but a geologically younger substance, the kind of amorphous lumps of rock which were turned up in the fields, probably put aside in stone heaps and dumps when land was cleared, found, not quarried, stone. It is mostly friable, dusty stuff, with spots of mica and veins of rustiness in it, which is what keeps the hydrangeas blue.
(That and ericaceous compost.)
All was held together with what seems to be little more than mud, though it must presumably have had some lime in it. In some places this has stood up quite well, in others it had all but disappeared and the wall was held together mostly with friction and its own weight.
The preparatory work involves digging out the old mortar, with an old file, then chipping round the stones to make larger gaps between them and to align their edges so they at least give the impression of having been laid in courses. In some parts, as here near the front door,
their placing was so random and higgledy-piggledy that much of my time was spent eying them up and marking them, trying to find a logical way to shape and replace them. I feel I only partially succeeded.
It rather feels as if I'm doing dental work. That part done, I brush out as much dust as I can, and put all the chips of stone back again!
This is to economise on mortar and to give it more strength and a better key, the stone chips are embedded in mortar matrix.
One of the reasons I've been a little disinclined to get out and continue the job is that it exposes me to the village and thus to conversation and comment. Especially as the gable end job means getting up on the corrugated iron roof of the lean-to.
Marie (two years ago): 'Ah, ma grande, I am afraid for you up there on your roof!'
Victor (who finds a pretext to work this end of his patch if anything whatsoever visible is happening at ours): ' You aren't afraid to fall, then?'
Claude (looking for his truant cat again): 'Oh lala, look at you up there!'
Dutch bulb-growing neighbour's Dutch mother (just visiting): 'Be careful you don't fall!'
Tom (appearing from the house to tell me the news about the England cricket captain, which obviously is of immediate importance): 'Are you OK? You look a bit frightened...'
In case anyone should be passing through our village and see me on the perfectly safe, gently sloping, very well supported (old Marcel fixed it about 30 years ago, he told me, and he never does anything sloppily) garage roof, NO, I AM NOT FRIGHTENED! At the point where I would fall, were I to fall, which I'm not going to, it's about seven feet off the ground, with a gutter I could grab hold of.
What I am frightened of is swallows. The ones nesting in the garage. The other day one was coming in the door as I was going out of it and I felt its wingtip brush my cheek. I love them dearly but this degree of proximity alarms me. They seem to have amazing realtime collision avoidance systems, but that was close. Fortunately, they don't seem to have caught on that when I'm on the roof I'm just inches and a thin layer of corrugated above their little ones, and they haven't taken to dive-bombing me. The babies are at that grotesque little monster stage (the one some human infants spend quite a lot of time at, you know?). They nested late, were rather disturbed by our earlier concrete mixing activities in the area, and perhaps struggled to find enough mud too, so the nest looks a bit shallow and half-finished, and I am afraid for them also, that the nestlings will tumble out before they're ready.
(Apologies for poor picture quality, it was taken with flash from some distance, so as not to disturb them too much)
The end of the house where I'm working used to be pitted with sparrows' nests too, which worried me, that they would be nesting while I tried to work. But they seem to have mostly deserted, though they still nest in chinks and odd angles in other parts of the building. In the first year we were here, a family of starlings were living in a hole in the back wall, I could hear their chatter from inside, just above the fridge. Mason bees and the occasional hornet still make explorations. I was in the loo one day when a swallow flew in, fluttered over my head, and left again. It felt as though the house was becoming porous, losing its grip on human life, sliding sleepily into slow ruination, being reclaimed by the earth from which it had been made. Rousing it from this state, pushing back the lethargy of nature that was overcoming it, has been a sometimes difficult and painful process, and the house has on occasion seemed surly and recalcitrant to the point of hostility, but we understand each other better now, and I hope we have offset the loss of the place to the wild by creating more variety and natural diversity around it, rather than the monocultured empty field that came up to the back wall before.
their store rooms and chambers, break and replace
the friable stone and lichenous mud of mortar.
The curators themselves are long gone;
rarely their skeletons remain, flesh- and furless,
brittle and dried with time and warfarin.
Rarely too, their distant offspring now appear,
bringing a disproportionate anxiety into our lives,
so we commit new acts of souricide.
I've found small scraps of muslin, used perhaps
to wrap the butter from the cow or two that lived
in the end room of our house - butter was worth more
as money than as children's food; the children grew
quite strong on buttermilk, sawed wood, scythed grass,
rode gearless bikes to visit distant seaside cousins,
and sometimes live still to a good age -
and, in other cavities, hard pyramidal grains of buckwheat,
saracen grain, blé noir, now literally black with age.
This hasn't, I've been told, been grown round here for fifty years or more,
galettes are mostly made with flour from Canada.
bringing the bees and beekeepers from far afield,
to the farms and fields of inland Côtes du Nord.