Friday 31 July 2009

The Hope Word

Now here's a strange thing: all the day long, well for two days actually, everytime I close my eyes I keep 'seeing' the word 'HOPE' inside my mind.

Now I shouldn't be surprised at this really. I am, after all, 'psychically well-endowed'. But this 'HOPE' word just seemed to stay stuck fast.

So it came to our afternoon 'stretching of our backs' in the bedroom caravan, which some people may call a 'siesta' but I think a siesta is a state of being whereby one drops the eyes shut for a space of time. 'Stretching of our backs' is just that: giving our spines a rest from the hours of sitting working at our PC's. Our eyes remain open, although may have a momentary droop, but definitely do not shut completely. Lester will be listening to his Ipod, and I will be drifting about in my thoughts, or reading French, or we will be having a family pow-wow.

As soon as I was lying prone on the bed, straightway into my mind came 'HOPE' again. And this time the letters of the word became split up:
H is Happiness: that living in hope will bring long term happiness.
O is for Opportunities: that living in hope will not allow for any opportunities to pass you by.
P is for Prosperity: not necessarily with copious amounts of money, but a richness of self.
E is for Excitement: which is how you are going to feel if you live in HOPE because you will be living your life, not sitting on the sidelines and watching the days of your life pass you on by.

But like all things, being Hopeful requires effort. No gain without pain, as the saying goes. What I mean is, that it is hard at first to learn to be Hopeful. But with practice, it becomes easier.

I have been thinking of these words often over the two days. When I push them out, they pop back into my head. So I pass them on to you as well. I have definitely become filled with more optimism, something which had become drizzled away with the effort of making a fresh start in somebody else's country, and I feel my feet stepping lighter as a result. What I have been doing to achieve this state of being, is every time I have a worrisome or negative thought drift into my mind, I turn it around on itself by Hoping for a good outcome.

I have found that the HOPE word is a very powerful assistance in lifting one's spirits. As I put on my Facebook page yesterday: to HOPE is to be a travelling-forward-in-life person. But to be without hope, and therefore HOPELESS, is to be a going no-where person.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Altercations and mischief

Toot Toot. The post lady had arrived. Bools and Fleur launch themselves through the archway, I follow. A packet. Pour moi. "Merci" I say, surprised at its arrival. Hurriedly I head towards the kitchen and my scissors. Et quel surprise! Uno packeto from Val up in the Charente.

And join me for a little sniff as well. MMmmmmMMMmmmMMMmmm. Can you catch a waft?

In a recent conversation I had been having a bit of a moan about the lack of decent curry powder in France. You can only get a small pot here, and that is it. No range of various intensities of flavour, just the one pot. Which, quite frankly, hardly needs to be bothered with. Throwing the entire contents of the pot into the curry only gives forth a hint of curry and nothing more.

Anyway, a girly chat transpired. Et voila! Val, bless her, sent me a couple of packets of homemade curry powder she had from a stash she had made a while ago. It smells delish. I have enclosed the recipe for the powder over on my Foody-ing blog. (Blog title: Val's Curry Powder)

Up early this morning so had time for a long walk with the dogs. Fleur is staying here while Bruno is away. It wasn't intended that she did, but she did anyway. fleur is a hunter dog and was banned from our smallholding last year because she has a hunger to catch things which run fast. Last year we had loads of cats living here in the ruins of the house. With babies they got themselves begot. Fleur's passion is to chase. She chased the cats with their kittens. Then delivered the treasure to us with great pride. All mangled up they were. And we thought about the animals we would eventually have here, and the babies they would hopefully have.

So Fleur was banned. From everyone else's houses she was banned as well, after she ran amok amongst Christiane's chickens, was found swimming in another neighbours swimming pool and had to be fished out, did unto death one of Claudine's ducks, and could be heard at all hours of the day and night chasing after cats. We knew she was doing that because she has this peculiar high pitched yelp which sounds like she is in dire agony. The first time we heard her make that sound, Lester and me looked at each other in dismay, thinking that she had somehow done untold damage to herself. Not so. She was trying to do untold damage to something else.

But that was last year. This year she seems to have calmed down. So she is allowed back here. But is not allowed to make a hullabaloo underneath the tarpaulins. Cats, I think, sometimes shelter there. I don't mind the furniture and other stuff stored under the tarps having to be eventually dumped because it has become damaged, but I really have trouble with throwing stuff out which has been damaged by Fleur's feet as she scrabbles about on a cat hunt.

So off we went down the lane. Met dog down the lane. Had a satisfactory stare-down with him. All three of us. Shoulder to should, in a gang, eyeballing him. Well, he was eye-balling us as well! To break the impasse because time was getting on, I did a little growl. Not a loud one. Just a 'we are a pack and we won't have you attacking us' type growl. The leader had spoke! Because with that, Bools and Fleur did a thrusting dive at him, and off they all went, with dog down the lane's rear end almost hitting the floor as he galloped away with the other two barking joyously at his heels. It was quite, quite, satisfactory!

It might be that I sound a tad on the juvenile side in regards to dog down the lane. And I would agree. But I would also add that I am of an age when eccentricity is expected unless one is going to be thought of as a fuddy duddy elderly person. Since that won't do, I am practicing eccentricity whenever I can.

Busy in the kitchen. Heard snorts. A bit of stomping. Oh, Lester coming into the kitchen caravan for a cup of tea. Was a bit on the late side with his tea rations because I was catching up with the washing up I didn't do last night because I was Facebooking. So needed to do it before I could start cooking lunch. No room, you see, to cook lunch and have stacked dishes as well.

I heard Lester's voice from aways a bit. Sharp. His voice sounded sharp. I looked through the door. Obviously something had upset him.

Oh naughty Toto!

Grabbing his lead, Lester hauls him back through the gate. Toto says 'Nice visiting you' by leaving a nice pile of his rear end doings by the door to the bedroom caravan. We are going to have to remember that pile if we are not going fetch up with mucky feet as we head towards bed in the dark tonight!

Down to the woods Lester takes him. "There" he said, "That should make him stay put".

No, it didn't. Fifteen minutes or so later, and back in the awning Toto had come, having pulled up the stake that Lester had only minutes before hammered into the ground.

"Oh Lester" I called, "You had better come and get Toto".
"What do you mean!" Lester says irritation in his voice. He has a lot of coding to do. This is not a good day to be messing about. He sees Toto standing inside the awning. He looks at me, as if to say, 'Must you play with the horse, can't you leave him tied up'. But I don't know why Toto seems to like to visit with us in the courtyard. Obviously he had not finished with his previous visit because he had pulled his stake up to come and see us again.

By now the giggles are starting. Naughty giggles. Coming at times when it is best to keep a modicum of decorum. Snapping pictures also seems to fuel the giggles.

Lester takes Toto out onto the field. Hammers the stake in right down to ground level. I think his mood can be seen in the manly squaring of his shoulders as he returns back to his PC.

Ah bless. But the overall manly impression was spoilt by his shorts flapping about round his knees making look all of five years old.

So I made him a cup of tea, and gave him a hug and a piece of cake, and said "Well done for being a bon homme".

Lessons I have learnt today. That proper curry powder actually smells like curry powder: all spicey.
That sometimes animals get fed up with not having any company and need to visit and be made a fuss of.
That little doggies who chase the little kittens are not really dreadful creatures at all: they are just following their instinct. The same as cats do when they raid the nests of the little birds in the trees and eat the babies of the birds.

Monday 27 July 2009

Dashing on.....

Can't stop for long today. For some reason, which is not clear to me, I still am not satisfied with the website even though I have spent yonks of time already working on it. However, Hubs/ Lester/ HG/ Tech Team Guy has pointed me in the direction of a different page layout programme in Dreamweaver, and now I know what the content of each page is, I can translate what I have already crafted into the new layout pages. Crikey, but it is going to take loads and loads of work. And I don't know why I just can't leave the website alone, but I can't until it is the best I can make it. So need to do a couple of hours this evening so am cracking on with the News from Labartere.

Not that there is particularly any 'News' as such. Not Grand News anyway.

Well apart from the first picking of our tomatoes. OK, so I know it was only the one, but at least it was a start. So what I did was sliced it up very thinly and put it as artful decoration on top of the steamed squash we were having. I wouldn't like you to think that we only had the one tomato for lunch!

It was cool enough to do some gardening out front today. Only I was in dithery mode, and wasn't quite sure what I needed to do first. So I pondered, and looked, and pondered some more, and then looked around again. Really, the abandoned wheelbarrow says it all, because in the end all I did was pulled up a few brambles, snipped a few bits of things here and there.

But the garden is coming along, despite the heat. Most plants are surviving, and at least it is better than what it was this time last year when every single inch of ground was overrun with six foot high brambles. The photo up at the top of the page shows you that at least the brambles have been conquered, although they are trying to regroup for another go at suffocating all the plants I have put in this year.

And good news on the house front. We had some work done today. Not quite what we had hoped for, but at least movement was had. At ground level.

Toto cut the grass fof us!

On moving Toto onto new grass late this afternoon, I let him have his choice of direction. Straight into the courtyard he went, which is the most grassless place in the farm. And with great delicacy he mowed his away around the remaining blades of grass and was quite insistent that he remain thus so for ages. Until I got restless, and then out the front gates we all went and up and down the front grass we all jogged.

Not Lester: he was on his PC ignoring us all. We were making quite a commotion. Bools and Fleur were barking with excitement and I was yelling "Come on Toto, let's have a gallop!"

Fortunately he didn't. Gallop. But he sort of raised quite a prancy trot, and tossed his head and even did a buck. At which point I slowed down to a walk. Had a sudden vision of me being towed after him like a kite if he got it into his mind to rev up to full speed.

Not to worry, though. All was well. And quite soon we all settled down into a sedate walk round to where he was going to be put to bed.

Our bank account took another hit today as the first third of the electrician's bill was paid. The plumber also came round, so we expect another hit on the account. Not to worry, though. All is well here at Labartere.

But it is getting dark, and I have to go fill the kettle up and put it in the bedroom caravan so I can have a wash tomorrow. Also, the cold water container. Normally I would wash up before I do so, but I been writing to you, so I am going to skip that task tonight. So, bye for now, as I dash off outside to do the necessaries with the water before it gets dark.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Docks, butterflies, avos and quiches

An update on this stupendous butterfly which was fluttering about around me earlier on this month. According to Boffin Shaun (my son): "That lovely butterfly you photoed is called a Swallowtail butterfly, very rare, flies in May-June and again in August. I have a book on wildlife just incase you thought I was an anorak!" Ah bless. Anyway, a swallow tail butterfly it is. Beautiful.

Oooh and I am sooo stiff! Have been sitting for hours and hours of late updating and housekeeping my Aspects of Self website. Not to worry, though, nearly done. Had to do all the updates in one hit otherwise the site would have looked too scruffy out on the web. Should be posted up tomorrow. Then on to getting another chunk of the site designed. Plus finishing off the polish to Psychic Virgin, getting the pdf format done for My Psychic Toolbox, to name but a few tasks that are in the pipeline. But it keeps me quiet and occupied. Can't do much anyway, in this heat. It has been boiling again today, although it is noticeably cooler in the evenings and early mornings. Gives us respite. Can race around and do a few jobs. Then into the office when it gets too hot, or off for a siesta.

Dinner today:

'Sara's quiche' I call it, because lunch at Sara's recently removed my original thoughts about what a quiche is supposed to be. She doesn't have much time to do fangly recipes, so sort of throws anything in she has to hand. Like you would do to make a stew. Or curry. Throw everything in, the more the better. Food. I mean food. Obviously I mean food! Sorry I felt a silly moment come upon me just then! What I mean is, that one can assemble various fillings for the quiche once the basic requirements for the making of the quiche have been made. In other words, a lump of pastry and some eggs. The rest can be left up to the imagination, providing they are sensible. Anything sweet, like a lump of banana wouldn't do, nor would anything sugary. So, veggies, a slice of ham, a couple of lumps of brie, and that was my offering for today. Should you feel inclined to have a more indepth look at how I make Sara-type quiches, pop over to Foody-ing.

Lester's avocado project is cracking on at a pace. With one now being upgraded to being planted in a pot. Mind you, I had to keep an eye on his method of planting. I sensed he was erring towards donkey or camel manure again. So with deliberation, I placed a bag of potting compost down beside the avo pot, and since it was too hot for him to go wandering out back to get some manure, the plant was potted on in, what to me, is the proper stuff. Not that manure is not proper stuff, but if I was a baby plant who had up until now had my bottom half immersed in the soft environment of water, then I really would not like my rear end being jammed in amongst the lumps of manure. Further info about the avo project are over on Jumbly Gardening.

In between editing the web site, I have been surfing the net for info about docks. This is an ongoing project again, but the time will soon be here when I need to get out into the fields and harvest the docks, if indeed they are worth harvesting. I think it would be a waste of wild food if we don't, but Lester tends to look at me a bit baffle-eyed when I mention the docks. I don't think he regards them in the same light as wheat, barley, oats, etc. But since we have a veritable harvest of them, then I think we should have a go at collecting them.

The main problem with this is that I am going to be seen by all. Nothing can happen on our fields without everyone knowing what we are doing. Hatted, gloved, with wheelbarrow handily placed to one side, I am a little concerned about what the locals are going to make of me as I fill the barrow up with the dock heads. But then we have got up to quite a lot of other surprising activities, so perhaps they will just see it as ongoing activities.

So, I must away onto my other work now. The porta potti needs attention, it is cooler so I can do the washing up, and the front needs watering via the well. Then back onto my web site to finish off the updates. So, bye for now.

Friday 24 July 2009

A bit of a bonfire

Most of my kitchen equipment is put away in boxes. Before the hurricane hit us in late January I knew where everything was. Since then I don't. But I have managed.

One of most used pieces of equipment are these cheapo plastic bowls, bought from Wilkinsons for £2.25 each before we left the UK. These I have managed to keep to hand, although often get in the way because of their size.

I have six. Or rather, had six. One was used as a drinking bowl for Boolie, and was left outside during the winter. It didn't like the cold, and died, breaking into several pieces as it did so. So, one down.

The rest have been so very, very useful. They can be dropped and won't break, are big enough to mix bread and cakes in, can be used as a washing-up bowl, can be used to soak one's feet in, can be used as a store from donated under-ripe fruit from Sara, can be used as a mini-compost bin for veg peelings en route to the proper compost heap, or can be 'borrowed' by Hubs for various unrelated kitchen tasks. Oh so many uses, and most times they are being used or waiting to be washed up after being used. They are very busy bowels.

So, in the kitchen this morning. Kettle on for tea, Hubs just getting up. Kitchen caravan a bit overloaded with washing up, it being a difficult environment to stay in for any lenght of time because of the heat. Normally do the tidy up in the morning when it is cooler. Stack washing up to minimalize untidyness. Bread made, one bowl. Cake made, another bowl. Veg peelings from yesterday just been put out onto compost, that makes three bowls to wash up in total. The other one is somewhere else I don't know where, and one is being used as the washing up bowl.

Fleur barks. Boolie chases out to see what she's making a fuss about. Ah, the overnight converted jallopy campervan conversion made out of an old horsebox which arrived at two this morning, and parked out on our front. It's arrival had woken Lester up, who swore and cussed his way into his trousers before going out to have a look at who had arrived in the middle of the night, him being worried in case Toto got loaded up and carried away to somewhere else.

Bools and Fleur messing about in the river.

Now in daylight, I go out to meet and greet them. Fifteen minutes later, after having a chat with the young dreadlocked (or is is it 'deadlocked'- you know when they put extensions into the hair which makes the hair have furry ringlets) female owner of the van, whose partner was still in situ inside the van with their three huskies and one collie, all of who were off to the coast for the summer, I made a return to kitchen-tidy-up duties and making Lester's tea.

Toast. Need to cut the bread. So need to have a bit of a clear surface. Oh I know what I will do: On top of the stove I stack the saucepans, then the bowls on top of them. Big items. Out of the way. Bread cut. Grill on. Toast under grill.

Lester calls. "Can you help me move Toto?"
Toast removed from under the grill. Kettle switches itself off, it having been boiled twice already for tea.

Me and Toto

Out I goes, to receive a nuzzle from Toto. Fleur and Toto belong to Bruno and Maddi who are on holiday up in La Rochelle. Fleur isn't supposed to be staying with us, just Toto, but she decided otherwise when she say Bruno and Maddi drive off without her. She is supposed to be at her own home, staying with the remaining family of one son. It would seem that she also has decided to go on hol as well.

We shift Toto. Then heft his large water bowl to his new grazing place. The flies are already bothering him, so we stay a while and keep brushing them away, before our tummies do a rumble and "Tea and toast" I call out to Lester as I mooch off back to the caravan.

The smoke wasn't too bad. Obviously whatever was making the smoke was not in too dire a way.

Through the haze I can make out quite a perky flame. Mmm, well actually, several perky flames, all emanating from the grill. But not to worry, the toast is out from under the grill so it is probably some bits of food splash from yesterday which are now being grilled.

But I turn the grill off anyway.

The little flames seem to do a bit of a higher surge.

Mmmmmm. Hubs to the rescue. Manfully he thrusts me out of the way, taking charge. Grabbing the pots and stuff he takes them outside. Then he returns. Deadens the flames. Growels at me. Goes outside. "Do you want your cup of tea now?" I call after him. "And your toast?"
"I'll just have bread today, not toast" he flings back at me over his shoulder as he extinguishes the last of the flames. "....And my tea. I would like my tea."

But not to worry though. The saucepans, although blackened, have scrubbed up OK, and while they are never going to be the same again, they are usable. They still have life.

The cupboard, plates, cups, and other bits and bobs, all washed up fine. The ceiling is not too bad, but waits for another day for its wash over.


Three bowls down, two to go!

Things I have learnt: That plastic bowls behave like melting butter when they get hot.
That plastic bowls behaving like melting butter can put up quite a little bonfire.
That plastic bowls behaving like melting butter are likely to be forever unusable mostly because of the wapping big hole they will get in them after the melt.

Not to worry though. Since the kitchen was out of bounds until the smoke cleared, and I thought it best to give Hubs, who was now in the office, time to cool down as well, I gathered Toto, Bools and Fleur and we all had a nice walk down to the Louet and back passing Christiane and Pierre just back from their holidays who gave me a donation of a huge flagon of fifteen percent sweet white wine bought from a wine cave in Spain. Yummy.

And the good news is: that the bowl which was missing turned up, and that one together with the washing up bowl makes two remaining bowls. Raising my glass and saying "Salut" I gently weave my way to my bed.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

On shelling beans in the storm

So last night we were sitting out in the awning with lightning flashes which were lighting up the sky every few seconds. It was getting dark. And we were shelling beans. No sound apart from Boolie snoring and thunder cracking.

"I can see us doing a lot of this in the future" said Lester with a smile.

We didn't get a humungous pile of beans. Probably enough for three meals. But it was another small step towards feeding ourselves.

I am going to save most of the beans for a mid winter feed. I think that eating summer harvested food in the middle of winter brings back the warmth of the sun. Not that we are ever lacking in warmth here. Even in the middle of winter the sun gives us a warm bath when it shines. At the moment it is endeavouring to cook us, though. Forty degrees yesterday, and it was hot, hot, hot.

I moved into the half barn yesterday. Not entirely. Just my rocking chair and my bag of crocheting. I sat in the middle of the space, in the coolness of the space, and felt the peace of the space seep into me.

Someone recently visited who was full of negative stuff, making us feeled pulled down and negative as well. I don't know why people feel the need to dump their disbelief that we can survive here. I don't know how people can be so very, very unkind. Or why they think they have the right to diminish our enthusiasm. Perhaps that's what upsets them: the fact that we are enthusiastic and living our life when they are parked up on the sidelines, letting their lives pass on by. Perhaps we make them feel diminished and that is why they have the driving need to diminish us by their unkind words.

We have survived here. And very well. Both as a couple, and as individuals.

Most of all, we are proud that of our achievement here.

For a while I wanted to leave here. For a while I wanted to sell up and go away from this place. That is what that visitor did to me. My passion was taken away.

But last night we sat in a storm, with bright flashes of lightning spurting across the sky, shelling beans we had grown ourselves. And yesterday I moved into the half barn and spent a very pleasurable hour crocheting away in the middle of the space which will eventually be our home.

Things I have learnt: That anyone who feels the need to be disrespectful of our efforts here must be thought of as being a sad person living out a sad life.
That anyone who feels the need to critisize needs not to be encouraged to make a return here.
That there are very few people who actually enjoy our efforts, and they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They are people who are actually living their lives as well and not standing idly by waiting to die.

Friday 17 July 2009

We had a bit of a blowing...

A storm fetched up here last night, for which there had been an orange alert. In the scheme of things it wasn't that much of an event. Nothing was ruined, no chaos ensued.

But what it did do was remind us of the January storm when all hell broke lose.

Not to worry, though, in a few more storms time the memory would have become filed further away in memory. But we are remembering less and less of the reality of it already, and more and more of the odd bits particularly of funnyness. Like when Lester was lifted three foot up in the air by a gazebo which was trying to metamorphosize into a kite, or my hours of hanging onto one end the gazebo while it flapped about. Or the moment it broke its back. Thwack. Right in the middle.

And standing in the half barn in the half light of early dawn, soaked, frozen, feeling emptied out of all effort. Then going to bed because that was all there was left to do. No electrics. No heat. Everything damp.

The memory of the winds marching their way towards us. Like warriors as if to war. That is how the waves of winds sounded as they came our way.

Of not being able to sleep in case the caravan was knocked over. But sleeping anyway, but in naps.

And the curious thing is that we now find it funny! Is that how one becomes a survivor in life? Of finding elements of humour during times when there is none? And those happier moments stay in the memory, eventually overlaying the stresses of the original experience.

Just a thought.

I have just come back from a walk round our fields. It is early. The storm is still around. Summer storms. We need them to keep things growing. To help us appreciate the peaceful times, of being alive, of being in life.

Yesterday I made some marrow and ginger jam. Well that was what I was supposed to be making, but it turned out more like marrow and ginger syrup. But oh so more-ish that I have kept helping myself to a spoonful of the left over jam whenever I pass by. I am fast becoming a marrow and ginger jam/syrup junkie!

Re: the gates fiasco. RV, him who is supposed to be putting the gates up. Well, he came round yesterday and strooth almighty! Mmmmm, yes, well, this is still an ongoing subject, with now a third set of posts on their way to us, to join the two sets we already have. The first set was wood from his back garden. The second was pine. The third may or may not be oak, oak being the wood we asked for in the first place. Come join with me as I let out a wail of frustration! No, seriously, he is a walking nightmare of a man, is oh so charming on the surface but that is it. No more is there of him, other than a man who wants to get the most money out of the job for less effort, which requires of him not to listen to what we want and then get uppity with us because we question him.

Re: the docks. As I have said, I have just come back from a walk round our fields, to find them absolutely full of dock plants. This is not good. Unless..... wild foodying! So researching on the internet today to see what can be done with tons and tons of dock seeds. I think we can grind them into flour, although I read somewhere that they tend to have an encouraging effect on the bowels. My one attempt at using them in cooking did not have any effect on my guinea pig, which was Lester. He seemed to be OK and did not require the porta potti any more frequently than normal.

Re: the house. Nothing to report. Johnathen came round yesterday, took some measurements, and had a chat. Danni came round, had a look, and had a chat.

Re: future adventures. Had a walk down to the Louet bay, the Louet being a robust stream which turns into a torrent of water when rains fall on the escarpment beside us. Since we have not had any rain for weeks, the Louet is looking sleepy. It looks like I can cross it and have a look at what is round the corner of the Adour.

This was taken at full flood, and now all the water on the right has gone away, leaving a sort of beach. Anyway, it looked inviting enough to have a go at an adventure. But perhaps not today. With the rain that came down last night, and more on the way, the Louet is going to be a very busy stream. I think it is trying to grown up and be as big as the Adour. Bless.

Must just tell you: went shopping yesterday into Maubourguet and on the way back had my first traffic jam since arriving here. The road was like driving on silk, so smooth, so bump-free, but no signs to say that they were resurfacing the road ahead. They don't seem to do warning signs here. Just pop a tiny old bollard in the middle of the road, that's all they do. No traffic lights, no 'chippings on the ground' warnings, no great long strings of bollards syphoning you off onto other bits of the road. No. All I had was a huge lorry stopped ahead. That was it.

After some time, the lorry moved. And I followed. Over to the other side of the road we swung. In a gap I could see a little bollard parked up by itself, all alone, in the middle of the road. I assumed that meant we had to be over on the right side of the road by the time we got to it. I missed it by a whisker, after having passed the cutest of all road resurfacing machines I have ever seen. No great belching monster like the UK ones are, this one was a poddly, old, not-in-a-hurry, resurfacer driven by what looked like a lady but was probably a man, this being a country which still has a sexist attitude.

Anyway, and I know I must finish this blog because you and I have other things we need to be getting on with, the lorry ahead suddenly did another swing over to the left. I dutifully followed.

In a gap ahead I could see a middle-of-the-road junction. Oops. But I was committed. So was the lorry. It kept going. So did I. Then blast it! It only did a sharp left turn onto a side road. Now there was only me, on the wrong side of the road. Oh blast it again! Oncoming traffic! Now by the junction. Going through the junction. No where to go except forward, the right side of the road being blocked by road furniture.

Ah a weeny gap. Just before the now stopped oncoming traffic, which also had a huge lorry in it, I did a sharpish dart through the gap, missing the first car in the queue by a slightly greater distance than the bollard and waving gaily at the drivers whose way I had been blocking. One can get away with quite a lot of nonsense when one smiles and waves charmingly: I am getting quite adept at using this method as a means of saying sorry for my numerous mistakes on the French roads.

And all the while there were no more directional bollards, and no instructional signs. Ah, the French.

So off into my day and signing off for now. Au revoir for the moment.

Thursday 16 July 2009

The dog down the road

There is a dog down the road who irritates me and Boolie mostly because he is an 'attack' from behind type of dog which means that he sneaks up to us from the rear. Oh he does a 'look at me I am a big dog' stance if he meets us from the front, but mostly he prefers to clear off so we think he has gone and then comes up from the rear.

Me and Bools think this is cowardly. If you have a grump about somebody, face them head on. That's what me and Bools think.

We walk down the lane, past Christiane's jumbly gardening house, onto the s-bend in the lane, and there dog down the road lives. Most times he is still indoors when we pass, especially of late. There are new occupants to this particular house, arriving last winter. Well it isn't a house really, not in terms of the UK interpretation of 'house'. Rather, it is a huge barn of a place, with a huge barn attached. All fally-down and rustically rural. So not posh or anything.

But I think they do parties, because a huge circular bright blue blow up swimming pool has just appeared, and they don't. What I mean is that there is no-one about when we pass now, including dog down the road.

Just a word about these pools. They are cheap in price, and very big and very tall. You clamber up a ladder then drop down into them. And look horrible! But even I have had a fleeting secondary thought about purchasing one when we are cooking furiously in the afternoon sun. But it is a thought which flickers in and out. We have the river. Last summer me and Bools spent many a happy afternoon wading up and down in it, cooling off. Not done that this year, as we tend to spend the afternoons in the coolness of the pig/chick hut, which we didn't have last year. Or I am having a siesta.

Anyway, we were walking down the lane this morning. All was peaceful. Down past Sara's place with her camels out in the field already today, doing a left turn, over a canal which I often stop and linger at. There is a house whose back walls are one wall of the little canal. It looks vaguely Venice. I enjoy this house, with its drapings of wisteria, and its sleepy, timeless, dustiness. As with many others in the area, it has elderly people in. Eventually it will be sold, and probably done up. That is the life of a house. People in, people out. Always passing traffic. I would like the house to stay as it is. But nothing does. So I enjoy it for now.

Onto another bridge, this time over the Louet river. Sara has the keys to the sluice gate here. I lean on the railings for a moment, but not for long.

On past the fields where the cows graze, and the maize fields start. To the right the Pyrenees. I can sometimes see the Pyrenees. If I don't, then the weather will be sunny and dry. If I do, then rain will be on its way during the next few days. I don't see them today.

At half right is the village of Mazeres with its odd towered church. A lot of the churches seem to be built by individual people. There doesn't seem to be overall comformity to the village churches. For some reason the church always makes me feel, again, timeless. It is at this point that any tensions I have drizzle away. It is not the most adventurous of walks, and there are prettier ones to be had in the area, but it is my morning walk with Bools and always works a magic on me.

Now down to the track between the maize fields. The overhead sprinklers are on. The farmers are watering the maize. So far they haven't been watering where I have been walking.

Ah, today they are! To my left is the escarpment of trees on which the village of Castelnau Rivière Basse stands. There is the wall of a ruined castle perched on the edge. Nothing grand or special, just a wall which now belongs to a house. But it is charming. Not done up, modernised, or tarted up for the tourists. Nothing is done for the tourists. No big signs to say 'come and pay your dollar here to see our attractions'. Nothing. Perhaps that's why people like to come here. Because it is easy and simple.

Will I do a jog this morning? I think thirty walks, thirty slow shuffle-type jogs, thirty walks are the order of the day. It is already getting warm, so best to pace myself.

We approach the watering system. These are long, tall, elegant scaffolds of steel which spray water over the maize. "Looks like we are going to get wet" I say to Bools. Wait a minute - there seems to be a moment when one could dart through. We wait. Yes! We're through! And only a bit of splash down our backs.

Onwards along the track. Nothing much to be seen now the maize is growing. Head high, it is a wall of green. By now I am doing my walking jogging pattern of movement, and my head has become calm. Perhaps it is a good thing that there is no actual view because there is nothing to distract me.

We make a left turn to come over Louet again, but this time over planks. This is a farmers bridge so has no sides, but if it is solid enough to take a tractor it is solid enough to carry my weight. Bools will often take a moment to go and have a drink, and sometimes I go down the bank with him and sit and linger. Not today. Time is pressing on.

I stand on the wide row of planks. I used to hurry across at one time because it feels like one could easily fall in. Without sides, a topple could have one in the water in no time. Today I don't. I
stand in the middle of the planks facing the downward flow of water. And imagine all my worries and concerns flowing away down the river. And I face the other way, and imagine peace and calm flooding into me. This is the first time I have done this. I think it will be something I often repeat.

Over the next little planky bridge which is the canal again, and onto the lane. And there he is. The dog down the lane. All puffed up and trying to look aggressive. Bools stops. I stop. Bools puffs himself, and starts slowly tiptoeing forward. Normally I would carry on walking as normal. Today I don't. I stay at Boolie's shoulder. We are, after all, a team. I move slowly forward as well, backing Boolie up. I raise my shoulders to puff myself up. A team.

Bools feels my comradeship and does a full on charge. Powerfully he plunges at the dog down the lane, which spins round and scarpers off, flanks now at ground level, puffiness all gone. Bools deigns not to chase too far. He has protected our corner of the world. He looks round. "Thanks, " he says. "You're welcome" I say.

On we go. Now approaching the house with the pool and the home of the dog down the lane. This is when the dog down the lane will make a rear guard action.

We approach the house. Bools is puffed up again, walking slowly. I am walking slowly at his shoulder. Today is show-down time. The dog down the lane appears, coming out of the gates to the house. And raises his lips in a menacing snarl. Boolie does a low throaty growl. I do the same. Yes I do! I do a growl as well! The dog down the lane looks at me. Looks at Bools. He sees the team effort. But we don't attack. Even though it is two against one, we don't attack. The dog down the lane does when he is making mischief with Sara's dog. The two of them came visiting a while ago, and did much bully boy behaviour against Bools. Two against one again. Lester had to go and shout them away.

Today, though, we are saying to the dog down the lane, "Do not torment us with your rear guard attacks again, because there are two of us here." This is the message we gave to the dog down the lane who wiltered away. I did a bark. Just to send him off. Bools didn't. He was above such behaviour.
"Bonjour" a voice called from behind me. Oh, the man who lives in the white bungalow which is opposite to the dog down the lane's house. He is leaning on his gate, watching. Oops.

Not to worry though, he knows that we live in the roofless house at the top of the lane and that my tomatoes haven't been staked up yet out in the front garden because the ensuing conversation told me so. I think he is 86 years old, has two sons who live with him and has a wife who is living somewhere else because she needs too much looking after. I think that is what he says, but he is speaking French but lisping heavily because he has no front teeth but instead has a wide gap through which his tongue seems to often escape. Anyway, another neighbour met and spoken to.

We carry on walking. Christiane stops in her car. She is on her way to the post office, and we have a girly laugh about getting wet under the sprinklers out in the maize fields. I think this is what I said to her. Not to worry though, because whatever I said caused her to almost collapse with laughter.

Round the corner, and there is Labartere. Ah, who is that. Bruno! Giving me a wave as he comes out of the drive on his bicycle. He is cycling round a lot now. His son just passed his test, and the day after he did so he borrowed Bruno's van, took a phone call en route and put himself and the van into a ditch, writing the vehicle off. He's OK though. But Bruno has to cycle if Maddi has their remaining car. Anyway, with shirt open and flapping like wings, off he goes presumably after having had a cup of tea with Lester.

Home. And no rear guard attack from the dog down the lane. I feel blessed by my walk. I am not sure how you will be feeling, after all you have been travelling for some distance down the page as you read my words. But thank you for coming with me and sharing the moments of my walk.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Our gates, problems with...

This is our gate. At one time, before we arrived here, there were two. Both were padlocked together until someone kicked down one of them. Now there is only one:

One gate across a wide opening does not do much good in the way of keeping a boundary between us and the outside world. There are times when we are wanting privacy, but everyone who comes calling walks straight on through the gateway, and straight on into our living area. Which probably would not be a difficulty if we were in the house because we would have a front door we could shut. But we don't. So we often feel intruded upon.

Enter RV. Masterbuilder. English but "talks good French". Handing us his business card "in case we need any work done" off he trotted. Back he came a few days later, "just to see how you are getting along", so we ask him for a quote for the gates.

Back he comes, with quote. Was high. But his son had recently helped us with some translation, so on the strength of that we accepted his quote.

Gates duly arrived, in a box. Didn't look big enough. But will have to do for time being.
RV: "I've got some wood in the back garden I am going to have sawn down the middle. That will do for the posts". We look at each other but don't question the mention of 'the bit of wood'.

Bits of wood arrived, thumped down with a flourish by RV. They are tatty to say the least. "Oh they'll be alright with a bit of sanding down" RV said over his shoulder as he walked away.

Lester took two days to boil. Onto the phone he went. With outrage did he require an explanation as to why the wood was obviously not new, obviously not oak, and obviously not long enough to frame the gate.

RV came round the next day. Explained that he had put on the quote the size of the posts, but ended up amicably saying he would purchase two oak beams of the correct length.

Beams duly arrived: RV said he would be back in a couple of days.

It took Lester one day this time to go into a boil: the beams were pine, not oak. Which means that the wood will not be strong enough to take the weight of the gates over time.

It's been left like this: fistycuffs probably judging by Lester's upset. RV is astonished at Lester's attitude. We are astonished at RV's complete disregard to our request.

Will let you know what transpires. But am lighting a candle to pour calmness onto the situation.

Meanwhile we have a pile of wood in the way of the entrance, none of which is suitable and two gates still in their box waiting to be hung.

What I have learnt: Renovating can be a frustrating business!

Monday 13 July 2009

I'll help you!

With boundless enthusiasm I charged after Hubs/HG (Head gardener) as he marched off down to the river with the watering cans to do the nightly watering of the many fruit trees he had planted round the border of the back field.

And it is mighty task indeed. Splash. Into the river he has to go to fill the watering cans, then he has to haul them back up the bank and then walk round to the trees. Each one has a full can. Thirteen trees. Thirteen cans of water. Plus a couple of cans for the veg plot out back.

So, I thought that I would be of help. But: we only have two watering cans. So: a bit of a prob.

And then a thought popped into my mind: the caravan water containers were no longer used mostly because we couldn't be bothered to keep filling them up, it seeming a lot easier to commute over to the water tap with a water bottle and fill that up instead. One was sitting idle, so it was gone and got by moi, aka UG. (Under gardener)
Brill idea!!!

OK, so it proved to be a tad unwieldy as it poyoinyed over the field behind me, but I felt a truly intrepid smallholder-type apprentice as I approached the river bank. It's not tooooo steep. HG was by now having a winge at me because I was slowing up his water-delivery speed. With Boolie trying to help as well, a queue had developed.

Down the bank I went. It was muddy at the bottom. "Oh give it here" HG said, irritated that I was slowing him down. Irritated that I was in photo-shoot mode.

"You'll only slip and hurt yourself" he said as he grabbed the handle of the water container and plunged on down the bank.

But the water container refused to go into the water unless HG went into the river as well. But not to worry. Bools went in to keep him company.

But the container would only fill half way up and he had to go further into the river to get it filled up.

He was not best pleased! Normally he just stands at the bottom of the bank and manages to scoop the watering cans full by not having to go into the actual water.

Not much water dribbled over the top of his wellies, and that was mostly done by Bools as he romped around, enjoying what to him was a jolly good lark.

It was at this point that HG went off the boil. Up the bank he charged, lugging the now full water container behind him.
"It's too heavy, and it takes too long. And put that blasted camera away." (or words to that effect)

Things I learnt today: That perhaps discrete photo shoots are better when it is hot and the trees are thirsty and one's Hubs just wants to put his feet up and cool down and does not want to go paddling about in the river wasting time with a project invented by his wife.
That nevertheless it was fun!

PS. The water container is now in retirement until I can think up another project for it.

Saturday 11 July 2009

There once was a time...

There once was a time when I had a house. With a roof. Now I have a roofless house, full of fresh air and sunshine.

This week the floors have been dug out, and the drainage stones laid. The house now looks the tidiest it has ever been, and probably the tidiest it will ever be.

Once I move in then a natural chaos will ensue.

But for the moment the house is pristine. And here is the view looking from what will be the downstairs bathroom along the hallway to the front door.

They took the front doors off this week. Presumable so they could get the machinery into the house. I miss the doors. Gave the house a sense of being a house rather than a shell.

However, inside the house is the tidiest space here. The half barn is full of insulation work stuff, the courtyard......

....before the floors were worked on,

...and after the floors were started. The courtyard now resembles a dustbowl!

But not to worry. A drop of rain and all will become green again.

There once was a time when I had a house with a roof, and central heating, and a proper toilet, and a shower, a bed with four legs, a kitchen with shelves and a proper cooker, and I could shut the door at night against the world.

There was once a time when I felt trapped by the way my life was.

I might not have any of the things I once upon a time had, but I have the makings of a floor in my roofless house, and the half barn is starting to look more and more like a space I will enjoy staying in. The veg plots are coming along, and I have written my first book, nearly finished my second, have started the third.

We have fresh air in abundance, and life in abundance.

Once upon a time I had a house with a roof and all the comforts therein. Now I don't.


Things I have learnt today. That when the sun is at its warmest then perhaps it is best to stay in the shade otherwise the heat might pickle one's brains.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Platting, snortings, butterflies and Danny gets stuck

Needed to sort out the onions and garlics, not liking them to be left in a heap. Anyway, an urge has been niggling me, which is to have a go at platting them. Tried that a few days ago, and as you can see, I managed to get them hanging all together, but sort of en masse and not really properly platted. (I have detailed my experiment over at Jumbly Gardening)

That was a few days ago. Today, I had a another go. And Voila! Not pristine, but sort of all hanging together.

Trouble is that the whole thing is so heavy that we can't hang it in the awning because the weight will buckle the poles of the awning, and we can't really hang them from the beams of the pig/chick hut in case they fall on our heads and the beams are too high to get to easily anyway. The half barn is already housing three sacks of potatoes, which keep getting in Jonathen's way as he he continues to do the ceiling, and the only other dry space is in the gateway. But the only peg strong enough fell out of the wall after a few hours. It obviously did not see it as its duty to hold a load of onions for all to see.

So the onions are now in a heap in a box. Oh well, perhaps next year I might be able to have somewhere dry where I can hang them, and I might also have managed to get the skill of platting them to a higher level than what it is at the moment!

So out into the front garden for half an hour this afternoon. Sitting observing what flowers the bees liked, and along came this butterfly. You will probably have to click on the photo to see it more clearly, but my oh my, it was huge, with striped wings, and forked bits out the back.

Thought I would share it with you, so here it is.

By the way, the wings are the front, the body is the oval bit in the middle, and the fancy forked bits are its back end. When it flew, although it was going forward, it looked like it was going backwards!

So I was having a catchy-up chat with on the phone with a friend and the builders decided to do things to the heap of soil which was once the floors of the house. Driven by Danni, on top of the head climbed a big digger. Behind him to the edge of the heap was driven a lorry.

All looking good. Lorry being loaded by the digger, lots of earth being moved.

Shouts. Alarm. And much pointing. Digger stopped. All look.

And here is Danni's rear end as he has a look too!

I am sorry that I did not get a closer shot, but the builders are naturally shy about me and my camera, so this is a sneaky shot as I hide behind the clutter which is on the table in the awning.

I don't know what the problem was. But it caused some concern and stopped work for some time.

We are off for a curry with friends now, so will finish off tomorrow. Meanwhile, I leave this blog in your hands.

Hiya, back again to finish off. Snortings: Went to bed before Lester the other night. Drifting off into dreamland, with Bools already asleep on his bed on the floor beside ours.

And what seemed right beside the caravan only it couldn't have been because there is builder's stuff in the way, came the distinct sound of snorting. Not froggie chirrups. Nor crickets singing. Definitely not the catawauling of the feral cats. No, a definite snorting. The type that piggies do.

Again it sounded.


Off to sleep I went, thinking to myself things like: it will be nice to be inside four solid walls, hope Lester makes it into the caravan OK and doesn't get trampled on by whatever it is that is snorting, and why doesn't Watchdog Boolie flipping well wake up and do his job of guarding.

Mentioned it to Jonathen this morning. Oh yes, he said. Definitely wild boar. Loads around. They'll start shooting them in a few weeks time. They kill hundreds. Six of them were being chased through the village by the Chasse (huntsmen) and one of their dogs managed to separate one of the pigs off and it ended up in my garden. One of the Chasse men followed it in and yelled at me to jump on it. I did. It's teeth were only six inches long, not fully grown otherwise I wouldn't have done it. I wrestled with it and got an arm lock round its neck. The Chasse man got his knife out and managed to slit its throat through my arm-lock position.

And so life continues on its peaceful rythm here: the builders are now getting the floor stones into the house, so lots of digging and wheelbarrowing going on, the birds continue to look upon our house as theirs as well and have made chase-me games in and out of the windows and doors, or rather the gaps where there should be windows and doors, Lester is on his PC working away and I am on mine. Boolie, meanwhile, is asleep on the floor, as befits a guard dog who seems at the moment to be permanently off duty.

Monday 6 July 2009

On a busy Monday

At a late night pow-wow last night, it was decided that we ought to go and investigate a Farmer's Market we had heard about a few weeks, at Rabastan.
'Get there early because they sell out' was the information given to us, so up at 7-ish this morning, Hubs as well, off on the road at 7.30 ish, thirty minutes later and we arrive at Rabastan.

Yes, there was a market today. We could see that. Because the traders had only just arrived and were setting up. It felt slow, laid back, 'everything in good time', 'maybe sometime today we'll get everything unloaded so you can buy something', which is French-style attitude. No animals.

'Back of the church' we are told.

So we go to the back of the church. Nope. No-one there.

Un homme is asked: 'ou est the marchè pour les animaux?
'Huit heurre et demi'. (Half past eight)
We are too early.

Coffee then. Back to other market place. Purchase meat and cheese, then coffee stop sitting on bistro type chairs on the pavement. It was a nice moment. I still have reflective moments about the fact that we are actually living in France, especially when I stop and observe the French living out their lives.

8.40: Back to autre marchè. Still no-one. Sit on bench and watch the world go by for a while. I went on a recce round the back of the market and found a patisserie. Two pain au beurre, and a baguette bought.

9.00: Back at market, see one large white van which is unloading grates of chirpy, squeaky things. Chickens, it looks like.

That looks interesting! Approach with interest. Loads of crates of chickens. Some white. Some brown. Some bare-necked. Ducks. Some yellow. Some brown. All babies.

We feel keen.

"I think we'll have half a dozen" Hubs says.

Watch as one of the crates is opened, and the seller scoops up a bunch as if they are flowers, dangling them by their legs: a bunch of little chickens, mabe a dozen or so, all held in one hand. They are tumbled into the back of another van. Into another box.

We feel ever so slightly less keen.

We ask if these are laying chickens. No they are not. They are meat chickens. Laying chickens next February, March. We watch as another bunch of chickens are scooped up out of another crate. Another handful of upside down chicks, all squealing their dislike about having their world suddenly turned upside down.

We walk off, our keen-ness down in our boots. So we remain chickenless, but even more strong in thought that we want to know where our chickens are coming from, and after seeing Sara's egg incubator, Hubs is even more fired up about hatching our own. Then from start to end we will know that never have they been waved about in the air upside down, and so have never been unduly stressed. We will give them as much dedication as they will give us during their lives.

The pain au beurre's were nice though.

9.30: Back home. Builders here. Door to house shut. Try to open it, but can't. Noise coming from inside house. Want to know what it is. Try door again. Young builder opens it by a few inches as if he doesn't want us to come in. It was a funny moment, being barred from one's own roofless house!

But they are digging out the floors today. It is a warm day. Shirts off then.

Johnathen here as well, together with his young son of 12 who was fishing by the bridge. Son comes back. Has lost his hook. Dad stops work and assists. Son and me decide a project is a good idea, which is to open up the path down to the river after it has become overgrown again so he can fish off our beach.

That we do. I end up stung by the nettles and scratched by the brambles. He ends up with nothing: no scratches and no stings. But the path is cut. Boolie immediately went into the river to cool down, and I look forward to long summer afternoons by the river. Payment for J's son is a life-long promise that he can fish off our river bank whenever he needs to.

"Heelllloooo" I hear being yelled through the air. It's Dee and her son, Liam, come for a visit.
"You look well: all glowing" she says.
"Its sweat" I say. It's been hot work breaking a way through to the river.

It's lunch time. Nothing is prepped. Hubs is working. An hour later he must have realised that it was not looking good for getting fed anytime soon, because we are still chatting. "How about going out to lunch" he says.

We had our best lunch out ever. Not particularly any cheaper than in the UK, but all home cooked and delish. Liam did not go much on the shark steak he was given in place of the steak we had (he is a vegetarian which is not really something that the French do, being all meat eaters), but otherwise all was eaten. Three courses, including two carafes of wine and coffee to end, worked out about £12 per head. And all was fresh cooked.

Lester back to work. Dee and Liam off home. Me into the black dustbins out back to get one large container of nettle soup mix to dilute and use as fertiliser for my plants out front. Into black water bins out front. Ooops. One gecko floating upside down and very dead in one of them. Have already rescued one which was swimming in a water container by the water tap, and also a young frog splashing about in a container by the cold frame. I was too late to save this one. So have tipped it out onto the ground to be recycled by whatever wants to come and along and eat it. Such is the way of life: everything eats everything else. Nothing is wasted.

5 to 1 nettle mix into squirty bottle to see if the aphids can be discouraged from eating the leaves of the broccoli, kohl rabi, and brussel sprouts.
10 to 1 nettle mix as fertiliser for plants.

Hands smell very earthy. The nettle-mix is very strongly aromatic. Ah. Johnathen calls. He has blood oozing down his face. Grab clean tea towel and go mop him up. Nothing much. Just a half inch gash in his head from a piece of steel. His son asks if I can see J's brains. "No" I say. "Didn't think he had any anyway" was his son's remark.

Off back down to the beach he goes to do some more fishing.

Things I have learnt today: That each day has a flexibility to it if one can go with the flow and enjoy.
That nettle stings can last for hours and hours but don't really hurt than much, only sort of throb. That it is nice to share time with a youngster by doing a task together. That there are two ways of thinking about animals: either as commodities designed to be made use of by us human beings, or beings in their own right who need respect for the part they play in our lives.

And to finish off: I visited Rabastan a couple of weeks ago, to a Vide Jardin. Here is the market place as it was on that day.

And the horse needing to go to the loo!

Sunday 5 July 2009

I've had a little holiday

......but only from writing the blog. Sometimes I have words in my head which are suitable to be given to you, other times there seems to be a vacant space with no words available to share.

But I have not been idle. Life continues on here, with photo shoots (of weeds), jam-making (from Sara's plums), looking after Hubs (always ongoing), final polishing of Psychic Virgin (waiting for final proof to be sent from Lulu which is the print on demand publishers) and then it is sent out into the World which is a huge place for a little book so it will need lots of luck to be even noticed let alone purchased, format editing on My Psychic Toolbox which takes yards and yards of patience and time (this is the second book in the series), and afternoon naps and You Tubing and reading the online newspapers and continuing on with the garden.

Also, I have been inspired (?) to make another blog called Jumbly Gardening, and another one called Foody-ing. This is to clear out the clutter on this blog, and make the whole thing tidier. What I am doing is building a catalogue of blogs which will eventually be used as the content for


So, I haven't been idle.

For Foody-ing I did these pictures on the joyful stickiness of jam making.

This one is the bit on 'how to tell if your jam is at setting point'.

I can't be bothered with putting saucers in a cold fridge and then putting a blob of jam on one of the saucers (after taking it out of the fridge of course) to see if the surface of the jam wrinkles when prodded.
For one thing, my fridge is not cold because it is a caravan fridge so is a fridge in name only and does not have the ability to keep things particularly cold. And secondly, when I made an experiment to see if it was a viable means of testing for setting point, I burnt the tip of my finger because the jam was too hot.

So: my answer to testing for the setting point is to put a large metal spoon into the jam, making sure I have a fairly
good dollop, but not a huge dollop, of runny jam on it then pop outside and wave the spoon in the air to cool it down a bit, Then turn the spoon sideways and see at what speed the jam falls off the spoon.

If it all tumbles onto the ground, then back to the pan of jam for another boil-up, but if some if falls off the spoon but a glob forms at the edge of the spoon, then the jam is set.
Waiting for the glob can be quite a nail-biting experience: will it fall off? Or will it stay on the spoon in a nicely formed tear-drop?

I thought this picture was OK as a photo-shot. Shame about the background! Oh and my slightly wavering hand: holding the camera with one hand whilst holding a hot spoon of jam in the other was a bit tricky!

Now this one here is to show what an abysmal mess I make when I am jamming.

I could blame the confines of the caravan, but I think that even in the biggest of kitchens that I would probably still make a mess.

I think these is a child in me somewhere that loves to get messy!

Another Foody-ing subject, and that is wild food. I am trying to be brave about eating stuff which does not come from a seed packet, a market stall, or a supermarket shelf.

Anyway, this is my Docks Project. We have loads of them out in the back field, which Hubs / Head Gardener is trying to kill off by mowing. Only they refuse to die, letting him take the tops off but then quickly putting up a new sprouting of growth within days.

This exasperates him no end, so I looked on the Internet to see what info there was about docks and how to kill them off.

Well actually you can't very easily. So the next best thing is to see what we can do with them.
Apparently the seeds can be used as flour if they are ground down into a powder.
Thought I would have a try. Picked some. No grinder.

Tried my electric blender but the seeds just whizzed round the top and didn't go anywhere near the cutting blades at the bottom.

Tried my pestle and mortar, well I would have done but only have the mortar bit and not the pestle which is somewhere else and couldn't be found.

Tried hammering the seeds as they lay on newspaper, but all they did was went everywhere.
Gave up.

Was baking a quiche, so used the left over pastry as a trial run to see if the seeds were actually edible. Sprinkled seeds onto pastry, and squashed them down. Into oven.

Dinner time. Artfully arranged plate of food for Hubs, including a nice portion of quiche, salad, sweetcorn and sundry other veggies, plus a nicely positioned portion of the dock biscuit. "Mmmmmm" Hubs said, as he munched his way through his plate of food.
"This is nice" he said as he partook of another mouthful of quiche. "You've excelled yourself here" he continued as he munched his way towards the end of his piece of dock biscuit.

I monitored him for the rest of the day to see if there was any adverse effects from the dock seeds. So far, so good. I am now considering harvesting the remaining dock seed heads from the back field before Hubs / HG can mow the rest of them down, and buying a coffee grinder to grind the seeds into flour.

So, lots to do with the blogs. All I have to do is sort out the graphics for the other two, learn how to use the posher camera which is so complicated that neither Hubs / Super Tech Team Guy or myself can understand how to use it, but it does have an anti-shake device which is supposed to correct any hand wobble one might have when one is trying to take pictures with one hand.

And in case you were not entirely clear about the setting point of jam, here is a close-up of the jam globs as they set.

Please forgive the included hosepipes. They didn't seem relevant when trying to take this shot!

And I will let you know when the other blogs are sorted out. They might inspire you to go and pick some docks yourself and cook them up, or even go wave a spoon of jam around your back garden.

Things I have learnt today: that life can be fun if you don't take yourself too seriously.