Sunday, 7 March 2021

New swimming place

For me, both swimming and walking almost always inspire writing ideas. Walking in our new region, no problem - loads of paths, quiet roads and woods. The swimming aspect is more problematic. I never anticipated buying a house with a pool but our last abode had one and over the years it provided masses of exercise, great pleasure, and general inspiration for my plot lines, characters etc. 

In our new house there is no pool, a small river, but not big enough to get into. The loire is reachable by bike but not advised swimming, the currents being very strong. So I've been on the look out for other wild bathing options. Of ponds noted on recent cold winter walks the one featured below has distinct possibilities.

Pond swimming is probably my favourite form. Possibly because of all the trips my mother and I made to the Hampstead ladies' pond in the 70s - a great green-brown pool of soft water to be shared with ducks and other women as they quietly breast-stroked their way around, hair covered by rubber, flower-decorated swimming caps. 

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Less stress and less expense

We are gradually 'doing up' bits of our new (old) house, no great changes but just finishing off uncompleted projects started by the previous owner and replacing vital things such as the failing ancient cooker. 

The second floor has long been a fairly dead space waiting to be be enhanced and fully used, the shower room undecorated and with a plastic shower cubicle which I disliked and wished to replace with a simple tiled area and glass panels. We allowed this within our budget and duly visited Leroy Merlin (planet of DIY/Hell) to find the simple glass panels, inexpensive tiles, etc, and leave with all that we required, happy in the knowledge we would be improving the house and it was all worth it....

Within five minutes of staring at the mile or so of shower exhibits, gawping at prices and then actually envisaging pulling out the exsiting shower, the cost and disruption . . . suddenly the idea of reusing what we had was an interesting challenge: no landfill, and virtually no cost.


The floor is the original basic mulched up wood flooring - whatever this is called, a tin of blue paint, two sheets of mosaic tiles, a new wall light and a mirror which was, I think, a grandfather clock face surround. The little cupboard came from 'Aspire' ace recycling emporium for 10 euros - quick sand and a coat of the white tinted varnish I used on the floor.

I think if we'd done a complete refit the cost would have been around 2000 euros including building/plumbing help, reckoning up the cost we've spent in all is probably more like 150 euros without tip trips and took two days rather than a week.

Next thing: the kitchen...

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Take me to the river

Or rather, take yourself to the river.

Rather than the more usual dog walks of half an hour or so I decided to walk to the Loire and back from our house. Mark can do this in half an hour (each way) but then his legs are considerably longer than mine and he doesn't stop every four minutes to look at some minuscule thing - a budding branch, a woodpecker high up in an oak tree, graffiti on a wall, a worm in need of rescue from the road tarmac, etc. Plus, with dogs, the walk time has to be increased if you take into account all their pressingly dog-important issues of smelling almost everything and attempting to pull one through hedges after a spurious sighting of a rat, bird, cat, lizard, et al. Anyway, it's all part of it. Exploring on a very small scale; something to be done increasingly as travelling anywhere very far away seems unlikely, and to my mind a major change humans will have to adjust to if we are going to take planet-saving in any way seriously.

Not a very exciting field but one that our previous house owner says is a butterfly extravaganza in summer

                                              The 'posh house' of the so called, posh house dog walk

And its moated garden

                       A tower we have often passed and wondered what its purpose was.

          Today I met the owner of the house that sits in front of it and asked him - water tower which was used to provide heated water to heat the greenhouses

The thought of lunch prevented me actually getting to the river but we reached La LevĂ©e - the road and dyke constructed to keep the Loire from flooding the important crop lands (the side we live on) - and walked along until we reached the rather beautiful manor which has a box hedge maze in its grounds. I've often driven past this but it's not until you walk you can be really observant and/or nosy...

The maze

Three magnificent cockerels and two suspicious ducks

Dogs waiting for owner to stop sitting in a bus shelter - I needed a leg rest, unlike them

Spring is certainly here, and it's interesting for an ex southern France dweller to note the differences. Actually, not as many as I thought there might be. I was happy to see the familiar sight of almond blossom this morning, something I always enjoyed as one of the earliest spring signs. Also, mimosa almost as early as on the southern coast. Daffodils and snow drops were everywhere, willows beginning to sprout their soft white buds, and something that caused me drop to my knees on a muddy verge and investigate at close quarters: a snakes head fritillary in full flower. I've never seen on of these in the wild - strange and almost reptile-esque, like a . . . snakes head.

The marvellous flower


Saturday, 13 February 2021

Things you come across on the internet

Well, my friend Mal did when he was looking to buy a copy of my kids' book 'Alfi Beasti, don't Eat That'.
A wonderful reading by the nursery reader of Bede Community primary school.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Look! I made some bread!

the huge bread, inspired by a loaf from a local wood-fired bakery

There's been a flurry of bread-making posts on all social media over the last year, and I salut this!! Make bread! it is really easy - honest, and you don't need a huge clunky plastic item to clutter your kitchen worktops; just a large bowl, a piece of marble for kneading (if possible) wooden spoon, flour, water, salt, bit of oil - if you like, plus extras if desired such as sunflower seeds, olives, dried tomatoes, marmite just kidding.... and an oven. Bread tins are good but Mark (king of bread-making - and has been doing so since student days back in the carboniferous period - he-he, just a joke, dearest) has just created this amazing medium cat-sized pain de campagne in an old pyrex baking dish as we can't find a metal oven 'sheet' that will fit in the ancient, 70s relic that we we cook on and in.

                               The 70s national-grid emptier - but actually the oven is very efficient 

We have an ancient bread-oven in the spider-filled not-yet-developed part of the house, or at least the surround and opening - sadly the actual huge igloo like oven of this region was taken away at some point - and I would dearly love to reconstruct it. There are people who can do this in the locality but as we have more pressing renovation to attend to it will have to wait. But it is nice to know that the ghosts of all those loaves still inhabit the room and maybe we can add to them with our own range of breads one day.

The bread oven waiting to live again...

the cat-sized loaf featuring an usual marbling effect due to a two dough experimental try-out

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Misty morning tide

The song Ray Davies didn't write. Or maybe he did if he liked late January walks in flattish parts of the world.

The weatherman's given me loads of fog, and left me walking with a dog. Pacing on this foggy morning tide. And I cannot see my feet, the mud is so incredibly deep, pacing on this foggy morning tide... etc.

Actually, it was beautiful in that melancholic distant view through opaque rain curtains sort of way, the strata of leafless poplars clumps, silver water and piercingly green grass. This landscape inspires writing, to me anyway. Trying to write futurism and even slightly warm dystopias on a sun dappled terrace or next to an inviting rectangle of swimming pool blue . . . nah, give me soaked meadows, skeletal trees and muddy lanes. Of course a bright spring sky would also be a wonderful thing, and we are certainly heading that way, or at least the flora and birdlife seem to think so. The bird population has increased dramatically over the last week with collared doves eyeing various old nests, wrens, tits, finches and a few early migrators all homing in on our bird restaurant area.

Everyday new flowers are emerging from the borders here. Anna, the previous house owner must have planted thousands of bulbs over the years and they have spread even into the lawn - crocus of many colours, daffodils, snow drops. Happily, she also planted many Japanese quince trees which have all started flowering. Even a few overenthusiastic roses are out . . . 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Secret garden

 Inheriting or rather acquiring a very large garden (with a house) was both exciting and alarming back in the late summer. A small voice within me was busy saying, that's quite a lot of work . . . isn't it; and not just my internal voice, quite a few visitors and friends we showed the pictures to also mentioned, in a kindly and possibly relived it wasn't them way, that it would be indeed a lot of work. And it is - a massive amount but after an initial week or so of slight panic we started attacking the more overgrown areas and quickly it became a pleasure, even an addiction to get out there and cut back, replant, or just note with surprise new plants everyday.

In these strange times as we retreat more into our own environments I do feel privileged to own, if indeed one can ever really own a piece of land we can play about on, gardening always feeling to me like a mixture of experimentation, learning and playing about. Even in houses with microscopic gardens or flats with a few window boxes it's always felt imperative to me to try and grow something, even a few herbs, naughty weeds or the odd tomato plant.

This morning, spring is somewhat in the air even though there are many weeks still to go of cold, wind, ice and much needed rain - recalling now the impossible to imagine hyper-dryness and struggling trees . . . Bird song is more evident, the lilac is budding and in every corner of this still-secret to us garden, things are emerging . . . 

The previous owner and passionate gardener planted bulbs everywhere which have spread over the years to become small carpets of early spring yellow and white.

Our currently flooded wood. Luckily we had a wood-cutting day just before the rain came