Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Tale of Two Sapins

Mountain Man was really called Pierre, but we called him Mountain Man because, well, he looked like he lived up a mountain, possibly in a cave. In the early days, MM would often pop by our house whenever he felt that our beer fridge needed emptying or our Ricard bottle was just too full and through clouds of Gitane scented smoke would regale us with his tales of 'derring do'. One night, just before Christmas, he joined us for a bit of a party. He arrived, already somewhat the worse for wear and seemed to take exception to what I took to be a prefectly sized Christmas tree which sat twinkiling prettily in the corner of the room. ' Ca...' MM waved his finger in the general direction of my tree as he strived to stay upright, ', c'est pas un sapin de Noel' A short time later he was seen roaring off in his battered peugeot. The evening and the alcohol wore on and I started to think that maybe he'd slunk off home to sleep things off, but soon we heard a screech of brakes outside, followed by the whine of a chainsaw and then the door burst open and in staggered MM partially concealed beneath the fronds of an almighty Christmas tree. The beast was somehow shoved in through the door and my tree was unceremoniously cast to one side as he attempted to install it. Saws, nails and drills were produced and he fashioned a makeshift stand and then it was hauled, albeit at a slightly alarming angle, into place. Clearly a 'glass half full' kind of chap, MM saw no disadvantage to the tree being about a foot taller than the ceiling and cunningly screwed right through the top branch into my newly decorated ceiling beams to hold the thing in place. "Ca!, ca, c'est un vrai sapin de Noel" he leered. And I had to concur - it was a magnificent tree and the fact that we could no longer use a significant part of our sitting room was of no consequence.
Next day, I drove sheepishly through the village expecting to see a neighbour scratching his head by a newly-sawn stump of his much prized spruce. But no victim was ever found. I miss those days in a way, but we do have the hole in the ceiling and our Mountain Man Christmas decoration to remind us.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Upcycling....and Cruelty to Knitwear.

WARNING! This blog contains themes of a folksy, thrifty, 'make do and mend' nature which some readers may find upsetting. If you find that kind of thing too sickly, look away now. 

It's inspired by a recent visit from 'Country Living' magazine who (I will casually mention) are going to be featuring Woodsman's cabin in an upcoming edition.  I was browsing their website in preparation for their visit and that's where I saw the idea.....

Every winter, we get a nice cosy jumper each, and every year I end up shrinking them in the wash.  Some last longer than others, but this is merely a stay of execution - I know that sooner or later, their fate will be the same.  I'm not sure why this keeps happening - one reason is that I really hate hand washing.  My Mum used to do my hand washing.  I never asked her to, she would just cast a weary eye over the pile festering away on my washing machine, break out the Woolite and then hey presto! it would be done and out, swinging on the line in the sunshine.  Sadly, my Mum passed away about 10 years ago, so, as you can imagine,  I now have quite a backlog.  They hang around and hang around until finally, one day I crack and shove them all in the machine.  Another reason is the machine itself.  Although it purports to be German, it refuses to conform to any national stereotype and will randomly throw in a boil wash or a manic spin cycle when I least expect it.  So one way or another - I've got a pile of ruined jumpers, suitable only for Lilipution jockeys and so that's why I was delighted to find I could 'upcycle' them.

I hesitate for quite a while before applying the scissors - it seems wrong somehow.  Steeling myself, I take one last squeeze and hug of the old friends and then dive in. 
A short time later I have acquired a (slightly utilitarian looking - would look good in any bomb shelter) hot water bottle cover (I had to turn this one inside out as it had also been a victim of paint crime) and a splendid cushion.  This is great, I can't wait for the next boilwash now.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Now that Skip the Dog has come along to mess everything up, Pops the Cat has had to revise her thoughts re: the hierachy in her household...
Pops thinks:

Bob thinks:
Me, (phew, just scraped in there!)

I think:
Bob and I are equals (but some are more equal than others) Cat & Dog.

Dog thinks: Hierwarky? Wot's a heirwarky?? I dunno! Why can't we all just love each other?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cabin Chic - How one girl kicked the Ikea habit.

Woodsman's cabin
A while back, a cabinaute staying at Woodsman's cabin commented that our bright red bedspread was the same Ikea model as she had at home.  She'd just been to visit a friend in Australia who owned the same Ikea lamp as her.  We both decided right there and then that this global decorating thing should stop and that we'd never darken their stylish Swedish doors again.  I have to admit that I have lapsed on a couple of occasions since then, but I'm determined to put it behind me and search for more original alternatives.  

Our cabins' decor is inspired somewhat by my childhood fascination with the likes of Heidi and Little House on the Prairie on TV.  On one hand I was repelled by the cutesy, cloying sweetness, on the other hand I'm a sucker for a lofty bedroom you reach via a steep ladder and/or a hatch.  Anyway, I didn't get to watch these programmes much because my big brother would insist on watching Whacky Races or something, (which, secretly, was fine with me). Something must have stuck though, because I find I have a weakness for checks and polka dots when I think I should be buying the cool taupe alternative..... It's a fine line, I know. I sometimes go over the edge!  Luckily, we have a rich source of inspiration in the form of the many Brocantes and 'vide greniers' that take place regularly. There're plenty of hidden gems in amongst many items of dubious taste, and I've recently discovered that if I pop into my favourite brocante after lunch, when the Patron appears to have partaken in a few litres of red, he's much more amenable to a good deal.  Let the shopping commence....

Friday, 31 August 2012

Cabin Cake

All those free blackberries have been ripening in the hot August sunshine and are ready to be plucked.  It's a tricky business. The bestest, biggest, fattest ones are seemingly always just out of reach.  You're going to need a crooked stick for hoiking them out and to not mind getting stung, pricked and inky stained fingers (or just wear gloves if you're sensible/wimpish). But it'll be worth the effort...I have been dreaming of blackberry jams and jellies and pear and blackberry pies - but one of my favourite things to make is Cabin Cake:
It's simple to make and so delicious......


2 large or 3 small apples (scrumped if possible)
225g butter at room temperature
280g caster sugar
350g self raising flour
4 eggs
plus a handful of blackberries & some demerara sugar for sprinkling.
Line a roasting tin (roughly 22 x 25cm) with baking paper, fire up the oven to 160°/gas mark 3.
Bung the butter, sugar, flour and eggs into a bowl and mix until well combined.
Peel and slice the apples, rinse and dry the blackberries.
Place half the cake mix in the tin, spread over half the apple slices and fruit. Top with remaining cake mix, then rest of the apple & fruit. Sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake for 30-45 mins or until a sharp knife in the centre comes out clean.
This obviously makes a giant cake so bear to share, or you can halve the quantities if you so wish.
This recipe was created by my friend Jo Marshall at


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

From Wags to Riches? (Part 1)

Generally speaking, I can divide people into two groups, Cat people and Dog People.   Dog people will often keep a cat but rarely will cat people keep a dog.  We are Cat people.  I do like dogs but I don't want one.  (Actually, Bob divides people into two other groups, Lift Takers and Stair Walkers.... he is obviously a stair walker, I am secretly a lift taker but will often take the stairs to show willing!  That's if it's a low-ish storey building I mean, not 'The Shard', obviously.)  Anway, we had a call from our guests down at Fisherman's cabin to say that a puppy had turned up there the previous night, he showed no signs of moving on and was driving them crazy with his whining. He had also destroyed the saddle from one of our hire bikes.  I set off to investigate and found the little lad in the lane leading to the cabin - he was limping, had no collar or ID and seemed totally delighted to meet me.  I opened the car door and he hopped in as if he'd been waiting for me to collect him.  I headed up to the local village and he settled down for a well earned snooze while I asked a few locals if they'd ever seen him or heard of anyone who'd lost a pup.  Blanks all round , no one knew him.  I met an elderly couple who had an even more elderly dog in their garden (called Cybil, I later learned) and asked if I could borrow a lead and a collar so that I could take him to the vet to see if he was microchipped.  This being lunchtime in France though, the vet was closed and so I faced the prospect of returning home with the dog to Cat Person Bob and slightly frosty Pops the cat.  I explained my dilemma to the elderly couple and they said they'd happily keep him over lunchtime.  They would phone round and see if anyone they knew had heard tale of him.  Back home, I explained the whole histoire to Bob and the cat.  'No, No, absolutely not!' they said, 'we can't have a dog here for the following reasons etc; etc;' and I totally agreed with them.

 After lunch I collected the pest from the M et Mme.  'Oh! but he's a lovely little dog' they said.  Apparently he had slept under the table with his head on Monsieur's feet while they ate. 'Tell us who you are' pleaded Mme, as she tickled his tummy.  But they couldn't keep him, what with Cybil being epileptic and so on...  At the vets, no microchip was found.  He showed me that Dog was limping because his pads were red raw from too much walking (Ping! sound of heart string twanging.) I found myself buying expensive flea and tic treatment.  He said I was to contact the Marie about him.  But this being Monday in France, the Marie was closed!  I called in at the Mayor's house and his daughter phoned the Gendarmes for me - apparently nothing could be done until the next day when the Marie would contact the SPA to see if he'd been reported missing. I called the SPA, but this being Monday in get the picture, it became clear that I was going to have to keep the damn dog overnight, and so I steeled myself for breaking the news to the others....

So what becomes of the poor little orphan pup?- tune in next week to find out!!

Monday, 23 July 2012

From Wags to Riches? (Part II)

Pops the Cat
As told by Pops the Cat.....  "So, she turns up with this ugly mug dawg in tow - I'm out mousin' in the field and I hear the kerfuffle and sidle over to see what's afoot.  Both of 'em have gone all gooey over this dawg - even my Master who, just hours earlier, had said it would never happen.  They don't even really like dawgs.  I slink off upstairs - they bring me up some of my Dreamies treats so I know they're trying to get round me - I can't believe they're gonna let 'im stay.  She prints off some 'Chien TrouvĂ©' posters with 'is gormless little mug on and I keep my claws crossed that someone'll claim 'im.  They call 'im 'Skippy'. Barf. A few days later, he's still here and so I decide it's time to lay down a few ground rules.  The first thing I do is, I go and take a sniff and a lick of his food bowl - he just whimpers and lays down flat so then I drink from his water bowl and he doesn't seem to mind that either.  Dawgs are weird - stupid.  He wants to be friends and comes up close so I give him a well placed cuff across the nose and he backs off,  all meek like.  I s'pose he's all right in small doses.  He'll soon learn I run a fairly tight ship 'round here.  And, he keeps the neighbour's cats at bay. So if there is anything good to be said for keeping a dawg - that'll be it.
Skip the Dog

Thursday, 21 June 2012

What The Flock?

One day, we got talking to a local farmer who was bemoaning the fact that sheep's skins are practically worthless.  No one wanted to buy them from him so he ended up burning them - a sorry waste of a wonderful natural rescource.  Bob, whose thoughts at the time were being filtered through the green, green glass of several empty heineken bottles, started thinking that we could do with some nice sheepskin rugs for the shepherd's hut and, undeterred by the unknown complications of the tanning process, arranged to take ownership of the fleeces once these poor beasts had been slaughtered. 

Off Bob went to collect his grisly cargo of six sheepskins.  On his return, I was alarmed to see that there heads were still attached.  Apparently that was fine though, because he also had in mind some kind of sheep skull sculpture!  Some internet research had revealed to him the rudimentary basics of tanning and despite the freezing temps outside he set about Step 1, the arduous task of scraping the skin of all visible fat.  This proved to be a longer and more laborious job than first imagined.  I then discovered that Step 2 was to 'just pop the (stinking, daggy, muddy) thing into the washing machine on a wool cycle' and so, sadly, as you may imagine, an impasse between us was reached. 

The skin hung around for a few weeks while other options were explored.  I asked in the local pharmacy for some 'Alum' but left empty handed after being given the looks they reserve for would-be terrorists popping in for large quantities of peroxide.  Meanwhile the sheepheads were strung up in the woods so that nature could take it's course and remove the skin and stuff.  A high jumping/pole-vaulting fox must have carried a couple off, but the rest remained for quite some time - I had to keep reassuring cabin guests that they had not stumbled across some dark satanic ritual. 

Its a shame, we never did get around to finishing our sheepskins - bits of them are still floating around in our garden - the birdies take tufts of it home for their nests. Oh, but the skulls have come up nicely and are awaiting glorification!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Greener Than Green

It's been raining relentlessly now for about two weeks and the normal order of things has been restored.  The veggie patch has turned from dry barren wilderness to bog and my bike is still sulking, damply, in the corner. Last week there was a brief respite when it was dry enough to venture forth and so I set off to see Bob, who is working a few kilometres away on the top secret "Project X".  Desperate to distract myself from creaking knees and wheezing lungs as I pedalled up a seemingly endless hill, I began to marvel at the many wonderous shades of green the springtime produces.  The new beech leaves are so green they have an almost hallucinogenic quality, especially when contrasted against the dark and stormy skies. Or maybe, that was the lunch of wild mushrooms on toast. Or, lack of oxygen to the brain due to the exertion. Anyway, also showing off this week are the first of the hedgerow wild flowers: cowslips, bluebells, spurges and campions, brightening up the dullest of days...pretty but brazen. However, my personal favourites are the shy, retiring, lovely little violets....

Friday, 30 March 2012

Spring Is The New Summer.

During last month's 'vague froid',  I became aware of a recently acquired need I have developed to check the thermometre.  It wasn't good enough for me to know it was cold, I wanted to know just how bloody cold exactly.  I think it must be a middle-aged thing, like hoarding sugar and knowing the price of diesel at three different locations.  Similarly, this week my eye has been drawn to the mercury again as it rises to ridiculous highs for March.  We've been basking in the glorious early twenties and yesterday, it hit 25°!  This is great news for our first cabinautes of the season who arrived last weekend and have been lunching and lightly toasting out on the rafts, but it's worrying from a water shortage point of view and for the poor neglected veggie patch.  Still, the matter is out of my hands so I will try not to dwell on it, or how Mother Nature might be planning on paying us back later in the year.  She's clearly off her rocker at the moment.

So,  it's all systems go here - Spring has sprung and there's grass to be mown and brambles tackled before they take over.  Still time to sit and admire a primrose or two though.....  But wait, is that my bike I see glaring at me, having been ignored all Winter?  Oh Lordy, it's going to be so hard getting back into the saddle after months of sloth, so here's a reminder to my complaining thighs and lungs as to why we must love our bicycle!

Friday, 24 February 2012


It's February and so technically still Wintertime, but it's icy charms are beginning to pall now and I'm really looking forward to the Spring.  The snow and ice have been great, but with temperatures well below or around freezing for a couple of weeks it was all getting a bit tiresome.  I wonder how the peoples of the Frozen North cope?  The lakes were frozen solid and I was oh so tempted to step out onto them and go for a skate.  I know, I know, that'd be a mad and dangerous thing to do, but still....  Bob offered to shove me out in the boat and I excitedely imagined whizzing across the ice like a human puck, but then he didn't seem to have made any provision for my safe return to shore so I had to reluctantly decline....

No Fishing, No Human Pucks

Great weather for spotting wildlife though, lots of hungry little birds deciding to take the risk and come a bit closer than normal to us, maybe preferring our company to a hen harrier (I think it was..)  and a splendid fox with a great bushy tail who we spotted slinking about in the forest.   We saw plenty of deer, and their tracks in the snow were everywhere, right up to the door of the cabin.   Now, the ice is finally melting and cracking, splintering noises can be heard echoing eerily across the lake.   It feels, almost, like Spring is on it's way, Yay!

Snowy Deer (Use yer bino's - it's there somewhere!)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Timelapse Leafwatch 2011

So anyway, that turbine I mentioned in my last post turned out to be complete rubbish and had to be replaced with yet another one - which is working great! 

Just when I thought we'd got away with a mild Winter this time around and the buds were getting ready to burst with a portent of Spring, Winter has stomped back in with his big snowy boots on, accompanied by a blast of arctic winds and icy temperatures. However, this has presented us with an opportunity/excuse to stay indoors a lot and sort out our pics and work on some new ideas.

A few months ago we set up our timelapse camera to record a view of the lake as the Autumn leaves changed, and below you can see the results.  We had over 800 pics to choose from and it's been interesting (for us, anyway!) to see the leaves and raindrops come and go on the lake, the amazing diversity of skies and watching the little branch in the foreground losing its leaves.  Some shots captured the beautiful misty mornings and even reflections of vapour trails in the skies above. Others recorded some stunning sunsets. I'm in the process of choosing my favourites and will post them soon....