Monday 29 November 2010

Snow kitten

Yesterday it snowed; properly. Big fat heavy flakes which at first looked as if they would just melt away. Wrong, it came down thickly and lay.  We know it's a major news item in the UK, and here too it is on the news as it is unusual to get snow this early.
advance warning: a dusting
the day before

view from our front door,
 mid afernoon

Our rescue kitten, Tinka who came to live with us in October is now about 4 1/2 months old; and, of course, has never seen snow. At first she was hesitant. Shadow, our black 5 yr old neutered tom, was much more phlegmatic, he just popped out the catflap and went about his kitty business. After all, he had experienced lots of snow last winter in Suffolk.

Then we had to get some more wood from the woodshed. We have central heating but heat most of the house using a wood burner in the living room. As always Tinka "helps" us and finds this great fun--diving into the stack chasing anything that moves: real creepy crawlies or imagined ones. Now there was the added bonus of fluffy things falling from the sky--obviously very exciting but also puzzling...why couldn't she catch them??

Hummm... puzzling
Chasing a snowball
She took one bouncy jump into the snow and that was it. It was FUN! She burrowed her nose in the snow, she batted flakes and chased the snowballs we threw for her. She certainly didn't seem bothered by getting her paws wet--the kitchen floor certainly needed a wipe down later in the day!

Stalking flakes

In fact she completely forgot about the wood shed and left Niall to get the wood on his own.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Digging holes!

We dug a few holes over the summer: we needed a driveway -- there was just a grass track, and a couple of soakaways. We also wanted a terrace.  All this happened in July just before we moved in properly on the 1st of August and resulted in about 5 cubic meters of spoil: calcaire and clay. The soil has just about settled from those upheavals....

Digging terrace in July
and... now we're at it again, this time for something very necessary but totally un-glamourous--a fosse septique (waste system). Although we're only 1.2 km from the centre of the village we are out in the country and therefore not on mains drainage. Up to now we've been 'making do' with the small 'fosse etanche' (tank) which needs to be emptied with boring frequency and does not meet current standards.

It has taken a while to get to the digging holes stage. As ever, things like planning permission and an 'etude' (a report/study of what is needed and how & where to install it) by the relevant body is required. Then another organisation sends someone to inspect the terraine once more--checking the findings of the etude and approving it; including making sure our filter bed is at least 35 m away from the communal well which used to serve the hameau. Once all of this is done we are able start the actual process of installing the system. Last Tuesday we had the go-ahead from the relevant authority.

So Friday saw the delivery of a 3 cubic meter tank, 4 dumper truck loads: 3 of sand and 1 of gravel; as well as the return of Ken's digger and dumper truck. He did a great job on the drive and terrace in July and is back to dig our fosse septique.

4 dumper loads of sand/gravel

dumper truck bringing sand
And now the "fun" will start. The various organisations checked out our soil to make sure it was suitable to put in the system so we know that below about 60cm of clay there is a pretty solid slab of calcaire (chalk). It runs all through the region. This is good news for the filter bed but isn't any fun to dig out. Nor is getting rid of the spoil going to be easy. We have to find 'suitable' spaces on our property to dump it as taking it away is so expensive we'd need to rob a bank to pay for it!
But in the end it will all be well worth it as we will have a self-contained system which is green--anaerobic bacteria do all the hard work and the filter bed ensures safe, cleaned water goes back into the ground.

tank and digger
our house in snow
Now we just have to hope that the weather doesn't cause problems. Saturday we had a dusting of snow, but today it is coming down properly. It all looks lovely but won't make things easier.

Wednesday 24 November 2010


Today we passed the village of Lureuil on route back from Le Blanc and decided to have a look at their recently restored pigeonnier, originally built in 1693. In France they use two terms for a dovecot--'un pigeonnier' and 'une fuie' or 'fuye'. They aren't quite the same. 'Une fuye' is a pigeonnier created out of an already exisitng space which was never intended to be a pigeonnier but has been adapted as one. Think of converting an attic space. The restored building at Lureuil is a purpose built 'pigeonnier'.

Pigeonnier at Lureuil

Originally a seigneurial privilege in pre-revolutionary France, pigeonniers were a visible sign of affluence as the size depended on the surplus of cereal or grain cultivated on one's estate (domaine). The grain was needed to feed the pigeons and as a rough rule of thumb one pigeon niche ('un trou de boulin' or 'niche a pigeon') equalled 1 'arpente' of (grain producing) land. An arpente is roughly about 1/2 a hectare, or 5,000 m2; although the exact size could vary from region to region. 

Pigeons were highly prized for their flesh but that was not their only use. Their droppings were used as fertilizer in kitchen and walled gardens. Estates also used pigeons to train their falcons for hunting.

Given the size of some of the pigeonniers we've seen in France some estates either had an awful lot of surplus grain or diverted a considerable amount solely for use of their pigeons! Two summers ago we even stayed in one which had been converted into a beautiful gite for 2 near Albi, down in the south.

Not in the photo are a pair of lovely white egrets which promptly decamped the minute we appeared and joined their mates in a neighbouring field of Charolais cattle. Sadly white egrets against a background of white cattle does not produce a decent photograph!

Monday 22 November 2010

Fete des Arbres

Our local village Charnizay

It is the season to plant trees and bushes. Earlier in the week we put in 4 small fruit trees: an apple, cherry, greengage and pear. Hard digging as we have clay soil and it was claggy. So as we were in 'fruit tree mode' we drove down to Tournon St Pierre for their Fete des Arbres held yesterday.

Despite the grey day there were quite a few people. This, the flyer announced was the 10th year it had been held. On show were many local nurseries selling mainly bare root fruit trees and roses but there were also craft and food stalls. The small forge had a keen audience of children as the blacksmith made small gift items such as candlesticks. And the stand promoting local endangered apple species had brought a press and was doing a roaring trade in fresh pressed apple juice, encouraged by free tastings. It was lovely. 

We strolled around and watched folk dancers "Les Sabots de Brenne". In full local costume they were accompanied by a hurdy-gurdy and accordion player. The ladies had beautifully starched lace caps and clogs; which reminded us of Dutch local costumes. The Brenne is a region of fishponds/lakes just to the east of us. The group moved through the streets lined with stalls and every 50 meters or so they stopped, had a chat, greeted friends and performed a dance.

Folk dancers in Tournon St Pierre

Saturday 20 November 2010

First post

Welcome to our blog!

Photo is view from our house over to the other side of the Aigronne Valley. The Aigronne is a small trout stream. A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to see a dog otter in one of the fields bordering the water, think he was after frogs.

We moved into our house in August 2010 and have been busy settling in--we'll share more of this soon. Not only is living in France a new experience but this is also our first foray into blogging.

Our two cats, Shadow and Katinka are especially pleased we have a blog--they are keen to share their adventures.

Shadow is 5 and came from an animal rescue center in Limburg, NL and is already a well travelled cat having lived in Maastricht and Suffolk. Thankfully he speaks French as Maastricht is on the border with French speaking Belgium. Just as well, as Katinka is very definitely French and local--she was rescued in the Chamussay area and has been with us a month.

Shadow and Katinka on our roof