So, this is going to be a longer than usual Post and we'll divide it into Chapters so you can skip the more boring bits easily. And where to start? Let's be really traditional and go with the weather:
The three months since our last Post at the close of March were the wettest on record, with increasing warmth and early June saw a very high humidity - well over 90%, when the usual figure is in the 60%'s. Mid-May saw a very wet garden, with the pond right up to its edges, the vegetable garden looking more like a large paddling pool and, the grass growing up to two centimetres in twenty-four hours:
Sunny BruelFest - 'phew, what a scorcher!
It turned out that the weather on the 30th was so hot that we had to make a last-minute decision to have the Anniversary lunch inside because under canvas would prove too much for older folk. So, where to have it? Well, fortunately there was a newly-converted barn which could just about take thirty-six people or so. In fact our barn conversion was still not completed, but completed enough to do the job. A very good time was had by all, with an excellent lunch and a pyrotechnic gateau to close it:
Since the BruelFest, it has been 'all change' with the weather and we have had one of the hottest July and August periods since we arrived. But the particular feature has been the lack of rain - so, from being inundated for over two months we now (at time of writing this) have had virtually no rain … just the very occasional light shower. We'll return to this in a moment, and to how this year's weather has affected wildlife in the garden. But, before that … you know you want to …. it's 'Barn Time'!
Well, in our last Post we said that we hoped to be completed by the end of May - hmm, it has taken us a further three months! The main factor in this has been the complexity of the plumbing - and right up to the point when everything else was completed, we were still having to solve problems. But on the positive side, the further time has enabled us to do some detailed work with which we're very pleased. In particular we have done some woodwork features that have worked really well. Instead of buying in 'finished wood' for shelving and surfaces we sourced some old chestnut flooring boards from a barn (we think around two hundred years old) and, taking the measurements of the surfaces that we wanted to cover, did some preliminary cutting, shaping and sanding:
Visitors and Guests
We have been quite busy with visitors and guests this Summer and early Autumn, with folks from Holland and Germany for the first time, and also from Belgium, the United States and the UK. And also we have had a number of families with younger children, which has been great and has certainly kept us on our toes!
Now, what about our favourite topic … wildlife in the garden (and no, that's not the item about the Belgian Nudist Motorcycle Club).
As we've said, this year we have had what seems some very extraordinary weather and so one might suppose that there would be some unusual happenings regarding wildlife. Well, some general observations first: our couple of Little Owls have been much in evidence, until the last month or so - their behaviour has become quite routine, coming to the south of the garden in the early evening and perching on fence posts and on the children's swing and then swooping down and walking up and down looking for insects - and doing this for up to two hours. Although we have been quite close to them, say 30 metres, it has been difficult to get any good photographs, but here are a couple - the first one the owl is on the top, left-hand end of the swing, and then in the second photo he/she is on the ground 'this side' of the swing:
So, overall despite the curious weather of the past six months we have not noticed negative effects on our usual garden wildlife. If the current drought continues we might find that there is less food available for wildlife to store for the Winter - and then it will depend on what sort of Winter we have and we may have to look to providing some food for the bird population if there are very cold conditions.
Looking to the later Autumn and Winter there are three particular developments we're looking forward to … and not unconnected:
The first is a complete change in the level of our Internet facilities. Currently our Broadband (not quite sure 'Broadband' is quite the right term …) is supplied by Orange and we are lucky if we manage 1.5Mb - so doing anything like this website and Blog is really a slow task. But three months ago we were told that our electricity provider, SERC, who already provide some Internet and telephony services, had won a significant project from national Government to provide fibre-optic connections to the rural communes they serve. SERC is an unusual outfit - it was developed as a collective/cooperative in the 1920's to provide electricity to the farmers in the north of the Tarn Department and has developed from there and in the last decade has gone into providing Internet and telephone services, using its above-ground electricity network. The Macron Government has taken action to activate a long-term, but until now very slowly executed, policy to improve Internet services throughout rural France and has invited applications from rural communes - and SERC have been very quick off the mark, helped by the fact that they already operate a suitable infrastructure. Anyway, we have been told (and papers have been delivered and signed) that by mid-Autumn we will be getting 100Mbs of fibre-optic Internet connection to the house (not just to the hamlet)! Our very good neighbour, Jean-Pierre, is vice-president of SERC, so we have been well briefed on how things are going and it really does look like we will have the connection in before the end of the year. This will transform how we're able to work on our website and on other ways in which we communicate online. Hoorah!
The next development for us this Autumn is the way in which we market and manage our Chambres D'Hotes. The new barn development gives us a space (we think we might call it 'the Garden Studio') of some 90 sq. metres, providing a sitting room, with corner kitchen, bedroom and large shower room, all of which has been designed to support use by people with mobility difficulties. So, it is a facility that can function as a gîte rather than a B&B room - so this adds variety to our overall offer, as we now have a double room ('Vue Aubrac'), the apartment ('Vue Lacapelle) and the Garden Studio. We reckon that from next year we will focus on the Garden Studio, for couples and couples with young children; and offer this on a gîte basis, for stays of two nights or more. The other rooms would be provided on a B&B basis, for couples and couples with children of a more mixed age range. However, rather than the Garden Studio being provided on a traditional gîte basis (that is, no meals provided), we would offer some meals - for example, supper on the first evening/breakfast on first morning (giving time for people to then shop for their own food); occasional suppers if people would like that; and we would provide a 'welcome box' of basic supplies. We are also considering developing what meals we do provide and how we provide them, with a greater accent on environmentally-friendly produce, and more vegetarian offers, with recipes that reflect a wider range of cooking and 'slow-cooking', including Italian and other Mediterranean food cultures.
For some time now (I think we may have mentioned this in a previous Post) we've been thinking about starting a 'film club'. Discussion started at one of the 'WinterFetes', chatting about how quiet the months from November to March were and how nice it was when the people from the hamlet and wider commune got together - but it might be good to do something other than eat cake and drink wine. We knew that quite a few people seemed to really like films and when we suggested that we could get together perhaps once a month over the Winter, show a film and perhaps have something to eat, the response was surprisingly positive. So, we came up with the idea of having a film show, with a film from a different country each time, followed by something to eat. Digital technology would enable us to always provide French subtitles. We would try to find films that were not current and 'mainstream' (what's the point, there are good cinemas around here for that), but a little bit different and genuinely reflective of the country within which they were made. We could fit about two dozen people comfortably in the new barn area. We would provide something to eat, but keep it really straightforward and at the moment we're thinking of some soup (particular to the country from which the film came from), some bread and a glass of wine. And we would simply ask for a contribution at each film-show. If we go ahead, we will 'launch' it at the next 'WinterFest' in January 2019 and just see what the reaction is! Worth a try and seems a bit different!!
But now, something positive …. some photos of our new, renovated space: