Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Pat me on the back Mum, I did a good job



Best wishes to you all this festive season.

It is true to say that there are just not enough days between Christmas and the new year and in this retirement mode that Mike and I find ourselves in the hope that we have the days of the week firmly in our grasp is a deluded notion because we don’t, and one of our favourite sayings is …”is it Tuesday”….you really have to be there to appreciate the deep and meaningful reason for asking but basically we have no idea what the day of the week is, let alone the date. We started off our festive season with a trip to the UK with all the fun of the Ferry and the onset of panic attacks when we hit the M27 heading away from the port.



It was Mikes Mum’s 88th birthday and I was not going to miss her two fat ladies day so we kept it a surprise and I think she was truly struck by the unexpected. Hats off to Geoff for keeping the secret alive. We spent a whole day talking, it does not seem possible that we found so much to talk about but we did. Mike brought with him the information he needed to start creating a family tree and Mum was an incredible participant able to explain who was who and why. It has given Mike enough to get started, so we can get Mum to fill in a few gaps on our next trip over.







We spent a day with my Mum, she  has not been well but it was good to see her lively and enthusiastic about her festive agenda, and I was encouraged by her vigour. Thanks to sister Mim for putting us up, feed and water us , star quality.



Maxine had a birthday and as is our need in this family to congregate around a table we did, but   could not miss the opportunity to snap the moment for the sake of posterity. All the siblings on my side of the family have inherited, stuff, from our Belgian family and as this was my first visit to my brother Billies home I was wrapped in a warm coating of good souvenir  surrounded by little nick knacks and objects from my past. The two little choir singers behind my Mum have been in my life all my life and now I am delighted to see them safely reappointed  at my Brother’s home.                                         


 Back home in France and on the party roller coaster, Ann and Graham got us off the starting blocks on Christmas Eve with a fab lunch and a new bunch of people to talk to and get to know, and despite us having just fallen off the boat and collected HOSS from the Kennel we stayed all afternoon and into the evening and guess what, we chatted. 
Christmas evening had us settled in a very baronial dinning room with long views into the lounge with candles, tinsel and festive ambience beyond my capabilities. Ray and Marianne spoilt us with food and drink until we could no more, then tucked us up in bed in their blue room with strong decorational links to our old friend Napoleon, and only my siblings will know where I am coming from on that subject.









We did get around to cooking our Tesco turkey and prepared all the trimmings we just can’t find here in France.  I can boast that within two days the bones were boiled the curry was made and the stock is frozen.  Pat me on the back Mum, I did a good job xx



Thursday, 15 December 2011

Going to be there in the spring….we hope.




I went to my hairdressers on Tuesday and asked her to repeat what she did three months ago but leave it a bit longer at the back but I came out looking like a ITV weather girl wishing my French telepathy skills were more honed and readable. I ended up with the most up to the bar hair style on a frumpy gardeners body, what a disaster. There are some real cultural differences between our two countries and they manifest themselves in so many weird and varied dimensions of life. French people learn to drive never knowing how to approach a round about and have no understanding of the fundamental rules of over talking, Banks believe that your money is theirs and have no intention of  talking to you in human speak or cashing a cheque within fifteen days. Supermarket checkout girls are taught that the quickest customer chuck out routine wins prizes.  A married woman who has gone through all the palaver of changing her name to be with the one she loves then buys the house of their dreams in her maiden name. So back to the hairdresser who believes only she can transform me into a desirable, top fashion,  drop dead gorgeous woman by simply cutting every singe natural curl I own. Angry, not a bit of it  just totally mortified.
We all know that bad things come in threes. I lost one of my favourite leather gloves and Mike knowing how attached I was to them drove back the way we came and I kicked curbs and looked over fences and railings but to no avail and as I got back in the car I mumbled “well that’s the third thing”. Mike questioned my three bad things, and I replied,  bad hair, lost glove and you won’t let me put any Christmas decorations up this year. Mike thought long and hard about my run of Viv type misery and has turned his humbug head and agreed on Christmas decs as long as  I adopt a simple and minimalist approach to the normal tinsel and trash that usually descends on the house when the boxes of decs falls out the loft..


We have installed a temporary coal fire in the lounge for this winter. Mike has become mildly intolerant to wood dust and open fires and this little fire is proving the point that a small heat source is all we need and HOSS is most definitely in agreement. He cooks gently all night adjusting the angles to get an all over tan  and the talk of chickens and walkies does not move him from his basking position.



I had to abandon my last choir concert today when we got news that the chief du port in Dielette was wanting us to go before the storm tonight and check our lines. We dropped every thing and arrived to see snapped rope and very dodgy lashing up by the guy next door trying to keep Beema attached to the pontoon. Mike took some real tough stuff rope and remade all his springs and  mooring lines. She is now trussed up like a Turkey and is looking sad and uncared for but is actually the best trussed boat on our pontoon, and is still going to be there in the spring….we hope.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

a good season ahead.




This is the silly season when it comes to my hobby and fitting in all the concerts is a bit of a challenge. We had a short notice request from the mayor of Carentan to sing for the local children whilst they wait for Father Christmas to arrive. I can’t say we sang well as it was a Wednesday and those of us who work were not able to be there but we had no accompaniment and frankly we were bad but the wonderful thing about  children was that they only had one thing on their minds and choral critique was certainly not one of them so we got away with being weak and unprepared.







Mike’s project that started two weeks ago and should have taken only two days is finally finished, well nearly as there is a bit more concreting to do and we have not had the courage to go out and get another trailer of ballast, so that will be on the list next week. Mike has set himself up out here in the garage but I am not sure for what reason, so stay tuned as I am guessing there is an alterative motif and another hobby is on the cusp of realisation. I have stolen a drawer to put our wood carving tools in ! I sat out there with a cup of coffee and felt an urge to start carving, it is light and airy in the garage and there is a ton of wood to choose from so perhaps this is my place and Mike won’t get a look in.


You know you have mates when they role up one day and pull this load off their pick up. What a treat, I was so excited and I knew exactly where they will go before they off the truck.  We have put them in the poly to protect them from the frost and I will start to plant some stuff to go in them during the winter so they will be all flowered up for Easter….










The Poly is in winter mode now nurturing and protecting our seedlings and cuttings





We popped in to see Sarah and Peter to give them a hand getting their Christmas decs out and whilst there I took some geranium cuttings before Sarah prunes and stores them and now I have a very promising crop of babies. It is a bit late so I have made a poly tunnel in a poly tunnel to protect them and I will have to take great care to keep them strong and happy until the spring.  There is as much to do through the winter months as there is in summer but it is as important for the preparation of a good season ahead. 



Sunday, 27 November 2011

let our harmless hitch hiker out.








The epic story of the job that creates another job is over and instead of all the rain water from both sides of our huge roof draining off  here!! and creating a big puddle, it will now cascade down the plume and splash into the ditch on the other side of the garage wall. Mike has had to dig his way through two foot wide walls, negotiate his way past different ground levels and then patch it all up so that it works, and today it rained and …it does .







Whilst we are worried about where the rain water will go to save us from damp walls and flooded court yards we are just a bit miffed that we are loosing the water in the pond. By this time of year we should be full up  to the willow tree. We have watched the waterline go down to quite scary levels this summer so I chatted up one of the farmers to see if this was normal and he gave me a worried look and sucked in through his teeth and said that by now the ditches should be full and that confirms that we don’t have a leaky pond just a very low water table. We will welcome any rain now better still if we can have a  biblical torrent and get things back to normal.


We got the call from Jacqueline to say that the cider was ready but when I told her that part of our working party was still in the UK she  set off on one,  lamenting the moon was in the right quarter to bottle and if we didn’t go in the few days all would be lost. She then cast a spell on me and all I could say was “We are on our way”  Four of us were ready with our bottles washed and dried and after we had jovially filled, corked and wired a few hundreds bottles between us we set off for a picnic on the Avenue in Brevands. Bottling this year then will be in two parts, and there will be no difference I am quite sure
…..or am I !!!




Mike pulled down the sun visor in the car the other day at speed, we were dashing along the N13 and when we looked up there was the biggest and  most horrible spider building a nest and not happy with the intrusion. I  am not that bad about spiders but in a closed space at 70 miles an hour and him on the move gave for interesting squeaking and squealing noises and then our thoughts went out to the kids in Australia and giggled ourselves to a stop to let our harmless hitch hiker out.   



Thursday, 24 November 2011

Still be there in another 30 odd years.




8 Rue Bucaille, Brevands
A house has been on this site since 1750

Last month we took a pumpkin over M et Mm Leboulanger, the people we bought our home from four years ago. We have kept in touch and last time they were with us I showed them the pumpkin patch and Ginette ooohed and ahhed and I promised I would bring one to her in October. During our visit to their third floor flat in Carentan they showed us again the pictures they had taken of the house when they bought it in 1977 and a few precious shots of the work in progress which we now understand took 10 years to finish. They talked about moving in during the late 80’s whilst Mike and I were busy making a family and living in our little cottage on the London Road in Bracknell. 






This is 8 Rue Bucaille in 1977, sitting by the pond is Eugene in the blue shirt. He bought the property for the land in order to keep cows, he was a butcher and wanted to rear his own. The land is now our garden but in 1977 it was a farm and with it came an old farm house and by all accounts it was in a bit of a mess. Eugene and Ginette then took on the task of renovating this house and for that we are very grateful.


















The house was pretty much taken apart as they wanted to put height in the upstairs rooms and added an extra meter on before reconstructing the roof










We have 1980’s inner beams throughout and in the next picture you will notice that the beams actually went in the opposite direction. We know that one of the beams from upstairs was made into the mantelpiece in the kitchen so Eugene was frugal and careful throughout the build.  They once told us that all the wood that came out of the original house went into the wood shed and it took them five years to burn it all.










Here is the aspect which looks over our polytunnel. The upstairs hole is our side bedroom window and the bottom hole is the lounge window. We have been keen to look into these pictures to learn a bit about the build We can see that the door in our bedroom is in the same place.















You can see where the builder has added concrete blocks to lift the roof height. In the loft it is  clear  where the old roof used to come to and we have always  wondered how they actually achieved it, well there’s the proof.
All the windows and doors have stayed in their original position and Ginette said that they were really keen to keep the look of the house the same but make it grander and bigger, and I think they succeeded.









This picture was dated Autumn 1991 and we presume they were already moved in and had just finished installing the gates which still look as good now as they did then.












Here is Eugene, reconstructing the pond. We know this was before 1991 as the gates are not there but we were interested to see what it looks like  blow the water level. It all looks very solid I think it will still be there in another 30 odd years.







Sunday, 20 November 2011

there may just be profit to be made.



Lets start on a jolly note and, “love a chicken” The girls are let out of their enclosure now and then to forage through the potager but Mike is getting a bit fed up with their successful escape plans and the kicked up mud all over the path but I am much more tolerant and find all of that stuff endearing. This is my oldest hen one of our first purchases when we moved in and she is still looking gorgeous, not laying eggs, but still looking gorgeous.





We have had a week of, one job leads onto the next, starting with a trip into our barn to deal with a heap of kitchen units Graham had thrown out of his barn. I think Graham expected us to put the units on the bonfire last week but we have seen possibilities in them  and HOSS for one has benefited from these chuck outs and has a lovely cupboard in his room to keep all that dry food behind closed door and away from the pesky  cats who send him nuts by stealing his food.. HOSS still loves his cage and when the cover is on he knows it is night time sleep and when it’s up he can come and go unless he is in the dog house and then we close the cage door, and that means he is really in trouble.


The other cupboards were destined for the garage and Mike decided he needed to make a new concrete plinth to put them on. We had the ballast so all we needed was a bag of cement so the job was organised until he decided to take up the floor tiles to make it easier to lay the concrete then he decided we should perhaps dig it out and put in a drain pipe to evacuate the back yard when it rains and then he decided to see where the rain water from our large roof goes and then decided he had bitten off more than he should be chewing and the simple little job, is a mammoth task







and now, he is digging trenches and laying pipe and smothering his wonky knee with pain killer gel. We had a good routine, work in the morning and rest in the afternoons and I can see this being flouted to get the job done.







I went to trim the lavender today, saw that the cultivated blackberry was layering new growth and ended up potting 36 young plants and at five euros in the shops there may just be profit to be made.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

isn’t that amazing.


Yesterday afternoon we started to prepare for our belated bonfire party and frankly it felt more like setting up for a summer BBQ. We were working in shirtsleeves and I could not help but stop and marvel at the quality of light and how everything in the garden still looked vibrant.  Our guests were due to arrive at 7:30 and as we sat out just us two in the warm November breeze clutching a cup of mulled cider, I suggested Mike light the fire so that we don’t have a mad panic with out of control furnace and a crowd of people standing around watching me running about clutching fire blankets and extinguishers which actually is the norm for me when Mike decides to light any size of bon fire




Graham and Ann arrived with a swanky dressed Guy fawkes and I heard Mike comment that the guy was better dressed than him. We waited for our token children guests  to turn up before we pulled Graham off BBQ duties and then onto guy burning duties. You can see that the fire was well down already I think my out of control fire phobia had taken it’s toll but our friends understood where I was coming from and I think I was forgiven for not have a roaring and frankly ridiculous fire to step back from in fear of  being frazzled.






We tried to keep things really simple and opted  for the traditional French feast of sausage in a baguette, lots of nibbles my special mulled cider and lashings of wine. You can see that  despite putting out loads of seating we all bunched together in a huddle around the bar and food table chatting and listening to cassettes of old French crooning music. At the appropriate time Mike set off with the Oakes lads to set off the fireworks which at great expense was a loud and bright display that only lasted for fifty four seconds. Good thing really as I had not paid attention to HOSS who ran to me when they set off  lay on the ground and barked like a possessed hound , I won’t be doing that again.....




When some of the guests went home those left decanted to the kitchen to warm  up on coffee, cake and when Mike opened our treasure trove of a drinks cabinet the whole event kicked up a few notches and we sat around my beloved table both French and English laughing and making mad conversation until the wee hours. Two in the morning to be precise, and then Mike and I went back up into the garden to bring back all the left overs. I sat out watching over the remains of the fire and in wonder of this fabulous November weather. We have had the proverbial duvet day today and I have just taken HOSS for his last walk and scraped over the fire only to see that after 24 hours it is still alight and giving off heat…isn’t that amazing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

we were snowed in.







Gardening is a great pastime, relaxing, good exercise, exciting and amazing, but today it was also sad. Today, we had to cut down the row of conifers we have been growing since 2006, and for all of you who know your dates, yes, we had these trees before we even came to Brevands. They arrived on the removal lorry in pots stacked up amongst the fridge and washing machine so  I did feel a little guilty and sad but once Mike had sawed them down I was excited with the actuality of a clear view into the allotment and the prospect of the land handed back to me being full of flowers and stuff we might eat. Mike is on light duties so we will have to wait to load this huge pile of tree into the trailer but I have the land back and I can now start planning my 2012 veggie patch 


The chickens have settled well into the pottager and I am training them to come to me when I want them back in the enclosure. They are clearing the autumn leftovers and feeding themselves so we don’t have to. I am not going to grow outside of the poly in the pottager so anything there is for them to forage. I always wanted to shout “come on chicky chic chics, come on” and have them respond so I am thrilled that when I go clucking about in  there  they come for  a handful of corn and then I trick them into the enclosure to shut the gate on them. Luckily hens have a very short memory and the trick of shutting them in is a constant surprise to them ……the power I have over those hens is intoxicating




Mike came up into the allotment last week with a bit of a face on and said “ good news or bad news,  I demanded the bad news first, Your duck is dead, “so what is the good news”…one less duck to feed and the reality of living with the wild and untamed was accepted, The duck was a female dressed as a male, blind in one eye and as old as the time we have been here, so her time was up and as we had only borrowed her from mother nature we  said our goodbyes and threw her into the hedge row for nature and all she looks after to  make use of her and close the cycle. We dispose of all our passing visitors that way, it makes sense  and feels right, from where we are here in the middle of it all.
I will not explain this picture but the autumn pumpkins in the back ground will give it away. Daffs in November…..absolutely ridiculous…but quite inexplicably exciting, We are all waiting to see what  winter has got in her plan for us. I am however, reminded that in three weeks time last year, we were snowed in. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

UK shopping list for next time…!!



What’s going on in the Kitchen……Eric and Gill came for the weekend from Port Solent and as we were invited to a Halloween Party it was time to step up to the plate and make use of those abundant pumpkins from the garden



We made three and we sent one to Marianne and Ray’s to prepare for their ghoulish party. I promised to make an aperitif dip and at the last moment I had to ring my Mum to remind me what needed to be done but I can’t tell you or I will have to kill you, it is now a very closely guarded secret, only Ann and I  know about it over here in France.

I have a very strict rule about fancy dress, OK, go ahead and play along but don’t go Ugly so Mike went in his tuxedo, nearly Dracula, and I just hung fluorescent skeletons from my earrings, not too ugly then. The rest of the guests came looking ugly, scary and I don’t know how I slept that night. I got a mail from my mate Shirley who wrote “dear funny fanny and James….It took me a minute to decipher the code but she was referring to us, arriving all  suave 007 and fab and them looking like they had just fallen off  Jackson’s Thriller film set.


As always our visits are over and it is time to send our guests home, Eric and Gill were one of our first visitors four years ago and although we have seen each other every year in other places we were pleased to welcome them here and what a difference they have seen. There was lots of ohhing and ahhing and you all know how much I love that!!

And lastly…Mike needed to buy a halogen light bulb for his spot lamp. We are planning our bonfire party and he wanted to light up the Willow tree and throw some atmosphere about. We looked on the Internet and found a company in the UK who sold them for £1.67 but would not post them because they are delicate. I then went on the hunt here in France and, WOW, I found a supplier in St Lo, only problem is, they cost  16€   …HOW CAN THAT BE…..so it’s halogen bulbs  on the UK shopping list for next time…!!