Posted by: kathandroger | July 23, 2017

Barns, the Play and Fossils.

We have nearly bought the old barn facing our house. It used to be used for farming purposes before our now deceased neighbour Francis filled it with old wrecked cars and assorted rubbish. It took months to remove all the bits and pieces, and now it is taking months for the legal processes to take place. This is France after all! However, we are about to start on the repairs and renovations to make it look a bit more respectable. Rain has got in and rotted a few timbers, but nothing that a bit of Roger Bodging won’t put right.IMG_3799I am glad that most of the other timbers are in good order, as there are quite a few of them.IMG_3798Meanwhile the dog has been taking things easy, especially when the temperature was in the mid thirties last week. It’s a dog’s life!IMG_3800

We live in an undulating area, but it was all underwater eons ago. So it is not unusual to stumble across the odd fossil on our walks. I have very little knowledge of fossils, but they are fascinating things and now I have difficulty in looking straight ahead rather than at the stones in the fields. I have picked up dozens, but here is a sample.IMG_3801A couple of sponges and a big shell. They are often seen incorporated into the local buildings.

Sadly we will not be performing any more in our Theatrical Group. We enjoyed doing five performances of our play in the local villages, but internal wrangles elevated to verbal fisticuffs between Madam President and Monsieur Secretary.  What a pity after a year of fun in rehearsals and so many comic moments; we has at least another four performances planned, and my part of a Spanish brothel owner was nearing perfection, at least in my eyes. Why did everyone laugh when I spoke? As the only non French member of the group it did my understanding of the language a lot of good, and latterly my fellow actors even seemed to understand what I was trying to say to them. How do friends lose the amicability that has endured for so many years, especially over trifling disagreements? As is common, the dispute led to sides being formed and battle lines drawn and there was to be no reconciliation. For me, it all seemed a bit silly and trivial, and a big price to pay for all the effort put in over so many months. I have remained neutral, but both parties are forming their own Theatre groups and I don’t want to choose one over the other so have retired from my acting career. It was short and unremarkable, but did give a good insight into the pleasures of performing, and I shall remember only the good times we had together. Thank you my French friends, for all the laughs we had together.

 

Posted by: kathandroger | July 16, 2017

Walking the dog and mog.

We are blessed with having lots of pretty walks from our back door. Some go up the hill, some go down the hill, and all have their charms. We have recently spent some time keeping tracks clear with secateurs, but in general the paths are open, and it is a very rare occasion when we meet another walker. We are surrounded by opening sunflowers at the moment, and this is the view from the shack on top of our land.IMG_0854The Sloe hedge in the foreground is now under control after attacking it with the chain saw last year, and it is a wonderful place to sit and watch the sun go down in the evening. We have yet to do it this year!

Polly the wayward puppy seems to have recovered from her illness and is newly off her steroid drugs. Her terrier awkwardness has resurfaced, and commands are only obeyed after a period of consideration. She does love her walks though, and Dennis the cat, having been raised by a dog, often comes along with us. So it was last evening when Kath stayed to do the watering of our dozens of plants, and Polly and I went on up the hill. It was only after a few minutes that I saw that Dennis was following us and he then seemed intent on ambushing the dog, jumping out of the bushes to attack his playmate. The dog is usually the aggressor in their fights, but in the bushes, the speed and agility of the feline makes her very frustrated and unable to follow her foe. It all settled down for a few minutes, with the dog and cat walking calmly along the track, and me speaking wise and worldly words to them both. There is something very settling in talking to dumb animals; they never contradict, listen intently, and to me seem to be both educated and inspired by my fine words. At least that is what I like to think. Polly will listen intently until a pile of something disgusting is scented. She then likes to roll over and over in whatever it is, usually old decaying and putrid. Dennis looks on in wonder at the stupidity of dogs and sometimes sits to preen himself in front of her. Their chasing each other then continued, the cat knowing that when we reached the road the dog would be on its lead and restricted in its hounding ability. We were walking quite peacefully along the road, beside a very steep bank up to the maize field, when Dennis attacked at speed and took the little dog by surprise. Vengeance had to be immediate and violent and Polly raced up the bank in hot pursuit of his feline foe. With such force that the extending lead I was using was wrenched from my hand and disappeared up the bank like a startled snake. Now, the maize fields are now about two metres high and cover several acres. The thought of our angry dog chasing the teasing cat through nearly impenetrable jungle filled me with horror; the dog would be lost and confused by the plants, and the cat would amble home looking self satisfied. There was no alternative but for me to climb up the steep bank and try to retrieve the animal. Needless to say my shoes were not fit for purpose and it was only after several slips and cusses and tugging on tussocks of slippery grass that I managed to ascend the dangerous climb, my fury being tempered by the need for rescue. In the time it had taken to climb the bank the animals could have been miles away. But as luck would have it, the long lead, and the circuitous route the cat had taken meant that the little dog had been snared within a few metres of the edge of the field. She was retrieved without problem, but there then remained the difficult descent back to the road. The bum is a useful piece of anatomy in these situations, and it was with a degree of inelegance but with a smooth slide that the road was reached. We made it home in one piece, the dog and I. The cat followed a few minutes later, looking very pleased with himself.

Posted by: kathandroger | July 9, 2017

Recent flowers and old junk.

The last month has been hot and dry. Too hot for me, as anything above 30 degrees seems to initiate a state of lethargy which is hard to repel. Even my new batch of home brewed beer is only of marginal help, but the freezer kept elderflower cordial is a bit more efficacious. It has been necessary to wallow in the swimming pool just to keep cool. Life here is hard.

But jobs still need to be done. The gate between one garden and our field was battered by a bored goat some time ago, and despite multiple repairs it was falling to bits. The thought of Moins Dix and his sheep flock friends munching all our garden vegetables was enough stimulus to make a new one. It is on a slope and had to be self closing, and I didn’t have any suitable timber in the wood store. There was an old oak ladder in the barn which was dangerous to use because of the thin rungs, so after bashing it apart, cutting it carefully to size and making joints with some thick doweling the new gate now sits proudly in the old fencing.IMG_3788 (2)It should see me out!

I have been begging for old metal to do some more sculpture. Friend Paul donated an old oil tank which weighed a ton and I could not move by myself. Luckily we had some very robust and willing guests staying with us and they moved it to outside the workshop.IMG_3775Like so many tasks in life, I had no idea how to cut the thing up, but was under orders to get the ugly thing out of the way as soon as possible. Old oil tanks contain old oil. Some of it is very thick and will not drain away, but still remains inflammable. It was probably not a very good idea to use my plasma cutter, which works at very very high temperature. Within moments the tank was ablaze, and thoughts of calling the Pompiers flew through my mind. Luckily the water hose was at hand and the flaming inferno controlled. After cutting one end out the very pleasant task of removing the residue took ages and I had filthy old heating oil in every crevice imaginable. But the task is now completed and I have enough metal to build a battleship. No more donations are needed thankyou.

The sunflowers are just coming out locally. The big field behind us is going to be magnificent in a week or two, and Polly and I strolled between the huge plants this morning. There is something wonderful about being looked at by hundreds and hundreds of flowerheads all pointing in the same direction, and the few drops of rain today on the large leaves made a sound like gentle applause all around us. Not for us of course, but for the wonder of nature. It was a lovely moment.

And our lilies in the corner of the courtyard are at their best now. With Trumpet Vine and the sweet peas the colours should clash. But nature never has clashing colours. Why is that?IMG_0844The constant watering needed over the past few weeks has been worth the effort. And the well hasn’t run dry yet!

Posted by: kathandroger | July 2, 2017

Birds and the Bats’ Boudoir.

Our life seems to revolve around the animals and birds in France. Every day there seems to be in incident which either amuses or annoys. The swallows this year have been even more numerous-I hear they are becoming less common in the UK- and have been nesting in almost all of our outbuildings. Last year I installed a pulley, made of an old bicycle trainer part, so that I could haul up the lambs before skinning and butchering. It has obviously provided a good anchorage point for a new nest, and I managed to get this snap of part of the family in between their initial flying lessons.IMG_3781

Our old chicken, Beryl, decided to go broody for the first time in about four years. We don’t keep a cockerel because of the noise, so we had to find her some fertile eggs to sit on. Luckily, our neighbours always have some and so we put half a dozen under Beryl. She sat well, but initially got off the nest to have a daily wander around the orchard. This gave Polly the puppy time to get into the hen house and steal an egg, which she did on two occasions. We had added a few non fertilised eggs to make a good clutch for the bird, but sods law dictated that the wayward hound only took the fertile eggs! Beryl finally got better at sitting, and we were rewarded with a pair of chicks, one a standard yellow bird, and the other a counou (naked neck) which looks just like a little black monk to me. All seemed to be going well, until I noticed a dark object in the yard. Polly was on one side of it and Dennis, the bird eating cat, was on the other side. It looked like a pile of poo, so it was strange to see it being observed so closely. It was only when I approached that I could see it was the little black chick, which Polly had taken from the hen house, and carried about eighty metres in her mouth, much as she does with stolen eggs before eating them. The cat would undoubtedly have killed the little bird, but it was not damaged and only a bit wet from dog slobber. Beryl was pleased when I took it back and all seems well.IMG_3784After friend Rogers’ suggestion they are to be called Black and Decker!

We are moving into Bat season in our back utility room. There seems to be a colony of Pipistrelle bats who tend to have babies and fly around the room at this time of year. Often we find dead youngsters, which is sad as bats only have one young a year I am told, but before mating the females need to have a good wash and brush up. We have an old sink unit in the room which is being well used for this purpose.IMG_3785There is no perfume available, but I am sure her freshness will prove irresistible!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 25, 2017

The Goat Incident.

Polly the puppy wakes early in the mornings. Whereas an infant can be left screaming for a while without consequence, a little dog is liable to leave reminders on the floor that necessitate immediate rising. She is actually very good now, and as long as she is let out into the yard, all is well. But the last weeks’ weather has been so hot that the early morning is the only time a walk can be taken in any comfort, so we made our way up the hill behind the house at about 6.30 am. I saw the sheep grazing contentedly in our field, and was marveling at the peace and tranquility of the gentle morning air when a sudden and very loud bleat came from our land. It seemed to come from the border between our plot and the sunflowers in the farmers’ field next to ours. The goat, Moins Dix, had been prevented from jumping into the young crop by my new fencing, and it was obvious that he had been trying to find another route for his delinquent foraging. Usually his bleat is very soft and calm, but this cry was one of pain and distress, and he must have seen his potential saviour  walking up the hill. I could not see him, but we climbed along the fence line to find an animal hanging  by a hind leg, trapped securely and unable to move in any direction. There was no easy way to release him. Polly thought it was all great fun, and her habit of sniffing assorted animal genitalia was enjoyed without interruption from the stationary beast. I am not sure what she made of a castrated male goat perineum, but it adds to her education. The only way to release the poor animal was to cut the fence, and that meant a trip back to the house to fetch the wire cutters. A problem on early morning walks for this walker at least, is that our diet of multiple vegetables results in rather precipitous calls to evacuation, and such was the case that morning. Should the animal be left in pain so that the rescuer could be more comfortable, or should the dash for relief be for wire cutters alone? Putting animal welfare before personal comfort, the tool was retrieved and the trapped goat released both from the wire fence and the dogs’ nose. Personal relief was attained in the bushes. The problem was then how to get the limping goat back into our property. Moins Dix is not an especially big animal, but there was no way I could lift him over the fence. A dash for his favourite sheep feed enabled us to enticeIMG_3782 him to walk to the road along the boundary fence, but there he stopped, unmoving even for food. The ditch he had to climb down is very steep and deep, and as he was a bit sore he just didn’t fancy the effort. I didn’t fancy the effort of climbing up to get him either, but I could not leave a rescue incomplete. My mountain climbing days are long gone, so it was with unaccustomed effort that I grappled inelegantly with various shrubs and grasses and ascended the steep ditch to grab one of Moins Dixs’ horns. The descent down the slope was facilitated by a goat who did not want to descend, and luckily my weight was just enough to overcome his resistance and we both made it unscathed to the road. He then scamperd off through the gate to our field and back to his sheep playmates. I hope he has learned his lesson and will never try to escape again. Fat chance of that!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 16, 2017

Bread Run, Boules and Boudie.

We live about five or six kilometres from the nearest bakery. They deliver bread and ordered croissants daily, but don’t arrive until mid morning. Some of our guest either take the car for an early supply, or like last week make the journey on two wheels. Alex, Rosie and the children Edith and Oscar, all fitted onto their lovely adapted Helios tandem, and parents Sarah and Stuart borrowed a couple of our bikes.IMG_3759They were early risers too, and made good use of the wonderful weather we’ve had recently.

The barn over the road is awaiting renovation after we have finally managed to buy it. It is very useful for parking cars under cover, but last week the cars were relegated to outside parking so that the beaten earth floor could be used for intensive physical challenges. Ed, Rocky and John adapted to the uneven surface like locals, and judging from the noise the tournaments were played with some venom. The Mazieres Boulodrome is now open!IMG_3767

We still have the ashes from our old dog Boudie. They are supposed to be scattered at the top of our land, but we have not yet had the mood to do it. I have made her a little memorial from bits and pieces in the workshop.IMG_3762We shall have some friends round and drink a few glasses for the old girl.

Posted by: kathandroger | June 11, 2017

Two corpses and one happy dog.

The birds are still nesting and raising their young, but the family of tits who made their home in our extractor for the cooker have now flown. It happened last year as well, and as we can hear the tweeting of the chicks we don’t use the fan until all is quiet. Polly the puppy is also relieved as she could hear all the noise but could not work out where it came from, and used to run around in circles barking at the squeaks and squawks. The problems arose when Kath turned on the fan and there was a grinding sound but no extraction. I fetched the ladder and extracted load of moss and nesting material from the outside vent and prevented the birds from re-entering with some chicken wire, but the block was obviously closer to the fan. IMG_3763After some cussing and dismantling of the hood the problem became clear-one Kamikaze chick! Poor little thing must have chosen the wrong way to exit the extractor.IMG_3764 (2)All is back together now and we are no longer suffering cooking fumes in the kitchen. Please find a new nesting site next year!

I had recently cut the walk to our top field and the summerhouse. It was looking very spic and span and I took the dog up to admire my mowing skills, when she raced on ahead to a stationary bundle of fur. IMG_3766We do see many more hares than rabbits around us, but why this one had succumbed I have no idea. There were no signs of injury and it seemed well nourished and heavy. I did not have the kit to perform a full post mortem examination, so chucked into the nettles away from the dog. I guess hares drop dead just as we do, but it was sad to see such a lovely animal no longer romping around the countryside.

Our last Airedale, Boudie, was a lovely animal but a complete wimp. Anything noisy and she would run a mile away, especially my little old car. Admittedly it does make lots of noise and emits lots of fumes from the exhaust, but I love it and it was a great disappointment to me that she did not come with me in the passenger seat like my Boxers did in the UK. And so it was a joyful occasion when Polly joined me and loved it! IMG_3774She has her own custom made seat belt which fits around her waist and is attached to the handbrake, and loves to hang her head out of the side of the car to feel the wind in her whiskers. Well done Polly, at last a girl who likes my car!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 4, 2017

There’s a nest in my fishes’ belly!

At last some decent rain for the garden. A good thunderstorm and yesterday a pretty constant drizzle to comfort the growing seedlings in the vegetable garden. The tomatoes have shot up and we spent yesterday afternoon taking off unwanted branches and tying in our three dozen plants-all in the fine refreshing rain! New guests arrived and others left, and our poorly puppy ate like a pig. A nice day. This morning the sun is trying to come through the mist of early morning; I took Polly for a walk about 7am, which she was not too keen on, but the moist fields were wonderful. The skylarks were singing high above, the redstart flitting in front of us, and the barley was shrouded in a damp blanket covering the whiskery tips of the seed heads. I even had a little jog, much to the dogs’ amazement, and the sharp shards of sunlight seemed to recognise the achievement by illuminating the peaceful countryside though the clearing clouds. We are off on a ten kilometre walk for Amnesty International this morning, but the little dog is not up to that yet so will have to stay in the house and sleep-she is good at that.

Last week a neighbour stopped to tell us that Moins Dix, the goat, was in the next field eating the sunflowers. He thought the farmer would not be pleased and I guess he is right. The problem is that goats can get though most fences if they really want to, and ours is an expert escapologist. Although he is not the most athletic looking animal he can jump a normal fence with no problem, and seems to often prefer the relative barrenness of a ploughed field to the natural abundance of food found in our little estate. I remembered a big roll of 2metre high fencing I had used to try and trap the sheep a couple of years ago, and Kath and I have managed to erect it against the original sheep fence.IMG_3751Only time will tell if this works!

I made some rough metal sculptures for the end of one of the barns a year or so ago.IMG_3756 They are meant to go rusty and look old and I didn’t mind our pair of roosting kestrels pooping on the tail of the fish. But recently I have wondered why a sparrow always seems to be on the beak. Looking more closely it is obvious that the belly of the fish has become home to a family of birds!IMG_3757When we came to the house I made several bird boxes and carefully installed them in what I thought would be ideal nesting sites, but they have largely been ignored! The sparrows obviously prefer less conventional sites. Yesterday I cleared out the great tit nest from our extractor flue in the kitchen-the chicks had all flown- and have tried to prevent a new nest with crumpled chicken wire. The only problem now is that the fan, which we have not used for fear of damaging the then growing family, does not work and is probably bunged up with nesting material. The trials we go through for nature!

 

 

Posted by: kathandroger | May 28, 2017

May made Hay

It was not so long ago that we were cursing the continued cold weather. How things have changed. The last week has seen temperatures in the low thirties and clear skies. Summer seems to be here at last and even the swimming pool heater has not been needed with the water at 28 degrees. The flowers are blooming and we are having to water the garden every evening. We have started on our new potatoes and the first peas are nearly ready. Various bugs seem to appear everywhere and I found this little chap yesterday.IMG_3747I have no idea what it is but am glad it is only tiny!

The good weather has meant that the grass has grown rapidly after the wet weeks and the farmers have all been making hay. We need about eighty bales for our sheep and I told Manu, our neighbour and farming friend to give me a shout when he was baling. He arrived at the house this afternoon to tell us our bales were waiting to be picked up from the field and to get a move on because he reckoned we were going to have a storm. I had to drag the wife away from cleaning the kitchen, hitched up the trailer and we were off to get the winter feed for the animals. It all sounds idyllic, but in 34 degrees of full sunshine and several trips to load and unload our small trailer, it was more perspiration than pleasure. I have never had hay made in May before, but it is reckoned that the earlier the crop is made the more nutritious it is, so our sheep should be in wonderful condition in the spring.IMG_3754The farm girl was up to the task and we soon had our bales stacked in the barn. There is nothing like the smell of new made hay, I love it.

The local crops are all doing well in the sunshine. On our weekly cycle with the club we pass lots of different farms and I love to see how the different produce is doing. We have a retired farmer in our group, and I am continually asking him about the merits of various plants. He is a bit faster than me up the hills, so I try and reserve my questions until we are both getting a bit puffed. My questions are short, but his answers are usually shorter! There is a lot more linseed this year, and I had to go back to photograph this field with the poppies.IMG_3748The colours of nature never cease to amaze me. We have had a lovely May.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 21, 2017

Ode to May.

Each month of the year has its attractions, even if only to look forward to the following one. But May is different, my favourite month and the real fruition of the new year. The early migratory birds arrive in March, and we often have some warm days then, but the possibility of frosts are still present and indeed they cut down all our blossoming trees in early April. The real summer arrives with the Swifts in late April, and this year with the re-arrival of the Bee Eaters which deserted our little local lake last year. I saw a couple of dozen of them on the wires a fortnight ago; such exotic and unmistakable treasures of the avian world. The Cuckoos have been loud and numerous, the Hoopoe has hooped nearby, and the almost human whistling of the Golden Oriole has brightened our little wood above the house. The Hedgehog has been active and has provided some education for Polly. Dogs’ noses are soft and spines are sharp!IMG_3742I walked the little dog to our local reservoir a mile or so away a couple of days ago. It is usually an uninspiring expanse of water, but in the warm sunshine the carp had come to the surface and were active in groups of up to two dozen fish, with others foraging in the margins and seemingly unperturbed by our presence. Polly was an enthusiastic tadpole chaser but was confused by the hundreds of little wrigglers around her feet.

The flowers are at their best in May. Our local Orchids are in full bloom, and provide the main course botanical pleasure after the appetizer blooms of the cowslips, violets and wood anemones of last month. We have a neglected field just over our lane which borders the oak woods, and at the moment the Lady, Monkey and Butterfly orchids have been in splendid profusion after the recent rains. I came across a pretty little flower on our walk yesterday which was obviously a mint relative with a labiate flower. I guessed it must have a pretty name as well, but was disappointed to find it has been cursed as the “Bastard Balm” Poor little thing!IMG_3745 (2)

The Potager had been planted. The forty or so tomato plants look good, as do the squashes and courgettes. The strawberries have been shared by the slugs and snails but they have left a few for us, and the first rows of vegetable seedlings are showing. The frost bitten trees in our orchard will give us next to nothing this year, so it is some comfort to see the raspberry bushes in good order. Brock the Badger still visits and has become adept at upskuttling my bowl of urine which is meant to put him off, but luckily he has not dug the garden up yet. I will have to hunt out my electric fence.

We had temperatures which reached 30 degrees last week, and the sheep are getting a bit overheated. The Ram, Hercules, is massive now and insulated by an impressive fleece and puffing like a good’un; I must reopen the sheep trap and get them in for shearing soon. Cutting the grass twice a week is a must now, but it looks good after some rain, and we look forward to our next guests.

Marvellous May, but no rest for the Workers.

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