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 Levée - 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








Saturday, 16 January 2021

Postcards from a new - to us - patch of this Earth

 Having arrived at our new habitat (Loire Valley) in very late summer we've only so far seen our surroundings in in their Autumn and now deep Winter guise. The trees now in skeletal branch mode are very beautiful but I'm looking forward to the first tinges of new leaf growth. Already, the tips of branches have now that particular 'next season' hue about them; a warmth of colour creeping across the countryside.




The coldest day so far


Summer swimming destination


One of the area's intact windmills with its rather eerie little wooden house that sits atop the stone mound which would have held the mechanical 'doings'


Late afternoon sun in our local wood


The deers drinking place - Bali drinking after chasing them...





Monday, 11 January 2021

Netflix alternative and landfill prevention

Old DVDs. Rich pickings now for those without televisual streaming services as the charity outfits are full of them. VHS - Video Home System were launched in 1971; 1997 for the first Digital Versatile Discs. That's an awful lot of landfill . . . some attempts at recycling have been made, including some rather incredible artworks but on the whole I imagine that much plastic burying has taken place over the years and increasingly now as Netflix et al take over our screens.


                DVD installation: Leticia R. Bajuyo

Our internet connection is limited here and streaming films not in the equation so re-watching our film collection and adding to it has been a feature of these cold winter nights. Emmaus, our local brilliant charity/recycling emporium has a large and ever changing DVD section and this weeks cull provided the films pictured below at the mighty cost of two euros for all. 

We've watched three and all were excellent very different ways - marvel at pre-mask times, and cutting edge, back in time 80s/90s/early 2000s computer and phone technology! I'm sure we are missing out on magnificent streamed series, but when we did have Netflix a large percentage of the evening seemed to disappear in trying to decide what to watch, much checking Rotten Tomatoes and occasional slight sulking from the person who's choice was ignored.




Friday, 8 January 2021

Cake, composition and clothes mending

It's minus two here today but not a cold brightness; freezing fog, and visibility down to a few bushes away. Jobs done, enough wood in, dogs walked - reluctantly, yesterday's lunch revisited and a day of inhabiting the kitchen, and there's nothing wrong with that. When I saw the estate agent pictures I knew the kitchen would become the real heart of the home and it's proving to be very true. 

Interior jobs will get done today: mending things, bill-paying, possible gite project drawings started and possibly completed, gamelan parts written up, cake made (and eaten), latest novel moving forward and last one about to be re-examined. Much is going on in the world; huge and worrying goings on and the kitchen feels like a comforting place to be. 






Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Fridge pie, hibernation, and buying nothing

Based on the meat version (mixi-beast pie) as invented in Londonia

Mark, inspired (or rather, anxious about wastage) by the trailing fridge remains created this wonderful pie. Sadly I forgot to take a before picture - old chunks of cabbage, parsnip, beetroot, pumpkin, radish, bits of neglected cheese, half tin of tomato paste and half a pack of tofu all chopped, mixed, cooked up with garlic and stuffed within and under his increasingly excellent pastry. It was delicious and there's enough for today - another grey and very cold day where pie is as important as keeping the fire in and knowing where one left the hot water bottles as night encroaches. 

I read somewhere recently that fossil experts have discovered evidence to suggest that people did in fact hibernate in certain frigid regions of the world, laying down body fat and lowering their metabolic rate. We're almost there as a species! Massive Christmas lunch, preferably a whole goose each, much pudding, custard, chocolates, etc, a few hours of gazing glassily at the TV and then bedding down in the cellar/shed amongst a ton of unwanted Christmas jumpers, festive tea towels and bubble wrap. Job done. Wake up blinking into the April sunshine with lots of loose skin and beyond lockdown-hair, ready to take on the no heating required portions of the year. 

My New Year's resolutions are holding up well so far (see last post) - only a bit of swearing yesterday, not much, and I'm adding a new one. Buy nothing - well, obviously not vital stuff like basic foodstuffs, but things that could be avoided. This was inspired by looking through my grandma's old housework/cookery ideas book. We forget that people used to make everything; no nipping to the supermarket to buy furniture polish, jam, socks, cup hooks, loo rolls, pillowcases or any of the million other things we seem to require. I was going to buy a mattress protector and above mentioned pillowcases today but we have ancient old linen sheets upstairs rescued from Vide Greniers (boot sales) sturdy and thick; one of those will protect a mattress from anything, and pillowcases . . . well, maybe matching linen is truly a thing of the past. 

Buy nothing, or at least buy it from charity shops/online second hand sites. Our fabulous old double lined curtains I got from Le Bon Coin are waiting to exclude drafts in the hallway, the pole, found at Emmaus,  ready to be put up, just need the rings which I hope I'll find at another charitable outfit near us called Aspire. At one time, especially in my styling days, odd curtain rings would have been unthinkable, now, if they hold up the curtains, fine.

Buy nothing was also inspired by the thought of the twenty euros I might earn doing an 'Upwork' writing article being spent on something that would give a five minute satisfaction and then a lasting regret at no longer having the twenty euros. The exception to no buy, certainly at this (Covid) time, to my mind is nourishing food; nothing fancy, just the good stuff. The stuff, if our governments had any long term ideas would be giving out to all families along with instructions on how to cook basic immune system-boosting food. I was talking to one of our local veg growers who does the nearby town market and he said people increasingly have little idea of what even the most ordinary vegetables look like - carry on through another generation and tomatoes, potatoes and broccoli will be mysterious raw things that transform through the cooking process - I recall early evidence of this ten years ago or so when dear Mr Oliver was doing his school dinner programs. 'What, chips come from that thing . . .'

Anyway, I ramble. Here's a little tour of my grandmother's recipe and household tips book, the fridge pie and Londonia's glossary containing the mixibeast pie.

  
Fridge pie with hopeful dog in background



The book


great headline from the Mirror! and advice on picking jam fruit in yr best 20s clothing...


camouflage pudding featuring soaked crusts, and Brown Curry


how to make ointment for chapped hands, without a trip to Tesco's


carefully guarded useful tips

Glossary

Some words and terms for readers who might pick this book up in another time (or not Londonians)

A plus—see you later (French)
Abt—shortened from à bientôt (French)
Allez—let’s go (French)
Alors—so/right (French)
Anytruc—anything
Babriana—mess (Polish)
Baden-poked—rape, (Londonian origin) 

Bedswerver—from Shakespeare, meaning unfaithful 

Branz—more value than silvers
Ça va?—is it going/you okay? / Ça va—it’s okay/I’m okay (French)

Chaudy—warm and cosy (French-ish, from chaude) 

Clashers—Londonia’s most feared gang Clockface—minute/hour
Coaka—brown drink of varying contents
Cycle—element of time, approximate to the old hour/year depending on the situation 

D’accord/D’ac—Okay/all right (French) 

Darking—anytime during and after dusk 

Death-cart—Large wooden horse or man-pulled cart (depending on collection) for bodies 

Dechet—(to take a) crap/poo 

Felty—cloak-like recycled woollen garment

Foiteling/Foitling—general Londonian swearword, origins not known

Fragter—one who creeps up on persons 

Freeforall—occasional and spontaneous giving away-events held by benevolent, richer members of Londonian society.

Froidly—cold (from Froid—French)

Genial—brilliant, wonderful, great, nice (French) 

Glorypye—fruit tart of anything available
Glorys—coins with an element of gold
Gosses—kids (French)
Great-hound—mixture breed (possibly London zoo input) but BIG with overriding greyhound genes 

Hepping-forrist—large area of woodland known for supplies of brilloak (best firewood) 

Homono—homosexual (also, gay-way/gayster) 

Hooch-stick—tobacco mixed with any sort of found drug 

Jins—jeans

Jubberknowls—oldy English for bastards, twats, idiots, etc...

Knapper—generic term for garment made of boiled down wool

L’enfer—Hell (French)
Mec/Gar—man, guy, bloke (French)
Merda—shit (Italian)
Mirror-Dame—Fortune teller 

Mixibeast—rabbit/squirrel/hedgehog pie with potato crumble top

Moonfull—month
Mutapigeon—result of the common pigeon feeding on streetpeeza for cycles

Nippering—to be pregnant (to be in nippering) 

Nosudor—no sweat
Orjordui/t-dui—today (French-ish)
Parler—to talk (French)

Pepedi—Italian-ish swear word

Psubraty—bastard (Polish)
Putainfuker—‘coagulation’ of French and English 

Rammaas—collect/pick up (French-ish)
Recule—to go back from something (French) but mainly used as ‘withdrawing’ in a male sexual context 

Saaffend—island off the south coast

Salut—Hi there/hello/bye (French) Sevday—week

Shouting-house—auction rooms
Silvers—ancient money system useful for very small trades: drinks, etc

Snash—rare and sought-after oblivion drug concocted from marsh weed and absinthe 

Somelieu—somewhere

Sometruc—something
Streepeeza—dubious peddled food, often circular breads containing food and non-food 

Swagger—someone who combs the Thames mud for objects to trade

Toot-sweet—straight away (French-ish)
Troove—find (French-ish)
Truc—thing (French)
Tue—kill (French)
Tuffard—tough and hard
Va—go (from French)
Vrai—true (French) 

Weld-up/weldage/splice-up/spliceage—marriage 

Zaraz—soon (Polish)
Zeitporn—any type of pornographic written/illustrated material causing more than a sharp intake of breath

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Post for our lad


He's just gone back after a quietly memorable Christmas break which should have been longer. The 'patron' at the carpentry enterprise to which he is apprenticed had suddenly decided that they should work some extra days - from the 18th until the 24th, a sad blow for all the people working there, and especially our son who'd had a fairly rough time of his few months there - falling off scaffolding, being shouted at a lot and deprived of even the lunchtime comfort of workers' café lunch-break due to France's particular lockdown. And very sad for us as we had been rather counting the days till his return after months of him being away when we had been used to a visit every few weeks or so. But it was very wonderful none the less.

Anyway, life, kids growing up etc . . . all too be expected and dealt with but it's difficult when he just slots back into the routine here of cooking, playing music, making things, dog walking, talking about everything, watching Black Books, etc. We're very lucky to be able to miss him; many people I know couldn't wait to boot their own baby birds from the nest, and they couldn't wait to go. Nice too that he wishes to return to the nest for recuperation and happy familiarity.

It's so very much more difficult for twenty-somethings now. He's unclear what he really wants to do, as is often the case but with the added massive uncertainly of what's going to happen, climatically, economically and pandemic-wise. We had some uncertainty on leaving uni/art college but the world was very much more our oyster than it is now.

He arrived back for the break full of ideas about being a luthier - guitars mainly. This was it! an escape from the world of bodge carpentry he seems to be experiencing (not what he had imagined) but after a half hour chat with a local guitar crafter the idea seeped away. Not that the guy was upping the difficulty of making a living, he was being helpfully truthful. People either buy cheap instruments from China or if they have the money they head to a well known experienced and trusted super craftsman. Perhaps four years of learning to then not have much chance . . . not great, especially if as he said it's almost impossible to find someone to apprentice with as so few people are still in the trade.


So . . . another older idea has surfaced, one that has complications it might not have had a year ago - theatre set design. There's a theatre design school in Nantes he will apply to but there's the big question of, well, assuming he would get in - and I think he has a good chance with art school/carpentry background - what is going to happen to the theatre industry? I suspect productions will become smaller and more localised, maybe not altogether a bad thing, planet-health wise, but basing a career on it . . . uncertain. 

Back up plan, and one I favour, or at least it's something I would be considering now if I was his age: working towards off-grid living. Autonomy skills, keep all the art and music going, but learn building, making, growing food, etc. I suspect it could be useful, if not essential, and learn the ability to teach others these skills - stuff most of us have little idea about in reality.

Anyway, I hope he can realise the theatre set idea, it would be a perfect amalgamation of his many skills. If not, the garden has many tiny house/tree house/weird wooden chalet spaces waiting for him to experiment with.   

Good luck for the next few months, lovely son.




Friday, 1 January 2021

Champagne cocktails, roast chicken and a zombie film

Happy New Year. It has a slightly hollow ring this year. 

                                                                                  🎆

No one has sent me emoji-bristling texts of fireworks and drinks; and we didn't speak to anyone at midnight except between the three of us and the dogs. And that was fine. It's only a human construct within which we eat, drink, buy too much unnecessary stuff and often become maudlin and dismal as we consider our failures and fuck-ups of the past, present and probably the future. Not really. Everything is wonderful and marvellous. Not really. Everything is a little worrying and uncertain. But then life is; it's what you make of the highs, lows and plateaus of everydayness.

The thought of winter stretching ahead may be depressing, browsing through summer holiday destinations possibly a waste of time; maybe we should look in detail at the small stuff. Walk more, observe the natural world at close proximity (thank you Katherine for the wild flower book). Our worlds are likely to become smaller, diminish a little, or a lot. 

2002, a collection of human-fabricated time elements was indeed . . . odd; devastating for many, tedious for others, but it could also be viewed as the planet sending us a warning before removing us and our largely thoughtless plunderings. The 'tic removal' prong is well and truly hovering above us to my mind. 

So, following our evening of a champagne (local fizz) cocktail, roast dinner and a zombie film that we purchased at Emmaüs, what New Years Resolutions flitted to mind this morning at breakfast. Nothing much really. The usual ones - swear less, buy even less stuff - will be continued but a new one came to mind: less small scale blame. All those stupid little, if you hadn't forgotten to do . . . such and such, things. we all make mistakes all the time, and we all mostly act thinking we are doing our best. Forgive and forget. Remember the larger picture. Love thy neighbour, and especially one's precious family and friends. 

Here's to a peaceful start and continuation of 2021, remembering to tread a little lighter on this poor old planet in our own small ways.