Monday, March 30

More Ants - Hooray!

Monday 30th March
The weekend was chaotic; Mrs Druid reckoned she could sneak her sheep onto the new grazing without my noticing - Saturday morning I arrived back from shopping to discover the house surrounded by a bleating herd of the woolly bastards. Mrs Druid relies on her blind and nervous old dog to help her control the sheep which is a touching but losing battle. In the midst of all this a carload of house guests pulled in to the drive behind me. The electric fence didn’t work very well and during the course of the weekend there were many escaped sheep alerts.

On Saturday evening we turned the main room into a grand banqueting hall for The Director's birthday party, I planted lots of big candles round the room in mounds of clay (we spent quite a long time trying to make them not look like dog turds but had to give that up as it was too time-consuming) the overall effect struck me as quite gothic.

Obviously there was loads of food but I’m beyond going into all that, I will say that if you had some raspberries and cream but had run out of time to do anything fancy, especially if a large man had just sat on the bag of macaroons, the day can be saved - just with whip the cream, mix in the raspberries and the bits of macaroons - it’s terrific.

Over the weekend our guests got fed up with rounding up sheep and went off on a walk. Somewhere along the way someone tripped over an ants nest – a great big one right on a path in the wood (easy camera access - hurrah!). This is great because it makes our captive ant catastrophe less of a catastrophe.

Friday, March 27

Weekly Round Up

Friday 27th
We’ve had some trials this week; someone went out every morning to set up a timelapse sequence and every day the focus was out. Spider Man was due to turn up on Monday to start logging our footage, he phoned to say that he’d written off his car so we arranged that I’d pick him up at the train station and he’d stay over at our place for a couple of days. On the journey from the station I asked him what happened with his car, he told me that he’d been out on a moth hunt and fell asleep on his way home, he woke the next morning upside down in a field. I might have to rethink the name I've given him.

Mrs Druid has been around a lot over the last few days putting up an electric fence on our land in preparation for bringing her sheep in to graze, she is actually quite lecherous and keeps luring the Camera Boys away from filming to help her bang in her posts. I am now experiencing quite a lot of irritable feelings towards her so I’ve asked her to take the weekend off and we’ll help her bring her sheep in next week*.

It’s gone quiet for a moment, we’ve had lunch, I’ve just taken Spider/Moth/WhateverMan back to the station and one of the Camera Boys has gone back to the UK for a week, the rest of the afternoon is for tidying up. I’m a bit distracted though, The Director has arrived at a significant birthday and soon people are going to start turning up for the weekend celebrations.

* we’ve been bribed with the promise of half a lamb in return for the grazing, there is a lot of grassland here and we can’t afford a mower because we’ve still not got the money from the Big Controller that was due last year

Animal Update
Julie the bereaved cat:
has transformed into quite a friendly thing, still very timid but she hangs around us while we’re outside and lets me stroke her sometimes.

Ants: none of them have survived last week's attack, the other relocations we tried in more controlled conditions were also unsuccessful.

Bumble Bees: have made their special wooden box comfy with mud and moss and are happily flying in and out of their new home - we will be filming them next week.

Wednesday, March 25

An Offer I Can’t Refuse

25th March
After yesterday’s Ada holiday , I’m back on track in the World of Weird that is this little filming project, I’ll catch you up on the insect and cat news later, but I’ve been champing at the bit to unburden myself of a recent adventure:

I had a swift response to Friday’s canvassing for garden-related stuff, the following afternoon a battered Mercedes scrunched into our driveway. M. Mullet got out, swaggered round to the car boot and opened it with a flourish to reveal a pile of ceramic flower pots and plastic seed trays. I thanked him and said that I’d be happy to buy them.

Oh no, they’re just sitting there taking up space in our garage, they are a gift

M. Mullet has a wolfy leer about him, clearly this was not going to be the end of it, his eyes were scanning the property over my shoulder, taking note that no other car was in view, he finally asked if I was on my own (I was).

Goodness me no, my husband is filming behind the house – shall I call him?

He didn’t call my bluff and headed off, but the following day his wife knocked on our front door and asked me if I would like to have an aperitif with her that evening, I said that would be lovely thank you
then she said Good you will join my home maintenance party

She saw my puzzled look and explained that she was hosting a party for housewives where we would be introduced to some house cleaning products, I wanted to laugh, my idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.

The penny dropped - this was how I had to pay for the car-load of pots

The Mullet’s place was easy to spot due to the broken lorry blocking the road outside, but then I had to negotiate quite a lot of big car parts and dog poo before I got to the front door, M. Mullet opened the door and there was  a tussle to stop the dogs savaging me. The 'party’ was going to be run by a large severe-looking lady in a tight suit, M.Mullet left for the bar and we were all given catalogues, there were 5 other 'guests', all French except for Brenda*, I was the only non-smoker in the room.

Brenda hissed at me that she’d tried to decline her invitation by saying that there’d be no point as she didn’t understand French, They told me you were coming to translate – why didn’t you say no?

I hissed back: Why didn’t you?

We were then treated to the Stanhome Experience which is exclusively directed at women and emphasizes their responsibility to provide family security through cleanliness. The Tight-suited Lady stood and lectured us, pausing now and again while I turned to Brenda and rendered her words into English.

There is nothing that will remove as many stains as Spunkoff, here are my husband’s white cricket trousers, they were covered with sperm and grass stains, see how new they look now

Mme Mullet was to receive a commission from the sales, she told us that she hoped to reach a target that would win her the bonus prize, I asked her what that would be

A magic squeegee**

Finally order forms were passed around, I selected a cleaning sponge and some hand cream at the sort of price I would pay for good Champagne and smoked salmon. Everyone else placed their order and went home but Mme Mullet had insisted that Brenda and I stay for aperitifs, we waited while the evening’s sales were totalled.

The squeegee target was not reached, Tight-suit lady handed us all a Stanhome-branded coaster and left. M. Mullet came back from the bar, poured us some warm whiskey and tried to comfort his distraught wife about her tight-fisted friends. It was an uncomfortable evening on every level.

* Brenda is great value - a chain-smoking septuagenarian party girl from Liverpool, recipient of multiple implants and facelifts

** Obviously if I could’ve just bought her the mop as an exchange for the pots I would have happily done so – but mere money won’t buy such a glorious thing.

Sunday, March 22

Customer Survey

22nd March
I made a business trip to the village bar on Friday evening - to let it be known that I’m in the market for any old garden-related stuff that people are throwing out or won’t be needing for a while. I’m going to use it to dress the garden sets.

I took the new bar manager Shane shopping again last week and the trip was decorated by some colourful swearing. He cursed the tight-fisted a******s who are refusing to buy his fancy wines. This is mainly due to unrealistic expectations on his part, I suspected that our village society might not have the right profile for his plans and decided to conduct a survey of his existing clientele on a typical Friday night:

Old Dad
Turns up wearing fat slippers, usually drinks Ricard, rarely eats out, likes to see a piece of meat and plenty of chips on his plate.

Comes in for beer after long day farming, lives with his parents, his Italian mother would be volubly upset if he ate away from home.

Frank and Philippe
Pétanque club captain and his best mate, they wear unfashionable jeans, drink beer mixed with mint syrup then Ricard chasers, their idea of evening entertainment = burping contests, when they’ve got drunk enough they go for a pizza.

Philippe’s wife, she’s very smart but as a perpetually designated driver she just drinks Coke.

The Mullet* family
Mme Mullet is a hairdresser and does the family hair, her husband does stuff with used vehicles and leers shamelessly at other women in front of his wife, she watches miserably clutching a Kalua-based cocktail. There are two doughy-faced sons in biker leathers, their mullets resplendent enough to gain free entry to a Guns n Roses convention. The boys drink beer but M. Mullet surprised me by drinking what amounted to about a pint of Muscat (an inexpensive sweet white wine) They do eat out together a lot, I’ve seen them at Jeanne’s café, they tell me that for a special treat they would go to the Macdonalds in the out of town shopping mall.

Lost Bloke Asking Directions
No purchase

I hung with Mimi and put rum in my coke.

* The Mullet family are French, I was curious to discover what the French might call this cut and came across this place and this one
discovering along the way that
the French term is Coupe à la Waddle, referring to Chris Waddle, the English football player who adopted this haircut in the 1980s while he played for Olympique Marseille.

** I went to the bar on my own, The Director wanted to stay in and finish making a ratchet-sprung gnat-catcher and the Camera Boys took the car to go find somewhere a little more lively.

Thursday, March 19

Housing Crisis

19th March
On Tuesday the weather was looking good for rehousing the carpenter ant colony. One of the prepared tree trunks was set nice and firm by the garden shed, the ants had been taken out of the fridge the day before and left in a cool place to acclimatise. We placed them by the entry hole on the tree trunk with some sugar water nearby, they wandered around a bit and gradually disappeared into the trunk - Hooray.

We were just slapping high fives when the TNT van pulled in to the drive, the driver had got out of the cab and we could see her gesticulating at us.

The driver, Sylvie, knows us quite well by now, it turns out that she lives in a town an hour’s drive from here, next door to the mother of the woman who lives three houses away from me, with this degree of neighbourly proximity we’re practically sisters - Sylvie usually stops for coffee after she’s handed over a box of creatures.

On Tuesday Sylvie didn’t stay for coffee, she was a bit irate, she told us that she’d heard buzzing and realised that her cab was filling with bumble bees, she pulled over, slapped a bit of parcel tape over the tear in our package and continued, a little faster than she should've, to us.

Now all our attention was on the bumble bees, we could feel through the outer wrapping that the inner casing was broken. We had prepared a wooden box to house these bees and were keen to transfer them to this as soon as possible - how to get the bees out of the broken package without them all just flying away?

Bees can’t see red light and won’t fly in the dark, we already had a dark room in one of the stables where we’d been filming the blossom, there was even a work table in there, so we set up a red light and undid the package on the table, the bees all tumbled out, they fell off the table and were crawling around on the floor, someone went to find things to scoop them up with.

At this point we heard The Director yelling something about the carpenter ants being under attack. The Camera Boys stayed to herd the bumble bees and I ran off to the ants, arriving on a scene of devastation, lots of tiny black ants had swarmed over our great big carpenter ants who, by this time, had fallen off the tree trunk and were lying around in the grass clearly in a bad way, The Director was sweeping away the black ants and trying to resuscitate the wounded carpenters. We tried to poke the unwounded ants back in their ant hole but they kept coming back out to look for their comrades.

We’ve set up an ant hospital in a margarine container where we hope the survivors might recover...

Blackthorn Blossom

Monday, March 16

The Food At The Bar Goes La Di Da

16th March
Shane has transformed our scruffy spit-and-sawdust café into a gastrodome, he's bought new white tablecloths and fine glassware, there are pretty candle holders on the tables and he has introduced a wine list. He is quite meticulous and sculpts all the tomatoes and carrots into roses which means that it takes a while for the food to actually make it to the table - but I mustn't be mean, he did serve an impressive meal to the pétanque club this weekend.

The pétanqueuers didn’t quite know what to make of this, they ordered their carafes of House Red as usual, peered suspiciously at the little towers of food on their plates and dipped fingers gingerly into the raspberry sauce that had been trickled around the edges of their plates, but by the end of the evening while Naughty Vera was running the selection process for who would be entertaining her later on, Shane was regaling a happy bunch of chaps with tall tales of how many Spanish prostitutes he could fit into his ski chalet.

Meanwhile on the filming lot...
We love timelapse filming, I’ve already gone on about it here. For spring we're filming flowers opening. This involves setting up stills cameras to take a series of photographs at regular intervals. We've now got beautiful dandelions opening in a nearby field - starting at dawn, the path of the sun is clearly marked by the shadows of the flowers as they open up. Daisies and celandines are really good too. We’ve also blacked out one of the sheds and placed branches of tightly shut blackthorn blossom in sugared water, these are lit constantly, cameras are left pointing at them and clicking away for a week or so until they’ve fully opened.

Tomorrow we rehouse the ants ...

Friday, March 13

Ant Condos

13th March
We’ve been preparing the new homes for the ant colonies that are hibernating in the fridge. We have some fat logs and tree stumps ready for the carpenter ants, a section is sliced off the log and holes are drilled to make a network of chambers, most of the holes will be bunged up on the outside with little corks leaving just two exits/entrances for the ants, when they have settled in we can unbung a hole and put in an endoscope to film what’s going on.

meanwhile down at the bar...
Shane has arrived to run the village bar, Kurt’s younger brother and chief adversary. Kurt was nursing a black eye when I took him and his wife to the airport.

Shane works out a lot, his body is waxed and his hair shorn with a number two blade, he wears neatly pressed white shirts, black trousers and shiny Doc Martin boots. He also has an intense dislike of women, non-French people and anyone over 30 ... he does not possess a driving license. Our village is a 20-minute drive from the nearest shop. Because I would like the bar to survive I have agreed to take him shopping with me once a week until his friend arrives to help him out next month.

Our first run to the shops didn’t go particularly well because I resent being treated like his personal chauffeuse and he doesn’t seem to like the sharp edge of my tongue.

Wednesday, March 11

Breaking The Ice

11th March
Félix came over last night, he is very shy and speaks no English so we welcomed him by showing him a darts game we'd just invented:

Who fetches the beer?
Someone throws a dart to make the challenge, everyone in the room has to grab a dart and throw it at the board from wherever they were when the challenge was declared. furthest from the bull gets the beer (from the insect fridge in the cold back kitchen). If you're facing away from the board when the challenge is made - tough the dart has to be thrown over your shoulder.

Félix thought that one was great so we invented some more games including:

How many darts can you get into a board in a single throw?
Funnily enough cramming your fist with loads of darts and hurling them at the board doesn’t mean that more stick in, just throwing two or three has more success than six at once.

How far can you be from the board and still get a dart in?
You can get a sightline to the dartboard from the back of the next room but no-one has been able to throw that far yet.

Félix did end up having to fetch a lot of beer, but he went home happy with a big net and a list of dragonfly larvae species to hunt down.

Sunday, March 8

Pussy Galore

8th March
My neighbour in the posh house down the road, Madame Bontette, has some New Best Friends, last night she invited The Director and me to a dinner party so we could meet them. The Director doesn’t like dinner parties so I made his excuses and went alone.

I’d already had a tour of the dining room at Chateau Bontette – a symphony of layered drapes in shades of tangerine and crushed raspberry, coloured glass chandeliers, crazy metal candle holders and statuettes of toga-clad women in extravagant poses. Knowing that Naughty Vera would be there and that Mme B has a taste for leather trousers and slutty shoes, I decided to lift my mood with an outfit that involved shiny crimson stiletto-heeled boots, fishnet tights, a psychedelic mini-dress and big jewellery. The NBFs turned out to be a surly old couple in suits, the hosts and other guests had, bizarrely, also opted for bank manager outfits.

A mutual dislike quickly became apparent between myself and the NBFs and awkward silence broke out, our attention wandered over to Naughty Vera who was flirting heavily with the man seated next to her, food and company disregarded, their chairs were turned 90 degrees from the table towards each other. Suddenly the Bontette’s very fluffy cat jumped up on Vera’s lap and they both set about stroking the animal with increasing fervour.

In another situation I’d have passed comment but in that strained atmosphere I left my mouth open and let M. Bontette launch into an animated dissertation about an asbestos problem at the local school.

Saturday, March 7


7th March
For the filming there’s a real sense of urgency as spring is rushing in and there’s so much to get done. These projects feel like an obstacle race as one emergency looms up after another:

On Wednesday we carried all the filming equipment into the new studio, it was a little dusty so we pushed a broom over it, but it became dustier and then it seemed as though the floor was dissolving back into powder which sent us into a major panic, we finally calmed down sufficiently to call the Tall Builder who’d laid the floor, he came and painted it with PVA which seems to have stabilised it.

There’s considerable tension because we’ve run out of money again and can’t get the next tranche of funds until April and the Big Controller’s new financial year

We can only get one computer to connect to the internet and we’re all fighting over it. There’s emailing and ordering to be done online, the Camera Boys, having left behind their partners, want to spend the evenings Skyping - so no surfing for me.

My immediate job is to prepare the garden for planting. I went to see my neighbour and gardener-extraordinaire M. Bert (the man who showed me round this place when I first came to look at it.) His illness is progressing, his wife watches him anxiously while we chat about cabbages.

I’m off to a stableyard now to fill the car with horse manure.

Cat Update:
Thank you for all the lovely messages of sympathy about Kevin, he was one naughty, funny Jack the Lad sort of cat and I really miss him. His sister is still very upset, she stays close to anyone who’s outside without actually letting anyone near enough to touch her.

Friday, March 6

R.I.P Kevin

6th March
Driving a large van and an overloaded estate car, The Director, two Camera Boys and myself set off for France in the very early hours of Tuesday morning, it was a long drive and my putting diesel into a petrol-fuelled vehicle didn’t make the trip any faster.

We got to the Lovely House well after midnight and got the kit and computers locked away before we fell in to bed. The cats are still pretty wild so I’d expected them to stay well out of our way for a while. In the morning I heard an awful sound, outside I found Julie pacing around in front of the house howling, Kevin’s body was lying by one of the outbuildings, we think he must’ve got swiped by a car and used his last energy to make a dash for the house.

Monday, March 2

A Visit To The Lovely House part three

2nd March
I've finally got it together to get one of those flicker accounts and put up the photos of when we first arrived at the Lovely House (if the slideshow actually turns up on the sidebar). I have already gone on about this place at length here and here.
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