Ouch! That’s gonna hurt in the morning!

Joel, our builder, came round last week to see the plans for the inside of the house, take measurements, etc. I had misunderstood when I thought he was going to start in October; he’ll start at the end of the year, unless we have a very wet October and we’re ready to go. So it’s all hands on deck now, to get the preparation done in case it rains a lot next month. Kieran’s broken up all of the concrete floor in the grange with a noisy breaker-thingy, so we’re ready to start removing it. Hopefully a local farmer will want at least some of it and the rest will go to the tip.

Of course, this involved emptying the grange, Kieran’s motorbike parking up to now; he’s thrilled with his new, clean garage area – my arrière cuisine!

But Sundays are rest days, the mornings anyway; so I went walking and Nick went out on his bike this morning. He hadn’t gone very far when he thinks his wheel got caught in a rut in the road on a fast descent; it pulled his handlebars sideways and sent him spilling across the tarmac. He’s removed a considerable amount of skin from his leg, hip and shoulder; yes, the same side as always, which has already sustained a broken hip and bears the scars of several tumbles. His new shorts and favourite jersey will have to go in the bin, along with his helmet, which is well scuffed and broken internally. But it could have been a lot worse; typical Nick, he cycled the 10miles home!

Keep calm and carry on

When I had my interview with the careers advisor at school, I don’t remember digger driver being mentioned as a possible choice. Perhaps that’s just as well.

Joel, the builder, phoned today to say that he’s bringing forward the date to start work on our house to October; fantastic! But that does mean we’ll have to get on with the preparation sooner than we’d planned; so while Nick and Kieran lifted beams into position on the roof of the hangar this afternoon, I started digging the trench through the grange to run the water pipes in, for our new house.

All went well for a while; I’d dug out the entire length to about half the required depth and was making my way back, digging further down, when I noticed one of the tracks was quite close to the edge of the trench. I tried to reposition the digger, but as I was going backwards, I turned the wrong way. The digger started to lean as the track went closer to the edge, then the weight of the digger started breaking the edge off, making it slide even further into the hole!

Kieran just happened to come in at this point and stood, laughing like a drain at my panic; so I did what any sensible woman would do – abandoned ship (or digger) and left him to sort it out. Such was my fear that I’d broken the digger and possibly my son into the bargain, that it didn’t even occur to me to take a picture; sorry! But I needn’t have worried; by propping the digger up on its bucket until Nick could wedge enough huge lumps of wood into the trench to take the weight,  he was able move it onto solid ground 😉

It was 7.30pm by then, so we decided to call it a day.

In which Hugo nearly meets his maker *

Here is Hugo, coming downstairs now, pad, pad, pad, on his little paws, almost being trodden on by Kieran at every step. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs and when he reaches the bottom, he’s in the hall and ready to take a stroll around the garden. But today the front door is shut, so he sits by it to wait patiently.

Unbeknown to Hugo, Adrian has arrived for a visit, bringing with him Oscar and Bramble, his trusty, canine companions. It’s been decided that a meeting between Hugo and Bramble would not be a good idea, so Hugo will stay in the house today while Oscar and Bramble will be given the run of the garden; but Bramble can smell cat and sits quietly waiting just the other side of the door.

Carol, our visitor, is helping take food for a barbecue out to the garden. She opens the front door, just a crack. But it’s enough to let Bramble shoot through the door like greased lightning, and up the hall, after Hugo, who dashes as fast as he can – into the dead end of the bathroom. Adrian is now moving faster than I’ve ever seen him move before, to prevent a very unpleasant incident. He catches up with Bramble in the nick of time, swooping her away from Hugo, perched on the loo seat; where he stands, back arched, hissing at anyone who approaches. Catastrophe averted – phew! That was close!

* Apologies to A A Milne!

Apart from the brief, exciting interlude and the very enjoyable barbecue, we’ve spent a great deal of time recently digging a trench to take cables from the hangar to the house. It was meant to be a fairly quick job that I could do; but that wasn’t taking into account the rock-like nature of the garden at the moment. It hasn’t rained properly for months and our soil is clay, which is now as hard as iron. The trench needed to be 80-100cm deep, but on the first day, when we all took turns at digger driving as the temperature was 30ºC in the shade and heaven only knows how hot in the greenhouse-like cab in the full sun, after several hours work we’d barely made an impression. Nick valiantly wielded his pick axe in the hope of breaking up the soil, but to no avail. So eventually we gave up, watered the indentation we’d made, drank beer and left it to soak overnight. Another two days hard diggering, with Kieran standing the digger on its toes in an attempt to sink the bucket into the ground, and the trench was deemed acceptable. They put in the conduit for the cable and we pushed the soil back into the hole.

Anyone who regularly reads this will realise that sealing showers with that squirty silicon stuff doesn’t appear on any list of my greatest achievements. I hope, therefore, that I’m not tempting fate when I say that since the lads dismantled the shower for me to reseal it a few weeks ago, it hasn’t leaked!!!!! It may not be the tidiest of sealing jobs, but I don’t care!




Looks like progress

For the last few weeks, Nick and Kieran have been working towards converting the hangar into a garage; they have now finished building the side walls and are ready to start on the roof. They ordered the wood today and are hoping to borrow a large trailer from a neighbour as delivery, just 2 miles from Nogaro, will cost €70. The trailer is 4 metres long and the wood 7 metres, so it could be an interesting trip, but I won’t think about that!

Between bouts of bricklaying, while the cement dried, they’ve got on with a few other things; Nick had a day cycling in the Pyrenees and discovered a new, mobile form of Basque road furniture, commonly known as a sheepabout.

When the vineyard owner came round to inspect his vines last week, Hermione went for his dog, hissing and pecking and generally terrifying the poor creature; the following day she decided to go for a stroll – in the middle of the road. Typically, this happened while Nick was out and it caused the drivers great amusement to see me trying either to catch her or to chase her back into the garden, as we both ran, flapping wildly, up and down the road. So there is now a fence between our garden and the vines; very sad as we loved the unenclosed nature of the garden. But needs must and it doesn’t do to let your pet goose run riot or she’ll end up in someone’s pot.

How do you get two walnut trees on a bike?

No, it’s not a joke! There’s a sort of communal garden in Nogaro, run by someone I go walking with and another chap. Like so many gardens in France, it’s totally separate from its owner’s house, a bit like a single, large allotment. It belongs to a doctor who works in Pau, so doesn’t have time to tend it; Christian and Pierre were looking for a community gardening project and heard of this; they don’t have to pay rent and the doctor no longer has to pay a gardener, so everybody’s happy.

I was invited to go along; by working there one or two mornings a week, you get a share in any produce and, more importantly for me, you can mercilessly pick the brains of all the experienced gardeners there. Of course, the other advantage of this is that I improve my French into the bargain! As we’ve never owned any more than a Victorian back yard before and now have 5000 square metres to keep us from twiddling our thumbs, we’re on a steep learning curve, so I was delighted to go on Tuesday morning.

Everything in the garden is grown organically, the water comes from a well (hand drawn on Tuesday as Christian, who usually brings a generator and pump, was away on holiday) and only natural pesticides are used, made from nettles and other things. At this time of year, it’s mostly watering, cleaning up and harvesting that needs doing; but I was asked if I’d like the two baby walnut trees that had seeded themselves last year. No-one else wanted them, but they’d been looked after during the summer, so I happily helped to dig them up, bag them and bring them home in my bike paniers. With the baby fig tree donated by our neighbour, we’ve got the beginnings of an orchard in the back garden.

A few of the figs from our established tree, in the meantime, are drying nicely. Kieran and Nick have made a solar fruit dryer; it needs a few tweeks yet, to give it better airflow without too much loss of heat, but the first batch of figs is looking, and tasting, good after three days in the sun. I think I’ll cut the next batch in halves to let them dry more quickly and might try sun dried tomatoes too.

Quiche for eighty

Our neighbours, Kate and Rob, are having a party tonight, to which most of the village seems to be invited. When I met Kate in town last week she asked if I could make the quiches – for eighty people!

So, since Julia and Chris left at lunchtime today, I’ve been in the kitchen. I’ve used a kilo of flour, 30 eggs, a kilo of bacon and 2litres of creme fraiche, amongst lots of other ingredients; Rob’s just been to collect them. I think they look OK; I just hope they taste as good.

Time for a shower now and make myself presentable;-)

Reclaiming the potager

Once upon a time, not so very long ago (about 5 months, to be exact), there was a relatively well tended potager (vegetable patch), with its neat rows of lettuces and radishes, spinach and French beans. The gardener dreamed of a time she could go out with her wicker basket and pick the produce, and of how good it would taste. Then along came the bad weed fairy, sprinkling extra-fast-growing weed seeds liberally around the potager, and the not-enough-time-to-do-everything fairy, filling the gardener’s head with plans of cleaning, cooking, tiling, painting and other non-gardening activities.

Before very long, the potager had become totally overgrown; weeds sprang up everywhere,  the tomatoes spread out like a jungle, butternut squash that must have come from seeds thrown onto the compost heap sprawled between the peppers and aubergines, the cabbages grew huge and went to seed and something ate the tops of every one of the 185 onion plants. The gardener wrung her hands but didn’t really know where to start to get it back under control.

Then along came the cavalry (who says you can’t have a cavalry in a fairy tale!?), in the form of Julia and Chris; expert gardeners, who took one look at the overgrown mess and turned very pale. Having got over their shock, they set about the renovation task, tying up tomatoes, pulling up weeds and now-dead bean plants and finding that some onions had actually grown, in spite of the lack of tops. One hard, hot morning of their ministrations, and the potager was back to looking as it should, and the gardener had learned a lot about growing veg.

The same day, the wood fairy phoned, in the form of Phillipe, the village Maire. The commune of Caupenne owns 170 hectares of woodland and every so often, they cut down some of the trees; the straight trunks of oak are sold to furniture manufacturers and barrel makers, the rest as firewood. They have recently cut a load of ash trees, to clear the way to the 170 year-old oaks, so the residents of Caupenne have been offered firewood at a good price. Our load was ready for collection and Phillipe was willing to collect and deliver  it for us with his tractor and trailer; so Nick, Kieran and Chris went off to load up and Phillipe then delivered it to our garden. All it needs now is stacking – I wonder if there’s a wood stacking fairy???

Help! Calling all inventors!

Today is the annual Caupenne vide grenier, the French equivalent of a car boot sale. Like a car boot sale, there are folks having a clear-out of their attic and there are dealers; unlike a car boot, and unlike almost anything else in France, it doesn’t stop for lunch, but goes on well into the afternoon. The earliest sellers to arrive get the best spots – inside the salle d’association, where it’s cool; the next to arrive have the luxury of being in the shade of the plane trees in the square; anybody arriving after them is stuck out in the blazing sun in the car park, so many people bring sun shades of various shapes and sizes. I don’t envy them; it’s cooler today, but still up to 32ºC in the shade.

I went for a look around this morning; there was the usual mix of children’s clothes and toys, old tools, bikes, books, and general bric-a-brac, but I was delighted to find a copy of Harry Potter and the  Order of the Phoenix, in French, for Alex.

This week we need to pick the figs; we have an enormous fig tree which is groaning under the weight of fruit. We’ve got countless jars of jam and chutney already, so I really don’t want to make any more, but am not sure what else to do with figs. So if anyone has any good recipes for preserving figs, please send them on via the blog or by email.

One idea I had was to dry them; my neighbour has an electric fruit dryer, but with the hours of sunshine we have here, I feel sure it must be possible to make a solar-powered fig dryer. So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to design a fig dryer that works on the heat/light of the sun, so we can have home-produced dried figs this winter. If you come to visit, you can taste them for yourself! Please send designs/drawings/plans to me, again via the blog or by email.

Thank you in anticipation of a flood of recipes and designs;-)

Mini boys’ adventure part 3 : Pedal power rules

Different boys; different bikes; but still the same spirit of adventure!

Glyn, a cycling-mad friend of Nick’s, has been staying with us for the last couple of weeks, with the intention of doing as much cycling as possible in the time he’s here. With that aim in mind, the two of them set off for the Pyrenees on Tuesday morning, arriving at midday. They cycled two cols that afternoon, before checking in at the hostel; Wednesday was a big day, covering 150km and five cols; then another two cols on Thursday before heading home, tired and hungry. The trip seems to have been fairly uneventful except for the day they were forced to follow an enormous log lorry, complete with trailer, down the tiny mountain roads; on one hairpin bend Glyn, never known for being an overly cautious cyclist, decided there was space for a bike to squeeze through between the lorry and a car going in the opposite direction, nearly causing the poor car driver to have a heart attack! And done on my best bike to boot!

Kieran and I, meanwhile, finished clearing all the spare soil from the back garden, which now looks a lot better. I hope, after his break, that Nick will feel motivated to get some work done when Glyn leaves.

Pompiers: dial 18

Jean-Jacques, our neighbor, turned up on the doorstep this morning to tell us that there was an injured deer at the end of our garden; it had probably been hit by a car last night and was obviously very distressed. Our friend Kate suggested calling the pompiers; the fire brigade here plays a much more diverse role than in the UK. So I called their number and explained the problem; the man gave me two phone numbers to ring in order to have the deer removed. Both numbers, however, were for people who deal with such things as wasps’ nests, certainly nothing as big as a deer. Which says a lot for my French accent! I called the pompiers again and spoke to the same man; this time he understood the problem and promised to send out a team to deal with it. 5 minutes later, a big red van came speeding up the road, siren wailing and lights blazing…. and shot straight past our house! Kieran and I stood by the gate to flag them down on their second attempt. They had a look at the deer and diagnosed a broken spine; then they took it away to be put down, poor thing. It sounded as though it’s a not uncommon event.

Trauma over, it was time to set to work on the soil mountain left in the back garden when they buried the gas tank. Kieran, being a gentleman, suggested I drive the digger and the tractor while he did the heavy work and showed me how to work the digger. At first, there seemed to be more soil landing around the trailer than in it, but eventually I got the hang of it and by the time we finished this evening, we’d cleared about three quarters of the heap onto a low corner of the garden. We should get it finished tomorrow morning, with a bit of luck.