Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the equality of plants

The Lady of La Chaise is in a panic.  Audrey and Alexandre, along with Charlie and (H)aska the dog have gone away and left her.   Admittedly The Lady has not been left for long, only four days.  But she has been left in charge of the vegetable garden.
The tomato jungle
 The vegetable garden is a riot of rampant courgette plants, some of which are producing pumpkins, bolting lettuces, unknown greens and a tomato jungle. At least two courgette plants are trying to climb up the weeping mulberry.  A boundary climbing rose is sneaking two feelers along the grass towards the tomato jungle. There is mint everywhere and some spring bean plants have decided to return.   At least, they look like bean plants.
ramping courgettes hide nettles.

The problem is this:   Audrey and Alex appear to believe in the equality of plants.  In short, no 'weeding'. An admirable approach, probably - except that weeds (sorry, plants) such as nettles nestle sneakily under courgette leaves. This makes it difficult to pick (steal?) courgettes, whether round or long, without getting severely stung.   And not a dock leaf visible

good things from the veggie jungle

Boots might be an answer.   Only The Lady's boots are likely to be a) filled with wet golf balls by adored grandson (wet because they first passed into the watering can) or b) still housing last years hornets.   Hornets, even when dead, can sting.

The solution might be to persuade Audrey and Alex that 'weeding' is a form of 'pruning'.   They are absolutely excellent at pruning.   Audrey has revived one of our wall decorating climbing roses.   It is now flowering for the fourth time this year.   Alex last year pruned - practically slaughtered - an aged walnut.  It has decided to live, rejuvenated, might even produce walnuts in a few year's time.

Meanwhile Autumn has encroached on August.  We have had an excellent early crop of boletus edulis (penny buns, in English) and the oronges have escaped from their hiding place deep in the woods to the fringes of fairway
three. Again, we have the Biggest Ever puff-balls in the woods.

the largest puff-ball  ever since last year

And the first autumn crocus before August is even finished.!!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Rain making rituals and fowl mysteries

Sheer desperation is supposed to stimulate imagination, out of the box solutions - and so on.  The temperatures were getting hotter, the grass browner, the heavy crop of fruit on the trees was not swelling into ripeness.

Then Alexandre had an attack of creativity.  He would immediately build the tandoor oven I had wistfully mentioned at the beginning of the summer.  It took him two days and a borrowed electric cement mixer. This reminded us of the old days - days when we could either boil a kettle or run the cement mixer. Definitely not two electricity powered machines at the same time.
just waiting for fire and food

No sooner was the elegant terra-cotta lid put on the tandoor,  the cement mixer returned to its senior owner, an initiation (chicken skewers) planned for this weekend, then the rains came down.  Since Friday rainfall has threatened to from millimetres to a centimetre, perhaps even more. 

The Black Pond in the Woods is filling nicely. So presumably is the lake at the bottom of the valley.   But it has been too wet to go see.

Were I to go see I would hope to see the ducks there, the ones my grandson so gleefully, if unsuccessfully, chased.  Since this traumatic occasion (for the ducks, boy enjoyed) there has been no sign of them.  No sign of white feathers anywhere, which would indicate a four legged predator, a fox or wandering hunt dog.  They were too young to fly.  We have not ventured into the deep woods to seek further.

The recent spell of extremely hot weather has been our accepted explanation for the lack of eggs in the hen-house.  Or perhaps they had been 'laying away' but not even Haska, the pretty black and tan dog, had been seen with any eggs.

Today, Audrey discovered a faint track in the grass leading to the hen-house.  She traced it back to the lawn, heading for the woods..  There was animal shit on the wall.   We looked at each other.  The pine marten is back, we said.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Birds come, birds go

We feel very proud of ourselves at La Chaise.  A third brood of swallows have hatched, and flown.  Their parents built them a new nest, pre-used homes obviously not appropriate for this late brood.
Always hungry, always crying
 As always the nest was in Alexandre' atelier which seems a little odd.   First there is the coming and going of Alexandre, plus the noise of his machines when he is working there.   He is not bothered by being dive bombed by indignant swallow parents.  Somehow the excessive amount of bird shit associated with nests does not fall on his machines or whatever work he is doing.  They must have come to some arrangement but Alexandre is not telling.
pre-used and rejected

It is only in the last three years that swallows have come back to La Chaise.  We do not know why they went, not why they have returned.    It is not due to an absence of cats, though there was a period feline , free. Now the majestic Cha-Cha, who condescends to be fed by Alex and Audrey and occasionally brings them a mouse in return, stalks the grounds.   His ambition seems to be to install himself in our house. But, unusually for a cat, he understands the word 'No' - even 'Non' - unlike the visiting three year old who ignores both.

So the swallows have left but there are ducks back on the duck pond down the farm.  This also after a period of well over three years since the last duck was killed by a pine marten.   We were practicing what is known as a 'vide sanitaire' in local farming terms.  In other words, the absence of prey for the nuisibles is supposed to make them look for food elsewhere.  No doubt the news that two pine martens had been so stupid, or arrogant, as to get themselves trapped  only a few weeks ago also helped.
should never have left the pond

Unfortunately the ducklings were not safely on the pond when the near three year old grandson saw them.  They were waddling on the path, nibbling the odd bit of grass and occasional bug.   Grandson yelled 'canard, canard,'  and set off in pursuit.  A three year old boy can run nearly as fast as three month old ducklings.  The ducklings dived under the fig tree by the barn and tried to hide. Grandson got on all fours and went after them under the fig tree.  The ducklings escaped the other side.   Oma had to lie flat on her stomach to rescue grandson from fig branches.  The former rushed off to the pond, determinedly pursued by the latter: canard, canard!'.  The latter was carried back home, in tears, for tea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

And another unanswerable animal question...

Why is it that some domesticated animals, those with the escapology gene can only find their way out?  An escape route seems to be one way. They never return via the way they left.   Mostly they do not come back. 

Very small lambs go through a period of getting under fences. The drinking tubs are one way, either through the water, in danger of drowning, or, for the cleverer ones, just alongside and under the wire.  And since one cannot herd lambs at all, definitely not one on its own, the whole flock has to be moved to where the lamb is.  This also goes for single escaped ewes, double figures are more manageable.
a lamb's way out....

Hens are the only escapologists with a return instinct.  But they get out in silent devious ways, usually unseen, make a terrible triumphant racket, then get down to eating what they ought not. They come back in equally devious manner, driven by thought of the regular bed-night snack. 

Actually, that is wrong.   Cats go and come in their own mysterious ways. There are no known ways of controlling cats. Everyone knows that.
Edward, the Black Prince with Tiger, his ginger cat

Our longest-lived labrador, Edward, the Black Prince of La Chaise, had us beautifully trained.  When we noticed his absence, and if I had time, I got into the faithful Peugeot 504 estate wagon and would drift round the country lanes, preferably the ones in the woods.  The diesel engine would be run in its noisiest gear.  Sometimes Edward would deign to come out of the woods with a resigned expression on his face.   I would open the boot and he would hop in.

When we had not noticed his absence, difficult I grant but we sometimes had other things to do than concentrate on the needs of dogs, then an evening phone call would come.  'Edward is here,' would say our nearest neighbour,' he wants his lift home.'   Or, when in luck, that neighbour fancied a drink and Edward would be brought home in style, on the back seat.

The current chief escapologist at La Chaise, is Roger, our new pedigree Clun Forest ram from the Pyrenees.  He bitterly resents being fenced in, will batter down fencing and gates, use the styles, to get out of whichever field he is in to join the ewes and lambs.   He will, however, being a friendly chap, follow Alex back to wherever if Alex is carrying a pan of maize grains.  Typical male, guided by his stomach.

Roger the Ram, trapped behind a mains voltage electric fence.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Drunk on clean air and silence

Nearly three weeks now that Country Mouse has been back in her habitat after a two month stay in London. Return timed with the onset of long delayed, long wanted rain, missed the May heat-wave that grilled the spring plants. Modestly declined any responsibility.

La Chaise was looking gloriously green.  The forests were just coming into full life, the fields had not yet suffered from the prolonged heat of May. The sheep, gobbling green grass, were still enjoying their release from the barn in March, lambs bounding and getting into trouble - e.g heads stuck in fencing - everywhere.

off to eat grass we go....
The sudden burst of heavy rain produced an equally sudden swelling of our earliest fruit, the Morello cherries. There is a virtual avenue of these cherry trees leading from the road down to the Farmhouse, a glorious start to Spring.

Cherry Avenue!

Harvesting the Morellos is practically impossible.   The trees have grown too high, the fruiting branches more accessible to birds.  It is a delicious cherry, though more pip than pulp, too tedious to conserve, best eaten straight from the tree. It is a favourite with the Pine Marten as that nuisible waits for figs to ripen 
whilst eating bird's eggs - not least those of our once and former ducks.

Luscious but more pip than flesh

Do children still hang double cherries on their ears, compete to see who can eat the most cherries whilst still leaving the stone attached to the stalk?   I am still quite good at that...(end of sentimental moment).

The eight golf greens were just that: green.  This was due to hard work mowing, moss killing and watering, by Alexandre on his favourite John Deere tractor. There was a dangerous moment when the pond at the top of our land, on the roadside, was very low. There was a little more water in the valley pond which had to be pumped up to the top pond to keep the siphon watering system going. 

There has been a certain amount of what I learned in London to call 're-wilding' at La Chaise.   This is partly due to the fact that Alexandre is determined to make a clear difference between fairway surfaces and the light rough of the fields. Also he has made a determined effort to stop the sheep eating orchids, at least those species that are not too plentiful, even here.  Also Audrey and he are firmly convinced that 'weeds' are entitled to live - unless they get in the way.

The chickens are now totally wild, get through or over every fence, are heard all over the place.   It is only greed that brings them in at night.  Audrey feeds them inside the chicken house between six and seven of an evening.  Most of them come in - given such a charming chicken house, what fowl would stay on a wobbly, unroofed, exposed, tree branch?

chicken house de-luxe
The one broody hen has finally conceded that she was sitting on a golf ball and has joined her friends outside again.  She might even start laying eggs again.  Her wilder sisters are laying any old where - it's back to the game of Follow that Hen.  Fortunately the fuss that is made when an egg is laid guides the skilled hen stalker, aka Audrey.

Now it is back to country work.   There is a haunch of venison to be processed, also some ribs of wild boar and an unidentified lump of game generously provided by a neighbour.  Christian the butcher has boned, minced and seasoned it all.   The whole is marinating in best Bergerac red, with herbs, and will be potted on Monday.

To end on a small note of triumph:   Alexandre put the coypu trap in the overflow of the valley pond, not thinking about it very much, no bait.  Coypu seemed to have vanished.  Then one day he found two - yes, TWO - Pine Martens in the trap.  Cocky little things must have thought it a passage way...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Urban sights for country eyes

So, Country Mouse has been in London for nearly two months!   Heimweh! Nostalgie!

The London parks and squares are gloriously in flower, central London seems tidier than I remember it - less rubbish floating around but the same amount of indelible gum on the pavements.

Ceanothus hides a London fence

The weather has been favourable, too, a little rain and one totally unexpected hail-storm whilst I was safely in a taxi.  A couple of days of near gale force winds which proved that London pollen is probably more allergisante than that in the country.   Also my anti-histamine pills appeared to be two years out of date...

While a large part of London is still a building site, it seems to me that builders have got somewhat more considerate.   The hammering, banging, and clang of scaffolding hitting pavement, is still there.    But it does not appear to be accompanied by raucous pop music in any one of the many languages that are now heard in the capital. Not even whistling... Even the 'conveniences' are more - discreet? aesthetic? Though nowhere as elegant as the wooden, flat pack compost toilets made by Alexandre. Sadly, I have no picture of those.
and it gets gently lifted away..

London's rubbish collection seems to work 24/7 - again with no commentary or music from the people concerned. Somehow, the rattle of a restaurant's bottles falling into the rubbish cart is soothing.  In some parts of town attempts a being 'green' and encouragement to residents to recycle are aggressively obvious - below is a formerly 'fashionable' street in Southwark.  Who would pay hundreds of thousands to live with these at their front door?
sometimes there is a brown bin, too

One of the more imaginative of Southwark's inhabitants created a splendid solution - but it is not one that can be adopted everywhere. Can't just put anything, anywhere on a pavement in London. And it probably cost more than the ten odd euros we paid the commune for our wooden compost bins.

assume owner has Council permission...?

Add caption

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The fly-by-nights

We rushed through France, on our way from Spain to England - a stay of barely a week.   Just time to empty suitcases, imagine the possible weather in London, re-pack, leave the restored baby Audi in the safe hands of Jerome,Clea,Alexandre and Audrey - and eventually the garage.

Just time to see the first of Roger the (new) Ram's offspring and the last of DSK's (the previous ram, sadly dead of tetanus - according to the vet) which was the first lamb of the year. So far this year the lambs have mostly been singletons but all very vigorous.  They have invented a new game: one, two, three - jump in the manger, get in all the mothers' way!  And wait to be lifted out by Alexandre.

Hallo World!   Here's Me!
We came back to the other spring joys of life in France - strikes by workers whose pay ultimately comes from taxpayers, radio, railways and air traffic controllers.   The effects of the first were not overall bad, the popular station just put out terrible pop music, the classical station put out less talk and more proper music - unfortunately this included many variations on 'Happy Birthday' and 'God Save the Queen' which got tedious. .

We booked our flights from Bordeaux with no problem and, as usual I went to the St Astier railway station to buy our train tickets.   This time I had decided we were Too Old to rush, with large, red four-wheel drive suitcase, for an 07.45 morning train on the day of our flight, so bought tickets for the day before.   When paying for same, I saw a hand-written notice that the SNCF would be on strike on the day of our flight.   Priding myself on my foresight, I later learned that the air traffic controllers were already on strike and would be on the day of our flight.

However, the storks are still nesting on a pylon at Coutras station - the train conductor confirmed a recent viewing.  We had a good night at the hotel and our flight was only two and half hours late, swamped by irate Ryanair passengers who had been abandoned.

We got to Gatwick and tried the electronic eye passport control: did not work for either of us but kind official persons showed us through.   This saved at least a half hour of queue-time. Efficiently bought our Gatwick Express tickets in luggage reclaim hall and headed for train.   It really is time the Gatwick Express put down new rails.  We were rattled and shaken all the way to Victoria.  Fortunately there was a very nice person on the drinks trolly and champagne - sorry, fizzy wine - does not curdle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Coming back is so very hard to do...

We arrived at La Chaise early in the pink-streaked evening.  The sitting room fire had been lit, as had the Rayburn, the warm smell of chestnut smoke greeted us as we left the car.  And a small, screeching grandson heralded us by hurling golf balls in triumph. All was well - but very different from Sant Feliu on the Costa Brava.

A rude awakening the following morning for I had forgotten to feed the Rayburn with its night-time snack.  It was stone cold. A fast sortie to the wood for kindling and thin logs to get it going again.  Fortunately the chickens take their anti-flea baths by the wood pile, so many scraps of wood surface.
No time for finesse, some scrumpled paper, several (paraffin!) firelighters, the wood scraps on top and  scatter lit matches.   All draught controls open, Rayburn was in a forgiving mood, so lit easily and was soon warm. Range toast and fresh eggs poached, only missing was home-made marmalade, otherwise a real country breakfast.

A walk round the fields and woods after lunch, seeing decay and growth all round.  A new crop of mushrooms, like overgrown lichen, on an oak stump, digesting and reducing it to soil.

Scum or lichen like?   Mushrooms at work   

 Then further into the woods, to admire the spreading moss in all its lush green glory, imitation of bracken fronds, nano palm trees, all working to reduce these pine tree stumps to mulch.
Here the raised roots are all covered by the mosses, the cut side of the stump is just being colonised, a few spots of lichen attempting to install themselves in competition.
Lichen sometimes has an artistic soul - can one anthromorphise with parasites?  It had some help from a mining or pecking species

Full of thoughts, I got back to the kitchen to re-stock the Rayburn.   A good bed of embers meant I had no need of matches.   Lighting fires without matches is a little country challenge created by rural masochists.    But I had remembered to bring back some fir-cones which greatly help with combustion.

Mildly pleased with my forethought, I started to sweep the kitchen floor.   Fires are very messy, not just in terms of soot, cinders and splinters but also for the dust, dust, dust everywhere. A shock and my brain re-engaged with reality, reality at the foot of my broom.   A peacock butterfly lay spread on the floor.  Quite out of season.   I can only assume it came in with a log, on which it was hibernating, almost invisible, and the warmth brought it out of its torpor.
Had I been a mouse, I might have been frightened, but I was just worried. What to do?

Using a stiff sheet of paper, I lifted it off the floor and it closed its wings.  Placed on the earth of an empty window box, it was practically invisible - which is probably why I missed it on the log.  Perhaps when I am back again, this coming summer, I shall see its offspring everywhere.   We have a good nettle nursery for the eggs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What do Sheep think of Us?

There are times when I think sheep are indulging in a spot of ovismorphism.  It is that blank look, the unmoving eyes with their slit pupils whilst the jaws, with their one row of teeth, masticate whatever has been picked up.  Are they wondering what kind of deformed or dumb ovis ovis I am?   Does Roger the Ram wonder what kind of ovis aries Arnold or Alexandre are?
And just what use are you?

Certainly bottle fed lambs (agni) think the bottle holder is some form of ewe.  There I was, in the sheep shed, with a bottle of milk for a lamb that had been rejected by its mother.  Ewes can be difficult.  It was one of a pair of twins and came hurtling towards me when I called.  

I bent over slightly and held the bottle next to my right knee. The lamb gave my knee a couple of perfunctory head bumps and latched onto the teat.   It's stomach visibly swelled as it suckled.  A lamb that is suckling an ewe is not given as much time on the teat as a lamb on the bottle. The ewe gets bored and walks off.  The bottle fed lamb gets more milk in one go.

Then I became aware that the situation was being studied by the other twin. Its reasoning process appeared to be as follows:
brother on teat,-
mother has two teats, -
other teat must be free, -
mother (very odd shape) standing very still, -
must seize opportunity. -   

It then gave a couple of hefty head bumps to the back of my left knee, seized a fold of my jeans and started vigorously to suck. Disappointed, it gave up before the right knee lamb had finished its bottle.

The purpose of the head bumps, I have been told, is not to express any form of affection or recognition but an imperative reminder to the ewe that she must let the milk down. It is quite an endearing habit when the lamb weighs under 15 kg....  Less so when they get to be over 25 kg.. 

Once we had 3 ram lambs on the bottle and continued feeding them in the field to get them up to a proper weight.  Towards the end this meant sitting on the style, manipulating 3 one litre bottles whilst Bruiser, Boxer and Battler beat my knees, and each other, with their thick skulls.  Unfortunately, lambs have relatively long memories, perhaps they recognise one's way of walking - I don't know. Even when weaned, they would rush up and try to beat my knees.

sometimes one could do with a  third hand...

In the summer, when everyone is in the fields, the lambs are nearly fully grown and the ewes have forgotten the horrors of suckling, ovismorphism becomes even more evident.  There one is, strolling down the hill, admiring the flowers - and the sheep decide they are bored with the field.  There is a sudden, disrespectful rush past the human as they queue in front of the gate to the next field. 
Their heads swing round as they wait for the human - or oddly shaped stupid, two legged ovis ovis - to come open this gate.  The sound one hears is not 'baa' or 'beeeh'  but most definitely 'booo' until their will is done.