Monthly Archives: September 2012

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Making hay…

Having a vegetable plot teaches you a lot about the world. I feel the weather much more than I ever did back in the UK. To be fair, that lovely Gulf Stream keeps us warm and wet. The winters seem to have been worse the last two years I was in England, including weather like this:

In fact, it was so bad the two winters before I came here that I lost almost a month’s worth of work. I wasn’t skype-friendly then. Last year, when we had a cold snap in France and I couldn’t get out, I taught by skype.

But this year has been a disaster in so many ways. First, that cold, cold snap.

I had icicles as long as trees, and no matter how much wood we burned in the day, getting up to 23 or 24 degrees inside, it was always 11 or 12 degrees by morning. I slept in the front room. My bedroom was 5 degrees.

Then the blossoms came. They were a little late, and the cold put paid to some of the early blooms.

That was okay. We had the promise of fruit. There was plenty of blossom. A long, hard cold snap is no deterrent to nature.

But then it rained. And rained. And rained. And temperatures dipped. From high twenties, it was back down to low teens in the day. And it did that pretty much all of April.

The insects disappeared. The blossom went unpollinated. The cold tricked my onions into setting seed.

But as the matron of husbandry points out, a bad year for one thing is a bumper year for something else.

Last year was terrible for potatoes. This year, less so. Last year, fantastic for tomatoes. I harvested over 30 kg. This year, I’ve not even had a kilogram. Partly that was to do with planting, but in general, any of the ratatouille crops have been a bit thin. My courgettes got hit by early cold. Then I had to plant some more. They came up and got hit by late drought. It hasn’t now rained properly since July. And it’s been hot.

So what’s been naughty?

No tomatoes. No aubergines. No courgettes. No gherkins. No lettuce. No pak choi (which bolted from two leaves… I’m leaving it til after midsummer next year, following Susan’s advice) No sweetcorn to speak of. Small onions and lots of bolting. No plums, no cherries, no apples, some pears, small quinces, no walnuts. Few grapes. No leeks. No turnips. No swedes.

And what’s been nice?

Peas. Peas and broad beans. Borlotti beans. More peas. More broad beans. Carrots. Beetroot. Oh, glorious beetroot. Lots of hazelnuts, lots of blackberries, lots of redcurrants and blackcurrants. Lots of cabbage. And weeds galore.

I’m a big fan of diversity. I practice companion planting, which works very well. My onions, carrots, beetroots and radish sets all did remarkably well, and not just because of the rain. They like being with each other and keep pests away.

And, of course, my flower garden, in the courtyard, was fine. It’s well-sheltered and well within watering grasp.

As it is, the vegetable year is over, and it’s not just on this side of the Atlantic that it’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year. This post from Matron of Husbandry tells how it’s been in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, that place is mahoosive compared to mine. And this old Iowa guy explains why he doesn’t have crop insurance. It sounds a lot like the crops round here – corn and sunflowers almost exclusively. However, there are more and more wheat fields and colza fields and barley fields in there. It’s shame most of this is animal feed. That tells you a lot. Meat-eating is not only labour-intensive but commands almost all of the fields round here not given to grape production for cognac or pineau. Most crops for people seem to be grown up north in poly-tunnels, or in Holland and Belgium. I did see a field full of onions though. That was a nice sight. Especially since they’d gone to seed. It made me feel like less of a crap gardener.

There’s something about a crop failure that always makes me blame myself.

But what is true in the garden is true of life. Sometimes, there are crap years. Sometimes there are productive years. It’s a combination of being enough ant and enough grasshopper to both profit from them by storing for the future as well as enjoying the here and now. If I hadn’t frozen and bottled most of those tomatoes from last year, or those courgettes, I’d have none. As it is, there will be enough to take me through to next year.

This year, peas and beetroot have been my ‘pay-it-forward’ crops. That’s not so good, but if it looks like being crappy next year too, I’ll be more prepared and more wise. Such is life. You learn from this year so you can make provisions in the future. Being in tune with the weather means I’m much more at ease with what it can bring.

As Maddie said of a soap opera when told it couldn’t get any worse, she said: “well, there could be a tornado…” and she’s right of course.

There could always be a tornado…

Being obstreperous

By Wednesday, much of my Much Love Mondayness has run out. I start work at 8:45 am and finish at 8:45 pm which reminds me of what I’m like in work all the time. I have an hour off mid-morning and then go all in, hell for leather.

To be fair, I start with the lovelinesses and end with lovelinesses with lovelinesses in the middle. But it still makes me crabby. I don’t think I should have started doing content writing straight after, but I figure if you’ve spent 12 hours working, you might as well spend another one on it. I’m writing content about handbags. Mostly, web designers don’t care what you write as long as you fill the text with key words that pop up in search engines. It feels a bit like stuffing a goose to make fois gras. It’s un-natural and a bit over-facing.

In fact, it makes me obstreperous.

I love this word.

My Nana uses this word a lot about me. She knows me very well. It describes me perfectly of a cold September evening when it has rained all day and I’ve been driving about all over the countryside or wrestling with slow internet connections on Skype and then some editor tells me I need to write things with ize instead of ise. To be fair, this is my own fault. I usually do. I don’t feel like explaining to a bunch of Yanks that a z is redundant because s trapped between two vowels is always z. Hose. Use. Rise. And thus organise-categorise-utilise.

Plus, Merriam liked French. He took loads of French spellings, like color. So why he decided it should be a z, I don’t know. Maybe we English mainlanders had a z and then we moved to the s. Anyway, I usually do it. Google tells me to. Word tells me to. Even wordpress tells me to. So I do. And being tired and a bit cold and a lot obstreperous is never a good time to get into an editorial battle especially when it’s my own fault.

It did get me thinking about some of those words my Nana uses that I love. Words that are sometimes made up, like marmalise. No. Not marmalize. I was surprised to find 4,500 hits for marmalise. 12,500 for marmalize. I’m pretty sure my Nana made that word up though. Pretty sure. It said it first came into use in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure my Nana has been using it longer than that.

Now, whilst she might have made up marmalise, I know she didn’t make up my second favourite Nana word. Mard. Mardy is a good Derbyshire and Yorkshire word. Mard is a more Lancashire thing. I think. Mard. For that time when you’re pouting and sulking and you feel all angry and awkward and soft and wimpy and stroppy all in one. Mard is the best word for that.

My third-favourite Nana word is nowty. When you’re nowty, you’re in a really, really bad mood, all crabby and cross. It’s a good northern word too and I know my Nana had nothing to do with the birth of these words. Mard and Nowty. That’s exactly how I feel tonight. And obstreperous. I think most of my Nana’s words are to do with being in a bad mood.

In my Nana’s family, there’s also a congenital defect. It’s a pouty lip. We call it the Oakden lip. It is prone to make an appearance when you don’t get your own way. I don’t suffer from the Oakden lip myself, but my sister does. I’ve seen it. I have the Oakden calflick that’s not so much a defect as an affliction. Who knew that calflicks were genetic? And yet my Nana and my Auntie Lynne have the same little bit of fringe that grows the wrong way. Tonight, I’m feeling a bit pouty though. I might tell that proof-reader to stop making me nowty and mard and obstreperous or else I’m going to marmalise him. It gets me right mithered.

Let’s see what he makes of that.

Take Tuesday: hearts

I’m doing  a link up I found from Loulou Downtown for a themed photo. I’ve added a song as well because this week’s theme of ‘hearts’ made me think of this song.

Photo first:

Then song:

I loved Roddy Frame. I’m sensing a theme this week. Men in jeans and leather jackets. Has there ever been such an appealing combination?

From Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando to Nick Kamen washing his 501s in the Levis adverts, never has a combination like that been such a great look on a man. But if you get to 40 and you’re still rocking that look, you need to remember that Jeremy Clarkson also rocks this look, and it IS NOT a good look for a man with a midriff drift. To be fair, he’s more of a fan of the sports jacket with the jeans, and that’s not a good look either.

But still, you be my Roddy Frame circa 1987 and I’ll be your Madonna circa True Blue.

Walk with me out on the wire

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by The Boss with Born to Run

Between about 1999 and 2006, I was really into running. I mean really. I mean my physio came to my house and took my trainers off me when I’d been to see him for several related injuries in a matter of weeks. I ran about 100k a week, split up into three or four 10 or 15k runs, and then a weekend run of about 25-40k.

loved running. I can’t tell you how much I loved running. I’d get itchy if I couldn’t run. I’d squash in a 5k run in the morning if I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it at night. I’m not talking a 45 minute jog. I’m talking 25 minutes at about 12 k an hour. Down to Bolton, back up Daubhill. Down Swan Lane, where it’s flatter, as a warm up, then a power up Daubhill, up Derby St in Bolton. Those two hour runs at the weekend would easily turn into three. I’d have run all day if I’d have had time.

I went through a pair of trainers every 10 weeks.

In about 2004, I got my first ipod and that refined my running even further. I went mad for lots of real dance anthems at the beginning, then into power tracks at the end – the cheesier the better. When you know you’ve got an uphill run of 3k left, you’ve given it your all already, a bit of Queen, a bit of the Eye of the Tiger, a bit of Bruce, a bit of Bryan Adams with We’re gonna win. Number 1 was everything.

At that point, I was also doing about five or six classes – lucky for me, Esporta was open until midnight and had classes til 10 pm. I’d finish with a swim after that, too. I’d get into bed, knackered. I loved it. Nothing made me feel so good as all that sweat.

That’ll be the endorphins. Nature’s opiates.

I was truly addicted.

I’d started having sprained ankles every year around January. Once, I was doing some training with a guy from Sale Sharks. There’s this kind of ball thing that rugby players use to simulate the bounce of a rugby ball. It’s like lots of little balls glued together and it can go any one of a hundred ways and it’s great for on-the-spot directional changes. I yanked my ligaments that hard that I screamed, then rolled around on the floor. I went to the physio. He told me to give it a rest. I told him to sort me out so I could run.

Then I started getting real pains. I couldn’t walk in the mornings. I couldn’t even stand up. I went to the doctor and he told me I had plantar fasciitis – a particularly nasty strain of the tissue that joins the bone to the muscle. It would have been better had I broken something. He sent me to a podiatrist. That idiot told me I was overweight at 8 stone and I should stop running. The stopping running I couldn’t bear to hear, and wearing size 10 clothes, I didn’t believe him about my weight, either.

So I went private. The podiatrist made me orthotics and gave me exercises. He told me I had stress fractures and showed me diagrams of my feet from scans. It was the end of my running. It’s a ‘never again’ case, unless being chased by pirates, rapists, muggers or murderers. And I feel like a recovering alcoholic told that one more drink will kill them. I know it will kill me, but boy do I miss it, do I want it.

In fact, the zumba class I went to brought all those endorphins flooding back and made me so desperate for more.

I wonder if it’s coincidence that the last round of depression started when I quit running, when that last endorphin kick happened in my body? When I was literally in so much agony, I had to hold myself against the wall in the morning to walk those first steps?

Perhaps, too my hypomania was provoked by all that natural opium, by that quest for ‘the zone’ – that moment when you feel you are at the top of the world, about 40 mins into a run when your initial fatigue has disappeared. God that place felt good. I felt unbreakable, like every fibre in my body was working in harmony. I felt as light as air, detached from myself. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I can’t truly describe the glory of being in that high and you’ll only know what it’s like if you’ve had it yourself. Unfortunately, it lasts until you stop, or until you hit the wall and your body says ‘hello?????! What the hell are you doing, you crazy, crazy fool??!’

Perhaps, though, I’ve got fewer pharmacological  highs and lows within my own body these days. Now I listen to Born to Run in a different way – as a girl who would just like to strap her hands across Bruce’s engines. Especially if that Bruce still has the very tight little bottom he had in the 1980s. That’s my consolation prize, unfortunately. 

Anyway, Much Love also for the rain we had last night… not had much of that over the last two months. I got a big load of digging in before it rained – it was 31° yesterday. My garden needs that rain!

Much Love too for the winds. They always blow the cobwebs away. Any former teachers will agree with me on this – wind is the worst school weather, worse than snow or heat or rain. It sends the children crazy.

Not Much Love for my delicate flowers of dogs who decided they cannot go to the toilet outside if it’s been wet. I don’t know why. Their bums don’t even touch the ground. Thus Heston laid the world’s biggest turd in the woodshed and Tilly followed suit with a pee more suitable for an old man after a night of ale and a good night’s sleep. Now Heston’s got his arm on the arm of the sofa, and he’s staring at me, doe-eyed. He knows I’m having bad thoughts about him.

Much Love for tomorrow’s planned cake fest at a friend’s house. I ♥ cake.

Who was it that said that bad weather is God’s way of letting gardeners do the housework? It’s about time, though. The house is in need of a right good clean. So I’m going to stick some Queen on to warm up, followed by … hmm… perhaps some Juanes… and then I’m going to get busy with the cif and the bleach and the scrubbing brushes.

What gets my goat #56931

Every so often, on various ex-pat sites, there are posts that go a little like this:

“Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about teaching English to children and my husband is going to start a lawnmowing business. I’ve never taught English, so can anyone tell me if a TEFL qualification is needed? Also, I don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting teaching please?”

And I always want to put:

“Yes. First, gain a love of your subject, of children and of teaching. Foster this for about 10 years as you get a degree in English, then slog your way through a teaching qualification on £3,000 a year. Spend at least 10 years working with children in your native language, gaining a masters and watch about 100 lessons by other teachers, both good and bad. Learn another couple of languages and find out how it is to learn a language. If you are in any doubt as to whether you could teach a language to a complete beginner, find someone who speaks another language, has no command of English, and see how easy it is to learn their language without them being able to explain in your own – at least whilst you’re beginning…”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Teaching is not complex surgery. It’s more like plate-spinning whilst trying to herd cats. That’s a class of 30. The younger they are, the more like cats they are. Or little puppies. They want to pee a lot. They are keen to please but they’ve got no concept of what it is you want them to do. And if you get 5 of them in a row, then you’re blessed.

A class of teenagers is a bit like a class of mixed dogs. Untrained rottweilers sit next to obedient lapdogs; poodles sit next to yappy Jack Russells. And teaching them is a little like getting them to all pull together. You can do it, but put an untrained dog handler with a pack of huskies and get them to round them up, harness them and drive them – well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Some people are instinctive teachers. Some trained teachers with 30 years’ “experience” are born bank tellers or journalists or artists, but not teachers. But even the best instinctive teacher – like my friend Yasmin – they still benefit from having spent time discussing techniques, ideas, seeing other people, sharpening their practice. They’re the ones who end up like Cesar Millan, able to make a pack of 30 crazy dogs jump through a hoop.

My worst fear about those who pick up a teaching qualification on the P&O ferry from Dover is that it’s a last resort and a way to make easy money. So they think.

But they’re often blessed with unlimited idiocy. Firstly, the Charente is the same size as Lincolnshire – England’s second largest county, with a population a third of it. Lincolnshire is not known for its dense population – and the Charente is even less densely populated than that. Angouleme is about the same size as Lincoln. Lincoln… not even in the top 50 biggest cities in England. Barnsley’s population is twice the size.

So logistically, finding work can be difficult. Not only that, like Lincolnshire, it’s a mainly rural community and speaking English is about as useful to most people as the ability to speak Swahili. And it’s an ageing community. And a poor, rural community. For the majority of old people in my village learning English (and paying for it) is about as useful as paying to learn Russian.

Not only are these people asking for advice blessed with limited sense, they’re also not thinking it through. I am the first to confess I do not have a high opinion of TEFL courses. You can pretty much buy a TEFL qualification and not do any work. There are short courses which last less than 2 months and include about 20 hours of work. They’re fine if you are teaching English to adults who don’t have the same needs as a child. For 200€ and 20 hours of ‘study’ you can have a TEFL qualification. You can see why I don’t rate it. You may know nothing about English or grammar or teaching English as a foreign language, but you can get a TEFL qualification. Great stuff. That’s a little disparaging, because there are some great TEFL teachers out there. But they’re instinctively good teachers rather than trained good teachers.

Also, imagine the following message: “Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about nursing the elderly and my husband is going to start a brain surgery business. I’ve never done any nursing, but I love people and I’ve read lots of diet books so I know about digestion. Also, I don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting being a nurse please?”

“Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about opening a software engineering business and my husband is going to start an accountancy business. I’ve never done any software engineering, but I can type. My husband can add up and is very tidy. Also, we don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting software engineering please?”

Ad infinitum.

There are a lot of people who pick up qualifications on the boat and it drives me to distraction, as it does the other, well-trained ex-pats who DID think it through, and as it does the existing population who are also well-trained and a little angry that the auto-entrepreneur scheme is being used in such a way.

It’s getting the French artisans so angry that they are lobbying to get the auto-entrepreneur status removed so that you have to become an EURL or SARL – much more complex and expensive. Whilst it would put off silly would-be ex-pats coming to France (and probably send them to Spain, Italy or Greece instead) it would mean that genuinely qualified people, including the French, would find themselves unable to start up a business. That’s the last thing France needs right now – a more complex self-employment arena – but you can see why so many locals are furious about it. And you can see why I’m so furious about it.

Why, I’m so furious, I might just have to relocate to … hmmm… let’s see… the Atlas Mountains. Does anyone know if I’d be likely to find work there as a shepherd? After all, I eat lamb sometimes and how hard can it be? They let children do it, for God’s sake! I know I don’t speak any bedouin languages, but I’ll get by, won’t I? Plus, I’m sure Morocco and Algeria have got great family allowance and unemployment benefit. And surely I must be entitled to some of that?

A weed by any other name…

Yesterday, a little girl told me a weed is ‘a plant that grows in with all your other plants but you HATE it and you try to KILL it all the time but it JUST NEVER DIES.’

She was right. And I’ve got a few plants I hate right in my garden.

I’ve spent much of this week’s wonderful weather outside attacking the garden before the cold gets here. I’ve pruned, I’ve weeded. I’ve raked, I’ve swept. I’ve trimmed and I’ve sweated. I’ve shifted that much greenery that my bottom-of-the-garden compost pile is almost as high as the fence.

Being outside is a very good place to get your zen on (not your xenon… that’s really different) and it’s no wonder monks spend all their time gardening. It’s very spiritual, once you get past the fact you’re killing nature dead in its tracks. Actually, though, I’m not with the monks on the whole zen garden thing. I like a zen garden as much as anyone else, but stone gardens and bronzed walls aren’t really very zen. I think the real stuff for inspiration is right out there in the big wide world.

I realised about half way through my gardening day that the little girl failed to mention something quite important… weeds have the ability to grow more quickly, more fruitfully and more prodigiously than anything else in the garden. If my garden grew like my weeds did this year, I’d be living in a complete jungle.

Weed number 1 is the sumac, which sends out nasty suckers. Of all the plants people say not to plant near buildings, figs and sumac are the top two. And yet, both are planted right by my barn. Oh goodie.

Weed number 2 is bitter nightshade, which is at once both pretty and a nightmare. It gets everywhere.

Weed number 3 is something I’ve yet to identify. It’s quick-growing with light-coloured woody stems and I’m pretty sure it might be elder. It’s not ground elder. I’m not sure yet exactly what it is since I’ve not investigated it enough to know. I just keep running into it and it is a devil to remove. It grows up through other bushes and it’s hard to get out. I know what it isn’t more than what it is.

Still, you realise a lot of stuff when you have a garden.

Cicero

First off, you can never get it perfect. Nobody’s garden is perfect. You can work all day on a garden, especially one the size of mine, and you could do that every day in the year and still find weeds and things growing where you don’t want them to, or things that won’t grow where they should, or won’t grow at all.

You can be a perfectionist with a house. A carpet or rug is easy to keep in pristine condition. You can spend hundreds of pounds on a house and make a real, noticeable difference. You can’t be a perfectionist with a garden. You’d explode. If you’ve got some kind of neatness issue, a lawn is going to make you cry. Moss will make you cry. Dandelions and daisies will make you cry. You have to accept a certain amount of imperfection and work in progress. You could spend 2,000€ on my garden and it wouldn’t show. Not straight away, anyway.

Most people can’t make a garden overnight. It takes time. So gardening teaches you about patience and delayed gratification. And you don’t always get to reap what you sow. Such is the life of a garden lover.

A lot of gardening is about paying it forward. You do things for the people who come after you. You plant a tree not for yourself, but for people who might not even know who you are or that you lived there.

You make mistakes, too, and then it’s too late to rectify them. Like planting a sumac near a barn and planting a fig on the other side of it. And other people pay for your mistakes.

Gardens tell a little about each person who tended it previously, though. Like mine tells me the previous owners were practical gardeners who liked their garden to be productive rather than aesthetically pleasing. Not only that, they were a little careless. They put things in without thinking whether it was the best place for them. I thank them for their fruit trees and vegetable plot. They liked to enjoy it too, because there’s a lot of outdoor space. But flowers weren’t really their thing. I wonder what my garden will say about me? My last garden would have told you I love flowers and colour and filling spaces with plants. I love the unusual and I love the pretty.

But a garden is a work. It doesn’t just happen. And once you stop working, it does whatever the hell it likes.

Sometimes, I wonder if God feels the same about Earth. There must be days when he too feels like concreting the whole goddamn lot of it and having a huge barbecue area and infinity pool instead.

Now, pool maintenance. That’s a whole other zen experience of its own, I imagine.

 

Bringing out the inner geek

Yesterday, I caught myself searching for ‘installing fence posts’ and watched a series of videos on Youtube and Vimeo about the subject. Yes, people. That’s how I roll these days.

Somebody seriously needs to give me a bit of culture at some point, because whilst my country side is putting down roots, I think the cultured side of me is dying a bit. Maybe I should wear a pashmina when I garden? Or maybe a bit of Chanel perfume?

My quandary is the cement/non-cement post fixing, and I’m still divided on the subject. Exciting, I know. The thing is, autumn is the perfect time to prepare for next year, and I need to seriously think about these beds I want to put in. I want four beds – laid out in a square, a rectangle or rows – not decided yet. And in these four beds, I want to put down some summer-hardy, drought-tolerant things. I’ve roughly got the gardens at Chassenon in mind. Mostly, though it will be fruit. This will be my fruit garden. The flowers must be a little apéro/muse-bouche for the insects, so I need things that bring the insects and things that flower throughout the year to keep them coming.

 

 

I’ve done a drawing, but I’ve messed up on the proportions. That might be why I never thought more seriously about architecture. Who needs a ruler anyway?! Proportion? Pah!

The site for it is this bit:

Under snow

I’m guessing it’s about 35 m x 35 m. I’m going to stake out the shapes today, so I’ll have more of an idea. Where’s that measurer implement Steve had when I need it??! All I know is you could easily get a house on it and have room to spare. So the drawing makes it look a whole lot smaller than it is, and the beds look a whole lot bigger than they will be!

That side of the property gets most of the sun – the sun is on it all day. That’s why I’ve gone with more sun-needy trees and put the raspberries in the one shady bit. I thought about apples, but they don’t mind some shade and they don’t need the sun to ripen in the same way.

Plus, as I learned this year, once the water table rises, the land gets flooded, so I don’t want anything that minds being damp or exposed so much. There are some trees in the fields to the south that provide a wind break but no shade, which is good if you like sun. It’s also good because a wind break is a good thing.

 

This photo shows you the southerly end, where the first row of vines are. There are thirty ‘feet’ and that’s another thing I want new fence post for, because these are falling down and crappy. Ironically, despite being told that my vines are old and unproductive and I’d be better to rip them all out and put new ones in, I’ve got great grapes this year, where most people have hardly any at all. I’m not going in for wine production, so it matters not to me whether they’re very productive or not very at all. They’re a nice wall of leafy loveliness in the summer and that’s what I like about them. So the new bits will be in between these vines and the fence you can see in the top photo.

At Chassenon, Cassinomagus as was, there are lots of gorgeous Roman-style raised beds, complete with a scented section, a perennial herb section and a couple of other sections. They need to be drought-tolerant because they’re a long way from a tap or a hosepipe and in all honesty, you’re making a rod for your own back around here if you do anything that needs moisture. The flower garden will need water, but I can do that with watering cans.

Also, the ground beneath is neither fertile nor in good condition, so raised beds might mean more soil, but I can use some of the great compost I’ve got and raised beds are easier to care for, from my perspective.

It seems like a big project – it is a big project – but I’m going to do it bit by bit like I did with the little flower garden. That was just a starter project. I’ll do a bed at a time and start with the trees. It’s almost time to get bare root trees for the winter, so I shall pick them up then.

I’ve already got four peach trees – one gives big peaches, one is an heirloom peach tree and the other two give tiny peaches that are little bigger than plums, with skins that are impossible to get off. I use these for chutney. I want a good peach tree, with peaches you don’t have to cook with! I also want a couple of apricots and nectarines because I love these. I got two a couple of years ago, but I almost killed them. I know how to care for them better now. Neither peaches nor nectarines need other cultivars for cross-pollination, so the only reason I’ve put three in is for aesthetic reasons. You can plant them only five metres apart, but ten’s fine too.

The other thing about raised beds is that I’m going to build in the netting from the get-go. That way, I can give the birds what I want them to take when I’ve done, and they don’t eat the berries before they’re ready to pick. My chickens decimated last year’s redcurrant and blackcurrant crop. Naughty chickens. These new chickens are much less greedy for berries and are so well behaved I let them wander the vegetable plot.

Anyway… those are my grand plans. If you want to find me, I’ll be watching videos about building raised beds and the benefits of various different weed suppressant fabrics…

Much Love… Wednesday?!

It was always Much Love Monday. But this week, it’s not. I’m behind schedule. Anyway, if you ask me, Wednesdays need more love than Mondays do. You’re kind of working up to the top of the hill and the weekend seems ages away. Not that I have a weekend as such… but Wednesday is still my busiest day.

This week, all this talk about castles has made me hunt out KD Lang’s Miss Chatelaine for you.

It’s all kind of Parisian-café and lovely delight.

So what do I have Much Love for, apart from castles and my adoptive town? I’m loving the way the garden has slowed down so that I can actually keep up with it. I’m loving the warm days and the cool mornings. I love feeling a little cool in the morning, having fresh air and cold water. I’ve got a good little morning routine going on at the moment – dogs first, let Noireau in as he’s always off on night-time pursuits these days. Then a coffee and the little gifts my Google Reader brings my way before breakfast. It’s dark when I get up now, and I let the chickens out at daybreak. About eight, the dogs and the cat have their breakfast. The chickens have their feed. If it’s cold, I do an hour of computer-based work. If it’s nice, I’m straight outside to make the most of the cool morning air. Once the garden is well under control, I’ll be able to take the dogs for a morning walk instead of an evening one – evenings are getting shorter and shorter these days and it’s so definitely autumn. I do a few pre-breakfast routines with Heston and Tilly – he’s such a good boy, but I want to keep him that way. So Much Love to peaceful mornings. Some days I used to be out of the house before I was fully awake.

Apart from Saturdays, I don’t have to leave the house early – Saturdays, it’s an 8 o’clock start these days. That’s almost like 4 o’clock in my head. It’s a long drive down to the south Charente. It always looks really different too. It’s emptier and flatter. The Charente Limousin to the east of me is more hilly and filled with trees. The crops are later, there are cows in the fields and the air is cooler by a couple of degrees. Here, it’s gentle hills and open fields. It’s amazing how much diversity there is across an hour’s drive. It was like that in Manchester too – Southport and the flats to the west, the hills surrounding Manchester to the north, west and south.

What else am I Much Loving?

I’m about half-way through the second Hunger Games book which I’m also Much Loving. I’ve got a French version of The Firm on the go as well – don’t seem to be getting much through either.

I’m Much Loving friends who bring me packets of seeds. How well they know me! Seeds are better than wine, if you ask me. I’m a gardening geek.

I’m Much Loving going to bed, too. Is there anything nicer than when you are dog-tired, getting into a cool bed complete with clean cotton sheets and a thick duvet? It’s no wonder I don’t get far with my books.

I’m not loving French paint. 3 coats with gloss and I can still see Noddy hats. That’s an Adrian Mole joke for you. I can’t exactly see Noddy hats, but where paint in England does the job first time around, in France, milk is thicker and leaves more colour behind. You can buy Dulux if you’ve got a second mortgage to pay for it. I don’t buy Dulux because I don’t have a second mortgage, so I can’t guarantee that the Dulux is thicker than milk.

I’m also not loving flies. There’s goddamn-hundreds of them right now. I usually have the very vile sticky strips which seem to hoover them up, but not at the moment.

I am, however, loving having my kids back to teach. I love the little girl who calls her board wiper her ‘vacuum cleaner’. I love the little boy who likes to beat me at word games. I love the sweetie-pie who looked at me with big eyes and said ‘I can read 27 words in English!’ and I love the bright-as-buttons GCSE kids I’m teaching right now. I love that they’re not indoctrinated by English teaching and they think fresh. I love the sad little boy whose bs and ds won’t stay still and the fact that I get to turn his sad face to a happy face when I show him how to make bs and ds with a sparkler. Maybe they’ll still be a great big mixture, but at least they’re fun now, and not linguistic torture devices.

I’m not loving Education Secretary Michael Gove. That man needs to have his legs smacked. I’m not loving that English politics STILL winds me up and makes me shouty and ranty on various newspaper sites.

So, Mostly Love and some Not Much Love for bad things that need zapping out of existence. To be fair, flies at least serve a purpose. Not sure Michael Gove does.