Monday 24 July 2006

In the Garden

I’ve had friends Robin and Maggie Tredwell to stay for a few days. They are artists, bohemian, old friends and beachcombers and I’m going to have to shake Robin down before he leaves to retrieve any number of little objets trouvé and scrap metal from around the farmyard that ‘would make a great bit of sculpture for the next show’.

Having people here is an excuse to sit around in the sunshine and make dire predictions about the progression of the weather from tropical heat to tropical storm. Gratifyingly we had a humdinger of a storm with a continuous light and sound show and hail the size of ice cubes rattling on the corrugated iron roofs.

Part of the tourist trail is a trip to St. Lô Market, held every Saturday morning and comprising of all the usual market stalls packed with stuff from sweatshops worldwide, a fish, meat and dairy section and a surprising number of little old people each with a couple of rabbits or a handful of beans to sell for their supper. From a stall loaded down with bare rooted celeriac, laitues feuilles de chêne and cabbages we took a bunch of a 100 leeks for 5 euros to plant in the garden for next winter. The variety was Carentan, named for the nearby town where sand grown leeks and carrots are a major industry. The stallholder had another variety but I didn’t recognise it so went for familiarity, just like every other customer. The baby leeks are planted a little closely but should make fantastic soup to warm ourselves with in the cold.

sarpo mira

While planting the beans I noticed that one of the two potato plants had become diseased. The leaves were small and misshapen, and there was some die back. I suspected a virus but when I dug the plant found the stem was blackened and some of the new potatoes rotten. Blackleg, probably brought in on the tuber, bought from a retail outlet in Newport Pagnell. I would urge anyone contemplating growing potatoes to buy from a specialist source and to buy the highest quality of seed available. The so called disease free potatoes available from garden centres and DIY stores are at the bottom of a scale of seed potato grading and little better than a handful of eating spuds bought from a supermarket.

And for the one that got away – I was so busy attempting to capture the Painted Lady below that I waited too long before trying for a picture of a magnificent Silver Washed Fritillary browsing on the bramble flowers…


Monday 17 July 2006

I don’t like Mondays.

Mostly, that’s a lie. Monday is a great day, time to gird the loins and really get on with stuff. So that’s what I did, having sorted through the post yesterday into piles of rubbish, filing and to do, I picked up the to do pile and worked through it.

I had half a dozen letters to post and a cheque to pay into the bank at the end, just before lunch. There’s no point in flying in the face of convention, so I popped my neat pile into my handbag and took a three hour break with my book under the pear tree.

And at about 3 o’clock in the baking heat I started the little white car and trundled down to the village. We know the baker is shut on a Monday but so were the bank and the Post Office. There was no chance of stamps. Not even a vending machine but the cash machine was still working so I had some. So my immediate tasks delayed by 24 hours I jumped back into the car intending to go to Le Molay Littry , check out the Point Vert and fill up with petrol at the SuperU.

The car chose this moment to exhibit its occasional failure mode; an inability to stay running when half warm. There is no solution I’m aware of except to allow it 15 minutes to come to its senses. So I sat, and after a while I tried the engine. Then I sat some more. And tried the engine some more. Then I locked the car and got out, just because I had to.

The bar was shut, well, it would be, the rest of the town was dead, where would there be any customers, but the Epi grocers was not. Some relief, I bought a can of Canada Dry from the fridge and a dried up old baguette more as an excuse to stay in the cool than because I wanted them. Madame agreed with me that it was hot, very hot.

I went back to the car and got in, threatening the breakers and all the usual charms to solve its problems. Hurrah, we started.

I felt a run would do the car and me good, so we went to Molay Littry but because a refusal often offends and the car park of the Point Vert was entirely empty I didn’t chance it but headed straight to the petrol station at the supermarket. “24h/24h” screamed the signs and my card was good. With joyous heart I pulled up the pump to read a handwritten notice – out of Sans Plomb 95. Reversing I joined the queue for the pay at the kiosk pump – 2 minutes later I was facing the same sign.

Home was calling. I didn’t bother with garage at the Embranchement, their service is casual at the best of times and I was melting in the heat. I stopped the car in the shade and as I walked across the courtyard a butterfly that was undeniably a White Admiral pranced to meet me, nearly landed on my chest and then glided away insolently. Naturally by the time I had found my camera it was no longer in a mood for posing.

I’m utterly defeated. Back to the pear tree with a cold drink.

Sunday 16 July 2006

A Tale Too Far

The weather today is stunning, calm bright with the sort of heat that makes butterflies glide and blackbirds bask. The plan, such as there is one, is to sit under the pear tree barely dressed in a sarong and read but first there have been a couple of events here that are worth recording.

My problem is that the first is so horrific that readers of a sensitive disposition might suffer from nightmares after reading of it, so with reluctance, because it was not without humour within the terror I’ve decided to censor myself. If you really want to know then mail me, but I reserve the right to withhold the story if I think it will adversely affect your quality of life.

And so, moving on, the next catastrophe to strike started innocently enough. Paul has been making an all too brief visit this weekend and amongst the gifts he brought for me is a rather good quality water lily, a Barbara Davies, fragrant flowers of yellow flushed with red and suitable for shallow to medium depth pools. We planned to put it in the sheep dip pond. This artificial water feature is fed from the stream and the outflow forms part of the original privy plumbing. It’s a lovely spot with dragonflies, damsels, frog and newts, currently shaded by some Leylandii which will be coming down eventually.

We had rather more on our minds than gardening though and it wasn’t until the end of his 28 hours with me that we decided to plant the lily in its chosen spot. Suitably dressed in nothing at all and with Paul’s oversized wellies because mine have a leak, I stomped to the end of the pool with water lily in hand, stepped off the concreted edge and into what was apparently six inches of water. But my feet went down and down and eventually came to rest on firm ground a good two feet lower than expected. I was in the water up to what, in anticipation of a family audience, I can only describe as my leg pits. My noble lover and companion wet himself laughing and took several pictures, now suitably archived under lock and key, before offering to give me a hand out. Even then he was more interested in rescuing his wretched boots, now filled with six inches of sludge, than helping me regain terra firma.

At least we know the pond needs dredging now, and although the silt was brackish it didn’t smell badly or seem unhealthy so we’re reasonably sure the septic tank, wherever it is, doesn’t discharge into the pond. Barbara Davies was dispatched to the middle of the pool to find her own level. I think conditions should be perfect for her.

Other cheering news is that La Poste have finally come up with the goods, including post from the Notaire dating back to February and containing a welcome cheque for 438 euros, refund from the sale charges. I seem already to be on a Readers Digest mailing list and there are several irritated and irritating letters from various tax offices wanting to know our inside leg measurements (about a boot and half) before telling us how much money we’ll be owing them. I don’t know where they’d been hiding all this post until now but I commend them of their efficiency in keeping track of it over the last seven months.

Wednesday 12 July 2006

Wild Life

red admiral

There has been nothing like the structured approach to watching the wildlife I had hoped for. The best I can come up with for the time being is a list of things spotted, few of which have been confirmed with photos or other witnesses. Still, our presence here doesn't seem to be putting the non human inhabitants off too badly and with as low impact a lifestyle as we can manage I hope there will be plenty more opportunities to record the variety of lifeforms around here.

Insects are in abundance, plenty of ants and ladybirds, daddy longlegs, flies and other familiar sights but also mysterious creatures that defy identification, wispy flying hoverflies with improbably long protuberances, strange weevils, odd looking spiders. Some of the larger ones are very beautiful indeed, a rose chafer, iridescent green with white markings, the size of a 50p coin, huge stag beetles, a privet hawk moth, tiger moths, all sorts of butterflies including something newly hatched that was either a White Admiral or a Purple Emperor, I could only get a picture of the underside of its wings and need a better book to help me identify it accurately. I think it was the Emperor, if so only the second time I've ever seen one. Bees, wasps and hornets all too busy about their business to bother humans. Many sorts of dragonflies and damselflies, very difficult to photograph. We had a glow worm, flashing her lonely light for a mate. I don't know if she was lucky. And there are less desirable insects, the wood boring beetles, mosquitoes, midges and the wholly intolerable horsefly.

There are lizards and newts, frogs and already a toad has moved into my tree nursery to hunt slugs and worms. We saw a slow worm in the hay field under a piece of discarded black plastic and an adder, not here but in Ouville, which hurried into a vole hole to avoid us.

So many birds, we've had swallows since April and now they've been joined by house martins. Several sorts of wagtails, bluetits, greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, bullfinches and sparrows. Blackbirds and thrushes, wrens, spotted flycatchers, crows and in the spring you could hear woodpeckers and cuckoos marking territories in the forest. Little brown birds I have no hope of identifying. We have a pair of buzzards, one day I saw three over the house, a big kestrel (we think) and one afternoon I'm sure there was a commando attack by a sparrow hawk over the courtyard but I've never seen him again. The barn owl is regularly out at night. Still no robin.

Apart from the coypu, which seemed to have moved on, there are deer. Red deer, who bark terrifyingly when startled and roe deer, much smaller. There is a feral cat and quantities of voles, providing food for owls. We haven't seen any boar, and that's not such a bad thing really nor any rabbits, which I think is surprising. Two types of bats, a small fast one that comes out when there is still a little light and a heavier type, that comes out when it is fully dark and makes sounds even I can hear. I'm sure there are other mammals but we've not seen any of them yet.

Monday 10 July 2006


Today I bought and installed a post box on the broken gatepost on the entrance drive. It looks extremely rickety and will probably fall off in the first hard shower of rain, nonetheless, I hope everyone reading this will send me a postcard to christen it with. We need to show La Poste that I'm not a forgotten woman.

Sunday 9 July 2006


It's been a year and a day since Paul and I first set eyes on the place, when Sebastien from the Cabinet Faudais in St. Lo brought us here for a sneaky viewing when the owner wasn't available. The weather was better then than it is now, a bright hot day with a brilliant blue sky and butterflies and grasshoppers in their thousands all over the meadows.


We climbed the gate, tramped across the field and fell in love with the solitude and remoteness of a place dramatically isolated and beautiful. So many plans were discussed and discarded, taken up again and modified that even now the future of the place seems more of a complicated knot of possibilities than a single strand leading us forward to some definite end, but that's not important. We have the land, we have the buildings and we can take our time deciding what to do with them.

Friday 7 July 2006


Today I planted the first three of twenty five eucalyptus trees destined to become the Eucalypt Grove. The space I've chosen for them was a nettle bed just adjacent to the hay barn, neglected and deemed unsuitable by M. Briche for hay because of the uneveness of the ground, the probability of machine destroying debris and the presence of so many mauvais herbes. The nettles have been hacked off short and harmless with the brush cutter and the individual trees will be planted in little islands of cleared ground about 3.5 metres from each other. It's a close spacing, the one recommended for Ash coppice which seemed like a good match for habit and speed of
growth, designed to crowd out the weeds and deprive them of light so that they will not compete with the trees. It is, however, wide enough for me to get in with the strimmer or grass cutter to keep the worst offenders at bay during the early years.

Eucalyptus is an unusual choice in an environment where otherwise we plan to encourage native plants and animals but I hope these trees will provide plenty of coppice wood to keep the fires burning. They are fast growers and do well on poor soil and this is a practical experiment, designed to increase our self sufficiency when we start cropping them in 8 or 10 years time. I'm also hoping deer won't like the taste of them, I know slugs don't.


The eucalyptus seedlings have been planted to the right in this picture, next to the hay barn.

You know you're a child of the information technology age when you find yourself designing a database to record your trees in. We have many fruit trees here, mostly cider apple but also pear, plum, cherry and walnut and we hope to add to them with mulberry, quince, medlar and others as soon as we can. The existing trees are mostly in rather bad condition but wherever possible we'd like to identify, preserve them and propagate them for historical continuity. So each tree has to have its position and characteristics recorded and notes made of the treatments given and responses exhibited. One could keep a book, but my tendency is to complicate matters by keeping it all in machine format from the outset. I suppose I should make provision for pictures as well. In order to keep the thing to a craft level I've decided to name each of the trees uniquely instead of relying on some numeric or coded identifier so if you have any suggestions for particular trees you've met here, or would just like a tree named after you, let me know.

Wednesday 5 July 2006



Last night we had another tremendous thunderstorm - just over the house and lasting in all about 3 hours although the centre probably didn't stay immediately overhead for more than 15 minutes or so. There was thunder and lightning continuously, like a bad old black and white movie with no chance of counting elephants or anything else to estimate the distance the storm was from here. I could hear the zip of the lightning before the light came at the same time as house shaking claps of thunder and torrential rain. Actually the rain, although very heavy indeed wasn't quite as drenching as the storms we had a couple of weeks back when as well as flooding under the front door there were puddles in the attic and a substantial flow down the brick chimney at the far end of the building. I was worried in case the electricity went but luckily everything stayed in place, including the phone line which is a relief.

It rained most of the morning but has been dry and warm this afternoon. I can hear distant rumbles from the south and the clouds are building up again. It's not a cheering prospect.

Paul and Lyn have both told me of the storms in the U.K. which sound horrid, but we had them here first!

This afternoon I girded my loins and went dechetterie hunting. Just as my lady at the Mairie said you take the road to Tessy sur Vire leaving from the Intermarche, but that's not the only direction you need. Luckily some signs were available and I found the place fairly easily. There is a height barrier to stop vans and commercial tippers getting in, the inevitable glass and plastic recycling bins and a place for batteries and then everything else gets tipped over the edge, just like an Irish tip. There didn't seem to be any toters. One chap there to oversee and give a hand. He seemed a bit frazzled as there was another Brit there when I arrived, backing a trailer load of I don't know what towards the precipice. Anyway, I chucked my three bags into oblivion, nearly totalled a French driver on the way out (he was charming about it!) and came home via M.Bricolage. Only another seven bags from the party to go.

Tuesday 4 July 2006


After an abortive attempt yesterday, when they were shut, I went down to the mairie today to get piece of bureaucracy, a Carte SEROC to enable us to use the dump at Le Molay Littry - 6 or 7 km up the road from the house. We did the recognisance for the site while Alex was here, noted the necessity for the Carte and Alex kindly made the phone call to find out how we obtained it.

It was very simple, the woman who answered had said, you just go along to the mairie with identification and proof of your address and they'll take it from there. So, late on Tuesday morning after trying to keep the thunderstorm out of my head by sleeping, there I was entering the dragon's den.

The lady behind the desk was nothing like the fierce and terrifying receptionist Alex and I had envisioned but she was still perplexed. What was a carte Seroc? she asked. I explained again, it was to enable me to use the dump in Molay Littry. Why on earth would I go there, if I lived here? That was Calvados, we were in the Manche.

This I knew. It had been a significant point in my calculations of value when deciding whether to buy the house or not but I was still amazed that the boundary was untraversable by rubbish. She couldn't help me, she had not the makings of a Carte Seroc. Our dump she advised is at St. Lo on the road to Tessy sur Vire and you just go there and dump stuff. None of this card nonsense. Much better, much easier. Much further away also, but that's clearly of no importance.

We chatted on. She introduced me to the Mayor's assistant (I've forgotten her name already, something sybillant) and she tried her English on me which was about the same level as my French. We both got out our dictionaries at the same time. Nice lady. The word will be all over town now, that the English have taken La Rupallerie.

After lunch another essential task was attempted. I rang Nomotech who claim to offer a department wide wireless internet service for la Manche. I was expecting this to be hard but the girls I spoke to did have quite good English and I gave up the thought of speaking French for them quite quickly. Unfortunately, the overcoming of language barriers didn't help us. After establishing where I live and speaking to a technician I was advised that there were too many trees around here. They plan to open a relay in Cerisy la Foret in September and I'm to be sent details and a form so that I can be put on the waiting list but it's profoundly depressing, so much so I went back to bed again. At least the cat was happy with this.

And today, confused with oversleeping, I drank half a glass of tap water without thinking. This probably qualifies as my baptism. I wonder if I'll ever go back to the UK.

Sunday 2 July 2006

Party - the unexpurgated version

I said I wasn't going to do this but in the end, since I was writing it up for the family anyway, here it is...

I think I've got all the major events in the right order but feel free to comment, add information or corrections. I'd hate to misrepresent anyone.



The first guests, Lyn and Sonner arrived early afternoon on the 22nd June. We had just finished erecting some shelves in the L shaped room and made sufficient repairs to the toilet to allow it to be left with water turned on for the duration. Compared to the previous three weeks it looked very convincing with a nice white knob on the pull and no buckets catching drips.

We tried to get pizza from the van in the village but his orders were all backed up and it would have been an hour's wait so we came home again, had some more wine and I made a pasta with pine kernels and chillies. A bit too hot for Lyn unfortunately so she finished with bread and cheese but Sonner ate his up. They set their tents up in the field where the coypus were in the winter. M. Briche had cut for hay but not baled so there was lots of cut grass underfoot. Weather was cold, a bit cloudy and damp but not actually raining.

Roy, Keif, Xtal arrived in a fully packed van and Keif's friends, Chris, Steve and Adrian followed in a car. Chris gave me a pretty miniature rose and they set up their tent in the camping field. Well, Chris, Steve and Adrian did. Keif and Xtal chose to sleep in the house and Roy had to clear a space in his van for his camping home. A few more drinks and time for bed.

Friday morning dawned clear but cold and threatening rain from time to time as clouds blew over and obliterated the sun. The next arrivals were Helen and Nick, more friends of Keif's. They were exhausted from the trip so quickly set up a tent and went for a snooze. Roy started sorting out some very impressive lights and sound with help from Paul and occasionally the others.

I was called from my shower after the sound of much revving in the courtyard, and still undressed and marshalling my french for another difficult conversation with a local was delighted to find that Mark had arrived on his magnificent beast. So hugs were exchanged and another tent found a location, this time under the pear tree. He regretted that later when pear drops kept falling on his head all night.

Chris and Martyn arrived and set their tent up a very long way from anyone else. At 1.30 I set off to Caen- Ouistreham to collect Tuppence and Lawrence from the ferry port. It was an easy drive and I arrived early, taking only 45 minutes so I bought myself some chips and watched a rather irritating school party that was milling around waiting to board the outgoing ferry. The ferry arrived and so did most of the foot passengers but I waited quite a long time before they finally came through the arrivals gate - luckily for them there was a second passenger bus to bring them from the boat to the terminal, otherwise they might have been on their way back to Blighty before they knew it.

We piled into the car and started home. Unfortunately the curse of Caen overwhelmed me again and instead of taking the Periphique Ouest I managed to get onto the link road for Est (none of this marked of course) and was over the river before I knew it. I had tremendous trouble doing a U turn and eventually gave up trying, heading back up the east side of the river towards the car ferry port and hoping to see signs for Bayeux along the way. Tupps read the map helpfully and Lawrence gave much benefit of his advice. So we found the D35 and started for home along it. On the map it's a fairly direct route but it's windy and slow with many villages along the way. By the time we got to Douvres la Deliverande Tupps was fairly bursting for the loo so we stopped as soon as we saw a bar.

There is insufficient parking in Douvres, a charming and exceedingly touristy town, with cobbled pedestrian walkways and a one way system to rival Salisbury so Lawrence and I waited, double parked in a variety of spots while Tuppence boldly tracked down a toilet. Luckily (in more than one respect) it didn't take her long and we were soon on our way again.

All went well until we reached Bayeux and this is where another technique for French navigation came in handy. After we had drilled down quite a long way into central Bayeux, again a medieval place where cars are neither welcome nor accommodated and still not found a sign for 'St. Lo' or even 'Toutes directions' I realised I did know the way home from the LeClerc supermarket. This is adequately signed all over town and within minutes I was back on familiar territory and bringing my weary guests the last few miles home. We were only an hour and half late and Lawrence assures me he enjoyed the sight seeing.

By the time we were back Candice, Steve and Judy had arrived and were enjoying their first drink in the sunshine. Introductions were made all round. Estelle and Ben arrived with the essential Drum Kit and were found tent spaces. Roy had completed quite a lot of his preparations and as the evening grew darker the lights began to come into their own. Veggie chillie and rice was served, along with meat from various barbeques for those who eat it all washed down with copious quantities of alcohol and conversation. Vanessa and Andrew roared up last on Friday and the guest list was nearly complete, just missing Bob and Alex.

Saturday morning dawned, fairly bright, a little breezy but with promise. The toilet, already suffering from one anonymous attack, was targetted again and there was much merriment while pulls were refixed for a second time and floors mopped. No one knew exactly who the culprit was but they were determined in their efforts to remove the lid and detach the lever from its socket. A notice was written, short and to the point.

Bob arrived, I'm not sure if it was before or after the toilet debacle. Once he had got his tent up he started teaching diabolo to all comers. Judy had become quite good by the end of the day and most others had dabbled enough to be called novices.

By the time breakfast was over it was clear that Roy's tiny old fridge, first commissioned when he left home for University, would not service a party of 25+ in the baking heat of the day. Lawrence generously offered to fund a new one and an expedition was mustered to scale Leclerc and But (source of hilarity for some members of the party) for more food and the necessary white good. Naturally we arrived at But just as they closed for obligatory lunch. A not particularly happy time followed as we 'did' the supermarket, decided on a fridge in the local electrical boutique and were informed that the only one available was the display model. Unacceptable. So a tiresome wait followed by a panicked rush back to But for afternoon opening. Transaction completed in record time (about 3 minutes) we hurried home to relieve Estelle who had been minding the ranch. She wasn't too distressed at missing her bike ride and admitted she'd quite enjoyed the rest. Despite reports that the fridge needed 12 hours to settle before use (from the man at the shop) the instructions suggested 2 hours would be adequate, even for fridges that had been inverted during unloading, so a countdown was started with some anticipation.

At this point we began to wonder about the evening's entertainment. Roy had brought a full PA and stage lighting set, Ben had his drums and there were a number of other instruments, guitars, saxophones and even an old synthesiser from the Selidor days but no musicians. The people claiming to have musical skills were strangely reluctant to exhibit them and the three most valiant, Xtal, Ben and Adrian had never played together before and had no playlist in common. Xtal and I decided to get the tabs for a few easy songs from the internet and see what they could make of them. We found 'creep' and some other Radiohead and Queen and the incipient band settled down to work things out.

Then it was time to turn the fridge on! What a relief when it worked. It was rapidly loaded up with the more acceptable perishables and Roy's fridge was left to house the meaty products. We are so grateful for the new fridge which has been essential in the hot weather. Thank you Lawrence.

Candice took over preparation of the evening meal for veggies and with the help of Estelle, Chris and myself turned out a huge pasta salad, a celeriac salad and piles of veggie kebabs for the barbeque which Andrew, helped by Steve, cooked for us. Chris also took over cooking some delicious tofu which kept the poor dear in the kitchen far too long but was worth it.

The evening meandered on but Paul was beginning to get quite twitchy about the lack of live music, worrying that people were bored. (They weren't of course!) when suddenly the door of the house opened and the band marched to the stage. With almost no preparation they launched into a very creditable performance of Creep. All the mamas were suitably charmed but so were the others. It was really good. The biggest problem was that it was keyed a bit too low for Xtal to sing as well as she can but that's a minor problem given all the other obstacles they'd overcome. So we had Creep a few more times and then they played about with other songs they half knew for a while before returning the music to recorded artists. It boded well for Sunday but the thunderclouds were gathering.

And when Sunday came, so did the rain. In huge stormy cloudfuls, bucketing down on campers and into the house under the front door. Anyone who could make it from their tent to the house was trapped unless they were willing to get soaked on the return trip. The lounge became an ark, full of displaced persons. So Paul and I made soup, a fire was lit and the party went on. In the midst of the downpour Alex arrived, our last guest expected and very welcome. After lunch, fortified, people decided to venture out anyway, in the hope that the rain would take the hint and go away. Some made a trip out to the Chateau at Balleroy, others took off to the beach. Some of us remained huddled by the fire. By mid afternoon the rain had cleared to the extent that outside living could be resumed. Dinner was rather less lavish than the previous two days with a mezze table to supplement the chips most had indulged in on their trips out.

Various contingency plans were made by people who had to leave early in the morning, Candice and Steve slept in the owl loft to allow their tent to dry before packing, Mark moved his tent into the near tractor shed, Tupps packed herself up and decided to sleep on the sofa.

The band resumed rehearsals; rather than scare themselves with a formal performance, they continued to perfect their skills under the working title of "No Pressure" and with various guest singers practised Oasis, Radiohead and Cure songs. Nick took over guitar and Xtal became lead singer. Eventually they pronounced themselves ready for the main event and played their entire repetoire to much applause. A lot of pictures were taken which I'm hoping to obtain copies of. It really added to the party to have live music.

A chilly evening so a lot of the older folk retired indoors, where Martyn provided accompaniment to a drunken singsong that lasted until 3 a.m. The younger contingent stayed outside and had a bonfire. And so to bed.

Well, it would have been for most of us but there was still quite a lot of hubbub from outside and people slamming in and out of doors for the loo. As Paul and I had to get up at six to get Tupps and Lawrence back to Ouistreham for the ferry, we eventually lost our tempers and insisted everyone went to bed. Which was a pity, but with all that space there were other places to have late night chats and no need to be quite so offensive when asked to keep the noise down. A bad end that I would rather have avoided.

Monday morning the weather had reverted to terrible and the drive to the ferry was horrendous with sheets of rain and water logged roads. We quickly dumped Tupps and Lawrence at the entrance to the terminal and headed out again for home, but the rain didn't really stop until we were nearly back in the forest. During the morning most of the other guests packed and left for home leaving Roy, Keif and Xtal still to pack up for the evening ferry and just Estelle and Ben, Bob, Alex and ourselves to celebrate Paul's birthday. Cards were opened and admired and plans made for a posh dinner which Estelle and I went off to buy. Roy started his take down rather slowly with Bob helping him and by 5 o'clock it was clear that packing would have to be speeded up. So it was and in a supreme effort everything was packed away in less than hour while Paul and Estelle took a bike ride to the village. The posh dinner was transmuted by exhaustion into a rather scaled down affair but we had gluten/tofu sate (with some sausages on the side for the meateaters), cheeses and veggie pate and Candice Cake, all washed down with an excellent Champagne, a rather nice Beaune and some Sauternes so we went to bed contented.

Tuesday Estelle and Ben had to pack and leave, and after cooking Alex a full breakfast Bob also packed his car and went on rejoicing. Paul and I left Alex to his own devices for a bit as we took a siesta but later that day we all trundled off to the beach, paddled and had chips in a bar before coming home to sit in the yard, drink Alex's Gingered Beer and watch for owls. Unfortunately just as they were about to arrive (we could hear them coming) I had an awful coughing fit and probably scared them off. Which was a pity.

The last day with a guest was Wednesday, a week after it all began. We watched Alex pack and gave him lots of good advice, as you do, before waving him goodbye and collapsing back into our bed. Partied out.