Sunday, May 27, 2012

of man management and mobiles

It is said that French people are the most hypochondriac of all Europeans. Locally I often see individuals, not necessarily old people, staggering from the pharmacy with at least two plastic bags of medicines. Some say this is due to the over-rich French diet (all that foie gras), the habit of sitting down to three course meals of two hours both at lunch and dinner – breakfast usually just a bowl of coffee and a croissant; also to universal French pessimism.

My take on this is quite different. I reckon it is to do with the inability of rural people to use the telephone, particularly their total inability to return calls.
This was understandable when telephones were scarce. We asked the previous owner of La Chaise to 'leave the telephone' way back in the beginning of the Eighties. We meant the number. He understood the physical instrument. So he transferred the line with number to his new house but left us one of those two tone green phones. It took us two years to get a line and number of our own to go with it.

The advent of mobile phones has made life slightly easier, one can at least leave messages, sometimes the owner even picks up. (Forget text messages.) Mobile coverage is now pretty good in the Dordogne. But the best way being sure that the phone will be answered, mobile or fixed, is to call at meal-times, see above about two hour meal breaks. Between twelve and two is good, as is after the eight o clock evening news – but no later than nine in the evening. 'Les artisans se couchent avec les poules' explained one professional, a colloquial phrase that can be misinterpreted. Naturally meal time calls lead to disturbed digestion for both caller and receiver – and crossness for cook. No more soufflés or other dishes that require precision timing.

The lack of telephone savvy makes managing artisans particularly difficult. This coming week I have to chase the sheep-shearer, persuade him to decide on a date to come and clip my sheep. Already I have left two messages to no avail. I shall have to try a little blackmail, tell him I am being pursued by my butcher who wants some elderly ewes for merguez (true). The abbatoir does not like to receive them covered in wool, the employees' job is quite difficult enough (true). Also that Jérémie, with his tractopelle (mini JCB digger), is nagging to come and clean the sheep shed (untrue). Then I will have to remind my butcher of his need for elderly sheep meat and remind Jérémie that he is supposed to come before mid June. Sheep shed cleaning is not something that should be done when tourists are around. And if the shearer cannot or will not come, I shall have to find another one. They don't grow on every tree. And then some where to dispose of the fleeces, probably for free. A country-woman's life is not an easy one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rain, rain go away

Nasr, our Omani gardener did not believe in rain. Rain in his view was capricious, perhaps not even nourishing for his precious periwinkles. He preferred to rely on the heavily saline mains water for our small garden in Bahrain.

The important point is, of course, that he preferred to rely on tap water for plants rather than on the uncertain predictions of weather forecasters or that of older, wiser heads. In his view, if a plant needed water, it needed water immediately. Waiting for the possibility of rain was not in question.

In fact it is likely that people holding their breath whilst waiting for rain in Bahrain would die. A small island, highest point perhaps 150m above sea level, with an average annual rain fall of around 8 cm – just imagine. The wonderful gardens of Bahrain are created on uprising fresh water springs, not down falling rain. Oman has its mountains, like the Jebel Akhdar, to catch the winds and make rain as well as the springs of the oases.

For his precious golf greens JP follows Nasr's precepts, if a green looks like it needs watering, you water it, despite predictions of heavy rainfall the following day. This is what has happened in the last few days. Two out of the eight greens have been thoroughly spoilt by getting water on demand, pond water admittedly, not tap water which is too expensive. Since when it has not stopped raining.

Enough has now become too much. The rain gods have gone over the top. The grass is so wet it is upsetting the sheep's digestion. We no longer have sheep pellets to fertilize the grass but something more resembling mini cow-pats. The sheep are looking very grubby behind and the sheep shearer, who is due very soon, will not be pleased. Mind you, a man in his profession is never pleased. Either the sheep are too damp to be properly shorn, or too dry; either they are too wild and unco-operative or too calm and unco-operative. Sheep have got passive resistance down to a fine art.

Anyway, the sheep are due back in the barn Wednesday night, no doubt protesting all the way until they remember inside = cereals, then there will be a rush. It might even make them ignore, insofar as they can, the worm treatment that is going to be
administered. A quarantine of 24 hours for the treatment to work and they will be sent outside again – where the temperatures are supposed to top 24C without rain.

Nasr would be dubious. But perhaps it is now time for the rain gods to go play monsoons on the other side of the world, Nasr's side.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Emperor and the Ants

The Tau Emperor struggled to be born. He flapped his four wings furiously, firstly to dry them, secondly to get out from under the twig that had fallen over his cocoon sometime during his long, winter pupa state. Gradually he succeeded, his wings took on the sheen of caramel coloured velvet. The translucent, Elizabeth Taylor eyes on each wing, bright blue heavily ringed with black, glowed with a power to frighten predators. Or so it was to be hoped for he had but a short life before him.

I watched for a while then went to fetch JP to confirm that this was indeed a Tau Emperor, one of the few moths to be active during the day. It would be a shame to hide all that beauty in the dark. However, apparently by one of those annoying quirks of nature, his consort has a more normal moth behavior and only flies in the dark. She needs to emit immense amounts of pheromones to lead him to her.

By the time we got back to where the Tau Emperor had been in the grass, he had made his way to a drier and sunnier spot on the stone path down to the farm. This was a mistake, his big mistake. As JP bent over him to observe more closely, he noticed the Ants. Large Ants were attacking the hapless Emperor, swarming round him, getting onto his body, his legs. JP picked him up, carefully in one hand, brushed off the Ants and put the Tau Emperor on a near-by beech leaf. Perhaps even the very bush, if not leaf, on which he had started life as an egg the previous year. The Tau Emperor had only five out of his usual of six legs.

A philosophical moment here. Tau Emperor moths have no proboscis, only vestigial mouths and digestive tracts. They live their very short lives – four to five days – on the fats stored in their bodies when pupae. So what was the point of rescueing him from the Ants? Apart from the fact that he was beautiful to look at and that he would probably have a wonderful five days of sun and sex.

Only Tuesday's patron saint, Saint Denise, suddenly joined the ranks of the 'Saints de Glace' as temperatures dropped by nearly ten degrees. So he may not have had sun and sex either.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Of ducks, snakes, frog fish and death

Have you ever seen a duckling eat a snake? I ask because I have just seen a snake slide into the duck pond where, next year, I hope to re-install ducks. One of the last lot of ducklings we had did actually ingest – it is the only appropriate word – a snake as I was watching. The duckling sat on the ground, feet neatly tucked under, the snake dangling from its beak. It was practically cross-eyed with concentration, like a small child with a new lolly. Slowly its throat muscles pulled the snake into its gut. I presume it was the throat muscles as the beak was definitely not opening. For once, the other ducklings were not disputing its prize.

In the absence of ducks, the frogs are back! At least, we hear them at bird-song time, the sound presumably coming from the Black Pond as it is nearest the house. I doubt whether the frog chorus would carry from the Lake – or even from the duck pond – as far as our terrace. Seeing frogs is quite another matter, you need to be a duck or a heron. There is a great deal of vegetation under which frogs can hide from human sight on the edges of all three potential frog breeding grounds.

That is probably the only element favourable to frogs, after the presence of water, naturally. I don't know whether the wild ducks have settled on the Lake but in past years it has been visited by a heron. Both will eat frogs, frog-spawn and tadpoles. It is surprising that the frogs make such a noise at dusk, surely they must know this will attract predators as well as potential mates?

Of course, some of these frogs may be toads, no way of telling. However, the mid-wife toad (which is really a frog but that is another story) has not yet made itself heard. It makes a very distinctive, tap-dripping sound and does not seem as gregarious as frogs. That is, we think we do not hear so many 'ploop-ploops' as we do frog voices.

For us the problem comes when the frog cycle is at its tadpole stage, assuming it gets that far. Tadpoles can be sucked into the watering system and block the sprinklers, even when these are just driven by gravity and not by the hated pump. And then the tadpoles have to be got out. The first time this happened JP and Arnold suffered a hilarious (to me) misunderstanding.

Arnold's mind had gone blank on the English for 'kikkervis' which is Dutch for tadpole, literally 'frog-fish'. He managed to get JP to understand 'kikker' as frog, some hand-waving indicating jumping and frog like sounds, but the concept of a frog-fish was too difficult. The only way to get frog-fish out of sprinklers involves cutting them sufficiently small (with the appropriate Leatherman gadget) for the water pressure to force the by then unidentifiable remains out of the spout. Not nice.