Posted by: kathandroger | August 5, 2018

High Summer.

The canicule continues. Hovering around 37 degrees and making the countryside look brown and parched. I am brown and parched as well, but have to admit the heat is too much for me. All energy seems to be sapped by the weather, and after midday the only thing to do is relax in the hammock. Kath’s cousin and his wife stayed with us last week and Martin has just retired as a very hardworking head teacher. He managed to relax.IMG_0097. They have gone back now so I have my hammock back!

We have had fun and games with the gites as well. One guest managed to lock himself in his room and had to be rescued by ladder.IMG_0104 The fault lay in a defective lock mechanism which had jammed, leaving no alternative to hacking through the oak door to relieve the blockage. Then I replaced the mechanism with another I found in the workshop. The same thing happened the next day and the poor lad was trapped again. Much cussing from him and me. Even more hacking of door frame was needed this time but all now seems well although I am not sure he shuts his door now!

The heat means energy is lacking, but jobs still need to be done. The fishpond has been leaking more and more. I had hoped to put off the repairs until the autumn, but the flooding of the courtyard indicated more urgent measures were needed. Two days emptying the pool, of water, fish, plants and mud was not fun, but did keep the temperature down when I was covered in mud and slime! The dog thought it all great fun.IMG_0111, but she was not the one in the muck!IMG_0112 The cleaned pond then needed painting with a special two pack preparation which was very sticky and difficult to put on. Much of it somehow got onto my bare feet and legs, and has taken hours to get off! But hopefully the fish will have a watertight home when the paint is finally cured in a few days time.

The huge field behind our land has now been harvested. The wheat was good this year, but it is lovely to see the remnants of the previous crop still trying to hang on to existence.IMG_0106 The day after I took the photo the farmer sprayed the land to kill off all the unwanted growth. What a pity.

We went to Chatellerault last evening to see the balloon festival. It was the European Championships and a spectacle was promised. The event was due to start at 7pm, and the roads to the airfield duly jammed. After parking randomly in an adjoining field, we were told that the start had to be postponed because the air was too hot! The food available did not look interesting so we decided to pop back into the town because it would take hours before activities commenced. Duly we had a nice Italian meal, only to see all the balloons in the air before we made it back!IMG_1717. Never mind, we did see one being inflatedIMG_1730 and the band was good afterwards. It looks exciting, but I have to say my one trip in a balloon in Dorset was a bit of a disappointment. Up high, the ground looks flat, and the lovely silence is interrupted by the blasts of heated air needed to keep the thing flying. I shall stick to appreciating the countryside on foot!

Posted by: kathandroger | July 29, 2018

Animals.

We are surrounded by animals here in rural France. Both domestic and wild, they provide us with great entertainment. Not so much last week though, when the sheep, probably led by the goat, found that they could push their way through the gate from the field, trespass into out neighbours field and eat a new and interesting menu. If they did not express their delight by continuous baaing, they could have stayed the night, but the escape was soon discovered and they were shepherded home, and the old gate made more secure. Gates don’t deter dog and mog, who continue to play together, with the dog not realizing that she is larger than the cat and unable to get through the same size holes. Several high speed chasing incidents have resulted in a concertinerd Polly.
But a couple of days ago we had a glut of wild animal incidents.
On coming home in the car, we noticed five storks in our friend Manus’ field. We sometimes see them flying over, but rarely on the ground and never so many together. It is not the season for migration, so I guess they may be a family with young from a nest nearby. The birds have been different this year; we have more and more swallows, but I have only seen one Bee Eater and only a glimpse of a Hoopoe.
Polly the Airedale is great for demonstrating the local wildlife. She has yet to catch anything other than her squeaky bunny toy, but she does enable us to view the animal and bird population. I took her out the other evening, and first call was a family of wild partridge, Grey I think, and she had great fun chasing them though the sunflowers. We then came to a field of mowed wheat. Hares seem to be everywhere at the moment, and they are lovely creatures, with fur nicely coloured to match the corn, but a mistake has been made with those great big black ears! They often crouch down when spotted, but the ears are a giveaway. Anyway there were two in the one field, and for once our intelligent dog spotted them both. They were about fifty metres apart, probably in courtship, and the poor dog did not know which to chase first. Needless to say the chase ended with no hare being caught, and a confused dog wanting to understand where the second animal had gone. Hares have a wonderful way of running in a straight line and then when in cover changing direction completely. The poor dog always goes straight on and returns at last panting, confused and frustrated. But this evening another bonus was in store. No sooner had we entered a local secluded wood than she took off at top speed through the undergrowth. I heard lots of rustling and twigs being broken, and after a few moments a family of Red Deer careered across the path just in front of me. Two adults and two well grown youngsters, and then an outclassed terrier in pursuit. The Red Deer are so much larger an more impressive than the little Roe Deer that are more common, and it was a delight to see them. Dog exhausted again!
On returning home we passed through the sweetcorn fields by the house and noticed lots of plants near the path had been bashed down and the cobs eaten.
I guess it is the work of the wild boar, and would explain why there have been lots of extra hunts in the area recently to try to keep the numbers down. Apparently they can travel many kilometres each night, so it must be a fairly futile measure, but it keeps the hunters happy!
And finally a visit was made to our local famous Zoo at Beauval. The celebrity panda cub is rapidly growing and showing off to the world.IMG_1674 Wonderful to see, but I prefer our local fauna!

Posted by: kathandroger | July 22, 2018

The pigs playground and my French wife.

We have lots of dense woods around our house. The whole area is a bit of a mystery to me, because I am convinced that our grounds were once a fortress, perhaps of the same time as the fort in nearby St Remy sur Creuse which was built by Richard Lionheart. Only one tower remains of that great building, and our grounds certainly contain walls built of the same, non local, stone. The land opposite ours was once cultivated parcels of land which have now become overgrown into woods. The dug out edges of the plots can still be seen, and there are several small ponds which I guess were used for irrigation. Polly and I love to make our way through the dense undergrowth-there are no paths, and she loves to chase any of the small animals she finds there. One small pond, now a mud hole, has been used by some of the local wild boar.IMG_0080 Their footprints and rolling area are easy to see, and I hope our scent hasn’t put them off visiting their beauty centre.

I now have a French wife. She is the same one as before, but after the long and laborious process of application, she has been accepted as a French citizen. Her English learning students put on a reception for her a couple of weeks ago, and she was presented with the traditional French offerings of cheese, wine, a bagette and beret, and a strange certificate.IMG_1666
I am not sure what effect it will have on our lives, but she will probably get though the queues at airports in Europe quicker than me! Nationalism is a concept I have yet to appreciate, to me we are all the same whatever country we are born in, but I do recognise her desire to vote in the country in which we live.

One of the lovely things about France is the money and energy spent in making the local towns look good. In our local town of Chatellerault, huge amounts of money has been spent on the approaches to the town, with new avenues lined with flowers and newly planted trees. And in the village centre this huge creature made entirely of flowers on a frame has been constructed.IMG_1652
This photo was taken a month or so ago, and now it looks even more magnificent. The only problem with it is the number of motorists hanging out of the windows of their cars to gawp or to take pictures! There is some austerity in France, as in UK, but money always seems to be available to make our environment a more pleasurable place to be in. Adornments in a little town like Chatellerault add a smile to our lives.
And as for the garden at the moment, we have never had so much fruit. The larger apple tree has split in two with the weight of pommes, and the plums are arriving by the ton. I shall have to buy a fruit press.

Posted by: kathandroger | July 15, 2018

Football fever….and Hay fever.

I don’t really like football. Although I played the game for many years, and loved it, the modern professional game is spoiled by too much money and too much cheating for me. It seems that exaggerating injury and playing for penalties is as important as trying to win a game legally. However. the World Cup competition has been wonderful. Well done Russia, for putting on a great show, and well done the supporters for getting to that far off land, and for the real joy you have shown in following your team. Here, with France in the final, the excitement is at fever pitch.IMG_4008
With Kath having gained her French passport, the Union Jack has given way to the Tricolour, and our giraffe has been flying it for the past fortnight. We originally had a larger flag draped around its neck, but that one was stolen within days. The latter was stolen last night, so someone possibly thinks we should not be French supporters! They would have had to climb onto the wall and use some snippers to cut the flag free, and it is all a bit of a mystery. But the mood in the village is one of great optimism for the final this afternoon, and even the flowers are coming out in support of “Les Bleus”IMG_4001This lovely Chicory is from over the road, and even the vegetable patch has shown its support.IMG_4009The Globe artichokes have been rather neglected this year. A very different vegetable, but a real pain to prepare, and in out opinion not really worth the effort. But they look nice, and are a bit rough to handle, a bit like some of the French footballers. But what about Croatia, the opponents? Chapeau to a small country with only an indigenous population to choose from. They have some very good players, and I for one would like to see them win. Footy has become so international now, and it seems strange that I can remember the famous Celtic team of many years ago who won the European Cup with players all born withing 30 miles of Glasgow. So for me I would like the Croats to win a good fair and fast game. We will see later this afternoon, when the majority of the country will be inside watching their televisions.

Hay fever has been another feature of the past week or so. Not in the medical sense, but that every available field seems to have been mown for hay. Even long neglected pastures have been given the short back and sides treatment, and the balers have been everywhere. Having lost our first cutting to the storms, Manu, our local farming friend, has made some lovely small bales for me and we now have enough for the sheep and goat for the winter. All stacked in the new barn and looking good.IMG_4006
Polly has had her stitches out after her sterilisation and is back on top form again. She has even been forgiven for pinching the little one legged chick from its mother and playing with it like a toy. The chick succumbed, but its mother didn’t seem perturbed and is back in the flock as if it was the best outcome. She is probably right.

Posted by: kathandroger | July 8, 2018

Audrey, Villandry, and the one legged chick.

About a year ago we went to a party for a friends’ birthday. It was held in a smallish hall in one of our local villages, and a band performed. The singer was a lady called Audrey. She was not glamorous, she did not have an impressive voice, she was in her mid thirties and was very rotund. And she was wonderful, as were her fellow musicians. Audrey has a special charm about her, and her jazz songs were sung with impressive vocal timing in a manner very different from the usual raucous outpourings we have been used to. After that good evening we forgot about her, until one evening she was on the French TV competition “Ze Voice”, which is a well known national talent show for aspiring artists. Lots of razzmatazz and a big thing here. Audrey got to the semi finals and really made her mark. She now has bookings all over the country, and rather than singing part time, is now in the job she loves. Luckily for us, she is still a friend of our friend, and agreed to perform for us, this time outside in a much larger venue in Grand Pressigny.IMG_1678And this time the audience was packed.IMG_1680
Well done Audrey, we look forward to having known a star!

We were sitting under the stars last night at Villandry, one of the lovely Chateaux on the Loire. It was for the night of a thousand lights, an annual display which we have not seen before, and which half of France seemed to have attended when we finally managed to park the car.IMG_1692 The event allegedly began at about 9pm, but, as is typical in France, eventually started soon after 11pm. Just as well, though, as it was a firework display(which I don’t really care for) with well known classic music(which I love). The setting, around a large ornamental lake, was stunning, and the spectacle hugely impressive. It was ironic, thousands of us sitting on the banks of an ancient hand dug lake, checking I phones for the soccer scores before watching a computer controlled display of the latest incendiaries. What would the labourers of five hundred years ago thought if they had been there?

Back at home, Amber the chicken has finished sitting on her dozen eggs. Final score, several broken, one dead chick and one live chick. A poor show, but it was her first go at it, and sitting doing nothing for three weeks, other than to get off the nest for an impressive bowel evacuation, must be really boring.IMG_4004We only lifted her off the nest this morning and a few moments ago Kath informed me that the new chick has only got one leg. Now one of us can’t count. I reckon it has two, and if it walks rather than hops, I think my diagnosis will be confirmed. Anyway one is enough for us, as there is not enough room in the chicken house for more inhabitants. Amber has been sharing the her private room in the log store with a baby swallow which has clearly fallen from the nest before it could fly. Usually the babies just succumb, but this one has taken to perching on the logs, and is obviously still being fed by the parents. It has now progressed to hanging onto the wall, so flying may commence soon.IMG_4005This is the first time we have had swallows in the wood store, and they seem to be even more plentiful this year; sadly against the general trend.

Posted by: kathandroger | July 1, 2018

Canicular activities.

We are in the middle of the first canicule (heatwave) of the summer. Approaching the mid thirties and full sun. That is until last night, when having left all the soft outdoor furnishings uncovered because of the rainless forecast, we had a thunderstorm this morning! Still I guess the sun we are promised today will dry everything out.
But just because it is hot and difficult to work, tasks still have to be done. The sheep needed shearing and a French pal had promised to help me as he has two of his own sheep to deal with and wanted some lessons! The only problem was that he did not turn up. Luckily we have had some delightful Australians staying and Max, a ready for everything schoolteacher was willing to help. First lesson of sheep shearing is to catch the sheep before starting. Having set up all the kit, with a long electricity lead from the house, the bloody animals escaped from the little holding trap I had made for them. Rosemary, the one who has had 13 babies, is always a bugger to catch, and she knew something was up and was off under the fence like a greyhound from the trap! Only big heavy Hercules, the ram, was left. I am beginning to think he is a bit like myself, older and slower and less inclined to vigorous escapades. The old fella didn’t even mind when I started the shears and, with him still standing, started giving his big head a crewcut. He seemed to be thinking that the haircut was inevitable and as long as he stood still and upright then the torture could be endured. And that’s what happened, for the first time ever I sheared a sheep who remained upright and mainly motionless throughout the procedure! I think Max was impressed, especially as it only took about half an hour when the professionals do one sheep every minute. I left the others for another day, but to my surprise caught them in the trap with a bait of bits of old bread, and was able to shear the girls as well. No staying still for them, though, and the old trick of tying the legs together had to be employed. Flossie, became quite happy after she was released and even stayed resting in the comfort of her lightweight summer coat.IMG_3995
Yesterday was changeover day in the gites. For some strange reason I have been promoted to helping in the washing routine, namely carrying out and hanging up the washed bed linen. How can women do it so well and I struggle so helplessly to get big sheets to fit onto the washing line? This is yesterday’s sample, with Kath’s on the right and mine on the left.IMG_4000Maybe I will improve, or maybe I will be relegated to former tasks; I hope it is the latter!
Poor old Polly. After long discussions, we decided to have her sterilized. I had wanted to have a litter from her, but the Boss was quite right in saying it was not practical and would be too much trouble to look after a big litter of pups. So there she is IMG_3999all her womanly organs have been ripped asunder and she is no longer whole. We can console ourselves that nasty future illnesses have been prevented, but I am sad that her breeding potential has been curtailed purely for our convenience. Polly has expressed no opinion, but we hope she will soon be back to her hugely entertaining naughty self!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 24, 2018

Hammocks and Triathlons.

We have six hammocks here. All but one are for the guests, and they are well used. What a lovely bit of kit a hammock is! If only I had more time to use them. There is something super relaxing about the gentle swinging from side to side, especially in the hot weather we have been having recently. A couple of glasses of the local rose wine with a good lunch and then an hour or so of gently swinging recumbency is a pleasure beyond compare. We have a hanging cradle type of hammock which is my favorite. The wife spends most of the day in it whilst I get on with the daily tasks.IMG_3994
Actually that last statement is a complete porky, and she will kill me if I don’t explain that I asked her get in it for the first time today for a photo! The advantage of having only one suspending rope is that the view can be constantly changing, and the increased freedom of swing adds to the experience. But recently I have had a problem in using our own private hammock. As with everything, the dog wants to be involved. After showing her how the device should be used, she has decided that it is for her use only, and barks endlessly unless she is gently swinging as well!IMG_3992
She hasn’t yet managed a glass of wine whilst swinging though.

Friends Paul and Clare arrived this weekend from Luxembourg for the local Nouatre Triathlon. Only the lady of the party was competing, with her husband being the team backup man. Triathlon is a sport which has blossomed over the past twenty or so years, and consists of a swim, then a bike ride and then a run. Distances vary, from the short “sprint” distance of 400 metres swim, 20km ride and then 5km run, to the “ironman” distance of 2.4miles(4km) swim, 112 miles(180km) on the bike, and then a full marathon (42km)! Yesterday it was the Olympic distance of 1500m swim, 40km on the bike and 10km run. It was hot and windy, but the swim down the river Vienne was aided by a good current so time in the water was shorter than normal. The little village of Nouatre comes alive for this one day a year, with competitors coming from all over France and Europe. This was the 35th running of the event, and one which the wife would still be doing if she wasn’t hampered by not being able to run anymore. I would have done it myself if I had been twenty years younger, fitter, and more inclined to self torture. But Clare done good!triathlon Second in class and fourth veteran lady and very pleased with her time of under three hours. Chapeau.

Posted by: kathandroger | June 17, 2018

Eating Pigs nostrils at the village fete.

We have just come back from the village fete. This annual event is the only one which reliably brings most of our neighbours together, and is often cancelled for inclement weather. Not this year though, with some unusual sunshine and fairly warm weather and a good turnout. At our first event, nine years ago, I was subjected to an alcoholic assault from our friend Guy, which resulted in my legs not working when we tried to walk on the candle lit procession around the village. My frequent stumblings were noted by our new French friends, and each year I am reminded of my failings. It meant we made our mark though, and at least most of the local residents know who we are! This evenings’ event was as usual, a short speech from the mayor, and then some complementary drinks before supper.IMG_1626
Everyone brings their own meal, but these are inevitably shared around the table. Ours was fairly mainstream, with melon and ham and then some local quiche and couscous, but we were pleased to be offered some pigs nostrils from some other diners.IMG_1622
I have to admit that a pigs’ nose is not on the top of my culinary wish list, but they were quite tasty if a little unremarkable. Still, it is another French delicacy which can be added to the “have eaten* dishes. And I have to add that despite the flow of aperitifs and wines, my legs were still in working order after the meal.
But that was yesterday. Today was the annual cycling club picnic. And all this after a rain affected barbeque for our friend Pauls’ birthday on Friday night. Life is difficult here with all this eating we have to do. Anyway, at the crack of dawn we were off to a local town leisure centre to begin our ride at 8am.IMG_1642 Needless to say, everyone was there on time-the French do love their regimented regimes-and we began our 80 kilometre spin around the surrounding countryside. I have to say that it did make me puff a bit, but it was the ideal way to work up an appetite. Aperitifs were started at about noon, mainly sparkly wine to celebrate John-Claudes’ 70th birthday, but these had to be taken with nibbles of all sorts, which really was a meal in itself. The now showered and refreshed party installed themselves in a pretty corner of the park in readiness for the real meal to begin.IMG_1650 Exactly at the arranged hour, the “Traiteurs” van arrived and all the prepared delicacies were beautifully arranged. I always find it a little confusing with all the different traditional courses, but an suffice to say that their were six dishes, all washed down with the appropriate wine of course. The meat did not include any noses, but did have some lovely rare beef,which the French do so well.IMG_1648 Polly the dog did well also, with all the tough bits being donated surreptitiously under the tables. The meal finished at about 4.30. Incidentally, it is interesting that the dog will only eat her own food when nothing more interesting is available, and even then she doesn’t mind sharing it with Dennis the cat!IMG_1603

Posted by: kathandroger | June 10, 2018

Double trouble and dotty Dotty.

My three year old twin grandsons have just left after spending a week with us. And two other boys aged two and four. All with parents of course, but the change in our tranquil life was profound to say the least. We had been used to excessive noise earlier on in the year before the demise of our cockerel, but this was different noise from multiple sources. Having had four children, I was used, I thought, to the demands of little ones, but time erases the intensity of the explosion of youthful vigour. They are lovely little boys, very different and very inquisitive.IMG_3987
Getting them to sit down for a few seconds was a task in itself, and they were much more interested in the quad bike and the lawn mower. Mind you, Polly the dog is more interested in the quad bike as well and refused to be left our when we had a little ride around the orchard.20180608_154052
The cries of “faster, faster” were not only from the twins, but also from Polly, but the thought of impaling my offspring on the overhanging fruit trees required some mature prudence. The swimming lessons went well, too, and it is a great pleasure to see any of our young visitors getting more confidence in the water. Not quite Olympic standard yet, but running well in the water aided by good flotation jackets. Maybe I should get one for my pathetic efforts in Chatellerault swimming pool. Not too much damage was done to the homestead, and severe grandfatherly reprimands for pulling the flowers to pieces were reluctantly obeyed. I did feel very guilty when telling little Ted off, causing him to burst into tears, but he soon forgave me and we made up by visiting the chicken house and collecting eggs. One visit to the Chateau de Rivau was a real hit; it is not one of the better known buildings, and a bit quirky, but is designed for kids, especially the gardens, with lots of games and special adventure areas. They have all gone back to UK now, and the place seems not only quieter, but somehow lacking in energy… but then so am I!

The new chickens have settled in really well. It was good fun to sit on the terrace and watch them go into their house at night. We have an automatic light sensitive door, which they seem to anticipate to the minute. Bets were laid, but the adults, over which would enter first, but they must have been watching because the door closed before the last pair were in last night which meant lots of chasing with the landing nets to catch and replace them. Chickens are not the most intelligent of animals. Dotty, so called because of the flecked feathers-she would be called a Maran in UK, is particularly lacking in chicken brain. Or perhaps she just likes to be different. Anyhow, she has decided that the correct place to lay her lovely brown eggs is on the windowsill of the gite lounge window.IMG_3986
What she has not considered is that the windowsill is on a slope, and her eggs fall off and smash on the lawn below. That is good news for the dog, but not for us. I have put a ledge of wood up yesterday to try and preserve our supply, but no doubt she will then go elsewhere to lay!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 3, 2018

Spoiled Hay.

Our little flock of sheep need hay for the winter. After culling, we will only have the couple of ewes and Hercules the ram, oh, and Moins Dix the goat of course. But they do love their winter hay, and get through a bale or so every day. Until this year it has never been a problem; Manu,our local farmer and neighbour, makes some lovely stuff in May and I pick it up fresh and dry from the field on the trailer and stack it in the barn. But this year…disaster! We have had very unseasonal storms over the past fortnight, and in the few hours after the hay was baled and available for collection, we were in the middle of a weekend changeover in the gites and could not get there. Since then we have had daily rain and the little bales have become sodden and spoiled.IMG_3980
Manu reckoned that they may dry out in the barn if not stacked, but I fear we are beyond that now. Although the centre of the bales is still OK, there is mould on the top and dampness coming up from the bottom. I hope he can make some more for us before the grass is too old.

Having been burgled for the first time a few months ago, I thought we ought to hide Kaths’ car from the passers by on our little lane. A little enclosure was made in the big barn we now own, a task which may have been easy for a coal hewer used to using a pickaxe, but a real pain for myself. Digging holes in old and dry barn floors is not easy, and the words of self encouragement that it is good for my general fitness did not weigh well after the first few holes. But it is all done now and is reasonably straight, and gives us a space for the hay (if it ever arrives), as well as the 2CV.IMG_3981 The only snag so far is that Kath is not convinced that her precious machine will be better off there, and has hidden it in our neighbours’ garage!

All this rain has been a pain for the hay, but good for the garden. The broad beans sown last autumn have nearly all been picked, and the peas are the best we have had.IMG_3982 The other crop which has done well is the Globe Artichokes,IMG_3983 something I have had little experience of but of which Kath remembers as a pain to prepare when she was training on her cooking course in Paris. And she is right! I tried the simple way of just boiling the things and eating the flesh off the leaves. That is quick and effective, but not all that tasty. The proper way, peeling the leaves off, getting to the tender centre and shelling out the seeds, means that almost all the head is discarded and a tiny little heart is all that is left. Quite tasty but I am not sure it is worth the effort. The French will differ, and seem to love to take hours to prepare any sort of food. I will try to be a little more like them when I am covered in artichoke leaves!

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