14 June 2013

The craziness continues

I've upgraded. I now live in a caravan instead of a tent. The other WWOOFers sadly departed on Sunday afternoon, but with every cloud there is a silver lining, this time being that the caravan was therefore vacated, meaning that I now have it all to myself. It's nothing to get excited over, it's a revoltingly naff caravan with fake wood and tacky gold tassels hanging from the lampshades but it's a definite improvement on the tent.

Last meal together with the other WWOOFers, with our plates of boiled vegetables...

So what more weirdness have I witnessed from Matthias and Patricia over the past few days?

Firstly, on Sunday morning, just before breakfast is about to be served, Matthias clears one half of the table, arranges a series of cushions on top of it, then announces he needs to do his exercises for his back. He then lies on top of the table, Patricia crouches below holding his leg, and he spends 15 minutes doing weird stretches on top of the table that we then eat at 5 minutes later.

Yesterday morning was on another level though. I walk into the house at approximately 9.15 as I do every morning, only this time I’m greeted with Matthias in his underpants. Imagine the skinniest man you’ve never seen, plus long grey hair and fuzzy wuzzy beard in tight man briefs. Tasty. Not quite sure where to look, and feeling just a bit awkward, I tactfully move to the opposite side of the room, however he starts talking to me, so I am obliged to look at him. Nightmare! Thankfully the exchange of words lasted little over 10 seconds; nonetheless the image of a half-naked Matthias has pretty much scarred me for life.

On the subject of Matthias, he made me cry on Sunday. He’d given me the task of cutting back the tomato plants, but it was actually quite complicated, as there were certain branches you could/couldn’t cut, and having Matthias watch over you is extremely disconcerting. Anyway, I just couldn’t grasp it, and he was just getting more and more angry with me, so I cried. Which I’m really annoyed at myself about because I don’t usually let people get to me. But since then he’s actually been really nice to me, so perhaps it was a good thing. He obviously now thinks I’m totally fragile and insecure and need to be handled with care.

I know 3 weeks ago I was complaining about the rubbish weather, but I’m now going to say that it is TOO HOT. Seriously, 30 degrees is really uncomfortable when you’re planting basil / picking strawberries / twirling cucumber plants in an unbearable greenhouse. I’m just too English.

I took the afternoon off yesterday with the plan to walk into Aspiran, the nearest town, find the boulangerie, and buy a pain aux raisins which I was craving after not having had one for about a month and a half. So I walked to Aspiran, which is about 25 minutes away, found the pretty town centre, found the boulangerie….and it was shut. Disappointment of the year.

Sitting in this pretty park would have been so much better with a pain aux raisins in my mouth
Oh, and despite what I said in my last post, the farts do smell. Obviously I wasn't close enough before.

08 June 2013

Vegetables, farts, and more vegetables

As it's now my 4th day at the new farm, I reckon it's time to give you the lowdown on what it's like.

Where am I? I'm on an organic fruit and vegetable farm in the countryside about 40km from Montpellier. The landscape is gorgeous; fields stretching as far as the eye can see, hills in the distance, and a big river at the bottom of the 'garden'.

I wish this was at the bottom of my own garden

What's the weather been like so far? THERE IS SUN! And it is hot, and I have been working on my tan. Except today which is rainy, which is probably why I've chosen to blog since there is nothing else really to do in the rain.

Are there any other WWOOFers? Yes! There are 3 other girls about my age which is great, and something I certainly missed at the other place in the Pyrenees. There's Lily and Isabeau, who are Americans, and then there's Sonia, who's Swiss. However, they're leaving tomorrow which is sad, as there won't be another WWOOFer until next Saturday so I'll be on my own for basically a week.

What's the work like? The work's pretty easy, but can get a bit tiring under the sun. So far I've planted lettuces, picked hundreds of strawberries (eating as many at the same time, one of the perks of the job - they're literally the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted), dug up onions, twirled tomato plants around string, watered trays of plants, put soil into trays, harvested cauliflowers, harvested cabbages, harvested fennel. Not rocket science, but it gives you back ache.

I've never seen so many wild poppies before

What are the family like? Haha. This is where it gets interesting. They are arguably the weirdest family I've ever met. To begin with, they're vegetarian, not that I have anything at all against vegetarians, but I didn't know it was possible to be so passionate about vegetables. We have grated vegetables for breakfast, a pile of boiled vegetables for lunch, and reheated boiled vegetables for dinner. Each vegetable has to be cut in a certain way, otherwise you'll get a lecture as to why they taste better this way and not that way. Matthias has compared a vegetable to a human being. The only topic of conversation they ever have is vegetables. As I write this, Matthias is snacking on raw vegetables, evidently on cloud nine.

Aside from the vegetarian issue, they're still weird. I'll start with Matthias, the weirdest. 

  • He's the skinniest man in the world. There's this guy that my sister and I call 'Lanky Man', and Matthias makes Lanky Man look like a beast. 
  • He has longish hair and a fuzzy grey beard which I had to encounter when kissing him hello for the first time. 
  • He is German, so pronounces the 'e's at the end of every French word which is annoying. 
  • He is very condescending when he speaks to you, and is extremely opinionated. Take this lunchtime, for example. Isabeau mentioned that she'd been to Rome last month, but that it rained most of the time, however the monuments are still interesting in the rain. Cue Matthias giving a 20 minute rant about how the Roman era doesn't interest him at all because it was full of massacres and unforgivable human behavior. I then open my mouth to say that this is why the era is very interesting in my opinion. He therefore thinks I agree with what happened all those thousands of years ago just because I find it interesting, and continues his monologue on his disgust for the history taught in schools, and the nature of human beings. I've now learnt not to disagree with Matthias.
  • He is rediculously particular about things. There are so many rules, I'm scared to walk across the room. I've been told off for using the wrong spoon for the jam.
  • He puts chocolate soya dessert on lettuce leaves for his breakfast.

There's Patricia, who is lovely, but also leans towards the 'crazy' end of the spectrum.

  • She too is as skinny as anything, but not quite to the extent of Matthias.
  • She eats lettuce like a rabbit; ie. she picks up a leaf with 2 hands, then stuffs it into her mouth and chews.
  • She lets Matthias speak to her in a way that I would slap him in the face if my partner spoke to me like that.
  • She farts openly throughout the day, as if to break wind publicly is as normal as saying please or thank you. Matthias does the same, but his are slightly lower in pitch. Neither have an odour, thank God.

And finally there's the daughter, Alice. Alice hates the WWOOFers, so eats lunch and dinner separately, and locks herself in her room when she's not at school. The fact that there's only one room in the downstairs of the house makes this very awkwards, because it means we have to vacate the house when Alice wants to eat or watch TV.

The little yellow house

I'm sleeping in a tent at the end of a field, which we put up at 1am on the first night I got there in the pitch black. For my first camping experience, it's not bad at all, apart from the bugs.

My house for 3 weeks, at the end of a field

I've made it all sound really bad, but it actually isn't. I can choose to work when I want, I can treat it like a holiday, the weather is amazing, and the food is healthy so hopefully I'm losing weight. When the other 3 have left I'll go and explore the area a bit more, and hopefully I'll go swimming in the river too at some point.

If I can survive Matthias, I'll be fine.

01 June 2013

Temps de merde

“Quel temps de merde!”, “Je vais manifester contre la neige”,”C’est une blague, ce temps!”. Never have I heard so much talk about the weather, not even in England. It is that bad. I don’t think I’ve properly seen the mountain on the opposite side of the valley for almost a week now. Practically everyday on the news there’s a headline about what a terrible May it’s been for the whole of France. However, there’s been a few nice days, which I made the most of, putting on my trainers and arming myself with a map to go and explore the area a bit more.

The first major walk I did was with Marianne, where we hiked across a couple peaks to reach the nearest mountain pass. Slightly awkward when a 21-year-old is struggling to keep up with a 45-year-old…

Marianne setting the pace. And the sun had now disappeared
So the next sunny day I decided to go it alone at my own pace, and I kept on going up and up, and then I got lost, and then I could see low clouds approaching, and then I got scared I was going to die. I found my way back and I am still alive.

And suddenly, last Sunday, I woke up to a completely cloudless sky. At the bottom of our valley is a lake, which I thought would be nice to walk to on such a glorious day. And it was absolutely stunning; with the bright turquoise water in front, snow-capped mountains in the background, and blue sky above. It was made even prettier with hundreds of para gliders scattered in the sky.

The 2-hour walk back up the mountain was much less fun though. For the second time in as many days I thought I was about to die.

Stupidly, as it was cooler higher up the mountain at the house when I left, I hadn’t thought to put suncream on, and 6 days on I’ve only recently stopped resembling a tomato.
Selfie, taken on Sunday evening
Otherwise, not much else has been going on. We’ve had a couple of school trips coming to watch the evening milking session, which means I take care of the sheep at the back so as to avoid excited French kids asking me questions which either I won’t understand or won’t know the answer to. I’ve learnt though that on average each sheep gives 1.5l per day, which means that with around 100 ewes, that’s over 1000 litres a week! And then there are the cows on top of that…

When Julie and Tom fancy a ‘night out’, we go to most probably the only drinking establishment within a 20 kilometre radius. There’s never anyone in there apart from us and a couple of their friends, but the fact that the bar has 30 different rums and 50 different beers makes it pretty cool. I didn’t even know 30 varieties of rum existed in the world!

I’ve decoded the enigma that was the two-name issue I was having with Tom/Yves. Apparently Yves is his real name, and Tom is a nickname for a variety of reasons: a) his surname is Giry, making him Tom Giry (which sounds like Tom & Gerry said in a French accent), b) he is short like Tom Thumb, c) because he makes Tomme cheese. Glad I no longer have that confusion to worry about.

And gaaaahhhh it’s so irritating. Marianne says “c’est fou quoi” at the the end of literally every sentence. How can everything be crazy?!

Lastly, I’ve only got 3 days left here, before I move on to the town of Aspiran, near to Montpellier, where I will be doing gardening or something. I don’t really know what it is, but the weather forecast is looking good, so I have high hopes whatever I end up doing there. Only downer is I have to sleep in a tent for 3 weeks as there’s no room left in the house. And the family are vegetarian which will be a shock to the system after having been fed meat for both lunch and dinner everyday for the previous 3 weeks.

Oo, lastly lastly, I have made a new best friend. She is called Bébé and is the most amazing dog ever. She’s probably what I’ll miss most about this place.