This is it!

Two years ago this week we first saw Quatre Chemins.  Tomorrow, our first paying guests arrive to rent the house!  What a two years it has been!

In preparation for the six and a half weeks of rentals, the last month has been about working through a 3 page list of snagging jobs – the little jobs left over while the main work was going on.  So, it’s been all hands turning to.  Visitors this month included Dadad and my brother, and they have worked their passage! Thanks to them we are on schedule and good to go!

Painting all the internal doors and door frames.
Animal husbandry
Grounds maintenance!

The last week has been spent moving out of the house into the gite – taking out all of our personal possessions.  Quart into pint pot!  My “dressing room” is now the back of the barn beyond the gite, and most of my clothing is in a stack of labelled boxes – hopefully spider proof!  Then it was the big clean.  Many army march-outs were good preparation.  QC is now immaculate – walls repainted where necessary and the floors rewaxed.  All the new crockery, glasses etc are in the cupboards – all matching! I have rented too many French houses for holidays where there hasn’t been a cup or glass that matched another one, and the furniture looked as though it had just come from a vide grenier. QC is not in that category!  I just hope they like it.

Trying out the new crockery – no prizes for guessing the colour scheme!

Friends who have their own property maintenance and gite handover business came last night to kindly give QC the once over and offer advice.  We passed! So – bring it on!  I have to admit to being a bit nervous – I think QC is fabulous and is as good as we can make it, but….. you just never know. Nowt so queer as folks! So, fingers crossed!

As Facebook reminded me today, with photos of 2 years ago, here are some from then – and now!

  

 

So, we are READY!!!!!

Part of our welcome pack – for humans
Welcome pack for dog guests. (Fabulous homemade healthy treats courtesy of Amanda Givans)

 

The Bailiffs are coming!

The bailiff is here! Not a phase I ever thought would be applied to me – law-abiding, play by the rules me. If anyone had ever suggested it, I would have put it on an improbability scale up there with “chocolate has no calories”. But here we are, at the end of what has been the worst 2 weeks in our new French life. Having had the bailiffs knocking on the door!  Add that to my specialised vocab.  Les huissiers arrivent!
When we decided to let QC, we registered as a small business, called auto-entrepreneurs. We did this with the government body RSI, using a bilingual French lady’s services to complete the appropriate paperwork. Duly registered, we have been filing our 3 monthly returns – so far declaring nil income and thus no social charges to pay. However, when we registered the French lady told us that we would get a lot of flyers, selling everything from business directory listings to additional insurances. She advised us to bin them, and if not sure, to run it by her. Which is what we duly did. However, a couple of months ago we received one from an unknown organisation, Klesia, requesting E5000. We ignored it. A month later we received the same again, only looking more official and demanding. This time Rod contacted RSI, who said “You are registered with us. Not with Klesia. Disregard it.” So, although slightly worried, we did so. (Bear in mind all of this is in French!) Then, 2 weeks ago, a bailiff turned up at the door.  With an official letter, to sign for the receipt of. Demanding E5000. Solar plexus blow type feeling and sick to the pit of the stomach.  Many phone calls and hours later, Rod had spoken to Klesia and RSI. He had provided the evidence of our registration and returns, and Klesia begrudgingly accepted that we did not owe them anything. It turns out that they collect social charges from employers based on the number of employees. Making an assumption of 1 employee, based on the average national wage, they were trying to claim a years worth of contributions. Based on what, we never found out. Seems like a scam to me! Anyway, we thought that was that. But a week later the bailiff turned up again. A case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. To be fair, he was very pleasant, not intimidating or anything, but it left us feeling sick. So, back to numerous phone-calls and paperwork flying back and forwards across the ether. We were told that our account at Klesia was marked zero and they confirmed that we owed nothing. A big sigh of relief. Until the next morning when we discovered that E620 had been taken from our bank account. A panicky call to the bank revealed that a notaire on behalf of the bailiffs had put a block on our account. The bank could do nothing to reverse this apparently legal move, but gave us the contact for the bailiffs. More fraught phonecalls, and it transpired that the bailiffs were now chasing us for their costs. For chasing us for money we didn’t owe in the first place! Klesia refused point blank to discuss them covering the costs, saying it was our responsibility. No skin off their nose – not their bank account that was blocked! Frantic to get the account unblocked, we arranged an emergency transfer of funds from UK to cover it. But in the 2 days it took to follow this up, their demand (charges accruing interest!!!) went from E620 to E840. Panic turned to cold sweat! They refused to send us a breakdown of the charges unless we signed a waiver to challenge them. And kept the block until we paid up. Blackmail pure and simple. So, tired from sleepless nights worrying like crazy, and feeling permanently sick in the pit of my stomach, we have just transferred the money. Facing the reality of a lack of other options. Anything to get the account unblocked – especially as it is now the weekend. Advice from the bank, and friends conversant with similar situations, has been to pay, then contest it.  As the bank manager said “that is how it is done in France”.   Non of that namby pamby innocent until proven guilty nonsense here!!! Apart from stress induced nausea, I feel very angry and totally impotent. The people we have dealt with have refused to even try to find anyone who could explain in English. Google Translate is great, but it does lose a lot of nuance. They just didn’t care – no comeback for them. And rarely the same person – or information- twice. We had heard about the infamous French bureaucracy. A huge, unyielding and unfathomable mammoth of a thing, and here we are, running smack into it like a block wall. Bruised and battered from it. The unfairness of it really smarts too. Paying for the bailiffs to chase us for money we don’t owe. And the worry still that we yet may not have heard the end of it!

Not looking good for the boiler.

And whilst all this was going on, the boiler quietly gave up and died.  Paying guests coming next month, and no hot water.  The plumber couldn’t cajole it back to life – it needed new burners. Shiny, new E800 burners!  No choice but to get them!  We also finally got the new solar shower up – or nearly.  A lovely present from the Hussains and Sabourins last Autumn, it was to be the finishing touch to the pool area.  The pool man came, created the concrete drainer, and started to install it.  But then discovered several critical pieces were missing.  (Why do men NEVER check off the contents or read the instructions first???)  So we hot footed it up to Bergerac to Cash Piscines.  To be fair, they were really helpful, and opened a new box off the shelf to give us the required pieces.  Except that box was missing some bits too.  So, another was opened, and we finally got the bits we needed.  (Was that what happened to our box I wonder?)  Eventually assembled, we had a ceremonious turning on of the tap.  And the water flowed beautifully from the shower head.  And flowed.  And flowed.  It wouldn’t turn off! The internal, integral valve was faulty!  So, still assembled, into the car it went, and back to Bergerac we drove. The replacement is now bolted to the concrete and showering fabulously.  For now!  We just need to tile around it now.

Why do these things seem to go in 3’s?  At the height of the Klesia/RSI saga, copying/printing and scanning documents to send here, there and everywhere, the printer decided to add to the stress levels and packed up.  So, all in all, an expensive and stressful fortnight!

OK, so, rant over.  It hasn’t all been doom and gloom.  Since the last post we have had lots of visitors, our first paying guests in the gite and some fabulous meals out.

Mark and Maria came out to join Dadad for his birthday – our present for him was the flights here. Mark bought him a set of golf clubs to leave here, so they had a couple of games of golf as well. On his actual birthday we went on a gabarre on the Garonne canal.  It was a lovely day – we took a birthday picnic and champagne and just chilled for 4 hours as the water gently rippled by.  Very tranquil, and to be recommended.


We also opened up the pool and managed to get in it – in April! At 21 it was bracing, but in the heat of the day, quite refreshing.

In May, Sam arrived, and it was lovely to have him here for 2 weeks.  Ryan joined him for a long weekend, and, as the weather was great, they were able to chill out and catch up.

Fishing or an excuse for drinking beer?
Putting up the basketball hoop.
Life is good.
Tasting some local wine at Monbazillac

The shutters for the gite bedroom arrived, so Sam helped to paint them, but in spite of jobs, managed to play golf and join us for some fab meals out.  The best one was a Sunday lunch paella at a local village.  The weather was perfect, eating out under a jolly marquee, with nearly 400 people. And a brilliant paella.

After a day of jobs, drinking champagne with Bambino
Someone misses his dogs!

Lots of jobs later, and Dadad returned, with our first paying guests.  Sam overlapped with him for 3 days – another excuse for golf!  Taking Sam back to the airport, we stopped en route for a quick lunch.  And made a real find.  A very unprepossessing roadside restaurant, which has an oasis of a terrace behind, run by a real character with full handlebar moustache.  We were’t offered any menus, just got what we got! Soup, meat platter, moules, beef, cheese, pudding.  Unlimited wine, which just kept magically replenishing. Ditto bread. By this stage we were getting apprehensive about how much this was going to be as the food and wine kept coming.  It’s not often that the bill is a huge surprise – in the nicest possible way! At E14.50 per head it has to win the prize for best value around. And it’s location is going to be a best kept secret!

We welcomed our gite guests with champagne, and officially started our new business venture.  Because we knew them, we tried to walk the fine line of giving them privacy and space but not appearing unsociable. I hope that we got it right! They were delighted with the accommodation, saying that it way exceeded their expectations and previous experiences, which was a relief! Check out our reviews on TripAdvisor!

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g2665602-d11986099-Quatre_Chemins_a_rural_smallholding_in_Lot_et_Garonne-Lauzun_Lot_et_Garonne_Nouvelle.html

Carol also came out for a few days over half term, which was an excuse for me to lay off jobs for a few days. We had a nice day trip to Pont L’Eveque sightseeing, and the weather held for some pool use.

Not more champagne in the pool???
Pont L’Eveque on the Lot.
Lovely lunch of local Salade Perigourdine

Animal antics

The sheep have taken a lot of care and attention recently.  As the weather got hotter, shearing them became imperative.  A local farmer came and got 2 of them done, but then his shears broke. After 3 false attempts to get another shearer, we were left with the only option of doing it ourselves.  Some friends were kind enough to lend us the clippers, and with Rod (getting cramp in his leg) and Sam (with a badly wrenched back) taking it in turns to hold (wrestle??) with the sheep, I made a start.  It took us over an hour and  half – thank goodness we only had to do the one.  She did end up looking like something from the Specksavers advert, but at least she was cooler (if not “cool”).

Bad hair day!

Rod also had a small mishap with the lambs, and discovered that they can swim! He left the gate open from mowing the paddock, and got up in the morning to discover the lambs in the garden.  With the unhelpful intervention of the dogs, the lambs were herded into the pool! He fished them out, but not before they ripped the summer cover. Swimming sheep!!

The other Dartmoor has been losing weight, and, after shearing we realised how thin she was. Continuing to go downhill, we got the vet out. It transpires that she has a congenital deformity of her teeth, which are now so angled as to not meet, so she can’t grind down the grass.  So, whilst she is still eating, she can’t extract any nutrition from it. We are keeping her going by feeding soaked hard horse feed, but her time is sadly limited as it’s not a long term solution.  When the pigs are dispatched I think it will be kinder to have her dispatched too.  The 2 lambs had to be weaned immediately, so they are now down with the pigs – we are keeping an eye on poorly sheep’s lamb to see if he has inherited bad teeth too. At the moment he seems to be thriving.  So, Pate and Terrine are now booked in for dispatch.  The butcher came and did a reccee, and the evil hour is this Wednesday.  It should be a lot less stressful for the pigs than carting them to the abattoir, but we shall see.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. We are borrowing a sausage machine and are going to give it a go.

On a nicer note……..

Everyone likes a cute cat photo – Ginger lying in the strawberry box!!!

The weather has been unseasonably hot, which has been great for all our visitors.  But, as the weather breaks, we have had some torrential rain and spectacular storms. and some flash flooding.

Dingly Dell flooded – much to the consternation of the pigs.

Finally – and ironically considering the unforeseen expenditure of the last fortnight, I have been doing a little spending to make the pool area look inviting.  We now have a new gazebo for shaded seating (last year’s sun faded one now looking a little shabby), a swing seat, and new sunbed cushions.  Looking good!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I44JatSQE-0

We also have a new table tennis table – which came with 179 component parts!! Took us 2 days to construct it!

So, very nearly ready for visitors!

Spring is sprung

Serignac Peboudou church
Surrounded by plum orchards

April 1st

The first swallows have arrived, blossom is covering the orchards and we have a lamb. Add to that midday temperatures in the 20’s and things are looking up!

Writing the blog for the first time in 2 months is actually good for morale. On a day by day basis it feels like we’re not making much progress – especially as new crises have supplanted original jobs on the to-do list, which remains as long as ever. However, looking back over the last 9 weeks, it is surprising to realise how much we have done. Certainly, we have never been not busy – the old work ethic still prevails!
In early February we took advantage of an offer of a flat-bed tipper truck for the day to get to grips with the mounds of rubble which were to be transformed into a gravel terrace by the gite. We could collect nearly 2 tons of calcaire at a time, so with Rod doing the 11/2hr round trips to the quarry, I was left on site with wheelbarrow, spade and rake, levelling it as it arrived. Smart move to drive the truck!!! By mid-afternoon we (I mainly!) had barrowed and levelled nearly 8 tons of calcaire, and we had started to collect and spread the gravel. By the time we stopped for the day I could hardly walk across the courtyard. I was completely banjaxed. But a level terrace had appeared from the sloping ground.

Dadad came out for a week during February and helped to tile the steps leading onto the terrace and we practised with a render mix on the step sides. So it is slowly coming together.

One major job left is to render the huge wall at the end of the terrace – which at the moment is unattractive breeze blocks. We have decided to hire in some help for a day next week as there is a lot of high work – which I just can’t do. The wobbly scaffolding gives me the abdabs (what, by the way, is that?) To finish off, we are building a wall along the end, so that we can contain the dogs when the house is let. Again, this is something beyond our expertise, as it is on a slope, and needs a gate in it. We will labour and mix cement and a brickie is coming to lay the blocks – so hopefully it won’t be wobbly or staggered! Two sets of shutters for the bedroom arrive in May and then the gite will be “good to go”.
Inside the gite has taken up a lot of the time over the last few weeks and I am sick, sick , SICK of painting ceilings. It has taken 4 coats of paint to cover them all, and we have colour washed the beams as well, so that the old and new beams all blend in. It has made it so light and airy. This week we have put in the skirting boards and I have tiled the splashbacks behind the units. Quite by chance, last week I found exactly the tiles I was looking for – cobalt blue and yellow – while we were in a brico in Villeneuve looking for something else. So we had to do a quick calculation in the shop for numbers, and grabbed them whilst they still had them. Just need to hang pictures now!

My best attempt at tiling so far!

Although we haven’t listed the gite yet online, we already have a booking for it in May/June – friends of the family – so that is our deadline. Hence the focus on getting it finished. We are waiting on Orange to install a phoneline so that we can have wifi in the gite as well.
Talking about bookings, we have had a great response to the advertising of the house. We have already got 5 1/2 weeks booked out of the 8 weeks of July and August. Surprisingly it isn’t yet booked for when the TDF is in Lauzun and Miramont, so we are hopeful for that week too. Terrified that we might not get any bookings, it is very reassuring. QC IS going to earn it’s keep!
Animal anctics
The last 2 months have also been dominated by the animals. I don’t know whether it is because Spring is in the air, but they have all been getting a bit full of themselves! Which means – naughty! Sick of the cats’ increasing tendency to hop up onto the units and help themselves (and it is not unknown for Monty to get his paws up to snafferoo a little snack), I devised a cunning plan. Involving electric fencing tape. I barricaded the units! It caused a lot of amusement with visitors – but it worked.

At least I didn’t electrify it. Not yet anyway!
Talking of snafferrooing snacks, Monty really disgraced himself and came close to shuffling of the mortal coil. I am sure that he talks “cat” as this was another joint venture. His partner in crime this time was the “butter wouldn’t melt” Pixie!

One glorious March evening we decided to eat outside, and treated ourselves to some very expensive steak. Rod was standing at the grill, steaks by his right hand. He moved his hand to turn the potaotes, and, quick as a flash, Pixie did a flying leap from under the table. She grabbed the steak virtually mid air – and was gone! I heard Rod’s roar, and dashed out from the kitchen to see Monty mug the cat as she fled around the corner – and snatch the steak from her. In the time it took me to cover 3m to get to him, he gave a huge swallow and all the evidence disappeared. He never even tasted it!

Who? Me?

We have just one lamb at the moment – one of the Dartmoors caught us by surprise with an early lamb. We hadn’t started keeping them in at night, so she dropped it, unsupervised, in the field early one morning. Fortunately, all was well, and she had a healthy, sturdy boy (freezer fare!) Caught on the hop, we had to spend the rest of the day finishing off some fencing so that we could separate the pigs and sheep, as they had been running together. Sadly, a week later, the 2nd sheep had a stillborn lamb, but we have one Dartmoor left to lamb. Used to twins and triplets at The Ings, we feel a bit short changed on the lamb front this year!

The cats have been in the wars as well. Liquorice came in with 2 big puncture marks on his leg – a bite had gone through the fleshy bit of his upper leg. Feral cat? Snake? Out came the purple spray and the blue antibiotic spray. Worked a treat! A week later we came home to a rather sad Olive, who couldn’t put a paw to the ground. This was a bit beyond purple spray, and, worried that she had broken her leg, we took her to the vet. He discovered a puncture wound going right through her paw, which had become infected. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and 5 days in a cage in the kitchen. Both suffering bites at the same time indicate that they were cat-inflicted, from playing rough. Poor Olive comes off worst as Liquorice, although her size, is 3 times her weight! No wonder she bit him!  Tired of the corn drier and barn roof, they have also developed a new game……..


The pigs are good fun, and good company! Growing well, Terrine is now up to weight, and we have to make a decision about him. Pate might get a few more months as he is smaller, but it would be best to get them “done” together. The chap who butchered the sheep for us can come and dispatch them at home, which seems less stressful for them, if not for me! So, I’m trying to work up to making a decision and getting it organised! When we tickle his tummy and he rolls onto his side Terrine does make it difficult!

IMG_0746

Dogs and cats colour coded in their baskets!

Socially, we are in the season of the Repas du chasse – the hunt lunches! Although there does always seem to be something going on. We went to a Burns night in January – Rod does just love an opportunity to dress up!

Then, while Dadad was here in February, we went to an organised repas in Miramont, with the world famous accordion player …….., to give Dadad a bit of authentic French social life. Actually, it was a hoot! The 5 course meal was good, wine plentiful, and the accordion player got them all up and dancing as the apero’s were being served. When we left at 0100hrs, it was still going strong! They certainly like to party!
We have already been to the Lauzun and Serignac Peboudou chasse repas’ – both excellent value – as long as you like to fill your boots with venison and boar! Right up Rod’s street – hardly a vegetable in sight! A great opportunity to get together with friends and have a convivial long lazy Sunday afternoon. This weekend it’s the St Colomb one, so another Sunday wiped out! Over Easter it is the Paella Geante in Lauzun – I’m not missing that one, it was fabulous last year.

Update 20th April

Since starting this blog at the beginning of April, Orange have surpassed themselves and we have had no phone or internet for over 3 weeks, so, apart from anything else, I couldn’t upload the blog or photos.  Having requested a 2nd line for the gite, they ticked the wrong box (they, not us!) and we were instantly cut off.  Amazing how it takes seconds to disconnect a line, then 2 weeks for an engineer to come to reconnect! Joy, we were finally reconnected, but had a new phone number.  The joy was short lived however, as they then cut us off again within 24 hrs! Talk about the right hand not knowing what the left was doing.  Everytime we managed to get through to talk to some-one, it was a different person, with a different solution, and there were so many versions of requests, cancelled requests, new requests…… All of this had to be done by mobile, because of the intermittent signal round the house.  We ended up putting a chair permanently in the orchard as that was the only place we seemed to get a reasonable signal. Thank goodness the weather was fair! Overall we spent over 8hrs on the phone, and have had 7 technician visits.  We are still waiting for the job to be completed, but at least have comms in both the house and gite! What a palaver!

So, a quick catch up.  We have now rendered the gite wall, built and rendered the small wall and put up pictures.  Today’s job is to tidy up, make beds and, except for the shutters, the gite is done.  Hurrah!  Visitors tomorrow!

Before
During
After. Tahdah!

We also have had a second lamb.  This one was a bit more challenging as it had no survival instinct and no innate ability to suckle.  It failed to bond with it’s mum initially, so we ended up milking mum and doing 2 hrs feeds using a 2.5ml syringe until it finally cottoned on.  Having thought that we were going to lose it, it is fast becoming a sturdy little chap – just as well, as our lamb count for this year is low!!

Dadad has arrived out for his birthday, and Mark and Maria come tomorrow.  We are going on a trip on a gabarre (shallow draught wine barge) on the Lot et Garonne canal on Sunday – which is actually the day of dad’s birthday.  Taking our own picnic and wine.  The forecast is sunny and 24, so it’s looking good! Pictures of the canal trip and gite to follow.

Spooky early morning April mist by the lake

IMG_0799

Spring moon rising!

Lauzun basking in the spring sun-shine

Going live!

1 Feb already – whatever happened to December and January????

Septic tanks and slurry tanks!

Up to Christmas, we were focused on tanks – getting the slurry tank emptied and getting the new sewage system up and running.  The farmer who cut our hay came to empty the slurry tank and spread it on our prairie and surrounding fields.  It took 8 tanker loads – he estimated we had 52,000 litre capacity. Now it’s empty, if we can start collecting rainwater…….. With some help from the gutter guru, we have diverted the rainwater from about 1/3 of the grange roof onto the top of the tank, so we’ll see how much we can get – we haven’t had enough rain yet (none to speak of for months) to test it out! It will be a real bonus for watering during the summer. Especially since – due to the soakaway failing fiasco – we now have a couple of submersible pumps.

Major groundworks behind the house dispensed with the old, concrete, defunct sewage system. A huge hole was excavated, and 100m+ of trench dug across the “garden” and down to the ditch.  Thank goodness it was dry – it looked like the Somme as it was. The septic tank then arrived by lorry and was up and running in 24 hours!

 

The filling in took a bit longer, but we were majorly impressed with the installation.  It is a gravity fed system with a separate filtration unit, using cocoa matting! The water leaving is (supposedly) clean enough to drink, but you won’t catch me trying that one!! We also replaced the original toilet with it’s dodgy flush, so all is now good on the sewage front! What a relief to relieve oneself without angst!  Well done Marcus!

Two Christmases

Christmas was poignant, but good.  In a different location and with a change from the traditional meal, we made our new reality.  It was just the 4 of us – Dadad, Eds, R and I and we had a nice, quiet day – making the most of being together.  It was lovely to have Christmas with Eds – I can’t believe it’s been 6 years!  Our 2nd Christmas without Sam too – and that’s not a record to beat Sam!

Then Mark, Maria, David and Jess arrived, for Christmas 2, and the weather also bucked up.  We even managed to eat out on the terrace for a couple of lunchtimes – cue paella!

It was also warm enough for a post lunch snooze in the sun (for some!)

Boys being boys, there were the inevitable competitive sports too.  The current favourite is bashing golf balls into the lake! Men!

Mark bought us a lovely French sign for Quatre Chemins for Christmas. There was a lot of fun and discussion before it was put up – it did look very French and rural hanging lopsidedly with binder twine, but I prefer this look!

For New Year’s Eve we still had Eds, Dave and Jess with us, so, again, a lovely family evening – 2017 is going to be an exciting year for all of us.

Eds stayed with us until 12th Jan, so,until Jules came on the 8th, we had a window of opportunity to put him to work.

Playing with big boys toys

As he has a head for heights, it was also a chance to tidy up the corn drier.  They took off all the old wire netting and then bashed out all the old planks by the roof-line.

              

We had just become used to seeing it, but what a difference it made when done – it really opened up the front of the barn.  Eds said the views from the top were fabulous, but I’ll just have to take his word for that!

Jules arrived just as the weather turned really cold.  The first night was -8 and we woke up to no water or central heating in either the house or gite.  Pipes in the washroom and barn had frozen! Fortunately we had no bursts, but the temperamental boiler refused to switch back on, and it was 4 days before the plumber could get to us – we weren’t the only ones caught out! The living room and kitchen were lovely and warm with the log burners going 24/7, but the bedrooms were a bit parky (arctic according to Jules!).  We heated up kettles of water on the wood burners – all part of rural life! Good job Father Christmas brought everyone hot water bottles!  Apparently it’s been the coldest winter for 5 years.

On the positive side, we had some lovely sunrises and clear blue skies with frosty mornings.  The lakes froze over, and it really did look like a winter wonderland.  I much prefer days like that to grey dank drizzle.

                             

            

On Jan 12th we took them down to Marmande as Eds and Jules set off on their big adventure – to S America via S Africa and Abu Dhabi.  It had been lovely having so much time with them since August, and we will miss them. Travel safely!

Setting off around the world with a one-way ticket!

We also have made a start on the covered terrace by the gite.  Having people in the gite over Christmas made us realise that it can be an all year space.  The electric radiators work well, and even in December, it was warm and cosy.  Even Maria, with her Mediterranean blood, declared it warm enough – either that or she was being very brave! Mind you, having thought that staying in the “summerhouse” meant being in a greenhouse type shed, it did exceed her expectations. LUXURY!

So, with an eye to being able to let the gite as well, finishing that is our next focus. We will save the internal decorating until we have bad weather, and crack on outside.  One of the stone fairies kindly gave us an afternoon with his digger to level the rubble and spread the mound of calcaire to allow access. With the help of a brickie, (to ensure they were level rather than wobbly!) and us being labourers, the steps to the French windows were constructed. R and I offloaded and shifted 100 brieze blocks and I mixed 20 loads of cement in my little chanel-substitute cement mixer. February’s purchase will be 13 tonnes of small calcaire – which gives us a month to barrow and thwack it, then in March we can get 13 tonnes of gravel (my monthly “treat”used to be from Boden, not the quarry!!!)

As many of our Christmas and birthday presents were plants, we have been keen to get them in.  We have created a shrubbery along the side of the terrace, hopefully creating an insect friendly screen of blue and white flowers.  As the pots of herbs on the courtyard struggled with the heat and desiccation last year, we have also created a raised herb bed next to it – now I just need some more herbs!

Not much to see at the moment until they start to grow!

We have also added to the orchard with an almond tree, and have planted an ornamental flowering cherry by the gate at the entrance to give some spring colour. A clematis is primed to climb the gite terrace.  All very satisfying.

The biggest thrill however, has been planting 2 palm tree presents by the pool.  We have palm trees – how tropical is that!  Sometimes our life here doesn’t seem real!

                                            

Going live!

The thing that has taken most of my time during January however, has been getting a website up and running and then listing QC on holiday rental sites.  It has been frustratingly slow – mainly because of our lethargic and occasionally intermittent internet.  It especially struggled with all of the photos. One good thing to come out of it is that I have learnt (I hope) how to right sideways-on photos. That has always been an annoying issue with the blog, but Google finally found me the answer.  All I needed was the right plugin!!!

The rental sites were also quite disingenuous, not being very clear about their charging policies. It was only by posting, and then finding that they were quoting way more than we had charged, that their commissions became clear.  What was pitched to be competitive suddenly looked expensive – so back to the drawing board.  Still, it’s all a learning curve.  It’s not as though I have anything better to be doing!!!!

And finally, a big thanks to Eds, who set up the Quatre Chemins Facebook page.  Quatre Chemins is out there!

So, here are the links if you are interested.  The website is a work in progress, so any suggestions for additions gratefully received.

1. Welcome to Quatre Chemins

https://www.facebook.com/quatrechemins47/

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g2665602-d11986099-Quatre_Chemins_a_rural_smallholding_in_Lot_et_Garonne-Lauzun_Lot_et_Garonne_Nouvelle.html

https://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/lauzun/8502963

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16668562?checkin=08%2F05%2F2017&checkout=08%2F12%2F2017&guests=5&adults=2&children=3&infants=0&s=v0eu7yOK

https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p6956720

Monty moments!

Monty very nearly didn’t survive Christmas.  With the help of his little ginger friend, they mounted a cunning raid! While I was distracted, cooking in the kitchen, the 2 little thieves snook into bedroom 2.  Ginger jumped up, swung on the handle and opened the door. Monty followed him in, up onto the bed, into the bag of wrapped stocking fillers, and smelt out the ones containing chocolate!  I heard a suspicious scuffling and went to investigate.  Ginger was between my legs, out and away like a streak of lightening. But Monty just stood there, chocolate foil and wrapping paper still stuck between his teeth, trying to look innocent!

Who?? Me??
Pigs snuggling up for warmth in -8
On frosty mornings, they like the south facing part of the paddock
Animal friends – is it a flock, a herd or a flerd?
Looking very woolly in their warm sheepskin coats
Chickens getting cheeky coming to the door for food now that they are allowed out again
Dippy just looking cute
Ginger helping build the gite steps
Perfect winter mornings

 

When France seems a long long way away….

Sad days, happy days.

When we were weighing up the pro’s and cons of a permanent move to France, the major negative was the “what if something happens to Barna or Dadad”.  As they were fit, active, just turned 80 year olds, I pushed the thought to the distant future, and we took the plunge. This September, the distant future crashed in on us, and that “something” happened.  Barna went to her regular post lung operation check-up, and was told that the lung cancer had returned.  And had spread to her liver. I flew back for a couple of days for moral support, and arranged to fly back a week later for her appointment with the oncologist. At this stage we were all being positive – Barna is a fighter and had come through 3 different cancer operations in the last 25 years.  OK, chemo would be tough, but she had beaten this before.  So the appointment with the oncologist was a devastating body blow.  The diagnosis was terminal, chemo would only buy some extra time.  Barna faced it full on and asked for the truth.  How long?  Several months without, 7-8 or more with – but obviously not a precise science!  We made an appointment for the following week to further discuss the detail of the chemo, and went back to Thirsk to assimilate the news.  What can you say? Or do?  Lots of tears, hugs and then stiff British upper lips.  One day at a time.

Our visitors through September and October were spaced at intervals of about a week, so I was able to be in France for a few days with our friends, then fly back for a week at a time in Thirsk.  Rod was incredibly supportive, booking flights and ferrying me to and from the airport, holding the fort here with the animals whilst I spent time in the UK.  It was lovely to see our friends and share Quatre Chemins with them, but my heart was mostly elsewhere, and, when not in UK, I just felt a long long way away from my mum.  Mark managed to take several long weekends from work and stagged me so that for a lot of the time one or the other of us was at home helping to care for her and help support Dadad.  In the end, the chemo never happened, Barna was too ill by then to undergo it. At the end of October I went back on a one-way ticket, not sure how long we would have left with her.  Sadly, she died on the 6th November.  I can’t and won’t go into details, but, as anyone who has been in a similar heartbreaking situation will know, cancer is a cruel and remorseless killer.  The lingering and agonizing decline.  The physical and emotional exhaustion of 24 hour care for sufferer and carers alike.  Facing the inevitable, at the end it was a relief when she finally found peace and no longer suffered. And huge guilt for feeling that way. The Macmillan nurse had said to me “this is the hardest thing you will ever have to do”. It was.

Friends rallied round in France to look after the animals, and Rod drove back for the funeral and to collect me.  Barna had left specific instructions for her funeral, and I think we did her proud.  It was hard to do, but I put together a slide show of photos of her to show after the service – pictures that gave a feel of the woman we had lost.  All of them showed her smiling or laughing, with family, with friends and in far flung places. Celebrating what she had been to us all. And how she would want to be remembered – not defined by cancer. And that is her legacy – family.  She would have loved the lunch we all had together before the funeral – she was the archetypal matriarch and loved nothing more than getting us all together and fussing round preparing food.  She was absent, but will always be with us. Barna will be deeply missed, but her values go forward.  As one of her grandsons said, she has passed through me and on to them a moral compass.  Not a bad epitaph.   Rest in peace Barna.

Dadad has been incredibly strong and stoic in the face of losing his wife and constant companion of 59 years – they had know each other since childhood. What is hard for Mark and I, and the boys, must be unimaginably difficult for him. I still feel a very long way away. But, he has already booked flights to come out to QC for Christmas which is lovely.  Eds will be here too – his first Christmas with us for 6 years! David and Jess have decided to fly out on the 27th, and Mark, and hopefully Maria, are hoping to join us as well.  It will be great to have so many of us together (will I ever stop thinking “Barna would like that?”)  In the meantime, I’m going back to see Dadad for a few days next week, Mark and his dogs went up this weekend, and Dave and Jess are planning a visit after that.  Then it’s Christmas.

Back to QC

Returning to Quatre Chemins felt a bit surreal.  Whilst in the UK we seemed to have existed in isolation in a bubble, where everything was intensely emotional, exhausting and totally focused on Barna.  France seemed like a dream that I had had. Something that had happened to somebody else. So it took a few days Back at QC to readjust and regain my equilibrium – before throwing myself back into jobs.

Whilst I had been away, Rod had got on with various jobs, so progress had still been made.  During September, Eds had helped to paint another 2 walls of the house.  As he has been skydiving and bunjy jumping, he did the ladder and scaffolding work, painting up into the eaves. In October, Rod then finished the final wall, so the house is now completely done.  What a difference!

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Before

 

 

 

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During

 

 

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20160929_103426  After

 

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Hopefully QC now looks more like a cared for, family home than a utilitarian farm building.

It certainly stands out – Views from the lake:

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Happy days.

In spite of everything else going on, we had some lovely times with the rest of our visitors.  The weather stayed generally warm and sunny, so we managed lots of meals outside and even some lunchtime swimming.

Lena and Karl

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Hussain and Sabourin invasion

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Those pool champagne flutes just had to be tried out!

 

 

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A Sabourin “trou” requiring an input of the locally acclaimed fois gras!

 

 

20160927_225655  And then a little nap.  Ginger doesn’t care whom he sleeps on!

 

 

 

 

 

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Lena and Karl were particularly taken with the pigs.  As we had found another breeder of Kune-Kunes, this time several hours closer, we decided to replace Tiny Tim.  Lena and Karl offered to buy us another while we were over there – so Rod went over to Cahors and brought back 2 more piglets – Jambon and Karlena!

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New pigs getting on well with the rest of the menagerie

 

 

As the woman had her own boar, it was also a reccee to see if he would be a suitable suitor for our Rosie next year.  So Rod arranged a first date for them for next Spring!  Talking of boyfriends, the 2 Dartmoors sheep and one of the lambs have also been acourting.  They have spent a month in Serignac Peboudou with a ram belonging to a local farmer.  Back with us now, we are hoping for some Easter lambs.

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Hopefully pregnant!

 

 

The other 2 lambs have been taken to the abattoir and we are awaiting their return.  A butcher is bringing them back and then showing us how to prepare the carcasse and joint it etc.  We have scrubbed down the kitchen table and stocked up on food bags!

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It was also lovely catching up with Bob and Pam, and Carol.  A long, mild Autumn has meant that we have had spectacular colours in the surrounding countryside and, again, lots of midday meals outside.  Exploring with guests, we have discovered lots more of Bergerac and Bordeaux.

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Carol and I spent the day in Bordeaux, trying out the Park n Ride and going in by tram.  Not a great fan of shopping, even I enjoyed wandering around as old Bordeaux is really beautiful.  Rod and I are going to try to go in for the Christmas market to get into the festive mood.  Unfortunately I have lost all of my photos of the Autumn colours, Bordeaux and our last visitors due to ongoing issues with my phone!!

By using the summer house for guests, we have managed to avoid too many problems with our failed septic tank system.  Marcus, the pool man, is going to install a new system for us – there is no way around it I’m afraid.  We just have to bite the bullet.  We have had the inspection by SPANC, and yesterday received the paperwork with the confirmation to go ahead.  Work commences on 12th December, and Marcus assures us all will be up and runnning (or flushing) for our Christmas influx.  Fingers crossed. A novel, but necessary Christmas present for Rod and I.

And finally – more animal pics!

20161130_092843  Dippy really does think Liquorice is a black labrador puppy.

 

 

 

20161122_125850 And continues to tolerate the others too!

20161120_214526  Ginger captivated by the David Attenborough programme on jungles.

 

 

 

The pigs have grown curly winter coats (- Rosie lying down for a tummy tickle!)

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Pixie continues to go AWOL – this time 10 days.  Then, just as we have given up hope, she turns up, thinner but otherwise non the worse for wear, and acts as though nothing is amiss.

 

Frosty December mornings.

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The curious incident of the pig in the night

August has seemed like a holiday month. We downed tools and prepared for visitors. We left the house and animals in the capable hands of the housesitter and her family and went back to UK for David and Jess’ wedding.  The wedding was lovely, very personalised and such a happy, happy day.  Jess was radiant and the reception venue picture perfect.

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My 4 boys scrubbed up well – I was very proud of them.

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What’s more, my dress finally fitted me and I didn’t fall off my shoes!

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Then they all descended on Quatre Chemins.  Dave and Jess, having been over for Christmas, has seen some of the internal house changes, but had last seen the summerhouse as cowbyres, complete with dessicated cow pats.  Eds and Sam had only seen the house in it’s original condition, prior to purchase.  So, Rod and I were really excited to see their reactions and see it all through their eyes.  And that’s when all the hard work and expenditure became worth it. They were blown away by the changes and loved it.  Lots of excited hand-rubbing all round. Their enthusiasm really lifted us and made us quite proud of what we had achieved – a lot of it by our own toil.  Maybe, just maybe, it really will be up to the mark for letting and bring in some much needed income as a return on the investment.  Swapping teaching and management for our own business of French property rental was the dream – the reality is getting closer!  I hadn’t posted any photos of the “honeymoon suite” so as not to spoil the surprise for the family, but now, to give a flavour of our recent endeavors………..

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There is still a lot decorating to do – all of the ceilings in the main part, but that will get done over the autumn and winter.  The windows look out over the rubble that will eventually be the terrace, but then, I don’t suppose the honeymooners noticed that!! I actually am looking forward to moving in to it myself! Our little summerhouse.

It was so lovely having all 3 boys together again.  I do so miss them, and it has been a whole year since we last saw Sam and Eds.  The house has been filled with noise, bodies, banter, food (temporarily) and lots of laughter.  But we were certainly out of touch with living with the 3 boys!  Within 30 mins of arriving, there was a net across the pool and a game of pool volley ball ongoing.  Were they always this noisy and splashy?  By the end of the second day they had also put up the darts board, made a set of cricket stumps, put up a badminton net, bought a football, a proper volley ball and a basketball net, played table tennis, table snooker, hit golf balls into the lake and rigged up a sound system to the pool for pool partying.  Were they always this hyperactive???

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Whilst all this frenetic, competitive activity was going on, Jess and Jules, grateful that they weren’t the ones having to return the balls/field/bowl/race/encourage/admire/time/measure, made the most of the sunbeds and the quieter moments in the pool.  How come us 3 girls can swim a length without causing a ripple, and the boys can half empty the pool?????

And all of this required huge inputs of energy in the form of food.  Constant food!  The spare fridge and a second freezer were brought in to action to help with the catering quantities! Bless.  I have always enjoyed feeding the boys with their healthy appetites – it just took a bit of getting used to again!

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Discovering that the paella pan fits on the gas plancha!

 

 

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Among the many things that I’d had delivered to the UK to bring back with us was a comprehensive set of unbreakable acrylic glasses for the poolside.  (The thought of broken glass on the pebble pool terrace or, worse still, on the pool liner was just a nightmare).  I was just as keen as our guests to christen them!  It was hard work, but someone had to do it!

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Trying out the cocktail glasses…….

 

 

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And then the champagne glasses…..

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We also managed to fit in a trip to Eymet night market while they were all here.  We went early and grabbed a table by the mill pond, overlooking the weir, and they all went off on forays for food.  The weather had just settled down and it was the start of a long hot spell, so it was perfect for sitting out and picnicking. Moules, pizza, poulet roti, duck sausages …. Yum.

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Dave and Jess’s 3 days sped by and Eds and Jules volunteered to take them to Bordeaux airport for their early plane for their honeymoon proper, and then spend the day in Bordeaux.  Our forays into Bordeaux had been straight to Ikea and Leroy Merlin, but we had driven up along the old quais and had recommended the attractive old riverside quarters as worth a recee.  Our cosmopolitan urbanites loved it.  The cafe culture and bijou shops. Jules declared it her favourite European city so it must have had one heck of an impact.  Ever the travel agent, she came back with a city map and has kindly marked a route round the old part with quaint squares, chic boutiques and pavement cafes to recommend. (Unfortunately Rod now thinks that we don’t now need to recce it in person!!!)  One more to add to the guest list of “Things to do”.

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Eds birthday fell on the day of the Gasconnade in Lauzun and we had already got our tickets for that. But then we found out that the Duras Wine tasting was also on the same day.  It just had to be done!  So, pressies by the pool. The morning going around the huge annual Vide Grenier in Lauzun.  (Sam, true to form managed to buy plastic rubbish!) The afternoon wine tasting in the chateau in Duras (you buy a Duras wine glass for E2 and that is your entrance ticket to the wine tasting!  There are 20 vineyards represented!). A quick nap for some, cool off in the pool, then party time! The E20 ticket includes aperitif, 5 course meal, coffee, wine and live music.  The tables and chairs are all set up in the streets and you take your own cutlery, crockery – and drinks if you wish. (I did wish, the complementary wine went down OK with Sam, but I prefer something matured in glass rather than plastique!)  It was a lovely atmosphere and a lot of fun.

Duras wine tasting

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Gasconnade

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Boys singing Champs Elysees!

 

 

Sam added to the activity list by trying fishing.  He bought a E9 plastic rod (!) and went to Lauzun tabac to get a 24hr licence.  As he’s never fished before, he got some bait tips from Rob, who took pity on him and also lent him a proper rod.  It seemed to work.  On his first ever attempt, Sam caught 4 fish – now he thinks it’s easy!

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The 10 days with Sam also flew by, and it was sad saying goodbye, knowing it will be at least a year before we see him again.  Bambino, I miss you.

We then had some lovely days with just Jules and Eds, getting to know Jules better.  It seemed much quieter with just one boy – or at least it did to us.  To Jules, now the only available playmate, the pressure was on to play badminton, boules, throw the ball for pool dives…………..That girls patience and good humour in the face of Jenkins hyperactivity deserves a medal!  They also borrowed my car and went to Barcelona for 2 days for a quick city fix – QC is very rural!!!

As ever, there have been downs as well as ups, and we have had a couple of unpleasant incidents this month too.

The first was the complete failure of the ancient soakaway for the house.  We knew that it would need remedial attention before next summer, but had hoped to put off any expenditure until “later”.  But what could cope with 2, could not cope with 5.  A pity that our brand new sparkly fosse by the barn was only catering for 2 people! At least it only affected family, who have had to do worse than shower under the tap and , where possible, pee outside. So, the Poolman is on standby to come as soon as he gets back from holiday to discuss options and find an economical solution (says she hopefully) and the poo lorry has paid an emergency visit.  The rest of the solution you don’t want to know!

The second was a painful lesson in pool maintenance.  With a family of four, then our 5, all suncreaming up in temperatures in the mid to high 30’s, the pool, almost overnight turned slightly cloudy and the liner slippery.  We have the drainage in place for a pool shower, but not the funds for the shower itself, so that, again, was going to be a project for next year. The boys had all dived in, and had warned that it seemed slippy.  So, as I stepped in, I was thinking to myself “take extra care because they say its slippy” when whoosh, my feet went from under me as though on ice.  I came down on the edge of the pool across my back. Fortunately across the side, not the spine, and fortunately not my head.  But, bad enough. Boy did it hurt.  On a Sunday, followed by a Bank Holiday, so all the doctors closed. But by the Tuesday I was beyond waiting for an appointment to the doctors surgery.  In tears of agony at every tiny movement, and crying at the effort of getting into the car, Rod took me to hospital in Villeneuve.  A 30 minute journey I would be keen to not repeat! Fortunately nothing was broken, but a lot of muscle trauma. 4 heavy duty painkillers and anti-inflammatories and repos, repos, repos for at least a week.  Easier said than done when not wanting to waste any of the precious time with the boys.  Even now I can still only walk for a short distance and can’t bend or twist.  Whilst it seems a wonderful excuse not to do any housework or chores, it is quite frustrating! So, a solar shower for getting rid of sunscreen before swimming is now high on the to do (or the to spend) list.  Currently application is banned before swimming.  Just as the temperatures are now topping 40!

Internet research for a remedy indicated that we needed to “shock and floc” the pool so Rod went off in search of the necessary chemicals. Duly measured out and added, we then left the pool filtering all night and it was back to it’s sparkly aquamarine self again.  Wish my back was sorted as quickly!

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Come on in, the water is lovely again!  And a new use for the lilo – a pool bar!

 

 

 

The third involved an unexpected and unwanted visitor to the pool.  There I was, sitting on the top step (prior to the slipping), in the water cooling off, waiting for Rod to fetch me a Pimms.  Look carefully to spot who joined me!

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Safely captured and released into the lake.

Rural life eh?

 

 

 

The final one was the curious incident of the pig in the night.

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Rod went down to feed the pigs on Sunday morning, and came back to report that Tiny Tim was missing. This was odd because, since we had electrified the enclosure, we had put paid to his escapes.  The battery had only been recharged the previous day.  Having checked the perimeter for breaches of security, and declared Colditz secure, Rod and the dogs went searching.  40 mins later I could see Rod coming up from the lake, shoulders down and something – definitely not a wriggly pig – in his hands.  He had found TT.  Or, to be more precise, the charred, bbqued remains of him in a fire pit down by the lake. Some-one had taken him, slaughtered him and cooked him.  (Monty found the severed pigs head in the lake the following day.) Also around the fire were empty beer and vodka bottles.  Some party.  So, we called the Gendarmerie.  They came out within 30 mins and spent an hour and a half investigating the area.  At least they took it seriously.  This is a rural area and everyone has animals.  The gendarmes were very certain that it would not have been locals. I know it seems hypocrical of me to be so outraged, as TT always was destined for the freezer, but I pride myself on managing the slaughter to be as humane and stress free as possible.  This, I’m guessing, was not!  Also, it is theft – TT had an actual monetary value – E150.  And what made me quite jumpy was the thought of boozed up louts with very large knives, hanging out around our land.  So, the rural idyll has been a little tarnished.

As a consequence, and on the advice of the gendarmes, we moved the 3 remaining pigs.  Until the fruit harvest is over (and itinerant Eastern European workers have left the area!!!!!) They are now by the drive, with access into the barn, where the sheep used to shelter.  (For now the pig enclosure is open and the sheep go into the pigsty to get out of the sun!  If anyone comes near them, they will leg it! ) So Eds has created a new wallow and a pig bed for them.  Bless!

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Pool nights:

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Honeymoon Suite

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As I write this I feel like the chap in the Money Supermarket ad.  I have spent the last year wearing nothing but wellies and work boots.  With the wedding less than 2 weeks away it dawned on me that I was intending to wear smart high heels for the day.  Firstly I had to find the boxes with heels in. Then dust them off. And try to squeeze my feet into the shoes. I have been teetering and tottering around the house in red suede heels with shorts and sun-top doing housework trying to get used to them and stay vertical!  Work in progress! No photos available!!!!!

Following David and Jess’ wedding, all three boys (and wife and girlfriend) are coming back to Quatre Chemins.  David and Jess will have 3 days with us  before they go on their official honeymoon, so the summer house has been dubbed the honeymoon suite and we have decorated the bedroom and bathroom and moved furniture in.  It is amazing how it has transformed the space.  When finished we won’t have a problem living there whilst the QC is let – it will be like playing at house!

The work schedule has intensified to be prepared for over 2 months of guests, with lots of finishing off of projects.  We finally tackled the pergola’s – and despite the rubbish instructions, managed to construct them.  However, lifting them to bolt to the wall was an impossibility for just 2 people.

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Friends to the rescue for a pergola raising.

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The two canopies also took some fitting – given a storm warning they’re not going to be a quick job to take down.  We then had to move yet more stone blocks to stand the legs on to raise the height above the windows and shutters.  Rod resorted to using his saw to cut them down to size where necessary.  Not quite a stone mason, but it worked.

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With temperatures close to 40oC the shade is not just welcome but vital.  So the terrace seemed a good spot for my hammock!

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Night time temperatures have also been high, so a quick swim before bed has been a lovely way to cool down. (I STILL can’t believe that we have a pool!!)

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Before the concrete was set or the paint dry, Ginger was exploring our new bbq.

 

 

 

 

20160724_182551 The new pool furniture.

The Stone Fairy’s daughter and boyfriend have come out to France for the summer to help him with the rebuild of their derelict barn.  Danny had done a bricklaying course to help with the blockwork, and he and Rachel honed their skills by practicing on our covered terrace by the summerhouse, building a retaining wall.  Rod and I had no idea how to get a level wall with the changing ground levels across the front.  They have done a pretty good job of it too.  Apprenticeship ticked!

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The levelling of rubble and infilling is a job for the autumn/winter – so the honeymoon suite does not have a great outlook at the moment!

We have had a bit of a disaster with our slurry (as one does!).  The ground is now rock hard and all the new trees and potager need daily watering.  And we have about 120000L of brown water in the slurry tank. However, after a couple of waterings, leaves started to fall off the trees and the plants began to look decidedly unhappy.  The liquid must just be too potent!  So we have talked to the farmer who cut the hay and he is going to pump it out in the autumn and spread it on his fields.  It will be interesting to see if the tank then refills with rainwater – we may need to divert some guttering.  In the meantime, we are using the submersible pump to recycle bath water!

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The sunflowers are finally out and are fabulous.  Everywhere you go there are fields of yellow brightening up the countryside.  We have them to both sides of us, so see them whichever way we look. I still have a secret smile to myself every time I look at them.

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Breakfast with sunflowers

 

 

The bleuets are also out around the lake, with their ethereal blue flowers like a haze in the air.  The flowers only last for the morning – by afternoon they are gone.  Maybe that is why they are the French flower of Remembrance.

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In spite of all the work, we have had time for jollies.  July and August are packed with activities and festivities in all of the  local communes.  On some nights it is difficult to choose which to go to – one could eat out every night and never cook!

So, have picnic hamper, will travel!

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20160714_204330Castillones 14 July Repas, Dance and Fireworks

20160710_193023 Lauzun World Cup Final big screen BBQ and disco

20160709_193229 Lauzun BBQ and Dance by the lake and chateau.

We have also been to a “vernissage” – an opening night for an art and ceramics exhibition in Castillones, showcasing local artistes. Wine, nibbles and art.  Feeling very cultured! We never went to anything that in UK!

I have picked up some leaflets for events whilst we are back in UK for the wedding that Michelle, (the house/animal sitter) and her family, might be interested in. There is just so much going on. Spoilt for choice!

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Whilst the boys are here we will go to Soumansec for Sunday lunch, sitting out on the hillside under the plane trees with panoramic views.

Eymet night market is another must, setting up camp next to the watermill and river and making forays into the square for food.  Moules are very popular, but Rod still drools at the thought of his duck burger and my seafood risotto wasn’t too shabby either!

The Gasconnade in Lauzun is actually on Ed’s birthday this year so what further excuse do we need to party.  Last year it was held indoors because of the rain, and it was still one hell of a bash.  Outside in the street it will be  so much more festive and atmospheric.  If it’s the same band as last year then they’ll be literally dancing in the streets before the aperos have even been handed out!

All these foody events are in addition to all of the little daytime markets – there is one every day in the area, including the lovely Sunday one at Issigeac.  One job for the winter is to add a page of links and information on all of the activities in the area – in case anyone reading this is contemplating a holiday next year on a smallholding in the Lot et Garonne!  There will certainly be lots to keep all ages occupied if one wearies of chilling by the pool.

Animal antics.

Surprisingly, Monty has been very well behaved this month and has no misdemeanors to report.

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We’re good dogs, we are!

 

 

We have a Little Owl nesting in the barn.  Sadly, Rod found an owl chick dead on the barn floor one morning.  We are hoping that it was because there were 2 of them, apparently in the fight for survival, one will push a second one out. But it is very quiet in there now, so we are not hopeful.  Sad.

We also have bats in the barn, as we found this little chap (or chapess)

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Pixie continues to disappear for days on end, then return hungry, thinner and matted.  I would love to know where she goes.

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Tiny Tim is proving to be a naughty little kunekune.  We have had to buy an energiser so that we can put a strand of electric fencing tape around the pig pen.  He manages to squeeze his now fat little belly through the stockproof fencing and go wanderabout.  I am worried about him ending up in the lake! Or encountering a wild boar!!

The sheep are now totally bucket trained and all but one will eat out of your hand.  The Dartmoors are starting to grow back their fleeces and are now very cutely covered in short curls.

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20160725_090913  Surrounded by sunflowers

 

 

 

Kunekunes come!

Animal antics.

Last week, we did over 3000km to collect pigs and sheep.  We are now a proper smallholding!

We collected the 4 kunekunes from Normandy in 2 large dog crates in the back of the car.  We went up the night before, then picked them up in the morning and headed for home.  After 6 hours in the car, boy did it smell! But the piglets were brilliant – as soon as the car started, they settled down to sleep and slept all the way home.  At one point I insisted that we stop to give them some water and I had to poke them to check that they were still alive.

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All current animals came down to the sty when we got back to see what was going on – there were some feline eyes out on stalks! We had filled the sty with straw and when we put them in, they snuggled into the straw and went back to sleep!

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We have one girl – Rosie, who we hope to breed from.  The 3 boys, in size order, are Pate, Terrine and Tiny Tim (he’s too small to even look like food at the moment – more cocktail sausage than chorizo!)

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Tiny Tim was obviously the runt of the litter, but he was the only other boy that they had.  We have to feed him separately to make sure that he gets some food, and, as he fits into the feeding trug, he gets elevated out of the fracas!

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They learnt very quickly to come when called – like Labradors they are totally motivated by their stomachs!

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When food is around they squeal excitedly, but at other times, when we just go down to be with them they snuffle around making calm little friendly grunty noises.  Rosie loves to have her tummy tickled and now rolls over for more!

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Pate is putting on weight in front of our eyes and is the largest (but Rosie rules the roost).  He is always first to the gate but is very friendly and gentle.

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Terrine is still shy, but I love his markings and he is the hairiest of the 4.

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TT is the lagger behind, but is the naughty one.  If he grabs a piece of melon or tomato – his favorites – he legs it with his trophy to go and eat it in peace!

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The Stone Fairy/Guttering Guru has a 1/3 share in the 3 boys and happened to meet an ex pig farmer and talk pigs.  The next thing we know, there is a knock at the door and a stranger introduces himself “I’ve come see about castrating your pigs”.  A charming chap – it is amazing how you get to meet people! Having had commercial pigs, he used to do all of his piglets himself.  He wanted to check our boys out because if they are too big/old, they need a local anaesthetic, which he couldn’t do, so it would then have to be a vet job.  Having declared them little and good to go, and checked for no undescended testicles, he pulled a new, sharp razor out of his pocket and said “lets do it”.  Fortunately, in readiness for the animals coming, I had unearthed the box with medications etc in and had to hand the blue antibiotic spray and the dreaded purple spray. (Dreaded by David, Eds and Sam!  Having originally acquired the iodine spray – with aloe vera! – for the horses, it was used on all the other animals too, and then, in extremis, for scrapes and grazes on the boys as well).

So, to the pigs.  If male and/or squeamish, you might want to skip to the next paragraph, as the Biologist in me describes the subsequent scene.  Rod held the piglet, head and shoulders between his legs, tail and nether regions pointed upwards and exposed. A bit of wiggling and grunting (piglets, not Rod) but no squealing. One small incision on the scrotum, a gentle squeeze and out popped the testes.  That did elicit a quick squeal – and a definite wince from Rod. A quick cut of vas deferens and sperm duct and one testicle done.  Surprisingly no blood. Repeated on the other side, a quick spray of blue, and all done!  It was all impressively quick and clean, but I don’t think I’ll be trying it myself.  The testes were discarded – unlike Sam, I was not going to saute them in butter as a starter.  They say you can eat everything from a pig bar the squeal, but I draw the line at that!

All of the sheep are girls.  We have two pure-bred and registered Dartmoors, who we have named after fictional Dartmoor heroines – Demelza and Beatrice.  They have very sweet faces, with big Labrador eyes – I think it is because they look as though they have eyebrows.  As they have been sheared, they are otherwise looking a bit like an advert for specsavers, but their curls will soon grow.  The other 3 are charolais/texel lambs for bringing on.  We shall probably also keep Monique for breeding, but Cutlets and Hotpot are destined elsewhere!

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Again, food rules, and already they come running at the shake of our bucket – an essential habit to instill as we don’t have any other way of rounding them up!

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Pixie has had another absence – this time I really did think she’d gone for good as she disappeared for 6 days.  I’d love to know where she goes, but I don’t think anyone else is feeding her.  She returns too thin for that.

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Animals apart, it has also been quite a momentous fortnight build wise.  I am the Queen of Calcaire!  We finished barrowing it round to the pool terrace, thumped it down and then put the gravel on top.  I started with one barrow, just to see what it would look like…………. 90 mins later we had it finished! We then levelled and raked the “spoil” so that it is flat (ish) around the pool – you can now see the field beyond whilst swimming – I just can’t wait for those sunflowers! Every day now we are on sunflower alert – watching and waiting!!!!!!

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The other job of major significance was the completion of the fosse septique for the summer house.

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We had the official inspection yesterday and we are now good to go (literally “go”).   Bravo pool man!!!!  He has been a real treasure.  The pool is wonderful, and finished to a high standard, with everything done properly.  No corners cut.  (Two couples, seeing ours progress, are so impressed that they are having him do pools for them too).  He then stepped into the breach when we were abandoned by the previous builder and has done the fosse – which makes the summerhouse habitable. (Yay!) And then dug a trench and run a water pipe to the covered terrace and paddock.  And put in a field drain for our new guttering.  And last, but not least, rather taken with the piglets, volunteered to dig a pig wallow!!!!

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We have been so involved in other projects that we failed to notice that the potager had become over-run. It now resembles a jungle. But, midst the weeds we have been surprised to find that we are ready to harvest!

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So at least we have had some produce.  The lettuces are like trees, the courgettes are marrows already, and the tomatoes – planted a la UK, close together, obviously need MUCH more space next year – it’s like virgin tropical forest in there – I need a machete to get in!

The main problem is how many ways to disguise the courgettes to fool Rod into eating them!

As I write, I am taking shelter.  It is HOT! The pool has come into it’s own – every day we have to stop and pinch ourselves to believe that it is real.  With temperatures in the high 30’s the pool, at 26 today, it a lovely respite.  It still feels like total luxury, and we marvel at it every day.

The last big job is to construct the pergola’s and fix them to the house so that we can have some welcome shade.  Every time we look at the boxes, full of so many pieces, we find another job to do instead.  It is now the time to get on with it!

And then decorate in the summerhouse ready for our summer visitors.

Less than a month now until David and Jess’ wedding.  Then I’ll have all three of my boys in the same place at the same time.  I can’t wait to see them all.  And my eldest is getting married – how exciting is that. Afterwards all of them are coming out to France, even D and J for 3 days before going on honeymoon.  And Jules. And my brother (and maybe his girlfriend???).  Bring it on!!!

 

20160708_081248  Watching and waiting for sunflowers!

And finally…. because the last photo comes up on Facebook link…..

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Making hay whilst the sun shines. Or not!

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Flaming June!

 

 

 

So much for leaving UK for warmer climes!  It has now officially been the wettest May since records began!  June started with torrential rain, causing flooding across Europe.  It felt like QC would slide down the hillside into the lake we were so waterlogged. An ark would have been more useful! Apart from a brief interval of 3 dry days, when the farmers were out in force frantically getting the hay cut, turned and baled, we have had thunderstorms every day with the accompanying deluges.( And powercuts!) Many of the newly sown fields had all the seeds washed away.  Our grass was way down the list of priorities for the farmer and didn’t get cut, so much of it was flattened onto the ground.  However, as I type, we have had 24hrs of dry, with a good outlook, and ours is now being cut.  After all the wet, it is certainly very lush!  June 20th and we finally get sun!

The sheer volume of rain during the downpours has caused problems, which have changed job priorities.  Sometimes we seem to lurch from crisis to crisis.  With the weather coming from the East, the rain was driving onto the side of the barn where the conversion is.  Unfortunately it was driving under the roof tiles and pouring onto the top of the ceiling below. And then through, and onto the new kitchen and furniture stored there.  The short term solution was tarpaulins.  We spent the next two days up on the top of the conversion tacking up two 10m x 5m waterproof sheets, at an angle so that any rain coming through would run into the cow byres.  So far, so good!

To the rear of the house, there is no guttering, and the rain just falls onto the ground.  It was on the to-do list! Unfortunately, the ground is well and truly sodden.  One torrential downpour left so much surface water that the soakaway filled up and the septic tank overflowed.  As we had houseguests, this was crisis time again.  No flushing the loo or letting bathwater out! Fortunately for us, our guests were one of the Stone Fairies and his wife. (They had had crises of their own so we had offered temporary refuge – their story to tell, not mine).  “Fortunate” because he is a very hands on, practical sort of chap.  No sooner had the rain stopped than he was up a ladder, putting up bargeboards and guttering.  As this involved 2 people up 2 ladders it was obviously a job that R and I could not have done alone.  I attempt most things, but ladders I just can’t do. So, what a star!  Stone fairy AND gutter guru! We looked on and learnt! Hopefully we can repay the good deed with some fencing manpower – and woman power!

20160621_202004           Nice shiny new guttering.

I started research for my new book in June.  An erotic, bodice-ripping, bonkbuster of a novel. Entitled “A beginner’s guide to the quarries of Aquitaine”.  We have visited more than 10 quarries and depots searching for the best (and cheapest) gravel for the terraces for the pool and house.  As delivery costs alone varied between E64 and E140 per 13 tonnes, it was worth the hassle. Also, have you any idea just how many sorts and grades of gravel there are? I can now grade and categorise gravels and hard-core, all in French– talk about niche vocabulary!  Now I need to work out how to get it into general conversation!  Anyway, we have found the gravel that we want to use – it is much prettier than the utilitarian stuff we have been using in front of the barn and for infill and concrete.  Instead of greys, it is shades of cream and sand. Nicely rounded, and dredged from the Dordogne river. For those of you not familiar with the finer points of roules, spot the difference!

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This meant that we could get on and finally complete the terrace to the South of the house.  We worked between downpours, shifting the huge blocks into the trench which frequently became a moat.

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After wallowing and sliding around in all of that mud, I should have flawless skin!  We then levelled the calcaire, hammered it down, and barrowed across the gravel to lay on top of the calcaire.  When it dries out, the calcaire should set like concrete and hold the gravel. What a sense of achievement.  We have created a terrace!  And we are very very proud of ourselves. It is a little “rustique”, as some of the blocks have subsided somewhat (sunk) but I will brook NO CRITICISM!!!

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As it gets full sun for most of the day, the original plan was to build a small covered terrace for shade – this was another job that the builder failed to do! So, in the short term, we have bought a (well, two) metal pergola with canvas canopy, which fixes to the wall of the house. And we intend to put it up ourselves.  But then we realised that, once up, it would be impossible to paint the wall above it.  So we moved that job to the top of the list.  What hard work!  The wall is covered with very rough render, so the paint has to be stippled into every indent.  It took nearly 2 weeks to complete.  Just one wall! But, in our defence, we were dodging showers!  Which was actually a relief, because after an hour or so, my shoulders gave up the ability to actually hold a paintbrush any higher than waist high!

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20160607_145233  What a difference in colour! Lifts the whole aspect.

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The other shock was the cost.  The masonry paint cost E90 a pot.  And the one wall took 4 pots to do in all.   3 more walls to go. When we come back in August, we shall hit B&Q on the Wednesday (with R’s pensioner discount) and stock up on the nearest colour match we can get.  What’s a shade or 2 between walls?  Guess what you’ll be doing in August, boys!

The other MAJOR step forward was the completion of the pool. YIPPEEEEEE!  The surroundings have still to be landscaped, but that will happen when the fosse septique goes in for the barn.  All of the spoil from that hole will go around the pool too.  But the pool is now full and the pump functioning.  And it looks fab.  Even in the dismal grey and rain.  We have had an inaugural dip, but the weather has been so miserable that it hasn’t been tempting us further.  So it still doesn’t seem real that we actually have a pool.

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The one exception was the night that Rod remembered that we had had a pool light installed.  I was in bed – with hot water bottle! – when he rushed in and said to come and look.  Worried that the pool had sprung a leak, or had a dead animal floating in, I rushed out.  To see this.

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Magic or what?

Who could resist?

 

When we finally made the big decision to come to France, I gave Rod this card,

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which seemed to sum up our route forward.  (Hence the title of one of the early posts) So, finally, we took a literal plunge, in our very own pool, aka the couple on the card!!! (Hence no photos). Live life!

 

I have also been scouring the small ads and vide-maisons (house contents sales as people return to UK).  We have recently acquired: sheets and pillowcases from a closing B&B, 4 wooden sunloungers (in need of renovation, but will be fabulous), 4 plastic poolside loungers, 2 wardrobes, and all sorts of other bits and bobs.

20160607_142713 Before and after. Looking good I think.

On the worst of the days, we got on with decorating bedroom 3, which is now nearly complete.  (It would have been complete if Rod could find where he’d put the brackets for the curtain poles!)  The bedside tables were one of my vide maison buys, and I have painted them to match the bed frame.  The cushion covers and bedspread we got from a local market in the French toile de jouy.  It’s not my normal style, but I thought it would be good to have a different sort of feel to the room.

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Only our bedroom to do now, but that can wait until the autumn, as 1. It’s only us in it, and 2. The builders “fix” on the leaking plumbing in the wall hasn’t sorted the problem and the plaster is still wet and encouraging mould. Yuk!  After the shock of the cost of paint, the living room decorating can also wait until we can buy paint in UK – hopefully the weather will be such that we will be living outside anyway.

I have also, finally, found some kunekune pigs in France.  They have been very difficult to track down, even via the British KuneKune Pig Society – of which I am now a member!  A rare breed in UK, they are virtually non-existent in France.  But we had them in Thirsk and loved having them around; they are friendly, easy to manage and don’t get to the intimidating size of the more common breeds, so I was on a mission to find some. There is a litter in Normandy, which means a 6 hour trip up there, but I can’t find any closer, so ………….  As they are all siblings, we will need to castrate the boys – to avoid any incest situations.  Phoning around the vets to get costings, well, that tested my French!  I did find a DIY video on Youtube, but I think I’ll leave it to the professional – I don’t know which box in the barn holds my dissecting kit!!  (And all that squealing!)  So that we are prepared for potential pigs, this then gave us another job – to fence a pig area.  At the bottom of the paddock, down by dingly dell, there is an old concrete pump house.  Used previously to pump water from the lake up to the cows ( the right to do so died with the previous farmer years ago), it was invisible under a mound of brambles and nettles, dank, dark and full of rusting pump machinery, including a 1000l galvanised pressured tank.  We had fun clearing all of that out!!!! But, down in the shade, it will make a marvellous pig sty.  So, back to fencing again before the ground dries up and sets like concrete.  Steroid injection for the shoulder anyone???

We are also close to getting some sheep – a couple of bog standard ones to bring on for the freezer, and 2 Dartmoor girls for breeding from.  These are from the people we got the wooden farm gates from, so that is another big trip in the pipeline up to the Correze.  But first we need to concrete the floor in the rear of the barn and section off a sheep area.  Jobs, jobs, jobs.

Party time!

Although the weather leaves a lot to be desired, it seems that is that time of year.  The markets and street parties have begun.  On Saturday it was the first of the Tables Gourmands in Lauzun.  They set out trestle tables and chairs in the main street and the 2 restaurants provide food, the butcher sets up a bbq, the tabac runs a bar and vans do ice-creams, crepes etc. You take your basket of cutlery and crockery (wine too if not a fan of Cotes du Duras) and take your pick!  As it was the first one, there was live music too. Although cool, it was dry, and the turnout was great – lots of people there that we knew – a fun way to spend an evening. These are now twice monthly. (The big one, which we went to last year, is the Gasconnade, in August.  It just happens to be on Ed’s birthday this year, and Ed and Jules will be here………….. ) The following day was Serignac Peboudou fete.  There was a vide grenier in the morning (yes, I picked up some more bits for the house – a wardrobe, table, two lamps) followed by drinks for the commune.  The rum punch nearly wrote off the rest of the day for me! But then, I was drinking Rod’s too. After that, in the communal hall, a 3 course meal.  Certainly beats cooking Sunday lunch!  The picnic basket is earning it’s keep.  As the weather forecast is looking good, we have also kindly been invited out 3 times this coming week. Who’d have thought it? Us? Party people?  Need to rummage in boxes in the barn to find my recipe books for return hospitality.  Now that we have a terrace to entertain on!!!!!!

Monty moments

Pixie has been a little tinker.  She disappeared!  We are used to her missing the occasional supper, but, by day 4 we had assumed the worst.  We had been all around the area calling for her, and asking people, looking in ditches etc, to no avail.  Then, on day 5, in she wandered, a little thinner and a bit more jumpy, but otherwise none the worse for wear.  We wondered whether a strange dog – lots walk around the lake –  had chased her and she had become disorientated.  At least she came back – it did occur to us that she had had enough of the kittens and packed her spotted handkerchief and gone!

20160606_092458 Monty in the cat basket!!!!  Duh!!

20160525_133948 Why are you sharing?

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Oh, I see why!

 

 

20160522_075637  Just chillin’ in the shade.

 

20160526_105111 Brotherly love!

The kittens are developing into being really agile hunters, just what a smallholding needs.  So far their prey has been quite small, but, as it gets warmer, more and more “toys” come out into the grass.  They are becoming quite adept at taking cicada’s in flight.  One deposited this on the doorstep.

20160607_194601Glad it didn’t bring it in!

Someone else fetched this up from the lake!20150916_175322

June 21st!  And finally, the sun has come out.  The temperature has shot up to mid 30’s.  The pool is the perfect remedy for fencing-induced heatstroke !!!!

20160621_170159 Enticing or what?????

 

 

 

 

 

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