17 April, 2017
Just a week ago, if you had told me that Spring would arrive and transform our garden from winter’s silhouettes into verdant flower and leaf, I would have laughed disbelievingly! But this is just what has happened!
Last week the trees outside our house were twigs – now they are in full leaf and all around our region cars are dressed with yellow powder, as if they don’t want to miss out on the show!
The sun has been beautifully warm and legs and arms are being bared to the breeze with scarves and thick coats being cast off in favour of lighter garments.
Then, like yesterday, the clouds gather overhead and jumpers re-appear for a short appearance. Next week’s forecast is for warmer weather again so summer clothes will find their way to the front of the wardrobe while winter garb will cuddle up together at the back until the end of October.
The cafés now have their tables and chairs out for the tourists and the locals, and people are standing and chatting for longer whilst shopping or running errands.
Taking place in Nérac this week has been the Garenne Partie – email@example.com The local park, the Garenne (meaning rabbit warren) runs alongside the rive Baise (with an umlaut over the i and pronounced Bay-eze – very important, as without the ‘eze’ you would be saying something very rude!!)
This Easter week, there are so many craft and nature activities for children and adults to do from music concerts to circus performers, dance, acrobatics, hands-on activities with dyeing and finger weaving, zip line across the river, canoeing and boat trips, food and wine (of course!) and walks through the park at night to spot nocturnal creatures.
We went to see one performance yesterday and were blown away by the beauty, grace, musicality and sheer spectacle! It was a series of wonderful, graceful and slow (and therefore reaaaaaally hard to do!) acrobatics performed by Smart Compagnie, a group of around 8 performers who created their own sound effects to accompany the acrobatic performance on specially constructed platforms throughout the park. The setting of the woodland, and the story-telling of the performers was absolutely breath-taking. The crowd were drawn through the park by the performers with various ‘stages’ including the edge of the fountain, the ‘green theatre’ and glades within the park. Their information says it all … “cette balade acrobatique est un parfait mélange de tout ce qui fait la magie d’un cirque: l’humour, les prouesses et la musique.”
The atmosphere was lively and happy. This is the official start of Spring and the whole town seems to be partying!!
And all this is on our doorstep!! We really have landed somewhere special! Why don’t you come and sample it for yourself?! We’d love to welcome you here…..
21 March, 2017
I have been told off! Not once, but twice and on successive days! What can I say but sorry, and I will try to do better!!
First came the email from a weaving friend in the US – “Have you dropped off the face of the earth, or did you actually move to France? What is going on over there? Are you in internet contact? I must assume not, or we would have heard from you by now – wouldn’t we???? ”
Then from a non-weaving friend from the UK – “Well, I know you moved because you emailed to tell me you had landed almost safely. So that means you have email connection. So what’s happened to your blog? Has it not moved with you?”
So to these friends and you, my lovely, faithful followers, I extend a heart-felt and guilt-ridden apology!! It’s no good my excusing myself by saying I am working on my website (true) or painting guest bedrooms (also true) or creating my studio space and teaching area (complete) or even sorting out the mess that is still my office because I did say before we moved that I would keep people updated with our French adventure and I have completely crashed out of that!!
So, because you wouldn’t want a reallllllllly long post telling you everything up to now, let me start by giving you a few tasters of what we have been up to. I promise to post more regularly and include other tales from the woods in future posts.
Not only is today the first day of Spring, it is also the day that I am registered for my business! Most people would not be happy that they have just signed up for paying taxes and the famous French social charges, but it means I am here!! I can officially sign up for the doctor once my SIRET number comes through, and, once my website goes live, I can start taking bookings for my weaving courses. Yippee doo!!
We have beautiful wildlife here – red squirrels, deer, woodpeckers, tree creepers, lizards being among the most frequent – but our resident red squirrels came in for a horrible shock last week. They like to build their nests in between the shutters (volets) and windows on the top floor which is not currently used much except for storage. It’s nice and quiet – usually!
However, we decided we wanted to air the attic and ensure that no bees or wasps decided to use the space for building their nests, wonderful constructions though they are. So Graham vigorously threw the existing nest out of the second storey window onto the tiled terrace two floors down.
Unfortunately, and unbeknown to us, there were two squirrels in residence when he did this! Zut alors!! They came tumbling out and straight into the clutches of our two killing machines – aka the kittens!! Merde!!
One was caught by Merlin and taken round to the back garden. The other was initially caught by Coriander, but escaped (she is not such a killing machine) and scrambled up the wall behind one of the kitchen shutters.
Meanwhile, I was happily playing (sorry – working!) in the studio, setting up the baby jacquard looms, and came rushing out to find out what all the kerfuffle was about. Rescue-mode ensued. Cats were caught and imprisoned inside the house. The nest was re-sited back to its original elevated position. Now to catch the poor squirrels and re-house them.
One squirrel was sitting out in the open on the back lawn, so I figured that one was the one most in need of capture and recuperation. It was in shock and I didn’t know how badly Merlin had hurt it, so I found a shoe box and tiptoed up to try to catch it. It bounded away towards the house, at least allowing me to see that it was moving well so hadn’t been externally hurt seriously. It then buried its head in a hole in the wall, leaving its posterior visible, so I was able to catch it and put it in the shoe box and return it to its nest.
Squirrel #2 was much easier to capture and return to the nest so we left them there, hoping they would be alright. We still don’t know whether they were teenagers or adults. (It turns out that Graham has as big an aversion to catching squirrels as for eradicating rats, and he left it all to me!!)
Two days later we watched the two squirrels cavorting around the trees around the house as if nothing had happened! Huge relief.
Lesson learnt. We will not disturb the nest again!
So you will have gathered that we have acquired two gorgeous kittens, now nearly grown into full-sized cats.
Merlin is almost completely white with a few tabby splodges and a grey and black striped tail. Coriander (Corrie) is a tri-tone tabby with big splodges of all the colours and much smaller than her brother. Looking back at the first photos, Merlin was so much smaller than Corrie. Now he is roughly a third larger!! They are earning their keep and getting extra food by reducing the mouse population, but they also rather like to torture the local lizards – something we are not keen on but powerless to prevent! But they are hilarious and love to play and sleep together and are a total joy to have around!
Last week a local Frenchman turned up on the doorstep to invite us to the local frisbee night on Mondays in Nérac. So last night, we went. Wow! Baptism of fire!! Having not done sport for a very long time, we had a two hour session of frisbee in an amazing sports hall. We were really impressed with what the social charges pay for – a proper athletics track, gym, a martial arts Dojo, a swimming pool, a large indoor sports hall, outdoor sports fields and stadium, and hard courts with spotlights! And this is just a relatively small town, roughly the size of Uttoxeter.
It was a great evening, apart from me hitting the deck twice as my feet didn’t go quite as fast as my body (or my centre of gravity not being where it should be these days……!) and once having very strong contact with another player’s body on my nose!! I took myself off after that as the headache wasn’t to be ignored! However, Graham managed to score two goals although he has butterfingers when catching the frisbee. I won’t be able to attend regularly once my courses start, but it might be fun for Graham – and he did get to meet a guy who works with craft brewers!!
Next time – a sneak preview of the workshop……
In the meantime, happy weaving!!
21 August, 2016
Isn’t it funny how certain things make a house feel like a home?
For me, as a weaver, it has to be a loom! The French house in Gascony now has a working loom in it, and the wonderful and familiar smell of wool yarn means that France is now home!!
At the moment, I am in another temporary studio – #3, I think! The salon, which will eventually be our rather lovely lounge (with mezzanine library!!) is home to a new-to-me Louet Spring loom.
You can see a little of the yarn stash I have managed to take over to France against the walls, but there is still a mountain of boxes to shift. We had to buy a transit van to help move my books and yarns across the English Channel and have to be careful not to overload the poor thing too much!! There are quite a few more trips to plan!!
It was great to put the loom together and to try it out, even if the first warp on was a 7.5m exhibition warp for the Nature In The Making exhibition which Agnes and I are doing in the Netherlands in November! This is not normally to be recommended – usually I would suggest several short warps with different techniques to find out all the quirks and idiosyncracies of the loom before putting on an important warp. But still, how many of us actually follow our own guidelines all the time???!!!
Happily, it was a relatively hassle-free introduction. I’ll write more about it on another blog, but suffice it to say that the loom and I are working well together!
This trip to France also included plenty of physical interaction with the fabric of the building!! Firstly, we cleaned out all the remnants of old furniture and tiles that had been left in the grange which will be my workshop, and swept it all through, leaving a blank canvas for the work to start in September.
It is another TARDIS. It doesn’t look very large from the outside but the inside is deceptively large.
Then we removed partition walls in a bathroom to allow for two bathrooms – I’m a wicked sledge-hammer wielder – and took off all the floor and wall tiles. We have also saved all the doors to be re-used.
Then I started weaving, and Graham continued with taking out all the old kitchen, leaving us with a single camping stove, a barbecue and a fridge. The kitchen was somewhat over-engineered, with re-inforced steel concrete plinths for the worksurfaces, and brick walls, but we shall be able to re-use the cupboard doors and the drawer unit as everything is made with proper materials rather than chipboard rubbish!!
I am very excited, despite the ramifications of the vote in the UK to leave the EU which has impacted on our renovations fund somewhat drastically, meaning that we have to cut back on some of the things that we were hoping to do. Basically it means that we will have to do several things in different stages instead of having all the work done at once. Such is life. It is amazing to us that we are actually in a position to live this dream, so if it takes longer to fulfil everything we planned, so be it….
The time spent in France this summer has been unbelievable, with amazing nocturnal natural fireworks on two occasions (electrical storms!), the fabulous array of summer night markets in villages and towns all around this part of France with their local produce and great music and dancing, the socialising with new friends and neighbours – we have landed in a really wonderful area for welcome, warmth and friendship!! – and the beautiful sunshine and views from our house over the changing fields mean that early mornings and late evenings are especially magical times for watching the landscape transform.
We have also been fascinated by the red squirrel nesting in the space between shutters and window in the attic, taking advantage of the woodpecker holes that appeared in the spring. She had several babies and, although she has now vacated her nest, taking her babies with her (I think she didn’t like the demolition work happening a floor below her!), she is in the vicinity and we have been waking up to the lovely scene of red squirrels chasing each other round and round the trunks of trees outside the front windows. Other wildlife has been sightings of two pairs of stunning Golden Orioles who flew in to take advantage of the bounty of our mulberry tree (tasty raspberry-like berries which we eat straight from the tree!). The birds had the top fruit, we had the bottom fruit – a good balance!! Bats are in abundance in the area, woodpeckers too, and plenty of other birdlife.
One amusing incident was when we had our first UK visitors. When we first took over La Tuilerie, we found an old fold-up wooden chair which had been painted and repainted over the years and we decided to use it in our bathroom. Whenever we were expecting visitors, whether Orange France, or friends, we put the chair at the bottom of the driveway, positioned so that it could be seen from both directions. A couple of days before our visitors were expected, we saw a beautiful, but dead, pine marten to the left of our driveway on the edge of the road. Its markings were just stunning – like the snow leopard and silver tabby crossed – although its little teeth were as sharp as needles and would certainly have inflicted a nasty bite! We didn’t know whether to remove or leave it, and in the end decided it would be best to leave it. Our visitors arrived, using the chair as signal locator and we had a lovely time! After lunch, they had to leave and I went down to bring in the chair. It had disappeared!! Zut alors! And so had the pine marten. Had the local council come along, picked up the pine marten and taken our chair thinking that it too was for disposal?
We decided to pay a visit to the déchetterie – the local recycling centre – to see if they knew where the chair was. I went indoors, sat down, and worked out how to tell the ouvrier what had happened. You can imagine the scene – my French is not fluent, by any stretch of the imagination. I practised the sentences for a while – probably at least 20 minutes – rehearsing over and over and changing the order of the sentences, trying to find the simplest way to explain the situation. When I felt I probably had it as good as I was going to, we went to the déchetterie – only to find it had just closed!! Happily we were able to speak to the lady in charge and I managed to make myself understood.
Not that it did any good, mind you…. The council don’t take their rubbish there and she didn’t know where the council rubbish tip was but advised us to go to the Mairie – by then well after 5, so too late for the day. I confess I chickened out of trying to explain it all again the next day, so somewhere in a council tip near Nérac, there is a lovely old decrepit blue folding chair – unless it has found a new owner, of course!!
It won’t be long before you’ll be able to see the renovations in progress. With as much of the preparation work done as we could do, things are now ready for the artisans to come back from their August break and start work in late September, fingers crossed!
It’s lovely being able to share this adventure with you virtually, and it would be wonderful if you could come and experience this marvellous place in real life. In the meantime, until next time,
8 December, 2015
It’s amazing to think how a seemingly inconsequential choice can change the whole direction of one’s life, isn’t it? And yet, so often that is exactly what happens. And once that initial choice has been made, other decisions compound the effect until suddenly you find yourself looking at a whole new life. And all it took was a birthday choice!
Nearly five years ago, my husband, Graham, turned 50. He wanted to celebrate by going on a cookery course abroad. Italy and France were on the shortlist, and he decided that he didn’t want to cook pasta. That choice changed our lives!
The Gascony Cookery School is based in a small village on the edge of Tarn-et-Garonne and the Gers, down in the deep south-west of France. It is set on a rocky outcrop in rolling hills with farmland all around it hosting kilometre on kilometre of sunflower fields in the summer. Gramont boasts a chateau open to the public, a wonderful auberge (where cookery school students also get to work), and a honey museum. In one of those quirks of fate, Graham, who should have been one of six students, was the only student. (Something similar happened to me when I went to study jacquard at the Lisio Foundation in Florence – there should have been five or six of us, but there were only two!) Over long leisurely meals with our hosts, Dave and Vikki, it transpired that they wanted to produce a honey beer, but didn’t know how. Graham (my husband) has been brewing his own beer from the grain since I have known him (well over 30 years) and said he could help. The more we talked, the more we realised our particular (and peculiar) mix of skills would fit in this village. Graham with his brewing and music (he’s a good ‘cellist), and his wonderful ability to get on with everyone, and me with my weaving. There was even an empty property for us to look round that would allow us to do all our activities.
We came home from that holiday buzzing with excitement and potentialities. We went back to have another look in the summer. The property was daunting – a lot of building work would be needed to make it functional but we had got the bit between our teeth and approached the sellers.
Not a lot happens speedily in the countryside of France, as many Francophiles will tell you. That’s part of its appeal! Because there was so much structural work to undertake before even starting work on making the property functional, we put forward a price which was not accepted. We hoped that time would encourage the sellers to reconsider. We went back to Gramont several times. Then all went quiet from the sellers.
We went back this April, still set on the same property, but this time we decided to see what else was out there. What other properties in the area would allow us to do our thing or give us a comparison to be able to negotiate a better price? We viewed 15 properties in one week, and I have to say that the estate agents were all amazing! Then it happened. The very last house we looked at just took our breath away. As we drove up the drive, I said to Graham ‘This is it!’ We felt exactly what we had felt when we first set eyes on Willowgate 23 years ago. And as we walked round, it felt more and more like home without all the back-breaking work that would have been entailed in the property in Gramont and only 40 minutes away from Gramont.
We hummed and hawed for a short while after we got home but that was just nerves. We had really already made our decision, and in May our offer was accepted. Just two days later, another offer was put in but the sellers of La Tuilerie honoured their word to us. And now, finally, at the end of November 2015, we are the proud owners of a beautiful maison de maitre with attached barn for my weaving studio and teaching studio, a workshop for Graham’s micro-brewery, and a small shop to sell our wares! We will be able to put guests up and offer the kind of immersive experience that we enjoyed at the cookery school, where I can teach weaving and intersperse it with trips to local markets, restaurants, local beauty spots and places of interest so that students and guests can enjoy the tastes and sights of Gascony.
And all because of a birthday decision!!
It will take a while to renovate the buildings to allow us to run the weaving courses and the B&B, but this is the start of a new life. Graham is taking the plunge and leaving teaching which he has done for 30 years, to devote himself to looking after my guests and brewing his beer. Of course it will be a challenge – not least the language side of things – and we are not taking it lightly, but there are so many people who are looking out for us and encouraging and helping us, both in the UK and in France, that with a lot of hard work and patience I think we will settle in to a new way of life and really be part of the local community in Nérac and Condom.
I do hope we will have the opportunity to host some of you, my past students, dear weaving friends and fellow explorers on life’s rich path. I will post updates on FB and here and in my occasional newsletters, but in the meantime,
May All Your Dreams Come True!! (Because they sometimes do!! :^))