Getting to know the locals….. 16th April 2017

 

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Over one week in …. where does the time go? It feels like yesterday when we were living in Mika last and not over six months ago. It is hard to believe that you can adapt to a small space so quickly but the bed is so comfortable and dare I say it, she has everything we need in a sleekly, refined form! The quick adaptation has probably been helped along by the beautiful weather over last weekend and the fact that we have only actually cooked dinner at home three times in ten nights…. well, we don’t want to shock Mika’s system too quickly!!

We have got back into routine quite quickly though, baking bread, making muesli, flapjack, doing our exercise outside in the mornings ….. and we even had crepes with fresh strawberries this morning ….. happy days!

Nothing has changed though as we still get odd looks and a few smiles and comments as people walk by whilst we are doing the odd Burpee!

Last weekend in Bath was great, not only did we manage to catch the sun (we have missed the additional vitamin D we had been getting in Spain), we also caught up with lots of people, eating and drinking lots of great food, beer and wine…. you still can’t beat the Eastern Eye in Bath for a Curry.

Back in Holyport and we are back in our field and our friends are back too….

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We reckon they are about 12 months old and they are very cute, I can say that as I don’t have to go into the field to empty the toilet and grey water whilst they are playfully having a tête a tête ….. Keith see’s them slightly differently, especially when they take an interest in what he is doing, although the more comfortable they are the closer they appear to be getting and over the last few days they have apparently been giving him a good licking….. I think I will just admire from a distance!

It has definitely cooled down a little this week but it is still dry so we are enjoying walking in and around Maidenhead and Windsor a little more and trying out some local pubs.

Back on the road …… 8th April 2017

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Having taken the decision to spend the winter in the UK to be closer to family we also moved into a flat worried what the winter mornings in a muddy field without electricity would do to our exercise routine…..and possibly also our marriage!

It has been an interesting few months as we had more space than we knew what to do with but oddly found the kitchen a bit small – despite the fact that it was probably four times the size of the one in the motorhome! – possibly something to do with the fact that we like entertaining and simply have too much stuff !

So, having made the most of all those lovely desserts that you need a real oven for and made the most out of eating as many baked potatoes as possible – seriously, it is not worth waiting two hours for one in the motorhome – we are back with Mika and even more surprisingly the sun is shining for us.

We picked her up on Thursday and apart from needing a good clean (inside and out) she started ok, strong German lass, and she has fared the winter in storage pretty well….. all Keith needs to do now is go through the cupboards and move everything that I have put in the wrong place before we set off again on Monday!!

As most of you are used to the fact that the only thing in our lives that is consistent is the amount of times our plans change.  So, just to update you, for now we are staying in the UK for the summer and planning to venture up to Scotland and out West to Wales over the next few months to discover a little more of our own beautiful country before we go further afield again.

So watch this space for updates and photos of a sparkly clean Mika….. when I find some time to get up on the roof.

All good things come to an end ….. Temporarily – 17/8/16

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Well despite everyone’s comments about poor weather – we are still in the UK, the sun is still shining AND it is school summer holidays….. unheard of when I was younger 🙂

We are back at the farm having disappeared off to Bath for a couple of days to see friends (and the big sunflowers at the bottom of Clare and Jools’ garden).  Obviously someone was looking down on us as we even spent the Saturday in the park with footballs, frisbee so and picnics and there was barely a cloud in sight….the rain held off until the Sunday morning when we were perfectly happy to take it easy.

We have got to know the calves in the neighbouring field a little better, anyone would think they are pets as they are very curious and really like people – although I have a feeling that the first lot were shipped to the abattoir a couple of weeks ago and it can’t be long until these ones go unfortunately.

Obviously as we were starting to twitch after stopping the apricot picking we have fallen on our feet with the early blackberries and have been a bit over zealous with the quantities, although neither of us reckon you can ever have too much Apple and Blackberry crumble 🙂

It is however with regret that this is going to be the last blog for a while. We have decided to temporarily move into an apartment to be close to family for a bit and will hopefully continue our adventures in Spring.

So, watch this space …. We will be back soon 🙂

Back on British Soil… 31/7/16

Despite believing that life would get back to normal following the Apricots, we have hit a hitch and have had to come back to the the UK, but we are slowly coming to terms with the fact that normality in ‘Gail and Keith’ world is actually a bit random which shouldn’t really surprise anyone who knows us!

But back to where we were as it has been a couple of weeks….after a day on the bikes on the Sunday, we set off on Monday to walk through the San Joseph vinyards which are spread across the hills above the West Bank of the Rhone – beautiful.

Tuesday was our last day in Tain L’hermitage and we ended up spending it cleaning and cooking ….. A bit of a chocolate fest with double chocolate chip muffins for the evening and some of the extra special brownies which were a present for Florian and Josette.

The evening was a joint celebration as it was Florian’s 21st birthday the day before in addition to the end of season meal and therefore we got a bit of an insight into how young farmers celebrate their birthday in France …. The first present from his friends was a box with two holes in the top which toppled off of Florian’s lap onto the floor. Once picked up and finally opened inside was a baby lop eared rabbit …very cute. The dogs went mad but things started to calm down after about 15 minutes until the friends went back outside and came back in with a 6 month (fully grown) lamb. The poor things was petrified and not surprisingly didn’t want to stay for the meal and tried to make off in every direction to get away from the dogs howling. All settled down however when Florian and his friends managed to get it down into a field below the house enabling us to tuck into an enormous paella which was washed down with copious amounts of wine.

The evening ended with several people (including the birthday boy) being thrown into the swimming pool … Very glad that we didn’t need to get up at 5am the next day 🙂

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Rather lazily we got up at 8am-ish, went for a run and packed up the Motorhome to start the route north. We did just over 250km, arriving at Beaune which we thought we hadn’t been to before, but on arrival (and seeing the amazing rooftops), remembered we stopped here for a quick walk after visiting Dijon a couple of years ago. Not a problem though as there is so much walking and cycling to do from here which we didn’t touch on last time, so, we headed for the campsite (Camping Municipal les Cent Vignes GPS n47,03276 e4,83906, 20 euros a night) which was pretty full and very warm. The whole area was heaving with holiday makers but luckily we got one of the last spaces which was home for the next three nights.

On Thursday we set off on the bikes, weaving our way through the vineyards and the surrounding villages which were beautiful.

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However on Friday the weather broke and from about 10am in the morning the skies opened and we had a huge storm …. It did cool the air a little though.

Unfortunately it was on Friday that we received news that made us quick foot it back to the UK. As many of you know, my father has been fighting that nasty disease that appears to be appearing in many of our lives, successfully getting through lung cancer two years ago and last year fighting off what had transferred itself into brain tumours. Unfortunately, it is back and the tumours are growing again so we are now back in the UK.

It was a quick journey as we covered most of the ground last Saturday, stopping at an Aire in Hondschoote (Free GPS n50,97591 e 2,5876) before a ferry back on Sunday morning.

We are now staying on a farm half way between Windsor and Maidenhead in a very tranquil field with cows as our only neighbours …. Keith is a little apprehensive each time he has to go and empty the toilet and grey water as he has to go into their field and they appear to want to be closer friends than he wants …. Perhaps over time this relationship may blossom, I however am fairly happy that he empties the grey water and the toilet 🙂

RAS…better known as Repetitive Apricot Syndrome -17/7/16

I am not sure whether it is the slight twist of the wrist as we pick the apricot, or the slight twist as I have been parting the lush Apricots in two to de-stone them before quickly disposing of them in my mouth …. but one has definately caused a bit of a strain – probably a good thing therefore, not only for my wrist, but possibly for our teeth, that it has all come to an end.

After eight weeks of mostly 5am starts, ladder climbing, scrapes and bruises on every part of exposed skin (those Apricots are heavy buggers when they fall on you) and aches and pains from bending down, our life may just start to get back to normal this week…. Normal in our world anyway, as I appreciate for most of you we are a little odd anyway 🙂

We have done our best to eat our weight in Apricots and Cherries, have experimented in cake baking for the team – since our last blog teh portfolio has expanded to incorporate enhanced Raspberry and Chocolate Muffins, Apricot Muffins, Fruit Cake (in muffin tins – can you tell that it is a newly acquired piece of kit 🙂 ) and Brownies made with Apricots – and have had our eyes opened to the work involved in maintaining a fruit farm and vineyard as well as the horrifiying price pressure that farmers have nowadays.  A large quantity of the Apricots we picked were sold to the industry at just 15 centimes a kilo – just about about breaking even on their costs, without taking into consideration anything for their time and labour, we just have to hope for their sake that the vine will provide a bumper crop and a good price this year.

It has been good and despite the physical hard work and the early mornings it has definately been worth coming here and we have made some new friends along the way.

The last couple of weeks have been mainly working, with hours increasing to the afternoon as well in the last week and a half, leaving little time for much else other than eating, oh errr…. watching the football and a little sleeping.  However, as many of you will know – for the wrong reasons unfortunately – last Thursday (14th) was Bastille Day, a national holiday in France.  After a morning run (and some long awaited Crepes with some of the delicious Apricot Jam Teresa made last week ) we set off on the bikes along the Rhone to the North, arriving at Sarras after roughly 20km just as the skies opened.  Thankfully as we had battled against the wind on the way there we managed to get ahead of the clouds on the way back with a whole 15 minutes to spare before the rain caught up…. Just about enough time to load up on a Apricot Brownie and a cup of tea 🙂

In the evening, like most of the French population, we went to the local fireworks display which was on the bridge just under a kilometre from here and it was pretty good – it even had a display where the fireworks formed the shape of hearts.  It is just incredibly sad to think about all the people who were killed in Nice following their celebrations as it could have been in any town in France that night – there are some very unfortunate people in this world who believe that inflicting harm on others will make life better for themselves or their families, why – we will never know.  All we can do is hope that sometime soon things will change.

On a brighter note as today is officially our first day of ‘holidays’, after a morning run,  we headed off into the Ardeche hills on the bikes following the Doux river which was beautiful.

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As we have a little time to ourselves now, we plan to stay in Tain de L’hermitage for another couple of days to explore the area a bit more before heading north … Hopefully resuming the blog to normal frequency from now 🙂

And finally….. Apricots – 29/6/16

Its hard to believe that my last blog was over two weeks ago (nor that we have now been here for six weeks), I am not sure where time goes and each day feels like two as they are so long.  For the last couple of weeks we have pretty much continued to work from 6am, although with the appalling weather a couple of weeks ago I think we managed to work every combination of hours possible (now also incorporating Saturday’s) except a night shift.  Summer is apparently here however -despite a storm currently brewing outside with some incredible thunder and lightening – not really that surprising when it is between 32 and 35 degrees at 5pm in the shade – 6am is nice though, like an English summer day … Roughly 18 degrees 🙂

My relationship with rain has definately changed since we started working here as each time it rains all I think of are cherries … (To be fair I was dreaming about them at one point) they are vulnerable little things and you can’t pick them, pack them or do anything with them if the are the slightest bit wet …. believe it or not, they use a massive hairdryer to blow the trees to dry them off before picking.

With the weather being quite varied over the last couple of weeks we have done a mixture of work, a lot of time spent on the vine and two Saturday’s ago we started on the Apricots.  Apricots like I have never seen Apricots before, being novices to this farming lark, neither Keith nor I had any idea that there were so many varieties of Apricot,  Florian and Josette have at least nine that they currently grow, the first type being Californian Orange-Red’s which vary in size, but the ones we were picking were the size of tennis balls and full of flavour.  Apparently the reason behind having so many different types of Apricots is so that they don’t all ripen at exactly the same time, making it slightly easier to harvest and for us to get a nice balanced diet.  Apparently two more fields will be ready later this week ….Apricot crumble here we come 🙂

On the food note the last couple of weeks has expanded our efforts to incorporate Apricots as well as the production of the most expensive brownie yet …. Using Valrhona Chocolate, cherries and nuts ….. A success.  Keith has also been trying his hand at Tortillas (although they need to be a bit thinner if we are going to eat them with Fajitas) along with making creamed honey and as it is so hot, randomly we have started to eat cold porridge for breakfast (Oats soaked in milk, water fruit and cinnamon overnight) which is actually a nice alternative on a hot day at 5am 🙂

 

Despite the ridiculously hot weather we have managed to find a bit of time on a hot afternoon to venture up into the surrounding hills to take in some of the vinyards and the beautiful views

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Stopping off briefly on the way home to cool down in another of the local vinyards’ tasting rooms to try their selection of white and reds from the region ….. Always looking to learn and soak up a bit of culture 🙂

On Sunday we set off to a little village on an island in the middle of the Rhone, La Roche de Glun which is roughly 8km from us to watch the French semi-finals of ‘Joute Barque’ or in English ‘Boat Jousting’ …. You have to see it to believe it, but it has been going for over 100 years and there are roughly seven different versions in France and Florian (our boss) used to be the champion.

Flexibility and core strength are key as it starts with two jousters on the back of two seperate boats heading towards each other …. Note the pretty impressive splits position he is holding

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They then lower the lance and aim at their target…. The boats are powered by an engine in case you wondered so a fair bit of force behind them

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With the objective being to dismount (if you can say that about a boat) the opponent, whilst remaining on your boat ….

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Quite a nice tranquil way to spend a Sunday afternoon, a picnic, a few beers (Florian was working in the beer tent) and sunshine – we are now experts in Joute Barque, although it is a bit harsh on the limbs so we will be staying well clear of participating.

We have got a nice group of people who we are working with and as it was my birthday on Monday and Florence’s birthday on Tuesday we decided to do a big Bar B Q last night which as always highlighted everyones’ inability to make small quantities of food.  We can’t complain though as it was all delicious – and just means that several people don’t need to cook for a couple of days 🙂 – all washed down with some lovely local Rose and Red wine, finished off with a bit of a sing song as Florence plays the Guitar and Eukalale and Gill (one of the other girls) sings and raps…. Just a shame we had to get up at 5am this morning ….

It’s Friday, it’s five to five….it’s not crackerjack – 12/6/16

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I am afraid something that only those of you who watched children’s TV in the UK between the mid 1950’s and the 1980’s would get …. Unfortunately for us, five to five was in the morning, not the evening and it was the sound of the alarm going off and the accompanied bird song rather than a husband and wife team dressed up in school uniform ….. If you didn’t see it have a look here as it really was quite something and brings a smile to most people’s faces when the phrase is mentioned 🙂

So, yes…. 4:55 the alarm goes off, it is still dark, the birds are just waking up – noisily, it is very calming and apart from the birds, quite tranquil (unsurprisingly) and enables us to get to work for a 6am start. The hours have changed as it started to heat up last week, at 5am it is already 16/17 degrees rising to 30+ in the sun during the late afternoon, which when you are pruning the vines in the full sun it’s a bit much so we have switched to 6am – 1pm and it definitely caught up with me by the end of the week.

The last couple of weeks have just disappeared as our days have been full between work and chores. The week before last week gave us a fair bit of rain -although thankfully it was mostly overnight – finishing the week off with an amazing electric storm last Saturday, over the last week the temperature has risen but apparently it is set to change again tomorrow when the rain will start to fall again ….. Because we definitely need more rain down here……Not.

Work-wise we have now got into a routine and the work has been split between working the back breaking and knee creaking vineyards and the neck wrenching cherry trees …. Nothing a good run or a bit of Tabata hasn’t loosened up though.

We have expanded the cherry recipes to include Chocolate Fridge Cake (with fresh cherries rather than glacier) – apparently so good that the owner of the farm has made some this weekend – we have also been roasting the cherries in the oven thus removing some of the juice and find they go very well in porridge…..

Continuing our weirdness, we have now bought a French TV box so that we can watch French TV wherever we go ….. How we are going to decide which we watch when we are not in France or Spain I don’t know, but thankfully for now the French TV is going to show most of the Euro Cup so at least we don’t need to switch between French, Spanish and UK TV….. For now, at least.

It hasn’t all been work and food …. Well possibly mostly food to be fair, we have managed to explore a little further, taking advantage of the surprisingly nice weather last Sunday to walk up to Mercurol and then on a circular walk through the vineyards – beautiful.

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And today we cycled down the Rhone to Valence which is roughly 20km away before heading back to our favourite little chocolate shop to select some rather special chocolate for the next batch of brownies this week….. Possibly the most expensive batch we will make, but we did buy a kilo so it should last a while 🙂