Friday, 31 May 2013


When Eric moved the pool house to the end of the swimming pool (because the previous one was falling down the slope into Monsieur F's maize field) he left a muddy patch at the side, which I lovingly turned into a small pebble garden. It was a useful quick route through to the back of the building so Tod could do stuff with the pump and then come back and check the pool itself was doing ok.

This year, the pebble garden has become a nose-high jungle that Tod has to cut through with a machete. So on the day we took the winter cover off I hacked down all the weeds.  Among them was a soft pink poppy that happily seeds itself round the garden coming up in different places each year.  It was here when we arrived, so there is a particular satisfaction in getting majestic poppies for free.

Without much hope, I cut off all the tight green poppy buds before I dug up the plant (it couldn't stay where it was) and plonked them in a large vase in the kitchen.  They are such delicate flowers they seem too fragile to make cut blooms.

To my delight they are coming out and look lovely.

Monday, 27 May 2013

At Last!

We've had a day of sunshine and almost warmth.

Tucking ourselves round the side of the house away from the veranda which was catching the still chill east wind, we sat sipping our mugs of tea before the joyous task of removing the winter cover from the swimming pool.

As I've said before, there's just one benefit of a cold wet spring.  The roses are glorious.  I took these over the last few days dashing out with camera between downpours.

We have a lot of red and pink roses I realise as I take the photos.  This just provided an ideal excuse to head for our local garden centre and find (to my delight) some splendid David Austin orange and yellow roses.  Mind you, another very dark fragrant red one hopped into the trolley as well.

David Austin roses

Sunday, 26 May 2013

I am rapidly acquiring ...

... Old Lady Feet.

One of the advantages of moving between cottage (winter) and house (summer) is that I am forced to acknowledge what in my wardrobe I am and am not wearing.  Lugging armfuls of clothing up and down the drive every six months or so between cottage and house gets very tedious, especially if half the armfuls are never being worn.

Sometimes I just shove everything back in the wardrobe and shut the door.  But this time, after weeks of cleaning, tidying and repainting I think the bit of me that is my grandmother's genes is still looking for something to do.  So I open a few shoe boxes that have collected an inordinate amount of dust to see what's inside. Good heavens, slim black "crocodile" patent leather shoes bought from M&S more years ago than I care to remember.  How did I ever squeeze my feet into those?

We're not talking the odd half size or so here you understand, but a whole half a foot's width and length.  While the rest of me seems to be shrinking, my feet are definitely still expanding and growing.  I blame it on the sandals in summer and trainers and wellington boots in winter - foot attire not designed to keep feet under control, unlike the tight leather of "proper" shoes worn at work.

Even the trainers that I bought, what, no more than five years ago, are feeling a bit tight. Some of my toes are grumbling as I sit and type this. The next pair will have to be (yet another) half size larger.

Those ads for wide velcro fastened Old Lady Shoes in the back pages of the Daily Telegraph colour supplement are beginning to look very attractive.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Weather

The only topic of conversation - French or English:

"Le tempsIncroyable!".
"How are you?" "Fine except for the bloody weather!"

We've had the wood fire on in  the lounge every day since we moved up from the cottage. Thank heavens we ordered that firewood last autumn - just in case. Bertie lies on the hearth rug with his nose only inches from the hot glass.

We scuttle across the cold bits of the house to the next pool of warmth: the lounge, my study, the kitchen if we've just had the oven on, Tod's room (if he gets round to lighting the gas fire).

We're reduced to tasks in and around the house - sorting paperwork, tidying the utility room and the garage. The swimming pool still languishes under its winter cover. Between showers we dash out to do more strimming and mowing - though some days the rain has been continuous, or it's just too cold to summon up the courage.

I'm still wearing my thermals (shock, horror!) and I've cut some roses and brought them indoors. It's the only way this year that I'm going to enjoy them.

We have yet to eat outside in the courtyard of our favourite crêperie.

Two years ago, we feared a drought (huh!) and spent hours watering freshly planted trees.

Three years ago, we had French lessons in the garden and cycled along the canal under the shade of the plane trees. And I photographed the roses.

It's good to have a blog and to be reminded that May can be glorious.

Excuse me - must go. There's a thin watery shaft of cold sunlight outside - time to don wellington boots and gardening jacket and strim down some more weeds. I might even manage to take the odd photo of drooping roses and post some here.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Woodworm Man Cometh

We're out of the cottage and back in the house.  Forced out by small wood-boring insects and the need to have professionals come in and sort them out.

I tried to treat the cottage beams myself, last year, but the woodworm march onwards has been inexorable and so it's time to get the job done properly.

Otherwise, we'd still be snug in the cottage at the bottom of the garden, with its underfloor heating, double glazing and good insulation. But it's back to the hot-water bottles, bed-socks (very important before putting one's feet down onto cold floors first thing in the morning), extra layers and calor gas heaters to stand between us and the draughts.

Who would have thought May would be this cold?  Or maybe, with cottage living, we've just gone soft.

Monday, 6 May 2013


For over eight weeks, every day, I drove up the drive from the cottage, past the house, averting my eyes from the sight of Nature rampaging through the garden and made my way into town to clean floors, paint walls and repair lino.

And now, with time to garden again, I've no idea where to begin.

The rose beds, the bushes already in full bud? Strangled with buttercup and bindweed tendrils, great juicy thistle, dandelion and dock stems barging their way skywards, cutting out the light and killing the lower branches.

Perhaps the paving round the swimming pool? A jungle of dead nettle, self-seeded alliums, more dock, dandelion and thistle (of course) and speedwell.

Or the loving planted borders either side of the one-day-to-be front door? Now overrun with rye grasses and wild oats and yet more dock and thistles.

Or the lawns, round the house and the cottage?  The grass now so high and stems so coarse that mower and strimmer struggle to do more than just knock the plants down.

I despair at what a mere eight weeks' neglect can do to all my previous hours of care. How do those of you who spend no more than a few weeks here each year cope?

I sit on the bank behind the cottage laboriously extracting fronds of sap-filled grass from the middle of a large cotoneaster that is desperately trying to flower.  Vita and Bertie sit close by, watching me mournfully as I cut back what are obviously their absolutely favourite blades to chew.  Don't be ridiculous dogs!  There are acres of greenery all round us, just waiting to be eaten.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

It looked easy ....

... on the B&Q and Homebase DIY videos:

-  Run a hot hair-dryer over the damaged plastic tile

-  Slide a putty knife under the tile and lift

-  Scrape off the softened old adhesive underneath

-  Apply fresh adhesive to the now clean floor

-  Place the new tile on the fresh adhesive

-  Smooth out air bubbles

-  Put a heavy book on top for 24 hours and voilà, flooring repaired

No mention of  what you do if, in lifting the damaged tile, half the floor underneath comes up as well.  Or how to cope if the plastic tiles are so old and brittle that the adjacent one starts to crack and lift.  Still, Steve, our builder, did a couple for us - mixing self-levelling compound that would even out the lumps and bumps under the tile and letting it flow slowly across the floor, placing the new tile on top and gently pressing it down into the concrete so it was at the same height as the neighbouring tiles.

Well it didn't look too difficult.

So the next evening, after Tod had left, I had a go with replacing the tiles we lifted in the kitchen.  Mixing the grey self-levelling compound in the small bucket took forever.  It just seemed too runny.  So I'd beat out all the lumpy bits, stir and stir, add more powder, beat out the fresh lumps, stir,.add more powder.      And then, suddenly, it wasn't runny any longer, it had gone like thick porridge.  That was the moment I should have thrown it away and started again, but after all that time mixing it seemed a shame to waste it.

So I plonked it on the floor in dollops and tried to smooth it out. Far from self-levelling, it determinedly formed a small mountain.  So I scraped most of it off, thought it looked reasonably level and then realised that, as it was now hard rather than runny, the tiles might not stick to it, so the addition of tile adhesive might be a good idea.  I squidged the new tiles onto this mess and reached for a heavy tub of paint to rest on top of a block of wood to keep the tiles flat, when I realised that the tile adhesive had tipped over and formed a small white lake behind me (where I wouldn't notice what was happening).  The pack warned me that while the adhesive was white I could clean it up, once clear (after about ten minutes) it became like super-glue.  I grabbed a roll of kitchen towel and mopped as fast as I could.

Twenty minutes later, I was still scraping a nasty mixture of self-levelling compound and tile adhesive off the floor that Tod had so carefully cleaned a couple of days previously. I was also conscious that my hands were becoming increasingly sticky and it was difficult to separate my fingers. I padded into the bathroom, leaving a trail of sticky concrete footprints along the (recently cleaned by Tod) corridor floor and lathered my fingers alternately with white spirit, soap and Nivea cream. They still felt tacky.

As I drove away later, I wondered whether I would be able to prise my fingers off the steering wheel when I reached my destination.

It was only as I was driving in the following morning it occurred to me I might not be able to unstick the block of wood with the paint tub on top from off the newly laid tiles.

It's at moments like this that the only thing I can do is sing Gerry Rafferty..... I hope he's right.

Our photo project in early April ...

... was to take two spring flower photos.  How could I possibly choose only  two!

Apple blossom
 Cherry blossom

 Quince blossom


In the end, I didn't have to choose, as I was still busy painting!