Monday, 30 July 2012

Another side to Voldemort

Every single time I hitchhike I am completely surprised when somebody stops for me, as if it has never happened before.  I grab my backpack and run towards the vehicle and for those few seconds I'm filled with excitement, wonder, freedom.

That's one good reason to do it. Another one is that you can travel everywhere for free. But the biggest reason is the people you meet along the way. The risk you feel is completely flattened when you are met with the generosity and kindness of this stranger who owes you nothing but wants to help you with everything.

After being settled on the farm for so long, this risk felt a little bigger than usual. Five minutes after Katie and Luc dropped me off, my faith was restored and I was running those few steps towards my first ride north.

It was a French guy (I can't remember his name). He spoke a little English but when I tried to explain that I had been working on a farm he had no idea what I was saying. So the noises came out:
"Oink oink"
Then I ran out of noises for the animals they actually had so I did a "Mooo!" just to amuse him.

He dropped me at a pĂ©age outside Toulouse and was so worried about me crossing the motorway that he walked me across himself.  I stood with my "Paris" sign for almost two hours in the sweltering sun without one person stopping. I sat down under a tree to get cool then a woman came up to me with a baguette and some meat all wrapped up. I said thankyou a hundred times then before she had even left a man approached with a map showing that he was heading north. Who knew that sitting under a tree would get me places? Apparently it does!

I got comfortable in his lorry, ate my food and then found out his name... Voldemort.
"Voldemort??!!" I shouted.
"Nein, Voldemar." He replied
Sounded the same to me but apparently it had no T.
He was Polish. So we spoke German. I know that makes no sense, but that's what happened.

For the rest of the day we very slowly headed north, taking massive detours into countryside towns to pick up various loads. We were a little team; he drove and I map-read.

At 8pm we stopped for the night at a service station. We sat at a picnic bench drinking beer whilst he cooked dinner. Voldemar's speciality: asparagus wrapped in ham with creamy vegetable soup on top. That night he let me sleep on his bed in his truck whilst he slept in the passenger seat.

The alarm woke us at 5am and in no time at all we were on the road again, making much more distance than the day before. Every station that we stopped at, Voldemar would ask other lorry drives if they were going further north than he was. Not any lorry drivers though, he said he only trusted the Polish to take care of me. By mid-afternoon he had found somebody going to Belgium: his name was Gregor. He was young, energetic, funny, and spoke perfect English. The radio played full-blast for the entire trip and we sang along at the top of our voices.  At 11pm we stopped at McDonalds and he bought us two cheeseburgers each.

An hour or so later, Gregor had found a replacement driver... Polish of course; he had strict instructions from Voldemar to give me to only the Polish.  His name was Paul and he was heading into the middle of the Netherlands.  By this time i was hitching in the middle of the night for the first time in my life, and I felt perfectly fine.

Paul's phone rang and it was Voldemar with a message for me:
"Tell her I'm so proud of her for getting so far."
I'll tell you what; in the Harry Potter books they completely miss out how caring Voldemort is don't they?!"

All the trucks usually stop driving at night so Paul couldn't find anyone going to Amsterdam.  We stopped at a service station and he didn't dare to leave me alone.  I told him that I had done this a million times before all around the world.  That made him smile but didn't reassure him enough, so he stood with me until I found my next ride.  Two dutch businessmen heading towards Rotterdam.  A short ride later I was now hitching in a taxi into the centre of Rotterdam.  (Now there's one to add onto my list of achievements!)

It was 3:30am and I was just 75km from Amsterdam.  So of course, this is where it all went wrong!  I stood for about three hours in one spot, only a taxi offering to take me for eighty Euros, and a car full of teenagers stopping to tell me they hated Amsterdam.  I started to walk, following the signs towards the motorway and after about three miles it became apparent that I had been stood in the wrong place that entire time.  For the majority of the walk (bare in mind I was carrying 18kg worth of my life on my back), I was toying back and forth with the idea of stealing one of the many bikes that weren't locked up.
"Right, just get the next one you see."
"Ok not that one, but definitely the next one."
I'm proud to say that my morals got in the way of stealing, no matter how much I was hurting.

Just to level out the good/bad balance in the world, I illegally hitched on a motorway slip road.  It took literally two seconds for someone to stop for me: a tiny Chinese couple.  I spoke to them for almost five minutes then fell straight to sleep.  I woke up some time later with the man quietly saying:
"Ok we here now!"
I apologised for falling asleep and they just giggled in reply.

I had finally made it!
The longest journey I have made so far in one go: over 1295km in 46 hours.
High five for me!
And for Voldemar!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Farm life with the Ashtons - Part 2

My memories continued....

Clearing the sheep house and getting absolutely covered in poo was pretty disgusting to say the least!  They pooed so much that after only a few days their whole house was full again.  I found Katie sitting in there one day with all the sheep around her.  I sat down too and we spent hours talking to the sheep and cuddling up with them.  Some wanted to practically sit on you whilst others were scared to death and jumped every time a blade of grass moved in the field opposite.  When Katie said they would be the ones to be killed and sold, it was so funny when the started acting more confident; "Scared? Who's scared? No, I'm fine. I'm fine!"

Pom Pom the donkey.  He always wanted to be around people, so even when we were digging the trenches in the barn, he was stood right next to us.  He was super intelligent too; if the barn gate was left open for even one second he would escape and make his way over to the food pen and kick the door constantly hoping to get in.

Vide Greniers (car boot sales).  Every Sunday all the women neighbours would join Katie and I, jump in two cars and head off to the nearest Vide Grenier.  I could never see anything of any use at all, but Katie and Dee were experts at finding ancient antiques to fit somewhere in their old barn houses.

The pigs - Maggie and Pablo.  Maggie was really sweet but Pablo was the scariest animal I've ever met!

The rabbits - Salt and Pepper and Mr Malone.  One of the ladies had babies but we didn't see them for weeks until one day two almost fully grown rabbits popped up from nowhere!

The potager!

All the hours spent in the potager.  If I picked every last weed out of the ground then a day later it would be full of them again.  We planted hundreds of seedlings, most of which I had no clue what they were.  There were thousands of lettuces, I know that!  Every time a neighbour came round to visit we would pawn some of on them.  I never thought I would be so interested in producing my own fruit and vegetables in the future until I came here.

Coming to the end of cherry season meant only one thing... the three huge cherry trees needed to be picked.  I admit I did eat quite a lot of them whilst I was picking.  The next day I had picked the stones out of the majority of them... after about three or four hours my hands were stained red and I almost felt like being sick because of the strong smell.  It didn't take long to get over that though, I think we had cherry pie for dessert the very next day!

Sometimes I got up super early to feed the animals to give Luc and Katie a day off from that.  If you were even five minutes late they would all be baaaa-ing, naaayy-ing, cluck-ing, squawk-ing, snort-ing, and everything-else-ing.

The new Workawayers arriving.  After a month and a half with it just being me and the Ashtons, it was pretty strange for the first few days.  It was so different having other people around that I thought I wouldn't get used to it.  I gave myself a slap one day and changed my attitude towards it all; and they all turned out to be wonderful people once I opened up.
Max & Britney
Max from Chicago - He was so fun to be around and we had so much in common.  By the end of his visit we were stuck at the hip.
Nick from Chicago too - Probably the strangest, completely immature, funniest person I've ever known.  His party trick of sucking in air and farting it back out had everybody in total shock and laughing harder than ever.
Britney and Mike from Canada - They were super cool and so easy to be around and chat to.  A big reason for me to travel to Canada in the future.
Karen from Canada - She only arrived a few days before I left but we had some great conversations as well as a lot of laughs on band night.

Kate's mum and dad; Brenda and Doug.  They were supposed to arrive a week or so ealier but Doug got ill.  All the hoping and wishing worked; they finally arrived and everyone was so happy to see them, including me!  They were just the nicest people and it was so nice seeing them around their family.

Luc's 39th birthday (sorry to spill the beans there Luc!) We threw a party for him that night and everybody came.  He was super happy with the huge card that the kids and I made for him and everybody had signed.

The Jellybobs, AKA Tracey, Andrew, Sam and Will.  The Ashton's friends from back in England.  I had heard so much about them before they came to visit that I think I was as excited as everybody else about them arriving.  They turned out to be just as friendly and fun and I was told.

Band night. The nearby town put an entertainment night on for everybody. We had a meal whilst a big brass band played to us, we danced on the chairs and sang along, almost nearly got in a fight with some snobby British people, and "Ooooed" and "Ahhhhhed" at a huge firework display.

After only about three or four weeks at the farm I had gotten to know everything so well that I felt like I had been a farm girl my whole life.  I could find jobs without having to ask, I knew how to use my initiative to fix things, make things, build things.  When I think about all the skills I gained I am tempted to make a farm CV for the future!

Two and a half months passed and I finally decided to leave the Ashton's farm.  On my last night, people came round for drinks and pizzas... and to say goodbye.  I tried to say a little speech about how much I had loved being there but instead I stumbled on my tears.  The guestbook I had made for the Ashton's had everything I wanted to say in it, so I made Kate read it out loud.

I left the farm not because I wasn't enjoying it anymore, I definitely was.  In fact I felt like I could have stayed forever. But there are things I want to do elsewhere in the coming months.  I think it got to the point where I felt comfortable in leaving because I felt like I was so close to them that I would always be welcome back as a friend.

Duck face Number 457.
I had such a good time.  It shows in the fact that I have never stayed anywhere as long, except from home of course.  I would love to be able to explain why but I don't think I can.  How can you sum up people you feel like you know so well?  Katie and Luc have all the traits that I love in a person.  They are funny, happy, positive, caring, loyal, and very very humble people.  Everybody adores them so much and instantly I did too.  One thing I admire most about them is the life they are providing for Phoebe and Romy. They don't see it themselves, but the attitude they have towards bringing the kids up is spot on in my eyes.  They are two young girls who already have bright, individual personalities and I'm sure they will grow up to be very special people who everybody wants to be around... just like their parents.
Everybody I met during my time on the farm were really happy, positive people.  Of course, everybody has their problems, but these were the kind of people who didn't let them get in their way.  It's so admirable to see that other people live like that.
It's also an amazing feeling to walk into unknown territory and two months later feel like you have another place to call home.

Farm life with the Ashtons - Part 1

Too many clothes and the sweltering sun made me feel like I was being microwaved as I sat outside Lannemezan train station waiting for my host Katie to pick me up.  For months and months I had been dying to leave city life behind and find out all about farm life, so the Workaway website [link] gave me the perfect opportunity.
"I'll pick you up in a red four by four at 12 noon."  She had emailed me.
Bang on 12 noon a woman jumped out of a blue Citroen and ran towards me with open arms.  A completely different car but a quick guess suggested this must be Katie... otherwise I really don't know where I've been this whole time.
We got back to the farm and I met the rest of the family: Katie's husband Luc, and their two daughters, Phoebe their 12 year old and Romy their 8 year old.  Then I met the four dogs, four cats, forty sheep, two pigs, six chickens, two geese, three rabbits, four horses, and one donkey.

Now I would love to write about each separate jam-packed day but I stayed for so long that it's quite difficult to think day by day.  So instead I'll do a collection of my memories (like I always do when I've left it so long to write here)!
One important thing to emphasize is that I went intentionally for around two weeks and was still there after two and a half months.  I think that says a lot.  Katie asked me right at the beginning if I wanted certain working hours and days off or if I just wanted to be part of the family.  Without hesitation I said family and that's exactly what I became.  I hope everything that I write about my experience on their farm shows that.

Here we go! Enjoy!...

Phoebe jamming on the guitar whilst Romy and I sang along.  For most of my stay it was the same three songs... I know every single oooo and aaahhh of Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye.

Phoebe had her first ever gig one evening in a bar nearby.  I took so many photos and videos of her that someone in the audience asked if she was my little sister.  I said yes just to un-complicate things, and because I was so proud.  If she doesn't make it as a famous musician in the future then I'll eat my sock!

Digging trenches for the three new walls in the horses barn.  Katie going crazy with the pickaxe and reaching 60cm down before Luc and I had even reached 40cm.  We were so tired after three straight days of digging that at one point we caught ourselves obliviously gawking at the cement mixer turn over and over.

The doggies:
Enrique; the perfect name for him.  A beautiful, white Pyrenean Mountain dog with the personality of a little girl.
Ebony; a Newfoundland who followed Kate wherever she went.  Loved it when you hugged her with all your weight.
Jody; an Alsatian who obeyed every word you said to her.  If I was to get a dog in the future it would be one just like her.
Archie; the terrier who can only be described by one word: Crazy. He was busy all day long: "Where's my ball?  Oh my god I can't find my ball.  Oh it's ok my ball's here.  Maybe I'll move it over there.  Ok I will.  Right, it's over here now.  Is that ok?  Maybe I should move it there instead."

Nights at the duck farm.  By far the best duck and chips I could ever imagine eating.  The little old woman reminded me of my Granny too.

Bashing new fence posts in the ground around the field.  Me and Katie together took about fifty hits to get them in, then we were embarrassed by Danny alone only taking ten hits.

Me & Dee
Jo, me, & Nick
The neighbours are some people that I will never forget.  Mostly all British; ironic that they went to France to get away from Britain, but all admitted they were happier for the fact they had these friends.  They were all so friendly and welcoming.  I always joked with Kate about her description of most people; "They have the biggest hearts...", but I have to say she was absolutely right about these people.  Phil + Dee (the coolest and classiest lady I've ever known), Keith + Dot (we had the northerner connection going on), Jo (the funniest person alive) + Nick (people say he's quiet but he didn't shut up around me!) + Jade (needs to get her backpack on and come with me), and Chris + Paul all adored the Ashton family, and rightly so.  There is such a positive vibe going on in that small corner of France... who would ever have known?!

Strimming grass, strimming grass, and more strimming grass.  That strimmer was everybody's worst enemy.  I helped a neighbour with their grass... it was taller than me and took two days to finish!

Romy's dance show.  The concentration on her face was just adorable.  Some of the other little girls did completely the wrong dance moves.  Kate was laughing so loud... she definitely ruined that man's video recording!

Bike rides with Luc and Nick.  We went off road and every time I would almost slip off the cliff edges.  Mild exaggeration... but it was scary anyway!

Sleeping in the new bell tent with Phoebe and Romy.  We told ghost stories and got so scared that we all had to sleep together.

Reliving the past:
Making a voicemail for Phoebe's phone shouting "Wasssssaaaaapp!" from the Scary Movie film.  We had to re-do it over and over again until it was just right... I did exactly the same thing with my sister Beth when I was about Phoebe's age.
Another time, Romy and I stayed up really late telling countless "Knock knock" jokes and laughing so hard that everybody could hear us... My sister Darsey and I did exactly the same thing for about two years straight when we were younger.

Mr Goose

Mr Goose and Baby Goose.  Mrs Goose had been killed by a fox months earlier so it was just them two left.  They ran after everybody who went near them and would bite hard if they got the chance.  One night Baby Goose got killed by a fox and straight away I could feel how sad Mr Goose was.  I spent hours sat down near him just talking quietly and he eventually came to me.  After that I was the only person who could walk up and stroke him.

Samatan Market.  The kids and I asked for some chicks and ducklings and Kate caved immediately.  Back at the farm we put them all in the same hutch and the next morning three of the chicks had been accidentally squashed by the ducks.  We took the chick that was left inside the house and hand-reared him.  We named him Squeaky... because he really didn't EVER shut up squeaking!

My duckling Eeyore.  After a few days she turned out to be pretty small compared to the other ducklings.  I took her inside the house from then on so I could look after her and get her bigger.  When everyone else had gone to bed I would get her out and let her run up and down the table.  She got so tired after about ten minutes that she would climb in my hand and fall asleep.  One day a neighbour came round and accidentally left the door open to the kitchen where Eeyore's house was.  One of the dogs knocked her box down and played around with her so much that she died.  I was so distraught and couldn't stop crying all day!

Part 2 is coming soon...!