Sunday 31 January 2010

Attempts One & Two

"Forward", I think to myself. "Be Brave. Do not hesitate". Approaching the long counter, I find my feet suddenly swinging away toward the pre-packaged section. Now I am lingering in thought, observing all before me, leaning onto my trolley. 

I take a deep breath. Today. I must do this task today. I turn. Head towards the long counter. Oh no! The pretty lady with the dark hair is on duty. Same one as sorted me out before. Only she often has a sort of 'Oh no, not her again' look when she sees me. Or is my nervous imagination. Perhaps she is just pre-occupied, thinking about things other than having to deal with me, and my non-French vocabulary.

Same today. She looks up from her cleaver.  Her face becomes startled as she sees me scurrying past, leaning on my trolley and examining the long row of prices  while I  search for some gleam of recognition. Onwards I keep on scurrying. Back to the other counter. The prepackaged stuff. So, nope, not today can I do this task. 

So: "Forward", I think to myself. "Be Brave. Do not hesitate". 

This is Attempt Number Two. All is quiet. Taking a deep breath I cautiously approach the long counter again. Ah, the young lady is there. Dratten and blasten. But: rescued! Looking up I see a long row of white signs. Porc. I see 'Porc Roti'. I have a point of recognition on which to hold on. 

Task done.  And in my trolley is a bargain parcel of 4 pork roasting joints, and in my head is a sense of having made an achievement, and my heart is warm because a pretty French lady who I think has been a bit bewildered by me in the past, smiled at me with warmth, and, I  think, a smidgeon of respect.

And all I did was buy some meat. I have had trouble dealing with the fresh meat counters in supermarkets because I don't understand the cuts of meat, nor the pricings. For some reason my head has remained stuck in pounds and ounces and stirling. Only on this, though. Everything else I seem to be able to manage. 

I suppose in the general scheme of things buying something from a fresh meat counter doesn't really matter. Only it does to me. First of all there is the throw-away packaging to deal with subsequently, but most of all I regard it as an act of cowardice on my part that I flunk out with this task I have set myself. 

And I now have the start of an alliance with a pretty butcher lady who might have started reversing her opinion about an English woman who seems not to have her head on shoulders sometimes! Ah, the joys of shopping in a foreign land! Now all I have to do is project myself forward into other supermarkets, and perhaps even a boucherie, but not for the moment. Let me and the lady go forward together for the time being. I only have a certain amount of bravery in my reserves!

And for Lester's mum and dad: Here is Hubs showing you the scarf I have recently knitted him. The builder-men managed to get the front doors back up again so the gaping hole in the front of the house is gone, as can be seen behind Hubs. Gussy is hanging around Hubs in the hope that The Lord and Master will enter the house, go into the temporary kitchen, and from thence put his hand into the dog biscuit box and deliver unto him a couple of biscuits, or even better, a dog-chew. Bools will be observing Gussy from behind me, making sure that Gussy is not the only one who is deserving of tasty doggy morsels. 

Beside Hubs is the newly re-surfaced blue freezer box, and my office waste bin. Little things, for sure, but I am hopeful that if these have been found then surely so will my winter trousers and skirts. By Hubs's feet is the long black cable which is our electricity supply into the house, but a trench has now been dug elsewhere to carry our electrics so soon the cable will be history, which will give me one less thing to trip up on. 

So: roast pork today. Hopefully not singed, though. My calor gas cooker is a fearsome machine to be getting used to, and most of what I have cooked in the oven really do have an overlay of singe. Not to worry. Soon scraped off. And I am a learner in most ways at the moment. 

Hope your day is a good one. And hope that if there is something that you are not wanting to attempt, that you manage to take a step forward in the conquering of it. And bless us all for at least trying!

Helpful Hint: If you need to remove copious amounts of dust from off your newly laid concrete floor, be gentle in your attempts to do so. Otherwise as you wield your trusty broom, most of the dust will take flight up into the air, becoming dust motes.  Not to worry, though, as the marvel of watching the cavortings of these motes in a shaft of sunlight, if you are lucky enough to have the sun grace you with its presence that is, will entrance and entertain you for many a happy moment. However, there is a task in hand, so: once the motes have descended into  sleep state and are in repose on the floor, sprinkle some water onto them. Gently though, otherwise they will wake up again. And not too much water: water + still asleep dust motes = mud.

Friday 22 January 2010

Walloping down

Walloping down came the timbers of the tall barn yesterday, done entirely by the efforts of Jean-Pierre, who only worked in the afternoon as he was done in by the previous days work of monkeying about single handedly in the top rafters of said barn. 
Man oh man, but it was dangerous work. At one point I had to slither and slide over the pile of fallen wooden detritus to untangle the lines of his safety harness which had tangled themselves in an unexpected tumble of beams which had rendered him swinging gaily about in what was left of the roof, otherwise he would have remained hoisted up in the air indefinitely. 
No to worry, though. Cup of tea soon soothed ruffled nerves. Jean-Pierre was OK as well, but only after had had a long sleep to recover! Bless.

Anyway, he managed to get hold of the digger, and was using that yesterday to get some more beams down, and to shift the fallen wood out to the ever growing wood pile, all of which comprises our once upon a time interior wood structure of Labartere.

To and fro he trundled, muddying up the courtyard which gave the ruffled soil an ideal opportunity to travel indoors to dry out, the soil's manner of porterage being the bottom of our boots and the eight feet belonging to the Bools and Gussy. So: mud everywhere. 

Now ensconced in the house for cooking duties, I was washing up at the sink in the house late afternoon. Jean-Pierre was carrying on with his to-ing and fro-ing, whilst I was in washing up reverie. Thump. A deep thud of sound shivered through the air, the house, me. Suddenly jolted into wakefulness from my mental washing-up slumbers, tout suite  my mind lurched into gear. Having had months of waiting for the house to fall down, now was the time for its demise, this urgent thought being confirmed by the bits of house which were wafting down over my head: not big bits, just lose bits of paint, mortar, the odd little stone.

Not to worry. My fears remained unfounded. All that had happened was that JP had dumped a large beam down by the window, 'For the house' he said. '
?' I thought. 
Bless me, but I don't know what we are supposed to be doing with that big chunk of wood but no doubt I will get to know in time. And I also realised that it is going to take me a while to have faith in the fact that the house is not going to fall down. The tall barn might, but the house: no. Up until just before last Christmas, for eighteen months, it was a possibility.

Otherwise, life down here in SW France continues on. Lovely sunshine yesterday, I am continuing my training with the cooking machine and endeavouring to get my work into print, Hubs is still spending endless hours at his PC earning us the money to do the roofs meanwhile regaling me with his endless lists of 'things we are going to do here'. Bless. And the 'roof project' carries on apace.

You know what? We are a very lucky pair of people. 

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Things that came out of the cooker's bottom

This is what came out of the cooker's bottom.

Investigations from super slooth Boolie proved to be of minimal help.

Despite the fact that super slooth Bools and co-partner Gussy had spent the previous hour in the land of nod, tucked up beside the calor gas heater giving themselves a pleasant roasting.

They had, after all, been exhausting themselves trundling after me as I to'd and fro'd between the kitchen caravan and the house relocating my kitchen equipment because I got into a blinder of a mood about the cramped cooking environment I had been working in for months. 
Into the house I moved my kitchen stuff.
But not the caravan cooker. 
That is never to be used again, it's reluctant slowness to cook being its downfall.
I have another cooker. Needed a bit of a clean-up having been basking in the awning for ages since it was delivered by Val and Ron up in the Charente.
That is to be my ongoing cooking machine.

"Oh, Lester, do you think we can move the cooker into the house?" 
My crispness of tone required of him immediate response. 
He responded.

Into the house we carried the cooker.
Almost done.
Got to the doorway, lost a bit of a grip.
It was, after all, an awkward cooking machine to carry it being heavy and cumbersome so it was to be partially expected that my hands would eventually do a bit of a 'let's go on strike' action and stop carrying the cooking machine.
Which they did.

As the cooking machine slips sideways from out of my grip, 
so there was an almighty clatter.
Hubs was pretty well steaming by now, 
him being a man who does manly things like keeping hold of a cooking machine heavy though it may be. 
He was not amused at my ineptitude.

And then everything seemed to go weird as we viewed the cause of the clatter. 
It was the bottom which had dropped out of the cooker
And in it was what looked like
Angels Wings.

Yes, it did. It did. It did. 
The bottom drawer of the cooking machine had a pair of wings in it.
Devoid of a body to fly
Now redundant
 Their job apparently having been done.

For several minutes we stood and surveyed the wings,
Lost for words really,
Which is not usual for either Hubs
or me.

OK, so they were not your big sized angels wings.
Just little ones.
Nevertheless, they looked like they should be flying
Not left

We left them where they lay,

Getting on with our 'removal men' training.

But cooker cleaned up real good.

Et voila!

My first proper cake bake, despite the fact that as the cakes were cooling down Hubs made a complaint:
"Why are all the birds flying in the house and eating those cakes"
On investigation, they had indeed been starting to eat the cakes before us!


Hubs fetched one of the wheelbarrows parked up outside the house,
clattered the tray of wings into it, and off to the compost heap those wings did go.

So were they angels wings?
Possibly not.
But they did once fly something.

And a Thought:

Actually I haven't got one. Just seemed a bit odd that the house was full of little creatures who were flying on useable wings, feeding from off the top of the cooker which had delivered unto us from its bottom a pair of wings which needed a new owner.

And so life goes on down in its normal hum drum way down here in SW France.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Sunbeds & Divi's

Two days snow, two days freezing cold, one day deluged by rain, today: had a sunbathe! Gorgeous! 

OK, so my 'sunbed' was in fact the garden bench which I festooned myself over, then got stuck in the sprawl position and had to be rescued by Hubs. After a glorious sunbathe though. But before you imagine me in unclad mode, with skin and all being bared for to become bronzed over, let me hasten to add that although I had removed several layers, I still had on four up top:  1 thermal vest, two t-shirts, 1 fleece. And four on the bottom: socks, two pairs of trousers, 1 pair of underthings.

Nevertheless, today I had a sunbathe! And the warmth which oozed into my bod will be well remembered as we ride another cold snap, which is apparently on its way to us. The sky was blue, the birds were twittering, and I  laid myself down in the sun. Bools had a quick lick round my ear to give it a clean-up, me now being at a get-at-able height for him, whilst Guss looked on ready to take over if Bools ran out of effort. Hubs was off somewhere else, actually over at our neighbour's place looking after her chickens and sundry other animals including two donkeys. Two weeks ago she said she was going away for a few days, two week later and she has still not put in an appearance. I think she has gone AWOL. Ah well, we have  a free supply of eggs for the moment, although have  less than we ought to have only Hubs was messing about getting friendly with the one sheep in situ, and was so overwhelmed by the sheep taking some food from his hand that he leant over to give it a pat. Shame. He had forgotten that he had already raided the chickens hut. Eggs make a lovely mess when they break in one's pocket. 

A rummage in our post box fetched up two letters, one of which was the much awaited divi (quote) for the grainge, or tall barn. 

This was just after we arrived, and it still had its original hat on. And it became a wish within my heart that we would be able to save the barn, keeping it as it was so that Labartere could retain some of its oldness. 

But no, it was not to be.

After the tiles were off and the protecting tarps put on, there was three months of respite. And then the hurricane hit, ripping all the tarps to shreds. Nearly a year later, and the barn is done.  All the wood has to come out, every single last scrap. It was rotten anyway. Must have been for years. 

And so: we can't ever hope to duplicate the barn, but we can start over and give her a new character. The front is to be filled in, with three patio windows down below, four windows up top. It will look grim for a while, until we can get the bricks covered over with plaster. But the  actual walls would have been saved. The roof will go on exactly the same as the original 

The divi's: They came in bang on target. In my head I had a possible figure, and it was matched exactly by Danny. So onto the third roof we go. Before we came here I had the distinct thought come into my head that we need to get the roofs done. This we are continuing on with. 

However, it is possible that we might have to spend a third winter in the caravans as we focus what money we have on getting Labartere water-tight. It is worth it. We will have  an animal shelter then, and storage space. Even, perhaps, accomodation space eventually. 

Yesterday I did my first trip out as a professional-type person. I won't go into what I do, just that someone asked me to come out to their house and give them a consultation. Just another small step in becoming networked here. And despite the fact that she has no English and my French is decidedly tatty, I managed to impart some help. I think I have saved the relationship. I did some good. I was of service. It's surprising what one can do when one rises to a challenge.

Today I laid out in the sun and had a toasting from the warmth of the sun. Hooray! The tall barn is now going to be sorted out. Hooray! And yesterday I helped someone out of an emotional pickle. Hooray! And today I did the same for a friend. Hooray! And yippy-i-o! My first book is Amazonned! Crikey!

Lessons I have learnt: that it is good to put something back, that it is nice to bask in the sun in the middle of winter, and that the relief of not watching the tall barn continue its rotting away process is a weight off our shoulders.That the warm feeling of having done an endeavour, of seeing a project through to a conclusion, is very warming for the soul.

Also: not to worry about from whence the money will come. Just to be confident that sufficient will find its way to us. We are not making Labartere into a posh residence for ourselves, but that it is to become a retreat for people who need to get off their lives for a while, and also to perhaps act as a centre for encouraging people into being self sufficient. The Universe has given us this task, and we will do our best to get it done. Phew!

Saturday 9 January 2010

Ah and so the snow doth falleth

And about time too! With the UK, and most of France having had their share of the inclement weather, it is now time for us to have a portion. OK. Done. Now the sun can come out and we will be back to normal! 

Was supposed to have a trip to Pau today. Out with the girls I was going, having given up with trying to get Hubs to evacuate Labartere for longer than an hour, him having a continual worry that someone horrid would come and do a raid on the contents of our house, which is open to all what with having no doors, or windows, and only a couple of wrought iron gates to deter would-be trespassers but since they are never locked anyway, they are not much of a deterrent.  

So: an invite by a new French friend, Francoise, who does much in the way of making me review my mode of attire, her always being in arty clothes and looking très chic no matter the hour of the day or the manner of the weather, so much so that I am knitting myself a lacy pink scarf. Well I have to start somewhere. I mean, if I am going to review my image of mucky boots, elderly cotton trousers, ancient knitted cardis, dull coloured fleeces, hair scunched up out of the way because of lack of showering facilities, and general farm-girl appearance, then knitting a nice lacy scarf should start getting me sorted out. 

Played the piano yesterday. Not a proper piano, though. An electric one. My proper piano was donated to the removal men it being too cumbersome an article to park up under tarpaulins. It would have rotted anyway. It was on its way to rotting in the UK. 

There was a church in the UK, out on the marshes of the Isle of Sheppey, in North Kent. It had no electrics, or running water, no road leading up to it, only a farm track, but it had an organ. A pedal organ. One which was pumped with air, by hand, so that voice could be given to it. Once a month, for the Sunday service, I played that organ. And pedalled it. At the same time. It was wheezy organ. By the time we had got to the last verses of the hymns, the organ and me would be joyfully wheezing along together, the old keys being stiff and needing some pushing down to move themselves into action puffed out my top half, whilst my two feet would be pumping away on the foot pump which puffed out my bottom half. Meanwhile, the organ gradually got puffed out the more it was pushed into action, it wanting to really, really, stop forever. 

In the end it was too much effort, so it was allowed to do just that. And I purchased an electronic keyboard, which produced the sound of an organ admirably well, and minus the squeaks and puffs which accompanied its predecessor. A perfect sound, if a bit soulless. Anyway: that is what was unpacked yesterday. And I got to have a wonderful hour of messing about on the keyboard. Hubs said that he had got me all back. Bless. 

It will do for the time being. But you still can't beat an actual piano for being able to evacuate all those pent up emotions. You can really make a piano talk. An electric keyboard, even if touch sensitive, is not so willing to oblige. And here is my temporary music room:

So no going out exploring France today. Looks like it will be an indoors day, of PC work, of knitting, of snuggling up because it's cold outside, and I oh so hope that you have a lovely snuggly day as well if the weather is not so good where you are, and for those of you having a sunny day, well when you are roasting away, just spare a thought for those of us who aren't! Thanks.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

The rooferman falls, the mud thickens, & friendship glows

Continuing to slosh our way into 2010 as the rain continues to fall, varying from big raindrops to tiny drizzle-type raindrops, and every variety of raindrop in between. But it isn't cold. This is a blessing. One's toes can get very cold indeed when the temperature drops to below zero, and caravan life can get a tad on the wearisome side. But it must be even more wearisome for our rooferman, who has been a stirling trooper when it comes to getting our roof done. Goat-footed, nimbly he has been shimmying up and down the ladders  and tiles getting the house roof done. So now the weather boarding to keep the wind from blowing the roof off away into the sky. The easiest job really. 

So round on the roof of the half barn he was working, with ladders in place: one to get up onto the half barn roof, the other to get him up to the eaves of the house where the boarding had to go. 

But somehow the top ladder decided not to be a teamplayer, and went on strike, sliding off to one side as it did so. Rooferman Jean Pierre was left in mid air, then momentarily became a bird hovering in flight before gravity won the day and pushed his bod downwards, to land with a smack on the middle velux window of the half barn roof. 

Not to worry though. Despite immediate concerns, rooferman Jean Pierre is alive and well and ready to go a-roofing again, but only after a lengthy rest so his bod can recover: it was a nasty smack. Meanwhile the velux window is mortally damaged. But without even a hint of crossness, Hubs said that we would pay for its replacement. After all, people are more important than things, and somehow the money will be found. The velux is replaceable but bods are not, and the velux acted as a brake to his fall and stopped him slipping headfirst down the rest of the roof and from thence onto the ground below.

Getting the car off the drive is proving more and more difficult as the raindrops sink gleefully into the summer-dry earth. Back and front, all tracks are becoming mud baths, so much so that the builder, for whom Jean Pierre works, mentioned that bringing any heavy vehicles onto the land is going to be difficult for a while. Not to worry, though. At least the roof is done, and any other work can wait. Meanwhile, we continue to slosh about; we are, after all, erstwhile smallholders, and as we get the animals onto the land over the next few years, the sloshing about in muddiness will only ever get worse. Therefore 'Enjoy the immediate inconvenience because in comparison to what it is likely to get like in the future - well, it's not too bad!' is my present state of mind. 

Bools and Gus have become buddies, but not 'Lets play and romp and do daft things' type of buddies, just accepting of each other's positions, Bools being top dog and Gus being under dog. Only now Bools is no longer giving Gussy a thumping every time he steps out of line, Gussy is becoming demanding and difficult. Not to worry, though, at least peace reigns. Well sometimes it does. Other times either me or Hubs are yelling at Gussy-boy because he is being naughty. I think the term 'terrible two's' applies very well to this little dog, even though in doggy terms his age is nearer to twenty years old. It is entirely possible that this small fiend has never been allowed to be himself. Which is perhaps why the smallest one of our unit is the one which is the hardest work. Ah well, we will continue to persevere with this little monster. 

The photo up top shows Bools and Gus roasting infront of the heater, for once both are quiet and snoring blissfully. And they are lying quite close together showing that there is good harmony growing between them.

Things I have learnt: That people are important. That doggies are good friends. That boots can be dried even if plastered with mud which lays over them so thickly that the actual shape of the boot can't be seen. That rain is good for the grass, which is continuing to grow in our newly grassed fields, and it is also enormously inspirational to the rate of growth of the dreaded dock plants which are putting on an impressive spurt. I am starting to learn that one has to play a deadly game with this plant, which is spray them dead!
Latest update now concluded. Hope you are well, and enjoying the start of 2010. 

Saturday 2 January 2010

Hesitatingly stepping forward.....

It's been an odd few days. I was going to do a 'Year of Photo's', just to tidy up 2009, just to make a record of what how we did. Couldn't do it. Started working my way through the January files, pulling out the photos which marked steps being taken to go forward. But I shut the file down, skimmed through other months, then closed that project down as being a useless exercise. Why? Because it felt like too much hard work to revisit it all. It was a busy year, was 2009. But then all my years are busy. 

Of making decisions to go this way or that way, or stay here in this position or go forward into new stages, new experiences, when gates open, when the opportunity arises. Of standing still for the moment. Of waiting. Of doing it. When it comes. When the moment arrives.

Of the rocks and blockages that appeared to stop the progression forward, but in the end didn't. Still my life managed to flow onwards. In a straight line if I cared to see from whence I had come, but mostly not having the time to do so, the busyness of the flowing forward not allowing me to take the time to observe all that had been. Shame that I did not do this for myself. Because the rocks and barriers would not have seemed so difficult, so insurmountable.


Of daring to stand alone, despite opposition, despite lack of encouragement, despite  not being able to comprehend why my life was doing what it was doing at that particular moment. But hanging on to the flow of it anyway. Of standing by myself. Without support. But nevertheless growing strong. Strong enough to stand tall within myself.

Of blossoming in the darkness of the emotional mish mash.

Of learning to be patient when the river of my life was stopped. When the crossroad effect was happening. When I had to watch for the next chapter, the next adventure, the next learning curve of which there were many. Some steep. Some not so steep. But all requiring effort of self. Often I wished I could have stopped and let my life go on without me, let it pass on by, go off into the distance while I stayed where I was.

But I didn't. So I will go forward into 2010 with a good heart. Ready to take whatever it is my life brings my way, going with the flow, not knowing what is ahead but going forward to meet it anyway. 

However, I am not ready to have a look at all that we achieved during 2009, because, quite frankly, looking at the photographic record brought back the hectic rush of it all! 

And here I am, sending you a smile, wishing you well, hoping you are moving forward when the time is right for you to do so. I could have posted a tidier photo, but for most of the time I have a generally frazzled appearance which suits the way in which my life tumbles me forward.
So hesitatingly stepping into 2010, not ready to have a look back at all that 2009 brought my way yet, with my sixty third birthday on the horizon and "crikey how have I managed to get this far!" and thinking that it has been nice chatting to you, and hoping that you are doing OK, and off into my day I go. x
(I took these photos a few weeks ago when out on a walk down the lane and through the nearby maize fields)