September 18, 2016

FEELING MELLOW AND THE WEEKEND OF THE PATRIMOINE.

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Summer was amazing, in the end.  My brother and niece came to stay for almost two weeks and we had a heat wave for most of their time here.  We spent many lazy lunchtimes and evenings in our picnic area enjoying nice food and the company of friends and family in lovely warm weather.

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I love this time of year.  September is always good, maybe because I don’t have great expectations, so it can’t disappoint.  It always leaves me feeling mellow.

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As August eases into September, the days get shorter, the nights get cooler and the days stay nice and warm.  A perfect end to a summer, whatever that might have been like.

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The roof terrace is finished.  We can sit there with our morning cuppa or with an apéro as the sun goes down, spotting the deer and other wildlife that surround us. 

Then, in the last few days, as if someone flipped a switch, autumn has announced that it is waiting in the wings.  A few showers have brought a green tinge to the grass, which has been completely brown for weeks now.  There is a freshness in the air in the mornings and a chill in the evenings, a sure sign that soon the leaves will be taking on their glorious autumn colours before very long.

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We have just had a very busy weekend, starting with live music on Friday evening at the little bar in Ciran which is called the “Pourquois Pas”.  The local group who call themselves “I don’t know” performed lots of songs from the 60’s that we all know well and we all had a nice time.

Saturday was the start of the weekend of the Patrimoine, when all kinds of country houses, churches and châteaux open their doors to the public for free or for a modest fee.  We decided to concentrate on visiting places that are not usually open to the public at all, rather than others that we can see any time.  It was fascinating.

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Above are pictures of just three of the places we went to see.  There were others too.  We had a great time.  I shall fill you in on some of the details shortly.

August 25, 2016

THE TOMATOES ARE LOVING IT

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We are having a heat wave at the moment.  The sky has been a beautiful, cloudless bright blue every day for nearly a week and temperatures have been in the mid 30’s.  Yesterday it was 38°C by late afternoon, that’s nearly 100° in old money.

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The forecast is pretty much the same until the weekend when it begins to cool off a bit.  We’re all finding it a challenge but the tomatoes are loving it.

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When I think back to how much trouble we had growing tomatoes in the UK I have to smile.  When I was a little girl at home, my dad had a home made greenhouse and in it he grew tomato and cucumber plants, spending hours looking after them.  Feeding weekly, watering daily, spraying for disease, picking out shoots.  Several times a day he or mum would march up the garden path, opening or closing the greenhouse windows to control the temperature inside so that the little beauties would have as good a chance as possible of producing fruit.  The effort usually paid off and I remember the joy of fresh tomatoes straight from the plant, still warm and smelling wonderful, along with home grown cucumbers and lettuce.

Even with a greenhouse Nick and I struggled to grow anything like a decent crop ourselves, often ending up with just enough to make a few salads each year and at the end of the summer finishing up with a lot of green ones that simply wouldn’t ripen at all.

Here, it’s a different kettle of fish.  Or a different bowl of tomatoes. 

We were late putting our plants in this year because the spring was cool and wet so we didn’t expect to do as well as last year.  For one reason or another we then neglected our tomato plants, left them to their own devices, tying them to canes when we noticed one day that the poor things were trailing on the ground.  The plants are by now a scraggly set of shriveled specimens and I would be embarrassed to let anyone see them.  My dad would be horrified if he saw them.  If we had let our plants look like that in our UK greenhouse I would have been ashamed.  Yet they are producing loads of beautiful, tasty tomatoes.  I have already preserved some, roasted in the oven and put into jars with oil.  There have been plenty for salads and cooking and enough to give some away to friends whose plants have not yet started producing.

So it may be too hot outside for comfort for us, including Daisy, but the tomatoes are very happy, I’m happy to say!

August 4, 2016

ROOF TERRACE, GATES AND A PROMISE

Time has whizzed by.  I am slightly dismayed by my own lack of blog posts.  Constantly playing catch-up and posting old news is not what I thought I would be doing at this stage of my life, now that we are more or less settled in our new home in France.  I could claim to have been so busy that I haven’t had the time, but in the past, before I retired, I had less time but still managed to post more often.  Ah well, they always say, if you want something doing, ask a busy person.  So there will be a degree of catch-up and I will try harder.  I promise.

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One of the things that has risen to the top of our to-do list, once the weather dried up, was to rebuild the “roof terrace”.

The very term roof terrace implies something more sophisticated and more useful than it really is.  Basically it’s the flat roof over the well barn and its existence has puzzled us from the beginning.  OK, it’s nice to sit in an elevated position and enjoy the view over the fields at the back of the house from time to time.  We don’t have any other way of seeing this view as there are no windows in the back wall of the house, except for three Velux windows in the roof, none of which are in a position that you can gaze out from without getting a sore neck after two minutes.  But frankly, if the terrace wasn’t there, we wouldn’t miss it.  We certainly wouldn’t have built it and could have done without spending hundreds of euros repairing it.  But…….

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It leaks.  The two layers of tiles, one on top of the other, sit on chipboard flooring panels and these have mostly rotted because water seeps through.  We could just leave it to rot away completely and not use the “terrace” but having something that is potentially unsafe and a no-go area on the property is not our style.  And the barn beneath would be a good storage area once it’s dry, so we decided to bite the bullet and get on with it.

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To access the “roof terrace” you have to climb out of the bedroom window.  Nick first removed the low railing, which was presumably meant to prevent you from falling off the edge, then the two layers of tiles.  Then he had to cut up the floor panels to make them small enough to be carried, along with all the other waste, out of the house via the bedroom window, the bedroom, staircase and kitchen.  This is because the farmer’s land goes right up to the back and side walls of the house and there was no way to lower stuff down and remove it any easier.  What a pain.

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Having removed all the rotten floor panels and replaced a rotten piece of beam, the next stage was to fit new panels made of wood that is impregnated with water repellant, making them less likely to rot and become dangerous if they get damp.  A water proof membrane then went on top of that, followed by the tiles, a long and tedious job.

Looking at the pictures of the renovation of the house that were given to us by its previous occupants, it finally dawned on us why the roof terrace was there at all.  The reason is, we think, something like this:

The bedroom wall, with the dining room below (previously the bread oven area), used to be the end wall of the house.  There was a well standing beyond that wall. Someone built a roof over the well, creating the well barn (or well room, whatever you like to call it) on the end of the house. The pitch of the roof built over the well partly blocked off the window in the wall above.  This will not have been a window at the time, but an access into the roof space which would have been used for storage.  (There was a similar window giving access to the space at the other end of the house.)  Whoever started the conversion of the roof space from storage into bedrooms decided it would be nice to use that access as an actual window.  In order to solve the problem of the roof line blocking the window they decided to chop half of it off, creating a flat roof instead and hence the “roof terrace”.  I’ll post more pictures when its repair is completed.

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While Nick was beavering away aloft, I was busy painting the gates.  We considered buying new gates, more stylish ones, ready painted.  But we decided it would be expensive and not the best use of our money.  Better use would be plenty of good food, good wine, holidays and a pot or two of paint.  So that’s what we did.  It was a long job.  In fact it took me a whole week to prepare and paint the old gates and the new, not quite matching but near enough, side pedestrian gate which we fitted last year.  (Fitted so that we could stroll out with Lulu for walks without having to open the main gates.  Sigh.)

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The effect I achieved is a little more shabby chic than I had hoped, largely due to having to slather something the consistency of treacle on vertical surfaces where it dried rapidly in the warm weather.  But the colour is nice, a kind of palish greyish green, much softer than the old dark green and the non-matching black of the new side gate. From a distance they look lovely and we’re very pleased with them.  All I have to do now is to paint the gateposts a nice creamy stone colour.  They can wait a while I think…….

July 12, 2016

A WEEK OF SPORT

Last week was a week full of distractions of a sporting nature, starting with the Tour de France and ending with the Wimbledon final, The Grand Prix and the football.  I’m not passionate about any sport these days although in the past I had my moments, but the proximity of the Tour de France route got us all excited and we thought “why not?”.  So off we set to the lovely old town of St Savin with sun cream and picnic, arriving in good time to get a good spot.

Of course, it’s really all about the advertising.  The caravanne takes hours to pass through, followed much later by the leaders then the peloton, which goes by in seconds.  If you blink or look the wrong way you miss it.

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Nick found us a good spot to sit and watch, with a clear view of the road, opposite the old abbey.  I couldn’t help pondering the difference between France and the UK when I noticed that the very young female police officer, her motorcycle parked nearby, was carrying a very businesslike firearm.  You would be highly unlikely (probably unlucky too) to ever see a policeman with a firearm in the UK.

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The caravanne started to arrive and it was worth the wait.  What fun these people must have, dressing up and fooling around through France for several weeks, seeing smiles on people’s faces as they go by.

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After the entertainment of the caravanne, it was time for lunch, picnic pies, fruit muffins, ham sarnies and a bottle of fizz.  After what seemed like forever, suddenly it all happened.  The leaders passed by in a flash, followed by the rest of the cyclists.  Whoosh, gone.  Followed by hundreds of spare bicycles.  And that was that.  Time to pack up and go home, after a great day out in the sunshine.

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At the weekend, having watched Hamilton win the Grand Prix and Andy Murray take the Wimbledon trophy, we wandered down to the village for a beer at the PreHisto to find excitement mounting for the evening’s football.  Nick fell victim to the enthusiastic face painting going on but after a while we headed home for dinner and to watch the match in comfort on our own sofa.

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What a damp squib that was.  There’s nothing more boring than a football match where nobody scores.  I don’t get it.  How can people become millionaires for kicking a ball around and not getting goals?  After the first half I went off to finish the ironing, much more worthwhile!

July 11, 2016

LIFE GOES ON

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In years gone by I have learned to be careful about who I told about losing a dog.  There are those that understand and those that think that it’s only a dog and the answer is to go straight out and buy another one.  A conversation with either is likely to find me in tears.  It helps that, at last, summer has finally arrived here in Sud Touraine.  Long, hot and sunny days and plenty of the usual activities to distract me from the constant feeling that I have forgotten to do something, of expecting to see her lying in the grass soaking up the sun, or lying in just the right spot to be in the way on the cool tiles when she’s got too warm.

Two weekends ago we went to two outdoor musical events, one an Irish night on the Friday, with fish and chips – some local musicians playing Irish jigs in the square behind the church in the village, fish and chips being served all night by local people, and very good they were too, popular with both French and English customers.  It was a great evening and we had a good time but my mind wasn’t quite there as it was too soon, and the photos of the event are poor.

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The next evening we went to an annual do called “Les Barroudeurs”, an outdoor music festival down by the river in the next village, Barrou.  This year the music was exceptionally good and much more to our taste than in previous years.  We had a lovely evening in the company of friends and I began to feel a little bit more like my old self.

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Some friends gave us this lovely rose which we have planted in Lulu’s memory next to her favourite spot in the garden.  Other friends gave us a climbing plant which we have planted so that it climbs the wall overlooking the same place.  How kind people can be when it really matters.

We are trying not to let the loss of Lulu spoil our enjoyment of the summer whilst at the same time not wanting to forget all about her.  We just have to get through the first few weeks so that we start to recall the fun part of life with Lulu, not the sadness of her last days.  

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With that in mind, we at last got round to tidying up the picnic area and bringing it back into commission for the summer.  It’s a great place for lunches outdoors, barbecues and long lazy evenings.  The house faces south so is in full heat of the sun, but this shelter always provides a shady spot to sit.  When we first looked at the house we had no idea how useful it would be.

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We have more or less finished the changes to the garden.  We have enough flower beds to provide a bit of colour without having to spend hours watering every day.  There is a small veg patch where we grow a few beans, cucumbers and lettuces but not so much that we don’t know what to do with them all.  There are two rows of tomato plants that we more or less ignore.  The biggest job is the weekly mowing of the grass and transporting the sacks of clippings to the déchetterie.

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All in all, we are feeling settled here.  There are places all around the house where we can sit to either enjoy the sunshine or escape the heat if it’s too hot.  As a last resort we can sit indoors, where it is always blissfully cool.  And with so much happening, life goes on and is pretty good.