Posted by: kathandroger | February 11, 2018

Six cans of paraffin and one old door.

Funny old lot, these Frenchies. No doubt we are the same in the UK, but the different ways things are handled here is a continuing education. Our theatre group of last year split up in disharmony, to say the least. We had several more performances booked, but the cast fell apart from one another acrimoniously, and we could not continue. The two main adversaries were friends beforehand and had even been on holiday together last year. Well, I was sad, but perhaps because of my limited linguistic ability did not appreciate the depth of feelings on each side. I was happily aloof from the dispute and maintained a good relationship with both sides, and thought that the events were all history. Wrong! I was asked to attend a “conciliation” meeting a couple of days ago, as legal proceedings were being started….because six cans of paraffin, and one old door had not been returned to the President. Accordingly all fifteen of the company attended a preliminary meeting with the conciliator, a firm but fair retired policeman, in one of the local council offices. One group on one side of the room and the other on the other side of the room. Me in the middle. The rules of the game were explained, and nobody could talk unless they first put their hand up, and then no interruptions were allowed until the individual speech was over. Actually that was the best thing about the meeting, because the French usually talk all over one another and meetings are a shambles. We heard all the old groans again, conciliation was not possible, but the cans and the old door were given to the Red Cross. What a palava, and it was quite difficult to dodge from one group to the other afterwards to underline my neutrality. I hope I did so, because I love them all!

But back at the ranch, we have had some snow. But no more lambs. No lambs for Flo in the snow, but she looks full to bursting, with a ballooning udder, and will no doubt have them in the next day or two. The first twins are looking great, having put on some weight, and are jumping around like new born lambs. They still look a bit grubby against the snow though.IMG_3925
We tell our guests to spend the hot summer evenings drinking some nice cool white wine in our “kiosk” on the top of our land. It does not look so inviting at the moment!IMG_3926
And seeing the grubby sheep did remind me of our “Lavoir” just across the road. IMG_3916This is where the dog loves to chase the frogs into the water, but was originally for the locals to do their washing; “laver” is to wash. Most villages around here have preserved the feature, and some of them are splendid. Ours is not, but no doubt could tell a few stories of times gone by. Apparently the lavoir was where all the local gossip was aired. I would love to have been a fly on the wall, or even a frog in the froth!

Posted by: kathandroger | February 4, 2018

Chucky won’t grow!… And land issues.

Deep mid winter; morning frosts and drizzling rain during the afternoon. Nasty cold winds; not the best time of year to be a little chick. The twin lambs are thriving in the field and at last using the luxury home I built for them a few weeks ago. But little Chucky the chick won’t grow! And it doesn’t want to come out of the chicken house either. So yesterday we lifted mother and child out and moved them a few metres away to the base of a cherry tree. Mum Sandra tried endlessly to get the little chick to scratch and eat bits of stuff, but to little avail.IMG_3911
We left the lesson for an hour or so, with only the dog watching the progress.IMG_3914
Mum Sandra eventually seemed to give up and perched in the tree leaving the little bundle of fluff to shiver below. I put them both back in the house, but Kath has already aired her fears of chick demise. I will crush a few sheep nuts for her today, and may even give some to the chick as well. We can’t win them all! Incidentally, the cock, Decker, is celebrating his empire by cock a doodling almost all day…. and during the night as well. It is a good job we have no guests at this time of the year; he will be eaten or given away before the season begins. The French cocks apparently scream Cockoreeko rather than our version, so Chucky must have some British genes.
Thinking of other differences between the UK and France, we have lots of seemingly lost plots of land here. I guess that a “parcelle” as they are called, may be lost in the vagaries of inheritance, as with many houses in the area. The result is that fields become overgrown and often impenetrable, which must be a good thing for the local wildlife. This plot is over the road from us.IMG_3915
The dog certainly loves them, but has yet to catch anything.
We have a “parcelle” in our wood which does not belong to us. It is owned by a wonderful old couple on the village who we visited some years ago to buy it. They were in full agreement, and we left them to arrange the legal details but have heard nothing since. Their plot is shown by orange markers in the ground; I have no idea who put them there, but don’t dare to remove them.IMG_3917
The owners looked frail when we last saw them and we didn’t want to impose on them, but talking to a friend when we last passed their house last week they are both very well and about to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary! We must visit them again to congratulate and to ask the secret of such an amazingly durable relationship.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 28, 2018

13 for Rosemary and the Hunt Police.

The weather here is cold, wet and generally nasty at the moment. Ideal weather for our sheep to lamb. Accordingly, Rosemary, our old girl of six, had been “bagging up” rather nicely over the past week or so. Rosemary is the most ugly of sheep, but a wonderful mother. For the past two years she had raised triplets, and we were expecting the same this year. With her swelling udders and the prominence of those experienced nipples, the wife had been predicting birth every day this week. It finally happened last night, and we were greeted this morning by the sight of one healthy looking boy lamb.IMG_3906
We didn’t really expect a singleton, but then we noticed something behind her-the second boy, smaller and looking frail but well.IMG_3910
Both have settled well and are feeding, and have been named Dougal and Henry. We wait for Flossie to produce her second brood. Kath has worked out that Rosemary has given us thirteen lambs now, all of them sired by Hercules, the rampant ram. Actually the latter had a go at butting me again a few days ago-an event to be avoided if possible as he really can inflict some damage. He has never attacked the wife though; must be something to do with hormone recognition I guess.

I was enjoying our weekly walk with the rambling club on Monday last-the dog with us as usual. We had just come out of a path through the woods, when a uniformed chap approached me and told me to put the dog on a lead. He was a “Guarde de Chasse”. This is an official we don’t have in the UK. He is appointed by Government, under the auspices of the Environment and Agriculture ministries, and his job is to protect the Flora and Flora of the countryside. He wears a nice uniform with special badges, and drives a blue van. He was a nice chap and very polite, but was insistent that my dog was a “chien de chasse” -a hunting dog, and a danger to the surrounding wildlife, especially during the hunting season. Apparently we had been detected by a hidden camera, and he had come to intercept us! I, of course, apologized profusely, put the dog on the lead and we walked off. Until we were out of sight of course, when the little animal was given her liberty again. He did tell me that I could let the dog off the lead after February when the hunting season was over! What a load of cobblers! I am all for protection of the environment, but to say that my dog can chase deer in March but not before just is not logical. It is all to protect the hunt of course, but if a dog is under control it does seem a bit silly. The guard does have the ability to arrest me and to take the dog away if he thinks fit, and I could be imprisoned or fined if I get a bit stroppy-heaven forbid! But in general the hunt in France is very well managed, with excess animals being culled but enough left to satisfy the hunting fraternity. There are about a thousand Hunt Guards in France, so unless they all descend on our local woods one day my chances of evading capture are good. Polly, who has never caught anything in her life, and who comes to heel the second I whistle for her, will still be let off the lead to enjoy the freedom of our lovely local countryside. Sorry chaps.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 21, 2018

Rumours of my Death…. and the New Arrival.

For over thirty years I lived and worked in deepest Dorset, in a county community where any local professional was well known. As the village Doctor, one was talked about widely, often not with the adulation one would have desired! I had a phone call from my younger daughter this week. “Dad, how are you feeling, because there is a rumour all around that you are dead”. It is true that I tripped over a few days ago, into a muddy puddle, and damaged some ribs. Even the dog laughed. But generally I didn’t feel dead at all. No one seems to know how the story started, or even how my demise came about, and I have tried to telephone one alleged perpetrator with no success. I have yet to read a nice obituary.
There are many strange experiences in life. This is the first time that my demise has been reported, to my knowledge anyway. I can see the funny side, indeed that was my first reaction. I realize that the years are fast passing, and that the youthfulness felt within is not matched by the haggard exterior appearance, especially when a pretty young lady on the London Tube offered me her seat when I was visiting in the Autumn. I refused of course, but that was before I knew of my imminent departure from this world. Each week seems to pass so much more quickly nowadays, and the acceleration will only end abruptly one day. I hope the memories of me back in Dorset are not too unkind, and that the correction of the rumour does not make people too unhappy!

But life in France goes on unchallenged. We are expecting some lambs any day now, although the two ewes do not seem ready to pop yet. I thought the same thing last year and then discovered triplet lambs the next day! Good shepherding is another of our failures. The chickens, however, are a different kettle of fish.( a French friend reads this blog and often finds the language somewhat challenging, so I look forward to her interpretation of the latter phrase!) One of our new girls, Sandra, decided that mid winter would be a good time to hatch some chicks. We do have a cockerel, Decker, who Kath reliably informs me had be very attentive to his manly duties over the past month or so. We did not bother to get any fertile eggs, therefore, but Sandra started to sit before we went to the UK for Christmas, and we left her in the house with the other chickens. When the birds sit, they do so on any eggs that are nearby, pulling new laid ones from other chickens under them. Sandra was sitting on twenty one eggs! The gestation is about 21 days, some some would have been much less than that when we heard the tweeting of a newborn chick.IMG_3904 We left her for a few more days, but no more appeared, so we took her off the nest and threw the other eggs out. We have more than enough birds now in any case. The little yellow chick is a Cou Nou, the local breed with bare necks, and must be the offspring of Black, the last chick we hatched. So Black and Decker have produced a youngster, and a name had to be found. Kath launched the question on Facebook, and so far the favorite seems to be Chucky, from chuck and key. But I also like Makita, Chisel, and Spanner. We only hope the awful weather can be endured by the little chap or chapesse.

Posted by: kathandroger | January 14, 2018

Sheep Shelter Shambles and the Eco Home.

Just before we traveled to the UK for the Festive Season, a quick check of our sheep and goat revealed a catastrophe.IMG_3899
The fine building which we constructed six years ago had finally succumbed to the relentless leaning of our overweight ram Hercules. He loved to rub against the old palettes that were used to support the corrugated iron and asbestos roof, and the fruits of his labour had brought the house down. Luckily none of the animals was inside at the time, but the incessant recent rains had made the area into a boggy mess of old iron and debris. Lambing is due to commence shortly and so on our return a new animal house was a matter of urgency. Now I don’t think I am naturally miserly, but I do love making something for nothing. There were three old Telegraph Poles in the barn, and an old and very heavy ladder, that had seen better days and was a bit wormy. I wouldn’t have trusted climbing it, and so it was sacrificed to make rafters, and the rungs are good for lighting the woodburners in the house. The poles were chainsawed into lengths for the uprights, and lots of the old iron and asbestos was reused for the roofing. And there we have it- the new Eco Home for Animals.IMG_3901
Situated in a very pretty and sought after area in South Touraine, amongst the rolling hills around St Remy Sur Creuse, the property benefits from a south easterly aspect on a gentle slope. Early morning sun will delight the occupants and later in the day the structure with shade from the midday heat. Comfort is enhanced by the free circulation of air, providing refreshing ventilation to all parts of the building. Eschewing the negligible advantages of double glazing, the pure light in the interior will be constant, and not require laborious window cleaning. At the rear of the house is the sleeping area; comfortably lined with mature hay from several years ago, and cunningly placed at the top of the slope so that the occupants can easily roll out of bed in the morning.IMG_3902 In due course, heating will be of the underfloor variety, when the expected animal excretions have broken down enough to exhibit their typical exothermic reaction. The convenience of having the heat source and toilet facilities in the same area cannot be over emphasized. A completely natural sound system surrounds the building, with early morning birdsong sure to be appreciated by the occupants. The eating and drinking area is nearby, a short walk over the uncluttered carpet of Loire Valley pasture. The very attentive Caretaker is on hand each day to make sure the water, hay and feed is provided.
The only problem is that the bloody animals have so far ignored their new mansion. I suppose we could advertise it as an addition to our gite complex if all else fails!

Posted by: kathandroger | January 7, 2018

Back to a Burglary!

The journey back from Yorkshire to France was in the rain but luckily without too much in the way of traffic jams. One feature of the UK which we miss the least is the density of vehicles, but it does mean remembering to drive on the left is no problem; just join the queue of cars in front! The ferry crossing had been delayed by two hours due to high winds in the Channel, and we were expecting an attack of nausea and general bodily dysfunction. In fact we managed to get a cabin, although it was mid afternoon, and managed to snooze our way across the lumpy briny lea. The lovely French motorways were clear and we made it home at 3am to be met by Dennis the cat, the real owner of our house, who behaved as if we had not been away.
The coast in Yorkshire is little known to me, but well loved by the wife. The little dog had a whale of a time,(why do we have a “whale” of a time I wonder?), running miles and miles along the huge beach around Filey.IMG_1151
After spending Christmas with the family and twin grandsons in Frome, the New Year was with about twenty friends in a farmhouse near to the seaside, with the constant rain and mud reminding us of our marginally better weather in France. I am not allowed to show a picture, but as part of the celebrations, a Yorkshire quiz involved Kath and her friend Clare dressing as a pair of Nora Batty’s. The photos are in a safe place, however, and may be used for some gain in the future!
All was well at home, and it was only when I assessed the wind damage to the barn over the road that I noticed that our little fishing boat had been stolen. The tracks of the offending vehicle could clearly be seen in the mud outside the barn, and the burglary must have been very recent as the tyre marks were still very fresh.IMG_3897 The Police were polite and helpful, but not interested in making any investigations, so the chances of recovery are very slight. It is the first time we have lost anything in France, and the first time ever I have been burgled. It is a strange feeling; the little boat was not worth much, and only used for fishing a couple of times a year. I had called it “Daisy Bella” after my first two grandchildren, and painted the name on the back of the boat. I bought it from our now dead shady neighbour who told me it had belonged to his father, but knowing Francis, that may not have been the whole truth! I think it is the fact that someone has invaded our private property and stolen from us rather than the loss itself which hurts. Really it will make little difference to our lives, but the trust we had in the local community has, for me, been damaged. We were away at the time, and all our shutters closed. It has always seemed daft to me that the Insurance Companies require this measure. The best way to advertise that the house is empty is to close all the shutters! It seems like an open invitation to the thieving community to enter the house. With modern powerful battery driven hand tools any house can be easily broken into, and in the rural areas, any alarm would only be investigated after many minutes. But we have only lost one little item, a tiny blimp in our lives, and far less important than our health and our friends. We are looking forward to 2018!

Posted by: kathandroger | December 31, 2017

Snow, lovely snow!

We do not miss much about the weather in France.The shorter winters and the longer, hotter summers are one of the main reasons for living there. But it is a delight to see snow at least once a year, and it is a rare occurrence in our region. Back in Blighty, in Yorkshire to be exact, for the New Year, we have been blessed with some of the white stuff on the Wolds.IMG_1135ek across the wolds with the dogs chasing the grouse and the owners chasing the dogs, we at last reached the local pub to find it rammed to the brim. I have never seen so many dogs in a pub and so many rotund Yorkshire people failing to control them. Oodles of vast meals flew back and forth and many local brews were sampled before making it back in a blizzard to the cars.
There is something satisfying about crunching through the snow and falling over in the steep slopes. I don’t bounce so well nowadays, but the white cushion makes a tumble a real pleasure.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 25, 2017

Walking the Dog.. and Xmas.

I find it very hard to believe a whole year has gone again. Time to see some of the family in the home country, and time to enjoy the home fires of winter.
One pleasure at the moment is walking our little Airedale through the surrounding woods; unless it is Sunday, when the whole area seems to be full of hunters and their dogs. It is amazing the energy a young dog has; she seems to run at least four times as far as we do, and after a couple of hours she is still going strong when all we want is a cup of tea and a sit down!IMG_1100
But Christmas does mean I can retreat into the workshop and make some presents. The welding has come on a bit this year,despite having the wrong gas, and this model of a teacher is for Kaths’ parents, who were both in that trade.IMG_3894
It is made from some old surgical instruments, cut and welded together, and sits of a lovely old piece of oak I found in the wood store.
Last year my daughters’ partner had difficulty with their occasionally used open coal fire. “What you need is a bellows” said I and so it was to work with some old square headed nails from next door, leather cut from and old chair back, and a nozzle off an ancient water hose.IMG_3893
The wood is again some old oak, which sands and waxes nicely, and the only problem with the device is that is sounds very much like a human fart when in use. That will amuse the twin grandsons! Oh, and the daughter also wanted something to clear the hall of the multitude of shoes which always block her passageway. A bit of thought and the “Shoe Tree” was born. It is made from the side of an old oil tank, shaped with the plasma cutter, and then sprayed with a couple of aerosol cans.IMG_3889
The only problem with this one is that it will make a good climbing frame for two year old boys, so discipline will have to be strict!
Finally a very heavy abstract lamp for the youngest son, all welded to prevent drunken damage.IMG_3891A big spanner, a horse shoe, a 2kg weight, a bit of piping and a tap from across the road. What fun I have had-roll on next Christmas!
We are looking forward to our trip, but understand there are an increasing number of refugees at Caen Ferry Terminal. It will be very sad to see them; us with the car loaded with gifts, food and wine, and them with next to nothing. We hope to drop off a couple of old duvet covers, but I will still feel guilty about our relative wealth. Life is not just and equal I am afraid.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 17, 2017

Taters in the Mould (COLD!)

Yes it has been cold and miserable recently. The early morning walks with the dog have been upped in pace to warm the ageing body, and outdoor exercise has to involve physicality to keep comfortable. We spent most of yesterday raking and loading the trailer with leaves to dump over the road, and then filling the hay barn for the three remaining sheep-and Moins Dix, the goat of course. How that fat little bugger manages to jump over our fences amazes me, but we caught him in the neighbours’ field again yesterday.
There seem to be lots of wrens about in the colder weather. I read they are the most common bird in the UK, and guess it must be the same here, but usually they stay well hidden. With the loss of foliage and need to be constantly on the hunt to warm their little bodies I guess we just see them more. But not all the local animals have done so well.IMG_3887
Poor Mrs Tiggywinkle succumbed to the cold I guess, and Polly found her at the side of the road. I didn’t realize they had such powerful little teeth, and are lovely little animals who make grunting noises like piglets. No more grunting for her I’m afraid.
The root crops are OK, but not brilliant this year. I reckon they must be getting a bit bored with life, especially the carrots. We have planted mixed race varieties this year, and romance seems to have blossomed between the red and the yellow. I caught this couple yesterday.IMG_3885
But one success has been the swedes. Until this year we have had no success because of the little fly that eats all the seedling leaves. I covered the crop with tissue at the second sowing and at last we have grown a fine example. We must try and make it more than one next year!IMG_3881
Maybe I am becoming a bit strange, but it is a pleasure to see beauty in unusual places. I was captured by the range of colours in the sink after preparing the veg for one of Kaths’ lovely soups.IMG_3884
Poor old bugger, but I really do love the shades of nature.
And the local harvest still goes on in the woods above us. It has been fascinating to see just two chaps, each in large, complicated and different machine, cut and stack the pine trees.IMG_1096
They have effectively pruned the forest, taking the trees of the correct size and leaving the rest. I guess the wood will be for paper making, although we seem to use less and less paper nowadays. The downside for us is that the great big lumbering (good word!) giants have left the paths we use in deep mud. I hope they clean up before they leave us.

Posted by: kathandroger | December 10, 2017

Johnny, Diana and the Queen.

When we came to France, we were surprised that the news often seemed to include something about the health of Johnny Halliday. We knew a little about the French rock and roll singer, but did not appreciate how important he had become to the people of this country. A few years back he had a failed back operation and was later put in an induced coma in the USA-it was front line news, and we remarked then that he had become the nearest France had to royalty. Whatever would happen when he died? Well now we know. All media for the past few days has been saturated by his passing, and both television and radio have broadcast endless tributes. Yesterday was marked indelibly by the outpouring of genuine emotion from all classes of French society. Paris was choked by thousands upon thousands of worshipers, lining the Champs Elysees and the surrounding areas including the magnificent Madeleine Church. Hundreds of Harley Davidson riders formed a rumbling procession following the cortege; the numbers of bikes restricted by having to apply for permission via the local dealer several days beforehand. Johnny loved his Harley. Three Presidents of France were present at the ceremony, and Emmanuel Macron gave the initial address from outside the church, to the multitude lining the streets. He called for a round of applause for Johnny, which was politely acceded, but soon the chanting of “Johnny, Johnny” erupted from everywhere in the streets. The Catholic service went on for hours, but was moving and dignified, with noted academics and actors all performing with sincerity. France has lost its foremost icon, and the grieving will go on for weeks and weeks.

The nearest equivalent I can remember is the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. It was over twenty years ago, and an even more worldwide event than Johnnys’. She had also become an icon, not least because of her failed marriage and her obvious unhappiness, but also because of her beauty, elegance and her working for good causes. She was surrounded by rumours of infidelity, and her war with the rest of the Royal Family, but that only served to give her the role of underdog and therefore even more popular support. She was the most photographed lady in the world and a medias’ dream. Her premature death was surrounded by intrigue, and doubts still remain, but she was adored by millions. Her funeral, too, was an amazing event, deeply moving, and a stirring of national emotion that we have not seen since.

So what do these two events tell us about ourselves? The French are a nationalistic race as much as we Brits. They needed someone with whom they could identify and admire as the forefront of Frenchness. The fact that Johnny was born from a Belgian father, and lived mostly in Los Angeles did not make any difference. His records were produced over almost sixty years, and he brought rock and roll to France by making copies of the American songs which the locals could understand. Parental admiration was passed on through the generations. He overcame a difficult childhood, the emotions of which he has since shared with his public. His stage act embraced the movements of Elvis, and his good looks and newness entranced the country. There is no doubt that he loved his audience, and that his multiple concerts were magnificent showbiz affairs attended by huge crowds. He gave his all to his admirers, even performing when physically unfit to do so. His voice was magnificent and his stage presence enchanting. And he, too, was flawed. His flirtation with drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and his five marriages were not his best features, but he seemed to be a genuine friend to many, and untouched by his fame.

Perhaps we can see, or would like to see, something of ourselves in these two. Not from the talent or the beauty perhaps, but the fact that success can come hand in hand with failures in other parts of our lives. They both gave us hope that there are good things in life that we can admire and enjoy. They provided a distraction from the less attractive features of modern day life, and we must all have wondered what it was like to be them. For us they lived an alien life which we could never attain, but to imagine was fun.

And so to our Queen.She has devoted her life to supporting her people, and has avoided controversy almost completely. We love her for always being there, looking contented and being a seemingly willing participant in what must be for her the most mundane tasks. A true servant of the British, and for so long. But will she have the same emotion at her demise? Respect and gratitude certainly, and a profound admiration for a job well done. Her send off will be a huge affair, attended by dignitaries worldwide.
I am not sure that the emotion will be as strong as for Johnny and Diana. Could it be that a privileged upbringing and automatic elevation to the cosy life of Royalty is so far away from us that we cannot conceive of it? We can identify with the troubles of the former, and admire their victory over the various vicissitudes. They had their problems, but overcame them to become admired and loved. I guess that is what being human is all about.

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