to be kept in the office for the time being as there is no other available dry space here at the moment. I am in charge of drying the onions, so have to find somewhere to do that. Might utilise the tops of the pallets of roof tiles. Don't know where I am going to store them when they are dry. Possibly the office for the moment, which is doubling as food storage area because it is the coolest place here, seed storage area because we don't have a shed, and craft area for me because I don't have a studio. In amongst all of this HG sits at his computer for many hours working, with me keeping him company as and when.

Things I have learnt: That farming even on a small scale is time consuming, hard work, and wonderfully fulfilling. There is really nothing like looking at one's piles of produce to make one feel extremely proud of one's self.
That g
rowing anything, even a little row of lettuce, is good for the soul.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Phew! What a week!

Our house continues to grow apace, but not necessarily in terms of building work. Mother nature also seems to be interested in adding certain touches to our home, including the two little finches which have been living in the middle apex of the house, and are often to be seen sitting watching our activities when we make our inspections. Bless them, I hope that their little family will be raised soon. Also, too, we now have the new addition of this upstairs garden.

Meanwhile at floor level, work starts on digging out the floors. We have a garden here too.

And out back the lorry with the wood for the roof of the main house waits to be unloaded.

And in the courtyard, a big pile of rubble and seventeen pallets of roof tiles.

Notice the little tree which is growing on the inside of the gateway, just behind the wheelbarrow - another little bit of unofficial garden.

Pneumatic drill hammering interspersed with silence as the young operator of the drill stops and catches his breath after the effort of trying to control a machine which seems to feel the need to do as it pleases.

Big digger grinding in and out with pallets of roof tiles twisting and swinging gaily as the digger lurches into the courtyard perilously close to the house, often times looking as if its cargo could capture sufficient momentum in its swing to give the walls of the house a mighty thwack.

Robustly a 4x4 sits and purrs by the side of the half barn, wearing a pretty hat of curls. The rolls of insulation that are to go in the roof of the halfbarn are keeping it warm until they are unloaded. Quickly this is done: it is causing a traffic jam. The digger wants to come through, and the wheelbarrow wants to go for its walk down to the increasing pile of rubble.

What this! Silence? Ah, lunch. Time to fall into sleepiness, and rest until work is resumed. For all the work which is happening here, there are still times when Labartere reminds us of how peaceful a place it is. No matter how much there is stripped out of her, and now the floors are coming up as well, she still seems to feel a courageous little house. There isn't much left of her but she still seems to feel as if she has a heart.

Things I have learnt this week. That sometimes life can feel like being on a roller coaster ride. That one should not put off until sometime in the future things one can do now.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Pots Up

Et voila! The rear end of HG, deliberating over whether to risk digging up a potato plant or not. Is it time, or is it not time? That is the question hovering in the air.

He bends over further. "What do you think?" he says to me. "Dig" is my reply.

In goes the fork. Out comes the camera. Elbowing HG to one side, I inspect our first batch of potatoes.

Oh and wasn't it satisfying! I am addicted. There is no turning back. To go out to the veg plot and get something for dinner feels sssSSSSsoooo good.

Et l'evidence. Nous avons beaucoup pommes de terre and all from one plant!

And today the tiles for the roof have arrived. One more step. Sometime soon we will no longer be living in the 'house without a roof' when people ask us where we live.

Things I have learnt over the last few days: That HG did not mean to get into a panic and ban me from strimming the long grass on the path going down to the river after he nearly inadvertently stepped on an adder whilst mowing the long grass in the back field.
That having the roof tiles here means that things are progressing.
That when someone pays us a visit who we haven't seen for six months, and who had the attitude that we were nuts to be living in a caravan and gazebo when last we spoke, now sees that we have survived the winter, got the garden and veg plot going, and that the house is taking shape, that it is good to notice the respect they now show towards us.
That it is better to keep the sugar cubes put away in the cupboard at all times, otherwise one is in danger of taking on board another addiction, which is a passion for slipping a sugar cube into one's mouth whenever one passes the box. The French don't really do spoons of sugar. Always cubes. They are very more-ish.
That if one is not mindful of the tempermental gas oven and forget to make frequent checks, that one is very likely to burn the cake one is baking for one's Hubs. However, the cake can be rescued by cutting away the burnt crust, although the cake will diminish in size and will look nude.
That Hubs, bless him, is a stirling trooper of a man, and I am sure our builder thinks so as well after being instructed to bring all the several piles of tiles into the courtyard instead of leaving them out on the drive. "For security" HG says.
That keeping in step with one's partner is hard going at times and that it is OK to park oneself up on the sidelines for a short breather occasionally providing one realises that soon the in-step synchronization will return.
That 'afternoon naps' sound better if they are called 'siestas'- not quite so 'old lady-ish.
That Carla, the pot bellied pig, is sound in wind and limb after she went AWOL from Sara's for a few hours last week. She had collapsed on her return, and the vet said 'Measles'.
That gnat bites seem to lose their vigour after one has had quite a few.

That we are now into our second year.

Thursday 11 June 2009

In a muck again

"Look at the state of my wife's legs!"

Leaving you to dwell on those legs, HG turns his attentions to the wall the builders are rebuilding at the back of the house, with Bools in tow.

I, meanwhile, carry on getting in a muck. No, I am not growing leaves. Mould perhaps, due to camping conditions. But I have not, as yet, started sprouting green stuff. This muckiness is due to the project of the afternoon, which was strimming out front. With a safety visor on to protect my eyes of course, which is a devilish thing to have to wear as it is too big for me and keeps slipping about as I strim.

Things I have learnt today. That it is best to wear trousers to cover up one's legs when strimming, as the bits of green stuff tend to stick to the skin like glue as they dry and make the skin itch. That it is perfectly OK to say sorry to the several poppies which were inadvertantly decapitated because the safety visor considerably reduced my vision. Also to the hedge rose, which has now lost one branch. And also to the baby silver birch tree which I decapitated, but HG said it would grow again but will look forever stunted. He was not so calm about the three inch gash I sliced in the bark of one his fruit trees. As a result he has now banned me from going anywhere near his trees.

So, carrying on with 'things I have learnt today': That HG is only trying to preserve our future fruit harvest when he is instructing me as to where to strim only gashes in the bark of a tree tend to weaken it perhaps even to make it firewood fodder. That using arm swings to the count of fifty, and then changing arms, keeps the momentum flowing: this for both jog-walking and strimming. That it is better to walk forward when strimming, rather than backwards as this will reduce any tendency to fall backwards into a waiting pot hole. That if one does, not to worry as one can use the strimmer to get oneself back on one's feet quite quickly by using it as a walking stick. Of course it is better to switch it off, as the strimmer can do all sorts of interesting things when it's head is jammed into the ground. This may be the reason why HG feels the need to check up on me when I am using the strimmer. That after the bonhommie misfire of yesterday, it was nice to wave to the Swiss lady and the Swiss man as the drove past very slowly this afternoon, on their way home to their house in Geneva which is not by the lake but in the middle of the city slap bang up against a tall block of a building which is over one kilometer wide. That it was nice to wave them off with a smile as they went on their way. That I am glad we are here and not having to leave to go home, because we are home already.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Prayers, kisses, and Carla goes missing

So in through the gateway strolled a lady and a man. Not English. Swiss. Staying at Claudine's Chambre d'hote and visiting parents in Prechac, our nearby village. Showed them around. 'Goodbye' time. Three kisses, left cheek, right cheek, left cheek (on face, not rear end!) from her. Not from him though. "Sore mouth" he said. 'Bad teeth' I thought.

So I said a prayer for him and his sore mouth amongst other thoughts I sent out later on that day for other people.

Today: Having an after-lunch snooze. Bools barks. "Lesterrrrr" is called by someone standing near by the bedroom caravan. "Oh ***********" says Lester, putting on his trousers. All of a state of untidiness which arises from afternoon snoozes (honestly, it was only a short nap), we sort of fell out of the caravan to be met by four people all standing in a line: the Swiss lady, the Swiss man, the Swiss lady' mum, and the Swiss lady's dad. Crikey, sometimes I feel that we ought to charge an admission fee!

And so we did the usual: "Tasse de thè Anglais?" (cup of English tea) is asked by Lester, and "Would you like to have a look round" from me. It's like giving people the grand tour and providing refreshments all in.

So we all sat in a cosy group outside in the courtyard: no room in the awning. All in French, with the odd English word thrown in by the Swiss man, conversation was endeavoured. It was slow. But we did bonhommie, because that is the sort of people we are.

It started raining. Rushed to get the washing off the line. Knicker and bra wash today. Had to put these items of frippery on the inside of my rotary clothes line to hide them away from male view, then surrounding them by all the rest of the washing. Didn't want the builders to get tangled up with bra straps as they walked to and fro with their wheel barrows of cement.

Heard footstepts behind me. Swiss man was straight into the centre of the washing. Waving his hands he asked a question. I think it was about what to do about the pegs. One hand was full of my underwear, the other full of pegs. I kept on grabbing the rest of my underwear before he could. It was bit of a race. To divert his attention I ask about his mouth, "Votre bouche, c'est OK maintenant". "Yes", he said. 'I said a prayer to help with your pain', I said, but in broken English/French and with suitable gestures. I just thought it was a nice thing to say. Washing now all off line. Underwear all tucked discreetly away from view.

It stopped raining. Drat. Back to conversation. Quite interesting now. Apparently Swiss lady's parents knew our house in days gone by. They gave us our address in Prechac, with instructions to "Come and visit." So more people we know in the area.

Sara appears in the gateway. "Carla's gone missing". I get up and go to her. Carla is the Vietnamese pot belly pig who is adorable. Likes her tummy scratched and will roll over obligingly if anyone looks like they might give her a tickle on her tum. Also is rampantly in need of a male boar, and frequently tries to get buckets, brooms, even donkeys, to do her a service. Bless.

This is not good news. It starts raining harder. Everyone gets up to leave. Three kisses, left, right, left from Swiss lady, so this must be the International format so do the same with Swiss lady's parents. Hear Lester apologising profusely to Swiss man. Apparently he had done the three kisses with Swiss lady's mum and nearly been decked by Swiss lady's dad. I say goodbye to Swiss man. Sara can talk French. He says to her that he doesn't like prayers, and makes a wrenching motion with his hands. I say I do. They all leave.

Off down to Sara's with Bools, thinking that perhaps he might be able to sniff Carla out. Been an hour or so since Sara popped in. Good news. Carla back. Bad news. She is collapsed in the middle of a small paddock. Oh dear. Go over and give her a pat. She gets up and crawls underneath some low hanging conifers. I crawl in after her. Sara crawls in beside me. Carla is twitching. Feels cold. Sara reverses out and go gets a blanket. Wrap blanket round Carla. Give her a bit of a hug. Reverse out after fifteen minutes or so.

Coffee in Sara's kitchen. Girl chat. Vet arrives. Sara and Vet crawl into confer thicket. Bums in air. 'Did my bum look like that?' I think to myself. No matter. Out they come. "Measles", Carla has measles apparently. In goes the vet again. Out comes Carla. Squealing. Thermometers can apparently get one moving if one is stuck up one's rear end. Vet comes out. Goes out to car. Carla now collapsed in a heap in the middle of the paddock again. Vet comes back with syringe.

Time to go. Last I saw of Carla was that she was heading back under the confers again to get out of the way of the syringe.

Things I have learnt today: That sometimes International faux pas can inadvertently happen, but never mind, just smile and carry on dishing out bonhommie. That it is a nice to help a friend out when her much loved animal is sick and she is so worried that she needs someone else to look after the animal for a bit while she goes to call the Vet. That, with relief, Lester has ordered front gates so that they can be locked while we are having afternoon snoozes or when we are all out of bonhommie.


And the third apex to the house is prepped.

And the floor to the halfbarn is cemented.

And now I am off to have a douche in the 'shower'. Am feeling all of a muck after crawling about under the conifers. But worth it to give a bit of a luvvy to a sick little piggy who went missing but is now found.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Onions and storms

This 'ere is an onion. Well you would know this of course! Only I wanted to show this one because it is just about ready to be pulled up.

Or is it. Because Head Gardener Lester is dithering about doing so. For months these onions have been growing. Planted last November, they have been watched over, inspected every day, and worried about. Only most of them decided to sprout flower heads which they aren't supposed to do because it reduces their helpfulness towards providing us with food-table fodder.

The flower stem uses up all the onion bulb, or in other words, the onion puts all its effort into putting up a flower head which leaves the bulb small and virtually unusable.

Of course the plant is only doing its best for its future productivity. It is supposed to be carrying itself forward to the next generation and it is not going to be able to do that if it makes a nice fat bulb which is going to be eaten to make our food taste nice. So, the onions choice is: make a flower and provide a future generation, or make a fat, juicy bulb for the food table.

If I was an onion, I know what option I would choose!

And HG, bless him, in our veg plot, reviewing the situation.

Any day now he will march out to the plot and do the deed. But not quite for the moment. It is still nice to review a well filled veg plot. Soon it will become all emptied out as the onions and potatoes are harvested. Then we will have to start all over again with another set of crops, and off we go again. Note my red floor-mop bucket to the left of HG, which is proof that he raids my kitchen for various types of utensils when needs must. Bless.

Wow, but there was a hell of a storm last night up in the sky. The curious thing was that at ground level it was quiet, with hardly a breath of air movement. Yet up in the sky there was hellish things going on.

If I had tried to paint this sky it would have looked unreal.

Things I have learnt today: That nature is a powerful animal. That living the caravan life gives opportunities to stand outside on the blackest of nights and photoshoot the sky. That it is best not to disregard the flashes of lightning in the distance because it gives warning that I shouldn't be partaking of such an activity, but fortunately Hubs took charge and cancelled the photoshoot by hauling me inside and off to bed. That onions have a life of their own and that really we are only borrowing them for our own pleasure. That one must not get mad at onions if they decide they do not want to comply with what we demand of them.

Sunday 7 June 2009

Acorns, Froggies and Three Pronged Implement

I thought I would show you the front field / garden. Not much really, but at least it is tidier than when we arrived this time last year and there are loads of flowers waiting to spring into bloom when they decide to stop being lazy.

A wet start to the day. No matter. Rain is good. Can dig later on when it has stopped. Into office, then. Me to write, and Head Gardener to do things. Like open his seed box and have a sift through his copious amount of seed packets to see what else we can get planted. Bless.

And then a search on the Internet, and instructions sent over to me about gathering acorns, shelling acorns, preparing acorns, and cooking acorns. "A project for the autumn" he said with a smile.

I kept on writing. Acorns are hard work. They have to be washed a hell of a lot to get the bitterness out of them before you can eat them. Methinks I will conveniently 'forget' that 'let's do' project from HG until we are in the house and sorted out, memories of jam making last year and the megga stickiness that ensued still being fresh in my mind.

Rain has left the soil damp. Not wet. Just damp. But enough to get some digging done. So. Two dig-plots out front. Which one to do. Ah. Do both. Right. So: if I do one hundred whacks with the three pronged implement which is used in a similar way to a pickaxe in that it is a swing-over-the-shoulder action but is not so hefty as the pickaxe which I have trouble lifting off the ground let alone heft over my shoulder. No, this implement I can do a nice arcing swing with which is very good for the bosoms and upper arms. As I was saying, if I do one hundred whacks into the soil on each of the two dig-plots then that will loosen the soil and roots interred therein. Then later on I can go over the soil with the fork and spade. Good plan.

Plot one. One hundred whacks. A bit puffed out, but carry on. Over to plot two. One whack. Two whack. ........fifteen, and ....what was that that just flew through the air! Boolies races to investigate.

Intent on the effort of getting to the next hundred before I could stop for tea and cake, I had only inadvertantly sent heavenwards a froggie-type being. Literally. Up into the sky it sailed as I plunged my implement into the clods of grass. I must have somehow hooked the prongs underneath its little body and flicked it upwards.

All effort stopped. Bool's sniffed expectantly, hoping I would toss it into the air again for him to go chase. Like a ball. Was frogs dead? No, it gave a gasp of air. I picked it up. After a minute it gave a squirm. There was no blood.

So I took in over to the hedge which is not likely to be disturbed for ages, if ever, and gently put it down with a blessing. I don't suppose it was much fussed with being made to take a trip through the air, so I hope its day improves and the worst that can happen is over with at least for today.

Things I have learnt today: That it is fun investigating new avenues of food production and that acorns are worth a try if not in 2009, then perhaps 2020, which is something to look forward to. That perhaps it is wiser to listen to one's back when one is intent on breaking one's record, of one hundred whacks by trying to achieve two hundred whacks, with the three pronged implement. That Hubs and a tube of muscle rub can work miracles. That Sundays are meant to be full of thinking about the week ahead and not full of trying to get loads of things done right at this minute. That I am sorry for trying turn a little froggie into a flying machine.