Sunday, June 27, 2010

a bit of leg

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year and nearly midsummer.  I am not quite sure when that is, but today is the longest day.  I heard Nick get up at 5.30 to watch the sunrise and momentarily thought about going to watch too, but the next thing I knew light was pouring in through the window and it had just gone half past seven.   The sun was shining, that was a start, but after the last few days of unseasonably cold weather I could tell from under my layers of blankets that it was still at least a little chilly for the time of year.

Chilly was an understatement, clouds of steamy breath as I rushed to pull on my clothes in a futile attempt not to loose too much warmth as I transitioned from bed to awake in the shortest possible time.  It was not winter cold, but it felt somehow much worse because it was so unseasonal.  I boiled the kettle and had a leisurely cup of tea in the very open plan kitchen and flicked through last weeks Independent.  Heaths’ new partner Dean had left several papers from when they came over for the weekend, and it was good to read some news even if it was a few days old.  My shirt, sweat shirt, padded jacket and hat attempted to keep me warm, but with two huge gaping holes, where the doors should be, letting the outside weather in, I might as well have been sitting under a tree in the garden, at least it was sunny out there.

I was just about to go outside when Yvon popped in.  Yvon is one of the village elders and lives opposite in a wonderful old farmhouse with his wife Renee.  We had dinner there last year and I can still recall the amazing taste of food cooked in an old, wood fired stove and the simple functionality of their comfortable dining area and home.  Anyway, he had brought over some lettuce leaves, there were too many and the plants were about to bolt so he thought that we could enjoy some,  

Nicholas appeared just in time to translate; I can just about pass the time of day with Yvon, he struggles with my foreign accent and I find his local dialect almost incomprehensible.  He had on his five winter layers of clothing, vest, shirt and two jumpers for insulation, the jumpers were no good against the wind so he had on a windproof jacket as the final layer.  He always wears a cap so that was no different, and under his trousers he showed us his winter thermals.  It has never been heard of before, such low temperatures at this time of year, 5 degrees last night, in all his 84 years there has never been a summer like it. 12 forecast today and it should be up near the 30’s.  The weather has gone mad, not only the weather but the people too, just look at the state of the economy and the crazy things that are going on.  

The ladies at the dance were not happy either, they had to dress up as if it were winter to keep warm, it was the summer dance he said and they were upset yesterday that they couldn’t wear their summer frocks and flash a bit of leg!!

The rain has been good for the gardens, the greens are loving it, but the lack of warmth has slowed everything down.  The tomatoes should be up here by now, he said, gesturing with his hand, and they are only half of that, they have stopped growing because it is so cold.  The courgettes haven’t really done very much and the walnuts are at least a month behind.  He looked outside, through where the big door should be, to check the sky and said that the weather would be all wrong for the rest of the summer.  

Nicholas asked him if he had time to explain how to pinch out his tomatoes again, sometime, and spend a little time in the vegetable garden.  In the next couple of days that will be fine.  It is good for Nicholas to have someone to teach him how to garden and Yvon loves to share his knowledge, his children and grandchildren are not bothered with those old peasant ways, they would rather be seen spending money in the supermarket to show that they are no longer poor, it is a shame that all that know how won’t be passed down to his family, but at least it won’t be lost completely. I hope he comes back before I head off as I always learn something from Yvon when he is in the garden.

Monday, June 21, 2010

dank dark cellar

The mortar work has come to an end for the time being, rain stopped play.  It hasn’t been continuous but fairly persistent for a good period of every day that I have been here.  So down into the cellar instead, to create a drainage channel around the edge to encourage the water that is seeping in through the walls to flow directly into the drain rather than creating puddles all over the place.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult task, but in the near darkness and with ever heavier footwear I got a pretty good work out.  The sticky mud gathered on my boots in ever larger quantities as I moved about and however hard I tried to clean it off, the next few footsteps gathered seemingly more.

The mattock that I had previously used in the garden and found to be a delight, took on new properties too, instead of the earth falling neatly off the end as I raised it up out of the gutter I was forming, it clung on for dear life, creating an ever larger clump that needed dislodging from time to time as it got in the way of what I was creating.

Another downpour outside triggered ever larger volumes of water to enter the cavern, providing an excellent indication that I had the trench falling in the right direction.  After a break for lunch the water began to run clear and the puddles in the centre of the room began to drain.  There was a pile of dust, lime and old mortar in the corner of the tower, most of which had fallen from when Dennis had drilled a hole through the wall, an ancient 1.5 metre thick wall, the spoil came in useful.  I threw down buckets of the dry material and covered the wettest areas of the floor and left it for a while, it soaked up much of the excess damp from the floor which slowly became firmer and easier to walk on.

Thankfully Nick decided that it was no the best use of time to haul the stone slabs down the cellar steps to form the floor at the moment.  He has a crowd of rugby players here for a few days in the summer and has decided that it will be a good bit of training and much better use of manpower to get them to do the heavy work whilst they are here.  The cellar is going to be left to dry out for the time being and other tasks focussed on.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


What floods?

I have had a couple of texts enquiring as to my safety which I thought rather strange until I discover that there have been huge huge storms in other regions of France and that people have been swept to their death in flash floods.

Here there has been light but persistent rain for the last few days, it has dampened the spirits somewhat, and highlighted where the holes are in the roof, but nothing more serious than that.  

So, thank you all for your concern and rest assured that I am still alive and kicking, though perhaps a little damp.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Last summer revisited

lets start at this corner
fill with mortar and leave to dry overnight
then stop for lunch with Nic (l) and Dennis (r)

I am back writing again, I know that a bit of typing doesn’t really take that long, but I never seem to find the time, or perhaps find the inclination to continue blogging whilst I am in the UK.  It isn’t as if I haven’t done very much.  On the contrary the last couple of months have been action packed.  I think that the longest time I stayed in any one place was just after I returned from my winter in the Pyrenees was 9 days, and that was partly because of a change of plan that was out of my control.  

Should I put pen to paper or keep the memories, I haven’t decided yet, but I know that people will be logging on again and not expecting to see pictures of the snow,  this will put pay to that and push it further down the page.

Where to start?  Well, it’s a bit late for that, seeing as I have already written half a page.  I am back in France, Ruffepeyre, to be exact, starting another journey at the same place that I finished the one last summer.  Nicholas picked me up from the airport three days ago and I almost feel as if I have never left the tower.  Little has changed as no one was here for the winter and the new crew of helpXers is yet to arrive.  The forge floor that I helped to lay now has some amazing tiles on it - still to be finished but looking very smart.  The ‘kitchen’ has moved in there so that a bathroom, toilet and bedroom can be installed,  given another few weeks the place might just be habitable. 

The cupboards are still full of preserves, jars and jars of beans, tomato puree,  carrots and the most excellent tomato chutney that I worked on last autumn.  I often wondered, through the winter, how they had turned out, whether they had survived the ravages of being frozen during the depths of the winter in a building without heating and almost open to the elements, if the jars had cracked in the frost or the seals given way and let in the mould, but no, apart from a few, they are all fine.  There are probably enough beans to last until the next crop is ready, the garden has been completely replanted and is growing well,  the preserved ones are delicious and frequently on the menu.  The chutney too, is amazing, I had forgotten that I had made a spicy mix, it has a great curry kick to it and is disappearing fast, Nicholas has it on toast for breakfast and at any other opportunity he can find.  The tomato puree will be on the menu tonight and I am assured that it was well worth the effort.  The thousands of walnuts have dried and are now stored in hessian sacks, available as a healthy snack, included in mixed salads and no doubt in cakes if ever we get round to baking.

I have done a little work in the garden so far, but my main task is to continue restoring the stonework around the building, replacing mortar and remodeling sandstone cornerstones as I did last summer.  It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things, collecting sand, getting the cement mixer going, creating the right consistency of mix and continuing with a seemingly endless task of filling all the holes in the walls of this ancient building.  Satisfying in doses, but not something that I want to do for any length of time.  Thankfully there are plenty of other tasks to intersperse the mortaring, trips out to get supplies and some lively discussions about alternative lifestyles and how we are going to change the world.   It’s good to be on the road again.