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.