Wednesday 30 August 2006



This is a picture of the cat Paul took, it’s better than any I’ve done. The cat is a very important part of my life here, like the Hologram in Red Dwarf he provides the necessary stimulus to stop me going entirely mad, he is demanding, ungrateful and leaves small mounds of the body parts of voles everywhere he goes. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

The other part of my life here, with which I have a love / hate relationship of some proportions is my computer. The internet has been a very important part of my life for far too long, too long to give it up now but how I wish it wasn’t so time consuming.

This has the makings of a very introspective entry, especially as I’m trying to compose it online!

Other news, the middle room downstairs has had a lick of paint and a tidy up. I’ve moved the single bed into it (via the window in the roof and the front yard) and I’m ready for visitors. Like buses they’re all turning up at once, Paul and his Mum, Roy and Xtal.

Roll on tomorrow!


Friday 25 August 2006

French Beans

“Picked the first beans from the patch I sowed in June today. About 8 weeks from sowing to harvest by my calculations, not bad.”

That was Wednesday, today I picked another good handful and there are plenty more to come. Lots of pumpkins and squashes too and the leeks I planted with Maggie are making good growth with all the rain we’ve had.

sweet dumpling

Not having broadband is beginning to be a big problem. It’s been a while since I had a telephone bill and I’m worrying that it will be enormous, so much so that I’m reluctant to spend the time online uploading pictures and updating this blog. I don’t think I’m spending much more than 2 euros a day but it soon mounts up and that barely gives me time to blink for Cix and email, with no time to browse the web or spend hours online with the web communities as I used to. My problem wouldn’t be so great if I could control my need for constantly checking to see if I’ve received any mail. There is nothing more disappointing than to discover cents wasted on downloading spam when personal mail is expected. I’ve also been prey to false hopes for telephone calls with several wrong numbers and a cold caller today. If I sound suspicious when I answer the phone, don’t be offended, it’s just that I am!

Paul’s Mum is coming over for a visit at the end of next week. Suddenly it’s become important to make the place look homely and comfortable. Not much chance of that but with the help of my last house guest, Anne, who kindly stripped the wallpaper from the middle downstairs room for me I shall have a go to get the walls painted cleanly and put up some curtains to make a downstairs bedroom for her.

At last the weather has become more summery although it’s terribly cold in the mornings. The wind has dropped, the sun is out and the clouds have stopped threatening and become fluffy and friendly again. It may even be dry enough to cut the grass. Wonder why I thought having a lawnmower was such a good idea.

Saturday 19 August 2006


greengage damas dronet

I've been doing plums. It's a thankless task. First you pick them, then you wash them, then you check for maggots. To begin with I was removing the stones at the same time but the recipe I found in the Farmhouse Cooking book suggested you could remove them during cooking, so I started leaving them in. Trouble was it was about 1 a.m. when I finished preparation and I couldn't face staying up any longer so I thought I'd give them a quick boil up to stop them fermenting and do the rest in the morning. Of course they cooked in the residual heat over night and all the stones sank to the bottom.

Next day I put them back on the heat but that was a mistake, because I was busy making tea and attending to cats and when I went back the bottom was burned quite badly. So then I had a lot of very pulpy wet plum puree, filled with stones and black bits. I spent an hour sieving to get the stones and burnt bits out and then running it through my new food mill (11 euro, LeClerc). It’s not going to win prizes at the WI but this batch turned out a pleasantly flavoured and well set spread. I'll try again more carefully and probably with a smaller quantity next time. I had a full big pan, about 9 litres and I think that was probably half the trouble.

Interestingly, although I've said before that the plums are all the same they are not. I have tentatively identified them using Robert Hogg’s book the Fruit Manual (ISBN 1-904078-08-7) The ones near the woodshed are greengages, Reine Claude flavour, small, juicy, quite green even when fully ripe. I would confidently identify it as Reine Claude or Greengage but according to Hogg the flesh should be free from the stone and these do not separate easily unless the fruit is almost overripe. The plum near the tractor shed has egg shaped, yellow mature fruit, a drier texture and the stone is free. The closest match in The Fruit Manual is Damas Dronet. I think these plums would dry well, and I wish I had a drier but there’s always next year. The one near the coypu field has round fruits which are ripening yellow with a red speckle, almost like an apricot but it's not of course. This may be Drap D’or also known as Mirabelle Grosse. There is another tree, in the hedge behind the gite/studio building but the weather today discourages forays through wet grass.


Wednesday 16 August 2006

Robins and Jam

A friend drew this article in the Guardian to my attention, another in the continuing series of easy money makers on Brits in France. His comment was ‘dreadful people’. This is the same friend who referred me to a piece about the self obsessions of bloggers, so I’m really beginning to wonder what his true opinion of me is. I read it, my egocentricity wouldn’t allow otherwise, but I’m not entirely sure what his point is.

Yes, the people in the article aren’t the sort I’d be likely to make a close personal friend of but is there so very much more wrong with them than the same people hammering out their chosen lifestyle in Essex or Edinburgh? Why is it considered de rigueur upon emigrating to another country to become more native than the natives? In the UK I’ve eschewed any number of customs, rituals and expectations to create a lifestyle that suits me – it may not be the best way to do things even by my own benchmarks but form has shaped the person and the person shaped the form. It would barely meet any standard form of British cultural cliché and I wouldn’t expect to suit anyone but myself and very close family. If the expectation is I will offer the sincerest form of flattery to the French by becoming indistinguishable from them (to the British eye at any rate) then I feel that both the French and I will have lost something in the deal.

It is important to recognise that other cultures have other rules, law, taxes and to accommodate them gracefully, I do not think it’s necessary to become a clone of any part of the culture of a foreign country unless it is natural to do so. In fact, I think those that do risk becoming risible as a result of it.

The plums are getting ripe. We have four trees in total and the fruit is delicious. All the trees are some type of greengage, probably Reine Claude or something very similar. It would have been nice to have some prune plums so those will have to go on the list of fruit trees to buy. Unfortunately many of the fruits are infested with maggots but I shall get around this by making jam.

We have tried making plum wine before with little success so that’s probably not worth the effort this year when we hope to make about 100 gallons of cider. I have to say I think that’s a rather optimistic aim, but there is plenty of fruit and it’s beginning to ripen satisfactorily. Anyone who wants to come over for a fruit picking party is very welcome.

There has been a robin in the garden for about a month now. We’re very pleased, makes us feel like we’re real inhabitants and not just holiday homers and Paul is convinced he’s seen a fish in the sheepdip pond. I saw a trail of stirred mud but it could just as easily have been a frog or a crocodile because I couldn’t see what had caused it. When the jam is setting later today I’ll stake out a place by the edge of the water and see what I can see.

Sunday 13 August 2006


Laetiporus sulphureus: Chicken of the Woods

The weather has lost its summer shine, temperatures are cool, the skies grey. Really this should make working around the farm much more pleasant. There is less chance of overheating, no need to worry about sunburn or heatstroke, enough energy to complete tasks before exhaustion sets in but it is depressing nonetheless. We have started to worry about keeping warm through the winter and whether the buildings are wind and water tight.

The main house has a few slates missing which it should be possible to replace with a ladder and some strong nerves. If we can repair and replace parts of the gutters it should come through another winter with little further degradation. The other buildings are not so well cared for. The tractor shed urgently needs a lot of slates replacing, the facing building has reasonable roofing but no proper gutters, the gite/studio building is still with a gaping hole in the roof, evidence of some wicked weather that has ripped the flashing from the apex and scattered the tiles leaving it open to all downpours. At the very least we must get a tarpaulin over this before autumn.

The new lawnmower is a success, even though the battery starting is a dud. The 12V battery had been left discharged for so long it was past the point of recharging. We will get a new one and replace it at some point but luckily the engine is very easy to start so this is no longer a priority. The mower is tremendously powerful and has chomped its way through the long grass in the back garden, a large patch around the wood shed and pear tree and cut paths into fields and gardens that were becoming overgrown with brambles and nettles. It should be possible now for me to keep most of the areas around the farmhouse tidy and free from unpleasant weeds.


Monday 7 August 2006


Today I bought a lawn mower. This is man’s work as far as I’m concerned, engines are messy, lawn mowing hard work but anyway without a man to take over I had no option but to do without.

I did my research last week at M. Bricolage where there is a fair selection of machines from the smallest and cheapest available to frankly oversized and overpriced amateur tractors, not quite fitted with cigarette lighters and air conditioning but well on the way to it. We needed something tough, able to leap tall grasses in a single bound, unfrightened by nettles or the ubiquitous ronce and robust enough to truck across uneven ground and face down chunks of concrete and discarded metalwork hidden in the undergrowth. And for myself I need something reliable, easy to maintain and easy to start. Of course, we needed all this for tuppence ha’penny. Today, after discussing it with Paul, I went back to claim my prize.

The trouble with the cheapest models, as we’ve found in the UK, is they are unreliable, difficult to start and the wheels fall off which may be a function of the treatment we give them. The fear of buying more expensive sorts is that they won’t be any better. This time I’ve decided to give expense a chance as I fell in love with a sleek Italian beast, bright red with a 5CV Briggs and Stratton engine, metal body, a 51cm cutting width and, the real reason I bought it, electric ignition. There is a tiny sealed 12V battery and starter which I hope will make it possible for me to just mow grass instead of getting hot, sweaty, frustrated and eventually disappointed when my feeble efforts with a pull cord yield no results. It also has a single control to change the height of all the wheels at once and a biggish grass box if ever we achieve sufficient lawn to make collecting the clippings worthwhile. It cost just under 400 euros.


The little man designated to help me in the shop was charming. Aware of my pathetic command of the language he jollied me along with baby talk, cheerfully advising on the correct oil and how much, the proper fuel, the need to charge the battery before it would start. Unusually I hadn’t chosen the last item in stock, so there was a cleanly boxed and sealed piece of merchandise to take to the checkout. Unfortunately it was on the top shelf of an extremely high storage area. He got the ladder and tried the box, he went and got a fork lift trolley and then he went and got another man to help and finally they got the box down.. He tenderly opened it and checked everything was in order, found me the instruction booklet and entreated me to read it well. After negotiating the checkout, where everyone advised me to retain my proof of purchase even the people in the queue, we tried to fit it in the car. Alas, that beautiful box was too much volume and all the parts had to be decanted around the boot and passenger areas. I don’t think we left anything behind.

Instructions for the engine are in English as well as 10 other languages. This is comforting, despite my little chevalier’s exhortations over the correct places for oil and fuel I shouldn’t like to get this wrong. Instructions for assembling the grass collector, stone guard and controls was in French translated from the Italian. I think I’ve got it right, there was a tiny circlip destined to secure the stone guard in place which pinged away from me as I tried to fit it. I can retrofit it if I ever find it, and for the time being at least the stone guard shows no sign of falling off. The grass box is two pieces of plastic that need to be clipped together to form a cat basket, I’m sure Bagheera will get more use out of it than we do.

Now all that is left to do is charge the battery. There is a small wall wart supplied which should do the job in 24 hours, I’m not sure I can wait that long, it’s all so exciting.

Tuesday 1 August 2006


Is a bit of a misleading title for this entry. It seems after 9 weeks of being here that almost no part of the journey has been definitively completed. We have had a party, house guests, time to ourselves and yet in all that time the few small indicators of change within the home environment have stagnated or even degraded.

The longest day has been and gone and the weather, which has been gloriously dramatic with enormous peaks of heat and magnificent explosions of storms, has become mundane. Today is windy, showery, neither warm enough for nakedness nor cold enough to make the cosyness of a fire appealing.

The toilet still runs on constantly wasting water, no repairs have been made to the cob or woodwork, the garden is weedy with the tomatoes succumbing to blight and the beans bent and snapped by the winds. The last huge electrical storms destroyed my new computer and I’ve lost mail and irreplaceable photographs unless Paul can recover the hard drive, the actual machine will almost certainly never run again as we think the motherboard is shot. I’m making do with an aged machine, unreliable and out of date which I’m unable to update over the modem line. The pleasure at being freed from slavery to the technological has been destroyed, replaced by anxiety over the risks of similar accidents and frustration with the noisy reduced facilities.

In short, it’s all very depressing. We find ourselves counting the days until I can return to England because the separation is dragging and demotivating but that is a failure in itself, wishing our summer away. I hope the wind stops soon, perhaps I’ll feel happier then.