Sunday, August 24, 2014

chalet/shed construction

tyre pillars and weed suppressant ready construction

my foundation platform nearing completion

creating a more comfortable toilet seat!!

getting things organised

lots of wood, no instructions

up it goes

right to the roof

discussing progress

me (with the hat on) and my bro

The cabin, chalet, shed, whatever it’s going to be called, progressed at an astounding rate.  We constructed my foundations then started on the huge parcels of wood that had been delivered.  The instructions were scant to say the least so we guessed and tested as we went.  Thankfully the engineering was brilliant.  The vast majority of parts fitted together without forcing, snugly and without difficulty, the planks were well finished and the walls went up like a dream.  We guessed with the door and window instillation, leaving me with a bit of post construction snagging, especially on the additional window opening for which there were no instructions whatsoever, but overall it was a great experience.  



visitors


It all worked out rather well.  For sleeping arrangements Dad took the bed in the tent, Peter joined me in Percy.  I continued with my meals as planned to compliments from all sides, I quite surprised myself with how tasty and interesting some of the meals were, my exploration of sprouted seeds was in full swing and the garden had started to provide quite bountifully.  Cucumbers, courgettes, green and yellow beans, spinach, swiss chard, the occasional beetroot leaves, lettuce, nasturtium leaves and flowers, even a few tomatoes - despite the blight, all made their way to the table.  A few plums remained on one of the trees after a ferocious storm and a neighbour kindly offered me a bag of Mirabelle, a tiny plum like fruit the size of a cherry, sweet and juicy, we ate them whole, spitting the tiny stones out wherever.  Perhaps I should have planted them, maybe next year when life is a little more organised.

I supplemented garden supplies with frequent trips to the local markets, a good opportunity to get out and about to see the surroundings and show off the area that I have decided to make my home for the forseeable future.  Both were suitable impressed even though the weather was unseasonable cold and cloudy.  The old folk of the village can’t recall a summer so cold or wet in living memory, usually by now the fields and lawns are parched and brown and the gardens watered every day.  I haven’t touched my hosepipe in over three weeks and the countryside is as lush and green as Devon or west Wales would be at this time of year.  

My guests and I experienced an impressive storm one night.  The wind howled, the rain came lashing down, the trees thrashing about and the van rocking violently for several hours.  Life in the tent was reportedly noisy to say the least with rain, twigs and leaves falling on the canvas and the wind billowing and buffeting the structure.  In the morning Dad emerged from his internal cocoon unscathed, the weather calmed and we continued none the worse.  Two neighbours appeared during the morning, concerned that we had been blown away and offering alternative accommodation should it be required.

surprise visit


I arrived at Toulouse early to do some shopping and do a bit of scavanging.  I needed pallets to sort the wood for the new build onto and to keep it dry whilst it was being built.  I was lucky and fair filled the van with nearly as many as I could, something stopped me from filling the back completely, though I was close to doing so.  I reached the airport to collect Peter in good time, the plane was slightly delayed, so I had time to park up and go inside to meet him.  He was waiting for his luggage and suggested that he catch up with me in the car park so as to minimise the time that I waited.  As he was arranging his luggage in the back of the van I prepared to head off, conscious that I was in a limited parking zone and every minute counted.  As he started to close the door, a voice asked “Room for another one?”  I swung round to see who it was, half recognising the voice, to see my Dad standing there with a big grin on his face.  Momentarily I was mortified.  How was it going to work?  Where was he going to sleep?  How was he going to cope with my minimal lifestyle?  (No electricity, no hot water, no proper toilet, no real facilities?) I was stressed enough as it was with the preparations for receiving my brother, let alone an 85 year old.  I forced the practicalities and logistics out of my mind and focussed on the fact that my father was there, completely unannounced and it was wonderful to see him.  I had planned to be a bit further on before he visited, but from that moment I had no choice, he was there and was coming with us.  I was dumbstruck as we left the airport, trying to make conversation, whilst my mind raced on what changes I would have to make and wondering how the next ten days were to pan out. My neighbours had offered a room. There was a B & B just down the road, I wondered if they had a room and how much it would cost.  What would my Dad do every day?  Would I have chance to really spend time with my brother?  Would he be comfortable? warm enough? cool enough? How would my alternative (nearing vegan) diet be appreciated? Would he manage with the terrain? Could we still manage the trips I had planned?  My mind whirred with a thousand questions whilst on the surface I tried to chat about the journey, how the flight was, and what had been going on since we had last spoken.

Peter sat in the back, almost squashed by pallets, relishing every moment.  I had surprised him several times in the past with unannounced visits and this was payback time.  There he was, in view via the rear view mirror, watching as I came to terms with this new arrangement finding it all rather amusing.  I negotiated the urban motorway system out of Toulouse without fault, my mind going nineteen to the dozen, pointing out things that might be interesting, trying to plan ahead, deciding what to do.  We journeyed back to Vieuzos stopping en route to do a bit of last minute shopping, disappointingly there was no view of the mountains, just a band of hazy cloud in the distance.  They had no idea how spectacular that view could be.  Something they would hopefully discover on a clearer day.

foundations


My brothers arrival was imminent and he was due to help erect a wooden cabin that I had ordered before my departure to England.  I was ill prepared on my arrival back, though had taken the time, en route, to order wood, gravel and cement in order to construct the foundations.

To minimise expenditure and environmental impact I decided to support a wooden subframe on several concrete filled tyres as a foundation for my build.  I obtained used tyres, for free, at a local garage, and filled them with a mixture of large stones gathered on site and a hand mixed concrete.  The wooden frame would sit on top and match the footprint of the building on order.  I had dimensions and a plan, but it was all a bit of a guess.

Additionally I decided to dig some drainage channels under the site as it was rather boggy, even in mid summer, to minimise the dampness during the winter and hopefully keep the chalet as dry as possible.   I reused some of the broken roof tiles in the drainage channels and they cost nothing apart from a bit of muscle power to install.  A couple of additional pipes were added as drains for a possible shower and kitchen sink, but that is for the future.

The chalet duly arrived.  Two huge parcels wrapped on white polythene, measuring 5 plus metres in length and weighing just shy or 2000Kg.  I had been assured that delivery onto the site would be no problem, but one look at my driveway access and the truck driver decided that it was a definite NO!!  He left the huge packages on the side of the road and I braced myself for an arduous day of moving the whole lot by hand.  The access was too steep, not wide enough and totally inadequate for the 4x4 all terrain forklift that I had been promised by the guy in the sales office.  

Lady Luck was looking on, my neighbouring farmer passed me as I as surveying the delivery and promised to return with his tractor and forks the following morning to see if he could help.  He could, and within half an hour the the materials were in position, ready for construction when my brother arrived.

In the mean time I was hastily preparing for his arrival.  Peter, for those of you who don’t know my family, was due to arrive at Toulouse airport a couple of days later.  I had erected a tent and in one end installed his room complete with proper bed, bedside table and reading lamp (courtesy of a solar model from IKEA)  The rest of the tent became tool store, kitchen and dining area. (I really must take photos of this before it is disbanded.) and my life changed for the better overnight.  Percy became a tranquil retreat, comfortable, warm and cosy.  A place to relax and sleep after a hard day’s work without having to cope with cooking meals and dealing with wet and dirty clothes when the weather was inclement.  He was much happier and so was I.
delivery, not exactly where I had imagined........

I love my new neighbours

drainage under the foundations

pillar supports for the new chalet

all in place and ready to construct

returning after a break


So much for a direct route back.  Once I arrived in France I received a text from a friend who was hosting a party the following weekend, someone that I like very much and who lives in a shared house full of wonderful people.  I made a detour and partied with them all and a whole lot more.   A weekend full of excitement, good food, dancing and wonderful conversations and exchanges.  This is the start of a new chapter, taking the time to do these things, the rest will happen, faster or slower than planned. but it will happen none the less but with more enjoyment along the way.

I arrived back in Vieuzos a few days later than planned in fine spirit.  The grass had grown, along with the weeds and, once I had found it, the veggie patch as well.  There were no tracks in the long grass so I presumed that the watering task that I had left my neighbour had not been too arduous.  I later discovered that he had visited only three or four times during the whole time that I had been away.  So much for hot summer sun, the weather was not at all normal and I had experienced much better during my time in the UK than they had seen here in this region of france!!

There were beans, cucumbers, spinach and various salad leaves to harvest right away.  Beetroot, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli coming along nicely, along with various varieties of winter marrows and pumpkins all doing well.  The only obvious casualty was the tomatoes, all of which were suffering from blight to some extent.  As I write, a good two weeks on, they are all composting well.  I disposed of them as they were more harm than good.  The nasturtiums I had planted were taking over, so made great spicy additions to the salads, ant the nettles, strimmed a month before were ready to harvest again.

Yield had been the objective of my hurried planting and it had been achieved. 

veggie plot growing well

the nettles were back in force

new accommodation




Monday, July 21, 2014

better prepared


Nearly three weeks in the UK and I haven’t thought of blogging.  It’s been a busy visit what with visits to the dentist and opticians for me, a service, MOT, welding work, wheel alignment new windscreen and failed attempt for new music system for Percy, it all takes time and is absolutely necessary.

Those were the obligatory chores, the fun times were spending most of the time with friends and family, catching up with folk that I haven’t seen for years, swapping stories, good food and wine and generally being with the people that I love and that matter to me in the UK.  I never get to see everyone, there just isn’t time but I try to ring the changes and make the most of every visit.  

It’s never really a time that I think of blogging, not intentionally, it’s just how it is.  It’s time being ‘at home’ even though I flit from place to place and am never static for that long.  Perhaps that will change now that I have a longer term project on the go.  My trips back to the UK being more like travel and the periods in my new home being more settled.  That’ll take time to come true whatever as there is a massive journey to undertake on that plot of land without going anywhere.

I am more prepared, now that I am on my way back to france.  Percy arrived back with empty cupboards, feeling lighter than he had done since we set off over a year ago, most of his load stored in a neighbours barn whilst we are away.  During the last few days I have emptied all my possessions from Dad’s garage, thoroughly sorted them and chosen those items that I think shall be the most useful.  Tools and equipment, tents and camping furniture, books from the loft and bedding for guests, my own strimmer for cutting down the weeds and a hammock for lounging under the big oak tree when it’s too hot in the heat of the day.  

Poor Percy is fuller with things that I have ever seen, hopefully not excessively, he is a transit van after all, but the journey back to Vieuzos will be quicker and more direct.  I’ll be on a mission to get there, with a mission to continue once I arrive.  I may be gone from these pages for a while, until I get power and a phone line, not that on the odd occasion I won’t think to use the internet cafe up the road or a visit to friends and have a sneaky ten minutes on line.  

another sort of garden

As I neared Calais, my route passed through war country, the old battlefield zone of World Wars I and II.  Here my gardens changed somewhat, to gardens of remembrance.  I hadn’t planned to stop and visit such important monuments this trip and certainly wasn’t prepared for the impact they had.

Tears welled in my eyes when I caught sight of the headstones.  I sat on the steps and cried and cried before walking the gardens, tears arriving again and again.  I was amazed by the force of emotion as I thought that I had been prepared for what I was about to see.  Thousands of headstones in neat rows of light grey stone.  Each one a dead soldier, or as I was to discover as I read some of the inscriptions later on, sometimes up to four soldiers per grave.  All men, nearly all young, in their teens and twenties, sent to war,  as far as we are told, for the greater good of the western world.  

I had learned of the wars at school and then frequently through day to day life, as I imagine we all do.  The book ‘Birdsong’ graphically illustrated the brutality, futility and carnage of the First World War in graphic detail.  A captivating and moving book that I unfortunately took to read on holiday, it kept me in a sombre mood for the duration of the read and has left lasting impressions of how dire the war was for everyone involved.

Both cemeteries that I visited were relatively small compared to some of the war memorials of Normandy, but overwhelming none the less.  When the war machine was murdering thousands upon thousands of men a day at times it is hard to imagine the numbers.  Here, the sheer scale of loss becomes imaginable, very real and close.  These were only the British dead too, there must be millions of French, returned to their home towns and villages, where possible, to rest in peace plus those of the German armies, also repatriated and laid to rest for their loved ones to remember. I know nothing of the plight of the German dead, whose numbers were colossal too.

It moves me now, close to tears, just writing this piece and thinking of the loss.  Look at the photos, for every stone a son, a brother, a nephew, a father, a friend.  Loved by all who knew them and never seen again.  Just gone, a hole in a family, a missing member of a team, a best friend gone for ever, imagine that, for each and every stone, here and then again for all the other cemeteries and in towns and villages across europe and, in fact, most countries of the world.

It leads me to think of the cost of war? the impact on our families and societies? the loss of kindred folk, of natural human resources, of the destruction of trust and hatred that it brings.  Who are we as a supposedly clever, logical and highly evolved species to bring this on ourselves again and again?  We obviously aren’t yet capable of finding peaceful solutions as wars continue with alarming frequency and ferocity around our planet.  I have no solutions, it just leads me to think.......



Etaples Military Cemetery

about a quarter of the graves

in perfect symmetry

Terlincthun British Cemetery

not even a name between the four brave souls who rest here

a smaller site but just as moving