Posted by: kathandroger | May 27, 2018

Watch the Watch.

Nature seems to provide larger specimens in France. Certainly in the vegetable garden where we can grow some enormous tomatoes and aubergines. But other flora and flora also stand out. The local Hornet, which is very common in early summer, is much larger than the wasps we see commonly in the UK.IMG_3975
They are not aggressive beasts, and I quite like to see them buzzing around, but Kath did not enjoy her encounter a few weeks ago. She was shooing the frelon about in the bedroom but lost sight of the little buzzer. It had taken refuge in her blouse. Now when little animals are being chased, and the odour of aggression is in the air, and one is in a confined space, the panic reaction takes place and a sting is the only response. A sudden shriek from the spouse meant that the insect had been located, and the response was electric and violent. Amidst various cussings, outer garments were torn off and an unusual dance of sheer panic performed. It ended with a naked torso shaking with pain from the sting in the middle of the back. Being a sensible soul, she soon calmed down and the pain only lasted a few days, but the mark could be seen for a fortnight. Be kind to hornets.

I quite like eating the local mushrooms, but am not an expert and have a some fear of poisoning myself. We came across some nice looking specimens last week in the ditch by our little lane. I picked the youngest and ate them for lunch. The wife did not join me. They were OK but not delicious as I expected them to be, and I noticed yesterday that the ones I had left had become huge.IMG_3978
This must have been a Horse Mushroom rather than the Field Mushroom that I was expecting, so I had better go back to the books to brush up a bit on my mycology. I did have a good sniff first, which is a good test for toxicity, and only read today that the horse mushroom is like the poisonous Yellow Stainer, which as the name implies, turns yellow when damaged. The story of the local mayor and his chum who died from eating local mushrooms is always remembered.

We have had some severe storms over the past couple of days. Bloody typical, as Manu, our local farmer friend had just baled my winter hay for the sheep. We could in theory have picked up the bales from the field before the storm, but it was Saturday and we had to prepare for our new guests arrival. I hope we have a good drying day and that it is not all spoiled or we shall have some thin sheep next spring.
But the weather had produced lots of lovely wild flowers this year. As well as the profusion of orchids, the poppies are magnificent.IMG_1590
This field is a couple of kilometres away and looks wonderful in the sunshine.
The local fields have been cut for hay and silage, and the wheat and barley is turning colour and will be harvested in the next few weeks. To me that means that summer is really here, but my favourite time is now, when all is fresh and at its peak. I used to feel like that, but can’t remember when!

Posted by: kathandroger | May 20, 2018

We’ve been moved! and the Welsh Dragon.

Wherever I have lived before, it has always been in a city, a town, or a village. Here in France we were just outside the boundary of a little hamlet. Any house outside a conglomeration is called a “lieu dit” or a “place called”. I liked living in a place called, it seemed to give us some kind of particular dignity and individualism rather than in the being in the mass of grouped houses. Then last week the workmen arrived. Big lorries, lots of chaps in red tunics and loads of spades and machines. What were they up to? By the end of the day we found out. Our local village sign and little garden, which we used to live beyond, had been moved!IMG_1585
The whole caboodle had been taken down, rebuilt and replanted about 300 metres up the road, and looked splendid.IMG_3972
But what does this mean for us? Are we still in our “iieu dit” or are we now in Mazieres? Will the price of our property drop as we are now in a conurbation rather than the countryside? And will the smog and pollution of the city now envelop us? My cough is a bit worse already, and maybe we should see the mayor about reducing our rates. But I guess we should look on the bright side; I have never had a less traumatic house move!

We love having different groups of guests, especially if they share our passions-metaphorically that is. Our recent visitors were cyclists from the Vale of Glamorgan, and it was a delight to show them the joys of our area. David arrived alone and soaking after travelling by train, ferry and bicycle, followed by the rest of the troup in cars. They spent a busy week exploring the local countryside, averaging about 80 kilometres a day and punctuating their rides with stops for sustenance and viewing the local sites. It was a pleasure to have them join us for our club ride on Wednesday morning.
They are a cyclo touring club, and do what it says on the packet. We rarely stop on our rides, except for the communal “arret pipi”, and it sometimes becomes a bit of a race. I am getting a bit old for all that now and maybe we should take a lesson from the Land of the Dragon.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 13, 2018

Frome, flowers and the Badger Barrier.

Modern travel is wonderful. About 80 euros for a return flight to Stanstead in the UK and another 80 for car hire for three days. Lovely little car as well, nearly new and nippy. I had ordered a Ford Focus, and was extolling the virtues of the vehicle as I arrived in Frome when I noticed it was a Vauxhall Astra! Daughter one was visiting daughter two having traveled from Australia and a few days were spent with the offspring in the West Country. What a lovely town. Steep cobbled roads with dozens of independent shops and loads of nice cafes and pubs. But the best thing is the friendliness of the inhabitants and the general ambiance of the place. It has apparently been voted the most popular town in the UK recently, but how that works I have no idea. From a walk in a Dorset bluebell wood, to lunch in a very pretty county pub, the visit could not have gone better. Sarah, the daughter from Oz, needs to come back for her “fix” of the old motherland, and she could not have seen it looking better; we even had hot sunshine and Clares’ three year old twins spent the day running around nude in the garden. I didn’t. And it only takes less than half a day to get back to France. The world is a small place.

The Badger Barrier seems to be working so far. The new chicks have now been given the run of the orchard and are clucking merrily. No eggs yet of course, but I reckon they will start laying in the next few weeks. They are still very timid, however, and don’t yet come scurrying over with wildly flapping wings when I offer them some scraps. I read that badgers don’t like nasty smells, and so the back gate has been draped with deterrents.IMG_3965
The rags are soaked in a selections of odious odours, Jeyes Fluid, Essence de Parabenthine, Diesel, and the contents of the male bladder. If Brock makes his way past that lot his sense of smell will be so confused that I hope he will forget what he was chasing. Oh, and the hole under the bottom of the gate has been filled with concrete…that should at least blunt his claws a little.

This year we have been a bit tardy with the vegetable garden. The autumn broad beans and peas are almost ready, and we have been eating overwintered lettuce, but I only planted carrots and the other roots a day or two ago. I reckon we are all too keen to start each year and I don’t think a week or two, given our cold weather recently, will make much difference. The chard and perpetual spinach have bolted, but are still edible, and it is easy to strip the leaves off leaving the plant in the ground.IMG_3967And somehow it seems to make the dogs’ ears stand on end.

Our local orchids are still everywhere. This year there seems to be a huge influx of Butterfly Orchids. Each time I see them I mean to take a photo, but forget, so first thing this morning I crept into the neighbours’ field and couldn’t find any in full bloom. This is the nearest I could find.IMG_3968
A bit further along the bank was a green orchid I have not seen before..IMG_3969
It’s not a Twayblade, or a Lizard, so I guess it is a Frog Orchid. Don’t orchids have lovely names?

Posted by: kathandroger | May 6, 2018

Badgers’ Toilet and the new girls.

What lovely weather at last. The dog and I have just come back from an hours walk through our local fields and woods and she is knackered whereas I feel like a spring chicken. Mind you, she did chase lots of potential prey, some real and some imaginary, and I chased nothing but the feel good factor of being outside in the fresh spring morning. The Golden Oriole has arrived,the Chiffchaff is still chaffing and the Cuckoos are all around. I thought they made their call to attract a mate, but we have seen four this spring,flying in couples and still singing, maybe to each other. The grass is knee high and early morning means wet knees and a wet dog; it won’t be long before our hay is made for the sheep. The orchids are everywhere. We have had hoards of Early Purples, some Butterfly, the lovely Lady Orchid, and the Monkey orchids are just beginning. May is a magical month.
On Monday we went to Les Herolles market. This is a once a month event, held miles from anywhere about an hour and a bit south of here. The village, which is normally quite small, is transformed for a day into a huge commercial enterprise selling virtually anything that can be easily transported. And that includes animals. The poultry section is huge and we knew that it would be the best place to buy some new chicks. Having parked in the wrong car park, amongst the thousands of other visitors, we made our way to the animal section armed with boxes and cages to carry them in. We wanted a small selection, and chose five different breeds from one producer, who told us that they would all fit in one box, and could he please have the other one? The dog was impressed by our choice but was not a great help in negotiating the dense crowds of people on the way back to the car, continually trying to sniff the rear ends of the birds. We finally made it home and the new girls are settling well.IMG_3963
They will be kept behind the temporary fence for a few days and then let out to roam the orchard and dig up the flowers. Names are not yet finalised, although Kath has told me they all begin with the letter A for some reason. As we have a Warren, a Light Sussex, a Medici, a Marran, and a lovely Cendre, there is now way I will remember them.
The only problem is that bloody badger and his family. I have filled in his holes under the gate with concrete, and have employed lots of chemical deterrents. Allegedly badgers do not like strong smells, and will stay away from new ones, so rags have been soaked in diesel, Jeyes fluid and the old standby of make human urine, and draped on every possible entrance site. The gites look and smell lovely! I have been reading about Brock the Badger, and he is an interesting animal, and apparently very particular about his cleanliness. The sett is cleaned out regularly and kept spick and span, although it was not stated whether the male or the female performed this task. They dig their own latrines, often at the periphery of their territory, and it explains this hole I found inside our orchard, not far from where the chicken massacre occurrIMG_3960ed.
I guess he felt he was at home in our garden, and that he would be coming again. I sincerely hope not!

Posted by: kathandroger | April 29, 2018

Spraying, Yorkshire, and rape on the table!

The season has opened. We can take up to 16 guests at our little farm, but this weekend we have a French family of four generations, and countless people. Seven cars are parked in the barn, each seemingly with up to five people, including hoards of children. They are a lovely bunch and have even braved the swimming pool in outside temperatures of about 15 degrees!
So all the last minute preparations have been completed. One of our least favourite jobs is renovating the garden furniture, so this year I decided to make things a bit quicker. A spray gun and compressor make the job easy and fast. Lots of hissing noises, fogs of dense paint spray, a personal tan, and the task is over in minutes.IMG_3958
It is important however, to make sure the ground is covered beforehand. Last year we were left with dark brown stains all over the white gravel of the courtyard and the boss was not amused. I must find something else to spray; it is another of one of those boys’ games that I love.
But the large table on the big terrace was painted with care by hand a few days ago, and left in pristine order. To our dismay it appeared spotted after a light rain shower the day after.IMG_3959
At this time of the year the rain deposits a yellow green powder over everything it touches. The car had just been cleaned and was similarly affected, and even rain puddles have a coloured edge. The cause is the multiple fields of oil seed rape we have around here. They are in full bloom at the moment and the pollen must rise into the atmosphere to be left all around by the showers.

Our students visit to Yorkshire was a great success. After months of planning by Kath, four days were spent in and around York, aided by a large bus to take us on daily excursions. The young pupils were keen to leave France for the wonders of the north of England.IMG_1491
Kaths’ parents, who had been staying with us, also made the trip back to Leeds Airport from Limoges, and were very handy for teaching the vagaries of the local language. Each student had learned to say “Ey up” by the time we arrived, and the Passport Officer was beaming with delight after the same phrase had been used to greet him twenty one times in succession by a posee of beaming French tourists.
Our cosy hotel in York was the base for visits to the magnificent York Minster Cathedral, and other days were spent on the Moors, the Dales and in numerous country pubs. Highlights were the prize winning fish and chips at Whitby, where everyone was told told order small portions but still had far too much to eat.IMG_1524, and sampling the wonderful menus at local hostelries with ample good old English beer. Each member of the party had a song sheet for “Ilkley Moor Bar Tat” and the old song was given a splendid rendition when passing through the area on the penultimate day. Almost all the party attempted to speak English, and being amongst them, I was twice congratulated on how well I spoke the language! And the most amazing feature of the trip was that we saw no rain, and even had bursts of sunshine to enhance the wonderful abundance of daffodils. Well done wife, for a wonderful trip.

Posted by: kathandroger | April 22, 2018

Massacre of the Flock.

I used to keep chickens and ducks in England. Despite all the normal precautions it was quite common for the fox or mink to get in and kill them. I had become accustomed to finding dead poultry about once a year; a reflection of the density of the fox population in the UK. But we have been in France for nearly nine years now, see the fox rarely, and have only lost one chicken, to the badger, a couple of years ago. Our little flock of five layers and the loud cockerel, Decker, gave us much pleasure. As always with having free range birds they would damage the flower beds and poo on the pathways, but it was a price we accepted for enjoying them in the garden. They were a mix of varieties and ages and characters, and were a real bonus in our lives.
We have just been for four days to Yorkshire with Kaths’ French students. I was a little worried because we had not closed our shutters as I feel it is just an indication that we are away and an invitation to burglary. It does, however, invalidate the house insurance, so I was glad to find everything was in order. We were, however, a little surprised not to hear our raucous cockerel, and the clucking of the chickens was absent. After making sure our own house was intact, I could see some evidence of disaster by the chicken house.IMG_3952
Even Polly, who has been taught not to interfere with the flock, seemed concerned by the large pile of feathers. A look inside the house showed the huge hole in the floor and the result of the mayhem that resulted.IMG_3953
All our chickens had been taken. No corpses were left behind, which usually happens when the fox visits, and there were relatively few feathers for the number of birds taken. A faint trail of feathers could be followed however, to where the badger has been burrowing under the heavy iron gate at the back of my workshop. He had not been in for several weeks, but a new digging effort could clearly be seen. When I checked his home in the wood, there was again not much evidence at the first couple of entrances, but at the last the case was proven.IMG_3956
Poor Decker, now a cockerel corpse, could be seen outside the Mr Badgers’ hole. His developing spurs and his still intact form were obvious, but he had been completely eaten.IMG_3957
I have seen Brock in the woods, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is not a fox hole, so we have a multiple murdering badger nearby. I guess there is a family, probably with some new young to feed, and that the chickens were taken one at a time over the days we were away. Each must have been dragged the 200 or so metres, under the gate and a fence, back to be eaten underground.
So what to do now. Kath was devastated to have lost our flock, but having had the same problem in the past I am a bit more relaxed. Animals need to eat, and I can’t blame the clever animal for thwarting our defences. But I am going to buy some more in a couple of weeks, and will have to make sure that Brock can’t get in. I will put some concrete and metal piles under the gate, and rebuild the house with some metal reinforcement. Then perhaps some early warning system and employ a battery of armed guards!
Never mind, look on the bright side. Next to the chicken house is one of our apple trees.IMG_3954
The blossom has never been this good. I hope badgers eat apples, but not after a chicken first course.

Posted by: kathandroger | April 14, 2018

Bat on a hot tin roof…..and glorious food.

I like bats. There is something wonderful about the appearance of those flying mini dinosaurs at dusk on a warm summer evening. And the fact that they make no noise that we can hear only adds to their charm. I remember well listening on a special apparatus that makes their sounds audible one lovely evening in Dorset. They chat to each other like a crowd of washerwomen, or at least how I imagine washerwomen chat. It must have been chat like that at our wash house down the road many years ago when the local ladies chatted over their chores. Anyway, we have lots of bats here, and we often find them in our outhouse. But it was with some alarm that the wife noticed something a bit different on cooking me another lovely meal a couple of evenings ago. IMG_3951
Above the cooker, pendulating gently in the rising steam from the simmering spinach, was a bat who had obviously got his resting place rather far from his normal abode. He seemed quite content and made no attempt to move, perhaps enjoying the culinary aromas wafting about his olfactory organs.IMG_3950
Normally we would have left him to fly away later, but the gentle steam was soon to give way to the more pungent and hotter aromas of sizzling duck breast. I feared for his well being and gently prised him from the metal grill and placed him in his normal abode next door. I hope he was not too displeased.

We love eating. Food can be an uninteresting fuel or a gastronomic delight. We all have enough to eat in the West, and making time to enjoy a good meal rather than stuff some bland nourishment into our bodies as fast as possible should surely be one of the pleasures of life. We eat very well at home, so any meal in a restaurant should be something we cannot achieve ourselves. In France the restaurants are said to be amongst the best in the world, but even here there are some good and some not so good. Very sadly, our local auberge serves expensive meals in the evening which are obviously produced straight from the freezer. We do better ourselves. But we have a couple of local venues which we love and which produce gastronomic delights we could never achieve. Such was one meal last night, in a small local restaurant run by a young local couple we have got to know quite well. The chef is in his twenties, was trained in a local starred enterprise, and has a real passion for his job. We always try food we have not had before, and last night we sampled some Mullet, caught locally in the Loire and prepared by Jeremy in his own unique way.IMG_1483
The fish was served on a bed of potatoes with stuffed cherizo on top, and with a wonderful creamy sauce. Mullet is not a fish that is often served, being difficult to catch and often associated with the muddy harbours it is often seen in. It was lovely! And to follow, our usual habit of relinquishing dessert was deserted to eat a trio of chocolate, in liquid, soft an hard preparations.IMG_1485
All this was punctuated by various tasters, including asparagus in cream with cumin, and a tasty onion soup starter. With a local fine white wine, and good company the inner man was truly satisfied. Long live the local restaurants and the chefs with the passion and the imagination to produce such wonderful food.

Posted by: kathandroger | April 8, 2018

The Sheep with no head.

We had three male lambs this year from our two ewes. Despite the awful weather of this springtime they have all done well and are growing rapidly. With the new flush of fresh grass in the pasture the hay is largely left untouched, but they all adore the sheep nuts I give them to keep them tame and so that I can catch them when needed. All the sheep also like old bits of bread, and this morning I took some up to the field this morning, only to find that one of the sheep, Dougal, I think, has lost his head.IMG_3947
I am not sure how he will manage without it, and feeding will be quite a problem, but I guess he will be welcome in the local circus.
Incidentally the local circus came to town for one evening last week. Yes, to our little village of about 500 people. To be fair, the circus consisted of one big tent and maybe an animal or two (we didn’t see the show), but it seems to be a trend for the small circus enterprises to visit small villages for one night and them move on. But I can imagine the excitement it must bring to the local children to have the show on their own doorstep.
We are still waiting to get on with the vegetable garden, the ground is still too wet for rotavating, although the broad beans are in flower and the peas are looking good. The early potatoes need to go in, but there is no point in putting other seeds in cold and wet ground. “Nature always pays its debts” according to the local sages, so we must be due for some good weather soon.
The chickens are laying beautifully at the moment. I have always been a bit cocky about how simple a chicken house can be, with no laying boxes and just a simple space with a perch which some of them use at night. But our chickens all like to lay in the same corner of the box. No problem with that except when three of them want to lay in the same place at the same time! I was passing the house yesterday when all sorts of strange noises were coming from within. I could hear chicken cussing phrases, like “bugger off, I’m bursting”, and “how much longer are you going to take to push that thing out?”. On opening the lid the problem was obvious.IMG_3946
Sandra was in prime position and laying, Beryl, the wayward chicken, was sitting on top of her trying to get to the nest, and posh Pat, was also on the pile, but had stepped back by the time I had got the camera. All seem to resolve over the next few hours though, and we had our normal clutch of four eggs by the afternoon.
I had been worried about our “kiosk”, the elevated sheep shelter on the top of our land which serves as a lovely place to sit and drink wine when we have the time to do so. It had been sinking in one corner and the decking had become badly warped. It was inconceivable that the builder bad been less than assiduous with the foundations, and last week I realised the culprit. IMG_3948
The sheep use the underside of the building and leave all their calling cards behind. The worms are attracted to the poo, and the moles are attracted to the worms. We have always had lots of mole hills up there, which is much better than on our lawn, but after years of burrowing under the wooden supports, some of them are collapsing. The beauty of rough and ready building is that repairs are easy, and next week I shall play with some cement foundations and some more big bits of wood and do the repairs… if the building doesn’t fall down beforehand!

Posted by: kathandroger | April 1, 2018

Annie Primrose.

First of April already! Still cold and miserable. We heard the cuckoo for the first time yesterday, but he only “cooked” a couple of times and then slunk away from the oncoming rain and hailstorm. Our sentinel swallow who came on his scouting mission on the 22nd rapidly flew off and we reckon he went back to Africa to tell his mates not to bother coming this year. I was looking at last years swallow nests in one of the barns yesterday and see that some illegal building has been done.IMG_3939
I haven’t seen the rogue builder who has added its own entrance and relined the old abode, but reckon it is probably the robin. I have to say it looks much more comfortable with the soft hay and moss lining than it did with the rough mud of the swallows effort. Apparently the female robin makes the nest all by herself, but the male helps by feeding her in the effort. She needs the extra grub because the eggs may weigh as much as 90% of the mass of the mother. Courtship apparently starts in January, so hats off to the little birds for all that copulatory effort in the bad weather. I guess it is a good way to keep warm though.
The flowers have been much later this year. We have the odd early purple orchid around, and the cowslips, which are everywhere round here, have been hanging their drooping heads for weeks, waiting to show their full glory. Some are just about managing.IMG_3943
But whereas in the UK the primrose is much more common that the cowslip, the converse is true here. The only site I have found the latter is on one of the hills we ride up on the cycles. It is a long draggy hill, which I hate climbing, but the sight of the primrose bank always cheers me up.IMG_3940 My mother was called Annie Primrose, as she was born in Bedfordshire in mid April, when the flowers are at their best. I always think of her when the gentle and unassuming plant shows itself; just like she was, always gentle and kind, and a great loss to all at the early age of 59. Flowers for names are always a complement to femininity in my opinion, and love all the Lilys’ Roses’and Daisys’ that we know. Middle names are often interesting. An old colleague has four brothers,each of which had a herb as their middle name. He was John Dill, and another old school chum was named after a river, he was Alastair Thames. Its all a bit romantic for me though, and reckon boys deserve a more practical name, how about Roger Wrench, or John Spanner?
Anyway I digress away from the pleasures of nature. The project last week in the workshop was to make a tool for removing earth from a post hole. I have a few holes to dig in the near future, and have always wanted one of the long tong like tools to remove the debris rather than having to scoop it all out by hand. Using some more of the old metal from an oil tank, and the wonderful plasma cutter for shaping the tool, it was soon complete-and will also be useful for planting the potatoes when we at last get some good weather.IMG_3945 But another lesson was learnt the hard way. A plasma cutter gets very hot indeed, and, just like welding when wearing flip flops, it is stupid not to wear good gloves. A flash of flame and my little pinkie almost went up in smoke!IMG_3944
Healing is well advanced now, and life is all about learning from experience. It is a pity that stupidity sometimes gets in the way!

Posted by: kathandroger | March 25, 2018

Calm….and Crappy.

Clocks went forward last night, we saw our first swallow a few days ago, and we await the cuckoo. Chiffchaff has been singing his chiffchaff song for a few weeks now, and must surely be getting bored with the monotony of his own voice. The blossom on our nectarine seems to have survived the frost, and the other fruit trees are peeping their buds in the orchard. All is calm and cool at the moment, as we prepare for the oncoming season. My favourite time of the year, when the summer birds arrive and the restrained energy of nature, marking time during the past couple of months, bursts into life. Even a muddy delve into the leaking water pipe and struggling with an old brass fitting didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the weeks ahead.
But I could not find the long lived toad, Crappy, in the cellar. He has been there for possibly 30 years, and has been showing his age recently. Has he passed to Toad Heaven, I wondered. It would be a great loss to the farm, as he was there with the previous owners, who often ask about him. But yesterday I found him again, looking old and withered. He probably felt the same about me, but said nothing. I was overjoyed to see an old friend and immediately made my way to our vegetable garden to dig him a worm. I think the worms knew I was coming because it took ages to find one. Crappy looked happy with his free meal, but took a long time to devour it. I hope he isn’t becoming anorexic.IMG_3933
Chickens will eat anything. In the past they have eaten castrated piglet testicles which I threw to them after the adult pigs had refused the offering. But they do have their preferences, and really love old cold spaghetti and other assorted pastas. In view of their Italian dietary preferences, this weeks’ offering was an old pizza. There was no hesitation at all; all six seem to love pizza, and it was soon devoured by the hungry mob.IMG_3935
All this chicken food variation is resulting in an egg glut. Now that those silly medical people have decided that eggs are good for us again, we are becoming egg bound. But the chicks can’t decide which size of egg to lay. The one on the left had no yolk, and the one on the right had two!IMG_3932
But back to the forthcoming springtime. I passed the first open primroses today, and the skylarks are rejoicing in the warmer weather. The silence of the early morning was only perforated by birdsong and crowing of a rampant cockerel in the distance. And how do I know the cockerel is rampant? It was Decker, our own fine looking and insatiable male, easily heard from several fields away. I hope the neighbours like the crowing as much as we do. But time is limited for him: unless we can find a new home he will become “Coq au vin” before the guests arrive.

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