Bachelor life

17 May

I’m a temporary bachelor as Trish has gone to Nigeria to spend time with our friends Irene and Michael, who live there. Trish left on Monday – she was so excited and it was my pleasure to support her in getting all her papers and travel plans in order.

The day after she left I thought I’d struggle to find things to do. I’m pleased to say I’ve been busy ever since. When living as a couple, one has to compromise and share, naturally. Living on one’s own means I can pretty much do what I want when I want. So my present life has more of a natural rhythm to it and it’s a more efficient way of living – only for a short time, though!

One thing I have noticed is that despite saying to myself each night “I’ll have a lie in tomorrow” when the morning comes I’m up and rating to go at 7:30 am!

Another thing – I seem to be eating less food than I do when there are two of us. Perhaps it’s easier to cater for just one. I know I eat smaller quantities anyway after my gastric bypass, however, I do normally eat five times a day and my calorie intake is about 1,800 a day. These last few days I’ve gone down to three meals a day! My normal weight is now 110 kgs or 17 stone 4 lbs and over the winter this crept up a tad. So hopefully by the time Trish returns to Montolieu (28 May), I will be below my goal weight.

Today I am going to work this morning in the garden with Mareva and Nicolas (who live here). No doubt we will be ’assisted’ by Nettles as we weed the vegetable patch! Nettles in the gardenThen we will plant vegetable seeds and the potatoes. After lunch, I plan to continue the work removing the old window panes on the veranda of Irmtraud’s loft. It’s a noisy and tough job, as the windows are three storeys up and I can only work from the inside. Replacing windowsAlso, the putty is over 50 years old and is pretty much like concrete! I’m about to deploy the electric concrete chiseller! Later this evening I plan to pop into the village and eat a crepe cooked by our friends Veronique and José from their mobile creperie called Speedycrepe.

Tomorrow Louise and I plan to go to the seaside at Gruissan, to get some sun. So possibly a day off! Yippee!Gruissan harbour

Is winter over, over here?

2 Mar

It’s not been that cold in the south west of France this winter. So far, we’ve had two separate snowfalls, each lasting just two days. So, merely a dusting in comparison with what the UK has been receiving this week. And we’ve only had two nights since the beginning of the year where the temperatures dropped below freezing.

I took Nettles for a walk this morning and shot these views of our village from down below where the residential home is.

In the top photograph you can see our church, which is an ancient monument, built between the 13th and 15th centuries.

But it is not all good news – for the last two months we’ve had exceptional rainfall. In one weekend in January it rained the equivalent of one month’s precipitation. The river which passes by our garden is running in full spate (and is very noisy at night).

Anyway, now that spring has arrived, the gardeners are active again. Soil has been carefully prepared and marked out. A garden plan has been drawn up by Trish. And she and several volunteers have already dug-in the compost, ready for the seeds be planted. In fact, Trish has already planted broad beans and peas. There are also seedlings growing in the greenhouse.

Later, we drove into Carcassonne and visited a place where they sell everything that is required for watering a garden automatically. As we jokingly explained to the man behind the counter, coming from England meant that we had little or no experience of automatic watering systems, since it usually rained a lot where we lived in Kent. He understood completely what we were saying! The next step is to go back to see him and show him the plan of the garden and then he’ll be able to calculate precisely the components that we need.

Below is a shot of la Montagne Noire that I took on our return to Montolieu whilst Nettles playing in the field nearby.

Keep warm out there!

A lot of effort for such a small thing!

31 Dec

When I last saw the rheumatologist in Carcassonne, we discussed a nodule on the heel of my right foot which was causing me some discomfort. It rubbed against the back of my shoe when I walked. He suggested having it removed but first the surgeon would need to know whether the nodule was attached to the tendon or not.

So off I went for an echograph at the local clinic where the doctor carrying out the ultrasound scan pronounced the nodule to be free-standing. Next, I had a consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon, again at Carcassonne Hospital. The hospital is new, eco-hopital-carcassonnehaving opened just two years ago and is comprehensively equipped; there are even two MRI scanners here. He told me the operation would take him 10 minutes and proposed a date six weeks ahead. I left his clinic with the following:

  • Confirmation letter of the date of the operation
  • Letter from him to my GP
  • Prescriptions for crutches, bandages, painkillers, antic bacterial wash solution, and for a nurse to visit me every three days after the operation for two weeks.
  • An appointment with the anaesthetist
  • An appointment with the surgical nurse
  • A follow-up appointment with the surgeon at the end of January

During the appointment with the surgical nurse, their process and procedures were explained in some detail, backed up by printed documents. Very comprehensive. The day before the op, I was telephoned by a nurse and told to arrive at 9am.

Thursday 28 December saw Trish deliver me to the operating suite where I was duly received, given a private room, thoroughly checked as to who I was and what I was having operated. I put on a surgical gown and waited for about an hour until a porter took me to the theatre area on my bed. Here I was transferred to an operating bed and after a consultation with the anaesthetist (who advised me to have a spinal anaesthetic), I was good to go. I waited on the rather hard bed for about 45 minutes, then was wheeled into the operating theatre.

The anaesthetic was most strange; it’s not that comfortable losing all sensation below the waist! The operation was over 15 minutes later (I never saw the surgeon) and then I was wheeled into the recovery area and transferred back onto my original bed (and that explains why the bed had a name tag attached to it which was identical to the one I had on my wrist). I had a funny spell then; apparently, my blood pressure dropped through its boots but something was added to my drip and I was soon OK again. The anaesthetist kept an eye on me every 20 minutes. Then the surgeon dropped by to say the operation had gone well.

It then took about two hours for me to recover full use of all my muscles below the waist! After that, I was wheeled back to my bedroom. After a much-needed cup of coffee, a bread roll and a slice of cheese, I was ready to go home. Which is where I am writing this, three days after the op.

Richard "Hopalong"

Here I am just back from the operation, wearing my scarf which is a Christmas present from Trish!

The district nurse has just been to change the dressing. I am able to walk unaided around the flat but I use the crutches walking around the factory floor, as a precaution.

So there we have it! I forgot to mention that the hospital called the day after the op, to make sure everything was going well!

We were both impressed by the health system in France which is clearly well resourced, although we hear rumours that it is costing too much and economies may have to be made. Doesn’t that sound familiar?


12 Nov

Hello to all our friends across the world some of whom have helped us to maintain and improve the factory and all the gardens and buildings on site. With your help we have achieved so much but still have more work to do. It is a life long project for us. The list of tasks completed is too big to put into this newsletter.

We really enjoy meeting new people and old friends and have kept a photo album of many of the volunteers working here which I show to new volunteers so they can see what type of work they may be asked to help with.

Richard and I have now lived here for almost five years and have seen some changes in the weather. In the last two years we have had a drought and the river almost dried out next to our garden. However this has allowed us to remove a lot of bamboo and brambles from the riverside and to rebuild the small barrage in the river at the end of our garden. Unfortunately we have also lost a few trees from the surrounding hills and now as we are experiencing strong winds have to watch out for falling branches on the road and terraces.

Our road has been given a name by the Mairie at the request of the French post office. Our address is now 272 Chemin de la Tannerie.  We have also changed our websites and separated the NVC training from the volunteering and our new website is called If you have any friends who would like to volunteer to help us please show them the new website.

We are looking for specialists to help us with pruning and tree cutting, woodworkers to help build windows and doors and roofers to help repair the roofs of the buildings. But we still have the garden to maintain and cleaning of the training centre and buildings.

This year’s project was to build a used water treatment plant using reeds and water plants. We are now in a position to recommence growing vegetables and are preparing the soil with home-made compost and compost collected from the road when we cleared the track. Over the winter we will be preparing the ground for planting vegetables and pruning all the trees and shrubs.

We are very pleased that a young couple are moving into the Peace Factory as permanent residents and they are interested in helping us to grow fruit and vegetables.

Look forward to hearing from you, Trish.

It’s finally finished!

5 Sep

We don’t really believe it but the reed bed sewage system is finally finished. At the end of July we had a visit from the company who’d designed the system. They requested that we make a few changes to the layout of the vertical bed. This entailed moving the dispersers, raising the separator and reinforcing and raising the grill that stops people and animals from coming into contact with the effluent.

Trish, I and Dylan, a volunteer from Missoula, Montana, USA, worked during August to carry out the work. We also tried out two ways to cap the edge of the bed – roof tiles and stones. It was decided that the tiles looked nicer. We had a stock of old roof tiles in the old factory. The only problem was that to get to them we had to go under a huge beam supporting the floor above and this beam had broken in two!

So we then remembered seeing four new metal props which had been stored under the terrace of the Old House. Provenance unknown but they did the job. The beam can’t fall any further but will need specialist help to push it back into place and brace it.

Here is Dylan working in the sh*t!

We had to carry out a number of adjustments in order to meet the specifications of the system’s designer. Now these are finished, we are waiting for a visit from the SPANC (Le Service Publique d’Assainissement Non-Collectif). SPANC is the public body in France that controls the design and implementation of sewage treatment systems that are not connected to the public sewer. If they are satisfied then they will issue an approval notice which we can present to the Town Hall.

This has been a major project here. Over the last three years I have gained a lot of knowledge (perhaps too much knowledge!) on how sewage is treated. We looked into pumping stations which could deliver our waste up to the public system, which was 300 metres up our track, and 30 metres higher. This was discarded as too costly even though a sewage pipe had been installed under the track when the renovations were carried out some 15 years ago. We then investigated micro-systems, both above and underground, but the logistics of installing a large plastic structure were interesting and the running costs were also a factor, as the systems need electricity and emptying annually. It was finally decided to install a reed bed system (phytoépuration in French).Here is a shot of the finished system. I promise this is the last you’ll here about this subject for a while!

For us, it’s been a major project. Trish and I organised the work, most of which was carried out by a working party of 26 volunteers over six days at the end of April. They dug out the 25 tonnes of soil to make the lower bed, filled 500 sandbags to create the upper bed, laid the liners in each (three for each bed), installed the drainage pipes and vents, hand shovelled 42 tonnes of stones, gravel and sand into the two beds. This required a lot of coordination and arranging and fetching of supplies – all conducted in French.

Then over the next four months we procured hundreds of plants (some bought, some dug up from waterside locations and some propagated). All were planted by Trish and our volunteer Dylan, who is in his final year studying for a degree in ecology. Another team of volunteers, attending a six day course here on living NVC, demolished the old sewage pipes and installed the new delivery pipes and diverter system. Finally we built a protection grill to keep people and animals away from the effluent, mounted a capping of roof tiles, experimented with covering the sand bags in mud (work in progress here), and tweaked the layout of the delivery pipes and dispersers.

Finally I am pleased to report that the system is working! It coped with over 70 people who attended a 10 day course here in August. The water discharging into the river is clear and we now have an ecological and natural system for treating the sewage here at the Peace Factory.

If you want to know more about the NVC courses go to our website. If you’d like to know about volunteering here, go to our volunteer website.

Thanks for reading.

Hard work when it’s hot

19 Jul

Since April Trish and I have been working with groups of lovely people here at the Old Tannery. As you probably know, from previous newsletters or via postings on Facebook,  we are building a reed based sewage treatment system. Here is a shot of it, nearly completed:

IMG_0082 Now we are busy planting. There are eight different types of plant required. In the first bed, which is divided in two, we are planting 220 reeds. The second bed, which is set into the ground, will contain seven different types of plant. All are designed to treat the sewage in an environmentally friendly way, discharging just clear water into the river.

IMG_0090 Here is Trish busy with the planting. For those of you familiar with gardening in the UK’s modest climate, it is hard to imagine what it is like to work out in the open when the temperature is 40C in the shade! It’s really hot and soon saps your energy. Rehydration is really important. But the plants can’t wait for a cool day otherwise they’ll die. So all credit to Trish for her hard work out there!

So now the job is nearly completed. The designer of the system is visiting us next week, to inspect what we’ve done. If he agrees, then we call in the local authority who should give us the necessary approval for the work.

It’s a great feeling to know that from now on all our waste water and sewage will be properly treated. And even more satisfying knowing that most of the work was carried out by volunteers.

Successful Entertaining in France

29 Mar

It is a truism to say that food is important to the French and that business entertaining should be considered a matter of great importance. Business lunches are the most common form of entertaining business contacts with breakfast or evening events being much rarer.

Lunch is usually quite a grand affair and will usually comprise of starter, main course and dessert followed by coffee. Wine will also often be served.

The quality of French food is a matter of great national pride and therefore talking about food is a national obsession. On the whole, you are much better advised talking about the food or other social issues during a business lunch than talking about business. The meal is a time for cementing relationships and learning more about each other. Business matters should only be raised during the coffee.

If inviting French contacts out to lunch, make sure you take them to a good quality restaurant and, unless you are an expert, let them chose the wine.

Restaurants usually include a 15% service charge but it is still customary to leave a small tip as well. Tipping is not compulsory in France but is recommended. (10% would be adequate.)

Ill in France!

28 Mar

After my last business trip to the UK I returned with a cold (I never had a cold before) and this rapidly turned into an upper respiratory tract infection. After a week of getting worse, I went to see the doctor who diagnosed the beginnings of bronchitis. For this he prescribed antibiotics, a cough medicine, cortisone tablets and an asthma inhaler! Four days into the treatment I’m feeling a lot better, thank goodness.

However just as I’m recovering, Trish has come down with sinusitis and is feeling quite rotten. Happily we are able to support each other. So today, I took her English class in the library and had a very entertaining hour working with seven ladies from the village on their English! They also challenged me to translate their exercise into French which I did with some praise, I am pleased to say!

To cheer us up, we went out for a drive on Sunday. We are looking for aquatic plants for the phytoépuration project (sewage treatment by reed beds) we are putting in place here. We drove along La Rigole (the channel that feeds mountain water to the Canal du Midi) but it was too fast flowing for plants to grow in. So we went off to the lake of Lampi and whilst plants were spotted, they weren’t of the right type. So we then set off for the source of the river Alzeau (le prise d’Alzeau) but struck out here as well. Never mind, I soon found all the plants we need – on the Internet! We can purchase them online for delivery next week which is definitely more economic than driving hundreds of kilometres around the Aude in the hope of finding some of the seven types of aquatic plants we seek!

However on the way back we saw a bucolic scene – a cow washing her newly-born calf. Cows are one of my favourite animals; so placid and always curious. so here’s some more photos!

Last business visit to the UK

16 Mar

I’m waiting here at Stansted to board the Ryanair flight to Carcassonne and reflecting on the end of my business life. 

After running my own businesses since April 1982 I’ve decided to stop working for my two remaining UK clients. I think that travelling to and from the UK nearly every month for the last four years has taken a bit of a toll on my health. 

On the upside, I’ve managed to hone down my time travelling and on Tuesday night the plane landed at 6:45pm and I was driving my hire car away from Hertz at 7:25pm – a record!

So I won’t be traveling to the UK for business any more. Hooray!

And the greatest thing of all is that I can spend more time with Trish! I really love life here at the Peace Factory and meeting all the volunteers

Wish me luck!

Here are some photos from my trip. 

Many hands make light work

19 Feb

I was thinking today about the many people who have stayed here as volunteers. Some stayed for a couple of weeks and many have been able to donate much longer periods of time to the project here. And some have come looking for a new lifestyle and have wanted to test out living in a different way. All have been special in their individual ways.

So thank you to the volunteers who have worked here over the last two years:

Hugues, Sally, Siobhan ,Joseph T , Anna Lena, Andries, Emanuel, Sven, Sarah, Insa, Florina ,Ioana (Jo), Daniel, Pavel, Dorothea, Megan ,Victor, Clemens, Hannes, Aidan, Ilkka, Kasia, Olena, Ellie, Richard, Robert, Kevin, Luis, Nadir, Nicolas, Katherine, Sarah, Simon, Daniel, Alberto, Alberto, Marie, Massai, Sean, Dylan, Michael, Hannah, Nicholas ,Manuela, Christine.

Here are some photos of the volunteer team in action:

We can always do with more help. There is much that remains to be done. So if you know a person (over the age of 18) who would like to spend a minimum of two weeks in the glorious south of France, then send them this link:

If you want to know more about how we work with volunteers then see this blog post.

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Here are some of the tasks that need doing:

Raise funds for turbine project
Repair bridge outside rear door to 2nd floor of factory
Clear debris from 3rd, 4th and 5th floors of factory
Rebuild wall by rear of 2nd floor of factory
Repair retaining wall of old track to factory
Fit carpet for training room
Clean all carpets
Make and install sound partition for 1st floor sliding door
Cut 6 bamboo roots from by the river to develop into plants
Empty one composting toilet storage bin
Fix leak in Little House roof
Fix leak in Big House roof
Improve Little House terrace
Improve reception area
Clear up debris from parking area outside factory
Move wardrobe from top floor of old house to first floor factory
Decorate sink in corridor factory second floor
Sort two garages of various personal stuff
Supply and fit door from staircase on 2nd floor
Clearing track of leaves
Strim turning area and move rocks
Wooden steps from 2nd floor – smooth off, rub down and varnish
Replace broken or missing glass panes on river side of 1st and 2nd floors
Remove grass cuttings from 3rd floor terrace
Lay wooden boards on 2nd floor
Fix window by wooden steps on 2nd floor