Les poissons en France

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Excited but Frightened!

At last the architect came today.
The girl we initially contacted arrived first with her partner to start measuring up which took over 3 hours. The architect followed, looked around and then started to discuss the project with us. The first bomb shell was to tell us that the entire floor on the middle level that we live on is unsafe and should be replaced with concrete. He then proceeded to discuss the rest of our plans and came up with some fabulous ideas - only one very big problem what on earth is it going to cost. Well he left and we recovered and in our usual "cela ne fait rien" French attitude decided to go for it. So if you visit and find we have only half a kitchen dont be surprised (John says you may only find the roof and four walls).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ground works

The first outing in earnest for 'La mini-pelle'. The area next to the ruin will at some stage be used for parking the car, but the entrance to it isn't wide enough to allow for the front of the car as it swings in. So, in a break between showers I started to learn how to operate the digger. It's a bit like rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head. I guess at some stage you stop having to think about what lever operates what, but I'm not there yet. However we did manage to move some of the compost heap and made the area wider. And of course I had to try it out. We feel that we still need to remove some of the front of the compost heap so that we aren't too close to the ruin. The idea is that we can drive in frontwards, and then reverse out up the hill, but the car is too close to the ruin at the moment. But the ground is quite wet and the showery weather looks to continue for at least another week, so we'll wait before we try again. More driving lessons to come.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chain-saw massacre

There's no stopping this boy! Unsettled weather ( almost April showers) with frequent heavy showers with bright sunny interludes. So, a chance to get the trees in the ruin down.

We had 3 fairly mature sycamores in the ruin (until today). We are thinking of eventually rebuilding the pigsty with the adjoining ruin so I needed to have the trees out. Having cut down the trees I will be treating the stumps, but I need a day of dry weather and the weather forecast is showers for the next week.

This growing weather has also brought out the 'common english gardener' again. Even though we haven't got the veg garden marked out or dug yet, seeds need to be started off. So we are back to living with seed trays on the window sills.

Everywhere we look at the moment we can see jobs waiting to be done!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spring rush.

All of a sudden we are aware of approaching spring. The Tits are feeding madly from the fat balls we have hanging, we can hear a pair of 'falcons' calling throughout the day (can't identify them accurately), buds are swelling on the trees, and we've found a tree up on the hillside which we don't recognise but which has just come into blossom with lovely small yellow flowers.

All of these obvious signs of Spring are starting to put pressure on us. There are so many jobs we feel we want to get done before things start growing. I haven't finished chopping all of the ivy on the trees, we want to trim back overhanging branches where we will be making paths and beds, we need to sow some grass seed on areas of the front lawn where we've tried to do some levelling, and I want to mow the grass where we will be having our vegetable plot so that Sue can mark it all out. Once she's done that, she will be spraying with weed-killer to try to get clean ground before we dig out the beds.

So, we are trying to make the most use of every dry day, before we get preoccupied with the house. Today we were clearing the last of the rubbish from our 'rubbish heap' and I was lopping off the branches of the overhanging trees along the top edge of the front garden. We want to plant a row of cherry trees out from the existing mature trees and we want to give them plenty of room and light. It's not the cutting down of the branches which takes the time, it's the clearing up afterwards.

Every day I check the weather forecast on the computer and it keeps showing a fairly unsettled spell. Tomorrow, Friday, we have our weekly French lesson, and then we are planning to go to a couple of Garden Centres that we've found on Yellow Pages. We are trying to source both the trees and shrubs that we want and/or that will thrive in this climate. It's all a learning experience. But at least we have got the summer months to prepare the ground before we start planting in earnest. As I was clearing the tools away this evening a man came walking down the hill with his dog. As is the way here in France, I greeted him and we got talking. He told me that he was a gardener and he repeated the advice which all of the locals keep giving us. Trees and shrubs should be planted out on St. Catherines day (end of October) to give them chance to develop their roots before the growing season. He commented that we are tidying up around the house, (he has seen it before and talked to the previous owners) and it is encouraging when other people see the work we are putting in. But still plenty more to do!!!


Yes folks, the rubbish tip is gone. And I suppose that in a couple of months we will have forgotten all the hard work and all of the trips to the recycling centre getting rid of those bottles and rusty tin cans. We have decided to use the space to park the car. At the moment we are parking on the grass in front of the house and the grass there is getting a bit chewed up after the recent wet weather. So I did a trial to see how easy it would be to get in and out (especially for the co-pilot). There wasn't enough room to be able to swing in without hitting the compost heap. As usual, one job leads to another, and so I now have to move some of the compost to widen the entrance.

We also have success with an architect. The contact we made through the girl draught-person at the exhibition at Cahors has lead to a much more reasonable quote. We have accepted it and the architect thinks it will take about 2 months unless the plans have to be submitted to 'Batiments de France', when it could take 3. 'Batiment de France' look after old buildings in conservation areas and we don't know if we are covered by this, and if we are it might affect our plans. Still, at least we are on our way, and the girl is coming next Tuesday to measure up to begin drawing the plans. It feels good that we are finally progressing!

Monday, February 19, 2007


As evidence of our gradual immersion into the French culture, we have realised that the truffle season runs from December to March. So, seeing a poster for a 'Cavage de truffes', we went off to Rocamadour on Sunday afternoon, not knowing what to expect, maybe some stalls and possibly a display of how they find truffles. Foolish!

Upon arrival we were pleased to find that the afternoon was free entry. Then we met our neighbour Michel who was there with his friend who had a Truffle-hunting dog in the competition. What competition? We found out that about 14 small areas had been marked out and each area was 'seeded' with 5 truffles. There were 13 dogs and 1 pig who were competing to see which was the best at finding the truffles. But they were marked by a Jury on Speed, application, success, and who knows what else. In other words a Truffle equivalent of a Sheepdog Trial.

So, as you can see by the members of the jury, it was all taken very seriously. All, that is, except for the star attraction. The pig! It was apparent that nowadays, not many people use pigs to find truffles. Everyone wanted to see the pig, the 'Maitre de Cochon' and to see the pig working.

We even had the local radio there to interview the pig handler. Once we saw him we realised that he was there to play to the crowd and accept drinks in the bar!

To our surprise our other neighbours JJ and Nadine also turned up, with comments of how we could all have come in one car! We feel that the summer is going to become a french eqivalent of 'Neighbours' with lots of 'street' activities and BBQ's.

I was also interested to see the healthy survival of the 'beret wearer'. Albeit that the gentlemen sporting the berets were of a certain age, it was good to see that the 'flat cap' hasn't totally overcome the traditional beret. And, there was a range of beret styles, as you can see. Would I ever be brave enough to try a beret?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Prisoner still at it.

As you can see I'm still working on the ancient 'dig'. I shall view Time Team with a new light when they say they are excavating an ancient 'midden'. From what we are unearthing, the people who made the rubbish tip drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of tins of sardines and had a medical condition which we think might have been diabetes, by the evidence of hundreds of miniature ampoules.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

French Life

We established over an "apero" on Friday night that Jean-Jacque and Nadine like playing cards, as we do. So we were invited round on Saturday evening to be taught a new card game "Belotte". Quite a challenge for all of us, you try and explain "whist" to a foreigner ! However this game was far more complicated than whist, the cards change their value depending on the circumstances - and I (Sue) kept getting them confused. You play with a partner and JJ was mine. I'm sure he's been to an English whist drive because I got an inquisition if I played the wrong card! Nevertheless we had a good evening and it must have been good for the language skills.

We haven't had any post for about 10 days as the delivery staff are on strike. We dont know what the problem is but we saw a demonstration outside the post office in Gourdon last week and recognised our post lady. The dispute is purely local but you take direct action if you are not happy, well as far as I know that is the French way of sorting things out. Yesterday " the bush telegraph" informed us that all the village mayors had made arrangements to collect the mail from Gourdon and we could collect ours from St. Germain town hall at 14.30 (can you imagine the Chairman of the Parish Council in England doing that). I arrived at the appointed hour only to find a queue of about 100 in front of me. The average age of the queue was 75, and I should think they only get one letter a week but it was an event so they didn't want to miss anything. Nadine and I refused to wait while they sorted out the mountain of post so she went back an hour or so later, but there were still 10 people in front of her. The strike will have to go on for a very long time before we make the effort to collect anymore post , although John's not so friendly Gendarme keeps ringing him up to see if he has received his French Driving Licence yet so that he can put the points on it. Get the feeling he will not accept a postal strike as a valid excuse.

New Toys!

As you know we've started clearing hedgerows again and are consequently making piles of branches etc all the time. Its a pain as we spend a day clearing and then a day burning. We decided that it would be better to buy a shredder and make a pile of wood chippings as they will be invaluable as a mulch in "N" years time when the flower beds are set up. So now we spend a day chipping instead of burning but feel very righteous as its more "eco-friendly".

We have one formal hedge at present. Sounds impressive, but it isn't, it has very large gaps in it. We intend searching the hillside for suitable box bushes to fill in - hope it works. Meanwhile we were anxious to trim it before the birds start nesting so we bought the cheapest hedge trimmer we could find (cann't believe how good it is for £20) and set to work.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where's Noah?

Heavy rain all last night. And we have been having rain on and off since it snowed about 3 weeks ago. So the ground has been accumulating more and more water. We think that, because the ground is quite stoney on the side of the hills, the water runs off readily, and this was very evident today! The little valley of the river Ceou collects all of the run-off from our hills and we were amazed to see how quickly this water drains off into the river.
Sue and I went out to take the photos just as a mass of cloud moved off and we had a 'sunny interlude'! The 'lake' you can see is our neighbour Nadine's field. The downward run of water has been blocked by the road and there are a number of these collections of rain run-off to be seen around us. Fortunately, being just on the start of the hill side we are not in any danger of flooding, but we are told that the valley bottom has flooded in the past, quite seriously.

Needless to say this has made the ground very soggy, and we think that it will take a week or so before we can resume with the landscaping. Just going to have to make sure that the wine in the winecellar is still OK!

Shhhh.........is winter over?

11th February and it's difficult not to think that it's Spring!!! Snowdrops blooming, we've found a few daffodils just about to open and certainly the birds are thinking about pairing up. Although we're still getting a lot of rain, and it rained all night, today the rain stopped at about 8am and then the day got better and better. By the afternoon it was lovely Spring weather, the birds were singing madly and the 'common english gardener' was to be see beavering away in the hedges.

Sue was seen to be smiling again as she she spent the afternoon clearing more of the brambles and undergrowth out of the last part of hedge on the front 'garden'.

Meanwhile I finished clearing the 'cave' which we are now going to use for storage and for my workshop.

We're off on Monday to buy more gardening equipment. We are generating so much prunings that it seems stupid to keep burning it. So we are going for a shredder so that we can make our own chippings to use for mulch. Whilst we are at it we'll get a decent hedge trimmer. With the work we will be doing it's silly not to get properly organised to save us time and effort.

We think we've upset our architect when we told him that we only wanted him to draw the plans for obtaining our planning consent. He would like to organise the work as well ( for even more money). We had a visit from a girl who works for an architect. She will draw our plans but, the size of our project means that we are obliged to use an architect. So she can do our work through him(?). She has promised us a quote in about 10 days. All of this messing about before we can get going is starting to become annoying.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Happy Gardener

Another day hard at it. And another lovely day for working outside with temperatures in the teens. Sue spent the day starting to lay out the design for the front garden; needless to say, she enjoyed herself.

The assistant gardener was also busy helping and supervising. Both the cats love it when we are working outside and they can be poking about with us.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast shows rain off and on for the next 9 days, which is a shame, as Sue wants me out on the digger. We are both keen to start excavating the first path so that we can see just how much soil we have under the grass. We fear that it is quite shallow and we will be moving quite a bit of rock.

Meanwhile, the prisoner was still on hard labour. I spent a second day digging out the 'rubbish tip' behind the ruin. We are seeing some progress and it will be a shame if we do get a lot of rain.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

On your Marks...

Today we're back to work on the house in earnest. However, this meant a visit to the ' Parc des Expositions' in Cahors where there is an exhibition of local businesses apertaining to house building, renovation, evironmentally friendly heating etc. So, we spent the morning collecting leaflets, ( hope they were printed on recycled paper!) and noting useful contacts for the work we will be doing. Then, back home in time to take advantage of a glorious afternoon's sunshine. I spent a good couple of hours in the garden cutting the ivy on the trees. We are not too infected, but we don't want the trees being killed off, and now is the time to attack the ivy whilst there are no leaves on the trees.

Friday, February 02, 2007

La Vie Francaise

We've been busy entertaining our first 'guests'. Our good friends from Lincolnshire came to stay with us for the past 5 nights and we were very worried that they were going to be frozen stiff. Fortunately, it wasn't too perishing; only a couple of nights of -5 deg. We enjoyed having their company and also having the input of their ideas on the house and how best to approach the work. We acted as guides and had some nice trips to Cahors, Toulouse and up to the Dordogne, even though the snow and ice that we had last week was slow to melt!

At the end of last week we received a letter from the Planning people asking for more information about the work we want to do; are we creating more habitable floor area as a result of the work we want to do? We had to say yes, and, as I thought all along, we have to have architect's drawings of our plans to get our planning permission. The way it's looking, I suspect that we won't get started on the house in earnest till the Autumn. So, in the meantime, it's in to the garden and, more importantly, working on the barn. We can either convert the barn into a large 'studio' building, or into a large 2 bed dwelling. Strictly speaking we need planning permission to do this, but, in my quest to become a 'local', I'm just going to keep quiet about what we're doing.

Also during this week I had to go to the local Gendarmerie about my speeding offence. The local 'flic' wanted my information so he could put the points on my licence. But of course he couldn't do it as I've a British licence. Allo, allo, allo! A possible offence here. It seems that, as we are now resident, we have apply for a French driving licence within 6 months. My friendly 'flic' gave me 15 days! However, to my great relief, it's a fairly simple admin. job and we won't have to take a new driving test. At this rate I'll be changing my name to Jean next.