Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A note at bedtime

After a hot day, and with an even hotter one promised for tomorrow, I’m just sitting in the garden as the day cools, enjoying a quiet glass of calvados after supper and watching the sun set and a swarm of little flies dancing with impunity until the bats leave our loft for their nightly hunt. High in the sky a couple of north-bound jets leave glittering contrails in the afterglow, while two talkative birds converse across the whole width of the garden. In the huge poplar by the lane, I can see massive balls of mistletoe which we are legally bound to get rid of in this apple-growing area, but that's a job for another day...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Proud Grandma moment

I think this may be the first time I've ever posted while there are comments still to be answered on my previous post, but I just can’t wait to tell you my news. Yesterday, after a wonderful extended lunch with friends (6 courses, 4 hours at the table!) followed by yet more conversation, DH and I decided we were just too tired to stay on in town for a concert which didn’t start until 8.30pm.

Thus it was that I was already in bed when the phone rang just after 10pm and DH hurtled down our steep staircase to answer it. A few minutes later he was back with the wonderful news that he’d been talking to Grandson#1, who had just learned that he’d passed his Grade 8 trumpet exam with distinction! Of course I too hurtled downstairs to ring him with my congratulations and he was obviously a very pleased and proud 15 year-old.

What we didn’t know then and have only learned this morning, is that DD had also had the result of her Grade 3 flute exam, which she too has passed with distinction after only 9 months of lessons. This is her third instrument after saxophone and piano, and we’re both delighted for her.

I tell you, I’m so thrilled and proud of them both I could burst! Meanwhile Grandson#1 is toying with the idea of taking up the trombone, just in case he hasn't enough to do with piano, organ and trumpet...

Image via Google

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Who needs a gym?

Not me, at least not when I’ve got a battered French garden to get back into shape. Once last weekend’s rain was over and I’d paid my first visit to my Monday afternoon craft group, this week has passed in a flash. I’ve spent much of each day in the fresh air, wrestling the mower over the mess the cattle have made of our ground. Already I feel fitter and ache less in the mornings, so perhaps I shouldn’t be cross with the beasts for doing what comes naturally.

I’m not referring to the inevitable cowpats, since any gardener knows that a bit of well-rotted manure is not to be sniffed at. It’s the inches-deep holes punched by their hooves which have made life so difficult this week. Some of them are big enough to trap the mower’s front wheels, making progress very stop-and-start and sometimes achingly slow and tiring.

It’s only now that most of the grass has had its first, high cut that I can assess the extent of the damage and I use that word advisedly. Mowing our uneven ground has never been easy, but the current unevenness is off the scale in comparison with previous years. In fact a few areas of the garden – under the trees and in the lee of the house – resemble nothing so much as small-scale buffalo wallows, created when the poor animals huddled in what shelter they could find during the terrible weather we (and they) endured last winter.

In order to stop the unwary visitor (or indeed DH and me) ricking an ankle, I’m busy filling all the holes with grass cuttings, topped off with the fine soil the moles have so kindly provided for me. Elegant it isn’t, but the cuttings will rot down and the grass will eventually grow back through, as I’ve proved in various parts of the garden in previous years. In the meantime, much of what passes for our lawn looks like it’s suffering from a virulent attack of measles or smallpox and certainly won’t win any prizes for best-kept garden in the foreseeable future.
Humps, bumps and aching muscles

On a  more cheerful note, I’ve given my little flower border a jolly good forking-over and weeding and have planted out the new plants I brought with me. To do this I had to dig holes in parts of the border which have never been thoroughly dug, which has resulted in another fine crop of stones being brought to the surface. It appears to be impossible to stick a fork in the ground here without hitting a stone, so my arm muscles  (and my patience) have been having even more exercise.

New rockery anyone?

Progress IS being made

Now it’s time for a well-earned break. Tomorrow we will be out all day, enjoying what will certainly be an extended lunch with old friends, followed by a concert in the evening featuring an a capella women’s choir in the fine church in Saint Hilaire-du-HarcouĂ«t. I shan’t know myself in something other than my gardening clothes.

At the weekend our neighbouring commune up the hill will be celebrating its fĂȘte communale and commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of this area. Despite a less than promising weather forecast for Saturday at least, DH and I will enjoy joining in with some of the events, though we draw the line at a dance that doesn’t even start until 11.30pm! We know our limits…

Friday, June 27, 2014

Putting down roots again

…in more ways than one. We spent a very enjoyable few days, first with DH’s mother and then with DS and his family 

Father and son and the dog that tried to drink the river dry

and finally boarded the ferry on Monday afternoon in brilliant sunshine. After a crossing as calm as the proverbial millpond and a slow and stately journey up hill and down dale (the van was very heavily laden this time) we finally arrived not long before midnight.

Brushing aside the cobwebs (the spiders really have been busy over the winter) we fell into bed and woke up next morning to another warm,  sunny day, perfect for starting to clean the house and empty the van. While DH hoovered up cobwebs, I started to unpack bags and boxes and try to remember where I’d stored their contents in previous summers.

This familiar routine was rudely interrupted when I switched on the bread machine to make some fresh bread, whereupon there was a loud crackle and sparks flew out from round the base, together with a strong smell of burning! I hadn't any choice but to turn all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and by following the instructions on the back of the flour packet I managed to produced a very authentic-looking and really tasty boule – a traditional round French loaf. I even got the crust crisp by doing the ‘tin with water on the floor of the oven’ trick. I can see making bread by hand becoming a regular occupation.

Back we went to work, only to be interrupted again, very pleasantly this time, by the arrival of an old friend with a welcome present of eggs fresh from their hens, which of course gave us a wonderful excuse to sit down for a coffee and a good long chat.

The days since then have fallen into our customary settling-in pattern of cleaning and sorting out the house and beginning to tackle the garden. The travelling pelargoniums are safely settled in their pots and my little flower border has survived the winter remarkably well. Once I’ve had time to tidy it thoroughly and the new plants I brought with me have bedded in, it should look rather pretty. The grass is another matter.

Back in their familiar blue pots

As I've mentioned before, our so-called lawn is the remains of an old orchard, which is grazed all winter by our neighbour’s young stock and frequented by some of the most active moles I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. The combination of mole-hills and cowpats makes mowing an interesting experience at the best of times, but add to the mix the results of one of the wettest winters on record and mowing the grass may turn into an endurance sport.

The very small campervan up to its hocks in grass

As the cattle milled around on the saturated grass trying to find shelter from the endless rain and wind, their hooves must have sunk into the ground over and over again, each time compressing a neat little hollow, surrounded by a crater rim, both of which have now hardened in the last few weeks of sunshine to the consistency of concrete. It makes walking across the long grass feel like traversing a cobbled street and trying to mow starts to resemble pushing a heavy weight across corrugated iron. It’s a good thing French mowers are built for rough ground!

I hardly dare say this after the winter we've had, but what it really needs is a good long soaking to soften the topsoil so that I can level off the humps and bumps. Unfortunately all we've had so far is a couple of light showers, though this may change over the weekend, if the forecast is to be believed.

Still, it’s good to be back and to realise that my French is getting better year by year, so that I can chat to the newsagent and read the local paper without feeling the need to reach for a dictionary. It’s good to have been invited to lunch by friends we met in our first summer here and to watch the cherries gradually ripening and even to catch a glimpse of one of the cats in the distance. It’s good to be back.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

En route

…or we soon will be. The saga of our poor neglected campervan meant that we had to wait until all was well again before we could safely book our ferry crossing, so it was only at the end of May that we finally knew our departure date. Now, if all goes well, in a week’s time we will be once more ensconced for the summer in our small cottage in Normandy.

Well, I say summer…  As longer-term readers of this blog will know, the weather in southern Normandy is not very different from that in southern Britain. Maybe a degree or two warmer in summer and sometimes a degree or two colder in winter, but it is still recognisably a maritime climate and that means changeable.

Not for us the settled expectation of hot sunshine in summer and freezing temperatures with snow in winter. As the old quip goes, we don’t have climate, we have weather and sometimes it seems as if we experience all four seasons in a single day. This makes packing for a summer stay an interesting conundrum.

Yes, we can reasonably safely pack the swimsuits and leave the snow-boots at home. After that it’s anyone’s guess what the weather will throw at us. We’ve sweltered in September and had the wood-burner glowing and the hot-water bottles toasting our feet in July before now. We’ve had weeks of drought, with every drop of washing water saved for my rapidly shrivelling plants, and weeks of rain, with the grass growing to hayfield level before I get a dry day to cut it.

So with my hand now healed enough for me to get on with the packing, I’d better start sorting the T-shirts and the sweaters, the sandals and the wellingtons, so that whatever the weather, we will at least be appropriately attired. Then we can start looking forward to the journey and to seeing our friends again, to eating different food, speaking a different language, and, in my case at least, worshipping with a different church community.

Who knows? We may even have kittens in the woodshed again….