Quitting the U.K.

I have recently changed the name of my site from ‘Copper Turns Artisan’ to ‘Paul the Europhile’. The reason for this change is my love Jill. She  inspired me to change the direction of my ramblings here from a diary that reflected on my transition from retirement to a new lifestyle, to a blog that outlines my reasons for leaving the UK and the impact that living in France and mainland Europe has on my emotional, physical and mental well-being.

As I sit here in our study in wintery Northamptonshire I am longing to be in France starting to update and develop our newly purchased French home with Jill. Our aim, within the next 2 years is to move to France full time and leave behind a country that has been my home for over 50 years. Why?

The reasons for leaving the U.K. are many. Some of it is about being able to live our dream of owning and running a small-holding. Finding space, tranquility and big skies. Meeting new people. Having new experiences. Some of it is about the slow collapse of the country that I once loved. Over the past 10 years I have seen seen successive governments dismantle, either deliberately or by incompetence, much of what I loved about the U.K.

They entered us into unlawful, destructive wars on the coattails of the USA. They fiddled their finances and expenses, whilst moaning about voter apathy. They disrespected the talent and commitment of those that worked in the public sector, through under-funding, unnecessary inspection regimes and for policing introduced a wasteful political system based on US models that had no evidence base of being successful.

To top it all David Cameron then rushed into a poorly conceived referendum on the U.K’s membership of the European Union, in order to try to lance a boil that had been festering in the Conservative party for over 40 years. How can you have a referendum that could potentially make such an enormous change to the UK on a simple 51% in favour of leaving equation? Surely 67% was the correct ‘leave target’ to enforce a such a fundamental change? To add to this monumental blunder the ‘Remain’ campaign was then run lazily. They repeatedly failed to highlight all the positives of being in Europe; peace, wealth, trade, human rights, cultural exchange, intellectual advancements and creating of a place in the World that would strive for the aforementioned.  Political ‘Remainers’ also failed to recognise the Leave campaigns’ appeal to those who had felt ignored by politicians in the past. Then the Leave campaign just LIED. Furthermore nobody explained the complexity of leaving. It truly was a Referen-DUM!

I voted to stay.

This vote was based on my love of the European people, the fact that we have had peace for 70 years and the other positives I have listed above. Whenever I have visited countries in Europe, for work or pleasure, I have found the people familiar, friendly, welcoming. I find the European mainland like England, but slightly different. I suppose the reason mainland Europe appeals to me as a place to live are a combination of these comforting similarities as well as the beautiful differences.

As a committed ‘Remainian’ I am angry. All that I read and hear about Brexit makes me incensed and agonised. But there is little I can do. I do not really know how to protest and I know we must move on. I am sensible enough to know we must secure our future as a country (however bad). Fatefully I now  cannot see the decision ever being reversed, even though the U.K. appears to be totally divided and is jumping off a cliff like a colony of lemmings.

On 8th December the cobbled-together minority Tory administration (I cannot bring myself to call it a ‘Government’), lead by the metronomic, once committed Remainer,  Theresa May brokered a deal to allow the next stage of exit negotiations. Fortunately this deal does appear to protect the rights of E.U. citizens living in the U.K, together-with U.K. citizens living, working and studying in Europe. It also leaves people protected by the European Court of Justice for the next decade. Thank goodness. I would not trust politicians and the British justice system to look after us!

So I need to rest my disturbed, concerned and angry brain. I too need to move on. France provides that opportunity. The U.K. is crowded, noisy, polluted, fast-paced, congested and badly let down by its politicians.

France has similar problems with its political elite but I view it as a country that has space, greenery, open roads, fresh air, big skies, a different culture and fewer people. Simply I believe it is a place where I can re-energise and re-boot myself. And I have a best friend and lover to share it with…….

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Saint Malo – Gateway to a new life

 

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Good news

The past month Jill and I have had two pieces of good news; our very close relative’s cancer treatment for Hodgkins Disease is working and we completed the purchase on our French home.

There are still 7 sessions of heavy duty chemotherapy to go, which will take us through to mid March 2018, but we appear to be winning the battle. We will be around to provide support for the rest of this fight.

The other news took place on 23rd November when we returned to France briefly to complete the house purchase that we had commenced in early September. The trip didn’t start well, with the roughest crossing of the English Channel that either of us have ever experienced. However the rest of the trip couldn’t have run smoother. Collecting our French bank account cards, signing documents at the notaires and then obtaining the keys to our new property. We found the property had been cleared of all the clutter that had been present (accumulated since 1947 according to the owner, Marcel) and it appeared to have been re-painted internally. The larger of the two houses is perfectly habitable. We unpacked and celebrated with some champagne provided by our Estate Agent Gwen.

The following day we spent two hours marking up all the keys for the property, meeting neighbours and our new post lady (Dominique). Later we were joined by Jill’s son and his partner. We toured the property with them on day 3 of our visit, discovering that is it a 1.5 km walk around our field – which we have named ‘Muttley’ after the hound in ‘Catch the Pigeon’ due to it’s shape. The 2 of them even persuaded us to successfully (after about 50 minutes of trying) start the 1950s German tractor that came with the property and take it for a spin around the garden.

We are deeply contented with our property and cannot wait to return…..

 

 

 

J’aime l’automne

This blog seems to have landed like a Zed Zeppelin….

Paul the Europhile

Whatever it is called across the world; Autumn, The Fall, L’automne I love it. The changes in the climate and nature’s colours, the unpredictable weather, from warm sunshine to frosts, are a feast on the senses. I love the events of this time of year; firework night, Hallowe’en and jam and chutney making. I struggle to rank the English seasons, but Autumn is definitely in my top four.

This Hallowe-en I was determined to top our efforts last year of carefully and with due consideration, frightening the trick or treaters with a costume, props (‘is that a body hanging from the upstairs window?’ – a trenchcoat on a hanger, back lit by an Iphone 5c on torch-flicker mode), sound effects and of course sweets presented by werewolf hands. It went very well, apart from one of the first caller’s mums saying ‘can you tone it down a bit?’ when one…

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J’aime l’automne

Whatever it is called across the world; Autumn, The Fall, L’automne I love it. The changes in the climate and nature’s colours, the unpredictable weather, from warm sunshine to frosts, are a feast on the senses. I love the events of this time of year; firework night, Hallowe’en and jam and chutney making. I struggle to rank the English seasons, but Autumn is definitely in my top four.

This Hallowe-en I was determined to top our efforts last year of carefully and with due consideration, frightening the trick or treaters with a costume, props (‘is that a body hanging from the upstairs window?’ – a trenchcoat on a hanger, back lit by an Iphone 5c on torch-flicker mode), sound effects and of course sweets presented by werewolf hands. It went very well, apart from one of the first caller’s mums saying ‘can you tone it down a bit?’ when one of a group of 12 kids burst into tears when I appeared. After this Jill got me to introduce each ‘event’ with a mega-phoned ‘Are you ready to be scared?’ Mind you that normally ended up with a challenging ‘I wasn’t scared’, or ‘that wasn’t very good!’ I was tricked myself when this lone, small and very young child, dressed as what looked to me like a witch knocked at the door. I went straight into safe-guarding children mode; ‘where is your mother?’ ‘Are you on your own?’ before I realised it was my own grand-daughter tricking me! Oh well there is always next year!

The firework display at our local village was also brilliant on a frosty November evening. Great bonfire, fireworks plus laughs and ‘oohs’ with friends and family, then a stonking chilli con carne back home in the warm. Perfect!

 

Jill and I are starting to put the ‘borrowed garden’ to bed, whilst harvesting the last of the fruit and vegetables and delivering the last of our vegetable boxes to family, friends and benefactors. We are now clearing the greenhouse and weeding all the beds. Due to our many commitments in the remainder of this year and into 2018, we are undecided if we are going to continue with this wonderful garden next year. We are therefore unable to plant onions and garlic for next year, as we would normally at this time of year. We have been busy making jams and chutneys for a local Christmas Tree Farm; marmalade, apricot, tomato chilli and strawberry jams, beetroot and orange chutney, and various tomato & vegetable chutneys (spicy and ‘normal’) too.

 

We have had it confirmed that the purchase of our French property has found it’s way successfully through the offering of the land to the local commune and the Department of Agriculture. Fortunately no one wants our land! This means that at the end of November we can complete on the purchase, take hold of the keys and start our French adventure. We have both feel like we are treading water at the moment, waiting for this project to fall into place. We both continue to learn French via phone and computer apps and programmes. I think I can read French much better than I speak it. However I do have this burning urge to use my newly acquired ‘skills’ on the French, but when the word for DIY/ hardware store is ‘quincaillerie” what can possibly go wrong?

Finally, as I continue to despair at what is happening in my country, I found some time to re-work the words of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (attached below), as (potentially) my last pot-shot at the craziness of Brexit (our doomed departure from the European Union). Hum the tune, read the words and either ‘thumbs-up’ or thumbs-down’ me!

Brexit Rhapsody

The Next Adventure

I have just read my last blog from the 26th June this year. I cannot believe where the summer has gone as I look out the window of our study at the strange autumnal half-light created by Storm Ophelia and the dust from the Sahara. What an amazing few months with both good and bad news. A very close family member has been diagnosed with Hodgkins disease so has just started chemotherapy and we are strongly supporting them through this process. We have continued to reap the benefits and hard work in the Borrowed Garden. We have holidayed in our camper-van all too briefly. We have decided to run down our baking business by the end of the year and have bought a house in France through a television programme! So just as you seem to have found a direction of travel in ones life things come along, both good and bad, causing you to change course.

I will not dwell on the family illness as it is all too personal to place within the social media network.

The Borrowed Garden continues to be a wonderful experience. We have produced vegetable and fruit boxes across sixteen weeks for the owners of the land, family and friends, plus ourselves. Jill and I have not bought vegetables or fruit from a shop since early June. It has continued to be hard work, but to fill up a vegetable box for yourself once or twice a week makes it all worthwhile. Neither Jill nor I have produced such successful cauliflowers, carrots and onions before. This victory, plus staples from our past like tomatoes, beans and potatoes being cropped in abundance has been very satisfying. We have had trouble with white fly on our brassicas, but by and large keep the insect parasites at bay.

As we now start to put the garden to bed for the year it has been a most rewarding twelve months and this experience has further fueled our desire to have land of our own one day soon.

We are now in the process of making jams and chutneys for sale in a local Christmas Tree Farm shop, loaves and rolls for the businesses we still supply and Jill continues to support a wedding business with a regular supply of focaccia and ciabatta breads. Our last hoorah for our produce this year was to join friends in the village (The Guilsborough Apple Corps – established March 2017) for a cider make using our apples and pears at our local pub.

Our commitment to the Borrowed Garden has meant that we could only go away in the camper-van for brief breaks from June to September. These trips took us to Leicestershire, the Peak District and Devon where the sun continued to shine on these couple of lucky campers. We both relaxed and also worried whether the garden would survive without us watering regularly (though Jill’s youngest son was on hand to water the greenhouse).

Now for that house in France story…….

Well back in February I sent an e-mail to a television company who were looking for volunteers to ‘be on a show’ about property hunting abroad. They made contact with us in May and a couple of auditions later we find ourselves in France with a presenter and film crew for five days of filming. They showed us 5 houses in Brittany and we actually fell in love with the last one and put in an offer, which was accepted. By the end of November we will know if we are the proud owners of a house with nearly 5 acres of land in the middle of the French countryside. It’ll need some renovating and updating but is perfectly habitable at the moment. We plan to start this French adventure in early 2018. We are therefore both accelerating our learning of French by various means; Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, CDs and books.  One of these devices says that I am 41% fluent. I AM NOT!

We re-visited the property in September to have a second viewing which confirmed what a great find it was and toured the area to get a fix on what our new part time home will be like. We fell even further in love with the place and now have ‘frequent flyer’ membership with one of the ferry companies. We return to France later this year.

One last comment….the dolls house hobby is coming along slowly but surely; roof nearly complete and the lighting half done but working…..

The Rhythm of Life

There is a song called ‘The Rhythm of Life’ from the musical ‘Guys & Dolls’ that I was in the chorus of many years ago.  It is a rather incongruous song, which does not fit into the musical in my opinion, but the chorus of it does seem to sum up what Jill and I are trying to achieve in this new adventure that we have been on since I retired from the police. I now believe that just recently we may have found the rhythm. The bakery business had rather been taking over our lives. Almost unintentionally, what had been an idea of a two day a week working model had become 3-4 days, plus all the admin that Jill had to do to keep accounts and orders up to date. Furthermore, much as we enjoyed opening the shop in our local pub, the financial rewards and required support from a regular body of customers was not emerging. Now if this was what we HAD to do to make ends meet we would have given the shop a much longer run, but we don’t have to! So after 13 weeks we jointly agreed to end this part of the business. Strangely our closure announcement on social media had nearly 500 hits, far greater than any previous post that we had placed on Twitter and Facebook trying to advertise the business. We do not have any regrets though; we still supply the pub with bread, plus a local deli and a wedding business. Jill also had this idea to start a weekly loaf club for some loyal customers. All of the aforementioned means that we only bake 1-2 days a week, do not have any wastage and have slowed down the pace of our life.

 

The other parts of our life are now starting to fit in rather than having to be squeezed in; family, ‘The Borrowed Garden’ and the camper-van.

The borrowed, walled garden now requires at least 2 half day visits a week, and regular quick trips (it’s only a 10 minute walk from our home) to water the plants. The garden has blossomed amazingly over the past 6 weeks. Tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and cucumbers are in large pots in the greenhouse. Potatoes are well and truly established in the ground, as are various beans (broad, runner, french, borlotti), sweetcorn, sprouts, lettuce, kale, kallets, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, onions , garlic, spring onions and radish. The work Jill has put in to move seedlings from smalls compost cells, to small pots to large pots is amazing, supported by me carrying loads of 75k compost bags and filling the pots with this and manure. The old Victorian greenhouse does look stunning , even if we do say so ourselves.

 

 

The challenge is now keeping the beds weed free and ensuring we water our produce regularly. Typically, we have had very little rain recently and we mainly water the garden itself by hand. We have had the odd failure or two. Borlotti beans do not seem to like the soil, some of the shallots have gone rotten and a session of weed killer spraying by the landowner’s gardener (to keep the garden’s paths clear) resulted in the loss of french beans, mint, other herbs and some sweet peas. That latter incident was a little soul destroying, but we recovered quickly and hopefully the newly planted seeds will catch up with the rest of the produce and add succession harvesting. We have so far held the natural bugs/pests at bay through a combination of water overflow piping (courtesy of B&Q) framework and second hand netting bought by Jill on-line from a farm in Scotland.

When the bakery business was at full tilt and we were working from 5am-midnight Jill and I would occasionally catch each other groaning. We never groan (other than when I bend over to weed!) in the walled garden, no matter how hard some of the work. We both love being outside and literally seeing the fruits and veg of our labours. On Monday mornings, come rain or shine there is no better place to take a well earned tea break, after a couple of hours of digging, planting, weeding etc, than in our ‘Borrowed Garden.’

In order to cope with the amount of produce we are starting to produce we have established a Vegetable box group in the village – 6 families, plus the garden’s owner & occasionally the gamekeeper/gardener of the estate. The first couple of weekly harvests have seen the boxes contain herbs, two varieties of lettuce, strawberries, homemade strawberry jam (what a bumper year for strawberries in both our gardens!), radishes and posy of flowers by Jill. So part of ‘the rhythm’ is that on Wednesdays we deliver veg/fruit boxes and on Thursdays/Fridays we deliver bread.

The Camper-vanning part of our life has seen us visit Worcester, Ypres (Belgium) and The Pembrokeshire coast near St Davids. On each camping trip we have had perfect weather (only one brief spell of rain in Worcester) and we are beginning to master the camper-van, the equipment required, car ferries and the campsites with their various rules and slopes.

 

We have had some lovely times with our 2 grandchildren, seen our sons and my dad (a two week stay here in Northamptonshire for him). We’ve been to a number of shows; Mamma Mia and The Northern Ballet’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. I have achieved an ambition of appearing on BBC National radio (very briefly) and we were gifted a free third-hand table tennis table for our courtyard. I lost our first and only game 19-21 – well I am carrying an elbow injury (too much digging!) and I haven’t played since 2008! Play is temporarily suspended as our Labrador caught and chewed up our only ping pong ball!

 

Where did April go?

2 things are undeniable; life is too short and time moves very quickly. I have no idea where April has gone and now here we are in mid-May. I think one of the reasons for this occurring in my life is the rhythm that Jill and I live our life at. Monday we work in the walled/borrowed garden. Tuesday is our Saturday (a day to chill and relax/DIY/jobs around the house). Wednesday is walled garden II, plus baking for the local pub. Thursday is the preparation day for the deli. Friday is the long (6am-12am) baking day. Saturday we bake and open our shop. Sunday we rest. Combine this with a monthly weekend or so away in the camper-van, plus catching up wth family and friends = time whizzes by.

The @borrowedgarden has progressed nicely over the past month. Jill has taken on the mammoth task of planting seeds and transplanting seedlings…..

whilst I have mainly focused on the creation of larger borders in line with Jill’s designs for the garden….I’m the brawn, she’s the brains!

IMG_1236We are now at a point where broad beans, borlotti beans, lettuce, brussel sprouts, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, kallets (a cross between kale and sprouts), onions, parsnips, carrots, spring onions and garlic are in the ground. The weeds are being beaten and we have harvested some inherited asparagus (they must be thanking us for some heavy duty weeding) and chard.

And so the organic fight with nature with it’s bugs, butterflies, blights and slugs has begun. We stripped a local DIY store of it’s white plumbing pipe work and bends, with a shop assistant saying to us simply “Gardening?” We obviously don’t look like plumbers! This pipework will be used to keep the aforementioned bugs and butterflies away through the cunning use of fleece, netting and hope! You can tell how busy we are as at least once a week Jill looks at me with pleading eyes and says the immortal words….” Can we go and get some more compost please!” I think we have already spent our planned budget for the year, but we are pleased with the progress we have made so far. There is still much to do with the compost beds needing rotating, the fruit garden weeding and more beds to be dug to accommodate more vegetables. I love going to the garden. The best bit (apart from the planting) is our elevensies tea-break with a cup of tea and a treat from our deli toasted on our camping stove in the potting shed. We sit back and admire our progress and watch the red kites soaring overhead – living the dream!

Meanwhile we continue to run the deli and try to keep our old cottage standing up and it’s own garden respectable looking. We have repaired 2 shed roofs (three if we include the work we did on one of our son’s shed), nearly finished painting the outside of the house (a project started last summer!) and had a lovely weekend in a camper-van visiting friends in Worcester.

The camper-van is fabulous and we are always learning new things about camping and normally come back from a trip needing to purchase a missing item or gadget that makes a camp site/camping easier to master. For example we now have a valuable ‘drive-away from awning’ attachment (am I really this dull?), which means we can use the camper-van more easily once we have pitched. We shall try this on our next trip.

In other news I continue to grieve about Brexit (I hate that term), get animated about a low 36% turn-out in the Local Elections and have no idea where to cast my vote in the June General Election. I have even taken to sending a long e-mail setting out my voting dilemma to all the candidates in my district to see if their reply can assist my voting choice. I await any response…..

Spring has sprung!

It is certainly true now that I have no idea where I found the time to work full time. Jill and I have such a beautifully busy life. We are very lucky. The past weekend saw us take a much needed rest from all our endeavours in our new Campervan, which we collected in mid February. We have named her ‘Summer’ due to the ‘ETE’ in her number plate translating to summer in French. She took us to Windermere, Lanarkshire in Scotland and North Yorkshire for some time on our own and to also visit old neighbours and my son, Jack. The sun shone on us throughout our trip. and driving many miles in the van was a surprising pleasure. Mind you we missed all the rush-hours!

This past month saw us get down and dirty in the Borrowed Garden (twitter @borrowedgarden). With spring fast approaching we bit the bullet and hired a turf lifter to create one new bed and extend two long narrow beds. To start with it was supremely hard work, until we released we were lifting up an old hidden pathway! We soon got into a rhythm, but it took Jill and I the best part of 8 hours to create our new beds. Having been lifted the turf had to be rolled, moved and stacked. We worked until the winter sun disappeared, but we were pleased with the results…..

We needed a further day to dig over all the new soil, plus an extra morning of adding manure to these new plots. The new beds enable us to plant potatoes, brassicas and root vegetables aplenty in the spring. Jill also started planting lettuce, broad bean, kalettes (which we love having for breakfast, with tomatoes on sourdough toast!) and pea seeds. All these she started to pot on later in the month.  Other tasks for the past few weeks included repairing the potting shed door, constant weeding, further pruning roses and fruit trees (lightly), transplanting a triffid like hop plant and buying loads of seedling compost to supply us for the next month or so. We also planted mushroom plugs into old logs in the hope of producing oyster and shiitake mushrooms in the autumn.

This busy month also saw us celebrate Jill’s birthday, have a romantic meal on Valentine’s Day at a local village pub and visit my dad down in West Sussex. We took the campervan to show him, but didn’t camp. However we did find a great campsite near Chertsey which we may use to break up future trips to the south coast. Much to our surprise Jill and I are now proud members of the Caravan and Camping Club; I have truly embraced middle-age. I will be joining Saga next! We have a trip a month in the van planned through until September. We have to plan our breaks otherwise we simply won’t find the time to go. It is not only the borrowed garden keeping us busy; Jill has re-modelled the Old Bakehouse Deli (www.oldbdeli.com). We now open 10am-2pm every Saturday morning in the village pub. This allows people to collect their orders and/or shop for our breads, pies and pastries.

It seems to be going very well, so we spend much of Thursday until early Saturday morning preparing food or baking. We wanted this new model to help the pub so persuaded the landlord to provide tea and coffees to compliment Jill’s £1 per slice cake. It is great to see the pub bar full on what was, previous to the shop opening, a very quiet Saturday morning. What with the shop, plus providing breads to the pub and a local delicatessen things are looking rosy for the business Jill runs. So much so she is now the sole director of a limited company; Old Bakehouse Deli Ltd. I remain her sole staff member; unpaid but in love with baking & her!

Our other main pastimes are walking the dogs and the occasional trip to the cinema or theatre (saw the hilarious The Play That Went Wrong). The dog walks have enabled me to experiment with photography. Some nice results, but much practice needed….

I have even found time to unpack the dolls (bake-)house model we purchased back in December but whether I ever find time to make it remains to be seen. A blog-story for another time perhaps.

The Borrowed Garden II

Well it has been a  while since I have written anything here. The main reason has been our trip to India. Three weeks in an amazing country, full of sights, sounds and atmospherics. I won’t dwell on it too long  here (you could write pages about the place); suffice to say Jill and I had a wonderful time visiting New Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Mumbai, Cochin, Kerala Backwaters and Kovalam.

 

We have now fallen back to earth as the blue skies have been replaced by grey ones with sub-zero drizzle. I am so glad we were absent for the majority of England’s  January. We have re-opened the Old Bakehouse Deli and will implement a new model, with a pop-up shop in the local pub, The Witch and Sow, from the end of February. Jill is exploring a couple of other outlets for our products too.

Since my last blog on 22nd November, we have made 10 visits to The Borrowed Garden. We are really pleased with the results, although there is still much work to do to be ready for the true planting and growing season ahead. A key thing will be to hire a turf lifter to further widen some beds and create 2 new ones. These new beds are key to allow effective crop rotation over the years. A job for early March I feel. The 2 of us have finished weeding the largest current vegetable plot and Jill planted shallots and garlic sets in this freshly turned earth.  All the cold frames have been weeded and at the beginning of December I added 29 wheel barrows of muck to the cold frames and asparagus beds. It is utterly soul destroying to know how much manure one has got to move, but I get my brain to pretend that it is some kind of healthy work-out rather than just moving muck!

Jill potted up many neglected bulbs and flowering plants at risk of frost damage.  We transplanted a rather sad looking crab apple tree and in the new year staked three fruit trees that were failing to achieve the vertical!  The second and third weeks of December saw us use our newly purchased tripod ladder to prune all the fruit trees in the garden, esplanading some of them. The heavy pruning produced pleasing results and we feel that the apple, pear and cherry trees were all saying ‘thank you’ by the time we had finished.

 

We widened the two other narrow and long vegetable beds, started to use our camping gas cooker for tea, toasted tea cakes and bacon sandwiches and at the beginning of February began to turn the sods in neglected compost heaps. We see this as another work-out kind of job. Rose bushes were pruned and potatoes placed in empty egg boxes to start their chitting process. Spring awaits us!

2017 looks full of promise with the walled garden, collecting our new Campervan in mid February and hopefully nailing our deli/bakery model…….

The Borrowed Garden

As the title suggests Jill and I have literally borrowed a garden! In the early summer of this year an offer was made to us to take on a half acre walled garden belonging to a couple who live in our village. With me retiring from the police it was an offer too good to refuse. The offer is non-conditional other than ‘a share in some of your produce would be most welcome.’ So on 1st November 2016 the garden became ours to ‘borrow’ for as long as we wish (with three months notice either-way). Our plan is to cultivate as much as we can manage within our lifestyle plan (deli, travel, family etc etc). The first step is to reclaim much of the weed infested borders…..

So armed with wheel barrow, fork, spade, rake, trowels and will-power we journey to the garden twice a week. We have so far weeded the herb border, moved lavender plants, lifted cosmos and dahlias, cut back overgrown jerusalem artichoke and crocosmia, nearly finished weeding the largest vegetable patch, weeded two further beds and a rhubarb bed in our first 6 visits.

Jill has also done sterling work on the overgrown asparagus border which will hopefully provide its first edible shoots next year. During one rainy Monday morning we also sorted out a large potting shed positioned at the rear of the greenhouse.

There is much work still to do; prune fruit trees, finish vegetable border, weed flower garden and further tidy the large greenhouse (of which we have permission to use half). Once done we can start to plant up the borders with our seed and other sundry plant/flower/vegetable purchases, based on Jill’s plans. We are contemplating blogging in detail all that we do in the garden, but are not sure of whether we will have the time.

The walled garden certainly helps us to insulate ourselves from the weirdness of the world at the moment. For the second time this year Jill and I woke in the early hours to witness frightening/sad news; this time the sight of Donald Trump winning the race for President in the USA. Another addition to my ‘things to do list’ might be to build a nuclear shelter!

Away from the walled garden we successfully winterised our own garden and continued to work on Rob and Claire’s new home and its neglected garden. We have been devoting  half a day each week to this task and it is amazing how much you can achieve in such a short timescale. We also helped create a new doorway in one of the future bedrooms of the house. This gave us a real sense of achievement and made Jill and I wonder if we could take on a refurbishment project of our own.

All this activity is a clear indicator that Jill’s wrist is well on the road to recovery. We are gradually re-opening the deli and it has been rewarding to see old customers return; we really love the interaction with them. We are about to embark on a busy period for the deli with us undertaking the catering for a sell-out amateur dramatic production in the village (over 200 attendees over three nights), ensuring the making and delivery of our jam and pickle products for the Welford Christmas Tree Farm and having a presence at the Guilsbourgh Christmas Fair on 3rd December. Jill has continued to teach me how different breads are made including spelt loaves. That being said it is re-assuring to have her assuming the lead role again and putting the deli back into her safer hands.

 

Earlier in the month we had a wonderful time with two generations of our family. It was one of the few times we have managed to get my son Jack and his girlfriend together with Jill’s sons Rob and Chris (plus granddaughter Arabella) and their partners. We all headed for the amazing Hollowell village fireworks (still only £1 entry fee).

 

The bonfire, fireworks and beer were perfect on a chilly and star-ridden evening……then all back to ours for burgers, sausages, games and laughter.

In other news semi-retirement has allowed me to continue to neglect the length of my limited hair supply  and I have now stopped wearing contact lenses for the first time in over twenty years. A sign of the ageing process as it’s bi-focals for me from now on. It is amazing how much I have been missing whilst clinging onto the contact lenses. I can see close up and distances so clearly now and everything looks so much brighter (with both my vision and lifestyle!). With aid of the new glasses I continue to try to learn French with @Duolingo which is now rating my fluently at 4% after 17 weeks!! Retirement has also allowed us to finish the majority of our Christmas shopping via a brilliant day out in Birmingham (good old John Lewis!) and I have resumed my home-made wine escapades.

I have been making wine on and off for 3 years with some mixed results. My apple wine last year was awful (good for cooking though!) – tasting like an insipid cider. My pear wine is better (although only I will drink it!) – quite dry and very clear. My elderberry and runner bean (yes ‘runner-bean’!!) however, is a truly knock-out red wine, so I have repeated the make this autumn. With a bit of luck there will be 9 bottles of this excellent concoction available for Christmas consumption. I have also tried to reduce our glut of old home made jams by making Jam wine…..Yes JAM wine……I know it doesn’t sound too appetising and we will have to wait six months to see what this one turns out like (I have a feeling that more cooking wine is currently fermenting!!).