Monthly Archives: July 2013

Making the boys wink

pinkI’ve had a busy week delivering – yesterday was no exception. Today, Clare and I are out in the garden pruning, clearing up after the storm and weeding. Such fun!

I’ve managed to get a few plums in, as well as the last blackcurrants. It’s made up about a kilo of plum and blackcurrant jelly which should stretch out those last few blackcurrants. The plums are almost ready to harvest, as are lots of other things. Of course, I shall give you a full update tomorrow morning.

The weather is starting to hot up again after a cooler day yesterday, so I shall be out nice and early this morning. I’m planting a few late peas to see if I can get a couple of autumn harvests in. Enjoy my flurry of pink. I thought I’d gather a few of them together for you!

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La vie est belle

Today’s sunny Much Love Monday is brought to you by Guadeloupe singer Matt Houston with his appropriately all-over-the-radio song La Vie Est Belle. 

Profitons-en pendant qu’on est là!

The weekend brought huge storms across the region, knocking over caravans, bringing down trees and rattling roofs. I blithely trotted out into the garden on Saturday morning to look for damage, found only a couple of branches lying randomly 20 metres from trees and didn’t really see anything too serious – a fir will need a big branch helping cut off it, and the Indian Bean has lost a branch – but I think I came out of it okay.

Not so, other people. My dad’s village was without electricity for nearly 40 hours. Mme V had several huge oaks topple, fences break and cars almost get crushed. The only people who could profit from that were the very busy tree surgeons who were out in force across the region. A neighbour of my dad’s was awoken – rudely she thought – by chainsaws at half six on Saturday – only to realise that the farmer was dismantling a tree lying across the road. Lucky for me, I was okay here.

I was very sad that a very grand willow at Pont D’Agris had split and toppled. It is looking very forlorn and I’m not sure it’s in any way salvagable. It’s very sad because it’s an old and beautiful tree and I loved seeing it. I’m such a hippy tree hugger. I’m almost as sad as if it had been a person.

We had been planning to go to see the Buzzcocks in Cognac on Friday – a friend and her family went – but the storms were already starting. The Charente Libre posted pictures of the stage the day after, and it looked a bit like the aftermath of punk at its height, not punk at its tail-end.

The newspaper twitter account had all kinds of photos of trees in cars, trees in swimming pools, trees on caravans. I don’t think there were any fatalities, but there were definitely roofs destroyed; I guess this Monday I have Much Love for the fact that there was no one hurt and that the storm has passed.

I was blithely oblivious, Saturday morning, to the fact that a couple of my friends had trees that had come down and caused quite a lot of damage. I could have gone all day without realising how much devastation had been caused at Mme V’s had she not called here just before I left for work. She had no power and hardly anything left on her mobile phone. Later, the mobile tower went as well and she was left without a signal. The insurance company were ready for calls and the lady on the other end was obviously well ready to receive calls, knowing exactly what to put. With four dogs and three puppies, fences down and trees on the verge of falling, I can’t imagine how crazy Saturday morning must have been for her. Luckily, I had power and managed to get a call out for various friends to get their arses round there with various power tools. One guy got a petrol chainsaw out of it, so he was very pleased. Much Love for emergency-ready friends who step up at a moment’s notice. That’s something that you just can’t understand until you really need it. There was a real sense of community here yesterday of everyone around just mucking in to clear trees out of other people’s gardens. I thank the lord I know at least five people with tractors.

I, of course, am prepper-ready, because I’m kind of scared there might be some kind of earth-shattering event. What do they say? We’re only three meals away from looting and rioting? It’s a bit of an obsession. It has its uses. I could probably feed a few people without needing to use anything other than the barbecue or boiled water. I’m used to the gas going, though, so I have four or five meals-worth of stuff that can be rehydrated with just boiled water. Call me a fool, but having a generator is always useful. Today, I will be mostly checking that everything is fully functional. I’m a few steps away from bug-out bags and prepping to get out of here if zombies attack, but Much Love for my obsessive prepping.

The crazy weather this year has left lots of farmers in difficulty. Some had lost crops in the floods. Then lost them again in the cold or hail. And then this. The town of Cognac are asking for it to be declared a natural catastrophe as much damage has been done to the vines. Some farmers I know have now lost their sunflower and corn crops as well. You can see swirls of destruction in the fields. The TGV and TER trains were cancelled out of Bordeaux. Several campsites were evacuated. Still today, there are 25,000 houses without electricity. Hopefully, they will be reconnected and sorted out today.

I’m finishing off my deliveries today and tomorrow, so I’m hoping for cooler temperatures since it was 32°C last week and far too hot. Likewise last July, it was 36°C on my route. Typically English, I complain about cold and wet weather, and then when it is too hot for me as well. Still, hot as it was I have Much Love for my new beautiful route to Brantome and the surrounds. I just need some more guests so I have a reason to have a day out there.

Anyway, hopefully wherever you are, your Monday is a little less crazy than this weekend has been here!

A tale of nine dogs

Sometimes, I think Mme V is crraaazy. Other times, I know it for sure. With three dogs of her own, she first took on Mr Charlton, brother to my own Mr Heston. She even wanted him more because he looked a bit runty and a bit sad. To be fair, I was easy and could have had either. She could have had my handsomeness and I could have had her “special” runt of the litter. She could have had a lovely, loyal little baby and I could have had her good-tempered sweetheart who seemed to be at the back of the brains queue.

That wasn’t enough. Oh no. Four dogs, four cats and two chatty parrots is not enough for a woman. She started fostering puppies in need of permanent homes for a couple of local charities. The prospect of 12 lab cross puppies didn’t frighten her earlier in the year, though they all found homes very quickly. First came Milly and Molly, now happily with their full time adopters, and then Boss, Brut and Coco, three hot little bundles of furry love.

Into this mélange, I took Heston and Tilly on my little July staycation. Heston and Charlton have Houdini dreams. Charlton only has to get a sniff of an open gate and he’s off in search of marvellous fun in the land-beyond-home. He thinks it’s a wonderful game. Heston is also an escape artist and until I had my fence fixed earlier in the year, he would regularly trot off up the road. To this end, they go on walks together from time to time and they have play dates. Inside playdates where they cannot escape and go off together in search of joyous Littlest Hobo magic moments.

The lovely thing about watching them play is how even they are with each other. They wrestle. They do dog ju-jitsu. They maul about on the floor. They do a kind of doggie capoeira, practising their moves. Then they rest a bit. They rested quite a lot this weekend: 37°C will do that to a dog. Of course, now Heston is back here, he is depressed and has taken to his bed. I think a long walk is in order later!

IMG_0620 IMG_0622 IMG_0624 IMG_0625They are such smiley, happy dogs. Bless Heston and Charlton. Let’s hope Heston finds his mojo again tonight.

 

Blue eyed dynamite

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you with the heady sounds of late Eighties hair metal… Tigertailz to be specific.

Nothing like a little love bomb to put a bit of pink fizz into your Monday. I was torn between this and Noise Level Critical but this is the one that reminds me most of being seventeen or eighteen or so. Funnily, a French advert for Head and Shoulders for men came on before the video, involving a man looking at all the beauty accoutrements on the shelf in the bathroom, shaking his head, sweeping them all off the shelf and replacing it with a bottle of Head and Shoulders. I guarantee you Tigertailz would not have balked at the opportunity to dive into their girlfriends’ make up bags and stick on a bit of lippy or paint their nails. 

I’m not sure how it kind of went from Kiss and make-up that was theatrical, to Tigertailz and make-up, hair and clothes that were straight out of a stripper’s boudoir, but there you go. Lines get pushed back… what was amusing becomes the norm and suddenly you find yourself with a room-full of men with more hairspray on than you. I think you could blame Hanoi Rocks for setting the trend and the New York Dolls for giving them the idea.

I half thought about putting on a face full of TT inspired make-up this morning for a bit of a laugh, but then realised it would just slide off my face.

Here, we are suffering from a heatwave – la canicule – and daily temperatures of mid thirties. It is a little tiring, to say the least. I’d forgotten how hot it gets. Especially since just over two weeks ago, we had daily temperatures of 19° and I needed long johns under my summer dresses to keep me from getting too chilly… Still you get to a point where you are waiting for the heat to break and it certainly doesn’t seem to be doing at any time in the near future. Midnight last night and I was too hot to sleep.

Luckily, I have access to a pool and I am having a bit of an almost-staycation at Madame V’s. 9 dogs, 4 cats, 2 parrots and 2 children and it seems to be running okay. There are three puppies here that Mme. V is fostering – some kind of lab cross perhaps – as well as Heston and his brother Charlton. Maddie informed me they are now 18 in human years as she had been looking at a chart in the vet’s. Madame V’s springer, Dillon, is back to his Hugh Hefner ways and has spent most of his weekend trying to get to my American spaniel Tilly. Even if you are 86 in dog years, a cute blonde will put a bounce in your step.

It has even been too hot to sit outside much, though Mme V has a pool. How can it be too hot to go in a pool?! It was definitely this hot last year mid-August, since it was a friend’s 40th and we sat in her basement instead of her beautifully tided garden. And when I did my deliveries last July, we had 37° too. It seems like my grass has very quickly become parched and dry.

See… sixteen days of sunshine and I can’t find any love for it. It’s true what they say: variety is the spice of life. I think I would say Much Love for the early mornings when the heat is not quite so ferocious.

Much Love, of course, to my little helpx army. One left on Saturday having tied all my vines in perfectly and got through a lot of the weeds in my kale and onion patch. Another arrives tomorrow to my little slice of crazy paradise. I have massive love for workaway and helpx and the likes: there’s no way I could have managed it all this year. Each time you can put a little money aside and get a project done, get a new bed laid or start painting something that was bare or ancient and dirty before. It’s nice too to be able to take people to different parts of the region and show them off a bit. It makes me fall in love with France all over again.

One of my friends from back home arrived yesterday having come on his motorbike down from Abbéville, where he’d spent the night. He is already in love with France, though his first comment was “where is everybody?”

It’s true. France often seems very empty. Especially on a Sunday. People keep their shutters shut to keep the heat out and you can drive through most villages without seeing a single soul. He’d stopped to ask for directions when he got here and as soon as he started speaking, the man said, “Oh you want the English lady’s house.” and sent him right here. Just goes to show… you might think the villages are empty and private, but everybody knows you anyway.

I realised yesterday that there is another English house in my village. Well, I’d realised it a while ago when I bonjoured someone as I cycled past and they responded with a heartily English “bonjewer”, but then I hadn’t seen them for a while. I don’t know if there’s is a holiday home. It doesn’t look like a holiday home – it looks like a massive old maison that needs a lot of work and looks to me like a full-time job. Hopefully, they aren’t trying to renovate it in 4 holiday weeks a year, especially in this heat. Of course, it could be a typical French house and look practically derelict from the outside and then be filled with antiques and overstuffed Chesterfields inside. Who knows?

Anyway, enjoy your Monday… hopefully you have a little respite from the heat!

 

Sunny days

Sometimes, it is time for a bit of R&R. That doesn’t happen so much around here, and certainly won’t happen until the garden is back under control, but I confess I took an afternoon off. Yes, really. Five weeks of marking is now over and I can begin to get outside to sort out what remains of my potager. Of course, now it is 32°C and I can only go out in the morning unless I fancy passing out from the heat. Oh well.

IMG_0616By the time we got to the plan d’eau at St Yrieix, it was pretty deserted. I often plan to arrive places at lunchtime, knowing full well that the French contingent will have gone home for their lunch and I will be able to nab a good spot. We have a couple of favoured places – usually around a tree so we can get some shade. It’s weird. I spend all year waiting for warm weather, then, when it gets here, I spend all my time hiding from the sun and searching for shade.

The early mornings have become frantic with my attempts to do ten things at once; it’s the best time for gardening, for watering, for weeding. It’s also cool enough to walk the dogs. But it’s also when I’m most alert and can manage to work. I need three of me.

I have been busy sorting out a new logo for my business… had finally narrowed it down to one choice after consultation with several people.

What do you think?

Print

My last logo was something I did back in 2007 and was showing its age. Next up will be a redesign of my bills and ‘with compliments’ slips. I’ve already swapped my logo on my facebook business page. Feel free to hop over and like the page if you are interested in all things bookish, wordy or writerly. I have to say, I am very lucky in that I tend to get clients without much marketing at all. But that doesn’t mean I can rest on my marketing laurels. Oh no. Onwards and upwards. I do GCSE webinars in February through to May, but this time, I think I’m going to record them and market them professionally. It means upgrading my hardware so I can record podcasts and getting better screen capture materials, but I’ve always liked that side of things. I am not a technophobe. Luckily, I did a lot of work with audacity back in the day, and it’s still highly recommended. Once, we used it to record the opening of Macbeth, with all the kids recording themselves as witches then playing around with repeats and different effects, then putting it to a soundtrack and adding it to PowerPoint. We used it as a backdrop in the drama theatre and I have to say I was overwhelmed by the effects. Some of the kids had gone for very Blair Witchy kind of films and photographs and their audacity stuff was completely amazing.

Most of the time, kids have this innocent ability to be able to take software and do things with it that you would never have dreamed could be done. They go so much further than you ever thought they could, and often, they have an instinctive ability to know what’s effective, what works and what doesn’t. Maybe I should employ a group of 13 year olds to record my webinars for me?

Right, back to the grindstone. Some of us have work to do!

 

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

Today’s MLM is brought to you by Elton John with I’m Still Standing. 

I might not be off to Cannes today for a little summer sunshine – the beach at the plan d’eau will have to do. I’m pretty sure there won’t be any flamboyantly camp Strictly judges in off-the-shoulder leotards or dressed up as gendarmes. That’s a bit of a shame. The best you get at the plan d’eau is the occasional firefighters’ team practising manoeuvers.

There is much to love this Monday morning – not least the weekend of fireworks. Last night’s fireworks were set to classical music and were quite delightful. Better even so the little celebration of rural French life. There were about fifty or so wooden games all set up, and in true English style, we were there massively early and even got to park right next to the gate.

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Polly beat me 6-2 and I seriously question my gaming abilities. Ironically, I was very good at a strategy one where you have to isolate your opponent’s pieces by removing bridges – that says a lot about me.

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I lost at everything else, including ‘blow a ball into your opponent’s hole’ and ‘throw some little barrels over your opponent’s side using chopsticks’. Oh well. I don’t think I’m less of a person for it.

Before we went up to the Bel Air stadium in La Rochefoucauld, we had a wander through the town. No matter how many times I walk through it, it’s always entrancing. There was a group of guys sitting on a bench at the foot of the chateau just chatting and enjoying the summer evening; I can’t help but wonder if their conversations were as lurid as they would have been should there have been a group of ladies in the same seats instead.

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I’m a lucky girl to live in such a beautiful place.

IMG_0584Next week, it is the medieval festival in La Rochefoucauld – and though it’s a poor relation to the one at Dignac, it’s still good fun. Nothing like wandering around a castle to remind you why people want revolutions.

Much Love, too, to an old school friend who is planning on stopping a few days as he tours around France on his motorbike. We had a ‘short’ skype conversation last night that ended up 30 minutes long when it was only supposed to be five minutes. I have absolutely no idea what we used to talk about as teenagers, but I know I ran up a massive bill (sorry Mum!) and we must have spent an hour on the phone every night. It’s great to have those people in your life where you can just rattle on and they rattle back and nothing much gets said but time passes easily. Years can go by without seeing each other, but when you do, you just fall into the same random chat as you ever did.

Funny how things come round again – one of the ‘highlights’ of our sixth form years was a trip to Le Mans. I say highlights since it was a great trip for me, but singularly managed to elicit everyone else’s grumpy face.

I would like to say it was because I’d been on exchange before – to Angoulême by coincidence, now it is my nearest big town. I was well used to French habits. French children, by and large, go from being children to being young men and women. They don’t become teenagers, at least not to the same extent. Though at seventeen, we’d all passed through teenage angst, the difference between the English and French was a little too hard to stomach for anyone who hadn’t gone native before. I wonder if our French hosts bitched about us as much as we bitched about them.

I was lucky. I stayed with a fabulous woman and her two children, Olivier and Raphaëlle. She took us for pancakes in Vieux Mans, to see Chenonceau and Blois and Chambord. Raphaëlle taught me useful French, like all the slang, and having been subjected to earlier exchanges, I was used to the whole living and eating situation. Not so as a younger girl when I came to Angoulême.

The house in which I stayed always freaked me out. There was a typical sous-sol – for those of you familiar with modern French houses, there is often a garage on the ground floor, and a couple of utility rooms. Everything else happens on the first floor – and there will be bedrooms on the same floor as the kitchen. As a teenager that bemused me. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that bedrooms went off the kitchen.

Also, they had immaculate parquet floors, and in my innocence, I thought they were too poor for carpets. The only place I went that didn’t have carpet was school.

The final thing that freaked me out was the whole three-course or four-course eating experience. We had two dishes at home. The main dish, and, if we were lucky, a pudding. Here, we had salad, then vegetables and meat, then dessert. Plus, we had to keep our cutlery from the salad for the second dish. I was appalled. It was as if somebody had given me a licked spoon to eat my trifle with. I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat a plate of tomatoes with oil on them. For me, a salad was composed of three things. Lettuce. Cucumber. Tomato. And we didn’t pour oil on it. I was such a little snob with weird British cultural values.

Funny to think those things became cultural norms in England. Parquet floors and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. Also funny to think I now live right up the road from that first exchange visit in my home town’s twin town.

Anyway, Polly and I are off out the garden for a bit of light gardening, tying in the vines and bringing the garden back under control a little. Then it will be the plan d’eau for a little R&R.

summer

 

Hot pink mess

When did I become the kind of girl who has pink shutters and dahlias?

I’m not entirely sure.

I’m getting worse in my old age.

Today, I went rampant with the secateurs and cut a hodge-podge of hydrangeas, roses, geraniums, dahlias and achillea – all of the hot pink variety. Then, I thought to myself, “well, lady, that’s just not pink enough. Why don’t you put them in front of your pink shutters for the full-on hot pink mess?”

hot pink messMore frou-frou, frill and froth than a tart’s boudoir.

I’ve not completely lost the plot. I’ve been perving at gardens on Pinterest and planning out more borders, more flowers, more perennials. I am in love with my perennial bed here, filled as it is with flowers of the above shades, and worse. The monarda, ruby rudbeckia and purple penstemon are all in there. I’m amazed how quickly it’s grown, seeing that stuff in Manchester seemed to take about fifty years to get established and more frequently than not died off.

The Pinterest perving has been much more subdued.

This is a picture from Ben Pentreath, a shopkeeper and architectural designer (according to his twitter feed anyway!)

How beautiful are all those blues and whites? I adore it. I long for borders like these.

The potager is just magnificent. I covet it.

The next is a little white-overkill, but you get the idea. I love it too.

No?

I have the perfect spot for it as well. It means some major clearing, but I figure slowly, slowly catchee monkey… it’ll get there eventually.

I’m pining for being able to work full time in my garden every day of the year. That’d be an absolute dream. As it is, it’s stolen moments and never quite enough. Oh well.

On our walk last night, we came across a man in full camo gear complete with tripod for his rifle and some kind of bizarre niqab camo thing. He said he was hunting foxes. I didn’t look either approving or disapproving because I have long since learned my opinion about fox hunting is a bit like my opinion on men having nipples. I have an opinion, but its impact on the world is minimal and its point is non-existent. I was more worried about him shooting Heston or Tilly. It’s a bit out of order to be hunting stuff when you’re not in neon and when you look a bit like a strange lady jihadist with a penchant for woodland camo patterns. It must work though because neither of my dogs barked at him. Perhaps they just didn’t see him.

It is lovely to be out walking at nine thirty as the sun is setting.

sunsetHeston had a romp across a field to chase some swallows. He managed not to bark at crows or cows although I’m on the verge of sending lady-boy jihadist round to shoot the owners of the labrador at the last house in the village. Why anyone in their right mind would allow their dogs to behave as they do is anyone’s guess. I love it when the guy tuts at me for walking past with H&T. I feel like walking past his house fifty times until he teaches his dog to come when it is called. Heston has needed quite a bit of training not to bark at every living thing that makes a noise beyond the garden, but at least he can now stay out with me in the vegetable garden without going mental every time my neighbours’ children go past on bikes. I wish he wouldn’t bark at guests, but we’re working on that. Maybe they just all need camo niqabs and shotguns?

 

Flowers and more flowers

Having read my blogger friend Loulou’s post about roses, there’s obviously a transcontinental love of the rose going on. And let’s face it, what’s not to love?

IMG_0532This is one I planted this year – I have only one rose bush (the one with the pink and cream flowers I showed you yesterday) and I’m already in love with the colour of this new one. They may be blousy and trampy and ostentatious and showy, they may be the over-cultivated, needy Marilyn of the flower world, but I love them. And with colours like a tropical sunset, you can see why.

My favourite non-fruit tree is also in flower. Is it weird to have a favourite tree? I’m such a tree hugger. This is the Indian Bean tree flower or the flower of Catalpa bignonioides for the fancy-pants botanists among you.

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Its flowers are not unlike my favourite wild flower, bastard balm (seriously!) which smells of cherry almond bakewells and looks like a pretty little orchid. This tree is huge – another thing I love about having lots of space here – who gets to own a huge tree in their life? The bark is gorgeously ap-peeling and the heart-shaped leaves are just as lovely. It’s the last thing to get leaves and one of the first to lose them, but it is well worth waiting for.

Yesterday, I spent the morning in the garden. It got too hot for gardening after 12pm and I’m a wuss; I could have carried on in the shade but was feeling the effects of doing five hours outside. It’s delicious at 7am. At midday, it’s only fit for mad dogs.

plums

Guess who will be making plum sauce for her Chinese food later in the year?

I managed to finish the brassica patch and move on to hoeing the big patch. I noticed that there is a tiny little corn growing on one of the mini-pop corn already. I can’t wait. I love the cute little blonde hairdos the corn sport. The brassica patch is looking decidedly forlorn without its weeds. I need to plant in some stuff to fill the gaps. That’ll be a job for tomorrow morning, I think. I tied in and trimmed back 30 vines – the rest will get done over the next week unless the weather gets really too hot to handle. I did think about putting up a parasol over the bit I was working on, but it seemed like a lot of faff. I’m a worker butterfly. I prefer to flit from task to task doing a bit here and a bit there. I don’t have the patience to sit things out and be a perfectionist. It’s a good job because a gardener has little time to be a perfectionist; it’ll drive you crazy in trying.

pumpkin flower

The pumpkins are also putting out flowers, though they have yet to set fruit.

I easily slipped back into the habit of 7-11 outside, then spending the afternoon either inside or seeking shade. Today, I even had the luxury of spending a glorious hour on a sunbed under a parasol with a book. Wonders will never cease. Still, it’s no rest for the wicked because the rest of the exam papers get ‘released’ today and it turns into a colossal bunfight over who can mark the most before they all run out. On Saturday, I have a helper arrive – can’t wait! – for a week, and then another from the 23rd, as well as a friend or two en route to other places. It’s a good job the weeds and grass slow down from here on in, because the temperature looks set to stick at 26°C or above for the next two weeks (as well it should at this time of year!) and it gets a little sweaty out under the Charentais sun.

Is it crazy I’ve been thinking of getting up at 6am to go out and garden?