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What Motivated you to become who you are?

28 Apr

My first motivation came when I was about seven years old. I’d had to wear glasses since I was five for a squint and had many visits to the eye hospital to try to rectify it. But it was decided an operation was necessary. It was after the operation when they took the bandages off that I saw the nursing sister with her pretty frilly hat on. I said “I want one of those hats.” That was my motivation to become a nurse.

St John Ambulance Cadet

In order to achieve this I took several steps to prepare myself. The first was to join St John Ambulance as a cadet when I was fourteen. This is when I learnt first aid and studied for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and then met him when I was chosen to be in a guard of honour for him. He was so friendly and relaxed talking to us young people. I think it was part of the award scheme that encouraged me to assist in a care home, (the Philip Godley Lodge in Didsbury, Manchester – which I think is still open) on Saturdays. In the 1960’s we we allowed to take a Saturday job from the age of 14 years. Many young people delivered newspapers in the towns and cities.

QARANC Uniform

I wanted to start my nursing career as soon as possible but could not start until I reached 16 years as a cadet nurse in a hospital. So when I left school at 15, I went to work as a shop assistant at Boots the chemist in the hope that this would teach me how to deal with members of the public. It did and I enjoyed it but started work as a cadet nurse as soon as I reached 16. My uniform was yellow and my objective was to wear a blue uniform signifying seniority. Time seems so slow when you’re a teenager so when many of my friends joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Corps, QARNNC, I decided to join with them. However having succeeded in being accepted to join the navy I was told there was a two year waiting list. I was too impatient and joined the QARANC (the army) instead. (They wore frilly hats too). I was accepted providing I could gain 7 lbs in weight. I was too thin! I did and was sworn in to join at age 17 and a half. I learnt to march, salute and the history of the QARANC. This was basic training and nothing to do with nursing! After completing nine weeks of this I was told that I’d have to do another nine weeks because my birthday was the day after the end of the training and I wouldn’t have reached my eighteenth birthday. I gave up and left at this point. I realised that maybe this life was too regimented for me.

My room

In the sixties and seventies there were three levels of nurses; state registered, state enrolled and auxiliaries. The state registered or SRN was able to progress to become a sister or matron and in training were called student nurses but a state enrolled nurse, SEN stayed permanently at that level and while in training was called a pupil nurse. She (generally females) was a practical nurse whereas the SRN did the drug and doctors’ rounds and management duties. The auxiliary was completely untrained in nursing duties and helped with cleaning and feeding mostly. I think you can guess which training I applied for next. I became a student nurse at Paddington General hospital in London. But this was not plain sailing either. You needed, I think it was three O levels (school qualifications) for SRN training but I left school before taking the exams. The alternative was to sit an entrance exam which was more of an intelligence test. With my results I was able to enter SRN training. In that era you weren’t classified as adult until you reached 21 so you had to live in the nurses’ home for the first year. It was a three year course whereas the SEN was a two year course.

Student Nurses

Remember, I was motivated by a frilly hat. Only nursing sisters wore the frilly hats so I had some work to do. I also liked the blue uniform and when I was a cadet the uniform was yellow but the students wore blue so I was looking forward to wearing a pale blue colour. This was not to be, because each hospital chose what colour they wanted for nurses in training and the colour for student nurses at Paddington General hospital was ….. yellow!

Eventually after transferring training to Manchester and five years later I took my final exams. Passed the practical exam but failed the written. Retook the written exam but failed again so I had to decide if I wanted to retake it for the third and final time or go and do something else. So I went off to do something else with the intention of returning to retake the exam when I felt more confident. However this was not possible because I had completed my training but I was not qualified as an SRN so the matron told me I could not return. Not to be defeated I contacted the General Nursing Council who oversaw all nurses and asked what could I do. There were two choices; to work as an auxiliary or enrol as a State Enrolled Nurse (SEN) as I had passed the practical exam, and retake the exam as an external candidate. So after becoming a SEN and working for six months in Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester I resat and passed the written exam by studying by myself.

My blue uniform

At last I was able to wear a blue uniform! (SENs wore green). I was offered a post as sister while working in the emergency department but declined it because I felt I didn’t have enough experience. After completing a specialist course on emergency nursing at Stockport Infirmary I accepted my first post as a nursing sister. It was around this time that hats were no longer worn by nurses!!

Life in Montolieu

30 Jan

We’re just beginning our ninth year in Montolieu. It feels like we’ve always lived here and yet it doesn’t seem possible that eight years have passed since we left the UK. Life here has been and continues to be interesting although now it’s a little quiet with COVID and not so much happening except through the internet. Let me introduce you to our village.

It’s a small rural village on the tourist trail. Consequently it’s very quiet in winter but very busy in the summer. It’s in the department of the Aude and boasts many attractions. We have thousands of visitors from across the world and many nationalities have settled here. The village dates back to the twelfth century and is included in the history of the Cathars. In fact the region now focuses its tourism on Cathar country. The earliest evidence of its age that I’ve seen in the village are the dates which are etched on some of the houses, 1700 is the oldest. It was a walled village and some of the walls still exist but I don’t know how far back it dates. The houses on les Ramparts have very interesting gardens which are built on several levels from the river Alzeau up to where the old wall used to be. On the other side of the village the houses rise up from the river Dure with terraces for their gardens.

We live in the Old Tannery which is situated just outside the wall next to the river Dure. Ours was one of five mills around this village and was used for preparing the leather for making leather goods. Other mills, as I understand from locals who used to work here, were for making the clothes. The village was surrounded by not only a wall but two rivers either side of the hill, the Dure and the Alzeau. This made it a secure village in medieval times. There is still a paper mill further up the Black Mountain which still produces paper 📝 and is open to the public.

Today it is called the village of books. There are 18 bookshops and 29 art galleries and artist workshops including a large old mill which has been converted into an exhibition centre and currently houses a collection called the Cerés Franco Museum and there is a museum with exhibits of printing machines and other items which relate to the area. Our church is a National Monument in the centre of the village. There are around 850 inhabitants of 28 different nationalities who live here all year round and we have gîtes, hôtels and B&Bs and five restaurants and cafes.

Alas we have lost one our restaurants, les Ange au Plafond during the COVID-19 crisis. We also have two food shops now. Our well established mini supermarket which is run by Nelly and was run by her mother and father before her and a small shop of local products which opened last year during the crisis called l’Abeille noire.

We are so lucky to have two automatic food dispensers in the village also. One selling organic vegetables from a local farm and the second local goods. This one is sited with our farm shop which opens every Monday and Thursday evening. Unfortunately all the shops have had to change their hours at the moment due to the curfew which means we have be be in our homes by six o’clock until six in the morning. However most French people buy their vegetables at the local markets and there are markets on different days in all the surrounding villages. Our wine merchant Adrian is open almost everyday and is well known and respected by the French for his knowledge and choice of wines from the region. The post office is run by our town hall and is open every weekday morning. Unfortunately there’s still two things missing from our village, a cash dispenser, which means we have to drive up to Saissac up the mountain or down to Carcassonne and a boulangerie as ours closed down a few years ago and we haven’t found a new baker yet to take it on.

The walled city of Carcassonne

Our health care needs are well provided for with a pharmacy, two doctors (a third one starting in June), two physiotherapists, one podologue, one speech therapist, two osteopaths, one naturopath and other therapists. We also have two schools and a care home which is a convent for retired nuns and is now open to members of the village. Before Covid-19 the children at our schools used to be able to have their lunch in the convent in their refectory. But the convent has been closed to visitors during the crisis. So the children now have their lunch in the village hall where the cooked meals are brought in for them. We are also well catered for with hospitals with two in Carcassonne, three in Toulouse, one in Narbonne and one in Perpignan.

Whichever direction we look there are places of interest for everyone. Up the Black mountain there are lakes and rivers and forests and the incredible Rigole which feeds water from the reservoirs into the Canal du Midi which winds across the plain between the Black mountain and the Pyrenees and stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Or we can go south to the Pyrenees and across to Spain or Andorra. If we go west there are the cities of Toulouse or slightly further north are Castres and Albi or the Atlantic coast. Going east we can visit the Mediterranean or the Camargue and a little further on to Narbonne, Montpellier and Marseille and onto Cannes and eventually into Italy.

Whatever your interests we can provide for most of your wishes from mountain climbing and skiing to sailing, swimming and parasailing 🪂 in the Mediterranean or hill walking in the National forests or visiting the huge caves with stalagmites and stalactites. There is a flying school at Carcassonne airport and a go kart circuit. From pony trekking to walking with llamas or water skiing on a lake. Many cyclists love the challenge of the routes which were taken a few years ago by the Tour de France up through St Denis. A route which is also favoured by motorcyclists along its winding roads up through the forests and down into the valleys.

Not forgetting the castles and chateaux of which there are numerous which you cannot get to without passing vineyards and olive groves or during July and August huge fields of sunflowers 🌻. A feast to the senses as well as great food. I almost forgot to mention that as in most villages we have a group of regular pétanque players who welcome visitors to join in. Who wouldn’t want to live here?!

A different kind of life continues

24 Nov

With the inability to travel we’ve found different ways to spend our time and perhaps got more done at home this year. Our only trip this year after confinement had been relaxed was to the Camargue. We saw the famous white horses and bulls and parts of France we’d not seen before. Not only is the Camargue famous for its horses and bulls but for the mosquitoes also. Unfortunately I get a strong allergic reaction to these bites and finishes the trip with 27 swollen bites all over my body. But it was worth it to see the animals and countryside.

We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful and rural area of France and even during confinement I was able to go out walking in the countryside with the dogs within a one kilometre radius. We are surrounded by woods and walks with rivers and valleys. On a clear morning we can even see the snow white tops of the Pyrénées from our road.

With high temperatures and lots of sunshine this year has been very good for grapes and sunflowers which surround our village. But it has also caused a lot of damage to trees around the area and many are now dead or dying and will need pruning this winter to prevent them falling onto the road.

My bees have also had a great year producing honey. In the spring I put on 2 extra floors onto the hive as they had already filled the nursery. By September both these extra floors were also full with honey. I restrict the queen to the nursery on the lower level with a queen excluder. This allows the worker bees through to store the honey but the queen is too big to get through. So she is able to continue to lays eggs but I’m able to harvest the honey without taking any babies. All I had to do was take away the top two floors leaving them with the full bottom level for the winter. We managed to extract enough honey to fill 50 jars. It tastes delicious. Thank you bees 🐝.

After confinement was relaxed I was able to recommence the English class in Montolieu so we decided to have a lesson in the garden. But the class in Carcassonne could not start again as they were held in the foyer which was closed for a longer period. But we restarts both in September but with many restrictions in place to ensure our safety. (Can we insert my avatar with my mask on here.)

Meanwhile in the UK aunt Jane died in her own home having survived COVID at the grand age of 107. What an interesting life she had.

Now we’re going to have to buy eggs for the first time in a long time as our rescue hens have finally stopped laying. They still try escaping occasionally though!

Living in the countryside it’s inevitable that we sometimes have little visitors. But with friendly traps I’ve managed to catch a whole family and relocate them further out in the countryside.

We’ve also had a few volunteers staying in the little house to help us with building and garden work thanks to Louise taking over coordinating them. So I’ve been free to do other things and not have close contact with them. The big garden is now recovering well after the flood 2 years ago and two of our seven terraces have been restructured and concrete repaired where necessary.

I had a painting 🧑‍🎨 lesson in February just before confinement so I’ve now set up my office in the garden as an artist studio.

Also this year I took Socks for some dog training sessions. He has improved but is still very active and loves to chase and hunt.

Ramblings of an amateur naturalist

19 Nov

Have you ever thought about where creative people get their ideas from? Or how some people are very creative and others totally logical? Have you considered that possibly both these seemingly opposite types find their resources in nature?

Nature is a balance between animals and plants great and small. We humans take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide but plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Moths are food for bats 🦇 and their caterpillars are food for birds 🐦. Flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees 🐝, wasps and bats. Oak trees are home to thousands of creatures. The oak and ash provide food for for caterpillars 🐛 in the spring which in turn are food for blue tits. Each animal predates on others and is predated on by yet others bigger than themselves. All creatures and plants 🪴 have their role to play in the food chain and the cycle of life.

In the current climate of a global pandemic humans are being predated on by microscopic organisms but we are finding that being shut away, confined or locked away from others causes many of us emotional strain, anxiety, stress or depression. One of the recommendations to overcome these feelings is to get out into nature. You may be asking yourself ‘how does this help?’ If we think about it humans (generally speaking) are social animals jus like honeybees. Each has it’s role to play within the society in which it lives. Seen at a macro level, humans could be seen as a well coordinated complete organism but at a micro level as individuals. When we look at a tree 🌳 we think of it as an individual but if we were able to look underground we would see that it is connected to many other trees 🌲 and whatever affects one tree will affect many others connected to it by their roots. Old trees die off and make room for young saplings to grow and flourish.

To understand where creativity connects with nature we need to use all our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Take sight. Are all trees the same shape or colour? Are all the branches symmetrical? Are the leaves the same shape and size? How many different shapes and colours can you count? Study the bark. Does it grow vertically or horizontally? Is it dark or light? Is it smooth or highly fissured?

Sounds are all around us whether we live in a city or the countryside. The sounds of musical instruments 🎺 are copied from the sounds of nature. The wind blowing through the leaves 🍃 sounds very similar to the sound of the river flowing across the rocks or even the sound of traffic on the distant motorway. The ability to hear protects us from danger and allows us to connect with others.

Smell is important as it’s a signal to all animals to tell us where there is a source of food or if it’s safe to eat 🍄. Taste is an extension of the sense of smell and allows us to differentiate between sweet, sour, bitter, salt and savoury. Dogs, for example, see the world through their sense of smell and can be very useful in sniffing out diseases or drugs.

Touch is extremely important to some people (especially small children). 🤱It is part of the grooming process in many primates and helps to maintain group cohesion. This causes some people problems because they cannot touch for fear of spreading a deadly infection during the pandemic.

So simply a change of scenery, walking amongst nature helps with all our senses but most importantly the act of walking or exercising helps to increase blood supply to all our organs, to take away toxins and to stimulate serotonin and endorphins which help to balance the functions of our bodies and produce a sense of happiness.

If you are more analytical than creative being amongst nature may not appeal to you. However nature is based on chemical and numeric formula. 🔣 So looking at a tree you can use your knowledge of chemistry and physics to analyse how it gets it’s nutrients from the ground into the uppermost branches and leaves. Or you can see the different colours of the leaves and analyse what chemical compositions are involved in the changes of colour in the autumn 🍂. Or you can watch how the birds land on the thin branches and work out why they don’t break or how strong winds do not break them. Some animals are able to change their colour according to the background they are resting on 🦑 How do they do that? Others like bats use echolocation to locate their food and eat on the wing. How does this work? How do naturalists count the number of bees in a swarm or bats coming out of a cave? Could you produce a hexagonal shape 🛑 connected to hundreds of others and sloping down in the same direction to stop the honey 🍯 from falling out? How many bees 🐝 did I have that produced 30 litres of honey in six months?

We are talking here about biodiversity which is important to survival. If we were all clones of each other and all trees were exactly the same wouldn’t life be very boring? The same applies to people. 🧕🏼👳🏾‍♀️🧑‍🎤👨🏿‍🦳 We need that diversity to keep a balance across the earth 🌏. We are all part of it and need each other whether we recognise it or not. Eradicating anything or anyone we don’t understand demonstrates a fear which is unnecessary. What is needed now more than ever is understanding and compassion for ourselves and others and for the earth on which we rely. We need to support everyone including ourselves.

Keeping Life in Perspective

6 Nov

Being in confinement (or lockdown as it’s known as in the UK) has made me think about life in ways I haven’t considered before.

I always try to look on the bright side of life and spread happiness where I can. Most of the time this has been achieved by my actions helping people from all walks of life. And by thinking what have I learnt from this negative experience. At the same time I know I can be critical and sometimes appear negative but I consider myself a realist and not a dreamer. By this, I mean that I consider what I would like to happen and then try to look further into the future to see if it is possible. The danger of this type of thinking is that you never try anything because you talk yourself into thinking it’s not possible. I think I overcame this way back in my life because I have tried many different things. But I often put off doing things longer than necessary.

As I grow older I’m beginning to realise that we make our decisions according to our perception of the time we have available. When we are young we think we have a lifetime ahead of us. As we get older we begin to think time is too short. That got me to thinking about people who are incarcerated for whatever reason or people who are locked inside themselves (who may be described as being autistic) or people who are disabled and unable to get about by themselves or the elderly who for their own safety have to stay away from others during the COVID pandemic and how they might feel about time. I am sure that many of us feel bored and frustrated when our freedom is restricted.

The question is how we deal with boredom. Do we allow our frustrations to boil over into anger and take out our frustrations on the people closest to us by shouting, arguing or even physical abuse or do we turn it inside and decide it’s easier not to talk to anyone but ourselves? When this happens most of our thoughts are critical and blaming and it becomes a vicious cycle. So how do you deal with boredom and frustration?

I feel grateful that I live where I do but it doesn’t stop me from being bored or frustrated at times. Hence, this blog. I realise I can walk into the garden or simply look out of the window at the river or the forest to marvel at nature or I can take the dogs for short walks. So what stops me? It’s too hot or too cold or windy outside or my joints and muscles are causing me some discomfort. I’m enjoying being in the warmth of my home. So why do I feel bored? I can read and have hundreds of books to choose from but I’ve been reading for weeks now and I’m looking for something different. I can sit and listen to music or an audiobook or talk to friends on the phone or even see them, even from miles away with all the technology available to us today. So why do I feel bored? I believe it’s the feeling of having our freedom taken away from us and our routines changed by someone else. There’s something unsettling about not being able to do what we want to do when we want to or go where we want. It’s not simple dealing with boredom and frustration, is it!?

It helps me to think about the people I mentioned earlier and how much luckier I am than them. I have a tendency to think too much and things get out of proportion. So my message to myself is to go and do something different from what I’m doing at the moment within the constraints that I have. Perhaps connecting with someone else who’s in a more difficult situation than I am will help me feel more satisfied.

How lives have changed

12 Jun

This year has been very different for almost everyone around the world. Life as we knew it became untenable. It was necessary to change the way we live our everyday lives to protect ourselves and those around us from a very virulent virus which has killed so many across the globe.

Richard and I are both OK although Richard’s rheumatoid arthritis is flaring up frequently, and he has tendinitis in his wrist. These problems make it difficult for him to perform some simple tasks sometimes. I have had a painful knee which has reduced my walking, as well as the regulations to protect us from COVID-19. With a new puppy, it is necessary to give the dogs as much exercise as possible so Louise has helped by taking them out on long walks in the countryside.

We are in advance of the UK inasmuch as we have been released from confinement in stages and in different parts of France. Our region was one of the first to be able to relax restrictions due to the lower mortality rate. Our restaurants and cafés were allowed to open again two weeks ago but have very strict rules to follow. Such as the person cooking the food is not allowed to come in contact with the customers and the use of credit and debit cards and contactless are strongly encouraged. Everyone must wear a mask and only remove it while eating. Our distance is one metre between people and all shops are marked out with a one-way flow and one-metre markers at all tills.

Many people are still working from home where they can and only last week have we been allowed to meet in small groups in private homes. So we had our first English class last week for Montolieu in our flat. Some schools are open & others aren’t. The library in the village is closed but many of the bookshops are now open. Visitors are still not allowed inside our care home in the village. There are many more rules which are being monitored by the police and gendarmes and the majority of people are following them. Before we were released we were allowed to go out singly or with the person we live with for food shopping, for medical visits or for exercise within one kilometre or for work for essential workers only, and we had to complete a self-certification stating what we do at what date and time we left and for a maximum of one hour.

Some of our families have been ill and had to visit the hospital. My cousin’s husband died of cancer as he was my cousin’s carer, and she is very susceptible to infection life is very difficult for her and her family. So it was difficult with a funeral to cope with. One of my sisters-in-law had a coronary last week & had to have stents put in. She’s now home in confinement but will have to return to the hospital for another stent later. Richard’s cousin’s wife had appendicitis and had to go into hospital for an operation. She then tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be confined separately from her husband at home. During the crisis, my niece had her second child and grandma and grandad had to wait to go and meet him. A friend of ours also had her first baby born in this period.

We were lucky here to have 2 volunteers staying with us before the lockdown, and they had to stay with us longer than expected, so we managed to get a lot more tasks done. They have both left now, so I can relax a bit.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s so happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Now confinement has ended here (although sports and other social functions are still not allowed) many businesses are reopening. One such business is Le Boat on the Canal du MIDI and around other parts of France. This has had a direct impact on our lives as Richard has been offered a job with them as an assistant customer service helpline operator for the whole of France. He started working this week and will be working 30 hours a week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday at home taking emergency calls from customers. He will also work at the canal basin at Castelnaudary on Friday mornings. He’s very happy as it fulfils many of his passions, engineering, boats, water and helping people.

Also, this week my Mazda car passed its MOT which we thought maybe a problem as it is an old car but I love it because it’s so flexible and can be used for towing the trailer and taking passengers and dogs which are things we do frequently here.

I’ve also had success with my bees and hope I’ll be able to take some honey from them this year. I need to learn how to use a centrifuge first which I can hire from our local Apicop which is an association of beekeepers which sells all the equipment necessary and gives advice on the management of hives.

A New Venture

6 Oct

Since we moved to France we have learnt new skills, a new language and a different way of life. Probably one of the biggest and most difficult transitions being learning to be retired. Fortunately we moved to a place which requires a lot of labour, creativity and interpersonal skills while living and working in an international, frequently changing community. Besides learning French (Richard has had a shorter journey than me with this), we’ve also learnt about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I prefer to call it compassionate communication as this better describes what it is about. This is also a long journey and a transition because it questions our habits and thought processes. I’m not about to go into describing this in any detail as this is not the purpose of this blog but necessary to understand why we are doing what we are doing.

During this journey Richard continued to improve his French by having weekly Skype calls with his teacher Pam Bel. As I started from a much lower level, I used the internet and a program called Memrise. I’m also teaching English to the French in Montolieu and in Carcassonne.  We’ve both attended several workshops in NVC. Recently Pam decided to retire after having written several short books on France and the French and asked Richard if he would like to sell off her stock of books at much reduced prices.

Meanwhile during this year’s European Intensive Course (EIC) in NVC, one of the trainers Liv Larsson brought several of her NVC books with her to sell during the course. These books are written in English and she asked me if I would like to help her to sell them during the 10 day course. I sold most of her stock. The course is in English due to the wide variety of nationalities present and uses interpreters to translate into French.

As many of the NVC trainers have written books it was decided to begin promoting NVC books in French on the NVC Peace Factory website. So we were also given a stock of NVC books in French, quite a few of which we sold during the course.  We live in the village of Montolieu, which is known as the village of books, so can you guess what our new venture might be?

Yes, we are going to sell books through the internet!!  At present we have stocks of very useful English books about living in or visiting France and books in French about NVC. We also have books in German which are currently being translated into English and French.

As this blog is written in English we are promoting the books on France and the French first. We think they will appeal to people who have homes in France or travel to France frequently for holidays or work or for students learning French or even the teachers who teach French to English speakers.

We have read many of them and will finish reading them all during our stay in the UK and have found them to be very readable and interesting even though we live in France and have done so now for five and a half years.

Here is a link to the synopsis of each book.

Volunteering in 2017

23 Jan

The Peace Factory is now the name of the training centre for Nonviolent Communication. For volunteering we are now using the name The Old Tannery and we have a separate website and a new look. (Please see photos on website of volunteers in action.)

old-tannery-logo_clipped_rev_3

Without the help of all our friends from across the world we would not have progressed so far in renovating the old factory buildings and gardens. So we would like to thank you all. We hope we have not missed anyone and hope that our translations are correct. Of course we include in the English our friends from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. (I apologise that my keyboard cannot type the Cyrillic languages.) Please tell me if you cannot see your language or there are any spelling mistakes.

We have made some mistakes which we have learnt from and hope to be able to provide an even more enjoyable experience  here in Montolieu in the future.

Happy new year and thank you

Bonne année et Mercia

Šťastný Nový Rok a děkuji

Godt Nytår og tak

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar en dank u

head uut aastat ja aitäh

hyvää uutta vuotta ja kiitos

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr und danke

bold of új évet, és köszönöm

Hamingjusamur Nýtt Ár og þakka þér

felice anno nuovo e vi ringrazio

Godt Nyttår og takk

an nou fericit și vă mulțumesc

Feliz año nuevo y gracias

gott nytt år och tack

З Новим роком і спасибі

And thank you to Google translate.

We still need help for the next phase which requires a little more experienced specialist skills such as helping to get the water turbine operational, tree work, roof repairs, clearing 3rd floor of factory  in preparation for building a conference or training room and general work like clearing a route through the woods and clearing the track to the factory, painting walls and window frames, cleaning and replacing broken windows.

We are currently preparing for the installation of a reed bed system sewage treatment in the big garden and to do this we have had to move the compost heap.

Here are statistics about this area of France showing the amount of rain which has fallen during the last 20 years and over how many days.  But the Aude is known as the sunniest and windiest part of France.

 

Working with Volunteers

28 Mar

I never cease to be surprised by the amazing people we now share our lives with. People from all walks of life and all different cultures have been so helpful, kind and friendly and have come to help us to realise our dream to set up an eco community in a very beautiful part of France. We would never have achieved so much here without the help of volunteers who give their time and turn their hands to a wide assortment of tasks and challenges. Some have specialist skills while others simply have willing hands and a warm heart and are willing to try learning a new skill or even a new language.

From utilising old tyres to build a set of steps in the woodland to allow us to reach the water meters, to collecting and spreading trailer loads of manure for the garden. 20130903-224536.jpgimg_0686

From preparing and planting vegetable plots to clearing rubble and repainting walls, ceilings and floors and helping with the general maintenance of the buildings. Their help is invaluable.

All this work does not happen without planning and supervision so it does mean more work and some challenges for me. Possibly the biggest challenge this year has been working with a couple from the Czech Republic who when they arrived spoke very little English and no French, only Czech! After two and half months it is now possible to talk to them without using Google translate and to learn a little more about them and explain what we are trying to achieve here.

It is not all smooth running all of the time as the volunteers have to share a communal space with only a very small bedroom each. This sometimes leads to conflict which occasionally requires some intervention from us. we also introduce them to Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to help reduce or deal with conflict as it arises.

It is rewarding to see people learning new skills and languages and seeing the changes and improvements being made to the site.

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If you know of anyone who would like to spend a little time in south west France and would be willing to work for just two hours a day in return for accommodation show them our website http://www.volunteer-france.com.

Ecologically Speaking

31 Jan

For many years before we left the UK, I was keen to protect the environment and belonged to several organisations such as WWF for Nature, National Trust, Woodland Trust and the local Wildlife Trust to name a few. I also saved and reused paper and envelopes and won a gold award for Gardening for Wildlife. Here we live in the middle of the countryside in an environment which once was hostile to the local wildlife. As an old tannery it must have polluted the river and the ground around it. But it did give a large number of the villagers a job, although it sounds like it was a very hard job, dirty wet and cold and involved the use of many chemicals. 

Since Louise bought this site over twenty years ago it has slowly been cleaned up and redeveloped into a peaceful haven in which to live close to nature. However there is still much to do. We are still removing a lot of debris from the old tannery and planning to get the water turbine working again to generate electricity for the site and install a method of dealing with our sewage. Another idea is to get the old water filter and tower working again to provide grey water to use for toilets and cleaning. We hope to achieve this using a ram pump which does not need any electricity to work. It works by the pressure of the water itself. These are large and expensive projects and will have to wait until funds and help becomes available. 

There is a lot we are doing and can do in smaller ways to help protect the environment. In the gardens (which is an area close to my heart) we use a no dig technique to prepare the ground for growing vegetables. We collect cardboard and put it down on the areas we want clearing of weeds and cover it with manure.  Nature then works it’s wonders and the insects amalgamate the manure within the soil. Only a small amount of weeding is then required as by not digging the soil we don’t disturb the weed seeds embedded in there and many stay dormant. 

  

 The manure comes from our local organic sheep and cow farmers. We cover all the beds with the straw and wood shavings collected from the chicken house (prefertilised) and sow clover as a fertiser which when we hoe the beds is taken down into the soil. This is done in the winter months and by spring the beds are ready for planting in. It saves our backs too!  The wood shavings are free from our local carpenter as we save him from having to burn the excess he produces. 

We have also built and installed three composting toilets 

  which also use sawdust or wood shavings from the carpenter. When they are full we empty the contents into larger bins up in the woods where it is allowed to decompose for six months to a year before using it on the gardens. All our food waste is put into the compost bins in the garden and used when planting begins. I also use a Bokashi system for breaking down all food waste before putting it on the compost heap. We also try to reuse as much as we can and where possible use old wood for building steps or shelves or even garden seats. We have also made some steps and planters out of old tyres  

 which we found in the old factory. As we are surrounded by woods I would also like to make our own wood chips for mulching the gardens to help retain the moisture in the soil as is is very dry here for most of the year. But I haven’t worked out the most cost effective way of doing this yet. 

Inside and on the buildings we use Eco products for cleaning and have insulated the apartments with eco friendly insulation and built the new apartments as ‘passive homes’. This means that they need the minimum of heating as the sun heats them during the day and being well insulated they retain the heat. They have been built within the concrete frame of the factory so there was no demolition of the outside walls and the exterior looks unchanged (except where we have repainted and improved the buildings). For cleaning we mostly use white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and black soap which is very effective for most things. Cleaning windows is a bit of an issue here as we have three floors and on the training floor alone there are over 250 panes of glass on the outside walls of the factory. And because we have six garages under the ground floor, each floor in effect becomes one level higher and is almost twice the height of a normal house! We still haven’t managed to find a solution to cleaning the outside of these windows yet. 

We don’t use tumble driers as they use a lot of electricity but we do use dishwashers, as if filled are economical with water and electricity. We try to ensure washing machines are only used when full and we don’t use tap water for the gardens if possible. When boiling water we don’t fill the kettle unless we need all the water and on the odd occasion we hand wash dishes we use that water for watering the garden. We are now replacing all our light bulbs with new LED bulbs which use less electricity and last longer. 

We had a discussion about buying old or new furniture and clothes and the conclusion we came to was that some people need to buy new products to keep people in work but give them away to charities so that they can help others and provide cheaper products for those on a budget or keen on saving the planet. We also discussed whether it is better to buy recycled toilet and kitchen rolls or to buy paper produced from sustainable sources. The conclusion was that it is better to buy sustainably produced products as the recycling process is not always as ecological. 

We still have a lot more to do here so if you would like to come and see what we are doing you would be most welcome. See our website.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!