Posted by: kathandroger | February 17, 2019

A Lovely week.

We often seem to have some good days in February. This week has been exceptional, with crisp morning frosts and freezing temperatures morphing into warm days of up to 16 degrees. I walked with another group on Thursday, and we saw our first Brimstone butterflies, as well as the emerging celandines and even a couple of daffodils. Incidentally, the lesser celandine is also known as “pilewort”, and was used to treat piles because the bulbous roots look like that nasty condition. The “Doctrine of Signatures” was a belief that medical conditions could be cured by application of a similar looking plant. A load of cobblers of course, but I bet it still has its believers. Anyway, back to the lovely weather IMG_0375This is our little hamlet in the early morning from one of my favourite viewing points. And on my way to the local townIMG_0357this great plume is in fact steam coming from the paper factory in Descartes. It was much more impressive close to, but I couldn’t get a good picture.

The silence of the early mornings in the frosty, windless days, is really impressive, and any sounds seem to travel for miles. The local hunting hounds are housed over the hill about a kilometre away from us, but the other day they were baying for their food and it sounded as if they were next door!

Meanwhile the new lambs are doing very well.IMG_0374The cold weather never seems to bother them, it’s the wet and wind that is more dangerous.

I came across this lovely old root with two types of moss on it whilst I was waiting for the bloody dog to stop chasing a hare through our local woods.IMG_0379It is amazing to notice nature’s treasures, and I feel we all ought to linger a little longer to appreciate them.

Back from the great outdoors, it has been a good week for entertainment. A lovely local bar has musical evenings on a regular basis. It is a tiny venue, but the ambience is good, the landlady lovely and dotty and the food generous. We watched a French duo a couple of evenings ago, and they were fantastic. The guitar playing really was Eric Clapton standard, and they both seemed to be enjoying the performance.IMG_0381I still don’t know who they are, but it is a pity that to be successful commercially nowadays all groups need to be glamorous and young. The musical standard we experienced was so much better than lots of the crap we hear today.

And finally on the culture scene, my friend Martin Looker had an exhibition of his work at the local La Roche Posay centre. He makes wonderful sculptures from bits and pieces he has found, using old bits of metal, bones and stones. For an ex bacteriologist and landscape artist he has found another outlet and I wish I had his talent. Anyway, the “vernissage” (opening of the exhibition) was last evening, and the catering, ambiance and the art were all perfect. But, typical with the French, the local curator, a real character, said more that a few words, explained that the 100 years war with England had never been formally ended, and challenged Martin to a duel outside! The weapons were oversized paintbrushes, and the shields were painting palettes.IMG_0383I am not sure that there was a victor, but the real victory was for the evening. Well done all concerned!

Posted by: kathandroger | February 10, 2019

Sixteen for Rosemary!

She is not the prettiest. She is not the most elegant. She is greedy and has an unpleasant voice. But my, can she produce lambs!

Rosemary has just had her third set of triplets.IMG_0344I had checked her last thing on Monday evening, and first thing Tuesday morning her new family was already up and about. These lambs are within a few hours of birth, but already cleaned and they were suckling within no time.IMG_0353And the clever girl had them under cover in the shed. All three are obviously small, but of the same size; two boys and a girl, Peter Paul and Mary. That makes sixteen lambs in the seven years she has been productive. Sheep can breed until they die; some reports detail sheep of eighteen years, but our old girl will retire before then. Interestingly, humans and one other mammal -I think the elephant- are unusual in that the female stops ovulating. I wonder what the population of our world would be if they didn’t?

But not to be left behind, Flossie, our third year lamb, produced one big boy, Kelly, the next day. IMG_0355He is already bigger than the triplets, and will grow much more quickly without fighting for a spare teat. Sheep have only two, and it seems a pity that she can’t help Rosemary out, but they are very protective of their own offspring. Meanwhile, dad Hercules is completely unconcerned; he is getting on a bit now and it is reassuring to see that even old chaps can still do the job!

We will probably swap Mary for another female to breed from, but that leaves the three boys for slaughter at the end of the year. I really don’t want to do it again, so I shall have to make some other plans.

 

Our walking group on Mondays continues to provide amusement. We walked in a different commune last week, over very empty fields and woods. I came across this sign outside a weekend retreat in the middle of nowhere. IMG_0339The pond, which can just be seen through the gate, was a bowl of mud, the land derelict, but it was obviously important to the owners that none of the locals decided to skinny dip without permission; the sign says “bathing prohibited”!

Wandering through the woods nearer our home I came across this big badger sett.IMG_0345Polly was about to disappear in pursuit until I called her off; some friends in England had to dig their dog out a badger hole some years ago, and it took them several hours. That and the animal being attacked by the occupant has made me very wary of these big holes.

And finally, this is the year of the Pig in the Chinese calendar. I love pigs, and my sign is a pig in their system. We had a lovely evening at a friends’ house to celebrate, and I was delighted to read my favourable horoscope. What with a good Burns’ night last month, and Paddies’ day next month this is the start of a good year!

Posted by: kathandroger | February 3, 2019

Two Extremes!…and old cars.

The family have all been to visit Disney World in Florida recently. It was, of course, a wonder for the seven grandchildren, and for some of the adults as well. But it was very much in high season, and apparently the queues were never ending. I was quite happy to remain in rural France and think about them having a good time, and it is the only occasion when the twin grandsons eventually gave in to exhaustion.SOQE9734This is what Disney World can do to you! Some of us never grow up and son Tom, father of two, was delighted to meet his idol Chewbacca.ITFZ5018What a lovely fantasy world, and so far from the relentless reality of life.

But the other extreme is life here in peaceful France, that is when the dog is not barking endlessly like she is at the moment. I walked her yesterday and came upon the hunt just up the road. Polly was on her lead, unusually, and we met the “Guard du Chasse” (gamekeeper) John Claude a few moments later. He told me they had managed to kill one little deer (there were about forty hunters), but that this was the last hunt of the year and I could let the dog off the lead from now on. So today we wandered through the woods on a beautiful frosty sunny morning only to come across the hunters once more! They were apparently trying to slaughter some wild boar and had we had been casually wandering through the hunting ground. I met John Claude a bit later and he explained that when he told me the season had finished, he meant only on one side of the forest track and not the other! It was only when we got back home, after chatting to some hunting friends, that the sign had been put up right outside our house.IMG_0338.JPGPolly liked the look of the hound and wondered whether she could join him. It really does not appeal to me; standing around doing nothing for hours at a time and getting cold, but they are a friendly bunch of chaps, and I expect it is done for the ambiance as well as for the pot.

Without being too lavatorial, I have written before about Brock the Badger, and how he likes to dig a hole to contain his excrement. I found a beautiful example of this tidy animals work a couple of days ago.IMG_0295I bet it was Mrs Brock, so much more organised than us chaps, and it had obviously been used several times. Or perhaps it is a communal toilet where the Badger clan can linger and catch up on the latest news!

It always upsets me to see old cars just left abandoned. We have two in the garden next door, this old 2CV IMG_0294and a little Fiat 500. When we arrived ten years ago, it was covered with a tarpaulin and in good condition, but the cover has long gone and it is now an ivy covered wreck. I have remonstrated with the seldom visiting English owner, but he does nothing and reckons it is worth more as spare parts-if any of them remain in working order that is. What a pity. And today we came across another wreck in the depths of the woods.IMG_0332I don’t know what it is, but it must have been there for many years as the terrain is almost impenetrable now. Again a tad too far gone for restoration I fear. I shall keep wandering in the woods and maybe come across a treasure one day!

 

Posted by: kathandroger | January 27, 2019

Ramblings, including roses.

When we converted the barns into gites, we realized that the old buildings needed a bit of outside decoration. What better than some roses, to meander up the walls and provide endless flowers for all to enjoy? Bloody roses! That was about seven years ago, and although all our roses were planted in seemingly very poor soil, full of stones and one in the courtyard, they have all mushroomed (can a rose mushroom?) into huge plants which threatened to obliterate the buildings.

In particular, the rambling rose “Pauls’ Himalayan Musk” on the front of our smaller gite had grown completely out of control, despite me giving it a good haircut each year. Good old George Paul bred this beauty before WW1, and god knows how many cussing gardeners have blamed him since that time. To be fair, it does produce some wonderful, small and scented pink blooms for a couple of weeks in May, but the rest of the time it just tries to block the gutters and find a way into the house underneath the roof tiles. No more of that, you overproductive rambler, you are going to be severely nobbled. Maybe it is just that everything seems to grow well here, and that it is south facing, but Mr Pauls rose is alleged to cover up to 10metres of wall; I measured ours at almost 25 metres! It took me three days to cut out all the smaller shoots and the dead wood, and despite wearing leather gloves (admittedly with some holes in) my hands are almost devoid of good flesh, most of it clinging to the prunings.img_0277This is half way through the job. Ramblers are supposed to be trimmed in the summer after they have flowered, but no way was I going to venture into that overgrown jungle, especially with my friendly chattering sparrows nesting in it. Working up a ladder with little room for manoeuvre is a great way to get a stiff back, and it took a good dose of whiskey in the evening to recover from the effort.img_0286The trumpet vine in the corner was a doddle in comparison, and even the fire extinguisher dogs moved away to avoid being impaled on falling rose thorns. But all done now for another year. We may well have no flowers this year, but at least control is wrested from nature for a while.

Our animals have done some pruning of their own in the field. Each year at about this time we lose bark from the Acacia trees. img_0280Always in strips, and it is rare for a tree to be killed. I reckon the goat is the culprit, but the sheep may join in as well, and all this despite being well fed and having a salt lick. Damage from previous years can be seen and is well healed, the bark moving in from the sides to try and cover the wound, exactly as it does in humans. But coming back from the wood I found another little tree with what look like teeth marks on it.img_0284

These wounds were very different, and I tried to find what had caused them on the old ‘puter. I don’t think it was Beaver, Bear, or Porcupine as was suggested, and guess that Brock the Badger may well be the culprit. I shall have to get one of those wildlife cameras and find out.

And finally, it is wonderful to see our dog eat a chicken egg. The three birds are still laying well in this mid winter, and so if we have too many Polly reaps the benefit. She is  discerning eater, and relishes every little unexpected addition to her diet. The offering is taken gentle in her mouth, transferred to the gravel courtyard, and then the tasty chicken excretia is first gently licked off.img_0289 A small hole is then made with her teeth and the ensuing fluid gentle licked off. When no more comes out , the egg is crushed and eaten, shell and all. It really is a gourmet meal for her, and takes several minutes. She looks like she would like a nice glass of port and a cigar afterwards, but I have to limit her input somewhat.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 20, 2019

Walking.

I walk most days. Usually with the dog. The slower pace means we can see things in more detail, and although our weekly 80km bike rides cover more ground, it is not appropriate to halt the peleton just because I have glimpsed an interesting bird! Mondays means walking with the group in our village; normally for about two and a half hours, and plenty long enough for me. It means keeping up on the local village gossip, and comparing the latest aches and pains, but all that is good for my French. Last week we walked through a local park, and I was delighted to see the local provisions made for the handicapped. img_0259Placed on the basketball pitch is a parking space for the physically less able. I guess they can open the tailgate and shoot whilst sitting! Brilliant.

But most of our walking is around where we live. The woods are all encompassing, and the dog and I both delight in getting lost in the dense oak woods. If there is no sun to guide us, we could be lost for weeks, but there are usually some landmarks to guide us. This is the “white tree” in the middle of our nearest forest. img_0273I guess it is some form of fungus producing the colour, but it is certainly a good signpost and only a kilometre or so from home. The woods are usually very quiet, but our clever terrier manages to flush out the local wildlife and then chases the poor animals until they inevitably outwit her, when she returns panting and content. I vaguely remember those days!

Our walk yesterday was to our local reservoir. It was cold and frosty and the air seemed to just ever so slightly prick the skin. Beautiful. Nothing much of interest happened until Polly began barking at a bush on the far side of the lake. I wondered what it was and peeked in, expecting to see a rat. At first there was nothing, but then a strange ” tick tick” noise came from just beyond the dogs’ nose. She was getting very excited, so I peered further in and to my astonishment a big whiskered toothy face looked at both of us. The size of a very large cat, and wonderfully camouflaged in the foliage. No sooner had I thrust my big head into the bush but it bolted up over the bank. The dog followed as fast as she could; much faster than me, clambering laboriously up the steep far bank of the reservoir to see what was happening.  And when I finally arrived all that could be seen was a very wet and bemused dog standing at the waters’ edge.img_0271It was a coypu. I knew they were around, as one had been caught in a trap close by last year, but it was the first time I had had such a close encounter. They are called “ragodin” here, and “nutria” elsewhere, and lots of other much ruder names when they damage local crops and breach dams. Originally from South America, they were raised all over the world for their fur, and the first country to farm them commercially was France. I remember the problems we had with them in the UK, and they were cleared from there in the early 80’s. Here they are still widespread and often trapped, but I haven’t seen any obvious damage around us, so have decided not to tell the local gamekeeper. Incidentally, the dog won’t usually go into the water beyond her belly, and this time she was completely soaked. I wish I had seen her plunge headfirst into the freezing water in  pursuit of an animal whose swimming skills are rather better than hers!

Our walks often start by inspecting the sheep. The ewes are due to produce soon, and although they seem fat and contented, imminent delivery does not seem likely. Having said that, we will probably have some lambs this afternoon! They have a choice of several places to spend the night; a high level shelter, a low level shelter, and a nice warm cave in the hillside. So what do they do? Sleep outside in the frost.img_0261This one managed to get up to come for some feed for breakfast. The object in the foreground is an old puffball case.

The old prosthetic knees are going well after over ten years, but do ache a bit after a long walk. It will be a very sad day when pedestrian trespassing is finished, but I am already eyeing one of the new electric mountain bikes!

Posted by: kathandroger | January 12, 2019

Misty, Moisty Mornings.

It is that time of the year. The shortest day has passed, but the mornings seem to be even darker. An old sea captain told me that this is normal, to begin with the evenings get lighter to lengthen the day, but the evenings are pretty dark as well! Still, we have loads of logs in the barn, the woodburners are lit, and our little house is warm and cosy. Incidentally, the French have pinched our word, and describe any little house as “cosy”, and they haven’t even changed the “y” into an “ie”. Me trying to learn the language will be a waste of time soon; all the English words will be the same in French! We had some hard frosts here when we were in England, but now the weather is just damp, cold, and miserable. Luckily there has been little wind, which always makes things feel even colder. There was a time in the UK when I prayed for high winds; it meant that I could get out onto the oggin and do some windsurfing. Alas those days have gone now, and being in icy water falling off a plank and struggling to get back on again is only a fond memory. So now we have a series of misty and moisty mornings. img_0251This is the view back to our property from up our little lane today, the wood is where our logs come from, and the little roof houses our summer drinking spot on the top of the hill. Those summer days do seem a long way off now. The field of oil seed rape on the right will provide a carpet of yellow in the spring, except in the bit of field next to our fence. The bloody goat lifted it up with his horns whilst we were away, and he and the three sheep have managed to eat off a goodly area! I must remember to give the farmer a bottle of fine wine with my apologies.

Having a dog means we feel guilty is she is not walked, so with that incentive our whimsical wanderings together are very much a part of daily life. I enjoy stumbling through the thick woods, off the tracks, and we often see lots of deer, game birds, and hares. Polly loves to chase the hares, and I love watching her: there is no chance of the animal being caught, and the sudden change of direction they make leaves the dog completely confused. The flowers have long gone now of course, but the bright green of this patch of moss on a bank was a good reminder of the wonderful colours of later in the year.img_0254And this is the time of year when the snowdrops bloom. To me they are the signal of spring just around the corner, but the corner is long and the display is only just getting underway. img_0257Still, there remains lots to do in the garden. The leaves in the games area under the walnut tree seem to get thicker and more difficult each year. I have already emptied two trailer loads over the road, but am only about halfway there. Our big wisteria has been pruned, a job which I don’t relish, and I am sad to report that lots of the huge main trunk seems to be rotten. img_0255It has given us a beautiful display each year, and will be a real loss if it dies. Still, we have some of its offspring just round the corner, so all will not be lost.

This is again the season for the “Galette des Rois”. This typically French occasion celebrates the Epiphany, when the three kings came to see the infant Jesus. It should be on January 6th, and often is, but as with many celebrations here, the dates become blurred and feasts on the sweet tarts continue for most of the month. We have missed a few tarts, but will attend our cycling club event this evening. My paunch will soon hang over my handlebars!

Posted by: kathandroger | January 6, 2019

Home Again!

It is always nice to be back in France. Much as I appreciate the beauty of Southern England and Wales, the hustle and bustle is too much for me now, and the peace and quiet of our little corner of rurality suits me much better. Still, Monmouth and the surrounding areas were explored, I visited friends in Dorset, and reflected on how much my working environment had changed over ten years.

I do miss the Dorset lanes. Narrow, muddy and dangerous, but full of wildlife and forever changing with the seasons.img_0242I remember I used to drive at breakneck speeds around the bends in older days, but now caution is the watchword.  And it was a great pleasure to visit old friends. Time changes how we look-I hate the mirror nowadays- but relationships do not change. Ten years means nothing with old chums, and recounting the funny things that happened to us professionally and socially was probably the highlight of the trip. Hambledon Hill in Dorset is an ancient Hill Fort, now owned by the National Trust, and in the bright winter Sunshine on Friday I wandered over it to a pretty pub on the other side, whilst Kath took lunch with my pals’ wife in another local hostelry. And in local pubs there is always a face from the past! My mate Dennis (who gave his name to our cat!), and I bumped into several old patients of mine. One family in particular, were pleased to see me, and introduced me to one of their several daughters, a particularly beautiful young lady who I delivered over twenty years ago. It made me feel ancient! And wandering back again we came across another old mate, who I had last bumped into in the British Virgin Islands! He is a Potter and a generally clever chap who has built this little house in his garden, complete with stove and furniture, for contemplating life.img_0250Hambledon can be seen in the distance. What a beautiful sunny winter day, and we could not have left the old country looking better.

So why am I pleased to be back? The calm tranquility of this little rural corner of France I guess. When I was in Frome with the family the local Charity Shop had just been vandalised, as had some of the cash points. Drivers are aggressive and always in a hurry (just like I used to be I guess), and everywhere is crowded and noisy. I know we have had the “casseurs” in France recently, but in general vandalism locally is rare. And the” face to the ground” attitude of passers by I find disquieting. It costs nothing to pass a simple hello, but it is rare now, even in the countryside.

We came through Ouistreham, in the darkness of the early morning , and were pleased to see no sign of the numerous immigrants trying to get to the UK. On our departure young lads were jumping at the back of passing lorries going to the port. There are lots of them, but apparently they cause no trouble to the locals and are even given food and clothing. A sad state of affairs, and it made us feel guilty for all we have. But they would be better staying here rather than attempting to reach a country which neither wants them nor will make them more comfortable. Let’s hope that the coming year will sort out the political shenanigans both in the UK and in France and some solutions can be found to the profound inequalities that afflict modern society.

But hey, I can’t start the first blog of 2019 on such a miserable note. The day is fine, the hunters are out blasting every living thing out of the sky , and vin chaud is on sale at our local market cafe. Off to meet les amis and talk about resolutions for this year. I must stop bloody swearing!

Posted by: kathandroger | December 30, 2018

Another one gone!

One of the few things that worry me is how fast the years go nowadays! Yesterday we were looking forward to a new season and now it is long gone. But it does mean the annual pilgrimage to the land of our births. And this year it is special as my grandchildren and their parents had migrated from distant lands to be with us. From Germany and Australia they flew, and brought with them the endless joy and noise that we know so well. And that was only the parents! Can there be anything better than seeing the glee on childrens faces at Christmas?img_0231 Yes of course there were fights between the three year old twin boys, but the nascent maternalism of their young cousins soon pacified any disputes. They have all flown off to Disneyworld in Florida now, and the old fella is wallowing in the peace and quiet. I must admit that the intense commercialisation of the Christmas upets me a trifle (and thinking about it, we had no trifle this year!),but it was lovely having everyone together for a few days.

But  what about the UK? I am pleased to report that the traffic is light by normal standards, and I am enjoying motoring to old haunts and seeing old mates. The countryside here in the West country is beautiful, but even better are the pubs! A good pint of bitter with chums in a country pub is one of the joys of life and one of the few things I miss in France. The only problem is that the names of the brews change so much that I don’t which is the best, and many have to be sampled. Life is difficult sometimes!

I made it back to my old village in Dorset yesterday, and came upon the local Foxhunt in all its glory.img_0235 There were still lots of anti hunt protesters about, all talking to each other by radio and trying to take photos of any illegal action. The hunting of foxes with hounds is allegedly banned, but it goes on as normal, and prosecutions are rare. Apparently a photo of the dogs actually killing quarry with the hunters present and not calling the hounds off is needed, and that is difficult to do. Still it is all jolly fun and I don’t think any foxes or protesters were killed.

The local area, as usual, had lots of new buildings in previously banned areas, but the local walkways had been improved, and it seems that everybody in Dorset now has a dog! A very pretty place, but too many people for me. Can I please come back to rural France?

Posted by: kathandroger | December 23, 2018

Catastrophe and Christmas.

Sorry to have to go on about the “Gilets Jaunes” movement again, but it has affected us locally now and made me very sad. Concessions have been made to the protesters, but the movement has so much impetus now that it seems to have become a way of life to continue obstructing others in the pursuit of more demands. The Police have become more active, and have cleared protesters from the large roundabout in Chatellerault, our local town. They had been blocking the entrance to the motorway for some weeks. Why? The site is well known because of a large sculpture by a local artist which has been a talking point for several years. As it happens, he was a local GP who retired to take to sculpting full time, and his work the “Main Jaune” (yellow hand) had become a feature of the town. It had been constructed locally, by a vast team, including many youngsters, and basically was meant to represent the progress of engineering over the years by showing a series of cars, from the immediate post war period to the present, descending from the giant hand which contained an egg, the symbol of birth. It was loved despite some initial questioning, and certainly become identified with the town. But now it is no more. On the evening of the evacuation of the site, straw bales were positioned at the base and the structure set alight. It has now been demolished, but I managed to get these snaps the day before.IMG_0226 The police have yet to find the perpetrators, but I hope they are publically displayed when they do so. Even the explanatory panel has been defaced,IMG_0227 but that may have been earlier vandalism. I accept the genuine grievances of the local, but this destruction surely only debases their cause. One of the reasons we came to France was the increasingly aggressive attitude to life that seemed to pervade the UK. It seems that we were wrong and that it is the same here. That makes me unhappy, as constructive rather than destructive action is needed. I hope it changes, but fear that modern society will rarely be satisfied.

But, on a better note, Christmas is here, almost. Time to visit the family. Mine are coming from Germany, Australia and here to all meet at Daughter Clares’ house in Frome. It will be noisy with seven grandchildren, and numerous adults. I am really looking forward to seeing them all, and particularly to singing some good old fashioned carols. I am not religious, but the jolly carols of Christmas are an annual joy. I only wish I could sing! Being a bit of a Scrooge, I don’t like the commercialisation of the event, so have decided to make most of the presents myself. The twin grandsons are now 3, and having fallen off the seesaw I made them last year, I have made some block stilts to see if they can break their ankles!IMG_4106 The idea is to hold on to the ropes and balance on the blocks, which are different heights according to the side chosen. I find it hard, but 3 year olds will probably master them in a couple of minutes!
But most time has been spent in creating small sculptures from fossils and old medical instruments. Many years ago, when I was at a Hospital in Cyprus, bags of equipment was thrown into dustbins, much of it unused. Needless to say, I “saved” some of it, knowing that it would have a use one day! Some bits are in pure silver, which was common years ago, but everything is plastic now. I would have loved to recycle some bits, but they are apparently unwanted. Anyhow, I hope the recipients are grateful.IMG_4105 I am fairly sure that not many people will have presents made from fossils and silver tubes for relieving urinary retention! Happy Christmas.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 16, 2018

Jack Frost, the Black Prince and Christmas Cake.

At last the commotion in France seems to be slowly improving. There were less “Gilet Jaunes” demonstrating and less damage in Paris. We are hoping they don’t block the ferries when we go back for Christmas next weekend. But the weather may be having some effect. The temperatures have been sub zero in the mornings recently, and with the freezing rain the demonstrators must be having a miserable time.
Not so us! With the lovely log fires going and taking the dog for early morning frosty walks, I just love this time of year.IMG_0221 We have been up at sunrise to wander our pretty country paths and see the fleeing deer and hares. The local hunt apparently killed seven wild boar in the woods by our house last week, but Jon-Jaques our neighbour who was one of them, reckons there were at least thirty. There were some well fed hunters this week! At least the quarry is worth hunting for the pot, unlike the foxes at home. And I note that the public are at last realizing that the drag hunts in the UK are only an excuse to continue hunting foxes. Anyway, our dog enjoys the early mornings, and seems to have even more energy with the ice on the fields.IMG_0222 She has a wonderful nose for detecting pheasant and partridge, and puts them up frequently, but has now learned that chasing them is not really worth the effort. Likewise with the local deer, although she likes to show she is a proper dog by chasing for a hundred metres or so! And it was wonderful to see her chase a female Hen Harrier which was flying low over the fields yesterday morning. What graceful birds they are.

But although the cold and frost are no problem, the freezing rain and wind prevent any outside work, and I have had to take refuge in my workshop. Most Christmas Presents will be hand made this year, often involving fossils and old surgical instruments. I feel a bit guilty about cutting up old pure silver tools, but they will never be used again in this age of plastic everything, and at least they will give some pleasure… I hope! But I am not the only one working inside. Kaths’ English learning students have had a project to make a typical English Christmas cake as part of their learning! Much enthusiasm and confusion from the French, but yesterday the fruits of their labours were put on show and judged.IMG_1906 This is one of the three contenders. Weeks had been spent on debating decorations and feeding the cake with cognac, and a couple of dozen of us sampled the efforts along with mulled wine and some sloe gin. I can’t remember who won, but it was a good afternoon and we slept well. The judges had to be neutral, and English of course, but it was no problem to find volunteers for the task amongst our friends! I am not sure how much useful English will have been learned, but at least the French students can talk about marzipan, icing, and fruit cake mixtures.

And finally, thinking about next year, I have somehow become attached to another French drama group. A friend told us about the requirement for an English speaker to join a French play about the Hundred Years War and become the “Black Prince” in their forthcoming production. So I have learned a lot about history, both the French versions and the English, which are very different! Anyway it appears that I will be the villain of the piece, which should be fun. Better get on and learn how to pronounce those funny French words!

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