Yesterday I took Benjamin Aaron to visit Ransberg. He wanted to get a feel for the land, being very taken with the project. And I wanted to approach the neighbour next-door-but-one to beg their help with cutting the meadow in preparation for tracing out the swales later in the month.
When we arrived, Chrisje was already there. I walked through the kitchen and out into the summer kitchen, to be greeted by the sight of a man straddling the toilet with his back to the door and his head in the water tank! My first ever sight of Theo. An unforgettable encounter! Theo is Chrisje’s neighbour from across the road at the King’s Mill, a genius Mr Fix-It with a generous heart and a soft spot for plumbing.
Chrisje informed me that the neighbour wanted to speak to me about our party wall – they are doing big work next door, building a dance school (yipeee – I’ve always wanted to learn to dance!) and Georges had already mentioned to me that some consultation would be needed about this wall. So I gave Benjamin a quick tour of the land and then loosed him to explore on his own, and went round next door – there were men out the back using big machinery to move piles of earth. One of them hailed Pedro (the son, and dance teacher) from the house. He emerged with a broad and friendly grin and an outstretched hand. A few moments later, Paul (the father) bounded up behind me with the same broad smile and outstretched had. I explained who we all were and how we fit together, and a little bit about the approach we were taking to this place. Their response was welcoming and interested. Delightful guys!
They explained that they needed to remove the red-brick pillars jutting into their land from the ramshackle back house that so iconically graces the right side of the banner of this blog. When they did so, they feared that said back house would probably collapse… and did we mind? Well, part of me wanted to keep that rickety structure just as it was forever, because it has so imprinted itself on my mind as a thing of beauty. But I found myself saying that I wanted to save the tiles, if possible, for future re-use, and any of the wood that was salvageable – if only for burning. Only, I hadn’t the first idea of how to do that. We didn’t even have a ladder, and of course, going up on that roof was out of the question, because the whole structure was so unsound – it’s a miracle that it hasn’t all collapsed before now. Paul reckoned that without the weight of the tiles, the structure might not even collapse when the pillars were removed.
But, hell, what if it’s easy?! Paul called over Jos – the local farmer and a real swashbuckling ‘you-name-it-I-can-do-it’ dude (who happened to be conveniently present and busy with the earth-moving at the time). Yes, he could get the tiles off the roof for me… only perhaps not today! Paul looked concerned… they actually wanted to knock down the pillars tomorrow. So Jos just shrugged, winked, and politely wondered who to send the bill to.
What if it’s easy, indeed… Yes, Jos would also be happy to mow the meadow for us, and no, we wouldn’t have to move Ria’s tent – he could mow round it!
In the mean time, Theo – having dismantled the flushing mechanism of the toilet and laid it all neatly out on the table – was busy putting the pumps in order. The hand pump for the rainwater tank now works. The water is pretty dirty, but fine for watering the garden, flushing the toilet. And we could probably clean it out at some stage, if we’re bored and can’t think of anything more challenging to do!! The electric pump for the ground water well wasn’t so happy. Chrisje and Theo dismounted it and Theo took it off home with him to take to pieces and oil.
The neighbours all dealt with and thanked, I was hungry to get out into nature and be on the land. I haven’t felt this connected with a place since my middle childhood, when I used to spend so much time roaming the wild riverbank at the bottom of my neighbour’s large garden outside Bath, in England. I noticed with pride that the pumpkins I had transplanted from my kitchen garden in Brussels had survived and were thriving. No flowers yet, but good big leaves and strong growth.
Benjamin and I equipped ourselves with bowls and cutters and spent an hour or so cutting back some of the remaining brambles down by the orchard so that we could harvest some of the ripe blackberries. Isn’t it funny how nettles, thistles and brambles love to live together?! Things that prickle and scratch and sting – protecting something so sweet and tasty. There is life everywhere.
As I was cutting back some of the dead branches on the old apple trees, I spied Paul and Jos at the bottom of the kitchen garden, in deep discussion. They were trying to figure out how to get Jos’s big machinery close enough to the back house to be able to salvage the tiles. It seems that the only way in will require us to sacrifice two trees growing up close to the end of the back house – wild ones of a kind I didn’t even recognise, that I guess had just sprouted there adventitiously and thrived. I seem to remember that we had been intending to remove them anyway! What if it’s easy?!
By the end of the day, I felt that community had widened. Neighbour Poul also has an interest in eco-building, it seems, and declared an appetite to learn with us. Pedro has a dog that happens to be a stray rescued on holiday in Greece! (I have just come back from holiday at Axladitsa-Avatakia, where Freddy and Lily are exactly such dogs) They will have to fence their land around to keep the dog in – otherwise he runs off all over the region and doesn’t come back… These small details feel good to me!