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Saturday, 26 September 2009


John is busy.
John has been very busy.
John is allergic to flues and what they contain in the way of ancient grot and dirt.

John has had very bad 'flue' enzasneezing that made working up the flue hell but he stuck it out covered with snot - sorry soot - and grime - but -

we have a wood burning stove in place with a heat-recovery system that will capture heat from inside the flue and warm up rooms other than the sitting room.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


Winter is inevitable and so we went in search of firewood.
There is lots of wood from the tempest but it is still green.
We also had discovered that we could put our name down for Labatut wood which is shared out among villagers.
This are photos of our first delivery which John had to move and stack. He did so in record time. We have 10 square metres and have yet to discover how long it will last.

Apparently burning firewood is carbon neutral - as the same amount of carbon is released by rotting wood as by burning wood. I guess there are issues about the cutting and transport of it but we believe our wood to be pretty local - especially the village load.

Friday, 18 September 2009


These pictures are for a digital hero - my daughter T.
Everytime I take a photo I think of her.
Everyone of these shots was taken blind into the rising sun . .

The morning was so beautiful and the light, spider webs and the dew so magical and mystical. Imperfect as the garden is in daylight - it was exquisite in the new light of a dawning sun.

'Praise for the new light . . '
- somebody sing -

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Captain's Log, 12th. September

This has been another week of progress, fortunately in a forward direction.

Thanks to the loan of a trailer, I was able to get two loads of compost from a recycling facility and 1,75 tonnes of pebbles to put down as hardstanding which will hopefully ensure that we do not get marooned in the house, unable to get out, because the cars are stuck in the mud, like they were last spring.

We also got a tonne of topsoil delivered. (Compost + topsoil) = (hard work for Ruth + lots more home-produced food).

We went to the sawmill and selected a piece of beech which they cut and planed for us. It's a beautiful piece of timber which I have used to provide a shelf in the guest bedroom. As you can see, it takes meticulous attention to detail and painstaking effort to produce cabinet work of appropriate high quality and beauty.

The other thing we did was to order secondary and double glazing for practically the whole house. It is due to be installed by the end of October and one day we hope to be able to pay for it. At least we shall be warm while we wait for the debt collectors to arrive.

Oh, one last thing. One day next week is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Check it out!

Cheers, me hearties.

Cap'n Mad John




We visited the Cirque de Garvanie.
It was a hot day and there were crowds of people there.
John carried the picnic backpack - thank you I and L!
I took no more photos as it was too hazy but on the way back we stopped at this very scenic bridge - built at the behest of the Empress Eugenis - just to be scenic - and watched mad people jumping off on elastic rope.

THE BACK PACK PICNIC BAG has turned out to be fantastically useful.
Most village and social events that we go to are 'pot luck' occasions where everyone contributes a dish and you bring your own plates, cutlery, and glasses - lots of those for sampling floc, armangnac and wine - mostly homemade. We could not manage without it.
Thanks again!


Salut! Je m’appelle Topaze. Oh! I’m sorry. I try to say in English. I am Topaze. When I was a little kitten I used to live with my mummy, brothers, uncles, aunties and cousins in an appentis – ah!, a “shed” - in a big garden. I expect my daddy was there, too, but I didn’t know who he was. I asked my mummy about him, but she always got cross.

Some people who were English came to feed us twice a day. That was lucky as not many humans in France feed cats unless they live with them. John and Ruth came sometimes. When I was 10 weeks old, John and Ruth came and took me to their house. It is very nice but I missed my mummy and the first night away I made lots of shouting. John and Ruth don’t understand cat French but they stayed awake all night trying to understand. I tried again the second night, but I could see that they still didn’t know that I wanted to go home.

As we were all French cats at home, I must learn English so that I can explain John, Ruth and you some of the things that happen to me in their house.

Here are some pictures of me when I first arrive.

John is funny. When it is hot in the day and I like to sleep, he starts to work. I think Ruth likes to rest then, too, but sometimes she is too busy. And sometimes John makes much noise! I think it is better to be a cat!

I write again soon. A bientôt!



Cripes! It’s even worse than I said! I’d completely forgotten about the massive pumpkins which are girding themselves to strike. One – about the size of a small coronation coach, around which are circling four apprehensive-looking white mice – has already gained entry to the kitchen as Ruth said it had split and probably wasn’t going to grow any bigger so she would bring it in and decide what to do with it. That was over a week ago and it’s still there on the bench, occupying a Geoff Capes space and as yet Ruth hasn’t dared to take a knife to it. The really worrying thing is that there are another 4 or 5 pumpkins outside gaining strength and volume waiting to join it and one of them is already bigger than the one indoors.

And I had a shock when I went into the garden this morning. I knew that there was a Second Planting of tomatoes about to break from the plants which Ruth had put into the ground to produce a late-season crop. What I hadn’t realised was that the first lot were still producing flowers and fruit and were about to unleash a second deluge of tomatoes, equal to the first. A ruthless (n.p.i.)* tomatophobe might have been tempted to sabotage their plans. But it wouldn’t be me. They’re taller than I am.

*n.p.i. = no pun intended

Friday, 11 September 2009


I've previously animadverted on the tsunamis of foodstuffs washing over us from the garden. A momentous event occurred today. Ruth picked NO TOMATOES!! We ate NO TOMATOES!! And we SHAN'T be having ANY TOMATOES with our cooked breakfasts this weekend.

We have a new dilemma, though. One of our trees (a fig tree, as it happens) is producing HUNDREDS of FIGS (Capitals Are Habit-Forming, ArEn'T tHeY? I've been to lots of them.) None of our welter of recipe books tells us what to do with a surfeit of figs. Ruth has made fig jam, and it's delicious, but we have so many and it's taking a significant amount of each day to pick them. Does anyone have any recipes, preservation methods, etc.? A recipe for fig wine or fig distillate would be much appreciated by me.

The Invasion of The Tomatoes is not yet repulsed (or would that just be appropriate for peas?). The Second Planting is about to ripen.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Well I have tried my hand at grey water saving in the past.

This place might offer another and better opportunity to be ecologically pure and righteous.

Well -

And I don't mean the dry well!

Soon after purchase we found that in spite of having an out-of-date fosse (sceptic tank) our sink water goes out of the kitchen and into the 'fossé' or roadside ditch (note change of spelling).

Here is a photo showing the fossé neatly trimmed and cleared by John and full of washing up and laundry water.

Sadly it doesn't go through a reed bed to my thirsty vegetables!

As we use ecofriendly products to wash and launder we don't feel too bad about this arrangement and may live with it till we die!

Anyway everyone in the village has the same system even the Mairie!


Well - here it lies - rolled up and stashed or stacked away in the grenier and no new work happening and at a standstill on the ideas from our round Europe trip.

Am I depressed about it?


Right now I am far too busy to do more that think about it.

There is also no studio as yet!

John went to a chorale choir evening last night with lots of ladies and some men and it sounds interesting enough to carry on with.

I am thinking of starting an art blog related to this blog but different!!

If I can think of a good name to tie it to.

Who will look at it?

Who knows.

Perhaps I should give it all up.


We all know we are different and we all hope to be unique and yet we all do the same things.

Here we are in France busy growing grapes, conserving our garden produce, 'a la retraite' like a large proportion of the British we met and yet we all like to think that we are the 'pathfinders', the special people doing it for the first time - finding our own way . . .

So though we have so much in common - sometimes we are not too friendly to each other. I guess I have seen these hierarchies and cliques in other expat communities - I guess we have them in our towns and villages back in the UK.

We need the friendship and help of other British people.

Most days for retired folk do not give them easy and constant contact with working French people!

Any how John's grapes are tasty and my shelf of conserves - mostly from overgrown courgettes is increasing! Hopefully they will help to conserve us over the winter.

We are still rather lonely here - missing friends and missing family - and hoping that our circle of acquaintances and friends - French and English-speaking- will grow and enrich us.


Here are the cat and I checking her newly arrived passport, the Carte d'Indentification issued by the Societe d'Identification Electronique Veterinaire. As you can see, in the bottom right-hand corner it carries her photograph, not wearing a hat or sunglasses. The form that came with it has a tear-off portion so that modifications can be notified to the authorities. One of the boxes is for a change of name of the cat. The space for inserting the name (that's the "usual" name, not a pedigree) is 33 characters long! Imagine calling that out every night!

Is a name change likely? Probably not as we are intending to have her spayed and she will therefore keep her maiden name.


This is where I started from as a child of nine.

My father sold his farmhouse to pay off the mortgage on the farm and built a new home in the middle of a mealie field - all red dirt and dry stalks and no trees for acres around. He scratched out a plan of the house on the earth and built the house from bricks made from termite hills. My mother scribbled out a plan of a garden on a foolscap page . . .

So here John and I are in the middle of mealie farms in France but we do have trees around us.

In front of the house is a fig with ripening fruit.

To the east is a neglected overgrown hedgerow with brambles, may, blackthorn, ash, and dog roses, sloes and a walnut. The nuts - hazels and walnuts are all worm eaten. We gathered a few sloes too late and hope to do better from the fig tree. The blackberries are all too high up to reach. The is also a huge and prolific pear but no possibility of getting any of the fruit.

Thank goodness! It is a huge amount of work preserving it and impossible to eat it all or give it away!