Tuesday, 31 May 2011

old age creeping gently this way…..

Growing strawberries is one thing but when you becoming Tiggy Winkles Animal Rescue French Division then it all becomes something else. I threw my large net back over the patch after  saving the ungrateful Hedgehog  two days ago and on my next visit to the allotment I found this little bird hopelessly tied in knots.  I picked him up, and I am not good at dead or injured animals, but I just knew that if I didn’t act fast I would loose this little sweetie. How brave was I, without gloves I picked him up and started to unravel the netting caught around his wings and head. I then had to ran for my scissors from the Poly Tunnel and cut him free. He bit me, scratched me and screeched to high heaven and was clearly not as committed as I was to free him before he had a heart attack and died. Well, you can see that I was a jolly little animal saver.  We let him go and saw him later in the cherry tree at which point I started to regret my actions as I have a bad feeling he will be the culprit who clears the tree before we have time or inclination to get the ladder up against the trunk to harvest our plump red cherries for ourselves.
The yellow serviette around my wrist is a very technical and essential part of living in France and serves as an aid memoir for whatever I am doing at any one time. Today it was there to remind me that I had the well pump turned on and not to forget to switch it off before the whole of the French water resources ends up on my garden. It can also mean that I have cakes in the oven, or dinner on the hob.  When Mike sees the Yellow serviette he asks…”and what are we not wanting to annihilate today?”… Well it is all well and good but I juggle many things at any one time and keeping the essentials like, water in the well and the cakes edible I find this system faultless.  I nearly failed yesterday however, when I was in the process of making rhubarb jam and from sad experiences I now know you have to cook the rhubarb until it no longer resembles rhubarb and then you can start the process of jam making.  I had completely forgotten that I had rhubarb ticking over on the hob and I had completely forgotten to wear my yellow serviette but Mike called through the kitchen on the way to another job and thought that it needed turning down and by the time I got back to the jam I was surprised to see that I was just in time and the jam was setting and ready to jar. Mike only mentioned later that he had come to my rescue and I promised myself not to forget the purpose of the yellow serviette and I have hung one just by the cooker to remind me to wear it, not sure if this is clever or just old age creeping gently this way…..   

Friday, 27 May 2011

Very full up and very satisfied.

With no rain to speak of and a mere hint of damp in the air we are now starting to worry about some of our crop. The sweet corn has burrowed deep and is finding water but the dwarf beans and pumpkin are looking bedraggled and sad. We have watered as much as we can but this is a relentless drought. I smile to myself  at the fear I felt when the children emigrated to Australia where there is  no water and how worrying it was to have them so far away without a drop to drink…..well kids, it’s mummy and Daddy who are in dire straits now.

I had my bleat and now I can boast my two year old strawberry plants have got their feet well and truly in the soil and nothing is going to stop them.  This is half of the pick this morning and I am scheduled to do another on Sunday. I have to pace myself so I can get the jam process underway and so we don’t get all strawberried out before the crop really gets going and I suspect that will be towards the end of next week. I have stashed nine pots of ravishingly fabulous jam for our winter treats of scones and cream sat by the cuisiniere thanking ourselves for being so hard working and productive during the summer.
I had a little panic yesterday when I went to check the strawberry patch and saw that a hedgehog had got himself caught up in my nets and when I lifted him out I saw he was still alive but totally immobile and strangled with the net. Mike came up to cut him free then we had to take him to the table and cut away all the netting around his little body and as Mike cut to release him we could feel him relax and breath again. I know that if I had not  gone just at that moment he would have died. We put him in a  open bottomed cage so he would feel comfortable in his  environment. Mike wanted him to un-ball himself to check that all the net was untangled and cut away.  Later in the day I went up with my camera to see if I could catch a glimpse at his fabby little face and accept his thanks and gratitude for saving his life but the little blighter had escaped. Mike was pleased as it meant he made a good recovery and is now making his way back to the strawberry patch to finish off what he started

We had to go to Brico Depots in Cherbourg today to buy the final bits to get the electric connected, and ready for when the box is installed. We needed many meters of wire to link the vans to the board and  planks of wood to make the newly acquired steps safer.  We are so near to finishing this project and the closer we get the more excited we are at the prospect of earning a few bob and having a bit of an occupation.  I felt in celebratory mood and quite hungry as we passed the sign to Port Flamands and asked if we could go to see if the beach cafĂ© was open for moules and we were in luck. We tucked into a fantastic lunch all washed down with a bottle of cider and an hour looking out to sea  pondering the sale of our boat and who would be the lucky person to buy her,  then back on the road and onto the next job, very full up and very satisfied.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Shed a little light on this image, I’d appreciate it.

There are good things and bad things about any type of life style  but living in a foreign land certainly has it’s,  in the stratosphere highs and it’s, bottom of the deepest oceans low. Today our Ford explorer went for it’s 2 yearly MOT. When you run an old car you expect the odd problem and as predicted it failed the test on a broken front seat that was OK before it went in and the question of non conformity on the head lights which we paid many hundreds of Euros converting to French two years ago. There was also a fault we had absolutely no understanding of  but took the failure form home and started browsing the dictionary but to no enlightenment. Mike mended the seat which broke while the inspector was testing the breaks, remind me to be in front of him on the day I nearly get run down, and then we just had to admit defeat on the other issues and drove back down to the MOT center to be shown the problems. I took my many hundreds of Euros invoice with me to prove that we had not bodged the head light conversion and one of the inspectors compatriots had done the job. then Mike and he were lying on the forecourt pointing and grunting at the right hand wheel ball joint. So, not so serious and now that Mike absolutely knows where he is at, it is onto the net to order the bits….we hope. We did pop into the local garage to source the parts but, Ford and, Explorer, do not even come close to being part of his vocabulary. 

On Sunday whilst Mike was mowing the lawn on his newly mended mower, I drove over to Torigny sur Vire with Genevievre to sing in a concert by invitation of their vicar. We were confronted by a depleted audience and a much, depleted choir. It is holiday time and a three thirty Sunday outing does not suit all but it seems the good part of the choir turned up and we did rather well. The sign hanging in the church was enough to raise our faith in our abilities and I was double tickled when the said vicar, came over to explain that he used to be the vicar of Carentan and when he asked if I knew Jacqueline Ferreau I was able to reply with pride, do I know Jacqueline?  Why, I was sitting at her lunch table only yesterday, it really is not what you know in life, but who.
The Dentist is a bit of an issue for me only because I have a childhood fear of lost teeth and nauseous anaesthetics. I had a tooth ache developing so got us both an appointment first thing Monday morning….Thirty years ago the dentist in the Uk told me that I would loose the tooth that was  hurting me  now so I prepared myself for the worst and during that indescribable waiting room moment when all you can hear is somebody else’s drilling experience I distracted myself and read the charges and pay back percentages  by the state and just absently mentioned to Mike that I could have a plate with seven false teeth for five hundred euros and the state would pay us back one hundred and fifty . Mike thought I was just making small talk as he had no idea where I was going with this discussion. The good news is that the pain I have been experiencing was put right with a little outside filling and then the dentist said nothing else for me,  see you in a year. I won’t even start to explain my emotions as  I hope you know me well enough by now to know how I felt.

We popped into the depot vends at Auvers today to sell my espresso machine, last of the Watten business left overs. I took a picture of this adorable little cot because every time I see it. I get a sense of a childhood memory and somewhere in my life  this image is important or poignant so if any of my brothers and sisters can shed a little light on this image I’d appreciate it.   

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Between ferries crossings.

With the big mower still out of action and a gang of mates coming to play Boule last week  Mike mowed and mowed with all the other little mowers he owns. This week however he has been able to relax a little due to a lack of rain which brings, no growth. We knew that one day this week the parts to mend the big mower would be winging their way by donkey over the hills and dales of France with a message attached to say  “you will get this important spare part when we are ready to send it” and a chance call this morning confirmed the arrival at last.  We could hardly contain our excitement and drove down straight after breakfast to make a start on the big mend.  All this excitement swiftly evaporated with a sudden panic attack as the mower man sucked in a huge breath and said, “four hundred and twenty four euro please”….It is at times like this that your brain goes into overdrive and all you want to do is run. My concern was that we had enough Euros in the bank and Mike’s concern was that if he‘d have known the cost, would he have been able to design a Mike’s best bodge and still make it work. Why did we not confirm the cost before we ordered  I hear you say, and the simple answer is that the mower man was unable to get a price out of his supplier and  we were piggy in the middle  between a  distributor being a  bully to his  supplier and I really don’t know how to deal with that situation…..in French!

We have just experienced the longest delayed lunch date in existence. Last October we picked apples and made cider and Jacqueline was keen to entertain us all but was unwell and so delayed the date until today. She decided to surround her table with her dearest Friends and I am proud to be thought of in that way. She also invited a couple from Brevands who do not get involved with the cider but do a lot of running around and during this spell of bad health have been there for her so we all got a little tipsy and eat a multiple course meal which we English just love because it is so bizaar to eat the meat, veg and salad in separate courses all on the same plate that you clear into a poubelle de table, then you lick your knife and fork and tuck into the next dish. The couple from Brevands have lived here for thirty years and are Mum and Dad to our neighbours across the road so we had lots of fun getting to know them.

I’m not going to mention that the boys over indulged themselves but they made our French friends laugh as they both took the rice puddings and put one in front of each other and said “what are you having” . I am used to that level of humour but our host and her friends thought it was absolutely hilarious.

And more laughs with John and Linda who did their annual whistle stop day visit from the UK with us and brought a belated birthday cake which once lit was a firework which took our birthday boy by surprise. We had a good few hours together, played Boule and sat in the Sun. It is amazing how much talking and laughing you can get through between ferries crossings.

Monday, 16 May 2011

When you live off, mains drainage.

Do you remember way back in January when I was bleating about the number of Poppy plants I had found growing in the allotment at the moment that Mike was poised with weed killer in hand?  I pleaded for clemency and asked for a few hours to dig these little plants up and move them to the mound. Well now, look at the result. The mound appears twice as high with strong and rampant poppy plants glowing with pride and just getting more and more prolific. We are using the mound as a spare garden and anything that is over or given to us is going there to fill up the space and act as a bit of a nursery bed, but these poppies are so much more than I had hoped for and I am delighted.

Sewing a new lawn is like watching paint dry. We have been up to the vans twice a day watering and watching but to no avail. Mike even had to check his knowledge and went on the internet to investigate the germination cycle of a grass seed and although we have bouts of frustrated impatients we also know we are doing the very best we can in this dust bowl environment we find ourselves in. I am sure that tomorrow the seed will germinate, or may be the next day or may be the day after that, but it will germinate and it will grow.

We have had some good bon coin bargains this weekend.  We took a drive over to Cabourg to pick up two mobile home steps in fairly good condition, Mike will want to paint them and change the wooden treads but for now we have a safe way in and out and so the cleaning and rearranging can start in earnest.
EDF have cashed their deposit cheque and five days down the road there is still no news of  an electricity installation date so I bit the bullet and made that call. I was given a new number to call and then a very helpful customer services gentleman gave me a date and a time as I waited clutching the receiver making small talk to him whilst he filled in the online work request. The question on the tip of my tongue was “when were you guys going to offer me this installation date and why did I have to call you?”  This is sadly a constant complaint, the French either chase or wait and I think I will just have to raise my game and become a chaser. I called the mower mending man whist I was on a roll to chase our replacement drive shaft and asked whether he had thought to call the supplier to see if the order request had been acted on and I had to wait a further thirty minutes whilst he made that call. Glad to report to all of you on the edge of your seats, that the parts are due in towards the end of the week, which week is anyone's guess, but lets stay positive.
The last bit of good news is that Mike found a replacement cesspit cover for the house system. When we did our five yearly maintenance procedure we broke one of the one meter wide round concrete covers and were finding it hard to buy a new one as they were either too small or too large and definitely too expensive at one hundred and fifty euros each so when Mike saw an ad for a cover at the right size for forty euros we thought our Christmases had all come together. Sadly, cesspit systems are an obsessive pursuit when you live off, mains drainage.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I laughed even more…..love you honey…….

When Mike and I left the UK six years ago to start this brand new life in France we didn’t realise how important a good bunch of mates is, in your life. Having been sociable party animals in our Port Solent life we just thought it would all happen very easily here and Mike  often talked about having a big table across the drive and frankly I thought we would never achieve such social significance but just look what happened yesterday.

In real French style we sat twenty people to a lunch, consisting of every couple bringing a curry for two with them. We put all the contributions on the table, I made rice and thanks to my friend Linda’s advice I used my Tupperware salad keeper to prepare enough rice for twenty, plus seconds and I was the hostess with the mostess even though I say it myself. There are two pieces of equipment from Watten that we decided to keep, the commercial coffee maker and the Bain Marie and we have now pulled both items out of storage and made good use of them, thank you to Mike for stopping me from trying to sell.
      ”party on Viv”   is my motto from now on.

After coffee we all decanted with our glasses of wine and those with the competitive spirit came with their own sets of Boule and we attempted a fun and fast game of girls against boys, who incidentally, are the most awful cheats but fun was had by all and every body got to chuck a couple of Boule to christen our new piste and now I am going to try to start a league amongst ourselves and with two other Boule parks in our midst this could be a fun way to see a retirement afternoon well spent.

At four O’clock Mike’s cake arrived made by our friend Ami. I asked her to make a creation and could she find a design with tractor or mower and this is the result. It was tooo lovely to eat but we did and Mike now wants a red tractor for his collection and I said….NO.

The last of our guests left at eight thirty and Mike and I  got stuck in and washed and cleared up but  left everything clean on the table, which, if I don’t call up some deep set energy will sit there for days.  Mike is always appreciative of the amount of work and planning that goes into a gathering like this and is slowly putting things back in the cupboards and I think that is great because now he knows where things are, result I’d say.
Mike says thank you for all the best wishes and love sent. Dean thought that this BIG party was to celebrate Mike’s 50th  birthday and I laughed till I cried then every one around him said that he really doesn’t look a day over 50 and I laughed even more…..love you honey…….

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Fun on the other side of the world, how time flies.

Despite the drought we are battling on with the projects in hand and Mike has started to prepare for grass. Success is one hundred percent determined by the amount of rain fall once the seed is set. We are defying nature and throwing money at this, most urgent project by hand watering through the meter. The seeds went down yesterday and in three days time with enough water and TLC we will begin to see seedlings and then it is a question of when and how nature will reward us.

On Monday our friend from the USA went home. Lydia has been teaching English in College for 7 months on work experience and came to join the choir to find friends and experience a bit of local town life. Little did she know that she would meet a bunch of English ladies to have a laugh with as well as a wonderfully warm and friendly bunch of choristers. We all met at the station to her utter surprise and sang a goodbye song in three part harmony, there was not a dry eye in the house..  As we grouped together for our Tuesday night practise in Carentan she was touching down  in USA back to the bosom of her family. The song “La langue de chez nous” was flat with out you Lydia …

The big mower is still not mended, parts on order. I popped my head around the lawn mower menders door today and he shot me a spanked spaniel look and shrugged his shoulders. That must mean no news then. In the mean time Mike is back to the old and tiresome running back and forward with his little mowers and to his credit it is all looking good. The problem will come if it rains as these little beasts do not function well and then the grass grows and the whole problem is one of despair and frustration, does that sound a bit drama queen ..you bet.   David and Naomi came for a visit on Sunday night and we got on with them like a house on fire It was supposed to be aperitif and they arrived and seven and left at eleven thirty. I really do not understand the aperitif rules and nor did Genevievre who said I should  have kicked them out, but we are trying to build favourable neighbourly relations here and I need them to water my garden when we go away so they can do no wrong at the moment.

Look at my three big boys in OZ sitting on my screen saver  They are all at school now, and life sounds good and fun on the other side of the world,  how time flies.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Our new coq, Elvis.

Every day these past two weeks I have been writing a list of things to achieve as we are busy and time is of the essence. Mike hates lists with a passion but at the end of the day we both get a sense of satisfaction when we  have ticked a few lines off and for reasons of motivation I also write down all the spontaneous jobs that arise and then strike them off straight away, it makes me feel good and frankly that is the most fundamental requirement of the procedure

This morning, clip the hens wings, was number one on the list and we went out into  the heneria trying to capture the hens one by one in order to perform the operation of snipping their primary set of flying feathers. I can’t describe the sit com that was evolving with hens avoiding capture and Mike and I running around their enclosure trying to look professional  and failing miserably. The bell at the gate rang and we both muttered something about meddling neighbours and after the ring became a bit more determined I just had to abandon Mike now with a net on a stick in hand trying to capture the hen we call Mummy.  At the gate, my neighbour David, looked a little worried with my welcome of deep sigh and the French equivalent of “WHAT” . He realised he had caught us at a bad time but just wanted to know if we had room for a young rooster in our Heneria as one of his had just fought a battle for supremacy and lost. I stopped in my tracks and blindly asked how he was at putting an old rooster out of his misery as my poor old fella had really taken a turn for the worst last night and was now confined to a box as he was unable to hold himself upright. David came in with a box in hand and deposited in front of the Heneria, took one look at my poor boy,  broke his neck, put him out of his misery and then release the most fabulous little white rooster with an adorable song and I found myself grieving  the passing of my fabby boy and falling hopelessly in love with this new little gift 

After all this excitement we sat down to coffee and I swapped the new Coq for 6 melon plants, a cup of coffee and an arrangement for both David and Naomi to come for aperitifs tomorrow.

The rest of the day was full of successes, nice wet ground after a night of thunderstorms and the wild flower garden sprouting seedlings in front of our very eyes.  Mike got his tractor and gang mower working and off the drive, I got the hundreds of seedling flowers finally planted and a sweet little cocka doodle doodling going on in the background throughout the day. It has rained off and on  and I can’t tell you how much we need it, I would happily sit in and do nothing for a day of rain.

So there he is, young and beautiful, accepted immediately by our troop of tartlets who have decided “the King is dead long live the King” and for that reason alone I have decided to name our new coq, Elvis. 

Friday, 6 May 2011

And I can’t.........

The Walnut tree is once again behaving badly and whilst all the other trees in the garden are in full leaf this big proud fella is determined to keep us waiting. We are fearful that it is too dry and no amount of hand watering will make a difference as it needs under ground wetting.  We are settling down this evening with black clouds brewing outside and crossing our fingers that tonight it will rain and the twice daily toil of buckets and cans will be over.

At the beginning of last year we met a lady who lives locally and keeps horses, we asked if she had   horse manure for our garden and she invited us to go with a trailer  any time we needed it. Stupidly, we never got around to it . It is astonishing that with all the time in the world we manage to let friendships fall through our fingers. We finally decided that the day had come for a manure trip as I have  planned to lay some on each veggie bed as I empty them in the Autumn, but, we need the poo here, rotting and ready, so there was no excuse and we needed to rekindle the friendship and go. It does not look much and is actually easier than I imagined to handle so I don’t know what was putting us off all last year but there it is, black gold, with all the promise of a good crop next year. 

We took the camper up to Cherbourg today to give Beema a spring clean. We are still struggling with the thought of selling her but she is on the market and it will only take one enthusiast to fall in love with her like we have. She looks better for her clean and the engine purred happily all the time we were there, so come on next owner...............lets be having you..

We then took the long way home in the camper and reminded ourselves how easy it will be to turn all this boat love to camper love. We still have a strong wanderlust and can’t believe that we have not made a long journey since 2004. Our time has been taken up with retiring and moving and settling in, but this year, we have plans to get away, and I can’t......... 

Monday, 2 May 2011

Less complicated to manage.........

On Saturday the post lady popped our EDGF application for electricity for the vans back through the letterbox. I was hoping with great anticipation that the envelope would manifest itself into a  start date and the promise of swift and trouble free installation. You can imagine how my heart sank when I saw our application returned to us including the cheque I had sent on account. We were about to go out to Ann’s for dinner  to say good bye to our chorister friend  Lydia who is returning to the US next week, so I did not mention the returned application form to Mike in case he blew a fuse and our evening would be marred with frustration and disappointment. On Sunday morning I gently slipped the envelope to him over toast and coffee and we both went through the letter and read the contract again and both were puzzled and confused as to why it was returned. Before the coffee got cold this morning I made the call to EDGF  for an explanation and a solution to the obvious to them, but not us, problem. The lady was very patient with me and explained that the whole dossier was returned because I had not written the declaration of acceptance in my own hand. I was still no further forward in my understanding of the problem and we had to go through the declaration page twice to discover what the words were that I had to write by hand to say that I had understood the document and we were happy to have the work done. I said that I would not have sent the contract back if I didn’t want the work done but as all things official in France you have to play by all the rules albeit straight out of the 18th century book of bureaucracy. The documents are back in the post now so please all of you out there in blogger land a crossed finger or two would not go amiss. 

At dinner on Saturday evening we laughed until we cried at the comment our Debbie in Australia had made on face book not liking the word cock when discussing my boy chicken. Needless to say the conversation developed into play on words and actually got a little saucy. We discussed the best way to refer to my old fella without causing offence. It was decided that I should say coq as in au vin or better still, rooster, but actually boy chicken reflects who he is and today he looks a lot better and is making a good recovery from his falling over episode of last week.  In the picture you can see that we have extended the fence height to discourage the hens strutting through my garden and tearing it to shreds. So far we are experiencing “stop at home” hens and a much happier rooster come boy chicken whose had his girls around him all day, and seems to like it.
Mike had to bite the bullet this morning and entered into the broken down mower shed to try to find out what is wrong. I hid myself in the poly far away enough to be safe from a very frustrated Mikey fella but not so far away that I was not aware that things were not going to plan. By eleven thirty the offending part had been discovered and removed and we then needed to get into town to see where we might start to enquire as to how to find a replacement. To add to the frustration of a complicated hydraulic nightmare of a broken mower we then had to join the rest of France in a two hour lunch before knowing how this episode was going to pan out. Happily the man in the mower shop was not outwardly phased by the worn shaft and  complicated application and asked us for a 24 hour window to find the part number and source the bit so all that was left for us to do was to get home and get on with something constructive.

Like mowing the lawn with a mower that works and is a lot less complicated to manage.........

Sunday, 1 May 2011

In fear of it fading.

Here we are then, on the brink of safety from frost but still risking the opportunity to plant, plant, plant. I spent a very satisfying two hours in the tunnel today during a small rain shower and was delighted that mother nature was looking after her own so I would not have to water later. I made good progress as my little flowers in their tiny plug pots were getting past their first flush of growth so I  re-planted into more appropriate sized pots before the final move into the garden next week.  On the subject of gardens, today we went to Sebeville Chateau for a “Vide jardin”. This is a new concept in car booting where the general public can sell their plants and garden toosh in the most astounding surroundings.

 This Chateau is being renovated by a French family who by all accounts been at it for the past seven years. They live in the stables looking at the house but I’m afraid I would not be able to resist the temptation to move in, it looked completely empty so I guess they have more control than me. We bumped into Anna and William and I also saw a fellow chorister. It occurred to me that we come to a chateau in the middle of nowhere and we meet people we know, and it felt good and it felt right.

In contrast to the huge chateau, Sebeville has the smallest of Mayor' offices I have come across.  There is a rumour that the small village mayors are going to be phased out over the next few years and villages will share a mayors office which logically means that some of these little gems will all but disappear so I have committed to taking a picture for posterity when we see one.

Just for luck this is the little village of st Martin de Varreville having their annual vide grenier and flying the flag outside their Mayors office.

On Friday I met up with ¾ of our reading club for a girly day in front of the TV to celebrate the royal wedding. We all took a contribution to lunch and bottle of champers. We arrived at 10:30 and left at 5:30 completed trashed and very happy with our days work of national pride albeit from abroad. We must confess to shedding a tear at the spectacle of William and Catherine getting hitched but we also shared our love for the Royal family and even stood up glasses charged and sang the national anthem and I for one had a hoot and now have a solid and hysterical memory of the day

My sisters brought me memorabilia from the UK to celebrate the day and we were all a bit taken by this tea towel that I will never use in anger, in fear of it fading.