Les poissons en France

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Bountiful Harvest

We are so pleased with our veggie patch. Everything Sue has planted is growing and growing like mad! We are feasting on the various salad leaves, rocket, spinach and chard. Meanwhile the tomatoes, beetroot and courgettes are all visibly swelling, and we are watching the mangetout and french beans for the first flowers.

As you can see the work of creating more of the beds continues apace. I've got fed up with all of the strings marking them all out. They trip you up when your not paying attention and it's difficult to cut the grass in the paths, so I'm now trying to skim the grass off of the beds so that the string can come up.

A Happy Gardener!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Have we got it or not?

The day after our return from Bilbao, we received a letter containing a set of the plans for the house, a number of blank forms and a letter about the Planning Permission. The only problem was, we didn't understand what it said. As you can see, there was a large 'ARRETE', which we took to mean STOP, ie we didn't have the OK. However, straight underneath that it said, '....est ACCORDE...', which seemed to imply that the Planning Permission had been agreed. There were, however, some provisos; there appears to be a problem with the large picture window we want to put in our bedroom, and they are stipulating that the colour of the windows must be the same as they are now. We managed to contact the architect and then sent him copies of the letter in an effort to find out whether we had the Permis de Construire or not. In the meantime, it was the weekend and then a bank holiday, so it wasn't till the Tuesday that I could go to see the Mayor. Luckily I stopped him in his car, just as he was leaving the Town Hall , so he parked up again, and then looked at our letter.
'Oh, yes you have the Permis de Construire.'
When I asked him about the window colours, he replied, 'You aren't going to paint them red, are you?'
I didn't quite follow him on this, but he then explained that this was a joke (Sue would have called it sarcasm!). In essence, some variation in colour (white or cream), isn't worth worrying about!! We are in France after all.

So, it would seem that we are all systems go. Except that we have now got to decide on all the essential details such as where the sockets and switches will go, how the plumbing will run, what walls we will leave as exposed stone, etc, etc.

And then we can start finding the Artisans to get quotes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Spanish Adventure

Sue had asked me where I would like to go for my birthday (after we'd been to Paris for her's). I didn't give too much thought to it when I said Bilbao, for the Guggenheim museum, but it all worked out very well. There is a different feel to 'going abroad' for your holiday, when you can just drive there!

Bilbao was about 6-7 hours drive from home, but, strangely, Spain did feel different to France...doubley different as everything was in Basque as well as Spanish. This made life a bit difficult for us to find the hotel which was in the centre of the city. This was good for us to be able to walk around, but finding the street the hotel was in was a nightmare. After nearly an hour, and on the second time going around the place, I stopped to ask for directions from a security guard who was standing outside an office block. I was in the middle of trying to drag out some of my spanish from about 15 years ago, when up came a nice man who proceeded to direct me in French to the hotel. He'd obviously seen our french registered car and thought, 'I'd better help this old boy'! We didn't think too much more about this, as we were just grateful to get to the hotel. However, a little later, we went out into the town to look for somewhere to eat. We were looking at a restaurant menu when a grandad pushing his grandaughter in a pushchair obviously thought, 'I'd better help this old couple', and proceeded to direct us to a really nice restaurant. (In fact we ended up going there each evening as it was so good.) Upon reflection, I was very concerned that, now we are both 60, we must look as if we are doddery and need helping. Can't wait to see how they will treat us once we start to wear the flat cap and chiffon scarf!!!!!

But seriously, the Guggenheim Museum was the purpose of the visit and it really lived up to expectations. It is an astonishing piece of architecture and the centre-piece of a full scale redevelopment of the city. Previously the centre of Bilbao was Industry and Port, but in the 80's this all suffered massive decline and moved out to the coast and the mouth of the river. This left a huge 'brown-field' site which the local and national government had the courage to earmark for 'something completely different'.

This massive redevelopment has engendered a very positive, lively atmosphere. As part of this development the city now has a new metro system and also has installed a tram system.

All in all a short but sweet and memorable birthday!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cahors Wine Festival

An event not to be missed!!! An evening full of ambiance, fantastic bands and lots of free wine.

By accident rather than design, we didn't arrive at the tiny village of Albas until just after 5pm but it was the ideal time to get there. The Wine Festival started at 10am but the bands didn't start playing until 5pm. The action took place the lenght of the 'main street' (as you can see) with a total of 9 Vignerons offering free wine. We had to pay 13 euros to get in to the festival but you got a glass with this so that you could keep getting it topped up whenever you wanted.
Each wine producer was based in a small 'Cave' and each cave had a band playing (although some perhaps had a rota, we're not sure!)
There was a large selection of types of music on offer, from Trad jazz, through Blues, Modern jazz, Folk to Accapella (? unaccompanied singing). For us the best band of the evening were called (translated) 'The Mystery of the Elephants' who were a cabaret as well as brilliant musicians!
We decided that we'd better have something to eat to soak up the booze, but then, about half past six it began to drizzle, gradually turning to rain. This was a shame as it had been really nice, wandering up and down the 'strip' with a glass in your hand! However the rain wasn't stopping the arrival of a lot more, albeit younger, people. So, at about 8 we left, and Sue drove home (wasn't she good?). I had been pre-warned that you would need a tee-total driver, as, the longer the night went on, the more Police presence there was.
Unfortunately therefore, we missed the full evening's entertainment, and a bowl of French Onion Soup which was to be given out from 11pm onwards until the finish at 1am
All in all we had a great evening, heard some really good musicians, and found one REALLY nice wine, so we now know where to take anyone wanting to buy good wine.

Carpentry update

Encouraged by the ease of making the Barn door, I'm making my first pair of shutters, (or volets). We have this one window at the front which has no shutters and so I'm using this opportunity to see what's involved in making them. The idea is that I will make new shutters for all of the windows, existing and planned, so that they all match. The actual 'wood' part is no big deal; it's the staining/painting (the jury is still out on this), fitting the window furniture and then the hanging which will take the time!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Miracles of Modern Tools

As the weather remains very unsettled with lots of showers passing through, I decided to start on some carpentry. I had previously bought wood to allow me to make a new door for the barn so I went for it! I have to say that I am amazed at how easy modern power tools make it for anyone with even a modicum of technical know-how to produce a 'professional' looking article.

With the help of a radial saw, circular saw, planner and battery screw driver, I was able to make the door in the photo in about 2 hours. The radial saw was one of the power tools that the previous owners left here, and when I got it out of the box, it had never been used!

One slight problem we are beginning to have is that the 'caves', which I cleared out some months ago, are now gradually becoming full up again. The 'cave' under our bedroom is looking full with garden equipment, diggers, my tools etc, etc. The 'cave' under the lounge now has the cement mixer, trailer and, as you can see, is set up for wood-working! I think that all of this will eventually have to go into the barn once we start working on the house.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No Air Miles Here

Sorry to be such a bore going on about the veg patch but it is a total revelation to us. As you know I was never in to veg but I am now. It's so exciting seeing all these seeds germinating like mustard and cress (yawn, yawn). I have just read a book called "Allotted Time". It's about two chaps going through a midlife crisis, divorce, career problems etc. and one had severe depression. They decided to take on an allotment and it saved their sanity. The one with depression now has a new career as a "writer". So it would seem that a veg patch is a panacea for all ills.

It gets even better, the harvest. We are frantically eating mixed herb salad. We obviously had a boar rooting all the way along under the established trees a couple of nights ago but fingers crossed he has not found the veg yet.

On Saturday we went to an open day at a local organic garden. The gardener initially gave a guided tour and then a talk - we were very pleased that we could follow what was going on. Dont worry I'm not going to start growing camomile, borage etc. The garden was too untidy for me, I'm not into herbs flopping all over the place, particularly as you seem to get just as many black fly.

However I plan to use some of his ideas so on Sunday we went to a plant fair to buy some things he recommended and some pretty things as well!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Nature Walk

John had seen an advert for a guided nature walk which started from the church square of a village that we particularly like. A famous sculptor, called Zadkine (although I'd never heard of him until we came here) lived in the village and there is a museum dedicated to his work. Consequently the village has a bit of an artist colony in the summer and the "arty" influence has rubbed off on the village. All the buildings are old but one of the "municipal buildings" has had a very modern mirrored extension added. We think this sort of thing works.

Back to the walk. We drove into the car park to be greeted by a group of very "professional" looking ramblers complete with hiking boots, thick socks and walking sticks. But this wasn't the church square. I felt very intimidated so I sent John off to find out if this was" the walk." I breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn't and we beetled off to the church square. When we arrived a large school party were congregated there but no one else. So we went to the museum to see if they knew anything. We ended up with the museum assistant ringing round various contacts, the leader of the professional ramblers trying to help us and a lady doing some gardening also adding her twopenneth. They were all very nice but the upshot was that we should have booked and I guess no one else had booked so it was cancelled.
As we were there we bought a leaflet from the museum and set off on the walk anyway. We got down to the river and thought we could hear a lot of ducks squabbling but we soon realised that it was frogs calling. Then we saw strands of silk coming from the tree above us to the ground with caterpillars going up and down them. This whole region is as rich in buterflies as it is in wild flowers, presumably as they are interdependent. It is the height of the orchid season and we must have seen a dozen different varieties on the walk. The pink ones below are pyramid orchids and are everywhere and no they are not bees on the "bee orchid "they just look exactly like them - even close up.

Then we got lost, and the 4.7km walk became 5.7kms. Not daunted we followed the longer walk signs and at the end of a wood came upon a small church that looked as though it was just a bell tower. Unfortunately we didn't realise that we should have collected the key from the museum to go inside because there are some fantastic fifteenth century frescoes on the walls which were discovered accidently by the parish priest in the 1950s. It was such gem to find at the end of an ordinary walk in the woods. Continuing on the trail the next highlight was a marsh.

Apparently in former times the villagers had to cross this marsh to get to church but now a superb boardwalk has been laid to make it easy. At the end of the leaflet (which was in English) we realised that there are lots of these guided walks in the region and if they are all as good as this we will be delighted.

More Planting!

Do you remember that a few months ago a really nice nurseryman gave me some flower pots when I couldn't buy them anywhere. I was determined to buy my bedding plants from him as a thank you. The weather was boiling on Thursday but as it was the only day we had available this week (you know what it's like when you're retired) we went to see what they had. Good job we did because half of Gourdon was there and the plants were disappearing at a rate of knots. I went armed with one of the climbing roses - colour co-ordination and all that - and was really pleased that I was able to find petunias and geraniums that toned perfectly. His wife was as nice as he was, very helpful and she kept throwing in an extra one of whatever we bought. I had an hour between our French lesson and the Nature Walk (more later) so I put them in, although insufficient time to do the pots for the top of the terrace wall. So busy!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The garden grows

We are gradually getting on top of the veg patch. Sue's design for the potager has 39 beds and I've dug 19 so far. We've experienced a small problem because the 'new' rotorvater blew up on the 4th time of using it. It is now in the seller's repair shop! So the last 3 beds I've had to dig by hand. But we can't wait as we bought a lot of things at the market last Saturday.

We've now got planted out courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, and beetroot, with peppers and chillies still to go in. Already sown and all coming through are lettuces and rocket, fennel, turnips, and some french beans and mangetouts which look as if they're trying to get out of the ground! At the moment it seems as if we are going to be very productive; we haven't had any problems with slugs, snails or other wildlife eating our crops. We'll wait and see. Our biggest difficulty is going to be watering everything, as the potager is miles from the house. (Asthetics are more important than practicality)

In the meantime I just have to dig the rest of the 20 beds, and then start on the beds for the soft fruit and cordon apples and pears which will surround the potager.

We are also moving on to the next development in the Back garden. Sue has marked out a small area for the 'Silver Birch copse' out of which will flow a dry stone river. You can see that it meanders and then disappears into the hedge. Obviously it will make mowing more difficult, but once we get the 'river' prepared we can start throwing lots of small stones into it (including those we keep removing from the veg beds) which means we get rid of the stones and also we can stop handling them twice!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Coming down

It has been unsettled weather and we've had rain, so I'm loath to take the digger out onto the garden as it will churn up the ground. But, to avoid getting bored I've begun work on the Pigsty. Half of the roof was original, with broken tiles and suspect joists, and the other half was replaced by the previous owners. We are told that he did this as he wanted to have a go at reroofing, although why you would do only half of the roof I don't know!
None of the tiles were fixed and so it was a simple job to lift off the tiles, although just before getting them all off, a piece of broken tile fell on my head. So the hard hat went on, albeit after the horse had bolted!It really only took about 3 or 4 hours to get everything off of one side. I'm intending to make good the top of the walls, ready for new timber to go on. Then I'll take off the other half of the roof so that I can put up a new timber for the ridge, prior to reassembling the joists. I think the biggest problem will be lifting the new beam up to the ridge, as I suspect that it will be quite heavy. I haven't told Sue about this yet!

I'm hoping that I can press on with getting the roof back on, because it looks even more like a ruin now! Over to Sue now.

"The Cock"
I had just crawled up from the veg patch where I had stone picked three beds when a car full of youngsters drew up and said " is this where the football is?" or at least I thought that's what they said. So I explained that only "oldies" lived here and started to direct them to the local football pitch. No they said the "cock"! "Whats that" I said, they began to explain but I couldn't grasp at all what the "cock" was so they gave a gallic shrug and gave up on this ol' girl. About ten minutes later there was a lot of voices outside (an unheard of event in Mas de Bouye) so I looked out and coming up the road were about ten teenagers (boys and girls) carrying a box. They greeted me very politely and asked if I would like to buy a "cock". Upon which they opened the box and displayed loaves of bread like brioche. They explained that you give what you like (that seems the system here, you dont buy raffle tickets) and the money goes to the football teams. They were lovely kids (even the smart arse who spoke quite good English) and talked to us for some time about the football teams, girls , boys and young childrens teams. I was astounded that a place the size of Lutton could field so many teams. So now we all know what "The Cock" is, no wonder the first lot gave up trying to explain!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Isn't Nature Wonderful.....!!!

Firstly meet our Nightingale. He sings full pelt night and day. Yes 24 hours. On Saturday evening we went outside at 11.45pm it was almost a full moon, really warm and the nightingale and half the local bird population were singing, you would have thought it was approaching midday not midnight. We are reliably informed that the nightingale only sings for about a month, good, the quicker he returns to Berkley Square the better I shall sleep.
Then there is the Hoopo, an attractive pinky/beige bird the size of a pidgeon with black and white stripes down his back and a crest like a cockatoo. Why is it called Hoopo, yes you've guessed because his call is "Hoopo, Hoopo". We were really excited when we first saw the pair but the male sits on the utility pole outside our lounge window most mornings proclaiming his territory. You can have too much of a good thing.
It's wonderful when you hear the cuckoo, which we did for the first time about three weeks ago. However after a while you think if he doesn't find a mate soon I'm going to find a gun!
Just as it is getting dark our barn owl who lives in the pidgonnier sits on the ledge outside his/her (I think of it as a her, no male could be so charming) entrance preening herself and looking down at us. I think we are privilged, that is until I get into bed and she starts screeching and rasping. Barn owls do not "twita-woo", perhaps I should be grateful. Mas de Bouye is not a place for insomniacs.
Sorry there are no photos with this posting - you cann't see the ruddy things - just Hear Them!!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Colours of Spring

The weather was obviously very hot here whilst we were in Paris and everything is out in bloom. In fact it has been so hot and so dry that the irises only lasted about a week and the Wisteria, which was in bloom when we left, had dropped it's flowers and was in leaf when we came back! Also the trees, which were bare branches, were out in leaf upon our return. And the grass! We were pleased that I'd got the garden and the grass back to looking cared for in only 2 days. So we are now continuing with the garden maintenance, the ongoing program of constructing Sue's plans for the hard landscaping, and I want to start doing some work on the pigsty whilst we wait for our Planning Permission. At the same time we are coming to the time of year for the local Flower festivals, Wine festivals, nature walks, etc, etc...... it's a good job that we don't have a deadline.