Friday, November 21, 2014

photographic evidence

wholesome lunchtime salad, followed by bread and cheese and a good cup of tea 
washing up facilities have improved

earthworks by the drive are now settling nicely

the mustard and broad beans that I sowed have germinated well and the roots will bind
the soil together nicely before the winter sets in

starting to leaf mulch the vegetable patch to keep it snug for the winter.  the worms will
work most of those leaves into the ground and it'll be easier to work next year.

progress with the extended vegetable area.  three beds now dug and mulched
paths covered with cardboard to keep the weeds down till I can sow clover next spring

the piles of reclaimed items continues to grow

Sunday, November 16, 2014

good to be back


Thursday and Friday back on the ranch, at last, feels like I’ve been gone ages.  Getting loads done with the cooler weather and a good soaking on Friday from incessant rain. Protected the wood pile with corrugated iron before it gets too wet. The third vegetable bed dug over and thoroughly weeded, only four barrow loads of nettle roots this time, all the paths cleaned and ‘carpeted’ with cardboard to make it easier to get around on the wet clay without gathering huge clumps on my boots the whole time, it went down a treat in the rain.  Ten more barrows of good humus mulch out of the ditch by the road, full of leafmould and worms, so good for the soil.   Sorted through a pallet load of corrugated concrete roofing panels a neighbour had dropped in for me to finish the cabin roof.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, each and every sheet holed, in a properly damaged sort of a way so not suitable.  They’ll be fine for a lean to or log store later on so have stacked them out of the way in a pig sty.  Moved all the first stacks of roof tiles as they’re exactly where we need to dig for the water pipes. Finalised my fruit tree order list and hedging plant order list. Made roasted pumpkin soup with my little gas cooker, first time for the oven, so pleased that it works fine.  It’s so cozy with the lights on in the evenings, being able to read, make notes and just get on with things, just need the quote back for proper solar electricity, then I can even charge my drill and computer in comfort.  

Think I’ll do more of the same tomorrow.  Whatever ‘the same’ happens to be.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

wood burning stove instillation


Next task, to install the wood burning stove.  I’ve had it for ages and not been particularly concerned, it being a Godin, one of the most popular makes in france, about getting fittings to install it in my home.  How wrong was I?  Very.  I spent most of Monday visiting a variety of fireplace and DIY stores on the way home, to no avail.  I spent the evening beginning to prepare for the instillation and the following day started in the local scrap metal dealers.  Metal plate was easy, bought by the kilo (50 centimes a kg) then back to the quest for chimney pipe.  The stove is old and the new regulations have increased pipe sizes dramatically, no one has the appropriate bits and I go from shop to shop, waiting an eternity each time, it’s the first really cold day of autumn (everyone and his dog wants a fire installed and now) just to be told the same story.  By chance an engineer in one shop decided to try and help those waiting, he told me to try the Godin showrooms out of town.

The Godin showroom, joy at last, the kind lady knew exactly what I wanted and corrected my measurements by a millimeter or two to be precise.  The catalogue showed they were still made and she would order them with some other parts later in the week.  Result, although patience will be needed as the delivery won’t arrive till later in the month.  Good job I’ve got my thermals and I can sleep easy knowing that the problem can be solved.  I shan’t make the hole in the wall just yet, but wait till I know all can be done at once.  By now it was five in the evening, just time to drive home, catch my breath and pop to the neighbours for dinner.


bricks to support the metal plate where the wood stove will stand with battens on the
wall for the rock wool insulation panel

metal plate in situ.  (it has two more bricks underneath now to take the
weight of the stove)

first panel of wall insulation in place.  It'll need a hole cutting through when I have exactly the
right dimensions for the chimney pipe.

second metal plate to deflect heat and protect the wood store from  too much radiant heat

stove in position.
Now all I need is the flue pipes and I can heat the chalet

Slightly groggy start to Wednesday but that soon went when I started digging.  Tidied the weeds from the paths between the new vegetable beds then headed into Lannemezan, market day, to pick up provisions, made the most of the trip by gathering most of what I need for the water pipe work.  It’s too risky leaving buying things till the last minute, plus it’s easier to mentally check that everything has been thought about once the bits begin to gather.  Lunch with Pierre in a busy little bar by the market, everybody crowded inside  protecting themselves from the wintery weather, noise and activity filling the tiny dining area.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

the calm of november


The calm of November is here.  Not that the first seven days have been calm at all, I’ve only been home for two and a half of them.  The weekend spent in the mountains, Friday night Halloween Party at Lou Rider with Pierre and a group of his french friends from St Lary.  It’s still strange to be at Lou Rider in the summer with it being warm outside, I always expect to be greeted with a blast of freezing air whenever the door is opened, not this time with the last dregs of summer warmth.  Saturday we hiked up a couple of red ski runs, high into the mountains, to have a look at the view and some new structures that have been built to help with crowd control on the winter pistes.  The weather remained impressively warm and my lungs reminded me that I need to do more hill walking to get back into some sort of cardiovascular shape.

Sunday continued in the mountains, I left Pierre, crossed a nearby pass into the next valley and met up with my good friend Simon.  We had intended to pass the afternoon together but one bottle of wine turned into two, the roast chicken on a string took it’s time and was just as delicious as the previous time - four or so years ago.  We chatted till well past dark, watched the stars and the moon from our grassy outpost high in the mountains before retiring to our respective vans for another night at altitude.  

That was the end of summer.  Next morning the temperature had fallen dramatically and the weather turned to grey and damp, the first morning without sunshine since early September, if I remember rightly.  Spoiled by the weather.  We have a plan to learn mini digger skills together, I have water pipe to bury before it gets too cold and Simon suggested he would help if I hired the machinery.  All booked and diarised for the 17th and 18th of November.  

Saturday, November 01, 2014

fergus and family come to stay

hiding in a hide L-R Me Don Ginny & Fergus


My godson comes to visit, it’s half term in the UK and Fergus and his parents, Ginny and Don are here for three very quick days.  Lodged in comfort in the B&B just down the road (in case the weather was cold and autumnal) they have come to lend a hand.  That hand has already been well used, with a whole suitcase of goodies that I have been ordering on line inthe UK to take advantage of free delivery.  It has been arriving at theirs for the last three or four weeks and transported as hold luggage for a fraction of the postage price.  Thank you SO VERY much.  

I am now fully kitted out with all the chainsaw security clothing, all I need now is a chain saw!!  have decent solar lighting that will do fine till the next stage of investment is arranged.  Various english food items including baked beans and christmas pudding - something that I have been raving since a conversation a few weeks ago,  I’ll keep it till nearer the time and enjoy the wait knowing that it’s there.

My guests loved the place, the whole area in fact and thoroughly enjoyed their short time with me.  We got plenty done in the garden, namely the second vegetable bed properly dug and composted, the lights up in the chalet and, importantly some decent time spend discovering my locality.  

I have the most amazing lake about ten minute drive away, a huge nature reserve that is frequented by tens of thousands of migrating birds each spring and autumn, we happened upon a guide whilst we were looking who explained a great deal of what happens and the kind of birds expected.  Next visit will be in the late afternoon as that is the period of activity, as all the birds return to roost.  Safety in numbers.

That same guide proposed an amazing restaurant, well, farm where one can dine.  You have to book, so we did so and enjoyed a fabulous meal one lunchtime, emerging into the sunshine mid afternoon, fit to bust, and in no fit state to participate in strenuous activities.  A leisurely afternoon was spent strolling around my closest market town, checking out the architecture and a fascinating junk shop ( to become a frequent haunt I am sure).  

I breakfasted leisurely at the B&B each morning, sneaking in an hour or two of tasks before hand, the neighbours invited us in for drinks one evening and with a trip to the market the time was gone, far too fast.  It was wonderful to have guests, especially now that I am better equipped and in the knowledge that there is shelter and comfort, to some small degree, should the weather turn.  Will be thoroughly ready by the time spring arrives.  Future bookings now being taken.


selfie - 'nuff said

fascinating corn on the cob.  shame it's animal grade and terrible to eat

enjoying the autumn sunshine

lake puydarrieux from one of the hides

looking towards the mountains from the dam

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Most of the rest of October


Since the Belgians were here and my last blogging stint whilst dog sitting at Vanessa and Lisa’s a fair amount has happened.  Mostly not here, but have been getting things done too in the gaps between.

I spend three days on the Atlantic coast, celebrating my birthday, having some time on the beach and enjoying gloriously hot and sunny weather.


we made it for sunset and stayed in the same spot as last year



Had a very interesting house construction meeting with a carpentry company that produces timber framed buildings in the ‘old fashioned’ style but using modern computer guided milling machined to do all the technical joints and angles.  The finished product looks amazingly smart and the time spent on construction is minimized as everything is ready cut to fit.  Not quite the real thing, but affordable and close.  We’ll see when the quote comes in.  

A day discovering Tarbes, my larger local town, nearly an hour away.  I had two leads to get solar electricity quotes, partly for now and out of curiosity for the house in the future.  I found both companies and know what they need to work it all out.  An evening or two of listing all my electricity requirements, then they can get on and do the sums.

Help from Pierre to cut my wood.  It was a worryingly large pile that I thought may take a day to get through.  We were done by lunchtime and stacked away soon after.  The joys of a decent chainsaw - I really must get one soon.




cutting wood in readiness for winter

Pierre admiring some of the wood

Hosted lunch for old helpX hosts from the past who live not that far away.  It was great to catch up and share with them my ideas for the future.  Really enjoying being able to host again.  A french lunch event is great if you’ve got nothing else to do for the rest of the day.  I’ve had two couples round for lunch now and both times we’ve still been chatting at four or so in the afternoon, an excuse then for tea and cake.  A properly leisurely affair.  

A cry for help from Cherry and Chris had me over near Carcassonne for two days helping Ben repair a collapsed roof.  Hairy stuff, jacking up one of the main beams of an ancient roof to the right hight so that it can be braced and secured back into the wall.  There were a few tense moments with loud cracking sounds, sliding tiles and unexpected noises but all went well.  The rotten end of the beam was removed, we added a new bit, thoroughly braced it with oak planks on either side and secured it back into the wall.  I would have stayed for a further week, to reset the tiles outside, build a staircase (from a kit) and continue a list of outstanding jobs, but with more guests arriving, I really couldn’t afford the time.

Another offer for a weeks paid work came in at about the same time.  A project that was overrunning with a deadline to finish.  It’s amazing how all these things seem to come at the same time. 

The Chestnut Fair.  A fun fair in a tiny village in the foothills of the Pyrenees where the chestnut is celebrated.  Stalls selling all things chestnut, jams, cakes, drinks, basketry, tools, demonstrations on grafting, pruning, woodworking and more.  Stalls selling local produce, honey, wool, handicrafts, the local male voice choir circulating amongst the throng, singing in the local language that only they seem to understand.  Three hundred or so people lunched on chestnut and pumpkin soup or chestnut raised pork charcuterie, local lamb and potato gratin followed by a chestnutty choice of deserts.  It had to be done.  Amazingly I ran into the chap who had come to look at providing me with hedge plants way back in June.  I’d heard nothing since, so had rather abandoned the idea of using him.  He assured me that the paperwork was ready and waiting since June but he knew that I was visiting the UK so hadn’t delivered it.  He called round two days later, excusing the handwritten estimate of costs, explaining that his colleague hadn’t been in the office yesterday to do a proper one. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

my temporary home

kitchen, dining corner 
library, planning and tool area

double doors with tools accessible from outside.
(keeps the floor cleaner) 

sunset from the kitchen window

getting more and more organised 

evening light

winter squash and nuts drying