mardi 3 juin 2014

Gun Laws and protecting your property in France

We did not ought to have to protect ourselves. We have been asking this question all week. My husband is angry, after recent events and I am glad he did not find the tractor that very afternoon when he went out. We asked the mayor what we could do to protect ourselves. We don't have any guns. My husband cannot get a hunting license as the test is all in French and they say he is not allowed an interpreter. There is also a written exam about hunting regulations French style, and a course you are supposed to attend for 6 weeks. If this is all true, I am checking it now as it would be this farmer's family and friends who would be doing the tests and issuing the license, so I would imagine they would make it hard for anyone they did not want to join the hunt. In the UK you do not have to hunt to be eligible to have guns. You can belong to a shooting club that shoots inside, or just a collector of antique guns. And definitely in the UK and in Germany I think, it is the police that issue all firearms licenses, and they ask for medical reports. And certainly no one who is mentally unstable is allowed to own a gun but I know nothing about the tests for that. In the UK, the police are not so worried about legally owned guns, but by all the illegal guns being sneaked into the country, some by soldiers who have served in Afghanistan, or Iraq, but mostly illegally from other sources. It is not illegal to own a replica gun and there are thousands of these 'legally' imported every year, the crime is when these replicas are taken to illegal metal workers who then return these guns to a working state. Of course here is a steady market of imports legal or not from eastern Europe, especially Serbia, Bosnia etc whee there has been recent conflict. Next will be Ukraine I suppose, but they are using all they can keep in their own country at the moment, the traffic is reversed. No one we have asked could tell us how you could protect yourself from anyone arriving with a gun? In UK we have "reasonable force" you can use reasonable force against a burglar, but not shoot him. There have been some very stupid court cases where the criminals have sued the victims when they have been injured while committing a crime. And not always injured by the victim. There have been one or two criminals who have successfully sued because they have fallen climbing into a property and managed to say the wall or something was dangerous!! Or the dog protecting the family bit the intruder and the criminal won a case against them and the dog was destroyed!! Our big dog is so imprinted on me and close to me, I think he would attack if I was being attacked. That is exactly what we wanted in a dog. You can see how he naturally protects, he stays close to the end wall of the mill and as people approach he barks and makes eye contact with them, backing up all the time so that he is between me and the visitor. Until I tell him it's OK and usually give the visitor a kiss. After people have visited a few times he just barks a few times and sits down on the doorstep. For some reason Our dog dislikes our trouble making neighbour, The cow farmer, and continues to bark at him, and we let him because it rattles The man! He sneaks around our property at about 7 am. I can tell the dog to stop, and if I walk towards the house and say "viens ici" (come here) he follows immediately and I can shut him inside. So I don't see how the mayor can say someone says our dog is not in control. It can only be The cow farmer or the vine grower. The dog barks at The vine grower's weedkiller tractor and machine. He is a big, imposing dog and when he stares and barks he is frightening. But the other day when my husband and I were both having a siesta, he let our tenant, a massive man, arrive and walk up to the house, open the door and put a bag of egg boxes inside for us, but then he knows him well. But I would guess he would not let The cow farmer do the same!! I love my dog to bits but we did get him as a guard dog and if he takes a bullet for us then unfortunately so be it, sounds callous but I would rather still have Dave of course if I had to choose. I hope all I have written never comes true but defending yourself and your property is no easy thing in Europe and particularly in this part of wild France where arguments have always been settled quickly and violently for hundreds of years.

Village life, dumping humanure on our drive

I was asking questions at a village council meeting, on behalf of other residents, as is my job as a councillor! And another councillor took it personally. He rents out an old farm building for 'storage', but the tenants storing equipment there have turned up with about 7 RVs and converted army lorries and are clearly living there. Other residents have seen human poop floating down the little stream that runs past these unusual residents towards the river that runs through our village. So I asked the obvious questions at a council meeting, where do they empty their toilets, get their water from etc. and do they contribute to rubbish removal like all residents. The owner of the land, a farmer is also a councillor and was very defensive as usual, 'not my problem', 'i just rent it to them', 'I am not responsible' etc. but the council agreed to check if there is any pollution. The owner stayed for a beer after the meeting and left smiling. The minutes of the meeting covered the discussion well, and the promise of the council to check that there is no environmental pollution satisfied me and other residents. The only thing slightly wrong was it said I asked the questions, and not that I had asked the questions on behalf of other residents. The minutes of the meeting were posted publicly on the wall outside the town hall. Next day, just before I got back from the craft workshop, the farmer drove his tractor over our bridge and dumped a load of human shit beside our well, beside the river, I think it was destined to be dumped outside our front door, but Our big guard dog was barking aggressively, and thankfully the farmer chose to reverse and not drive at him! I rang the mayor when I got back, and my husband went to look for the tractor as he had not seen the driver well. The next morning, my friend , an 86 year old english woman, who lives next door to the farmer, had an early visit, before she was up. A then jovial farmer admitted it was him and threatened me through my friend by saying, "if she (me) wants shit, I have plenty more for her and worse!" Whatever "worse" is?? He obviously thinks he is untouchable! The Mayor did not ring back until Wednesday evening, but more or less said it was my fault for asking the questions!! I was not happy. And couldn't finish the conversation with him in any language!! My husband managed to agree to the mayor coming round the next day, Thursday. He did so, and was a little calmer than when he said it was my fault! He had talked to others in the meantime. He said the farmer had realised he was wrong to do that! OK so what was he going to do about it? Apologise? No, he didn't think the farmer would what then, nothing? The mayor said he realised the farmer was hot headed, a bit of a psychopath (!)......I was shocked, so we have psychopaths running around in tempers with loads of shit and shotguns? Eventually, he agreed to call a meeting Monday to discipline the farmer, how, I don't know? Anyway, the latest is he rang just before the meeting today to cancel it. Now I think I will take the legal option and go to make a complaint at the Gendarmes. Although my friend has pleaded with me not to as she thinks he is capable of getting out his gun, "and we don't want to be going to anyone's funeral!", is what she said!! How can this guy still have his gun license? Because they are issued by the hunting association and not the police. My friend, who is 86, poor woman had another early morning visit this morning from the farmer's mother! Ranting and raving at her just because she is my friend. However she also added something which made my friend and I think along different lines. The woman started accusing me, and her because of the eco association we belong to, saying that we had to disband the association etc. Now we think there is a deeper problem here.....the president of this Association is A man who caused a lot of problems for us last summer. He is trying to get rid of me from the association, but really the association has not functioned for nearly two years. Anyway This man, who is also 86, appeared at a meeting arranging a fete for all associations in September and suddenly proclaimed that our association was campaigning against all the farmers and making sure they all stick to the regulations about weedkillers the plot thickens here as we (my friend and I) now think that this has got around the village and has wound up the farmers again. This could be the old goat's way of getting at me too. So how's that for a complicated soap opera tale of village life? Do I make a complaint to the Gendarmes so they are aware that a man, the mayor considers is a psychopath, is running around dumping shit and threatening "worse". He has already over the years, tried to push our Land Rover with my husband inside, off a narrow mountain road, threatened another friend of mine when she was post mistress, after she made a formal complaint following the farmer's dog biting her on two occasions. The outcome of that complaint was the farmer drove up to my friend's car as she and her husband had just driven out of their driveway. Stopped his tractor in front of her car, touching the bumper, slammed his gun down on the roof of the car, dragged her husband out and headbutted him breaking his nose. These people were so frightened they made no further complaint, and I think withdrew their original complaint, so the farmer got away with it completely. How has this guy still got his gun license?? Oh yes, I forgot, the hunters issue the licenses.....and the head man is a relative of his ! Say no more.....! It's weeks like this that make me really want to leave here, but then I look at my garden and animals and realise why I am here. Before the mayor left on Thursday, he more or less said in the same you are not going to complain to the police are need to be careful of your dog you know I have had a complaint from a farmer who couldn't cross the land behind you because your dog was barking at him? A veiled threat if ever there was one?don't complain or we'll complain (or worse) about your dog. One of these days racists in France will get their comeuppance! All expats in France can probably expect more attacks like this since the National Front got so many votes in the European elections.

dimanche 18 mai 2014

Update in the veg Plot for May 2014

image Today has been the first day this year that I have enjoyed planting in the garden. It is sunny, but not too warm with some man made clouds due to early chemtrailing this morning. The plants I bought at the local plant fair two weeks ago have been in my mini greenhouse acclimatizing, and are now ready to plant. I started with my cucumber teepee, having changed its location in line with my normal crop rotation to benefit the soil. We have been gardening here for 13 years and as we are surrounded by cow farmers who reseed their pastures with hardy, fast growing rye grass and fling fertilizer about, it has been hard to fight this virulent grass which seems to take over the beds every year. We swing between a no dig, mulching method and digging with our antique mechanical digger! A total contrast, I know, the purists will be shocked, but the no dig method and raised beds could not cope with the crazy grass which has adventitious roots that run along underground sending up strong shoots everywhere!! So, while I still cover beds in cardboard, carpets and a heavy mulch in the growing season and winter, it is still usually necessary to dig at least some of the beds each year with the digger. A compromise because of local conditions. We did not really have a winter this year at all, very mild, only one occasion when the temperature dipped below freezing, minus 4 degrees C. Previous years we have had to battle with weeks of temperatures below minus 15 C!! So we have to be prepared for anything. Everything has been early this year, Spring, the migrating birds, bulbs and flowers over a month early. The sparrows are already on their second brood in the nest boxes and the Blue Tits are not far behind. I bought organic cucumber plants as usual at the plant fair and they were about 8 inches tall when I planted them around the base of the teepee this morning. I usually dig a hole, water in the hole, add some home made compost and plant the plants at a slight angle in towards the poles and string. I have more cucumber plants to go out but I left space around the teepee for a few sweet peas just to liven up the bottom of the garden. I then put in six of the 20 tomato plants I also bought at the organic supplier. I like colour on the plate for salads, so I have a mix of small yellow pear tomatoes, Green Tiger striped, cherry tomatoes, Delice du Jardin (a normal tomato!), a pineapple flavoured one, Crimea a nearly purple, large tomato and Andean Horn, a long pointed shape. I also have so e Brandy Wine tomatoes a friend sent me from the US. Quite a collection! The last thing I managed to do this morning before taking a break to write this was to put in a second row of Oregon sugar snap peas. The row I planted four weeks ago next to the new row are just starting to twirl onto the bushy sticks. The broad beans, planted 5 weeks ago are about 9 inches tall and looking strong. They needed to have the weeds scuffled out from between the rows. Spring has been quite damp with lots of rain, so all the grasses and weeds have been growing like mad around here. The bean frames and nets have all been repaired ready for the seeds to be planted. I did not rotate the position of these frames this year so we decided to change the soil, and dug out about a foot and replaced with a mix of soil and compost. We a,so reconnected all the hoses to automatically fill up the water barrels around the garden when we pump water from the well. The trees and flowers up at the house are all watered from the rain water collection barrels. So a good morning in the garden, and by the way the swarm of bees is still with us!

mardi 13 mai 2014

The Bee Files

We started keeping bees when we lived in the UK about 30 years ago. It was something I had always wanted to do and at the time we had a big garden sheltered by the dreaded Leylandii trees and a disused railway embankment. I read all I could about beekeeping, bought a couple of books and ordered a colony ready hived from a bee far in Gloucestershire, before I had even finished the first book. So we kept bees happily and kept neighbours sweet with honey gifts for five years or so until we decided to move to France to retire. Of course some of the bees had to come with us..... We contacted DEFRA in the UK responsible for giving me a permit to take a hive of bees out of the country. They were inspected by a beekeeping expert, health checked a d given a 'passport'. At no time was entry into France considered and the only advice the 'expert' gave me was not to say anything about them unless asked at the ferry!! This we did and as usual we passed straight through customs in Le Havre!! It is a ten hour drive minimum in a fast car with few stops to reach our destination in the southern most tip of France, however we were traveling in an old Land Rover with a heavy trailer, and intending to make an overnight stop somewhere in a motorway Aire. This is a long time for bees to be shut in to a hive. We had put an open travel screen on to op the brood box, and had taken off the two supers of honey we were taking with us, they were wrapped up in the trailer. The colony was a large one and we made frequent stops to check on the bees, giving them the maximum air possible. We had a sugar syrup spray made up and each time we stopped we sprayed them lightly with this, to keep them busy and calm. When we made the overnight stop at an Aire, a parking area on the motorway, we opened the back of the trailer while we prepared the inevitable pot of english tea and some sandwiches!! When we had stopped for lunch earlier in the day we opened the trailer again, it did not take long fir the bees to attract some 'friends', after only about ten minutes we had a small gathering of about twenty or so local bees, attracted by the pheromones being sent out by our bees who were probably quite stressed. Anyway, the journey down took us about 20 hours. When we arrived we off loaded the hive first onto its stand we gad prepared on our previous visit. We sprayed them and left them to settle for a couple of hours, then took off the entrance block and put on a roof. We stood back to watch as they could well have been angry, but no, a few at a time the bees came out, making quick flights to orient themselves and back to the hive. Our beekeeping record in France was not so good, the hive thrived and for two years we kept two or three hives. Then collapse, the bees disappeared almost over night. I did everything I could to research this and in our area things are difficult because at that time the vignerons sprayed a lot of nasty stuff on and around their vines, and a new radio and telephone mast has also been installed on a hilltop in view of my hives. So the collapse could have been due to a number of things. So we cleaned out our hives and stacked them all up next to the dog kennel. Occasionally we had scout bees investigating and once we caught a swarm but they did not stay. Several times in the next few years we were asked to collect swarms from trees and between window shutters, but while the collections were successful the bees never stayed, so the hives sat there redundant except for ants and moths, for 10 years. Last Friday we were sitting outside eating a very late lunch with friends when one of them commented on the large amount of 'flies' overhead.........they were not flies, they were swarming bees! Our friends wanted to dive for cover. Ut we persuaded them to sit and watch as swarming bees are too full of honey with too much on their mind to sting. So we watched as other bees joined them and the noise increased, and then they started to quieten down and the cloud of beesabove our heads began to disperse. We encouraged everyone to try to keep an eye on them to see where they went. That was easy because they didn't go far, straight to the pile of hive boxes and in through a gap between two old honey collecting 'supers' . All was quiet. Our guests were pleased because the imagined threat was gone, we were pleased because we had a small colony of bees hived with no cost or work. The only one not pleased was Frida, our old rescued hunting dog, who was sat in her kennel right next to the new residents, giving us 'the look'!! Four days later the bees are still with us, so it looks like we are beekeepers again!

Screams In The Night - Part Two and Five Cows Shot Dead

The incident of the screaming man has been brushed under the carpet,with the mayor and farmers saying we had mistaken a cow crying!! I was annoyed at this as I can tell the difference between a cow and a human! However, My next nearest neighbour down the valley went to help another friend out with her bees and she described the man, with his red beard, as having been wandering around her hives, and asked to buy a pot of honey with a cheque. He said someone had stolen his rucksack and things and he had been sleeping rough!! Definitely our man and quite a looney, a little 'slow' maybe. So he is still around as that was on Thursday after the screaming. Maybe that was when his things were being stolen? So still a bit of a mystery. It looks like it is forgotten and now being joked about.......serves them right if they find a body in two year's time like the other one! We did our duty and reported the screaming. And the main story would be: "The Mystery Why Any Crimes Reported By Foreigners Are Not Investigated" !!! LOL It is still weird, because people keep seeing him around here, My neighbour, then a beekeeper friend from the next village about 6km after My neighbour's house, which is even more remote than ours! People have likened him to an elf, a wizened old man, Cat Weasle (a character in a 1970s children's programme), a hippy, a tramp etc. if he had his rucksack stolen, maybe that was all the screaming? But why deny screaming? And why has he not asked the police for help? Of all the people that saw him, none have said he asked for help. At My friend's mill where she keeps bees and sells honey, p he was seen among the hives, a dangerous thing to do, then when questioned he asked to buy a pot of honey for 12 euros, he said he had no cash, then pulled a cheque out of his back pocket to pay, he made the cheque out for more and she gave him a few euros change so he could get a coffee. Of course this could have been a dud cheque, but he is still hanging around. If he had committed a crime you would expect him to high tail it out of the area. Actually not easy to do if he didn't have a map, and after the event near us, we now know which direction he went in which was deeper into the forested Corbieres. Not the actions really of a criminal on the run. He was also spotted hanging around in another village later and he had been able to buy a coffee, presumably with the cash back that the beekeeper gave him. Time will tell if the cheque is dud! But it will have an address on it. Such a small community of people for 10 k in each direction from here, and a convenient, almost medieval gathering at the plant fair, now everyone knows of his existence if not his exact whereabouts! So really, everyone is on the alert. However this does not really instill confidence in the French Gendarmes, who are army and not police, but in control in these remote areas. We need also to remember that we are on one of the routes used by the Resistance in World War two and before, through the Pyrenees. The forest in this area is still thick providing perfect cover. Unfortunately these routes are now used by illegal immigrants on their way up through France and Spain, after perilous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. A body was found two years ago just 300 metres outside our village. It was just a skeleton and the bones had been scattered across a wide area by wild boar, but his rucksack was beside his skull, untouched for two years. He was discovered by a cow farmer who spotted the rucksack before the grisly remains. In the rucksack was 20,000 euros, and maps of the area. No sinister story here though, he had been trekking to Bugarach Mountain and Rennes le Chateau, and had died of natural causes. Both these places deserve a blog article from me. Bugarach Mountain is a place of pilgrimage by UFO enthusiasts, and was recently a place supposedly thought capable of turning into an alien spaceship to take people away from the earth when it was forecast to end by the Mayan calendar on 21 December. More questions were left unanswered some months ago when a local cow breeder had Five of his very pregnant cows shot dead in the field. I knew nothing about this until I noticed the corpses, swollen and fly blown, piled up on an open trailer right beside a layby on the main road as I came home from a restaurant quite late at night. I saw legs and hooves sticking up in the aur and was instantly reminded of all the horror of the slaughter during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK, about 15 years ago. The stench was so bad I could smell it three hundred metres away at my house.......i contacted the town hall to find out that they were waiting for the gendarmes to come and check the bodies before they could be sent for disposal and processing. It had already been a week since the shooting. This story finds its place into this article because it was another crime against, or reported by foreigners. The gendarmes had to be pushed hard by a petition to the Prefect signed by all the local mayors, to investigate the shooting. People around here, not only farmers were worried. First cows, then people. Was this some looney or a local person on a hidden agenda? Even then it was not really investigated, and the dutch farmer and his girlfriend were at one stage barricaded into a friend's house with guns, expecting reprisals. To this day, this crime has never really been investigated, but there has been speculation and everyone seems to know who the perpetrator is!! But the crime has just been allowed to be forgotten by the fog of time.

mercredi 30 avril 2014

Screams In The Night - Not a very Quiet Night in the Corbieres

Living in isolation in the middle of the countryside is not everyone's cup of tea. We love it and have become accustomed to the noises, the way of the country life and the natural cycles of the year and weather. I can spend hours outside just listening to the birds and other wild animals, and our own animals. I suppose I am more in tune to these noises than most people because of this. The noises change with the seasons, and of course there are more human noises in the summer when so e people like to 'wild camp' in our area, or the keen hunters at the start of the season camp out to get an early start at dawn. One of the noisiest nights was when the Tour de France chose to come right past us on the nearest main mountain road. We were not expecting the amount of people that chose to bring their camper vans and tents here. Every corner of the road, on the grassy edges and in laybys were little gatherings of Tour followers, all excited, meeting up with old friends, and noisily eating and drinking the night away, to wait for the two or three second flash of their lycra encased heros cycling by the next day. So, it was strange, when at about 9:45 pm last night my husband went out to put the chickens away and shut the llamas in their home pen, he quickly came back to say he had heard shouting outside, like someone crying for help. I went outside to listen and sure enough there were several more, chilling screams. We could not understand any words, just screams, and when we shouted out in French asking if someone needed help, the screams stopped. We were sufficiently worried to think about phoning the Gendarmes, but as there is no night cover around here for 50 km, had anyone been hurt that could have serious consequences. A hunter was injured five years ago when a wild boar attacked him and one of its tusks gashed his femoral artery. He called for help on his mobile phone but the emergency services by road and helicopter were too late, he bled to death. So, my husband grabbed a high powered search light, jumped in the Land Rover and headed off in the direction of the screams, on a green lane next to the river. Meanwhile I telephone a friend whose husband I knew had been chainsawing and clearing a trail not far from us earlier in the day, the check if he was home, he was so we were relieved. I saw the Land Rover lights disappearing in the distance and I listened for more screams, but heard nothing. I frightened myself when there were rustlings on the opposite bank of the stream in front of me....I had left all the dogs inside so that I could I had no protection. My mind started working overtime, what if someone had been attacked? Our lights are the only ones for miles, could the attacker head in my direction. I rushed inside and took up position on the first floor at an open window. I heard nothing more. I rang a friend for advice, who in turn rang the mayor of our village who has the power of the
One of my guard llamas!! police here and I think can even arrest people in exceptional circumstances! The message back to me was that he had contacted my immediate (300mt away)neighbour and both were on their way. My husband was taking a long time and I had started to think he was now in trouble......anyway he arrived back to say that he had seen a stranger, a man, not dressed for the torrential rain that was falling, standing up at a crossroads about a kilometer up the road. There is an old, open fronted stone building at this crossroad and the guy was standing in there. My husband spoke to him, asked if he needed help but the man just stared at him. So my husband came back home. He arrived outside at the same time as our neighbour and the mayor, so they left together to investigate the 'man in the stone shelter'. We have another neighbour about a kilometer away, so I rang her to warn her that there was something going on and the area could be full of flashing blue lights soon. After about half an hour my husband returned and had not understood the situation up at the stone shelter. The man had been there, outside, leaning on the stone tourist map when they arrived and the two Frenchmen spoke to him, then looked in his only bag, a small plastic shopping bag, that contained a couple of tins of food. They then left the man up there! I was concerned about this, but when I rang the mayor a few minutes later he told me that the man was not drunk but very confused, not making any sense and no reason apparently for screaming. The mayor was sufficiently concerned himself that there was no real explanation that he had called the gendarmes as soon as he had got home. Since the mayor was talking to a town 50km away originally, there was a call back on the mayor's mobile from the local gendarme while I was on the phone to the mayor. The story was relayed to me by the mayor's wife.......the Gendarmes would cone and cruise the only two possible routes he could have wandered off along, and check out the stone shelter, but they would make a full investigation in the morning. They believed him to be a vagrant passing through? We locked everything up really well, put away the axes! And got some sleep, although I listened for a long time at the window. Now here I am waiting for more news or a visit from the gendarmes. Meanwhile I feel there are so many unanswered questions. He could have been in shock, after witnessing an attack, there could still be someone else somewhere. He could have escaped from a mental home, even vagrants dress for the bad weather, and why be a vagrant in such a remote area, not many pickings or donations from few passers by. Who knows? There may be a follow up to this post......or maybe not.....

samedi 26 avril 2014

Bar Wars - Part Two

Bar Wars part 2
I am wide awake, it's only 5:50am, the moon is so bright and it has just passed behind our house and shone right across my eyes, but what a treat, the nightingale is singing with such a passion. It has been a cold night though, the stars were amazing when we got home from the bar, Orion's belt was lying across the top of the trees at the end of the garden! I really hope that giant breton got home safely. I think he probably stopped somewhere to sleep off the alcohol as he is only working in the next village, and home would be an hour's drive, and most french workers have an early start. The young man that I have seen before who was with them was very amusing in French and English. Our friend was telling him how worried she was about him driving off, the boy shrugged his shoulders and said, ' il est majeur et vaccine', " he's over 18 and vaccinated". Which I think is such a funny way of saying, "he's a big boy, grown up" and not to worry about him. The young hippy family in the bar were friends of the owner, their baby was so adorable. Babies and animals are attracted to my husband, probably because he looks like Father Christmas! But this baby who had just learnt to walk, made a bee line for Papa Noel with his arms open, so he just picked him up and sat there with this complete stranger's baby for about 10 minutes. The parents both had elaborate, long dreadlocks decorated with beads, and both wore "sarouels", those very baggy cotton trousers that seem to be made out of two large squares of fabric seamed together, are tight at the ankles and the crotch seems to be right down there somewhere too! Even the baby had a tiny pair on!! They were great on him as they easily accommodated his nappy and wobbly new walking legs, he had a little tiny twisted bit of hair at the nape of his neck with coloured cotton wound round it, so cool at 13 months!! Shame, I could hardly whip my Ipad out to take a photo! I suppose a 'real journalist' woul have done so! We sat and had another drink with them before we left because it was still very early. The family made a fuss of the owner who was quite shaken by the whole thing, and they made her a drink and we all sat talking about the incident with them for a little while. This, and the bar we started off in, are the only two places anywhere near us that we can take visitors. Fortunately, our visitor was very amused by the whole thing, and we spent a long time laughing about it on the way home, and at home, while I made us Irish coffees and a hot water bottle for her to tuck her up in her LDV camper van, already christened the Powys Hilton! (Powys is an area in Wakes, UK). I was definitely a party girl, working in the tourist industry I had to be a continuous party girl with all the various groups that came out to France, Italy or Greece every week. People on holiday are naturally in a different mood. It's a wonder I did not become an alcoholic, drinking and socializing as much as I did every night for 5 months at a time. I barely had a month off between summer, Greek island holiday seasons and winter ski seasons. And for most of that time all my drinks were offered free by bar owners grateful I had brought tourists to their bars, and I had to spread my affection too by taking various groups to various bars every night. Now, it is the same but on a much smaller scale. We might be retired, but whenever people come to see us they are on holiday and ready to party, so we join in. We are acting like tour guides of course for our area of France, but sometimes it was a little difficult to visit the same tourist attractions every week. Four or five visits to Rennes le Chateau looking for the priest's gold or aliens is quite enough in one summer than you!! Now, it's better as most of our hard core of friends have been coming here for over twenty years to visit us and they don't want to do the 'tourist thing' anymore. They come to se us, to eat, drink and talk about old times which I can only just about handle these days. I can not do all the walking involved in showing people around all the Cathar castles now. I have a library of guide books for visitors which I put by their beds. We always hope now that our visitors come here by car, or hire a car, and do not need to be driven here around by us. And we pray for a break between visitors as our old bones cannot cope with all the extra running around cooking, cleaning, putting up teepees and making merry. Dawn is breaking now and the nightingale has been joined by hundreds of other birds, the dawn chorus is fantastic. I should try to "video" it to record the sounds, the cow bells are ringing as don't know if it will work? I'll have a go, but as soon as my feet touch the floor or I open the back door, the dogs are going to hear me and 6:30 is still a bit early to wake up visitors, or the snoring Papa Noel next to me! Zzzzzz Tomorrow we thought we'd go to a bar in Tournissan for a meal. This bar is run by a threesome of one guy and two women who share a bed, and one of the women looks like the french footballer Eric I expect there will be a tale to tell tomorrow as well. Then Friday, back to the original cafe where we are booked in for a meal, and finally Saturday we have an invite to a barbecue......but by Saturday, according to the rumours we should have snow!! Never a dull moment here. Never a Quite Day in the Corbieres!

Update on the house to rent

No dates available at the moment, fully booked, sorry.

Bar Wars - Part One

Bar Wars - part 1
If you buy a holiday home, or move here permanently like we did you need to prepare yourself for the phenomena of constant summer visitors.....some a pleasure to welcome, others can be hard work! We have some space in the house, but we also put up a decorated teepee and a large Inuit tent in the orchard which is frequented at night by wild boars......but that's another story.....and we don't tell the visitors! It is exhausting talking to visitors all day. I insist on everyone here having siestas, and pack visitors off to their rooms, campervans or teepees to take an afternoon nap or at least be quiet, it is the only way I can recharge my batteries for the next round of cooking or going out. To wake us from our daytime slumbers today, another expat in our village, an 86 year old english lady, full of character, arrived with her little dog, to have my husband cut her dew claws that had once again grown right round digging in her pads, poor thing. Dave is the only person who can cut them, she even screams the place down for the vet! So cups of english tea and biscuits were served while the Dog Whisperer did his work! The sun was over the solar panels on the roof when he finished so the tea cups were replaced by glasses and it was time for a quick gin and tonic before dinner....... We decided to eat a steak up at the bar in the next village, so off we went at 7:30 pm, our neighbour, the cow farmer, was in there very drunk with two friends, one a giant of a handsome man from Brittany in northern France who made our neighbour look like a stick insect next to him, who was also so drunk he could barely stand, and a very short young guy about half the age of his drinking companions. The blonde giant immediately lurched over to Woody and me and started trying to talk in english, asking if we were "women of character!" "What character?" We asked, "Good or bad?". We humoured him a little as he was so very drunk. Disappointingly it turned out the bar was not serving food tonight, the owner, who we know very well was trying to get rid of my inebriated neighour and his two friends. So we sat outside, drank our drinks and left to go up to the next village, to the only other bar/cafe for miles around. At least the brazilian gypsy bar owner had some beautiful food, pork in a mustard sauce with rice, it was lovely. No sooner had the food arrived than the three drunks arrived!! It shocked me to find they had driven the 5 km up there!! Anyway, the bar owner refused to serve them, put glasses of water in front of them, and my neighbour ordered a pot of tea!! And showed it to everyone!! There was another couple with a year old baby in there and the 10 year old son of the owner watching a film on the computer. The drunk breton guy just suddenly started abusing the owner with long strings of insults in French, english and Portuguese, punctuated by the slang words for prostitute and slut in all three languages. Then he picked up a bottle of beer, shook it up and threw it all over everyone? My neighbour, who could not even stand, was apologising for his friend and trying to push his very tall friend out the door. The owner was phoning the police when the abusive guy walked/fell out the door, then we heard a van revving up and eventually driving off at high speed.......then, shock, horror, my neighbour and his small friend came back in, this meant that the extremely drunk guy had driven off in the van!! Apparently to drive 60 km to the village where he lived?? Leaving My neighbour and his nearly sober friend without a lift home. We offered but they refused. So that was Another Quiet Day in the Corbieres!! But it was not over yet....... When we got home we turned off the outside lights, locked all the doors and had strawberries and cream and Irish coffees, worried that my neighbour would turn up for a nightcap. His cows were everywhere around my garden, eyeing up the long grass and my baby lettuces on our side of the pathetic non electrified electric fencing. Four or five massive, grey Gascon cows with cow bells and very big horns were looking expectantly over the thin wire at us. We parked the Land Rover on the tiny bridge over the dry stream bed that was our only defence from the invasion of these beautiful ladies in search of a lush green meal. Just to finish off an absolutely crazy evening, we were suddenly aware that the clanging of the cow bells had hot louder and we shone the torch outside to see that the herd of hungry cows had all burst through my neighbour's flimsy wire fences and were lined up on our bridge behind the Land Rover, looking over the blue bailing twine I had rigged up as a defence when they all escaped yesterday?? Whatever next?? It was pointless trying to ring the neighbour who we presumed was still drunk in the bar in the next village, he was not going to rush down here to control his cows, he couldn't even control his own legs! And so to bed........LOL Tomorrow we thought we'd go to a bar a little further down the mountain for a meal. This bar is run by a threesome of one guy and two women who share a bed, a real 'menage a trois'. Another woman who frequents this bar looks like the french footballer Eric I expect there will be a tale to tell tomorrow as well. Then Friday, back to the original cafe where we are booked in for a meal, and finally Saturday we have an invite to a barbecue......but by Saturday, according to the rumours we should have snow!! Never a dull moment here.

2014 Starting off the garden

Starting off my garden for 2014
Before starting garden......get out neighbour's cows I started tomato seeds and chilies way back in February in the warm bathroom under lights with my orchids that need extra care and humidity in the winter. And one or two flower seeds that need an early start like Sweet Peas and morning Glory. I have everything to convert an old cheap metal greenhouse that long since lost its cover, into a heated tent, but this winter (2013/14) never really got bad and I was very busy. I really started in 2013 with garlic, I have had garlic in the ground since December 21st, it is traditional here to plant on the Winter Solstice and harvest on the Summer Solstice, the 21 June. This will leave me a half empty raised bed to plant again, probably with some quick, cut and cone again salad leaves. Then in March and April I started planting beetroot, a salad leaf mix called Mesclun here and red onion sets all outside as it was so mild. I covered them with thin white fleece to protect from sudden cold nights but we did not have any this year! Global warming? Who knows? We have had minus 15 C in March before now, we are at 500 metres above sea level in the Pyrenees. Last week (April 16-18) we had daytime temperatures of 23 to 28 degrees C and everything put on a fantastic spurt of all my seed trays are piled up in the kitchen as we have had torrential rain and wind for two days over Easter. Gardeners need to be prepared for anything We had snow on the 5th of May a few years ago just after everyone had bought their organic veg plants at the local plant fair the day before which had been hot and sultry! Fortunately I had not planted out my new plants and I just brushed off the snow and brought them all into the kitchen and bathroom. Permanent plants in the veg plot I have three massive globe artichoke plants that are perennial and give about 15 fruits per season, and a mass of Jerusalem artichokes (like potatoes) put on a wonderful display of yellow, sun flower-like flowers in late summer, then we dig them up and eat them, leaving some to continue next year. Somewhere down there I had a massive Horseradish plant, but I cannot seem to identify it among the other robust weeds, so my original donor has given me two other pieces of root to plant this year.....I will make a large sign for it this time. Various herbs reappear every year, chives, Greek oregano, Sage Officianalis, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, several mints, lavender (where would my blog be without it?) and of course fruit and nut trees, cherry, apple, almond, peach, plum, elderberry, walnuts, cob nuts etc. i supplement these perennial herbs with those I grow annually, corriander (cilantro), parsley, several basils, two different types of parsley, and dill. I may have forgotten something. We have seed swaps between villagers and friends, which is a good excuse for a get together. Then after Easter when everyone (hopefully) has had lots of success with seed sowing, we often swap plants, and some people have that many they rent a table at the plant fair to sell their extras. I never have time to do this!! I am too busy buying everything else at the plant fair to sit down! The plant fair is the place to meet everyone from miles around, this year it is on the 4th of May and is the first local outside get together and barbecue of the year. We fill the back of our car with boxes to hold all the plants on their very short journey home. We find a table near the bar, order our lunch and some drinks, then I wander to and fro the stalls, ferrying plants back to my other half to take to the car. We mert all our old friends and shake off the cobwebs of winter together over a glass of red wine. This is one of my favourite days of the year I buy the rest of my organic tomato plants, some local heritage varieties, cucumber plants to trail up a wooden teepee, usually a variety of three or four courgette plants, and three or four aubergine (egg plant) plants. To supplement my lettuce plants and salad leaves I buy some small plants by the dozen, although I will continue to sow leaves throughout the summer.

mercredi 20 février 2013

Gite to rent in South West France

We have a gite to rent in the centre of the tiny village of Laroque de Fa. The building is more than 300 years old and was the old bakery, the bread oven and system for heating the house are still in place. We do have a more modern heating system now..... Ground Floor: Kitchen with electric stove, washing machine fridge freezer fully equipped for four people. There is a small sitting area with armchairs and a dining table. There is a wood burning stove for which an initial supply of wood is included in the price. From here there is an original staircase to the first floor. First Floor: On this floor there are two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other is at present made up as a single with an orthopedic bed. A second single would fit in this room. On this floor is a separate WC and bathroom with bath and shower over. Second Floor: The second floor is reached by another original staircase in the local style, through a door which effectively shuts off the two floors. This floor can be included in the accommodation although the ceiling is yet to be painted, it comprises one large room where there is a double bed and two singles set up as a corner sofa, there is also a large dining table and chairs. The windows open on to a little square in front of the house which was the original threshing area for the grain. Hot water, and electricity are included in the price of the gite. Linen is charged at 10 euros per person per week. Cars should be left in the area next to the church or on the main square. The road up to the gite becomes very narrow and although there is a way through via the top of the hill, it is only suitable for pedestrians or very small cars. There is a piece of land belonging to our gite which is a little overgrown and wild but visitors are welcome to use this for picnics during their stay, it is about 200 metres away, we will be happy to show yo where this is and in season you can pick the figs and enjoy them. Laroque de Fa is on the D613 road from Narbonne through to Couiza, putting you within easy reach of places like Roman Narbonne, the old city of Carcassonne, sed in Kevin Costner's film Robin Hood Prince of thieves, Rennes le Chateau with its mysterious history, and Rennes les Bains for free hot spring bathing in the woods, also recently used By Kate Mosse as the setting for her novel Sepulchre. There is a file of useful information on the shelf in the sitting room downstairs, and if you need any more specific information please do not hesitate to contact your hosts on : 04 68 70 09 38 You should also come and visit us while you are here, we have a small farm just outside the village where we are renovating the old watermill, the Moulin de St Jean Circa 1260, and we have an organic vegetable garden, llamas, goats and other animals to see. Photos of the gite to follow.