This week at la Godefrere has mostly involved rustic tasks! When I retired and we decided to move to rural France, I never quite imagined what that would mean. I of course had visions of developing my wine cave and eating good food and having lots of cheese to choose from. I looked forward to the responsibilities of mowing the grass on my tractor mower and the being able with a cold beer to survey my grand estate.

What I hadn’t quite grasped about rural France was the rustic way of life and the French approach to country living. One of the nice features is that the French are not all acquisitive. They work on the basis that you need to provide the basics and have a roof over your head and enough money to provide food and fuel to heat the house. They are not too bothered about new things and will make do with what they have rather than buy replacements. It is more important that you have a reliable car that can pull a trailer and get to the shops or the tip. Our friend Emile has had the same car for 20 years.

When we go to the local village repas, the car park is full of sensible and aged cars. There are no huge 4x4s or gleaming BMWs. The cars are almost always French and a bit old and ours is always the dirtiest, covered in cat paw prints! The same is true of most things. Yesterday we went round to see Daniel and Giselle. They had a friend, Alain who was making some adjustments to a gate. It turns out that Giselle needed a replacement gate to keep her chickens in. So instead of buying a new one they found one that a friend no longer needed and set to adapting it to fit into her fence. We found Alain with a gas burner trying to make the holes to hang the gate bigger by heating up the metal and knocking a large pin into it. At the same time trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid setting fire to the wooden trestle it was resting on. This had to be doused in water to save it. But it ended OK and as usual we all went in for coffee and of course a calva.

This week I have been processing all the timber that came out of the old ruin. A lot has to be cut up and set aside to go into the wood burner to heat the house. So I have set up the lean to shed as the official La Godefrere saw mill and timber yard. I managed to get a new cutting blade for my circular saw and set to cutting up a great pile of wood. This meant wearing ear defenders and a mask to avoid the saw dust. A fairly gruesome sight. The second part of the process is to reclaim any bits of wood which can be reused and there are plenty. The wood comes in various sizes and forms but it is all solid oak and can be reused. It needs cleaning up and then treating for woodworm. Once complete the pieces are then stored in the cat palace for future use.

La Godefrere saw mill and timber yard

One immediate task is to sort out the very large beam that held the floor up in the ruin. I managed to get my friend Ian to use his chain saw to cut into three pieces and now plan to use the pieces to make some rustic benches to go into the garden. So I have been getting rid of the worm ridden edges of the beam by using sanding tools and a chisel so that I can get to the decent wood to treat and then varnish. Eventually moving them out into the orchard with some sort of feet to act as garden benches. At least that is the theory. So rustic carpentry has now been added to my skill set.

On Wednesday we went round to see Ian and Sarah. Mrs.Parish was on a mission to help Sarah move some plants and put them into a bank in her garden. While the serious gardening was going on I went to help Ian splitting some large lumps of tree that had been cut down. There were huge bits of the trunk and they needed to be split into suitable sizes to go on the fire. To do this Ian had borrowed a tractor with a fitted splitting machine which drives a metal wedge down with force to split even the largest bit of wood. In typical French style this was one of Olivier’s old (ancient) tractors and had no brakes. It also required a piece of string to hold the lever in place which converts the tractor engine to power the splitter.

Log splitter with friend Ian and logs

The splitter then has to be operated by a lever which either moves the metal wedge up or done hydraulically. My job was to operate the splitter and after a crash training course I was able to master this skilled job. You move the level up to raise the wedge and push it down to make the wedge go down and engage with the wood. Ian’s job was to manoeuvre the wood onto the metal base in a position to get a good split. The logs were then thrown onto a nearby trailer. So, I managed to get through a morning of log splitting without serious incident and not a task I ever imagined doing. But of course helping friends and neighbours is part and parcel of the rural French way of life.

Anyway, Ian and Sarah designated us as workers for the day and that meant that through proper French rural etiquette they had to take us to the local restaurant for our lunch. It would have been impolite to have refused so we had a rather large workers lunch as seemed appropriate! Rather less work was done in the afternoon.

My other rustic task has involved calf wrangling. This concerns the cattle in the field next to us. They have been there over the winter and there is not a lot of grass left. Xavier the farmer comes regularly with hay and sugar beet to supplement their food. The result is that the cows and calves have been jealously studying our very grassy orchard and hay field. They stretch their necks under the fence to get at the grass and in doing so undermine the fence posts. This has enabled the calves to be able to get under the electric fence and actually get into the garden and field. So we have had to tackle these errant calves and get them back the other side. To be absolutely accurate, wrestling the calf to the floor and tying its legs did not feature. We adopted the French approach and approached them shrugging our shoulders and mumbling in French and waving our hands madly. This has the effect of totally confusing the calves and they go back through the fence.

Driving to Ambrieres we pass Xavier’s farm and spotted in the lane that a calf had escaped there as well so we had to stop the car and do a round up and get the calf back through the fence. So we seem to be on constant vigil for stray calves. Mrs. Parish decided that enough was enough and deployed the La Godefrere fencing team to our grounds. Out we went banging in fence posts with a large sledge hammer and nailing up the barbed wire so that there was no sagging. Hopefully this will keep the calves in. Of course while we were mending the fences Eric, the rather large bull decided to come right over to the fence to see what we were doing. Eric has that innate ability to unsettle you just by staring at you, in this case from a very short distance. Hi stayed and stared for a while, I think just to keep us on our toes. I was tempted to have a word with him about keeping his offspring under control but decided, best not!!

Not much progress on the chicken front as the chicken house arrived, damaged and so we had to send it back. Hopefully a replacement will arrive on Monday and we can then plan to get some chickens. Giselle has given us the name of a man nearby who supplies laying chickens. So in the next few weeks, hopefully.

We have just arrived back from a repas at the nearby village of Mantilly. A nice meal of chicken and washed down with red wine and of course a calva. The entertainment was a typical bizarre occurrence with some English singers, who sang English songs, much to the confusion of the French people. Then we had a mad Frenchman who sang without musical accompaniment and then played his harmonica in a weird dance with some strange woman with a rather large blonde wig. None of it made any sense even to the French. Perhaps a bit of late new wave surrealism! Well rural France is a bit surreal as well as very rustic. We had to go back to Emile’s for another coffee and calva and now we are home and once the blog is finished it may be time for a little something and a sleep on the sofa!

Mad French harmonica man

A thunder storm has just started so my nap may have to be put off. The internet keeps cutting out so posting this may take a while!!

Bonne soiree