Just in case you’re wondering where I’ve been of late, the answer is, quite simply, nowhere in particular. No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet, I’ve just been incredibly busy being a wife, mother, cook, cleaner, teacher and currently fair-weather gardener. We are all doing fine Chez TêteBlanche but as much as I enjoy writing about my love of gardening and our exciting life here in the French countryside, writing a blog does not harvest the fruit, nor plan English lessons, nor allow me to spend quality time with my family. The good news is, the half-term holidays are upon us, which means I have at last found some “spare” time to recount all the goings on of the past four months!
July began with the invasion of sixteen little, eye patch-wearing, sword-wielding pirates in our garden, for Madeleine and Alexander’s joint birthday party. Pete obviously jumped at the chance of dressing up as Capitaine des Mers Bleus and it has to be said, I rather enjoyed making toilet roll tube telescopes with my mum and hiding cryptic, treasure hunt clues in the most unlikely of places. The day was a great success, if not a little on the hot side, with temperatures reaching 34°C. It has to be said, the English know how to throw a party! At the beginning of July each year, excitable screams of joy echo around our hamlet and as traffic jams build up on our little road, our lovely neighbours are reminded that summer is here!
The summer holidays meant we had more time to spend in the garden and as much as we love our trees, the vast summer growth prevented us from enjoying our amazing countryside vista. We decided to be brutal and with the help of our neighbour’s more powerful chainsaw, Pete cut down an old, wild cherry tree (which has produced very little since our arrival here) and two young oak trees. We now have some extra wood for future burning and the most wonderful view from the newly-installed terrace.
Here’s a look at some photos taken at the beginning of the summer holidays, when everything was still a lush, green colour!
As the summer heatwave continued, the grass became paler and cracks started to appear in the ground. It’s fair to say the hosepipe has worked overtime this summer, nevertheless, despite the hot temperatures, we’ve managed to have quite a successful summer harvest, including 84 kilos of potatoes (grown in straw rows) and tonnes of cherry tomatoes (mainly from outside, as the heat proved too much for the indoor tomato plants to handle). We got two varieties of courgette, although not nearly as many as previous years and a good second harvest of outdoor peppers. This year we grew aubergines for the first time! Unfortunately, in our fourth year of vegetable-growing Chez TêteBlanche, we have still not managed to successfully grow beans, with or without the support of a teepee. Our carrots were eaten by some nocturnal visitor and we even caught two deer enjoying unripened pears straight from the tree! When the plums started falling (and we’re talking a lot of plums this year), Mum put my dad’s upturned stool to good use, making a very tasty plum gelée. Our chest freezer is full of plums, tomato sauce, pizza sauce and frozen veg, just how it should be!
August tends to be the month we get the most visitors Chez TêteBlanche and we were delighted to catch up with our good friends, Chef and Reeno! Wherever we’ve lived over the past thirteen years, be it in the Alps, the Haute Loire or long lost Aveyron, these two have made every effort to come and see us. Thanks for a great few days, we love you guys!
The beginning of August saw us host the annual ‘Fête des Voisins’. Each year, we take turns at hosting a get-together with nibbles and wine for everyone on the hamlet. We had initially wanted to keep it simple, but our closest neighbour had other ideas, and since he was participating in the cost of the evening, Pete, (who I remind you is a vegetarian) ended up doing a barbecue for everyone! Obviously Pete has been a vegetarian for quite a while now, but as I began adapting my recipes to suit his requirements, it just seemed natural for me to stop eating meat too. I have not eaten meat for six months now. The children still eat meat when they request it, and at school every day, but the majority of the time, they eat the same vegetarian meals as us at home. For me, vegetarianism started as a practicality but at the same time, meat was becoming less appealing to me. I have since started to become more aware of the unnecessary suffering of animals and I no longer have the desire to eat meat or fish. Now back to the party, which was a great success. We borrowed some tables and chairs from the village hall and the kids did some bunting to dress the garden. Mum proposed a glass of sangria cava on her terrace and then we moved to the tables under the trees where it was shady. I think we were about eighteen people altogether. After the barbecue, we plugged the hosepipe into the water slide and let the kids cool off in the garden. It was a nice evening and it gave us chance to catch up with some of the neighbours we rarely see. Some have a second home here and only come in the summer months or at weekends, others we pass when driving, but rarely stop for more than a quick chat. Being the last house on a hamlet of eight houses, we don’t always see our neighbours, unless we choose to go out of our way, so it’s ideal for us.
When you choose a new house to live in or land to build on, you can’t possibly know in advance what your neighbours are like (unless they’re friends/family of course). You might have a first impression of someone but you only really get to know your neighbours when you’ve lived there a while. We have been really lucky here, we get on with everyone. We are beginning to understand their traits of character, their interests and hobbies and even their occasional annoyances. It is nice knowing you have somebody to call on if you ever have a problem, and likewise, I am pretty sure our neighbours feel they can ask a favour of us when they need it. So if having neighbours is so great, why then did we decide for our week’s summer break to take ourselves off to somewhere even more rural than here?!
When friends and family come out to visit us, they often tell us how much they love the place we live, but that they couldn’t imagine staying here for longer periods of time. Why? Because, although in our eyes we are a thriving hamlet of eight houses, we are a 4km drive away from the nearest village and 10km away from the nearest town. People are used to being within walking distance of local commodities and so in comparison, this truly is “rural living”. For the last week of August, instead of joining the crowds of people heading for the beach, we went north, in the opposite direction and rented a rural gite surrounded by vineyards, high up in Le Fel, near the Aveyron/Cantal border. On the agenda was walking, meditation, home-cooked vegetarian food and more importantly, spending quality time as a family. We were only 1.5 hours from our house, but wow, were we rural. It took us ten minutes by car just to get down the hill from our gite, the nearest big hypermarket was 50 minutes away and luckily we didn’t have a medical emergency because that was also the location of the nearest hospital! But what we did have was peace and tranquility, total relaxation before going back to work/school, oh and not to mention all this:
As beautiful as it was, it was once again nice to return home to our now, “not so rural” hamlet in South West France, and to share tales of our “oh so rural” holiday with our dear neighbour over a glass of wine.
September – October
Our hamlet has been bursting with activity lately, with the completed sale of a plot of land and the beginning of a new build on it, the arrival of new neighbours (whom we have yet to meet) and the extension of an existing house due to the arrival of a new baby. Word must have got out that we Whiteheads throw amazing parties and know how to look after our neighbours. We should be fine here, at the end of the road, surrounded by agricultural land which is, for the moment and hopefully forever, non-constructible!
September began at a slow pace and I found I didn’t have as many English lessons as usual. With the kids back at school, I needed to come up with some ideas to raise money and fast! Mum and I decided we would do another Christmas market in the village after all, but this time limit our workload to creative crafts that actually sell! I am going to do black and white slates and canvases but with a local flair:
Not two weeks later and I was inundated with teaching work proposals: a temporary yet full time post as a supply teacher in a high school and an immersion course next July in Rodez. I accepted both. My two week contract in the school has been extended indefinitely, which is great as it means we can start putting money back into the house renovation, with the next job being Alexander’s bedroom. It does, however, mean I have little time for arts and crafts. It’s all about finding the right balance…some weeks I have little or no work which means work on the house comes to a stop, but I get to spend a lot of time with my family…other weeks I seem to be working like mad, but it means we can put money aside for a future holiday, or pay that ever-increasing fuel bill! Freelance English-teaching is not exactly a steady income but it is something I enjoy very much, and so, financially-speaking, we have learned to just go with the flow, spending within our means and saving whenever possible. As you are probably aware by now, for us, money is not the be-all and end-all..but a little goes a long way.
Highlights this October have included: autumn woodland walks, looking for mushrooms; our naturalisation ceremony at the Préfecture in Rodez and spending Halloween with the kids carving out a pumpkin from the garden and watching the new Ghostbusters movie.