On the move......
So, I took the plunge and moved to Wordpress. You'll find me here http://gasconyfarm.wordpress.com . Come on over, I've lots to tell you!
Chronicling life with our angora goats, and sheep - and my continuing efforts to master the pointy sticks.
July & August seemed to consist of one huge hectic social whirl (I have to say our social lives have improved enormously since moving here!). July was fete season – every village seems to have their own fete, large or small – and we were kept busy visiting friends during their villages’ fetes, not to mention the Beaumarches fete which took place over the last weekend of July. Things kicked off with a treasure hunt on the Friday evening, which was great fun, and finished with a “Giant paella” on the Sunday night. It seemed as though for the whole weekend we were only home to occasionally bung some food at the cats and dogs, and provide water for the goats and sheep, plus the odd few hours’ kip.
Just ten minutes away from us, the Marciac Jazz festival takes place in the first two weeks of August, when the town (well, large village really) swells to accommodate up to 100,000 visitors. It’s a fantastic couple of weeks – bars and restaurants crop up all over the place, there is free live music day and night, and hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of weird, and not so weird, stuff.
Work being so busy was an even bigger shock to the system. Normally July and August are lovely quiet months with a nice steady workload – not too little to get bored, but not enough to cause stress. This summer though we decided to install a massive new client management system and I’m the lucky person who needed to deal with the customisation of it to our exact needs. Thank goodness for Skype (the software comes from the US) – I seem to have spent most of last month with a headset stuck on top of my head. It doesn’t look as though things will be quietening down this side of Christmas, but at least I’m starting to feel as though progress is being made.
It seems hard to believe it is now just over a year since THE HOUSE MOVE FROM HELL. In some ways the time has flown, in others it feels as though we have been here much longer. It’s been a time of taking stock and looking back on the past year. Do we regret it? Not in the slightest. We’ve had our ups and downs but not for one nano-second have we regretted the move.
I have been thinking about the pros and cons though, as of course life is not perfect here, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the good and the not so good. I asked Eddie what he missed about the UK. His first response was “Nothing”, but then I asked him to think again, but imagine I don’t make regular trips back to stock up on some of those things he can’t do without. So, here’s our list:
We are happier than we have been for a long, long time. When I say “happier” I really do mean that. I’m generally a “glass half full” kind of person so tend to be pretty positive about life, but when I look back now on the last 5 years or so I really wasn’t happy. I am now.
We are healthier. That is down to the climate, the outdoor lifestyle, the general lack of junk food, and – to be honest – the relative lack of choice here. It’s easier to eat healthily when you don’t have a Sainsbury’s close at hand. We have several great local markets, and a reasonably good supermarket but we have nothing like the choice available to UK food shoppers. I think on the whole this is a good thing. We eat more locally, and seasonally, and don’t stuff ourselves full of crap.
We have made good friends, both French and English. Much as I hope that I will one day be pretty fluent in French I have learned to accept that there are always going to be slight differences in the nuances of our language and culture. It’s brought home to me that you do NEED to be able to communicate in your own language too. It’s those little quirks of the English sense of humour (and no doubt the French) that are simply never going to translate. We have great English friends and I have lost count of the number of wonderful, laughter filled evenings we have had with them. I’m also pleased that we have some good French friends (mostly neighbouring farmers) who we are not only getting to know socially, as friends, but also who we know we can turn to if we need help. We already have, and their generosity with their time, advice (and machinery!) has been humbling.
We have a real sense of belonging to a community. We have been made so welcome, and included in so many things going on in the village. We feel very lucky to have found this wonderful little spot.
Work works. It might not have. Technology could have let us down. The commuting back and forth could have been problematic. So far, it’s all gone pretty smoothly. The evidence is that clients are perfectly relaxed with the arrangement and are happy that I can still provide the high level of service they expect. My partners are happy with the arrangement too, and have in fact been incredibly supportive.
The climate. I love the climate here. Spring was just beautiful (and started in about February!), summer was hot, autumn is warm and last winter was short, cold and sunny.
We can have cats again. We couldn’t have any for the last few years and I have missed having them. Tigger & Barney are turning into very, very lovely cats.
We got to have Cosmo in our lives. Who knows for how much longer, but I’m so glad we got to be his owners, even if it’s not likely to be for years and years.
The animals have all settled in well and seem very content.
Ok, I could go on, buts let’s have some of the cons:
Tea. French tea is awful (weak as water). You can buy English tea but it is VERY expensive (our supermarket sells bags of 40 PG Tips, which says on the box 89p, for €4). Luckily I can stock up on tea when I come back for work.
Shopping. I’m not a huge girlie shopper, which is just as well as there are NO clothes shops less than 50 minutes away and for anything decent it would be at least an hour and a half. Again, I can at least still buy my clothes in the UK. Even so, shopping for anything other than day to day stuff tends to involve quite a long journey. Still, that’s what you get when you choose to live in deepest rural France.
Being at the mercy of the currency markets. We moved over at a time when sterling was very strong against the Euro. Since January it’s lost almost 20%. That’s been like having a 20% pay cut. Tough, and whilst we factored in some currency fluctuation I have to say we didn’t factor in things being this bad. Maybe one day the UK will join the Euro....
The frustrations of not being able to speak French as well as I would like. I’ve improved a great deal over the last year, but I’d so love to be better. Still, I’ve started dreaming in French and I’m told that’s a good thing! Eddie has struggled too. Bearing in mind he started with nothing, he’s probably made greater progress than me relatively speaking, but learning a new language in your 50s is not easy. Still, he happily pootles off all over the place now, when 6 months ago I would have had to go everywhere with him. He’s willing to try (and we know quite a few English people here who don’t) and that’s the main thing.
Lack of knitting. The change in our lives has had perhaps the biggest detrimental effect on my knitting – something I have tried to address and I think / hope things are slowly improving.
It’s difficult to know if the cons list would be longer if I weren’t regularly travelling back to the UK. I don’t think I’d miss the country itself, but I might miss a few more of the conveniences we tend to take for granted in the UK.
On balance, I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Which is a relief!!
I mentioned in my last post that we had two new additions to the family: meet Tigger & Barney.
They are just coming up to 10 weeks old and are absolutely adorable. They are either chasing around like mad, and kicking hell out of each other, or fast asleep. There’s no inbetween.
They are proving to be very affectionate and love to be cuddled. So far, they’ve not ventured out of the house very much – little do they know what a wonderful world awaits them!
Sam & Ben have been really good with them. We have had cats before, so they are used to them. The kittens were raised in a house with a dog, so that helps as well. It didn’t take long for a little bit of bonding to take place
The only slight fly in the ointment is Cosmo. We’ve been quite worried about him over the last few months. He is finding it more and more difficult to get up, as his back legs are starting to fail him. When he has been up and about he’s fallen over a couple of times and not been able to get back up. The last time this happened he was down at the edge of the lake. Normally, he lets us help him up, but this time he must have been in some pain as he started to snap at Eddie when he tried to lift his back legs up. We ended up calling the vet out. He put a muzzle round his nose and mouth and we were able to help get him back up the bank. The vet gave him a couple of injections and didn’t seem too concerned. He saw him again the next day and said he was fine. Our biggest fear is that he might be suffering, and we might leave it too late to make the decision that we think is not too far off. The vet assured us he was fine – just suffering from old age.
What is clear is that we can’t run the risk of letting him wander around by himself at night, or let him out from the confines of the garden when we’re not there. This means he can no longer do his nightly patrols of the farm – something I’m sure bothers him as he will lie in the chai and bark after we have gone to bed, but we just can’t bear the thought of him falling over in the middle of the night and lying somewhere helpless for hours, or worse, being stuck in the heat of the sun if were away from the farm during the day.
One thing’s for sure – he can bloody well move alright when he sees the kittens. We’ve had one near miss (I’m sure he’d kill them if he got hold of them) so we are keeping them well apart. This isn’t too difficult as Cosmo now spends almost all of his time in the chai (the barn attached to the house) where it is cool, only getting up when he needs to go to the loo, so we can shut the chai doors when the kittens go into the garden. We just need to make sure they don’t slip past us when we go out from the house into the chai. Sadly, I don’t think it’s a problem we’re going to have for too much longer. Cosmo’s health isn’t going to improve and to be honest we’d be surprised if he manages to see out the summer. We love him to bits and he’s going to leave a huge hole in our lives when he’s gone. I just hope, after the way he was left alone so much before we bought the farm, that in his time with us we’ve given him the life he deserved.
I’m at the end of a two week break from work. It’s been lovely to have time to help Eddie out on the farm rather than sitting in front of a laptop all day. In the first week, some of Eddie’s family came to stay, and we got loads of jobs done on the farm that would have taken the two of us days to do on our own. Work was interspersed with trips and meals out, and a bit of lounging in the sun when it put in an appearance. After a lovely early spring, summer has been late arriving in south west France. Although warm, we have had a lot of rain – so much that May and June will enter Meteo France’s history books for the region! Forecasters say that the weather will finally turn next week, so we’re hoping for the long hot days to be with us soon.
Yesterday our walking group had a day trip to the Pyrenees. Thirty one of us set off in convoy from Beaumarches at 7.30 a.m and arrived at Cauterets just before 9. We parked just outside the town and set off along the GR10. To begin with, the weather wasn’t too promising
but the scenery was stunning. It’s amazing to think this is all virtually on our doorstep.
We climbed gradually upwards for 500m which took about an hour and a half – steep in places but not too bad. Our destination was this refuge,
and as we came over the final ridge the view was unbelievable
Some of the walkers were a bit knackered by the time we arrived!
During the walk we were lucky enough to see some Pyrenean wildlife – griffon vultures, the Pyrenean Chamois, and an animal I had never heard of before – the Marmot. I even managed to get a photo (kind of - looks better if you click on it!)
The wildflowers were wonderful too, particularly these Gentians which carpeted the area around the lake.
At the refuge we had a leisurely picnic lunch which everyone had brought with them in their rucksacks, enjoying the warm sunshine. Then some rested while the rest of us went for a walk around the lake.
The walk back down the mountain was much easier, and we finished off the trip with drinks at a cafe in Cauterets. We got back to Beaumarches about 6 p.m giving us just enough time to feed the animals, have a quick shower and change before the evening’s “pouletarde” – a communal village meal of chicken and frites. We had a lovely evening, and it rounded off a wonderful day.
Whilst I’ve been away from the laptop, Clarabelle has tagged me for a meme, so here goes:
The rules: Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
1) What was I doing ten years ago? – In 1998 I was living in a cottage in Cornwall and the only “livestock” we had was Ben, then 10 months old. I was working for a firm of accountants, running their financial planning department (that sounds grand, but the “department” consisted of me and my assistantJ). Most of my clients were Cornish and Devon farmers, who I loved to bits, but I can’t say I was really happy in the job.
2) What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today/tomorrow: Hmm, well as it will be my first day back at work after two weeks off, I doubt there’ll be much time for non-work stuff but items currently on the agenda include: go to doctor’s for second tetanus jab (yay!), try and take photos of new additions to the menagerie, make inroads into the washing mountain (sub item - clean curtains peed on by new additions to the menagerie); go to dinner with friends.
3) Snacks I enjoy: Crisps, peanuts, chocolate, homemade cake, jaffa cakes (it’s a wonder I’m not the size of a house).
4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire: Whilst I would love to say I’d give it all away, I really wouldn’t, but what I would do is - Give up work; pay off the mortgage; renovate the house; build stonking new barns for the sheep and goats; buy Eddie all the “boys toys” farm machinery he would love, and which would make his life so much easier; install a gigantic swimming pool; start a Pyrenean-sized yarn stash; set up an elephant sanctuary and an orang-utan sanctuary (though not in France, obviously).
5) Places I have lived: Liverpool, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Bristol, Cornwall, Bedfordshire, Leicestershire, Gascony. I’m not moving again.
6) Jobs I have had: Kennel maid, cleaner, barmaid, stage manager, admin assistant, financial planner / investment manager.
7) Peeps I want to know more about: anyone who reads this blog!
Unlike the goats, who are considerate enough to only kid between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., the sheep favour lambing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. So, for the last 3 weeks we have been subjected to night after night of only a few hours of sleep. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – how do those of you who have had children cope with the sleep deprivation?? By the end of the first week, we were both exhausted – Eddie more so as he is the one who makes the routine checks during the night, and ends up getting up at 3 a.m. and not getting back to bed at all. I just about managed to do my normal work each day without passing out in front of the laptop, but other than that I could barely function. If I wasn’t working, helping Eddie or eating, I was asleep. Even dragging myself into the shower more than once every couple of days just seemed like too much effort!
I think one of the hardest things to cope with during lambing, when you are so tired, is the fact that any sense of routine to your life just goes out the window as we are completely at the behest of the needs of the ewes. One night, when we sat down to eat our evening meal at 10.30 p.m. I could have cried – I didn’t know which was more important at that particular moment in time – to feed myself or to just go to sleep. At least we only have to put up with it for about 3 weeks though – I don’t know how parents cope when it goes on and on and on...
Still, that’s all behind us now – we just have one ewe left to lamb, so life is gradually getting back to normal.
So, time to catch up. Knitting first. I mentioned in my last post that I had two FOs to show. First up is Adamas:
I would like to be able to say that I loved knitting this but that would be a lie. I pretty much hated every minute once I’d got past about 3 pattern repeats. This was not the fault of the designer, but entirely the fault of the knitter, who simply couldn’t get the pattern to stick. There was copious usage of life lines, and much frogging. The only thing that kept me going really was that I knew the end result would be beautiful, and it is. This was knit in handpaintedyarn.com merino lace and used quite a bit less than one 100g skein.
Next up is a pattern from Yarn Forward, whose name escapes me. I knit this in the recommended yarn – Rowan Kid Classic - as I just happened to have the right amount in my stash, but the gauge given in the pattern bore no resemblance to the gauge given on the ball band of the yarn so I ended up winging it quite a lot. The end result is quite cute I think.
Last time I posted we were going through a spell of pretty awful weather – it seemed to rain pretty much constantly during March and the first half of April (although looking back through our weather diary it wasn’t actually as bad as it seemed at the time!), but we seem to have turned the corner. The last week or so has been glorious – temperatures in the high 20s, clear blue skies, and the landscape has just gone bananas. Our fields are covered in wild flowers, many varieties I’ve never seen before. The hedgerows and trees are in full leaf now and the countryside is incredibly green. I guess that’s what you get when it suddenly warms up after 4 or 5 weeks of rain. It’s like Cornwall on acid – you can almost watch the grass grow.
Last year was a bad year for fruit trees here, but this year looks like it will be a bumper crop. We’ve had great fun finding out what we have on our land – apart from the usual apples and pears we have plums, at least two dozen cherry trees (could be more – I don’t think we’ve found them all yet), half a dozen walnut trees, and my absolute pride and joy: an almond tree
The animals are all doing well. The pygmy goats LOVE the sunshine
So, life is good at the moment. And made even better by the arrival of a lovely gift of the knitterly variety – Caroline made me socks!
She cleverly left the stitches live on the toes, in case they weren’t the right size but they are a perfect fit, so I just need to find half an hour to graft the toes and they’re done. Aren’t they beautiful?
Right, off now to catch up on my blog reading. Bloglines is telling me I have 91 new entries to read, so this may take some time!
March is always the busiest month of the year for me, work wise. In the weeks running up to the end of the tax year my workload seems to increase 100 fold – I seem to spend the whole month fighting against things spiralling out of control. Still, it does make me realise how cushy life is for the other eleven months of the year.
Hence, my nose has been well and truly glued to the laptop all month, with hardly a moment to do anything but work, work, work.
At least the weather hasn’t proved to be a distraction – March has been cold, wet and windy. We are in the region’s rainy season, and we certainly need the rain so that the clay soil can build up reserves ahead of the (hopefully) long, hot summer, but at times – especially after such a wonderfully balmy February – it has felt as though we are slap bang back in the middle of winter. Somehow a wet and windy day always seems so much colder than a dry, crisp frosty day.
Believe it or not, I have two finished knitted projects to show, but a combination of the poor weather and lack of time mean I haven’t had a chance to photograph them yet. Both were finished before work became manically busy – there’s not been much time to knit in the last few weeks.
We are also bang in the middle of kidding – 15 kids so far, and 3 mums-to-be still to go. We reckon that we should just about have finished with kidding by the time lambing starts! Again, no time to take photos but I will try and take some in the next couple of weeks.
Right, as I am stuck in the office on a grey Sunday afternoon waiting to check into my hotel I have a few hours to myself, so I’m off to catch up on all your blogs and see what you’ve been up to!