Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Pandemonium on the Terrace

Two baby blackbirds, one on the ground hidden among the pot plants, the other still up on the beam above our heads. And mother, with tempting morsels in her beak, on the low wall below encouraging her offspring to come down.  The noise that can be made by two small birds and one mother is astonishing.

Earlier, one of their siblings, already saying "look I can fly" crashed into my study window. I found him/her dazed in the grass and after some frantic fluttering from the baby and raucous anxiety from the father I carried the fledgling to longer grass by the sour cherry tree (smothered in small fruit) beyond the reach of the dogs.

This is a dangerous time for the blackbirds and this year's nest is in a particularly inappropriate place - on the high beam facing the kitchen door.  Bertie has been watching and waiting all week.  The landing site is right in front of him.  Sadly one youngster has already been found and dispatched.  So we keep the dogs in as much as we can and pray that the rest of the brood wastes no time learning to fly.

Fortunately it's been cold and raining all morning and the dogs are content to be in the warm.  Another few hours in which the blackbirds have the terrace to themselves and hopefully have time to find their wings and seek sanctuary further afield.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

A Misty Moisty Morning

Camper vans and sleek cars with strange number plates are beginning to appear in the supermarket car parks. An elegant pair of women - mother and daughter I guess - pick over the fruit in Carrefour. Tall, thin, in taupe and beige cashmere, leopard skin ankle boots and fashionably too short wool trousers, their perfume and demeanour reek "Parisienne".  Incomers arriving for Easter.

If they are hoping for the sunny days of February and March they are in for a disappointment. For those of us who are gardening, however, these subdued early mornings are a delight.  A cuckoo calls across the valley.  A pair of pheasants have made our garden their home and they cluck contentedly as they peck at the driveway. Noises are muted in the damp air and cars driving along the ridge to work sound more distant.

I inch my way along the bank below the house lawn.  Twelve years on and various "make-overs" and it still defeats me. The coarse grasses and brambles barge their way through the bushes I am so carefully nurturing.  A small forsythia and a shrubby cistus planted last year need weeding and there, inches from my nose, are two tiny grey-brown honeycombs, hanging delicately from brown twiglets, barely visible. The bane of my summer gardening - wasps nests!    By high summer this bank will be their domain and I will stay well-away, however much the brambles and the grass need attention. But this early in the day and in this cool dank air, I'm safe. Wasps are late risers.

For the moment, our hoopoes are silent.  They too, as incomers, are happiest later in the day, in the sun, chattering noisily as they play chase across the roof of our cottage.

There's another welcome sound this spring - the buzz of hive bees on the blue flowers of the rosemary that flops over the edge of the terrace flowerbed.  The second summer we were here Serge had planted rape in our neighbouring field and the noise of contented honey bees among the yellow flowers was thunderous.  But over the years since their numbers have dwindled to almost nothing.

The apiary in the woodland across the valley had been cared for by an elderly couple, but it became too much for them and was left to decay.  Now though, a white van is often parked among the trees and a cluster of new hives has appeared.  To our joy the honey bees are returning.  Though not this early in the day, nor on such a misty, moisty morning.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Monday, 25 February 2019

The Archbishop of Canterbury ...

... is preparing the United Kingdom for five days of prayer after Brexit.

Surely, five days of prayer BEFORE Brexit would be more appropriate.  Then, who knows, we might achieve a miracle.

Talking of miracles, the front door of the cottage has been open for days as we let the dogs wander in and out at will in this glorious sunshine.  We mow, prune, weed and stop frequently to say how unbelievable the weather is.  I suspect we should be more worried than we are about climate change, but against the background gloom of Brexit, in this blessed warmth, it's hard to be anything other than happy and grateful that there is something to smile about.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Dig Deeper!

I send out a distressed round robin email to everyone we know who is either DIY competent or a builder.  We dug down to the suggested 50 cm and still no sign of the red warning netting over the mains electric cable.

Back comes the universal message "dig deeper".  But how much deeper?  My heart sinks.

Then Ian's email arrived: "Cable is normally a minimum of 50 cm but if put in with a digger it could be a lot deeper, but normally no more than 75 cm, but if ground goes up and down can be deeper at some points, mesh is normally around 20 cm above cable, so should find it first."  Now that I can manage - I've already dug 50 cm.  Another 25 cm is only half that!  With renewed enthusiasm I get back in the trench with pick axe and trowel.

Within ten minutes, down at 80 cm a tiny corner of bright red webbing emerges from the clay.  Joy of joys.  I bounce back into the kitchen to tell Tod the good news.  We check another two holes and again, at last, the warning netting coyly appears - so now we know the route the cable is following and a call to Ian yields the promise of a visit with a digger to put in the French drain to divert the rain water away from the cottage.

He finally finds the cable itself at 120cm depth - our Polish builders obviously thought they were installing power in the Tundra. A nick through the protective ducting shows the importance of what we're doing. Water immediately starts to seep out and along the new drain.

The cottage heating has been on for over a week now to help dry out the wiring under the floor.  With almost continuous rain these last days the work has been done just in time.  Standing in the hallway, the cottage envelopes us in warmth.  And there is a blissful absence of the sound of dripping water from inside the electricity meter cupboard.

We've decided it's time to go back down to the cottage for what's left of winter.  There's even a hint of early morning sun to help with the move.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

So, the decorations are down ...

... packed in plastic crates and waiting to go up into the loft.

The lounge looks denuded and needs a good hoover.  Bits of that long fine shiny stuff that everyone used to drape over Christmas trees (no, not tinsel) get everywhere and there are always one or two pieces that only emerge once everything has been tidied. Bertie rolls on the carpet and then walks away with glitter in his fur.

Before I finally say farewell to Christmas 2018, some photos I took at our neighbouring farmer's house.  First time I've been through their door (only taken 11 years) and he and his wife proudly showed me their conservatory - filled with a "Village de Noël".  They told me it takes about a week to put up and take down.  Unlike in the UK, there isn't the tradition here of taking down decorations on twelfth night.  Perhaps as well! She tells me her village will stay in place for another couple of weeks.

It's difficult to do it justice with still photos.  Many of the models move: roundabouts, skaters, an airship, a train, windmills.  Lights flash and Christmas carols pipe in competition with one another through tinny (and tiny) speakers. She has been collecting the models since her now grown-up children were babies and admits to being addicted.  I'm not surprised.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

We Need a Dowser!

Despite the fact that it's winter (and very frosty) we are doing the best we can to stay warm in the house.  The cottage meanwhile is standing forlorn, empty and chilly with the power off.

Before Christmas, harking back to our flood in the hall last January, we thought it would be a good idea while the weather was still mild and dry to locate the mains cable under ground and do something fancy with pipes and drainage ditches to direct the rain water flowing through the ducting away from the cottage.

How hard could it be? After all, I took a couple of photos when the builders were laying the cable.  Both pictures show the red netting that is laid in the trench so that anyone digging has an early warning of what lies beneath.

Where the cable passes in front of the cottage we now have a concrete pathway.  And that's also the same territory where the pipe to our septic tank goes, not to mention the rainwater from the gutters to our large underground tank.  So to dig in that area seemed like folly and we moved to higher ground, using the right hand photo for guidance which shows the trench dug from the electricity pole diagonally across what used to be Serge's land, down the slope towards the cottage.

SEVEN holes later, we are still no nearer finding the cable!

It looks like the Time Team* has taken over.  We expect to bump into Tony Robinson and a camera crew any day now.

And we now understand why it is the builders we asked to do the work for us have all been unexpectedly busy.

* Programme on British TV that follows archaeological digs over a three day period.  Tony Robinson is the presenter.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2018