It was partly the great view on one of the pictures on the HelpX site that brought me here, but there were other reasons too. A determination to find a french host and to speak more of the language was a priority, Innes, however, spent her early years in England, before during and after WWII, schooled at a private convent school and then living in the countryside near Manchester during her twenties, her english is just about perfect. We do try to speak french, but with the enthusiasm of the conversations it does tend to revert. To remove myself from the Tower before I became too settled and entrenched in routine, it is a great place to be, and even through the worst weather it was still fun and enjoyable, even more so now, as other helpXers have started to arrive along with more challenges and projects. I gave George a briefing on the garden and am hoping that he rises to the challenge. I also need to feel as if I am in a foreign country, being in the same familiar environment to last autumn, it almost felt as if I haven’t gone anywhere. And also for a bit of tranquility, a bit of calm and a change of scenery.
None of my original enquiries have brought as much as a reply, let alone an invitation, not that invitations have been scarce, I could be in Ireland on a pig farm, a Normandy building site, in Spain gardening and with countless other English hosts across the region. I took Innes’ invitation, a short journey up the valley, to get me moving again and it is wonderful here.
The property is perched at the end of a promentory overlooking a steep valley, with the Medieval settlement of Conques on the far side. It is tranquil and very beautiful here, at the end of a long narrow track with no visible neighbours and surrounded completely by countryside. The main house, a cottage that is being renovated by other courageous helpXers, there is only one here at the moment, Vinco, a Croatian who has been living in Sweden for several years. Quiet and football crazy, but interesting if you can get him to talk. I will probably help him later on, but am primarily here to get the garden back under control and into some sort of order for the summer.
Innes is a great character, and our interests and humour overlap well. She has a fascination of useful plants and they are growing all over the property, collections of jams and oils and all sorts of things drying from beams and jars of leaves and petals; a subject that is becoming more intriguing to me the more that I discover. With buying and selling property and how to get a bargain. So many times she has doubled her money buying and selling within a month or two, just by making a few alterations or adapting places to fit with potential buyers and no doubt had her fingers burned as well. I grew up with all that and understand the excitement and pitfalls well. Of good food and cooking, though, now that she is older, prefers if someone else does the work and she can arrive to enjoy the results. The reason that she has helpers, and for long before helpX ever began, to get things done that she is unable or, in later years,has become, incapable of achieving herself.
She laughs when she tells me about past helpers, “usually the young ones. They won’t drink my raw milk or funny bread. They want ‘Baguette’ that is the french thing to do, not that country stuff” she refers to the lovely local brown bread full of seeds and grains. “So I buy them baguette.” “I tried to give them my herb salt, it took hours to make, and broke my last coffee grinder. They are almost impossible to come by now, you know. The man in the shop said,”why on earth do you want to buy a grinder, it is much more modern to buy ready ground coffee these days” “”I know, I told him, “but that’s no good for my dried herbs now is it?” I ordered one of Amazon, but it never arrived.” she shrugs her shoulders the way only the french do and goes on. “They look with suspicion at the green mixture in the jar and demand real salt,”like the stuff you get in the supermarket” so I get them their salt and keep the good stuff for myself. I don’t suppose you would use it if I gave you some?” I told her that there was some downstairs in the summer kitchen and I had used it already. She was pleased.
“I make all this jam and wine and I never get through it. I just don’t like to see the fruit go to waste.” Innes was showing me around one of the cool outhouses. “Do you like jam?” I nod. “Then you must take some, the young ones, they don’t want it, they need to have it from the supermarket with a label.”
Shopping is in the traditional way, although some essentials are purchased from the supermarket. Then, as much as possible from the Bio (organic) section. The local market for fresh fruit and vegetables, local bio bread, bio live milk, honey and cheese. The local butcher for locally grown meats and more cheeses and the garden and hedgerows for most other ingredients. Simple well cooked food is always the best, although it was a bit of a shock to unwrap a chicken and find it still its head attached. The dog enjoyed crunching at it for a while and the giblets made wonderful gravy.