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

Friday, July 11, 2014

impressed by an impressionist

Overloaded with such an intense visit I plotted my night time stop over and drove off into the evening.  A cross country route towards one of the main arterial routes heading north towards Calais, there was one campsite within easy reach and with the thought of a hot shower and static facilities decided it was the place to go.  The receptionist booked me in for the exorbitant fee of 7,50 euros and asked if I wanted a map of Giverny, the home of Monet, that was just down the road.  House and gardens open, I was there by chance, so an opportunity not to be missed.  So I ate, had a luxuriating, long, hot shower, an early night, having decided to hit the next spot early before the rush of tourists arrived.  How wrong I was.

I parked up at 8:45 thinking that I could stroll round the village for a while before getting into the gardens when they opened at 9:30, all quiet and calm with no rush or bother, but the car parks were filling up, there were at least a dozen coaches spilling their passengers out onto the tarmac and a sea of campervans already parked up from the previous night.  I had no idea how large a tourist attraction that this place was.  The whole village was a show piece, galleries, coffee shops and restaurants, museums, artists in residence, there didn’t appear to be many houses or places for locals to live any more.  It was all spotless and beautifully kept and it was obvious why, the thousands of tourists that arrive each and every day must bring an enormous wealth to the place.

I queued and paid just after 9:30, hoping to have beaten the rush.  Prearranged groups, however, arrived by a separate entrance and had already flooded the gardens.  Everywhere I looked there were people amongst the plantings, the hum of chatter and the constant clicking of camera shutters as millions of digital images attempted to capture the magic of the gardens.  It took me a while to get, a mass of colours, a jumble of forms, formal pathways and flower borders crammed with more vibrancy than seemed possible.  I didn’t know where to look or how to see what was going on, on top of that the people, it was all rather too much.  Then it began to sink in.  Monet, the impressionist painter,  squint and blur the boundaries and his paintings come to life, so I did the same to the gardens and with some success.  I had tried to see it all, too much, to bright, too bold, when in fact, a softening blur was needed to take away the crisp edges and definition of individual features, rendering the mass a whole.  

The water lily gardens were completely different.  Calm, composed and much gentler on the eye.  The famous bridge, painted an almost luminous green, never free of people, patiently waiting for their chance to be photographed in such an iconic spot.  It was impossible to take a photo without  capturing at least part of someone in the frame, close ups were about the only exception, though even then there was a chance.  One can only imagine how packed the place becomes in peak season, after a couple of hours I had to abort mission and head out into the village for a little calm.  I managed a quick tour of the house on the way, “No photos, NO videos, No touching.”  “One way only”..... , well I said it was quick, I didn’t dwell longer than necessary to get an overview of each room,  just moved along with the throng, at slow plod.  It was fascinating, but as most of the attractions are art, it’ll be easier to see them on line or in a book, at my leisure at some later date than stay with the crowds.  I had had enough of the crowds and wanted to get some space.  The contrast between  two consecutive garden visits couldn’t have been greater.  Both amazing but in very different ways.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

private viewing

Torrential rain convinced me to stop earlier than planned and the tourist office provided me with a local map guide of garden possibilities, the most interesting, an orchard of historical varieties of french fruit trees, open solely at the weekends and in the afternoons, it was a bit out of the way and quite a long time to wait seeing as I had arrived early afternoon.  I dodged the downpours to try and find a well promoted pottery exhibition in the town but was let down, the signage lacked somewhat and after an hour of searching the streets and an absolute soaking, retired to a bar to contemplate my next move.  A day to wait was too long just for some fruit trees, plus I’ll probably be passing again and can plan specifically to arrive at the right time.  I stayed over night and set of bright and early into a new sunny morning.

French tourist offices are there to promote their departement and possibly , though to a lesser extent, the region, so if the office is located on the border of two or more departements they will only provide you with tourist information for that specific departement even if there are fascinating things to see a mile or so away over the border.  I wonder if it is the same in the UK, perhaps I should be a tourist back home from time to time.

I jumped regions and found an interesting flier for a private garden, open weekends only during the summer months.  Being Sunday I was in luck so plunged into the countryside, sat nav in full swing, to find this out of the way location.  The lady of the house greeted me with a smile and explained that, due to the chance of downpours that visits were not available today, the ground was muddy and too slippery and she feared that I may take a tumble.  I asked if there were some areas that were flatter that I could see, but she was insistant that it was not to be.  There were ruins of an old castle next to the gardens and she kept gesturing towards them and the moat as she explained the situation.  I thought it was a bit odd that I couldn’t even explore the obvious flatter areas around their house but decided to go on my way. As I left a asked if there were other gardens open in the area, “Gardens” she said “you want to see the gardens” “Oh, that’s nothing to do with me, that’s my husband, he does the garden tours but people only ever come to see the castle remains so I just assumed that you would too”  She hurried off to find her husband, a friendly talkative chap, who appeared to have been taking a nap, who she explained would be giving me the tour.

I would have been quite happy to have wondered around for a while on my own, but to have a guided tour was something rather special.  He was passionate about the space that he had created, drawing inspiration from greek and roman mythology, the transformation of spirits and gods of the time into worldly beings, the colours and moods they represent and are depicted in myths and legends and how he interprets them into his designs.  It took all my french and a bit more to keep up with the names of mythological creatures and the reasonings behind his ideas, it was fascinating a concept,  linking the two, seemingly unrelated topics, that I had never come across before, but with the explanations provided made perfect sense in the setting.  

Fairly formal plantings around the house, in various themes of colour and form, slowly transitioned, with distance into wilder and wilder areas, melding into natural woodland towards the boundaries of the property.  Clearings here and there with garden art, sculptures, gazebos and other points of interest, a small ornamental potager (vegetable garden) surrounded by wicker hurdles, a collection of citrus - standing outside in their pots for summer and an oriental themed area with japanese maples, prostrate conifers and decorative glazed pots.

I was so engrossed with discussions, and with such a personal visit, completely forgot to take any photographs.  It enabled me to concentrate on the subject without focussing attention on framing shots and getting angles, I probably remember more of this garden than I do of the others where I happily snap away, documenting my visit for later reference.  We strolled the gardens for about three hours, talking constantly, discussing the various aspects along with the trials and tribulations of gardening, the fact that he had never envisaged opening the garden to the public at the start and more amazingly that he lives and works in Paris all week, only spending the weekends in the country.  I couldn’t discover the nature of his work, but he  has certainly achieved amazing things in the time that they have had the house.

Monday, July 07, 2014

chartres in an hour

I stopped off at Chartres for a quick look and to stretch my legs.  Sporadic showers kept me on my toes as I explored the old town at lightening speed on my bicycle:

I must return for a better look round some day.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

percy needs an MOT

Percy is due for his MOT, so I’m heading back to the UK for a bit.  I booked the trip ages ago, thinking that I would have been well and truly installed in Vieuzos, but paperwork has been slow and my departure feels far too swift, I’ve hardly got my feet on the ground and I’m heading off again.  But go I shall and will make a good trip of it too.

The journey started well, with the dates of a new month not corresponding with the days of the week, so I set of a day early, thinking my ferry was on Tuesday the 2nd, and not on the Wednesday when it actually departs. I had an extra day to get to Calais. The early start was not without reason, as I was to find out en route.  First stop, Chalets Tendille on the outskirts  of Toulouse, to pay deposit for my chalet.  There was an offer on special offer, almost the exact same building that I had chosen, but in a thicker and so more solid insulating wood, with higher quality window and doors, floor included (the other model it was extra) all for less that my original choice.  Even with an additional window I am saving on my original purchase price.  I had nearly put a cheque in the post to save time!!

Chalet ordered, my next scheduled stop was at the channel, some four days later, so I took my time.  An online calculator suggested that the journey, using motorways, should take about 12 hours.  I tend not to use paid motorways, as my speed doesn’t warrant the extra expense, plus it’s rather nice to see some of the countryside up close and pass through some of the smaller interesting towns along the way.  I increased my driving by half to 18 hours and wasn’t far out.  With a few diversions taken into account it actually took 19.5 hours for the 817 mile journey, comfortably spread over four days with plenty of time to stop off along the way.

To break the journey I did gardens, gardens of all shapes and sizes, in search of inspiration and ideas for when I get going.  The first, a newly opened site, linked to the art  museum of Cecile Sarbourdy , an interesting concept of entertainment and ecological ideas, demonstrating green manures, a mixed fruit orchard, herb gardens and a demonstration garden of the huge variety of plants within the cabbage (brassica) family, along with more formal, established gardens to the front of the museum.  A fascinating idea and somewhere I’d like to revisit in a few years to see how it develops.

part of the cabbage collection

an orchard, the first season after planting

green manures, planted for all to see.  Thew will be dug in to the
ground or composted before the seed sets.

an older formal part of the gardens

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Lou Rider in summer

Pierre, my friend from skiing, has become caretaker to Lou Rider for the new owners.  They plan to use the chalet as a second home, rather for accommodating guests and will only be there from time to time.  They came to an agreement that Pierre could live there and look after the place in return for a peppercorn rent, he jumped at the suggestion and is now comfortably installed.  He called to say that a quantity of furniture was being disposed of and was I interested in rescuing anything before it headed to the skip.  Of course, was the answer, so I spent an enjoyable yet damp couple of days in my old winter haunt of Espiaube, amongst vibrant green, flower filled, alpine pastures, catching up with Pierre, hiking the abandoned ski resort and enjoying the peace and quiet of off season mountain life,  I filled the van with bunk beds, mattresses, a table and benches and various other useful items in exchange for strimming around the chalet and moving a few items of furniture inside.  We celebrated our new abodes with a curry feast, in true chalet style, and I left content that my links with Lou Rider are not yet over.

Getting on

There may be silence here for a while as there is no electricity, or phone connection, no WIFI  

Do nothing for the evening...... likely story.  When I arrived the weeds were between waist and shoulder high, so I set too, immediately, with the strimmer and cleared a driveway in, space to set up camp, paths around the site and to the fruit bushes that I had planted earlier in the year.  Only then did I crack open a bottle of fizz and celebrate, before collapsing into bed and sleeping very soundly.

It’s been non stop since then, clearing and trying to make sense of what order to do things in.  I thought as much before, but it’s blatantly obvious that living in a camper van isn’t as practical after a day clearing brush in the rain.  The challenge isn’t so much me, it’s keeping the van in some sort of order, having somewhere to put wet clothes to dry, to change and still keep the tiny living area clean and dry to relax and sleep in.  Rather like camping, life becomes a constant juggle of logistics on a miniature scale.  Fun, but not for the long term.  A temporary solution is necessary in the form of a wooden shed/chalet that I can use as a store, summer kitchen and workshop, whilst leaving Percy clear for leisure and a comfortable bed.  It’ll make a big difference not having to pack everything up every time I head out to shop or visit folk.

My early investigations suggested that there was a concrete base under the remains of the pig sties, so clearing that, along with planting the vegetable garden has been my priority for the last three weeks.  Unfortunately no concrete base, just a narrow path between the two sets of sties, but at least it’s clean and tidy now, plenty of reclaimed wood and tiles for reuse and a nursery bed for small plants that I am bound to acquire along the way.  

The veggie plot appears to be an immediate success, well, at least a good start, we’ll see how it progresses through the season.  All my tiny seedlings have been successfully transplanted, along with a carpet of vegetable sowings.  I took a suggestion from an interesting book I am reading on permaculture, that suggested that a variety of seeds should be sown across the area and as early crops are harvested, space is then left for longer maturing varieties.  Rather experimental and an exciting concept if it works.  I’ll keep you posted.

Percy is being kept busy in our new live 
a few whole tiles that I saved from the pig sty

my concrete path to no where

cleared and ready for a temporary home

my nearest neighbour, any ideas of a name?