Monday, 20 July 2015

Baby owl update

This is how the owlets looked the day before we left France - getting more like barn owls. I have more information now, and am more hopeful that these fellows will be able to get out of the chimney once they can fly. Persuading the parent to leave may be a tougher challenge, but I'm hoping we can tempt it with a palatial nestbox in one of our outbuildings.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Barn owls in the chimney

We have known for three years that there's a resident owl in the unused section of the chimney in our French house - it was the reason the chimney couldn't be capped when a new liner was put in. Sometimes we hear it in the night, and it sounds uncannily like human snoring!
A few weeks ago friends came to visit, and occupied the second bedroom which is now rarely used. There's a fireplace there with a board in front of it. One night the noise kept one of our friends awake, and she decided to investigate. Here's what she found, to our astonishment: two baby barn owls.

Now we have a worry - can they get out, once they fledge, assuming they survive? Will the noise of the roofers climbing about over their heads frighten the parents? Will we be able to let them fly free and, choosing our moment when the mother or father is absent, take advantage of the scaffolding to cap the chimney at last? Can I have life and freedom for these handsome creatures as well as a more guano-free and hygienic bedroom? So much for the delights of French rural life!I'll report on their, and our, progress. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Major work

 Our house in France is at least 350 years old. The granite lintel above the fireplace (taken from a priest's house in a nearby village) bears an inscription dated 1653, and we know that parts of the building are older. The roofspace is particularly fine with its ancient oak beams. I'd love to convert this space into another room, perhaps for me to write in! But it would be hugely expensive and so far we haven't done anything except put in two roof windows, from which the views are delightful.

Originally there would have been a thatched roof, but now battens rest on top of beams, and slates on top of battens - no felt, no insulation, and with daylight now visible through many holes, no real weather-proofing either. So we have taken a deep breath and decided to re-roof the main house. We've chosen a material that includes insulation and has a white interior, so avoiding the necessity for plasterboard and painting, and keeping visible all the internal wooden structure, with its A-frame and wooden pegs.

For the last few months there's been scaffolding up back and front, while the builders wait for the opportune moment to start work - mainly waiting for good weather. The scaffolding makes opening shutters almost impossible, so we have been in the dark and rather cold! On our last visit roofers appeared and started to strip off slates and battens. The roof is very steeply-pitched, so it was dangerous work, especially as the wind was particularly brisk.

Once the roof was open, they covered it with a temporary green felt and rough battens. It looked vulnerable and exposed. Now in our absence more work is being done, and when we next go down to France in a few days' time we hope to see progress - perhaps, even, no scaffolding!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Age is no obstacle

When we are in France we try to visit a friend whose freedom is limited by the needs of her husband who is in poor health. She is a remarkable lady in many ways. We knew that this would be our last visit to her in France because she is moving back to England to be closer to family members who can help her as demands on her inevitably increase. A few months ago she acquired an elderly upright piano and was teaching herself, and her six-year-old granddaughter, to play. This time when we walked in I saw that the piano had gone. She told us that her neighbour, learning of my friend's imminent departure, had asked if she might have it, and the piano had been duly moved across a few metres of gravelly courtyard to the neighbour's house, where it resides just inside the front door. 'I am making progress,' the neighbour said to my friend. Nothing very remarkable about that - except that the neighbour is 101. I found this story quite uplifting as well as funny, and I have related it to my own oldest piano pupil, who is a mere 86.

Unrelated, but beautiful - here are some of the plants that were in flower in our French acre.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

New life

We shouldn't, perhaps, rest too heavily on symbolism - but this beautiful little Pasque flower, having miraculously survived two British winters outside, opened its first flower to the sun on Easter day.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Is it spring yet? France in February.

The trees are still skeletally bare -  dead-looking, if we didn't know better. Globes of mistletoe hang from leafless branches, and tiny birds are visible, hovering hopefully, waiting for a turn at the seed-and-fat balls I distributed around the big magnolia that grows not far from the kitchen window. The blue- and great tits hang perilously, blithely upside down, the robin is more tentative, and the chaffinches don't even try; they're content to peck in the sodden grass for fallen treasures. The greenfinch, though, while a shy visitor, is surprisingly adept at managing a tremulous fat ball, and the bold wren perches on the edge of my plant pots and eyes me beadily.
Several mornings dawned to a mantle of crackling frost, slowly melting as the sun rose, and dripping from the twigs. On two days it rained almost unceasingly, turning our steeply-pitched long drive (truthfully, a track) into a muddy stream. It was cold enough for many warm layers outside and a good fire indoors. But there are signs: a clump of snowdrops, a few brave daffodils hesitantly showing their colour, a solitary primrose protected by the house wall; and in the field next door a batch of noisy energetic lambs, two white, four black, with their dams.

 In our water-meter pit the fire salamander that I wrote about a few months ago has acquired a - what? Visiting relative? Consort? Offspring, even? I couldn't get a picture because they were lurking in the pipe, showing a tantalising tangle of shiny black-and-yellow legs, heads and tails.
 I don't know much about these curious creatures. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Closing down for the winter

We have just spent a week at our house in France, and with all that's going on and all our commitments as we approach Christmas that will be the last visit of this year. There's little to do in the garden now, but I did plant another tree: a white poplar, so that when the trees are in leaf we will have a range of colours, from shades of green (apple, catalpa, willow, oak, hazel)  through deep reds (plum, redbud, flowering crab) to almost black (physocarpus) and now silvery white (birch, poplar.)
We took down with us a massively heavy log-splitter, in an attempt to save my husband's back as we chop up chunks of tree for our wood burner. In a very short time he amassed four barrowloads of usable logs from huge trunks which had been lying around for years, too big to go on the fire. This impressive machine works with a resounding crack as the log splits apart.

This was our second visit with no landline and no internet. In our experience getting things fixed in France is not a speedy business, and so it proved this time, despite my attempts to get someone out to repair the fault in the line. I realise just how much time I spend (one might say, waste) on the internet! However, it has had a fruitful effect, because without its distractions I have made good progress with the first draft of novel number 5. The finishing post is in sight, and this is the part of the whole process I find most exciting as all the plot-strands, so carefully laid down, start to come together and draw tight. It is also often one of the points where characters start to behave in unexpected ways and the story takes a turn I hadn't envisaged. A good story is a living thing - maybe that's why (for me, and I'm sure for many others) it's so engaging and engrossing. I'll report on progress here from time to time.

Our next visit to France will probably be in late January or early February. As plants grow from bushes into trees they need to be shaped and pruned, and I'll do it before the sap starts to rise in the spring. One day we'll have to give up our house and garden across the Channel, because it'll involve too much work for two creaky old-timers, but I hope to leave behind a park, however rough, dotted with beautiful trees.
Almost the last of the autumn colour- a berberis.