Thursday, 27 May 2010

Nature's Poetry Standing under the old oak tree

The following is intended to be read slowly.

Captain S saw a fox two evenings ago,
on the triangle of La Balade des Plaisirs.
At dusk, as the bedroom window closes, a hare,
a grey shadow in the twilight, looked up briefly
before he sped from the gateway to the vines beyond the hay-cut field.
A special moment.

Yesterday evening, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
delighted us whilst landing high on the telegraph pole.
Snails venture out to the rain filled puddles
and probably to the surviving lettuces!

Standing under the old oak tree,
still, silent, listening, absorbing, being, living.
To the right, an open field
where goat manure is piled high each year before muck spreading.
To the left, a stone wall
marks the boundary of the field we lovingly call the Triangle.

Be part of a world that time has not changed.
Yet, anew the kennel dogs create an awful din.
My complaint mounts in my head.
However, I have not yet done any more than two or three years ago
when their newly presence sounded unacceptable.
Sounds of dogs barking, yelping,
screaming all day and night is still unacceptable.

Two new lambs have been born to the fold of fifteen.
So young, they make merry with their elders.
Bleating behind hedgerows is a comforting sound.
The cuckoo cucks and coos and cuck coo coos
as it begins to change its tune for June.
Pigeons are no match for their cooing.
Walk a little further and black rooks caw their cacophony
to match the incessant song of the grasshoppers and crickets.

Stand still and silent.
Listen,  to the sounds of tranquillity, but not of silence.
Be alone, but not alone.
Be comforted, but not take comfort.
Nature provides poetry,
yet is not so gentle or so kind
when the weather changes
its temerity.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Seb'ovis looks great and tastes delicilious

My son decided he'd like to make bread, being a schoolboy when he last made it but remembering almost exactly how it is made. The chemistry part interests him as much as the kneading, knocking back, smell and taste! Being a good teacher I taught him my skills so well that his bread turned out better than mine! Urgh! I encouraged him to add oats and linseed as well as the Pain de Campagne. On a second attempt he made a delicious funky olive and onion bread ... the same recipe I made last year. He is a star pupil!

I cultivate wild yeast. I put a small piece of dough in a jar with left over beer or milk or water and a wee amount of sugar. These men always leave a little beer in the bottle.... but frugality means I add it to the almost daily dough. I put a doyley on the top of the yeastmaking jar to let any wild yeasts enter and use this rising agent to add to the flour, salt, oil and additional ingredients such as oats, linseed or onions, potatoes, sundried tomatoes, poppy or sesame seeds, etcetera. Before I cook the dough I break off a small amount and put it into the jar with some new liquid and a little sugar.
I'd like to afford biologique (organic) wheat-free flours but our stomachs seem happy providing that we eat wheat flour substituted or mixed with epautre, seigle or other cereal flours.
We enjoy good wholesome bread...and avoid the French baguette unless it is one of the smaller specialist breads containing céréales or figs or walnuts. Recently we had a loaf made with Egyptian wheat. Delicious. It's such a lucky life in France when we have the opportunity to enjoy bread from different boulangeres but better still home baked bread is satisfyingly comfort and luxury...and we are all the better avoiding the bloated stomach from commercially produced wheat and chemicals that are in some breads. If the bread from the boulangere is not good enough we don't go there again!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Week 3 is progressing quickly

As Monday was a National Feast day we had a morning visit to a Brocante - Vide Grenier where a pretty 1930s mirror frame was discovered. It's just another small job to cut an oval mirror. Also acquired was an anglepoise lamp and a prize purchase of two very weighty brass, nickel and wood 'block and tackle' for the steel vessel.
The week promised to be more constructive as the bathroom and bedroom began to take shape with walls, ceilings, electrics and plumbing being considered whilst the sun smiling strongly in the courtyard garden forewarned us of rising temperatures heralding thunderstorms and warm, welcoming rain! The working Monday ended with a frolic in the River Anglin to cool down.

Then home to Captain Sensible's version of Salade Nicoise, an important task of baking bread, a myriad of low level domestic duties, piano practice, search for materials, and a 'catch-up' on writing! Did I say I was tired? NO!!!!!!! The weather then deteriorated with necessary rain accompanied by thunderstorms and wind.
We met an absent neighbour who appeared today in their barn next door. We discussed the problem associated with the higher level of ground on their side of our wall which is above our internal floor level. I like French people because mostly they are always very amicable... donc, voila! ... we have permission to dig a trench to replace the soil with gravel to help the walls breathe, mais bien sûr we will leave it neat and tidy and evacuate the rubble! Later in the week, this proved to be difficult.... one foot below the soil level is cement and sometimes higher so no wonder the wall by the chimney breast was very damp! Drills are insufficient --- we have to hire a specialist tool to dig away the cement.
The top layer of stringy brown wallpaper revealed the paper firmly stuck to the plasterboard below. It looks like it will be a long and painful endurance test to expose the bare walls. Several soakings with water and washing up liquid then using the steamer kettle seems to make the paper easier to remove even. Little by little we will achieve!
The 'sheds' have been swept so we can store the 20 or so bags of used and dirty sand generated from blasting the beams which look so much more friendly. Eventually it may just get sprinkled on the garden.
The chaps are about to start plastering the ceiling between the beams having completed the prep work. Their backs are taking a toll from digging ditches, distributing rubble in puddles in our lane, cutting a door hole in a French breezeblock wall and reaching high to the ceilings. I am enormously grateful, I really am.
My level is that of a skivvy and remarkably it brings me enjoyment to provide coffee, tea, lunch and sometimes cakes or ice-creams but more importantly to sweep the site clean, several times a day. Sanding woodwork is not so pleasant ... but I am ready to lift buckets of rubble, problem-solve and add ideas for project management. I am not confident with buying bathroom furniture, nor considering where the electrics should go, nor calculating tiling or paint, but over the last 12 years I have become well-used to house renovation and the inside of DIY stores. My patience and interest has had to grow. I fully respect builders in ways that I know my colleagues never did. So many people in the UK appear to criticise builders - but in France the artisan is respected. A builder has to be intelligent in order to create a house of beauty out of inflexible materials; he has to be strong in mind and body; he also has to endure dusty, dirty and unpleasant conditions. And they make jolly good cooks!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Growling at the garden

We put a lot of effort into adding composts, manures, sands and removing stones for the vegetable plot. The onions that haven't been stolen by the birds are struggling, the leeks too, no peas and beans have germinated, nor my sweetpeas and runner beans even though they are planted elsewhere, some of the potatoes and all 6 tomato plants have been caught by the recent frost, 2 lettuce plants struggle whilst 4 have died, other lettuce grown from seed are performing poorly, the radish appear to be growing, the beetroot has not germinated.
Now I'm really annoyed that the 20 seeds of 4 different varieties of tomatoes that I planted individually and tenderly in special thumb pots ( not sure of exact name) had all germinated and now only two are left. One night as they were happy sitting on the floor of the warm verandah something nipped off their cotyledons! Later I found the culprit - a caterpillar type grub had somehow invaded the special seed soil I invested in! Gggggggrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Anyway I'm off to buy a soil tester kit to see what's wrong. It's the worst year ever!

Day 8 Demolition

It was a very good stroke of luck that we decided to have Le Sableuse delivered and collected for almost 100 euros in addition to the hire of the machine and the sand! Our little Clio with its small remorque would have been laughed out of town!
A French neighbour has already remarked to a friend that this machinery is "industrielle et pour les specialistes" but fortunately, my son knows all about sandblasters having had specialists remove 25 tons of rust and dirt from his steel vessel. He also is extremely strong. We would not recommend this for others but if you want a challenge then go ahead!
1.It is BIG.
2.It makes a lot of noise.
3.The very loud humming drone of the compressor with its rising tones sounded like a factory signal calling its workers to work in the morning, take lunch or go home at night.
4.The phwishshshsh of the sand being sucked into the tubes to be spattered against the beams.
5.The pop of the sand eater when it needed to digest more.
6.The trickling of the sand hitting the walls and glass panes of the doors before it fell to the floor.
7.It was a sight to see and we all needed to wear protective masks whilst on site.
8.The clouds of dust inside the house.
9.The men could not see what they were doing whilst wearing the protective headgear with breathing apparatus and protective clothing. Look at the stylish Captain Sensible.
10.The men needed to take the utmost care whilst standing on the scaffolding.
11.The dust billowed out from the dusty room, covering the roses climbing on the wall.
12.The silica sand on the skin started to softly tingle.
13.The dirty sand on the floor was like a beach.
When silence resumed we scooped up the sand into the empty sacks and any buckets we could find. "Oh I do like to be beside the seaside".
Several sweeps later the grit was beginning to disappear.
It was one days work but spread over a day and a half because the machinery was not delivered as promised for an 8 o'clock start plus another half a day to clean the house and courtyard.
325 kilos of clean sand blasted into dirty sand.
Now before finding a use for it... we must ensure no rain gets into the bags of sand or it will be impossible to move each one!
We certainly deserved the warm baths to wash away the grit and tuck into glasses of Saumur accompanied by duck with onions, apples and orange in a cognac sauce plus haricots verts beans.

The next day the job was completed and the machinery collected by one man! We had to help him push the compressor out of our garden and along the road where it was hoisted onto his lorry! Another job done and more work created. What is the meaning of life?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Western Whip Snake found dead in lane

I took some photos of the snake when we discovered it one evening in the lane, but the next morning it had gone. Perhaps another animal had cleaned up the site and ate a feast for supper or breakfast.
It is a Western Whip Snake or Coulevre Vert et Jaune. I had thought it was a Smooth Snake but a 'blogging friend' with a wealth of knowledge about the natural environment has corrected me. She has recommended this website for the facts about these beautiful creatures.
The first Springtime of living in the wilds of Central France I opened our kitchen door to see and hear a HUGE snake scrambling back into the stone wall. It seemed to make a whipping sound. I was quite frightened and dashed to our neighbour Jean-Louis who identified it as a Coulevre, a Grass Snake. He told me not to worry - our cats would be safe! To this day, no one believes me, that it was more or less all one colour (I realise that 'greenish-greyish-yellowish' is not a clever description) and well over a metre long being as fat as a large orange. It seems that he was correct and possibly I might have exaggerated its fatness in that flash of a second, in fear and surprise but I know what I saw and heard was an unusual sighting even if they are common in France.
I know that not all snakes are poisonous but recognise that caution is completely necessary, yet, having only ever seen a few live snakes in the wild, I would hate to injure one.
One time, there was a viper basking in the sunshine on the grass on the side of a dyke in Suffolk. Passers-by told me to swish a stick in the long grass in front of me as I walked. On another occasion my friend's dog attacked a viper and was killed. She was naturally devastated because she could not get her Jack Russell to receive the antidote in time. Life went downhill for her after that. It was such a terrible tragedy. On another occasion, I held a snake at a wild-life park - the fashion was not to call it a zoo! As a teacher I tried to demonstrate to some afeared children that some snakes were a safe risk to hold if the zookeeper was giving permission and the snake had been well fed before our introduction. It was also about me setting aside my fear of snakes and trying to help the children face their own fears. I think it was a boa constrictor as it was very heavy when the animal keeper wrapped it across my shoulders. I like holding frogs and toads with their cold, smooth skin but the lively Western Whip Snake or Coulevre can stay in the long grasses and damp stone walls of France.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Is this really my new house?

This is the front of the house. It consists of two buildings - the original long house with central chimney / fireplace but now it has three small rooms and the barn conversion has a large living room, bedroom and bathroom. There are large French-brown gates which we can close on the outer world for privacy in the courtyard or open wide and to 'be on show' if we want! At the moment they are firmly closed whilst the demolition process takes place. I have discovered that the house decoration and barn conversion was made in 1985; the date under the removed wallpaper confirms this! The maçon also renovated the house next door but one with the same materials!
This is the back of the house. It was a barn. It is the building on the left. The neighbour's garden is behind it. The dishevelled atelier could re-incarnate into a verandah. The small building behind that is the boiler room and is like a cellar at the moment. In front is the fuel container enclosed by old house doors!!! The pointed building on the right is not mine, but to the right and out of the photos is a gate with a right of way to the street and some shed-type constructions. Do I have the inclination to keep chickens? No, not at the moment! A dog-leg shaped corner is taken out of the garden. There is a small barren field to the right and at the rear of the garden, behind the camera, is a breeze block wall dividing what once was the garden belonging to the next door but one neighbour. No one overlooks the garden excepting for the one neighbour who is absent at the moment.
I bought this house for several reasons but the carrot was that down the lane is what could become a very beautiful ancient-cum-modern small bijou residence. I have already visualised myself sitting in the front of the house reading my book, listening to the nightingale. There is an aura and gentle ambience there.
Stop dreaming girl, there is work to do before you can relax!
This big house is giving me some anxiety .. but my son is telling me to think more positive. He says it'll be ok and that I must tell myself I CAN make decisions and that I am NOT worried about this and that! There is a lot of work to do and already we have had the obligatory surprises that will probably consume the available funds! To begin with we are only updating the ground floor.
The demolition commenced! We removed a wall which separated a long thin bathroom from the large bedroom, removed the nasty shower cubicle and vanity ware. Why is it called that?

Then the chaps revealed the oak beamed ceiling continued from the living room next door. The same beams will be hidden in the bathroom to keep a lower ceiling.
The mountain of rubble, polystyrene, plasterboard, bedding materials and cardboard debris created in the garden from stuff from the attic, kitchen and elsewhere was removed before a photo shoot. It was too embarassing to show.
There is a lot of rubbish about! And we are creating more! No time to blog..... so posts are being written. put into draft to complete when I can!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The week at a glance

It's been a roller-coaster of a week. What are we doing at our age?
I have owned this new old house for two weeks but during the first week I pretended it was not mine. THEN assistance arrived in the shape of strong arms and expertise. So....wake up SweetpeainFrance!
Whilst demolition of a wall and ceiling and the replacement of the same in different positions, and the sanding of walls, doors and windows have created dust and rubble, I have been stripping wallpaper, clearing out mountains of junk and dust from an attic, the kitchen and around the house, creating a pile for the dechetterie and bonfire, and supplying refreshments to the workers.
Also another novelty is that I am required to make decisions! This I have been not very good at for about 6 years and so am on a steep learning curve. It was bad enough trying to decide for 4 years on which house to buy. Possibly future decision making will be easier now that I have bought something! A fireplace was revealed on investigation of why a wall was damp... but as it has been ruined by a rendered 'yuk' coating of a substance that will not be removed, I am trying to decide whether to replace it with a reclaimed model, whilst taking note of my budget. When renovating a house in France, maybe in any country, it is all too easy to go over budget with one's dreams and excitements and "ideas above one's station" (as my mother always said) when the unexpected is revealed!
It's very strange to own a house after 6 years and to take responsibility.
It has also carved into our life, physical exercise waking up the unused tired muscles and creaking bones with a long disciplined working day. Poor Captain Sensible really does not need this challenge as he is older than me! But we only have a few weeks to make a big dent into what needs to be achieved.
The week has also prevented our leisure and social activities. The building trade is a dusty business and the plumbing is not connected at the new old house so we have to come home to soak in the bath. Already we have been unable to attend an apertif soirée and life has become what it used to be. That is, fall out of bed, rush to work, be active all day, rush home, cook meal, beaver away at domestic duties and fall into bed....late! Incredibly, I love it! I had really slowed down and now I feel I am speeding up again! I also seem to be getting a good night's sleep and not waking up worrying! That is oh so GOOD!
Shopping for building materials has also re-entered our lives combined with the frustration and waste of time that goes hand-in-hand with travelling, purchasing and transporting goods in central France!
When buying a house in Central France, make sure you have the Brico store nearby! I forgot about this on my list of criteria for house purchase!

I have come to write for my therapy and a rest. So back to it SweetpeainFrance.
Back to the paperwork, cooking, house cleaning, gardening, new old house renovation and practice my piano! Other activities are off the agenda!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Welcome to the Nightjar

It was 5 years ago that our current guest stayed with us when we first heard the Nightjar and we haven't heard it since. However, tonight it arrived just after our guest did. How strange!
The weather is playing tricks on everyone as it alternates between Winter and Springtime.

The crickets have been singing on tonight's warm, balmy, still evening following the several days of bitter wind and temperatures requiring the donning of winter attire.

[About a week ago, it was almost Summer when 'Mary Manique', who is French but speaks excellent English having lived there for some time, laughed at my arrival at 'le cours de poterie' because she and I were wearing sandals without socks, whilst the French ladies were wearing shoes with socks! Never cast a clout until the May is out! Wintry weather has returned and although Hawthorn blossom (May blossom) is in flower, the month of May is of course unfinished. I deviate!]

When we first heard the weird gobbling sound of something over at the barn and saw it fly past our house, then, not knowing its name, we described the sound as a jarring, jerking, spooky sound ... and of course this description led us to identify the bird. It was August into September then and now being early May it is the time when the European Nightjar migrates from Africa. Wikipedia provides the photo above and tells me that the Nightjar has also been called "Flying toad." "Nighthawk" and "Fern-owl" from its habits as well as "Dorhawk" and "Moth-owl" from its food. Its peculiar nocturnal sound and silent ghostly flight have earned it the names of "Lich (corpse) Fowl", "Puckeridge"and "Goatsucker". I'm not sure which moth it was, but perhaps a kind of Hawk, Gipsy or Tiger Moth was fluttering by the verandah window trying to reach the light... it was possibly in danger of being eaten by the Nightjar! There are some heathery patches of woodland but quite far from here so perhaps they are nesting in the coppiced woodland areas.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Orchids in an Orchard

First of all I must add a disclaimer..... I am merely interested in many things. I love nature and am fascinated by orchids but am a humble peasant when it comes to exact scientific knowledge.
I stand in awe of those who have expertise.

I felt very privileged to be in an orchard where the Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys Sphegodes) have appeared somewhere near us in France. Evidently they flower for only a few weeks at the end of April or at the beginning of May. I read on the internet that in England they are rare and the best sites are in Dorset. I stood tall against these tiny plants, some taller than others, between 50 and 120 mm in height. We had to tread carefully so as not to squash the little beauties. I can't quite understand why they are called Spider Orchids when to me they look like bees, but I suppose that in some ways the flower, which is brownish-purplish in colour could look like a large spider! When the petals are pink the orchid is a Bee orchid. It is the male bee that attempts to copulate with the bee-like flower that allows the pollination of this orchid in the orchard. In the centre of the flower there is a marking that looks like a letter H or an X. It was difficult to get this part in focus for the photographs.

Susan from Days on the Claise also had a Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea) in flower. She, the orchid, posed much more happily for the photo shoot.
This rare orchid looks very different with lots of flowers on the single stem. In England they are more common in Kent. The dark sepals and upper petals make a shape like a lady's bonnet, below which the lobes look like two arms and then the dress of a crinoline! You need imagination! The colours are a dark, reddish-brown with pale pink lobes covered in crimson spots. Sometimes these flowers can be white.
You could try this site to discover where orchids in the Indre et Loire region of France may be in flower and read more at Loire Valley Nature where you can read about Orchids in this area from a very knowledgeable expert.

We have also confirmed that the orchid that we rescued from being chopped in its flowering period by the community verge cutter is an Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula).
It has dark spotted leaves with a lot of pinkish-purple flowers in a loose spike. Of course it is wrong to move orchids as they grow on specific terrain, but in our case we felt justified because every year our verges are trimmed for the annual AccA baltrap (clay-pigeon shooting) competition, and in this case the orchid has flowered every year after we rescued it instead of being cut down in its prime.

Orchids are fascinating plants. I remember one time going to a field where Suffolk Wildlife Trust had invited the public to view the rare orchids flowering in that particular year. It was a long time ago so I cannot remember the name of the orchids. In those days we had no camera capable of macro photography but the Orchids were numerous and beautiful and the weather was hot, hot, hot, unlike that of today, yesterday and tomorrow, when the Northerly winds blow strongly to remind us that Winter hath been and will come again and that Spring and Summer are but fleeting memories to lure us into optimism!

I can recommend this extensive website to discover more about Orchids in Great Britain... which is really not so far from France!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Sunday - hardly a rest day

It seemed imperative to plant the baby leeks, tomato seeds, the last of the maincrop potatoes called Pompadour, some sprouting salads, and generally WEED and tidy the gravelled area of pots. Some pots have bulbs in them. Lots of pots needed to be emptied as whatever was in them was alive no more! We have been waiting for the rain but only a few showers, enough to prevent mowing the lawn, have arrived. Captain Sensible has had to water the crops from our well.
We'll be lucky if anything grows as the soil is parched dry! The weeds and grass grow whatever the weather!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The First Day of May - Labour and Leisure day

In France it is the day when the Lily-of-the-Valley (Muguet) flower is given as a gift of the actual flower or symbolically as a card or photograph. In Pagan times Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers was celebrated. The Celts revered this day. Later the Maypole and the crowning of the Queen of the May was a traditional event for this first day of Summer. In Catholicism May is Mary's month. In France in1561 King Charles IX gave flowers for a good luck charm to the ladies of the court and thereafter every year the tradition continued. Since 1941 and the German occupation of France, the Vichy Government hoped to rally their workers and so a day of unemployment was offered. Six years later the French Liberation declared the day a paid workday. There are many countries in Europe that celebrate this important day but not always on the first of May. It also re-iterates the demonstrations of 1890 when workers wanted 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, and 8 hours leisure in their day.

For our leisure we went to La Roche Posay "Les Medievales"... we were not "les gueux" on this occasion but enjoyed the other side of the fence as members of the public. Knowing the format we dashed ahead of the Italianate flag throwers and ensured we had a spot for The Assault and for The Archery Tournament. Our French friend François, the 13th century weaver, explained carefully about the weft and warp of his metier (craft).