Posted by: kathandroger | March 19, 2017

Chickens like Cake.

The wife has had another birthday. She is now a mature woman, and amongst other pursuits teaches English to some of the local community. As a furtherance to the pupils’ progress, and as an appropriate celebration, we had lunch in a local restaurant, together with some invited English guests. The idea was to improve language skills of course, and alcohol with good food always aids conversation. Given the celebratory nature of the event, her doting husband had ordered a very ornate and large cake for the occasion, and was rather pleased with himself for his thoughtfulness. The only problem was that her students had had the same idea! We were presented with two very large gateaux at the end of the meal. Despite offerings made to the other diners and nearby office workers joining us for a slice, several kilo of cake remained. It was packed in a plastic container and presented to me by the Patron at the end of the meal, four hours later. What to do with excess cake? Neither of us is particularly fond of sweet confectionery, and the dogs would only get fat and probably vomit. Chickens are the answer. It is said that pigs will eat anything, but in my experience that is not so. When I castrated piglets many years ago, only the chickens appreciated the offerings; the pigs declined.IMG_3703The fowl looked exhausted but replete by the end of the afternoon, and we look forward to some unusually tasting eggs in the next few days.

And talking of food, Kath and I often have whelks and prawns for lunch, Bulots and Crevettes. Eaten with some fresh bread from our visiting baker and with a nice glass of wine it is a lovely lunch. I intended to take a picture of the pre-lunch feast, but only remembered after it was all eaten!IMG_3701 (2)Bulots are very cheap, and readily available in the local supermarkets; I don’t think they are eaten so often in the UK. They are quite a fiddle with the prong to pull them out of the shell, but that is part of the joy of eating them. We love food.

The old barn over the road will, we trust, soon be owned by ourselves. Like all the property left empty for three years it is in a poor state of repair, and was still adorned with a few hundredweight of assorted rubbish.IMG_3702I have spent a couple of days burning the old palettes and clearing rubbish to the local dump and we will soon be able to fill in the floor to make a large flat covered area. We will use some of it for guest parking, but a large area will remain. Kath has suggested we make it into the local Petanque championship arena, but I fear we may be overrun by the crowds attending. Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: kathandroger | March 12, 2017

The Comma and the Chiffchaff.

Where did the winter go?  A moment ago I was hauling logs in for the fires, and now spring has arrived. It was 20 degrees in our courtyard yesterday, and the forsythia is bursting into flower. We have brought the overwintering plants out from the gites, and today the light rain should give them a good start. I love the spring, and we only await the swallows arrival to start our celebrations. They were here for Kaths’ birthday on the 17th last year so I have taken out the winter windows from my workshop so that they can fly in and poo all over my tools! The chiffchaff is already here, and looked in at me from our rambling rose bush whilst I was watching England thrash Scotland at rugby yesterday. I was trying to think of other birds named after their song, but after the cuckoo and the hoopoe I could go no further. The latter is known as the “Huppe” in France, and that is a much better description of the call; I await them both in the next few weeks. Brimstone butterflies are in abundance and I was surprised to see a comma on the gravel yesterday, but I learn that some can overwinter and appear this early. Must have been a tough little bugger to survive the prolonged frost we had in January. But all this means that the grass is growing and the mowers have to earn their living. I don’t mind, making new stripes in the lawn on the sit on mower is one of my favourite jobs, and the first cut has already been made. Mouldiwarp the mole and his mates have been having a field day in the orchard, with little piles all over the would be badminton pitch. I have caught them in traps before, but I don’t like killing the little animals just because they interfere with our games, and have found another way of dealing with the piles. Amongst the tools I pinched from over the road was one great big hoe.IMG_3692It is about 50 cm long and I have no idea what it was originally used for. After cleaning and fitting an acacia handle it is ideal for pulling mole hills flat and distributes the soil so that the old grass can grow through. Even Polly was impressed.

We took the little dog to her first education class yesterday. I am not really a believer in dog classes, and have never done them in the past, but it was an education for me to see lots of puppies, of all shapes and sizes at the club in Targe, near Chatellerault. The aim of the group is dog agility, and there are courses for them to jump and run about in, but we went mainly for Polly to meet and socialise with other dogs. She did very well, despite being worn out beforehand by Rollo, the Springadoodle we are looking after for friends. Her training is being supervised by Kath, and I am an amused onlooker. Shoes and boots seem to be her favourite playthings, and are usually found in the middle of the yard.IMG_3690 (2)It is difficult to get too angry with her!

Posted by: kathandroger | March 6, 2017

Polly, and Castor in the Creuse.

I came back from Australia on Saturday and we picked up the new Airedale puppy Polly yesterday. The trip back from Oz was with my daughter and her two year old twin boys. 24 hours on a crowded plane with a couple of would be hooligans is not relaxing. To be honest the chaps were quite good, but their occasional screaming fits was not to the enjoyment of the other passengers, and repeated gymnastics on the old fellas lap was uncomfortable to say the least. I only managed to catch up on about a dozen films! But the noise was nothing compared to the first night with Polly. Her trip back from the Brenne about an hour and a half away was the first time she had been in a car, and she managed well, only dribbling a few litres of drool over my leg. Her introduction to Boodie, the old lady, and the cat Dennis, was not too bad. She was nose swiped by the cat and growled at by the dog, but was not put off by them.img_3684We have only had two piles of poo on the floor so far, and weeing has been confined to the door mat. I had made a box for her out of old palettes, knowing that puppies tend to chew anything near to them, but forgot that she was not confined within it and could walk out into the dining room and kitchen at will. Her first night was very akin to being with the twins on the plane. How can such a little dog make such a lot of noise and for so much time? The howling began as soon as we went upstairs, and did not cease all night. It did sound a bit like the boys screaming, and in the middle of the night it felt as if I was still with Singapore Airlines. No attractive hostesses appeared however, and nobody brought me food. Boudie added her own deep barking on several occasions but it did not affect the yapping from Polly. And to think I was looking forward to the peace and quiet of rural France! Today she seems full of energy despite her lack of sleep, and follows us everywhere.img_3679She has a lot of growing to do, and will have to change her coat to look like the old girl, but despite all the oncoming problems we love her already, and only hope that the night times improve.

I have long wondered why I catch so few fish in the Creuse. It is partly due to the demolition of fish stocks by the stupidly introduced catfish, and equally due to my lack of skill, but there are other animals spoiling my sport. Coming home from the Brenne, on the banks of the local river, I made Kath stop the car after seeing a felled tree.img_0593There were a couple of other trees similarly felled nearby, and some which had fallen into the water. The bark of several poplars had been eaten off and there were tracks all around. No doubt this is Beaver work. Actually I can’t blame them for my piscatorial failures, as they are herbivores, and it was both a surprise and a pleasure to find them so close to home. Having been hunted to near extinction they are now spreading back to many rivers in France, and I would love to see one. Apparently they are only active at night, like Polly, so sighting is unlikely. I knew they were hunted for their fur, but only recently that the anal glands contain a substance used in perfumes amongst other things. I am not sure I want my wife to smell of beaver bottom, and hope other ways can be found to make her smell nice!

Posted by: kathandroger | February 27, 2017

Early morning Oz.

We go each time I come to Australia. The wide ocean and the wonderful Sydney Harbour have to be fished. Son in law Bill is an avid angler, and has a fast fishing boat, which is kept outside the house in the road, a common event here. Up before dawn, the vessel prepared the evening before, and off at 6am to another adventure. Bills’ expertise soon had the boat in the oggin, and we were off to the rising of the dawn sunrise. The harbour at that time of the morning is not deserted. Rowers, paddle boarders, kayakers and dinghy sailors are already about, doing their pre-work exercise in the first rays of the summer sunshine. There can’t be many more wonderful watersports venues in the world than this, and all overlooked by the hugely expensive luxury mansions. We wended our way past huge multi million pound yachts and under the bridge taking the less fortunate to their daily workplace, and were soon making our way out of the harbour to the open sea. Silhouetted against the misty rising sun on the horizon was a Tall Ship making its way to the port, and it was easy to remember this was how the first visitors came to the island so many years ago. The sea was a bit lumpy and the inner organs reflected on some discomfort, but breakfast did not reappear and the excitement outweighed the nausea. We caught a few bait fish a little way out and then motored on to seek our quarry, the tuna which pass this way with the warm water streams. Bill noticed a flock of fast flying dark petrels, seemingly feeding on small fish, and we gave chase. As we came closer we could see the main reason for the birds, a large pod of dolphins. They swim fast! At about 20 knots we were with the jumping school, dozens of them all around the boat, and seeming to want to play with us, leaping, sometimes in pairs, within touching distance of us. We were able to video the moment on Bills’ iphone and then they were gone. What a wonderful start to the day, and a unique moment for me. I have seen dolphins many times in the past but have never been so close to such a large number of them, and being all alone some ten miles out from the almost invisible coastline it was a breathtaking experience.fullsizerender-5

And we caught some Tuna, one each on the trolling lines. They were not huge, but large enough for several good meals, although I must admit to having a pang of regret in killing such beautiful and rapidly swimming fish. When they take the lure the little rod bends almost double, and the line screams out from the reel, a very exciting moment, and then it is a case of trying to control the fish until it can be raised into the boat with a landing net. Our mission accomplished, we motored in closer to the shore to catch some Flathead, the rather ugly and much smaller species found over a sandy bottom. They are very easy to catch once a good spot is found, and are the most tasty of the local fish. Bill also caught a lovely sole, and on the way back into the harbour I caught a Tailor fish on the troll. We had enough food for the table, and it was a pretty fish, so we put it back for another day.img_8955-1

Sydney is a crowded place, but with a boat the urban hoards can soon be left behind, and it was a real privilege to have day away from the noise of the city, and to be deep within unchanged maritime nature.

Posted by: kathandroger | February 20, 2017

Off to Oz again

It wasn’t my idea at all. I wanted to visit my daughter and family in Australia again this year, and the wife suggested I took the other daughter and her two year old twin boys as well. Now I usually look forward to the journey, twenty four hours or so on  a plane, because I can sleep when I want to, eat well and often, and catch up on all the films I have missed. And it is one of the rare occasions when I have a good excuse to do nothing but sit on my backside. But that amount of time with two yelling infants is not quite the same experience! I was full of dread at the oncoming experience, but need not have worried. Apart from the odd screaming attack, they slept for most of the time and the journey passed almost serenely. I even watched several films. Seeing the twins with their three Australian girl cousins was a wonderful experience, and as the latter are all older, the boys were treated as unexpected doll like playmates and my attentions as grandfather were not needed. I had to drink beer and wine with my son in law and talk about our forthcoming fishing trips instead.

Sydney is a most vibrant place. Too many people for me, but an amazing feeling of prosperity and vigour. The beaches are wonderful, the climate is a warm escape from the wintry days of Europe, and the food here is superb. The Aussies have everything well organised. My favourite place is the dog beach. I have never seen such a variety of dogs as in Sydney. All shapes and sizes, all colours and all ages. They are not allowed on the public beaches in summer in general, so the sensible local council has designated one local area for dogs only. It has a big area for them to run about in, a big lake for them to swim in, and even a dogs’ bath for them to be cleaned up in before returning home. It is a microcosm of human life; all races running and playing together, most of them getting on well, but some on the sidelines and ignoring the rest.img_5213 The dogs seem to have a boost of their energy levels and run around together like animals possessed. A social club for dogs. We need one of those in France.

Posted by: kathandroger | February 12, 2017

Well done Rosemary-again!

We have kept a few sheep since we have been in France. They are to keep the field and wood on the hill behind our property tidy, and we eat the lambs! Rosemary was one of our original sheep, and the only one remaining. She is not pretty, she is difficult to catch for shearing, and all that because she is, I believe, a sheep with brains. And what a brilliant mother! We had been expecting her to have her lambs for about a fortnight. Last year she had triplets, and as we were away, it was only because our lovely neighbours Lyddie and Alain came to check and found two of the newborn left behind that the trio were reunited and raised. Each morning I have expected to find her with new lambs and it happened a few days ago.img_3659Lambing is not a pretty sight, and this was before the afterbirth had been shed, minutes after the last lamb. She had the sense to go under cover in the bad weather, and was already cleaning up her lambs. After a couple of days they look very much better.img_3666The three, Eeni Meeni and Myni, are all about the same size, one female and two males, and we hope she again raises all three. We are waiting for Flossie, the other sheep, to produce Mo! When I was in Dorset and had Jacob sheep, they sometimes had triples, but never once raised all three; my daughters had to bottle feed one, or we tried to get a foster mother to help.

We tend to think that sheep are not the cleverest of animals. At the moment we are looking after Rollo, a delightful Springadoo belonging to some friends. He is a very friendly little dog, and I took him into the field, on a lead, to see how he reacted with the flock. Boodie, our old Airdale, is largely ignored by them, although Moins Dix, the goat, and he play together. The sheep have absolutely no fear of Boodie, but on seeing Rollo there was an immediate change of mood. The goat ran away, the sheep kept their distance, and Hercules the ram came up and attacked the poor little dog, bowling him over and frightening him dreadfully. The ram is usually a friendly chap, but when he is in the mating season, or when his girls have babies, he does tend to be a bit protective. I found this out again this week when I was admiring the lambs and he butted me in the right thigh. That was four days ago and I still can’t walk properly! I don’t think Rollo will be a threat to sheep, and I remember an old farmer in Dorset telling me that if he knew of a sheep worrying dog he would put it in a pen with a ram and it was soon cured. Animals aren’t daft.

The other success this week is that my rebuilt fishpond is not leaking. After some recementing and painting with special paint it is at last continent!img_3668

Posted by: kathandroger | February 5, 2017

Well done Dennis and the Lash Egg.

The wife is a stoic northerner. Rarely emotional, calm, and scared of very little. Except rats. In the early waking phase of an unremarkable morning she made her way into our boiler room whilst I was getting her breakfast. An ear bursting shriek, which I swear shook the house, signaled some sort of very major catastrophe. But what could have induced such an emotional eruption in one so controlled? It was on the floor, under a stand we use to keep the animal food. Dennis the cat often brings in dead mice and voles he has caught and hides them there. But this time it was a whopping rat, with the thick tail protruding for the suspicious spouse to discover. Her trembling form exited the room like a whirlwind, and I was exhorted to “do something”. It was very dead and very big, and just like the one I had found under the chicken house in the orchard.img_3656Dennis had killed it with a bite behind the neck and was obviously as proud of his conquest as I am of him. I doubt whether it was the rat that killed the chicken we called the turkey, but I like to think it was and that justice has been done. Interestingly, the other thing that Kath hates is worms-they look just like rats tails apparently! There’s nowt as strange as females.

After losing our two in lay chickens, we have only the old girls left, and eggs are a rarity until we buy some more layers in the spring. I check the house daily though, just in case.img_3655This is what I found a couple of days ago. It is solid, about the size of an egg, and not very attractive. It is called a Lash egg, I don’t know why, but is a result of infection of the Fallopian tubes and in effect is a ball of pus and debris which is molded to the same shape as an egg as it comes out of the same tubes. Not for eating! I am not sure which chicken produced it, and wouldn’t want to treat the animal anyway, but they all seem in good condition. In very many years of keeping fowl it is the first time I have seen it. We live and learn.

One of the lovely things about living here is that every month of the year we have been able to sit outside for lunch. After the cold snap it has now become wet, windy and mild. The courtyard is very protected, and when the sun comes out it is even comfortable in January.img_3657Yes I know she looks frozen, but it really was warm, and lets hope we have a few more like that in the next few days.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 29, 2017

French Auctions and the Thaw.

The property opposite ours has been empty since the owner died over three years ago. It is not an attractive house, falling down in fact, and used to be part of the farm. It was full of old cars and general rubbish until most of it was removed over a year ago. Disposal of property is complicated in France. Usually the inheritance passes to the eldest son, if one exists, but if there are lots of debts involved then the inheritance can be refused and the property is then passed to the state. No sane statesman would want to live in such a dump, the son did not want to inherit, and so it was put on the market at auction. Why at auction I do not know, but that is the system. Accordingly, after inspection and assessment by various specialists and advertisements in the local press, a viewing day was held a couple of weeks ago. The starting price for the property, which includes the large barn facing us, and some land, was very low, and a few people turned up to view. We have a strong interest in that we would like to buy the barn for use by our clients for parking, and we do not want the property used to store old bits of car again. Luckily we met another potential buyer, who wanted to rebuild the property to live in. He is young and able, and is willing to take on a falling down ramshackle group of buildings which we really don’t have the time or inclination to tackle. So we agreed to attend the auction with him, but not bid in order to keep the price down on the understanding that we could purchase the barn from him if all went to plan and the price stayed low. French auctions in this region are bizarre! A cheque for a proportion of the starting price must be deposited at the Auction house in Poitiers before one is allowed to bid, and then each bidder is given a numbered sign to raise when the auction starts. To begin proceedings a big candle is lit. Then a smaller candle, which goes out after about a minute. Bidding starts and continues until the smaller candle is finished, and then another is lit, and bidding continues until no more bidding is made, and then one final small candle is lit, and if silence continues, the last bidder has the property. Although there were three of us in the auction, our new friend was the only bidder, and he obtained the property for a thousand euros more than the starting price-the lowest possible sum. The only complication is that there rests ten days, during which anybody can bid, and if they offer more than ten per cent of the final price the whole process has to start again! We are keeping our fingers crossed.

After several weeks of freezing weather the thaw has started. The rats, after we had bought new traps and baited lots of pipes with poison, have seemed to have gone elsewhere, and the chickens are looking less scared. Their water was frozen solid, and I removed the ice and made a hat for my statue in the courtyard.

It has now all melted and we hope that Spring is on its way!

 

Posted by: kathandroger | January 23, 2017

Arctic Rat Attack.

We are in the middle of a long dry cold and frosty spell. It is all good for the garden, and for the farmers who have done all their ploughing; lots of nasty bugs will die and the crops should benefit. Not so convenient for our garden though, as it is completely impossible to dig the parsnips and leeks, but luckily we have lots of stuff in the freezer. The early mornings have been beautiful, with a deep red sun rising over the frosty countryside. The fishpond has frozen but luckily the pump is still working and keeping a small area of the surface still liquid.

img_3649The level of water should be much higher on the mill stone, but my rebuild of the pond lacked waterproofing skills, and it leaks!img_3644We have bought some waterproofing paint and I will get on with the repairs when the weather is a bit warmer.

I looked out of our window after getting up a few days ago to see a strange frozen lump in the orchard. To our dismay it was Kaths’ favourite chicken, the cous nou we called “the turkey” because of her bare neck and great size. She was very dead, frozen, and had most of her insides eaten.img_3650I opened the chicken house to find it empty! We had come back late the previous evening, and I had shut the house door not thinking to check inside. Our automatic door had not been working for some days so it was back to manual mode. The rats had been around even though the house was moved every day or two, and they had dug a small hole to get inside. My traps and poison had been ignored. Eventually we found four remaining birds from our original half dozen, the other missing one being the only layer, Sweep. She was the youngest and by far the most lively and we think she had been traumatised with the others and flown over the wall and away. We lost another chicken to the Badger a couple of months ago, but he has not been into the orchard since the pee pots have been in place, and there is no way this was a fox attack as the other birds were not killed and there were not many feathers about. It can only have been a rat attack, and on reading about it they are known to attack chickens in time of great hunger, and kill by biting the neck. Our guess is that a pack of rats got in through the open door, the chickens panicked and the turkey was caught, killed, and largely eaten. The other chicks had spent the night in the open but had survived. We shall buy some more in the spring, and I have reinforced the chicken house with metal, we have bought new traps, and placed more poison for the rats. Over the years I have lost chickens to the fox, the mink, the badger and now  Ratty. Needless to say there has been no sign of rats since the new measures were taken!

Posted by: kathandroger | January 16, 2017

The Fire, Rats and a strange Tool

What a busy week! All the jobs to do for the beginning of our next season. We await the big freeze promised for tomorrow, and loads of logs have been cut for our two wood burning stoves. The weather is clear and cold, just right for messing about in the garden and cutting down trees. One of our old cherries in the orchard had come to the end of its’ days, and we cut the old girl down a couple of days ago. The logs will weather a bit outside, and then I will take them up to the wood store to use next year. Big boys games, but the wife did help this time, pretending she knew how to get a good fire going for burning all the too small to use twigs. After a good dose of diesel oil it did get going and all the bits and pieces were consumed in the fiery furnace. I love a good fire in winter, but have to admit it makes me stink a bit at the end of the day. How do females not smell when they have been doing the same thing as me? She was still like a fresh lily when work was done.img_3646The tall stump has been left deliberately at 10 foot high, so that we can fix a basketball net for the guests to use. The old oil drum is a good way to keep the fire under control, and we raised it on some bricks to keep it away from the big plywood sheet to protect the lawn. All went well until the burning embers fell out, set fire to the plywood, and scorched a great big area of grass! The intention was good though.

A  big brown rat has decided that he wants to live under our little chicken house. I built it on wheels deliberately to avoid this problem, moving the thing every few days, and the ploy has worked well for seven years. I saw the soil mound a few days ago, pulled the house away from it, and Mr Rat took one look at me an scarpered to a hole in our wall. The next day I went down with a spade in hand, intent on some mortal rat bashing, but my usual helper refused to pull the house because she is scared of rats. It really didn’t matter though as ratty had done a runner. So what to do? He obviously only comes at night, nicks a bit of the chicken food, noshes it in his newly dug hollow, and then goes somewhere else for the day.img_3645-2The pipe contains rat poison-which has been left completely untouched, and the inverted bucket covers a spring trap, baited with both smelly cheese and peanut butter, which has equally been totally ignored. Brock the Badger has not come back since the urine trap was set, so I have relieved myself a couple of times around the chicken house to see if that works. I hope the neighbours were not watching! The house will be moved around each day, and the red grain feeder removed at night and maybe he will give up.

I found this strange garden tool today. The handle is set at 90 degrees to the fork and I have no idea what it was used for.img_3648It is very robust, and maybe it was used for uprooting stumps. Perhaps a clever reader will educate me.

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