Friday, April 11, 2014

here and there

I’ve been to the UK and back.  I spent a wonderful fortnight visiting family and friends, caught some great weather after all those storms and headed back to france with a suitcase full of soft fruit bushes.

Since then I’ve spent two action packed weeks in the mountains, spending time both with Pierre and with Clare at Lou Rider, it was lovely to see out the last of the winter season with good friends and say good bye once and for all to the chalet as it has now been sold (I’m waiting to hear for sure that it’s gone through before posting, so as not to jinx things for Clare).  We had a fairly substantial snow fall just as I arrived back in the mountains, so had amazing ski conditions for a couple of days.  The two remaining helpers at the chalet, Kieran (sp?) and Brian were excellent skiers so it made a change to have to work a bit to keep up.   

The warm weather soon put pay to the amazing conditions and the snow soon turned wet and sticky, catching me out on several occasions resulting in a couple of spectacular wipe outs.  Shaken but not particularly injured, the aches and pains have now departed and am left with the memories of some wonderful descents.  

Clare was busy cleaning and preparing to leave whilst I was there.  I gave a hand, with the tidying and ended up leaving with a van stacked full of useful items for my next project.  It’s all safely stashed in a neighbours barn in Vieuzos now, so don’t have to cart it with me for the next two months.  Thank you Clare.  We ate too, to empty the cupboards and freezers, as nothing could be left this time, a week of scrumptious food, frequently with an asian twist was a real treat and the never ending Sticky Toffee Pudding, that was always such a hit with the guests, finally came to an end.  MMmmmmm.

Somewhere amongst all the excitement I lost my camera, so no photos for the time being, unless I cheat and use some old ones.  I left my name and phone number with the piste services but can’t imagine it’ll be found in a working condition after being outside for so long.  New one ordered, it’s winging its way to me as I write, so won’t be imageless for too long.

Friday, March 21, 2014

finding things

Perhaps it’s time to change tack a bit here on the blog, focus a bit more on lifestyle than travel as I appear to be settling down for a while.

I’ve spent plenty of time in Vieuzos on the land, musing and dreaming and trying to decide what to do, how, when and in what order.  Until I am actually there I don’t think I can really get stuck in, but I have made some interesting discoveries.

There are an amazing variety of plants growing in this abandoned plot, a good few of them good forager fare:



hairy bitter cress

I tried to get a close up but it obviously didn’t work.  So here’s a link to a fascinating blog that explains how it can be used and has some helpful pictures to help with identification

elder - flower and of course berry

wild strawberry

blackberry (a few too many)

to name a few.

I really must make a list and make sure that they are well used in season.

Another time I started clearing the brambles a bit, in the hope of finding some hardstanding to put a shed on.  I chopped and pulled at branches for several hours, though with the amount of fallen debris, had difficulty in reaching solid ground.  I did, however find the remains of a car, some pig sties and enough abandoned knick-knacks to start a museum.....

pig sties

Friday, February 28, 2014

signed, sealed and delivered

On the 26th February I signed my deal and am on the way to being a property owner in France.  

Sealed and delivered, this morning the postman delivered a sealed bundle of papers that I had to sign for in person.  It’s the dossier of paperwork that accompanies the proposed purchase.  All 113 pages of it.  

There are only two possible hurdles to cross that would negate the purchase.  

The first is that the Mayor has the right to cancel planning permission on land as it changes hands, I doubt she will as in such a small village an extra inhabitant increases the population by 2% and the village revenue similarly.  I shall be asking to renew the outline planning permission in due course.

The second is the work of SAFER, a government sponsored agency that is responsible for keeping as much land in agriculture as possible.  It has three months to check that none of the local farmers want to buy the property.  This is only happening because I am purchasing some adjoining land which is agricultural .  Thankfully, any interested party would have to buy the whole lot, not just the fields and with the planning permission it works out rather expensive for a farmer to acquire an additional couple of acres.

Fingers crossed until mid May.....................

I spoke to one of the owners after the signing and he is more than happy if I make a start on clearing the brambles, turning a bit of soil and starting a vegetable garden.  Just as well, as earlier in the week I bought a huge collection of seeds on offer in the local supermarket.  They’ll get to grow this year some way or another.

I can also get on and apply for connection to electricity, water and phone, arranged for after the completion date, and also make provisions to insure the land from when I take possession ( a legal necessity here in France).  I need to ask the mayor too, for permission to put up a temporary cabin until such time as my house is built, apparently is it normal practice and permission is often granted for four years, I don’t imagine using it for that long.  There’s plenty to be getting on with in the mean time.

We, me and my current hosts, celebrated with a lovely meal and a bottle of champagne amidst the chaos of their moving.  Five more days and everything will be moved, the house cleaned and the keys ready to hand over.  That’ll be the end of my time here, onto the next.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a date

I have a date.

No, a date for signing the initial agreement for my land.  Not a date date, though that would be good too.

On the 26th february I shall visit the notaires office, pay a deposit and sign the agreement to buy.  The discussions with the neighbouring farmer have been formalised and are now legally binding, the owners are still keen to sell and the date is getting closer.  I am so excited.

I’m not entirely sure which way to turn or what to do first/next or in what order or when.  So I started with a list, this is now a list of lists and is gaining some semblance of order.  I’m not concerned yet about how it will pan out, I am trying to get as many thoughts down on paper as I can, so that as my thoughts evolve the order can be changed and things added and moved as a timescale becomes apparent. 

Thankfully I’m being kept busy with the move, otherwise time could be passing rather slowly.   I’m learning plenty there too, namely, to throw unnecessary things away, declutter and keep life simple.  Their collection of belongings is an enormous gathering from previous houses and marriages.  Things that have been packed away in the rush of moving last time and never  since sorted, they move again with the same promise and join more belongings from parents and items, the story goes on. Plan ahead so things don’t need moved several times, pack non essentials well in advance to lessen stress in the weeks before moving and remember that everything takes longer than expected.  

I get to escape to the garden too, preparing the veggie plot, pruning and tidying and planting the seemingly never ending trickle of plants that keep arriving.  I’ll be back when the time is right later on for a few cuttings and divisions when they have had time to grow.

My latest reading is a book on Permaculture gardening, the subject is fascinating and turns on it’s head much of the theories that I learned back at horticultural college all those years ago.  I’m not sure that I’ll be following every morsel of advice, but know for sure that things’ll be done differently than before once I get going.  When I put learning into practice, I’ll be letting you know.  For the moment all that is growing is my beard.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

It's starting well, 2014

I know, I know, it’s been over a month since I last wrote and I am starting to get emails from close friends checking that I am OK.  Yes, all is well with me, I’ve just been rather busy and not often with internet access.  

The second week of January, I stayed with my good friend Pierre in the mountains, we skied twice, went out on racquets in the snow and generally enjoyed a few cold and sunny days in winter wonderland, though, after November the scenery wasn’t quite as spectacularly snowy.  We even spent a day at Chalet Lou Rider with Clare and her team which was great.  A really good crowd, great fun, but with all that is going on with my land purchase, I am glad that I’m not there this year. 

On that front, things are progressing slowly.  Problems with a farmer neighbour (involving the present owner) have been sorted and all that is needed now is a reply to a legal letter confirming the outcome.  I met the farmer a couple of weeks ago and we have agreed ongoing rights of passage and his use of part of my future land, for an indeterminate period of time, this is an additional area that the present owners are pleased to sell rather than the initial plot.  

For two weeks I have been working flat out with a semi professional team, endeavoring to finish the ground floor plastering of Pierlo and Sandrine’s house as quickly as possible due to a change in family circumstances..  I’ve helped them periodically during the last four years and when I discovered that their son, Jules, had been in a swimming accident last autumn and is still quite disabled, decided to lend a hand.  He suffered an apnea attack as he dived into the pool and was without air for some time before he was rescued.  His lungs did not fill with water, so he had not drowned, but still, spent a couple of months in a coma.  He is slowly gaining his senses, movement and comprehension, but it appears that it may take several years before he returns to some sort of normality.  A huge shock and life changing for the family.  They hope to get Jules home as soon as it is in a fit state to receive him and a great group of friends are rallying round to give support. I’ll no doubt be back to help from time to time, but for the moment have committed myself to another project.

I am back with Cherry and Chris, where I stayed over Christmas and the New Year, where I planted over a hundred trees in the autumn and house sat on a couple of occasions.  They move house at the start of March and have an enormous list of chores.  The offer of £££ for extra hours was a tempting one, so I am working more than full time for them till the end of the month.  The new house is in the process of being renovated and will be no where near ready , so I shall be heading back to  give Pierlo a hand when I finish here.

Looking further into the spring, hopefully I will have signed for the purchase of the land by then, I have 2-4 months for searches and official paperwork before completion.   There are already three possible straw bale building projects available that want help (more arrive as we get closer to spring) and with Percy at the ready I am easily able to move from place to place to head off and lend a hand, learn still more skills and better formulate how I plan to proceed.  Hopefully the current owners will allow me to plant a vegetable plot during the transition period so I am not too far behind with the season and then in early summer there is the possibility of a 6 day professional course in straw bale building near La Rochelle.  I can use the trip north to visit other friends on route and then head back to the UK for Percy’s MOT and a long awaited visit.

Not sure how it’s all going to pan out and in what order it’s all going to happen but its going to be a challenging, exciting and demanding year.  I am almost bursting with anticipation and am finding it difficult to hold back on planning and getting stuck in to my next chapter.  I must be patient and bide my time until the formalities are over.  There’ll be plenty of time afterwards for it all to unfold.
snow capped Pyrénées

winter sunset

my current abode

Suzy, the bestest french dog I know



newly planted beech hedge

the new residence

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

no skiing this christmas

My plans haven’t been going to plan since I last wrote, but it’s all worked out extraordinarily well.  I had been invited to work on constructing a wooden house back in October, but a few days before I was due to arrive, heard that the owner wasn’t there at all, but working away on a humanitarian project on an island in the Indian Ocean.  Thankfully I emailed to confirm.

By chance I had called in to see Cherry and Chris the week before, hosts that I had stayed with in 2010, just to see how they were and they said that they were in need of help should I become free. I said I’d let them know but didn’t imagine things would change before early next year.  One mail later my plans changed and I returned to Las Bourges and a new project that is probably going to last me well into 2014.

More tree planting to start with, along with remodeling a garden, putting in hedges and reclaiming the potager from an autumn of neglect.  I initially suggested a couple of weeks, but their location is excellent in regards to my proposed purchase.  About half an hour away from the land, twenty minutes from the notaires and in the right area for discovering everything I may need in the future.  In addition, Cherry used to be a property dealer, so knows all the ins and outs of buying land, how to approach negotiations and speaks very well the french.  We have had plenty of interesting discussions and I have modified my requirements for proceeding with the purchase with her guidance.  To keep me here for longer, there are a variety of interesting and challenging opportunities to help on their latest venture.

Their project is half an hour away in the other direction.  A new house purchase, well, an old farmhouse in need of much renovation and alteration that they intend to move to next spring.  Initially they’ll live in a converted outbuilding whilst being on site to oversee renovations and keep an eye on things as work progresses.  Their current address is sold, so will need to be vacated fairly early in 2014.  Once I’ve got the major planting and garden maintenance up to date, I’m hoping to work along side Ben and Mattieu as they install wiring and plumbing in the barn conversion, help with continued construction work and maybe even finishing if I stay around long enough.  I’ll learn plenty, get to practice my french whilst on the building site and have time to concentrate on my own project.  The woodworking’ll have to come at a later date.

It’s slightly unnerving being so calm and relaxed over Christmas after the last four years in the chalet.  I do wonder how they’re all getting on up there in the mountains and the snow and have the occasional pang of nostalgia, though with my long term project about to start feel happy to have the mountains in the distance and a calmer workload to contend with.  No mornings with thirty beds to change, or sacks of spuds to peel, or mountains of ironing to contend with, no digging snow and waiting tables or mending broken toilets and taps.  I've been missing the camaraderie, the clients, the snow and the skiing, but the calm is lovely.

Instead I have a more regular timetable, with chickens to feed, Suzy the dog to walk, wood to fetch and frequently, a house to mind, as Chris and Cherry travel frequently for business and are often away.  Free time to chill with a book or walk in the countryside, the weather has been amazing.  Cold and clear with wonderfully warm afternoons in the sunshine, great for gardening and getting things planted.

Christmas has been great, christmas day, a family affair, with a smoked salmon, scrambled egg and bucks fizz breakfast, plenty of snacking and a delicious main meal starting with a hot asian prawn salad, followed by beef wellington and finished off with traditional english christmas pudding all washed down with plenty of suitable wine chosen by Chris, a veritable connoisseur.  That saw us good for the rest of the day save a slice of cake early evening when other members of the family arrived for present exchanging.  A lovely relaxed time with folk coming and going, popping out with Chris and Cherry to shop for plants whilst the weather is being kind and the bare root stock is still available.  More delicious meals, a choice of english or french TV, a real treat as I hardly see the screen whilst I’m away, walks, chats and plenty of fresh air.

It’s been quiet on the property purchase front, I expect that everyone is otherwise occupied through the festive season, but I do hope to have news as we head into January that things are proceeding. 

It’s New year’s Eve as I write.  Home alone again just with the dog for company.  We’ve had a good long walk in the sunshine this morning, I’ve prepared dessert and Simon, who I’ve probably mentioned before in my writings, a great english guy who keeps himself busy on building projects and traditional style restorations, is turning up in a while to welcome the New Year in.  He’s picking up a rabbit on the way, we’ll drink and prepare and cook and drink, chat about allsorts and probably watch a bit of TV and toast 2014 as it arrives.  Happy New Year to each and every one of you, may you be healthy, wealthy and wiser through the coming year.  Embrace and enjoy it all with my love.  xx

Monday, December 16, 2013

no dig vegetable plot

Preparing the vegetable garden for winter.

This is a no dig method that we all knew about discussed at length before putting into practice.

The land had been used for onions last year and had produced a pretty good crop.  The soil is heavy clay and needs improving for the future.

This is what we did:

1 pick off the worst of the weeds

2 cover in cardboard, without too much tape or plastic

3 add a good layer of compost, this trailer load came from the local municipal facility for just over 8 euros.

cover the whole plot with plenty of straw to keep the warmth and humidity in, whilst the worms and soil beasties do their work over winter.

In the spring, the worms will have worked their way through the cardboard into the mulch and started to incorporate it into the soil below.  All that needs to be done is clear away little holes in the straw to plant seedlings and leave the soil beasties to continue elsewhere,  if there is still cardboard at the bottom of the hole, cut a small hole so that the seedling roots can continue down into the soil below.  Try not to walk on the plot and compact the soil, use a plank of wood to spread your weight.  For seed planting the straw will need to be cleared completely until the crop has germinated and gotten off to a good start.

Hopefully I’ll be back next year to see how productive the plot is after our efforts this autumn.