It is seven years now since we bought the old farmhouse although there have been times when we have felt slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work that we have taken on, we wouldn’t give it up for the world.
It is situated in a tiny village with about forty inhabitants. All the locals are wine makers and we are fortunate to have Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre on our doorstep. The only noise we hear is the occasional sound of the tractor going up the road. My husband and I have done all the work ourselves, having only had the help of some friends from time to time. The electricity is now modern, the roof is mended, the central heating is fitted and the downstairs is almost finished. We have just finished installing the four bedrooms and bathroom upstairs!
This area of France is very rural and soon I was falling in with the lifestyle of those around me. It really is living in the past. The pace of life is unhurried, family life is important and wives play a role that is much more traditional.
The winters can be very harsh and temperatures always fall well below 0 degrees. Two years ago we had 17° for a few days and 12° for several weeks. We put the central heating in the year after that! All of this means that throughout October and November, we are ‘battening down the hatches’ as my husband says. It means chopping firewood, checking insulation, sweeping the four chimneys, cleaning out the boiler our central heating is oil-fired and ordering the fuel. It always snows and family time is often spent sledging.
Cleaning chimneys is definitely a forgotten art. The first year that we had to do them we found ourselves up to our eyeballs in dust, dirt, birds’ nests and electricity wires the previous owners had run electric cables through the chimneys! Can you remember how it was done? Well, we had never done it! We learnt through trial and error. First we covered the chimney area with an old sheet with a hole in the middle for the brushes to go through. Then my husband found his old motorbike goggles to protect his eyes! Finally, he started pushing the brushes through. There was thick, black soot everywhere. The kids began to sing, “Chim chimery, chim chimmery chim chim cheree,” my husband panted with the effort and I collapsed with laughter. After what seemed an age, he asked me to go outside to see if the brushes had finally come through. Walking out into the front yard I found a large crowd of neighbours pointing up to our roof with giggles and muted voices, discussing, once again, the folly of being born British! Looking up, the reason became clear. At least 20 meters of pipe, with a very sad looking brush waving on the end, rose above the chimney. It looked as though he was cleaning the sky!
With the arrival of spring, a whole new set of tasks faces me. First we plan our animal intake. It depends on what we feel we need, but this year there will be no more geese, the last ones attacked the children. We’ve decided against sheep as well I’m sure they knew we were going to eat them. We’re discussing a pig at the moment. Then I need to buy a dozen fluffy chicks. It’s always good fun the day they arrive as the children find them so cute. The children want a horse but we don’t eat horsemeat even if the French do!
Getting the chickens for the first time caused talk in the village. My father-in-law was staying and loved seeing them arrive. We had an old shed down in the orchard that we put nesting boxes into. We buy dual-purpose hens so that we can have eggs and meat. The first night both my husband and father-in-law were seen trying to shoo them into their shed. The neighbour, with great patience, gently explained that the hens do not need to be shooed in; they know how to go in by themselves!
Last year we grew about every type of vegetable that you can think of including some more exotic ones like aubergine, chilli and melon. The vegetables last right through the year. Most of them I freeze. The pumpkins I turn into thick, creamy soup and bottle. It is very handy to have it pre-cooked on cold winter nights. Pruning takes a whole week. Cleaning all the pots and making sure the greenhouse is ready for the spring are the children’s jobs after all, I can’t do it all! The children have to help out, as there is always so much to do. We find, though, that they have much more freedom here. They take off for the day on their bikes and Josh, the eldest, often goes fishing in the Loire River. He brings his catch home for dinner.
During the hot summer months when the plums are ripe, we fill several huge plastic bins with them, leaving them to rot. Just before Christmas they are collected by one of the local distillers to be made into a very strong clear alcohol called Prune not to be drunk lightly! I use it to make various kinds of aperitifs.
By the time that I have come, once again, to the start of my new year in autumn, I have bottles some 300 jars of fruit /vegetables, made 50-60 bottles of various aperitifs, frozen bags and bags of vegetables and have enough meat to last me some months.
It is like living in a gone-by era. Sitting out on the patio at the end of a day’s harvesting in late September, we watch the sun set with a pre-dinner drink. The sky is full of pinks, blues and purples. The children are out playing somewhere, and if you listen very carefully you can hear nothing! Sheer bliss!
Of late, I’ve been learning a lot about the lives lead by Buddhist monks in Nepal and India. I love history and this subject made me excited like no other. Buddhist monks were far more advanced than we think they were. They may not have possessed some cool gadgets or machines, but they knew the science of human mind. They knew how to live life peacefully. Some may argue that they had all the time in the world to live their life peacefully, where as it doesnt suit the modern society. Well, that is completely wrong. Even though if we get all the time in the world, its really hard to find the peace that they found. They discovered many techniques to heal the mind and body, most of which are applicable even today. I would like to specifically mention about singing bowls here. They made these singing bowls from six or seven metals and the sound made by them were pretty great. It helped to make them feel a lot better and relax into deeper meditation. Tibetan Singing Bowls are available in the market even today and the number of people using it is increasing every day as it goes a long way in healing your mind.