Posted by: kathandroger | September 10, 2017

The Barn is ours at last!

Doing anything which involves legal matters takes months in France. There is no point in getting wound up about it; just have another glass of nice wine and reassure oneself that all will happen in due course. Such it was with the barn across the road. We had not bid at the auction of the large plot of property which includes the barn on the “gentlemans’ agreement” that we would buy it from the new owner, thus enabling him to gain the property at a very good price. But that was nine months ago, and each time we asked about our purchase, some reason was given why things had not moved forward. Typically the project began only when we cycled with the local Notaire in one of our club rides recently. We knew him vaguely socially, and Kath had phoned his office a few days before to gain any news, and it must have had some effect as he confirmed we would be sent an appointment in the next few days whilst we were puffing up the local hills on our bicycles.

The Notaire has no direct equivalent in the UK. He is a qualified lawyer, who for some reason wants to spend his life poring over boring legal documents in front of bemused clients. His training, after the law degrees, takes many years, and he is authorized by the state although his business is run by himself, charging huge fees for his work which are recommended by the government. IMG_3836He has his own offices adorned by the Notaires’ badge and his own staff of several. A very secure and well paid job for life, but oh what a bore! We had to sit in front of his projected documents and go through them interminably for nearly two and a half hours, and all for a rotten (literally) old barn. Francois, the young vendor, attended with his mother and spent most of the time planning out his next gig as a disc jockey. The best bit was when we had to sign on the dotted line, not on paper but with one of the new fancy computer sticks!

Anyway, work has begun on the old building, and much cussing had been done trying to attach new weather shielding to old rotting timbers high up on borrowed scaffolding in wind and rain.IMG_3837And on top of that the washing had to be done and hung out right in front of my project. The dog loves to come and watch, but has a tendency to run onto the road, necessitating my angry descent from the apparatus and tying the animal to a post. She has learned how to bite through rope in minutes and is no help in the project! I reckon I have been up and down the ladder more times than she has scratched her parts, and now have thighs like tree trunks.

Posted by: kathandroger | September 3, 2017

Where did the summer go?

Suddenly it has all gone. A week ago we had 36 degrees and full sun, and it was imperative to dip in the pool several times a day to keep cool. Working outside was difficult and we all moaned about the heat. Today it was 9 degrees when we got up, and even now the measly 21 seems almost winterish. People are difficult to please, but I guess that September does mean the end of summer, and we should be thankful for the lovely weather we have had over the past few months. A problem with having guests each week is that the time passes so quickly, it seems only yesterday when our neighbours’ field looked like this.IMG_0856Now all is brown and heads have drooped. They remind me of sullen football fans after their team has been beaten in the last minute. We have only a few more weeks booked in the gites and then life will go into winter mode. But each season has its compensations, and it means I can slope off into the workshop and play with my tools. The chimneys have been swept, and the chainsaws sharpened for the new supply of winter logs to be cut. The leaves will soon be falling into the swimming pool and the frosts will kill off all our lovely annual plants. But what am I going on about? It is only early September after all, and it may be that we have another Indian Summer in the next few weeks. The river may suddenly be full of fish that I can catch, unlike the ones that have been laughing at my feeble attempts over the past fortnight, and there may be many more days careering around in the little open top car. But the swallows have started to leave us now, and no more will we be able to see the beautiful bee eaters by the waterside.bee eater 2

It only takes a couple of cold evenings for the typical British pessimism regarding the weather to come to the fore, so I will ignore the cold rain outside and go and pick some nice fresh beans for supper!

On a brighter note, the new Phyllis has arrived. We would call her a Maran in the UK, but in France they are known as Coucou. She is a timid soul, and much smaller than the remaining two of the original trio, and has yet to learn to roost in the hen house, but we expect her to settle down over the next few days.IMG_3834 (2) It will be interesting to find out if she lays the pretty speckled eggs like the British Marans do.

And finally, this is half of our pear crop from this year.IMG_3835The other one was partly eaten by ants but has been rescued for our breakfast tomorrow! No cherries, no apricots, no plums, no peaches, and only a handful of apples, all due to the late frost. How are we going to survive?

Posted by: kathandroger | August 27, 2017

Phyllis was Phillip!

We all make mistakes. Our new trio of posh chickens have been doing very well, and making friends with everyone they meet. They have also integrated with the others and all go to bed happily together in the hen house. But much as I admired the long and leggy Phyllis, the speckled Maran, there was something intangible which set her apart from the others.IMG_0904 (2) Early last week, just as we were rising, there arose a strange wailing from somewhere in the courtyard. A pitiful cry which lasted a few seconds and was then repeated several times. I leaned out of the upstairs window to identify the origin of the bizarre sounds, but could see nothing, and we ate breakfast pondering. The same thing happened the following morning, and was remarked upon by some of our guests. Phyllis was the perpetrator of the wailing, which transformed over the ensuing days  to the unmistakable immature crowing of a cockerel. Phyllis was really Phillip, and making his coming out statement to the whole world. He was ready to ascend to the top of the chicken family tree and become master of the multiple females; to be adored and lorded by his obeying minions and to live a life of opulence and adoration. Fat chance of that Phillip; no sooner had the diagnosis been made but Kath had phoned the posh shop where he came from to arrange for an exchange. It is the right thing to do, I have to admit, but I was a little sad to see a chap relegated from his potential presidency to being shoved back into the shop. We just can’t have the guests being awoken at daybreak by a raucous cock when they have come here to relax, away from their frantic lives at home. Sadly their was no replacement bird of the same breed, so Phillip is now replaced by a token which we can exchange for a new female Maran when the new stock comes in. We look forward to having Phyllis the Second.

Polly has been costing us a fortune at the vets again. Only a splinter in a hind foot this time, and a failed surgical exploration of the wound. The dressing must remain undisturbed for several days; a task nigh on impossible, and the foot must be kept clean. A big pile of sand has been delivered over the road to us, and the little dog loves sand. I have had to put a gate in front of my own sand pile to prevent her digging it all away. She disappeared yesterday and was found looking very happy but guilty on the summit of her new favourite place.IMG_3832Remarkably, we have just redressed her foot and all looks well!

Posted by: kathandroger | August 20, 2017

Posh Chicks and the fossil field.

Our flock of chickens had been decimated over the winter, by various deaths, and although Black and Decker, the new chicks, are doing well, we needed some new additions. Poor old Stumpy, the chicken with the malformed foot, who has feathers removed regularly by the wayward puppy, is still laying but well past her sell by date. We like to have different breeds of chick, and were looking at local markets, but when in the local Jardiland garden store in Chatellerault recently we were startled to hear chicken noises from the animal section. Sure enough, poultry seems to have gone up market, and there were lots of pretty birds for sale, albeit at a price we would not normally even consider. Now as it happens, three couples of friends had kindly donated the finances for our new flock as a present for my recent major birthday. Accordingly, Patricia, Phyllis and Sandra (named after the female donors) are now enjoying life as true free rangers in our enclave.IMG_3818We have never had posh chickens like these before. The only problem is that they have been raised indoors and are having difficulty in behaving like normal outdoor birds! Here they are trying to get into the gite to spend time on the sofa. But as a bonus they are very used to humans and do not mind being picked up; in fact they enjoy human company and Sandra, the Light Sussex in the foreground, flew up onto a guests’ lap whilst we were eating outside a few days ago, much to the surprise of both of them! Integrating new chickens into a flock is not easy. The old birds are loath to accept newcomers and will not let them into the hen house, and peck them when they try to enter. The trio have had to be retrieved from their hiding places in the orchard and placed into the house after dark, and eventually they will be accepted and start laying in a few weeks, hopefully in the house! They are a bit Sloan Ranger at present but will accept the country ways of the others in due course.

Since picking up some fossils in our garden, it is difficult to not look at the stones in the fields around us. After plowing and then heavy rain, all the new stones are thrown up to the surface and cleaned. We know that this area was once under the sea, and in the land adjacent to our house, at the periphery of the field where the sunflowers have not flourished, there are fossils literally every step.IMG_3822Many are not in good condition and not worth keeping, but they can be seen as old shells and sea urchins as well as lots of sponges. Even the sunflowers seem to be impressed at looking at the animals that lived here millions of years ago.

The weather took a turn for the worse last week, so it was back into the workshop to play. We have a few old fire extinguishers that have been laying around and are many years out of date. The obvious thing to do with them is make sausage dogs. I was hoping the casing would be steel, and suitable for welding, but it turned out to be alloy and the legs and head had to be pop riveted on. Nevertheless the end result is OK, and the next project is to make a bigger one from another extinguisher.IMG_3821The only problem is that the tube is a metre long and weighs a ton already. We shall have to get a crane in to move it into position!

Posted by: kathandroger | August 13, 2017

Horses, Pigs and Swimmers.

One of the very few things I miss about the UK is horses. I guess we could have one here in the field, but they are a lot of effort and expense and would not get much use. They are lovely animals, usually gentle and affectionate like us, but sometimes a bit stroppy and aggressive, like us. Our new neighbours’ parents Sandrine and Emmanuel, have a horse and carriage, and it was a real pleasure to have them visit a few days ago, as a half way stop between their home and his fathers’ home. IMG_3814 (2)The carriage is made in Poland, as apparently are nearly all carriages in France nowadays, and has the luxury of disc brakes and gas suspension! The horse is made in France and can be ridden as well as used for pulling, but I am afraid I have forgotten the breed. Her name is Victore, and she kindly left a good amount of manure for the garden before her departure. The pace of travel must be very relaxing, but not so for Emmanuel, who has to dismount at each blind corner to make sure the coast is clear. They had planned to travel off road for part of the trip, and were very confident after a fine lunch with copious rose wine. I am not sure about the drink drive rules for carriages, but doubt whether prosecutions are common. The French are very keen on tradition, and the reins are in light coloured leather, wheras the harness is in dark leather. This means that the driver is the owner of the carriage; if an employee was driving all the leather would be the darker colour.  Strange lot, these Frenchies!

Hunting is a winter sport here, and one pursued with vigour. Our Sundays are usually disturbed by shotgun fire all around, but the summer is silent. The wild boar, however, are very active and cause lots of damage in the maize fields surrounding us. We saw a lovely piggy family crossing the forest road we were travelling on a few nights ago, and evidence of their rooting can be seen by the roadsides. They give the locals an good excuse to hunt in the summer, and yesterday the local pack of hounds were baying next to the house.IMG_0901They live just over the hill from us, and must appreciate some summer exercise, though the likelihood of a boar being captured at this time of the year must be very small. Interestingly,, although there were some huntsmen with horns, presumably for recalling the dogs, most of the orders were given via the mobile phone as above by the chap in yellow. Times change, but technology is unlikely to outwit a wild boar I hope.

The weather recently has been poor by our standards, but a couple of weeks ago, after a spell of sun, the river looked good for a swim. With our guests and an assortment of boats, we swam the 2km from St Remy to Descartes. IMG_1940The water was nice and clear, and the only problem was the thick weed just before the exit point. The intrepid swimmers left the river at the canoe club upstream and paraded through the outskirts of the town in their costumes to meet with the rest of the party. A good day was had by all!

Posted by: kathandroger | August 6, 2017

The Frenchman’s Castle.

The best thing about France, for me, is the French. They have been so welcoming and helpful, and even tolerate my poor language skills. Everyone seems to have a smile, and we have been fortunate to make many French friends. But the French are different from us.

For a start they are the most regimented race I know. Things are always done on the same day, often at the same time, and for no good reason. Hence the huge traffic jams at holiday time, when they all emigrate to the coast together, at the same time. And when we cycle with our club, the routes are always in the same direction; and suggestion of doing them in reverse is met with scorn and disbelief. The television is always on in French homes, and any social occasion takes place with the dreaded machine in the background. But the most obvious feature of the personality of the race is the walls and gates that seem to be an essential part of any French home. No sooner has a house been built, often with a fine view, than a huge and often ugly wall is built around it. IMG_3811There must be something in the psyche which involves cutting the home off from all outside influences and interference. The height of the walls is always about two metres, enough to prevent prying, and they are usually made of those ugly cement blocks. This house belongs to one of the council employees, who is a delightful and congenial chap. but he obviously feels he needs his own castle. Incidentally the bonnet of my old banger in the picture shows my own furtive attempts at photos through the windscreen. The noise of the beast would be enough to waken any inhabitant. so a quick snap was taken before a hasty retreat! And gates are very important to the French as well. Often they are the first sign of a building being constructed, and sometimes they remain for years without any building appearing. Maybe money had run out, or some disaster has occurred, but the countryside is littered with fine looking entrances to nowhere.IMG_3812 (2)

All this isolation is a contrast to the more open living we had in the UK, when chatting over the low fence or hedge and waving to the neighbour  seemed to be normal behaviour. But this is in contrast to the countryside, where in England the fields tend to be small and bounded by endless hedging whereas in France fields are often huge.

There are exceptions, of course, to every rule. We have a very well kept and quiet cottage owned by some English friends over the road from us. It is very rare for anyone to walk down the road, and vehicles are once an hour. The garden is difficult to see into, and as it is on a tricky bend there is no time for a driver to look about anyway. The owners regularly relax and sunbathe for hours in complete solitude and are unburdened by intruders. So it is with some wonderment that for the second year we have been amused by another couple who hire the house hiding behind the open and veiled doors of their car, strategically parked, not in the garage, but to obscure their deeds. What can be going on behind open doors?

IMG_3810 (2)_LI

Posted by: kathandroger | July 30, 2017

Ratatouille, Rats and wrecked specs.

All of a sudden the garden is in full production. The tomatoes are large and ripening well, and this year we have no sign of the dreaded blight. I discussed the problem with one of the locals last year and he dismissed me as an English idiot when I explained that we did water the plants by a sprayer. His were only watered by a perforated hose laid on the ground, and he never gets the dreaded malady. My contrary mind thought this was all nonsense, as rain comes from above, doesn’t it? The explanation was provided by one of our guests, a gardener, who explained that rain water picks up various bugs as it penetrated the soil, and then when we water from the well, they are transferred to the plants. Sounds reasonable to me, so we water from the special hose and all seems well. The aubergines are in the tomato row, and we have had some whoppers.IMG_3803The garden helper was very pleased with herself.

Ratatouille is one of our favourite things to eat, especially in midwinter, and we, or rather, Kath, makes oodles of it at this time of year. With the ever reliable and numerous courgettes, and the tons of toms, the aubergines and chillies add the little bit of piquancy that we love. We will have to be a bit more vigilante in the garden in the next few weeks. The badger came in and ate all our sweetcorn last year, and I know he is still around by the new hole he has dug outside our neighbours’ house. And yesterday a young guest, Laurie, rushed in to tell me that the goat was in the garden and was that all right? Bloody Moins Dix had jumped the fence and had eaten some of the beans and was tucking into the petunias. He was not flavour of the month when I had to repair the fence just as night fell.

The other animal bent on destruction in Polly. Here are the remains of my favourite reading glassed which I found on the floor a couple of days ago.IMG_3804I reckon to be able to fix most things, but sometimes defeat has to be admitted!

The sheep and goat drink from a series of containers in the field which I fill from the well water via a hose from the well. As they drink, the level of the water goes down and any animal falling in has problems getting out again. Sadly we have found the odd toad that has succumbed, and several newts, but yesterday I was shocked to find three dead rats in the largest tub. IMG_3805Few of us like rats, and I am with the majority, but it was sad to see. I imagine that Daddy rat may have jumped in first and the others followed; or perhaps some sort of rescue party was organised. Rats can swim well I am told, and it must have been a slow and horrible ending for them. The dog was intrigued and took one off for further inspection, but I was upset, and will try and fix some sort of escape mechanism in the troughs for future visits. Let’s try to love all animals!

Posted by: kathandroger | July 23, 2017

Barns, the Play and Fossils.

We have nearly bought the old barn facing our house. It used to be used for farming purposes before our now deceased neighbour Francis filled it with old wrecked cars and assorted rubbish. It took months to remove all the bits and pieces, and now it is taking months for the legal processes to take place. This is France after all! However, we are about to start on the repairs and renovations to make it look a bit more respectable. Rain has got in and rotted a few timbers, but nothing that a bit of Roger Bodging won’t put right.IMG_3799I am glad that most of the other timbers are in good order, as there are quite a few of them.IMG_3798Meanwhile the dog has been taking things easy, especially when the temperature was in the mid thirties last week. It’s a dog’s life!IMG_3800

We live in an undulating area, but it was all underwater eons ago. So it is not unusual to stumble across the odd fossil on our walks. I have very little knowledge of fossils, but they are fascinating things and now I have difficulty in looking straight ahead rather than at the stones in the fields. I have picked up dozens, but here is a sample.IMG_3801A couple of sponges and a big shell. They are often seen incorporated into the local buildings.

Sadly we will not be performing any more in our Theatrical Group. We enjoyed doing five performances of our play in the local villages, but internal wrangles elevated to verbal fisticuffs between Madam President and Monsieur Secretary.  What a pity after a year of fun in rehearsals and so many comic moments; we has at least another four performances planned, and my part of a Spanish brothel owner was nearing perfection, at least in my eyes. Why did everyone laugh when I spoke? As the only non French member of the group it did my understanding of the language a lot of good, and latterly my fellow actors even seemed to understand what I was trying to say to them. How do friends lose the amicability that has endured for so many years, especially over trifling disagreements? As is common, the dispute led to sides being formed and battle lines drawn and there was to be no reconciliation. For me, it all seemed a bit silly and trivial, and a big price to pay for all the effort put in over so many months. I have remained neutral, but both parties are forming their own Theatre groups and I don’t want to choose one over the other so have retired from my acting career. It was short and unremarkable, but did give a good insight into the pleasures of performing, and I shall remember only the good times we had together. Thank you my French friends, for all the laughs we had together.


Posted by: kathandroger | July 16, 2017

Walking the dog and mog.

We are blessed with having lots of pretty walks from our back door. Some go up the hill, some go down the hill, and all have their charms. We have recently spent some time keeping tracks clear with secateurs, but in general the paths are open, and it is a very rare occasion when we meet another walker. We are surrounded by opening sunflowers at the moment, and this is the view from the shack on top of our land.IMG_0854The Sloe hedge in the foreground is now under control after attacking it with the chain saw last year, and it is a wonderful place to sit and watch the sun go down in the evening. We have yet to do it this year!

Polly the wayward puppy seems to have recovered from her illness and is newly off her steroid drugs. Her terrier awkwardness has resurfaced, and commands are only obeyed after a period of consideration. She does love her walks though, and Dennis the cat, having been raised by a dog, often comes along with us. So it was last evening when Kath stayed to do the watering of our dozens of plants, and Polly and I went on up the hill. It was only after a few minutes that I saw that Dennis was following us and he then seemed intent on ambushing the dog, jumping out of the bushes to attack his playmate. The dog is usually the aggressor in their fights, but in the bushes, the speed and agility of the feline makes her very frustrated and unable to follow her foe. It all settled down for a few minutes, with the dog and cat walking calmly along the track, and me speaking wise and worldly words to them both. There is something very settling in talking to dumb animals; they never contradict, listen intently, and to me seem to be both educated and inspired by my fine words. At least that is what I like to think. Polly will listen intently until a pile of something disgusting is scented. She then likes to roll over and over in whatever it is, usually old decaying and putrid. Dennis looks on in wonder at the stupidity of dogs and sometimes sits to preen himself in front of her. Their chasing each other then continued, the cat knowing that when we reached the road the dog would be on its lead and restricted in its hounding ability. We were walking quite peacefully along the road, beside a very steep bank up to the maize field, when Dennis attacked at speed and took the little dog by surprise. Vengeance had to be immediate and violent and Polly raced up the bank in hot pursuit of his feline foe. With such force that the extending lead I was using was wrenched from my hand and disappeared up the bank like a startled snake. Now, the maize fields are now about two metres high and cover several acres. The thought of our angry dog chasing the teasing cat through nearly impenetrable jungle filled me with horror; the dog would be lost and confused by the plants, and the cat would amble home looking self satisfied. There was no alternative but for me to climb up the steep bank and try to retrieve the animal. Needless to say my shoes were not fit for purpose and it was only after several slips and cusses and tugging on tussocks of slippery grass that I managed to ascend the dangerous climb, my fury being tempered by the need for rescue. In the time it had taken to climb the bank the animals could have been miles away. But as luck would have it, the long lead, and the circuitous route the cat had taken meant that the little dog had been snared within a few metres of the edge of the field. She was retrieved without problem, but there then remained the difficult descent back to the road. The bum is a useful piece of anatomy in these situations, and it was with a degree of inelegance but with a smooth slide that the road was reached. We made it home in one piece, the dog and I. The cat followed a few minutes later, looking very pleased with himself.

Posted by: kathandroger | July 9, 2017

Recent flowers and old junk.

The last month has been hot and dry. Too hot for me, as anything above 30 degrees seems to initiate a state of lethargy which is hard to repel. Even my new batch of home brewed beer is only of marginal help, but the freezer kept elderflower cordial is a bit more efficacious. It has been necessary to wallow in the swimming pool just to keep cool. Life here is hard.

But jobs still need to be done. The gate between one garden and our field was battered by a bored goat some time ago, and despite multiple repairs it was falling to bits. The thought of Moins Dix and his sheep flock friends munching all our garden vegetables was enough stimulus to make a new one. It is on a slope and had to be self closing, and I didn’t have any suitable timber in the wood store. There was an old oak ladder in the barn which was dangerous to use because of the thin rungs, so after bashing it apart, cutting it carefully to size and making joints with some thick doweling the new gate now sits proudly in the old fencing.IMG_3788 (2)It should see me out!

I have been begging for old metal to do some more sculpture. Friend Paul donated an old oil tank which weighed a ton and I could not move by myself. Luckily we had some very robust and willing guests staying with us and they moved it to outside the workshop.IMG_3775Like so many tasks in life, I had no idea how to cut the thing up, but was under orders to get the ugly thing out of the way as soon as possible. Old oil tanks contain old oil. Some of it is very thick and will not drain away, but still remains inflammable. It was probably not a very good idea to use my plasma cutter, which works at very very high temperature. Within moments the tank was ablaze, and thoughts of calling the Pompiers flew through my mind. Luckily the water hose was at hand and the flaming inferno controlled. After cutting one end out the very pleasant task of removing the residue took ages and I had filthy old heating oil in every crevice imaginable. But the task is now completed and I have enough metal to build a battleship. No more donations are needed thankyou.

The sunflowers are just coming out locally. The big field behind us is going to be magnificent in a week or two, and Polly and I strolled between the huge plants this morning. There is something wonderful about being looked at by hundreds and hundreds of flowerheads all pointing in the same direction, and the few drops of rain today on the large leaves made a sound like gentle applause all around us. Not for us of course, but for the wonder of nature. It was a lovely moment.

And our lilies in the corner of the courtyard are at their best now. With Trumpet Vine and the sweet peas the colours should clash. But nature never has clashing colours. Why is that?IMG_0844The constant watering needed over the past few weeks has been worth the effort. And the well hasn’t run dry yet!

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