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Washing days and making do

I follow a blog by The Thrifty Campers – two brave souls heading out into the wilds to live – well – wild.  Its a great site and full of humour.  Go have a look and give support.  Last month there was a great post about hand-washing.  Yes when living out you still need clean clothes.  We are the same. So I thought I would post some pictures.

Our little house, home for two years while we convert the barn, has no hot water, no toilet.  It is a room downstairs that is now our temporary kitchen and sitting area, and upstairs, gained by an outside stairway, is the bedroom, come office, come shower room.

Freezing last year, we installed a shower and a small electric boiler.  The boiler is great, it hangs on the wall and uses minimal electricity to heat about 18 litres of water – enough for a brisk shower. Washing in cold water is not fun in the winter and although I admire my grandmothers frugalness in boiling kettles for her bath, running up and down our outside stairs wasn’t practical.

In the heat of summer we showered outside using barrels of rain water sat in the sun to warm through.  Actually liberating, standing stark naked with just the fields and cows.  I felt like Eve before it all went pear-shaped!

But winter is a different matter and the neighbours said it could go minus 10, so the shower was survival.  The toilet was a bucket for a year.  I am sorry but being a girl isn’t easy on that front.  The bucket target suddenly becomes very small and with trembling knees, going to the toilet should be made an Olympic sport!  This year we bought a camping toilet.  Joy I could sit down!

But back to washing.  The rain here is heavy and fills a 50 litre barrel in no time, even through summer with the storms.  We rigged up pipes from all the roves and netted over to catch leaves and the resulting water is cleaner I suspect that the mains.  its a lot softer too.  Left in barrels in the sun, the water heats to about 20 degrees in the Summer, hot enough for hand washing. Steep the clothes for a day in detergent [Eco-friendly brands only], then rinse and hang.  The sun and fresh air finish the work and leave the washing fresh and soft.

I want a more heavyweight line – with more wires and as the sun so hot here in summer, its madness not to wash outside and save money too.  I cant believe how long washing machines take to wash clothes and all this energy too has to be paid for.  So we are taking advantage of the resources that are free to us.  Our village isn’t on the mains either, like many in France.  All our waste and water goes into fields lower than us, to be filtered by nature.  Therefore we have no issues with using rainwater, as it will all go into the fields eventually.   This week we asked our farming neighbour to heave out his grandmothers old washing trough – a heavy weight concrete affair with two deep sinks.  We are going to rig this up with piping to a barrel, so we can catch all the washing water used for cleaning pots and garden tools and then use back in the garden.

And heating – a contentious issue for me.  We had to install a wood burner as no ability with our finances to install a water boiler, plus pay the bills to EDF for the electricity.  All the French in our area use wood.  I find it very difficult agreeing to cutting down trees, but the locals do not bat an eyelid.  So for now we have a couple of tonnes of cut wood drying in the garden.  Long term we are not yet sure.  Gas maybe as we can buy on the bottle and control the budget.  From my days in London I just cannot go back to contracts with the big utility companies – a Russian roulette of charges we have no control over.

With winter being just round the corner we are a little concerned on how we shall manage.  We are going to London for one month at the height of the cold, as the barn isn’t finished and this little house is not built with such thick walls, so we could freeze.  We will push on with pointing inside and then once we return in January we maybe able to de-camp into the barn and get in a small gas heater.  Mid March the spring arrives here swiftly and a mere month after it is warmer than many a British Summer, so its thick woolly socks, grandmothers knitted jumpers and scarves and putting a brave face on till then.

Judi Castille Washing in the breezeJudi Castille Washing hankiesJudi Castille Washing lineJudi Castille Washing days

8 thoughts on “Washing days and making do

  1. Honestly your story is levelling. I’m glad you have a wood burner and you can certainly think of bottled gas but I wouldn’t disregard EDF. They have been scrupulously fair to me throughout my time with them (I’m currently still with them for the Maison Secondaire but with GEG which is the Grenoblois energy firm for the flat here) …. they actually refunded me over 900 Euros last year and have just refunded a further 119. In Britain I was always paying more and more but it hasn’t been my experience here at all. I’m not a fan of bottled gas for anumber of reasons but in the end it is a chacun a son propre.

    1. We had such a rough time back in UK with contracts and the rising prices, we are just trying to keep bills down for at least a year till we get some regular income. Gas bottles scared the life out of me at first, but seem fine for small use. The wood burner is great [burning wood aside] and the idea is to cut a hole in the floor upstairs to let the heat travel up here where we work. Its only three months in the year, so once we have insulated this “fridge” upstairs, the heat should circulate and keep us toastie. What’s it like where you are, re wood felling? Here the farmers just chop three hundred year olds down without any regret, and never replant, so god knows how they think the next generation will heat their homes. Just down the lane from us are six beautiful oaks. The lower branches have been cut and I am hoping it is just to bring light to the field, but I think it is something more ominous. I always have the urge to chain myself to them [ maybe naked? ] and make a scene – but Tony says I cant change the world.

      1. In Cantal it varies. The commune I lived in for 4 years had a very Green mayor and he insisted on proper forest management on the communal land. The farmers are always a law unto themselves wherever you go but they seem fairly sensible with felling. Pollarding is my pet-hate …. I have never dared write an impassioned piece because it would be sure to offend but I just can’t bear the way towns butcher the trees. Here included. This area seems to be fairly nicely managed forestry-wise without too much nasty scarring.

    1. They are great. Took a bit of practice lighting. We filled the room with smoke the first time, but then our wood was a bit green. The hankies I found in an old fashioned haberdashery in Montlucon, my local big city. No packaging, just five hankies tied together, choose the sizes or colourways you liked. I went mad and restocked, as hard to find them like this.

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