Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reality check


It is only too easy to forget, living in our lovely, private valley that there are two reasons for having sheep in our fields. First, they exist to eat the grass so the golf fairways do not need to be mowed every other day. The second is for the ewes to give birth to lambs which we feed, then kill to eat.

For many years we were intermittently protected from this reality because various third parties dealt with the problem, selected the lambs, took them away and paid us. The other way of avoiding the reality was to sell live lambs to engraisseurs, keep a few for friends, ourselves. But I still had to take those to the abattoir and get the carcasses cut up.

Then, a great stroke of luck! An organic co-operative decided to hire a butcher. His task was to select and collect animals, take them to the abattoir and cut up the carcasses ready for sale. The various joints were vacuum packed, weighed and labelled. This made it so much easier to sell – half a lamb, pre-packed, freezer ready.

This butcher, the best 'third party' of all, invested heavily in a laboratoire, so that he would meet all sanitary and bio regulations. Unfortunately, success went to his head and he quickly opened a butcher's shop – not in a good location – and started to visit local markets.

Of course, he equally quickly went spectacularly bust, six zeros if one can believe local rumour. Of course I felt sorry for him – but slightly less than I felt sorry for me, back at square one. Fortunately, in 2012 I was put in touch with a young farmer who was just starting to breed Clun Forest sheep – he bought all the lambs with great enthusiasm. Promised to buy this year's lambs, so I was quite serene. Silly me.

But another engraisseur who lived closer by was a retired sheep farmer who missed his sheep. So he took all bar five that I kept for autoconsommation. Audrey, Alexandre and I (actually mostly A&A) had to work out a way to get the lambs to the local abattoir and then to find a butcher. By leaning on friends, discussing euro charges, the lambs got taken to the abattoir and we found a butcher who would help.

However, we ourselves had to pick up the carcasses, in my car. I vacuumed the boot, lined it with sheets and off went, Alexandre and I, arriving at the secretariat at 08.30 a.m as instructed. The secretary was there. I paid the charges and asked if the carcasses could be loaded.

The secretary said the director had gone to have a blood test. We asked when he would be back. She did not know because he had just gone for his blood test. We commented how unpleasant this was, a blood test on an empty stomach.. All she knew was that he was gone for a blood test. Every time Alexandre grew a little taller, leaned over her slightly. She got the point: blood test or no, we were not leaving without our lamb carcasses. She asked Alexandre if he thought he could carry the carcasses – he said, of course. Sigh.

Alexandre was garbed in a plastic jacket to save his clothes and we were duly given our four lambs. They looked beautiful. When we got them to the butcher, he said they looked beautiful. After he had jointed the carcasses, the butcher said there was a lot of meat and it looked very good. Alexandre and Audrey were the first to eat some of the meat – it tasted very good, they said. And therein lies the consolation of breeding animals for meat.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fire all the time




The greatest of country winter skills is the ability to keep the home fires burning, especially the ones in open fire-places. The truly skilled, and lucky, country fire-bugs manage to keep an open fire alive for twenty-four hours. It is revived in the morning from embers that were covered in ashes last thing at night. The ash broods over the embers like a hen over eggs.
seemingly no sign of life

We feel very proud because we have managed to keep a fire going for seven days. This morning's fire I revived with three Kleenex, a couple of sticks and half a fir-cone. No matches involved.

Obviously the type of wood that is being burnt counts for a lot. The fruit woods, for example, (cherry,pear,apple) are lightweight and burn clear away. The same goes for the 'white' woods – ash, aspen, beech. Pine burns well, smells good but tends to spit and tar up the chimney.
Not a good wood for a room with expensive rugs in front of the fireplace, for then, as the loi d'emmerdement maximum' will have it, the sparks will jump the fireguard. Sparks from chestnut logs that are not properly dry are even worse – they seem to be able to jump six feet.

The secret is to get an angular log for last thing at night, one that has all sorts of nooks and crannies in which fire sparks can lurk. It is what professional firemen dread. The fire seems to be out but a little wind – or breath in our case - and the glows start to flame. Add a little dry tinder and the whole flares up.
but there is a glowing heart

The best, the most prized and most expensive firewood is well seasoned oak. Heavy oak logs that have been split into manageable widths, about a metre long, and that have dried for three a good three years since splitting. We were briefly the proud owners of an X ton hydraulic log splitter but it was a cumbersome device, our tractor was underpowered. Eventually it became too dangerous to take it into the woods. Fortunately, Jean-Claude down the road had always wanted one and he had a full powered farm tractor. We struck a deal, he took it away and we gained lots more space in the tractor shed.

Now we use professional wood cutting companies to cut down selected oak and chestnut trees, do the splitting and stacking near the house. Then we – that is Alexandre – cuts the logs into stove or fire-place sized chunks and stacks them. A very comforting view.

Of course, in line with the law that one workman creates work for another – the bucherons did manage to drive their ginormous tractor and trailer right over the the inspection chamber of the Hermitage's septic tank. |In March I screeched for M. Angibaud, who empties our septic tanks (and any leaking pools), who said he would come, fix. In September he came – by which time I had almost given up. But he did a beautiful job. His sons were this year's chimney sweeps.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Country Mouse travels with her Hat




Country Mouse went to London last week. But this time she went better armed. She wore her Hat. Actually, not only the Hat, but also a black suede coat with a detachable black fox fur collar (bought for 10€ in a brocante) and very shiny black shoes. Sadly, age dictates, these were flatties.

The Hat is a 'Borsalino', bought for heaven knows how much, many years ago in Swaine, Adeney and Briggs, then of St James, London SW1. I bought it after Humphrey Bogart was filmed wearing it and before Harrison Ford gave it world-wide fame in the Indiana Jones films. In the United States these Italian made hats are called 'fedoras'. In TV series they are usually worn by Mafia types, along with the ubiquitous, long camel hair overcoat. (See any episode of 'Law and Order.')
POOH MODELS MY HAT


The Hat's influence was first felt at St Astier railway station where Country Mouse, her husand, our daughter/chauffeur and grandson arrived just as the train was drawing in. We were on the bridge over the rails, I waved and blew a kiss at the driver who was already being beseiged by daughter and grandson. The train driver waited for us – most unusual - to board and the conductor did not charge a penalty when we had to buy tickets from him. Indeed we got the standard old age discount which is considerable.

It, (or should I say we?) drew glances for the rest of our journey to London. The Gatwick border control agent asked me to take my Hat off – the Bordeaux agents did not. Obviously leaving is less important than arriving. It made me more conspicuous – without the Hat there were times when I was invisible to taxis, or so it seemed. And it impressed in shops.

But I think the Hat's most important influence was on our return trip. We boarded the dreadful Gatwick Express at Victoria Station and installed ourselves, first class in deference to the Hat, at a table. I nodded at the man with the drinks trolley. He acknowledged my greeting.

Later we bought some drinks from him, there was a confusion about the cost. Then I gave him a pound tip and a handshake. He smiled and disappeared.

Somewhat encumbered by luggage, we got off at Gatwick – only to find the ticket barrier at the top of the escalator, closed. And JP's ticket was on the table in the train carriage. He turned, resigned to going back to find train and carriage. Then we heard a voice, 'sir, sir and madam'! It was the young man from the drinks trolley. Would he have recognised us without my Hat?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Meat and maths don't mix


Idly pushing the garden lettuce round the basin of water, I wondered if snails could swim. A problem with a pesticide free vegetable garden is pests. If weeds are flowers in the wrong place, then pests are animal life in the wrong place. A snail head peeked over the side of the bowl – and answered my question. Yes, snails can swim.
Very small snail saving its life on a cauliflower floret.


There was a knock on the door. Madame Landraudy of our local chasse arrived on the doorstep. She was carrying a large and heavy black plastic bag. My ungrateful heart sank as she handed it over. I had been so blissfully contemplating my freedom from the potting/freezing/bottling that is associated with autumn in the country.  Then there I stood on the doorstep with a 3kg++ leg of wild boar and no room in the freezer.

A deep breath, an executive decision and I took the leg to Christian the Wonderful Butcher. 'Mince me this,' I requested, 'and mix in with the same quantity of farce.' (that is seasoned sausage meat). I did a little math in my head (not a good place for sums) and reckoned I would need twelve 500 gr paté jars. These I duly bought at Ast-Vert, got a large number of packets of streaky bacon at LIDL and some bottled chestnuts at the boulangerie / general store.

When I brought the mix home – 6.3 kg, Christian insisted – I put it in my largest pan, added a bottle of red wine, a tied bunch of herbs and left it to marinade. I did make two meat patties for lunch to check the seasoning. Fine. The jars were prepared by putting two crossed strips of streaky inside and then put out in the cold until I was ready to fill the jars. Mistake: Cha-Cha tipped up the protective tray and helped himself to the bacon from three jars. Tant pis.

I halved the mixture – using my second largest pan – and crumbled in the chestnuts. Then I started to fill the jars, a skilled job as the mince has to be well tamped down so as not to leave any air gaps. Consternation. Half the mix filled all twelve 500 gr jars. Fortunately there is a pizza kiosk in front of Ast-Vert, so we ordered a pizza and John went to buy another 12 jars.
These are the eight pots without chestnuts...

The other half of the mixture filled eight of the 500 gr jars, plus I had to find a little 250 gr one for the scrapings. So, all in all, I now have 20 jars of wild boar paté – the nice Familia Wiss ones with 'gold' seals and outer screw lids. The EdF has got to be happy – to sterilise them I used the oven, 190C for four hours, at peak time,and could only get seven pots in at a time.

What had I forgotten? That weight does not necessarily indicate volume....?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Here comes the rain!


The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has drawn to a close. The season of perpetual rain has begun. The fruits of the wild fig in the field have ripened, exploded and fed the hornets. We are still waiting on the domesticated figs to make up their minds. Two inches of rain, at least, has fallen since last Sunday. Yesterday it was not safe to drive, the rain fell so hard.

The plums, apples and pears have been the joy of the ewes for many weeks now, as have the chestnuts and acorns. A varied diet is good for all. The humans (that is A³ plus Michelle) have had a good harvest of champignons also.(I do wish I could find an adequate translation for that word. Mushrooms will not do, for they are not all field mushrooms (agarics) nor will 'toadstools' with its overtones of poison).

Just a glimpse of this winter's stores.

Apple juice anyone?

And this is last winter's jam!


But this year, I sit here, rather smugly – for I am not being bullied by the 'mellow fruitfulness'; I do not have to pot/jam/freeze or otherwise conserve anything. Alexandre braved the wrath of the sheep and collected many kilos of apples for pressing into juice (and that after depriving them of most of their plums!) Audrey has made enough tomato coulis to keep the local McDonalds in sauce for a few days. And there is green tomato jam.

Arnold had a rush of blood to the head when he saw Alexandre's sacks of apples and remembered he had taken away our aged barrel of 'cider' more years ago than we can remember. It was our first attempt to process the abundant apple harvest. We took the apples to the local trout farm at Lisle – now a very distinguished river-side restaurant called Le Moulin de l'Isle – where they were washed in fish-water, then crushed. The resulting filtered juice was put into our 50 litre oak barrel. And that was that. The bung was in as was the wooden tap. We never managed to get either to open which is why Arnold took the barrel away. It is now soaking in the gentle rain so that its staves will swell, ready for next year's juice.

Ah well, I like rain! I like walking in the fields, protected by my boots from evil, biting arthropods. I like kicking away the leaf and twig dams in the newly born stream so that the water rushes through to the lake. I like what the rushing water reveals, the fossils, the broken coloured quartz stones – the odd golf ball. I am happy in the wet. Especially as there is always a fire in the range to dry me.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Toast on the range





Oh, joy! It is time for toast on the range again! The last fly of summer is dead, the fly-catcher strips are burnt and the range re-lit. The temperatures may have dropped but the sun still shines – mostly. Young Angibaud came to sweep all the chimneys that were used last winter. He also peered up those that had remained unused – just in case Asiatic or local hornets had decided to build their winter quarters there.

This is not a joke. One winter we gaily lit the dining room fire-place, very little used, only to find that it belched smoke everywhere. A tentative poke upwards with the domestic chimney sweeping equipment dislodged the parts of some wasp or hornet nest. An urgent call to the professional sweep was made and he was only too glad to come and oblige - later. (We ate dinner in the kitchen.)

I forget now whether that was the same winter that we lit the dining room fire just before our dinner guests were due. The smell was awful. It seemed that our then cat, probably Ginger, used the ash as cat litter. I presume it was Ginger because he did the same when he went to live with Veronica and flatly refused to use the cat flap in winter, despite much training and persuasion. Nothing wrong with ashes, says the cat.

John took the (hated by me) Simplicity sit-upon plus trailer down to fairway two to collect fir-cones for use as fire lighters. Now we shall be able to dry them in the bottom oven and dispense with all other fire-lighters, especially those noxious to the atmosphere and our hands.

We can still look forward to roasting chestnuts on the hot-plate, the sheep have not eaten them all. It is a slightly dangerous activity as they have to be pressed against the hot plate with the insulating lids. Lift those up and one risks exploding nuts.

But this is a minor risk. What worries me is the 'expert' talk – in newspapers – about the coming winter. The consensus is that it will be one of the colder winters, direct from our friendly central Russian steppes. Will it be time for triple clothing layers after Christmas? Will we have to drain the water systems of the gites? Who knows – weather gods are notoriously disinclined to be predictable.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A goat comes calling...

An unexpected visitor this week – one impressive black and brown billy goat peacefully grazing in our fields. How he got there, we do not know, nor do we know why he decided to come. It is unlikely that he had any real reason for coming – he left home because he could.

Am I magnificent or what?
 A quick phone call to the nearest goat farm, at La Veyssiere on the way to Mensignac, about a half kilometre from La Chaise, confirmed that the farmer was one billy goat short. The road between La Chaise and La Veyssiere is a rural backwater, only really busy at champignon time or if someone is cutting wood.

But, and this is an important qualifier, to get into the La Chaise fields Billy Goat had to cross a main road. A quiet moment whilst one thinks of what might have happened but fortunately did not.

La Chaise has received other runaways before Billy Goat.....if one forgets to close the main gate there are always lost hunting dogs coming in of a Sunday evening, for example. And let us not forget this summer's abandoned black kitten..

The most physically impressive of the random animal visitors was the donkey that installed itself in the orchard. This was many years ago, before Arnold, Audrey and Alexandre, whilst Clea and Harry were still small and I was very, very far from being able to cope with such large animals.

Fortunately, the donkey was alternatively cropping the grass and eating the peaches and we still had a little fencing round the orchard. I closed the orchard gate, then the road gate and remembered I had heard donkey braying coming from the direction of Chantepoule, a kilometre down the road to Tocane.

I telephoned my one and only acquaintance at Chantepoule who, fortunately, immediately knew the likely owner of a donkey. Owner came to retrieve his pet,was duly grateful and I was given a Kilner jar of home preserved peaches. Well, that made up for the ones the donkey had eaten.

But escaping animals happen both ways. Mother Ducks have very little sense. One year our Mother Duck, who had a very large brood, would absolutely
insist on taking them into the ditches along the main road. In the end I stopped trying to work out why and just tried to keep them in – unsuccessfully. One embarrassing morning I discovered a car had stopped just before our wooden gate and the kind driver was shepherding the ducks back under it. Shepherding ducks is not easy, He was rewarded – eventually – with a ready-to-roast duckling.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A rare visitor

There are many and various ways of guiding insects out of human dwellings when killing is not an option. One can flap hands or flick dusters. If dealing with a hornet or wasp, it is highly recommended to use a badminton bat or straw broom, either will catch the insect in its meshes and allow the wielder to guide it outside. Beware of breaking things.

With a moth, however, the exercise is more delicate. To get my friend from the bathroom to go outside, JP guided it from light to light until it was finally persuaded to join the woodshed light and then disappear as the early morning light came in over the trees.

An expert entomologist friend, a frequent visitor to La Chaise, suggested that my nocturnal admirer might have been the 'Clifden Nonpareil' (catocala fraxini) because of the blue bands on its underwings. Apparently this is a very rare moth and 'a very good find' he said, – though, of course, it found me and not the other way round.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catocala_fraxini

Apparently this moth feeds on poplars of which a few are to be found in the ravine along fairway 4, most of the trees being fairly decrepit and a few have been uprooted.

A recent brief note in the Daily Telegraph (9/10/13) mentioned that the warm weather had attracted this moth, amongst other rare species, to southern England because of the warmer summer weather. If it will survive the winter in Britain, in pupae form, is another matter. At La Chaise we normally are a few degrees warmer than southern England. Note to self to keep an eye out next year for further visits.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

And...the mushrooms are back!

A collective sigh of relief rose up in the Dordogne over the last ten days - the cèpes had come after all! Prolonged cold, wet weather had worked on everyone's spirits. Doom mongers predicted that if no warm weather came soon, there would be no cèpes. But they always come, it is just the quantity that varies.
and they are even on golf courses...

Actually I have little sympathy with this attitude, mostly because I am not overly fond of cèpes, however prepared, and am dubious about other proposed delicacies such as the couloumelle (lepiote) or oronge (amanita caesarea). This latter looks like a boiled egg with the white peeled back from the yoke. A delicacy, it is said.

But we duly had a few days of sunshine and all was well. There the cèpes were, by the box-load, all a little battered and unprepossessing.
It was only when I first found cèpes at La Chaise that I began to enjoy them for I could pick the very young ones that had not yet become food for slugs. Indeed in very good years I could almost restrict myself to the cèpe de Bordeaux, the black capped, stronger flavoured variety.

There are only so many omelettes aux cèpes that one can eat, so much of pommes de terre sarladaises that can be presented as garnish to a variety of meats. So the question is, what to do with the rest? My first instinct is to let other people have them. In the past Michelle and Arnold have always been enthusiastic about them. Michelle has an uncanny talent for discovering cèpes. And now that Audrey and Alexandre have joined us I no longer need feel guilty about not conserving them.

A satisfying addition to the store cupboard
 

But I do feel guilty at not wholly sharing my neighbours' enthusiasm for this autumn bounty. So this year, after reading various recipes, I tried a simple way of conserving them in oil – as follows:

Throw away the stalks and neatly carve out any marks of slug feeding;
slice the caps thinly, remove the spores if not liked – they come away easily;
poach in a light white wine and herb bouillon and drain after about three minutes;
fill small Kilner jars ¾ full, add one small piece of garlic, one twig of thyme, one of chervil, a few peppercorns and a few juniper berries if you have them;
cover with best quality oil to the mark in the jar and close.

To use, drain and fry as if they were fresh though some people say you can serve them cold as a condiment with meat. The thought of that squishy consistency, to me, is quite repellent. I wish I had a means of drying them, for cèpes are still best when dried, then crumbled into rich meat stews – all the flavour, none of the dreadful consistency.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

My new best friends


As I was lingering in my bath, wine glass on the side, real (paper) book in hand, there was a hammering on the bathroom window. The largest moth I have ever seen recently was frantically battering at the window. Its huge wing span was creamy white, the under-wing with arcs of black and slightly hairy. I knew it really wanted to get at the light, so I was not too flattered.

here's me, top left, drawing attention to self


I got out of the bath, wrapped myself in a towel and called for support, husband John. He is taller than me so could open the window and let the moth in. But first we closed the bathroom door so that it would have to stay with us. It did not seem remotely confused, came in and settled on the wall nearest the light, folding itself into a neat triangle and refusing any further display. We went to bed disappointed.

By breakfast time it had disappeared. How it could have got under a closed door I do not know. However, by way of compensation, there was a mini cricket, transparent green, next to my plate which obstinately refused to move. Eventually s/he had to be taken to the geranium in the conservatory. Later that morning there was a much larger one on the car bonnet who was still sitting on the bonnet by the time I got to the baker, three kilometres further down the road. The car and I were glad to be of use.

By the time I got back the Unknown Moth had settled itself on the dining room fireplace chimney, an excellent background for photographs. But still it refused to unfold itself and display its under-wings. It still sulked, even though Audrey brought out her best cameras with super lenses. And she climbed on a stool so as to get closer.
and here I am again, refusing to show all self

So, if it was going to ignore us, we decided to ignore it – despite spending ages on looking up possible identities on the internet. But zebra like black and white near horizontal stripes only lead one to a genus, not to an individual in that tribe.

Meanwhile, last week's praying mantis was up to all sorts of antics on the tin elephant by the front door. Obviously nose out of joint because we were ignoring it, so we took some more photos. Then it left – or got eaten. After which there was a caterpiller in my best geranium – and so it goes on. Never mind the totally deranged wasps and hornets, the rain has totally confused their brains.

Look at ME

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Respect the fears of others



There was a time when I was afraid of dogs, even now I am not a fan of Alsatians. Once I was dubious about sheep but soon noticed that I was taller than they were. I am still far from enthusiastic about cows and decidedly afraid of horses that are not safely the other side of a fence.

The Alsatian owner mocked me when I shrieked as her (wretched) dog licked the back of my knees. I expostulated that it is (more) normal to be afraid of something large, hairy, unpredictable and with teeth than of something small, skittery with whiskers – like a mouse. Touché, she is dead afraid of mice.

In my thirty plus years of country life I have observed that fear needs time. If it is my turn in the bath, the spider has to get out. If I have time to let it get out graciously, I run a trail of loo-paper over the side. If I have not, it gets swept out unceremoniously with a towel.

My fear of (most) dogs was overcome when our first Labrador, the blonde Victor, was caught biting the buttons off the Chesterfield sofa.
Exasperated, I took him by the scruff of the neck and spanked him.
Then, in reaction, I sat on same sofa and cried. He climbed back up, put his head on my knees, and we cried together.

Of course there are evil insects, like hornets and wasps, and tiresome ones like flies. But one learns to deal with them, live with them as far as possible, destroy them if not – if you can, which is not always possible.


A NEW, WEIRD FRIEND

It is so easy to mock other people for fears that you do not share. I shall never forget the shriek issuing from a holiday maker who discovered that a technically ready-to-roast farm chicken still has head, neck, legs and feet attached, never mind the loose abats inside.

I was reminded of all this a few nights ago when the last of this season's holiday makers arrived, late, on an Edgar Allen Poe kind of evening. A wasp buzzed round a lamp. It was damp and dark outside, an owl was busy mourning something somewhere. The sheep moved up the field, pale shadows in the gloaming. 'Les moutons, sont-ils mechants?' asked the girl. A salamander slid down the wall and shot out the door. The wind moved leaves unseen in the trees. I should not have been surprised that our urban cousins fled. However, I was very saddened, they had so much to learn, to enjoy.


THE BARN GANG

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wanted: humane fly killer


People are so ungrateful: the weather got so hot we could barely breathe and spent a lot of time moving fans from A to B or floating in the pool. Then (of course) the weather broke with attendant thunder, lightning and a brief but hard downpour.

The gods laughed and blessed us with house flies. One day there were none, after the rain the kitchen was infested. Every flat surface had its fly and the fly's friends.

Caught unawares, all we had to deal with them were tapettes, long handled, flexible plastic bats in horrid colours, a woven 'face' with huge eyes and evil grin. But flies is wise, they almost never sit on a surface where they can be hit without something else being damaged, like a tea-cup or jam-jar.

Presumably - well, hopefully - these flies had hatched outside and had come in through open windows and doors. Fly maggots in the outside rubbish bins is understandable, but inside...ugh.

A hurried trip to the hardware store produced a new version fly killer, a transparent one that is put on the windows. This is a great aesthetic improvement on the old suspended swirls of glue strips though the principle is the same: fly is attracted, fly touches, fly dies. There is no humane killer for flies.

To comfort myself I went for a walk down to the farthest field, to that area of land known as Greece. It was warm and sunny. One butterfly was so doped by the sun that I was able to get close enough to photograph it with my phone. Do butterflies snore?
Oh. the bliss of sun on one's wings!

On the rapidly drying tall grasses, were numerous very, very small blue butterflies. Perhaps they were the classic ones that live only on the kidney vetch plant, which do grow in the former horse fields and also in Greece. I could not get close enough to identify them as my shadow disturbed. If it was the classic Very Small Blue, its latin name is cupido minimus. Enough to make anyone sentimental.

However, I could recognise the meadow browns which were also drifting around the few scabious left, settling on a grass stem and closing their wings so that the one menacing black 'eye' showed clearly.

All this quite made up for the flies – and the maggots in the waste bins.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The chickens return!




Chickens are back at La Chaise! There are four hens and a cock, two young black hens, a slightly larger cockerel and two red 'granny' hens to keep everyone in order. Also to lay eggs.

I don't know how long it is since we have had hens, perhaps not since the Millenium. The turn of the century threw down many trees making wonderful shelters for foxes. Whilst some eighty per cent of a fox's diet maybe earthworms (officially) no fox will refuse a chicken.

Anyway, let us be optimistic. These chickens have a small run, neatly fenced with tasteful green electric netting linked to a 12 volt battery that delivers one hell of a shock to anything coming in, over, or under.
And that includes (H)Aska who thought these might be new dog toys but was soon, forcefully, dissuaded.

Yes, the cockerel crows in the morning before he is let out and then intermittently for an hour or so. It is a very gentle but classic crow, nothing to disturb a hardened urban dweller. The hens burble to themselves, especially when returning to the roost at night. Such well brought up birds, from my friend Pattie who lives down the road and knows all about hens.

There are a lot of bushes in the hen run and as soon as a human, or (H)aska shows up, the hens disappear. This makes it very difficult to take pictures. The cockerel is certainly not into posing, not even when he crows. His ego is still a little bruised because one wing had to be clipped – as it did for the hens – so that he would not fly out over his tasteful green fencing.

A very fine cockerel indeed.


The entrance into the henhouse – for hens – is a sliding, drop down door which Alexandre has cunningly attached to a long rope and a pulley so that it can be let down without climbing over the fence. As Audrey so presciently pointed out: Doina ne va jamais enjamber cette cloture..' and she is so right.

No way am I going to put a leg over that there fence, even with the battery technically off, even though I am taller than Audrey. I have never become confident of the farmer technique of treading down the fence then putting a leg over. It is the thought of the amperage those 12 volts will produce.....

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Plastic Tiffanys down the farm.


The three A's have had a hard time of it at La Chaise these last few days – and so have the lambs. It was ear-tag time which is no fun for lambs or people. We always leave it to the very last possible moment for Clun lambs, being skittish, are likely to tear them out of their ears, especially when they stick heads through the fencing.

The tags are difficult to place for there is only a narrow space between two large veins and the implement used for piercing is clumsy, not very easy to handle. All the tags, and the piercer, have to be thoroughly disinfected as the numbering goes on. The lambs do not co-operate. Cluns notoriously suffer from la bougeotte as any shearer will tell you.

Arnold gets a lamb firmly wedged between his knees, holds its head whilst Alexandre, having loaded the – how to call it, piercer? - with its coloured tags, quickly punches them in place, two in each ear.

Of course, following la loi de l'emmerdement maximum which is French for sod's law, the tags themselves are not simple. Inside the left ear, the shepherd has to place the electronic button and its matching flag on the outside. The right ear carries two flag tags in different colours. All carry the flock number as well as an individual numero de travail
which the flock owner uses to record – whatever. 

Pretty Me? Pity Me - I died
 

The afternoon team was Audrey and Alexandre and it seemed to me that the lambs were more tranquil. Perhaps it was because she did not loom over them in the way that the taller Arnold does. Her face was closer to the lamb's face, there was eye contact. Either that, or they were all somewhat dopey from having eaten too much hay and luzerne.

The tags have to be ordered long before one has any idea how many lambs there will be. Last year, annoyed and reckless, I ordered 50 – we had 44 lambs. I always have difficulty with this order, and the accompanying sheet of instructions. There are things one does not want to know.

The last of this winter's lambs leave on Friday...we shall just keep a few of the smallest for – dare I say it – our own eventual consumption.The great sadness this year is that we lost one of the lambs very shortly after the ear-tagging, blood poisoning said the vet without saying how it could have originated. Unnecessary, really.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Defying the gods

The gods expressed their extreme displeasure the night of the afternoon that I delivered little black kitten to the animal shelter.
Rain, hail, thunder and lightning was thrown at the Dordogne, not at La Chaise particularly – but it felt like it. We sat (safely) on the benches by the front door, privileged spectators, safe in the knowledge that we had few crops in danger of damage. In total, 22mm of water.

The storm clears

But I felt virtuous and defied the gods because I had learned that there was a new policy at the SPA (Societe Protectrice des Animaux to be correct – I think). No healthy animal with a chance of being re-homed would be put down. This rule was apparently due to the new Presidente of the SPA whom, as luck would have it, I met whilst filling in papers about kitten. Disconcertingly, she was carrying two round tins which, she explained, contained the ashes of cats, one of them her favourite.

Right, so I gulped and asked where she was going to scatter the ashes, over their favourite places? She said, if I heard correctly, that this was pas permis. I had recently learned – by a diatribe from a local mushroom expert - that human cremains cannot be scattered anywhere but have to be confined to urns in formal cemeteries. The mushroom lover said he is going to die in Belgium and get scattered in the sea. May the gods be with him – and may he get his paperwork in time.

Apparently one cannot just turn up at a sanctuary with a stray and ask for it to be taken into care. One needs a paper from the Mairie formally stating that the Maire acknowledges that the – carrier of the cat? - says it is a stray. Then the SPA gives one a paper to return to the Mairie. All square and correct. That's what bureaucracy is all about.

To cheer me up, a couple of people arrived at the SPA in the hope of adopting dogs. More paperwork but at least happiness in prospect for animal and new owner. I decided to leave a 'dowry' with kitten to pay a little towards her upkeep. It was gratefully received and, in due course, we shall receive a tax deductible receipt. All square and correct.

Sun on the Farmhouse wall after the storm


Wednesday another storm, all day long and totally about a centimetre of water. Memo to self: telephone roof tiler to say new roof has been sufficiently tested, he can cancel order for further storms.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The kitten that walked in from the Woods


Two days ago a black kitten came to La Chaise, walked in off the road and said – in kitten speak – I think I shall live here. That is:  it allowed itself to be picked up and stroked, made little near-purring noises, accepted some cat croquettes, even put up with (H)aska's sniffing. It very soon showed that it was house-trained and it wore an anti-flea collar of some recent date. However the vet confirmed it had had not been pucé. (The word means both micro-chip and flea in French.) This would have allowed it's owners to be found.


Do you like me?


As I write there is still a slight battle of territorial wills going on between the distinguished First Feline, a.k.a Cha-Cha who deigns to live with Audrey and Alexandre. But kitten is being respectful and Cha-Cha is condescending. Meanwhile, what to do?

We do not need a second mouser at La Chaise, between them Cha-Cha and the Rat-Catcher's Daughter deal with that problem. We (I) certainly do not wish to have cat hairs anywhere on the furniture, nor cat claws sharpening themslves on chair legs. And I do not want it to install itself in the gîtes – one load of kittens behind the bathroom chimney is enough.

Audrey put a note on the French for sale/want web site, En Bon Coin, with one response. I sent a note on the anglophone electronic telegraph with similar result, one response. Neither respondent has yet (Sunday evening) followed up their initial interest by promising to take the kitten which is busy making itself at home.

A Kitten could get used to living here

We are asking ourselves how it came to be on the main road in front of La Chaise. It could be lost, be too young to find its way home – that, after all is how we came by Elvis-Non, the terrible hole digging terrier cross breed. Or, sadly, it could have been abandoned by its owners, left to fend for itself whilst they went on holiday. Hopefully with a plentiful supply of croquettes that automatically replenish the bowl, also clean water. More likely not.

One last hope: Monday morning I shall telephone the nearest cattery, a boarding house for cats called 'ChatPacha' and see if anyone has called the owners to enquire about missing kittens. If not, sadly, kitten will have to go – with dowry - to the 'Societe pour le Protection des Animaux' . I do not know how long it will be kept there.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rain, rain - come again!


As irony would have it, rain ceased in the Dordogne the day we arrived home from Spain. And when I say 'ceased' I mean just stopped, went away, gradually became a distant memory. Temperatures have soared, we are in the thirties centigrade. Thunderstorms have been promised for tomorrow, Tuesday 23rd. On verra tout ça – this has been promised before.

The danger for us at La Chaise (very 'nombriliste' I know) will come if we do not have a steady and gentle down-pour in the very near future. So far the golf greens are still just that – very green. They are being watered by the Wonderful Arnold, with erratic assistance from the hated (by me – reciprocated by it) pump which is at last going to get a proper mend. Meanwhile the watering works on some mysterious 'siphon' effect between the Black Pond in the Woods and Lake Ariadne at the bottom of the valley with occasional help from town water. Don't ask – I think physics comes into it.

Oddly, the flowers that have suffered most from the heat and absence of rain are the cultivated roses. The yellow roses we planted in the old well usually make a glorious display. At present their stems are too frail to bear the heavy flower heads which break off and die. I have to rush out as soon as I spot a new bud and bring it in. Even then it only lasts a couple of days. The normally gloriously red, tough roses round the Farmhouse garden and the gîte swimming pool have lost their colour.


So far the grassland is not showing any cracks as it did in the year of the great 'canicule' of 2003. In parts it is still even growing. However the woodland is drying fast, presumably because of the water up-take by the trees. A few days ago, lunching on the terrace, I heard the crash of a breaking branch or falling tree in the woods. Quickly curious, I got up to go look see but common sense stopped me at the edge of the woods. Who wants to walk in the woods when the trees are throwing down branches? Hard hats needed for mushroom hunting – not that there will be any mushrooms if it does not rain. A local disaster.

But to compensate, the geraniums on the terrace are thoroughly enjoying this Mediterranean heat. They are a wonder. Never have they been so prolific, so luxurious, so triumphantly alive. This is their best display ever.