Posted by: kathandroger | November 19, 2017

French Multi Tasking.

I love the French. Here in the rural areas the attitude to life seems so more laid back than the bustle of UK. We don’t seem to care if we have the latest car model (although we have!), and there is always time to stop for a chat, even if it means holding people up in the queue behind us. Timetables are not always to be obeyed. I went to a meeting of the local Red Cross yesterday, because a French friend had just given me a pheasant, and he asked me to attend as he ran the show! It was supposed to start at 11am, but knowing the local timekeeping I turned up at 11.45 to find it was just underway. How the French love their speeches! I still don’t know what the meeting was about, other than for the local mayor to tell the Red Cross what a super job they are doing, and then for countless more speakers to say the same thing. The crowds in attendance were obviously there for the midday drinks and eats, but the endless talking went on for so long that I had to leave. But my face must have been seen, so the job was done!

On the way home I took this snap of a local sign.IMG_0053The track leads down to the local village, and I have always wondered, since no cars or motorcycles are allowed, why the two tonne prohibition is enforced. No heavy wheelbarrows perhaps. It was only this week on our club walk that a clever chap reckoned it must be for tractors, but there is nowhere to go down there on a tractor! Never mind, it is the French way and it must be respected; I only hope they will put a sign at the top of our little road to prevent the wayward juggernaut getting stuck.

The French in general are a very capable bunch, able to perform multiple tasks. Home improvements figure highly on the DIY list, as witnessed by the huge number of relevant stores in the area, like Bricomarche, Brico Depot, Bricorama, Mr Bricolage, and Bricocatastrophe. OK, I made the last one up, but that is just the B’s. And in addition very many locals produce their own vegetables and fruit, and blast their own meat out of our surrounding fields, with local pheasant,duck and partridge, deer and the local wild boar.So it was no surprise to me to see a local store which has really diversified;IMG_0056The little shop owned by Mr Vachon, deals in presents, is a general store, sells ironmongery, but rather surprisingly also arranged funerals! On further inspection, it can be seen that the premises are next door to the local church, so full marks to him for his opportunism.

The heavy Dachshund has been finished and given a good coat of paint. It makes the little one look a bit shabby now, so I will have to do some refurbishing. Polly thinks it is all a bit silly, and they don’t even have backsides to sniff!IMG_0058And I know the ears are much too long, but I had a bit of spare aluminium, and it seemed a pity to not use it all!

 

Posted by: kathandroger | November 12, 2017

Marvelous Machines.

The autumn has been kind to the local farmers. A long dry and warm period to enable the maize harvest to be collected. Acres and acres of the stuff, and machines in perpetual motion from dawn to dusk-except for lunch of course! Our environment changes completely; no more hidden turns in the road, no more watering jets to avoid on the bicycle, and bland deserts where there was once a two metre crop. To be fair, the fields are prepared and reseeded within days, and the oil seed rape and winter wheat are already showing their brave shoots in the face of the colder days. But what about those machines which enable the maize to be harvested so efficiently? Man is such a clever chap..yes I know girls are clever too, but not many have been involved in designing combine harvesters to my knowledge. I often marvel at our old and unused winnowing machine, which on the turn of a handle produces a breeze to blow the chaff from the wheat whilst moving racks sort the seed and direct it into a shute and then to the bucket.IMG_3872But that is nothing compared to the motorised giants that rumble over the fields.IMG_3868The great grinding giants effortlessly convert the fields of green into a wasteland to be prepared for the next crop. How this hulking beast can shred the cobs off the plant, then shred the seeds off the cob, then sort the grains to be powered into a waiting trailer is a source of wonderment to me.IMG_3870All this lot is then left to put nutrients back into the soil. Very clever. But as with all clever things, rarely are they perfect. It seems that a good proportion of the waste product must be distributed over our roads- a reminder perhaps of how much work the farmers are doing!IMG_3869

With the lengthening of the days and the now inclement weather, a chap has a good excuse to retreat into his workshop and play with his tools. I wanted to make a bigger metal Dachshund from another old fire extinguisher, and so, with an old car exhaust, a metal drainpipe and the bracket from a TV receiver, work has begun. I had second thoughts about setting off the old extinguisher, but it was many years out of date, and probably would not have worked in an emergency. Oh yes it would! After pulling the pin on the very heavy cylinder the power of the emerging jet swung me round and nearly threw me over. The gravel of the courtyard was quickly covered with carbon dioxide foam and the dog looked on, amazed. Emerging gas quickly cools the kit, including my hands and the dogs nose, and the noise even scared the roaming chickens, but what boys fun! IMG_3871The head is proving a bit difficult, and the ears have yet to be fashioned, and then the paint job will have to be considered, but I bet the manufacturers of the extinguisher would not have guessed that it would eventually end up as a dog in a courtyard!

Posted by: kathandroger | November 5, 2017

A House from a Hovel.

When we bought the barn over the road, it was part of a larger plot sold to a young local man. Francois has since been converting what was once a complete wreck into what will be a lovely house. Before we came to the agreement that we would not bid against him in the auction for the buildings, we had planned to buy the property ourselves, if only to protect us from some undesirable development. In fact as the buildings were in such bad condition, I had planned to pull most of them down and sell on what materials could be salvaged. The plot remaining could then be used for building a new house at some time in the future. But Francois had other ideas, and the youth, enthusiasm and drive to put his ideas into action. Over the past few months we have seen what was a hovel slowly show its potential to become a pretty family home with lots of imaginative features. IMG_3866He has been helped by a weekend team of his mates and a couple of Portuguese bricklayers who do not know how to stop working. Except that is for lunch! The old barbecue that I donated has been used diligently to cook various meats during the only break from work in the day, and the wafting smells have been a joy to me in the garden. Much laughing and drinking but then back to several more hours of hard graft. All the family seem to have been involved, with Dad delivering sand during the week, and Granddad passing his experienced eye over developments. The huge tree in front of the main house was cut down by Francois with his ageing Granddad sitting on a chair behind the direction of fall of the main trunk, instructing his Grandson in which direction to hammer in the wedges which controlled the fall of the huge lump of timber. It was lovely to watch and landed exactly as planned. Having been through all the developments of a renovation project with our own barns, we can appreciate how much effort is needed, and how initially everything seems to be just rubble and holes everywhere. That stage is certainly what he has at present, but the new openings for windows and doors have revealed the potential of the finished project. The pretty round opening in the top of one barn wall was cut from a concrete reservoir which was found in the garden!IMG_3863 It accentuates the height of the inside and will show off the old beams well. It is a pleasure to see the rebirth of a property and especially one done by a Frenchman. So often it is only the Brits who seem to feel the financial demands are worth the effort in renovating an old French property. Bon Courage Francois!

Back in our house the animals, as usual, are ruling the roost. Dennis the cat has decided that he can only drink running water now, and demands to have a drip feed from the tap turned on for him to satisfy his thirst!IMG_3861 (2) We don’t really mind that, but hope that he will soon desist from peeing in the bath upstairs when he can’t be bothered to go outside!

Posted by: kathandroger | October 29, 2017

26 on the 26th.

Our season ended a couple of weeks ago with some fairly average weather. Since then we have been blessed with soaring temperatures and windless conditions. Lovely. On the 26th of October in was 26 degrees in our courtyard, enough to thoroughly dry the squash and to sit outside for lunch in the shade-the sun was too hot!IMG_0997It is difficult to know what to do when the weather is hot. Fishing seemed a good idea, not because I catch much, but because the river is so pretty at this time of the year, and anyway the dog had not been in the two man canoe as yet. She seems to be scared of nothing, so I reckoned a little paddle up and down the river would be no problem. She loves the water now, but only when she is not out of her depth. Lugging the boat to the river edge was a game, but once on the water my new passenger seemed to enjoy the experience.IMG_0048The problems of balance in a narrow craft had not entered her head though, and leaning over the side to put a paw in the water was met with fierce commands of “sit down”-not always obeyed. I did a bit of fishing as well, casting a lure for the pike and perch in the margins. She could not understand this little fish like thing that kept arriving at the boat only to be chucked out again, and thought it all a bit silly. I guess she was right, and we both settled down to enjoy the trip.IMG_0051We are so lucky to have this lovely river so close to us, and there are lots of fish in it. I stopped at a bridge on the recent club bikeride to see literally thousands of fish, all about a foot in length shoaling together and making their way effortlessly upstream. After humping the kayak back up to the car a charming couple who are refurbishing a bankside house invited me to see the fruits of their labours and to have a cup of coffee with them. Nice place, nice people.

But the dog is not the only clever animal we have. Moins Dix, the goat, had been noting how the dog has progressed in her training, and wanted to show some of his own tricks. After some several hours of coaching he can now stand on three legs when commanded. and we hope he will soon be doing handstands.IMG_0999

The tomatoes and peppers have all been pulled up from the garden now, and the remaining bean plants fed to the sheep. The soil is still very dry with the lack of rain and so I attempted to overcome my previous failed attempts at ploughing the land. IMG_3858The single furrow machine has always been too difficult to control, throwing me about like a can on a car exhaust, but I was not going to let it beat me.IMG_3859 OK, the furrows are not as straight as a dye, but the soil is turned over and it has saved an awful lot of digging. I will leave the frost to kill the weeds and rotivate in the springtime. Good job done!

Posted by: kathandroger | October 22, 2017

Mist, Maggots, Dog and Smells.

The weather has been particularly beautiful this past week. Our gentle journey into Autumn has been soothed by soft misty and moist mornings then increasing warmth and sunshine during the day.IMG_3849This is the view from our bedroom window; normally the hills in the distance are very clear to see, but the shrouding mist has hidden them for several days. It is a lovely time to walk the dog with the sun just coming up and banishing the gloom for another day. The walks have been somewhat damp, and both of us come back needing a good toweling down, but only the dog gets one. Speaking of whom, she has now discovered the wheelbarrow and it is difficult to use the thing without the animal jumping in for a ride!IMG_3853She has also taken to the quad bike and will no doubt be driving it on her own soon!

The kitchen has been cursed by the smell of rotting flesh for the past couple of weeks. It seemed to be coming from the extractor vent above the cooker, where the birds had nested in the summer. The stench was horrible, and Kath was convinced another corpse was responsible. Dismantling the thing is an awkward job, and I was not pleased to find that the duct was as clean as a whistle, and much cussing was done with the reassembly. Strangely the smells seem to come from differing parts of the room, and a systematic removal of cupboards and bumbling about in various areas high and low did not explain the cause. Turning things over in my mind one night I realised that the vent pipe from our septic tank had been covered by the Boston Ivy growing up the house; the smells could be coming from the hole I had made in the drain pipe in the kitchen in order to unblock the sink channel. IMG_3851 Out with the long ladder again and after cutting down a hundredweight of foliage things were no better! We reckon something must have died in the space above the ceiling and that the odours have been falling from above through the lighting holes. It seems to be getting a bit better now so the corpse must be desiccating nicely!

My wife is very good about most repugnant things. Except rats, worms and maggots. We have been getting all the outside equipment dried and stored this past week, and among the games was the giant outside chess set. This was a cheap purchase which was too light, in that the pieces tended to fall off the board in the slightest breeze. To counter the problem we had weighted the chessmen through a hole in the base. Kath decided to empty the pieces to clean them properly, but soon came trembling and asking for assistance as she could go no further; they had become full of maggots, and she just could not look at them without retching. Summoned from the ladder, in helpful mood, I thought it a bit strange, but any maggots would be useful for fishing trips. Close inspection however revealed an error of identification. The maggots had not changed into flies, were not moving, and each seemed strangely smooth. IMG_3854We then remembered that we had weighted some of the chessmen with old rice!

Posted by: kathandroger | October 15, 2017

Elephant in a Jam jar.

We live just outside a very small hamlet in very rural France. Our road beside the house is narrow and used, usually, only by the locals. There is a kink in the route just up the hill from us where two houses have been built, many years ago, close together. The chicane serves us well in slowing down what little traffic there is and enables us the time to get the dog up when she is sleeping in the middle of the tarmac. I like the road, as the drivers are usually known to us and often stop for a chat or a general nose around to see what has been built or what has fallen down. It is all a bit old fashioned, slow and traditional. But life for the driver has changed over the past few years. We now have this wondrous device called Satellite Navigation, enabling us to pick the best routes, often by the shortest distance. We haven’t got one in Kaths’ 2CV or in my old banger, and we still seem to find our way home again, but then we don’t do enormous distances either. The nice lady who speaks to us on the Satnav in our new car is always very polite and sure of herself and often gets the route correct, except through Paris that is. Anyway, big lorries have Satnavs now, and it has caused some problems along our little road. The shortest distance for a trip is not always the best, as a very nice lorry driver found out a couple of days ago. We heard some repeated roaring of a big engine, and assumed it must be something to do with the harvest, until we looked outside.IMG_0976It really was like trying to get an Elephant into a jam jar. The poor driver could not reverse up the lane for a kilometre along such a small road, and jumped out of his cab very many times to see how he could progress. We both thought it an impossible task, at least without taking bits of the houses off, but each to his own trade, and after about twenty minutes of puffing and panting from the engine, and puffing and panting from the driver, he made it through, even stopping again to chat to us about his fun! We have been in touch with our local mayor to ask him to put in a sign at the top and bottom of the road, with the accompanying photos, but this is France, and something may be done after Brexit!

I love fishing, but usually catch very little, in terms of quantity as well as quality. Last week friend Michel and I at last made good our promised trip onto the river at Descartes in his little boat. We had chosen a perfect day, with very little wind and some warm intermittent sunshine. Orders had been taken for the fish supper that night, so failure to catch was not even considered. Carnassiers (fish eating fish) were on the menu, so we anchored under the bridge to catch some tiddlers to use as live bait for the pike, perch and Zander we were about to catch. All went well, and in a few minutes we had some little bleak swimming around in the aerated container and made our way to the island where the monsters live. Well I don’t know what went wrong from then on, but we did not see a fish or have a bite for hours and hours. It was good company though, and after a couple of beers the disappointment of the fishing was eased. I had been trying with a lure, casting endlessly into the water without any success, but just as we were packing up I saw a little fish jump out near the bank, presumably being chased by a bigger fish. To my astonishment when I chucked the lure in it was immediately grabbed by something bigger than a tiddler. Et Voila, a lovely plump Perch to end the day on a high note.IMG_0046The boat we were fishing from is really enormous, and that is why the fish looks small! I wanted to put it back into the river, but Michel, being French, insisted that it must be eaten,  so it made its way to his kitchen instead. Fishing is a bit like skiing, in that the actual catching of fish is only part of the action; the surroundings are a great part of the pleasure, but I have to admit that the thrill of catching a wild creature on an artificial lump of wood and plastic was the highlight of the day. I hope it tasted good.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 8, 2017

Badger bother and the Gourmet Goat.

To our surprise, the local badger did not eat all our sweetcorn this year. In fact I thought he may have gone to pastures new, as the rear gate had not been dug under for several months. I was wrong. On a gentle review of the maturing crops in the garden I was alarmed to find that our nearly ready autumn cauliflowers had been vandalised.IMG_3845 (2)The leaves surrounding the flower had all been eaten away to display the flowers, now being attacked by the weather and starting to deteriorate. The footprints in the ground gave the clue to the culprit. Moins Dix, the castrated goat, had managed to get in and had feasted on his favourite crop. He had been in the adjacent garden once before this year, a young guest asking whether it was OK for the goat to be on the lawn! He had managed to jump over the fence on that occasion, and a extra layer of barbed wire seemed to have prevented any recurrence of the problem. So how could the wayward animal have entered? A brief inspection brought the answer. The fence had been completely destroyed in one corner.IMG_3844It had been upended from beneath, by some great force, way beyond that of our wayward goat. Brock the Badger had been up to his hooligan ways again. He had dug under that corner before, and I had, I thought, reinforced the sheep wire enough to prevent any recurrence. Not so. All three posts had been forced out of the ground, and his track was plain to see. I am not sure where he was going, as the sweetcorn remnants were still intact, but it underlined the impossibility of stopping a determined badger by feeble fencing. I have rebuilt the corner but left a badger size hole at the bottom, and the remaining cauliflowers now have black plastic bags over them until they are large enough to eat.

Polly the dog is making excellent progress. She has even made peace with the chickens and will calmly share scraps with them.IMG_3846We attended the local dog training class again yesterday, always an entertaining event, and it is fair to say that she was one of the star performers. There were fifteen dogs, all of different breeds and sizes, and all of differing intents. Some intent on fighting the others, some wanting to go home, and some just happy to have a snooze until it was their turn to  perform. Polly just wanted to play, and was a bit bored with the lack of pace of events. For me the best part of the afternoon was when the dog was held on a long lead by the trainer, the owner walked fifty metres away and the dog was then called. Some made their way leisurely towards the owner, some more rapidly. Our lovely trainer, Sabrina, is a very, very sturdy lady, well endowed above waist level, and very calm and authoritative with the dogs. One powerful Alsatian was very keen to reach its owner, and the long lead which Sabrina held was not long enough! The sight of our buxom boss being dragged across the turf with all parts rhythmically rippling was a sight for sore eyes. To her credit, she saw the funny side too.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 1, 2017

Germany south and north.

Our summer season has almost finished, so we have just taken a week off to visit our neighbouring country. My elder son has produced, with some help from his German wife, my seventh grandchild and the third male. IMG_0944They live in the Black Forest, not in a little tree house, but in a lovely town called Kirchzarten, near Freiburg. Now it just so happens that the wife, having missed out on her Paragliding course last year with a broken elbow, discovered that the town does a course locally, so she was duly enrolled and delighted to be elsewhere when the new baby had to be adored.

Paragliding, or more accurately Parapenting, is a way of flying around suspended under a big plastic bag. The bag has lots of strings attached to it for control, and launching the thing involves running down a steep hillside and jumping off into the air. The thermals from the heating hillside provide an updraft , and pulling some of the strings means that terra firma can be regained rather than being elevated into the stratosphere.IMG_0016 The girl did well! She pulled all the right strings and was soon an expert, having performed 17 flights in three days and thus attaining, after a written examination, the first stage of the pilots’ licence. In no time I reckon she will be jumping off our roof here to do the shopping in Descartes.

Having spent a few lovely days with the expanding family, in a very beautiful region of Germany, we drove northwards to Kaths’ penfriend of very many years. Annette and her husband are farmers and they have diversified their farm to include not just very many pigs, but also to produce heat from food and other waste, by biological digestion.IMG_0959 The heat is used to provide domestic heating for surrounding buildings and also for electricity which is sold to the state. All very technical and forward looking, and it seems to be a great success, judging by the fleet of Mercedes in the farmyard! We visited an old castle, now a posh hotel, about a kilometre away, heated by underground pipes from the farm. Apparently the owner had moaned about his heating being inadequate, and Einhart, our host, offered to install a system for him. Now that is enterprise, and typical of the Germans. I can only wonder at the cost of laying underground insulated piping, over a kilometre, to relay and then recuperate the water. Apparently the local banks are very obliging! All the family are involved in running the farm, even granddad, now in his eighties, and the regime seems to be run on very disciplined lines. We briefly discussed (in English-they all speak it very well, much to my embarrassment) the French and their frequent strikes. The work ethic seems to be different in Germany, and our host was hoping for more strikes as the Germans could grab any gaps in the market! But fun was still part of the life there; the Octoberfest, the annual beer drinking festival, was in full swing, and the younger members of the family, all attired in Leiderhosen, duly attended. But the difference was that they were all present for the family breakfast the next day, albeit looking slightly worse for wear! It would not have been like that in my day.

We traversed Germany from the  south, through the Black Forest and along the Rhine to the industrial north. It is a very beautiful country, slightly overpopulated for me,and they eat too much stodgy food, but we left in no doubt why the economy of the state is so healthy. Hard work and application, with still time to play hard. France and UK needs to take heed!

Posted by: kathandroger | September 24, 2017

The pleasure of plants, particularly petunias.

Nature never ceases to amaze me. We had a late frost which killed nearly all our fruit and took all the buds off the flowers. The two fig trees in particular, which were laden with germinating buds, seemed almost dead, and one old cherry tree did actually pop its clogs and is due for felling when I can summon the energy. But the campsis which had all the new buds nipped has flowered all summer and is still blooming like a good’un. Somebody bought us a pot plant last year which we managed to nearly kill off through lack of attention, but rather than throw the thing out, I put the one remaining shoot in another pot with a little soil from the greenhouse and left it uncared for all winter. To our surprise it began shooting and even flowering again in spring.IMG_3841But in the same pot a little bud appeared, looking like a courgette plant-it must have been in the compost I added. Our own courgette and squash plants were already planted and doing well, but I shoved the thing in the ground where the early spuds had been dug, thinking it may turn into something worthwhile. It was!IMG_3840 (2)All this is the one plant, and it has already produced at least six large unusual looking squash, in between our Crown Prince and the Potimarron, and a strange yellowish colour. We will assess the taste in due course.

I am not so keen on the ordinary garden flowers, but we like to keep the place looking pretty for our guests. Kath always grows some petunias from seed, and has much more patience pricking the little things out than I would have. They always do well here and flower all summer long. But the ones that seem to do best are those that spring up of their own accord. Without watering and with literally no care, they adorn the courtyard all summer long.IMG_3842They enhance the old winnowing machine and have even produced a matching colour! The only problem with having so many blooms is that they need watering-over an hour to do them all, and with the dry and warm weather of the last few days I must go and get the hose out. But it is a small price to pay for all that colour so stop whingeing and get on with it!

Posted by: kathandroger | September 17, 2017

The Boys’ Reunion

I have just got back from London after a couple of days with the boys. The word “boys” is used loosely in this context, as we won a football cup together almost fifty years ago whilst we were at University.

Scan_20170917Of interest is that the chap next to me on the top right of the picture is the only one who has more hair now than he had then! Some of us had not seen each other at all since those epic days, and the first problem was recognizing each other! Introductions made, after a fairly fluid pub lunch we made our way to a local sports centre to play a game of “walking football”, a newish invention which enables old codgers like us to pretend we can still play the game at our advanced ages. The problem is that the brain is willing but the body refuses to obey commands from above, and to see this parade of formerly fit and athletic young men shuffle about on astroturf was very funny but quite embarrassing. Anyway we could still shout and abuse each other verbally in a manner quite unchanged from former days, and it really was tremendous fun. Apart from some minor pulls of the withering muscles, all ended well, and smiles were managed after an hour or so of very strenuous activity.IMG_2839The absent team members had a variety of excuses, from playing golf instead, to having to work!-nobody should have to work at our age.

Anyway, the cup itself is a magical object which was brought to the celebration from its present home in one of the London Hospitals. It is allegedly the oldest footy cup know, dating form the 1870’s and is worth many thousands of pounds, slightly more than the team, including the three professors amongst us, is worth.

cupTo celebrate the final evening it had to be at Rules’, the oldest restaurant in London, and then each wended its staggering path home to various parts of the home counties and beyond; three of us had come from overseas, Canada, Australia and France.

IMG_2854It is a wonderful sensation to meet up with old friends, and marvel at the fact that although we may have physically changed the same ambiance persists completely unchanged. It gave me an inner warmth that will hopefully compensate for the coming winter chills. Thanks to my chums for organizing a wonderful weekend.

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