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April, 2005:

Bugs

scifi

Whilst cleaning the many, many roof tiles for the new pigeonierre roof, we came across what I call Sci-Fi bugs.

They are some kind of really hairy centipede with the speed of light movement and should be in a sci-fi horror movie somewhere scaring little kids …

…. they scare me!

Beetles II

We have had some amazing beetles around the garden – some friends and some foes. There are hundreds of little red beetles with what looks like an African mask on their backs. I am reliably informed that these are fire bugs, a relative of the ladybird and are therefore, friends.

Whilst moving wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of chicken, pigeon and other poultry poo from the pigeonierre, down onto the potager, we came across quite a number of large black beetles. We had seen similar beetles during our time in South Africa. They live and breed in mounds of dung, hence their obvious name – dung beetles.

Well, after they had been evicted from their cosy, warm home, they cropped up everywhere. For a fortnight we found them around the house, mostly in the morning and toilet room. One night we were woken by a tapping noise in the bedroom. Thinking it was a mouse, which our well travelled cat had brought in, we tried to find the source. After about an hour, we still couldn’t find where the noise was coming from. Eventually, we found the dung beetle, inside our wastebin. It was returned to its rightful home, on the compost heap.

Laurel Hedge

On moving to Bellebouche, our first priority was to get the house liveable. Next, were parts of the garden that were visible from the main house. This included removing monster weeds and bits of rubbish. Whilst planning out the garden, we discussed the paddock. Although this is not visible from the main house, it will need work.

Paddock Before

The obvious thing that needed doing was replacing the wire fence, which borders alongside the lane, and which was falling down with the weight of brambles on it. Our idea was to plant a hedge, which would not only replace the broken fence but in time, would also hide a rather unsightly barn, aross the lane from the paddock. We decided that as a hedge takes a few years to establish, we would start this job now.

Our first thoughts were leylandi, but as luck would have it, the local DIY store had a sale in their gardening section.

Laurel trees, 40-50cm big, were on sale.

A quick car trip and a boot full later, I returned home with 28 trees. That was the easy part.

Paddock After

Next stage, hacking back and digging up all the brambles. Adrian’s parents were willing helpers and one day later, the old fence was cleared of all greenery.

Next, Adrian rearranged and re-seated the concrete fence posts in fresh concrete.

The wire fence was put back up, to keep the local livestock from breaking in, while the new hedge is growing.

Final stage, planting the laurels. Easier said than done. After extensive research on the internet, I started to dig out a trench the length of the proposed hedge. The first 2 metres were easy. Then, with every spade dug, I came across the rocks from hell – huge boulders of granite and clusters of tiny rocks.

Two days later, the ground was ready for the laurel trees. The hedge is now in place and the trees are all doing really well. No casualties.

Up A Tree

Adrian up a tree

Christmas Tree Escapades

We have a huge pine tree at the edge of the orchard, close to the house. It is the tallest tree in our hamlet and can be seen from miles around.

We have named it the christmas tree, because the romantic in me would like to believe it was bought as a christmas tree many years ago and then planted out in its new home.

The lower branches were a little too low to walk under without acquiring a crown of needles. Although it will provide much needed shade in the height of summer we do still want to be able to walk underneath unhindered.

The only thing to do …. send Adrian up the tree with a saw.

Now, Adrian is a little wary of heights, so this was a challenge for him. Once he got up the ladder and onto the lower branches, he was fine.

He removed quite a few of the lower hanging branches and raised the crown. The difference in the light is amazing. The shower room and morning room now have a lot more light streaming through the windows and there is more light reaching into the orchard.

In England, before we moved here, we went to an agricultural auction and bought a couple of sodium lights. They are normally used to light up farmyards. We are planning to fix one of these lights to the roof of the house, pointing up the tree. We have tried this just by sitting the light ontop of the bread oven. It makes the tree look amazing and it stands out in the dark for miles around.

The roof is collapsing !!

Our first major project – and we’re very pleased with the results

Pigeonnier

Our first visitors, Joan’s folks John and Sue, came in late January and Sue spotted something that I’d missed and had been staring me in the eye in all of the photographs we’d taken during our trip over to buy the house. The roof in the Pigeonnier was in a much much worse state than I’d previously thought (something which would prove to be a common theme!) and was in serious danger of imminent collapse.

So, out to a builders merchant to pick up a handful of acro-props and quickly shore up the roof until we got around to doing something about it.

Fast forward a few weeks and my parents visited in the coldest winter ever and I’d decided with dad that we would ‘have-a-go’ at a bit of roofing when they came in the springtime after Easter. So, with no prior roofing experience, I took a look at it and said, no problem. Three days. Whip the old roof tiles off, replace any damaged chevrons, install new laths and put the old tiles back on- simple!

Well, yes, it was simple.. did it take three days… not quite, more like eleven.

First job… this building had previously been used (for decades) as a pigeon loft/poultry house. The floor was a good 20cm deep all over in compacted well rotted bird guano.

Easy to dig up and right now fertilising my Charentais melons and courgettes but it did take some hard work to get it shifted… well over 30 wheel barrows full of it (I’m guessing about 2000 litres of manure!) all moved by Joan.

The roofs on the older buildings are all put together from hand made canal tiles. Taking the old roof off was fun and quite easy, we broke remarkably few which, given their age was quite an achievement.

I took a huge quantity of photos during this time as a way of learning how the roof was put together. All the tiles were put aside, stacked on pallets ready for cleaning and re-use. We quickly devised a special nomenclature for roofing which involved various combinations of the following words/phrases :- Unders, Overs, Special unders, New overs, Wet overs, Flat unders and New unders – it all made some kind of sense at the time.

There are plenty of snaps which show the roof in various states of undress. Once the roof was off and all of the rotten/crumbling laths had been taken care of, it was clear that there was quite a bit of the roof superstructure to be repaired and the tops of the stone walls, and the masonry supporting the main oak timbers holding the whole thing up. Phew, many days work ahead then.

Much of the old softwood timber was shot through with woodworm but thankfully it became clear after a bit of t.l.c. that the main oak timbers would be just fine and would not need replacing. I did find some old smaller pieces of oak in the roof chevrons that I was able to replace and will reuse elsewhere. Oak of this age is an amazing thing, very very dense, heavy and just exuding character when worked back with a gouge. It was tempting to stay up the scaffolding all day carving arty things into the oak! But, we worked hard at it for 10+ hours a day and it was finally coming together.

Once the superstructure was put together we clad the timbers in 15mm flat sawn pine board that had been pre-treated with an antifungal/insecticide and then on with some moisture barrier sheeting.

Re-tiling the roof went remarkably quickly once I’d got the hang of it. We tried hard to make the repairs to the new roof look as invisible as possible. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have gone and bought new factory made tiles, that are cheap, of a consistent size and colour and to have put up a roof that looked like a Disneyland variant of an ancient Charentais farm building. But no, we wanted it looking just the way it was.

And what will become of this building? Well.. we’re not that clear yet! Current thinking is possibly a bedroom, a gym or a games room for guests.. It’s slightly awkward as it’s really the only easy passage between the main house & gardens and the outbuildings & paddock garden. We have put in a couple of roof lights to improve the ventilation / lighting so it’ll be usable some way down the line, but for now it sits empty with a spectacular new roof that makes me smile every time I look at it! First major job done successfully for very little money, looks good, the repairs are in keeping with the surroundings and it’s no longer going to collapse and injure someone! A job well done.

Charcuterie, Episode II Substantial Pork Pie

Purveyors of the third best pork pie I ever tasted : Clewlows of Nantwich

Purveyors of the second best pork pie I ever tasted : Dickinson and Morris, Melton Mobray

Purveyor of the best pork pie I ever tasted… wait.. you need to ask?!

The Frankenpie, 2.3Kg of homemade porkpie goodness

There it is in all it’s glory, not the prettiest of pies as my pastry crimping technique was frankly a bit rustic.. but the sentiment was there.

It weighed in at a healthy 2.3 Kg so it fed the pair of us for about a week. It was a joy to behold.

Now, an awful lot of culinary crimes take place in the name of a humble pork pie.. flabby pastry, unidentifiable contents, insufficient wobbly jelly and worst offender of all… the lumninous pink interior of a ‘bite-size’ picnic pie.

I’m not going to give the blow-by-blow account of how it was made… because it’s a fairly long and involved process.. if you want the full blow by blow account then may I suggest purchasing the most excellent River Cottage Meat book. Page 444 has the lowdown.

My only changes… I didn’t have lard in for the hot water crust… I used the rendered fat from a jar of Duck confit instead. That mixed with an equal quantity of butter ensured that the pastry was outstanding.

I used coarsely chopped pork shoulder, some belly pork and some home made smoked bacon. Plenty of fresh thyme, chopped sage and tons of pepper helped it along.

I did underestimate the volume of stock necessary to fill the void around the meat. It shrinks during cooking and for a pie of this size I made a pint of jelly… even though I had it bubbling out of the top when I filled the pie it still wasn’t enough. Next time I’ll put a litre in.

Mmmmm, we like pie.

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