Posted by: kathandroger | April 24, 2017

Italy.

We got back from our pre-season holiday a few days ago. What a varied and interesting insight into Northern Italy. The soft top Fiat we hired was well used in the daily sunshine, but our refusal to have sat nav was probably a mistake and the cause of marital disharmony due to the navigators’ inability to read the maps. Why are maps always wrong when I do the map reading? And the Italian road signs do not help at all. For a start all the places end in -agio, and the distance given on the signs gets longer the closer the destination becomes! But we made it around the top of the country and even got back to Venice Airport for the trip home. From cycling over the low Alps in Como, to climbing up the steep paths of the Cinque Terres, IMG_0682to the beauty of Lucca and Pisa and to staying on an Olive farm and Vinyard near Sienna, we crammed a lot into two weeks. IMG_0708I had my first ride on an electric bike to try to keep up with the wife on our visit to the cyclists’ church and museum near Como, and  we even managed to go to a nature reserve and got lost when the team leader insisted on crossing a river to get to the non existent path on the other side. The wife even  got her knickers wet in the freezing mountain water, whilst traversing the slippery boulders, and I was not popular.IMG_0737 But compensation was made on the last stop, at a luxury hotel (the first five star hotel I have ever stayed in), with its rooftop spa and wonderful restaurant. I am not sure about having television on the ceiling, and in the loo in addition to the more conventional wall mounting, but life is all about new experiences.

So what were the main feelings about the country? Well firstly most of Italy is a bit like most other counties in Europe; too much traffic, everyone in a hurry, and often pretty boring countryside. But there are rare jewels which are really astounding; Venice, Pisa, Sienna, Lucca and the many hilltop villages in beautiful Tuscany. We were there over the Easter week, which was not ideal, and the amount of visitors to the main sites was overwhelming, with parking the car always a problem. Speeding limits seem to be largely ignored in the country, and Italians seem to want to drive inside your boot even more than the French do. We rubbished the road signs in the rolling hills which announced snow and rainstorms and thought them rather ridiculous in the 20 degree heat, but noticed how stupid we were when after the storms of our last night all the summits were covered with snow! For me the best of the trip was the wonderful wild flowers of the Alpine foothills and the mind blowing reality of Venice; the cleverness of man and the majesty of Mother Nature. A great visit.

Posted by: kathandroger | April 16, 2017

Bye bye Boudie.

IMG_0224Our lovely old Airedale terrier died a few days ago. She had become weak and sleepy over the past months, although she remained clean and always keen on her food. Sadly we were away in Italy when she passed away, but she could not have had better carers than our friends Ian and Sandra. Boudie had been a large part of our lives since she was given to us eight years ago. We were not sure whether we wanted to take on the challenge of a then young and poorly contolled dog, but she proved to be the most wonderful addition to our lives. Always pleased to see us, always fun to be with, and always reluctant to obey commands before a varying period of contemplation. As a water dog she hated water, and as a fearless terrier she was scared of many things including anything noisy, and used to creep upstairs and hide under our bed during thunderstorms. She loved to chase our postladys’ car down the orchard and jump onto the wall to bark, to the extent that I had to rebuild the broken brickwork. But she had a lovely way with our other animals. She raised our cat Dennis from a few weeks old, and they would often play and sleep together, despite the fact that any other cat would be chased without mercy. She got on well with Moins Dix the goat, and would bark and run round with him trying to avoid the oncoming horn attack. After both were exhausted they would sit down together and pass the time of day. The sheep trusted Boudie absolutely, to the extent that the newborn lambs were allowed to be sniffed and examined within a short time after birth. Normally ewes are fierce protectors of their offspring, as our new puppy has learned. Even the free range chickens were her friends, and if pursued would sit down and have their bottoms sniffed before being left alone.

Boudie is the first Airedale terrier that I have experienced. We all love our dogs and breeds are perhaps less important than individual characteristics, but she was a great personality and had the invaluable ability to make us feel happier about life and to make us laugh. Dogs really do have a sense of what we are feeling sometimes; maybe that is why we talk to them rather than the cat. Almost human but without the negative emotions. Goodbye old girl, we shall never forget you.

Posted by: kathandroger | April 9, 2017

Birthday Boy in Italy.

Although it happens every year, my birthday this year was of Biblical proportion. Three score years and ten. Poor old Bugger, but all systems are still in woking mode, so celebrations were due. She has brought me to Italy. I have never been here before, but I love it. They even talk back to me when I speak French, but I don’t know what they are saying. We flew from Poitiers to Venice, over the snowy Alps which divide the countries and took some good snaps.

And what about Venice? Definitely one of the most amazing places I have seen. A huge antiquated civilisation built in an old swampy area in a lagoon next to the sea. The magnificent buildings set on alder sticks sunk into the oggin with lumps of chalk on top to act as foundations. Huge Churches and Cathederals with the most ornate dressings as a celebration and affirmation of the one time wealth of the conglomeration. And no roads, but miles of canals, so no cars but plenty of boats. Even the local builder’s van was a boat! Not a quiet place to stay, and more rotten tourists like ourselves than pigeons in the squares, but a vibrant and multicultural buzzing centre of inquisitive humanity. We ate well and loved the diversity of the thousands of small shops, but the wife didn’t want me to buy her even more jewels so I didn’t.

We have driven on in our hired softop Fiat to Lake Como, at the foot of the Alps. Northern Italy is flat, overpopulated and boring, but this place is wonderful. We have walked up a mountain today, and marvelled at the springtime flowers and butterflies, then descended to the local town to find it rammed with visitors from Milan, most of them on motorbikes. The old knees are giving me a bit of gip tonight, but it has been eased by a bottle of the local wine. We are off for 100km on the hired bikes tomorrow, over the mountains to the next lake. And I thought she would let me relax a bit at this great age!

Posted by: kathandroger | April 3, 2017

Mo and the Planters.

Our triplets lambs, Eeenie Meeni and Myni, were born in early February and our doing well. Their mother, Rosemary, had three last year and two the year before and is well used to multiple births. She is an ugly sheep but a brilliant mother, and arranging three mouths around two teats seems to be no problem for her. We lost our other old sheep after she gave birth last year and replaced her with a swap with a neighbour for her remaining lamb. Flossie was born late last spring and was very small when she arrived and looked less than promising as a breeding ewe.IMG_3711 She was a nice sheep, however, and soon settled with the others, but showed no sign of pregnancy until the last week or so. She is next to the Moins Dix the goat, looking at Hercules the ram and Rosemary and her triplets. I took this photo last evening, and although she was “bagging up”-her udders were swelling, she showed no signs of production. She is usually the first to arrive when I feed the flock in the morning but today there was no sign of her.IMG_3718We found her at the top of the wood with Mo, who was born overnight. It is a very clean and a good sized lamb and Flossie has done a very good job. We can’t tell if Mo is male or female yet as I didn’t want to handle it so early after birth. If female it will be swapped, if male it will be eaten. I may still become a vegetarian!

Spring is a very busy time for us with the preparation of the Gites and getting the grounds in order. We bought a couple of standard roses a few days ago, to sit outside the main house entrance; we have called them Ann and Tom, after Kaths’ parents who gave her the money for her birthday.IMG_3722 (2) Ann is red and stands to the left of Tom, who is yellow, according, I am told,  to their political leanings. But the pigsty building needs a few flowers to brighten up the outside walls, and I wanted something a bit different to hold the petunias that Kath grows. The wall is not level, and I had made a couple of hypertufa pots for it last year, but wanted something a bit different. An old oil barrel had been left with the dump of metal our friend Bernard had left for me to do my sculptures, and after the bottom had been cut out it fits perfectly onto the wall. A coat of Hammerite and cleaning the brass fittings has made it look presentable.IMG_3708It will look much better covered in flowers.

Posted by: kathandroger | March 26, 2017

Yellow.

I heard the cuckoo a couple of days ago, and the swallow has arrived on the telephone wire outside our house. He seemed to stay there for a long time, and I have yet to see him fly, but I reckon he must be a bit fatigued after flying several thousand miles. I say he, but I guess it may be a strong flying girl bird, and I don’t know how to sex them from afar. This one swallow is seemingly all alone; maybe it is just a fast flyer and didn’t look behind to see if the others were following. My wife is a bit like that on the bike.

We had a lovely ride today in nearly 20 degrees of full sunshine. A couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, when all the French have disappeared. It really is quite strange, because in the morning all the cycling clubs have a outing, and the roads are littered with bicycles, but no one goes on two wheels in the afternoon. Anyway, it was a beautiful spring day, and the verges were sprinkled with the first flowers. It seems to be a very good year for the Cowslips, and several banks were festooned in countless plants, all in full flower. We have only one plant in our orchard, and I take great care not to mow it down.IMG_3705Interestingly the French call it the Cuckoo Flower, because of its association with the arrival of the bird, but our Cuckoo flower is otherwise called the Ladies Smock, and we saw lots of this lovely flower as well. The Celandines have a real buttery sheen in the sunshine, and with the much maligned dandelion are another yellow spring flower to augment our now dying daffodils.IMG_3706 But why are there so many flowers of that colour in the springtime? We will no doubt be seeing the orchids soon, which are  rarely yellow, and my favourite Wood Anenome is white. The blue flowers are also about; the brilliantly coloured Lungwort is in the woods, and the grape hyacinths are all over the banks. IMG_3707 (2)All these plants are within fifty metres of our house. How lucky are we?

And it has just occurred to me that I have blogged about nothing else but flowers and birds. How times change!

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.

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