Thursday, 23 May 2013


Springtime! How I love to see the arrival of Spring. The long winter has passed and the skeletal branches of the trees are now clad in their new green leaves.

At the allotment there is apple blossom 

and the Heartsease Violas are in flower. 

In the garden fat peony blooms are about to burst open.

With trees and shrubs all around the birdlife is prolific and at 4am each morning a cacophony of bird song welcoming the dawn awakens me from my slumbers.

Unfortunately there are other ears that also hear these loud excited calls.

Magpies haunt the treetops and I watch helpless, as Thrushes and other birds squawk wretchedly and in vain when a Magpie seizes a young Thrush from the nest, flying off with the struggling fledgling in its claws.

This morning the cries of an agitated starling drew my attention and I caught sight of the large dark shape with a flash of white feather viciously attacking something smaller upon the rooftop. Grabbing a brush I lunged upward towards the roof and succeeded in scaring the Magpie. But not before he threw the little starling to the ground. Too young to be out of the nest and unable to cope with the attack and then the fall, this little Starling did not survive.

The Magpies have not been the only cause of my distress over the local birdlife. Since Lucie's arrival several years ago, the sound of birdsong in Spring sparks a note of fear in my heart.

Demurely looking as though butter would not melt in her mouth; 

Lucie harbours a wicked streak; one that cannot be vanquished by any means.

Her eyes take on a wild expression as she skulks deviously, eyeing up her prey as she watches the starlings feeding below the Sycamore tree. She selects her victim and remains motionless - crouched low to the ground, before inching forward, slinking silently without appearing to move a muscle and then in a flash.....


The starling did not stand a chance, and amidst the frenetic screaming from the other birds Lucie triumphantly carries off her prize - whose panic-stricken cries cease within minutes as the inevitable occurs.

The day I found the young sparrow, recently emerged from the nest and exhausted from his first flight,

I hastily incarcerated Lucie and stood guard over the little bird - willing him to stop his noisy squawks that alerted every feline ear within the vicinity to his presence. Happily my hours of standing over him were worthwhile and despite the meows of rage emanating from the imprisoned Lucie, the baby Sparrow regained enough strength to fly upwards to the tree tops.

Regardless of the bells hung from her collar to act as a warning, Lucie's hunting skills are honed to perfection. She knows I disapprove and that she will be scolded but her eyes look beseechingly at me as if attempting to convince me that she has no control over her weakness.

Through her attachment to me she lovingly presents me with the dismembered spoil as gifts and I despaired to find the feathered corpses frequently deposited upon my doorstep.

The Laburnum Tree

Worse was yet to come. At first I was thrilled when the blackbirds who sang their sweet evening song from the Laburnum tree, chose to build their nest in the Ivy outside the kitchen window. Every day I watched and when I finally heard a high-pitched tweeting I knew there was a chick in the nest.

But someone else knew there was a chick in the nest!

Each morning the hungry and demanding calls for food and more food by the baby blackbird awoke me, soon followed by the ominous thump of the cat flap closing as Lucie left to investigate at closer range.

I knew she was choosing a hiding place to spy upon the nest, yet I was helpless to prevent her. The busy parent birds kept clear of her, but as Lucie lay still beneath the Hydrangea, she surreptitiously watched them fly to and fro and it was clear that she was just biding her time.

The morning arrived when I heard the excited cheeps and saw to my consternation that today was the day the baby blackbird had chosen to stretch his wings and tentatively take his first few flutters. Perched on an ivy leaf close to the nest he rested; - his cheeping ceaseless as he naively announced his independence loudly and proudly to all.

There was no sign of Lucie!

After some time the fledgling plucked up the courage to venture a little further and with a lot of flapping he flew to the window ledge where I watched him closely. I felt attached to this little bird and fearful for his safety. If only I could take him somewhere safe as he built up his strength to fly. Time passed and whilst he stayed upon the windowsill - against my wishes I had to leave.

Still no sign of Lucie!

Upon my return several hours later I was greeted with a scene from a Hitchcock movie. 

I ducked as two raucously screeching black birds flew low over my head from a nearby Rowan tree.

Then I saw her........

Crouched low beside a plant pot, oblivious to all else was Lucie - intent upon terrorising something in the space between a few broken old pots and the fence.

Furiously I dragged her away; her thrashing and protesting transforming her from domestic docility to a spitting feral wild cat.     

With Lucie imprisoned indoors once more, I returned to the crime scene. The two blackbirds although still frantically squawking did not fly at me again; realising perhaps that I was not a threat. Then I found him. My little bird! Huddled petrified behind the pot was my little baby bird. Unlike this morning his enthusiastic anticipation for life outside of the nest had turned to a nightmare. To my horror I watched him make feeble attempts to hop as his right foot dragged limply behind him. Had he injured his foot himself or had he escaped from the clutches of Lucie? I needed to rescue him, but he was just out of reach. There was nothing I could do except drag more pots around him in an attempt to protect him. It was with a heavy heart that I went to bed that night.

Next morning at 4am there was no hungry cheeping from the nest. Instead what woke me was the sound of the cat flap closing and then a strange noise – a cross between a meow and a growl. Grrrrrrrrrreeeeooow. Lucie slunk into the bedroom. In the dim light I could distinguish a black shadowy form hanging from her mouth. Still grreeoooowling she leapt suddenly upon the bed dropping the lifeless bundle she carried onto my chest.

Words cannot really describe what happened next - the haste with which I leapt from the bed, flinging both Lucie and her offering from me. Nature had taken its cruel course. My baby blackbird suffered no more.

Cruel Cruel Nature!

I do not like to end with such a sad story, so I shall finish by telling you about the beautiful bull-finch that became trapped in the greenhouse at the allotment.

In his panic to be free he flew full tilt into the glass and fell backwards to the ground unconscious. I heard the sickening smack as he hit the glass and the quieter thud as his little body hit the ground.

Quickly, I gently covered him with my jumper, gathered him up and carried him outside where I lay him below the blackcurrant bushes. There was no hint of life and I waited to see if he would recover.

There was no sign of any movement.

After a while - still nothing!

Oh! How upsetting!

Another feathered casualty!

Despondently I carried on with my allotmenting, keeping a close eye out for any predators. After an hour or so I returned to the inert form of the little bullfinch who lay exactly as I had placed him. Maybe he had broken his neck? I leant closer to see if I could see any damage when suddenly - with a wonderful resurgence of life, he opened his eyes and in a flurry of feathers he took off.................................................

first to a nearby tree

then a flash of red and - gone!!!!!!!!!!!!

A life saved and a happy ending after all!



Sunday, 19 May 2013

La Petite Maison - The Boudoir

Out of all the rooms at La Petite Maison this room was certainly one of the less appealing rooms. A door led from it directly into the kitchen, meaning that it was used primarily as a reception room or lounge.

In one corner was a dilapidated built in cupboard behind which was situated the hot press and cylinder. The ceiling was covered in a dreadful patterned type of polystyrene with a huge yellowy stain where a pipe had burst in the roof space and there was a most unpleasant musty smell present.

An electric fire barely hid a crudely patched up hole in the chimney breast where chunks of plaster were also missing. The window frame was rotten with water leaking in whenever it rained and beneath the window were huge cracks in the wall. All in all the room was in a sorry state. (I know - what on earth possessed me to buy this place? Believe me I have asked myself that almost every day for the past year!)

Unable to resist the temptation, almost immediately after I got the keys to the house and unfortunately not clad in what was to become my work wear, I pulled at a corner of the saggy polystyrene sheeting covering the ceiling. In a rush the entire polystyrene ceiling collapsed on top of me; flakes and years of dust everywhere - in my hair, down my dress and in my shoes. What a mess! 

With the polystyrene gone, the ceiling needed scraping free of bits of glue and paint - a truly horrible and dirty job. After removing the grimy old wallpaper as well, my neck and shoulder ached for days from my scraping exertions.

My plan was to move the kitchen into the new extension on the opposite side of the house, so we boarded up the doorway between this room and the existing kitchen fairly early on. Then our attention turned to the cupboard with the hot water cylinder. As a new heating system was being installed, the antiquated equipment in the unsightly cupboard was superfluous to requirements, (thankfully).

The removal of the cupboard and plumbing gear was reasonably straightforward, but I hadn't anticipated the terrible state that would be left when everything was stripped out. Huge holes gaped both in the walls and the floor where the pipes had once been and where there should have been ceiling was simply a void through which could be viewed the rafters above.

To restore the cupboard area took a lot longer than I expected - from dismantling it, to re-plastering the walls, repairing the floor and plaster-boarding and then plastering the ceiling.

The Old Cupboard space after it was restored

Whilst work progressed on the cupboard, the cracks beneath the window were repaired and wire mesh put in before the walls were re-plastered. The walls were tracked and re-plastered for new sockets.

The old floorboards were in reasonable condition and I resolved to salvage them, repairing with other boards from the back room. However I was warned that uninsulated floors would cause serious heat loss, and at a time when fuel costs are astronomical this was not a good idea.

Okay - so let's insulate under the floors!

To say that it was a major job is an understatement! I won't bore you with the details, save to say that it took about six weeks for both the front room floors  to be insulated and then repaired. I confess that I lost interest while this work was underway and spent most of my time at the allotment (and helping with the sourcing of French Furniture for a move Down Under), trying to forget about the painfully slow progress at La Petite Maison.

At last the floors were ready and I could set to work sanding them. Phew, that was a filthy job, but well worth it when I finished and saw the transformation! To treat the floors I had researched a method used by the Danish involving the use of Lye after which the floor is cleaned and then oiled.

The finish is very natural and with the sun streaming in through the window a lovely warm glow flooded the room. Ah yes! The window! Well as I mentioned in my previous post about the bathroom, the new windows took longer than anticipated and installing this window was a considerable headache, especially as one of my Much-Appreciated-Men-Folk was recovering from a hernia operation. Then of course after the window was fitted the reveals had to be re-plastered! More Mess!

The electric fire was dumped and the chimney breast opened up ready for a new fireplace to be installed. After a long time searching, I located a rather gorgeous fireplace in  a reclamation yard, which I had sand-blasted and then I painted.

Fireplace sand-blasted, primed and undercoated

It took two goes to get the right colour; - the "Old White" that I used first had a distinctly yellowy nicotine tinge to it and I was not overly impressed with the finish;

Fitted and painted with the first colour - definitely not right.

but when I did settle on the final colour (after the purchase of umpteen sample pots and lots of research on the internet) - "Slaked Lime" oil-based eggshell from The Little Greene Paint Company (in my opinion it is the best oil-based eggshell paint available) I was so taken with it that I decided that all the woodwork throughout the house would also be painted the same colour.

To tile the hearth I chose to use an ivory coloured brickshaped tile, 

(Soho Garden from Fired Earth)

For a while I was swamped and frustrated with emulsion colour charts and sample pots, but nothing was quite right, and what looked okay on a colour chart was completely different when applied to the wall; then I found a paint that I deemed suited the look that I wanted. Farrow and Balls "Dimity" has an underlying pink tone and blended beautifully with the Slaked Lime eggshell and my proposed faded floral linen soft furnishings.

Testing "Dimity" emulsion on the Chimney Breast

Finally the room was ready, the new skirtings and architraves on, primed and undercoated, the only remaining hiccup being the ceiling. Nightmare! I won't go on about that again except to say that through gritted teeth I ploughed on until the room was complete and the sockets, which had been hanging sadly for months, could finally be screwed back onto the walls again ready for the finishing touches.

So here it is at long last......

The finished Bedroom (minus the furniture of course)

Walls, ceiling and woodwork freshly painted; curtain pole up, floral linen curtains (borrowed simply for effect from another room) 

(Preview of the real curtain fabric) 

at the new window and for a final feminine touch - the fireplace filled with dried Hydrangeas!

A slight improvement?


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Staying Calm

As work on the extension à La Petite Maison progresses, 

so the stress levels get progressively higher. Not all is going to plan and in order to fit a new beam a hole had to be smashed into the top corner of the bathroom. Yes and when I say bathroom, what I am referring to is -

The Newly Plastered.......

 ......and Painted Bathroom!

Bathroom complete with New Hole

But it is okay - I accept that these things are necessary, albeit inconvenient. Upon viewing my recently plastered bathroom plus hole, I am proud to say that I did actually manage to remain reasonably calm.

However, the premature but essential removal of an existing large window to also facilitate the installation of the new beam caused my stress levels to ricochet off the scale. Mr Long Suffering had suffered enough of my stress and in frosty silence left me to own devices, as I - along with the Elder of the Much-Appreciated-Men-Folk, fabricated and welded a complicated contraption worthy of something from Scrapheap Challenge involving reinforcing mesh, steel bars, wire, acrows, old doors and anything else we could find to fill the space where the window had been.

Following this I sought solace and refuge at the allotment, where just to add to my stress, I found to my horror that some of the seedlings in the greenhouse were in trouble and others had inexorably vanished. There is obviously an unwelcome visitor (of the slimy variety) lurking somewhere around the seed trays. Not good news!

Taking a deep breath, I left the greenhouse and the struggling seedlings for the time being and to the accompaniment of birds singing in the hawthorn hedge, I sat down at the little table beside the shed and indulged in a herbal tea

and the latest edition of Country Living Magazine.

As I sit soaking up the sun - enjoying the daffodils and the cheery sign of seedlings sprouting in the beds, I start to feel calmer. So in true nostalgic teenage form .......

...... I shall leave you with this picture and pretend to you that this is me, in the garden at La Petite Maison after a hard days gardening!