It’s been a very difficult several days at Chez Bee. The stress and strain of functioning at a high level in a second language every day is already significant, and on top of that there’s the actual physical stresses and strains of working on the house. We are making some real, solid progress, and I’m finding that the vast majority of the work is properly fun, but the general level of fatigue can’t be underestimated.
On top of all of that, the UK “Brexit” referendum happened and the result was horribly upsetting on every level. I feel like my adopted home country has unceremoniously cut me adrift. Even though I am still an EU citizen (thanks for being Irish, Dad!) and I’m in the middle of building a life in another country entirely, it’s a shitty, shitty feeling. And on top of the emotional aspect of the results, we now have to be worried about the fact that basically all of our money is still in pounds, and the pound is down through the floorboards in value. Adulting has rarely been this hard.
All that being said, I have so much to talk about that it simply will not do to sit and dwell on the anxiety, the uncertainty of the future, and my physical and emotional exhaustion, SO. Regular blogging service will recommence herewith, with a story and a recipe.
We’ve been doing a lot of laundry lately. Madame Suzy’s house was sold to us totally intact, and before we can sell or donate her lifetime’s worth of towels, sheets, curtains, pillowcases, clothes, and more curtains, we need to wash the smell of almost three years of damp house out of them. The state of the inside of the house, I’ll leave for another post; what you need to know is, we’re doing lots of laundry.
Also necessary background: we’re currently living in a rented holiday cottage (or ‘gite’) about seven minutes’ drive away from our little house, because it’s basically uninhabitable while we’re doing work on it. Our landlady, Hélène, is lovely, the area is even quieter than our village, and the garden here is surrounded on two sides by a fenced-in field used for grazing by a herd of sheep.
So last night, after another trip to the enormous 18kg pay-per-wash machine, I set out toward the fence at the back of Hélène’s garden with a very heavy IKEA bag full of wet textiles. We’d already hung things up to dry on all of the actual washing lines, so with this last batch, I was going to have to carefully hang things on the sheep field’s fence, avoiding rusty patches of wire. I got to the fence, set down my heavy load, pulled out a wet bedsheet to hang up… and then I noticed that one of the sheep is on the wrong side of the fence.
She (I’m assuming it was a ‘she’, I didn’t exactly ask for the sheep’s preferred pronouns) was chilling near the fence, chomping away at Hélène’s nicely-trimmed grass. I couldn’t see a place in the fence where she’d managed to get through, no obvious holes or gaps in the wire, but there she was. I hung the wet sheet on the fence, mentally going through my options. The farm the sheep belonged to was just visible in the distance over the field, but leaving this lone sheep escape artist here on the wrong side of the fence might mean she wanders off before I can get the shepherd’s attention. Nancy has exactly as much experience with sheep as I do (none at all), so calling her to come out and help wouldn’t help. It was up to me to figure out how to put the Great Sheep Houdini back with her flock.
I took a few tentative steps toward my target. “Hello, sheep,” I said calmingly, and then, thinking that she probably didn’t speak English, “Bonsoir, madame mouton.” She stopped eating grass, staring at me with prey animal trepidation. I took another step, and it was clearly a step too far. She let out a loud BAAAAA of fear, flinging herself in an ungainly dive at a small gap between the wire and the ground the bottom of the fence. No good; the wire caught on her shoulders, leaving her with her head in the paddock where she belonged, ass in the air, going precisely nowhere. She pried herself free, turned to face me where I stood trying not to laugh, and promply peed herself in terror. And then shit herself, for good measure.
I have to say, I’ve never had that effect on another living creature before. I can’t recommend the experience.
Right, I thought, she can’t get back in the way she got out. I looked over my shoulder toward the gate in the fence, making sure none of the rest of the flock looked ready to make a break for freedom. I edged back, opened the gate as wide as it would go, then looked back at my quarry, where she was still staring fixedly at me, bowels freshly evacuated, fully in fight-or-flight mode. I would have to edge around her, try to gently encourage her to go along the fence toward the gate, and hope that she noticed it was open and avail herself of it.
Think like a sheepdog, I thought encouragingly (and a little hysterically) to myself, and walked slowly in a semi-circle around the sheep. Luckily, this sheep was clearly used to being herded; she saw the direction I’d left open for her to run, and took off down toward the gate. I couldn’t believe it was working!
She stopped right in front of the open gate. She looked at the gate. She looked back at me. I did ‘no really, after YOU’ arms wildly. She looked back at the gate, then leaped through it with the sort of wild kicky back feet you usually see in gamboling lambs in the springtime. Like so:
Only she’d been shorn recently, and wasn’t nearly this fluffy.
I rushed over to close the gate, feeling triumphant. I had performed adequately as a sheepdog! The sheep was back where she belonged!! Gate closed and firmly latched, I turned back to my bag of washing… only to look over the fence and see the entire rest of the flock of sheep staring balefully at me. For a second or two, they stared in utter, eerie silence, and then as one, as though on some unheard signal, they started BAAAAAA-ing at me.
I didn’t really know what to do, so I just laugh-shouted “Alright, already, I’m sorry! She’s fine now!!” As I said it in English, though, I don’t think they understood me.
And that’s the story of how I am now the sworn enemy of our neighbours, the Sheep Clan. If they come for me in the night, seeking revenge, please pass this tale along to the appropriate authorities.And now, to close: a recipe.
Trash Fire Baked Potatoes
- large pile of dead ivy, hedge trimmings, and other assorted garden waste
- 2-3 firelighter squares from Aldi
- 4 medium-sized potatoes wrapped in tinfoil
- several sturdy sticks for poking and general fire-bothering
- garlic and herb cream cheese, butter, salt and pepper to taste
Break off bits of the massive chunk of dry, dead ivy your mildly evil neighbour killed at the root and let fall off of her barn onto your back steps. Thanks for the fuel, lady!
Pile ivy and hedge trimmings and leaves up in a sort of semi-informed bonfire shape, half-remembered from your years as a Girl Scout. Light a firelighter brick or several down in the kindling with a lighter you found in Madame Suzy’s kitchen, miraculously still functional. Get a nice, steady blaze going. Regret your choice to do this on a hot, sunny day rather than in a cool evening sometime. Get smoke in your eyes and up your nose as you feed the fire.
Once you’ve been at this for an hour or more, stick foil-wrapped baked potatoes down in the embers of the fire. Cover haphazardly with more embers using poking sticks. Feed the fire more carefully as it gradually burns lower. Leave the ropes of freshly-cut ivy for next time. Allow an indeterminate amount of time to pass.
Roll potatoes out of fire with poking sticks. Feel smug at having accomplished two things at once, destroying garden waste and creating lunch. Eat on plastic orange plates with butter and salt and pepper and chunks of garlicky herby cream cheese, sitting in the garden, surrounded by birdsong, watching the fire burn down.