November 30th, 2015
Written by Ben. Comments Off on I’ve written a book
I’ve written a book, a collection of thirty-five toungue-in-cheek guides on subjects ranging from ‘articles’ to ‘work’. I would be thrilled if you bought a copy, read it, enjoyed it, and then left a glowing 5-star review
November 30th, 2015
Written by Ben. Comments Off on Where the hell have you been!?
Yeah, sorry about that.
Regular readers from the old days may be wondering what’s been happening on our free range adventure. I’ll give you a quick catch up….
- We bought the old house next door, spent a year doing it up, then sold it to a nice Belgian family.
- We had some more children; twins! We now have five boys, aged from 8-months to 8-years old.
- I continue to work with some lovely clients making websites for them – uncomplicate.me
- We bought a couple of ferrets. They escaped and came back a week later. A little more time later we magically had three ferrets. They escaped again, killed some neighbour’s chickens, and only one of them came back. I am putting this experience into the ‘unsuccessful’ column.
- I built some massive swings in the back garden, and we got a massive trampoline too, so our garden is now essentially an amusement park.
- Er… I’m sure there were probably other things that might have been of interest at the time but I’ve probably missed my opportunity to mention them now.
Our simple life is now very hectic, and very noisy! I’d like to say I’ll get back into the blogging routine but, well, let’s see.
May 12th, 2014
Written by Ben. 2 Comments - read/leave yours;
I went for an 86 mile bike ride with my brother in the Massif Central this weekend.
My wonderful wife gave me a present of ‘an adventure’ for my birthday; she’d organised for my brother to come over from England and bought me a guide book to the Massif Central as a suggestion for where we could go. I did a (tiny) bit of research and opted to base ourselves at Condat, cycling north up to Super-Besse (a 2008 Tour de France stage mountain finish) on day 1 and then east into the empty hills on day 2.
40 miles. 4 hours.
We arrived at our campsite around 1pm, and, after chatting to the guy who runs it for ages, we set up our tents, had most of our lunch, then set off around 1:50pm.
It was sunny and warm. The plan was to ride 18 miles to Super-Besse, climbing from 700m to 1,350m, then take some tiny lanes round the back for 20 miles all the way back down.
The climb up was long and relentless, but actually really nice; hard physical exercise in pleasant weather in beautiful mountain surroundings is a joy. We stopped along the way to finish our lunch.
Eventually we arrived at the foot of the climb to Super-Besse. After about 100 metres I had to get off and walk as, due to the gearing on my bike, I simply could not move forwards up the steep slope. My brother managed to ride the whole thing, partly due to having more suitable gearing, partly due to being fitter, younger, and more good looking.
The town at the top was pretty gloomy to be honest, and the weather had become cold and windy.
From then on it remained cold and windy and we stayed high for a long time. We had hoped to glide effortlessly back downhill and to our campsite but the reality was miles and miles of hilly climbs up cols.
The countryside was very pretty though, so it was worth the struggle.
Finally we arrived at the downhill. Unfortunately I’d discovered that my brakes were nowhere near good enough to stop me when going down steep hills so I had to keep jabbing them on whenever I reached speeds of around 25mph. It was exhilarating though!
46 miles. 8 hours.
Day 2 began a bit like day 1; the weather was sunny although slightly less warm, and we spent the first couple of hours climbing. This time however the road was a little twisting lane along the side of a steep-sided valley with a beautiful river running beneath us, the sort of mountain cycling we’d hoped for.
We made the most of it, stopping every now and then to watch a kite swooping overhead or to try to identify a wild flower. It was lovely. Progress was therefore slow and after a few hours we’d barely covered 10 miles, but it didn’t matter, it was fun. We sat by the roadside overlooking some big hills and had our lunch, then continued up.
Pretty soon afterwards the rain started, and with it came the wind. We were high up and it was bleak, the unimpeded strong wind whipping the cold rain into our faces like tiny pieces of ice. Then the rain turned into actual tiny pieces of ice – hail – and that really hurt. The timing was pretty bad because we’d hit the toughest part of the ride, but there was no turning back. We were soaked through, freezing cold, but oddly having a great time. Even when we had to pedal as hard as we could downhill into the wind just to move forwards at 4mph we found the challenge rewarding; it was pretty much as horrendous as it could be but we were slowly eating away at the miles.
We rode slowly over loads of cols, passing through seemingly deserted tiny villages. Most of the time was spent going uphill, and even when we went downhill it was slow and painful with the bastard wind pushing us backwards and pelting us with rain and hail.
After literally hours of this we finally made it down off the high hills and out of the clouds and, even though we were shivering and exhausted, our final 5 miles descent back into Condat was magical; the sun was out and was drying the wet roads, creating curtains of steam that we whooshed through as we freewheeled round the swooping bends of the mountain road.
– I definitely need better gears and better brakes; going up was hard and going down was hard.
– When heading into the mountains always take warm clothing even if the forecast’s good; I only had fingerless mittens and my summer bike shoes were sodden.
– Cycling in the Massif Central is awesome!!!
February 12th, 2014
Written by Ben. 3 Comments - read/leave yours;
Last summer we bought a couple of 2-day old ducks, Rocky and Sam. They were very cute.
Sadly one of them died in December from a car-related illness. Rocky was lonely all on his own so we got him a couple of girlfriends, Roxanne and Stella. Stella is a Muscovy Duck, the others are Mallards. Rocky didn’t like Stella and preferred Roxanne – we think he didn’t recognise the white duck as a duck! They’re all friends now though.
With our field waterlogged I decided to dig a pond. All I did was dig a big hole and it naturally filled with water. They’ve taken to it like, ahem, ducks to water. It’s lovely to see them splashing about in there. By the way, I’ve not finished making the pond yet.
February 12th, 2014
Written by Ben. 2 Comments - read/leave yours;
Although it was windy and cold today, it wasn’t raining and there was actually a bit of blue sky, so we thought we’d make the most of our Wednesday-off-school to go out for a walk. It’s been a while because it’s just been so grotty out there recently.
The gang of explorers
Soren & Milo looking through their binoculars
A squirrel’s store
Gosh, what a polite fellow!
Splashing through a stream.
November 10th, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on I’ve got wood
My month-long struggle to get wood is over!
I’d phoned several people whose numbers I found on the internet. Nobody returned my calls. With the cold weather approaching I was getting a little concerned that our lovely new wood-burning stove would remain an ornament. And then yesterday I spotted a neighbour trundling down the road with wood. I stopped him, asked him about it, and, hey presto, this morning I got a big pile of wood delivered!
- This is 2 cords of seasoned oak. 1 cord is 3m x 1m x 1m.
- It took Soren, Milo and me around 3 hours to stack.
- I paid Soren and Milo 0.20€ for their hard work. They were delighted.
October 27th, 2013
Written by Ben. 2 Comments - read/leave yours;
Our house has a slightly strange layout due to the fact that various extensions have been added to it over the years. This meant that our fireplace was between our kitchen and dining room. It was also an insert so almost all the heat went up, making it virtually pointless. Anyway, I ripped this out a while back whilst redoing our kitchen (photos might follow one day!) and yesterday began work on its replacement.
We bought a wood-burning stove. Because of the weird layout of the house – I’ve mentioned this, right? – we couldn’t use the existing chimney so the stove would need its own. Normally people get someone in to install their stove and create a chimney using twin-walled flue. This stuff is very expensive, and so is getting someone to do it all, so I figured I’d give it a go. How hard could it be? (The answer is very complicated as there are lots of things that must be done a certain way, but once these are figured out it’s not too hard).
The first job was going up into the loft to see where the new chimney could go; there are heating pipes up there so there were constraints. Then I built a hearth. Then I lifted the stove onto it with the help of my strong friend Paul. Then I cut a hole in the ceiling and installed my metal chimney block support. Once I’d measured where the chimney would exit the roof, I cut a hole in the roof, piled my chimney blocks one on top of the other, ran the flue through it, stuffed rock-wool into the void, joined it up with the black flue downstairs, rebuilt the roof, and took some photos.
Aside from the practical side of now having a lovely warm fireplace, I think the chimney really enhances the ramshackle look of the back of our house.
September 9th, 2013
Written by Ben. 1 Comment - read/leave yours;
We’re buying another house.
Before you start complaining that setting up a property empire is hardly a simple, rural, frugal family existence, it’s a very cheap (and knackered) little house that’s next-door-but-one to us that’s not too tricky to do up and should be able to provide some sort of income. Right, that’s the explanations sorted.
Now, I’ve not mentioned this house before since it’s not technically ours yet and I thought there’s no real point. Our offer was accepted in February and, due to various strange bureaucratic ‘quirks’, it’s still not technically ours nearly 8 months later, but we’re assured that it’s almost there since all 27 owners (!) have signed and there’s just a few bits of paperwork to sort out. With the good weather nearly behind us we thought we should at least make a start on the garden before it got too wet, so we called in my brother (who, luckily for us, is a professional gardener).
He and I (although mainly he) spent 6 solid days getting rid of brambles, dead trees, fences, barbed wire, chest-height grass, an old barn, an old outhouse and an old wood store, and generally turning it from an overgrown jungle into something that has the makings of a really nice garden. The rest of this post doesn’t really require words, the pictures cover it. Suffice to say, brambles are fuckers.
June 29th, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on The Tour de France
I love the Tour de France.
It’s not an easy thing for the casual observer to get into; on the surface it’s just a bunch of peculiarly-dressed men riding bikes round some pretty countryside. But there’s a load of exciting stuff awaiting anyone who puts in the effort to understand it. Then it becomes a bunch of peculiarly-dressed men riding bikes round some pretty countryside with tactics and rivalries and super-human feats and crashes and, most exciting of all, drug scandals.
The key to being able to understand all of it is the TV coverage. Fortunately in the UK the Tour is perfectly covered by ITV4. Nowadays they do live coverage as well but their one hour highlights evening show is all you really need. You’d think that living in France and having French TV coverage would be far better but surprisingly it’s not; the French coverage is, in comparison, terrible.
The live coverage looks the same as every other live coverage but the commentary is, on the whole, boring and often irrelevant to what’s going on; if something happens you cannot rely on the commentators to explain it or even mention it.
And the French highlights show? There isn’t one. Immediately after the stage has ended an ‘after stage’ show begins during which they have interviews and show the podiums and chat about bits and bobs, little of which makes any sense if you’re not already fully versed in the ways of the Tour. By around 6:30pm this is finished and that’s it. How you’re meant to keep up with the Tour if you work normal working hours I do not know.
So my recommendation for anyone living in France (or anywhere else for that matter) who would like to follow the Tour is watch the ITV4 highlight show, the true home of the Tour on TV.
June 5th, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on The final breakdown
Murray (my ride-on mower) has been rattling and puffing valiantly round our garden and field for over two years now, and for the last year I’ve been assuming he’ll snap something or conk out and that’ll be the end of him; he’s in pretty bad shape. Given the rate at which the grass is growing at the moment, being without a mower wouldn’t be a disaster but it would be a shame as the secret to nice grass is regular cutting.
I’ve been on the lookout for a Murray replacement but machines like this are expensive and I couldn’t bring myself to buy something expensive when I technically already had one. But on Sunday a bit on the cutting deck snapped which meant only one blade was cutting. I’d noticed a 2nd hand Murray for sale at my local agricultural shop so I went over there to buy the replacement part and to have a look at their Murray.
The part was 9€: I bought it. The Murray was 450€; I bought that too.
So now I have a lovely new(er) 12.5HP Murray mower with a grass collector on the back that’s in excellent condition (and was an absolute bargain), and an old knackered 11HP Murray mower that, once I’ve fixed the cutting deck, does work but I’ll keep as a back-up and for the boys to drive around on. It’s always a good idea to have a spare ride-on mower, don’t you think?
I’ve spent a couple of hours on New Murray this morning and he’s awesome. I’m rather chuffed with how this turned out.
June 5th, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on Snakes in the Compost
We have three compost boxes, one for each year we’ve been here. Box 1 is ready to use and we’ve been marvelling at how compost-like all the stuff we’ve been dumping in there has become.
Neither of us, however, remembers chucking snakes into the compost, so when Corrie discovered loads of snake eggs whilst preparing the tomato beds with some compost from box 1 it was quite a surprise. Although I do remember seeing a big snake slithering away from the pile of potato peelings and tea bags I chucked in there one evening.
Pretty cool I reckon!
May 23rd, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on I went for a bike ride
Since we’re now well into Spring I thought I’d go for a 2-day bike adventure. My mother-in-law is here at the moment and Corrie would therefore have some help with the boys so I wasn’t being totally selfish.
The trouble is it’s not very nice weather, and the forecast kept changing as my planned departure day approached until eventually I had to abandon the whole idea as cycling and wild camping in rain, wind and thunderstorms just isn’t much fun.
I decided to do a shortened, 1-day version instead; it didn’t matter if I got wet as I would be back home by evening. I put my balloon slick tyres onto my mountain bike, packed some lunch, and set off at 11am. I’d printed my route from Google maps and initially got a little confused by the scale, missing a couple of my turnings. Eventually I got the hang of it and was happily gliding down a nice dry track, admiring the greenery … then the track turned into a normal muddy track and my slick tyres really came into their own, skidding me all over the place. At one point I slid sideways and fell into some long wet grass with my feet still stuck in my pedals. I think I swore; it’s been about 10 years since I’ve actually fallen off my bike! I carried on like this – slipping and sliding – for about 1/2 hour, finally making it out onto a little tarmaced lane. The offroading had been fun but with the slicks I think it’s best reserved for when it’s dry.
At one point there was a torrential downpour so I quickly rode into an old barn by the side of the road to shelter. I was in there for about 20 minutes and took the opportunity to delete some of the old texts off my mobile. Over the next few hours I had to shelter under trees a couple of times but overall the weather wasn’t too bad, just a bit cold and windy.
Just before my route joined back up with itself I entered a village with a shop and eagerly went in to buy a cold can of drink. The only ones they had were Schweppes Indian Tonic. I gave it a miss and got back on my bike and just carried on. I was a bit gutted to be honest; I’d been looking forward to a sit down and a cold drink for a few miles.
By now I was knackered so I stopped in a village square and had a lie down on some church steps. A red squirrel came running along with its mouth full of twigs. It stopped when it spotted me then did a big loop to avoid me and eventually got to just the other side of where I was lying and went under a fence. He was cool.
The last 6 miles were pretty unpleasant and when I got back home I was absolutely shattered. It was good, but hard work. It turns out a 2-day bike ride would probably have been a bit much for a fat man.
Distance: 47 miles.
Time: 6 1/2 hours.
May 11th, 2013
Written by Ben. Comments Off on A little holiday in Lacanau Océan
Wednesday and Thursday were bank holidays in France this week, leaving just Friday at school for Soren… but they ditched that to make a loooong weekend. So we had 5 days off and, for only the third time since we’ve lived here, we went on holiday!
Thursday morning we drove over to Lacanau Océan, about 3 1/2 hours west of here, to a big campsite not far from the beach. It was absolutely pissing down the whole way over, letting up slightly as I pitched our tent, then stopping altogether about 10 minutes after I’d pitched it. With about an hour left before they closed we quickly went to the new indoor pool they’ve built (a sort of mini Center Parcs thing) and it was awesome; the boys had a great time on the slides and rapids and waves. After dinner at the tent we walked down to the beach. It was beautiful but the wind was very cold! Anyway, the boys had a great time digging and making sand angels.
Friday was a clear, sunny day, still not warm but nice in the sun. We went to the beach first thing; it was pretty busy but it’s so HUGE that was fine. So digging and splashing and all that sort of thing. We walked along the beach into town for chips, croque-monsieur and Orangina (Milo fell asleep in the trailer) then all the way back to the campsite for a rest in the tent and the highlight of the boys’ holiday, rolling about in the sleeping bags pretending to be caterpillars. More water slide and rapid fun, followed by ice-creams and playground, then another evening trip to the beach. This time it didn’t go quite as well as the big boys both fell into the waves fully dressed and emerged soaking, crying and traumatised. We had spare clothes in the van so got them all sorted but from their point of view it was a disaster. We got back to the tent and after hot chocolate they got into their sleeping bags and were fine.
And then today we did some more pool stuff before packing up and driving home via Ikea (which is so far away that we tend to make the most of it whenever we pass by).
They’re nice, holidays.
May 6th, 2013
Written by Ben. 3 Comments - read/leave yours;
We’re now well into our third year of our free range adventure. Having been here for so long it’s not really much of an adventure any more, it’s become normal and our routines and activities and environment all seem normal to us. Every now and then I’ll catch a glimpse of how I saw things when we first arrived and I’m reminded of how different our life here in France is from our previous life in England. But different doesn’t mean adventure, which is fine I suppose, it doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle ride 24/7. I do quite like white-knuckle rides though.
I mention this ‘settling in’ effect in an effort to explain why I haven’t posted anything about what we’ve been up to for so long; blogging about your mundane everyday life sometimes seems like a bit of a cheek. But the sun is shining and we’ve been out in the garden the last few days and, whilst it’s not adventurous, it is free range; we can enjoy what we’ve got together, when we please, without outside commitments getting in the way. Except Soren who has to go to school every now and then.
Additionally, I’ve been progressing quite well with alternative ways to make money. By alternative I mean not working for someone else in an office. My website making business – Uncomplicate – is doing well, far better than I ever imagined it would; I currently have 4 websites to make. I’ve been writing for a local English magazine, have published a collection of very short stories on Amazon, and am about 1/4 of the way through writing my first novel. And we’re in the process of buying another house just two doors down from ours, although the news from the solicitor last week suggests it might take quite a long time; there are 27 owners! Corrie’s also considering doing more of her cake-making that made her a fair amount of dough (pardon the bun) at the Christmas markets. None of this will make us wealthy, but it just might mean that we can continue doing what we’ve been doing for a little while longer.
So here, accompanied by some pictures, are a few of the things we’ve been up to…
Apple blossom on our dead apple tree
A bench I made (using a frame I found in a junk shop)
Our 7 chickens in their winter patch - we're getting 4 or 5 eggs a day at the moment
We planted a clematis last year to brighten up the bland front of the house
Corrie's been getting a load of vegetable seeds ready to plant out. Here they're inside
And here they're outside getting a bit of sun
Tomatoes. They're a fruit you know.
Corrie's already put quite a lot into the ground - here are onions, garlic and shallots
Potatoes, lettuce, spinach, beetroot and some flowers
Strawberries with an experimental 'snake shelter' method to keep the fruit clean
Last year's strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants
This year's use of our field; a playing field. Only goalposts so far....
A sort of rockery
A small pond - we'll be putting some fish in there soon
A living willow den
We expanded the boys' sandpit using tyres and, er, more sand
My cool tool board - when it's tidy I feel a sense of contentment
My welding bench. I am SHIT at welding
We sold our UK Mercedes Vito van and replaced it with a French 9 seater Renault Traffic
We also knocked down a wall to make two pokey rooms into one lovely, sunny one, but I can’t for the life of me get a good photo of it. Trust me though, it looks like something ‘Grand Designs’ would spend a few minutes slowly panning their camera round.
I’ve probably missed something out from this overdue update, but I think you get the picture.
January 16th, 2013
Written by Ben. 7 Comments - read/leave yours;
Our garden has been invaded by a mole. I know this because there are molehills everywhere.
According to my research all these molehills will have been made by one single mole. I haven’t done anything about it yet as Corrie isn’t keen on me killing it. And killing it isn’t easy. I’ve tried stuffing some mouse poison down a few of the holes but that was a stupid thing to do as it didn’t work and mouse poison is quite expensive.
I go out every couple of days to scoop up all the soil into a wheelbarrow and dump it onto the vegetable beds; I figure there’s no harm in topping up the beds with some fluffy top-soil. This will also make it easier for the grass to grow around the molehill sites in the spring. So far I’ve dumped about 20 wheelbarrow-loads of molehills into the beds – I reckon that’s about 500KG!
The molehill above is the biggest I’ve ever seen, absolutely massive! That’s me in the picture next to it, to give you an idea of scale.
They’re a bugger though these molehills, so I’m going to try to get some toy windmill things to stick in the mole holes. Apparently the vibrations drive the moles away. There’s an obvious flaw in this plan: our garden is quite big so using this method could simply drive them to another part of the garden. It’s worth trying though.
Anyone got any other suggestions?