Posted by: kathandroger | May 21, 2017

Ode to May.

Each month of the year has its attractions, even if only to look forward to the following one. But May is different, my favourite month and the real fruition of the new year. The early migratory birds arrive in March, and we often have some warm days then, but the possibility of frosts are still present and indeed they cut down all our blossoming trees in early April. The real summer arrives with the Swifts in late April, and this year with the re-arrival of the Bee Eaters which deserted our little local lake last year. I saw a couple of dozen of them on the wires a fortnight ago; such exotic and unmistakable treasures of the avian world. The Cuckoos have been loud and numerous, the Hoopoe has hooped nearby, and the almost human whistling of the Golden Oriole has brightened our little wood above the house. The Hedgehog has been active and has provided some education for Polly. Dogs’ noses are soft and spines are sharp!IMG_3742I walked the little dog to our local reservoir a mile or so away a couple of days ago. It is usually an uninspiring expanse of water, but in the warm sunshine the carp had come to the surface and were active in groups of up to two dozen fish, with others foraging in the margins and seemingly unperturbed by our presence. Polly was an enthusiastic tadpole chaser but was confused by the hundreds of little wrigglers around her feet.

The flowers are at their best in May. Our local Orchids are in full bloom, and provide the main course botanical pleasure after the appetizer blooms of the cowslips, violets and wood anemones of last month. We have a neglected field just over our lane which borders the oak woods, and at the moment the Lady, Monkey and Butterfly orchids have been in splendid profusion after the recent rains. I came across a pretty little flower on our walk yesterday which was obviously a mint relative with a labiate flower. I guessed it must have a pretty name as well, but was disappointed to find it has been cursed as the “Bastard Balm” Poor little thing!IMG_3745 (2)

The Potager had been planted. The forty or so tomato plants look good, as do the squashes and courgettes. The strawberries have been shared by the slugs and snails but they have left a few for us, and the first rows of vegetable seedlings are showing. The frost bitten trees in our orchard will give us next to nothing this year, so it is some comfort to see the raspberry bushes in good order. Brock the Badger still visits and has become adept at upskuttling my bowl of urine which is meant to put him off, but luckily he has not dug the garden up yet. I will have to hunt out my electric fence.

We had temperatures which reached 30 degrees last week, and the sheep are getting a bit overheated. The Ram, Hercules, is massive now and insulated by an impressive fleece and puffing like a good’un; I must reopen the sheep trap and get them in for shearing soon. Cutting the grass twice a week is a must now, but it looks good after some rain, and we look forward to our next guests.

Marvellous May, but no rest for the Workers.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 14, 2017

Dog Class.

I have had dogs around for many years now, and have never taken any of them to dog classes. They have all been reasonably well behaved and have done all I wanted them to, but we felt that with our new pup Polly that she would maybe benefit from some French education; she could become bilingual at least. So we enrolled her in the local class outside a little village about half an hour away, only to find that the main teacher comes from our own village! The site of the “education center” is on a couple of fields covering a few acres, and contains an obstacle course for the expert older dogs to practice on before entering agility competitions.IMG_3739We both have ambitions that Polly will become the local and then international champion over courses like this, but first she has to learn to listen to commands and stop rolling onto her back for tummy tickles! Anyway she loves the classes, which honestly are really useless for training dogs, but quite useful for training owners. The dogs are grouped according to age, and we are in the first class still, usually about eight animals of about six months or so. And do they love it! The first activity yesterday was to let all the dogs off the lead and let them run around together in the larger fenced field. I wish I had a fraction of the energy of a young dog; they bound about in games of chasing and trying to knock each other over and generally have a lovely time. The only problem comes when the instructress (they are invariably female) asks us to call the dogs back. Absolutely no notice is taken of the owners, a problem worsened by the fact that we have one Mila, one Masha, and two Mayas. The owners shrieking at the top of their voices at non responding canines is an real entertainment. The acknowledged method is to tempt the animal back with varied food treats, but often that means that one owner is overwhelmed by the marauding pack of dogs, and the others just carry on shouting in vain at the wayward animal. I have the enviable ability, since my teeth were renewed, of being able to whistle very loudly, and Polly often responds and comes back, to my immense pride and to the obvious but hidden jealousy of the other owners. Eventually the dogs are recaptured and often rest exhausted for a while.IMG_3741The young dogs have their mini obstacle course, a couple of which can be seen above. Polly was a bit nonplussed the first week we attended, but now finds it all a bit too easy, and can’t understand why the some other dogs are frightened by the seesaw and the tunnel. She is a very confident little dog; too much so on occasions, like when I opened our upstairs window to let her see outside and she decided to jump! I literally only just managed to grab her in mid air. A fall of several metres would have dented her confidence!

Dog classes are great fun and important for socializing the animals. All too often dogs are scared of others and fight, when with more contact at a young age would, I am sure, prevent the problem. For teaching dogs the basic commands I find them pretty useless, as all can be done much more easily at home when the dogs’ full attention can be gained. But they are good for sharing problems and teaching owners how to handle their animals, and above all they are a real good laugh. We shall continue.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 7, 2017

Jack Frost bites hard.

One of the things we love about France is the weather. A few degrees warmer than the UK and shorter winters. Jack Frost is a problem here as at home, but seems to bite harder just when we don’t expect it. This year the orchard was looking very good; the cherry trees were laden with germinal fruit, the peach tree had good blossom, and the figs were forming nicely, having done badly last year. We woke a couple of weeks ago to a very hard frost just when we least wanted it, and the damage was obvious. Now the fig shows no sign of recovery and I fear we will have to do without our figgy pudding again this year.IMG_3734But our losses are minor. The son of one of our cycling friends has a vineyard near Chinon. For the second year running they have had severe frost damage and reckon that about 80% of the grape crop has been destroyed. He is even talking about having to give up his way of life because of the losses. Compared to our losing a few handfuls of varying fruits we are whingeing about nothing. Who would be a farmer, depending on the vagaries of nature for a livelihood?

So because of the lessons learned over the past years our own kitchen garden has been left almost empty this year until the last few days. We have not overwintered any beans or garlic this year, and only planted some beans and peas about a month ago, and they are doing well.IMG_3735The early spuds were caught by the frost but seem OK, and the Jerusalem Artichokes are unstoppable. We have a few strawberries almost ready and some forced rhubarb, but are having to rely on the freezer for vegetables, although our spuds and onions have lasted through the winter. Working the garden in strips like this makes it very easy. I am a lazy gardener, but love home produce and want to produce it with as little effort as necessary. The strips are sized to be passed easily by the large rotavator, and the grass strips in between enable harvesting even in winter without getting muddy feet. They are the width of the lawn mower, so cutting the paths is easy. A very light dose of glyphosate to the edges keeps the grass off the growing areas, and the well water provides our watering system. Compost is made with all the vegetable waste and I only add a little blood bone and fish meal which we buy in the UK. With the lovely climate for growing vegetables we our virtually self sufficient and eat well from the garden with not too much effort. But Jack Frost, please stay away, we are going to plant our outdoor tomatoes after the Saint de Glaces next week, and you have done enough damage already!

Posted by: kathandroger | April 30, 2017

Treading the Boards and a Poorly Polly.

I have never done any real acting. Compering the college review and a few words in our Ethni-Cite village play here was all I had done. So when one of our French friends asked me to join her newly formed group locally I was more than surprised. Being the only English person was a challenge, with my stumbling language skills, but the other eight members of the troupe were very kind and understanding, even suppressing their giggles at my pronunciation in rehearsals. We began learning our roles over a year ago, and multiple rehearsals, often in the freezing cold of mid winter, were a mixed experience of inadequacy and frustration at forgetting my lines. Our play is a comedy (it couldn’t have been anything other!), and revolves around misunderstandings and double meanings. We have performed several times so far, and look forward to several more in the Autumn.Scan_20170110

I can now understand the attraction of performing a play. It is very much a team game and needs repeated practice. A bond is formed with the other players, and we had so many laughs amongst ourselves that it was often difficult to carry on with rehearsals. All the sets were built by the troupe, and the costumes adjusted by mutual advice to remain just on the right side of ridiculous. And after so many months the first night is quite a challenge, nerves have to be controlled and timing has to be adjusted to fit in with the hoped for mirth of the audience. So far so good. The performances have been well received and we have visited several of the surrounding villages. I now know my lines and the prompters are used less and less. It has been a lovely experience but I am not sure if I will do another play after this. It is a bit like running the marathon; lots of training and a great experience but for me something to look back on with enjoyment rather than wanting to do it all again. Just for the record, I play a Spanish Brothel keeper in a Paris Club; now how was I selected for that role?

Our new puppy Polly has been poorly. She had settled in really well again after our recent holiday, but yesterday we knew something was wrong. She yelped on waking up, would not eat her food and was generally miserable. Being a typical five month old dog she eats and chews anything, from our shoes to the sheeps’ poo in the field, and we had recently been using some chemicals for weed control and to try to deter the visiting badger, so we were worried. Her breathing was OK, her belly seemed soft and her wees and poos seemed normal. It was only  when we touched her mouth that she seemed distressed, and we wondered whether she had something lodged in her teeth. There was no way we could hold her mouth open however, so we decided to see the vet as an urgency. Typically it was Bank Holiday and our vet was away, but it was easy to get an appointment in our local town of Chatellerault. A very nice young lady vet agreed with our diagnosis of probable tooth pain, as puppies lose their first teeth at between five and seven months, but she was unable to prise the jaws apart. Polly was given an injection of a long acting morphine and some anti inflammatories and we came home slightly more happy. The poor little thing was still distressed, and drugged as well, and could only stand and sway looking half asleep and still in pain. She did manage some chicken soup that Kath made specially for her so we went to bed feeling less unhappy. And today! After the morphine had worn off she was back to normal-jumping on the forbidden sofa and trying to eat off the table. I didn’t realise how close we had become to our new dog until she was ill. I must take the little bugger off for a walk now to try and get rid of some of that energy!IMG_3731

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.

 

 

 

 

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