Monday 29 October 2012

Home alone (2)

....continuing on from the previous post....

- well that didn't go too well. Max and girls done first. No probs. Chickens and chicks done. No probs. Geese done. No probs. Now for that lot out in the Side Field. Had already cleaned out Elise's space in the Tall Barn. Nice fresh hay put in there for her. Poo, and lots of it, cleaned up. Fresh straw put down where needed. Grain in her bucket. Grain in the goats bucket. Grain in the scoop for the sheep. Sorted. 

All were waiting for me. Grain for the sheep in the trough in the Sheep Paddock. Now to open the paddock gate, cross the little lane, open the gate to the Side Field upon which all, and I mean AAAAALLLLLLL cross over the lane, through the gate, down to the trough, upon which the gate is shut  behind them. Then down to the other gate, pick up Elise's bucket of grain waiting outside that gate, plus her neck rope. Proceed into the paddock. Sheep head down in the trough eating their grain. Goats waiting patiently for theirs. Elise comes to the bucket. Rope round neck. Take her out of the paddock shutting gate behind me, and walk her to the Tall Barn, then on into her nice, warm, cosy, enclosure,  which has been especially built for her. Then back to the paddock, pick up the other bucket, proceed into the paddock, feed the goats which can be a bit of a battle because the sheep by now have finished their grain and now want the goat's grain. There can be a bit of a barge. Actually, it is one hell of a barge. Not to worry. The goats manage to get the grain, and the sheep normally get shoved away either by the goats bashing them with their horns, or they get kicked away by a boot, not roughly, just firmly. 

Well, so this is an ideal end of day. 

For today: As I say, everything was proceeding quietly and elegantly. Over to the paddock, open gate by the lane, cross the lane, open the gate to the Side Field. Everyone charges across, sheep first as always, eager to get to the grain, goats behind, Elise, but where was she......oh, going off down the drive, which is beside the paddock. Oh what a good girl. She is going into the Tall Barn, I thought. 

This was not so. For following on behind her is a naughty sheep, a black sheep, this year's lamb, to be kept for the future, but probably not now, because she always skips away from the gate and goes to find herself some tasty morsel of greenery to eat before she is shooed back into the paddock. She doesn't go far, but it is a habit which is getting tiresome. She is plain naughty. Tonight I distinctly saw 'freezer' in my head as I watched her gallop away down the drive with Elise. 

So I close the gate, and proceed down the drive, thinking that Elise would be eager for her bucket of grain. Silly me. That black sheep had her head in that bucket. Elise saw me, kicked and bucked away a few steps. I could see in her face that she was in naughty mode as well. The sheep decided to be in 'I am scared of you I have to run away as fast as I can because you are an evil one' mode. Her head came out of the bucket, knocking it over, the grain scattering hither and thither, and off she galloped back down the drive towards the lane. 

Oh crikey. 

I moved towards Elise. She, too, decided to do a jolly gallop back down to the lane. I thought, hoped, prayed, that they would go back into the Side Field. They didn't. They turned left, and with heads up, did a smart trot away down the lane. 

Oh crikey, crikey, crikey. 

....but fortunately they stopped when they got to the end of the paddock. Elise was now in the middle of the lane, the black sheep by the fence. The black sheep came back along the fence, Elise did not. She turned right, jumped the ditch and headed off over the newly planted and now sprouting field of oil seed rape.

O, crikey, etc..........

I charge after her. I am in the same state of being as you saw in the photo of me which I posted up in the last post. I have my painting gear on. I have my pinny on. In have thermal long johns which peep beneath the skirt I have on. I am a mess. I am waving Elise's rope in the air, trying to head her off, turn her round. No. She does not want to turn round. She wants to have a jolly gallop across the field. I go after her, still waving the rope in the air, yelling at the top of my voice something like 'Heeyah'. Not sure why I am doing this, but it seems appropriate. 

And a neighbour drives past. And holds his hand up to say hi. 

I feel very very silly. 

Elise is still frisking, but has turned.  Back she goes, down the drive she goes, and joins the black sheep who now has her head in the goat's bucket of grain, disregarding the grain  which is scattered over the grass. 

I observe the two of them. And I get 'the helling'. Up my voice goes. 'Heeyah' comes out with more menace. They look at me. Oh crikey, we've made her mad, don't go near her, she is freaky, that is what is written over their faces. 

The black sheep turns, tries to make a run back down the drive. I yell and crack that rope like a whip. I seemed to have turned into a herder-type person. Yahaaa. I change my yell. The black sheep tried to get past me. Crack went the rope, Yahaaa went my voice. I manage to turn her back, but she finally gets past me and heads back out down the drive. Oh go, I think. 

Now for Elise. I pick her bucket up. Still a few grains inside it. I offer it to her. She sniffs it but bucks her had away when I try to put the rope round her neck. Off she prances. 

Stroooth. *********, and sundry other expletives I now find myself giving voice to. 

Get her into the paddock, is now my intention. I am beside the gate, so it is easy to push the gate open. Ahha, the goats and sheep think, time for our grain. Into the bucket now go numerous noses, plus horns. I try to push them back out again, aware that beside me there is an open gate. Elise observes all. Does not move. 

****** *** ****** ******** (more swear words. I have moved past 'crikey' and 'strooth')

Sheep and goats crowd me. Have to get back out of the paddock before they, too, decide that they want to have a jolly game down the drive. This I do. 

Elise starts to move back down the drive again. But stops at the corner to eat some grass, leaving me time to do a flanking move so I in the lane in front of her. 

Up comes her head. Down the drive she goes again. On her heels I now am, and I am yelling and flicking the rope and I feel like a cowgirl, a real time cowgirl, as I shoo that damn cow down the drive again. This time she carries on, running on tiptoes, obviously ticked off with me because I am not being nice to her. I keep on in cowgirl mode, hoping she will head right and go into the main field. No. She does not do that. She turns left. The left again. Straight into the Courtyard, scattering all the hens underfoot including the chicks. The geese go into a hissy fit, and squawking at the tops of their voices and flapping their wings in terror of this huge awful looking monster which has come suddenly into their midst, they charge out of the Courtyard at full pelt. 

I maintain my cowgirl attitude towards Elise. I herd her into a corner, but she outflanks me this time and charges back out of the Courtyard, and back out onto the drive. I follow her. I am as mad as hell. Somehow, and I don't know how, I get ahead of her again. I repeat my cowgirl herding attitude, and I turn her back down the drive, but this time she turns right and with a smart flick of my rope on her bum, I shoo her into the field, locking the gate behind her. 

Sorted. She can moan all she likes, but she is staying in that field until Lester returns home again. It is going to be cold tonight, down to zero. Tough. There is shelter in the field, but it is not straw lined, neither is there any hay, neither is there any grain. I can't do any more with her. 

I go back into the Courtyard. Oh now what! I see the mum hen up the tree, going to bed, leaving her eleven chicks squeaking away at her to come down. So I chase those eleven chicks round and round, trying to catch them. I regret my previous kindness in letting them go free range. I should have left them caged. Damn my soft heart. 

I get my broom. I flick my broom up the bum of the mum hen. She hangs on to the branch. I flick again, and keep flicking until she has to come down off that high branch. I don't know what to do with her, but she sorts it out herself, and goes into the Chicken Hut. Some of the eleven follow her, some don't. Round and round and round I chase the rest of them. Eventually all manage to find their way into the Hut, my broom being a useful instrument in helping them. 

Now the other hens are hanging around. Normally they would be left to go into the tree, and then they are got down and put into the Hut once they have gone to sleep. Not tonight. They are herded in with the broom. Door shut to the Hut. Sorted. 

But where are the geese! Normally they are in the Courtyard waiting to be put into the Wood Shed which has now been given over to them as their night time quarters. Ah, there they are, standing outside the Courtyard, obviously not wanting to come in lest that four footed monster of a thing is still there. So I have to herd them in as well. God bless my broom. 

Everyone now in bed, except Elise, who I shall now proceed to worry about. All night she will be on my mind, and in the morning I shall be out to make sure she is alright. But at least I do not have to fret about the mum hen and her chicks like I did last night, when she took them to bed beneath the now abandoned rabbit hutches. All the night long, in the background of my mind, I was listening out for the sounds of a fox. 

I am now finished with the day. I am off to find myself something to eat. Egg on toast, with fried tomatoes, all home grown or home  made. 

I might also have a swig or two of the Baileys which is kept in the fridge. 

I think I deserve it. 

Oh, and I might also get out of my painting gear too!

Home alone

It is mountain crisp this morning, so snow must have fallen in the Pyrenees, and the first heavy frost of the year was upon the car this morning as I waved Lester off to the airport. I am home alone. Only for two days though. But I am in charge. Where is Lester off to? Paris. But not to have a jolly time, but to work having been sent there by the UK office he works for. Two days of working with French people whilst grappling with the internal plumbing system of their computer software data programme. Wouldn't swop places with him, not at all. 

Now at the moment I am covered in splashes of white emulsion and look, quite frankly, a state. 

But heyho, I’m top honcho for two days so I can have all the windows and doors open, which Lester will not let me do because of the flies and mozzies coming in, and I can make a diabolical mess as I now move onto the very tall at one side sloping ceiling in the Half Barn, using my roller on a roller pole, dibbing it into a big bucket of emulsion and then aiming it heavenwards hoping to meet the ceiling en route. 


The fallout of splashes is spectacular, and yes, I have covered most of everything over with tarpaulins, but not all surfaces, and these are the bits that the paint splots tend to aim themselves towards. But I have until tomorrow evening to get that end of the Half Barn done, or rather, done sufficiently enough for Hubs to take over to do the bits which require the mounting of a ladder, the ceiling being rather high on one side....


...and because I am home alone I can make a stupendous mess, which anyone who knows me well will testify to.....


.....it is a curiosity to me that I can't do anything and be tidy at the same time. Full steam ahead is what I do when the mood takes me, disregarding any sensible thoughts about preparing things properly first. But I did cover the table with a tarp, and a bit of the floor is also covered. Hubs would have had a fit if he had been here, but not to worry, full steam ahead it is. I am running on banana and chocolate cake, milky coffee, banana and jam on toast, banana and yoghurt in a bowl. Ought to cook something, but hey, I am home alone and don't have to! Will get back into the saddle with cooking tomorrow. If I have time. Before Hubs gets back from Paris I will have to clean up some of the mess. He would have been in tidy environments for two days, so the mess I have so easily created might shock him. Or perhaps it wouldn't. If everything was super duper tidy then that would perhaps shock him even more. 

And, bless him, our mutual exasperation about the endless treadmill of unwashed dishes which is a bain to both our lives, has resulted in a promise from him of a dishwasher, to be bought next weekend. I have not asked him for one. Indeed, I have continually said I could cope with lack of proper kitchen facilities, but, to tell the truth, I have been getting very irritable of late which is unlike me. Cruddy, yes, a bit, but not downright irritable. Hubs knows not to come near me when I am at the sink. It isn't a proper sink, it is a melamine bathroom vanity unit donated by a neighbour, and it doesn't have any draining board, and I don't have anywhere to put the dishes needing to be washed up so they just lay all about the place until I get into washing up mode, which is only about once a day because I am busy doing other preferable activities, like scything, digging, writing, knitting, etc......

Anyway, this battle with trying to keep the washing up under control has finally got to me. Every time I get near the sink I get miffy. I can't help it. I just do. So Hubs, bless him again, has finally got the message that I am under workload stress and has offered the buying of a dishwasher to me yet again. This time I accepted. We are both fed up with my hissy fits when I have my hands in a bowl of washing up water. Is it my age? Am I getting cranky? Or is it because my efforts at multi-tasking is getting too much even for me!

Oops, gotta go. Forgot that we are getting into the dark of evening an hour sooner, and as I am head honcho I have to go and feed all the animals. Wish me luck, especially with getting Elise into her Tall Barn bedroom. This morning she frisked herself over to the others in the Sheep Paddock so fast that she towed me along. Last night she declined to have her rope put on her and headed in the opposite direction when everyone came out of the field and were supposed to into the paddock. They all did except her. Was impressed by the fact that she obviously has learnt that she is to separate off from the others at night because she has a special place to go to, but was not overly impressed by the fact that she did not actually head for that 'special place' but instead headed out down the drive. She didn't go very far though, and Hubs was here to head her back down the drive. With him being in Paris for ce soir, me and her are going to have a good old game, of that I am sure. 

The Chicks: Just over four weeks ago, these little fluffy creatures delighted us. Eleven there were, and eleven there still is, for the moment......



...... because they are out in the world now....



...... they have been in the portable run for all of their lives so far, but we saw that they were getting stressed, that they didn't have the same air about them as did the other hen and chick families which we have had here, who have enjoyed total freedom from the moment the eggs have hatched. But then, the other hen families have suffered from being predated on. 

It's difficult to know what to do sometimes. To keep the chicks caged, then they are safe, but they are unhappy. To let the chicks be free, then they are not safe, but they are happy and the days that they have in life, whether it be one day, one month, one year, or more, will be spent joyously doing what chickens do. For today, we still have eleven. 

Thursday 25 October 2012

One and one and a half

So I was poddling about in the veg patch, squeezing in four small rows of onions. My feet are not big, but they must have seemed enormous to the pour wee onions and carrots that had somehow survived, despite being totally neglected throughout the summer. Not watered enough. Not weeded enough. As I say, neglected were they. And yet most of them deemed to grow. The onions, well they are salad onions so are thin as yet. I use salad onions as a flavouring for a lot of things, so I am going to use them during the winter. If I forget they are there, which is likely to happen when the colder weather arrives, they will probably set up a flower head, then they will grow lots of little onions around the base. 

How do I know this? Because salad onions which were left in the ground last winter did just that. Now I have a lovely clump of onions. Lester would dig them up if he was let loose on the veg plot with his rotovator. All in its path would be shredded to bits, including the little row of salad onions and little row of carrots. Fortunately for all concerned, he is busy with other things at the moment so I am in charge of the veg plot.

So the veg plot has developed little rows and paths. This is because I get fed up with having to dig large areas, so I do small ones, a path being formed around these little plots by my size 5 feet walking round them. 

The thing is that little plots make for little rows. 

Today I planted four little rows of onions. On one side was half grown fennel, on the other side the salad onions, next to which were carrots, not many, just a few. 

Only there are less now because as I was ever so carefully planting the onion sets I was not paying attention to where my feet were treading. The result? Half the salad onions are bent over sideways, and several of the carrots have flattened tops. What to do. Pull them up, not expecting much at the end of the root. 

But I couldn't. They were stuck fast into the ground, because .......


....... they were huge! Ok, so I am exaggerating, but in all my life I have never managed to grow a decent sized carrot. I have also never grown a peg-legged one. 

We had them for lunch. 

I have left the bent over onions for another day. 

The wood has been delivered, all 5000 euros of it. Obeyed instructions about getting it under cover, but was saved the effort of struggling with the very large beams because, quite simply,  I could not even lift one end of one of them let along heft the thing into the Tall Barn. Lester did all the work, bless him, helped by a friend who happened to come along just at the right time.

Elise, our cow, is being a good girl about coming into the Tall Barn at night. She has to be separated from the sheep and the goats after spending all day out in the field with them and this normally means a hectic chase around the paddock. But now she stands quite still as Lester puts the rope on her, and trots along quite obediently beside him. 

Found two heaps of eggs today, one in the Wood Shed / Goose Bedroom, one under the DIY hay bales stacked up in the Gatehouse Porch. Nearly thirty eggs in total. Crikey, but those hens are chucking the eggs out at a furious pace at the moment. 

And today, oh joy of joys, a 2013 seed catalogue arrived in the post from the UK. We don't buy from the French seed catalogues because it is too much of an effort trying to translate their gardening jargon. We stick to the language we know for the buying in of the seeds. 

And the weather is still very warm. Now out of my thermal vests. Can't believe we are at the end of October. Living here sure does make the summer feel longer and the winter therefore much shorter. But I am still wearing my flannel petticoat because my knees get cold, although in the veg patch yesterday I did hide behind the clump of nearly finished Jerusalem Artichokes to take the petticoat off because I was dripping with hotness. I don't think any passers by saw me. I tried to make it look like I was not going to the loo. I didn't want people to think I was being that bold. 

Elise, yes. Blacksy & co, no.

After a bit of pushing and shoving, Elise is now in her new quarters in the Tall Barn. 


We went and fetched her, or tried to. She can be devilish hard to catch when she has a mind to be and shows signs of stubbornness which may or may not evaporate as she gets older. She is a darling of a cow, but she is her own self. Sometimes she will be friendly, but other times she is aloof. 


We hope that her and us can bond better. After all, in two or three years time, we shall be intimately involved with her udders, so we need to be friends. 

There is something quite delicious about hearing her talking. The Tall Barn works like an echo chamber, so that when she gives voice to let us know that we ought to be paying attention to her, the sound resonates. She doesn't talk much though, so she must be happy in her new accommodation. She would soon let us know if things were not to her liking. 

The plan was for her to share this space with Blacksy & co, so after we had pushed, shoved, and coaxed Lisey into the Tall Barn, finally managing to get her in there by keeping her so pre-occupied with the food bucket, which we kept inches away from her nose, that she didn't know where she was going, we then went back to the Sheep Paddock to fetch the goats. It went well, apart from the little goatling who is less tame than her mum and the other two. 

Blacksy was easy. Came to hand in the Paddock. Walked easily into the Tall Barn. Moved gracefully into the enclosure. Looked interestedly at the wall around her. And quite clearly we could see that she was sizing it up to see if was jumpable. With intent she moved towards the wall, which had been built five block bricks high. Clearly, to her mind, it was not much of an obstacle. Lester and I looked at each other. 
"I said we should have built it higher", said he, leaving me in charge of the wall while he went to fetch the other goats. 

Blacksy paced around. In her head she wanted to jump that wall. I could see it in her stance, the way she stayed bunched up. Lisey, meanwhile, carried on munching on the hay. I patrolled the wall, waving my arms about, carrying on with the guarding of the wall as per instructions from Hubs. 

In came the other goats. No probs. Straight away their heads went into the food trough. There was a clashing of horns as each jostled the other for the best titbits. Elise also joined in the affray, not wanting to be left out. Meanwhile, Blacksy paced. 

We stood and observed them all. And realised that the enclosure was not going to work for both cow and goats. It was too small a space. 

So then we took the goats back out into the Paddock, leaving Elise her space. This will stay as is now. There is now a race on to get another enclosure made to take over the rest of the floor space in the Tall Barn. This is a surprise project. Not to worry. We'll get it done. 

The wood for the ceilings of the house was supposed to be arriving yesterday. It didn't. The van broke down. Today then. I need some man muscles. Apparently the wood is to be off loaded out on the drive. It can't stay there. Needs to be brought under cover. It will be heavy. As I say, I could do with some man muscles. I am, however, starting to get some firmness of the upper arms as I start the very long task of digging the veg plot over ready for next spring. I have purchased a mattock. It is heavy even though it was the lightest one they had in the shop. I can only make twenty thwacks at the soil with it before I run out of puff. But it does do the job. It does chomp into the soil very efficiently. Shame that my lack of physical stamina does not allow it to do more. Not to worry. I did manage to get to thirty thwacks before I had to stop for a breather. And I did manage to get some garlic in. And I have promised the garlic bulbs that I will do my best to look after them. I do tend to put things into the soil then forget about them, then get irritated with myself when they don't grow as well they could. Oh well, not to worry. I am, after all, still a trainee smallholder!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Chutney on toast

My frame of mind was not happy. Don't know why. Maybe the changing seasons, maybe the upheaval in the house because we have to move into the Half Barn soon because the builder is supposed to be coming in to put up the two remaining ceilings and make a staircase, maybe because I am of an age when cruddiness can be seen as acceptable, maybe because I am overloaded with work, maybe because I have not been out scything the fields lately, maybe it is a full moon, maybe because I have a stack of worries nibbling away in the background of my mind. Whatever. I was cruddy and therefore inattentive to what I was doing. 

Breakfast. Nothing fancy because we have a cooked lunch at mid-day or thereabouts, 'thereabouts' often being towards two o'clock in the afternoon, or even after that, if I have been sidetracked by some task or another. 

So, breakfast. One peanut butter on toast, one jam on toast for Lester. Jam finished up. Now my toast. Wandered over to the produce shelf. Didn't have my glasses on. Got a new  pot of jam. Onto my toast I spread it. Brekkie delivered to Lester, who was now at his PC, me over to my PC, switched it on, took a bite at the jam on toast. A bit of a surprise arose in me. 'Twas not sweet, that toast, but spicy, very spicy, and actually quite delicious. 

Plum chutney on toast. That is what I had made for myself. Will do it again. It most certainly woke me up. It also snapped me out of my cruddiness. Spicy plum chutney on roasted bread! Very do-able!

And so the day proceeded. Hubs had declared that it was a 'must do' day for working on The Build in the Tall Barn, this project being the building of a walled enclosure so that Lissie and her mates the goats could all bed down together, thus leaving the Sheep Barn for the sheep, all of which have taken to sleeping out in the Paddock because Lissie and her mates insist that they do. Lissie is short for Elise, who is our young heifer who has not grown her horns yet but heaven help us all when she does as she has mastered the art of doing some startling head swipes, which, if there was a set of horns attached to her head, could do some mischief to one of the team, whether that team member be two or four footed. 

I have been busy elsewhere for the first three layers of The Build, as Hubs calls it, apart from being required to be the listening ear for his lengthy discussions about where to put the enclosure, how big it needed to be, what it should be made of, should someone else come in and do it (no, we can't afford that), how he was going to try making it in block brick ..... no perhaps wood ...... or perhaps wire ..... no block brick is best, what the best plan was to keep the bricks going in a straight line both along and up ... that string was needed to do this..... that the homespun ball of wool he happened to come by in the house was not the right string to use because it broke when he pulled it too tight..... that a role of electric fencing wire was just the job, and so on. 

I was on site for the laying down of the first line of bricks, not cemented though, just artistically laid down, just to see what the enclosure would look like should they become cemented in eventually. 

The Tall Barn looked very clean......



...... swept, swept and swept again, Hubs declaring that to do The Build properly required a very clean space. Shame about the Courtyard though because everything which had been in the barn was now dumped outside, and not very tidily. Pile of stuff here, piles of stuff there, crikey  but it looked a mess. Not to worry, I did attend to this untidiness. I just covered over the piles of stuff with tarpaulins. Now we have nice green piles of tarps decorating the Courtyard. Strewth, but I do hope that one day we shall be tidy, but I fear that this will not be any time soon seeing as how we now have no storage space, the Tall Barn having served this purpose up until The Build project arrived.

Thereafter, for the building up of the wall, I was elsewhere although paid frequent visits to Hubs as he worked on site, just to show that I was appreciative of his efforts, this being the first time he had tackled the joining together of cement and block bricks. 



Ta Da!!!! 

But then all work stopped as Hubs became stuck to his computer. For days he became stuck to it. Rain became forecasted. Tried to get time off work so he could get more of the wall done. The rain didn't arrive. Good job really. He couldn't get time off anyway. 

And then he did. Rain on the way. Needed to get Lissie and her buddies into the Tall Barn overnight to ease the pressure off the Sheep Arbre. The rain beat us to it. Grim faced, Hubs strode into the house after getting soaked as he sorted the animals out, saying "I'm not going to mix cement in that weather". 
And so I said, "I'll help you. I'll go get the sand. We can do it". 
And we did. I became his Gofor. He worked me hard. We got the cement mixer lifted into the Tall Barn. I carried buckets of sand from out front. I got bored standing about. I always find that the role of Gofor is boring. Through my head runs a whole list of things I should be doing. I don't like wasting time. I can get quite tetchy being a Gofor. 

And then Hubs gave me a trowel. Not a big one like he had, but a small one, and under instruction I was allowed to pick up the bits of cement which had dropped to the floor on my side of the wall. And cementing suddenly became fun. Did you know that you can draw patterns in wet cement? Well you can. And I started tidying up the bits that Hubs missed. And I was allowed to use that long thing which says if something is straight or not, the thing which has a pretty bubble in bits of it which is supposed to stay centre of its marks, but mostly didn't, well not when I was using it, although it seemed to behave itself when Hubs was handling it. 

I think I like cementing block bricks together. I didn't even mind sweeping up the mess, as instructed by Hubs, me of course being the Gofor therefore this task being mine. 

The wall has become finished. We stopped at five bricks high. We don't think the goats will jump over it, but they can't go anywhere if they do. 

The target for Lissie and co to bed down in their new accommodation is Monday evening. It has rained and rained and rained. It is urgent that they get into this space. Tomorrow Hubs has to make a gate for the enclosure. Then we have to go buy straw to put on the ground, the hay I made not being suitable enough for use as bedding. There were a few piles of hay that could have been used. They were out in the Far Field. When I looked a few days ago, though, they had all but disappeared. We think that they have got munched on by deer. How do we know this? Because Lester saw one in that field the other day. Oh well, nice to be feeding the wild population of deer. They were quite big piles though. The deer must have enjoyed them. 

Well all this was yesterday. Today we did not do any work in the Tall Barn because we were involved in the slaughter of two of our piglets who left home last spring, via a man with a van, to live their lives somewhere else, together with four of our lambs. But the man with a van has had a blackout in one of his eyes and can only see out of one eye. Having had an unsuccessful as yet operation, he is under instruction not to get involved with any physical movements beyond the norm. Getting ten month old piglets into the freezer is not of the norm. So we did it for him. We had help though. Three strong men, and the wife of the man with a van. Exactly like last weekend, that is what happened. Lester into the pig enclosure, humane gun to the head of one, kaboom, down she went, the humane gun to the other, kaboom, she also went down. They never knew what happened. Surprise was on the faces of all in attendance. They expected mayhem, noise, horribleness, but there was none. No squeal did those piggy girls make. And I was so proud of Hubs, who helped a fellow man out. 

It came to be a good day. We all helped to get those girls ready for the freezer, and my prayers go out to the man with the van, that his eyesight is restored. It should be. I hope.  He had done the ten month old lambs before his ran into trouble with his eyesight. They are in the freezer, except their fleeces. These are spread on the floor of the house as rugs. They have, I would hasten to add, been seen to via the use of various chemicals. This has intrigued me and I now off to investigate, via YouTube, exactly how this can be done. 

And Hubs and me can build a block brick wall. Woweeee!!!

Friday 19 October 2012

Rain, chicks, pig's head

It is raining this morning. Knew it was going to because the Pyrenees have been clearly visible for the last few days. Tall and dark they look upon the skyline, not pimples in the distance, but not so big as to obliterate all. All summer long they have been hidden by haze and clouds and I have not seen them, but I am aware that they are there because they dominate even when unseen. And there they were yesterday, no haze, just a clear view but not so clear as to see individual shapes upon the slopes, but sufficient to see some of the larger contours. There was even a faint dusting of snow on the highest peak, a portent of the winter to come. 

When the Pyrenees are seen with such clarity, then rain will fall, and a lot of it. Summer is over, the harvests are in, time to shut down and recover from the efforts of the year, the temperatures are starting to fall, and grain prices have doubled. This is worrying. Last year we paid 120 euros for a ton of maize, this year it is 240 euros. Apparently America and Russia have had bad harvests. I am not sure if the global economy is such a good thing when bad harvests in other countries produce an upsurge of prices in a country which has had an excellent harvest this year. And this price increase will affect the price of food for everyone everywhere.  During the year we get through four tons of maize at least. A small amount when compared to others. But for us it is a concern. For those others it must be a massive worry. Ah well, c'est la vie.....

And I saw the Pyrenees yesterday, and it is going to rain, so I can worry about the Sheep Barn getting a wet floor again, and poddle through mud, and tuck up in doors, and not go out to make hay again this year but to be glad that we have a barn full of DIY hay, and look forward to starting the winter digging, of which there is a humungous area to work over. 

Re: the pig head wrapped in a plastic supermarket bag and lying at the bottom of the freezer: Need to sort it out. Don't like it being there. Chatting to a choir friend about the head, and she offered to sort out the head for me. She said she could make brawn out of it. Don't fancy a pot full of brain, not at all do I see myself eating even the tiniest piece because that is what I thought brawn was, cooked brain. Apparently it isn't. Apparently it is also the tongue and cheeks and any other bits of head meat but not the ears, they are separate delicacies but not for us because Bools and Gus are going to have them. It does not seem quite so bad that everything is mixed up, brain, tongue, and all. Still don't think I will eat it. Glad my friend has offered to do the task. Glad that the head will get out of the freezer. Glad I am a smallholder. But I still don't like mucking about with heads. 

Re: the hen and eleven chicks found in the ditch several weeks ago: Why is it that those chicks prefer not to eat grain. Three different types of chick feed mix have I bought. Nope. They won't eat any of it. What they prefer is my bread. Or pieces of lamb or pork. Or weeds from the garden. Or pasta. Anything, but not grain. Have I spoilt them by widening their food palate? In the beginning I fed them chopped up boiled egg. Perhaps this is what started their dislike of grain. I did put chick feed in at the same time, and they did eat a little bit but not much. Now they don't eat any. Instead they kick up a hell of a ruckus every time they see me. They are getting bigger. Their 'I am hungry' chirrups are getting louder. I think that we shall soon let them out of the run they are in, just to get some peace. They are no longer cute little bits of fluff. They are changing by the day. They need to get out into the world. They need to take their chances, just like the other hens do. In other words, they need a life. 


Re: The absence of a cockerel who does the job: The hens are scattering. No longer do they move about as a flock, although do come together to rest. They also seem quiet, almost dispirited. The Cockling is showing no effort to come into his own with them. Yesterday someone mentioned that he didn't have a cockerel. Last night someone emailed me to say that they had heard about the demise of Orpy and that they had a Faverolle cockerel who needed some hens. It would seem that the Universe is providing us with a solution. We don't want to put the Cockling into the freezer because he is the son of Orpy, so we can rehome him and get a brand new hands on cockerel which will bring in new blood to the flock. Sorted.


Tuesday 16 October 2012

The harvesting of the piglet

Today we have been busy investigating the innards of our Tamworth male piglet, the same  piglet which was born at the start of this year, and who is now in permanent repose in our freezer. But he is not entire. No. He is in bits. 

To cut him up was quite a task. He was a big boy (around 100 kg), having been fed well during the days of his life. Last weekend was supposed to be his last, but we were not psyched up enough to do the task. It takes effort to terminate a life. Having a homestead is not all full of fun and frolics, especially when it comes to the life cycles of the animals which live here. Sometimes nature takes it into her own hands to make a termination, as in the loss of our rabbits and our cockerel Orpy, other times it is our responsibility. 

We have been in avoidance mode though. Should have done him a few weeks back, but kept putting it off. One must be in the right frame of mind. One cannot approach the task in a gungho manner. One does not want to cause upset to all concerned. But winter is fast approaching and we need to get our Tamworth boar in with his two girls so they can start making next year's piglets, which means that the two youngsters born at the beginning of the year have to go. 

It came to be the morning of yesterday, Friday, and it was time. For the last couple of weeks Lester has been getting into pig pen with the two adult girls and the two youngsters so that they could get used to him being within touching distance. With pot under one arm, Lester was putting little piles of food on the ground. The pigs would then run after him, from pile to pile, finally settling for one pile each. 

It was an overcast day, drizzle was in the air, but Male Piggy was happy and full of life. The normal barging about with his aunt, sister and mum, then he settled himself at his chosen pile of food. Lester stood nearby, went to where he was, MP looked up, Lester reached down and gave him a pat and a fondle about the ears, MP gave a snortle, and put his snout into the food.

Kaboom. A fraction of a second later he was on the ground. The others kept eating. There was no other sound apart from some passing traffic and the sound of food being munched. Lester yelled at me to get the rope in to him. Rope was in a tangle. Took a few precious seconds. MP was quiet on the ground. Lester roped his back legs. Said for me to lift his front end while Lester said he would life his back end. Was not do-able. He weighed a ton. His eyes were open but not seeing. He was gone. His sister came over to give him a snout to snout sniff. Looked like she was saying goodbye to him. His mum and aunt disregarded him though, too busy with getting their breakfast inside of themselves.

Lester went into hurry-mode. Yelled at me to pull on the rope. Somehow we got MP out of the paddock. It was not a huge distance, just a couple of metres, but Lester and me got all puffed out. Nevertheless it had to be done. Sharp knife in, throat slit, blood drained out onto the ground, last twitches from his nervous system. All done. 

Needed to get him into the wheelbarrow. No chance. Couldn't even lift half of him off the ground let alone all of him. Nothing for it but to get the tractor. Up he was hauled, a little unceremoniously I must admit, but then it was our first time and so far the life termination had gone very well. No sound had been uttered, no panic, no upset, no squeals of outrage, no pain had been felt by MP. It had been a dignified death for him. 

Pots of water were already boiling on the stove. I checked up on them while Lester drove the tractor into the Courtyard, depositing MP on the floor of the Tall Barn. Scrub down time to get the bristle-like hair removed from the body of MP by pouring hot water onto the hair and scraping like fury. To and fro betwixt kitchen and Tall Barn I went, carrying pots of boiling water to soak the hair in so it would soften. All was awash. MP, Lester, the Tall Barn floor, me. Plenty of water everywhere. Over two hours later it was done. TM was now a pristine white, apart from his head which we could not bring ourselves to mess about with. Off it came. Went into a bag. Went into the freezer entire. It is now residing at the bottom of the freezer, waiting for the day when I can pluck up the courage to sort it out. It might be difficult. I might never do it. I can work on the body of an animal raised here, but the head is beyond me at the moment, probably because I knew the animal when it had life. 

Time to get inside MP. Everything out. MP wrapped all about with spare curtains and sheets. Left in peace. It was now past mid-day. 

The next morning, from Tall Barn to kitchen MP had to be got. With difficulty this was done. OK from Tall Barn to house as MP was still hoisted up on the tractor, but from tractor to kitchen the wheelbarrow had to be used, with difficulty, much difficulty, but we got MP into the kitchen eventually. 

Now into pieces MP was cut. He was lean, not much fat, and there was lots of him. The meat kept coming and coming, with Lester cutting and me bagging. 

All done. Lester and me in a mess again. Kitchen in a mess. MP now in tidy pieces in the freezer. 

And that is how we spent our weekend. In our freezer we now have rabbit, pork, lamb, and chicken. It is very hard work, this homesteading lark,which is why we spent the rest of the weekend zonked out. But we also feel as if we have taken another step towards becoming self sufficient with what we eat. 

I have already made lard from some of MP's back fat, the boiled and melting of the fat producing a nice pile of  small pieces of crackling. But we have not tried the meat yet. It is too soon, the memories of the weekend being still too fresh in our minds. When those memories have faded, then I shall start serving up portions of MP.

And it has rained! Not enough to soak the ground though, just enough to wet the surface, so I am going to plant some onions and garlic. Have just picked another load of tomatoes, but have left the last of the pole beans on the plants to dry for winter use. No more cutting of grass to make hay now, but still using the scythe to cut down everything which should not be growing where it is. 

Now wearing layers. It has turned chillier. No fires though, no need. 

And there is still one piglet to 'do', and three lambs, all of which are ten months old, so are really young adults and not rompy little beings!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Stickiness in abundance

I just want to say that I have never been stickier. Even when making jam in the confined  area of the Kitchen caravan I was nowhere near as sticky as I am at this moment. 

Me and all the clothes I am currently wearing are covered in purple splodges of grape juice. 

Grapes, when ripe, are full of sugar. When one grips a ripe bunch of grapes a little too firmly some of them burst joyously open, putting one into a mini shower of sugary juice. 

That's all I want to say. 

I am now off to the shower. 



I am also going to try and untangle my hair because it kept getting tangled up in the grape vines as I stooped to cut the bunches of grapes, and it is one hell of a mess, more than it usually is. 

Today I have had a holiday. I have been in a vineyard cutting grapes all day, surrounded by French people all doing the same, and not one word of English was spoken. I felt one of the gang. It was a grand day. 


I have learnt how to cut a bunch of grapes, especially those that are stuck between the stems of the vines. 

I have learnt that if you cut yourself when using the secateurs lent to you for the cutting of the grapes, that any blood which is shed just goes into the general mess of juiciness, and that, curiously, within a minute or so the wound heals such that it almost disappears. Must be some chemical reaction between me and the grapes. Whatever. It works.

That vines are grown on hills......



...... for legs that are not used to up and down terrain they did go trembly half way up and half way down, as I was cutting grapes all the way along. Keep going and the trembling will go away once the legs are on flatter ground, that is what I learnt. There were, however, a few awkward moments when I thought I was going to keep on charging down the hill as my brakes seemed not to be working. As for working my way along the vines going back up the hill. Crikey. That is all I can say to that. 



To hold the juicy plumpness of a bunch of grapes, and feel some of the juice flow over the hands is quite an enchanting experience. Not sure why I should be so enchanted, but I was, although after the first hour that did wear off as I became ever stickier. 



I was worried in case I flaked out after half an hour, but I kept on going all the day, and even kept up with the pace of the men. My confidence in my fitness has increased, that is what I have learnt. I am not an old biddy yet, and God bless the scythe for giving me sufficient flexibility and physical stamina to help me realise this. This is another thing I have learnt today. 

I have also learnt that Hubs is quite capable of raiding the freezer and finding himself something to eat for lunch, and that there is no need to worry in case he keels over through lack of food because I am not at home to look after him.

That it was lovely to have lunch cooked for me, this being done by Jean Marc's delightful wife, who looked after me out on the vines, drove me to and fro the vines, looked after me during lunch, and was patient all the while with my minimal French. I have learnt that I can make myself understood if only in a simple way, with much repetition of words and phrases though because my French vocabulary is minimal. 

That our region is a lovely region to be living  in. It is unspoilt and timeless, with bendy country lanes, no traffic apart from farm vehicles, few houses, no housing estates, and a rolling, rolling, landscape.  It is the Gers and Haute Pyrenees region, which is the least populated area of France. I feel blessed that the Universe brought us here, this I was reminded of today. 

I am now, most definitely, going to take me and my stickiness into the shower........

PS: There was no need to take my socks and shoes off because no treading of the grapes was required of my feet. Just as well really. They weren't washed before I left home due to me getting up a little later than usual, oversleeping in other words, so I had to bypass the shower.
PPS: I am not sure if they do still tread the grapes but I wasn't going to ask in case they did, but I think that they don't because no-one else took their footwear off, indeed everyone headed towards the cars homeward bound at the end of the afternoon. Nevertheless, still best not to mention the subject, I thought.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

A day out at the chateau

Here is where I shall be tomorrow: http://www.crouseilles.com/

It is a wine chateau. I shall be in situ there. However, I shall be not imbibing of the local beverages, no not at all will this be done by me. I shall be out in the fields amongst the vines, and I shall be picking the grapes that make up the vino that is sold at the chateau. 

The vines surround the chateau, and Jean-Marc, a farmer friend who owns a portion of these vines, has asked me to join his motley crew for the harvesting of the grapes. 

I don't think we do the treading of the grapes though, but I shall make sure I have clean feet just in case. 

It will  make a change for the ever ongoing harvesting of the hay here. With the weather holding good, (temperatures are still well up in the 20's C) the harvesting season has stretched on and on. Our tomatoes are still growing and ripening, although the courgettes have long given up, and our first time effort at growing pumpkin has resulted in a nice little pile of nice little pumpkins, each individual being no larger than the size of my palm.   But I can't get onto the ground to dig it because it is rock hard, so any thoughts of putting in a crop of winter veg is fast receding. But I did have an idea to make some small poly tunnels from bright blue electrical tubing and some clear plastic, but Hubs is not overly enthused with this possible project, saying it will look silly to have a row of blue tubing decorating the veg plot. I thought that these tunnels could protect whatever winter veg I plant, but methinks that perhaps it will be a project that will have to stay in the pipeline for another time. Or perhaps not. It will rain eventually, which means that I can go off the fields and onto the veg plot. 

I think I made an error when I said that the Cockling was crowing. I heard the same sound as I was letting the dogs out for their early morning pee and poo, and it came from one of the little brown hens. Ah well, at least one of the flock is carrying on crowing, even if it is one of the smallest bantams we have. 

Anyway, need to get some jobs done if I am to be absent from the homestead tomorrow. 

....and if offered a glass of plonk tomorrow....will I partake or will I not.......after all it would not be a good idea to go into silly mode, not that I do go silly, it is just that wine tends to make me sleepy and I want to do a sensible job of grape picking. I really would not like to be caught napping under a bunch of grapes hanging pendulously down from the heavily leafed grape vine over my head. Perhaps better to stick to coffee, or water, or tea, or anything, just not the plonk......... 

But then another thought has come into my head. Where would the loo be. With such a lot of harvesting going on it would not be quite the thing to partake of a loo stop in the middle of the vines because someone is bound to catch sight of this activity. And with such thoughts I must leave you and carry on with my day........


Sunday 7 October 2012

The Cockling croweth

I woke late this morning, not my normal 5am-6am appointment with the day, but 8.30 it was. Not to worry, everyone was still in sleepy mode, no-one was bleating, squabbling, clucking, quacking barking, or carrying on. There was no cockerel either, loudly proclaiming to one and all that it was about time he and his girls were paid attention to and let out. 

As I trundled along to the loo, the air seemed quiet. I sat on the loo, thinking that I was missing the sound of Orpy talking to the air. And then it started. It was not a loud and boisterous sound as could be heard from Orps in his prime, no this was a thin sound, but obviously coming from a cockerel because the sound was in the general framework of 'cock-a-doodle-do', well sort of. 

And it wasn't one little crow, it was a stream of them, one after the other. On they continued as I put the kettle on for tea, and then they stopped. 

It would seem that the cockling grandson of Orpy has stepped into the vacant space of head crower.

Now if this had been December, then that little cockling would have probably gone into the freezer. We have tried letting young cockerels stay with the girls, but there comes a point when hormones arrive and those youngsters start wanting to fertilize the eggs being made inside the hens, becoming competitive and aggressive as they do so.  This puts the hens under strain and puts tension into the air. So, for the sake of the well-being of the hens, we only have one cockerel on site. 

But this little cockling has been different. For a start we thought he was a hen because he didn't seem to display any cockerel-like tendencies, and it has only been during the last couple of weeks that we have realised that he is a male because he has been growing tail feathers. But he has stayed docile and not showing any competitive spirit towards Orpy, neither has be seemed inclined to practice mating with the girls.

The little cockling crowed this morning, and it was a super duper first time effort making Lester make the remark about the spirit of Orpy living on. However, if the Cockling is to stay here it would mean that he would be mating with his aunts, sisters, cousins, etc, or even his own mum, although we do have several new hens here which are not related to him. Not sure what to do about this. For the moment, therefore, we shall let things be as they are meant to be. The Cockling has come into his own at the right time for us, so for the moment we shall let him be and let time give us the right solution. 

Was supposed to be putting one of the young pigs into the freezer this weekend, but Orpy's passing sort of left footed us, so we didn't. The effort of terminating a life requires a certain state of mind, and neither Hubs or myself have it at the moment. But one day, when the time is right, we shall get up and it well be 'let's do it', then we shall. 

One of our friends came round yesterday. Told us that when his pig was slaughtered professionally it first had all four feet individually roped, that four men then hung on to those ropes so that the legs became splayed, that the pig was squealing and wriggling the whole time, that then the two back legs were brought together, that the pig got hoisted up, then stunned, then the throat was cut. Strooth, but if we had to do that I would never ever be able to eat that meat, neither would I encourage Lester to keep on keeping pigs. For us, when that end moment comes, the pig will not know what has happened. 

Lester has been practising for this moment and has started feeding the pigs in the pen, rather than putting the food over the fence. The small male pig has started letting Lester touch him. He will be the first to go, mostly because he has started putting pressure on his mum, his aunt, and his sister, all of who still live with him. 

Lester will put the food down in separate piles as per normal, then he will move nearer to the male and put the humane gun to his head. The plan was to then slit the throat to drain the blood, then remove him quickly off site to carry on with the task of getting him into the freezer. According to what we have read, the other pigs do not bother with becoming involved. Not so, said our friend. He said that if the others got a smell of the blood then they would barge in to have a eat of it. He said that if Lester was in the way, that Lester might be got at too. This has worried Lester. Lester has just read on the Internet about a man who kept hogs, and that all that was found of him was his false teeth and few items of clothing. What with our friends opinion and the reading about this man, well, Lester has sort of freaked himself out about doing the job. 

I am sure we shall manage. We shall keep responsibility for our animals and the food they provide us with. I shall bless the experience ahead of time, and ask the Universe for the task to go as painlessly as possible for all concerned. We shall not pass on this responsibility to others, that of killing our animals. We raised them. We shall do the task ourselves. 

Meanwhile, the Cockling crowed this morning, and the male pig has another few days of being looked after and cossetted, and I did actually get to sing at the concert last night  because my voice was needed to give some clout to the other soloist whose voice was being drowned out by the harmony coming from the rest of the choir, and Lester has come up with a plan about the best way forward to sort out that male pig.

The day has a curious quietness about it, a sort of waiting is in the air, of anticipation, of things going to happen but not yet. 

An owl flew straight past my windscreen when I was on my way to the concert last night. When owls appear suddenly it means that something is on its way, but not today, for today is quiet day. I shall enjoy it while I can. Out into the field I am going. To scythe is what I shall be doing. 

I hope you are enjoying a quiet day as well, and I hope you are looking forward to your tomorrows with eager anticipation of what it is to come. 

Sending blessings to you. 


Saturday 6 October 2012

She's better, he is not

The brown mum goat has had a limp. She doesn't have it now. Lester trimmed her hooves, found a wound in between her toes, sorted it out. Now she can charge into the sides of others, if she has a mind to do so. All four feet are now able to provide her with a springboard for her charge. She is well. She is better.

Orpy's comb was going from red to purple and back to read again all the day long. I watched it with fascination. He stayed close, seemed to want to be near to us. Missed him  yesterday afternoon. Lester said he was around somewhere. Went to look for him at dusk. Found Orpy. He was in the Hen Hut, not on the perch but on the ground. Deceased. 

We thought we heard a cockerel crow at dawn, but it was a splintered call, not Orpy-like. Assumed it was the young cockerel, who is the grandson of Orpy, starting to practice his crowing. It takes a while for them to master the art of doing this.  We thought we heard him do his first practice. In hindsight, we think that it was Orpy trying to welcome the dawn, but the effort expired him. 

But at least he died with his girls around him. The previous day he had even mounted one of the hens. You can tell when a cockerel has done his duty because the hen gets a bit of a wet botty. And we had made a fuss of him, just to let him know that we appreciated his efforts at keeping our hen flock provided with new additions. 

All in all, it was a good death for him. At least he can rest now.

We are, however, feeling upset. Surprising how animals wriggle their way into the heart. 


Thursday 4 October 2012

Spring time, new blog, Hubs gets busy

Notice to self: it is best not to eat breakfast when in the area of the computer. Cheese on toast is alright, just about, because the crumbs, should they be dropped on to the computer keyboard, can be got out again by inverting the keyboard whereupon they should obligingly drop out, together with an amazing amount of other minuscule detritus lodged therein. But it is the jam on toast which is no go. It is the nature of jam that it likes to stick things up, as I have experienced when making pots of jam on numerous occasions. It is also in the nature of jam to have a certain runny characteristic, this characteristic producing dribbles of stickiness which hopefully remain on the plate but most times do not, creating drips of stickiness all over my fingers, sometimes down the front of me, sometimes onto the computer table. Now I am not a messy eater, just inattentive, so the sticky blobs and drips can go unnoticed. It is only later that I connect with them, like when I put my fingers on the keyboard and get stuck to a key. This I must be more attentive to, because it is in the nature of even the tiniest bit of sugary jam to spread itself all over the place long after the jam on toast has been eaten. 

And oh what a lovely morning it is today. The birds up in the trees are in full voice, the air holds a warmth to it, and the promise of Spring is in the air. This happens every year around this time, that there is a day which says that no matter what weather lies ahead, that Spring will definitely arrive. It cheers the heart. I wish I could parcel up the loveliness of the morning and send it to you all.

I started writing a book about how France arrived in our lives, but at 70,000 words an electrical failure crashed the book, losing half the words. So I gave up. But Leon and Sue over at Melbourne -Our Home on the Bay asked me a while ago about how we came to be in France, which has triggered off my thoughts about getting the book again, but I thought I would work myself into the project by posting a blog about how we have done just that. 
Here is a snippet of some of the first post: 


How did we get to this madness, this insanity. It is dark. We have been on the road for hours. It is early morning. No lights are shining anywhere. I want to go to the loo. There is no ‘proper’ loo, only the porta pottie, and that is buried underneath stuff. I want to have a cup of tea and a warm bed. All I have is the camper van in which I am now sitting. Lester is out having a pee somewhere. It’s easier for men. A zip, that is all they have to manage. For us girls, there is a  waistband to undo, knickers to drop, then hold a squatting position whilst trying to keep all the lower half clothing out of the way of the dribbles. But I need to go, so I do. Outside I go, into thigh high grass which is soaked through. I stumble a little way from the campervan until just out of range of  its lights. Fortunately I have a skirt on. It is easier to go to the loo when wearing a skirt because it can be lifted up out of the way leaving just the undergarments to cope with. Less to have around the ankles. 

Job done. Hem of skirt now soaked, but with wetness from the rain soaked grass and not from anything else. Bools bounces out of the darkness towards me. He is also feeling better after his loo trip. Easier for him. He just cocks his leg. He is our Springer Spaniel. He at least is full of joy, I am full of ‘What have we done.....’

Indeed, what have we just done. Only sold up in the UK and shipped us and our belongings to South West France. In a convoy we had travelled: two bright red vans, and us in our white campervan. Despite the satellite navigation system which Gary, our removal man, had insisted would get us all the way to our destination but which had had us going round and round in circles on the Paris ring road because the sat nav went into a hissy fit and kept taking us off the main road towards somewhere else despite the signs telling us to keep straight ahead which Gary ignored having more faith in that thingumyjig of a device. But it was done with grand bonhomie. No one lost their temper. On all of the drive down none of us became irritable. But now we are. I want my bed. Lester wants his bed. But our proper bed is packed in one of the vans. We have a bed in the campervan but it is drowning beneath stuff piled high upon it, this we throw onto the driving seats or on to the floor leaving Bools a small space so he can sleep too. Thankfully we lie down. Sleep does not come easily. We are too tired. Images of the day are stamped in our minds too strongly. 


It is daylight. I look at my watch. 8am. I have a peep through the curtains. Feel an urge to explore my new home. Lester turns over, needing more sleep. No lie in for him today. We need to get on with unloading the vans so that Gary & Co can start back to the UK. 
In the dark the house had looked like a big black lump. Now it looks smaller, less intimidating. Only half a roof of course, but we knew that, and less of it as well so more must have taken a tumble....... etc...... you can read more here.

I also have a friend who is in the middle of a crossroads in her life, and I thought that by writing about how we found our way through our own crossroads, and took the path that we did, might give her and her partner some encouragement as well. You can find her blog here.

Oh dear, time is pressing on, so will let you know how busy Hubs as been in the next post. 

Wednesday 3 October 2012

A missed chance

I sing in a choir. It is mostly made up of French people, that's why I joined, to exercise my   French speaking skills. It hasn't improved them much though. Everyone talks so fast that I can hardly make out any single words, let alone make sense of entire sentences. Not to worry. At least I feel I am making the effort at joining in with the local community. 

We all went to Bayonne, on the South West coast of France, last Spring, and a fantastic time was had by all. But the host choir was top notch, leaving our Mabourguet choir a little in the shade. We did our best, but was out flanked by the quality of the other choir. 

That other choir is coming to visit us on Saturday. They will stay for the weekend, be shown round the local wine chateau, will sing, will be fed. It is a big weekend for our choir and Mabourguet. 

I like to sing. I have not done much singing during my life, though. Music, yes, mostly via the piano, and now my keyboard, but singing has not been a big thing with me. And then, last year, something happened, I don't know what, but I started finding my voice. It is not a marvellous voice, but it can hold a tune, and has a power. It is not a 'thin' voice. It can make a big noise if it has to. This might be because of not having neighbours, that I can yell my head off if I feel like it without anyone hearing. This is a novelty after years of living with neighbours who are sharing the other side of the connecting walls, of still using a raised voice but all the while aware that the people on the other side of the wall could probably hear every word I was saying. Perhaps that is why I have found my voice. 

Or perhaps it is because I am in a good space in my life. Perhaps my voice is reflecting my general state of well being despite the battles with living in a foreign country in a ruin of a house. Perhaps my voice is telling me that I am where I am meant to be. 

I have always been a bit of an entertainer, and yet I am quite a shy person at heart. I seem to blossom when in front of people, and can do public speaking quite well. I can't do a lot of things, but I can do this. And I miss this side of me. It is absent here. Not because I don't want to let this side of me see the light of day, but because there is no opportunity for it to be used. Back in the UK, this side of me was busy, but here, with a changed lifestyle, it is not. 

It is almost as if there is a hunger in me to be up front. Is this my ego? I don't think so. After I have done my bit I tend to quietly withdraw, leaving as quickly as I can. I don't like the fuss afterwards. Last December I was the chef d'orchestre (conductor) for a choir whose normal leader had debunked back to the UK for good and all. At the last minute I was asked to fill the vacant space. I did. With heart beating wildly I stood in front of that choir, with the church, on the two occasions of the Christmas concerts, packed to the rafters, full of people. With them at the back of me and the choir in front of me, I made the place rock. Jingle Bells will never be the same again for some people. 

But after it was done, and I had given of my best, I left, leaving everyone else to partake of the food and wine. I had done the job which was asked of me, and I did it well, maybe a bit too well because there were lots of priests about the place and I did have cause to wonder if perhaps this lightness and jollity was a tad over the top for them to cope with. It must be hard being celibate. They must have to put an iron fist around parts of themselves. 

A few weeks ago, that 'entertainer' side of me was given light of day again, as I was asked by a friend to sing 'Amazing Grace' with her. This was with the Mabourguet choir. Crikey but my heart was pattering at a fast rate as I stood in front of the choir on the evening of the concert. And I managed, not as well as I might have done, and my voice did do a crackle once or twice but with my friend singing away beside me and the choir harmonising behind me, it went largely unnoticed, I think. It was the first time I had sung in public. It was a big thing for me. I loved it. 

And now this concert on Saturday has arrived. It is a big concert, quite prestigious, and I am to sing. I have been practising. I am more confident. 

Rehearsals last night. No pianist. Gone away to England for a holiday. Not to worry. Last time they rented a pianist when they didn't have one. Nope. Can't do that this time as the choir has run out of money. 

So me and my friend sang. She was very wobbly as she sang through the solo of the first verse. Was better when I joined her for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th verses. The choir crashed effortlessly behind us, totally out of tune by the end. It was a disaster. It will be a disaster on Saturday. 

So what did I do? I let go my opportunity to sing at an important function, and went and sat at the keyboard, retreating into the back room role which an accompanist has. For the sake of the honour of the choir, and to help my friend get a grip on herself, I stepped down, denying my other self, and letting someone else have the opportunity to take the spotlight.

I don't know what I expected from the concert. It would have been nice to sing. Now I shall have to content myself with singing as I spin away at my spinning wheel because for some reason I can't sing and accompany myself at the keyboard both at the same time. But spinning and singing seem to work. And I sing for myself. Perhaps that is better. To sing for one's self rather than others, but then there is still that other side of me who yearns to have their voice heard, whether it be by singing, speaking, or writing. Oh well, will have to put that side of me to bed for the time being.

One thing, though. When I am accompanying someone, whether it be a musician or a singer, in private or in concert, my eyebrows seem to drift about my forehead and my face seems to go all sensitive and rubbery. Why does it do that? 

Perhaps it is just as well, therefore, that I am off to one side so no-one can see the antics of my face as I play away at the keyboard. 

I have just started a new blog, which is about how we got to be living on a smallholding in France. You can find this blog here