January 2009

Saturday morning was a bit full-on – and not just because we had to get ready for Her Outdoors’ and the Daughter’s joint birthday party.

As I walked down the drive to feed the animals in the morning, I thought I could see a huge river coming out of the woods on the far side of the land, where a river should not be. Fortunately, it was just a huge river coming out of another part of the land, where it shouldn’t be but sometimes is.

I walked round the caravan at the bottom of the drive to find the awning in tatters, metal poles bent this way and that, plastics dustbins with animal feed open to the rain, many months of accumulated bits and pieces in dire need of clearing up.

Which I would have done straight away, if I didn’t need to check on the polytunnel. The plastic was flapping around in what can also be described as a stiff breeze. Two of the horizontal poles were bent (they’re made from galvanised steel – I think – anyway, they’re bloody heavy). And there were a number of bits and pieces that needed rescuing.

Which I would have done straight away, if I didn’t need to feed the animals. As I walked towards Pepito with some hay, the electric fence blew over (it’s all about timing). The plastic spacers (have I told you how much I hate plastic?) sheered off at the base, becoming landfill for the next 2,000 years. Fortunately, the hay distracted Pepito long enough for me to get some metal spacers from the chicken run, where I found the small chicken house resting on its back, having cast off its roof.

Only Arc One – the pig house – was left unscathed.

I went steadily to and fro, filling the caravan with animal food, tools, rubbish, pieces and bits. Dividing my time between the awning (which I dismantled and then ripped down, to discover I have a new and very useful tarpaulin – huzzah) and the polytunnel (ever tried to handle a 10 x 6 metre piece of plastic in a gale?) when – BANG, CRASH, WALLOW – I looked over to see the pig-house roof cartwheeling down the field, popping a rivet as it went.

At this point I swore. You know the word. I shan’t repeat it here.

Eventually, wooden posts were securing the horse field, rocks had been moved to help the river run through, the caravan was full of stuff, the plastic was stashed, the chicken house righted and I went home for lunch. Where I found we had no electricity and Her Outdoors had no mobile phone reception.

Needful to say, the party was blissful. The house was lit by dozens of candles. The only sound was next door’s generator. And a hardy group of English mafia (not everyone made it, for reasons mentioned above) stood around eating our national dish – Indian.

People in both countries call crisps “chips”.

Although in France, this is pronounced “sheep”.

I’ve probably said it before, but this lifestyle teaches you a lot about the origins of English – words (like the scared meaning of ‘chicken’) and expressions (like ‘eats like a pig’).

The other day, I came across another one.

Her Outdoors was making lard (a process that takes a helluvalongtime, I can tell you), which was used to preserve food in Days Gone By. You (or someone like you) would put food in a suitable container, cover it with lard to keep out the air and store it in the… pantry.

I took a camera down to the vallee this morning.

Everything seemed to be all white.

On Boxing Day (December 26th, for non-British types), great excitement followed the appearance of fluffy white precipitation delicately descending from the heavens.

Within seconds, we were staring through the living room window like children (which was, admittedly, easier for the children), exclaiming with delight.

At first, the flakes weren’t big enough to settle. Then they were. Joy and excitement grew as the thin layer of snow on the ground became slightly thicker. And thicker still.

I had a flashback to a hotel meeting room in Minneapolis, January 1997. I was looking across a concept-strewn table, through the window at the blizzard that had just started. ‘Hey look! It’s snowing!’ I exclaimed (which is like saying: ‘What a beautiful day!’ in San Diego). Everyone else looked out and said: ‘Oh, shoot/Jeez.’ (You’ve seen Fargo. It really is like that.)

Which is probably why: ‘Oh Ho – it’s snowing!’ almost instantly became: ‘Oh No – it’s snowing!’

We live in the middle of nowhere, remember? We drive an ordinary car with ordinary tyres. In an area not known for gritters and snowploughs. With several steep roads between us and the animals.

The animals! Frozen rain means frozen hosepipes!

My morning trip to the land confirmed my fears. The chickens were low. The pigs were out. And the horse was almost on empty. The taps were frozen solid and I had almost nothing in reserve. (I have to say, the land looked absolutely beautiful. I must make a toboggan run for the same time next year.)

My complete lack of preparation meant fetching water by car (all the while willing the thermometer to swing back and stay well above freezing), then wheelbarrowing it down the long zig-zag path from the road and across the field. Several times. And a promise not to get caught short like this again.

PS Happy New Year. We’re looking forward to one of the hardest years of our lives, physically. In the first half, we have to build six yurt platforms and covers of between 12 and 26 feet, a 50-metre (yard) access road for the emergency services, toilet and shower facilities, a reception-cum-office-cum-kitchen, drainage and various other things. And all we seem to have time for at the moment is looking after the animals and the children. More on this, later.