Posted by: kathandroger | September 30, 2018

Constance, cows and Fairy Rings.

We have just got back from visiting son Tom and his lovely family in Germany. The trip only takes about eight hours on the motorways, including stops to let the dog pee and the passengers pee. He is lucky enough to live in the Black Forest in southern Germany, a beautiful part of the world and organised in typical efficient German manner. His home is in a holiday resort, with lots of cycling and hiking around the well signposted paths and skiing in winter. Poor lad. His wife Anke used to work at Lake Constance, another couple of hours away, so we spent a night there as well. Another lovely part of Germany on the third largest lake in Europe which looks like a sea. The thing that struck me most about Constance was the clarity of the water and the lack of litter that we have become used to. And the fact that everyone was on a bicycle! Big ones, small ones, and that is just the people. It seems that age is no barrier to cycling, just add a battery and off you go. We spent some time drinking coffee and watching the world go by and realising that there are lots of people older than me in the world! Constance is well worth a visit, for the fountains,IMG_1824 and the ambiance.IMG_1821

But back to the Black Forest. The walking trails are magnificent, and very well signposted. The only drawbacks being the steepness of the mountains and the fact that wolves have been reintroduced, presumably to hasten the progress of the hikers. We didn’t see any wolves, and anyway our fearless dog was with us, but we did see some lovely cows.IMG_1809 They seemed to appreciate how lucky they were in the sunny meadows, and were keen for a friendly chat, but their accent defeated me.
And after the one night of heavy rain, the fungi had raised their pretty heads. We came across this pretty fairy ring high in the mountains and had to wade across some boggy marsh to take the photos. IMG_1790 They looked a bit poisonous to me, so I picked a few for the wife, but she was not keen either.IMG_1797. A walk in the Black Forest really is magical, a huge natural land that seems to change from deepest pine woods, to Beech woods, to pasture.
Like all trips, the time seemed to pass too quickly, but it was a real pleasure to spend time with family and especially the rapidly growing potentially bilingual grandchildren.
We took a couple of days to wend our way back to France, and I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to drive on the almost empty roads of central France. With the autumnal sunshine illuminating the colour changes in the trees, it was a joy to drive. We visited the spectacular Abbey at Vezalay, and even managed to stop at the equally pretty town of Sancerre to look around and buy some wine. Great trip, and we must now prepare for winter!

Posted by: kathandroger | September 23, 2018

Yes we have no Bananas…and History.

Several years ago we rescued some Banana plants which we cleared out from the Ethni Cite site at our local St Remy sur Creuse village. The plants had become rampant on warm and sheltered gardens there, and needed to be thinned out. As we were looking to adorn our courtyard at the time, we planted three in pots. They have done well, being brought inside for the winter, and are an exotic addition to our garden. And this year one of them has decided to come into flower.IMG_4065 Funny old plants, the banana, the huge bud will grow and then bend over to show the developing fruits. Actually there is no chance of that as it is already mid September and they need up to 100 days to develop. But is was interesting to see the plant have a go and show us what it is capable of in warmer climes.

It is strange how our interests change with the passing of the years. At school I hated history, because it was all about dates and I could never remember them. And Jim Melican who sat near to me always knew them all! But now history fascinates me, although I still cannot remember dates. Our land at the back of the house contains the remains of what I am convinced is an old fortress, possibly from the time of Richard Lionheart, who build a fort just the other side of the hill in St Remy. Our stone walls can still be seen, and the stone is certainly not local. Anyway, it was the “Journee de Patrimoine” on Sunday, an annual event when all the local historical attractions are open at reduced rates. I visited our local little museum at Buxeuil, with the dog. She was not very interested, but to me it was fascinating, particularly the history of our surrounding area. The very helpful curator showed me an old map, the first known of the area, and I hoped I may see some sign of our fortress.IMG_4064 Our property is in the middle and called “Blardiere” and there are some strange symbols around it. I had hoped that they meant “ancient fortress”, but in fact they only mean “hamlet without a church”. These maps are from the first complete mappage of France, commissioned by Louis XV between 1756 and 1789, and were instituted by a chap called Cesar-Francois Cassini. What an interesting man. He followed his father into the trade, and was followed by his son, and began making a name for himself by measuring huge distances and correcting the errors of his predecessors. He was a chum of Isaac Newton, one of my heroes, and internationally lauded. He understood geodesic triangles, which I don’t, and spent his life measuring and charting. He died of smallpox aged 70, a few years before the Revolution, and missed all his measurements being changed into metres. I am only sorry that he missed our fortress in the wood, but I guess 600 years between its construction and his maps is a good enough excuse.

Posted by: kathandroger | September 16, 2018

The reluctant migrant.

Mid September and our swallows have all gone. The last pair proved to be a bit difficult, with one of them flying off into the distance as soon as it could, but the other seemed to want to stay with me in my workshop. Each morning I expected the last bird to have flown, but it was more than a bit reluctant.IMG_4059
I can only guess that he enjoyed watching me at play, cutting, welding and generally making lots of mess and noise. Or maybe he just liked the radio. Anyway even when mum arrived to give him his latest high energy food for his impending trip he preferred to stay in his comfy nest. Mum watched from her perch and tried to talk some sense into the reluctant migrant, but to no avail.IMG_4054 (2)
Eventually she seemed to have had enough of this prevarication and came to give him a real talking to.IMG_4060 I cant’t understand swallowese yet, but I reckoned the gist of the conversation was something like this..”now listen to me, young man, we have got to make a long journey to reach another land. You will have the pleasure of soaring over mountains and plains with loads of your new mates, and will see sights you have never even dreamed of. You will see Spain, with the thousands of Brits flocking to the coast, you will see the sea, you will see a great big beach called the Sahara, and we will then fly over a big place called Africa to arrive in a land full of lovely stuff to eat. And I promise you can come back next year and watch Roger playing in his workshop.” It seemed to do the trick. Reluctant swallow left yesterday. I was sad!
So what has been going on in the workshop? The spuds we had stored in bags had started to sweat and go rotten. My mistake for choosing old feed bags with a plastic liner. We needed to dry them again, and I realised we had an old bed in the barn which would be ideal for drying both spuds and onions. Never throw anything away! I have welded a couple of wheels to one end and we now have a mobile vegetable dryer!IMG_4053 Kath has bought some hessian sacks and the tates should be good for the winter now.
The garden itself is looking good.IMG_4061 The tomatoes are coming to an end, but the squash, which I grow in between to rows of toms are excellent. It is a bit of a pain to keep the squash leaves off the plants, but it does provide shade to the roots and we don’t need to water the plants much. The root row, beet, black radish, parsnips, carrots, spinach etc, will stay the winter, and the brassicas this year have so far been spared the dreaded caterpillars. The other rows will be ploughed in a few weeks. The leeks have been planted in deep furrows, which were then earthed up and we now have some ready to eat, with long white, hopefully delicious stems. We both love the root crops. bit it does mean that autumn has come. Never mind, it is full sun and 25 degrees today. Life is not too bad!

Posted by: kathandroger | September 9, 2018

The Toad, Hair and Fungus.

What a strange week. No guests until yesterday and the place feels empty and unfulfilled. But we still have the lovely sunny days of early September, with fresh mornings and the flocks of wheeling swallows getting ready to leave us. I took Polly the dog fishing in the canoe in the week. She caught nothing, but neither did I, and the bloody animal jumped on my favourite fly rod and broke it into several pieces. Never take a girl fishing. But to get the canoe out of the cellar we cane across Crappy the Toad. He is the oldest toad in the village, and is very much looking his age.IMG_4044 I was struck with despair at the deterioration in his condition, and had to go straight to the garden to dig some worms for him. After looking at his potential meal for some moments, one was devoured, but the big one made a run for it (can worms really run?) and was gone into a crack in the dirt floor before you could say “run for it worm”.IMG_4045 Crappy looked much better afterwards and seemed to want a glass of port and a fine cigar, but I had fishing to do.

With our recent rain and then the warm weather, the local mushrooms should be coming into season. I shall try some new ones this year, but probably not the puffballs that we have tried in the past. I knew that fungi produce lots of seed, but was astonished to find this old puffball in our field, which had hardened, split open beautifully, and was discharging literally millions of spores.IMG_4050 What a clever thing is nature.

Kath has been working hard in the gites, and I have been digging up the road outside the house. The gravel from our drive tends to spread all over the outside area, and I wanted to tidy it up. I am not sure that the road authorities would have approved of my using the heavy cutting disc to remove chunks of tarmac, but it does look much neater now.IMG_4049 Anyway, we were both feeling a bit exhausted, and looking forward to a good night’s sleep, when some weird noises prevented our slide into somnolence. I opened the window, but could hear nothing. Then the music started, obviously Mozart, and coming from our kitchen downstairs. Feeling very aware of my nudity and timidity I crept down to find the CD player on and the dog looking guilty. Either she adores the “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, or she accidentally pushed the start button whilst chasing an errant wasp. I guess the latter.

One of the pleasures of living here is that I have my hair cut by a friend who has a business visiting people at their homes and making them look more beautiful. It had been a long time since the last shearing, and Katia arrived on time as usual to trim my long locks. It is strange how we think (us men that is), that we still have load of hair. Katia does a very good job, and it is a pleasure to chat to her, but the clearing up afterwards is my task. I had thought that to clear all the fallen hair would be a bit like clearing the autumn leave and take ages. In fact, this was all there was after the operation.IMG_4046 (2) And to make matters much, much worse, she asked if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed, as they were apparently very long. It appears that the majority of the hair on the floor had come, not from my head, but from those ageing eyebrows! Life goes on.

Posted by: kathandroger | September 2, 2018

The French can’t count!

I never really liked doing my sums at school, but there was an exactness about the subject that could not be denied. It all seemed simple really, and numbers meant something definite. Not so in France. Elsewhere in the world, a week is seven days, and therefore two weeks is fourteen days. Not so in France! Here two weeks is “quinze jours” which is fifteen days. So if a holiday is for a fortnight, here you have an extra day somehow. I guess it is related to being able to “faire le pont”(making the bridge), whereby a Public Holiday which is close to the weekend means that the days in between are also taken as days off.
Anyway, it is not only in days that the French can’t count. I love my vegetable garden, and try always to keep it neat and regular. I rarely succeed, but when I buy plants by the dozen, I used to make a dozen holes to put them in.IMG_4041 Now it says very clearly on the box that there are twelve plants. So having made twelve holes, what do I do with the three plants that are remaining? Cuss a bit, then move all the holes, or make another row unequal to the rest? There are always fifteen plants in a box of twelve! Having bought many plants I am now used to the discrepancy, and it is much nicer to have more rather than less of a product than advertised. The French can’t count.
And our dog is French too. And she can’t count. Kath was amused by a video showing a dog solving the treat under a cup trick. Our Polly is a clever girl, and so we thought it would be simple for her to emulate the video star.IMG_4042
I am sorry to report that our cunning canine can’t count. She failed the test.

Autumn seems to have arrived with the month of September. The mornings are chilly although the days soon warm up nicely. Our swallows are still around, and one nest in the workshop has a couple of chicks still being fed and it will be another week or so until they will be fit to fly.IMG_4040 The swallows can’t count either; I fear that these last two will be too immature to make the long flight back to Africa in a few weeks time. But we must console ourselves that we have had dozens and dozens of the beautiful birds this year and we hope to welcome them back after the winter. Whereas most birds seem to tweet, the swallows really do seem to chat to one another, and the sight of them swooping to deter the wandering cat, shreiking their warning cry, is one of my favourite summer sights.
But one time the French can count is when we order cakes or bread. I have never been given fifteen croissants when ordering a dozen. Who needs to order a dozen croissants though, when we can have lovely big loaves like this “Boule”.IMG_4043.
To be fair, this was bought for the eight guests in our smaller gite, but it was a good reminder of what is wonderful in France. I love the place.

Posted by: kathandroger | August 26, 2018

Too much fruit!

We have good years and we have bad years in the orchard. This year is exceptional. Often, the promise of the lovely spring blossom is spoiled by the ferocious frosts of February and March, but this year we have been spared of natures’ pruning. Now, in high summer, we have loads of produce and the problem is what to do with it. The plums are pendulating IMG_4035 the apples are arching from the boughsIMG_4037 and the pears have produced an act of self mutilation from the sheer weight of their bounty.IMG_4036
But what does all this mean for us? Lots of clearing up of rotten fruit, chickens fed up with eating, and us suffering the effects of all that fibre in the diet. Walks with the dog in the early morning have frequently been punctuated by sudden calls of nature which are not pretty to watch, and I am pleased we do not live in Regents’ Park! I have thought of buying a fruit press, but all the juice will probably leak in the freezer and the wrath of the wife in those situations makes the process intolerable. Cider seems a good idea, but I am not particularly keen on the drink and it is cheap to buy anyway. The grapes will soon be ready to harvest, and grape juice is simple to make, so I may stick to that. Otherwise the compost heap is just going to get bigger and bigger and the vegetable patch next year may produce another mini orchard!
Wasps and hornets are common at the moment. Each of us has been stung, both whilst on the bike, and Kaths’ feminine front was attacked by a beastie which managed to find itself caught in her cleavage. Her cycling style, usually so smooth, was heavily hampered by efforts to eliminate the intruder, and the result of the assault was interesting to behold. She now cycles in her wetsuit.
In the garden, the wasps seem to be celebrating their assault, and have begun a honeycomb on the garden statue my girls at the office bought us on my retirement.IMG_4034 I am not sure if they are the same wasp family which attacked us, but they do seem to have an attraction to the female form!

Posted by: kathandroger | August 19, 2018

All along the River.

We live near to the river Creuse. There are lots of villages along the river, and events happen in each of them during the summer. There are firework displays, car boot sales, various exhibitions and general fun and games.
Last week we went to Lesigny, a few villages upriver, for the annual old car rally. Kath and I had spent the morning cycling with the club for four hours, so were a bit late, her in the old 2CV, and me in my old kit car. What a lovely event. In the middle of nowhere there were over 300 old cars, of all shapes, sizes and nationality, and loads of general eating and merrymaking.IMG_1736 The French have a natural talent for setting up tables and having a full on party lasting all day!IMG_1737 We only stayed for an hour or so, with the dog being admired sitting like lady muck in my car, and her smiling for photographers. Then it was off to another two exhibitions in Grand Pressigny, on the river Claise, a tributary of the Creuse. Lots of old car bits and rusting tractors. The wife was not amused, and decided to leave me and the dog to inspect the craft exhibition in the Chateau. She toured our lovely countryside in the little 435cc car on what was a most perfect summer day, and we met later at home.

In our own village the annual play in the troglodite caves has been running over the past few weeks. My thespian capabilities, having been displayed last year with another group, were called into service, and I have been playing the
Count of Belardy in a murder mystery. All in French, of course, and some of it in patois, so it has not been easy. At one stage I have to talk about a mortal attack with a pitchfork, a “coup de forche”. The problem is that “coup” in French is very like “cul” to the English ear, but the latter means arse! You can imagine which word came out this week! Much merriment for the French. But the play has gone well, with all the writing being done by the troupe, and the costumes all being specially made by the cast.IMG_0123 This is Guy, the President of the group, who works tirelessly for the Ethni Cite village troglodite Assosiation. We fear that he may retire from his post and that the organisation, which is mainly run on a voluntary basis, may be closed. It will be a great pity.

But the river has other charms. Having bought an expensive fishing permit at the start of the year, my first sortie was made this week. A friend has a lovely summer house on the banks of the Claise at nearby Chaumassay, and encouraged me to use it. Why is it that I specialise in catching what must be the smallest fish in every river I fish in? Within moments, the maggots which, against the wife’s wishes, had been kept in the fridge, proved their worth with a bleak of at least six centimetres in length. Easy fishing, I thought, I will put this little one back, then catch another to use on a big hook and catch a Zander-a fish I have never caught, but which taste delicious and are found locally in this river. I reckon that Mr Bleak rushed back and told all his mates about the dangerous Englishman and his intentions. No more fish, but a lovely afternoon on a lovely river.IMG_0124 As I have to say, it is not just about catching fish. I did see my first Hoopoe of the year on the way to the river, and a Kingfisher rushed by and laughed at my ineptitude!

Posted by: kathandroger | August 12, 2018

La Chasse.

Hunting is very popular here. The season is mainly in the winter, and is strictly controlled. But exceptionally permits are granted for hunting the wild boar in summer. There are lots of them in the area, and we have often seen families of pigs crossing the woodland roads at night. They do cause some damage to the crops, particularly the maize, and nearby there are signs of grazing on the now ripe cobs. So the hunters have an excuse for summer slaughter.
Yesterday morning we were woken by the sounds of baying hounds. I had been told that the hunt would be nearby, so went to investigate. “Bloody ell”, I thought, the whole of the district had invaded our little tracks.IMG_0116 There were cars and vans everywhere, especially the little white vans that every self respecting hunter must have. And there were rows and rows of chaps in their fluorescent red jackets lining the edges of the maize.IMG_0117
I had arrived by bicycle, a bit puffed, and bid “Bonjour!” to the nearest warrior. “Ssh” was the reply, and he gave me a fierce look. I guessed I was not his favourite observer, so cycled a bit down the lane and found my chum John Claude. He is a lovely chap and was very happy to chat. Apparently there were about sixty hunters that lovely summer morning, who had all started at about 7am, had been assigned their positions and were waiting for the wild animals to emerge from the cover of the crop to be greeted by a bullet in the head. The flushing out was done by our local hounds,kept just up the road at the goat farm. Some of them must have been in the maize, but the only one I saw only wanted IMG_0119to have a pee on one of the vans!
Lots of dog noise, lots of chaps standing around with guns and very little else. But it was a glorious morning and a pleasure to be outside. Bored after the several seconds of observation, I made my way home and took the dog for a walk-in the opposite direction to the hunt but up the hill so that we could monitor any action. There was none. After a couple of hours there was lots of hoots from the hunting horns and red clad chaps meandered off with hanging heads. No slaughter today.
I used to hunt in the UK. Mainly on expensive Pheasant shoots which rich patients had invited me to, and occasionally on the local fox hunt when the horse was in good enough condition. I loved it, but now don’t want to kill wild animals any more. Here in France hunting is done for the pot mainly, and the huge number of birds killed as in the UK, does not happen. Our local chaps may kill the odd brace of birds and even the many deer found locally, but it is all divided up and eaten by the hunters and their families. The boar shoots are different with powerful rifles needed, and sometimes they are done in the many large estates, in which animals are released and prevented from escape by the wire enclosures. The hunters just have to wait for the zoo animals to appear and slaughter them from their elevated platforms. Horrible.
I guess the summer boar hunts give the chaps an excuse for a gathering of like minded hunters, and probably a few drinks afterwards. As for preventing crop damage it really is like farting against thunder-boar can travel 50 km a night and I bet there were none in that maize to begin with. Sanglier 1 Hunters 0!

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!

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