Stone fairies

Every cloud has a silver lining …..

We finally got the builder to return to sort some of the outstanding issues on work already undertaken, by the simple expedient of with-holding money.  Obviously, this was not good for the working relationship between us!  So, not all  issues are sorted, and it looks like R and I will have to finish the making good of some things, which is galling.  Especially considering how much we have paid him. However, I’ve decided pragmatism is better than stressing!

It also became very clear that he had no intention of returning to complete the agreed, but outstanding, projects. As the main one was installing the septic tank for the barn conversion, it remains uninhabitable.  (All drainage currently exits from an open pipe onto the ground outside – as he left it!)  By this stage we were happy to leave it at that.  Plan B.  The silver lining appeared in the shape of our pool man. Not only is he on site, and with diggers etc, but he also installs septic tanks.  And can fit us in. Result!

We also girded our loins and set to on the gates.  Posts set in concrete and gates hung.  What’s more they are level and they meet in the middle!! We were very pleased with ourselves – talk about up-skilling!  So, our perimeter is now complete.

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Old joke – if April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

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(Pilgrims!! – OK, I was told it by an American)

The wild flowers are fabulous at the moment, and a walk around the lake is really beautiful.  As the lake is full to overflowing, the walk, taking 1 hour last summer, now takes 1.5 hours, as all of the inlets have filled up.  In some places the water now covers the path, so there are no shortcuts across the lake bed.

The combination of some lovely warm days, and still lots of rain has also seen the grass in the paddock shoot up.  So much so that we now lose all of the animals in it.

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We have cut paths around all of the edges to make for easier walking, especially for the 4 cats.  They all like to accompany us on our daily patrol.

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We are hoping that a farmer is going to cut it for hay, then we can think about getting some sheep.

We have already applied for our smallholding number, and have found some sheep that we would like for starters.  They belong to the couple we bought the wooden farm gates from, who are sheep farmers.  It is a 4 hour trip away, but they also have a small flock of  Dartmoor sheep – an endangered breed.  We saw them when we collected the gates, and she was canny enough to show us a new born lamb – love at first sight! They are just gorgeous and would be lovely to have around.  Apart from looking pretty, they are also quite docile – ideal for small holders.  What really clinched it was when she described them as “the labradors of the sheep world!”  So, watch this space!

Quatre Chemins – penal correctional facility for hard labour!

And I thought fencing was hard work!  Having finished that,  we started on the terrace to the south of the house.  Originally a 1m wide broken concrete path, leading straight onto cultivated land, we decided it was the perfect place for a large terrace, being south facing and with lovely views over both lakes.  The idea is to create a typically French gravelled terrace, edged with the big stones that were left on pallets at the front of the barn.  (We coveted them so much that they were made a condition of the sale.)  What we hadn’t taken into account was that, when the farmer moved and stacked them, he had a tractor!  Moving the stones across the courtyard to the terrace area has been a bit of a challenge.  They are so heavy that we cannot lift them.  In fact, it takes the 2 of us just to roll them over.  So, like the ancient Egyptians, we have been using round posts and rolling them over the ground.  It is a horrible angle to be shoving at, and is back breaking work.  On a good day, we have moved 3.  Manhandling them into position is another challenge.  We use make-shift levers and lifting straps and edge them by pivoting them bit by bit. So, to have shifted 12  in just over a week seemed like a huge achievement.

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But it only edged one side of the terrace-to-be. More worrying is the fact that. given the slope of the land, the ones across the front will have to be set into an increasingly deep ditch so that the top line is level.  Dropping them in is do-able, but getting them back out to adjust the depth and level is interesting!

However, at the weekend, we had a visit from the stone fairies!  Two new lots of friends, whilst admiring our endeavors, took pity on us and turned up with big boys toys to help out.  What a difference a morning with the right kit made!

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All the stones moved over to the terrace area.

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13 tons of hardcore in-filled.

And the terrace begins to take shape.

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I think the stone fairies have saved us nearly a month of hard labour.

The remaining stones outside the barn were then magically lifted and stacked in the barn out of the way by the same good people.  That left us with another huge cleared area.  Rod did 3 trips with the trailer to collect gravel, which we raked over, and the front of the huge barn is now tidy.  And a real suntrap!  It will make a real difference to catching the sun in Spring and Autumn as it is so sheltered. That and the beauty of spring here has made us think that maybe we can let out our “summer house” in the barn during low season when we are living in the house.

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As a small thank-you for the mornings labours, I provided lunch for all of our helpers. Platters of sausissons and pates, cheeses, mediterranean salads and baguettes were laid out on the table in the shade under the covered terrace (yes, it was actually too hot to eat out in the full sun).  Chilled bottles of wine and beer. A leisurely lunch outdoors with friends – it really did feel like living the French dream.

Talking about living the dream – the pool!!  We are now waiting for the liner, but work so far is very exciting as I can now sit on the steps and imagine………………..

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Suckers for punishment, we are also creating a terrace to one side of the pool for sunbathing – we’ll be real pro’s at the end of it all!

So, we were asked, what colour liner did we want? I never imagined there was such a choice – we had assumed blue. But even blue was complicated. Blue gives a sea sort of colour, ranging from Mediterranean  to Caribbean (definitley not the North Sea dingy grey), depending on the shade of liner.  But then again, it seems we could have sandy or grey.  A quick night of research and we opted for a sandy liner to give an aquamarine, fresh-water sort of colour.  Hopefully sympatico with the lake and stonework.  Who’d have known there was so much choice?

Monty moments

Dippy has got her mojo back and is delighting in the warmer weather as it means daily swims.  She bounds through the lake edge with the bounce of a puppy.  Monty still searches for more swimming rabbits.

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As the lake edge is full of wild mint, the fragrance as they tramples through is quite heady and evocative –  I end up returning from each walk yearning for a mojito!

Dippy would swim for a ball all day long, but Monty hasn’t a competitive bone in his body. To get him to retrieve the ball we have to hold onto Dippy, otherwise he just lets her get it.  And his concentration span is limited – 3 retrieves is his lot, then he gets tired of the game (or just tired?) and wanders off.

And some pictures of the kittens being laid back and enjoying life!

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20160521_143325Ginger playing hide and seek – 1,2,3 ready or not here I come….

 

 

 

The cicada’s have come alive as the temperature has increased – I still can’t hear them without being transported into holiday mode. A real mood lifter.  Rod got a real shock when he unearthed these in the water stop cock pit – curled up together he thought it was a snake – not good news with that colouration. But they are apparently quite common, even though they look so exotic – our very own Fire salamanders.

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Things going swimmingly

Another two months gone by and I haven’t found time to update the blog! Actually, progress through March and April seemed to be quite slow, and at times frustrating, so it is good to look back and see how much progress has been made.

All the major works in the house are now finished and it is ready for decoration.  We have completed the bathroom, and with a pending visit from Carol, got on with the “en suite” shower, loo and bedroom 2.  I found all the new bedding and curtains and even some pictures and am really pleased with the result.  It is certainly nice to feel that one room is civilised!

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The wood burner in the living room is up and running and certainly throws out some heat.  We had a slight issue in that it was fixed in too close to the wall and was melting the polystyrene panels and cracking the plaster, but we have got around that by putting up two heat resistant metal and ceramic panels behind it.  A local house clearance resulted in a third settee, so we can seat 6 comfortably.  We have put up some pictures to draw the eye away from the chasing and holes where the radiator used to be! As it is functional, decorating can be a job for the autumn.

The “summerhouse” in the barn has come together really well and is now just about complete.

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A big blow was that the builder went off to start a new job (!!!) at the beginning of April.  He finished the inside over a couple of weekends, but is now full-time elsewhere and hasn’t been on site at all for over 2 weeks.  With the septic tank and drainage still outstanding – and the barn uninhabitable until then – we are somewhat worried! Needless to say, contingency plans are in hand.

The biggest excitement for us was the starting of the pool man.  Up until the starting of the work, having a pool still seemed like a fantasy.  We never, ever thought that one day we would have one – it’s the stuff of dreams, reserved for footballers, pop stars and the very wealthy. But not the likes of us. But here we are! It is fascinating to see it taking shape. Each day Rod reviews progress and stands there rubbing his hands together in glee.

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We have finished the fencing!  Not only is our perimeter secure, but we have separated the paddock from the garden area.

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As soon as we can get registered as a smallholding, we can start with animals, so that is one of the next jobs on the list (it’s a very long list).  At the moment the drive is closed off by a somewhat unattractive arrangement of sheep hurdles as we have been honing our gate skills with the paddock gates.

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We are now ready to hang the drive gates.  We had to give up on the wrought iron gates that we had bought cheaply (you get what you pay for) as there was no practical way to hang them without building custom made gateposts.  So we sourced some lovely wooden farm gates and 2 huge oak gateposts and are building up our courage to start on these.  We both seem to find excuses and other more urgent jobs to do and I think we are just plain old scared!

The potager is coming on well.  Making use of the old, woodworm ridden beams that came out of the barn, we have constructed 4 raised beds and a strawberry patch.  Rod was absolutely delighted to return from one of his many tip trips with more than he took! They compost all the green waste, and he just happened to arrive as they put out a mountain of compost for people to help themselves to.  He loaded up the trailer. And then went back for seconds! I have slowly been planting things out and we now have rows of onions, beans, peas, and various salad things.

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In spite of late planting, all of the raspberries seem to be coming, as do all of the trees in the orchard.  It is part of our daily check to look for buds and leaves to make sure they hadn’t died over the winter and, one by one, they have put out new growth. So, hopefully we will have some home-grown produce this year.

March and April continued to be wet, and cold.  The locals describe the weather as bizarre, but to us, used to UK weather, the bright days in between have been a real bonus.  The wet, along with some warm days has seen the arrival of spring.  The blossom in the surrounding orchards has been lovely, although it kick started Rod’s hay fever – he’s not used to plum pollen.  In waiting for a sunny day to get a photo, I missed the opportunity as the best of the blossom was over in a week due to some severe storms. And, boy, have we had some storms.  Thunder that shook the house and lightening that turned night into day.  Quite, quite awesome.  We are beginning to get used to the resulting loss of electricity, phone, internet and tv!

A visit by Carol over Easter gave us a lovely break from our self-imposed routine of hard manual labour.  We realized that in our drive to complete jobs, we had forgotten to stop and, as they say “smell the roses”.

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We had a couple of lovely sunny days and managed to eat outside at local restaurants, soaking up both sun and atmosphere. We also had some fabulous food.

 

 

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Talking of food, we have made the effort to get out and socialise – being in danger of becoming anti-social recluses!  Three of our local communes held their Repas du Chasse’s during April, so we had three Sunday lunches out.  What a hoot!

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The meals all follow a similar format.  Start at 12pm and bring your own cutlery and crockery.  Tables, chairs, wine and food are provided.  (I take my own wine as the wine on the tables is pretty rough!) Tickets are around E18 a head.  For this you get an aperitif – usually some white wine and fruit concoction.  Around here they seem to have a penchant for wine and grapefruit – which I haven’t developed a taste for! Then soup, followed by pate and salad. A casserole of venison is next, with toast.  On the table are raw cloves of garlic to rub on the toast. Next is a meat fest of grilled venison, followed by grilled boar. One version came with cassoulet beans, one with garlic with some potato. Cheese, then a pastry of some kind.  Coffee. Then “eau de vie” as a digestif to finish us off.  (especially me, as, not one for the post meal brandy or whiskey, I was asking for Rod’s one too and downing that as well!)

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Eating that quantity of food takes time. We haven’t yet left one of these before 5.30pm and once at 7.30pm.  It certainly writes the day off – in the nicest possible way!

Lauzun also held a “Paella” Sunday – lured by the prospect of a giant paella how could we not go? It was fab.  For E12 we got an apero, starter, paella (and seconds, it was that good), cheese, pastry and coffee. All set out under the covered marketplace with trestle tables and chairs.

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Paella for 120!

 

 

Monty moments

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Butter wouldn’t melt….

 

 

As Spring started to be in the air, it became apparent that we had various nocturnal visitors across the prairie (hay field).  This started before we had finished securing our perimeter and certainly put pressure on us to get a rift on with the fencing.   Usually, when we turf the dogs outs last thing at night, they trot around the small barn to have a wee, then come back in to settle for the night.  However, things became much more interesting for them as there were things that moved out there. So after a couple of nights of them taking off in pursuit of who knows what and disappearing into the night – once as far as the end of the lane, we fenced like crazy.  It’s no fun going out in dressing gowns and wellies, head torch on, searching for dogs in the pitch dark.  Amazing how deaf they can go! And Monty is well camouflaged!

One evening whilst I was back in UK for Dadad’s birthday, Rod was kindly invited round for supper by our neighbours. As their dog Casper meets ours regularly on his daily walk past, Monty and Dippy were invited along too.  Whilst settled in the living room chatting, Rod failed to notice Monty sneak out of the room to go exploring.  The next thing, Monty trotted in, looking very pleased with himself, carrying a loaf of bread.  It had been on the work surface waiting to be served with the starter! Having a dog themselves, our neighbours were very understanding, but Rod was mortified.  I am certain that Monty will never get another invite.  In fact, I’m not sure that we will either!

The kittens have now all been neutered and are settling into a routine.  Since the nights have been mild, we have let them stay out all night – it was easier than trying to get them to come in! Life is just one big exciting adventure for them. Considering their feral background they are proving to be very friendly.

Ginger is the most vocal of the three.  He is very “in your face” and will hold conversations with you, staring into your eyes and miaowwing plaintively.

Where ever we are working, he is always there, getting into everything.

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He has also extended his door opening skills to the heavy front door, which we now have to lock whilst working to prevent an occurrence of this…….

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Liquorice is the Monty of the cat world!  Although the same size as his his siblings, he is twice the weight of them.  Podge! He is so laid back.  He is the one who, when we call supper and every-one else comes hurtling at the speed of light, is in a world of his own chasing butterflies and daydreaming.  We have had to start putting him in the house when we walk the dogs because he follows Monty and comes too.

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Dippy treats him like one of her labrador puppies and spends hours playing gently with him, mouthing and tousing around.

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Olive is a girlie girl.  She is the most timid, but is very loving with us and the dogs.  She is incredibly acrobatic and takes flies from the air, leaping several feet to catch them. She caught her first lizard and proudly brought it to show us.  However, when we tried to take it, as it was still alive, she shot into the house and under the settee, where she let it go!

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Pixie has settled in well and now tolerates the kittens.  She comes for food twice a day, sleeps on our bed for a couple of hours during the day (a privilege granted her during the settling in period, which now seems to be routine) and spends the rest of the time off mousing down by the lake.

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For the third time, our phone and internet went down.  We checked, but there were no broken lines on the road as before, and our neighbours were unaffected.  We called out the engineer and had a grumble about the state of the old wires and our repeated losses of connection.  He tested the lines, but all seemed good as far as the house.  On further investigation, he found the problem in the kitchen, under the unit. He held out the offending wire. The cable had been chewed through, with lots of little kitten teeth marks all along the wire!  Not only was it embarrassing, but we will have to pay for the callout and repair! Grrrrr!

Spring has finally sprung.

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