Thursday, 17 June 2021

After the storm

And it was an impressive one... 

I don't think I've ever seen so much continual lightning over an hour or so - almost strobe-like. I looked out of our top floor velux windows and considered, as you do when confronted with the full force of nature, how terribly small we and our daily concerns are. Yesterday afternoon I was worrying about the seething mass of mosquito larvae in our new pond, and the fact I had lost the smaller 'tic fork' for removing unwanted guests from the older dog. Seeing the trees bent over at an alarming degree as the wind lashed our home reminded me of the rather bigger picture, part of which is increasingly bizarre weather patterns, or no patterns in fact. 

My current novel has reached the point where Londonia residents are leaving the lower flooding states and re-settling on the various higher points of the city - Muswell Hill, Angel Islington, and where my hero and narrator (a fanciful French 18th century couch) currently resides, Hampstead Heath. Living with various dystopian scenarios does make one a little, not exactly gloomy . . . speculative, thoughtful, scared, sometimes. 

Anyway, the garden wasn't flooded by our little river that passes through and the only major catastrophe was that the fabulously blousey 'Rambling Rector' rose had parted company with the wall and was bent over itself like a seated someone sleeping off a hangover. Luckily it had been showing off madly over the last few weeks, brightening our days with its pink blooms, and I had taken many photographs. And it will do it all again next year as a friend pointed out. 

The thing that made me feel most sad was seeing the birds hopping about on the bowed branches looking for their nest. I found it as we cut the rose back; a beautiful construction of wound long grass, moss and feathers, and four little white/ grey eggs... I put it back in a nook of branches but I doubt very much they will return. I don't possess their delicate skills.

I think I've posted this animated film that I made with son, Ezra before, but it seems most fitting to re-air it on this post-storm morning. The Nest Apprentice. Inspired by a dream of a future time where the relationship between us and the rest of the animal world is somewhat different.

The Nest Apprentice. Story written by Kate A Hardy. Animation by Ezra Lockett.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Tea n' jazz at le Jardin Insolite

So, after many days, probably more like weeks, of preparation we opened le Jardin Insolite for tea, Mark's marvellous cakes, music, and celebration of all things floral and fauna of which there is an vast abundance within the boundaries of the garden. Having not completed a year of living here yet, each day reveals new plants which Anna, the previous owner and botanical super enthusiast had introduced over the years. 

Our new sign featuring official LPO bird and nature reserve panel  

Thanks to our local Emmaüs we had managed to find enough old chairs and tables needing a loving home to provide the seating and a random pot of blue paint from the same establishment started off a vague blue theme which was then carried on into seat cushions, table cloths, etc. I've always loved miss-matched crockery and this was a perfect excuse to spend time mooching around all the local charity shops and re-house many, many, tea time accoutrements. 

Interesting melange of Victoriana, dutch blue and German 90s china

As if requested the weather was perfect: blue sky, hot but with a breeze. Swallows and house martins swooped and dived into the outbuildings, river frogs chorused, and the odd train passed - Sunday hours so not too often. Our resident and intermittently vocal dogs next door were silent for the afternoon - our neighbours had taken my plea for tranquility seriously and not so much as a whimper was to be heard from over the hedge.

Mark excelled himself and made, starting at four in the morning (insomniacs? us?), citrus cheesecake, shortbread, chocolate cake, rich fruit cake and a mysterious gluten-free gateau which was also delicious. He hopped into piano mode and regaled us with a laid back jazz set, interspersed with me singing a few songs from our jazz duo set and the odd dog disagreement between our usually silent greyhounds.

Our friend Jean-Paul, local grower of organic veg par excellence set up a stall of his produce under the lime tree along with part of our red and gold Gamelan, (Mark was going to assemble the whole thing but the effort of doing so in the afternoon heat had suddenly seemed an effort too far . . .) If we do another similar event I'd like to invite other local producers to join in, maybe some crafts, basket makers, pottery, anyway, many ideas surfacing . . . and many other things to catch up on.

Special thanks to our lovely friends Mike and Tracey at Les Peupliers, and Béa, who helped in so many ways and dramatically reduced any lurking panic inherent with any new project. 

Monday, 31 May 2021

Tea time at le Jardin Insolite

A try-out for a potential jardin/salon du thé with Mark's incredible cakes, live music, brocante and local produce. 

Mark's cakes need a wider audience, we have jazz sets ready to go, and boxes of brocante collected over the years so, why not? 

Just got to investigate the bureaucracy for such an idea...

Le Jardin Insolite

Last year during lockdown we sold up in the South of France and headed to an unknown-to-us region of France, the Loire Valley. After two viewings and a 'YES- we'll have it', the house, garden and immediate area were also unknown to us. Such was the coup de coeur, or literally, blow to the heart; in English . . .? Mm, love at first sight?

As we are planning to set up a gîte and jardin du thé a name had to be found. After a few 'err, what about this', sessions, Mark suggested Le Jardin Insolite which is in fact perfect. Insolite is a difficult word to translate: curious, unique, quirky, unusual, veering towards weird and even eerie and downright odd. Anna, the previous owner and master architect of the garden, created from a field - starring not a single tree - a verdant paradise crammed with roses and herbaceous borders that even Capability Brown might have nodded at and said, yeah, not bad, or something more akin to mid 1700s speak. 

So, the insolite part . . . we will over time add to the garden: bizarre sculptures by Leonora Carrington (I wish) and home made little cabins, groovy chicken houses etc, but for the meantime it's a verdant paradise with the occasional TJV/freight train passing at grand vitesse just past our boundary, AND, sadly, a bunch of bored dogs who bark and howl at intervals thus crushing somewhat the lazy, contemplation as one wanders, admiring Anna's, and our, work. We've got used to it now and they (the dogs) do respond to the odd shout, and we get on with the neighbours - and that, especially in a rural community, is valuable to say the least.

I recall that particular amble around the garden on the first viewing; a hot, mid-summer day; the buzzing of insects, the peaceful sound of the little river that runs through the property, the scent of roses, and then the roar of a train on its straight run from Tours to Nantes passing by the line of ash trees that forms the land's delineation. The estate agent had eyed me carefully, no doubt gauging the reaction. It was a slight surprise but our last house had a railway line nearby so not out of the question - and it isn't something likely to appear even on the most honest of estate agents details: hectare of mature garden complete with minor earthquakes at irregular intervals. I like trains, but if it had been a busy road . . . it would have been a brief viewing. 

It's always a lot to take in on two viewings, especially a largish house with outbuildings and a lot of land but luckily we were both in agreement and knew our son (and dogs) would approve, so, here we are gradually tackling the larger house projects and tending the garden as much as possible. Watching a garden develop through the months is fascinating. Our old house was very different - starting with a baked wasteland and creating something verdant was a challenge but it worked, and luckily our buyers are keen gardeners too so I don't feel sad at leaving what we created there. 

The months here have been marked by leaves changing colour and falling, the spiky tree outlines of winter; the first strident forsythia blossom, daffodils, hundreds of different irises, japonica, and now the roses; waterfalls of pink, peach, yellow, red and white. Anna planted two hundred rosebushes and climbers and each day we are seeing new varieties blossoming. My favourite name so far: Rambling Rector. We have started to add a few things such as a pond (under construction) area in the back garden and various trees planted in the early winter but for now it still is very much the garden that Anna planned and planted. 

She has now moved to a house with enormous undeveloped garden about twenty minutes away and is bravely starting on the planning and planting of it. We wish her well, and thank her everyday for making this unique and insolite, bird and insect flower-filled Arcadia.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

The doings

One's intestinal activities as described by Lord Peter Wimsey . . . although, you will be, dear reader, glad to know that this post is more about the doings of our house.

When you buy a house in France, possibly the same in other countries, one of the main things that crops up, rather like the cam belt in a second hand car, is, has the fosse septique been done? Inevitably if its an older house the answer is, no. Add a boring waste of several thousands of euros to the list of things that will have to be done and sign at the notaires where they will remind you that this has to be dealt with within a year. 

We did consider ignoring this as the current system, just like in the house we left, functioned perfectly well. The fact that the our new abode's fosse is a pipe that runs from the house, under the road and into a field situated in the next department of France was never going to result in a shrug of the shoulders and a beh . . . ça va aller from the scary SPANC people - water authorities or, Small, Pancake-Adoring Newt Catchers.

Within a week of moving in I was already checking the various options knowing any system would take months to sort out. Option One: Huge plastic thing the size of a van buried in the ground which would have to be emptied by one of those poop lorries. Option two: A micro station. As far as I could tell this was similar but cost a bit more. Option three. Phytoépuration. A reed bed system which has only been approved by the small pancake adoring newt catchers relatively recently. It costs a little more, but doesn't have to be emptied and you can at least see at what you were forced to spend money on. That being a very large wood-clad concrete box containing reeds, sand etc.

We possibly could have done it ourselves but I could imagine the endless checking and rechecking, list of things we had done wrong, crashing the hired mini-digger into trees, and so on. With so many other house issues to be dealt with we went for the paying-through-nose option and eventually the rep from Aquataris appeared, measured the ground, did various carrotages (long sections of earth) to check the drain-ability etc and deemed that it was very likely that it would all be approved. It was approved after several weeks and the work planned for mid-may; also timed that the plumbers could link it all up at the appropriate moment and that any doings would move effortlessly - nice! into the new system rather than old pipe into field.

The day arrived, and unlike the plumbers, the firm of landscapers commissioned to do the job turned up! already a great plus. My imaginings of a totally green system fairly quickly evaporated as I noted the arrival of huge amounts of plastic pipe, plastic sheeting, plastic other things but still a lot less plastic than we would have purchased with option one or two. The employee was a blur of movement for three days, digging trenches, sawing concrete plaques, laying sheeting, gravel, sand, planting reeds and much more. He finished before the plumbers turned up, left me with instructions (eek) and was off to the next installation. Apparently these are becoming more and more favoured with the company completing one a week in our area.

So, it's done, all connected up and the baby reeds have already grown several inches in a week. I do recall my mother saying, however, that when she was a child, her father put their doings in a pit in the garden then when it was rotted they used it on the veg plot. Cost of . . . nothing, no meters of plastic tube, no pumps, no concrete, just rather amazing vegetables . . . 

I liked the tube in the field, and we could have bought a harpsichord, or built a big pond or bought a newer car instead. Sob. SPANC are coming to check the installation next week and according to the installer we may have to put up a temporary small plastic fence and then take it away again when they have gone. I can't imagine how anyone would drown in slightly damp sand before which they would have to remove the metal grid system to get at the sand. And I really hope we don't have to pay an extra fifty euros to have the pleasure of seeing the plastic fence for fifteen minutes which I think was on the quote. Madness. All of it. However I still feel it's better than seeing a large piece of disturbed turf under which would be something one spent a vast sum of money on which would never be visible again until it was deemed to be beyond its serviceable life and would have to be dug up and replaced with another van-sized plastic thing. 

                                                       Cheaper option at 12 euros 53 cents.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Plant pots, hedges and human learning - or not...

Faced with plastic engulfing the planet and my feeble question at the garden centre as to why plants can't be put in small cardboard, decay-gradually-into-the-Earth type pots being met with a shrug and a 'people won't pay for an alternative to plastic' response, I was reduced to near tears of wonder at the sight of this...

A small maize plant - two actually, in a recycled cardboard pot as sold by our local bio store. All the plants in the shop were happily growing in their snug little pots, and yes, they were probably more expensive than yr average plastic 'godet' but I reckon most people might be willing to pay an extra few pennies to know they weren't adding to the local 'let's pretend we're going to recycle your plastic' landfill/burning operation, and that they might be supporting a company interested in protecting what environment we have left... 

                                            Our very contented potato plants in their mulchy bed

After watching many permaculture/food forest Youtubes I've taken to building 'Buttes' or mounds of compost, hay, leaves, grass cuttings, etc as an experiment to see what likes being encased in a mulch rather than exposed to climatic ravages in bare earth - and it is bare here currently, far too little rain. Our neighbour farmers are busy ploughing with vast tractors, watering in wind and sun at the hottest part of the day and perhaps wondering why everything dries out so much - could be to do with the fact that there are virtually no hedges left... in fact, I was reading about an environmental activist living in a shed on a remote Scottish island who recalls his first stirrings of nature-demise incredulity were as a kid when he heard that farmers were paid to dig out hedges.

There is the sight of small (very small) movement here - the local councils awarding grants to farmers to put hedges back in... we live and learn, possibly.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Confinement . . . Lockdown . . . thing.

My God, it's vague this time in France. The only time I've seen a gendarme was a small clutch of them in a wood doing, I don't know what, BBQ? possibly a drug stake out . . . there are some seriously addicted rabbits around here.

A couple of days ago I drove Mark to the station in Saumur so he could go to Geneva for a gig (slightly further than the allotted 10km) but that seemed to be okay with a attestation for work. I was at that point in a different department - in fact if I step over the road outside our house I'm in a different department; could that be a problem for dog walking? Possibly. 

On the way back from the station I called into a shop called Action which specialises in unnecessary items, which appeared to be open despite the fact that all shops selling unnecessary items are supposed to be closed. I hate the shop but they do have the cheapest ever sofa 'throws' which are perfect for dog grit/soil, general filth as they can be washed and dried in about an hour. Mais quoi! They had covered about a third of the shelves in plastic which was adorned with notices stating these particular items could be bought online. So . . . I could buy: plastic plant pots, hair ornaments, deadly looking sweets, plastic guns, pillow cases, gnomes, air freshener, crisps, pretend bamboo, plaster buddhas, cushions, etc, etc, but not a sofa throw, mugs, a trowel, envelopes or pants. Who decides all this? Are pants less essential than gnomes and air freshener? I would probably say absolutely none of it is essential and that I could perfectly well make do with using an old duvet cover - in fact, I will.

Also, is any of this going to make a difference? There are plenty of people who would or will spend much time fondling tableware in close proximity to each other, same for cakes, shampoo, and meat! the numbers of people hanging over the refrigerated meat section in Super U in joint salivation was quite astounding. Last time I went in there a week ago, all underwear was sectioned off with that sort of police incident tape, now its all untaped - go ahead, feel, compare, choose, loiter . . . in fact the only bit sectioned off appeared to be slippers and towels . . . Maybe they have to do a type of rotation to enable fans of pants or slippers or gnomes or place mats to have their fix. 

I suspect there is no plan with regard to shops, or the government. Right, off to find an old duvet cover.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Uri Gala

 As opposed to Uri Geller.

                                                              The eyes have it...

Our dog, Gala, is blessed with similar metal-bending powers, albeit on a very small scale. As with most owners we have made sure she has her name medallion, engraved with phone numbers etc, firmly linked to her collar. As she is, on the surface anyway, rather . . . light on common sense this is even more important to prevent dog loss. The other dog, Bali, will run off if able and return some time later licking her lips after raiding some unspeakable bin or other. I've seen her running fields away but she know where she lives. Gala does not, or at least pretends to forget. We shall no doubt never know for sure...

Gala pondering on the meaning of life

She has had four metal medallions within the last two years, one bone shaped, three, just yr regular round ones. Each time they have mysteriously dropped off the collar, despite making sure the rings are strong and secure enough. On the last attempt, Mark attached it with a small but heavy duty sprung clip - the sort one might use halfway up a mountainside in order to not revisit the Earth's crust unintentionally. And yet again she has managed to lose it. It seems actually impossible, unless she can, with two paws, fetch pliers and painstakingly undo the thing. She obviously does not want to be labelled for some reason. Fair enough, she is 'chipped' unless that's also been stealthily removed...

                           Gala communicating with the water gods through a humble tap

                                                                and with the Earth gods

We once had a Dutch B and B guest who studied Gala's head for some time and said: "I like very much the drawings on the face." It's true, she does appear to have certain sketches within the velvety fur, and I'm sure one particular one has been slowly developing into an eye shape over the last few years. Do we perhaps have a sooth-sayer, a great seer of everything, the knower of the ultimate truth within our modest pack? 

                                                     The third eye - (just off center)

Perhaps Gala does know the answer to everything. Why not? Her general behaviour appears more rational than most persons in power on this maligned planet... 

We will be opening personally-tailored dog psychic sessions with Uri Gala when she has decided the time is right. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Taking the plunge

So, last summer, during lockdown after selling up in the South of France and moving more northwards, we bought a house after one visit... as you do. It was a 'coup de coeur'  (blow to the heart) as the French saying goes, and it still is; a wonderful, characterful place with the most intriguing and beautiful garden. The house was at the lower end of our budget so we knew there would be work to do, and there is, and of course, much more than we anticipated. We've done a few of the essential repairs - re-fashioned chimney as it was in danger of collapse, a renovated dormer window (Lucarne - or the wonderful name of sitting dog, window) leaky velux window and smaller renovation - floor boarding the top floor and re-doing, in a budget fashion, the top bathroom, etc.

Now, it's the really serious stuff. The things that need to be accomplished in order for us to make an outbuilding into a rental space - something vital since most of our other plans have temporarily (or possibly not temporarily) dissolved due to the pandemic. For about three months I've been wandering into the afore-mentioned space, vaguely attempting to clean a few of the blocks of tuffeau (the local white - or should be - stone) before wandering out again with fear and angst settling into my bones at the enormity of it all...

We got quotes and have gradually got used to the scary nature of their contents, finally picking a local building firm. They've been here for two weeks now and are actually a pleasure to have around - chatty, always turn up when they say they are going to and explain everything in detail that they are going to do. A little like that comforting way that a really good dentist will - now, this here is a stone-chainsaw, and this a 50lb lump hammer, and that, a very special stone drill. Don't worry, everything will be absolutely okay and it won't hurt at all - just your bank balance will be rather sore...

Yesterday and today the head builder and his main 'colleague' worked on demolishing quite a lot of stone to make a large doorway, and digging out the floors to an even level to eventually put down insulation and concrete. It's fascinating seeing the plans (tentative scribbles on an envelope) come to life; just looking through the newly made openings gives one a strong idea of how the spaces will work, even imagining the  rooms as they will be, salon, bedroom, bathroom, etc.

Although feeling fairly useless most of the time apart from handing our team cups of coffee/glasses of water, we did prove our absolute worth as reptile tamers today... I was just settling into a spot of writing when there was a fairly anxious sounding rapping at the main door. Mark answered and shouted up something like: 'help needed!' Horrible visons of the second in command-builder trapped under a beam or similar in my head I reluctantly left my office (bed with hot water bottles) and found Mark removing a large stone from the corner of the room, the two builders hopping from one foot to the other, eyes wide, expletives issuing forth. They had uncovered a large nest of snakes, obviously a favourite spot in that room as I had often come across one sliding along the floor at dusk towards its den. We lifted all eight of them into a carrier bag, dropped it and all the snakes wriggled forth, builders practically screaming. Made a second attempt with a 'bag for life' and hastened to another outbuilding to set them free amongst wood and damp debris where I hope they will be suitably housed. 

Apparently snakes keep rodents at bay and having had experience of the latter involving chewed water pipes etc, I'd far rather welcome snakes to lodge with us...

So, the work continues and I still haven't calculated where we're at with all this, but less budget and things moving positively forward rather than a bigger budget and being paralysed with renovation fears feels distinctly more exciting.