“Don’t get too attached to the cats”, Pete had warned us. Try as we may, it was hard not to fall in love with our two little kittens, Coco and Jay-Jay. So, when I returned home from shopping at the beginning of the month to find our neighbour had apparently reversed his car into our beautiful Coco, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad when she was handed to me, with his sincerest apologies, in a black bag. There wasn’t a mark on her, but a tiny trace of blood around her mouth. When the children came home from school, they had their first lesson about death as we buried her in the garden, and seeing their emotional reaction was harder for me to deal with than the actual death of the cat itself. However, it only got worse, when our 4-year old son looked up at me and said tearfully, “but at least we still have Jay-Jay”, who was absolutely nowhere to be found. Losing both cats in one day made me question if Coco had, in fact, been hit by a car, or if she and Jay-Jay had eaten some form of poison and I began searching in vain for the lifeless body of cat number two.
Two days later and we’d given up hope on ever finding Jay-Jay alive, until I heard from another neighbour that a lady in the next hamlet had seen a ginger cat wandering about in her yard and was trying to track down its owner. An hour later, and Jay-Jay was back safe and sound Chez TêteBlanche! The kids were thrilled to find him sitting on the doorstep when they returned home from school, which is more than can be said for Pete, when he came home from work to surprise us with two new replacement kittens. So, we now have THREE cats, yes three…ginger Jay-Jay, an all-black male called ‘Darth’ and a white female called ‘Leia’. After a week in the house getting used to each other, all three have since settled in nicely together in Pete’s workshop, where they are hopefully keeping the rats at bay. I am beginning to feel like the cat lady. We had better be careful they don’t reproduce or we may have a serious situation on our hands!
I haven’t been able to write about any progress in the house recently, as it had been a surprise for my dad up until now. Since my parents have just arrived and are spending Christmas with us, I can now safely spill the beans. As you may know, my dad had to spend some time in the UK this summer due to a medical issue, so it meant he couldn’t be here renovating his part of the house. When we first moved in, just under two year’s ago, we had an extra large living/dining room which had folding doors, separating the two spaces and individual access doors to each. We soon scrapped the idea of a dining room, since we prefer to eat in the kitchen, and in doing so, we were effectively left with a spare room, which has now become my parent’s bedroom. In order to give them some extra living space, and a bedroom with a south-facing view of the countryside, a partition wall was built at one end (back in October 2015)…
…and a new opening created at the other, a couple of months ago, when my mum came out for a holiday. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of work left to do, but it now means my mum can start to make it more comfortable and do some decorating, and my dad can get on with the bathroom plumbing. Here’s a look at Pete’s work in photos.
Elsewhere, in the garden, we have also been making progress getting the land ready for winter and harvesting some late crops, such as white cabbage and beetroot. In fact, it is fair to say, that we have had more success this autumn, than we had throughout the entire summer. We now know that our vegetable beds were not properly prepared and we missed out on a lot of opportunities early summer, which left us playing catch up late August. However, a little effort at the end of the summer is now starting to pay off. We have carrots which should be perfect for Christmas, broccoli, swiss chard, kale, spinach, peas and a second harvest of chillies. Our tomatoes didn’t have time to ripen, but we made some green tomato soup which tasted great. We even have some lettuces starting to appear in the polytunnel! Unfortunately, despite last year’s pumpkin success, we didn’t get a single one this year, having planted our seeds way too late, but I simply refuse to buy them. We will just have to go without pumpkin soup this year and eat as much from the garden as possible.
The hedges have been trimmed, the shrubs have been strimmed and all the edges have been tidied and cut back. The grass has been cut one last time until early spring. The asparagus foliage recently turned yellow (after the first frost) and I’ve just cut it back before adding a layer of compost mulch to the bed. A few weeks ago, I took some cuttings from our marigold tree. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried to take a plant cutting but hopefully one or two might succeed (out of 30 cuttings). You see, beautiful as it is when in flower, we’ve decided we want to completely remove our oversized magnolia tree, to make way for some more vegetable beds. On the north side of the house, we have an untidy, somewhat gloomy spot of garden, which does nothing but depress us! Once the reed beds are in and the unsightly septic tank filled in, we can hopefully do some landscaping to this area, remove some of the horrible tyres which encircle nearly every shrub, and make it a productive and enjoyable place to be. It also means that we can keep all our vegetables in one area, which can easily be cordoned off from the chickens. The plan is to start clearing the area this winter, lay cardboard and compost mulch where we want the new beds and then hopefully, by late spring/early summer, we can get planting. It has to be the easiest way to prepare new beds, besides hours of unnecessary digging.
As for other news, there’s not a great deal to tell. Both Pete and I passed our TEF (Test d’Evaluation de Français) French test, which means we are about half way to becoming French citizens! Having never studied French whatsoever and learning the majority of it in the pub, Pete got a surprisingly high score, only one level below me (bearing in mind I have been studying French since I was ten years old and have a French degree, plus a massive student loan still to repay for the privilege!). We now each have to have a 90-minute interview in Toulouse in February, to present our completed dossiers and if that goes well, we will be given a final interview, before being given French nationality and a naturalisation ceremony at the Mairie. So Brexit, do your worst, we have our backs covered!
Our commune has been selected to be the first in the area to have fibre-optic Internet installed, yes you heard right, fibre-optic…in rural France! The posts have already gone up between Lanuéjouls and Compolibat and the cable is currently being fitted. Let’s just hope they continue it as far as the neighbouring hamlets like ours. It just goes to show that work does actually get done out here after all. In fact, every now and again, we hear about a new ecological government incentive that sounds just too good to be true, like when we got our loft insulated for 1€ (Pacte Energie Solidarité). The latest scheme is free LED light bulbs. We have just discovered that our household is entitled to five free light bulbs, so we quickly applied online, paying an additional 2€ for twenty extra. That’s 25x LED light bulbs for 2€, delivered in eight weeks. Now I thought it might be a scam, but since a friend of ours has already received his free light bulbs, it is a genuine offer, not to be missed (subject to annual earnings of course). So, if you live in France and pay French taxes, check out Mes Ampoules Gratuites to check your eligibility.