Posted by: kathandroger | November 27, 2016

Ode to a mixer.

I don’t know how old she is, and I can’t even remember where I found her.She is badly scarred and not the most attractive shape. But she has been a faithful if uncared for companion for very many years, in this country and in England. I took her out recently, for the first time in maybe three years, and she again gave me unflinching support. She was dirty, of course, her home had been invaded by a brood of swallows in the summer and evidence of their presence was undeniable. After a quick shower she spruced up well, and started first time after she was plugged in. I love her low humming, which is like a sweet melody to me, and all this despite a sad lack of servicing. Slinging shovel loads of wet sand into her empty belly only changes slightly the tenor of her singing, and when, with the cement, the load flops over rhythmically I know her task is done. She is called Belle, after the maker, and seems to not mind being taken over by other chaps, indeed in Dorset she spent one whole summer away from my care, and still worked as well as ever on her return to me. At present she is helping heroically with the mortar for the little pond repairs, and I promise I will give her a good clean after her job is done, and may even try to bash out the old adherent detritus of the passing years.img_3610-2We chaps really do become attached to our faithful tools; we know all the scratches and foibles of each, and it becomes something of an intimate relationship. Any repairs are done with loving care, and the joy of rejuvenating an old motor is wonderful. Stay intact, old girl, we have lots more jobs to do together.

I am not so sure that the cat has the same affection. He is a typical feline, the boss, the only one who matters, and is always in the chair when I want to use it. We reckon he has had a dose of the worms recently because he has been demanding food and even jumping up onto the work surfaces to eat bread. He knows he is not allowed into the dustbin, but loves to creep surreptitiously and flip the lid to get inside. He thinks we do not know when he is there, but he does sometimes leave a clue!img_3609-2And yes, we have wormed him.

Posted by: kathandroger | November 20, 2016

Fish, game, and dressings.

We are both lucky to have good health at present and have only needed the odd bit of our bodies attacked by the surgeons knife over the past year or two. The French medical system is superb in our experience, and we have had prompt, appropriate and expert care. But how do they pay for it all? Kath decided to clear out the bathroom cupboard this week, after she had been given another box of dressings for her poorly elbow.img_3604-2I guess it is better to have too many dressings rather than not enough, but this is only a fraction of our supply. I wonder if they know something we don’t and we will be needing more in the future!

The fishpond in the courtyard is no more. I built it from the old poplar beams that came out of the barn during renovation, and knew that the wormy wood would not last long. It began to sag badly this summer (I know the feeling), and we were glad that it lasted until the last visitors had gone. The thirteen goldfish that we started with had somehow multiplied by at least three times that number, and the one armed fisherwoman had some difficulty in extracting the wily wrigglers.img_3605-1We managed in the end, and have put all the plants in dustbin bags and the fish in a plastic tub with the water pump to try and keep it clean. I tried to keep clean as well, but five years of fish poo had resulted in a smelly, sticky mass that was somehow attracted to my lower regions, and after all had been demolished entry into the house was forbidden.img_3608All the remains have now gone. leaving the poor metal cockerel all alone, but work has begun on the replacement, in concrete blocks and with a rendered liner. If the rain stops it may be ready for next season!

Last weeks butchering session involved a new technique, for me, of loosening the hide of the animals by blowing compressed air under the skin through a small incision. It certainly looked spectacular as the hanging animal doubled in size, and it made skinning much easier for the inexpert. A couple of days ago, friends in the village brought us a bag of game that Gilles had shot locally. A partridge, a pheasant and a duck. He and his wife are not keen on eating game, but know that the strange English couple love them and duly give us some birds each year. I don’t mind plucking birds, but it does take a long time and I usually rip the skin badly. So the obvious answer was to use the compressor again. I made a little cut in the neck of the bird, inserted the tube from the machine and pressed the trigger. Now a large animal like a sheep does need a lot of air to do the job, but a tiny partridge does not. In an instant the dead bird seem to expand and come to life; even the head became erect again, and, as the pressure mounted  the beast left the work surface in an powerful puff of air. After it was finally retrieved, the process did, indeed, make skinning much easier, and it will be eaten tonight-as long as it stays on the plate!

Posted by: kathandroger | November 14, 2016

Beauty in the bathroom.

Back home and into the damp and cold of the French winter. The wood burning stoves are on, the central heating oil has been replenished and the casually elegant winter vests are used daily. It seemed that yesterday we were diving into the pool to keep cool, and now we are diving into the house to warm up. The one with the broken arm has been (wo)manfully gathering piles of autumn leaves and leaving them for me to move, and the autumnal sheep slaughter has been completed. It has put me off eating lamb for another month or two, but at least the freezer is full. With decreasing muscular strength of recent years, the brain has had to be used a bit more, and I managed to process the animals by myself. Slaughter was on the slope outside the wood barn, the animal pulled down into a waiting wheelbarrow, transferred to the equipment store and then hauled up onto a hook using the quad bike and a pulley from an old bicycle trainer.img_3600Butchering went well, after a refresher course on U tube, and the task which I enjoy the least is over for another year!

But after a hard day there is nothing nicer than a hot bath and a relaxing soak. After the initial skin burning sensation, total immersion is one of the pleasures of life, and one advantage of our bath is that the water temperature can be controlled with pressure from one toe! I should have shown the other one rather than the fungal disaster here, but it works all the same; no need for moving the whole body around.img_3603I had to sneak the camera upstairs to get this shot, and the boss is rightly nervous about my ability to drop things. I have yet to be forgiven for spilling red wine onto the computer keyboard. But the other thing of beauty apart from the fungal toe is our ageing orchid we keep on the bathroom windowsill. Poor thing gets very little attention and the cat broke the last flower shoot off in the spring, but it has managed to produce a lovely set of flowers for us just when all the outside blooming is over.img_3602We seem to do well with the indoor orchids; another in the kitchen has been in bloom continuously for over three years. We do re pot now and again, and add leaf mold from the garden rather than  special orchid compost, it seems to work well.

Posted by: kathandroger | November 7, 2016

Madeira.

What do we do when the holidays are over?-we go on holiday! Actually we had nothing planned for our winter break, but friends Clare and Paul invited us to share their time share in Madeira. Now to be honest I had little idea of where the place is, other than it was in the Atlantic and has to be reached by plane. Several minutes on google soon sorted that out and we were off via Nantes airport to Lisbon and then to the Island itself. I can’t say I ever feel in need of a holiday, life itself is a breeze here, but it was exciting to be landing onto a volcanic blob in the ocean, and even better to be met by our friends and driven to the luxury resort.

Small, mountainous, very green, wonderful terracing, impressive tunnels and very narrow winding roads up to the vertiginous and lush interior. But what we had no idea about was the Levadas, narrow man built waterways which were constructed many years ago to better distribute the rain, which falls mainly on the north of the Island. There are very many miles of these mini canals, most constructed by slaves over the past centuries, and alongside are narrow paths used initially for maintenance but now used as walkways. madeira-1These lavada walks are, for me, the most individual attraction of the island. They vary in difficulty due to dangerous exposed ledges and windy ridges, and often involve groping through deep tunnels in the rock.madeira-2 One can only imagine the difficulty of construction and the very many lives lost-but then lives were cheap in the days of slavery. Terraces were also constructed and the reddish volcanic soil, watered from the canals, is very fertile. The advantage of the routes is that they are mainly on the level, an unusual feature on the island, but reaching some can mean a long climb beforehand, and we spent many hours walking. madeira-3The old knees held up well, and I still can’t make my mind up whether walking poles are worth the effort. They do give some reassurance for the steep descents, but can be a bit of a nuisance on the flat. There is not much wildlife on the island, and it would have been an added attraction to see some monkeys swinging through the wonderful trees. It was a little sad to see that the Eucalyptus has been imported and now seems to be taking over some areas, but there are no Koalas!

After the rigors of the day the food and drink were well tried. Madeira is wine fortified with brandy and heat treated, which made it less likely to spoil when sent on ships to the mainland, and it has become the best known feature of the place. We did enjoy the standard wines, though, and the plentiful fish dishes were well received, especially the deep water Scabbard fish, which is rare elsewhere. The residents seemed happy and prosperous, unlike the British Virgin Isles, which seemed to have two populations, the rich tourists and the poor locals. Six days is only enough to get a quick overview of the island, but we did enjoy the totally different anatomy of the volcano, and would love to see all the wonderful flowers of the springtime. But the world is a big place, and there are so many places to see. It was, as always, lovely to be back in France, despite the cold weather and the piles of leaves to be swept up, and we both reflected on the ease of travel these days. Anywhere in the world is reachable now,and I wonder where we will end up next time.

 

Posted by: kathandroger | October 29, 2016

Seasons end and Brock is back.

That’s it, all done for another year. Our last guests left last weekend, autumn is well and truly here and where did the summer go? Happily we are still having some lovely weather, and even the old jalopy was taken our for a spin in the sunshine yesterday. Not another car was seen for several kilometres; a fact that amazes our friends who had come to spend a few days with us. The home counties in the UK are a bit different! But it is a little sad to not have the guests about; I think we draw a bit on their energy and enthusiasm in out own day to day life here. We have been busy cleaning and putting away the outside equipment and chucking out all the broken kit. That meant another visit to our local rubbish dump, a trip I always enjoy as it usually turns out to be a social occasion, and if the French do one thing well it is the rubbish dumps! Sadly, I must have been too early as I was the only one there and the usually chatty attendant was in his hut! Packing into our poolside hut is always a challenge, but it went well this year after repairing the failing floor. Just as well as under the boarding is an old cesspit, and it would not be good for our Tripadvisor reviews if a well meaning guest fell in whilst looking for a cushion for the sunlounger!img_3599The gites themselves seem in good nick, and no major works need to be done over the winter, although Kath is keen to repaint some of the rooms and no doubt other minor faults will be discovered. The games area will need some attention, a new basketball area will be made , and all the gardens will need attention, and that will be more fun this year with the newly purchased garden shredder. I love these boys toys.

Brock has been back into the orchard. I thought that the urine trick had put him off, but stupidly forgot that liquids evaporate. He has dug underneath the big back iron gate again, looked for worms in the lawns, but happily not taken another chicken now that the automatic door closer is working. I have made a little reservoir with black plastic, placed against the gate, and drunk lots of beer solely for the intention of providing the deterrent liquid. It may work again, but it looks like the trip to behind the buildings to  empty the bladder may have to be repeated all through the winter. What with the badger and the moles who have thoughtfully come back to dig up the badminton area it is going to be a bit of a battle to keep the place looking good. Gives the old chap something to do I guess.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 24, 2016

Mog, Bug and Wall.

Cats rule the world. At least they do in our household. Not that we want it that way but the animal just assumes superiority and there is no way we have been able to convince Dennis otherwise. The dog, and even the chickens respond to loud commands, but not our feline friend. Not that he is deaf; any shout of food and he is home in a flash. And how do they manage to install themselves just where they are not wanted? If we want to use the computer he will be on the seat, and if a cupboard is left open the cat will be in it. Kath is usually a quiet and controlled lady, but her screaming at the little devil has become part of daily life. Any food left out on a work surface is fair game, and even my breakfast cereal seems to hold a fascination for the animal, who jumps onto the table and will try to have a mouthful even when I am eating! I guess he holds a grudge, remembering when I tried to castrate him many years ago. I left the sewing cupboard door open for a few moments…..img_3594Come to think of it I may well have felt the same way if someone had tried to castrate me!

I like insects but know very little about them. In France we seem to have lots I have never seen before, and yesterday this little chap hung around all day by our back door. The cat chased him a bit and the dog stood on him, but he still seemed alive when I threw him into the wisteria tree.img_3591He is called a saddle backed bush cricket (Thanks, Susan, of Loire Valley Nature), because of his lovely saddle, and apparently makes interesting noises. No amount of torture made him say anything, so I must just believe the articles that tell me the males help look after the young, and the mother does lots of singing. He is also known as the “wart biter”and has good hearing due to his ears in the front legs! Isn’t nature wonderful, and how little the average bloke like me knows about it.

We used to have a long wall around our property. We still have, but now it is called the bloody wall. No blood, mind, but just hours and hours of slinging lime mortar on to stop the thing from falling down. Isn’t it nice having an old property, people say. Yes it is, but the maintenance can be a pain in the rear end. My pain is in the right side, after days on leaning over the wheelbarrow and chucking the muck on.img_3595-2Nearly finished now, though, and I just hope that the mortar doesn’t fall off in the frost.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 16, 2016

Squashed and squash.

I have just come back from the UK. What a contrast between the almost empty autoroutes and the density of traffic in England. The ferry arrived in the evening rush hour, and it really is no problem to drive on the other side of the road when cars are nose to tail. My lovely French lady on the sat navigation has problems with her pronunciation of the English towns, and I was perplexed looking for “rangro” until I realised that she meant the ringroad! Eventually we arrived at Frome, where the younger daughter lives, and met up with the elder who had come over from Australia. A jolly few days were passed, in local pubs, demolition yards, and the local town, and lots of booze consumed when one of the sons turned up. But how squashed everyone is in the UK. Even in the pubs, in the middle of nowhere, there seemed to be people everywhere. On return to Portsmouth I stupidly decided to follow the advice of my Satnav lady and ended up in traffic queues again, squashed into endless trails of traffic. Apart from booking myself on the wrong ferry, all went well, and the liberation of again travelling on the French roads was wonderful. We only realise how dense the population is in the UK after living here.

Our own squash has been harvested today, and it only seems like a month ago that we were doing the same thing last year. I love how nature can behave in unpredictable ways; we only sowed some potimarron and butternut seeds, but this is what was produced.img_3560-2Not nearly as many as last year, but they should last us through the winter. I usually keep some of the seeds, so maybe I kept the wrong ones!

Sadly October has been notable for the demise of our chicken and it is my unpleasant task to kill and butcher our lambs soon. But we were both really sad to see one of our lovely red squirrels squashed by a passing motorist yesterday. It used to run along the top of our boundary wall, much to the delight of our guests, and to the irritation of the dog.img_3563-2

Poor little thing, but it was instantaneous and it was well and truly squashed.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 10, 2016

Who killed Norma no mates?

We have lived in France for more than seven years now and have never lost a chicken. It was different in the UK, when a least once a year the fox or the mink attacked our little feathered friends and left us with a carpet of corpses. So it was a surprise when one of our early rising Australian visitors pointed out the piles of feathers on the lawn. Our automatic door opener has been out of action for several weeks, but we didn’t worry too much because of the lack of predators locally and our big surrounding garden wall. But the evidence was clearly there; piles of scattered white feathers and a few bits of bloodied chewed bone. Some of the flock had obviously been spared, and I counted six survivors out of our seven chicks. That in itself is unusual, in the past the whole flock has been killed, but I guess that with the coop door open it would have been easy to pull the nearest bird out.img_3557

Sods law, it was one of the two new chickens that had been murdered. Norma no mates was so called because she did not integrate well with the rest of the flock and was normally found wandering around on her own. She was a lovely Light Sussex, who had come into full lay and gave us an egg daily, and must have been last into the coop and therefor the first out! But who was the murderer?

There were three prime suspects. Charlie Fox, who is less common in France than in the UK, but who we have seen locally, the Fouine, a type of polecat about twice the size of a squirrel, also seen at the bottom of our road, and Brock the badger. Our neighbour had mentioned that she had seen a big dark looking squirrel in her garden, so that was a possibility. Charlie Fox almost always kills all the animals, although it would have been easy to grab just the one. We knew Brock the badger was around because I had seen him in the garden after he had gorged all my prized sweetcorn. But that is at the back of the house, separated by an iron gate. It did not take too much investigation to find that the gate had been left open, my spring loaded door closer being too weak, so it was either Charlie or Brock. I decided to close and secure the gate, and made sure the chicks were closed in the next night. On checking the secured gate….img_3559Not only was it wide open again, but the animal had dug underneath and managed to pull out the newly secured fastenings. It must have been a strong beast, and can only have been Brock. This was further proved by lots of holes in the lawn around the coop where he had been rooting for worms. I guess a few juicy worms is a substitute for a chicken.Anyhow the problem was identified, but how to rectify it? I didn’t want to harm the animal, but did not want my lawn destroyed or the chickens eaten.What did we do before the internet? A quick reference suggested that human urine is not attractive to badgers and they will avoid any tainted area. A bit like the lorry parks on the motorways in the UK which I avoid because of the same smell. The door was closed and fixed again, a sheet of black plastic placed against it, and over the course of the next day it was well doused with my own effluent. The wife is usually supportive in our efforts, but declined because of the dangerous slope perching would have involved.

I am happy to report that Brock has not been back.

Posted by: kathandroger | October 3, 2016

Death of a tree.

The old thing had been hanging on for the last couple of years, and I had lopped off a couple of dead boughs, but now our senior cherry tree has finally left this life. I don’t know how old she was, or what killed her, old age I guess, but she was certainly in full production when we came to La Belardiere. I remember thinking how good life was when cutting the lawn on the old mower (before I blew it up that is), and gently reaching up and  picking off a handful of lovely ripe cherries to keep me going. Cutting the lawn on a sunny day, picking off fruit whilst working, and not even having to get off the machine, life was wonderful. But all good things come to an end. We have lost several of our animals over the years, and to my surprise I feel just as sad about this old bit of dead wood.img_3552 I have never wanted to hug a tree, and don’t talk to them much, unlike talking to some of our pretty flowers and telling them how lovely they are. The difference with a big old tree though is what to do with it now? I thought of cutting the trunk horizontally and making a table on top of it as the position in the orchard catches the last of the sunshine, but few of our guests sit down much and I don’t think it will be used. But then the obvious answer popped into the ageing cerebrum-one of the main branches can be preserved and used to mount a basket ball hoop. It is in the games area, between the croquet pitch and the badminton, and will keep the players away from the houses. Once I have finished repairing that bloody wall in the background-only about another 100 metres to go, I will get to work with the chain saw. And unlike the dead animals, the old cherry will still be good for heating us in the house in woodburners. Luckily we have another five cherry trees so if the frost does not do its damage next spring I may even be able to circulate on the new mower and pick cherries off the younger trees. Farewell old friend, life goes on.

Posted by: kathandroger | September 26, 2016

The laughing fish.

The lovely weather continues, and our very busy part of the season is over. Time for a day out. The wife is still largely out of commission with her broken arm, but that means she cannot drive her little 2CV and the chauffeur has to take over. I just love that little car. The engine is smaller than my lawn mower engine, it was designed in the 1930’s and driving it is a bit like floating along the road on a comfortable but noisy and windy sofa. The canvas roof fully unfurls and in the full autumn sunshine we made our way to the Brenne, our local wildlife waterland, and a national treasure. At this time of the year it is almost deserted; the French finish everything as the school term restarts, even though the weather may be glorious. The only visitors to the lakeside resort at Bellbouche were a company of less than normal left over hippies being taught to waft their ageing bodies around by a red silk clad would be monk with a magnificent beard. I guess they were happy in their own meditative world, but I felt they would do much better if they shifted their bums and got out to see a bit of the surrounding nature. We did. A brisk walk around the lake led by my one armed spouse was followed by a lovely lunch of eel and ratatouille on some sort of crust, sitting outside and watching the birds on the water. We then visited a local nature park and later sat by the road watching the fish jump.img_0379Now what is it about fish? I have been a lifelong angler, and still have no idea what it is all about. A few days ago I fished the Claise with an expert angler. We caught nothing all day, and did not even see a fish. But today, in full sun, every few seconds the water was disturbed by jumping carp and roach, and each of them was looking at me and giving that fishy smile as if to say “you may have a human brain, but you can’t catch us!”.

Still on the food scene, we do love to lunch on Boulots (whelks) and langoustines. The difficulty for the one armed one is that the shellfish have to be winkled out with a probe, and that is not easy with one hand. But with a lot of practice new skills can be learned, and if proof is needed…..img_3551What a clever girl!

Winter is coming and the log pile had diminished. Off I was sent to saw down some of our trees in the wood. I enjoy logging, and once started it just seemed to inspire me to do more and more.fullsizerender I will have a rest now.

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