They Wash Rugs Don’t They?

The spring is a magical time in Finland; as the sun kisses the frosty land, slowly melting the snow and a layer of dog shit usually around two foot deep, and each of our thousands of lakes is suddenly freed of ice, shortly followed by millions of birds returning to their shores to nest… so the first Finn crawls out of their cave – and immediately seeks to start a fight for the best position at the local rug-washing station. 
 
Washing of the rugs is an important task for the Finn, the alpha and omega of good housekeeping.  Although wearing shoes is strictly forbidden inside Finnish homes as to keep our rugs clean, allowing only a rare exception: a baptism, birthday or a funeral, those jolly summer parties we all love and cherish and whip out the good china for.  The rugs mustbe washed annually.  
 
Dirty or not. 
 
Finnish rug washing in Tervo and mangling in Pirkkala – images borrowed from their sites respectfully

Before moving to Scotland and later to France, I too engaged in this national sport.  And why not – it is made very easy for you as even the smallest villages would have a station, usually outdoors and near a lake, where you can take your carpets, (handmade by grandmothers if you’re a traditionalist or bought if you’re city scum) scrub them clean with pine soap, mangle and hung them to dry.  Like most decent people with an acute sense of good housekeeping, I like my rugs cleaned annually. 
 
No exceptions.
 
As we joined our lives and possessions, James, who is to thank for most of our furniture, contributed three stunning carpets to our shared home.  My inner Finn roared and rumbled as I discovered these rugs have never been washed.  Gross.  So unhygienic.  So English!  Three years and a dog later, the carpets remained unwashed and my Finnish needs unsatisfied.  There was nowhere to go, no mangle and they were too heavy.  Then my mother came for a visit and gears started to turn…
 
Conveniently, I was feeling under the weather on strong antibiotics, having just hurt my face and rendered one of my hands temporarily unusable in an incident involving a stray feline, so it was up to James and ma to get the washing started.  As the nearest rug station is around two thousand kilometres away, we made our own from two architect’s tables, a pressure washer and a few bars of Marseille-soap.  My mum scrubbed as James wielded the pressure washer, starting from the dirtiest rug as I napped upstairs.  It took a bit of grunt, I was told, but the results were truly stunning.  This blond rug with red, white and pale blue accents had gotten so dirty it was nearly all grey to the point where you could hardly distinguish the pattern.  After the wash, Finnish mum-style, it was like brand new. 
 
 
James, seduced by the power of his beloved pressure washer, also cleaned up parts of our exterior walls that had gotten mossy over the years, again, with a glorious effect.  I woke up from my nap just in time to capture few snaps of the action and take credit for the job in the eyes of our elderly neighbour who probably thought we were barking mad as the French, together with the Brits, hardly wash their rugs.  Perhaps they just really love shake and vac? 
Bof – Je ne sais pas.
 
And speaking of our neighbour, although she sneaks us greetings from Jehova every now and then, I really like her and often practise my gardening vocabulary on her as she has the most beautiful jardin I have ever seen.  It has got the perfect balance between a traditional potager with an addition of tomatoes, salads, pumpkin etc. and a flower garden with roses and perennials.  We have a few pots of cherry tomatoes, patisson-squash, strawberries and herbs ourselves and they do give us a good crop but wouldn’t sustain us for the nuclear-winter if you know what I mean.  Anyhow, I like my gardening like I like my men: easy and low maintenance.  Having said that, it is also great to see some of my gladioli finally starting to flower.  The bulbs were planted a tad bit late this spring and my expectations for a flower-show this summer were pretty non-existent.
 
Fresh from the garden…
 
As it stands we are waiting for a hot and sunny weekend to finish up the last of our rugs.  The woollen ones take a day or two to dry completely, but it’s worth it – if not for anything else other than my peace of mind.  I had this funny moment when I caught a glimpse of our freshly scrubbed piece of carpet drying in the garden as the sun slipped behind a wispy cloud: just in that moment there, somewhere far away, my old granny looked down and smirked.  The dirty skank washed hers never.

Le Petit Jardin Vol. 1

It’s been a while huh?

As the temperature climbs from the high twenties to the mid-thirties here by the Montagne Noire, my motivation to function plummets exponentially.  And what would be a better project to tackle when the sun is hot than overhauling a garden full of concrete and dog poo?  It has been months in the making, but it seems that our outdoor space is finally taking shape despite of this heatwave holding Europe in its deadly grip. 
 
To say we had to start from scratch with this one would be an understatement; to even get to the concrete base covering the whole surface of our little gardenette, we had to clear away a decade’s worth of ivy and moss, dead leaves as well as heaps of general garden waste – all in varying stages of decomposition.  To utilise this half-putrefied mess, our first priority was to buy a composter unit.  As it stands, food waste is not currently collected in Mazamet, so having our own composter in the garden would help us recycle our scraps and provide compost for all our future needs.  
 
 


We also needed to get rid of a few pesky trees, including a London Plane that was mere inches away from the garden wall and destined to grow huge.  Another had already damaged the surface of the old concrete patio with its roots and thus it was getting on my tits.  In fact, I hated it so much that I took a dull saw to the bastard and spent almost an hour cussing and sawing through blood, sweat and tears until the tree was no more.  A bush, a shrub and odd patch of completely tasteless wild strawberries soon met the same faith.

Having gotten rid of it all, seemed that we had managed to eradicate every single piece of greenery from our garden either by chopping, scraping or pressure washing it…
 
…until the roses appeared from under the rubble.  Two old but beautiful varieties in fact, planted by our current neighbour who used to reside in our house in the 60’s with her family.  These were the only original elements from the old garden that we saw worth keeping – and to what results!  With a little pruning here and there, are these not two of the most beautiful roses you have ever seen? 
 

Other new plants include stunning bush of lavender, rhubarb, thyme and rosemary.  I also planted a selection of bulbs, none of which have shown any interest in blooming so far, but such is gardening: constant investment for the next season.  We chose purple slate as the filler for these beds, hoping it would slow down the snails and keep the area as weed-free as possible.


 

 


The old patio, completely broken up by a web of roots, was dug up and replaced with the help of Rusty the dog who loves digging.  We levelled the base with a few bags of sand, laid down the law some factory off-cuts of engineered slate in light beige and filled the gaps with specs of subtly rose-tinted marble that works well with the purple slate.  In time, this is where we’ll set up a table and chairs once the right set comes along, but for now, it’s a steady base for Rustys paddling pool when he gets too hot in his furs, a bbq or a set of planters.

 
Parts of the shallow wall separating the gravel from concrete was too damaged so it had to be replaced.  I made my builder-dad proud by fixing up my own from mortar and broken up specs of colourful cement tiles.  Small boulders of natural stone we had previously found were used to line the flowerbeds around the ring of the patio and as a dinky rockery.  Small details, but they add a little bit of cosiness to the otherwise plain concrete base. 

With all this talk about stone, you might wonder why we did not go for grass in the end. I would have really wanted to, not least for the dog to use as his latrine, but in this climate it needs constant maintenance to look good in the summer.  Even with the diligence of the local gardeners tending the public spaces in Mazamet, the grass is yielding under the sun and there’s only so much watering I want to do on day to day basis.

 
So if the experts can’t keep it alive…  I’ll just stick to pot-plants myself, thanks.
 
Here you have it: even with most of the base work now completed, there is plenty to be done – we have a few more flowerbeds to construct and an old antique trough to be repurposed as a vegetable batch, but more about that later.  It’s simply too hot to even write about hard work!

 

Hey– and if you have tips on how to kill slugs without heavy poisons, drop me a line – the cherry tomatoes and our dog will thank you.

 

Happy gardening y’all!

Le Grand Balcon – Setting up outdoor space for the summer

It all started with a catalogue.  You know, one of those supermarket add-magazines soliciting variety packs of Walkers and the best deals on Birds Eye frozen macaroni bites.  We get a fair bit of those here in France, in fact they drop semiregularly into our mailbox, once or twice a week, from all of the major supermarkets in the area.  First I thought about putting a stop to it by attaching a small “pas de pub” note on the door like before, but as a homeowner, I thought why not give the catalogues a try.

Who knows, they may even have coupons, I remember thinking.
 
Little did I know that a mag from Casino was going to change the way we would use our balcony, a leaky, smelly and callous place, which at that juncture mostly served as a place to dump smelly bin bags.  Like a good little wife I browsed through each leaflet full of special offers and multi-buys, occasionally setting a few aside featuring decent beer offerings or a tasty coupon.  From this pile of domestic misery, James spotted a set of patio furniture, a modular sofa, armchair and a tea-table-combo, for a price too good to miss.  As the weather was warming up, we wanted somewhere nice to sit outside with our G&T’s and made a trip to the Géant Casino in Castres the very next weekend.

The near impossible-to-assemble patio set with our riggity old table and chairs.

As you would expect, the furniture was a real bitch to put together.  Made of composite plastic in charcoal-black and casted to look woven in, these sets are fairly commonplace.  We were attracted to this particular combination, not just for its price, but because of the modular nature of it.  The furniture is lightweight and can be made to suit various situations: it’s not ridiculously opulent for the two of us and in the fair occasions we have company, you can seat up to five people comfortably.  The detail I was not expecting to be pleased about were the cushions, which turned out to be nice and fluffy, machine washable and moisture repellent.

 
While James was putting the pieces together in a drunken rage, I contributed by removing the cushions from their protective film and complained about certain men’s inability to read instructions.  Happy times.
 
Having sorted out the seating as well as a pesky hole in the fugly-but-functional fiberglass roofing, our little terrace was coming together nicely.  We chose to prioritise other projects for the summer to come, therefore it made sense to repair rather than remove the corrugated fiberglass sheets keeping the balcony dry from the rain.  You see, the water had previously found its way through the concrete base of the terrace, all the way to downstairs and the only way to start managing this was to make sure the floor was staying dry.  Installed sometime over ten years ago, the fiberglass sheets were in a proper state, but seemed to be holding on fine enough.  After James replaced a missing sheet and bolted it in place, this issue was solved. 
 
 
This corrigated fiberglass had weathered so badly that on the first glimpse James and I both thought it was asbestos.
With relatively little direct sunlight filtering thought the dirty fiberglass into this north facing sitting area, we get to enjoy our stunning view without being burned to crisp – something I truly appreciate as a perma-pale Finn.  Sure, the roofing will go as early as we have the time and the money to replace it properly, but in the meantime, the situation could be a lot grimmer.
Our current collection of herbs and flowers.

The concrete base will also get dug up and replaced.  For the time being we are thinking about terracotta tiles, perhaps re-using some already in this house, but in the interim the cracked concrete was covered up with a “rug” of synthetic grass.  We used to have this stuff covering a few problem areas in our old gallery-rental and we both liked the playful nature of the material.  Our garden, still a bit of a project, as is everything else in this house, does not have any grass and likely never will, so putting down a piece of artificial lawn felt like a fun thing to do.

 
Rest of the apparent décor, the little table and chairs, the herbs and the accessories migrated into this place almost on their own.  A north facing balcony is not the best place to grow herbs, I know, but so far so good.  They add a certain je ne sais quoi to the place and grow close to the kitchen where they are needed.  My favourite of all things in the balcony is probably the large ceramic statue of a stork, given to us as a wedding present by a friend and made by her elderly mother who was quite of an artist back in her day.  The garland of LEF-bulbs is also wedding related: it was bought from a Scandinavian household-all-rounder Class Uhlson to light up the stage in our wedding venue.



 



Setting all things and furnishings aside, I am in love with that view.  How could you not!  In a clear day you can see the rooftops of Mazamet, over the valley and all the way to the forests of Sidobre.  You can sit comfortably under a blanket and spy how the weather here changes in seconds and when the night comes, you may sit back and admire the stars.  It never stops to amaze me how one view alone can be so engaging.  Hopefully we will manage to extend this panorama even further by opening up the left side of the patio by reducing the height of the concrete wall that luckily is not part of the supporting structure for the roof. 

 
 
A room with a view…
Having a balcony that functions as it should has improved our social life too as here in France, it seems, everybody smokes.  Now, even when it rains, our friends can enjoy their fag-brakes without having to trek downstairs to the garden.  And of course, eating out in our place really means eating out now.  Even with the occasional bats, wasps and ants, it’s a great place so sit down and relax with a hearty G&T.
 
There is a one last person in the family that is yet to embrace the transformation of our terrace: Rusty the pupper.  He seems to find the confined outdoors a bit of a drag and much prefers the comfort of his own bed.  Well, you can’t please everyone they say… but at least the humans of our unit love the transformation.