Happy as a sand boy

At the end of my last blog, I was wishing for rain; the ground was so dry and hard and we were already having to water every day. My wish was granted the following evening, in spectacular style, with a huge thunderstorm and buckets of rain. We sat on the balcony for a couple of hours that evening, watching the near constant lightning and enjoying the sound of the rain, until it started blowing in onto us, when we beat a retreat. The rain continued for four days, a total of 56mm fell, doing the garden so much good and by the end of it, the new grass had sprouted in the garden.

Nick was getting pretty fed up even before the rain arrived; he couldn’t do any more in the bathroom till I’d done the joint filling, only likes doing “big” gardening (ie with the digger) and had finished all the remaining sand and cement. He’d dug out the base for a false well he wants to build, to conceal the water tub that collects treated water from the septic tank, before it’s pumped to the other side of the garden for use watering the veg plot; but until we got sand and cement, he could go no further. At last I managed to get in touch with the man who can deliver building materials and yes, he could do it the following day. 2 cubic metres of sand and 10 bags of cement later and Nick’s a happy bunny again.

A few weeks ago, I painted the drawers Nick had made for my workshop and for years I’ve wanted to make the plain white cupboard doors more interesting; this felt like the right time. We took the doors down and put them on the gite kitchen tables, where I set to work. Many happy hours playing later, we rehung them. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but I’m pleased with the result.

Boring doors
No longer boring

Once that was out of the way, I was able to start filling the plasterboard joints in the new bathroom. This must rate as one of my least favourite jobs; hours and hours of filling, sanding down, refilling, sanding again, again and again and by the end, if you’ve done a decent job, you don’t even see it. It makes my back, arms and shoulders ache, especially the ceiling. It’s not far off finished now though, so Nick will soon be able to lay the floor tiles and apparently some DIY shops have reopened, so we can soon go looking for wall tiles.

The weather’s been lovley again this week, so while I’ve continued the never ending task of weeding, Nick’s been mixing up heaps of cement to lay a screed on the terrace. He hasn’t got enormous stocks of the wood needed to frame it, so is doing one section a day; another 3 days and it should be finished and we can start tiling it, using the tiles we bought about 3 years ago.

In the meantime, the grass is growing and from ground level you can hardly see the join; it’s beginning to look like a proper garden at last.

Two years ago…..
The faux well, work in progress

Day Tripper

Oh, the excitement! I‘ve been out! And not just once, but three times! It feels like a major expedition each time, making sure I have everything I need, mask, gloves and signed, dated attestation. I was amazed at how many people were queueing for the supermarket, when, by ordering on “Drive”, I could simply arrive at my appointed time, have all the shopping packed in the boot for me, and leave. I’ll be doing that again.

During one of our long distance conversations with our neighbour, we learned of a garden nursery not too far away, that’s very much open; unlike in Britain, anything to do with gardening is considered essential to life here. They’re delivering to collection points in various villages or you can pick up from the business. By doing that, I could collect my tomatoe, aubergine, courgette and lettuce plants the same afternoon. I enjoyed the drive along empty roads, put on my mask when I arrived, but it wasn’t necessary; there was a table by the entrance, on which were several boxes of veg plants, labelled with people’s names and how much they owed, next to which was a box to put your money in. Couldn’t be better.

This morning was market day and I needed veg, so got up early to beat the queues. Or so I thought. The market stalls are now barriered off, so the traders have to serve you, which is, of course, slower than the normal, self service system. The queue for the veg stall I use stretched all the way to the next road, one person every 2 metres; the man has taken on extra staff, but it still meant a wait of 40 minutes to arrive at the stall and by the time I got there, the queue was even longer. Veg bought, I joined the queue for the cheese stall. Fortunately, it’s all very good humoured and I saw a few friends as I waited my turn.

Apart from that, we’ve done more gardening, spending hours weeding the veg plot, which was totally overgrown after winter; some bits look quite good now and we’ve planted lettuce, beans and onions, as well as an experiment on Nick’s part. I bought some sprouting seeds before this all started, which are great, as beansprouts, in salads and stir fries. Nick decided it would be a good idea to become self sufficient in these so soaked and planted chick peas, mung beans, aduki beans and two types of lentil. I’m growing the sunflowers separately, as flowers. We’ll see how they do, but the garden is starting to look good.

We’ve cleared weeds from under trees and shrubs and Nick’s used the last of the cement to start building the “ruined wall” in the back garden; we thought we’d found someone to deliver us more sand and cement, but he hasn’t called back, so we’ll have to wait for that. Some of the new grass under the tilleul is growing and I keep watering the most recently seeded bit every day; there’s a mole living under there, which is causing us a lot of frustration as it keeps throwing up new molehills; Nick digs up its holes and stands over them till they move again, then smashes the growing hill with a sledgehammer. So far, he’s had no luck, the mole seems totally undeterred, but at least it keeps Nick occupied for a while. He’s also built a little roof for the well in the garden; when first we moved in here there was so much greenery in this part of the garden that it was months before we even knew we had a well, but now we use it to supplement our water supply to water the garden when things get dry in the summer. Up to now we’ve had to lower the pump in in spring and haul it out in winter by hand, the well’s 17 metres deep, so it’s a strenuous job, but part of the roof is a housing for an electric winch system, which will make things easier.

Nick has finished the table he’s been making for the sculpture we bought a couple of years ago. We were very used to the prototype, but the finished product is beautiful, with a quite rough hewn top and a very original design for the legs. The finish on it is fantastic, the legs feel like silk; well worth the wait.

I’ve finished decorating the entrance hall now and just need to put up some pictures; if the rain they keep forecasting ever materialises I’ll start filling joints in the new bathroom, but so far the weather’s just lovely. I shouldn’t complain, but the grass is already yellowing and we could really do with a bit of rain, just overnight, ideally!

Lockdown week 4

As the days and the weeks pass, it seems difficult to remember what day it is; one just blends into the next, with no Saturday trips to the market, Tuesday English classes, Wednesday or Sunday bike rides, or anything else to differentiate one day from the next. I’m not complaining though; there are plenty of worse places to spend our time of confinement and we have more than enough to do to fill our days.

Nick was looking for something in the garage yesterday, when he came across two bags of the tile adhesive he needs for the new bathroom floor, so hopefully he’ll get on with that soon. A very pleasant surprise.

I’m still finishing the varnishing of the doors in our entrance hall; it’s been a very long job, but is nearly done, just leaving a couple of coats of emulsion to put on the walls and it’ll be finished.

We’ve flattened the soil under the tilleul tree and scattered what grass seed we had over part of it; the first blades of grass appeared today, so it’ll soon look good. Sadly, we only had enough seed to do about a quarter of the area, but a friend has just told me that there are no official cases of coronavirus in Nogaro, so, as the garden shop is said to be open, I might go and get some more seed there. Maybe some lettuce seed too, as none of last year’s packet of lettuce seeds has germinated so far.

The rest of the garden is starting to come to life now, in the warm sunshine we’ve had this week; the wisteria on the gite looks and smells glorious, bulbs are coming up all over the place, the fruit trees are covered in blossom and the banksia rose is just beautiful. In our winter greenhouse, on the terrace, just outside the bathroom window, the citrus trees are covered in blossom; it could be a very good year for lemon marmalade and lime pickle, but for the time being, I’m just delighted to be able to open the bathroom window in the morning and soak up the wonderful perfume that fills the room.

I’m still enjoying my daily walks, though I’m beginning to wonder if taking up running at my age is a good idea, I seem to have aches here and there, so a few days off and I’ll see how it is. Nick has decided not to leave our property at all throughout lockdown; he’s working hard in the garden and doesn’t seem to feel the need to get out. Surprising, but that’s his decision.

Lockdown week 3

We’reinto our third week of lockdown; it’s amazing how quickly new situations become the norm, as anyone in Britain, reading this, will be well aware.

When it started, I searched the internet for guidance on what we could and could not do, but was unable to find anything. So I rang the maire of our village; no, he said, we couldn’t cycle; but if Nick wanted to take his mountain bike into the forest, that would be OK; and we could go for walks around the lake. So we went for walks around the lake, but Nick didn’t go mountain biking. Then we had an email from someone in one of the cycle clubs we’re part of, an email sent out to all members, complaining that he’d seen on Strava that some people had been out cycling and others walking 10km and more! This was strictly forbidden (even though we’d seen not a soul on our walks) and must stop immediately.

Eventually, thanks to a friend’s help, we found the information we needed online, including a form to print out, fill in, sign and date, specifying your reason for being out. The guidelines and form have changed twice, but it seems to have settled now; we can go out for one hour a day for exercise, as long as we stray no more than 1km from home; the newest form even requires you to fill in the time you left home. I haven’t been asked to produce it yet; I don’t suppose I will be, we don’t often see gendarmes around here, but I’ll take it with me. I don’t want a 135 euro fine.

An hour doesn’t seem much; time for a 6km walk, but that’s all, so I’ve started jogging. Only very slowly and not very far, but I’ve worked very hard over the last 3 years to regain some of the fitness I lost in the 10 years I couldn’t cycle and I’ll be very upset if I have to start from scratch again when all this is over.

Apart from trying to keep some fitness, we’re making the best of the confinement to get on with the house and garden. I finished the sitting room in the gite and attached false panelling to all the downstairs doors, but couldn’t get on with either the hall or the kitchen for all the tools etc. that Nick was using for the new bathroom. So I decided to tackle the entrance hall in our house instead, thinking it wouldn’t take long. How wrong I was; one single door and three sets of double doors lead off the small space and all the double doors were bought second hand, so need a lot of work, especially the pair with 21 small panes of glass in each door, which felt as though the last person to varnish them finished off by sprinkling them liberally with sand. I spent every morning last week sanding, this week I’m varnishing.

Nick’s spent his mornings getting on as far as he can with the bathroom, but has now ground to a halt; we successfully stocked up on food, but didn’t think about supplies for DIY projects. We’re kicking ourselves as we now find ourselves short of tile adhesive, crepi and cement, so there’s not an awful lot more he can do in the bathroom. Instead, he’s built a roof for the well in the front garden, is making noises about mending the mower that’s not worked for the last year and is driving me mad with suggestions of tasks I can do.

In the afternoons, when it’s dry, we’re busy gardening. We’ve sown plenty of seeds, but as they’re all last year’s packets, I don’t know how successful they’ll be; we’ve mown and strimmed the grass and dug up hundreds of molehills, and we’ve started levelling the ground under the big tilleul tree, ready for grassing. At last the grass is growing in the little triangle that we worked on last autumn, so things should begin to look good soon.

In the evenings I’ve painted the drawers Nick built for my workshop and soon want to do something along the same lines on the wall cupboard doors; Nick’s been clearing up some of the mess in the gite kitchen so that I can work in there.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the wisteria is coming into flower on the front of the gite. It’s hard to believe, at the moment, that there’s a global catastrophe unfolding around us; I think that, until something happens to touch us personally, it will continue to seem a little unreal.

Bored? Us? Not a chance!