We’ve finally got a new worktop in the kitchen !

Now I know for some people this is no big deal but for me it’s one the most exciting things that’s happened for ages. (Apart from the roof but I’ll talk about that another time.)

Anyone’s who’s ever visited here will have noticed that there’s never ever anywhere to put things in our kitchen. Everything that arrives gets dumped on the table and before we eat, we’ve taken to simply pushing the mess over a bit to make the space to put a few plates. In the summer, space isn’t a problem because we have three huge tables outside on the terrace but in the winter everything has to come inside.

I’ve been meaning to make a work top and somewhere to store pots and pans for ages but I’ve always got something else more important to do. Well-meaning friends try to persuade me to go out and bu something but I just can’t do that. It’s not even the money, we’d just  never dream of just buying something – unless it’s for the computers or something that neither Fabrice nor I can make  ourselves.

I really do prefer things that have been home-made from recycled materials and we’re fortunate to live in a rural area where people share our frugal ethics. Since we started building the house our neighbours have been wonderful – helping us to source materials and bringing anything they’ve got or they can get that they think we might be able to use.

Our tribal dumping ground in the photo here is an area where we stock materials. It now looks pretty organised but when we first started building it was piled high with masses of reclaimed materials which have now found pride of place in the house. Now we’re looking for fittings for finishing the extension and this summer has been absolutely frenetic with ‘phone calls and lorries arriving with old baths, wood, tiles, bottles, windows, sinks, stone, chicken-wire and anything else you can imagine. Some of it gets passed on to other people who we know are looking for things but a lot of it gets arranged in lots to be used for building or for making things for the garden.

We  ask people to try not to bring  polystyrene or plastic or broken bottles  and over the years they’re getting better at knowing what we need  and what we  might find useful and it’s incredible how they often go out of their way to help us.

The conversations go something  like this. “My son knows a place where they’re pulling out a load of double glazed windows, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that the electric shutters don’t work any more. The guy said they’d be skipped on Friday, if we get there fast he’ll let us have the lot for a fiver each.” The logistics of how to get there fast with a van or someone’s borrowed trailer are sorted out and off we go to collect the windows.(Merci Guy !)

To be honest if it weren’t for all the things that people give us, our house would have been a lot more expensive to build and we’d have spent an awful lot of time in DIY shops – not to mention the fact that it would be boring to have to choose what we wanted all the time instead of just doing what we can with what we’ve got. Sometimes things do look a bit weird to begin with but the finished result  is quirky and interesting and totally unique.

We’ve use almost all our old windows now for covering firewood, making cold frames, covering straw bales as temporary shelter for tender plants and we’ve used   them for making our greenhouse and even as windows when they’re good enough.

The new veranda is just second-hand windows we’ve been given and wood Fabrice cut from our land, topped by incredibly expensive hail-stone proof double layer plastic. We’ve   got seven second-hand double-glazed PVC French windows which we’ll use at the back   of the  house just to  the right of these windows and on the east side   of the  extension. I don’t really like plastic or PVC but we get a lot of storms here and I don’t intend replacing anything in my lifetime. We’ll paint the windows or do something to make them look OK and the fact that everything is recycled assuages my green conscience.

We’ve used all the stone that was easily accessible on our land, (Peak stone !) so we’ve asked neighbours to help us find more. They have come up trumps and sometimes even deliver it to us (Merci Christophe !) or  we go and get it ourselves.

We dump all the stones and rubble in front  of the house and when we’ve  taken the  best  bits out of it, (Including some roots and bulbs which have become beautiful plants !) what’s left  makes a solid base for the  roads we’ve  been  making for the past few  years.

Anyway, getting back to the kitchen worktop. A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and bought a worktop in a shop. (I bought three because I’ll need two more for the extension.) They’ve sat inside the front door doing nothing because we’ve been so busy.

We had a visitor here and after a week or so, he started to appreciate why we never had time to do anything about storage space in the kitchen, so he offered to make us something. On his next visit, he brought with him a couple of beautiful pieces of boxwood Buxus sempervirens which he used for the front legs of the table and of course, the rest of the bits he needed came from the dumping ground !

After he spent the day making it he had to go back to work at L’Ecocentre du Périgord, so I finished sanding it down and over the past week I’ve given it five coats of varnish and it’s now dry and ready for use. Thanks Yohan, you really are a star !

Au revoir Judy – Bourrou May 2010

Our little wire-haired Dachsund Judy was in perfect health on Monday.

In the early evening we found her in a coma behind the house. Her gums were white and her limbs in spasm and I rushed her to the nearest vet. He said that she’d eaten rat poison. Neither us nor our neighbours use rat poison. She died without regaining consciousness.

We are devastated.

Notre petit Teckel Judy était en parfaite santé lundi midi.

En début de soirée nous l’avons trouvée dans un état comateux derrière la maison. Ses gencives étaient blanches et ses membres dans le spasme et je lui amenais en tout hâte vers la vétérinaire la plus proche. Il a dit qu’elle avait mangé du raticide. Ni nous, ni nos voisins utilisent le poison pour les rats.

Nous sommes dévastés.


Latest lamb – small but perfectly formed

We have a few young ewes due to lamb soon so we’re keeping our eyes peeled regularly on the field in front of the house since the flock have gone outside on to the new grass.

The sheep turn their noses up at hay now and we’ve almost stopped feeding supplements as both the ewes and the lambs are looking pretty chunky but the yearlings who are pregnant still need a bit extra so we’re getting pretty good at slipping some corn and lucerne nuts in front of them and they’ve started to become used to a discreet treat.

This teeny weeny little lamb was born yesterday. She’s the smallest lamb I’ve ever seen and when we saw her at first we thought she might be premature.

On closer inspection, we saw her little feet are hard and you can feel her teeth and today she’s running after her mum and screams her head off when she’s lost. She’s pretty normal for a day old lamb really.

We’re almost at the end of our terrible foot-rot problem. Seven of our goats still have a slight limp and I still have a slightly sore back but we’re getting there.

Freak hailstorm in Bourrou !

Yesterday we had a hailstorm which only lasted for about ten minutes but made a terrific racket on the plastic (hail storm proof) roof of the terrace. The hailstones we get here are huge and come down with an amazing force, bouncing off the ground like golf balls and they can do a lot of damage. Our little old van a has a few more dents but one of our neighbours borrowed our truck to pull his trailer when he went to get some building materials and as luck would have it he left just before the storm started and came back after it had finished. Where he went they didn’t have a storm, so the Nissan was undamaged. The solar panels have been through this sort of thing before with no problems.

Hailstones the size of golf ballsThe plants don’t seem to have suffered much – I haven’t started to fill the garden up with seedlings and the perennials are almost all covered with protection to stop the chickens eating them – so that probably helped stop them being damaged.

I can’t use our greenhouse which was badly damaged in the storm last year but I’m breathing a sigh of relief, because I almost repaired the roof. The corrugated plastic sheeting which I’d have used isn’t hailstone proof and it would have been full of holes. Sometimes laziness pays !

Clearing up after the storm and almost the end of lambing

We had a really bad storm in Europe this week and although the Dordogne wasn’t too badly hit, it’s given us a lot more work to do and the animals are stressed and jittery. There wasn’t any damage to our buildings but a few trees have fallen on the fences and in the veg garden and we’ve been collecting debris, cutting up trees and mending fences for the past two days.

Some people in Bourrou still don’t have electricity and of course we’ve had a lot of visits from people who need to borrow lighting, ‘phone EDF or contact family and friends in other parts of France which are suffered badly after the high winds and flooding.

The weather has made working outside difficult for us some weeks now, first the bitter cold and winds then snow. Now we have rain almost every day. In the morning we put the sheep out in warm sunshine then it starts raining and we have to go and get them back in again.

The changeable weather doesn’t matter too much when the sheep don’t have lambs, they’re hardy enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to come in but I don’t like to think of the little ones outside on the damp grass because it’s still quite chilly here and lambs can go downhill quickly if they get too cold. That’s one of the reasons we like to keep our sheep inside for lambing but they do get bored and there’s a risk of footrot if the bedding gets damp from constant use and of course there’s a higher incidence of external parasites.

Thankfully, all the births this year have been trouble-free and the lambs are up on their feet and looking for food within minutes. We’ve had no problems at all with new mothers and every lamb has a ewe and plenty to eat, so they’re growing fast. Although it’s nice bottle feeding lambs the powdered milk is expensive and not as good as the ewe’s milk and after having done it for a few years, early in the morning and late into the night, the novelty soon wears off !

To begin with we had just single births which seemed a bit strange but in the past few days we’ve had three sets of twins – two within an hour of each other.

We had a problem with one lamb of the second set born yesterday who wouldn’t stay with her mother and kept going over to another ewe when she called for her twins. We put her with her mother who then rejected her but we persisted and the problem seems to have been resolved. Yesterday evening the ewes had worked out which lamb belonged to which mother – as you can see in this video.

For everyone who knows us – Christiane has finally found a new dog !

Christiane and her new dog Teckila

Fabrice’s aunt Christiane is someone with special needs but she lives on her own and manages well with us close by to help her with her daily traumas.

She’d had a lovely dog called Rhapsy for as long as I’ve know her but unfortunately, Rhapsy died recently at the ripe old age of nineteen. She still has her other dog Titino who is almost eighteen and completely blind and Christiane realises that one day he’ll die too. Getting another dog for her has been a priority for us for the past month and we’ve been ringing round animal refuges, looking at ads in the local papers and on the internet and presenting her with canine options – none of which have been suitable.

Christiane loves our four Dachshunds and they are exactly the right kind of dog for her – small enough to be lifted up and cuddled, loyal, sociable and interesting and they tend not to wander off and don’t need a tremendous amount of exercise. They are also good house dogs who prefer to live with someone who is around all day and they are good little watchdogs. For all of those reasons, Christiane decided that she wanted a Dachshund like ours.

We intend one day to breed from one or two of our Dachshunds but the little ones are only a year old and they’re still far too young to have pups so we had a look on the ‘net and there were no pups available from any of the breeders.

Christiane was becoming more and more impatient and just as we were beginning to despair, we were really lucky to find this little pup who’s father is a Dachshund and her mother a small Spaniel. She looks very like a Dachshund and got a very warm welcome from our four when she was introduced to them yesterday !
She is a very lucky little dog to have Christiane to love her and I hope both of them have a wonderful long friendship together.

Early evening storm brewing in the potager

I’d just transferred plants and repotted and watered everything then I noticed those black clouds looming overhead.

The chickens have gone to bed early, the goats are in the shed, the dogs have gone back up to the house. The atmosphere is just magical and I want to savour it right to the last moment.

There's going to be rain and I've just watered

I hope the rain doesn’t batter the Wisteria too much!

Just before the storm

I hope the rain doesn't batter the Wisteria too much!

Working under the roof with a view to Bourrou

Fabrice has put the roof on the extension, but the sloping bit at the end is still open to the skies until we can get the right material to put under the flat tiles.

As soon as it’s completely covered we can start working inside even when it’s raining.

The good news and the bad news…

Well the good news is that our 450 watts of solar panels and the 2kw wind generator have arrived.

The bad news is that Guy, Fabrice’s uncle died yesterday morning.

Those of you who know us well know that this is news that we’ve been expecting for some time, but somehow when it finally happened it was a bit of a shock.

Guy has been completely dependant on us for a number of years. He survived cancer of the colon but he never really got his appetite back and he had a lot of problems associated with his digestion. He was blind and unable to walk, talk or feed himself and had Alzheimer’s disease which made his behaviour more and more difficult to manage.

We cared for him in his own home a few minute’s walk from us, where he lived with his sister who is slightly mentally handicapped. Although they were brother and sister they acted like an old couple and Christiane is going to miss Guy a lot.

The past few years have been a real roller coaster for him health-wise – he’s been in and out of hospital dozens of times. The last time was for a lung infection and unfortunately he stayed immobilsed for about ten days and developed bed sores which became infected and ironically, finally, that’s what killed him.

Yesterday morning he looked so peaceful.

We’re all very sad to have lost Guy but we know that his going is a blessed release.


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