Les poissons en France

Friday, March 30, 2007


We finally have some plans for the development of the house. They arrived in the post on Wednesday and, after mulling over them and deciding on a few changes, we went to see the architect this afternoon (Friday). He has a great sense of humour, some good ideas, and an easy way of explaining his ideas and convincing us that they are what is needed.

It will take until the middle of June, ( or plus another month if the French governmental body, Batiments de France, get involved; they look after conservation issues), before we can expect to obtain the planning permission (Permis de Construire). We are resigned to a timescale starting next spring, after we have sourced artisans and obtained quotes. But it doesn't worry us, it is just going to give us more time starting to organise the gardens. It's just nice to see things moving forward, however slowly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Getting stuck in

I'm trying to skim the turf off from one vegetable bed every day. It was another glorious morning when I did my daily penance and we now have 3 beds revealed. Sue hand dug the first bed but we decided that we should try using our 'motobineuse' first to break up the soil before she starts preparing it, picking out stones and then adding compost.

We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of soil that the 'motobineuse' turned up. There are still some stones there but not the amount we had feared, although we still think that we will find other parts of the garden with a lot more. The hardest part of the job was pushing the machine back up the hill; a good cardio-vascular workout.

Spring is pushing on relentlessly; the birds are very busy feeding at our feeding table on the window sill and on the fat-balls. Today we were visited by blue tits, great tits, sparrows, a pair of green finches, a pair of nuthatches; we even had a pair of magpies trying to hang on a fat-ball! In the garden we have black redstarts, chaffinches, and we see woodpeckers and a pair of what Sue thinks are Kestrels who are nesting fairly near as we can hear them calling to each other all day long. Some of the trees are just bursting out into leaf, although the willows have been in leaf for about 3 weeks now. We have been seeing cowslips in all the banks and now we realise that our wildflower meadow, which adjoins somebodies small field, has a profusion of muscari (wild grape hyacinths) which are just making themselves visible in the long grass. We are really looking forward to seeing what other wild flowers come up in the 'meadow'.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Busman's holiday

We have just returned from staying for 5 days with some friends near Cognac. They were looking for a property at the same time as we were and finally moved into their house last November. We called in to see them in January when we were on the way back from England and they explained all of their plans for the house. They are most anxious to have some rooms ready for B&B as soon as possible, but.....

Veronica has MS and is very immobile, whilst Bob is not in the best condition for starting a new life as a DIY builder. So, in a rash moment of sympathy, we volunteered to help them with whatever they wanted. We got there last Wednesday to find that things were very disorganised; obviously, coping with her disability and with all of the chores of daily life (let alone the difficulties of language and cultural differences), was not allowing Bob to get on as fast as he was hoping. Things weren't helped by the fact that their dog became ill 2 days before we got there, plus they brought home a 15 month old puppy ( Setter, Lab cross) the day before we arrived. And their cat wasn't too impressed either.

However, I enjoyed my stay as I was able to learn about the French system for dry lining.

The first job was to move a door from a space for coats to the beginning of a passage. I learnt that it's best to rehang the door before finally fixing the second side of the doorframe to avoid having to shave off some of the door to get it to fit!

We then had to put up a false ceiling where we had taken out the door. Next job was to cut an arched entrance just inside of the new door into a bedroom.

Finally we could erect a partition wall next to the new bedroom entrance to create an En-suite area for the bedroom. We positioned some of the sanitaryware to give an impression of what it will look like.

The French (and maybe the English now for all I know) don't use wood to make studding walls, they have a system of metal channels which you screw to the ceiling, floor and walls and then you screw your plasterboards to the metal. Whilst it's light, once it's screwed together it has strength, plus it's a lot cheaper that wood. (Sorry ladies for this technical bit).

Whilst I was learning on the job, Sue was helping Veronica tidying out the pantry, which was in total chaos as it was just as it had been unpacked out of the packing cases.

Whilst we perhaps didn't make that much of an impact on their progress we felt that it hadn't cost us much to give them some support. But it was nice to get home!!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Night Starvation

We have been sleeping on a bed left by the previous owners, but it is narrow, with a big dip in the middle. So we have finally decided that enough is enough, and a new bed is needed. But have you seen the prices of beds!! We are also concerned that, with the major work to be done in the house, any furniture is going to be ruined ( covered in dust etc. at the least).

Yesterday, we combined our day off (yes we do have one from time to time) with a trip to Ikea at Toulouse. What an eye opener! The goods on display are the same as in the UK, I'm sure, but it is some time since we went to the Ikea store in Nottingham and so we were interested to see their new items as well as their beds. We obviously aren't ready to buy furniture and things yet; we don't want to start aquiring more things to store, but it is good to get ideas for the future.

We got to the store about 11'ish so we thought that we'd have lunch in the restaurant. We had to join a long queue but things moved on fairly rapidly. Some of you may know that I am an ardent people watcher. Sue says I'm nosey, but I'm fascinated by observing cultural differences, and this lunch was a case in point. At first glance, it was just like any large store cafeteria, but then the differences crept in. Everyone took a glass (not a plastic beaker) with their cutlery on their tray for their water at the table or their wine. (Guess what we had!) We passed on the starters of Smoked Salmon or Prawns on a piece of toast. We both chose Canneloni, helped ourselves to a bowl of salad from the salad bar, poured ourselves a glass of wine from an opened bottle, and selected our dessert. And all for 18 euros, or the equivalent of about £6 each. And it was lovely!

In the afternoon things got serious - the bed. Our only criterion was that the mattress should be comfortable, so Sue duly laid on a number of them. Not quite the same as sleeping on it for a whole night, but better than nothing. So, choice made we went to the self-service area to load the bits on to a trolley. It was here that my only qualm appeared when I saw that what should be a mattress was rolled up in a plastic bag.

As you can see from the photo, I was a bit dubious that these few parcels would become a double bed including mattress. However, we are trusting people, (plus it all worked out a lot cheaper than the beds we had seen in the department stores) so we brought it all home. This morning I set to and, within a couple of hours a bed had appeared.

We were both pleased with the finished result.....except....
It was only as I finished, and unwrapped the mattress that we saw a note which explained that the mattress had been compressed and would take 3 to 4 days to regain its normal size. The good news is that we are going off to stay with friends for 5 days, and the bad news is that we need something to sleep on tonight. So it's going to be bedding down on the sofas in the lounge tonight, and we know that the cats are going to be delighted!!!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Busy little bees.....

Our spell of glorious warm weather has left us now and it has been overcast and drizzle today. Not that this has stopped us! Oh no..... a lot of things have been started today.

As we have 39 beds in the potager and I now find out that we can start planting in them almost straight away, I'm going to try to take the grass off of 1 bed a day. With this encouragement from me, Sue set to and dug the bed over. (And don't ask why the bed's that shape. You'll have to come to see for yourself.)

First problem..... and first crop!

You are lucky if you can get the fork in more than 5 cms before you hit a rock; we are getting a good harvest of stones before we've hardly begun. Fortunately, Sue wants to construct a dry stone 'river' through the back garden, but, of course, we can't put the stones from the Potager straight into the 'river' because that will have to be dug out and edged first. We are finding this all the time. Starting one job inevitably leads to one or two other jobs, which ideally should be done first to avoid extra effort and time. 'Tant pis', as they say, and you can translate that how you like.

Then it was back to the wall building for the bed in front of the house. Another learning process. First lesson was how to mix up the cement in the new Mixer. Throw all the ingredients in and switch on....... Silly! You have to have the drum at the correct angle or things don't mix evenly. We've often seen Brickies on building sites using a mixer, but it's not until you have a go that you realise that there is a knack in everything. And, building a stone wall isn't the same as a brick wall. Everything is bigger and heavier, and nothing fits together neatly, so you have to do a bit and then let it go off, before you can put more on.

Having built the 2 end walls, we'll use a string level between them to then build the rest of the wall. And then the front will have to be mortared to match that on the house. All good fun. Still, we are learning and I realise how useful it is going to be to 'practice' on renovating the pig-sty.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Getting in the mood

We're trying to make the most of this fantastic weather because the forecast for next week is back to winter. Unfortunately, I spent all morning today putting our new cement-mixer together from the box of bits which we got delivered. The process also included applying mastic to the 2 halves of the drum! So I only got 2 hours out on the mini-pelle. I'd really like to get this first stretch of the cherry walk done before it rains on Monday. I'm pleased that I'm beginning to get the hang of the way to efficiently use the digger, so, as it was hot this afternoon, I thought that I'd better look the part of a 'proper' digger driver.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Garden Force.

Yesterday was favourable as the sun shone and there wasn't much wind, so Sue was out on the Potager with her magic wand ( her sprayer).

She didn't trip up on the strings and only sprayed herself once when the hole blocked up! We now have to wait, and in the meantime we'll gradually start edging the beds. Once the grass has died. we'll then prepare the beds for Autumn planting'.

It's amazing what a bit of sun on your back can do. An absolutely glorious day and so the garden toys came out. Time to use the mini-pelle in earnest. It's a bit like patting your head whilst rubbing your tummy, except you suddenly find you're trying to scratch your elbow instead.

I'm still not proficient, but, after the first day, I've begun to understand what I should be doing, now all I've got to do is remember it. And then hopefully, it becomes automatic. I've started digging out the 'alley' along the top of the front field. The idea is that this will be a gravel path with the existing trees and some 'wild' spring plantings and then there will be a row of cherry trees on the other, garden side.

Not to be outdone, the other ground-worker started digging out the foundation for her first wall.
This is going to be a low retaining wall for the little bed in front of the house. The existing roses have been pruned and tied to training wires, and, once the wall has been built, the bed will be used for geraniums...very mediterranean! And tomorrow it will still be all go, because the cement mixer was delivered today. So, another little job for me; set it up and then go and get some sand and cement. It's all playtime here, isn't it?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Demolition man

We have come to realise that as the floor in the house has to be replaced with concrete beams, at some stage we will have to move out. So we've decided to use our pigsty ( no comments about how suitable!). It's not too big and won't take much work to make it secure and weather-proof. So, on Friday I set to and started to clear it out removing beams and the rotting wood which formed a ceiling on the stys.

I've realised that doing up the 'porcherie' is going to be invaluable experience for when we are working on the house and the barn. Hopefully I can learn by any mistakes I make on this 'test run'; making good the walls up to where the timber for the roof starts, re-roofing, making window frames and a new door, and who knows what else. But the beauty of doing the 'porcherie' is that no one job is massive. So at least it should all be within our capabilities.

Sue helped me finish moving the biggest beams out on Saturday morning and we were able to see the amount of room we will have. Enough to get a bed, a portable toilet, a kitchen sink and work top; so it will be one level up from camping!
We then proceeded to the main business of the day; the veg patch or 'potager' (hope you like these french lessons). Sue has heeded Mr. Titchmarsh and wants to spray the vegetable beds to avoid continual problems with perennial weeds. But of course she needs to know where the beds will be first. So we set off with a big ball of string, lots of sticks and a tape measure....all very technical as you can see. With a lot of laughs ( Sue only tripped over the strings once) we surprised ourselves and got the whole thing laid out in about 3 hours. We are very pleased with the way it looks. Sue will have 39 beds for the vegetables etc and the whole thing will be surrounded with cordoned fruit trees and bushes. And no, we aren't setting up for Market gardening! We may just have to give some away.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Yesterday was another day of scouring the front 'lawn' for wild orchids before I mowed the grass for the first time this year. On the face of it, that's fairly simple but of course, it took Sue all morning. She estimates that she has moved about 200 plants out of the front area, all of which she is transplanting into our'wildflower' patch in the back.

During the morning, whilst I was waiting for Sue to 'clear' the front, I was sawing up some more of the felled timber. Then, in the afternoon I was the mower man. Having cut the front on the ride-on mower, it was back to mowing by hand in the courtyard (including some hasty mower repairing). So, everywhere has now had it's first cut, and we both collapsed, exhausted by our efforts to keep up with Spring.

We have promised ourselves a day off today!

Monday, March 05, 2007

In Tune with Nature

We are like the wildlife rushing around to keep ahead of the advancing spring. We have a hundred and one jobs to do and just dont know what to do first. The last couple of days have been dry so John planned to cut the back field so that we can start marking out the vegetable plot. We have been trying to do this for the past fortnight. However yesterday we discovered that cowslips were growing in the middle of the path, so before he cut the grass I was busy rescuing the cowslips and wild orchids which I also found.

Doesnt sound a big job but by the time I had dug them all up and planted them in the wild flower meadow it was time for the five o'clock glass of wine. I have to repeat the process again tomorrow in the front garden.
Meanwhile, whilst we were waiting for the early morning dampness to dry from the grass, I was in the ruin, sawing up the 3 Ash trees which I had felled the other day. The job wasn't too bad with our chainsaw and I was producing good wood for the fire (once it has seasoned). However, the lower trunks of the trees were quite substantial and so I thought I ought to split them. We have already bought a sledge hammer and a splitter, which I used on some old logs left in the Caves. So, thinking that I am still only 25, I commenced swinging. I gradually began to think of those Cowboy films where the hero is found outside of the wooden cabin, barechested, swinging his chopper, ( perhaps I don't mean that!) Those scenes of lumber splitting are all a load of staged nonsense! Freshly sawn wood doesn't just fall apart with one blow, at least not my logs.
No worries about not getting enough excercise this week.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Better and better

More work in the garden. The sun was shinning and we were down to tee-shirts in the afternoon. Sue was moving plants to more suitable sites and I sowed some grass seed onto the 'patching' I have done on the front garden to level some of the humps and hollows in the front lawn.

Being interested in nature and wildlife, we keep having to rub our eyes as our new surroundings reveal yet more exciting features.

The tree which we noticed just coming into bloom a week ago is now in full flower. This tree is just up the road going over the hill behind us. This afternoon (Sunday) we went for a walk up this road/track and we saw a few more of theses trees. We don't recognise it but it might be 'Wintersweet' or Chimonanthus, so if anyone knows it please let us know. On the walk , (on the 4th of March!) we then saw some wild violets, some flowering Vinca and a Foetid Helibore.

We also had a lovely view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker working his way up a tree.
It was a wonderful end to a lovely day, which we dutifully celebrated with a bottle of our cheap 'bubbly' at 50p a bottle. It just keeps on getting better and better. Cheers!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spring on the Move.

We feel very priviledged to have suddenly seen today wave after wave of what we take for storks flying North. Sue was still working out in the garden at about 5.30pm when she suddenly was shouting for me to go back outside. And there was a glorious sight of storks who had decided that the time was right for heading back to their breeding sites. Sue says that they nest in Holland.(?) Funnily enough we had heard geese-like calls last night as we were lying in bed. It's difficult to describe the awe we felt seeing these birds on their annual migration, over which they have no control. We are humbled by Nature's complexity.

On a more prosaic level, the 'common english gardener' was to be seen again, despite intermittent rain. This was all prompted by the arrival of a parcel of plants ordered on the internet. A slight problem as we have nowhere to put the plants and we don't have enough pots! Yesterday we toured round all of the shops we could think of trying to buy some ordinary black, plastic pots, all to no avail. No-one seems to sell them here in France, perhaps because no sensible Frenchman (or woman) gardens like English people do. Our final stop was at a grower who had greenhouses full of lovely looking geraniums. Sue asked him where she could get pots and, as it happened there were some just inside the door of his greenhouse. He told us that the only way is to buy in very large quantities, and then he gave Sue the 6 pots she needed. He wouldn't take any money, and, for us, this exemplifies the reception and the attitude of the French people we have met here.

Before the amazing appearance of the migrating Storks, we were working outside in the garden. This morning was dry but cloudy, but this afternoon, it gradually became heavier rain. Not that it stopped us, as it wasn't cold. Having potted up all of her new purchases, Sue started clearing out the small bed infront of the house, so she could tidy up the roses and get them onto training wires. Needless to say, she was as happy as a lark, to be topped only by the unexpected arrival of the Storks. A day to remember!