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.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 11, 2017

New Dog.

Our old Airedale, Boudie, is getting older every day. So am I, but my back legs are better than hers now. She often collapses and has difficulty in getting up, especially on a slippery floor. I have to lift her into the back of the car, and on holiday recently had to carry her upstairs each evening- and 25kg of floppy dog is quite a weight! She sleeps for most of the day and all of the night. The only time she comes alive is when food is about; her appetite remains good, and she is still clean. She smells a bit of old dog, but then I guess she is entitled to, and still loves a bit of affection. So do I. What to do? The vet reckons she may well be with us this time next year, but I doubt it.img_3467-1We have been so lucky to have had her with us for the nearly eight years we have been in France, and she has been a constant delight to our guests as well. Old dogs sometimes buck up with a youngster about, but Kath says I am not allowed an au pair. So  the next best thing was to consider another canine. The Boss was keen on a Welsh Terrier, but they are a bit small for me, and I can’t stand yappy dogs. We wanted a breed that does not shed much hair, one that has lots of energy, is good with kids, and trainable. The answer was obvious really, another Airdale. They are not very common in France, but we found a breeder in the Brenne, just over an hour away, and made the journey with the inevitable result. What a lovely venue it was, an isolated farm at the end of a long track, with a huge lake facing it, and racehorses in the surrounding fields. And dozens of dogs! Airedales, Welsh Terriers, and even a few yappy things in the house. So here she isimg_3640That is her on the left! Kath reckoned that a dog would be too strong for her, and we would both like to breed (from the dog, that is) in the future, so Polly will become part of the family in April. My wife has already lined her up for agility training, and she has very high expectations for international representation in the future. I only hope the old girl is up to it; the young one will be!

 

Posted by: kathandroger | January 5, 2017

Another festive season.

They all come too quickly now. The summer season is over and then it is suddenly Christmas again. I can remember as a boy thinking how long the week is when waiting to play football for the school team on a Saturday, but now the weeks fly by. Our perception of time is strange; why do the days accelerate as we get older? I was watching a flock of starlings a few weeks ago, and their changes of direction, all together, was breathtaking. But to them perhaps, time is different and they may have felt sluggish that day!

We have been back to the UK for the festivities. Journeys are interesting, but we have done the trip so often that it is a bit routine now and the brain has to be put in neutral. After the normal time strapped life we live I find it relaxing to spend hours watching the world and its inhabitants go by. What is all this fashion of having a beard and then shaving the head? I can fully understand not shaving the beard, but why then cut all head hair off-it must be bloody taters in the mold at this time of year, but I guess that is what fashion is all about-bugger the practicalities if I feel good. The overnight ferry got us into Portsmouth early in the morning and in time to do last minute shopping in Waitrose before it became too packed-at 7.45 we managed well, but it was heaving when we left. There is no problem about remembering to drive on the left in the UK; the density of traffic means there is nowhere else to go! First stop at daughters house in Frome. What a lovely town! Small and friendly, trendy and steep. Lovely pubs, seemingly always busy, and a welcoming ambiance. It had to be celebrated with lots of English beer, one of the few things I really miss in France, and overstaying the allotted time for us chaps was greeted in traditional fashion by the womenfolk on our late return. And I thought our loud singing would be admired, not admonished! Frome was kids and carols-my twin grandsons liked their seesaw and only one bloody nose spoiled their fun. Two lots of carols, in the local church and on the local park bandstand, got rid of the inner chorister, and a long country walk got rid of some of the dietary and boozing excesses. Then it was off to the Lake District on the train to meet up with a large group of friends and with the trouble and strife who had spent the time with her parents in Yorkshire. What can I say about the trains? Overbooked, nowhere to put luggage, freezing with nowhere to sit in the stations, but on time thank goodness. We got there.

The Lake District in north west England is very beautiful. It is normally seen through a screen of rain and fog and wind. Not so this year. We had a week of good weather, negligible rain and some frosty sunny days. Ideal for walking the hills and cycling the tracks in the local forest. Our group of about 25 meet at this time of the year and it is fascinating to see the maturing of the younger generation each time. We rent a very large house, other friends visit, and generally have a good time together. The Lakes are a wonderful venue, but for me the beauty is compromised by the sheer density of people and more particularly the background noise of the incessant traffic anywhere near the roads. We ate well in local pubs and restaurants-food generally in the UK is at least as good as in France nowadays, and it was sad to make our farewells.

Having endured a delay on the M6 and a diversion though the very unattractive centre of England, we punctuated our journey to see Kaths cousin in Warwick and then it was back to the overnight ferry and home to France once more. Too much noise and too many people and cars in the UK, but it was nice to see everybody seemingly content with their lot. We are too.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 18, 2016

Granddads runny nose.

He was called Arthur Cooper, and he was my maternal granddad. He had worked all his life as a farm labourer in Bedfordshire and lived in a little semi detached house, without water and electriciy, where he and my grandmother raised their four children. The toilet was at the other end of the garden in a little hut, and he grew all his own vegetables and kept chickens. He also had a little workshop with lots of tools. We lived in London, and a trip to see my grandparents took all day, involving several buses and a long train journey. We did not own a car then, but it was still a journey to paradise. My granddad was a hero to me; he knew how to catch rabbits in a snare, and he won several county shows with his flowers and vegetables, and the countryside was another world for a nipper from inner London. He was a small man with a big nose, little round glasses and very hairy, large ears. He smoked a pipe and always spoke very slowly and carefully. I loved him dearly although we only met once or twice a year, when he would take me fishing to the river, and knock conkers off the tree for me. But best of all he would let me use his little workshop for knocking nails into pieces of scrap wood to make little models of ships and cars. He always praised my feeble efforts, and carefully showed me how to do things better. As he grew older and he became a bit more frail, the lessons still continued whenever I visited, and he always seemed to have a drip on the end of his nose when he was by my side giving me encouragement. I have been working in my workshop making Christmas presents over the past fortnight and it was only a few days ago that I realised that I had a drip on the end of my nose. Granted it has been cold, but it is more likely to be a reflection that the very old man I used to work alongside is now almost me!

The bits and pieces that I have “rescued” from the house over the road have been put to good use. The twin grandsons obviously needed some sort of toy they could both use together. After a rummage around, and old car axle stand and a few lengths of galvanised pipe were retrieved, and after a bit of welding and a coat of paint they now have a seesaw.img_3618-2The height can be changed easily, the top is detachable, and the waxed oak seats should not cause too many splinters.

I also found a lovely old waggon jack, maybe a hundred years old, but still in working order although very dirty. This with an old wheel from a big pulley, a bit of bent heavy metal, and an old soup ladle, has made a presentable lamp. img_3619-2The only downside is that both presents weigh a ton, and getting them into the car and to the UK is going to be a bit of a game. But thank you Arthur Cooper for all your help so many years ago; you started it all.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 11, 2016

Badger barrier broken!

It is never a good idea to think one can outwit a dumb animal. The cat is cleverer than me, and even the old dog knows things that I don’t. The chickens had managed to conceal their new laying place for days, before I found a hoard in the wood store, and Moins Dix, the goat, has found a way into the neighbour’s garden. So I guess it was a bit silly to think that my little patch of urine was going to deter Brock the badger from getting into the orchard from his home in the wood. True, it did seem to deter him for a few days, but then I found a new burrow under the gate just adjacent to the wee trap. Advice from locals was not much use, involving as it did the termination of Brocks life. Badgers are lovely secretive animals, and underneath it all I really do admire him and am proud to have him around-but not in our orchard digging big holes and eating chickens! What to do? Given that the first round of smelly urine worked for a while, a doubling of the dose seemed in order. Unknown to the wife, who would not have approved, the call of nature whilst toiling away in my workshop has been answered by a good volume of the deterrent gathered in various vessels. Another reservoir has been added alongside the first and the volume in both increased.img_3615-2Time alone will tell if this works, but there have been no new diggings for several days now. I must keep the deterrent topped up!

This lovely clear, cold, dry weather has been ideal for working outside; once it is warm enough to do so that is. The rebuilding of the fishpond is going well, but taking several times as long as I intended, and the morning frosts have been a worry with the mortar not setting properly. I have nightmares about filling the thing up, it bursting, and seeing fleeing goldfish all over the courtyard. Better wait a bit longer for the cement to cure. But one of the jobs we have to do, but don’t much enjoy, is trimming the fruit trees in the orchard. Kath and I grasped the nettle and the trees yesterday, and managed to get most of them done in one afternoon. I don’t know that much about trimming the trees, but it seems to me that the main purpose is to enable the fruit to be gathered. We try to keep the centre of the top quite low, and leave some of the longer outer branches which we can pull down to gather the cherries, plums, apricots and so on. img_3614-2The main problem is getting rid of all the cuttings; burning is the easiest, but the new shredder works well although it does take ages to poke all the branches through. The shreddings work well as a mulch in the flower bed, and the chickens love to find what is underneath!

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