Monday, 21 May 2012

There's something in the woodshed....

Does anybody remember the song ‘Something for the weekend’ by Divine Comedy? The lyrics begin “She said, there’s something in the woodshed, and I can hear it breathing, it’s such an eerie feeling darling”. I hadn’t thought about it for years and years but now I think about it often, because we now have a woodshed, and there’s definitely something in there. I can’t actually hear anything breathing (apart from me!) but there are some strange scuttling noises whenever I approach.

Just part of the joy of living in the country I suppose – and one of many things that didn’t cross my mind when we fell in love with this house. Being a committed ‘townie’ I had rather an idealistic idea about what living in the country entailed and imagined that I would be spending my days sitting on the terrace with a slice of home-grown lemon in my gin and tonic, admiring the panoramic views across the vineyard and enjoying the peace and quiet of life. OK yes, that does happen (a lot!) but there is a price to pay. For example, we have a small orchard which had been well-tended by the previous owner so last year enjoyed olives, figs, peaches, apples, pears, clementines, apricots and lemons but this year we have had to prune, thin and treat the trees ourselves and will no longer wonder why fruit is so expensive in the supermarkets. Actually, what am I complaining about – it’s all worth it for the sheer joy of biting into a freshly picked peach, still warm from the sun.

We also have what I consider to be better than having our own vineyard – at the bottom of our garden a gate leads into somebody else’s vineyard so we can walk around it and take pleasure in watching the grapes grow without any of the hard work. I suppose I can forgive the farmer for occasionally turning up in his tractor at 5am to do whatever he has to do before the heat of the day kicks in!

The isolation is wonderful – we are on the outskirts of a small village so have neighbours within walking distance but cannot see or hear them. It does mean that I have to plan well ahead and if I have run out of sugar or coffee there is no longer the opportunity to nip out to the shops – the village is a 10 minute walk away and the few shops that there are have such strange opening hours that the chances of me finding one open when I need one is remote. But, strolling down a country lane rather than jumping into the car to go to the Co-op is so much more interesting that I end up not caring whether I get my coffee or not.

The one thing I am having the most difficulty with is the wildlife. I like most of it – particularly the red squirrels and rabbits; the frogs still make me jump (no pun intended) but as long as they stay in their own pond and out of my pool they are ok; and I am still undecided about the lizards. Small lizards running across the terrace are fine but I am not sure about the gecko that seems to live in the ceiling of my office. Our worst problem was a mouse. At first it was quite cute and hid underneath the fireplace but when it then took over the kitchen and ate my son’s easter egg, war was declared. I won’t go into all the gory details but suffice to say my bounty bars are now safe!

Am I saying life is too difficult here and that I want to go back to my city life? Not a bit of it – but next winter it won’t be me going to the woodshed to get the logs!


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Typical Tuesday

Bank Holiday Tuesday of this week was such a nice day that I wanted to write about it. Sadly it wasn’t a bank holiday in the UK so my day started with a call from FrenchEntree Head Office in Bath. Nothing too arduous, just updates on marketing ideas and sharing feedback from clients. It’s always a pleasure to end the call by asking them about the current weather conditions! I then took a cup of coffee on to the terrace, just to give myself the opportunity to check that the thermometer actually did read 20 degrees at 10am. It did. We then spent the rest of the morning painting the front boundary walls. For some reason my husband decided that I was not qualified to hold the paintbrush so it was my job to work ahead of him as a labourer. This involved cutting back bits of hedge that were poking through the wire mesh on top of the walls, then scrubbing any dirt off the top of the walls, then finally yanking out any weeds that were growing at the bottom of the wall that might impede the expert’s progress as he painted. This intensive labour was punctuated by regular breaks for cold drinks and also for chats with passing lycra-clad cyclists (who are usually travelling quite slowly as they pass our house as we are at the top of an incline).My friends in the UK will be laughing at the thought of me doing any manual labour but somehow painting a wall in france is so much more fun than painting an english one!

We had lunch and a chilled glass of something in a shady corner of the garden (under a tree in the orchard as the canvas roof of our Pergola blew away during a winter storm) then I spent a contented hour ‘looking at my eyelids from the inside’ on a sun-lounger on the terrace.

Later in the afternoon we were just finishing off the painting when our neighbours, Jean-Claude & Francoise strolled by on their way back from a walk. I don’t know who was more embarrassed – me for being caught looking dirty, tired, sweaty & covered in paint or Francoise because she was carrying a large bunch of wild-flowers. Apparently it is illegal to cut wild-flowers but she assured me (smiling) that because she had ‘picked’ them rather than ‘cut’ them that all was fine. I actually thought she was embarrassed because we had invited them round for a drink later and I guessed she was going to give the flowers to me.

How wrong I was – when they arrived I could barely see them hidden behind an enormous gift-wrapped plant for the garden! There then followed the usual awkwardness caused by the fact that they come from a different department in France where 3 kisses are the norm, here in the Languedoc, 2 are sufficient, and my husband is a typical Englishman who considers a firm handshake an affectionate greeting!

My next worry had been what to offer them to drink as Jean-Claude is actually a well-known Vigneron in his region so I wouldn’t dare offer them the local wine (9 euros for a 5 litre box!) Happily they both announced that they preferred beer and we settled on the terrace to watch the sun-set while we drank. It was a very lively evening as this is their Maison Secondaire and we hadn’t seen them for many months so there was much to catch up on. My husband will be the first to admit that he is not yet completely fluent in French and, apart from one occasion where he announced that he was ‘very interesting’ rather than ‘interested’ survived with flying colours as the conversation turned to politics, following the weekends Presidential Elections.

So, that was it, and as you can see, nothing particularly startling or notable happened, it was just a typically nice day in France – what did you do last Bank Holiday......?