Saturday, November 26, 2005

A big day for muther

I could be blasé about appearing on the web, having appeared here and there many times with Batala (warning! graphic heavy site) in my Pompey days. But it always gave me a kick. As it has me muther, who is somewhere to be found here. (For how long, I can't say.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wine freebie - or global impacts: Three

And finally, the gapingvoid and Stormhoek wine freebie has hit the Massif Central too. Mine got delivered yesterday, with my own personally printed label, (can't give you a photo yet, see below). Here's global microbrands, market disruption and all that jazz having a one-way relationship with my little village. I'm looking for ways to add the other dimension - I have a few ideas, and will be working on them over the winter.

Anyway, back to the wine. The delivery man was exceptional. Having spotted it was wine, he professed himself an amateur and proceeded to advise me to allow it at least two days repos before drinking it, and to allow it to take a couple of degrees of temperature from the room before drinking it. He enthused about wine, he loves wine, he wanted to share all that with me. It was a warm and cuddly experience. So warm and cuddly I didn't dare tell him that it wasn't French wine. I'm absolutely sure it would never, ever have occured to him that it wasn't French wine. Absolutely.

So, I will follow his advice, although I would have done both things anyway. But there's more mileage in this bottle. Oh yes! Apart from Bunny and the Oldest Hippie, my nearest French mates, there are one or two others that could be interested. I may well try a blind tasting event of some sort.

And then of course there's Fred. Fred was a motorbike mechanic. he decided he wanted to make wine, and has bought and is renewing a small vignoble in the Puy de Dome. He's passionate about his wine, and the attention to detail and level of care is outstanding. I won't say he know's every grape by name, but you get the picture. What about the wine? Well, I like it. At least last year's two wines were good for me. And the somelier of the Elysee Palace, (where the French President lives), also thought they were good. He called Fred at the end of his second season last year and bought out his remaining stock.

I'd like Fred to try some Stormhoek. Decisions decisions. One bottle may not be enough. And I can't get it in France. Mr Orbital Wines of London suggests that it may never be sold here. So I'll have to try and get hold of some in old Blighty. If it's any good of course. But I'll ask Fred about that.

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere: two

Then there's avian flu of course. By all accounts it's not possible to get this from eating chicken, but the consumer being a fickle sort, especially with lots of choice on the supermarket shelves, this fact has not stopped them avoiding chicken in their droves. The impact? Well our neighbour Bunny raises rabbits for food, and he's doing quite well - rabbit being seen in this part of France at any rate as a good healthy alternative to chicken. He's not complaining, but I haven't been up to ask the rabbits what they think.

Some photos

Sorry no photos, blogger doesn't want to know ... &^£$$"!

Like a new place

Two weeks in the UK, initially for work, but soon dedicated to my Dad who was taken ill two days into my trip. Two work meetings (that were the reason for the trip in the first place) were cancelled, leaving me free to do some practical stuff for Dad. This was handy, given that he's likely to be away from home for some months recovering from the stroke. We normally keep in touch 2-3 times a day by e-mail and text, and now still have the texting thing, even tho' in theory mobiles are banned from hosptial wards. Between my sister and I, we hope to get him kitted out with a laptop and internet connection by the time he's farmed out to what used to be called a cottage hospital for the hard work of rehabilitation. He's got a couple of projects to work on, one a spoof work magazine he's been writing anonymously for years, and the other his substantial body of doggerel poetry that deserves a wider audience. I suspect we may get some of that on one of my other blogs 'by yer in overne' in due course.

Being at home in Swansea was a bit strange. This was the house I grew up in, in the town I grew up in. Yet it felt different. It was no longer the same PLACE. This was something I noticed on a previous 'illness-free' trip home. I also noticed it when I visited our 'old' house in Pompey which is now let to a friend. Yes, this is the house where we lived for 3 years, the first house we owned (in partnership with the bank and a mother). But it's not the same place. This one still has a vibe.

In and around Swansea, there are a few landscapes that still feel like the same place. For me it's because they are invested with people energy. Sometimes others unknown have left something magic, some vibe behind. Something they noticed when they found it, and added to in their turn. Sometimes the vibe is our own, and while we are there, it lives; when we move on, it leaves with us.

The landscapes are important to me. Can they really be affected by people as houses or other buildings are? (That reminds me that there is the negative angle on all this too. One building - an ex-military prison in Stirling had an extremely disturbing vibe. I don't know what it feels like now.)

So here I was in early November, in autumn, clearing leaves and enjoying the last surprisingly late fruits of my garden - cherry tomatoes being a particular favourite. I leave to go to old Blighty, and when I get back, it's winter. The first snowfall is arriving as I write.

Waiting for the school bus with excited kids. Enjoying that special peace that falls over the landscape with the snow. Transforming the house into a cosy refuge, our massive fireplace really coming into its own. This place has its own vibe, which is great, and we are adding to it every day we are here. Our dream is to buy this or another similar place and vibe away to our hearts' content. Wish us luck.

PS Some pictures to come - Blogger doesn't seem too happy about uploading this morning.

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere revisited

I commented on the price of fuel oil recently, and was horrified at the price. I forgot to include the VAT in the second figure - aaaaaagh! The impact of this is now surprising. You would not believe the number of lumberjacks that have appeared in the woods, and the price of wood. And the three-four month waiting list for getting a wood-burning stove installed. I wonder how many of the neglected little parcels of woodland will start getting dusted off over the winter.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Global impacts in the middle of nowhere

The rioting and associated political debates in France do have an impact here. They crop up in conversation from time to time, but less often than you'd think. More often than not the weather (surprise surprise), local history, school and recipes crop up, (just thinking back over the last couple of days.

But don't let that persuade you that this little corner of the Massif Central is isolated from the world at large. Most people here have oil-fueled heating. And in the two years since we've been here, the price has risen from our first bill of 292 euro/m3 to today's order at 645 euro/m3. Renting this staging post limits our rights and enthusiasm to insulate better and we don't really have that many other heating options. But it certainly focuses the mind on having one or two other options. I'm a fan of renewables, which should come as no surprise, and they will certainly feature wherever we find ourselves. But the largest wind farm in France outside the window encourages thinking as widely as possible.

There are a number of disused watermills around here, the area seems to have been peppered with them at varous times. Unfortunately many are complete ruins, but one or two are relativeley intact and could be put to use generating electricity. This could also help restore and preserve the architectural heritage of the area. I wonder what the engineering case is? I must ask the oldest hippy what he thinks, he used to be an engineer. That will be a different topic of conversation...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

And the effect is?

Well it's attracted some attention from the neighbours. One girl was disappointed at the result, having seen it at two courses high and expecting it to reach the dizzy altitude of the wooden flag pole that you can see sticking out the top of this one. It's about 4m long, so that was never likely, but I did promise the make the next one bigger. The thing in the background is one hedgehog of a pair that used to be dragged along behind a trailer full of merde to spray it around a bit. Redundant now, I found it amongst a bank of brambles along one boundary. It's quite a big thing to find, but not as big as the wall that it was sitting on that I hadn't seen before either! One of my ideas is to rebuild the wall, (which should appear in the middle distance of this view, to the right of the tree in the middle). Whether I do it or not depends on whether I get enough practice at cairns and other small projects over the winter. I rebuilt two low steps this morning too, so I've made a good start. Move over Andy Goldsworthy ...

The first ephemeral garden

Well, here I am at the first attempt, and great fun it was too.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ephemeral gardening

Our temporary stay here in the village is longer than expected. I find it affects my motivation in the garden. You can do quite a lot quite quickly if you have the time and the money. And since we should be moving on to our own place any time now, (I do believe it, I do!), I have had a pretty ambiguous attitude to the wonderful space I have to play at gardening in. Yesterday though, I discovered ephemeral gardening. I'm happy to admit this has been stimulated by my recent evening trawls through my gardening magazines. After all that was the idea of buying them and trawling through them again. So with some vague images of Japanese gardens and Andy Goldsworthy stuff in mind, I went out to rediscover one of my ideas that got a bit left behind when I did my back in at the beginning of September.

The idea was to use one large oval area to create our own poor attempts at art, with one outcome for me being practice at working with dry stone construction. I've uncovered quite a few of these on our (rented) bits of turf, and thought it would be fun to improve their condition, (I'm not sure I could claim to have restored them exactly). So I planned to build a dry stone tower with a flag pole in it that we could hang stuff on from time to time. I piled up some material to work with, and laid the base layer and then it all got away from me. But I went out there yesterday, cut the grass down with a hand scythe, (green aerobics in action), and then decided to take a 'walkers' cairn' approach, rather than a dry-stone wall approach. So you could say it's a step away from lobbing them in a pile. That's what I did, and I am pleased. I also think I learned a bit about the materials by feeling and seeing the difference between the pile of stones and the cairn. There's a nice journey there that I'll be taking the next steps on.

But the great thing for me was what I did next. I started raking the grass up, but then pulled it into a circle around the cairn, so that it now looks like an earthworks around a castle, (well it does squinting into the setting sun, with a following wind). Given the wind we've had recently, the whole earthworks thing could be gone in an hour or so, but what the hell, it's an ephemeral garden. I can do something else tomorrow.

And all of a sudden, my garden has all sorts of other possibilities that i probably wouldn't have done if it was our own turf and I was only thinking long-term. Boy have I got plans. And of course the great thing is that when we do get our own place, (soon, soon), I can still do this!

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Some might say it's sad, but you know what? I don't give a fork, or a rake or anything else. And when it's stopped raining, if the wind hasn't blown it all away, I'll get a shot of it for posterity.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Still enjoying the peace, but...

Still warm and sunny, beautiful afternoons, crisp clear mornings. We have the biggest wind farm in France in the view here, and with the first light on the masts it looked spectacular this morning. Too far for a photo, but I'll get out there one morning to get closer.

The but in the title refers to my jet-setting lifestyle, living here and working in the UK, and the new winter Ryanair service. I am of course grateful to Ryanair for the possibility of being able to do it at all, but the new winter service has kicked in, and adds a few stress points to the experience. It's usually an early start in the winter, and we're now taking off from Stanstead at 07:30. It's better than last year. This year they've dropped to 4 days a week, Saturday to Tuesday, and that's making my next trip longer than necessary. I'm sure I'll find things to do, but I don't really like being away that long when it doesn't seem necessary.

This, together with a couple of other things has prompted a return visit to 'the project'. The project is to create a relaxation centre. The other couple of things are: the end of my partners in crime's first season as masseuse at a nearby luxury hotel - time to review; and the appearance on the market of a very nicely placed B&B business. My P.I.C. will be going to have a look at the place sometime soon, and then we'll have a planning meeting over a very reasonably priced bottle of Bordeaux and see where we go. It's quite exciting to be having another look at 'the project', there's been a lack of a Big Hairy Outrageous Goal over the summer, as enjoyable as it has been. Anyway, if we have any news, you'll be the first to know!