Saturday, 8 October 2011

A la campagne

I've always been a country girl at heart.

Apart from a brief spell in Birmingham while at university I have always lived on the edge of the countryside. As a young child growing up in Devon I wanted to run a bed and breakfast, mostly I think because I loved the little country cottages we would pass on our way to the sea. Even during our 40 years in Stoke we lived on the edge of the city and our last house, although basically suburban, was opposite a farm. I always said the best thing about Stoke ( in a nice way) was that it was easy to get out of and we could be in the peak district in 20 minutes. But until now it was always nearly, nearly but never the real thing.We have spent the last year in the heart of real farming countryside. Two of our neighbouring farmers raise cows and veal calves and one has sheep. All of them also grow feed crops and our garden is surrounded on two sides by a field used to grow barley.

I have loved watching and feeling part of the rythm of the farming year - from the changing fields to the changing produce in the market. We can walk from the door exploring the lanes, tracks and footpaths watching the changing seasons and the local wildlife - what a life, how lucky am I?

Recent weeks have been wet, in fact the longest spell of unpleasant weather we have had since our arrival, but I find myself unusually relaxed about the grey skies and muddy garden as the land gets the water it has so gravely lacked all year. The main lesson I learnt in my vegetable garden this year was WATER WATER WATER - take no notice of the weather forecast. If it says it will rain it probably wont and if it does it wont last long enough to do any good. So we have been out and bought the largest water tank we could and our next project is to fix more guttering to collect every precious drop of water that falls on the house. We do already have two large water butts but at the moment only the front of the house has gutters so that will be the first project of the New Year after our Christmas trip to England.

Christmas this year will be spent in the countryside too - in the heart of the Peak District where we have rented a house big enough for a family gathering - it should be fun, hopefully we will get some time in them there hills there may even be some snow - not too much I hope - we wouldn't like to have problems getting back to chez nous!

joyeux noël et bonne annee

Friday, 7 October 2011

worth the wait

We sat for an hour outside the office of the notaire - at first in a state of high excitement and anticipation which gradually turned to a sort of "well what happens now" feeling as we wondered exactly how long the notaire would wait and what happened next if the vendors didn't turn up at all! This was one year ago today - it all turned out OK in the end, the notaire started without them and eventually they arrived and we left the notaire clutching our keys.

We couldn't blame them really - selling their beloved Segala had happened rather more quickly than they had expected and they had had little time to get used to the idea of moving out after putting the house on the market expecting a long wait for a buyer. Then almost immediately along came us, money in the bank and nowhere to else to live. We had had problems with our own house sale ( and had lost the first house we had decided on - good thing too as it turned out as Segala was much the better choice for us.

So now Segala was ours but here followed another wait, two days this time, for our furniture which had been in storage for three months, to arrive and then the fun could really begin.

One year on and we feel as though we've been here much longer. There's been plenty of work, lots of changes and we have many plans to keep us going for some years yet.

I just love the garden and it now feels that we have really made our mark on what was here. A well stocked garden has certainly saved me a fortune but there is always scope for the determined gardener!

The biggest development of all of course has to be the pool - May to August was dominated by its installation. Months of mud and destruction, delays and frustration but eventually , two months behind schedule, it was finished. Thanks to the never ending indian summer we have enjoyed we have been able to get good use out of the pool this year and can look forward to the years to come. We are so glad to have the experience of swimming pool installation behind us and gradually the green is returning where all through the summer there has been a mud mountain. Dealing with the pool company was a nightmare and there were times it did not seem possible that we would have anything but a gert big hole throughout the winter but the finished pool is beautiful. It was definitely the right decision to get it done in the first year - message to anyone thinking about it- never underestimate the destruction of your garden which will be inevitable - at least it wasn't my creation in this case!

The family has grown too. The two of us moved in with two chickens and started to make friends with two farm kittens the previous owners had started feeding. One hitched a ride in a visitors car and disappeared, the other adopted us and moved in. We were too slow prevent her becoming pregnant and before long we had five cats. Although having such a houseful of cats was a bit of a worry it was an education watching Charbonne raise her kittens and we were sorry when she suddenly disappeared never to return ( and that after an expensive spaying operation too!). We managed to find a home for one of the kittens and now we have three lucky black cats which is manageable - one for each lap and a spare one on the sofa!

So that's it, one year gone already, its been worth waiting for!

Friday, 17 June 2011

the march of time

Oh well - it had to happen - a "significant" birthday. Can't stop the march of time and the mathematics of another year gone! (Our dancing friends appreciated the croix occitane on my birthday cake)

Whilst I am not keen on many of the results of aging, it is worth remembering that its only because of the luxury of retirement at an age when there is still time to embark on new enterprises that we are here living la vie francaise.

It is almost a year since we left England, at that time without a French home to go to, in some ways it seems so much longer than that as we feel so much at home. We certainly have no regrets about our decision to come.

What do we miss from England?
  • sitting in the pub with friends after clogging practice (and the beer)
  • my hairdresser
  • decent garden centres
  • j cloths ( brought back a year's supply on my last visit to England)
Other than these not much else other than our friends. Family, who did not live near us in England, we are seeing as often as we did and travelling back to England for visits is really easy.

The list on the plus side is just too long. We are loving the weather, living in the countryside, the lack of traffic, the food, the lifestyle in general. Our new house and garden is just what we were looking for and we are enjoying our projects to make it "ours". Getting involved with traditional music and dance has been great for us , we have lots of new friends and Trevor is being able to extend his musical repetoire including learning a new instrument.

The one thing which would improve things for me ( apart from the above list) would be being able to speak better French. Day to day stuff like shopping is ok but the general banter of conversation is more of a challenge as the subject keeps changing. The local accent round these parts ( think Geordie) doesn't help either! I really must look into some lessons after the summer.

On other matters the kittens are thriving - unfortunately still all here and causing havoc - we have banished them to outside most of the time as their antics were wrecking the kitchen. Charbonne ( mother cat) is booked in for spaying next week - better late than never!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Then there were five or how lucky can you get?

We were so pleased when the little black cat from the farmers barn across the road decided to make ours her home too (see post/2011/02/the cat sat on the mat). Bit by bit it became friendlier and did indeed start to sit on our laps during the evening. We began to think of it as our cat and had also realised that it was a she ( Charbon became Charbonne) - must get to the vet we thought ! No sooner thought than it became apparent that we were too late - she was bulging!

And so it was that two weeks ago she gave birth to her kittens and we now have a whole basketful of lucky black cats.

Being a very young cat ( less than a year old we think) it was clearly too soon for her to be giving birth. The first kitten was born at midday but by 5 oclock she had given up and was becoming distressed so it was an emergency dash to the vet with cat and kitten in a laundry basket. The vet managed to remove the second kitten which had been the wrong way up and had died and did an ultrasound which revealed three more live kittens to come. So after a hormone injection we returned home to await developments. Instead of the shed our living room became the maternity ward and by midnight mother and four kittens were doing fine.

So now here we are with five black cats and obviously they are quite adorable. It is interesting to watch their rapid development and the maternal instincts of Charbonne as she cares for them. One of them has a tiny white bib so we have decided we will keep this one ( as we will be able to tell it apart from her mum) and have named her Purdy. As for the other three, if we are very lucky, ( and we do have a lot of black cats) we will find good homes with new owners bit this being the French countryside that is probably not very likely and we have been searching for local cat adoption agencies. Its lucky ( those black cats again) that we haven't got holiday plans this year - French resident visitors will have to check their bags as they leave!

Monday, 4 April 2011

half a year on

This week marks six months of us living here at Ségala - time to take a breath and pinch ourselves to check its all for real!

We have had an incredibly busy six months and become regulars at the local Mr Bricolage as we worked on making Ségala our own. We were lucky that apart from the new ceiling beam and bedroom floor the major works on the house were done by the previous owners who created a lovely home out of a basic barn building. All we have had to do is work on changing things like the lighting and kitchen to put our own touches.

The garden too was beautiful and well stocked with plants which it has been fun to watch springing into life with the warmer weather. I have moved many of them and with each small change the garden feels more like mine. The greenhouse was an unexpected bonus and it is currently crammed with plants and seedlings ready for planting out.

Winter in this area was a new experience - we had been here in November and February for short visits but not for extended periods. It turned out to be more lively than I had expected - clubs etc actually mostly run in the winter months ( our dancing classes for instance will finish this week for the summer)- there were lots of dances to go to and we have met lots of people and generally led a more sociable life than usual. We had to get used to being without central heating and a stone house can take some warming up but log fires and efficient radiators and gas stoves have kept us cosy. Despite some cold spells, frost and snow its not been as cold as we are used to and there have even been occasional lunches in the garden. Its also been blissfully short - here we are at the start of April and it feels like summer already.

Best of all has been our success in getting involved with traditional music and dancing in the area - TC has been able to extend his repetoire and we have met lots of people with common interests which helps to reduce any language barrier.

We love Villefranche which is our nearest town ( only 20 minutes drive away and so different from the traffic and hassle of the drive through Longton and Fenton! ) and visit its brilliant market every Thursday. Today we drove to Bruniquel to visit our little holiday house ( next issue is getting that sold) - a beautiful drive along the Aveyron gorge. The countryside is turning greener every day and as Easter gets closer the holiday businesses are sprucing themselves up and getting ready for the arrival of the summer visitors - glad I'm not one of those any longer!

Now we are looking forward to welcoming our own summer visitors - hopefully there will be plenty - to be able to share this corner of paradise we are lucky enough to call home.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

To bourée or not to bourée?

To bourée or not to bourée?
For us there was no question.

Getting involved with traditional music and dancing was a vital part of our lifestyle here and we were lucky to find a nearby dance association running a course over the winter months . ( see blog 30/11/10 We have cracked the mazurka!). Not only were we able to learn some French traditional dances and meet lots of French people we had lots of "bals" to go to over the winter months. Recently the tutor at these classes has introduced us to another class she runs in her own village. This is, as she says, " des kilometres" away, but is brilliant as there are musicians there who welcome TC and he has been able to join in when they are playing as well as dancing. He has met up with a fiddle player in Albi who also has time to play ( ie is retired from the wage game) and on Friday was back on stage playing bourées while I looked for another partner to dance with!

After my retirement I had fancied the idea of calling at celidhs ( maybe a way of not getting left behind every weekend when the band was playing?) . Little did I know that my first try would be calling a " strip the willow" dance in French. Three out of four sets managed which did not seem too bad ( I have seen some disasters at English celidhs!) and everyone seemed to have fun.

So as Spring arrives in all its glory - are we glad we moved here ?

silly question - vive la bourée!

Monday, 14 March 2011

March winds

The south of France is often blown by winds with delightful names. Everyone has heard of the Mistral of Provence. The Languedoc France has the Cers, Tramontane, Maron, Sirocco and the one which reaches as far as us, the Autan. IT BLOWS! Described as a warm wind it doesn't really chill but it does batter the brains. ( I do remember how a windy playtime always spelt trouble on the playground - I think I know why now!).

On Saturday it was carrying rain and we had a rare day sheltering indoors all day. It made us reflect on the wage slave days when a wet weekend meant so much in terms of frustrated plans. For us it meant a day getting lots of little left over jobs done indoors before a nice meal and a bottle of wine ( yes we do drink wine on other days but usually it comes out of the box). I had thought I'd get some reading done but once again no time!

There was a lull yesterday but today it was back , this time dry but very gusty. The meteo gave the wind speed as 35kph with gusts of 65. Not really the day for erecting fences then but when did the weather ever stop us?


Friday, 25 February 2011


No eyesore needing concealment, no overlooking neighbours, no prevailing wind needing to be fended off, no useful shade cover, no shortage of other trees struggling to compete, no room to manouevre in the drive - in fact no excuse whatsoever for huge, ugly, hacked about leylandii That's if there could ever be an excuse for Leylandii). There were five specimens lining the drive up to the house, cut back at the bottom to allow cars to pass and growing thick and dense - they HAD to go. It has been a mammoth task as we were determined not to be left with another mountain of leylandii debris as we had successfully cleared one of those left behind by the previous residents at Segala. A six day bonfire and much chainsawing later we now have a stack of logs and a lovely clear view across the fields. We can almost hear the smaller trees left behind breathing sighs of relief as they feel the sun.

I have planted daffodils along the line of the fence which hopefully will spread and in the summer we will sow a flower mixture along the edge of the drive.

Elsewhere in the garden things are starting to wake in response to some warm sunny days and some gentle February rain. Watching a garden wake up where I don't know every plant in the garden because I put it there is a strange experience. I have started sowing and planting myself so by this time next year I shall know what to look forward to - for now each day brings new and beautiful discoveries and some welcome tiny splashes of colour.

There is a time of huge disruption ahead as we have the installation of the pool to "look forward" to and the terassier has already warned of devastation and it is time to retrieve plants destined for destruction by hole and trench digging machinery and replant them elsewhere. This is good as with each replanting bit by bit the garden is changing shape and by next year will feel more mine own.